And the best IPA in Iowa is……

gold.jpegBig Grove Brewery IPA

big grove








Toppling Goliath Pompeii toppling goliath












bronzeTurner Alley Mays Island IPAturner alley








**Thanks to all those who voted, congrats to the winners, maybe I can get some medals made up. This was fun and I had a lot of feedback! Thank you! After the barrel-aged/imperial stout voting ends on Sunday we will take a bit of break and pick back up with pale ale category! Cheers!**

Baron’s Best of 2015 Part 1

best of.pngI always enjoy looking back on a year of great beer drinking and this year was probably the best. So many great beers to choose from and what makes it even better is that there are so many great beers brewed here in Iowa that will makes this list. Don’t get me wrong, tons of good stuff on the shelves, but bringing home a growler of fresh Arms Race or Workman’s Compensation makes it that much more special to live in Eastern Iowa and have the opportunity to support our local breweries.

This year’s list will be dominated by Iowa breweries, these are all beers that were/are available for purchase in Iowa that I had for the FIRST TIME EVER in 2015. You won’t see the Bourbon county’s or the KBS, I know that they change year by year but I’m going to leave them off this list. I haven’t visited a few newer breweries in Iowa which I know I need to. Everyone has their favorites, let me know what I need to try! 30 beers on the list this year and it was difficult coming to just 30. This is Part 1 of 5, let’s roll!

lion bridge*Lion Bridge Brewery GAZPROM! – a russian imperial stout aged in rye and brandy barrels that Lion Bridge gets to us in the months Iowans need to be warmed up! January and February in Iowa suck, but Lion Bridge’s release of GAZPROM! makes them a little more tolerable. Plus, the tshirt released was badass too!

big grove*Big Grove Brewery Buster – let’s keep the Iowa breweries rolling with a triple IPA that was released last Spring. Big Grove had a dominant year with their IPA releases and their Richard the Whale releases. This triple was juicy as hell and scary drinkable. Coming in at 11.3%, this bad boy could lead to a good night’s sleep.

pulpi.jpeg*Pulpit Rock Mr. Hoppy Pants – one of the newer breweries in Iowa is located across the street from Toppling Goliath in Decorah. I was lucky enough to stop in and have a pint and loved what those breweries are brewing up. Mr. Hoppy Pants is a double IPA brewed on a rotating hop schedule so this brew might change from time to time. Not sure of the hops in the draw I had but I loved it. Aromatic and crushable, visit Pulpit Rock, they are an up and comer to keep an eye on.

razz*Exile Raspberry Bohemian – this one might keep some talk stirred as I picked this over their Cherry Bohemian and I think many folks enjoyed the cherry more..not me. I think I just enjoy raspberry in my beer more than cherry flavor, just a personal preference and that’s why Raspberry gets my nod over Cherry. Either way, both beers were great and I would venture to say that Exile nailed it with both of them.

turner alley*Turner Alley Czech Village Pilsner – a style that’s not as “sexy” as the imperial IPAs or the barrel-aged beers of the world, but a style that seems lost in the mix is pilsners. Travis at Turner Alley has taken what some would consider a boring style and made a crisp, refreshing, balanced pilsner that I would put up against most out there. Looking forward to see what Turner Alley has in store for 2016.

firetrucker*Firetrucker Black Walnut Alcova Brown Ale – another “basic” style that seems like it got lost in the shuffle of beer styles, gets amped up with the addition of 100 black walnuts. This is a beer I can drink anytime of the year and that nutty aftertastes shines through making this beer a perfect example on how to make a great brown.

