An extensive business background and a love of craft beer led Clark Lewey and his team ofinnovators to build Toppling Goliath into the giant of Iowa’s beer industry.
In just a decade Decorah-based Toppling Goliath has quickly expanded to 110 employees with distribution in 19 states and three continents. It is world renowned for its IPAs and barrel-aged stouts and is a darling of the craft beer industry in several Asian markets, especially Korea.
It all started with a home brewing kit and Lewey’s inability to find a beer he was passionate about in northeast Iowa. The craft brewing industry was very attractive to the seasoned entrepreneur due to its fixed costs and simple ingredients of water, barley, hops and yeast.
He relied on the expertise he gained from working in his family’s rotational molding, fabrication and beverage distribution businesses in his planning process. Having spent most of his career as a beverage supplier, his knowledge of distribution channels played a key role in Toppling Goliath’s rapid growth.
He encourages other small business owners to select their distribution partners very carefully and to trademark everything to guard their trade secrets. He relies on four legal teams, including one based in China, to help the company navigate the domestic and international markets. Today Toppling Goliath is one of Iowa’s biggest international ambassadors thanks to its exports to Europe, Australia, Korea and China.
In 2016, Toppling Goliath expanded into a 100-barrel system brewery, which also houses a restaurant, taproom, event center, offices, three bars and a gift shop. The impressive facility was financed with two U.S Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loans through Blackhawk Economic Development Corporation and Decorah Bank and Trust.
The bank worked with Blackhawk EDC, a SBA Certified Development Company, to structure the loans, which allowed Lewey to invest only 10 percent into the project with 20-year fixed rate financing on the SBA portion of the loan. The cost savings compared to a conventional commercial real estate loan allowed him to invest more into the business operations.
Lewey credits his wife and business partner, Barbara, for laying the foundation for Toppling Goliath’s phenomenal success. She established the administrative procedures and operational structure during the start-up and early growth phases that contributed to the brewery’s long-term strategic growth.
“She is the heart of the company and I am just the driver,” said Lewey.
He also recognizes that the company’s reputation is built on the leadership team’s ability to surround themselves with great people, with an emphasis on great. Toppling Goliath’s employees contribute to the company’s culture, which is reflected in its creative marketing. After all, it is the company’s great employees who help to name the beers internally.
With mainstay beers like Dorothy’s New World Lager, King Sue, Pseudo Sue and Pompeii and popular rotational beers like Morning Latte, Toppling Goliath is making its mark in the craft brewing industry one beer at a time. Its long list of limited-edition brews, such as Morning Delight and Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout, demonstrates the brewery’s innovative streak thanks to specialty ingredients like coffee, expresso, maple syrup and bourbon.
Lewey is especially proud of the exceptional contributions made by Toppling Goliath’s Executive BrewMaster Mike Saboe, who is responsible for all of brewery’s creative recipes. He heralds Saboe as a cornerstone of the company and one of the top brewmasters in the craft brew industry.
Toppling Goliath is a major contributor to Decorah’s growing tourism industry, thanks in large part to its daily brewery tours. Its new release events draw fans from around the country and throughout the world, with an estimated $265,000 spent in local hotels and $150,000 in area restaurants. With over 2,000 visitors at release events, Decorah’s population increases by 25 percent. It is the testament to the economic impact of small business on local economies.
Lewey identifies long-term planning as equally critical to the daily planning of a business. In the next decade he expects to build Toppling Goliath into a national brand, with a West Coast location to expand its domestic footprint. He also plans to create an experimental brewery to develop new products. It is all about pushing the envelope and always testing new styles, flavors and temperatures.
Expansion into global markets is also in the plans, with a special focus on Thailand and Japan. The Iowa Economic Development Authority’s International Trade Office supports Iowa companies, including the craft beer industry, with resources and programs to enter and expand their international markets.
Honors are pouring in from around the world. in 2015, Ratebeer rated its Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout as the best beer in the world and Beeradvocate recently recognized Toppling Goliath as the second-best brewery in the world.
Not one to rest on its laurels, Toppling Goliath is strategically leading the Iowa craft beer industry into the future as one of the state’s biggest ambassadors.
Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community.
About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.