My Biz: Backpocket brewmaster focuses on keeping beer flowing

Coralville brewery concept includes restaurant, tours for visitors

George Ford
Published: November 7 2013 | 6:00 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:06 pm in
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Jacob Simmons is an idea guy who loves beer. Put the two together and you have one of Eastern Iowa’s newest brewing ventures.

Simmons is brewmaster and co-founder of Backpocket Brewing in Coralville, which opened just over a year ago.  Simmons has been making sure the brews meet the company standards day in and day out ever since.

Just like Backpocket, Simmons is a relative newcomer on the brewing scene. He earned a degree in microbiology from the University of Iowa before heading to St. Louis to pursue a PhD in microbiology.

Three years into his studies, Simmons realized he didn’t have the passion he needed to sustain him in that field, but he did have the thought that microbiology and beer are somewhat related.

It was a thought that stuck. After working with Schlafly Brewing in St. Louis and Sebago Brewing Company in Maine, Simmons headed back to Iowa to try his newly honed brewmaster skills.

Simmons spent time working at Old Man River Brewing Co. in McGregor, where Backpocket Brewing had its origins. “We are a separate company with a shared history," he said.

As soon as Backpocket Brewing was ready to stand on its own, the founders set up shop in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing District. The new facility is home to the Backpocket brewing operation — brewery tours are available weekly — as well as a taproom where visitors can sample Backpocket brews and grab a bite to eat.

Simmons works with a team of seven full-time employees (including four brewmasters) and some 40 part-time staff.

Simmons said his original business plan included building with the foresight to grow the operation.

“We don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” he said. “We wanted to build this brewery with the right capacity to grow.”

With the addition of seven new 3,100-gallonfermenters, Backpocket Brewing has nearly doubled its brewing production, making it the largest brewery in Iowa. Simmons said the increase is needed to accommodate growth in the surrounding states as well as the production of new styles, including Jackknife and Cane Blade.

To keep the company going and growing Simmons handles a variety of duties.

“We have all the challenges of a start up,” he said. “There are a thousand little things that need to be addressed on a daily basis, usually in a short amount of time.”

Simmons keeps a pulse on the taproom, though relies on a taproom manager for handling day-to-day operations.

“I am here to make sure we keep moving forward. We don’t want to be complacent,” he said. That means both creating new brews and reaching out to the community to help build Backpocket awareness.

The brewery's beer portfolio is how the company got its name in the first place.

“Our core beers are all go-to beers,” Simmons said. “They are beers you keep in your back pocket.”

All of the beers are named after something you might find there — Slingshot, Gold Coin, Penny Whistle, Jackknife and Wooden Nickel (Simmons’ personal favorite).

Marketing efforts continue to be a big part of Simmons’ job. “I enjoy the out-of-the-box ideas I’m able to chase down,” he said, “but it can be exhausting because I come up 10 ideas and have to pick one to execute.”

When it comes down to it, Simmons most enjoys and focuses on making beer.

“The day-to-day operating of the equipment is a process that’s all about consistency,” he said. “At the end of the day I just make sure the beer is flowing.”

At a glance

  • Company: Backpocket Brewing
  • Brewmaster/co-founder: Jacob Simmons
  • Address: 903 Quarry Rd., Coralville
  • Phone: (319) 466-4444
  • Website: http://www.backpocketbrewing.com/

 

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