Mike Frohlich, Co-founder and Brewmaster, Laughing Sun Brewing Co.
The Bismarck area of North Dakota hasn’t had a locally produced beer for about 10 years, since the Rattlesnake Creek Brewery closed its doors. Mike Frohlich, a former brewer at Rattlesnake, spent those years homebrewing … and writing his business plan. In early October, Frohlich and his longtime friend and business partner, Todd Sattler, will open the third brewing operation in the state, restoring local beer to south-central North Dakota (not that others haven’t tried—Edwinton Brewing Co. was thwarted by federal regulations in 2011). Between his job at the state’s historical society, being a father to his 7-year-old son and brewing Laughing Sun’s six regular beers, Frohlich has his hands full—but as long as his brewpub is profitable, he says, “Life is good.”
You said Bismarck is just starting to get big-name craft beers on shelves. Will you tailor your beers to locals who haven’t developed a taste for craft yet?
I’m not going to make a beer that I don’t like to drink, so we’re going to make a range of styles that go from light to dark, but I’m not going to compromise the beers to try to appeal to more people. … We’re going to really make some good beers, and I think there’s enough people in town that are going to drink them.
What role do you see Laughing Sun playing in the community?
We haven’t even done anything yet, and we’ve got a great following. The city is really behind us. … We’re providing the local option—I love that idea. … It’s not going to be New Belgium’s Ranger, and it’s not going to be Southern Tier’s [IPA’s]—it’s going to be completely different. We’re going to bring some fresh, quality ale here, and I’ll stack it up against anybody’s.
You ran twice as a Democrat in the state representative race. Have you gotten involved in any of North Dakota’s beer-related legislation?
The last session, in 2011, there was a domestic brewery bill—they had passed a domestic winery bill and the guy that did that wanted to create a domestic brewery bill. But he doesn’t know anything about it. He just thought he should do it to do it. But there really aren’t any domestic breweries, there’s no commercial hop growers here, there are people that grow malt barley—we’re the breadbasket of the world for agriculture—but there’s not a lot. … So I went in and tried to get an amendment to the bill to discuss the self-distribution and try to get that opened up. But that went nowhere. I was the only one testifying against the whole distributorship lobby group. …
This session coming up, I would like to introduce that again, but I think I need a little bit more support and footing in the community before I go do that. But what I would like to introduce this session is the Michigan law that allowed homebrewers to come in and have their meetings at my facility without causing me to lose my liquor liability license, and I would love to do that because I’m part of a homebrew club here in town. We would love to be able to have their members come in and sit down and have a meeting there, and bring their own beers in and sample them, and we could give them some beer. That’d be awesome. … I’d like to bring something like that to North Dakota. And eventually, I would like to discuss self-distribution. I’d like to be able to sell a keg of beer to the bar across the street without having to go to McQuade [Distributing Co.]. I mean, McQuade is great … but if we distributed every keg that we made, we’re going to be, like, 1 percent of their business or less. So, I don’t think we’re gonna hurt them at all. ■