Insight Brewing Company: Bringing the World of Beer to the Twin Cities

I first became aware of Ilan Klages-Mundt back in 2010 when I was a featured writer at the Hoppress on He had joined the Hoppress team at the start of a year-long adventure traveling the globe to intern at some of the world’s great breweries. Along the way he penned several posts detailing his exploits. I recall experiencing a tinge of envy as I read about his work with Fuller’s, Kiuchi (Hitachino Nest), Mikkeller, and others. I mean, how great a gig was that?

Ilan’s posts stopped in February 2011. His journey of passion passed from my mind. But then I got score sheets back from a beer I had entered in a local homebrew competition. Ilan had judged my beer. I remember thinking, “What’s he doing here?”

Turns out Ilan is a native Minnesotan, hailing originally from Winona. After his world tour he returned to his home state and settled in the Twin Cities. And of course the answer to what he’s doing here is building a brewery.

Insight Brewing Company is currently in the process of securing startup funds and hopes to open in the first quarter of 2014. They’re looking at locations in Northeast Minneapolis, but won’t yet reveal exactly where. The name Insight is inspired by Ilan’s journeys. Working with some of the world’s greatest brewers, he gained deep insights into brewing process, the beer industry, and world beer cultures. With Insight Brewing he wants share what he learned with beer drinkers here at home.

Ilan’s craft-beer adventure began in 2007 when he was a music student at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin. A sample of Sand Creek Oscar’s Stout opened his eyes to the flavor potential of beer. He began tasting anything he could get his hands on. Armed with the Ratebeer Top 100 Beers list, he travelled to Denmark, eager to get his hands on some of the Danish beers he had read about. The store that he chose didn’t have any of the beers on the list, but it did have Westvleteren 12. That for Ilan was an epiphany. Upon tasting that beer he knew he wanted to become a brewer.

When he returned to the states he began a period of intensive homebrewing and self-study. His passion was noticed by a professor who encouraged him to apply for a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offered by IBM. The expressed purpose of the fellowship was to allow students to pursue a passion that was not related to their major. Full of optimism, he applied and contacted brewers around the world, asking simply if he could come and be an intern. Many said yes. But then he didn’t get the fellowship.

Undeterred, he approached brewers again asking if in exchange for his free labor they would provide a place for him to stay and some meals. Again, many accepted. With $3500 in his pocket and the possibility of a little under-the-table work here and there, he set off for England.

His 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 Mikkeller. He was hired as head brewer at the Søgaards Bryghus brewpub in Aalborg, Denmark. He ended the experience with a bike and brewery tour of France and Belgium.

Ilan Klages-Mundt at the Fanø Bryghus in Denmark

Ilan says that the hardest brewery to work at was Kiuchi, starting with them forgetting to pick him up at the airport. When his ride did arrive it took him straight to the brewery where he began what would be a stint of 90 to 100-hour work weeks. The Japanese are known for their work ethic. They are also known for their respect of hierarchy. This meant that you started at the bottom regardless of prior experience. Ilan spent a lot of time doing basic brewery grunt work. It was difficult, but good experience for what’s to come.

Ilan says that the most important thing he learned while overseas was to keep it simple. “Homebrewers often throw too many things in and get a muddled flavor.” he says.  “Instead, let natural complexity come out by using only two or three malts.”

His other big lessons were about beer culture. “Beer around the world is so much more accepted than in the majority of the states. We’re growing quickly here, to where it’s becoming much nicer. But still in England, and London especially, everyone is drinking a beer with their lunch or a glass of wine. Here not too many people do that. Some do, but not too many. I think that culturally beer has a long way to go in the states. It is getting there. I mean we’re still at volume-wise 6.3% or something. It’s tiny. In England cask beer is in the 30s. So just a huge difference.”

Insight’s beers will be globally inspired; not just Belgian and not just English or German. They are rooted in classic styles, but some tweaks on those styles will be part of the lineup. I had the opportunity to sample nine brews during my visit. They ran the gamut from a 2.8% alcohol “Piccolo” IPA to a 26% barrel-aged, ice-distilled barleywine. All of the beers were quite tasty. I particularly noted the solid fermentation character. A high degree of attenuation left every beer crisp and refreshing.

