If you would like to drink the future—the smooth, pale golden, lightly spicy, caramel-kissed future—suck down a pint of Lift Bridge Brewery's Farm Girl Saison. What New Glarus Spotted Cow is to Wisconsin, someday Farm Girl may be to Minnesota: a craft beer that's instantly likable but filled with character, charismatic but substantial.
"We developed that recipe for beer shows, so that when guys dragged their girlfriends along or their wives, there'd be a beer that appealed to the fairer sex," says Lift Bridge partner and co-founder Steve Rinker. "But what happened was, the guys would come up and go: 'I'll have another Farm Girl.' The next thing you know, it was our flagship—people kept demanding it."
Rinker and partners Jim Pierson, Dan Schwarz, and Brad Glynn are in a unique position in the local beer scene. The Lift Bridge crew aren't home-brewers anymore; they're too big for that, producing about 30 barrels of craft beer a month. But they don't yet have their own brewery. Instead, they work with St. Paul's Flat Earth Brewing Company, using the more established brewery's equipment. They currently brew two regular beers (a pale ale called Drifter and Farm Girl) and a rotating seasonal, which are available as supplies allow at about 10 bars and restaurants in Stillwater, St. Paul, and Minneapolis.
Glynn says the beer is, first and foremost, reflective of the team's home base, Stillwater. "Tourists will come to a bar, have a burger, and the first thing they'll ask is, 'What do you have on tap that's local?' And typically the answer was, 'Summit, Surly,' that kind of thing. But now the feedback is great, because they can say, 'We've got something from right here.'"
Glynn and Rinker met as co-workers at NewMech, a St. Paul-based construction and engineering company. They brought Lift Bridge into existence in 2006 when they drafted their friends Jim Pierson and Dan Schwarz. Their shared vision is a craft beer reflective of its geographic roots, Schwarz says.
"Much like when you're drinking Corona on the beach, you associate that time with the beer, and that beer tastes better back here because you associate it with those memories," he says. "We'd like people to come to Stillwater and try the beer, and bring that good memory back with them, and remember it the next time they have it."
The beer's identity is also tied up in a sensibility admirable for a group of boundary-pushing home-brewers: a willingness to make the beer accessible.
"We're trying to do more balanced beers, rather than something way out there," says Glynn. "Something more drinkable, something you're going to order more than one of."
The brewery's pale ale is a perfect example, he says. "It's more of a classic style, more balanced, with some German malts to smooth it out," Glynn says. "And we also added grapefruit peel. The Cascade hops bring a citrus flavor, and the grapefruit kind of plays off of that."
At the moment, the four-man team is sizing up two locations for a permanent brewery, while trying to keep up with the intense demand for their product.
"Brad and I have always been passionate about food and drinks and beer," says Rinker. "I remember at lunch one day Brad and I were talking about brewing, and I said, 'You know, that's funny, I was thinking about getting my home-brewing going again.' He said: 'F that! Let's start a brewery!' After we finished lunch, I called my wife and said, 'Sue, Brad and I are going to start a brewery.' And she said, 'That's nice, honey. Okay, I'll talk to you later.' But since then, we haven't missed a day."
For photos and the full interview with the Lift Bridge team, visit blogs.citypages.com/food.