In October 1993, Christopher Farley, a recent college graduate and employee of the James Page Brewing Company, founded Northern Brewer in a small St. Paul storefront. While inventory was limited, sales were brisk enough to pay the rent.
In June of 1994, Northern Brewer moved to a larger space on Grand Ave. which allowed inventory to double. During the microbrew boom of the 90’s, more and more people discovered the joys of quality beer and interest in homebrewing surged. So did the range and quality of ingredients and equipment available to homebrewers. In response, Northern Brewer expanded its staff, organized homebrew competitions, produced its first catalog, and began mail order operations.
By 1998, increasing retail and mail order growth caused the store to become a bit cramped. As Chris says, “operations increasingly resembled those of a submarine.” When the owner of the hardware store up the block retired and closed up shop, Northern Brewer acquired the lease. A few renovations were made: a dedicated grain milling room, a plumbed brewing lab, a separate mail order processing area, etc. In May 1999, Northern Brewer reopened at 1150 Grand Avenue, with a wider selection of brewing and winemaking supplies.
Amidst the craft beer renaissance of the early 2000s, volume was yet again outgrowing the space available at 1150 Grand – that old submarine feeling again. To meet the demand, warehouse space in Roseville, just north of St. Paul, was leased in 2004 to house Northern Brewer World Headquarters (mail order, production, and office operations) and 1150 Grand became Northern Brewer’s dedicated retail showroom.
Things are always progressing and changing here: Chris’s proprietary system (PIVO) that integrates our point-of-sale system with the website – was deployed in 2005. A computerized pneumatic conveyor went up in the warehouse in 2008, adding speed and efficiency to mail order processing. The website itself has expanded alongside our physical space, with a new and vastly improved website launched in May 2009. Northern Brewer opened a second retail location in Milwaukee, WI in October, 2009. In the first four months of 2010, the warehouse expanded yet again and a Video Projects arm was added to our Creative Department.
Homebrewing has grown a lot since 1993, when Chris Farley founded Northern Brewer, but we’re still a local business. Our staff has grown exponentially since the first days, and many of our alumni have gone on to brew professionally. We sponsor events locally and nationally, from small competitions to the annual National Homebrewers Conference. We’re dedicated to creating and maintaining resources like our online forum, homebrewing and winemaking classes, a line of instructional DVDs, and the Brewing TV webcast to keep homebrewers informed and connected. In 2016, we were acquired by ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s disruptive growth unit, to help continue to grow our business and help our customers brew great beers with the best possible tools and ingredients.