Brau Brothers getting ready for move to Marshall
Brau Brothers Brewing Company is clear about its origins, proudly printing "population 220" for all to see on its original logo. However, as the brewery grows, obstacles have risen, and relocation is afoot for the 15-year-old company, now based in tiny Lucan, Minnesota. Brau Brothers started in 1998 as a brewpub and rebranded as a production brewery in 2006, splitting ownership down the middle between three brothers, Brady, Dustin, and Trevor, "33.33333 percent... [which] would make a good name for a beer," notes Dustin. In addition to producing five year-round beers and several rotating varieties, the brewery is also helping Bank Brewery (Hendricks) as it gets set up in the southwestern part of the state by producing some of its beer on site.
It's been a busy 2013 for Brau Brothers, having officially announced relocation to Marshall, Minnesota (population 14,220) earlier this month. Brau Brothers expects to move into its new digs later this month. The Hot Dish recently spoke with CEO/head brewer Dustin Brau before any official declarations were made public. Our discussion focused on the company's growth, its place in the southwest Minnesota market, and the looming elephant in the room, the (at that time unofficial) move.
The Hot Dish: Your beers started in southwest Minnesota before expanding into neighboring states and the Twin Cities metro. Do you consider the southwestern part of the state to be your primary market?
Dustin Brau: It's a strong market for us, but sheer population makes the Twin Cities our largest market. I believe the percentage of craft beer drinkers is the same in southwestern Minnesota, but the overall numbers in the Twin Cities are overwhelming. We strongly believe that a strong local market is imperative for long-term success. A strong local market insulates you from the ebbs and tides of the beer market.
HD: What are some distinct challenges to brewing in a less densely populated area? What makes brewing different in a rural setting?
Brau: Visibility. We are not inherently a part of our largest market on a day-to-day basis. Craft beer drinkers have to seek us out in more ways than one.
In some ways, that's a good thing. However, it can be challenging to stay visible in an increasingly noisy beer world.
HD: Being outside of the state's population centers, do you see a lot of beer tourism come through town?
Brau: Quite a bit, actually. It still blows people's minds in Lucan to see tour buses stopping in town. Beer tours have been critical to our success. There's no substitute for telling someone face to face who you are and what you do. Because we are positioned between the Twin Cities and Sioux Falls, we see quite a few people from both directions.
HD: There is talk of relocating the company. What is the main reason for this?
Brau: Unfortunately, we never even considered public utilities a major concern at startup. Small towns can have major advantages, yet critical disadvantages. Over the past few years we've had to ask ourselves how deeply we want to become involved in issues such as wastewater management. It's positive in that it is a symptom of growth, but it takes us away from what we like to do, which is brew beer.
HD: Are you concerned that a move will change your brand identity?
Brau: Absolutely. Our location is part of our story. However, in the end, it's about making good beer.
HD: How would a move go over with Lucan's residents?
Brau: To be honest, I'm not sure. We have many loyal, local beer drinkers, and we love them dearly.
HD: Your brewing is often in small batches that can quickly go to market. What about this smaller-scale production do you enjoy?
Brau: We pride ourselves on being dynamic. Vertical integration is very helpful in building the independence necessary to what you want, when you want to. The larger the brewery, the more cumbersome it is to change or introduce new beers. Every brewer wants the volume of the bigger brewery with the flexibility of the brewpub.
HD: What do you think of the current growth in the industry in Minnesota?
Brau: It's great. It's genuine in that it is truly consumer driven. We are finally building a knowledge-base for the industry in Minnesota, as a community of brewers. It also pushes you to do your best in the market. It's an exciting time to be a brewer or beer lover in Minnesota.
HD: Ending on a light note, what is your favorite beer to relax with at the end of the day (Brau Brothers or other)?
Brau: Friday is always Sheephead day. I usually stick to Minnesota beers. I was up in the big city recently and came home with Indeed, Steel Toe, and Lucid. At the end of the day the brewers and I get together and sample whatever we can find that is new or unavailable in the area.