Late on a Tuesday evening in April, Samantha and I spotted the twinkling lights of the Quad Cities. This would be the end of the first leg of our road trip to Charleston, SC. After checking in at our hotel we made our way under cover of night to downtown Rock Island, IL. Our stop was then in sight: Bent River Brewing Company.
I’d done a lot of research on breweries to visit during our road trip. Since we were starting our journey on a Tuesday I wasn’t hopeful we’d find a place to visit that night. I was surprised to find that there are several breweries on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities that have breweries open late on Tuesdays. After a bit of deliberation I settled on Bent River, since they appeared to be one of the mainstays in the region. As we pulled up I started to question whether the place was open or not. We spotted a couple of folks outside the taproom smoking, and what appeared to be an empty parking lot and an even emptier taproom. We’d come this far though so we got out and began to approach the door.
As soon as we made our intentions known the three folks said their goodbyes, put out their cigarettes, and one of the men greeted us at the door. We would learn this man’s name was Sean, our bartender and sole company for the evening. With a stocky build and a wild unkempt beard, Sean talked to us for nearly two hours as he gave us the history of Bent River Brewing Company, and guided us through each of the beers they had on tap.
For nearly 20 years Bent River has been serving beer to the patrons in the Quad Cities. A long time for any bar/restaurant, but a venerable dinosaur in the craft beer industry. The spot we were currently seated within was one of two locations and had been open for roughly five years. I had chosen it due to its taproom focus. We would go on to talk about their Uncommon Stout (their best selling beer), the brewery bubble (not quite yet in my opinion), and this taproom’s history as a former car wash (still serving suds).
We’d grabbed a spot at the bar next to their tap list, and while Sean filled my flight I took my typical glance around the room. There was a handful of high top tables, a long bar on the back wall, and neon lights dominating the room. It had more of a bar feel, but it was hard to tell without any other patrons in the room. I’m figuring this was due to the hour and day of our visit and not to the quality of the beer.
All told I would try eight of their brews during our visit. Of the eight I marked two in my notes as the standouts. The first was their Uncommon Stout. This is their best selling beer and it’s easy to see why. It’s a coffee stout that pours a deep dark brown. The mouthfeel was clean and dry, the flavor thick with coffee. I’m not one to enjoy coffee normally, but in a beer I’ve found it can make a wonderful addition. The other beer I starred in my notes was their Jalapeño Pepper Ale. I don’t like pepper beers, and my last one at Motorworks wasn’t a pleasant experience, but Sean convinced me to have a taste of it and I’m glad that I did. It was more smoky than spicy and surprisingly smooth. It was probably for the best that I didn’t have a full glass of it, but I would recommend that people give this a try if they’re curious.
Sean’s love for the Quad Cities and passion for craft beer really made our visit to Bent River memorable. Without his company I’m sure we would’ve had a couple of beers and headed back to our hotel (with an extra hour or so of sleep). Yet we stayed, and were glad to share our stories and thoughts on craft beer. One of the great things he mentioned was how all the breweries in the area work together and support each other. This seems to be enduring quality of craft breweries wherever we’ve visited. If you’re traveling through the area, Bent River is a worth a stop. You can even make a trip of it, since there are several other breweries in the area. We hope to return in the future to give the others a shot, and we’ll be stopping in for a at Bent River’s taproom for certain.