Small Business

Brewing news in Northfield

Tanzenwald Brewing Company brings locally-sourced beer, food to southern Minnesota

By Anne Kopas

The founders of Tanzenwald Brewing Company have their roots in marine biology, dance, and theater—not what you’d typically expect of a brewing company. But in co-founder Jenaveve Pittman’s words, Tanzenwald’s business story “kind of starts with a love story.”

Despite spending their childhoods in Wisconsin and their undergraduate years in Minnesota, Jenaveve and Steve Pittman, now married, first met in California’s North Bay area. Jenaveve had already spent several years in the restaurant business and knew she wanted to open her own restaurant someday. Steve had recently earned a master’s degree in brewing (a science known as Zymurgy). Since both had always shared a love of craft beer, Jenaveve says, “our dreams really aligned quickly.” Jenaveve took business classes and researched the brewing industry to pursue that dream; the first business plan for Tanzenwald was written four years ago.

Rewind over a century earlier: Big Trees Brewery opened in Santa Cruz, California, in 1894. Prohibition forced it to close its doors in 1920, but it wasn’t forgotten. Steve’s goal was to resurrect this failed brewery and give it new life in 2017. But this was not meant to be. The name “Big Trees Brewery” had been taken by another company, and Jenaveve and Steve were unhappy with the available locations in Santa Cruz. Not only was California in the midst of a water crisis that would make brewing difficult, but the cost of living was expensive, and the couple’s family and support systems were back in the Midwest.

Leaving California behind, the Pittmans found Tanzenwald’s true home in the small town of Northfield, Minnesota. “[We] had always loved this town,” Jenaveve says. “[We] made the wild decision to go for it.” They selected an old building that had been falling apart for years. Under the Pittmans’ care, the building has been renovated to become Tanzenwald’s home. The name pays homage to Big Trees Brewery: tanzenwald is German for “a forest in which to dance,” which is a nod to the original brewery, Jenaveve’s artistic background, and the founders’ love of nature.

While Tanzenwald is close to its grand opening, there have been a few bumps along the road. The Pittmans have learned through experience that opening a brewery is about more than simply making great beer—you also have to deal with construction, government licensing, lease negotiations, floor plan design, and more. “You have to prove everything five different ways,” Jenaveve says. The team has encountered logistical challenges along the way, including a piece of vital equipment that arrived in bad shape and had to be returned. Still, Jenaveve remains optimistic, as Tanzenwald’s opening draws closer every day.

The couple is also encouraged by the local community. “They’re really jazzed up about finally having their own brewery,” Jenaveve says. She describes a recent open house where attendance was so overwhelming that they ran out of food. The open house attracted a wide range of ages, from “young, hip millennials” to their parents and older generations.

“What’s great about craft beer is that it’s so multi-generational,” Pittman says.

In this case, it’s also paired with locally sourced food. Tanzenwald will also serve sandwiches, sausages, and more, mostly made in-house. The spent grain left over from the brewing process is sent to Northfield farms where it's used to feed hogs, which in turn become Tanzenwald’s sausages. “It’s a beautiful circle of life,” Jenaveve says. But despite the focus on food, Jenaveve considers Tanzenwald primarily a taproom, not a restaurant. “Our beer comes first. It always will.”

Tanzenwald isn’t the only brewery popping up in Northfield, though. At least two other breweries have their sights set on this area, but Jenaveve considers them more companions than competitors. “I need a brewery to hang out at. I can’t hang out at my own, because that’s work,” she says. “We’re more successful with them than without them.”

Now just waiting on a state license, Tanzenwald’s grand opening is finally within view. Northfielders can plan to be drinking the Pittman’s beer and eating their locally-sourced sausages at their grand opening on April 20, 2017. “We’re closer than we were yesterday!” Jenaveve says.