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How a Small St. Paul Brewery Became Part of a Groundbreaking Patagonia Collab

Bang Brewing is one of 11 U.S. breweries, including Allagash and Sierra Nevada, that's brewing crisp Kernza Lager.

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“Where this can lead… the potential for demand for organics, and support for that level of farming, it’s just a dream,” says Bang Brewing’s Sandy Boss Febbo.

In the decade since Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo opened Bang Brewing Co., Minnesota's first organic brewery, they haven't sent out a press release.

Not when the couple opened their 10-barrel St. Paul brewery in 2013, nor a few years later, when their outdoor patio opened. Not in 2019, when I tagged along with beer writer Jerard Fagerberg to report a City Pages story about the small but growing trend of organic alcohol production. Heck, Bang didn't even have a website for their first few years, and they don't advertise, either.

So imagine my surprise, in late June, when a release from Bang Brewing appeared in my inbox. The news was big enough to warrant it: Bang Brewing was one of just 11 breweries around the U.S. that had been selected for a partnership with Patagonia Provisions—the newish food arm of outdoor retail giant Patagonia—in which they'd brew lager-style beers with organic-certified Kernza grains plus other organic ingredients.

"It definitely felt like it was worthwhile, Sandy laughs, regarding the timing of this rare release. "For sure."

Kernza is a perennial grain that's better for soil health than other annual grains like wheat, for example. Developed by ag nonprofit the Land Institute with help from the University of Minnesota, the sustainable, local grain is deeply rooted and efficiently uses water and other nutrients. The hope is that it could revolutionize farming in the Upper Midwest; collaborations like this one, between Patagonia Provisions and breweries around the country, are part of the plan to make that happen.

Sandy says that the Boss Febbos have been fans of Patagonia's for a long time. Back in 2013—months before Bang Brewing opened its doors—the couple stopped by a book signing for The Responsible Company, the business book from Patagonia founder/owner Yvon Chouinard and longtime employee Vincent Stanley. There, they met Stanley, who mentioned, in the offhand manner of a guy signing dozens of books for fans, that Chouinard was really into beer. Maybe one day, he mused, Patagonia and Bang Brewing would work together.

Patagonia did enter the beer space in 2016, as part of its Patagonia Provisions division, with Long Root Ale. Brewed in collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, Oregon, Long Root Ale was the first commercially available beer made with Kernza. By the following year, Bang Brewing got the chance to try out the new grain themselves, and they've been brewing with Kernza ever since, from a Kernza Blonde Ale they created for the Land Institute's annual Kernza Conference gathering to SIPA, a sparkling IPA that's part of their Perennial Percent series of beers with just 1% Kernza in the grain bill.

Sandy says they've been running "in parallel lanes" ever since with the beer team at Patagonia—who, incredibly, are the ones who reached out in January about the Kernza collab. "It's just incredible, they found us," she says, marveling that they were hand-picked out of the 9,200 craft breweries in country.

The list of participating breweries includes Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine, Odell Brewing Co. in Colorado, and California's Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.—all of them household names, absolute titans in the industry.

Then there's Bang Brewing, which serves beer out of a St. Paul grain bin-turned-brewing, and whose brews are only available at around a dozen area liquor stores and on tap at fewer than 10 Twin Cities bars and restaurants.

"We are by far the smallest," Sandy laughs. "There's no question about it." She says the folks at Patagonia Provisions have embraced their size and scale, and that they see Bang Brewing as an example of what's possible if we invest in organic brewing practices. "I think for them, it also represents that if we're able to find a way to make this work at our scale, with the margins that we're operating with, then it's possible for anybody," she adds.

Sandy reports that it has been thrilling to work with Patagonia and the other breweries around on this groundbreaking initiative. "Some of them are working with organics for the first time too, and embracing it, and just releasing knockout beers in all these different markets," she says. It correlates perfectly with the way they manage their business: an emphasis on individual actions affecting change "one beer at a time."

Beyond the altruistic implications, it's fun for her to teach beer drinkers about Kernza. Hops dominate the conversation when we talk about beer styles and flavor profiles, and folks who see it on their tap list often ask if Kernza is a hop. Her response is always to educate: "We're gonna talk small-grain agriculture for a bit, hang on..." she chuckles.

You can get Kernza Lager in the Bang Brewing taproom (2320 Capp Rd.,
St. Paul) right now—"It's flying, but we still have it," Sandy says—and they're working to brew more. Eventually, she hopes they'll be able to do another collaborative release in a different style, really showing the range and versatility of Kernza in beer. In other words: This is only the beginning.

"Way more acreage is planted in this country in small grains than produce," Sandy notes, though the perception of "organic" is still a juicy red tomato or a carton of berries. "Where this can lead... the potential for demand for organics, and support for that level of farming, it's just a dream."

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