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Iron Spike ready to break into Craft Beer Market

A new Brewery and Restaurant is coming to Galesburg but construction is just one of the challenges the new business will have to face.

Walking into the solid, old brick building Simmons street, the first thing you notice is just how big the space is. Yellow paint climbs about halfway up the walls, marking where a drop ceiling used to be.

The building was most recently  used as Galesburg’s community center but before that it was Galesburg’s central fire station.

Ryan Cardwell, co-owner of the new Iron Spike brew-pub and his partner head-brewer Matt Engelhaupt, spent the last months ripping out the vestiges of the community center down to the original brick.

Cardwell said the building looked like a "total government job, block walls, drop ceilings, looked like a high school or any government office."

They plan on making patio seating out front of the building and lounge and bar seating inside.  The plan also includes a massive glass wall separating the restaurant from the brewery, so patrons can see the process in action.

Building the brewery and getting it up and running is one thing, breaking into the increasingly competitive craft beer market is another.

A rendering of what Iron Spike will look like when finished.

I think people are going to enjoy that we can come out with the traditional styles

According to the Brewer's Association, 400 new craft breweries opened last  year putting the total at 2,300 craft breweries operating in the US.

Regionally, the Quad Cities has at least four breweries and two of them,  Great River Brewing and Bent River Brewing, sell bottles and cans in Galesburg.

Engelhaupt said that even though high quality craft beers are much easier to get that they used to be, there is still room for Iron spike and they don’t have to make a unique or crazy beer to break into the market.

He said a complicated beer, in an obscure style may be unique, but it would have drawbacks.

“For us to sell that would be almost 14 , 15 dollars for a six pack because a lot of ingredients go into that.”

He said he thinks customers will respond to more familiar styles if they are well made and fresh and that Iron Spike will benefit from its status as Galesburg's local brewery.

“I think people are going to enjoy that we can come out with the traditional styles. The lagers, the Belgians, IPA’s and of course IPA’s are super popular right now,” Engelhaupt said.

Cardwell said that while there is a lot of good beer out there, craft breweries are not really fighting each other for market-share.

“There’s a lot of competition but if you talk to the people at Bent River, you talk to people up in Sawyer Michigan at Greenbush, or all the local brewers, we’re not competing against each other. We’re all nurturing this magnificent craft scene and we’re helping each other,” he said.

He added that if anything, craft breweries are competing as a whole with "big beer."

The Brewer's Association said last year craft breweries sold about 6.5 percent of the beer sold, by volume, in the US. That was up by about 1.75 million barrels from the year before.

Once Iron Spike is up and  running, it will not be the only business in Galesburg catering to beer lovers.

Mary Smith is the co-owner of Something’s Brewing, a home brew supply store at the corner of Main and Seminary Streets a few blocks away from where Iron Spike will be.

She agrees that there is space in the market for a local Galesburg beer and that it won't cut into her home brewing sales.

“People want good beer. I mean, sure you can make it, but I think this area could use a brewery. I mean I think they will do great, I really do, if it’s got good beer.”

She agreed that catching consumers’ attention with an out-there, weird beer is not the way to go.

“I think they need to do traditional style beers, you know if they could do clean pilsners, stuff like that, I think they will do great. They don’t need do anything off the wall,” Smith said.

Cardwell and Engelhaupt also have more immediate challenges than market share concerns.

Credit SSS
Iron Spike co-owners Ryan Cardwell and Matt Engelhaupt.

“We won’t even be able to start building for, until we get our permits of course, another couple of weeks,” Cardwell said.

The co-owners are also trying to change a city code that would prevent their customers from having a beer on the patio they want install on the front of the building.

Under current code since some of the patio area would be city land, they would have to install a six foot high fence around any of area that alcohol would be served.

Once those challenges are overcome and they open the bar and restaurant, they want to bottle and distribute within about a year.

Scott Stuntz is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.