Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. This time, we’re headed back to Stillwater. Only this time, we’re taking a trip downtown to Maple Island Brewing.
From a creamery to a hardware store to a brewery, the building that is now home to Maple Island Brewing has had quite a history. And so have its owner and brewer.READ MORE: 'This Cannot Continue': Minnesota Leaders React To Deadly Texas School Shooting
The first business to live in the downtown Stillwater location was Maple Island Creamery. After the dairy closed it changed to Maple Island Hardware.
Soon, Maple Island Hardware also closed down and building owner Frank Fabio was left with the dilemma of what to do with an empty store front.
Fabio, who also runs a construction company, decided to join in the craft beer craze and open a brewery. He reached out to his friend of 12 years, Nic Brau, and asked him to be the head brewer. Brau, who had been enjoying craft beer for years thanks to his connection with Brau Brothers Brewing, had been a home brewer for quite some time but had no desire to brew professionally.
“I wasn’t going to brew. I have another job, I have kids. And people were like, “If you don’t do it you’re going to kick yourself down the road. This place is going to open up no matter what and you’ll have had your chance,”” Brau said. “So, I said “Yeah, I’ll do it.””
So, after a little elbow grease and some new additions, like an L-shaped wrap-around patio, Maple Island Brewing was the newest business to call the spot home.
“We decided to stay with the name. It’s a historic building in Stillwater, so we named it Maple Island Brewing,” Brau said.
Seven months, 48 batches and roughly 12,000 gallons of beer later, Maple Island Brewing Co. has made its mark on downtown Stillwater.
I sat down with Brau to talk about their journey and, of course, their beer.
Maple Island Brewing
Owner: Frank Fabio
Head brewer: Nic Brau
Location: 225 Main Street North
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday: 12 to 10 p.m., Sunday: 12 to 8 p.m.
So, usually when someone opens a taproom they themselves are the brewer. But Frank brought you in as the head brewer. Has he ever brewed?
Frank has never brewed and sometimes that can be a little challenging. The funniest things was [with] the first batch we ever made. Before the beer ferments it’s called wort and it tastes very sugary and syrupy, almost like liquid Golden Grahams. And he tasted it, and he had never tasted wort before, and he opened his eyes huge and he looked at me and said, “Oh my gosh, you screwed this batch up so bad.” And I was like, “Frank, this is what wort tastes like!” He almost freaked out that first time. And then it fermented out and he was happy .
Funny! Sounds like a strong level of trust has been built now. So, it may be a bit early to tell, since you’ve only been open seven months, but have you noticed a significant difference in business based on the seasons? Especially since you’re located right on the river?
This location is huge. I mean you get a warm summer day here and there’s lines on pull tabs. It just gets crazy. Also, on Friday nights we have live music and on Saturday nights we have live music. So, you get a nice Friday or Saturday with the live music going and this place just gets flooded. We can run out of flights and we have to wait for people to finish. [But it was slower in the winter.] I think it was slower not only because it was winter but because we’re very new. It takes a little while for people to know that you’re out there and that you’re up and running.
Absolutely. The initial opening impacts business tremendously no matter the season. What did you do to help get the word out about the opening?
We did a Living Social [for our Growlers.] We did it with a maximum number of 500, just to get 500 growlers out there. We had a lot of people come out for that. Another thing we did to get people in right away is [rent out our balcony]. We have an upper area and anyone can go up there and drink. It’s actually a pretty cool area to go drink in. You overlook the whole brewhouse area and there are granite bars and tables and kids games up there. But we also let groups of 20 or 40 reserve that. They just have to put a deposit down in case they don’t show up. Because we get really busy the times they always want to reserve them on like Fridays and Saturdays. People reserve that like crazy. Everything from friend get-togethers to bachelorette parties to anniversaries to birthday parties. They’ll bring up pizzas. I’ve seen someone cater from Famous Daves. That place is pretty hoppin’ usually.
It sounds like business has been growing steadily since the opening, which is great. So, let’s talk beer. Tell me about the beers you have on tap.READ MORE: Royce Lewis 'Couldn't Be Happier' About Time With Twins
*Listen below to Brau describe the beers he has on tap*
Sounds like the Firkins are really popular! How long do they usually last?
