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Wise I Brewing Company

Ben Sitzmann, left, and Matt Lancaster pour a bin of specialty malts into the brew kettle while making a brown ale Tuesday, at Wise I Brewing Company in Le Mars, Iowa. The two, both co-owners and brewers, expect to open in early September.

LE MARS, Iowa -- Wise I Brewing Company brewer Matt Lancaster -- like so many professional brewers before him --  got his beer-making start with a Mr. Beer kit.

That first effort? Not so good.

"The plastic barrel leaked and I threw it into the garbage," he said.

Despite that fail, beers brewed years later proved successful and led to asking former high school classmate Ben Sitzmann to brew with him. "I knew he liked beer and we bonded over that," Lancaster said.

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Wise I Brewing Company
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Wise I Brewing Company
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Wise I Brewing Company
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Wise I Brewing Company

That bonding evolved into a partnership with Sitzmann to build Wise I Brewing Company at 15 Second St. N.E. in downtown Le Mars. The two co-owners and co-brewers are opening Wise I during a time when Iowa will have 100 operating breweries, a milestone number.

Set to open during the second week of September -- Friday, Sept. 13 is a distinct possibility -- the brewery comes at a time the two say is right for local beer.

"I think we are coming into it at almost the perfect time," Lancaster said. "I'm honestly a little surprised someone hasn't opened (a brewery here) before this. It's not far-fetched for a town of 10,000 people to easily support a brewery like this."

Wise I will brew five flagship beers; two India pale ales (one lighter bodied and citrusy, and the other a hoppy, West Coast-style version), a Vienna-style lager, a French-style Saison and a brown ale.

The first batches of their West Coast IPA, brown ale, lager and Saison have already been brewed on their five-barrel brewhouse and are currently fermenting. "Now, we wait," said Sitzmann.

"We want to make our beers approachable," he added. "We're very much local people and we want to please the local people first."

Wise I Brewing Company

Matt Lancaster hands a graduated cylinder of a still-fermenting French-style Saison to Ben Sitzmann to taste.

"But then we get to experiment," Lancaster said. "The flagships are the gateway beers, but we have 16 taps. We'll bring on the sours and the stouts and the coffee porters. We're going to do the wild stuff, too."

The two Le Mars natives have brewed a Triple Berry Pie sour ale in collaboration with Fernson Brewing Company in Sioux Falls that will be on tap when they open.

Wise I also will serve two ciders from Sacrilegious Ciderworks in Glenwood, Iowa, and will make its own root beer and flavored sodas.

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The two said they named the brewery as a kind-of homage to national temperance leader Ida B. Wise, a woman raised in southwest Iowa who authored prohibition bills that were the foundation for the Volstead Act which started national prohibition.

"It was really cool having someone from Iowa who was so involved in, obviously, the opposite side of alcohol," Sitzmann said. "We thought it was a cool reference."

Lancaster liked the imagery the name evoked, leading to the brewery's logo. "I hear Wise I and I think of wise men," he said. "I wanted hand-drawn tarot-style imagery of a wise man with a lantern."

Wise I Brewing Company

A Wise I Brewing Company Crowler sits in the taproom of the Le Mars, Iowa, brewery. The brewery will open the week of Sept. 8 and will feature 16 taps and sell beer to go in Crowler cans and growler bottles.

"No. 1 important is make good beer," Lancaster emphasized. "But creative labeling, creative atmosphere, that all is important and we've got nothing but amazing feedback about our logo."  The logo was created by Philadelphia artist Sam Heimer.

Family-friendly, the taproom will be able to hold up to 120 guests and plans to be open Tuesday through Saturday. Wise I will not serve food, but will allow carry-in food and plans to have food trucks at the brewery.

Wise I Brewing will be Le Mars' first known brewery since Germania Brewing Company closed in 1888. When it opens in mid-September, it will become one of about 100 craft breweries operating in Iowa or, it may actually be the 100th.

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Marto Brewing Company's first beers
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"(Wise I) is a contender for being the 100th brewery," according to Kelsey Seay, associate director of the the Iowa Brewers Guild, the trade group for Iowa's craft brewing industry.

Seay said other breweries anticipated to open soon include West Hill Brewing Company in Indianola, Fenceline Beer Lab in Huxley and House Divided Brewery in Ely.

The guild plans to celebrate the milestone by hosting a state-wide toast to the industry in September at the taproom of whichever brewery is the 100th.

The number of craft breweries in Iowa has steadily increased, more so since 2010 when Iowa law was changed to allow breweries to make beer with higher alcohol content. According to Sioux City Journal and brewers guild records, there were 18 breweries open in Iowa in 2008, about 21 in 2010 and about 75 in 2017.

Iowa's first modern-era brewery, Millstream Brewing Company in Amana opened in 1985.

Northwest Iowa breweries include West O Beer in West Okoboji, Okoboji Brewing Company in Spirit Lake, Drink Me Brewing Company in Sibley, and Jackson Street Brewing, Brioux City Brewery and Marto Brewing Company in Sioux City.

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2019 Iowa Craft Brew Festival
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2019 Iowa Craft Brew Festival
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2019 Iowa Craft Brew Festival

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