Group fitness classes muscle in on local craft brewery scene

A Bells & Beers class at LynLake Brewery // Photo by Colleen Renee

It’s 10am on Saturday morning at Bauhaus Brew Labs and the place is already raging.

Music is blaring, people are shouting, and roughly 25 smiling, sweaty people are shoulder-to-shoulder in the taproom. This is not the first stop on a Northeast Minneapolis brewery crawl (at least, not officially); it is a kettlebell fitness class.

This is just one example in a growing trend of breweries hosting fitness classes, with everyone from Steel Toe Brewing to 612Brew lending their taprooms for all kinds of workouts, from beginners yoga to intensive boot camps. Today’s class is part of the “Bells & Beer” series of kettlebell classes held at various craft breweries throughout the Twin Cities.

Bells & Beers owner and coach Ericka Darst started these events feeling inspired by a friend and yoga instructor doing Yoga + Beer in Duluth, and thought the concept of kettlebells in a brewery could work just as well.

“I thought it would be a great way to get people out of their normal workout routines, experience kettlebells, and try something fun,” Darst says of her reasons for starting the classes. “It’s different, providing a unique environment for fitness.”

Darst’s one-hour sessions cost around $18 to $25 (rates vary by host location) and cover safety, technique, and all equipment for the session. While kettlebells may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or pint of IPA, as it were), yoga studios like Minnesota Power Yoga host monthly rooftop yoga sessions at LynLake Brewery, giving yogis the chance to stretch out with an amazing view of Uptown. And then of course, there’s the beer. For the price of admission, everyone gets a free drink from the bar.

“I think it’s a win/win for the fitness/brewery industry because for many it is a new experience visiting the brewery and also using kettlebells. Participants workout in teams and socialize after, usually staying longer to enjoy what the brewery has to offer and meeting new people,” Darst explains.

On the surface, the idea of beer and exercise may seem to clash like, well, beer and exercise. But upon closer inspection, the enterprising attitude and small business mentality of local group fitness programs and craft breweries is a perfect match. And with the local taproom scene becoming increasingly competitive over the past few years, it’s no surprise that owners are looking to find events, from fitness classes to screenings of the new “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” to bring new people through their doors.

Bells & Beers class at Tin Whiskers // Photo courtesy of Ericka Darst

According to Darst, the arrangement is beneficial for everyone. “I have maybe half of the class who are regulars that I train, and then about half who are new to this kind of workout and kettlebell training, but think it seems fun.”

Fun is definitely the key element for the Bells & Beers class on this rainy Saturday, as the group laughs, shouts, and high-fives their way through a one-hour workout that is custom-designed to be challenging, but not so challenging that it would scare someone off from participating.

“I try and find that balance,” Darst says. “I want people to walk away feeling like they got a good workout, learned more about kettlebell basics, and had fun in the process.”

Laura Hutchinson, a first-time participant of Darst’s Bells & Beers program, is one of those who came looking for equal parts fitness and variety.

“I think this is really cool,” she says. “I’ve never been back here [to Bauhaus] before, so it gave me a good reason to check out the brewery and to get my workout done for the day.”

Aside from creating new business for the breweries, Darst also says that these events help drive new clients her way. To capitalize on the growing trend, she has also started mid-week “High Intensity Happy Hours,” which are shorter in duration (typically about 45 minutes) and at a slightly lower cost. A quick look at Darst’s website shows that she’s got a busy summer of brewery-hopping ahead of her, with events scheduled several times a month at various spots all over the Twin Cities.

While the trainers typically bring all of the supplies needed for participants to break a sweat, other vendors and small businesses have started to take notice of the new trend, reaching out to breweries about joining in on the action.

“I have received inquiries from local businesses who want to have a booth or a table at these events,” says Darst. “It is up to the host brewery, but I encourage anyone in business to come and participate, since that’s going to create a lot more of a connection. That’s what else is great about these classes: they give people the chance to meet up and bond.”

The rest of the group seems to share that sentiment, laughing and grinning as they line up with their drink tickets at the bar, prepared to refuel after their aerobic adventure.

Whether it’s kettlebell swings or 16-ounce curls, the local craft beer scene continues to make major gains.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with clarifications from Ericka Darst.