Paul Christensen and Shawn Wigg met like many people do in the brewing industry—through mutual friends who also loved beer. At the time in 2014, craft breweries were exploding in the Twin Cities, but Wigg and Christensen noticed craft beer hadn’t reached their part of the state. Soon, they started homebrewing in their garages and began exploring the idea of opening a local brewery.
Moose Lake, a town of under 3,000 people, is located just a few miles off of Highway 35 about 40 miles southwest of Duluth. Given its size, finding a suitable location for a brewery was something of a challenge. With only two existing options within the city limits that were realistic possibilities, they chose a warehouse on Lakeshore Drive facing Moosehead Lake. After bringing on a third partner, Janet Anderson, and selling some of their personal property, Christensen and Wigg set their plans in motion for a small taproom and a three-and-a-half-barrel brewery system, and today Moose Lake Brewing Company is a reality.
Wigg previously worked for Grand Casino Hinckley handling logistics and promotion of their events and concerts. His MacGyver-like skills have come in handy as he is able to make frequent tweaks and additions to the brewery, including crafting their tap handles with his lathe. Christensen, a broad-shouldered man with a classic brewer’s beard, is charismatic and likes to have a good time. He has continued his work inside a secure perimeter vocational program while they grow the brewery.
They chose to work with Bev-Craft, a brewery consulting firm started by Tim Nelson and Dave Hoops, to perfect their recipes and make a successful leap from homebrewers to commercial brewers. Christensen said this decision has already paid off, as they have received rave reviews on their IPA at recent beer festivals. In addition to their IPA, they also have an EPA, blonde ale, and a stout on tap.
Since all three partners are from the Moose Lake area, it was important to each of them to be true to the feel of the area. The taproom feels like the inside of a cabin with wooden walls, logging equipment as part of the decor, and cedar flight holders. This vibe even extends to the brewing process, as head brewer Wigg has a rule that he always makes three fishing casts in Moosehead Lake before he starts brewing for the day. His fishing rods are commonly seen propped up along the walls of the brewery and the locals know to ask for a report on his fishing successes for the day.
The brewery was on track to open this summer, when floods hit Northern Minnesota. While waiting for the last of their brewing supplies to come in and a final permit to be approved, the owners were forced to empty the brewery and, with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the community, fill sandbags to protect the building. Luckily, the water crested about two feet short of the brewery, and the owners were once again able to continue their journey towards opening their brewery.
The City of Moose Lake has been integral in helping the brewery become a reality, from streamlining the paperwork process to expediting approval for ordinance changes to the mayor himself helping with sandbags to save the brewery during the flood. The excitement for the brewery also extends to the residents of Moose Lake. Within a few weeks of purchasing a Crowler machine in order to sell their beer to-go, the brewery had already sold nearly 1,000 Crowlers.
While Moose Lake Brewing is working towards distributing to local restaurants, for now its beer is only available for sale at the taproom. The owners hope to add a patio area next year for patrons to enjoy a full view of the lake. They also hope to work with the city regarding current regulations to allow them to be open on Sundays in order to serve people commuting back and forth from their cabins. Watch their website and Facebook page for further information.
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Moose Lake Brewing // Photos by Melissa Maki and courtesy of Moose Lake Brewing
Brewers: Shawn Wigg (head brewer) and Paul Christensen (assistant brewer)
Beer: IPA, EPA, blonde ale, stout
Hours: Monday–Thursday 12–9pm; Friday and Saturday 12–10pm
Visit: 244 Lakeshore Drive, Moose Lake, MN 55767 (map)