How Confluence Brewing created one of Iowa’s favorite beers
Owner John Martin grew up on a farm in the midst of the farm crisis of the 1980's. "I'd have this experience with the grains, I want to do something more than just look at them or scoop them," he said.
John Martin is the first to admit that Capital Gold isn’t the most popular beer brewed by Confluence Brewing Company, the Des Moines craft brewery he co-founded in 2011.
“That’s kind of the crazy thing,” Martin, co-founder of Confluence, said. “I’ve been rooting for Capital Gold since we started. It’s never been a top performer … but it’s solid. And the people that like Capital Gold really like it.”
The years of Martin rooting for Capital Gold have paid off: the beer took home the top prize Tuesday in the 2017 Des Moines Register Beer Brackets, sponsored by the Iowa Taproom. Nearly 180,000 votes were cast in the Beer Brackets, which started with 64 Iowa beers and, in true March Madness fashion, finished with one brew claiming victory.
The beers were categorized in four brackets — hoppy, dark and malty, light and strong, sour or fruity — and fans crazed for craft beer could cast votes daily for which brew they wanted to see bring home the prize. Capital Gold defeated 10 Day Scottish Ale from Flix Brewhouse by less than one percent of the final vote.
Confluence has been pouring pints of Capital Gold since the brewery first opened its doors on the south side of Gray’s Lake in 2012. An estimated 300 barrels of Capital Gold were produced in 2016, Martin said, which translates to about 75,000 pints of beer. Martin ranks the beer in the top five most-consumed from Confluence, with the popular Des Moines IPA topping the list.
The beer is a full-bodied, filling and flavorful lager that Martin first developed as a homebrewer. It, alongside the Des Moines IPA, Farmer John’s Multi-Grain Ale and the Thomas Beck Black IPA, represents one of the four year-round beers delivered by Confluence.
Capital Gold takes four to five weeks to brew, Martin explained, to “mellow” the flavors in the lager. He said it was a needed addition to the brewery’s flagship offerings. The beer contains Vienna malts along with German hops and German yeast.
“[It’s a flagship] so [fans] have that stand-by lager you can go to,” Martin, 44, said.
From the farm to the Capital city
Confluence didn’t become a staple brand among Iowa beer drinkers overnight. Martin officially opened taproom doors in October 2012 after working for years as a construction project manager. A home brewer since the mid-1990s, he said he told his boss as far back as 2006 that he’d one day leave the company to start his own brewery. Now Confluence employs 30 people and distributes beer across the state.
“If you would’ve asked me four years ago how many employees we had in four years I’d say 10 or 12,” Martin said, with a laugh.
The Imogene native is a self-described child of the 1980s farm crisis, something he said keeps him humble while growing the business. Confluence beers, like Farmer John’s, uses ingredients found on the farm. Martin said he wanted to do “something more” with grain than simply scoop it or stare at it.
“We were just dirt poor,” Martin said. “It was challenging, growing up in the ‘80s. I was isolated from town. Until I got my license, I didn’t do a whole lot … pretty much worked on the farm.”
The success of Confluence hasn’t gone unnoticed with the influential in Iowa’s growing craft beer scene. Jeff Bruning, partner in local beer hot spots such as the Iowa Taproom and el Bait Shop, said he’s excited to see the growth of Confluence as a consumer and supplier of the beer.
“You always wonder if people are going to succeed but you never know … and he’s just killed it,” Bruning said. “He’s always been hands-on the whole time. He definitely knows where he wants to be [and] knows where he wants to go.
Next summer beer drinkers and bike riders will be able to enjoy an expanded patio at Confluence Brewing Company with more seating, outdoor bar, more bike parking and restrooms, get an early in this video.
The Beer Brackets victory comes during a year of major expansion for Confluence. The brewery added an additional 16,000 square feet of space to the original roughly 11,000 square foot facility, which allowed for the addition of a canning line. The brewery began distributing cans of Des Moines IPA and Farmer John’s in January. Martin said he hopes to see Confluence distribute 7,000 barrels of beer in 2017, an increase of more than 60 percent from the 4,800 distributed in 2016.
With the growth, Martin said, the brewery will continue to self-distribute beer and focus on growing in Iowa. Confluence has only been poured once outside of the state, at an event in Washington D.C. last year.
CATCH UP: Voters can view the full results from the Beer Brackets at DesMoinesRegister.com/BeerBrackets.
“It’s (about) staying relevant and to us relevant is local,” Martin said. “Maybe someday we’ll cross the border somewhere.”
Beer fans could see Capital Gold in cans before the end of 2017, Martin said. For now, the Beer Brackets' winning beer can be found on tap in restaurants and bars, in 32-ounce bottles where craft beer is sold or at the Confluence taproom.
“One thing about growing up is I never felt like a winner so this is awesome,” Martin said.
Confluence Brewing Company
Where:1235 Thomas Beck Road
Hours:4-10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 12-10 p.m. Thursday; 12-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 12-7 p.m. Sunday