**Part 2 coming soon! Iowa brewery dominant so far. Let me know your thoughts!

What’s New, Notable, and Local?

big groveSo many good beers are on our shelves right now it makes for a wonderful problem to have! One thing is for sure though, you never have to worry about the freshness of beer when you are buying local from our breweries in the area! Talk about good problems to have, we are pretty spoiled in having such great quality, great tasting, wonderfully brewed beer just miles away from our doorsteps. So what’s new from our local breweries? Here’s a start! (if I missed something let me know! Try to post on any Iowa breweries so feel free to contact me: 

*Big Grove Brewery – the constantly rotating lineup of beers makes for a weekly must stop for the Baron and this week the announcement that Que Amarillo is back and Que Ondo Retaca is on the line made my week! But what’s new? :

**Love Potion – a rye beer that checks in at 6.5%

Maybe the most exciting news for Big Grove right now is what we can’t drink yet! Bill, Rabbit, and Tee have been busy with some big time brews. A Lambic, more Richard, a Brett Double IPA, and Mellow Drama will be hitting lines in the future. Damn, thirsty after typing that out.  Here’s the updates from Big Grove’s Facebook page:

From 11/6/15: Today we’re brewing the next batch of lambic using a traditional TURBID MASH. We’ve done the coolship thing on the last batch, and we’ve always used stale Iowa grown hops, and we’re fermenting a bunch in oak, but this giant pain in the ass mashing technique is, I believe, the next step in making real lambic. We’re also going to a 40% raw wheat grist instead of flaked wheat to try and build a more complex protein matrix.

Here’s the deal: we’re going to step the mash through a few rests, starting with the peptonisation rest at 113F, then a quick bump to 136F to extract more protein from the grain. After the first bump, we will start pulling turbid runnings off of the thing into the kettle for heating. We will hold the runnings at 176F or so to stop enzymatic conversion and leave a bunch of starches and dextrin in the liquid.

After that, it’s a sacchrification rest at 149F, more runnings to the kettle, a rest at 162F for more long chain sugars, then a mash out at 176F when we put the turbid runnings back into the mash tun.

Two hours of boiling, ambient cooling, and a pitch of some hot bugs should round things out nicely. This first batch will go into some new Opus One barrels we recently procured.

This is going to be a long damn day for two wine barrels worth of lambic somewhere down the road.

FROM: 11/5/15

Welcome, Tree Chuggers, to the great month of November! It’s a month with lots of ups and downs. I mean, we get to brew tons of Richard, Lambic, Englert Brett DIPA, and Mellow Drama Maple Imperial Porter, but you don’t get to drink those beers for quite some time. Sorry.

In the mean time, satiate your thirst with some 2015 Richard, Que Amarillo (it hit the lines last night), and Love Potion (obviously I didn’t name that one).

lion bridge*Lion Bridge Brewery – I wasn’t able to get to the cask-conditioned Disaster at the Meaux w/ maple syrup tapping and I’m kicking myself for it, but more good news from Quinton and Alec at Lion Bridge is the re-release of Yard Sale! Loved this beer the first time and I’m guessing I’ll love it again. With that being said it’s hard to walk out of Lion Bridge without a coffee comp, a disaster, and one of my personal favorites a Sorachi Liberace. Here’s more on Yard Sale:

**Yard Sale – American IPA coming in at 6.4% – a must try for hopheads! Wonderfully balanced and delicious! 
turner alley**Turner Alley Brewing in Cedar Rapids continues to pump out some great beers. Travis has a new brew in the works and it’s going to be Foreign Extra Stout and we should be seeing kegs of this popping up soon. Make sure to check out Turner Alleys’ other offerings, I’m digging their pils and the newly renamed Wood’s Pale Ale.

**Firetrucker Brewery – a couple of newer releases from the fine folks at Firetrucker in Ankeny. Make sure to check them out, a very cool place to visit and have a brew or 10.

Smoking_Pumpkin*Smoking Pumpkin Porter –
ABV = 6.1%
IBU – 24
“Light up the bonfire, call your friends and enjoy this smoked pumpkin brown porter! Notes of allspice and nutmeg mingle with pecan smoke on the nose. Flavors of pumpkin and spices linger with a smokey finish. The porter base provides roasted malt flavors that tie it all together. This limited, seasonal beer is the perfect companion for a chilly fall day!”

