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There’s a great revival happening in the already solid Quad-Cities craft brewing scene. Even in the midst of the Covid pandemic, and despite the challenges and obstacles inherent to it, several small, passionate craft breweries have opened this year.

Since the spring, breweries have opened in Geneseo, Bettendorf and Davenport, joining an already robust craft-beer landscape. Great Revivalist Brew Lab, 1225 S. Oakwood Ave., Geneseo, took over the building formerly occupied by Lionstone Brewing, and owner Richard Schwab also plans to revive the former Great River Brewery, 332 E. 2nd St., Davenport, as Great Revivalist Brewery in early 2021.

“I wanted to take the risk, and I did, and we’re doing excellent, with the enormous support of the local community,” Schwab – who bought the two businesses in March – said recently. “From the government to the everyday regulars, it’s been hands-down, a very welcoming experience for us.”

The Geneseo brew lab location offers 24 taps with an experimental edge to the  beers. With seven 3.5-barrel tanks, they take a creative approach with batches and brew with versatility. They also have a 2-barrel pilot system for very small adventurous brews, and allow the general public to come in and make their own.

Views of the patio at Great Revivalist Brew Lab, Geneseo.

In addition to the beers, Great Revivalist is a full restaurant (with a new outdoor patio and newly-built deck), including favorites such as woodfire pizza, mango-heat poutine, and mahi tacos.

“It’s got a great view,” Schwab said of the elevated 25-foot-by-65-foot deck, which he personally helped build. “We’re excited.”

They plan to have small tables on the deck, and when it gets colder, there will be heated, clear igloos for the winter, with seats and room for over six people each. Inside the grain bin, there’s a gas fireplace.

“It’s kind of fun when it’s snowing,” Schwab said. At the patio, there will be an outdoor fire pit as well. “We’re doing all this in preparation for Covid. We don’t know if we’re gonna be closed next week or open. We want to make sure we have as much outdoor dining space as possible.”

“We oversee the Geneseo Creek, so it’s a real serene location,” he said. “As you look outside, you see the park, you see the creek. We have a hop garden to the right of us, as well as a place where you can casually drink and just hang out.”

Schwab – who’s from the Seattle area – first got interested in making in beer during junior high.

“My family’s into brewing; my nephew is involved in two breweries in Washington State,” he said. “The people I’m brewing with today are master brewers from Great River Brewery. They’ve been showing me, working with me, as we take the different recipes.”

“The whole idea is to be experimental, to have a bunch of varieties of beer,” Schwab said. “If you want your everyday beer, I have Hamm’s and PBR. I have those in cans in my brewery as well. That’s the heritage, where it came from. A lot of people drink that; the locals, they appreciate it.”

After years of working in corporate life (for Verizon and Mediacom), “I decided I’d rather do something I’m happy with,” he said. “I love brewing beer; I love to experiment. I love sitting and taking something that was nothing, and making it into something that’s delicious.

“It’s exciting when I’m sitting at the bar, nobody knows who I am and they say, ‘I like this,’ or they start talking about the flavor,” he said. “It’s fun to be a part of that and to know I touched that. I touched somebody else’s life.”

Schwab, 47, moved to the Q-C about six years ago with Mediacom.

“Great River has such a great history,” Schwab said. “I was looking for something with more a production area. Great River, we’re utilizing recipes that are proven and recipes we come up with down here (in Geneseo), to go up to Great River Brewery, which will be Great Revivalist Brewery. That brewery will basically be large production.”

Views of the inside of Great Revivalist Brew Lab, Geneseo.

Great River Brewery started in October 2004 as a brew pub in Iowa City. In December of 2008, it moved its entire brewing operation to downtown Davenport.

In February 2009, they brewed the first batch of beer in the new location. Great River has been shut down since the record-breaking flood, which broke the levee April 30, 2019.

In Davenport, Schwab changed the outdoor patio, and will have an elevated mezzanine and an outdoor deck. They removed walls, enlarged the indoor facility, and added a kitchen for wood-fired pizzas and paninis.

“We really want it to be family-oriented,” he said. “If you’re a beer connoisseur, and you want to watch how the sausage is made, that’s the location you go to. If you want to be involved with it and be hands-on, see the nuances of beer, you come to Geneseo. Both locations have a dog-friendly area, as well as outdoor dining.”

