Getting a Beer in Iowa Is Tougher Than You Think

The Ames straw poll is on Saturday. You probably need a drink.


As the Ames Straw Poll approaches, GOP presidential hopefuls are rolling up the sleeves of their brand new flannel shirts and scrambling to be "the guy you want to have a beer with." But thanks to outdated regulations and onerous taxes, it's tougher to get a beer in Iowa than you might think—no matter whom you're drinking with.

Some of Iowa's regulations are entertainingly anachronistic. Bartenders are prohibited from pouring water down the drain while serving an officer of the law. Don't try asking your local bartender to put something on a tab—those are illegal, too. And if a tavern keeper is exhausted after a long day of following archaic laws? Well, he can't open up a cold one; it's unlawful for an owner to drink in his own establishment after closing. Candidates traveling with their families should be particularly careful in Ames—it's against the law to have three sips of beer while in bed with your wife.

But some policies aren't nearly as funny. Until last year, Iowa imposed a limit of 6 percent alcohol by volume on beer production, drastically circumscribing local breweries' ability to compete in the growing craft beer market. The limit has been lifted to 15 percent, but Iowa remains in the minority of states that have a limit at all.

Small scale craft breweries are on the rise nationally as beer drinkers grow weary of big label beers. Many of these craft brewers have settled in Iowa for its excellent water sources. But even with the new rules on alcohol content, Iowa is unlikely to become a beer mecca. The Tax Foundation ranks the state's business tax climate 45th. A combination of high local and federal taxes—including tariffs on everything from the hops to barrels—makes taxes the single most expensive component in beer, according to a Standard & Poor's study. All in all, taxes constitute 44 percent of a beer's average retail price, a larger share than ingredients and labor combined.

Iowa is one of 19 states that retain a monopoly on distribution of alcoholic beverages within their borders, which means anyone who wants to drink or serve booze becomes a cog in a massive regulatory apparatus. (Iowa does have privatized retail operations, though.)

In addition to the regulatory environment, Iowa places a very heavy tax burden on its sellers of alcoholic beverages. Iowa not only places large excise taxes on wine (3rd highest in the nation) and beer (the highest in region, with the exception of two states). It marks up all distilled spirits by 50 percent.

Tonight, as Republican hopefuls crack open cold ones and toast to their future ambitions, they should count themselves lucky. By this time on Sunday, most of them will have hightailed it to other early primary states with booze-friendlier laws where the beer is cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to come by.

Harry Graver is a writer in New Haven.

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  1. Alcohol is both a danger to our children and an excellent source of state revenue!

    Hats off to beer, me boys. Hats off to beer. Lift your glasses in the air, and give a hearty cheer.

    1. def setUp(import beer.robot)



    2. And thanks to Jimmah Cartah as I quaff a microbrew…

    3. I think it was Homer Simpson who said, “alcohol is the cause of and the solution to all the worlds problems”.

  2. They were going to name a street after Rick Perry, but no one crosses Rick Perry and lives.

    1. Rick Perry is a wuss.

  3. “(the highest in region, with the exception of two states)”

    WTF does that even mean?

    1. To clarify, Iowa is often considered part of the Five State Region (MN, WI, IA, ND, SD), so if it’s behind two other states in the region, it’s pretty much in the middle. Why not just say where it places in the nation as was done excise taxes on wine?

      1. How do “The Quad Cities” fit into this?

        And I don’t mean “The Quad City DJ’s”

        1. Some are in IA and some are in IL. But the point was that “(the highest in region, with the exception of two states)” is a pretty useless piece of information.

          1. I took it to mean highest in the region; highest in the country with the exception of two states.

            Still don’t know if that’s right, but that’s the only possible way that sentence even makes sense.

            1. It’s a statistic as bad as some of the stats spouted by Bob Uecker’s Harry Doyle in the Major League films.

              “Highest in the region, with the exception of two states”? So third in the region then? Hmm, doesn’t sound as impressive then. What exactly is the region? You say it like everybody knows – for all we know, it’s a region of three states, and thus Iowa is third. Like someone else said, tell us where they rank nationally, without trying to make it sound more impressive than it really is.

