When a brewery has nearly 4,000 Facebook likes prior to ever opening its doors to the public, it catches your attention. With taprooms on the eastern and southern shores of Lake Minnetonka, a feverous group of locals have been eagerly awaiting the launch of Back Channel Brewing, which held its soft opening on September 22–24 and has brought craft brewing to the west side of the lake.
Josh and Melissa Leddy had been brewing in their garage and hosting parties to get feedback on their beer (the Facebook page started as a way for the newlyweds to communicate with their friends about their beers and get-togethers.) This proved so popular that the next logical step was to start a brewery and further their passion for creating great beer and a great atmosphere.
Their homebrew setup in the garage—or the “brew-age” as they dubbed it—was built by their friend Matt “Olie” Olson, now a co-owner of Back Channel. The ownership group is rounded out by Joe Meehan, a general contractor who has been deeply involved with the construction of the taproom. Meehan’s past experience as a contractor at Utepils Brewing and Birch’s on the Lake helped guide the build-out of Back Channel’s brewhouse and taproom. While Josh and Olie are involved in the brewing process in various ways, they decided to bring on Marc Makarem, a friend of Josh’s, as head brewer.
Makarem had been exclusively a Scotch drinker. But as someone who worked in quality control at a manufacturing company, he was intrigued by the process of brewing and the need for precision to brew consistent, quality beers. Early in his homebrewing days, he won a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair for his porter and it encouraged him to enter more competitions and to become a BJCP-certified beer judge.
Quality assurance will be top of mind at Back Channel, from keeping a clean brewhouse to building an on-site lab. “As Minnesota breweries continue to grow there’s going to be more attention paid [to quality assurance] and we just want to be on the forefront of it,” says Josh.
Beyond brewing quality beer, Josh says Back Channel has a mission of educating their customers. “We are here for the beer, but also to be a destination taproom with friendly staff and an awesome atmosphere where we educate people about beer,” he says. The brewery’s beers will be approachable, starting with a cream ale and a pale ale. They also want to be flexible and creative with their brewing to keep people craving a return visit.
The space itself will help in that respect. The taproom feels inviting, with high ceilings and bold colors. Repurposed wood from an old barn adds to the comfortable feel, as does the wall of plants and a wall that will feature rotating artwork from local artists. Garage doors open up to connect the indoors to the out, making the space open and accessible.
The well-known seasonal restaurant, Minnetonka Drive In, situated almost directly across the street, serves food to Back Channel patrons via golf cart during their months of operation. In return, Back Channel hopes to have the drive-in’s root beer on tap next spring. Dakota Junction, a farm-to-table restaurant, will offer delivery by bike and, thanks to the city passing the necessary ordinance, food trucks will be allowed to operate in Spring Park. Back Channel is also working at getting the marina located behind the brewery set up to allow boats to dock at one of the five slips.
The excitement and the support in the community has been energizing. During the buildout, neighbors stopped in regularly to check on the progress and pass along words of encouragement. “It’s a small town feel,” Josh says. “People that are around here are rooting for us. They are proud that a new business has finally come in here.”
With their soft opening under their belts, the Back Channel team is looking forward to a grand opening event in the near future.
Photos by Aaron Davidson
Brewers: Marc Makarem (head brewer), Josh Leddy (brewer), Matt “Olie” Olson (brewer)
Beer: The Laker Maker Lager; Might D Blond Ale; Click Thrice Cream Ale; Cold Feat American Wheat; Rail King Pale Ale; Ten Letter Word IPA; The Gant Lifter IIPA; Iron Ranger Stout; Soviet Slayer Imperial Stout
Address: 4787 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park 55384
Hours: Times of operation will vary during soft-openings