Note: Originally Appeared in Issue 46 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.
If you blink, you might drive through Lucan, Minnesota without even noticing you were ever there. With a population of about 200 people, this small town about 150 miles southwest of the Twin Cities probably doesn’t grab the attention of most passers-by, unless they’re looking for beer.
Brau Brothers Brewing Company has been keeping Lucan and the rest of Southwest Minnesota well-lubricated since 2006, and now this 15-barell, family-owned brewery is making a name for Lucan by distributing beer to five states.
“There’s a certain amount of pride that people have when they go to Minneapolis and see our product on our shelves,” said Dustin Brau, CEO and brewmaster of Brau Brothers. “They see Lucan on the label and can say, ‘I’m from Lucan,’ and be proud of it.”
Room to Grow
Brau Brothers began in 2000 as a 2-bbl brewpub in the heart of Lucan called The BrauHaus, but Dustin and his brothers his brothers Trevor and Brady soon realized that they needed a bigger space.
“A lot of our identity is the fact we’re from such a small town,” Dustin said. “Originally we started brewing to get people to drive out to our restaurant… but it kind of became the tail wagging the dog because we were always running out of beer.”
In order to increase production, the Brau brothers moved their business to a large steel warehouse on the edge of town that used to house an automobile frame-straightening company in 2006. Minnesota law dictated that they could either be a brewpub or a distributing brewery, and now with enough room for commercial-level production, Brau Brothers Brewing Company was born. Now, Brau Brothers can be found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa.
While the extra space at the new location was essential to the brewery’s growth, the truly attractive element of the new location was the six acres of prime farmland surrounding the brewery which Brau Brothers has turned into the area’s largest hop yard as well as a space to grow their own barley. Typically, Dustin uses a blend of estate-grown hops and barley mixed with commercially purchased hops and barley in his beers, but occasionally estate beers are brewed that features only the ingredients grown on the grounds.
“[The farmland] keeps us homebrewers in a way because it lets us do new things and keep trying,” Dustin said. “The fun of homebrewing is trying new things… by growing our own barley and growing our own hops, we can still keep doing that.”
The brothers do what they can in the fields, but mostly leave the work to the experts. Most of thse planting, harvesting, and maintenance is performed by local farmers that live and work in the fields surrounding the brewery. Located deep in the heart of soy bean and corn country, Dustin hopes that his six-acre farm can show his bigger neighbors that the soil can produce more than just those two crops.
“If we can prove year after year, and be consistent with the production and our growing, then it’s possible that we can have a good percentage of our barley grown locally by local farmers,” Dustin said.
Dustin and his brothers grew up in Lucan, and have maintained a strong sense of community thanks to the small town. When they were faced with a shortage of quality local breweries, they created their own instead of immigrating to a more beer-friendly area. As a result, Brau Brothers remains a community-first company that aims to please loyal Lucanites above all others.
“There’s huge areas of vacuum where there is no craft beer and Southwest Minnesota was pretty much one of them,” Dustin said. “Even when we were brewing two barrels, four kegs a day, we were the biggest brewery in southwestern Minnesota.
“What’s nice, is you kind of get to set the bar. You get to set the standard, you kind of get to define what craft beer is in that area because you’re basically it as far as local production. [The brewery is] also sort of a rallying point for local homebrewers… There’s still a lot of homebrewers in Southwest Minnesota, and we give them a place to hang out… a place to get their creative juices going.”
In keeping with their small-town values, Brau Brothers Brewing Company is family-owned and operated. Middle child Dustin is the CEO, big brother Trevor serves as the Chief Financial Officer and head of sales, and little brother Brady handles the website and other IT aspects of the brewery. Their father, Dale, has the cushy job of updating quality control – in other words, he makes sure the beer tastes good. Brau Brothers also recently added Daniel Stavig to assist Dustin with the Brewing.
And just to make sure that everybody who drinks a Brau Brothers beer knows where it comes from, each bottle has the words “Lucan, Minnesota… Population 220,” printed on the label.
“Part of what makes us us is we’re from a town of 200 people, we put 220 on the label, but we’re hoping the city grows into that,” Dustin said.
When asked what type of beer he or she makes, brewer’s answer is almost always “I brew what I like to drink.” The same holds true for Dustin Brau, but with a caveat: He always keeps in mind what the local population likes to drink. So while many breweries have their coming-out part with a big, bold IPA, Brau Brothers had to take a different approach.
“It’s easy for a brewery to make their name right off the bat with an IPA. And the reason we didn’t was because we started off with somewhat more drinakable, approachable beers,” Dustin said.
“A lot of people are going to take one sip and say that’s why I don’t like craft beer, it’s too bitter. We’re kind of easing an entire area into craft beer. It didn’t do us any favors in bigger markets where the craft beer scene is more mature, but it did help get us into hands of people around here.”
And now that Lucanites and others around Southwest Minnesota have had a taste of good beer, Brau Brothers is beginning to push their palates toward more flavorful beers. As a result, the brewery’s hoppiest beer – Sheephead Ale, a cross between an IPA and an English Bitter brewed with Belgian Pale malt – is also its best seller.
“We needed to brew sheephead because we like hoppy beers,” Dustin explained.
Often, the beer brewed at Brau Brothers is whatever Dustin and his brothers feel like drinking or tasting. For example, Dustin is considering brewing a Berlinner Weisse because he has been in the mood for one and can’t find it locally.
The local hop yard also provides room for experimentation, as Brau Brothers rolls out their 100-Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale, which is so-named because the estate hop bines that provide loads of hops for this beer are about 100 yards from the brew kettle. Brau is also considering adding rye and pumpkins to the farmland with the intention of brewing a rye and pumpkin beer next year.
Ultimately however, Brau Brothers aims to stay local and to always remember the people in the community from which it comes when making new beers – all 200 of them.
Sean Lewis is a homebrewer and freelance writer. He is currently working on his first book.