Reviewed: Agnew, Karnowski, Larson

Craft Beer for the Homebrewer

By Michael Agnew

Voyageur Press (2014)

This book will inspire you. Craft Beer for the Homebrewer contains not only interesting profiles of some of the country’s best beers, breweries and brewers, but it also has select recipes from some of these powerhouse libations. Love Tallgrass’ Buffalo Sweat? Dig Funkwerks’ Saison? Dream of Odell’s 90 Shilling? This book has all these recipes and more.

Want to capture these beers on your home system? This book gives you the starting point. Oh, sure, you’ll probably have to tweak them out a bit due to the idiosyncrasies of your personal set up, but this book offers a major head start. And what a motivator that can be!

While it was fun to scan recipes and notice the many different ways to skin a really delicious cat, I also felt supported when I looked over recipes of styles I brew frequently. I’ve developed most of my own recipes into a sweet spot over many years of massaging, and it was encouraging to see pro formulas that are eerily similar to my own basement concoctions.

It’s not often that I set out to clone a beer, but after working my way through this book, I absolutely intend to step out of my own habits and brew someone else’s beer. I’ve never tasted it, but The Bruery’s Rugbrød sounds incredible, and I can’t wait to replicate it.

If you’re looking for a little homebrewing inspiration with full-color photos and backdrop on some of the country’s best beers and breweries, give Craft Beer for the Homebrewer a glimpse.

Homebrew Beyond the Basics

By Mike Karnowski

Lark (2014)

I read a lot to expand my knowledge of beer and brewing—I read about hops, I read about yeast, I read about specific styles—but I’ll admit, I haven’t read a “homebrewing” book in quite some time. Enter Mike Karnowski’s Homebrew Beyond the Basics.

Not to take anything away from the homebrewing books I referred to when I first shifted from extract to all-grain brewing some 15 years ago, but I wish this book had been around. It walks you through the basics: equipment, cleaning, brewing, fermentation and packaging. It goes over water, malt, hops, yeast and the important elements and treatments of each. The book also delves into wild beers and barrel aging. And, of course, there are recipes to help accomplish a number of beers leaning in several different directions. Not tons of recipes, mind you, but enough to get you going in the right direction.

This book is written in easy-to-understand language and is illustrated with full-color, glossy photos that really make you thirsty. I think the thing I valued most in this book was its heavy use of sidebars to break down some of the finer points of beer and brewing. It didn’t feel at all like a textbook, and that feeling alone made it easier for me to retain the information being offered, whether it was an extra tidbit on the importance of mash pH or a tutorial on alpha acids and cohumulones. This was a book packed with the knowledge of a professional brewer written in a way that makes even a novice brewer cranked to learn, apply and explore newfound knowhow.

Beer: What to Drink Next

By Michael Larson

Sterling Epicure (2014)

It’s a constant dilemma: what beer should I drink next?

I’ve been around for a long time, and—by and large—know exactly what I want next. But it hasn’t always been that way. In my early days of imbibing better beers, my knowledge of both beers and styles was quite limited. On the non-light lager front, I initially knew little beyond Newcastle and Guinness. Eventually, that knowledge came, and what a help Beer: What to Drink Next would have been to me. Every day, new beer lovers are getting turned on to craft beer, and this book is a solid tool to help them on their road to discovery.

The specific beers in today’s world are moving targets—new brews are released almost daily—and so one must only follow social media channels to get ideas. But when your local brewpub releases its latest Dark Mild, American Wild or Pre-Prohibition Lager, what exactly does that mean? This book is a great orientation that helps to break it all down. Starting with a Table of Contents that looks a lot like a periodic table (Larson’s Beer Select-O-Pedia) the book goes through each style one by one, describing their characteristics and specifications, and offering food pairing guidelines. It offers historical information, taste sensations and examples of the style that the reader should seek out. While I thought this book, in all its full-color and graphic flash, would be a good compass for a new beer drinker, I also thought that it would be an easy-to-navigate reference for someone who might be studying for the Beer Judge Certification Program test.

