Ryan Fuchs didn’t set out to become the head brewer at his own brewery—at least not initially. His story and that of Foxhole Brewhouse, which is set to open in mid- to late-August in Willmar, Minnesota, first took root in the same fertile ground that has birthed countless startups and small businesses: his garage. Or, as it’s better known around Willmar, The Foxhole.
Before there was The Foxhole, though, there was the starter kit from Midwest Supplies and a few extract batches. Then came the upgrade to all-grain. Then original recipes and the three-line kegerator. Soon, Fuchs and his wife, Liv, were regularly inviting their friends over to try his beer.
“People really liked it,” Fuchs said. “Everybody was hounding me and wanting to buy my beer and I kept telling them, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ When people are willing to buy your homebrew instead of giving a few bottles to friends and hoping they’ll drink it, you feel like you’re on to something.”
Still, Fuchs wasn’t content with the positive yet vague—and possibly suspect—feedback he was receiving from his friends. He knew he needed people who weren’t afraid to tell it like it is. “I started inviting random people to get some honest feedback,” Fuchs said. “My friends would say, ‘It’s good!’ Well, what does that mean?”
What began as small tastings with friends quickly became gatherings of 40 to 50 people where upwards of 20 gallons of Fuchs’ creations were being consumed. He’d plan months in advance, brewing different beers for the get-togethers.
It was around this time The Foxhole was officially born. Ryan and Liv’s last name, Fuchs, means “fox” in German, so the farmstead on which they live picked up the moniker. When it came time to upgrade from the garage to the brewhouse, the name came, too.
Foxhole Brewhouse is located in downtown Willmar and is the city’s only brewery. The space they’re renting is located next to The Barn Theatre and used to serve as props and storage facility for the theater. The space had to be gutted to make it viable as a brewery, but the community has been supportive of what they’re doing and Fuchs said the city has been great to work with. It changed its laws to allow them to have a patio on the sidewalk out front.
Fuchs will serve as Foxhole’s head brewer and Liv will manage the business side of things. Their brother-in-law, Stevin Carlson, who’s a part owner, will be the assistant brewer. All three are planning to help out in the taproom.
Foxhole will offer a regular lineup of beers in addition to seasonals, which will include a pale ale brewed with simcoe and chinook hops, a rye IPA, and a coffee stout made with grounds from a neighboring business, The Goodness Coffee House. In a “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” kind of agreement, Goodness will give Foxhole the grounds in exchange for beer they can use in soups and other dishes.
As a new full-time brewer, Fuchs is in a position that many before him have found themselves in. He knows what beers he likes and has an idea of the preferences of others from the tastings, but he’s still making decisions as to which of his recipes to brew on Foxhole’s five-barrel system. That, he says, makes it difficult to contract hard-to-find ingredients—particularly hops. Some of the varieties he likes to brew with, including citra, mosaic, and simcoe, he’s had to scour the Internet to find. “They’re like liquid gold,” Fuchs said. “Well, I shouldn’t say ‘liquid gold;’ they’re like green gold. I don’t know what my customers will want, so it’s hard to purchase hops long-term.”
Regardless of the lineup on Foxhole’s opening day, the brewery’s taproom will seat about 65 people with an additional 20 to 25 seats on the patio outside. Fuchs is planning on offering growlers as long as they can brew enough beer to keep up with demand in the taproom.
As other breweries in outstate Minnesota towns even smaller than Willmar have proven, demand for craft beer doesn’t stop at the 394/494 loop. Just like Fuchs said, “Everybody’s hungry for beer out here.”
Update: Foxhole launched an Indiegogo campaign on June 28 to fund the completion of the brewhouse.
Brewers: Ryan Fuchs (head brewer), Stevin Carlson (assistant brewer)
Beer: Pale ale, rye IPA, coffee stout, rotating seasonals
Visit: 313 4th St NW, Willmar, MN
Hours: Wed & Thurs 4–9pm, Fri 3–9pm, and Sat 12–10pm