Selden: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’

“I am never satisfied.”

-Will Ferrell as Chaz Michael Michaels, “Blades of Glory”

33BOOKS_BEERS_LUNAR_COVER_1024x1024Dave Selden of 33 Books calls his Lunar Eclipse Special Edition of 33 Bottles of Beer “a design idea I feel I’ve probably taken way, way too far,” but I beg to differ. Selden is the Chaz Michael Michaels of the design world, and this new project is really just another example of this beer-loving artist flexing his ample creative muscle.

As if the original journal wasn’t clever enough in massaging the beer nerd toward recording and evaluating his or her beery conquests in a new and experimental fashion, this limited edition version takes us to deeper, darker places for beery interludes.

Released in time for the September 27 lunar eclipse, Selden’s latest fruit in a long line of tasting journals, kits, and posters has been printed black on black. It utilizes black staples, and the finished product has aged in a retired beer/whiskey barrel. The cover ink has been boosted with a portion of a 2009 barrel-aged stout, and the whole two-journal shebang is housed in a resealable mylar package (to preserve aroma) with a glow-in-the-gosh-darn-dark label. It suffers from cool-overload, but what are you going to do?

This journal is intended for “big stouts and the movement of celestial bodies,” but I don’t think Selden will begrudge what you insert into its pages or whether you do it in the night or broad daylight. However, this you must keep in mind: there are only 500 copies in existence. I have Number Nine, and am very much satisfied with my marching orders: drink a big stout on September 27 (and record it).

Having said all that, it’s worth noting that while I groove on all this creativity and nuance, my grandma would have had a hell of a time reading the back cover with all its snazzy attack of black. But this ain’t your grandma’s beer journal. And I find that very satisfying.

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

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Reviewed: The Beer Bible

The Beer Bible

By Jeff Alworth

Workman Publishing

1 the beer bibleOnce upon a time I was in a restroom chatting with Jeff Alworth. It was a brief washing-your-hands-at-the-same-time conversation about beer, books, and publishing. I’d just finished a book, and Alworth was on the front end of, if memory serves, this book, The Beer Bible. Like many others, I regarded (still do) him highly as a pensive beer blogger, but the reason that I actually remember this encounter was his more relaxed attitude toward the draft he intended to send off to the publisher. While I admitted worrying over hitting the “send” button with errors attached to my final draft, Alworth simply pointed out that that’s what editors are for.

Yes, but bounced around in my head.

As Alworth’s proved over the years on his Portland, Oregon-based blog, Beervana, he’s no sixth grader handing in hastily drafted, big-lettered, double-spaced tripe in Mrs. Meyer’s English class like my buddy Tommy Williams probably did day after day. Alworth’s the real deal, an intelligent and talented writer tuned in not only to Beervana, but to the world of beer at-large.

An instant must-have for the beer lover’s library, The Beer Bible threatens seven hundred pages with a wealth of historical, stylistic, and geographical information, while including guidance on how to contend with it all. Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How all make appearances. And what’s more, the book shouldn’t feel the least bit threatening to even the newest of newbies. Oh, sure, he uses good words like surfeit and pedant now and again, but hey, the guy’s smart, and the book is as strong as his vocabulary.

That said, his editor missed a typo on page 162, and I would have scrubbed the beers whose malt and hop information was “undisclosed.” Those added up to the point of distraction, in my opinion. The section on American Ales must have been a wrestling match, but of all beers to neglect, I really thought California Common deserved a seat at the table.

In the final analysis, this book is excellent, and on top of that, he managed to tweet, drink beer, and sustain Beervana during the exhaustive work that went into pulling The Beer Bible together. This monster could have easily sprawled to a thousand pages, but Alworth ably distilled his extensive travel and research to a still-serious feat of manageable girth. He dealt well with the difficult decisions of inclusion and exclusion that are sure to fire up hoards of disgruntled beer pundits, but I for one would be willing to pat Alworth on the back for a job well done. When he hit the “send” button, he pushed something solid out there for us all.

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

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The Clash of Beer Festivals

The Clash of beer festivals, the Great Taste of the Midwest features over 1,000 beers from 150 Midwest breweries. While there are other fests that are larger in size, the Great Taste is quite possibly “only beer fest that matters.” If you think you have to go to Germany or Belgium or Portland or San Diego to get a killer beer, you are wrong. The Midwest boasts some of the best beers in the world, and Great Taste is one-stop shopping.

