Getting to Know Northwest Iowa’s Craft Beverage Scene  

by Alyssa L. Ochs

Introduction to Northwest Iowa

Water sports enthusiasts flock to Northwest Iowa every summer for boating, sailing, jet skiing and endless family fun. This part of the state is home to Iowa’s Great Lakes and a place where there are over 13,000 acres of water and 86 combined miles of lakeside shoreline.

  But something that travelers might not yet know is that Northwest Iowa also has a growing craft beverage scene with excellent wineries, breweries and distilleries that are worth visiting. These friendly and welcoming businesses provide a perfect way to relax, unwind and get to know the area from a local perspective. It’s easy to live the good life along the lake and with your favorite beverage in hand when you travel to Northwest Iowa!

Northwest Region Details

  Northwest Iowa is filled with gently rolling plains, many small towns and rural farming communities. Compared to the rest of the state, Northwest Iowa has the highest elevation and is colder and drier – much like the climate across the border in nearby North and South Dakotas. You’ll find much of the land cultivated for row crops, used for pastureland and preserved as natural prairie with abundant flora and fauna.

  All of these factors affect how craft beverage producers source their ingredients, create unique products and market them to the local population and tourists. For example, vineyards in Northwest Iowa have learned to adapt to and embrace the bitterly cold winters and scorching hot summers of the region to grow their grapes.

  The emergence of Iowa hop farms has also been on the rise in recent years, an effort that is supporting the local brewing industry and impacting the regional economy. Meanwhile, many craft distilleries are adopting a grain-to-glass mentality and sourcing their corn and grains from Iowa farms just a few miles down the road from their distilling operations.

  To help familiarize yourself with the geography of this vast region, here are counties that make up Northwest Iowa:

•   Lyon

•   Sioux

•   Plymouth

•   Woodbury

•   Monona

•   Osceola

•   O’Brien

•   Cherokee

•   Ida

•   Crawford

•   Dickinson

•   Clay

•   Buena Vista

•   Sac

•   Carroll

•   Emmet

•   Palo Alto

•   Pocahontas

•   Calhoun

•   Kossuth

•   Humboldt

•   Webster

•   Winnebago

•   Hancock

•   Wright

•   Hamilton

Why Visit Northwest Iowa?

  Each craft beverage region in the state of Iowa and across the country is unique, and Northwest Iowa is undoubtedly no exception. Homegrown Northwest Iowa wine stands out because it comes from grapevines propagated to survive extreme hot and cold temperatures. LaCrescent, Edelweiss, St. Croix, Lacrosse and Frontenac are some of the most common varietals in Northwest Iowa.

  Something else that is unique about craft wineries, breweries and distilleries in this region is the locations of their operations. You can sip locally produced beverages in renovated school buildings, new construction developments, family farms and everywhere in between.

  Northwest Iowa does not have a huge population center, but some towns with notable craft beverage scenes are Sioux City , Fort Dodge and Humbold. Yet this is actually an advantage of traveling through the region since the journey from one craft beverage business to the next will involve peaceful, scenic drives and no shortage of enticing stops along the way.

Top Craft Beverage Destinations

  With numerous craft beverage establishments scattered across the region, where should a first-time visitor to Northwest Iowa begin? Here are a few highly recommended destinations:

Plum Creek Winery:  Located seven miles from Algona, Iowa, is a family-owned business with about two acres of grapes planted. It has been part of the local wine scene since 2012 and offers fun “Paint and Pour” nights to help you tap into your creative side, as well as a brand-new outdoor wedding venue.

River Valley Orchards Winery &

Distillery:  Located four miles from Humboldt, Iowa and along Highway 3. The history of this family farm dates back to 1998, and it has since expanded to offer 19 excellent wines – most of which are made exclusively from fruit grown right here on the farm.

Rustic Rivery Winery & Vineyard:

A family owned winery & vineyard located in rural Lake View is a true family affair.  What began as a fully operating farm has diversified into offering a full selection of  medal winning wines.  The Winery makes the perfect venue for an intimate wedding, baby shower, wedding shower, birthday party, family/friend gathering, or simply just a relaxing spot to unwind on the weekends. Their 4 acre corn maze is designed with the idea that everyone can navigate their way through the unique pattern! Check out their haunted maze every October.

S&B Farms Distillery: Located in Bancroft, Iowa is a first-generation, seed-to-spirit distillery that uses grains grown from its very own farm. It has won numerous awards for its spirits and promises a genuinely smooth taste in every bottle.

Shiny Top Brewing:  Nate & Todd McCubbin brought Shiny Top Brewing  to Fort Dodge, Iowa, along with great beer, a friendly atmosphere and a showcase of local talent. Not only can you enjoy a tasty brew here, but also weekly pizza specials, live music and displays from local artists.

TractorLift Brewery:  Is a nano-brewery in Humboldt, Iowa that adopted an old post office building as its taproom location. Larry Beilke, the owner of TractorLift, welcomes beer-lovers to bring in their own food and enjoy one of the many tasty beers on tap.

Wise I Brewing Company:  Inspired by Iowan history and a love for delicious craft beverages, Wise I Brewing Company is located in Le Mars and offers a variety of flagship and seasonal/rotational brews. Wise I tries to tie everything back to its Iowa roots in some way, and every beer created here has its own unique story.

Nearby Local Attractions

  However, sipping delicious wines, beers and spirits is just one of the many things you can do on a trip to Northwest Iowa. Here are a few examples of other local attractions to add to your travel itinerary:

Fort Dodge Attractions

•   Fort Frenzy: the largest and most popular family entertainment center in Fort Dodge. Featuring dozens of indoor and outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone including go karts, bowling, bumper boats and arcade games. Get competitive on the miniature golf course or stop by for special events and concerts.

•   Fort Museum & Frontier Village: Replica town & Fort that offers a look at 1850’s life. The Fort Museum houses thousands of historical and military artifacts, including Native American and pioneer items.

Spencer Attractions

•   Spencer’s Historic District:  Take a walking tour of Spencer’s Historic Grand Avenue Commercial District!  Tour booklets are available at the Spencer Main Street Office and Clay County CVB Office. 

West Bend Attractions

•   Grotto of the Redemption:  The largest man-made Grotto in the world. The Grotto stands as a testimony in stone, a treasured work of art. Covering a city block, the Grotto represents the largest collection of precious and semi-precious rocks, minerals, fossils and petrifactions concentrated in any one spot in the world.

•   Smoldering Cigar: Down the road in Livermore with a great selection of cigars and accessories.

  To learn more about things to do and where to stay in Northwest Iowa, check out the official Travel Iowa website and browse our guide Iowa Trails & Tales for fun trip ideas and inspiration or visit our website