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For Want of a Door, A Taproom Almost Misses Patio Opportunity

Clutch Brewing Co.'s trailer in the Keg and Case parking lot-turned the ultimate patio dining experience.

When Clutch Brewing Co., opened its taproom inside the Keg and Case Market in St. Paul two years ago, they opted to wait on the expense of a patio. And because they were located inside a food hall, they saw no need to add a kitchen and become a brewpub. Both partners, Jordan Standish and Max Boete, had worked in the restaurant business once upon a time and didn’t want that complication.

They had just started to work with the city on the plans to build that coveted outdoor area and had come up with a new marketing plan when the market went dark for an unknown amount of time.

“We had plans for a lot of things, but a global pandemic wasn’t one of them,” said Standish. Neither was being closed on St. Patrick’s Day, traditionally one of their highest revenue holidays.

With no way to get customers upstairs, and zero revenue coming in the doors, they switched quickly to canning their beer.

“We had 10 tanks of actively fermenting beer, and when it was ready, we had no business,” Standish said. To save the beer, they pivoted quickly to canning, but so had a lot of other breweries, so initially there was a run on seamers and cans and they were put on a waiting list. In order to participate in the market’s curbside delivery program, they had to use a manual seamer, fill each can by hand and then hand label them. Each can took about a minute to produce. They had furloughed employees and helped them get on unemployment early.

A 700-pound canning line was not easy to get up the stairs. They had to build a ramp to wrestle the machinery up the stairs and set it up in the mezzanine as a makeshift factory, Standish said.

But the silver lining—and  there usually is one—is that they are now set to sell their beer in liquor stores. Standish’s brother is a graphic artist and designed the cans to attract beer buyers’ attention and to ensure it was identifiable as their brand to their 150 investors.

In order to open, the partners did a crowdfunding campaign with MNvest, attracting small investors who bought in for $1,000 a share. “We have a wide base of community people who have invested and will go out and ask liquor stores for the product,” he said.

In July, Keg and Case opened up its parking lot to add seating under tents, giving Clutch that much needed outdoor venue for its taproom. But even that wasn’t an easy fix due to the complexity of both real estate and liquor laws.  

Clutch had to work with the market and the city to figure out how to reside legally in the parking lot. “By law you have to stay within your lease line, and we have a brewery on the mezzanine level of a market—floating space with no access to doors,” he said. “The market has been great to work with and temporarily extended our lease line to touch a door.”

Under current law, as a taproom they can’t sell 16-ounce cans of their beer on- premises, but they now can sell them in liquor stores.

“We’re excited to be pouring beer again,” Standish said about their outdoor space, “and all those cans will be another source of revenue.”

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