I wish we had more English IPAs

Sometimes, dreams come true.

IPAs are really popular these days, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I often tip-toe around them because years of tasting beers has taught me about my own personal likes and dislikes. I don’t like certain hop varieties. At all. I don’t like Simcoe, Summit or Nelson Sauvin. I just don’t. I do like Centennial, Amarillo, Pacific Jade, Sorachi Ace, Tettnager and East Kent Goldings. And many more. I like more hops than I dislike, but when one of those bad guys takes a dip in the beer in my hand, I experience a wash of disappointment.

And often dream aloud: “Goddamnsonofabitch, we need more English IPAs in this world!”

And so it was that a dream came true this week. Victory Brewing Company sent me a bottle of their second Moving Parts iteration. Guess what! It’s English! Here’s what Victory says about the series:

“We like to mix it up. New flavors, new ideas, new ingredients; we welcome them all. In celebration of our penchant for prolific experimentation, we present Moving Parts: The Ever-Evolving IPA. Each release in this series (every four months) celebrates a tweaked ingredient or two, creating an endless array of possible flavor profiles. For us, Moving Parts are a good thing!”

This time, Victory has gone with Styrian Goldings, East Kent Goldings and Bramling Cross, and the result, for me, was a true pleasure. The beer was a beautiful copper color, with herbal hop presence over marmalade notes. Talk about Oktoberfests or Pumpkin Beers this time of year if you like, but this beer tasted like it was made for autumn. The color matches the turning leaves in the countryside. The herbal hops meld with the harvest dust in the air. And this thing is drinkable. It would perfectly accompany not only late summer grilling efforts, but also a turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Long story short, this beer was good. Keep dreamin’!

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Reviewed: The Foodie’s Beer Book

The Foodie’s Beer Book

By Brooke and Luther Fedora

Skyhorse Publishing

I didn’t like this book.

Some of it had to do with personal preferences like I don’t care for the seasonally-divided and menu-geared layout of the book. Sometimes I just want to peruse a pile of entrees or beef dishes, for example, and this layout makes that impossible. Fine. I can deal with that. Once can overcome this by shooting to the index for an inspirational beef recipe. Oh, wait—not in this cookbook. There is no recipe index in The Foodie’s Beer Book. Bummer.

But there’s more. I just really feel like this is a 1990s-era poseur of a beer-leaning cookbook. I felt like the writers’  depth of beer knowledge in the history, ingredient rundown and beer characteristics sections was limited. I felt that even stronger when wheat beer, bitter, pale ale and IPAs were the only listings discussing what an “ale” is. And even further when porter and stout were included behind the “lager” heading (not that one wouldn’t be quick to lager a Baltic Porter, I fully understand).

But I nitpick.

Let’s talk about beer and recipes in a beer-geared cookbook. This book called for “dark beer” in a stout cake recipe. This recipe would have been really easy to suggest a specific beer for, but no. Not just beer style recommendation (like “stout” over “dark beer,” but a specific beer, say, Left Hand Milk Stout, for example. Want more examples? The following beers were suggested in multiple recipes as well: “dark ale,” “strong ale beer” and “amber beer.” To the authors’ defense, I should say that they once suggested Guinness, once suggested Harp lager, once suggested “Nut Brown Ale,” and once suggested Founder’s Double Trouble. And lest I forget, if you want to make peanut butter crème brulee, you’ll need to add ½ cup “beer.”

There are a few general beer recommendations at the beginning of each section/menu, not to mention brief descriptions of said commercial examples. In one case, I scratched my head to learn that Paulaner Oktoberfest is a “weisn” style and that hard cider is a beer when I had previously thought cider was cider.

Looking to a recipe for another layer of frustration, Easy Hollandaise Sauce calls for “1 tsp beer (pick the beer that complements your dish)”. One, that solitary teaspoon will likely go unnoticed and two, if I’m looking to a beer cookbook for guidance, I want to know exactly what beer to use and exactly why that makes sense. Seriously. Feed me answers, not questions.

Before I forget, I should mention one more thing: the photos are dark and uninspiring.

As I read through this book, I kept glancing around for a hidden camera and some tittering beer nerd filming reactions for some new reality show. Alas, this didn’t happen, and this book is for real. Maybe the authors of this book can cook, but it appeared a lazy effort for beer poseurs to capitalize on the success of craft beer, and I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it.

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

Recipe disclaimer: I didn’t feel inspired to test a single recipe in this book.

Integrity disclaimer: I’m not writing this post while sitting in my underwear in my mom’s basement.

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Reviewed: We Make Beer

We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers

By Sean Lewis

St. Martin’s Press

They say the early bird gets the worm, and perhaps that’s why the craft beer segment is riding such a high these days. Those involved are working hard to make it happen. Though author Sean Lewis failed day after day to beat Blue Hills Brewery’s Andris Veidis to “the office” in the morning, he succeeded in capturing the spirit of the brewer and his mash paddle-wielding brothers and sisters in the industry.

We Make Beer, released yesterday, is Lewis’ journey into the fabric of the brewing industry, and something of a tribute to the toil, attention to detail and the inner workings of the people that are have engaged beer as a way of life.

That’s what it is: a way of life. Though Lewis interned at Blue Hills and threaded his close relationship with Veidis (chronicling the brewery from fledgling to expansion) throughout the book, he also traveled the country to taste and talk with names like Ken Grossman, Matt Brynildson, Jim Koch and many more.

Passion is an overused word in the craft beer realm, but it is the distilled descriptor that sums up the early mornings, late nights, scientific concentration, artistic exploration, business building, peer collaboration and fan engagement of America’s beer artisans.

While Lewis engaged a number of big-name brewers to discover the textures of the industry, he also pulled in a collection of lesser-known brewers and brewery owners to give the tome an even more everyman feel (visiting places like Nashville, Omaha, Santa Barbara and more). Within the context of making and selling the best beer possible, Lewis found a collective mindful of history, relationships and dancing taste buds on their march to a brighter future, regardless of the labor involved.

A quick read that pulls you in with people one can’t help but care for, We Make Beer is a well-written examination into what makes the craft brewer and the craft beer industry tick. Lewis put down onto paper a host of the tidbits that I’ve discovered in my own “walk with beer” over the years. Common to all of my dear friends in the industry are strong principles, hard work and, yes, more than a little passion. These traits reside within Lewis’ book as well, and I’d encourage you to give it a read.

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

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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


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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.


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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.

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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?

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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.


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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!

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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.


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