    2. According to the Tax Foundation, it means 26th in the nation.…..26075.html

      So, pretty much nothing.

  4. My latest fave: Mothership Wit from New Belgium Brewing.

    1. I’m sitting at a local brew-pub enjoying their Belgian-style Wit. It’s fast becoming a new summer favorite of mine.

    2. Have you had their dunkelweiss? The clove and pepper flavor is pretty dominating, and it’s a definite change of pace from most beer.

      1. “Dark white”? Why not just call it “ottomoronck”?

        1. Dunkelweizen would have been a better name I suppose, but who knows what New Belgian is thinking?

  5. I submit that any beer with 16% alcohol would taste awful. I’m not saying outlaw it, I’m just saying it would taste awful.

    1. What kind of a pussy drinks beer for the taste?

    2. That depends on your taste in beer. It certainly wouldn’t be bland, but with the right grain bill and plenty of hops, you could balance it out well enough.

        1. Well, enjoy your ultra light beer then.

          1. Tasteless Big box beer made in St. Louis or Golden Colorado is an attempt by collectivist corporations hiding behind archaic distribution regulations leftover from prohibition to flatten the palate of Americans who deserve better beer.

            And by the way an oak aged 16% barley wine can taste excellent!

            Beer should not suck!

    3. The Austrian Samchlaus lager is 16%, I believe, and it’s the best lager ever made. I prefer the helles.

      1. I mean Samichlaus.

    4. Your comment shows that you know fuck all about the craft of brewing beer.

    5. Vs. what though? The light, ethereal taste of Natty Lite? More to it than that, but I’m sure you already knew, just had to say it myself…

      1. Natty Lite is fucking delicious. $14 for 30 beers is unbeatable. Binge drinking rocks!

        1. This seems inefficient. Help me with the math here…

      2. Natty is what you drink when you’re too drunk to taste.

        I drink it often.

    6. I can say with authoritah that this is not the case. I’ve had a couple of 20+% alcohol beers that were both delicious. Which is a problem in its own right. These were homebrews and, for that matter brewed by a guy who should probably be in jail for his… other activities… but yummy nonethesess.

  6. OTOH you can buy Hawkeye vodka at Hy-Vee at 3 AM.

    1. Thunderbird wine’s creepy uncle.

    2. Hawkeyes are pussies! Drink Cyclone Vodka.

  7. As an ex-Iowan, one thing Iowa does have going for it is liberal liquor sales laws. No state stores, Sunday sales are fine (CO just got rid of that in ’08), no 3.2 restrictions, grocery stores and convenience stores can sell pretty much anything they want (CO still has heavy restrictions on this sort of thing).

    1. The vast majority of CA regulations are over-burdensome garbage, yet somehow they keep their paws of alcohol better than most states. No state owned distribution/retail, no forced 3 tier system, no restrictions on sales other than the 2AM-6AM ban, etc. I just hope they can keep their hands off it down the line

      1. I’ll bet it’s because they are afraid of doing anything that might decrease alcohol tax receipts.

        1. The excise taxes aren’t too bad compared to the national average. Of course, the 8%+ sales tax is killer but that’s felt on every product you buy not just alcohol.

      2. It’s to prevent the majority of population from sobering up and realizing just how crappy it is to try and live under Sacramento’s shadow.

    2. Month ago I was in Pittsburgh PA, home of the Steelers and the Pirates for Pete’s sake, and discovered booze-rules there are straight from a Communist state. WTF?

      1. Well, it is governed (de facto) from Philly.

      2. Why the fuck do you think there has never been an on-field riot at a Pirates game for the last 20 years? Lack of alcohol.

        1. Yeah, but maybe turn out at Pirates games would be better if people could drink more. The quality of baseball certainly won’t fill that stadium in the long term.

