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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Newton brewery offers free beer this Saturday from 12-6

Mason Groben stepped out of the old Maytag factory onto the gravel road in yellow galoshes, dusty jeans and a plain gray t-shirt. Walking out of the brick building, which produced millions of appliances from the early 20th century until a few years ago, Groben looks as if he could be coming off a shift making your grandparents’ new dryer. But no, Groben was ending a day of making, drinking and thinking about beer—all a part of his job running the month-old Madhouse Brewery.

“There used to be washers and dryers that ran around the block in here,” Groben said, referring to the spacious, concrete warehouse which houses all the equipment necessary to brew and was formerly used as a testing facility for appliances.

Groben has a long history of making alcohol. Along with his job of running Madhouse, he also serves as a winemaker for his family’s company, Jasper Wineries, which recently moved from Newton to Des Moines.

After the move, Groben and the CEO of Iowa Telecom, Allen Wells, decided to open a brewery in the old factory space. Iowa Telecom had purchased the entirety of the old Maytag property and had unused square footage.

“I started talking to the folks at Iowa Telecom and they actually independently had the idea of starting a brewery, because they have all the space leftover when they took over from Maytag,” Groben said.

After a few legal hurdles, including working towards repealing a prohibition-era Iowa law that prevented him from working for both a winery and brewery, Groben set up shop in the Maytag factory this March.

Groben, who runs the brewery as a one-man operation, has spent the last months setting up shop and beginning his first batches of beer. As of now, Madhouse Brewery consists of two beers—an American style wheat beer, aptly named American Wheat, and a American Pale Ale, named Pastime, a nod to the first model of Maytag washing machines.

“We will eventually add on to more, we want to get these two brands launched first. Maybe like an Amber Ale, or a double IPA,” Groben said.

While he knows beers better than your average Pat, Groben said this was his first foray into brewing them. Groben, who attended the University of California-Davis and earned a degree in winemaking and has worked at several wineries, hopes to translate that experience into beer-making.

“I just kind of just got into beer-making just a couple of months ago when I started learning how to use the equipment,” Groben said. “But a lot of the chemistry is the same, a lot of the processing and fermentation are the same and a lot of things are different. But I think I’ll be able to figure it out.”

Judging from the taste of his beers, he’s not far off. American Wheat received generally positive views from the staff of the S&B, and does more or less what is expected from its style—refreshes without demanding too much attention. The Pastime Pale Ale, which is being bottled this weekend for distribution and was only available on-site to this reporter straight from the fermentation tank, pours a nice amber color and has a rich caramelly flavor with a satisfyingly subtle citrus taste and plenty of hops.
Groben has begun distribution of his beer in Poweshiek County, including McNally’s.

“Just last week, I hired a sales guy and bought a van,” Groben said. “The first batch sold out at McNally’s in a week. Starting next week, we shouldn’t run out again.”
Groben may not be producing world-class brews yet, but he seems committed to making Madhouse Brewery a point of pride in the region, which was economically hit hard in past years.

When it was announced the Maytag plants would close in 2007, the New York Times ran an article looking into the dire economic and social consequences the loss of a 100-year-old institution would have on the town. “Directly or indirectly, everything that has happened here has depended on Maytag,” Newton resident and former Maytag employee Leland Smith said, as quoted in the article.

In 2007, 1,800 jobs were lost when the factory closed its doors. For a town of 16,000, it seemed it would be a crippling blow. Its future still remains largely up in the air, especially after large job losses were posted for the county between January and February.

Groben will be opening his doors to the public on April 17 for an open house. “We have our grand opening on Saturday,” Groben said. “Free beer, from noon to six. No, seriously, free beer.”

Madhouse Brewery can be found at 403 W. 4th St. N., only about 20 minutes by car from Grinnell.

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