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 tap talk took us a little bit west, to the town of Waconia. Next up, Waconia Brewing Company.
I don’t know about you, but growing up my brothers and I fought. A lot.
So, while the idea of starting your own business seems daunting, the idea of starting a business with your brother seems insurmountable.
But for some families, like the DeLanges, it works.
Of the four DeLange boys, three of them own breweries, and two of them own one together right here in Minnesota.
Bob and Pete DeLange, along with their wives Kaye and Dee, opened Waconia Brewing Company in October 2014. It began after Bob and Kaye were transferred to Minnesota from southern Iowa.
“They both worked for Cargill and were both traveling about 60 to 75 percent of the time,” Dee said. “That just wasn’t working for them as a family. Bob wanted to do something different.”
The families already had a love for craft beer, and a brother in the business.
“The other brother-in-law is in Colorado and he has Dry Dock Brewing out there. So, he was a tremendous help for us,” Dee said.
So, the four got to work creating what now is Waconia Brewing Company. Peter and Kaye both work jobs outside of the brewery while Bob and Dee handle it full time. Bob helps with the brewing and Dee with the management.
Eight months later, the brewery is going strong and working on expanding their outside seating.
As for the family?
“We used to do a lot together outside of our jobs because we all had other jobs. We still do quite a bit together,” Dee said with a smile.
Owners: Bob DeLange, Kaye DeLange, Dee DeLange and Peter DeLange
Head brewers: Bob DeLange and Tom Schufman
Location: 255 Main Street West, Waconia
Hours: Monday & Tuesday: 4 to 9 p.m., Wednesday & Thursday: 2 to 9 p.m., Friday 2 to 10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 8 p.m.
Since Waconia didn’t have a brewery before you opened, the choice to name the spot “Waconia Brewing Company” is pretty self-explanatory.
Bob: Well there was an old brewery from the 1920s [with the same name], so there used to be a Waconia Brewery pre-prohibition. We took on the heritage.
Dee: And we kind of decided we wanted to go with Waconia Brewing Company because at least then people can associated it with a town. Versus just a random name and then they have no idea where it is.
Since you are such a new brewery, and a somewhat smaller town, how did you get the word out about the opening?
Dee: A lot of craft festivals.
Bob: We’ve been super active with the craft beer circuit trying to get our name out there. We [also] did a couple barrel-aged honey ales that we delivered to a lot of the bigger liquor stores in the Northeast area. Dee has done a lot of promotions as well to get people out here.
What are some of the more recent promotions you’ve offered?
Dee: We just signed up with 1500 ESPN and all of their affiliated radio stations. [The deal is] a flight or a growler, or both. You could do either one of those promotions. They sell a punch card and they get 10 growlers and that will hopefully get people out here. They purchase the glass but then they get the [growler] fill free. And all of their radio stations are promoting that on the air right now.
Bob: We [also]partnered with a group and did a 5k out of the brewery, the Don’t Worry Be Hoppy 5K.
Dee: We donated money [from the proceeds of that run.] I think we donated almost $1,000 to the food shelf. It was a first year, so we were going to be thrilled if we had 100 people show up. Three hundred and fifteen showed up from all over. It was crazy in here. We [also] did an MS150 fun training ride out of here to help support them a little bit.
Tell me a little bit more about the atmosphere of the brewery.
Dee: We have bands on probably twice a month on a Friday night. I’m trying to get more and more, but right now I have a select number of food trucks that come out and I always try to have them on the weekends. We have games; we have lots and lots of games. We’re very kid friendly. We have root beer floats, we have popcorn, tons of little kids games. Adults games, too. There’s a group of probably about 10 guys that come in almost every Wednesday and have game night. And now we’re starting every Thursday night to do bike rides out of here.
Sounds like a very community focused brewery! What else have you done to make WCB part of the town?
Bob: We’ve participated in all of the Chamber driven events…They had Divas’ Out Shopping, Sister Saturday, all kinds of local events that we went to and just participated in to get our name out there.
Dee: What we did in the beginning, actually for Father’s Day, was we decided to have out Founders’ Club. There’s a Founders member board in the back and they all sign it when they come in. We sold 225 [memberships]. We started off last Father’s Day with 150 memberships that we sold for $100 apiece. They got 12 growler fills, one growler, a 20 oz. glass with the logo on it and when they come in they get a 20 oz. pour for the 16 oz. price for life. We just made it a special fun club and it went over hugely. Then, we had so many people asking for more of them that we upped the price of them and then sold them again for Nickle Dickle Day in September. We weren’t even open and we sold 100 more. We [did a special event last Tuesday] called Drink One Down For The Town. We’re going to try to do this once a month where we showcase a special event that’s going on that’s trying to raise some money. [Last time] it was for the Lake Waconia fireworks, so every pint sold we’re donating $2 to the Lake Waconia Fireworks Festival. Next month will be a completely different Drink One Down For The Town
Wow! Sounds like that was a great idea. Will you be selling more of the Founders’ Club memberships again at another time?
Bob: We wanted to cap it.