In addition to the style rundown that is the bulk of this book, Beer: What to Drink Next a brief tutorial on brewing, serving, storing and tasting beer. All good info, and part of an attractive package that I’d recommend for anyone new to the world of craft beer.

Full disclosure: These books were review copies provided by the publishers.

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Brewvana chief to coordinate Iowa Brewers Guild

It seems kinda funny to write a press release about yourself, and even funnier to publish it on your very own blog, so while you can view the official version of the story here and here, I thought I’d take a moment to report this news in a slightly different voice on my own darned blog.

It’s been in discussion for a few weeks, and the type of role I’ve been interested in for much longer: starting today, I’ve assumed the position of coordinator for the Iowa Brewers Guild. The to-do list is vast, and I’m looking forward to working on behalf of all the breweries in Iowa’s growing beer scene.

A few priorities:

-growing Guild membership

-launching an Enthusiast membership program

-building on the Guild’s events

-developing educational programming (for both brewers and consumers)

-supporting the industry’s legislative interests

-more stuff that’s not flashy or even noticeable to most

A few comments from IBG President Dave Coy, who is the brewmaster at Raccoon River Brewing Company:

“J’s going to be a great asset to the Guild. We’ve grown from a small group of brewers meeting around a picnic table to an organized trade association with our first hire. It’s taken years of volunteer effort to get us to the point where we have the structure and reserve funds to allow us the luxury of a hired coordinator. Almost everyone in the brewing industry in the state is already familiar with J. He’s been an active beer blogger, traveled and met almost all of the brewers throughout the state and has written for publications centered on the beer industry. We are looking forward to his creative and knowledgeable efforts assisting the guild.”

For years now, the Guild has operated solely on the volunteer efforts of extraordinarily busy people. The IBG (and the Iowa beer scene) has come a long way, and I hope to help take Iowa beer to the next level. Look for our online presence to update and increase in the coming weeks (did you know that the Guild hasn’t tweeted since June of last year?) Soon, I’ll take over the Tweet Machine (here) and labor to keep you up-to-date on what we’ve got fermenting.

So there you have it. I’m pleased to announce it. If you’re an Iowa beer lover and looking for a way to get involved, give me a shout.

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Pints & Poses-April 19 at Confluence Brewing

Radiant Wellness Solutions and Brewvana return to Confluence Brewing Company for the bending of bodies and the bending of elbows on April 19 at 10:15 a.m.

Fifteen bucks buys a 90-minute yoga class and your first pint of Confluence beer. Please arrive early to register so that we may start promptly at 10:15 a.m. (slight time change from the past). You know what else? Bring a friend! It’ll be better that way!

Bring a yoga mat if you have one, but we’ll have loaners on hand. To RSVP or more info, comment on the Facebook event page or contact Michelle at mjtwilson [AT] gmail DOT com.

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Illuminator IV (and I) to hit Des Moines and Minneapolis

My second generation brewer, Jake, joined us in the brewhouse for an illuminating job shadow.

Well, it’s that time of year again—doppelbock time. Some brewvana readers will recall my 2011 historical investigation into the origins of doppelbock, which later became the book, Diary of a Part-Time Monk. For that Lenten study, I collaborated with my friend, Eric Sorensen, brewmaster at Rock Bottom in West Des Moines. We scaled up my homebrew doppelbock recipe and brewed it in his 8-barrel brewhouse, and in addition to sustaining me on my 46-day fast and pleasing the taste buds of Iowa beer drinkers, our Illuminator Doppelbock went on to win a silver medal at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-aged Beers in Chicago.

Since folks were so interested in and happy with the brew, it has become an annual tradition, and on Jan. 22, I joined Sorensen in the brewhouse for the fourth iteration of the beer. I feel like Sylvester Stallone. In the second year, we boosted the beer into a more modern-day rendition of the style and have tweaked the grainbill in minor ways each year since. I’m so enthusiastic about where the beer is this time that I can’t imagine touching the formula next year, but you never know…

This year, there will be not only two different Illuminator tappings, but also two different versions of the beer. Sorenson’s former assistant brewer, Larry Skellenger, took over at the Minneapolis Rock Bottom, and, a fan of historical beers, he has opted to brew the original rendering of the beer for Minnesota imbibers.

