Castle Danger Brewery expanding in 2014: "The sky is the limit"

Growler and glass of Castle Danger on the brewery's Lake Superior shoreline
Growler and glass of Castle Danger on the brewery's Lake Superior shoreline
Jamie MacFarlane

Castle Danger Brewery has a long and storied history. Well, the brewery itself was founded in 2011, but its owners have been operating Castle Haven Cabins since 1933, with the family owning the land as far back as 1902 (with a deed signed by Theodore Roosevelt, no less). Operating on a small three-barrel system, the brewery focuses on the North Shore region, mostly due to limitations that will soon be eased as husband and wife owners Clint and Jamie MacFarlane move into a 30-barrel site in nearby Two Harbors next year.

Castle Danger was born from a love of brewing, and MacFarlane's philosophy still follows the more experimental nature of a homebrewer. The Hot Dish reached out to talk expansion, the North Shore, and the current Minnesota brew-boom.

See also: All Pints North, This Saturday in Duluth Dangerous Man Brewing: The face of a business

Hot Dish: You're at one metro bar and two in Duluth, otherwise focusing on the North Shore. Obviously you have production limitations with the three-barrel system -- is that why you choose to stay within 30 miles or so of the brewery, or do you prefer to serve a hyper-local market?

Clint MacFarlane: Those are guest taps that will be ending soon. The first two weeks of June we sold more beer than we produced. We typically ramp up production in the spring to build up a bit of stock, and typically don't see sales exceed production until July, so we are a bit nervous at the moment. We self distribute right now, so the closer to home we can sell our beer the better. It is more necessity at this point.

HD: You're planning an expansion in Two Harbors next year. Will the current site remain in use? What comes with the expansion?

MacFarlane: We are planning to leave our current system as our pilot brewery to use it for research and development. Anything we decide to brew on it will go on tap in our new taproom in Two Harbors, if the beer does well we will scale it up on the new system. We are hoping to keep eight to 12 different beers going in the tap room at all times, but we'll see. Aside from a new tap room and a 30 barrel brewing system, we will be opening a canning line as well. It is very exciting, and will be breaking ground around the end of August or early September. The ultimate goal is a Spring 2014 opening.

HD: Do you prefer the flexibility of a small batch brewery so you can rotate styles and recipes?

MacFarlane: I do love the flexibility of small batch brewing, but this year is going to be less flexible than last year. We have added a few more accounts and need to keep production going so we are not going to have the time to try as many new things. Even when we move into Two Harbors, we plan on changing things up on a regular basis. Homebrewing is how it started, and experimentation is a key factor in homebrewing. It has worked well for us, and it's fun changing things up.

HD: Your beers have historical local names. How did you get interested in local history? MacFarlane: I grew up in Two Harbors and know about local names and places mostly because my dad is a walking encyclopedia about anything local. Being that we started small, it was an easy decision to go with names that most local people would know about. It also gets people interested and sparks a conversation.

HD: What are the local origins behind the Wimpy name?

MacFarlane: Wimpy was brewed for Mayor Randy Bolen of Two Harbors. He has been a big advocate for us and our future expansion plans. The problem is he is a light beer guy. He actually had a shirt printed up with "Castle Danger Golden" on it -- that is what he wanted us to call it. "You gotta brew a beer for us wimps." We thought naming a beer Castle Danger Golden would get us into a lawsuit, so we decided we would just call it what it was.

HD: As the MN brewing scene takes off, each company seems to be finding a distinct niche. What do you see as your specialty?

MacFarlane: It is really tough for a brewery to be totally unique anymore. Variations of style and different ingredients can be used to make a unique beer, but chances are it has been tried somewhere. We will be focusing on being involved in our community and trying to brew the best beer we possibly can. We will brew up some oddball beers because it's fun and it keeps people interested, but a brewery still needs a core lineup of beers to be successful. Even in our "normal" line we've brewed our beers to taste, so when we call it "amber" or whatever it may be, it will be a more of a hybrid beer not easily placed into a category. Hopefully that will be enough to set us apart from the next brewery.

HD: What do you think has driven the Duluth/North Shore increase in breweries over the past year? Are you worried about over-saturating the market?

MacFarlane: The market is demanding it right now and I, by no means, got into brewing because the market was ready for it. I don't think many do. It is an exciting time for beer right now.

Now that I have been brewing professionally for a couple years, I couldn't imagine not doing so. It is hard work and challenges you every day, but it's so much fun at the same time. That is why there are so many breweries opening up right now.

The timing is right, and why wouldn't you want to own your own brewery? I think the sky is the limit, and we haven't begun to scratch the surface. Everyone has a different strategy, and not every brewery wants to distribute all over. People see the number of breweries opening up and think we are all the size capable of wide distribution. Breweries are becoming local to the neighborhoods they open in, and usually don't have enough beer to get outside of that range. There are many states that have many more breweries than Minnesota. Right now no one can brew enough.

Clint MacFarlane and Mason Williams with a fresh catch of growlers!
Clint MacFarlane and Mason Williams with a fresh catch of growlers!
Jamie MacFarlane

Castle Danger Brewery will be at the All Pints North Brew Fest in Duluth and the Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival in Lutsen this weekend.

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