AURI Connects: Fields of Innovation Innovator Profiles is a Q&A series with Minnesota entrepreneurs who have partnered with AURI to build capacity and successfully commercialize new and emerging crops.
Q&A with Christopher Laumb, co-owner of Beaver Island Brewery
AURI: What is your involvement with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)?
CL: We were excited to work with AURI on producing a beer made with Kernza® perennial grain. I opted for a Belgian farm-style beer to celebrate the role agriculture plays in brewing history. The Kernza added a nice nutty profile to the beer and it has been a success in our tap room. I’m always interested in adding new products into our beers and pushing the envelope with brewing technique and flavors. It was great working with AURI on this project.
AURI: How did you start your business?
CL: I started out home brewing in the mid-nineties and was able to turn my passion into a career at a local brew pub in 1996. I went on to work for two more breweries, one having very large production numbers at over 100,000 barrels a year — very different from what I was doing at the brew pub. An opportunity came along about seven years ago to join my current partners Matt Studer and Nick Barth to start a craft brewery in St. Cloud, MN. We had a fabulous start and within two years we broke ground to expand our operations in a new production/canning facility by the St. Cloud airport.
AURI: What is the biggest challenge in your business/industry? e.g.: supply chain issues, labor shortages, COVID-19 shifts.
CL: At the moment, we are dealing with all of these. COVID has thrown a curve ball to all parts of our business. Sourcing cans has been difficult industry-wide with very high–volume minimum orders. The U.S. malt crop was also problematic with drought affecting much of the growing regions. We will need to do some adjusting in the brewhouse to hit our specs this year. Finding qualified labor has also been difficult so we are spending additional time training, which takes time away from our experienced staff to perform other necessary activities for our business.
AURI: Do you or have you collaborated with other small businesses? If so, in what way?
CL: We have partnered with local Minnesota hop growers and malt producers to make truly unique local products. Anytime we can educate our consumers in how local products can be utilized in our beer, we are happy to do so. Beer has always been an agricultural product and it’s great to tell our customers the ingredients we sourced were produced locally.
AURI: What is the toughest part about what you do and what do you enjoy most about your job/business?
CL: Brewing is very physical work. Brewing in the summer can get very hot and you can be pretty tired by the end of the day, but there is a part of me that enjoys this also. My favorite part of the job is developing new recipes and educating our beer drinkers about the many styles of beer and its fascinating history.
AURI: How can AURI readers and supporters purchase your products, connect with your business online and/or help your business thrive?
CL: Our tap room is located at 216 6th Ave. S., St. Cloud, MN.You can also find us online at beaverislandbrew.com and of course Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We always encourage people to support their local breweries — this benefits all of us.