Illuminator IV goes on tap at the West Des Moines location on Fat Tuesday, March 4, at 6 p.m. If you’re really hard core, make it a point to join us for RB’s annual Crawfish Boil (reservations required), as Illuminator (and my doppelwort ice cream) will be featured. Skellenger’s Illuminator I goes on tap the next day at the Minneapolis Rock Bottom, also at 6 p.m. I’ll be there with my drinking pants on sipping beers and signing copies of Diary of a Part-Time Monk.

So please take advantage of this invitation to come out and drink a pint of history and say hello—two days, two beers, too much amazingness!

This is what we did to discourage Jake's interest in a brewing career. It didn't work.

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Three book reviews

In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America

By Maureen Ogle

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2013)

Sometimes Maureen Ogle pisses people off. And that’s just one of the things I like about her. She walks into each book a blank slate looking for historical information on the subject at hand, and she presents to the reader what it is that she finds. And sometimes what she finds is not what the reader wants to hear. But she writes based on history—she is a historian first and foremost—and the reader with a vested interest in her subject matter is forced to think. And that’s one of the other things I like about her.

(All the other things I like about her are personal, because full disclosure dictates that I mention that Ogle’s a friend of mine.)

I’ve read two of her books, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer and In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America. Both have forced me to rethink what I thought (or wanted to think). The former compelled me to admit that cost cutting wasn’t the reason that corn first entered beer in America and Anheiser-Busch wasn’t evil in its early days; it was simply a brewery trying to make high quality beer and sell the shit out of it. In the latter, I found that I had to reconsider my broad-brushed opposition to the status of today’s giant meat packing industry, GMOs and things like “pink slime.” Its present state came about based on both innovation and customer demand, and like it or not, we got what we asked for.

If you’re set in your ways, opposed to thinking or both, don’t read this book, because Maureen Ogle is dangerous.


How to Brew Honey Wine

By Karl Stückler

Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (2013)

A longtime homebrewer, I’ve ventured away from beer toward cider and mead but a handful of times. Though they are both easier to produce than beer, each time I make them I have to refresh my memory on the scientific details involved. I fool around on the Internet and ask my buddy Ken for advice and recipes.

Adding this book to my library simplifies all that. With comfortable prose, full-color photos and helpful diagrams, the book is easy to navigate and understand, though Americans will have to translate from Stückler’s use of the metric system when it comes to the recipes included (there aren’t many, so you’ll have to acquire another book for that kind of help).

Just over a hundred pages, How to Brew Honey Wine isn’t the Bible of Mead, but it is certainly a handy reference that I hope will motivate me to pursue this facet of my home fermentation program with greater frequency. Because, well, mead is delicious.


Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland

By Anna Blessing

Agate Midway (2014)

A Midwesterner with a penchant for good, local beer and the people and stories behind them, I was elated when this book arrived in my mailbox. I thumbed through the listing of 20 breweries selected for inclusion and complained inwardly that not only were there no Iowa breweries included (a personal whine because of  the location of my headquarters), but there were a whopping five of twenty breweries from Chicago (Blessing’s stomping grounds). Though a fabulous choice and a brewery that I very much wish well, one of those breweries isn’t even open yet. Iowa pride aside, I just kept thinking about places like Schlafly, Boulevard, Tallgrass and Nebraska—all legit contenders for inclusion in this book, methinks.

But the book that was actually in my hand and not the perfect one in my head. What about it? I liked it. A lot. Each brewery profile painted an interesting picture of the people, the beers and the story behind the brewery, whether young like the in-planning Moody Tongue or well-seasoned like the 154-year-old Schell’s. Blessing’s full-color photos added to the book’s (and breweries’) personality.

Though some of the profiles seemed to end rather abruptly, I had a hard time putting the book down. Because I like to read about breweries. That being the case, I’d really like to see Blessing hit the road and put out a series of these books covering breweries from all over the country. I wouldn’t be alone in seeking out the entire lot, I feel sure.

