First look: Lua Brewing Company brings traditional German beers to Des Moines
Beer columnist Will Cleveland shares his beers to drink and places to enjoy them over the Thanksgiving long weekend. (Nov. 19, 2019) Wochit
A new restaurant and craft brewery featuring a shared-plate menu and specializing German hefeweizen and pilsners opened Tuesday in Des Moines' Sherman Hill neighborhood.
Lua Brewing Company, 1525 High St., is next door to A Dong and a block south of Hoyt Sherman Place.
The brewery features a full line of handcrafted beers and creative brewpub fare in a modern and cozy environment.
"We want a welcoming, fun place to hang out with friends where we can push the envelope with good food and good beer," co-owner Scott Selix said.
Selix and wife Whitney, both 32, opened the brewery with friend Zack Dunbar, 29, and two silent investors.
The 6,200-square-foot space seats 120 people inside and an additional 100 people on a pet-friendly outdoor patio with views of the downtown skyline and a fire pit.
The family-friendly dining and beer-tasting room includes a 16-person harvest table made from reclaimed Iowa barn wood and built by Rustic Roots Wood Company in Solon.
An Iowa-centric mural near the bar was painted by local artist Mollie Wallace.
The owners said they fell in love with the building and the neighborhood.
"We want to be a centerpiece for this neighborhood," Dunbar said. "There's a lot of life and vitality here and we wanted to contribute to that."
Menu features 'melting pot of American cuisine'
Executive chef James Arbaugh, 28, is a Philadelphia native who moved from California to run the kitchen.
He was formerly the chef de cuisine for four years at Plumed Horse, a Michelin-star restaurant in the San Francisco Bay area. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, graduating in 2012.
"I wanted to do a melting pot of American cuisine," Arbaugh said. "We're going to start with an abbreviated menu."
- White Sturgeon Caviar - Potato rosti, fromage blanc, chive
- Avocado Toast - Sourdough, radish, carrot, petite greens
- La Quercia Prosciutto - Mustarda, Cara Cara oranges, Marcona almonds, arugula
- Baby Green Salad - Kohlrabi, persimmon, pomegranate, sour beer
- Chicken Wings - Maytag blue cheese or ranch, pickled celery
- Spaghetti Carbonara - Pancetta, Pecorino, black pepper, yolks
- Lua Burger - Tomato jam, onion marmalade, pickles, Bibb lettuce
- Fried Chicken Sandwich - Carrot slaw, aioli, pickles
- Baked Salmon - Quinoa, Italian broccoli, red curry
- Braised Short Ribs - Winter squash, spinach, pickled onion
Dishes are meant to be shared and guests are encouraged to try several plates between them.
Menu offerings will increase over time and prices will range from $5 for appetizers and sweet bites to $25 for larger plates. Food is available for takeout and dine-in.
Beer with a focus on 'high-quality fresh ingredients'
Scott Selix and Dunbar share beer-making duties. Neither likes the term "brewmasters" to describe the job, preferring instead the simpler "brewer" label.
"We never really put titles to it because all we care about is making beer right," Scott Selix said.
Twenty tap lines include rotating craft specialties made in house along with other beers from Iowa and around the globe. There will be two German-style beers on tap at all times: hefeweizen and pilsner.
To achieve authenticity, Scott Selix said Lua uses low-oxygen brewing techniques and a process called triple decoction which takes more time.
"It gives off a rich, robust flavorful beer," he said. "Decoction is an Old World process before we had as much technology to modify grain. It's gone by the wayside because it's more expensive and it takes longer. But we think it's really important for those traditional German beers."
A batch of mash is separated from the main tank and boiled separately, which brings out more enhancement of deep flavors such as rich malt, residual sweetness and yeast, he said.
Other seasonal and rotating selections include IPAs, stouts and sours, as well as nitro cold brew coffee and homemade hard seltzer. The beer selection will increase over time with the changing seasons and customers' tastes.
Lua operates eight fermentation vessels that are roughly 26 gallons apiece. The uni-tanks ferment and carbonate the beer.
"We're focused all the time on high-quality fresh ingredients, so we'll be using hops in rotation, fruits in rotation as they become available," Dunbar said. "And then we'll add dessert-inspired stouts."
Look for wine, ciders and seltzers to round out the beverage selection.
Brewing buddies with passion for 'making beer the right way'
The partners met and became friends through the Midwest beer scene before going into business together.
"We found we had a passion for making beer and making beer the right way," Scott Selix said. "Not cutting corners, treating people right and a passion for experiences."
Whitney Selix graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in communications. She was the former general manager of Red's Alehouse in North Liberty. She is Lua's president.
Scott Selix earned a law degree from the University of Iowa and practiced in Minneapolis for three years before becoming general counsel for Big Grove Brewery & Taproom where he was also a lead brewer.
He serves on the Iowa Brewer's Guild board of directors.
Dunbar studied at the University of Minnesota and is the former lead brewer at Forager Brewery in Rochester, Minnesota. He moved to Sherman Hill to oversee beer production.
"A big thing for us is integrating ourselves into this community," Dunbar said. "I live a block away in Sherman Hill. We all feel that we want this to be more than just a restaurant or a brewery."
Lua Brewing Company employs about 25 to 30 people. The restaurant will eventually expand its lunch hours.
Lua Brewing Company
Location: 1525 High St., Des Moines
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; closed Mondays