It’s 9am on a drizzly late August day. At Urban Growler Brewing Company in St. Paul, Deb Loch, head brewer and co-owner, sits at the founder’s table—a round mosaic of woodwork designed to look like the brewery’s logo. Just as she’s getting settled, she suddenly stands up to go check on the coffee situation. None is brewing, but there’s cold press. There’s always cold press.
Urban Growler opened on July 30, 2014, the product of six years of location scouting, recipe testing, and big-picture planning. Deb didn’t do it alone; by her side through it all was Jill Pavlak, Deb’s business and life partner. Jill is the extroversion to Deb’s introversion and the excitement to Deb’s calm. Together, the women operate as one, chiming in on each others’ stories, remembering things the other has forgotten, and, most importantly, supporting one another—fighting battles, cheering victories, and dreaming big, together.
“Getting the brewery open was harder than actually having it open,” Deb says. “The obstacles to get open were big and high and frequent. It can be devastating and knock you down. Luckily, neither Jill or I were knocked down at the same time.”
For most of her life, Deb worked outside of the food and drink business. She got her degree in biomedical engineering from Marquette University in Milwaukee and her master’s in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota. She worked as an engineer and project manager for multiple medical device companies, including Medtronic. Her role there, she says, has a lot in common with managing the brewhouse. “Project management is all about figuring out how to get things done faster than it appears they can be done,” she explains. “Running a brewery is just one, big, giant project.”
Working hard is less a motto than it is a way of life for Deb. It started when she was five years old and begged her parents to let her wash dishes at Mary’s Family Restaurant in Appleton, Wisconsin. It has been ingrained in her ever since. Working multiple jobs, growing her homebrew hobby into Minnesota’s first women-owned- and- operated microbrewery, putting in 20-hour work days—she’s been there, done that, and she’s ready to do more.
Deb began homebrewing in the late 1990s. “I like to drink beer,” she laughs, when asked why she picked up the pastime. “Plus, it’s a very social hobby. It’s fun. You get to make equipment and experiment and people love to drink your beer. It’s a good hobby.”
Making her hobby a career has changed a lot of things—increased beer output, fewer hours of sleep, greater funding needs—but it hasn’t affected Deb’s love of experimentation. Her Plow to Pint series creates beer using produce from local urban farms: honey, wild rice, raspberries, blueberries, and more all make their way from the garden into a glass. This past spring, for the sixth Plow to Pint beer, Deb made Lemongrass Wheat using the load of lemongrass she purchased in the fall and froze over the winter. “That was a big risk,” she says. “We didn’t do a pilot batch. I had no idea what it would be like. But it turned out great.”
The recipe is one of around 40 that Deb has created and brewed at Urban Growler. Her instinct for developing recipes comes from both her formal brewing education and hands-on experience. In 2009, she took a weekend retail position at Northern Brewer in St. Paul. A year later, she worked as an assistant brewer at Minocqua Brewing Company in Wisconsin, before heading off to the Master Brewers Program at the University of California–Davis in 2011. “I’d been accepted to the 2012 class,” Deb says. “But in January 2011, two weeks before classes began, I got a phone call saying a spot had opened up. Jill and I talked about it for about 10 minutes and decided to go. We packed up the dog and as much as we could fit into the Toyota Corolla and went to California.”
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