Woman-owned brewery brews up big expansion in southern Minnesota – Minneapolis Star Tribune

PINE ISLAND, MINN. – The owners of South x Southeast Minnesota Brewing Co. aren’t beer snobs.

Maybe that’s why they’ve been so successful.

It’s not as if Ann Fahy-Gust and Tessa Leung don’t know beer. They do. Fahy-Gust was America’s first female brewmaster, holding high-level jobs with Coors and Guinness and later running the largest brewery in England. Leung has years of experience in the hospitality business, including running a Rochester restaurant and brewpub.

But they had a vision of doing things their way, a vision that includes carving out an identity for beer brewed in southern Minnesota, much as brewers like Bent Paddle and Castle Danger have done in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.

It also includes making beer accessible to people who may not have much exposure to craft beer. Their brewpub in this city about 20 miles northwest of Rochester gives a clue to where they’re coming from. It’s cozy and comfortable, more like a living room than the cold, industrial settings found in so many breweries’ on-site pubs.

And they’re putting a little sizzle in their marketing with the shorthand version of their name, “SxSE.”

“We’re sexy,” they blurt out, laughing.

In little more than a year, the brewery has landed more than 80 accounts with bars, restaurants and liquor stores in southern Minnesota, winning over customers one at a time by making personal connections. They’re already expanding the operation, with construction underway on a new brewing facility that will triple their capacity to about 3,000 31-gallon barrels a year.

The brewery produces virtually no waste, they said. Organic waste goes to a farmer for livestock feed, and water is reclaimed for various uses around the facility. The amount of water entering the septic system from the brewery, Fahy-Gust said, is about the same amount produced by a typical four-bedroom home.

The pair have chosen to act as their own distributors rather than signing up with a wholesaler.

“We chose that because we can be responsive and not get lost in the shuffle, because there are so many beers,” said Leung, who acts as the brewery’s one-woman sales force, calling on outlets in roughly a 50-mile radius of Pine Island. And their customers appreciate the attention, Fahy-Gust said.

“They want someone to actually come talk to them about craft beer,” she said, rather than just getting “whatever they have on the [distributor’s] truck.”

While Leung is on the road, Fahy-Gust is back at the brewery, cooking up the company’s six signature beers, which are complemented by various seasonal and special brews throughout the year.

They landed in Pine Island, they said, because the city of about 3,500 residents wanted them.

“It’s very forward-looking,” Leung said. “They wanted us as a destination.” The city helped them find their location along U.S. Hwy. 52 and created a tax-increment-financing district for them. With one full-time and 14 part-time employees, Leung said, the brewery has already exceeded the number of jobs it promised to create.

Being women in the beer business has been a challenge, both said.

“Even with the pedigree I have, I hear, ‘Well, she doesn’t really understand it,’ ” Fahy-Gust said. But they’re appreciative that so many local businesses have been willing to give them a chance.

“This is my calling in life,” Leung said.

John Reinan • 612-673-7402

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