Locals in quaint Ashby, Minnesota, population 436, have long congregated at their restaurant, bar, and American Legion hall over pints of beer. With the October opening of Ashby Brewing Company, this small town has something a lot more exciting to sip on than light lager.
Justin Flatgard, co-owner and head brewer of the newly open brewery, says that although Ashby itself is tiny, its big local spirit is the major inspiration behind the brewery.
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“Ashby is a very communal town,” he says. “All year long there are events like the fire department grilling food in the park and things like that. People here love hanging out together. We see our brewery as a way to have another business and another thing for the community to center around in their nice little hometown.”
The idea to open a brewery in Ashby, 20 miles southeast of Fergus Falls, came about when present co-owner and operations manager Mike Risbrudt and a friend started talking about how great it would be for their native town to have its own brewery that celebrates local pride. It was all talk at this stage, as Risbrudt didn’t personally know any brewers living in the Ashby area.
Risbrudt kicked around the idea around for years until he met Flatgard, an avid homebrewer living in Fergus Falls, at the plastics manufacturer where both men work. Flatgard, who had been brewing his own beer for five years, felt like he had gotten to the point when he felt he was at the top of his homebrewing game in building and consistently testing his own recipes. While living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for a short time, he joined a homebrewing club and got valuable feedback and plenty of praise for his recipes and beers. Flatgard says his wife later asked him why he would make such quality beer and just give it away. By then, he was living in Fergus Falls and thinking about brewing on a larger scale as his next step.
The men banded together and purchased a small, old lumberyard office in downtown Ashby where they set up a three-barrel system inside. By late September, they were brewing, and they officially launched on October 21.
Although Ashby Brewing is currently a production-only brewery without a taproom, its beers can be found on tap at local establishments like Club 74 across the street, as well as bars in a few nearby towns. Flatgard and Risbrudt have been doing all their own deliveries for now, transporting kegs to multiple establishments within a 30 to 40 mile radius, in order to allow their operation to grow organically and avoid overextending themselves.
Their original plans for a brewery included a small taproom, but with limited options for real estate in Ashby, the building where they landed only had enough room to fit their brewhouse equipment. As they become established in the next year, they hope to add on to the backside of the building and eventually open their own taproom.
They are currently in the process of applying for an off-sale license that will enable them to sell growlers. Being new to the industry, they did not know it was possible for a production brewery without a taproom to directly sell growlers, but applied for the license as soon as they found out.
“We get asked probably on a weekly basis where people can buy growlers of our beer,” Flatgard says. Due to the town’s proximity to Interstate 94 and resort areas like Battle Lake and Otter Tail Lake, he expects anglers, cabin-goers, campers, and “weekend warriors” from the Cities will boost business, especially during the summer months.
Ashby currently brews four beers: Runestone Man IPA, Kittson Kölsch, Harvest AAA Amber, and Pig Farm Porter. Each beer gets its name from the town’s local folklore, ranging from a famous hand of poker that built a hotel in Ashby to a gruesome murder in the late 19th century. Dubbed the “Ashby Sagas,” these local stories invite beer drinkers to learn more about the community and its history.
Flatgard says he is partial to the IPA himself, but the amber is Ashby’s best-selling beer hands down. “We must have made it just right, because the locals, who are mostly your typical light beer drinkers, are enjoying it,” he says.
Besides matching local tastes, Ashby is also incorporating local ingredients. Two of their beers, the Kölsh and amber, use malts sourced from craft maltster Maltwerks in Detroit Lakes. And Flatgard says they found out about local hop farmers recently and want to gather enough locally-grown Cascade and Centennial hops from area hobbyists to produce a fresh wet hop beer in the near future.
“Just as we would want local people to purchase beer from us over breweries from another state, when we work with local businesses to purchase product for our brewery, we’re not only helping our community but keeping the money local instead of it disappearing,” Flatgard says.
The brewery’s focus for now is to provide craft beer to locals in Ashby and the Fergus Falls area and to promote the region and its small towns through its beer. Flatgard says it is not a very big priority at this point for Ashby to bring these beers to the Twin Cities, but if it does happen, it will likely be at least three years down the road, after the brewery has fully answered local demand. For now, he encourages metro residents to stop by the next time they are driving through and enjoy a pint with a story of its own.
Brewer: Justin Flatgard
Beers: Runestone Man IPA, Kittson Kölsch, Harvest AAA Amber, Pig Farm Porter
Address: 109 N. Main Street, Ashby, MN 56309