When I walk in the door at Venn Brewing Company, I’m greeted by smiling faces at the end of an extensive wood bar. It’s a sunny December day and the beautiful black walnut bar is shimmering in a wash of the natural light reflecting in from the snow outside, giving the whole space a certain reverse snowglobe vibe.
“Kyle built it,” offers Connie Sisco, a co-founder of Venn, noticing my ogling of the woodwork. Kyle is Connie’s husband and the co-head brewer at Venn Brewing. Connie, along with taproom manager Hillary Blair, kindly offer to show me the brewery and taproom a few days before they opened their doors to the public on December 16.
After a few years of starts and stops, Venn Brewing Company found a home in the first level of a mixed use residential and retail complex on the bustling corner of Hiawatha and 46th Street, in what, by Minneapolis standards, is a relative brewery desert. (Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub is the only other brewery or brewpub within a few miles). Venn was originally conceived by a group that actually didn’t include Kyle or Connie. Early on, they asked Kyle to come on board as brewer, but soon the momentum behind the original concept for Venn Brewing stalled out, putting the company’s future in limbo.
“Priorities shifted,” says Connie about the decision the original group made to bow out of the brewery project in June of 2016. Not ready to throw in the towel, Kyle convinced his wife, a senior account manager at Olson, to help him pick up where their other friends left off and take the concept for Venn across the finish line.
Connie, who took on the role of Venn’s marketing director in addition to her day job, says things have remained entirely amicable with the original group behind the brewery. “We were all friends before, and we’re all still friends now.”
That’s good, because the name of their brewery actually comes from the Norwegian word for friend, and that congenial ethos extends well beyond just the name of the brand.
“We really want you to feel welcome, and warm, and happy to be here,” says Blair, who met Kyle and Connie in a homebrew club a few years back, and whose experience in beer extends to both the sales and retail sides of the business, having spent time selling beer for FINNEGANS and Hohenstein’s and managing Minneapolis’ Red Wagon Pizza. “We want to make sure people feel like this space is welcoming and available to everybody.”
The 148-seat taproom has a minimalistic design with the polished industrial aesthetic we’ve become accustomed to in brewery taprooms: mainly comprised of wood and concrete, but remarkably cozy. That balance is due in no small part to the contributions of way-better-than-amatuer carpenter, Kyle Sisco. He did almost all of the woodwork at Venn, including everything from the flight paddles, to the aforementioned black walnut bar, to the massive hard maple beams that hang from the ceiling, to each and every one of the tables—built by hand from rough-sawn maple.
“We were trying to conserve funds, obviously, but also Kyle’s just into doing shit himself,” says Connie, reminiscing about the pile of wood shavings in their driveway that grew taller than their six-year-old daughter.
Kyle’s do-it-yourself philosophy doesn’t end with the construction of the brewery. He’s bringing a bootstrapping, freewheeling style to the beer plans at Venn Brewing as well. “We’re just making things up as we go,” says Kyle as he pours us a couple beers. He says it with a devious smile that seemed to mean, ‘I’m kidding, but not really.’
Kyle is an award-winning homebrewer and nationally ranked BJCP judge, who served as the head brewer at Wicked Wort in Robbinsdale from January 2016 to June 2017.
“We’re trying to keep the lineup as diverse as possible,” he clarifies. “We’ve got British styles, German styles, Belgian styles, hybrids, kettle sours, American styles, you name it.” With something pouring from each of the major brewing regions at all times, Kyle hopes to offer “a beer for every palate.”
From what I tried on my first two visits to Venn, the beers––almost universally––fall into the category of approachable. The Batch #3 Petite (sic) Saison wasn’t too estery, the black lager was exceptionally drinkable, and the Citra/Mosaic IPA fell short of aggressive, but was nicely balanced. Though some beers will repeat or reappear occasionally, for now each beer is just a batch number, and the taste of the clientele will dictate what they brew next.
“It’s a pilot house,” according to Kyle. “We’re just having fun with stuff. We’re gonna be using a lot of experimental hops. We’ve been doing mostly hoppy shit. That’s what Ben and I like to drink.” Ben Michaels is Kyle’s co-head brewer, who recently left Surly to help get Venn up and running.
Brewing on a relatively modest seven-barrel system, the guys were able to produce and unveil an impressive 12 beers for opening weekend, just a few short of the 16 taps the taproom will pour regularly. But their Minneapolis taproom is the only place you’ll be able to get the beer. “My heart has never been in production or distribution,” says Kyle.
Connie echoes Kyle’s sentiment, sharing her hope that Venn will be like Twin Cities’ more intimate brewery operations like Dangerous Man and their straight from the source philosophy.
“At the end of the day it’s a really simple, local place for people who live close.’”
Brewers: Kyle Sisco and Ben Michaels
Beers: Batch #1 Golden Ale, Batch #2 Black Lager, Batch #3 Petite Saison, Batch #4 Pale Ale, Batch #5 Blood Orange Witbier, Batch #6 Citra Mosaic IPA, Batch #7 Winter Ale, Batch #8 Session IPA, Batch #9 Porter, Batch #10 Pilsner, Batch #12 Rye IPA, Batch #13 Raspberry Sour
Address: 3550 East 46th Street, Suit #140, Minneapolis