Back in the 1980s, when craft beer was still called microbrew or that weird hippy beer, Mark Irvin fell in love. First, as a military brat living with his family and getting a taste of the rich beer culture of Germany, then as a homebrewer, and then on to brewing for Coeur d’Alene Brewing and Hale’s Ales, Mark fell head over heels for the art and science of brewing beer with character.
In 1993, after years of invaluable brewhouse experience, Mark decided to crack the top on his own small venture, Northern Lights Brewing Company, in his native Spokane. “I could have brewed in Seattle, but I never could have passed up the chance to brew in my hometown and create my own independent style,” says Irvin.
For eight years NLBC made its home in Airway Heights as a production brewery producing primarily draft beer and self-distributing kegs to local restaurants and bars in the Spokane area. In 2002, the NLBC moved to its current location on the Spokane River and began operating the pub in addition to the brewery. The philosophy of the beers naturally spills over into the pub’s offerings: globally inspired, local sourced. That manifests as crisp, regional produce, ingredients raised and produced by our neighbors, and Inland Empire wines to complement our ales.
One other item Mark sourced locally - at the beer-famous Viking Tavern no less - was his wife Stacy. It was love at first beer and Mark is quick to admit NLBC would not exist without his life and business partner Stacy.
In 2012, John Bryant, a craft brewery veteran of 20 plus years, found the magnet that is Spokane irresistible after a long absence from his home state. John helped lead the revolutions at Deschutes, Odell, and Oskar Blues breweries, yet it took less than a pint of Mark Irvin’s ale for him to realize there was something special going on NLBC. “I grew up in Washington, went to WAZZU, and married a Spokane gal,” says Bryant. ”I pretty much bleed crimson and gray. And beer. Really good beer. This opportunity to work alongside master brewer Mark Irvin and move my family back to the Inland Empire is already proving to be the most rewarding move of my career.”
Curiously, about the time John and Mark were proving how craft beer has a way of bringing great people together, they were getting an uncharacteristically cold shoulder from another craft brewery on the East Coast that also had a claim on the name “Northern Lights.” With 1800 plus craft breweries these days, innocent trademark lap overs are not uncommon, but typically these can be resolved in an attorney-free setting over a couple of beers. After multiple calls and letters though, all Mark and John got back was the silent treatment. No Lie. But, rather than losing sleep or brewing time over it, they inspired to shorten Northern Lights to No-Li – which also makes a subtle nod to how they candidly brew their beers and run their business. Plus, since they got the Silent Treatment, they wryly decided that would make a great name for their Pale Ale.
Whether you’ve been drinking Northern Lights since 1993 or you’re imbibing in your first ever No-Li ale, Mark, John and the crew hope the pride they have in their craft and in their hometown shines through.
Tasting at Uptown Market this Saturday, December 20th, from 3pm-6pm