The brand new Excelsior Brewing Company is this week's kare11.com Microbrewery of the Week. How new? They just opened last week! Housed in a nearly-century old building in the middle of downtown Excelsior, and just blocks from Lake Minnetonka, the new microbrewery is already planning on expanding their brewspace and adding more brews. We sat down with the three founders - John Klick, Jon Lewin and Patrick Foss - who all live in the namesake of their brewery.
How did your brewery come to be?
John: Because of an old job I used to be in, I was in the craft brew industry. From being in that business, I decided it would be a good idea to start a craft brewery in Excelsior, Minnesota. I came up with the idea and over some little league games - our sons all play on the same baseball team - just some bar talk to Patrick and Jon, and from there, these guys helped light it up and turn it into a reality.
Jon: A lot of 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. [meetings]. Put the kids down and go meet at John's office in Spring Park and start hammering things out. Kind of MBA 101 in the sense that we started with a business plan, just writing stuff down and really educating ourselves. We all kind of immersed ourselves in trade magazines, we went to craft beer festivals in San Francisco and the Great American Beer Festival and Savor, and really started educating ourselves on the industry. [We tried] to figure out if would be a break-even venture because we like the whole part of community, being able to hire people right here in our backyard and being able to promote the area, so that was a big driver for what we are hoping to do.
Patrick: I think [the idea] was validated on every one of those events, the community that John sold us on and all the [microbreweries] in town that have just been so helpful.
John: When I was going to the trade shows, I was sold more on the people first and really enjoyed the community amongst the brewers. We have a guy who works for us who phrases it the best. I don't think he came up with the term but he calls it "coopertition." It's a huge cooperative movement even though you're all competition. When I met all these breweries like Deschutes and Ommegang and all these guys out east, they never held their cards close to their chest. They were very open to each other and helped each other and I thought, "Wow. If I could be in a business like that, it would be pretty cool." And then it was beer. That was pretty solid.
How did you name your brewery?
John: The idea for the craft brewery for me when I it'd be great to start one was in Excelsior because back in the day, every small town had a brewery or a brewpub or something like that. Excelsior is a tourist destination; it's a destination town. They got people who bring in buses of people to go on boats, you got a cute little town, you got a ton of history... So that's where I came up with it. Then the word excelsior is pretty strong, as well. I think the meaning, the definition - higher, stronger - is kind of a powerful, in-your-face word as well. But make no mistake; it was Excelsior where we wanted to be. We did openly discuss that if we couldn't be [in Excelsior], we'd go somewhere else but still call it Excelsior Brewing Company.
Patrick: The fact that we live here, we play here... after little league games, we go to Licks ice cream store with the kids. We go to the restaurants here. We get our hair cut. All of this stuff? This was always our town.
What's your favorite beer you make?
John: We've had our beers made on our pilot system, for the most party, where we've been able to sample them and taste them. That's usually just to get you some close characteristics to what you're going to try to make on the big system. What you make on the small system is hard to replicate on your bigger system. We've liked them all out of the pilot system, but everything's a little bit different out of the big system so to say which one is my favorite, I can't tell you that.
Right now, we've launched the Bridge Jumper. It needs some refinements. Undisputed. But there is an overwhelming positive response on the beer so, right now, that's become my favorite.
What's your favorite beer someone else makes?
John: Russian River out in California is one of my favorite breweries. I don't know why but I just fell into their Pliny the Elder. Their beers are just wonderful.
Locally, we have fabulous breweries. Surly; I can't wait to taste what Indeed comes out with; Harriet, they do some great beers.
Patrick: I'm easy. Bell's and Dogfish. Without question, those two guys. And then local guys. The Fulton guys have put out some good stuff.
Jon: I had a Surly today. I like Surly.
John: I'm a big Brau Brothers fan, too.
Jon: Sierra Nevada. That's what got me started on craft beer. And then Summit. I love Summit.
John: Just like every other craft beer enthusiast, we're all over the board. It's a good thing and a bad thing when you're a company trying to get brand loyalty, you have all these experimental people out there. It's no different for us, too. But I can't go buy a Russian River right now, unfortunately, in Minnesota so I'm screwed.
What are your plans for the brewery's future?
Jon: Expansion-wise, the way we approached this building from the get-go was we can do 12,000 barrels here. If we do 12,000 barrels, we got one heck of a business. We've got a nice staff of people. We've said what we were going to do; bring in local people and give them jobs, bring the community here, bring tourists in. I think we've got a nice little brewery here.
Patrick: We hope to have the problem that a lot of good craft brewers have and that's just trying to keep up. We built the building with the idea that fermentation space can go to the east, the cold room will move... It's manageable space for us. I think we can grow as the demand goes and the biggest thing is have great beer. Great beer will cover a lot of little mistakes. If we have great beer, that's what it's all about.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you before you started?
John: [Laughs.] We paid for bad advice! I wouldn't call it bad but the biggest piece of advice [a hired consultant] gave us was to run, not walk away from this building. I don't know if that was good or bad yet based off what we've dropped into this building but it really was the only building for us in this town at the end of the day. This was the very first building we looked at, had a consultant come in, tell us it wasn't the greatest building so we looked at every other building and wasted a lot of time and ultimately came back to this building. And we fired the consultant.
Jon: For me, I work a day job for Dave Frauenshuh who's been an entrepreneur his whole life. I've worked for him for eight years and he's always told me "invest in people, not ideas." I can say without question I invested in the right people. Who's to say if it's going to be successful or not, but I know I made the right investment in the right person. So from an advice standpoint, investing in the right people, that sits pretty strong with me.
John: I feel like we should all hug [laughs].
Describe the local craft beer scene in 11 words or less.
Patrick: I can't think of any place I would rather be. Beer.
Jon: Fun to see Minnesota carve its own craft beer niche.
If you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
Jon: Coffee or milk.
John: Coffee and water for me. Coffee, water and beer make up my beverage diet, pretty much. Milk... I don't drink a big glass of milk but I'll drink a big glass of water and a big coffee and a big beer.
Jon: I've never been a mixed drink guy. I've never had my go-to mixed drink.
John: Oh! Well, if you're going there, I'm a big single malt guy. I like a nice 18-year-old single malt Scotch for sure. I'm a Macallan's fan but Patrick will throw down a fabulous anything in front of me, I'll drink it and be happy.
Patrick: A single malt with a small cube in there. How does it get better than that? Predominately its beer these days. And water to rehydrate.
Excelsior's beers are currently only available in growlers and on draft. Growlers are sold at the brewery. Tours are given Saturday's from 12-2 p.m. and the tap room is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4-10 p.m., and Saturdays from 2-10 p.m.
Plenty more information is available on Excelsior Brewing Company's website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Previous Microbreweries of the Week:
Third Street Brewhouse
Surly Brewing Co.
Steel Toe Brewing
Boom Island Brewing Commpany
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