They say an elephant drinks a bathtub full of water every day. That’s a lot of suds! Last week at the Republican National Convention, another kind of elephant enjoyed another kind of suds.
Fernson Brewing Company of Sioux Falls was selected to exclusively serve its beer at the House Of Blues in downtown Cleveland in conjunction with the 2016 GOP gathering. Convention-goers were invited to a three-day party complete with concerts, food, and of course, great beer. The 200 cases and 40 kegs of beer – primarily, Farmhouse Ale and India Pale Ale (IPA)- were poured for thousands of customers. Not bad for a company whose Grand Opening was just last February.
Derek Fernholz, a native of Milbank and owner and brewer at Fernson Brewing, said it all came about because of a pheasant. Derek and his partner, Blake Thompson, met Jeff Kimbell of Magnum Entertainment Group, Inc. of Washington, D.C., last fall while Kimbell was in South Dakota pheasant hunting. “He liked our beer and the atmosphere at our taprooms. He and his company, Magnum Entertainment are known across the country for corporate and political events and he offered to put us in the running to showcase our beer during the convention.”
When Kimbell called Derek and Blake in December to tell them they made the cut, the duo rolled up their sleeves and started working. They brewed and canned and eventually shipped 200 cases and 40 kegs to Cleveland and showed up to pour it. It was an unusual opportunity for an unusual company.
The brewers say they founded their business on one simple idea. “Beer brings people together and is often central to events. Some of the most interesting conversations take place at gatherings that involve beer.”
The company, which opened in 2015, began by distributing and canning its beer and then opened two taprooms in Sioux Falls. “We can 12-ounce six-packs of our most popular beers – Farmhouse Ale and IPA.” Fernson is one of only 14 breweries in South Dakota of which only two can their own product.
According to Fernholz, Fernson beer has a unique flavor profile. “We use other brewers as inspiration, but do not imitate anyone. We create each beer to our own taste.” They feature a full line-up from a blonde ale to a porter and their latest called Lions Paw Lager. Derek prefers the company’s newest flavor or whatever is most in season. “This summer I am into our wheat beer which has a refreshingly tart taste.”
Fernson brews about 4500 barrels a year or roughly 142,000 gallons. Earlier this summer, they purchased two additional 60-barrel fermenters for their arsenal which gives them a 300-barrel fermentation capacity. Fernholz said, “Expanding and adding more fermenters is a testament to the craft beer movement in this region. We got here quicker than most; we were fortunate to have a lot of serendipitous moments along the way.”
Derek’s mother, Karla, said his appetite for figuring things out started long before he was of legal age to drink beer. Karla, who owns Triple Dip Lodge in Milbank, said he was always taking things apart and experimenting at a young age. “He wanted to know how things worked and explored different ways of doing things. He was kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
Dan, Derek’s dad, said Derek took some college courses related to brewing and even did some beer judging while attending Dakota State in Madison. “He always had an engineering mind, but we didn’t know his interest in beer would become a large scale venture.”
Karla added, “We were surprised he made brewing beer his career, but Derek and Blake are both very hard workers. They put 110% into it.” Even the brand Fernson is a combination of their two surnames.
Derek and Blake agree they love going to work. Derek said his goal is to make as much beer as people in this region can drink. “Beer makes people happy, and we like making things that make people happy.”