River Saint Joe offers outdoor winter activities

BUCHANAN – The staff at River Saint Joe do not know what it is like to operate the brewery without the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opening in April 2020, the brewery has adapted its offerings each step of the way, including this winter when indoor dining was shut down for months. The brewery has put its three-acre beer garden to use, and taken advantage of the winter months to bring seasonal activities into play.

“Everyone in hospitality, and in general, knows the name of the game is to adapt as quickly as possible,” said River Saint Joe CEO Brian Dougherty. “All of this is out of our control. We have to focus on what is in our bounds.”
Installing winter features at River Saint Joe has meant considering COVID-19 mandates and best practices, but Dougherty said the aim was also to create experiences that would be appealing regardless of the pandemic.

One of the outdoor activities the brewery has brought to Buchanan has been its River Rocks game. Described as a cross between curling and shuffleboard, River Saint Joe has three lanes of ice, 50 feet by 25 feet kept frozen by a chiller, on which to play the game. The lanes face the hop yard, where grains for the beer are grown.

The “River Rocks” lanes can be reserved on the River Saint Joe website for one or two hours, for parties of two or four people. Players will hurl “stones” down the ice lanes toward a target. Players will be given a rundown and demonstration of the game when they arrive.

Fire pits and tented, heated tables also provide a way to enjoy dining and drinks at River Saint Joe, overlooking the backdrop of Flatwater Farms.

Outdoors, the brewery can host about 100 people currently.

“A lot of people are doing the domes, which are fine, but they didn’t fit with our intentions and outdoor space,” Dougherty said of the igloo-shaped tents many restaurants are utilizing to provide protected, outdoor dining. “We wanted to keep it natural. We built wind guards on the sides of the tables and had electric heaters that take the edge off nicely. You still have to come dressed warmly, but people have liked them.”

He also said the staff keeps the firewood stocked for the fire pits, as people have continued to want to sit near the open fires to enjoy beverages.

River Saint Joe was built with the focus to have outdoor experiences, Dougherty said. This year, that has proved to be a positive as the staff approach their first-year anniversary open to the public.

“We are really happy with it. People have been coming out in force,” Dougherty said. “Midwesterners can handle the cold, and we’re all about embracing the seasons here at River Saint Joe.”

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