Davenport will not have any of the igloos that will be in Geneseo, he said. The beer will be made in larger batches and distributed from Davenport.

The construction work has been underway, with projected completion by late January.

“With the Davenport location, if they say no more indoor dining, we’ve invested a ton of money into a location we’re not sure we can go into or out of,” Schwab said, declining to say how much he’s spent in the two spots. “We’re watching the news, seeing where things open up on that, to give us a thermometer on how fast we go forward on it.”

Last year’s historic flood downtown didn’t give him much pause in proceeding.

“We’re building it, and everything even if it did flood again, I should be able to power-wash and clean itself out,” Schwab said of the strengthened building.

The logo for the new Great Revivalist Brewery, Davenport

Great Revivalist should have a capacity for 75 people inside and 25 outdoors in Davenport. Great River had a very small indoor space before.

Geneseo has 25 employees and he expects 15 in Davenport. “If you want a job, I have a server, bartender, or cook position side open,” Schwab said.

Few limits on craft brew volume

“If I had my way about it, I’d say send me three other breweries to put in Geneseo,” he said of the booming industry, here and nationwide. “You have myself and Geneseo Brewing Company, and they have an excellent beer.”

“If I’m gonna go have craft beer, I go to a location and I have one or two of their beers, but if I know there’s another brewery close by, I’ll go to that one, and so on,” he said. “The more craft breweries you have in a single location is kind of like having a strip mall. People want to go there because they want to try our beers and somebody else’s beer.”

“If you only have one brewery and you go a long ways to try that, it better be the golden cup of beer, I tell you,” Schwab said. “I don’t want that kind of pressure. The more, the merrier. People want variety. There’s no turning back in it; it’s a brotherhood.

“Geneseo Brewing Company is an excellent brewery,” he said of that business at 102 S. State St. “Other breweries in the Quad-Cities, you know almost every brewer by name or by their brewery. They’re helpful – if they need grain or I need grain, or something, they’re always there for each other.”

“Everybody does not like every beer, but everybody likes a beer,” Schwab said of the craft brewing enthusiast. “Whether I’m brewing it, or Bent River’s brewing it, somebody’s gonna to have something they like. Be part of that; make what you’re good at and be consistent with it.”

A glass from Geneseo Brewing on State Street.

Soon after he bought Lionstone (which opened in 2015), they were shut down due to Covid. “We realized it was no longer going to be a short ordeal, so we started looking at long-term plans we had, which entailed putting the back patio out here and the back deck,” Schwab said. “We went ahead and accelerated those plans, worked with IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union.

“Throughout the entire plans, they’ve been the poster child for help,” he said. “They’ve been so helpful. They pushed me through, able to build the deck and the patio. We updated our inside dining area, so it’s more family-friendly and it gives you a location where you can brew your own beer.”

Previously, there were much larger fermenters and brew tanks, but Schwab changed it to a smaller brew lab.

“Our goal is to experiment with small batch beers, and we do 3.5 barrel beers, up to seven barrels at a time,” he said. “We are able to experiment and do different things with it. None of our beer stays 30 days old, so you have very fresh beer that’s rotated in with the new ones. We do seltzers, we do sodas, and we do beers. For gluten-free, we do ciders.”

The main idea is to be able to keep everything fresh and craft, Schwab said. Mississippi River Distilling in LeClaire helped them to also make hand sanitizer, which was perfect timing.

A sampling of the Great Revivalist brews.

“When we figured we weren’t able to have people inside the brewery for beer, due to Covid, we went ahead and got a license and were able to secure alcohol to go ahead and make hand sanitizer,” Schwab said. “We were able to sell it and distribute it; it was the one thing that helped get us through then. We were surprised how fast we got the license, and we still have it now. If people need it, feel free to give me a call.”

They make sanitizer in gallon containers, half-gallon or four-ounce, and they’ve been very busy with it, he said.

“From sanitizer, we were able to change it from a strip mall to an actual destination location with outdoor seating for dogs, for people who don’t like dogs on the patio,” Schwab said, “as well as taking our brew sets – the 15-barrel we use for our brewers here, and the two-barrel brew set, we allow people to come in and brew their own beer,” he said.

