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. Now up, Badger Hill Brewing Company in Shakopee.
They may seem like the new kids on the block, after all the Shakopee brewery did just open their doors in December 2014, but Badger Hill Brewing Company is far from that.
The brewery began as a concept way back in the 90s, when co-founders Broc and Britt Krekelberg met over a beer. The two lived in Denver and formed a love a craft beer when they started drinking brews like New Belgium Fat Tire and home brewing.
The couple then moved to Michigan, another craft beer hub, before finally making the trip back to Minnesota.
"Broc started getting his MBA with his brother and home brewing again in the garage," Britt said. "And then [we] kind of just worked on a business plan. [We] wanted to do something for ourselves."
The two paired with Broc's brother, Brent, and began contract brewing with Lucid Brewing in Minnetonka.
The young brewery had an alternative proprietorship with Lucid and even bought a bottling line for both breweries to use.
But last summer, they decided it was time for a change.
"We sold it all to them this past summer," Britt said. "For some of the small craft breweries to be able to grow it's nice if you share some resources. Lucid had the capacity so we were able to take advantage of that, and then we outgrew that space."
Now, along with head brewer Michael Koppelman, the brewery has grown to have its own space and canning line.
I ventured out to the southwestern suburb and spoke with co-owners Britt Krekelberg and Koppelman about their journey and, of course, their beer.
Badger Hill Brewing Company
Owners: Broc Krekelberg, Britt Krekelberg, Brent Krekelberg, Michael Koppelman
Head Brewer: Michael Koppelman
Location: 4571 Valley Industrial Valley Blvd, Shakopee
Hours: Tuesday: 3 - 7 p.m. Wednesday - Thursday: 3 - 10 p.m. Friday: 3 - 11 p.m. Saturday 12 - 11 p.m. Sunday 12 - 6 p.m.
So, I think the first thing I have to ask is why "Badger Hill?" Where did the name come from?
Krekelberg: The old English word for Broc is Badger and Brent is Hill. So, it was just their names.
Wow! That's really fun! I would have never known that. So, why did you choose to locate in Shakopee, especially when you had been working with Lucid out in Minnetonka?
Krekelberg: Broc and I live six miles from here. We live just south of the river and there was nothing down here. So, it's been kind of cool to be one of the first in this area.
Definitely, I'm sure that the location helps set you apart. But aside from just that, how do you differentiate from the other breweries within the Twin Cities?
Krekelberg: I always think that we're approachable people who make approachable beers. [And] they're a little bit creative as well. Everyone is welcome and, for the most part, our beers make everyone feel welcome. There's something for everyone.
Koppelman: We're also kind of a family business, in that there are three Krekelbergs and two Koppelmans so far. Everyone that works here we've known for years. And we want to work together. There's a gravity pulling in people that we know and that are from our circles.
I can see how that would be something that would pull in patrons and keep them here. So, you've been brewing for a while but just started the taproom. How has it been different now that you have this space?
Krekelberg: Part of having a taproom is being able to connect with the people in the community. And we didn't have that before. So I think that's the biggest change for us, is having this outlet to connect with other people.
Koppelman: Basically we went from an outsourced model to an in-sourced model. So, we've got three great brewers working for us, where we had no brewers before besides myself. The old model was sort of one step away on the production side, where this is fully immersive. So, we've been able to do it our way, which I think as a business owner you want. Being able to take inventory, management, production, selling, filtering, packaging, all those things under our wings; we're just fine tuning those to make them better. It's a huge change. It's like a whole new business model in that sense.
What have you seen change in the industry during your time around craft beer?
Krekelberg: I think the biggest thing is the taprooms, and giving the consumer that voice and a place to go to try the beer as fresh as possible. I would say that's the biggest thing that I noticed and see. Beer quality has also increased tremendously. I think and people are expecting that high level of quality.
Koppelman: People are drinking fresh, local beer and that is revolutionary. Beer used to be fresh and local because it couldn't be refrigerated. That's why it used to be so good. So, yeah, people are drinking the best beer they've ever had in their life. So it's a huge change. And then we're taking market share from the "bad beer" to the tune of a billion dollars a year. So it's not small potatoes, the craft beer movement. It's revolutionary. It's democratizing beer. You can drink northeast Minneapolis beer or southeast Minneapolis beer or St. Paul beer or east St. Paul beer or Shakopee beer, and that's awesome for the consumer.
What do you hope will change as the industry continues to grow?
