Archive for the ‘Brewery Visit’ Category

Des Moines’s Newest Brewery

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Anchoring the end of Walnut, where it meets 16th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, sits the Fitch soap company building. Like many structures around the western gateway, this building dates to the roaring twenties when industrial Des Moines was booming, but has sat empty for many decades. That is, until R.J. Tursi decided it was the perfect location to open his Exile Brewing Company.

Exile is cut from a slightly different cloth than Court Avenue or Raccoon River, Exile’s older siblings. While those well-established eateries have more of the traditional brewpub look, Exile meshes in modern design elements, though all three occupy rehabbed space. For more details as well as pictures of the dining areas, check out the coverage in the Reggie.

On the brewery side everything seems scaled to grow. A new four vessel 30 barrel Specific Mechanical brewhouse gives Exile the ability to brew multiple batches. Assuming they can get the staff and make the sales, they will be able to produce beer essentially continuously.Exile Brewhouse One bottleneck will be the cellar, as Exile currently has only three fermentation tanks, though at a 60 barrel capacity each they’re certainly nothing to sneeze at.

They also have six lager tanks in the massive cooler, as well as a brite tank. Another bottleneck will be serving. Since Exile has no dedicated serving tanks, every drop will be kegged. Much of it will be sold off-premise at bars and restaurants around town, in a similar strategy as CABCo has been adopting recently. However Exile has a much larger capacity, and plenty of room to grow.

Exile CellarAt the time of my visit they did not yet have their own beer available, with one exception: they had a Maibock which was contract brewed at the Gordon Biersch facility in Kansas City. However, they have been madly brewing the past week and a half, and they should have a few locally-produced beers available soon. Among those will be a Munich gold lager, a honey lager and a hefeweissen.

The head brewer is John Woodford, a recent Iowa State grad. Though he has a degree from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, he has no professional brewing experience, so he seems like a strange choice for head of a new brewery. But the proof is in the pudding, so I’ll have to wait to judge until they have beer on offer that was brewed under his supervision.

The Maibock is a pale coppery amber with an opalescent haze. There is a bit of off-white head, but not much. The nose is malty and sweet, with notes of biscuits, toast and nuts. I’d like there to be more pronounced hop character, as that is one of the defining characteristics of a maibock.

The flavor is likewise sweet and bready. A bit of noble hops come out early but quickly fade. The sweetness is cloying, lingering far too long. If the hops were more assertive, that might not be as much of an issue. As it stands it’s tasty, but it’s hard to drink more than one.

+/-Exile Maibock

3.2 (3-7-7-2-14)

12 Beers of X-Mas: Lucky Bucket Black & Tan

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Lucky Bucket Black & TanMatt took me to Lucky Bucket Brewing while I was in Omaha. Their lager and IPA see a pretty wide distribution in at least Nebraska and Iowa, and they brew a number of other beers of varying availability. The distillery arm Sòlas makes a vodka from Nebraska wheat and they have their first single-malt whisky aging in barrels now.

The bartender was making a Black & Tan with an unnamed barleywine and Certified Evil, their Belgian strong ale. A creamy dark tan head atop an almost black layer of barleywine, itself surmounting, perhaps precariously, the ruby copper, barely hazy Evil. The barleywine is predictably most of the aroma: a rich dry burnt character, roasty and toasty.

The flavors present a great combination. The barleywine has a strong roasted flavor that balances the caramel sweetness of the Evil. A bit of alcohol is apparent, adding a little spiciness. The body is rich and full, but it is not thick. This is a very complex, flavorful, and drinkable combination.

++Lucky Bucket Black & Tan

4.3 (4-8-9-4-18)

I also tasted their Joss vodka. They run it through their giant pot stills and then into a 23 plate column still that’s probably as many feet tall.

It is perfectly clear and colorless. The aroma is neutral alcohol. There is a clean, gentle warming to the flavor. There is also a sweetness perhaps due to the wheat.

Sòlas Whisky Countdown

Sòlas Whisky Countdown

Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Last week was SF Beer Week. I understand there were a few good events all over town. Unfortunately I left just before it got started.