What would Jesus do? Well, if he's anything like me, he would go to the Great Taste of the Midwest and have a really good time.

What would Jesus do? Well, if he’s anything like me, he would go to the Great Taste of the Midwest and have a really good time.

I had the good fortune of early entry at The Clash this year, and it was fun to watch the regular ticket holders cross the threshold an hour later at the fest’s noon start time. You see, eight-year-olds making haste in grade school hallways aren’t the only ones to employ the run-walk style of ambulation. White-haired sixty-year-olds also try to play it cool while hustling their asses to the New Glarus, Founders, and Perennial booths at a beer festival.

And who can blame them? These breweries are stupendous, and they all come to The Clash with their big guns. I’ve been to a lot of festivals all across the country, including the granddaddy of them all, the Great American Beer Festival, and I’m here to tell you, though tickets are difficult to come by, you really should make an effort to attend The Clash.

I don't know about Joe, but I was kinda nervous the first time I used the Beer Glory Hole that turned up behind Peace Tree's booth.

I don’t know about Joe, but I was kinda nervous the first time I used the Beer Glory Hole that turned up behind Peace Tree’s booth.

With the best of the Midwest’s best bringing their absolute best (and with a laundry list of special events taking place not only on Great Taste Eve but throughout the week that leads up to the Best Saturday of the Year), this festival is a “can’t freaking miss.”

I believe that it’s absurd to make a best-of list, because, for goodness sakes, there were 1,000 beers on offer, and I didn’t scratch the surface. I hit some new-to-me-breweries and scouted some locations for a project I’m quietly working on somewhere in the margin on my busy beer life. I hit some personal favorites. I hung out with some of my brewer-friends, including a long stint drinking mystery beers from the Beer Glory Hole behind Peace Tree’s booth. With one exception, I didn’t bother with long lines. I had a lot of great beers, and for the record, I lingered at but a handful of places like Destihl, Prairie Artisan (I put up with the lines here), Une Annee, and Upland.

It was my fourth Great Taste, and I can’t wait for my fifth. If you can score tickets, do. It’s intimate, beautiful, and delicious. This fest carries the J. Wilson Guarantee. For what that’s worth.

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Reviewed: The Umami Factor

The Umami Factor: Full-Spectrum Fermentation for the 21st Century

By Robert Rivelle George

Schiffer Publishing

After many years of viewing adjuncts (and lagers) with disdain, many modern American craft brewers are turning to sugars long used by Belgian brewers in many styles and previously “inappropriate” malts for beers beyond their traditional uses, which means that it is not uncommon today for high gravity beers of all kinds (not just Belgians) to contain a percentage of this or that unrefined sugar, or for brown ales, stouts, or even IPAs to include a touch of Munich or melanoidin malts to boost complexity (while in the past, those malts would have remained primarily in the beer styles of continental Europe).

Robert Rivelle George’s The Umami Factor brings these recipe nuances to the exploring homebrewer, while giving the strategy behind them a name: full-spectrum fermentation. Taking in many considerations to recipe development, it’s where the palette meets the palate, and it’s a far cry from the SMASH beers (Single Malt And Single Hop) which are also popular in their endeavor to showcase the individual ingredients in a beer.

Calling for increased complexity through alert ingredient selection and a sturdy understanding of flavor perception, full-spectrum fermentation works to achieve umami—a perception of roundness in flavor and body, as well as a savory character not often considered or perceived in most beers.  Seeking balance and complexity, George’s recipes rely on long, multifaceted grain bills, unrefined sugars, and sea salt to do his bidding.

For example, George adds Munich malt, c-pils, and black malt to his (what I would consider to be a historically inaccurate) Classic American Pilsner. His German Altbier contains no less than eleven specialty grains. And his Northwest Pale Ale calls for six specialty malts, flaked barley, and two sugars, while his Nut Brown Ale utilizes seven specialty malts, flaked barley, and three sugars.

George explores other fermented libations as well, including cider, wine, distilled spirits, and a handful of ethnic beverages. In addition to over 75 tempting recipes shared within the book, the back end includes a thick appendix with useful calculations, and information on a number of hops, malts, yeasts, and more.

At times the terms full-spectrum fermentation and umami sound like a buzzword used to sell books to impulse buyers at large box stores during the run-up to the holidays, but George, an award-winning brewer and vintner with 40 years of fermentation experience, clearly knows his stuff. His recipes are as complex as the philosophical thinking used to label their mastery, and homebrewers looking to take their hobby to the next level will be sure to find helpful guidance within the pages of this handsome volume.