      3. Been in every state in the country, but was born and raised in PA. Most draconian liquor laws in the country.

  8. Craft beer open thread! And on a Friday no less. Any recommendations?

    1. Recommendations depend on what part of the country you’re in. If you have access to Deschutes my vote is the Black Butte XXIII, as long as you’d like a very strong porter. I had a bottle last week, and it was worth every penny on the $16 price tag.

      1. Porters are one of my favorite styles, and Black Butte is one of my favorite porters, so that’s an excellent recommendation. What did $16 get you? A six pack? A bomber?

        1. Bomber. Their special releases are always in that range, the Jubel 2010 was $15, IIRC.

        2. Anchor Porter is astonishingly good, but may be hard to procure outside CA.

          1. I’ve been drinking that stuff for more than a decade. It was my first porter. *sniff* ah memories.

        3. I like the black amber (similar to porter) from New Belgium, 1656, or something….

        4. Pigs Ass Porter, Harvest Moon Brewing Company, Belt Montana

        5. how is samuel adam’s? i have never tried it

      2. I really like Deschutes but can’t seem to find it down here in Texico.

        1. Try Spec’s, if they have any in your area. They didn’t have them in Houston forever, but we finally got them about two years ago I think.

          1. Thanks. I haven’t seen one here in DFW mid-cities. Perhaps Google knows where one is.

            1. I’m in the FW part and it is available at Central Market.

            2. Spec’s only seems to be in So Tex

        2. It’s on tap at Whip In.

          My nomination is Pecan Porter. Mmmmmm!

    2. I’m partial to Mojo IPA from Boulder Beer. Mainly because of a very pleasant drunk afternoon a couple years ago.

    3. I’m a big fan of Breckenridge, Great Lakes, and BBC beers. To qualify that, I’m not a big fan of IPAs or other hoppy beers, which is somewhat umAmerican I know, prefering malty and unfiltered beers. Wisconsin also has some great local brews, but they don’t sell them outside the state. Where are you looking?

      1. Here’s too Great Lakes! Monster is a killer.

      2. Breckenridge is hit or miss for me. I like the 471 and the Vanilla Porter, but don’t think anything else of theirs has impressed me. I don’t think we get Great Lakes down in Houston, and I’m not familiar with BBC.

        1. Joe M–BBC is probably Bluegrass Brewing Co.–Louisville KY.

    4. Captain Lawrence if you live in Westchester County, NY!

    5. Black IPA’s are pretty sporty. I have one of mine on tap that comes in at 80 IBUs and 7.9%. All American “C” hops and dry hopped like crazy.

      1. Define the “black” in that. Is it somewhere in the neighborhood of an imperial stout?

      2. Stone’s Sublimely Self Righteous might be an enjoyable brew. It’s a black ale with the perfect trademark Stone brewing hoppiness.

        1. Koch (Greg) sucker!! hehehehe.

      3. Iowahomebrewer, what’s the SRM on your black IPA? We make one with Cascade and Centennial that hits about 7?v and about 75-80 IBU.
        Have you had any Peace Tree brews out of Knoxville, IA? I enjoy their Hop Wrangler IPA–not at all an American West Coast style, very English to my taste. Their impy stout is ok and it comes in a cool medicine looking bottle.

    6. Any recommendations?

      Get a life?

  9. THE 2 A.M. CALL ? Don’t answer it!!!

    [You don’t want to know]

    Now it seems that both the far left and the far right in the American ? Israeli Military Industrial Complex ? the [EMPIRE], have come to see that when it comes to the [2 A. M. Call] to the Imperial Emperor of the Empire comes in its become a matter of We can not be reached at this time but if you leave your name, and telephone number we will get back to you as soon as we can, with a long flowery speech, followed by indecision at best or a decision that will change with the wind and time of day. It has gotten so bad that the Left of the political spectrum is calling for a replacement of its own leadership in mass and making that point clear as the campaign donation funding dries up to their Imperial Left Spectrum Emperor. Both sides of the [EMPIRE] and the International Community at least the Western half have to understand that if a New Team is not put into place the entire Western Civilization is looking at not a soft economic landing but a sudden deep and prolonged Global Economic Chaotic Catastrophic Transition, and one writer but it simply by saying in answer to the question as to just how ugly will it get, you don’t want to know.

