Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cheers to beer poems at a Minnesota brewery October 1, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.


I ADMIT, I HELD some apprehension walking toward Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield late Saturday afternoon. I was on my way there not only for some great craft beer, but also to read poetry as part of a Beer Poetry Contest.

Would beer drinkers embrace poets when they stepped up to the mic? Or would they consider them an intrusion on an otherwise kicked-back afternoon at this former National Guard armory garage?


La Crosse, Wisconsin, celebrates Oktoberfest each autumn as noted in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo taken in 2015. There are bars aplenty in this college town.


Much to my delight, the crowd that filled the expansive space and overflowed onto the patio welcomed the writers of beer poems with enthusiasm. Folks listened and laughed as poets read of the beer culture in La Crosse, of Imminent Brewing staff and beer, of the days when a quarter would buy a glass of brew and more.


For my free beer, I chose Minnesota Hop Mess, Imminent Brewing’s newest beer, made with 100 percent locally grown fresh hops. This promo postcard was lying on tables in the brewery.


A request of “free beer for life” at the end of a rhyming poem caused an uproar of laughter. We poets did not get a life-time of free beer. But we each got a free pint. Cheers.

I didn’t win the poetry contest. The top three winners were determined by audience response and input from brewery staff and Northfield’s Poet Laureate, Rob Hardy. After hearing several of the poems and noting the support some poets had, I didn’t expect to place. But that’s OK. For me this event was more about the opportunity to share my poetry, to hear other poets and to expose people to poetry in an unexpected venue.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only and not taken at Imminent Brewing.


A bonus came in meeting Joy Ganyo, an elderly poet who intended to read, but inadvertently left the piece of paper with her poem printed thereon at home. Instead, she parked her walker at a front row table, ordered a beer and listened. I introduced myself to Joy after the readings and, in our brief chat, learned that she planned to read a poem about wildflowers during the open mic time. I asked a bit about her past and she spoke with fondness of growing up in Warroad. We also shared a commonality of a journalism background. Later I would learn that Joy once owned and operated Seven Gables Books & Antiques in Northfield. To hear her read would have been, I expect, a treat.



I also enjoyed meeting Rob Hardy, Northfield’s Poet Laureate and coordinator of the Beer Poetry Contest and the Northfield Poetry Festival. Networking with other poets encourages me to continue in this craft of shaping words into works of art. Yes, even with a topic like beer.

Here’s the poem I wrote and then read at the Beer Poetry Contest. Enjoy!


Two Men, Two Beers


George settled onto the cracked vinyl bar stool,
cocked his seed corn cap and ordered a cold one,
harvest done,
corn brimming bins,
a big fat check widening his worn wallet.


Across the street, Stephen slid onto a shiny stool,
ran a hand through his hair and ordered an IPA,
conference done,
files brimming computer,
credit card pressed into his slim back pocket.


Back at the bar, George asked for a burger
and a side order of onion rings,
brushed the bee’s wings from his bibs
and waited while the TV blared
and the bartender slid a rag down the bar.


At the brewpub, Stephen signaled the server,
ordered a pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato fries,
brushed dog hair from his jeans
and waited while the guitarist strummed
and the bartender poured flights.


George eased the neck of the brown bottle to his lips,
drank deep, content as a cow chewing cud
with his brand-name beer.
He glanced out the window, saw his son sipping beer,
tipped his bottle to the beer snob.



FYI: Click here to read the Northfield Poet Laureate’s Facebook page, which includes a photo of me reading “Two Men, Two Beers.”


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Special thanks to blogger friend Valerie and her husband, Gary, for joining Randy and me at Imminent Brewing. I appreciate your support.


In Northfield: Have a beer, hear a poem September 28, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.


I’VE READ MY POETRY ALOUD in an historic theatre, a church, an art gallery, a lake cabin, a library, a civic center meeting room, a golf club and outdoors next to a history center and in a town square. But I’ve never read at a brewery. That will change on Saturday when I participate in the Beer Poetry Contest at Imminent Brewing as part of Northfield Poetry Festival 2017.


A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I’m excited to read at this new venue on a subject—beer—I’ve not covered in past poems. I wondered if I was up to the writing challenge given my limited beer knowledge. Sure, I like craft beer and enjoy checking out craft breweries. But could I craft a poem about beer?


