HammerHeart settles into its new home
HammerHeart Brewing is the first and only brewery in Lino Lakes, about 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis. It's also the only brewery named after an album by influential Swedish metal band Bathory and the only, at least that we know of, to regularly play black metal in the taproom.
While that may sound like a niche microbrewery aimed at the younger black T-shirt set, that's not what HammerHeart is about. The brewery, founded by brothers-in-law Nathaniel Chapman and Austin Lunn, is more a reflection of the personalities behind the brand. The pair make big beers: beers with names like Thor's Imperial Porter, Dublin Raid, and Ginungagap Coffee Stout; beers that frequently top 8.0 percent alcohol volume and tend to be smoked or barrel-aged.
HammerHeart opened its doors on August 2, and has already served about 30 beers different in just over five months, including the different barrel-aged variations. They focus on unique small-batch beers, with a steady rotation of product. Most recipes were crafted during brewmaster Austin Lunn's homebrewing days, and were heavily influenced by the Norwegian brewery Haand Bryggeriet, where Lunn apprenticed under Andreas Riis.
"Learning how to brew from a mentor is kind of like kung fu," says assistant brewer Jon Eager. "You learn your master's version of kung fu and it evolves into your own version. That's very clear when you compare Haand's to HammerHeart's. They're definitely different beers, but you can tell they came from the same soul."
And that soul is of the North. The owners share Scandinavian and Scottish ancestry, and the beers' heritage culls from both. However, it's a combination of Norse mythology and an epic love of the outdoors that defines HammerHeart. Lino Lakes was chosen, in part, because it's outside of the city. The rustic pine panels that adorn the exterior of the building are just the start. The flags of Sweden, Norway, and Scotland hang overhead and, inside, the beers themselves are, per Eager, "epic, vast, big stuff; not meaning high alcohol, but monstrous flavor." They represent big skies and huge mountains, the wilderness where one can get away from humanity and seek peace of mind.
But these aren't just big beers; the flavor is risky and unique but, above all, balanced. The beers profile heavily in smoked grains and barrel-aging, but that doesn't overpower the flavor. At present, five of the 12 taps are barrel-aged, with barrel types ranging from bourbon to brandy to aquavit. "We made it a priority," Chapman says, "just because we love barrel-aging beers." The brewery has more capacity for barrel-aging than for fermentation. It helps, of course, that barrel-aging is gaining traction among local beer drinkers and bars.
"We're starting to get a good reputation for our barreling program," Eager says, which could prove fairly important, since HammerHeart isn't following the traditional path of relying on name recognition via a flagship brew. "We consider ourselves a seasonal brewery. Being able to have a lot of creativity and freedom as a brewer and as a business defines that process. We're definitely concerned about consistency," he says, "but we also embrace [that variation]."
The vibe inside the taproom is Norse, cozy, and cordial. It's relatively small, with a capacity of 65 (plus a patio in summer), and provides a Northwoods warmth. But this isn't your parents' cabin in Wisconsin either. They aimed for a mixture of old-world tavern, a Viking drinking hall, and a Hobbit house, says Eager. Old barrels serve as tables in the corners, with larger community picnic tables offering more seating. There is ample wood paneling adorned with antlers, a painting of a Viking raid, and multiple antler chandeliers.
"We're definitely a metal brewery," Chapman says. They play a lot of metal, easing into the day with old-world folk before turning up the decibels as the evening progresses. "A lot of people have embraced it." If it's uncomfortable at first, they support it as an extension of the brewery. They get the odd complaint about "the growling" but, as a whole, it defines their atmosphere and it's a big part of the brewery. "It's really important to play the music that leads our lives," Chapman explains.
Growling aside, the taproom maintains a convivial vibe. In moving around with a pint, one is bound to bump into and make conversation with others in the taproom, as the confines are open, yet tight enough to bring parties together. For all the talk of metal and complex, beer-geek brews, HammerHeart's crowd is diverse. It's maybe 60 percent local, 40 percent from the Cities or elsewhere, guesses Chapman. Ages range from early 20s to over 60; flannel shirts purchased at the Fleet Farm down the road are just as common as band T-shirts.
As the first brewery in Lino Lakes, HammerHeart faced some concern about whether its dynamic flavors would fit the local palate. Coming from a job at homebrew supply store Northern Brewer, Eager asked himself: "Let me get this straight: They want to brew smoked beers that are 10 percent ABV?" Eager was pleasantly surprised by the response. "It was a risk and it seems to be paying off really well," he says. "I can't even imagine this brewery someplace else."
The city updated its brewery regulations shortly before HammerHeart got started — a move that helped Chapman and Lunn choose the location. "The city of Lino Lakes did a lot to make this happen," Chapman says. "We didn't have to deal with any ordinance changes. We just had to apply."
The expansion of the Minnesota brew culture has also greased the path for HammerHeart's more complex brews by educating the population at an amazing rate. "More and more people every week are more open to trying something that they have not had."
That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind Eager's personal motto: "A different pint every pour." Whether you're a beer fanatic or a curious supporter of local business, HammerHeart Brewing promises only one thing upon your visit: a unique experience every time. "Expect a different beer," says Eager. "Literally a different beer and a different tap lineup than the last time [you] were here."
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