Every downside brings opportunity as Iron Rock Brewery changes name

by Katie Drake

Saturday night was a cold one down on West Mill Street.   As you approached, the lights of our local brewery gave off a warm and inviting glow.  Like most nights as you enter, you saw plenty of smiles on familiar and new faces alike, sitting around the burning fireplaces, imbibing the local beer.  A welcome sight for thirsty folks on a cold winter’s night.

This was no ordinary night at our brewery.  As the band took a break, Mike George, owner of (formally named) Iron Rock Brewery announced the new name change and revealed their new sign to a room full of cheers and applause.

Rock Valley Brewing Company is the new name, and of course, there’s a story behind it.

Photo by Katie Drake – Mike George rips the wrapper off their new sign during Saturday night’s ‘reveal’ party.

He continued, “I have a cousin who owns a distillery in Philadelphia.  He and I were talking about Little Falls when I went down to visit him.  He told me, ‘You know Mike, the valley here has these rock walls.  And until you get outside those rock walls, you don’t really see the world.   But those rock walls are very comforting and there is something special about the people that live within those big rock walls.’”

Mike added, “Little Falls is very supportive, very giving. There aren’t very many communities where you see what you see in Little Falls. The festivals, the ways we work together for things, the community cleanups, the fundraisers… people just really put their all in to help other people.

It makes me proud not just to live here, but to have a business here, have my kids grow up, and go to school here.  It’s not a giant busy city, it’s not a hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere, it’s a great mix.  We’ve got a great education system.  We have resources at our fingertips, we have all the great shops, all those little businesses that make this town what it is.”

Why Change?

Long story short, there was a threat of a lawsuit.  There is another business in a different state out there that has a similar name who did a copyright for the name after Mike had named Iron Rock, but before he opened.  “Instead of spending money on litigation, my wife and I ultimately decided we don’t want to be tied up in litigation, and we can spend money on better things,” Mike said.

Photo by Katie Drake – Some of the offerings at Rock Valley Brewing Company.

He says there are tons of plusses to rebranding.  “I’ve tried to look at every downside of things as an opportunity.  You have to be able to look at a glass that’s half empty and say, “Hey, I know a way we can fill it!  Here… we like emptying glasses” he said with a smile.

He was attached to the old name because of his time investment. “I spent 5 years building that brand from literally an old warehouse to what it is now.  You know what, there’s not much I can do about it but embrace the new name.  I think people will connect with it.  It’s a little more recognizable and tied to what we’ve become.  We started out as just a brewery, but we’ve actually turned into becoming more of a brewery/music venue.”

The Start

Mike laughed when I asked him what the hell made him want to open a brewery? He said, “Depends on how far back you want to go. My family has a business in town here and I always wanted to do something on my own.

One of the great resources we have here in Little Falls is the water, it’s fantastic.  I wanted to bring some sort of manufacturing or industry to town.  I kind of dabbled around brewing beer at home, I made wine on a home scale for years and I had originally wanted to do a winery.  Plans fell through at the time. Everything kind of fell into place for this one day and I said ‘Why Not?’ and went ahead with it.”

The Right Place

Rock Valley Brewery is now 56 West Mill Street.  Before that, the building was originally a lumber yard.  Andrew Little & Sons, who operated out of there for a little over 100 years.  After the lumber yard closed up in the late 70’s early 80’s, there were a few tenants in here, just some smaller businesses and Little Falls Construction, now Rock City Construction.

Photo by Katie Drake – Mike George is all smiles as he gets ready for the ‘reveal’ party, letting people know the new name of his establishment.

After that, the building changed hands a couple of times, and then Chris Connolly bought it and used it for storage for a couple of years.  Mike said, “I was talking to Chris one day about my plans of wanting to open a brewery and he mentioned this building.  We came down to take a look at it and I fell in love with the place and the rest is history.”

Other changes planned for 2022

We have a few things.  Marketing ourselves better.  We are expanding our brewhouse. WE just placed an order for two larger fermentation tanks. We should be installing those early to mid-February.  That will allow us to increase our brewing capacity, streamline our efficiency, and hopefully make more and better beer.  It will also allow us to make Lagers, which are a lighter crisper beer which I think will be a big hit in the summertime. We are working on an outdoor seating area for this summer.  There are a few other things I don’t want to let out of the bag just yet.  All good stuff.

Pinch Me

Do you have moments you still can’t believe it? I asked Mike, who quickly replied, “Almost every single day! Not only with this. I’m thankful to be alive, to wake up in the morning, go outside and look at the sunshine… or even the clouds.  It’s just nice to be able to take in a breath of fresh air because there are a lot of people who can’t even do that.

Helping people and connecting people is a big part of this.  We recently had folks here from New Jersey who grew up in Little Falls- the Ferraro’s.  Their father, John, was my band teacher in High School.  As soon as they told me who their father was, I talked to them for a half-hour about how much fun their dad was and what an inspiration to me he was to me musically and in other parts of my life.  I love that connection with people.  Hearing stories from them growing up around their dad and them hearing stories from me… I love that.”

Community Support

When I asked Mike George his favorite thing about Little Falls, he said, “The people without a doubt.

THANK YOU!  If I could put my arms around every one of you, I would, and I often do.  Not only the people that walk through the door to order a beer from us, but all the community support and people on our team who have been amazing. Who could ask for anything more?”

Katie Drake moved to Little Falls in 2003 and fell in love with this city. She says she isn’t really a writer, but a storyteller.

The opportunity to highlight the great people of Little Falls, share her personal perspectives and some humor from time to time piqued her interest and here we are.

Just ask her, and she’ll tell you that after growing up in Millers Mills, population 25+ (according to the sign), Little Falls was just the right size. Katie is the oldest of her two brothers and five sisters.

In 2020 Katie and her best friend Chris began their greatest adventure yet in 2020, with the birth of their sweet and sassy son Nolan who makes them laugh every day.

In her free time, Katie loves to snowmobile, golf, hike, and travel.

If you have feedback on one of her articles or an idea for a story, please feel free to reach out to Katie at KatherineDrakeLF@gmail.com, she would love to hear from you.

If this article leaves you wanting more, or you are just bored out of your mind, feel free to check out other articles she has contributed by visiting Katie Drake Archives – My Little Falls.

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