Brewer Profile: Bent Paddle’s Colin Mullen and Bryon Tonnis

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Space is tight at Bent Paddle following the brewery’s explosive growth since opening in 2013 // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Staying on top of the brewery’s accelerated expansion has been challenging at times, but Colin and Bryon emphasize that their primary concern is, and always will be, the quality and consistency of their beer. “Our beer should sell itself,” says Colin. “We are consistent with our branding and in shaping our identity, but ultimately we just let the beer talk.”

To ensure that quality, Bryon and Colin have found themselves wearing many different hats on a day-to-day basis. Not only are they two of Bent Paddle’s four full-time brewers, they also serve as mentors to employees hoping to climb the brewing ladder, project managers, creative directors (Colin designed Bent Paddle’s labels, tap handles, and logo), consultants to other new breweries, and facilitators of all the ingredients coming in and out of the brewery.

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Bent Paddle’s taproom is located at 1912 W. Michigan Street, in Duluth, Minnesota // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

It’s a lot to tackle, but between Bryon’s Excel-spreadsheet prowess, Colin’s IT skills, Karen running logistics and HR, Laura coordinating all the brewery’s outreach and events, and the brewery’s 20 or so staffers, each step forward proves more fruitful than the last.

Another way the team is able to execute steady growth while maintaining quality is by sticking to their original business plan: When the current brewhouse reaches 75-percent capacity, it’s time to move to the next stage of growth.

Of course, none of the owners anticipated surpassing “Year Seven” of the plan within two years of opening, but they’ve found ways to keep up. “Basically, everything we did in the first year, we’re just doing it again to keep up,” Bryon says, more calmly than one might expect given the immensity of the situation.

Earlier this spring, Bent Paddle signed a lease on a 6,300-square-foot off-site warehouse, expanding the brewery’s footprint by two-thirds. The space will house a cooler for distributor pick-up beer as well as dry storage for empty can pallets and raw materials. More room at the main site means more opportunities for the brewery to keep expanding into barrel aging and specialty-beer production.

The extra space will also allow the brewers to tackle new projects—and to continue to grow established ones. In addition to brewing their own beer, Bent Paddle also produces all the distiller’s beer for Vikre Distillery in Duluth. The partnership has been in place since October 2013, and part of Bent Paddle’s expansion plan involves growing with and investing in the distillery. So far, Vikre’s line-up includes four gins and an aquavit; whiskey, bourbon, and Scotch whiskey are in the works. “I can’t wait to get those whiskey barrels back,” Colin says. “I love thinking about the specialty beers we’ll be able to produce with them.”

It will take three to seven years before that can actually happen, but that’s okay: they’re not going anywhere.

Meet the Brewers

Colin Mullen

Colin Bent Paddle CroppedBent Paddle IT Man: “I just walk near the computer and whatever problem Bryon called me over to fix resolves itself.”

Musician: Plays electric guitar and orchestral bass. Loves to noodle.

Top Chef: “Since my hobby has become my full-time job, I need a new one. I’ve started cooking at home more, and am finding expression in that again.”

Dad: His daughter, Adella, is three. “She’s proving to be more indoorsy than outdoorsy. We’re working on it.”

Bryon Bent Paddle CroppedBryon Tonnis

Bent Paddle Excel Master: “I just got two computer screens for spreadsheets. Now I want three.”

Photographer: “It used to be a hobby, then it turned into a full-time gig for a while, which took the fun out of it. I’d like to get back to taking outdoor shots.”

Fly Fisher Extraordinaire: Favorite spot: Brule River. “I’m really good at fishing, just not so good at catching.”

Dad: His son, Liam, is three. “We’re going on our first BWCA trip this summer. I can’t wait.”

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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