Two Lawrence alumni, Bob Countryman ‘88 and Ilan Klages-Mundt ‘09, have established their own craft brewery and taproom in Bloomington, Minnesota, just outside the Twin Cities.
With co-founder and local brewer John Leingang, Nine Mile Brewing Company opened its doors in February. Nine Mile’s original opening was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the newly opened taproom is enjoying success despite the delay.
“I really do think that our community engagement is very strong for how young we are,” Countryman said.
Both he and Klages-Mundt said the idea of community was central to their vision.
“I just love the feel of taprooms; you interact with people more, they’re not TV focused; … people will sit down to play a game and they’ll have their kids,” Countryman said.
Nine Mile’s menu includes a variety of ales, IPAs, porters, lagers, and stouts, “representing styles from around the world,” according to the company’s website.
The taproom’s regular in-house events include drag queen bingo, cribbage tournaments, pop culture trivia, yoga, and more. Nine Mile has also organized community events like clearing out invasive buckthorn from parks and holding fundraisers.
Countryman said the company’s staff voted its top priorities as “LGBTQ support, awareness, and education; domestic violence prevention; and food security.”
“We’re going to be inclusive of everyone who just wants to enjoy themselves,” Klages-Mundt said.
Nine Mile Brewing Company also holds the distinction of being the first taproom in Bloomington—Minnesota’s fourth-largest city.
“Even suburbs that aren’t nearly as big had a couple of taprooms, and I just thought it was strange that we didn’t,” Countryman said.
It turned out Bloomington had an old rule on the books against taprooms, which Countryman successfully requested the city council debate and change in 2019.
By this time, Countryman and Klages-Mundt were already planning on establishing Nine Mile. They first met in January 2019 at a Lawrence alumni event at Klages-Mundt’s brewery, Insight Brewing.
“I was actually in the process of exiting Insight and selling my shares, and it just seemed like a good opportunity to want to get into a different model of a brewery, much more focused on the taproom,” Klages-Mundt said.
Perfecting their craft
Countryman—a government major at Lawrence who originally wanted to be an attorney—worked in the insurance field for 31 years before founding Nine Mile. He has long been interested in the Twin Cities brewery scene.
From his time in insurance and at Lawrence, Countryman said, “I gained a lot of managerial experience and a lot of operations experience, so I felt very comfortable moving into this world based on my past experience; that wouldn’t have happened without Lawrence.”
Countryman said he spends most of his time at Nine Mile keeping track of sales and crunching the numbers.
A music education major, Klages-Mundt said his defining moment came from a visit to family in Denmark during his time at Lawrence. New to the world of craft beer, he and his cousin asked a bottle shop in Copenhagen for their highest-ranked product.
“That was the epiphany…it was like the ‘sun-came-out-and-lips-started-quivering’ type of moment, and for me, I had no idea something could taste that good,” Klages-Mundt said.
From then on, Klages-Mundt said he was fascinated with unraveling what was behind the taste of beers, and it inspired him to be more inquisitive about everything else.
Klages-Mundt applied for the Watson Fellowship, a scholarship that funds seniors to travel outside the United States for a year after college to explore passions beyond their majors. Although he didn’t win the Watson, he decided to travel for a year anyway, eyeing Europe and Japan, pursuing brewing apprenticeships and working on hop farms. He would go on to found the Insight brewery.
Of his time at Lawrence and abroad, Klages-Mundt said, “having the exposure to a well-rounded education just helps you think a little outside of the box, and any time you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’re always thinking outside of the box.”
At Nine Mile, Klages-Mundt works as a consultant. Leingang is their primary brewer.
Countryman and Klages-Mundt both credit Lawrence for some of their inspiration. Klages-Mundt said without the urging of Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl and others on the faculty he never would have explored the idea of traveling abroad for a year.
Countryman and Klages-Mundt both say they want to stay connected with their alma mater. For Lawrence’s Reunion 2022 weekend, Countryman supplied beer and a beer tent for the 1986-1988 Bier Garten.
It was connections via Lawrence, after all, that brought the two alums together as business partners.
“I don’t know whether all of this would have happened without Ilan because his experience gave me the confidence,” Countryman said. “It’s been really fun working with Ilan through this process.”