When most people think of Fargo, ND, they start quoting lines from the 1996 Coen Brothers movie. Surely, there are quite a few people up in that area whom have grown tired of this, given the fact that Fargo is not even in MN (the actual setting of the movie). However, someone once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” By that logic, the movie and constant quoting of the lines from said movie are a way to pay homage to a place that flies under the radar. People who live up in Fargo and its surrounding communities will tell you that Fargo’s food and drink scene is on the upswing. Driving around in Fargo, one notices an increase in eating and drinking establishments that tempt patrons with hip storefronts and neon craft beer signs in the windows.
On the day after Thanksgiving, when most people were headed to the West Acres Mall in Fargo, ND, I set my GPS for the Fargo Brewing Company. Having connected with them earlier in the year at the Autumn Brew Review, which coincided with their launch in the Twin Cities, I was pining to head up there and check out their operation.
The Fargo Brewing Company is located in a relatively large industrial warehouse between downtown Fargo and the NDSU campus. Upon stepping inside, my olfactories were met with the familiar and intoxicating aroma of malted grains. It was a busy day for them as they were releasing their 4th anniversary beer, Double Buster, an Imperial Porter. When we got there, Zach Click, the Operations Manager was there to greet us and we chatted for a bit. Then John Anderson, one of the owners came and began a very thorough tour of the facility. The story of how it all started is chronicled on the brewery’s website, but in short, the four owners all decided that each of them had an area of expertise that was right for opening a brewery. They started in 2010 contract brewing out of Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls, WI. Last March, they opened their current facility in Fargo complete with a taproom. They operate on a 20 barrel system and they toured plenty of other breweries to make sure they laid out their brewery exactly the way that they wanted to streamline efficiency and production. From the brewing kettles to the canning line, it all flows very well so that they can maintain a smooth flow from one part of the brewing process to the next.
One of the things that John is very proud of is how well their ownership group and employees work as a team. About ten minutes into our tour, Chris Anderson, came up and started ribbing John for not putting a bucket under one of the fermenters. They gave each other some “brotherly love” in the form of sarcastic banter and it was then that I really got to see why this operation works so well. The same respect and admiration that they have for each other, they also have for putting out quality and tasty craft beer.
One of the most exciting things that they showed me on the tour was their barrel-aged souring program which is in the beginning stages now, but will eventually be a significant part of their seasonal rotation. The water in Fargo lends itself well to dark and maltier beers, which is why their most popular beer is their Sodbuster Porter. They had ten total beers on tap, 7 of which are regular offerings and 3 that are taproom trials of things that they are tweaking and experimenting with. Their flagship beers consist of the previously mentioned Sodbuster Porter, Woodchipper IPA, Stone’s Throw Scottish Ale and the Iron Horse Pale Ale. In the interest of information dissemination, I tried several of their flagships and a few of the specialty beers that are taproom only offerings (Bent River Munich Style Helles and Deceiver Belgian Strong Ale) and was impressed by each one! I brought a growler of the Woodchipper IPA home to a friend who is a very discerning IPA drinker. He polished it off and has since procured more of the IPA in cans, which are available in most liquor stores in the Twin Cities. He is quite taken with the IPA citing its cleanness and balanced flavor.
Driving around Northeast Minneapolis and seeing all the taprooms open, it is easy to forget that it was not that long ago that there was no craft beer scene over there. Fargo Brewing Company can boast being on tap at 33 of the establishments in the Fargo area. Over the weekend of September 27th, they launched distribution in the Twin Cities. While craft beer is catching on mightily in Fargo, North Dakota was the last state in the union to have a craft brewery after prohibition. In Fargo, they are the biggest craft brewery with their sights set on expansion. They referenced Fulton, and how they quickly outgrew their space and had to expand as being a driving force behind settling on the taproom site. They will be able to expand and stay in their same facility for a long time. There is plenty of space to add more brewing capacity. With John’s culinary background, one of the things that is important to them is brewing beer that can pair well with food. They are already planning on opening up a restaurant on site that will allow him to do beer pairings.
The Fargo Brewing Company’s zymurgical offerings are spot-on and delicious, but the reason I will go back is because of the people and passion behind their beers. The time that Chris and John took to show me around that day was the epitome of hospitality. They answered questions and really enjoyed talking beer. I was thinking I would be lucky if I got to briefly talk with the owner, but the fact that they spent an hour and a half showing my wife and I around their brewery speaks to their generosity and sincerity. They want to put their personal touch on everything and make sure each and every person who walks into their taproom feels like they are welcome and valued. Craft beer is still in its infancy in Fargo, but the people at the brewery have gone to great lengths to get people in the doors and feeling welcome. They host Trivia Mafia events and even have a night called “Yoga on Tap.” The Fargo Brewing Company is gathering a following of faithful beer enthusiasts who are proud to call the taproom their gathering space. So, do yourselves a favor and plan a weekend getaway to head up and have a pint or two. You will be in for a nice surprise when you see the burgeoning craft beer culture developing in a city that desperately deserves it.