By Katie Roche
Gloria and Brian Knocke farmed for over 30 years just five miles east of historic Oelwein in a little town called Stanley. In 2007 they decided to get out of hog farming for “health reasons” and their hobby of making beer and wine suddenly became their profession. Brian, a former teacher, was in contact with a former student whom he had on the lookout for a brew system. His student found one. Used, and therefore more affordable, but a lot bigger than what the Knockes were looking for. However, they were still weighing the option of making wine instead of beer.
The Knockes watched the good old farming state of Iowa take easily and successfully to wine production and more wineries were opening every day. With only 4 hours to bid on the brew system, the Knockes had to decide whether to jump on the wine wave or play the rebel. Ultimately, because it would be a family business, it was a family decision. Beer it would be. It just felt like a better fit. When the brewing equipment arrived in March of 2007, the Knockes made some major renovations to their property and were ready to brew by November. The hobby turned enterprise was packaged, shipped out and on sale by the holidays. Only two years into the business and “Hub City Brewery” is already expanding. The name comes from the heyday nickname of the City of Oelwein’s railroad, “…a hub for three major branches of the Chicago Great Western Railway.
For now, Iowa breweries like Hub City are enjoying success as Midwesterners demonstrate their interest in drinking regionally produced beer. What was once a industry driven by the allure of the “microbrew” is now something more political, with drinker boasting that their favorite brews are local, syncing with the green movement and giving it even more strength. Local beer is so much in vogue that the much missed Star Beer in Dubuque reopened its facility as the crowning historical jewel on Dubuque’s Mississippi waterfront. With more Iowa breweries, wineries and a few distilleries opening up in the last few years, Hub City is among friends in a thriving industry.
Many Iowa brewers are already reaching beyond state lines out of necessity. Hub City has the goal of becoming a regional brewery. Brian Knocke has been making the rounds in Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Illinois, with hopes of adding Minnesota in the near future. When Brian is not out pounding the pavement, he’s at home with Gloria brewing and bottling side by side with their oldest son and head brewmaster, BJ. Younger son Greg, out in California, works on their marketing and his friend Sonyl Nagali, the web designer for American Idol, does their graphic design.
With only two full and three part time employees, Gloria’s nearly 80 year old mother, Margaret March, was coming to help on bottling days. But now with the expansion from a 15 barrel system to a “serious 60 barrel a day” business, she has a lot more cookies to make. The matriarch of the family has taken to developing recipes, mostly baked goods, using Hub City beer to replace most or some of the water. Her cookies are popular with the staff and visitors to the brewery, who take the recipes and their six packs home to try. “We’ve always been a fairly close family but now I can tease my mother that I get to pay her in beer. She doesn’t drink, so it’s cheap labor,” jokes Gloria. “And I tell my husband that he is the boss and I’m his slave”. The couple works long days, and as a whole the family is still getting adjusted to their routine and the closeness of running a business together. The extended families come to help out when they have their big events.
In addition to expanding their output, the 10 acre grounds at Hub City are also being redeveloped to include a better tasting room, and grounds for music performance. Locals have already latched onto the tasting room, happily keeping the Knockes well past their regular business hours. If folks are there, they are open. On Saturdays the tasting room is packed with people sampling all the beers and purchasing beer by the glass or pitcher.
As the variety of beer has expanded, so has business. Brewmaster BJ Knocke is presently planning an apricot ale, a selection of seasonal brews, and is also trying his hand at some sodas to be sold on site for younger visitors and soda pop fans. The Brown Ale will stay on the current roster with a new wheat beer recipe already being brewed. Any of the new brews that make the cut will most likely debut at Hub City’s summer solstice party on June 20th. This free event will feature three live music venues from 1-10PM, with their regular beers on tap, and some special just for the day.
While you’re in Oelwein you’ll see that some of the local businesses are starting to carry Hub City brew. Sometimes it’s harder to get the doors closest to you open to local fare, and so far only 2 restaurants are carrying the beer. Besides Grandma’s cookies, food is not served at the brewery, except for special events, so the Knockes often send tour groups off to local restaurants that carry their brew. It’s this kind cooperative cross marketing that can give a town or even a region a taste all their own. Eventually the Knockes hope that their beer is synonymous with the Hub City that loaned them their name. The events they host on their Hub City acreage just might be the key to floating to the top of the more localized market.
Consumers like to purchase experiences along with product. Even though beer brewing is less picturesque than the rolling hills of grapevines at a vineyard, breweries like Hub City are making up the difference by pairing their beer with something better even than cheese: music and fun. As Hub City continues to work on different ways to draw people to the brewery itself, Gloria says they are most concerned with a quality product, and expanding at a pace that guarantees each new beer is the best they have to offer. Hub City hasn’t won any awards yet, but then again they haven’t been able to keep the beer on the shelves long enough to enter any competitions.
Hub City Brewing Company
11352 40th Street, Stanley
Tasting Room Hours – (Labor Day through Memorial Day)
Open Tue-Sat 10am-5pm – Closed Sunday and Monday
Brewery Tours available by appointment only
Grandma March’s Golden Ale Bars
½ cup shortening 2 cup flour
½ cup white sugar 2 tsp. baking powder
½ cup brown sugar ½ tsp. baking soda
2 eggs ¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon ½ tsp. allspice
1 cup Hub City Golden Ale
Cream together shortening, white sugar, brown sugar, and eggs.
Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice,
and Hub City Golden Ale.
Pour in greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.
½ cup butter 2 Tbps. Evaporated milk
2/3 cup sugar 1/3 cup Dark Karo Syrup
2 cup powder sugar
Bring the butter, sugarm milk and syrup to a boil. Cool and add
Powder Sugar. Stir until smooth.