Meet the small-town Iowa brewers behind this year’s Beer Brackets winning ale
Head to DesMoinesRegister.com/BeerBrackets to vote for your favorite Iowa brew in the four-region, six-round tournament.
A small-town Iowa brewery is giving cheers to a big win.
Polk City’s Fenders Brewing brought home a late March victory in the Des Moines Register’s 2018 Beer Brackets, an all-Iowa craft beer tournament. Sixty-four beers entered the six round tournament, an open voting popularity contest, with Fenders’ Bridge Road brown ale defeating West O Beer’s Pilsner in the finals by a count of 54 to 46 percent.
Formerly in construction and information technology, respectively, Fenders co-owners Steve Crann and Jason Madison met at church and connected through a passion for home brewing. The two founded Fenders in 2016, opening taproom doors in December 2017.
The brewery’s operation is modest, for now. The taproom holds a cozy 64 people at maximum capacity and serves about 10 Fenders beers out of tap. The brewery produces about 15 barrels a month with Bridge Road, a nutty, light brown ale, being a flagship beer. Fans can find Bridge Road at the Fenders taproom (212 Van Dorn St., Polk City).
The brewery name? An ode to cycling. Fenders sits about a half-mile from the Neal Smith biking trail.
The Register talked with Madison and Crann about the brewery’s origins, the Beer Brackets winning brew and future plans for Fenders. Read below.
Des Moines Register: The name of the brewery, Fenders, comes from bicycling. What’s your connection there?
Steve Crann: It’s something we’re passionate about. It’s something we enjoy doing. On top of that we enjoy biking and stopping at other breweries. We wanted to make a central hub. We’re still getting there as far as making sure that theme gets put through; we’re still decorating, if you would.
Jason Madison: I think the craft beer movement, it’s big with cyclists, as well.
DMR: I’m always curious as to what makes someone take the leap from home brewing to professional brewing.
Madison: In my mind, it was the idea of creating something with my hands. It’s really enjoyable. You create this thing that you can share with others and say “I did this.”
DMR: What were the steps you had to take to get from hobbyist to professional?
Crann: Oh, boy. I can’t remember that far back. 2016 is when we created the LLC and from there it was just mounds of paperwork.Madison: There’s still mounds of paperwork (laughs).
Crann: Once we chewed through all that and cleared it with the city it became conduction time and that was the better part of a year. We took possession in February 2017 and opened in December 2017.
DMR: Tell me about Bridge Road. How’d you come up with this beer?
Madison: We had done that for one of the festivals we served last year. It’s just one of those beers, one of those styles that we wanted to have in our lineup. Besides the obvious cycling-themed names to go along with our brewery image, it was something local (note: the beer's name comes from the Bridge Road that connects Polk City to Saylorville Lake).
DMR: What do people taste with Bridge Road?
Crann: I believe it’s a solid brown. I don’t know if it’s one of the ones where we keep the recipe the same or we’ll dabble with it a little bit. … Any time someone’s tried it they always seem to comment on it, “oh, it’s a solid brown.”
Madison: We prefer to give people an idea of what they should get out of it — all taste buds are different. My intent was to get a nice sweet nutty-ness out of it. It’s maybe not as rich as what I pictured in my head.
DMR: It’s subtle, but that can work.
Madison: I think that subtlety plays into how popular it would be across lots of different drinkers.
DMR: A lot of breweries take pride in locality or localized branding the way they do brewing. Do you take that approach?
Crann: I think it is for us. You can look around at other breweries in the area and some of their stuff has nothing to do with the town that we’re in. Polk City’s been so good to us and so enthusiast about us and we’re enthusiastic about the cycling that happens around here … it always shows, our appreciation to where we’re at. And I have no problem with that at all.
DMR: Is the plan for Fenders to stay a micro, hyper-local brewery?
Madison: To a certain extent. We probably couldn’t survive only on Polk City. We wouldn’t be able to restrict ourselves to only Polk City. People are going to come from all around and check us out. We’ve just now started to distribute some as well.
Crann: I think, hands-down, there will be expansion in the future.