Mr. Brau’s destiny to make beer
I grabbed the bottle of Old No. 56 beer with my left hand and then proceeded to use the long, silver bottle opener in my right hand to pry off the bottle cap.
It was time to chug. But that Old No. 56 didn’t go down all at once. I took one long swig but had to put the bottle down to my chest for just a second. And then a few more swigs before finally throwing the empty bottle into the barrel.
It was then off to the races. Two laps around the parking lot in front of the Brau Brothers restaurant and brewery. I followed that with another bottle of beer.
Four more laps and two more beers later, I completed the first ever beer run at the Brau Brothers annual HopFest earlier this month.
And that is where I met Mr Brau. Dustin Brau that is. According to Dictionary.com, Brau means German-style restaurant or tavern. So with a name like that, one would think Dustin Brau was destined to become a brewer. But he swears that was never his original plan when he graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University.
His enterprise was starting a restaurant in the little town of Lucan — population 181.
“Why Lucan?” I asked.
“Ah, crazy?” he asked me.
“I didn’t say crazy,” I answered.
“My wife, Mary, and I both graduated from SMSU with hotel/restaurant degrees,” Brau said. “And at the time, if you wanted to stay local, you had to do something like that (start a small business). We were young, so if we screwed up we would be OK. That’s how we started — a little bar and restaurant.”
Mary Brau said they knew they needed to do something to draw people from the surrounding communities to their Lucan location.
“That is why he (Dustin) started brewing his own (beer),” she said. “And the beer really took off.”
They displayed their craft beers at area festivals and Mary said people wanted to know where they could buy them besides at the Brau House.
So the Braus didn’t screw up. Actually business was so good, they outgrew the Lucan location.
“In 2012-13, we moved over there (present building at Main Street and Highway 23). It just got to the point that we grew out of our system (in Lucan), our building,” Brau said.
But Brau also explained his brewery enterprise received a huge break when the Minnesota Legislature passed the Surly Bill in 2011.
That allowed small brewers to sell their product in-house and let customers take a growler or two home. The 64-ounce brown jugs soon became symbolic of the state’s return to its brewing roots.
“And honestly, we never felt we would own a restaurant again. We were going to do it for the beer and were not going to do a restaurant again,” Mary Brau said.
However, tap rooms still couldn’t sell beer on Sundays without serving food. So the Braus decided to sell food again.
“So this was actually the first tap room in Minnesota that served food. At the time, to be open on Sunday, you had to serve food. The restaurant degree came back to help us a little bit,” Dustin Brau said.
Dustin Brau calls his tap room his lab because he gets instant feedback from customers on his new brews. He said it’s also great for marketing and brand building.
“To be honest we had no idea what to expect of the tap room in Marshall,” he said. “This was the first brewery in Lyon County ever. It took a year or two for people to get used to what a tap room is. It worked out really well. The community support we get is fantastic.”
So what goes into a successful beer?
“Lots of trial and error,” Dustin Brau said. “We have been doing this for almost 20 years. Especially in the early years you never knew what was going to come out of the kettle or the fermentor. Especially with the new ingredients, new techniques.”
Dustin Brau says he has a team of about six people who brew on a daily basis. He said they are always looking for brewers, which to me, sounds like a fun job.
“It’s a lot of sitting around drinking beer and coming up with a good idea,” he said.
“Was there a particular beer you came up with that you thought would never be popular?” I asked.
“That happens all the time. Right now we brew a kettle sour, which is an intentionally soured beer and we can flavor it with different flavors and customize it — a grain apple,” he said. “I would have never thought it would be popular because traditionally I thought of this area — southwest Minnesota — as a domestic light beer area. But we do sours. We do Belgians, we do strong beers, we do 13 percent Belgian beer right now, which is crazy popular locally. Maybe we don’t give this area enough credit for the good beers people will drink”
Mary Brau says she makes suggestions now and then, but she lets Dustin make the final decisions.
“He knows a lot more than I do,” she said. “He’s more of a craft beer drinker. I may be more of an average beer drinker. I don’t drink the IPAs (India Pale Ale). He drinks the IPAs. So it’s probably a good combination because I will give my two cents and explain why I pick something and then I wash my hand from it.”
And after 23 years of marriage and a friendship that goes back to sixth grade, the Braus appeared to be brewing more than beer. Brau Brothers is now a destination spot in southwest Minnesota and the HopFest is a traditional annual event.
And my beer run finishing time — a little under beer 30.