Reviewed: Homebrew All-Stars

1 homebrew allstarsHomebrew All-Stars

By Drew Beechum and Denny Conn

Voyageur Press (2016)

New to the beer canon on May 1 of this year, Homebrew All-Stars from well-regarded homebrewers Drew Beechum and Denny Conn brings together a wide swath of beer recipes and brewers (including names as big as John Palmer and Gordon Strong), and regardless of one’s approach to the hobby, this book has something for homebrewers of all stripes.

Following the standard homebrewing primer, the book is essentially divided into four categories, which speak to brewers (and give examples of brewers) in the same number of archetypes: Scientist, Recipe (and Ingredient) Innovator, Old-School Master and Wild One. I took the book’s assessment and wasn’t surprised that I didn’t fit neatly into any one of the slots offered. As Beechum and Conn allow with a Whitman reference, some of us “are large, we contain multitudes.”

In the interest of being picky, I’d say that while I like knowing just who thinks/wrote what in a joint-authored book, I don’t like this strategy:

Denny: Blah, blah, blah opinions that are Denny’s own on a topic.

Drew: Yadda, yadda, yadda thoughts that belong to Drew on a subject.

A matter of personal preference I’m sure, the tic interrupts the flow, and I’d rather the authors brought together a unified message (they did it everywhere else in the book, right?).


Packed with recipes and tips from some of the all-stars of homebrewing, as well as profiles of said brewers, the book is a real asset for anyone looking to up their game.

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

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Drinking Pants Pageant follow-up

Screenshot 2016-07-06 14.52.09

Not gonna lie. Life’s gotten away from me.

In an effort to take it back, please indulge the above screen shot (my all-time favorite of my television appearances to date) from this news broadcast about our inaugural #DrinkingPants Pageant on June 20 in Des Moines.

Long story short, the Pageant was great. Originally conceived as a way to promote the DrinkingPants hashtag, it’s sorta morphed in my mind to be an avenue toward world peace. You know, better living through pants.

Gloom Balloon performed with intensity, we showcased beer from Peace Tree and Ballast Point, and a raucous group of beer/pants lovers took to the catwalk for a fun show. If you weren’t there, you missed the beginning of something so, so wonderful, but fret not; we’ll be back for round two next year. Pants up and join us!

Full photo album on the Des Moines Beer Week Facebook page here.

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Drinking Pants Pageant slated for June 20

The Most Fun You’ll Have With Your Pants On!

IMG_1416Along with my comrades at 818: a tiny design empire, I’ve been working hard to bring to life a very special event. Coming to Wooly’s on June 20 during Des Moines Beer Week, the Drinking Pants Pageant is my big push for world domination and the #DrinkingPants hashtag.

Wearing I know not yet what, I’ll be hosting from the catwalk as we showcase the finest #DrinkingPants in three divisions: men, women, and teams. Local celebrity judges will be on hand to make tough decisions and dole out prizes for the top three sets of trousers/slacks/breeches/pants in each category.

To keep things fun, Gloom Balloon will perform, and our sponsors, Peace Tree Brewing Company and Ballast Point Brewing Company, will make sure that the taps are under the control of pants-friendly breweries (four PT and BP tap selections each, I heard).

DSC_0750Why Pants?

While I like to party, there are times when I’m a little bit introverted. I might show up to a bar and speak only to the friend, wife, or uncle at my side. That’s fun, and sometimes a quiet evening out with a close friend is just what the doctor ordered. But it’s fun to meet new people, too.

I’ve noticed that when I show up at a beer festival or event wearing lederhosen or some other flashy trousers, I make new friends quickly.

“Nice pants!” they say, calling attention to my vertical stripes.

“Nice pants!” I say, calling attention to their cargo shorts.

Inevitably, we end up in a conversation, and my day is better for it. How beautiful! The world would be a better place if we all wore crazy pants more often. If we’re all dressed funny, then none of us is dressed funny. The ultimate icebreaker, #DrinkingPants are not only a gateway to friendship, but, potentially, the bringer of world peace.

So you’re invited! Raid your grandma’s closet or the local thrift store, and be a particiPANT in a better life. Gather your friends and join us at Wooly’s on June 20. Doors open at 5 p.m., and the show kicks off at 6:30 p.m. All particiPANTS will receive a free beer, and will have the opportunity to strut their stuff on the catwalk and earn a prize.

And change the world. No big deal.

Full details below:



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Tour de Tanks launches across Iowa


In conjunction with American Craft Beer Week, over 50 Iowa Brewers Guild (IBG) member breweries opened their doors to beer lovers for Tour de Tanks, a daylong series of free VIP tours on May 21.

