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Voyageur Brewing featured in Growler Magazine.

Apr 30, 2019 03:45PM ● By Editor

Stuart Long, the head brewer of Voyageur Brewing in Grand Marais, Minnesota / / Photo by Becca Dilley

By Ellen Burkhardt of Growler Magazine - April 29, 2019

It’s not Grand Marais’ cold snaps that trip up Stuart Long. Or the solitude. It’s the seagulls. “What the hell is a seagull doing in Minnesota?” the head brewer of Voyageur Brewing Company quips. “I don’t know; it’s weird, man.”

Stuart moved to Grand Marais two years ago after spending the majority of his 31 years living on the West Coast. He looks like a Californian, or at least not Minnesotan—something about his fast-paced, direct chatter raises a definite “not from here!” flag. Before moving here, Stuart had only been to Minnesota once, for his interview with Voyageur. He knew nothing about the state—“I thought it was all plains and ice all the time”—and had an entirely different life plan lined up before taking the job. But then he met the owners of Voyageur Brewing, Mike and Sue Prom and Bruce and Rittalee Walters, and everything changed.

“I kind of just fell in love with the company,” Stuart recalls. “Their whole ethos was really similar [to my own] and their values as owners and what they’re trying to create was really similar to my values as a person and as a brewer.” And then there was Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters, the hard-working locals, and the abundance of space. It all clicked for him. “The lifestyle of northern Minnesota in general is really close to what I’ve always wanted,” the Southern Californian says. “You have the solitude and the trees, there’s a ton of stuff to do out here, there’s surfing. […] All the Minnesotans were trying to scare me away, but it didn’t work.”

Moving to a new place with no set vision for his future was nothing new for Stuart. After suffering a family tragedy when he was 11 years old, he took it upon himself to shape his own life. At age 16, he left San Diego to live with his older brother in Arizona. He finished high school, taught himself to brew beer from grain, went to college to pursue a career in federal law enforcement, changed his mind, and set his sights on working at The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, California. After lots of wooing (“It took a lot to get that first job—I had to buy donuts for people and stuff”) he was hired on his 21st birthday.

Three years later Stuart moved again, this time to Bend, Oregon, where he had the opportunity to take the reins as head brewer at Silver Moon Brewing. He stayed there for a little over three years before returning to San Diego to work as a consultant for start-up breweries. 

All these decisions stemmed from Stuart’s ethos of embracing trial and error and being “a student of the school of hard knocks.” “As soon as you realize you know nothing, you can start learning. I love that mentality,” he says emphatically.

Flight pours at Voyageur Brewing in Grand Marais, Minnesota / / Photo by Becca Dilley

That approach is both beneficial and necessary in his role at Voyageur Brewing, where even the seemingly simple act of sourcing raw materials can be a challenge. “If you’re in the city, you can get things. It’s all just right there—you can go to BSG or Country Malt or borrow from someone. Out here, if my hops take a turn for the worse, or anything happens, I have zero support,” he explains. “It’s like survival sometimes.” In the two years he’s worked at Voyageur, Stuart has had to learn to do everything from service the brewery’s boiler to diagnose issues with his brewing system and find a way to fix them. There’s no other option, he says: “You have to fix it. You gotta figure it out.”

Of course, it’s not just Stuart versus The Unpredictable. “Having the support of my team is huge,” he says. “The brewers that work here with me, my colleagues, the owners are all super important. They have their own unique gifts and skill sets. Within our team there’s a lot of different people I can rely on for different things that can support my weaknesses. You just have to be very self-sufficient out here.”

Ironically, all three brewers at Voyageur, as well as one front-of-house staffer, are from California. Two—cellarman Cole Macy and beertender Garret Lima—are friends of Stuart’s (“I told them to come check it out; they did and liked it and stayed”); the other, lead brewer Kayla Brogna, well, Stuart’s not sure what brought her to Grand Marais. “We’re magnetic people,” he laughs, then adds: “The joke is that I don’t make friends quick enough, so I just brought my own.”

To read more of the original article, see more photos and related reporting, follow this link to The Growler website.
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