While the owners and staff at Tanzenwald Brewing Company met through serendipitous paths, for the past five years every step to opening their brewery has been the result of methodical planning.
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Fate nearly brought Jenaveve Bell Pittman and Steve Pittman together at several points in their lives. Both are natives of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and both went to school in the Twin Cities, but the two didn’t meet until they were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The couple started dating while Jenaveve was working in restaurant management and Steve was a brewing supervisor at Lagunitas Brewing Company. In 2013, Jenaveve started taking business courses in California with the idea of opening a brewery with her soon-to-be husband. The couple first planned to revive the Big Trees Brewery in Santa Cruz, a pre-Prohibition California common beer maker that went under in 1920. Another brewer bought rights to the name, though, and their journey took some unexpected turns.
Ultimately, the couple decided to move back to the Midwest to open their brewery. They felt Minnesota had two things going for it that they couldn’t get on the West Coast. First, California’s water shortage makes brewing a challenge. Second, as a newly married couple, they wanted to be closer to their families. After agreeing on the name Tanzenwald, German for “dancing forest,” the couple set out to find a location.
“We wanted to be close to the city for distribution,” Jenaveve recalls. “But we didn’t want any old suburb. We wanted a town with some character.” One of Jenaveve’s friends, a member of the local dance community, pointed her to what locals call “the old creamery building” on Highway 3 in Northfield. Built in 1887 as a pump house for municipal water, it later serviced steam engines before becoming a creamery until the 1970s. It had been vacant and in disrepair for many years, but Jenaveve, Steve, and their landlord restored the site and built an addition on the building’s south side.
The brewhouse is in the new addition, while the historic character of the original building defines their 98-seat taproom and restaurant. The high ceilings show off original Douglas fir beams while an open stainless steel kitchen bridges Northfield’s past and present. The brewhouse is fully visible from the bar, separated by a glass partition.
Pittman brews on a 10-barrel brewhouse constructed by Alpha Brewing Operations. “It’s a pretty basic brewhouse,” he says, and a drastically different system than the 250-barrel brewhouse at his last job. “I don’t have all the bells and whistles I did when I was a Lagunitas brewer, of course,” he says. Pittman was a homebrewer for years, then enrolled at University of California, Davis in 2010. He worked as a shift brewer at Lagunitas, and became a supervisor before they upgraded their brewhouse. “I trained on an 80-barrel system,” he says, standing next to his own 10-barrel setup.
Tanzenwald is meant to be a fresh start. Pittman loved his time at Lagunitas, but he wanted his own project. While Steve loves all beer styles, Tanzenwald is going to concentrate on hop-forward beers, lagers, and sours that are more focused on flavor than style guidelines.
“I have a flavor-based approach to beer,” he says. “I ask: What do I want my end flavors to be? Then I work backwards. I want to keep the ingredients as minimal as possible. I like making the best beer possible with the main four ingredients.” That’s not to say he won’t experiment or use adjuncts, but it’s his basic brewing philosophy. Noting an affinity for the hop plant and its many flavors, he adds that he won’t focus on IPAs but he will try to keep three or four of Tanzenwald’s 10 tap lines dedicated to hop-focused recipes of different styles.
“Of everything I learned at Lagunitas,” Steve reflects, “the beer portion was huge. But, starting a new business, I realize I admired the culture more than anything else. It was so community-based where everybody was invited. It was a family. I’m taking the company culture with me, if anything,” he says.
Across the partition from the brewhouse, the kitchen takes a serious approach to food grown near the community.
“Our kitchen’s motto is globally influenced, locally sourced,” Jenaveve explains. While many recipes have German roots, it’s a fusion menu that includes flavors from Japan, Morocco, and more. The Totkes (pronounced tot-kahs) are a latke–tater tot combination served with apple chutney and horseradish sour cream, and the cabbage pancakes are a dressed-up version of Japanese okonomiyaki. Everything except the figs and avocados are locally grown, Jenaveve stresses.
She has worked with chef Martin Yan of the PBS show “Yan Can Cook,” as well as managed a chain of brewpubs in San Francisco, and recently attended a cicerone boot camp in Chicago. Tanzenwald’s kitchen is run by Gwen Anderson and Matt Murphy, who the Pittmans met during the brewpub’s development. Anderson, in fact, had once developed a brewpub business plan and looked at the building where Tanzenwald is today.
Tanzenwald is a brewery connected by family, nature, and community. Northfield was a perfect fit for these themes, and it puts the Pittmans back at home. Their logo is based on traditional German cutout art and shares the mystical sense of an enchanted forest. On first glance, the stoic treetops and their brand name jump out. A closer look, however, reveals a hidden world with the Cannon River, a Minnesota silhouette, hops cones, beer pitchers, and their own dancing forest.
“The more we said ‘Tanzenwald,’ the more we liked it. People will struggle with it but once they get it they aren’t going to forget it,” Steve summarizes of their name choice, letting Jenaveve finishes his thought.
“Lagunitas is a weird name too,” she laughs.
Tanzenwald will celebrate their grand opening on Thursday April 20 as a nod to Steve’s former company, a brewery where he got his start before taking his own journey into the dancing forest back home.
Brewer: Steve Pittman
Beer: De Minimus Pale Ale, Odd Fellows IPA, Rye Opener Session Stout, Twisted Sisters Hoppy Brown
Address: 103 Water Street N (Hwy3), Northfield, MN 55057
Hours: Tue–Thu, 3pm–10pm; Fri & Sat, 11am–11pm; Sunday, 11am–8pm
Grand Opening: April 20