Online Home of J. Wilson, Beer Drinker & Lifestyle Expert

J. Wilson is an award-winning homebrewer, BJCP Certified beer judge and pretty good dad. Blogging about an ideal condition of harmony, beer and joy at brewvana since 2007, Wilson is the author of the 2011 investigation into the origins of doppelbock, Diary of a Part-Time Monk and and 2014’s Iowa Pints: A Guide to Iowa Breweries.

Through Brewvana, Wilson has initiated numerous classes, tastings and events over the years, and in 2012 he was named Beer Drinker of the Year at Wynkoop Brewing Company’s 16th annual competition. Currently, Wilson serves as the Minister of Iowa Beer for the Iowa Brewers Guild, contributes to Des Moines Beer Week, and is emcee and co-creator of the Drinking Pants Pageant.

Follow J.’s daily exploits on Twitter and Instagram.

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Time Travel and the Mutability of Paradise

As a kid, it was a real treat when my mom would throw up her hands and exclaim, “Ah, let’s just go to Pee-Wee’s!”

This meant she wasn’t cooking dinner, and I’d be afforded a few of life’s simple pleasures: a few quarters for the jukebox and video games, a fish sandwich and cheeseballs, and the dark-and-dingy atmosphere of a dive bar. My most vivid memories of this delight are set around 1981-82 when I was nine and ten years old, and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” and Ms. PacMan were my personal in-house delicacies.

It was paradise.

The other day, I was reading Boak and Bailey’s take on the Seven Ages of Beer Geeks, which reminded me of a wonderful recent experience that itself took me straight back to Pee-Wee’s for the first time in decades. To summarize Boak and Bailey’s list of Ages, I’ll just say that One is a Noob, and Five is a Deep Freak Chasing All the Paradise Beers. Six brings boredom and disappointment because all the Rage Beers one’s been coveting turn out to be meh after all, and Seven brings a return to the old standards–beers you know and trust in places you know and trust.

These days, I’m a Seven.

Early last month, I was in some other state with a bunch of beery colleagues for a big, awesome beer festival and series of meetings. We checked out some wonderful breweries and bars and attended the reception for industry members. It was all great fun. But as the night wore on, and the craft beer bars became overcrowded, the search for the next destination turned away from the main drag. Some cool guy from Michigan suggested Dive Bar X, and everyone shrugged their shoulders and marched, because we just wanted to chill with a beer and a friend and be able to have a conversation.

There were no Fives in sight.

But there were definitely other brewers taking the same refuge in this slightly darker version of Slippery’s Tavern, if you’re a Grumpy Old Men fan. It was long and narrow, with a C-shaped bar. A pool table, darts, and vintage urinals that spoke to me in a sentimental tone.

I wasn’t alone in realizing that I’d entered Paradise after sooooo many years on the run.

But there was more. All the grit and atmosphere felt good like a Grandma Pie, but on top of the Hamm’s and Schlitz (and cheese balls) that we slung back nostalgically, this place had updated its jukebox selections (well, you know, those new-style, digital jukebox thingies) and had IPAs and other local nuggets on offer.

There were many elements to this time machine bar visit that outstripped the experiences I’ve had at so many breweries and bars with tap counts ranging from 20 to 120. Craft bars and breweries can attract some insufferable people, ya know?

There was the nostalgia factor. There was the friendship factor. There was the billiards factor. There was the Lack of Fives Factor.

At the risk of exposing some big secret, it was some brand of safe haven for industry insiders–a true paradise. But not the paradise I was ready for 10 years ago. However, I like to think if I had popped into this place for a clandestine meeting with a fish sandwich a decade back, I’d have recognized how nice it was to be in a place that reminded me of 1982 and had a solid IPA on tap.

Because we found such refuge in this place–thanks to both privacy and comforts old and new–we hung out there three nights out of four, relishing the fact that our beloved craft beer had reached a level of mainstream availability such that we could drink what we were after in any damn place in America.

And isn’t that the paradise we’ve all been looking for?


NOTE: For the record, many of us–you’ll be happy to hear–switched back to IPA after an obligatory Dive Beer.

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Small town rivalries

#RandyRomens co-owns a small town brewery. And it’s tough selling beer in Tigerland.

Some of my followers are aware that I’m from rural Iowa. I grew up there, moved away to many places around the country for many years, and eventually returned (sometimes wondering why) a decade ago.

Recently, I was chatting with a friend of mine who owns a brewery a few towns away, and I discovered a nuance of the beer selling business that I hadn’t previously considered. It’s rooted in our place, and while I’m sure it is an issue elsewhere around the country, I don’t think it’s high on the list of issues for many notable breweries.

Small towns, it turns out, have rivalries, and they’re not confined to high school sports teams. My friend sells a lot of beer in his community, and he has a nice profile growing in some of the larger markets an hour or three away. But take samples to a neighboring community, one of the same size school district, one which competes in the same high school athletic conference, and the answer is, well, nope.

Craft beer has spread to the hinterlands well enough that I can find a good beer in my local grocery store or bar, but weirdly, it’s not always the most local beer possible. Why?

Weird small town prejudices.

Go Blue Jays!

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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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