Building completion in May; Brewery to include green features

By Gigi Wood

Construction is nearly complete on Backpocket Brewing’s 15,000-square-foot brewery in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing District, a development at the southeast corner of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

The building will be finished in May and the business expects a soft opening of its taproom at that time. It will take a few additional months to install the brewing equipment and begin on-site brewing. When a grand opening takes place in late July, Backpocket will be serving beers brewed in-house.

“We’ll then have the taproom open before the beer’s actually produced due to the length of the install of the equipment,” said Jacob Simmons, Backpocket’s brewmaster, who is managing the Coralville site. “Beer will be produced during the grand opening, which will be at the end of July.”

Until then, the brewery will serve beers produced at its headquarters in McGregor, as well as some other regional beers. Backpocket Brewing is an offshoot of Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery in McGregor.

Backpocket’s beers include Slingshot, a dark lager; Jackknife, a pale ale; Wooden Nickel, a Scottish peated lager; Penny Whistle, a Bavarian wheat; and Gold Coin, a blonde lager.

When the beer the company was producing in McGregor became popular, Backpocket began looking for a larger facility to house beer production and bottling. The company was initially interested in producing inIowa Citybecause many Big Ten school towns have successful small brewery operations. Unable to find a suitable site, the company looked at Coralville.

In November, the city ofCoralvilleapproved a $6 million general obligation urban renewal loan agreement for Backpocket Brewing, to be paid back through lease payments. In September, the city approved a 56-year lease agreement for $448,000 annually to the brewery, allowing the brewery to operate on city-owned land just west of the Coralville Marriott parking ramp.

Once complete, Backpocket will produce 8,000 barrels of beer annually, with the capacity to brew 25,000 gallons a year, making it the largest brewery in the state. By comparison, Peace Tree Brewing inKnoxvillehas a capacity of 3,720 barrels a year and Millstream Brewery in the Amana Colonies produces nearly 5,000 barrels a year.

Backpocket’s Coralville brewery will use a brewhouse made by BrauKon inGermany.

“It is due to arrive the first week of May,” Mr. Simmons said. “From there, we will need to install it, which requires quite a bit of work. As we are making beer, there is a whole lot of piping that needs to be welded in place and can only start once the equipment arrives.”

Several environmentally friendly features are being incorporated into the brewery. For example, the brewhouse will use a unique boiling method, reducing carbon emissions by 70 percent, compared to traditional brewing methods.

“A vapor condenser then recaptures the remaining energy by taking the steam from the boil and turns it into hot water, filling a 4,500 gallon hot water tank,” he said. “On the water side, we will have a cleaning machine that will recapture our cleaning chemicals so they can be reused, as well as rinse water, drastically reducing both chemical and water use. All our waste (yeast, spent grains) will be captured for use as animal feed or sent to a biological digester for conversion into methane.”

Construction on the brewery started later in the fall than expected, but the warm winter weather allowed crews to make up lost time.

“If it would have been a traditional winter we certainly would not have been pouring concrete outside in January as we were able to do,” he said.

Once Backpocket bottling is established late in the summer, the brewery will also begin contract brewing for Schlafly, with Oktoberfest likely being the first brew available, he said.

Mr. Simmons, a former intern at Schlafly’sSt. Louisheadquarters, helped negotiate a deal that allows Backpocket to contract brew Schlafly in Coralville. The contract will help the Coralville brewery cover its costs during its initial operation.

Schlafly began distributing its beers in Iowa in August. Because of capacity constraints at itsSt. Louisbrewery, it’s been difficult for Schlafly to expand its market. Its partnership with Backpocket will help make that possible.

When Backpocket’s taproom opens in the coming months, it will offer a beer mug membership program.

“We have built a rack that will hang above the bar to hold 170 mugs,” Mr. Simmons said. “These will then be sold as mug club memberships. Each member will have their own personal mug that will be stored on site. These will be filled at a discount and will be larger than standard glasses.”

Members will have first access to special-release beers and events, such as Brrrfest, an annual beer festival, the first of which was hosted at the Coralville Marriott in January.

The brewery will serve food, as well. Backpocket will serve brick-fired pizza and will operate a grilling station outside. The pizza oven will cook pizzas Neapolitan-style, in 900-degree heat.

“In the summer, we will do burgers and brats for the beer garden, as well as whole hog roast for special events,” Mr. Simmons said.

Backpocket recently hired a taproom manager and a head brewer, who will soon begin hiring other positions to work at the brewery.