You know Whack-a-Mole? That carnival game that hands players mallets and convinces them they can master weaselly, unpredictable behavior that’s constantly changing course?
That’s an approximate metaphor for the business side of Minnesota’s craft beer scene over the past few years.
This is where Ramsey Louder and Joe Alton come into play.
When Alton departed his role of editor-in-chief at The Growler magazine in May 2018, there were, by his estimate, nearly 160 breweries operating in Minnesota. During this time, Louder had brewed for one of the most formative (Dangerous Man) before working as a cellarman at New Holland Brewing. Now, together with their third partner, marketing professional Sally Schmidt, the team might just conquer the North Loop’s supersaturated beer landscape by sidestepping your traditional brewery altogether.
Their brainchild is called ONE Fermentary & Taproom. Despite pedigreed backgrounds in the craft beer world, they’re not opening a brewery; ONE is a brewpub. And it’s that choice, as some dude once wrote, that makes all the difference.
Louder and Alton’s strengths complement this venture to a T. While Alton, the more verbose of the pair, waxes on about the gold zinc bartop and unique glassware, Louder is reserved until called upon to discuss, counterintuitively, the freedoms a brewpub lends compared to helming a full-fledged brewery.
Operating a 10-barrel brewhouse in conjunction with an array of specialized fermentors—from oak barrels and foeders to a unique concrete fermentor usually found at wineries—is essential to ONE, given their mission to ferment wort in-house by collaborating with local breweries.
“That’ll be a first for me to see what we can do with [the concrete fermentor],” says Louder. “Because it’s just straight cast concrete that’s been polished and sealed, it won’t be like pouring beer onto the ground; it will, over time, give an extra minerality to the beer.”
Alton explains this as, basically, the essence of the community they’re hoping to attract at ONE: “The reality is you can’t evangelize somebody who’s stuck on not drinking beer. But I’ve also seen so many opportunities in my time in the service industry and through The Growler magazine, opportunities where, like, lines were opened through little gateways.” He envisions a familiar scenario of someone like your aunt, hell-bent on her evening glass of white. “We can be like, ‘Cool, here’s some wine!’” only to later slide over a sample of a cask-brew made by Louder, which might include Nelson Sauvin hops, known for having characteristics of white wine grapes.
“Guy walks in and he’s had a shitty day and just wants a Hamm’s? Here’s your Hamm’s. No judgments. Hopefully we can get you into one of our beers.”
Louder, meanwhile, is poised to do some inventive shit for folks who are already into craft beer. “We had the really awesome opportunity to go to the U of M and spend an hour and a half in their pre-modern food library, and they had these recipes from the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries on people brewing wine, beer, ciders... all these beverages with unique ingredients, and it totally piqued my interest in doing modern spins on these things.”
Partnering with local breweries—not to mention Tattersall, which will have four cocktails plus their Fernet on tap—removes any pressure Louder once felt to keep up with beer trends. “If my time was spent having to keep up with the hazy IPA production, or whatever else was popular, stout production, I wouldn’t have time to entertain any of that, y’know?”
Ultimately, the goal of ONE is to provide a space for real people from all walks—not the idea of people—and send them home happy. As Alton put it: “Everyone I know likes going into a taproom. And only about 40 percent of the people I know like beer, so solving that problem with one license seemed like a no-brainer to us.” Honoring their individual strengths while catering to The Real World seems so simple it hurts.
So I asked them why more people aren’t doing this.
“To a certain degree, Ramsey and my resources in this industry have allowed us even more access to even cooler shit,” Alton conceded. “But as far as we know, nobody has really taken a brewpub license and applied it to something that’s more like a bar. We actually thought we’d run into some obstacles because nobody else was doing it—that there was something right around the curtain that was gonna be a big, huge hurdle and it never ended up being.”
It helps that no one in the partnership had any interest in distributing, a key prohibition in brewpub licensing. Per state regulations, to be a brewpub ONE also must be a functioning restaurant. In this, Alton once again drew from his deep Rolodex of connections and experience.
“Alma Group’s Alex Roberts is consulting on our food program and menu,” says Alton. “They’re in the process of expanding their commissary and catering business, which will allow them to produce fresh food daily for [us].” Though ONE’s menu is still evolving, Alton was quick to praise New Orleans’ legendary wine-and-snack paradise Bacchanal for their noshes’ ability to accompany spirits without weighing down its revelers.
When ONE opens, which the owners hope will happen before Thanksgiving, visitors will find a taproom aesthetic meant to entice both young professionals and those workers who’ve built the North Loop with their bare hands. To Alton, this means hosting “a happy hour for people in hi-vis and for people that are working the blue-collar jobs downtown, and then elevate to a certain degree at night... like a pair of really shitty-looking selvage denim is, right? Like, that is a $300 pair of jeans that has been loved a lot, you know what I mean?”
That vision manifests most readily in the lounge area. Though filled with oversized couches, soft edges, and warm wood accents, at its center sits a functioning fireplace surrounded by a hearth made from bricks the owners themselves pulled from Third Street. There are, of course, cheaper ways of getting bricks in this town, but those bricks mattered to Alton and Louder.
“It was important to be able to tell the story,” says Louder. “These are from the neighborhood, from a couple blocks away.”
When lofty dreams of inclusion and house brews teetering on art’s edge are cast aside, it’s touches like those bricks they hope will go the extra mile as ONE aims for something more fixed in a fickle world.
ONE Fermentary & Taproom
618 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis