Category Archives: Archives

From the old QCAG Blog

QC Craft Beer Week 2013

As you know, 2013 was our beloved Quad Cities’ first Craft Beer Week held May 4th through the 12th. Many of the local establishments, breweries and bars alike, recognized the week as a way to celebrate the greatness that we locally brew as well as order into our area. The QC Craft Beer Week website can give you a more detailed breakdown of the week’s events; I unfortunately didn’t get to go to every single one, because sometimes I have to work. But I did get a chance to go to a couple of the events and try a few of the beers brewed especially for the week….

Bent River Brewing Co. tapped two different beers during the QC Craft Beer Week (QCCBW). The first was a spring seasonal, the Desoto Lager, a Mexican-style similar to Corona. Desoto is the only Lager Bent River brews currently – this being because it takes twice as long to brew as their ales. From a brewer’s standpoint, it is hard to see a fermenter being taken up for twice as long as normal when you have a regular brew house rhythm rolling. Though time consuming, it is definitely worth the wait. The beer is crisp, clean, and refreshing served garnished with a lime, it is a wonderful warm weather beverage and should be available well into July.

The second specialty beer Bent brought out that week was a collaboration created with a select few special folks from the MUGZ (Mississippi Unquenchable Grail Zymurgists) home brewing club brewed on the big boy equipment of the Moline location. The MUGZ club came up with the recipe and the Bent brewers tweaked it just a bit in order to adjust it to fit in with their brew schedule as well as their ingredients they had readily available in a bulk capacity. What came out was the MUGZ Rye Pale Ale, a complex beer brewed with 8 kinds of malt, multiple kinds of hops, and the end result was amazing.

As a special treat, for the day of the tapping, Bent River brought out 2 kegs of the Rye PA that their brewers decided to dry-hop, turning the IBU’s and the flavor palate way up. Some people thought it was a bit too much, but those crazy hopheads out there absolutely loved it. I thought the bittering end of the hops mixed with the peppery-ness of the rye paired quite nicely together. The two dry-hop kegs didn’t last very long but there’s a few kegs left of the MUGZ Rye Pale Ale, head on down and try a glass if you haven’t yet, it’s a treat for sure. Try a glass in their new bar open in Rock Island; the remodeling that they’ve done there is beautiful, it’s definitely one of the coolest bars in the QCA.

On Wednesday, May 8th, I went down to Great River Brewery’s event, which was labeled as an “Attack of the Cask” night, but that wasn’t the case. See, Great River has been playing with cask ales for several months now and they usually tap a firkin every Wednesday evening. While they did tap a special brew of beer, it wasn’t the usual “cask ale” tapping and I think attendees should have been notified of that.

The special brew they served was created by Justen Parris, the current vice president of the MUGZ club; it was a Scotch Wee Heavy Ale that was aged for 6 months in Templeton Rye Whiskey Barrels. The brewery was claiming it was 8.5% ABV though it seemed a lot bigger than that; and there were also a lot of people swearing that it was a sour beer, which it was not. If you had a glass of it and experienced that flavor, it was an unintended side effect of the aging process that several people speculated on. Some believed it was dependent upon where in the keg you got your draw from; the top of the keg seemed to be less sour than the bottom. Some thought that maybe it was from the barrel itself, that perhaps it sat empty for too long before the beer went into it and it effected the barrel’s quality or encouraged a form of bacteria to grow in the wood.

Though the specialty beer wasn’t my forte – malt forward, big AVB, bourbon-barrel flavor – I will try anything once, especially when the driving force behind it is someone I consider to be one of the best brewers in the Quad Cities right now. The weather was great that day, so that always enhances the experience at Great River when you can comfortably sit outside. They added additional seating on their patio area, gearing up for summer.

I also got to to attend the Crooked Tap Handle Takeover held at Against the Grain on Thursday, May 9th. Dark Horse Brewing Co. released a single hop series they brewed with their fantastically delicious IPA, Crooked Tree. They single-hopped the IPA with Citra, Falconer’s Flight, and Cascade Hops and I got to try all three! I listed them in the order of my preference; the Citra hop dominated the flavor profile of the beer – but that’s how I like it. I like my IPA’s more sweet and juicy with the citrusy hops West Coast styles are known for. The Falconer’s Flight was more balanced with their sweeter malt bill and the Cascade was refreshing but not overly hoppy. All 3 were good beers and were sold in a bottled variety pack with the original Crooked Tree as well as the Crooked Tree IPA.

While hanging out at ATG, I ran into Tim Koffarnus, the gentleman behind the QC Craft Beer Week and we struck up a conversation. Tim moved down to the Quad Cities from Appleton, Wisconsin a few years ago. He’s an all-grain homebrewer that’s been brewing for about fifteen years now. After moving down here, Tim joined the MUGZ homebrew club to find some like-minded individuals to share in the delight of his hobby.

About two years ago, Tim and the MUGZ club joined forced with Great River Brewery to do a collaboration brew, “Hydra”. Great River gave the club a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the beer and the club began discussing what to do with the money and that’s when Tim had the idea of the QC Craft Beer Week.

QC Craft Beer Week LogoDespite a few businesses not being interested in participating and a few miscommunications (or misspellings) overall the week was a success for everyone involved. Local businesses saw boosts in sales, there was tons of media coverage, and the Visitor’s Convention Bureau is going to promote it big time next year to create a travel destination out of the Quad Cities during that week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wisconsin Trip March 2013

I am very lucky girl, for a variety of reasons really, but one of the main ones is my friends. I have a great crew and one of my favorites is located in Madison, Wisconsin. She graciously opens up her home (and her schedule) for visits often. We took at long weekend in early March and I decided to take full advantage of the fantastic beer they have available up there. If you’re ever needing an easy weekend get-a-way destination, our neighbors to the North have a lot to offer us beer fans.

