They’ve missed being here, and we’ve missed having them. But now we’re happy to announce that dogs are once again allowed in the taproom.
Tonja Clay is the Imminent owner on the down low. She’s the marketing director and the head of merchandising. She’s the person who designed our highly regarded – even beloved – logo. Any time you see anyone wearing one of our hats or sweatshirts or t-shirts, or playing disc golf with one of our discs, Tonja is the person responsible for that. Let’s not mince words, here: Tonja’s done a great job. However, unlike the other three owners, you don’t see Tonja in the taproom very often. She works behind the scenes, quietly doing her job away from the spotlight that the rest of the Imminent staff tends to bask in.
“I like it that way,” she said. "It suits my personality."
It’s a Minnesota thing.
Tonja is the one true Northfield “Townie” of the Imminent ownership trust. She was born and raised here, graduating from Northfield High School and St. Olaf College, after a brief detour through Bethel College. “Bethel wasn’t quite for me,” she said. “I enjoyed dancing and socializing. Those things.”
She also enjoyed art. Not necessarily visiting museums and looking at things other people had done, but in the creative end of things.
“I was always drawing. I like color. I like to picture things spatially.”
So she graduated from St. Olaf with a degree in Studio Art, but wasn’t ready to go get a "real" job. Instead, she decided that she needed a change of scenery. One of her cousins was headed out to Colorado to work at a ski resort, and she made the fateful decision to go too. That’s where she met another server, ski bum and world-class beer fan named Randy Clay.
(There are some great stories that Randy tells about their time together in Colorado, but you’ll have to ask him or Tonja about them. This is not a romance blog, people.)
After a while, she decided that it was probably time to look into this whole adulting thing. After looking around for a while, she was offered a job by a graphic artist in Savage who told her he would be willing to train her while she worked. It was an offer she couldn’t pass up.
“I kind of knew I was going to go into graphic design, because I’d taken a couple of classes and that was just the stuff I loved the most. But I never went back to school to learn graphic design, so this was a chance to learn on the job. I really needed more training, and he was willing to do that.
“So I just told Randy, ‘This is what I need to do. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but I need to do this.’ We weren’t engaged yet, but he thought about and decided to come back with me.”
I think we would all agree that Randy Clay is a very wise man.
It wasn’t too long before Tonja and Randy did tie the knot and put down roots (including four kids) in Northfield, but there's more to this story than just that happy ending. Keep in mind, this was the early 90’s. Craft beer had become a thing in the Western United States, but the concept of the IPA had not quite made it to Minnesota. Tonja, knowing her man would have some real trouble adjusting to the Bud Lite culture of Minnesota, found a solution.
“There was a guy in town selling beer brewing starter kits,” she said. “He sold them off his front porch. And, knowing that there was a big difference between the craft beer things happening in Colorado and the Bud Lite culture that was here, I bought one for Randy. I thought if he couldn’t get Fat Tire beer here, maybe he could make it.”
“It snowballed from there.”
Give her credit. Not only did she create the logo, she essentially created Imminent Brewing's key feature - great beer - by putting the proper tools in Randy’s hands.
So, yes, she prefers to remain behind the scenes, but her contributions to Imminent Brewing are immeasurable.
“We receive so many compliments over and over again,” said Laura Meyers, another of the ownership group and the front-of-house manager, “and one of the most common is about Tonja's work. The logo, the merchandise, the design of everything.
“We’d be a very different company without her.”
Close observers of the ever-changing beer menu at Imminent Brewing will notice that we are about to offer what can only be described as an all-star lineup. Along with our standard fare of Gateway Cream Ale, Betty Lou’s Brown Ale, The Quick and the Red IPA, Cannon Valley Pale Ale and ? Hill Wheat…
Pardon the interruption here, but let’s make this as plain as possible: the proper pronunciation of ? Hill Wheat is “Question Mark Hill Wheat.” Not “Mark Hill,” not “Question Beer,” and not “Mystery Beer,” all of which have been used more than a few times at the register. When ordering you can go with “Question Mark Hill,” “the wheat beer,” or even “number 4.” For those who are educated on this beer, pass the name along to your friends so they don’t look ridiculous the next time they order.
Anyway, where were we?
Oh yes. All star lineup. This weekend we have the triumphant return of the Honey Basil Ale, one of the most popular specialty beers we’ve ever offered. Two weeks ago, the fan-favorite Extra Medium re-appeared on our rack, and in just another week or so, the all-time champion of specialty beers, Lil R&R – short for raspberry & rhubarb – will be back as well.
