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Starting a 'brew-conomy': New brewery and taproom ready to tap beer

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Bemidji Brewing's taproom is open for the second big weekend. They will hold their open house on Friday at 4 p.m.

BEMIDJI - As the grand opening of the new downtown beer brewery nears, the founders of the brewery are preparing to brew more than just craft beer.

Bemidji Brewing Co. is slated to celebrate its grand opening Friday, and according to Tina Hanke, one of the four founding members of the brewery, the new business will not only create an exciting gathering place for locals downtown, but will help to boost the area's economy.

"There's this thing we call a 'brew-conomy' happening, where businesses that are near taprooms are seeing their food sales go up," said Hanke, adding a lot of research has gone into the planning and execution process in opening the business.

Located at 401 Beltrami Ave., Hanke said the taproom has coordinated with downtown restaurants to give its patrons the option of ordering-in food to the taproom, adding to the business' goal of "offering people choices."

Offering a selection of four different types of craft beers, Bemidji Brewing Co. first opened its doors July 19 to "test the waters" and get a feel for what to expect during normal operation hours.

"This is the second Friday/Saturday we've been open, so we are still seeing how much beer we can get flowing," Hanke said. "But it's went really well. It was really busy and it'll be nice to see what becomes the normal volume of people."

Next week's grand opening will include a ribbon cutting by the Chamber of Commerce, special giveaways and "other ceremonial components," according to Hanke.

Brewing beer twice a week, Hanke said the brewery is producing about 200 gallons of beer per week, which equates to about six barrels of the beverage. A barrel of beer amounts to 31 gallons.

"It's the freshest beer you can possibly get here in town, hands down," Hanke said. "There'll be the classic styles for people to try, but right now we've been brewing some saison beers, which a lot of people haven't had before."

Of Belgian origin, saison beer can be brewed a variety of different ways, making some saison malts stronger than others.

After their grand opening, the brewery will be open a few days a week to ensure the brewers are "starting this off right."

A venue to attract all demographics, Hanke said Bemidji was a seemed to be a good place to start a brewery and taproom, as there are few other breweries in the region.

"We get people in here in their mid-twenties all up to people who are retired," she said. "From people in suits, people in flannels, they know they can come here in a relaxed, flexible atmosphere."

Before the acquisition of the building, the company had been brewing their crafts in the Harmony Foods Co-op's kitchen, selling a limited supply of their brews to Brigid's Irish Pub.

With state legislation changing brewing limitations in 2011, Hanke said she and her fellow founders - Tom Hill, Justin Kaney and Megan Betters - were excited to be able to bring their business here.

"This space is different than a lot of places in town where you get beer - it's colorful, huge windows and it's right downtown," she said.

Wanting to focus their business primarily in Bemidji, Hanke said they want to build a local demand for their beer.

"The thing about the craft beer scene is that there are a lot of options, whether it's expanding the brewery, adding food components or providing more volumes (of beer) in local establishments," she said.

Aside from exposing new brews to the community, Hanke said Bemidji Brewing Co. envisions incorporating an educational aspect to their operations.

"Whether they are into beer or not, we would like for people to check this place out and see how beer is made," she said. "We tried to make it exciting as possible for as many people as possible."

If you go:

What: Bemidji Brewing Co. grand opening

Where: 401 Beltrami Ave.

When: Friday