Know Your Brewer: Jon Northrup at St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co.

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Brewers can be any number of things before they start mashing in professionally.

Some are tradesmen who like to work with their hands; others just need to get out from behind the desk.

Jon Northrup at St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co. was on a different path before he found brewing. He was working in a trade as a car mechanic and then attended seminary before finally turning his homebrewing hobby into a profession he loves.

st. boniface craft brewing know your brewer

It almost seems fitting that even though he didn’t end up becoming a priest, he does still work to convert the masses but to a different sort of “religion.”

Early brewing

Northrup started like most. He had a brew kit and a desire to improve.

His first experience with brewing was back in the late 90s in his home state of Rhode Island when his brother bought a Chinook IPA kit for them to try out.

“I remember smelling it and thinking it smelled awful,” said Northrup. “I helped him bottle it, and then a few weeks later the bottles started to explode, and it also tasted awful.”

Northrup didn’t let that phase him. He and his brother were always in competition with one another, and he wanted to one-up his brother. He bought his own kit and brewed a stout, a beer that he wanted to drink, and he kept with it.

“After that, I just continued to brew and was doing it almost every weekend,” said Northrup. “It was just starting to pile up in my basement.”

Northrup said he had a good run with homebrewing in Rhode Island, but the time came for his family to move, and they settled in Pennsylvania where he entered the seminary.

He was going through the seminary at his church until he and his wife had their fourth child, and he needed a more steady income and a job that kept him around a bit more.

Northrup started work as an auto mechanic for a local dealership and then worked as a mobile mechanic on the side, all while continuing to homebrew.

“I did a lot of skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing, but when I came here, I stopped spending money on that and started putting more into homebrewing,” said Northrup.

Taking a risk

Through it all, the church was an integral part of the start of St. Boniface. Not only is the brewery donned with the name of a saint who helped convert the masses, but Mike Price, Northup’s partner at St. Boniface, was one of the founders of All Saint Presbyterian Church.

Price was also a homebrewer, and one day Northrup approached Price about starting a brewery together.

“People would always ask me if I wanted to start a brewery, and I would always say no,” said Northrup. “I never wanted to do that because as soon as I did that, it becomes a job, and I might not like it.”

However, Northrup needed to get out of his line of work. Years and years of laboring over cars had put a toll on his back.

“My doctor told me if I didn’t stop I wouldn’t be able to move at all in about 10 years,” said Northrup. “It was then when I thought this might be the time to start brewing, and that’s when I approached Mike.”

They planned to start small by brewing on the weekends and selling beer throughout the week. They quickly realized that wasn’t going to work out.

“It was a disaster of a business model,” said Northrup.

After only being open for a short while, Northrup realized that this was something they had to do full time. He put in his two weeks notice at the local dealership and committed to the brewery.

“It was a scary decision because I had five other people relying on me,” said Northrup. “We were a single-income family, so I had to cash out my retirement, and we lived on that.”

Keeping it simple

Northrup is a no-nonsense brewer. It’s evident by his styles. Solid IPAs, hearty and flavorful stouts, and crisp lagers all done to style with very little “fluff.”

Or, in his words, “keep it simple, stupid.”

“When I brew I try to keep it as minimal as possible with the types of hops and malt so that you can actually taste what those ingredients have to offer,” said Northrup.

One beer that shows off and backs up that brewing philosophy is Wynfred Mild Ale. Mild ales aren’t popular anymore, but Northrup said it defines his brewing style.

“For me, it’s not about the alcohol content, it’s about the flavor,” said Northrup. “The more flavor I can get into a beer without producing something so high-octane, the more fun it is to me.”

While Wynfred might be the beer that defines his style, the beer he loves to brew is his pilsner.

“The pilsner is one of my favorite styles to plan out,” said Northrup. “It’s a simple beer, but there’s so much to take into account and plan out in the beer. You have to have some skill to execute it.”

Local Breweries Dive Into Pilsners

With executing his beer well, came making more and more beer.

Growing and letting go

st. boniface craft brewing co.

St. Boniface started out as small as possible. They were brewing on a one-barrel system back in 2011 and were only filling growlers and handing out samples.

It started small, but it grew quickly. Northrup would brew six days a week and 18 hours a day at times just to keep beer in the fermenters.

“When we moved to our current location, we were brewing a bit less on the three-barrel system, but then we opened up the tap room, and I was brewing 60-barrels a month on that system,” said Northrup. “It was a chore.”

Now, they have a full operation complete with a bottling and canning line, and a 15-barrel system which helps Northrup step back a bit to take care of bigger picture items.

Recently, he hired Jeff Campbell, who most recently brewed at Tröegs, to help lighten the load, but delegating hasn’t been the easiest task for him.

“It was hard to let it go and see someone else brew my recipes,” said Northrup. “Everyone has their own styles, strengths, and weaknesses. He’s a great brewer, and while there are some things I might do differently with a beer, I just have to walk away and trust him.”

With a second brewer in place, and his son helping him out in the brewery as well, St. Boniface continues to churn out some of the best beer in the area on an extremely consistent basis.

Northrup said he doesn’t sit back and think about where they’ve come from but does acknowledge that the long days and nights got them to a good place.

“I think we have such a great following with our loyal customers,” said Northrup. “That’s what really makes this brand, and that’s comforting.”

Although he’s not brewing as much as he once was, he still keeps his same principles every time he starts a new brew.

“Every time I mash in I always tell myself this is going to be the best beer I’ve ever made,” said Northrup. “I’m still learning. Everything I do is always the best that I can.”

You can drink Northrup’s libations at St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co. in Ephrata Tuesday-Thursday 4-9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.

James Werner
Author: James Werner

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