Here’s a rundown of my favorites:

Lamb & Flag Premium Bitter – This is a classic English bitter that is named after Ilan’s favorite pub in Oxford. He had access to all of Fuller’s recipes, so this one is loosely based on London Pride. It smells awesome; neither malty nor hoppy, but balanced somewhere in between. A tinge of bitterness at the top is followed by toffee and biscuit malt. Bitterness returns at the end and hangs on into finish. Subtle orange-marmalade hop/yeast flavors fill in the background.

Piccolo IPA – The name is a nod to Ilan’s music background. The piccolo is one of the smallest instruments in the orchestra, yet also one of the loudest. This 2.8% IPA drinks more like 4%. It presents a delicate, citrus hop aroma. Bitterness is firm, but doesn’t blow you away, meaning you can drink a few without wrecking your palate. Citrusy lime, tangerine, and grapefruit hop flavors dominate with subtle grainy/biscuit malt to keep it balanced. It’s a great summer quaff.

Saison de Blanc – This celebratory saison is brewed with Sauvignon Blanc grapes giving 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. I loved this beer as it is, but suggested that a version fermented with brettanomyces would be great.

The Yuzu – This was by far the most “interesting” beer in the lineup. It’s an American pale ale brewed with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit. This one is a bit sweeter than the other beers and intensely citrusy with a mix of mandarin orange and grapefruit. The yuzu fruit provides a fruity flavor that is difficult to describe. Reaching for descriptors I came up with phenolic, but that isn’t really quite right. It is most unique and quite delicious. The Yuzu will be an Insight taproom exclusive.

Dangerous Man Brewing Company – My First Look

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These days it’s almost like there is a race to see who will be the next Minnesota brewery with beer on the street. Jack Pine just opened up north. Northgate’s launch is close at hand. The prediction looks good for Bad Weather. 612 should be coming any day now.

Here in the Metro the next new kid on the block is Dangerous Man Brewing Company. After a start-and-stop journey to find a space and get approvals and a long process of construction, the husband and wife team of Rob Miller and Sarah Bonvallet will celebrate their grand opening this Friday, January 25th.

Dangerous Man Brewing almost never happened. After attending school and frequenting brewery taprooms in Montana, Rob Miller returned to Minneapolis intent on opening a taproom-only brewery. He wrote up a business plan and started scouting spaces only to learn that his idea wasn’t legal under Minnesota statute. The plan was shelved and he went into the job grind.

When the “Surly Bill” passed allowing Minnesota breweries to sell pints for on-premise consumption, he dusted off his plan and got back to work. He found a space at the corner of 13th Avenue and 2nd Street NE and started the process of getting licenses and approvals. The space was perfect. The location in the heart of the “Nordeast” nightlife district promised a steady stream of traffic. The 1920s-era bank building offered a stately yet comfortable space with massive columns rising from the floor all the way to the high ceiling. He fell in love. The only problem was that it sat directly across the street from a church. A prohibition-era city ordinance prohibited establishments that sell alcohol within 300 feet of a place of worship. It nearly derailed the project once again, but Miller was persistent. Working with the church and his city councilman he got the ordinance changed.

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That’s a good thing, because the space does have a great vibe. The ambiance – which I have dubbed “industrial arts” – evokes a mix of trendy bar, early 20th-century factory, and junior high shop class. It’s a minimalist look with lots of metal and lots of wood. Shop stools line the bar and surround the high-top tables. The bar top is an impressively thick hunk of wood – a beam salvaged from an old, downtown Minneapolis building. The brewery is just visible behind the welded-metal and wood bar back. It looms in the dark like some fantastical, steam-punk contraption. The room just feels good.

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The beers that I tried at Dangerous Man were a mixed bag. The two standouts for me were at opposite ends of the flavor spectrum, a rich and creamy chocolate milk stout and a light and lovely cream ale. The chocolate milk stout was hands down the best, and it is fantastic. This silky-smooth brew is moderately sweet and boasts a boatload of chocolate flavor. Roasty bitterness is light, just enough to balance the sweetness. Subtle toasted grain flavor sends it over the top. The cream ale is light and quaffable with delicate grainy sweetness and bright, orange-citrus hop flavors. The least successful beers for me were the IPA and Belgian golden strong ale. Both were under-attenuated, leaving them too sweet on my palate. The Belgian especially lacked the dry, spicy sharpness that the style demands. Because Miller plans an ever-rotating selection you can always expect something new. The beer you loved (or hated) probably won’t be there the next time you visit.

