It all began while enjoying beers on the deck one summer evening. The Great American Beer Festival was approaching, and we needed to make plans. Then it occurred to us: “Hey, why don’t we drive this year?” And so we did. We loaded up our Mazda Miata, put her top down and put on our beer traveler motoring goggles. Sixteen days, 4,100 miles and 13 states later, we’re back to report on our adventures.
At football games, the school band plays “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” almost as often as the Iowa fight song.
So buckle your seat belt; we’re heading west and you’re invited along for a virtual ride.
The route from Michigan to Colorado runs along I-80, across the heartland. We know what you’re thinking: all that space between the Mississippi River and the Rockies is a beer desert. Fact is, though, there’s good brew out there if you take the time to look. Here’s a sampling of what we found.
You Call That Heaven?
Our first stop west of the river was Old Capitol Brew Works and Public House in Iowa City. Folks love their beer in Hawkeye country. In fact, at football games, the school band plays “In Heaven There Is No Beer” almost as often as the Iowa fight song. We rolled into town on a lazy Sunday afternoon and pretty much had the brewpub to ourselves. That gave us a chance to chat with the bartender over a pint and a half-price plate of nachos.
The conversation turned to this establishment’s interesting history. During the ‘70s, it was known for cheap beer and a biker clientele. More recently, it was another brewpub called Fitzpatrick’s. Then, a year ago, it was taken over by its present management. The growing lineup of house beers ranges from a Belgian wit to a nut brown ale, and there are also micro and import guest beers on tap. And something old, too―beer cans from yesteryear, which brought bad memories of our “starving student” days.
Our next stop required a slight detour off I-80 to Amana, originally founded as a religious community. It functioned along communal lines until the Great Depression and today it’s one of Iowa’s top tourist attractions. Oddly for a German-American community, Amana had a number of wineries but only one brewery. Three Amana residents founded Millstream Brewing Co. (the state’s oldest micro) in 1985. It’s a small operation with a tiny tasting room whose windows look into the brewery. The tasting room is filled with German-themed souvenirs, breweriana and six-packs to go, including a 20th anniversary doppelbock. We ordered an award-winning Vienna-style lager called Schild Brau Amber and a German-style Pilsner at the stand-up bar and took them into the outside beer garden. There we sat under hop vines at a wooden table mounted on a beer barrel and listened to German beer hall songs.