Now Open (Or Damn Close): Hoops Brewing

Hoops Brewing in Duluth's Canal Park is set to open at the end of June // Photo by JaneCane Photography /

Hoops Brewing, located at 325 South Lake Avenue in Duluth’s Canal Park, is set to open at the end of June // Photo by JaneCane Photography

It’s been over one-and-a-half years in the works, and is the culmination of a highly-successful career in the craft beer industry, but master brewer Dave Hoops is set to open the eponymous Hoops Brewing brewery and beer hall, in Duluth’s Canal Park, in late June.

It’s the first foray into brewery ownership for Hoops, a six-time Great American Beer Festival Award winner, who was the lead brewer at Pyramid Brewing in California before 17 years at the helm of Duluth’s Fitger’s Brewhouse.

While it’s officially the ninth brewing operation to open its doors in the Twin Ports, it’s the first beer hall in the area and the second-largest in Minnesota, behind only Surly Brewing Company, which has a large outdoor beer garden to augment its indoor space.

“There are enough breweries in this state. The only reason we’re sitting here is because of the space that I was offered, and the vision we had of being able to brew beer in an area of Duluth that has enough concentration of consumers that we’re not going to starve to death. […] In my opinion, this is one viable business model in today’s market,” says Hoops, who left the Brewhouse in late 2015 to co-found industry group Bev-Craft with Tim Nelson.

During the consulting business’ first year, Hoops came across the space in The Suites Hotel Building formerly occupied by Timber Lodge Steakhouse. Soon, he had concrete plans to a open a brewery in the space, although the public wouldn’t hear about it until October of 2016.

“It was the best-kept secret in brewing,” Hoops quips.

The Hoops Brewing sign illuminates the way into Duluth’s newest brewery and taproom // Photo by JaneCane Photography

While enjoying a pint at a local watering hole in February of 2015, someone mentioned that the space in the The Suites Hotel building would be opening up. He quickly called the building’s owner, who happened to be a good friend of his.

“I wasn’t a Timber Lodge regular, but I had been in here a few times and been stunned by this space. […] I called him and told him this half-cocked idea I had, and [he was] all in,” says Hoops.

Soon after, Hoops hired on Melissa Rainville, one of his former brewers at the Brewhouse, to be the head brewer.

Demolition began in October 2016, picking up steam into December, and by March 2017 the brewing equipment was installed. Transforming the restaurant into a brewery required major renovation and remodeling, but those efforts paid huge dividends towards the finished product.

Photos by JaneCane Photography

The 9,000-square-foot space emphasizes the natural beauty of the building’s existing woodwork. Hoops notes that the design concept, which he developed with local architect firm Wagner Zaun, was to “offset all this beautiful wood and brick with a little bit of modernism.” The building’s original wood columns, made of Douglas fir harvested from the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s, blend nicely with the wood flooring, some of which was uncovered and restored during renovations. Add in unique minimalistic chandeliers and it becomes a warm, inviting space that resembles a classic beer hall but invokes the homely feeling of a Northwoods log cabin. Exposed brick walls left largely unadorned are a nod to the building’s past life as a Marshall-Wells warehouse building, once the largest hardware distributor in the world.

The beer hall can seat up to 250, but is broken up into different areas, each with an intimate feel. But no matter where one sits, focus is on the state of the art Sprinkman brewhouse setup, which is encased in glass walls to give patrons an inside look at brewing operations.

After getting settled with production for the beer hall, Hoops plans to distribute beer to a few hand-picked establishments in the local area and the Twin Cities.

“We’re going to want to be expanding this brewery as long as we’re successful, and then we’ll be able to put more beer out, but first and foremost, we’re brewing beer for this room,” says Hoops. “This is a true destination beer hall.”

The Hoops Brewing team (L to R): ?, Melissa Rainville, Dave Hoops, and ? // Photo by JaneCane Photography

Hoops’ brewing team (L to R): Pete Bystrowski, Melissa Rainville, Dave Hoops, and Casey Tatro // Photo by JaneCane Photography

Driven by the mantra “don’t brew scared,” Rainville will produce a wide variety of styles, with nothing off limits. Expect to see wheat beers, pale ales, an IPA, and a blonde ale in the immediate future, but wheat wine and other adventurous styles will certainly make the rotation at some point. With ample basement space below the beer hall, Rainville plans to have both barrel-aging and sour programs. After all, there are 30 tap lines in the beer hall, and they plan on using all of them.

“I like the versatility we have, with being able to shoot off a bunch of one-offs and have the tap lineup changing all the time,” Rainville says.

While the offerings will differ, the naming system won’t. Each recipe will be called by its style and be assigned a number, instead of naming each and every brew.

“We’re doing it because: number one, it’s about the beer; number two, because there’s so many ridiculous names; and also because you don’t have to trademark numbers and you don’t have to do label approval on numbers,” says Hoops. “I’ll let the beer speak for itself.”

To help patrons find their right beer while also understanding what went into making it, every server at Hoops Brewing will be Cicerone Certified Beer Servers, a first for the area taprooms. This is an extension of the program Hoops started at Fitger’s Brewhouse with some success.

As far as food goes, patrons can order in food from any of the dozens of restaurants within walking distance. In the way of take-out beer, Hoops Brewing will offer Crowlers.

Once settled into operation, Rainville and Hoops hope to develop a lager program “to die for,” Hoops says. Lagers require patience and skill to brew, says Hoops, and they are the true measure of a brewery.

But before all of these plans come to fruition, all attention is on opening their doors, which will happen at the end of June with four soft openings.

Photos by JaneCane Photography

Brewers: Head brewer Melissa Rainville; brewers Pete Bystrowski and Casey Tatro

Beer: German Hefeweizen #5050, Pale Ale #15, Dunkelweizen #5051, Amber #22, EPA #10, Wheat Pale #19, Blonde Ale #12, Summer Wheat #17, American Porter #28

Address: 325 South Lake Avenue, #110, Duluth, MN 55802

Hours: Sun–Sat: 11am–12am (hours are subject to change)

Online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram