Mike Frohlich: Laughing Sun
“Pray to grandfather sky for everyone to be more like the sun. The sun doesn’t question, it doesn’t judge … and if we all just did that a little better, I think we would all have a better place to drink some beers.”
With a calming demeanor that’s almost bubbly when he chats with customers, self-proclaimed “hop head” Mike Frohlich seems to project the feeling of beer itself in his everyday attitude. “Happy” is literally built into his name - just look up the German meaning of Frohlich. So maybe it’s not a surprise that when you walk through the doors of Laughing Sun Brewery you get a feeling of someone opening up their arms to say hello (On the slim chance someone doesn’t do that already). “We have created a community,” Frohlich says. “If I’m behind the bar, there’s likely a chance that I’m going to know your name or I’ve seen you before. Either way, I like to say hello when you come in. That sense of community makes people feel like they are a part of something.”
This space that has become a music hotspot and top North Dakota brewing destination for tourists started with a few jugs of beer that Frohlich would haul to his weekly poker game. Players would enjoy 15 gallons worth of about five or six recipes, all made by Frohlich in his garage. He says the brewing system had been setting there for about three years at that point. Many times, he was told to sell and leave behind the goal of his own brewery after a few failed attempts at starting a business with a partner. “Todd Sattler was at these poker games,” Frohlich recalls. “We went to the Corral Bar to see some live music. A mutual friend was playing in a band there. He said in the parking lot, ‘If there is ever a chance I could get involved in this brewery, I would love to.’ I said, 'Todd, it’s your lucky day.'”
With Sattler covering the logistical side of the business and Frohlich the brewing, it didn’t take long for the Laughing Sun Brewery to find its niche and a home on Fifth Street in Bismarck. The partners found when you’re in the heart of the capital city’s downtown, it’s a natural priority to help strengthen it.
“It’s more than selling you a glass of beer over the bar,” Frohlich said. “I know my Fed-Ex truck driver, I know the people that deliver my malt and hops and things. Ninety-five percent of our malt comes from North Dakota.” From Laughing Sun, spent grain is sent to feed chickens for the local food co-op, from where Laughing Sun gets berries and fruit by local growers. They've strived to use 100 percent certified wind power from a wind farm north of Baldwin. Even the canvases and paintings on the walls of this small brewery are an effort to support locals who create them. “We just create a space. It’s all about the people that come in here and give it energy,” Frohlich says. “So, kudos to them for making this a place where people feel welcome.”
The combination of things has led Laughing Sun to national and state honors. Today the same brew kegs that sat in Frohlich’s garage are now creating a top brewing destination in the state. “We have 50% new customers every day in here,” Frohlich says. “They all have something in common, they wanted to try a beer. I think there is a much more knowledgeable customer now. There are so many breweries, you don’t have to settle for a beer you don’t like anymore.” That’s why Frohlich can be found brewing beers at 3 a.m. and still finding the energy to come and chat with customers in the evening about their creative concoctions, like his personal favorite “Feast Like a Sultan” or the chocolate and chokecherry malt “19th Amendment” in honor of female craft beer supporters.
Frohlich says even if you’re not the beer enthusiast he is, that’s just fine. He just hopes you had a good time and played some board games with your friends. “I mean, I think we have some stellar beer but it’s about drinking it with people you enjoy to be with.”
Frohlich’s recommended breweries:
- Fargo Brewing Company
- Rhombus Guys
- Souris Brewing Company
Frohlich’s #1 recommend activity:
- Watching sunrise at Double Ditch Indian Village