Destination Beers
Ben Gipson (left) and Matt Caple are working to build a “veteran-supportive” brewery in Duluth. Provided photo

Destination Beers

Is there room for two new breweries in Duluth? We’ll find out this summer.

It’s not exactly musical breweries up here in Duluth, but it’s close.

In late 2019, Lake Superior Brewing, which had been Duluth’s oldest craft brewery (it was founded in 1994), shut down its West Duluth production facility. The following summer, Seth and Sarah Maxim, who have backgrounds in brewing and restaurants, bought the business. But they’re affixing the Lake Superior Brewing name to a new brewpub they’re opening on the other side of town in the Lakeside/Lester Park neighborhood. Meanwhile, the old Lake Superior facility is now home to brand-new company called Warrior Brewing.

Both breweries are working hard to be up and running this summer, when (we all hope) beer drinking will once again be a communal activity. Still, the Duluth area has plenty of established craft brewpubs and brewers, including well-known brands like Bent Paddle and Castle Danger. Is there room for two newcomers? Here’s how they plan to distinguish themselves.

Lake Superior Redux

For eight years, Seth Maxim had worked as a brewer at his family’s Dubh Linn brewpub in downtown Duluth. When the city tore up and rebuilt downtown Superior Street in 2019, it pulled up Duluth’s old steam heating system. Since Dubh Linn had used steam kettles, that pulled the plug on its brewing operation. (Dubh Linn remains open as a restaurant and bar.) Seth Maxim had to do something different.

It has turned out to be something not too different. “He decided he really wanted to continue brewing,” Sarah Maxim says. When the chance to purchase Lake Superior Brewing was presented to the Maxims via a banker friend, “we decided, ‘Well, why not?’”

With plans to reposition Lake Superior Brewing as a brewpub, the couple purchased a former fitness club structure on East Superior Street, the main drag through commercial Lakeside, in July 2020. The new Lake Superior will be the neighborhood’s sole brewing establishment—for complicated reasons, Lakeside/Lester Park was dry by law until 2016.

Lake Superior Brewing's new home in a former fitness center
Seth and Sarah Maxim plan to convert a former fitness center on East Superior Street into a new home for Lake Superior Brewing.

“We’ve both been juggling, holding down our jobs, raising two small kids,” Sarah Maxim says. “Then there’s Covid. But when people see the lights on in the evening, they pound on the door, pop in, and say, ‘Hey, we’re so excited you’re doing this. And when are you going to open?’”

That’s not an easy question to answer. “Originally, we were hoping for June,” Sarah Maxim says. “But everything takes a lot of time.” That’s because this is one big DIY project. Since last year, the Maxims have spent evenings and weekends demoing floors and walls in order to convert the space into the brewpub of their dreams. They’ll soon be starting the build-out. And they’ll be doing nearly all the work themselves.

Once the brewpub opens, Seth Maxim plans to continue the former Lake Superior’s Kayak Kolsch and perhaps one or two others while producing a wide variety of other styles. In the kitchen, Sarah Maxim foresees “a good burger” and woodfired pizzas, as well as noodle bowls and “fresh, healthy options.” She’s also planning to offer “grab and go” food options, which would give the new brewpub flexibility if there should be another lockdown—or if people’s dining-out patterns have changed because of the pandemic.

“We’ll have a beautiful, welcoming taproom,” Sarah Maxim says. “It will be easy to find, and we think it will be a neighborhood spot. But we also hope that we’ll be that spot where Duluthians and tourists will stop on their way to the North Shore or on their way back, either to stop in a grab a crowler, or sit down to a meal and a beer.”

A New Brewery for Veterans

Meanwhile, in the former Lake Superior Brewing space, Matt Caple and Ben Gipson are men on a mission. And they believe that will set their startup brewery apart. “Our focus is on being veteran-supportive,” Gipson says. “It’s not just about brewing beer and selling it to make money. We also want to bring veterans together and help each other out, and to showcase the different organizations that are out there.”

Warrior’s creation story began in 2019 at Canal Park Brewing, a Duluth brewpub where Gipson was head brewer. An U.S. Air Force veteran, Gipson set up a “collaboration brew day” with Caple, who served in the Army, to brew a triple IPA whose sales helped support a hockey team Caple started for disabled veterans. Last year, when Gipson was furloughed from Canal Park during the pandemic, he and Caple saw an opportunity to start Warrior.

While the “old” Lake Superior Brewing bottled its beers, Warrior will sell four-packs of 16-ounce cans. It also will keg its “R&R” Festbier for area restaurants and bars, and it might keg other beers should demand arise. Gipson hopes to be brewing by the end of April, though as of mid-March, May appears to be more likely. That would put Warrior beer on store shelves in May or June.

By the second year of operations, Warrior Brewing hopes to hire veterans as employees. Another goal is to donate part of its profits to area veterans’ organizations. These could include longtime entities such as the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion, as well as newer nonprofits including 23rd Veteran and Strong Compass, which help servicepeople transition to civilian life.

More immediately, Warrior Brewing wants to set up collaboration brewing days with veterans’ organizations. Veterans will be invited to tour the facility and learn how beer is made, from start to finish. “The proceeds from that particular batch would be contributed to the group that assisted on that brew day,” says Caple, who hopes to organize a collaboration brew for this Veterans Day.

Warrior’s beers won’t be served only to veterans, of course. But the brewery’s mission is firmly focused on those who serve. Caple and Gipson also foresee Warrior Brewing becoming a “destination” for veterans’ groups in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota.

Along with the Lake Superior brewpub, it will provide visitors more reasons to come back to Duluth after Covid recedes.