When I first met with Forager Brewing Co. head brewer Austin Jevne, he was apologizing. I had an iPhone-turned-recorder in my hand and a Sony DSLR slung over my shoulder. Jevne was hastily writing down some science pertaining to a batch of beer he was brewing, and needed some time to do calculations.
As for the brewery itself, parts of the floor were dirt, equipment was scattered and squished together everywhere, and the sweet smell of fermentation was seeping into my nostrils from a back room.
The birth of a brewery is something special–but it happens all the time. Breweries are popping up at an almost alarming rate, so someone who imbibes fantastic craft beer regularly can be both excited and overwhelmed when yet another one opens its doors.
I admit I felt that way when I started writing about Rochester’s brewery boom for The Growler Magazine, the reason I had found my way to Jevne’s incubating space.
“Do you like sours?” Jevne asked me while we left the fermentation room to head toward a makeshift relaxation area made up of a garish couch and random chairs.
“I’m a huge fan of New Glarus’ Enigma and Wild Sour,” I replied excitedly. “I love sours.”
This little exchange led to Jevne disappearing outside into a windy Rochester to grab a bottle of a Flanders red he had recently made.
When the beer hit my taste buds, I had one piercing thought: this is going to be one helluva brewery. I’ve had many Flanders red beers in my time; this was easily one of the best.
Maybe it tasted so wonderful because of the foraged black cap raspberries. Regardless, I have a rule: every brewery needs at least one standout beer to make it worth visiting. I’ve run into some that do not have such a thing. The first beer Jevne gave me from Forager was just that.
Earthy and perfectly balanced, it didn’t scare away my taste buds. I just wanted more.
I had to stop myself from drinking too quickly as I didn’t want it to disappear. I also had a brewer and fellow Wisconsinite to interview.
It’s obvious that Jevne has superb brewing skills. Combine that with the local ingredients he forages to put into his beer–such as mulberries, black cap raspberries, and mushrooms–and Forager Brewing is on the path to producing locally sourced beers with aplomb.
Jevne, who has had stints working with the Minnesota DNR and Rush River Brewing Co. in River Falls, Wis., has always been infatuated with nature, so it only makes sense that he’d marry that with his love of beer.
Jevne’s love of foraging edibles in the wild began during his childhood growing up near Lake Wingra, and the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Arbortetum. He essentially had access to a 1,260-acre wonderland of restored ecosystems bursting with over 300 species of native plants.
Now the head brewer of the soon-to-open Forager Brewing (set to open before Fall 2015), Jevne has utilized the countless local resources in Rochester, Minn., as key ingredients in his beer.
“I pick some of the ingredients from local farms that allow me to forage on their properties,” Jevne says. “This beer [the sour ale I enjoyed with him during our interview] has a small amount of black cap raspberries in it that just adds a little bit of earthy funkiness, a little bit more of that acidic tartness. And they were picked from a local farm that let me wander their woods and pick their berries for basically nothing.
“We just want to get our ingredients as local as possible from these fruit farmers, from the different dairy and cattle farmers.”
Jevne is going to use ingredients that are indigenous to southeast Minnesota, ones that most people can’t get their hands on. He plans on using them in small batches to offer something unique, but also keep the food flourishing, and not overpicked.
“Mother nature is only going to give us so many, and I don’t want to take more than I should from the wild to let these things keep going, and also let other people forage them, too,” Jevne says.
The sour beers will remain small, special. The time of year will dictate which sour is on tap.
Jevne plans to work with more farms to grow berries around Rochester, giving the brewery more options when it comes to the kinds of sour beers it can make at different times of the year.
This will keep the sour project fresh and new, and will keep it small enough so it doesn’t infect the rest of the brewery’s operation. Bacteria and wild yeast can negatively affect beer, and sometimes that means brewer’s have to build an off-site sour facility, so Jevne hopes to avoid this by brewing sours on a smaller scale.
But what kinds of sour beers can patrons expect? An eclectic mix based on what Jevne has found in the wild.
Some of the fruit he forages include black cap raspberries, goose berries, wild plums, wild grapes, wild currants, wild blackberries, as well as a number of apples–not for ciders, but for beer. In addition to fruit, he’s also found some wild hops.
“I’ve actually split their rhizomes and am cultivating these wild hops at a friend’s organic farm outside of Lake City,” Jevne says. “So we’re going to be using, in certain beers, some hop varieties that are pretty much unknown, most likely old-world German varieties that have adapted to the Minnesota climate.”
The hops will eventually be sent to a lab so Jevne can find out what they’re best used for, but are currently aged for use in sour beers. There’s so much to use in Rochester’s driftless area that Jevne is even planning on making some mushroom beers.
“I’ve only done one mushroom maibock before with morel mushrooms, and the flavor of the mushroom didn’t come through a ton, but I think it’s kind of neat to incorporate those kind of ingredients into the beer, too,” Jevne says.
For Forager’s head brewer, the abundance of ingredients in southeast Minnesota means he can go beyond the morel mushroom Maibock he once made–federal approval (an obstacle he’s already faced) permitting.
“We have amazing ingredients around us; we have amazing farmers and people in southeast Minnesota willing to give what they’ve worked their life for to these businesses, and help us be more local than the bigger cities,” Jevne says. “Our farmers will be 20 minutes away rather than an hour and a half.”
And the foraging doesn’t stop at food. The brewery has also used the side of a barn, one that’s stood in Rochester since at least 1890, as a canvas for local artist Bobby Marines to paint the brewery’s logo on.
