Sturdy Shelter Brewing, a new Batavia brewery expected to open later in the summer, got its name from the Bible verse, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure.”
Owner Frank Mercadante said the verse also served as a template for his approach to running the brewery.
“We wanted to be a place where people could gather,” Mercadante said. “We had discussed so many names and we finally came to the conclusion of let’s call it Sturdy Shelter.
“It’s kind of a refuge for people.”
Mercadante is no stranger to scripture, having run the St. Charles-based Catholic youth ministry nonprofit Cultivation Ministries since its founding in the early 1990s. The organization has provided consulting, training and other services to more than 120 dioceses across the country.
Though sampling diverse beers had been a lifelong passion, the commitment of running the nonprofit meant Mercadante’s interest in brewing wouldn’t be explored for some time.
“My wife for my 40th birthday bought me a little home brewing kit,” he said. “That’s because I always enjoyed tasting different beers when I went out to dinner.
“I had some successes and failures early on, but stuck with it. As my kids got older, I had more time to devote to it and I really fell in love with making beer.”
After years of trial and error in home brewing and some encouragement from family and friends, Mercadante finally considered turning his brewing hobby into a profession.
“Everyone who comes over and has your beer, they’re your friend and they’re always like, ‘Oh, your beer is wonderful. You should think about starting a brewery.’ You don’t know if it’s just the free beer or if it’s really true,” he said. “I did a number of competitions to kind of see if, ‘Are these beers good or do I have good friends?’'’
Mercadante said his beer was a hit in festivals, earning him medals at multiple competitions including first place in the “Spice, Herb or Vegetable” category in the 2020 Drunk Monk Challenge at Two Brothers Brewery in Aurora.
The winning beer was an imperial milk stout with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and a touch of smoky ancho chiles that Mercadante dubbed the “Three Amigos Mexican Imperial Milk Stout.”
“I thought, OK, I think I can do this,” Mercadante said. “I got some encouragement from a number of professional brewers.”
Mercadante worked as the lead brewer for Burning Bush Brewery for a year and a half before finally deciding to open his brewery. He said Sturdy Shelter will be as much a place for people to come together as it is a brewery.
“Our brewery is a little bit of a hybrid business,” he said. “It’s a place where you can belong, you can connect with others. We want to do a lot of different events. We’ve got a wonderful space that I think will cater to that.”
Brewery events could range from beginner brewing lessons, couples’ nights and spiritual discussions to just simply hanging out, Mercadante said.
The focus on different events was inspired in part by the new brewery’s location inside the historic Kluber building in downtown Batavia.
“The building we are in was originally an opera house built in the 1800s,” Mercadante said. “It was an opera house. It was a theater. I think they even did some roller skating in there. And then it was Capitol Theater for a number of years. I know people who went there when they were younger and watched movies in [the theater].”
The building was extensively rehabbed by previous owner Mike Kluber, said Mercadante, who acquired the building in 2021.
“We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have this building for the brewery,” Mercadante said. “Mike Kluber was extremely helpful. I think he wanted to give the building back to the community because that’s where its roots are. It began as a place where Batavians gathered.”
Mercadante said the town’s history has been a source of inspiration for new beer recipes.
“We want to do a kettle sour beer made with huckleberries and blueberries and we’re going to highlight the huckleberries and call it a Huckleberry Sour,” he said. “That goes back to the story by Mark Twain, who spoke in Batavia. The mayor thought there’s a good possibility he spoke in our building.
“And, of course, I’m going to do the Kluber IPA.”
Once construction is completed, customers will be able to see the glassed-in brewing equipment from the taproom.
“We actually were able to recycle some of the old glass that was in the building,” Mercadante said. “There were glass offices that were used previously. There’s some cool seating there if you want that brew house experience.”
Mercadante said the jump from the nonprofit world to craft brewing wasn’t too difficult. They both require a love of people, he said.
“This has been a process. We’ve been working on this brewery for nearly three years,” he said. “It’s a bit of a marriage of the love of people and the love of beer.”