There is a time and a place for heavy drinking: weddings, break-ups, reunions, birthdays, Daylight Savings, Spring Equinox, stepping in gum with a new pair of shoes or the classic “days that end in ‘y.’ ” But whatever the reason, one thing is true for most beer-lovers: Beer is good, whether you drink it for the taste or the intoxication.
In recent years, the divide between drinking to get drunk and drinking for the sake of having a flavorful beverage — a beverage that is itself a conversation piece — has widened. Young professionals are looking to enjoy their beers more than in their binge-drinking college days. If not for the flavor, then perhaps they’re drawn to the artistic label, the story behind a microbrew’s name or the eclectic combination of its ingredients.
You don’t have to be a beer connoisseur to notice the trend. The Des Moines metro has seen a huge influx of new breweries and brewpubs featuring some of their own — as well as others brewers’ — beers. More than 40 breweries are currently operational statewide, and more are scheduled to open in just a few months.
A potent piece of legislation
The reason for this growing interest in craft beer and home brewing has a lot to do with a change to Iowa’s alcohol laws. Prior to 2010, a brewery in Iowa could only make a product that had no more than 6.25 percent alcohol, which is fairly low for a typical craft beer. Now brewers can create products with as much as 15 percent alcohol. Compare that to the typical light beer (Bud Light/Miller Lite/Coors Light/etc.), which has about 3 to 5 percent alcohol. The change in Iowa law in the spring of 2010 opened up a vast new market to brewers hoping to make a business from what began as a hobby, bringing beer from the bathtub to the brewery for a few ambitious home brewers.
“Before 2010 the law said that if beer was above that 5 percent, it was considered an ‘intoxicating’ beverage by the state and would go through the state liquor warehouse and be treated a lot like liquor,” said Mark Nauman, owner of Beer Crazy, a retail business in Urbandale selling craft brews and home-brewing supplies.
“In the past, a brewer’s license was very limited in what they could brew and sell, and excluded the ‘craft’ styles that appealed to specialty drinkers.
“Because of the law change, Iowa is essentially on the same level as other states known for their craft brewing and can compete,” Nauman added.
Iowa adds to the national brew
California’s acclaimed Stone Brewing Co. made a raucous appearance in Des Moines in early October with a tap invasion, sending a message to the national market that the industry is viable in Iowa. It immediately showed brewers at home and around the nation that Iowa is being taken seriously in the craft beer field. And so far, business is good. It’s so good, in fact, that some beer entrepreneurs are putting it all on the line to pursue their hobbies full time.
John Martin is the father of seven children. He believes in his craft and in the promise of the market so much that he left behind a high-paying project manager’s position for Graham Construction, a successful Des Moines business, to open the new Confluence Brewing Company near Gray’s Lake this past fall. He said craft brewing has been growing steadily in the last decade since its meek beginnings in the 1980s when it was first introduced here.
“It seems logical to me that it would continue to grow,” said Martin, who calls the endeavor his “leap of faith.”
“We definitely made different decisions when buying a house and vehicles with lower payments in order to sustain our lives while growing this business,” he admitted. “I thought with the way things are growing in the industry, we’ll be able to make a similar living wage as before within the next couple of years.”
Iowa Brewers Union (IBU) member Ryan LaPera believes that one of the most enticing things about local craft brewing is how people have shown that they like buying locally.
“I think it’s great that we’re able to have beers that we can call our own in Iowa,” said LaPera. “There’s nothing better than having a fresh-brewed beer with local ingredients with the person who is actually doing the brewing. You can actually sit down and talk brewing with them, which is something you can’t necessarily do with the larger, more commercial breweries.”
That’s because craft beers only make up about 5 percent of the national beer market, LaPera said, which is also why the influx of new breweries is welcomed by already established brewers in Iowa.
“It’s just about growing the craft beer market in general instead of trying to take out the other local guy who has the exact same goal you do — to get away from the fizzy golden stuff.”