An event I’d long wanted to make happen, I organized this affair for my day job as Minister of Iowa Beer. I thought it would be not only a good way to promote all the breweries in one fell swoop, but to educate consumers about the brewing process as well. Long ago, I’d been wowed by a zwickel sample of a Pilsner beer, and just knew that if others could taste a beer both early in the fermentation process and again in its final form, they too would find blinking light bulbs appear above their head.


When the long-awaited day of special tours and zwickel pours arrived, I set off with my uncle and cousin to to hit up a few spots in the Des Moines area: Twisted Vine Brewery (new, expanded location), Wing Nutt Brewing Company (not quite open yet), Reclaimed Rails Brewing Company (DCoy’s new digs), New American Brewing Company (no tap room but moving and expanding to that soon), and 515 Brewing Company (Barb and her beers are nice).


I went out of my way to make no plan and really only figured we’d hit three places, but with a relaxed attitude, small samples, and good conversation, all the sudden we managed five. From my viewpoint, it was a really fun day offering many perspectives on the same lovely beverage. For those new to the scene, I think it was a good look into how ingredients and fermentation make their mark on the finished product. For me, it was fun to see friends interact with their fans and tell the stories of not only their businesses, but also the beers themselves.


In addition to Tour de Tanks, the day unveiled the Guild’s Iowa Beer Trails program. Beer travelers can pick up maps at participating breweries to guide their ongoing beer travels around the state. When visiting a brewery, staff will stamp this “passport” and once all breweries in each of six trails have been visited, beer travelers will receive a button marking their accomplishment. With a little time and effort, focused travelers can collect them all.


There are six Iowa Beer Trails to discover: Western Iowa, Central Iowa, Des Moines Metro, Northeast Iowa, Corridor and Southeast Iowa.

With the goal of encouraging beer enthusiasts to get out and explore not only Iowa’s breweries, but also to learn a little more about the entire brewing process, the day did well to prove that whether you like ’em hoppy, mild, roasty, or wild, Iowa’s brewing industry has something for just about everyone.


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Does Hydro Flask really perform?

IMG_3333In a word, yes.

I’ve heard about how impressive Hydro Flask growlers are, and after a recent conversation with one of the sales representatives at the Craft Brewers Conference last week, I received a complimentary 16-ounce True Pint to test drive. According to Hydro Flask’s website, their products are made of 18/8 pro grade stainless steel and utilize TempShieldTM  technology. The growlers are said to keep cold beer cold for up to 24 hours and hot beverages hot for up to six hours. They’re BPA-free and carry a lifetime warranty.

I figured the stainless steel container would do better that your everyday glass shaker pint, but how much better?

Starting with water chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and utilizing a high quality digital thermometer, I compared performance of the True Pint to a shaker pint, an Imperial pint, and a dimpled mug. After 20 minutes in an ambient room at 70 degrees, the temperature of the water in the Hydro Flask True Pint had raised by a half-degree. I checked the other glasses and found that the shaker had already warmed 6.4 degrees, the impy pint had increased 4.9 degrees, and the dimpled mug had raised 5.7 degrees. I’d expected the thicker walled dimpled mug to outperform the other “regular” glassware, but it looked as though the slightly higher volume of the Imperial pint helped to preserve temperature.

After a full hour, the performance of the Hydro Flask became even more impressive. While the impy raised by 12.8 degrees, the dimpled mug raised by 14.7 degrees, and the shaker pint raised 14.9 degrees, the True Pint from Hydro Flask only allowed a temperature increase of 1.4 degrees.

I was impressed.

It occurred to me that I had another useful test I could administer. I also possess a double-walled, stainless steel coffee cup and a single-walled, stainless steel drinks shaker. I conducted the same test without lids, and found the same 1.4 increase for the True Pint after an hour. The coffee cup lost only a 2.7 degree loss and the single-walled shaker lost 10.6 degrees.


As I’m inclined to drink a beer or two while grilling burgers or smoking bellies, the thought of not only a drinking vessel that holds a cold temperature such as this, and is an opaque protector against the skunky mercaptic reaction of hops and sunlight is indeed exciting.

So I’m impressed with this glass. But there’s more (and I didn’t intend to sound like a commercial just then). According to Hydro Flask, most temperature loss comes out the top, lid or no lid. This fall, Hydro Flask is releasing a new line of wares, and one of the improved features is the lid on the growlers, which is not only insulated but is also designed to better hold carbonation.

At this prospect, what am I? In a word, interested.

