Development brewing at mill site

Bryn Mawr Brewing a key piece of plan for Fruen Mill area

After watching developers try and fail to revive the Fruen Mill, neighbors are hopeful the latest project will bring about a long-awaited turnaround at the site. Credit: Dylan Thomas
After watching developers try and fail to revive the Fruen Mill, neighbors are hopeful the latest project will bring about a long-awaited turnaround at the site. Credit: Dylan Thomas

When the first customers finally step into Bryn Mawr Brewing, probably sometime next year, they’ll be able to hoist a pint while standing around a minor piece of Twin Cities craft beer history.

A massive dark-wood counter salvaged from St. Louis Park’s pioneering craft-only beer store, Four Firkins, will be the focal point of the brewery’s taproom on the banks of Bassett’s Creek. Brewery founder Dan Justesen said it was an “impulse buy” he made after Four Firkins shuttered in June.

“It took three days to install it (in Four Firkins) and we had to get it out in three hours,” Justesen said, describing the project as something like solving a puzzle box. Without the help of the St. Louis Park craftsman who originally custom built the fixture, it might never have been saved.

“I think people are going to love standing around that,” Justesen said.

What that counter is to Bryn Mawr Brewing’s taproom, the brewery itself is to the most recent plan for reviving the former Glenwood Inglewood Water Co. site and nearby Fruen Mill. Haig Newton and Chris Jahnke of @Glenwood LLC are the latest developers to attempt a turnaround of the graffiti-covered mill, which was constructed in the late 1800s but has been abandoned since the 1970s.

Newton and Jahnke purchased Glenwood Ingelwood’s former offices and bottling plant for $1.55 million in March 2014. They now operate their businesses from the site, including marketing firm Push Interactive and BlueDrone, the shipping and distribution division of Push’s parent company, Tamble.

They don’t own the mill, which was bought at a Hennepin County Sheriff’s sale in January for about $460,000 by June Capital. Newton described June Capital as “close partners.”

Newton and Jahnke envision redevelopment of the 13-story mill building into a mixed-use project, potentially including apartments or condos, offices, retail space and possibly a restaurant. It’s a project they’ll turn their attention to after they finish assembling a business campus at the base of the mill.

Newton said Bryn Mawr Brewing and the attention a brewery and taproom would bring to the site are “very important” to the project.

“It gives it exposure and awareness,” he said.

They’re also aware others have tried and failed at Fruen Mill. One of the latest was Paul Fry of Frich Development, who was pitching a condominium project in the summer of 2007, not long before a building boom went bust.

“We are so excited to have this property developed,” Jessica Wiley, vice president of the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association, wrote in an email. “It’s been a problem area for years, and it has so much potential. We have supported work on the creek in the past, but it has been a forgotten area until now. “

Starting big

 

Bryn Mawr Brewing founder Dan Justesen said he’s assembling what may be “the most technologically advanced brewhouse in North America.” Photo by Donner Humenberger

If Jahnke and Newton sound ambitious, they have their match in Justesen, a former co-owner of Vine Park Brewing Company in St. Paul and vice president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.

At Bryn Mawr Brewing, plans call for a fully automated 50-barrel brewhouse. In terms of capacity to brew beer, Justesen estimated that would make his the sixth- or seventh-largest brewhouse in Minnesota on opening day.

He said it’s like buying a T-shirt two sizes too big for a growing kid. He said most breweries start too small, and he wants to avoid the cycle of constant upgrades and expansions that plague the industry’s startups.

“My choice would be to say let’s raise more money, skip a step or two, buy a big system (and) buy quality so that we’re not in a position where we’re in a rebuild in the middle of growth,” he said.

To raise startup funds, Bryn Mawr Brewing will take advantage of a recent change in federal law to allow for so-called equity crowdfunding. Like a souped-up version of the Kickstarter model, it gives accredited investors a chance at an ownership stake in the business. The goal is to raise a little over $1.2 million. He aims to raise another $250,000 through a VIP program, offering free beers and other perks in exchange for $1,000 memberships.

The first piece of equipment to arrive at Bryn Mawr Brewing this summer was a filtering system that already had logged a lot of miles and many barrels of beer at Sierra Nevada, Summit and Fulton, among other breweries. Other pieces of what Justesen said might be “the most technologically advanced brewhouse in North America” will be shipped here from Europe.

Europe’s beer culture and its classic, quaffable styles are also an inspiration for Justesen, who plans to brew lager, pilsner and kolsch beers in addition to an India pale ale, the variety favored by many American hop-heads. Operations will be overseen by an experienced brewer “who works in the American craft-brewing industry,” although Justesen declined to be any more specific than that.

That brewer will have access to water from Glenwood Inglewood’s wells. Justesen said it tastes good, but the mineral content means it will need to be treated for beer making.

A destination

Haig Newton, left, and Chris Jahnke acquired the former Glenwood Inglewood Water Co. site in 2014 and are transforming the former bottling plant into a business campus. Photo by Donner Humenberger

Bryn Mawr Brewing’s neighbors in the former Glenwood Inglewood complex include digital marketing firm Top Source Media, whose 4,500-square-foot office space was undergoing renovations in August. They were also in talks with a local nonprofit to lease a standalone two-story brick office building on the site. Other tenants included a local artist and an automotive business.

For Newton and Janhke, their first big challenge after purchasing the property was access. The former bottling plant is penned in on all sides by railroad tracks, the creek and parkland.

Newton said they spent months negotiating a private crossing agreement with BNSF Railway, whose tracks visitors must cross to access the parking lot. Having secured a crossing license, they’re moving onto other projects on their to-do list, including building a berm to limit the risk of flooding from Bassett’s Creek.

As they showed a visitor around the site in early August, Jahnke and Newton said they were close to installing an 18-foot fence around the Fruen Mill, which is regularly visited by thrill seekers and so-called urban explorers. In June, a man was seriously injured after falling inside the abandoned building.

Newton said the concrete structure of the mill is “in pretty good shape,” but they have to complete environmental testing before they can move forward with plans for the building, which likely will require remediation work.

Their partners on the Fruen Mill renovation, June Capital, recently negotiated a land swap with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, exchanging one parcel of nearby green space for another. What they got in return from the Park Board will become Bryn Mawr Brewing’s backyard, essentially — a beer garden with creek views where visitors will be able to play bocce ball or listen to music while sipping a Bavarian hefeweisen.

Ultimately, it was the site’s natural setting that drew first Jahnke and Newton and then Justesen to the site. It’s nearly surrounded by parkland but within view of downtown’s skyline.

“I think this is a destination place,” Justesen said.