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Hastings brewer featured at Wyatt’s

Wyatt’s Twisted Americana owner Blaine Seeliger, left, is pictured with Hastings resident Nic Brau, the brewmaster of Maple Island Brewing. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)

When Hastings resident Nic Brau was younger, most of his friends were drinking mainstream beers. He, on the other hand, was more drawn to a smaller label: Brau Brothers.

He had been traveling to Lucan, Minnesota, for years, he said, going there to hunt pheasant and visit some of his family that lives there. Those family members eventually created Brau Brothers, which made craft beer. That was when craft beer brewers had yet to find their niche, he explained.

“They were way ahead of their time,” Brau said.

Every time he went to Lucan, he would come home with as much craft beer as he could. It was a three-hour drive, and one he didn’t get to make often.

Eventually, he decided to start making his own beer.

“I started out like a lot of people,” he said.

He started with just the basics, but it didn’t take long for his home brew operation to outgrow his space. He expanded his equipment and soon had people asking where they could buy his brews.

A friend of his owned a storefront on Main Street in Stillwater and suggested they go into business together. The result is Maple Island Brewing, a craft micro-brewery and taproom.

Brau is the brewmaster, and he handles the process from start to finish. He still operates in a homebrew style, brewing 250 gallons at a time. That gives him the opportunity to add a lot more personal touch to his brews, he said, and that’s what really makes Maple Island Brewing unique.

Unexpected ingredients

One of Brau’s pet peeves, he said, is that many breweries offer the same varieties of beer styles.

“They’re playing it safe,” he said.

He doesn’t take the safe route. Among his ingredients are pure maple syrup, Crunch Berries, ice cream, pretzels, hand-peeled citrus, coffee and graham crackers.

“And it’s fantastic,” said Blaine Seeliger, owner of Wyatt’s Twisted Americana in Hastings.

Fan favorites are the Burlesque Kolsch, with Canadian honey malt; the White Butt IPA; the Maple Island Bock, with pure maple syrup made in Hastings; and the Cup of Joe Freakshow, made with creamy oats, cold pressed coffee and vanilla.

But Brau and his business partner, Frank Fabio, don’t let their menu do all the talking. While they do offer a handful of staple beers, Brau said, they also offer other varieties on a rotation.

“So you can get excited for new products,” he said.

Maple Island Brewing also puts a high priority on local ingredients. The maple syrup is a prime example. Along County Road 46 just west of Hastings, Chad Sanderson runs a self-serve maple syrup stand. Brau said he drives by it when he goes to work, and he finally stopped and learned about the operation. Sanderson, he said, taps maple trees in Wisconsin and evaporates the sap down into syrup in his own evaporator. Brau asked if he could use the syrup in his beer, got Sanderson’s OK, and did some experiments.

“It just turned out great,” Brau said.

Ever since then, he’s been using Sanderson’s syrup in his brews.

His methods have been paying off. Maple Island Brewing is gaining popularity, and even won first place out of 40 other craft brewers in the Wings and Brew fest in Red Wing.

Growing business

Brau’s homebrew style business keeps production relatively low. That’s great for giving personal touches, but it also means that finding it can be a little more challenging, especially as demand for it grows. Maple Island Brewing produces enough to stock its tap room and supply customers with growlers. Beyond that, it’s only available on tap at a few locations. One of those is Wyatt’s in Hastings.

Seeliger said he was attracted to Maple Island Brewing for the variety it offers his customers. Bars typically have the same or similar beers on tap, no matter where you go, he said. His goal at Wyatt’s is to help people experience food differently. That’s why Wyatt’s works to feature craft brews and serves more than 50 of them – now including Maple Island Brewing.

“It encourages people to expand their horizons, try different things,” Seeliger said.

That’s one reason why Brau is happy to partner with Wyatt’s. The craft brew crowd can be a tough market, he said, but places like Wyatt’s help create an incentive for people to get outside their comfort zone when it comes to beer.

Seeliger said he got his whole staff involved when it came to bringing in Brau’s beer. They all took a tour of the brewery, sampled the beers and brought back a keg of the Maple Island Bock to stock their bar in Hastings.

“It’s gone pretty quick for us,” Seeliger said of the keg.

Once it’s gone, Wyatt’s will still carry Maple Island Brewing, but will be trying some of Brau’s other varieties.

Wyatt’s is now planning a special event to feature Brau and his brews. They’ll be hosting a “Meet the Brewer” event on Thursday, April 21, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Wyatt’s second location in Eagan, 1965 Cliff Lake Road. The event will be a chance for people to meet Brau in person, learn about his beers and also kick off the opening of the new location.

The event will include samples and give-aways. More information is available on Facebook. Search for “Meet The Brewer Of Maple Island Brewing.”