Why I’m Not Going to QC On Tap This Weekend

Over the past few months I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this Quad Cities On Tap beer festival taking place at the QC Expo Center on Saturday, April 18th. It is the first time this fest has been put on in the Quad Cities and a lot of people are hopeful that it will be a good replacement for FestivAle. FestivAle was organized and sponsored by Rock Island Brewing Co.,  held in the District of Rock Island a few years back, and was overall a great event. However, I believe that it won’t be anything like that – that it will, in fact, not be worth your time at all.

One of my favorite things about craft beer is the local aspect – you can meet the people that produce your favorite Midwest beers, if you try hard enough (you really just have to be pushy, or charming, I can’t quite figure out which one I am yet….). It is a personal experience for each and every one of us, a way to connect with the craft, and I believe this QC On Tap event will be the exact opposite. First off, I’m guessing that the people pouring the samples will be uneducated, impersonal volunteers, not brewers or even anyone from the brewery. They are there, not for their love of beer, but to get in and drink for free.

I also think that the beer poured will be from bottles that American On Tap purchased and had delivered in on a truck the night before. I highly doubt any brewers will bring kegs and set up jockey box rigs. The beers available will also most likely be something that you’ve already had or can easily purchase at any local Hy-Vee. There aren’t going to be any super rare gems or limited releases or one-off’s of any kind.

American On Tap ascribes to the term “national brand” on their website here. The term ‘national’ is near the opposite of ‘local’, it is certainly not a word I would associate with craft beer. Craft beer is about individuality, freedom, and rebellion, its about being creative and trying new things, not identifying with a unified, national image. Some other examples of national brands that I believe are relevant to bring up here: Budweiser. Miller. Coors. I’m sure you get my point.

Below is a quote from their website:

America On Tap is the foremost producer of premium beer festivals in the country, and the first and only nationally integrated entertainment series dedicated to showcasing specialty and craft breweries from around the globe. With more than 70 planned beer festivals in 2015, each featuring sought after specialty and craft breweries and their highly anticipated releases, America On Tap delivers a unique and robust beer focused experience filled with live music, great vendors and delicious local food.

There’s nothing local, nothing personal, nothing crafty about this. This company travels all over the country putting on the same festival over and over again. This is not worth $35 of my money or 3 hours of my time. I’m sure that one can find rarer beers at several of the area’s craft spots at a much lower cost with better ambiance, all the while supporting your community. Places where familiar faces happily greet you in a nice warm bar, as opposed to a cold, florescent-lit, concrete room that has no personality to it whatsoever.

Admittedly, I could be wrong.  I don’t truly know what the event will pan out to look like, no one does as its the first time ever visiting the QCA. I’ve worked many a beer festival in my time, though, and they can be successful for a variety of reasons. But given the generic, limited information on their site, my hunch tells me that Quad Cities On Tap that is a festival worth missing.

If you do happen to go, stop up and see me afterwards and tell me how it went, I’m working. That’s actually the real reason why I’m not going. Ha!



My Time on Paula Sands Live

About six months ago, the Quad Cities Convention and Visitor’s Bureau reached out to be regarding a new segment on their website (visitquadcities.com), called the Quad Cities “Insider Blog”. They wanted to me contribute stories, bi-monthly, covering my personal experience in the QCA, alongside 4 other local residents. I was honored and immediately said ‘yes’….though I have to admit that initially I was floored because I forget that people sometimes actually read what I put up on here.

The blog launched on a Monday and on Wednesday I was asked if I’d be interested in going onto Paula Sands Live that Friday to promote it. Um….DUH! Once again I immediately say ‘yes’ and spend the next two days experiencing a mix of emotions ranging from excitement to nervousness to nausea to joy. But leading up to it, I just kept telling myself its just like what I do at work every day, I talk about my craft with people who are curious. This was the same thing, just in a different setting.

IMG_3062I was asked to arrive at 2:30pm to the Channel 6 building on Brady Street, my first time ever to this architecturally beautiful building. I had to phone inside to the building and was let in by a very nice gentlemen named Jake. Channel 6 has been shooting our local news in that space since the sixties, they’ve never renovated, and you can tell….its amazing.

So Jake walks me through the building, past rooms filled with dudes on computers and wires every where, and we come into the studio and my mind was blown. All in the same, massive room was the news desk, weather desk and green screen, and the set for Paula Sands Live, the ceiling and floors were covered with chords and lights and cameras. I’d never seen anything like it and it was incredible.

IMG_3057I was instructed just to hang out with the other guests of the show and wait until Paula Sands shows up. There was a gentlemen discussing his work with local charities and an upcoming fundraiser, Linda Cook reviewing Fast and Furious 7, or whatever its called, me, and the baby goats for an Easter thing. The baby goats were all the rage, at least 15 people came down over the course of a half-an-hour to see these things and get their pictures taken with them. Apparently it happens all the time with animals of any kind or cute kids.IMG_3055

IMG_3053While I was hanging out, I got to see local news anchor Bailey Dietz swoop in and do a quick little blurb on camera about an upcoming story. Not long after, weatherman Dorrell Winninger do a quick appearance about our weather report tonight at 9. It was so exciting! I got to take a bunch of pictures and they showed me the news room and director’s office, everyone was really nice. Then, Paula Sands came around and talked to each one of her guest’s individually so she could get an angle going for how she would interview us and what we’d talk about. She was easy to talk to and you can tell she’s been doing this for some time.

