For Edina’s first brewery, it’s all in the family.
Wooden Hill Brewing, the brewery and taproom from brothers James Ewen (27) and Sean Ewen (31) that opened March 1, brings a new meaning to the phrase family-owned business.
The Ewen siblings’ journey into craft beer began on James’ 21st birthday, when his older brother gave him a home brewing kit. Unlike many aspiring home brewers, James’ first instinct was not to dive right in, but rather to spend the weekend thoroughly researching the equipment and potential recipes before touching it. His scientific approach eventually became a trademark of his process and a factor in his ability to scale from a small homebrew system to a 10-barrel brewhouse with (relative) ease.
As a home brewer, James saw the power of sharing new recipes with friends and family. His beer brought people together in shared enjoyment over something they’d never tasted before. That spirit of discovery and community inspired the brothers to pursue opening a brewery together.
Sean, a doctor by training, was already an entrepreneur twice over before Wooden Hill’s opening. His two previous endeavors were both in the medical field, one of which employed little brother while the pair planned their new business together.
These days, as James works in the brewhouse, Sean is responsible for the brewery on the business side of things. Right now, he’s working to minimize the Wooden Hill’s carbon footprint with measures such as installing an electric car charging station, converting to wind energy, and using LED lights throughout the taproom and brewhouse.
Sean’s role also includes working on the in-house kitchen’s “food truck” menu to include gourmet twists to classic food truck favorites. Duck burger? Korean BBQ hot dog? It’s street food with upgrades, but there are still giant pretzels -- because it’s not a beer hall without them.
As Edina’s first taproom, the Ewen brothers aim to keep their beer approachable to people who have yet to foray into craft beer. Styles such as a kolsch and a mild saison are tame and drinkable, which make them an easy addition to the tap lineup. James also included multiple IPAs as a way to showcase the flavor variety hops create, a smooth Nitro Stout to introduce dark beers to the palate, and a line of culinary beers such as a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-inspired Brown Ale. (To note, it really does taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.)
The taproom itself is open, light, and minimalist. Bright pops of color distinguish the space from the sports bars that nearby residents might be familiar with. Intentional design is clear, from booths arranged to encourage a natural line formation down to the floor plan flow allowing pallets to be moved from storage, through the brewhouse, and into the taproom cooler.
That’s not to say the taproom is too formulaic. Colorful, bold art hangs around the space, and refinished spools function as tables. If beer drinkers pause to take in the more subtle design, they’ll notice the step-like hanging bulbs above several tables, an homage to the brewery’s name, which comes from the expression “Up the wooden hill.” It was a phrase the brothers’ grandfather used when it was time to go up the stairs to bed, a quirk that stuck with them into adulthood. Subtle staircase elements are built into the brand, always a reminder of familial beginnings.
A simple variety and mild style selection, paired with popular-flavor gimmicks, make the Wooden Hill drinking experience perfect for the neighborhood. It’s approachable enough to make the taproom a regular meetup place while maintaining the trendy cool-factor of the Minnesota brewery scene.
And the detailed research and scientific approach make it worth visiting for the craft beer nerds among us as well.
Wooden Hill Brewing Company
7421 Bush Lake Rd., Edina