Over the last five years, the craft brewery movement has grown exponentially in Minnesota. The Associated Press says licensing records show two-thirds of Minnesota breweries have opened just since 2010. So, we decided to help you – and your livers – keep up with the taproom trend by stopping by some of these Twin Cities brewhouses. For the next brewery, Tap Talk is taking visiting the North Shore and stopping at Castle Danger Brewery.
Though Castle Danger Brewery may have opened in 2011, its story began over 100 years earlier.
Well, sort of.
The idea of Castle Danger began in 2006 when Clint McFarlane first began homebrewing. Taken with the hobby, he began making his own recipes in 2007. Then, as the years past and he continued to learn more about beer and brewing, he began to toy with the idea of opening a brewery.
“After a few years, some good original recipes and much research on brewing equipment, he decided to take the plunge,” Clint’s wife Jamie McFarlane said.
The first home of Castle Danger Brewery was on Castle Haven Cabins, a resort owned by Jamie’s family.
The resort was opened by Jamie’s grandfather in 1933, but the land was homesteaded by her great-grandfather in 1902. Thus, it’s 100-year-old heritage.
Clint purchased a 3bbl system and two fermenters, and set to work putting up a 700-square-foot building that would house the brewery on the couple’s resort.
Then, in March 2011, Castle Danger was open for business. It was the 25th brewery operating in Minnesota.
Two months later, the Surly Tap Room Bill was passed, changing the way breweries could sell their wares, and the way Clint and Jamie wanted to sell their beer.
“[We realized] that 12 taplines and selling growlers only two nights a week couldn’t meet demand,” Jamie said. “[And while] our system allowed us to experiment with different ingredients, such as juniper, spruce tips and maple syrup, it also limited the amount of beer we could produce. [And] we could only supply 12 local bars and restaurants.”
So, for three years, the pair sold growlers out of the location at Castle Haven Cabins while also working to expand their brewery to a new location, complete with taproom, in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
During this time, Clint and Jamie were joined by Mason Williams, a friend of Clint’s who he trained to brew, and Jamie’s cousin Mandy Larson and her husband Lon.
Finally, in August of 2014, the new 10,000 square-foot, 130 seat building was opened. Castle Danger was moved into its new home along the shores of Lake Superior.
Follow them: on Twitter at @cdangerbrewer, on Facebook at Castle Danger Brewery, or visit their website online.
Owners: Clint and Jamie McFarlane
Brewer: Mason Williams
Location: 17 7th Street, Two Harbors
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 12 to 9 p.m., Friday – Saturday: 12 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m.
So, let’s start with an easy question. Tell me, what is the story behind the name Castle Danger?
Jamie: That is THE most asked question! Castle Danger got its name from the dangerous reef that runs between two sets of cliffs, ending at Gooseberry River. Before Highway 61 came in the 1920’s, all traffic was by boat. Ship captains would know to stay well back from the shore between the two cliffs, or “castles,” because of the dangerous reef.
Oh! I would have assumed it had to do with the township. I love that it has such a connection to Lake Superior and the surrounding area. Why did you choose Two Harbors for the expanded location?
Jamie: Clint & I both grew up in Two Harbors: he, just one mile outside Two Harbors and me at our resort in Castle Danger. Our families are both long-time residents, as well. It’s home. So, when we decided to expand the brewery, we knew we would need a public water supply. Two Harbors city water comes from Lake Superior, which is so fresh and wonderful for making beer! It is basically a blank canvas, letting the beer ingredients really shine.
That’s wonderful that it not only has a connection to you and Clint but also offers great products to make quality beer. Speaking of, tell me a little bit about what you have on tap at the moment.
Jamie: Our four year round beers: Castle Cream Ale, Danger Ale, 17-7 Pale Ale and Ode IPA. Then, our seasonals: Summer Crush, Red Hop Rising & George Hunter Stout on nitro.
Wow! Sounds like a good selection. Tell me, do you have any flagship beers?
Jamie: Danger Ale is our flagship.
You mentioned Summer Crush as a seasonal. As the season is changing, will you have a new season beer on tap, or anything you are working on?
Jamie: Red Hop Rising is our fall seasonal. [As for what we’re working on,] we get constant questions [about our Mosaic Fresh Hop] beer. This is such a superb beer but it’s only available when the hop harvest comes in, making it what we like to call “the last true seasonal.” So often seasonal beers are released a month before the intended season; we like to call that the Seasonal Creep. Our Mosaic Fresh Hop IPA is a wet/fresh hop IPA, meaning that the hop farm in the Pacific Northwest harvests the hops, packages them, ships them overnight to us and they immediately go into the brew the day they arrive. We typically don’t know when the hops will ship until just a few days before hand. We also have a new session IPA using a newer single hop variety called Azacca. This beer will release the second week of September, [and will be] called Azacca-to-me!
