Recently I've made it to nearly 20 breweries and distilleries! I'm going to chip away at them in the order we visited. Keep in mind that I'm reviewing based purely on my (and my wife's) experience on a certain day and that your results may vary. I tend to wait until a brewery has been open for 6-12 months before reviewing, unless my visit is above par and deserves a write up. I try not to be a dick but pride myself in being honest. I've been a homebrewer for nearly 26 years, a BJCP National ranked judge, and have been to hundreds of breweries over the years. Here is the most recent...
I first heard about 56 Brewing at Autumn Brew Review this year. I tried one of the beers, was pleasantly surprised with it, and made sure to add the place to my list of places to visit. They are located in a very industrial area of NE Minneapolis, hidden away behind some massive concrete buildings and silos. We nearly got lost looking for the place, but finally found the funny little sign pointing the way to free beer!
There was plenty of parking in the dirt lot, and it was easy to see the small brewery entrance. They had a small garden with some hop bines and some decorative pumpkins set up outside. We played with a friendly German shepherd outside for a few minutes before heading into the brewery itself. The afternoon was beautiful and crisp, a perfect time for exploring and beer tasting!
The brewery itself is very, very, very small. At this time they don't have a true taproom and can't sell pints of beer--in fact the entire brewery would fit inside several of the other Nordeast taprooms! While they can't sell pints, they can give away free samples and seem happy to do so to thirsty travelers. One can also get 32 and 64 oz growlers filled at the brewery, and I just saw that they have bike delivery services now on their website. They've only been open since May of 2015 so are very new to the scene. The brew system itself is crammed into the existing space, with some built in refrigeration areas left over for fermenting. There is a small tasting area that was bustling with people during our entire visit--word seems to be getting out.
Since the website is a bit spare on details I contacted president and brewer Kale Johnson for some more information. He was kind enough to take the time to fill in some information for us!
Kale is an engineer and his wife, Dr. Kerry Johnson is a professor at St. Catherine University Graduate School. They are both into the outdoors, sailing, and enjoying the Minneapolis arts, music, and restaurant scene. Kale has many years of homebrewing experience, utilizing his science background. His homebrewing went from extract to 30 gallon all-grain batches very quickly. Head brewer Nick Chute also has an extensive homebrewing background and between the two of them have over 14 years combined experience.
When asked where the name 56 came from, Kale gave me a fairly fun response:
"We have many meanings behind 56. 7*8, 14*4, 38 hexadecimal, Joe Dimaggio home run streak, spinal tap's number 11 (5+6), aubrey holes at stonehenge, etc. 56 is a number that has stuck with me since an early age and I chose this number over many of the common 'lucky' numbers such as 7 or 11. I'm a math, science and numbers person so it seemed appropriate to name our Brewery with this. The first tracing to 56 goes to a manually operated paddle boat that my father built for us kids. In the cast iron crank arms there is a cast number 56 stamped into it. That paddle boat resides in the brewery."
I'm partial to the Spinal Tap answer!
Another interesting aspect of the brewery is something they call a CSB (Community Supported Brewery). Per Kale: "The CSB is simply a program that allows our community to "buy into" the company by purchasing discounted beer. Similar to a CSA, but with beer. It's a way for us to connect at an even greater level with others and gives them a benefit. Funding through this program is a very small amount into our business." This is a little different from the entirely member owned Co-Op model at Fair State. The CSB shares are available twice a year and vary from a $35 Member Supporter to a whopping $550 Level 3 that includes a growler a week for the whole year. All levels include a 10% swag discount and invites to member only events. Even knowing I'm not likely to get out there very often, I joined at the Member Supporter level on my visit. Hey I got a T-shirt out of the deal and I'm supporting a brewery I think is going to go places!
But the truth is in the beer right? Here are the beers they had on tap when we were there and my notes (scribbled on one of their menu cards) and scores for the beers. My personal rating scale (out of 5): 3 I'll drink but won't go out of my way for, 4 I will search out, and 5 I will hoard.
1) Lake Sandy Rye Lager--A lager made with pilsner and rye malt. The beer is bright, crisp, hoppy and peppery. Slight sulfur note, but not out of character for a lager--not overwhelming. I would drink this on a warm and sunny day. 4
2) NE Nectar Honey Kolsch--Definite honey and malt aroma up front, and also comes through in flavor without being sweet. This is somewhat hoppy for the style, but refreshing and clean with hints of pear ester. 3.75
3) Polonaise APA-- Sweet at first, but a decent bitterness comes in late to the taste which evens this out. Crisp, almost lager character to it on the finish. Pleasant citrus peel hop. 3.75
4) Dark Territory--A stout brewed with oats, milk sugar, coconut, and cocoa nibs. The coconut is subtle (then again my favorite such beer the massively flavored Town Hall Three Hour Tour). Cocoa nibs very present and somewhat drying/astringent. Has a smoky flavor as well that I'm not sure about. Overall could be sweeter/maltier. 3.25
5) California Street IPA--Single hop El Dorado IPA. Like the APA, this one is sweet at first but has a solid bitter finish. I get pears, lychee, citrus fruit from the hopping. 3.75
Having tried these surprisingly balanced and tasty beers (all above average by my scale) I was very happy that we stopped in. Again, I rarely review a place this young but when they impress me I'll go ahead and write them up! From Kale's comments it does sound like expansion to a larger brew system (and hopefully taproom space) is in the plans for 56 Brewing. Here's looking forward to checking them out again soon, and hopefully I'll get advanced warning about special releases with my CSB membership.