Warrior Brewing out of Duluth makes Legion Lager

By Tim Engstrom
Matt Caple of Warrior Brewing holds up a glass of Valkrie Golden Ale in the taproom of Warrior Brewing in Duluth. Caple and fellow veteran Ben Gipson own the brewery that makes Legion Lager.

A beer just for us

DULUTH — There is a beer growing in popularity throughout parts of Minnesota under the name “Legion Lager,” and the maker of it, Warrior Brewing, hopes this beverage corners the craft beer market for lagers.

The veteran behind it is Matt Caple, 38, who recently joined Lawrence Lake Township Post 476.

Actually, there are two veterans behind it. The other, Ben Gipson, is a member of West Duluth Post 71.

Is this Legion Lager affiliated with The American Legion?

The label on the left is customized for West Duluth Post 71.

Caple said it honors The American Legion. He did ask the Department of Minnesota permission to use “Legion.” The answer: It is fine as long he isn’t using Legion imagery.

Warrior Brewing, he said, offers Legion posts the opportunity to come brew beer and to even have special post-level labels on it and sell it at their own bars.

Caple graduated from Northfield High School in 2003. He attended St. Olaf College, where he played hockey, and about a year and a half into his premedical studies, a feeling set in that he ought to join the military like some of his family members had.

“I had a calling and felt like I needed to do it, and I dropped out of college and joined the Army in 2005,” he said.

His biological father was a combat medic in the Army Reserve. His stepfather was a communications technician in the Navy. Caple became a satellite communications operator.

Mom didn’t take the news well.

“And I told her I was engaged that same day,” he said.

After basic at Fort Benning and AIT at Fort Gordon, both in Georgia, Caple was assigned to the 53rd Signal Battalion’s HQ Company at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs.

However, he would work out of nearby Schriever AFB, east of Colorado Springs. Peterson to Schriever is a 13-mile drive.

There, Caple worked in communications and geolocation for missile defense. He went through Best Soldier for SMDC/ARSTRAT. That’s Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command. (Life hack: Don’t try to make sense of Army acronyms.)

Members of Lawrence Lake Township Post 467 stand with beer they brewed in early August at Warrior Brewing in Duluth.
Members of Lawrence Lake Township Post 467 stand with beer they brewed in early August at Warrior Brewing in Duluth. Matt Caple is in the red flannel. The post sold Legion Lager at the Itasca County Fair.

Other companies of the 53rd Signal Battalion were scattered around the nation: Fort Meade, Maryland; Fort Detrick, Maryland; Camp Roberts, Calif. (now Oahu, Hawaii); Okinawa, Japan; Landstuhl, Germany. (Last year, the 53rd became a Space Force unit called the 53rd Space Operations Squadron. Schriever became a Space Force base and its headquarters.)

Caple had a top-secret clearance, and the HQ company had a special mobile mission that he isn’t at liberty to explain.

He served the remaining four years of his five-year enlistment with the 53rd. In 2007, he and his then-wife had a son, Braeden. Caple used tuition assistance to finish his bachelor’s degree, majoring in business administration with an emphasis in marketing.

Caple was offered the opportunity to attend officer candidate school, but he got out of the active-duty Army in 2010 because he didn’t want his son to have to move all over the country. Caple’s own parents divorced when he was 4. Born in Duluth, he had moved around the state many times before landing in Northfield. He didn’t want Braeden to pick up and relocate over and over.

He got a civilian job and joined the Army Reserve 4th Space Company. Space Force wasn’t a thing yet, but the mission was similar. They worked with NORAD supporting the tactical mission stateside and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Caple’s day job was for a defense contractor in Colorado Springs that today is known as Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, a satellite communications firm doing interference detection, geolocation and triangulation in the U.S. civilian and military sectors.

“It was a fun job,” he said.

American Legion memorabilia decorates a countertop.
The taproom feels like a cross between modern breweries and old Legion posts.

He also completed his master’s degree in 2011. It is in project management, and he got it at Colorado Technical University.

But the itch to uproot and return to Minnesota was there, and he and his family moved to Duluth. He took a job at a taconite mine. He spent two years as a dispatch engineer controlling GPS equipment for haul trucks and semiautonomous drilling.

He then got the job he has now. Caple works for Minnesota Power as a system operator managing the bulk electric system for the company’s entire Minnesota footprint.

“The best way to describe what I do is: I am basically a lineman, but I work from a desk.”

The job has 12-hour shifts with an unusual schedule over a seven-week rotation, but it balances out with time off so he can pursue a hobby — like Warrior Brewing.

