New Head Brewer

meet james

James Birnie has already begun working in his new role as head brewer for Excelsior Brewing Company. Before joining the team in Excelsior, he worked as the lead brewer and cellarman at Summit Brewing in St. Paul. Given his background, he brings a new perspective to the operation.

“With my experience, my background in food science, at Summit, I hope to bring a high level of quality and improve the overall quality and consistency of our product out here,” Birnie said. “I hope to bring all my knowledge and, hopefully, improve process and, of course, I’m going to get to make a bunch of new recipes and get some fresh beer on in the taproom too.”

“James is perhaps the number one draft pick in the region when it comes to brewing talent ready to lead a production brewery,” Patrick Foss, Excelsior Brewing Company partner, said in a submission to the Sun Sailor. “We are thrilled to welcome him to the Excelsior family.”

Birnie’s educational background also lends itself to the brewing process. He studied food science and technology at Oregon State University.

“The wide array of schooling I did, in addition to having that background of biology and chemistry to actually dealing with yeast and the biochemical reactions that happen during the brewing process, it really helps with the problem-solving aspect of working in a brewery and constantly dealing with little things that crop up,” Birnie said.

His passion for brewing grew from his work as a bartender.

“After high school, I didn’t go to college right away and I was bartending and that’s when kind of the craft beer scene started to get interesting. Being that I was serving it all the time, I got some curiosity and I began sampling some of the finer beverages that I was pouring and I thought it was cool and interesting.” Birnie said. “I started homebrewing and that interest quickly turned into a passion. I kind of determined that I wanted to make my life’s work out of brewing, I was really passionate about it.”

Birnie enjoys being part of the Minnesota brewing scene and believes some of the best brewing is taking place in the state.

“I think there are a lot of breweries in Minnesota making world-class beer and I think it’s pretty evident by the brewing community in how much it’s gotten big,” Birnie said. “I think we’re right there on par with some of the big states that produce the best beer.”

Due to the size difference between Excelsior Brewing Company and Summit Brewing, Birnie will have his hands in a lot of areas of the business.

“Not that I didn’t do a lot of things at Summit, but I’m going to be doing a lot of quality assurance as well as packaging, in addition to brewing and cellar work, as well as managing and also going out and meeting with distributors and doing sales-type stuff,” Birnie said. “Getting my hands on everything from raw ingredients to going up and meeting with people in the taproom, talking to the locals, talking to the mug club members and just getting feedback from them, giving everyone a face to the new beer that’s coming in.”

Before experimenting with new recipes, he’s focusing on learning. The brewery comes equipped with a three and a half barrel pilot system that will serve as a project lab to test recipes.

“Right now my focus is to just learn how everything works and get the big brewhouse up and running before I hop over here,” Birnie said. “This is going to be like the little project lab up here, it’s really going to fuel all the innovation for the taproom and for distribution as well. It’s going to be fun, I know a lot of the locals have been wanting a little bit more of a rotating tap list, it’s going to be a chance for us to showcase our talents a little bit more.”

Birnie has already begun to get to know members of the Excelsior community.

“It’s a real tight-knit community, every time you come into the taproom you’re going to meet somebody that comes in here pretty regularly, so I’ve met a couple of the people,” Birnie said. “We have great relationships with a lot of the businesses around here. Getting to be a part of that is pretty cool.”

Birnie is looking ahead to showcasing some of Excelsior Brewing Company’s beer at major brewing festivals coming to Minneapolis.

“There’s the World Brewing Congress, which is a joint venture between the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the Master Brewing Association, so they’re holding a big convention here, so it’s going to be a big opportunity for Minnesota brewers to showcase their ability and passion for craft beer on a national level,” Birnie said.

Follow the Sun Sailor on Facebook at james

Halloween candy…for adults

Trick or treat?   We say treat.   Whether your handing out candy, or dressing up for a party, make sure to have your treats in hand.  RipRap Peanut Butter Cup Stout is a light bodied stout with nearly a 1/2 pound of Peanut Butter Cups in each keg!  We place the cups in a giant tea bag and soak them in the beer for 72 hours.  The result is a creamy, peanut butter treat.

Available at fine bars and restaurants, 6 packs and The Dock Box Sampler at liquor stores.  Also available in the taproom!

Riprap Halloween poster

Liter Holding Contest


liter holding



Test your strength and win beer prizes! 