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

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Reviewed: Speed Brewing

Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More

By Mary Izett

Voyageur Press

Appropriately, I started reading Speed Brewing by Mary Izett with the Introduction. Right away, I found myself wanting to interrupt, to argue, to state may case about the therapeutic benefits I receive from the time it takes me to brew a batch of beer. While I’ve taken forays into mead, cider, kombucha, soda, coffee roasting and even my grandma’s old Kahlua and schnapps recipes (for variety, not time savings), I am primarily a beer-maker, and over the years I’ve cut my brewing time by working more efficiently, kegging, and occasionally brewing lower alcohol beers (I no longer sacrifice a full Saturday—instead I clean my house and nap during the hobby’s ample downtime).

A few paragraphs later, I bristled again. Brew a gallon of this or two gallons of that? No. Now I have to brew much more frequently, and where’s the time savings in that? I don’t make beer to save time; I do it to feed my soul.

In addition to legit beer advice of brewing lower alcohol beers to decrease fermentation time and avoid secondary fermentation altogether, here’s what this book should have mentioned on the “brisk” beer (I really like that term) front: time management tips, keg your beer instead of bottling, force carbonate that beer, and split fermentations to experiment and introduce variety without a heavy commitment (she actually mentions that, but I wanted to prove that we see eye to eye here and there).

Now that I’m finished complaining, let me say that I really enjoyed this book. I marched forward with an open mind (and advice on the short meads I’ve been wanting to explore anyway since I’m not good at sipping). What I found in Izett was an intelligent, clean writer well versed in her content. It’s not often in a brewing tome or cookbook that I’d say I genuinely would like to try every single recipe that was included, but I can say that about this book.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Short Bochet? Yes, please!

Throughout the book, Izett offers steady guidance on making beer, mead, cider, and more. She offers a good exploration of smaller, more sessionable beer styles as well as a fun rundown of other alcoholic beverages for the curious drinker/brewer to explore. While I’m not going to waste my time brewing two measly gallons of beer, I found a lot of value in this book, and I’d definitely recommend that brewers check it out. It was a motivational seminar, and I can’t wait to start using its contents in my brewing schedule.

I think I just didn’t like the title.


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

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Turner Alley adds to the Cedar Rapids beer scene

Back in 2005, Travis Scheidecker went from bartender to head brewer in the course of a staff meeting debriefing about the freshly departed brewer at Third Base Brewery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Scheidecker had lot to learn. He’d never brewed an ounce of beer in his life, and it turned out that the brewhouse wasn’t in top shape. After a great deal of cleaning, mentoring from fellow commercial brewers, and nurturing from local homebrewers desperate for the brewery to survive in their neighborhood, Sheidecker acquired the knowledge and skill necessary to produce a lineup of solid beers. In addition to the help of those brewing comrades, Scheidecker credits copious reading and listening to Jamil Zainasheff podcasts to his education.

Earlier this year, Scheidecker transitioned to the new Cedar Rapids production brewery, Turner Alley Brewing Company, and over the weekend, I conjured an excuse to stop by and visit him in his new playground. Draught only and without a taproom, it’s not really a place that folks are going to be seeking out just yet, but tours are planned down the road.

Presently, the brewery is a fairly wide open space where Scheidecker toils in solitude on his 15-barrel brewhouse. Lucky for me, Scheidecker had a few beers available for scrutiny, and I seized the opportunity to try his Czech Village Pilsner, Mays Island IPA, Wood’s Wheat, and Roosevelt Imperial Red. I see in Scheidecker a guy that tends to offer up a fairly rounded malt presence in his hop forward beers, and this was evident in both his IPA and Impy Red. The latter clocked in at 8% ABV, but the alcohol was well-concealed and it drank much smoother. I thoroughly enjoyed the Pilsner, and when the canning line shows up—as is the plan somewhere in the future—I can’t wait to have this beer available for all my camping and grilling purposes.

