Leech Lake Brewing Company

Filed in Food and Wine by on April 23, 2014

website_08After moving his family to norther Minnesota in 2008, Greg Smith decided it was time to turn a favorite pastime into a full-time job. Leech Lake Brewing Company, located in Walker, will celebrate its fourth year in operation this August.

Smith, who co-owns the brewery with his wife, Gina, is a self-taught brewmaster. A former mechanical engineer with IBM, he started home brewing back in 1992. A friend who was drinking some of his home brew was the first person to mention to Smith that he should consider making beer for a living.

“I got a kit to start with like a lot of people do,” Smith explains of how he first got started. “After brewing the beer kit I went to a brew shop and started mini-mashing right away. About a year after that I went into all-grain brewing.”

After countless batches spent perfecting his brews, Smith began putting together a business plan that would allow him to share his passion with the public. He purchased 5 acres of land on the outskirts of Walker and remodeled the existing building on the property to serve his brewing needs. He bought some polished vessels from another brewing company and ordered new equipment for the rest of the facility.

Locating the business in Walker was important to Smith and his wife. “Gina’s spent her whole life up here vacationing,” he says. “We wanted to be closer to our family and just fell in love with this place. The local people are great and it’s a beautiful area. The lake is the best in the state as far as I’m concerned.”

“Our first batch was brewed in August of 2010,” Smith recalls with pride. On September 10 of that year he opened the tap room for business. The very next day Smith already had his first draft account established.

3sheetsBetween draft accounts and liquor stores, there are now 60-70 establishments selling Leech Lake Brewing Company beer. Smith self-distributes his ales in Minnesota and has a distributor he works with to get his beer into North Dakota.

All Leech Lake Brewing Company beers are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally carbonated. Smith explains, “In the brewing process, you can either naturally carbonate or force carbonate the beer. Most factories force carbonate for consistency and time reasons. I add priming sugar like a home brewer would. I pump it into the keg and let it set where it conditions. The yeast falls to the bottom of the keg and carbonates.”

The beers are all British style ales, a personal favorite of Smith’s. “I think I’m the only brewery in the state brewing British style ales,” he says. “I use a British hop called English Fuggles exclusively in this brewery. I use British grain as well. I try to be as true to form as I can.”

loch leech monsterHe started out with four beers, with Loch Leech Monster Scottish Ale as his flagship beer. Whenever Smith would brew up a batch with a particularly pleasing flavor, he added it to the growing lines of ales. A fall/winter and spring/summer seasonal ale is also produced.

Smith feels there is a Leech Lake Brewing Company ale to suite just about everyone’ taste. He offers everything from happy beers all the way to malty beers. “They all sell within a percentage or two of each other,” Smith reports.

“A lot of people like the 3 Sheets Imperial India Pale Ale. It has a 10.5 percent alcohol content. My taste buds pick up a caramel apple brandy flavor. The bitterness lingers after you’re done. All of my beers are about balance across the board. The Loon’s Eye Red is the sweetest of the bunch, but it still has a little bit of hoppiness to it.”

Smith brews once a week during the winter and up to three times a week in the summer. Each brewing day yields three batches. Despite the long days, he is thankful for the opportunity to work on something he’s passionate about. “Being self-employed is also really great,” he acknowledges.

LEE52743Tours of the brewery are offered for groups of 10 or more people and need to be scheduled in advance.

When visiting the brewery, people can purchase either 64-ounce growlers or 750ml bottles of their favorite brew to bring home with them. Smith sells Leech Lake Brewing Company pint and sample glasses, t-shirts, and hats. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to sample some of Smith’s carefully crafted ales.

“The word I hear most when people try my beer is ‘smooth,'” says Smith. “They also appreciate the balance it brings.

by Heidi Kratzke, a writer from Ottertail.

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