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Scott Johnson had long wanted to start a family business. When the so-called "Surly bill" became law in 2011, allowing craft breweries to open taprooms and serve their beers on-site, he saw his opportunity.

In 2017, Johnson and his family opened BlackStack Brewing with a taproom and event space in the American Can building in St. Paul's Midway-Hamline neighborhood.

City officials had considered razing the old canning factory, once used by companies including Hormel, Swift & Co. and Armour & Co. Then a California-based developer bought the building in 2013 and set about refurbishing and repurposing it.

Its looming, backlit smokestack was within view of the family's home in Prospect Park and proved the inspiration for the brewery's name.

The business was a family affair from the beginning, with Johnson's wife, Shawne Murphy-Johnson, responsible for business operations and their children Murphy, Cooper and Quinn handling a variety of roles.

Johnson died in his sleep in early April at age 62. It was sudden; his family said he hadn't been suffering from any illness.

"He was always a people person. I think part of what was really appealing about the taproom law was that it was public facing," said Cooper Johnson, who had taken on a lot of the front-of-the-house responsibilities at BlackStack. "He really thrived with having hosted people every single day."

Murphy Johnson, who is BlackStack's director of creative and product development, said one of his father's superpowers was outfitting BlackStack at a fraction of the budget spent by some smaller breweries. "It was a testament to his deal savviness," he said.

BlackStack beers proved to be popular locally, and Scott Johnson's experience in importing and exporting brought them to some surrounding states and even a few international locations.

After the brewery opened, Cooper Johnson opened Bricksworth brewpub restaurants in Burnsville and the North Loop in Minneapolis. His father provided invaluable business advice, Cooper Johnson said.

Friend Scott Benson, an attorney at Briol & Benson, had known Scott Johnson since third grade. They graduated from Dassel-Cokato High School in 1979; Johnson was the valedictorian. Johnson would go on to Macalester and Benson to St. Olaf, but they created a small import/export business during college, and became regular business partners.

After a short stint working at IBM, Benson said, Johnson helped develop the World Trade Center building in St. Paul. "I know that was one thing that Scott was really proud of and really worked hard on," Benson said.

Johnson had a history in the beer industry. He was also a partner in All Saints Brands Inc., a high-end imported beer distribution company. That ran from the early 1990s to 2005.

Benson did legal work for All Saints and credited much of that company's success to Johnson. "He had a great palate, he knew a lot about what beer would sell but also what was good beer," Benson said. "He was just masterful at figuring out which beers we should take on and which beers we should pass on."

Besides loving great beer, Scott Johnson was also a huge music fan. He saw Bruce Springsteen in concert more than 50 times. He was also a big fan of Tom Petty, Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan and John Prine.

Johnson is survived by his wife and children; his father, Lloyd Johnson; and younger brother Ryan Johnson. A memorial service will be held May 4 at 4:30 p.m. at BlackStack Brewing.