After months of setbacks, Back Channel Brewing opens on Lake Minnetonka

Jerard Fagerberg

Jerard Fagerberg

“We’re not gonna be one of those breweries that sells our first batches.”

Josh Leddy should’ve knocked on wood after finishing his sentence. Intended as a token of diligence to his future customers, Leddy’s words proved sadly prophetic as he ended up dumping his brewery’s first two batches, setting the opening of Spring Park’s Back Channel Brewing back nearly two months.

But things have since been sorted out. The 90-year-old barnwood is hung in the taproom. The oversized seven-barrel system is calibrated and turning out seven distinct beers. The glasses are cleaned and ready to serve, and Back Channel opened its doors quietly on Friday, September 22.

Ever since Leddy and his co-owners took over the former Country Kitchen Buffet building in the strip mall across from Minnetonka Drive In, nosy passersby have made a habit of peering in the angular brewery’s windows, wondering when they’ll get a taste. Folks have whizzed by down the Dakota Trail on their cycles, thirsting for the opening. Others have peered longingly from their pontoon boats on Lake Minnetonka. But for the “five-legged table” of owners -- Leddy, head brewer Marc Makarem, Joe Meehan, Matt Olson, and Melissa Leddy (née Langseth) -- it was important not to let anyone in until things were perfect.

“We want people to drink our stuff because it’s good,” Leddy says. “This is a conversion experience. We wanna have delightful beers that deliver on flavor.” He takes a pause and lets his beer nerd out. “But we’ll also have imperials for people who want that.”

Leddy and his wife began their lives together ignorant of how good craft beer could be. Melissa claims Josh drank mostly Jack Daniels when they met, so she decided “he needed to mellow out.” She took him to nearby Excelsior Brewing to help open him up to the potential of craft beer. Not long after, the two set out on a 50-brewery West Coast tour.

“At the end of the trip, we knew this was something we wanted to pursue,” Melissa says. “[Back Channel] is a culmination of everything we’ve ever liked about breweries.”

Unlike most breweries, Back Channel is fairly squeezed for size. That’s partly what appealed to the Leddys, as the breweries they’d most been impressed by used nimble engineering to make their footprint work. Meehan led the construction effort, blowing out the former dentist’s waiting room into a taproom with a winding, question-mark-shaped bar. To the left, he installed a Perkins-like banquette that stretches the length of the window. On the right, a high top bar faces out two half garage door windows to the shores of Lake Minnetonka.

The resulting space feels bigger than it should, with restored barn wood reaching up to a 20-foot ceiling and yawning windows taking in every ounce of lake sun.

For his part, Makarem wanted to make the tap list as approachable as the environment. His flagship is called Click Thrice -- a malty cream ale brewed with kolsch yeast. A six-year veteran of the homebrewing scene, Makarem’s experience and attention to detail show in his no-bullshit beer pedigree. Not only is Click Thrice an impeccably balanced and refreshing beer, but Lake Maker Lager similarly hides behind no gimmicks, swallowing with a nice bready cracker character.

Makarem makes use of four yeasts on his brew floor, making each offering at Back Channel distinct from the previous. Moreover, each beer is served in a specific piece of glassware engineered for the specific style. The Rail King APA, for example, comes in a nucleated Spiegelau glass to activate and channel the gobs of citra hops used in the brew. It’s partly for presentation and partly to ensure that drinkers maximize their early sips to appreciate the craftsmanship going on in the seven barrels behind the bar.

“I love making simple beers that have complexity to them," Makarem says. “It’s not a mystery of how to get good beer, it’s more a question of how to get there.”

Now that they’re finally open, Back Channel is scaling up quickly to meet the backed up demand. Soon, they’ll expand to 20 full tap lines (which will also host cold press coffee, Minnetonka Drive In root beer, two kombuchas, and two nitro beers), and they’re finishing up an on-site quality control lab. There are distant plans for an off-site barrel house for aged beers and sours. But for now, Leddy and his quintet of co-owners are going to be spending as much time as they can in their brewery -- pouring pints and making up for lost time.

“We’re gonna be back here selling our beer as much as possible,” Leddy says, pouring a pint for himself. “This brewery was built on relationships.”

Back Channel Brewing is open Thurs. 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. noon to 11 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.