Old Firehall Brewing Co. owners plan to open in late April

Starbuck’s Old Firehall Brewing Company owners are (from left) Byron Payne, Jan Payne, Neil Jelen and Jerry Kerkvliet. 

By Kris Goracke


According to Thompson Island Brewing, “A craft brewery is, by definition, an independent brewery.” The term “craft” has to do with the fact that these breweries emphasize quality beer and tend to view beer production as more of an art form driven by passion and finely-honed techniques.

 In 2012, there were 39 breweries in Minnesota. By 2019, that number had grown to 183. And by 2020, according to the Brewers Association, 271 breweries called Minnesota home—good enough to rank 15th in the country for most breweries.

 And now, by the end of April, Starbuck will join the ranks of claiming a brewery in their town – Old Firehall Brewing Company. 

The brewery passed the last two inspections from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on March 14 and is now brewing beer for beer lovers.

 It all started five years back when Jerry Kerkvliet and Dean Jelen were at the Minnewaska House Ribfest, enjoying ribs and beer from the Minnewaska House Brewing Company. “We were discussing how we enjoy dabbling in home brewing, and that led to wouldn’t it be fun to start a brewery kind of talk,” said Kerkvliet. The two would continue discussing the dream of a brewery, but no action was taken until a few years ago when Jan Payne moved to Starbuck. Kerkvliet and Payne got to know each other in their work with Glacial Ridge Pheasants Forever committee. Once again, the talk about a brewery started. Jan thought it sounded like a great idea, so great that he asked his brother, Byron Payne, to join the three men. And so, the four decided to create a brewery at the old Starbuck Firehall.

 “We kicked around many names for the company but finally landed on Old Firehall Brewing Company,” said Kerkvliet. “It seemed fitting, considering the location is the old Starbuck Firehall. And it is the location that inspired the design.

 The theme of the firehall is throughout the building. The bathrooms have axes on the doors designed by Mitch Gosseling from Northern Print Company. The tap beer lines appear to be coming out of the back of a firetruck. The numbering of the lines is in the appropriate firefighter font. And when ordering a beer flight, a person will find the flight trays shaped like a firetruck. The fire hall theme is in every detail. 

 In the taproom, going up the south wall and across the ceiling, is a 4” pipe. “This pipe was used to fill the tanker trucks. Even though the pipe is no longer functional, we wanted to keep it as part of the décor, as a way to honor the Starbuck firefighters who began their service in the building,” said Jan Payne.  

 In the next room is the brewhouse. Here, the beer is made. Each batch makes 125 gallons. On average, the three-step brewing process takes a little over two weeks. Jan serves as the head brew master. “We intend to have four beers on tap when we open,” said Jan Payne. The four are Thirst Responder Blonde Ale; Priest Point Pale Ale; Back Draft IPA; and Hook and Ladder Oatmeal Stout. Also, on tap is Dean’s Back Porch Root Beer, a non-alcoholic soda. It is the intent that by May 27, the day of their grand opening, the brewery will offer up to six different beers.

 Naming the beers is a challenging task. “Whenever someone comes up with an idea, we write it down to keep track of all potential names and ideas. We will be sitting around just talking, and suddenly, a name might pop up that we think might be a good one, so we jot it down in a book,” said Jelen. Or sometimes the names just come. “Byron and I were traveling to Wyoming to pick up a used cooler for the brewery when the name Thirst Responder just popped into Byron’s head,” said Jan Payne.

 As a means to gain support from the community, Jelen suggested the idea of selling bricks to be placed on the wall. The wall, which is in the taproom, showcases engraved bricks with personal messages. The cost for a brick is $100, and they are still available. The website to order a brick is on the Old Firehall Brewing Company Facebook page.

 The Old Firehall Brewing Co. hopes to open at the end of April. The hours are Thursday – Saturday, 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 7 p.m. In addition to the taproom, a 40×14 patio is on the south side. For those looking for a bite to eat, plans are to have food trucks at the brewery. People are also welcome to order food from local restaurants to bring in. The brewery is also kid and dog friendly.

 In describing the function of a brewery in Starbuck, Payne perhaps said it best at the November 2022 city council meeting, “a brewery is not like a bar in the sense we think of one, but rather it is a gathering place – part of the community.”