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Namaste for IPA: Local microbreweries build sense of community

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By John Lamb

Microbreweries in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo aren’t just serving up pints of beer. Area taprooms have been brewing up a sense of community. From board games to yoga classes, farmers’ markets, hymn singing or hosting frequent fundraisers, brew pubs are proving to be a place people go for liquid refreshment, as well as personal nourishment.

“Breweries have been game-changing in making spaces where cool events happen,” says Mark Bjornstad, co-founder of Drekker Brewing. “People have meetings and job interviews, and people carry out different aspects of their lives here.”

Aaron Hill of Fargo Brewing Company, the oldest area brewer, says making their tap room a community space is reflected in their very identity. “That’s why we named ourselves Fargo Brewing Company. We feel like it’s our mission or a goal to be an iconic local community-driven business, to give back to the community,” Hill says. ‘It’s real critical to our overall brand.”

Bags night at Drekker Brewwing Co.
Bags night at Drekker Brewwing Co.

The north Fargo Brewing Company space has a steady stream of events all week, from nonprofit Monday -- when a dollar from each pint sold goes to a charitable cause -- to hosting a Tuesday night running club, trivia on Wednesdays, Yoga on Tap on Fridays and concerts any night of the week.

Hill says that when they started brewing in 2011, they didn’t give much thought to hosting events because they were more concerned about making and distributing a quality product. “Having a taproom, having people at the brewery, that was an afterthought,” he says. “We got requests from people who were looking for a unique social space. Now, I think any brewery opening up has that in mind.”

Though most tap rooms have carved out a small stage area for local acoustic acts to perform, Fargo Brewing has made live music one of its calling cards. The brewer partnered with Fargo-based events promoter Jade Presents to bring in national touring acts from fall through spring as part of the Cabin Fever series. In warmer months, the shows get bigger and move outside, with acts like Lucero and Shakey Graves taking the stage. The concerts have been such big draws that, in 2015, Reel Big Fish sold out all 750 tickets in pre-sale.

Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles plays a solo show at Fargo Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Fargo Brewing Company / Special to The Forum
Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles plays a solo show at Fargo Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Fargo Brewing Company / Special to The Forum

Across the river in Moorhead, Junkyard Brewing takes a more low-key approach to music. Acts, from solo singer-songwriters to a brass quartet, set up in a corner and play for free. “We always thought it would be cool to do live music and fun stuff like that,” says Aaron Juhnke, “We didn’t imagine it would be live music every night of the week.”

He’s only slightly exaggerating. During the first three weeks of this past June, the only day the brewery didn’t host live music, it hosted a farmer’s market. Junkyard also hosts semi-regular programs like Beer and Hymns and History on Tap. On clear nights, a hobby astronomer brings telescopes and trains attendees on heavenly bodies as they sip brews.

During the summer they open a patio and welcome in a food truck. While the tap room doesn’t have a restaurant -- yet -- Juhnke has organized beer and cheese dinners as well as beer and doughnut brunches. Plus, it’s not just about offering fun events but creating an atmosphere that is accepting to those who couldn’t get into most other bars. Junkyard welcomes pets on the patio and children in the taproom if they are accompanied by a guardian.

“I think these events are important to create a sense of community. You get to know each other and make the brewery a part of that community,” Juhnke says.

It’s a community that will be expanding. The brewery is working on an expansion that will add 1,500 square feet and about 70 seats.

Bjornstad has also seen the benefits of building community through the brewery. In early fall, Drekker hopes to open a second location 10 blocks west of the downtown brewery that will feature an event space to hold about 300 people when its finished.

The new space will allow for more room for events they’ve hosted, like art shows, late night craft markets, Viking Yoga, trivia nights, a bean bag toss league and the occasional doggy meet-and-greets to match adoptable pooches with potential owners. “We want to be people’s common living room to meet and do fun things,” Bjornstad says. “We try to do events that just wouldn’t happen at a bar.”

Drekker Brewing Company co-founders Mark Bjornstad and Darin Montplaisir host Pints for Pups, to introduce dogs available for adoption to potential parents. Photo courtesy of Drekker Brewing Company / Special to The Forum
Drekker Brewing Company co-founders Mark Bjornstad and Darin Montplaisir host Pints for Pups, to introduce dogs available for adoption to potential parents. Photo courtesy of Drekker Brewing Company / Special to The Forum

When the local story-telling competition, The Tell, was looking for a home, Drekker stepped up to offer a space for the monthly showcase. “For us it’s something so cool and so cool that Fargo has that, we see it as beneficial to the community and we make sure that has a home,” Bjornstad says.

These brewers know that not everyone who attends these events will buy a beer, but they see a bigger benefit in just getting people to see what they do and spend time together.

“We have beer all over North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, but how often do we get to interact with people? With events like these, we’re inviting them into our home, to our party,” Hill says. “The point is to come in and be a communal space. It’s amazing what happens when you put strangers next to strangers.”



This post is repurposed from John Lamb's article"Community on Tap". It appears in its original format in the 2018 Impact Magazine. Click to read the entire 2018 issue of IMPACT here.

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