Family is at the heart of North Dakota’s newest brewery. When Half Brothers Brewing Company opened in Grand Forks in the fall of 2017, the name caught people’s attention. “A lot of people are intrigued by it and it kind plays into what we value,” explained head brewer Chad Gunderson. “It’s a family friendly community space.”
That’s a big deal in North Dakota, where most taprooms are still 21+. Gunderson, who began his brewing career at Mighty Mo Brewing Company and Lewis & Clark Brewing Company in Montana and most recently brewed at Rhombus Guys Brewing Company just down the street, knew that he wanted his own brewery to be a place all ages could enjoy.
“I have two kids myself and that’s what I enjoy about taprooms all across the United States — letting them run around while we enjoy some tasty brews,” Chad says. “I tell families that come in here to just let your kids run wild. There’s nothing they can damage.”
Half Brothers Brewing Company is owned by a cheerful band of investors, family and friends. The name and concept were co-created by Gunderson and Taylor Nord, who is — you guessed it– his half brother. So this is a spot that’s created by family, for families. When I dropped in a few weeks after it opened, it seemed like customers had gotten the memo.
The taproom location is convenient, a storefront right in the heart of downtown Grand Forks. The vibe is laid back, with people filling up the long, communal tables in the front and music fans gathering around the stage in the back. (There’s live music every single night.) My husband Derrick and I got there late, after the UND hockey game and well after the kids had gone home, but when I walked by the large windows earlier in the day I remember being pleasantly surprised by the number of families inside.
I know some people cherish the adults-only aspect of bars and some taprooms, but as a beer nerd with a 4-year-old, I like having the option to bring him along. In fact, my favorite travel memories from last year’s trip to Colorado (a state with a long craft beer history and lots of taproom options) were of sitting around brewery tables with my brother in Denver and my cousins in Fort Collins, trading notes on beer flights while Eli played board games or snacked on taproom popcorn. I never realized what a drag it was to figure out which parent had to stay home with him until we simply didn’t have to make that choice.
The kitchen at Half Brothers Brewing Company was closed when we arrived (they stop serving food at 10 p.m.) but I’m definitely going to stop by for dinner the next time I’m in Grand Forks. Everything in made from scratch and Chad and his crew are proud of the range of pizzas, appetizers and sandwich options that have evolved out of the initial ten item menu.
“We make everything in-house,” he says. “We make our own sauce, we make our own bread, we make our pizza dough, we pickle our own veggies, make our own salsa.”
There are 12 tap lines at Half Brothers Brewing Company and Chad likes to keep his options open. “I’ve been a production brewer for the last eight years or so, brewing the same beers over and over again, so I wanted make sure we have something new on tap every week or as much as possible,” he explained.
There are four beers that are consistently on tap at Half Brothers — beers Chad calls “traditional styles with a twist” — and the remaining eight lines rotate. So you can always try the Alexander Griggs Golden Ale (named for the gentleman that founded Grand Forks), the Morning Squeeze New England IPA (a super hazy take on a super trendy style), the Bully Brew Coffee Brown (brewed with beans from a local roaster) and the Chokecherry Gose, made with North Dakota’s tart and tangy state fruit.
The idea for that last one came about organically, as many of Gunderson’s best ideas do. “In North Dakota nobody is really using the state fruit in unique beer production,” he explains. “I did a sample and it started as a way to test customer flavor preferences. It just kind of evolved like that and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to do more beers like that, just do small kegs as a limited release.”
So if variety is your thing, you’ll find lots of options to choose from at Half Brothers. There’s usually a mystery fruit Gose on tap, as well as a range of seasonal flavors like a Hazelnut chocolate porter, a holiday ale and a pumpkin spice porter. Of the beers I tried, the seasonal Oktoberfest and the house Gose were my favorites. At press time, customers were really digging the Vienna Lager, so it might have earned a permanent spot on the roster by the time you visit.
If it does, it will likely join the four standby beers that Half Brothers is currently distributing to a growing list of Grand Forks vendors. The brewery is also canning 16 ounce cans on demand and recently expanded distribution to Fargo. (You can find Half Brothers beer at Front Street Taproom so far.)
A canning line is in the long term plan. So is rapidly expanding production. “We started brewing in September and we started with just under 300 barrels for 2017,” says Chad. “We have room for at least six more tanks to be added in, so I’m hoping that in a year we can increase our production to 2,500 barrels a year.”
In the meantime, the staff at Half Brothers Brewing Company will continue to balance its slightly twisted taproom classics with ongoing experiments. It’s a move that’s made both the regulars and the beer nerds happy so far.
What about you?
Have you visited Half Brothers Brewing Company yet?
What should I order (either food or beer) the next time I visit the taproom?
Do you like the idea of kids in brewery? Why or why not?
How do you describe your favorite beers?
If you had to choose just four go-to beers to have on tap, what style would they be?
What’s the most unusual beer you’ve ever tried?
P.S. If you want to learn more about brewing in North Dakota (both past and present) check out my book, “North Dakota Beer: A Heady History.”
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