When a bar offers free beer for life to start-up investors, it’s hard to forget. So it’s safe to say, we’ve all been a little anxious for Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub to open its doors — investors and non-investors alike.
After all, it’s been more than a decade since Minneapolis had a restaurant with its very own on-site craft brewery — and Lord knows, we’ve wanted one.
The story of Northbound started about nine years ago, when a man named Jamie Robinson had an idea to open a brewpub and create on-site craft beers. He previously owned a limo service and worked as assistant manager at Town Hall Brewery — where he first honed the art of brewing liquid gold.
In 2010, Robinson left Town Hall and began work on making his dream a reality. With a few funds left from selling his limo service, he quickly realized he’d need financial help to get this project off the ground.
“So that’s when we did the thing that everybody knows us for — the free beer for life membership,” he said. “We did have equity options as well, but it’s not quite as sexy to sell equity in your company, you know?”
The bank told them they needed $200,000 to get the financing secure for the brewpub. They had already offered free beer for eternity for their friends that helped them out with graphics and a business plan so they figured, why not extend the proposal.
Yes, for an investment of $1,000 into the company, they offered people free beer for the rest of their remaining days.
“It was a big risk for them at the time,” Robinson said. “Now the risk is gone and we’ve got all our money, so if someone were to come up to us and say, ‘Free beer for life?’ we’d say, ‘OK, $10,000.'”
Not surprisingly, it only took them three weeks to raise the money. They actually had to turn people away, Robinson said.
Soon after, they started work on the building — turning an old empty space in the old Oak Building into a half-brewery, half-restaurant and bar.
The new space is warm with tons of natural light and plenty of seats — 76 in the restaurant with 19 of those at the bar. Robinson said next year they’ll work on a new $12,000 outdoor patio, approved for another 57 seats.
And let’s not forget about the beer.
Robinson has four year-round house brews and two rotating seasonal selections on tap. He said he draws inspiration from his time at Town Hall but also plays up his interests with bold flavors and big malts.
The Honey Wheat Ale doesn’t use the term honey lightly — Robinson pours 50 pounds of local honey into his seven-barrel batch, which you can smell and certainly taste.
The Big Jim IPA, named after Robinson’s dad (who ironically is only 5-foot-4, but has a big personality), is really hoppy, with an intense flavor and big malt.
The Light Rail Pale Ale is also very hop forward, not as bold as the Big Jim, but more of an easy-drinking beer. The Smokehouse Porter is made with 5 percent smokehouse malt from their in-house smokers and is more on the carmel-y side of brews.
Their seasonal brews include a Wild Rice Amber Ale, with 5 percent of the grain bill coming from Minnesota wild rice, and a Columbus Pale Ale, that features Columbus hops and a nice, balanced finish.
With the food, they take a similar approach as they do with their beer — Robinson said with a name like Smokehouse, they wanted to spread that through the beer and the food. His head chef, Bryce Strickler, smokes a number of items on the menu.
“We have two industrial smokers,” Robinson said. “A good philosophy of our place — my philosophy on brewing is ‘brew like you mean it,’ … Bryce is applying that to his smoking. He’s smoking like he means it.”
That includes a smoked egg salad sandwich, house-smoked bacon and shredded pork plus house-smoked roast beef and turkey. Everything is made from scratch and of course, they have plenty of beer-battered appetizers.
Robinson said they’re really trying to emphasize local with the new pub, from the food to the beer and even the decor. They want to become that neighborhood pub where everyone can feel at home — even if you have to pay for the beer.
Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub opens Thursday. Check out their website for more information.