56 Brewing lies deep in the commercial wasteland of the old rail yard in the northwestern corner of Northeast Minneapolis. The off-sale-only brewery is chugging along in a building that used to house Northgate Brewing. Its brewing area is about the size of a two-car garage, but with a significantly larger amount of headroom and a cold room off the eastern side, an upgrade from Northgate’s use of the space, when the cold room took up about a quarter of the main room.
When we finally arrived at the facility — following a twisting trail of sandwich boards from University Avenue to what felt like a dead end — we were greeted by smiling faces. Two of the owners were standing at a makeshift bar, tasting glasses in hand. While we were disappointed that we couldn’t enjoy a pint on their unfinished patio, the hosts were helpful and chatty. And so we began our “flavor journey,” as they called it.
Starting with their lightest brew, the Lake Sandy Rye, a pale lager made using rye grains, we sipped our way through the spectrum. Including a lager in an opening lineup of beers is a bold move because lager takes longer to ferment than ale, but Lake Sandy’s additional rye tartness made this Pilsner even more interesting and palatable.
We next tried the NE Nectar, a sweet honey Kölsch. The honey resulted in a ciderlike, sugary flavor that overwhelmed the subtle, clean body and light mouthfeel traditionally present in a Kölsch.
The third beer of the lineup was the Polonaise American Pale Ale. A darker copper in color, it was well carbonated and had strong caramel notes, but it was relatively one dimensional.
The fourth and final beer was the Dark Territory, a dark, chocolate coconut stout. The beer is 56 Brewing’s biggest seller on site, and it’s no wonder. Like a good story, the beer has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Starting out soft and chocolaty, it transitions to a round middle, accented by oat notes, and finishes with light, coconut and hazelnut accents. While the big standout was Dark Territory, due to its general complexity, the dark horse was Lake Sandy Rye, which favors creativity over drinkability.
In this nearly saturated craft beer market, what distinguishes 56 Brewing is that it is a community supported brewery. Like a community supported agriculture (CSA) plan that allows members to buy a share of produce for the season, 56 Brewing offering five tiers of annual membership. The lowest is “member supporter,” for $35, and offers a t-shirt, event invitations, and release notification; the highest, for $550, gives discounts, a growler of beer, and swag. Currently the brewery has only a few dozen members, but that number is growing. In the time we sipped four tasters, three customers came in with growlers to refill, and two bought memberships — and the brewery opened only about a month ago.
While tasting is free, purchasing a growler is the only way you can enjoy a full pint of 56 Brewing’s beer. The brewery offers the traditional 64-oz. size for $12 to $14 and growlettes (32 oz.) for $6 and $7, plus the usual $5 deposit (either size). They will also exchange other breweries’ growlers for their own when you order a fill.
The brewery recently applied for a permit for a seasonal taproom that will include a few tables inside the brewery and a cordoned-off area in the brewery’s small garden. The view is prime for the purpose: industrial against a grain-elevator backdrop. It will be delightful to sip the suds in the sun (rather than illegally, while sitting next to one’s parked car in the lot).
Every element of 56 Brewing feels deeply intentional, from the names of the beers — refering to neighborhood historical sites — to the logo-laden gear covering every wall of the brewery. And while good branding can get a new craft brewery a good start, 56 Brewing’s beer and space are still a work in progress. Northgate may have left the space for a larger and homier taproom of its own, but 56 Brewing hopes to make it work as a small-but-loved neighborhood spot.
3134 California St NE
Minneapolis MN 55418
Friday 5 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Saturday noon – 8:30 p.m.