If Josh Gazelka had to sum up opening Woodlore Cider in one word, he’d pick the Finnish term “sisu.”
“When you’re climbing a mountain, you run out of energy and you run out of grit, sisu is what gets you to the top of the mountain,” he says. “Or, even more fitting for Minnesota, sisu means enduring the long winter.”
Gazelka believed sisu must have kept him and Cami Gazelka, his wife and co-owner, along with cidermaker Cody Osell, going during late nights of finishing taproom construction or batches of cider. But the effort paid off when Woodlore Cidery opened on August 15.
The Gazelkas began seriously planning Woodlore in early 2021. While the pandemic continued and the couple eagerly waited to welcome their first child, they stayed home and hypothesized about opening a business. At the same time, Josh found himself dedicating more time to his cidermaking hobby.
“What does any sane person do but make alcohol in their basement when they have time on their hands? My cider production really ramped up at that time,” he says. “So when we were talking about, ‘Well, what type of business should we start,’ it was just a mutual interest that we both loved.”
A major goal for Woodlore was bringing people together, including Brainerd residents and the area’s many visitors throughout the year. Josh’s dad, former Minnesota State Senator Paul Gazelka, originally introduced the couple one Sunday at church. After marrying and moving away, Josh and Cami wanted to create something new where they grew up.
“We lived in Idaho in the mountains for a bit. We lived in Duluth. We lived in the [Twin] Cities. And we both came back to the Brainerd area with just this desire of community […] and always wanting to make people feel seen and welcome,” Gazelka says.
The taproom offers cozy spaces for gathering with friends and family. Built in a former cabinet shop right off Highway 371, it features a room that can be closed off for yoga classes, a fireplace and two large windows for a view of the wild, marshy land behind the building. A patio affords a better view of nature as well as a dog-friendly area.
Woodlore launched with four flagship ciders and two seasonals. Gazelka hopes to add several more in the coming months and eventually offer some distribution, starting in central Minnesota and the Iron Range.
“Maybe by next year, 12 months from now, we’ll start doing 10 ciders at a time, but I wanted to start with just six,” he says. “And the common theme for all of our ciders is all we’re using is 100% juices not from concentrate—so freshly pressed and put into our tanks. I wanted them to just be as natural as possible.”
Fruit-forward Cranberry, Pear Ginger, and Pineapple ciders complement the two purely apple varieties, Original and Dry. For the final offering, Gazelka soaked Cascade hops in the base cider to provide a subtle floral note.
“It’s definitely not overwhelming, and if you’re coming and looking for something that is reminiscent of an IPA, that’s not the drink for you,” he says. “You’re not going to get what you’re looking for there.”
While Gazelka started out as Woodlore’s cidermaker, it became clear that he could not dedicate enough time to the process as he continued to work in project management for a marketing firm. Seeking a helping hand, the couple hired Cody Osell to take on day-to-day production. Osell had no previous cidermaking experience, but Gazelka knew him to be hardworking, meticulous, and creative.
“I’d say it was a 5% gamble, and he’s turned out to be phenomenal,” Gazelka says. “We butt heads every once in a while, and it’s the best thing that you want. I don’t want to work with somebody when I’m making any kind of product that just tells me, ‘Yes, good idea.’ If I’m wrong, I want to know I’m wrong.”
Here again, Gazelka sees Osell’s determination as another instance of sisu. But for him, the ultimate symbol of the idea is in Woodlore’s logo.
The cidery’s chalkboard menu, apparel, packaging, and more all feature the image of an upright bear forging ahead, carrying a flagpole. Gazelka admits it took him too many attempts to sketch the logo, but he’s happy he kept going to get it right.
“On the flag, I don’t have the word Woodlore on it or some symbol,” he says. “I have an X, which for me is just simply: ‘Whatever your adventure is, whatever your passion is, venture forward.’”
Cidermaker: Cody Osell
Ciders: Original, Dry, Cranberry, Pear Ginger, Pineapple, and Hopped
Address: 5475 Pioneer Trail, Brainerd, MN 56401
Hours: Wed–Thu: 2–9 pm; Fri: 2–10 pm; Sat: 12–10 pm; and Sun: 12–7 pm
Connect: Website, Facebook, Instagram