Little Giant returns…

The Little Giant Beer Summit returns to El Bait Shop for its second installment on Sept. 20, and while I’d recommend going because last year was a blast, I’d also encourage you to attend because I’ll be on hand from 3-5 p.m. signing copies of my latest book, Iowa Pints.
This year, the celebration the giant celebration of Iowa’s little breweries will feature nearly 40 breweries and over 70 Iowa beers on tap (rain or shine). You should go. What time? 3-7 p.m.
“I thought last year’s event could not be topped, but the quality and variety of the beers this year are nothing short of amazing,” said Jeff Bruning, founder of the event.
Some of the beers this year are Confluence’s Barrel-aged DBA Centennial, Peace Tree’s Sour Mash Saison, WestO’s CocO Stout, Backpocket’s Barrel Aged Barleywine and Exile’s Beatnik Sour Cherry Berlinerweiss, to name just a few. The new breweries at this year’s Little Giant are Big Grove (Solon), Captain’s Quarters (Adel), Deal Orchard (Jefferson), Firetrucker (Ankeny) and Lion Bridge (Cedar Rapids).
What: 2nd Annual Little Giant Beer Summit
When: September 20th, 2014 from 3 to 7pm.  Rain or Shine
Where: el Bait Shop, 200 SW 2nd Street, Downtown, Des Moines
Cost: FREE ADMISSION, $7 Commemorative Glass, $2.50 a ticket for a 5oz. draws or $2 a ticket when you buy 10 tickets


Posted in beer, culture, Life | Leave a comment

Reviewed: Brew Britannia

Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer

By Jessica Boak & Ray Bailey

Aurum Press (2014)

I’ve been a fan of the Boak & Bailey beer blog since its earliest days. Launched around the same time as my own blog in 2007, I read Boak & Bailey’s beer drinking exploits regularly in those days, not because it was possible to read nearly every single beer blog in existence at that time (today, there are thousands of beer blogs, and who has time to read them all?) but because it was a good read. To this day, the husband-wife writing duo offer balanced analysis of beers, pubs, breweries and all topics related to beer. They write well. And they ask good questions.

At some point, clearly, they began asking serious questions about the evolution of British beer in the last few decades, and that toil has recently been released in the new Aurum Press offering, Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer.

The book chronicles England’s gobbling up of small, independent breweries by the giants, which began in the late 1950s and continued through the 1970s. This shift reduced consumer choice and, worse by traditional British beer drinking standards, brought cask (real ale) to the brink of extinction. Two consumer organizations emerged to dig their heals in: the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) in 1962 and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) n 1971.

Boak and Bailey conducted copious research and interviews with the vanguards of these movements to piece together the story all the way to the present. While CAMRA especially contributed to the rescue of cask beer, the present-day craft beer scene came from others. My snotty American mind has credited the American craft beer movement for influencing the Old World—and it does—but the Brits had their defiant others who didn’t brew cask for cask’s sake and explored taste for taste’s sake, ready and willing to pour keg beers and carve a new market with their independence. BrewDog’s low hanging fruit for their media savvy and success, but others like Thornbridge and Meantime have made notable contributions, as well.

This book really delivered. I saw familiar threads of information, but Boak and Bailey really fleshed out the details for someone like me, who possesses only an American’s cursory knowledge (despite paying attention like a fairly high-functioning beer nerd) of what was really happening on the ground in England all these years.

My only criticism came at the book’s end. It simply ended. One minute I’m reading about SPBW folks meeting (all these years later), and then I’m looking at an appendix. I felt like a tidy summary and look to the future could have been massaged just a touch to avoid such an abrupt stop.

Don’t let that stop you, however. Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer was a good read, and a valuable addition to that staggering shelf of beer books you have.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.


Posted in beer, culture | Leave a comment

Mad Libs Beer Review: Jack-O Traveler Shandy

Kyle and I got together recently to play Beer Madlibs, brewvana’s  occasional series, in which I write down thoughts on a beer and plug them into the classic, childhood word game. It’s more fun than a pretentious beer nerd review.

