Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. Next up, Excelsior Brewing Company, WCCO viewers’ choice for best taproom, in Excelsior.
Often when people think of craft breweries they imagine a group of people who began brewing beer in their garage. A small operation that moved slowly into a larger business as interest grew.
But that’s not always the case.
Prior to 2012, Excelsior Brewing Company president John Klick was working in marketing within the beverage industry.
As a consumer of craft beer, he found himself drawn to trade shows that centered on the craft brewing movement.
Soon, he was spending his free time reading trade magazines about the booming industry.
“They were going from zero to hero really quickly. So, I was like well that would be a pretty cool business to bring back,” Klick said.
Klick already had Excelsior in mind as a location, so it was merely a matter of putting together the pieces.
“I was beverage industry. I wasn’t the guy making the beer in my garage,” Klick, said. “[I] just learned about the business, identified it and came at it from different angle.”
So he got to work, and with the help of two business partners and a head brewer, Excelsior Brewing Company was born in the summer of 2012.
Excelsior Brewing Company
President: John Klick
Head Brewer: Niles Lewin
Location: 421 3rd Street, Excelsior
Hours: Taproom: Wednesday – 4 – 10 p.m. Thursday & Friday 4 – 11 p.m., Saturday 12 – 11 p.m. Tours: Saturdays 12 – 2 p.m.
Obviously the name Excelsior Brewing Company comes from the location of the brewery. Tell me why you chose Excelsior for the location.
Klick: It’s a cute little town and I live down the road. The big reason was it’s a destination town. People come here to get on the tour boats. People come to Excelsior on purpose because of the restaurants, the cuteness and everything that goes along with it.
So, how does Excelsior Brewing Co. fit into this community that is already so established? What is the relationship you have with the town?
Jennifer Johnson, Senior Brand Manager: Beer is community.
Klick: It’s the community drink. We do anything that we can to be involved and enhance anything here in this community, and what it has given back to us has been three-fold.
Johnson: We probably do at least three charity pours a month, whether it’s for the local fire department or things like that. We also rent out our taproom monthly…for Tapping History which is a Lake Minnetonka Historical Society event. We have ambassadors that go out into the field at least three times a month, probably six in the summer, and they go out and pour for…any charity event that asks us. We’ll go pour beer for them or donate a growler to a silent auction.
Klick: And then, of course, we make sure that we donate to the food shelf. The food shelf used to have an office down [by the brewery.] They have since moved, but we still use the food shelf.
It’s great to hear that you are so involved! I’m curious, with the influx of breweries in the Twin Cities how do you differentiate your taproom?
Klick: [The town.] This town is a destination by itself. So, you throw in an attraction like a brewery, it’s a great formula. At least it has been for us. And you put in a public parking lot next to it and that’s even better! So, I think really this town differentiates us in that aspect.
Johnson: And I think the environment, too. I mean, you can walk in on a Friday night in the taproom and it’s people who are just 21 or 22 coming out and trying new beer and people who are 45, 55, 65 having a beer before they go to their nice dinner. I think when you go into a taproom you get a feeling, and here it’s like ‘Oh, I fit in here no matter who I am.’ Not saying all taprooms don’t [feel like] that, but I think especially we excel at customer service. Like you’re at our door, we want you here. How can we treat you like family?
Klick: We’re actually kind of a like the community hang out. Everyone else around here has a great vibe going and has great restaurants, but the neat thing is because we don’t serve food they all seem to come here before or after they’ve gone out somewhere else.
Why do you think it is that the craft beer movement has taken off as it has in Minnesota?
Klick: It’s no different than any other trend, they kind of start from the sides and move their way in. But beer is just amazing. It’s always been part of our culture, even if it’s light and watered down beer. So, now the movement has brought it and made this beverage, which we already appreciated when it wasn’t great, and made it great. So, people just naturally fell into it. Beer is a social beverage that everybody drinks at happy hour typically. It’s a go-to beverage.
Johnson: It spans all types of people too. Like, you can get really snotty with it, or you can just be the regular drinking person. There’s a place for everyone in beer whether you’re a novice, 21 years old and just trying your first Coors Light, all the way up to [being] a cicerone and learning the hops and brewing.
Klick: And I think [there are] so many varieties of the beer. There’s something for everyone out there and it’s a fun map to try and get to finding what you really like because even if they are bad, they’re not bad. It’s a social beverage, is really want it comes down to.
What is the most popular beer at Excelsior Brewing Company?
Klick: Well, we sell the most of our Big Island Blond Ale.
Johnson: The blond ale sells best year round, but the Bitteschlappe Brown Ale also sells really well during the winter.
Klick: Right now we also have an espresso milk stout. That right now is getting major respect in the taproom. We don’t distribute it anywhere else. However, we did get a gold medal for one of our seasonals, Mr. Jimmies Baltic Porter. So that’s our most ‘awarded.’
What is your favorite beer that you serve at Excelsior Brewing?
Johnson: Shattered Solstice Ale. It has 20 pounds of ginger in it, and I’m a huge fan of ginger (It should be noted here that Johnson is a red head.) It’s a spiced ale. It has coriander, oranges and ginger. We call it the “Solstice Ale” because we brew it around the time of the solstice.
Klick: I’m all over the board. I have to look at the taps and think ‘What do I want today?’ I’ll drink a lot of the Spresso (a Cold Press Milk Stout) and I do fall back on the Big Island Blond Ale if I just need to cleanse the palate. But, I do the Bitteschlappe Brown Ale.
For people who have never been to the brewery, how would you describe Excelsior Brewing Co. in one word?