Photos by Brandon Werth
In today’s craft-beer culture, hops seem to get all the love, but spend a minute scrolling through Able Seedhouse + Brewery’s Instagram feed and you might just experience a tingly feeling for barley you never knew you were capable of.
Delicate fields of gold ready for harvest; lush, green elbow-high stalks still growing strong; a single husk handled with the delicacy one usually reserves for newborn babies—all tagged with #BeerStartsHere. With hop-obsession at an all-time high, it can sometimes be easy to forget how true that statement is.
Able Seedhouse + Brewery is set to open in late summer or early fall in Northeast Minneapolis. Their approach to ingredients—specifically barley—focuses on sourcing as much as possible directly from Minnesota farmers and performing in-house malting.
It’s not just about the locavore movement though, it’s about agronomics and reminding Minnesotans that farming isn’t all corn and soybeans. Farmers and the University of Minnesota will provide the company with new ingredients and even new breeds, and the experimentation that comes with these new grains is a big draw for Bobby Blasey, Able’s recently-hired head brewer. Eventually, he envisions brewing beers that emphasize terroir: not just making “Minnesota beers,” but zeroing in to an even more micro level to create beers that are unique to the farms from which their ingredients originated. First, though, they have to finish building the brewhouse at 1121 Quincy St NE.
Blasey learned the brewing trade at the American Brewer’s Guild, followed by an internship at Lift Bridge, and spent the past two and a half years as a brewer at Mankato Brewery. His first commercial recipe was Mankato’s Organ Grinder Amber Ale, which is now their top seller. He is also behind Haymaker IPA, Leaf Raker Nut Brown Ale, Mint Stout, and more. But in leaving Mankato, he is also leaving behind those beers. Along with Able owners Casey Holley, Rick Carlsen, John Mowery, and Matt Johnson, Blasey is starting from scratch and working to find a new identity in planning Able’s lineup.
“I don’t know what’s going to hit, what’s going to sink, what maybe is our flagship,” he explains. “I’m just grabbing a bunch of things, throwing them at the wall, seeing what sticks. I have all the ideas, where do I start?” Fortunately, Blasey’s preference to brew by experimenting and working on the fly will suit him well at the start-up brewery. One thing he does know for certain is that the malts will define Able’s beer.
“I want to do stuff that is approachable to a lot of people, but it brings something else to the table,” he says, and the in-house malts will offer just that. By using new and experimental malts, he will test their strengths and profiles, and pair them with hops to create distinct beers. While Able wants the malts to shine, its beers won’t be entirely malt-forward. Brewing is balance, Blasey emphasizes, though of course he wants to represent what makes Able different. Learning to work with those new grains excites him most. “It’s not what gets me up in the morning, but it’s what I think about in the middle of the night,” he says, “the dreams I have.”
While he’s still exploring the lineup, one of his first decisions was to use a different yeast strain than his Northeast Minneapolis neighbors, and he will consciously stay away from beers comparable to his Mankato creations.
“It would be different if I was in another market,” he notes, but he sees it as an opportunity rather than a limitation. “There’s a lot of different IPAs and pales ales that I never got to do,” he says, embracing the creativity and variation that come with working for a start-up. Blasey ultimately envisions a mix of experimental and traditional styles that integrate to create a unified stable. “Bring them all in and put that American slant to it,” he explains, ranging in colors, flavors, and styles.
It’s the new brewing equipment that Blasey feels will be the biggest adjustment. “I have to hit the ground running,” he says, which gives little time to iron out the nuances of a new system. Stress aside, he’s up for it. “All those things that go wrong and make you lose sleep, I like that,” he says, confident in Able’s future. “It helps a person grow and makes me well rounded.”
Leaving an established business for a new start-up is a proposition that warrants soul searching and requires a personality that hazards risk for a greater reward. Blasey cites the promise of Able’s unique business model, his connection with the ownership, and being closer to family as the key elements for his making the move between breweries.
“I love the guys at Mankato,” Blasey says fondly, and leaving what he’d helped build was difficult. Ultimately, it’s a matter of finding the right fit and Blasey has deemed himself “a Twin Cities guy.” To live closer to friends and family, all while helping to build a brewery from the ground up, “There’s no way I can pass this up. It is too good to be true.”