A couple of blocks away, regular adults in suits and dresses were filing out of mass at the Basilica of St. Mary. But at Sisyphus Brewing on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, lab coats were thrown over jorts, beer flowed and science projects — by adults, for adults — were exhibited to a buzzing crowd.
It was a Casual Science Fair, put on by Twin Cities kid-agains who make up the Grown-Up Club. For four hours on a recent Sunday, 21 teams competed for a grand prize of $100 cash, smaller prizes of pickle jars and T-shirts, and, most important, peer adoration.
“It gives people a forum to do something that they would enjoy doing but wouldn’t do otherwise,” said Regan Smith, one of three “captains” who steer the Grown-Up Club. “We kind of appeal to the nostalgic childlike aspect, where you are just doing something fun and weird and outside of your comfort zone.”
On this day the club, which co-founder Taylor Baldry said “started as a joke,” provided a meeting place for adults who wanted to relive their middle-school science years — a brewery where about 250 young urbanites in graphic T-shirts and sundresses sipped craft brews. Their preferred mode of transportation filled two bike racks outside.
Baldry said the crowd was the largest yet of the 30 or so events the club has thrown since its founding in 2013.
Between beers, they stretched the scientific method to cover hangovers, condoms, canine gender studies and the emotional impact of cookie consumption.
In one corner, Luke Taylor, 28, peered through glasses at his poster board. The University of Minnesota doctoral student in electrical engineering had finished a monthlong exploration of flatulence. He’d collected audio files, analyzed the sound bites and was ready to show off.
“I haven’t gotten much feedback from the scientific community,” he said of his work, adding “the smelliest farts are hottest, they move through a room like wildfire.”
In another room, Ben Wallace, 35, presented a weather-balloon rig that he used to hoist a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon into the stratosphere last September — an altitude of 92,696.85 feet, to be precise.
The beer, which Wallace quickly shotgunned upon recovery, wasn’t as tasty as he hoped it would be, “but it tasted like sweet success.”
He didn’t win the money (or pickles), but the experiment, which cost him $2,000 to produce, was a fan favorite.
While grandparents may have knitting circles and the literary-inclined can group around bestsellers, many of those new to adulthood don’t have a crowd to call home.
The club is for twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, people who are new to the Twin Cities, creative folks who haven’t yet settled for a staid lifestyle or stale networking events where people introduce themselves like: “I’m Sarah, and I like cilantro,” Smith said.
Adults were out in force on this Sunday, as flights of beer were consumed in the midafternoon.
The big winners: a married couple who investigated people’s assumptions about dog genders.
They wowed the three judges with a 127-person study that found people often use human traits as a basis for guessing whether a dog is male or female. A dog with a scraggly face may remind people of a male beard, said Rachel Walwood, 29.
She and her spouse will spend their winnings peppering their inspiration — their dog Willa — with treats.
While the data took weeks to collect, the Walwoods’ winning poster board only took “a lot of Netflix, rubber cement and construction paper,” said Amanda Walwood, 28.
Growing club for grown-ups
The club hosts singles get-togethers, stand-up-comedy exchanges and massive Capture the Flag games, along with themed craft nights (people created their own “Game of Thrones” emblems at one recent event).
The science fair idea sprang from Sisyphus Brewery co-owner Sam Harriman, 30. He wanted to make a volcano, but didn’t have an outlet to do it. So he contacted the Grown-Up Club, which had held past events at his brewery.
Harriman was too busy bartending to do any volcano science at this event. Both of Sisyphus’ rooms were full of patrons, most with beers in hand.
“Business is good,” he said. “It’s a pretty laid-back group, and it’s great getting those people in.”
While the Grown-Up Club has the potential to be a moneymaking venture, its three captains say that isn’t a priority. Instead, they work on events to have a good time, they said. They source their income from professions outside the club.
Most of the club’s events are free. It exists just to get adults together with the draw of childhood passions and the availability of beer.
Bauhaus Brew Labs pays it to host a monthly event.
“It’s funny, we started a brewery because we were trying to connect to our youth [and] do what we love,” said Bauhaus co-founder Mike Schwandt, whose job description is literally “full-time dreamer.”
“That’s just what the Grown-Up Club does.”
Barry Lytton is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.