Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. This time we checked out Bent Brewstillery, a Roseville watering hole that offers a mix of craft brewing and distilling.
Like most craft breweries, Bent Brewstillery came from humble beginnings.
In fact, the brewery-distillery hybrid that's tucked away in Roseville's warehouse district all began with a home-brewing kit.
Owner Bartely Blume was always a beer drinker but he had never brewed. Until that fateful Christmas when his wife gave him a Mr. Beer kit.
"I did a few batches in that and after even the first one I was hooked," Blume said. "I knew this is what I wanted to do."
Blume began brewing several batches and found his new hobby turning into a bit of an obsession. He created a business plan, complete with a mission, marketing plan and beer line-up for his own craft brewery. As he became more devoted to his hobby, he began to contemplate actually following through with his business plan and opening a brewery.
"I almost opened up in 2009, but then Fulton announced that they were opening and I decided it was too late. I said 'Never mind. I'm not going to do it then. If I can't be one of the first few then I don't want to do it. I don't want to be a follower,'" Blume said.
But as the number of breweries continued to grow, Blume decided that maybe there was room for one more.
And in the meantime he found a way to differentiate his business, by distilling.
In the years between Fulton's opening and Bent coming to be, Blume read a number of books on distilling. He saw a growing interest in the craft distillery movement and knew that would be the next big thing. But, he wasn't quite ready to give up on beer.
Thus, Bent Brewstillery, the first ever craft brewery and distillery, was born.
"I always do things to the fullest degree," Blume said. "If something is good, more is better and too much is just enough."
Owner & Head Brewer: Bartley Blume
Location: 1744 Terrace Drive, Roseville
Hours: Taproom: Wednesday & Thursday – 4 – 10 p.m. Friday 2:30 – 11 p.m., Saturday 12 – 11 p.m., Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.
Contact: 1-844-TRY-BENT (1-844-879-2368)
How much more difficult is it to operate as both a brewery and a distillery?
Blume: [There are] a lot more rules. Basically it's twice as much work to start a distillery. You have all the rules and regulations and paperwork for a brewery and there's just as much, if not more, rules and paperwork for a distillery.
So, why even bother with distilling?
Blume: I knew it was going to be the next evolution. The next big thing was going to be the craft distilleries. There was a few that had already started up, but it was nowhere near the craze that it is now. But, I figured that would be something that would be really cool, to be unique. To be a brewery and distillery, not just one. Why should I be just one? I like both, let's do both.
What type of spirits do you distill here?
Blume: I'm a whiskey and bourbon guy. And that's what I started with. But those are, of course, aging. Those are long term spirits. So, in the meantime I've been making gin. It's called Gunnar Ghost.
Tell me about the Gunnar Ghost gin. How is it made?
Blume: It's a Navy strength gin, meaning that it's 114 proof. It just so happens that back in the days when Naval vessels had cannons on them that operated with gunpowder if someone happened to shoot a cannon ball at you and ruptured your cask of gin, if it got your gunpowder wet your gunpowder would be useless. Unless your gin was 114 proof. At 114 proof, it's the minimum value where you can soak the gunpowder in [gin] and the gunpowder will still light. So, that's why they call it Navy strength gin.
That's really interesting! I never knew that. So, tell me a little bit about the beer. Being a brewery and distillery, how do you get people who aren't beer drinkers to move past the spirits and onto the beer?
Blume: When someone says that to me [that they aren't a beer drinker], I have three beers for them to try. One is Nordic Blonde. I consider it a gateway beer. It's a pale ale mixed with a blonde ale. It's a non-assuming beer. It's a lighter color and lighter flavored, in comparison to craft beer. Yet, in comparison to the mega brands it's got a lot of flavor. It's not watery and it's not so hoppy that it kicks you in the teeth. It's not so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it. It's just a very normal beer. That's the first one I'll grab.
The next is one of our sours. Again, because they can be very champagne like. It's kind of a cross between champagne and beer. Very dry, very tart, very effervescent.
And then whatever our experimental series is. Which right now is the Orange Blossom Gewurztraminer Pyment. It's an orange blossom honey combined with Gewurztraminer grapes. So, it is a honey wine with wine. That's what gives it it's Chardonnay/Riesling taste. So, it actually tastes like wine. So, when people come in here and say they don't like beer we give them three choices and the invariably pick at least one.
What's the most popular beer you have?
Blume: Nordic Blonde is [also] the biggest seller. I'm very glad to see that happen. As the first beer I ever brewed, I'm very proud of it. And to be our best seller is great. Here in the taproom it's consistently in the top three. Probably 75 percent of the time it's number one.
Seems like the Nordic Blonde gets a lot of attention! Is that your favorite beer that you brew?
Blume: Yeah. It's the first one that I brewed and it's still my go-to beer. Whenever I'm thirsty I'll grab one of those.
That's great that your first brew is still so popular. Tell me, why do you think that the craft brew movement has grown as quickly and widely as it has in Minnesota?
Blume: This is something that I saw happening for quite a long time. It actually started with the locavore movement with the restaurants and them basically providing all local ingredients on their menus. It appealed to the craft type person. Because a craft type person is the type of person who wants to support their local companies and their local businesses. This also happened at a time when the markets were down. And I think everyone stopped looking outward to the world as a whole and said, 'Hey, we got to fix our house before we go fix someone else's house.' So I think it was everyone coming together as a community and wanting to support each other that has really fueled this craft beer movement. It stems from the sense of community that Minnesota is huge on. Everyone that lives in Minnesota is a fan of Minnesota. And that is a huge part of it. And I think that's why we have one of the largest, fastest growing craft beer movements here; is because of this intense love of all things Minnesota.
Do you follow this locavore movement?
Blume: We were one of the first to make a 100 percent Minnesota beer. Our Maroon and Bold, a double IPA. In 2012, 2013, 2014…we've gotten hops from the University of Minnesota and the grains come from a farm down in Shakopee. So, it's 100 percent Minnesotan ingredients. We roast the grains ourselves to get the right color profile to make a double IPA, and we call it a Double Infuriatingly Passive-Aggressive Ale. So, it stands for D-IPA. We are Minnesotan, we are very proud of where we live. And, again, that is really what is keeping this movement going.
That's great that you're so dedicated to keeping things local. So, tell me about how you landed on the name Bent Brewstillery.
I didn't like the idea of being called Bent Brewing and Distilling Company just because the domain name would be too long. So, I smashed brewery and distillery together and came up with brewstillery. As for Bent, bent is a way of life. It is kind of what we do. We don't do things the normal way. We bend the rules to our interpretation. And we bend the different styles. Nothing we make is a straight-up, normal style.
If you had to, how would you describe your brewstillery in one word?
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