DAY ONE – MILWAUKEE

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has always had a rich brewing tradition ever since thousands of Germans immigrated to the area in the latter half of the 1800’s. The first beer brewed for public consumption in Wisconsin was in 1840 and by 1900 34% of Wisconsin’s population was of German background, so you can guess who was doing the brewing and the styles of beers they were drinking, rich brown Munich lagers and crisp, pale Pilsners.

You can feel this sort of history and tradition when you’re in particular spots in Milwaukee. I could taste the influence in the brews available at Water Street Brewery. I went to the downtown location on the corner of Water Street and Highland, the self-appointed “first brew pub” of Milwaukee open since 1987. (Obviously we already know that this isn’t accurate. By 1843 there were 138 taverns in Milwaukee and by 1856 2-dozen breweries, I’m certain at least one of them served food. But I digress.)

Their house beers are a Honey lager Light, Munich Lager, Bavarian Weiss, Raspberry Weiss (which seems to be the peoples’ choice, always a good sign when the public prefers your fruity wheat beer), Pale Ale, Amber, and Oktoberfest. The seasonal they had on at the time was their Porter. As I mentioned above, you can see what Water Street is trying to do, tying in the history of the city with its styles and their use of German and English ingredients in their brews. But they aren’t flavorful.

I ordered a Pale Ale – my litmus test style for breweries – and it came to me in a 24-ounce handled glass stein instead of a nonick pint glass, which I did not like. Not only is the glassware not true to the style, that’s a large amount of beer to serve to someone without him or her knowing it. If I would have had a choice, I would not have ordered a mug.

The beer was definitely fizzy, it was carbonated beverage but that was about it. It was boring. I do not know the stats of the beer because they weren’t posted anywhere – another bad move on their part. A brewery serving huge portions without customers knowing what they’re consuming, not smart.

My traveling companions both ordered the Raspberry Weiss and it was a nice little treat of a beer. These were served in the proper Weissbier vases, a gorgeous raspberry red color with a thick, nicely poured head. It was clear to me why this is what everyone prefers. Aside from being uniformed about the beer, our server was great, the food was great, and the ambiance of the place is cool. It’s filled with beer memorabilia…there’s an entire wall made up of old beer cans, there’s a neat church key display, and tons of old tap handle heads. The brewing coppers are right inside the front door and you can watch the brewers work.

After leaving Water Street Brewery, walking down Water Street, we came along a place called the Rumpus Room and decided to pop in. A beautiful gastropub. If I lived in Milwaukee, this would be a haunt of mine for sure. A long bar, dark wood, low-lit, European-style with a tasteful slaughterhouse theme, if you can believe in such a thing. The two rows of tap handles were all old kitchen utensils, adding to the aesthetic of the place but beer fanatics won’t be able to tell what’s on tap without bellying up and getting a menu. Their offerings for beer were great though I recommend ordering by the bottle if you want a full pour that’s worth your money. While there I enjoyed two beers from Indiana: Three Floyd’s Alpha King Pale Ale and Upland Brewing Company’s Dragonfly IPA. I have never had the desire to visit Indiana before I started liking craft beer but I can see a weekend or two there in my future.

Just down the street from our last two visits is Pabst Theater, the reason that brought me to Milwaukee. The venue is a cool building and they served Lagunita’s IPA – amongst other things – always a nice rare treat when you can get good beer at a show. I saw Diana open up for Tegan and Sara – an excellent show.

On the way back to our hotel we passed by Rock Bottom Brewery and stopped in for one. Now, I understand that people have their opinions about “corporate” breweries – or whatever you want to call them. But I enjoyed a glass of their India Pale Ale, which was served in a nonick pint glass so I was happy about that. I’ve heard that each one is allowed a little bit of freedom as far as marketing and brewing their beer – which they do onsite – so the beer recipes vary from place to place, allowing opportunity for a little bit of style. The one in Milwaukee is really cool, right on the river – in the summertime eating lunch on their patio is the best. There can be good found at some places even if it isn’t exactly in line with what you think a brewery should be.

But corporate bastards being as such, they booted us out at midnight so we stumbled into Mo’s Irish Pub on the way back to our hotel. Taken care of by Sam, the most adorable bartender in Milwaukee, the bar had some good stuff on tap; I ordered a Snake Bite, AKA Black Velvet, a two pull of Guinness and Woodchuck. I just love those for some reason and this Irish Pub had Guinness glasses and at this particular time of the evening I was impressed by this. I also came away with a million pictures of this place, which were almost all blurry but they had a neat library nook as well as a dance floor….where else do you get that?

After realizing that no matter who much I heckled the DJ he would not play any gangster rap, we decided it was time to stop drinking. We found out from Sam where to go to get good late-night diner food and he suggested George Webb’s. Pretty sure this is why I’m still alive today. Highly recommend.

After eating we collapsed into bed, thankful to have made it.

DAY TWO – MILWAUKEE (again)

Waking up to an incredibly late start as Milwaukee and all her glory kept us up laaaaaaaatttteeeee.

