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Brewery closer to tapping beer

Tina Hanke, Justin Kaney and Tom Hall, seated, completed another hurdle to start their own beer brewing business, Bemidji Brewery Co., by being approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to use Harmony Natural Food Cooperative’s community kitchen to master their craft. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI – Three area residents are one step closer to selling their beer on local taps.

The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau recently approved Bemidji Brewing Co.’s plans to brew at Harmony Co-op’s community kitchen for commercial sales.

It marks the first step in a long government inspection and approval process that will now move to the state level, said Justin “Bud” Kaney, who, along with Tom Hill and Tina Hanke launched the venture.

They have been making batches of beer privately for some time, Kaney said, but gaining federal approval means they’re one step closer to being able to brew it commercially. Kaney said they hope to have beer available in one or two area establishments in the fall.

“We’re pretty close,” he said, adding that much of the approval process is out of their hands. “We don’t want to promise anything too early.”

The group launched an online fundraiser through in late 2011 and raised about $17,500, enough to buy fermentation vessels, kettles and other equipment to run the nanobrewery. The co-op will keep some equipment in the community kitchen, where the brewery is renting space, and team members will bring in the rest on brew days.

Harmony’s community kitchen is a shared space that’s leased to entrepreneurs, cooking classes and civic groups. For the brewery, it helps keep overhead costs down and establish a presence before they open their own facility in the future.

“It’s definitely a unique situation in Bemidji to have an awesome commercial kitchen that’s new… and a young craft beer scene that’s growing and has a lot of potential to be vibrant all in one place,” Hill said.

Kaney said a TTB official told them that they would be the first brewery in the nation to be operating in a shared space like the kitchen at Harmony.

But with that uniqueness comes some government concern. Kaney said the TTB was worried about potential tampering because there are a number of other people who use the space, Kaney said.

To prevent that, the cooler where the beer will be stored while it’s fermenting has a lock and the cooler where the kegs will be stored also has lockable cages.

The next step is to have an inspection from the state’s Alcohol and Gaming Enforcement department. The state Department of Agriculture will also review their plans, but might not inspect their facilities, Kaney said, before they get label approval from the federal government.

Meanwhile, the three hope to close on at least one deal to sell their draft beer in town, where Kaney said they’ve generated some interest.

 “Our plan is only to have one account or maybe two,” he said. “We certainly don’t want any taps to go dry.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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