Making someone's Friday night better


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When I met Angry Cedar master brewer Scott Hamerlinck, he was wearing flip-flops in his garage-sized brewery, apologizing for being unprepared, but ecstatic someone had visited him in his Waverly, Iowa, beer laboratory.

Before meeting him, I was just an Iowa craft-beer drinker and supporter.

After meeting him, I'm now a fanatic of all craft beer, more inclined to use Busch Light than water to clean the dirt off my car.

The growing craft-beer scene is essential to the expansion of small businesses in America and leads the way in successful, ethical business.

The Iowa craft-beer scene has taken off since the 2009 change in the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Control that allowed beers brewed in Iowa to contain up to 12 percent alcohol instead of the prior standard of 5 percent alcohol.

"Before the law, breweries such as Boulevard could sell high-gravity [high-alcohol] beers on the shelf of, like, your Hy-Vee, and Iowa allowed them to sell it, but no one in Iowa was allowed to make it themselves," Hamerlinck said.

The change in the law allowed Iowa brewers to make different variations of high-quality beers so that they could compete with other states.

"[Restrictions on alcohol content] went from 5 percent alcohol to 12 percent, which is huge," the brewer said.

Hamerlinck, an ex-Marine and ex-programmer, said he started his brewery in 2008 after he lost almost all his possessions in that year's flood.

The only things that survived were the shoes on his feet and his home brewing.

The process has been a success, with Angry Cedar Brews being distributed by John's Grocery and receiving tap-lines at restaurants.

"It's been an adventure and a fun one," Hamerlinck said. "My worst day at the brewery is still better than the best day at some job."

Small breweries have been making their way into the market successfully, with many Americans choosing local craft breweries over such corporations as Anheuser-Busch, which is foreign-owned.

The American craft-beer scene had a volume increase jump of 13 percent and a retail increase of 15 percent last year, according to the Brewer's Association.

And, as well as successfully providing Americans with jobs, they also help small economies.

Another Iowa craft brewery, Toppling Goliath Brewery, started in Decorah, Iowa, which has a population of 8,127.

The brewery is now so busy that it's had to order a new 30-barrel brewing system — three times the size of its old 10-barrel brewing system — and it has more than 60 tap lines in bars and restaurants across Iowa and western Wisconsin.

The brewery is obviously extremely passionate about maintaining the quality of its product, forgoing the traditional beer distributor in favor of its own delivery and maintenance in the Iowa City area.

Toppling Goliath representatives clean their lines, educate the bartenders who pour it, and then test its quality.

As a bartender at Short's Burger & Shine, I've poured Iowa craft beer for the past two years, and serving it results in a win for all levels of the restaurant business. The customer receives a fantastic product, and the local restaurant owners and breweries both see profits.

Short's poured the first Peace Tree pint ever, and it poured the first Toppling Goliath pint in Iowa City. On Wednesday, it poured the first Angry Cedar pint in Iowa City.

"I don't wake up every morning trying to take down Budweiser. I just want to make a couple people happy every day," Hamerlinck said.

"I guess it's just depressing trying to go up against Goliath, but if I can make someone's Friday night better — that makes me happy."

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