The craft beer craze is finally permeating Minnesota’s Iron Range. Before the year’s end, the area will support two new breweries: Klockow Brewing Company in Grand Rapids and BoomTown Brewery & Woodfire Grill in Hibbing. Another, Rapids Brewing Company, is in the works.
Though the region is known for its inclination to imbibe, just two other breweries — the Boathouse Brewpub in Ely (est. 2012) and Cuyuna Brewing Company in Crosby (est. January 2017) — have made the Range their home so far.
The Brewers Association reported last week that the United States now has more than 6,000 breweries. Small breweries make up most of this recent growth, as consumers’ tastes trend toward more localized brews. Rural regions like the Iron Range are just starting to capitalize on this trend, recognizing the affect small breweries can have on the economy.
Coincidentally, Klockow and BoomTown are both products of husband and wife partnerships: Tasha and Andy Klockow are proprietors of the former, while Jessica and Erik Lietz own the latter.
Klockow Brewing Company
Klockow opened its 8.5-barrel brewery on Oct. 28. It is located in a renovated warehouse in Grand Rapids at 36 SE 10th St., just off highway 169. Andy is the head brewer and business manager while Tasha, a Grand Rapids native, serves as the general manager and events coordinator.
Andy worked at HammerHeart Brewing in Lino Lakes for three years before starting the brewery. He had home brewed for seven years prior to that. “We were always talking about opening up a brewery together. And we always came back to ‘Grand Rapids doesn’t have a brewery yet,’” says Tasha.
When a feasibility study and market research demonstrated Grand Rapids residents had a hankering for craft brews, the Klockows decided to go for it. They began planning the brewery just after the Fourth of July last year. Tasha says the community and the local home brewers club, Boreal Brewers, have been incredibly supportive. “We wouldn’t have been able to get this far this fast without their help.”
The Klockows intend to produce around 300 barrels in the first year. Most of the beer is sold by pint and crowler out of the taproom. They self distribute to area restaurants such as Zorbaz and the Pickled Loon and have been gradually expanding that base of customers.
Andy’s background at HammerHeart gives him the chops to brew experimental styles. The brewery’s focus is on heavily smoked and barrel aged brews. But he enjoys a range of styles and plans to offer a “fleet” of beers rather than regular flagships.
The brewery opened with a blonde, stout, IPA, imperial IPA and nut brown. It since added an altbier and Belgian tripel. A rye beer is in the works. The releases are seasonally influenced. “We have heavier and darker stuff right now but in the spring in summer it will get lighter,” she says.
When delving into the initial market research, the Klockows expected area residents to favor lighter lagers. They were pleasantly surprised when those surveyed indicated an eclectic range of tastes for styles like IPA, stout and amber. “It really eased our trepidation about doing more crazy things,” Tasha says. “We found that people are really interested in trying different things.”
In addition to cultivating the craft beer scene, the Klockows want to promote the arts. Tasha says she never realized how rich Grand Rapids’ music and arts scene was until she moved away. The taproom features an expansive mural of a fall hiking scene painted by artist Diamond Knispel. It’s also serving up music on weekends.
Tasha says music has had a big influence on their lives. “Building the stage was paramount to our taproom design.” Andy is a musician who used to work at Guitar Center. Bonding over music helped Andy land the gig at HammerHeart, which takes its name from a Swedish heavy metal album.
The Klockows have two full-time and three part-time employees. The taproom is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors can bring in food or order delivery. Every Saturday through January Chad’s Meat Wagon is serving up barbecue at the brewery. In the warmer months the brewery expects to host additional food trucks on the weekends.
Tasha says Klockow will strive to replicate the ethos of small-town breweries she and her husband visited in Europe. They elicit hometown pride and are integrated into the community.
“It’s more than a brewery. It’s more than bar. It’s a community space,” she explains. “That’s reflected in our establishment. On any given day, you’ll see young families with babies and people in their 80s. It isn’t just for one demographic, it’s for the community.”
