Brew tech isn't sexy. The allure of a pristine line of vessels and a sophisticated grain auger will never have the appeal of a frosty mug of beer. Yet somehow, North Loop's Modist Brewing makes all the geeky accoutrements seem tantalizingly cool.
There's no brewery like Modist anywhere in the world. Their brewing system is custom built for their size, with a run of machines unheard of in the craft world. Because of that, they're able to make beer that is categorically unique.
When Modist opens officially on Friday, they'll be pouring three beers in their ultra-slick, minimalist taproom. Bringing life to an old Morton's Salt factory in the gentrifying warehouse district, Modist's combination of cement, stainless, and subway tile make it a clean, postmodern space that's a far cry from the industrial tavern feel of its competition. But the interior decorating is only a small part of what makes Modist so different.
Co-founders John Donnelly, Eric Paredes, Kale Anderson, Dan Wellendorf, and Keigan Knee (who is also the head brewer) designed Modist in reverse. When they make beers, they think up the flavor first and find a way to accomplish it. The business was designed the same. They came up with the idea to make an anti-traditional brewery. Then they found the machinery to make it work.
It all starts in their grain miller, a vicious little machine that pulverizes grain seeds into a fine powder. Traditional breweries are unable to use grain flour, instead using cracked grains still in the husk, because the absorptive quality of the dust gums up the system. That's where Modist's mash mixer takes over, dissolving the flour into water and steam, creating a slurry that perfectly readies the starches to be converted to sugars.
The most exceptional piece of equipment in Modist's system is their sci-fi-ass mash filter. Though it was built in Belgium by Meura, it looks like it was salvaged from the bay of the Nostromo. While not an uncommon machine on the multinational scale — AB InBev and Coors use macro versions of the same equipment — Modist's mash filter is the only of its size. Basically, it separates the gummy grain flour from the wort, spitting out a plywood-like byproduct instead of the traditional oatmeal-y spent grain.
The benefit of this system is twofold. First, it allows Modist to brew with nontraditional grains like oats as the base of their beers. In fact, their Toats — the tastiest brew on tap right now — is brewed with mainly oats as the malt build, whereas a traditional brewery would be limited to only using 20% oats. Secondly, it means Modist is the most efficient brewer in the United States.
Knee likens the grain filter to a french press. Whereas most brewers use a system that's akin to a pour-over coffee filter, Modist's system gets the maximum amount of beer while using the minimum amount of water. The first beer that came off the brew floor — which has since become their Calibration Ale — clocked in at 94% efficiency. And that's the least efficient beer they've brewed to date.
Even an extremely sophisticated system will top out in the 80% range. Modist has achieved 98% efficiency. The equipment may be expensive, but it uses so little water and electricity that it'll eventually pay for itself in savings.
The beer itself still remains to be tested. Toats is a delightfully hopped beer that incorporates oat in the body instead of as an adjunct flavor. pHresh is a pseudo-sour that uses grains cooked with lactic acid to add a light, refreshing tart. The forthcoming beers — a cold press coffee lager called First Call and a salted caramel called Smoove — sound particularly promising, but time will tell if iconoclasm and efficiency can sustain a brewery for the long run.
The place is certainly built for the future.