Tour de Tanks launches across Iowa


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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Does Hydro Flask really perform?

IMG_3333In a word, yes.

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

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

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

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

I was impressed.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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The challenge of collaboration beers

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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Reviewed: Craft Brew

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

By Euan Ferguson

Frances Lincoln (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Field Trip: Kelvin Cooperage


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cooper bangs rings into place.

A cooper bangs rings into place.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more photos, visit our Facebook page.

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Reviewed: Gardening for the Homebrewer

Gardening for the HomebrewerGardening for the Homebrewer

By Wendy Tweten & Debbie Teashon

Voyageur Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vertical Tasting: 5 years of Bigfoot


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

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

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

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

So how’d they taste?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Day in the Life of a Successful Beer Blogger

Screenshot from C-SPAN's coverage. Click the photo to view the full 2-hour hearing.

Screenshot from C-SPAN’s coverage. Click the photo to view the full 2-hour hearing.

I had an interesting day earlier this week. Actually, it was a series of interesting days. Actually, that series of interesting days was an intense couple of weeks.

Along with Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito, Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease, National Beer Wholesalers Association CEO Craig Purser, American Antitrust President Dr. Diana Moss, and Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter, I was asked to testify in the United States Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competitive Policy, and Consumer Rights hearing entitled “Ensuring Competition Remains on Tap: The ABInBev/SABMiller Merger and the State of Competition in the Beer Industry,” which was held on December 8.


On the surface of things, many would reasonably ponder the question: Why the hell is J. Wilson among this panel weighing in on the rightness or wrongness of the largest beer merger of all time?

I know I asked myself this question a few times. But for me, the answer was easier to find. Yes, I’ve volunteered, judged, written, and worked in the industry for many years, though many others have done the same, and to higher levels of success. Many others could have ably taken my seat at the table yesterday. The answer is simple: for the last year and a half, I’ve served as Minister of Iowa Beer for the Iowa Brewers Guild. In that time, I’ve pursued legislative agendas at both the state and federal levels. In so doing, I’ve gotten to know my congressman and senators. And Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My work has harvested the desired effect: when a beer issue came up, and Grassley needed to gain insight into this industry, he called me.

The issue that came up was a hundred billion dollars’ worth of huge, drawing media attention all around the globe. And so there would be a hearing. And so would I please come testify on behalf of brewers?

Yes, of course. Because I’m a good soldier. Because I believe in the craft brewing industry. And because it would be a great way to honor my junior high social studies teacher, Mr. Jones, who passed away a few years ago.

Boots on the ground

Bob Pease, Brewers Association CEO, in his final moments of preparation before the Senate subcommittee hearing on Dec. 8.

Bob Pease, Brewers Association CEO, in his final moments of preparation before the Senate subcommittee hearing on Dec. 8.

So what’s the behind the scenes look like? What did I do?

I read. I consulted with the IBG Board for guidance on their perspective. I read. I wrote. I had conversations with wholesalers in Iowa and at the national level, brewers around the country, brewers guild colleagues from other states, senate staffers, and Bob Pease of the Brewers Association.

Many phone calls. Many emails. Many keystrokes. I read, researched, and I wrote.

My tasks were these: submit a written testimony, deliver a five-minute oral testimony, and be prepared to field questions from the committee members. I read. I wrote. I read. I’d been laying some minor groundwork for myself (or some Iowa brewer/brewery owner if that’s who the staffers preferred to have) on and off for a week or so, but the laser became more focused once the schedule solidified on last Tuesday, rather than sometime in January, which had been a possibility. During that final week, I put in 10 or 12 hours a day, knocked out finishing touches over the weekend, and let me tell you, it was fun as hell.

My testimony was due 24 hours before the hearing, but as my flight left at 5 a.m. on Monday, I made a final push last weekend (and leaned on my awesome proofreader of a wife), and hit “send” on that email Sunday night so I could turn in early. (But not before sorting out which clothes I could/should wear—that was the hard part for this t-shirt-and-jeans guy.)

I hardly slept. I felt a little bit of pressure, but honestly, I can’t go to sleep at 7 p.m., and I worried that my alarm wouldn’t do its job at 2 a.m., as was necessary because of my distance to the airport. I tossed and turned, and just as I fell asleep, I was jarred awake by the “quack, quack, quack” of my alarm. But it worked! I would be on time! And I could simply sleep on the plane.

I did. Bob, the BA’s team of lawyers (Dave, Art, and Mark), and I convened for our preparation on Monday afternoon. We read our testimonies aloud. The lawyers pelted us with potential questions. We read our testimonies aloud. The lawyers pelted us with potential questions.

Prior to the meeting, I met briefly with the Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.

Prior to the meeting, I met briefly with the Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.

And then we went to Right Proper Brewing Company for dinner and some beers. I went to bed early. And I slept like a rock.

The next morning, the day of the hearing, I read my testimony a few more times for good measure and confined my coffee intake to one cup so I wouldn’t have to pee during the hearing. (Success!) And then Bob and I met briefly with Senator Grassley, who had requested a short conversation before the hearing. And then the gavel fell.

Introductions. A swearing in. Opening statements. Questions. Questions. Questions.

Understandably, most of the questions were directed at Brito, but I fielded a few and felt good about my performance. And then it was done. A media interview or two. A tweet or two. A text message or two. And then the airport and two and a half hours of delays in Chicago.

