Jimmy Buffett fans know that his music has a certain vibe, one that evokes escaping to an island to relax. With Gravity Storm Brewery Cooperative, former teacher Brian Davis has created an escape of his own, leaving behind a career in education to open a brewery in downtown Austin, Minnesota, just across the street from Hormel Food’s SPAM Museum.
Gravity Storm’s taproom is Davis’ own “Margaritaville.” The bar area is set up to look like a tiki bar from a tropical paradise, and most of the beers at Gravity Storm—as well as the brewery name—are inspired by Buffet songs. “Yeah, I’m a big Parrothead,” Davis says.
The rest of the decor is a potpourri of beach-themed items, Davis’ favorite bits of pop culture (“The Big Lebowski” is prominent in the back of the brewery), and even a nod to his background in education. The bar is made out of the old gym floor from Pacelli Catholic Schools; if you look closely you can see some of the gym floor lines painted on it.
Opening the brewery came about when, after many years of teaching, Davis says he’d reached his limit. “I just got tired of teaching; it’s not fun anymore,” Davis admitted (though he does still occasionally substitute teach). So, the homebrewer of 20 years decided to make a career change.
Gravity Storm is housed in a building once owned by the father of some of Davis’ former students, who encouraged Davis to open the brewery. The space was most recently home to a homebrew store run by one of the co-owners of Angry Hog Brewery, which also recently opened in Austin. Davis thought Angry Hog might open their brewery in the location, and when they opted for a spot along Murphy Creek, on the outskirts of town, instead, he saw seized the opportunity.
“We need [a brewery] downtown,” Davis says. “Main street needs a brewery. People seem to agree. A lot of people say, ‘Ah, we needed this.’ I’ve been blown away with how the reception has been; I’ve been pinching myself.”
It was a relatively quick process from start to finish to open Gravity Storm. It took only about 10 months to get all the necessary licenses approved and for the brewery to open its doors.
It’s a small operation, with just Davis and his wife, a fellow co-owner, keeping things running. Davis is both beertender and head brewer, brewing on a 1.75-barrel Blichmann brewing system (essentially a large homebrew setup), and three three-and-a-half-barrel fermentors. He plans to brew an eclectic mix of beers while also making sure to always have his favorites on tap, like a smoked porter.
He says the experience has been a good one so far. The only notable bad incident was when a fermentor leaked, causing Davis to lose half of a batch of smoked porter. But, he muses goodnaturedly, maybe that wasn’t a bad thing, considering it’s his worst seller. “If we’re going to lose one, that’s the one to lose,” he says.
Perhaps the most unique, albeit still nascent, part of Gravity Storm is the cooperative part of the brewery. Davis is bringing on patron-owner who enjoy benefits akin to those of Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s member-owners, with the most important for Gravity Storm being a voice in the brewery operations.
While there aren’t a lot of “patron-owners” so far, more people have been signing up recently, according to Davis, and the continued popularity has resulted in plans to add another fermentor soon.
Overall, the decision to leave teaching has been a rewarding and surprising one. “I’ve always wanted to share my beer with people, and if I can put my daughter through college while doing that, so much the better,” Davis says with a laugh.
Brewer: Brian Davis
Beers: Dreamsicle Cream Ale with blood orange; Pencil Thin Mustache IPA; St. Somewhere Sweet Stout on nitro; Bank of Bad Habits Smoked Porter; License to Chill Maibock; Hurricane Rye Saison; Growing Older But Not Up Rye Wine
Address: 309 Main St. N.
Hours: Monday and Tuesday: 4pm–9pm; Friday: 3pm–11pm; Saturday: 12pm–11pm; Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday: Closed