Pioneer in Minneapolis brewery scene dies in motorcycle crash

Jason Sowards, who helped build the Minneapolis brewery scene, died in a motorcycle crash in Woodbury, Minnesota. (Supplied)

Jason Sowards, founder of Harriet Brewing in Minneapolis, was known for being one of the first breweries with a taproom in the city and teaching many the brewing business.

"Jason was the impetus to legalize brewing beer in Minneapolis," former Minneapolis City Councilmember Gary Schiff said. "He's the O.G. of the Minneapolis microbrew scene."

On Monday, 40-year-old Sowards died in a motorcycle crash on I-94 in Woodbury. Those who knew him remember the trails he blazed in the beer business.

"It was illegal until 2010 to brew beer in Minneapolis unless someone also had a restaurant license," said Schiff. "Because the economics of making beer is totally different from running a restaurant, Minneapolis had zero microbreweries until I met Jason and worked with him as city councilmember to legalize microbreweries. Two other landmark pieces of legislation followed under Jason's leadership: the ability for microbreweries to sell drinks on site, and the ability for microbreweries to have live entertainment."

The brewery that now occupies the former Harriet Brewery space, Arbeiter Brewing Company, is releasing a beer called Harriet Haze in honor of Sowards. The proceeds from the sales will go to his family.

"He was instrumental in bringing up so many people in the beer industry through Harriet Brewing that have gone on to own breweries that have been working in the brewing industry for over 10 years not only in the Twin Cities, but beyond," co-owner of Arbeiter Brewing, Garth Blomberg said.