Bottling blood, sweat, and tears: the workload behind small production breweries

By KBJR News 1

May 9, 2014 Updated May 9, 2014 at 7:46 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Sometimes when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

For Ken Thiemann, who has been home brewing for 22 years, building the Borealis Fermentery from the ground up Northeast of Duluth, along the North Shore, has been in large a single–man project–-one into which Thiemann has poured his entire savings.

"This is game on," laughed a tired Thiemann, sitting in his brewery. He says he often struggles with the questions, "is this even going to work; is this even possible?"

Thiemann says it has been possible, but not with out wearing many hats and making sacrifices seven days a week.

This year Thiemann hopes to produce 90 barrels of beer, and has been working non–stop to make it happen.

"But my boss lets me keep all the money," laighed Thiemann.

Along with being the full–time brewer, in a 48 hour period Thiemann also plays the role of secretary, PR, Designer, delivery man, and keg scrubber.

On top of that, Thiemann says brewing 10 barrels of beer one barrel at a time means paying close attention to ingredients to keep consistency in his artisan brews.

"That, and just having to do it all the time," said Thiemann, "I mean, it's nothing glamorous. That's the hardest part—I have to do everything."

It's a grueling, months–long process of adjusting recipes and hand–labeling 750 milliliter bottles for the critics that co–owners Jon Loss and Brian Schanzenbach of Blacklist Brewing in Duluth understand well.

"It's not hard to get people to taste your beer the first time," said Loss, "but it's a lot harder—if you don't make a good product—to get them to taste it a second time."

When you're lucky, you might come across a bottle of Blacklist or Borealis at select distributors like Lake Aire Bottle Shoppe. It goes fast, and refilling orders can take time.

But Schazenbach, who is Blacklist's Head Brewer, says he hopes the wait reminds customers of the quality that their craft beer aims for.

"We like to create beer that maybe you don't drink every day," said Schazenbach, "maybe it's not your everyday beer, but maybe it's your beer that you want to bring to Christmas. Maybe it's your beer you cellar and bring out when your friends come over and get really excited about it."

As the seasons change, both breweries promise their product will change with seasonal, bottle–conditioned ingredients.

But what won't change, says Thiemann, is just how committed he and others are to their craft.

'I don't know what else I would do if I wasn't a brewer right now," said Thiemann. "This is what I pay the bills with."

...reminding those who love a good beer of everything that goes into it.

While both Borealis and Blacklist say they enjoy the intimacy of their current size, both are hoping to expand as the years continue.

Billy Wagness
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