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Brewery elevates historic Lanesboro Grain Co. building

Sylvan Brewing gives new life to a century-old building in Lanesboro.

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Andy Heimdahl, left, and Karen Heimdahl, right, in the taproom of their Lanesboro brewery, Sylvan Brewing on July 20, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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LANESBORO, Minn. — For more than a century, a grain elevator operated on the north end of the commercial district in Lanesboro.

In fall 2020, Sylvan Brewing took over the Lanesboro Grain Co. site.

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Brewery owners Andy and Karen Heimdahl are doing their part to honor the history of the facility and not just by elevating grain into craft beer.

The taproom bar and tables at the brewery were made by Karl Unnasch from reclaimed wood found in the building. Two of the original grain towers have been turned into bathrooms. The wood walls are worn smooth from decades of friction and pressure from storing grain. Pieces of grain have worked their way into small holes and spaces between boards.

Karen said she finds soy beans and pieces of grain on the floors in the winter when the wood shrinks.

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The scale room, which was used to weigh how much grain was hauled in or out of the elevator, still functions. Minnesota state inspection certifications of the scale and permits to store and buy grain still hang on the wall. The scale itself, which can measure up 31,000 pounds, can be seen behind a window in a room that housed the business offices.

“We’ve weighed families here,” Andy said.

The elevator closed sometime in 2011. The couple say they enjoy showing off aspects of the facility's past life.

Some of that is to show off some of their hard work converting the facility into a brewery. The space between the taproom and bathrooms was open to the elements and covered in bird droppings, spider webs and dirt.

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A preserved bird nest at Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

“It took a lot of cleaning,” Karen said.

The couple patched some holes in the wood structure using the same technique others employed over the decades. A vintage license plate and parts of coffee cans patch holes.

“They used whatever tin they had laying around,” Andy said.

They opted for a Plexiglas patch over a hole that held an intact bird nest.

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The couple bought the building from Stone Mill Hotel owners Rick and Cheryl Lamon.

While the aesthetic is an important part of the business, Andy said the beer, the figurative foundation of the business, needs to be as solid as the building’s foundation. Given that customers are pretty much drinking each batch as fast as Andy brews it, indicates he’s on the right trajectory.

The brew system sits on the ground floor. Each of the three-and-a-half barrel fermenters is full. As soon as one is empty, Andy brews another batch of beer. The Lanesbrew, a lager, has proven popular this summer. As of Wednesday, he was in a race to get the new batch kegged before the last keg of the previous batch runs out.

Andy doesn’t keep the dilemma a secret. The stock response he hears: That’s a good problem to have.

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The scale that was used to weigh grain trucks at Lanesboro Grain Co. The scale is no longer in use but functions at Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

“Yes, it’s a good problem,” he said. “But it’s still a problem.”

Fortunately, the couple intend to keep the operation a destination brewery and don’t have plans to grow into regional distribution.

“There are so many good beers out there,” Andy said.

The couple settled in Lanesboro when Karen got a nursing job at Mayo Clinic. They bought 20 acres of land near Pilot Mound. The two intended to start a farm growing hops and other crops, but they shifted focus to the brewery.

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“We fell in love with the spot,” Karen said. “It was a place we wanted to be.”

While they do plan to make use of the land, getting the brewery off the ground has been their priority.

Andy brings more than a decade of home brewing experience to the business, and he used his background in software engineering to design a program to keep track of the beers he brews.

He also used his fondness for Dungeons and Dragons to create an adventure map of other breweries, distilleries and points of interest in the Driftless area of Southeast Minnesota.

The region has seen a growth in craft brewing and distilling in recent years.

“In this industry, we’re all about pulling for each other,” Andy said.

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Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn., at the former site of the Lanesboro Grain Co.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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Sylvan Brewing co-owner and head brewer Andy Heimdahl draws a sample of beer from a fermenter July 20, 2022 at Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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Permits on the wall at Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn., permitting the former Lanesboro Grain Co. to buy and store grain. The brewery is in the former grain company office and elevator.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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The former scale room where grain trucks were weighed at the Lanesboro Grain Co. It's now seating space for Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro, Minn.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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Items promoting the former Lanesboro Grain Co., where Sylvan Brewing is now located in Lanesboro, Minn.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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