With so many new craft beer choices, consumers can now make a night out to a brew pub or a weekend tour of area breweries more of an experience than a carousal. A new generation of brewers and beer drinkers are asking more from their beer than merely an intoxicating effect, and in Des Moines, it’s foaming over.
The questions some are asking now is if Des Moines can sustain this sort of influx in the market and grow to be a Midwestern beer-brewing hub like Milwaukee and St. Louis, and if these tasty beers will still be around in a couple months, a year, a decade or longer.
“It’s a really exciting time right now for the craft beer industry,” said Travis Mahler, the Off-Premise Craft Beer Specialist at Doll Distributing. “Every time you turn around, it seems like there is another style, brewer, blend — you name it — that’s getting attention locally and even nationally.”
The future of craft brewing and the success of local breweries in Iowa remains to be seen, but it is fair to say that much of the community is optimistic.
“If each one can find their own niche and not all try to do the same thing, I think Des Moines definitely has room for everyone, so does Iowa as a whole,” said Nauman. “The key to keeping your business open is paying attention to the customer. If they don’t do that, and brew good beer, there will be a lot of stainless steel going up for sale in a couple years.”
With plenty of stainless steel of his own, Martin believes the craft beer trend is here to stay as people are seeking out products that are grown and produced locally. He asserts that authenticity and quality have become more important to consumers than quantity.
“Craft brews offer more flavor and a higher quality of beer,” Martin said.
A craft beer renaissance
Celebrations of that quality and flavor are echoed at local events such as Cityview’s Brewfest, el Bait Shop’s Jimmy Carter Happy Hour, the Iowa Craft Beer Festival and the Iowa Craft Beer Tent that had its second year at the fair this summer. Manager Scott Carlson, owner of Court Avenue Brewing Company, noticed a particular interest from senior citizens at the craft beer tent this year.
“We saw a lot of people in their 70s and 80s who were curious about the craft brews made right here in Iowa,” Carlson said. “They didn’t have these options when they came into the drinking age because of Prohibition. After Prohibition, the larger, mainstream brewers like Pabst and Anheuser-Busch were pretty much dominating the market.”
“A lot of home breweries have popped up in just the last 10 or 15 years, and it’s because it’s cool to drink craft,” Linn said. “Beer lovers are now going out to enjoy a beer — enjoy its flavors and its story — so it’s not about just getting drunk.”
Some people in the industry believe that craft beer is going through a kind of “renaissance,” because in the years before prohibition communities each had their own flavors and brands. Prohibition drove the industry under ground, leaving it unregulated and vulnerable to the contaminations of crime and unhealthy practices that lead to dangerous elixirs known to cause serious health problems such as blindness and paralysis due to lack of health regulations. Seventy years later, craft beer is finally rebounding and starting to get back to the booming status it once had.
Can new breweries grow roots?
Will this excitement maintain? Can the new brewers like Confluence and Exile grow roots into their own niches the way Millstream Brewing Co. has for almost 30 years in Amana, arguably one of the region’s most well-known names in craft beer?
“We were it in Iowa for many years (before the craft beer boom), so it was a challenge to get the word out and educate the public,” said Teresa Albert, the marketing/sales manager at Millstream Brewing Co. “But, we had a local following, and by 2003 we were starting to build up that relationship with the retail stores and the customers. People were starting to get curious about craft beer.”
While curiosity grows and demand entices supply, more brewers will ascend from their basements and into entrepreneurship. Naturally, the currently complementing companies will eventually become competitors. So which ones will stay, and which flavors will fizzle out?
“Sure, anything that witnesses a boom like this industry has seen will no doubt fall back. I don’t know when, but it will probably happen,” Mahler admitted. “Putting out the quality product is the most important thing and will no doubt separate those who make it here from those that can’t keep up.”
Brewing may be an impassioned endeavour, but passion alone can only get you so far, said Carlson, who’s been an owner at Court Avenue Brewing Company since 2001. Start-up brewers have to have both an affinity for the craft and a business-savvy ambition.
