This past weekend, the wife and I had a short getaway to the Brainerd, MN area. We had no agenda but to get out of town and relax. It also happened to be an area where there are four breweries that I’ve never tried. It’s been a while since I’ve done a brewery tourism post, so this seems like a good opportunity to share my experiences with some northern Minnesota brews.
Jack Pine Brewing
We decided to hit Jack Pine Brewing as our first stop, as it was on our way in to town. When I was researching Jack Pine before the trip, I was intrigued at how they were growing from a small 2-3bbl setup to a full 15bbl brewhouse with a brand new location. This seemed like a good sign that they were doing something right here, and I was excited to try them.
Their current location is in a small warehouse area, with a taproom sharing space with the brewhouse area, on days that they are not brewing. It’s a warm and comfortable room, but I can see the desire to want to move up to something nicer. I ordered up a flight, bypassing most of the standard brews, and opting for some of the more unique items on the list. The first one that caught my attention was the Rusty Nail #5, Sour Brown ale. I haven’t had a lot of sour brown ales, so this was a real treat. The sourness worked really well with the malt profile to create something that wasn’t a sweet sour, but more rich and earthy sour.
Another brew that really impressed me was their Chokecherry Black Bear Stout. This is a beer that is aged in whiskey barrels that were filled with chokecherry. The balance of fruit, vanilla, and oatmeal stout was perfect. I actually gave this beer a perfect 5 on Untappd, which is very rare for me. I could have sat there sipping this beer all night.
After (and during) my flight I got a chance to chat up the beertenders and talk about the Minnesota brewing and the taproom scene. They were nice enough let me try a sample of their 2015 Barleywine, which after aging a couple years, was amazing. I picked up a bottle of the 2017 to bring home for a friend to age a couple years (hopefully to the same effect). We eventually grabbed some swag and called it a night.
Jack Pine was a great experience, and I highly recommend checking them out.
Big Axe Brewing
Our first stop of Saturday was at Big Axe Brewing, one of two breweries in the Nisswa area just north of Brainerd. We arrived close to opening time and grabbed a seat at the bar. I ordered up a flight, again choosing some of the non-standard brews, and started chatting with the guy running the bar. The conversation was actually a ton of fun, as he’s a local chiropractor, and just works at the taproom occasionally. My wife and I enjoyed talking about physical medicine rehab in out-state Minnesota while we tasted the wares.
One standout in particular for me was their Chipotle Stout. I’ve had a fair number of spicy beers, but I’m always hesitant when trying new ones due to how heavy handed brewers can get with the spice. I’m pleased to report that Big Axe nailed it with this beer. The heat was on the back end and it stuck with you with just a little bit when you were done. It was a pleasing warmth that reminded you that you just drank something spicy, but it didn’t overwhelm the flavor of a really solid stout. It was a good enough beer that I brought a mini-growler home, and devoured it pretty quick.
Big Axe has a bit smaller space, but they are adjacent to a cafe where they can share seating. When we arrived we were the only ones in the place, but by the time we left it was completely packed. We had a good time at Big Axe, and I was really happy with the beers that they were putting out. Everything was well brewed and I didn’t detect any flaws in their process. Overall, a really great experience.
Tomorrow, two more breweries in the Brainerd area that are worth stopping in to!
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