If you’re lucky enough to find Austin Jevne in the barrel room at Forager Brewing Co., ask him about the oldest barrel in the brew house. It’s a tiny Turkey Hill Apiary barrel Jevne’s been using since he was a homebrewer, and it’s nearly seven years old—surprising for a brewery that just celebrated its one-year anniversary.
The barrel used to house honey, and has welcomed stouts and sour beers, fulfilling Forager’s modus operandi of reusing materials until they’ve breathed their last breath, or in this case, aged their final beer.
Anyone who has kept up on Minnesota’s beer scene knows that Forager is held in high esteem when it comes to barrel-aged sours and stouts, and though Forager had only enough barrels to count on one hand when it opened, the brewery now houses 85 and may have up to 120 in just a few weeks. The number of barrels is the culmination of what Jevne dreamed of before the brewery even opened: a bevy of unique barrel-aged beers.
“It just pushes beers to another level that you can’t achieve without the addition of wood,” Jevne says of his eclectic collection of barrels.
Because of the smaller operation and variety of barrels, Jevne and his brewing team are able to let the beers sit until they’re ready, not having to worry about things like distribution dates.
“We just let the beer speak for itself,” says Jevne. “When it’s ready, we’ll know.”
That helps push Forager’s beers into new territories, because they’re tailored to people who are willing to wait for unique barrel-aged flavors. Gin barrels, maple syrup barrels, bourbon barrels, bourbon barrels once hosting honey – and even a barrel from the highly regarded 45th Parallel Distillery – all feature prominently across from the main entryway of the farm-to-table brewpub.
It’s what Jevne, who has been inspired by everything from Founder’s KBS barrel-aged stout to Wisconsin’s barrel-blending pros Tyranena, to barrel-aging savants Central Waters and Goose Island, and even the lesser known Kuhnhenn, has always wanted. These names make beer nerds swoon and salivate, especially when it comes to barrel-age beer releases.
“Kuhnhenn has been a company that’s really been inspiring the whole time as far as their business model, growth, and what they do there,” Jevne explains. “Just keep it small and make an awesome product.”
Forager is adhering to that model. The smaller operation with smaller barrels is making big flavors and big waves in the Minnesota beer scene.