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The Can Can: Great River Brewery Debuts Its Beers, but Bottles Aren’t on Tap PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 11 March 2009 12:33

Great River Brewery's Roller Dam Red

If you ask brewmaster Paul Krutzfeldt about bottling his beer, prepare to be dismissed.

"Speak of that no more," he said in the "brewer's lounge" of the new Great River Brewery, near the foot of the Arsenal bridge at 332 East Second Street in Davenport.

It's not that Krutzfeldt doesn't want his brews available in stores or bar coolers. It's just that he's a fan of the can.

"Cans are where it's at," he explained. "You have less oxygen tolerances, so the beer won't go bad. No light gets in. And you have a lot more accessibility to take them places - boating, camping. They're more easily recyclable."

Brewmaster Paul Krutzfeldt

He later cites the slogan of the Minnesota-based Surly brewery: "Beer for a glass, from a can."

This is the summary of what Krutzfeldt said is a trend in the suds industry: good beer being delivered in a container that has historically been the marker of bad beer.

He said he's not concerned about the association of cans with bland, watery, mass-produced beer. "What good beer have you had the opportunity to buy in cans?" he asked.

But the can is the wave of the future because of the protection it offers and its portability, Krutzfeldt said: "Cans are becoming king."

Although he said that he expects cans to eventually represent the bulk of his business, for the time being he's filling kegs.

Starting last week, the brewery began having a "golden keg" event at Dam View Inn, 410 East Second Street, each Thursday at 6 p.m. to debut a new beer. The first event celebrated 483 - an American pale ale named for the mile marker between the Arsenal bridge and the roller dam. This week's brew is Roller Dam Red, which will be followed by Farmer Brown on March 19, La Jefa (an American pilsner) on March 26, and Straight Pipe Stout on April 2.

In addition to those five beers, Great River Brewery plans to have some seasonal beers, Krutzfeldt said.

Beginning the weekend of April 10, the brewer's lounge at the brewery will be open, giving the public a chance to sample the beer and meet the brewers.

Canning (in 16-ounce containers) is scheduled to begin in June.

The current brewing equipment has an annual capacity of between 1,500 and 2,000 barrels, with an additional 3,000 barrels of fermentation capacity being added this summer. Krutzfeldt said his target for the brewery's first year is to produce between 3,500 and 4,000 barrels of beer.

Beyond using cans instead of bottles, Great River has a few other noteworthy initiatives. The brewery is giving its spent grain to Augustana College's Farm to Fork program for animal feed. And the Farmer Brown ale will meet the United States Department of Agriculture's requirements for organic products.

Late last year, the brewery moved its equipment from Iowa City's Old Capitol Brew Works & Public House - the restaurant and brewpub that Krutzfeldt and brewer Scott Lehnert started in 2004 - into the building that most recently housed the Living Passion studio and coffee shop.

"All we ever really wanted to do was become a brewery instead of a brewpub," Lehnert said. With "a brewpub it seems like you're just serving the customers within your establishment, and we wanted to grow beyond that. And due to the physical restraints inside of the building that we were in, there was no possible way that we could."

Brewer Scott Lehnert draws a mug from the filter

The Iowa City location - a brewpub that a bank had foreclosed on - was an opportunity that the pair couldn't pass up, he added. "It was our dream, and we realized that if we didn't go for it, we'd kick ourselves in the ass for the rest of our lives. ... The cost of the equipment itself was worth it to make a go for it."

When the two began exploring expansion options, they wanted a larger population base, and they looked at Des Moines and the Quad Cities. It was Chris Barnard - a longtime friend of the River Cities' Reader and now the brewery's president - who convinced them to settle in Davenport, with a view of the river.

"We kept bumping into Chris Barnard over here everywhere we went," Lehnert said. "He was always an advocate for the Quad Cities area."

"We don't necessarily need storefront, because we're just brewing for distribution," Barnard said of the location. "One of the selling points I was using on these guys was river, river, river."

The new location, Krutzfeldt said, gives the brewers an opportunity to focus on what they love without the distractions of a restaurant. (He said he hired a general manager for the brewpub a few months ago.) "What's the hardest job in the world?" Krutzfeldt said. "It probably is running a restaurant. ... We never wanted that. We wanted to make beer. We realized where the flaw in the system was, and hopefully it's a good change."

Most brewers stress that the challenge of distributing beer outside of a brewpub is consistency, and whatever you think of the beers produced by Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors, each batch is the same as every other batch. Barnard said Great River Brewery will work with a Palmer student who spent 10 years at Coors as a microbiologist to ensure quality control.

Krutzfeldt - who has worked for Louisiana's Abita brewery and at the Rock Bottom brewpub in the Des Moines area - said the short-term goal is to distribute Great River beer within a 150-mile radius. Lehnert stressed that "first we need to be able to satisfy our local customers."

Barnard said the brewery aims to have multiple handles in 100 establishments. "There's a tremendous appetite for a regional brewery," he said. "Everybody that's in town from out of town just wants to taste the local brew."

Still, not all establishments will be a good fit for Great River beer. Barnard said the brewery is targeting the type of places that "are already having Fat Tire on tap. ... There are a lot of bars that aren't going to sell a $3.50 pint."

And Barnard said they hope to be selling cans in Hy-Vee by the fall.

Great River already has agreements with Modern Woodmen Park and the Capitol Theatre, and of course it's still supplying beer to Old Capitol brewpub in Iowa City. Beyond that, Barnard said he has 45 verbal agreements from bars and restaurants - but many want to taste the wares before committing. That's one goal of the weekly tasting parties.

Great River Brewery's gradual roll-out might be frustrating to beer aficionados who want to taste it all, but cut it some slack. As Lehnert said, "We just moved an entire brewery."

Krutzfeldt and Lehnert


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