It’s often easy to forget that water is the main ingredient in beer. But water quality is just as important to assess and understand in brewing as malt, hops, and yeast. For Chuck Fritz and Henry Van Offelen, co-owners of Bucks Mill Brewing in Detroit Lakes, it’s second nature.
Fritz holds a master’s degree in natural resource management and serves as the CEO of International Water Institute, a water stewardship nonprofit in Fargo, North Dakota. Van Offelen’s master’s degree focused on fishery biology, and he works as a clean water specialist for the state.
“Henry and I have worked in natural resource management issues here in the Red River Basin in North Dakota, Minnesota, and even Manitoba,” Fritz says. “So we’ve known each other for a lot of years, and now we’re partners in a brewery.”
The two put their scientific training and process skills to work when they began homebrewing in Van Offelen’s garage off Bucksmill Road five years ago. After several years, Fritz and Van Offelen decided to open a brewery to bring a new experience to downtown Detroit Lakes.
“Throughout the homebrewing side, we’ve taken quite a scientific approach to brewing, doing a lot of evaluation and comparisons in a systematic way and honing in on recipes and ingredients,” Van Offelen says. “Now we are taking that approach on the commercial side.”
As the brewery opening approached, Fritz and Van Offelen realized they would not have enough time to run the brewery, make the beer, and continue working their day jobs. The workload would be untenable even with help from “the team,” a group of three homebrewing friends: Dan Branstad, Chris Kaml, and Walker Martin.
Bucks Mill soon selected Tyler Hawkins as head brewer. Originally from the Anoka area, Hawkins spent seven years as head brewer at Rants & Raves Brewery, an Idaho-based brewpub chain, before moving back to Minnesota. The owners plan to continue brewing test and pilot batches as time permits, but Hawkins has taken over production using the same systematic approach.
The brewhouse features a 10-barrel steam-fired system with four 10-barrel fermentors, three brite tanks, and five serving tanks. “It may be nice in the future to have another fermentor, but clearly we have a system and components that can turn around a lot of beer,” Van Offelen says.
Demand surpassed expectations, however, when Bucks Mill celebrated its grand opening on Friday, September 2. By the end of the weekend, the brewery had already run out of Ole, a crisp Norwegian blonde ale with kveik yeast, and Lena, which adds a lemongrass twist to the same base. The brewery’s opening lineup also included a hazy IPA, west coast IPA, red ale, porter, mango hard seltzer, and Ope-ricot, an apricot-flavored sour.
Ole and Lena proved to be winners for Bucks Mill in two regards. First, Van Offelen sees advantages from a practical standpoint because the kveik could produce a “pseudo lager” very quickly. Fritz believes the Norwegian beer duo offers a more approachable option for people who are just getting into craft beer or who, in any other setting, would still prefer a macro lager.
To Bucks Mill’s founders, it all boils down to giving people options for a great craft beer experience and making a welcoming environment for the community. That includes serving non-alcoholic options, such as local kombucha, a house root beer, and an NA version of the Laker Red. Visitors can bring in food or order from restaurants.
To extend the welcoming experience to the brewery’s aesthetic, the Bucks Mill team worked with a local agency, Design 2 Sell, to design their taproom’s impressive interior, and create a wide range of seating for groups of all sizes. The stark black and green paints are contrasted by one wall covered with tree trunk cross sections. A local artist created three murals, and visitors can sit at a bar overlooking the brewhouse.
While water is the main ingredient for good beer, Fritz and Van Offelen believe that community has been the main ingredient for Bucks Mill’s success. The input, assistance, and excitement from neighbors, businesses, and brewers have been invaluable from the original idea to the grand opening celebration.
“The grand opening was remarkable. It was kind of crazy how busy it was,” Fritz says. “The support that we’re getting from the community is awesome and we’re happy to be open finally.”
Brewer: Tyler Hawkins
Beers: Drift Away Hazy IPA, Laker Red Ale, Ole Norwegian Blonde Ale, Lena Norwegian Blonde Ale with lemongrass, Ope-ricot sour, Benchmark IPA, Mill Pond Porter, and Mango Seltzer
Address: 824 Washington Avenue, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501
Hours: Mon–Wed: 3–10 pm; Thu-Sat: 11 am–10 pm; and Sun: 12–8 pm