Images by Asio Studio.

Want a crafted brew? Just walk to your kitchen or basement.

It’s not uncommon to home brew these days or to have a friend or relative who have the brewers bug. Kits are available anywhere from online to the nearest gas station.

Landon Swanson had been brewing with friends for years. “I was brewing almost every weekend,” said Swanson.

But the beer wasn’t the only thing brewing. Swanson had been scoping out properties in the Black Hills, specifically in Custer, to potentially open his own brewpub. After years of research and beer trials and tribulations, Bitter Esters Brewhouse opened in May 2012 with Swanson as head brewer.

The location was ideal, next to the popular Sage Creek Grille on Mt. Rushmore Road.

“We built the bar, we built the counters, we redid the floor, we installed lights, we did all the electricity – we did everything,” explained Swanson.

Jeff Drumm, president and head brewer of Crow Peak Brewing Co. in Spearfish, also started as a home brewer before building the original small brewery in 2007 with his wife. As his interest and passion grew, he took courses with the American Brewers Guild and interned at Wild River Brewing in Oregon.

“When we opened in 2007, my wife and I were brewing, bartending, everything,” said Drumm. “We didn’t do any packaging, but we had a good following in Spearfish and the Black Hills area.”


As “the beer was flowing faster than it could be brewed,” Crow Peak realized their business needed a major expansion. In 2009 Drumm brought on partners and purchased a bigger brewing system to enable them to start packaging and distributing (going from a five barrel to a 30 barrel brew system and three 60 barrel fermenters).

The business also put in a can line, which is the only way they package their product. Drumm says this is better for the environment and for the beer.

“Everything is canned; we don’t do any bottling,” said Drumm. “Bottles let light in, and that gives beer an off flavor. They also keep oxygen out, which is another bad thing for beer.”

Drumm believes canning is trending, with national companies like New Belgium Brewing following suit. Crow Peak is distributed statewide. Swanson feels distribution is one of the reasons why it has taken a while for more breweries and brewpubs to catch on in South Dakota – the main reason, in his opinion, are laws prohibiting a self-distribution license.

“It’s really tough to have to go through a distributor because they’re going to take a good chunk of [revenue] to get it out,” explained Swanson. “You have to rely on people who are selling Budweiser and Miller and Coors to sell your product.”

To read the rest of this article, pick up the May issue of 605 today! 

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