Watching as a customer with a dog sits down in the corner of the patio at LTD Brewing in Hopkins, Minnesota, Blake Verdon steps out of his conversation and brings a bowl of fresh water for the dog, then takes the man’s order. He isn’t just being nice, although he does ooze Midwestern friendliness (he’s the kind of guy who will bring you three samples when you ask for one, just to be sure you find exactly what you like). Blake is someone who sees a need and promptly works to fill it. Moreover, he works to give all of his customers exactly what they want, perhaps before they realize they want it.
The co-owner and co-head brewer of LTD Brewing has two things he’s most passionate about: dogs and beer. And, given his full-time job at LTD and his role as a member of the board of directors for Warrior Dog Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to saving dogs that are abandoned in shelters, surrendered by their owners, or being abused and neglected, Blake spends most of his time surrounded by both.
Blake’s passion for dogs wasn’t realized until well into his adult life. He didn’t grow up with dogs like many kids; his mother claimed to be allergic. “The largest mammal I was allowed to have was a mouse, which didn’t seem to bother her allergies at all,” Blake says, eyebrow raised skeptically.
It wasn’t until marriage that Blake finally got a dog; his wife, Hannah, had a pup who was part of the package. Aware of the number of dogs in shelters, Blake and Hannah decided to expand their family one member further and adopt a rescue dog. It was during their search that the couple fell into fostering. “We ended up fostering instead of adopting,” Blake says. “We had two fosters, then we had three, and then suddenly we were these crazy dog people.”
The more they fostered, the more they learned about the overwhelming need for good homes for dogs. In October 2017, Hannah became one of the founders of Warrior Dog Rescue, which seeks to relieve overwhelmed animal shelters in southern states while also acting as an emergency resource for local shelters. Blake now sits on the board of directors, and the couple continues to take in fosters in addition to their three dogs: Mya, Journey, and Galaxy (named for Blake’s favorite hop variety).
As Warrior Dog Rescue got on its feet, it became clear that the nonprofit could use someone who had experience in business and marketing. Blake, who has a degree in marketing and worked in marketing and product management prior to starting LTD, was happy to pitch in.
Pitching in for Blake didn’t just mean advising on which accounting software to buy and setting the social media strategy. It meant weeknights and weekends filled with prepping for dog transports and intakes, and providing temporary foster homes to dogs in immediate need. “Once we had seven dogs. It wasn’t my favorite time of my life, but it needed to happen,” Blake says.
This is Blake’s modus operandi: Identify a problem or gap in services, then work to solve the problem. “Anything Blake sets his mind to he makes happen,” says Jeremy Hale, Blake’s partner at LTD Brewing. “And he isn’t just the idea man. He’s the guy with follow-through.”
Blake and Jeremy talk constantly about how dissimilar they are, from their tastes in beer—Jeremy likes darker styles, Blake prefers hop-forward—to how they interact with the world. Where Blake enjoys chatting and socializing, Jeremy would rather be in the back of house working. Jeremy claims he’s stubborn; Blake sees himself as someone who doesn’t sweat the small stuff. They both agree they’ve butted heads on more than one occasion.
Despite how frequently they highlight their differences, they are also both the first to brag on each other’s strengths. Blake, for example, will talk at length about the program Jeremy built to run their glycol chilling system, bottler, and reverse osmosis system. “He just taught himself to code in his spare time and then built it like he has been doing it his whole life,” Blake says.
This brother-like relationship no doubt stems from years of friendship. The two met their freshman year of college at the University of Minnesota, roughly 15 years ago. Beer played a role in their lives even then: they started homebrewing in the dorm when they discovered they could legally purchase all the necessary ingredients. What started as a clever way to create their own libations soon became a hobby and, eventually, a business.
As different as Blake and Jeremy are, their attitudes toward getting things done are one in the same. They are both problem solvers—individuals who evaluate a situation, then get to work and don’t stop until the job is finished.
As different as Blake and Jeremy are, their attitudes toward getting things done are one in the same. They are both problem solvers
It’s with this mindset that LTD Brewing came to be. After conceiving of the idea to open a brewery, Blake and Jeremy agreed that they wanted to do it without any outside funding: no loans, no investors, no crowdfunding. This meant they wouldn’t be beholden to anyone’s expectations other than their own and those of their customers. But it also meant that they were going to build a brewery from the ground up—alone.
“It meant about six months of working our day jobs, then going to the brewery at night and working until 3 or 4 in the morning, getting a couple hours of sleep, and then doing it all over again,” Jeremy says. Blake lived in Jeremy’s basement. They hunkered down and saved their pennies.
Neither one was sure how their dream would pan out. Not only were they planning to build a brewery completely on their own, but the brewery they wanted to build would feature a constantly rotating selection of beers. For a brewery to not have a predictable lineup was considered madness in 2012. At the time, it was widely assumed and accepted that in order to build a customer base, breweries should have several brands customers could count on. That a start-up would ignore this standard practice incited a fair amount of skepticism. “I got laughed out of quite a few bars when I was pitching the idea,” Blake says.
Blake and Jeremy stuck with their rotating-tap model, though, focusing on their taproom rather than on distribution. It was a gamble; they weren’t sure if they’d be able to cultivate a clientele in the suburbs with an ever-changing menu. But so far, it has worked. LTD just celebrated their fourth birthday with an array of special release barrel-aged varieties, many of which tapped out in less than an hour.
Blake and Jeremy credit their success to their commitment to doing what is right for LTD, even if it’s not the way the rest of the craft beer industry is leaning. They aren’t afraid to keep marching to the beat of their own drum—in fact, it’s the core value LTD was founded upon.
This rejection of the one-size-fits-all approach to life shows up in Blake’s work with Warrior Dog, too. Whereas some rescues feel strongly that dogs should be adopted by families with fenced-in yards and a stay-at-home parent, Blake believes that every dog has unique needs, and that every family has an equally unique home to provide.
It’s the kind of straightforward approach one would expect from someone like Blake: a strategy-focused problem solver who approaches every situation with an eye for what makes it special. From finding dogs their ideal forever homes to brewing beer that escapes traditional categories, Blake seeks out the best solution possible, in whatever way possible.