Anybody can brew their own beer. From department store kits to all grain systems at homebrew supply centers, a range of products are out there for people to make their own beer at home. What those recipes tend to ignore, though, is the social side of brewing. Sure, homebrewers share their products with friends, but homebrewing itself can be a solitary process.
Since October 1995, Vine Park Brewing Company has offered a brew-it-yourself alternative that creates a social atmosphere in the brewhouse. The company, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is one of roughly ten brew-on-premises businesses in the country, outliving a boom and bust at the turn of the millennium that saw over 100 similar businesses. They also feature winemaking, but brewing constitutes roughly 80% of the business.
Brew-on-premises appeals to a different crowd than homebrewing, explains Vine Park’s owner Andy Grage. “Our customers are not necessarily beer aficionados,” he says. “It’s all about the experience, going out and having fun with friends and family, neighbors, rather than learning about the malt, hops, and yeast.” It’s a business more for the casual drinker who wants a hands-on experience than for the budding food scientist or recipe builder. The formula has proven popular for team building events, bachelor parties, and weeknight brew parties that fill the open concept brewhouse.
Grage has been the face of the company since the early days, with complete managerial control even before he assumed ownership. His influence on the Minnesota brewing scene extends well beyond the brewery walls as interns he hired and trained went on to work in breweries such as Fitger’s, Lift Bridge, Lucid, Town Hall, and more.
It all started, though, with founder David Thompson. In the mid-1990s he saw a TV news story and decided to try the business model in the Twin Cities. Having retired at an early age, Vine Park started as something of a hobby business and he hired Grage, a former manager at Northern Brewer, to run the operation. They added a brewpub in 1999 and stayed at 242 W. 7th St. until 2004. The name Vine Park came from Thompson’s misreading of a folded paper map. He saw the “Vine Park” close by and, only after registering the name did he discover that a crease had disguised its real name, Irvine Park.
Regardless, the brand was in motion and Vine Park stuck as the name. When the Xcel Energy Center changed the neighborhood dynamic, it was time to relocate. “Business on the brew-on-premises side of things dropped 20% the first month,” Grage recalls. “It was very obvious very quickly that we were going to need to move.” Customers who came to brew beer didn’t care for the parking, and hockey fans did not come to spontaneously brew beer before the game. “We’re a destination business,” he says matter-of-factly.
Thompson was looking for other opportunities at the time and Grage, who already had an interest in ownership, bought Vine Park with partner Dan Justesen and moved it down the road to 1254 W. 7th St. When they moved locations, the brewpub was sold and liquidated. Justesen has since sold complete ownership to Grage.
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