Jack-O Traveler Shandy

The Traveler Beer Company

To speak more practically about this beer, I’d mention that at first blush, this beer’s aroma smelled exactly like a pumpkin pie, with balanced spicing that wasn’t off-putting like so many pumpkin beers. After that initial sniff and swallow, however, it really acted a lot like off-brand cola. With just a subtle hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. And sweet. Of the Traveler lineup, my favorite (which they also sent along with the grapefruited Illusive Traveler some weeks back) has been the straight-up shandy, Curious Traveler. I could drink a few of those lemony rascals.

FTC disclaimer: I received this beer for free from The Traveler Beer Company.

Posted in beer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

20 years, 20 beers: A Love Story

My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this week, and since she’s such a wonderful beer wife, I thought I’d share the “card” she got me. I’ve never cared much for giving Hallmark my money, and have always gone the more personal route of actually making my own cards over the years. They are very personalized, with little nods to our life together, whether it’s including a photo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John or Homer and Marge Simpson. This year I photoshopped my head onto Al Green’s “I’m Still in Love with You” album, but she outdid me, telling our story together through 20 beers (there are four and six packs here and there, with nine individual beers moving the plot).

Anyway, here’s what her box of a card looked like:

Once upon a time, there was a young Renaissance man named J., whom no one could say was an Arrogant Bastard1.

In fact, Michelle though he was one Sharp gentleman, with his Lord Byron and hand-written love poems2, mad cooking skills, and wisecracking wit.

Although they had met while working on the college newspaper and shared many late-night deadlines eating 5-pound bags of gummy worms, their magical moment came one cold, Iowa winter night at a friendly barbecue in an old house on Grove Street. Somehow, it was like they were on a New Planet3 with their all-consuming love for each other.

To celebrate their April Fool’s Day engagement, the happy couple ran to the convenience store and grabbed the highest-quality beer available: Molson. They were married just four months4 later in an 1800s country church, vowing to share their lives together.

To celebrate their marriage, the happy couple traveled to the woods of Minnesota, where they drank Pete’s Wicked Ale, Leinenkugel’s5, and road a rickety tandem bike, took pictures of road kill,6 played horseshoes, and cooked together in the cabin by the lake at Shady Grove Resort.

After spending two years along the river in South Dakota, J. and Michelle moved to Navajo country, the land of Black Buttes7, black mesas, rutted rez roads, and fry bread. Fast forward to North Carolina, and then back to Iowa, where they now live in a rustic Farmhouse with their two almost-grown sons.

Over 20 years, it’s been a wild ride across four states, with two kids, four dogs, countless toasts, and Morning Wood8, but Michelle is still J.’s Barley Angel. Let’s just say they lived happily ever aft-beer.

1 Seems a good place to insert a mother-in-law joke

2 What can I say? It works as well as Al Green does.

3 Michelle found out a couple of years ago that she was allergic to gluten, so she included a GF offering so we could drink beer together, and I’m not the least mad about its inclusion, because it’s a big part of our life these days.

4 For the record, we’d known each other for a couple years—we’re just talking about a short engagement.

5 Technically, we were drinking Leinie’s Red, and incidentally I still have one of the Pete’s Wicked Ale bottles.

6 That’s a whole ‘nuther story.

7 Yes, we know this beer technically doesn’t fit geographically. Don’t be a turd with the comments.

8 So what?

Posted in beer, Sentimental beer | Leave a comment

Great Taste Chronicles—2014, Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, August 9 marked our third trip to the Great Taste of the Midwest, my favorite of all the beer festivals I’ve attended. Tickets are limited, the setting is beautiful and the Midwest-focused beers are stellar.

This year did not disappoint.

Instead of attending as a regular beer lover, our presence was made possible by the good folks at Millstream Brewing Company. After the ticket sales were complete, a Midwest Regional Guild meeting coalesced on Great Taste Eve, so I weaseled in by taking a shift helping one of the Iowa Brewers Guild members pour beer.

Though we spent time in that capacity, we still had hours to scour the festival grounds for tastes of the beers on offer (and we were parked in the neighborhood of breweries like Surly, Metropolitan, Jolly Pumpkin, and Boulevard, where we could easily turn our love light on). We didn’t make a dent in the thousand beers that were pouring that day, I didn’t carry a map, and I didn’t take any notes, so my list of stand out beers is going to be terrible, I’m afraid.