“We’ll keg it for you or can it for you, so you can take it back for a special occasion,” Schwab said. “We’ll put it on our tap as well. We’re doing that at cost, because we find the opportunity for people drinking, entertaining their friends, and we have the opportunity to put their own beer on our tap. They can bring their friends and try their friend’s beer on tap.”

They have redone the menu as well to make it more affordable and family-friendly, with variety of sandwiches. “We went to a higher quality, so you’re not just coming to a brewery for beer, you’re coming to a brewery to have a nice, decent dinner at an affordable price. We have a specialized mac-and-cheese, which is my personal favorite. We have a kids menu and pizzas, and a kids mug club.

“Our root beer we make is delicious, as well as our grape soda and orange and ginger beer,” Schwab said. “When we do those, we make those for root beer floats and grape floats. It allows the kids to be involved with it.”

An architect’s rendering of Great Revivalist’s new building in downtown Davenport.

Seventy percent of his revenue is coming from people sitting outside, he said. “It’s crazy busy right now.”

The patio has been open since June, after Gov. Pritzker allowed outdoor dining in Illinois.

“We did custom-made picnic tables, from heavy-duty cedar, with hooks on both ends so you can put your dogs on there,” Schwab said. “We had a local artist come out and painted the dumpsters for us, so it gave it a depth and feel for it. We planted hops all the way around it. We really took the time to do it right, because this has to be an outdoor location. Anybody can do in their backyard. We wanted to give people a place to relax.”

“I’ve had a long relationship with my hound dog and he was my inspiration for doing that,” he said, noting his dog recently passed away. “I love dogs, I love animals. You can have a great beer, great food, and you want to be able to have people that mean the most to you.”

After the spring shutdown, he did carryout from March to June, and kept the staff employed. “I think we did a fairly decent job,” Schwab said. “The best thing that happened was allowing us to open the outdoor dining. That just made a whole world of difference.”

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He also planted an herb garden and put lights out around the patio.

“Every one of the tables has a bottle of hand sanitizer and all the common areas have hand sanitizer,” Schwab said. “All employees wear the mask, wear gloves. If you want to come in and are not comfortable with a mask, that’s your business. I want people to feel comfortable.”

“You want to make sure people are safe, but you don’t want to go overboard and make them feel uncomfortable,” he said.

The exterior sign at Great Revivalist in Geneseo.

The indoor dining opened in July, at 50-percent capacity, after remodeling. Schwab put in a new bar and bar tops; and added different texture and décor. “We retooled the brewing equipment inside,” he said. “How do we make this into a destination location? We’re not just looking at the Geneseo market; we’re looking at the Chicago market, Galesburg, the Quad-Cities.

“Ironically, we have regulars that come from west Chicago, Galesburg and Springfield,” Schwab said. “They’re looking for a new place to go that’s outside.”

Great Revivalist is unique to allow the public to make their own beer, as well as providing toast beer.

“One of the most wasted food products in the world is bread,” Schwab said. “It’s got one of the main ingredients we need in making beer, which is grain. It still has the same complex carbohydrates we need. We take the bread, toast it in our oven. When we do our mashing, we add the toast into it, and by doing that, we’re saving about 20 percent of our grain bill and we’re utilizing reusable things that were gonna be thrown away.”

Customers pay for the materials to make their beer recipe, a four-to-six-hour process. If it’s a group, you can hang out all day, and two to three weeks later, the beer will be ready to can or keg.

Manager admires the changes

Rachel Heise, manager for both Great Revivalist locations, first started with Lionstone in 2016, after working for the Sweet Peas Grill in Geneseo eight years.

Rachel Heise is general manager of the Geneseo brew lab.

She worked at Blackhawk Bank and Trust four years, while working part-time (evenings) for Lionstone, and four months ago became full-time. Heise started as manager three years ago at the brewery.

“Everybody thought I was crazy for switching jobs during Covid, but I switched because it’s Covid, I guess,” she said. “I wanted something different.”

Heise loves the changes to the business.

“He added so many things the prior owners weren’t interested in doing,” she said of Schwab. “It was kind of like a sterile environment before. There was no character to the inside of the building. Now we have our growlers hanging on the wall; we have chalkboards throughout the building, showing our tap list, different food specials.”

People love being on the patio, Heise said, and it’s better with the spacious deck. “It’s completely changed here. It’s like night and day,” she said. “I never even imagined the things that have been done, that could even be done, at this location.”

