612 Brew Talks Taprooms, Room for More Breweries

612 Brew Talks Taprooms, Room for More Breweries
photo courtesy of 612 Brew

612 Brew may sound like a hyper-local brewery, but the owners chose the name in reference to days past, when the entire metro held just one area code. It's a term of endearment for their home region and a local bearing that, should they expand, will mark their Minneapolis ties. Opening doors earlier this year, the day before Valentine's Day, they've already reached 60-plus bars and have been serving suds to Northeast Minneapolis residents for over six months.

With a menu of three staples and a cast of rotating seasonals -- currently Mary Anne ginger lager and Shere Khan -- they seek to bridge the divide between accessible beers and lofty crafts, offering something for everyone to enjoy, preferably on 612's spacious open patio. 612 Brew is split between four owners and is currently available in bars and at the taproom, with talks of acquiring a canning line in the future.

The Hot Dish sat down over a Zero Hour with co-owner Ryan Libby to talk about 612 Brew's identity and about what makes the taproom so special.

See also: Lucid Brewing: "the Minnesota beverage industry is all about Mom and Pop shops" Castle Danger Brewery expanding in 2014: "The sky is the limit"

Hot Dish: You essentially went back to the drawing board with 612 Brew after the Taproom Bill passed. Why was that?

Ryan Libby: It was another potential revenue stream. Initially we were looking at industrial spaces on the outskirts of 612 and then that came up, and it's about getting neighbors and locals to our location. We were looking all over the city and Northeast stuck out to us as a great neighborhood feel. That was important because we now have regulars coming in and we get to know them.

HD: Obviously, the taproom is a big part of your identity. How do you define yourself with both the production brewery and the more localized taproom aspects? Do you have a focus between the two?

Libby: Whether you go to the store or a restaurant, we want you to stop into the taproom at some point because what we want you to experience is where it's made. To truly get a great understanding of who we are, it's taproom first and then everything else. But sometimes it's everything else and then [customers] come in. We'll take that as well.

It's not about "how much can we get out the door" and "how much can we turn things over." It's about coming in and enjoying yourself and relaxing, having fun.

HD: You mentioned 612 and, really, the whole metro. Is that how you see yourself: as a regional brewery focused on the metro?

Libby: There is no true cap of where you can go. Will we go bigger? Sure. Is it our focus? No. Our focus is making good local beer, having people come in and enjoy the experience and see where it's made--that's why we don't have any walls: we want you to get the complete sensory overload of where the beer is made and where it's stored. For us, right now, it's to get brand recognition and to get people to know who we are, to come in and meet us. We're in no rush to make ourselves more than what we are.

HD: Your focus is on sessional (lower alcohol content) beers and more accessible beers--how do you think that represents Northeast or the Twin Cities metro?

Libby: Northeast being a blue collar kind of area, us having a beer that's a gateway, a sessional approach, that's huge for us. We want to introduce people to the craft beer scene. There's so many options out there, so many styles. Sample ours and get used to things. You can start with something that's pretty low alcohol and work your way up to the hoppiness. We want to give people that feeling of, "If you like XYZ beer, maybe one of the nationals, then you can come in here and we can take care of you with something that we make." It might be that we can't because maybe it's just too light, but we've got our ginger lager, our Mary Anne, which is an entry level. We're trying to get people to understand that craft beer is not just about getting drunk, it's about enjoying what you're drinking. Having food pairings and beer dinners is a way to educate consumers that beer is a good option for a nice dinner, like wine is.

HD: Most of the beers that you're making are in the ale family. Is that also the core of your preferred taste in beer?

Libby: We'll focus a lot in the ale family. Lagers take longer to make and a lot of craft breweries focus on the ales because they can turn them quicker and you're not big enough to spend the time. For us, that's two ales for one lager. But we want to do lager because that's a good entry or gateway to get into more craft brews.

HD: The local industry is booming right now. What do you make of that?

Libby: Most mass consumers don't really understand [craft beer]. There's an untapped market there that has a lot of growth for all craft breweries in town. We can definitely still take more on. Will it ever get to a point where there's too many? Of course, but right now we're all still working together to get out to consumers that craft beer is something that's going to be here so come give it a try.

It's great to see the new breweries come in. We've had potential new breweries come in and we give them a tour and talk about it. It sounds like it's the best business in the world, and don't get me wrong: it's a great business. We all love it, but it took a lot of work. It's hard, and it's time consuming. There are issues you run into and there are things that take your breath away. To even get into a spot takes a lot of education for a lot of landlords. This is what it is; this is what it's going to be; this is what we're going to run into.

HD: Are there any negatives to the growth? Is it getting harder to find supplies?

Libby: It is. The big guys are going out and picking up the more specialty hops. It makes it a little tough at times when you're looking for a specialty hop or specialty malt but, for the most part, there is a way to find it. You might pay more of a premium for it than you have in the past. There's more hop farms coming online and a few others that are coming up. There is growth on that side to help sustain the growth on the production brewery side.

Those industries can support and grow with our industry. It's not just that we're giving jobs to people, the other industries that we're supporting are also creating jobs. It's a true boom for everybody.

HD: Now that thing are up and running is everything growing as you expected? Are you surprised at how it's going?

Libby: We are more than ecstatic in how things are going. You can always project things but, until you start doing it, you really don't know.

From our standpoint, the response has been great. There will be people who say they do or don't like it, everybody gets that. It's been awesome getting to know our customers, whether it's the ones that come in regularly or at events. Making that connection has been extremely fulfilling. Financially, for the company to do pretty well is good, too. We're adding more patio seating and doing more fun stuff like getting a shuffleboard table. Having the ability to have people support us allows us to do more fun things. We've been happily surprised at how things are going.

612 Brew Talks Taprooms, Room for More Breweries
Nick Kozel

Libby and the rest of the owners are at 612 Brew daily and will be serving samples at the annual Autumn Brew Review on September 28.

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