I had a chat with Chandler Parsons about the backstory of how Reclaimed Rails Brewing Company grew from “Thirsty Thursday” banter to become a truly unique destination brewery in the State of Iowa, showcasing their passion for hand crafted beer. Chandler is one of RRBC’s 4 co-owners who officially opened their doors to business this last December 20th.
FRANK: Are the 4 co-owners related or just good friends? How is it that you ended up throwing your lot in with the team?
CHANDLER: Two guys walk into a bar…..no seriously, this is literally how things started! Jeremy, JC and I all worked at the same company last fall and started doing “Thirsty Thursdays”. This consisted of a bunch of us guys going to a local bar after work. Well… Jeremy found out I had a homebrewing background and asked if I made it, would it cost less per beer for all the guys. This led to him saying, “Ya know, I’ve always wanted to open a brewery, do you want to be the brewer?”. I said that it was a great idea… but brewing on a commercial scale was much different than homebrewing and I probably wouldn’t be able to fulfill the head brewer role. But I still entertained the idea. Many days and beers later, we actually had a business plan written and were moving forward with this crazy idea!
Co-owners: JC Obrecht, Jeremy Boka, Dave Coy and Chandler Parsons
FRANK: What is it that you focus on and bring to the table?
FRANK: Was this a business opportunity for you or has opening a brewery always been on your bucket list?
CHANDLER: Opening a brewery was never on a bucket list but once the opportunity presented itself I decided to run with it. I have a tattoo on the back of my arm which says “One Life”. This is a daily reminder to me to do everything possible today because you only get one chance. I knew this would be a major undertaking but decided I would kick myself in a nursing home 50 years from now if I didn’t at least try the brewery thing!
FRANK: Besides being housed in a former two-story legion hall built in 1948, what makes the RRBC such a unique destination brewery and taproom? Is it a one-of-a-kind setup in Des Moines or even Iowa?
CHANDLER: Besides the building our name represents a number of things:
(1) Iowa is becoming one of the biggest states for supporting its local bicycling community. With that, bicyclists like to frequent bars and breweries during their rides. Our taproom sits one block off of a bike trail that will soon be connected into the future 100 mile loop of trails. Most of the bike trails in Iowa are converted railways, which plays on the name Reclaimed Rails. I am an avid bike rider and couldn’t be happier to be able to help support this growing hobby.
(2) Our head brewer, Dave Coy, used to brew at a longstanding brewery downtown Des Moines that closed its doors early last year. He was planning on heading out of the state to find work but we were able to help secure his brewing heritage here in Iowa by bringing him AND his equipment to RRBC.
(3) We’ve tried to use as much reclaimed materials as possible when constructing the taproom. For example, the bar is made from four different reclaimed pieces. The front of the bar is made from 116-year-old train depot wood, the top of the bar is made from old semi-trailer flooring, the bar footrest is made of old train railing and the bar is nailed together and features nail hooks for purses and coats, made from old date nails — or railroad nails. And that’s just the bar! The brewery also features a deck made completely from wood, repurposed from the infamous Log Ride that was torn down this past year at Adventureland, the local Amusement Park.
FRANK: Could you run us through the anatomy of your brewery and taproom?
CHANDLER: Our brewery is split into three rooms for production in the lower level of the 5,000 sq foot building.
The first room consists of the mash tun and brew kettle. The mash tun is used to “steep” the grains at a certain temperature to convert the grain’s starches in to fermentable sugars for the little yeasties to eat. The grain is then rinsed with water to remove the sugar and transferred into the brew kettle. We heat up this “wort” to boiling. The boil time is all dependent on the specific gravity being desired and based on bitterness. Bitterness refers to how much and for how long hops are added to the boil. The longer the hops are in the boil, the more bitter the beer will be. From there, the “wort” is pumped into the fermentation tank(s). Yeast is introduced to consume the sugar in turn producing ethanol and carbon dioxide as a byproduct! After the yeast have finished doing their job, the beer is then pumped into the walk-in cooler, which houses bright tanks (AKA serving tanks). Once inside the serving tank, CO2 is applied to carbonate the beer to the correct levels based on the style of beer. The beer is then served directly out of these tanks by hoses which run thru the floor to the bar directly above it!
FRANK:You have 16 tap handles in your Taproom. That means at least 16 different flavored/ crafted beers (Everything from a “crisp pilsner to an imperial stout”). Where along the line from your fermenters to the taps does the beer get its flavor?
CHANDLER: Good question. The beer gets most of its flavor from the type of grain/malt used as well as the hops and yeast. All three of these contribute to the final flavor. Other ingredients can be added as well (Coriander, etc.) to impart a distinct flavor profile.
FRANK: What were some of your biggest challenges in giving this project legs and making it a reality? Were there any “make-it-or-break-it” obstacles along the road?
CHANDLER: Getting financing proved to be an initial challenge. We ran into a few that didn’t want to take the risk simply because they didn’t know enough about the industry. Luckily we found one that had already funded two other breweries within the last two years and they made things happen for us. The other challenge was finding the right building in the right location. We wanted to make it a unique experience and like no other in the metro or in Iowa for that matter. After a few months of searching we found an amazing two story brick building built in 1948. We fell in love with the character it possessed and put in a ton of (sweat) equity to make it one of the neatest taprooms I have ever been in. To answer your second part of the question, there was a period of about 2 weeks were we weren’t 100% sure if we were still moving forward or not. This was after we had raised money thru crowdfunding but before we had received a loan to start construction. Money was tight and we weren’t sure we were going to receive funding!
FRANK: We’ve had a couple of chats via email about task management in general. I know that you were splitting your tasks between WorkFlowy and OmniFocus… and just recently decided to go all in with WorkFlowy. Could you give us a couple of snapshots of your WorkFlowy setup thus far?
CHANDLER: I only switched over completely to WorkFlowy about 2 months ago so its not very robust and may be kind of boring for the WorkFlowy community to view. This first snapshot is a basic overview of my tasks:
Here is the calendar I use for all payments or due dates. I have filtered for just brewery items since I also use this for my personal due dates:
From early days to open doors:
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