BEMIDJI - The large windows of 401 Beltrami Ave. are covered in brown paper. The only hints to what’s going on behind the obscured panes are written on an orange building permit and a banner that both read "Bemidji Brewing Co."
Inside, the three main members of the Bemidji Brewing team are preparing the space on the corner of Beltrami Avenue and Fourth Street to open their brewery and taproom, potentially by mid-summer.
"The whole team’s really excited. It’s been an incredible process so far," said Justin Kaney, one of the founding members of Bemidji Brewing. "It’s something you always hope will happen, and it’s great when it follows through."
The move comes less than a year after they first received permission from the federal and state government to brew commercially. They’ve been brewing out of Harmony Co-op’s community kitchen and selling a limited supply to Brigid’s Irish Pub.
In March, the Bemidji City Council finalized new ordinances allowing breweries to apply for licenses to open taprooms and sell large jugs, called growlers, of the beer they brew on site.
Tom Hill, one of the founding members of Bemidji Brewing, said they envision a "beer cafe" atmosphere at the taproom, where customers can have a pint of beer was brewed under the same roof. He added that they’re in an ideal location to attract tourists and festival-goers during summer.
The new location will also allow them to produce more beer and more varieties at once, Hill added. They’ll upgrade from the two small fermenters they have at Harmony to four larger ones at the new location.
"We’ll really have some capacity to brew often," Hill said.
The taproom will only be open a few days a week when they first launch so they can focus on growing the business "at manageable increments," Kaney said. In the future, they’d like to be available in other establishments.
"We’d like to expand into other areas of town if we have the volume and if there’s interest, which we think (there is)," said Bemidji Brewing member Tina Hanke. "People have contacted us."
Hill said the process of opening their own brewery has gone faster than expected. The three friends launched an online fundraising campaign in November 2011, raising more than $17,000 to buy equipment for their startup brewery.
And having the ordinances in place allowed them to secure financing for their brewery and taproom.
"We’re really happy to have such a great experience with the (city) council," Hill said. "When we first started to pursue that, we imagined it would almost take a full year."
But, Hill said, councilors and others were receptive to the idea.
"I think the craft beer boon in the state has kind of put it to the forefront."
That boon was aided by the state Legislature’s passage of the so-called "Surly bill," named after the popular Twin Cities-based craft brewer in 2011. That legislation allowed breweries in Minnesota to open taprooms in breweries.