When a river swells, like we’ve seen so many times this year, there’s little to do but hop on the nearest road out of town. In 2008, Iowa’s Cedar River spilled over its banks, causing millions of dollars in damages to nearby communities, including Waverly, home of then-homebrewer Scott Hamerlinck.
According to Hamerlinck, most expected the Cedar to reach the manageable flood levels Waverly had seen previously in 1999. But that June, the river didn’t stop.
“Half the town was affected,” remembers Hamerlinck. “We live in a town of about 10,000 people, and out of that, 72 houses were bought and destroyed by FEMA and about 38 percent of the houses were flooded.”
In the disaster’s wake, Hamerlinck was left with a flooded basement and more than 2 feet of standing water on his house’s main floor; nothing but the windows and the roof remained. Well, that and about 30 gallons of homebrew that he rescued from the basement—a mead, an IPA and an English bitter.
Before the waters consumed his house, Hamerlinck and friends gathered in his basement and garage for regular brewing sessions: “We’d all get drunk and make beer,” he jokes. But during the long, sober days he spent constructing a new home, Hamerlinck was reminded of what to do when life gives you lemons—or, as he puts it, “When life gives us water, we make beer.” Later that year, he started Angry Cedar Brewing, an homage to the river that whittled his possessions down to beer.
After three years of brewing Angry Cedar beer part-time, Hamerlinck is now focusing full-time on his seven-barrel brewery. Currently, Angry Cedar produces one year-round beer, Angry Amber Ale, and two seasonals, a chocolate porter for the winter and Maibock in the spring. He’s also put some distance between himself and the angry river: His new home and brewery are built safely on higher ground.