“That’s Short’s” is a phrase Jacob Lancaster finds himself hearing and thinking often. Though it may sound like an inside joke, Lancaster, the general manager at Short’s Burgers & Shine (18 S Clinton St, Iowa City), said the two-word combo symbolizes the dedication to greatness, authenticity and better products that has driven Short’s success as the only restaurant and bar in the state with an all-Iowa beer selection. It is a dedication that took Lancaster to tiny St. Charles, IA last week to pick up kegs from the Twisted Vine Brewery — with his own truck.
Short’s will celebrate its fifth anniversary on Saturday, October 19, and a celebration featuring the brewers whose liquid art is served — sometimes for the first time anywhere — through Short’s 30 tap lines is scheduled to kickoff Wednesday, October 16. Lancaster said brewers from Van Houzen, Peace Tree, and Confluence will be present to hang out with patrons.
Co-owned by Nate Kaeding, Kevin Perez and Dan Ouverson, Short’s opened in 2008 at the location that previously housed Short’s Shoe Shine for 50 years and, most recently, a humble sandwich and wrap shop called Baldy’s. The dedication to serve all-Iowa beer and meat was present from the beginning, said Lancaster, who started at Short’s as a doorman and busboy four years ago. The beer selection at first, though, was limited because there were only a handful of Iowa breweries at the time. However, as the number of breweries in Iowa grew, so did the number of tap lines at Short’s. Opening with 10 tap lines, Short’s expanded to 18 and now 30 lines — a testament, Lancaster said, to the quality of Iowa-brewed craft beer and an evolving beer culture in the city, state and nation.
At the time Short’s opened, Lancaster said Blue Moon and Samuel Adams were considered craft beers. Since then, the number of microbreweries in the country has exploded, as has the interest in drinking regionally and locally brewed beers. Lancaster said Short’s strove to provide an alternative to the “wild” bar scene downtown with a dedication to serving quality craft beer. It is a dedication that remains unwavering, Lancaster said, and has not only contributed to the shift from quantity to quality beer drinking downtown, but has provided much appreciated tap space for up and coming Iowa breweries.
“They have always been interested in getting any new or small batch beer we come out with,” said Taylor Evans, the taproom manager at Knoxville’s Peace Tree Brewing Company. “They’ve been a good partnership for us.”
Evans said Short’s gave breweries like Peace Tree a chance when many other establishments were leery of serving local beer that customers were unfamiliar with. “When you’re a local business you need that local support, you need people to take those risks along with you,” he said. Short’s did that, helping not only Peace Tree to establish a name for itself, but the state’s brewing industry as a whole.
Though other Iowa restaurants had starting serving locally sourced food and one or two Iowa beers, nobody had an all-Iowa tap line. Though it was a risk at first, and many were eager to see if it would work or not, Evans said everything seemed to coalesce for Short’s. Support for local products, including beer, grew and more beers were entering the state, creating more interest in craft beer. And not only were Iowa-brewed beers becoming better, the state’s ABV limit for beer was raised in 2010, allowing brewers to expand their repertoire of styles.
Even though Short’s may have been an oddity for its commitment to Iowa beer, Lancaster said the opportunity to showcase the state’s brewing industry was there for the taking. Short’s took it, Lancaster said, offering a welcoming venue for Iowa brewers.
“Short’s was definitely something unique when they opened, and really still is because I don’t know if anybody else is doing exactly what they are doing,” said Evans.
“If someone makes beer in Iowa, I know about it,” said Lancaster, who added that, outside of their respective taprooms, Short’s was the first to serve beers from Toppling Goliath, Confluence, and Peace Tree. “We like to start people.”
And Short’s likes to know them, too. Lancaster said he makes a point of getting to know brewers, the masterminds behind the beers they serve. Knowing the brewer, Lancaster said, is just as important as knowing the product. When he drinks an Iowa beer, Lancaster said he knows the people behind it, knows the skills that were involved in its brewing, and who the brewer drafted for fantasy football. It is all part of Short’s mission, Lancaster said, to go above and beyond for the sake of supporting Iowa’s burgeoning brewing industry.
When it comes to Iowa’s native breweries and their beer, “I want to support them 100 percent, even if I have to go get it with my truck,” Lancaster said. “That’s Short’s.”