For brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt, the November opening of Insight Brewing Co. was the end of a journey that began in 2010 when he set out on a yearlong global adventure to intern at some of the world’s most prestigious breweries. His travels in England, Denmark, Belgium and Japan gave him the knowledge and inspiration needed to keep driving toward his destination — running a brewery of his own.
The seeds of Klages-Mundt’s infatuation with beer were planted when he was a music student in Appleton, Wis. With his first sip of craft beer — a stout from Sand Creek Brewing Co. in Black River Falls — he was hooked. He started home-brewing and researching, learning everything he could about the art and craft of making beer.
His passion was noticed by a professor who encouraged him to apply for a fellowship, offered to students to pursue interests unrelated to their major. Though Klages-Mundt didn’t get the fellowship, he was able to parlay the contacts he had made into a dream trip supported by promises of room and board.
The first stop was picking hops in West Kent, England. That was followed by time at the Fuller’s Brewery in London. From there he set off for Japan to work at the Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino Nest beers. He worked at the Fanø Bryghus in Denmark doing contract brewing for the likes of gypsy brewer Mikkeller. Later he was hired as head brewer at the Søgaards Bryghus brewpub in Aalborg, Denmark. He capped off the experience with a bike and brewery tour of France and Belgium.
The most difficult stop was at the Kiuchi Brewery, where he had 90- to 100-hour workweeks. As the new guy, Klages-Mundt spent those long hours doing the most menial brewery tasks. Though unpleasant at the time, he says the experience proved invaluable.
Tips from the pros
The most meaningful advice came from the brewmaster at the Fuller’s Brewery, who taught him to “keep it simple.”
“Many brewers throw too many things in and get a muddled flavor,” says Klages-Mundt. He pares his recipes down to just a few ingredients, seeking to build complexity by maximizing the unique characteristics that each one brings.
The name Insight was chosen to reflect the lessons of the road. Working with some of the world’s greatest brewers, Klages-Mundt gained deep insights into the brewing process, the beer industry and beer cultures. Through his beer, he wants to share those lessons with drinkers here at home.
Insight’s beers are globally inspired, beyond Belgian, English or German. They are rooted in classic styles, but with tweaks — like the addition of yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit — that make some of them defy easy classification.
On the more traditional side is Lamb & Flag Premium Bitter, named after Klages-Mundt’s favorite pub in Oxford, England. This classic English pale ale is based loosely on the famous London Pride from Fuller’s. The aroma is neither malty nor hoppy, but balanced somewhere between. A tinge of bitterness at the top is followed by toffee and biscuit malt. Bitterness returns at the end and hangs on into the finish. Subtle orange-marmalade flavors fill in the background.
Influences from abroad
Chiswick Porter is another beer modeled on a classic English style. This nearly black brew starts with a sharp bite of dry, bitter roast, balanced by the smooth sweetness of caramel and toffee. Notes of dark chocolate complete the picture. The rich body makes this one a nice sipper for a gray winter day.
Saison de Blanc is a celebratory Belgian farmhouse ale brewed with sauvignon blanc grapes. The wine must gives it a vinous and almost grape-skin tannic quality. It’s fizzy and light like Champagne, but never crosses a line to where it stops being beer. Floral and honey notes peek around the corners.
The Yuzu is an American pale ale brewed with the Japanese fruit. It’s a bit sweeter than Insight’s other beers and intensely citrusy. The yuzu brings an unusual mix of mandarin orange and grapefruit flavor that is deliciously difficult to describe.
Other beers on the horizon include Gravity Well Imperial Stout, which will be released early this year, and an intensely rich, ice-distilled barley wine called Apophis that will clock in at 30 percent alcohol.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.