[Once] we put on a pineapple IPA and in one day, gone. [But,] the longest one has ever lasted is mid-Sunday. But people just love the Firkins.
Sounds like it! So, what was the first beer you ever brewed at the brewery?
A Mosiac Wheat. It was a wheat beer made with mosaic hops. It was actually one I home brewed and people really loved it. And I think the first batch I ever brewed was a German Helles Lager. I can’t believe I started with that because no one starts with a lager but maybe I thought I had some skills or something. But it actually turned out really good.
Clearly you do! What are the beers you consider to be your staple beers?
We try and keep three staples around. One is our Burlesque Kolsch. It’s really nice a transitional beer. It’s a German light beer. It’s got a little bit more hop, a light flavor. We have a Maple Island Bock. A guy who lives in my town, he has a 140 acres of trees in Wisconsin and he makes all his own maple syrup, so we grab it all from him and make our Maple Island Bock. And then our third one is Cup Of Joe Freak Show. That’s a cold-press coffee oatmeal stout. When my one son was 9-years-old we made it at our house for the first time, and I’ve never changed the recipe since. Usually I’ll tweak something [but] it was just awesome from the get go. His name is Joe and I let him name it, so [hence] Cup Of Joe Freak Show.
I bet he really enjoyed doing that. You said you have nine on tap, what are the beers you have on tap currently?
*Listen to Nic describe the beers on tap*
So, what’s the most popular beer in terms of sales?
The Kolsh. The majority of people out there are still light beer drinkers, or they are going to want to come in here and just drink a lot of them. So it’s as light as you can get. That’s what we pour double what we pour everything else. That’s why we keep brewing it so often.
What would you suggest to drink for someone who isn’t really a beer drinker?
I usually have them look at the IBUs. Most craft beer places list the IBUs. I usually tell them to start on a lower end and to read the IBUs in the beer that they’re drinking. There are tons of different styles, but a lot of people are going to find a comfort range in the bitterness level of the beer no matter what the flavor is. IPAs are up there in the 50 to 110 IBUs. That’s not for someone to usually start with. Eventually people come to love hops. So, if you keep drinking you’ll start gravitating up that scale.
What would you suggest to someone who is sort of a beer snob?
Rock Star Flight. Just get them all and then email me after that and let me know what you think. (laughs)
What is one flavor that you haven’t brewed with that you’d like to experiment with?
I’d like to do some more stuff with the fruit things that we’re doing and add a little bit of acidified malts to it. Sour it up a bit. I’m really lucky here in that I get to make every recipe and brew what I want. Any time I get an idea I write it down, make a recipe and brew it up. We’re getting rhubarb right now and we’re probably going to do a rhubarb [type] sour depending on how much we can get.
So with the mention of the sour flavor, are you interested in making sours?
I do love sour beers myself. But at the same time I am not sure I want to introduce that yeast strain into my brewery. And I like to find other ways around that. I’ve made some sour beers, test batches that have worked good, with acidified malts and lactic acid and things without having to actually pull in those yeast strains and have a possibility of contaminating the whole brewery.
Definitely. That seems like a really specific style that may lessen the time you have to experiment elsewhere. So, with all breweries popping up around the Twin Cities, how do you feel about the expansion?
I’ve heard rumors that maybe two more places are coming to Stillwater and opening up. I would love that. If we could have three, four, five in downtown Stillwater, that’s a is a severe destination. People are going to come here and they are going to say, “Hey I can hit three to five breweries and that’s going to be awesome.”
Do you feel that Stillwater already is its own destination? Or is it still part of the metro bubble?
We get a lot of tourists here. It’s more a tourist destination. We definitely have locals that come here all the time, which is super cool; they love our beer. But it’s kind of how far you want to drive. I mean you’ve got Lift Bridge right [up town] and you’ve got us [downtown]. Right up over across the bridge in Somerset, Wis. is Oliphant, and right past that is Bardy’s Brewhouse and then right in Hudson is Pitchfork and American Sky. So, we are starting to get kind of a bubble, not like Northeast where you can walk from here to there, but it’s cool. People just love it down here and you can pull up on your boat. It’s a different deal and it’s super cool.
Definitely. I can see how Stillwater would be its own hub. So, last question, how would you describe your brewery in one word?MORE NEWS: 3 Years After Fire, Construction Begins On Lake Bde Maka Ska Pavilion