By Jake Lewis
The Third Street Brewhouse is the newest faction of Cold Spring Brewing Company, and a testament to their commitment to the craft beer movement. This new venture is proof that a brewery with a lengthy history can keep up with the consumers and actually create new products that they want, rather than trying to sell the same lackluster product through marketing gimmicks. Having acknowledged where they’ve fallen short in the past with some of their other products, Cold Spring Brewing Company has made the right investments to ensure a future in craft beer through the Third Street Brewhouse.
The new brewhouse directly addresses one of the primary issues with previous products—consistency and quality. Consumers want to be able to depend on their beer being the same every time they drink it, and the old system made it nearly impossible. The outdated equipment was incapable of producing the same beer consistently, and made it difficult to recruit new staff.
“We knew our beer was not up to standard for what we wanted to accomplish. If we were to continue to be a brewery, we needed to be among the best. Mediocrity was not an option,” says Doug DeGeest, the Vice President and General Manager of the company.
The old brewhouse has been replaced with a twelve million dollar state of the art facility. The beastly system is capable of brewing 75 barrels per batch, and will feed into ten 450-barrel fermenters, a number of smaller fermentation vessels, and three 450-barrel conditioning tanks. It also includes a few items that are on many local breweries’ “wouldn’t it be nice” lists like a wet mill—which is rarely used in the states.
Not only does the Third Street Brewhouse feature a facility that would make most brewers foam at the mouth, they have brought on a new host of experienced brewers to pave the way for the new operation. When asked how they approached finding new talent, DeGeest replied, “The addition of our talented brewers started with the hiring of Horace Cunningham. I think the combination of a new state-of-art brewing facility, our packaging innovation, the presence of Horace and Mike Kneip was very attractive to any brewer looking to hone one’s skills.”
Cunningham is Third Street’s new Director of Brewing Operations and has been in the industry for over 30 years. He has worked at a number of breweries, including Summit as their Brewmaster and Vice President, and Terrapin as their Vice President of Operations. And, oh yeah, he’s also the President of the Master Brewer’s Association of America. He’s joined by some of Minnesota’s finest brewers including Mike Kneip, Bob McKenzie, Adam Theis, and Chris Laumb, whose names you may recognize from breweries such as Rock Bottom, Town Hall, and McCann’s.
But there was opposition to Cold Spring’s expansion. “When the concept for the construction for the new brewhouse started, a small group of citizens thought we should move out of town if we were building,” says DeGeest. “We are located in town and are occasionally noisy and emit odors, though we have met all government requirements. It was unrealistic for us to move; the approval process stalled the project and increased our equipment/piping costs significantly due to the delays.” Fortunately, the city recognized the opportunity for a positive economic impact on jobs and tourism. After nearly a year of planning, construction began in July of 2011. The first kegs rolled out of Third Street at the end of June this year.
The Third Street Brewhouse is obviously a major commitment to craft beer for Cold Spring Brewing Company. Cold Spring’s brands usually lived at the opposite end of the beer box from most craft brands. Gleuk may have been an historic brand for the company, and Minnesota, but it was not made with the craft beer industry in mind. Cold Spring’s other beers, which bear the Cold Spring name, are value versions of a few popular styles, and no longer represent where the company wants to go. Gleuk was finally removed from the market two years ago. “We just wanted to make excellent beer, and we knew craft beer trends were moving upward,” says DeGeest. “We knew we didn’t want to be involved any more with value priced beer.”
As for the beers that Third Street is producing, they hit the market with three products: Rise to the Top Cream Ale, Lost Trout Brown Ale, and Bitter Neighbor Black IPA. All of the beers are great representations of their respective styles, and quite tasty. The Rise to the Top Cream Ale was even featured days after its public release at the Better Beer Society’s Brown Bag Blind Tasting at the end of June as one of the selections representing crisp and refreshing summer beers. A new round of beers is already in the works as well. “We are already in the process of creating new beers, both specialty and seasonal,” says DeGeest. “The possibilities are quite exciting when you consider the extreme talent, diverse background and creative abilities of our brewing staff combined with the flexibility of the brewhouse.” Keep your eyes open for an announcement on these additional brands.
Educating the consumer is one of the most difficult aspects of craft beer. Third Street is tackling it head on with their own beer school. “It is important for us to educate about the beauty, complexity and enjoyment of beer,” says DeGeest. “Misconception about craft beer is abundant. Our school will include teaching about the importance of the olfactory system in savoring beer, ingredients, the brewing and fermentation process, food-pairing and the enjoyment of drinking of beer. It will be entertaining, hands-on and informative.” This realization and further commitment to craft beer is what many historical and large-scale breweries fail to realize and adapt to. But because of their efforts, the Third Street Brewhouse will likely prove to be a serious player in the Minnesota craft beer industry and open many more minds to the enjoyment of a well-made craft beer through their newfound emphasis on innovative and quality focused craft beers.