After that everyone got fitted with microphones and we just played the waiting game until it was our turn to talk. The airing began at 3pm and I was on stage from 3:13-3:19. I was a bit nervous and didn’t know what to do with my hands or where to look (Paula said just look at her, like we’re having a normal conversation), but overall I think I handled myself well and hope to go back again sometime. If you want to see my interview, check it out here.



On the Road to Certified Cicerone

Are you familiar with the term ‘Sommelier’? It’s a well-educated and trained wine professional and the road to achieving such an esteemed title is long and arduous. A similar program has been created for craft beer, called a Cicerone. There are three levels of certification in the program, I possess the first being a ‘Certified Beer Server’. The second, which I’ve recently started preparing for, is a ‘Certified Cicerone’, and the third being a ‘Master Cicerone’ – of which only a handful exist.

I have decided to begin my journey towards taking the next exam –containing a written text, essay section, and tasting demonstration – there is a 19 page syllabus, filled with some things I’m confident in and some things I’m not, once of which being “off-flavors”. So I decided to attend the Off-Flavor Tutored Tasting held at the Cicerone Certification Headquarters in Chicago. I was very excited to travel into the city, with a fellow co-worker of mine, and visit this place I’ve read about for some time now.IMG_3034

There we learned how to identify the most common “off flavors” in a beer and ways to detect by smell, taste, and/or observation that a product is not worthy of consumption. There are several ways a beer can go bad, from bacteria to yeast problems to just being old; and it can be a very overwhelming subject matter to approach. See, brewing beer is a series of biological and chemical reactions, each necessarily required to follow a meticulous series of timed chronological events that, if go awry along the way, will indeed produce an inferior brew. Chemistry was always one of my worst subjects in school; I got away with the credits in college by taking astronomy classes.

This is why, the day before I went I spent five hours studying the entire section of “off-flavors” on the syllabus provided by the Cicerone Program. I read about the life cycle of yeast, oxidation, Hydrogen Sulfide, Phenols, Esters, and Acids, oh my! I didn’t know what level of knowledge would be required to confidently visit the Cicerone Headquarters for the first time, so I had to be ready!



Upon arrival, and in seeing the seven-page PowerPoint Presentation, it dawned on me that five hours might have been a bit of overkill. I mean, the first three slides were about how to taste beer. The teacher was a great guy, though, and he held my attention the entire hour of the class. He was very knowledgeable and had a nice wit about him, he was approachable with questions and wasn’t intimidating or snobby in any way.


The classroom assistants handed out beers we were to try, first the control, which contained about four ounces of Amstel Light and then, as we went through the lecture, six other tainted test samples were distributed. We discussed basic tasting techniques and the difference between taste (what your tongue does) and flavor (taste with aroma), and then our instructor guided us through four ways to “smell”:

  • Distant sniff – hold beer under your nose about 6 inches
  • Short sniff – right under your nose
  • Long sniff – right under your nose for a long time
  • Covered sniff – place your hand over the glass, swirl the it a few times, then smell

I found this to be insightful, especially the covered sniff, each technique produced a different experience. So we were swirling and smelling our samples and then tasting, always twice, if you could stomach it. The six off-flavors we explored, followed by their most common description:

  • DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide) – creamed corn
  • Diaceytl – Buttery
  • Acetaldehyde – Green Apple
  • Trans-2-Nonenal (T2N) – Cardboard
  • Lightstruck – Skunk
  • Infection, specifically with draft lines – Butter + Vinegar

I use the term “most common” because everyone experiences taste and smells and flavors a different way; everyone’s pallet is valid and true and has different strengths and weaknesses. Some people may detect Acetaldehyde as a “green apple” presence, while others may describe it as “cut grass” or “rotten pumpkin”. The point that the Cicerone instructor made was that its important for you to identify how you react to these flavors in beer and connect them with commonly-used tasting terms.

While I may have been a bit over prepared for the lesson I received and the beer we drank was all gross, I took away a few things and, overall, enjoyed myself. One can easily produce their own, in-home off-flavors class with items you can get at the grocery store, but I’m glad I had a professional guide me through how to taste and what to expect. I also liked how the information was organized, it broke down off-flavors into two different categories, based on their origin:

  1. Brewing/Fermentation Flaws, i.e. production
  2. Handling/Serving Flaws, i.e. distribution or retail

This has already helped me in approaching and organizing all of the chemical and biological information associated with off-flavors in beer and I know will aid me in my journey towards becoming a Certified Cicerone. For more information on the program, go here. For more detailed information on off-flavors, Draft magazine has a great article here.

Cicerone Wall Painting