However, they are spendy. The True Pint is $24.95, a 20-ounce coffee mug is $27.95, and a 64-ounce growler is all of $59.95. If you’ve got the means to take this leap, I think you’ll be happy. For quite a long time.

FTC disclaimer: I received this product for free from the manufacturer.

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The challenge of collaboration beers

DBW_16_BottleLabels_R1We began conversations about the Des Moines Beer Week collaboration beer weeks ago.

Potential beer styles and brew dates moved via email among the 14  Des Moines area brewers participating in the special release beer, which will be one of many highlights of the third annual Des Moines Beer Week (June 17-26). Would it be a saison? A Kolsch? A dry-hopped Kolsch? Would it be this day or that? In the end, the brew day was slated for April 27, and the beer would be an Australian Pale Ale (though some rogue Kiwi hops made it in to the mix regardless of the unchangeably-named beer, since the packaging already went to press).

While decisions are difficult and good hop usage ideas came late, the real challenge of it all was making so many schedules align.


The collaboration was hosted this year by Exile Brewing Company, and head brewer Joey Hansen (above) was the day’s hero. He rose early and started a double-brew day at 5:30 am, and the rest of us trickled in when our schedule allowed. With the Craft Brewers Conference less than a week away, most of those involved–myself included–couldn’t be there for the entire day. I know that Joey expected no one to arrive at 5:30 a.m., but the entire day was quite disjointed, and I felt bad about our lack of cohesion.


Though there were several shifts of brewers mingling here and there throughout the day–some bonded over coffee and bagels, some bonded over lunch, some bonded over beers–there were many Des Moines brewers in and out of the brewhouse to celebrate the ripening Des Moines beer scene and work together to create a special libation to mark it come Beer Week in June. It was a fun day, but boy, would it have wonderful if the calendar had been a little nicer to us all.


This year, the beer, High Tide Australian Pale Ale, will be available in six packs and on draught throughout the Des Moines Metro. Keep your eyes peeled for it, join us at the kick off tapping at Exile on June 17, and scroll the schedule to map our your plan for the events you’d like to hit throughout the week.

(Stay tuned here, as brewvana will be announcing a special event that will be fall firmly in the “can’t miss” category. I’m not kidding. Can’t miss. More to come soon…)

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Reviewed: Craft Brew

Craft Brew: 50 Homebrew Recipes from the World’s Best Craft Breweries

By Euan Ferguson

Frances Lincoln (2016)

Craft Beer coverFor those homebrewers eager to duplicate notable beers from some of the best breweries around the globe, London beer writer Euan Ferguson serves up Craft Brew: 50 Homebrew Recipes from the World’s Best Breweries, published by Frances Lincoln and available on May 3 of this year.

As its name suggests, the book provides 50 recipes for the homebrewer to explore, and having spent a little time within these pages, I, for one, am ready to fire up the kettle. With a blend of handsome illustrations and photographs, the book is attractive. As one might expect, Ferguson offers a rundown of necessary equipment, ingredients, and the process of brewing in his effort to guide the reader to being not only a craft beer drinker but also a craft beer brewer (if they’re not already).

But not before he lays down a definition of “craft beer” itself. Follow the beerosphere even a little bit online, and you’ll find that controversy over the word craft is persistent. I like Ferguson’s take, which is less about ingredients and ownership and more about “values over volume,” “spirit over finance,” and “soul over cynicism.”

Recipes come from a host of heavy hitters, including Brooklyn, Brewdog, Beavertown, and The Bruery, as well as many other wonderful breweries that don’t start with the letter B. Just knowing you’re acquiring methods and madness from the likes of Vinnie Cilurzo, Matt Brynildson, and Chad Yakobson makes you know you’re on the road to better brewing–a very exciting feeling indeed.

However, while Cilurzo offers up the recipe for Russian River Brewing Company’s Ron Mexico, we can’t easily brew it, because it utilizes experimental hop HBC 438, which may be tough to come by. No matter, learning Cilurzo’s (and everyone else’s, for that matter) techniques is invaluable, and can be applied to any hop choice.

The recipes were divided into five sections, and herein lies my only real gripe for the book. I know categorizing beer styles is no easy business, but grouping the entire world of lagers with pale ales and IPAs struck me as odd. So did the final chapter which was entitled “Brown, Belgian, Bitter, and Strong.”

Weird as this may have seemed Ferguson provides both a table of contents and an index. So you can find what you’re looking for. Dig in; there are some real nuggets here.

FTC disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book for free from the publisher.

