"Opening day was clearly one of the coolest days of my life," remembers Robert Kasak, a co-owner of 612Brew in Northeast Minneapolis. It was 2013, a different era of craft beer in the city, even if it was just three short years ago. "Having a line out the door of people excited to try our beer," he remembers, was touching. It was also symbolic of the community’s readiness for the craft beer boom that has come since.
This weekend the brewery celebrates three years with a new tripel-style anniversary beer (at just $3 each) and a weekend long party (including free beer from 3-4pm on Friday). The beer will go fast, Kasak expects, just as the last three years have gone by.
"It’s crazy how much this landscape has changed," Kasak says, reflecting on a scene where 612, Indeed, and Dangerous Man were the lone Northeast breweries and among just a few in the metro proper. "At three years old," he says, "I feel like I’m a veteran in this game." Back in early 2013, the so-called Surly Bill had just passed, and 612 was among the first breweries to blend taproom and production space into a single facility. "If you look at the breweries opening now," Kasak says, "they’re almost all modeling on the same kind of concept of a taproom that looks right upon the brewery," he says. While he thinks of 612’s design as influential, he also understands that others will learn from him and improve the idea. "I expect any brewery to open up with a cooler or a better taproom than us because of how that model has been built, the lessons that new brewers can learn," he says.
As for what Kasak and 612Brew have learned, it’s been a measure of progress from opening day to last year’s introduction of cans, to their continued expansion. He’s also taken aback at the community’s support, such as when then-mayor R.T. Rybak poured pints on opening day or when now-mayor Betsy Hodges gave her victory speech from their taproom. It’s become both a brewery and a neighborhood gathering place where regulars gather on weeknights and beer tourists flock in on the weekends.
612 has been so busy that they’ve had to direct all their efforts to keep up, expanding their beer production instead of looking in new directions. "If it was 3 years ago and I was starting 612 all over again I would have added a food component to the brewery," Kasak says reflecting on their original plans that never came to fruition. "It was in our business plan to have food that we provide," he admits. "The problem is we’re so laser-focused on making the beer that food never became a component." While there’s also been talk of The Broadway Building adding a separate restaurant, he sees that as unlikely given its lack of street visibility. Instead, he’s more than happy with the daily variety provided by food trucks as he focuses his efforts on making beer. With the focus on quality and growth, the brewery has filled up fast. There’s no room for a restaurant now, he says, though he admires what Surly has achieved in their new space across Minneapolis.
Three years in, Kasak still sees an unconquered market. "It’s still only a small segment who have had craft beer, or our beer alone," he says as he looks to convert macro beer drinkers to the local cause. There’s a wide spectrum of flavors available, and one should appeal to any palate, he believes, whether light, dark, roasted, hoppy or, in the case of their anniversary, Belgian.
After celebrating Year #3 this weekend, the brewery will keep looking forward. In the coming months, 612 will introduce two new full-time cans (currently being finalized), will introduce six new seasonal beers on draft, and is also working to get Unrated Rye IPA into 16 oz. cans.
As 612Brew grows and adapts to the changing Northeast Minneapolis and Minnesota brewing scene, their identity will be inside their taproom at the corner of Broadway and Central, expanding to new audiences in all the state’s area codes, but always looking back at that bar where Kasak saw the first line of thirsty, curious locals waiting to try his beer, just three short years ago.