Clockwerks Brewing: The Unpredictable Art of Brewing Beer
- Words By Colby Wegter, Photos By Ben Lundsten - As an avid homebrewer, brewing out of necessity makes sense to me. Not necessarily the act, but certainly the sentiment. But for those of you who don’t know, a typical batch of homebrewed beer is five gallons. You can often brew that much beer in your own home for a total of 30 bucks. Which boils down to less than a dollar a beer. In beer I get it. In conserving money I get it.
Clockwerks Brewing was born out of this line of thinking. You see, Lonnie and Brett brewed beer in college. Out of necessity.
From the beginning of the conversation with owners Lonnie Manresa and Brett Michlitsch of the newly opened Clockwerks Brewing, I felt a kindred spirit. Lonnie learned how to brew from his father, a pioneer in his age, where he was one of only a handful of homebrewers. Nowadays, there are millions of them, but back then, Lonnie was the number one beer assistant to one of a prideful few.
Brewing out of necessity came from Brett. Like myself, he was also broke in college. Brett has an analytical mind. He’s known Lonnie and his father since he was a kid and by the time he got to college, he did the math on how to imbibe and it meant doing it yourself.
Back in college, or as Lonnie cheekily says, in high school, you’d drink whatever you could get your hands on when it came to beer. Tiny budgets and a less than cultured beer scene didn’t really allow the two lifelong friends much choice. But as I got into talking with Lonnie about how they started in the now booming craft beer business, he explains how instrumental his father’s influence was in bringing their love for beer further—into a vocation.
“That’s how I developed a palate for beer,” Lonnie says with an agreeing nod from Brett.
In fact, it was Lonnie’s father who gave Brett his first pony kegs and regulator, the devices to help Brett finally feed his scientific mind and ramp up his brewing process. It was those first days in college that got him going. “For like 30 dollars, I could have five gallons of beer. Y’know your first few batches are whatever. You typically have success in your second batch and you’re like, ‘Wow! That’s palatable.’ Then you have a problem you have to figure out and then you work that out and then you get better and better over time,” he says.
“Brett’s been brewing consistently for over 15 years,” chimes in Lonnie.
“15, yeah,” Brett says back, looking down at the ground with his arms crossed, the expression on his face exuding how quickly time flies.
And indeed it has for these two.
For years, what was becoming a hobby for men and women all over the country was already rooted in obsession for Brett and Lonnie. They’d sampled beers all over, crafted their own recipes, brewed, tinkered and tailored to what they wanted, and what their friends would happily enjoy.
When it came down to it, the law was what really put the cogs in motion to make Clockwerks a reality. “After the Dangerous Man and Surly Bill got passed… we sat down and started making our business plan and thought maybe this is an option... so we went and got all our numbers and then went back and reworked it a couple times and said, ‘Wow, this looks like a totally viable business plan,’” Brett explains.
With the numbers locked in, they went around and shopped the idea all over town. With the expectation for angel investors, they quickly realized how excited their friends and family were about the idea. “We approached friends and family and they all wanted to be equity owners. They all said, ‘No, we don’t want to be angel investors. We want to own a piece of it.’ We thought, ‘They’re in it for the long haul.’ So that’s what we did.”
The idea was solid, the business plan steady, but what lied ahead for the duo took all the determination and grit they had. For two years, from one bank to another, Lonnie and Brett were realizing this was purely their dream, or at least completely on their shoulders to see it through. Over and over, bank to bank, they weren’t getting the loan they were seeking. Their business plan and figures weren’t even getting looked over at a few of them. Annoyance ensued. Finally, they found a match in a bank who had supported other breweries in the Twin Cities and their dream was on a road to reality.
Scouting a place came next. Both of them decided the location had to be downtown Minneapolis. There was a history there that needed their personal carving. While video games and beer were always commonalities amongst them, they really found a passion in music and would often come down to First Avenue, as kids, to watch concerts. “We said if we can’t find a space downtown, we’ll be done. We’ll fold it up and be done,” Brett says. But they found the perfect location in what was previously City Billiards. With a bar already in place, a basement to put in the larger tanks and a loading dock to bring the ingredients in, it was perfect.
“Where does the stress come from this job?” I ask, “because neither of you strike me as people who stress.”
“What I tell people is I’m in a constant state of shock,” Lonnie says. “This whole process has included so many fire drills and bombs dropped on us that yeah, we freaked out all the time for years but it gets to the point where it’s like, OK, it’s going to happen. We’ll figure it out. What’s next? A constant state of shock like ‘Oh, what happened? The place is on fire? OK, we’ll figure it out.’” “We’ll get some fire extinguishers and put it out,” says Brett laughing.
“It’s interesting you say that,” Lonnie says. “We’re so stressed out that we’re just numb.”
They both laugh.
“The stress putting this together over the last six years was unpredictable for one,” says Lonnie. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we’ve overcome all the obstacles. There’s still an amazing amount to think about everyday. There is so much on our shoulders and so many people counting on us. It’s a hell of an obligation.” There’s a brief smile.
A genuine one.
The obligation is real for them both. Lonnie has experience in the service industry and will ensure the house is humming. Brett has the scientific background and will be putting together what he hopes will be creative, finessed and enjoyable sessionable beers
A conversation with these two is filled with tons of smiling and laughter.
I ask Lonnie, “I’m sure this is a question you get all the time.”
He quickly fires back with, “I’m single,” and a laugh.
It throws me off in the most delightful way possible. What is more than obvious chatting with them is how fun it all is. No matter how long it took to get a loan. No matter how stressful it is to build up a taproom from scratch. These two will be leaning on their friendship and laughing and having fun the whole way through.
And the taste of the beer will simply follow.