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CASTLE MALTING NEWS in partnership with Italian
01 July, 2022

Brewing news USA, NE: Black Paws Brewing Co. hopes to open its doors early this month

Although he didn’t recall who wrote it, Jeb Oehlke remembered the core theme of the article he decided to give a read, the Devils Lake Journal reported on June 30.

The article’s topic was straightforward: what places in the United States were the worst places to live if you were a fan of craft brews?

Devils Lake made the list.

From then on out, the Devils Lake native in Oehlke wished to revise that notion for the better.

“I wanted to change that,” Oehlke said. “It was based on the proximity to other breweries and the availability through distributors and stuff like that, but I wanted to make sure that Devils Lake got off the bottom of that list.”

And so, Black Paws Brewing Co. came into being.

After Oehlke – who started a law practice in 2014 – recognized that practicing law was not what he wanted to do for the foreseeable future, he pivoted his sights toward a hobby that piqued his interest for some time: brewing. After all, his experience as a home brewer made him aware that, while he made good brews, he also enjoyed doing such an endeavor. Much more than working on wills and estates, anyway.

Then, the idea just stuck. After initially toying around with the idea of opening a brewery in 2017, Black Paws Brewing Co. officially came to fruition in November of 2019 when Oehlke started work on a downtown lot formerly used for storage and the occasional rummage sale.

The brewery’s namesake came from Oehlke’s family history of owning Newfoundland dogs. Given the breed’s gritty, down-and-dirty working lifestyle, it only made sense that Oehlke would have to roll up the sleeves and do the same if he wished to turn an old rummage shack into something more worthwhile.

But not a problem. Oehlke didn’t back down from the challenge. Instead, he rose to it.

“Eating a whale” might not have been everyone’s go-to analogy, but to Oehlke, it certainly did describe the process.

“Just one bite at a time until you get the whole sucker down,” Oehlke said. “Yeah, that’s really about the only way to describe it. You take a look around the place, man, it’s really huge, and if you would have walked in on day one and saw the shape of the building…I know I had a lot of people that came in. They looked around and went, ‘Wow, you’ve got yourself into a really big thing. This is going to be a lot of work.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ But, of course, at that time, I knew, but I didn’t realize [it]. But every day, you get up, get here and just start on that day’s project or continue a project from the previous day. Just take it a day at a time and a step at a time, and eventually, it’s what it is.”

Transforming a building from an accumulation lot to a fully functioning brewery wasn’t one that didn’t require a fair touch of patience. Morphing a structure – let alone gutting one – takes time. Even that fails to factor in supply shortages. Or a pandemic. Or, in Oehlke’s case, a learning curve for someone attempting to transition from brewing at home to brewing at a location that, when it’s all said and done, could hold up to 200 customers.

But fret not. While obstacles might have temporarily blocked the path, Oehlke – in addition to upward of 50 volunteers – found ways around each hurdle. Stocking up on reclaimed material, including wood and steel, emphasized one such method. Tables built from refurbished bowling alley lanes additionally proved to be a way to save costs and add character to a venue looking to leave its mark as a future community staple.

While the grand opening might have been stalled by a year or two, Oehlke never saw the ordeal as a delay. Instead, he recognized it as an opportunity to polish each respective project to its absolute best.

“I never hit a point where I was stalled in the construction part of it because there was always something that needed to get done,” Oehlke said. “Whether if I was waiting for something for the steel, I needed to build the table bases…there were still 20 other things I could work on during that time.”

With a scheduled opening day pinned for a very soon-to-be date (early July is the tentative timeframe), Oehlke is excited to see the brewery come to life. Although it might take time, Oehlke wishes to incorporate his entire tower – 24 faucets in total – chock-full with local brews, whether from his own recipe book or other local brewers willing to pitch in.

But local brews won’t be the only attraction. Although Black Paws Brewing Co. will not be a full-fledged restaurant, it will have a small kitchen that will look to make oven-baked sandwiches and pizzas, not to mention appetizers like soft pretzels. With more equipment, Oehlke will additionally look to make cold-brewed coffee on a nitrogen tap. Italian sodas, cream soda and root beer could also become a possible staple in due time.

Once you top it off with a plethora of board games – in addition to a pair of ax-throwing lanes in the back – the brewery, to Oehlke, will vie to make every customer a happy one.

Even after it officially opens its doors, Black Paws Brewing Co. will be a work-in-progress. As he looks to fill out a working staff and tap off the finishing touches, Oehlke ponders the initial article he read years ago. At the time, no brewery was close to the area. The town, instead, had to satisfy their desire elsewhere.

No longer. Now, Black Paws Brewing Co., to Oehlke, will provide the community with something different, unique and, perhaps most importantly, something local.

“I saw an appetite for that in town,” Oehlke said. “I mean, I know there are a lot of people that live here and live in the area that maybe aren’t going to care much for the beer I brew because they’ve been drinking the same thing for a few decades and don’t really feel like changing it, but there are so many people that live in the town [and] in the area that has developed a taste for something different that’s tough to get.”

Consider the notion changed.

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