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Raising The Bar: Iowa’s New High-ABV Beers

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by Ryan Van Velzer

In March, Iowa’s legislature eased restrictions on high-octane brewsraising the cap on ABVs from 6.2% to 15%. Before the “beer equality law” passed, state-sponsored vendors controlled the high-gravity beer market, and Iowans could only sip imperial stouts and Belgian ales from out-of-state breweries. Now that the state’s brewing big, we asked eight Iowa beer makers to give us a taste of what’s on tap and what’s in the tank.

David Coy, Raccoon River Brewing
“The first beer I brewed after the law passed was a maibock. I probably bumped it up beyond where it needed to be, it’s 8.5% ABV, but I was in a celebratory mood. We’ve a got double IPA that I’m putting on tap tomorrow, El Bandito Loco. It’s going to be 9.5% ABV with 3 pounds of hops per barrel. After that, I’m pretty sure there is a Russian imperial stout in my future; that’ll be my winter warmer this year.”

Mike Gauthier, Court Avenue Brewing Co.
“I’ve got a Sahti on draft. It’s a Finnish farmhouse ale brewed with malted rye and juniper berries with a 7.5% ABV. I’ve been dying to make it since I drank one that Goose Island brewed 10 years ago. I’ve also got a double ESB in the conditioning tank right now at 8.6% ABV, but its still a little hot, probably won’t be ready to serve for another two or three weeks.”

Chris Priebe, Millstream Brewing Co.
“We’re playing around with a few different things and seeing what people like so that after a year or two, we can come out with bottles of what is most popular. Right now we’ve got weizenbock on tap. It’s a high-gravity dark wheat beer and it turned out pretty good; it’s about 8.5% ABV. After that, we’re looking at doing a fruit-flavored tripel, and we also beefed up our regular oatmeal stout so that’s 7% ABV now.”

Peter Ausenhus, Worth Brewing Co.
“I’m in the lautering stage of my second batch of Russian imperial stout, and I’m just about to start boiling; it will probably end up at about 10% ABV. The first beer that will be on tap is the Bar Belle Blond, a Belgian strong golden ale which comes out in August. I will follow that up in September with the Bison doppelbock, and I also have a real strong Scotch ale for this winter that I just want to age for a while.”

Joe Kesteloot, Peace Tree Brewing
“I’ve done two brews that are high-gravity; the first one I did right after the law changed was a Belgian-style blond that’s about 8.5% ABV. Then, I was really excited to do a double IPA at 9%; I released that one the 10th of July. We’ve had a lot of demand for it; we were reserving cases before they even went on sale. In winter, I’m probably going to do an imperial stout or a barrel-aged stout; if I go with the barrel-aged one, it won’t be done until the following year.”

Mason Groben, Madhouse Brewing Co.
“We’re a brand-new brewery; we just started making beer in February. We hope to add a high gravity beer in the fall. One of my investors has an acre of Mt. Hood, Centennial and Cascade hops growing, so hopefully my next beer will be a 100-percent Iowa-grown double-hopped American style IPA.”

Brad Knoke, Hub City Brewing Co.
“We’re just getting started on the high-gravity stuff. The one we’re getting ready right now is our 9.7%-ABV Russian imperial stout called The Midnight Express. We’re also working on a Belgian beer, either a strong ale or a dubbel, and we’re also working on a double IPA.”

Matt Guenther, Beck’s Sports Bar and Grill
“We have our Grizzlybock; it’s a doppelbock that’s higher on the scale than your average beer, around 7 or 8% ABV. It’s something darker, a kind of signature that not many places carry and our most popular with craft beer enthusiasts.”

An earlier version of this article misstated the former and current ABVs allowed by the state of Iowa. We regret the error.


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