The local brewery scene in Brainerd and Nisswa has been ‘hopping’ in the past several years. With craft beers and local breweries gaining large popularity in the past decade, it is great to have several options that are so close to home. Selling year-round flavors and seasonal flavors, the local breweries offer many delicious options, but also give you a taste of the local culture. Whether you just want a unique beer or are interested in seeing and understanding how the process works, these local entrepreneurs will quench your thirst and satisfy your curiosity of this new trend.
To the untrained eye, brewing beer is the basic process of adding ingredients such as wheat, barley, malt, hops, and yeast in with a little water and ‘wha-la’ it becomes beer. The process however, is much more scientific than it seems. It takes a seasoned mixologist with a keen understanding of chemistry and the dedicated passion to get just the right ingredients and timing. With different recipes, and the same ingredients you can get everything from dark porters, American Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, the lighter blonde-style beers and flavorful saisons. This detail-oriented work is very technical but also allows the master brewer to put their own unique twist into each beer that they create.
Opened in 2012, Jack Pine was the first brewery in the Brainerd Lakes Area since prohibition. Patrick Sundberg, owner of Jack Pine, went from brewing in his garage to being voted in the top 15% of quality and flavor by the Beer Judge Certification Program in America (BJCP). Every year he is vigorously tested on the flavor profile of his flights of beer as well as a timed essay test. This multi question test requires him to describe how he would create the beer in question off the top of his head and involves amounts of ingredients, how long and how warm his batches must be set at (a very important aspect of brewing), besides describing the flavor profile of each beer. With over 6000 judges voting each year, he has set himself apart from many of the breweries in the nation.
With popular year-round beers like his Fenceline and seasonals like the upcoming fall flavor, Jacktoberfest, he does lots of R&D on the flights of beer available in his taproom. It takes him three weeks to go from grain to glass whether it is in individual pints, howlers and growlers. Having a taproom on hand gives him a huge advantage in exploring new flavors and styles of beer to get the new and unique flavors directly to customers for feedback. The taproom is also a great opportunity for customers to take a beer glass or their favorite shirt home to support Jack Pine Brewery.
With so much interest in his beers over the years Patrick has expanded as much as possible in the building he is in currently. He made the decision to expand from College Drive in Baxter to a building twice the size next to the Arrowwood Lodge off of Highway 371, breaking ground in September. This new building will still allow his creativity to flourish as well as being able to create the volume necessary for the demand on his beers. Distributing all the way to St. Cloud, going from a three-barrel system to a 15-barrel system will help the beer ‘pour’ into the surrounding areas. Start following the Jack Pine Brewing now and wait to see what flavors come next.
Big Axe is a local brewery that has recently come to downtown Nisswa, just across the street from Ganley’s and at the mouth of the pedestrian underpass of Highway 371. Adding to the culture of the small town, this is a great opportunity to be up close and personal with the brewing process. Serving anything from a ‘taster’ sample, a pint, or even a growler, the options are there for the slightly curious all the way up to the thirstiest of customers. The bar is located just feet away from the giant 250-gallon vats where you can see the process as well as taste your favorite local beer. While the space seems small, the beer selection is nothing of the sort. Big Axe carries every beer from cream ales to double IPAs. A Grand View Lodge favorite is the Mosaic Pale Ale released this May. This beer is described as “packed full of flavor and aroma, containing hints of grapefruit and tropical fruit aromas with a subtle touch of onion.” When we sampled it we couldn’t help but taste something familiar that we just couldn’t put our finger on and left us wanting more. This is just one of 15 unique experiences you can choose from at Big Axe.
Also unique about Big Axe Brewing Company is the restaurant area on the other side of the bar wall. Here you can choose to sit down with friends and family to have a delicious meal whether it’s tasty wings, sandwiches or a pulled pork sandwich. If you feel the need to get outside during the summer months, they also have patio where they bring in local artists to play live music during the evenings or to watch the vibrant town of Nisswa, Minnesota. The close quarters and unique atmosphere allows you to immerse yourself in the sights and smells of the brewing process while you sip on a dark porter or their most popular beer, the blonde ale.
Gull Dam Brewery
Opened in October of 2014, Gull Dam offers large spaces for yard games, live music, jenga, and of course beer. Located across from the Holiday Station on Highway 371 or just down the road from Schaefer’s Foods, this pet-friendly establishment has a beautiful location complete with a large traditional waterwheel and a stage for live music. Experience northern Minnesota the best way possible, with a beer in hand. Gull Dam has truly mastered their flavors over the past two years giving you plenty to choose from. All nine beers offer complex flavors and variety, the most unique being the Scottish Ale. This beer will have you questioning the label. It tastes remotely like a root beer, so much that you might even want to add ice cream.
Over the weekends and on busy weekdays you can find a tent outdoors sporting local food and ‘Gull Dam Merch’. The split-level, 3400 square foot building can accommodate groups of up to 100 people for work gatherings or a small wedding reception. Large wooden tables outside are a great location to host a birthday party or your weekly cocktail hour. Dog treats included!
Roundhouse Brewing is the newest addition to the local brewery scene. Located in the old Northern Pacific Railroad center in east Brainerd, they have combined new with a touch of old. This beautiful building has been completely remodeled to modern standards while keeping intact with the history of the original train yard. What Roundhouse lacks in age, they make up in flavors like their #10 Hefeweizen and Angel Seat Amber Ale (named after an old rail yard work position). In order to go along with the historical location the building is located in, they cleverly name their beers after many of the jobs that were available while it was still ‘turning’ trains around the Brainerd and Baxter area. Their ‘Old Betsy Brown Ale’ was named after the first locomotive at the Northern Pacific Railroad. This locomotive was responsible for hauling all the materials necessary to expand on the young rail system in Crow Wing County. Their hefeweizen pays respect to the locomotive engine featured on their website as well as represents the 10 flavors that Chuck, their lead brewer, has created for the brewery. Filling their store with historic photos of the train yard and even the door to an old boxcar, Roundhouse Brewing is ready to make a large impact on Brainerd and surrounding areas.
The trend of craft beers from local breweries has caught fire across the nation and we are starting to feel the heat in Brainerd and Nisswa. With bold pioneers like Jack Pine, Roundhouse, Big Axe, and Gull Dam, the excitement is sure to spread all over the area. Going above and beyond other breweries in the nation they have put the area on a map as a hot spot for delicious beer made with the finest ingredients by some of the best local brewers you can find. And rumor has, a new brewery will be opening in Crosslake next year to extend your brewery tour of the Lakes Area!