It doesn’t take long when leaving downtown Waseca to find yourself among farm fields and woodland. But drive just far enough on the dirt road that turns from County Road 10 into 150th Street and you’ll come across a farm unlike any others in the area. A small hopyard stands adjacent to a house atop a hill and there is a building, tucked behind a thicket, that is home to Minnesota’s newest farmhouse brewery: Half Pint Brewing Company.
While the definition of a “farmhouse brewery” varies, for Half Pint founders Mike and Amy McQuery it means this: they will grow as many hops, fruits, vegetables, and spices as they can on their land to put in their beers. What they can’t grow on their farm, they’ll source elsewhere.
After all, their hopyard is only a third of an acre (their home sits on a total of nine acres). Currently, they grow Centennial, Chinook, Triple Pearl, Cascade, and Zeus hops. The duo built a hop dryer to dry the hops after they pick them with people around the community. The couple also grows raspberries (which contribute to the fruit that goes into Half Pint’s kettle sour) and plan to plant an assortment of spices and herbs such as cilantro, lemon balm, sage, and various others.
The brewery was inspired by one of their friend’s, Agrarian Ales, which is set on 20 acres of farmland near Eugene, Oregon. Mike and Amy McQuery lived in Portland, Oregon, from 2003 to 2013 where Mike’s homebrewing hobby grew more serious. His friends liked his beer, and he won homebrewing awards, but he wasn’t sure a brewery would be in the cards. It was his wife Amy who fed his dream of going pro. “The garage in Oregon was the cleanest part of our house because of the brewing,” she explains cheekily. “And so, I said, at some point, let’s start making money at this.”
But Portland, and Oregon in general, was bursting with breweries. Five years ago Amy suggested they move to Waseca, Minnesota, where she had a cousin, and a job offer, to pursue their professional brewing venture. Mike was convinced after meeting Dr. Charlie Rohwer, the University of Minnesota research associate who works at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca on hop research. Rohwer told Mike about hop growing in Minnesota, and Mike found Minnesota still had room for new breweries.
“We’re like a reverse pioneer going the opposite way, we’re not going to the West Coast,” Amy says, acknowledging that Half Pint references Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nickname, Half-Pint. “We feel like we are pioneers in a way.”
The brewery is made up of a 3-barrel brewing system, with eight 3-barrel plastic fermentors. With it being located on the same property as their house, it’s “almost like I’m still homebrewing in my garage, only bigger,” Mike says. “And I’m still inviting people to my house to come out and try my beer.” Mike likes the smaller scale, so he can experiment with putting things like stinging nettle into beer.
“I want to play with any interesting thing that I can that grows naturally,” Mike says. “Any food that he comes across his first thought is, ‘does this have fermentable sugars,’” Amy adds. “Or how would this taste in a beer?”
But before Mike could start adding anything to the brew kettle, there was plenty of work to do to get the business off the ground. He installed the trellis system for the hopyard and spent a year and a half building the brewery after tearing down an old shed on the property. “I learned how to frame, tile, [install] ductwork,” Mike says. Some of the original shed still exists on the walls of the brewery. Much of what’s inside the brewery and taproom is local, including the bar made from a black walnut and red oak tree that sat on the McQuerys’ property.
The couple are excited to offer a place to drink local handcrafted beer but also to show patrons how that beer is tied to the land. Beyond the typical tour of the brewing equipment, Half Pint will offer tours of the farm that highlight the botanical ingredients grown right on the property. “We wanted to make it a different experience for people than what everybody else is doing,” Mike says.
Running a hopyard and small farm adds another layer of complexity to their brewery business, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “I feel like this is what he was born to do,” Amy says.
Brewer: Mike McQuery
Beer: French Saison, Norway IPA, Burnt Prairie Black IPA, Porter, Fra Feltet Norwegian Farmhouse, Kolscheweisen, Kettle Sour with Raspberries, Hannah’s Honey Cream on nitro.
Address: 40099 150th St., Waseca, MN 56093
Hours: Fri & Sat: 12pm–9pm
Grand Opening: November 30, 2018