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Duluth, St. Paul spar over beer billboard

A billboard that recently went up in West Duluth -- depicting a pint of beer with the slogan "#MySaintPaul, Minnesota's Craft Capital" -- touched off a verbal brouhaha Tuesday.

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Mayor Don Ness takes umbrage with a Visit St. Paul billboard that has gone up in West Duluth showing a pint of beer with the hashtag: “MySaintPaul, Minnesota’s Craft Capital.” He considers it a lame attempt to usurp Duluth’s title as craft beer capital of Minnesota. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

A billboard that recently went up in West Duluth - depicting a pint of beer with the slogan “#MySaintPaul, Minnesota’s Craft Capital” - touched off a verbal brouhaha Tuesday.

The advertisement drew a sharp retort from Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who views its message as a direct affront to his earlier proclamation that Duluth is “the craft beer capital of Minnesota.”

Ness originally made the claim in a publication called The Growler more than two years ago, and said: “There wasn’t any counterclaim. So I think it’s well established that Duluth is the craft beer capital of Minnesota for all the reasons that I’ve mentioned.”

In support of his claim, Ness pointed to Lake Superior, which he called “the best source of fresh brewing water in the world.” He also gave a shout-out to local breweries, which now include Fitger’s Brewhouse, Lake Superior Brewing, Canal Park Brewing, Blacklist Brewing, Carmody Irish Pub, Dubh Linn and Bent Paddle Brewing.

“It certainly appears that this is St. Paul’s attempt to try to emulate Duluth,” Ness said. “I can certainly appreciate why they would want to emulate Duluth, and we encourage them in their attempt. But there’s only one original.”

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Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit St. Paul, challenged Duluth’s craft beer capital claim, however.

“If you look at St. Paul’s very rich brewing legacy and the amount of kegs that come out of St. Paul and the great expansion we’ve seen, that’s certainly a claim St. Paul could and does make,” he said.

Ness contends the character of Duluth’s brewing scene is the truest measure of its worthiness.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “St. Paul has great craft beer, but being the craft beer capital of Minnesota is not just about beer production, it’s about craft ethic. That’s what sets Duluth apart.”

Before taking his current job, Mattson headed up Visit Duluth and said he had anticipated potential local blowback from the beer billboard, which was one of six messages to emerge from the creative team that put together Visit St. Paul’s current statewide marketing campaign.

At first, Mattson apparently questioned the beer ad.

“I said, ‘I think Duluth might claim that as well.’ But then the rationale was explained to me, and I said: ‘I don’t have a problem with that. I think we can lay that claim as well and probably more rightfully.’”

An incredulous Ness, asked: “What’s next? Are they going to claim that Lake Como is Minnesota’s greatest lake?”

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Mattson suggested the whole state should be proud of its growing craft brewery industry.

“There’s been a huge statewide proliferation of craft brewing. It certainly isn’t limited to Duluth or St. Paul - if you look at Minneapolis and all the suburbs of this region, and it’s big business. It’s pretty cool, and it’s something that we should all be selling and laying claim to in my opinion,” he said.

Ness recommended that St. Paul stick to talking up its true strengths as a capital.

“St. Paul is the capital of state government. That’s notable,” he observed. “They should stick with that.”

Mattson expressed personal admiration for Ness but not his trash talk.

“Bring it on,” he said. “Bottoms up.”

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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