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Pints & Poses gets a new home

Over the course of the last few years, Michelle and I have done Pints & Poses events in a number of locations, including three different breweries. To keep things consistent and to build an audience for this fun beer-and-yoga event, we’re partnering with our friends at Confluence Brewing Company in Des Moines to make this an ongoing affair.

Our next P&P has been scheduled for Feb. 1 at 10:30 a.m., and while you’re jotting down appointments in your calendar, you might as well include April 19, because that’s when we’ll return. We hope to be back every other month, and we hope you’ll join us.

Fifteen bucks gets you a ninety-minute yoga class, followed by a fun social time fueled by Confluence’s delicious beers–and your first pint is included with the cost of the class.

Michelle Wilson is a certified yoga instructor, teaching eclectic yoga to students of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. John Martin is a really good brewer. As we always say, this is a good time to bring a friend who is perhaps reluctant to give yoga (or beer) a try. So bring a friend.

Bring a mat if you’ve got one, but we’ll have loaners on-hand.

Where? Confluence is located just south of Gray’s Lake at 1235 Thomas Beck Road (Bell Avenue) in Suite A.

Cheers and Namaste!


PS-Want more info? Here’s an October 2013 write-up from Cityview.

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Moisture-wicking gift idea

A moment of shameless self-promotion today: When thinking about holiday gift ideas for the brewer in your life (or the person who needs ideas for you), consider BREWVANA’s new line of brewhouse shirts: VORLAUF.

Built with moisture-wicking fabric to pull moisture away from the skin, VORLAUF beer gear will keep you dry while working in the hot (and cold) and decidedly wet brewhouse environment.

Why have brewers been wearing impractical t-shirts and work shirts for so long? We didn’t know either, so we invented VORLAUF by BREWVANA to solve the problem once and for all.

Soft and comfy, VORLAUF tees are screen printed (front and back) on Hanes Cool Dry shirts and are 100% polyester. Available for men and women.

Click here to visit our store.

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United States of Beer Map, an intimidating proposal

Work! Work! Work! I’ve been sitting on this awesome sample for several weeks now, and finally, a spare moment to tell you about it. What is it? Work! Work! Work!

It’s called the United States of Beer Map, an absolutely beautiful 39”X25” poster designed by Dave Selden of 33 Books Co. I wrote about 33 Bottles of Beer here, and the pocket-sized review format was so popular that Dave took the concept into other realms, including cheese, chocolate, cigars and wine. This time he went big, fancy and wall-worthy.

This beautiful map of the United States features the 33 Bottles of Beer review format, which includes a flavor wheel and 5-star rating area to record the details of one’s beer du jour. Designed, tested and printed in Portland, Oregon, the map is also high quality as heck. Dave sent me a bunch of really geeky details:

“The paper is American – the stock is 100# French brand Dur-O-Tone in Steel Grey from Niles, Michigan. It’s 100% recycled, chlorine-free. The standard gold ink edition is printed with four separate inks in a three-step process: a white “base coat,” then a gold metallic, then yellow and black are applied. Between each step, the poster was allowed to dry so the colors really sparkle. There’s also a “platinum” edition that’s limited to 100 hand-signed copies.”

The standard gold ink edition is $25 and the platinum edition is $50.

It’s gorgeous and everyone who owns it will personalize it with their individual beer discoveries, but it’s also a little intimidating. One, I don’t want to mess it up with my third-grader handwriting, and two, which beers should I use to complete the project? Work! Work! Work!

I’m tempted to overthink this, focusing on my favorite beers, or only beers brewed by friends or only “good” beers, but then again, I don’t yet have a favorite beer in a state like Mississippi, I don’t have friends in every state of the Union and not every beer I taste would be anywhere near worthy of such a nice-looking poster. So, unless a few of you good folks decide to send me a brief letter of introduction (so we’re friends) and a beer from your state, I think I’ll just dive in like a thirsty child staring down a pitcher of green Kool-aid at Grandma’s house and let my fat crayons run amok. Because that’s the only way I’ll ever get it done. Go. Just go. It will be beautiful no matter what, thanks in part to Dave’s cool base layer.

