Barrel Theory Beer Company,
a new taproom and brewery, will be coming to Lowertown in early 2017. Founded by three friends (two are former Surly employees), the brewery will emphasize a small-business atmosphere where the beer is fresh and the owners are onsite helping out.
While new breweries have popped up across the country and the Twin Cities in recent years, Barrel Theory promises to set itself apart. The differentiation begins with the space, which will seat about 95 guests inside a brickwork building dating from the 1800s and is next door to Dark Horse Bar & Eatery. Barrel Theory is leasing both the main level for a taproom and brewery, and also a basement for storing barrel-aged stouts and sour beers.
“There are a lot of breweries around the country where you can name that one beer they make,” says co-founder Brett Splinter, previously the director of technology at Surly. “We want people to think of us as consistent with our beer quality and with our customer experience.” The beers will be brewed by former Surly shift brewer Timmy Johnson, with friend Todd Tibesar, CPA, filling out the ownership team.
While Splinter and Johnson first met and bonded over homebrewing some years ago, their professional experience will set them apart from other breweries in the metro. “Tim is brewing at a very successful commercial brewery and here sits Todd, a guy who can tell us no to everything because he’s the finance guy,” Splinter says, both joking and serious.
With so many breweries in the Twin Cities, the Barrel Theory team drafted a business plan to make sure they stand out. Splinter cites Dangerous Man’s hyperlocal focus as an influence, as well as lessons learned from his friends at Surly. “After working for a bigger regional brewery, we wanted to keep ours small and very focused on getting fresh beer to our customers, and being able to interact with our customers very personally,” says Splinter.
The concept is to grow the Barrel Theory brand slowly and methodically. Most beer will be available at the brewery only, with limited kegs going to local beer-savvy bars. He expects fewer than 10 employees: the three owners, plus an assistant brewer, taproom manager and part-time bartenders to help with operations.
There are pros and cons to a large regional brewery or with a hyperlocal model, Splinter admits, but the personal touch of a small-scale operation connects with him and, he expects, with other beer drinkers in St. Paul. The brewery will not have a kitchen onsite, but will partner with Dark Horse to serve hot food right in the brewery, using a window between the buildings so customers don’t have to venture outside.
Though barrel is right in their name, not all the beer will be barrel-aged. The name is taken from Liebig's Law of the Minimum, an agricultural concept that states a product is only as good as its weakest ingredient. Liebig used a barrel metaphor. “If you stand a barrel on its end, no matter how big the barrel is it will only hold as much water as the shortest stave,” Splinter explains. The barrel imagery is perfect for a brewery but, more importantly, it fits with Barrel Theory’s emphasis on quality and consistency.