Talking Waters earns two medals at Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild's Brewers Cup

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Phil Zachman and Nick Patton are celebrating a win for their downtown Montevideo brewery, Talking Waters, as they received word November 18th that two of their brews were awarded at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s Brewers Cup annual event. Talking Waters is in its fifth year of business. The venture began in 2014 when home brewer Nick Patton had conversations with another local homebrewer John Skogrund about the idea of opening a brewery. The conversations continued in a casual manner until Skogrund retired, and fellow friend Phil Zachman, owner of Jake’s Pizza joined the conversation with the idea to purchase the building located next to Jake’s downtown. In late 2014, Zachman was able to buy the building, and the trio began meeting about the business regularly, developing the plans, and beginning work on the building.  “We had hoped to open up later in 2015, but we were waiting on government licenses that were slowing us down,” says Zachman. 

Talking Waters owners Phil Zachman and Nick Patton.

While waiting for licensing, the three began working up test batches, brewing at Patton’s home, and providing tasting events at Java River to see what the local market was most interested in before opening in July of 2016. Originally, Patton says their plan was to be a taproom brewhouse. “We had two fermenters downstairs. Our brewhouse was half the size that it is now,” he says. “We started doing a small amount of keg distribution to advertise our taproom, trying to stay within a sixty-mile radius in hopes that somebody would try something at a restaurant and then want to come to our taproom.” It wasn’t long before the group realized that the way to grow was to do more distribution, further away. With that idea in mind, the beginning of the COVID pandemic pushed the need for more production of off-sale products. “We had done some canning with the mobile canning company from St. Paul,” Patton explains. “During COVID, we bought a used canning line, so now for the most part our beer is being canned in-house.” Currently, Talking Waters is able to offer in addition to tapes, growlers, 25 oz crowlers, and 16 oz cans. “We’re probably closer to 50% distribution and 50% taproom sales now,” Patton says. The ability to can on site has also improved their ability to distribute to now close to 100 locations including liquor stores, bars, and restaurants around the metro region, St. Cloud, Alexandria, and Marshall. Talking Waters self distributes all products, utilizing a Distribution Manager and a small transit van for deliveries a couple of times a week. 

This has also increased the visibility of the product drawing visitors to the area into the taproom. “We get a lot of travelers on weekends coming through. A lot of people from Minneapolis and St. Paul are coming out to try our beer. And it’s nice that we have the State Park and Casino nearby as well,” Patton says. Zachman also adds that the increasing popularity of breweries in the area helps to promote tourists looking to travel between them to experience Minnesota-made beers. Zachman also attributes their success to its social media marketing and organic growth. “We’ve grown naturally,” he says. Patton adds, “In terms of smaller breweries in Western Minnesota, I think not many of them are doing as large scale distribution, and that’s out of necessity for us. We’re in a much smaller community. We’re still a tiny little brew house that’s connected to every single part of the process. We’re not working on a system that is super advanced or high-tech. We’re still moving pumps and hoses around.”

The products have changed over time, as well. Talking Waters now produces ten beers that are on tap at any given time. Three of those are the core line that is on tap continuously, including the Farmer’s Tan, Square Nail IPA, and their Reality Czech pilsner. “From there, the other seven lines rotate pretty frequently. We’ll bring other beers back a couple of times a year. We always try to have a sour beer on tap, a darker beer, and then we always play around with our lagers and IPAs,” Patton says. They plan soon to release a gluten-free seltzer, as well as their holiday line-up, finding inspiration for new techniques and ingredients by paying close attention to industry magazine articles and podcasts. Talking Waters also aims to interact with the community as much as one business can, partnering with businesses for events and beers alike. “We just recently brewed a beer that featured Cup A Joe freshly roasted coffee beans. It’s a chocolate affogato, which is kind of a coffee, chocolate, vanilla porter,” says Patton. “We’ve done partnerships with Java River a couple of times.” Talking Waters has also partnered with La Plazita to offer Taco Tuesdays one night a month. “We’re trying to reach out, get people involved,” says Zachman.  One Wednesday a month, Talking Waters hosts a pay it forward event, called Community Pint Night, which helps to bring in people from all walks of life to support various area organizations. The next Community Pint Night will benefit the Santa Anonymous organization in Chippewa County. For entertainment, they also offer Trivia Nights twice a month, as well as offering discounts to teachers every Tuesday. The taproom line-up these days also includes an array of branded merchandise on offer.

Recently, Talking Waters partner John Skogrund officially retired from the business. The Brewers Cup Award shared by Zachman and Patton for their creations was won after a blind tasting competition with over 450 beers from 85 breweries across the state competing for the titles. “We entered two years ago, and then there was a year off because of COVID,” explains Patton. “So two years ago we won a silver for our Mango Wheat and a bronze for our Zoomer Red.” This year, Talking Waters was awarded the Gold Medal for their Festbier in the pale lager category. “Festbier is our take on the lighter version of what an Oktoberfest might be. A lot of people are used to a Martsen, which is a little bit darker in color, a little bit more residual sweetness and kind of caramel notes or toasted notes that come through,” says Patton. They were also awarded a bronze medal for their Reality Czech in the Czech Lager category. “Reality Czech is even lighter in color than Festbier, with a little lower ABV and a bit more assertively bitter, but a little sweeter. When somebody comes in and wants a beer that tastes like beer, that’s what we push them towards,” says Patton. The men were also awarded last summer, winning the Brewers Cup at the Alexandria Craft Beer Tour. “Our hope is to start entering more beer competitions,” says Patton. “We’re feeling more confident about our beers.”