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Microbrewing's Breakneck Growth Continues: 7 of the Coolest New Craft-Beer Concepts in MSP

Max Boeke (left) & Jordan Standish from Clutch

Finnegan's proposed expansion

It’s been a banner half-decade for MSP’s brewing community. According to a CBRE report released earlier this year, the so-called Surly Bill — passed to much fanfare by the Minnesota legislature back in 2011 — touched off a bona fide brewery boom across the North.

Despite nervous chatter that the local craft beer market is reaching the saturation point, the good times continue to roll: aside from a small blip in 2012, Minnesota’s taproom occupancy growth chart shows a classic hockey stick pattern. (Fitting, right?)

If you’ve biked around the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District or St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone recently, you don’t need a stats pack to accept the obvious: craft beer is suddenly a big business in the North, particularly in MSP’s hottest neighborhoods. But if you’re not in the habit of believing your own eyes, this is Minnesota’s brewery boom by the numbers:
  • Total taproom occupancy (statewide) is approaching 600,000 square feet, with another 110,000+ set to come online by year-end
  • 45 metro-area brewery taprooms
  • Just under 50% in retail storefronts; the lion’s share of the rest in repurposed industrial space
  • $1.3 billion in statewide economic impact
The brewing industry’s breakneck growth can’t last forever;  nor, as craft consumers’ sophistication increases, can the easy money for new operations. No one seriously expects every MSP brewery opening this year to be around in five; a few Greater Minnesota breweries have already closed or moved to new markets. But there’s plenty of time to be pessimistic. For now, here's a look at seven planned and under-development craft beer concepts for 2016 and early 2017:

Broken Clock Brewing

Broken Clock Brewing is about to be the second cooperative brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s zeroing in on a place to call home, and a June brew party offered a tantalizing taste of what could be on tap there: imperial saison, lavender-infused double IPA, blood orange Belgian wit.

Broken Clock is all about community, from its unflinching support of small MSP businesses (notably food trucks — great friends for any brewery to have) to its member-owned model.

“We settled on the cooperative concept because we really wanted to create a business that was focused on serving the needs of those that would be utilizing our goods and services, versus being beholden to a handful of private owners,” says cofounder Jeremy Mathison, who started the brewery with pal Jeremy Gharineh, events guru Stephanie Hubbard, and head brewer Will Hubbard.

According to Mathison, Broken Clock will complement its cooperative structure with a progressive labor model known as “workers’ assembly.”

“[Workers’ assembly allows] each employee the same equal say and ability to contribute to something that they can actually take ownership in,” he says.

Broken Clock is approaching 100 member-owners. Mathison and the team plan to launch a public crowdfunding campaign later this year, along with a members-only preferred stock offering. “If all goes as planned, we should be open by the end of the year,” he predicts.

If you can’t wait that long, show up at Broken Clock’s first-ever collaborative event, slated for July 30 in Minneapolis’ Como neighborhood.

Clockwerks Brewing

Continuing the clock theme, Clockwerks Brewing is setting up shop on a prime parcel within walking distance of Target Field and Target Center — right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis’ booming club district.

According to a late-2015 Kickstarter campaign, Clockwerks will have a distinctive steampunk vibe: “beautiful, opulent, and warm with a dark, imaginative side…[rooted] in the steam-powered technological advances of the Victorian era.” That should mesh nicely with the vintage turn-of-the-20th-century buildings on Clockwerks’ block — per Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, cofounders Brett Michlitsch and Lonnie Manresa chose the building because it had “floors strong enough and ceilings tall enough for tanks.”

Clockwerks plans a full-spectrum beer lineup, with an emphasis on session ales and lagers. The buildout is well underway, though opening day isn’t set in stone.

Finnegan’s Expansion

This one doesn’t qualify as a new brewery opening per se, but it’s still exciting news. Finnegan’s, MSP’s poster child for socially responsible brewing, is opening a new destination facility that includes a 13,000-square-foot event center and 12,000-square-foot business incubator and coworking space known as the “FINNovation Lab.” It’ll be located smack in the middle of the resurgent East Town district, part of a larger mixed-use development near U.S. Bank Stadium.

