Local Entrepreneurs Blend History, Pride, in Crafting New Brews
Written by Mike Rahn | Photographed by Nels Norquist
Patrick Sundberg, owner of Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter, opened the first craft beer brewery in Lake Country four years ago in the Baxter Industrial Park. Jack Pine Brewery has outgrown the facility and he is now working on plans for a new building.
BEER IS ONE OF THE OLDEST AND ONE OF THE NEWEST BEVERAGES. It’s recorded in the stone-carved reliefs of ancient Egypt, and on four thousand year-old clay tablets from Sumeria as a poetic hymn of tribute, complete with a brewer’s recipe. Beer even has a patron saint, the medieval St. Arnold of Metz, a Seventhth Century monk who helped end a plague by convincing people to drink beer rather than impure water. Yet, timeless as it is, every year beer is being reinvented, as brewers experiment and fine-tune new recipes, while at the same time honoring classic combinations of the malts, grains and hops that distinguish beer from lesser beverages.
Wine has long been recognized for an almost limitless variety and possibilities, but only recently has the American public seen these attributes in beer. The so-called “craft beer” movement has fueled this awareness, opening minds and tempting palates of both lifelong beer drinkers and more recent converts, who are intrigued by the cultural buzz that craft beers are generating.
A craft beer by definition is one brewed in a volume of less than six million barrels per year, and most craft brewers produce far less. At one end of the craft beer spectrum is a firm like St. Paul’s Summit Brewing. Despite its name recognition and wide distribution, Summit is still considered a craft brewer. At the opposite end are operations like several in the Brainerd lakes area, most of whose ales, lagers, stouts and porters, are sold and served within a handful of counties from the Twin Cities to Walker.
Dan Meyer is one of four entrepreneurs behind Roundhouse Brewery, which opened in April 2016 at Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd.
Nationwide, craft beers account for about one of every 10 beers sold. Minnesota is home to about 100 breweries. Most brew in small volume, and have names you won’t see in Super Bowl ads, or as sponsors of funny car drivers competing at Brainerd International Raceway. Forty new breweries opened in Minnesota in 2015 alone. Beer consumption in the U.S. overall is down slightly, but craft beer sales are up, so the obvious conclusion is that large mass-market brands are losing market share. To counter this, some have purchased smaller craft beer labels in order to maintain corporate profitability.
Competition for beer drinkers’ appetites can be fierce in markets like the Twin Cities, where some establishments may serve as many as one hundred beers. Getting a new beer into a bar or restaurant can be difficult there. The Brainerd lakes area market, on the other hand, is still in relative infancy. The four commercially operating breweries here, Big Axe, Gull Dam, Jack Pine and Roundhouse, not only sell their product on their own premises, but have found eagerness on the part of area resorts and restaurants, as well as a popular local tap house. As several of these brewers point out, in a tourism setting like Lake Country, visitors want things that are representative of the area, and what could better convey local flavor than good locally-brewed beers?