Minnetonka natives Chad Mayes, Jason Landstrom and Ryan Johnson love beer. They also love our lakes. They put the two together to establish the Tonka Beer Co., a craft brewery that donates 100 percent of its profits to Save-Our-Lakes to battle the onslaught of lake-choking invasive species like zebra mussels.
“We were always interested in the microbrew industry,” Mayes says, “and we knew early on that we wanted to pair it with charity.” The three partners grew up creating wonderful memories on the lakes and now that they have kids of their own, they’re conscious of what will be left for the next generation.
According to Landstrom, “our main objective is to leverage a very large industry and utilize people’s love for beer by turning it into something good, and in this case, a great cause that is underfunded. It’s not only about enjoying the beer but feeling good about where your money is going.” The two business models that inspired the Tonka Beer Co., Newman’s Own and the local beer Finnegan’s, both give proceeds to charity. At present, the brewery makes two distinct varieties, Big Island Shandy and Preservation IPA, available in 16 oz. cans, kegs and on tap.
The three partners mention that many have asked why Tonka Beer is not available in bottles. Cans are safer and more convenient for drinking on a boat or on the beach, and they’re also environmentally friendly. And most serious beer drinkers and educated brewmasters claim that the can is the best storage vessel because its stability and light-blocking aspects optimize freshness.
Johnson describes the Big Island Shandy, an unfiltered pale ale, as an easy-drinking beer that isn’t excessively sweet, unlike other shandies on the market. It’s an ideal refresher for a hot summer’s day on the lake.
“We were originally going to offer it only in the summer,” he says, “but the feedback has been so positive and people didn’t want it to go away so we decided to keep it.”
The company’s other beer, Preservation IPA, also appeals to a broad spectrum of suds enthusiasts with its classic craft attributes along with drinkability, hops and a smooth finish. It’s mellower and less bitter than most IPAs. “We regularly win over people who are not big IPA drinkers,” Mayes says.
The partners worked with brewmaster Kris Kalav of the Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin to come up with these accessible and flavorful quaffs. They plan to expand their repertoire to include five or six different kinds of beer with rotating seasonal offerings with a wish list that includes an Oktoberfest, a darker winter brew and a few selections on the lighter end such as a kolsch, pilsner or lager.
And how do these earnest young fellows support themselves? They kept their day jobs, devoting evenings and weekends to Tonka Beer. It may sound like a lot of work, but at least they get to drink good brew for the good of Mother Earth.
Tonka Beer Co.’s Big Island Shandy and Preservation IPA are available at the following lake-area locations:
Jake O’Connors Public House, Excelsior; Biella, Excelsior; Gold Nugget, Minnetonka; Lone Spur Grill & Bar, Minnetonka; Lord Fletchers, Spring Park; Joey Novas Tonka Bay, Tonka Bay; Wayzata Bar & Grill, Wayzata
Haskells Liquor, Excelsior and Minnetonka; Excelsior Vintage Inc, Excelsior; Lakeside Wine & Spirits, Long Lake; Liquor Barn, Long Lake; U.S. Liquor & Wine, Minnetonka; MGM, Minnetonka and Spring Park; Strong Liquor, Minnetonka; Big Top, Minnetonka; Navarre Liquor, Navarre; Shorewood Liquor, Shorewood; Cellars Wine & Spirits, Shorewood; Tonka Bottle Shop, Wayzata; Wayzata Wine & Spirit, Wayzata