“We weren’t even talking about beer; we weren’t even talking about opening the brewery,” Chris Larson recalls. “We were just fishing.”
One day in 2015, on Lake Andrew near Alexandria, Larson handed Ryan Seabright a bottle of his homebrewed, aptly named “Lake Andrew unCommon.” He readied the fishing poles, and heard Seabright finally say, “Okay, let’s do it.”
It was an answer to a question Larson had asked many times before—why don’t we open a brewery together? That moment set in motion a two-and-a-half year process to open Tilion Brewing Company in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.
Larson says he was simply bit by the homebrewing bug. He thought it might be nice to brew beer with his brother, Scott, before he shipped out to Afghanistan as part of the Army. They never brewed a drop before he left, though Larson started brewing on his own, making sure to have some good beer ready for his brother when he came back a year later.
The obsession snowballed, and now Larson has a full-fledged brewery with Seabright and Scott, the chief customer officer in charge of the taproom experience and of military charitable giving. Larson said he’s always been surrounded by people like his wife, an architect, who live by crafting.
“This whole maker movement, it isn’t unfamiliar territory,” Larson says. “So building things, crafting things, trying to use local ingredients, has a strong appeal to us. Being able to share that with other people is really exciting too.”
Larson admitted that sharing beer with people in Cannon Falls, located about 50 minutes north of Rochester (where Larson and Seabright are from), and roughly 30 minutes south of their current homes in the Twin Cities, brings a unique challenge.
“We want accessible beer, and part of that is when you’re in a small market like this and a destination brewery, we were told when we came here, ‘hey, this is a Coors Light town,’” Larson says.
They were told about that particular taste preference at the nearby VFW, which was surprising to Seabright, because they had Surly, Summit, and F-Town on tap. So Tilion’s goal is to bring the Coors Light drinkers in with lighter beer, but also have things on tap — like a New England IPA — that appeal to craft beer veterans.
Both sides of the beer-drinking community will come together to imbibe in what was an old lumber yard, and long before that, apparently the site for three different breweries that all burned down, according to Larson.
It’s been an arduous process to finish renovating the building, which overlooks the Little Cannon River and bike trail, and even choosing a name was a bit of a struggle.
Initially it was going to be called Snowbank, but Larson found out that the trademark for the name had been registered three days before he finally decided to trademark it.
Both Larson and Seabright have marketing backgrounds, so they went all in with branding before even hammering out a business plan.
“We had our beer names picked out, we had our theme picked out, we had pictures, diagrams of what we wanted things to look like,” Seabright said.
“We were naive a little bit,” added Larson.
“Tilion” emerged as a favorite, because the Nordic name it is derived from, til iðn (pronounced til-lee-thon), means “to craft” in Icelandic. It was found on a whim when his wife was on vacation with him in Iceland and playing around with Google Translate.
Larson is excited to finally start crafting in Cannon Falls.
“We are looking forward to standing behind the bar and pouring beer,” Larson said. “Starting in about an hour, I’ll probably field about a dozen calls asking if we’re open. How cool is that?”
And he knows, even though it’s a Coors Light town, many locals are behind him, including the police chief.
After an individual was spotted trying to break into the brewery’s front door, the police chief sent out a memo that included a line stating, “Beer is important; we must protect the beer,” Seabright says.
“Not only do they call us […] but he sends an email to everyone,” Larson said. “That’s the type of community that we’re in, and we haven’t regretted our decision.”
Brewer: Chris Larson (head brewer)
Beers: 12 taps, six flagships, with four on tap to begin, including New England IPA, Lake Andrew Uncommon, Oatmeal Stout, and one to be determined.
Address: 432 Mill St. W, Cannon Falls, Minn.
Soft Opening: Saturday, March 10
Grand Opening: St. Patrick’s Day weekend