What do you get when you mix four Luther alumni with a love for Decorah and craft beer? Pulpit Rock Brewing Company, which officially opened its doors last August.
Pulpit Rock is not only an alumni business—it’s also a family business. Founder and chairman Pete Espinosa ’81 married Kari (Tollefson) ’84, whose twin sister is Kristi (Tollefson) Wolf ’84, one of the four founders. Their brother Jon Tollefson ’83 is also a founder, and their sister Jodi (Tollefson) ’94 married Mark Bjerke ’93, the fourth founder.
In fact, the idea of starting the brewery came up a couple of years ago on an extended-family vacation. Pete and Kari had recently bought the Decorah laundromat building on Fifth Avenue and College Drive. They’d renovated the laundromat but were brainstorming uses for the building’s other half, which at the time was an empty garage bay. Noting the growing popularity of craft beer, the group thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if . . .”
The Espinosa-Tollefson-Wolf-Bjerke clan recruited a few local investors, including Bill and Nicole (Bullerman) Remington ’94 (side note: the brewery’s Doc Rem’s offering, described as “a real gentleman, low in alcohol but full of rich flavor,” is named after Bill). They announced their intention during Homecoming 2014, then went to work on the space, recruited master brewers Robert Slack and Justin Teff, and opened their doors to the public in less than a year.
Pulpit Rock currently has no plans to distribute beyond a few local establishments, like T-Bock’s and Rubaiyat. “We’re trying first and foremost to be good for Decorah,” Espinosa says. “We want people to come to Decorah to get it.”
And come they do. “It’s amazing what beer does,” he marvels. “We’ll say to our friends, ‘Come visit our town!’ and they’ll say, ‘Maybe.’ But when we say, ‘Come visit our brewery!’ they say, ‘Oh yeah!’”