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Tap Talk: Aquatennial Mess Hall Showcases 4 Craft Breweries

The four "Best Days Of Summer" are upon us in Minneapolis – the Aquatennial has returned.

Celebrated since 1939, the summer event is now in its 77th year.

The ode to Minneapolis' many waterways went under a bit of a makeover in 2015, shortening from a 10-day celebration to just four.

While it still kicked off with the annual Twin Cities Orthopedics Torchlight 5k and CenterPoint Energy Torchlight parade and includes events and activities all around downtown Minneapolis, such as the Twin Cities River Rats water ski show and fireworks, the changes continued in 2016.

As the festival is a salute to all things Minneapolis, it is fitting that one of the new additions shines a light on the ever-growing beer community. The Mess Hall at Boom Island, open Saturday during AquaJam, showcases four local breweries – FINNEGANS, Fulton Beer, Lakes & Legends Brewing Company and Sociable Cider Werks.

Ethan Applen, CEO of Lakes & Legends; Tucker Gerrick, from Fulton; Angie Lee, marketing and events coordinator from FINNEGANS; and Jim Watkins, co-founder of Sociable, spoke about what it's like to merge a new Minneapolis staple with an old one.

Aquatennial Fireworks
(credit: Andy Swarbrick)

So, why did you all want to be a part of the Aquatennial?

Applen: For us, we try to celebrate the city, the state and the heritage of the region every day in our taproom so partnering in the city's official celebration seemed a perfect marriage!

Gerrick: Aquatennial embodies a number of elements that are part of Fulton's DNA, namely the celebration of our aquatic resources, inclusiveness and approachability. Not to mention that it is the quintessential Minneapolis event.

Lee: We have never been a part of it before — well, besides the parade once — and being a Minneapolis brewery, we think it's time!

Watkins: It is the quintessential Minneapolitan summer event. Aquatennial is to warm summer afternoons what winter carnival is to cold winter nights. We wouldn't miss it.

It doesn't surprise me that the tradition of the Aquatennial spoke to a group of brewers/craftsmen. So, that said, what does it mean to be a part of this Minneapolis tradition?

Applen: We're a newer brewery, so being able to participate in something so central to the city's identity is a great opportunity to meet and educate people about what we're trying to do. We'd love to be the brewery people think of when they're thinking of the city and what is growing around it.

Gerrick: To us at Fulton, it means we're part of something bigger. We're a part of people's history, of their personal stories. It's extremely exciting to be part of the city's story this way.

Lee: It's a way for us to support the community and be a part of the community even further. We believe that doing good and having fun play nicely together, and this is also what Minneapolis is all about.

Watkins: Being a part of this Minneapolis tradition is pretty special for us. We are a young company in a category that is relatively new to the market. That said, we're humbled to be included in something steeped in as much tradition as the Aquatennial.

Mr. Applen, you mention you're a newer brewery and you're actually the newest brewery of those featured. So, that being said, what are you most excited for?

Applen: For us, it's all about meeting people and introducing them to our beer, who we are and what we're trying to build. There's nothing better than connecting with people and seeing the smiles on their faces when they really enjoy a beer you've made.

On the other hand, FINNEGANS is oldest brewery of those featured. Does that present any challenges? 

Lee: We see no challenges, just opportunities. A rising tide lifts all boats; we're proud to be called pioneers in this vibrant local craft scene.

Fulton Beer is Minneapolis' first taproom. Tell me Mr. Gerrick, what does that mean to you?

Gerrick:  We're absolutely humbled and proud to be a part of Minnesota beer history and look forward to creating many more chapters of the story.

Clearly, the Aquatennial is a celebration of all things Minneapolis. But, tell me, why do you think it is important for Minnesota crafts to be featured at this event?

Applen: Craft is about as local as it gets. It's about the place, as well as the individual crafts-people who make their wares. You can tell a lot about the identity of a city or place from what types of crafts-people it has and what they make.

Gerrick: Minnesota craft beers comprise some of the best in the country without a doubt. It's an absolute must to have such products available at an event like this.

