“Is it too early for beer?”
It’s not even 11 a.m., but I refuse to let that stop me from sampling a flight of new craft beers from Wayzata Brew Works. The founder and president of Wayzata Brew Works, Robert Klick, doesn’t even wait for my response as he pours a variety of beers into tiny glasses. He’s especially eager for me to taste the Starboard chocolate stout. One sip and I can see why. “Ain’t that good? Makes me want to put a scoop of ice cream in it,” Klick says.
It’s a calm morning as Klick and I sip lagers and India pale ales on the patio that overlooks Lake Minnetonka. The ambiance of the Wayzata Brew Works taproom itself seems to give visitors a sense of tranquility. Maybe it’s the vintage wooden boat-themed interior design that brings me back to the euphoria of reeling in a baby bass. Or perhaps it’s the laid-back nature of Klick’s team. I’m introduced to Kyle “Cookie” Tharaldson, sporting a tie-dyed Grateful Dead T-shirt, who’s in charge of sales and marketing.
The place feels like a breath of fresh air alongside the posh establishments that line the shoreline of downtown Wayzata. In his first six months in business (the brewery opened in mid-April), Klick has also noticed that the carefree vibe has resonated with his new patrons and hopes that Wayzata neighbors will embrace the easygoing brewery experience. “We’re getting that crowd that hasn’t experienced [the microbrewery culture of] Northeast Minneapolis,” Klick says. “To them, these microbreweries are still new, so they’re coming to the brewery for the first time. You want to have something for everybody, but it’s difficult. At some point, you just have to say, ‘This is who we are. Come in and embrace the brewery lifestyle.’ ”
There’s more to the Wayzata Brew Works building than gigantic tanks of delicious beer. The taproom operates inside the historic Boatworks Building, which was the home of Moore Johnson Boatworks, established by early Wayzata settler Royal C. Moore, a man whom Klick considers to be one of the founding fathers of the town (he named the Moore Moore Moore lager in his honor). Klick says the story of the building helps connect local beer with local history. “A big part of [establishing the brewery] was to bring out the history of this area,” Klick says. “That was huge for me. When I pitched this to the city, I said, ‘This is a brewery that plays up the historical qualities of the location it’s in.’ I love history. To me, that’s what craft means; it’s all local. It’s all about your area.”
Klick’s own history is fascinating, too. Born and raised in Wayzata, his business ventures reflect his creativity and spontaneity. He started a chain of jewelry kiosk businesses, owned a boutique, built exotic cars, and sold art prints. He’s also known as a toy inventor: The Po-Knee, a plush pony toy that straps onto an adult’s knee for a more comfortable “horsey ride” with a child, landed Klick on QVC and Oprah, as well as at the red-carpet premiere of the 2003 film Seabiscuit. But even schmoozing with Oprah wasn’t enough to keep Klick’s attention solely focused on his toy creation.
“I am burdened with a creative mind,” Klick says. “When you’re creative, you always want to go off and do 20 things. I lie in bed at 3 a.m. and go, ‘Oh! I have another name for a beer!’ I’m always itching for the next mountaintop.”
After the Po-Knee, Klick began searching for his next pursuit: beer. The seed for brewing was planted when Klick helped his brother John build his own local brewery: Excelsior Brewing Company. Klick’s vision for a Wayzata brewery finally came to fruition when the prime real estate vacancy opened up at the Boatworks Building. Klick was a little wary of seeking advice from his brother, mostly to try to avoid any conspicuous comparisons. “It was very important that when I did this, I wouldn’t call my brother and say, ‘How did you handle this?’” Klick says. “We want a separate identity from Excelsior. It’s not that our beers are better than theirs or anything. We want customers to see the different vibes you get when you visit each taproom.”
John Klick says that his brother’s experience and his natural ingenuity are all he needs to succeed in the booming brewery business. “For the most part, it was his own thing,” John says. “He’s just learning the ins and outs of the business, and once his creative juices start to flow, I think you’re going to see some clever ideas come out of there.”
In his few months of business, Robert Klick has, indeed, brewed plenty of clever ideas. A car ride with his daughter spent listening to DNCE’s song “Cake By The Ocean” led to Cake by the Lake, an event he co-sponsored with KDWB-FM that saw hundreds of locals come out to attempt the world record for the largest cake fight (with a special appearance from DNCE’s Joe Jonas himself and the rest of the band).
Klick and his team are also working on a distillery; he hopes Wayzata Brew Works will eventually sell locally made spirits in addition to their craft beer, pending some changes to current liquor legislation. There are talks of sponsoring an Iditarod-style dog-sledding competition in the winter, as well as hosting a paddleboard race across Lake Minnetonka. There’s even the Wheel of Rock: Patrons can spin the wheel to see what famous rock song Klick’s Austin Powers-themed cover band Shag-A-Go-Go will play next. Klick thinks these creative ideas will help separate his brewery from the 100-plus other breweries that currently operate in Minnesota. “I want Wayzata Brew Works to be a hip place,” Klick says. “I want people to say, ‘Let’s go to the brewery and see what they’re going to do next.’ ”
Regardless of how great the beer tastes or which crazy event he cooks up next, Klick hopes his brewery becomes a part of Wayzata as much as Wayzata is a part of him. “My birth certificate says Wayzata, Minnesota,” Klick says. “I grew up here, went to high school here, and I just love the fact that the brewery is a part of the community now. We’re a destination location. I want people who want to experience Lake Minnetonka to come out and say, ‘Wow, this is really something special … Let’s go down to Wayzata, grab a beer, sit by the water, and feel like we’re someplace else.’ And I love how people have really embraced the place so far.”