Brewer Profile: Keigan Knee of Modist Brewing

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Keigan Knee is the head brewer at the still-in-development Modist Brewing Company // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Photos by Aaron Davidson

The pounding of hammers on sheet metal echoes throughout a cavernous warehouse in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood. The place is more or less deserted. A couple guys skateboard across the concrete floor, swiftly crisscrossing the 18,000-square-foot space. A pile of tools fills the corner next to a makeshift kitchen—a microwave balancing atop a mini-fridge. Tape on the floor marks where furniture and equipment will eventually live. The only thing that hints at the building’s future purpose is a slanted, sleek wooden “M,” the logo of Modist Brewing Company.

Keigan Knee sits in a camping chair next to a table littered with coffee thermoses, safety glasses, pens, a motorcycle helmet, and a stack of giant blueprints. Dressed in a red t-shirt, army-green pants, and black high-top sneakers, with his hair pulled back into an unpretentious man bun, Keigan looks more like a college kid on summer break than one of the most talked-about brewers in Minnesota. The 28-year-old had just stepped down as the head brewer at Dangerous Man Brewing a few weeks earlier; before that, he’d helmed the tanks at Harriet Brewing Company. Now, Keigan is ready to realize the vision for his own brewery—a project-in-the-making for more than four years.

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Keigan Knee unrolls blueprints for the future North Loop brewery, Modist Brewing Company // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Modist Brewing came about in part thanks to Harriet Brewing Company. Keigan was living in South Minneapolis with lifelong friends and Modist partners Kale Anderson and John Donnelly for six months when Harriet opened, in January 2011. Keigan says he wasn’t very interested in beer back then, preferring to drink spirits instead. Or, if he did drink beer, he’d reach for the light stuff. “I still get shit for that,” he says, glancing over at Kale and John who have just come inside to take a break from demolition work.

Seeing the brewing process up close changed beer for Keigan. Everything about Harriet, which was the first production brewery to open in Minneapolis since the Grain Belt Brewery closed in 1975, intrigued him. He and John began volunteering there three days a week. Within a month, Keigan was hooked. “I became infatuated with brewing,” he says. “I went to the owners and told them brewing was my calling.”

Keigan began apprenticing with Paul Johnston that same year and took over as brewer when Paul left Harriet for Lucid Brewing in 2012. He stayed there for about a year, when fate intervened. “I met Rob [Miller, of Dangerous Man Brewing] randomly at Fulton the first day its taproom opened,” Keigan says. “A few months later, I ran into him again. I was looking for a new challenge and he said he needed help moving in tanks at Dangerous Man. I offered to help out—and I never left.”

Keigan says he and Rob complemented each other, as brewers and as friends. So when he decided to look into opening his own brewery, he didn’t hesitate to tell Rob about it. “They [Rob and his wife, Sarah] were supportive throughout the entire process,” Keigan says. “They were cool with it from day one. There’s no bad blood between us; there never was, and there never will be.”

The serendipitous way in which beer entered Keigan’s life makes one wonder: What would he have done had he not discovered brewing? Shifting in his chair, Keigan tucks his leg beneath him and leans his head back. “I was on the verge of going back to school for design,” he says. “I thought maybe I’d work as a set and prop designer for movies. You know, something that was creative and challenging, something out of the norm. Nothing 9 to 5. I decided back in high school I was not going to be a trophy husband.”

Whether by conscious effort or by default due to his wide-reaching set of skills, Keigan has never been in danger of falling victim to a dull lifestyle. He grew up in Delano, Minnesota, to a chef mother and a handyman father, who would craft delicate soapstone jewelry one day and fix a motorcycle the next. Their combined tastes influenced him from an early age. “I’m inspired by the mechanics of things: pipes, tubes, how something works,” he says. “I dissect it in my mind, determine what the boundaries are, then figure out what I can do.”

Boundaries, one quickly learns, don’t sit well with Keigan, whether within the context of a machine’s capabilities or his own. In the 10 years since graduating high school, he has pursued—and succeeded in—three careers. He received a degree in welding and structural engineering from Hennepin Technical College and worked as a welder for two years. Then he moved to Minneapolis and was a mechanic at West Side Volkswagen in St. Louis Park. Finally, he discovered beer.

Next page: A ‘Modist’ beginning

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road, seeking out good food, drink, conversation, and fodder for her next story.

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