What I did accomplish this time was to actually take some photos during setup and throughout the festival. You can find a complete album on Brewvana’s Facebook page.

Some standout beers from my cloudy memory: DESTIHL’s lambic, Metropolitan’s Zwickel Lager, Door County’s something-or-other, New Glarus’ Oktoberfest, Jolly Pumpkin’s I-don’t-remember. On the sly at a booth I won’t name, I also had a little whiskey that had been cold-brewed to make the best effing coffee on the planet. Splash that bastard with some pumpkin beer and even a pumpkin beer tastes good. I know, because that was step two of the tasting experience.

There were others, let me assure you. I’m disappointed as hell that I didn’t make it to Off Color’s booth and probably a few others I’m blocking from my mind so I don’t start crying any worse than I already am. You know how it is.

If you’re gluten-free like my poor wife, I’d recommend Greenview’s GF IPA. After much deliberation, Michelle reports that her favorite mead of the day was B. Nektar’s Black Fang (blackberry, clove, and orange zest).

I don’t know where you live, but this is a festival/festival weekend that is worth a flight from afar—if you can get tickets.


Posted in beer, culture, Life, travel | Leave a comment

Great Taste Chronicles—2014, Part 1

Over the weekend, I managed to take my third trip to Madison, Wisconsin’s Great Taste of the Midwest. Now, I haven’t been to every beer festival on the planet, but of the many I’ve attended, Great Taste is absolutely at the top of my list. I exaggerate not.

It’s been a couple of years since I was able to secure tickets (no easy task), and boy, am I glad I made a return. Great Taste Eve—the night-before events that are actually scattered throughout the week—has absolutely exploded and there’s no way that one can hit them all.

I arrived for a Midwest Regional Guild meeting at the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company. There I dug into a cask porter and their Peck’s Pilsner, both living up to my expectations for Great Dane.

Next, I met comrades for a bite to eat at Next Door Brewing Company. There, I had the Ssam Pork Sandwich, which was tasty, and after debating on splitting an order of poutine, the house pickle assortment, or a plate of pickled and deviled eggs, my boys and I settled in on the eggs. They were good, and I especially liked the curry deviled eggs. On the beer front, I tried several. I ordered a pint of the saison when I sat down, and it was okay, but I would have liked it more had the addition of chamomile been dialed back. I also tasted the stock ale (big diacetyl), the IPA (good), dry stout (good) and gose (good).

With a little food in the tank, we shifted to an interesting brewing cooperative located at  4539 Helgesen Drive. Here we found House of Brews, MobCraft (a truly unique concept and you should dash over to their website to learn more) and Greenview Brewing. They had an event called Mob the House, which featured multiple bands, artists and beers. Here, I managed to try five offerings, and I’m ashamed to say that none of them was from House of Brews (I guess I’ll have to go back). I tried MobCraft’s Hop Gose the Grapefruit and Batshit Crazy Coffee Nutbrown. Both were good, but I was especially moved by Batshit Crazy, which I’m told contains lactose, a contributor to the body I so enjoyed.

Greenview focuses on gluten-free beers (the brewer’s wife is celiac), and with a GF wife in my life, we were both looking forward to the possibilities here. We tried their farmhouse, dark and IPA. The first two were fine, and if I were gluten-free, I’d be pleased for their existence. But the IPA downright impressed me. It was quite good. According to the brewer, he’s got a “porterish” beer in the fermenter as he continues his efforts to build a solid, GF dark beer. Which is what my wife is dreaming of…

Our final Eve stop was at Dexter’s Pub. Toppling Goliath was doing an event there, and we wanted to show a little support for our Iowa brewers. We arrived around 10 p.m. as their final beer of the night was being tapped. The bar was packed, and the line for the beer stretched the length of the building out the door. I was fortunate and resourceful enough to acquire the very last pour of Morning’ Delight Imperial Stout. Long story short, it was a worthy nightcap.

Stay tuned for part two of this year’s Great Taste Chronicles when I actually discuss…yep, #GTMW!

