After nearly a decade of brewing, Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewing Company has outgrown it’s home. But it didn’t have to travel far to find a site to build an expanded production brewery and taproom.
Today the company announced that it has purchased a five-and-a-half-acre property, located less than a quarter-mile north of the current location, at the southeast corner of Orleans Street West and Washington Avenue in Stillwater.
Finding a site in the company’s hometown was the goal of its four founders, but it proved to be a challenge. “We’ve probably actively been looking for a property for about a year,” says co-founder and Lift Bridge vice president Brad Glynn. “[…] We did really want to stay in Stillwater, but there just doesn’t happen to be a lot of open land in Stillwater.” With few viable options on the market in their hometown the company broadened their search to neighboring communities in Minnesota and across the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. But it was an inquiry into an off-market property owned by HealthPartners in Stillwater that led them to find their new site.
“We went back and forth quite a bit with them, but now we’ve signed a purchase agreement so it’s a green light moving forward, and we can actually stay in Stillwater which is awesome. That was our original hope and goal,” says Glynn.
While specific plans for the design and development of the new location are currently in the works, co-founder and Lift Bridge vice president Brad Glynn says they plan to break ground this August with the aim of having the new location operational by May of 2019.
The expansion will include a substantial upgrade to Lift Bridge’s 15-barrel brewhouse and 30- and 60-barrel fermentors. The new brewery will be equipped with a brewhouse in the range of 35 to 50 barrels and 100-barrel fermentors, says Glynn, allowing Lift Bridge to bring all of its production under one roof and to fulfill the demands of future growth.
In 2017, Lift Bridge’s sales increased more than 20 percent in Minnesota and the company brewed 19,000 barrels of beer, an increase from 8,000 barrels brewed in 2014. Looking to the next few years, the company expects to continue tapping the Twin Cities market and expand its footprint slowly into North Dakota, South Dakota, and eventually Iowa, to add to its current footprint of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and eastern North Dakota.
Projecting growth at an estimated average of 20 percent over the next five years may seem like a lofty goal, especially considering U.S. craft beer overall has slowed significantly over the past few years to five percent growth in volume in 2017. But Glynn is confident that Lift Bridge is poised to be able to meet it through the tempered approach they’ve maintained since they started.
Not spreading regionally or nationally too fast, not chasing trends that aren’t in their wheelhouse, and not overspending, he explains, has allowed Lift Bridge to grow steadily. “We’ve been around 10 years, so we’re pretty established and comfortable in our own brand, says Glynn. “Kind of like being comfortable in your own skin, we’re comfortable with who we are as a brand, what kind of beers we produce, and who our market is.”
Likewise, the new construction designed by architects Hammel, Green & Abrahamson, Inc., the same firm that worked on the Surly destination brewery, will translate the warm, inviting atmosphere of the current taproom to a larger space that can accommodate more people, says Glynn.
“We’re not looking to do a big beer hall, we’re looking to make it still have that Stillwater character and charm. Be really welcoming, and not overpower people with the largeness. We still want it to feel small, while accommodating a lot of people.”
Another defining feature from the current taproom that they hope to carry forward is bringing visitors face-to-face with the brewhouse. “We’ll definitely be working that into the design, so that people feel like they’re connected to that process, can smell the grain, can really see what’s going, can even hear the canning equipment as it’s working,” Glynn explains.
Lastly, the new space will feature a larger outdoor area than their current location. “Certainly as the weather turns nice, like it is now, people want to sit outside and enjoy an excellent beer, so we want to provide a cool area outdoors too for people to lounge around and share a beer with friends,” says Glynn.
With the historic lift bridge in downtown set to be converted into a biking and walking trail that will connect to Brown’s Creek Trail next summer, Glynn thinks the new brewery will be the perfect spot to enjoy some fresh air, warm sunshine, and a cold pint.