It started with a birthday gift and turned into a passion and family business. For James Ewen’s 21st birthday, he received a home brew kit from his father and brother (now business partner), Sean Ewen. But it wasn’t a quick journey. From his early days of home brewing, James loved researching different styles of beers and experimenting with his own recipes. When he and Sean realized this could be much more than a hobby, they began looking for a space. With a lot of competition throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul, finding the right location was key. From there, the brothers’ vision began to take shape with a strong emphasis on the customer experience when visiting the brewery.
Having secured their current space more than a year ago, the process of starting a brewery has not been an easy one. After much research and planning, construction on the space began in August 2017 with tanks being delivered in November. This is when it became real for James and the excitement started to build. He immediately got to work getting everything set up and received approval to begin brewing in mid-December. December 29, 2017 marked his first brew day. A huge milestone in a dream of building a brewery and taproom.
Wooden Hill Brewing Company in Edina has 20 taps available with plans to offer a few specific styles including an IPA, Kolsch and Saison, along with some fun, experimental varieties. If you follow their efforts on Facebook, you’ve seen reference to a cinnamon crunch beer. Along with beer, they will also have their own non-alcoholic beverage line featuring a variety of sparkling iced teas on tap. To complement the beverages, there will be a variety of food truck-style bites including gourmet sandwiches, chicken-less nuggets, warm pretzels with smoked Gouda cheese sauce and cornbread muffins with a hint of jalapeño served with honey. Plans are in place to build-out a full kitchen down the road with counter ordering and pick up.
From the beginning, the focus has been about the customer experience. “We want customers to see and understand the brewing process,” says James.
When you visit the space on Bush Lake Road, you are sure to be impressed. The orange door stands out in the largely industrial area. Upon entering, the space has a natural flow thanks in part to Gregg Hackett, an architect with extensive experience designing urban restaurants that emphasize the customer experience. “It was important to consider the experience from every seat and ensure that upon entering, customers know they are at a brewery,” Sean says.
According to the Brewers Association, Minnesota had 112 craft breweries producing 609,415 barrels per year as of 2016. Some might say the marketplace is crowded, but compared to other states, there is still room for growth. One of the many reasons location was so important is the Ewen brothers understand a brewery becomes a part of the community. This is Edina’s first craft brewery and with little competition in neighboring Bloomington and Eden Prairie, the brothers are eager to make this their home and truly integrate themselves into the surrounding neighborhood and business community.
“With just over a hundred tap rooms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, we see lots of opportunity. Oftentimes, people choose to drink within their neighborhood or local community. We want to be part of what makes Edina a great place to live,” Sean says.
But with the location came a lot of risk. Was the location right? What if the concept didn’t work? Starting the construction process was truly a turning point. “Since hanging the ‘brewery coming soon’ sign outside, we’ve received an incredible response from the community,” says Sean. “Those we’ve talked to are excited about a new business coming to the area and another lunch option. We want our space to truly serve those around us which is one of the many reasons we made it as business-friendly as possible.”
In choosing Edina as the brewery’s location, Sean says “We want to be part of what makes Edina a great place to live.”
The Wooden Hill Brewing name is a nostalgic nod to their grandfather who used to tell the boys to climb the wooden hill, which meant head upstairs to bed. “It’s a fond memory for our family and something we’ve incorporated into not just the name of our brewery, but even the design elements. If you look closely, you will notice the light fixtures step up throughout the space, emulating a staircase,” says Sean.
For these brothers, the effort is in the details. Little touches make it as inviting and comfortable as possible, including their father’s paintings interspersed throughout the thoughtful space. With each return visit, customers will notice new and exciting elements intended to make the space one-of-a-kind.
The process of starting a brewery involved a lot of research. And while a lot of information currently exists, there were also gaps the Ewen brothers had to fill in on their own. This prompted a blog series on how to start a brewery. Not only was it a great way to spread the word about their efforts, but it has allowed them to engage the general public and potential customers. From understanding how equipment was selected and how a glass of beer is made to seeing the brewery take shape, nothing is left to the imagination.
Wooden Hill Brewing Company opened with limited hours in March. A grand opening is in the works for May 5, just in time for patio season. You can stay up-to-date on the latest news and happenings on their FaceBook page.