The building at 165 Main Street in the small town of Bethel, Minnesota, has housed many kinds of businesses and organizations since it was built in 1907. During Prohibition, it was a silent movie theater; people were married there while it hosted a Lutheran church; and a few years ago, Bethel City Hall even occupied its basement as offices.
But in the past couple of years, the building has undergone a transformation into a new kind of community center, Garphish Brewing Company, which opens late May 2018.
The brewery’s founder Brandon Lamson started brewing after he was gifted a homebrew kit from his wife in 2010. “I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that the first time I brewed a beer, and it was more than drinkable, I thought, ‘Opening a brewery would be kind of fun,’” Lamson says. He credits the notion of bringing a fresh, honest, hyper-local brewery to a small town, and doing it in a Christian, community-oriented way, in inspiring him to seriously contemplate the idea.
When Lamson started seriously looking for brewing space in his hometown of East Bethel, he had all but given up hope after calculating the necessary infrastructure costs. “It was like we were moving Anheuser-Busch into East Bethel,” he says. “The price of water and sewer made this whole thing unaffordable.”
Lamson shelved the idea for a couple of months and just happened to be browsing commercial real estate in the area when he came across 165 Main Street in Bethel, the next town over. It took one visit for him to buy the building and get started. “What excited me the most was what the place looked like when we first walked in, much like it does today,” he says. “Buildings don’t just stay like that for 110 years.”
By the time Lamson bought the building, it had sat vacant for two years. Renovations were extensive and included installing a new roof, plumbing, electrical, and an HVAC system. Though neighbors, family, and friends helped with some interior demolition, drywall, and painting, he did the majority of the work himself. As his work on the brewery progressed, Lamson made the decision to leave his full-time job in the motorcycle division of Polaris Industries which he loved, and take a leap of faith. “It’s hard to leave a job you like to do something you’re not sure of, but when the Lord calls you, you do it,” he says.
After insulating the entire building, he got to work gutting the 2,300-square-foot basement in order to make space for brewing equipment he had purchased from Bemidji Brewing.
With all the changes and updates made to the building, Lamson kept many original elements of the main level, which serves as the taproom. Original tin tiles from 1907 line the interior walls and a stage sits at the north end of the room, ready for live music on the weekends. The taproom is furnished with antique dining tables and sofas, resulting in an inviting and laid-back atmosphere that feels like sipping a beer in a friend’s living room.
Above the 26-foot hardwood bar built by Lamson’s father hangs a large, mounted longnose gar, the namesake of the brewery. Fishing for gar at the family’s cabin in Otter Tail County is a tradition for the family reunions they affectionately refer to as “Gar Days.”
The bar is equipped with eight taplines and Lamson says he is opening with four beers to start. Their most popular brew from sampling events has been the jalapeno Kölsch, Hapjazardly. Lamson describes it as a light, crisp beer spiked with one whole jalapeno per gallon. Garphish will also be pouring 5-7-5 Apricot Wheat, an American-style wheat ale fermented with apricot puree; bOATlaunch Oatmeal Stout, named by Lamson’s 10-year-old daughter; and Long Lake IPA, brewed with Citra hops sourced from Mighty Axe Hops and some other local hop growers. Lamson says he will rotate in other seasonal and specialty beers but keep those four core beers on tap.
The downstairs brewing space has a 500-barrel capacity, with space for expansion. Garphish does not have immediate plans to distribute far and wide because Lamson says there is enough of a crowd between the cabin traffic on nearby Highway 65 and the 70,000 people living within a five-mile radius to keep the brewery in business.
Throughout the brewery planning Lamson says he has received invaluable help, advice, and encouragement from other brewers, like Jesse Hauf at 10K Brewing in Anoka. “If I was opening up a motorcycle shop, the motorcycle shop in the next town over is not going to give me any business advice whatsoever,” Lamson says. “But here, I feel like everybody is in this together. […] The other brewers we’ve met have been super helpful every step of the way toward opening.”
Lamson wants to give back to his community in an equally meaningful way. He and his family are active in their church and plan to divert a lot of funds toward mission trips. “I think starting any business is hard, but when you add the pressure to do it in a Christian way, that’s putting it out there to stand out,” he says. “Our lives are meant to be a public declaration of our faith, and I guess we’re going to do it through opening a brewery.”
Brewer: Brandon Lamson
Beers: Hapjazardly Kölsch, 5-7-5 Apricot Wheat, bOATlaunch Oatmeal Stout, and Long Lake IPA. Rotating and seasonal offerings to come.
Address: 165 Main Street, Bethel, MN 55005
Hours: Wed–Fri: 4–10pm; Sat: 12–11pm
Opening: Late May