“A taproom gives us a home base, it gives us an identity, it gives us the local connection—a lot more than we’ve had to this point,” says Matt Lange, head brewer and co-owner of Lake Monster Brewing. “It’s going to be huge.”
Lake Monster started in 2013 by contract brewing their Calhoun Claw Pilsner and Empty Rowboat IPA in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. With the opening of their new St. Paul brewery and taproom, Lake Monster is bringing the production of their kegged beer and taproom offerings in-house, while their packaged product will continue be contract-brewed for the time being. They expect to add a canning line to their St. Paul facility sometime in 2016, which will be the first step toward transitioning all of their operations there.
It’s been well over a year of build-out at their new space at 550 Vandalia Street, just south of University Avenue and a few blocks off Metro Transit’s Green Line. While they expected delays throughout the process, a lot of curveballs have been thrown their way since they first signed the lease. But with hindsight and the healing power of time on their side, they say the obstacles they overcame resulted in a better overall facility. Their historic building, a former rail yard exchange, isn’t just a repurposed brick warehouse—it’s been completely overhauled with all new amenities, wiring, plumbing, and parking.
“It took a long time, but look at the finished product,” says co-founder Matt Zanetti, pointing to the brick walls, high ceilings, and attractive windows that complement their newly installed bar. “This is phenomenal. We’re going to have one of the coolest outdoor spaces around. You can’t pay to make something look old and funky like this,” he says, noting the uneven floor that made his bar installation extra challenging.
Lake Monster is planning to have six beers for their opening on December 4: a Munich-style dunkel made with wild rice, an oatmeal milk stout, a session IPA, a sour brown, and the aforementioned Calhoun Claw and Empty Rowboat. Eventually, Lake Monster will add another year-round and a seasonal packaged beer, and they’re excited to use the taproom as a testing ground for all the potential new additions. “I have a good idea of what people will like,” Lange says, but the taproom is a bonus test market. “It’s the perfect way to learn from what people like.”
As the anchor tenants in their building, Lake Monster is surrounded mostly by smaller office units. They’ll have a large patio that’s isolated from the street and plenty of parking available. They expect to draw customers from the nearby neighborhoods of St. Anthony Park, Merriam Park, Highland Park, Groveland, and Longfellow. The Raymond Avenue Green Line stop is three blocks away, or about a 12-minute walk, and they’re within about 30 minute walks of Urban Growler, Bang, and Surly.
Similar to the approach taken by Fulton, Lange said they wanted to build their brand recognition before opening a taproom, but that “having a taproom was the plan from day one.” Obtaining financing for their brewery also proved to be easier with their products already on shelf. “It’s an expansion,” Zanetti notes, not a start-up.
Right now, Zanetti and Lange are excited to get settled into their new space after the long haul it took to get there, and as that happens they expect a few changes along the way. Could Calhoun Claw become Como Claw? “We’ve talked about changing the name,” Lange admits, since Lake Calhoun was given a dual name earlier this year to distance it from its namesake John C. Calhoun. At present, no changes are expected until the canning line is up and running.
As Lake Monster enters the taproom scene and expands their lineup of beers, they’re excited to see how their new recipes are received. “I have a feeling the IPA and pilsner are not going to sell as well,” Lange says of opening night. “Because everybody wants to try all the new stuff.”
Brewer: Matt Lange
Beer: Calhoun Claw Pilsner, Empty Rowboat IPA, Munich-style dunkel made with wild rice, oatmeal milk stout, session IPA, and sour brown
Visit: 550 Vandalia Street
Hours: Opening December 4, 4pm–1am