Franklin Street Brewing Helps Revive Downtown
Who’s up for a little whitewater kayaking followed by quaffing a pint or two of fresh beer at a cozy local brewery? We realize it’s a long trek to Colorado, but we’ve found a place where soon you will be able to enjoy that combination here in Eastern Iowa.
The city of Manchester will debut its whitewater park on the Maquoketa River next year, but you can get a head start and enjoy the locally-made beer at Franklin Street Brewery now. We headed up to the Delaware County seat to check out this new brewery, which debuted earlier this year.
Manchester already is located among some great outdoor recreation sites. The popular Backbone State Park is a short drive to the north, and the rejuvenated Lake Delhi sits just to the south. “With Lake Delhi coming back, and the new whitewater park, it just seemed like Manchester needed a brewery,” says Kyle Sands, brewer and co-owner.
Kyle and his brother, Chad, are following family tradition by operating a business in downtown Manchester. Their grandfather, Melvin Paul Sands, operated Sands Royal Blue Grocery for many years on the opposite side of Franklin Street where the brewery now sits.
“We’re really proud to follow in our grandfather’s footsteps by settling up in downtown Manchester,” says, Chad, “and we think we’ve got the coolest building in town.”
The longtime home of a local hardware store, the 1875 structure is one of the oldest in downtown Manchester. The brothers purchased it from the local Masonic Lodge, which still leases the upstairs for their meetings. “We just inquired about the building to see if the Masons would be interested in selling, and it turns out the lodge was considering moving to a site with ground floor access to accommodate their older members,” says Kyle. Chad notes that, since the building had housed a hardware store for almost 150 years, the downstairs was full of vintage building materials.
“We were thinking of clearing everything out,” says Chad, “but fortunately our contractor talked us into saving all of that old wood and maintaining as much as possible of the original building.” Much of the reclaimed wood was incorporated into the tap room’s trim, cabinets and columns. The bar also is constructed of bricks salvaged from an interior dividing wall. The decor even features a pair of old shoes discovered in a hidden passageway that was revealed during construction (if the Sands know the answer to the mystery of the shoes, they aren’t telling, but every good tavern needs at least one wacky story).
The hard work of restoring the building definitely paid off. We think the brothers have created one of the most inviting tasting rooms in the state. The large bar provides a focal point with several tables and couches offering more secluded seating. The building faces west, so light pours in through the front windows, which also offer a nice view of the Maquoketa River. “We have one TV but it’s rarely on,” says Kyle. “We’d rather have a place where people can come and enjoy conversation.”
Behind the cozy brick and wood of the tap room you’ll And Franklin Street’s more modern brewing operation. The brewery actually employs a twin set of brew kettles and mash tuns, which can churn out a combined four barrels at a time. In theory, the brothers could use the system to brew two different beers at the same time, but for now they’ve kept to brewing a single batch split between the two tanks.
The Sands have been home brewing for about fifteen years, and had little trouble scaling up their collection of recipes for Franklin Street. Kyle reports that the water in Manchester is remarkably similar to the water he’s been accustomed to using in his homebrew at his Lake Delhi residence, so no additives to the water have been needed.
From the brewing room the beer moves to one of three fermenting vessels and Anally into the cooling room, from which the beer can be dispensed directly to the twelve taps in the tasting room. Kyle, a computer programmer by trade, has set up internet sensors to the fermenters so the brewing can keep constant monitoring. “Beer is really made in the fermentation stage,” notes Kyle, “so we wanted to invest in that to keep the yeast happy and maintain a consistent quality.”
The cooling source for the room is a bit unique. Rather than use a large commercial compressor, the brothers set up four window air conditioners with special thermostats called Cool-bots, which force the units to run colder than they normally would. “Usually, we can keep it cool using just two of the four air conditioners,” says Chad, “and if something ever breaks down all we have to do is go to a home improvement store for a quick replacement.”
Currently, Franklin Street is on pace to produce approximately 200 barrels this year. The brothers have been able to maintain their supply by brewing two batches per week. “So far, it’s allowed us to always have a variety of beers on tap,” says Chad. “We occasionally run out, but that just gives people an opportunity to try one of the other styles.”
Chad notes that the lighter styles have been the most popular locally, although all of the beers have been moving well.
On the light end of the beer spectrum, Franklin Street offers PBR—Paul’s Blonde Reserve. Named after their father, the blonde is an easy-drinking session beer, modeled on the American wheat style. It certainly won’t scare off any light beer drinkers (perhaps it will even wean a few off of that “other” PBR), while still satisfying the more adventurous palate.
Kyle Sands takes much of his brewing inspiration from the Czech Republic, his wife’s native land, and while the brewery is not set up to produce bottom-fermenting beers, Franklin Street does produce a top-fermented interpretation of a pilsner, Big Frank. The beer is named not for the street, but rather after Kyle’s Czech brother-in-law, Frantisek. “I love the Czech beers,” says Kyle, “Holba, a regional Czech brewer, is my go-to beer when I’m visiting. Hopefully down the road, we’ll be able to add a dedicated lager fermenter so I can make a beer in true Czech pilsner style.”
Despite being brewed with ale yeast, the Big Frank does have the dry, drinkable quality of a pilsner, and features a nice dose of Czech Saaz hops. Franklin Street also produces an “imperial” version of the beer called Little Frank (named after Big Frank’s son, of course). Sadly, Kyle’s brother-in-law has not had a chance to visit the U.S. to sample his namesake brew, although Little Frank has made the trip and found the beer to his liking.
Turning to the true ales of the lineup, Chad recommends the Milepost Pale Ale. “Milepost is as smooth as a hoppy beer can be, if that makes any sense,” attests Chad. Certainly, the hops are not overwhelming but it’s hard to mistake the presence of the Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial hops.
The pale ales’ name honors the brothers’ grandfather, Melvin, who earned the nickname “Milepost” during his days on the railroad. The hoppier version, in the India Pale Ale style is called 2-Mile, and the Imperial 4-Mile ratchets up the hops even further.
Both the Little Frank Pilsner and the 4-Mile Imperial Pale are part of Franklin Street’s “Left Turn Only” series, which will be used for stronger, seasonal offerings.
Rounding out the regular lineup of beers are the Burrington Brown ale, Whitewater Wheat, Manchester Red, and Devil’s Backbone Stout. Unfortunately, the brown and the wheat were unavailable during our visit, but the Manchester Red offers a smooth biscuit finish, despite checking in at a deceptively strong 6.7% alcohol by volume.
We can envision the Devil’s Backbone Stout becoming a favorite. The smooth stout offers the roasty, chocolaty flavor one would expect from a nice dessert stout. This would be perfect to fill a growler from the brewery to take with you to a campsite at Backbone State Park.
In addition to various strong beers under the Left Turn Series, Franklin Street will also have an Oktoberfest beer for the fall, perhaps release some oaked beers and barley wine for the winter, and the brothers hope to help Manchester celebrate its spring Rhubarb Days with a rhubarb beer in 2015.
Looks like Franklin Street Brewing is going to yet another popular attraction for Manchester. Stop in for a pint, and don’t forget to ask about those shoes.
WHEN YOU GO:
Franklin Street Brewing Company
116 South Franklin Street. Manchester FranklinStreetBrewing.com
Wednesday: 3:30pm to 10:00pm; Thursday: 3:30pm to 10:00pm Friday: 3:30pm to Midnight; Saturday: Noon to Midnight Sunday: 1:00pm to 6:00pm