Hundreds of bright green cans clink together as a vibrating stainless steel table funnels them down into a single file line, before the rollercoaster conveyor belt corkscrews them into a canning machine. After a quick rinse, five thin plastic straws plunge into a row of empty cans and purge them with carbon dioxide before the five filler heads flood the cans to the perfect level of beer. Once filled, lids roll onto the top of each can, which are then sealed in a blurry tornado of color and foam. Fresh cans of Blissful Ignorance come off the line and straight into the hands of the packaging team, who weighs each, clips them into the black, plastic four-pack holders, and builds case after case ready for distribution.
Lupulin Brewing co-owner Jeff Zierdt is overseeing the process as we walk through the open overhead door that originally separated the 10-barrel brewhouse from what used to be an empty 14,000-square-foot warehouse. Now, six 30-barrel stainless steel tanks, a large cold storage room, and dry storage racks fill around a quarter of the space. Like so many Minnesota breweries, Lupulin exceeded its five-year goal in two years, necessitating an early expansion, which began in November 2016.
Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
“Aaron had it all nice and clean for you,” Jeff jokes, pointing to the water pooling on the floor where the mobile canning line, owned and operated by the new Northstar Mobile Canning company, is humming along.
“Yeah, it was nice and clean,” his son Aaron, one of Lupulin’s brewers, shouts in agreement and laughs. He picks up two freshly packed cases of the brewery’s double IPA, Blissful Ignorance—bound for liquor store shelves that afternoon—and hurries them to the cold room adjacent to the taproom. We follow behind to the taproom where Jeff explains each phase of the construction.
“This expansion takes us to our goal of about 1,500 barrels in a year,” Jeff says. That production goal is nearly three times the 600 barrels they brewed in 2016, and would get them close to their annual fermentation capacity of 2,000 barrels. “So we still have room to grow—not much, with this brewhouse. We’re talking about maybe one more fermenter and one more brite and that’s it. Then we’re tapped out.”
If everything is on track when they hit that capacity, the next phase would be to install a 30-barrel brewhouse and additional fermentation space farther back in the empty warehouse. But for now it’s one step at a time, and the crew is working on getting their first two canned brands—Blissful Ignorance Double IPA and Resin Rapture IPA—onto the shelves of retailers around Big Lake, as well as in the Twin Cities.
“The other can that we’re looking to put out in late spring is our apricot blonde,” Jeff says. “That one’s been a big hit since we brewed it the first time when we opened in 2015. We couldn’t keep up with the growler demand on it.”
Bringing cans to market was only possible because of the improvements and upgrades Jeff, Aaron, and co-founder Matt Schiller made to the brewhouse. Beyond installing five 30-barrel fermenters and one 30-barrel brite tank, Lupulin invested in an integrated monitoring system that automates key parts of the brewing process.
The system, developed by Robert Lewison and Bill Burt of Legendary Automation, manages the flow of water from the cold liquor tank to the heat exchanger where it cools the wort before moving on, partially heated, to the hot liquor tank. It also tracks the temperatures of each fermenter and brite tank, logging data along the way on a digital display in the cellar.
“Robert and I,” says Jeff, “and Matt, and Jacob Schnabel and those guys from Spilled Grain—we were all in the same homebrew club from Annandale, the BYOB. Robert works for Dura Supreme [Cabinetry] and does automation there over in Howard Lake, but they are trying to break into this market with offering control systems for breweries.”
“We both were homebrewers. Bill started about three years ago,” Lewison says. “I liked the brewing process, but I liked the automation side of it. How can we do things so that every batch you make is exactly the same? Try to take out as much of the human element in it. Once they get their recipes dialed in they can load it up, get started, and just go.”
L to R: Lupulin co-owners Matt Schiller, Jeff Zierdt, brewer Aaron Zierdt, and the Lupulin taproom // Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
And with Lupulin’s brewers having to brew three batches on their 10-barrel brewhouse to fill their new tanks, efficiency is more important than ever. A new grist hopper, which stores the milled grain for one batch of beer, has been integral in cutting down the time per batch. “Aaron was able to take an eight-hour brew day to a five-and-a-half-hour brew day because he can mash in so much quicker,” says Jeff.
With new equipment that will allow them to brew more consistently and efficiently, this small Big Lake, Minnesota, brewery is preparing to make a bigger splash in the state’s increasingly competitive market. This March, the brewery will extend their taproom hours to seven days a week, starting with an event that begins today called Big Beer Week, in which it will roll out eight 10-plus percent ABV beers in seven days.
The brewery is also doubling down on its reputation for lupulin-filled IPAs, including a new IPA made from entirely with concentrated hop powder, which they are calling Straight Hash Homey. “It’s quite literally hop hash, which is what our name is,” brewer Matt Schiller says, “so I found it fitting.”