Sample and purchase exceptional wine, beer and art created by the state’s finest makers
Looking for an authentic Iowa gift to bring back home or want to sample some of the Midwest’s finest wines? Iowa studios and farms are overflowing with handmade pieces of art, small-batch craft beer and fresh-picked produce to pique the interest of any palate.
America’s craft beer boom has also flourished in Iowa, where brewers have easy access to grains and fresh water to create award-winning brews for every taste. Located just outside of Ames on a 40-acre, family-owned farm, Alluvial Brewing Company allows visitors to sample spring ales and lagers while walking through preserved wetlands and vegetable rows. Continue west to the nearby city of Boone, home of the Boone Valley Brewing Company. Favorites in this intimate pub include the Roxie Irish Red and Halligan Porter for those who prefer their brews on the sweet side. A nearby agritourism adventure awaits at Jefferson County Ciderworks, which owns over 700 heirloom apple trees to create tasty creations that integrate flavors like lavender, orange and hibiscus.
Large groups can rent the immense, multistory taproom at Toppling Goliath, Decorah’s premier culinary attraction and the only place to enjoy signature creations like the Pseudo Sue Pale Ale and Golden Nugget IPA on tap. For live music in a more intimate pub atmosphere, head to Franklin Street Brewing in Manchester, which serves IPAs and blonde ales that won prizes at the Iowa State Fair. Other charming craft breweries include Albia Brewing Company (which also serves fresh wood-fired pizzas), River Ridge Brewing Company (which boasts gorgeous views of the Mississippi River) and Peace Tree Brewing (located in the heart of Des Moines’ hip East Village neighborhood).
Iowa’s fertile soil produces wines that rival California for variety and quality at a fraction of the cost, and groups can embark on wine trail adventures and vineyard tours without the tourism congestion of northern California. Begin your wine excursion at Prairie Moon Winery in Ames, which features a spacious tasting room to sample the signature Honey Moon red (a juicy semisweet red made with locally sourced Concord grapes). Personalized visits can be arranged at Barrel Head Winery, a family-run farm outside Dubuque where members of the Burns family can lead a walking tour of the grounds before offering samples of Dry Tomcat champagne and Sweet Cranberry fruit wine.
Cedar Valley Winery, housed in a charming red barn and featuring peaceful views of the surrounding vineyards, offers tours and tastings of its French and American hybrid varietals in the town of Batavia. Offerings include the Vignoles white, Chambourcin red and Foch rosé for easy drinking. One of Iowa’s more unique wine experiences is Corning Winery’s floating tasting room, where visitors walk on a gangplank to reach a nautically inspired space that includes an aquarium on the floor.
Black Hawk County, which encompasses Waterloo and Cedar Falls, is the site of over 25 barn quilts, exquisite folk art designs painted on barns or homes by local families. Embark on a self-guided tour to see as many homes as you’d like, and most families are glad to explain their art with advanced notice. A similar itinerary awaits in Clayton County—home to 30 barn quilt designs to admire. Located in downtown Winterset, the Iowa Quilt Museum rotates its exhibits every three months to showcase quilting history and creations of local artists, who are sometimes on hand to discuss their work.
More idiosyncratic art can be found throughout the state, such as the elaborate creations at Matchstick Marvels. Gladbrook craftsman Patrick Acton has constructed over 70 pieces entirely from wooden matchsticks that resemble the U.S. Capitol, Notre Dame Cathedral and Challenger spacecraft. By appointment, visitors can also see the elaborate woodcarving creations of Jack Becker in Dyersville. Highlights include the largest carved clock in Iowa, elaborate chessboards and replicas of the Twelve Apostles. Isabel Bloom was a Davenport based artist who became internationally renowned for her concrete sculptures of animals and young children. Learn about her legacy and purchase a sculpture for yourself on a 45-minute tour of the museum and workshop, where you can witness sculptors shaping and firing the elaborate figures.
The Amana Colonies (seven closely united villages originally founded by German Lutherans) feature artisan shops that sell wine, baked goods and—most notably— furniture. Crafted using 19th century methods with painstaking detail, these beautiful pieces are available for sale at businesses such as the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop.
For a thorough agritourism experience, stay for Cinnamon Ridge’s Farm to Table event, an evening of food, drink and education provided by the friendly Cinnamon Ridge farmers. Groups will dine on white tablecloths outside the farmhouse and can sample local produce, ride farm equipment and chat with local growers between courses.
Groups can also emulate Iowa artisans themselves with a visit to Three Pines Farm in Black Hawk County. A variety of cooking and crafting classes are offered at an 1865 farmstead where friendly fifth-generation farmers can teach visitors how to basketweave, stitch a necktie or bake a homemade pie in a state-of-the art kitchen.