It’s a dreary, blustery day outside Badger Hill Brewing in Shakopee, Minnesota, on November 29. Inside the brewery, though, the familiar smell of mashed barley intermingles with sweet oats and a faint aroma of strawberry wafting through the air. The brew day has already begun for Todd Haug and Badger Hill’s brewing team.
At first, Haug is nowhere to be seen. But waves of guitar reverb are emanating from the back of the brewhouse where we find him and Badger Hill’s head brewer Michael Koppelman tinkering with guitars and effects pedals. Haug’s sporting a black T-shirt and strumming a white eight-string electric slung over his shoulder, surrounded by towers of cans. The atmosphere is laid-back and light-hearted, feeling more like a homebrew session than a production batch on Badger Hill’s 20-barrel brewhouse.
Badger Hill brewer Chase Dutton walks over to let Haug know the pH of the mash is not quite where they want it to be and asks what, if anything, should be done. Haug strums the guitar once, thinking to himself before concluding that it just needs more time. Dutton nods in agreement and heads back to the mash tun. He and the rest of the Badger Hill team are deferring to Haug today, not just for his decades-long brewing experience, but because this is the last batch of beer Haug will brew in Minnesota before starting his new job at 3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana.
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
Haug pulls out his phone and scrolls through his messages. Apologetic, he says he might need to jump out to make a call. He and his wife Linda are working through the final stages of closing on a house in the Bucktown area of Chicago before they can make the move south. We chat about the house and his new job, but the conversation quickly turns back to the reason we’re here—Haug’s final beer.
Mashing away in the tun is a dry-hopped braggot made with 600 pounds of honey, named HEXIT (short for Haug’s Exit). He’d been developing the idea for the braggot since summer and had gotten to the point of sourcing the necessary honey from a local producer, Rufer’s Apiaries Inc. But his resignation as director of brewing operations at Surly caused him to put the idea on the shelf.
Disappointed not to get the chance to brew a beer with his honey, Rufer’s Apiaries owner Jason Rufer got a second chance when a friend connected him with Badger Hill co-owner Broc Krekelberg. Interested in trying a braggot, Broc and his wife Britt Krekelberg decided to bring the idea full circle and invite Haug to brew his recipe at their facility.
Haug jumped at the chance and began working with Dutton to prep for the two brew sessions necessary to make HEXIT. The first batch is a grain-based wort consisting of honey malt, a hefty amount of oats, and Columbus hops for bittering. After fermenting overnight, they’ll blend in a second batch made of the 600 pounds of honey and aromatic hops.
“Maybe the best part of this day for me is watching the interaction and camaraderie between Todd and our people, and the respect between all,” says Broc Krekelberg. “This is someone who we respect deeply. You don’t get to Todd’s level without busting your tail and doing things right, so the chance to work along side him is so rewarding to the people that work their butts off here every day, trying to do the same.”
As we follow the team around the brewhouse, there’s an air of admiration surrounding Haug, who has become somewhat of an industry legend over the years. Badger Hill’s brewing team crowds together as Haug tells stories from brew days long gone, and well-wishers drop by the brewery throughout the afternoon to bid Haug a fond farewell.
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
“For me personally,” says Broc, “the chance to get to know Todd better, and to understand who he is as a person, blows away anything else. And if you ask anyone else here, they would say the same thing.”
Haug seems a little uneasy with all the attention, but takes it in stride and finds refuge in focusing on brewing HEXIT. The oats are causing an issue during the vorlauf (the start of the lautering process), and Haug digs in to solve the problem. Shining a pocket flashlight into a sample of wort, he and Dutton study it—at the moment it’s dark tan and opaque, like coffee with cream. More recirculation clarifies the wort satisfactorily and the brew continues.
— Badger Hill Brewing (@BadgerHillBeer) November 29, 2016
Watching Haug work, it all becomes painfully obvious—Minnesota is losing one of its most talented brewers, and the loss is a big one for a brewing community still trying to gain national relevance. His impact on the scene cannot be overstated: the beers he created helped set the bar for Minnesota craft beer, and the knowledge he passed down to the brewers he worked over his career will shape our beer scene for many years to come.
Even on his last brew day in Minnesota, Haug’s intense attention to detail and unwavering commitment to brewing quality beer rubs off on everyone around him. “Working with Todd on this beer highlights not only the importance and passion he places on process, but the passion he has for the people he is working with,” Broc says.
While Haug will be starting a new chapter in Indiana at 3 Floyds, Minnesotans will be able to toast his legacy here when bottles of HEXIT hits shelves in the coming months. The braggot IPA will be available for sale in 750-milliliter bottles at liquor stores and in Badger Hill’s taproom with all proceeds going to charity. It is one last way for Haug to give back to the community that supported him over the years.