A Brewery Tour through Victoria and Waconia

Enki Brewing, Waconia Brewing Company and Lazy Loon Brewing are putting the southwest metro on the map for good beer.
Hat Trick (in glass) with Lazy Loon Lager, Cascade Lager, Stormy Niht and others in cans.

Dee and Bob DeLange are in-laws and co-owners of Waconia Brewing Company. They already knew each other because of the family relations when Bob and his wife moved to Minnesota for his work, while Dee and her husband were looking for something new to do. Beer enthusiasts all, they realized that Waconia was in need of something like a microbrewery, and in October 2014, Waconia Brewing Company opened its doors.

The DeLanges hired professional brewer Tom Schufman. Bob’s brother, who opened a brewery in Colorado, told them that was the way to go.

While there are 10 or 11 beers available at the taproom at any time, there are four flagship beers that visitors can pretty much always get: Carver County Kölsch, a pilsner named in honor of sister city Cologne, which the DeLanges have visited and where they tried (and liked) German breweries; 255 Amber, an amber ale with notes of toffee and caramel; 90K IPA, named for the 90,000 miles of coastline in Minnesota; and WacTown Wheat, a German-type ale.

The taproom has been a big hit and is open daily. In addition, their brews can be found in 70 restaurants around the metro. They have some offerings in liquor stores, but until they can expand their canning operations (which they hope to do this spring), it’s primarily in the form of limited releases.

While the community of Waconia has been highly supportive, DeLange notes that the taproom gets a good amount of tourist traffic. “About 40-50 percent of new customers come from other communities, and many of them are new to Waconia,” she says. New visitors might be surprised at the taproom’s vibe. “It’s not really a bar,” DeLange says. “It’s more like an adult coffee shop.”

(Left: Founders pour of WacTown Wheat [in glass] with growler of 90k IPA and 750 ml bottle of Doppelbock, all available at Waconia Brewing Company; Right: Dee and Bob DeLange)

Keeping with that ambience, the taproom is outfitted a bit like a lake cabin, and there are board games on hand, as well as popcorn and root beer for kids. There are frequent events as well, many of which are family friendly, and one recurring monthly event that benefits the Waconia community. “We have a monthly fundraiser for a cause, a family or an individual in need,” DeLange says. “Recently we raised $1,100 for a 2-year-old boy with brain cancer. That was amazing.”

“Enki” is the name of a god of ancient Mesopotamia, known as the “god of flowing water.” Legend has it that he enabled grains to grow, and the Sumerian people of Mesopotamia used water and grains to create beer.

In our modern world, Enki is a brewery and taproom that opened in downtown Victoria in June 2013. Co-founder John Hayes says it was a long journey getting there. He and co-founder Dan Norton worked for Nike back in the 1990s when there weren’t many microbreweries. The two loved good beer, especially German and Irish ales, and sometimes they talked about brewing their own. They eventually ended up working at different jobs, but when they both came to retirement, they decided it was time to pursue that love of beer.

Not that they do the brewing at Enki. “We’re both home brewers, not commercial brewers,” Hayes says. For that, the team turned to Jason Davis, who came to Enki with 16 years of professional brewing experience. Today they generally have a rotating menu of eight beers available at the taproom and at local restaurants and bars. The two most popular are the Tail Feather IPA—“Minnesotans love IPAs,” Hayes says—and Cacao Porter, a rich, dark beer with chocolate undertones.

Some of their beer can be found at local liquor stores, but imbibers can also go straight to the source and visit the taproom, open Wednesday-Sunday, for both a brew and a tour. “Our brewery tours show people the steps, the hops, they can taste malted barley—it tastes like cereal. And they have a beer in hand as well,” Hayes says.

The taproom, housed in a 100-year-old creamery building, is a popular spot. “People start at the taproom,” Hayes says, “then they go for dinner, then come back for a nightcap. We’re on a bike path, and people bike in, even in winter.” It’s all part of Enki’s mission: to make the world a friendlier place, two beers at a time.

(Cacao Porter [in glass] with Victoria’s Gold, a cream ale, and Tail Feather IPA in bottles.)

Jonathan Lueck can’t be accused of being an underachiever. A CPA and lawyer by day who specializes in startups and entrepreneurs, he’s the impetus behind Lazy Loon Brewing at night. “You know that old advice,” Lueck says. “Don’t quit your day job until your hobby pays you.”

But as he notes, the three vocations complement each other. “I wanted to take something I love, which is beer and creativity and marketing, and do something that hadn’t been done before,” Lueck says. “I wanted to develop a brewery in a private residence.”

To do that, he needed not only a business plan (drawing on both law and accounting), but he needed a legal variance. He worked with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol Division for that variance. “I had the attention of the entire department,” he says, laughing.

They sent out an inspector who afterwards told Lueck that he’d arrived with the intention of shutting Lueck down. “But instead he passed me and said I obviously knew what I was doing,” Lueck says.

There’s no taproom, but that suits Lueck for now. “I’ve got a separate space in my home that meets all requirements,” he says. “I can develop it slow and right, and not put out a product too early. There’s no pressure to cover rent.”

He and his wife run the operation, with Lueck handling operations and brewing while his wife works on marketing and design.

He was fully licensed in August 2014 and sells through liquor stores and also as a customized product, such as weddings that ask for “bride and groom” beer pairings that have labels made for the occasion.

His flagship beers are Lazy Loon Lager, a Belgian-style lager; Cascade Lager, an amber lager named after the Cascade River; and Stormy Night, a dark porter. He’s also experimenting with aging some beers up to a year.

The ultimate goal? He’d like to expand offsite and develop it as a family business. But again, with an emphasis on slow and steady and doing it right. He’s got a champion for that concept. Rep. Erik Paulsen recently visited and told him, “Do you know how many medical device companies started in their garage?”