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Field Trip: Kelvin Cooperage


Thousands of wooden barrels, both new and used, arrive and depart from the loading docks of Louisville, Kentucky’s Kelvin Cooperage each day.

Interested in the allied trade industries spurred by the craft brewing industry here in Iowa, I jumped at the chance over the weekend to tag along with Rex Stancil and Jason Mason of Rework Enterprises as they set off for Louisville, Kentucky to pick up a load of whiskey barrels.

A couple of years back, these gentlemen partnered to haul scrap, junk, and miscellany in an effort to stay busy with a second occupation, and re-purpose used goods. At some point, they acquired a pocketful of  whiskey barrels and sold them for old-school lawn and gardening purposes. And then they discovered the craft beer market. Today, dealing largely on Craigslist, they’re increasingly focusing on barrels, IBC totes, and other items in this “container” family of product. Centrally located in Earlham, Iowa, they’ve engaged a number of Iowa brewers and are keen to up their game in the barrel brokering business.


Workers saw staves that will be crafted into 350 new barrels per day.

The timing seems right. A few years ago, a brewery or individual might have contacted a distillery directly for a small number of barrels. While that’s still possible with smaller craft distillers, acquiring barrels from the likes of Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and other larger distilleries now requires a middle man.

And so it was that I took a field trip to Kentucky on Sunday. Rex (a non-drinking pastor that grew up in a bar), Jason (a chemical mixer by day), and I departed for a quick over-nighter on Sunday. Our destination was Kelvin Cooperage, a family-run cooperage with Scottish roots.

During the process of charring the barrels, a worker feeds the fire with scraps of lumber.

During the process of charring the barrels, a worker feeds the fire with scraps of lumber.

Ed McLaughlin started out on the banks of the Kelvin River in Glasgow in 1963. His eldest son Kevin brought the operation to Kentucky to take advantage of the proximity to both bourbon country and a hearty supply of white American oak. Kevin started the modest United States facility in 1991 with six employees, and today, he and his brother Paul employ over 60 individuals at a facility that produces 350 barrels per day.

In addition to new barrel production, Kelvin trades in used barrels by the semi load. Kevin’s warehouse held some twelve thousand used barrels on the day I visited, but has maxed out at over a hundred and fifty thousand.

A cooper bangs rings into place.

A cooper bangs rings into place.

Brokers like Rex and Jason travel from around the country to pick up loads of wet barrels to serve brewers’ needs. We arrived shortly before 9 a.m. on a Monday morning to watch a vast loading dock steadily fill with wooden barrels from a number of sources. Damaged barrels were rolled inside for pressure testing and any necessary repairs, while those in good shape would soon depart on a trailer like ours. Kevin’s hardworking army sorted through their vast inventory to  fulfill our needs for barrels from Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Buffalo Trace.


Shorty pressure tests a used barrel as Kevin explains the process to barrel brokers Rex and Jason.

Meanwhile, Kevin showed me the coopering operation, an impressive hive of activity. “The beer business has been good for us,” said Kevin. “It really keeps the barrels moving.”

Dozens of coopers did everything from sawing staves and shaping barrels to drilling bung holes and charring the insides of the nearly-completed products. It was loud, dangerous, hot, and physical work. With the smell of burning oak in the air, it was a fairly chaotic ballet, beautiful to behold. For a beer nerd, the visage was a priceless experience.

While Kelvin Cooperage produces 350 new barrels per day, it also moves thousands and thousands of used wine and whiskey barrels.

While Kelvin Cooperage produces 350 new barrels per day, it also moves thousands and thousands of used wine and whiskey barrels.

Out on the dock, there was a price involved. The days of the five-dollar used barrel that Kevin recalls early in his career are long gone, and thousands of dollars changed hands on the dock today (probably over and over). And more transactions will proceed as these barrels work their way through their next incarnation or two.

With our trailer grimacing under its burden, we took our leave and trekked westward toward home and the breweries of Iowa and surrounding states. There, those barrels will take on another life, re-working one beer into another. Perhaps the barrels will serve more than one turn in that capacity before rising, phoenix-like, for another purpose altogether. Maybe they’ll become a table or sign or chair or speaker cabinet. Or perhaps they’ll serve as (a very expensive) petunia planter with a rich history earned on a long and winding road like the one I traveled to see the freshies being crafted at their source.

Jason helps to load the barrels as Kevin and Rex look on.

Jason helps to load the barrels as Kevin and Rex look on.

For more photos, visit our Facebook page.

