What’s the best brewery in Iowa?
It’s a tough question to answer. There are too many good ones!
So we put it to you for the definitive list.
Brewing is in the culture
Iowans have been drinking basically since we became a state.
Our first official brewery was The City Brewery in Davenport, which opened its doors in 1850—four years after the US accepted Iowa as a state in 1846. At that time, the state was giving away farmland to large numbers of German immigrants, who brought their beer-loving culture with them.
Prohibition in 1920 put the brakes on (legal) brewing, and after the law was repealed in 1933, the Iowa Liquor Control Act kept the sale of liquor and wine tightly restricted for years. It wasn’t until 1963 that it became legal to be served “liquor by the drink,” AKA a mixed drink; until 1972 when it became legal to buy alcohol from a gas station; and 1973 that it became legal to buy alcohol on a Sunday. (There are still US states that don’t allow Sunday sales.)
It wasn’t until 1981 that tap rooms were legalized, allowing an Iowa beer brewer to sell their beer on site (albeit through a wholesaler). That year, workers went on strike at the only brewery in Iowa at that time, Pickett Brewing Company in Dubuque, protesting they couldn’t compete with the big beer companies. Workers were right to worry: Pickett was later bought out by a larger company, and then closed. (The location now houses Stone Cliff Winery.)
In 1989, Iowa created a new permit allowing for the creation of brewpubs in the state, and Fitzpatricks in Iowa City was the first to offer beer for sale. Fitzpatricks became Old Capitol Brew Works and closed in 2015.
In 2010, the state passed a law allowing high alcohol content beer to be sold, or beer that is between 5% and 12% alcohol by weight. That allowed for an infusion of specialty beer to flood in from neighboring states, and for breweries themselves to make such beer.
And in 2015, brew pubs were allowed to sell their beer wholesale to other states, as well as sell and fill (or refill) growler containers.
As restrictions on alcohol were lifted, more breweries began popping up all over.
In 2014, Iowa’s breweries produced nearly 41,000 barrels of beer and had a $100 million impact on the state’s economy. By 2018, the number of barrels produced had tripled to 120,000 barrels, and breweries’ economic impact by 2022 had risen to more than a billion dollars, according to the Iowa Brewers Guild.
As of this writing, there are 115 breweries in 76 cities all across Iowa.
So how do you know which ones to visit? Let Iowans tell you:
The best breweries in Iowa
If you can’t visit all 115+, which ones should you put on your list?
There’s no clear favorite: Iowans who saw this question in their Facebook feeds put a whopping 61 different breweries in the comments over the past week.
Because that’s a lot to call “the best,” we’ve narrowed it down to 36 breweries that were mentioned or liked the most. They span the state, so it’s likely there’s one near you. (Read all of Iowans’ suggestions here.)
They are presented in alphabetical order by name:
- Allerton Brewing Company (Independence)
- Barn Town Brewing (West Des Moines)
- Big Grove Brewery (Iowa City, Solon, Des Moines)
- Brightside Ale Works (Altoona)
- Clock House Brewing (Cedar Rapids)
- Confluence Brewing Company (Des Moines)
- Contrary Brewing Company (Muscatine)
- Dimensional Brewing Company (Dubuque)
- Exile Brewing Company (Des Moines)
- Fat Hill Brewing (Mason City)
- Fenceline Beer Lab (Huxley)
- Fenders Brewing (Polk City)
- Franklin Street Brewing Company (Manchester)
- Front Street Brewery (Davenport)
- Gezellig Brewing Company (Newton)
- Green Tree Brewery (Le Claire)
- Hot Air Brewing (Creston)
- Jubeck New World Brewing (Dubuque)
- Keg Creek Brewing Company (Glenwood)
- Lion Bridge Brewing Company (Cedar Rapids)
- Lua Brewing (Des Moines)
- Maquoketa Brewing (Maquoketa)
- Marto Brewing Company (Sioux City)
- Millstream Brewing Company (Amana)
- Peace Tree Brewing Company (Des Moines)
- PIVO Brewery (Calmar)
- Pulpit Rock Brewing Company (Decorah)
- Reclaimed Rails Brewing Company (Bondurant)
- ReUnion Brewery (Iowa City, Coralville)
- SingleSpeed Brewing (Waterloo, Cedar Falls [Des Moines open July 12, 2023])
- Tellurian Brewing (Charles City)
- Textile Brewing Company (Dyersville)
- Toppling Goliath Brewing Company (Decorah)
- West Hill Brewing Company (Indianola)
- West O Beer (West Okoboji)
- Worth Brewing Company (Northwood)
UPDATE: ISL reader Caleb Whitehouse was kind enough to turn this into a map! Thanks Caleb!
by Amie Rivers
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