Sunken Ship Brewing Co. prepares to set sail with a full crew. Siblings Jon, Jeff, and Teresa Smith are at the helm as co-owners of the brewery in Princeton, Minnesota. Their spouses and children, who have assisted throughout the journey, will serve as beertenders. Even head brewer Bobby Blasey feels like part of the family at this point.
“We tend to look at it as a family experience and a place where hopefully my mom and dad can […] relax and have a good time with all of us,” Jon says.
The siblings hope the brewery will bring people together with a welcoming vibe and a something-for-everyone beer program.
“We loved the atmosphere when we were touring breweries around the state and other states,” Jon says. “And we were drawn to that aspect of how people inside breweries tend to let everything go and relax.”
For years, Jon and Teresa had been involved in homebrewing, with Jeff being a beer enthusiast. Family get-togethers often featured a taste test of someone’s latest batch. The siblings also enjoyed visiting breweries around the state, but they wished one would open closer to home.
“It’s kind of hard to go hit all the breweries and stuff down there [in the Cities],” Theresa, president of Sunken Ship, says. “We just wanted something around here that we could go hang at and share with our friends.”
The trio first discussed opening a brewery in 2017, but wanted to wait for the right time. In 2019, they were tired of waiting, according to Jon: “I still remember a call from my sister — ‘Jon, let’s open a brewery’ — and about two seconds later, I said, ‘Okay.’”
The siblings first found a piece of land in nearby Zimmerman. They worked with the city on zoning, but when COVID hit, everything stopped. In retrospect, the setback was for the best. A developer bought the Zimmerman property, and the Smiths purchased the old Shipwreck Boat Repair building in Princeton right off Highway 169.
Sunken Ship adopted a “sailing on the Great Lakes” theme. The siblings hauled in reclaimed wood and a more than 150-year-old stained glass window, which their grandfather had stored at the family cabin. An area cabinetmaker sanded and finished the wood for the bar and other accents. The stained glass now hangs on a wall with a new frame bearing lyrics from Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Chandeliers made of ship helms dangle from hand-built wooden trusses, which the siblings uncovered. Outside, a lighthouse stands near a boat run aground.
Blasey oversaw the brewhouse buildout. He implemented a 10-barrel system with three 10-barrel and two 20-barrel fermenters, along with a bright tank. Sunken Ship plans to add further capacity in the near future to ensure it can fill its 16 taps.
The Smiths met Blasey by chance. A friend of Jeff’s mentioned that his neighbor worked at Spiral Brewing in Hastings. A Princeton resident, Blasey has been brewing professionally for 14 years at Lift Bridge Brewing Co., Able Seedhouse + Brewery, and Mankato Brewery before Spiral.
The three owners and Blasey hit it off immediately. “We’re just very happy with him as a person, very happy with what he’s been doing in his career, and how he keeps pushing himself forward,” Jon says.
Sunken Ship will cater to many palates. There will be the IPAs that Teresa loves, Brit-style classics that Jon prefers, and several seltzers. The opening lineup will include seven taps: a house hazy IPA, stout, light beer, two fruited sours and two seltzers.
Patrons can bring in their own food, order from local restaurants, and eventually from food trucks on site. Non-alcoholic options from Northern Soda Co. and elsewhere are available.
The brewery puts such an emphasis on being family-oriented that it took furry family members into consideration. A fenced-in dog park with separate enclosures for large and small dogs is open outside.
The Smiths are excited to create a space for the community and their family. However, they also look forward to serving people from across the state, especially folks headed to their cabin, and they will have crowlers and growlers ready to take for a weekend at the lake.
“We’re really working hard to pull people off 169 and see what we have to offer,” Jon says. “With our location, from the city, it’s just a natural stopping point. […] We’re really hoping that people start to make it a stop on their way north.”
Grand Opening: Saturday, July 30
Head Brewer: Bobby Blasey
Beers: Graceful Insanity hazy IPA, Uncharted Odyssey light beer, Ship’s Bounty strawberry-raspberry sour, Thunder Waves mango-peach sour, Aran Sweater stout, and two hard seltzers
Address: 32273 124th St., Princeton, MN 55371
Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Food: Order from local restaurants and watch for a food truck schedule to be announced