A visit to Borealis Fermentery is like a trip into a world somewhere between the Little House On The Prairie and Alice’s Wonderland. The brewhouse is tucked away from the world, filled with enchanting stories, and occupied by a slightly mysterious man.
My journey started when I pulled my car into the icy driveway just off Duluth’s scenic highway. I was there for the last tour Ken would ever lead of his brewery. Don’t let that sound too ominous; he’s headed to Baja, Mexico to ride a dirt bike with a fishing pole on his back.
We arrived earlier than the official tour group, so Ken invited us into his home to show us how he lives and works. To understand why Ken’s fermentery is so unique, you first must know that he brews and lives in the same building. Then, you must learn that be built the entire place himself, without a single nail in the whole structure. Finally, you should just head to his website and read the full story because it will floor you.
Ken’s home/brewery is made with straw, and stuccoed on both the interior and exterior. Its enormous south-facing windows combined with the natural insulation make the structure a heat-holding paradise for Up North winters.
If you want a sense of how Ken gets things done, know that he fell off the roof while building his home and finished the project on crutches; he hired a water witch to find the right place to dig his wells; and he drops apple peels from his orchard into brews for their natural yeast.
Ken’s home is simple, bright, and carries the scent that sunbeams leave on cold days. The two-story structure is painted from room to room to resemble the colors of a sunrise, culminating in a combination yoga studio/recording space.
The brewery, accessible via a side door or through a common bathroom, is a simple open space. Ken has minimalistic equipment and no bottles stocking his shelves.
Ken told our group “I have the weirdest business model because I don’t like debt.” He built his brewery intentionally to be debt-free in a short period of time. That being said, he also told us, “One person building this thing by themselves is totally stupid.”
Why build his own fermentery? Well, probably because he ran out of other new experiences. Ken’s been a ski bum, lived in the Netherlands, worked as an engineer, learned new languages, and much more. He also does his own artwork for his beer labels. “I’m a renaissance idiot,” he says of himself.
“I bungee jumped once and peed my pants, I sky dived, and I rode a bull on a ranch. I’ve never been a bull fighter, and I’m not a very good ballerina, but I never want to sit down on a couch one day and say I never tried.
“I’m not afraid of things–burglars, people from other countries, or driving my dirt bike off the side of a mountain–because I’ve lived three lifetimes.”
This was Ken’s advice to me: “Don’t be afraid. If you can find a way to pursue a dream or a passion–do it!”