Toppling Goliath Brewing Company has seemingly come out of nowhere to take the Iowa craft beer market by storm. Armed with a love of great beer and an army of appreciative hop heads, Clark Lewey, has an aggressive plan to bring his brand of craft brews to the Midwest in a big, big way. In 2010 the company increased its production capability from a 13.5 gallon vat to a 310 gallon vat. The construction of a new 930 gallon brewing system is underway which will increase total capacity to 1,240 gallons. That is 40 barrels (31 gallons each). This will reportedly make Toppling Goliath the biggest craft brewer in the State of Iowa. Although Toppling Goliath has sold some of its beer in bottles on occasion, its beer has usually only been regularly available at the main location in Decorah Iowa or at selected bars. Iowa City is a centerpiece of its distribution with nearly two dozen bars lined up. Several locations in Des Moines now also carry Toppling Goliath beers, including Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, El Bait Shop, and University Library Cafe.
The new equipment will make more beer than Toppling Goliath can sell wholesale to local bars and owner Clark Lewey knows this. He has purchased state of the art Italian bottling equipment and will be rolling out retail bottles through large-volume retail channels (i.e., Hy-Vee). Mr. Lewey is also eying establishing his own line of bars to sell Toppling Goliath. I’ve heard that locations in the Des Moines area are at the top of the list. Presumably, these locations would not be breweries, but would sell their beer directly from large kegs.
If you listen to Clark Lewey talk, you will hear him discuss not only the better taste offered by craft beers but also the need to use the right equipment to make and dispense it. You might be tempted to think that he would dismiss the beers made by the giant brewers, but he offers nothing but respect for the giant breweries’ ability to make massive amounts of light lager that taste exactly the same from bottle to bottle (even if they lack any real flavor). His goal seems to be to adopt modern production techniques to go head to head with the giants and to beat them on quality with a consistent product. (Are you starting to catch the meaning of the name yet?) One downfall of some craft brewers is their inability to keep their products consistent. Just take a look at some of the more popular beer rating websites and it is obvious that there is a lot of variability between craft beers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll decide that a certain craft beer is my favorite only to be gobsmacked when I share my recommendation with a friend and we are both left wondering what I was thinking. Most of that variability is probably just differences in preferences, but it is obvious to me that some of the difference is the product of production issues, problems introduced at the tap, or improper handling or storage of the product. One thing that Mr. Lewey emphasizes is that bars that want to carry his beer must be willing to take steps to keep the tap lines disinfected. By doing his own bottling and, perhaps, dispensing at Toppling Goliath bars, he will be able to eliminate the variables and to produce a product that will indeed “topple Goliath.”
But all of these intentions mean nothing unless drinkers like the beer. So how is it? In a recent trip through Decorah I sampled a number of different brews. I tried a number of beers beginning with the highly rated India Pale Ale Golden Nugget. This is a hops-heavy beer with a very rich flavor that I found to be very drinkable (as in not wanting to stop). I also tried the Intergalactic Warrior IPA. Wow. Too much hops for me, but then I’m not a super-duper “hop head” by any stretch. I suspect that a lot of hard core craft beer drinkers will find its 60 BTU hops punch more to their liking. The Pseudo Sue was much more milder. It is a single hop ale with a lot of good beer flavor and a little punch at the end with some bitterness.
Much more to my liking was Dorothy. This is their most complex beer. Dorothy is an attempt (successful) to duplicate the California lager. The brewmaster uses an ale yeast and tricks it into making a lager. It takes constant monitoring of the vat for something like nine hours to keep the yeast doing its job as the temperature is slowly adjusted every hour. It had a crisp and clean flavor with very little hops.
So, if you like craft beer, then be on the lookout for Toppling Goliath. I certainly hope that giants will be toppling in the future.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Co
310 College Drive
TASTING ROOM HOURS
Mon – Thurs: 3 PM-10 PM
Friday: 2 PM – 11 PM
Saturday: 12 PM – 11 PM
Sunday: 2 PM – 8 PM