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. This time we’re traveling a bit south. In fact, we’re going all the way down to Rochester to visit its first taproom, Kinney Creek Brewery.
Roughly 80 miles southeast of Minneapolis and St. Paul lies Minnesota’s third largest city, Rochester. And perhaps, Minnesota’s next brewing hot spot.
Like its neighbors to the north, Rochester jumped on the craft brewery boom. It opened its first taproom, Kinney Creek Brewery, in December of 2012.
As with most other taproom owners, Donovan Seitz started with home brewing. In the mid-90s, Seitz began brewing at his house using water from the creek that ran across his property – Kinney Creek.
After years of testing and tasting his brews, Seitz decided it was time to share his beer with the masses. He turned his hobby into a business and, two-and-a-half years later, Kinney Creek still remains Rochester’s only brewery.*
After just a short hour-and-a-half drive (give or take depending on speed) I sat down with tap manager Ryan White and marketing manager Mara Albert.
Kinney Creek Brewery
Owner & Head Brewer: Donovan Seitz
Location: 1016 7th Street NW, Rochester
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday: 12 – 6 p.m. Thursday to Saturday: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
So, let’s start with why Seitz decided to open his taproom in Rochester?
White: There was no one here. There was no one here doing this thing at all, so he wanted to kind of be a pioneer post prohibition. And so far, it’s worked out well.
It must be nice having the market to yourselves, for now. Tell me, why do you think it took so long, and is taking so long, for the brewery movement to come to Rochester?
White: I’m not sure. I don’t know what the brewing history pre-prohibition was in Rochester. I don’t think it was strong like it was up in the cities. There’s no limestone caves, no cool beer stuff back in the day here. But it’s definitely cool to be in a city of this size on the ground floor of the craft brewing industry. It’s progressing fairly quickly now, we’ve got three others that are making their way in. After these other breweries start to open up, I think that, being that there will be four in town, it will be a big motivator to bring people down here because you’re not going all the way to Rochester just for one brewery.
How is it being the only brewery in Rochester? How do you think it differs from the environment in the cities?
White: I would imagine in the cities you can pick whatever brewery you want to go to. We get a broader scope, I think, of business. There aren’t all these places that people can choose [from.] That being said, we try and keep up as best we can with volume. But being the only one in town on a busy weekend, we do run into the volume issues once in a while. I run out of glassware, I run out of beer. There’s one weekend I ran out of six beers in one weekend. It’s kind of an on-going battle. But I think it’s very fun. It’s very cool.
How has your location impacted your business? Do you see people traveling from the Minneapolis or St. Paul looking to try your brewery?
White: We have a lot of business from out of the city, but we get a lot of business out of the state too. All the people in town for Mayo Clinic or IBM , there’s a lot of big business that happens in Rochester. So, we get a lot of people from all over the place. Whether they are home visiting their family, or they’re here for the clinic or they are here for work otherwise, we get a fair amount of out of town business and out of state business.
How do you think the market will change when these other taprooms open? Do you think Kinney Creek will act as a benchmark for future taprooms?
White: I don’t know. Not all of them have really coined a style that they are going after yet. Within the brewing industry [here], we’re definitely still the first. That’s already established. But as far as a benchmark, I think everyone is trying to do their own thing.
Albert: Everyone is doing their own thing. Everyone is learning off of each other.
White: I don’t see them as a competition. I see them as more of a synergy. You know, what’s good for us is good for them is good for the next guy that opens. If we can all play nice it will be a good fit.
That’s awesome that so far you’ve been able to learn from each other. What do you hope the environment will be like for all the taprooms once others open? For the drinkers?
White: I want to see collaborated brews from us with Forager, us with LTS or us with Grand Round. I’m definitely excited to see [what happens.] Hopefully we can do some sort of collaborations with them. Hopefully it will only make things better for all of us.
Absolutely! So, let’s talk a little bit about the beer. What do you have on tap right now?
We have 11 [on tap.] We’ve got 14 taps total. Two of those are reserved for our barleywine and our barrel-aged barleywine that will be out soon. Then [we have] one for the root beer. And [Seitz’s] goal is to have another 10 more by the end of summer. So, he wants to have 24 taps. It all depends on timing and how much volume we can actually produce. (Read below to hear White describe two of the most popular beers and a seasonal.)
The Vixen has been extremely popular for us lately. That’s one of our newer beers. It’s a German style red. A single malt strain. So it’s malt, hops, yeast, water and that’s it. And that one, the first batch, I think, was gone in nine days. So it’s been very well received.
The Docks End, our Double IPA, has been extremely popular. But that’s almost a niche thing. You almost need to have a big hop, double IPA because that’s what people want.
The Winter Cabin is a seasonally spiced brown ale. And the way that the spices come out in it, its not so much a flavor that you pick up but a warming feeling. It’s pretty interesting to have a winter warmer that’s lower in alcohol content. Usually winter warmers are 7.5 percent or higher. This one is right in the middle of the 4 percent range. It gives you the same feeling but without knocking you off your bar stool.
So, what is your favorite beer?
If I had to pick a favorite, I would say probably the Strong Ale. It’s really smooth. It’s got a nice malt profile. I find it too easy to drink, to be honest. It kind of resembles like a Summit EPA. But it’s bigger, tougher. It’s got a higher hop profile but it gives you that pale ale sort of a feel. It’s a very nice beer.
Sounds great! So, it’s coming close to a year that you’ve been with Kinney Creek Brewery. If you had to, how would you describe the taproom in one word?
*Two other taprooms, Forager and LTS, and one brewpub Grand Round, are set to open in Rochester soon.