Our hotel took care of us for coffee and breakfast and we slowly prepared ourselves for day two. Before leaving the QCA I had signed us up online for the LakeFront Brewery Tour. I scheduled us on the 2pm tour so that we’d have enough time to recover from the evening before, get some lunch in us, and find our way there.

We had a bit of time to kill so I insisted we in stop in at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. Though it was cold outside and the building almost collapsed beneath us, the view is breathtaking. If you ever plan a trip up there, go when it’s warm out and plan to spend at least half a day just walking along the lake.

Afterwards we stopped in at Fajitas Grill located at 530 E. Madison Street for lunch. The food was good but a bit overpriced.

At 1:30 we headed on over to LakeFront Brewery, located at 1872 N. Commerce Street. As we see the brewery and walk up to it, I get psyched. I cannot explain to you just how cool this place is, but I’m going to try. Up and to the left is this huge old bridge just all looming and industrial. And the brewery itself is this massive brick building – serious business. On this day, out front there’s three spent grain trailers, work trucks every where, clanking noises coming from an open garage door sitting at the foot of their steeped driveway. Again, psyched. Beer is being brewed!

As we walked inside, we made our way up an incline and got checked. We showed our tickets, and received a 6 oz. plastic cup (redeemable for free logo pint glass at the end of our visit) and four wooden nickels (each good for a 6 oz. pour). Then you head into their big massive hall, flanked to the right by their bar that has draft beer as well as six-packs of their bottles. I begin with their lightest available, the Klisch Pilsner, a nice, crisp, clean golden Czech-Pilsner at 5.6%.

While waiting for the tour to begin, I struck up a conversation with Chris, one of the managers there about beer and coincidentally enough she had just been to Moline, Illinois the weekend prior and had visited Bent River Brewery while there. (I used this as an opportunity to ask her to show me their keg cooler and draft system!)

Before the tour began we got another beer pour and I chose their IPA, a nice robust orange with citrusy, floral hops, so it was delicious. We headed into the tour with Evan, a Brewery Dungeon Master (so says his business card), who ended up being one of the best parts of my vacation. He was knowledgeable, funny, a great public speaker; he made the tour. I don’t want to go into too great of detail on the tour for those of you who haven’t been, but its something that you as a beer fanatic should go experience. It’s informative, entertaining, AND educational in a really cool setting – a bargain at $7.

While on the tour my third pour was Luther, a Helles Rauchbier, part of their My Turn Series. A cool idea – they let their employees have a hand in the beer that’s brewed. This particular one is the creation of the head brewer, what he wanted to make when it was up to him. I typically don’t opt for smoked beers but I’m a sucker for a special series beer, especially when its sold so well. The end game is what made the beer more enjoyable than I expected, it didn’t linger or taste gritty or too earthy like some smoked beers can.

My one and only complaint about the tour is that I didn’t get to see inside their keg or bottle cooler. When I give tours, this is my favorite part – opening up the big door and having everyone see all the kegs, and they always “ooooh” and “ahhh”. I wanted to see how a place that produces 34,000 barrels a year keeps their stock cold.

We finished up our time at LakeFront with a final beer. I had their Fuel Café organic coffee stout on nitrogen at 6.4%. Needless to say that it was yummy. Roasted coffee, rich creamy mouth feel, nothing bitter about it. As I enjoyed this, we checked out the merch, got our pint glass and headed on down the road.

After our time at the brewery, you know what we did? Took a nap. J

My vacation crew and I actually all voted together to take an easy night (given we had all of the fun last night) so we went and had one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in my life at Calderone Club. Opened in 1977 by an Italian immigrant, she’s still making the meatballs to this day, so that’s what I had and it was fantastic with red wine. Followed by cheesecake with berries on top I was spent.

DAY THREE – MADISON

 The drive between Milwaukee and Madison is an easy 90 minutes. The hard part was driving past Lake Mills, where Tyranena Brewing Company is located, I’d like to check them out sometime. I’ve heard, read, and tasted fantastic things from and about this brewery. I’m going to make it there one of these days, but they unfortunately weren’t open in the early morning hours when we were close by.

Madison has become one of my very favorite places to visit. Between the Capital, the University, the lake, (one of my best friends) and the beer, there’s always so much to do.

We headed to Ale Asylum located at 2002 Pankratz Street, which is nearby nothing really. But the new facility is gorgeous and you won’t find a bad brew there. They moved from their original location to the new place last year, expanded their brewing and bottling capabilities. Upping their barrels to 17,000 from 10, their brew house now is a 33-barrel system, up from 13. I couldn’t be more excited for them because what they produce is some of the best.

The food was also fantastic and our server was well-informed and helpful despite being in the weeds. He sold me on going down the half-pint road, since I couldn’t decide what to get. Between my friends and I we tried their Ballistic IPA (7.5%), Hopalicious American Pale Ale (5.8%), Ambergetton Amber Ale (6.8%), Contorter Porter (4.8%), and the Gold Digger Golden Ale (4.8%) and as I said, all of them were good. I brought home a growler of Ballistic IPA and the Gold Digger and brought a gal pal of mine home a 6-pack of the Hopalicious because she loves it so.

