Harriet Brewing has been bubbling up in south Minneapolis since late January of 2011. For this week's Microbrewery of the Week, Harriet Brewing's owner-slash-head brewer Jason Sowards told us how he migrated a few miles west from his garage where he crafted his homebrews.
How did your brewery come to be?
I was a homebrewer so that's how I got my feet wet, I guess. But before that, I was getting pretty deeply into my love of craft beer; drinking it, understanding it, picking it apart, comparing and contrasting it. So it was natural for me as my interest in craft beer grew to want to dig deeper until brewing was kind of the end of that road of discovery. Then when I started brewing, I fell passionately in love with it.
How did you name your brewery?
My wife, my son and I live on the west side of Lake Harriet on a main thoroughfare, so we get a lot of foot traffic and people parking in front of our house or up the street to go to the lake. I would brew in the tuck-under garage of our house and people would smell me brewing and wonder what I was doing. I would invite them in and just feed them beers. I began to have regular visitors; I would send people home with beer. When I decided to shift my focus from my day job to brewing, it was largely because of those people continuously pushing me and supporting me to do it and to take the risk to open this place up.
I started homebrewing while I still had a job as a process design engineer for a design firm, so I designed all different kinds of processes. Then, when I got laid off, I tried to make it on my own as a freelance engineer. I did a little bit of patent development and I worked by [butt] off. I worked for a geothermal company and worked my [butt] off. I designed very complex systems for the natural gas turbine that I was working on and I wasn't getting paid. I was doing it on the promise of equity.
So six months went by and I was putting blood, sweat and tears into these process models and economic models for other people's businesses and trying to really make them go, but not making money while doing it. All the while, I was brewing a ton of beer - that was my outlet; that was my way of de-stressing. It was like, "I've had a long week, I've been in front of the computer for 80 hours doing nothing but design. I need to brew beer." So my recipes were really coming along because I was putting all that much more into the brewing. People started saying, "Dude, what are you doing?" I was still looking for work, I was putting applications out for chemical engineer jobs here and there, and people kept telling me, "You're crazy! You're designing other people's places. You could use your skills to do the brewery." After enough of that, it kind of smacked me in the face. As a New Year's resolution for 2010, I said I'm going to put everything I got into Harriet Brewing Company. I gave myself one year and if we don't get this thing off the ground, then I'm going to let it go. So my wife granted me the freedom to put all of my eggs in that basket and go for it. And it happened!
I thought of so many different names and nothing was more fitting than an ode to the lake, the environment that brought the people to [the beer] and kind of made everything happen. It gave me the confidence I needed, it gave me enough tasters and feedback and positive feedback in order for me to take that step.
What's your favorite beer you make?
It's always related to the season. Usually the beer I like to make the most is the one I haven't made in a while. It's usually a missed beer, so it changes a lot. But we focus here on Belgian ales and German lagers, and then Belgian and German wheat beers. That's where I want to stay because those, in particular, are the ones that I love. So I don't have one beer that I love, but I have groups and categories of beers that I like.
Of my own personal beers, I love them all. They're like children. Sometimes you're interest in one may change, but it comes back around.
What's your favorite beer someone else makes?
Drinking beer, for me, from one beer to the next, it's really hard for me to say, "This one's my favorite" because, if you compare them within what the brewer's intent is or try to discover why this beer is the way it is, oftentimes a beer that isn't your favorite as far as closing your eyes, drinking it and saying, "That tastes great. I love it." I'll become most interested or most appreciative of a beer that wouldn't have originally got me super excited, but because I learned about it and why and how it was made, all of the sudden now, I'm all about this beer. So it's kind of the whole package. I know I totally skirted around that question [laughs].
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you before you started?
I think the best advice I got was from a friend of mine who told me I have to come out with an IPA. My original business plan was based on my two flagship beers. My flagship beer was going to be the pilsner and my dark beer that was going to be immediately available was going to be our Baltic porter. I was just sold on that. I'm not a big hop guy, either. But people were like, "No, you got to have a hoppy beer," and I said, "Well, German pilsners are hoppy though." At least I think they're hoppy and I don't want an IPA. But I just kept getting pounded and pounded by a very knowledgeable friend of mine who was also, at one time, a professional brewer. He finally convinced me to come up with a recipe. I said, "You come up with a recipe, I'll come up with a recipe. We'll brew them both and see which ones we like better, which we ones we think we can develop, which one might be more special, and we'll continue to develop that recipe." But the caveat or the contingency that I put on it was that I couldn't be an American IPA. It had to be anything but an American IPA; not a double imperial IPA, either. That's when West Side IPA was created. West Side was probably the second-to-last or third-to-last recipe I developed. I did this after I already had my financing going and things were in motion. We had the space picked out and the lease document worked out, and I was still battling with what beer I was going to come out with as the debut beer. When we brewed this Belgian IPA, it didn't take much to tweak it to where we wanted it. After a couple aerations, we had a new flagship.
What is the best piece of advice someone you can give homebrewers?
Propagate your yeast. Learn how to count cells, learn how to manage your yeast from batch to batch and experiment with different storage methods. Understand how you're going to successfully manage your yeast before you scale up.
Describe the local craft beer scene in 11 words or less.
The need for economic growth and small business growth causing politicians and legislators to deregulate, creating a plethora of young entrepreneur/microbreweries in the cities. And I know that's more than 11 words but I did the best I could [laughs].
If you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
Wine. If I'm out of the brewery, I typically don't drink beer. I make it a point to try what people in the area are putting out. I try to get out and taste new releases, but tasting is pretty much what it is. I drink so much of my own beer, it's hard to go home and want to crack one open [laughs].
Harriet Brewing is located on the south side of the intersection at East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. Growlers are sold Wednesday-Saturday from their front desk. The tap room - located in the back of the building - is open for its summer hours Wed.-Fri. from 4 p.m.-12 a.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m.-12 a.m. Tours of the south Minneapolis microbrewery are also available.
Harriet Brewing is on Facebook and Twitter. Harriet's Tap Room, which features live music and food trucks, has its own Facebook page, too.
Previous Microbreweries of the Week:
Boom Island Brewing Commpany
Steel Toe Brewing
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