Wenonah Brewing, located about 45 miles from Rochester, has much closer ties to southeastern Minnesota’s largest city than the route down Highway 14. Two of three owners live in Stewartville and, while their beers are most available from their Goodview taproom, they’re also on tap locally at Pappy’s and Chester’s.
As breweries pop up everywhere, from downtown Minneapolis to mid-size and smaller towns like Faribault and Delano, the question isn’t just “How is the beer?” but also “How is it different?”
“It is like buying food right from the farm,” said Paul Brown, one of Wenonah’s owners. “When you buy from us, you support our local community. You support Minnesota jobs. These things are becoming more important for people.
“We are not a faceless beer empire owned by some multi-national corporation,” Brown said. “Instead, you meet our wives, our families, and sometimes even our pets.”
The taproom is an extension of those owners, reflecting their personalities, interests and, of course, their palates. It bridges a gap between producer and consumer.
At Wenonah, the focus is to maintain their “easygoing river town culture,” as Brown puts it, while making English dry ales. That easygoing nature is expressed in their building, a remodeled gas and grocery store that, while reconfigured for beer production, remains true to its original design. An unknowing visitor can easily drive past the building if seeking a flashy sign out front or a more industrial design typical of breweries.
“We enjoy that you can still see that we were once the B&B Grocer and Gas Station,” Brown said of keeping that shell intact. It was partly a matter of cost, but it’s also a tie to the past that connects them with their best customers: those who can walk or bike to the brewery.
“Lots of people that stop in remember coming there as kids to buy cheap candy or snacks,” he said. Now, of course, they can try an adult beverage instead.
Open since late 2013, Wenonah is continually evolving their laid-back atmosphere. They regularly host live music inside, feature yard games and an outdoor patio when weather allows, and they continually rotate seasonal beers alongside their two flagships, Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale. There are typically four or five taps with offerings ranging from a Minnesota wild rice beer to Oatmeal Stout, Oktoberfest, or Pumpkin Spice Ale.
While their primary focus in on the immediate community, delivering kegs within Winona-Goodview, they distribute across southeastern Minnesota as they can, whether to Rochester, Stewartville, Elgin, or Rollingstone.
“We are always working on ways to increase output without sacrificing quality or our focus on being a local community brewery,” Brown said, currently reaching into Winona, Houston, Olmsted, and Fillmore counties.
As they grow that simple approach, Wenonah Brewing grows in the process, tweaking their gas and grocery layout and maintaining that river valley charm.