NISSWA, Minn. — Let the good times fly.

Roundhouse Brewery patrons now aren’t just tipping back pints of craft beer in Nisswa, Minn., but are letting loose their inner lumberjacks by throwing axes at the local watering hole.

“It took me a little while to get the hang of it, you know? But we’ve had people step up and the first time they throw it sticks right in the target,” said Dan Meyer, brewery chief financial officer.

One to five points are awarded to the player depending on whether the ax hits the bull’s-eye on a wall about 12 feet away from the person throwing the ax, or if the ax lands somewhere outside of the target but within the concentric rings around the bull’s-eye.

An ax is stuck in the wooden target Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
An ax is stuck in the wooden target Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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“We do have coaches available as well that are with you, so if you’re first-timers — as a lot of people are around this area — somebody is going to stand there with you, and help you be successful in throwing the ax and actually sticking it into the target,” Meyer said.

Lauren Betz, manager of the brewery’s Wreck Room or recreational lounge, said, “I think it’s a really approachable sport for lots of people. You can take it to all kinds of different levels, but you can go pro with it, so it’s definitely a sport.”

Wreck Room

The brewery began building its six-lane Wreck Room last year to accommodate ax throwing and other recreational activities upstairs while also serving beverages during social activities.

“You can have up to six people in a lane and just be throwing axes. A typical game is a lot like bowling in that you would play 10 rounds and keep score each time you throw an ax,” Meyer said.

Betz said, “Ax throwing is not about wailing into the target as hard as you possibly can. It is more about the finesse. It's more about mastering that perfect rotation, so you’re hitting the right spot of the ax into the target every single time and getting consistent with it.”

Lauren Betz explains the proper ways to handle an ax before an ax-throwing session Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Lauren Betz explains the proper ways to handle an ax before an ax-throwing session Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

A limited number of spectators are welcome to watch friends and family throw axes in the Wreck Room, which is a family-friendly space, and all can enjoy activities and relax in the lounge area.

“A lot of times people overthrow the ax — you really don’t have to throw it that hard — so there is a little bit of a challenge to it,” Meyer said of trying to hit the 4-foot-tall target. “But, yeah, you do get an adrenaline rush when you hit it and stick it.”

For those who do not think consuming alcohol and hurling sharp objects through the air like an ax is a good mix, Meyer said they wouldn’t be the first to voice their concerns.

“Finding insurance was interesting,” Meyer said with a good-natured chuckle. “There’s risk with activities like go-kart racing as well ... but we have you sign a waiver that says you have not over consumed, and we typically limit somebody to two beers in their hourlong timeframe of play.”

Betz said the staff is trained to recognize patrons who may have had too much alcohol to drink and whether they should be allowed to throw an ax.

“If we’re being reasonable about our alcohol consumption, ax throwing can be totally safe, especially if you’re doing it correctly, which is why we have coaches there to take you through every step of the way and explain safety information to you,” Betz said.

Ax throwing

Meyer said ax throwing is gaining popularity as just another barroom pastime — such as billiards or darts — and he knows of places in Duluth, St. Cloud, Alexandria and Eagan that do it, too.

And like those other bar games, there are different tools to fit the player.

“We have a variety of different axes for people to choose from, so we use axes anywhere from heads that are 1 1/4 pounds to up to 3 pounds. You can really try out different things and do what feels comfortable for you,” Betz said

Meyer said, “You can do a two-handed overhead throw, and that helps, again, with the ax staying straight. The other is if you do a one-handed throw … so you aren’t necessarily throwing it sideways but pointing the elbow and then just sort of snapping your arm at the elbow.”

Karen Buckhouse (left) gets coaching from Lauren Betz on how to throw an ax Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Karen Buckhouse (left) gets coaching from Lauren Betz on how to throw an ax Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Roundhouse Brewery's Wreck Room. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Participants must be 14 years old or older to throw axes. All participants under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian over the age of 21 who will co-sign their waiver. This guardian may be a thrower or spectator, and must be present at all times and able to provide photo ID.

“I think ax throwing is something that’s very unique, something people have never done before … but it’s probably much more of a novel thing because, again, it is not something people generally grew up doing,” Meyer said.

Betz said, “Our coaches are also your servers in the Wreck Room, so they’re going to help you. They know about beer just as much as they know about ax throwing. They’re going to help you find a great craft beverage to pair with your experience.”

Operators of the brewery are in the planning stages of an ax-throwing league that will take shape sometime in April or May depending on interest.

“Or we’d have a league night where you’d have teams and they would be competing against each other,” Meyer said.

Betz said, “I’ve had people of all ages, all ability levels, all shapes and sizes be able to come in here and do well at ax throwing. And so I think that’s just another part of it, too. You can bring a mixed group of people in and everybody can be successful and have a great time.”

While ax throwing may have been around for centuries, Roundhouse Brewery is making a 21st-century appeal to the same crowd that loves the Vikings, Paul Bunyan and craft beer with posts on its Facebook page and website, and if all else fails good ol’ fashioned word-of-mouth.

“It sort of fits in with the people who cleared the forest for the railroad in the Brainerd lakes area, and so, you know, our décor is old pictures of lumberjacks, wood and trains,” Meyer said.

The price to play is $23 per person, per hour. For groups of four-plus, Roundhouse Brewery offers a $20 per person, per hour, rate. Reservations are highly recommended, but walk-ins will be accommodated to the best of the brewery’s ability.

“The perception is it can be difficult, you know? And so I think when you master that, it’s that sense of accomplishment,” Meyer said of ax throwing.

Betz added, “It's cathartic, it makes you feel good, it's a relief. You’re throwing an object and you’re hitting another object, and that just feels good. It’s also a really approachable sport.”