MANKATO — Anyone looking for the aroma of barley, the faint flavors of fruits or chocolate or just an excuse to get hoppy found something to tease their senses at the Mankato Craft Beer Expo Saturday.
More than 50 vendors filled the Verizon Wireless Center’s main floor, offering dozens of beer choices with names as varied as their flavors, including Buffalo Sweat, Walleye Chop, Nightfall Lager, Sugar Shack Maple Stout and Pursuit of Hoppiness.
With a few food stands and special interest groups supporting Minnesota’s craft brewing industry in the mix, you had what a genial Nick St. John of Gaylord described as “heaven.” He was sipping a sample of Lucid Brewing’s Duc’e, an oak-aged imperial red beer, with his girlfriend, Jen Anderson of Shokopee, and two other friends from the Twin Cities.
“Where else can you walk around and try 20 or 30 or 40 different beers in one place?” he said.
Mark Opdahl runs the annual event with his friend Juno Choi. He said there were actually more than 300 different flavors of beer being served. Taps were flowing constantly as about 1,500 people wandered from brewery stand to brewery stand to taste samples served in a small collector’s glass.
The duo hosts a similar expo in Rochester. Although Mankato’s population isn’t as large, the local fest draws about the same sized crowd, Opdahl said. The Mankato’s beer drinking crowd is also more economically diverse and not as stiff in the collar, he added.
“This is my favorite show,” he said. “The bars support it, the area breweries support it and the people support it.”
Craft brewing is a rapidly growing industry, both nationwide and in Minnesota. About 50 percent of the brewers at the festival were from Minnesota, Opdahl said. They included one of the nation’s oldest craft beer makers, August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm, and one of the nation’s newest breweries, Mankato Brewery.
Lucid Brewing of Minnetonka is an example of how quickly the industry is growing, said Mike Wehling. He was the first employee hired by Lucid’s two owners after the brewery started taking shape in 2011. Now there are 10 employees working for the business. They started distributing Lucid beers in the Mankato area in March.
The industry is growing because people are learning to appreciate complex brews, and more brewers are learning how to make them, Wehling said.
“Once they find one beer they like, they want to find more,” he said. “This event is great for both the beer geeks and for people who are just getting into it. When you go somewhere and there’s more than 300 types of beer, how can you not have fun.”
Lucid shares its brewing facility with the Badger Hill and Bad Weather brewing companies. By pooling resources, the three businesses are able to make better beers while keeping their prices affordable, Wehling said. The other two breweries also had booths manned by employees who know how the beers are made, what ingredients are used and how the flavors have evolved from season to season.
Opdahl said that’s another reason people enjoy craft brewing events.
“They get a chance to talk to the people who are making the beer,” he said.