Joe Hotek, 21, Iowa City BierGuy @ John’s Grocery
When Joe Hotek, a University of Iowa cinema major, isn’t studying for an exam or adding the finishing touches to a class film project, it’s likely he’s studying beer.
You’re probably thinking a lot of college students “study beer” in their spare time, but Joe Hotek is different.
He doesn’t just like beer. He considers himself an advocate for the brew.
During his sophomore year of college he began working at John’s Grocery, the iconic family-run corner market in Iowa City that offers an impressive stock of imported and microbrewed beer and is known as Dirty John’s to locals.
“Working at John’s really opened my eyes to the sophisticated nature of beer,” says Hotek, one of the grocery’s infamous Bier Guys. “It’s an art form. It’s complex and extremely enjoyable.”
“At one time, I was like 98 percent of beer consumers. I drank an American light lager style beer, but I look at it differently now,” he says. “I’m not a beer snob, but I’ve found beer is just as sophisticated as wine. There’s a vibrant world of flavors out there, making it really enjoyable to drink.”
He can’t imagine developing his knowledge of beer in any other place than Iowa City.
“It’s beer Mecca,” he says.
Hotek’s interest in beer may have started at John’s, but it hasn’t stopped there. It wasn’t long before he found himself reading beer magazines and researching beers online.
“It helped that I had friends in beer trading circles,” he says. “I attended beer samplings with people who really knew a lot about beer. They helped me to develop my palate. It is particularly helpful if you enter into it with an open mind and enthusiasm.”
Interest in craft beers has expanded in the Iowa City area, partly he thinks because bars have begun to offer microbrewed beers like New Belgium, brewed in Colorado.
He likes to attend beer tasting events and share what he’s learned with customers at John’s.
“Everyone is welcome,” he says. “Anyone who is curious, or just wants to know more, will learn a lot and will probably be surprised by all the options out there.”