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.

On August 23, I’ll be talking about Iowa Pints at the Great Nebraska Beer Festival in Omaha, Nebraska.

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

On September 20, I’ll be at Little Giant Beer Summit at el Bait Shop in Des Moines, Iowa.


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

Peace & Pints!


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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.

Craftcans.com 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.

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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.

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June 28 P&P at Confluence

Lest we forget to share the details, our next Pints & Poses will take place at Confluence Brewing Company on June 28.

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. The class will be taught by Certified Yoga Instructor Michelle Wilson of Radiant Wellness Solutions.

Bring a yoga mat if you have one (and a friend), 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.

EDIT: see that flyer to the right? It says June 22, but that’s wrong, and I’m too busy and lazy to fix it. Our bend-your-body-bend-your-elbow event take’s place on June 28. Seriously!

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Iowa Pints released today

As evidenced by my sporadic blogging, I’ve been hard at work on a side project. Since last August, I’ve made it my business to add Iowa to the growing list of states that hosts a guidebook to its craft brewing industry.

Iowa Pints: A Guide to Iowa Breweries went on sale on Amazon today, and you can purchase it here.

The definitive guide to the beer and breweries of the Hawkeye state, Iowa Pints is an essential tool for the beer enthusiast in search of a tasty, locally crafted beer in the Iowa. In addition to exploring over 50 Iowa breweries, the book is packed with Iowa beer history and information, as well as a beer tutorial, recommendations, tips and sneak peeks of over two dozen “still fermenting” breweries-in-planning.

Of course, we beer folk want a release party, don’t we. And we don’t need to have it at a library or book store, do we? Part of the inaugural Des Moines Beer Week, the Iowa Pints Release Party will take place at el Bait Shop in Des Moines on June 12, from 5-8 p.m.

For more information on the book, click here.

What they’re saying

1. “a must-read for beer lovers, Hawkeye or otherwise” (Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer)

2. “a well-researched and long-overdue guide to Iowa’s fast growing craft beer industry” (Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal beer writer)

3. “a treasure map to discovering delicious beer and amazing atmospheres across Iowa” (Colleen Murphy, Iowa Tourism Office).

Release Party Details

What:  Iowa Pints Release Party

Where: el Bait Shop (200 SW 2nd Street in Des Moines)

When: Thursday, June 12, 2014 (5-8 p.m.)

Info:    Author J. Wilson will be on hand for a meet-and-greet and book signing, while el Bait Shop will offer specials on all Iowa-brewed beers.

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Free tickets! Free tickets!

If you’re anything like me, you love drinking beer. And if there’s one thing you like better than that, it’s drinking free beer.

Since I’m not selfish in my quest for low-cost, yet delicious suds, I’m partnering with the good folks at Visit Omaha and the Omaha Beer Fest to offer you the opportunity for two free tickets to the Omaha Beer Fest held June 6-7.

Festival Info

All General Admission tickets are good for one day of sampling and include a tasting glass, unlimited 2-ounce samples of craft beer, live music and access to the hourly Beer Academy sessions. Friday General Admission tickets will also include access to the Homebrewer Expo, where you can taste through dozens of experimental homebrews courtesy of local and regional homebrewer associations. There will be hundreds of American craft beers to sample. The Beer Academy sessions will include tastings and food pairings, all included with your general admission ticket (but subject to availability). You must be 21+ with a valid ID to enter. No outside food or drink allowed (exception: water bottles and pretzel necklaces). No pets.

How to win

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below telling me why you deserve free tickets to the OBF. On Friday, May 16, at 4 p.m., I’ll scrutinize your responses and pick my favorite. No drawing names out of a hat, I’m choosing the winner based on the quality of your response, so get creative and have fun with it.

Good luck and I hope to see you there!


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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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