Dee: Yeah, we wanted them to feel special. The fire department is across the street. They’re great to us so we try to be great to them, so when they have their next pancake breakfast on a Sunday morning we’re going to give them one Founders’ Club pack and they’re going to auction off.
Bob: Any additional ones will be at special events like that to give back.
Dee: [Although] I’ve had people tell me they’ll pay $1,000 for that!
I bet people would pay a lot to be part of that club! So let’s move on to the beer. Tell me about your flagship brews.
*Listen to Bob discuss the four flagship beers, Carver County Kolsh, WacTown Wheat, 255 Amber and 90K IPA.*
What are some of the seasonal beers you currently have on tap?
*Listen to Bob discuss the flagship beers on tap.*
Bob: We have been running the single hop series. We keep the malt build the same, so how we brew the beer is exactly the same and we only change the hops that go into it. We had an Australian Topaz. What’s up there now is an Amarillo. The next one is a hop called Dr. Rudi. And after that we have Nelson Savant hop. But it allows the people to differentiate what a hop is to your beer because everything else is the same.
Now, there’s an interesting story with the Kolsh. Tell me about that.
Dee: There is a little town, Cologne, six miles away from here. They are Cologne, Germany’s sister city. And for whatever reason, I can’t remember exactly why, they decided to do a story on Cologne, Minnesota in Cologne, Germany on TV. WDR is the television station. They have a New York affiliate and the New Yorkers flew out here; two of them were German. They came to Cologne and did a story on them – it’s a documentary. This woman emailed me and said, “I see you have a Kolsh. Well, Cologne is where Kolsh comes from. Would you mind if we came in?” Perfect. So, they came in at like 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon stayed until 11 p.m. at night had the best time. The whole bar was filled. We had a band in, a food truck in. It was just crazy night. Super fun. And as she and I were corresponding, I said “Funny thing is we – we being Bob, Kaye, Pete and I – are going to Germany.” We flew into Paris and we were going to spend two weeks traveling Europe. And she said, “Well can we meet you in Germany?” So, they followed Bob and I around for three hours in Germany watching us try their Kolsh. Just random. So random.
Very interesting! I bet it was fun to try that. So, any beers that you are working on for the future?
Bob: I think we’re working on a saison. We’re doing collaboration with Enki and Excelsior on a session IPA that they’re going to do at the Taste of Minnesota. The head three brewers got together, the owners got together, and we talked about what kind of beer we wanted to make and how it was going to work. So it’ll be a special beer just at the Taste of Minnesota. Afterwards you might be able to find it at some locations depending on how many kegs we have left. This is the first time that they’ll have craft beer here form Minnesota, because last year it was all controlled by Budweiser, so we feel very fortunate that they were able to get the three local breweries in there. And I think we’re probably, in a month, doing an Oktoberfest for an Oktoberfest release and party.
You mentioned doing a barrel-aged beer earlier in the year that you then sold at Northeast liquor stores. Are there any more barrel-aged beers in store?
Bob: We have the luxury of having J. Carver Distillery in town. So the gin barrels we got are actually from the distillery. Right now [J. Carver is distilling] gin and vodka, but once [the whiskey] gets done, the first barrels will be ready in the fall, then we’ll actually have whiskey barrels. We’ll buy some from them and do some things in there as well. That was one thing we wanted to make sure we had the ability to do is some of the specialty beers and not just be 100 percent production brewery. We wanted to maintain our variety.
Definitely. Variety is so important when it comes to craft beer consumers. Also in terms of consumers, what is the most popular beer?
Bob: 90K and then Amber.
Dee: Kolsh is coming in strong this summer. It’s funny because it depends kind of on the month. In the winter time our Milk Stout was very, very, very high.
Tell me, what are your favorite beers?
Bob: I’ve been drinking mostly the Kolsh and the Single Hops (Amarillo).
What would you suggest for someone who is new to beer?
Bob: I can tell when they come in because I can see them looking, “How do I order, what does all that mean?” And then we’ll ask them “Oh, first time to the brewery?” and they’ll say yes or no. Most of the time you can tell. It’s usually the Kolsh or the Amber.
Dee: We always give them tasters. You know, try this one if you don’t like this one then we’ll try this one.
What would you suggest for someone who is a big beer drinker?
Dee: I’d push them to get a flight. Just so they can try them all.
Bob: I would, too.
Dee: We have flights of six. They get to choose which six they get.
Now that you’ve been open for a bit, what is something you’re hoping to see change as you continue to grow in the brewing industry?
Dee: I’d definitely like to see, and this is more so toward Waconia than the state, just lax the rules a little bit on the outdoor seating. Waconia has not kept up with the times. We just haven’t gotten there yet. So, I’m really hoping they come around on that and see the benefit on that. I’m pretty good about asking where people are from when they come in and we’re really drawing a ton of people to Waconia. But, we need the city to then help us out with that to keep them in Waconia and go to other establishments and spend money. It’s a catch 22.
Bob: I’d like some of the sales and bottling laws. Right now we’re only basically allowed to sell the 750 ml bottle or the growler out of the taproom. It’d be nice if we had a canning system to sell the cans out of here.
I would wager you’re not the only brewery that feels that way. So, final question, how would you describe your brewery in one word?