Des Moines lands the all-Iowa tap room it deserves
Iowa craft beer fans, rejoice. Iowa Taproom debuts on Wednesday, March 2, with a full lineup of 120 craft beers from the Hawkeye State ready to pour.
The new bar and restaurant at 215 E. Third St. takes over 7,200 square feet of the former Dilley Manufacturing Co. in the East Village with room for 331 guests. Full Court Press, the owners of formidable beer havens El Bait Shop, The Royal Mile and Hessen Haus, are behind the bar that dispenses beers from a metal Sukup silo outfitted with tap handles from around the state.
“I want to be the P.T. Barnum of beer,” said Jeff Bruning, one of the partners in the project who originally started coming up with the plans for Iowa Taproom about two years ago. “A drinker is born every day.”
Scan through the beer menu to find brews divided into light, easy drinking or hoppy, bitter drinks, much like the 180-plus beer menu at El Bait Shop. Order them in six-ounce pours, 16-ounce pints or in a flight, or grab a growler or crowler, a sealed can of beer, to go.
This, the largest of the Full Court Press’ catalog of restaurants and bars, features a menu of some of the best beers in the state, but not all. “We’re not exactly ready in the state. Within a year or two, we’re talking about going to 160,” Bruning said. “We want to get their word out there so there’s a lot of creativity going on in the state.”
He hopes the Iowa Taproom can be a place for feedback on the state’s best brews. “Without quality, it’s a disaster. You try a beer out in the world to see what people think.”
That quality beer starts with water, and Iowa Taproom partnered with Confluence Brewing Co. and Coca-Cola to put Des Moines tap water on two of the handles. That water will be filtered to resemble the pure agua breweries use to make beer.
Millstream Brewing Co., the granddaddy of Iowa breweries, makes the list and the Iowa Taproom even gave it a nod at the entrance with “established in 1985” styled in tiles. Fans can sample two of Decorah’s Toppling Goliath beers, picks from Turner Alley, Lion Bridge and Keg Creek in Cedar Rapids, Backpocket in Coralville, Boone Valley, Kalona Brew and Alluvial out of Ames.
The tap room isn’t just about beers. Bruning promised a more elevated dining menu than found at El Bait Shop, and delivers with appetizers such as the taproom cheese dip with flatbread dippers, cheese steak egg rolls, Iowa ham balls, little smokies wrapped in bacon, and wings with sauce choices such as dragon’s breath, bourbon barbecue, peanut chili and honey Sriracha.
A breaded pork tenderloin made in-house, a Grazi melt using Graziano’s sausage, a catfish sandwich and the Iowan, a loose-meat sandwich with a bourbon barbecue sauce, make the sandwich side of the menu.
Seven different salads, burgers — including the Morning Farm with a fried egg and ham and the peanut butter burger with honey peppercorn bacon — and entrees such as a rack of ribs, barbecue meatloaf and fried chicken round out the menu. Finish off a meal with The Capitol Pie with peanut butter ice cream on a brownie crust or bread pudding with a bourbon caramel sauce.
360-degree video: Sneak peek inside the Taproom
(Spin around the Taproom using your mouse). Mobile users tap here.
Many of the design elements inside had a previous life as something else. The 64-liner foot countertop on the bar comes from a former general store built in the 1880s. A former bingo machine may get new life as a way to alert diners when their table is ready. A 1920s phone booth is now a phone charging station. The former switchboard from the Randolph Hotel is now a hostess stand. Reclaimed wood from a barn became the chunky tables throughout the space. Even that Sukup silo is the same model used as temporary homes.
The exposed brick from the former building — which at one time housed Jaeger Manufacturing with its commercial store fixtures, Hawkeye Cord Tire Co., Beal’s Lithography & Printing Co. and Old Style Lager — and the wooden beams in the ceiling remain. The former elevator that led to the now-nonexistent second floor that was destroyed in a 1949 fire greets guests as they arrive through the main entrance.
Later, Full Court Press plans to add a 2,500-square-foot deck in the alley. And as the tap room gets settled in, expect breweries to roll out their newest concoctions at the restaurant.
“Brewing is something Iowa should be proud of,” Bruning said, adding that the Iowa Brewers Guild estimated that 54 breweries were open in 2014. The top five breweries — Backpocket, Millstream, Toppling Goliath, Peace Tree and Confluence — account for 57.5 percent of the total beer production in the state. Iowa Taproom gives the rest a shot at showing what they can bring to the pint glass.
You can learn more at iowataproom.com.