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Grand opening festivities get underway at 4:00 PM on Friday, kicked off with a bagpipe serenade. Dangerous Man is located at 1300 2nd St NE in Northeast Minneapolis. If you’re hungry you can order in fish and chips from the Anchor bar across the street.

Four New Craft Beer Projects in the Twin Cities Metro

The Minnesota beer scene continues its mighty growth surge. Yesterday was a big day for beer-world announcements – two very public and one that came to me late last night in an email.

612 Brew

I first wrote about the 612 Brew guys (and gal) in the Heavy Table two years ago (almost to the day). At the time they were working out of a garage just south of Uptown, brewing small batches and dreaming of big ones. They had done a few publicity events, leading me to wonder just exactly what they were. Were they homebrewers showing off their beer at very public gigs, or were they a production brewery that didn’t seem to have beer available anywhere but these shindigs? Turns out the homebrew side was closer to the truth, but they were in the process of getting licensed, so the TTB put a stop to those events.

Not much had been heard from 612 since, until yesterday. On 6/12 – get it, 612 – they announced that a lease had been secured, a brewery had been ordered, and things were moving forward to open a brewery in Nordeast. The building at the corner of Broadway and Central sits below street grade. It’s an old industrial building about to be redeveloped that the brewery’s press release says will feature “exposed brick and timber along with polished concrete floors, an outdoor patio and a rain garden, creating a perfect atmosphere for the brewery.” Indeed, renderings of the finishes space make it look very inviting. The team is working with local manufacturer Minnetonka Brewing and Equipment, to build a custom 15-barrel brewhouse designed to be architecturally compatible with the space.

612 is steering away from the big beers that have been all the rage in craft-brewing for the last several years. They plan to make lower alcohol session beers, starting with SIX, an American pale ale, and Rated R, a spicy and hoppy Rye IPA. Other brews are also in the plan including a German lager with ginger called Mary Ann (a Gilligan’s Island reference for those too young to remember). The plan is also to serve Indian street food in the taproom.

Fitger’s Brewhouse

The second big announcement came from up north. The Star Tribune reported that Fitger’s Brewhouse plans to open a new brewpub in downtown Minneapolis at 107 3rd Ave. N. They plan to open in late fall or early winter, but the brewery won’t be in place until sometime next spring or summer. In the meantime they will feature some made-in-Duluth Fitger’s brews along with guest taps from other Minnesota beer makers. The design may include outdoor seating and a possible rooftop beer garden. This is big news to many Twin Cities beer fans that currently have to trek the 150 miles to Duluth to enjoy some of the best beers in the state.

Blacklist Brewing and Wolf Revival

The last announcement came to me in an email with the subject line “Two More Beer Projects.” The first of these project is something called the Blacklist Brewing Beer + Art Project. The brainchild of 7-year veteran brewer Brian Schanzenbach and marketing guy/Certified Cicerone Jon Loss, Blacklist will operate as itinerant brewers in the mold of Mikkeller in Denmark, leasing time and space in other brewery’s facilities to make their beers, although they haven’t ruled out eventually building their own plant. They’ll form collaborations with regional artists to meld unique beers with artwork to match, a different beer and a different artist every month. The pair plan to work on a membership model similar to Crooked Stave in Colorado. Membership buys you a monthly shipment of beer and art starting in 2013. Different membership levels get you different amounts of each. Memberships are already available for purchase at the Blacklist Kickstarter project page. A glance at the proposed beer list reveals some creative concoctions including a lot of sours. How ‘bout a white grape strong Belgian golden or an imperial IPA with fennel and spruce.

But that’s not all. Loss and Schanzenbach are involved in a second project centered in Stillwater.  They are collaborating with the great-granddaughters of the Joseph Wolf family to revitalize the pre-prohibition brewery of the family name. They plan to introduce 750 ml bottles of Belgian strong golden and Berliner Weiss in Stillwater and limited outlets in the TC Metro later this summer. Initially these beers will be brewed at Dubrue in Duluth. Apparently the group is trying to purchase the old Wolf brewery buildings on Main Street in Stillwater, but are running into some difficulty.

It’s definitely an interesting time to be a beer fan in Minnesota.