DAVENPORT — Andrew Arnold loves local history and good beer.

The 42-year-old Davenport native is mixing those passions in an intoxicating plan to create a new $2.5 million craft brewery, museum and tasting room at the site of what was once Iowa's largest brewery, Independent Malting Company at 1801 W. 3rd St., west of Division.

The two-story, 14,189-square-foot brick building that stands there now, constructed in 1893, housed just the bottling operation of the original huge brewery, which occupied an entire block.

“It's a perfect marriage of my love of the Q-C, of history, and beer culture,” Arnold said recently at the site. “We want to make sure we actually grow the beer community in the Quad-Cities. I'm not a brewer; I'm a beer aficionado. I'm learning all this as I go along.

"My side of this is educating the public. I'm a hometown boy; I'm from here. I love the Q-C. I love the west end, and it doesn't get a lot of love.”

A Davenport West alum, Arnold served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2001, and he was in Guam before his 21st birthday. His first beer was a Bud Ice he drank on that birthday, and “it was horrible,” he recalled.

Later he was stationed in Ramstein, Germany, and developed a taste for stronger beers. “My first real beer was a German beer, and I fell in love with it from that point forward,” he said.

For years, most beer drinkers favored the mainstream American pilsner made by every company — not too heavy, sweet or bitter, but light, clean and refreshing, Arnold said. “Then the craft-beer resurgence came; people said, 'I wouldn't mind having a red beer,'" he said.

“Now people don't drink to get messed up; they drink because of the taste,” Arnold said of the growing number of craft-beer fans. The founder of Davenport's Front Street Brewery became a home brewer because he didn't like the taste of American pilsner, he said.

Craft beer sales growing

Total U.S. beer sales were down 1% in 2018, but craft-beer sales grew by 4%, according to the national Brewers Association. Craft beer makes up 13.2% of the $114 billion beer market, the trade group said. Illinois alone has 229 craft breweries — ranking it 13th in the nation — and Iowa has 94. Both numbers have more than doubled since 2012.

Arnold, who is the communications director for QC Pride, a board member of MidCoast Fine Arts and a previously unsuccessful candidate for Davenport alderman, got the idea for Independent Malting after he started working on a book on local brewing history.

When he spoke with local historian Merle Vastine, who has a collection of beer memorabilia, he learned about Independent Malting and was hooked. “When I saw this, it blew my mind,” Arnold said of the west Davenport building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first area brewery opened in Rock Island in 1847. It was called Littig and Co., and it was followed by two others. Those three merged in 1893 to become Rock Island Brewing Co. The City Brewery was the first to open in Davenport, in 1850.

Brothers behind brewing empire

Brothers Ernest, Herman and Charles Zoller established the Zoller Brothers Malt House in the mid-1880s in Davenport's west end, and in 1890, they reopened the Blackhawk brewery their father had previously operated. In 1894, all the breweries were consolidated into the Davenport Malting Company at the W. 3rd Street site, which contained some of the first refrigeration equipment in the city.

Production reached a high of 75,000 barrels of beer by 1916, and it became the second largest-brewery in Iowa.

Independent Malting Company was formed in 1896 by the Zoller brothers. Its malting and brewing operations were at the same location.

The malting process converts raw grain into malt, which is used for brewing.

“Hops and barley are brought to a malting facility, and there they are watered down, roasted, treated and they get bagged up and sent to different breweries,” Arnold said. “Any brewer that wants to make beer has to get their grains through a malting company. At the time, Independent was a very large malting company.”

After national Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the brewery became the largest in Iowa, with annual output of 150,000 barrels of beer.

It operated under different names until 1956, when the brewery was torn down and the bottling building was sold to the Saller family, which used the site for a warehouse and offices. Arnold plans to buy the building and renovate it with the assistance of historic tax credits.

His plan is for the front part of the building to be a brewing museum with free admission, which he plans to open by next summer. A tasting room will offer its own beer, historic beers, and a sampling of home-brewed beers.

“The structure itself has held up over time. There's not much structurally that has to be done,” Arnold said.

In a second phase of the project, he plans to do malting, too. “The idea of the malting side of it is we're going to be working with local farmers to grow original, Quad-City-strain hops and barley that was grown here all those years ago, so you can have that exact beer,” he said.

How is this brewery different?

“One of the things people ask about Independent Malting Company is, 'How are you guys different from every other brewery?'" Arnold said. “The idea is to take Quad-City brewing to the next level.

"Every brewery in the Quad-Cities sends their beer to other places to be brewed because they hit capacity. My idea is to not send that money to other states and cities, but instead keep it here.”

Local breweries, such as Davenport's Great River, may need 500 barrels but only have the capacity to produce 400 barrels, so the remainig 100 barrels are contracted out, he said. 

“The idea behind Independent is to fill that contract,” Arnold said of the new venture. “If Great River needs 100 barrels, we'll brew their beer.”

The historic beers will be made from recipes that were produced at the Independent site, such as Old Blackhawk. “You can have that exact beer, as close as we possibly can,” he said.

Arnold plans to work with members of the local MUGZ homebrew club to buy their recipes and offer samples of their beers, and the home brewers will share the profits. MUGZ stands for “Mississippi Unquenchable Grail Zymurgists” (zymurgy is a form of chemistry dealing with fermentation).

“The idea of there being a Quad-Cities-style form of brewer, I want to put that forward,” Arnold said. “The best way to do that is getting these home brewers, buying or leasing their recipes, putting them up on our lines, and put them on the lines at local bars.”

“That's a pretty cool concept in itself,” said Rich Nunez, owner of Rock Island's Radicle Effect Brewerks, who likes Arnold's plans. “With the explosion of the craft beer scene in the Quad-Cities, it's supporting your neighbor. That is nationwide. A lot of people want to drink local.”

“We're not a brew pub. It'll be a small sample room,” Arnold said. “We want people to go to their local bars. You come here to sample the new stuff; come here for the educational aspect. We're a brewery first, museum second.”

'Next step' in Q-C brewing

“We're not focused on being the next Radicle, the next Great River. We're focused on being the first contract brewery and museum, the next step in the beer-brewing process in the Quad-Cities,” Arnold said.

He plans for Independent Malting to be part of the QC Ale Trail, which was introduced in May to promote locally made craft beers. Beer lovers can get passports at participating breweries, Visit Quad Cities visitor centers and qcaletrail.com

Arnold said all investors for Independent will get 10 percent off all beers for the first year and their names will be listed on a founders' plaque. To contribute or to get more information, visit facebook.com/IndependentMaltingCompany.

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