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Tap Talk: Sisyphus Brewing

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 headed to Sisyphus Brewing.

A relatively recent newcomer to the downtown Minneapolis scene is a taproom with comedy club aspirations. And it makes sense. One of the owners used to do standup.

The owners/married couple, wedding photographer Catherine Cuddy and former comedian Sam Harriman, opened Sisyphus Brewing, located on 712 Ontario Ave. W., in late June 2014.

Sam says the whole concept came together because of a yearning to create a place that would combine his passions: Beer and comedy.

"Comedy is our main focus and identity. We want to be known as a comedy club, but it'll be open for other things," Sam said.

The spark to actually start the business began after a beer-focused comedy trip.

"We did this trip about two, three years ago now. Surly gave us a bunch of beer and we went around the country and I did standup in 10 cities. We traded the beer with people. And what we came away with from that trip realizing is the beer culture and the people that are into beer are the coolest and most genuine people --- and it was a culture we wanted to be a part of," Sam said. "At the end of that trip … I learned that to be a comic, you have to work at it every day. With beer, it's the same way. If you want to brew, it's something you have to be thinking about and passionate about every day. I learned that beer is the thing I want to be around every day versus the comedy world."

As for its curious name, Sisyphus Brewing is named after the Greek legend of the king who was punished with being compelled to roll a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down – repeating this action forever.

"I was a philosophy major as an undergrad and 'The Myth of Sisyphus' was short story by Albert Camus, French philosopher. And it was something that always stuck with me. There is no greater meaning. You create your own meaning with what's in front of you. So, in Sisyphus' case, it's the rock and the struggle against it. That's a situation we all find ourselves in, like what you want to put in front of you and do every day. For me, that's brewing beer," Sam said.

So, what's the next "boulder" for Sisyphus? It's an 88-seat comedy club that will sit right next to their current taproom.

"We want to have national headliners in here -- we're already working with that. One of the guys who owns a big standup record label is a Minneapolis guy and we met back when I used to do comedy, so he's gonna be working with us to book it," Sam said.

And the comedy club isn't the only thing that sets this place apart from the rest. Beer-wise, the taproom specializes in a rotating selection, so there's something new – every week.

"It's just constant rotation. That's our approach. We have small batches, two barrels. Sixty-two gallons at a time. None of it leaves here, so a lot of it can sell out in a week," Sam said. "So, we don't really commit to brewing the same thing over and over to try and keep that tap dedicated to it. We just brew whatever we feel like making – it's always something different."

Their Westcoast IPA and Brett IPA have been one of their best sellers, but, again, it could be something different in the future.

So, head out to Sisyphus for rapidly changing brews and some laughs! Oh, and another fun thing: you'll always find Sam or Catherine behind the bar.

"One of the really fun things is that we're always here. We have a couple very part-time employees, but typically you'll find Sam or I behind the bar, which I think is fun because if you have any question about brewing he can answer anything about our beers," Catherine said.

For a more in-depth look on Sisyphus -- including more information on the comedy club, their unique canned growlers, and more -- read the interview below!

Sisyphus Owners
(credit: CBS)

How did you come to decide on this location and what do you like/dislike about it?

Sam: We were looking for something near downtown, but accessible from lots of different areas. With a focus on the entertainment side, we need to draw from the suburbs and stuff like that, so we wanted something that was really easy to get to, and we wanted something with the low ceilings – because comedy works best in intimate, tighter spaces. Most breweries have 20 to 30-foot ceilings, kinda cavernous. We just liked the feel of this place with the brick and exposed rafters.

What were some notable obstacles that occurred while it all came about?

Sam: Lots of lessons learned.

Catherine: You're always gonna need more money (laughs).

Sam: We had based what we were gonna build out and do on the Department of Agriculture requirements and then when we got into the review period with the city, they were like "you can't do that, you can't do that." So it was a lot of surprises in terms of things we thought we didn't have to do, but then all of a sudden had to do.

What do you both love about beer? What excites you about it?

Sam: For me, it's the people. A lot of craft beer people love talking about it, so it's a good conversation starter.

