Tap Talk: Jack Pine Brewery In Baxter

We’re helping you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of the Minnesota brewhouses. For the next brewery, Tap Talk is taking a trip to Baxter, Minnesota and visiting Jack Pine Brewery.

Breweries nowadays are increasingly becoming the neighborhood joints of old and tailored specifically for that function: to serve its nearby community.

Two hours north of the Twin Cities in Baxter, a city with a population not quite 10,000, Jack Pine Brewery does exactly that.

There, Patrick Sundberg opened up his brewery in 2012 with the intent to serve the Baxter community with beers that he loves to drink. And according to the many positive reviews of the brewery, it seems many of his customers share the same tastes.

So, on to the real deal: what kind of beers does Jack Pine offer?

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

“Our core lineup is a pre-prohibition-style cream ale, Dead Branch; a very easy drinking nut brown ale, an American take on an English session beer. We have a hoppy pale ale that kind of skirts the line of an IPA but it’s lower in alcohol and bitterness. So, it’s session-able. The beers span a good range, are easy-drinking, but are packed with flavor,” Sundberg said.

For now, Sundberg makes a point to stress that the brewery, at the moment, is very small.

“Nanobrewery small. Brewing one hundred gallons at a time small. Did I mention the brewery is small?”

But that’s all going to change soon.

Sundberg says there are plans to break ground on a bigger brewery/taproom.

“We need it! We’re running outta room and basically at capacity at our current space right now,” Sundberg said.

For more on that and a closer look at the brewery’s beers, check out the interview with Sundberg below!

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

First – why the name Jack Pine?

That has a unique story behind it! First off, it’s an underappreciated tree, kinda scraggily looking, so it kind of fits with the craft beer scene. As you head north, the Baxter area is the first, southern-most territory of the Jack Pine tree. So, it kind of fits, you know, logistically.

And as I started digging into it, the Jack Pine tree is what’s called a serotinous tree, needs an environmental trigger to re-seed. In the case of a Jack Pine, it’s when a forest fire comes through, the heat of the fire opens up the cones. It’s often the first tree to take root and come back after a forest fire.

So, when the brewery opened in this area, it was the first since the prohibition. So, that was very fitting when I found that little tidbit. It kind of solidified it!

So, I read a bit of your background in homebrewing and judging beer – but what initially sparked your interest in beer?

I went to college up in Moorhead … there wasn’t a whole lot of choices in the area. I saw a need and was a little frustrated of not having a local brewery in our time, so I went for it!

And when did you decide commit to a brewery/taproom?

Oh boy. I don’t know. I think it was more of a gradual transition than a single turning moment. Just started digging into the stories behind the beer, what other breweries had done, doing more research into smaller breweries. There’s a ton of information, especially at that time, you could hear the stories of the small breweries that were opening up in the U.S. – learning what worked and what didn’t. I spend a good four years digging into the financials and seeing what it took to get it to work. It got to a point where the business plan looked like it would maybe work. And after the pint law came into effect in Minnesota, that was probably one of the main drivers that turned the corner for me and made it seem that it actually was going to work. Probably 2010 was the turning point where I had to try it or put it aside.

The brewery opened… the end of 2012 and our taproom opened in January of 2013.

How would you describe the location?

The lakes and the hills, it’s just a very scenic place. And it’s a growing area. Crow Wing County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, other than somewhere around the metro. It’s a good mix… decent shopping and big box stores and we’re really close to the lake.

How would you say the brewing scene differs in regards to metro breweries vs. outstate breweries?

I would say metro is getting a little bit crowded. You have to do a little bit more to stand out. Not like we don’t have to either. We were the first in the area, and now there’s four and two more in planning – in the Brainerd lakes area.

Down in the metro, it seems like you have to have an angle and a focus. But just like us, each brewery seems to have their little neighborhood that they serve. We basically serve the city of Baxter.

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

How did you name your beers?

Some of the beer names were thought of even before the brewery, as a homebrewer. Part of the fun is naming your beers. So, Duck Pond and Fence Line were the early adoptions as far as the beer names. They come from my background. I’m not a city boy… Outdoors has been a key point in youth and still is today. I like being outside more than anything.

A lot of the names reflect that. Stuff you’d find outdoors.

Describe your main beers.

Dead Branch Cream Ale is our lightest offering. It’s a pre-prohibition cream ale so it uses six-row barley, flaked corn in the mash and a little bit of pale ale malt, along with traditional saaz hops. It’s fermented with our house American ale strain of yeast. You get a little bit of a harsh graininess to it, a hint of floral notes from the saaz hops. It’s brewed with an ale yeast, so it’s a softer profile.

Duck Pond is our nut brown ale, and it pours kind of a ruby brown. A little on the brown ale spectrum. It’s modeled off of a southern English-type brown type of beer. It’s our lowest alcohol content at 4.4 percent. There’s just a ton of flavors in there for such a lower gravity beer. There’s a little bit of coffee, milk chocolate, some hazelnut character.

Fence Line Pale Ale is a very hop-forward pale ale. It’s brewed with Columbus and Shinook hop — Shinook is the primary hop. It’s not heavy on the body, it’s fairly light as far as the malt character goes. A touch of caramel in the malt background, but it’s heavy on the hops. Very bold, citrusy, piney character from the Shinook and Columbus (hops).

If you had just a couple words of advice for home brewers wanting to take that next step, what would they be?

Just do a lot of research. Know what you’re getting into. It sounds really great and kind of romantic to be a brewer, and if you like making beer, be a brewer. Because owning a brewery is quite a bit different than being a brewer. In the end, a brewery is a business and there’s all the fun business activities that go a long with it.

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

Lastly, what’s next for Jack Pine?

We are about to break ground on a whole new brewery and taproom. We’re shooting for a mid-September groundbreaking, but we’re putting the final touching on financing and building plans and permitting and all that fun stuff.

We need it! We’re running outta room and basically at capacity at our current space right now.

We’ll have a little bit of a transition period, but the end goal is that we’ll completely relocate. It suited us very well and worked for us, but with how busy we are and how much beer we’re trying to put up, it’s just not adequate any more. The new system will have a 15 barrel system and we’ll put in a canning line too.

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

(credit: Jack Pine Brewery)

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