In the February 2013 edition of The Growler magazine, Duluth Mayor Don Ness welcomed the publication to the city and proudly named Duluth the "Craft Beer Capital" of Minnesota. His boastful proclamation wasn't a knock against the brewing scene in other Minnesota cities since the state's 2011 craft beer renaissance, but a celebration of the incredible work the brewers of Duluth were doing.
And—as far as Ness was concerned, he'd called "dibs" on the title before the mayors of either Minneapolis or St. Paul had even considered it. The title holder was Duluth and Duluth alone.
Although an argument could be made (and it was) that the mayor's claim to the craft beer crown for his city bordered on braggadocious, there was truth in his words.
Duluth not only boasted access to Lake Superior, a virtually unending supply of fresh brewing water, but also a vibrant beer scene highlighted by several incredible brewing establishments. In his letter, Mayor Ness highlighted Fitger's Brewhouse, Lake Superior Brewing, Canal Park Brewing, Dubrue, Carmody Irish Pub, Dubb-Linn's, Tycoon's Zenith Alehouse, and Bent Paddle Brewing,
Headed by "a bunch of guys with big, impressive beards," Duluth was racing past the more extensive brewing facilities in St. Paul and Minneapolis to create innovative and authentic beer. Ness believed Duluth brewers' commitment to their craft, not the vastness of their brewery production lines, was the secret to their greatness.
As far as boastful claims went, this one certainly had some merit.
In 2014, the city had one brewery per every 14.369 residents. This number was far below the national average of a brewery for every 123,000 people. Even great beer destinations like Vermont and Oregon, with one brewery per 25.030 and 27.365 residents, fell well short.
Evidence of its greatness, as well as the unofficial nature of the "capital" claim, left the city as the unchallenged craft beer ruler of the state until June 2015. That year a rebuttal—of—sorts came to the north in the form of a billboard.
Visit Saint Paul, the official convention and visitors bureau of Minnesota's capital city, began a promotional campaign in Duluth to highlight St. Paul's greatness. One of its billboards, located along Grand Avenue in West Duluth, claimed St. Paul—not the city of Duluth—was the craft beer capital of the state.
Mayor Ness was taken aback. Not only did the city of St. Paul try to undermine Duluth's craft beer capital title, but they also dared to travel into its city limits to do it.
In making the claim, Terry Mattson of Visit Saint Paul heralded his city's brewing history as well as the proliferation of great breweries (present and future) opening their businesses there. If Duluth could lay claim to the "craft beer capital," why couldn't St. Paul? They were, at the very least, equally deserving of the crown.
Without bad-mouthing Minnesota's home to state government or its burgeoning beer scene, Ness vehemently disagreed. Yes — the state's craft brewing market had grown significantly since the mayor made his initial claim (not only in St. Paul but throughout the state), but Duluth continued to excel. Because they were the first official title holders (albeit unofficially proclaimed as such by Ness), it was theirs to lose — and they hadn't lost it yet.
After some good-natured back-and-forth, the war of words between the two cities became little more than a whisper. In the end, growlers of peace were shared, and a great opportunity to market Minnesota's incredible craft beer scene—both in Duluth and beyond — was not wasted.
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