Firetrucker Lights Up Ankeny
Brewing great beer is an art. That’s probably a sentiment that every craft beer lover has expressed at one time or another. For most craft drinkers, it is probably just an expression to throw out while chatting with friends over a couple pints. The owners of Firetrucker Brewery, however, fully embrace the artistic side of brewing.
“We try to tie all of the arts together,” says Dan Heiderscheit, co-owner and head brewer, “Brewing as an art, the culinary arts, visual arts, music—we try to bring all those things together into a great place to hang out.”
Partners Scott Kaven, Neil Zaugg and Dan Heiderscheit opened the brewery in Ankeny on July 4, 2014, and in seven short months they’ve developed a business that is becoming an integral part of Ankeny’s Uptown Area. The small business district is currently home to a number of restaurants and local shops, and will soon add the Ankeny Market Pavilion, a new permanent home for the city’s farmers market. The trailhead to the popular High Trestle Trail is located less than a block from the brewery as well.
As you might guess from the brewery’s name, Firetrucker is housed in the former headquarters of the Ankeny Fire Department. “They moved to a new building in 1999,” says Heiderscheit, “the building was largely used for storage by the fire department and the school district until we purchased it from the city.”
Scott Kaven, the brewery’s Creative Director adds, “Ankeny has grown so much, so this area will be a cool place for the city and a great change of pace from the chain restaurants by the Interstate.”
Kaven uses his graphic design background to design the tap handles and promotional materials for the brewery, and Zaugg focuses on distribution and arranging live music for the weekends. “We all have different talents, which has really helped us in building the business,” says Kaven. All three partners have home brewing experience, but Heiderscheit is the “brew master/mad rocket scientist” to use Kaven’s words. Kaven adds, “We all choose the beers but Dan is the driving force.”
Many of Heiderscheit’s recipes go back twenty years, so he has had a large portfolio to draw upon during Firetrucker’s opening months. His hope is to develop a series of seasonal beers to share tap space with the brewery’s six core selections. “We hope to have a broad enough range of beers that everyone can find a beer to enjoy,” says Heiderscheit. “We offer a wide range of beer and want people to find something they like so they’ll’ come back. There is so much room to expand the market for craft beer. The only way for us to grow is to convert more people to craft beer.”
Of the permanent beers, the 2 Alarm Red has proven to be most popular among the tap room. The red is pretty strong at 7.6% alcohol by volume and has a rich malty taste that almost suggests the flavor of a barleywine.
Heiderscheit’s personal preference is for darker, malty beers, so Firetrucker’s lineup features Burnout Brown, Pumpertruck Porter, and Grizzly Stout. All three are excellent choices for people who like those styles. The Burnout Brown is among the brewery’s best- selling kegs at their other tap accounts and will remind you of an English southern brown ale with its hints of chocolate in its satisfying malt profile.
Many of Firetrucker’s regulars assert the porter is more than a match for popular versions of the style such as Black Butte or Moose Drool. Unlike many porters made today, the Pumpertruck Porter distinguishes itself from stouts by building up a caramel base with chocolate malt without a highlighted roasted malt flavor.
Along with the porter, red, and brown, Firetrucker’s other main “transition” beer for those new to craft beer is the Steam Engine California Common. Reminiscent of Anchor Steam, a common ale is light in color, with a cool crisp taste at the forefront followed by a nice hop bite. Heiderscheit states that the Common and the Porter are closest to the conventional beer style guidelines.
Firetrucker’s other lighter offering is the more unusual Cat in a Tree Ginger Beer. This is not the non-alcoholic ginger beer used as a cocktail mix, but a light refreshing beer infused with fresh-ground ginger and brewed with champagne yeast to produce an effervescent treat. During the summer months, the ginger beer was a top seller at Firetrucker, and it is easy to imagine downing a ginger or two after a day of bicycling along the High Trestle Trail.
Just keep in mind that, despite its similarity to a refreshing soft drink, this ginger beer still contains 4% alcohol. The brewery is working on a stronger version that will be more in the range of 11% alcohol.
Firetrucker doesn’t completely forsake the hoppier beer styles. They plan on producing a series of India Pale Ales in the future, including a mango double IPA. The current offering, Uptown IPA, is certainly no hop bomb, but rather is a very quaffable session ale that offers a delicate hint of mandarin orange that comes from an infusion of Bravo hops. “People do like IPAs,” notes Heiderscheit, “so we’ll always try to keep at least one in the lineup.”
Among the other specialty beers at the time of our visit were Wildfire, a sour beer produced in collaboration with CIB Brewing. Also available were Under Lager Search & Rescue Imperial Lager and Acova Black Walnut Ale. The walnut ale is based on one of Kaven’s home brew recipes. This brown ale derives an extra nuttiness to complement the normal dark caramel and chocolate flavor of a brown ale.
If the beer lineup on its own weren’t enough, Firetrucker also offers Lemon Coolers, a mix of the Steam Engine and lemonade (the brewery hopes to offer a grapefruit version soon, also). Among future beer offerings will be a hazelnut brown ale and an Irish Cream.
At the present time, only the collaboration with CIB is available in bottles. Down the road, Firetrucker hopes to can their beers for retail sales. Growlers are available for sale at the brewery, and Firetrucker can also be found at several area bars and restaurants. Most of the current distribution is in the Des Moines metro, but Firetrucker’s beers can be found farther afield in spots such as the Cellar Peanut in Oskaloosa, the Iowa Chophouse in Iowa City, and Lion Bridge in Cedar Rapids. “We hope to expand our footprint in eastern Iowa over the next year,” notes Heiderscheit.
If you can’t find Firetrucker at one for your local outlets, there are plenty of reasons to visit the brewery’s tap room in Ankeny. As noted, the brewery is adjacent to a popular bike trail and features a spacious, beer garden.
Keeping with their artistic bent, the brewery features rotating art installations which change every two months. “We have a reception for the artists when we change the exhibit,” says Kaven, “and on those nights the brewery really becomes an art gallery and we’ve helped the artists make quite a few sales.”
Since Firetrucker does not serve food, they often bring in food trucks. Grilled cheese sandwiches from Melts Without Borders are a popular guest. The brewery also partners with area restaurants such as the Yankee Clipper (terrific tacos), Okoboji Grill, and Leaning Tower Pizza. The brewery has set up electrical outlets throughout the seating area, too, and customers are encourage to bring a crock pot to plug in if they’d like to prepare their own meal.
“Our goal always is to make if fun,” says Heiderscheit. We want to be the neighborhood hangout bar.” Kaven concurs, noting that “we try to schedule some kind of special event every two weeks or so, whether it’s a birthday celebration, a beer release, or something more off-the-wall like our ‘Bike Alempics,’ a series of competitions for bicyclists including a bike ‘tractor pull’ and a tire-changing challenge.” The brewery also hosts live music almost every Friday and Saturday night.
Apparently at Firetrucker, not only is brewing an art, but so is living well. Leave it to a crazy band of artists to inject a healthy dose of frivolity to the Iowa beer scene.