Lift Bridge Brewing Company Cofounder and President, Dan Schwarz pouring a brew
By C. Rick Jourdan and Sarah Kowal
Lift Bridge Brewery—Stillwater’s Hometown Favorite
Owners: Dan Schwarz, Brad Glynn, Jim Pierson, Trevor Cronk
Four buddies were playing poker in a Stillwater residence, enjoying home-brewed beer made in their garage. It was pretty good, they all agreed, but they kept making adjustments to improve the recipe.
The four friends started throwing backyard tasting parties with every new mix. It gave them honest feedback on flavor, body, consistency and other characteristics that make a great beer.
It was a neighborhood hit!
Decision made—they’d start a local brewery.
If You Brew It, They Will Drink
So Lift Bridge Brewery was born in 2008. It was Stillwater’s first craft brewery since Prohibition.
“It took a lot of hard work at nights and on weekends. We spent two years on business plans and recipes before the brewery was opened,” Dan Schwarz said.
They started doing contract brewing to places using their beer recipes. When Lift Bridge started, there were only 12 breweries in Minnesota. Today, there are over 150 breweries. They are one of the 10 largest in the state.
The brewery’s market has grown from the backyard neighborhood to across the upper Midwest, spanning from Fargo to Milwaukee. Last year Lift Bridge brewed about 19,000 barrels of beer. This year they expect to make 27,000. The goal is to grow to 70,000 in the next 10 years. A breakdown of growth shows 25 percent in Minnesota and 105 percent in Wisconsin in 2017.
Quality Hometown Brew, Through and Through
The brewery’s name and logo portray Stillwater’s historic, landmark lift bridge. The brand celebrates the St. Croix River Valley and logging, farming as well as the artisan feel.
“As we continue to expand into new markets across the Midwest, we will remain true to our roots and our community by brewing and distributing everything from Stillwater,” said Brad Glynn.
According to Dan Schwarz, the secret to their success is hinged on three key qualities: 1) Brew a high-quality, great-tasting beer 2) Know our customers 3) Focus on being true to our brand and marketing.
Lift Bridge’s success is also about keeping up with current beer trends and flavor profiles.
“People like hoppy beers right now,” Dan observed. “It used to be pale ales and before that it was amber beers. Beer tastes tend to mirror food tastes. Right now, the profile is spicy and full flavored. Twenty-five percent of nationwide beer sales are in IPAs.”
If You Grow It, They Will Drink More
Lift Bridge Brewing will be celebrating their 10th anniversary later this year. So the quartet is planning to double in size with an exciting new production facility and taproom as the beer business continues to grow.
The proposed $10 million facility would feature a new taproom with space for over 100 people and a special event center that could seat up to 200. Plans are still being finalized for the proposed 30,000-35,000 square foot facility. The site being considered is in the Stillwater industrial park.
“We’re simply at overcapacity where we’re at now,” Brad said. “We’ve had great gains the last several years and we want to keep that growth going. We need a new facility to better serve our customers and the area.”
The current taproom displays a relaxed atmosphere. It’s a cross between a German brauhaus, a Rocky Mountain lodge and a Minnesota ice house. The centerpiece is a split-wood bar and picnic style tables.
Tasty New Brews
Staying current and keeping up with contemporary tastes and flavor profiles is a key to success in the beer business.
Two new brews the Lift Bridge quartet is working on this year is an oyster stout for release in October and an English style barleywine that packs 13 percent alcohol.
These new beers will join the brewery’s popular stable that includes Farm Girl, Crosscut, Minnesota Tan, Mango Blonde and Chestnut Hill, among others. Each beer features signature labels and pictures of St. Croix Valley history. Lift Bridge also sells its own homemade root beer and Mini Donut Cream Soda.
New Award Winner
Lift Bridge Brewery recently won a top award at the U.S. Open 2018 Beer Championship in Oxford, Ohio.
Their Barrel Aged Silhouette Beer won a gold medal in the Wood/Barrel Aged Strong Stout category.
A Local Labor of Love
For Dan, Brad, Trevor and Jim, brewing beer they’re proud of is a labor of love. Many of the owners gave up their professional jobs to start and run Lift Bridge Brewery.
But it’s also about a passion for their town and this special part of Minnesota.
“We love this community,” Brad said. “We fell in love with the geography and the history. Getting the city to help us [tax incentives] with this development makes it easier for us to stay where our heart is.
“We want to give our city, state and region something to be proud of and call their own.”
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