Since opening in 2015, the only way to get your hands on Forager Brewery’s beer has been to visit the Rochester brewpub. But soon the brewery’s beers will be distributed under a new beer brand set to launch in early 2020—Humble Forager Brewery.
Humble Forager Brewery will use recipes developed at Forager Brewery to produce a series of beers brewed at contract brewery Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, Wisconsin. For now, three brands will be released under the Humble Forager brand: a rotating series of hazy double IPAs called Elevated Perspective, fruited sour ales called Coastal Sunshine, and imperial stouts and porters filled with adjuncts named Gypsy Outpost. Variations of each ale will be released throughout the year with different hops, fruits, or adjuncts, and all packaging will be four-packs of 16-ounce cans.
Octopi is located just outside of Forager Brewery’s co-owner and head brewer Austin Jevne’s hometown of Madison. Jevne has experience with the brewing process at the facility when he teamed up with Untitled Art Brewing Co. to create Florida Weisse, which now could be looked at as a precursor of sorts for the Coastal Sunshine series.
“We decided to do it because of the constant calls and demands to get our beer into bars, liquor stores, and restaurants,” Jevne says, noting that he has wanted to distribute his beers to retailers for years but has been prohibited from doing so under Minnesota laws since he runs a brewpub.
Brewpubs in Minnesota can sell beer at their locations for offsale consumption in 64-ounce growlers, 750-milliliter bottles, and Crowlers, though sales cannot exceed 3,500 barrels of beer per year.
This is not the first time a brewpub has launched a separate beer brand as a workaround to Minnesota’s brewpub laws.
Fitger’s Brewhouse pulled a similar maneuver in 2018. In order to distribute, the brewery launched the Duluth Brewhouse brand, which are Fitger’s Brewhouse recipes contract brewed at Barley John’s Brewing Co. in New Richmond, Wisconsin. Interestingly, Barley John’s originally started as a brewpub in New Brighton, Minnesota, but built a Wisconsin production facility in order to distribute its beer in 2015.
One complication to tarting a new beer brand for distribution is that Minnesota brewpub owners cannot own two breweries. Both businesses need to be two legally separate entities with separate ownership. Still for brewpub owners, the legal hoops are worth jumping through in order to grow their businesses through distribution.
Birch’s Lowertown brewmaster and co-owner Brennan Greene recently said in an interview with The Growler that brewpub laws have hampered their ability to turn a profit at their Birch’s location in St. Paul, which is currently for sale but has no plans to close. “If we could just distribute, just a little bit, if we could just sell kegs to Octo Fishbar in the same building as us and maybe a couple of other accounts around St. Paul, we’d be just fine,” Greene stated.
If the brewery isn’t sold, Greene is considering lobbying to change brewpub laws, something Jevne had also mentioned off the cuff during Forager’s nascent years.
“We have thought about distribution for a few years but wanted to do it the way we wanted,” Jevne said. “Octopi is the only place we will be contract brewing.”
For now, brewpubs looking to distribute beer around town or the state need to follow in the footsteps of Fitger’s, Barley John’s, and now Forager.
“Laws should always be looked at being changed to adapt to the times,” Jevne says. “Minnesota could do some good stuff for small businesses by being open-minded to adjusting some laws.”
When Forager’s new brand does get up and running, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other southeast states will see distribution (most likely those Octopi releases Untitled Art Brewing Co. cans in, including Florida).
And though it won’t happen now, Jevne would also like to open a Humble Forager taproom, though he isn’t sure where the location of the taproom would be.