Wooden Hill Brewing

Edina’s first brewery is officially open! Check out the feature I wrote about it for City Pages.

A few adapted excerpts from the article: 

Wooden Hill Brewing, a brewery and taproom from brothers James Ewen (27) and Sean Ewen (31), brings a new meaning to the phrase family-owned business.

The Ewen siblings’ journey into craft beer began on James’ 21st birthday, when his older brother gave him a home brewing kit. Unlike many aspiring home brewers, James’ first instinct was not to dive right in, but rather to spend the weekend thoroughly researching the equipment and potential recipes before touching it. His scientific approach eventually became a trademark of his process and a factor in his ability to scale from a small homebrew system to a 10-barrel brewhouse with (relative) ease.

As James works in the brewhouse, Sean is responsible for the brewery on the business side of things. Right now, he’s working to minimize the Wooden Hill’s carbon footprint with measures such as installing an electric car charging station, converting to wind energy, and using LED lights throughout the taproom and brewhouse.

The Ewen brothers aim to keep their beer approachable to people who have yet to foray into craft beer. Styles such as a Kölsch and a mild Saison are tame and drinkable, which make them an easy addition to the tap lineup. James also included multiple IPAs as a way to showcase the flavor variety hops create, a smooth Nitro Stout to introduce dark beers to the palate, and a line of culinary beers such as a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-inspired Brown Ale. (To note, it really does taste like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.)

The taproom itself is open, light, and minimalist. Bright pops of color distinguish the space from the sports bars that nearby residents might be familiar with. Intentional design is clear, from booths arranged to encourage a natural line formation down to the floor plan flow allowing pallets to be moved from storage, through the brewhouse, and into the taproom cooler.

That’s not to say the taproom is too formulaic. Colorful, bold art hangs around the space, and refinished spools function as tables. If beer drinkers pause to take in the more subtle design, they’ll notice the step-like hanging bulbs above several tables, an homage to the brewery’s name, which comes from the expression “Up the wooden hill.” It was a phrase the brothers’ grandfather used the phrase when it was time to go up the stairs to bed, a quirk that stuck with them into adulthood. Subtle staircase elements are built into the brand, always a reminder of familial beginnings.

When I asked James and Sean for advice, each offered something different, but complementary.

James, the brewer and the younger of the two, told me, “One step at a time. That really pulls you through and gets you through repetitive days.” In fact, he believes so strongly in this advice that he wrote into wet cement in the brewery.

Sean, the entrepreneur, told me, “Always try to innovate. That applies to your career and business, but also to life. You don’t have to accept the norms everybody else does, especially when so many people say they’re unhappy.”

Together, the brothers offer a perspective of balance, of change and stability. Your life path will never be entirely stable and comfortable, nor will it be entirely filled with change and excitement, nor do you want it to be either of those things. The goal should be fulfillment, and sometimes that means trudging through the long days of work to achieve something truly innovative.



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