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New Thief River Falls brewery serves craft beer with a local focus

The new Thief River Falls craft brewery, overlooking the Red Lake River and a nearby railway trestle, opened on Wednesday, June 15.

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Jonny and Nellie Artmann and Anton and Melora Bergee met when their daughters were in preschool together. They now own Rivers and Rails Brewing Company in Thief River Falls together.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald
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THIEF RIVER FALLS — From the malt in the beer to the wood planks in the bar, Rivers and Rails Brewing Company was created with a local focus. Owners Anton and Melora Bergee and Nellie and Jonny Artman are hoping the brewery will be a space that will draw the local community of Thief River Falls to gather, connect and drink good beer.

Inside, the brewery is decorated with historical pictures of Thief River Falls. Melora pointed to one photo near the bar that depicted the banks of the Red Lake River lined by boats in the 1970s.

“We don’t see that anymore, so we want to bring that sense of community back in, to liven up the river and to bring people together,” she said.

The new Thief River Falls craft brewery, overlooking the Red Lake River and a nearby railway trestle, opened on Wednesday, June 15.

Anton, Melora, Nellie and Jonny met through their children. Both couples have two daughters, and after meeting each other at their daughters’ preschool, became friends.

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“And Jonny made beer and I drank beer, so I came along for the ride,” said Anton.

The group’s blend of experiences and strengths worked out well to run a brewery together, said Jonny. Anton has business experience, Melora has restaurant experience, Nellie is a people person and Jonny brews.

“We all have our own little quirks that kind of make it work,” said Jonny.

The brewery serves between six and 10 seasonal, in-house brews at any given time, as well as non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and Papa Murphy’s pizza. Currently, there are seven different beers that will be on tap, all with names related to rivers or railways, thought up by Jonny and Melora, like the Stack Train Juicy and Eddy RyePA.

The malt used to make the beer is from Vertical Malt in Crookston , where the business’s president Adam Wagner grows and malts grain.

“We can trace our ingredients all the way to the plot, which isn’t very common because most maltsters are sourcing from other farms,” said Jonny, who serves as the head brewer.

He estimates 80% of the ingredients used to make Rivers and Rails beer are sourced within a 60-mile radius of the brewery.

Jonny Artmann explains the brewing process in the brewhouse at Rivers and Rails Brewing Company.
Jonny Artmann, head brewer, explains the brewing process in the brewhouse at Rivers and Rails Brewing Company.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald

The owners bought the downtown building and brewing equipment late in 2019, and originally hoped to open in fall 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, they continued to make progress on the brewery, but had to slow down due to the uncertainty of when they could open and difficulty finding contractors for construction needs.

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Though the brewery opened much later than expected, Anton, Melora, Nellie and Jonny all agree the extra time was beneficial to their business.

“I think it helped us slow down on the process to really make it what we wanted and to get this vision,” said Melora.

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Much of the work in the brewery they did themselves, and many of the materials were sourced locally. The tables in the taproom were made by Melora’s father and Jonny, the planks making up the bar were milled in Thief River Falls and the tap handles were custom made.

“Almost everything is custom — you can’t get it anywhere else,” said Jonny.

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Jonny Artmann serves a flight of in-house beer. The plank that holds the flight, like many things in the brewery, was made locally.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald

Located in downtown Thief River Falls, right next to the river and a bike path, Rivers and Rails is accessible by car, bike and foot. In the future, they hope to add a dock so anybody floating by on the Red Lake River can stop by too.

Nellie envisions Rivers and Rails as a place where everybody in Thief River Falls can relax, slow down and hang out. The brewery is family friendly, with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and has a towering bookcase of board games for guests to play.

“We’re all kind of competitive and nerdy when it comes to board games, so we want that environment,” said Nellie. “We want people to be able to put away their phones.”

The brewery also has no televisions, which means no Sunday football, but more opportunity to connect with one another.

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“We wanted to create that experience where there’s beer and family, conversation, a fun atmosphere, and there’s nothing else like it in town,” said Jonny.

Moving forward, Melora plans to use the space to host events, like beer yoga on the deck, cornhole and kubb tournaments, live music and book signings.

“We have so many different ideas, so the first couple of weeks we’re just going to get open and see what we’re capable of,” said Melora.

On June 9, Melora, Anton, Jonny and Nellie held a soft opening of the brewery to test the waters, pinpoint any problems and give staff a chance to practice. While the owners were nervous about opening their doors for the first time, they were happy to see people using the space that was years in the making.

“We built a lot of this ourselves,” said Jonny. “We’ve had a lot of help from contractors, but to actually see people enjoying our creation is probably the most satisfying feeling.”

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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