Three years ago Kathleen Culhane was heading home after attending a taproom opening in Minneapolis, and she was thinking about how she’d like to work in a brewery. Then it hit her. She didn’t want to work in a brewery; she wanted to own one. Three years and many hundreds of hours of work later her dream has become reality as Sidhe Brewing Company opens it doors in St. Paul, Minnesota.
What makes Sidhe Brewery different from other craft beer breweries across the country is hinted at in its logo, the artwork hanging in the taproom, the names of the beers, and the pentacle hanging around Ms. Culhane’s neck. This brewery is owned by four very out of the broom closet Pagans.
Culhane is the founder and head brew mistress. Rosemary Kosmatka keeps the books; Robin Kinney is the secretary; and Erica Rogers handles operations. Culhane owns 52% of the brewery, while the other three partners each have a 16% interest. Not only are all four women business partners, but they also share a house and are all practicing witches.
Culhane said that it was never a consideration to hide their faith, “We’re just going to be who we are and be obvious about who we are and if people figure it out, great. And then of course City Pages called us a “Wiccan brewery” – yeah, we’re out of the broom closet now, not that we were ever really in it.”
And, that is very apparent to anyone entering the taproom. Goddess art and a large painting of a full moon by artist Aneesa Erinn Adams adorn the walls of the brightly lit, 68 seat taproom. Culhane said that the painting will change as other artists display and sell their artwork through the brewery. There’s also a stage area where musicians can perform and where open mic poetry nights can be held.The owners’ openness has already attracted a few protesters, leading up to their Grand Opening weekend. Culhane said that the group was small, and she’d be pleased to talk with them if they return.
Brewing as a Ritual
The brewery was originally called Four Elements, but was changed to Sidhe after a problem trademarking the name. The logo design, which reflects the original name and features a pentacle in the center, also shows Culhane’s theory that brewing beer is a type of ritual, “It occurred to me when I first started to think about this that there was a perfect one-to-one correspondence between a standard Wiccan ritual and brewing because you combine air with water and fire and it creates spirit. When you brew, you combine hops, yeast, and water and you make beer.”
Culhane said that, once she made that realization, the ritual she now uses to make each batch of beer practically wrote itself. Each brewing also ends with a Great Rite.
Magic isn’t just in the beer, it was built right into the brewery, “Once we got the space, we purged it and gave it a good blessing and then when I built the walls I put stones in all the corners and I welded stones into the brewery itself so they are embedded in the posts.” Her working altar, nestled in a toolbox, is visible from the taproom.Wicca also influences Culhane’s work ethic. She said that one Wiccan concept guiding her is that while doing magic to manifest Will, you must also do work in the mundane world. This work supports the magic and makes it happen.
Culhane has done the work. Not only is she the head brewer, but she has also remodeled the facility and built the brewing equipment herself. She said that she has needed to be very self-reliant because she didn’t have many monetary resources. This is also why the Sidhe brewery is the smallest in the Twin Cities. Culhane could only build what she could afford out of her own pocket, or what her partners contributed by cashing out their retirement savings.
For such a small brewery, they have a wide selection of beers on tap. Bast Kissed is a cream ale named after one of Culhane’s cats, who enjoys malted barley. Sol Victorious is a bright Mexican style lager. Hopped Up McGonigal, an IPA created at the request of a friend, is not overly bitter like many craft IPAs. Barking Cat is Belgian ale with a strong flavor and a similarly strong alcoholic kick. Greenman’s Harvest, an American nut brown ale first made for a friend’s wedding back in 1998, has a slightly caramel flavor. Dark Moon Rising, a Stout, is the darkest of all the beers offered.
The craft beer industry is highly competitive with a 24% failure rate among microbreweries, according to the Brewers Association. Therefore, it remains to be seen if Sidhe Brewing Company will be successful. They appear to have all the right ingredients for a successful brewery; owners with business experience and a willingness to put in long hours, solid beers, and an attractive taproom. Could magic be the edge needed in such a crowded market? Perhaps so.
“Brewing is magic,” said Culhane, “and I think that it makes the beer taste better.”