Almost two years of preparations were wrapping up Sunday, September 3 when the staff at 14 Lakes Brewery in Crosslake, Minnesota, planned a quiet soft opening. Within an hour, however, their taproom was crowded.
“Our two o’clock soft opening turned into a three o’clock grand opening and the whole parking lot was filled,” head brewer Dan Trombley recalls. “We had cars parking down the side of the street. The whole brewery was just packed with people.”
Co-owner Steve Guttormson says they sold over 200 pints of beer their first day.
“It was really above and beyond my expectations, that’s for sure. It was great,” says Guttormson.
Named after the surrounding chain of lakes, 14 Lakes Brewery owners Steve and Cindy Guttormson were drawn to the idea of opening a brewery when a building they own became vacant almost two years ago. Steve had taken notice of all the breweries opening in the Brainerd area and felt it was a perfect opportunity.
They put the word out they were looking for someone to lead the brewing operations were introduced to Dan Trombley, a local homebrewer. “I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t think that I’d be able to do it,” Trombley says. “But I just kind of mustered up the courage and decided to give him a call anyways and it just started snowballing from there.”
Trombley was hired on and brought along his friend John Durham as his assistant brewer. The duo met in kindergarten, were classmates at Pequot Lakes High School, and work together—outside of their brewing jobs—at Clow Stamping Company. They’d been homebrewing together for four years before they heard Guttormson was in need of a brewer.
To bolster Trombley’s brewing experience, Guttormson got to know other local breweries while delivering meat to them as owner of Arnie’s Meats, a food distributing company, and arranged Trombley to shadow those brewers on brew days.
“That was an experience that was definitely needed because I’ve never brewed on this kind of equipment before,” says Trombley.
Trombley visited Talking Waters Brewing Company in Montevideo, Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd, and Big Axe Brewing Company in Nisswa. They walked him through the process and even shared their recipes, which Trombley says might be surprising for people not familiar with the craft beer community.
“They feel that letting competition come in is somewhat taboo, but that’s really not the case when it comes to brewers,” says Trombley, adding that everyone along the way has been welcoming and helpful.
14 Lakes opened with three beers: Blonde Rush, named after a local lake; Arnie’s Awesome Amber, named after Guttormson’s 93-year-old father, who founded Arnie’s Meats in 1960; and Big Island Double IPA, named for a large island in Whitefish Lake.
The beers were well received by customers on opening day, says Trombley, though the double IPA garnered some critical feedback—some customers found it too malt-forward, others were surprised at its citrus hop profile, expecting something more piney and dank. Going forward, Trombley wants to experiment with peanut butter porters, Russian imperial stouts, saisons, and sour beers.
“The sky’s the limit. I’m just going to keep brewing and keep perfecting my style,” said Trombley.
This month Trombley expects to release a pale ale and brown ale. He also has an Oktoberfest beer on the way. With 10 tap lines in the taproom, he hopes to have five beers consistently available year-round while the other taps are where Trombley says he wants “to go hog wild with it.” And Guttormson, he says, has given him the ability to do that.
“He’s given me pretty much creative freedom when it comes to designing those beers,” Trombley says.
Guttormson says that the first year will focus on making beer on their five-barrel brewing system to supply their taproom but they’ll explore distribution after that.
In the meantime, he hopes the taproom, which boasts a large outdoor seating area, can serve local customers and the tourists drawn to the lakes area alike.
Brewers: Dan Trombley (head brewer) and John Durham (assistant brewer)
Beer: Blonde Rush, Arnie’s Awesome Amber, and Big Island Double IPA
Address: 36846 County Road 66, Crosslake, MN 56442
Hours: Thu–Fri: 4–10pm; Sat: 2–10pm; Sun: Noon–6pm