LV Recommends: Four new eastern Iowa breweries, off the beaten path

Though many things ground to a halt during COVID, the opening of local breweries was not one of them. Despite opening shortly before, or in the midst of, the pandemic, these four breweries managed to gain a footing and expand Eastern Iowa’s craft beer scene to new communities. Don’t forget your designated driver!

BIT Brewery

BIT Brewery, 26 N 4th St, Central City — courtesy of BIT Brewery

Opened July 2020

Housed in a beautiful brick-façaded building, BIT was founded by three friends who bonded over home brewing and eventually decided to turn their hobby into a business. The acronym BIT stands for Best in Threes and is a reference to the friendship between co-owners Jason Levenhagen, Scott Whitson and Jeff Hempstead. BIT opened in July 2020 and has lived to tell about it — another victory in the face of a business climate dramatically altered by COVID.

The inside of the brewery is a bright wood and brick space with two dining rooms separated by a sliding barn door, cheery blue chairs lined up at the bar and an array of musical instruments on the wall as a nod to Levenhagen’s day job as a music teacher. There are 13 taps that feature a cast of beers that rotate on a two-week cycle and always includes two ciders and two sours. Additionally, if you stop by on Thursdays you can sample that week’s small-batch keg, a special one-off from the imaginations of the brewers. BIT also has a kitchen serving appetizers, desserts and specialty pizzas that you can see being made in the brick oven in the corner behind the bar.

Courtesy of BIT Brewery

Beers are available in 4 oz tasters, 16 oz glasses or 13 oz tulips for some varieties, and 32 and 64 oz growlers. I wanted to sample a few things so I opted for the 4 oz tasters and tried the Black Betty Stout, the Oofda Imperial Red Lager and the guava cider. Stouts are one of my favorite styles of beer and Black Betty didn’t disappoint with toasty chocolate and coffee notes and a robust but balanced flavor. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the imperial red ale, but it was my favorite. They say you eat (or drink) with your eyes first, and the Oofda draws you in right away with a beautiful amber color. It’s pleasantly sweet but not cloying and has a light and clean flavor profile. Lastly, I tried the guava cider. I often find ciders to be sugar bombs but this one surprised me. It was refreshing, and it offered a balanced sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm other flavors and really, truly tastes and smells like guava. At 4.6 percent ABV, it is the perfect option for lightweights like myself and could be paired with almost any food option. —Tiffani Green

Bremer Brewing Company

Bremer Brewery, 102 & 104 W Bremer Ave, Waverly — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Opened November 2021 (Closed Mon.-Wed.)

I am convinced some of the Iowaiest bars in Iowa can be found in Waverly (located about 20 miles north of Waterloo): the Pour House, the Wooden Foot, Joe’s Knight Hawk, the swanky Waverly Area Veterans Post. What Waverly was always missing, though, was a microbrewery.

Enter Jade and James Heine, who recently opened Bremer Brewing Company in the former Waterstreet Grill (RIP), on the corner of Bremer and Water streets. The building was constructed in 1916 as a Heiberg beer brewery, but switched to soda and near-beer during Prohibition. When Bremer Brewing Co. opened fall 2021, the historic building came full circle.

Bremer feels like a long-established brewery, from its full, eclectic beer list to its plentiful merchandise. Roasted and Toasted—their cold brew coffee stout made in collaboration with Waverly coffee company Get Roasted—was a stand-out. The three kettle sours are mouthwateringly fruity, while the hazy IPAs feature hops blends that both confuse and delight my taste buds. Super Cooper 2.0, however, is a stripped-down IPA perfect for a summer afternoon. Lager fans will find a favorite in the 50610.

There isn’t a full food menu yet, but the brewery does serve flatbread pizzas and a variety of pretzel bites (the latter sourced from Waverly bakery The Mixing Bowl) that hit the spot. A coffee stout and plate of cinnamon sugar bites softened the blow when my mother killed me at Yahtzee. —Emma McClatchey

House Divided Brewery

From the plentiful bike racks to the spacious patio, House Divided Brewery is a cyclists’ oasis. 1620 Dows St, Ely. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Opened October 2019

The moment you pull up in front of House Divided in Ely, it exudes charm. You pass through a large patio, illuminated by string lights and featuring two igloos. Once inside, you’re greeted by the fermentors to your right and a beautiful bar made from reclaimed doors and a lacquered live edge bar top. The brewery opened in November 2019, a mere four months before everything would change, so its survival is a true success story. The name and tagline “Beer even your rivals will love” is a cheeky reference to the owners’ — husband and wife Cal and Lisa Corrin’s — own divided household, with Lisa being a University of Iowa alum and supporter of the Iowa Hawkeyes, while Cal attended Iowa State and supports the Cyclones.

House Divided makes the most of a deceptively small space. There are 12 taps, all but one being occupied by a housemade brew. In addition to what’s on tap, the menu features an impressive selection of canned items, including a local seltzer and 10 (!) local ciders. There are also two local wine options from Cedar Ridge and Millstream root beer on tap. No matter what you have a taste for, House Divided can satisfy it. There are also snacks at the bar and a kitchen offering an array of bar food classics.

Two flights of home brews and a complimentary side of popcorn at House Divided Brewery, 1620 Dows St, Ely. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Tap beers are available in 13 oz drafts, 5 oz tasters, 64 and 32 oz growlers and 16 oz crowlers. I got two of the crowlers and brought home the Promises in the Dark Baltic Porter and the Golden Years Belgian Strong Ale. Promises in the Dark delivered on classic porter flavors with a rich mouthfeel, notes of burnt sugar at the front and a finish that tasted of coffee and woodsmoke. The Golden Years strong ale was light but still packed with flavor, boasting a slight fruitiness and a perfect balance of sweetness and tang. —TG

Maquoketa Brewing

Flights are served on Iowa-shaped trays at Maquoketa Brewing, 10 S Main St Suite A. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Opened January 2021

Maquoketa Brewing is the town’s first brewery since Prohibition, and it’s a positive sign of progress after Maquoketa’s Main Street was devastated in a 2008 fire. Indeed, co-owner Mark Lyon said he read a magazine article listing a craft brewery as one of 11 indicators of a thriving city, and pitched the idea of opening one to his wife Judy. Judy agreed on two conditions: they serve cider on tap and install purse hooks in the taproom. Maquoketa Brewing launched in January at 110 S Main St.

Beer flights come sitting in an Iowa-shaped wooden board. The Lemon Drop pale ale is surprisingly subtle with light, citrusy hops, and the Belgian Tripel has all the body of a classic Oktoberfest. My friend Katelyn, an avid sour beer fan, gushed over the Orange Sour, which she nicknamed the Beermosa. I was fascinated by the London Calling, an English bitter that combines the style’s signature English hops and malts with marshmallow and caramel notes to create a reddish beer worth savoring.

The atmosphere inside was clean and stylish, with a dozen large Edison bulbs dangling above the bar to create an eyecatching industrial chandelier. But if it’s nice out, I’d recommend sitting on the small patio out front: the perfect place to relax after a long day spent at Maquoketa Caves State Park. —EM

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 305.

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