Friday 10/4:           630pm

Saturday 10/5:      3pm & 630pm 

$10 Donation to enter    SIGN UP HERE


First place

Excelsior Brewing Company Baseball Hat

Docktoberfest Stein

2 free pints in your new Docktoberfest Stein

30 day membership at Anytime Fitness

Bragging rights for the rest of the day

Second place

2 Free Pints from Excelsior Brewing Company

A chance to try again on Saturday


All proceeds directly benefit the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation in memory of  Greg Riebe.   Sign up for the Riebe Run 5k on 10/12

riebe run logo mplsheartLiter holding


Brought to you  by Anytime Fitness





Black Friday Gift: XL Brew Club Membership

You spend enough time in the taproom already, let’s make this union official.  The 2019 XL Brew Club is accepting new members beginning on Black Friday.  It is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Black Friday can be a grind.

Your only options are to stay locked in your house to endure more family drama, or set your alarm for the buttcrack of dawn and get trampled at a Walmart as you scrum for a $100 flat screen.  Thankfully this year can be different.

Head on down to the brewery to pick up an XL Brew Mug Club membership for 2019.  It’s the best gift of the year.

While it may be limited edition, we promise no jujitsu is required to secure it.  Moreover every purchase comes with a cool hat for yourself, a cold beer and a legit excuse to leave your brother-in-law at home.

It’s the triple threat of the holiday season.

Membership Details

For only one Ben Franklin ($100) you can become an EBC VIP and start your year off right with features like:

  • A free pint with purchase
  • A stylish mug—what’s a king without his chalice?
  • 20 oz beers for the price of a 16 oz for all of 2019—that means 10 beers for the price of eight (that’s one helluva Tuesday night)
  • An exclusive Mug Club Cap—a slick subtle design for members only
  • Membership card— time to class up that velcro wallet
  • $2 Growlers (except Tuesdays)—so you can take the party off site occasionally
  • 10% off regular merchandise—buy a civilian cap so you can rotate those lids
  • A certificate for your wall—suitable for framing, it’ll look great next to that Heather Locklear poster
  • Stickers for your bike of fridge—give the kids something beer-themed to play with
  • Exclusive Mug Club Events 4x per year*- social media brag opportunities galore
  • Exclusive Mug Club Beers**- limited edition elixirs from Niles’ secret stash (the beer one anyway)
  • VIP Access to Tent Parties when applicable—Cut the line like 1%er, leaving the commoners in your wake

We are offering only 200 Mug Club Memberships for 2019, so come on down Friday once the leftovers are cold and you grow weary of Aunt Edna’s political rants.

You just might run into a dozen of your old high school friends– who will no doubt lament what a townie you’ve become…albeit a townie with a sweet hat.

Photo taken with Focos Mug Club Hat Final

 *Quarterly XL Brew Club events feature guest speakers, musicians, games, complimentary snacks & often the release of a new beer.  Each event will be a mystery and event details only to be revealed at arrival.

**Occasionally we will release beers early to members only during regular taproom hours.  Only members can get the beer on that day.

2019 Memberships on sale Black Friday

2019 Memberships on sale Black Friday

Grinches Beware– Chriskindlmarkt Returns

It’s Chriskindlmarkt, the return of the traditional German celebration that few can pronounce, less can spell, but all ages can enjoy. This year with crafts, evening bonfires, s’more bar and live music, Friday through Sunday at 10am 11/23-11/25. 

The preeminent fall event for families is back.  Here are the top five reasons you should plan to stop by Friday – Sunday beginning November 23rd.

Top Five Reasons to Chriskindlmarkt

#5- S’mores—hit our s’more bar featuring a seasonal brew with a graham cracker rimmed glass and a marshmallow inside.  Is this dessert or beer?  Yes, yes it is.

#4- St Nick & Reindeer– if you need to shore up a belief in the fat man, seeing is believing.  Rumor is that Santa will be here and he may be bringing reindeer.  This can quell the harshest skeptic, even if it is you.

#3- Nightly Bonfires– few scenes are as cozy and romantic as snuggling beside a roaring bonfire.  It helped spindly Daniel LaRusso impress a young Elizabeth Shue, it just might work for you.

#2 All Ages Fun– even the music offers age diversity.  The 70s Magic Sunshine band can make anyone smile Saturday night and you can put on your dancing shoes with a swing band at noon.  No one can Charleston like Klicker, no one.

#1- Socially Acceptable Day Drinking—we open at 10am each and every day of Chriskindlmarkt.  Put the kids to work on crafts and load up on some holiday spirit… 20 oz at a time.

Kick your holiday season off right with a visit to CHRISKINDLMARKT.  A full schedule of events is below.


