The Hops: Native Brew

Though it may look like any other fountain of sudsy goodness, the tap line behind the bar at Short’s Burger & Shine (18 South Clinton St.) is an icon. Its ever-changing cast of 10 Iowa-brewed beers symbolizes the camaraderie, passion and growing consumer demand that is driving a beer brewing renaissance in the Hawkeye State.

Ranging from a massive, 30-barrel operation on a family farm to a tiny, 10-gallon homebrewing system in a former bank, Iowa’s 19 indigenous breweries are producing liquid bread that is beginning to generate in-state pride and worldwide praise. And with a newfound freedom to brew whatever they want, excited brewers say the sky is the limit and the best is yet to come.

Iowa Beer may account for some of Nate Kaeding’s accuracy.

“Iowa is putting out a lot of good beer,” said Teresa Albert, co-owner of Millstream Brewing Company in Amana. Sitting in her brewery’s new taproom annex, overlooking 20-barrel brewing vats, a testament to her words hung on a nearby wall: the prestigious World Beer Cup gold medal, awarded last fall to Millstream’s Vienna-style lager, Schild Brau Amber.

And not only is Iowa brewing good beer, more breweries are brewing more of it. According to David Coy, president of the Iowa Brewers Guild, one-third of the state’s breweries–both Iowa-based and restaurant chains, like Granite City–have opened in the past five years.

Coy remembers a time not so long ago when he was told at a Happy Joe’s that both kinds of beer–Bud and Bud Light–were available. Now, he says, “[Iowans] understand there is a different variety of beer than your mass-produced domestic lager.” Having embraced craft beer, he said, the state is a different market today than it was in 1997, when he began brewing at Des Moines’ Raccoon River Brewing Company.

Thanks to Iowa brewers’ close-nit kinship and united effort to change state law, Albert said there are now no disadvantages to brewing in the state. Previously, beers over 6.25 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) were classified as liquor and sold through the Iowa Alcohol Beverage Division. Unwilling to deal with the state distributor, brewers limited themselves to making a handful of styles that they could sell themselves or through wholesalers. Last spring, legislators raised the ABV limit to 15 and Iowa brewers are now free to brew whatever they want, said Doug Alberhasky, store manager at John’s Grocery.

Bartender Jake Leighty takes a pull from Shorts’ all-Iowa tap.

Despite the excitement and explosive growth, Iowa beer lovers admit that the state’s industry has a long way to go. Both Alberhasky and Albert said a vigilance toward quality control is essential to producing good beer and, collectively, Iowa brewers have yet to master that aspect of the craft. Due to inconsistencies caused by infections or faulty capping and packaging, Alberhasky said there are Iowa beers he would not sell to his “worst enemy.”

Regardless, there is a strong consensus that the future for Iowa beer is bright. More Iowans are choosing to drink beer brewed in their own state as a growing number and variety of Iowa beers are being plugged into taps.

“That’s an easy choice for me,” says Nate Kaeding, Iowa City’s favorite NFL placekicker and co-owner of Short’s.

“Am I going to drink a great beer from somewhere in Iowa, or am I going to drink a good, okay beer from some huge conglomerate corporation?” He said.

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Kaeding holds up a pint of Peace Tree Hop Wrangler and offers a proud endorsement of the Knoxville, Iowa brew: “I would put this up against anything that anybody is going to brew anywhere.”

Featured breweries

Millstream Brewing Company
485 4th Avenue, Amana
Hours: 9-5 (Monday-Wednesday), 9-6 (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), 9-7 (Saturday)

Iowa’s oldest microbrewery is just a hop and a skip away from Iowa City and a must-visit destination for Iowa beer afficionados. Pints and pitchers of Millstream’s award-winning beer (and soda for designated drivers) can be filled in the taproom and enjoyed in the beer garden or the newly opened taproom annex providing views of the new brewing vats.

Must try beers

John’s Generations White Ale: A Belgian-style witbier, it is an excellent choice for a warm summer day, offering scents and flavors of clove, bready yeast, banana and citrus.

Iowa Pale Ale: Though not the World Beer Cup gold medal winner, it is an excellent brew. It is a perfect balance between British and west coast variations on IPA: malty and smooth with an adequate hop bite.

Upcoming events

June 4: BrewBQ and Blues, 4-8 pm: Barbecue served by L&J Kitchen and blues served by Charlie Morgan. (Beer served by Millstream.)
June 11: Live classic rock played by Nick Stika, 4-8 pm.
June 25: Beer and Brat Festival, 12-8 p.m.: Brats from Amana Smokehouse & Meat Market will be available and Millstream will be pairing them with their beer.
July 16: Tour de Brew, 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.: A warm-up for RAGBRAI, cyclists will pick up poker cards and Millstream beer at each stop and those with the best poker hands at the end will win prizes. Live music will be played 2-6 p.m. in the beer garden.
July 30: Millstream Brew-aua Beach Party, 4-8 pm: Bring a beach chair and enjoy beach games, food, and beer.