Taps at F-Town Brewing in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Once I sat down at the computer, words flowed like beer from a tap into a poem that is my signature down-to-earth style. And, no, I can’t pour my beer poem onto these pages. My poem releases Saturday at Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield. And, yes, there are prizes on the line, including a growler of beer, for the winning poets selected by brewery patrons.



I love how Northfield embraces poetry from poems imprinted in sidewalks to the naming of Rob Hardy as the city’s Poet Laureate to this Poetry Festival. Prior to the brewery poetry readings (which include an open mic), area poets will read and sign books at 10:30 a.m. at Content Bookstore. And then at 1 p.m., the Northfield Public Library hosts a Youth Poetry Reading and Performance.

Youth between the ages of 18 – 20 can also participate in the 2017 Sidewalk Poetry Scavenger Hunt with a 1 p.m. Saturday, September 30, contest deadline. Click here for details.


Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s collection this year.


Even if you think you hate poetry—and I realize plenty of people still consider poetry stuffy stuff written by intellectuals who can’t relate to the common man/woman—I’d encourage you to approach poetry with an open mind. Poetry has, in many ways, changed. Not the basics of good tight writing that emerge from a poet’s soul. But the accessibility of it. You can find a poet you like, words with which you can connect. Words that move you, make you laugh, make you think, make you cry. Even in your beer.


FYI: Join me, other poets, craft beer lovers and my husband for an open mic poetry reading from 4 – 6 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Imminent Brewing, 519 Division Street, South Unit 2, Northfield. Cheers. Please drink responsibly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Loving the settings & beer at these greater Minnesota breweries July 14, 2017

A flight of craft beer from F-Town Brewing in my community of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


FIVE YEARS AGO if anyone had suggested I would drink (and like) craft beer, I would have laughed. I was only the occasional have-a-beer-with-your-pizza or on a hot summer evening type of beer drinker. And at that, I drank whatever mass produced beer the husband had stocked in the fridge.

How my tastes have changed. I can no longer drink beer that flows by the gallons into bottles or cans inside a sprawling factory. Those beers taste like water to me. Rather, I’ve become a beer snob, preferring hoppy IPAs crafted at small breweries.

I’ll be the first to tell you my preference for craft beer developed over time as an acquired taste. But once acquired, I was hooked, enough so that I, along with my husband, seek out craft breweries. These specialty businesses are an experience, not just a place to try new beers.


Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minnesota.


Two recent road trips took us to Reads Landing Brewing Company (between Lake City and Wabasha) and to Imminent Brewing Company. They are distinctly different breweries, but both with excellent beer. And I don’t say that about every craft beer.

We almost missed the Reads Landing establishment in the same named unincorporated community along U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota. The brewery sits at the base of a hillside, a train track away from the Mississippi River. Housed inside an historic 1870 former dry goods store, the setting hearkens to bygone days. As an appreciator of old buildings, I delighted in the location and the wide window view of the Mississippi.


Randy and I shared a sampler flight of Reads Landing beer.


With the exception of slow service on a weekday afternoon when the place wasn’t overly busy, I rate Reads Landing Brewing highly. Randy and I settled onto high chairs at the front window for a perfect view of the river and a slow moving train. Then we waited and waited until the bartender/waiter finally got off the phone, noticed us and then made excuses for his lack of attention. Thankfully, the house-made beers in the sampler flight and accompanying Bavarian Style Soft Pretzel Sticks with homemade beer cheese and mustard dipping sauces compensated for the inattention and left us with a mostly good impression of this brewpub.

Of special note is the Cap’n Amber beer, a beer into which Cap’n Crunch cereal is incorporated in the mash. All of the beers were to our liking; we’d recommend this beer and brewery.


The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota.


Farther inland to the north and east in the riverside college town of Northfield, we checked out the recently-opened Imminent Brewing. I love this place, declaring to Randy that this was my absolute favorite brewery. Located in a former National Guard Armory garage, the brewery has an industrial look and a welcoming vibe. There’s just something about this place that seems particularly comfortable for anyone from a blue collar worker to a college professor.

The brewery also features an expansive patio. And, bonus, food trucks. On this particular weekday evening, Randy and I enjoyed arepas from Noris Cuisine. We didn’t stick around for the live music.

We shared a flight sampler of simply superb craft beers. We’ll be back, given the location some 15 miles from our home.

And we’ll be checking out Tanzenwald, the other new brewery in Northfield, sometime soon.

