Touyer Moua grew up in the Twin Cities hearing from the elders in the Hmong community about the fermenting traditions they left behind.
“Back in our old country, Laos, our elders… they would brew their own rice wine,” Moua began explaining. “From that perspective, there is history as far as making your own alcoholic drink. But ever since coming to the U.S., there has been less and less of that.”
Moua has set out to change that, alongside Tou Thao, Nhiasing Moua, and Jai Fang, with the purchase of Vine Park Brewing from longtime owner Andy Grage. As far as the quartet and Grage are aware, Vine Park has become the first Hmong-owned brewery in America.
Moua explained that his group comes from humble roots, and that they are all immigrants.
“The second we met each other, we started talking about our roots. It came down to, ‘Wow, we’re in America, we need to live the American dream.’ We have dreams to fulfill in the nation that allows us to achieve what we want to pursue through our passions.”
The group all loves beer, and they knew many Hmong people who like it too, if only light lagers. They began homebrewing three years ago and eventually found their way to Vine Park last year before the Hmong Freedom Festival in St. Paul. They brewed a blonde ale they thought everyone would enjoy at the festival.
“They sampled the first bottle and were just blown away,” Grage recalls. So they asked to brew another two batches that same night. Over 200 bottles of the beer made it to the festival last year. “They came back a week after the festival to tell me what a huge hit it was,” Grage said. “They ran out of beer.”
They brewed again in October, and after that, they asked Grage if he was interested in selling.
“I never really considered it, but I’m not getting any younger—I just turned 50,” Grage says. Plus, not only was Grage unsure if this opportunity would come along again, but he was inspired. “They have three things I don’t: manpower, capital, and enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm is off the charts.”
Running a brewery is no easy task, and Moua says that being the first majority Hmong-owned brewery has them feeling additional pressure.
“That’s just really exciting news. That feels awesome. We know there’s been Hmong that have tried as well, but had less control of the situation. Us having Vine Park, this will give us the opportunity to get that taste as precise as we can, that can be tailored towards a taste that the Hmong community can slowly get used to.
“We want them to get to the point where they enjoy the taste of an IPA, or the special aroma of a stout. We’re excited we have a facility and somewhere to start. We give the other Hmong, who have brewed or run distilleries, credit as well.”
Their first offering, a blonde ale called 651 Tyga Bite, will be sampled at this years Hmong Freedom Festival. “We think introducing a lighter ale to the Hmong market will be something that will introduce them to craft beer,” said Moua. “The best way to do that is to get it to their homes, so we have to can or bottle.”
A canning line will be a huge early step, and distribution is key for Moua and his team. Vine Park already has a license to self-distribute and has done so with kegs in the past. They will continue to run Vine Park as a place for people to come and brew beer, and Grage will retain a two percent ownership stake, and help the team run the brewery.
Moua is excited to get started, and the amount of media requests to talk about the brewery is making him even more hopeful about his prospects. But in spite of that buzz, he is still making sure his community understands what the quartet is doing.
“We are spreading the word that you can make it (beer) at Vine Park, and it would be cool for them to keep that tradition going of what the ancestors have passed down.”