First there was Fargo, the movie. Now there's Fargo, the beer.
Four native sons are hoping that the name recognition generated from the 15-year-old Coen brothers flick will help launch their fledgling brewing company in North Dakota's largest city. Their first beer is called Wood Chipper, a whimsical reference to the famous prop from the movie.
"We probably won't go with that sort of tongue-in-cheek movie reference for all of our beers," said Chris Anderson, brew master of the Fargo Beer Co. "We just thought it was just a great way to start out."
The name Wood Chipper also rolls off the tongue, Anderson noted — so it's easy to order.
The official first tap of the India Pale Ale came during a kickoff party Wednesday at the popular HoDo bar in downtown Fargo, about a block from a 19-story hotel that on Thursday will serve as a giant screen for the movie "Fargo" during a celebration known as Fargo Fest. To top it off, the second annual Fargo Beer Festival is scheduled Friday.
The back-to-back-to-back Fargo parties are a coincidence, but the brew crew — Anderson, his brother John and business partners Jared Hardy and Aaron Hill — is going with the, um, flow.
"It's a crazy week in Fargo. We didn't plan it but it worked out well for us," Hardy said.
Chris Anderson left Fargo a decade ago for the Pacific Northwest, and honed his beer-making skills at a brewery in Idaho. By the time he returned home about a year ago, the Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., metro area had increased in population from 174,000 to 208,000 people, and the state of North Dakota grew from a break-even budget to a $1 billion surplus.
Anderson saw a place with a large population base in a small area, three colleges, a revitalized downtown, a thriving business community — and no brewery.
"On the West Coast, every little town, everywhere, has a brewery," he said. "When I left Fargo, there wasn't even Fat Tire here. Your craft beer option was Summit EPA, or if you wanted something dark you could get a Guinness or a Michelob AmberBock. That was kind of the beer world here in Fargo."
The company has 17 investors, mostly friends and family, who came up with $40,000 for start-up costs. The beer is currently being brewed in Wisconsin because the group wanted to quickly get the beer to market, but the owners hope to eventually set up shop in a Fargo industrial district.
Wood Chipper is believed to be the first locally produced craft beer in six years, and the initial shipment of 85 kegs arrived last week. Previous brewpubs in Fargo have not survived, and Chris Anderson believes it's partly because of licensing rules that require 50 percent of profits to come from food. He said there are no plans to expand beyond a brewery.
Wood Chipper is available at about a dozen local establishments. The company plans to have four beers on its menu within the next year, but decided that the India Pale Ale, or IPA, was the best choice to play lead.
"The IPA is ubiquitous," said John Anderson, Chris' younger brother. "It is the No. 1 selling style of craft beer in the United States. It made sense to start with that, because people are fanatical about it. They can't get enough."
Andrew Hanson, 30, one of the beer tasters at Wednesday's party, said the Wood Chipper had a "bit of a bite to it," which he liked.
"I'm not a beer guru by any means, but I like the hoppy taste. It fits what I'm looking for," Hanson said. "I was born and raised in Fargo and I'm glad to see these guys take the initiative. We need a brewery."
As for the name of the beer, he said, "Whether you liked the movie or not, it's clever."