This summer’s newest taproom is on Lake Minnetonka—literally. Back Channel Brewing Collective, housed in the former Family & Cosmetic Gentle Dentistry building on Shoreline Drive in Spring Park, has a lakeside patio with garage-door windows that roll open toward the water, and walls of windows that put the lake in focus. The Back Channel team is working on permits for transient boat slips, too, so you can boat right up for a beer, craft soda or cold-press coffee.
The lake is a big deal here, but, of course, the scenery isn’t the only reason to visit: The main draw is the beer. Head brewer Marc Makarem can’t even choose a favorite brew. “I love the depth of our imperial stout, but oftentimes look to the refreshing, thirst-quenching flavor of the blonde summer ale,” he says. Makarem, who started brewing beer at home about six years ago, says Back Channel hopes to reach customers all along the beer-drinking spectrum. “We want to show newer craft beer drinkers why we enjoy making and serving the beer we do, and we want to show our craft-only consumers that we know good beer.”
Back Channel has four co-owners: Josh Leddy, Melissa Langseth, Joe Meehan and Matt “Olie” Olson. Leddy says the origin of the brewery “all comes back to Lake Minnetonka.” Leddy and Langseth, who are engaged, have been friends with Meehan and Olson for years. Meehan used to keep his boat at Leddy’s house, and they all like to spend time on the lake. All four are “true west-metro people,” Leddy says.
Langseth and Leddy started visiting local breweries several years ago and quickly fell in love with the ambiance of the taproom. “The first one I ever went to was Excelsior [Brewing Co.],” Leddy recalls. “It was when they had their little garage taproom, and I thought it was so cool.” He and Langseth ventured beyond Minnesota and made trips to breweries all over the country, talking to brewers and owners, gathering ideas they liked at every stop.
“This hobby quickly turned into a passion. We scheduled our weekends around visiting new taprooms and planned vacations around going to breweries,” Langseth says.
When she and Leddy decided they wanted to open their own brewery about three and a half years ago, they quickly brought Meehan and Olson on board. Soon after, Makarem joined the team. Leddy and Olson had been brewing beer for about three years and had planned to do the brewing themselves, but were excited when they added Makarem to the mix. “Pretty much everyone involved has [known each other] for many years—there’s a collective effort by all of us to make it happen,” Leddy says.
Leddy operates a seasonal business removing lake weeds and restoring natural habitat on the shoreline, and his interest in the lake is deep. He hopes to use the brewery to help promote a healthy lake by advocating for weed removal. Now he’s even found a use for the weeds: “We’re utilizing lake weeds from Lake Minnetonka for compost to help grow our hops better,” he says. The hops won’t be ready to use for their beer for a few years, but he’s looking forward to using ingredients the brewers grow in the neighborhood.
That isn’t the only local connection. Back Channel plans to take advantage of a local business that will use their spent grains to make dog treats. They’re planning to get ingredients from sustainable farmers and maltsters, and they have designated a wall in the brewery to display local artists’ work on a rotating basis, offering a chance for them to show and sell the art.
Back Channel’s lakeside location is ideal for boaters, but it’s easy to walk and bike in, too. The brewery is right across the street from the Dakota Bike Trail, making it a convenient stop for people enjoying the outdoors. They’re hoping for a new crosswalk for the convenience of customers, and biked-in food delivery from Dakota Junction. The Minnetonka Drive-In plans to deliver food by golf cart, which brewery customers can order via a new online platform. Since the drive-in isn’t open in the colder months, there are also plans for food trucks during the off-season.
Speaking of seasons, the beers on tap will change seasonally, too. “There is nothing better than being surprised with an ever-changing variety of beer styles,” Olson says. But nothing is set in stone—if something disappears and customers want it to come back on tap, the brewery owners plan to listen. “I want our customers to have an experience that they won’t forget and crave coming back for more,” Olson says.
The inside of the brewery has high ceilings and plenty of windows, and makes use of lots of weather-beaten wood that was repurposed from an old barn. The clean, open look helps draw attention to both the lake view and the beer-making process. “We want people to ask questions and be engaged, relaxed and have a good time,” Leddy says. “I don’t gravitate toward loud music at a brewery—we want people to enjoy the beer and have a chance to learn about it.”
To that end, they have a couple of TVs but no sound, and a space that makes it easy to engage with and educate customers. The brewing area itself is completely visible, and they offer tours. “We’re not just showing where grains go, but telling the big story on how we got started,” Leddy says. “It starts with Lake Minnetonka and ends with us serving beer on the lake.”
It all comes back to the lake experience and the beer. “I am passionate about being able to provide a quality craft beer experience with a unique atmosphere on what I think is the greatest lake in the world,” Langseth says. Her enthusiasm is shared by all the co-owners, who are thrilled to be working together on this project. “This experience has shown me how challenging and rewarding it can be when a group of people come together to create something special,” Meehan says.