Finding space to drink beer and be queer in the Twin Cities

Grant Meidal

Grant Meidal Katelyn Regenscheid

Coming out for Grant Meidal meant ending a 29-year marriage, leaving four children in California, and saying goodbye a long career in the church. “I thought, ‘I’m wrecked now,’” he says.

Meidal came to Minneapolis in 2010 alone and in need of community. The connections he made in gay bars felt superficial, so he turned to the internet for help. And beer.

Within the world of craft beer, Meidal carved out a space for queer men to connect meaningfully. He created a weekly event in the MeetUp app calling gay, bi, and trans male-identified folk to join him for a beer. Meidal hoped the group, which he dubbed Boys & Brews, would become a haven for queer guys looking for friendship and community.

Boys & Brews is two years old now, a firmly established group in the Minneapolis queer community. More than 250 people have taken part, and a dozen are regular attendees.

“I count on it to get me through the week,” says Paul Winslow. “The group has become more of a brotherhood.”

In contrast to the “meat market” Meidal experienced at some gay bars, craft beer taprooms are unassuming venues. They tend to be more low-key, and there’s something about a carefully concocted brew—like how you drink it—that’s different from shots and rail drinks.

Urban Growler’s Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch

Urban Growler’s Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch Katelyn Regenscheid

“It was really great to be authentic and to come out, but the gay community has not been an easy place to realize that part of myself,” Meidal says. “I’ve struggled with that, and I think Boys & Brews has been an outcome of me finding something I love to do and sharing that with others.”

Boys & Brews brings together a diverse group ranging in age, interests, professions, and length of time they’ve been out. Every Wednesday night, they line up outside LynLake brewery, ready for the doors to open at 5. The drinking buddies’ conversations can range from small talk to sex lives; with a bit of social lubricant, every topic surfaces.

Meidal says in his experience running Boys & Brews, brewers care more about what you think of their beer than they do about your sex life. Besides, many breweries have a bit of a wild side to them anyway, he says.

“You see all the beards and stuff, and that seems overly masculine, but then I’d see videos that [a brewery] would post online, and they’d be dancing on the bar. In my day, it would have been so risky to dance and move like that and to act in... a feminine way,” says Meidal. “But there’s no stereotyping for these guys—they’re having fun. And I think that’s been the welcome card for me: ‘Come as you are and dance on the bar; we don’t have an expectation, because we’re just being ourselves.’ I’ve always hoped that’s what life could be like.”

You’ll often find Meidal at LynLake Brewery, but he makes his way around the metro area in search of more come-as-you-are taprooms. Some of his favorites are Dangerous Man, Able Seedhouse, and HeadFlyer.

‘We thumb our noses at the mainstream’

To be female in the brewing industry is rare enough. To also be queer makes for an even more uncommon combination, but it’s not something either woman in the Urban Growler duo chooses to highlight. For Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak, sex and identity are non-issues.

All they care about is their customers enjoying the food, beer, and conversation.

Loch, master brewer, started Urban Growler with engineering experience and a passion for making beer worth drinking. Pavlak, co-owner, brought to the table both business ownership and restaurant experience, including time with the Longfellow Grill and the Lowry.

They want their St. Paul taproom to be welcoming to anyone. They typically keep the temperature warmer, in consideration of most women’s slower metabolism; there are purse hooks for their convenience. There’s even housemade lemonade for the non-beer crowd.

That the two of them downplay their identities doesn’t keep the community from supporting them. Pavlak recalls the increased business they got on International Women’s Day, including men who raised a recently purchased growler to her in a “cheers.” One man told Pavlak he dropped in to buy his growler that day in solidarity with a women-owned business.

Loch believes beer is inherently social and experiential, and that it tastes better when shared, which is why the brewing world is so welcoming to marginalized groups.

“We truly believe we have more in common with people than we differ,” Pavlak says. “We just want to be respected and known for good food and good beer.”

For Kathleen Culhane, former owner and brewer of east St. Paul’s Sidhe Brewing, being a beer drinker is one of the few mainstream facets of her identity. She’s trans- and queer-identified, Wiccan, and a woman — as rare an assortment of characteristics as it gets for a head brewer.

At the same time, Culhane sees it as part of the culture. “There’s a strong stripe of individualism in the industry,” she says. “We thumb our noses at the mainstream.”

Being trans makes Culhane more attuned to how a safe space should operate. In her forthcoming Culhane Brewing taproom in Lowertown St. Paul, Culhane will build a bathroom trans people can use without fear. Beyond the bathrooms, Culhane believes the queer-friendly culture will fall into place naturally. When the only rule is don’t be a jerk, being homophobic or transphobic simply isn’t on the table.

And a comfortable space puts the focus back where it belongs: on the beer. In both flavor and ABV, Culhane’s beer at Sidhe, and her future brews at Culhane Brewing, are intentionally approachable. For everyone. “Beer is the connector.”

Boys & Brews

Urban Growler Brewing Company
2325 Endicott St., St. Paul

Culhane Brewing