By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN Though she grew up in New Ulm and had ancestors who worked at August Schell Brewing Company, Sara Beamish said she didn’t like beer until she met her husband, Ken.
Now, she owns South Fork Brewing Company in Delano, which opened its doors May 29 at 221 Second St. N.
“Ken introduced me to a lot of craft beers and I was hooked,” Sara said.
That led them to visit several breweries and wineries. During one such visit, Sara said, “This is great. We should do this all the time.
“Pretty much the next week, Ken had a bunch of buildings lined up for us to look at,” Sara said. “One happened to be the old Ditty Plumbing and Heating building. We looked at it and it just reminded us of different tap rooms and wineries we’d been in.”
They bought the building in 2012, and established the Bohemian Wine Bar and Pub in April 2013.
The Bohemian was required to sell food, but the Beamishes decided their passion wasn’t for food, but for wine and beer.
They began dreaming of a way to make their passion for beer a business and plans for South Fork Brewing Company were born in February 2014.
“We had decided we would run out our license that expired June 30, 2014, to give our friends and family a chance to come in and experience the atmosphere while we were gearing up for the transition,” Sara said.
The plan was to reopen as a brewery in the fall of 2014, but things didn’t go as planned.
Equipment was ordered in July and did not arrive until mid-November.
“Anybody that drove by that day saw an incredibly crazy sight,” Sara said. “We thought we had confirmed our equipment would be lying down so we could bring it off the container and move it in sideways because our doors are not that tall. We had a bit of a surprise when we saw they were upright.”
Individuals from other businesses came to their aid.
“After a day, we finally got the equipment inside so we could start putting together our brew house,” Sara said. “For the next four or five months, we were hooking up equipment and getting the rest of the equipment hooked to it, like the chiller and boiler . . . I finally stopped telling people a date and said, ‘As soon as I have a date, I’ll let everyone know.’”
The learning curve continued as South Fork began brewing.
“With the first batch of beer, we found out our chiller wasn’t working properly,” Sara said. “Then, we had to tinker with our boiler.”
Neither of those instances helped name a beer, as was the case with the Plunger IPA.
While trying to transfer the beer mash from the mash tun to the whirlpool tank, it got stuck.
“I said, ‘Couldn’t we do something like a plunger?’” Sara said. “They just looked at me like, ‘Sara’s saying something crazy.’”
But, master brewer Brett Lincoln decided to give it a try. It worked, and the Plunger IPA was born.
“We’ve been working through each of those issues and are trying to be more efficient with our days for brewing,” Sara said.
Lincoln brings his catalog of beer recipes from his days as a home brewer and volunteer brewer at Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery in Waconia.
“I told him what I was looking for in variety to begin with and he pulled out recipes he thought would work best,” Sara said.
When looking for brewers, she consulted someone who had written an article about the Bohemian for a home-brewing club. Lincoln’s name came up and she loved his beers, but work scheduling problems kept him from joining the South Fork staff.
However, when plans to hire another brewer fell through, they agreed to find a way to work around Lincoln’s full-time job.
“It’s given Ken the opportunity to become an assistant brewer and learn the trade,” Sara said. “I’ve learned the brewing process by doing anything they allow me to do. I’ve become a master clearer of grains. Since 90 percent of brewing is cleaning and sanitizing, I’ve become good at that.”
Joining Sara as an owner is Karen Zimmerman, who has been a business partner since the Bohemian days.
“I’m running the business with Karen’s input,” Sara said. “She was in Friday and is very enthusiastic about the beers we have.”
Those beers include As the Crow Flies Kölsch, Spring Flood Cream Ale, Nerdy Girl Amber, and Plunger IPA.
“My approach has been the same as when we had the Bohemian,” Sara said. “Give us a chance and we’ll find something you like. No matter what you like to drink, we’ll be able to find a beer of ours that you can drink.”
That seemed to be the case with many customers during the first weekend, as many ordered a flight of all four beers to try and then ordered another glass or two of their favorite.
“People seemed to enjoy them and want to sit here and drink them for an hour or so,” Sara said.
While the Bohemian was known for weekly entertainment, that likely won’t be the case with South Fork.
“We want to make sure we have enough people coming in on a consistent basis before adding that in,” Sara said.
Cabaret was popular at the Bohemian and she is already fielding requests to have another cabaret show now that South Fork is open.
“I want to incorporate some of those elements into the brewery,” Sara said. “In some ways, it will differ from other breweries because it’s a hybrid between a taproom and the lounge feel.”
South Fork is open 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 10 p.m. Saturdays, with Sunday hours coming in the future after Sunday growler sales are approved in Delano.
South Fork fills growlers from other breweries and will soon have its own growlers to offer.
Food trucks will also be a common sight near South Fork.
The Delano Lions are working with the Annandale Lions to have a jointly-run food truck in the area on a monthly basis. Bonde Bistro will deliver food to the location once it is open and Sara said she will also book other food trucks. Customers are also welcome to take food into South Fork.
They can also enjoy their drinks on South Fork’s patio.
For more information about South Fork, including beer membership information, follow the link at www.delanoheraldjournal.com.