    [King of the Castle]

    Now, we were not a fan of [GWB] George Walker Bush and had occasion to let his Secret Service who came a calling to see know and understand that we were not fans of their boss, but be that as it may, we were a compete fan of his leadership style, it was strictly business, and one thing was for certain old [GWB] could be counted upon, you knew exactly which way things were going to come down on any decision, even before that decision was announced, that was without question, and [GWB] stuck to his guns, without exception, the only modification were tweaking, the guy ran a Chicago Major Richard J. Daley Machine Operation, and just like old Richard J. [Kings came to him and not the other way around]., [GWB] was the King in his castle, the speeches weren’t long and meaningless they were short to the point, followed by concrete action, we didn’t like the direction of the power of the [GWB] Machine but we understood it. And, to the question asked by [GWB] Do You Miss Me Yet? My answer is [NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO!], but we sure do miss the Major Richard J. style of leadership, and that is what is needed the problem with Mike Daley is his father Richard J. didn’t rub off on him, his father knew that what he built in Chicago would not work across the [EMPIRE], Richard J. never walked down the hall’s of Cook County, or of Congress, and neither should Mike.

    [Bring back a Machine]

    Here’s the deal, neither the [EMPIRE] nor the West, can afford to have the present Imperial Emperor of the [EMPIRE] remain in the Oval Office now let alone another [48] months, and are we going to say it has to be a Right or Left that should be in it, that is up to the citizens of the [EMPIRE] to decide, but we would at least like to see an individual who will answer the [2 A.M.] phone call and set the wheels in motion of the MACHINE to get something, anything, done, without indecision and sticking their finger in their mouths to wet it, then putting it up in the air, to see how the wind is blowing, hot or cold and in what direction. Neither the [EMPIRE] nor the [WEST], can afford [48] more months of non-MACHINE leadership, the [EMPIRE], now need to replace the individual in the Oval Office with leadership, of [MACHINE POLITICS], a individual bringing in a [TEAM] ready to hit the ground running, STOP WHAT’S YOUR DOING! These are your new directions, when we call YOU ANSWER! That is not a request, and that means every minute of every hour, of every day, [24/7], and we intend for that to mean for [8] years, you will follow the [MACHINE] in all matters without deviation. Just give me the [MACHINE] leadership, but without the present occupant of the Oval Office, even that individual’s own can understand that, Richard J. Daley was one of them; Mike Daley just didn’t get it, and the out of Chicago, born and raised Occupant of the Oval Office, wouldn’t know a Richard J. Daley or [GWB] Machine Run Political Organization and it’s need in times of crisis if it hit him in the face. It was always was windy in the Windy City, but we always knew which way it was blowing with Richard J. and in Washington with [GWB] one Left one Right.


    1. Last call is usually around 1:50AM, Herc.

      1. In Louisville it’s 3:30am. Not that I make it out that late anymore.

  10. no matter whom you’re drinking with.

    Pretentiousness: not just for liberals anymore.

  11. those guys really do make a lot of sense wow.

  12. didn’t Johnny Carson used to do a bit oabout ridiculous (non-existant) laws? I think not sipping beer in bed with your wife has to be one of those. What if you need beer while you’re in bed with your wife?

    1. You just have to chug instead of sipping.

  13. At the moment, just finished a Weihenstephaner Dunkelweiss and Avery Hog Heaven barleywine, and working on Stone IRS. Got a Oskar Blues Yella Pils and Black Butte Porter in the fridge for backups.

