All Good in the Wood: 612Brew Kicks Off Special Release Series

612 Brew co-founder Robert Kasak poses nicely with a beer at his taproom in Northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota

Surely you’ve been to Minneapolis’ 612Brew by now, had a pint of Unrated, maybe two pints, maybe gotten a little handsy with the brewery owners, maybe a third pint, maybe taken a few poorly-thought-out selfies under that big ‘CITY’ sign in that hallway outside the back entrance. Unrated is 612Brew’s rye IPA, their number-one selling beer since the brewery opened their doors. At their taproom, you can have all the Unrated your mortal coil can handle. Then, you can have one or two more.

Oh, and have you heard there’s an oak-aged Unrated now?

It’s true: on the bright side of Friday’s miserable commute home was the release of oak-aged Unrated. It’s the first installment of their wood-aging series, quaintly called The Woods. It’s their first such series. While this program is a bit of a late-bloomer in brewery years – 612Brew turns five in February – co-owner Robert Kasak says 10 “Woods” in total are coming over the next year.

Kasak assigned credit for the project to his head brewer, Austin Myhran.

“When Austin got promoted to head brewer, we gave him the reins to do whatever he wants,” says Kasak. “He bought a bunch of barrels, a bunch of racks, came up with this idea, and bought the bottles.”

Myhran came to 612Brew in 2014, after a year at Chicagoland’s Flossmoor Station. Myhran pointed out to us a wide-ranging collection of barrels, from popular names like Maker’s Mark to an aquavit barrel and a sauvignon blanc barrel that’s been aging tequila. They didn’t reveal their specific plans for these barrels, but Myhran said he and fellow brewer Mike Willaford plan to explore avenues of barrel-aging that aren’t as well traveled.

“It’s something to advance our offerings here,” says Myhran, “take some of our existing beers and do something different with them, as well as build a foundation for putting out new beers within our existing program.”

Unrated stands as Exhibit A.

“A wood-aged IPA is something that not a lot of people do, and for good reason,” says Myhran, “A lot of times, hoppy beers – especially if they’re dry-hopped, or a lot of late hop additions – they can get really oxidized and stale, but we sort of designed [Unrated’s recipe] around the idea that we were going to age it on wood. We took our existing rye IPA recipe, [and] tweaked it a little bit to sort of compliment the oak-aging.”

A bottle of 612 Brew Unrated on a wood countertop with a barrel in the background at the 612 Brew taproom in Northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota

Part of that tweak involved making a beer able to withstand four transfers during the brew process. For clarity’s sake, Unrated was not barrel-aged. After primary fermentation, this batch was transferred into a brite tank to age with white oak staves, then transferred back into a fermenter to dry-hop, then transferred back into the brite tank, THEN kegged and bottled.

That kind of movement is risky business, says Kasak.

“That’s where you get a lot of dissolved oxygen pickup,” he says. “Any time you move a beer, you have a lot more possibility of picking up more dissolved oxygen (DO). Unless you’re really careful, DO is a beer-killer.

“You don’t want your beer to taste like cardboard, not when you put this much time and effort into it.”

No such worries with the oak-aged Unrated. The oak character adds a nice extra dimension, but it’s fundamentally the same Unrated that so often kicks off shenanigans. It’s got a color very similar to that of a saxophone I had back in the day, and a big ol’ head to match. It’s a powerful beer. It’s 8% alcohol by volume, and is not sneaky about it.

Unrated has undergone two major changes since its original life as Rated R when 612Brew first began. One of them was Myhran’s rework when he took the reins as head brewer; the other, of course, was the name.

What was once known as Rated R needed some edits after Kasak and his team attempted to trademark that name. They were met with … shall we say, a sub-optimal plot twist from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The MPAA has the word ‘Rated’ trademarked, and Kasak says they didn’t really care how different the craft beer and movie industries were.

“I said, ‘We’ll probably win this in court,” Kasak recalls, “and they said, ‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll win it, but we’ve got a lot more money and we can keep it tied up in litigation a lot longer.’ And I went ‘Ah, okay, you got me.’ What am I supposed to do?!”

It took him only one day to figure that out. Now, ‘Unrated’ is trademarked by 612Brew.

“It was simple as that, and we didn’t lose a step with this beer,” says Kasak.

Joining Unrated in The Woods’ kickoff was We Are Trees, a dark saison brewed with pilsen, spelt, rye, a blend of specialty dark malts and aged on white oak. Limited quantities of both new releases are available at the taproom, and select liquor stores this week. You can find more information on 612Brew on their website.

Kaleigh Leingang contributed to this article (whether she’ll admit it or not). A typo was corrected in Mike Willaford’s name shortly after publication.


RELATED: 612 Brew has been featured on the podcast twice in the past. In Episode 7, Kasak explains how he got so f*cking cool and the importance of building an identity that stands out as the craft brewing industry grows; in Episode 34, Myhran looked back on his road from his hometown of Orono, to Chicagoland, and back to the Twin Cities area. 

Yes, I know it’s been three months since a podcast has come out.