For all the attention the local brewery boom has garnered lately, the most legitimate knock against it is on the issue of quality control. Maintaining purity and consistency between batches can be a challenge for established brewers, much less the hoards of homebrewers entering commercial production locally.
Startup breweries also face the challenges of funding a production space and finding distribution. So it must be an encouraging start for Badger Hill Brewing Company, who has been so far diligent and creative to address these hurdles.
When we profiled Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka last winter, they mentioned wanting to cultivate some brewing partnerships. They left half of their brewery empty with the idea that they’d find an ambitious brewer to help bring to market.
That space has been filled by Badger Hill through an alternating proprietorship arrangement, which allows two distinct brewing entities to share a production facility. Since Badger Hill moved in, the brewery has added five fermentation tanks and more are on the way. Lucid’s Eric Biermann has lent his experienced hand to help production and Wirtz Beverage has been brought on board for distribution.
Broc Krekelberg (below, center), who runs Badger Hill with wife Britt (below, left) and brother Brent (below, right), has been homebrewing since the early ’90s and has seen this type of business climate before. “I see Minneapolis now as where Denver-Boulder was in 1993,” says Broc, who resided there during its initial boom. “I remember being in this Boulder bar and this new beer, Fat Tire, had just come out. Odell had just started, also Great Divide. I see great similarities – the move to more session-type beers and people doing game-changing things, different styles and better quality.”
We tasted their flagship MSB (“Minnesota Special Bitter”) during its release party last Thursday, and found it akin to a lighter Summit EPA. It features that same crisp hop character up front but the finish is almost non-existent. Badger Hill intended it that way and suggests not allowing the “bitter” part of “MSB” throw you. It’s a reference to the style of beer (English Bitter), not the taste. It’s maybe a bit too alcoholic at 5.7% to be considered a true session beer, but it tastes as if it’s meant to be one. MSB is currently trickling out to tap accounts across the city.
Their other premiere release, Three Tree American Rye, is part of a recent set of rye-influenced local beers (which includes Fulton Libertine and 612Brew’s upcoming Rated R). “People aren’t quite sure what to think of it,” says Brent of its debut at Twin Cities Pride. “It’s based off a Roggenbier – but people hear ‘rye’ and expect a ‘Rye-PA’, a real spicy, hoppy beer.”
Roggenbier is more similar to a Hefeweizen than an IPA, since it typically utilizes the same type of Weizen yeast that imparts some characteristic esters and phenols (think of those banana and clove flavors). “It’s maybe not the right term, but it’s kind of a baby Belgian,” says Broc. “We use some Belgian sweet malts and American hops. We’re going for balance. It’s not a kick-you-in-the-stomach rye beer.”
The public can get their first crack at Three Tree Rye during the Badger Hill / Lucid brewery tour on Friday, July 20. It will also be at the Summer Beer Dabbler at Highland Fest on July 21. We’ll be sure to update this article with our tasting notes once we can get our hands on some.
The brewery plans to add a bottling line by the end of July, since the alt-prop relationship allows them to invest in better equipment where it would have gone to other startup costs. Lucid will be using it as well, so both brands should have six-packs on shelves by early August. Badger Hill calls their relationship with Lucid and the other local craft brewers “co-oper-tition.” They aim to promote some different styles not prevalent on the local scene (notice their lack of an IPA) while valuing product integrity over all.
“We want credibility first,” says Broc. “Not just, ‘it’s local, it’s new, it’s just all right.’ That’s not what we want at all. I hear comments from people who have left the state saying Minnesota’s beer quality on the whole isn’t up to, say, West Coast standards. I can’t speak to that, but we want to become a cornerstone of the Minnesota craft beer industry. We don’t want to be a little niche player making cute boutique beers that are good half of the time.”
Badger Hill hopes to expand quickly enough to be able to move out of Lucid by their third year of production and open their own brewery nearer to their homes south of the Mississippi. That future brewery will include space for a new ambitious brewer – as they look to pay forward the opportunity Lucid gave them.
Will Badger Hill live up to the quality standards they’ve set for themselves? Even when they plan to (no joke) release a Door County cherry-infused imperial dunkelweizen? All we know for now is that they take it seriously and they’re off to a fine start.