Beer in Minnesota is growing so large, and so quickly that shortages of ingredients and facilities are unavoidable. In recent years, there has been a real fear of a nationwide hop shortage. For both up-and-coming breweries and established ones, it is a feat of politics and planning to obtain this key plant. Of course, real estate can also be problematic. Buildings suitable for making beer are hard to find, and starting from scratch is not always easier. When zoning laws, water requirements, and waste management are considered, it comes as no surprise that Northeast is packed with craft beer while Highland Park is not.
In a time of abundance in the microbrewing industry, perhaps the most severe shortage is knowledge. Worthy head brewers are hard to come by. Of the brewery openings that we have covered this year and in the final quarter of 2015, all but one fall into either of two categories: breweries with former home brewers at the helm — such as 10K Brewing, u4ic Brewing — or investment breweries (those founded by nonbrewers), such as Nutmeg Brewhouse.
The newest brewery to open in the Twin Cities is Modist Brewing Company, located in the North Loop, which employs several of the city’s most experienced beer minds. Although the business plan was drawn up three years ago, the founders took their time to develop relationships and hone their skills, making Modist one of the most anticipated openings of 2016.
Eric Paredes, Modist’s chief manager, met its head brewer, Keigan Knee, while volunteering at Harriet Brewing — a brewery that has become a common launch pad for many within the industry. Paredes was working in corporate marketing while selling growlers for the brewery. Knee’s roommates at the time were becoming involved in beer as well, John Donnelly at Midwest Supplies and Lucid Brewing, and Kale Anderson also at Lucid. The two became key players at Modist, as head of sales and head of operations, respectively. The fifth member of the team is Dan Wellendorf, who adds design, marketing, and social media expertise.
The majority of Knee’s brewing experience comes from Dangerous Man, a brewery famous for its darker beers, which has won medal after medal in brewing and popularity contests alike. Knee is the second former Dangerous Man member to open a brewery, Oliphant Brewing in Sommerset, Wis. was also opened by a Dangerous Man alum. The immediate success of these two breweries bodes well for Modist, and it also sets the quality bar very high.
The word Modist derives from the same root as modification, which is a mission statement of sorts.
“We aren’t doing things differently because we think we are better,” says Paredes, explaining that it’s not about sticking it to anyone or bucking a trend. The modifications, in this case, seem to be derived from a kind of creativity that can best be described as pushing boundaries. “We fully expect that not everything will be perfect. But we can learn something important from a batch that did not turn out.”
To that end, the brewing team will regularly be using a 10-barrel pilot system for trial and error. The reason for the steep learning curve, despite having over a dozen years of collective commercial brewing experience, is clear upon a visit to the brewery. In addition to the architectural, stainless steel tanks of the typical brewery, a squat monolith occupies the foreground of the brewhouse. This is a filtration system called a mash filter. Or to be more precise, a Meura Micro-2001 Hybrid.
The filter consists of 45 chambers through which a slurry — consisting of liquid and grain milled into coarse flour — is pressed using hydraulics. Each section, called a “plate,” contains a fine membrane that separates the liquid wort from the grains. When the process is complete, the liquid, with the addition of yeast, is destined to become beer, and the sloppy grain is neatly formed into a cake at the bottom of the filter.
If this doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because this is one of only a handful of Meura systems in use on a small scale, and the only one in a brewery of this size. It has several implications for brewing (and drinking).
The traditional separation of grain and liquid relies on gravity and is akin to what happens in a colander. Even the hulls of the barley act as a filter. But that is not necessary for recipes at Modist, where the system works more like an espresso machine. There is no limit to the grains that can be used, and no fear of gumming up vessels with oatmeal, for example. Whereas nearly all brewing recipes call for greater than 70 percent of the grain to be barley, in many ways Modist is re-inventing the chemistry of brewing by using rye, oats, or wild rice in whatever proportion they would like. The fundamental element of extracting sugar is what really counts.
Now that grain extraction is no longer the limiting reactant, it is impossible to predict what will come next. With incredibly high efficiency and clarity, the possibilities seem endless. Whether the capabilities of the filter will exceed what the palates of drinkers are accustomed to (a 100 percent rye beer, for instance) remains to be seen.
Science aside, however, Paredes and Wellendorf insist that Modist is not about a gimmick. The beers are designed with an end product in mind — nutty, bitter, or effervescent, for instance — and the team works backwards through the process in order to execute the vision. The filter and the hammermill are only the means to an end.
What’s just as rare as the mash filter is Modist’s investment in education. There are no plans to brew traditional styles, per se, meaning no IPA or porter listed on the menu. Instead, Modist seeks to eliminate drinking based on category alone, creating a focus on flavor. The bar design is an indication of this investment. A portion of the bar is dedicated to guided tasting and evaluation, and visitors, whether novice or experienced, who are looking for more information, will be ushered the few steps from the cashier line to an adjacent bay meant exclusively for teaching.
There is also a more intimate, living-room-like area that will be used for more formal education. The details are still in the works, but the vision is for Modist’s consumer-investors, called Modist Makers, to be invited to conversations and presentations about a new beer or other topic. The investors are interested drinkers who have contributed $250, $500, or $1,000. Paredes and Wellendorf are enthusiastic about receiving feedback from their supporters and also about give back knowledge.
The design of Modist is, above all, thoughtful. The bar is curved for ease of conversation with neighbors. Patrons need not reach through the shoulders of other guests to order at the bar — there is a dedicated line for that. Even the pièce de résistance, that fancy filter, has a little viewing deck, not unlike the one for the grizzly bear den at the zoo.
Finally, food pairings will be an emphasis at Modist. Not only is the brewery inviting food trucks to be stationed outside, but the chefs will be encouraged to collaborate based on current beer selections or new ideas using their food and the pilot brewing system. The collaboration may take the form of a food truck with Mexican offerings helping to design a crisp lager that the brewing staff will execute, or the brewers tasting a pizza weeks in advance and crafting a beer to enhance the pizza’s smoked meat.
Modist is hosting a grand opening April 15, but chances are their doors will be unlocked in the days prior. Clearly there are high hopes for this storied bunch, and although the product remains to be tasted, the enthusiasm and creativity are encouraging.
The Modist Crew in the photo above (from left): Kale Anderson, Keigan Knee, Eric Paredes, Dan Wellendorf, and John Donnelly.
Modist Brewing, 505 N 3rd St. 55401; 612.454.0258. Grand opening April 15.