You don’t have to tell two Surly Brewing Co. veterans that right now in Minnesota micro breweries and tap rooms are as popular as winter coats in a polar vortex.
But the fact that the beer scene seems to grow weekly isn’t tapering any of their excitement for the early 2017 debut of their own brewpub, Barrel Theory Beer Company.
“It’s a very cliché story,” said a wry Brett Splinter, who owns the place along with Tim Johnson (a former Surly brewer) and Todd Tibesar (a former CPA) . “We want to open a brewery just like apparently everybody else in the state does.”
One thing the Barrel Theory folks have on their side is experience working around an über-successful brewing operation. Splinter’s background is in network and infrastructure design. Johnson is a former pharmacist with United Healthcare.
But both quit their day jobs to work their way up in the beer industry.
“Talk about a pay cut,” Splinter said with a chuckle.
Johnson began cleaning tanks at Surly but ultimately became a brewer. Splinter began as a tour guide at Summitt Brewing Co. before working in various roles at Surly, including helping to design the infrastructure and low-voltage wiring for the new destination brewery.
“We realized we didn't want to be those guys who are home brewers and after our moms and wives tell us our beer is good we decide to open a brewery," Splinter said. "We wanted to get into the industry.
“So after him brewing for a couple years and me being involved with several aspects of starting up the new brewery, we started to [again think about opening] our own spot."
Still, they wanted to wait for what they thought would be the perfect location.
Now, they think they’ve found it in an 1800s-era brick building connected to Dark Horse in Lowertown, St. Paul.
The space – originally a haberdashery and most recently Twin Cities Magic & Costume Co. – has 4,000 square feet on the first floor that will house the beer production facility and a 95-seat taproom. A 4,000 square foot cellar will be used to barrel age and store reserves. A second, third and fourth floor are leased separately.
“I fell in love with it,” Splinter said. “The physical geographical location was a big thing for us. It’s super easy to get to from I-94. It’s close to CHS Field, which we love. It’s close to Mears Park. I think Lowertown is really just on the cusp of having this enormous boom – becoming the next destination. And location aside, I was enamored with the building.”
The trio plans to create an opening in the wall that they share with Dark Horse and create a walk-up window where patrons can order and pick up food from a limited Dark Horse menu – Splinter mentioned a charcuterie plate, a Cubano sandwich and pizza.
As for the brew? Think kettle sours and Berliner weissbiers.
“Ferment sours, mixed fermentation barrel-aged beers,” Splinter said. “And we’re from Surly so we’re pretty unapologetic that we like IPAs too.”