Acova Black Walnut Ale Card
*Acova Black Walnut Ale
– their winter seasonal, Acova Black Walnut Ale is now out and is a smooth easy drinking brown ale made with local (fresh) black walnuts. This brew checks in at 6.8%.
third base
**Third Base Brewery**- Brewer Jim Johnston has some new beers up his sleeve to be released before the end of the year at Third Base in Cedar Rapids. Here’s what he said is coming down the line soon:
I have an IPA with Citra and Mosaic coming up shortly. It currently doesn’t have a name. Our Imperial Stout this year is called “Endless Decent Into Ruin”. It is big (12%) but really smooth. To be brewed we have Coffee Cobra and an Imperial Porter. That should get us through the year.
An IPA with citra and mosaic? Yes please! And a big stout to warm us up for these chilly months!

Pullman Bar and Diner Celebrating Local Craft Beer Week

pullmanPullman Bar and Diner in downtown Iowa City will be celebrating drinking local this upcoming week. Each day they will be adding two Iowa craft beers on tap as well as having representatives from each brewery talking about their beer. Here’s the official announcement from Pullman along with the beer lineup:

Just a little FYI for next week. Pullman along with some other fine establishments will be doing a local craft beer week. We will be doing a progressive tap takeover starting Monday at 3 pm. Each day we will add two new local craft beers. Matt O’Neil (local mason/artist and super talented) will be painting each brewery on our vestibule leading into the restaurant. Also, each day at 3-5 pm we will have representatives from each of these breweries here to talk about their beers. So, if you want some insight and meet the people behind the beer, here’s your chance! All of these beers will be discounted during our happy hour from 3-6 pm. Here are the beers along with schedule of who’s going to be here and when. Cheers!

Monday: Wilson’s Orchard – Hard Cider, Hoppy Hard Cider
Tuesday: Exile Brewery – Gigi (Gold Medal), Raspberry Bohemian
Wednesday: Turner Alley – Czech Pilsener, Woods Wheat
Thursday: Lion Bridge – Work Comp (Gold Medal),Sorachi Liberace (New saison)
Friday: Big Grove Brewery – Desperate Measures, and the coffee version of Richard the Whale.

Restaurant Review: The Jitney Wine Bar; Monticello, IA

jitney menu 1My wife and I are always up for trying new places to eat and drink in the Eastern jitney menu 2
Iowa area and luckily the head brewer at Big Grove Brewery, Bill Heinrich, recommend a place in Monticello called the Jitney Wine Bar. This was my first experience dining in Monticello so I wasn’t sure what to expect but as we walked into the Jitney, which is in downtown Monticello, the smell of smoked meats greeted me so I knew then I was in good hands!

The interior of the place is dimly light, which I love, and my eyes go right to the bar. I noticed the tap handles and was pleased to see Big Grove, Turner Alley, photo 2 (7)Founders, and at least 4 more taps of craft beer available. I went with the Big Grove IPA to start for my wife and I, and was pleasantly surprised photo 3 (6)to find out it was their latest double IPA, Dilly Dallying, on tap! SCORE! It was a family-friendly restaurant as we had our 1 year old with and sat outside on their patio. The menu was mouth watering so whatever my wife decided for an appetizer I was game with. So chose the Bacho Melt which is a Scandinavian style baked bacon and cheese with bacon jam served on a baguette……yep….it was fantastic!

IMG_1961After the apps, I needed another brew and went with Turner Alley’s Czech Pils, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite pilsner style beers out there. I’m a brisket guy, so as soon as I saw brisket on the menu that was an easy choice. I got 3 huge slabs of smoky brisket served with fried red potatoes and asparagus spears. It was melt in your mouth brisket with just the right amount of smoke and the potatoes had a perfect crunch on the outside but soft and tender in the middle. Excellent stuff…but…my wife’s meal stole the show. She went with the smoked chicken sandwich which is pulled chicken smoked gouda cheese sauce, caramelized onions, with gravy au jus on a Chicago style French roll. BEST….SANDWICH…..EVER!!!! Seriously folks, get this and a side of their asian slow and it will be one of those moments after taking a bite of food that you wouldn’t forget. So great! And a sandwich I will be craving constantly!

The thing with the Jitney is, I think they switch up their menu but I think they have some menu mainstays, and every one of them sounds terrific. The people next to us had the chicken nachos and they looked amazing. I highly recommend making the trip to Monticello to go to the Jitney, you won’t be disappointed! Check out their menus here: