Stillwater sisters are bringing back the Wolf beer made famous by their great-grandfather before Prohibition.
Kathy Wolf Swanson, left, and her sister Pat Wolf are reviving the Joseph Wolf Brewing Co. in Stillwater after a 90-plus-year shutdown. Their great-grandfather, Joseph Wolf, and his brother, Martin, started the brewery, shown below in its original location in a photo provided by the family.
For roughly 40 years over the turn of the 20th century, Joseph Wolf and his brother, Martin, provided thirsty Stillwater loggers with locally brewed beer. But just as annual production peaked at an approximately Surly-sized 25,000 barrels, Prohibition pulled the plug on the beer-making venture in 1920. A year later Joseph died — family lore blames a broken heart — and Joseph Wolf Brewing Co. soon sputtered out, struggling to convert the operation to soda and bottled water.
Now, 93 years after Wolf’s last pint was produced, descendants of the Swiss immigrant are putting the brand back together. Joseph’s great-granddaughters Pat Wolf and Kathy Wolf Swanson unveiled Joseph Wolf Brewing 2.0 at a launch party last month, and bombers of their two new brews are slowly trickling into liquor stores and bars.
“Here you had two brothers working the brewery together, and now you have two great-granddaughters who are sisters working the brewery,” Pat said.
Sisterly ties aside, the women are breaking boundaries in the brewing world. While the Brewers Association doesn’t track gender statistics, the second coming of Wolf Brewery is a rare entirely female-owned operation.
A century ago, brewing was the Wolf family business, but it is new terrain for the fiftysomething siblings. Pat and Kathy each carry entrepreneurial credentials: Among other endeavors, Pat has a commercial real-estate business, and Kathy ran a dating service for 13 years before moving into the tech world. Pat acknowledges that their gender and age make them atypical entrants into the beer biz, but says it wasn’t a factor when she began thinking about resurrecting the brewery 15 years ago.
“It’s at a time in our lives that feels right,” she said. “We’re seasoned [businesswomen].”
Partly as a promotional vehicle, last fall the sisters launched BierCycle tours of Stillwater — essentially PedalPub excursions with a history lesson — which stop at the old brewery location, nestled on the bluffs along Main Street.
More than 130 years ago, Joseph and Martin Wolf and their crew used “dynamite, pickaxes and hard labor” to build caves in the river bluffs for cooling and storing beer, Pat said. While today the site is no longer in the family, the two hope to bring their new brewery back to its original home.
“We’d like to be in the old site,” Pat said. “We’re having some conversations about that right now. If for some reason that doesn’t work out, we’ll be looking at other sites downtown. Downtown Stillwater is ground zero for us.”
In the meantime, Wolf’s debut beers — the Berliner Weisse and an earthy/apricot-y Belgian golden strong ale — are being contract-brewed by Dubrue in Duluth. The weiss-slinging women hired a brewer to create the new recipes. However, it’s uncertain if that brewer (whom they declined to name) will be involved moving forward. While the initial offerings are more traditional, European styles, the Wolfs don’t rule out brewing contemporary American varieties in the future.
While Pat and Kathy’s father, who used to regale them with childhood tales of hiding in the brewery’s horse barn, isn’t alive to see its reincarnation, the sisters say the family flame is reignited. Their brother, his children and Kathy’s adult children all have taken an interest in Wolf Brewing, they said.
“They’re all beer lovers, so they’re absolutely ready to get involved. They want us to make the first million, though, so they don’t have to quit their day jobs,” Kathy joked.
Gold for its amber
A pair of Minnesota breweries got some love last week in the 2013 U.S. Open Beer Championship — an annual competition that judged more than 2,500 brewer-submitted beers from big breweries, micros and home brewers across the world with Olympic-style medal-awarding. August Schell’s Vienna lager FireBrick brought home the gold in the American Amber category, and earned bronze medals for its Deer Brand and Pils. Minnetonka’s Badger Hill picked up a bronze for its well-balanced ESB Minnesota Special Bitter.
Beer fests all over
Whether you’re sticking in town or heading Up North, there’s no shortage of Saturday beer festivals. The biggest bash is Duluth’s All Pints North, put on by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild in Bayfront Festival Park. At least 45 mostly Minnesotan breweries will be pouring, including Lino Lakes’ HammerHeart Brewing Co., which will be debuting at the fest.