Summit Brewing Company owner Mark Stutrud refers to himself as a non-conformist. Proof of that is on display in Summit’s Beer Hall, where a framed letter from the Brewers Association from 1983 strongly suggests he not open his St. Paul brewery. Fortunately for Minnesota beer fans, Stutrud ignored the letter, and his Extra Pale Ale (EPA) went on to influence a generation of local beer makers.
Three decades later, tanks of EPA tower over Stutrud’s brewhouse, a far cry from the small University Avenue space he occupied from 1986–1998. Summit recently ranked as the 29th largest craft brewery in the country, and their collection of medals for beers like EPA, Great Northern Porter, and True Brit IPA is a reminder of their ongoing success. Besides achieving recognition for their beers, the brewery has also received numerous awards for their business practices, community efforts, and workplace environment.
As Summit celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, they continue looking forward. They know the industry is always changing and, despite EPA being a hallmark of consistency, that the business itself needs to constantly adapt as breweries and beer styles come and go.
Here’s a look at the history of Summit against a backdrop of the changing landscape of Minnesota beer.
30 Years of Beer: A Summit Brewing Timeline
Summit founder Mark Stutrud receives a letter from the Brewers Association aimed at dissuading him from opening a brewery.
What’s In A Name?
Despite the Brewers’ Association’s warning, Summit founder Mark Stutrud continues down the “long and hard road” toward starting a brewery. One of the most important early steps? Choosing a name. This document shows the many names Stutrud considered before settling on Summit Brewing Company.
Branding begins to take shape
In this rejected design, you can see what would become Summit’s original logo beginning to take shape.
Summit’s First Home
Summit moves into its first location at 2264 University Avenue West. Today, the building is for lease, having most recently been home to Spiro’s Mediterranean Market.
Summit’s first fermenter arrives.
Mark Stutrud inside the brewery’s first boil kettle, which was purchased from a brewery in Heimertingen, Germany.
Summit’s first order of hops.
The First Two Kegs
Summit sells its first two kegs of Extra Pale Ale to Johnny’s Bar, which was located across the street from the brewery.
…And The Third Keg
Apparently the customers at Johnny’s liked what Summit was doing, because the day after purchasing Summit’s first two kegs of Extra Pale Ale, Johnny’s followed up to buy the third.
Minnesota Brewing History: James Page Brewing Opens
James Page Brewing Company opens on Quincy Street in Northeast Minneapolis.
Summit begins bottling Extra Pale Ale and Great Northern Porter. Seen here is the original six-pack design for Extra Pale Ale.
The first big win
Great Northern Porter wins a gold medal at the 1987 Great American Beer Festival.
The original Great Northern Porter six-pack design.
Minnesota Brewing History: First Brewpub Opens
Taps Waterfront Brewery and Comedy Club opens in Old Saint Anthony as the first brewpub in Minnesota. Sherlock’s Home Brewpub opens later this year in Minnetonka.
Summit’s first expansion grows their annual capacity from 5,000 to 12,000 barrels.
Minnesota Brewing History: Say Hello to Pig’s Eye
Minnesota Brewing Company, operating out of the Schmidt brewery on West 7th Street in St. Paul, introduces Landmark and Pig’s Eye Pilsner.
Minnesota Brewing History: Fitger’s Brewhouse Opens
Fitger’s Brewhouse opens in Duluth.
Summit breaks ground on a new brewery in the Crosby Lake Business Park near the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Seen above is an invite to the groundbreaking ceremony.
An aerial view of the site before construction of the new brewery began.
An artist’s rendering of the new brewery.
A bulldozer preparing the new brewery site for construction.
Minnesota Brewing History: Brewing Ceases at St. Paul Hamm’s Brewery
A 137-year brewing tradition on the site of the Hamm’s brewery in St. Paul comes to an end when Stroh’s shutters the brewery.
Following construction and three months of test brewing on their new system, Summit moves into the new brewery, which is still their home today.
Sign for the exterior of the building.
Hoisting the sign into place on the new brewery.
Minnesota Brewing History: Craft Brewers Guild
The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild is founded.
Minnesota Brewing History: Brewing Ceases at West 7th Street Schmidt Brewery
After many changes of ownership over the years, brewing operations cease at the Schmidt Brewery on West 7th Street in St. Paul when Minnesota Brewing Company (makers of Pig’s Eye and Landmark) closes the brewery.
Oatmeal Stout debuts
Summit debuts Oatmeal Stout on draft at limited locations.
Current head brewer Damian McConn, or “Damo” as he’s known around the brewery, joins Summit as a production and project brewer. He becomes the head brewer in 2013.
Minnesota Brewing History: Surly brews first batch
Omar Ansari and Todd Haug brew the first batch of Surly beer at their original Brooklyn Center location.
To mark their 20th anniversary, Summit hosts the Big Brew party on Harriet Island with 11,000 attendees.
Minnesota Brewing History: Lift Bridge and Flat Earth open
Both Lift Bridge Brewing and Flat Earth Brewing open in 2007, bringing the brewery total in Minnesota to seven.
Summit launches their Unchained Series, which gives brewers free rein to create unique and one-off beers.
Taking Home More Hardware
2010 was a good year for Summit’s flagship Extra Pale Ale, taking home a gold medal at the World Beer Cup and a silver at the Great American Beer Festival.
Minnesota Brewing History: The taproom era begins
Legislation to allow breweries to sell their own beer onsite in a taproom, is signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton. Summit would open their taproom about a year later.
Summit adds Sága IPA to their year-round lineup.
That’s A Lot of Beer
Summit expands their cellar and purchases a dozen 600-barrel fermenters that raise their annual capacity to 240,000 barrels per year.
A Fresh Look
Summit revamps their logo and branding to the look and feel seen today.
Yes We Can
Summit releases their first cans with Summer Ale, Extra Pale Ale, and Sága IPA.
Summit Expands Again
Summit officially cuts the ribbon on a multi-year expansion project that includes space for its canning line, administrative and sales offices, and an industry training room for wholesaler and retail partners.
Marking 30 Years of Beer
Summit announces a year of special releases and events to mark their 30th anniversary.
Minnesota Brewing History: 115 and counting
Thought Summit may be able to claim the title of the first modern craft brewery in the state, they have plenty of company these days. As of September 2016, Minnesota is home to 115 breweries and counting.
Keith Grauman also contributed to this report.