There were no fireworks last year when Bang Brewing, with just one beer on tap, opened its signless brewery in St. Paul. The quiet and calm approach was every bit intentional, as the husband-and-wife team behind the business is focused on slowly and steadily growing their brewhouse. "We're just going to take it down a notch and simplify," says co-owner Sandy Boss Febbo.
Take their barebones website as proof. Sandy, who also works in advertising, owns Bang Brewing with her husband and head brewer, Jay, who just moved full-time to Bang after working as a software engineer. With their respective backgrounds, the pair could easily have made a louder entrance to the brew scene had they chosen. But for the Boss Febbos, the emphasis has always been on getting the beer and business right before they send out the criers.
Bang now has four beers on tap, all of which, like their creators, are direct, focused, and modest. They sport four-letter names — Neat, Minn, Nice, Good — and take a traditional, ingredient-based approach. "We take fewer ingredients and try to get more out of them," Jay says. Neat, for instance, is a single-hop, single-malt bitter with nothing to hide behind. Minn is a hoppy, mild ale with caramel notes; Good is a slightly sweet session ale with a biscuit malt flavor; and Nice is a light-bodied dark ale that the brewery infuses with coffee on Saturdays for an especially rich, roasted flavor.
The duo don't over market the beers, relying instead on returning customers, positive word of mouth, and collaboration with other breweries. (They recently worked with Summit on a limited-edition beer, Mark, that is on tap at Red Stag and affiliated restaurants.) While they have draft lines in only three pubs in town, all in St. Paul, they do hope to expand — though again, slow and steady is the game plan, especially for a brewery so small and committed to high quality ingredients.
Indeed, finding commercial organic hops is the largest challenge for Bang. Most ingredients come from small farmers the couple has gotten to know, and that relationship drives the business. "We're not certified [organic]," Jay says, noting that many of the small farmers they work with produce high quality and organic ingredients, but haven't gone through the various legal steps of organic certification. "But we're big advocates of know-your-farmer... if our farmers are going through the paces, we'll consider it."
With just seven barstools in the taproom, Bang's brick-and-mortar presence is as modest as its brewing output. The building — a prefab grain bin — has space for roughly 50 patrons and the outdoor patio easily doubles that, but the idea all along has been to stay small, to provide a calm place to enjoy a beer made with quality, carefully sourced organic ingredients.
The building, next door to the newly opened Urban Growler, generates as many questions as the beer. The couple looked high and low in St. Paul, seeking a sustainable location they could repurpose into a small-scale community brewery. With the guidance of architect Geoffrey Warner, they eventually settled on the round utility of a grain bin.
"It just became the happiest accident ever," says Sandy. "It kept getting better: It's farm equipment, a direct tie to the source of our ingredients, and it's been described as a glorified garage," which, she adds, is a direct tie to their roots, as they have been homebrewing since 1993.
Bang is conveniently nestled in the hopping Creative Enterprise Zone just six blocks north of the LRT Green Line. "At 4:30 when the business of the rail yard slows down it's amazingly peaceful back here," Sandy says, sitting outside with a drink. There is little traffic, save for a unicycle that pedals past. "It's a really dynamic community. We were the first brewery to come into the neighborhood, but all the other stuff was going on around here for years." Even as other businesses begin to fill in around them — for instance, Foxy Falafel and the upcoming Lake Monster Brewing — the owners are not concerned with getting a Bang Brewing sign to post outside their taproom and brewery. "We reasoned that we're the only brewery in a grain bin and felt that would become our sign," Sandy says.
Despite its location between the two downtowns, Bang Brewing boasts a relaxing, isolated atmosphere. With just 1,300 square feet, the space is friendly and intimate, yet industrial. Spotless stainless steel fixtures define the atmosphere while the breeze that shoots over the railroad tracks and the barley they've planted outside gives a peaceful, country air both inside and out. It's an efficient use of space: Jay and Sandy brew early in the week and, at week's end, wheel the equipment to the interior walls, clearing a barroom space for customers. There's room to walk outside, sit at the picnic table, or park a bike and enjoy the calm.
At one year, the bang is getting louder. Their collaboration with Summit, a company they clearly admire, won attention at the Red Stag Block Party, and the rapid expansion of new breweries in the Creative Enterprise Zone is sure to draw them more traffic. For their anniversary they will tap a keg of Neat that has aged for one year.
The success has been slow and organic, as planned, and the space they have created is as one-of-a-kind as its owners. "This place is like home," Jay says. "When we're opening the doors," says Sandy, "it's like we're hosting in our home." Jay nods. "It's a glorified garage, man. It's homebrew."