Retired K9 Officer James Kenison introduces Paw Print Brewery
By Bryan Lund | Photography by Kelvin Andow
As he enters his first winter in 25 years without a gun belt, it is entirely possible that Paw Print Brewery owner James Kenison will feel nostalgic for his former life as a law enforcement K9 trainer.
Luckily for him, a kindred spirit lives just miles away. Rocco, the last dog he trained for the Rochester Police Department, retired to a 9-acre farm just three miles down the road from the Chatfield nano-brewery.
Kenison is working to make Paw Print, 15 2nd Street SE, Chatfield, a place where beer enthusiasts, locals, four-legged friends, and law enforcement can feel excited and welcome. Between charitable collaborations, small batches of finely-honed flavors, and free beer IOUs for officers in uniform, that work is well on its way.
Buckets to tanks
Like many people in this era, Kenison’s involvement with craft beer began with a five-gallon bucket set-up, purchased soon after his first growler party. Unlike many people in this era, Kenison didn’t stop progressing.
“Any of my friends will tell you, I don’t do things small,” he laughs, “I’d say I was only in plastic buckets for, probably, like a month and then I transferred to stainless steel.”
He moved swiftly from 10-gallon stainless steel containers to 15-gallon ones. Within a year, he’d abandoned the basic starter kits and was cracking his own grains, toying with recipes and churning out delicious beers. That’s a rapid rise for someone who, prior to that first growler party, was a self-professed lite beer drinker.
Around the time he started home brewing, he also broke his leg. That gave him time to reflect on his career and potential futures. He had joined the Air Force at age 19, then worked in Phoenix, Ariz., in the sheriff’s office and K9 unit. Eventually, he wound up in Rochester, where he trained K9s until his retirement last summer.
“I think I just personally realized in myself that it was time to move on, try something different,” says Kenison. “Law enforcement is a tough job. When you have a mental kind of evaluation in yourself to say, ‘You know what, either I’m going to get hurt, or I might hurt somebody else…’ Not on purpose, but that’s just the mindset I had.”
Kenison retired from both the police department and Air Force in August, leaving the future wide open. Though he arrived at the decision through responsible reflection, it was still a tough call to make. Aside from losing the stability and benefits of a permanent position in the department, it also meant leaving a career he was proud of. Still, Kenison had faith in his product and knew it was time to try his hand at business.
The day he retired, his wife presented him with a frame. Inside was the napkin on which she’d drawn the original design for Paw Print’s logo, a hop bud surrounded by dog toes. It hangs at his home office, while the logo now adorns coasters, signs, brew kettles and workshirts.
Heady for business
The progress Kenison has made in the historic first-floor building is evident. The dark, marbley floor gleams with accents of gold flecks, barstools are set, and the shining Spike Brewing tanks in the brewing area are producing a diverse spread of beers.
When the brewery opens, (in early 2020), its classification as a nano-brewery means more flavors more often, thanks to the small batches his tanks make.
Paw Print’s flagship is a honey lager, a light, easy drinking option perfect for the tastes of Southeastern Minnesota. Kenison says it’s taken close to a year and a half to perfect the recipe, as lagers are not as easy as other varieties.
Other beers in his initial line-up have either a canine or service branch connection. For example, the Bomb Dog is an IPA meant to be paired with a packet of pop rocks. The Bird Dog is a sour beer, while the Minuteman, a tribute to the Air Force, is brewed with Civil SAS hops, which come from Chatfield.
Proceeds from Paw Print’s Thin Line series will go back to charities benefitting police officers and firefighters. Giving back to the communities that Kenison has been a part of is central to his brewery’s mission.
Though the brewery has yet to open officially, it’s already collaborated with Rochester’s Kinney Creek Brewery on a beer called the Blue Healer. Proceeds from that brew go to houses run by the Police Benevolent Association, a group that operates free apartments for law enforcement officers receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
Kenison expresses his fidelity to his professional roots in his wardrobe. He wears Air Force and K-9 pins on his collars, and his rotation of Dickie’s workshirts are all black, with Paw Print’s logo, differentiated only by stripes of either blue (for police), red (for fire), or green (for military). Should someone from those lines of work show up to the brewery in uniform, he’s got a system for taking care of them.
“If an officer walks in in-uniform, we’re going to give them a special token. So that way he can come back later,” says Kenison.
Dogs will get special treatment, too, come summertime, when the brewery’s ‘pet’io will open, complete with doggie biscuits and spacious seating for multiple family animals. He’s also working on a process that will allow customers to put pictures of their pets on labels of his 32 oz. crowler cans.
The brewery is expected to open in early 2020, giving customers ample time to ready a beer-label-worthy portrait of their dog. For updates, head over to pawprintbrewery.com.
Bear Dog. Light lager with a hint of honey is nothing to mess with. The legendary Bear Dog may be extinct, but this beer is here to stay.
Bomb Dog. Fruity with a fresh smooth finish
Bird Dog. Very tart but a good drinker.
Wet Snout. High ABV on this stout gives it a barrel-aged smooth taste.
Barrel Neck. Inspired by the rescue dog of the mountains, this is a light amber lager.
Gray Muzzle. Classic American stout inspired by all of the old dogs that teach us how something simple can be so satisfying.
Bearded Bear. This honey cream ale could entice a bear out of hibernation, but not out of its beard.
Nanuk. Inspired by the great polar bear, this kölsch has a crisp taste with a bite of German-style hops.
6 Foot Lead. Just a smooth wheat beer. Very light and easy to drink.
The Shepherd. Homage to the traditional American police K9, this beer is smooth with a classic flavor. It’s as dependable as a typical German Shepherd.
The Malinois. The Malinois is a representation of the reliable police K9. This Belgian tripel is true to the style and trustworthy. Just like the Malinois, keep a close eye on how you handle it, because it will go from 0 to 60 real quick!
Trash Panda. Rye Imperial IPA that packs a punch. With four types of specialty grains and five types of hops, this beer will leave your taste buds digging through the flavor.
Thin Line Sour. Fruit beer.
The Minuteman. Minutemen were civilian colonists who independently organized to form well-prepared militia companies self-trained in weaponry, tactics, and military strategies during the American Revolutionary War. They were also known for being ready at a minute’s notice, hence the name. This brew honors to the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces, past and present.
Bryan Lund is a writer, ghostwriter and skier living in Rochester.