“Entering this industry isn’t easy; you need a business as well as artistic sense when it comes to brewing,” said Randall Romens, co-owner of Keg Creek Brewery in Glenwood. “Managing your growth is crucial. Those who start smaller and are willing to build themselves up slowly will have a better chance of success.”
Even the critics and the realists have hopes and optimism for every restaurant and brewer involved.
Central Iowans love beer
It’s not just brewers who have confidence in their product and in Des Moines’ ability to sustain the industry. Steve Larson from the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division also maintains a strong faith in the Des Moines market and notes that the growth of craft brewing “reflects a national trend.”
“Overall, beer is the favorite alcohol category among those Iowans who consume alcoholic beverages,” Larson said. “Des Moines metro continues to grow in population, and with that growth you have consumers within this metro area who can sustain craft brewing if the product tastes good.”
Craft beer has undeniably changed the way people consume alcohol, and the Internet has impacted this change. Hopping online and searching different brewery sites is easy, and customer review sites start conversations with others drinking the same beer from another part of the country. No longer is beer just bringing people together, but it seems craft beer is now bringing people together to talk about beer. And at taprooms and tastings, consumers can give direct feedback to the brewer, so he can master his craft, essentially giving the consumer input in the process.
“People are talking online and going to festivals and discussing which beer they like best and how its subtle tones affect the meal it’s paired with,” Romens said. “The communication is about what people like, not what they don’t like.”
From completion to competition
“Everyone always asks us, ‘Aren’t you worried about the competition with all the new breweries coming into Iowa? Won’t that take volume away from you?’ ” said Albert. “In the last two years that the microbrew craze has hit Iowa and when most of these new breweries have opened up, Millstream Brewery has been growing on an average of 20 percent each year. We are not the only Iowa brewery to see this type of growth.
“It’s not about the competition; it’s about the education of the consumer,” Albert added. “The more beers out there to try, the more people are going to drink more of them and continue to do so. This is happening in the Des Moines market right now and will continue that way. What a great audience Des Moines is for new small businesses and growth.”
“Brewers aren’t out there targeting other brands,” Mahler explained. “Everyone is just trying to put out the best product they can for their customers.”
Time will tell if these breweries can sustain in Des Moines, but it seems no amount of dissuasion and devil’s-advocating can convince these men and women to doubt their brewing investments. The only place where competition would be necessary is on the grocery store shelf, where the “kings of beer,” like Budweiser products, reign supreme and space is limited.
“And bars only have so many tap handles,” added Linn. “But as long as these breweries stay small and sell growlers from their tasting rooms, and as long as their flavors remain fairly consistent and eclectic, they’ll do just fine.”
Trying something new
“There are over 120 different styles of beer, you’re sure to find something you like,” said Romen, adding “[and] if you don’t like beer, you haven’t drank enough.”
It’s no secret that aside from festivals and events, el Bait Shop in Des Moines is one of the leading bars in the state to try a variety of these crafts, with more than 100 taps touting craft beers and counting all under one roof.
“I think, just like anything, these breweries are businesses, and there isn’t anything to say that they will be successful, to be honest,” said Jeff Bruning, Full Court Press partner (a group of bar/restaurant owners in the Des Moines metro) who manages at el Bait Shop.
“But Iowa has the potential because there is a wide open market for it,” Bruning continued. “There is a large enough crowd of people that want to try something different. These businesses need to make good, unique beers and drive people to their places, and I think it’s safe to say, there are a lot of people rooting for these places to succeed.”
“It’s about getting people exposed to the different flavors and stepping outside of their comfort zones because there’s definitely something for everybody,” LePera said. “When people’s palates evolve and get turned on to craft beer, it’s kind of funny to watch their whole world open up. It’s like being bitten by the bug.” CV
– Eberhard Anheuser becomes part owner of Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis, Mo., celebrating opening day in 1852.
– Adolphus Busch opens a brewery in St. Louis in 1852.
