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Brewing a regional beer market

Tim Nelson sits at the bar at the Cedar Lounge, which will feature Earth Rider beer once the brewery next door gets up and running. With 22 years in the brewing industry, Nelson is planning to launch Earth Rider Brewery in the old Leamon Mercantile building next door. It’ll be the first time in 50 years Superior has had a brewery to serve a regional market since Northern Brewery shuttered its operation in 1967. Jed Carlson/

For Tim Nelson, brewing is nothing new.

But his next venture is something the city of Superior hasn't seen in 50 years — a brewery that serves a regional market.

Earth Rider Brewery, which is expected to start brewing its first batch in late August, is opening in the former Leamon Mercantile building on North Third Street.

"I've been in the brewing business since 1995," said Nelson, former owner Fitger's Brewery, the fifth craft beer brewery in Minnesota. "I sold out my brewery in Duluth in 2015. I immediately started planning the next venture."

Nelson said the goal of the new venture is a whole-grain brewery, complete with a canning operation, similar to Northern Brewery, which closed its doors in 1967.

The product will be available at the Cedar Lounge as well as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores in the Twin Ports, and the north and south shores of Lake Superior.

The brewery on the north end of Tower Ave., is nestled between monolithic grain elevators of Superior's working harbor, and restaurants and bars of the entertainment district. The location at the foot of the Blatnik Bridge, 1617 N. Third St., offers easy access from anywhere in the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior.

Nelson expects redevelopment of the structure to begin in the spring with the first batch of beer brewed in late summer. Earth Rider's brewing operations will occupy a 16,300-square-foot facility, with a project budget to exceed $2.5 million in private investment with support from the city of Superior, Superior Choice Credit Union, Wisconsin Business Development, Douglas County Development Association, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Northland Foundation, Northeast Entrepreneur Fund and APEX.

Nelson said he expects to employ 10 initially, and will grow from there.

"Hopefully we can keep hiring more; that's what we're really excited about," Nelson said. "Having the workforce that's here — that's a good one."

Earth Rider is the second brewery announced by Bev-Craft, with Hoops Brewery in Duluth the first.

Bev-Craft, a brewery-incubator consultancy, includes Nelson, a 22-year industry veteran, and some of the region's most decorated brewers, including Frank Kaszuba and Dave Hoops.

The brewery taproom will be the historic Cedar Lounge, which was originally built by the Northern Brewing Co. as a tied house in 1912. Renovations to the Cedar were completed in August and it is operating as a beer-centric tavern. An outdoor beer garden and event space will provide a lively connection between the brewhouse and the taproom.

Nelson said the Twin Ports have numerous benefits for brewers including a strong workforce, pristine Lake Superior water and a growing number of craft beer drinkers.

"The head of the Great Lakes have a strong and growing indie beer culture, the best brewing water anywhere, and several outstanding breweries," said Nelson. "We're excited to produce a local product that bolsters the economy and culture."

And Nelson has long ties to the community.

"My great-grandfather emigrated here in the early 1900s and had a bakery not too far from here called the Imperial Bakery; that was the family business," Nelson said.

Brad Nelson, who will market the new brew, said they also had a great-uncle who was a musician in the pit at the local theaters.

"We feel a connection," Brad Nelson said.

And they're hopeful people in the region will feel a connection with the past.

"There's the Thirsty Pagan, but there hasn't been a beer that they could buy in their favorite liquor store that's brewed in Superior for 50 years," Tim Nelson said. "So we're excited about that element ... we're going to create culture on the north end of Tower Avenue" building on what other businesses from Izzy's to the Anchor have to offer.