Ken Thiemann of Borealis Fermentery: A Musical (Beer) Genius

In this issue of The Growler, we Brewer Profile Ken Thiemann of Borealis Fermentery.

By Brian Kaufenberg

Name: Ken Thiemann, Brewer/Owner
Hometown: Livonia, Michigan
Works at: Borealis Fermentery
Turn-Ons: Well-played music. Honest, intelligent, nice people.
Turn-Offs: Not-well-played music. Unfriendly, dumb people.

Growler: What’s in your fridge right now?
Ken Thiemann: Bell’s Oberon.

G: If you didn’t create beer for a living, is there another craft that you would like to try?
KT: Roadie for Rush.

G: What style(s) of beer do you see trending in 2013?
KT: I don’t know, I hear many people saying the hoppies are going to become less popular, but I know too many people that love them. I think that good, solid, mildly-hoppy lagers and comfort pale ales are going to stay solid. It’s very subjective—like asking what form of painting will trend in 2013—hard one.

G: What’s your favorite music to brew to?
KT: Jazz for mashing in during the morning hours, Grateful Dead/Jam stations in the afternoon, and prog during mash out in the evening. There’s a bit of Radiohead sprinkled liberally in there as well.

G: What is your brewing background?
KT: I have been brewing for 21 years, I have been doing it professionally for the last year. I learned from so many people. I don’t have any formal training, but I did used to work in the Netherlands and visited many places in Belgium on my weekends. I drank a LOT of beer over there, and it definitely has influenced my style. I really enjoyed the farmhouse ales that had no real category, and are hard to describe.

G: When did you decide you wanted to brew professionally?
KT: About 20 years ago.

G: What are your other passions in life? Do they influence your brewing?
KT: I have been a musician most of my life. I play quite a bit of guitar. I also love cooking, and I love fly-fishing. Cooking, I think, is much like brewing in many ways. Creating the recipes for beer is like making a recipe.

G: Who has been your biggest individual influence in brewing?
KT: The Kraeuseners, our homebrew club back in the U.P. of Michigan. There are even a few Duluth fellas in that club. Great group of people, and killer beers. The best beers I have ever had come from homebrewers, pretty much.

G: What keeps you inspired?
KT: Unique and imaginative people. Things that take a lot of care and time to produce. Artisans that take time and really put a lot of effort into their craft. People like Jim Henson, Bela Fleck, Evel Knieval, etc. Individuals who achieve difficult things—like that Austrian guy who base-jumped from the stratosphere and stuck the landing—that was pretty rad and inspiring.

G: Where is your favorite place to put one back?
KT: Europe, at a small table on a square somewhere. I like to drink beer on a beach in Mexico. I also like to drink beer while fly fishing. And lastly, I like to drink beer in a boat. It’s a toss-up between those four.

G: What is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
KT: That you mostly brew beer when you’re a brewer. I feel like I clean for a living, and every once in a while, I get to brew beer. It’s repetitive and can be a bit boring, actually, if you’re brewing one of your staple beers.

G: What is the most gratifying part of your job?
KT: When everything is clean and in its place, things smell clean, and I sit back and look at the brewery I made, and it’s late at night, and all you can hear is the bubbling from the CO2 hoses.

G: Is there a beer that changed your perspective on what craft beer could and should be?
KT: In 1991, I was working in Yosemite, and I tasted my first Sierra Nevada. That was it for me.

G: What’s the philosophy of your brewery?
KT: Brew as well as you can, keep it passionate, have fun, and don’t be a douche.

G: How did you settle on Borealis Fermentery as the name of your brewery?
KT: I love the Northern Lights and have lived up on Superior for most of my life now. I wanted a name that was North-y, but was also quirky and whimsical.

G: How did you decide to use straw, stucco, and wooden pegs instead of modern construction materials to build your brewery?
KT: I like a good challenge, and really wanted to create an old-world European feel. It’s also very energy efficient.

G: Why did you decide to build your brewery north of Knife River, Minnesota?
KT: It’s a beautiful area, and there are some really unique folks in the woods up here. I was also working as an engineer in Duluth, and despised it. I saw the land for sale while coming back from a gig in Two Harbors, and that was it—we bought it the next week.

G: Any new recipes you are working on?
KT: I am working on some Spring/Summer beers at the moment.

G: What do you see as the “next big thing” in the craft beer world?
KT: Dehydrated backpacking beer.

G: What about beer means so much to us as a society?
KT: Beer to me is the very essence of celebration.

G: Favorite beer and food pairing?
KT: Corona with a lime and tacos. Sorry.

G: What are you reading right now?
KT: Peter Freuchen’s Amazing Book of the Eskimos; Knowing the Ropes: Selecting, Rigging, & Handling Lines Aboard; The Art of Raising a Puppy; Crazy from the Heat—David Lee Roth Biography. And lastly, Book One of the Game of Thrones series.


Avatar About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.


  1. […] Related Story: This Issue’s Brewer Profile of Ken Thiemann […]

Speak Your Mind


Love this photo? Purchase a print and support The Growler. Visit view photos available for purchase, sizing, and pricing. 

Keep The Growler
Free and Independent


Your financial support helps ensure the future of The Growler as a free and independent publication that brings you the stories you care about.