As you sip on a cold, craft beer at your favorite local brewpub, have you ever wondered how microbreweries make the leap to the big time? What kind of technical challenges do they face as they gear up production to handle major distribution? The first requirement: Ambition.
“Our goals have been very clear from the beginning,” says Eric Schmidt, one of four owners at Insight Brewing in Minneapolis. “We want to be the fastest-growing brewer in Minnesota, and eventually, the fastest-growing in America.” That kind of focused ambition helps entrepreneurs through the tough slog that inevitably comes with aggressive expansion.
Along with gearing up for big-time production comes expensive infrastructure investments. Unlike many microbreweries started on a shoestring and a dream, Insight was fortunate enough to be well-capitalized from the beginning. That was critical to their success, Schmidt says, because it allowed them to purchase a large, old manufacturing building in Northeast Minneapolis with ample room for expansion. As they grew, they weren’t fighting the space.
Insight made smart technical choices from the beginning, like having Horizon install a walk-in beer cooler immediately behind their bar area, with short, simple lines running from the kegs directly to the taps. Since beer must be kept cold continuously, keg lines must be chilled with glycol, so shorter runs mean less cooling and less expense. Also, since Insight cleans out those lines every two weeks—and must discard all the beer they contain—the shorter run means far less wasted product.
To make the leap into major distribution, Insight needed to add another large, walk-in cooler, and once again turned to Horizon for help with sourcing, purchasing, shipping and installation. Horizon field technician Eric LaCroix lead the installation team, which loaded the massive cooler panels on a flatbed semi for transportation and installed them over a period of several days. Horizon worked through general contractor Building Assets of St. Paul, who manages construction for Insight.
Schmidt says the key to Insight’s success has been their continuous innovation. They brew small batches and try them out with customers. Favorites remain on the menu and, if they impress Insight’s distributor—Bernick’s of St. Cloud, Minnesota—they eventually make it into distribution. Currently, Insight distributes five of their core beers in kegs to 225 accounts in the Twin Cities Metro area, and a handful of outstate cities. They were also selected for inclusion in the new CHS Field in St. Paul.
Schmidt emphasizes taste and quality of the beer itself is the critical component—not which fermenters they use or how efficient their operation is. “If people don’t like your beer, you can’t go any further,” he says. “If the distributor likes it, and thinks they can sell it, you can move forward.”
Quality ultimately rests on the shoulders of brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt, who travels the world in search of innovative new recipes. A recent trip to England resulted in a special blend that caught on both there and back here in the states. The fermenters favored by Klages-Mundt come from Specific Mechanical in Victoria, British Columbia. Schmidt hopes they can help insight reach their goal of 10,000 barrels of production. At the rate they’re going, we don’t doubt it for a minute.