TELL ME: Do you drink craft beer and/or visit craft breweries? Share your favorites.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault welcomes F-town Brewing Company July 30, 2015

A logo on the taproom wall, which opens to a street-side patio. To the left in the photo, up the hill, is Central Avenue. That

The taproom, right, opens to a street-side fenced patio. To the left, up the hill, lies Central Avenue, the main street through Faribault’s historic business district. F-Town encourages patrons to order carry-out at local restaurants and bring the food to the brewery to enjoy with beer.

ONE OF MINNESOTA’S newest craft breweries, F-Town Brewing Company, has opened in the heart of historic downtown Faribault, in a community with a rich beer history. The Fleckenstein family brewed Fleck’s beer and other beverages here for 108 years, until 1964.

An overview of the Peterson building which houses architectural salvage and antiques, left, with the brewery on the left.

An overview of the Peterson Art Furniture building which houses architectural salvage and antiques, right, with the brewery on the left.

Now locals Noah Strouth, Chris Voegele and Travis Temke have brought beer back to Faribault, housing their operation in a section of the aged Peterson Art Furniture Co. complex with the taproom in an adjoining converted garage space.

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A snippet photo of the F-Town flight staged on the brewery’s signature orange picnic table.

F-Town has proven a popular gathering spot for craft beer lovers since opening about a month ago. Saturday evening my husband and I stopped by for the first time, purposely allowing the initial hoopla to settle. We ordered a $12 flight—a sampling of six beers ranging from the FlexLess light lager to the robust Nutso which tasted of coffee to me.

The beers included in our flight.

The beers included in our flight.

I was hard-pressed to choose a favorite. But Randy picked FlexLess without a second thought. He found it the most similar to mass-produced beers, which can be a good thing or not, depending on the type of beer you like. He prefers a less hoppy taste. I wondered about that name, FlexLess, and the similarity to the historic Fleck’s name. The founders of F-Town early on hoped to bottle Fleck’s branded beer at a brewery they initially named Patriot’s Brewing. That all changed following legal and trademark issues.

A block from F-Town, you'll find a mural honoring Fleck's beer.

A block from F-Town, you’ll find a mural honoring Fleck’s beer, once brewed in Faribault.

Eventually, the brewery became F-Town with beers bearing monikers like #1 American (there’s that patriotism), Ipalicious (an IPA) and We’ve Gone Plaid (a Scottish ale). The beers (only Ipalicious and Nutso at this point) are sold in cans, not bottles, a disappointment since I think craft beer should be bottled. But my son-in-law noted that cans are becoming a more common choice for craft breweries, including at the wildly popular Surly Brewing Co. I have yet to purchase F-Town beer off-sale as the one time I tried, the liquor store was sold out. The beer is being distributed only locally, for now, by College City Beverage.

In this photo, you see the door into the taproom and the patio.

In this photo, you see the door into the taproom and then the patio.

About that brewery name. I’ve heard mixed reviews. Some dislike that the “f-word” pops into your head upon hearing F-Town. But, on the positive side, the name is short and memorable and connects to the town name, Faribault with an “F,”  and purposely or not to the long-ago Fleckenstein breweries, also with an “F,” at least in my mind.

The taps.

The taps.

F-Town's IPA beer, Ipalicious.

F-Town’s IPA beer, Ipalicious.

I’ll admit, though, I’m not impressed by the wild-faced creature graphics for the Ipalicious and Nutso beers, the two F-Town beers currently canned and retailed. I was expecting art and beer names reflective of our historic community, local heritage, geographic setting and/or even the historic former furniture building in which the brewery is housed. I’m sure much thought was put in to both. But I am not making the strong connection to Faribault with the choices. I hope that changes.

Here's where the beer is made, just down the steps from the taproom.

Here’s where the beer is made, just down the steps from the taproom.

Words matter. A guy drinking beer next to my husband and me at F-Town pegged us as “beer hippies,” folks who apparently wander about checking out craft breweries. We’re not hippie anything other than coming of age in the early 1970s. He assessed us as such after I asked if he’d been to Montgomery Brewing in neighboring Montgomery. He hasn’t. We haven’t. We’ve only ever visited August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. And now F-Town, new on the Minnesota craft brewery scene and right here in the heart of historic Faribault.

