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Derrick and Autumn Lehrke ready for the soft opening of their new business venture, Opinion Brewing Company. The couple are renovating the 12,000-square-foot Red Rock Saloon in Newport. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Last call for Newport's Red Rock Saloon as Lehrkes prepare for brewpub

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news Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

The Red Rock Saloon, a small-town watering hole that has provided spirits and bar fare to area patrons for decades is now days away from undergoing an extensive remodel that will give south Washington County its first brewpub.

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A week ago, new owners and Cottage Grove residents Autumn and Derrick Lehrke finalized the purchase of the 12,000-square-foot bar and bowling alley, and are giving patrons one last weekend to soak up the nostalgia.

The couple are hosting a soft opening weekend for Opinion Brewing Company beginning Friday, March 14, prior to the start of the renovation.

“We’ve been cleaning for the entire week,” Autumn said. “We haven’t yet started construction but we’ve been painting and cleaning the 20 years of dirt out of the place.”

The Lehrkes have dabbled in home brewing for the last several years and became serious about opening a brewery last year. The couple looked at several places before ending up at the Red Rock Saloon, which was suddenly put up for sale in the fall.

Opinion Brewing Company, Derrick said in November, is a play off the couple’s work as local political figures. Derrick is a Cottage Grove City Council member and Autumn is a Washington County commissioner.

“We started with the idea of incorporating the word ‘pin’ in it because of the bowling alley and then we liked the idea of ‘You sell us your opinions and we’ll sell you beer,’” he said. “It’s the double entendre that we liked and we decided on Opinion Brewing Company.”

The Lehrkes had hoped to close on the property earlier, Autumn said, but a sewer line backup in December forced the former owners, Kay and John Seliga, to address the issue. A concentration of grease caused the sewer line, which was shared with neighboring Tinucci’s, to overflow into the Red Rock Saloon.

Currently, the Newport City Council is drafting an ordinance that would require all food preparation establishments to install a grease trap to prevent future backups.

“We don’t have a kitchen right now so we won’t have to worry about the ordinance right now,” Autumn said. “But once we move to phase two and start serving food we’ll be installing a grease trap.”

She said there are also plans to install a new, separate sewer line this spring.

For now, Autumn said, frozen pizzas will be the extent of the menu.

With St. Patrick's Day festivities around the corner, several taps have been installed, including one local brew.

“We have local brewers from Washington County, Lift Bridge, on tap,” Autumn said. “Their Hop Dish is one of our selections. So we’re very proud to be serving a Washington County local brew.”

There are five other beers on tap, a selection of craft and domestic bottled beers, gluten free blends, and ciders. The bar also has a full selection of liquor and will allow off-sale purchases.

“We’ve heard a lot of opinions going forward and something that we’d really like to do is put something like gas station doors on our walk-in coolers so that we can showcase our beer selection,” Autumn said.

The Lehrkes don’t have any of their own brews on tap yet but plan to have several available when the renovation is complete.

“We’re moving ahead with an aggressive timeline,” she said. “We’re hoping to get this up and running within 60 to 90 days.”

Renovations are expected to begin in the coming weeks, she said, and specials will be ongoing throughout construction.

“We’ll be open,” she said.

“This has been a lot of fun so far,” Derrick said. “We hope people show up.”

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