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Reviewed: Gardening for the Homebrewer

Gardening for the HomebrewerGardening for the Homebrewer

By Wendy Tweten & Debbie Teashon

Voyageur Press

I’ve made frail attempts at gardening over the years, and in some cases, those attempts were pointed directly in the direction of my longtime homebrewing hobby. But I’ve not really found much success. Gardening for the Homebrewer by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon has the potential to change that.

After covering gardening basics like tools, USDA Hardiness Zones, soil amendment, planting, care, and more, the book dives right into the plants, fruits, and herbs that would be specifically of interest to the homebrewer. Not only does it approach ingredients that might accent beer, but it also covers, wine, cider, perry, and spirits.

Within the discussion of each ingredient, the authors offer all the pertinent gardening details: soil type, light preference, water needs, spacing, pruning, harvesting, and more. There’s a lot of good advice. They list the appropriate use of the ingredient, whether in a gruit, wine, liqueur, or beer. While this usage suggestion might be helpful to a novice brewer/gardener for identifying a starting point, it’s done in a very broad way (advising use in “craft beer” rather than a specific style such as stout, tripel, Pilsner, or whatever). Moreover, there’s no indication of how (or how much) to use it.

Because, really, I’ve been wanting to make a beer with lemon verbena for quite some time. I’d be willing to grow it. But what next? I’d like this book to help with that. I might figure out how to grow that verbena, but I still have no idea about sorting my recipe. I’ll need to ask around…

While this is a gardening book and not a homebrewing book, I feel as though it would be a better book if it worked harder to connect these two hobbies. What beer would this herb work well in? How much do I use? How/when do I add it? Do you have a recipe to share to get me started on the right track? These, I believe, are legitimate questions a reader in search of a book of this ilk might ask.

This is a fun book to inspire ideas and maybe even reawaken my gumption for getting out and playing in the soil to further my hobby. It’s well written and packs beautiful photos and helpful gardening guidance, but I would like to see a little more meat on the brewing angle. If you brew and are looking to elevate your hobby by growing some of your own ingredients, you may find this book a good addition to your library. But know this, it doesn’t give you all the answers.

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

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Vertical Tasting: 5 years of Bigfoot


It took a while, but I finally piled up five vintages of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. Generous, I sidestepped pounding all five of these 9.6 percenters on my own by gathering up a gang of friends from my local homebrew club, the Adams County Brew Crew (AC/BC). Together we sat down with this batch of barley wines for a lesson in age’s impact on beer.

A quick look at the BJCP guidelines for a primer on the American barleywine style, which is one of few that really lends itself to aging:

“A well-hopped American interpretation of the richest and strongest of the English ales. The hop character should be evident throughout, but does not have to be unbalanced. The alcohol strength and hop bitterness often combine to leave a very long finish.”

Appearing in a range of strengths from eight to 12 percent alcohol by volume, the style is made for sipping, and is particularly suitable for a cold winter night. At 9.6%, Bigfoot isn’t the biggest of them all, but it is a classic in the style from a classic American brewery.

So how’d they taste?


2016: Of course, this one was the hop forward pour of the day. Purchased the day before the tasting and dosed with 90 IBUs of Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops, the aroma was gorgeous. I picked up a strong, green hop flavor here and the bittering charge held the malt in check. This was Pete’s favorite of the bunch.

2015: The hops really fell of the cliff after one year. Some caramel came up like a warm-stored or six-month-old IPA that really turns you off and makes you kick yourself for not checking the bottled-on date. Here, it’s fine, and part of the process. While this landed in the number five slot on my list, Kyle picked this as his favorite.

2014: After two years in the bottle, the second big change burst forth: oxidation. A vinous character emerged. To me the elements were a little disjointed at this point, but both Mat and Mont picked this as their number one beer.

2013: Now the changes become more subtle. The melding of the vinous notes were softened into the malt-and-hop pocket, like a baseball into a perfectly broken-in glove. Though this was the only hazy offering of the bunch (in an identically beautiful lineup of amber-leaning-toward-mahogany pours), it was my favorite of the vintages.

2012: The changes were very subtle between 2012 and 2013, with the ’12 feeling just a touch flat. No one picked this at the top of their list, but I honestly had trouble deciding where to place it. To me, ’14 and ’15 were clearly at the bottom of my list, but how to place the hoppy ’16 and this one? I put ’16 in second place for the sake of variety and for a statement on how good the brewery-fresh offering is. But I also enjoyed the ’12.

Our gang of five certainly agreed in the changes we detected in each vintage, which we tasted from youngest to oldest, but our actual preferences underscored that each person’s palate is unique. We were all over the place with our top five lists. Give a project like this a try and decide for yourself what’s right for you.

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