Join Dan Kaercher for a pint of beer at Iowa's smallest brew pub in the north central part of the state.
Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home. Below are excerpts from Dan's journal of his travels in the state.
Kaercher: Recently there's been a growing interest in various beer styles and small breweries have cropped up not just in large cities but in small towns like Northwood. The beer industry in Iowa is growing. Microbreweries and brew pubs are popping up all across this state. Of the more than 20 Iowa breweries, Worth Brewing Company is the only one located in the north central part of the state. It's found in Northwood, just about 4 miles south of the Minnesota border. What kind of beer are you brewing?
Ausenhus: Today we're brewing a very light beer. I call it my light dark beer. It's a darker beer but it's a lower alcohol at 3 percent or so. It's lower than your Miller Light or Bud Light.
Kaercher: Peter Ausenhus is the owner of Worth Brewing Company and brews all the beer. His wife and business partner is Margaret Bishop. Prior to moving to Northwood where they are family ties, the family lived in the Twin Cities, where Peter was a professional brewer at Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul. The husband and wife team opened Worth Brewing Company on St. Patrick's Day 2007. Peter tell me how did you come to operate a brewing company in Northwood.
Ausenhus: We had visited my grandparents and had been down here several times. We even got married on the farm down here. So we started looking around here, and about eleven years ago we bought an acreage south of Northwood, and that's the beginning of the story.
Kaercher: What's your brewing philosophy.
Ausenhus: We're probably the smallest licensed brewer in the country. There may be a few others the same size, but I know there are home brewers who make bigger batches than I do. So small would have to be one of the philosophies. It allows me to follow the process from grain to glass and the tap room at the front of the brewery.
Kaercher: How much beer do you brew here?
Ausenhus: Last year we brewed 67 barrels, which is the standard size for measuring brewing output. Compared to other microbrewers, we're pretty small, but that keeps me busy because we're only doing it 10 gallons as a time. But we do about 200, 250 batches of beer a year.
Kaercher: How many types of beers do you offer?
Ausenhus: We do five of the same beer year around, and we also do a new one every month. So at any one time we have at least six different beers available. Sometimes we'll have seven or eight. We were very happily surprised that we had good support from the local community. They're very proud of that mug that they have hanging up above the bar.
Kaercher: As a partner in the brewery, Margaret has many responsibilities, including marketing. She's knowledgeable about beer and enjoys helping customers explore their taste options. What do visitors usually want to learn about the Worth Brewing Company.
Bishop: Mostly they're here to try the beers. So what we like to do, we give everybody what they want, a little taste of a beer. We have our sampler set. They sit there and try each one of them. You get a lot of people that are very serious about their beers, and they'll bring in -- have little notebooks and make notes about each beer that they try. It's very fun.
Kaercher: Can you go on a tour of the brewery here?
Bishop: You can. We do some informal tours. If Peter is not busy running around, he'll take people back and show them the brewery and talk to them about it.
Kaercher: I'm intrigued by the brewery's ambience. The building is nearly 125 years old. You are located in a unique building. What was this place before it?
Ausenhus: This was the original Worth County Bank building built in 1886, and then 1935 a utility company had moved in here and did a major remodeling. It was a utility company until 2006 when we bought the building.
Kaercher: Tell me about the renovation process.
Ausenhus: We didn't know until we were in here working. Once we found that there was tile under here, we definitely wanted to expose that tile and the original wood floor from the bank.
Kaercher: The stained glass is so beautiful here.
Ausenhus: It's a hobby of mine. Of course, when we removed the plywood sign from the front of the building, we discovered there was some French stained glass panels. We were able to salvage those. I used a couple of the broken panels to do a stained glass piece to center it. But most of that is original to the front of the building's 1935 remodeling.
Kaercher: You've become quite involved in your community here, even writing a History of Northwood in a booklet. Tell me about that.
Ausenhus: Well, I'm part of a historical society in town. We got a grant a few years ago to help get our downtown district on The National Register of Historic Places. Now we have a booklet that we put together that allows visitors to come in and easily, on their own, walk down the street and get some information about each of the buildings.
Kaercher: So if someone would come and enjoy a glass of beer here at the Worth Brewing Company and then take that quick stroll downtown, what are some of the high points? Well, you'd want to look at some of the fine Victorian architecture in some of our buildings. Of course, the Keene Building, the Keene Block, that's where the Anchor Newspaper currently is on the corner. That's one of the more dramatic buildings in town. The Dillon clock, which is out front, is an important icon is in town. We have a beer, Dillon Clockstopper, named after that. There's a horse, human, and dog fountain down by the City Hall that you'll want to take a look at.
Kaercher: With the help of the booklet "A Walking Guide to Northwood," I took a stroll and met up with a historically savvy Northwood native. I understand you're actually in one of the historic photos inside the Worth Brewing Company. Tell me about it.
Bickford: My aunt and uncle own the Maidrite, which was directly behind the town water fountain. I had just graduated from high school and we were thirsty and we stopped for a drink.
Kaercher: For authentic, quality beer and a look at some small-town Iowa history, this brewery and community are well worth a visit to Northwood.