After Ale Asylum we went to a cool little coffee spot for some non-alcoholic beverages, I enjoyed some peach tea at the Steep n’ Brew. We hit the shoe store, the comic shop, and then I stopped in at Steve’s Wine Beer Spirits to fill my trunk with things I can’t get back in the Quad. I go to the one located at 6227 McKee Road, its one of three spots they have in Madison, this one is right by my friends home. The staff there is very knowledgeable and gives good recommendations; I go in there and ask for what’s new, rare, and/or hoppy.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As we closed our final evening in Wisconsin, we decided to go out in style. We swung by a spot called Bluphies Restaurant & Vodkatorium located at 2701 Monroe Street. This place is a great one to stop in and eat at, but we just picked up a couple of their amazing desserts to go. We took our giant apple crisp and red velvet cake back to my friends place, paired in with some Uncommon Stout, and soaked in the revelry of what was a fantastic Wisconsin getaway.

The Great Taste of the Midwest 8.10.13

This year I was fortunate enough to experience the Great Taste of the Midwest (GTMW). The GTMW is our great nation’s second longest running beer festival held up in Madison, Wisconsin, right on Lake Monona. In its 27th year, it featured over 100 Midwest Breweries and sells just 6000 tickets to attendees. My role was a tad different than that of a “ticket holder”; I was employed by a brewery to work the festival and I got to see a different side of how things go down at beer festivals.

The GTMW Gods tell breweries to be set up by 11am on the day of. As we walked up to Olin Park at 10:30am, there was already a line of attendees, 2 ½ hours before the gate opens. It was in these early hours that I tried to get myself acclimated to what was actually going on around me. It was beyond overwhelming walking up this hill in the middle of a field and as you reach the top, tents on tents on tents featuring all of your favorite Midwest breweries and all the new ones just waiting to be discovered.

From 11am – 1pm, we poured beers for brewers and their staff, and took turns walking around, tasting the goodies, and having our pick of the freebees before the craziness began. I poured beer for the first half an hour or so and introduced myself to the Surly Brewing Co. folk. They were to the right of us and had a corner booth – that means you’re serious business if you’re on a corner. Surly Brewing Co. is in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, which is just outside of Minneapolis, about 5 ½ hours North of the QCA. They had 12 beers they were pouring with 4 timed, special releases. The guy I met, Kyle, seemed to always be manning the booth when I needed a beer and I just kept saying, “Hoppy!” I tried their Overrated and Furious, both American IPAs and Urine Trouble an American Double/Imperial IPA (delicious but a name I’m not crazy about). A great group of people making great beer.

The real deal breweries were the folks with the stand alone tents – Lakefront Brewing Co. and Goose Island both had massive set ups. Lakefront had a several tents, with timed tastings and a merch set-up as well as a Silent Disco, one of the best parts of the GTMW. The DJ and participants wore headphones while quietly getting down, it was hilarious.

Goose Island had the biggest set up of them all with barrels lining their domain and housing their beers; they also had educational information about barrel-aging beer displayed at their tent and led one of the three of the days lectures. But, deep pockets, yanno?

I was relieved of my pouring duties around noon and began wandering around, trying to figure out how to attack this festival.

I stopped at one of the food vendors and got something to eat, they had several options available throughout the day which I thought was smart. They also had several home brewing supply spots set up selling wares some might not be able to get back home.

One whole tent was firkins with only cask ales; they had 70 different firkins pouring. I’m still fairly inexperienced and uneducated in the ways of real ale, so I choose not to even delve into that tent. It was where ticketholders were the most aggressive that day; it was a numbered system and you had to make your way to the pourers, yell out your number and shove your glass into a volunteers hands. It was too chaotic in there.

As the day went along, I developed a two-part mission; one, to

hit up a couple of spots just to introduce myself to the people working and to be able to spread compliments to breweries that have impressed the hell out of me. And two, to taste some goodness I can’t get back home.

First I visited Ale Asylum, had some Ambergetton, and told them how that brew is the brew I compare every other hopilicious red against. I said hello to Dave and the guys from Urban Chestnut and felt pretty awesome that he remembered QCAlegirl and my visit earlier this year. The Founder’s table was always congested, I never got the chance to stop in and talk, but when I popped in for the Mango Magnifico release I high-fived them all and said, “Thanks for all your awesome work!”

Along the way I discovered some new friends and favorites. Indeed Brewing Co. was my favorite new discovery. Based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and just a year old, they impressed me on all levels; their brews, their dudes, their presentation, it was genuine and smart. I enjoyed their Day Tripper Pale Ale and their Mexican Honey Ale.

The New Albanian crew was super nice too, with a seriously clever table set up and awesome artwork. I enjoyed their Houndmouth American Pale Wheat Ale. I also really liked People’s Brewing Co.’s Amazon Princess IPA. After about an hour of walking around, talking and tasting, I headed back to the booth before the impending chaos descended.

At 1pm, horn blows and the crowd comes in. And it is nonstop for the entire 5 hours. Breweries literally pour beer for 5 hours straight or until kegs blow. What’s fun about it is your brew crew consists of 10 people, but you really only need 2-3 to man the booth. Each staff person takes a shift and you rotate out every half-an-hour or so. So what are the other 7 or 8 people doing then? VIP amazingness, that’s what.

At beer festivals, if you work for a brewery, you get a special VIP sort of status. You get to go into the tents, behind the tables, talk to the brewers and not wait in line. It’s beyond cool. The best part of my day was while visiting with the Dark Horse Brewing Co. guys (who had a cool corner booth set up), one of them asked me to pour for him while he took a smoke break. I poured beer for Dark Horse! AHH! It was awesome. He said, “Come back and pour yourself anything, anytime.”

Street Cred Yo.