The menu kept some old favorites and revamped them. Heise said they have better quality burgers now, and more appealing to more people.

The former owners liked higher-end food, she said. “It’s much more appealing – still high-end food, but more affordable and not stuff that scares people away,” she said.

Rachel Heise poses with some of Great Revivalist’s handmade hand sanitizer.

“One thing that does set us apart is having our own soda on tap – we have ginger beer, grape soda and root beer, people are just going crazy for,” Heise said. “They’re going to be making an orange cream soda, which is the next on the docket.”

Most people who worked for Lionstone are still there, she said. “We just pushed through Covid; we did curbside.”

“We weren’t super busy in the beginning, but it picked up over time,” Heise said. “The dog patio was born and now we’re so busy, we can’t even keep up most days, which is a great thing. The weekends are killer for us – if you don’t get here by 6, you’re gonna be on a wait, inside or out.”

The exterior of the flooded Great River Brewery from spring 2019.

There will be 50 to 70 seats on the deck; on the patio, there are six picnic tables. Inside, there is a capacity for about 50, she said. For a few months, they brought tables outside to seat people.

The weekend carryout business was good, Heise said.

“At the beginning, people were so scared to come out and pick up food,” she said. “We had a lot of regulars who stuck around and supported us. They’d come couple, three times a week to see us, and would leave huge tips for the servers. They were so generous. We’ve got such an outpouring of support from the community and people in the surrounding area. It’s been a little overwhelming and humbling.”

Any beer for distribution to other restaurants, bars, and grocery stores, will come from Davenport.

Great Revivalist recently started selling six-packs and growlers from Geneseo. They can also sell sodas. In the spring, they featured other breweries on tap, before getting new equipment to make their own.

An architect’s rendering of Great Revivalist’s new building in downtown Davenport.

“People could bring their own growlers and fill them through Covid,” Heise said. “We have our own beer on tap now. We’re still featuring guest drafts. I like to get as local as I can, from Bent River and Front Street. We do Green Tree. We like Galena Brewing. We love Potosi.”

“Everyone is so supportive of us, and we like to give a throwback to them when we can,” she said. “There’s a gentleman that owns a coffee shop downtown and he’s interested in collaborating with us, doing a beer with his coffee. He’s done it with the other brewery in town too.”

“Geneseo Brewing, they come here all the time, so it’s a very friendly environment,” Heise said.

She is excited to get Davenport up and running, which also will feature live music. “I’m a little nervous, since I’ve never worked in downtown Davenport,” she said. “I’m excited; I’m looking forward to the challenge for sure.” Heise will split her time between the two locations.

Great Revivalist has hosted live music Saturday nights since the summer, she said. On Sept. 26, is Live Music with Doug Brundies at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 will be Monica Austin, and Oct. 10 will be Jason Carl and Ben Lorentzen.

Hopping growth in the Q-C

Since the Q-C Ale Trail was announced in May 2019, at least five new local breweries have been added to that dozen – Midwest Ale Works in East Moline, Great Revivalist, Twin Span Brewing and Adventurous Brewing in Bettendorf, and Stombpox Brewing in downtown Davenport, next to the pioneer Front Street Brewery, at 210 E. River Dr.

Big Swing Brewing Company opened in March 2019 at 113 18th St., Rock Island, the longtime former location for Blue Cat Brew Pub.

A window at Big Swing Brewing, Rock Island.

Co-owner John Timmer, with Shane Scott and Jon McAtee, previously opened Backyard Bowl in Milan in 2018. The Blue Cat closed in August 2018, when owners Dan Cleaveland and his sister, Martha Cleaveland, decided to sell it. The pub first opened in 1994.

Visit Quad Cities organized the first QC Ale Trail, announcing it at Bettendorf’s Five Cities Brewing last year, unveiling the new effort, website, map and logo.

Debbie Davis, a local craft-beer expert who’s worked at Radicle Effect in Rock Island and Crawford Brew Works in Bettendorf, loves the effort, which also includes branded hats and shirts for sale.

“Our brewing community is a tight-knit group. Now we have a way to collectively market our product to those who enjoy drinking great beer,” Davis said at the time. “The Quad-Cities is special in that people are very neighborhood-friendly. They like to support local businesses in their own backyard. Craft beer drinkers are so adventurous, so they travel about too.”

“Every brewery also offers something different, so you don’t get the same experience everywhere,” she said. “People want to go out and try different things.”

A sampling of the wide variety of QC-made beers.

“The tourism push was already there…It’s a great idea,” Davis added. “The Quad-Cities can be a destination for people who enjoy drinking craft beer.”

The first dozen were:

Midwest Ale Works is open next to the Rust Belt, East Moline.

Last summer, Midwest Ale Works, 537 12th Ave., East Moline, opened next to The Rust Belt music venue. Adventurous Brewing, a Bettendorf home-based business, started selling to a half-dozen area restaurants and bars in 2018, opened its first commercial location this spring at 1040 State St., Bettendorf.

A Bettendorf adventure

Jon Manatt, who started making his own beer five years ago at home near Pella, Iowa, partnered late last year with Chris Trelstad of Adventurous, who began making beer from his Bettendorf garage.

“I left the politics of corporate world. I knew I make good beer; if I was going to make great beer, I wanted to find somebody who made amazing beer,” Manatt said Friday. “I reached out to Chris blind — we shared the same vision. It took us seven, eight months, going back and forth, before we went in as partners.”

“If we were going to work together, to turn this into a profitable business, we needed to exponentially increase the size,” he said, noting that happened May 29, with opening the downtown Bettendorf location, where they can make batches of 15 barrels, and they plan to open a taproom within five months.

Manatt said they make 100 varieties, specializing in stronger IPAs, and Imperial sours and stouts with a high alcohol content (8% or more).

“We’re selling quite a bit more beer than before, we’re producing more,” he said. “A taproom will be a huge step for us. The goal is to get that taproom to generate the revenue to expand how many tanks we have, make it a lot more available. At this time, we’re playing the niche market; the supply doesn’t meet the demand.”

In the Q-C, Adventurous sells to Riverside Grille, Endless Brews, Harrington’s Pub, Central Standard, and Armored Gardens, and they serve bars and eateries in Iowa City, North Liberty, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Cedar Falls and Decorah. Manatt said they won’t sell to stores.

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“Right now, our beer is helpful to draw people to different locations,” he said. “If we start putting those in stores, we’re taking away from people we want to help in the process. If we put like at two locations in Cedar Rapids, people who want to try our beer, they have to go to those two locations. If we start putting it at Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids, that takes away business from those places.”

The logo for Bettendorf’s Adventurous Brewing.

“It’s also beneficial, they help us, we help them, which is fantastic,” Manatt said of the bars and restaurants. “They promote our beer, they buy our beer. We do business with a lot of great people.”

“My experience in craft beer is, people just genuinely love what they’re doing and they love to help. It’s a unique atmosphere,” he said. “We sell beer, they sell beer. Everybody shares that passion, a camaraderie I’ve never seen anywhere else. There are breweries all across the state that are just a phenomenal help to us.”

To compete in the Q-C, Adventurous created its own market, Manatt said.

“I feel like what we do is especially in the area, is fairly different,” he said. “We serve a different niche than the other breweries…In the craft beer world right now, a lot of places have their flagships. We’ve got beers we brew multiple times, but people always want the new next thing, the next shiny toy. This is the next shiny drink.

“Every time, a new beer sells quickly,” he added. “It curves and wanes; we’ve got some great beers we haven’t sold out yet. People want that next thing.”

Twin beer openings

This year, Twin Span Brewing opened at 6776 Championship Drive, at the TBK Sports Complex in Bettendorf, and Stompbox Brewing opened in downtown Davenport.

The outdoor patio at Twin Span Brewing at the Bettplex.

“We have set up our space to meet the social distancing standards and our staff wear masks,” Stompbox partner Matt Erickson said this summer. “We have hand sanitizer available to everyone and sanitize tables after customer use. We have outdoor seating as well.

“We’ve been working on this project for quite a while and signed a lease before Covid was a thing,” he said. “Our build-out took a bit longer than expected which actually helped us since bars weren’t allowed to have indoor sales yet.

“Obviously, this a trying time to open a business, but you try and make the most out of the current situation,” Erickson said. “We wanted to be part of the downtown area when we were first looking for spaces. Our current space became available once it was determined that the previous tenant wasn’t going back in and felt it would work for us. The oldest brewery in the Quad-Cities is our neighbor, so we figured if they could do it, so could we.”

