The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 5, 2012

First call: Organizers gearing up for Mankato Craft Beer Expo

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — The countdown has begun. Only 76 days remain until the Mankato Craft Beer Expo on Jan. 19.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Jason Kocina, a sales and development manager with Tow Distributing, the Mankato-based wholesale beer distributor. “Craft beer drinkers in Mankato have been clamoring for this kind of event.”

And that fact has not been lost on Mark Opdahl and Juno Choi, owners of Chop Liver LLC, which organizes craft beer expos around the state. Opdahl and Choi are the men behind the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest, as well as events in Rochester and St. Cloud.

Opdahl said they’ve been in contact with several Mankatoans, including Kocina, who have been suggesting an event in Mankato for some time. He noted that he and Choi initially planned on hosting an event in Mankato much sooner. But after the demise of Brew Fest in 2008, Opdahl said they wanted to prove to Mankato officials that they could organize successful events.

“It seems like the time is right,” he said.

Tim Tupy agrees. As the co-founder of Mankato Brewery -- which is, naturally, among the 40-plus craft breweries featured at the event -- Tupy said he’s witnessed for himself the growing interest in craft-brewed beer.

In addition to its bottled beers (Mankato Original and Stickum) and its draft-only Center Street series, Mankato Brewery also hosts special events like last week’s firkin at Patrick’s in St. Peter. (A firkin is a special keg that naturally carbonates beer.)

Though Tupy wasn’t quite ready to say what the brewery has in store for the expo, he did make this guarantee:

“We’ll be ready,” he said.

Kocina said Tow Distributing will have a presence at the expo as well. The company not only distributes for national breweries, but also for craft beers such as the Mankato Brewery, Odell Brewing Company and Alaskan Brewing -- all of which will be present at the expo.

“It’ll be a nice selection,” Kocina said.

Don Kaiser is co-owner of Brew-n-Wine in Mankato, which sells wine and beer kits as well as other ingredients and supplies. Kaiser opened his doors in January 2009 and said demand for his products has only grown since. He also teaches home-brewing classes through Mankato’s Community Education program and travels to beer expos around the country -- including a recent trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

When asked if the local market for craft- and home-brewed beer is expanding, he replied quickly:

“Yea it is. We’ve seen steady growth every year.”

Opdahl and Choi stress that their events focus as much on the craft of beer-making as the consumption of beer itself.

In addition to educational seminars on beer-making and home brewing, Mankato’s expo will also include a presentation from Doug Hoverson, author of “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.”

Tickets go on sale Nov. 11 and are priced at $30 ($40 at the door, and $10 for designated drivers).