When the initial truckload of beer departs from Earth Rider Brewing this fall, it will be the first beer exported from within Superior, Wisconsin, since Northern Brewing Co. stopped brewing beer in 1966.
Given its unique name, location, and the assemblage of elite local brewing talent under its roof, Earth Rider is a concept that couldn’t have come to fruition anywhere else.
After Tim Nelson left Fitger’s Brewhouse—the brewpub which he co-founded 22 years ago when there were only five breweries in the state—in the summer of 2015, he established Earth Rider right away, and his brother Brad soon joined him. There was just one problem: he had nowhere to set up shop. He spent the next few months behind the wheel, scouting locations all over the Twin Ports region, before settling on a pair of buildings in the northern end of Superior.
The brewery, located in the former Leamon Mercantile Co. building at 1617 North Third Street, stands a wide expanse of grass across from the Cedar Lounge, a renovated bar that serves as the taproom for the brewery as well as the headquarters of BevCraft, a brewery consulting company started by the Nelsons. As fate would have it, the buildings are not far from where the Nelsons drew inspiration for their name.
“A nearby building back in the ‘90s had a sign called ‘earth rider’ on it. It wasn’t tied to anything, so we created a brand persona with what that means to us, starting with that brand logo with the Viking ship,” says Tim, referring to a mural that was recently completed on the brick facade of the Cedar Lounge depicting a Viking ship battling heavy seas. It’s an unique name that inspires curiosity, but an apt one for a brewery composed of people well-traveled in the craft beer industry.
Shipping Industry, Meet Sipping Industry
There are nine other breweries in the Twin Ports, but none boasts a closer proximity to the shipping industry. The brewery and taproom’s unique location is impossible to miss, even at first glance: Massive grain elevators and a docked ore carrier rise behind the buildings, while a set of active train tracks run behind the property. The near-hourly trains sounding horns can be plainly heard inside the brewery. In the distance, the John A. Blatnik High Bridge slopes over the St. Louis Bay and down into town, making the brewery a short 10-minute drive from Canal Park.
While the Cedar Lounge has been a tavern since it was built in 1912, the adjacent brewery building has worn several hats since the initial brick-and-mortar structure was built in the late 19th century. The original structure remains, albeit with a large addition including a complete cooler room, built in the 1980s while it was the home of beer distributing company Leamon Mercantile.
Both buildings occupy a largely industrial part of Superior, and are the area’s first visible new development in recent memory—but they certainly won’t be the last.
“There’s a palpable sense that Superior is going through a renaissance,” Brad Nelson says, comparing it to the beginnings of Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District. “There’s this energy you can feel, and I think in the next five to 10 years there’ll be a lot of change.”
Nelson isn’t the only one feels that energy. Earlier this year, Earth Rider Brewing was awarded grants from both the city of Superior and the state of Wisconsin to help pay for infrastructure costs for updating the brewery building, with the idea that the brewery will spark economic growth.
Local Beer by Local Brewers
Perhaps the only thing that more impressive than Earth Rider’s location and buildings is the vast experience of Earth Rider’s brewing team, which includes lead brewers Tim Wilson and Allyson Rolph, and head brewer Frank Kaszuba.
Wilson comes to Earth Rider from across the bay at Bent Paddle, where he was the lead cellarman since 2014. Previously, he worked at Fitger’s Brewhouse. Kaszuba was a long-time head brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse with master brewer Dave Hoops, and boasts 21 years of experience. Rolph’s journey to Earth Rider was an even shorter distance; she held the post of lead brewer for the past six years at Thirsty Pagan Brewing, eight blocks south, where she became well known for sour and barrel-aged programs.
“Leaving the Thirsty Pagan was really hard, but I probably wouldn’t have left if I had to change cities, this opportunity was really great because I choose to live in the Twin Ports,” Rolph says.
While Rolph is excited to eventually start barrel aging in a space set aside at the brewery, she’s most excited to brew with the state of the art 20-barrel Sprinkman brewing system, all of which was built in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and with Minnesota and Wisconsin iron ore.
“This system is amazing, it’s all of those things you wish you had on other systems,” Rolph says. “It’s all really well thought out, well designed, and its really intuitive as a brewer to go through this really well engineered system.”
Their first year production goal is 2,000 barrels, but Tim noted that their goal is expand up to producing up to 10,000 barrels annually. As their current setup, while massive, takes up only a portion of the brewery, there’s certainly room for expansion.
With all of the resources and recipe development expertise of BevCraft at their disposal, Earth Rider plans to brew a variety of styles, which they will distribute throughout the local region from Ashland, Wisconsin, to Two Harbors, Minnesota. By the end of the year, they expect to begin distributing cans over that same footprint.
“We’re excited to brew with Lake Superior water, for mainly people in the Lake Superior Watershed, and we’re gonna have a lot of fun with some really great ingredients,” Tim Nelson says.
With their North Shore dream team assembled, Earth Rider seems poised for success as a distribution brewery. But they’re also at the forefront of a new age for Superior. In the shadow of the grain elevators, Earth Rider aims to honor the town’s industrial history, while laying the foundation for a more vibrant future in the Twin Ports community.
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Photos by JaneCane Photography
Brewers: Frank Kaszuba (head brewer), Tim Wilson (lead brewer), Allyson Rolph (lead brewer)
Address: 1617 N. 3rd Street, Superior, Wisconsin 54880 (Brewery); 1715 N. 3rd Street, Superior, Wisconsin 54880 (Taproom)