With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve quaffed our way now to the fifteenth state on the list, The Hawkeye State, Iowa. The state’s nickname is a tribute to Sauk Tribal Chief Black Hawk. Our only state to have its eastern and western borders formed by rivers, Iowa’s economy is oft defined by its location in the heart of the “corn belt.”
Iowa ranks 30th in total population (roughly 3.1 million) and housed 46 craft breweries as of2014 (roughly 60 today) who are represented by the Iowa Brewers Guild. The state ranks 21st in total breweries and 15th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Even before Iowa became a state in 1846, its territorial legislators did all they could to limit consumption with prohibitions and bans. In 1850, Mathais Frahm established the state’s first brewery, named Davenport. Then, eight years after statehood, Iowa’s citizens approved a prohibition law, which was later amended to allow for beer and wine, primarily to appease the fast growing German population. The constant on-again/off-again nature of beer’s legality in the state is well illustrated by the “Beer Riot” that occurred in Iowa City, August of 1884.
State prohibition laws were changed, struck down, re-voted upon and largely ignored throughout the 1870’s and 80’s, especially once a law was passed taxing the sale of non-pharmaceutical alcohol. Then Iowa became the 31st state to ratify prohibition in 1919. This history of brewing in the state following ratification of the Volstead Act until the rise of craft beer is pretty sparse other than the state having controlled the sale and distribution of all alcohol (via the ABD or Alcoholic Beverages Division). The ABD’s grip on alcohol in the state has lessened over the past 30 years, including removal of the 5% ABV restriction on beer in 2010 (current limit is 15.2%).
The state’s oldest craft brewer, as well as its most decorated at GABF (10 medals) is Millstream Brewing out of Amana, Iowa, which was founded in 1985. The end of restrictions on craft beer ABV in 2010 had a huge impact with the total number of breweries in the state tripling over the past 5 years.
Five More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Great River Brewery (Davenport) – Originally starting as a brewpub in Iowa City called Old Capitol Brew Works in 2005, Great River started in it’s present location in 2008. They feature some of the best rated beers in the state, all distributed in cans, including their Red Band Stout, Dirty Blonde (chocolate ale) and their double dark rye pale ale Hopapotamus.
Lion Bridge Brewing (Cedar Rapids) – Open almost 2 years now, this 10-barrel brewer has already managed to attain two GABF gold medals for their Workman’s Compensation English Mild and Disaster at Meux Brown Porter. Offering artisan eats paired well with their creative brews, this Eastern Iowa gem is not to be missed.
Madhouse Brewing (Des Moines) – Today specializing in barrel-aged and brett/sour beers, Madhouse Brewing opened it’s doors in 2009 as the IPA craze was sweeping the country. They distribute their 5 flagships in 6-packs and 22oz bottles, plus have an additional 6 seasonals also distributed in bottles, including their whiskey barrel aged Barleywine and Vanilla Imperial Porter.
Toppling Goliath Brewing (Decorah) – From the outside in, this is probably the brewer most beer nerds associate with Iowa due to the success of their PsuedoSue Pale Ale among others. Around for over 6 years now, TGB has expanded from a 10 to 30 barrel system, is producing 10 regular and season offerings, plus another 10 hop focused beers and yet another 7 specialty barrel-aged and double IPA creations.
West O Beer (West Okoboji) – Taking up residence on the south side of the lake of the same name almost 3 years ago, West O is clearly one of those neighborhood brewpubs. They only bottle 4 of their regular brews and produce another 5 seasonal and tap only beers, yet are best known for their 2014 + 2014 GABF Gold winning CocO Stout – a cream stout brewed with lactose sugar, cocoa nibs , bourbon vanilla beans and candi sugar.
Looking for more Iowa Brewers? Look no further than iowacraftbeertent.com.