BoomTown Brewery & Woodfire Grill
If all goes as planned, BoomTown Brewery in Hibbing will pass a final inspection late this month and open soon after. The brewery and restaurant occupies the former Zimmy’s restaurant space at 531 E. Howard St. in Hibbing.
The Lietzes weren’t necessarily looking for a new business venture when approached by a bank about buying the property, former home to the iconic Bob Dylan-themed restaurant. The entrepreneurial couple owns the Whistling Bird in Gilbert and opened BoomTown Woodfire bar and grill in Eveleth in 2015.
Jessica says they did some research and soon recognized it was a great opportunity, not just for a restaurant but for a brewery, since Hibbing didn’t yet have one. “We realized that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. We wanted to be the first,” she says.
According to Jessica, those familiar with Zimmy’s will hardly recognize the place. The building has undergone a complete remodel. A 14-foot brick wall was removed to open the floorplan between the bar and restaurant. Windows from one end of the dining area overlook the brewery with its shiny stainless steel tanks. Similar to the Eveleth BoomTown, the brewpub’s theme celebrates the area’s mining culture.
The Lietzes recruited Dennis Holland, a veteran brewer, to head up its 7-barrel brewing operation. “He sent his resume in and we knew we had to get him on board. He’s won gold medals for some of the beers he’s made,” says Jessica. She adds that they’re fortunate to have landed someone with his experience because he’s been able to act as a consultant as they’ve been building the brewery.
Holland’s brewing history dates back to 1990 when he worked as head brewer at Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland. He developed the brewery’s well-known Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and has won a variety of awards over the years for brewing, including prestigious gold and silver medals from the Great American Beer Festival.
Throughout his career, Holland has worked for a number of breweries around the country. Most recently, he was at Bowser Brewing in Great Falls, Montana.
BoomTown will produce cider and root beer as well as a wide range of beer styles. As of last week, Holland had an IPA, porter, hefeweizen and blonde ale fermenting. Customer tastes will drive the brew schedule. “We’re going to see what people like and base it off the feedback we get from them,” explains Jessica.
The plan is for all three of the Lietzes restaurants to carry BoomTown beer. The Hibbing location can sell growlers, since beer it produced on site. The Whistling Bird, which currently sells beer by the bottle, will add tap lines in the future to carry BoomTown brews. There’s talk of developing a signature brew to go with the restaurant’s Caribbean-inspired food.
BoomTown’s Hibbing menu will be similar to that of its original location, which features pub fare like wings and burgers as well as handcut steaks, smoked meats and wood fired pizzas. “We’re going to diversify a little more down the road but we’ll definitely have all those things people love from the Eveleth location,” says Jessica.
The brewpub will employ about 50 people. With all three establishments, the Lietzes will have well over 100 employees.
The community is eagerly anticipating the new brewery and eatery. “We’re getting a massive amount of positive feedback,” says Jessica. “Every day we’re asked multiple times when we’re going to open.”
Rapids Brewing Company
In October, the Grand Rapids Herald-Review reported some management changes at Rapids Brewing’s parent company, Northrock Development. Co-founder and owner Ed Zabinski says the project has faced challenges, particularly in securing the requisite funding for the nearly $4 million project.
Rapids Brewing is planned for a prime location in downtown Grand Rapids. The company is consulting with Bev-Craft, Tim Nelson’s Superior-based brewery incubator, and will rely on its expertise to help select a brewer when the project is farther along.
Zabinski, a former banker and city councilor, says he’s been frustrated by the delays but is working hard to “get ducks in a row.” It’s possible the ambitious project — which entails a brewery, restaurant and entertainment venue — will be completed in phases rather than all at once.
“We’re glad for our compatriots [Klockow Brewing] in town. The new brewery has been received well — and from our perspective that’s a good sign. We think there’s more potential here,” says Zabinski.
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