But lost in all the fanfare, we have quietly introduced yet another beer, which in this humble blogger’s opinion may well be the best beer we have ever offered.
Ladies and gentlemen, have you tried the Kleines Munich Dunkel?
I’m not kidding. No hyperbole. I think it’s the best beer we’ve ever had.
Last spring, I interviewed brewmaster Randy Clay for this blog and I asked him, after twenty-plus years of home brewing, which of his beers had he felt like he’d really gotten right? What was his best beer?
I expected him to tell me the Gateway Cream Ale, but instead he said, “It’s a beer we haven’t put on yet. It’s a German Dunkel that I think is really great.”
So, of course, seeing the Dunkel come on, and then after trying it, I assumed that this was the beer Randy was talking about.
“This is a variation on that beer," he said. "Usually, a Dunkel is a lager. This Dunkel is an ale.”
The differences between making a lager and an ale are many, and as Randy tried to explain, the process for making a lager is almost twice as long. The demand for our beer is quite high, and sometimes we don’t always have the luxury of time when it comes to brewing. Therefore, Randy made a few changes to his home recipe, and accidentally created the BEST IMMINENT BREW EVER.
“It’s still a lighter beer,” Randy said. “And I’m really happy with the way it came out. The malt forward taste is exactly what we wanted.”
As I’ve said over and over again in this space, I’m not a beer expert. I can’t talk about layers of flavor, or which stone fruit you taste after which kind of malt. I just don’t have the refined pallet (or the patience) for it. But I like beer, and within that, I know what I like in my beer. The Munich Dunkel is a toasty thing up front with some hints of coffee and just a whiff of chocolate in there. It’s also a session beer, which means it has low alcohol content (4.3% to be exact). You can sit and drink this beer all day long. And you’re going to want to, because it’s that good.
“Dunkels aren’t all that common around here,” Randy said. “This gives us an opportunity to offer an under-represented style, and at the same time, we’re able to offer it in a unique manner.”
Okay. That’s great. I just think it’s the best beer we’ve ever had. So, don’t forget about it while you’re enjoying all of the other all stars.
One would think this would be the easiest of all the blog posts to write. After all, the subject happens to be my darling wife. We’ve been married for twenty-six years (or at least it will be twenty-six at the end of August), and we’ve been a couple for nearly thirty years. Who knows her better than I do? Why wouldn’t I just sit down and write something wonderful about her?
Those were the questions she asked me when I tried to get her to talk with me for this piece. See, Annie is an incredible and amazing person who isn’t very comfortable talking about herself. I could write volumes about everything that makes her my all-time favorite person, but that’s not what this series is about; it’s about getting to know your bartenders through conversation.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll do this. But it has to be in a special format.
“I like to keep people guessing.”
What on Earth are you doing working at Imminent?
a.) I’m the admin for the Education Studies Department at Carleton, and my job has limited hours in the summer.
b.) I love Imminent. I like the people who work here. I love the beer. I love everything about this place. I wanted to make a little extra money this summer, and I thought this would be a great place to do it, so I asked.
c.) To keep an eye on my husband.
Where did you grow up?
a.) I was actually born in Omaha, but we moved to Plymouth before I was a year old.
b.) I graduated from Armstrong High School. I’m not saying when. You can just assume it was before Al Gore invented the internet.
c.) Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I’ve grown up.
How did you wind up in Northfield?
a.) I graduated from St. Olaf College, where I met my hunky husband.
b.) After we’d been married a few years, we just decided that this is where we wanted to raise our daughters, so we moved here.
c.) Witness Protection Program.
Where else would people know you from around town?
a.) I worked at Glass Garden Beads for eight years.
b.) I’m an artist. I make jewelry and I do encaustic painting. I’m a regular participant in the Studio ArTour and the Fine Craft Collective.
c.) Otherwise you wouldn’t know me, because I don’t come out of hiding much.
What’s your favorite beer?
a.) Imminent’s Honey Basil. I think it’s the most perfect beer of all time
b.) Indeed Brewing’s Mexican Honey. Are you sensing a theme here?
What is your favorite thing about working at Imminent?
a.) Getting to know all the awesome regulars that my husband keeps telling me about.
b.) Beer! Food Trucks! Great live music!
Do you intend to make yourself available for shifts at Imminent after the school year at Carleton starts?
a.) For sure I’d love to help with special events.
b.) I’m more than happy to take a shift if someone needs one covered.
c.) Do I have to close?