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The Building of Fulton Beer

November 30, 2011

Carlson MBA alum Ryan Petz helped turn Fulton Beer from a home brewing hobby with his friends into a burgeoning business replete with a new brewery.

Every night after his day job, Ryan Petz drives into Minneapolis to join his three friends to brew some Fulton beer and have some fun. It's something they've been doing, and doing well, together for nearly two years now.

So well, in fact, that the four are no longer home brewing in a garage in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis. They've moved into a new, spacious brewery near Target Field in Minneapolis' warehouse district.

"The first time we brewed together we thought, man, wouldn't it be cool to do this for a living someday?" says Petz, a Carlson MBA and Ventures Enterprise alum, while standing inside the 6,000-square-foot Fulton brewery. "I guess for us the daydream didn't go away, it just got bigger and bigger."

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The original Fulton home brewing system

Inside, bags upon bags of grain sit on pallets; shining new brew tanks rise to the ceiling; a massive refrigerator is at the ready; and the original Fulton home brewing system - a handyman's creative work comprised of electric wires and tubular connections to kegs - rests near what is currently being used as the break area.

"It's been a big year-and-a-half, almost
two years," says Petz, Fulton's president.

Big for Fulton Beer and big for Petz as well. In that time Petz graduated from the Full-Time MBA program in May 2010, started a job the following month in channel marketing at General Mills (where he still works full-time), all while helping guide Fulton's progress.

Business Idea Started Brewing in Class
Even as a Carlson student, Petz was intrigued with what their home brewing experiment could really become.

"Before we knew we were going to make this a business, I kind of had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do it," he says. "The classes at Carlson gave me the opportunity to really apply what I was learning there to what I wanted to do with it specifically. We had a number of classes in which I was able to work on a project with other classmates involving a fictional start-up brewery."

He adds that to this day elements of Fulton's early business, marketing, and financial plans arch back to what he worked on while at Carlson, albeit the financial plan is on its "30th to 100th version."

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Demand for Fulton's two most popular beers, Sweet Child of Vine and Lonely Blonde, currently keeps the large brew tanks busy. The line-up also includes the seasonal beers, The Libertine (Imperial Red Ale) and The Worthy Adversary (Russian Imperial Stout). The new equipment enables Fulton to double its capacity over 2010 with room to expand output, and tinker with new brews, in the future.

"It's exciting, but there's a lot of pressure that goes with it," says Petz. "We have a lot of demand in the marketplace, which is great, but it means we have to brew a lot of beer just to keep up and to hopefully keep growing."

Thanks to the passing of the Minneapolis Taproom Ordinance, they are certainly growing within their warehouse.

Now under construction is Fulton's taproom where they'll be able to pour pints of Fulton brews to the public. Patrons will also get to gaze upon Fulton history while they sip as, according to Petz, the original Fulton home brewing system will be prominently displayed in the taproom.

Getting Out and Giving Back
In the meantime, the brewers will continue their involvement in the community. It's one of the main reasons Fulton is where it is today.

"It kind of is our business model, just being out there as much as possible," Petz says. "We do a lot of events, whether it's a table dinner or beer festival or we'll sponsor a fundraiser with a donation of beer or glassware or T-shirts. To me, that is the most effective type of marketing-word-of-mouth marketing-that you couldn't buy if you had the budget for it, which works because we don't have the budget for it."

That community connection also involves an effort by Fulton to give back, which is done through its Ful10 Fund, a financing program designed to help entrepreneurs in need of monetary support.

"It was something that we knew we wanted to be part of our company because it was that important to us in terms of why are we actually in business," says Petz. "It really matters that we can contribute back to a community that has been very, very good to us, and the Ful10 Fund was the most obvious way for us to do that."

Petz recently returned to the Carlson School to guest speak to Carlson undergraduates about entrepreneurship. As for Fulton, you can find its beers at most pubs or stores, growlers can be purchased at its headquarters, and its taproom is targeted to open March 2012 -right in time for Twins season.

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