Except for the sidewalk flag, there's no identifying  exterior street-side signage on F-Town Brewing. It's needed and perhaps it's coming. The garage doors are opened, if the weather is nice, when the taproom is open.

Except for the sidewalk flag, there’s no identifying exterior street-side signage on F-Town Brewing. It’s needed. Perhaps it’s coming.

FYI: The F-Town Brewing Company taproom is open from 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; from 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. Fridays; from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; and from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Tours are available at 3 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday.

The brewery is located at 22 Fourth Street Northeast/Minnesota State Highway 60, just half a block off Central Avenue.


The scene at eye level of the historic Peterson Art Furniture. Plan time to explore this multi-level complex stuffed with antiques and collectibles and architectural salvage.

This is an eye level scene of the Peterson Art Furniture Company building from the F-Town patio. Therein you will find 25,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles, architectural salvage, lighting, furniture and more. Plan time to explore this multi-level complex. Faribault has a rich history of furniture makers.

Another perspective of our flight.

Another perspective of our flight.

When you're sipping on the patio, don't miss this mural of iceskaters on the Straight River.

When you’re sipping on the patio, don’t miss this mural of iceskaters on the Straight River.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: Faribault brewers February 6, 2015

Portrait #6:  Brewers Chris Voegele and Noah Strouth


Chris and Noah, Patriot's Brewing 2013


Two years ago, they were just two friends who planned to open a brewery. That’s when I photographed Chris Voegele, left, and Noah Strouth in a section of the historic Peterson Art Furniture Company complex in Faribault’s historic downtown. They were hard at work then cleaning and fixing the aged space.

Today Chris and Noah are still two guys who want to open a brewery.

But now they’ve been joined by Travis Temke in F-Town Brewing Company, a microbrewery that will produce craft beer with local ingredients.

Same town. Same building. Different name. F-Town instead of Patriot’s.

That name change seems more reflective of the hometown pride exhibited by Chris and Noah, 1990 graduates of Faribault High School.

With funding in place, the brewery appears closer to reality. I, for one, am excited about a microbrewery opening in Faribault. I think it will be a great fit for our historic, mostly blue collar, community.


This portrait is part of the “Minnesota Faces” series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Patriot’s Brewing Company opening in Faribault with a nod to the past February 16, 2013

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO I overheard several antique dealers discussing a brewery in Faribault. I lingered nearby, feigning interest in merchandise so I could eavesdrop. With tidbits of information filed in my memory, I meandered farther into the Peterson Art Furniture Company complex.

There I spotted Northfield attorney, historic preservationist, and Peterson building and architectural salvage business owner David Hvistendahl eating lunch. Perfect timing. “What’s this about a brewery coming to Faribault?” I asked.

Chris Voegele , left, and Noah Strouth, owners of Patriot's Brewing Company

Chris Voegele , left, and Noah Strouth, owners of Patriot’s Brewing Company.

And thus I was introduced to Patriot’s Brewing Company, a Faribault-based regional brewery slated to open this fall, according to owners Noah Strouth, 40, and Chris Voegele, 41. Saturday morning I met with these longtime friends and 1990 Faribault High School graduates to learn more about their craft beer business. Up until then, I’d been asked not to publicly divulge news about the brewery.

The brewery will be housed in the lower level of the brick building on the left with a tap room opening later in the small white building in the center of the Peterson Art Furniture complex.

The brewery will be housed in the lower level of the brick building on the left with a tap room opening later in the small white building in the front of the Peterson Art Furniture complex.

But word had gotten around town and the time seemed right to share their plans for the brewery which will be housed in a 3,250 square foot basement section in the southwest corner of the former Peterson Art Furniture Company (before that home to the Faribault Furniture Company) building along Fourth Street in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

David Hvistendahl, from whom Patriot's is renting space for the brewery, sports a Fleck's beer t-shirt. A line of Fleck's Hvistendahl and a partner plan to eventually open an event center int he space above the brewery.

David Hvistendahl, from whom Patriot’s is renting space for the brewery, sports a Fleck’s beer t-shirt. Fleck’s branded clothing will soon be available for purchase through Patriot’s Brewing. Hvistendahl and a partner plan to eventually open an event center in the space above the brewery.

For the first time since 1964, when Fleckenstein Brewery closed, Faribault will have its own brewery, and one which will brew Fleck’s labeled bock and lagers. Patriot’s Brewing has trademarked the Fleck’s name, which had been left in the public domain, Voegele said.

