Charles City micro-brewery sets sights on October opening

By James Grob,

Cort and Lanie Sanvig want to have a beer with you.

The Charles City entrepreneurs are hustling toward the opening of their local brewery, St. Charles Brewing Co., and they’re setting their sights on October.

Located at 100 South Main St., right next to Subway and across the street from the courthouse, the Sanvigs see St. Charles as a place for their Charles City neighbors to gather, have fun and socialize.

“We definitely want to become a part of the community,” Cort said. “You always meet some awesome, really nice person at a brewery. Small town breweries are uplifting and fun, and that’s what we want this place to be.”

The micro-brewery will do tastings, and they’re planning on having live entertainment such as music and comedy on occasion.

“It will be a friendly place with a variety of good craft beers,” said Cort.

“It’s a place to just relax and come enjoy your time,” Lanie added.

St. Charles will feature craft beers brewed in house, and Cort and Lanie are currently working on the necessary renovations to the building and the property, which has been home to several different kinds of businesses over the years.

The process has been tedious.

“A lot of blood, sweat and tears,” said Lanie. “Our plan is to work hard and use what we have. It takes a lot, it’s not an easy thing.”

“We’re close, but not that close, and the money piles up,” added Cort. “We’re small — we’re tiny — but these little pieces nickel-and-dime you.”

Government paperwork alone can have 7-12 months of wait time, Cort said, but he’s done the work.

“We should have everything ready,” he said. “We can’t go forward with the state until the building is complete, and then they’ll come in and inspect it.”

Cort said that once everything is done and operational it will take an additional month to build up a supply of product.

St. Charles will produce seasonal flavors, according to Cort and Lanie. They plan to open with a Marzenbier Oktoberfest-type lager as a main variety, but Cort mentioned stouts and porters, and other varieties as they continue and grow.

“The vision is, whatever people want, we’re going to make it to the best of our ability,” Cort said.

In an age of concentrated industry, craft beers have bucked the national trend.

According to an article by the Stanford Business Graduate School, concentration in the brewing business in the United States 20-30 years ago was associated with what some called pejoratively “industrial beer” — brands with virtually indistinguishable taste.

Small, craft brewers moved in to provide consumers with a greater variety in taste, color, foam, alcohol level and serving temperature.

“I think Toppling Goliath was one of the first ones I ever went to and enjoyed,” Cort said.  “We’ve seen them keep growing and growing, and everyone enjoys their stuff.”

The Cinderella Story of beer-making, Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah was founded in 2009 after the founders, Clark and Barb Lewey, had been successful in home brewing. Its product is now world-renowned, and it brews more than 30 varieties and distributes to more than eight states. Its location now includes a 100-barrel brewery, a tap room, a restaurant, retail store, canning and bottling lines and an event center.

The craft beer movement has given the U.S. industry more firms and more product diversity than even Germany, which has a strong reputation for beer quality and is one of the world’s highest per-capita consumers of the beverage.

Like Toppling Goliath, a lot of those breweries got their starts the same way St. Charles is — someone starts making their own beer at home.

“It started in our kitchen,” said Lanie. “We just realized we liked craft beer. It started as a hobby, and has grown from there.”

“We think every city is going to eventually have its own little brewery,” said Cort. “We don’t need to go to New York to be something special. Everyone can do it here in their own back yard.”

“We just want to be local,” Lanie added.

According to the website, which keeps track of these things regionally and internationally, there are now more than 100 breweries in Iowa, 81 of which the site lists as “active.” Wikipedia listed the number of Iowa breweries as 38 just five years ago, so the number is increasing quickly.

According to the Brewers Association, for small and independent craft brewers, small independent breweries contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. Almost $900 million of that was in Iowa.

Cort said is not yet thinking about canning, bottling, merchandising and distribution — he wants to focus on getting open for business first.

“We want to keep it as local as we can,” he said. “We’re not looking to become a Budweiser. We’re content with just being here.”