Rockford, IL – In 2013, in the same riverside brewery an English immigrant named Jonathan Peacock began building in Rockford, Illinois in 1849, a trio of young Rockfordians fulfilled their shared dream to be in the craft brewing business and opened an all-new version of Peacock’s Rockford Brewing Company.
The beer was flowing and the kitchen was busy year-‘round. In summertime, the riverside docks were filling up with boats, beer drinkers and diners. Business was good. Very good.
Native Rockfordians all, Reed Sjostrom, Dustin Koch and Chris Manuel are co-owners of Prairie Street Brewing Company in Rockford, Illinois.
In the backs of their minds, though, the three owners (Dustin Koch, Reed Sjostrom and Chris Manuel) knew one aspect of their business needed streamlining and improvement: the brand identity and how the business was being promoted.
“We actually had two names and that was confusing people, including us,” said Dustin Koch. “Rockford Brewing Company stood for brewing craft beer and Prairie Street Brewhouse stood for everything else that went on in the building, like meetings and weddings, leasing offices and loft apartments. We knew we had to take a long look at our brand and get better and more efficient.”
The company was full steam ahead when the trio received a message from the owners of another Rockford Brewing Company, this one in Rockford, Michigan.
“We had no idea there was another Rockford Brewing Company,” said Dustin Koch. “I mean, here we were in this historic building that had been named, ‘Rockford Brewing Company,’ back in 1900. The last thing on our minds was, ‘hey, ya think there are any other Rockford Brewing Company’s out there?’”
Jonathan Peacock’s beautiful old building hosted more than 150,000 customers in 2015 in its brewpub, Dockside Taproom and many events spaces.
One of the owners of the Michigan brand visited the Illinois brewery. He liked the Rockford owners and what they were doing, and the two groups agreed to co-exist.
“He seemed like a nice guy. He wished us luck, and we went ahead and copyrighted our name and moved forward. Then, later that year, they hit us with a cease and desist order. Needless to say we were pretty shocked,” said Koch.
After the Rockford owners filed an initial lawsuit to protect their name, a period of fairly cordial communication resumed between the two ownership groups. They talked and emailed and an out-of-court agreement was reached to, again, coexist.
But, that didn’t satisfy the Illinois partners’ desire to improve their branding.
“We still knew we had to streamline our brand,” said Sjostrom. “And we needed to be better prepared for moves we want to make in the future. Even after the quarrel with the Michigan boys, we were still confusing our own customers and we needed to pave the way for a strategically strong future.”
“Also, the brewery has a history of being re-named. At that point, it had been called Peacock Brewery, Rockford Brewing Company, and Rock River Brewing Company during its 164 year history. We wanted to create an original brand, something uniquely ours and distinctive to this Rockford generation – but still rooted in our building’s history. It was definitely time to make another change.”
In a renewed commitment to improving brand communications, they decided to adopt what had worked in all other aspects of their business to date: best practices.
In 2015, Prairie Street Brewing Company crafted 33,600 gallons of beer. The company recently added new brewing capacity and expects to far exceed that total in 2016.
“We had always contracted with expert consultants to help us excel at everything that’s critical in our business – architecture, brewing, the kitchen, business structure, business process. We had insisted on studying best practices and doing everything as well as we possibly could in everything we did. It was time to adopt that model in brand and communications, where we had been perhaps a little too casual and a little too DIY. So, we hired an established branding/advertising company to help us build the new brand,” Sjostrom continued.
After an initial period of marketing research that included input from loyal advocates of the brewery, potential advocates, outright skeptics, channel partners, business peers from other communities – even competitors – the team moved forward with a re-naming and brand identity design process. In the end, the naming and logo solution was discovered in the bricks, timbers and soul of the restored riverside building that housed the original Rockford Brewing Company in the 1800s.
To honor the legacy of Jonathan Peacock, the business will now be called Prairie Street Brewing Company. Its logo will feature an image of peacock bird as well as three feathers – an oblique reference to the three new owners.
Jonathan Peacock immigrated to the United States with one thing in mind: craft great beer. After a brief two-year stop in Chicago, he began making his dream reality in Rockford, Illinois in 1849.
“It turned out the real secret to our brand was in the ingenuity and spirit of the British gentleman who started brewing on these grounds in 1849,” said Chris Manuel. “That’s pretty cool. I really believe Jonathan Peacock’s spirit is still alive here, and we should honor him. If he didn’t do what he did, Dustin and Reed and I might not have decided to build this business together. We have become like brothers, and we think of him as sort of a long-lost great, great grandfather. So, it feels right to honor his name and legacy with our brand identity.”
“That’s absolutely true, but we didn’t have a great photographic record of Jonathan Peacock,” said Reed Sjostrom. “Also, our branding design firm didn’t want to be too literal in representing Mr Peacock in designing the logo. So, they explored the path of incorporating the peacock bird. As a, ‘spirit animal,’ the peacock is symbolic of always showing one’s true colors, and resurrection. Those are perfect metaphors for what Loyd and Diane Koch, who started restoring the brewery building in 1999 have done. It’s what Dustin and Chris and I have been trying to do with the brewery itself.”
Prairie Street Brewing Company is soft-launching the new brand-identity and progressively introducing new elements such as a new menu emblazoned with the words, Birds of A Feather Drink & Dine Together.
Prairie Street Brewing Company is much more than just a craft brewery & eatery. It also plays host to weddings, meetings and all kinds of special events in its many events spaces.
