As Imminent Brewing Co. works on constructing tables from reclaimed wood, hanging decorations, and tidying up, Northfield locals show up every half-hour or so to help out, or hand something over like the World War I lithographs they thought would go well in the old National Guard armory building.
This is what Randy Clay, head brewer and co-owner, was hoping for when he set out to open the brewery. “We want to have the focus of community and connection, and have a great gathering space in our town—but beer is ultimately the most important thing,” he says.
Drinking good beer became an obsession for Clay when he was working in Colorado in the ‘90s as a restaurant manager. It’s also where he also met his wife, Tonja, another co-owner and Imminent’s marketing wiz. He was exposed to the young craft beer scene and future powerhouses like New Belgium. Eventually, Tonja gifted him a brewing kit for Christmas in 1998.
Brewing at home not only helped Clay hone his skills, but joining Northfield’s homebrew club, Milltown Mashers, is how Randy and Tonja met another couple, Derek and Laura Meyers.
“This,” Clay says, looking around the brewery, “came out of that club.” After they put the finishing touches on the taproom, Imminent Brewing will officially open to the public Friday, June 16 at 3pm.
Together, the two couples form Imminent’s ownership team. The brewery was started without outside investors, so they can focus on crafting a brewery made entirely in their vision.
Built in what was once an old National Guard armory, the 3,400-square-foot brewery and taproom is exactly what the foursome dreamed up when first putting pen to paper on a business plan. Even better, another couple will open an event space, and community kitchen and market in another part of the armory (Imminent owns about one-third of the space, the other couple owns the rest), providing food and live music accessible via a shared hallway.
“This is exactly where we want to be and exactly what we wanted,” Derek Meyers says.
Clay acknowledges that many breweries share the same story as Imminent. “Our theme from being a community gathering space, being that we are right downtown, we’re transforming a corner of our downtown that has been underutilized for years—it’s not necessarily unique,” Clay says. “That’s to be expected for a small craft brewery, because that’s what it used to be like […] pre-Prohibition in every town. But that’s because it is the right thing to do; the downtown needs a brewery.”
As much as the physical space is important to the brand, Clay always guides the conversation back to one point—the beer needs to be good. He made sure his homebrewing skills were where they should be, took Siebel Institute courses, and has brewed about a half-dozen times on Imminent’s 10-barrel brewing system before even thinking about putting those beers on tap.
To ensure people find something they like on tap, everything from a wheat ale made with local raspberries and rhubarb, to a coffee porter on nitro (made with coffee roasted across the street) are available.
Derek Meyers, who helps with brewing and handles distribution, thinks the team is ready. He admits there are still things to learn about the brewing system, and they are always improving efficiency, but he’s positive that the beer is ready for discerning palates.
“The most important thing has been the buy-in from the community,” Meyers says. “We’ve been a part of this town for a while now.”
If the residents come to the taproom, they may recognize the Northfield decor and ambiance, but more personal designs touches that reflect the owners’ backgrounds are more subtle. Sitting at the bar, patrons may notice that parts of the wood their drink sits on are blue. So are other wooden fixtures such as rails and signage. This beetle kill pine is from the Black Hills, where Derek Meyers is from.
In addition to serving its beer in the taproom, Imminent hopes to distribute kegs locally and possibly bottle beer in the future. But it is hard to imagine those things at this point.
“There’s really something about being in the moment,” says Laura Meyers. “I’m so looking forward to doing this [handing someone a pint across the bar], and saying, ‘Here, have a pint. Tell us what you think. How was your day?’ To me that’s all I can imagine.”
“If nothing else happens, and we are just able to be a place where people can come from town and have a good time, and it’s enough to support us and our employees, that will be fine,” Derek Meyers says.
Photos by Louis Garcia
Brewers: Randy Clay, Laura Meyers, and Derek Meyers
Beer: Monticello Mild; Question Mark Hill Wheat; Guard Down IPA; Prairie Creek Porter; Factory Settings Cream Ale; Lil’ R&R Fruited Wheat Ale; Well Grounded Nitro Coffee Porter
Address: 519 Division Street South, Unit 2, Northfield, MN 55057
Hours: Thurs–Fri, 3–11pm; Sat, 11am–11pm; Sun 11am–8pm