Most people wouldn’t visit a brewery and think “Hmm…this would be a fun side business!” Most people, though, aren’t Jim and Lauren Parejko.
“I’d been brewing at home for 12 or 13 years and it was something that started as a hobby and grew,” said Jim. He and his wife Lauren both attended graduate school at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and were happy partakers in the West Coast’s burgeoning interest in craft beer.
“That was the same time that the craft beer movement in Minnesota started to take off,” Jim said. He and Lauren had decided to move back to the Midwest once they had earned their degrees, and were hopeful that they could help establish craft beer’s popularity in their home region.
Home in Minnesota
Back in Southern Minnesota, Jim and Lauren weren’t in a rush to set up shop. Both Parejkos are microbiologists, and found full-time jobs teaching science at local colleges. Jim eased his craft beer itch by teaching a few brewing-science courses at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and working as manager at Schells’ Starkeller Taproom in New Ulm. He also continued to cook up brews to enter in local competitions. In 2017, he won the Minnesota State Fair competition for craft brews with one of his creations.
“That’s the fun side of it, when you have a beer that you’re really proud of,” Jim said.
One of the things that we’re most proud of is seeing people come in and enjoy our beer and say they’ll come backJim Parejko
Meanwhile, Lauren focused on finding the perfect spot to open a small brewery and taproom. Her search originally focused on locations closer to Minnesota’s Twin Cities, but eventually she and Jim began to consider Mankato as a strong option.
“Mankato is definitely a city that can support many breweries,” Lauren said. She and Jim both agreed that until they found a building that felt right to them, they wouldn’t even begin to order brewing equipment. In November of 2018, after a year and a half of searching, they settled on an old Snell Auto Lube shop off of Mankato’s Riverfront Drive and the LocAle Brewing Company was born.
LocAle’s name is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of its Minnesota locale. The open taproom and atmospheric outdoor patio evoke a friendly, Midwestern welcome, and the Parejkos are firm about featuring local ingredients in their brews.
I grew up on a farm, my dad and my brother are farmers over by Madelia, and so it’s always a part of it to support local farmersLauren Parejko
“It’s important for us to try to incorporate local ingredients into our beer as much as possible,” Lauren explained. “I grew up on a farm, my dad and my brother are farmers over by Madelia, and so it’s always a part of it to support local farmers.” Locale tries to purchase its grain, hops, and yeast from Minnesota growers, so that their visitors have the added bonus of knowing that their delicious beverage is locally sourced.
“We’re kind of lucky in that there are Minnesota maltsters and hop-growers and there weren’t five years ago,” Jim added.
Variety is Important
When creating its menu, Locale’s owners don’t stick with one kind of beer. “We have a wide range of different styles,” Jim said. “It’s based on seasonality.”
Thanks to its craft creation, each batch of beer is unique, but Jim uses a similar brewing process to create them all. First, he combines malted grain and hot water to create a mixture known as mash, and boils it until wort, a sugary substance, forms. He then adds the hops, cools the mix, and transfers it to a fermenter where he adds the yeast and lets the magic happen.
The preparation process usually takes around six to seven hours, but the fermentation process can range from two to 14 days. It’s this variation in fermentation time, as well as changes to the type and amount of hops and yeast that creates Locale’s variety of beers.
LocAle’s small-scale, seven-barrel setup fits the Parejkos perfectly. Its intimate size allows them to have hands-on time with their product, as well as interact directly with their customers, who have quickly become their friends. This is the couple’s favorite part of their small business.
“One of the things we always try to do when we’re working behind the bar is get a feel for how many people are newcomers, or how many are out of town,” shared Jim. “We get people who come down from the Cities who are on a tour of southern Minnesota breweries. It’s always fun to talk to them.”
“Definitely what has been the most rewarding is our customers,” Lauren added. “The brewery has become a family to us. We try to keep a wide variety of beers on tap, and it’s fun to see that everyone has their favorite beers.”
Even Jim and Lauren have their favorites, but these are difficult to pick.
“For me, it changes with the season,” Lauren said. “Right now, of what we currently have on tap, my favorite is Luminosity. That’s kind of funny because usually I don’t like sours, but this one’s really refreshing.”
Ranging from lagers to ales and IPAs to stouts, LocAle’s other beers are cheekily named to further celebrate their Midwest roots. The Bachelor Farmer is a hazy pale ale brewed with resident grower Maltwerk’s grain and fermented with Norwegian farmhouse yeast. The Deep Valley oatmeal stout is lauded on LocAle’s webpage as “ready to keep you warm on chilly MN days.”
A Sense of Place
“For us, what’s really important is bringing a sense of place to our brewery,” said Lauren.
During the recent COVID-19 upheavals, Lauren and Jim are still working to bring that sense of place to their devoted customers. LocAle has remained open for its normal business hours, but the taproom is closed in favor of takeout only.
“We try to be flexible with that too,” Lauren said. “If people aren’t available during our normal hours, we’re pretty open.”
As they look forward to visiting with their customers again, the Parejkos hope to continue perfecting their taproom and patio, but have no immediate plans to expand their operation.
“There’s some benefits to staying small,” Lauren said. “We’ll just have to see what makes sense.” Her favorite part of their small business is interacting with visitors, and she feels that any expansion efforts must not interfere with LocAle’s neighborly atmosphere.
Her husband wholeheartedly agreed.
“One of the things that we’re most proud of is seeing people come in and enjoy our beer and say they’ll come back,” Jim said. “It makes you feel good about what you’ve done, that you’ve created a connection with somebody and that it’s a lasting connection.”
- Locale Brewing Company on Facebook
- Locale Brewing Company in MankatoLIFE’s Bar & Restaurant Directory