Big Grove Brewery Visit

IMG_2764IMG_2766  Just 59.7 miles Northeast of our Quad Cities is Solon, Iowa, and just down Solon’s Main Street is Big Grove Brewery, a cool little place to have a few beers and get something to eat. Opened in August of 2013, it’s a fairly new place though the third venture of the same owners of Brickstone Fine Dining, located in Iowa City, and Red’s Alehouse, in North Liberty (also both great places to visit, eat, and drink). The Executive Chef and Head Brewer also have some impressive credentials and are both Iowans returning back to their homeland. Both gentlemen use locally grown ingredients as often as possible – including hops purchased from a hop farm just down the street.

IMG_2776My partner in crime and I arrived there on a Saturday afternoon at the end of the Hawkeye basketball game – they were on their way to victory over Ohio State. The energy of Iowa City on a game day – especially when they’re doing well – has always touched me. I’m not too much of a sports fanatic but I am a Hawkeye and when you’re in town and everyone’s wearing black and gold, there’s a great sense of camaraderie there.

From the outside, the building doesn’t appear to be anything too special, but it is gorgeous inside. They label it “Barn Contemporary” and that’s an accurate description – high wooden ceilings with dark metal beams and wooden tables and art work all throughout. IMG_2773We sat at the bar and at first decided what to drink. I tried a sample of Big Grove’s IPA and their all Citra hopped Pale Ale. I preferred and ordered the IPA, the Pale Ale was a bit to prickly at the end for me. My travel companion ordered Lion Bridge’s Coffee Compensation – one word. Delicious. This would be the third beer by Lion Bridge I’ve had and I’ve really enjoyed all of it so far. They’re located in Cedar Rapids – a place a plan to visit soon.IMG_2767

Next we turned out attention to the menu – lots of good options, wood fired pizzas, sandwiches, and some interesting out-of-the-ordinary items. We ordered the mac n’cheese (hands down some of the best mac n’ cheese I’ve ever had), tater tot casserole (solid), and the pork shoulder (gross – served cold with a layer on fat on it you stirred into it, not what we expected).IMG_2778

While there we struck up a conversation and shared a piece of pizza with an older couple sitting next to us whose son worked behind the bar and was beginning to brew beer there as well. We tasted his Rabbit Rye, the very first beer he brewed. We also tried both of their stouts and the goza, the latter I preferred. In addition to the Lion Bridge beer on tap, they had other guest drafts and a fairly decent selection of bottles and bombers – they still were touting bottles of Deschute’s Abyss.

We learned during our visit that Big Grove currently brews with a 3 1/2 barrel system with 3 fermenters now and 3 on the way. The gentlemen who told me this was a little hesitant – wasn’t confident but their brew house is fairly small.

IMG_2770On Big Grove’s website, they mention having a lot of support from the community within Solon and the greater Iowa City area. It was evident during our visit – though people came and went the bar and the restaurant both were always bustling with patrons. I know I thoroughly enjoyed myself – the food, beers, and company were all outstanding. Go check it out sometime when you have a free afternoon.

Urban Chestnut Visit May 2013

Every morning at 11 at the corner of the bar in Urban Chestnut Brewing, the brewer, quality control guy, and brew team all join together to sample their creations, ensuring their product stands as what they want to turn out into the world. In early May 2013 I walked into the middle of it and started nosing around…

 Urban Chestnut Brewing is located at 3229 Washington Avenue in St. Louis, in what is known as Midtown Alley. The brew house and bar are in an old 1920’s garage – a really cool place – and flanked on its side is an German-style bier garden with a outdoor bar, “The Cabin”, where beer is also served during busy times and special events.

As I walked up alongside the brewery and peered in through the garage doors, I got excited. The equipment looked clean and well taken care of and there were plenty of people working in brew house, so I was hoping I could talk one of them into letting me walk around back there. I went into the bar area and was greeted by the morning bartender who ended up being near worthless to me. It was obvious he was hung over and didn’t want to work. I had shown up right as they opened with a million questions, so I’m sure he was thrilled to meet me.

At first none of the gentlemen at the end of the bar paid me any mind, until they started eves dropping on my conversation with Mr. Hangover. I think they got that I wasn’t an idiot and that he was giving me bad information regarding how many barrels a year they produce and the ABV levels of their beers. I was shocked by his lack of knowledge given that the brewery for has employed him over a year and a half.

