Three Twenty Brewing Co.
Three Twenty Brewing Co. is a small craft brewery that has been open a little over a year. Three Twenty Brewing Co. resides in Pine City, Minnesota, which is about an hour north of the Twin Cities on 35. Nick and Cassandra Olson founded Three Twenty Brewing Co. with the simple goal of providing a community with a quality option for craft beer.
Why Pine City?
Of all the places in Minnesota where Nick and Cassandra could have opened Three Twenty Brewing Co. they picked Pine City? Several factors played into this location. First, Nick grew up there and believes his brewery will thrive in this community. Second, Nick knows the area well and understands that it is a bar town. On tap at most of those bars are what you would expect in a somewhat sleepy Minnesota Hamlet-plenty of macro beers. Nick saw palates evolve over the years and with that came the desire for change.
Some might call opening a brewery up in Pine City a risk. Nick admits that he and Cassandra were a bit nervous. However, the fact that there is nothing craft beer related in a 50 mile radius kept him interested. Eventually, Nick and Cassandra put together a business plan and the crazy idea started looking less and less crazy.
The Three Twenty Location has been a restaurant and had good bones for a brewery. The building had been foreclosed on and so that made it financially viable. When the price was right, Nick and Cassandra threw the metaphorical hops into the dream kettle and began the process. Nick and Cassandra did a lot of work themselves. This helped minimize the amount of loans they would have to take out. Nick, who had been a graphic designer for Best Buy and Sleep Number, was pulling double duty to start up the brewery. He credits his amazing family and wife for helping him keep everything moving.
Three Twenty Brewing Co. has a quaint, small-town exterior. Three large windows reveal to onlookers and passersby that there is liquid gold in them thar tanks. The interior of the taproom is a cozy place with quite a bit of room. There are a nice mix of high-top and low-top tables. Some of the tables are bigger to accommodate a large group. There is also a beautiful bar for people like me who often like to fly solo. There is a lot of nice wood, some of which are the 120 year-old floorboards from the previous building.
That One Time, At Winter Beer Dabbler
Nick is a great guy and our first meeting was a bit of what I like to call craft beer kismet. It was last year’s Winter Beer Dabbler and I was trudging through the snowglobe-like winter wonderland that wound up being around 7 inches of snowfall.
I stopped by the Three Twenty booth to get some info on them because I had not previously tried their beer. I opted for the Happy Wife Porter, and I believe that it was actually Cassandra that poured me the beer. Now, outdoors in winter is not the ideal tasting conditions to really unpack the complexities of a beer. However, a lot of aroma and flavor came through in the Happy Wife Porter and I was intrigued. If I recall, Nick was not at the booth, because he was trying to meet up with his dad who was coming to join him from the airport.
About a half hour later, I am shooting a FB Live video and happen to be talking about the Happy Wife Porter that I loved from Three Twenty Brewing. Just as I mention the brewery name (I accidentally called it Two-Thirty Brewing), this gentleman (Nick’s dad) stops me to ask if I know where the Three Twenty Brewing booth is. I tell him where it is and how he needs to try the porter. Well, as it turns out, that was Nick’s dad who had just arrived in town from Paris. I felt like Oprah connecting people in a very magical and over-the-top reunion.
Later, I ran into the whole gaggle of Olsons and we had a good laugh about it. Since that improbable meeting in the blizzard-like conditions at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, I have wanted to actually visit the taproom and taste through all of Nick and Cassandra’s beer indoors.
I stopped in on a relatively balmy February Saturday afternoon. Not quite shorts weather, but in the thirties. After the recent deep freeze of -50 wind chills, the air is almost springtime. I arrive to find Nick behind the bar. I was hoping to see him here, but knowing it is a Saturday and that he has little ones, I wasn’t sure if he would be on Daddy-duty. He greets me enthusiastically and I grab a seat at the bar.
After meeting almost a year before, Nick and I have run into each other a few times at beer events. I have felt bad for not making it up to his brewery last summer. After a great conversation at Winterfest 2019 and naming one of his beers one of my favorites from the fest, I had to get up there sooner than later.
So, here I am, standing in the taproom at Three Twenty and marveling at the bevy of beer choices on the board. I am definitely excited to work my way around all the classic styles that Nick and Cassandra offer at Three Twenty Brewing.
It will be a tall order to drink them all because there are 11 beers on tap today. I start with a set of four tasters and blast off from there.
Pert’ Near Cream Ale
The Pert Near Cream Ale is a wonderfully crisp beer that is a smart offering to have on tap. It is not a shocker that we are in the heart of macro country. In every local bar, Mich Golden Light is king for many of the drinkers. Nick and Cassandra have a unique opportunity to introduce people to craft beer and the Pert’ Near is a savvy way to do so. Pert’ Near is a term that means “pretty close to something.” In this case, this cream ale is Pert’ Near a macro beer in the body and ABV strength.
With that said, I have to emphasize that Pert’ Near is not a gateway beer. The beer is hopped with Mandarina Bavaria hops. Mandarina Bavaria is in the family hop vine of Cascade. It imparts a tangerine aroma and flavor when added late in the boil or whirlpool. So, that citrus brightness is the perfect marriage to the cracker malt flavor in the beer.
Cubicle Fugitive IPA
In 2019, to be in a brewery and not see a hazy IPA on the menu is a lot like walking around in a big city and seeing a pay phone. The Cubicle Fugitive IPA is a throwback to a West Coast IPA. Lots of Cascade hops in this one along with Amarillo and Mandarina Bavaria. Bright and citrusy up front with a little hint of resin and pine in the finish. This finishes on the bitter end of things, but is far from astringent.
