Jim Thomsen has a secret — and he’s not about to share it with me or anyone.
“It’s the same recipe, and there’s only two of us that know it,” he says. “Myself and [Jim Jr.], and nobody else knows the recipe. Not even my wife.”
He’s talking about his family’s root beer recipe.
“We make it ourselves in small batches,” says Thomsen’s son, Jim Thomsen, Jr. “It’s not something we ship in and have made in large quantities.”
The Thomsens hail from Texas. And of the two dozen or so stops their root beer barrel will make in a whirlwind summer, the North Dakota State Fair is one of their favorites.
“We accumulate so many friends up here,” Thomsen Sr. says. “Somebody comes up and says hi, ‘Who are you? Oh yeah yeah, you worked for me!'”
Part of the fun of being here is the family history they’re retracing. The sweet taste of Thomsen root beer first came through the Minot area almost a century ago.
“Came from the old people, back in about 1920. They went around with a horse and buggy,” Thomsen Sr. says. “Seriously! But it’s the same recipe we’ve had from when I was a kid.”
After a few generations away, Jim Sr. put Thomsen root beer back into business in 1989. They’ve since grown to include root beer floats, pretzels, and funnel cakes — but Jim Jr. says there’s just something about root beer from a barrel that you can’t beat.
“[A customer’s] father or their grandfather took them for a root beer way back before there was Coke or Pepsi on the fairgrounds,” he says. “It was just lemonade, beer, or root beer. There’s a lot people that come and they see the barrel and they remember from way back.”
That’s why Jim Sr. says he’s happy to be on the road every summer. “I was home 10 weeks ago.”
And that’s why the Thomsens — two men with real roots in root beer — are two people you should know.
The Thomsens’ food stand is located between the Grandstand and the KX Information Center at the North Dakota State Fair, which runs through Saturday, July 28th.