A new taproom has opened in St. Paul, but it will feature experimental beers from a plethora of breweries instead of just one.
The Lab was created to serve as a beverages "playground" where patrons can taste new beers and other drinks under development and brewers can have their beverages tested for quality in the microbrewery and lab facility, said Janet Johanson, chief executive of beverage development company BevSource and creator of the Lab.
"With all the taprooms popping up, there's a need for quality," Johanson said, as she previewed the 2,200-square-foot taproom with a beer in hand.
The Lab is in the Case Building, a former warehouse off Hwy. 280 near Interstate 94 in St. Paul.
A self-serve pouring wall allows visitors to try a dozen different beverages on tap and then use a mobile app to review what they are drinking to give feedback to beverage makers. The drinks will be rotated about every three weeks.
Beer won't be the only drink available: Visitors will also have their choice of hard sodas, sparkling water, cold-press coffee and more.
The choices on the pour wall don't include the breweries' names, which allows for more honest and unbiased feedback that can be relayed to the companies.
"They really want anonymous feedback from the general public, not just their loyals," said Matt Hall, director of innovation and pilot services at the Lab who served as the longtime brewmaster at Lift Bridge Brewing Co. in Stillwater.
In the back, the Lab has a seven-barrel brewing system to create test batches of beverages, which could be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for those who don't have the space or expertise. Many of the beverage customers that would benefit from the testing facility would be smaller craft brewers who may not want to deal with the expense and lost time of tying up their own tanks to experiment with beer recipes, Hall said. The Lab would also be helpful for home-brewers who are considering scaling up and opening their own commercial enterprise.
"It allows much more scalability," Hall said.
In a side chemistry room, Lab microbiologists are able to examine the extent of alcohol, bitterness, bacteria, yeast and other elements that make up beverages. Lab scientists can identify different bacteria and other beer spoilers that can inadvertently be added during the beer-making process and change the way beers taste, said Gerri Kustelski, brewery chemist at the Lab who has worked at numerous local breweries including Summit Brewing Co.
"You buy a beer and you drink it and it doesn't taste the way it is supposed to. … You aren't going to buy that beer again," Kustelski said.
The pilot brewery is a natural extension of BevSource's business, Johanson said. The company, founded in 2002, has 50 employees and 150 clients across the country and will manage about 12 million cases of beverage production and procure more than $30 million of packaging and raw materials this year.
BevSource helps beverage companies with their operations from development of formulas and recipes to inventory management and order-fulfillment services. Previously the company had used Hall's home-brewing system to test beverages, which allowed for only limited sampling and scalability.
The Lab's total 6,600-square-foot taproom and brewery facility takes up a small chunk of the Case Building, a 174,000-square-foot former warehouse that Case Corp. once used to distribute tractor parts that has been converted into offices. The Case Building is owned by Suntide Commercial Realty.