In the two years since I last took a look at the craft breweries of Iowa, we’ve seen some exceptional new additions to the scene. In all corners of the state, the craft beer scene seems to be taking off, leaving no shortage of first rate beer in Iowa. Because it’s summer time, and everyone loves beer in the summer, I’m going to spend the summer updating you drunk bastards on some of our fair state’s newest and best suds servers.
PULPIT ROCK BREWING COMPANY
207 College Drive, Decorah
Quite literally a stone’s throw away from Iowa’s undisputed titan of craft beer (Toppling Goliath) sits a tiny little brewery tucked into the back of a laundromat. Don’t let the low key location fool you, though. In less than one year, Pulpit Rock has exploded onto the Iowa beer scene. Head brewers Bob Slack and Justin Teff embrace a litany of styles and make excellent examples of pretty much whatever style they turn their attention to. From juicy, hazy East Coast hop bomb IPAs to chocolate coconut porters that taste like drinking an Almond Joy (in the best way possible) bar, no end of the beer spectrum is ignored at Pulpit Rock. The cozy taproom (adorned with pictures of the titular stone) expands from March-ish through November-ish via a nifty overhead door connecting it to the patio. With well positioned TVs for sporting events, and bartenders with excellent music taste for not-sporting events, the taproom itself is just a fun place to be. But enough of that, let’s get on to the beer!
Saftig. On some days, I think this is the best Iowa beer in regular-to-constant rotation. This juicy East Coast hop bomb that features Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic hops is basically hop juice in a glass. It goes down easy in any situation and has a remarkably refreshing quality that lends itself to not wanting to ever stop drinking it.
For the Joy of Almonds. This gem might have earned my nomination for best Iowa beer of 2015. It is a chocolate coconut almond Porter that’s served on nitro. Yes, Virginia. Beer Santa is real. It’s smooth as fuck, as there’s just something about the nitro beers at Pulpit that make them have a texture that borders on solid, but stays light and fluffy at the same time. All the flavors listed are present, and this is the kind of beer that pretty much anyone can appreciate. If you find it, drink it.
Mr. Hoppy Pants. I’ve heard this is great, but I haven’t gotten to try it yet. AHEM. THE FUCK GUYS?
ALLUVIAL BREWING COMPANY
3715 W 190th St, Ames
Way out on the north edge of Ames sits, in my opinion, the most unique taproom facility in the state. It also is home to one of my Top 5 breweries in Iowa. Nestled on the edge of a beautiful chunk of prairie, next to Prairie Moon Winery, the taproom features walking trails through the native grasses so you can take your beer outside, and get lost in the middle of a little slice of Iowa’s past. The interior is clean and comfortable, and doubles as a gallery for Central Iowa artists. They offer homemade flavored popcorn to make you thirsty, and have a solid list of NA options, including their own kombucha. On the beer side of things, Alluvial does a great job of spanning the range of styles, showing their hand in mastering the two styles that beer nerds lose their shit over – IPAs and Imperial stouts. Just one year into their adventure, Alluvial is consistently cranking out great beer and offers Cyclone fans the opportunity to get their great beer fix while visiting Ames. Let’s check out the beers.
Helix. Much like Pulpit Rock’s Saftig, this is a fantastic East Coastish hazy IPA. It’s hazy, juicy, and a full on assault of citrus hop flavors. It’s light body goes well with repeat consumption and it’s a classic example/testament to why this style has gotten so damned popular.
Oxpresso. Making a strong push for the best "every day" stout in the state, Oxpresso is arguably the flagship of Alluvial at this point. With nearly guaranteed availability at the tap room, you can always trust on this reliable oatmeal stout with excellent coffee and chocolate notes to be an option during a visit. While not as sexy as some of it’s variants, you won’t be disappointed.
Aurox with Maple Syrup. So there are several layers going on here. First is that Aurox is the Imperial version of Oxpresso. Secondly is the addition of maple syrup, which anyone lucky enough to have imbibed Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight knows is a great thing to combine with beer. Aurox with maple syrup stands right up to the aforementioned highly (and worthily) hyped brew. If you see this beer, drink this beer. Period.
LION BRIDGE BREWING COMPANY
59 16th Ave SW, Czech Village, Cedar Rapids
Nestled in the heart of the Czech Village, just south of downtown Cedar Rapids sits the place that (according to an anonymous but well known member of the state’s craft beer community) makes probably the best, in terms of nailing the stylistic guidelines, beer in the state. With the Czech heritage being an obvious influence, Lion Bridge focuses on making high quality examples of many traditional European styles. They’ve probably done as well as any Iowa brewer at the Great American Beer Fest over the past couple of years, and I’ve yet to try a poorly made beer from them. Don’t let my praise for sticking to the style make you think they make boring beer, either. Where the hell else are you going to find a mushroom porter? The taproom itself is a great atmosphere, with large communal tables that force you to maybe talk to a stranger, and huge windows that lend a great view of the bustle in the Czech Village and keep things well lit. The open space lends itself well to live music as well, and provides a great anchor point for a cool district in an up-and-coming town.
Disaster At Meux
This English Porter is named after an unfortunate incident in 19th Century Britain where giant vats of porter exploded and flooded the streets. Wasting alcohol is generally not a cause worthy of celebration, but when you knock the style out of a park with a nice biscuit-like body, some coffee, some chocolate, and an overall easy drinking nature that should help anyone hesitant about drinking "dark" beer drink dark beer.
Starting with the base of the aforementioned Disaster at Meux, Lion Bridge went out and did something completely fucking insane, and I love them for it. They made a beer using Chanterelle mushrooms. With all the base notes of it’s parent beer, this version brings an awesome briny, salty, mushroom quality to the beer. It might sound disgusting, but this was one of the coolest beers I’ve had in a long time.
Without a doubt, this is Lion Bridge’s best known brew, and with good reason. This light bodied, easy drinking beer has a dark brown coloring, and pulls together all the classic toffee, biscuit, and chocolate flavors that are traditionally associated with the English Mild style of beer. Clocking in around 4.5% alcohol, this Great American Beer Fest Gold Medal winner puts together a world class combination of flavor, drinkability, and the ability to drink a whole crap ton of it without killing yourself.
We hope you enjoyed this round of Iowa Craft Beer, and while it won’t necessarily be a regular feature, we’ll do our best to keep you thirsty bastards apprised of the growing Iowa beer scene! Cheers!