Located in little, middle-of-nowhere Bethel, MN in a building that used to host a Lutheran church, Garphish Brewing Company is serving great beer — and Jesus — to the community.
We first read about Garphish Brewing Company in the May 2018 issue of The Growler. What immediately caught our attention was the suggestion that it was a “christian” brewery. In the article, the owner and headbrewer Brandon was very vocal and open about his faith — something that’s also important to us — using words like “fresh” “honest,” “christian,” and “community-oriented” to describe his brewery. We had to wonder, though, what made his brewery more fresh, honest, Christian or community-oriented than any other brewery in Minnesota?
Turns out, maybe Garphish Brewing Co. isn’t trying to be anything more than any other brewery — they’re just trying to be true to themselves.
Garphish Brewing is nothing short of unique. The building itself has been a number of things over the years including a silent movie theater, city hall and a Lutheran church. We could immediately sense the church history there as we entered a side-door, climbed a set of stairs into a foyer-like area and entered into a large chapel-turned-taproom. Tall windows that may or may not have been stained glass at one time allowed plenty of the day’s warm sunshine to filter in. A stage at the far end of the taproom may have held a preacher’s pulpit at one time but on this day provided kids with a great space to play.
Having grown up in churches ourselves, we could very easily imagine the space filled with rows of wooden pews and men, women and children dressed in their Sunday best. We appreciated the pieces of history that Brandon had kept in his taproom; they added a deeper sense of personality and connection to the space.
The taproom wasn’t the only thing that was fresh! Eight beers on tap included a tasty blond ale, IPA, Double IPA, a couple stouts, a kolsch, and a wheat. One of our favorites — at least by name — was the “Shut your Von Trapp” Berliner Weisse. Katie, being the theater nerd that she is, particularly appreciated the nod to The Sound of Music.
As far as taste, the Double IPA was fantastic and deserves recognition, though our personal favorites were by far the Hapjazardly Jalapeno Kolsch and the Brezel Pretzel Milk Stout. The Kolsch — infused with the perfect ratio of one jalapeno per gallon — was surprisingly refreshing; smooth and crisp, it finished with a perfectly balanced bite. The Brezel stout was brewed with loads of chocolate malt and 30 pounds of sourdough pretzels, giving it a deliciously sweet, salty and rich flavor; Adam even went so far as to say it was the best milk chocolate stout he’d ever had!
We had the opportunity to meet owner and head brewer Brandon, who very clearly embodied the same man we’d read about in the Growler article. A father, husband and man of faith, he left a good job to pursue his crazy dream of opening a brewery. As we sat chatting over drinks, it was clear to us that Brandon’s a figurehead in the community; as people came and went, he greeted each of them — including kids — by name. Their smiles back carried unspoken words of admiration and respect.
Garphish the brewery, we learned, was named after a family tradition of fishing for gar the fish. Summer reunions at the family’s Otter Tail County cabin have long been nicknamed “Gar Days.” Today, a large, longnose gar sits mounted above the bar, and a sketch of a gar seems to smile in the brewery’s logo.
A big sign in the taproom reads:
1. Serve The Lord
2. Serve Good Beer
3.Always In This Order
If being boldly Christian is a core value at Garphish Brewing Co. Brandon’s made no effort to hide it.
“I think starting any business is hard,” he told Growler Mag, “but when you add the pressure to do it in a Christian way, that’s putting it out there to stand out.”
Then why do it?
“Our lives are meant to be a public declaration of our faith, and I guess we’re going to do it through opening a brewery.”
What we found refreshing about Garphish Brewing Co. is that it’s found a way to be Christian without carrying some of the negative connotations that often come with Christianity — pretention, arrogance, intolerance and just plain old cheesiness, to name a few. Aside from the sign above the bar — and the same three tenets printed on the crowler label — we didn’t see or feel any other blatant religious messages, nor did we ever feel like Brandon or his staff were trying to cram Jesus down our throats. To be honest, it was refreshing — a Christian business run on Christian principles without feeling like an overtly Christian place.
One square mile — that’s how big (or small, depending on your perspective) Bethel is. Garphish Brewing Co. sits at the end of a rather drab Main Street and yet seems to be the source of life and hub of community to the area.
As we walked in, a couple moms were enjoying relaxed conversation over drinks as their kids played nearby. At another table, three generations of family — from grandkids to grandparents — enjoyed quality time together over adult and kid beverages. An older couple — perhaps on an afternoon date — enjoyed a couple pints against the wall, and later on a group of young adults entered and sat down at a table to play games.
These aren’t uncommon sights at a brewery, of course, but there was definitely a sense that Garphish Brewing Co. has become the local gathering place for communal activity in Bethel and the surrounding area.
Having visited for ourselves we can confidently say that Garphish Brewing Co. has lived up to the “fresh,” “honest,” “Christian” and “community-oriented” qualities we read it would be. We also understand now the brewery isn’t out to be those things more than any other brewery — it’s just out to be them the best it can. And we’d say it’s doing a pretty great job!
Here’s our full review (categories are rated out of five ):
- Beer Selection (number and styles available): 🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Beer Taste (expected of style): 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Location (find-ability/accessibility): 🍺🍺🍺
- Atmosphere/Venue: 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Service (of staff): 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺
Adam & Katie