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NOTEBOOK: Iowa has capacity to add craft beer breweries, expert says


I recently had the opportunity to chat with Bart Watson, chief economist for the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. Our conversation was prompted by Big Grove Brewery’s plans to open a brewpub in Des Moines.

The conversation moved to the pandemic’s effect on the opening of new craft breweries and whether there was room for growth in Iowa for additional breweries.

“Iowa has developed a much more vibrant brewing industry in recent years, but in many per capita indexes, [Iowa] still lags behind a lot of other states,” said Watson, an Iowa City native. “There may be more opportunity in a state like Iowa to have more brewery growth than in other parts of the country.”

In 2011, 27 craft beer breweries operated in Iowa, according to Brewers Association stats. The number nearly quadrupled to 107 in 2020. Nationally, there were 8,764 craft breweries in 2020.

Iowa had 4.7 breweries per 100,000 people 21 and older, ranking it 17th in the country in 2020, the association data shows. Vermont had the most breweries per capita with 15.4 for every 100,000 adults. The state had 74 breweries in 2020.

The pandemic affected the number of brewery openings in 2020, but the impact wasn’t as severe as anticipated, Watson said. “Some of [the decline] was due to the longer trend in fewer openings that we had been seeing.”

In the U.S. in 2020, 716 craft beer breweries opened and 290 closed, association data shows. In 2019, there were 1,023 openings and 331 closures.

Two new breweries opened in Iowa last year and two this year, according to the association.


“We had more openings in 2020 than we did closings, which is a trend we like to see,” Watson said. In 2022, “we expect that openings are still going to outnumber closings and that’ll we’ll see strong openings in states where the market is still growing.”

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