“That’s pretty much it in a nutshell,” said Reed Sjostrom. “Birds of a feather. Everyone is welcome and among friends here. We want every guest to have a memorable, relaxing experience and let go of their worries – whether they’re stopping by for a beer in the Pub upstairs or Dockside Taproom downstairs, or they’re renting the Barrel Room for a 300-guest wedding.”
There’s a lot more in store for fans of Prairie Street Brewing Company in the near future, as well.
“There’s a LOT more coming,” said Dustin Koch. “We’re getting started on a new website, new signage, new merchandise, new advertising. Everything, really. And, we’re also going to be crowling beer pretty soon.”
“Yes, crowling,” he confirmed. “A crowler is like a growler, except it’s a can that holds 32 oz. We fill it fresh from our taps while you watch, then seal the can with a special machine. It’s a better seal than a growler and will keep the beer fresher longer. And, since it’s a can, we can make the labels more detailed and colorful. We’ll still be doing growlers for larger volumes, but our customers like choices and we aim to please.”
“Yes! There’s this little brand-spanking new restaurant we’re going to open at the UW Health Sports Factory in downtown Rockford this summer – and it’ll have something to do with beer. Well, a lot, actually…but, shhhhh! Don’t tell anybody. It’s a secret,” laughed Manuel.
Any last thoughts on the shift to Prairie Street Brewing Company?
“I’m really happy with where we’re going now,” said Manuel. “I’d like to think it would make Jonathan Peacock happy, too. Proud, in fact. Peacock Proud.”
About Prairie Street Brewing Company Performance
In 2014, the brewery hand-crafted 23,300 gallons of beer, headed toward a 33,600 gallon total in 2015. In 2015, 150,000 retail customers were served in the brewery’s many event spaces, the brewpub dining room, Dockside Taproom downstairs and the “out on the docks” outdoor seating venue. Many more customers were served offsite as the company continued to expand its reach via catering services and at special events where they pitched their tents and poured many thousands more pints for thirsty fans. All those performance indicators are expected to be exceeded dramatically in 2016.
About Jonathan Peacock & His Historic Old Brewery:
Prairie Street Brewing Company is housed in the oldest brewery building in the state of Illinois. There were older ones, but they all burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
Jonathan Peacock, who built the building, immigrated from Markingham, England to Chicago, IL in 1847 where he found employment with Diversey & Lil Brewery. Wanting more out of life, he purchased a small Greek revival home at 200 Prairie Street alongside the Rock River in nearby Rockford, Illinois in 1849 and founded his own brewery: Peacock Brewery. He invested $200 in the purchase of the home. There, in the early days of Peacock Brewery, he ground malt in a hand-milled coffee grinder, brewed mash in a washtub and delivered his brew to fellow Rockfordians in a wheelbarrow.
Peacock’s limestone home still stands at the intersection of Prairie Street and Madison on the southeast corner of the PSB property.
The Englishman’s success wasn’t immediate, but business was good. In 1857, Peacock built a brewhouse/bottling plant on the two acre site behind his home. Thanks to an on-site artesian well, he had access to good, fresh water – and the Rock River provided ice for many months of the year in those days. On the east side of his property ran the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad for easy distribution. In 1860, Peacock brewed a hit: a lager he called Nikolob, “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Jealous.” Legend has it that’s where the idea for Michelob originated.
Peacock passed away in 1896 at the then ripe old age of 75. His sons, Edwin and Frank, took over the brewery’s operations. In 1899, the brothers’ passed away and the brewery was operated by Frank’s widow for a brief time. In 1900, Peacock Brewing Company was sold to a Croatian immigrant named John V. Petritz, who re-named it Rockford Brewing Company. By 1909, Petritz brewed nearly 75,000 barrels of beer annually.
In 1919, Petritz and two business partners tried to circumvent the new US Prohibition ban on alcoholic beverages. The Feds found out and the brewery was soon converted to Rockford Storage Warehouse.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and Petritz reenergized his brewery until 1934 when it again changed hands. It was purchased by John Fox, who operated the company as Rock River Brewing Company. In 1945, the Stormont family purchased it and converted it once again to a storage and warehouse business.
In 1999, Loyd and Diane Koch purchased the building and began to design and convert an expansive mixed use development. The purchase was made by the couple in part due to the many years they had spent boating and enjoying the Rock River.
“We love Rockford and we love the Rock River,” said Loyd Koch. “We always admired the old brewery building and thought it could – and should – be a destination for boaters as well as people who want to experience the river from land. For too long, too much of the land along the river has been devoted to industrial sites. Diane and I wanted to create positive access to the River, and we hope others will be inspired to do the same thing.”
About Prairie Street Brewing Company’s Commitment to Green Business Practices:
Green isn’t just the dominant color in Prairie Street Brewing Company’s new logo – it’s a way of life for the business. Owners Dustin Koch, Reed Sjostrom and Chris Manuel make a point of thinking about the environment first when making business decisions:
- The building itself, originally started in 1849 by Jonathan Peacock, is a lovingly restored historic landmark that’s on the National Historic Registry.
- All the bar tops and most of the public furniture at Prairie Street Brewing Company are hand-crafted of retrieved lumber removed from the building during renovation.
- Prairie Street Brewing Company employs geothermal energy for heat and air conditioning throughout the building and in the brewing process.
- In its operations, the business recycles as much waste as is humanly possible.
- The brewery is committed to operating with efficient and long-lasting LED lightbulbs.
- Prairie Street Brewing Company even sends spent brewing grains to a local farmers to feed livestock.