EBC Wake Logo

Peanut Butter Cups and Beer- Together at last

Our RipRap Peanut Butter Cup Stout brings together two fall favorites—our stout and your favorite chocolate treat.  The result is a mashup for the ages—now in six-packs and kegs.

Everyone loves a good mashup.

You take two things you like, combine them and see if they work together. It is a shortcut to greatness in the 21st century.  Oh sure, you occasionally get a dud like Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, but you also have the chance at something truly epic–like Ray Parker Jr and AC/DC collaborating for Halloween awesomeness.

The good news is that another epic mashup for fall has just arrived in six-packs.

RipRap Email V3Final



RipRap Product pic

RipRap Peanut Butter Cup Stout

It’s RipRap Peanut Butter Cup Stout –featuring all of the full-bodied taste of our popular stout, infused with the subtle roasty sweetness of peanut butter cups. Together they create the perfect elixir to fuel your Halloween parties, bonfires and other autumnal fun.

The brew is the brainchild of Head Brewer Niles Lewin who had enough leftover candy after Halloween last year to brew a ½ pound per keg into one of our most popular beers.  The result is a hit in our taproom and has been so successful that we’re rolling out six-packs– just in time for Halloween.

Also available in half barrel and sixth barrel kegs, the brew is perfect as a post trick-or-treat “recovery drink” for tired parental chaperones, or as an accompaniment to your costume party.

Rip Rap

The new stout is named after rip rap, the rock and rubble used on the shorelines of a lake to prevent erosion.  Rip rap serves as an important firewall to protect a lake’s delicate ecosystem.  It’s namesake brew can serve as your firewall to enjoy the autumn season and stave off winter for a bit.

So join us in holding winter at bay a little while longer, grab a sixer and embrace fall with a mashup for the ages.

Tale of the Tape: Docktoberfest vs Oktoberfest

Docktoberfest Oct 6-8


Docktoberfest Vs. Oktoberfest

The annual harvesting of the docks is a serious business, requiring one epic party to celebrate.

Docktoberfest is that party and runs from October 6th -8th , featuring music, food and of course beers for the preeminent celebration of fall.

It has come to our attention that there is a similarly named party that takes place in Germany around the same time.  This has led to some confusion as this other party is has gained in popularity, rivaling even that of Docktoberfest.

We’d like to put that confusion to rest by clarifying a few key points.


Docktoberfest vs Oktoberfest– which is better?

Quantity vs Quality

Oktoberfest is an 18-day event that technically starts in September (!) and somehow is spelled with a K. Konfusing no?

Docktoberfest distills the revelry into a tight three days, all of which actually take place in October.  It’s all the fun, with 6x less hangovers and 100% less plane tickets.

Advantage: Docktoberfest


Oktoberfest originated in 1810 and commemorates the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig. (Yay Wikipedia!)  It was a wedding Ludwig committed to for about five minutes before beginning several affairs that kept him occupied when he wasn’t busy running Bavaria into the ground.   He was later forced to abdicate the throne after “Beer Riots in Bavaria”.  Note to self: this would be a fantastic band name.

Docktoberfest dates all the way back to 2012 and celebrates the harvesting of the docks on Lake Minnetonka.  This is an annual event that no one named Ludwig partakes in, in any capacity.  Excelsior Brewing also has no Wikipedia entry to date, so all of our scandals are only available on the dark web.

Advantage: Docktoberfest



Docktoberfest features beers brewed in the German tradition. These include Docktoberfest Märzen, Bitteschlappe German Brown Ale, Portside Pilsner, Helios Hefeweizen, and Saucy Kate Kolsch.

Oktoberfest features German beer brewed by actual Germans.

Advantage: Oktoberfest


World Wars

Oktoberfest takes place in Germany, currently sitting with a lifetime record of 0-2 in World Wars.

Docktoberfest takes place in the US of A. Undefeated and Undisputed at 2-0.

Advantage: Docktoberfest



Oktoberfest is embraced worldwide with celebrations in all corners of the globe, including something called Lacrosse in a state where macaroni and cheese counts as a vegetable.

Docktoberfest is ours and ours alone.  It celebrates the rich history of Lake Minnetonka, Excelsior and Minnesota.  A community so bad ass that here the Super Bowl is a home game.

Advantage: Docktoberfest


As you can see Docktoberfest checks in with a massive 4-1 thrashing of that other fall beer festival with the spelling problem. With 12 bands, incredible food and beer, Docktoberfest is truly a party for the ages.

Join us in our massive tent and treat yourself to the rager that marks the center of our events calendar.

