Over the last five-plus 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. For the next brewery, Tap Talk is taking a trip to northeast Minneapolis and visiting 612Brew.
Snuggled right in the heart of Nordeast, on the northeast (of course) corner of the Broadway and Central intersection, lies the craft brewery and taproom 612Brew.
I biked there on an ridiculously sunny/muggy day and the first thing I noticed when I got close – besides a healthy number of bike spots – is the courtyard/amphitheater space right outside the brewery that also features a large fountain. Great place to hang, I’d think.
Entering the thank-goodness-it’s-nice-and-cool brewery, my gaze immediately locked on the large Adam Turman mural directly in front of me. Then, to the right is the brewery system, shining with large mirror polished tanks. Then ahead to the left — and most importantly – is the bar where 612Brew pours its fresh beers.
That’s where Robert Kasak’s craft beer dream – sparked over 10 years ago – literally pours out.
That dream began when Kasak visited Fitger’s in Duluth in 2005. There, he says his palette and senses were opened to the wonders of craft beer.
“I smelled things I’ve never smelled before and tasted things I’ve never tasted before. And on my way back home, I was like, ‘that’s awesome, I want to go try and seek out more flavors and aromas like this,'” Kasak said.
Unfortunately, since the metro market had yet to explode with craft breweries at that time, there weren’t that many options for craft beer in the Twin Cities.
So, if you can’t find it, make it. And that’s what Kasak did.
“I started brewing beer to try to emulate those flavors and aromas that I tasted from Fitger’s and it kind of spiraled from there,” he said.
Long story short, Kasak then found a team to run the brewery, found the space, renovated it and 612Brew was opened in February of 2013.
Since then, Kasak and the brewery have served a variety of brews with a focus on drinkability and balance. Their work has not gone unnoticed, too. Not only is the brewery maxed out serving its taproom, bar and liquor store customers, now they’ll be providing beer at U.S. Bank Stadium, too.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Kasak said. “We think we’re going to do very well there. It exemplifies what people are looking for when they go to the stadium. It’s very exciting to be in the company of the other breweries.”
For more on the brewery, its background, its beer and more, check out the interview with Kasak below!
What’s your philosophy with beer? What makes a good beer?
Drinkability, frankly. It’s too often that I find beers out there that aren’t balanced. We hear that term a lot in craft beer, balance. But it’s a huge thing.
Minnesota people love hops. There’s no doubt about it. When you put your nose in a glass, that’s what you smell, the hops. But sometimes, it doesn’t have enough malt background, or it’s way too bitter – and the beer is frankly unbalanced. So, here we try to make very balanced beers.
We have an oatmeal porter that’s wonderfully rich, but has nice chocolate notes and slight bitterness to balance it out.
Our American Pale Ale, SIX, has a nice hop aroma, but really nice malty background from the Victory malts that we use.
Our flagship rye IPA, Unrated, is super hoppy up front but really spicy. That rye brings that black pepper spice in.
So, each really big intense flavor is backed by another nuance that balances it out. That’s really what look for in beer myself.
That’s our philosophy. Even if we’re going to throw a bunch of hops into a beer, we’re going to balance it out with a nice malt background.
Could you describe your main beers and what you like about them?
The SIX, our pale ale, is my favorite. It’s the beer I drink literally every day. Because I love it! It’s the balance of nice hops, nice malt, super clean and crushable. At 5.1 percent alcohol, you can drink a few of these. That’s the point of it.
It’s your go-to beer at the brewery and it’s the beer we sell the most of.
With the rye IPA, rather than doing a straight American IPA like so many brewers do, we added rye to ours, which gives you this spicy hit-you-in-the-face kind of flavor, alongside those hops. It’s a good play off of intense hops and intense rye. Pretty cool mix.
Our other flagship beer is Gateway Park, which is a pre-prohibition lager. There’s a lot of talk about lagers in craft beer right now, and we’re really proud to say that year one we were brewing lagers. We brew it year-round. So, we’re really proud of Gateway Park.
It’s a pre-prohibition lager style so it means we’re using the same ingredients that brewers were using over 110 years ago. So, we use 6-row barley – no one uses that. We use corn in our beer. And we use cluster hops, which are the oldest American varietal. So, we’re literally using the oldest found ingredients that brewers were making. And we’re doing it now in 2016 because we want to showcase what people were drinking back in the day.
When I sample that beer to people who like Coors Light and Bud Light, they’re like ‘wow, that’s really good. It’s like what I like but with more flavor.’ And I’m like (snaps), ‘exactly.’
One thing that sometimes gets glossed over is water, which is so important for beer. So what do you use for water?
That’s a good question. We use Minneapolis water. We don’t filter it. We don’t reverse osmosis it. We don’t do anything to it. We take it right from the tap and put it right into our beer.