Business innovation never tasted so good. Oh, and 100% of the site’s profits will “go to charities for the working poor,” according to the Star Tribune.

Utepils Brewing

Utepils Brewing is working furiously to wrangle a disused light industrial endcap in @Glenwood, near Theodore Wirth Park, into sudsy shape.

The former Bryn Mawr Brewing changed its name after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer-owned Oregon hobby winery of like nomenclature, but otherwise appears none the worse for the wear. The brewery’s plumbing and liquid cooling systems are largely in place, with interior walls and fixed taproom elements to follow. Brewery president Dan Justesen expects brewing to begin within months, with the first beers (likely hefeweizen and alt styles) ready this fall.

“We had hoped to have beer by the State Fair,” says Justesen, “but delays with the city on plumbing issues pushed us back.”

Once beer is available and the space is occupancy-certified, Justesen plans a soft open; a grand opening celebration will follow about a month later, when Utepils’s flagship pils is ready. And, once capacity allows, Utepils plans to distribute five “always” beers in cans and taps around town and beyond.

Venn Brewery / Brewing

Veen, as in the Norwegian word for “friend,” not the diagram: Venn Brewery is part ode to all things Scandinavian, part place to drink really good, approachable beer that just happens to be gluten-reduced to celiac-safe levels (so Venn claims). Most styles will be familiar to casual craft drinkers: Munich helles, IPA, session pale ale, porter, Scottish ale, American pilsner. There’ll be a few gentle, and probably delicious curveballs: sahti (Scandinavian farmhouse ale), Belgian tripel, schwarzbier (black lager), Berliner weisse (a light, tangy, almost lemonade-y brew).

Venn is careening toward a second-half 2016 taproom opening. In the meantime, head brewer Kyle Sisco — who’s won countless awards over a decade-long amateur and professional brewing career — is pulling double duty as interim head brewer at Robbinsdale’s Wicked Wort Brewing Company. For a taste of what’s to come at Venn, pay him a visit out there.

Clutch Brewing

Clutch Brewing is the destination taproom St. Paul has been waiting for. At least, that’s what Clutch founders (and apparent gearheads) Max Boeke and Jordan Standish would have us believe. Boeke and Standish are experienced homebrewers and all-around Renaissance men; Standish has an extensive craft beer pedigree that includes a stint at St. Paul’s excellent Flat Earth Brewing Company.

Clutch Brewing’s beer list tends toward the adventurous without being aggressively out there. Planned styles include a milk stout, biere de garde, smoked porter, and chai infused rye IPA (okay, that last one’s pretty original). Opening date is TBD, but Boeke and Standish are aiming for “spring-summer 2017 if possible.” They’re in negotiations for space in an as-yet-undisclosed Lowertown address, and plan to do their part to support the neighborhood’s thriving artist community.

“Max and I are both musicians, and he does leatherwork as well, so we have a deep appreciation for the artists in the area,” says Standish. “We plan on doing a monthly collaboration with local artists interested in helping create...a style of beer they enjoy, and they can promote their art for the month in a dedicated space in the brewery.”

Looney Bin Brewing

St. Paul’s urbanist community was peeved when the owners of the Macy’s block announced they’d gut most of the windowless structure to make way for an above-ground parking deck. Sure, there would also be a regulation hockey rink, a drugstore, and smaller retail suites. But the real liquid silver lining: news that Looney Bin Brewing would take part of the space for its brand new taproom.

While Looney Bin’s name and branding is offbeat, its founders are serious about beer. If their plans hold up, they could end up offering the most ambitious tap list of any new MSP brewery. Original takes on common, drinkable styles will mix it up with high-octane concoctions like Blacktooth Grin (a 12.7% ABV stout) and Delusions of Grandeur (a 16.7%(!) winter seasonal).

Looney Bin’s opening isn’t imminent; the timeline is dependent on reconstruction progress at the Macy’s site. Absent major setbacks, the property should be ready next fall.

Brian Martucci is The Line's Innovation and Jobs News Editor.

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