It was just over a year ago that Pour Decisions shuttered their taproom and an ominous online statement notified the Minnesota beer community that the Roseville brewery was closing their doors in a merger. Eight months later the chrysalis emerged as Bent Brewstillery, the state’s first brewery/distillery combination.
The merger may have taken many by surprise, but the deal had been in development for some time. Bent had started distributing their own beer in December of 2013. Owner Barley Blume was planning to open a nanobrewery and taproom where he would handle all the work himself. He would contract brew his beer elsewhere for distribution, while making spirits too. What Blume discovered along the way was that a good taproom site is hard to find. He ultimately signed to contract brew with Pour Decisions, but under that agreement he could not legally self-distribute. The next workaround was an alternating proprietorship agreement, similar to that of Lucid’s space in Minnetonka. Those papers cleared in late 2013 and by that time Bent and Pour Decisions were ironing out the details of a merger instead, which officially took place at midnight on Jan. 1, 2014. “The merger was better for all of us,” he says now. “It was something that took us both to higher levels than we would have been individually.”
“It was quite a huge decision for me,” Blume explains. “I had my own small aspirations. Merging with Pour Decisions meant a much huger operation.” It essentially made for a five-year jump in his business plan from the get-go. “It just happened to be a case of the right place at the right time,” he adds. “It made sense, both ideology-wise and financial-wise. Why compete right next to each other?”
Now, Bartley serves as president and head distiller of the brewstillery and former Pour Decisions owner Kristen England remains onboard as head brewer. It was also perfect timing for England’s then co-owner at Pour Decisions, BJ Haun, who is no longer officially involved in the company. He was facing a difficult decision between his career in plant genetics and in brewing when the merger took place. “It was ultimately a business decision that benefitted everyone,” says Haun, who occasionally helps out on his own time.
The starkest change to the consumer, besides the brand name, is the taproom. “We wanted to raise the bar,” Blume explains. “A lot of [taprooms] are very basic.” Pour Decisions, in their estimation, was in that crowd. Now the space is modern and open with booths, TVs, and amenities to create an inviting space that showcases the brewery on one end and the still on another behind the taproom draft lines.
“We put a lot of planning into this taproom and making it more of a destination. Not just a place where you can drink our beer on tap, but making it a place where people wanted to come that’s relaxing and comfortable, modern yet industrial,” Blume explains. With two year-round beers, the taproom is a great starting point for a varied lineup that includes a few sours, Kalamity English stock ale, Funked Up, a Brewer’s Experiment series, and more.
The two flagships come from each side of the merger: Nordic Blonde Ale from Blume, and Moar Session IPA from England. Pour Decisions’ beers appear in the taproom from time to time, but Bent is a new company that is looking forward. “Once you stop making it, it’s instantly 1,000 times more popular,” England notes of the customer demand of early Pour Decisions beers that are no longer available. Space is limited to add more flagships with their four fermenters occupied with two year-round beers, many seasonal and one-off beers, as well as the wash for their spirits. Once the remodel debt is paid off, more fermenters and a brite tank will be the next step. Production of cans just started with mobile producer LagerSmith helping in the process.
On the distilling side, they can make the wash in the brewery and bring it over with ease. “We basically brew and mash like if we were making a beer. You end up with a very clean product that way and it keeps your equipment cleaner as well.” Bartley explains. The scale is also much larger than is typical of a craft distillery because of the beer equipment, and makes about 50 cases per batch.
Blume sticks to the still these days, while England captains the brewhouse, but the crossover is notable. “I don’t know if there’s any other distillery in the planet that uses hops in their gin,” says Blume, which give a notable lemon zest in its finish. From a production standpoint, the merger also makes attaining barrels for aging beer a simple process, and they plan to use them regularly—all their barrels, and not just from bourbons.
All said and done, the new business has a unique position in a growing field. “There’s a lot more attention right now on the craft beer world than there is on the craft spirit world,” Blume notes. “Having both, I’ve got a captive audience already with the beer.” He predicts comparable growth to come on the distilling side, with Bent positioned an influential player in both categories.
Bent Brewstillery is located at 1744 Terrace Dr, Roseville, MN 55113. Visit the Bent Brewstillery website for more information.