Brewer Profile: JT Dalton of Barley John’s Brewing Company

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From his 1.5-barrel homebrew system, to a 3.5-barrel system at the Barley John’s Brewpub in New Brighton, to the 35-barrel system he currently uses at Barley John’s production facility in New Richmond, JT has made beer on almost every level thus far in his career // Photo by Aaron Davidson

JT brewed his first beer, a clone of Bell’s Two Hearted, on June 10, 2010. “I wrote it down in my recipe book,” he says matter-of-factly, recalling the date as if it were his own birthday. “I always remember putting it in there.” He used an extract kit for that first batch, starting small like most first-time brewers. That didn’t last long, though. Within three months, JT had purchased a kegging system. Within nine months, he went all-grain and all-in with a 1.5-barrel homebrew system.

That he committed so quickly to his new hobby isn’t surprising. JT pursues everything with full-throttle urgency, whether it be a temporary part-time job, taking a shady landlord to task over mold and a derelict roof, or creating powerful, colorful, larger-than-life CMYK monotype prints—a tedious task that requires carefully layering colors, then removing sections bit by bit to reveal a multi-dimensional image that radiates with energy.

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JT Dalton // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Making matters more complicated is the fact that JT is colorblind. Red, green, and brown are all brown to him. White is pink. Blue and purple are the same. But that’s just the way it is; why dwell on it, or let it hold him back? “Because of my classical training in art, I figured out how I can replicate certain things through value tones,” he says. “If I see a value tone of brown, I’m thinking it might be a green or a red.” And onward he goes from there.

It’s with that same attitude—that drive to overcome obstacles that appear to be insurmountable—that JT pursued homebrewing. After he was forced to drop out of MCAD in 2012 due to a lack of financial aid (he was a semester away from finishing, and seven years into his degree), JT found himself in a tight spot. Fearing he wouldn’t be able to pay his bills, he temporarily moved in with his dad in Savage. He had been working as a prep cook at the Walker Methodist retirement community in Minneapolis, and transferred to the Lakeville location, to work as a line cook.

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When he first started homebrewing, JT was drawn to beers with lots of hops and high IBUs. Now, he’s more partial to lagers and malt-heavy ales. // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Instead of putting brewing to the side, JT brought it with him. “I started a homebrew program with the residents,” he says. “I brought in all my kettles and starting brewing there. The only reason I got away with it is because it was considered an ‘activity.’”

Although the idea was to teach the residents to brew, within a few hours most of them got bored and left him to it. “They just wanted to drink the final product,” he laughs. In addition to the classes, once a month JT would brew a beer and make wine and pair it with food for birthday celebrations.

Next page: A hobby grows into a profession

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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