Cuyuna Brewing Company
By Maria Surma Manka
Photography by John Linn
What do vaccine production and beer brewing have in common? It all comes down to science, according to Nick Huisinga. As a vaccine production manager and a beer lover, Nick realized the scientific processes for formulating vaccines and for fermenting beer were quite similar. So he decided to test out whether his scientific chops could translate into a tasty homebrew.
After trying a few home-brewing kits, the answer was a resounding yes. Nick added more equipment to his stockpile, experimented with grains and invited enthusiastic neighbors to taste-test his creations.
Soon, Nick and his wife, Laura Huisinga, dreamed of opening a brewery. When Nick visited a friend in Crosby, his dream started to come together. Nick’s friend convinced him the community could support a local brewery. After taking in the area’s stunning beauty and meeting with economic development officials, Nick was also convinced.
The Crosby area was reinventing itself from a former mining town into a vibrant recreational community (see related story about the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area here). The energy was palpable and Laura also saw the potential. “We just knew something cool was going to happen in the area,” she said. In 2016, the Huisingas purchased a building downtown and began renovations. Nick worked 40 hours Monday to Thursday in Willmar while Laura worked part-time from home and homeschooled their three children. Every Friday, the family drove two-and-a-half hours to work on the brewery.
“It was a ton of work,” said Laura, co-owner of Cuyuna Brewing Company alongside Nick. “We slept in a camper in the building’s garage. We opened the brewery in January 2017, less than a year after we closed on the building.”
We caught up with Laura to hear what’s happening now at Cuyuna Brewing Company.
- To start, Cuyuna was only open on weekends because the Huisingas commuted from Willmar. But the stress of the commute and the brewery’s success forced big changes. Within a few months, Nick quit his job, the family sold their house and moved to Crosby.
- Now, five years in, all the Huisinga children are old enough to work at the brewery, alongside a handful of servers. Laura manages the taproom and is responsible for accounting and human resources. Nick is the sole brewer, though they expect to hire an assistant brewer soon.
Cuyuna brews 10-12 beers on site. The hazy IPA is a consistent customer favorite. “Our taproom is a gathering place. We have a lot of families and outdoor enthusiasts, like mountain bikers,” said Laura. “It’s such a good vibe.”
- Beer is a fast-moving culture. There’s always a new trend to consider or flavor to try. After many requests for sour beer, Cuyuna will offer a strawberry rhubarb Gose (“go-suh”) beer this spring, along with a brown ale.
- The Huisingas are committed to honoring the history of their new home. For example, the popular Silver Dollar Lager is a nod to a bar in Trommald, once famous for dance parties during the region’s industrial area. The Miner 51 Light Ale is named after a brass tag found in the Huisingas’ building. Stamped “51” and “Cuyuna Ore Company, Mahnomen Mine,” it’s thought to be a way of tracking miners. A miner took a tag when he went into the mine and returned it when he came back up.
Cuyuna sources most of its grain from Wisconsin, with some specialty grains imported abroad. The non-alcoholic beverages in the taproom are Minnesota-made, like root beer from Spring Grove Soda Pop and Brainerd’s Ya-Sure Kombucha, owned by Shawn Hopman, an Initiative Foundation loan client and a graduate of the Foundation’s Enterprise Academy.
- After Cuyuna opened, the Huisinga’s building still had approximately 1,000 square feet of vacant space. Through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), they were connected with Pedro Unzueta, another Initiative Foundation lending partner who owns the popular El Tequila restaurant in Baxter.
- Unzueta wanted to expand into Crosby, and this was the right opportunity. The Huisingas secured a loan from the Initiative Foundation to do the buildout for the new restaurant. Unzueta opened Burritos California in late 2021. “We love having them here,” said Laura. “We are both family-run and we prioritized high-quality food and service. Our values are aligned.”
- The Huisingas say the Crosby community saved Cuyuna Brewing during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. “It was hard to only offer outdoor dining, but people rallied around us,” recalled Laura. “We had people order off-sale every weekend. People left very large tips. The community made sure we made it through.”
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