Czechs moved into the Upper Midwest in force in the late 19th century. In Minnesota, these European émigrés created settlements in places like New Prague, Veseli, and Montgomery, bringing with them the secrets of baking kolacky and brewing lager beer.
Matthias Chalupsky started the first brewery in Montgomery in 1882, though it was the Handschuh family that would become most identified with the brewery. Like most breweries of the era, the owners added on to the building as needed, creating a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of rooms and levels. The most famous brand of the old Montgomery Brewing Company was Chief beer, which was popular both before and after Prohibition. Although Montgomery Brewing Co. returned after Prohibition, its local popularity wasn’t enough pay for the necessary upgrades, and the brewery closed in 1943.
In 2000, Steve Simon, a builder with a love for restoring old structures, purchased the derelict facility, which had also served as a creamery and mail distribution site since the brewery closed. While Steve worked on demolition and restoration, his son-in-law, Charles Dorsey, and A.J. Newton, a high school friend of Charles, established a homebrew club in the former bottle house—what better place to brew than an old brewery? Eventually the club dwindled to Charles and A.J., but they decided to make good on the conversations they’d had about turning pro and started the second Montgomery Brewing Co.
A.J. is now the head brewer and seeks to make “approachable” beers with technical merit. Of particular note is Shelterbelt Brown Ale, a very nice interpretation of a Northern English brown. The pair has also been encouraged by how quickly locals have embraced their bigger beers. The double IPA was originally a rotating feature, but was so well received they added it to the regular lineup. While A.J. has generally shunned what he calls “novelty beers,” he brewed a beer for Montgomery’s Kolacky Days that featured apricots—one of the favorite fillings for the famous pastry. (They plan to rotate in a different pastry-filling flavor each year.)
The taproom has become popular with locals. Wednesday is potluck night; new guests are welcome to eat, but encouraged to bring something to share the next week. Many residents have worked in the building or know of someone who did, and their knowledge has been essential to help Steve figure out where equipment was located and what each room was used for.
This history lives on in the taproom, where neighbors will show off artifacts from the original brewery and where many beers are named after local landmarks. They even brought back the Chief name for their amber ale. While Montgomery Brewing Co. is planning to package beer within a few years, that will require much more work on the old brewery, so right now the best way to experience the history and “enjoy the craft” of Montgomery’s beer is to try one Straight from the Source.
Shelterbelt Brown Ale
Grain: U.S. two-row base malt, chocolate malt, dark caramel malt
Hops: U.S. Goldings, Fuggles
Yeast: English ale yeast