Lessons from Year One

We asked six Minnesota breweries to reflect on the ups and downs of their first year in the brewing business

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Clockwise from top left: Matt Schwandt and Lydia Haines of Bauhaus Brew Labs, Sam Harriman and Catherine Cuddy of Sisyphus Brewing, Niko Tonks of Fair State, Jill Pavlak and Deb Loch of Urban Growler, Jeff Moriarty of Tin Whiskers, and Blake Verdon of LTD Brewing. Each of these breweries turned one year old this summer.

Minnesota will have more than 100 craft breweries in business by the end of 2015. It’s remarkable, considering the state had only five licensed breweries in 2005. While all the new developments are interesting, what’s more important is that the quality of Minnesota beer is on the rise, and established breweries are not only staying in business, they’re thriving.

While the old guard is winning awards and building destination breweries, many recent start-ups are coming to maturity. We went straight to the source to hear what Tin Whiskers, LTD, Sisyphus, Bauhaus, Urban Growler, and Fair State learned during their first year in business.

Tin Whiskers

Jeff Moriarty is the president and one of three co-founders of Tin Whiskers Brewing Company // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Tin Whiskers Brewing
Opened May 15, 2014
Jeff Moriarty, president and co-founder

The beginning: “The first year was what I was expecting it would be like. It’s a lot of work to get a business off the ground, but without great staff it would have been immensely hard. So I am very fortunate to have a great crew to work with.”

The challenge: “Managing the raw material supply chain with getting the raw material when you need it in order to maintain brewing schedules.”

Looking back: “I think we did an amazing job providing high-quality and full-flavored beers to the market from day one. It is a testament to the hard work our head brewer, Derek Brown, has done—as well as the four years of brewing the recipes over and over again in my basement, tweaking them to perfection.”

Future goals: “Implementing a rigorous pilot beer program called the Fourier series to increase our beer offerings at the taproom and develop new year-round or seasonal offerings. Also, to start canning our beer in 16 ounce cans for a couple of the main brands.”

Blake LTD(1)

Blake Verdon is the co-owner and co-brewmaster at Hopkins’ LTD Brewing Company // Photo courtesy of LTD Brewing

LTD Brewing Co.
Opened June 1, 2014
Blake Verdon, co-owner/co-brewmaster

The grind:  “It turned out to be a ton of late nights and working almost every weekend, but luckily we were pretty realistic on how tough the first year was going to be. It made it easier knowing all of the effort was just so we could keep up with demand.”

Baby steps: “It took us awhile just to obtain ingredients we needed for the beers that we had hoped to launch with. It wasn’t until about midway through our first year that we were able to brew some of our recipes.”

Learning on the go: “Our goal was to provide an array of beer styles at all times. After we realized it was going to take more capacity and quickly adding another fermenter, we were able to sustain having 11 different brews on tap at almost all times.”

Future goals: “We have three major goals to improve on: bigger barrel program, establish a few staple beers, and an expanded distribution footprint. Our big focus is on distribution. We had planned on making ourselves more available from launch, but the taproom has consumed so much more capacity than originally planned.”

Sisyphus1Year-16

Sam Harriman and Catherine Cuddy are co-owners of Sisyphus Brewing Company // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Sisyphus Brewing
Opened July 11, 2014
Sam Harriman and Catherine Cuddy, co-owners

Ups and downs: “It’s been challenging, but we kind of expected that. We did name our brewery after a Greek guy who has to struggle on the mountainside of existence for eternity. But it’s also been one of the most rewarding things we have ever done. And, as we watched the boulder of the first year go back to the bottom of the hill, we are excited about the next trek up the mountain.”

The challenge: “The transition from homebrewer to professional brewer—it’s a sharp learning curve.”

Looking back: “We’ve communicated our vision for the future pretty well. Comedy nights have been a huge success and I think people are excited for more.”

Future goals: “Making more beer so we don’t run out ever again.”

Next page: Bauhaus, Urban Growler, & Fair State

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