Microbrewery aims to fill community-oriented niche in River Falls

Posted April 19, 2017

Downtown River Falls is home to restaurants, thrift stores, bars — and now a microbrewery. Swinging Bridge Brewing Co. opened its doors March 17.

“Our beer, I guess, was a real hit,” said Mike O’Hara, head brewer and taproom manager. “We ended up selling out of the beer we made by the second weekend.”

Swinging Bridge Brewing owner Dustin Dodge said he has been searching for the right business to get into and had many ideas before settling on a brewery.

“When this idea came up I’m, like, ‘A brewery — this is exactly what this town needs. This would do well here,’” said Dodge. “I got in touch with the college, the Small Business Development Center at (UW-River Falls), and they kind of gave me an outline for a business plan.”

However, the process of acquiring the brewery is no simple task.

“The real challenge of opening a brewery is the licensing,” said Dodge. “You can’t even apply for the license until you have the building and the equipment… That’s what took us so long to open was we were waiting on licensing.”

Obviously, both Dodge and O’Hara have a strong interest in beer. O’Hara got his start growing up in Detroit, Michigan, where the craft beer scene is influential. O’Hara tried a couple of craft beers and was hooked.

“I decided to just buy a brew kit and try my hand at it and started entering my beers in competitions for feedback,” said O’Hara. “(I) started winning awards, so I thought I’d try my hand at getting into a brewery.”

O’Hara worked at Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson for a little over three years. Dodge heard O’Hara was looking to hold the same position elsewhere, and via a mutual friend Dodge and O’Hara made a deal.

“The most important thing was me and Mike’s vision for what this is for the community,” said Dodge.

Dodge emphasized serving the community of River Falls and has no desire to expand to the rest of the state. He wants to keep it local and focus on the entire community. With already a plentiful amount of college-oriented bars, Dodge wants to keep the focus more on community members and families.

“We’re definitely not marketing ourselves as a college bar,” Dodge said. “We felt there’s a lot of community members that don’t have a place to go. Because a lot of people are leaving the town to go to nicer places, and we want a place here to keep people in the community.

However, Dodge said everyone is welcome. Besides beer, Swinging Bridge offers food, homemade cream soda and coffee.

Currently brewing three different beers, O’Hara said he is looking forward to trying new and creative styles.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “That’s how it was when I home brewed it. It was so out of the box… I brewed what I like and, I don’t know, it seems to be working out.”

Swinging Bridge, 122 S. Main St., is open Thursday through Sunday, while Monday through Wednesday are designated brewing days. More information is available online at swingingbridgebrewing.com.