Blood Orange Blonde
I opt for the Blood Orange Blonde in lieu of the regular Blonde Ale because I want to see what Nick does with fruit in a beer. Blood Orange is such a unique citrus fruit with its unique amalgamation of bitter, sweet, and tart. Intrigued to see how these flavors present themselves in a blonde ale, I anxiously dive in.
The initial tartness from the blood orange awakens the palate. This is followed closely by a sweetness that is perfect for the beer. It plays well with the bright nature of the hop aromatics and lets the beer come across as smooth and light. This would be an all-day drinker if I wasn’t having to drive home and it was summer time.
Pine Camp Pale Ale
This was one of five beers I highlighted in my Winterfest 2019 Recap article. It is rare at a festival of that nature for a beer that is light and features only one hop stands out in the crowd. Yet, this beer is bright and delicate. This beer belongs in a taproom in Oregon the way it the balance of brightness and bitterness work so well together.
Chengwatana Copper Amber Ale
Perhaps my favorite of all the beers I try is this Chengwatana Copper Amber Ale. I don’t think it should be so hard to brew an amber ale that doesn’t come across as syrupy and disappointing. Yet, there are so many times when it happens in Minnesota. The Chengwatana Copper Amber Ale has a roasted nut robust malt flavor with a slight hint of caramel. The finish is dry with a little hoppy bite. This beer stands out and is memorable. That is always how an amber ale should be.
Broken Timber Brown Ale
Another example of a style that is seemingly easy to brew. Alas, so many miss the mark because they forget that there needs to be a character coming across in the malt aroma and flavor. For me, the Broken Timber hist that mark with aplomb. A rich and robust note of leather emanates from the beer. There is a bitterness that comes off as riding the line between the aftertaste of a walnut and a hint of dark chocolate. Akin to the amber ale, this brown ale is not an afterthought. The adept showcasing of why malt is important to a beer is evident in this brown ale.
Happy Wife Porter
This beer has received plenty of notoriety in the last year. It came out on top of a blind tasting of porters and stouts that a group of beer writers did for The Growler Magazine. This beer is pert near perfection. The Happy Wife Porter has great body and wonderful malt flavors of caramel and nuttiness. This is a dark beer, but it will not intimidate new craft beer drinkers because it is smooth and not aggressively bitter from the roast.
The Streamliner Stout is a classic homage to the style. It checks all the boxes for what I want from my stouts. It is roasty and has aromas of toasted bread, coffee, and chocolate. There is some sweetness, but only enough to tamper down the roastiness and make it a delightful and balanced sip of craft beer.
Not Your Grandma’s Christmas Cookie
A winter beer with spices can be hit or miss. I have had some that were the liquid representation of Stevie Wonder at a darts tournament. Then there are those who stay within the confines of less is more. Not Your Grandma’s Christmas Cookie is definitely the latter. There are flavors of raisin, nutmeg, and sweet breadiness that are more along the lines of an oatmeal raisin cookie than a holiday cinnamon explosion. I like that the body of this beer is also medium-just enough to support those flavors.
Amidst tasting these beers and chatting with Nick, I got to see plenty of customers come through the taproom.
All of these beers are brewed by Nick on a 7 barrel system. Though this is not a lot of space, Nick has organized the brewhouse to get as much out of his equipment as he can. The small batches are designed to turn around fairly quickly. Nick keeps a close eye on quality and if something isn’t right, it doesn’t get served.
The positive thing about brewing on a smaller scale is that he can be nimble with what he puts on tap. If there is a customer demand for more of something, he can meet said demand without too much disruption to the brew schedule.
The Taproom Vibe of Three Twenty Brewing
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of gathering space at Three Twenty Brewing. Yet, the place maintains a cozy feel. I have to believe it all starts from Nick and Cassandra. I know that Nick greeted me immediately by name and he does the same with most of his patrons. There are quite a few regulars who cycled through in the few hours I was there.
One couple from Pokegama Lake named Tom and Laura could not say enough good things about Three Twenty Brewing. I asked specifically about what they enjoy when they come in to the brewery. Tom said that not being a bar guy, he loved the laid back and comfortable atmosphere of Three Twenty Brewing. His wife, and definitely the talkative one of the two, Laura said that she is typically a Michelob Golden Light drinker. However, she cannot get enough of the Pert’ Near and the Blood Orange Blonde Ale.
Nick also sees his grandma who lives a block away several times a week. She comes in at least once a day, and they usually bring their neighbors. Sure as the Vikings will break our hearts in the playoffs, she showed up for their daily pint while I was there. I can tell that Nick comes from good stock and it is wonderful to see him be supported by such a great family.
It is nice to see local support. Nick also sees that the word continues to spread about the brewery and he is seeing more people stopping in and discovering Three Twenty Brewing for the first time. There were also a couple parties who stopped in that were on their way up to Duluth while I was there. As word of mouth continues to spread, I think the Nick and Cassandra will find that there will be a lot more brew days in their future as demand for their beer grows.
If you haven’t been up to Three Twenty Brewing Co. yet, you need to do so. Nick and Cassandra, along with their supportive family, are playing a pivotal role in educating Pine City about craft beer. This is not lost on them and they understand the importance of hospitality, quality, and perseverance.
The last thing I will say is that Nick cleans his lines religiously, every two weeks. Along with educating people about craft beer, he believes that by serving beer in its best form, he will get locals and craft beer enthusiasts alike coming back for more. I can only speak for myself, but I know that I will definitely be back. I will return not just because Nick is brewing some fantastic beer, but also because he understands that greeting everyone with a hearty hello and a smile is important to making craft beer approachable to everyone.
Three Twenty Brewing Co. 135 5th St. SE, Pine City, MN 55063
Hours of Operation Thurs. 4-10pm, Fri. 3-10pm, Sat. 12-10pm & Sun. 12-6pm
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .