Photos by Jim Tate, Southwest Minnesota State University
Name: Dustin Brau
Hometown: Lucan, Minnesota (population 220)
Works at: Brau Brothers Brewing Company
Turn-Ons: Beers too unique to fit in a style category
Turn-Offs: “I can’t” and “You can’t.”
The Growler: What’s in your fridge right now?
Dustin Brau: MooJoos, Sheephead, Urban Growler’s growlers, and stuff from the guys out in Hendricks.
G: Favorite beer and food pairing?
DB: Bàncreagie and grilled BBQ pork chops. I have a Homer Simpson-like affinity for pork chops.
G: Outside the taproom, where’s your favorite place to put one back in Marshall?
DB: Varsity Pub. In fact, that’s my plan for later today.
G: How did you decide to start a brewery?
DB: Mary and I bought a local restaurant in Lucan, and we thought a small brewhouse could convince people to make the drive to town to eat. This was in 1999, when the craft-beer climate was a bit different. What we found was that there was a terrific craft-beer crowd hiding in the woodwork out here, and they were very receptive to a restaurant with a focus on beer.
G: What were you doing before?
DB: I was a student. We bought the BrauHaus right out of college. When you think about it, 22 is a great age to buy a restaurant. That way, you have your whole life ahead of you to recover.
G: Brau Brothers was one of the state’s only rural breweries back in 2006 when it was founded. What was attractive to you about opening a production brewery in a small town like Lucan?
DB: By 2006, we had already been brewing for about six years commercially, so we looked at it as more of a shift or transition than a total start-up. We never seriously considered doing it anywhere else. Being rural was—and is—part of our identity.
G: Did it make things more difficult when you were starting up?
DB: In some ways it did. There was no inherent brewing-knowledge base in the area. We were it. If we had a challenge or problem, Dave Berg in Mankato was about it. However, in some ways it was beneficial. When you’re on the ground floor, it’s a bit easier to hide your mistakes, because there’s not really anyone around to identify them.
G: Do you see Brau Brothers as having paved the way for all the new breweries opening in small towns across the state?
DB: I hadn’t thought of it that way. What I think we may have done is confirm that the demand is there for locally brewed craft beer in rural areas, just as it is in the metro. Keep in mind, the breweries that survived the hard years best were out-state breweries. Small communities in out-state Minnesota have always had a self-sufficient, provincial attitude. What better place to start a brewery?
G: It’s been about two years since the move to Marshall from Lucan. How has the move been for the brewery?
DB: Overall, it’s been very positive. Marshall has been terrific: the city, the organizations, and the people. So much support! It was a huge project, and took much more time and work than we anticipated, but the result is a building designed to brew beer. Anyone who was in the old brewery in Lucan will understand what I mean.
G: Brau Brothers is known for growing the hops used in your Hundred Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale. But people might not know you also grow two-row barley, which is a difficult crop to grow at small scales. Why do you go through the effort of growing your own hops and barley?
DB: I still believe that eventually, hops and barley will be grown again in Minnesota in a meaningful fashion. We’re still waiting for the input side of the brewing industry to catch up with the breweries themselves. Won’t it be great when we have many brands of malt and hops from Minnesota? Our customers are asking for local beer, why aren’t we asking for local barley? Having said this, we are behind on malting and will be floor malting our barley very soon.
G: What are your other passions in life and how do they influence your brewing?
DB: In my past life I golfed a little bit and I look for excuses to be outside. In the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed building equipment for the brewery. The engineering aspect of problem solving through making your own equipment interests me and gets my imagination going. We’ve built a pasteurizer, orbital molder, labeler, homogenizer, and we have a few projects on the drawing board.
G: Brau Brothers is truly a family affair. Who are the other Brau brothers and what are their roles in the company?
DB: Trevor is older than me and Brady is younger. Trevor helps nights and weekends wherever he can, and Brady takes care of our IT needs. Both are very handy in their respects. Don’t forget Dad—in addition to QA, he’s our high-level problem solver.
G: Is it as tough as they say to work alongside family members?
DB: Not really, we all get along very well. I can honestly say we’ve never had a fight about the brewery. Of course, we always have a beer in hand for our “meetings.”
G: Brau Brothers released a number of sour beers this past year. Is that new territory for you as a brewer?
DB: Yes. And I have to say, almost every sour we brew ends up either very different or slightly different than planned. One of the most surprising things about the new brewery is the response to our sours from people in Marshall. Sours are very popular here, which is good news. The new brewery has over 3,500 square feet of room allocated to barrel aging. We are looking forward to catching up so we can fully take advantage of it.
G: What’s the philosophy of your brewery?
DB: Keep evolving.
G: What is it about beer that means so much to us as a society?
DB: Two things: First, craft beer is an affordable luxury. For a few bucks you can enjoy a great, well-made beer. I know a lot of people who work very hard. All they ask for is a pint or two after a hard day’s work. Second, I like the social aspect of beer. Beer is the best excuse to sit and have a conversation with someone fun.
G: Is there a beer that changed your perspective on what craft beer could and should be?
DB: Back in the mid-1990s, craft beer in southwest Minnesota was a little tough to come by. We worked hard to convince bars to keep that Goose Island Honkers Ale or Leinie’s Creamy Dark tap line on. I will always have a soft spot for Summit EPA and Schell’s Firebrick—terrific beers that gave us flavor. They were paradise in a sea of blue and gold cans out here.
G: Any new beers on the horizon you can tell us about?
DB: We’re working on a Bohemian pilsner for this summer—authentic even up to the green bottle. Also, the barrels are full of Belgian blonde ale hit with lacto and brett. Unsoured, she’s our Village Prude, but we hope she becomes our Village Tart.