In the past decade, local breweries like Surly and Summit have put the Twin Cities on an ever-expanding map of craft-beer boom towns. And in the past five years, that boom has become all the more sonic, witnessed in the garage-to-greatness story of Fulton and the production of unique styles from smaller outfits like Pour Decisions and Sociable Cider Werks. Taprooms are everywhere, but what we haven't seen quite as much of is the growth of the true brewpub — a brewery with a full-service restaurant component that also makes its own beer on site to sell directly to its diners. As of late January, Barley John's, Great Waters, Northbound Smokehouse, Herkimer, and nearby neighbor Town Hall were joined by a promising newcomer to that scene: Day Block Brewing Company.
"I suppose it was always in the back of our minds, like a 'maybe someday' kind of thing," says Day Block co-owner Jeff Hahn. That "maybe someday kind of thing" is what seems to be the new Midwestern version of the American dream: taking your hobby homebrewing outfit and making it into your lucrative full-time job. Except that isn't quite what Hahn envisioned. He and one of Day Block's other owners, Cory Williamson, also run a web development company on the top level of the Day Block building, which just happened to be an auspicious location for the aspiring brewers.
"I bought the building in 2005," says Hahn. "But being a landlord is really not the most fun job." When former tenant Spill the Wine terminated its lease and moved to Uptown, Hahn, Williamson, and Hahn's brother Chris, who runs and rents out Day Block's event center, all seized the opportunity to make that back-of-the-mind dream a brick-and-mortar, hops-and-malt reality. But first they had to assemble a team.
"We had this 10-gallon pilot system and the beer we were making was okay, but once we got to thinking about producing it on a larger scale, we all agreed we needed the expertise of a professional." To that end, they hired Paul Johnston, who had spent time working locally at both Harriet Brewing and Lucid Brewing companies, and later brought on Dan Banks as an assistant brewer. They've launched their business with a lineup of six beers ranging from an orange-scented, light golden Belgian witbier to the brooding and bold Day Block Black IPA, made with lots of hops for a weighty, resinous finish. "The black IPA is one of the recipes Paul [Johnston] really wanted to do from the start," says Hahn. "We, like probably a lot of other people in the local brewing community, are drawing some of our inspiration from Dangerous Man. We think what Rob [Miller] is doing over there is great and we'd like to stay in that same kind of diverse, experimental space."
But it's their in-between, more medium-bodied beers that seem to have resonated most with Day Block's first wave of devotees. Hahn pinpoints the Frank's Red Ale, an easy-drinking American amber with a balanced caramel malt presence, as the most popular choice, at least currently. The all-local Hippity Hop Pale Ale, an American-style pale ale made with Rahr malt from Shakopee and Cascade hops from Hippity Hops Farms in Forest Lake, has also proved popular and showcases Day Block's commitment to working with local growers.
One of their more exclusive offerings is the Northern Discovery IPA, made with a rare hop they're sourcing from a small farm in western Wisconsin. "It has this very unique profile," Hahn says. "We got pretty much the entire batch from that grower, so we kind of cornered the market on that one."
In addition to selling its beers by the pint and flight, Day Block is offering growlers to take home. Using Pegas CraftTap, a machine that looks like a steampunk SodaStream and uses counter-pressure to fill the growlers to order in just a minute or two, Day Block reduces the amount of foamy beer wasted in the filling process and fills the growlers in a way that maintains freshness more effectively. "We were hoping to be the first in the Twin Cities to have this, but we just missed the mark," says Hahn.
So that takes care of the all-important beer part, but as we have learned, a brewpub is not a brewpub without food. "We looked at several different combinations and options but we felt like this space and the neighborhood could definitely support a full-service restaurant," says Hahn. Surprisingly, there were few other places on their end of Washington that focused on pizza. They plucked Joe Williams, formerly of Punch Pizza, to handle that task.
"Joe had great dough recipes and some kind of out-of-the-box ideas he wanted to try in terms of toppings," says Hahn. They let him loose on the deck ovens, where he ditched the Neapolitan style for a version with a somewhat breadier, less chewy crust that still has great flavor and a real lightness to it. Personal, plate-sized pies or bigger ones to share with the table are topped with globally influenced combinations. Take for instance the Taco Truck, made with marinated flank steak, paper-thin slices of radish, and cotija cheese; an only so-so vegetarian pizza, made with squash puree and roasted root veggies that lacked a piquant or salty edge; and the Hungry Hungarian, made with crumbles of sausage and smoky Hungarian bacon, a sour cream spread with loads of dill in place of the usual tomato sauce, dots of mild ricotta, and thick semi-circles of pickled onion to set the whole thing off. We liked the pickled elements in that one so much, we ordered the flight of pickles (there's also a flight of bacon if you dare) with cucumbers, jalapenos, kimchee, and spring onions. A couple of salads and some fluffy beer pretzels, served warm with an intensely spicy, seedy mustard and a thick beer cheese sauce, round out the menu.
Hahn says their future plans include barrel-aged beers, using both wine and whiskey barrels, which Day Block is attempting to source from somewhere in Minnesota or Wisconsin, keeping true to the local theme.
"We are trying to keep a tight focus," says Hahn. "But we plan to expand our menu and our beer styles in the near future. Right now it's about getting our feet wet."