A celebration of fermentation at GYST

A California-inspired concept has taken root a block from Eat Street

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Sisters Kylene and Mel Guse own GYST Fermentation Bar in Minneapolis // Photo by James Eastman

Photos by James Eastman

Yeast is a remarkable thing. It’s wild, temperamental, and unpredictable. Under the right circumstances, it creates some of the tastiest edibles on the planet—ones currently being gathered under the same roof in South Minneapolis.

Gyst is an Old English word for yeast. Its modern English homophone—gist—means the essentials, the heart of the matter. Both meanings speak to the mission of GYST Fermentation Bar, a place to snack on simple presentations of artisanal ingredients produced by way of yeast and bacteria cultures.

“We knew we didn’t want to be just a wine bar, or just a cheese bar,” says GYST co-owner Kylene Guse. “We were thinking about all this amazing craft beer and cider and kombucha. We wanted chocolate and meats, and we realized they’re all products of fermentation.”

The idea for GYST began seven years ago in the Bay Area. Sisters Kylene and Mel Guse both quit steady day jobs to work at Bi-Rite Market, San Francisco’s organic food mecca. Mel became a certified sommelier and worked in the cheese department. She quickly became  fascinated by dairy artisans’ dedication to their products. “We were first inspired by cheesemakers,” Mel says. “Being able to go visit the creameries and see sheep everywhere, you see all the care and hard work that you might not realize when you eat a piece of cheese. GYST is about telling those stories.”

At Mission Cheese in San Francisco, they were shocked to find a cheese from Minnesota—Alemar’s Bent River Camembert. More research confirmed that Minneapolis was ready for the kind of sampling bars they’d grown familiar with on the West Coast. “We don’t consider ourselves a restaurant,” Kylene says. “We want to focus on cheese and wine and the simplicity of it all. We joked that our concept is straight out of ‘Portlandia,’ but we decided to just go for it.”

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The idea for GYST began seven years ago in the Bay Area when sisters Kylene and Mel Guse both quit steady day jobs to work at Bi-Rite Market, San Francisco’s organic food mecca // Photo by James Eastman

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Beet kvass – read more about this unique drink that combines brine of beet, cabbage and persimmon // Photo by James Eastman

Everything about GYST is charming. Kylene and Mel radiate an infectious energy. White subway tiles line a hutch behind the bar. Issues of Lucky Peach magazine line the hallway alongside copies of Amy Theilen’s cookbook. The space is bright and breezy. A giant chalkboard promotes their freshest wares. Wide cooler doors to the side of the bar reveal a panoply of cheeses.

Kylene pours a few drops of vermouth vinegar in our San Pellegrino; it’s like a squeeze of lemon with personality. House-made vinegar dresses our kale salad. Sauerkraut and kimchi enhances the sandwiches. Pickled vegetables spruce up the cheese boards. Most of it is fermented in-house.

“It’s kind of an experiment,” Kylene says. “We’re always playing. We needed fresh produce—that was really important. We ended up planting too many cucumbers. I really wanted cornichons, they’re really hard to find. But we’re pickling and fermenting a lot.”

Jim Bovino supplies GYST with the vegetables not grown on site. Bovino runs the California Street Farm, an urban farm in Northeast Minneapolis; he also co-owns Keepsake Cidery in Dundas, Minnesota. His harvest has pushed GYST to get creative with their approach to pickling and preserving. “Something is going to be different every time you come here, having Jim and the farm and thinking about how we can use everything,” Kylene says. “We don’t say we’re farm-to-table, but we’re as close as you can get. Food preservation in Minnesota is true to how we should be eating here.”

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Senior Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in real life at various bar patios in South Minneapolis.