Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A visit to Summit Brewing

I’ve covered Summit Brewing extensively since I started this blog up. From their classic Extra Pale Ale to their more limited releases, it has been a constant staple on this website for quite a while. I mean, they are one of the biggest and oldest craft breweries in Minnesota after all. And yet, I’ve never really covered the brewery itself. Like where it all comes from and the story behind it. Sure I’ve touched upon few tidbits in the various Summit reviews but never anything that I would consider to be in-depth.

Since I had a few days off after Christmas, I came to the conclusion that it was time to change that. I decided to make myself useful and take a deeper look into this seasoned brewery. I mean, after all, you can’t go into any bar or liquor store in Minnesota swinging a stick without hitting at least a bottle, can or tap handle that doesn’t brandish the “Summit” name on it. (Note: Please don’t actually try this.)

Summit Brewing is located off of West 7th Street, just a couple blocks east of Interstate 35-E in St. Paul in an office park. When they first opened their doors in 1986, they were located off of University Ave, which is on the other side of St. Paul. It wasn’t until 1995 that they moved from their old location to their current one, which was once home to a Texaco Oil Refinery and they got the land at a fairly good price since St. Paul was looking to expand its business appeal. Since then, it has continuously grown into the behemoth-sized building that it has become today.

The Ratskeller of Summit is one that I have visited a few times since it first opened a couple years ago and it has undergone some fairly changes. Gone are the wooden benches and tables, which I actually didn’t mind since they actually looked like the tables you’d see in an authentic German bierhall. In place of that are some rather fancy chairs and tables, which fit the overall feel of the Ratskeller. The other thing that is gon-…er……changed is that now there’s a jumbo screen over the entrance displaying pretty much the entire history of Summit. Also, the pictures on walls do an awesome job of improving the atmosphere. Oh and that beautiful oak bar that was tucked away is now front-and-center. Because, let’s be real here, no one puts baby in the corner.

Now I learned quite a bit about the history of Summit during my tour, so I’ll do my best to tell you, the reader, what I found out. So let’s begin with the name. Originally the founder, Mark Stutrud wanted to name the brewery Stutrud Brewing, but it slowly became apparent that, from a naming perspective, the word “Stutrud” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (At least, according to our brave tour guide, Phil). So they decided on the name Summit Brewing for a couple different reasons. The first being that it represents the pinnacle, the apex, the…..you get the idea. The other reason being that Summit Avenue is a prominent street in St. Paul.

The other thing you’ll notice too are the copper kettles that flank the right side of the Ratskeller as well as a sign above it that says “Hürnerbräu Ansbach.” This is because those kettles were purchased from the Hürnerbräu Brewery in Bavaria, Germany. Copper Kettles are somewhat or a rarity now as a lot of new brewing equipment is now stainless steel. The copper kettles that I’ve seen in my travels are used for display purposes but not Summit’s. They still utilize them for brewing purposes in all of their batches.

Earlier, I mentioned that the building itself is absolutely ginormous. It looks big on the outside but seeing all of the equipment from the inside makes you feel even smaller in comparison. The pictures themselves do not do this view justice, which is why I strongly suggest seeing this in person. Up until the tour, the biggest fermentation tanks I had seen were at the Yuengling Brewery in Tampa, FL; The views in here give them a run for their money.

The scale of how big Summit is isn’t just limited to their fermentation tanks, the bottling and canning line is also a sight to behold; Which makes sense seeing as how it once belonged to Sierra Nevada. Hearing the story as to how it was shipped halfway across the country (in pieces, mind you) and how it was assembled is a story in and of itself.

Then there’s the storage room, where all the beer is kept before being sent out this includes kegs, bottles and cans. At one point, I saw there was a few cases of the Warpigs Foggy Geezer standing out amongst the crowd. Curious, I asked brave leader Phil what that was doing amongst all the Summit. He pointed out that since Warpigs doesn’t have a physical brewery, they use Summit’s brewing equipment as one of their facilities. In fact, if you look on any Warpigs can (at least in Minnesota) you’ll see in tiny letters on the back that it was indeed brewed at the Summit Facility. After all these delightful sights, we went back to the taproom for some beers.

Brave Leader Phil showing us one of the tools used by professional brewers

One of the key highlights for myself personally was the topic of distribution. Right now they are currently in five states and at one point they were in seventeen before having to pull back, and that was something I knew of prior to coming on this tour. The reason for this? Growth. It turns out that since the country has been undergoing a craft brewing growth these past few years, the demand for more local beer has increased ten-fold. Many breweries have felt this and Summit is no exception to that rule. Basically the demand for Summit in their former areas was either not sufficient or the demand for more local beer became too great to keep up with.

Still, with all that in mind, Summit still plays a pivotal role in providing the Midwest with their offerings and libations. Being on this tour makes one (or at least myself) appreciate all they have done for craft brewing in Minnesota and the role they will continue to play going forward. Whether you’re there for a tour or just to chill out in their Ratskeller, you really get the sense that you’re standing in a place of great significance. If you’re a seasoned Summit drinker, it goes without saying that you owe it to yourself to check this place out.

For tours, you can either book a tour online, like yours truly. Or you can buy a ticket in the gift shop.

However, if you just want to sit back in the Ratskeller and have a few beers, that’s alright too. Either way, they can be found at:

910 Montreal Circle
St. Paul, MN 55102

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