It’s been the biggest buzzword in the brewing industry the last few years. As competition has heated up in bottle shops, the ability to hand-sell a beer a few feet from where it’s made — not to mention make a healthy margin — has been a critical piece of business in a rapidly changing beer marketplace.
These days, if a brewery doesn’t have one taproom, or even more, it’s leaving cash on the table.
If branching out is not much of a question these days, a more interesting one is where to do so. Parched Eagle Brewpub, in not-on-the-way-to-many-places Westport, set up shop on East Washington Avenue. Madison’s One Barrel Brewing looked to Door County. For O’so Brewing in central Wisconsin, the answer was Madison. Door County Brewing’s Hacienda label liked Milwaukee.
But it’s a Minnesota brewery that’s made the most impressive taproom play in Wisconsin so far.
In early September, 7-year-old Indeed Brewing of Minneapolis opened not just a taproom but a pretty good-sized brewery in Milwaukee’s hip Walker’s Point neighborhood.
Minnesota allows production breweries to have only one taproom, so Wisconsin was a natural fit for expansion, Indeed co-founder Tom Whisenand said. It’s the most populous state neighboring Minnesota, sure, but there’s also significant cultural exchange between the two states — friends and families frequently cross the border. “It just made so much sense,” He said. “We have tons of employees who are from Wisconsin, and I’ve always spent a lot of time in Wisconsin recreating.”
Indeed did consider locating in Madison. “Madison’s a great town, but more built out as far as breweries go, more built out as far as taprooms go,” Whisenand said. “Much different sort of culture of people than Milwaukee — more transient in some ways. And I think the biggest thing was that Milwaukee, especially Walker’s Point, just felt so much like Northeast Minneapolis, where we started.”
Indeed and Whisenand’s first two goals for their Milwaukee outpost are pretty standard for any taproom: Revenue and brand-building. Indeed will produce about 16,000 barrels of beer in 2019, up slightly from last year, with some 70% of that being sold in its home Twin Cities market, Whisenand said. The Milwaukee brewery can produce about 1,000 to 1,200 barrels the way they expect to operate it, with Whisenand expecting about half of that to be sold across the taproom bar.
That’s a nice boost to the business, but Indeed is also banking on a halo effect for the business across Wisconsin, where it has sold beer since 2017. The idea is that those pints purchased in the inviting and comfortable but decidedly cool taproom will translate to six-packs a month later, or a year later.
“We didn’t want to go into Wisconsin through the traditional, just put beer on a truck and send it from Minneapolis and cross our fingers and hope that people like it and hope people find interest in us,” Whisenand said. “We thought, well, how could we sort of be relevant in Wisconsin and build our brand there in a way that would last?”
But it’s not just a taproom; the brewery is a key, too. Indeed’s facility in Minneapolis has a minimum batch size of 30 barrels, which is a pretty big leap of faith for an unproven beer.
Milwaukee’s 10-barrel brewhouse will operate as a pilot brewery for the company, what Whisenand called “a platform for innovation,” while the taproom and other Wisconsin bars and restaurants will act as testing grounds for those new beers. Whisenand says he has a spreadsheet of pilot beers for Milwaukee’s two-man brewing team to work through.
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“There’s probably 35 to 40 solid ideas on there,” he said. “That’s probably almost a year’s worth of beer right there.”
The beers that are hits can be produced on a larger scale and canned in Minneapolis. “It really kind of gives us almost like a farm system to develop new players,” Whisenand said.
So while Minneapolis will continue to produce all canned beer and most of the kegs for its three-state distribution footprint, it’s very possible that the next new seasonal from this Minneapolis brewery will be born in Wisconsin.
Until that happens, let’s cozy up with Indeed’s longtime flagship.
Style: American pale ale
What it’s like: There’s a little thread in this beer that reminds me of another excellent Midwestern pale ale: Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter.
How much: A six-packs of Indeed’s cans will run you around $10.
Up close: This deep gold pour wafts orange marmalade on lightly toasted bread with a distinct catty/dank undernote that grows as Day Tripper warms and, as with any beer, its true colors come out. The hops — Cascade, Columbus and Summit — run Day Tripper’s flavor, bringing more of that warm citrus from the aroma and a bitterness that’s pretty assertive for an APA. And that dankness is there, too, in the finish. (I understand why this character turns some people off, but I love it.) Day Tripper is soft and medium- to light-bodied, as easy drinking as the style should be.
Booze factor: It’s not quite a session beer, at 5.4% ABV it’s a nice intersection of big flavor, moderate alcohol and easy drinking.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)