Craft Beer Discussion with HOOPS Brewing
Canal Park in Duluth Minnesota. To the locals, it is known mostly as a tourist spot, but there are many hidden gems the locals do rave about. One of those is Hoops Brewing located in the historic Waterfront Plaza Building in Canal Park. Hoops Brewing opened in June 2017 by owner Dave Hoops.
After attending college, Hoops fell in love with the wine scene in the San Francisco area. He started by working at a world-class wine bar. During that time he went back to school to learn about fermentation and all things winemaking. When the craft beer revolution exploded in the San Francisco and the West Coast, he was drawn to that and changed his focus to brewing beer. He went back to school again to learn brewing science and craft in Chicago. After that, he continued to live in San Francisco brewing beer for the next 10 years.
Hoops and his wife were both born in Duluth and they knew Duluth would be a great area to raise their young family, so they moved back here in 1999. At that time there were 4 breweries in the state of Minnesota, and now there are over 200. After moving back, Hoops became the Master Brewer at Fitgers Brewhouse for over 16 years. He always had dreams of someday opening his own place in Duluth. Hoops says “Brewing in Minnesota, specifically Duluth is great because of the great local water quality.”
Hoops left Fitgers Brewhouse at the same time as the Timber Lodge Steakhouse was closing which gave him the perfect opportunity. The restaurant was located in the Waterfront Plaza building in Canal Park. He made a pitch to the owners about his vision for a craft brewery, Beer Hall and his BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) idea. They fell in love with this new concept, and they wanted to try something in the space other than a restaurant.
Hoops knew how he wanted his own space to be designed based on his previous experiences as a brewer and from traveling the world visiting breweries. He wanted a large German-style Beer Hall where strangers and friends can sit side-by-side. Hoops Brewing features a Beer Hall with seating for 250+ people. He also did not want a kitchen so he could focus on the beer, so he came up with the BYOF (bring your own food) concept. The expansive space highlights massive 100-year-old Douglas Fir Timbers, a beautiful copper bar and custom made tables. It’s a great space to host events. Hoops says “The opportunity to have Hoops Brewing in the old Timber Lodge was pretty remarkable. BYOF, space for events, and support from the community has been my biggest success in offering a casual, convivial and community-centric atmosphere”
Of course, it has not been without challenges for him. The biggest challenge he faces is running the business, day-to-day operations – from accounting to inventory to HR. For him brewing beer is the easy part, running the whole operation a much larger task. He has to wear a lot of different hats as a business owner and finding a way to balance that can be the hardest part.
On his off days—when he is lucky enough to get one—Hoops spends as much time with his family as he can. Hoops is a big hockey fan, his son plays for the local high school team so he goes to as many games as possible. He also loves to travel to check out other breweries when time allows. Some of his favorite destinations are Germany, Amsterdam, and Mexico. “The German beer halls are like no other, and they will frequently tell you how they are the best in the world,” says Hoops. Hoops also loves to write and be an educational advocate about beer and brewing. He writes a column in the Duluth News Tribune about all things beer.
When he embarks on a new brew he has a lot of decisions to make about the final product. He compares brewing beer to making a casserole. Hoops says “When making a beer you have to think what color you want it, what taste it should have, what it should make the consumer think when drinking and how much alcohol should be in there.” Brewing is somewhere in the middle of art and science, you have to be able to understand how the science works behind it, but it also has to be graceful like a work of art.
Hoops offers some advice to the novice business owner. He recommends that you stand by your idea and the right opportunity will come along. Hoops says “It is going to take 3 times longer than you think and it will cost 4 times as much as you think it should.” Hoops also suggests you should find a mentor or get help from people in the industry. He runs his business by a few simple words: “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
His goals for the next year are simple: grow the business and expand his beer menu. He wants to get more of his beer up the North Shore of Lake Superior and continue to offer and develop quality, Hoops-centric craft beer. Going into the next five years he wants to zero out most of the debt and maintain and expand his good, stable footing in the craft beer industry. Hoops is also hoping to expand the brewery so he can increase brewing operations and volume.
Another unique quality of Hoops Brewing is that there are two other separate businesses inside it: Duluth Coffee Company and The Ripple Bar. When Hoops was building out the space during construction he had a vision for a full bar connected, but legally separated (by a half wall) to the Beer Hall so that folks who don’t want a beer can still have a drink on the premises. Just last summer long-time friends and owners of the Duluth Coffee Company and the Ripple Bar worked together with Hoops to offer premium coffee as well. The shared space has been a great success serving all types of beverages and also expanding the events and alternative workspace that many people utilize Hoops for.
As far as Hoops and Duluth Pack go, the connection goes way back. Not only did Hoops get the iconic backpack during his college years, but he's also been proudly carrying around his Duluth Pack Briefcase since 1990 when he was living in San Francisco. He would have a lot of people ask about it back then, and he would rave about the durability and quality of the bag and, of course, the awesome city of Duluth. He’s great friends with Tom Sega, President and CEO of Duluth Pack, and wanted to pair with another local business, and since he knows Sega well, Duluth Pack was a natural choice. They've collaborated on several events and fun Duluth Pack items for Hoops' retail department. Hoops loves how Duluth Pack is an iconic brand and attaches people to the Duluth area. They also collaborated together and created a seasonal beer called, "1882" based on the year Duluth Pack was founded. It is a delicious lager that was styled after the beer of choice in the Northland area during the late 1800's.
So if you are a local looking for the next great craft brewery, or a tourist visiting Duluth or someone looking for a large or small venue for an event, Hoops Brewery is a great choice.
Drink up, friends.