Buttery, salty and best of all, free.
Now that I’ve gotten the popcorn review out of the way, let me dive into the bread and butter, so to speak, of any brewery: the beer.
House Divided Brewery, located right across the street from the Ely Public Library, serves up creative lagers, stouts, sours and IPAs in a spacious, cyclist-friendly patio space. The business was opened in fall 2020 by homebrewer-turned-microbrewery-owner Cal Corrin and his wife Lisa Corrin — who, as Iowa State and Iowa Hawkeye fans, respectively, occupy the titular house divided.
Sampling eight different HDB brews on a sunny afternoon in May under the brewery’s shaded patio, surrounded by cyclists taking a rest from biking the nearby Cedar Valley Nature Trail, my dog Goldie getting pets from fellow patrons and plenty of treats from congenial “beertender” Heather, every sip was special.
Rather than stick to a few standard brews — a wheat beer, an IPA, maybe a sour — the Corrins have hit the scene with a slate of bold offerings. Take the Back in Black IPA, only the second black IPA I’ve had the pleasure to taste, and the first from an Iowa brewery. Combining the hoppy verve of an India Pale Ale with the roasty, chocolatey notes of a stout, it tastes like fall in a glass (minus the pumpkin spice).
The Whole Latte Love Blonde Stout is not your mother’s stout; it’s a lactose- and cold-brew coffee-infused stout dressed up like a standard golden lager. Then there’s the Black Dog Lager, Dark Side of the Moon Dunkelweizen and Bat Out of Helles Bock, all of which belong in an Oktoberfest biergarten. This collection of black and gold beers makes a good case for U of I superiority in the in-house rivalry.
On the sweet-and-sour end of the spectrum are two Berliner Weisses: the Kokomo Sour, flavored with mango puree and pineapple, and the Summer Breeze Sour, featuring watermelon puree and coconut. For folks like me who balk at tart beer, these mild sours are mercifully more smoothie than Airhead — though sour beer purists may miss the punch.
Hazy IPAs have become ubiquitous at local breweries, but House Divided’s hazy goes beyond just pleasing the hops-and-lactose-craving masses. The Things We Don’t Say Hazy IPA is a solid entry to the trendy genre, made in collaboration with Hope for the Day movement, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention and mental health education. House Divided has dedicated 20 percent of sales of their hazy to the organization, and have materials promoting mental health awareness on the bar.
After relishing the bold, flavorful brews, I was surprised to find my favorite HDB beer was a classic Hefeweizen. The Luftballon Hefeweizen takes the summer staple — a pale, dry German wheat beer — and does it so satisfyingly well, especially following a salty bite of fresh-popped popcorn. I have trouble pinning the flavor down myself, but the menu description for the Luftballon captured it well: “a fluffy mouthfeel, and a distinctive banana-and-clove yeast character.” I’m calling it now: This is the beer of my summer.
Like one of my favorite breweries in the country, Pulpit Rock up in Decorah, House Divided isn’t a brewpub — just a line of taps behind a bar, a few interior seating spots and a big garage door open to the patio. You can stop in to fill a growler or grab a quick beer on a bike ride, or spend the whole afternoon sampling beers and chatting with friends.
I’m vaccinated, but still wary of dining indoors. This space felt safe while still facilitating small talk with strangers — something I didn’t realize I was thirsty for. Plus, House Divided offers free popcorn and snack mix. That’s something we can all cheer for.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 295.