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A conversation with AHA Director Gary Glass

I recently had the opportunity to engage American Homebrewers Association Director Gary Glass in a telephone interview. I scrapped a small handful of moderately unknowable questions that were based on the off chance that the BA possessed any idea of the size of Pre-Prohibition breweries and a few questions that were probably better addressed to BA Director Paul Gatza. On those issues, this conversation has been edited. Beyond that, we discussed the future of homebrewing in the US, nanobreweries (but not as much as I’d planned), style guidelines, litigation, GABF registration and a new award the AHA is rolling out in 2014. Enjoy!

Brewvana: Homebrewing is now legal in all fifty states. What do you see for the future of homebrewing in the US?

GG: Legally speaking, there are still a number of states where there are issues that can be resolved on the legislative front. Just this past year, Iowa passed a law allowing for transport of homebrew outside of the home. Previously it was technically not legal to remove homebrew from your home. And that’s not uncommon for many states to pass homebrew laws in the wake of the repeal of Prohibition. Those laws tend to be much more restrictive or narrow, simply because of the timing in which they were passed. In 1933, there were no homebrew clubs or homebrew competitions, and so there wasn’t a need to write [these issues] into those laws. We’re finding situations where homebrewers are wanting to participate in entering homebrew competitions and other activities that require removal of homebrew from the home and so in those states where it is not yet legal to do that, we’ve been working to change those laws.

Brewvana: Are you tracking what would be in the nano realm of production size?

GG: We have over 1,600 breweries-in-planning in our database right now, but until they are open and operating, we’re not asking how big their equipment is or what their annual production is.

Brewvana: Economy of scale is likely a barrier to profit for a nanobrewery. How sustainable do you see the nanobrewery movement?

GG: I wouldn’t want to speak to that from a Brewers Association perspective, but from my personal perspective, I’d say that it’s very difficult to make nanobrewing, as a long-term business model, work if you don’t have some other source of income. In a lot of cases, it’s a means of launching a brand, and then establishing a viable business that can get bank loans to expand. If expansion is a part of the goal and brewing on a small scale is a means of establishing a brand, then I think it’s a workable business model. But I think a lot of brewers that launch a nano discount the cost of their time. When you’re brewing on a very small scale, you’re brewing an awful lot. It takes about the same amount of time whether you’re brewing a barrel and a half or 20 barrels.

Brewvana: I’ve heard a few folks ask why it is that the Brewers Association style guidelines and the BJCP style guidelines for competitions aren’t more aligned. One, why not? And two, are there any discussions to bring those two sets of style guidelines into one document?

GG: We do work with the BJCP for homebrew competitions, but for the commercial competitions, those style guidelines really need to be more representative of what’s being brewed at the commercial level in the country. The competitions we use those for, the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, have the capacity to judge a lot more categories than your typical homebrew competition. So I don’t think it would necessarily make sense for the BJCP to adopt the Brewers Association guidelines. At the homebrewing level, it would be very difficult to judge in 84 different categories. Twenty-eight categories is much more manageable for a homebrew competition.

Brewvana: Legal action is on the rise in an industry that is known for its “brotherhood,” so to speak. What do you anticipate on this front as the industry continues to mature? Are there preemptive actions that the BA is considering to offer support or to mediate conflicts within the industry at all?

GG: This question might be better directed toward Paul Gatz, but I do know that there’s more information being published on along the lines of dealing with things like trademarks, registered labels and those kinds of things to help avoid situations where legal action might come up.

Brewvana: In light of the GABF growth and the difficulty of breweries to register this year, is there any plan to structure registration in a different way such that judging takes place on a regional front rather than all at once on GABF week?

GG: Yes, the plan for next year is a pre-registration and then base the number of total entries that any one brewery can enter on the number of breweries that are attempting to enter. The goal is to get every brewery that wants to participate to have entry into the competition. That is going to mean that some breweries are going to have to enter fewer entries than they would like.

Brewvana: What are some of the projects or initiative in the works for the Brewers Association or the American Homerbrewers Association?

