Minneapolis’ first new brewpub in over 10 years opens its doors.
The much anticipated Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub opened at the end of September. The brewpub sent ripples early on in its planning stages when they offered free beer for life to initial investors of $1,000 or more (but you’re too late now).
Jamie Robinson, Amy Johnson, and Bryce Strickler are all owners of the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub and have created a partnership in which each will have complete control of their part of the business. With Robinson in the brewery, Johnson in the front of the house, and Strickler in the kitchen, each partner has the freedom to flex their creative and professional skills in the areas that they know best. “The best breweries are the ones that let their brewer have creative control,” says Robinson. “Why shouldn’t that work for the kitchen? Why shouldn’t that work for the front of the house?” This is one of the many helpful ideals that he learned first-hand with his stint at Town Hall Brewery. He adds, “that’s how [Town Hall is] successful, they have an award winning brewer and they let him do what he wants to do.”
After an aggressive search for the right location, Jamie Robinson found the building on the corner of East 38th Street and South 28th Avenue on its first day of being listed. “I had a specific idea for what we were looking for and we eliminated a lot. I probably looked at 20 properties that fit and I ran into this the day that it was posted.” It was perfect for his vision. The neighborhood of young professionals has few options for a truly local bar, let alone a brewpub. “I don’t think we would have been able to raise the money that we had raised if we weren’t in this location in this neighborhood. Everybody is just starved for something like this,” he says. The crew also lucked out for zoning. They’re on the edge of an industrial area, allowing them to be one of the few places to be allowed a full liquor license.
Naturally, the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub crew hit their fair share of construction and bureaucratic hurdles, which pushed back their opening date. However, what they have done to the place is smart and very appealing. The main dining area is centered on an L-shaped oak bar wrapping a cooler with a clear wall showing off the serving tanks. The team has had custom racks built for the tanks to sit on, so you can actually see Robinson in action as he works with them, rather than just being able to see the tops of the vessels. They were also able to save a lot of money by being creative in some of their construction solutions, like water sealing and epoxying the concrete brewhouse floor rather than using the elaborate method of sealing the floor that was in the original plan.
The actual brewhouse is in a room adjacent to the dining room, and is visible from the 38th Street window. Robinson has set it up so that he can be a one-man brewing machine. “I can brew myself, without anyone helping,” he says, specifically noting the set up of the grain mill and how it flows to the mash tun. With the grain room directly below him in the basement, he can fill his grain hopper and turn on the mill, leaving him free from having to run up and down the stairs or have another body to pour bags of malt into the mill. They will start with several fermenters in the brewhouse area and have plenty of room for expansion in the basement for when they’re ready to grow.
Robinson is brewing beer that he enjoys making, namely big, bold American style beers. They have opened with six in-house beers and six more local guest beers. Keep an eye out for Robinson’s Smokehouse Porter and the Big Jim IPA. The porter leans more towards the caramel side of the seemingly ever-increasing spectrum of the style and includes house-smoked malt, which makes it pair well with the smoke-heavy menu. Big Jim is quite hoppy, weighing in at over 90 IBU’s and seven percent ABV – a style that Minnesotans have come to adore. Also included in the initial lineup is the Light Rail Pale Ale and a Honey Wheat Ale. “If you’re going to do a honey wheat, do a honey wheat,” Robinson comments on the style. “Don’t make your guests guess that there’s honey in the beer.” There will also be a couple of seasonal beers that will rotate throughout the year, and they’re starting off with a Wild Rice Amber Ale and a single hop Columbus Pale Ale.
Robinson also spoke about working with a new hop grower in the area to produce a fresh hop beer. “We’re going to be busting out of the gates with fresh hops that no one else can get.” Much of what Robinson intends to brew are the styles that craft beer drinkers always flock back to even after experimenting with more aggressive and experimental flavors.
Johnson is running the bar and service team. She is the driving force behind keeping just over 125 seats filled with satisfied customers. She is dedicated to having an educated staff and indends to focus on keeping the standards of service and knowledge high. “Everybody has to be knowledgeable,” says Johnson. To which Robinson adds, “You wouldn’t go to a wine bar… and have people not be knowledgeable. Why shouldn’t you have that with beer?” There are also plans for a bloody mary bar. Johnson, who is an avid fan of the classic brunch beverage, will feature various incarnations of the drink including a version with house-smoked tomatoes.
Not one, but two smokers are the lifeblood of the kitchen. Strickler is going to be smoking anything and everything for the Northbound menu. “Our menu is very small, but allows us to be very focused,” says Strickler. “Jamie’s beer will be used in several of the brines as well as many sauces. It is a scratch kitchen featuring locally sourced proteins and produce when possible.”
The menu aims to make a mouth water. “Our porketta sandwich is a classic from the iron range and definitely a personal favorite.” Stickler adds that the menu also has beer-brined and smoked chicken wings and turkey sandwiches, smoked egg salad with beer-brined and smoked salmon, fresh hand-cut fries, and of course an appetizer of smoked whitefish cream cheese dip served with bruschetta. Not to mention seasonal specials and entrees. All of which are at a great price point.
The Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub is the first of its kind in Minneapolis in over ten years. With the number of breweries popping up in the area, it’s a wonder that there haven’t been more brewpubs lately, but the Twin Cities, and especially South Minneapolis are ready for it. After all, doesn’t a Big Jim IPA and a house smoked porketta sandwich sound like an amazing lunch?