Badger Hill Brewing looks south of the river
Photo courtesy of Badger Hill Brewing
Badger Hill Brewing Company started making beer in 2012, sharing production space with Lucid and Bad Weather in a unique arrangement. Currently the brewery is prepping for a move to their own turf, trying to finalize on a property in the southern suburbs. The family run brewery was founded by husband and wife pair Broc and Britt Krekelberg and Broc's brother, Brent. They chose their name based on old English translations of "Broc" and "Brent." The brewery also just added a new head brewer, Michael Koppelman (who will share other duties in the company as well).
The Hot Dish spoke with Britt about the brewery's goals, identity, and the difference between brewing in Colorado and Minnesota.
Hot Dish: The word "badger" makes us think of Wisconsin. Was that a concern? Britt Krekelberg: Not originally. However, it is probably the number one question people ask us.
Your flagship, MSB or Minnesota Special Bitter, uses "Minnesota" right in the name. How important is a sense of place or location to the brand's identity? Really important. We are proud of our state and proud of what the Minnesota beer community is about and where it is going. I think that using Minnesota in the name is a fun way to show that.
Generally you take traditional European styles and add a US craft flourish to them -- sticking mostly to traditional sessional beers. How do you sum up the beer focus at Badger Hill? We definitely have pulled our inspiration and original recipes from traditional styles and then made them our own with some sort of twist. One thing that is key for us, on the main line-up of beers, is making sure they are balanced and approachable. We've also tried to offer beers that compliment the local market. That's why we launched with an ESB style rather than an IPA. We didn't want to do what everyone else was doing.
The three owners, yourself included, are all family. How did the brewery get started? Broc began home-brewing around 1991. Soon after college, we moved to Colorado where one neighbor was a brewer for Great Divide and another neighbor owned a home-brew shop. We were drinking craft beer before it was the norm. From Colorado we moved to another great craft brewing state, Michigan.
In 2006 we landed back in Minnesota, where Broc introduced Brent to the home-brew kettle. The two of them were both getting their MBAs and would brew and study most Sundays. This is where the business plan was created. However, we only planned for a production brewery since the taproom law was not a reality yet.
For your first two years you've been a part of an alternating proprietorship with Lucid (and Bad Weather) and now you're looking to move elsewhere. How did the decision to relocate come about? We couldn't be happier at Lucid; they are great guys. When we entered into the relationship with them, we always knew that we'd have to move at some point. Lucid is making great beers and growing like crazy. Eventually, with all of us growing, capacity will become an issue so we are trying to be prepared for that. This is why we've been working on our next phase.
How did you first get involved in the alternating proprietorship? We met Jon and Eric through an equipment vendor a few years ago. We were both in the planning stages, but Lucid was further along. Eric told us about how [it] worked and we thought it was a great way to get started and invest in better equipment. We are really lucky to have found them. Both companies have a great mutual respect for one another and we help each other out and have created not only a cool business relationship but a friendship.
Where are you looking to relocate? Definitely south of the river. We live there and there is not a brewery in that area.
What are some of the biggest hurdles in finding a new location? Probably time. [Then] finding the right location, size, etc. Plus understanding the city's government and ordinances.
What are you planning for a taproom when you move? I'm not sure yet. We definitely want it to be a place that is welcoming to all levels of beer drinkers: a place to hang out with your friends, share a beer, play a game, maybe listen to some live music.
The local brewing scene has really taken off since the taproom bill passed. What has struck you the most about the changing beer culture in Minnesota? I think it's awesome to see taprooms popping up in neighborhoods, and I love how the neighborhoods support the brewery. The awareness is incredible; more and more people want to try new beers and learn about them. Also, organizations like Minnesota Beer Activists, Better Beer Society, and Barley's Angels have driven awareness across our state.
How would you compare it to your experience (as beer drinkers) in Colorado? It's funny. I think Minnesota today is where Colorado was in the late '90s. New Belgium was where Surly is, O'Dells could be compared to Fulton or Lift Bridge. Even the ubiquitous yellow can of Coors Original was the "everyman's" beer, just like Grain Belt is today.
What is the biggest challenge currently facing new Minnesota breweries? There is not just one challenge. There is still so much room and opportunity, but with so many new entrants, you have to figure out how to be relevant to people. It's probably not hard to have short-term relevancy but, how do you sustain that into the future? That's the challenge.
Badger Hill is preparing the release of a new Cherry Double Dunkel for Thanksgiving. Beer enthusiasts can find it on tap at Bryant Lake Bowl, Stout's Pub, and Longfellow Grill and in 750 ml bottles before the holiday.
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