This week's kare11.com Microbrewery of the Week has the distinction of opening the state's first taproom. Lift Bridge Brewing Company in Stillwater started out contract brewing at Flat Earth in St. Paul, then at Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and then at Cold Spring Brewery before opening their own brew space in Stillwater. We heard Lift Bridge's story from Trevor Cronk.
How did your brewery come to be?
It's like any good American small business. We started in the garage in the backyard. We first started in my partner Brad [Glynn]'s basement and graduated to my partner Jim [Pierson]'s garage. The nice thing about that is it was well lit, it had a drain floor and it was well insulated so we could brew in the wintertime. After doing that for a number of years, we started soliciting a lot of feedback; having some backyard parties and handing out comment cards to people in our circles who we thought were beer geeks. We told them to be critical, all with the long range thought of "Can we do this? How are we going to do this?" We put together a business plan and in September of 2008 we got our first account in downtown Stillwater.
We've been in [our current space] for two years. We've had equipment up and running 17, 18 months ago and started brewing. That was our end game [with the contract brewing]. We wanted to make sure we could get some traction and people would actually drink our beers. It's definitely a little bit more work to do it the way we've done it but it's worked out well for us.
How did you name your brewery?
One of our goals is to be a fabric of the community here in Stillwater. Looking at the history, the birthplace of Minnesota. We spent a lot of time at the Washington County Historical Society. We didn't want a trendy name; we wanted something that's stood the test of time and that's the [Stillwater] lift bridge. From boaters that have had to wait for the lift bridge to cars that have had to wait for the broken lift bridge, all the scenic sights on the Wisconsin side and downtown Stillwater up on the bluffs. We just really liked the name and thought it flowed well. I think it's an easy name you don't really have to explain.
What's your favorite beer you make?
It kind of changes with the season. Right now, I'd have to say it's Cross Cut [Pale Ale]. I like Farm Girl [Saison] a lot. Especially on a nice summer day, it's pretty refreshing and it does go well with a lot of foods.
What's your favorite beer someone else makes?
I like what Surly's doing. I like O'Dell's beers. I do like some up-and-comers that are making some real good beers, like Steel Toe. Those are just off the top of my head of what I've had in the last couple weeks. Anywhere I go, I try to find a brewery tour and find a takeaway; what are they doing that's different?
What are your plans for the brewery's future?
We want to be a good regional brewery. We're not going to try to be something we're not. If it works somewhere else, great. But we're not going to try to be somebody whose 500 miles away because it's working there. We have a dot on the map and that's Stillwater. We have Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We're trying to produce the best beers that we can brew that fit into this region.
If we end up growing bigger, it's because it's working here. At this point, we're just happy being a regional brewery. I'm sure we will grow. How much, as a four-year-old business, is hard to say.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you before you started?
I've always heard "make the beers that you enjoy." And "don't be somebody you're not; be who you are." We're here in Stillwater, up on the hill. We're not on Lake Michigan or in Washington, D.C. We're in Stillwater. And I think you see in craft beer that we get along pretty well. There's room on the shelves for all of us.
What is the best piece of advice someone you can give homebrewers?
Don't be afraid to experiment. Play around with the styles you like. Make it your own and if you like it, there's probably a good chance somebody else is going to like it, too. And if it tastes different than something but you like it, don't be afraid to bring it out there. Be passionate; show your passion. It takes time. And hopefully you have an understanding spouse [laughs].
Describe the local craft beer scene in 11 words or less.
Renaissance. Passion. Pallet-pleasing. Positive energy. Collaborating. Entrepreneurial. Selfless industry.
If you're not drinking beer, what are you drinking?
Well, we have a new root beer out. Stillwater Root Beer. We have a 900 square foot beer fridge so usually my kids want to stop by here and cool off. Now they want to stop by and try the root beer.
And a lot of juices, energy drinks. But then again, we do have an Irish coffee stout. That has a milk stout and a Russian imperial stout blended, and the Russian imperial stout was aged in whiskey barrels. So we do have these one-offs and seasonal beers that we do and we're pretty passionate about those, too.
Lift Bridge Brewing Company is conveniently located off Highway 36 in Stillwater. Their taproom is open five days a week, they sell growlers and offer tours.
You can find them on Facebook and Twitter. For a list of places to find Lift Bridge beers, visit LiftBridgeBrewery.com.
Previous Microbreweries of the Week:
August Schell Brewing Company
Excelsior Brewing Company
Third Street Brewhouse
Surly Brewing Co.
Steel Toe Brewing
Boom Island Brewing Commpany
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