Thank you, O’Hare International Airport! Had you been running smoothly, it would have taken me weeks to get this post up.

This was a rare and delightful experience, and I appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of it. I am thankful to Grassley, for my job, for my wife, and the many, many others who contributed to my final testimony. It was a lot of work, but made for an interesting day in the life of a beer blogger, and a career highlight that I don’t imagine will be repeated. Is it all downhill from here? No, I’d get bored if I let that happen. I’ll figure out something else cool to do. And, as always, you’re invited to come along…

One more thing, follow me on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more photos, links and tacos.

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I should drink in KC more often

IMG_2327In an absurd point of fact, I’ve lived about two and a half hours from Kansas City for nearly eight years but have only showed up a few times. Two of those were trips to the airport (which full-blown don’t count), one was to spend a (really awesome) day at Boulevard Brewing Company for a piece I was writing, one was for some barbecue, and just last week I finally dragged myself to the home of the World Champion Royals for a little recreation.

Which includes beer. In preparation for an Eilen Jewell concert (she’s awesome, by the way) at Knuckleheads, Michelle and I tracked down a little art before heading over to Torn Label Brewing Company. Located in a desolate warehouse district, the 15-barrel brewhouse welcomes you with a non-descript sign (pretty sure you show up here on purpose) and a small taproom and patio area. Windows in the taproom offer a view of the brewery, and it’s all rather beautifully shabby in a “this is what my house looks like when I’m not expecting company” sort of way. So it felt like home.


I tried a flight of five beers: House Brew (a coffee wheat stout), Monk & Honey (a sorta honey patersbier, I suppose), Oscar (a German Pilsner), Quadjillo (a Belgian quad with guajillo chilis), and Quadquila (that same quad aged in tequila barrels). All were excellent, and if I lived around here, I’d sit on that patio drinking Oscar in the summer months and focus on House Brew in the colder months. Good stuff, and while they don’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring your own.

IMG_2328For phase one of our two-part food plan, we headed over to Cinder Block Brewing Company, not because they serve food, but because the Back Rack Grill food truck sets up out front on Friday and Saturday nights. We went for their burnt ends, which, you know, tastes great with beer.

Cinder Block’s taproom is quite a bit bigger and a little more put together than Torn Label’s. It’s like Thanksgiving was a day or two away and the mom had been cleaning for a week. Here, I tried several beers: Paver’s Porter, Prime Extra Pale Ale, Rivet Rye Wheat, Weathered Wit, Block IPA and Wily Mild. All were excellent. After, I went for a pint of KC Weiss, a solid Berliner Weiss I’d sampled at a beer fest this past summer while my gluten-free wife concentrated on the Cider Block, an English cherry cider, which was also quite tasty.


Part two of our food plan was to hit Local Pig near the music venue. Which really meant we ate outside at Pigwich after using the LP bathroom, ogling at the meat counter, and buying some pickled miscellany. I had a Boulevard KC Pils at the show. It was out of date like mad, but was still in good nick.

It’s a shame that I haven’t made it to Kansas City for beers sooner than now, but no sense in beating myself up over it. I’ll do better from this point forward. If you’re anywhere near Kansas City and have some time to kill with beers, you could do worse that the three places I’ve been: Boulevard, Torn Label and Cinder Block.

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Reviewed: A Visual Guide to Drink

1 a visual guide to drink coverA Visual Guide to Drink

By Ben Gibson & Patrick Mulligan


Look, I got rid of my (really cool looking) coffee table for two reasons: 1) it was somewhat oversized for my current TV room, and 2) if there’s a horizontal surface in my house, my wife and children put sundry crap all over it. I was trying to combat clutter, but this book, Pop Chart Lab’s A Visual Guide to Drink, makes me think I made a mistake.

I want my coffee table back. Because I want to put this book on it.

The visually masterful work of Ben Gibson, Patrick Mulligan, and their Pop Chart Lab crew, A Visual Guide to Drink unleashes a pile of research into beer, wine, and spirits around the world and puts this information on display with engaging graphic after engaging graphic. Warning: it’s thorough, and in some places, readers beyond a certain age might need to pull out their reading glasses.

1 a visual guide 2

Am I a full-blown expert on every factoid included? No. But I scrutinized a few beer elements, and found some instances of lore-over-fact worth pointing out. Researchers have proved false the widely told origin story of IPA (India Pale Ale) as having first been brewed with higher hop levels and alcohol content to survive the long boat ride to satiate British soldiers in India. Not true. Beers of this ilk were being brewed “pre-India” in England’s timeline. On IPA, this book helps to spread myth. There is another error with regard to mild ale. Mild doesn’t mean mild, as in the low alcohol, easy-going, perhaps lower-hopped way that we might expect (and which actually describes this beer). Back in the day, mild was fresh beer. The opposite, aged beer, would have been called stale beer. It’s me being anal, but mild meant fresh, not mellow.

1 a visual guide 3

That said, I’ve really enjoyed spending time with this amazingly tedious tome. It jumps from statistics to styles of glassware to hop-ular beer names to vine training to grape genealogy to sake cocktail recipes to the distillation process to agave plant harvesting to which celebrities are attached to which beverage companies. There’s more.

Lots and lots more, and you’ll be satisfied with the time you spend poring over this cool looking book. If you’ve got one, put it on your coffee table so all your visitors can check it out too.

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

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