George, Sisseton, Budd, Hall, Amber–the chain of lakes in Fairmont, Minnesota–is a point of pride for residents and a draw for visitors. The five lakes convinced Joe and Lea Riemann to relocate their family from the Twin Cities. As a result, the lakes manifested something else: Fairmont Brewing Co.
Fairmont Brewing’s goal is to serve a lineup of accessible brews in a community-friendly space while paying homage to local history. The downtown location was home to Barney’s Café in the mid-1900s and a senior center for decades afterwards.
“Community members have memories of renting it out for bridal showers or wedding receptions or birthday parties, so the association with this space is very much family oriented,” Lea Riemann said.
The Riemanns’ remodel brought back traces of the original restaurant, including diner booths and signage. However, the small space required inventive solutions to accommodate the brewhouse.
The 20-barrel system with four fermenters feeds directly into two Paul Mueller Co. Beer Serving Tanks. Beer flows from these self-cooling tanks straight to the taps. Stacked horizontally, the tanks reduce requirements for kegging, cold storage, and bright tanks, although the setup limits the number of styles on tap at once.
Joe Riemann possessed 10 years of homebrewing experience prior to diving in as head brewer. His greatest challenge is one familiar to brewers in smaller markets: balancing the tastes of hop heads with light beer drinkers.
“We had a lot of support from folks locally and would hear numerous times, ‘Can’t wait to support you. Can’t wait to go there. And I drink Mich Golden Light – are you going to have anything like that?’” he said.
The brewery’s opening tap list includes the sessionable Interlaken IPA, Budd Lake Pier America Wheat, and Gold Medal Lager. Next up will be Hall Lake Pale Ale and Gideon’s Revival English Porter, which features Cascade hops from nearby Tonne Century Farms. The porter pays tribute to the Fairmont’s last brewery, a short-lived operation that Gideon Smales opened in 1877 to serve traditional English ales, according to Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.
“We’ll continue to have beers that are going to be more accessible to folks, and then we’ll dabble in some other stuff. We’ll probably have a seltzer this summer because there’s a number of folks that just don’t drink beer and would prefer that,” Joe Riemann said.
“We’re just trying to get a feel for what people would want and, most of all, really wanted to focus on building out a brewery that was comfortable […] for both travelers as well as residents of Fairmont.”
As a welcoming space for families, Fairmont Brewing plans to offer food eventually, and for now, patrons are encouraged to order from nearby restaurants. The brewery serves 1919 Root Beer alongside its signature brews. Since Lea Riemann has experience brewing ginger beer, kombucha, and other fermented beverages, they’re considering adding a house N/A option in the future.
“We’re just wanting to start with things that we know are going to be compelling for our community, and then we might test out a small keg of kombucha and just see what it looks like,” she said. “I have a recipe. It’s a really nice raspberry, lime, ginger kombucha that is always popular with folks. And it doesn’t hurt that our high school team is the Cardinals and our colors are red [and white].”
The brewery itself is a family project for the Riemanns, who have a blended family of five kids. “Really, we chose a place to move to first with zero intention of opening up a brewery,” Joe Riemann said.
Joe and Lea (Connelly) Riemann relocated to Fairmont in October 2020, a year after their employment in executive roles at the Association for Black Economic Power (ABEP) ended abruptly, with the ABEP alleging fraud and mismanagement of funds. According to the Star Tribune, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Financial Crimes Unit investigated Connelly and Riemann, but ultimately closed the case without filing charges. The Riemanns declined to comment on this controversy.
Instead, they focus on the fresh start. The chain of lakes, lower cost of living, and slower pace of small-town life helped them decide on Fairmont. The desire to serve the community-led them to open the brewery and continues to guide their decisions, particularly with the beer lineup.
“Folks seem to be excited about finding a favorite but also enjoying the run of the lot. It gives us room to play,” Joe Riemann said. “And again, we’re not looking to specifically differentiate as much as just be a brewery in Fairmont and represent Fairmont.”
Head Brewer: Joe Riemann
Beers: Interlaken IPA, Budd Lake Pier America Wheat, and Gold Medal Lager, with Hall Lake Pale Ale and Gideon’s Revival English Porter to follow
Address: 414 Downtown Plaza, Fairmont, MN, 56031
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 p.m.
Food: Bring your own or order from local restaurants
Correction: Joe and Lea Riemann moved to Fairmont in October 2020, not early 2020 as originally stated.