The brewery in Belle Plaine is the first craft beer brewery in Benton County, specializing in two things, Wittrock said, creative brews and sharing the history of Benton County through their beers. He is serious about putting Benton County on the map, one township at a time. In some cases one story at a time.
The Wittrocks bought the building in June and began renovations in preparation for the brewery area becoming functional first. The taproom in the front of the building is January and February's task. He said he wants to create a place, "where everyone knows your name". He purchased the major part of the brewing equipment for the business in January of 2020 from Lark Brewing in Cedar Falls in anticipation of beginning the business.
Before the brewery was fully licensed, some of the test brewing was done at home, using the new equipment and having a bit of a learning curve. So, the Wittrocks turned their basement into their lab for creating the beer on the new equipment. He obtained his fermenters from Kansas City where they had been used to make kombucha tea. Putting all of the pieces together he's built his business and has all the brewery equipment to produce craft beers.
In June, after the test batches proved successful, it was time to apply for the license to produce and sell, and by August he had his federal license from the TTB. Next, he applied for his State of Iowa Class A Native Brewer license which was approved in October, and in November he was approved for his Class B sales license through the Belle Plaine city council. He was now ready to legally brew and begin selling.
Wittrock said that his son Jon, who also works with him, had been encouraging him to launch the brewery for several years. The two create the batches of their specially flavored beers by collaborating and creating different beers styles since the brewery has more flexibility to do so.
Each batch of beer takes between 6 and 8 weeks to complete from brewing day to kegging day. Wittrock does very well illustrating the process and explaining what is happening on the Benton County Brewing Company Facebook page.
One of the beers featured this past weekend Wittrock said he named Sasquahops, a play on Sasquatch after a story he heard about in 1996 of a supposed Big Foot sighting in Mt. Auburn. He also featured the Octoberfest beer which will be brewed year-round, rather than just in October. In their first opening, they sold out of all their canned beer twice (over 100 16oz cans) and continued to keep customers happy with growler fills throughout the opening day.
They say, "if you do something that you love, it's not work." While Jon and Marty are working hard to make the beers, I don't get the impression that it's work - it's a passion. As I talked with Marty about his new business, it was evident that the man has two passions wrapped up in one in this business. The first is craft beer.
Wittrock has brewed beer at home for decades sharing it with family and friends, getting their feedback, and experimenting with the development of the beers. He said it started back in 1994 when he toured the Old Style Brewery in LaCrosse Wisconsin. He said, "as soon as the smell hit my nose, I knew I wanted to start a brewery."
Marty started brewing in 1994, and many friends suggested he start a brewery, but it wasn't the right time, the idea was put on hold while raising 5 kids and everything that goes along with that. Wittrock is employed as a Principal Systems Engineer at Collins Aerospace (22+ years). Rhonda is the owner of Wittrock T-shirts and has been successfully providing apparel to the local businesses and schools as well as walk-in customers for over 25 years. Her experience and training as a graphic designer have become the cornerstone of the brewery's marketing. The two businesses are located diagonally from each other in downtown Belle Plaine.
Marty said that Rhonda has been his "Johanna," a reference to Gustav Heileman's wife who carried on the Old Style brewery in LaCrosse in the 1800s after Gustav passed away 9 years into its creation. He said that like Johanna, Rhonda has been handling all the details of the business and marketing. As a graphic designer, she's taken on designing labels for the beers, as well as t-shirts, beanies and hats, and other items promoting the brewery.
The second passion for Wittrock is history. Every beer brewed by the Benton County Brewing Company has been tailored for a township in Benton County. His mission is to promote Benton County and use nuggets of its history to create a unique experience for their customers to learn a little bit about it.
The brewery will be offering its creations again this weekend. On Friday, Christmas Eve, from Noon until 4:30 PM the brewery will open and will be offering its St. Clair Irish Red and Eldorado Golden Ale, a golden ale light beer. (Light in color, lighter in alcohol content, but not lighter in calories)
The brewery is limited in space, as the building is being remodeled to include a taproom that they want to open in the early Spring (March timeframe). The business will use the brewery's back door area in the back of the building for sales. across from Grieder's BP in the alley.
Because of the small space, they will limit 4 to 5 customers at a time into the brewery. Right now they offer up to two growler fills and/or canned beer sales. If you'd like to sample before you buy, you can. The brewery offers this advice if you intend to bring or purchase a growler, that the beers are best consumed the same day and do not provide a reliable seal for long-term storage. The public is welcome to bring in their clean growlers to be filled,
Growlers can also be purchased. The cost is $7 for the 32 oz. Artisan Growler, and the 64 oz.BCBC growlers will be $9. A 64 oz Growler of either Sasquahops IPA or BCBC Year-Round Octoberfest will run $17+tax, just buy or bring your growler. A 32 oz. fill will run $8.50. By state law, they can only fill the 64 oz growlers.
The business will also offer 16 oz cans of BCBC Octoberfest, Sasquahops IPA, St. Clair Irish Red, and Eldorado Golden Ale at $6.50 per can. (Canned beer is your best buy if you want to enjoy beers days later with friends and family for the holidays - just keep it cold.) There will be a good supply of each style for sale. Prices do not include sales tax.
The final run for the year will be December 31st, and it will feature their Guinnville Stout. Be sure to follow their Facebook page for pop-up sales as they become available, too. From January and forward they will continue beer sales from the brewery until the taproom is ready to open. January will feature a Dunkleweizen (amber-colored wheat beer) and two 'Weird Beers of the Month' - a German Chocolate Cake Stout and a Peppermint Patty Creme de Menthe Stout.
Other beer/brewing/BCBC tidbits:
The BCBC is strictly an Ale House fermenting at 65 degrees or less, not lagering takes a longer time to complete and ties up the equipment.
The name "Benton County Brewing Company" has been fermenting for a long time. As an inside joke back in 1995 it was put on the side of one of the first pieces of equipment, a CO2 tank that Wittrock used for parties and events with friends and family. As they searched for a brewery name for the company, the family couldn't agree on a name, so they came back to the name they started with, Benton County Brewing Company.
The address of the business is 708 12th St., in Belle Plaine...the former ASAC (Area Substance Abuse Council). The building is well suited for the brewery will be perfect for the taproom.
Wittrock plans to venture into some fun directions for his beer. Maybe a "Weird beer of the Month." Around Valentine's Day, you might see a German Chocolate Cake or a Crme de menthe. In summer he is looking at a "south of the (Iowa) border" beer with a touch of tequila mix for a nice flavor and 'dry-hopped' with Jalapeno peppers - a great Summer beer.
Usually, darker beer is generally made in winter. It produces a richer taste and is higher in alcohol content for those long winter months. Lighter beers are served in the summer and are easy to drink, and lighter beer doesn't mean lighter in calories.