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Outdoor Spaces During COVID-19 | 56 Brewing

56 Brewing
Erik Eidem

“Burn the Jenga!” the crowd feverishly chanted. The patio was bustling and the taproom at 56 Brewing was out of firewood, so something had to go. Your typical brewery staples of Yahtzee and Scrabble would only stoke the flames for so long. This called for something bigger, bolder… something that would warm their patrons for hours. When one is dealing with both pandemic-based shutdowns and the frosty winds of the North, out-of-the-box thinking is required. Welcome to the Patio Pintometer.

Patio Seating Only

The global pandemic has been extremely challenging for breweries everywhere. One day you’re open at 50% seating capacity, and the next you’re shut down for two months. Different states, different rules. The particular challenge in Minnesota is, as we all know, the winter weather. For health and safety measures, the governor announced a shutdown of all bars, taprooms and restaurants in November. On December 18, restrictions were lifted for patio seating only. Now run that back in your head… patio seating only… Minnesota… winter. You can understand the reluctance of breweries to open for outside service.

Photos by Erik Eidem

The Colder the Weather, the Cheaper the Beers!

Innovation takes root from persevering through unknown challenges. Caroline O’Halloran, the general manager at 56 Brewing knew this. She saw the challenge of winter patio seating at her brewery and came up with a brilliant solution. Capturing the spirit of the hearty Midwesterner, she tied the price of pints to the weather outside. Care to drink on 56’s patio at a balmy 40 degrees? Well, then you’ll pay $6 a beer. Dare to brave the elements at 14 degrees? Well, then you have been rewarded for your fearlessness with $2 pints! The Patio Pintometer was born.

We Have No Business If We Have No Firewood

Most brewery general managers worry about paying employees or making sure production is ready. O’Halloran suddenly had to worry about whether 56 Brewing had enough firewood and propane for outdoor heating. “Our logistical priorities have completely changed. I feel like the manager of a homestead on Little House on the Prairie. We have no business if we have no firewood now.”

Embracing the collaborative spirit of breweries, customers can frequently be seen splitting wood and disassembling pallets for the fire pits. “We still depend heavily on our weekends,” O’Halloran said. “If it’s the weekend, and we run out of firewood… get the Jenga out of storage and burn it.” A big reason for creating the Patio Pintometer was to give back to all the customers who have helped keep 56 in business during a difficult time. “People are seeing it as a badge of honor. ‘Yes, I am outside. I am doing this.’”

Supporting Our Customers and Our Staff

The Patio Pintometer made the outdoor seating experience a sense of pride for Minnesotans. In addition, it has helped the brewery hire back all of its staff after several painful layoffs. O’Halloran beamed, “I’m so happy to say that everyone is back on the schedule.” O’Halloran and the owners would pitch in behind the bar to make sure there was a job for employees to come back to. It was the ultimate team effort. “You have to get creative during these times… and it was all thanks to the (Patio) Pintometer that we were able to bring everyone back.”

Indoor restrictions have been partially lifted in Minnesota, but the Patio Pintometer lives on. So grab your snowmobile suit, your Moon Boots and spurn the indoor seating. Check the weather forecast on your phone in order to know the price of beer for the week ahead. Here’s hoping for a cold one.

No fleck of snow, or wintry blow
Shall break the spirit of me.
I raise my glass, and my frozen ass,
At 56 Brewery!

—The Bard of Beer


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