North Star Craft Soda Root Beer
Hopkins first started brewing soda in his basement as a hobby while he worked as an assistant principal at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, Minnesota. As his interest in the business grew, he reached out to a mentor by the name of Dave Talo, the founder and owner of Flavor 8 Bottling in New London, Wisconsin. Hopkins spent 2 years learning the trade on weekends and holidays. As Talo needed to upgrade his bottling equipment, Hopkins jumped on the opportunity to purchase his mentor’s old system which dates back
to the 1950’s.
Whistler Bottling’s claim to fame is producing soda in “returnable” bottles--similar to the process The Pop Shoppe company did, or Pic-a-Pop. These “buy and return” soda-themed beverage stores were popular 40 to 50 years ago. According to Hopkins, however, the challenge is now to convince store owners to resurrect the tradition of accepting, storing, and redeeming the returned bottles. The bottles can last 40 years, and can be reused many times.
Whistler Bottling currently has over 40 flavors in production (or being developed) and the beverage is sold in 8oz bottles (as opposed to the more standard 12oz. bottles).
As their demand grew, however, they decided to also produce and sell their product in the more traditional “one-time-use” bottles, which was the genesis of their North Star Craft Soda brand. The company currently operates out of a 4,000 square foot facility.
According to Hopkins, “The biggest lesson I've learned is to stick to what you are passionate about. It's tempting sometimes to branch out into other beverages--that may seem popular at the time, but success comes through sticking with what you love--and perfecting it. For us, that's small batch, old-fashioned soda.”
From the company website, startribune.com, forestlaketimes.com, citypages.com, swcbulletin.com, presspubs.com, and direct communication with Jesse Hopkins.