Rochester’s newest bottle shop pinned down one of the hardest sales licenses in the state in a garage spot — but the result passes the vibe check.

Jack Lester, a longtime staffer at Forager Brewery, moved into a former auto shop a little ways from his old place of work. There, he stocked the shop with cans from Humble Forager, as well as brands from the Twin Cities area, like Falling Knife, Modist and more.

The business model encourages experimentation, with new offerings nearly every week.

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“I’ve been with Forager since construction, and so I’ve been building these relationships for the last six years,” Lester said. “Toward the end, I had the opportunity to do some traveling with the brand … so I got to meet some of the greatest beer-makers in the States, flying under Forager’s wing."

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Those relationships are paying off, Lester said, by helping him acquire new beers to share with Southeast Minnesota. He’s looking to drive customers up to little-known breweries by including drafts from “the middle of nowhere.”

“If I drive two people up to Walker, Minn., and they’re sitting in the tap room and tell the staff they’re there because Jack talked highly of their beer — that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do,” he said.

Lester modeled the décor in Jack’s Bottle Shop after smoke shops and record stores, like The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. He hopes to showcase local art in the future — especially from metalworkers.

“You walk into these places, and you just feel good,” he said. “There’s a warm pot of coffee there, you just chill and shop around. There’s no pressure — we know what we have is top-notch.”

Jack Lester, owner of Jack's Bottle Shop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Jack Lester, owner of Jack's Bottle Shop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

He even included a large candy dish near the register, to echo his own memories of visiting Rochester’s liquor store with his father on Saturdays.

“I’d be there before he even got out of the truck to pick out my sucker,” Lester said. “And then by the time he checked out, I’d get another one. … I just want people to feel like they can bring their families.”

There’s never been a better time to share those positive vibes.

“There’s a lot of negativity, a lot of darkness,” Lester said. “I said, you know what, we’ve got to bring something good to Rochester — especially the craft beer community.”

Part of Lester’s inspiration for opening the shop came from the death of his 8-year-old son, Marcus Tolbert, in 2019, as the family awaited a double lung transplant.

Local craft beer for sale at Jack's Bottle Shop Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Local craft beer for sale at Jack's Bottle Shop Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“We ran out of time and didn’t get to bring Marcus home with us, although he’s very much here in spirit,” Lester said.

As Lester and his family awaited that transplant, they moved from Rochester to Texas, buoyed by funds that area businesses — including Forager and Little Thistle — helped raise.

Craft beer drinkers came out in droves to support Lester and the Tolberts, he said. Minnesota consumers raised $30,000 in about 90 days, largely through private Facebook groups, he said.

“These people helped me through the most difficult times someone could ever go through,” he said. “I’m going to bring something cool back to them."

In March, Lester plans to hold a tribute to Marcus on his birthday — the 27th. He’s planning to package tasters and T-shirts, then donate the proceeds to Rochester’s Gift of Life Transplant House.

If you go

What: Jack’s Bottle Shop

Where: 909 6th St. NW, Rochester

Hours: 12 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday

More information: www.jacksbottleshopmn.com