When The Lab opened its doors on the border of Minneapolis and St. Paul in May 2019, we — like others, perhaps — thought it was just another pour-it-yourself concept. If we’d known then how truly unique, cleverly inventive and fantastically creative The Lab really is, we wouldn’t have waited so long to make it in for a visit!
“For 18 years, we’ve helped people start new beverage brands,” says Johanson of her other business BevSource. “We needed a place to do pilot brewing and couldn’t find a really great solution, so we built it.”
“We thought, it would be great to build the brewery that kind of assists in the needs of…brewers,” Hall says of coming on board. “But then at the same time we have the lab…let’s build that out a little bit more to be a resource for area breweries as well.”
In essence, The Lab is a space for anyone from small homebrewers or someone considering opening their own brewery to large, commercial breweries to come and try recipes and ideas on a pilot-sized scale.
“Ok, so, you really want a gluten free beer?” explains Johanson. “What does it really taste like, how do you want it done? That’s kind of where Matt comes in. Beer’s made with gluten — how do we figure out to make one without it? *laughing* We do things that are not easy.”
The concept allows for a wide range of regularly rotating, experimental, limited-time beverages on tap. All drinks that make it to the serving wall have the contracting businesses’s permission to be served first and Johanson and Hall’s approval second. The Saturday we visited, the self-serve tapwall included a variety of beers and ciders, a hard seltzer, an alcoholic kombucha and even a mystery beverage. The Lab also brews or creates a variety of non-alcoholic recipes and options, including tea, sparkling water, protein and energy drinks, children’s beverages and more.
“Because we make really interesting things for clients,” Johanson continues, “we’re like, we should let people try it. And then our clients were like, ‘oh, if you’re going to do that, can we get real feedback from real customers?'” Customers are encouraged to share their feedback online on platforms like Untappd. Sometimes, some drinks — like the mystery drink we sampled — are intentionally added to the tapwall without revealing what it is for the sake of genuine, honest feedback.
“The one that you’re drinking — the To Be Revealed beer — they will give us permission [to reveal],” said Johanson. “So probably next Friday, we’ll do a reveal of who’s that is- “
“…and what it is,” added Hall.
” -so it’s pretty anonymous. Maybe we’ll let you reveal it for us!” (read to the end of the post to find out what it is!)
Because tappings are usually just pilot-sized, the menu rotates pretty often.
“There’s probably at least two new beers on every week,” Johanson told us. “The other part of what goes on tap is — we also can’t have seven New England IPAs on tap. If somebody comes to us and says, ‘Hey, I want a NEIPA,” we’ll still test brew it for you; we may just not be able to put it on tap because we have two or three other IPAs. Or we just say, hey, if you just want to wait, we can put you in [at a later time].”
As far as the process of what and how things get brewed at The Lab, Johanson says, “Everything that’s alcoholic is brewed here. Taproom laws, it has to be brewed here. People either give us a recipe, and we brew it. Or they give us an idea, Matt develops a recipe, we brew it. Or they can come in, and they can shadow. […] Like, if you’re a homebrewer, come learn from Matt and the team.”
“We’re open door,” adds Hall, “but you come in, you brew it, it falls under our license.”
Not only is The Lab open door for makers and tasters, but it’s chock-full of incredible stories.
“What I love about what we do for a living,” Johanson shares, “is the entrepreneurial stories that go behind all of this stuff. This guy-” she points to a drink called Fizzique, a sparkling protein water, “is an ex-Olympian from Great Britain. He has the patent for sparkling protein and beverages. […] He tried to sell the patent to Coke and Pepsi, and they didn’t want to pay what he wanted, so he’s like, ‘Fine, I’ll come out with my own brand.'”
“Pep Talk, ” she says, pointing to a seltzer water caffeinated with Green Tea, “she’s a local dentist that was sick of getting people’s teeth in her shop that were all acid-ridden. And so she said, ‘I want to make a drink that is healthier for people’s teeth.’ And so her husband now kind of runs the show, and she’s still a dentist.”
“The Kill Cliff guy,” Johanson points out two energy drinks on the menu, “is an ex-Navy Seal. Recover [a blend of enzymes, electrolytes & B-vitamins] is actually his first before they did Ignite [an energy drink with natural clean caffeine]. Back then there wasn’t such a thing as pre-workout and post-workout […] And when he worked out really hard as a Navy Seal, he wanted something to replenish his body […] And so he came out with Kill Cliff, and that’s his brand.”
“But the thing you see,” concludes Hall, “whether it’s non-alcoholic or alcoholic and beer…it’s all about the passion to bring that idea to the public and the reaction that they receive…It’s as fun doing some of these projects as it is for beer.”
The Lab really is for everyone — an inventive, inclusive, interactive space for makers and tasters alike. From concept to product, we’ve really never seen anything quite like it.
Oh, and about that To Be Revealed mystery beverage on tap…
“It’s actually a gluten-free beer,” Johanson revealed to us. “It’s made with sorghum.” The brand it was brewed for is a 100% gluten-free beer brand called Guten Beer. The beer we sampled is their Guten Lite — the lite version of Guten’s gluten-free Amber Lager which Matt also brewed and which last year won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup!
Stop in to The Lab and try it for yourself…while it’s still on tap!