Posted in beer, culture, Life, travel | Leave a comment

Reviewed: Kombucha Revolution

Kombucha Revolution

By Stephen Lee

10 Speed Press (2014)

A book is pointless if it’s not inspiring. While this book on making kombucha (a fermented probiotic wonderland of delight) and kombucha-laced goodies won’t impact my life the way Alex Haley’s Roots or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Other Essays did, it has lit something of the proverbial fire under my butt.

I love kombucha and have made it a few times, but with a heavy dedication to making beer and an occasionally hectic schedule, I haven’t made the same commitment to some of my auxiliary hobbies. Though I’d like to get steady with it, I haven’t. Until now. Thanks, in part, to Mrs. Lisovski, who inspired Stephen Lee to strap on his Speedo and dive headfirst into a really deep vat of delicious tea.

A serial entrepreneur who founded Stash Tea, Tea Tibet , and Tazo Tea, in addition to Kombucha Wonder Drink, Lee knows a thing or two about tea and its effervescent fermented relative.

An informational, quick read, the book offers a short tutorial on kombucha, its history, and how to make it before landing on a recipe revue ranging from kombucha and interesting ways to twist it to juices, smoothies, cocktails, dressings and a number of other ways to include kombucha in a happy and healthy life.

I found success with the recipes I tested and was (okay, here’s that word) inspired to do more to my kombucha than drink it straight or mixed with one or two fruit juices to bend the flavors. I’m now looking forward to infusing it with any number of herbs and spices, as well. And tossing it in a smoothie. And mustard. And coleslaw. And a bunch of other things. And, yep, inspired by Goose Island’s Fleur, probably a beer, as well.

Lee’s knowledge of and passion for kombucha (written in an absolutely kind-sounding tone) is evident in this 160-page hardcover tome from 10 Speed Press. If you’re looking for inspiration to get started with kombucha, I’d suggest Kombucha Revolution for its background, lessons, and non-threatening recipes that you will be itching to try.


FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.


Posted in culture, food, living | Leave a comment

Upcoming Stuff

A few notes on the calendar, for the sake of updates and my desire to drink beer with you:

On July 26, I’ll be signing copies of Iowa Pints at Peace Tree Brewing Company in Knoxville, Iowa.

On August 8-9, I’ll be poking around Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest (and work).

On August 16, Michelle and I will be doing our next Pints & Poses at Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines, Iowa. (10:15 a.m.)

On August 27, I’ll be signing books at Keg Creek Brewing Company in Glenwood, Iowa. (5-7 p.m.)

On August 31, I’ll be drinking beers and signing books at Millstream Brewing Company‘s Festival of Iowa Beers in Amana, Iowa.

On September 20, I’ll be signing books at Little Giant Beer Summit at el Bait Shop in Des Moines, Iowa (3-5 p.m.) and later at Twisted Vine Brewery in St. Charles, Iowa. (7-9 p.m.)

On November 11, I’ll be giving a talk and signing books at El Bait Shop as part of the Wonder of Words Festival‘s (Pub)lisher’s Crawl. (7:30 p.m.)


I’ll fill in the gaps as they arise. I hope you can make it to one or more of these events.

Peace & Pints!


Posted in beer, Life, news, travel | Leave a comment

Reviewed: Canned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can

Canned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can

By Russ Phillips

Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (2014)

Oskar Blues Brewery wasn’t the first brewery to put beer in a can, and it wasn’t even the first modern craft brewery to take up the practice. But Oskar Blues Owner/Founder Dale Katechis was the first in the craft movement to make it gosh-darn sexy. Over a decade ago, Katechis invested in a small canning line and began churning out Dale’s Pale Ale—two labor-intense cans at a time. If you were making a timeline of the history of brewing from ancient Sumaria to the present day, you’d include a notation of this November 2002 occurrence. Because today, canned beer is a big deal. Today, over three hundred craft breweries in nearly every state in the country as well as Washington, D.C. package beers in cans, and after several upgrades, Oskar Blues is at the vanguard with not one but two production breweries with state-of-the-art canning lines at the heart of the operations.

