Jenkins has a new, hit place to be since the March 11 opening of The Snarky Loon Brewing Company.
While this isn't the first microbrewery in Crow Wing County, the owners aim to compliment the rest of the local brewers by doing things a little differently.
"That's sort of our whole concept for the whole thing," said co-owner Melissa Klatt. "We want different. We don't want what anybody else has. We're trying to be original and different. Like our patios - not everybody has space for patios. Everybody has root beer at their brewery, whether it's good or bad, we don't have root beer because that's what everybody has."
"We want different. We don't want what anybody else has. We're trying to be original and different."
— Melissa Klatt.
Melissa and her husband, Joe Klatt, are the owners of Snarky Loon right on Highway 371, and they are used to doing things a little differently. In March 2020, while many businesses were worried about the future and potential new business owners were likely having second thoughts, they started the yearlong process of building their company.
"A lot of this started to happen even before COVID really started ramping up," Joe said. "We'd always talked about doing a business like this and what we would want to do for the community based on what we've seen in other places, so it was kind of in the back of our minds."
"It was kind of a nice time too because with things being closed it wasn't like we could go do other things," Melissa said. "We could just be here."
Joe and Melissa both have full-time jobs in addition to the Snarky Loon. Joe flies helicopter for emergency medical services and Melissa is the club manager at the Jenkins VFW. Joe is also 21-year member of the military, and Melissa previously managed another microbrewery.
They hope their experience has prepared them for their ownership responsibilities even during hard times.
They decided in 2020 that they had time to get established. They wanted to get a building that wasn't outside of their price range, and they knew it would take much of the year to get all of the construction and licensing out of the way, so they would miss the slow winter season.
They also took the chance that things would be improving in a year's time.
"Everything is kind of lining up perfectly," Joe said. "When we opened, all the COVID restrictions started lessening and now we're running into the summer season and we're hopeful most of the restrictions will be lifted."
Their "do things differently" model might also benefit them this summer with those who are still concerned about indoor eating. While they have a main room inside the brewery and a large beer hall in the back, they envisioned seating at the Snarky Loon to be primarily outdoors in the warm summers.
"We wanted a concept where it was more outside," Joe said. "People come up north to the Brainerd lakes to be outside and not to be stuck inside a building. That was even before COVID that we wanted everyone to be outside with places to sit."
"We wanted a concept where it was more outside. People come up north to the Brainerd lakes to be outside and not to be stuck inside a building."
— Joe Klatt.
The Snarky Loon has four outside spaces. The south of the building will be the Pergola, which will be shaded by a trellis of hops vines overhead and warmed by fire pits. There will be another patio with cornhole boards and a grassy seating area with a stage for live music every Saturday. Finally, in the back will be a seating area with a sand volleyball court.
"We have a lot of different things for people to do," Joe said.
"(There will be) fire pits everywhere. Picnic tables," Melissa said. "Just the kind of thing you think of when you go to your cabin. You can do it here, but it's maybe a bigger place to join with your friends and meet new people. Our motto is kind of, 'Where friends become family.'"
The Snarky Loon has 12 taps. Ten are alcoholic, the remaining are soda (cola and grape for the time being). One of the alcoholic taps is seltzer, which can have one of four flavors added - pineapple, pear, peach and blueberry. Their goal is to have something for everyone.
Their variety of beers is chosen so that microbrewery aficionados will have something to enjoy, but those who prefer classic bottled beers will find something too, as will those who prefer beverages like White Claw.
"We've converted a lot of people that are the American lager longneck bottle guys," Joe said.
The brewery looks quite different from others in the area. The small building isn't full of giant fermenter tanks that produce 13 barrels at a time. Instead, Joe and Melissa chose to brew on a one-barrel system. The idea is that any failed batch won't cost thousands of dollars and having smaller brew batches allows them to alternate flavors.
The recipes were all invented by head brewer Josh Estenson and assistant brewer Will Denny, specifically for the Snarky Loon.
"Will, our assistant brewer, came up with our Shenanigans. It's an Irish amber and it's one of our top beers. Josh also has a red IPA that's fabulous and that's one of our top ones."
— Melissa Klatt.
"Will, our assistant brewer, came up with our Shenanigans. It's an Irish amber and it's one of our top beers," Melissa said. "Josh also has a red IPA that's fabulous and that's one of our top ones."
The business may call in food trucks for events, but Melissa has chosen a small food menu that can be prepared without a kitchen. There's a loaded baked potato, a French dip, snack foods and the mother-of-all soft pretzels - a 20-ounce pretzel that Joe described as steering-wheel size.
They aren't looking at distribution at this size, though if the market demands it in the future, they may consider changing their tune.
"We want to see their faces and talk to them," Melissa said.
The business is already expanding equipment. They had to buy another fermenter to keep up with demand from customers. They don't know what other expansion could be in their future, but they are ready to consider it. No matter what, they want to continue to offer outdoor space even if they have to expand or move somewhere else.
Folks from other area breweries have stopped in from time to time to give them advice, gift baskets and to enjoy their products. Area brewers, it turns out, are working to be a community, not competitors.
"We're not here to compete with them," Melissa said. "We're just here to join the big family with all the other brewers in the area."
As a veteran, Joe and Melissa also offer a special deal for many of those serving the country and community. They offer a 25% discount to military, law enforcement, first responders, firefighters and EMS.
"Those folks are on the front lines supporting the community," Joe said. "We just want to support them."
In case you missed It: Rendezvous Brewing a hit in Hackensack
Another relative newcomer to the local microbrewery community is Rendezvous Brewing of Hackensack.
"We opened in June for off-sale only and on July 1 we opened the tap room," said co-owner Sue Toth. "It's been excellent. We have a really supportive community. They're really excited to have us in town even when we had to close down to off-sale they came in and bought beer and told us they wanted to support us in any way they could."
"It's been excellent. We have a really supportive community. They're really excited to have us in town even when we had to close down to off-sale they came in and bought beer and told us they wanted to support us in any way they could."
— Sue Toth.
Sue and her co-owner/husband, Doug, used a combination of off-sale and outdoor dining to bolster sales even while the pandemic made business more complicated. The growlers and canned products they sold during the pandemic have remained popular for people fishing on the ice and during promotional area events.
"We had an excellent summer, which helps a lot," Sue said.
The company adapted to restrictions to maintain a safe environment throughout the year, instituting additional sanitation and using outdoor seating, mask policies while customers were between tables and distancing guidelines.
"We even put in a new air handler furnace," Doug said.
They have since learned about their customers' preferences.
"We've learned as you're brewing your beer to learn what mix is suited for your population," Sue said. "We have some beers that we will never take off tap because there are people that come in from the surrounding areas that come in and order only those beers. We're not an experimental taproom, we cater to the community we're serving."
The company's first beer, their signature beer, was called "Chapter One" and it has remained a local favorite. It was created from a recipe from the original Rendezvous that Sue's grandparents opened in the 1950s. Another favorite is their oatmeal stout "Falling Moon."
In addition, they have learned that a lot of ice anglers like their 10% alcohol Russian Imperial Stout. The last is a winter treat they refer to as a "sipping" beer.
They have also had some hits with crowds that don't generally like beer when they have produced blood orange and strawberry blonde beers.
"Those went over like wildfire, so we'll always try to have something like that," Sue said.
Doug also recommends their new West Coast style Indian pale ale called "Staring Blindly," which has proven popular.
Sue is also a part of the local business organization that is working overtime to make improvements to the city of Hackensack. So far, plans include new trees downtown and wider sidewalks. Hackensack may also soon boast a new pizza place and bike shop.
"It's just going to be a much more welcoming place," Sue said.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.