Lion Bridge 5th Anniversary Celebration, special beer release
Lion Bridge Brewing Company — Tuesday, March 5 at 3 p.m.
In the shadow of Czech Village’s distinctive orange-roofed clock tower, across the street from the old Kosek Bandstand and complementing the stone lions scattered along 16th Avenue in Cedar Rapids is a small craft brewery (with a spacious taproom) that feels as integral to the area’s history as most any business in the neighborhood.
In fact, Lion Bridge Brewing Company — named for the Bridge of Lions, just down the road — is only five years old, emerging in 2014 as Iowa’s craft beer market began to boom, and as Czech Village/New Bohemia continued its growth into a walkable, flourishing small-business district post-2008 flood.
Lion Bridge is owned and operated by Ana and Quinton McClain: Ana, an MBA, handling the business end while Quinton brought the brewing expertise. It wasn’t long before the brewery became a brewpub — their menu includes burgers, brisket, pork tacos and pierogies, with suggested beer pairings listed under each item — and a live music venue, with performance spaces indoors and on their outdoor patio.
“I like to think we added our little niche to the neighborhood,” said Quinton McClain, a Cedar Rapids native who honed his skills working at Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado. “Our tagline is ‘a catalyst to conversation and community.’ That’s what we want our space to be, that’s what we want our beers to be: that catalyst.”
The building Lion Bridge occupies hit its own milestone this year: 80 years ago, Cedar Rapids’ first supermarket, Fritz’s Food Market, opened in the space. It was flooded with 11 feet of water during the 2008 floods, and McClain said it may have been on the city’s chopping block when he and Ana stepped in with plans to convert it into a brewery and taproom.
“I think so much of the experience of being in a brewery — it can be the beer, it can be the décor, it can also be the feeling of being somewhere that has meaning, has a history,” McClain said.
In celebration of their fifth anniversary and its coinciding with Mardi Gras, Lion Bridge is releasing a new brew on March 5 named for New Orleans’ favorite pre-Lenten dessert, king cake. Chocolate and caramel (not common in king cake, but decadent nonetheless) flavor the imperial stout, boasting 10.4 percent ABV. Note: the tiny baby doll traditionally baked into king cake is noticeably (and perhaps safely) absent from glasses and cans containing Lion Bridge’s King Cake.
Lion Bridge launched their canned beer line in fall 2018 — an exciting milestone, McClain said. He is also proud of the three gold medals his brews have earned from the Great American Beer Festival — “the Academy Awards of beer,” as he calls it — since 2014. Two medals went to Compensation, the first beer McClain brewed in Lion Bridge and one of its staple brews, designed to evoke a mild, drinkable English pub ale. Another medalist was the Disaster at Meux, a coffee-chocolate porter commemorating the London Beer Flood of 1814, in which a deluge of nearly 1.5 million liters of beer escaped from vats at Meux Brewery, killing eight and causing massive damage.
“My passion in beer is history,” Quinton said. “I was an English major in college, I studied poetry, so the romance behind the styles and where they came from is always fascinating for me.”
McClain’s eye for history is reflected in two more upcoming releases: Živá Voda, named for the “living water” that heals injuries and counteracts negative spells in Czech fairy tales, is brewed with Bohemian pilsner malt, clover honey and Saaz hops, and is debuting on March 19 for St. Joseph’s Day (a feast observed in the Catholic and Lutheran traditions). In early April, a Düsseldorf altbier called Sticke Altbier will return to Lion Bridge in the old ale’s traditional manner: to “celebrate the loyal brewery patron.”
“Sticke means ‘secret,’” McClain explained. “It was a beer that was brewed and released for the customers that happened to be in the brewery that day.”
McClain intends to keep experimenting with new brews, resurrecting seasonal favorites (like their cucumber beer), getting cans of beer into the hands of those who want them and nurturing their community.
“I think breweries nowadays aren’t necessarily looking to take over the world; they’re kind of finding their niche and being happy. So much of being a brewery now is having a connection to the people, people who have a passion for your brand,” he said.
“Maybe 2019 is the year to breathe.”
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 259.