Jim and Lauren Parejko want LocAle Brewing Company to be infused with all-things Minnesota—Blue Earth County in particular. The logo for their Mankato brewery features a hop-shaped bison (a nod to nearby Minneopa State Park, where herds of the giant mammals are free to roam 331 acres), and they try to use at least one Minnesota ingredient per beer.
The couple even plans to incorporate the area into their beers on a cellular level: Jim has been experimenting with wild yeast strains harvested from local landmarks to make sour beers and farmhouse ales. “We live just outside of a park called Rasmussen Woods, and I’ve already gone back and grabbed some bark,” he says, then clarifies: “Actually, wild yeast is found in oak bark; that’s where Saccharomyces is commonly found.”
Conversations with Jim and Lauren often sound like this. Not because they’re trying to sound smart, but because they are smart. Both earned a Ph.D. in microbiology from Washington State University. Jim is a visiting assistant professor in chemistry at Gustavus Adolphus College; Lauren manages a quality control lab for an ethanol plant and previously worked as a business analyst.
The couple met through mutual friends in the Twin Cities while Lauren was studying at Macalester College. After finishing their doctorates in Washington and returning to the Midwest, they decided to chase another dream together—opening a brewery.
LocAle Brewery is housed in a former auto service station with about 5,000 square feet and garage doors that open onto a patio. It also contains space to add a kitchen eventually, but for the foreseeable future guests will be able to order in food from nearby restaurants, such as Pagliai’s Pizza and La Bamba Taco House.
The Parejkos are hoping to have a soft opening on October 27, with a grand opening planned for November. The location they chose for LocAle plays a large role in accomplishing the couple’s goal to make the brewery a place where people gather and feel like part of a larger community. “There’s a lot of things that made it work for a brewery. That seems to be tricky to find,” Lauren says. “We also like the feel of downtown and old town, so that’s why we’re concentrating on here.”
The space needed a few renovations to turn it from an auto shop into a brewery, such as adding flooring above the old oil change bays, but features like the staircase were able to be left as is. The lower level will be used for barrel-aging beers, for which Jim says he hopes to use locally sourced barrels from places like Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery and Javens Family Vineyard & Winery.
The brewhouse features a 7-barrel system with four fermentors and LocAle plans to offer 12 taps total eventually, but likely will start with four: an American pale ale, IPA, stout, and saison, which features malt from Maltwerks in Detroit Lakes and Cascade hops from Mighty Axe Hops in Foley.
Jim has been homebrewing competitively for about six years, taking part in brewing clubs and competitions. “I have a competitive spirit,” Jim says. “I want to enter to see how my beers can do against other beers but also to get the feedback to make them better.”
For one year, Jim learned the ins and outs of making sour beers while working at the Starkeller in New Ulm, August Schell Brewing Company’s sister brewery that produces the Noble Star Collection series. The experience paid off in 2017 when his homebrewed sour, described as a “mixed culture sour beer aged on ripe organic Colorado peaches and lightly toasted oak” won best in show at the Minnesota State Fair.
Science and brewing have always been intertwined for Jim. As an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse pursuing a microbiology degree, he took a course on fermentation that taught students the chemical processes behind how beer, sauerkraut, and cheese are made. He soon decided to try brewing.
“My dad did homebrewing back in the ’70s or ’80s, so he had some equipment that I used,” he says. “The very first batch fermented in one of those Red Wing crocks, but I think it turned out all right—kind of open fermentation, you could say.”
Jim has since taught fermentation courses at UW–La Crosse and Gustavus. Understanding the microbiology behind brewing is important, he says, especially when it comes to knowing “the detailed metabolism of Gram-positive bacteria” and choosing strains based on how they will affect flavor profiles.
But brewing is about more than science, Lauren adds. Although Jim handles the brewing, Lauren, who is LocAle’s president and will eventually also brew, always lends a hand with quality control, which is not as cut and dry as in her day job. When it comes to beer, she says, one factor always wins, even over the science: taste.
“With brewing, it’s going to be less scientific and more, ‘Does this taste right?’” she says. “It’s a little bit more subjective.”
However, LocAle’s focus on incorporating Minnesota ingredients and creating a community space means flavor is tied with another factor: place.
Brewer: Jim Parejko
Beers: 12 taps, with four on tap to begin, including an American pale ale, IPA, stout, and saison
Address: 228 Poplar St., Mankato, MN 56001
Soft Opening: October 27, 2018
Grand Opening: November 2018