Riding motorcycles across the peaks and valleys of the Alps provides an incredible thrill each year for Jon Gorham, Pat Gorham, and Fred Holm. But one of the most exciting moments of their journey waits at the end: savoring stein after stein of German beer at Oktoberfest in Munich.
The friends’ love of beer extends to their life back in Minnesota. When Holm and the Gorhams began homebrewing with Dave Armstrong and Les Caswell in 2014, it made sense to combine their passion for foreign beer and focus on making European-style ales and lagers. The five recently opened BeerClub Brewing to share these traditional brews with others in their hometown of Mora, Minnesota.
Although some of the men had decades of homebrewing experience, they didn’t always plan to open a brewery. Their irregular brew days and tastings were a hobby, one that helped them produce consistently better five-gallon batches of beer, Armstrong says. “One day after brewing, we said, ‘When are we going to do beer club next?’ And that was the genesis of the name,” he explains. “It’s our own little beer club where we make beer and drink beer and drink more beer.”
Armstrong and the others would share the beer with family and friends, but when people commented it was so good that they should open a brewery, they didn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t until 2016 that they actually discussed the possibility. “As the beer went down, our dreams got bigger and we thought, ‘Let’s start a brewery,’” Armstrong says.
The brewery’s current lineup includes a Czech-style Bohemian Pils, Belgian tripel, porter, and Oktoberfest, along with several rotating IPAs. The Citra-hopped Next Day IPA (4.5% ABV) is a highly sessionable option, Armstrong says. And then there’s Dangerous Dave’s Imperial IPA (6.5% ABV), named after Armstrong’s tendency to tackle heavy lifting—even if (or especially when) he might be better off waiting for help. “Apparently I don’t know my own strength,” he says. “The guys say, when they work with me, ‘Watch out or you might get hurt.’”
Since BeerClub opened in mid August, the biggest struggle has been keeping up with demand while brewing just one barrel at a time, according to Caswell. “We have four one-barrel fermenters that we’re trying to keep up with,” he says, clarifying that they didn’t invest in larger vessels because they already had a few one-barrel fermenters, and “wanted to see if we enjoyed having a brewery, and to see if our beers are well-received. So far yes on both counts.”
“This is, in my opinion, not even a micro brewery or a nano brewery,” adds Armstrong. “It’s more like a pico brewery—super small batches, lovingly handcrafted.”
Another element aiding BeerClub in their fun-focused rather than finance-focused approach is that the owners don’t feel the same pressure to make money that other new breweries do: they did not take on any debt to open the brewery. Rather, they purchased the equipment they didn’t already have out of pocket, and two of the partners owned the former metal fabrication shop in which BeerClub is located.
There’s no denying the brewery’s industrial vibe. The interior and exterior are coated with corrugated metal, and several cranes once used to move heavy materials during production still stand inside, towering over the bar and seating area.
Over its first few weekends, BeerClub has welcomed many visitors. The community members enjoy having their own brewery, especially one that represents the European flair that Mora holds dear, Armstrong says. “Mora is the home of the Vasaloppet, one of North America’s oldest cross country ski races. So we’re very into European traditions. Skiing is one of them and beer is another,” he says.
Along with support from the community, BeerClub received advice and assistance from Three Twenty Brewing in Pine City as it prepared to open. Since then, BeerClub Brewing joined forces with Three Twenty and other area wineries and distilleries to create the East Central Craft Beverage Trail. The others include Isanti Spirits in Isanti, North Folk Winery in Stark, Northern Hollow Winery in Grasston, Sapsucker Farms—makers of Yellow Belly Cider—in Mora, Ann River Winery in Mora, and Boondoggle Winery in Pine City. Anyone who gets a stamp from all eight is entered to win a large gift basket containing goods from each one.
Caswell, Armstrong, and the others are excited to welcome visitors from around the state, and the team plans to invest in larger equipment eventually to increase its capacity and offerings. However, although there is a retail operation now, BeerClub has not strayed from what it was all along: a team working together to craft the European-style lagers and ales they love to drink.
“You spread the joy and spread the pain among five people, and it just makes it fun,” Armstrong says. “I’m still having fun—what about you, Wes?”
“Absolutely,” Caswell says. “Absolutely.”
Brewers: Dave Armstrong, Les Caswell, Jon Gorham, Pat Gorham, and Fred Holm
Beers: Seven taps, including Trip Hammer Bohemian Pils,, Oktoberfest, Dangerous Dave’s Imperial IPA, Next Day IPA, Close Tolerance IPA, Plus/Minus Porter, and Hey Porter
Address: 854 Forest Ave. E., Mora, MN 55051