It's on tap
BAXTER — Beer enthusiasts will now have an opportunity to grab a growler at a taproom in Baxter.
For Patrick Sundberg, the creative force behind Jack Pine Brewery, the taproom connects beer drinkers to the brewing process the way a farmers’ market links fresh vegetables to the growers.
People can taste what’s new and then grab a jug to share around the lake, the campfire or backyard patio.
Sundberg’s dad used a portable bandsaw to cut the knotty pine used to accent the taproom, which is the finished and more appointed part of the brewery. On the other side of the room are the 40-gallon stainless steel kettles and pallets of grains representing the brewery side.
Jack Pine Brewery is opening its taproom doors from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at 7942 College Road, Suite 115.
“The taproom is to connect with people. The main focus for the taproom is to get people to taste the beer and sell the growlers,” Sundberg said.
The growlers are 64-ounce jugs of the brewery’s own. Taprooms are allowed to sell the beer from the attached brewery in specified containers. The growler is just shy of a six-pack in its beer equivalent.
Brewing the beer involves a 10-hour day and then the brew is fermented for two to three weeks. It will sit in the keg another week. As Sundberg says it’s about a month from grain to glass.
The names of the beer, Fenceline and Duck Pond, reflect Sundberg’s youth and growing up in rural Perham.
Fenceline is an American pale ale fermented with dry hops for a week to carve a hop aroma and flavor into the beer. Sundberg said it brings out the fresh grass and citrus grapefruit character of the beer. It’s his favorite.
The Duck Pond is a nutty brown ale. He described it as an English pub beer, that isn’t aggressive but has a rich maltiness with a nutty character resembling hazelnut that is actually created using darker roasted grains to achieve its complexity. Down the road, Sundberg would like add his Dead Branch cream ale, which he describes as an American Pilsner.
The 32-year-old Sundberg started homebrewing 13 years ago. At first it was an occasional hobby. It wasn’t long before the math and physics major became more intriguing. He said most homebrewers are fond of their own creations but when he started winning homebrewing awards, he started dreaming bigger.
He enjoyed the science behind the effort to create the perfect balances and bring out specific flavors. He researched and studied brewing, earning a national rank in the nonprofit Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The organization, founded in 1984, certifies and ranks judges using an exam and monitoring process. Worldwide, the BJCF reports 641 people now have the rank of national judge or higher.
Then Sundberg went to a course in Chicago about starting your own brewery.
“The science end of it is really interesting to me,” the Concordia College graduate said of the brewing process and changes in beer just based on the water quality — with hard water good for making stouts and pure water better for light beers. And then comes the coaxing of flavors by what’s added to the mix to bring out the flavor, just as beer drinkers add salt to bring out the malt.
“That’s water chemistry,” he said. “That’s what brewers can do. That’s the fun part for me and starting the business has been fun, too.”
Sundberg moved to the lakes area with his wife Sara, who has family here operating Good Neighbor Home Care. She joined them as operations manager.
“She’s been really supportive of this whole thing,” he said.
The brewery is Sundberg’s part-time gig. The Baxter resident’s day job is in Ironton with Mirada Research and Manufacturing, which specialized in inflation components (such as valves, hoses, pumps, flanges), system design and product development. Sundberg is in the engineering department working with specialty testing and putting together assembly procedures and troubleshooting among other duties.
“A lot of variety there,” Sundberg said of his job. “That’s a great place to work.”
Wearing a Blue Ox Brew Society, Brainerd, T-shirt, Sundberg was putting some of the last touches in his brewery Thursday before a final Baxter building inspection. He calls Jack Pine Brewery not a microbrewery but a nanobrewery. The name for the company came from the tree that reseeds itself after a fire. That resurgence is what Sundberg sees in breweries.
Once part of the small town experience and wiped out in prohibition, small breweries have returned with the interest in craft beers. Sundberg said his operation is the first commercial brewery in the Brainerd lakes area since prohibition. According to the Brewers Association, the voice of craft brewers, there are more licensed breweries now with brew pubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries — more than 2,100 as of 2012 — than in the last 125 years.
“This is perfect timing here just as people are starting to get more interested,” Sundberg said of his operation.
From the stainless steel kettles, the beer moves to the fermentation room before it ultimately ends up in the cold taproom for carbonation and then the kegs are hooked to lines leading straight to the taps behind the counter.
An iPad equipped with a Square credit card reader provides a wireless register for business transactions. Customers with a Square wallet can pay for purchases directly from their smartphones.
The taproom sells the growler jugs for $5 and fills them with the beer for $10. The growlers are refilled for customers on return visits. Sundberg’s first batches from the brewery will be for sale at the taproom when it opens its doors for the first time this weekend.
Sundberg expects regular taproom hours to be 4-7 p.m. Fridays to catch people as the weekend begins and then add some Saturday afternoons in the future. He’s talking to area restaurants such as Prairie Bay about being on tap there and thinks he can handle about six such clients.
Sundberg said his taproom gives people a chance to taste and buy beer where the journey from start to finish is measured in feet not miles.
“Keep it cold and fresh and it’s delicious,” Sundberg said of beer. “That’s the thing about craft beer — you always want to try something different. It’s kind of exciting to be part of that. Get the beer out there and see what everyone thinks.”