True brew in the Twin Cities
Craft breweries are popping up all over, offering tours and tap rooms.
© Beth Gauper
At Harriet Brewing, Dave Urso fills growlers and dispenses samples.
It used to be that rebellious young men started garage bands. Now, they're starting garage breweries.
Miller and Bud may rule the beer world, but craft brewers are its rock stars. At first, they made their own, getting supplies from St. Paul's Northern Brewer (“Good beer is your right'').
Then, they started real breweries with names like Surly (“the anger fueled by the inability to find good beers'') and Flat Earth (“Join the movement against the reign of watered-down domestics'').
Summit Brewing has supplied the Twin Cities with good beer since 1986. But in 2006, Surly led a second, edgier wave of microbreweries that stirred the pot with heaps of hops, exotic malts and beers named Furious, Abrasive and Cynic.
The fans who loved them became known as Surly Nation and pushed the so-called “Surly bill,'' which passed in 2011 and allows Minnesota breweries to sell their own beer on the premises.
Now, the rebels are going mainstream, offering tours as well as tap rooms.
Fulton Brewing's tap room in downtown Minneapolis recently was named Best Place to Meet Straight Single Men. It sells its beer at nearby Target Field, along with Surly, which brews Bandwagon IPA exclusively for the fans there.
Breweries are popping up all over the Twin Cities; pretty soon, every neighborhood will have one.
Mine is Harriet Brewing. On weekends, it brings bands and food trucks to its bright-yellow tap room and patio in a former armored-car garage just off Minneapolis' Lake Street.
Its Wednesday tours start in the lime-green art gallery, lined with the vibrant, vaguely psychedelic Jesse Brödd paintings commissioned for its beer labels. On the tour I took, guide Andy Heater fetched a giant pitcher of West Side India pale ale, made with a spicy Belgian yeast, then took us to the back patio and into the brew room.
He told us about Harriet's start in the Linden Hills garage of owner Jason Sowards, whose 2008 layoff from his engineering job prompted the start of a brewery that would combine “the controlled chaos of Belgian-style beers with the precise science of German lagers.''
“We're trying to do different things with classic styles,'' Heater said. "We can let our hair down with the Belgian ales, but then we get down to brass tacks with the Germans.''
For summer, Harriet brews Saison Norrice, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale; and Wodan Weizen, a German-style Weissbier.
As he talked, Sowards and his staff bustled around the room, polishing copper kettles, tinkering with valves and toting kegs.
© Beth Gauper
In Minnetonka, Jon Messier gives a tour at Lucid Brewing.
“Everyone here is in love with beer,'' Heater said.
Stephanie Steinwedel of Minneapolis first tried Harriet beers at the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild's Autumn Brew Review, one of a quickly growing slate of craft-brew festivals.
“I've never had one I didn't like,'' she said. “I'm kind of a beer nerd; I'm into trying new things.'' She and her friend Wanda Boettcher of Columbia Heights are on a mission to tour all the Twin Cities breweries; Harriet was their third, after Surly and Flat Earth.
“By far, Harriet has the best merch of any we've seen,'' said Boettcher, looking at a T-shirt.
A doppel-brewery in Minnetonka
Women were in shorter supply at a tour of Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka. Nearly everyone was male and a home brewer, listening raptly to co-owner Jon Messier as he led us into the malt-grinding room and on to the wort tuns and fermenting tanks in the concrete interior of a former spice warehouse.
Messier was working for an aerospace company when he convinced his home-brewing buddy Eric Biermann to start a brewery: “I was sitting behind a desk pushing paperwork for too long, and it got to the point where either I kill myself or start a brewery,'' he said.
© Beth Gauper
Harriet Brewing includes a gallery of paintings used on beer labels.
Biermann named the brewery for the one brief moment at the end of a busy day when he and his wife could relax with a good beer. Their motto: “Clarity in thinking leads to excellence in drinking.''
As we listened to Messier, we took turns carrying and pouring the refill pitcher of Lucid's Air, a pale wheat ale that's much like Wisconsin's great crossover craft beer, Spotted Cow from New Glarus.
We also tried the Camo, a double India pale ale that has five kinds of hops and a whopping 9 percent alcohol content but is beautifully balanced and also easy to drink.
Messier and Biermann share the gleaming new brewery with Broc and Brittany Krekelberg, who operate Badger Hill Brewing. The couple were helping Messier with the tour.
“The craft beer industry is very collaborative,'' Broc Krekelberg said. “We have a natural tendency to help each other out.''
The Twin Cities are nowhere near the saturation point for microbreweries, he says; Minnesota is only 26th in the nation in craft beer produced per capita.
“San Diego has 37 breweries,'' he says. “Minnesota is lagging behind a lot of the country by six or seven years.''
And the craft-beer segment of the U.S. market still is tiny, though growing.
“Ninety-five percent of people don't know any better, or they're scared of craft beer,'' he said. “But once they try it, they say, “Holy buckets, that's pretty good.' ''
Keeping up with the brewers
The scene is expanding rapidly, with tappings, tastings, tours and beer dinners nearly every day.
