Iowa’s craft beer brewing industry has been steadily growing, and in some ways is like the resurgence of the wine industry in Iowa. The owner of the Peace Tree Brewing Company in Knoxville, Megan McKay, agrees there are some similarities, but says craft breweries are behind in using home-grown ingredients.
“I think the big difference between the wineries and the breweries is they’re growing a lot of their inputs and then using that to make their products,” McKay says. “And we, just because of the way the hops grow, it doesn’t do quite as well in Iowa. And then processing piece of it — so that it gets to where we can use it in large quantities –we don’t have that infrastructure set up.”
McKay says efforts are underway to grow more hops for beer in Iowa. “There’s a hop farm that they are working on over in Solon. I just met a women who is putting part of her 40 acres into hops up in northwest Iowa. There’s a couple of others kind of scattered throughout the state,” according to McKay. “The big problem with that is they can grow them — but for us to use them in a large commercial brewery they usually need to be dried down into hop flakes or dried down and palletized so that it preserves the aromas and flavors.”
She says the producers growing hops here are limited in where their crops can be used. She says they are good for home brewers and small brew pubs that are just using a small bit at a time. But she says the state is not at a level where they could take out 10 percent of the hops they buy and use Iowa grown material.
Iowa State University has a program that is helping growers learn about hops. McKay says another issue has been a lack of demand in the state to make it profitable to grow and process the hops.
“There hasn’t been enough breweries demanding it, and so it is hard to build up that infrastructure and grow inputs is nobody is doing that. I am hoping we can keep working to together on that,” McKay says. McKay is on the Iowa Wine and Beer Promotion Board, which recently released a study that shows the craft brew industry has a $110 million economic impact on the state.