Tucked up on the north shore of one of the cleanest water sources in the world sits a brewery that is changing the game.
Bent Paddle is a company founded on integrity, conviction, passion, and has bragging rights to being 50% female owned, which is almost unheard of in the brewing industry.
It’s also a love story.
A love story for Laura Mullen, co-owner, who met her husband through the beer industry. She made a fateful phone call to a business while planning a beer festival and Colin happened to answer. Laura jokes how it all could have gone very different if someone else had answered the phone that day! A shared love of beer and all things adventurous, these two have never looked back.
A love story of friendship for Laura and Colin Mullen and Karen and Bryon Tonnis, co-owners. I can only assume if you decide to move your whole lives and homes up north and go into business together, it must be love. Laura talked about this partnership with such delight and ease and joy. It is clear they have mutual admiration for one another and have found the perfect balance between friendship and partnership.
A love story for beer, the every man’s drink. Its diversity, its flavor, the way it makes a bad day good again. Though everyone in this story loves beer, it was Laura and the men who had established careers in the industry. Colin worked at Midwest Brewers, Bryon who was a brewer himself, and Laura who worked with Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild . A conversation over drinks one night stirred their minds about a possibility. A dream. A what if?
Could they do it? Could they open their own Brewery?
What I love about this story is the complete commitment to this dream. Both couples approached it with all heart and abandon.
2010 was the year of wondering, dreaming, and planning. Laura and Colin took a two week East Coast Brewery Tour. It’s where they discovered what they wanted and what they didn’t want. What worked, and what didn’t. They enjoyed the sights, sounds, flavors of beer and dozens of conversations with owners. What did they learn for their future business? Go big or go home.
2011 was the year of the business plan. The women worked full time to provide for their growing families, while the men took time (along with Laura and Karen) to create a deeply thought out, well planned business model that would put them on the map.
2012 Bent Paddle was born, landing home in Duluth where the founders worked to create “The Brewer’s District”. Where many brewers have a process to create a blank slate by adding or taking away elements in their water, the starting point of making beer, Lake Superior is actually part of the 10% of cleanest water in the world making this an ideal location for opening a brewery.
The Bent Paddle name came with Bryon and his love of the outdoors, the boundary waters and wide open space. Part of the story that everyone loves is when Bryon used his canoe paddle to help stir the mash at work many years ago and loved the result. The Bent Paddle aesthetic is woods meets steel, a relationship of the outdoors and strength.
The crew has been in business for four years. According to their seven year business plan, they have exceeded their plan by at least three years, existing in year 10 already. They have already had four major expansions since they opened.
I asked Laura what her secret to success was.
“We are really good at taking risks. We like it. What do we have to lose?”
That kind of passion and commitment is intoxicating. There was no fear or doubt when we talked with her. You could tell she knew they were doing what they love and what they are good at. And their sales confirm it.
In the spirit of risk taking and love, the owners of Bent Paddle have chosen to stand against a proposed Sulfide Mine in Northeast MN. Standing with 70 other business owners, Bent Paddle has found themselves the unexpected poster child for this cause. The struggle is real, due to the jobs the mine would create, but the environmental risks, especially near one of the world’s most pure water sources, is too great. And so, like they do in everything else, they stand with conviction in their love of the outdoors and risk business for what they believe in.
It is clear that even though breweries seem to be the hottest new thing on the market, Bent Paddle has lead the way.
Integrity. Quality. Conviction. Passion.
The beer is incredible.
The owners amazing.
The principles they stand on, undeniable.
If you aren’t a fan of Bent Paddle, you should be.
PS when we were at our interview, we came across some of the employees and friends hanging out after work. That truly says something about a company, where you create an environment where people stay after hours to hang out and socialize. We really saw that day that Bent Paddle walks the walk.
If you want to see the community that Bent Paddle has created in Duluth, the company is celebrating its “Festiversary” with a huge event on May 14th. Food, music, fun, and most importantly, beer will in abundance…rain or shine. We highly suggest you check it out!
Thank you so much Laura for spending time with Katrina and I in gorgeous Duluth! It was such a pleasure to meet you and what a joy to tour the brewery. You are an inspiration and your spirit of risk taking is contagious! Thank you!