Lucid Brewing: "the Minnesota beverage industry is all about Mom and Pop shops"
Photo courtesy of Lucid Brewing
Lucid Brewing has found a home in Minnetonka, the western "backyard" of Minneapolis-St. Paul by focusing their business on the retail side of the bar. The brewery, owned by Eric Biermann and Jon Messier, ties their efforts on, first and foremost, their beer, but also on forging strong relationships with retailers while emphasizing the production aspect of the brewery over the taproom. In a distinct business arrangement that epitomizes the community feeling among Minnesota craft brewers, the brewery facility splits resources three ways, operating in the same space as two other start-ups: Badger Hill and Bad Weather Brewing.
In an ongoing series of interviews with local brewers, the Hot Dish sat down with Lucid co-owner Messier over a couple of Airs and talked about the company's growth along with the statewide boom in craft beer production and consumption.
Hot Dish: Lucid has very distinct design. Is that something you had in mind as you created the company? It's active and colorful.
Jon Messier: Lucid means clarity in vision or thought. We thought about that in a real mechanical sense. We want to focus on our ingredients and our process: very sharp, defined, how we make stuff. We were looking through artwork and we came across this art out of the '20s in Italy called Futurism. They wrote this manifesto about mechanizing art and how you can industrialize it. What really struck us was the effect of layering very flat images and sharp lines and it was like nothing we've ever seen before on a beer label.
HD: How does it fit in with your identity?
Messier: It's something where you embrace the artwork and it helps you build the culture that you want at work. [It's] not like we're an industrial factory but, to some degree, we are. We're not a place where you come sit down by the stream and have a beer, we're a production facility with lots of moving parts that are dangerous so it makes sense for us.
HD: Your focus is more on production than taproom. Are you looking more for flagship beers or mainstay products?
Messier: I think the advantage of a brewpub or taproom-exclusive beer is you can make whatever you want: to make something small scale and distribute it statewide is a logistics nightmare. You can't afford the packaging, and you can't afford to go talk to everybody about it. When you look at the sales or marketing from that way you have to have all your ducks in a row. You have to say, "This is what it is and it tastes like this and it will always taste like this."
One thing that we do differently from others is that we have two other brewery partners. We partnered up with Badger Hill and Bad Weather Brewing, start-ups just like us.
When we were building the brewery, we wanted to spend money on equipment the right way. We're not going to spend it on marketing, we're going to buy nice equipment because that's how you make beer. In order to do that, you need either a ton of money or you need some people who want to work with you. Badger Hill had the same concept. They were planning their own production facility and when we partnered up, we came to the agreement: let's share some up-front capital and see who is doing better in three years and then kick the other out.
HD: You're not anticipating an awkward in year number three?
Messier: No. Badger Hill turned one this year and they're already looking to build a place. They're excited to work with us to advance themselves and it makes sense because we spent a lot of money on infrastructure. We did what we could and Badger Hill came in and they procured a bottling line, they put in some tanks of their own. Now we share these resources.
We build a schedule. It's just like having a roommate. You work with it and everybody pays the rent. It's really easy to do. It gives our brewer's double the experience. Badger Hill had a great year and, because of that, the brewers who were working on both batches of beer brewed twice as much as anybody else that's our scale.
Bad Weather launched in March, they're brand new. Everybody is looking to expand to some degree. I hope they'll kick us out, that would be awesome.
HD: And the tap room employees work for all three?
Messier: We don't have a tap room yet. Most people think we do, but we don't. There's gray area on having three taprooms in one place. Right now the state doesn't think that's possible.
All three of us, we look at our relationship with bars first. Obviously we love the consumers, but we cater to the guys who sell kegs and six-packs. Having a taproom isn't really our focus. It's not a long-term strategy.
Photo courtesy of Lucid Brewing
HD: Minnesota brewing, right now, is growing at a crazy rate. What is the best thing going on?
Messier: Right now the amount of beer we're producing is awesome. Everybody is making a lot of beer, which means that it's catching on.
The other awesome thing about Minnesota is it has a high number of small businesses: restaurants, catering, and liquor stores. It's not all corporate-run so, to work with people, it's a matter of picking up the phone and calling them. You don't have to go through headquarters in Denver to figure out where to get a tapline. It's really cool that the whole food and beverage industry is all about Mom and Pop shops. That's exactly what you want because money being spent at these places is then being re-circulated into the regional economy rather than going to Brazil with InBev.
The other thing is that there isn't a style emerging that's dominant. Obviously, hoppy beer is there, that's there everywhere across the country. It's a huge diversity of flavors. The breweries that have come up in the last year are all talented enough to create something new. The potential for Minnesota as a beer Mecca is ripe.
HD: What's the biggest obstacle?
Messier: Outside of the metro, it's still very new to a lot of people. I think Minneapolis and St. Paul has done a great job, [but] getting outside of that it's harder. People are really embracing it, but the concentration and the networking that exists amongst restaurants doesn't exist in the suburbs yet. The consumer is ready for it, but the consumer has to get over being nice and start demanding. I know there are some vocal groups that do that but once consumers really embrace it, it will cover the entire state.
[Another obstacle is that] it's hard because, as a small guy, we don't pasteurize our beer. When we put it in a six-pack we ask that people put it in cold storage. There's bacteria in there, there's yeast, and it spoils. It's getting the presentation of the product done right by the retailers who are purchasing it and it's the brewery's responsibility to build that awareness. There is a learning curve there.
Lucid Brewing will host a Brewer for the Day homebrew contest on Saturday, July 27. The winning homebrew will then be produced and presented at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver later this year by the brewers themselves, courtesy of Lucid.
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