It goes without saying that the competition is stiff in the local beer scene. Lake-area residents—and our city-dwelling neighbors, too—can choose from an ever-expanding list of quality breweries and taprooms when they’d like a fresh, local pint.
A group of local breweries have joined forces to create the West Side Brewers Collective, with representatives from Birch’s on the Lake in Wayzata, ENKI Brewing in Victoria, Excelsior Brewing, Lupine in Delano, Waconia Brewing, Schram Winery and Brewing, also in Waconia, and Wayzata Brew Works. They meet on a regular basis to share business resources over a pint, collaborate on beer series, and support one another. But more than simply urging one another on in a tough industry, their goal is to attract new visitors to the west metro through promotions and symbiotic relationships with one another, as well as advance the brewing craft.
Their shared purpose is to “get people out of the downtown bubble, to realize that there’s a lot of good brewing happening west of 494,” says John Hayes, co-owner and brewer at ENKI Brewing. “It’s not a competition. We’re in this together, creating flavor and choice for people. If anything, we’re standing up against the big, established breweries.”
Last winter, the group collaborated on a barleywine, taking the same recipe and brewing it at each brewery as a group, using their own slightly different approaches, layouts and gear. It allowed them—and the taste-testers who came out in droves—to see how equipment, procedures and water flavor could affect a brew. It was an American-style beer, dry-hopped with American Chinook and Cascade varieties, with a higher alcohol content and stronger flavor than most beers the general public is familiar with. To entice repeat customers, collective members issued guests “passports” to collect stamps at the different breweries and score special-edition pint glasses along the way.
The project was indicative of the spirit of the group, and their shared interest in supporting one another, leveraging their individual strengths for the good of the group, and elevating the collective so it can better compete in a wider market.
“There is so much to be shared: new breweries that are opening, legislative issues coming up, business tactics, insurance, how to handle payroll and sales tax and donation requests,” says Hayes. “But we are all so busy. We’d never see each other outside of this collective. This is what got us together and got us talking.”
Of the breweries in the collective, four are near Lake Minnetonka (Score!). Here’s a run-down on the brewers next door:
Birch’s on the Lake
Birch’s opened in 2015, and it’s the only supperclub-brewery in the country. Pair house-specialty ribs, fried chicken, classic bolognese or brisket with a house-made brew in a spot that’s family-friendly.
“You can get a great meal, with great service, a great view over the lake—as well as a great beer,” says owner and brewer Brennan Greene. He’s always got at least one sour on tap, with wheat IPA, chipotle stout, and a cider debuting this fall. Score a $3 pint during happy hour, Sunday through Friday, 2-6 p.m.
Located in the heart of town since 2012, Excelsior Brewing has become a staple for its eponymous community. And with a slew of ever-changing brews and specialty sodas, plus events and live music on the calendar constantly, it’s a draw for all types.
Check out its Big Island and Back event—a paddle in summer and a Nordic skiing version in winter—to get a feel for the brewery that loves its lake and the lake-loving crowd. There’s yoga in the taproom, the space is dog-friendly, and board shorts are just as welcome as suits and ties. Check out Docktoberfest, which happens October 6-8. The three-day nautical riff on the traditional fall beer fest features German food, a 60-piece band, and all manner of German dance and garb. Prost!
In town since 2015, Delano’s hometown brewery has an old-meets-new vibe. Its turn-of-the-century building retains materials and character from the space’s past lives, but brings fun and delicious beers to the historic town.
“At Lupine, we pride ourselves on creating very approachable beers. With so many new craft beer drinkers taking the plunge each day, we feel it is important to develop well-balanced, easy-drinking beers—and always having a wide variety of styles to choose from. Everyone has their own palate, so we are not a one-size-fits-all brewery,” says president James Anderle.
What’s Anderle’s favorite Lupine beer? “That’s like asking me who my favorite child is,” he says. “Can’t go there!”
Wayzata Brew Works
Tim Manley, head brewer and hosemaster general, has a biology degree and master brewer’s diploma straight from Munich. He’s brewed at Surly and brings precision and extreme attention to detail to his role—and it shows in the quality and consistency of the beers served at Wayzata Brew Works.
“The average beer drinker may taste a beer and think, ‘Something is weird about that beer. I don’t like it.’ But I can pinpoint the off-flavor compound and identify why it is there and how to prevent it. I take pride in that ability to make balanced, clean beer—and not just IPAs, although our Twin Screws double IPA is one of the best around,” says Manley.
The boat-themed taproom features vintage Johnson motors, with a wooden Tonka Craft hanging from the ceiling, so it’s hard to mistake the lakeside vibe. A pizza station is being added this fall, along with a sour Gose, a German-style pilsner, and an imperial stout.
Coming This Fall
Up next? The West Side Brewers Collective is taking a different approach to a collaborative beer this fall. Instead of sharing a consistent recipe—as they did with last year’s barleywine—they’ll create their own brews using a set of pre-selected local hops. It’ll be a way for the breweries to compare notes and techniques for a similar style of brewing—and attract beer-seeking tourists to the west metro—without so many rules.
“We met in summer and made ‘hop tea’—a way to taste what each hop imparts, without the other influences or factors of beer. We talked about them and narrowed down our hop selection,” says Hayes. “This is a way that we could all be creative and independent, but focus on a similar issue: promoting Minnesota hop-growers.”
The collective’s new series of beers will be released at the Tonka Brew Fest at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista on November 4, and sales will benefit the Westonka Rotary. Most beers will be available in the breweries’ respective taprooms until they run out.