Mantorville Brewing: "Small breweries have to be a bit more creative"
Loren Green Stagecoach's soon-to-change packaging
Taprooms in the Twin Cities have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years, but Minnesota's brewing industry has much deeper roots. Breweries large and small are tucked away in areas that haven't captivated yet the metro's interests -- despite decades spent in the brewing business.
Mantorville Brewing, located in the small town of the same name (population 1,197) and just over an hour plus south of St. Paul, is one such brewery. Started in 1996, the brewery shares its name with the town's historic brewery that closed in 1939. Mantorville has three flagship beers -- an amber, a porter, and a golden -- and both the amber and the smoked porter were the first of their style to be brewed in Minnesota in the 1990s.
Current owner and brewer Tod Fyten has been in the industry since the 1980s. Before running his own brewery, he ran a brewing trade journal and worked with Leinenkugel's, James Page, and more industry stalwarts. He currently owns three microbreweries (St. Croix, Fytenburg, and Mantorville) and, behind the scenes, he's had a hand in most of the brewing industry's legislative victories in the past twenty years. He is currently at work on new packaging for all his six-packs, expected this summer on liquor store shelves.
The Hot Dish sat down at Fyten's St. Paul office to discuss his breweries, why Mantorville Brewing is often called Stagecoach Brewing, and his brewing experience in the '80s and '90s. Below is part one of the interview, focused on Mantorville Brewing. Stay tuned for part two, looking back on the 1990s brew boom and bust.
Hot Dish: Tell us about the history of Mantorville Brewing.
Tod Fyten: It was founded in 1996 by 6 local homebrewers. I started a beer publication in the '90s called Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Northwest Beer Notes. We were one of the largest consumer publications in the country and [Mantorville Brewing] just happened to be one of the interviews that we did. I had never been to Mantorville before, [but] fell in love when I went down there. It's a beautiful, quaint little town and a really pretty drive, especially the last 25 miles when you start getting to bluff country -- those rolling hills of southeast Minnesota and the trout streams and then you hit Mantorville, this ideal country town nestled on the Zumbro River fifteen miles west of Rochester.
Did you purchase the name of the brewery to maintain that sense of history? Why is it also called Stagecoach Brewing?
In 1939, it was known as the Mantorville Brewing Company. It went dormant when they closed, so the [owners at the time] called it the Mantorville Brewing Company as a linkage to the past. The original brand of the brewery was Stagecoach Ale. They only had the one beer. At so many beer events and festivals over the years we were always called Stagecoach. People got to know us by that moniker. We are still officially the Mantorville Brewing Company but doing business as Stagecoach Brewing. It morphed into that because it's easier to say and a lot of people have never heard of Mantorville. That's the direction that we're going in, but we'll still be linked.
Do you still view the company's focus as the southeast Minnesota region?
Southeast Minnesota is our base of operations for our company and we see the Twin Cities as a big part of that because it's so close and it's a big market. We also plan to send a little beer into other parts of the state where it's requested.
So your key demographic is the drinker within 100 miles?
That would be a good way of putting it, within the Twin Cities and southeastern Minnesota. We might do a little bit in southwestern Minnesota, a little in central Minnesota.
What's the set-up?
The brewery has a 25 bbl kettle and is one of the smallest breweries in the state. It's one of the farmhouse or milkhouse breweries you would have seen built in the 1890s. We just put in two new fermenters, which are dairy tanks converted for brewery use. We've doubled our capacity from 500 to 1,000 barrels a year, and could step that up to probably 2,000 barrels a year. It's kind of the one-room schoolhouse brewery.
The big thing we've been working on is the expansion of the brewery and updating after 17 years. Resurfacing the floors and walls and ceilings and getting the new tanks in was an experience. It was supposed to start in May last year. We had 18 inches of snow and that delayed everything and made us miss our deadlines. Then the floors were sweating so you couldn't do the resurfacing. It took a lot longer than I was hoping.
Do you foresee Mantorville growing now that you've done the remodel?
This will be a big year for us, the year we get on the map. It was frustrating because when we would try to grow, something would break and I knew at some point it was going to have to get taken care of.
Are you more focused on getting into taplines or liquor stores with the new push?
We'll be limited, it won't be 100 bars. We're looking at 10 to 20 between Rochester and the Twin Cities. We don't have tons of capacity, [so] we're going to be somewhat selective. We'll be a bit more aggressive with liquor stores with our new packaging.
I always wanted to work with someone local and I finally was able to find someone that can make me a box somewhat similar to what you see with Boulevard. It's a package that we had back in the day with [James] Page and Summit in the '80s. It's all corrugate, made here in St. Paul. I think we'll stand out.
We've also been very innovative at the small breweries I've worked with. The Boundary Waters Wild Rice Beer [at James Page], the first smoked beer in Minnesota [Stagecoach Porter], the first amber ale [Stagecoach Amber]. We have a lot of firsts in our background. And the maple ale at St. Croix Brewing, I didn't start that but I continue in the tradition of the first maple ale ever made in the country. When you're small you've got to be a bit more creative about thinking outside of the box and how you're going to get things done.