Almost as long as Urban Chestnut has been open. They are only two years old, operating on a 20-barrel system; their first year produced 3500 barrels, the second 7000, and 10-15,000 hopefully in year 3. That’s with the addition of a new 60-barrel facility, also located in St. Louis. They have a bottling line at their current location and plan to brew and package at both in the future. I firmly believe that this will be a brewery we all know about soon.

The Brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, is the man I attribute Urban Chesnut’s awesomeness to…a German-born and trained brewer who has had experience in micro and macro breweries on both sides of the pond. This is exactly what his brewery’s philosophy is “Beer Divergency – a new world meets an old world; modern American beers paying homage to European styles”. You can see it in the décor of the building and the marketing choices of the beer labels; you can most certainly taste it in the beer served and I (eventually) got to see it in the equipment they use to brew it.

I asked Mr. Hangover some questions about the place, about the beer, and asked if there was anyone around that would let me go through the place and check out their brewing facility and he shot me down.

“Not while during production is going on, sorry. So did you want a beer?”

They had 14 beers on tap that day. I got a sample of the Zwikel, an Unfiltered German Lager at 4.8% and also the breweries flagship lager. It was a nice bright color, wonderfully carbonated, and very refreshing – it could quench a thirst on a hot, sunny day. The next sample I had was the Winged Nut Signature Nut Ale, it was a fine beer for the style – an English style brown ale – but not what I wanted. My final sample and what I had a Nonick pint glass of the Half Crown Session IPA. Standing at 4.5% it was beautiful orange color and the hoppiness was a nice citrusy end that other session IPA’s lack or that are more bitter than my pallet prefers. They serve all of their beer in the “appropriate glassware”…you know I like that!

After I got my beer, I headed outside and checked out their beer garden, which was amazing. (There’s a panoramic picture of it in the slideshow below.) I would love to come back sometime when they have a beer festival and see it bustling with yummy beer goodness and fun! I was told at one of their events they had 2400 people through their door. While taking in the sunshine Kurt Driesner, their quality control guy, came up and asked if I was still interested in a tour. And of course I said, “Absolutely.”

He took me through the brewhouse – a 20-Barrel system with eight 40-Barrel fermenters. He let me check out the keg and bottle coolers, the bottling line and keg washing machine. A lot of their equipment is German and reused, they’re the fourth owners of their bottling line. I got to meet the guys bottling, washing kegs, moving stuff around, it was great. Kurt politely answered all my questions about the brewer, brewery, and the future of the place. They are opening up a second location in “The Grove” neighborhood; a 70,000 square foot building that Kurt described as “enormous as shit”. I believe that they’re going to grow into a force to be reckoned with in the world of craft beer. Clever branding with a neat theme backed up by solid beer and an experienced, well-trained master brewer is why I’m thinkin so…

I’m excited to visit their new location as well as some of the other craft breweries in St. Louis. I believe the city is up and coming in the world of craft beer. After Prohibition there was one brewery that survived – Anhesuer-Busch. In 1991 Schlafy’s opened up. And then in 2008 InBev (a Belgian brewer) bought Anhesuer-Busch and St. Louis got mad. So they started opening up craft breweries and now there’s ten of them down there. What’s great is not only is it fostering a sense of local community and is supporting locally made products, but they are also reusing downtown city space that has been sitting empty for years.

4Hands Brewing Company, The Civil Life Brewing Co., and both Urban Chestnut’s locations are in old St. Louis buildings reused for the purpose of making delicious beer. I love the greenness associated with the brew community; reusing space, recycling spent grain to feed animals, and utilizing different forms of energy are just a few ways I’ve seen American breweries working towards reducing their carbon footprint. And this is the MidWest I’m talking about, it’s not very far away. All of these things are just 4 hours south from where we are now, go visit!


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.


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.


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.


 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.

Ballast Point Tapping 7.31.13

The Ballast Point Tap Handle Takeover on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013, at RIBCO was one of my personal favorites. It wasn’t just the atmosphere of a good craft beer bar nor the delectable, rare brews served; it was because of the community of friends and beer lovers of the Quad Cities that came together to rejoice in the evening. Thankfully there were so many familiar faces there; it made it much easier for me to steal sips from peoples’ glasses!

Ballast Point Brewing Company is located in San Diego, California, opened in 1996. It started in the back of Home Brew Mart, a home brewing supply store that is still open today. Ballast Point is also the one and only mictrodistillery in San Diego; they produce their own gin, rum and vodka with a whiskey on the way. Of the many beers I’ve had by this brewery in the past, I have enjoyed them all, their Sculpin IPA is easily one of my favorites of the style.

