ROCKFORD — Prior to Prohibition, there were more than 2,000 breweries in the United States. Without adequate transportation, they were all essentially neighborhood breweries.
Now, as the number of breweries surpasses the 2,000 mark, breweries are left with an interesting quandary on how to survive as the shelf space of beer stores shrinks.
As Rockford Brewing Company sets to open Dec. 20, it will focus on its neighborhood.
The brewery is a partnership of Jeff Sheehan, Seth Rivard and Brian Dews, who all have very similar ideals for the company and its direction.
Dews, who also is Rockford’s mayor, said the focus will be very similar to how England’s brewery system is set up.
“You have a few (breweries) that are huge and a few regional and the neighborhoods and it’s very successful,” Dews said. “Our approach to this is we want to be the local flavor of this little town.”
That flavor was on display Nov. 21 for the Rockford Brewing Co. Pub Crawl. Six Rockford establishments carried the brewery’s beer and allowed future patrons to taste the beer.
“Nobody even questioned when we asked them about carrying our beer,” Rivard said. “Nobody even tried it, and they were like, ‘Of course we’ll put it on tap.’ It was easy. It was an organic, natural thing.”
Dews said he doesn’t like to leave Rockford, especially to drive to Grand Rapids for brewery visits. So in an interview after being elected to city council several years ago, he said what Rockford needed most was a brewery. Sheehan, then a brewer at New Holland Brewing Co. in Holland, saw the interview and quickly partnered.
“I want to create a cool place where people can hangout and stimulate the economic growth of community,” Dews said.
Rivard was shopping around to start a brewery when he called the city manager of Rockford to give him the heads up. The city official alerted him of the Sheehan-Dews partnership and the trio was formed.
The local crowd will be fed with the outdoorsy feel of Rockford. Sheehan said outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to breweries.
Dews said Rockford has the second-most public park space per capita, behind Portland, Oregon, a craft beer Mecca.
Aside from outdoor enthusiasts, the trio wants to create a vacation-like atmosphere in their rustic brewery. With dark-stained wood finishes, and views of the Rogue River and trail on either side, the task is fairly simple.
“A lot of people already see Rockford as a place to come and check out the boutique shops, like a mini vacation, they come to enjoy what we have to offer,” Dews said.
Sheehan is confident Rockford Brewing will stay around, even if the craft beer market plateaus and sends some craft breweries packing.
“We’re going to have face-to-face relationships,” Sheehan said. “At some point in time it will plateau, the ones who have expanded far out will have to retract. We really stress that we want to be the local flavor of Rockford and I think Rockford will really embrace it.”