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Iowa-based brewery opens at Iowa River Landing

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | JUNE 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Gold Coin, Slingshot, Penny Whistle, Wooden Nickel, Jackknife. The same items that might be kept in someone's back pocket can be found in Helles, Dunkel, Weizen, Scottish, and "GPA" beers at the new Backpocket Brewing brewery and tap house in Coralville.

The newest home of the 3-year-old McGregor, Iowa-based beer company opened to the public June 8 at the Iowa River Landing near the Coralville Marriot Hotel and Conference Center. It is the only active brewery in the Iowa City/Coralville area.

Jake Simmons, the Backpocket Brewing founder and brewmaster, said the growing Iowa City community and large number of University of Iowa faculty and students in the beer-drinking demographic made the area an attractive place to settle his business.

"The city saw in us a destination, and we wanted to be a destination," he said.

Simmons said he believes locals will respond well to Backpocket Brewing's flavors and small-business feel.

"The beer market is receptive to new brands, and microbreweries are seeing growth," he said. "The idea of a more local, fuller brand is attractive to people right now."

Iowa City resident and beer enthusiast James Goodwin said he is excited to see a renewed interest in brewing in the area.

"I think it's a great idea," said Goodwin, who noted that he used to brew his own ale with friends in the 1970s. "I've drunk beer all my life and like to try microbreweries just for the heck of it. Any opportunity for someone in a city like this to start a business is great."

The Backpocket business has plenty of full, balanced flavors to offer, Simmons said.

"Our beers are largely German-inspired," he said. "There's lots of flavor, but it's not too extreme or overpowering. Some beers are more traditional and some more experimental. Each has its own character."

Simmons said he hopes to expand his five-beer tap, rotating new beers into the mix every couple of weeks while keeping close record of customer feedback.

"Some might be so good we can end up bottling them. Some might be pretty terrible, in which case we'll never try them again," he said. "Our beers are limited only by imagination. That's the fun."

It is this proclivity for rich, experimental flavors, Simmons said, that separates breweries such as Backpocket from larger beer companies.

"Big-brand beers are boring beers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They set out to make a single beer with the largest possible market share, so they wind up tasting a lot like water," he said. "We take the opposite approach. We're looking to have 10 beers and have at least one appeal to every different person. We're up-front with our flavors. If you don't like it, you can try another."

Backpocket's managers tried to make the company's small-business style translate in the appearance of the brewery. The 15,000-square-foot facility includes a large taproom with an open pizza oven and wooden bar and tables with a full view of the brewing tanks and equipment.

"We wanted to combine a rustic and industrial aesthetic," said Bob Wagner, the taproom manager. "We're serious about what we do, but at the same time want to create a laid-back environment with something to appeal to everyone's tastes and desires. Plus, everyone likes pizza."

Based on visitors' responses, the managers said, it would seem Backpocket has achieved this appeal. Simmons and Wagner said positive feedback from the community has made them eager to sponsor local events and host brewery tours and festivals.

"I'm excited to see how the brewery interacts with the community … and fosters a beer culture in Iowa City," Simmons said. "One already exists here, but we'd like to extend it further into the population and educate people about different flavors."

Wagner shares Simmons' enthusiasm.

"It's great to be a part of something really positive and unique to the area and to see the satisfaction people get from receiving a great product," Wagner said.

With a degree in microbiology from the UI and a passion for beer, Simmons said, he fell into the niche of a brewer with ease, and he is happy to share his craft with the Iowa City/Coralville community.

"Someone's going to make the beer," he said with a smile. "It might as well be me."


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