Big things are afoot for Liberty’s Rock & Run Brewery. Major work has changed the look, feel and efficiency of the brewpub.
And after opening a new production brewery and taproom in Kearney, Rock & Run is getting ready to start metrowide distribution of its beers. It’s not exactly like a phoenix rising from the ashes, but after last year’s devastating building collapse next door, Rock & Run is set to come back stronger and better than ever.
But as co-owner Gene DeClue is quick to point out, Rock & Run never went away. Yes, the building next door collapsed on May 3, 2016. Yes, The Bell, which had both an indoor and outdoor space on the other side of Rock & Run, closed up shop. But Rock & Run stayed in business throughout both ordeals.
“We still get people who come up to us and say that they thought we were closed,” DeClue told me during a recent visit to the brewpub and the Kearney brewery.
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DeClue, who strikes me as an easygoing guy, bristles a bit at the notion of a Rock & Run reboot, pointing out that things never stopped. Even though brewing had to be halted at the Liberty location after the collapse, the restaurant stayed open. And, thanks to fast action at the Kearney location, the beer never stopped flowing.
“We’ve owned this site since April of last year, so about a month before the collapse,” DeClue said. “We have plans to expand, adding a beer garden outside and a new multibarrel system inside that will go in after we get Liberty back up and running.”
There were also plans for a total menu revamp at the brewpub that would feature a smaller menu emphasizing a farm-to-table approach, but the chef behind that approach left the project due to what DeClue calls a “difference of philosophy.”
“He basically wanted to change the whole menu and not even feature a lot of the things we’re known for, like wood-fired pizzas and pretzels. I would love to be a farm-to-table restaurant, but that’s not who we are nor who we think our customers want us to be,” DeClue told me.
That’s not to say there won’t be menu changes. DeClue says the menu will be revamped every six months or so, just as it was in the past. He expects everything to run much more efficiently thanks to the kitchen remodel.
Perhaps the biggest changes though will be the bottling, canning and increased distribution of Rock & Run’s beers. DeClue says he and his partner Dan Hatcher never envisioned brewing the volume of beer they are now, let alone what they’re planning on growing into.
“We thought we’d just brew enough beer to keep everybody happy at the brewpub, never even thought about getting it out into wider distribution. But there’s a demand for it. It’s a good problem to have,” DeClue said.
I tasted the beers on tap at the Kearney location, and I have to say I was impressed. From the super light Liberty2 (Squared) Gold Ale to the unfiltered Farmhouse Funk, which is, as the name suggests, a little funky, to the Ryely Porter and beyond, I found the Rock & Run brews to be not just tasty, but well-balanced — a hallmark, in my opinion, of any well-made brew.
DeClue says Rock & Run Brewery management is talking to three different distributors, trying to determine which will best spread the Northland’s beers to points south, east, and west. Just like last year, it should be an interesting ride for Liberty’s Rock & Run Brewery, and I can only wish them the best.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.