Koppelman: I'd like to see more beer sold cold. There's been a change. Big beer, like Bud type beer, they're pasteurized. So, they can sit warm and you know they're not really negatively impacted. Craft beer, almost all craft beer, should be cold all the time. And that's a transition retailers are going through, between having some beer in the cooler and a ton of beer out. So, I'd like to see a world where all the beer is cold. Because it makes a huge difference.
Krekelberg: That's a huge part of the reason we went to cans, too, because it's so much better for the beer. And we have a little bit more control. I think I'd like to see everyone have a Badger Hill can in their cooler this summer. That's what I'd like to see. (laughs)
Koppelman: We put it right on our cans: "Fresh beer, keep it cold." It's like milk. You wouldn't buy milk that you saw sitting outside. And we want people to give beer that same care.
I think that is definitely a shift that I see happening within retailers. Hopefully it will continue. So, let's move on to the beer then! Tell me about the beer you have on tap.
Krekelberg: We have the MSB: Minnesota Special Bitters. It's USB style. That was our original flagship. It's malty; has two American hops, two European hops. And I really think it's the most food friendly beer out of all of ours. The High Road is a blond/golden ale. That one is just super easy drinking. Great summer beer. The White IPA is the Belgian Wit with orange peel and coriander. We serve it unfiltered, so it's cloudy.
The Foundation Stout is more of an easy drinking stout. Minnesotans love their imperials, but after you have a couple imperial stouts you can't do much else. So, I love ours because it's a little bit lower alcohol content compared to a lot of Minnesota stouts, to a lot of stouts in general, but it's still roasty and chocolatey.
Koppelman: There's enough oatmeal to call it an oatmeal stout, but we don't call it that. Summit's Oatmeal Stout is a really great oatmeal stout and I think ours holds up to that.
Krekelberg: So, those are kind of the original brewed. Original before Michael. And then Michael developed Traitor.
Ah, yes. The IPA. Tell me about Traitor.
Koppelman: When I was a home brewer I made pale ales all the time. I mean, I fooled around with other things, but while most brewers will try a port or a double this, I was like "Pale ales. I'm going to perfect the pale ale." So, when these guys said they wanted to do an IPA I was like "I've got your recipe." I love this beer. I think it's a phenomenal beer. Hoppy, boozey, but balanced…in an American sense.
Krekelberg: Prior to Michael we didn't have an IPA, so this was a really great addition to Badger Hill and our portfolio.
Koppelman: And my little story was, I had American hops and English yeast. The English yeast and American hops it put that traitor thing in my mind. I don't know why. And I mentioned it to them and they liked it for totally different reasons, the name traitor. So they were like "Yeah, traitor."
What other beers have you developed since joining Badger Hill?
Koppelman: The cold style mini ale, which is a recipe Broc had worked on. [It] is very light, almost an American style lager beer. Very light, easy drinking. And that is one of our first taproom only beers. It might find its way into cans at some point, though. Then the Green Tea, a green tea infused with the Traitor. That's just up there for fun. And we're also doing hand crafted soda, like Sprite and Coke, along with the beer. You can put the lemon-lime with the Traitor or High Road and it makes a pseudo shandy. That's really good.
Krekelberg: Ask and you shall receive at Badger Hill!
Koppelman: We also have the ISA. That's a beta test of a lower content hoppy beer. And then the Brewer's Blend, which we mix the ISA and the Traitor. Someday we'll have a pale ale or an American pale ale.
Sounds like you are enjoying having the freedom to experiment now that you have more taps to play with. So, which beer is the most awarded?
Krekelberg: Our White IPA won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
Koppelman: Which only 10 Minnesota breweries have done.
Krekelberg: The MSB, in 2013, took a bronze medal at the U.S. Beer Open Championship, and last year it took gold. Both in the ESB category. And the High Road took silver in the Blond/Golden category.
Which beer is your best seller?
I could have guessed that! What are your favorite beers?
Koppelman: Traitor (smiles). But MSB introduced me to liking the malt flavor beers. So, MSB is probably my second favorite beer.
Krekelberg: I gravitate toward the White IPA. I think it's what keeps me healthy, all the citrus. (laughs).
So, now that you have your taproom, how would you describe it in one word?
Koppelman: Enjoyment. We want our employees to have good lives. Enjoyment has to radiate out of this place. It has to be core to everything. It has to be all good vibes.
Krekelberg: You attract what you put out.
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