Photos by Paul Flessland
Feature photo of Owner and Head Brewer Don Kenna of Prairie Brothers Brewing Company
When we thought the Fargo-Moorhead craft beer family couldn’t get any bigger, another brewery opens its doors. Located off 45th Street near Austad’s Golf in south Fargo, Prairie Brothers Brewing Company started like most breweries: at home.
‘Every brewery starts at home’
As a biology and physics teacher at Shanley High School for 12 years, owner and head brewer Don Kenna was fascinated by the science behind home brewing. In 2009, he created his first batch of homebrew titled Baby Beer, in honor of his daughter and first child, Harlee. After he cracked the first bottle and enjoyed the malts and hops of his labor, he began to question if teaching was his true life’s calling.
“I started doing more research and practicing,” he said. “I read all the magazines. I started entering contests. I started listening to home brewing podcasts. I just threw myself into it.”
He talked off and on for years about what it would be like to open a brewery of his own but wouldn’t take the dive. He continued to push the idea to the back burner.
“There is always the question of ‘What would you do if money wasn’t an option?’ And teaching never came up,” Kenna said. “I finally realized that if money wasn’t an object, I’d brew beer for a living.”
Then one day in the spring of 2015, his wife finally told him exactly what he needed to hear, “Either do it or stop talking about it.”
For once, Kenna didn’t hesitate. He started designing a business plan, conducting research, talking to banks and hired a chief operations officer, Wil Petik, to help with brewing and other tasks. Then, last summer, Kenna finally quit teaching and signed the paperwork for the brewery.
“I’m still an educator,” he said. “It’s just I’m changing who I’m teaching and what I’m teaching about. So rather than teaching high school kids, I’m teaching others about beer.”
When Kenna was making the transition from homebrewer to head brewer, he also contacted local breweries for some extra guidance through the complex process.
“Drekker Brewing Company has been kind of like a big brother to us. Whenever we have a question, we call them up,” Kenna said. “The local brewers are a very close-knit group of guys and girls that just want to work on getting good craft beer in the Fargo-Moorhead area.”
‘We’re all just a laid back family here’
For interior decorating, Kenna called in a few favors from friends. “If it didn’t have to be done professionally, we did it ourselves,” he said.
They designed Prairie Brothers’ atmosphere to reflect the rustic countryside of the rural Northern Plains. A majority of the furnishings and decor were upcycling projects. The bar was built by hand using old bed frames from a thrift shop and beer tap handles were made from chair legs, banisters and a tennis racket. The refurbished standing island in the middle of the taproom was originally from the Ramada Plaza.
Prairie Brothers’ brew dog, Frank, is unwinding after a “ruff” day.
“We just wanted a very laid-back feel,” Kenna said. “We’re all just a laid back family here.”
Even though the entire Prairie Brothers’ staff isn’t actually a biological family, they still refer to each other as family. “You have friends that are closer than some of your siblings, and that’s what we were want to push,” Kenna said. “Beer makes everyone family.”
Kenne added that he actually doesn’t even have a brother, contrary to the brewery’s title. “Prairie Brothers is the family that you get to pick,” he said.
‘Dream big or wake up’
When the Prairie Brothers’ staff were testing their equipment, getting ready to brew their first batch, they didn’t expect anything special to be created.
“We didn’t have any particular beer in mind,” he said. “There wasn’t necessarily a recipe we were following.”
Prairie Brothers’ accidental first brew was its Pilot Pale Ale—named after Petik, who worked on World War II fighter planes. The two that followed were the Dusty Road Red and Dreamer Cream Ale.
“All of our beers are just homebrew recipes that we scaled up and tweaked a little,” Kenna said.
From left to right: Dreamer Cream Ale (4.6% ABV and 24.2 IBU); Pilot Pale Ale (5.6% ABV and 35 IBU); Irish Red Ale (4.3% ABV and 23 IBU)
Since the brewery is still a startup, he said they still have “a lot of learning to do.”
“None of us have brewed with this big of a system,” he added. “So we’re looking forward to learning and finding our niche. We’re also going to let the public kind of show us. The best teachers learn from their students, and so we want to get feedback from people.”
Though opening the brewery and transitioning to an entirely new brewing process showed to have some challenges for Kenna, he said the biggest struggle was not giving away his beer for free.
“It’s a little bit different selling it because for 8 years, people would come over and I’d say, ‘Hey, have a beer.’ Now I think more in lines of ‘Oh, you need to actually buy this. I can’t just give it away here,'” Kenna laughed.
Prairie Brothers currently has six beers on tap and Kenna’s goal is to fill all 10 beer taps. But his dreams don’t just stop there. Kenna hopes the brewery will be distributing nationwide in 10 years.
“Dream big or wake up,” he said with a laugh.
Prairie Brothers Brewing Company
Tuesday – Thursday: 4 – 10 p.m.
Friday: 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Saturday: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday
Prairie Brothers welcomes customers to bring outside food.