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More room means more beer for the popular Lift Bridge Brewing Co., which this month is putting the finishing touches on a $1 million expansion and equipment upgrade at its brewery in a Stillwater industrial park.

Five years after its founding, the craft beermaker's Farm Girl saison, Hop Dish IPA, Chestnut Hill nut brown ale and its other year-round and seasonal beers are proving so popular it can't keep up with demand from current customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

As its owners saw it, the situation called for a commitment that would not only keep existing customers happy, but also help accomplish a longer-range goal of moving Lift Bridge from a local favorite to a true regional brand with fans across the country.

The result has been a major investment in both equipment and space at the combined brewery and taproom at 1900 Tower Drive, just north of Hwy. 36 in the Stillwater West Business Park.

Brad Glynn, 38, one of Lift Bridge's five co-owners and founders, said the upgrades will allow the brewery to expand production by 30 percent, from this year's 10,000 barrels to 13,000 barrels of fresh craft brew, thus allowing it to expand its distribution reach.

"Where before we were looking at empty coolers with orders from distributors waiting, now we can get ahead of that and satisfy that demand," he said. "The Twin Cities right now is 90 percent of our business, but we do sell throughout the state. Once we get a handle on the local market, we're looking at getting more beer to regional cities like St. Cloud, Mankato and Eau Claire."

The northern lake counties of the two states are natural markets for Lift Bridge, Glynn said.

"That would be great for us … they're like the playgrounds of the Twin Cities. We get pictures a lot from friends who are on boats enjoying themselves and going to a local place to have a Farm Girl."

The equipment upgrades in Lift Bridge's combination brewery and taproom include five new 60-gallon tanks, which are capable of producing 800 cases of beer per brew, as well as a new, semi-automated bottling line that will increase efficiencies and precision in packaging operations.

Just as important as the capacity upgrades, Glynn said, is what will be going on in a newly leased, 4,000-square-foot space in a warehouse just behind the original building.

There, Lift Bridge will build out its first on-site quality control lab, which will allow the brewery to maintain overall consistency even as production increases.

Such a lab will also enable Lift Bridge to be more diverse and adventurous in its beer choices. It will prove essential, for instance, in the brewery's increasing emphasis on seasonal, limited runs of beer aged for two years in bourbon barrels procured from Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky — the Commander English-style barley wine and the Silhouette Russian imperial stout.

The new space will also give Lift Bridge an air-conditioned area to store the stacks of whiskey barrels as they age.

"Barrel aging brings out subtle flavors like oaks and vanillas," Glynn said. "They're the kind of high-end beers people are really looking for now, and we've sold out for three straight years. Having a lab is important if we want to increase production of these aged and exotic beers, though, because when you start aging beers for a long time, you really need to make sure the consistency is there."

A quality control lab, in a way, can be seen as an indicator that a craft brewer is moving up from "micro" status.

"Our brewmaster, Matt Hall, comes from a [quality-control] background, has a chemistry degree and a microbiology degree, so he knows that having an environment where your yeasts are happy is important," Glynn said. "These are living organisms we're working with."