The reasons are many: protecting beer from light and oxygen, reduced shipping costs, environmental impact. Moreover, cans friendly to beaches, golf courses and other glass-hating locations. Plus, there’s a lot of surface area for artistic labeling. blogger-turned-author Russ Phillips has made it his business to become the authority on the subject. Including a history of the can and a foreword by Katechis himself, Phillips’ can-packed new book, Canned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can showcases the full-color, original artwork of 600 cans from 40 states, as well as design, beer and brewery information, this hardcover tome is sure to be a coffee table eye catcher for many a beer geek around the country and perhaps the world.

Divided by region, Canned! contains notable canned beers like The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, ubiquitous beers like New Belgium’s Fat Tire and terrible beers from defunct breweries like Cans Bar and Canteen. There’s more: canning innovations such as Great River Brewery’s shrink-wrap labeling system, retired beers like Wynkoop’s Silverback Pale Ale, cans from breweries who no longer can (Top of the Hill Brewery) and multiple iterations of a single beer’s labeling changes (take 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon as just one example).

There are sweet-looking cans from the likes of Revolution Brewing, Sante Fe Brewing and Westbrook Brewing. There are interesting stories behind beers such as New England Brewing Company’s 668 The Neighbor of the Beast. There are one-off collaborations from a number of breweries and interesting extras like the official tasting cup of the 2011 American Canned Beer Festival—a limited edition, topless 8 oz. can which festival goers used for sampling. The book showcases both tight branding (DC Brau and Brooklyn Brewery) and boring cans that would never cause an impulse buy (Mother Earth Brewing).

With history, beer, factoids and lots of great art, Canned! is a joy to peruse whether you’re a beer nerd, a graphic design geek or just a regular person. If you happen to fit into either of the first two categories, you may want to pick up this beautiful book. If you’re a regular person, you may want to jump with both feet into the worlds of beer and art—they’re beautiful places to be. This book is proof.

Full disclosure: This book was a review copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in beer | Leave a comment

Omaha Beer Fest 2014

It rained during my entire drive toward the Omaha Beer Fest at Stinson Park at Aksarben Village on June 6-7. Held in conjunction with Visit Omaha, the festival is in its fourth year, and featured beers from 50 breweries, hourly Beer Academy sessions, live music, a Homebrewer Expo, VIP Lounge and an assortment of food and other vendors.

By the time I parked the car, the skies cleared for a beautiful day of imbibing. Because I’ve earned some good Beer Karma.

It was the first beer festival that my wife and I have attended since she acquired her gluten-intolerance diagnosis a couple years ago. Her options were limited, but OBF had not only a wide selection of beers on offer (placing the needle on the broken record: “Can I smell your beer? Can I smell your beer?”), but also a number of ciders and Michelle’s life saver, Moonstruck Meadery. We’ve been saying we ought to head over to Bellevue, Nebraska to check Moonstruck out, but after our trip to the OBF, this trip is has become a distinct imperative.

That’s what a beer fest should do. It should offer the opportunity for you to explore many options and in the end, ignite a passion for this or that new find. On June 7, Michelle found Moonstruck.

But enough about mead.

For me, the fest was an opportunity to explore some of Nebraska’s of breweries as well as those of neighboring states like Kansas and Iowa. I had a handful of nice saisons here and there; in fact, I had a handful of nice saisons at Booth 51, the pouring station for the Omaha’s upcoming Farnam House Brewing Company. I had the opportunity to connect with the good folks at Lincoln’s Zipline Brewing Company. Prior to this fest, I’d only tried their oatmeal porter, which I enjoyed. Here, I dug further into their lineup and found that not only do they make good beer, they’re nice people. Now I want to go to Lincoln.

I returned to the Blind Tiger booth a number of times, and on a number of those occasions, I found myself seeking out another of the Topeka, Kansas brewery’s lovely sour brown. They had a laundry list of good beers pouring, but, oh my!

In addition to a good swath of beery offerings, the fest had a beard contest, live music, educational seminars, a strong showing of food trucks (I had a Nitro Burger), ample potty space and a number of other vendors. It was a good day.

Posted in beer, culture, Life, travel | Leave a comment