We’d like to introduce you to the winner of 2019’s Ultimate Minnesota Beer Bracket.
Oh, wait. You’ve already met.
Castle Danger made history last week when fans voted it Minnesota’s favorite brewery. For the second time in a row. The No. 1 seed was in position from the start to take the trophy again, and it delivered, eliminating every other brewery in its path — including North Shore neighbor and No. 2 seed Bent Paddle in the final.
As soon as the results came in, we spoke to co-owner Lon Larson about how the little Two Harbors brewery keeps winning big — and whether he thinks a three-peat is on the horizon.
Q: You did it! You won twice!
A: Are you serious? I’m not usually speechless, but here I am.
Q: This feels like déjà vu. We were just talking a few weeks ago about how Castle Danger won last year.
A: Again, I’m just shocked and surprised. It’s pretty interesting and pretty cool and pretty prideful being Up North that you have a Twin Cities publication, but the top two seeds and breweries in the finals are both 2 ½ hours away from the Twin Cities. I don’t know what that says. Maybe it says a lot of people like to go on vacation.
Q: Seriously, how did you do it?
A: Well, I touched base with our marketing and events person, and I think we just agreed, we’d do the same thing we did last year. We posted when you guys put the brackets out, on Facebook and on Twitter, and said “vote for your favorite.” Unfortunately, I know it’s not that exciting for you. But at the end of the day, we would just see where it shakes out. I just can’t put my finger on it.
Q: How big is your social media following?
A: Facebook, slightly under 15,000. Instagram, 13,500. Twitter, 6,300. And then we have a newsletter that we issue, that goes to about 2,300 subscribers. I look at a lot of the other breweries, even Bent Paddle, and they do an awesome job marketing; they have 24,000, 25,000 followers. [As a point of comparison, No. 3 seed Surly has 96,000 Facebook followers.] So the math doesn’t work for me. The recovering accountant, the numbers guy, wants to reconcile it. When our strategy is to put it out there via social media, and we don’t have as big a following as others, I think the followers we do have are solid. They’re wonderful and very passionate.
Q: What’s your relationship with Bent Paddle? Are you all friends?
A: Absolutely, we have a lot of respect. I think it’s a great, friendly, competitive rivalry. And I think that we both benefit from each other’s existence and success. Duluth and Two Harbors are only 20 miles apart. So, it’s a North Shore thing.
Q: What’s your take on the North Shore dominating the bracket this year?
A: It’s really interesting that there are no Twin Cities winners, and that’s where the population is. The North Shore is such an intimate part of our brand and branding and who we are and what we represent. Maybe it gets a little lonely in the wintertime, a little slow in the taproom in the offseason, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Q: Castle Danger portrays itself as this little brewery that could. But you’ve won the Beer Bracket twice now. Is it time to embrace your higher profile?
A: It’s been fun to watch it evolve. It wasn’t that long ago, two to three years ago, where we were trying to add accounts and introduce the product and say, “Have you heard of Castle Danger Brewery?” And I got a lot more “nos” than I got “yeses.”
What I’ve seen transition over the last two to three years is it’s not a secret anymore. People know who we are and where we are. It’s changed quickly.
We still think of ourselves as the cute little brewery on the North Shore. There are so many good breweries in the state of Minnesota, and the vast majority are under 1,000 barrels of beer. That’s where we were just five years ago. I think we still have that feeling. We haven’t forgotten where we came from.
Q: Can we expect a three-peat in 2020?
A: I’ll tell you the same thing I told you before this Beer Bracket started: I think that would be quite a stretch. But we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing because apparently, it’s working.