Nearly all of the breweries have websites and are on Facebook and Twitter; if you have a favorite, sign up to get the latest news. Or, follow Andrew Schmitt at Minnesota Beer Activists.
MnBeer.com keeps a current list of Minnesota breweries.
Visiting the breweries
Watch websites for upcoming tour dates; generally, spots are reserved by email, first-come, first-served. In lieu of payment, most ask for donations of canned goods for food shelves.
Many small breweries sell their beer in refillable 64-ounce glass jugs called growlers.
Don't forget to bring your I.D., especially if you look young for your age.
Boom Island Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. This brewery along the Mississippi River, across from Boom Island Park, specializes in Belgian-style beers. It offers free Friday-evening tastings.
Dangerous Man Brewing in Minneapolis. This brewery in northeast Minneapolis, just four blocks from the old Grain Belt Brewery, has a tap room that's open Thursday through Saturday. It serves craft sodas as well as craft beer.
It's in a small business area that includes restaurants, so customers can bring their own food.
Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior. In this southwest suburb of Minneapolis, a former resort town on Lake Minnetonka,
the brewery's tap room is open Thursday through Saturday, and tours are given on Saturday.
For more, see Cruising around
Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul. This brewery is not far from Summit Brewing, just off Shepard Road in the West Seventh area.
© Beth Gauper
In Stillwater, Staples Mill Brewing occupies part of the historic Isaac Staples sawmill.
It sells growlers Monday through Saturday and also offers occasional public tasting events.
Fulton Brewing in Minneapolis. This Warehouse District brewery is a stone's throw from Target Field, which sells
its Sweet Child of Vine IPA. It has a tap room with attendant food trucks.
Harriet Brewing in
Minneapolis. This brewery is in the Longfellow neighborhood, two blocks east of the Lake Street light-rail
It offers "fun'' tours at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays and "technical'' tours at 5:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month, and on weekends it offers live music and food trucks at its tap room.
Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis. This brewery in the Logan Park neighborhood
of northeast Minneapolis has a handsome tap room and outdoor patio. It's open Thursday-Saturday, with a rotating schedule of
Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka. This brewery
in the west Minneapolis suburbs is off I-494 just north of Eden Prairie. It offers tours, usually 5:30 p.m. Fridays. Badger Hill and Bad Weather
also brew in the facility.
612 Brew in Minneapolis. This brewery at Broadway and Central in northeast
Minneapolis has a taproom that's open Wednesday through Saturday. Food trucks provide food.
The town is a popular day-trip destination; for more, see Summer in Stillwater.
Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. The brewery in this suburb just west
of Minneapolis, in the southeast corner of the junction of highways 100 and 7, has a tap room and offers weekend tours.
Summit Brewing in St. Paul. This pioneering brewery and relative behemoth is in the West Seventh area. It has a gift shop and offers tours at 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays.Its new tap room is open 3-8 p.m. Fridays.
© Sean U.
In a break from craft tradition, Surly sells its beers in cans.
Surly Brewing in
Brooklyn Center. This brewery is east of Minnesota 100, just over the borders of Robbinsdale and Minneapolis.
It offers tours from 6 to 8 p.m. most Fridays and from 5 to 7 p.m. most Saturdays. They're very popular, so reserve up to three weeks in advance.
Twin Cities beer festivals
February, Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild Winterfest in St. Paul at the Minnesota History Center. Tickets go on sale in early December, and the 700 tickets sell almost instantaneously.
June, Summer Beer Fest in St. Paul. Beer from
more than 70 breweries are available at this festival in the International Bazaar area of the Minnesota State
July, Summer Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. This festival, held in Hillcrest Park during Highland Fest, features beers from more than 50 local, regional and national breweries.
September, Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild sponsors this festival at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis. Tickets go on sale in July and sell out quickly.
Brewing in a nutshell
Each brewery gives a different tour. But basically, this is how beer is brewed.
In the mash tun — often, a big copper kettle — grain is steeped in hot water. After the grain is strained
out, the resulting wort is boiled and hops added.
It’s cooled and sent to fermenting tanks, where yeast is added. After fermentation, the beer is cooled and stored.
But the brewmaster can tinker with the beer at many points. The many types of barley malts, when roasted, give beer color and
flavor — of nuts, coffee or chocolate, for example.
The type of hops used gives it aroma, and its bitterness balances the sweetness of the malt; a beer with extra hops is more
The strain of yeast also is important; those that rise to the top of the brew, or "top-fermenting'' yeasts, are used to
produce old-style ales, porters, stouts and wheat beers. Bottom yeasts, which ferment at cooler temperatures, are used to
make the lighter lagers.
And, as in any recipe, the proportion of ingredients, the cooking and cooling times and the temperatures all affect the result.
Other grains, such as corn and rice, are used by national breweries, such as Miller. At craft breweries, extra ingredients are used only as flavorings: in honey ales, for example, or spicy wheat beers, often called Weizen (in German, wheat) or Weiss (white).
Brewery tours elsewhere
For information about brewery tours in Milwaukee, see Mad about brew.
For more about other tours, see Road trip: Breweries of southern Wisconsin.
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