Brewery Spotlight – Summit Brewing in St Paul, Minnesota
Mark Stutrud, Founder and President of St Paul’s Summit Brewing, is that brewery legend not many have heard of unless they live in the Twin Cities area. While the brewery he founded 30 years ago is the 29th largest brewery in the country, 75% of those 130k barrels are sold within Minnesota.
In an industry where it seems like weekly a favorite craft brewery sells out to big beer in the name of growth and distribution, it’s refreshing to hear about a brewery that still believes in the regional model and growth the right way – slowly over time. More importantly to beer drinkers though, a brewery where the beer counts more than the business. After 30 years, Summit Brewing remains proudly privately owned.
Our hour long scheduled interview began with a clank of glasses frothing over with Summit Brewing’s Kellar-Pils, which was brewed in conjunction with their anniversary celebration, and lasted for three hours and many, many more beers. I found Mark to be humble, off-the-cuff, cordial, and jovial all at once. He’s a man that is proud of his industry, his business, and his beer.
What I didn’t hear Mark talk about were his own accomplishments. While there are many, he was more interested in giving credit to those who mentored and advised him along the way like Charles McElevey, a consulting brewmaster from Redhook Brewery’s early days, and brewmaster Fred Thomasser, who had been brewing since Prohibition. Of course, he also made mention of the famous letter from the then Brewers Association of America that discouraged him from opening a brewery.
I think the following quote from Mark best sums up his attitude. “Back then it was micro- and you weren’t a celebrity but a f-ing brewer.”
This is where I want to do something different with my coverage of Summit Brewing
Our conversation covered everything from what it was like starting a brewery in the 1980s in comparison to today’s climate to the importance of quality in beer and the lack of it in many new breweries. That last point – which can best be exemplified by the perfection of the Keller-Pils – is one that we lingered over the most.
Instead of writing a beast of a post summarizing the entire conversation I’m going to share two separate articles I published with CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association’s blog (not the same organization mentioned above).
But first, a little information on visiting Summit Brewing.
If you’re visiting the Twin Cities, Summit Brewing is a must visit brewery. The taproom is a little off the beaten path in an office park and thus has limited hours – Thursdays 4-8pm, Fridays 4-10pm, and Saturdays 12-10pm. Summit Brewing offers a nice tour that is worth going on even for the well-educated beer aficionado as their facility is well-engineered and quite impressive.
The tasting experience at Summit Brewing is a little unique from the new batch of craft breweries that are mustering all of the attention. You won’t find anything over the top creative like a habanero-guava-mocha-vanilla-pumpkin sour ale aged with Skittles. Instead, expect a wide variety of perfectly brewed standard brewery offerings like an IPA, EPA, Pilsner, Porter, etc. It’s a good reminder of what beer is supposed to taste like.
That’s not to say Summit Brewing doesn’t unleash the creative. Their Unchained Series allows a brewer to brew a batch of whatever they want with no influence from marketing, sales, or management. A good example is the Zingiber Cream Ale (an ale and lager hybrid brewed with ginger) that I sampled.
For a true Summit Brewing experience, I recommend beginning with the beer that started it all for Summit Brewing, the Extra Pale Ale. The Oatmeal Stout is the most perfect stout you will ever taste, and anything from the Unchained Series is worth sampling.
There is a nice cluster of breweries around Summit Brewing that are also worth visiting like Surly, Lake Monster, and Bang to name a few. In fact, I recommend making it a beer weekend. Here are some comfortable and affordable hotel recommendations in St Paul.
Summit Brewing’s Straight-Shooter Mark Stutrud on 30 Years as a Craft Brewery (Excerpt)
In the current climate of brewery growth, it’s easy to forget how difficult it was to open a brewery in the United States 30 years ago. Yet, Mark Stutrud, founder of St. Paul’s Summit Brewing, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this fall, nostalgically recounts the struggles he went through, starting with securing his initial funding.
“Everybody likes to talk about starting a brewery over a beer, but when I showed up with my hand out asking for money, they scattered,” recalls Stutrud. Compare that to today’s climate where almost everyone seems to have a friend invested in a local brewery.
In his realist and jovial manner, Stutrud justifies their reaction back then. “I was just a knucklehead from North Dakota with a background in family psychology, dealing with chemically dependent adults … Starting a brewery in close-knit St. Paul was a tough sell.”
Yet, Stutrud rolled up his sleeves to get started.
Read the rest of the article on Craft Beer!
Measures Craft Brewers Take to Maintain Consistency in Beer (Excerpt)
Consistency is a topic brewers often discuss at industry sessions and seminars. Mark Stutrud, founder and president of St. Paul’s Summit Brewing, doesn’t mince words about consistency. He says brewers need to be more accountable.
“You just don’t make a batch and hope it turns out okay. Each batch has to be of high quality and consistency,” Stutrud says. “It’s got to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver to customers.”
It’s a topic Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte surfaced publicly through the “Now You Know Better” billboard marketing campaign in mid-2016. While the billboards struck some people as too strongly-worded, the brewery says the intent was to bring the discussion to beer lovers’ attention. Ryan Self, the brewery’s sales director, says Olde Meck wants all breweries to produce the best beer possible.
“I need consumers to try other craft beers and like it,” Self says. “If they don’t, they’ll go back to what they know.”
Read the rest of the article on Craft Beer.