The first beer Aaron Juhnke ever tasted was a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout back in his college days. Looking from his dark, thick, flavorful beer to his friends’ fizzy yellow beers, it occurred to him that there wasn’t much variety to be found in American beer. With the encouragement of his rugby team, he got to homebrewing, and started refining recipes that would eventually become Junkyard Brewing flagships.
The plans for Junkyard went through different phases. Originally intent upon opening a larger microbrewery with investor backing, Aaron wrote up detailed business plans. However, when investors were hard to nail down, Aaron and his brother Dan decided to go it alone, without outside funding, and start up with what they had. From his homebrewing days, Aaron was acquainted with the local homebrew supply shop owner, who happened to have space available to lease. Aaron and Dan moved their homemade 50 gallon brewing system, and the rest is history.
Its location brings unique challenges for Junkyard Brewing. Being located in Moorhead makes it subject to Minnesota’s alcohol laws, although less than 2.5 miles away, Fargo Brewing Company is subject to much more relaxed North Dakota laws. For example, North Dakota allows its breweries to sell containers from 12 ounces to 5 gallon off-sale—much less restrictive than Minnesota’s growler law allowing 64 ounce growlers or 750ml bottles. Where customers could buy a full 5 gallon keg on premises at Fargo Brewing, they cannot do so at Junkyard, just minutes away. The label approval process is also easier and less costly for breweries in North Dakota than those in Minnesota. It would be helpful to small breweries like Junkyard to have the state label approval fee waived where federal approval was already successfully obtained.
Finally, due to its location on the border with North Dakota, Junkyard is also subject to the same Sunday sales prohibition that harms Twin Cities retailers for being near Hudson. Aaron and Dan are not able to open Junkyard on Sunday, and growlers they could be filling remain empty on the shelves while potential customers visit liquor stores across the Red River.
In addition, although craft brewing has reached new heights of popularity throughout Minnesota, there is little or no education in the Fargo-Moorhead area on how to properly handle and serve craft beer. For two guys who started out running a system not dissimilar to what homebrewers use in the garage, this brought the worry of customers rejecting cloudier, unclarified beers. The city of Moorhead was extremely proactive about a brewery opening within its city, however, even helping Aaron out with some of his applications.
Despite the challenges they face, Aaron and Dan bring a lot to the craft beer table. The Junkyard name is majorly influenced by Aaron and Dan’s perception of themselves as brewers—local, unique, thrifty, full of character. Junkyard’s beers maintain that mantra. Scrounger is a solid entry-level beer for a beer drinker who doesn’t want to be hit with a ton of hops. A cream ale with a nutty, light hop taste, Scrounger isn’t just for craft beer newbies—it should appeal to anyone looking for balance and subtlety. Where Scrounger blends into the background, Hatchet Jack stands in the spotlight. If you are totally over hops and on the hunt for malt-forward beers, get yourself a growler of Hatchet Jack. Dark English caramelized malt, Chocolate malt, Carafa malt, and American 2-row and 6-row malts give this beer a caramel-chocolate flavor without being over-roasted. Although it tastes bright for its category of Baltic Porter, this beer is darker than dark with a huge caramely head. Hatchet Jack definitely contributes to the unique character of Junkyard Beers.
Junkyard’s third beer, Coachgun IPA, wasn’t on tap when I visited the brewery, but according to their website, Junkyard aimed to feature the hops without making it so strong that it burns the taste buds. I definitely look forward to trying it the next time I’m in the area.
The offerings from Junkyard make a trip to Moorhead well worth the journey. Junkyard is open for growler fills (and lots of fun chatter) on Fridays from 4-7pm.