“As much as we love craft beer, the beer culture, and brewing, we love our community and wanted to do something that will bring it to where we know it should and can be,” says Nick Fox, co-president of the forthcoming Spiral Brewery in Hastings, set to open April 20.
Flashback to 2013, and the same conversation was taking place in two different cities, with two different groups of people. Avid homebrewers Luke McGuire and Claire Sandahl in Los Angeles. Craft beer enthusiasts Amy, Nick, and Jen Fox in Minnesota. All with roots in the historic river town of Hastings, all toying with the idea of opening a brewery.
Nick, his wife Amy, and sister Jen, remember the stream of consciousness that led to the idea for a brewery in Hastings. Amy Fox says the conversation went like this: “We should open a brewery, it should be called Spiral Brewery, and it has to be in downtown Hastings.” They longed for craft beer culture in their hometown, and in one fluid thought planted the seed that they might be the ones to merge their hopes for Hastings’ future with hometown history.
The brewery name is inspired by an integral part of Hastings history. The Spiral Bridge was an icon of Hastings and a national tourist attraction, bringing visitors across the Mississippi and around a sharp spiral curve into the heart of downtown. If it were still standing, the loop of the bridge would be right in Spiral Brewery’s backyard.
With no experience in the beer industry, Nick and Amy met with breweries around the metro area, some out of state, all at varying scales of production. All told, they talked with nearly 20 breweries and were stunned by how open and supportive everyone was, sharing pages of information, detailed financials, and hours of time to help Spiral Brewery draw up a plan.
While the crew in Hastings hashed out the business details of opening a brewery, the brewing half of the story unfolded in Los Angeles.
Like many professional brewers, Luke comes from a homebrewing background, and has won regional competitions in California. Taking the next step, he entered the Craftbrewer’s Apprenticeship Program with the American Brewers Guild in 2014, working at Firestone Walker as part of the program.
Luke and Claire moved back to Minnesota later that year to be closer to family, and a mutual friend from college started pushing the two parties to reconnect—all four went to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter—knowing they shared the same dream of opening a brewery. Luke finished up his apprenticeship right around the time the two groups finally converged. At first, Nick and Amy asked advisory questions of Luke and Claire concerning supplier details and brewing logistics.
“I was helping out, but at that point we weren’t thinking we were going to be part of [Spiral Brewery],” says Luke. During this time, Luke was actively applying for brewing jobs all over Minnesota, though he and Claire held hopes of one day opening their own brewery.
The two groups continued to have casual conversations around each other’s relationship with beer, brewing knowledge, and Nick and Amy’s experience trying to found the first brewery in town. Claire remembers the realization during those conversations that there was a lot to learn about opening a brewery besides just brewing.
“We knew production stuff, but [Nick and Amy] were talking about business plans and investors,” Claire says. “It became very apparent that if we were going to [open our own brewery] we were going to need somebody like [Nick and Amy].”
Nick says he and Amy had very much the same experience in needing someone with the ability to speak the language of beer production. They extended Luke and Claire an offer to join the founding group of Spiral Brewery, rounding out the final piece of the leadership puzzle.
“As I’m reaching out to these breweries to find a job somewhere, they offered to bring [Claire and I] in as part of the founding group,” says Luke. “It was just too cool of an opportunity to pass up.”
With a business plan and a brewer, it was time to get investors. The team launched a Kickstarter project to further build that sense of community ownership, and hit their funding goal in just six days.
The timing and location couldn’t be better. Spiral Brewery is opening right in the middle of a downtown Hastings revival. An old manufacturing plant is being converted to retail space, hotel, and event space. Residential areas, art spaces, and new businesses are opening left and right, breathing new life into the historical riverfront.
Hastings’ has a storied past in beer. It once boasted four breweries, though none survived Prohibition. Spiral Brewery aims to rebuild the brewing legacy in a town where craft beer is just gaining traction.
“We have a really unique opportunity here because craft beer is still a fun and new thing in Hastings,” says Jen. “It’s thoughtful timing and some dumb luck,” says Nick, “but we’re hitting it at a really great time when things are starting to pop.”
Getting a space right on the riverfront, right in the middle of the action, was a huge win for them.
“None of us will ever forget the day we closed on the building,” says Amy. “We encountered many delays in this process, so to finally have possession of the space was a huge turning point.”
Floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on Main Street and communal tables built from the original 1901 floor joists add to the sensation that the taproom is a relic of an earlier Hastings.
The sense of anticipation in Hastings is tangible. The energy of change is in the air, and Spiral Brewery is riding the wave of community renaissance. During the interview, three separate groups walk into the taproom to ask if it is open yet (despite the team of contractors actively hammering, sawing, stapling and nailing the place together).
“That happens at least 20 times a day,” says Nick. “People are really excited to get into the culture and try different things,” Jen adds.
In addition to the taproom being a space that fosters community, the beer will be brewed for drinkability. Spiral Brewery will open with their six main recipes on tap, all brewed for their drinkability. Amy expects Oliver’s Grove Pale Ale and Töwnie Kolsch to be the most popular. The opening lineup includes a Kölsch style, pale ale, two IPAs, a stout and a porter, most named after iconic places or figures in Hastings history.
When we talk about the beer each person on the team has a glint in their eye, like there’s a happy secret they’re all keeping.
“When people try Luke’s beer,” Nick says with excitement, “I think it will surprise people.”
The rest of the team nods, knowingly. Luke brings big vision and experience to the small town Minnesota brewery, and one might expect that his beer will offer more than just drinkability.
“I did my apprenticeship at Firestone Walker, which is a bit different than here,” Luke says with a grin. Luke says they’ve adapted much of what they could from Firestone Walker, setting Spiral Brewery up for growth. Firestone Walker pumps out 200,000 barrels a year. At full capacity, Spiral Brewery’s current setup will top out around 3,000 barrels. After that, they’ll look to build out a second facility dedicated to production brewing.
“We never intended [Spiral Brewery] to be just [in Hastings],” says Nick. “I think with our branding, with the beer types, and the taste of the beer, we really positioned ourselves to be a brewery that people look for and will be able to recognize beyond this town.”
With 12 taps, the space is ready for Luke to experiment and expand Hastings’ palate for the full spectrum of styles craft beer has to offer. The taproom will eventually feature a rooftop deck overlooking the riverfront and city hall. Distribution plans along the Mississippi watershed are already in the works. The founders hope to be canning or bottling by year two. But without fail, the conversation always comes back to Hastings, and the community.
“We could’ve lived anywhere. We love this place. We love our community,” Nick says, hinting at all the possibility that lays before the riverfront town, “this could be the start of a movement.”
Brewer: Luke McGuire
Beers: 12 taps, with 6 flagships on tap to begin with, including Töwnie Kolsch, Oliver’s Grove Pale Ale, Downward Spiral IPA, The LeDuc Red IPA, The Bottoms Porter, and Hard Left Stout.
Non-Alcoholic Options: Soda, kombucha, and cold-pressed coffee
Address: 111 2nd Street East, Hastings MN 55033
Hours: Wed & Thur 2pm–10pm; Fri 2pm–11pm; Sat 12pm–11pm; Sun 12pm–10pm
Grand Opening: Weekend of April 20–22