Now Open (Or Damn Close): Roundhouse Brewery


Roundhouse Brewery is located in a former rail yard in Brainerd, MN // Photo via Roundhouse website

As craft breweries continue to open across the country, it’s becoming clear that the trend isn’t just about beer. There’s a larger craft movement at hand. Take Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd, for example: at the center of a revitalized former rail yard, the brewery is helping bring jobs back to the Northern Minnesota city’s core.

Roundhouse is the most visible among several new tenants in the Northern Pacific Center that once serviced trains along a busy railway through Brainerd. Surrounded by offices and warehouses, the brewery is located in the railroad’s former machine shop. “The railroad is a huge part of what this town is,” explains Roundhouse president Mark Lelwica.


A historic photo showing the former rail yard Roundhouse Brewery is located in, including the roundhouse the brewery takes its name from // Photo via Roundhouse website

The emblematic location has a charm that can’t be built from scratch, Lelwica continues. “All the buildings around us are 100 to 150 years old,” he says. The giant iron beams supporting the spacious taproom and brewhouse, and the worn industrial brick and concrete add to the historic feeling of the brewery. “There’s flaws to the place,” Lelwica says. “I think we were able to use that to build up in a way that gets people to feel that character.”

The brewery takes its name from the former rail yard roundhouse, a turntable-like building where trains entered the station for service. The roundhouse, once located next to the machine shop building, was demolished in the late 1970s, but left a clear imprint on the landscape that’s still visible today. With the redevelopment of the complex, Roundhouse Brewery unites the past to the present.


The red circle marks the location of Roundhouse Brewery, and visible in the foreground is the footprint of where the roundhouse once stood // Photo via Roundhouse website

Head brewer Chuck Martin will craft Roundhouse’s beer on a seven-barrel brewing system, serviced by four fermentation tanks. “People are going to be able to taste the care that was put into the beers—not just the ingredients, but the process as well,” Lelwica says.

The majority of the beers, he says, will lean more traditional than experimental in flavor profiles. Roundhouse is planning for slow growth, using a methodical and detail-oriented approach to the new brewery. Eventually, Lelwica says he would like to see Roundhouse pouring up to 12 different beers and expanding to local restaurants, hotels, and resorts within a 30-mile radius, making the most of Brainerd’s lake tourism economy. Roundhouse has no plans to package in their early development, instead focusing on quality and meeting demand as the brand establishes itself.

Before and after photos via Roundhouse website

While the rail yard is clearly an inspiration for themes within the brewery—seen in such details as the name for Cowcatcher Ale, the story of which is told on their blog—Roundhouse also draws inspiration from local geography and lore. It’s that tie to community, both the place and the people, that defines Roundhouse.

Funded by a group of nine private investors, the upfront team at Roundhouse are longtime friends. Lelwica, CFO Dan Meyer, and head brewer Chuck Martin grew up within a mile-and-a-half of each other in rural Staples—30 miles west of Brainerd. When Lelwica and Meyer were planning the brewery, Martin was brewing commercially in Michigan. Wanting somebody with commercial experience, he was a perfect fit. “Chuck was excited because of the opportunity, but also because he was coming back home,” says Lelwica. Beer may be the motivating factor of the business, but building a business that invests in the community is the core of the brand.


The brewhouse at Roundhouse // Photo via Roundhouse website

Roundhouse opens officially this Thursday, April 28, and will gradually increase production and hours. They are planning a grand opening celebration by summer.

Brewer: Chuck Martin (Head Brewer)

Beer: Golden Spike IPA, Cowcatcher Ale, Spike Driver Oatmeal Stout, Crow Wing Cream Ale, Old Betsy Brown Ale, Runaround Rye

Visit: 1551 Northern Pacific Road, Brainerd, Minnesota

Hours: Thursday 4–8pm, Fri–Sat 3–10pm. Hours to expand in summer.

Online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram


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