What began as a rough outline, drawn in chalk on an empty warehouse floor, has become one of Iowa’s newest breweries.
Piping, mash tuns and fermentation tanks have replaced the multi-colored lines and circles that Bill Patterson and Travis Scheidecker drew on a bitterly cold winter day in early 2014, transforming the space vacated by the neighboring manufacturer into the Turner Alley Brewing Company.
Named after Grant Wood’s home and studio, the production brewery — located on Cedar Rapids’ southwest side — brewed its first batches of beer this April and tapped its first keg at Bricks Bar and Grill in May. Turner Alley made its Iowa City debut the following day at Short’s Burger and Shine. Currently, its beers are on tap in nearly 30 locations across eastern Iowa.
Since Turner Alley is a beer factory and not a brewpub, Patterson — the brewery’s owner — says he and Scheidecker will be free to focus on brewing good local beer for the Corridor market without the added responsibility of running a bar and restaurant.
“Our whole job is to fill those vessels, put the brew into kegs and get it out to bars and restaurants in the Corridor,” said Patterson, motioning to the silver fermentation tanks, his face sweaty from unloading a delivery of malt on a warm morning.
Patterson says an interest in wine is what lead him to love beer and open a brewery. After moving to Chicago from San Francisco eight years ago, he missed the wine and the holistic approach to eating and drinking — the careful pairing of small plates with small pours of complementing wine — which he’d gained an appreciation for on the West Coast.
On a search for something comparable in the Windy City, Patterson found himself at the 3 Floyds Brewing Company in neighboring Munster, Indiana. There, he developed a passion for beer similar to the joy he’d found in wine country. After that, “beer just took hold of me,” he says.
He studied brewing at the Siebel Institute of Technology, began homebrewing, and apprenticed at breweries such as Goose Island, Half Acre and Metropolitan, receiving cases of beer as payment. The idea of opening his own brewery germinated after sharing his homebrew at 3 Floyds Brewing’s Dark Lord Day.
After moving to Cedar Rapids in 2012, Patterson says he talked to brewers and bar owners while training for RAGBRAI, gauging the market for the production brewery he had in mind. In particular, Patterson was curious about the impact of Iowa’s recently updated brewing laws, which gave breweries and wholesalers the go-ahead to distribute beer up to 15 percent ABV. He connected with Scheidecker — the brewmaster at Cedar Rapids’ Third Base Brewery — through an effort to start a bottle-sharing and beer group. The two became fast friends, and Patterson quickly identified Scheidecker as the ideal candidate for his proposed facility’s brewmaster position. Though Scheidecker declined Patterson’s initial offer, the two continued their discussions, and after some coaxing on Patterson’s part, Turner Alley had found its new brewmaster.
Having worked at Third Base since 2001 (serving as the brewpub’s brewmaster since 2005), Scheidecker says it was time to move on and do something different. He knew Third Base would be in good hands, and says working at Turner Alley will be quite a change since he’ll no longer doubles as a restaurant manager. Now, he says, it is just him, the brewery, “and a beautiful warehouse.”
Patterson says he looked at about 30 possible locations in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area before finding the warehouse on 12th Street SW in Cedar Rapids. He and Scheidecker visited on two different occasions during bitterly cold stretches in February 2014. With 20-foot ceilings, bathrooms and a drinking fountain, the empty warehouse was a blank slate — perfect for a brewery. Scheidecker says he was smitten when he first saw it. On one visit, with growlers in tow, he and Patterson were so excited about the possibilities that they did not want to leave. They outlined the placement of brewing equipment on the floor with sidewalk chalk and threw a football and Frisbee back and forth to stay warm in the freezing warehouse.
“We were so juiced and excited,” recalled Patterson at the brewery, a small mason jar of Turner Alley’s Mays Island IPA in hand.
The warehouse also came with a loading dock, a feature Scheidecker relishes. At Third Base, Scheidecker says he needed to carry pallets worth of 50-pound bags of malt inside from the parking lot. (A whole pallet, he says, weighs 2,000 pounds.)
Though Patterson said he plans to have paid tours in the future, where visitors will get the chance to buy and fill growlers, he wants to direct drinkers to the places where Turner Alley beers can be found on tap — and even offer accompanying food pairing recommendations.
“Why compete with our customers?” asked Patterson. “We really want to focus on the beer.”