I also enjoy the seafaring theme of their products; the names of all their beers are after fish. Even the name itself – Ballast Point – comes from a peninsula extending out from Point Loma into the harbor of San Diego. On their website they state its stemmed from two regular guys doing the things they love: fishing and brewing beer.

Their products are available around town on both sides of the river. Keep an eye out though, as they are in the process of updating their packaging to a more simple, clean look which I personally enjoy. They also now offer beers in cans.

That fine Wednesday evening RIBCO had an impressive selection of Ballast Point brews available at the tap handle takeover. Because they were all so big and many different groups seemed interested in trying different things, I did some table hoppin’ and sip stealin’…

At the Big Table the buzz of the evening were the pepper beers – the Sculpin IPA with Habanero Peppers (7%) and the Chipotle Cocoa Black Marlin Porter (6%). I tasted both, side-by-side, and it was interesting to compare how the two different styles of beers manifested themselves alongside two different pepper experiences. The Habenaro Sculpin – on first sip – was dragon-breathing hot! Up in my nose, down my throat, crazy in a way I had never experienced with a beverage. But as the pint went down (so I’m told – I couldn’t do it) it got easier, the hops caught up with the heat and was a well-balanced brew. The Chipotle Porter was a nicer, more tingling heat that spread out over your tongue and was highlighted by the sweeter, cocoa and roasted malty goodness. A beer I would love to have on a full belly before bed.

My first pint was the Black Eye Blended Ale – a Black IPA of sorts with 33.3% of the Black Marlin Porter and 66.6% the Big Eye IPA. I wanted to try this because on the side of a Black Marlin Porter Bomber bottle, the brewery tells you to do this. So one night, some friends of mine and I did. It was better this time – the rich, fullness of their porter at that ratio paired nicely with the hoppy goodness of that IPA.

After some time tasting inside, I headed out to the patio where I stole a little bit of the Old Barmy Ale (10.7%). Every thing I’ve read about this beer two things seem to always be mentioned to I’m sharing them too:

  1. “Brewed with 2-row malt, galena hops, house yeast, apricots, and caramelized honey”.
  2. “on old sailing ships barmy was foam on top of fermenting fruit”.

Again, how great is the seafaring theme? An interesting brew for sure, the initial tastes of apricot and hops were refreshing followed by a nice, sweet honey end. Soothing.

It was also outside that I enjoyed a Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter (10%). This was by far my favorite beer of the night. The right kinds of roastiness in all the right ratios, perfect for a summer evening that’s leaning towards the cool side. After getting toasty with that glass, I headed over to the bar.

It’s typically the bar where I plant myself at the RIBCO tastings. I can easily stare at the bottle case for hours, reading, doing research…for the first beer. Then people start to show up and it tends to get more social, more rowdy, it’s a progression you see. I walked into the rowdiness and was it enjoyable.

One of my friends was raving about the Brother Levonian Saison and I immediately stole a sip. Yum. A lovely farmhouse ale at 5.5 % with a sparkling, clean taste, one could easily session this beer. It’s named after Dave Levonian, a home brewer, and friends of the owners and all proceeds from the beer go to Dave’s daughter’s college fund. My friend followed it up with the Dorado Double IPA (9.6%) and I stole a sip of that too. A sweet smelling brew with lovely bitter and pine resin tastes. The brewery adds hops to it 5 different times during the brew process and you can taste and smell it while enjoying.

My final choice of the evening was the Fathom India Pale Lager. A 6.8% – American Double Lager. I’m developing a fondness for these American Lagers and Pilsners that are getting hopped the heck out; the styles really allow a hop presence to dominate in an enjoyable way. As I was loving that, my friend ordered the Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale sitting at a hefty 10%. I had been recommended this beer before, however, because there were so many big beers in tow that evening, I didn’t have a full glass. I regret that now. At 107 IBU’s that bitter blast is amazing because the sickly-sweetness of the malt makes it work oh so well. Though I was guilty of a little beer-jealousy, I was still happy with my lager.

The two mini sad stories of the night are that I didn’t get to try the Reef Rye American Brown Ale. And the Sextant Coffee Oatmeal Stout was not enjoyable unfortunately. As one attendee claimed, “That’s as flat as Jamie Lee Curtis!” Well…he was right.

But the night wasn’t! I deem it a success. I look forward to the next event at RIBCO, where I plan on spending many upcoming Wednesday evenings as its Craft Beer Night there! Half price off that gorgeous case. See you there.