Know your brewery co-owner: Derek Meyers

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It’s been tough to get this guy to sit down with me. Every time I’ve said “Hey, Derek, we have to talk for the blog,” he’s been as elusive as an Armory Square yeti in June. Once, I told him he was the last remaining employee to talk to me, and the next week there were three new bartenders.

It’s not that Derek Meyers is a difficult person; quite the opposite, actually. He’s a humble guy who doesn’t like to talk about himself or his success (and if he did, God forbid people would read what he had to say). So, in order to put him at ease, I decided to go easy on him and talk about his plans and dreams and the future of Imminent Brewing.

Regular readers of this blog, or at least those of you who read the piece featuring Derek’s bride, Laura, know the basics of how they got to this point. Derek’s a native of Spearfish, South Dakota. He and Laura met in college at South Dakota State, and together moved to Fort Collins Colorado, and then to London where Derek attended the London School of Economics while working on a PhD, and then to San Francisco where Laura earned a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. They eventually landed in Northfield because they felt a draw to be closer to family. Once here, they met Randy and Tonja Clay, and eventually Imminent Brewing was born.

There will be a book one day about this place. If you really want all the intimate details, you’ll have to wait for that – or you could just ask the owners yourself.

By just about any metric, Imminent has found great success since opening a year-and-a-half ago. That success can be attributed to a lot of different things, according to Derek.

“We’re part of a rising tide,” he said. “The brewing culture really started to grow in Minnesota just as we were gearing up. We’ve been really lucky.”

Trying to cut through the fog of humility that began to fill the room, I pointed out to him that the four of them had made their own luck by reaching out to the Northfield community and getting involved in things long before the doors opened to the taproom.

“Yeah, that’s true,” he said begrudgingly. “We got involved with some non-profit things and some fund raising things. We did a lot of beer tastings. And got a lot of input from people around here.”

So, now that Imminent is firmly established in Northfield, I think we all want to know where things go from here. Derek’s answer might surprise you.

“There’s a pub in London called The Cheshire Cheese,” he said. “It was rebuilt after the great London fire of 1666, but nobody really knows how old it is. It may well have been around for 1000 years. It’s very popular, and to this day it serves great food and beer.

“And there’s only one.”

Indeed the Cheshire Cheese does sound like a pretty cool place. It has served as the favorite watering hole for the likes of Charles Dickens, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and even Mark Twain. Dickens even mentions the place in A Tale of Two Cities. And while it’s quite clear that Derek does not expect the brewery to be immortalized in classic literature, he does believe Imminent could be a neighborhood establishment that stands the test of time.

“If you look at how things are going in the market,” he said, “you’re starting to see some attrition. Some breweries are going out of business. Others that expanded too quickly are struggling. You’ve got the massive, multinational breweries and they’re all doing just fine. You’ve got the small breweries like us who are doing fine. It’s those mid-level breweries that are really struggling.

“I think it’s a good idea to really establish yourself before you start branching out. I mean, we have a few tap accounts, and we’re looking for more, but I’m not looking to start bottling and canning our beer and shipping it all across the country just yet.”

“Take a Brewery like New Belgium in Fort Collins. They were in business for a long time before they began to distribute outside of their own area. And as they grew, they gave back to – and invested in – the Fort Collins community to the point where now they’re almost synonymous with Fort Collins. I like that.”

In other words, don’t look for Imminent to open up branches in St. Cloud, Eau Claire, or Brookings, South Dakota anytime soon. According to Derek, Imminent’s growth will be managed and deliberate. The brewery is on its way to becoming a mainstay in Northfield, and that’s going to work just fine for Derek.

“I don’t need this to be Surly or Summit,” he said. “I’ll be the Cheshire Cheese.”