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A Confluence of Good Beer and Good People

Posted by Ralph DiCesare on Thursday, November 15, 2018

John Martin's dream of opening a brewery and tap room in Des Moines, Iowa was made a reality with an SBA loan from Northwest Bank.

Image of Confluence Brewery

“Looking back, the calling was always there,” said John Martin, co-founder and owner, Confluence Brewing Company.

John grew-up on his family’s farm outside of Imogene, Iowa — a small Irish Catholic farming community established when the railroad came through that part of the state. At the time, John’s family had a little bit of row crop and raised pigs and cattle.

“I was drawn to the grain,” said John. “I remember wanting to do something more than grind it up and feed it to the cattle or pigs.”

John took a look at the grain destined for feed and brewed up an idea: what if he turned it into beer? And not just any kind of beer, but raisin almond beer. That first batch of grain diverted from the trough to the keg marked the start of his brewing career. 

Sam Adams and the Internet

There’s a lot of good things to be learned growing up on a farm — particularly, the value of hard work and how you can make anything happen if you give 100 percent of yourself.

After graduating high school, John took that farm-bred work ethic and headed north to Saint John’s University in St. Joseph, Minnesota, to study physics. While there, he was introduced to Sam Adams beer. Tasting Sam Adams opened the door to exploring other flavors and styles of beer. It was around this same time that the world — and John — was introduced to the internet.

“I figured out what the internet was in my senior year of college,” said John. “Through the internet, I was able to start learning about the brewing process and building my own system — I fell in love.”

A Bar and a Brew

John paired his internet research with some real-life experiences. He took every opportunity to visit different breweries, so he could taste the beer and check out each brewery’s equipment. While on his honeymoon, John decided to give home brewing another shot. He and his wife took part of their wedding money and purchased a home brewing kit.

“After our honeymoon, I started home brewing and just fell in love with it,” commented John. “When we moved to Des Moines, I purchased a bigger system that I could use outdoors to brew eight to 10 times a year.”

John’s dream of opening a brewery started to become more of a reality in 2004 when he met his future brewery’s co-founder, Ken Brodhead. Fittingly, they met while drinking a beer at Rock Bottom Brewery. John shared his idea for opening a brewery and tap room. While initially skeptical, Ken felt that John was on to something.

Seven Years in the Making

Concrete business plans started coming together over the next seven years, as John worked on collecting the finances he needed to quit his job in construction and become a full-time brewer and business owner. Around the time John was working on getting a commercial bank loan, the internet once again brought John just what he needed.

Through Facebook, John reconnected with an old high school friend he had spent summers with fixing roofs and working construction, Ralph DiCesare, a commercial banker at Northwest Bank.  

“Ralph and I decided to catch-up over lunch. I shared my plans to open Confluence and was honest about having just been turned down for a loan,” said John. “Ralph said he thought he could help me get the loan I needed and would talk to his partners at the bank — he saved the day, really.”

Working with Ralph and Northwest Bank, John was able to secure the SBA loan he needed to open Confluence in October 2012. As Confluence grew — and it grew quickly — John was able to rely on Northwest Bank to support his business with a line of credit, Positive Pay and ACH services to help streamline payroll and manage cash flow.

In the six short years Confluence Brewing has been open, John has grown his staff to nearly 35 people, with sales and distribution routes that stretch east to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Cedar Falls, south towards Ottumwa and west towards his hometown.

“Ralph reaches out regularly to see how things are going and if there is anything I need help with,” said John. “We always have great conversations, and I feel very comfortable calling him up and asking him what he thinks about this or that.”

Coming Together Over Great Tasting Beer

Confluence Brewing has made its home along Raccoon River Bike Trail just south of downtown Des Moines. It doesn’t matter if you run, walk, bike or drive to the brewery, when you arrive you will find up to 19 unique flavors of beer, crafted with precision and love.

John’s ultimate goal is pretty simple. Brew the best beer he can and share it.

“We try hard to consistently brew a great tasting beer,” said John. “I’ve actually heard people say that they’ve ‘never had a bad beer’ from Confluence.”

Small Business Financing for the Next Step

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The Author

Ralph DiCesare

Ralph DiCesare

Commercial Banker, SVP

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