Starting Lift Bridge Brewery:
Basically, Brad, Steve, and Jim were all former homebrewers, having left the hobby some years before. Brad and Steve worked for the same company with offices next to each other. One day at lunch Steve mentioned that he was thinking about getting back into brewing. Brad revealed that he had been harboring the same dark thought. Right then and there they said, "Screw homebrewing. Let's just start brewing together and consider it the foundation of a professional brewery." The decision was actually less of a big deal than it might seem. Steve - "The day I boiled my first pot of extract in my kitchen, I knew I was going to have a brewery someday. It was never a major leap." Brad - "We’ve known a lot of people in the industry for a long time so in a way it was just another industry that you can needle your way into." Dan - "For me, I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur so starting a new business certainly wasn’t scary. It’s a fun thing to do." While they worked for a couple of years making plans and perfecting recipes, they all agree that they couldn't really call themselves brewers until someone could go into a bar and buy a pint. "Otherwise your just a bunch of guys making a business plan and writing off your drinking."
Steve - "We all have different skills. We have chemistry. We’re like brothers. We can make fun of each other, step on each others ideas, and we know it’s not personal. We have to be able to keep each other in check. And we can. We can sit around a table like this for hours and we don’t get sick of each other. We’ll leave the table and then go out and have a beer together. We all want to be brewers. We all participate in the brewing when we can. But we do have different skill sets as far as management, IT skills, sales and marketing. We just let ourselves go where we naturally go."
Brad - "Specifically there are some tasks that are more in one person’s arena. Like Dan is the website guy. I can’t do that." Steve - "We tried. Brad and I did our original website, we thought it was kick-ass and looking back…it pretty much sucked." Brad - "Our other partner Jim, he has more time on the weekends so he helps out a lot on the financials and helps get us caught up on all our ridiculous spending." Dan - "Brad’s stuff is focused a lot on the operations, ingredients, making sure we have everything ready for the brew days, making sure all the customers are supplied with beer."
Lift Bridge Brewery beers are contract brewed at Flat Earth Brewing Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. Brad - "We talked to a couple of other contract brewers and their approach was very different, it was completely hands off. It was, 'Give us the recipe and the beer will be ready on this day. Come pick it up.' That didn’t appeal to us so much." Dan - "The beauty of what Jeff (Williamson) is allowing us to do is that he lets us get in there on brew days. We want to learn because we ultimately want our own brewery."
Owning a Brewery:
We have a very aggressive goal to have our own brewery. We’re working hard toward that.
Owning a brewery ups the risk but also ups the reward. It will allow us to control our own destiny a little bit more. Right now we are tied to Jeff at Flat Earth and we have to work within whatever capacity he has available. Obviously he has to put his business first. It would also give us an opportunity to really connect with people in a different way. We’d really like to connect with beer drinkers at our own location. We want to establish the Stillwater brewery to re-establish that culture there and let the people in the St. Croix River valley know that there is a brewery that’s right close by. We want a place where we can have parties and “open up the doors.”
Brewery as cultural cornerstone:
Dan - "I spent some time travelling around Europe and lived in Spain for a little while, and it seemed to me that pubs and bars, and beer specifically, were really where the culture happened. You learned so much about the real people of the country there. It was really great to sit there with a pint of beer and talk to somebody about what they like to do. It was really a cool experience. Even here, I sat at a bar after I had delivered a keg and talked to a guy. Drinking a beer sitting next to another guy and we’re just chatting about stuff. We don’t know each other. It’s kind of a social drink that brings people together. Brad - I grew up with my dad working at the big breweries, Schlitz, Stroh's, big breweries. And in all those cities, like in Milwaukee, you could go anywhere and say, 'Where’s the Schlitz brewery?' and everyone knew where it was. It’s not because it’s the biggest business in the city, it’s because it’s an identifiable product of the city. It’s pride. So for us, in our town, with all of our friends, it just seems so right to have a place where everyone knows where it is. It’s the brewery." Steve - "You could come in and hug the fermenter any time you want. We’ll take a picture of you hugging our fermenter."
While we do listen to criticism, the main thing guiding us is that we try to make beer that we want to drink. And we’re not doing anything so far out right now that it wouldn’t appeal to Summit drinkers or Stella Artois drinkers. We don't want to make a beer that is about seeing how many more hops we can get in it than the other guy. We want a beer with a balanced palate appeal. It doesn’t do our customers any good if people drink our beer and say, “Well that was really good, but I can’t drink another one.” We’re more focused on making well crafted, balanced beers rather than making extreme beers. That’s not to say that we won’t ever make extreme beers, but that’s not the focus. I think overall the biggest impression we want to make is that we’re accessible. We care about what we’re serving. We care about the consumer. We care about the bartender. We’re all in this together.