Pouring beer to the ticketholders was fun as well. It was a high-volume situation which is energizing for anyone; people are having a great time and – surprisingly enough – no one really got out of control. One guy at the end vomited an impressive amount but that was about it was ridiculousness, from what I saw. Not too bad given how many people were there!

The weather that day was a perfect 80 degrees and sunny, set along a beautiful lake in a woodsy area, you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect location. I could rant and rave about the greatness of the day, and post all 150 pictures I took there, but you’ve really got to experience it for yourself. I hope that I get the chance to attend again one day because it really was one of the best days ever.

 

 

(Formerly) ATG 8.22.13

On Thursday, August 22, 2013, our QCA beer community got to taste some brews by Rich Nunez at Against the Grain Brewery and Alehouse’s 13-month anniversary celebration. Served that evening were the “Plain Jane”, a “smash ale”, and the “Dark Forrest”, a robust stout. Afterwards I visited him for a follow-up interview so I could ask about the brews, the new system, and what is to come from Against the Grain in the future.

These were not the first beers he has brewed and served on-site; the first two – a Wit and a Peppercorn Ale – were brewed on a small 10 gallon system. Plain Jane and Dark Forrest were the test batches in the new system that will be producing all other brews moving forward. There is some funky math involved in the world of brewing: every 1-barrel of beer produced is actually two full-sized kegs, known as ½ barrels. Each ½ barrel contains 15.5 gallons. Nunez will be brewing on a 2-barrel system, that can produce up to four ½-barrel kegs at a time.

There’s a lot of science and chemistry involved as well, many things being predictable, many not. For whatever reason, Nunez got 3 kegs of each of his two batches out of the new brew house. 2 of the 3 Plain Jane kegs were served as is; the third was infused with Thai Basil. All three of the stout kegs were served without any additional touches.

The Plain Jane is known as a “smash ale” because it consists of a Single Malt And Single Hop. Nunez informed me that when brewing on a new system a light ale is the best way to find out about how it works, that it is clean and if there are any flaws in the brew. The lightest ale is the best way to detect any problems at other breweries as well, there are no big flavors covering up anything a discerning pallet can detect.

The crowd at the party that evening loved the beer, even though Nunez said that while brewing it, he didn’t know if it was going to ever be served. There was no way to predict what would come out at the end of the trial run of his system. It was a light, straw yellow beverage, sitting at 4.2% ABV. It had a clean aroma and taste, with a bit of flavor from the New Zealand Motueka hops, an enjoyable, sessionable beer.

The Dark Forrest was also well received. The etymology of the name is based on the ingredients of the brew. Nunez used three kinds of barley, no malt, (dark) and two kinds of hops to bring about a roasty flavor, solid mouth-feel with a piney (forrest) hop balance. In the days now of stouts being imperial, bourbon-barrel aged, or dessert-centric, it was nice to have a flavorful, robust stout without anything wacky about it. The brew speaking for the brew itself.

This opened up a discussion regarding American brew culture, the history of beer, and what it truly means to go Against the Grain. As a brewer, Nunez has a vast amount of knowledge in that brain of his and he’s tasted many things from around the world. As a business owner, he can identify the trends in the industry. Americans have grown to expect big, extreme beers. Being the biggest, the best, and the most independent is embedded into our own country’s values so why would it not be present in our beer culture as well?

There is, however, a downside to this. Traditional styles of beer, how they are brewed, and what they are supposed to taste like is always changing. As we cannot forget the rest of the worlds’ influence on America’s history, we must pay tribute to the worlds’ brewers and their styles of centuries past. Nunez pointed out traditional IPA’s as a perfect example; what did the first IPA taste like in comparison to what they taste like now? The melt-your-face hop craze has become too much of a trend, it is now a grain Nunez and his spot are going against.

A self-described “traditionalist”, looking to “create beer that’s well-balanced and flavorful”, will not produce beers predictable beers if you expect them to be American. I do believe they will impress you, though, if you expect them to be worldly. Nunez soon hopes to have one of his beers on tap regularly, depending upon how the next couple of batches of beer go. And no, he does not know yet what they will be.

I asked if he one day hoped to have all the taps pouring his brews and he said no.

“Alehouse is in our name”. It is the guest drafts of other breweries that has bought and paid for the brew system, which is a fortunate place for them to be in. Nunez gave thanks and praise to all the loyal customers that come in with a desire to try new craft beers served by a knowledgeable and welcoming staff.

“This is where we feel we can separate ourselves. We have a wide selection but educating customers on what we sell is part of it too.”

I couldn’t agree more. Education is such an important part of the world of craft beer, not only with identification of true styles and the history of beer, but also its influence on the future of true craft brewing. I am thankful to have Rich Nunez and the staff at Against the Grain Brewery and Alehouse providing us a little local gem where we can all delight in the discussions and tastes of brews old and new.

Lagunita’s Tasting

On March 20, 2013,  I attended an event held at Against the Grain (now named Radicle Effect Brewerks) located at 1340 31st Street in Rock Island, Illinois. Just a few months shy of their first-year anniversary, Against the Grain (or, as the kids around town call it, “AG”) is a nano brewery already known for its access to great draft beers and an ever-growing selection of bottled beer. On this particular evening, they were advertising a “Buy the Pint, Steal the Jar” event featuring Lagunitas Brewing Company’s wares.

 Lagunitas Brewing Company was started by Tony Magee in 1993 out in Lagunitas, California, but outgrew the first location within a year and now they brew in Petaluma, California. Currently they’re producing just over 100,000 barrels a year and opening up a new 250-barrel brew house with 600,000-barrel capacity soon, in Chicago. So us folks in the QCA won’t be complaining about not being able to get Sucks around here anymore. (Especially since I heard a rumor that it’s going to year-round availability!)