The website craftqc.com started in 2018 as a central hub for the craft beer scene, and earlier this month posted about Stompbox Brewing:

“Located at the epicenter of the flood breach of 2019, this new space was cleaned up and remodeled into one of the chillest spaces to grab a brew in the area,” the site says. “Natural light is captured through large windows with spacious seating inside. It’s also the perfect season to grab a table with friends on the patio with views of the river and Lock & Dam 15 across to the Arsenal.

“Currently releasing new brews regularly, you will not get bored with the same ol lineup, as they bring some experimental styles for you to try as craft these amplified ales,” the site says. “A few nights a week, you’ll find some local favorite food trucks in the lot serving up their tasty

Stompbox Brewing is next to Front Street in downtown Davenport.

menus. The Kitchen Brigade is coming soon as well, offering up a full-time in-house food offering.”

Brandon Mavis, founder of Craft Quad Cities, said Friday he started the site for anyone to discover what new beers were on tap, who was having an event and in general what was happening around the area, without having to visit a dozen other sites or pages. The website includes a comprehensive list of breweries within an hour of the QCA, a list of upcoming craft beer events and other cool things to check out.

“Our social pages feature daily posts about new beers, fundraisers, food trucks, game nights and other things going on at the breweries,” he said. “Craft brewers are some of the most creative and passionate group of people you will know, and that is reflected in their beers. It’s just a really cool profession that is as close as family.”

“Craft beer has grown in popularity here locally within the last 5 years, and as a region we are not yet at our max,” Mavis said. “There is still room for more, so I would expect to add a couple more next year, and into the following years.

“The range of beer styles really has something for everyone, which is why I think its growth in the industry has taken off,” he said. “The millennial generation is really leading that charge as well as women interested in the beers and taking on roles within the industry. It’s really just about discovering that style or styles, that you enjoy the most. If someone says they do not like craft beer, they just haven’t found the one they like yet.”

Reflecting a nationwide trend

The Q-C growth reflects a nationwide craft beer boom.

U.S. beer volume sales were down altogether 2% in 2019, whereas craft sales continued to grow at a rate of 4% by volume, reaching 13.6% of the U.S. beer market by volume, according to brewersassociation.org. Craft production grew the most for taprooms.

Retail dollar sales of craft increased 6%, up to $29.3 billion, and now account for more than 25% of the $116-billion U.S. beer market.

The number of craft breweries has nearly doubled just since 2015, from 4,803 to 8,275 in 2019, according to the national Brewers Association (which works to promote and protect small, independent craft brewers). Growth was fairly static from 1994 to 2010, when it started to steadily climb nationwide.

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There are now 105 craft breweries in Iowa, or 4.6 per capita (17th in the nation), and 284 craft breweries in Illinois, or 3 per capita (30th in the nation).

According to Nielsen’s market data, total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants have surged roughly 24% during the pandemic. They found sales of spirits with higher alcohol content rose even faster, a more than 27% increase over last year.

Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, said Friday that growth for small brewers has grown primarily due to two things. The first is a long-term shift in demand for beer in this country “away from just American lager and light lager and toward a greater variety of

The logo for the QC Ale Trail, which now has 16 locations.

fuller flavored beers as well as a greater demand for local.”

“The second is a shift in how Americans buy beer, which has been supported by regulations allowing greater market access for small brewers,” he said. “. Broadly, Americans are buying more beer in a variety of third space experiential channels, this includes taprooms and brewpubs, but also stadiums, concert venues, and a variety of other places where you go to do something (and have a beer) as opposed to just going and having a beer.

The ability for small brewers to make direct sales and keep those margins allows smaller scale business models to be more viable,” Watson said. Due to the pandemic, opening of craft breweries has been down about 20 percent so far this year. In recent years, the U.S. has been averaging about 1,000 brewery openings a year, he said.

“Openings will likely take more time to see, since the planning process take a while, but we’ve seen sales drop,” Watson said. “Overall, what we’ve seen is a shift in sales from bars/restaurant/breweries to packaged stores.”