In Minneapolis, we’re really fortunate to have really great water. It’s super soft and really low on the pH. We don’t have to do anything.
If you’re over in Minnetonka, you have super-high alkaline water, right? So you’re going to have to reverse osmosis it, you’ll have to filter it, add a lot of chemicals … just to soften the water.
We have such great brewing water that we could make any style with our beer, because it’s so neutral.
How’d you all decide on the location?
We were looking for a long time. When we found this space, it was January 2012. And this place was a s—t hole (laughs). It was dilapidated. It was rundown, broken-down. It was literally an abandoned spot.
But at the end of 2011, northeast (Minneapolis) wasn’t what it was now. It’s come a long way in five years. It didn’t have the vibrant brewery touch that it has now.
This space was rundown just like a lot of buildings were in northeast. We walked through it and didn’t want anything to do with it. But the developer told us to put our faith in them and told us that they’d make the place look good. We put a lot of faith into them.
We signed the lease at May 2012 and opened our doors in February of 2013. That’s how long it took us to rehab this whole building. The floors are the original cement floors. The brick is the original brick and the timber is the original timber from the old building.
There’s a bunch of old-age things in here that we wanted to keep. And that’s the charm that 612Brew has, unlike any other brewery.
What’s it like brewing in such a “hotbed” of craft brewing? How do you distinguish yourself?
There’s no question that beer has to be No. 1. You can have a great space, but if you don’t have good beer, it doesn’t matter.
No. 1, our focus is beer. Making the best possible beer. That’s No. 1.
Two, it’s the experience. We want people to have a great experience. Great aesthetics. First thing you do when you walk into 612, you see a giant 15-foot Adam Turman mural. Since day one, we’ve had the mural plastered right in the middle of our taproom. You turn the corner and you see the mirror polished tanks. No one buys mirror polished tanks. They cost extra money. You know what it does for the beer? Literally nothing. It’s literally just aesthetics. We’re spending money on aesthetics.
Of course, if you look out, you’ll see the beautiful courtyard, with the water fountain and amphitheater. Our bar that’s built out of a bowling alley.
Our taproom rivals anybody’s — with the exception of Surly, because that’s just amazing. (laughs) This is the original open-concept tap room. To me, I think that’s a cool thing.
So, it was recently revealed that your brews will be featured at US Bank Stadium along with other microbreweries – how’d that all come together and what’s your reaction to it?
We couldn’t be happier. We think we’re going to do very well there. It exemplifies what people are looking for when they go to the stadium. It’s very exciting to be in the company of the other breweries.
It’s going to take us making a lot more beer to feed more people.
What beers will you be providing?
We’ll find out! They haven’t told us what they’ll be buying. But probably Unrated Rye IPA. That’s typically the beer that goes.
We’re also at CHS Field for the Saints. They take Unrated, too. It’s the beer most gravitate towards.
I want to go drink my beer at the stadium (laughs).
How do you keep up with all the demand?
We don’t! (laughs) Expansion is gonna happen at a bigger facility soon. Because we’re maxed out here. It’s a bummer.
You know, what I hear the most is “Hey, that’s a good problem to have.” And it’s getting annoying. It’s a problem nonetheless!
Have you had any notable failures with beer?
Man, there’s always failures. We made a beer that we were all stoked about. Everyone was. It was an agave wheat beer. We used 55 pounds of fresh agave nectar, organic agave nectar, this cool wheat. It was super drinkable and dope. I loved the beer. And then our brewer named it an awesome name — Tequila Mockingbird. I’m like, “that’s it!”
And no one bought it. What do you do, man? It just sucks. So, it’s a bummer when you think you got everything and no one buys it.
Beer drinkers are finicky and picky. And they can be. Because there’s a lot of good beer in the market.
I saw your beer trailer out by Lake Calhoun recently – tell me more about that!
The beer trailer is the best. It allows us to take our beer mobile, in spots that often times don’t have the kind of tap space to have a “tap takeover”. Tap takeovers are a big thing with bars, but what we can do is literally take our trailer to a cool bar and put in in their parking lot or patio. Like at Tinfish, they’re a great partner, we sell a ton of beer there. They only have six lines of beer. And we bring them four more. People get served quicker, we sell more beer and people get a great experience.
Lastly, beside the possible expansion, what’s next for the brewery/taproom?
We’ve had cans for 18 months. We’ve had our three core brands in cans, which are Six, Gateway Park and Unrated Rye IPA. We’re really happy to announce that we’ll be introducing two more brands out there this year: Red Stack, our farmhouse ale, a late fall seasonal; and then the Outfit Oatmeal Porter, which is a winter seasonal. They’ll be available for 4 months in cans and here. Super awesome can designs by Adam Turman.