Jay Fettig, founder and owner of North Pier Brewing Co., is not “from” the beer industry. He’ll even tell you he’s only a mediocre-at-best homebrewer. But, that doesn’t disqualify him from running a successful brewery. While in business school at Indiana University, he drafted a business plan for what would eventually become a Benton Harbor, MI destination.
North Pier came out swinging when they opened in May 2016, during the same weekend the Senior PGA Championship was being played across the street at Harbor Shores Golf Club. Fettig says it was “definitely trial by fire, but we sold a lot of beer.” And, they still do. It must’ve been a good weekend for them to open because it’s not uncommon for golfers to pull up in their carts between holes 13 and 14 to grab a howler to go. They have continued to sell more beer than originally estimated.
Initially, North Pier planned to roll out 800 barrels annually. After the trend Fettig noticed during their inaugural summer in a tourist-heavy Lake Michigan town, and feeling the pinch of struggling to keep up with draft demand in their taproom, he activated a growth strategy. Now, they have the capacity to produce 4,000. They know well enough that they don’t have to max it out all at once just because they can, but have set themselves up to grow into it at their pace. Baked into their existing property is an additional 13,500 sq ft, on which they can build, that would allow them a total of 20,000 sq ft for production. They’re also sitting on a 7,500 sq ft warehouse that will be used as a cold room and a buffer for the miscellaneous.
Fettig’s right hand man and head brewer is Steve Distasio. Distasio, who joined North Pier nine months before they opened, attended brewing school in the UK, and had a tenure at Rogue studying under John Maier. “Hiring Steve was the best move we could’ve made,” says Fettig. Distasio runs a tight and impeccably clean ship. His approach, he says, is to “operate a very small brewery like a very big brewery.” Fettig adds that they’re also conscious about not chasing trends. Out of the 12 beers on draft in their taproom, most are Belgian-inspired.
From the beginning, Fettig and Distasio had distribution and ultimately canning on their radar. “If we wanted to grow and do what we had intended, we had to do it sooner than later,” Fettig says of striking while the iron was hot. They partnered with a distributor in November, and are releasing their first two 16oz cans out of their taproom during their one-year anniversary party on May 27—a perfect way to relax this Memorial Day weekend. Two of their mainstays, Buckrider, a Belgian IPA, and The Conjurer, a Belgian Golden Strong, will be the first available off the line. They’ll also release a limited number of 750ml bottles of a saison aged in French oak wine barrels with two different types of Brett. The event is free to attend, but ticket packages that include an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil and po’boys, along with a beer token and commemorative glass, can be purchased via Eventbrite.
North Pier is family-friendly, and welcomes outside food. Although they don’t have any intention to build a kitchen, they have a close relationship with their cash-only neighbors across the street at North Shore Inn who’ll deliver the best burger in town to soak up Drake’s Drum, North Pier’s 12.6% English Barleywine. When the weather’s nice, a garage door in the taproom retracts to create a seamless ebb and flow with their communal deck outside, which is available for private rental during the off-season. However, at the rate North Pier is going, they may not have an off season for a while.
Photography: Steph Harding