St. Paul Lowertown Brewery to Fund Music Education and Instruments for Underprivileged Youth

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During his brilliant career as a conductor, William Eddins has brought together dozens of orchestras to create beautiful music. Now he is preparing a different kind of production. Eddins is behind a start-up brewery that will sell craft beer, with proceeds dedicated to paying for music and instrument lessons for Minnesota kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford.

“Music has taken me around the world. I want to give back to music what it gave me,” Eddins said.

In early 2022, Eddins and his business partner Matt Engstrom will open the MetroNOME brewery in Lower Town St. Paul. The acronym stands for “nurture an exceptional musical education“.

The public service brewery with a social purpose is on the site of the former Birch’s Brewpub, which has never recovered from the COVID-19 shutdown and was forced to close its doors last October.

The pair have just finalized a lease on the 6,600 square foot space in the historic Market House Collaborative building that overlooks the St. Paul Farmers’ Market on one side and the CHS Field on the other.

Once licensed, which they hope will take place by early next year, patrons can sip a cup in the bright dining room. It sits above the brewery where MetroNOME will produce perhaps a dozen varieties of beer, from grinding the grain to fermenting it in giant stainless steel vats. They plan to make their beer available in growlers, crowlers, kegs and cans, sold on site in the auction house and also at local liquor stores and venues that offer music, from classic to country. .

“We’re going to make three or four house beers and then have a seasonal rotation,” said Engstrom, a software vendor. “We’re beer snobs, so I guarantee the beer will be good.”

Friendship and ‘Floyd’

The events of the past year have led men to unexpectedly become beer entrepreneurs with a social conscience.

Eddins and Engstrom met six years ago while coaching their sons’ baseball team, a friendship that solidified over their mutual enjoyment of home brewing, centered in the basement of the Eddins’ home in Prospect Park.

“We had been experimenting and gradually developing for years,” Engstrom said. “We combined our gear and got more adventurous with the hobby.

“And the beer just kept getting better.”

As the pandemic began and Eddins’ journey came to a screeching halt, beer friends had time to start thinking about scaling. Talking about “going commercial” is no longer a joke.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the plan turned into a passion.

“George Floyd could have been me,” Eddins said. “That’s when I said, ‘I have to do something positive.’ I can’t simmer and scream and wait for the government or other people to improve our society, I have to take responsibility.

“And musicians always believe that the answer to any question is music.”

But moving from the basement to a commercial operation takes more than a dream.

Eddins and Engstrom went in search of funding and found enthusiastic support from investors attracted to their idea of ​​brewing and selling beer to complement youth music programs in the Twin Cities. They took the project to several crowdfunding platforms and quickly raised nearly $ 150,000.

“The money has come a lot faster than we thought. A lot of people want to help us make this a reality,” Engstrom said. “So many people are interested in funding the mission, not just funding a brewery.”

“But we have nothing against people who just want to have a beer,” Eddins added.

Closing the funding gap

Eddins saw the transformative power of music in his own life.

He was 5 when he started picking used piano tunes from his family home in Buffalo, NY. His talent led him to the prestigious Eastman School of Music, where he graduated in piano at age 18 and continued driving. Based in Minneapolis for several decades and married to fellow classical musician Jennifer Gerth, he travels overseas to conduct orchestras as guest conductor.

“In my career I have been involved in fundraising for music and believe me it is getting very boring,” he said.

“Minnesota has large arts organizations with outreach programs for young people. They solicit money from private donors, foundations or public funds for the arts. We hope to give them a different stream of income than what they are used to it, ”he said. “We can disrupt the paradigm of how we channel support into the arts.”

There is an urgent need for this support.

In an era of tight budgets, the arts curriculum has been cut in many districts; extracurricular classes and enrichment programs have also been on the chopping block.

While the specific nonprofits that will benefit from MetroNOME have yet to be identified, arts administrators would be happy to have a new source of money to fund their programs.

“The need is real. There is a lack of funding even though there is so much data on the value of music, its importance for brain development and concentration,” said Cléa Galhano, outgoing director of the St Paul Conservatory of Music. The program complements music programs at several public and charter schools in low-income neighborhoods of St. Paul.

“We are raising funds to pay for lessons for children who would not have the opportunity to study in private. Their families know the importance of music but they cannot afford it,” she said. . “Studying music doesn’t mean they have to do it for their profession. Music education will make them a better student and a better employee, no matter what. “

Businessmen at your fingertips

Eddins and Engstrom are active, busy with all aspects of the start-up, from creating the logo to hiring a master brewer to oversee production. They design a hall adjacent to the brasserie as a performance space with state-of-the-art acoustics, to be used for recitals, concerts and special events.

The production of alcohol is a highly regulated process, with local, state and federal rules to be followed. While regulators review MetroNOME’s candidacy, Edstrom will continue to work part-time at his “real job” while Eddins will attend appearances with orchestras on both coasts and regularly visit the University of the Illinois, where he teaches conducting lessons.

Engstrom kept a bar during his college days, and Eddins, like many musicians, worked between concerts in bars and restaurants; Over the past year, he delivered for Door Dash when the coronavirus shutdown canceled his directorship.

Now they are eager to make mid-life career changes in the brewing business.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year and a half, it’s how much we aspire to be with people and do the things that define us,” said Eddin. “People who have nothing in common can come together and identify with the love of music.

“And the love of beer can do the same.”

Freelance writer Kevyn Burger last wrote for Inspired by a Minneapolis family struggling with the aftermath of their Premature stroke in husband and father.

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