Town Hall's Mike Hoops on the challenges facing brewpubs
Minnesota's craft brew scene is booming right now. However, the 1990s also saw an increase in Minnesota beer production, only to then see most of those companies wither on the vine. One of the survivors, Town Hall Brewery not only has supplied talented staff to many of the current start-ups, but the brewpub has also won a wealth of awards and expanded from their original Seven Corners location, adding neighborhood installations such as Town Hall Tap and, recently, Town Hall Lanes.
As the brewpub turns 16 this week, the Hot Dish caught up with 13-year veteran brewmaster Mike Hoops to talk about the unique challenges facing brewpubs, the state of the local industry, and whether or not he still has time for home-brewing.
Hot Dish: Many of your pre-brewing jobs were in the restaurant field, and you have primarily brewed at brewpubs. What do you like about the restaurant angle in a brewing company?
Mike Hoops: Brewing for a brewery/restaurant (brewpub) has many upsides: we have complete control of the beer from grain to glass; we have control over the cleaning of our beer lines; we get direct interaction with our customer base in regards to our beer; we make many, many beers throughout the year, making it fun for both customers and brewers. But I will admit that the restaurant aspect of the brewpub world is not easy.
Do you know how many beer recipes you've made for Town Hall?
Not exactly. Hundreds and growing. Part of the reason I am happy is the creativity that Town Hall Brewery affords, and that we always seek improvement in our brewery.
What beer is the most fun to brew (regardless of sales or popularity)?
My most fun beers to create these days are probably our barrel-aged beers. We began the first in 2001 and now make around 12 different ones. Wood (barrels) offer a very unique aroma and flavor in these beers and truly are my favorite "ingredient" to use in beer.
Town Hall Lanes recently opened. How has the new venture into a bowling alley gone over? Town Hall Lanes is great! We ended up in a fantastic neighborhood that has supported us very well. We are aware that some small bowling centers have been struggling over the years. We felt the combination of a great neighborhood, great atmosphere, good beer, and food might work. So far that remains true. Really, who doesn't like to bowl and drink beer?
Is the Super Strike lager popular?
Super Strike was created to fufill the thirst of the activity (in this case, bowling) and it is very popular at Town Hall Lanes. In the brewery we're very proud to have created a very light, clean, yet still flavorful American light lager. In fact, it sells nearly as much as our Masala Mama IPA -- the clear winner of sales at both Town Hall Brewery and Town Hall Tap.
How many more satellites can you open with your current brewing capability?
Well, this winter we are adding a bunch more tanks to keep up with demand as well enable us to continue making fun and interesting beers. I am not going to say that people should expect more satellites...although I am also not going to say that they shouldn't.
Was the success of the taproom bill and its focus on production breweries the impetus for this move?
Our goal is to continue growth in the production of our beer any legal way possible. The goal of any brewery is to sell more beer and current Minnesota law does make that difficult for brewpubs, so that is the reason behind our request for altering Minnesota's current law.
As you stated, the taproom bill did focus on breweries only and I think it is quite clear that the change in legislation has been instrumental in the growth of the Minnesota brewery industry. These companies, both new and established, employ Minnesotans -- and a lot of them. I will not hesitate to say that changes in Minnesota brewpub law will employ more people.
Lately it seems that Town Hall has become a farm club for new breweries, with a lot of job turnover at Town Hall as new production breweries get started. Do you see that as a natural relationship, or is that part of the push to widen your distribution? You are correct, we do seem to be a "farm team" for the Yankees of the brewery world these days. We bring young brewers into the industry, teach them, pass on all we know (in my case that took about 10 minutes), invite them into our family, and then they leave. I will say two things about that reality. It truly makes it more challenging to continue our quest for high-quality beer when we are constantly in training mode, and nothing pleases me more. These are my friends and it makes me proud to see what they accomplish.
When you took the job in 1997 could you have imagined Twin Cities and Minnesota brewing to hit the point it's at right now?
The state of the Minnesota brewing industry is where I'd hoped it would be. Think about it: I have been in this for about 17 years. That is because I believe in it.
Do you still get a chance to home-brew? Is it still fun or does it feel like work?
I had not home-brewed in many years before a good home-brewer friend of mine invited me a couple years ago. I really enjoy home-brewing with him; it does not feel like work at all. The social aspect of home-brewing returned when I began to brew with him. It's, again, a great relaxing time.
Your first home-brew was an IPA, which is now Town Hall's most discussed beer and, in many ways, the unofficial beer style of Minnesota. What do you like about the style, and why do you think it's so appealing here?
I do really like to drink IPA and make one that we are very proud of. I think Masala Mama and a few others made in Minnesota will stand up to any in the country. This is a great beer style that has taken the U.S., maybe the world, by storm. People are responding to the refreshing goodness that IPA offers and the style continues to evolve as growers now breed hops specifically for aroma and flavor in our IPAs. It's very different than the brewing days of old, and I think it's great. Not sure I can say exactly why people love IPA so much, but I will say thanks to them!
What is next for Minnesota beer?
I really am happy that Minnesota beer is growing so well. I hope to see the trend continue as more people realize that a beer that may be made down the street is just as good, if not better, than the beer made from some other state.
I love drinking great beer from other states and countries when I travel and taste it fresh, as it is intended to be. I was just in Colorado and drank at one of the breweries in Fort Collins. I was in heaven. I had consumed the same beer a week prior from a beer bar right here in Minnesota, and it did not even resemble the brewery-fresh sample. Drink your beer where it is made: right here in Minnesota.
Town Hall is celebrating their 16th anniversary all week from Oct. 21-Oct. 26 with daily beer releases. They will be releasing their Three Hour Tour coconut milk stout on Saturday Oct. 26.
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