  14. I recall as a child, having gone to the state liquor store with my dad to pick up any and all alcohol. At some point in my youth, I don’t recall when, Iowa made it legal for a grown adult, like my dad, to purchase his alcohol in a grocery store. There were no riots. There was no massive increase in crime. There was no Mel-Gibsonesque, homo-erotic, band of outlaw bikers that raped their way across the state. My only memory of the liberalization of the state’s liquor laws is a complete non-memory. Allowing private retailers to sell alcohol will not cause some dystopian universe where Vernon Wells will… …

    So, how about you let the people handle their alcohol like adults… and citizens.

    1. Well, Lord Humungus posts on this site, though, so be careful.

  15. “Iowa imposed a limit of 6 percent alcohol by volume on beer production, drastically circumscribing local breweries’ ability to compete in the growing craft beer market.”

    Note to self: Never move to Iowa.

  16. Why don’t they stop trying to have a beer with me and do their job?!

  17. it’s against the law to have three sips of beer while in bed with your wife

    Why won’t anyone take us seriously?

    1. Interesting – it only takes one sip to give her a yeast infection

    2. Why won’t anyone take us seriously?! peeped the indignant glibertarian, pointing to an obscure, ancient, unenforceable law that nobody — absolutely nobody — but a glibertarian columnist on a deadline gives the slightest shit about. No concern from cops, nor the state, nor any grownups. But the shut-in gun-cuddling dork contingent is very cross about this.

      Why indeed, won’t anybody take you seriously?

      1. “pointing to an obscure, ancient, unenforceable law that nobody — absolutely nobody — but a glibertarian columnist on a deadline gives the slightest shit about.”

        Here in NC there are cohabitation laws from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s that say a woman and man cannot live together unless married. A Sheriff’s Department fired a dispatcher here for violating that law and she had to go to court for months and seek help from the ACLU.

        Want to try again about how old laws never get enforced?

        1. Wow! You’ve found a stupid law in an ex-slave state enforceable only because it applies to cops! Amazing. What a perfect reason to call for the dismantling of the entire state and to advocate an ethos that denies the existence of society.

          Although I have to admit your concern for the public employee’s dilemma is unexpected and touching.

          1. First, it doesn’t just apply to cops. It is a law on the books. Allowing laws to remain on the books allows arbitrary enforcement. Meaning that any bureaucrat or LEO can use such a trivial law to punish or push an agenda.
            2. What does being an ex-slave state have to do with anything?
            3. I will wager 100-1 your state has laws against oral sex, cleaning your own gutters, or having a beer in your own bar after hours. These laws rarely go away and are enforced more often than you could imagine.
            4. My concern is for the use of laws (trivial or far reaching)to curb civil liberties
            5. Who said anything about dismantling. I want to reduce laws that are unconstitutional.
            6. Government does not equal or create society. Society creates government and any government that interferes with a citizen’s right to live peacefully and prosper is a bad government and requires reform and reduction.
            7. You are a half-wit

      2. Can you honestly give a good reason why we shouldn’t make an effort to update our legal code to exclude random stupid laws? Are you defending all the dumb laws still on the books just because they’re not typically enforced? Why should we waste space in our law books to make riding a horse on Main Street illegal on Sundays? How does this help us advance as a society?

  18. I will be in Des Moines for the next two weeks. Fortunately the city has Court Avenue Brewing, which has a Bourbon Cherry Stout in the cask. I will be drinking that as I mourn the fate of beer in Iowa.

  19. L’alcool est ? la fois un danger pour nos enfants et une excellente source de recettes de l’Etat!

  20. “Note to self: Never move to Iowa.” HAHAHAH Thanks for the advice 😛

    “it’s against the law to have three sips of beer while in bed with your wife” I wonder what caused this to become a law

    1. I often wonder what went on to make any kind of arbitrary legal distinctions. Who decided two sips was OK but three was a no-no? Four is right out!

  21. “owa not only places large excise taxes on wine (3rd highest in the nation) and beer (the highest in region, with the exception of two states)”

    Aren’t these two rankings functionally equivalent? Couldn’t the author have also said “3rd in the nation with the exception of two states?”

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