JEFF ZIERDT (L), MATT SCHILLER (R): ”We purposefully bought something we could grow into.”
Big Lake, Minn.
By Maria Surma Manka | Photography by John Linn
“Let people believe it’s magic and pixie dust!” joked Matt Schiller when he was asked about the production process of craft beer.
Schiller and friend Jeff Zierdt are co-founders of Lupulin Brewing (lupulinbrewing.com) in Big Lake, which opened in 2015 and recently expanded operations, buying the remainder of the building in which it was located. “We purposely bought something we could grow into,” explained Zierdt. Although the public taproom won’t change much, he said the expansion allows for more efficient production of Lupulin’s current line-up of beer. Plus, faster production gives them the time and space to experiment with new flavors. Today, according to Growler Magazine, a publication that covers craft food, beverages and arts, there are about 150 craft brewers open in Minnesota.
Pixie dust aside, a successful craft beer business takes hard work, creativity and a healthy dose of science and manufacturing know-how. “People don’t realize that craft breweries are a manufacturing business,” said Schiller. When he and Zierdt looked for financing to open the brewery, most banks and cities viewed them as another bar coming to town. The partners see it differently.
“We make widgets, like any other manufacturer, but our widgets are beer,” Schiller explained. “A brewery’s public taproom is a very small part of the business, but that’s all most people think of.” Fortunately for Lupulin Brewing, the city of Big Lake understood the dual purposes of a craft beer operation.
We talked with Schiller and Zierdt to learn what’s hopping at Lupulin.
- Name Game “Lupulin” is the active ingredient in hops; it’s what provides the bitterness, fruity flavor and aroma to the beer. Schiller and Zierdt chose the name because of their love of beers that have significant amounts of hops.
- Sales Strategy Only about 10 percent of Lupulin’s beer is sold in its public, family-friendly taproom. The other 90 percent goes out to liquor stores, restaurants and bars throughout the state.
- Experiment-ale Lupulin’s expansion means more space for experimenting with new beers, as well as more efficient equipment that increases the production speed of its standard, signature brews. For example, what took three people 36 hours to produce now takes one person nine hours to accomplish.
- Process Makes Perfect A beer name is usually dreamed up first, then a brew is created to fit it. “We’re like a chef with a bunch of ingredients,” said Matt. “We adjust as we go, but we’re experienced enough to have a good idea of what the final product will taste like.”
- Happiness Project The art, science and business of brewing boils down to making people happy. “You hope that when someone has one of your beers, it makes their day better,” said Schiller. “We feel that we have that connection with customers, and that’s what it’s all about.”
- Getting Advice Lupulin worked with Initiators Fellow Annie Deckert of the Decklan Group to navigate the process and with the Initiative Foundation, among others, to secure financing for the expansion. “Working with Decklan Group was one of the best moves we made,” said Zierdt. “They ensured our strategic plans were properly and successfully executed, and they provided some of the best insight for pursuing the purchase of our space.”
- Expansion Plans Lupulin has added employees with experience in human resources, marketing, sales, engineering and biochemistry. It employed seven people full-time in 2017, then 15 in 2018. They expect to have at least 20 in 2019, in addition to several dozen part-time employees.
- Selling Science Beer brewing production takes an engineering mindset and a good amount of manual labor. There’s heavy lifting, working with a range of ingredients and liquids, applying and removing heat and book knowledge of pressures, liquids and process flows.
- Sourcing Success Lupulin’s barley is procured from global food company Cargill. The hops come from Washington and Oregon, some of the best hop-growing regions in the world.
- Tastes Good The best-selling beers are the flagship American IPA—called Hooey—and Blissful Ignorance, a double IPA. Blissful was recently named “Best Double or Imperial IPA” by readers of Growler Magazine.
- Taste Test If a brew flavor is potentially risky, Lupulin sells it in the taproom first to gauge customers’ reaction.
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