By Minneapolis beer standards the North Loop is underserved. For all the neighborhood’s packed dining rooms and crowded cocktail dens, there’s really only one proper craft-beer destination. (Hi, Fulton.)
But Stephanie Shimp hopes to change that. While serving you pancakes.
With seven metro restaurants under their belt, Shimp and her Blue Plate Restaurant Co. are entering the beer-brewing game, and a new ’hood in the process. On Monday she plans to open the Freehouse brewpub at 701 Washington Av. N., offering growlers and daily breakfast.
“It was a random idea born out of Trampled by Turtles at Rock the Garden,” said Shimp.
Eighteen months ago, she was watching the Duluthian banjo-rousers at the Walker Art Center’s summer bash with Blue Plate partner (and ex-husband) David Burley when a friend asked whether they had considered opening a brewpub (because, like, something about a microbrew trend). The query triggered an idea: a brewpub that emphasizes food as much as beer.
The restaurateur duo decided to merge beer and breakfast — a staple for Blue Plate, whose portfolio includes the Highland Grill in St. Paul and the Lowry and the Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis. They started hunting locations in the North Loop, which Shimp believes is also underserved in a.m. eats. Early this year they locked down a spot that was a warehouse for Loose-Wiles Biscuit Co. (later renamed Sunshine Biscuits) in the early 1900s.
Shimp and Burley intended to call their pub-n-grub joint Loose-Wiles Freehouse, but dropped “Loose-Wiles” after getting quizzical responses to the name. “Have you seen dogs give you that look like, ‘I know he said something, but I’m not sure what he said?’ ” Shimp joked.
Outside the 252-seat Freehouse, which will add another 100 or so patio seats by next summer, a massive silo serves as a not-so-subtle hint that this is an atypical Blue Plate project. After all, most neighborhood restaurants don’t need storage space for 72,000 pounds of grain.
“It’s probably the biggest piece of bling I’ll ever own,” said the Iowa-born Shimp.
After brewmaster Tim “Pio” Piotrowski, who came over from Rock Bottom, uses that grain making his four mainstay brews and rotating seasonals, some of it will be recycled into chef Breck Lawrence’s dishes, including a hop hummus and brew-grain pancakes. Southern Wine and Spirits corporate mixologist Jeff Rogers, who designed the Lowry’s drinks list, consulted on the cocktail program, which includes a handful of beer cocktails.
The Freehouse will have an annual production capacity of 3,500 barrels, the state maximum for brewpubs. Its beers will be available in other Blue Plate restaurants by next spring.
Eventually Freehouse will feature 10 of its own taps alongside 12 guest beers, but only a kolsch and a brown ale will be ready on opening day. Blame the federal shutdown in October, which held up the Freehouse brewers’ application to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. It was déjà vu for Shimp — Minnesota’s government shutdown in 2011 delayed the Lowry’s opening for three weeks.
“We were like, ‘Ugh, seriously?’ ” Shimp recalled, face-palming.
But next week Freehouse beer should be flowing in the North Loop like bitter rhetoric in our nation’s capital. Here’s hoping the beer will be easier to swallow.
Cold beer, hot ticket
If the entire Internet breaks around noon Monday, we can probably blame the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. That’s when tickets for the Guild’s 13th annual Winterfest go on sale, sending local beer fanatics into a tizzy (last year’s event sold out in five minutes). The Jan. 31 beer-sampling extravaganza moves to St. Paul’s Union Depot this year, but promises to continue its tradition of showcasing Minnesota breweries and brewpubs, as well as offering beer education programs.
7-10 p.m. Jan. 31 • $75 • 21-plus • Union Depot, 214 E. 4th St., St. Paul • www.mncraftbrew.org
Brewing up a cause
Advocating for all things beer and booze requires a little coin. Accordingly, consumer-driven nonprofit Minnesota Beer Activists, which has made Sunday liquor sales one of its core issues, is throwing a fundraising bash Saturday at Dangerous Man Brewing Co. Proceeds from a silent auction with tons of beer-geek-geared items will help cover the group’s operating costs. The northeast Minneapolis brewery will also be tapping a one-off beer for the event.
Noon-6 p.m. Sat. • 21-plus • 1300 NE. 2nd St., Mpls. • www.mnbeeractivists.com
Spirit of the Norse
This week Norseman Distillery became the first in a wave of upcoming Twin Cities’ small-batch spiritmakers to get product on the market. Founded by former homebrewer Scott Ervin, Norseman debuted with a vodka (available at select metro retailers) made with local grains. It plans to release a gin, a rum and eventually a whiskey. Ervin has set up his newly minted distillery in the northeast Minneapolis building that also houses gallery space CO Exhibitions.
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.