“People in Faribault seem to like their history,” Voegele said, both he and Strouth emphasizing the name recognition and importance of Fleck’s beer in Faribault history.

They’ve even talked to locals who drank Fleck’s beer to learn more about the taste, something they hope to re-create in a Fleck’s lager. The recipes died with Ernst “Boots” Fleckenstein, the last brewmaster, Voegele said. The pair has also considered the historic grains and the water at the time (the brewery drew its water from an artesian well) the popular Faribault beer was produced. They’ll never exactly replicate Fleck’s, especially since they cannot re-create the yeast strain (of major importance in the brewing process), but they will try, the two say.

The brewery space.

The brewery space.

“Everything is in motion,” said Voegele as he and Strouth stood in the sprawling brewery space defined by rugged stone walls of local gray quarry stone and by thick support posts. The former storage area has been cleared and the two are working on the infrastructure with projects like tuckpointing and reinstalling the original windows in the 1886 building. Additional water and sewer lines are set for June installation during a street reconstruction project.

The walls are constructed from locally quarried stone.

The walls, constructed from locally quarried stone, will be tuckpointed.

They hope to begin brewing in the fall, starting with 80-100 barrels a month, producing one or two beers initially in their 25-barrel brewhouse. Each barrel holds 31 gallons. A Fleck’s branded lager will be among their first beers.

Strouth and Voegele are no novices at beer brewing, For five years already they’ve brewed beer in a small scale mini brewery in the basement of Strouth’s rural Faribault home. They can produce about 16 gallons and will use the same operating system in the brewery, only on a much larger scale.

They are, they agree, passionate about brewing beer, bringing their home-brewed beers to taste testers at local beer clubs and to area craft beer competitions. In 2012, their beer earned four first place ribbons at the Rice County Fair.

“We make beer that we like to drink,” Strouth said. “And people seem to like our beer.”

Patriot’s Brewing already has created recipes for five beers: #1 American Pale Ale, IPA Olicious (an India Pale Ale), Nutso (a nut brown ale), Stouty McStouterton (an oatmeal stout) and Fleck’s bock (a helles bock). The brewers are also working on lagers.

“We have a high appreciation for fine beer,” Voegele said, admitting it took awhile, though, for his beer palate to develop.

This view looks toward the  steps leading to the future tap room.

This view looks toward the steps leading to the future tap room. Only beer, and not food, will be served here.

While Patriot’s Brewing aims for regional distribution of its beer within a 60-mile radius of Faribault, the brewery is also relying on strong community support. As the business grows, plans call for opening of a tap room just up a set of steps from the brewery in a garage space occupied by Color My World. Voegele envisions a little bar with tables and chairs in an old style atmosphere in the cement-walled space. The pair plan to incorporate Fleckenstein Brewery/Fleck’s beer memorabilia into the tap room.

And then, as the business grows even more, the two hope to move the tap room elsewhere and use that vacated space for a grain room.

The ceiling of the historic building in the brewery area.

The ceiling of the historic building in the brewery area.

Eventually, they hope to offer brewery tours.

But that’s all in the future, after the brewery is established and sales are going strong. For now, Strouth and Voegele are concentrating on getting the brewery up and running while keeping their day jobs. Strouth works as a welder and fabricator at Lockerby Sheet Metal. Voegele teaches biology 105 at Minnesota State University, Mankato, works as an emergency medical technician in St. Peter and farms part-time in rural Morristown.

As they grow their regional brewery, they also plan to add employees.

Chris Voegele and Noah Strouth are grounded in Faribault, their hometown.

Chris Voegele and Noah Strouth are grounded in Faribault, their hometown.

They are committed to Faribault, to its rich history. “Our roots are in Faribault,” Voegele said.

They are also committed to using American made/grown products—from equipment to hops to bottles—whenever possible in their business.

Noah Strouth's nephew, Alex Strouth, a senior at Northfield High School, created the patriotic themed company logo.

Noah Strouth’s nephew, Alex Strouth, a senior at Northfield High School, created the patriotic themed company logo.

That sense of American pride explains the company name—Patriot’s Brewing Company. “We believe in America…promoting American businesses, the feeling of Americanism, pride in country,” Voegele said.

And although Voegele did not specifically state it, he and Strouth are now living the American dream in starting their own business, Patriot’s Brewing Company.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling