During his time as a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic, Grand Rounds Brewing Co. head brewer Steve Finnie was involved in weekly meetings with his fellow healthcare professionals.
“It’s what happens in any medical institution; on a weekly basis medical professionals get together to discuss a case and to learn from one another,” Finnie says, noting that he worked at Mayo for 15 years. “They get together to discuss and learn, talk, communicate. And that’s what this is,” Finnie continues while looking around the Grand Rounds brewpub from a circular table in the corner of the downtown business.
“You don’t have to be a doctor, you can be a farmer, anyone, just sit around a table and discuss,” he continues. “And I always think, over a few beers you can solve the world’s problems, or you can solve a lot of problems.
“Being from Scotland, that’s the premise of the pub: it’s the public house, a place where you can go, chat in a friendly environment with people.”
As much as he loves Facebook’s power to connect those around the world, Finnie says he also hates how it pushes people to keep a phone in front of their faces. He wants people to get back in touch with each other.
“Community—that’s really what it’s all about,” Finnie beams as he explains his vision of what Grand Rounds is promoting.
It’s easy to spot Finnie at a beer fest; he’s the guy wearing the kilt. But it’s not just for kicks: Finnie’s accent will confirm what you’ve guessed–he does indeed hail from Europe.
His homeland’s penchant for pubs, as well as his adopted country’s bustling pub scene, has helped shape Finnie’s vision for Grand Rounds as much as his medical background.
This essence of community was especially important when he arrived on the east coast of America with a backpack and suitcase, quickly finding ways to connect with people.
“I’ve just met so many great people, and met so many great people in pubs and bars—not saying that I was drinking lots of alcohol—it’s just saying it’s a forum to meet people,” he says.
“And everyone has a story, and everyone’s got stuff going on. I just love meeting people and hearing what they’ve gone through.”
Grand Rounds aims to be that pub for Rochester. With Finnie’s beer as the catalyst for conversation, the brewpub shouldn’t have a problem with coaxing visitors into getting to know each other a little better.
Sure, there may be USB outlets nestled under the bar table, but Finnie says to plug in your phone, put it down, order a pint, and talk to someone.
Resurrecting the Brewpub
When Finnie moved to Rochester 18 years ago, there actually was a brewpub, but it’s just a memory now.
“Maybe it was a little bit before it’s time,” Finnie laments.
Reviving the brewpub scene gives Finnie a great sense of achievement, and the business has done well.
Many have helped contribute to that success, such as Tessa Leung, owner of the site’s previous business and Finnie’s business partner, as well as the servers and chefs. In fact, the chefs have done so well that the cheese curds are possibly the best in Minnesota–possibly better than any deep-fried curd you can get in neighboring Wisconsin, king of the cheese curd.
And if you’re not convinced, at least you can wash it all down with a KA Minnesota Kolsch. Finnie uses honey from local producers, The Bee Shed, in his “gateway” beer, but there’s nothing entry-level about it. It’s just a damn fine beer, and possibly the best interpretation of the style in the state.
It is just one of the beers Finnie creates with his seven-barrel brewing system, the biggest system he could fit into the old bank building, which Finnie estimates is around 150 years old.
“The question is, will seven barrels be big enough?” Finnis asks. So far the taps have been flowing quite steadily. Finnie’s had to hire an assistant brewer, and he’s already brewing one-offs—like Mexican Mocha, a chocolate stout infused with serrano and jalapeno peppers and cinnamon—and infusing his main line of beers to create new sensations for Rochester’s imbibers. Crowlers, canned versions of growlers (jugs filled with beer at the taproom that you then take home to enjoy), will soon be available to the public.
There’s a reason the beer has been a hit: Grand Rounds is the culmination of 15 years of homebrewing. Finnie recalls how he began brewing with a friend to make something different to drink than what was available in Rochester at the time (hint: not much).
“He’s a scientist, so the first time we ever brewed it was kind of cool, fun, stupid maybe, but he had the lab coats, so we dressed up,” Finnie recalls.
The past three to five years is when Finnie began to get serious, with the last year and a half seeing him approach Leung with a business plan for a three-barrel taproom.
Leung had already tried Finnie’s coconut stout concoction in the past. It must have left a mark, because Leung wanted more.
“I was on holiday in Scotland at the time, taking a well-earned break from my job… and I really needed a break,” Finnie explains. “So we went back to Scotland for a month. It was great, but right before I left they broke the news to me, which was good news—why not turn the whole place into a brewpub?”
That was in July of 2014, meaning he had to ramp up planning.
Luckily he had a great location to work with, and he completed preparation in 10 months.
Finnie sums up the relationship: “She has the business savvy; I bring the beer.”
On Rochester’s Beer Scene
When speaking with Finnie, something becomes evident: Northeast Minneapolis has left a mark on him. It’s where places like Dangerous Man Brewing and Indeed Brewing have set up shop, along with many other breweries.
It’s that section of Minneapolis that Finnie would like Rochester to emulate, at least in some ways.
“I want to create a community where people will share ideas, knowledge, gypsum, and supplies,” Finnie says. “When you look at Northeast Minneapolis, it’s great. Those guys are helping each other out.”
He began that camaraderie by inviting head brewers from Rochester’s Kinney Creek, LTS, and Forager to attend a soft opening [pictured in our featured image], as well as brewer Dave Weinhold of Wenonah Brewing from Winona, Minn., a city 43 miles away.
The Endgame of Grand Rounds
Finnie says there is only one goal in making beer—to make it good.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he proclaims.
He goes on excitedly about how brewing is steeped in history, how a saison was light enough for farmers in France to drink, so that they could go back to work after a beer or two. He then jumps into how people nowadays, people like him, are then able to put their own spin on these historical recipes to make something of their own.
“Making beer is like the best creative process every, right?,” Finnie asks rhetorically. “You have grains and hops, those basic ingredients…”
He trails off, his excitement palpable and mind jumping to new ways to express just how much he loves brewing, beer, and what it can accomplish inside of Grand Rounds.
If you’re ever in town, grab a pint, set your phone down, and learn about your neighbor. It’s possible you just might solve the world’s problems–and you’ll definitely enjoy great beer.