John and Tami Oswald were living a happy life in Woodland Park, Colorado, in 2012. He was a city construction manager, she was an engineer, and their oldest child was enrolled in school in nearby Colorado Springs. John, a homebrewer, was scouting locations for a nanobrewery, but there were already three locally. During a trip to visit family in Blue Earth, Minnesota, about 45 miles south of Mankato, John noticed a foreclosed 1930s Art Deco bank building downtown. One thing led to another and, months later, the family was moving to Blue Earth to open Oswald Brewing Company.
Oswald intended the move from Colorado to Blue Earth to be a two-year process. But two months after incorporating in 2012, Tami had already found a new job and Blue Earth had updated its city ordinance to allow for microbreweries, accelerating the process. That could have been overwhelming, but John says the Blue Earth community and being closer to his family helped make the transition easier.
“We drove 20 miles to Colorado Springs every day [for school]. The kids were in the back of the car a lot, and that’s not the way I wanted to raise my kids,” he says, adding that the quality of life is great in Blue Earth—both for his family as well as his new business.
Oswald Brewing’s granite and sandstone building was a fixer-upper, to say the least, but Oswald was up to the task. He built the brewhouse in the lower level—a former vault—and the taproom upstairs, where customers enter. “There are little elements of what used to be there,” he says of the building, “but it’s been through so many different businesses that it’s lost some of that identity. […] Whenever possible we try to keep those elements there that weren’t lost to time.”
Some of that includes the general layout. “It was incredibly difficult to convert into a brewery,” Oswald says. The back bar is in the old safety deposit vault—which required drilling through 18-inch walls. Equally challenging: installing plumbing into the extra thick floors. However, those challenges also give the brewery a unique charm. The lower level is isolated and features the brewhouse, a crawlspace John plans to use for aging casks, and a walk-in cooler complete with a vault door. “It’s built like a bank and it acts like a cave, so it’s really cool for brewing,” Oswald says.
With a one-barrel system and seven fermentation tanks, Oswald has room to make a lot of different small-batches. While Oswald acknowledges that there are locals who are very in tune with the craft beer world, he also knows that much of the southern Minnesota community is more familiar with macro beer than what he is making, so education is a big piece of his business. “Some of what we’re doing is introducing people to craft beer,” he says, noting that many first-time visitors’ request is “the lightest thing you’ve got.”
It’s been a challenge to keep up with demand since the brewery’s December 9 grand opening. Part of the reason could be the approachability of Oswald’s beer: it’s sessionable, with the ABV coming in at 6%, and focuses on the traditional balance between malt and hop interplay. “We’re not into aggressive hops,” Oswald says, referencing a British-style IPA he brewed recently in order to showcase that relationship. Up to six of the brewery’s eight taps will regularly offer familiar styles like pale ale, amber ale, and porter, while the others will be reserved for limited-release and seasonal beers.
Regardless of the style, Oswald’s goal for each beer remains the same. “I focus on body and balance,” he says. “It’s easy to overdo it. If you get too exotic, I think you overload people.” And that would counter his overall mission, which is to bring people together through a beverage he loves.
Brewer: John Oswald
Beer: Odin’s Porter, Fjord Farm Ale, Valkyrie Wheat, Berserker NPA (Norwegian Pale Ale), Thor’s Thirst, Erik the Red Amber Ale (flagship), and rotating seasonals and one-offs. Oswald fills growlers from other breweries, in addition to selling their own.
Visit: 110 South Main Street, Blue Earth, Minnesota
Hours: Thursday 1–7pm; Friday-Saturday 1–10pm; Sunday 1–7pm