Pour Decisions Brewing: Saying no to "me too" beers
Kristen England and B.J. Haun have a lot of home-brewing experience between the two of them. When they decided to take the next step, they spent two-plus years drafting a business plan and choosing a location for what became Pour Decisions, the city of Roseville's first brewery. First scheduled to open around State Fair time, the brewery met construction delays and opened its doors fully in early 2013. To find the new startup, simply take Fairview Avenue north from Highway 36, turn off on Terrace Drive, and pull into a nondescript parking lot. At first glance, it looks like just a vacant Saturday lot until you get out of the car and follow the handwritten signs directing you inside the brewery.
The Hot Dish sat down with co-owner England for a lengthy talk about world travel, obscure beers, finding your niche in the marketplace, and beer education and history. The brewery has a well-defined focus on underrepresented global beers, bringing many styles into the Midwest for their first local tastings. Throughout the talk, England reinforced the focus on individuality and avoiding "me too" beers in the local brew scene. England has gathered most of his knowledge from studying abroad during his college years and later through regular visits to his wife's family in Europe.
Pour Decisions' flagship beers are its Pubstitute Dark Scottish Session Ale and Patersbier Monk's Golden Ale, both of which are available at select bars around the metro and at the taproom. The brewery will soon be adding 22-ounce bottles to its production.
Hot Dish: You make a lot of different style beers that aren't very common.
Kristen England: The one thing you'll always see between the beers I make is they're not going to be so wild that you wouldn't understand what they were. They're made for people and for beer nerds at the same time. I've been lucky enough to travel the world, to do all this research and be able to bring back these little things that you can't find anywhere. For one reason or another they died out.
There are plenty of wonderful IPAs on the market [but] I'm never going to do a traditional, standard IPA. Our Infidelity, which is a Burton ale, is hopped more or less like a big, strong IPA. It's 6.5-6.9%, somewhere around there, it's got a ton of dry-hopping, but it's pretty dark, like a brilliant deep copper. It's got a lot of malts that people don't use anymore, a lot of brewing sugars that people don't use anymore. It's just this really great, hoppy beer that finishes dry that all the hopheads will like, but these are flavors that they haven't had together before.
Our styles are unique in the types of beer they are. The vast majority of the beers we're doing are hugely popular to everybody in certain regions. It's not just a small group that likes these things. We'll do some [obscure beers] too but, as a whole, the mainstay beer is going to be one that can be approached by a lot of people.
HD: I noticed a lot of them have a German, eastern European, or English roots. Is that because that's where you've traveled, or do you view the identity of the company as making region-specific styles?
England: Micro region-specific styles. The first two are of Scottish and Belgian origin, if you get down to the brass tacks. Basically the beer world is Europe. There are some nouveau styles, but the vast majority of the history is all Europe.
I look for more of the flavors I want to make rather than where it's from. I find it really helpful when you use the country of origin in a short description. All my beers are usually a fun name, and then there will always be a short description that's very brass tacks and accurate. Giving things a location lets people see the uniqueness of it. I really like calling it what they call it, using their verbiage rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
The next beer I did on the pilot system, the Actress and the Bishop, is a golden English luncheon ale. The style is actually called an AK. It was one of the lowest-gravity pale ales brewed in the UK, and it's only 4.1%. It's brilliant and golden, a ton of really flowery hops, a ton of malt. They call it a luncheon ale. They call it about 20 different things, and when I'm looking down the list of what it was called, I'm thinking to myself, "What do I want to call it that makes people want to drink it."
The entire idea of a lot of the beers that we're going to be doing is beers that are underrepresented worldwide, just because they can be so unique, so small, we want to bring you there. Describe the place, describe the beer, describe the location. Open [our customers'] eyes and their minds to all these cool things that they haven't got to see.
HD: How many of the beers are taproom specific?
England: All the cask stuff we'll do is going to be specific. Most of the things in the pilot system I put in bottles. Some of the draught stuff we're going to do, it's, "This is a beer I really like and I'm thinking about making it on the big system." Do it with a bunch of stouts--the Stonky Wonky, the first Original Russian Imperial Stout, it's the first time it's been made in the U.S. That's something I didn't want to do on the big system because it's such a different beer compared to most Russian Imperial Stouts, because they're big and strong and angry, whereas the Imperial Brown Export Stout was big and strong but really rich, really malty, tons of fruit. Styles change. A style is just a snapshot in time. Today they are going to be very different, but that doesn't mean people today are going to like the old one, so rather than coming out with 40 barrels of a beer that's 10.6% that nobody wants, I made two barrels of it and put some on cask. I want you guys to come in and really tell me what you think. I'm not bouncing ideas off people--I was going to do this beer no matter what--I'm trying to see how unique it is because I have a million Russian Imperial Stout recipes that fit onboard with most Russian Imperial Stouts. But this beer is really so different, I want to know what to call it. If people say, "This doesn't really taste like a Russian Imperial Stout," then I can call it an Imperial Brown Stout or call it a Double Export Stout, which is another name for it.
For the mainstays, I want to do a small batch just for release now, just for the brewery, like, "Hey, I'm coming out with this one next," and also we'll do draught only at the brewery just to get people to come. Some of the coolest places I've ever been are the ones that have stuff available only at the brewery. If you come in and I have everything here that you can get everywhere else, there's no point really for you to take this drive, right? I see it as a deal between the customer and the owner. It's my job to put stuff on that you can't get other places. If you put the time in to come see me, then I'm going to put something on tap specifically for you to enjoy.
HD: As far as the Minnesota brewing scene is going, it's obviously taken off a ton in the last year--it seems like more every month.
England: Everything's happening so fast, everybody's so excited about it that everybody wants to be new. You'll only be the newest brewery for so long. We were the newest brewery for a month and a half, two months, whatever it was. Being the first one doesn't mean anything, being the newest doesn't. Be good. Be unique. Make good beer no matter what.
As a brewer I really love seeing these new places come out with their own ideas because I like drinking beer. Every brewer is going to want to try other stuff rather than drink their own all the time.
HD: With all of these new breweries, is it challenging to find bars with open taps?
England: Ninety percent of the beer lines in the majority of bars in Minnesota are not from Minnesota at all. Ninety to 95 percent, I would guess. You go to Michigan, where I am from, you go to Wisconsin where B.J. is from, you go to Colorado, you're not going to see a beer that's not made in Colorado in the majority of lines. Here it's completely different. There's plenty of room for movement because what will happen is, if everybody makes great stuff, the local will go on.
If everybody makes great beer Minnesota will always demand local. There's so many breweries popping up that you've got to be on your game: You've got to make great stuff; you've got to be unique; you've got to have a great image. Frankly, if you make great beer, a lot of the other things will take care of themselves, and I love that. I completely embrace that.
If everybody makes excellent beer, we're going to be known worldwide for making excellent beer. That's what we have to do, not silly bickering and infighting about who does what, who did this first. It doesn't matter.