Interview with Quinton McClain; brewer/owner Lion Bridge Brewing

lion bridgeQuinton McClain was kind enough to take time out from a very busy schedule to answer some questions about his new brewery, Lion Bridge Brewery in Cedar Rapids, IA. I’ve been multiple times now and absolutely love what Quinton and his staff is going. The smoked chocolate stout is amazing and the Mad Max is terrific as well. Check out Quinton and his beers soon!

Q: Would you classify your beers as traditional or more of a unique style?
  I wouldn’t say the beers I am making are traditional.  Some of them are representing specific styles, but they have subtle changes that I think make them intriguing. These initial beers are not brash. Uniqueness is often associated with brashness and rightfully so. These initial beers are subtle and I think some people equate subtlety with traditional styles. I am very proud of the beers we have now and as inventory steadies and I branch out to more high abv, etc beers, I will be excited for different flavor possibilities.
I think our uniqueness will come from my ability to improvise and grow a portfolio that represents a lot of different beer styles.  I believe a great portfolio makes a great brewery.  There need to be session beers, experimental beers, herb and spice variants, and oaked beers…all available at the same time. There are no beers I am afraid of making for fear of ruining my classification.
Q: How many beers will be available at the brewery? Any plans for seasonals or special releases?
Lots of plans for new beers.  We have 21 taps, and I hope to have at least 12 dedicated to my beers by the end of the year. I am aging a wheat wine in Cedar Ridge Brandy Barrels right now.  A rye IPA is coming up, and I will be doing some cask beer in a few more weeks.
Q: What was your story before opening Lion Bridge? How did you get involved in brewing?
   I was a brewer at the Fort Collins Brewery for a few years, took a Siebel Course before that and has an internship at Millstream.  I wore a lot of hats at FCB and helped put together a brand new facility that really helped me understand the guts of a brewery. Before all this, I worked in some craft beer stores, brewed at home a bit, traveled a lot, and really loved the stories and culture behind beverages and food. There is nothing more important in the world than getting together with friends for a beer and food.  I truly believe that. I felt the best way to live out that belief is to make beer and be around it all the time. It’s a spectacular feeling to provide people with the joy of good beer.
Q: Do you feel any pressure to follow beer trends and brew what’s popular?
   I think the trends are what make beer great.  We have few rules as brewers and people are always pushing the envelope. It’s important to remember that the beer that’s most popular is a macro lager…by a longshot.  I  want to bring people into the fold of craft beer; to convert them away from a light macro lager that I feel is not very fulfilling on a lot of levels. I want to have a portfolio big enough that I can brew a little bit to follow a trend, as well as keep some beers on tap to try and convert that person who comes in and wants a pitcher of Busch Light.
Q: What is the beer that you are most excited about?
I am excited about my pre-prohibition beer with corn and rye.  It’s called Usonius. It will be dry and refreshing with a little bit lactic tartness. A fun beer with a fun name that I think will pair great with summer and our patio (hopefully we get that in soon). A few IPA’s in the works and a big stout that won’t be ready until Fall. I have 1600 square feet in our basement that is just empty space right now. As soon as things calm down a bit, I might start filling it up with barrels.
About every other beer I make now is a new beer. They are all exciting.
Q: Was opening a brewery in Cedar Rapids area pretty easy? Was their any resistance? 
Opening a brewery anywhere creates it’s unique challenges, I imagine.  It’s a steep learning curve to understand the laws on local, state, and federal levels. I greatly respect anyone who goes through the process and makes it out with their own beer.  It’s easy to say, “I want to open a brewery.” It’s a big deal to actually get it out there making beer. People in our community were very supportive.  I had great mentors and advisors from many different types of businesses.
Q: What’s your favorite trend in the craft beer world right now?
I think beer and food is a growing trend that I like. It might be increased attention to detail with beer all together. Restaurants and bars care more about glassware, about serving temps, about food and beer. It gives beer more credibility. The customer is demanding a heightened experience to pair with heightened flavor, and I think publicans are responding. It raised the bar for everyone and this is a good thing for beer.
Q: Will there be food at the brewery?

We have an appetizer and snack menu and it will always be just that. It is a conscious decision on our part to stay more of a “beer hall” and not a restaurant.  We serve beer, cider, artisan sodas, and small plates.  That will be it. Our kitchen is big enough and has enough bells and whistles to put on some elaborate beer dinners.  I see that being a time when we shine with the food. I also have some plans to bring in guest chefs to do dinners.
Q: Can you discuss short term/long term goals for the brewery?
Keep filling kegs with beer. Start doing more self-distribution which is a great part of being a Native Brewery. I will assess in September/October needs for more tanks. We have space for about 12 more 20bbl tanks and a capacity of about 8,000-10,000bbls a year if we ever decide to go full on.  Maybe thrown in a Meheen bottler or a cask canner.  Who knows.  Right now, I just want to get my beer out there as much as possible, bring people into the tasting room, and get people aware of the Lion Bridge brand. I am taking it a day at a time, but always dreaming of where I would like to see things go. 

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