Don Kenna’s first beer was just like everyone else’s: a horrendously cheap brand, squirreled away to the home of a high school classmate whose parents had trusted them alone, and gulped down guiltily. He didn’t like his first beer a bit, but rather than commit social hari-kari, he pretended that he did. Fortunately for us, Don eventually acquired a taste for it.
Don’s interest in beer would stay solely amateur for a while. Working as a high school science teacher demands that beer take the back seat to several other things. It wasn’t until a friend invited Don over to help him brew beer in his garage that Don caught the bug. Home brewing appealed to the scientist in Don, and before long the laws of good society demanded that Don buy his own home brewing equipment rather than abscond with his friend’s every other weekend.
Soon Don’s wife reclaimed her kitchen and relocated the scientist to his new lab, aka the basement. It was in this crucible that Don got really serious about brewing, realizing that it was as much an art as it was science. “I became taken with first imagining a finished beer, thinking it down into its component parts, and figuring out the process to brew it,” said Don. “To most people, beer is just a product that they buy, but I wanted to know how beer gets the way that it is. It wasn’t just magic, it was the result of chemical reactions that I could master.”
Funny thing is, it was Don’s teaching job that led him to realize he wanted to brew beer full-time. He was preparing a curriculum to help his students identify their career goals, asking them what they would do if money didn’t matter. Don practiced the question on himself, and he had a revelation: For him, it wasn’t being a teacher. It was the far more philanthropic job of brewing beer. He couldn’t very well join that newly realized passion with his current line of work, because the PTA throws fits when teenagers are taught how to make beer, so Don left to found Prairie Brothers Brewing Company.
Don upgraded from his basement to a full-scale brewery by Anderson Park at 4474 23rd Ave S in Fargo and started Prairie Brothers with two goals in mind. First, to respect that we haven’t made beer for thousands of years without knowing what we’re doing by now. Don wanted to rely on time-honored brewing traditions to make real, earnest beer, not stuff floated by gimmicks and mystery ingredients. Second, Don wanted to get everyone to love craft beer. He’d earned his wings with his wife in that pursuit, who had only liked light beer until she tried his Dreamer Cream Ale (now the lightest craft beer in Fargo). Showing people that small batch beer is better than mass-produced, no matter their tastes, would bring him the greatest following.
“We have complex beers for even the most meticulous craft beer connoisseur,” explained Don. “We also have accessible beers for grandpa, who has only had domestic and is convinced that craft beer is just hipster nonsense.”
Don certainly has got beer. He has Duck Slayer Session IPA, triple hopped and dry finished with lasting citrus bitterness. He has Steer Head Pale Ale, light and clean with amazing clarity and a smooth mouth feel. He even has Coco Boingo Chocolate Milk Stout, which he named while he was drunk. True to the mission, Don’s beer is for everyone.
Prairie Brothers’ taproom is naturally lit, airy, and commanded by the brewery’s towering steel fermentation tanks, showing patrons that the beer they’re drinking has only traveled about ten feet in its lifetime. A long shiny bar made from cedar and oak lets Don practice his Western-style pint slides to distant targets. A projection TV the size of all creation means enormous sports nights, and because it is a bar there is a pool table, darts, and cornhole.
Prairie Brothers’ beer is now available around town at 15 other bars, liquor stores, and restaurants including The Boiler Room, Wild Bill’s Sports Saloon, and LongHorn Steakhouse. They are enterprising with a new canning line, and they’re eyeing the Perham area for their inaugural expansion. We had all best do our parts to support the Fargo brewing scene and drink lots of local beer. It is a noble sacrifice to make.
By David Scheller