– More than 50 breweries open in the St. Louis area after an influx of German immigration.
– Eberhard Anheuser buys out other investors to form E. Anheuser & Co. (1860).
– Adophus Busch meets Eberhard Anheuser and marries his daughter (1861).
– Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is formed in New York by women concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing families and society (1874).
– Adolphus Busch and Carl Conrad create an American-style lager beer they named Budweiser (1876).
– Busch introduces the pasteurization process to brewing beer.
– Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association forms (1879).
– German immigrants continue to bring lager beer to the United States, and its popularity increases.
– Beer surpasses distilled spirits as the principal source of beverage alcohol in the American market.
– American home brewers form “tied house” saloons to advertise and sell craft beers on tap.
– The number of saloons grows so that most U.S. cities have a saloon for every 150 people.
– Competing saloons begin to allow other activities such as gambling, cock-fighting, and prostitution in order to entice customers.
– The Anti-Saloon League was formed in Ohio (1893).
– Anheuser-Busch develops America’s first specialty beer, Michelob (1896).
– Iowan John Brown Hammond crashed “a blind tiger” party in Bunker Hill where booze was being shared and wrecked it with a chair (1899).
– “Shipping brewers, such as Pabst of Milwaukee, Wis., Anheuser and Busch of St. Louis, Mo., and even some smaller firms, like Hoster, of Columbus, Ohio, begin expanding shipping beer regionally.
– Iowan Smith Wildman Brookhart begins his temperance works as a county attorney in Washington County, opposing the local option Prohibition laws, fearing his dry home county would return to liquor sales (1904).
– World War I spurs Prohibition debate, and Iowa Sen. William Kenyon asks Congress: “Why should the country permit working men to be employed in the useless manufacture of intoxicating liquor when there is a shortage of labor in the important and necessary work to carry on the war?”
– Technological advancements such as the railroad, the telegraph and mechanical refrigeration trigger growth in the food manufacturing, processing and distribution industries enabling enterprising brewers to build very large firms capable of large production volumes and wide distribution in national and even international markets.
– Iowan Ida B. Wise joins Iowa’s WCTU as a young mother and goes on to hold almost every office, including its president for 20 years (1913 to 1933).
– Prohibition is enacted in Iowa in 1916, making the manufacturing and sale of alcohol illegal.
– U.S. prohibition is enacted with the passage of the 18th amendment, immediately forming the underground bootlegging market.
– Illegal bootlegging booms in Iowa because of the easy access to a key ingredient in alcohol manufacturing — corn — and includes primarily whiskey, wine, gin and home brewed beer that is often dangerous to drink due to the lack of safety and health guidelines.
– Avid Prohibition leader from Iowa, Smith Wildman Brookhart, is elected to the U.S. Senate (1922).
– A “gallon of alky” can be purchased in Iowa speakeasies and back alleys for $16 to $25 each.
– Prices for a gallon of bootlegged alcohol drop to $5 due to competition in the black market.
– Feds raid a home in Davenport and find two stills with daily production capacities of 100 gallons (1923).
– Winneshiek County Sheriff Frank Christen seizes 23 whiskey stills in his first two weeks on the job.
– Sen. Brookhart loses his race for another term in the U.S. Senate (1926).
– The first aerial bootleggers are caught in Marshalltown in 1928 when they try to land a plane full of moonshine.
– A mobster named “Cherry Nose,” begins working for Al Capone, overseeing gambling, prostitution and bootlegging rings in Des Moines, which continues through 1936. Officials fear Des Moines is on its way to becoming “Little Chicago.”
– Smith Wildman Brookhart begins a national Prohibition tour to stop any repeal attempts of the 18th Amendment.
– Des Moines Police Chief John Brown Hammond reduces the number of city pharmacists with liquor permits (for medicine containing alcohol as an ingredient) from 410 to only 12.
– Mob leaders set a minimum price of $8.50 on one gallon of alcohol, including a $1.50 “protection” fee (1931).
