We’re highlighting Minnesota’s 100-plus craft breweries with our flight series – four questions for the people behind the beer. This week is BlackStack Brewing.
After months (OK years) of planning and delays, BlackStack Brewing opened at 755 Prior Ave. N in St. Paul in mid-March. It's a family-run business that started out brewing the beers they really love, and that aren't too high in alcohol – so you can have more than one.
BlackStack started with four beers on tap – and all those delays really helped head brewer Bob DuVernois perfect and rework the beer recipes. It also allowed him to build up a catalogue of dozens of brews, so keep an eye on the website for new beers.
I sat down with DuVernois, BlackStack founder and president Scott Johnson, and his two sons: Murphy Johnson, who is the assistant brewer, and Cooper Johnson. I got to sample BlackStack's New England IPA Local 757 (and several other beers, including the IPA mixed with Ratify!, a white beer – which is a creation by Murphy Johnson) and ask them a flight of questions.
In 10-ish words, what would you tell someone to get them to come into the taproom?
"It's all about the beer," Scott Johnson said. "That's what I would say – we're beer lovers, and it shows through in our products."
"I'd tell them to just come try something they haven't had before," DuVernois said. "We're going to have something that you haven't had before."
What's the best reaction you've gotten to one of your beers?
Cooper Johnson had proof of his favorite moment, showing me this Instagram photo of BlackStack's Ratify! that said: "This beer has single-handedly made me a beer person." And it was from someone none of the BlackStack crew knew.
He added: "I go back and look at it every night before I go to bed."
Scott Johnson said it was the comment, "Wow, you did it." It was from someone who came into the taproom and had the New England IPA. There's been some skepticism about whether brewers in the Midwest could actually brew a New England IPA the way it's supposed to be made.
What's a misconception about people who work in the craft beer industry?
"That we wear lederhosen and clink steins and sing songs," DuVernois said with a laugh. "That it's a lot of drinking and fun. And there is that too – but it's work first, and it's hard work. When the doors are open and people are in here, they see us at that time – welcoming people in and having a good time and answering questions."
"It's a lot less sexy than people would think," Scott Johnson said, noting people underestimate how much time is spent on things like making sure everything is clean.
What was your gateway beer that made you want to work in the industry?
"Mine was a friend of mine's father's homebrew that he made back in 1979," DuVernois said. "He came from Estonia and his family knew how to make beer ... I wasn't really a fan of Bud or Miller. I just didn't really care for it. So we were having a party at his house and he had this little keg ... it was a darker beer and I was trying it, and was like: 'This is beer? You made this beer?' And he was like, 'Yeah.' ... And I was like, 'Man if this is beer, I could drink this.'"
The following Christmas, his friend's dad bought him a homebrew kit. And now he's been part of opening six different breweries.
Scott Johnson, who traveled to the United Kingdom a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s for business, said he "was blown away with the interesting variety and style of some of the high-end Belgian breweries." He couldn't name just one, but said Chimay and Duvel were among the Belgian beers, and English real ales got him hooked, too.