Before it was Rapid City, it was Hay Camp. This historical perspective is maintained at the tavern where commerce is held equal to community. The brewery began in a garage as a bootstrapping business endeavor and has since morphed into a 37,000 sq ft, multi-use building, referred to as The Mothership.
Karl Koth and Sam Papendick grew up in Rapid City and are the owners and brewers at Hay Camp Brewing Company. After graduating from Stevens High School, Karl moved to Minneapolis to earn a degree in Physics and Sam moved to Fort Collins to earn a degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering (interesting how both locations are craft beer meccas). After receiving their bachelor’s degrees, they were reacquainted when pursuing graduate degrees from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
One evening at a local Rapid City ale house, they began talking about beer and home brewing. Sam had homebrewed loosely for a few years and Karl had nearly 10 years home brewing experience. Shortly after, they began brewing beer in Sam's garage almost weekly. Equipment was accumulated, techniques were shared, and plenty of free beer was available for their friends. Karl was finishing his M.S. in Geological Engineering and Sam was in the middle of his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering when they decided to go legitimate.
The LLC was formed in August 2012, they brought in Sam Coil to help with tavern operations and marketing, and they entered the Student Governors Giant Vision Award contest, where they placed third and won $2500 (used for travel and to buy a wort chiller).
It took nearly a year to find a suitable location in Rapid City, but they finally settled on an unused and beat up garage at the Fairmont Creamery. After six months of renovation, the tavern opened January 1, 2014.
The beginning was modest, with a 1.5 bbl brewehouse, a 42 gal Blichman fermenter, and two 1.5 bbl single walled fermenters, but their limited time and production complemented their limited overhead. The serving area was small (450 sq ft) and could barely fit 35 people. The intimate atmosphere bred conversation and assured that everyone felt part of the Hay Camp crew. Five taps were installed initially and were rarely all pouring Hay Camp beer. You would likely see their flagship, Victory Stout, and an English Bitter (either The Bitter Warrior or Best Bitter) poured in pints, and a collection of American style ales filling tulips (Loop the Loop APA, Better Brown, Centennial IPA, Hopdlebar Maltstache DPA, Citra Blackalicious). Quality was never sacrificed; all beer was poured in Spiegelau glassware, served with generous head, and around 42 degrees F.
Karl continued working at the US Geological Survey after receiving his M.S. and Sam was still finishing his PhD (studying the limitation in the microbial conversion of coal to methane), so beer was brewed on the weekends and sold on Friday nights only. Hard decisions were made most evenings to cut off certain kegs, just so people could enjoy the beer the following week.
In August 2014, two additional 3 BBL jacketed fermenters were installed, essentially tripling their production capacity. To save on capital costs, each fermenter was doubled as a hot liquor tank the day of the brew and a glycol chiller was purchased from an online laboratory auction. It cost more to ship the unit than to actually purchase it, but it still acts as a backup for their newer 3 ton unit. Production was finally equaling demand and plans were being made for the next scale up. Kegs were cleaned at Crow Peak Brewing Co for a few rounds, until CP gifted a coupler contraption that was hanging on the wall. It only took a few months of arduous keg cleaning for HC to spluge on a dual, manual cleaner from Premier Systems.
In January 2015, Hay Camp opened on Thursday nights, where they collaborated with Black Hills Vinyl for live music and bingo. The patio opened spring 2015, which expanded seating capacity and overall fun. Patrons could play corn hole, country bucket, or just soak up the nice summer sun.
In July 2015, they ordered a new 3 BBL brewhouse for delivery in December. Shortly after commissioning the new brewhouse, Hay Camp opened five days a week with expanded hours. Although Karl and Sam still maintained employment elsewhere, Hay Camp finally had some breathing room. A few additional employees were hired and some experimental recipes were brewed; Barrel aged RIS, beer engines, and Berliner weisse. Live music or spinning records could be observed on the Hay Loft. Beer festivals, such as the annual Stockman’s Days, were hosted to showcase SD craft beer. Even food pairings with the talented Chef Christopher Roth were organized and executed around both dessert and cheese.
After 42 months in the original location, Hay Camp was due for an upgrade; the location was hidden, seating could barely hold two dozen, and the integrated tavern/production space was wearing on the brewers. An expiring lease was the perfect opportunity to move, so a business model was constructed and several new locations were assessed, with both investors and banks keen. In the end, a 37,000-square foot building was purchased in Downtown Rapid City, destined for greatness. The building was built in ’48 as an Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership which gave it an amazing Art Deco vibe.
Unfortunately, the building had most recently operated as an underutilized laundry facility for Rapid City Regional Hospital for nearly 40 years. It required a complete overhaul. After 6 months of demolition and construction, The Mothership was born as a multi-use business hub that contains a brewery, coffee shop, art gallery, concert hall, wood shop, offices, and underground/configurable storage.
The new tavern holds over 100 patrons, but the original standards on beer quality and atmosphere are serious matters. Each piece of furniture has a story as almost every feature is a custom built or repurposed item. Sam and Karl have left their government jobs and academia for full time brew business. The brewery cellar package scaled up nearly 8 fold with an isolated space, designed for brewing ergonomics. Hay Camp now has a team of tavern operators that appreciate the craft beer experience and are excited to share that with anyone who walks in the door.
New projects are constantly underway. The current plan is to develop an event space for live music and receptions, focus on developing both a barrel program and a world class cask program. Be on the look out for a beer garden and potentially an underground roller skating rink. Don’t expect Hay Camp beer to be poured anywhere but The Mothership (no production facility). Growth is iterative, however, so stay tuned for adaptation post perturbation.