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Brittney Mikell still remembers her first beer: a Stella Artois.

Later, as her tastes developed, she would spend hours studying at breweries around the Twin Cities while enrolled as a pharmacy student. When the pandemic hit, she took up home brewing to fill all the free time. Eventually, so captivated by the culture and community around beer, she left the pharmaceutical business behind to become a brewer.

That's when Mikell saw an opportunity. "I woke up at one point after maybe 10 or 15 batches," Mikell said. "I was like wait, what are the Black-owned breweries in the Twin Cities? What are the women-owned breweries in the Twin Cities?"

She knew of at least one brewery owned by women, Urban Growler in St. Paul, as well as Black-owned MetroNOME Brewery in St. Paul's Lowertown and Montgomery Brewing in Montgomery, Minn. But none were owned by a Black woman.

Mikell, 33, has plans to open Bubble Line Brewing Company in St. Paul next year. It will be Minnesota's first Black-woman owned brewery, located in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood, a historic hub of Black residential and business activity.

"Being in these brews and being in these spaces there's rarely anyone that looks like me, both in the people who patronize the brewery and also the people who work there," Mikell said. "Part of this brewery is diversifying the face of craft beer."

Starting with her lengthy study sessions while in pharmacy school, Mikell said she saw how breweries could become "third spaces" — places where people can hang outside their home or work, and where all types could feel comfortable: fellow students, people holding business meetings, and, of course, people there to relax with friends or family.

Of course, it helps if the beer is good. That's where Mikell's pandemic hobby comes in. Brewing became a way to flex both creative and scientific muscles, she said, as she explored flavor combinations and processes. Mikell found that creating different recipes brought her joy. Plus, the beers turned out quite well, she said.

Brittney Mikell works on a tap at La Doña Cervecería.
Brittney Mikell works on a tap at La Doña Cervecería.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

The pull toward beer was finally strong enough that Mikell left pharmacy behind for a job as an assistant brewer at La Doña Cervecería in Minneapolis. She enrolled in a community entrepreneurship program at the University of St. Thomas, where she was paired with student consultants who helped her build and develop a strategy for crowdfunding to open the brewery.

Recent St. Thomas graduate Laila Franklin was one of two students paired with Mikell to work with her on the crowdfunding campaign.

"I was really grateful that I got assigned Brittany, because she's just an amazing human," Franklin said. "Being a woman of color myself, I just found her to be very inspiring with her words and all the things she's trying to do for the Rondo community."

Franklin, 22, has sampled some of the beer; she said future patrons have a lot to look forward to.

While Minneapolis may have its fair share of breweries, the Rondo and Midway areas of St. Paul are a bit of a brewery desert, Mikell said. She's excited about the work-life harmony she hopes to achieve by getting out of bed and going to work in her neighborhood — which she wants for her co-workers as well.

One of her first successful home brews, a Honeycrisp apple blonde ale that is a nod to the apple created at the University of Minnesota and her love of the apple flavors, will be a part of the taproom's menu.

"We'll have beer, we'll also have craft lemonade. We'll have a bit of something for everyone," Mikell said.

Mikell hopes Bubble Line can be a space for all to have fun and build community, whether they love a good pilsner or have never heard of one, whether they are celebrating a big win or simply studying for an exam, like she used to do.


Brittney Mikell cleans off a keg at La Doña on Monday.
Brittney Mikell cleans off a keg at La Doña on Monday.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune