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Is it time to expand beyond MN? Craft brewers head to Chicago to consider it

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Justin Osborne has a plan for Loon Juice: trying to take it national.

"We are going to be cranking up a whole pile of Loon Juice," the cidermaker at Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery told BringMeTheNews.

Not that they're going to rush into anything.

"If someone came in and said, we want Loon Juice in right now, it’s something that we would certainly evaluate," Osborne said. "But we have to make sure it’s the right fit."

Third Street Brewhouse is in a similar spot, eyeing consumers beyond Minnesota's borders as it weighs the rewards – and risks – that come with it.

"We’ve got to do a little bit of research and determine if in fact there is an opportunity to expand, and if so, what that looks like," Larry Williams, vice president of sales for Cold Spring Brewery, said.

So what exactly is next?

That's a question both brands hope to start answering while in Chicago this weekend – with a little boost from Minnesota.

More success is a plus for the state

Four Daughters and Third Street will be at the Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants show (which is part of the giant National Restaurant Association show) May 22-23 in the Windy City.

They're getting there with the help of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and its New Markets Program.

Basically, the department buys floor space at these big shows way in advance, and recruits Minnesota companies to fill that space while only asking for half the cost back (so businesses can get a spot for half-price, essentially).

The money comes from a grant program that's given $10 million from the state's budget each year.

The goal is to give Minnesota companies a competitive advantage in the region, Brian Erickson with the Department of Agriculture told BringMeTheNews.

"The more that we encourage development of these Minnesota food companies, the more they’re purchasing ingredients from Minnesota farms," Erickson said. "And then they’re creating jobs then for the state’s residents."

Helping out the craft beer boom

The New Markets Program has been going on for four years now, but this is the first time they'll be at the beer and alcohol portion, Alatheia Stenvik with the Department of Agriculture said.

Stenvik said they looked at how quickly Minnesota's craft industry has grown, and thought it would be good to help out local brewers.

At the Beverage Alcohol show, the people who come are "tightly vetted," Stenvik said, "so you're kind of guaranteed that demographic."

Williams said Third Street Brewhouse would probably pay about $5,000 just for the booth space if they were to go solo.

"So could we do it on our own? Absolutely," Williams said. "Would we have done it if the Minnesota Department of Agriculture hadn’t been assisting in it and kind of driving the whole made in Minnesota theme? We probably would not have."

'We certainly appreciate that'

The program isn't just for beer and cider. The Department of Agriculture also bought space at the National Restaurant Association's larger show, as well as the Sweets and Snacks Expo (which runs May 24-26).

In all, 21 Minnesota brands will be at one of those three shows, including Bee Free Honee (yes the one from "Shark Tank") and Annie B's, Big Watt Cold Beverage and Dashfire Bitters, and Red River Valley Potatoes and Lyons Gate Foods.

"They’re supporting local businesses and just trying to make it easier for us," Osborne said, "and we certainly appreciate that."

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