Progress: Jack Pine looks to make a jump
BAXTER--The first person to dip their toes into the craft brewery market in the Brainerd lakes area was Patrick Sundberg, who opened Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter in January 2013.
BAXTER-The first person to dip their toes into the craft brewery market in the Brainerd lakes area was Patrick Sundberg, who opened Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter in January 2013.
Since then, the brewery has grown rapidly to the point where Sundberg is planning a relocation and expansion. He's hoping the new location, next to Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, will be opening in 2017.
Until then, visiting the brewery on a Monday or Tuesday when the taproom is closed and employees are brewing and bottling beer in the space, resembles the image of an adult sitting in a chair in an elementary school classroom. The chair still works for sitting, but it's obviously not a correct fit.
What Sundberg is most looking forward to about the expansion is simply having more breathing room and more space. The brewery is crammed into its current space, he said, and despite that, is keeping up with demand.
"We are still keeping up, but it's put stress on both me and everybody that's working here," Sundberg said. "It's been fun, but it's been challenging."
Sundberg thought he would get 5-7 years out of the current space on College Road and didn't fathom he'd be planning an entirely new brewery and expansion within three years. Instead, he said he started seriously thinking about an expansion after six months of operation.
One such casualty of the small space has been brewery tours. Sundberg said he had to back off on offering weekend tours because when more than six people are in the taproom, it gets too noisy to properly do a tour. But he has noticed a lot of weekend customers going from one area brewery to another, doing their own tours of area breweries.
Sundberg was surprised at how busy the taproom has been. Taprooms used to be a secondary brewery attraction, he said, now there's an entire culture built around taprooms.
"I thought our taproom would be more than adequate and I was completely wrong," Sundberg said.
A lot of newer taprooms have things Jack Pine Brewery currently doesn't have, like an outdoor patio. The new expansion will feature a bigger taproom, an outdoor patio and will be a bit easier to get in and out of, Sundberg said. It will also allow the brewery to host food trucks.
Most notably, the newer facility will have a much bigger production system. The current 3-barrel system will be replaced by a new 15-barrel system. There will also be a full canning and bottling line. The square footage will double from 3,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet. The new taproom will be 2,000 square feet and there will be a space available to rent out for private events.
"We've got a nice, good mix of industrial feel here and we're going to try to preserve a lot of that in the new space," Sundberg said.
Sundberg is hoping the new, expanded building will be built before winter with production up and running by spring with the taproom opening shortly after. He's working with Nor-Son Inc. on the design and construction of the new brewery.
It was good to work with the city of Baxter on the expansion, Sundberg said, as many of the questions had been asked and answered when he opened the brewery the first time. Breweries are now a proven commodity statewide, he said, and he's proven his concept works.
"The second go-round was a lot easier than the first one," Sundberg said. "The first one, there was a lot of educating, a lot of teaching on what it was."
Unfortunately, Sundberg has to go through the licensing and permitting process again when the brewery moves. But he's done it before, he said, and can draw on that experience to help make the process easier.
"I've been through it once before and kind of know the path we need to take," Sundberg said.
There was one beer on tap for Jack Pine Brewery's opening day and selection grew to three beers after a few months. Those first three beers were Duck Pond, Fenceline and Dead Branch, which Sundberg considers the brewery's core beers.
"Most people can find something they like between those three," Sundberg said.
Now, there's 10-11 beers on tap at any given time, Sundberg said. The past few months have seen the debut of Cask Thursdays, which allows the brewery to play with different flavors in the beers, he said. Before beer is carbonated in a brite tank, it's instead put into a cask where sugar is added to carbonate it. The brewer will also add some kind of new flavor to vary the taste of the cask beer.
"We can throw whatever we want to in there," Sundberg said. "It's always kind of an adventure, you never know what's going to happen with it."
Some of the casks have gone over well, Sundberg said, while others haven't. By far, the biggest hit was Dead Branch with raspberries and hibiscus, he said, which produced an amazing, bright pink color.
The brewery recently added canned growlers and sold 120 of them over the Fourth of July weekend, Sundberg said. The brewery sells the canned growlers, dubbed "crowlers," along with full-sized 64-ounce growlers and a smaller-sized growler.
The distributor Jack Pine Brewery picked up in November, C&L Distributing Inc., has brought the beer into establishments in the area and in St. Cloud. That relationship opened the brewery's distribution area and fueled the expansion, Sundberg said.
"They were kind of the main driver, because they had a market available, they were eager to sell it," Sundberg said.
The brewery has plenty of room to grow and, in a way, Sundberg feels like how he did when the brewery opened the first time. The expansion is conservative, manageable and has the capacity to add more production if necessary, he said.
The current production maximum, which the brewery will hit this year, is about 800 barrels per year, Sundberg said. They brew six to seven batches per week in the summer, he said, and in the spring they were brewing five batches per week.
The new brewery can easily produce 2,000 barrels per year, Sundberg said, which is what his first-year projection is for production. A lot of the growth will come from selling four- and six-packs of canned beer, he said, which is the biggest selling segment of beer. The current facility doesn't have the capability to can beer.
From brewer to boss
Sundberg's role in the three years of the brewery's lifespan has changed from doing everything to having to step back and delegate certain tasks to employees. There's three full-time employees and seven part-time employees who work in the taproom, so Sundberg doesn't have his hands in everything the brewery does all of the time.
"That's been interesting, it's been challenging," Sundberg said. "But it's been fun bringing other people into the fold."
Sundberg never saw himself in the role he has now when he was starting the brewery. Back then, he said he just wanted to pay his bills. He expected he would have to keep his part-time job, instead he was surprised by the strong reaction.
"The local community just was ready for it and they just grabbed onto it," Sundberg said. "We blew through our three-year projections in a couple months."
Sundberg isn't brewing very often now; it's one of the tasks he's had to delegate to a full-time brewer. If there's a new batch coming out, he'll do the recipe and oversee things, but he joked that he's passed off the "heavy lifting and sweaty work."
"It's fun," Sundberg said. "That's part of my role that I want to work myself back into."
One of Sundberg's biggest challenges when he started hiring people came from the fact that not everyone has his depth of professional brewing knowledge to pull from. He was forced to set procedures and reevaluate what he was doing, which in turn made things more consistent.
"It made our process a lot better, too," Sundberg said. "That will help us as we grow further too and add more people in, to have that baseline."
With the new expansion, Sundberg is sure he'll have to continue to step away from certain parts of the business. He still oversees some parts of running the taproom, but will continue to pass those off as he works in a full-time taproom manager.
"I'm sure the same thing will happen with the production side," Sundberg said. "It's always a challenge and that's something that I've really struggled with, is trying to identify things that I can hand off."
Sundberg's ultimate job is to make sure the end product at Jack Pine Brewery is good, whether the product is the beer or the taproom experience.
"I've always tried to hire and train people to do a better job than I have," Sundberg said.
The most rewarding part of the experience so far has been meeting people, Sundberg said. People in the taproom and at bars and restaurants in the area have been warm and receptive, he said.
"The people that gather around good beer, it's been really invigorating to see that," Sundberg said.
It's exciting to go into a restaurant and see Jack Pine beer on tap, Sundberg said, but he actually gets more excited to see other people recommend the beer.
"To hear some random waitress, who I don't even know, pitch this local beer ... without any prompting or anything," Sundberg said. "To hear other people get excited about it, that's really thrilling."
Business: Jack Pine Brewery
Number of employees: Seven
Interesting fact: Owner Patrick Sundberg holds a National rank as a beer judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program, a nonprofit organization that certifies and ranks beer judges. He is one of 800 people worldwide to obtain the rank of National or higher.