This is the fifth in a series of stories underwritten by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Their financial support allows us to dig deeper into the craft, culture, and personality of Minnesota’s brewers. Read our previous installments: Part I on brewing styles, Part II on All Pints North, Part III on Beer at the Fair and our Autumn Seasonal Taste-Off.
You can drink every night for a month in the Twin Cities and not run out of new breweries and taprooms to visit. And the North Shore has become an obvious destination for beer lovers, too, as newcomers such as Canal Park, Bent Paddle, and Borealis have piled onto a list already well-stocked with established favorites like Fitger’s and Lake Superior.
But those who head north and west of the Twin Cities are in for some hoppy, malty treats as well. While Cold Spring Brewing Company and Jack Pine Brewery are less well known than Surly and Summit, they’re pouring some noteworthy brews in the central part of the state.
Cold Spring Brewing Company
A beautiful brick building with two-story tall windows, the Cold Spring Brewery is the home of Third Street Brewhouse, the recently-founded craft beer arm, and its taproom.
We signed up for a free tour in advance. Four are offered every Saturday at noon, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm, but check to confirm winter hours. The tour ran about an hour, even though we visited only about four rooms, and unlike many craft brewery tours we have been on, it was one of the most industrial. A regional production brewery, Cold Spring also contract brews for big-name brands such as 21st Amendment based in of San Francisco, and it produces a variety of undisclosed energy drinks.
In the Third Street building, however, it’s all craft beer, on a scale somewhere between 612 Brew and Summit. With about a dozen brewers (from around the world) the brewery produces a very large amount of beer. That isn’t to say the brewers don’t get to flex some muscle – each year the brewery produces a new Spotlight IPA that is chosen by the team based on each brewer’s recipe and sample batch. The highlight of the tour is the fermentation room, which is filled three stories high with steel monstrosities, pipes running and curving around, and a scattering of controls and gauges. Reminiscent of a car factory assembly line, this room is a feat of scale.
At the end of the tour you receive a flight of six 3-ounce tasters that collectively tell the story of the brewery: how neighbors didn’t want it to open (the Bitter Neighbor Black IPA), and how they thought it would poison the nearby river (the Lost Trout Brown Ale). The selection includes seasonals and flagships (but no Spotlight IPA), but the star of the show is the Sugar Shack, which they call a Maple Stout. The beer itself is what you would expect – dark, slightly smoky, with a sweet finish – but what makes it unique is how the maple is acquired. Having exclusive rights to the maple sap from the nearby St. John’s Abbey Arboretum and Forest, the brewery team goes out annually to tap its trees.
There is, of course, a merchandise store, which is surprisingly understated and not an “exit through a gift shop” situation. It’s more of an afterthought, just in case you have a friend who really wanted a Three Way Pale Ale beanie. But it’s pleasant and warm, with a small gas fireplace burning next to tall interior windows that allow you to see into the brewing room as the brewers adjust gauges and sanitize equipment. If you can’t make it on a Saturday for a tour, you can visit the taproom Friday evenings from 4-8pm and Saturday from 12-5pm.
Cold Spring Brewing Company, 219 Red River Ave N, Cold Spring, MN 56320; 320.685.8686
Jack Pine is located in Baxter, Minn., just southwest of Brainerd. Fifteen minutes from Crow Wing State Park, in an industrial park / strip mall hybrid, Jack Pine Brewery is a visible-but-small gem. We arrived as the sun was setting, and it felt as if the “open” sign and the golden glow of the taproom were beacons reminding us of why we made this journey north. Once inside, we were surprised at how busy it actually was, and not with out-of-towners.
Open Thursday 4-9pm and Friday and Saturday 2-9pm, the brewery feels like a local favorite. Many patrons arrived with family – parents, grandparents, and children – and soon the already intimate space began to feel much smaller and even warmer, literally and figuratively. The wood-paneled walls and cabin kitsch accent the “up north” feeling of the taproom, and the beer did not disappoint. The highlight was the special beers, including a rotating infusion, a cocoa and coconut version of their Duck Pond nut brown ale, and jalapeno Dead Branch cream ale, which was light in mouthfeel, but had a strong, spicy finish that made the beer more of an experience than just a sip.
While no tours are available, there is really no need for them; the space is so small you can see the cold room from the plastic Adirondack lawn chairs in the overflow seating area, which is within the sightline of the two tiny fermenters. The space probably comes into its own in the summer, or even fall, when the truck-sized garage door is open, but Jack Pine is a must-see on any Central Minnesota Brewcation. It is an authentic taste of the local scene, and a gloat-worthy visit likely to impress metro beer snobs, since this beer is rarely (or never, except for select beer festivals) on tap in the Twin Cities.
Jack Pine Brewery, 7942 College Rd Suite 115, Baxter, MN 56425; 218.270.8072