You created a beverage, but you don’t know if the recipe is going to work in large-scale production and you don’t know how to market it. Heck, you don’t even know if people are going to like it.
So, you take it to the The Lab.
Newly opened in St. Paul by beverage development and operations solutions provider BevSource, The Lab is an interactive taproom and experimental brew and fermentation facility that intends to capitalize on the recent proliferation of local drink startups. Located in a renovated portion of the Court & Case Building, The Lab features a family-friendly all-inclusive taproom up front, and contains test facilities in back, where beverage creators can pilot and test concoctions of beer, kombucha, tea, cider, hard soda, energy drinks, sparkling water, even children’s drinks.
While large and mid-sized breweries and beverage companies can use The Lab’s facilities to test new ingredients, flavors, or recipes, BevSource expects the vast majority of its users to be new startups, says Adam Smith, business development and production manager.
Usually, larger producers only have large-capacity barrels, leading to excess waste when testing a new product, while many startup brewers are stuck using inconsistent and finicky homebrew systems.
The Lab’s seven-barrel professional brewing system, however, allows creators from all backgrounds to reduce risk by brewing in small, high-quality batches. This low-risk system essentially provides “beer insurance” for those who brew at The Lab, protecting them from excessive financial loss or total failure.
The Lab’s team also helps ensure product quality and consistency through analytic, microbiological, and quality assurance testing. While there are plenty of other laboratories that can test and provide samples of beverages, those samples usually come in unbranded and unattractive packaging, Smith says. The Lab works with founders to create polished labeling and packaging that’s ready for presentation to potential investors.
Beverage prototypes created in-house at The Lab can be anonymously sold on tap—via a self-serving pour wall—or in bottles or cans in the taproom. Visitors can taste the latest beverages and provide feedback, unbiased by brand, via the Untapped app. That data is passed on to drink creators.
“If you come in with an idea and produce here, we’ll tell you whether or not it’s going to work,” Smith says. “Then you can go into [investor] meetings with confidence and say, ‘It looks good. It tastes good. It’s going to be good when we produce it.’”
Beverage startups can also benefit from hands-on training by industry experts at The Lab. Gerri Kustelski, a chemist for Hamm’s and Summit Brewing Company who’s been in the beer industry for more than 50 years, and Matt Hall, former long-time brew master at Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewing and multi-medal winner in the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival, are among the local veterans The Lab has rounded up to educate new founders.
Everyone’s trying to get into the beverage game today, says Hall, The Lab’s director of pilot services and innovation. “As competition grows, the makers and creators need their beverages to be perfected, which is why The Lab makes sense as a versatile and state-of-the-art resource. We want to be a partner in exploration and creation and raise expectations when it comes to quality and innovation while keeping things accessible.”
While the process can be tailored and cost depends on level of help needed, Smith estimates it will cost a drink start-up around $6,500 to work at The Lab, plus the cost of raw materials. But revenue generated from sales at The Lab’s taproom can help cover associated fees, Hall says.
The Lab has the capacity to run about 600 barrels of product a year.