– Des Moines police raid Raccoon River railroad homeless camps, where hobos were straining homemade alcohol through handkerchiefs.
– Chief Hammond fires his entire police force based on rumors that the liquor squad was selling confiscated alcohol (1932).
– More than 20,000 people are jailed within a six-month period for bootlegging, which carries a $500 fine or six-month jail sentence — most are jailed because they cannot afford to pay the fine.
– Enforcement of Prohibition grows exceedingly difficult and expensive, and public opinion turns against the law.
– Men protest an Iowa WCTU convention by carrying beer mugs into the meeting.
– President Herbert Hoover proposes that the decision regarding alcohol’s legal status falls to individual states.
– The 1932 presidential election has Prohibition as a primary platform item, and both political parties consider repealing the 18th Amendment to increase tax money and employment in the nation.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt and other Democratic candidates win in Iowa.
– Iowan voters end Prohibition in the state (1933).
– The 21st Amendment passes, repealing the 18th Amendment, putting an end to federal Prohibition1933.
– Anheuser-Busch hits the 2 million barrel mark (1938).
– Ida B. Wise, the head of the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and former head of the Iowa WCTU, continues to lead efforts to return both the state and the nation to Prohibition (1930s and ’40s).
– Anheuser-Busch sales increase from 3 million barrels per year to more than 34 million.
– Anheuser-Busch becomes the leading U.S. brewer.
– Anheuser-Busch introduces Bud Light to the beer market (1982).
– Millstream Brewing Company opens in Amana (1985)
– Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company opens in Des Moines (1996)
– Cedar Brewing Company (Third Base Brewery) opens in Cedar Rapids (1996).
– Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery opens in West Des Moines (1998).
– Raccoon River Brewing Company opens in Des Moines.
– Beck’s Sports Brewery opens in Waterloo in May, 2000.
– Granite City Food & Brewery opens in Clive (2002).
– Blue Mountain Lodge opened in Orange City in Norwood (2005).
– Worth Brewing Company opened in Northwood on March 17, 2007.
– Cityview holds first annual Brewfest (2007).
– Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery opens in McGregor in late December, 2007.
– Anheuser-Busch joins InBev to become Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest brewer and one of the top five consumer goods companies in the world (2008).
– In January of 2009 wine-maker Mason Groben begins an intensive campaign at the Iowa Capital to get Iowa Code Section 123.45 changed; the law forbade an employee of a winery (in this case Jasper Winery) from also working for another manufacturer of alcoholic beverages. After several months Senate File 420 was passed and signed into law, making it possible for Groben to diversify Jasper Winery to include Madhouse Brewery.
– Toppling Goliath Brewing Company opens in Decorah (2009).
– Peace Tree Brewing Company opens in Knoxville (2009).
– Madhouse Brewing Company opens in Newton in January, 2010.
– Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signs a law that will let Iowa breweries make beer with up to 12 percent alcohol content, putting Iowa breweries on an equal playing field nationally.
– Van Houzen Brewing Company opens in Newton in early 2011.
– Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company opens in Ottumwa.
– First annual Iowa Craft Brew Festival is held in Des Moines on May 21, 2011.
– Keg creek Brewing Company opens in Glenwood during the summer of 2011.
– Twisted Vine Brewery holds grand opening in St. Charles on July 2, 2011.
– Iowa Craft Beer Tent debuts at the Iowa State Fair (2011).
– Broad Street Brewing Company opens in Reinbeck (2011).
– Okoboji Brewing Company opens in Spirit Lake in January, 2012.
– Boone Valley Brewing Company opens in Boone on March 31, 2012.
– Backpocket Brewing Company opens in Coralville in July, 2012.
– Number 7 Brewing Company opens in Ankeny in August, 2012.
– Exile Brewing Company opens in Des Moines in September, 2012.
