Trailblazers 2016: Colin Mullen, Laura Mullen, Bryon Tonnis, and Karen Tonnis of Bent Paddle Brewing

Colin, Laura, Bryon, and Karen of Bent Paddle -- Photo by JaneCane Photography

Left to right: Colin Mullen, Laura Mullen, Bryon Tonnis, and Karen Tonnis of Bent Paddle Brewing // Photo by JaneCane Photography

When we talk about blazing trails in the drinks scene, few people are doing it quite as literally is the four founders of Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Bryon and Karen Tonnis, and Colin and Laura Mullen partnered with Duluth-based outdoor furniture company Loll Designs in 2015 to create Lollygagger Pale Ale, a West Coast-style pale ale with a charitable mission. Since Lollygagger first hit shelves, five percent of all the beer sales have gone toward funding the Duluth Traverse—a multi-use, singletrack mountain biking trail that will span the entire city of Duluth. This August, Bent Paddle handed the Duluth Traverse project organizers, Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS), a check for $9,147.92.

Beyond the Duluth Traverse, the owners of Bent Paddle are continuing to blaze a trail in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood where the brewery is located. In three years, the company has grown from five employees to over 30, but paused hiring due to space constraints at the brewery. The company doubled-down on its commitment to revitalizing Lincoln Park—an area that is quickly becoming known as Duluth’s “craft district”—by opening a new office just blocks from the brewery. The office has 26 work stations, a conference room, and a large kitchen area, but most importantly it affords the company enough space to continue hiring and adding more jobs to the local economy.

In an effort to protect those jobs, Bent Paddle’s ownership took a stand for clean water this year and joined 80 other small businesses in the Downstream Business Coalition, a group that called upon Governor Dayton to reject PolyMet Mining’s proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mining project near Hoyt Lakes.

Related Post: Bent Paddle Brewing Co. issues statement on Silver Bay ban

After voicing their concern that toxic metals could pollute the Lake Superior watershed on which they depend to brew their beer, Bent Paddle faced boycotts from private liquor stores and bars in the Iron Range, and even by the Silver Bay City Council, who voted to remove Bent Paddle beer from its municipal liquor store. Undeterred, Bent Paddle’s owners reaffirmed their stance in front of the Silver Bay City Council, and have received support from Minnesotans across the state from the Twin Cities to Ely.


Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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