The Minnesota Northwoods is a place where travelers can satisfy their need for adventure by immersing themselves in wilderness. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior National Forest allow backcountry adventurers the opportunity to peer back into the history of French voyageurs, who navigated similar labyrinths of rivers and lakes in the late 18th century.
It’s befitting then that Grand Marais, the north shore town that serves as an entry point for campers, canoers, and hikers to these protected wilderness areas, is home to Voyageur Brewing Company.
Owners and founders Cara Sporn, Mike Prom, and Bruce Walters were all drawn north by a similar allure of adventure and quickly set roots in Grand Marais. Cara Sporn and her husband Paul have owned and operated the local restaurant My Sister’s Place since 2005, and are longtime friends of Mike and Sue Prom, who own Voyageur Canoe Outfitters at the end of the Gun Flint Trail.
Most recently Bruce Walters and his wife, a college friend of Sue Prom’s, moved to town to partner with Mike Prom and Cara Sporn on a new venture—the first production brewery in Grand Marais.
“We just thought it’d be great to have [a production brewery] in Grand Marais,” said Bruce Walters, an investor who has gotten many projects off the ground. “It’d be something that really would benefit the community—it’d be something fun to do.”
Each of the owners will head up a different aspect of the company—Prom serving as CEO, Sporn as taproom manager, and Walters in charge of production. But since none of the owners are brewers, they searched outside their group for Voyageur Brewing’s head brewer, eventually selecting Jason Baumgarth to captain the 20 bbl brewhouse and 20 and 40 bbl fermenters. Baumgarth began brewing twelve years ago, recently serving, for two years, as head brewer at Duluth’s Carmody Irish.
The team also brought in brewery veteran Anders Johansen of TurnKey Brewery Consulting to guide them in setting up their 20 bbl production brewhouse. Johansen’s resume boasts 20 years in the brewing industry with time at notable West Coast breweries such as Deschutes, Ninkasi, and Pyramid Ales. His experience helped Baumgarth hone his recipes as he moved from a 1.5 bbl brewing system at Carmody to a large-scale brewhouse—a process Baumgarth admitted was “equal parts excitement and terror.”
Voyageur will begin producing four beers out of the gate—IPA, nut brown, Belgian wit, and porter—with seasonals added soon after featuring local ingredients like maple syrup and wild rice. Beer will be available in the taproom in growlers and pints, as well as on draft at local establishments.
“To do this just took so many decisions,” said Walters, an investor who has been involved in a number of start-ups. “But this is the most excited I’ve been about a project. Everyone I meet up here is so excited about the brewery.”
Brewer: Jason Baumgarth
Beer: IPA, Nut Brown, Belgian Wit, Porter, and rotating seasonals
Visit: 233 West Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN