Quick, what comes to mind when you hear the words, “Brainerd, Minnesota?”
Fishing? Resorts? Golf?
If Chris French, owner and head brewer at Big Axe Brewing Company, which is located just north of Brainerd in Nisswa, has anything to say about it, “craft beer” will soon be joining that list.
“The area’s really evolving,” said French, who grew up in Nisswa. “For a long time it was known mostly for fishing. Then a couple golf courses opened and it became a golf destination. I can see it becoming a beer destination.”
If two’s company, Big Axe bumps the Brainerd/Nisswa craft-beer community up to crowd status, following Jack Pine Brewery and Gull Dam Brewing. The three are all within about a 20-minute drive of each other.
French had been homebrewing for a few years when an opportunity to take his hobby to the next level presented itself. French’s parents own Stone House Coffee and Roastery in downtown Nisswa, as well as the building across the street from the coffee shop where the brewery is now located. When a café and sandwich shop closed down in the building, French and his wife, Rebecca, stepped up to fill the vacancy.
“We got lucky,” he said. “We had a nice location and had been talking about it for a while.”
The first step was getting the city of Nisswa to update its ordinances to allow taproom licenses. After that, the duo got to work remodeling the storefront and adding on to the building to create space for their seven-barrel brewhouse. They’ve worked with a few contractors and tradesmen, but have tried to do as much of the work themselves as possible.
That can-do spirit fits nicely with the overall theme behind the brewery’s name.
“It actually hit me when I was watching a Minnesota–Wisconsin football game where they battle for that big axe,” French said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a big axe—hey, that could be the name of our brewery!’ We’re in the northland and there’s a lot of Paul Bunyan folklore in the area and lumberjack history around here so it just made sense.”
The brewery will have an American wheat, amber, IPA, chocolate stout, and hoppy red ale on tap to begin with. French plans on expanding that lineup with seasonal and experimental beers throughout the year.
In addition to beer, food will also be on the menu at Big Axe’s taproom. French describes their food as “traditional comfort food with more of a bistro and brewpub style.” Pretzel bites, paninis, and burgers are a few of the menu items that will be available, in addition to small plates people can share.
Brewer: Chris French
Beer: American wheat, amber, IPA, chocolate stout, red ale, and rotating selection of seasonals
Visit: 25435 Main St, Nisswa, Minnesota
Hours: Open daily, check Big Axe’s Facebook page for specific hours