Origin Story


Karen & Bryon Tonnis, Colin & Laura Mullen

The Founders

The Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® brewery team is made up of four individuals – two married couples – with an abundance of professional craft beer industry experience.

Brewer Bryon Tonnis, CEO and Director of Brewery Operations, holds a brewing degree from the Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy and has 12 years of professional brewing experience most recently as head brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis.

Brewer Colin Mullen, President and Director of Brewery Communications, has 8 years of professional brewing experience most recently as Head of Brewing Operations at Barley John’s Brewpub near Minneapolis.

Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® is 50% female-owned by partners Karen Tonnis, VP of Operations, who has 12 years of distribution and operations management experience, and Laura ‘Salyards-Fryberger’ Mullen, VP of Outreach & Events, who has run an accomplished event design company since 2004. One of Laura’s primary event clients was the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild for which she produced successful craft beer festivals as well as acted as Guild Coordinator.

A Fateful Meeting

In December 2010 the four brewery founders were at a charity event at a craft beer bar in Minneapolis – based on a feeling, Laura said to Karen that “the guys should get together” and discuss their brewing futures. From there Bryon and Colin met over a few pints and discovered their shared dream of starting their own breweries. After many more discussions about vision, logistics, and brewing philosophy the partnership was born. From 2011 to early 2013 the team of four worked on the business plan, fundraising, site selection, and the build-out phase of Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® which launched publicly in May 2013.

The partnership between the two couples has always felt like a natural fit as they seem to live parallel lives – marrying nine days apart in September 2008 and having their first children – Liam Tonnis and Adella Mullen – born just three days apart in April 2012!

Origin of Our Name

Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® is named for the bent shaft canoe paddle Bryon used to mix his brewing mash while at Rock Bottom Brewery as well as a shared passion for canoeing – the Tonnis’ in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Mullen’s on the Brule River in Northwestern Wisconsin. With the brewery’s location in Duluth, the team also felt it was a great representative symbol for the northwoods adventure backdrop that Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® contributes beer and culture to.

As any brewer knows, your equipment has a life of its own and reacts accordingly. On Bryon’s last day of brewing at Rock Bottom Minneapolis, the bent shaft canoe paddle / mash mixer broke in half – a symbolic end to his tenure – and an opening for a new bent shaft canoe paddle for the soon-to-be brewery!

Paddle North!

The City of Duluth was selected by our team primarily because of the great brewing water – great beer demands great water! Duluth also has an outstanding craft beer culture along with a growing community of energetic young professionals, making it an ideal community for the team to open the business and take root. Also, Laura is a born and raised Duluthian and Bryon and Karen met while attending the University of Minnesota – Duluth.

Located at 1912 West Michigan Street, Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® is housed in a 10,600 square foot building in West Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The brewery is near downtown and the industrial waterfront with great visibility off Highway I35. With great neighbors like the Frost River Trading Co. and the popular Duluth Grill, Bent Paddle Brewing Co.® is excited to bring even more activity to this part of town with brewery tours and our taproom – The Bent Tap.

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