Our first sip at Insight Brewing is an English-style bitter. It tastes like toffee, bread yeast, and biscuits. It’s 4.1 percent ABV. Called Lamb & Flag, it’s as soft as the former and as breezy as the latter.
Insight Brewing’s man on the mash is Ilan Klages-Mundt, whom you’d expect to have a fine handle on brewing in the English bitter style. His sudsy CV contains time at Fuller’s, makers of the world’s finest English bitter, London Pride. “It’s similar,” he says, “but I’m not trying to copy them. I tried to learn from them and take my own angle.”
The bitter is made from two kinds of malt, and the hops don’t demand attention. Like Pilsner, it’s a simple style that relies on striking an understated balance. Leading into this ever-crowded local beer market with a flagship session bitter might be a timely play. They’re hoping that a Metro hyper-tuned to hoppy IPAs is getting ready to settle down with something more easily repeatable.
The public can get their first taste of Insight Brewing at an open house this Friday from 5-9pm. You’ll be able to sample six beers, including Lamb & Flag, a cognac-barrel-aged imperial stout, and a saison brewed with wine grapes. They have about 600 pints’ worth to sample out, so get there early. Insight is looking at another month of build-out before their grand opening in late October or early November.
Klages-Mundt was a cello major studying at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. in 2007. It was the taste of a Westvleteren 12 on a trip to Denmark that sent him down the rabbit hole of home brewing and beer research. Later, he left for Europe with $3,400 and no return ticket, asking breweries to put him up in exchange for spare brewing labor. He farmed hops in West Kent, U.K. before brewing at Fuller’s, and then went on to stints in at Kiuchi Brewing in Japan (which involved sake brewing as well as distilling) and a few smaller operations in Denmark.
“I learned the brewing techniques that allow me to take my beer to the next level,” he says, “but I also discovered ingredients. Yuzu, for example, when I tasted it for the first time, hops came to mind. I love citrus hops and this unique fruit blends perfectly. We’ll have the yuzu pale ale for the open house. I’m trying not to drink it all beforehand.”
Since returning to Minnesota, Klages-Mundt joined forces with friends and fellow homebrewers Kevin Hilliard, Eric Schmidt, and Brian Berge. They’ve established Insight Brewing in a former boiler manufacturing plant on the industrial stretch of Hennepin Ave. just west of Highway 280. Their 30-barrel brewhouse with a 5,400 barrel capacity puts them on the mid-to-large side of local startups.
They propose to stand out with a mix of globally inspired recipes and the promotion of less appreciated styles. But they’ve also taken care to construct their brewery with an eye to long-term quality.
“All of our beer is naturally carbonated in the tanks, and unfiltered, even though it’s very clear,” Klages-Mundt explains. Their brewery is stocked with twice as many brite tanks (also called conditioning, or secondary tanks) as the number of primary fermenting tanks. This allows them to hold the finished beer longer, while it develops a balance and subtle carbonation.”If you go with what tried-and-true breweries are doing, you have to allow for more aging,” he continues. “Lagers are going to be held longer, but ales are still cold while you’re aging them. This allows the proteins and haze to precipitate out, and [you] get a nice looking beer without the off flavors. It takes a while, and you need to buy a lot of tanks.”
Future plans at Insight call for a push into retail accounts sometime in mid-2015. They’ll likely can Lamb & Flag and a few other mainstays, based on public response. They’ll reserve a bottling line for 750ml bottles of small-batch seasonals.