A blond brick building, which once housed Brainerd's bustling railroad industry, is about to brew a new company with heady ambitions.
Business partners Jesse Grant and Dan Stanifer expect to open their creation - Brainerd Lakes Brewery - next spring in Building 7 at the Northern Pacific Center. Their plans are to bottle their own beer and sell it through area retailers - liquor stores, restaurants and bars. They have an eye toward a larger regional market and, if the beer found a national niche, they'd be glad to accept that growth.
Grant and Stanifer met at a Business Networking International group in 2004. Stanifer moved to Brainerd in 1998. Grant, who grew up in Brainerd, lives in Little Falls. Both married with children, the two men decided to do more than enjoy a home-brewed beer and talk about the idea of operating their own brewery.
So they started the ground work for their own micro brewery. That was more than a year ago.
The Brainerd Lakes Brewery is expected to open in Building 7 at the Northern Pacific Center in east Brainerd in the spring. Partners Jesse Grant and Dan Stanifer said the brick buildings of the historic railroad yards provided the perfect setting. They wouldn't mind later moving into the NP Center's power plant where the giant stacks are visible in much of Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We knew we could put a great beer in a bottle," Grant said.
They worked on research and development, attending the Great American Beer Festival in the fall of 2007. They sought expertise from the Small Business Development Center for the business plan. They considered obstacles and worked to make sure they could afford the things behind making a good beer - including heat and electricity for the building they wanted to lease. Just looking at the massive brick structures at the Northern Pacific Center, the two said was enough to convince them it was the natural spot. It looked the part.
They took the work of setting up the bones for the company cautiously and the business plan seriously, but didn't let that overtake a solid sense of humor and the idea they wanted to the job to be fun. Stanifer began brewing beer 12 years ago. It started as a hobby and Stanifer jokes that it's a skill he's glad he didn't have in high school.
"It's always been a dream to open a brewery," Stanifer said. "I always wanted to do it, but never found the right person to do it with. Then Jesse came along."
The Brainerd Lakes Brewery labels include stories about the beer. The Brown-eyed Mutt is described as a "charismatic mix of brown and IPA. A little romance was in the air the night this beer was conceived. We decided to blend our beloved brown with our favorite IPA and the offspring was an unexpectedly beautiful mutt of a beer. Perfectly balanced for a beer slightly off center. It starts with the cast of IPA and finishes with the rich mouthfeel of a classic brown. Good dog."
The duo worked with Adventure Creative Group of Brainerd to see what artwork should go with the bottles. The brews have their own names, images and stories on the label designed to create a connection between brewmaster and consumer as it tells the story behind the beer's christening. The hope is customers will be able to identify with the brand.
They hope to make 1,000 barrels of beer for their first year, which translates to 13,500 cases. They announced plans for distribution arrangements, which could open doors for wider metro and Midwest markets.
To start they plan to offer three main beers - an India Pale Ale, a brown ale and a wheat - along with a seasonal brew like a rhubarb crisp or cranberry wheat or hazelnut brown. They've even talked about incorporating chokecherries.
Grant and Stanifer said they expect the start-up to need $300,000 and they said they are not turning away interested investors. The sense of history, with Brainerd having breweries and bottling companies in the city's youth, is not lost upon the partners. The Brainerd Brewing Co., born in 1881, was established on Boom Lake. Grant said the idea of a new brewery in Brainerd was long overdue and they knew they had to move on the idea before someone else did.
Jesse Grant (left) and Dan Stanifer formed Brainerd Lakes Brewery. Plans are to open the brewery in the spring at the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd in Building 7, the engine house. A tasting room will be available to the public and plans call for the beer six packs to be available in area liquor stores and on tap at area and regional restaurants and bars. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
The brewery they have planned won't include a bar and the partners said they expect to leave the sales up to other establishments although they would be able to sell a 64-ounce bottle at the brewery. They want to invite the public inside Brainerd Lakes Brewery with tours and by hosting classes to teach people how to brew beer. Another option may be in having people create their own beer for a special event like a wedding. For now, Grant said customers will have to ask retailers when they will be able to buy their product.
Julie Platta, who works at the SBDC at Central Lakes College, with friend Karleen Schmidt attended a recent Brainerd Lakes Brewery beer taste testing night at Prairie Bay in Baxter. They both liked the idea of having a home-town brand of beer to share with friends.
"It was just fun to try what they came up with," Platta said. "I love the creativity of their advertising, the look of the bottles."
Platta says she's been known to pick up a wine bottle just because of its interesting label, particularly when bringing the bottle to a gathering. "I would totally do that with the beer."
The women also appreciated the brewery's continuation of Brainerd's history of bottling establishments and breweries.
"I wish them all the success in the world," Schmidt said. "It will be great."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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