WINTERSET, Iowa – You have to travel a couple of miles on gravel roads to reach Big Rack Brew Haus, located in rural Madison County, south of Winterset. Still, owner Aaron Oviatt dreams his machine shop turned brewery will soon become a growing venue.
Last week, he shared his vision with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, as she traveled in Central Iowa last week as part of her annual 99-County tour.
Oviatt, who worked for Firestone for 32 years, told Ernst he first became interested in brewing craft beer after trying out a home beer brewing kit he bought for his dad that his dad never used. He learned more about the trade from Twisted Vine Brewery, who once operated out of Madison County Winery a few miles away and purchased their equipment when they moved to West Des Moines.
He told Ernst that he has plans to build an amphitheater on his 80-acre property, build a patio, and expand the taproom. Big Rack Brew Haus has a beer run coming up on May 1 and a hog roast on May 7. Big Rack Brew Haus is the only Iowa brewery to grows hops. They use the Cascade and Wilmette hops they grow in a batch beer they brew in the fall.
Iowa’s craft beer industry has expanded exponentially after former Gov. Chet Culver signed a law lifting the alcohol by volume limit (ABV) and restructured regulations that once hindered local brewers’ ability to distribute their product.
Oviatt said he found the industry to be more collaborative than competitive. He has also seen his brewery grow without advertising.
“We’ve just been word of mouth. And it’s taken off,” he said. “Since day one, we’ve sold out all the beer we can make.”
Ernst also met with Scott Selix, co-founder of Lua Brewing in Des Moines, and John Martin, president and head brewer at Confluence Brewing in Des Moines, along with Oviatt, to hear about the industry needs.
Oviatt told Ernst that regulations are restraining craft brewers.
Currently, state law restricts some breweries to one physical location. There is a bill being considered by the Iowa Legislature that would lift that restriction.
Amara Huffine, Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, was also present to meet with Ernst. She told Ernst that the community rallied around small businesses in the county during COVID-19.
Ernst stayed for an hour and also learned about the brewing process, was given the opportunity to add hops to one of the beers being brewed, and sampled a flight of beer. She also visited with Easton and Jessica Anderson, the owners of Easton’s, a local catering business that also operates a food truck that comes out to Big Rack Brew Haus on occasion to sell sandwiches, including their popular grilled tenderloin sandwich.