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Exile Brewing Combines Sustainability, Community In Every Beer

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Some people leave home and never return, following a winding road of opportunity or wanderlust, leaving their roots ever fading in the rearview. Some people strike out to explore the world and return with a greater knowledge and understanding of who they are and what they want to do. They bring this expertise back to their beginnings to start anew and grow something of their own right where they started.

R.J. Tursi of Exile Brewing Company in Des Moines, IA, is the latter.

The brewery and brewpub combine Tursi’s love for craft beer, creating something out of the Earth and giving back to it, and his roots and community. He and his business are changing the game for craft beer in Des Moines and making the town and the greater area better for it. 

The Business Download spoke to Tursi about Exile Brewing and its sustainable practices and charitable work.

“So, I graduated from college in 2009, and I had a degree in finance … there were not a lot of opportunities in finance at the time,” Tursi said. “So, I took an opportunity to go and work in southern Italy at some relatives’ winery. And that was awesome. And I learned a lot about, you know, what it means to be passionate about making a product. And then just really, you know, grew to appreciate that whole process.”

Photo Courtesy Erin Muir

“And so, when I got back to the state, I started working for my dad at his Italian restaurant here in Des Moines, you know, developing his wine program,” he continued. “And as we’re doing that, he actually approached me with the idea of, you know, hey, ‘what do you think about a craft brewery?’”

A light bulb went off once Tursi started really considering the idea.

“And, like, at the time, there was a very small number of breweries in Iowa, and I think only two in the Des Moines area,” he said.

“And so we saw how the industry was really growing across the country and thought there was an opportunity there. And so we started brewing in his garage.”

“And, you know, I leaned on the finance degree to build out the business model and, you know, pitched a few investors and went to the bank and raised money for it,” he continued. “And we opened up in 2012.”

In addition to a passion for brewing great beer, Tursi is on a mission to preserve, protect, and enrich the environment around him — a mission he says he comes by honestly as he was born and raised in Iowa. 

“In Iowa, agriculture is the biggest industry that’s here. And so a lot of the, you know, sustainability and things like that, that I’ve been interested in for a while has to do with soil, you know, because the soil is our number one natural resource,” Tursi said. “It’s the most important natural resource. And Iowa obviously has had great soil. And it’s our most important resource, so we want to keep it; we want to keep that soil great.”

Photo Courtesy Erin Muir

Tursi carries this mindfulness and stewardship toward his natural surroundings into everything he and Exile Brewing do. A trip to a seminar by the Iowa Brewers Guild further solidified his belief that efficiency was one of the keys to running a sustainable operation.

“[The Iowa Brewers Guild was] essentially promoting this new sustainability program, and they basically laid out like, ‘hey, we’ve created a booklet with best practices and techniques that you can use and see where your losses are coming from, you know, and if you can do these things, it can save you money and all that’,” he said.

“And so, it really starts just with the efficiency of your process and the efficiency of your building.”

These efficient practices are utilized in everyday operations at Exile Brewing. Some examples of this approach are using ionized air instead of water for bottle rinsing, a commitment to recycling oils and fats in their kitchens, and replacing all windows and doors with energy-efficient versions to preserve energy in their brewery.

Photo Courtesy Erin Muir

Additionally, Exile Brewing is committed to water and soil quality in all areas of what they do. The business has the “Born Here, Brewed Here” program to prove its pledge, which brews from only locally grown Iowa grain, supporting local Iowa farmers. 

Aside from their commitment to running an environmentally conscious operation, Tursi and Exile Brewing continuously give back to their community. Some initiatives include the “Casting for Recovery” program — a personal one for their head brewer Joey Hansen — which raises money for the National Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.

Photo Courtesy Erin Muir

There is very little that Exile Brewing is not interested in improving in the Des Moines area, whether by charitable works or sustainable practices across all areas of the brewery. With community leaders like Tursi spearheading initiatives to better his community, the future is exceedingly bright for Des Moines, Iowans statewide, and Exile Brewing.

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