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The city of Champlin has its first brewery—and the response has been overwhelming. Just two weeks after Elm Creek Brewing’s soft open of its taproom on June 12 at just 50% capacity, the brewery had to shut its doors temporarily to ramp up production and expand the brewhouse to meet the high demand. A date for its grand opening has yet to be revealed.
Wade Carlson, who co-owns the brewery with his son Mitchell, says that in many unexpected ways, the fallout of the pandemic has actually helped them along in their path to opening, though it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“[When] the pandemic hit, and we were in the middle of due diligence on buying the property,” says Wade. “It came down to about the day before we closed, on whether we were going to walk away from it, and we decided to go for it.” The building previously housed a Ruby Tuesdays, and Wade says everything was left behind when they purchased the property, including some less-than-ideal surprises.
“We closed on the building on March 30, went into the building on March 31, turned the water on, and found out that all the pipes in the building had frozen and were damaged,” he says. “So it’s not enough that we’ve got the pandemic, now we need a week of plumbing repairs.” But, thanks to COVID, the plumbing and electrical contractors next door had an open schedule. “They threw their best people at it. We would’ve never had them available to us if it had been normal conditions.”
He says they had a similar experience when requesting permits from the Department of Agriculture—pre-COVID, the approval process would have pushed their opening into July, but as they were one of the only applicants, they were pushed to the top of the schedule and received their permits on time. “In a weird way, there’s some good news that comes out of all this crap,” says Wade.
The owners recruited Grant Aldrich as head brewer, who’s spent the last eight years brewing at Lupine Brewing and Brau Brothers. Working under pressure on a brand new system has presented its challenges, but Wade says everything’s been very well-received so far.
“I’m giving Grant a lot of liberty to be the brewer he wants to be. We’re not going to look over his shoulder—obviously, as a business we kind of have to put the pressure on him to say, okay, we need to have these flagship beers to start with. Because we’re a new brewery, we’re a small system, we’ve gotta hit it out of the park to start with.”
The brewery is starting with five beers on-tap: Chronic Obsession Hazy IPA, Elm Creek Special Vienna Lager, Grizzland California Common, Mill Pond Porter, and Granted Amber Ale. The origin story of Granted is complicated—although they call it an amber, Wade admits that they’ve found it to be more along the lines of Belgian dubbel. It was born from Aldrich’s homebrew system, concocted from ingredients he had lying around the house. He brought it to the brewery for Wade and Mitchell to try one night: “We tried it, and it was one of the best beers I’ve had, and for a homebrewer, it was amazing,” Wade says. “I was like ‘do you have the recipe?’ and he’s like ‘well not really,’ because he just threw a bunch of stuff together […] As we’ve tried to figure it out, what it is, it’s more of a Belgian dubbel than an amber ale, but it’s that original Frankenstein beer. But we can’t call it Frankenstein, so I named it after him.”
Another beer, the Grizzland California Common, is named after the advanced single-track loop at the Elm Creek Park Reserve—a portion of the beer’s proceeds will go toward Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, a Champlin-based nonprofit dedicated to ensuring the future of mountain biking in Minnesota.
Another cause Wade is eager to get involved with is through the Elm Creek Watershed, which ties back to his work as a geologist and founder of Carlson McCain, an environmental consulting and civil engineering firm. “We want to be able to give back to our community, back to nonprofits, and we’re really targeting specific projects within the watershed,” he says.
The taproom design ties in various historical elements, collected from across the Midwest. The bartop and some tables are constructed from 70 feet of reclaimed bowling alley wood from outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, dating back to 1950. The chalkboards are original slate boards from an elementary school in Illinois from 1905. But the walls will be adorned with more modern work, allowing space for local artists to sell their wares. “From there, we’re set up for live music, so we’ll be getting a small stage set-up and our sound system will hopefully be installed here in a week or two,” Wade says. “So we’ll just keep adding a little at a time.”
As the first—and according to Wade and local zoning laws, likely the only—brewery in Champlin, Elm Creek Brewing hopes to be a community hub in a town with relatively few dining or drinking options. From amending zoning laws to allowing food trucks on-site, Wade says the City of Champlin has been nothing but supportive in their opening. “They gave us everything we asked for in our conditional use permit,” he says. “They were very supportive—they really wanted this for the city.”
The Brewer: Grant Aldrich
The Beer: Chronic Obsession Hazy IPA, Elm Creek Special Vienna Lager, Grizzland California Common, Mill Pond Porter, and Granted Amber Ale
Address: 11469 Marketplace Dr. N., Champlin, MN 55316
Maltwerks is a Midwest malt house focused on genuine relationships in offering quality, locally produced, traceable malt. Maltwerks maintains close relationships with local farmers so brewers know exactly what barley was used and the characteristics they can expect. Maltwerks is a partner in globally sourced commodities and carries a wide variety of spices and botanicals for diversity in craft brewing.