 The event at AG started at 6pm so I got there at 4:30 to ensure a spot at the bar. I’ve learned that 90 minutes before start time is a good rule of thumb for the areas Keep the Pint Nights, if you care about where you sit. It also gives you time to check out the selection the boys at AG have provided for you…that day their chalkboard contained two beers brewed by Kona Brewing Company out of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Though I’ve read a great many things this was my first opportunity of being able to try anything from Kona, I imagine its because I’m a landlocked girl where its takes forever for beers to reach me. Can you imagine the journey? And what it took for Kona to get to us in Illinois? Awesome.

 I asked for a sample of the Kona Longboard Island Lager (year-round brew – 4.6%)) and the Kona Koko Brown (seasonal, 5.5%) – both fantastic but I chose the brown for my 16-ounce commitment. And what a delight! The beer is brewed with toasted coconut, with hints of caramel and toffee but it isn’t overly sweet, it’s a light aftertaste that is thirst-quenching, which I didn’t expect. Both of their beers were well-balanced, crisp, clean, and nicely carbonated; I look forward to trying more of their brews and maybe visiting them one day.

By the end of that pint it was time for my second beverage. It was 6pm, the bar was packed, everyone was excited and the Lagunitas distribution crew showed up with the glassware. I ordered a Lagunitas IPA in a namesake mason jar tumbler (pictured) for $4, which is the standard pint price there, pretty cool I didn’t get charged extra for the glass.

The glasses were the main reason why I went to AG; most breweries just do pint glasses with their logo on the side, which I like but thumbs up to Lagunitas for the creativity of their idea. Lagunitas labels their IPA as their flagship brew with good reason. It’s well-balanced with a nice citrusy-hop taste at the end, the nose is great, the color is standard, the ABV is at just over 6% so you can have more than one, and its easy to find.

This was my first beer-tapping event at Against the Grain and I had a great time. I got to see a lot of good beer pals and I also secured two hours worth of interview time with owner, Rich Nunez, so look for that article coming soon….

 

 

Bomber Monday 2.0

Once a month my friends and I gather together to celebrate the awesomeness that is The Bomber. A “bomber” bottle of beer is a 22-25.4 ounce bottle, typically filled with special batches, limited releases, brews with a high alcohol content, and/or collaboration creations. Because it can be adventurous, picking up a big bottle of potentially not good beer, they are perfect for sharing. Often times beer collectors cellar some of these beers for years, depending upon the style, and I think parties like these are nice to encourage cracking open some things that should be shown the light of day and appreciated.

Bomber Monday originally started thanks to Founder’s Frangelic Mountain Brown (#16 down below), a brew in their Backstage Series in 2012. A hazelnut coffee infused brown ale; sweet in the right ways, in the right amounts. A friend of mine knew I could get ahold of a bottle of it and kept pestering me about it, finally we made a deal – I’ll share a bottle from my collection if he brought over one from his.

Our first few months of having our little party were small, 6 or 7 bombers with 6 or 7 people. As it grew over time, Bomber Monday gave me an opportunity to not only become more bold in my choice of beer purchases but also a way to grow more comfortable with letting some of my rare brews go. I know that if its bad at least I’m only committed to 3 or 4 ounces and if its good, at least I get to take joy in sharing it with my friends.

Below is the list of beers we enjoyed at Bomber Monday 2.0. We have these gatherings monthly – the next one is July 8th at 6:30pm located at Rock Island Bent River. (*An $8 corking fee is required.)

