Ska will begin their Iowa distribution in earnest starting Oct. 11. — graphic courtesy of Ska Brewing
UPDATE, Oct. 10, 2017: Starting this week, Ska beers will be available at liquor stores across Iowa via statewide distributor Johnson Brothers of Iowa. Ska’s flagship brews including Modus Hoperandi, Modus Mandarina and True Blonde Ale will be prevalent.
The Iowa distribution will be kicked off with six events across Iowa, including one at Tin Roost in North Liberty on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m.; and Cedar Rapids’ Need Pizza on Thursday, Oct. 12 at 5:30 p.m.
“We’ve had our eyes on Iowa ever since Johnson Brothers first shipped us a box of sweet corn five years ago,” Ska CEO Dave Thibodeau said in a statement. “They have an amazing craft beer culture we’ve been dying to be a part of, we just haven’t had the capacity until now.”
A shelf of craft beers at John’s Grocery — photo by Emma McClatchey
John’s Grocery will soon stock its shelves with beer from Colorado craft beer company Ska Brewing.
Based in the southwest Colorado city of Durango, Ska is best known for its delectable India Pale Ales and eye-catching packaging. Ska beers are not readily available in Iowa, and when the shipment arrives in October, it will be the first time in more than eight years John’s Grocery will sell the craft label.
Ska Brewing — named after the Jamaican musical genre often used to spread anti-establishment sentiments — prides itself on being a small business focused on taste. Their website offers a humorous, comic-book-style mythos celebrating Ska’s founders as folk heroes and criticizing “villainous” corporate beer companies for producing bland products, hiding their process from the public and operating environmentally unfriendly factories.
Though they brew about 20 year-round and seasonal beers, Ska Brewing’s most famous creation is the Modus Hoperandi, an American IPA with citrus and pine notes. It’s yet to be determined whether John’s Grocery will carry Modus Hoperandi, but for now they expect to receive Ska-Modus Mandarina IPA, a dry-hopped pale ale brewed with orange peel; Pink Vapor Stew, a tropical sour ale; and True Blonde, a golden ale with a dash of Durango honey.
Ska joins Denver’s Great Divide, Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewing, Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing Company, Boulder Beer and Breckenridge Brewery as a Colorado craft brewer carried at John’s Grocery. Doug Alberhasky, manager of John’s, said Colorado beers are highly coveted.
“When you’ve got such a concentration of amazing breweries, if you’re not making an amazing product, you’re gone,” Alberhasky said of the Colorado craft beer market. “The competition is ruthless in Colorado. That’s why you see such quality and yearning for those beers.”
He also ascribes the popularity of Rocky Mountain-born brews to his “beer paradise theory.”
“When you’re in a beautiful place and everything’s perfect, then the beer you’re drinking is the best you’ve ever had,” he said. “You’ll always have this fixation on the experience and the beer, too.”
It’s not always easy to get your hands on beer from far-off craft breweries. Without the complex distribution systems of large-scale domestic beer companies, these smaller operations may not have the quantity of product, delivery capabilities or to-the-minute organization needed to establish a consistent nationwide presence. In addition, Iowa’s own burgeoning craft beer market has lowered the demand for out-of-state products.
Alberhasky remembers a time when a new beer hitting their shelves was reason for fanfare. Their first case of New Belgium’s Fat Tire was carried to John’s by the general manager D.J. who was dressed as Elvis Presley and followed through town by a parade of bikers. The first shipment of Decorah’s Toppling Goliath beer was brought in a canoe down the Iowa River. When only a few U.S. distributors — John’s included — got their hands on the rare Belgian Westvleteren in 2012, it caused beer fans hundreds of miles away to flock to John’s Grocery for the $90 six packs.
While a new beer’s arrival might not be as hot a spectacle these days, Alberhasky hopes locals will respond well to Ska Brewing. And given the natural limitations of the craft beer industry, he also prays it arrives on schedule.
“By the time it gets here, it will have been a minor miracle,” he said.