Now Open (Or Damn Close): PawPrint Brewery in Chatfield

PawPrint Brewery flight // Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

Now Open (Or Damn Close) is supported by underwriting partner Maltwerks, a Midwest malt house focused on genuine relationships in offering quality, locally produced, traceable malt. The Growler maintained full editorial control over the content.

One can figure out quite easily from the name of his brewery that James Kenison might be a fan of animals. But it goes beyond liking dogs and cats: Kenison is a retired Rochester Police Department K9 police officer who spent over 10 years bonding with and training canines to counter crime.

“I just wanted to go a different direction,” Kenison says of leaving the Rochester Police Department to open PawPrint Brewery south of Rochester in Chatfield, just along Highway 52. “I’ve been in law enforcement since I was 19 years old. Right after high school I went active duty in the [U.S.] Air Force. I was a cop in the Air Force. Was in the Minnesota Air National Guard. This last August 17, I retired from the military after 25 years of that stuff.”

PawPrint Brewery co-owner and head brewer James Kennison poses for a portrait // Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

The new brewery venture has come a long way in the short time since Kenison was first introduced to brewing by a neighbor two years ago. Back then, he was invited to a party where everyone brought a growler to share. From there, it’s been a quick process to get to where he’s at today, set to officially open Chatfield’s first brewery on January 24, 2020.

“I was in plastic buckets for a month and then I moved to stainless steel,” Kenison says. “When I see something I enjoy doing, I take it to the next level.

“You just get that passion for brewing beer and developing new recipes,” he continues. “When you get that feedback from your friends—These are really good and you should try to sell these’—you wonder if you should do this.”

Finding a spot to set up a brewery is always a major challenge. It’s costly, and not every space fits a brewer’s vision. Kenison had looked in Rochester but the space was too small. He even looked at his current space twice, but wasn’t sure if it was the right size. He had a conversation with the building’s owner after looking at the Chatfield building again, which helped him make the decision.

“He’s a businessman in the Chatfield area with a building with nothing to put in it,” Kenison says. “He didn’t want a bar there, but something to help revitalize the Chatfield town. Bring something new, something different.”

PawPrint Brewery taproom // Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

The roughly 3,000-square-foot space seemed large. But after a second pass, Kenison made it home to his modest 2-barrel brewing system. He hopes to brew 6 barrels a week to fill five 2-barrel and five 1-barrel fermentors. He plans on brewing on a smaller scale so he can really experiment with the beer he makes, putting 12 taps on. Eventually, he will also offer growlers.

“That was a fear of mine: going too big too fast,” Kenison says. “Because if you don’t have the right setting and business model in place, if you go too big too fast, you have the risk of hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in equipment or product.

PawPrint Brewery tap handles // Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

“I might be brewing a little more often, but that helps alleviate the fear of having inventory sit and not being able to try something different. I think we’re going to be able to pump out different flavors all the time.”

Being a smaller operation also jives with Chatfield’s smaller population—though a lot of people travel through the town, especially beer fans making the pilgrimage to Decorah from the Twin Cities or Rochester to visit Midwest giant Toppling Goliath. There are a number of visitors who camp in the area too.

Giving the former bar its own identity will also be key to endearing it to visitors.

“All of our beers are themed off of K9s,” Kenison says. “Everybody loves their dog or their cat. PawPrint incorporates everything. Right now it’s canines, but it incorporates your pet buddy.”

Flipping back to the other side of the coin is Kenison’s police and military background, which he says taught him how to be focused, driven, and quick to solve any problems that arise with his new brewing endeavor.

His time as an officer also taught him how to converse with a wide range of people, which he’s excited to continue as he chats with patrons at the taproom bar.

“It just kind of opens the doors for that kind of one-on-one connection,” Kenison explained. “Being a cop, you can kind of pick up on when people need someone to talk to.”

Also of note is his planned sour series of beers called the Thin Line, a reference to the different foundations that support law enforcement (Thin Blue Line), EMS (Thin White Line), and more.

Kenison wants to “give back to those who are out there in the community doing the tough jobs.”

It’s not often you can utilize your background to build your future, all the while supporting the life you left behind in some way. Plus, who doesn’t love a pint with their fur buddy?

PawPrint Brewery in Chatfield // Photo by Louis Livingston-Garcia

Brewer: James Kenison

Beers: Bear Dog Honey Lager, Bird Dog Sour, Bomb Dog IPA, The Minuteman Irish Red, Wet Snout Stout

Address: 128 Main Street South, Chatfield, MN 55923

Hours: Mon–Wed: closed; Thu–Sun: 12pm–10pm

Online: Website, Facebook

Opening: January 24, 2020 at 4pm

Maltwerks is a Midwest malt house focused on genuine relationships in offering quality, locally produced, traceable malt. Maltwerks maintains close relationships with local farmers so brewers know exactly what barley was used and the characteristics they can expect. Maltwerks is a partner in globally sourced commodities and carries a wide variety of spices and botanicals for diversity in craft brewing.