I know what you mean about the Seasonal Creep! I also can see why people get so excited for the truly limited Mosaic Fresh Hope. I noticed that you have a “freestyle series” as well. How is that different than the seasonal beers?
Jamie: Our Freestyle Series is the one-off, trial beers we brew. Sometimes we may end up making them again, but just not sure when we will. They are the more experimental beers that show up from time to time.
Sounds intriguing! Tell me, what would you serve to someone who is a beer novice?
Jamie: Definitely the Castle Cream Ale. It’s by far our most popular and approachable beer. It’s light, creamy and not hoppy.
I’ve had it before! Very low bitterness with a nice, light finish. So, how about someone who claims to be quite knowledgeable in the craft beer area? What would you serve them?
Jamie: It depends on the season, but right now the Red Hop Rising. If you’re around during the winter, we might have one of our barrel-aged beers.
Barrel-aged beers seem to always be a crowd-pleaser, even for those who are more new to craft beer! So, what is your favorite beer that you brew?
Jamie: 17-7 Pale Ale continues to be my go-to beer, year round. It’s light and citrusy, with a nice hoppiness that’s not over powering. Plus it’s lower in alcohol (5.8 percent)
After hearing a bit about what you offer, tell me about your brewing philosophy. How would you describe it?
Jamie: We brew beers we want to drink. We want our beers to be well-balanced between the malt and the hops. We take our time and do not rush beers because nothing good can ever come from that.
That is very true! So, in your time in the Two Harbors area, how have you seen the craft beer community change?
Jamie: It has changed a lot, but I think the biggest change has been the new loyalty and following of Minnesota craft breweries rather than national brands. Craft beer in Minnesota has changed so much since we started in 2011. There was no such thing as a taproom when we wrote our business plan in 2010! That has completely changed the culture and awareness of craft beer. We get a lot of tourists in our taproom and they really range from well-educated to first-time brewery visitors. There’s always an opportunity to educate the first-timers and help them discover what they like and might not like in beer.
It must be very exciting to know that your brewery can have a powerful influence on first-time craft beer drinkers in really shaping how they view beer. So, after seeing so much change in the last few years, how do you want it to change in the future?
Jamie: I think the main thing I’d like to see changed is the education of what a taproom in Minnesota actually is, as in what it is allowed and not allowed to do. So many people are not aware that there are laws that regulate what taprooms can and cannot do. For example, we are only allowed to sell beer we produce; we can’t sell liquor, wine or beer produced by other breweries. We also have the option of serving food or not. We consciously chose not to have a restaurant with our taproom, rather utilizing the existing restaurants in our small town to create more business for others who are already doing a fantastic job. It’s actually been a great partnership with our local restaurants.
I can imagine in a tourist town it is very important for visitors to know that, otherwise they may show up hungry and not know where to turn! But it’s great to see you have a strong partnership with restaurants in the area. Tell me, what is the most challenging thing about running Castle Danger?
Jamie: The constant changing of everything! We can make plans for what we’ll do in the week on Monday, and then it always changes by Wednesday. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one, to work with our distributors on supplying them with enough beer, while still being able to produce enough and plan ahead to anticipate what will be needed. It’s a juggling act that keeps us on our toes.
I can see how planning would be rather difficult when you’re not just supplying your own taproom! So, that being said, what is one piece of advice you would give aspiring brewers?
Jamie: Be willing to work hard, because being a brewer is really just a glorified janitor (ha ha). Being a brewer and even just working in a brewery takes a lot of work, focus and consistency that will result in quality. Be humble knowing that every chance is a learning experience and you may not know all the answers. Be curious and eager to always make things better.
On a different note, why should people come explore the brewing scene up in the Duluth/Two Harbors area as opposed to the Twin Cities?
Jamie: One of the biggest reasons is that we brew with Lake Superior water up here. We have a lot of really great breweries and brewpubs up here who are offering a different experience that is the North Shore.
That is a great point! For those who love craft beer and are familiar with the Twin Cities breweries, it would be interesting to see how the water from Lake Superior impacts the beer. So, to end, I always like to ask this question: How would you describe Castle Danger in one word?
Jamie: Dangerously good, which of course is two words!