The building that Reads Landing Brewing Company calls home has been home to many other businesses since it was built in 1870. It’s been a dry goods store, a bar, a restaurant, a cabin, and now a brewpub. Since 1935 the building has belonged to the Nihart family. The history of the town, and of the bar itself, is something Bob Nihart, of Reeds Landing Brewing Company, hears most about his brewpub. Among the many photos inside, one features Nihart’s father, age 9, seated at the end of the bar when his grandfather had been owner.
“I think the people that live in the town know the history, it’s more the people passing through,” he says. “They get a bigger kick out of it than the locals do.” Education goes hand in hand with craft beer, so he’s become something of a teacher on both levels. The building itself is the reason for the pub. Built in 1870, it came into his family in 1935.
As a home brewer, Nihart saw an opportunity to make unique use of a unique building. The two-story building is the right size for a small restaurant-brewery, with seating, bar, and kitchen upstairs and a 3 bbl brewing system out of site in the basement. The brewery features 5 in-house beers and a 6th guest tap year round. “In the summer it’s pushing that system to the max,” he says, but it’s a seasonal business because of the small local population and the cyclical nature of tourism. Business peaks from March-October, with locals from nearby Wabasha and Lake City supplying most winter business.
The brewery is situated just off the Mississippi River with uninterrupted views of the waterfront and a Wisconsin sand bar. Train tracks separate the brewpub from the river, adding another slice of Americana to the rustic setting. At the right time of year, notes Nihart, they are among the first open water along the river, which draws hundreds of eagles (and tourists) to the location.
Beer-wise, Nihart focuses on accessible craft beer. Cremona cream ale is their best seller, and the sometimes-on-tap Cap’n Amber, an amber ale sweetened with Cap’n Crunch cereal, is a popular brew as well. Names stick to local history and river themes, including Wagmu, a fall beer named for the Lakota word meaning “pumpkin.”
“I would say it’s a restaurant that makes beer,” says Nihart of the overall feel. The beer got him interested in the business model, but it needs food to draw enough customers. He focused attention on the restaurant and has carefully chosen two chefs in their four years of business, describing it as “bar food with a twist,” and burgers that you build yourself. It’s a fitting concept, as a visit to the brewpub isn’t complete without a tour of the surrounding town and waterfront, building an adventure that’s topped off with a few locally made beers unavailable anyplace else.