But for now, TA is draught only primarily in the Cedar Rapids area. If you see it, check it out; Scheidecker is putting out an array of tasty beers—with more on the way…

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On Fred

Until April of this year, for five and a half years I worked as editor at the Adams County Free Press in Corning, Iowa. It may have been a humble weekly newspaper in a county with a population of less than 5,000, but I had the freedom in my weekly column to write whatever the hell I wanted. About four years ago, I returned to my desk following a trip to Portland, Oregon. Though not a single one of my readers knew who he was, I felt obligated to say a few words about what it meant to be in the same room as Fred Eckhardt, who passed away yesterday. And today I feel like a re-run. RIP, Fred.

(originally published in the Adams County Free Press on August 25, 2011)

“The crazy people of this world are the most fun to spend time with.”

-Fred Eckhardt

He’s not the household name kind of living legend like Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan or Bob Dylan, but he’s a legend within the niche of my beer geek subculture.

Fred Eckhardt is an 85-year-old beer mensch, well known for his depth of knowledge within and advocacy for the brewing industry, his sparkling personality and his white handlebar mustache. Having written a number of important tomes within that realm of study, including his “The Essentials of Beer Style,” he is a beer celebrity of the finest form, honored by his enthusiastic protégés with both a beer and a charity beer festival named for him, “Fred” and “Fred Fest,” respectively.

This past weekend, I had the honor to deliver the keynote address at a Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland, Ore., following my “Diary of a Part-time Monk” project this spring, which has resulted in sturdy media coverage and the release of my first book this coming October.

The trip to “Cascadia” brought with it many high points, including brewery and hop field tours, doughnuts, stellar beers, education and camaraderie.

But no highlight, not even speaking in an honored role myself, topped being in the same room with Fred, rubbing shoulders with such an inspiring individual, hearing him share stories and wisdom. Most of us there were the age of his grandchildren, and that’s exactly the way we felt that day. We were sponges soaking it in, hoping that we might one day be able to carry his torch in a respectable fashion, to do him proud.

We, of course, often have our own grandparents, teachers and local sages handy from whom we might gain traction for a well-lived life. But we’re always attracted to pedestals of celebrities, somehow.

Where fame is concerned, those deeply interested in politics might like to shake the hand of Bill Clinton or George Bush, while economy fans might like to rub shoulders with Alan Greenspan or techies might like to pick the brain of Bill Gates; but me, I like the ones who are admittedly crazy. Like Fred. They’re more fun to spend time with.

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Reviewed: Asian Pickles

Asian Pickles

By Karen Solomon

Ten Speed Press

Not only do I like pickles, I love them. Not only do I make pickles, I go out of my way to experiment and push the pickle-y envelop. Steeped in passion and research, Karen Solomon’s Asian Pickles offers up more than a handful of reasons this pickle lover to keep on keepin’ on.

Primarily geared toward a North American audience, the book offers alternatives to specialty equipment and ingredients, only asking the reader to buy stone tablet-carved necessities when absolutely critical. “Authenticity is nothing if a pickle’s components aren’t accessible,” writes Solomon. When elements are tough to procure, she says so, and offers online resources for essential but hard-to-find ingredients.

Solomon provides an overview of how and when to serve pickles, and then basics of process, before presenting the reader with a variety of pickle recipes from japan, Korea, China, India and Southeast Asia. The pickles in this book are focused on non-canned styles, as, says Solomon, the heat of canning kills the living food (flavor, texture and health benefits) we seek in a pickle.

Laced with attractive, full-color photos; clear, knowledgeable writing; and a wide variety of recipes well beyond the kimchi that most of us have heard of and a few of us actually make from time to time (I do! I do!), Asian Pickles provides adequate tinder to push our palates and our cooking habits a little further down the road.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Des Moines Beer Week II

Ain’t it funny how time slips away? A month has elapsed since the second Des Moines Beer Week (DSMBW) brought a celebration of the Des Moines beer scene to central Iowans, and with a fair amount of press interest and a lot of fun events, I’d call the effort a success (full disclosure: I’m on the planning committee, which is centered around the ladies of 818: a tiny design empire).

I spent most of the week in town for the festivities, attending the kickoff event at el Bait Shop on Sunday, June 14,, where the DSMBW collaboration beer, All Hands on Deck, debuted. Nine Des Moines breweries (Confluence, New American, Exile, 515, Court Avenue, Firetrucker, Madhouse, Rock Bottom, and Flix) gathered at Confluence Brewing Company in May to brew the English Summer Ale, which was light and sessionable and featured seven hop varieties, most coming from the southern hemisphere and especially New Zealand. The guest speaker and head toaster was Greg Edwards of the Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau.

