Iowa may be best known as a state that produces quality agricultural products, but with each passing year, it is also earning a standout reputation in another category: craft brewing.
Since the early 2000s, Iowa’s craft beer industry has seen substantial expansion on a commercial and private level. In 2011, the state was home to 27 craft breweries, but by 2016, that number had grown to 70. Travel Iowa, the state’s Destination Marketing Organization, notes that nearly 40 new breweries have opened in the state in the last three years alone.
An economic impact report regarding Iowa’s craft beer industry was prepared and funded by the Iowa Wine and Beer Promotion Board. The report stated the economic impact of the Iowa craft brewing industry in 2014 resulted in an increase in the industrial production of Iowa by more than $100 million, which generated more than 1,500 jobs and increased personal income by nearly $42 million for Iowans. The report projected beer production by the state’s craft breweries and brewpubs would increase from the 2014 level of 40,786 barrels to more than 146,000 barrels by 2019, a more than 500 percent increase. Also, the in-state consumption of craft beer was expected to increase over the same period from 33,446 barrels to more than 120,000 barrels.
According to the most recent data collected by the national Brewers Association, those initial reports are spot on as Iowa produced approximately 61,200 barrels of craft beer in 2016, or 0.9 gallons of beer per adult aged 21 years and older annually. That was a 20 percent increase in the number of brewing establishments from 2015.
The Brewers Association also noted craft brewing in Iowa made a total economic impact of $861 million that year. That impressive number is no surprise given the Brewers Association compared Iowa to similarly sized states (based on electoral vote numbers) and determined the Hawkeye State ranked second in that group in the number of breweries residing in state lines (behind only Oregon) and fifth in the group in beer production.
One locale that is reaping the benefits of the craft beer boom is Iowa City, which is home to six breweries and one cidery.
“The Iowa City area is in a Renaissance in the craft brewing industry,” said Nick Pfeiffer, director of marketing and communications for the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With the beer comes great dining and entertainment options that serve a multitude of visitors seeking a unique experience. The collaboration our breweries have with local farmers, restaurants, and entertainers creates a synergy that everyone benefits from.”
Like Iowa City, Des Moines, the state capital and most populous city in the state, has embraced the recent swell of breweries.
One such way Des Moines is capitalizing on the brewery influx is by creating Brew Moines, a mobile application curated by Catch Des Moines, the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, which rewards craft beer enthusiasts for visiting breweries and beer bars in the metro. Brew Moines lists 15 local breweries and taprooms, and those who have downloaded the app can check in at these establishments. Some of the perks that accompany checking in include getting a buy-one-get one-free beer at certain establishments, discounts from participating breweries, free T-shirts and more.
Brew Moines promotes local beer events and sends push notifications for brewery specials. The app also provides descriptions and directions to each brewery and keeps a list of which establishments a person has visited.
“Since 2010, the number of breweries in the state has tripled and the craft brewing industry has a $100 million impact on the economy in Iowa alone, supporting 1,500 jobs,” said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines. “Our job at Catch Des Moines is to bring more visitors to the area, which is why the Brew Moines beer passport app made perfect sense.”
While the Brewers Association report shows there is a higher concentration of breweries in larger cities and metropolitan areas such as Des Moines and Iowa City, the distribution of breweries ranges widely throughout the state. Smaller cities and rural areas are also home to some of Iowa’s finest breweries. Evidence of this can be found in a list released by the Brewers Association, showcasing America’s 50 fastest growing craft breweries of 2017. One brewery from a small city on the list, Keg Creek Brewing Co. (ranked 18th), is based in Glenwood, a city with a population of 5,269.
Another example of this is Clive, a city sporting 15,447 residents, which is home to 515 Brewing Company, the winner of the 2016 Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the Fruit Wheat Beer category. Another top-notch brewery, Toppling Goliath Brewery, which placed five beers on the Top Beers of the Year list by RateBeer – a connoisseur-focused beer review site – in 2016, is located in Decorah, a city with a population of 8,127.
Because the state has so many quality breweries, the Iowa Brewers Guild, a nonprofit organization working to showcase and improve the quality of beer brewed in Iowa, created six Iowa Beer Trails (the maps are updated annually in May) featuring more than 70 participating Iowa Brewers Guild member breweries from across the state. The six trails cover Western Iowa (six trails), Des Moines Metro (15 trails), Central Iowa (11 trails), Northeast Iowa (16 trails), the Corridor (15 trails) and Southeast Iowa (nine trails).
Regardless of where one’s travels transpire, visitors to the Hawkeye State will find an assortment of Iowa-brewed beers and award-winning favorites that will assuage anyone’s palate.