Steve Finnie points out a falcon diving across the Douglas State Trail. We’re standing on a loading dock, one of 22 such docks that ring this 5,200-square-foot building, surveying the dead end of 14th Street NW in a light industrial corridor of Rochester, Minnesota.
“A lot of people in Minnesota and around the country are doing the warehouse feel for a brewery,” he says. “Originally, we looked at this space and Dawn didn’t think it was anything special.”
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Dawn, his wife, corrects him. “For 600-grand I didn’t think it was anything special.”
“Well, yeah,” Steve laughs. “But then the price dropped.”
This former truck loading facility is the future home of Little Thistle Brewery, which the Finnies intend to open by summer of 2018. A crowded real estate market in town, thanks in part to Rochester’s long-anticipated DMC development, was a prime reason they were happy to snap up this building and its two-acre lot.
“We wanted to buy a place, because space in Rochester is at a premium and renting is crazy expensive,” says Dawn, Little Thistle’s CEO. “We wanted a place that was bike accessible, with a lot of parking, that wasn’t downtown.”
“This space allows us to do a little bit of everything from all the best breweries we’ve seen,” adds Steve, formerly the head brewer at Grand Rounds Brewing across town. “There’s lots of space to add on. Lots of space for kids and dogs. It’s just a little rough looking right now.”
The building is 40-feet wide and will be divided in half lengthwise, making for a long, slim taproom space buffeted against a long, shiny brewhouse. Several of the garage doors on the street-facing side will open up to a long patio. They’ll install a gaming area with shuffleboard and activities for the kids and a function room for private events at the opposite end.
The layout, design, and aesthetic of the building closely recall those of Bad Weather Brewing in St. Paul. In fact, Steve points to Joe and Logan Giambruno as two of the many Twin Cities brewery owners who have been generous with their time and expertise during Little Thistle’s planning phase.
As for the name, the thistle is the national emblem of Scotland, and Steve, born in a small Scottish fishing village, has one tattooed on his back. “We like ‘little’ because it’s humble and down-to-earth, but aspiring to do great things,” he explains. “And thistle has been called the humble weed. It’s resilient and strong, but beautiful, too.”
Little Thistle has no plans to be a massive production brewery or wholesale their beer far and wide. Instead, they’ll look to have a few tap lines around Rochester, but focus on vending straight from the source.
Steve will install a 10-barrel brewhouse at Little Thistle and make a variety of beers—pales, IPA, stouts, porters, and sours are all on the table. He’s making a point of lagering, though, noting that 88 percent of Americans still drink macro lagers, and seeing the success of Twin Cities brewers like Fulton (Standard) and Bauhaus (Wonderstuff) in converting macro-drinkers with more easy-going crafts.
“There’s so much room in Rochester to grow craft beer,” says Dawn. “We want to be able to do the experimental thing, but know that we have a segment of the market that we can introduce to craft beer. You have to be approachable and unpretentious, and it’s one of our goals to have a really nice light lager.”
They glow about the support they’ve already received—from a supportive local bank to a group of 30 small investors from the Rochester community. “It’s a lot to take on, and we couldn’t do this without [the investors],” says Steve. “They believe in us, and what we’ve done, and what we want to do, but it’s also belief in a space like this and what Rochester wants. Some of them don’t even drink alcohol, but they want to invest in the community.”