– Confluence Brewing Company opens in Des Moines in October, 2012.Source: “Iowa and Prohibition: Good Intentions Turns To Toxic Brew” by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.; “Temperance & Prohibition” by the Ohio State University History Department; Anheuser-Busch.com.
List of Iowa Breweries515 Brewing Company – COMING SOON 7700 University Ave., Clive
(515) 661-4615 Angry Cedar Brewing Company 730 Technology Place, Waverly Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company 332 E. Main St., Ottumwa (641) 684-4008 Backpocket Brewing Company Coralville
(563) 873-1999 Beck’s Sports Brewery 3295 University Ave., Waterloo (319) 234-4333 Blue Mountain Lodge 814 Lincoln Place S.E., Orange City (712) 737-3553 Boone Valley Brewing Company 816 7th St., Boone (515) 432-1232 Briar Creek Brewery Janesville Broad Street Brewing Company 113 Broad Street, Reinbeck
(319) 350-0749 C.I.B. (Chefs In Black) Brewery 121 Broadway Boulevard, Carson
(515) 450-2981 Confluence Brewing Company 1235 Thomas Beck Road, Suite A, Des Moines
(515) 490-0605 Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company 309 Court Ave., Des Moines
(515) 282-2739 Depot Deli & Lounge (1983 or 86) 101 North Railroad St., Shenandoah
(712) 246-4444 Exile brewing Company 1514 Walnut St., Des Moines
(515) 577-5607 Front Street Brewery 208 East River Drive, Davenport
563-322-1569 Granite City Food & Brewery, Cedar Rapids 4755 1st Ave. S.E., Cedar Rapids
(319) 395-7500 Granite City Food & Brewery – Clive 12801 University Ave., Clive (515) 224-1300 Granite City Food & Brewery – Davenport 5270 Utica Rdg Road, Davenport
(563) 344-9700 Great River Brewery 332 E. 2nd St., Davenport (563) 323-5210 Guerrilla Brewing Company Waterloo Heartbreak Brewing – IN PLANNING Des Moines Iowa River Brewing – IN PLANNING 107 N. 1st St., Marshalltown (641) 751-2848 Keg creek Brewing Company 111 Sharp Street, Glenwood (712) 520-9029 Lost Duck Brewing Company 725 Ave. H, Fort Madison (319) 372-8255 Madhouse Brewing Company 403 W. 4th St. N., Newton (641) 831-3392 Mason City Brewing – COMING SOON Mason City (612) 567-0103 Millstream Brewing Company 835 48th Ave., Amana (319) 622-3672 New American Brewing Co. – IN PLANNING Ankeny (515) 250-8703 Number 7 Brewing Company 302 S.W. Maple St., Ankeny (515) 991-8680 Okoboji Brewing Company 3705 Hwy 71 S., Spirit Lake
(563) 581-0060 Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery 123 A St., McGregor (563) 873-1999 Olde Main Brewing Company & Restaurant 316 Main Street, Ames (515) 232-0553 Peace Tree Brewing Company 107 W. Main St., Knoxville (641) 842-2739 Raccoon River Brewing Company 200 10th Street, Des Moines
(515) 362-5222 NO MESSAGE Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery 4508 University Ave., West Des Moines
(515) 267-8900 SingleSpeed Brewing Company – COMING SOON 128 Main Street, Cedar Falls
(319) 123-1234 Slew City Brewing Company – IN PLANNING Cedar Rapids Sutliff Cider Company 382 Sutliff Road, Lisbon
(319) 455-4093 Third Base Sports Bar & Brewery
500 Blairs Ferry Road N.E., Cedar Rapids
(319) 378-9090 Toppling Goliath Brewing Company 310 College Drive, Decorah
(563) 387-6700 Twisted Vine Brewery 3021 St. Charles Road, Saint Charles Van Houzen Brewing Company 6602 Ginger Ave., Newton
(319) 594-9684 West Okoboji Beer Company – COMING SOON 1201 11th Ave. S.E., Spencer
(712) 260-3715 Worth Brewing Company 826 Central Ave., Northwood