Mantorville Brewing on the state of the beer industry: "This thing's going all local"

Categories: Beer, Interview
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photo courtesy of Mantorville Brewing
Stagecoach's soon-to-be-released packaging

Last month Hot Dish spoke with Mantorville/Stagecoach Brewing owner Tod Fyten about the brand. Fyten currently owns three separate microbreweries (Mantorville, St. Croix, and Fytenburg) and has deep roots in the industry. His grandfather worked for Jacob Schmidt and he's been in the biz since college himself, spending time with influential brewers at Leinenkugel's and James Page before owning his own company. His Stagecoach brand is set to release all new packaging this summer on its flagships: amber ale, golden ale, and smoked porter.

We sat down with Fyten to reflect on the 1990s Minnesota brew scene and the state of the craft beer scene at present.

See also:
Mantorville Brewing: "Small breweries have to be a bit more creative"

stagecoachfacebook560.jpg
photo courtesy of Mantorville Brewing
The Mantorville brewery

Hot Dish: How did you first get involved in the brewing industry?

Tod Fyten: An opportunity came up to be a campus rep at St. Thomas College for the McLean distributing family. I got to represent the Pabst and the Leinenkugel breweries. The Pabst brewery was still operating so I got to see the last of the glory years of the '70s/early '80s. We had to wear the blazer and the Pabst tie -- they'd dress you up. They'd give you fistfuls of money and your job was to buy people drinks. Leinenkugel's was a pretty small brewery then, and Jake [Leinenkugel] was putting a new program in to try to expand the Twin Cities market. Then I bumped into James Page one day and that's how I got my career started in brewing in 1987.

What were your first experiences in brewing like?

My claim to fame there was creating Boundary Waters Wild Rice Beer, which was the world's first wild rice beer. I did that with Mark Hagermiller, whose dad was the executive brewmaster for Stroh's St. Paul, before that the Hamm's Brewery. It was really hard in the '80s. People thought we were crazy because, especially in the Midwest, breweries were consolidating for 15 years prior to that. But, being in the industry, we could see that there was something here and it wasn't going to go away. You saw that imports always did well and did good margins for their product. If you had local, little breweries doing things of that nature they too would be able to command that. That is why I was very excited about being in the beer business.

And then?

Then came the crash of the second half of the '90s. Stagecoach survived it, so did Lake Superior. James Page did not, and that was in a much more difficult market than today. Nationally, [the industry] had grown from 1980 to 1995 at 50 percent a year. That's pretty unheard of in any industry. In 1995, all of a sudden the slide happened. It never went flatline, but we dropped off the cliff in those four or five years. You also had a lot of people that didn't have any experience in the beer business -- they all wanted to be the next Samuel Adams.

What led to the crash?

I think the market growth caused the problem. A lot of those breweries had been there when Summit and Page started in the '80s. They went to make the leap like Summit did and they missed the other side. That brings you into the '90s. That is what affected Mantorville. They're getting started in '97 all full of piss and vinegar and then all of a sudden the industry is...puff! I knew it was getting tough but I saw that local brewing was going to become a big deal. I knew that with the right rules in place in Minnesota it would expand so make the purchases now, when things are low, and then work on making the changes to help groom you into the future. That's essentially what we did in the 2000s.



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