Catherine: The big thing when we traveled around to different breweries, you could just sit at the bar at any place and you could talk to anyone sitting there. The bartender, the people next to you and everyone are super friendly and interested in your beer journey.

Sam: If you're into craft beer, you kind of view the world differently, but there are still so many people that aren't into it yet. Just discovering the flavors and what's possible -- kinda changing people's minds. And it's only going to change as it keeps going. It's still such a small percentage of beer sold.

Catherine: And it's fun having people come in and be like, "I don't like IPAs," and then you put a Brett IPA in front of them and they're like "well, I like this IPA." You know? It's kind of fun to change people's perspective of things. It's fun to put something different in front of them.

Sisyphus Brewing
(credit: CBS)

Any beers that you're looking forward to brewing?

Sam: We're gonna do barrel-aged and sours, which is gonna be our specialty starting in the next year or so. There's not many people getting into sours yet, so we want to be early on that.

Could you describe sours?

Sam: Yeah, it's barrel-aged in wine barrels with a tart, you know, actually sour, taste to them. They just take a really long time to make – a year-ish. Sometimes more than that, sometimes a little less. And then we'll be doing whiskey/bourbon barrels, those kind of spirit barrels as well.

Can you elaborate on the comedy room?

Sam: It'll have 88 seats. We want to have national headliners in here -- we're already working with that. One of the guys who owns a big standup record label is a Minneapolis guy and we met back when I used to do comedy, so he's gonna be working with us to book it.

We're gonna start with one a month comedy shows and expand from there. Four shows … two on Friday and two on Saturday. We'll have two CDs recorded in there on Sept. 26 and Oct. 1 I think it is. We've already booked those.

It's great because all the local comics that are at that level (to record a comedy CD) look at this place as a place to do it.

We definitely want to have music, too.

Catherine: We're also going to have options for different kinds of events … small weddings, grooms dinners, that kinds of thing.

Sam: We also do nonprofit work and would like to use the new space to hold those events.

So you're going to have to increase production for that right?

Sam: Yeah, that's part of the expansion process. So, the two barrel equipment will be used for the sours and barrel aged stuff. But the five barrel equipment will be dedicated for everything else. That will double our output currently. We're hoping that's enough.

Sisyphus Brewing
(credit: CBS)

Do you have any advice for home brewers who want to open their own business?

Sam: I think a lot of people just need to do it, work on it and take steps toward doing it. There's a lot of people that want to do this that talk a lot about it and then get to the point of overanalyzing and just want to make sure it works, but you can never know that. As long as it seems like a reasonable possibility, you gotta go for it or nothing's ever going to happen.

Do you guys have a relationship with other breweries?

Sam: For sure. We're doing a couple of collaborations soon. One with Montgomery Brewing and She Brewing. We're all around that two-, three-barrel size. So that should be cool.

Then, we're doing a collaboration with Eastlake, Goat Ridge and Dayblock – so, four of us. All four of those beers will end up on tap at Dayblock, which is a brewpub and can serve other people's beer.

Is there competition or ill-will toward any other breweries?

Sam: No, definitely not. Definitely not. There might be at some point, but I view our future as more of an event space more than a taproom. We're trying to go after that market long term more than the craft beer drinker.

Catherine: Not to say we don't take the beer part seriously. It has to be good otherwise people won't come. We just have other ideas we want to work on.

I see you guys have these awesome canned growlers – could you describe them for me?

Catherine: It's 25.4 ounces – 750 milliliters, so legally it's the same as what Minnesota allows for the smaller growler. And we're now open Sundays because of that (Growler) law. So, that's kind of exciting. You can't go to a liquor store on Sundays, but you can come here and pick up a four-pack or whatever!

We were the second brewery to do it. Cider Werks did it first. But it's perfect for us because we don't distribute and so this is our version of canning and letting people have it for a little longer period of time as opposed to growler, which is kind of done within a week. It's still new. A lot of people haven't seen them so they're like, "What's that?" And us Minnesotans are known for being into our outside stuff, so for hiking, camping, places where you can't have glass – this is kind of the ideal thing.

So, it's fun and we'll see a lot more of these. We've already heard of seven other breweries ordering their machine.

Sisyphus Brewing
(credit: CBS)
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