During the age of the craft beer boom it seems like everyone is becoming a homebrewer. From your coworker to your neighbor to your sibling, everyone has a signature beer that they’ve bottled and brewed in their basement.
But just 20 years ago, craft beer was barely on the map in Minnesota and home brewing, for many, was just beginning.
“I started home brewing in 1990,” owner and head brewer Andy Grage said. “I can still remember…I saw an ad in the back of City Pages for a home brewing class. And at that time, to brew your own beer at home, it was just the craziest thing I’d ever heard.”
Grage was getting married, and in an attempt to get closer to his soon-to-be brother-in-law he signed the two up for a home brewing class at James Page brewery.
After one class, the two bought all the supplies they could from the small brewing store connected to James Page and went home to make their next batch.
It was just a few years later that Grage’s love of beer and brewing would connect him with a business that aimed to share those passions with the general public.
In October 1995, David and Scott Thompson opened Vine Park Brewing Company, a brew-on-premise brewery.
The Thompsons’ brew-on-premise allowed homebrewers, beer drinkers and all of the above to come in, brew and bottle a batch and leave the mess. Equipment, ingredients, maintenance and storage would all be provided by Vine Park.
At the time, Grage was working a few blocks over on Grand Avenue at Northern Brewer. David, a frequent visitor to the brewing supply store, would often pick Grage’s brain on brewing best practices.
“After he got open he said, ‘I’d like you to come run it for me,'” Grage said.
Grage and David eventually worked out a business plan that matched Grage’s long-term goals, and in June of 1996 Grage became the brewery manager.
Now, a new location, 21-years and several recipes later, Vine Park still offers a haven to homebrewers, beer drinkers and all of the above.
“Every day I get to help people brew their first batch. I get to see that excitement in them that I had 25 years ago,” Grage said.
Follow them: on Twitter at @Vine_Park_Brew, on Facebook at Vine Park Brewing Co. or visit their website online.
Owners: Andy Grage
Brewer: Andy Grage
Location: 1254 West 7th Street, St. Paul
Hours: Monday: 9 – 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday: 12 – 8 p.m. and Saturday: 9 to 5 p.m.
Cost: Beer: $165 – $195 per batch Wine: $120 – $280 per batch
Walk in to Vine Park Brewing Company along West 7th Street in St. Paul and it won’t look like other craft brewhouses.
Instead of tap room full of long tables with board games and pints strewed about them, you’ll find stainless steel counters lined with machines and stacks of bottles.
Instead of one brewhouse, six kettles line the left wall. Each complete with their own work station.
And instead of one or two brewers crafting the beer, you’ll be doing the brewing.
Guests can come in with groups, each kettle can fit up to four people, by themselves or with strangers.
“On Tuesday nights, we organize a group so you can call and sign up by yourself and brew with a bunch of strangers. Or you can sign up with as many friends as you like,” Grage said.
During each brew session, groups are assigned a brewing coach. Groups choose their recipe from the Brewer’s Guide or website, grab their ingredients and begin their brew.
During the Tuesday brew parties, the recipes are pre-chosen. Each week, Grage and his team pick six recipes to go along with a theme. Each kettle brews a different recipe.
After brewing, Vine Park holds the beer while it ferments. Then, two weeks later, the group returns to bottle.
The Brewer’s Guide showcases about 50 different recipes from 11 different styles. And the list is always growing. Grage adds two to three new recipes each year. Not to mention, recipes never truly go away.
While they may not be featured in the Brewer’s Guide they are always available online, where space is unlimited. Meaning, guests have over 50 to choose from.
But, if you’re unsure of what to brew, don’t ask him to name a favorite!
“It’s like picking your favorite child, you might have one but you don’t say it out loud,” he joked.
However, he will name a guest favorite.
“India Pale Ales,” he said. “We have a couple of different big, hoppy beers, one that is similar to Surly Furious and one that is kind of similar to Bell’s Two Hearted. We don’t go a day without brewing one of those two.”
Grage still taps into his homebrewer at heart by creating growler specific recipes.
And while he may not be able to name his favorite recipe that he created, he can tell you what beer started it all for him.
“The beer that made me want to become a professional brewer and make this my life was Summit EPA,” he said. “The first time I tasted Summit EPA, it changed my life. It really did….If I’m going to go out somewhere and have a beer, I’m going to have Summit.”
In 2011, when the legislation passed to allow taprooms, Grage had one team member who was dedicated to the idea of Vine Park selling pints.
While the team looked into adding yet another license, they already hold a Class C Grocery License for the brew-on-premise and a brewing license for growlers, they ultimately decided against it.
Zoning rules and promises to neighbors were cited as a main reason, but Grage said he’s also not trying to reinvent the wheel. Guests come to Vine Park to brew for themselves. They’ve come to associate the brand with and experience not a specific beer, and that’s what he wants to continue.
So, when asked why people should pay to brew when they can walk down the street to any number of breweries for a $5 pint, Grage said for fun.
“For the experience and the fun. I’ve always said we don’t sell beer, we sell fun,” he said. “I’m not interested in being a beer baron and conquering the world. I’m very happy with what we do and who we are. And, it’s all about the fun.”
Vine Park does have a clarifying agent that will help reduce gluten in the beer, for those that are sensitive to gluten. It does not eliminate the gluten, but drops it to less than 10 parts per millimeter.
And, for those who prefer a different adult beverage, Vine Park Brewery is also a wine-on-premise. As with brewing, groups can come in and make their own wine, and once a month they hold a wine making party.