Northern Brewer: A Grand Avenue success story


In the early 1990’s, Chris Farley, a graduate of Macalester College, opened Northern Brewer, a home brewing and winemaking retail store located on Grand Avenue just west of Lexington Parkway. The store originally opened in a storefront now filled by Domino’s Pizza. It moved to its current location, 1150 Grand Avenue, in 1994. Since then, Northern Brewer has grown to a company that is a nationallyrecognized player in the home brewing and home winemaking industry.

What was once a shop tended only by Farley has now grown into a business that has expanded at its original location, opened a warehouse in Roseville, opened a second retail store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is about to open another retail store in Minneapolis. The company now employs approximately 100 full-time and part-time employees and has brisk catalog and internet sales.

While Northern Brewer sells a great deal of winemaking equipment, particularly late in the year, the majority of its business is the sale of equipment and supplies used in making beer. Ilya Soroka, the new manager of the Grand Avenue store, advises that most approaching beermaking will begin with ales: “There are two major categories of beers: ales and lagers. The ales are easier to make and the lagers are much more complicated, so most people will be making ales.”

After investment in a basic set-up kit, home brewers can make beer for just a bit more than a dollar a bottle—a savings over liquor store prices for similar brews. “But most people don’t do it for the savings, they do it for the satisfaction of making something themselves—it’s like the pleasure some people take in cooking,” Soroka observed.

Soroka notes that the path to becoming a professional craft brewer often begins at the Northern Brewer store. Many of the local craft brewers started as home brewers who purchased their supplies from Northern Brewer. The store is also popular with some of the leading local brewing clubs, including the St. Paul Home Brewer’s Club, a group that always makes a strong showing at the National Homebrew Championships. Soroka also believes that many of those who are entering the craft brewing business, either by opening pubs or by opening craft breweries, will be coming from the ranks of Northern Brewer’s current customers.

The process of making ales is really not too difficult. Soroka advises that if one follows directions and is careful in the cleaning process, good results are very likely, even the first time. Northern Brewer has more than one hundred different homebrew recipe kits. Once someone purchases a basic setup kit and a recipe kit, all one needs is a large kettle and bottles.

Northern Brewer is another brilliant Grand Avenue success story!