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Blue Cat Brewing Co. brings original brewery to new generation
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Blue Cat Brewing Co. brings original brewery to new generation

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Before Roger Hendrickson became the front-of-house manager of Blue Cat Brewing Co., he was a customer at its namesake, Blue Cat Brew Pub. 

Hendrickson frequented the Rock Island establishment while attending Augustana College. He and friends would hang out on the upper floor, playing pool and taking a break from school stresses. 

Blue Cat Brew Pub was an introduction into breweries for Hendrickson, and for much of the Quad-Cities. It was one of the first breweries to open in the area, later joined by a legion of brewers, each with unique drinks and experiences.

Now it's back, under different ownership and a slightly different name, blending nostalgia and new vibes for Quad-Cities residents to enjoy. 

"I think there's a lot of excitement, people are looking forward to seeing Blue Cat come back," Hendrickson said. "It's been fun being a part of that so far." 

Blue Cat Brewing Co. opened in early November at 113 18th St., Rock Island, the previous location of its namesake. Blue Cat Brew Pub opened in 1994 under the ownership of Dan Cleaveland and his sister, Martha Cleaveland, which they operated until 2018 when they decided to sell.

Big Swing Brewing Company took over the business, changing its name but getting rights to recipes. Dan Cleaveland stayed on for a while to help with brewing before stepping back. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the brewery, still working through rebranding, to go quiet. Then Charlie Cole stepped in. 

Cole, who was interviewing with Big Swing Brewing Company at the time, suggested that he come on as a co-owner and transform Big Swing into Blue Cat Brewing Co., not as a replica of the past, but as a step into the future. The brewer already had a business plan from a Business of Craft Brewing class he had just finished. 

"Our whole premise ... was not to try to recreate the Blue Cat of the 90s, or even the Blue Cat in 2017, just to kind of pick up where they left off when they retired," Cole said. "So just kind of making it my own, but still paying tribute to the legacy that they left behind." 

When it comes to the hierarchy of pub food, Blue Cat Brew Pub wants to be royalty. The Rock Island restaurant is known for its rotating list of craft beer that's brewed in-house. And its menu follows suit. 

Co-owner Martha Cleaveland, who has been a cook at Blue Cat since it opened 1994, is used to revolving the kitchen around beer. But she doesn't let the food live in the shadows. 

Beyond Blue Cat, Cole has been deeply involved with the Quad-Cities brewing community for three years. He blogs about beer for Visit Quad Cities and talks about it on 97X radio, and has put together the Ale Trail.

After a soft opening under the new name, old and new customers have begun flocking back to the brewery. The staff is welcoming everyone, armed with old and new brews and a full menu.

Cole said he has 90% of the original Blue Cat's old recipes, maybe more if he keeps looking. They're keeping a couple of Blue Cat originals on the menu, but will rotate mostly new beers through.

One of the original flavors, Off the Rail Pale Ale, has already sold out. A new brew, the Birthday Cake Stout, has also gone dry. In order to ensure he's brewing original flavors correctly, Cole meets with Dan Cleaveland regularly to go over recipes.

More than just wanting to enjoy Blue Cat's food and drinks again, plenty of customers, like Hendrickson, have a history with the brewery. Both he and Cole have heard stories from customers sitting at the bar about first dates, wedding receptions and other milestones held during the breweries heyday.

With Blue Cat Brewing Co. opening for the next generation, many new memories are set to be made.

"A lot of it's very nostalgic for people, there's so much legacy and history in that building," Cole said. "It can really only be Blue Cat." 


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