“This hits small brewers harder than large brewers, since the overall beer industry was roughly 20% on-premise (you drink on-the-premises, like at a bar), whereas for craft that was closer to 45%,” he said. “Small brewers also have less ability to package and sell their beer through large retail channels (a big supermarket chain isn’t going to take on a brand selling a few hundred barrels).”

Craft is big nationwide since flavor, local, and variety of beers are key selling points, Watson said.

“On saturation, yes, we are seeing mature markets where openings and closings are roughly in balance,” he said of larger, more popular cities for craft beer, like Portland, Ore., and Denver. “In the context of the Quad-Cities, I will say that those areas tend to have far more breweries per capita than the Quad-Cities.”

Craft an intoxicating draw for Q-C visitors, residents

Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities, is a huge fan of the intimately local industry, that’s helping put the Q-C on the map.

Dave Herrell

“What’s been great to see, during the time we launched the Ale Trail to where we are now, just the product coming out of our craft brewers, I think is phenomenal,” he said this week. “I think people in the Quad-Cities are gravitating towards it. It’s incredibly creative and different, depending on where you are and who you’re connected to.”

“What I love the most is that sense of community – that’s the biggest competitive advantage, that’s drawn Visit Quad Cities to the industry,” he said. “Just the culture that’s tied to craft beer. It’s been fun seeing the trajectory grow, as more brewers have come online.”

“What’s great about the craft scene is, to me, it’s the people making ‘em thrive,” Herrell said. “They all have something authentic to offer. When you’re in there, you feel this sense of place. You feel a sense of comfort, and the product they’re putting out, I just think is tremendous, and I would stack it up against anyone.”

VQC recently brought the local breweries together to launch a new Facebook page for the Ale Trail. Initially, the passport program was printed, and they invested in technology, where you can get e-stamped for the passport on your mobile device.

At each brewery, get a stamp on a paper passport or your mobile device, and after four locations, you get an Ale Trail bottle opener. Visit all the locations and earn a QC Ale Trail pint glass. All prizes are redeemed through Visit Quad Cities.

“We love the fact that it helps brand our destination as a place that’s known for high-quality craft beer,” Herrell said. “What it’s shown us in that space, there’s opportunities to build other programs that could make sense for other products, like coffee. We’ve got a great coffee scene here.”

Craft brewers are being agile (like area restaurants are) in trying to battle through Covid, he said.

Dave Herrell (center speaking) at the May 2019 launch of the QC Ale Trail.

“We’re doing everything we can to promote them. They’re incredibly important to economic development, very important to tourism,” Herrell said. “What has been another sort of compelling thing I’ve heard from visitors, it’s one of the things they’re going to do with us. Now, when you’re trying to create a sense of place, and you’ve got that thriving craft beer scene, I love the fact that Quad Citizens say, when I have people in town, or buddies, they’re taking them to those places.

“They’re proud to show them off,” he said. “It’s a killer part of how we’re going to be able to tell our story, and hopefully they’ll continue to thrive and grow, and get better.”

On Facebook, the intent is for the Q-C breweries to share their stories and information. “It’s about building that sense of community,” Herrell said. “We’re still trying to build these platforms. Our website has been a great platform.”

“I have just been incredibly surprised by that relationship and that care for one another,” he said of local breweries. “They want to see their passion survive and thrive and grow. I have heard stories of places that have had issues, like I’m missing a part and I can’t get that part for several days or a week. And they’re calling colleagues and their colleagues are like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

“That is very rare,” Herrell said. “I think the fact, are they competing with each other for share and audience and business? Of course they are. But they all have that shared passion for what they’re doing and that creative edge, and they are curators. They’re like, we probably provide lift to the industry if we do have this positive sense of community about what we’re doing. That’s been really great to see.”

“We want to share it with as many people as we can,” he said of the industry. “We want local Quad Citizens to feel this emotional connection to craft beer, and we want visitors that are coming here, to experience those places and that product, so they can walk away and tell their friends, and hopefully come back and keep coming back.”

The craft beer sector is cooperative and the businesses want each other to succeed Herrell said.

A QC Ale Trail pint glass.

“I think that is something, if we can harness that sense of community, that’s going to make our sense of place even stronger,” he said. “There is that, we’re stronger together – yes, we’re gonna compete for business. But if we’re trying to provide lift to the industry, that’s only gonna help all of us.”

New breweries are taking a chance to open during the challenging pandemic.