GG: For the AHA, something that’s new for 2014, we’ll be awarding our first Radegast Club of the Year Award, an award based on the community involvement of homebrew clubs. There’s no specific criteria. We’ll be looking at things like the kinds of educational programs for their members, what kind of community service projects they may be doing within their local communities and the kinds of charity fundraisers that clubs are doing to highlight some of the really cool things that homebrew clubs do besides just win awards in competitions. Radegast is the Slavic god of hospitality who was credited by Eastern Europeans as the inventor of beer, the naming of this award coincides with the names of other awards we give out, the Ninkasi Award and the Gambrinus Award.

A big brewvana thanks to Gary for taking the time out of his day to talk with us. Follow him on Twitter @homebrewassoc.

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FoBAB 2014-fun, games and a few residual thoughts

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Chicago’s 11th Annual Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers sponsored by the Illinois Brewers Guild.

As was the case two years ago, I was an appendage to my comrades at Rock Bottom, Eric Sorensen of the West Des Moines location to be exact. This was the second time that we barrel-aged my Illuminator Doppelbock, and we were less fortunate this go-around.

On the first occasion, we won a silver medal in the Strong/Double/Imperial Dark Beer Category, but this year, we went home empty-handed. Well, not exactly. How can you call it empty-handed when you had a fun weekend with friends at one of the best festivals/competitions in the country? How can you call it empty-handed when you visited a number of stellar breweries and tasted so many delicious beers? How can you call it empty-handed when you met so many nice people? When you judged the beer that went on to take Runner-up Best of Show (Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island)? When you made it home safely despite deadly tornadoes in the neighborhood?

You can’t.

It was a fun weekend, I learned a lot, and I appreciate the hospitality I received from so many gracious people.

A couple of things that armchair brewers should keep in mind:

  1. It’s no easy task organizing and executing a festival (of any size really)

I found myself wishing that the judging had started at 9 a.m., as scheduled, because I really could have used a few more precious moments of sleep after visiting five breweries the day before and rising at 7:30 a.m. in order to arrive on time. I found myself wishing that there had been separate rooms for judging and a VIP area, rather than converting the former into the latter. After waking early to sit around and wait, having only a light breakfast because I typically don’t eat much early in the day and then judging through the morning, I was ready to sit, relax and snag a bite to eat. But BOS judging was still happening, so it was well into the first session before victuals could be had. That was a bummer, but hey, there’s a lot of work to do. The festival itself was a blast, and I appreciate all the hard work.

  1. Barrel-aging isn’t as easy as racking beer into a barrel and waiting for the magic to happen.

This is kind of a no brainer, but I noticed a huge difference in my beer this year. Even though we put (in my opinion) a better doppelbock into a barrel this year, the finished beer was not as impressive—and I don’t mean to say it was infected (which can happen). Last time, we used a 55-gallon Heaven Hill Rye barrel and this time we used a 30-gallon Cody Road Bourbon barrel from Mississippi River Distillery in LeClaire, Iowa (small, young, local). I’ve heard people say that because of the increased surface area, you can barrel-age a beer faster in a smaller barrel (I’ve also heard folks say that’s rubbish). Either way, the Cody Road Bourbon (which I’ve never tasted on its own) only spent a year in its barrel. Personally, I thought my beer was reminiscent of some Virginia white lightning I once had the opportunity to taste. Hollow, grain alcohol action, especially in the nose.

I tasted other beers at FoBAB that left me scratching my head. They weren’t all stellar—some were downright rough—and I wondered: “Do professional brewers occasionally enter competitions simply for feedback?” I do this on homebrews from time to time but I’d have thought commercial brewers would sort out their questions about a beer in a less public way. Just me. Chime in if you know the answer. I’m not being obnoxious; I’d really like to know.

  1. Less isn’t always more, even though craft folk (I’m one of them) like to make those kinds of claims.

Bitch about big size if you like, but folks with large barrel programs and the ability to pick and choose what they release and blend themselves into the (really killer) best case scenario, not just a pretty good specialty release coming from one barrel that worked. New Belgium took two medals in the Wild/Acidic Category, Goose Island took a total of five medals, including BOS Runner-Up, for just a couple of examples.

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