MOORHEAD - John Kapla and Sean Syverson are finally serving suds to people in the taproom at Swing Barrel Brewing.
The co-owners of Moorhead’s newest brewery were hustling last week, drawing pints of beer for a small but steady stream of customers.
“You picked a challenging time to open,” one customer noted Thursday, June 25, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, that’s what we were going for, one more challenge,” joked Syverson, as he plunked down a freshly drawn pint on the bar.
It’s been one challenge after another for the entrepreneurial pair.
They had planned to open Swing Barrel last fall, but turning the Wright Building at 814 Center Ave. into a brewery proved far more difficult than expected. Then the pandemic settled in with its mandatory closures.
It required a stout resolve to get through, Kapla said. But the pair didn’t sour on their dream.
“We’ve been trying to get this open for months and months and months,” and spending lots of cash, Kapla said. “Hopefully it’s going to flow the other way. Now, it’s more about running a business.”
- Icewind Brewing satisfies Mapleton's taste for craft beer
To generate cash flow, the brewers began selling cans of beer off-sale about six weeks ago, using a “smugglers door” for social distancing. When pandemic restrictions eased, customers quaffed cold ones out on the patio.
The taproom is set up for seating about 25 now. At 50% capacity, that will be closer to 50 people.
“We’re not looking at chairs necessarily, we’re looking at space and distance,” Syverson said.
The men say it’s a relief to have patrons - the “Swingers” - drinking in the taproom’s refinished wood floors and shiny fermentation tanks, and watching the traffic flow by on Center Avenue.
“It’s always good to be open. It’s not exactly how we saw it. It’s not the fanfare that we wanted. But obviously it’s better than not being open,” Syverson said. “And people have been receptive and really trying to support it, so that’s been wonderful.”
The pair had six beers on tap after running out of their Honey Blonde Bombshell. (Don’t worry, another batch is in the fermenter.) A hard seltzer is also planned.
“As far as we know, (the beer’s) been pretty well received. Our moms really love it,” Syverson joked.
Tom Holtgrewe was on his second trip to Swing Barrel.
“They’re doing a good job. I’m very impressed. I hope it works for them,” the Moorhead resident said. “I just hope they do well.”
“It’s my first time being here. The Sweet Lily (a Belgian blonde-style beer) is excellent. It’s really good. Something different that I haven’t seen on tap at other places. So, that’s a big bonus And I’m looking forward to taking home a few of the to-go cans,” said Paul Rodenbiker of Fargo. “A great tap room, beautiful.”
Some were planning on being regulars.
“I really like the layout here. As far as the beer goes, I haven’t found one I haven’t liked. I think this is my new favorite brewery in town. And I’ve been to over 100 breweries,” said Cody Randall of West Fargo. “Overall, I’ve loved everything I’ve tried here.”
His companion, Kerri Prigge of Fargo, was enjoying a glass of beer, too.
“It’s my first time here,” Prigge said. “I love sitting here and watching traffic. The beer has been good and I’m excited to try a few more.”
Swing Barrel is the second craft brewery in Moorhead. The first is the popular Junkyard Brewing Co, a few blocks to the east on 1st Avenue North.
Another recent addition to the Fargo-Moorhead area’s craft brewery scene is Icewind Brewing, which opened its doors in early June in Mapleton, N.D.
The Brewers Association estimates there were more than 8,000 breweries operating in the United States during 2019..
Kapla and Syverson said the slow road to opening has helped in some ways, allowing them to master the equipment.
“The (brewing) process on a bigger system is a lot less daunting now. It’s gotten a lot easier to control,” Kapla said. “I think the next step for us would be to create a bigger brew schedule so we have more beer on tap.”
Syverson said they also didn’t have to lay off staff, which many businesses had to do when the pandemic arrived. For now, it’s just the two men, with help from their wives.
Still, both are glad to have customers be able to sip inside.
“Obviously, you feel great to get your product out there and show off what we do. It’s kind of a relief to get open,” Syverson said.
“I think it’s really nice to see people around, people in here, people on the patio. And (to enjoy) the fruits of our labor with everyone else,” Kapla said.