  1. Crabtree Brewing Company’s Peachtree Cezanne Saison brewed in Greely, Colorado. A delicious little treat with fantastically light carbonation. Their website doesn’t say anything about the brew and the Internet isn’t providing me with much beyond other people’s opinions.
  1. Pipeworks Brewing Company’s Close Encounter Hoppy Double Stout. A delicious beer not that it matters too much to you though because Pipeworks is known for what is called “gypsy brewing” – they brew small batches and do not make the same beer twice. It just opened up in January of 2012 in Chicago, Illinois, in the Bucktown neighborhood. I think I’ll need to visit soon.
  1. Angry Cedar Brewing Co.’s Hoptimism from Waverly, Iowa. One you really shouldn’t care about not because the beer tasted like apple juice but because the brewery just closed.
  2. Thomas Creek Brewery’s Banana Split Chocolate Stout made in Greenville, South Carolina. A brewer should take this idea and actually make a banana split chocolate stout because that sounds amazing. This beer was not. It did not deliver.
  3. Rogue’s Old Crustacean Barleywine brewed in Newport, Oregon. I am not a huge Barleywine fan but a super cool bottle.
  4. Left Coast Brewing Co.’s Hop Juice, a Double India Pale Ale made in San Clemente, California. This was one of the best beers of the evening. Left Coast’s website boasts that is one of the pioneering Double IPA’s, a sweet beginning with a citrusy, clean hoppy end.
  5. Port Brewing’s Anniversary Ale from San Marcos, California. This is their seasonal celebrating their birthday. It’s a strong pale ale that’s been super duper hopped; Amarillo, Columbus and Simcoe in the brew then its dry-hopped with more Amarillo and Simcoe hops. It was delicious.
  6. Big Muddy Brewing’s Big Muddy Monster India Brown Ale from the not too far away Murphysboro, Illinois. This was an interesting beer. Imagine if an American Brown Ale and an IPA had a baby, this may be what would come out of it. Their Vanilla Stout has visited our Bomber Mondays before, it was a much better brew. Murphysboro has a rich brewing history; back before Prohibition 40,000 barrels of beer were produced there by the Stecher Brewing Company around 1910. It’s amazing to stumble across stories like this – the Midwest was quite a beer producing meccas before the Volstead Act ruined it.
  7. The next beer on our list the Kama Citra is imported from, Sogaards Bryghus in Koge, Denmark, took some time for me to track down. See it was imported by the Shelton Brothers, a trio of gentleman on the East Coast who scour the lands across the pond for good beers to bring home. This was a lovely brown ale with a citrusy, hoppy end that mixed well with its very light, slightly sweet malt beginning. This was one of my favorites of the night, plus is has a sexy name and label.
  8. 10 Barrel Brewing Co.’s Hop Rye It India Pale Ale brought to us from Bend, Oregon. Bend seemed to be a city that needs to be put on my “Travel To” list, because I keep reading about great things going on out there. Their beer community seems awesome. This beer was fantastic; it was well-balanced between the malt, the hops, and the rye. After checking out this breweries website, I’m excited to try more from them. Plus they seem cool
  9.  And 12. Pizza Port, Port Brewing Co., and the Lost Abbey are all connected by people making some of the best American beers to date, located out in California. The detailed history is here on their website and it’s impressive; almost any beer nerd that I know has had a love affair with at least one of the Lost Abbey’s brews. I think its because the concept was something that was well-thought out and executed all while paying homage to the abbey-styled ales that were the inspiration behind it all. At our party we had the Gift of the Magi, their Christmas Seasonal Beer brewed with Frankincence and Myrrth, that has an active, wild yeast added at bottling so that the beer continues to develop after its sent out of the brewery. Because of this and the bigger alcohol presence at just under 10%, the beer can be aged for quite some time. With nice a nice caramel presence and some clovey, spicey notes, it makes for a nice cooler weather brew. The other Lost Abbey brew we enjoyed was the Angel’s Share and an oak barrel aged strong ale that is beyond big at 12.5%. In doing research about this beer, the best info I found on it is a little quote from the breweries website:

“Down in Kentucky and across the pond in Scotland, distillers who age their whiskeys for many years refer to the evaporation of the spirits from their barrels as “The Angel’s Share.” We couldn’t agree more. Each time a barrel is filled, a measure of liquid seeps into the oak and is lost for good.”

The brew is infused with caramel malt to enhance the oak and vanilla flavors that come from old bourbon and brandy barrels. The Lost Abbey is doing some really complex, smart things out West. Always check them out if you can.

13. Peace Tree Brewing Co. ‘s 2010 Imperial Stout from Knoxville, Iowa. This was a lovely surprise to Bomber Monday brought to us by a generous friend of mine who had been aging it. The beer had a little bite to it, as one attendee said,

“It tastes just like it looks. Like medicine.”

But it was neat to see the old label, which I love, I like all the detailed information on it. I love this style of bottle – “stubbies” or “midgets”. They are much stronger than long neck bottles, less likely to break, and much easier to transport; I like that some breweries are using them.

14. Speaking of crazy bottles…Bomber Monday reached a new high in June as we opened and consumed our very first Magnum Bottle!!! A magnum bottle is a 1 ½ liter bottle. It was amazing. Filled with Two Brothers Brewing Company’s Heavier Handed an American Double IPA, which some people called the best beer of the night but I think it might have been because of the bottle. Two Handed Brewing Company is one of the biggest craft breweries in Chicagoland. I’m typically not too impressed with their beers but experiencing this one was beyond a delight.

15. West Brook Brewing Co.’s Mexican Cake Imperial Stout make in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. West Brook is a new operation, opened up in 2011, and this was the brew they made to celebrate their first year being open. It is an imperial stout aged in cocoa nibs, vanilla, and fresh habaneros, amongst many other things. This was a beer I wanted to have after eating a huge meal, it had a sweet beginning and a slightly heated end. A perfect nightcap beer.

16. Opened at the same time was the Frangelic Mountain Brown by Founder’s. Two deliciously delectable, perfectly awesome dessert beers to end our gathering with.

Sharing beers with friends is one of the best ways to try new things, share ideas and opinions, and learn about the variety of people’s pallets. Discussions about beers of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are one of the things I’m interested and I get a lot of intel from these gatherings. If you’re interested in joining us next month, visit the event page on Facebook and sign up!

 

 

SuperFriends Sunday 5.26.13

On May 26th, 2013, a group of my friends and I decided to go on a Quad Cities adventure. Below is a detailed account of all of the fun we had and the locally created treasures we discovered:

DESTINATION #1: BLUE IGUANA located in LeClaire, Iowa

(I’m going to begin with a side note in saying that this wasn’t the original first destination. The construction on River Drive held me up so I was ten minutes late! But because my friends are so awesome, we edited our day and still fit everything in.)

We sat at the bar tended to by Brian, a gentleman who has been working for the establishment since it opened – about 2 years ago – and he did a fantastic job. I was happy to see that on tap there they had two local beers, Great River’s 483 Pale Ale and Bent River’s Uncommon Stout; they also had every spirit created by the Mississippi River Distilling Company, which makes sense given that the distillery is a block down the street.

