Brewpub to honor author of prohibition act
GRANITE FALLS — From Christchurch, New Zealand to McDonough, Georgia, there are brewpubs making and selling beer in the name of Andrew Volstead, remembered as the author of the National Prohibition Act of 1919.
Now, a group of entrepreneurs believes it’s time to open up a brewery and brewpub in Volstead’s hometown, where he is remembered for prohibition but also celebrated for the Capper-Volstead Act that made farm cooperatives possible.
“I think we can have a really strong story to tell around our brewery,’’ said Sarina Otaibi, chair of the board of directors for the Bluenose Gopher Brewery of Granite Falls.
The new brewery and brewpub restaurant will be a cooperative. Starting a new business venture as a cooperative has its challenges, but it also can be a more sustainable model, according to Otaibi and her fellow directors.
A cooperative creates a community of members and supporters, they pointed out.
“The solid foundation for us is the community,’’ said fellow board member Rickie Maynard. “If the community is involved and becomes members we feel it will have that solid foundation.’’
The new cooperative is in the initial stages of recruiting members and making plans for its brewery and brewpub. Its founders hope to brew the first craft beers and open the brewpub in late 2015 or early 2016.
The brewpub will be located in a turn-of-the century building in the community’s downtown, where board member Mary Gillespie, Otaibi’s mother, operates a retail business “Frogs on the Footbridge.” The building was once owned by the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company.
Volstead almost certainly stood within its walls. He practiced law and served as mayor in the community before his years in Congress.
To date, 74 people have become shareholders in the new cooperative. The directors hope to cross the 300 membership mark by the end of the year.
The Bluenose Gopher name chosen for the business is a reference to Volstead. Back in the day, a newspaper editorial writer slapped Volstead with the moniker “Bluenose Gopher’’ for being a Minnesotan who advocated a strict moral codex.
It’s still a matter of some debate whether Volstead was as strict as so-often portrayed. “I think he wasn’t a total teetotaler from the stories I’m told,’’ said Gillespie.
She does know for certain that Volstead was very proud of his legislation on behalf of farm cooperatives.
Bluenose Gopher Brewery is not the first brewery to use the cooperative model. A brewery in Austin, Texas, is believed to have been the first when it started more than a decade ago.
Many others have followed suit, including Fair State Brewing Cooperative of Minneapolis.
No matter the ownership structure, there has remained steady growth in the opening of new brewpubs, Otaibi said. Most are located in urban areas.
The question here is whether this type of business can succeed in a small, rural community.
The directors believe there is no place more appropriate. Their goal is to promote economic development, and they believe this can be an important step. They want to serve locally-raised foods in the brewpub restaurant. They would love nothing better than to create a micro-economy around the brewpub and brewery, Otaibi said.
Down the road, the directors hope to source the hops and grains for Bluenose Gopher beers from local farmers as well. There have already been inquiries from interested farmers, according to board member Andrew Hodny.
There has also been a lot of interest in the venture itself from young adults in the community, and that’s very important, noted Otaibi. Small, rural communities need to find ways to promote more engagement and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people.
Of course, what matters most will be whether Bluenose Gopher beers will find favor with those living in the region which once sent Andrew Volstead to Congress. The cooperative will initially produce three varieties, including a lighter-flavored Munich Helles lager, a Scottish Ale, and an India Pale Ale.
The directors think Andrew Volstead would approve of their venture.
“He was a product of his time, so I don’t think he’d disapprove,’’ Gillespie said.
“And we’re celebrating his history, educating people on the importance of cooperatives. I think he would appreciate that,’’ Otaibi said.
Shares in the cooperative are $150.21. The 21 cents is a reminder of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which ended prohibition on December 5, 1933. The 21 cents from each share will be donated to the Granite Falls Historical Society. To learn more about the plans, or become a cooperative member, visit www.bluenose.coop.