With the brewery trend that’s swept Minnesota in the past few years, it’s almost strange that a town as large as Mankato was only home to a single brewery. Mankato Brewing Company has been the only one on the scene since 2012, closing the gap left by its original namesake company when it closed in the 1960s.
Until now, that is.
This fall, Mankato and its Southern Minnesota neighbors will have the opportunity enjoy two new breweries in the heart of downtown.
The first of these, LocAle Brewing Company, is expected to open in September. Husband/wife team Jim and Lauren Parejko are putting microbiology PhDs to work in expanding Mankato’s beer offerings. They plan to offer eight flagship beers year-round, plus two seasonal beers and two “experimental” beers.
“We want to bring in some new styles that are a little harder to find in the area,” said Jim.
This includes a broad range of beers, including golden ale, American pale ale, India pale ale, Munich Dunkel, lagers and Saison. The couple has connections to nearby farmers, which will allow them to use locally sourced hops, malt and honey wherever possible.
While LocAle prefers to focus on the brewing side of the taproom, rather than serving food, the plan is to take advantage of various local food trucks. They knew the town’s relatively young craft brewery scene was the perfect spot for them.
“We’re excited about the opportunity here,” said Lauren. “Once we found the location, things really took off.”
The couple is currently knee-deep in construction, as well as the process of getting the right permits. The vision is to create a modern-looking taproom with less of the industrial style common in many breweries, taking advantage of natural lighting and a spacious layout to make the environment inviting for families and group of friends.
Meanwhile, just up the street, another couple also has a brewpub in the works. In February of 2017, Nik and Angi Proehl took over Mankato’s Midtown Tavern. They’ve been running the tavern since then, but soon, the former downtown fixture will become Minn’Ohana. The name combines Minnesota with the Hawaiian word for family.
When the transition is complete in mid-October, the brewpub will serve three flagship beers year-round, three seasonal beers and three beers Nik Proehl described as “whatever our brewer would like to make.”
The brewpub will also offer a small food menu featuring items like charcuterie boards, Asian rice bowls and a good old-fashioned burger.
“There’s such a demand for unique menu items out there that we just don’t have in the Mankato area,” said Proehl.
The Proehls want to avoid the pretension that they said often plagues craft breweries, but they don’t want to be a dive bar, either. As parents themselves, they’re working to create a taproom where both kids and adults feel welcome.
They’ll also extend the “family” to include community members by designating Minn’Ohana as a community-supported brewery. This means that people will be able to purchase shares in any beer produced, with members rewarded with perks such as a free pint a week. In this way, the Proehls will give the community a say in what beers they produce.
“They want to be able to feel like they have a little part of it of their own,” said Proehl.
Two brewing companies opening within blocks — and weeks — of one another might seem like a recipe for competition. For the owners, though, it’s more like having a friend move in down the street.
“Everybody helps each other out when they need it,” Jim Parejko said of the craft beer industry.
“Hopefully it will help to increase the interest in craft beer in the area overall,” added Lauren Parejko.
Having multiple breweries helps turn Mankato into a destination for beer enthusiasts, who often visit several locations during a trip. The Proehls hope that it will remind Minnesotans that you don’t have to be in the Twin Cities to find good beer.
“I think we’ve gotten so distant from the process of making beer and the roots of it that people just assume it’s not something that can be done in a rural area anymore,” said Proehl.
Both breweries are a step toward what Proehl described as an area full of young, entrepreneurial energy.
“Ten years down the road, we see this as being a really neat, fun area of town,” he said.
Address: 228 Poplar St., Mankato
On The Menu: Rotating selection of 12 craft beers, various food trucks (outside food permitted)
Planned Opening: September 2018
Address: 524 N Riverfront Dr., Mankato
On The Menu: Rotating selection of 8 craft beers, plus charcuterie boards, Asian rice bowls, burgers, etc.
Planned Opening: October 2018
By Anne Kopas