Now Open (Or Damn Close): Modist Brewing Company

Modist Brewing Company // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Modist Brewing Company’s brewhouse // Photo by Aaron Davidson

There are lots of things in a taproom designed to draw a drinker’s attention. Things like clever tap handles, splashy artwork, unique beers, and an inviting atmosphere. The floor of the brewhouse? Not so much.

But that’s the first thing that catches the eye at Modist Brewing Company, the soon-to-open, highly anticipated North Loop brewery and taproom helmed by Keigan Knee (head brewer), Kale Anderson (head of operations), John Donnelly (head of sales), and Eric Paredes (chief manager). The floor of the brewhouse shines a bright aquamarine-turquoise blue, casting its swimming pool-like hue up onto the row of shiny fermenter tanks lined up behind a hip-height stainless steel wall. No glass, no gap—just you, the wall, and the blue-tinted tanks.

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Modist marketing manager/social media guy Dan Wellendorf // Photo by Aaron Davidson

“When the contractor told us we could choose any color we wanted, we didn’t even hesitate,” Eric says, smiling. “That’s our accent color.” It’s also yet another bold statement being made by Modist.

The idea for Modist started years ago, sparked in part by Harriet Brewing Company. Keigan, John, and Kale are roommates in South Minneapolis, and visited Harriet shortly after it opened in January 2011. Seeing the brewing process up close inspired the trio to start homebrewing. It also led them to Eric, who was volunteering at Harriet at the time. Back home in their garage, the trio crafted a custom-built pilot system and started experimenting with styles and recipes. Every Monday they’d start a new beer, and every year their outputs—and creativity—grew. Five years and multiple jobs at different breweries around the Twin Cities later, those weekly brewing sessions are now a full-blown brewery.

“At Modist, we push past traditional brewing methods to harness raw inspiration and create a new beer experience,” the brewery’s homepage proclaims. Beneath that is an explanation of the name itself: “Modist: a person who modifies; a modern artistic expression utilizing modification to achieve a self-conscious and intentional break from the conventional; a brewery in the North Loop, MPLS, MN.”

All this is the Modist team’s way of saying: We have big plans to make unique beer, and make it our way, in our space, by our rules. “We know what beer is, but we want to know what beer can be,” Keigan says. “We aren’t just tweaking styles—we’re creating our own. We are beer designers.”

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Modist head brewer Keigan Knee // Photo by Aaron Davidson

One way Modist is seeking to achieve this goal is by outfitting the brewhouse with a mash filter instead of using a lauter tun—one of only a handful of breweries in the United States to do so.

In layman’s terms, a lauter tun acts like a drip-coffee maker, whereas a mash filter is like a French press. Instead of waiting for gravity to do its work and separate the wort from the grains following mash-in, a mash filter extracts wort using filter plates and air bladders that squish all the water from the grains, leaving tidy little bricks of spent grain rather than sloppy piles of the stuff.

The mash filter at Modist, a Meura Micro-2001 Hybrid, is customized specifically for the brewery’s size and creative goals. Instead of 30 plates, Keigan convinced Aeigir Brewing Systems to put in 45. It’s the first time the company has made a mash filter of this size; the 15 extra plates give Keigan even more control over the beers he’ll be making.

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Modist’s custom-designed mash filter, one of only a handful in the United States // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The reasons the mash filter allows for increased creativity over a lauter tun are many. For starters, it lets the Modist team brew with whatever grains they want, in whatever ratios they want. All wheat, all rye, all barley, all oats: anything goes. That’s because unlike a lauter tun, which requires brewers to use grains that are ground to a certain size and weight in order to avoid clogging, a mash press operates with grains ground into flour. Clogging isn’t as much of an issue, because pressure from the plates separates the wort from the grains, not gravity.

Not only does the mash filter speed up the wort-removal process, but it also requires less heat (steam is injected directly into the mash instead of around the kettle in a sleeve), and up to 30 percent less water, 15 percent less hops, and 40 percent less grains to get the same outcome as a more traditional brew system. “Essentially, it’s a 22-barrel system that has the output of a 66-barrel system,” Keigan explains. “We can get up to three-and-a-half brews done in one nine-hour brew day. With a typical lauter tun, we’d be able to do one batch.”

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Modist’s mash filter // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Pressing the grains and speeding up the wort-separation process may seem counter-intuitive—and potentially detrimental—to brewers accustomed to using a lauter tun, carefully watching time and temperature to hit their target gravity and avoid excess tannins. But there’s no need to worry. The mash-in process is still the same, with the grains and hot water mixing for about an hour, starches converting into sugars. The only thing being sped up is the removal of the sugar water (aka wort). And the faster that goes, the less tannins that are left. With a lauter tun, the process takes between two to three hours. With a mash filter, it takes just 30-45 minutes.

Meura, a Belgian brewing equipment company, has been making machines like this for more than a century, but only recently started making them on a smaller scale for breweries like Modist. Keigan, who was most recently brewing at Dangerous Man, has been eyeing the equipment for years, eager to take advantage of its seemingly limitless options. “I was drawn to it for its creative side,” Keigan says. “I’m going to push it to its creative limits. I’ll probably even break it one day. It’ll be awesome.”

Related Post – Brewer Profile: Keigan Knee of Modist Brewing Company

Other prominent design features that make Modist’s brewhouse unique include LED lights inside all the vessels, a hop-locking fence in the whirlpool, and an external (rather than internal) clandria that circulates the wort to and from the boil kettle, heating it via steam-injected tubes and hastening the wort-spreading process. The entire operation is controlled via tablet and is specially customized to complement the mash filter. All together, the operation will give Keigan more control over the brewing process and free up time to brainstorming and recipe development.

Next page: Modist’s modified beer and taproom

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road, seeking out good food, drink, conversation, and fodder for her next story.