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Brewers and architects spark the next brewpub boom — along the Green Line

HGA Architects and Engineers
Digital views of the Surly beer hall, left, and entrance chamber and fermentation cellar

On a Friday evening earlier this summer, the former horse-carriage stable and maintenance shop on 2325 Endicott Street, in the industrial area of South St. Anthony Park in St. Paul, was packed with neighbors, supporters and beer aficionados. Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch, owners of Urban Growler Brewing Co., were hosting a fundraiser in the space, which they’re leasing and hoping to build out for the Twin Cities’ first women-owned and -brewed brewery, bar and restaurant.

Visitors sampled Loch’s handcrafted beers, including Urban Growler’s IPA (which has won a Minnesota State Fair blue ribbon) and another brew, flavored with rhubarb. Visitors also voted on proposed food items for the restaurant, bought T-shirts, and studied architectural renderings of the renovated space by Michael Roehr, of RoehrSchmitt Architecture.

“We’re intrigued by the 19th-century brick building, its age and texture, and the feel of the interior,” Roehr says. In concert with Pavlak and Loch, the firm decided on a design direction for the 6,200-square-foot space.

“We want to let the original building shine through as much as possible,” he explains, “by barely touching the space, and sensitively lighting the various areas to create a warm and inviting atmosphere that allows the brewing operation itself to be the star.” Large windows in the restaurant will allow diners and tasters to watch the beer being brewed.

Shiny metal fermentation tanks, dials and knobs, tubes and tubs: The equipment needed to brew and bottle craft beer has indeed taken center stage since the passage of the Minnesota Pint Law, otherwise known as the “Surly Bill” or “Taproom Bill.” The bill allows small breweries to serve their own beer. As a result, a slew of new breweries around the Twin Cities — perhaps most notably in Northeast Minneapolis — have built out spaces in which patrons can sip and sample while observing the brewing process.  

Along the new Central Corridor light-rail line, however, in the Creative Enterprise Zone of South St. Anthony Park, and with a slight jog to both the east and west, another craft-beer market is brewing, perhaps to rival that of Northeast Minneapolis. Here, local architects are playing a key role, by designing new buildings or renovating existing interiors that showcase the brewing process and provide tasting or tap rooms.

A brewpub in a grain bin

Just steps from Urban Growler, on 2320 Capp Road, Geoff Warner of Alchemy Architects gave Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo’s Bang Brewing a home: a 42-foot-round, prefabricated, corrugated-metal grain bin with a skylight. Warner put the brewing equipment along the perimeter of the 1,300-square-foot structure, leaving the center open for tasting tables.

“It’s functional and formal. And it looks like a big keg of beer,” he says with a laugh.

In the nearby Hamline-Midway area, on 1750 Thomas Ave., Scott Nelson of DJR Architecture Inc., helped Burning Brothers Brewing with its new space.

“They’re leasing a long, skinny warehouse next door to a custom woodcraft shop,” Nelson explains. The architect ensured various code compliances, designed a new entry, laid out placement of the brewing equipment for maximum efficiency, and inserted large windows between the brewing and tasting areas.

The new brew house getting the most attention, however, is east along the Central Corridor in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park: Surly Brewing Co.’s new 45,000-square-foot brewery, restaurant and outdoor event center designed by Steve Dwyer of HGA Architects and Engineers. The bunker-like building, with corrugated-metal siding, hunkers down between tall hedge walls. Once inside the hidden entrance, visitors enter a room with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that look onto the fermentation tanks, then they move to a cavernous beer hall with views of the brew operation and glass doors that overlook gardens and an amphitheater below.

“Before starting on the Surly project, I Googled ‘cool breweries,’ and there was nothing,” Dwyer says. “There were lots of great wineries. So why shouldn’t breweries, and their architects, have some fun, too?”

Why architects love brewpubs

Prior to Burning Brothers, Nelson designed brewing facilities and taprooms for the Fulton and 612, creatively inserting equipment and tasting areas into existing buildings.

“These projects have a lot of appeal to architects,” he says. “What we design in these existing structures is generally not fancy, but well conceived. The aesthetic is to let what the building has to offer — its character — come through.”

The Line

Roehr adds that, “Many of these new breweries are shoestring start ups, coming out of people’s basements and garages. Some of them are going into relatively inexpensive old industrial spaces, which complement the brewers’ DYI, pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps work ethic.” In contrast, he adds, many wineries, especially in California, hire architects to design a capstone project. “They’re already successful,” he explains, “and an architect-designed facility becomes the crowning jewel of their operation.”

No one’s calling Dwyer’s architecture for the Surly project a jewel — yet. But the “brutalist” design brilliantly reinforces Surly’s rough-and-tumble brand. “The corrugated metal siding is very industrial and fits Surly’s image and the neighborhood of grain silos and railyards,” Dwyer says. He and his design team also drew inspiration from Surly’s trademark gray work jackets and shirts.

But the overall goal, he explains, was to create “a destination brewery,” meaning architecture that would “link patrons with beer in their hand with the production aspects of the brewery and the people making the product.” The project’s massive windows looking into the production area from the entrance lobby, a mezzanine and the beer hall do just that. So does the “viewfinder,” the window walls and doors that allow patrons in the gardens and amphitheater to look up and into the brewery.

Brewing up neighborhood growth

Warner’s grain bin could be considered an exercise in branding, as well, for Bang Brewing and the neighborhood in which it resides.

“Everyone in the Midwest appreciates grain bins as iconic, vernacular architecture,” Warner explains. But the site itself is adjacent to railyards that continue to carry grain to silos in Minneapolis and other materials to industries elsewhere.

Also, as co-chair of the Creative Enterprise Zone, Warner sees the new influx of small breweries like Bang and Urban Growler as an exciting trend that bodes well for the neighborhood. “These breweries act as economic drivers now that urban areas are understanding the benefits of that kind of business and architectural project type,” he says. “These breweries are a great example of what we’re trying to achieve in the Creative Enterprise Zone; arts and industry co-existing and supporting each other.”

Will Surly to the west and Burning Brothers to the east help or hinder Bang’s and Urban Growler’s growth? Roehr worries about “what feels right now like a bandwagon people are jumping on to. It’s hard not to feel like we may be experiencing a bubble. Obviously, people like their craft brew in this town. And they’re drinking a lot of it. But there must be a limit.”

Having designed several facilities for craft breweries, Nelson has no fear.

“All of these new breweries have character you don’t find in the restaurants that carry their beer,” he says, as a beer fan. “You can watch the beer that you’re drinking being brewed. It smells like a brewery. That’s the charm of these places.”

As an architect, he adds, “It’s about the people. The folks in this business are a lot of fun. You do a project, often for a fairly low fee, and get some growlers now and then!”

This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy.

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