It’s easy to get excited when walking into Bus Stop Burgers & Brewhouse. Located in the Downtown East neighborhood of Minneapolis, on the ground floor of the Wells Fargo Building and firmly in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium, Bus Stop provides a welcome addition to a patch of downtown Minneapolis thirsty for quality food and drink in a casual setting.
The man calling the shots at Bus Stop is Chief Development Officer Brian Ingram, former COO of New Bohemia. He has an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, which at the time of our meeting, are especially necessary, seeing that his brewing equipment had still not been delivered.
“All of it was supposed to be here when we opened (a month ago),” Ingram says. “But with some of the tanks coming out of China, the government shutdown shut us down.” Complicating matters was the polar vortex, which pushed the delivery date even further back. “It’s been an interesting deal for us.”
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Ingram has his fingerprints on concepts and restaurants all over the world, including the newly opened Cargo Food Authority in the old Hubert’s space at the Target Center. And Bus Stop isn’t just any project.
Bus Stop will be the first brewery in Minnesota to feature the SmartBrew system, which was installed at long last in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, February 5. The SmartBrew process is a collaborative effort with brewmaster Brian Watson, who has won over 100 international medals in his lifetime of brewing. Watson and the SmartBrew team in New Zealand and Germany handle the grain selection, milling, mashing, boiling, cooling, and delivery of the unfermented wort. Ingram and Bus Stop will take over from there, transferring the wort to their fermentors, pitching the yeast, and handling the dry-hopping and infusing local ingredients on-site.
“Most of my spaces don’t have the square footage to bring in a traditional brewing system,” Ingram says. “SmartBrew came out with a pretty cool system. It seemed like it made sense for us and our small-batch kind of version. So I bought a SmartBrew system and partnered with Brian and we came up with our first beers.”
The technology of the SmartBrew system is ideal for a restaurateur working with limited space. Everything is electronic—the tanks clean themselves, the system monitors the fermentation, maturation, and carbonation process—and it all fits neatly into a small amount of space. This new technology may not be something the passionate Minnesota brewing community is ready to embrace with open arms, but Ingram is okay with that.
“I’m expecting a lot of push back. I have no doubt they’ll say, ‘You’re the Keurig of beer!’ I have no doubt that’s coming,” Ingram says. “I’m hoping the beer will stand on its own. We’ve put a ton of thought and time into it. Just like any brewery, for months we’ve been working on these recipes and playing around with them. It’s not just plug and play. There’s a lot of thought and a lot of process that goes into it.”
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In addition to making beer for Bus Stop, Ingram plans to connect with local brewers in the Twin Cities and collaborate on recipes that will be brewed by SmartBrew and to have guest brewers come in and do infusions at a keg level.
“Jeremy Pryes (Pryes Brewing) is a good friend of mine. Omar Ansari (Surly Brewing) is a friend of mine. So the idea is to get all these local great brewers in here,” Ingram said. “Those guys have to brew big batches. Jeremy said, ‘I can come over and we can do something in 11 days and I could even test stuff,’ so the decision was really, how do we partner with local breweries? How do we start brewing our own beer while having a local influence on it as well?”
As a brewpub, Bus Stop will continue to pour local beers even after their own brewing starts, and the local influence won’t stop at beer. The space is filled with artwork from local artist Forrest Wozniak, including a series of inspirational quotes painted in place of mirrors in the bathrooms. Ingram has also partnered with Tattersall Distilling to create 10 different cocktails on draft for those looking for something other than beer.
“For me, the Vikings stadium is across the street, so how can I do a thousand craft cocktails right here and right now?” he says. “For speed and consistency, it was a big deal for us.”
Bus Stop may hang a hat or two on its beverage options, but its flagship will always be the food. “My whole background is culinary,” Ingram explains. “Everything you’re going to try are my recipes so I’m pretty passionate about all of the food we’re serving here.”
The menu is filled with hearty sides and starters (duck wings marinated in a mango curry sauce, beer battered cheese curds, crispy Tennessee hot chicken chicharrones), fresh pies provided by The Lynhall in Uptown, and of course custom-blended burgers, like the ridiculous party of pork that is the Get N My Belly Bacon Burger.
“It’s 30 percent pork belly, 30 percent bacon, it’s got some ground chuck in there, and some aged beef fat,” Ingram says. “We do a bacon jam on top that’s got Canadian bacon, pancetta, jalapeño bacon, regular bacon, and then a bacon aioli, and the cheddar cheese is filled with bacon as well. That’s probably the burger we sell the most here.”
And now that the government shutdown and polar vortex are behind them, Bus Stop will soon be able to offer patrons SmartBrewed, house beers to wash down their burgers.
Brewer: Brian Watson of SmartBrew
Address: 620 S. 4th St, Minneapolis, MN 55415
Beers: Pilsner, Lager, East Coast IPA, Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, Black Currant Gose