Give Me Shelter

Appears in the November 2023 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Riverfont brewery builds in carefully crafted details

Inside Sturdy Shelter Brewing

There is a rotating selection of 15 or more beers on tap every day at Sturdy Shelter Brewing (10 S. Shumway Ave., Batavia). Owners Frank and Diane Mercadante, who’ve been married for 43 years, spigot their brews with so much care—and, dare it be said, love—that every pour feels like a liquid sacrament. They’ve imported Lukr side-pour spigots from Czechoslovakia so they can crown their lagers with loamy bouffant of bubbles. And installed nitro system systems to give their porters and stouts a velvety sheen. But it’s really the layers of hidden meaning that the Mercandates, who have devoted much of their life to ministry and youth services, have embedded into every brick and beer mug that makes the place so unique.

Take the physical building itself. It’s always been a hub and meeting space for the community along the Fox River. Legend has it that Mark Twain spoke here in 1869. Over the years, various theater troupes have claimed the space as well as a music hall and roller rink. With the help of a local architect Mike Kluber, the Mercadantes hope its newest identity will be a soulful sanctuary of good beer and sudsy cheer for everyone.

Owners Frank and Diane Mercadante
Owners Frank and Diane Mercadante

Consider, for instance, the origin story of Frank’s signature Italian-style Pilsner, which he christened Francesco in honor of his late father. Francesco was not a drinking man, but he knew how much beer meant to Frank, so, in one of his final acts, he asked his son to return to Cleveland to share a beer with him. “It was his way of saying goodbye to me,” Frank says. “I felt like he was kind of giving me his blessing.” The first thing Frank did after going home was to craft a beer that captured the soul and spirit of his dad.

Francesco had been born in Italy but spent most of his life in America. So Frank used Italian grains and noble American hops. He molded the beer into a worthy remembrance—it had to be pleasant and smooth. Hop-forward. Easy going. Sippable in any season. Whenever Frank pours a glass of that beer, memories of his father bubble to the surface.

Maybe, just maybe, he says, strangers will wander into his shop, sit down in this sturdy old building and find a drink—or entertainment or new friend—and that will provide them a little shelter, too.


Photos: Sturdy Shelter Brewing