Wild Mind Artisan Ales sued its former brewer. Then things got ugly.

Mat Waddell is being sued by his former co-owners at Wild Mind Artisan Ales, and has a few explosive claims of his own.

Mat Waddell is being sued by his former co-owners at Wild Mind Artisan Ales, and has a few explosive claims of his own. Daniel Murphy

When it opened in summer 2016, Wild Mind Artisan Ales staked its success on a few unique elements. One was its location, an industrial nook deep in south Minneapolis surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and miles from its closest competitors.

Another was its coolship, a long, shallow steel tub traditional to Belgian ale brewing. This coolship chills the wort (the mixture of malt and hot water, step one of beer-making) overnight in the open air, allowing bacteria and naturally occurring yeast to creep into the beer.

The resulting brew is always sour, often a little strange, and rare around these parts. (In awarding Best Brewery honors in 2019, City Pages called Wild Mind’s coolship sour program “trailblazing.”) A 2017 blog post on the brewery’s website credits brewer Mat Waddell with wielding its coolship, the “first one in Minnesota for spontaneous fermentation in the lambic style of brewing.”

The website is outdated. Waddell left the brewery more than a year ago. And these days Wild Mind leaves writing about Waddell up to its lawyers.

Wild Mind started as a three-man operation. Tylor Johnson and Jason Sandquist had business backgrounds in property and commercial real estate. Waddell, who quit a job as an engineer with Medtronic and invested $40,000 in the brewery out-of-pocket, was the brewing brain.

In mid-December 2018, Waddell told Sandquist and Johnson he wanted out, and was taking a job with 3M. Exactly how Waddell explained his career change is still in dispute. Sandquist and Johnson took the announcement as news Waddell was leaving the brewing industry altogether. Waddell, in a response filed by his attorney, says he just wanted to “resign from Wild Mind.”

According to legal filings, Waddell negotiated a buyout of his 35 percent stake in the company for $150,000. Then, a few months later, his name and face resurfaced, this time as the head of the “mixed culture” line of sour beers at BlackStack Brewing in St. Paul. Pictures from a May 7, 2019 story on the Growler’s website showed Waddell and the BlackStack crew sipping pints and smiling.

Two days later, attorneys at Chestnut Cambronne issued a letter accusing Waddell of sharing “confidential information and trade secrets of Wild Mind.” The letter laid out a slew of accusations against Waddell, including that he’d deleted Wild Mind’s beer recipes, though not before “reliable sources” saw him photograph the recipes off a computer screen.

The letter ordered Waddell to return the recipes and cease and desist his new venture, which, it warned, “may expose BlackStack to liability” — to say nothing of Waddell himself, who was officially put “on notice that there is a dispute and potential litigation.”

This was merely the first volley in a series of escalating exchanges that culminated in Wild Mind Artisan Ales, LLC, filing suit against Mat Waddell in December 2019, a year and a few days after he’d told his former business partners he was leaving. Exposed to the open air, the relationships behind Wild Mind were just as surprising—and sour—as the mixtures in its prized coolship.

In the months since that first letter, the two feuding parties have only grown further apart in their understanding of the basic facts surrounding Waddell’s tenure at, and exit from, Wild Mind.

The brewery’s complaint added new claims, including the sweeping allegation that Waddell had been “grossly derelict” and “rarely present” for most of the entire year before he left. Through this inattention, the brewery alleged, two batches of beer that either “had not been checked or managed” or “had not been properly brewed” had to be dumped by Waddell’s successor, at a loss of some $105,000 to the brewery.

The complaint also restated that Wild Mind no longer had access to its recipes, that Waddell purposely misled his partners about his future plans “to avoid the inclusion of a non-compete provision,” and that his collaboration with BlackStack “necessarily requires disclosure of Wild Mind’s confidential information.”

Waddell’s attorney, Aaron Thom, fired back with a response filed in January, rebutting most of the claims in the complaint. Wild Mind’s recipes are stored on software the company still has, his response says, and he hasn’t shared any “proprietary information” through his work for BlackStack.

Waddell didn’t stop there, layering on explosive counter-claims of his own:

• That in three years, Waddell was underpaid on his expected salary of $55,000 by a total of roughly $76,000;

• That one bartender quit after Johnson made “inappropriate sexual advances” toward her, and another quit after confronting Sandquist for “taking and retaining tips,” as he “often” did on weekend shifts;

• That Waddell had started working different hours to avoid a “toxic” environment set by his partners, who “lost their tempers” and “ridiculed” him in public.

Sandquist and Johnson deny the allegations about their conduct through Wild Mind’s attorney, Emeric Dwyer, who said, “It is unfortunate that Mr. Waddell [has] chosen to try and invent or embellish facts to embarrass members of the company… to make dirty laundry public, and force the company into backing down on its claims.”

Wild Mind’s key argument, that Waddell misrepresented his exit to avoid a non-compete clause, is “not just semantics,” Dwyer says. At its heart, it is “a matter of, how do you protect a company’s reputation and intellectual property?”

The two sides met in court for the first time earlier this month for a hearing on two motions. Thom, Waddell’s attorney, argued Wild Mind should have to pay his legal fees upfront during the case. Wild Mind, meanwhile, pushed for monthly payments from Waddell’s buyout to instead be paid into the court, pending a settlement or ruling. The judge has 90 days to rule on both motions.

The buyout itself might be their next battleground: Waddell now believes $150,000 undervalued his share of the company, and his attorney says he’s mulling the idea of rescinding that agreement to bargain for a better deal.

Waddell says opening a brewery was “an epically great creative outlet” for him, and made great connections for him within the local brewing community, but that he was happy to leave Wild Mind behind—or so he thought.

“I was back to being me, and it was wonderful,” Waddell says of starting his new job at 3M. “Then in May, when I got that first cease and desist letter, my heart just sank.”