“Where is it?” I asked. We had parked in downtown Willmar, Minnesota and I was looking around for the brewery. It’s funny that the word downtown is used to describe both Manhattan and a town with a population of 20,000, but that’s the English language. “It’s over there.” Holli said, pointing across the street. Sure enough, a tiny Foxhole Brewhouse sign featuring a mischievous fox was set above a narrow building. “That’s a small sign.” I said. “It’s a lot bigger inside than it looks.” Brady replied, as we made our way across the street.
Like so many other breweries, Foxhole Brewhouse began its life as a homebrew setup in owner Ryan Fuch’s garage. Translate his last name and you’ll see that it’s the German word for fox, and why his original setup was called the Foxhole. The name stuck and it’s the banner that brought craft beer back to Willmar. All the way from 1899 according to their website. For those keeping track, there isn’t a person on this earth that was alive to witness that.
It’s rare I’m in Kandiyohi County on a Tuesday evening. I was visiting my friend Brady (@bradysbrews), his girlfriend Holli (@minnesotaniceart), and their friend Blake (@blakepiipke). Blake’s not only a friend, but he’s Brady’s co-host on the Brew Chat Podcast (@brewchatpodcast). They had invited me to be a guest and it was trivial to accept.
If there was a perfect place to meet someone for the first time it would be a brewery. I had met Brady and Holli at craft beer meetups, but I’d never met Blake. “I didn’t think you’d be here.” Brady said to a man sitting near the bar. “I told you I was coming down.” the man replied. It was Blake, a stout fellow with a reddish brown goatee and a backwards baseball cap with the bill turned up like a backstop. He had the sound of a rural Minnesotan, something I’m familiar with. I would confirm later that he was from the area. “What are you drinking?” I asked. “Clouded Vision.” he replied. He may be stout in stature but Blake is an IPA man at heart.
Once I confirmed they served flights I chose four beers and brought them back to the table. Brady and Holli followed soon after with their pints. “Did you get the peanut butter porter?” Blake asked Holli. “Of course she did.” Brady said. This spawned a discussion of our favorite peanut butter beers. It was the second beer in my flight – I go in order – so I rushed through the first taster, the Double J Form Oil Cream Ale. I like to start with simple styles because a good brewery should be able to nail them with their eyes closed. It was a standard cream ale, nothing special but nothing out of place either.
Then I tried the Perkins Lumber Peanut Butter Porter so I could compare it against the others we had discussed. It held up pretty well. Very sweet and peanut buttery smooth. “It tastes like a nutter butter cookie, and I love nutter butter cookies.” Blake said. There are worse things a beer can taste like; I’ll take nutter butter any day.
Let’s talk about the beer names. It was a coincidence that I chose both of the “sponsored” beers as the first two beers of the flight. But they also had logos of local businesses on their glassware. This isn’t something I’ve seen before and it’s an interesting strategy. I’m not sure about the beers themselves but I’m guessing the glassware is for monetary or reciprocal marketing reasons. If it can help keep the lights on I’m all for it, but I can’t help but think it dilutes their brand.
The taproom was bigger than it appeared from the outside. There is a handful of high tops when you walk in, an L-shaped bar that wraps around to meet the brewhouse equipment, and a row of tables flanking the bar. We sat below a large version of their logo. Green walls, exposed ceilings, chalkboard tap list, all the usual stuff done in a simple and clean way.
I ended with a Dunkelmeister and Clouded Vision. The Dunkel was a decent lager with roasted malt and a splash of bitterness on the finish. Clouded Vision was an NEIPA with some pineapple and citrus fruit notes and a pillowy mouthfeel. Nothing extraordinary but great for their first shot at the style. And it’s clear they know what they are doing, since the brewery took home two gold medals in the 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championship for their 4th Street Wheat and The Hunted Barleywine.
Sharing beers was an excellent ice breaker to get into the mood for the podcast that awaited us. Unfortunately, that meant cutting our visit short. I asked Brady if he would do the photos for this blog post. He is a man of many talents and his photography is top notch. I’m glad he agreed! Follow him on Instagram because he’s putting out some fantastic stuff. Everything photo you see on this post is his fine work.
I’ve mentioned to many people that almost every town could support a craft brewery. Willmar isn’t a smalltown but rural Minnesota can be tough on any new business. I hope I am able to visit Foxhole again because it seems that they’re doing the right things for their community. If anything, the peanut butter porter alone may be worth the drive.