Last year, Northern Lights Brewing Co. changed its name, but its mission to make great tasting craft beer only got stronger. Like many craft breweries lately, the Spokane, Wash.-based brewery — now called No-Li Brewhouse — found itself in a trademark dispute with Starr Hill Brewing Co., which had a beer called the Northern Lights IPA. Starr Hill also had a big, national distribution deal with Anheuser-Busch. So what did founders Mark Irvin and John Bryant decide to do? Take the high road.
“We saw the potential for Northern Lights Brewing, founded in 1993, on a national and international scale, but also recognized the inherent risks of customer brand confusion and the cost associated in defending the Northern Lights Brewing Co. name,” Irvin said. “We attempted to contact and seek a remedy for the obvious confusion over our uses of the Northern Lights name. Despite our best efforts, we were not able to have meaningful communications, i.e., they gave us the silent treatment. Once we decided to move on, it allowed us a fresh canvas to focus on the positive aspects of creating beers.”
Even without the name dispute, No-Li Brewhouse was changing in a big way. The brewery was founded way back in 1993 by Irvin, but it was only in the last two years that he began to partner with Bryant, a 20-plus year veteran with an impressive craft beer résumé. Bryant was the president of Longmont’s Oskar Blues Brewing Co. from 2009 to 2011 and a top executive at Odell Brewing Co. for five years prior to that. He also spent 10 years helping Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery become one of the best-recognized craft brewers in the nation.
“Born & Raised IPA and Jet Star Imperial IPA are rooted in Spokane, Wash. They both received federal recognition and designation as ‘Spokane Style.’ Yes, Spokane has a federally recognized beer style.” — Mark Irvin, No-Li Brewhouse founder.“I had been drinking Mark’s beers for over 15 years, always purchasing 22 oz. Northern Lights Brewing bottles on visits to family and friends in Spokane. Always loved them!” Bryant said. “When it was time to move back home, it was an obvious thought and alignment. The rest is history.”
“The change to No-Li allowed us to focus on Spokane, the local craft brewing culture and the source of origin now federally recognized as “Spokane-Style,” Irvin added.
Not only did Irvin and Bryant decide to change their brewery’s name, they revamped their look, logo and brands with sleek, clean and classy graphic treatments and labeling. What did they keep the same? Some of the best craft beer in the Pacific Northwest – in particular two tasty IPAs – Born & Raised and Jet Star Imperial. IPAs being our Beer of the Month, we asked Irvin and Bryant to give us some insights on making great India Pale Ales.
“Born & Raised IPA reflects a hometown spirit and connection to your place of birth,” explained Bryant, whose wife is also originally from Spokane, Wash. “It’s about that American tradition of moving away to explore other places, but always coming back home. It is 80 IBUs and 7.1 percent alcohol.”
“Jet Star Imperial IPA is the namesake of the original rollercoaster built for the 1974 World’s Fair Exposition in Spokane,” Irvin said. “Jet Star is a West Coast-style Imperial IPA with 90 IBUs and 8.1 percent ABV. Our Born & Raised IPA is styled to honor the traditions of early IPA’s in terms of its grist but bowing to the hop levels of modern American West Coast IPA’s. No-Li IPAs are hop-forward, flavorful and pack a diverse range of hop flavors.”
No-Li IPAs are created with ingredients that are all sourced within 300 miles of the brewhouse in Spokane. The company uses a variety of Pacific Northwest malted barley and a unique combination of Cascade, Chinook, Cluster, Amarillo and Columbus hops. Born & Raised is the brewery’s flagship IPA, and in 2012 it snagged a silver medal at the Japanese Craft Beer Festival. Both Born & Raised and Jet Star IPAs are highly lauded – partially for their uniqueness.
“Born & Raised IPA and Jet Star Imperial IPA are rooted in Spokane, Wash.,” Irvin said. “They both received federal recognition and designation as ‘Spokane Style.’ Yes, Spokane has a federally recognized beer style. Both No-Li IPAs are brewed with all ingredients within 300 miles of the brewhouse, brewed in Spokane and by residents of Spokane. No-Li’s IPA recipes, names and branding are rooted in a sense of place that is unique to Spokane, Wash. The freshness and diverse flavors do the rest.”
Right now, No-Li is actually sold-out of Born & Raised IPA, but they are allocating new space to keep up with demand. “We are adding 4,000 square feet of space, a new fermentation cellar, storage and packaging facilities, with new 30-barrel [bbl] fermenters and bright beer tanks to meet customer demand,” Bryant said. Currently, No-Li Brewhouse is predicting it would sell more than 1,100 bbls of Born & Raised IPA in 2013.
“Our biggest challenge is keeping up with demand,” Irvin said. “We are sold out. We are in continuous expansion. We are not expanding to simply add capacity, but to add the ability to be creative, innovative and fun.”
These guys aren’t just craft brewers, they’re craft beer enthusiasts. You can tell they love the spirit and social culture of craft beer. They brew what they enjoy and love to share it. And that’s also their advice for making a great IPA.
“Brew what you love; brew what you enjoy drinking; and experiment with a number of hop varieties, hop additions and dry-hopping,” Bryant said.