I have been hearing good things about the Blue Iguana; that the food is good and authentic, everything is reasonably priced, and you get good service. All of this rang true on SundayFriendsday. I got the Chicken Fajitas – per Brian’s recommendation – my cohorts got Quesadillas and Nachos and both of those were tastey too. Our drinks, food, and checks arrived in a timely manner, which was good, as we needed to be at the Distillery by 1pm.

DESTINATION #2: THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DISTILLING COMPANY located in LECLAIRE, IA

We walked through the rain, down the street into 303 North Cody Road into the local distillery. The Mississippi River Distilling Company opened in 2010; this was my very first visit. Rumors of an interesting and educational tour have been tempting me for a year or so now. We were greeted warmly and had a few minutes to spare so we checked out their merchandise room.

It was quite busy because of the holiday weekend, but we were still able to enjoy the building, the materials used to decorate it and all of the art hanging throughout. We found out that all of it is to promote a sense of community and pride of local creations. I now love that about the place – may it be the theme of their products, the people who made them, or the ingredients inside they are proud to be from the Midwest and use what it can offer to create something great.

Our tour guide was Karen, an employee of the distillery as well as a homebrewer, a knowledgeable and trustworthy mind available to impart wisdom upon those of us in unfamiliar territory. She showed us the various ingredients used for their different spirits, where and how it is processed, and how the final product is bottled. I was impressed to find out that volunteers bottle all of their spirits and each has a handwritten batch label on it. You can log onto their website, look up your batch and bottle number, and learn the story behind your spirit – I think that’s very clever!

The Mississippi River Distilling Company’s current seasonal spirit is their Honey Whiskey. Our guide informed us that most honey “whiskies” on the market are actual liquors because once you add sugar to the process it is no longer considered “real whiskey”. They do add local harvested honey so the sweetness is light, still highlighting their spirit without covering it up.

The next seasonal out soon is their Strawberry Infused vodka. Depending upon this crazy weather (of course) it should be out by late June. Last year they used 1200lbs of berries so they need to make sure they have enough at hand for their recipe.

After the tour we went into their beautiful tasting room, a barn wood bar with a copper top, high ceilings and a fantastic view of the river. Legally in the state of Iowa, they can hand out only 2 ounces to taste, and they offered all their spirits plus some mixers such at blood orange soda or lemonade. I tried their River Pilot Vodka mixed with lemonade and it was nice, there wasn’t a usual alcohol burn and it paired nicely with the sweetness of the mixer. After we enjoyed our samples we headed into Davenport, moving onward with our journey!

DESTINATION #3: CRASH THE MUGZ CLUB MEETING held at Great River Brewing Co., located in Davenport, IA

The last Sunday of every month the MUGZ (Mississippi Unquenchable Grail Zymurgists) homebrewing club of the Quad Cities meets at Great River Brewing Co. at 2pm. From 2-3pm they have an educational portion followed by shared tastings of concoctions brought by attendees. I have been invited several times and have wanted to attend for months but up until recently, I always worked Sundays.

We arrived just in time to have missed the standard beginning meeting things….roll call….last months meeting minutes….financial business…and we walked right into the educational portion. Whether it was intentional or not, I discovered a theme in the presentation being given by a club member. They brought along 3 different beers to taste while considering how the style and flavor profile were achieved depending upon the ingredients used during the brew. Serious beer nerdery; most of it way over my head but I tried!

The first beer sampled was the classic German Hefeweizen Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. The discussion was how its yeast imparted clove-like aromas, then they passed around some clove to smell in order to enhance the experience. Next the members discussed various yeast strains or other things they could do to a brew that could achieve this flavor and aroma.

The second beer tasted was New Belgium’s Fat Tire Amber Ale and how its malt imparted biscuit flavors. The presenters served British-style biscuits, or cookies, along with it to highlight the biscuit aromas of the malt used in the brew. The group then discussed different styles of malts that could cause this taste.

The third beer they presented was Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale and they discussed the hop profile; floral, citrusy, one gentleman yelled out, “Perfection!” Alongside the beer were pieces of grapefruit to highlight the citrusy flavor and aroma of the hops. As I said, this was out of my league information, but it was very interesting to sit and listen to this group of individuals share their knowledge amongst each other, all with the same desire to make a delicious brew.

Afterwards the meeting was adjourned and we all got to try many different samples of home brewed beers. My favorite was a Milk Stout, but honorable mentions were an Apple Tripel, a bold Irish Red, a hoppy Pilsner, and the Big Brew Day Black IPA.

Though I was out of my element and new to the meeting, the group was incredibly welcoming (so long as you weren’t talking during the education portion). They shared their creations with us outsiders and were more than happy to chat us up about how they came up with what we were drinking. I hope to go back next month and I’ll probably pay the $12 it will cost to be a member for the rest of the year. Maybe you should too…

DESTINATION: RANDOM! BENT RIVER BREWING CO., located in Rock Island, IL

As I was leaving Great River I got a phone call from some pals saying they were at Rock Island Bent River and were inviting me to join. Given that I was literally staring at the Arsenal Bridge and that this fantastic new bar was located on the other side of it, I decided I had no choice, I had to go.

Sundays are the BEST day to drink at either Bent River location. It’s $4.50 Mug Day! It’s also the ONLY day the Dry-Hopped Pale Ale is on Special for $5.25 for 25 ounces. What?! It’s true.

So I stopped in, visited pals and enjoyed a mug of their Spring Seasonal the Desoto Lager and an Uncommon Bomb, a lovely dessert ending to a comfortably satisfying day.