'This is one of the coolest buildings in Fargo': Drekker Brewing aims for epic with new 'Brewhalla' location
FARGO - You may have to believe in Odin and die in battle to go to Valhalla, but you only have to be thirsty and believe in beer to go to Brewhalla.
The opening of Drekker Brewing Company's second brewery and taphouse from noon to midnight Saturday, Sept. 6., should make that an easy choice.
Drekker's "Brewhalla" at 1666 1st Ave. N. will have patrons drinking in the beauty of weathered brick and salvaged beams in its 1880s vintage former Northern Pacific Railroad shop.
Restoration and modernization of the building has taken more than a year, but it's been worth it, Drekker co-founder and president Mark Bjornstad said.
"This is one of the coolest buildings in Fargo. It's been left untouched and vacant for decades.
This has always been kind of the dream location (for Drekker)," Bjornstad said. "We just felt like this building needed to be a brewery. We were always attracted to it."
Calling it the Brewhalla is just a fun nod to the area's Nordic settlers and their Scandinavian heritage, Bjornstad said. He said the greatest place to sit down and have a beer would be Valhalla.
"We want to create that here," Bjornstad said. "This is kind of our interpretation of the coolest beer hall we could ever dream up."
The 18,000-square-foot building, which is owned by MBA Architects and includes the home of MBA principal Kevin Bartram on the north side, has room to spare for production and events,
On Thursday, Sept. 6, workmen were swarming the site making finishing touches.
At the east entrance, one of the two large accordion doors at the east entrance was opened wide, giving a view to the interior of the former steam engine repair shop built in 1883.
Walking in, a shipping container converted into a cooler and painted black, holds offsale and kegs to service 24 taps of beer for the bar and taproom.
Old, scarred timbers, many scorched by fire in the building's past, reach to the rafters of the ceiling two stories up. The tables in the 300-plus seat taproom feature wood reclaimed during the restoration.
In the center of the building, shiny finishing and fermentation tanks rise tall above the floor, surrounded by a wall of the brewery's artsy, colorful, wacky cans. Stairs take you to a restored mezzanine level; a party space with a bird's eye view of the taproom and brewery.
"We think people should be able to see how the beer is made," Bjornstad said. "You get a pretty uninhibited look."
Chandelier lights high in the ceiling can be adjusted to cast their glow up or down. At night, Bjornstad said directing the light to the vaulted ceiling gives the taproom a warm, honeyed glow.
The brewing equipment cost about a half million dollars, but restoration of the building cost millions.
"You can build a new building cheaper, but it was something we were willing to do," Bjornstad said.
Suds to spare
Drekker makes 3,000 barrels of beer a year at its downtown brewery and taproom. Brewhalla will open with the capacity to make 5,000 barrels a year. Canning and kegging will be done at both locations.
Bjornstad expects Drekker's staff of seven full time and 25 part-time employees to grow to about 10 full-time and 30 part-time people.
Bjornstad said the region's beer drinkers have soaked up Drekker's suds as fast as they can can it or keg it.
"This place will help us keep up with the unbelievable demand we've had," he said.
Beyond filling local demand, Bjornstad said he wants to expand sales throughout North Dakota and Minnesota's Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids and Bemidji.
The new brewing equipment at Brewhalla is a marvel even Thor could appreciate.
"We kind of went to the Cadillac system. This brewhouse is all fully automated, run by computers. We have a lot more control. There's are so many cool, unique things we can do at this brewhouse now that are not possible on a manual system."
The new system can make three different batches of beer at the same time - 60 to 90 barrels of beer a day. It can make three or four batches in the time it takes to brew one batch downtown, Bjornstad said.
Drekker doesn't have plans to expand into other markets soon, but owners are planning the brewery's next two expansions.
"By next spring, we are expecting to have the capacity to produce over 10,000 barrels," Bjornstad said.
Room for fun
The size of the space and the large parking lot will make it easier to also put on other "fun, unique events" that they haven't been able to try because of the lack of "wiggle room" downtown.
"Out here, we have about a 100-car parking lot, which is a big improvement from some of the headaches downtown. We love downtown for what it is, but parking ... is sometimes an issue," he said.
Brewhalla has space to host concerts inside, or outside on its industrial-style patio.
Next spring, another patio will be installed on the west side of the building, by the former smokestack. A football field sized-area to the west will be cleaned up and turned into a space for concerts or kickball leagues, Bjornstad said.
The brewery also has multiple private event spaces, including a barrel room, featuring a large Scandinavian-themed mural by the artist Punchgut.Those spaces will get a workout with DrekkerFest Four on Sept. 15, Bjornstad said. That will include music by Minneapolis band 4onthefloor and The Stovepipes.
Brewhalla will have a small menu with gourmet grilled cheeses and some munchies.
Bjornstad said food trucks are welcome, and the patio area has a food truck parking spot with hookups.
Surprisingly, noise from the nearby railroad tracks is not a distraction. It is a no-whistle zone and beyond the initial rumble of passing locomotives, little is heard inside the taproom as trains zip by.
Every guy's dream
Architect Bartram is also making finishing touches to his home, where he has lived for about three months.
He said he's living "every guy's dream" to have a brewery next door.
When MBA bought the buildings on the property, the old railroad building was seen as more of a problem than an asset.
"No lights, no heat, no plumbing. It looked pretty worn out when we got in there," Bartram said.
Then Bartram decided to turn part of it into his home. He approached Drekker in 2017 to see if they were interested in being a tenant.
First came brick repair, and opening up all of the old window openings.
"The biggest task was probably rebuilding the roof structure," Bartram said.
Some supporting columns were rotted and had to be replaced. Once the shell was in good shape, new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems were installed.
"I hope when people walk in they appreciated the openness of it. We purposely didn't repair the brick to make it look brand new. The same thing with the wood trusses and the wood columns.
We added skylights where skylights used to be. I would hope that people would realize how open and airy it is," Bartram said.
Extending some soul
Bjornstad hopes the vibrancy of Fargo's downtown extends toward Brewhalla.
"I think Fargo needs another neighborhood that has that same soul and community and activity to it. Downtown Fargo is getting a little tight," he said.
Prairie Roots Food Co-op, Wild Terra Cider and Brewing, and new apartments on downtown's west side are a good sign, he said.
"You feel like you're in the mix of the town. It's not really an urban vibe, like in downtown Fargo. It's an old-style industrial vibe," Bjornstad said.
For now, he and others involved with Drekker are going to enjoy their dream made real.
The new facility had soft opening evenings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for friends, family, contractors and others in the hospitality industry.
Today, the public gets a look at Drekker's version of beer heaven.
"We're so excited to breathe some life back into this old building. It's just been the most rewarding and kind of creatively satisfying project," Bjornstad said. "We can't wait to show it to people."