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Summit Brewing Reflects on 20 Years of Good Will and Good Beer

It’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a new brewery opening up nearly every month. A time when reviews weren’t based on the latest style or wildest ingredient and ranks weren’t posted everywhere online. A time where drinking craft beer wasn’t considered cool.

But, there was.

Minnesota in 2002.

Twenty years ago, there were less than 10 breweries in the state of Minnesota. Instagram was 10 years away from being invented and, for many beer drinkers, a lager meant a lite domestic. Craft beer was still seen as questionable.

Summit Brewing Company had just celebrated 15 years of business, but was still eager to find ways to entice new drinkers to try Summit Extra Pale Ale.

Founder & President Mark Stutrud was no stranger to the hustle of encouraging local people to try his product. In fact, Stutrud’s mission upon opening Summit was not just to brew quality beer in the classical European style, but also to bring true beer culture back to the region.

So, in 2002, alongside Mike Lescarbeau and Marcus Fischer of the agency One and All, Stutrud was focusing on gathering customer testimonials throughout the Twin Cities.

“At the time, we were competing with the big national brewers from the U.S. for space, yes,” Stutrud said. “But when it came to imagery, to style…it was primarily the imported beers that we were competing with.”

Stutrud explained that those drinkers that naturally gravitated toward Summit beer were imported drinkers to begin with. However, there was still a belief that because Summit was domestic that it was not as good as an import.

“We wanted to elevate the reality that our beer was just as good, if not better than, the imports,” Stutrud said. “Also, we could play up our message of quality and freshness because our beer didn’t have to travel as far being that it was made right here at home.”

So, Lescarbeau suggested, to convince Americans that Summit beer was just as good as European beer, why not have Europeans endorse it?

Thus, the Good Will Beer Tour was born.

(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

An outline began for the tour, which comprised four trips: England, Bavaria, Norway and Ireland, that included shipping Summit beer to different countries to be sampled at local establishments.

“The notion was to get beer drinkers in other countries to endorse us to show that folks in England or Germany love our beer so why wouldn’t you love it here?” Stutrud said. “But, it also was to communicate what pub culture is all about – appreciating style, congregating, sharing experiences and life over a beer.”

Summit team members, along with Lescarbeau, Fischer and sound engineer Andre Bergeron, would travel to different pubs and restaurants in these countries to share select Summit styles and capture feedback. Using contacts from the industry, visits and establishments were pre-determined.

“We didn’t want to just walk into a pub with 10 cases of beer and do samplings for two hours and just destroy somebody’s business! So, we offered to pay rent and in most cases the owners really enjoyed they idea so they were happy to have us come in,” Stutrud remembered. “Then we’d just hang out at the pub the rest of the night, buy dinner and spend time and money there.”

To truly test if this would work, the team began the tour in England. With Summit’s flagship, Extra Pale Ale, and Summit Great Northern Porter both being extremely traditional styles it was a bit of a gamble. They also brought Summit India Pale Ale (the beer that would evolve into Summit True Brit IPA), which turned out to be a huge hit. Stutrud even recalled one pub goer saying it was what IPAs “used to taste like in this country.”

Following England, they traveled to Bavaria, Germany. This time they brought Extra Pale Ale, Summit Grand Pilsener and Summit Oktoberfest.

“That was pretty intense because German’s have some pretty specific ideas of what’s beer and what isn’t, and not just connected to Reinheitsgebot but connected to what they do,” Stutrud said.

But there too, they were met with pleasant responses.

“The Bavarians, they don’t like to have a pilsner that’s that hop-forward,” Stutrud said of Grand Pilsner. “But they loved our Oktoberfest!”

Norway followed, with Summit bringing Extra Pale Ale, Grand Pilsener and Oktoberfest once again.

Ireland completed the tour.

“It was a really beautiful experience,” Stutrud said. “We would roll into a little town in the countryside and walk into a pub. It would have a potbelly stove in the middle of the room and be a combination General Store, and all the folks from town would be there. You’d feel like you were walking into someone’s living room! After a while, it was like you were an old acquaintance.”

All of the feedback from the visits and conversations were used in special radio ads that Bergeron edited during the trip. Each endorsement was meant to encourage people across the Midwest to try this beer revered around the world.

(credit: Summit Brewing Co.)

But, according to Stutrud, it morphed into a much larger community experience.

“All of these impromptu conversations would just unfold naturally,” he recalled. “They were really powerful when it comes to communicating what pub life was all about.”

While the hope is to one day resurrect these visits in a sort of reunion tour, Stutrud believes the mission of culture and community is something Summit still works toward throughout the Midwest today.

Because, whether it was a discerning drinker in 2002 unsure of trying this “new” craft beer or an enthusiast eager to get their hands on the latest style in 2022, the goal has always been the same: great conversation over an excellent pint of beer.

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