It all starts at 4pm on Friday October 6th and runs through Sunday, so pull your dock, it’s time to rock.

Docktoberfest Details

Bass Fishing Tourney 7/22/2017

The Hunt for BASSquatch: Tourney July 22nd

Bass Tourney July 22nd 2017

Registration is now open for The first annual DH Custom & Excelsior Brewing Lake Minnetonka Bass Tournament to be held Saturday, July 22nd.

Why a bass fishing tourney you ask? Because none of the other species of fish stack up.

• Sunnies are essentially the light beer of the lake. They are easy to find and you can hammer as many in a sitting as you like. They are less than exciting and only satisfying for the naïve.

• Walleye are more like fine wine. They taste great, but typically are only out when the sun goes down and before sunup. Both are beloved by connoisseurs and pacifists alike because they have no real fight in them.

• Perch are like an umbrella drink. Sure, they look exotic, but you wouldn’t consume one if you had an alternative. No one sets out in pursuit of either, it just sometimes happens.

• Musky remind us of 12-year-old scotch. Tough to get your hands on, only good when aged. They are a one-off we aspire to for a special occasion.

That leaves bass. What makes bass so special? Because they are exactly like our customers.

• Have large mouths

• Are territorial

• Fight when provoked

• Eat even when not hungry

• Hang out in groups by docks

Face it, if bass had legs they’d be in our taproom BS-ing about the Vikings. Clearly they are the only species of fish worthy of the EBC name.

So find a few buddies, grab your crankbait and get in the game. Registration for the Bass Tournament is now open, spots are $300 per boat and going fast.

Five for Five: Beerthday Wisdom

5th Beerthday

After five years of brewing great beer, we’ve seen a lot–and we’ve learned even more. On the eve of our 5th Beerthday we’d share five “lessons learned” from our first half decade.

Five Lessons from Five Years at Excelsior Brewing

1. If you can only have one beer on tap, make it malt liquor!

When we opened in 2012, we had a few kinks to work out of our brewing system. Kinks that led to an inaugural batch of surprisingly tasty and shockingly potent beer. Bridge Jumper was born and fueled a legendary grand opening for the ages (that no one who drank it remembers).

What this taught us: Only bust out the good stuff for special occasions. Like our fifth Beerthday weekend July 1st, where we are resurrecting original Bridge Jumper for a limited time run.

2. If you build it they will come… even if it is a work in progress

Who would go to a taproom with plastic lawn chairs, no TV and a single bathroom?

Turns out an s-load of people, that’s who.

Prior to our taproom expansion in 2014, that was our value proposition. And yet, people came in such droves that we were forced to more than double our space and seriously up our interior design game.

We added an expansive bar, actual furniture, an outdoor seating area and the novelty of separate bathrooms! It’s still the same five conversations every night, but now they’re happening in a great atmosphere.

What this taught us: Great beer is vital, but what makes this brewery unique is our patrons.

3. The DNR is pretty bad ass

Turns out if you make beer out of zebra mussels and milfoil, you get a ton of media attention. Unfortunately the DNR guys also noticed and harvesting invasive species without a permit is illegal.

What this taught us: You can’t pay a DNR fine in beer. So if you enter our bass tourney on July 22nd, buy a fishing license!

4. Beer lovers are diverse

People show up at the taproom for any number of reasons. It could be the great beer or because we’re dog friendly or bike accessible. Maybe they love our live music, cribbage, yoga, the farmer’s market or myriad other event offerings. The thing is that once they come, they always come back. Even at 2pm on a Tuesday (!) .

What this taught us: What brings you here isn’t important, but what makes you stay is. To that end we offer great beer an awesome location and friendly staff.

5. Everyone wants in

Perhaps the best lesson in five years of brewing beer is that EVERYONE wants to help. This applies when you are building out a taproom, staffing said taproom, constructing a website or anything else.

For a pint and a handshake people will bust their tail for you just to be able to be a part of a collaboration like this.

What this taught us: The Lake Minnetonka community is a special place. We already knew it, but it has been reinforced a million times in a million ways.

To thank you for being a part of it and in honor of your commitment to us, we’d like to invite you to our Beerthday Party on Saturday, July 1st. We’ll not only celebrate the memories, but to begin to build some new ones. We’ll have

· Live music from Bitter Roots, Sonically Speaking and Ipso Facto · A 5k road race

· Original Bridge Jumper on tap

· A few surprises

In lieu of gifts we ask that you bring a canned food item for ICA food shelf.

Join us, it won’t be the same without you. Together we can work to make our next five years even better.