Doug and Caleb Fenske admit that opening a brewery in Madelia, Minnesota—a community of just over 2,200, and half an hour southwest of Mankato—must seem crazy. But the father-son team have gone all in to open Lost Sanity Brewing.
“It’s very, very aptly named for us,” says Caleb, 38, who grew up in the town. “If you open a brewery in a small town like this, especially at the scale we’re doing, you have to be a little insane to do it.”
“And for me,” Doug, 64, adds, “at the end of my working career, to start a business is [insane], too.”
The two have funded the project without investors, so they plan to keep their day jobs. Doug serves as director of printing services for Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he’s worked since 1990. Caleb works for MnDOT, overseeing the engineering aspects of road projects.
Caleb started homebrewing in 2002, and admits his story of jumping from the garage to a production brewery is similar to many other brewers’ stories. After making beer for himself and his friends, he became more serious about his hobby and expanded his homebrew set-up. But brewing was also a way for Caleb to stay connected with his younger brother, Nathan Fenske. When Nathan returned from advanced individual training with the National Guard around 2004, he became interested in his brother’s hobby, and he stayed involved even while he was overseas.
“He got deployed twice to Iraq, and we would Skype or FaceTime,” Caleb says. “I would brew, and he would sit there and critique everything I was doing.”
As Caleb’s skills progressed, people encouraged him to open a brewery. He kept saying the idea was crazy, but pretty soon he ended up with a storefront, four fermentation tanks, a walk-in cooler, and loads of other equipment.
The father-son team started to think about opening Lost Sanity in 2013. By that time, Nathan was busy raising a family and unable to dedicate enough extra time to partner with them. However, he and the rest of the family help out as they can. Melissa Fenske, Caleb’s wife, is in charge of decoration, and she framed and hung the four grain bags used to brew the first beers at Lost Sanity.
The building in downtown Madelia was a family-owned pharmacy from 1892 until the mid-1990s, and renovating the space required all new plumbing and electrical, along with repouring much of the concrete floor. Caleb and Doug had explored real estate options around the area, but it always seemed right to open shop in their hometown.
“When you’re born and raised in a town like this, there’s something cool about opening a brewery in your own hometown,” Caleb says. It takes on extra special meaning when considering the hardship the small town faced two years ago.
In 2016, a fire ripped through downtown Madelia leaving the buildings of nine Main Street businesses in ashes. The town banded together and over the following year rebuilt the block, allowing businesses to return. While the building where Lost Sanity is located wasn’t affected by the fire, the owners see their business as being a positive addition to this downtown rejuvenation.
Lost Sanity will offer craft soda and snacks, but the Fenskes decided not to serve food to avoid taking business from area restaurants, Doug says. Instead, customers can bring in outside food from the rebuilt La Plaza Fiesta or nearby Fox’s Pizza Den.
Once the brewery opens, customers will be able to drink, purchase growlers to go, and eventually find the beers on draft in area restaurants.
The brewery will open on May 12 for its grand opening with seven beers on tap: a brown ale, IPA, cream ale, porter, lager and a double IPA. They’ll add beers until all eight taps are filled—and if needed, they’ll add more taps. For those that can’t wait that long, the brewery will have a soft opening on March 30.
“As a homebrewer, I was always in the business of making beer, and now I’m in the business of selling beer. So I’m going to let the pubic determine what my flagships are,” Caleb says.
Lost Sanity will focus on traditional styles, especially meticulously crafted lagers, but it will also offer unconventional brews. Caleb hopes to expand his customers’ tastes through a rotating lineup of sours, Belgians, saisons, and barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts.
“What we’re really trying to do is just make good, drinkable beer that the folks here are just going to like and going to flock to. That’s one of our big goals,” he says. “And once we open up the palates of most folks, they’ll say, ‘I didn’t think I could like this other kind of beer.’”
Brewer: Caleb Fenske
Beers: Eight taps, with seven on tap to begin, including a brown ale, IPA, cream ale, porter, lager, double IPA, and a TBD beer
Address: 12 West Main Street, Madelia, MN 56062
Soft Opening: March 30, 2018
Grand Opening: May 12, 2018