An early-morning fire swept through the Portage Brewing Company Sunday and completely destroyed the Walker business that opened its doors less than two years ago.

The Walker Joint Fire Department received a call at 6:57 a.m. from a passer-by, and by the time crews got on site shortly after 7, flames were shooting out of the roof.

The Hackensack Fire and Rescue Service was called in for mutual aid, with the firefighters battled the fire until it was extinguished later that morning.

Assistant Chief Byron Sagen was in charge of the crews, which consisted of 18 Walker firemen and 17 from Hackensack.

The cause has yet to be determined and the fire is still under investigation, but it appears to have started in the upper floors. Chief Winter said the State Fire Marshal was on scene Sunday and is currently building his report that will be completed this week.

Located in the old Walker Hospital and former Cass County Social Services offices, the building was nearly a century old before the major renovations transformed it into the brewery.

In a statement on Facebook, the owners said, “No one was physically hurt, but tons of love went into making this place work. We’ve got wonderful fans, employees and a community in which we are eternally grateful. We will clean up the pieces, and we will be back. This place means too much to let it put us down.”

Joe and Carolyn Arndt, and Mark, Jan and Jeff Vondenkamp founded Portage Brewing Co. in April 2016 and the business officially opened in the spring of 2017. Owned and operated as a family business, the owners’ collective vision was pairing craft beer with the great outdoors, which is engrained into their entire business.

Portage Brewing Co. got its name from a few different inspirations, the first being the act of portaging a canoe — a method of lake transportation Minnesotans know all too well. The other is the largest bay on Leech Lake — Portage Bay.

Portage Brewery Co. quickly became a hot spot for locals and visitors from around the state. The family-friendly environment featured an overhead view of the five-barrel brewery from the 1,800 square foot taproom above, using raw trees for vertical supports.


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