A dark cloud fell over Minneapolis right as Insight Brewing was kicking off their first anniversary celebration. The sun disappeared at 3 p.m., giving way to an obsidian sky spitting hail. An inauspicious sign, but it was a rare bad omen for Ilan Klages-Mundt's one-year-old brewhouse.
Insight broke ground in 2014 as one of the largest startup breweries in Minnesota, boasting a 1,9300-square-foot facility and taphouse and 5,400-barrel capacity — bigger than Surly at the time and magnitudes larger than the bulk of their Northeast neighbors. But even from that moment, co-owner and head brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt had his eyes set on the future. Though the well-traveled brewer admits whiskey barrels were an absurd cost for a freshman brewery to take on, Klages-Mundt has had his toasting beer aging on the rack since day one.
"Don't get me wrong, it sucked," he says of the initial investment. "If I could go back in time and change one thing, I would've canned first." Luckily for the brewer, the gambit paid off, and patrons will be able to taste the fruit of Klages-Mundt's audacity at Insight's first birthday party November 21 — a celebration that will feature musical performances by Nathan Scott Phillips Band, Pleezer, Appetite For Zaccardi, MaLLy, and Toki Wright in addition to food trucks, cigar vendors, and big-wheel bike racing.
On Wednesday evening, Klages-Mundt invited friends and media to his brewery to sample Gravity Well Imperial Stout — a beer that's been in the making as long as Insight itself. Despite the unruly winds and apocalyptic skies, a small circle gathered among the line of 60-gallon fermenters to watch Klages-Mundt dip into the rye and bourbon barrels for the first time.
Gravity Well Imperial Stout is a brunet, mouth-coating stout inspired by Klages-Mundt's days at Denmark's Søgaards Bryghus. The beer will be released in a limited series of 1,000 750-ml bottles ($20, limit two per person), which will go on sale at noon during their birthday celebration. The other 95% of the brew will be on tap at Insight as long as it lasts (Klages-Mundt estimates about two weeks), and a non-aged version will also be available.
The commercial version of Gravity Well Imperial Stout is actually a mix of two beers — one aged in rye barrels and another aged in bourbon barrels from Hudson, Wisc.,'s 45th Parallel Distillery. At the tasting last night, Klages-Mundt hand pumped pours of each individual batch.
The rye version has an extremely fruity flavor — like sherry or dark cherries — that finishes with a definitive, mouth-sweat rye taste. At 12% ABV, it still had a bit of the liquor in the back, but the bourbon version was much smoother and deserving of theatrics. As Klages-Mundt prepared to uncork it for the first time, he played the soundtrack from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a theme whose epicness was satisfied by the coffee-black liquid he dispensed after. As one attendee stated, it was like butter. Combined, the two should even each other out, making for a truly unique imperial that's a perfect emblem for Insight's ambitious inaugural year.
"I'm not a huge fan of super sweet imperial ales," Klages-Mundt says. "I prefer balance, if you can call this balanced at all."
Objectively, very little about Insight is balanced. The whirlwind brewery has sprung up to an incredible volume in its 12 months, resting their brand on beers such as Sunken City (a saison made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes) and Hell Chicken (a pale ale fragrantly tinted with Japanese yuzu). This came after Klages-Mundt dropped his classical music education and shoestrung his way around Europe and Asia to self-educate and experiment. He's the captain of a fleet without a flagship, and he still travels abroad to expand his toolbox in breweries over 250 years his senior.
Not only will Insight be bottling 1,000 copies of their anniversary beer on November 21, but they'll also be debuting their tallboys. Debuting in 86 Twin Cities liquor stores starting in November, Insight's 16 oz four-packs will come in three varieties — Sunken City, Hell Chicken, and a citrus IPA named Troll Way — retailing for around $10. As of Wednesday night, their second day of canning, they have towers of pallets that reach to the industrial ceiling of the brewing floor.
And somehow this is still only the beginning.
For 2016, Klages-Mundt wants to double his barrel-aging program from eight barrels to 16 to (eventually) 40. He's also planning sour beers (both in the kettle and with open fermentation) and has been working on a pilsner, which he claims is the hardest style to master. The brewery is currently renovating a storage bay to house their canned beer, and once that's finished, there's really no telling what Klages-Mundt might get into.
If the first year is any indication, it'll be totally epic, whatever the weather.
Insight: A Trip Around the Sun party
2821 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Nov. 21, Noon-10 p.m.