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Food & Drink

How MN-Made Salted Nut Rolls Became ‘A Brewer’s Lunch’

A brief history of the delicious, locally launched candy craze.

The goods.
Gambit Brewing Co.

If you were, for whatever reason, to pop into a craft beer production facility and say, “Boy, I could sure go for a brewer’s lunch,” you wouldn’t be viewed as a total nutjob. No, you’d be recognized as someone who’s jonesing for a Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll.

“It’s not just Minnesota people that know about the Nut Rolls,” says Dave Berg, the brewmaster at New Ulm’s August Schell Brewing Co. “You can go on Reddit and look at brewers’ forums and they’re talking about Nut Rolls. You’ll get posts everywhere.” 

Josh Secaur, head brewer and owner at St. Paul’s brand-new Gambit Brewing Co., confirms the nutty, salty phenomenon.

“All the Facebook groups, and Reddit, people are like, ‘Oh, I got two Salted Nut Rolls on my pallet, this is amazing!'” he says. “It’s just one of those inside industry things that’s pretty fun.”

Who, or what, is this candy bar fairy who looks after hard-working brewers? It’s BSG Craftbrewing, the Shakopee-headquartered mega-supplier of hops, malts, grains, yeasts, and basically anything else required in the industrial production of craft beer. It was the first company to offer “one-stop shopping” for craft breweries, Berg says, and it has since expanded throughout the country.

“Somewhere along the line, and lord knows why, they started putting candy bars in with the orders,” he says. “It was Salted Nut Rolls, sometimes it’d be Nut Goodies.”

Over two decades ago, Kasota-based Mid-America Brewing Supply began peppering pallets with hard candies for brewers. When BSG acquired MAB in 2004, the shift was made to Salted Nut Rolls. Writes a nameless blogger for BSG: “While one couldn’t say that this changed the course of American beer and brewing as we know it, it definitely started something that has made a lot of brewers happy ever since.” (BSG didn’t respond to our request for comment on this hard-hitting story.)

Berg says the bonus goodies are even listed, gratis, on invoices. (This documentation catches warehouses workers red-handed when they swipe the bars, a common occurrence at Schell’s.) Nut Rolls have become akin to a military rations for workers, serving as a chompable source of quick calories should shifts extend past dinner time. “It saved many a brewer, when it’s a late night and the only thing you have around is the Nut Roll that came with your malt,” he says.

Inclusion of the St. Paul-created candy—typically one or two bars per pallet—hasn’t come without controversy. Berg remembers the dark era when Twin Bing Bars, a lower quality confection from a lower quality state, temporarily replaced the Nut Rolls.

“Everybody started complaining: ‘Where are the Nut Rolls?'” Berg remembers with a hearty chuckle. “‘Why are you pawning this stuff off on us?’”

Several breweries, like Blaine’s Invictus Brewing and Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Brewing Co., have concocted Nut Roll-themed specialty beers, no doubt tips o’ the cap to the 113-year-old candymaker who keeps ’em full. “The Salted Nut Roll has always been a hard-working candy,” a Pearson’s PR man once told BSG, adding that his company is honored to have become a part of the craft-beer universe.

“It’s a sweet thing to have sitting on the shelf, like, ‘Oh, I left my lunch box at home today? Well, I got a Nut Roll—that’s perfect,'” Secaur of Gambit Brewing says. “And when we got our first one here it was like, alright, we’re bordering on becoming official now.”