Growth by demand: 56 Brewing to add outdoor taproom, continue growler delivery

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The future home of 56 Brewing’s primarily outdoor taproom, which is set to open in late October or early November // Photo by Aaron Davidson

56 Brewing didn’t expect to reach capacity at their Northeast Minneapolis brewhouse in just two months. Granted, there’s just 710 square feet of production space to work with in the former NorthGate facility at 3134 California St. NE. But the small production brewery has plans to grow beyond just selling growlers onsite.

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Kale and Kerry Johnson of 56 Brewing // Photo by Aaron Davidson

“We didn’t have plans for a taproom here,” says company co-founder and Vice President Kerry Johnson. “We didn’t think it would be possible or even a good investment,” she says, “until we realized how busy we are.” The original plan had been to first build a steady clientele, and develop a better on-site customer experience later—perhaps after finding a bigger building.

“We’ve also realized people don’t understand off-sale,” adds brewer Kale Johnson, also Kerry’s husband. Though 56 doesn’t currently have an on-sale liquor license that would allow them to sell pints at the brewery, it’s been commonplace for customers to ask for them instead of the smaller size samples the brewery is currently allowed to pour. Seeing that response, 56 is adding a taproom to their tiny home, though in a wholly new fashion.

“It’s not going to be open [concept] like other taprooms,” Kerry says, “but at least it lets customers buy a pint of beer.” 56 will add a few high-top seats inside the brewhouse, but the true taproom experience will be outdoors, between their cooler (which makes up an external wall of the building) and their cherished garden, where they grow herbs that are infused into specialty beers (such as the recent mint Dark Territory chocolate coconut stout). The taproom will be primarily a patio, with a living wall of maturing hop vines, and stanchions to delineate where taproom ends and parking lot begins. In the winter they hope to feature an ice bar.

“It wasn’t our plan,” Kerry says, “But we like how it turned out being a smaller, off the beaten path location.” The unique arrangement will extend that private atmosphere provided by the surrounding industrial lot. “We get a lot of people who don’t want to be in the hustle and bustle of the other ones,” Kerry explains.

The 56 taproom will hold about 30 people and, at present, it still awaiting inspection from the state Department of Agriculture. If approved, they hope to open quickly in late October/early November. The outdoor build-out is minimal compared to the Metro’s more elaborate taprooms. “A lot of the paperwork is done, the application is done,” says Kerry. “Right now we’re just waiting.”

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Kale Johnson checks the gravity of a batch of beer // Photo by Aaron Davidson

With a 10bbl brewing system and limited space, 56 planned to start as a community-focused brewery, supplementing their income from local bars and restaurants with a “CSB.” Similar in concept to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), they offer a subscription that features regular delivery of beer to investors. They’ll open up to new memberships in October. 56 also delivers 750s and growlers to non-members, typically via bicycle.

Using a nondescript carrier, primary deliveryman Gabe will bring Lake Sandy Rye, NE Nectar, Polonaise APA, and Dark Territory within a region defined as “a 10-minute bike ride from the brewery.” It mostly encompasses the 55418 ZIP code, though not strictly, and must be ordered in advance online. Car delivery does happen on occasion, and Kerry and Kale sometimes make the deliveries themselves. A mechanical engineer by trade, Kale is designing a custom bike trailer complete with cooling.

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56 Brewing delivers both regular 64 oz. growlers and 750ml mini growlers by bike on Sundays // Photos by Aaron Davidson

Bikes and beers are a popular pairing, not unique to 56, but it’s especially practical here because of their desire to limit their carbon footprint. Besides their modest workspace, the brewery’s garden involves a cyclical partnership with nearby Mississippi Mushrooms. 56 gives spent grains to Mississippi Mushrooms who, in turn, grow their product and then give the remains back to 56 as compost. The kale, herbs, and other produce growing adjacent to what will become their taproom showcase a sustainable and close-knit community.

Once the taproom opens, it will be, quite literally, the greenest in the city: a sustainable and quiet location tucked into Northeast where people can enjoy unique beers off of the beaten path.

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