October 18, 2021

Cozy up with a cold one

Gezellig Brewing Company has a strong opening in Newton

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Days before the staff of Gezellig Brewing Company served a single glass of craft beer from their newly opened Newton storefront, the taproom and microbrewery was already dishing out kegs to surrounding bars, restaurants and craft brew pubs across the region.

Betsy Duffy, who co-owns the brewery with Mindi Vanden Bosch, said the brewery had received calls from places like The Iowa Taproom in Des Moines, which is known for maintaining an ever-changing menu of local brews on tap to quench the thirsts of craft beer craving customers.

Kegs of the Newtonian Haze, a New England IPA and the Turn Down for Brown, an English porter, have been “selling very well” at The Iowa Taproom, general manager Tim Wilcoxson said, and there’s still more to come.

“I believe we got another IPA that we’ll be putting on tap as soon as we can,” Wilcoxson told the Newton Daily News Wednesday. “We feature Iowa beers and so a lot of our clientele are very eager to try any new Iowa brewery out there, and it received very good reviews. We’re always looking for new things.”

Other establishments like Tin Roost in North Liberty, One Eleven Public House in Knoxville and Okoboji Grill in Newton stocked its taps with Gezellig Brewing creations. As an ode to their hometowns, Duffy and Vanden Bosch supplied early kegs to Boonie’s on the Avenue in Muscatine and The Cellar Peanut Pub in Pella, respectively.

By the time Gezellig Brewing opened its doors 3 p.m. June 7, enough hype had been generated to draw what Duffy estimated to be 1,000 people during the brewery’s first day of operation at the 403 W. Fourth St. N. taproom in Legacy Plaza, a redevelopment site of the former Maytag corporate headquarters buildings now owned by Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus.

Adding even more interest was the brewery’s opening day coinciding with an explosively popular year of Newton Fest.

“There was a really great influx of people here that weekend,” Duffy said. “It was not planned until all of a sudden about four weeks ago we had really great beer, and I found out that there’s a possibility of opening the entire weekend with 3,000 people outside our door. So that’s when I really put my foot on the gas.”

Staff, she added, kicked it into high gear. Many of which had never stepped foot behind a bar. Beertender Rachel Braafhart said she was blown away by the turnout of opening weekend and was happy to see both familiar faces from the Newton community and out-of-towners.

"The lines were so long," she said. "There was a line literally out the door. They were very kind and understanding that it might take a little bit longer to get their drink than on a regular Friday night. I found people were really excited. A lot of flights. Everybody wanted to try all the beers. It was a really welcoming crew."

From mash tun to keg

Announced in August 2018, Gezellig Brewing had originally eyed a taproom space in the basement of the Innovation Center in Maytag Building 1, but the owners eventually moved into Building 17, adjacent to the brewery site. Pitched as a family-friendly taproom and small-scale brewery, Gezellig Brewing anticipates it will create a selection of “craft sodas” in addition to craft beer.

Unsuccessful attempts to open a brewery in Pella turned the owners’ sights elsewhere. Duffy eventually purchased equipment from the Ankeny-based taproom New American Brewing Co., which closed in September 2018.

In need of a place to store the gear, Duffy contacted Kim Didier, executive director of DMACC Business Resources and the project manager of Legacy Plaza, and asked she could spare any temporary storage space. Duffy was also interested if there was any possible space that could be used for a brewery.

After dismissing herself from The Cellar Peanut Pub, an award-winning craft beer pub with locations in Pella and Newton she had operated alongside her husband Marty, Duffy settled on a name — pronounced with an “h” instead of a “g” for those wondering — and a theme and a couple brewmasters to take care of the beer making operations.

In May, Gezellig Brewing hired experienced beer maker Grant Heuer as its head brewer. Accompanied by fellow brewers Mike Street and Jason Matti, the three-man team have created close to a dozen original beers at the Dutch-inspired taproom.

An English pale ale, American IPAs, English IPAs, milk stouts, a pilsner, a lager and porters are currently on tap, though Duffy expects the menu will continue to evolve with new flavors and styles such as sours.

Something Duffy said she could not compromise on was the inclusion of good beer on tap. Gezellig Brewing would likely not have opened if the beer was not to her liking. But she also did not want to compromise on the taproom’s family-friendly vibe as promised less than a year ago.

Living up to its name — Gezellig, in Dutch, roughly translates to “cozy” — the taproom is installed with homey decor and inviting seating areas, including a kids corner full of board games and coloring books to keep them entertained while the adults enjoy a glass of the Liquid Hug Mexican Lager, a fairly popular “starter” pick among visitors that is also emblazoned on the shirts of staff members.

Duffy describes Gezellig Brewing as a “third space.”

She said, “It’s not their work. It’s not their home. It’s a place that people can gather and enjoy one another’s fellowship. That’s really what I love about taprooms and breweries. But the business model has always been to have a taproom where people can have that third space and (a place) you can test out your beer.”

Beertender Carissa Tigges added, “I think Betsy has really helped build an environment that’s encouraging people to sit and spend time with each other as opposed to some of the other ones that, focus on having sports on TV. And there’s a place for that of course … Here, everyone just gets to sit and chill and talk to each other.”

Home sweet Gezellig

Despite its identity as a “third space” — away from all the chores of home and the day-to-day grind of work — Duffy said she wanted Gezellig Brewing to feel like an extension of people’s homes.

“I love how peaceful this space is,” Duffy said. “I love the colors and the light.”

The bar area itself is fashioned more like a kitchen with its counter-top and surrounding tiling. Another section of the taproom is equipped with comfy chairs positioned on either side of a coffee table and lamp. Decorations in the main seating area are reminiscent to a warm living room.

Braafhart said, “This is not an uncomfortable setting. I think it’s really easy to walk into taprooms and breweries and sometimes feel really out of place. You feel, ‘Oh, I don’t know enough. I’m not a craft beer nerd enough to walk into here.’ You don’t feel that way walking in here.”

While renovating the space, crews also constructed an outdoor seating area in the courtyard of Legacy Plaza. Paying homage to building it is housed in, Duffy decided to keep the old corded phone installed onto the easternmost wall. It still works, too, and is the brewery’s main phone line if folks needed to call ahead to secure a couple beer crowlers.

“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Duffy said. “I think Mindi and I were so naive when we first said, ‘Oh! We’ll start a brewery!’ I didn’t know what a solenoid was. I didn’t know what a condenser was. Or how a boiler (worked). Subsequently, each one of these pieces of equipment have broken down and provided me the opportunity to learn so much more about the brewery.”

Friendly relationships with other Iowa breweries helped as well. During the early construction and brewing processes, Gezellig Brewing was given direction, words of encouragement and test hops during those early batches.

“That’s why we love the Iowa craft beer scene,” Duffy said. “They’re all small businesses. They all have kids so you know they’re there supporting their families. You understand their trials and tribulations and you support their triumphs. It’s very collaborative.”

With a community focus at the heart of its ambitions, Gezellig Brewing will also host events like the humorously named “introvert book club” and feature food trucks on weekends. As if a brewery in Newton wasn’t enough to look forward to. So far, guest feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of people said this is one thing they’ve really been looking for in the community,” Duffy said.

“And that the beer was really good.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com