PINE ISLAND — The beer is brewing at the old Cheese Mart along U.S. Highway 52, just don't expect a drink for a few more weeks.
Ann Fahy-Gust and Tessa Leung, co-owners of South x Southeast Minnesota Brewing Co., a new brewery in Pine Island, began the process of making beer this week.
The pair have moved the brewing operation from the old Grand Rounds restaurant on Broadway in Rochester to the new space in Pine Island. And while much of the equipment and several of the beer recipes will be the same as ones made popular at the Rochester brew pub, the new space in Pine Island comes with its own challenges.
"Brewing in a new place, we've had a little glitch now and then," Fahy-Gust said. "We're using well water. We use propane instead of natural gas."
All these little differences affect the beer, she said, so as they begin their brewing, they — along with brewers Jason Pahl and Aaron Espy — are mindful of little things that might impact the flavor of their brews.
None of that, of course, is stopping them from opening their brewery and providing tasty beverages to the public.
Opening, opening again
Once beer is ready to be sold, they'll have a "soft open," where, Leung said, they'll take online and phone orders for growlers and crowlers of beer and literally sell them "out the back door." They'll also test the point-of-sale system and let people find the location on the west side of Highway 52.
That, Fahy-Gust said Thursday, will be about three weeks down the road — somewhere between Aug. 15 and Aug. 20 — as the process from putting grain and water in a mash tun, a giant stainless-steel barrel where the sugars are extracted from the grain to beer flowing from a keg, takes about two or three weeks, depending on the recipe.
Fahy-Gust said they're working with a craft-soda maker in the Twin Cities who will provide kegs of soft drinks for those who don't drink alcohol. There will be games available and, of course, plenty of comfortable seating for everyone.
"We want a comfortable atmosphere," Leung said.
The business plan
Selling to guests at the brewery is just one part of the equation. Fahy-Gust said they plan to sell kegs to bars and restaurants in a 100-mile radius from their home base.
"Take, for example, Plainview. They don't really get a chance to have new craft beers. What they get is if they're on the trail for a Schott's distributor, they get that," she said.
"And they're not getting anything that's hyper-local," Leung added.
Bringing a more regional brewery to Southeast Minnesota, Fahy-Gust said, has been a challenge. When the Pine Island City Council approved TIF funding for the brewery back in January, the partners expected to open up around Memorial Day. Then COVID-19 happened, and getting permits, particularly a plumbing permit needed for construction, from the state became an additional hurdle that added nearly three months to the process.
The pandemic has also thrown a wrench into their distribution plans, with "roughly 60% of restaurants" closing, Fahy-Gust said. While she expects the restaurant market to slowly rebound, that will impact the phase two part of their business, where they plan to build a second brewing and beer-canning operation on site to sell to grocery and liquor stores.
"We'll see how it plays out November, December time, and we can make a decision early 2021 about when we want to start building for this," Fahy-Gust said.
In the meantime, Leung said people should watch the company's website, sxsebrewingmn.com, and sign up for their newsletter to know when they can start ordering their beers online and when the taproom will finally open.
"The inside, where people sit, will feel very much like home, and that's a big deal to me," said Leung, who described everything from the bathrooms to the marbleized concrete floor and the elk head over the fireplace.
But comfort will be more about seating and design, she said. It'll include making people feel like craft beer is accessible to everyone.
"You should never feel stupid because you don't know craft beer," she said. "Craft beer shouldn't be just for the people who get craft beer. It should be for everybody."