“During times of great crisis, I think the spirit of entrepreneurship and the spirit of people wanting to take risks, and try new things from a business perspective, sometimes that can be the best time to open a new business or start something,” Herrell said.

“I have been incredibly grateful for companies that are willing to make that investment in the Quad-Cities – that are willing to put their time and talent and their resources into starting a small business,” he said. “We need to support that and remember that. That’s where destinations are either gonna thrive and grow and get better or they’re not.”

“People want that place they can go, where there’s something different,” Herrell said. “The fact that these guys and ladies are coming online now and doing this, just says a lot about the growth of that industry. The fact that people are willing to still support them. They are going through a rocky time. Not everyone is gonna see the success we all hope for.”

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“The intent of a craft brewery is for people to experience them,” he said. “Their high level of expertise as it relates to beer, and the conversations that take place within breweries, that’s what it’s all about. For us, that can’t come soon enough.”

Providing more distinctive places to offer live music, also helps amplify the bountiful Q-C arts scene, Herrell said.

“You’re trying to create an experience, and that to me – food, wine, beer, craft cocktails – the people really good at making them are artists,” he said. “Sometimes that gets missed in what they do.”

“Anytime you can have art and music, and beer and wine, that are this blended, experiential connection, when people are together, that’s an amazing thing,” he said. “That is a beautiful experience.”

“If we’re trying different things, and we’re also experiencing a local musician, that’s where the rubber really meets the road in trying to create authenticity,” Herrell said. “The stronger we bring a lot of those things together, the better off we’re gonna be.”

“To me, it’s all about momentum and positive energy, and if we can keep bringing that to the forefront, then we’re going to be a successful destination,” he said.

“I do think people that are passionate about craft beer, naturally they’re explorers,” Herrell said of supporting so many breweries. “Before Covid his, we’ve had people come in to redeem stuff they’ve won from the passport, they will talk to you about their experience. It’s almost like a badge of courage or pride.”

“They already want to try different stuff,” he said. Fans of craft want to try new things.

“It’s fun, because the creativity is in the names of the product also,” he said. “There is this exploration and this prideful feeling.”

In early October, Herrell is hosting several other Illinois CEOs of visitor bureaus and plans to take them to Galena Brewing Co., among the Illinois-side Ale Trail.

“The feel you get in Five Cities, versus Baked or Midwest or Stompbox, they’re all different, and that’s what’s most fun about the whole process,” he said.

Travel and tourism is not just about helping the local economy, but it helps feed your soul, he noted.

“When you travel and experience new things, and go to places you haven’t been to, and when you come into a community and you’re blown away or incredibly surprised, and have that connection to it. Well guess what?” Herrell said. “You might go tell your friends, and they might come, or you’ll tell a business associate.”

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“That’s really critical when you’re trying to community build – so arts and culture and live music, and beer and food and wine – all of these things that make up our community are vitally important,” he said. “That’s why from our perspective, we’re advocating every day because we need those things to be successful, whether you live here or visit. They’re part of our DNA and if they’re not around, not only is there an economic loss, there’s a social impact loss.”

The Facebook Ale Trail group will keep you up to date with everything that’s “tappening” — events, new brews, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and more. QC Ale Trailblazers can update the group on their progress, share favorite beers, and engage with others.

One such Trailblazer, Andrew Arnold of Davenport, quickly completed the trail and has been working the past few years to raise $2.5 million to build the largest brewery in the Q-C, at 1801 W. 3rd St., just west of Division. That was the original Independent Malting Company site, until 1957. Arnold first announced his plans in 2018 and planned to build a brewing museum, brewery and tasting room to open by this summer.

Independent Malting Company was put on hold due to the global pandemic, Arnold said this week.

“No construction until after there is a treatment for Covid-19,” he said. “We want the public to enjoy the re-opening of the historic Independent Malting Company when we can all confidently congregate without a mask on.”

The first Q-C brewery opened in Rock Island, in 1847 — Littig and Co., followed by two others. Those three merged in 1893 to become Rock Island Brewing Co. The City Brewery was the first to open in Davenport, in 1850. Four more followed, and then in 1894, a merger created Davenport Malting Co. After Prohibition ended in 1933, several breweries tried to start up, and after a nearly 48-year drought, Front Street opened in 1992, and the rest is history.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.