“We’re really just trying to, through Forager, buy as many second-hand things as we can,” Jevne says, adding how he wants to stay away from going cutting edge. Instead, Forager’s going for quality and reuse. “It will give it a unique, patchwork, quilt sort of feel.”
The space housing Forager is more than a brewery.
A five-foot diameter brick oven for pizza and cast-iron dishes is ready to make visitors a variety of food. A stove once used by Charles and Edith Mayo (Charles is a co-founder of Mayo Clinic), will once again be fired up.
“We’re not going to limit ourselves to only pizzas,” Jevne says. “We’ve got a really great executive chef, and he’s going to design a bunch of other recipes and dishes that can be easily finished in that oven.”
At first, Jevne was only going to open a brewery, but the space he found was less expensive than most other locations in town. After gathering more people for the project, Kutzky Market was born.
“It’s slightly modeled after The Source out in Denver, Colo.,” Jevne explains, noting how that spot has a cheese shop, flowers, baked goods, and a coffee shop.
Kutzky Market is similar in that it will be a place for artists to show off their pieces. Small-batch coffee will be brewed and available for those in need of a caffeine jolt. A leasable kitchen for chefs who want to show off their culinary skills will be a major component of Kutzky as well.
“It’s kind of like an incubator kitchen for more restaurants to grow in Rochester,” Jevne says. “We really want the food scene to start popping off here. It gives people the opportunity to see if their concept is going to work before actually committing the financial burden of opening their own restaurant.
“We really just want this place to help Rochester grow in the artisan field,” Jevne adds.
If it doesn’t work, brewery operations will expand.
On the Rochester brewery scene
“Since I’ve first met these guys and heard they were opening breweries as well, my complete attitude toward it is it’s not competition,” Jevne says. “It’s collaboration, it’s cooperation.”
Forager’s head brewer thinks that way because Rochester is a big city with a lot of growth potential thanks to the incoming Destination Medical Center, a catalyst for business and economic growth.
Looking to Duluth or the Twin Cities, Jevne is sure Rochester could use even more breweries, as long as people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes to mimic styles or flavors.
“We can all seek our own paths, do our own things,” he says. “It’s been really great to have these guys around.”
Aside from the excitement of growth, Jevne is just ready to tread new ground. For such a big city, Rochester only had one brewery, Kinney Creek, for years. It now has two breweries (LTS Brewing Co. opened August 4) and one brewpub, Grand Rounds.
“It’s really exciting,” Jevne admits, before talking about his years-old plan to open a brewery.
He goes on to explain how he had a dream to open one in the Twin Cities. Back when he first started working for Rush River Brewing Co., there wasn’t really that much out there. Then in 2011, the Surly Bill made it legal for brewers to sell pours of their own beer in the state, and breweries took off in the Twin Cities.
“There were so many great breweries already established, and it has a great beer scene, but to go to a town that I feel is slightly behind the whole localization movement, the small business, mom-and-pop kinda shops, it was very, very exciting to have an opportunity to be one of the first guys in town and bring our craft here,” Jevne says.
Jevne reflects on how the craft beer bar scene was even lacking just a couple years ago in Rochester.
“People just weren’t quite ready for it yet,” he says.
That’s changed, and Forager, along with all of the other breweries, are bringing new, local flavors to market.
“At first I thought it was going to be a tough city and everyone was going to demand a light lager, which isn’t necessarily the kind of style I like to brew,” Jevne says. “I don’t have a problem with them, I just like things with a little more complex, richer flavors. And the city is ready for that. Being here at this time is kind of the perfect moment for everyone to have had a chance to find what they like in craft beer–whether or not that’s malty, hoppy, or a belgian or sour flavor.
“We can kind of come and fill that void with our own creative expression of what we want to make our beer.”
Those expressions are coming from people like Brandon Schultz of LTS, and Steve Finnie of Grand Rounds, who have left jobs from places like IBM and Mayo Clinic, respectively, to do something they love.
“It really says something about people’s belief in this down here,” Jevne says, before adding that “you can just feel the buzz in town,” at places like the Thirsty Belgian, a beer bar he works at.
“I’m actually really, really excited for the next couple years as far as the beer scene in this town is concerned, what we can evolve into, and help shape the city into what’s more of a destination for other things than Mayo Clinic,” Jevne beams.
Jevne says he really wants to keep operations small and local: “I don’t really ever want it to grow into a huge brewery.”
He then jumps into how much he loves IPAs, big barrel-aged stouts, old ales, wheat wines, and barley wines.
“If there was to be growth from Forager, I would like it to be in that realm,” Jevne admits. “I’d like to produce some IPAs to go off-site if the laws in Minnesota do change [brewpub distribution laws would need to change]. We want the brewpubs to be able to at least sell a couple kegs to local bars if we want, or get a couple bombers or bottled six-packs out on shelves. I think that would be a great move for the state to open the doors to growth in those businesses, and not constrict us to only selling on-site at our pub and growlers.”
Jevne plans on being as active as possible with the state to push those laws through–if people respond well to his future IPAs. It’s just another way for him to support “local friends who own great craft beer bars, who kind of paved the ways for people’s palates here. Let them at least carry a beer of ours, if they want.”
After our interview, Jevne gets back to work in the brewery. He hopes the 18-hour days of foraging, building, and brewing pays off, providing Rochester and its visitors with something that can’t be found elsewhere.
Forager Brewing Co.
Kutzky Neighborhood, 1005 6th St. NW, Rochester, Mn.
Beer available (to rotate often):
Urban Hops: Aromatic, crisp, hoppy
Sherpa’s Survival Kit: Coffee, chocolate, complex
Johnny C’s Brown