Minneapolis-based Fulton Beer began with 10-gallon batches in a garage in 2006. Though it was initially just for the joy of brewing, the brewers realized they had chemistry, and began to formulate a plan. The goal was to build a brick-and-mortar destination within 10 years.
Within three years, the folks behind the beer had gone far beyond expectations, cycling up into contract brewing and eventually, not one, but two Minneapolis breweries. In their words: "Looks like being wrong can sometimes be awesome."
How does an operation become so successful in such a short amount of time? It starts with the people – CEO Ryan Petz, COO Jim Diley, VP of Sales Brian Hoffman and Brewmaster Peter Grande – friends first and business partners second.
Photo by Robb Long Imaging
As their story goes, "we found out we had accidentally put together a team that might be capable of managing a startup. Jim had the big ideas, Peter built the equipment, Ryan dreamed up recipes and Brian drank the beer."
With roles naturally delegated by passion, the next focus was the product.
"We had a few recipes that we all loved. One was an IPA we called Sweet Child of Vine. Another was a subtle but complex blonde ale called The Lonely Blonde. And everybody seemed to love the two imperials we were working on: an imperial red ale called The Libertine and a big stout called Worthy Adversary."
Easy enough. But brewing was still not much more than a hobby for the group.
"Ryan was in the middle of graduate school, Brian was getting ready to get married, Jim was studying for the bar exam, and Peter was expecting his first child. None of us had any money to put towards a brewery, nor had any of us run a business before."
In what could be described as the brewers' leap, the group didn't let the dream die.
"We had no industry ties or experience. But we did have passion, so we decided to forge ahead anyway."
Passion doesn't equate to money, so they began to look for nearby breweries with the capacity for contract brewing. There weren't many options in Minnesota, so they widened their search, eventually landing on Sand Creek Brewing, a couple hours over into Wisconsin. A crucial ally, Sand Creek mentored the team, showing them how to brew on a larger scale, operate a production facility and build a distribution network. Fulton's first pint was sold on October 28, 2009.
Sand Creek taught them well – within a year, they were in over 100 bars and had signed a lease for their first brewery. Then a stroke of luck came from the least likely of sources – state government.
"As we were drawing our layout and waiting for equipment to arrive, Minnesota passed a key piece of legislation enabling packaging breweries to operate taprooms. We quickly redrew our plans and ordered bar equipment. We started brewing and selling growlers in the fall of 2011, and by the following March, we opened Minneapolis’ first taproom."
Fast forward a year or two; everything is going well and the business is growing. The only thing the Fulton Four were missing was a paycheck. Unfazed, they forged onward, hiring their first employee, Head Brewer Mike Salo, who would eventually become part owner. Salo's expertise helped push the brewery to capacity again, so the Four set out for a full-sized production facility.
"On September 1st, 2013 – three years to the day after we entered our first lease for the downtown brewery – we got the keys to a 51,000-square foot building in northeast Minneapolis. It was kind of like the brewery version of a 'forever house' – the place we were going to move into for good. The northeast brewery has 8 times the square footage of our downtown location, and we get to brew on an 80-barrel brewhouse."
The greatly expanded Fulton team is passionate about more than just beer, taking an active role in the various competitive athletic communities, including sponsoring its own annual cycling race, the Fulton Gran Fondo, a 100-mile circuit that features all the required B's for a successful biking event: bikes, bands, beers and a block party. They also take part in cross-country skiing, running and boxing, among others.
True to the city that helped them get off the ground, Fulton also likes to give back to the community with more than just stimulating suds and activities. Every year, the brewery invests 10 percent of its profits into its Ful10 Fund.
"When we find a business that could be greatly helped by the amount available in the Ful10 fund, we make an investment plan that works for both parties. Investments are made based on the merits of the business plan, not on ratios and credit committees."
For Fulton, beer is an avenue with which communities can grow, and lifelong bonds can be formed. For their 20+ beers, including seasonals, barrel-aged and mixed-fermentation offerings, as well as events and news, check out the team's website at www.fultonbeer.com
TUE: 3 PM-10 PM
WED: 3 PM-10 PM
THU: 3 PM-10 PM
FRI: 3 PM-11 PM
SAT: 12 PM-11 PM
SUN: 12 PM-6 PM
(Photos courtesy Fulton Beer)