Photos Ivan Felipe
Thirstily he set it to his lips, and as its cool refreshment began to soothe his throat, he thanks Heaven that in a world of much evil, there was still so good a thing as ale.”
-Rafael Sabatini, Fortune’s Fool
On the less poetic side, Frank the Tank once mused “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!” For those who enjoy a cold beer, there isn’t a much better feeling than that first sip. The celebratory raising of glasses, the laughter, conversation, and general revelry that comes along with it evoke strong memories as well. Some of the world’s most important decisions were made while sharing a pint, mug, or horn of ale. And not all brews are created equal.
While the craft beer boom we are still enjoying today started to take flight in the 1990s, its roots were planted in the 60s and 70s when many regional breweries were closing or consolidating. Breweries like Anchor Brewing and Sierra Nevada were founded in those decades respectively, with the Boston Brewing Company coming along in 1984 to help spur a boom that saw the number of breweries in the U.S. jump from 250 in 1990 to 7,190 by 2016.
To call it a boom is an understatement, and Romans are excited to have a homegrown brewery once again, thanks to Justin Shepard and the team at River Remedy Brewing Company.
Shepard’s love for craft beer was born during his time in the military, serving in the Navy for five years where he spent a good deal of time in Europe.
“My time overseas provided me the opportunity to try so many beers I had never experienced,” recalls Shepard. “Porters, Reds, Octoberfests, Browns, and Ambers. I really leaned more towards the malty flavors and didn’t care much for American beers.”
“When I came back home and my friends found out that I liked the European style beer, they started pushing a lot of popular hoppy IPA’s my way and those just weren’t for me. After they listened to me complain about bitter, hoppy craft beer long enough, one friend recommended that I try home brewing. My first reaction was that it wouldn’t be easy, but after a little research I gave it shot and haven’t stopped since.”
Shepard’s “if you don’t like it, brew it yourself” mentality paid off. He began with a brown ale that he still hoards a bottle of to this day. While it wasn’t perfect, he fell in love with the process. That was in 2013 and he has been perfecting his craft ever since.
He has dabbled in all sorts of flavors and styles, and his friends served as his focus group. He would dream something up and serve it to his beer-loving buddies and the reactions were always positive. While they raved, he continued to perfect his recipes, but the concept of opening a brewery was not something he was ready to embrace.
“I was just focused on the brews at that time. The logistics of running a brewery were more than I could wrap my head around at that time,” says Shepard. “So I continued to create in my spare time and worked for several years at craft beer bars and took a few apprenticeships before taking a job at a brewery in Calhoun that was crushed by the Covid pandemic.”
“When the world shut down, there was a shift in how people approached their career paths. I noticed people giving up good wages for quality of life or taking more risks to do what they loved, and I saw an opportunity to be ahead of things here in Rome. So, with the backing of several investors that believed in the concept, we dove in with both feet.”
The end game of their concept was to brew and serve their own beer, but licensing and acquiring the proper equipment to do so can sometimes take up to 2 ½ years. To combat that and get revenue rolling through the door, the first phase was to open as a craft beer bar and segue into a full-service brewery.
They did just that in December of 2021 and despite selling other people’s products, their focus on bringing in a good variety of craft beer along with a solid event, food truck, and entertainment schedule created a loyal customer base quickly.
Another element of the business plan was to connect to the community. The food trucks and musicians are certainly a part of that but starting January 1, 2022, a percentage of sales went to a different local non-profit each quarter. All-in-all, they raised $8,000 which was distributed to The Davies Shelter, PAWS, CRBI, and The Exchange Club of Rome in 2022. Their first quarter benefactor in 2023 is the Hospitality House. So, every time a pint is purchased at River Remedy, people in need are benefiting.
As 2022 neared its end, the time to transition to exclusively serving their own product arrived. On December 17th the Etowah Lite Floating Beer, Sabrewtage, Friar Tuck Dubbel, Romega IPA, CCC Road West Coast IPA, and the Coosa Dark Water Stout made their debut to rave reviews. Shepard has been working night and day to keep up with the demand ever since, while splashing in several new options along the way.
“On average I’m brewing twice a week and each brew yields roughly 60 gallons of beer,” says Shepard. “So I’m brewing 120 gallons a week just to keep up and that’s during the winter months so demand will only increase when the weather gets warmer. Quality is always the top priority, but I am researching faster brewing methods that will maintain that and hopefully allow us to keep up with the demand. Either way, people liking and drinking our beer is a good problem to have.”
The customer experience is another huge part of the plan. The branding and events play a large role in that, and two members of the ownership team contribute to those efforts; with Trent Olney handling the booking and social media management and Amy Fisher handling the branding and graphic design. Quality acts share their tunes up to three times a week and the graphics for the brews on tap jump off the page.
The last piece of that puzzle is quite important, and that’s the primary man behind the bar serving those ice-cold pints, Derek Tucker. A friendly and knowledgeable gentleman to say the very least, who can educate you on your beer selection or keep the conversation going on a wide variety of topics if time allows. Regardless, a warm greeting awaits when the time comes to order your beer.
It’s important to note that while the mission is to open your mind and your palate to new styles and flavors of beer, there is something for everyone on tap at River Remedy. New brews such as the Pa Berry Lager and the Oostanaula Great White Ale, the latter being Shepard’s proudest achievement, have been a hit, but they strive to meet all tastes and that goes for those not drinking alcohol as well. Hop water and tapped Swift and Finch cold brew are already available and root beer is in the pipeline.
“We want this to be a center of creativity that everyone can enjoy,” says Shepard. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the support so far and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”