Story reprinted from the January issue of Cedar Valley Business Monthly.
WATERLOO — Dave Morgan spent the past several years tweaking and testing to find the right balance — of grain, hops, yeast and water; owning two businesses and being a family man; and combining LEED certification with historical preservation. SingleSpeed Brewing Co. is proof he’s gotten it right. What started in 2012 as a three-barrel nano-brewery on Main Street in Cedar Falls has expanded into a 20-barrel operation and revitalization of the Wonder Bread building, built in 1927, in downtown Waterloo.
The $6 million renovation, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed this year, and doors officially opened in April.
Morgan, an outdoor recreation enthusiast, beer aficionado and Cedar Valley resident, was winding his way through the George Wyth trails during a local pub’s Wednesday night bike ride when his wheels began turning — there was not a single start-to-finish local brewery in this area at the time.
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He convinced himself and others he had the cadence to make that happen. Today, SingleSpeed brews can be found in central and eastern Iowa in about 200 stores and restaurants.
A love for beer
Over the years Morgan gained the experience, degree and palate to successfully brew, manage and distribute craft beer.
Growing up in New Hampton, Morgan worked at a local restaurant as a bus boy and dishwasher until he was promoted to meat carver. He graduated from high school in 1993 and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Northern Iowa in 1998. He managed a pizza place and an Italian restaurant as well as helped open a new restaurant.
“I was always interested in craft beer going all the way back to college. Of course, I was the kid in the bar that had a New Castle in his hand, or a Fat Tire, whatever I could get my hands on,” he said. “Depending which state I was in would kind of dictate which beers I had available to me, but I was always looking for something interesting to drink. I was intrigued by beer way back then.”
In 2012, he opened the 45-seat taproom on Cedar Falls’ Main Street, which Morgan calls his laboratory.
“So we could actually figure out what we were doing and figure out how to make beer and get immediate feedback from people on what they liked in beer. That’s the beauty of having a taproom like that versus just having a brewery and sending your beer out and not having a lot of direct contact with the consumer,” he said.
With various family members around the Midwest, Dave’s mother in St. Louis and sister in Madison, Wis., Dave and his wife, Dana, also love to travel. And with each trip, Morgan keeps his eyes and ears open.
“We enjoy going to, like most people, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops and seeing what’s going on.”
He also brings his head brewer, Austin Myers, with him to the Craft Brewers Conference each year. The city changes annually, and so far, they’ve been to Portland, Ore., Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. A trip to Nashville is on tap next year.
“We may learn more in those four days than we do the rest of the year,” he said. In Portland, he noticed every brewery had a family focus to it, which worked out well for his family, which includes two daughters, Anna, 4, and Grace, 3.
He then incorporated that idea at the SingleSpeed in Waterloo, which includes a children’s play area with Jenga, Scrabble, Legos, chalkboards and magnets.
Inspiration also comes to Morgan in everyday activities, including relaxing with a cup of coffee, which sparked the idea for the popular brew, Tip the Cow, a milk stout with cocoa and espresso. Zack’s Mexican Donuts, which is served each year during Halloween, was inspired by a Mexican coffee made with chocolate, cayenne and cinnamon.
Other locally inspired beers include Gable, a Munich Helles, in honor of Waterloo native Dan Gable’s Olympic triumph in Munich in 1972 — and it’s even gold in honor of his medal. For every purchase, a dollar gets donated to the Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo.
Recreation and giving back
Beer and bicycling are a perfect pair, Morgan says, and the Cedar Valley has plenty of nature trails. If you ever get lost, just look at the map on the wall at the Waterloo SingleSpeed and it will guide you, via the trail system, to SingleSpeed in Cedar Falls.
“The trail system is fantastic here, and I think it’s important that we continue to bring attention to that, for people that come to town, live in town, for people when recruiting talent to town. ... I think that we can’t talk about our trail system enough. A lot of work went into that and we need to continue to remind people that it’s there and we need to use it.”
Morgan shows his passion for the trails, and those who maintain the trails, with annual fundraisers for the Cedar Valley Association for Soft Trails, a nonprofit volunteer-based group.
SingleSpeed does a special brew for such occasions. Past hits have been the Soft Trail Ale and a Cranksgiving cranberry IPA. He’s gearing up for a new recipe for this winter’s Iowa Games fat bike race.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Morgan begins each day around 6 a.m., in time for him to collect his thoughts and prepare to tackle the day with his employees.
With both locations, Morgan said he has about 100 workers, including about 60 part time and 40 full time.
Over the years he’s found he’s much better at staying calm.
“I look at things from every angle instead of getting fired up right away. If I stressed out over all the details, I’d be dead. There’s just too much going on.”
So much, in fact, SingleSpeed in Cedar Falls had outgrown its space for quite some time. The new downtown Waterloo location allowed him more room for brewing and the chance to dive into something new — preserving a historical building.
“Without the state and federal funding, this project couldn’t be done in this manner. The shell would be a brewery, but it would not look like this inside,” he said, noting the requirements dictate what windows can go in, how walls can be touched or modified, and how the floors will look.
On top of keeping up with the old, Morgan wanted to make sure he was embracing the new with alternative energy options for sustainability.
Solar panels, low-flow toilets, aerated water, LED lights, energy efficient heating and cooling are just a few of the ways SingleSpeed reduces its carbon footprint.
“Brewing beer is a very water-intensive project, so anytime we can limit the water usage one way or another, we’re trying to do it,” he said.
“And we’re saving the planet one kids’ cup at a time.” Stainless steel renewable cups are available for purchase with kids’ meals, and canvas bags are for sale for carry-outs.
“Hopefully it opens discussion about sustainability. We’re obviously not touching a majority of the world, but we do touch some people. “
As for the future, SingleSpeed’s downtown location is able to accommodate a 12,000-barrel operation.
“If we ever outgrow that then I don’t know what I’ll do; that would be a good problem to have. Our real focus is getting better at what we’re already doing.”