Iowa Microbreweries Find Niche in Local Production

Photo by: Kara Bennett

Success starts with the support from area community

Producing locally made beer and wine is gaining popularity across the country, and companies in the beer brewing business are beginning to implement more sustainable methods of production. According to the Iowa Brewers Guild, the state of Iowa is home to over twenty different microbreweries, many of which have only started production in the past ten years.

These new companies are flourishing not only for their innovation in the production process, but because of community passion for local processing and quality made beer. Peace Tree Brewing Company of Knoxville, Old Man River Brewing Company of McGregor, and Millstream Brewing Company of the Amana Colonies, are three of the largest microbreweries in Iowa, and each of them are bringing better products to their local communities while working to minimize environmental impact.

One of the main goals of the Iowa Brewers Guild, an organization that represents a collection of Iowa’s brewers, is to advocate for the promotion of a local brewing community. Connecting with the community increases the likelihood of a microbrewer’s longevity. It is an important factor in any sustainable production, and its something that Millstream Brewing Company has known for years.

“Our brewery is essentially the hub to the Amana Colonies,” said Teresa Albert, co-owner and marketing manager of the Millstream Brewing Company. “We’re involved in ninety percent of the events in the Amana Colonies. I want to make sure that we are doing our part, so we take it upon ourselves to organize and plan for things that will help Amana grow and bring tourism into the area.”

Millstream organizes a wide range of events throughout the year, including beer festivals to raise money for charities and a bike riding beer tour where donations go to the local bike trail.

The company also is conscious of recycling and the amount of waste they produce. “At Millstream, everything is recycled. The only waste that is generated from the brewing process is spent grain. We then donate this to a local farmer for his livestock feed,” said Albert. “Part of our cost savings comes from this commitment to recycling and reducing waste.”

But it is not just the Amana Colonies that Millstream Brewing Company supports; it is the entire state of Iowa. “We kind of sat back and thought, why are we trying to go out of state? We’ve dedicated ourselves to letting Iowa know who we are. By staying in Iowa, customers know they are getting a fresher, more local product,” said Albert.

Outreach and Authenticity

Although Millstream Brewing is the oldest brewery in Iowa, they share the same commitments with those that are newer to the business. Down south, Peace Tree Brewing Company also considers investing in the community as an important part of local, sustainable production. Part of their success as a new microbrewery is due to the positive community response. “We are helping to bring tourism to Knoxville,” said Megan McKay Ziller, co-owner of Peace Tree.

In the craft-brewing world, any outreach benefits the business. For Earth Day, owners of the brewing company handed out sycamore saplings, a tree native to Iowa. When in season, the brewmasters use ingredients from Knoxville farmers.

“We incorporate Iowa ingredients into our beer whenever we can,” said Ziller. Their “Cornucopia” beer, a farmhouse style ale, is brewed with Iowa sweet corn from Dan-D Farms, a local farm in Knoxville. “The response to this beer has been overwhelming, people love knowing that it is produced in Iowa with Iowa ingredients.”

Fermenting tanks for yeast, one of only four ingredients in Old Man River Brewing Company's beer. Photo by: Kara Bennett

Not every microbrewery is able to use local ingredients, but there are other ways to locally “sell” craft beers to a community. Farther north in Iowa, Old Man River Brewing Company is favored by the town of McGregor because of their outlook: simplicity. Their motto to ‘slow down and appreciate the simple things’ developed from their simplistic style of production and their appeal to the down-to-earth Iowan lifestyle.

“We stick to German Purity Laws, where beer has only four main ingredients: water, hops, malted barley, and yeast,” said Jacob Simmons, the head brewmaster at Old Man River Brewing. The Purity Laws result in a beer free of preservatives and additives.

But they are also doing something else along the lines of sustainable production: energy conservation and reuse.

The brewery is in the planning process for their next plant, and sustainability is on their minds as they begin designing. “We plan to use state of the art equipment to reduce energy outputs. Our cleaning system will be reusing cleaning chemicals and recapturing rinse water,” said Jacob Simmons, the head brewmaster at Old Man River Brewing.

“Energy savings coincide with quality brewing,” said Simmons. “It is something that our customers appreciate.”

The benefit of supporting communities is gaining a retailer’s appreciation for a local product. Any company that supports its network of suppliers, customers and community will continue to thrive. In Iowa City, like-minded restaurant and bar owners respond to the microbreweries’ appreciation for community with eagerness to supply their product.

“Iowa City is our biggest customer by far,” said Teresa Albert of Millstream Brewery. “They like craft beers, they like unique things, and they just embrace us. Locally produced beer is a niche that has worked really well for Iowa City businesses.”

To learn more about how Iowa restaurants are becoming more sustainable, read this related story about retailers in Iowa City who are sourcing locally.

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