COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Brandon (right) and Ashley Magnus are co-owners of the new Constantine brewery River Trade Brewing Company, which opened its doors to the public at its location at 145 S. Washington St. Saturday, Aug. 6. The brewery offers in-house brewed beer, food and dessert.COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Brandon (third from left) and Ashley Magnus (second from right), along with their 6-year-old daughter Cora Magnus (middle, holding scissors), cut the ribbon on the River Trade Brewing Company during a ceremony prior to its opening on Saturday.

River Trade Brewing Company opens doors in Constantine

CONSTANTINE — There have been many different businesses that have called 145 S. Washington St. in Constantine home over the last few decades, from furniture stores and flower shops to breweries and more.

Now, a new brewery will occupy the space, and brings a brand-new eating/drinking establishment to the Constantine area.

River Trade Brewing Company, co-owned by Brandon Magnus and his wife Ashley, opened to the public Saturday with a number of people coming in to get a taste of the brews and the food selection.

“It's surreal,” Brandon Magnus said. “I feel like I've spent so much time here in an empty building, and now to have all these people here is pretty cool. I was pretty nervous this morning, but seeing everyone here and seeing the energy is pretty rewarding.”

The brewery offers a selection of seven drinks on tap, all brewed in house in a glass room in the back of the building. They include the Water Street Lager, which Magnus said is a sweet malt-forward lager, a Backdrifter Pale Ale, which is a citrusy and hoppy ale, and the River Trade House Cider, made with Michigan apples. They look to have two more beers in the future, including the Blackbeery Sour, which is made with Michigan blackberries, as well as some wine selections.

Brandon said they are looking to use locally-sourced ingredients for their beers when they can.

“When we make the beer, we like to be mindful of what's around us. If I can, I want the beer to almost reflect where we are, when we are,” Brandon said. “I like that it's an agriculture area. Beer's an agriculture product, so we can try to bring that in as much as we can, and we're going to use a lot of Michigan hops, Michigan barley and other ingredients that we can.”

Their food menu mainly features different flatbreads, including the Chicken Pesto flatbread, the Beesting Pepperoni flatbread, made with pepperoni, Nashville hot spices and honey, and the Margherita flatbread, made with tomato, pesto, mozzarella and salt. They also have a couple of pasta and salad options, a few appetizers, a couple of desserts, including gelato and a chocolate peanut-butter tartlette, and a few kids’ menu options as well.

The Magnuses have moved around a bit, having lived in southern Indiana, Salt Lake City, and most recently the Chicago area, where Brandon worked for the Lagunitas Brewing Company in a few different areas, including quality, brewing, and packaging. Brandon, who has a background in molecular biology, said he was into beer and brewing before going to Lagunitas.

“After college, we moved to Salt Lake City, and while we lived there, my wife bought me a home brew kit one time. I was working in the science field, so I was always really into that stuff and the science behind it. I just kind of fell in love with it, and then I went into the field to kind of learn more about it, get a little more experience,” Brandon said. “I kind of thought I want to do this someday, so I wanted to get some hands-on experience, came in and worked there for a few years.”

He said the two had been looking to start their own brewery, and had been searching for buildings that could be turned into a brewery. He said what attracted him and Ashley to the building was its status as a former brewery, having housed the Constantine Brewing Company for a few years in the 2010s.

They bought the building in September 2020, and moved to the area. Brandon said he had hoped to have the brewery open several months after they purchased the building, however there were multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic which made the process take longer. However, he said the turnout for the grand opening was “pretty rewarding.”

“It felt really special. Being new to the community, we don't have a huge network of people, so just seeing the community come out and support us meant a lot. It really did,” Brandon said. “I feel like a Constantiner now, whatever the term is. I feel like I'm finally getting into the community.”

One of the beers on tap is the Bonebright Pilsner, the first beer Brandon and Ashley made in the area. At the time they made it, they had been reading up on the history of the area in an attempt to find a name for the brewery, and decided to pay homage to the community with the name of their first beer.

“We were reading the history of St. Joseph County, the history of Constantine, and we saw the first child born in Constantine was to the Bonebright family,” Brandon said. “The first beer we made, it's a pilsner, and we thought Bonebright had a cool ring to it.”

That historical search also gave River Trade Brewery its name.

“We read about how back when it was pre-railroad lines, this was a fairly large city and was built on river trade. We read that phrase, it was on the village website, and it kind of stuck with me,” Brandon said. “That idea also brings me a sense of people getting together, trading ideas, saying this is where I'm from, this came from where I am.”

Brandon said he welcomes anyone into River Trade, whether they’re a “seasoned veteran” of craft beers, or are making their first trip to a brewery.

“I hope that, no matter whether they're a seasoned person who comes to visit, or whether they drove by and said, ‘What in the world is a brewery,’ we can bring them in and say, we have stuff for you,” Brandon said. “It's important to me they're equally as comfortable, especially if they're all seated together at the bar. That idea's really romantic to us, and I think it's just making sure we're making it an open space for everybody.”

In the future, Brandon said he is looking to offer beer to go in cans as well as begin a “Mug Club.” Long-term, he said they hope to add an outdoor space out in the back of the building for customers.

“That's currently not licensed, but we're looking at changing that. We're going to apply for that,” Brandon said. “We'll do a lot of cosmetic work, put up some shades up. We're hoping this fall to have a really nice area where people can go out when the weather's nice, go outside and have beers and dinner out there.”

Overall, Brandon said he hopes the brewery is around in five years, and that people come back to Constantine’s downtown area. However, he said he’s not looking to grow too much too quick.

“We're not looking to grow too much, we kind of like being a small place in a small village that people who are passing through can stop by, but also we're community-centered,” Brandon said. “We want to be community-facing first. As people come through, we'd love to have you. We want to be very Constantine, very St. Joseph County.”

River Trade Brewing Company is open Wednesdays from 5-10 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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