On a Saturday afternoon in the absolute nadir of the worst Minnesota winter in recent memory, HammerHeart Brewing Company’s taproom is full of warm bodies. Nestled among a small grove of pines just off Highway 23 in Lino Lakes, HammerHeart’s hand-built log cabin exterior would look like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting, if it weren’t for the warehouse strapped to its back.
Inside, the walls bristle with enough traditional Norse weaponry and armor to pillage the nearby Chanticlear Pizza. A motif of stag’s antlers traces the room, from tap handles to light fixtures, and rests above the rune-covered main door in a nod to the gods of the old country.
Behind the bar, a full-length glass case displays vinyl LPs from the kinds of metal bands who are so extreme that their logos are unintelligible. The same black metal thunders out of a black iPod Classic—the taproom’s omnipresent, staff-only jukebox.
A group of Heshers in full regalia are dominating the bar’s leftmost corner. One specimen’s fiery Norse mane stretches to a white fur pelt draped over his black denim battle vest, far outshining his buddy’s more traditional Slayer patch. Another gentleman sports a decidedly unsubtle floor-length black leather duster coat.
Across the room, Todd Mortenson enjoys a pepper-infused Thor’s Porter. While he’s sporting a more neighborhood-appropriate blend of Carhartt and Realtree, the 31-year-old television director feels a strong sense of kinship with HammerHeart’s aesthetic and beers.
“I love metal culture, and there weren’t many places [in town] I could wear my battle vest and not feel a little weird. You can only hear Modest Mouse play so many times at a brewery and be cool with it,” he says. “Every brewery [in the Twin Cities] seems to be the cookie-cutter industrial feel with maybe one interesting beer. I feel like this place had an idea of what they were proud of and stuck with it.”
In a metro area where most breweries do their best to appeal to the widest possible swath of drinkers, HammerHeart is as intentionally niche as the bands they adore. You’re unlikely to find a rosé session sour in this neck of the woods. This is the kind of brewery that specializes in barrel-aged and smoked beers as dark and heavy as Thor’s hammer, with names like Stjørdal, Bergtatt, and Hail to the Dark Gourd.
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HammerHeart was founded by brothers-in-law Nathaniel Chapman (owner) and Austin Lunn (head brewer). According to the brewery’s website, the two bonded over their shared love of homebrewing and metal, and Chapman was eventually able to convince Lunn to move from his home in Louisville, Kentucky, to Minnesota. Before settling down here, Lunn spent time interning at Haandbryggeriet in Norway, and that brewery’s balance of traditional Norse styles and forward-thinking infusions provided a road map for HammerHeart, which opened in 2013.
Both Chapman and Lunn were reticent to interview requests for this piece, and Lunn respectfully declined being interviewed for the Brewer Profile column, citing a desire to allow HammerHeart’s beer to speak for itself.
When you take in the full scope of his life’s work outside of beer, Lunn’s disinterest in the press is easy to understand. An extraordinarily accomplished multi-instrumentalist who records under the name Panopticon, Lunn has released a collection of 15 EPs and full-length albums that fuse Americana with black metal, ruminating on the natural splendor of both his Bluegrass State upbringing and adoptive Northwoods home. Eschewing most interviews, Panopticon embodies the stoicism and cryptic mythos that’s characteristic of metal subcultures.
Despite his private nature, Lunn’s innovative blending of Americana folk instrumentation and apocalyptic black metal riffage has inspired tomes of breathless prose from metal journalists, particularly focused on his seminal 2015 treatise on working-class coal country, “Kentucky.” His most recent full-length album is a two-hour concept piece released last year and titled “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness,” partially inspired by the writings of author and environmentalist Sigurd Olson.
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Dressed in the kind of khaki-and-gingham ensemble that would stand out only at HammerHeart, 60-something electrical worker Linden (who politely declined to give his last name) gingerly sips on an inky black beer he can’t recall the name of. It’s closing time on a Tuesday at HammerHeart and the forecast is predicting nine inches of snow overnight. The impending weather looms over the brewery like a specter.
Linden, as it turns out, is not familiar with Panopticon, or any metal music for that matter. He says he mostly tunes out the brewery’s soundtrack but loves coming here a couple times a month as a little treat after an extended workday. Linden’s not much of a drinker at this point in his life. His former macro-beer favorites now give him gut rot, but HammerHeart’s product suits his stomach just fine. He loves the fact that he can order an eight-ounce pour, and he compares some of the richer HammerHeart varieties he’s tried to Port wine.
Despite being just about the furthest thing from a beer nerd, Linden is happy to add extra mileage to his weekly errand runs so that he can stop by HammerHeart for a treat. When he orders “One more of whatever this is!” at last call, the bartender’s resting scowl ever so slightly creases with familial affection.
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Bryan Carver and his companion Virginia Heinen share Linden’s enthusiasm for HammerHeart’s beer but swing a little closer to the joint’s typical demographic. Both are avid craft beer drinkers in their late 20s and perfectly willing to make the half-hour drive up to Lino Lakes from Brooklyn Park. Carver likens the drive to “going up to the cabin,” especially during the winter months, and admires the remarkable breadth and consistency that HammerHeart shows within their chosen smoked-beer niche.
“It’s not a style that many breweries are brave enough to even make one of, and I’m genuinely impressed by the variety that they have, even within this small subset,” Carver says. “They’ve never made something I didn’t like.”
Like Todd Mortenson, Carver and Heinen also note that HammerHeart’s heaviness feels like home. “I’m definitely a metalhead,” Carver laughs. “It’s a bold choice as far as atmosphere is concerned, but I do feel more comfortable [at HammerHeart] knowing that everyone who drinks here shares my appreciation for the music.”
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It’s another frosty Saturday, and the mood at HammerHeart is ebullient as closing time approaches. The bar’s steady crew of regulars, including Slayer Vest, are at their usual post. Among them is Jori Apedaile, a 27-year-old studio engineer who moonlights as an assistant on HammerHeart’s bottling line. Like his boss, Apedaile is an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who makes one-man metal under the alias of Eneferens.
“Almost everybody [who works at HammerHeart] is involved with a metal or extreme musical project,” Apedaile says. “It’s great that all of these talents and creative minds can bond and support each other under one roof.”
Originally based in Missoula, Montana, Apedaile moved to the Twin Cities two years ago and started working at HammerHeart shortly thereafter. “I only work very occasionally, but I’ve always had a deep appreciation for what goes on in the daily operations of HammerHeart,” he says. “The staff is very tight-knit; most of my closest Minnesota friends work here, and the friendships and camaraderie are definitely the glue that holds it all together.”
The esprit de corps is especially noticeable this evening. As Apedaile and another regular pound out blast beats on HammerHeart’s bar, Slayer Vest is yukking it up and angling for an invite to the crew’s after-brewery of choice: Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub. The bartender, who looks like he just stepped off the cover of Decibel Magazine, is loath to give that permission.
“Last time you came to Northbound with us, you ended up bleeding all over my kitchen.”
“It was a bear attack,” Slayer Vest rejoins. “I needed seven stitches!”
Realizing his story now has an audience, Slayer Vest goes in for the punch line like a Viking berserker moving in for the kill.
“You should have seen the bear though—the bear got the worst of it.”