ENKI Brewing’s mission to “Make the World a Friendlier Place” has been a successful one thus far. The Victoria, MN, brewery has begun expansion after one and a half years in operation, doubling the square footage in their former creamery building and tripling the production capacity. One thing that sets ENKI apart from other brewery expansions is a unique source of funding they received.
While ENKI was already planning an expansion, they were recently awarded the Minnesota Value Added Grant from the state’s Department of Agriculture, which increased the scope of their project and gives it a distinct Minnesota stamp.
“[The grant] caused us to think bigger and to think differently, to think about how we expand and what kinds of things we can do,” says co-founder John Hayes. The plan is to double their staff by adding four jobs in the next two years and focus their attention on Minnesota-sourced ingredients. “The purpose of the grant is to promote Minnesota agricultural products and to support producers and processors,” Hayes stated, explaining that the brewery falls into the category of processors. ”[ENKI] made a commitment that we would do everything within our power to promote Minnesota ingredients.”
The brewery started by ordering hops from Minnesota Hops Company, near Mankato. They plan to integrate these hops into existing beers, using their recent purchase of Cascade hops in their Tail Feather IPA, and building new recipes with the other varieties available.
The grant is integral to making their expansion work. “The result is we’re doing more. Not only is it production capacity,” notes Hayes, but it also adds a quality control laboratory. It will pay for up to 25% of costs, depending on criteria met.
The expansion will absorb the building’s second floor, potentially increasing their square footage from 3,000 to 6,000. The brewhouse expansion started in October with the installation of two 40 bbl fermenters, and another 20bbl fermenter and 20 bbl brite tank are on order. When it started in 2013 ENKI was operating on a 20 bbl brewhouse and three 20 bbl fermenters and three 20 bbl brites. Eventually, Hayes envisions an addition to the taproom as well, though it is currently in the planning and concept phase. He would like to see a four-season porch included to recreate the beer garden atmosphere year-round in a controlled environment.
ENKI has a bottling line on order, an HDP 4-head filler similar to the one used at nearby Excelsior Brewing, who offered trade advice with their neighboring brewery. “It can bottle close to 300 bottles per hour,” says Hayes, “which is sufficient to meet our expectations for the next two years. It gives us an opportunity to learn more about bottling before we invest in a more sophisticated, more expensive bigger bottling or canning line.”
Once installed, they will bottle Tail Feather in 22-ounce bombers, along with at least one additional beer from their stable. Hayes expects the bottles to have a similar geographic reach as their draft accounts, spanning a 15–25 mile radius and dipping into Minneapolis-St. Paul sometime this spring.
Ultimately the goal is to create a 100% Minnesota-sourced beer, but that pet project faces steep challenges, namely the barley. While the majority of barley is grown in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, it is blended prior to malting, thus leaving the origin of the grains uncertain. “We’re going to experiment,” says Hayes, aiming for a truly phenomenal result before the project will hit customers’ tongues. “We may not achieve this goal of 100%, but maybe we can get to 50% or 80% Minnesota-sourced […] though we may make a few mistakes along the way.”
Other breweries have also sought Minnesota-specific barley, and they hope to work with malting companies such as Rahr and Cargill to see if the distinction can be made. As ENKI expands, Minnesota agriculture will in turn. “I think the farmers are going to start growing more hops and more barley,” he concludes, looking at the locavore moment influencing grocers and restaurants as well. “We’re following the direction from the consumer.”