James Page Brewing Co. (1986 - 2005)

James Page Brewing Co. (1986 - 2005)
James Page label (via eBay)

The James Page Brewing Company was a microbrewery in Northeast Minneapolis for most of its nearly twenty-year history. Despite a large infusion of cash in 1999, it could not overcome years of sales losses and was forced to close its brewing space.

Minneapolis attorney James Page founded the James Page Brewing Co. in 1986. The brewery, located in a renovated warehouse at 1300 Quincy Street NE in Northeast Minneapolis, was built using second hand equipment. It opened to the public on October 17, 1987, initially producing two German-style beers, an European amber lager colored “James Page Private Stock,” and a pilsner-style beer titled “St. Anthony Lager.”

The brewery’s initial production capacity was five-thousand barrels a year, and it only sold kegs. By January 1988, company beers were available on tap at twenty local restaurants and taverns. In the fall they added “Boundary Waters,” a lager beer made with Minnesota wild rice. Additional styles followed.

Page lacked an in-house bottling line. It shipped its finished brews at other local breweries, including Schell, Cold Spring, and Minnesota Brewing Co. to be bottled.

In June 1995, after years of annual production numbers that had stagnated between 1000 and 2000 barrels, the James Page Brewing Company was sold to Fritz Cleveland, a former marketing manager at General Mills, and a group of business partners. The sale included all brewing equipment and brand names.

Re-establishing the Page brand’s sales momentum in the Twin Cities area was the incoming group’s first goal. Shortly after purchase the group began a billboard campaign to tout the local roots of their beer. They also made changes to their packaging, removing the loon from beer labels and replacing it with a faceless man wearing an Indiana Jones-style hat.

The company had hoped to produce more than 5000 barrels of beer in 1996 but fell 2000 barrels short of that goal. However, sales had increased three-fold over the previous year. Full-time staff grew from two to eight employees.

Page’s production volume grew to 4100 barrels in 1997. This number was well short of the company’s goal of 6000 barrels.

November 1997 was the first profitable month in the company’s history.

In early 1998 the company landed a one-year deal with Northwest Airlines to supply its Iron Range Amber Lager on all the airline's domestic flights. To accommodate Northwest, Page began selling its beer in cans.

The company initiated a public stock sale in late November 1998. It solicited consumers by placing stock solicitations cards titled “Own Your Own Brewery” in retail packages. Officials hoped to raise $855,000 with a direct-to-public stock offering made possible by the recently passed Minnesota’s Small Corporate Offering Registration program. The company planned to purchase equipment for a much needed bottling line and to pay off debts.

For years Page Brewing had dealt with taste inconsistencies between their beer brewed for kegs and product bottled with contractors. Schell and the Minnesota Brewing Co., both contracted to bottle the company’s beer, required they use a different strain of yeast than in their kegged product, leading to a less robust flavor.

Bottling beer on-site, a goal for which the first $400,000 was earmarked, would allow the company to offer an identical product to customers whether purchased in keg, can, or bottle.

They later augmented the promotion by offering fifty-share blocks of stock for $285 to vendors, distributors, and local consumers. The campaign was approved for sale until August 31, 2000 in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.

In September 1999, the company reported its sales had surpassed a million dollars for the first time in its history. That same month, former portfolio manager David Gilson, after agreeing to purchase $200,000 in stock, joined the company as its CFO. He touted the ‘explosive’ growth potential of the brewery as a primary reason behind the move.

The following month it won a bronze and gold medal at the 1999 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. In January 2000 the company reported the stock sale was a success. With the help of almost one thousand investors, they'd met their financial goal.

Four months later Page Brewing announced plans to produce ‘Dorothy Molter Root Beer,’ a product inspired by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness long-time ‘root beer lady.’ A portion of the profits and royalties would go to the Dorothy Molter Memorial Foundation.

Things seemed, at least for a short time, to be looking up. Unfortunately, it didn't stay that way.

In September 2000, brewery president David Anderson announced he was stepping down. The company reported, despite being on track to sell over 11,000 barrels, it would lose money for the fifth consecutive year since its 1995 purchase.

The money gained from the stock offering never found its way toward building a bottling line. Company debts were significant enough that officials felt paying down its debt and regaining liquidity were more important than expansion. They remained committed to the brand but noted 2001 would be a ‘make or break’ year.

In late 2002, the brewery shut down its Quincy Street facility and moved all production to New Ulm’s Schell Brewing Company.

Wisconsin’s Stevens Point Brewery purchased the brand in March 2005.


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