Chicken Little Reviews: Kalona Brewing Company

Chicken Little Reviews
This oven-baked flatbread is covered in melted parmesan and topped with Greek salad. — photo by Adam Burke

Kalona Brewing Company

405 B Avenue, Kalona, Iowa

Over the past year, the number of craft breweries in Iowa has grown from 40 to 52, with seven more currently in the planning stages of opening. This increase reflects a nationwide trend in both the food and beverage worlds of returning to local and small-scale production models. Founded in 2013, Kalona Brewing Company (KBC) focuses on maintaining the essence and aesthetics of craft brewing and local dining, while bringing some serious big-city flair to the buggy-lined streets of Kalona.

The building itself is a perfect marriage of the rural and the urban. Originally a farm-machinery showroom, the brewery retained the vaulted ceilings and open-air feel, while adding limestone floors and rustic touches like native barnwood accents. There is also an expansive patio out back. Inside, the space feels like a chic, open living room with overstuffed couches, a firepit and a giant Scrabble board. And the service, while occasionally inattentive, is mostly friendly and familial.

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To the residents of Kalona, KBC is a sort of living room—especially since it’s the only place for a decent cup of coffee on a Sunday, when the majority of the town is closed. It’s also one of the few places to get a beer in Kalona, much to the delight of the non-Amish locals and to Iowa City area residents who like to ride their bikes there or spend a day antiquing. And the beer is exceptional. Brewer and co-owner Lew Brewer—yes, that is his real name—has been brewing KBC’s beer in small batches since before the space opened, and he’s built a reputation for his brews, some of which are now sold in cans and more widely distributed throughout the state.

KBC regularly has about 16 house-made beers on tap, in addition to a “guest tap” for local-favorite Sutliff Cider and a couple of Sprecher’s soda varieties. The brewing company’s regular cast of beers includes some rotating taps, so there’s always something new to try, and the staff makes it easy to do so by offering samples and selling a variety of beer flights. If there’s something you love—and there will be—you can take home a 64-ounce growler; I wish I had thought of this before they took the limited-release Vienna Symphony amber out of rotation a few months back. At least I can consistently get the deliciously hoppy Sucha Much IPA, either on-site or at my local grocery store.

In the months since opening, I’ve sensed some growing pains from the kitchen staff. While these seem to be gradually smoothing themselves out, they aren’t completely solved. The food, while occasionally very tasty, is inconsistent. Recently, onion rings had a skewed ratio of 1/8 onion which was barely discernible in the 7/8-portion of beer batter; pizza was limp and undercooked. To be fair, KBC has a hybrid wood oven, and wood ovens are notoriously difficult to work with—it’s challenging to strike a balance between the delicious “char,” characteristic of wood-oven pizza, and a sufficiently cooked crust.

Given more time, perhaps the staff will learn to capitalize on the oven’s potential; this would be great, because the pizza toppings are fresh and flavorful. The sausage pizza, for example, is topped with house-made local pork sausage, marinara, alleged capers (there were none on mine), roasted peppers and cheese, a mélange that would be stellar if it were on a crust that was actually cooked all the way through.

The rest of the menu, which includes appetizers, salads and sandwiches, sometimes made of local ingredients, is a bit hit-or-miss as well. Thankfully, the combination of a beautiful space, delicious craft beers and a quirky little town, where you’re just as likely to see a BMW parked out front as you are to see a horse and buggy tethered nearby, more than makes up for KBC’s not being a culinary destination.

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