IN THIS TOAST: We visit the newly open, comedy-friendly Sisyphus Brewing, then survey the impact of crowdfunding on local beer. Cheers!
Sisyphus Brewing now open
Sisyphus Brewing has opened in an untapped area on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, a location that owner and brewer Sam Harriman hopes will draw business people and out-of-towners curious about the tap room scene. True, it is within walking distance of downtown hotels and skyways, but the area near Dunwoody, International Market Square, and the Basilica has its own distinct feel — like pragmatism, creativity, and spontaneity intersecting.
Located in a renovated warehouse space, the clean and bright brewery distinguishes itself from the beer flock for several reasons. The first is the small scale on which the beer is produced. A meek 2-barrel system allows for creative risk-taking and experimentation on the part of brewer as well as variation for drinkers. The name Sisyphus is a reference to the Greek mythological character who is forced to continuously push a boulder up a hill only to watch it fall again. In the case of the brewery, the rock has become a barrel, and each time it rolls down empty, it must be filled with more beer.
Current beer choices are clearly displayed on a digital monitor, and during opening weekend four beers were available. Harriman says he plans to add four more tap lines to the current four. Gutsy beer choices for Sisyphus’s debut further underscore the idea that this isn’t just another novice brewer trying to catch the tap room wave. In fact, even experienced drinkers might be hitting Wikipedia after approaching the bar.
Harriman’s wife and business partner, Catherine, calls the Oatmeal Pale Ale her favorite, though she notes it’s like choosing a favorite child. The oatmeal adds a slick element to the mouthfeel and anchors the malt, allowing it to stand up to the hops in a balanced way. And that’s the most vanilla beer they currently serve.
Even more unusual is the Kentucky Common, a nearly obsolete style that was once so popular near Louisville that it made up the majority of beer sales before prohibition. Kentucky Common is similar to California Common (think Anchor Steam) except that a portion of the mash often contains grits or other corn. A partial sour mash is often employed, leading to a very wide range of tartness.
The version at Sisyphus is appropriately malt forward with mild toasted notes and a broad reach across the tongue. It can please a crowd as a fairly balanced beer displaying moderate hops in the finish. The nose has notes of sweet wort, leading us to believe that the beer is somewhat unfinished, however, and the element of sourness is disappointingly absent.
Rounding out the menu are two distinct beers worth noting: an IPA fermented entirely with Brettanomyces, and a black ale. The sour effect that was missing in the Kentucky Common shines in the IPA and creates a countermelody to the tropical fruit and resinous bitterness. Cold press coffee is added to the the black ale at the time of serving, creating a very fresh and pronounced coffee flavor that Harriman asserts is only possible due to the last-minute addition method.
Sisyphus will never bottle or keg, according to the owners, akin to the model at Northeast’s Dangerous Man. And as much as Harriman loathes growlers as a vessel for keeping beer fresh, they will likely be available within several months.
Future plans also include a 100-seat theater space for events, specifically stand-up comedy (in addition to being a beer enthusiast, Harriman is also a stand-up comic).
The inviting tap room includes shuffleboard tables and several bar and seating options. If the space were air conditioned, we would be inclined to linger more, especially given that fewer than half of the windows open. The food truck is incorporated into the digital menu, making it feel like part of the drinking experience.
Raise some money, raise a glass
Sisyphus is one of many breweries to recently employ a crowdfunding source for upstart revenue. From stock packages and part ownership to rewards in the form of T-shirts and exclusive parties, public revenue raising offers drinkers all kinds of motivation to assist breweries in infancy.
In the last year, several Twin Cities breweries have utilized crowdfunding with great success. Bauhaus Brew Labs surpassed their $25,000 goal on Kickstarter by nearly $18,000. Hayes’ Public House earned over $2,000 more than their modest $5,000 target. And Urban Growler is slated to open later this month via sophisticated independent crowdfunding including stock options.
September 2012 ushered in the era of publicly funded breweries when Northbound Smokehouse (above) successfully opened on the shoulders of neighbors. The first new brewpub in Minneapolis in more than 10 years, Northbound had public curiosity working in its favor. According to owner Amy Johnson: “We asked our neighbors to invest in the company because we couldn’t find large investors to help us secure our SBA loan.”
Not wanting to be slaves to major investors, they offered supporters beer in exchange for a minimum contribution of $1,000. “The bank that we worked with to get our SBA loan was very supportive of the idea and knew that the press we received because of it right away would help us succeed,” adds Johnson.
Northbound set the precedent and recent breweries have run with the concept, whether fundraising is done via a program like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or privately. What do the crowdfunding pioneers think of the increase in upstart breweries asking for help? “We think there is no limit to the type of crowdfunding people can use. Every business plan is unique and every brewery is trying to achieve something different,” explain Johnson and her husband Jamie Robinson.
Crowdfunding offers more benefits for the fundraiser than just the money. Investors create instant publicity, with contributors bringing families and friends into the fold, and also become loyal to the young company, leading to a more long-term source of revenue.
Conversely, grateful new companies give back more than just the rewards promised based on contribution level. Urban Growler has reached out to farmers to source local ingredients for beer in their Plow-to-Pint Series. Northbound Smokehouse has contributed thousands of dollars to schools in their neighborhood, making the idea of canvassing the neighborhood come full circle.