Now, with both companies bursting at the seams (Lift Bridge in Stillwater, Five Watt in Minneapolis), they're expanding to New Richmond, Wis., in a combined facility that they plan to open May 1.
Lift Bridge, which started in a garage in 2008, has been looking to expand for a couple of years, but COVID put plans on hold. Enter Big Watt, the manufacturing arm of Five Watt Coffee.
"We've been expanding internally and have expanded as much as we could in our Stillwater building," said Dan Schwarz, Lift Bridge co-founder and CEO. "When our friends at Big Watt bought the [Wisconsin] facility, we saw an opportunity to fit in with them."
The deal offers more than just space. Lift Bridge will lease part of the building — formerly Barley John's Brewing Co. — for its taproom and beer-making facilities. But the blending and packaging of the beer will be done by Big Watt, which will produce its line of canned ready-to-drink beverages on site.
"The space is pretty new, and the taproom is great," said Alex Gese, CEO of Big Watt. Aside from some minor retrofitting, "it's pretty much plug and play."
In addition to a 60-seat taproom, the facility includes a large patio and space for outdoor games. Lift Bridge's menu will include Big Watt's lines of coffee and sparkling caffeinated water, and a draft line dedicated to its cold brew.
"For how we are beer geeks here at Lift Bridge, that's what they are with coffee, and that's what we really respected," said Lift Bridge co-founder Brad Glynn. "And we forged a friendship and a good business relationship.
"Five Watt evolved into Big Watt and started doing different beverages, water and teas, and that's interesting to us as we look to diversify our portfolio," said Glynn, who's also marketing vice president. "There are a lot of synergies in being friends, being in the industry and helping each other out."
Might that include additional co-branded products?
"We're looking forward to collaborating and potentially creating new products together," said Schwarz. "It will be fun having two beverage companies in the same place."
But they aren't quite ready to talk about specifics.
What they do want to talk about is that nothing is changing in their respective home bases. It's an expansion, not a move, said Glynn, albeit an expansion to a state with friendlier liquor laws.
Currently, Minnesota law states that if a brewery produces more than 20,000 barrels a year, they can't sell their beer to go. (And they can only sell beer in 64-ounce growlers, crowlers or 750-milliliter bottles, not cans.) Schwarz said Lift Bridge is on pace to meet or exceed that this year. Wisconsin's limit is 300,000 barrels, and sale of canned beer is allowed.
"Minnesota's liquor laws were a factor, but the opportunity came up and it seemed too good of a partnership to not act on," Schwarz said. "But it will give us the ability to take advantage of the laws in Wisconsin."
Legislation is currently in the works to raise that limit in Minnesota to 250,000 barrels, something the industry has been advocating for years.
"We just want the consumers to have a consistent experiment, no matter what size the brewery is," Schwarz said.
And the consumer is whom both Lift Bridge and Big Watt had in mind when announcing their plans.
"The Stillwater taproom has really become a hub for the community," which includes hosting weekly fundraising events for local nonprofits, said Glynn. "And we want the Wisconsin taproom to be a hub for the community and host a lot of those fun events there, too," he added.
Big Watt's Gese agrees. "We're excited to continue to collaborate and to create a welcoming atmosphere in New Richmond while continuing to do the same in Minneapolis and Stillwater. We're very excited for the future."
And they're in it together.
"If the last year has taught us anything as small business owners, it's that we have to look out for each other," said Glynn. "It's really cool to innovate and stay strong together."