When he worked for that company in Colorado Springs, he won a prize at the annual holiday party. It was a homebrew kit. He got into it and joined a homebrew club. He was brewing so much he was giving it away.

“This was not really financially conducive,” Caple said. “It was more of a hobby anyway.”

Josh Bye, a friend in Colorado, asked whether he wanted to help start a beer company, and Caple declined because he was about to return to the North Star State. He brought his hobby back to Minnesota and joined the Northern Ale Stars Homebrewers Guild in 2013.

Bye’s company, however, became Fossil Craft Beer Co., a popular hangout on U.S. Highway 24 on the west side of Colorado Springs.

By 2016, Caple drifted away from the hobby, and, meanwhile, was feeling incomplete as a result of leaving the service. He helped found the Duluth Warriors, an ice hockey nonprofit for disabled veterans, part of Minnesota Warriors Ice Hockey, which has similar teams around the state. It is affiliated with USA Hockey.

Caple wanted to open up the program to all veterans but the board disagreed. Caple left. He co-founded the Lake Superior Warriors, a nonprofit using hockey as therapy for all veterans and active servicemembers. They play local and military teams across the country and internationally.

Caple was looking for a means to fundraise for the team and proposed a collaboration to local breweries.

The brewery area features a display of some Warrior Brewing Co. products.
The brewery area features a display of some Warrior Brewing Co. products.

He got crickets except for Canal Park Brewing Co. There, the head brewer, Ben Gipson, was a disabled veteran, and together they made a triple IPA in the fall of 2019. It went over well, and they made an oatmeal stout in 2020. Both brews were called “Veterans Tribute.”

Like all bars, breweries and restaurants, Canal Park had to close during the pandemic, and Gipson was let go in late 2020. He approached Caple with an idea.

“Hey, that collaboration, let’s do that full-time.”

Caple couldn’t pass up the opportunity again.

“I thought, ‘How often does one person in their lifetime get asked to start a brewery? I have to take advantage of this.’”

Warrior Brewing was born.

They got a bank loan, a name, a logo and a business plan where Warrior Brewing would raise funds for veteran causes. They were able to move into a space available when Lake Superior Brewing went out of business. By June 2021, they were production-only — no patrons, no taproom — because of the pandemic restrictions at the time.

Matt Caple stands with his loyal dog, Deacon, at Warrior Brewing in Duluth.
Matt Caple stands with his loyal dog, Deacon, at Warrior Brewing in Duluth.

They distributed the beer themselves to restaurants and stores.

“We got popular fast and needed to expand,” Caple said.

They connected with Dahlheimer Beverage out of Monticello, which covered the St. Cloud, Iron Range and North Metro regions. Next up was Bernick’s Beverage Supplier for the North Shore and northern Wisconsin. Then they signed with Locher Bros. for south-central Minnesota, and soon Dahlheimer purchased Locher anyway.

They opened a taproom in September 2022. Warrior expanded it in May 2023. It was in January 2023, though, when Legion Lager first came out.

Warrior’s beers, such as Valkrie Golden Ale, aren’t available in much of the tough Twin Cities market, but that’s OK. It’s better to not get buried among all the other brands, Caple said.

If you go to Duluth, you can find Warrior Brewing Co. at 2711 W. Superior St. There, you will find plenty of Legion and VFW memorabilia, particularly from Duluth Zenith-Winsted Post 28. The place opens at noon daily except Sundays.

Last winter, when crafting Legion Lager, Caple had an idea. Approach American Legion posts about doing collaborations, much like he had done for the hockey program.

Send members to the brewery to brew. A month and a half later, come back to bottle it up. The post is cut a check equivalent to half of the potential sales revenue.

Of course, there is also the opportunity to sell Legion Lager at the post, too. You don’t have to come brew it. Just be a customer, like with any other beer at the bar.

“You can take pride in a beverage that was crafted by Legion members in their own state,” he said.

Lawrence Lake Township Post 476 bottled up 17 cases of Legion Lager on Aug. 6. That was $612 for four hours of “work.” The post doesn’t have a bar, but it runs the beer garden at the Itasca County Fair, and they sold Legion Lager on tap.

American Legion bass drums
Among the decorations at the taproom are American Legion bass drums.

They did the fundraiser, and they are a customer, too. Anyone with questions on Legion Lager can reach Caple at 218-721-7998.

Caple up and joined Post 476.

The entrepreneur and veteran recently found a new bride. Matt Caple and Jobi Troumbly of Taconite tied the knot on Nov. 11, 2022, at a hockey tournament in Las Vegas. The couple now live in Esko. He brings his son, who is now 16, and she has two children of her own.