“It’s a really special town here,” says Dustin Dodge, founder of Swinging Bridge Brewing Company in River Falls, Wisconsin. “It has that small town feel but you’re really close to everything,” he explains. Dodge is a native of Spooner, Wisconsin, and after serving in the military he moved to River Falls to attend University of Wisconsin–River Falls.
While studying business, Dodge fell in love with his adopted hometown. Now, he wants to become a bigger part of the community, which ultimately led him to the idea of opening a brewery. Dodge, who’s a veteran of the United States Air Force and a current member of the Minnesota National Guard and River Falls Fire Department, values community and wanted a business that would connect with locals on a personal level.
“Serving means a lot to me. I feel like owning a brewery is a way of serving the community,” he says. Breweries create a joyful, social atmosphere that can enrich the lives of locals, he says. “Plus, I love beer.”
Swinging Bridge hopes to forge a strong bond with the community by following the community supported brewery (CSB) business model. A CSB sells memberships, similar in concept to community supported agriculture (CSA). It is a subscription that includes brewery discounts and take-home beer for customers at a reduced price, intended to finance operations up front instead of on a pay-per-pint basis. 56 Brewing in Minneapolis uses this model, as does House of Brews in Madison.
“It’s a great concept to get the community involved and feel like they’re contributing to the success of the brewery,” Dodge says.
Some CSBs sell subscriptions by season. At Swinging Bridge, there will be a set number available, instead. When a customer leaves the program, that slot becomes available to the next customer. While most subscriptions had been filled during the crowdfunding start-up phase, Dodge expects to have some available for customers at their grand opening on March 17. The brewery offers four different levels of CSB membership ranging from a $240 per year full share, which includes two 64-ounce growler fills per month, to a $25 a year supporting share, which includes members benefits like a 10 percent discount on merchandise and access to member-only taps.
Swinging Bridge Brewing is located in a 1,400-square-foot former bike shop on Main Street, near the university campus. After tearing out the ceilings and drywall, Dodge discovered historic stone walls that give the space undisputed character. The brewery is just a short walk from its namesake, the Swinging Bridge at Glen Park. The suspension bridge connects to River Falls’ history as a milling town and overlooks the Kinnickinnic River.
While Dodge was working on the business plan with the help of the university’s Small Business Development Center, a mutual friend connected him with Mike O’Hara, who was an avid homebrewer and apprentice at Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson. O’Hara will lead brewing operations.
Swinging Bridge’s building has a lot of charm, but it also presents unique brewing challenges. Brewers will have to manually load ingredients into the building and haul out spent grain. In order to maximize space, O’Hara will brew on a three-and-a-half-barrel electric brewing system designed by Minnetonka Brewing & Equipment Company. The brewing kettle and hot liquor tank are jacketed not with steam but with heat transfer oil warmed with electric heating elements submerged in the oil. It’s more energy efficient and will never scorch grains, O’Hara says. By using electric heat, they can put equipment closer together while avoiding cutting new vents into their ceiling.
Brewing mostly ales from O’Hara’s personal recipes, Swinging Bridge will focus on serving the local market first, eyeing expansion later on. They will sell 32-ounce Crowlers from the taproom and also serve a small plate food menu prepared by neighboring businesses Kinni View Deli, Whole Earth Grocery Cooperative, and Grateful Bread. They also plan to serve guest taps from other western Wisconsin breweries.
Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
Brewers: Mike O’Hara
Beer: Highlands Irish Red, Cleary’s Irish Stout, 4 Winds IPA. Plus a selection of six western Wisconsin breweries on guest tap.
Address: 122 S. Main St. River Falls, WI 54022
Hours: Thur & Fri 3pm–10pm, Sat & Sun 11:30am–11pm