Lee: Because this is what Minnesota is all about. #MNPride

Watkins: I mean, of course we are biased, but we think that local beer and cider has been a fantastic addition to the food and beverage scene in Minneapolis. I know it's controversial to suggest beer is an art form, but I think there is no denying there is a creativity and craftsmanship that really drives our young industry. It seems to really jive with Minnesota's long history of creativity and innovation.

So, since it's about crafts, let's talk about yours! If you can say, what selection of brews will you have available at the event?

Applen: We'll be releasing our Rhu-Berry Farm Ale specially for the event – it's a light summer ale made with rhubarb and strawberries grown within 25 miles of the cities. Just about as local as you can get! We're still finalizing our list beyond that, but I'm pretty sure you'll also see our popular St. Gail and Marigold there.

Gerrick: We will have all four of our year-round beers available Saturday, including our newest to the group: 300, our Mosaic IPA. Familiar favorites like Sweet Child of Vine, The Ringer and our Great American Beer Festival award-winning Lonely Blonde.

Lee: FINNEGANS Hoppy Shepherd, our hop-forward session ale.

Watkins: We will definitely bring our flagship products Freewheeler and Hop-A-Wheelie.  I heard through the grapevine there might be a special summer seasonal there also.

Sounds like there will be a great selection! If guests can try only one of your styles offered, which one should they try?

Applen: That has to be our special Rhu-Berry Farm Ale!

Watkins: I always recommend people start with our flagship, Freewheeler.  It's our most traditional, apple-forward offering.  That said, it's a "decidedly different" take on cider, so people are usually surprised when they taste it. We try to break the mold on what people expect from cider. In the case of Freewheeler, it's a product that is bright, effervescent and much more wine-like than the sweet juice concentrate ciders offered by the larger producers.

Aside from just being located in Minneapolis, how does your brewery represent Minneapolis?

Applen: We try to source our ingredients and inspiration locally as much as possible. In addition to our Farm Ale, we brew with local honey and plums from Carlson Orchards in Annandale, maple syrup from Somerskagen Sugarbush in Minnetrista, cranberries from Minnesota Cranberry Company in Aitkin and too many to list, and the list keeps growing!

Gerrick: Fulton strives to be a partner and a resource to many organizations throughout the city. We believe in "being where you're from." This might sound simple, but for us this sentiment is reminder that we are stewards of this great city, as individuals and as a business. It's one thing to be proud of your place, it's another to do things that build pride in a place.

Lee: We donate 100 percent of our profits to feeding the hungry. All of the profits from FINNEGANS sales stays within the Twin Cities and supports local food shelves. And that's what Minneapolis is all about – local beer and local giving.

Watkins: Boy, how don't we represent Minneapolis?  I think of our 20-ish employees, only two don't live in Northeast Minneapolis, so we live and play where we work. That kind of drives the ethos of the place. Our brand is very bike-centric, which is a thing in Minneapolis, I'm told. Also, we source exclusively freshly pressed apples from the Midwest. Many of those apple varieties were bred and developed right up the road at the University of Minnesota.

It's so great to see how involved all of you are in the community! So, is or was the Aquatennial a part of your summer tradition? If so, what is a favorite memory from the Aquatennial? 

Gerrick: It was, certainly, a part of summer. And that part was AquaJam.

Lee: We've only done the CenterPoint Energy Torchlight Parade with the Reverse Food Truck. It was hard to light the truck with no electricity, so we're excited to make new memories!

Watkins: I mean, how can I not say fireworks?

Lastly, being Minneapolis businesses what is your favorite thing about summer in Minneapolis?

Applen: The changing seasons help make each one special, and because of that people take advantage of summer here more than I've seen anywhere else. Whether it's at the lake or just on the city trails, it's all about enjoying every bit of summer while it's here and that helps bring the whole city and community together.

Gerrick: My personal favorite aspect of summer in Minneapolis would have to be just witnessing the city come alive. Everyone hits the streets and the outdoors in almost a singular wave when the weather changes. It's just so great to see people enjoying themselves.

Lee: Wonderful patios and rooftops paired with great beer drinking weather!

Watkins: Forgetting where my snow shovel is hidden in my garage. That and Freewheeler on one of the many area restaurant patios.

The Mess Hall will be open from 3 to 10 p.m. at Boom Island. It is part of the AquaJam celebration.

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