Less than a week after opening the Green Tree Brewery in Le Claire, Iowa, brewmaster and co-owner Richard Day said he was already thinking about expansion.
Demand and interest were been so overwhelming at Green Tree, which officially opened on Aug. 7, that Day said he was eyeing neighboring plots of land to expand the brewery. During the first weekend, patrons not only spilled out of the brewery onto an adjacent patio overlooking the Mississippi River, but also onto the sidewalk. Within one week, Day said he sold a third of the 2,000 gallons of beer they had prepared.
Though hectic — the brewery closed hours later than anticipated on its first night and Day did not get home until 4 a.m. — Day said the first weekend was gratifying. People told him he was crazy for opening a brewery in Le Claire, that there was not enough demand. Instead, Day said he can’t pour his beer fast enough.
Green Tree, located along Le Claire’s riverside main street at 309 N Cody Road, takes its name from a famous local elm tree. During the era of steam-powered riverboats, Day said many riverboat workers would lose all their money in Le Claire’s gambling houses and brothels. Unable to stay in a hotel, the workers would sleep under the expansive canopy of the giant elm tree, which became known as the “Green Tree Hotel.” The tree was 225 years old when it died of Dutch elm disease and was cut down in July 1964. A crosscut of the tree is on display at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Le Claire.
Currently on tap at Green Tree are Doc’s Blondie, a Kolsch-style blonde ale; Grüner Baum, a hefeweizen (it’s name is German for “Green Tree”); Hop Along Casually, a well-tempered IPA that Day said is bolder than a pale ale but not an extremely hoppy IPA; an oatmeal stout called Buffalo Spit; and two coffee stouts brewed with coffee from the Quad City’s own Coffee Hound — Ground Hound and Mintery Knight, a mint-chocolate coffee stout.
A homebrewer for the past 20 years, Day said the seed of Green Tree germinated in September 2013 when his sister-in-law suggested they open a brewery and brew beer with grain grown at a family farm. Though he ultimately decided not to grow his own grain, Day worked with a good friend who also owns a brewery to scale his five-gallon homebrews to the 500-gallon batches he plans to brew twice a week at Green Tree.
Day, who has worked as a dentist for 28 years and will continue working full-time at his Hampton, Illinois, practice, said Le Claire is an under-served area, perfect for its own brewery. There were many times, he said, when he wanted to get a pint but did not want to drive all the way to the breweries in Davenport or Moline, a half-hour away. Green Tree, he said, is now a closer option for the communities east and north of the Quad Cities and is within easy bicycling distance for those in Le Claire. The brewery is also easily accessible for beer lovers traveling along Interstate 80, which passes through Le Claire.
Green Tree’s next-door neighbor is the Mississippi River Distilling Company, and the Wide River Winery is just down the street. Day said the brewery and winery are working on an agreement so customers can bring Wide River wines to the brewery and Green Tree beers to the winery. He also hopes to serve the distillery’s spirits in the future.
“It is a little alcoholic town,” he joked of Le Claire. “We have it all.”
Day said he has a bottling machine and plans to sell six-packs and 22-ounce bottles at the brewery in the future. When he catches up to demand, he said he will talk to distributors about offering Green Tree beers elsewhere.
Despite a busy and hectic first week, Day said he has no regrets about opening his own brewery. He said he doesn’t care how many hours he puts in at Green Tree.
“Everything I do there is fun,” he said. “It’s for my dream and for the beer. No regrets at all.”