Operating a brewery is energy intensive, but the owners of Lion Bridge Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids have forged a sustainable future based on their environmental beliefs.
"It's definitely at the forefront of our business ideals — how can we be more efficient and greener," says Ana McClain, who owns Lion Bridge with her husband, Quinton. "It's the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit."
Customers have flocked to the 10-barrel brewery since it opened three years ago in a re-purposed building at 59 16th Ave. SW, in Czech Village. The building itself, constructed in 1938 as a grocery store, was in line with the couple's environmental philosophy.
Rather than build, the couple chose to renovate the former Fritz’s Food Market, which also had been used as a longtime flooring business.
Renovation work included removing layers of paint from the walls to expose fire-glazed brick, and taking out drop ceilings to restore rooms to their original 12-foot height. The brick walls and concrete floor make the 7,000-square-foot building ideal for the brewery and offer a rustic charm for the taproom, with indoor and outdoor seating.
Furnishings, including bright yellow chairs recovered from Quinton's high school, and tabletops hewn from a fallen tree reverberate their commitment to sustainability.
Day-to-day operations offer challenges, however, especially related to the brewing process, which uses a high amount of water, energy and other resources. Each week, thousands of pounds of spent grain such as barley, wheat and rye, left over from the brewing process, goes to a local farmer who feeds it to his chickens and other livestock.
Many breweries have similar arrangements with farmers, McClain says, but Lion Bridge has taken steps beyond that measure. They hired a new business that collects paper napkins, food scraps and more for composting. "Pretty much everything goes in the compost," McClain says, including special compostable straws.
While composting doesn't save the business money, "it's doing the right thing," she says.
Lion Bridge also offsets 100 percent of the electricity it uses with wind-powered Renewable Energy Certificates. Because the site doesn't have room for a wind turbine, McClain says, they purchased the certificates to help support renewable energy in Iowa.
Lion Bridge sources as much of its food — and even some beer ingredients — from local businesses, too. Honey from the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, for example, was used last fall in Lion Bridge's Honey Kölsch beer; syrup from Great River Maple near Garnavillo is used in the Russian imperial stout "GAZPROM!" and 140 pounds of peeled organic cucumbers from Bass Farms in Mount Vernon were used in a brew, as well as sweet corn from the farm in menu items such as Mexican street corn, or elote.
Lion Bridge also serves as Bass Farms' pick-up location for its Community Supported Agriculture program.
Other foods — including pretzels, mushrooms, tortillas, sausages and more — also are locally sourced.
The feeling of community is important to the McClains, who received plenty of help from volunteers during a flood last fall. Berms and other flood protection kept the Cedar River at bay, but some businesses permanently closed shop.
Lion Bridge reopened, with the McClains' resolute to stay in Czech Village.
"I feel like this is the heart and soul of Cedar Rapids," McClain says. "It needs to keep beating."
The brewery keeps that heartbeat going with several initiatives, including live music and an evening farmers market that started last year.
Farmers sold fresh produce, honey, mushrooms and more outdoors, accompanied by a backdrop of music and a "bouncy house" for children. McClain says the concept will continue in the coming season.
Megan Bartos, Lion Bridge's taproom manager, says the market nights helped spotlight local producers and added another reason for customers to come to the brewery.
"It's definitely a testament to what we try to do every day," she says, adding that the McClains' environmental philosophy was one of the reasons she wanted to work there.
"Sometimes, doing the right thing requires some extra steps, but the rewards pay off in other ways," McClain says. "As long as we can reduce the impact we have on our planet, it's important to us."