Old Man River Brewery
123 A Street, McGregor
Hours: 11:30-8:30 (Sunday-Thursday), 11:30-10 (Friday and Saturday)

Dedicated to brewing German-inspired beers, Old Man River is an ideal place to refuel or relax after hiking, antiquing or drowning your sorrows after a visit to the Lady Luck Casino in neighboring Marquette. Nestled among the wooded bluffs along the Mississippi, McGregor has a Main Street lined with antique and curio shops and is right next door to the scenic Pikes Peak State Park, a hiker’s delight, home to trails, camp sites and an overlook providing scenic views of the river.

Must try beers

Jackknife GPA: Called a “German Pale Ale,” Jackknife GPA is Old Man River’s version of IPA: a unique fusion of German and American hops. The aroma is fruity and sweet with scents of caramel, toffee, strawberry, German yeast and a little grapefruit citrus; the taste offers toffee, apple, grapefruit citrus, strawberry and has a nice bitter bite.

Wooden Nickel Scottish Peated Lager: According to the menu, a German, a Scot and an Iowan walk into a bar and…you get this unique brew using German yeast and hops and Scottish malts. It is mellow and smoky.

Upcoming events

June 25: Lazy River Beer and Wine Festival (in Marquette), 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
July 2-4: Flea Market Under the Bridge (in Marquette), 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Great River Brewery
332 East 2nd Street, Davenport
Hours: 4-9 (Monday-Wednesday), 4-11 (Thursday), 12-11 (Friday and Saturday), 12-6 (Sunday)

Another brewery with the Mississippi in sight and a casino nearby, Great River brews, in my opinion, the best beer in Iowa. Though the brewery lounge does not offer any amenities other than the picnic tables and bean bag toss set up outside the front entrance, nothing else is needed when enjoying a couple of creamy pints. When hunger strikes, it’s a short walk to the Front Street Brewery. If you have a hankering to watch baseball, Modern Woodman Park, home of the River Bandits, is just a few blocks farther west. (I can’t vouch for the beer sold there, though.)

Must try beers

Farmer Brown Ale: Newcastle has officially been put to shame. The taste mirrors its nutty aroma complimented with slightly toasted chocolate and caramel malts.

Redband Stout: This one is for those who love their stouts like their coffee. Espresso beans from Davenport’s Redband Coffee Company are infused into Great River’s Straight Pipe Stout (also excellent). For the smell my notes say, “Espresso! Coffee! Roasted!” The taste is tamer, allowing the smooth chocolate from the milk stout foundation to dominate.

Upcoming events

Check out the brewery website for information about tapping parties for limited release or seasonal beers at the Great River lounge and its companion bar in Iowa City, Old Capitol Brew Works & Public House.

Worth Brewing Company
826 Central Avenue, Northwood
Hours: 5-9 (Wednesday), 5-11 (Friday), 12-11 (Saturday)

Owned by the husband and wife team of Peter Ausenhus and Margaret Bishop, Worth is worth a visit for beer lovers, especially homebrewers. Ausenhus brews on a 10-gallon Sabco system, which is essentially a large-scale homebrewing kit. (Many microbrewers use similar systems for testing recipes.) A favorite among the locals, the taproom offers five year-round beers, a seasonal and two guest taps. To visit the beer garden in the back, customers walk through the brewing room and are welcome to ask the owners about the brewing process.

Must try beers

Field Trip IPA: Worth’s IPA offers an excellent balance between malts and hops. Each whiff is loaded with grapefruit, orange and lemon citrus, but is balanced by caramel. The taste is not as bitter as one expects from the smell, but still offers a lot of hoppy citrus.

Oatmeal Stout: Smooth and creamy like an oatmeal stout should be. Scents of oatmeal, molasses, caramel, dark chocolate and a little coffee. Roasted chocolate and coffee dominate the taste, leaving a nice bitter aftertaste, but there is still a little sweetness.

Upcoming events

Starting July 1, Northwood’s Fourth of July festivities are packed with Americana and include an “adult beverage garden” on Friday and Saturday nights.

Indigenous Iowa breweries


Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company

Beck’s Sports Brewery

Blue Mountain Culinary Emporium
(closed temporarily)
Orange City

Court Avenue Brewing Company
Des Moines

The Depot Restaurant & Lounge

Front Street Brewery

Lost Duck
Fort Madison

Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery

Olde Main Brewing Company

Raccoon River Brewing Company
Des Moines

Third Base Brewery
Cedar Rapids

Breweries with taprooms

Great River Brewery

Hub City Brewing Company

Millstream Brewing Company

Peace Tree Brewing Company

Toppling Goliath Brewing Company

Worth Brewing Company

Production only breweries

Angry Cedar Brewing Company

Madhouse Brewing Company

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