I wound up at Confluence Brewing Company on Tuesday to try the cask version of All Hands on Deck at their special tapping. While the kickoff attendance was a little restrained (at least initially) Confluence was packed, and the beer was a hit.

On Wednesday, I attended the release of Rock Bottom‘s Barrel-aged Illuminator Doppelbock. This is the fifth year that brewmaster Eric Sorensen and I have collaborated on this Lenten beer, and the third time it’s been aged in a barrel (we took a silver medal at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers in Chicago back in 2011). The beer was great, but since Eric has moved over to Exile Brewing Company a few weeks ago, you’ll have to stay tuned on the fate of that illuminating elixir.

Yellow shirts: 818ers and me. And then there's Alexis and Chip, who didn't get the yellow shirt memo.

One of my highlights of the entire week was Thursday night at Flix Brewhouse. Reservations were restrained on a beer dinner I was helping with, so I was off the hook and free to attend the screening of Blood, Sweat & Beer. A documentary about two young breweries, the film was solid, and I’d highly recommend you checking it out. Filmmakers Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin were on hand to field questions from the audience before a team consisting of 818ers, Confluencers, and I showed them a loooong Iowa night. Not gonna lie: I slept on a couch…

Friday was the Iowa Craft Brew Festival Warm-up Party, held again at Confluence. For me, it was preceded by a long day’s work preparing for the festival as well as our Iowa Brewers Guild membership meeting. It was nice to relax with a beer and a ton of brewer-friends after a tough day at the office. Thursday night was long, but Friday night was short, as I had to be up and at ’em early for the beer fest the next day.

Though we had a glitch that slowed down entry for the general admission ticket holders, fifth annual ICBF was loads of fun, with buskers and educational seminars added to the mix of excellent food and beer this year.

Peace Tree Brewing Company's Joe Kesteloot talks about why freshness matters during a seminar at the 2015 Iowa Craft Brew Festival.

After a lot of work, DSMBW came to a close, and I, for one, am eagerly awaiting next year, which will be bigger, better, longer, and lovelier than ever. Stay tuned…



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Sip, Savor and Read with Brewvana during Des Moines Beer Week

Des Moines Beer Week is slated for June 14-20, and I have scheduled a trio of events I hope folks will be eager to attend.

Beer and Barrels

The first shindig is the release of the Barrel-aged version of this year’s Illuminator Doppelbock.

Brewed back in January with my partner in Lenten crime, Eric Sorensen of Rock Bottom -West Des Moines, a portion of this malty bomb blast of a beer has been resting patiently in a Mississippi River Distillery barrel.

This is the fifth year that Eric and I have collaborated on this beer, which was first brewed as part of my Diary of a Part-Time Monk research into the origins of the doppelbock style which tested the story that tells us that German monks developed the style to sustain themselves during their Lenten fasts on this this bold brew. That first iteration took a silver medal at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers in Chicago, and we’re excited at the prospects of this year’s vintage.

While the “regular” version of Illuminator has sold out, the barrel-aged version taps for the first time on June 17 at 6 p.m. Come give it a try!

Beer and Food

The second event will take place at the Renaissance Savery Hotel’s Coda Lounge in Downtown Des Moines on Thursday, June 18, at 5:30 p.m. This is the second time I’ve partnered with Chef Katie Van Dyke at the Coda, a hotel lounge that really excites me thanks to its devotion to serving local beers for travelers passing through Des Moines. All hotel lounges should care this much!

This time around, we’ve invited brewmasters Karl Schmitz of West O Beer (West Okoboji) and David Bryan of New American Brewing Company (Ankeny) to join us. The brewers will each have two of their beers featured during the four-course meal and be available to discuss the beers, the pairings and field questions from those attending.

It will be fun–and delicious! Tickets ($40) are available at Eventbrite.

Beer and Books

My third event takes place on June 19 (4-5 p.m.) at 515 Brewing Company in Clive, pairing books and beer in a chatting-drinking-book signing event that includes one of my beer writing buddies–Maureen Ogle.

Ogle will be signing copies of Ambitious Brew: the Story of American Beer, while I’ll be signing my books, Diary of a Part-Time Monk and Iowa Pints: A Guide to Iowa Breweries. Books will be available for purchase.

The details for this free event are available on my Facebook event page.

Information for  these events and many others can also be found on the Des Moines Beer Week website. We hope to see you several times throughout the week!

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