Fulton Brewery opens downtown

With the new “Surly bill,” four friends have moved from a garage to a warehouse.

Fulton beer co-founder Jim Diley pours white wheat in a milling machine at Fulton Brewery Wednesday in the Downtown Warehouse District. It will eventually become their Sweet Child of Vine.

Anthony Kwan

Fulton beer co-founder Jim Diley pours white wheat in a milling machine at Fulton Brewery Wednesday in the Downtown Warehouse District. It will eventually become their Sweet Child of Vine.

by Nick Sudheimer

On a frigid Saturday in February 2006, four friends huddled around a small burner for warmth as they brewed their first batch of beer in a one-car garage in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis.

It became a tradition for Jim Diley, Ryan Petz, Brian Hoffman, and Pete Grande, the co-founders of Fulton Beer. Two years and one garage later, the group will open Fulton Brewery âÄî the first brewery in downtown Minneapolis âÄî on Friday.

âÄúItâÄôs really exciting to be opening our doors in the neighborhood in which we live. ItâÄôs bringing our dream to fruition in a way,âÄù Diley said. âÄúWe always said we wanted to build a brewery in Minneapolis.âÄù

In the past year, the group partnered with several other local brewers, including Surly Brewing Co. founder Omar Ansari, to fight for a change in state law and city ordinances that prevented brewers from selling pints and growlers of their beer on-site.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the so-called âÄúSurly billâÄù into law this spring, allowing the Minneapolis City Council to pass ordinances allowing brewers to sell on location.

It opened the door for all local breweries. And although Surly was the face of the bill, Fulton beat them to the punch with its Warehouse District brewery. Surly, now based in Brooklyn Center, is still considering locations for its new facility.

Rising fast

The groupâÄôs operation quickly outgrew DileyâÄôs one-car garage, and they upgraded to GrandeâÄôs two-car garage. They also created a makeshift 10-gallon nanobrewery from some half-kegs and an old bed frame.

The first time using the nanobrewery, Diley remembers nervously watching one of the kegâÄôs taps leak beer onto its electrical wiring.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt know if it was going to start on fire or what was going to happen,âÄù he recalled.

After some upgrades, the machinery became the staple of Fulton Beer when it launched in 2009.

The companyâÄôs reputation has risen quickly since its first sale to the Happy Gnome in St. Paul on Oct. 28, 2009.

Fulton now sells to 120 bars and restaurants and started bottling its brew in late October.

âÄúWhen we started, our business plan involved maintaining seven bars and buying enough back to make sure we had a couple kegs in our refrigerators,âÄù Diley said.

âÄòFulton Beer DayâÄô

The opening of Fulton Brewery is the culmination of a chain of policies loosening restrictions on liquor laws in Minneapolis and Minnesota.

âÄúI see a day in which one of the many reasons to come to Minneapolis is to go from brewery to brewery,âÄù Mayor R.T. Rybak said.

Many City Council members feel the same way.

On Friday, Councilman Gary Schiff will propose the elimination of a city ordinance that prevents businesses within 300 feet of a church from selling alcohol.

It will allow more breweries to open in Minneapolis, Schiff said.

HeâÄôll also make a motion that Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 be known as Fulton Beer Day across the city.

Some members of the council, including Elizabeth Glidden, remain more reserved about changing old ordinances.

âÄúWe need to err on the side of caution when removing these historical laws,âÄù she said.

Still, Rybak said itâÄôs good that these liquor laws are becoming more relaxed, and he hopes people are excited about the new breweryâÄôs opening.

âÄúIn the name of building the economy, I hope everyone will make the sacrifice of drinking this phenomenal beer [Friday],âÄù Rybak joked.

Homebrewers at heart

Diley stood Wednesday in what will eventually be the tap room at Fulton Brewery, pointing at a picture of the group hanging on the wall in GrandeâÄôs garage.

âÄúItâÄôs very surreal to think that two years ago, we hadnâÄôt sold a pint, and now weâÄôve built a brewery, weâÄôre selling beer out of it and now weâÄôre about to open our doors to the public,âÄù Diley said.

Some work remains to be done before it opens to the public 4 p.m., Friday, but Diley isnâÄôt too concerned.

âÄúWe just want to keep brewing good beer, introducing people to craft beer and the rest will take care of itself,âÄù Diley said. âÄúItâÄôs such an honor to be able to brew beer and have people respond in a positive way.âÄù