Also, all month long is the Strong Beer Experience at the Magnolia Pub and the 21st Amendment Brewery. I did stop by the latter for the three drinks I was allowed (it seems like a good idea that they have set that limit) and enjoyed them. It was a bit too crazy in the bar to take good notes, but I know I was a fan of the Imperial Jack, a beer which I understand was guest brewed by the folks at the Elizabeth Street Brewery.

The next night I had a few drinks around the corner at the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. This certified organic brewpub also serves Spanish food that looked quite tasty, but unfortunately I was not at all hungry by the time I got there. The two vessel brewhouse and six fermentation tanks occupy the place of honor protected by a pane of glass behind the bar. They are situated in a depression in the floor that simultaneously puts the neatest parts of each tank at bar level as well as keeping the dirty operations from the eye of the visitor. They also have flamenco here! (though not the night I visited.)

I had two beers while at Thirsty Bear, a gravity-served stout and the IPA. The Cask Stout was absolutely pitch black, a black hole shade of black. The long-lasting creamy head was a deep ochre hue. First on the nose are light roast notes from the dark malts. This is followed by hazelnuts and nutmeg, and subtle aromas of toast. Overall light, but with an intriguing fruitiness.

Toasted and burnt bread flavors and some smokiness betray the roasted malts, but the smooth creamy palate is much lighter. As it is a cask beer, the carbonation is very mild, allowing the roasty bitterness to become somewhat more astringent.

The bartender recommended the Howard St. IPA, and I can’t refuse a hoppy beer. This one is brilliantly clear, the color a beautiful ruby tinted amber. It has some creamy head and an herbal nose with hints of citrus.

The hoppy bitterness is strongly herbal, bordering on the character of a California common ale, but there isn’t the same long lingering bitterness on the back of the tongue. The herbal hop flavor leans towards minty. The flavor is just a bit green, dirty but not very earthy. It has some body, but is perhaps a bit thin for an IPA.

Thirsty Bear Howard St. IPA

3.5 (4-7-7-3-14)

Thirsty Bear Cask Stout

3.4 (4-7-6-3-14)

Dortmund Brewery Museum

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

This is the last post I took notes for while in Germany, and it seems an appropriate retrospective. Look forward to my forthcoming first post back in the United States, a cross-section of the newest and weirdest stuff coming out of New Glarus.

It was entirely by accident that I ended up spending the summer in Dortmund, onetime brewery capital of the world. I wasn’t even planning on going abroad, until my German teacher told our class about a summer program through her alma mater, the Technische Universität Dortmund, and I cannot thank her enough for encouraging me to apply.2010-10-24-cask So perhaps it is appropriate that it was only my very last day in Germany that I finally got around to visiting the Dortmund Brewery Museum.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the international popularity of Dortmund’s stronger version of the originally-southern pale lager, combined with the relative accessibility of its port, caused it to grow into the biggest beer producing city in Germany. Beer and Dortmund were synonymous (and still are, literally, in some parts of the Netherlands). Dortmund had more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world, an erstwhile Portland.

2010-10-24-union-truckYou’ve almost certainly heard of at least one of the Dortmund brewers, among them Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei (DAB), Dortmunder Union, Dortmunder Kronen, Thier, Hansa, Brinkhoff’s, Stifts, Ritter, Hövel’s. In 1900 the city had thirty of them, fifteen of which were among the largest in the country. By the 1950s more beer was made in Dortmund than in anywhere else in the world, save good old Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now all but one are brands owned by the Dortmund brewery, all produced in the same plant on the same equipment. But I digress.

On an unassuming side street in the north side of Dortmund sits one of the biggest breweries in northeastern Germany, Dortmunder Actien-Brauerei. Walking by it you might not even notice, save the smell of barley in the air.2010-10-24-equip But there is one welcoming stucco building with large windows on the south end of the complex that was once called the Hansa Brewery, and later the Kronen Brewery. Here is the home of the Brauerei-Museum Dortmund.

The museum is located in a former machine house, so while there are no big tanks or kettles to see, there is a big steam engine, and they’ve moved in a period bottling line as well as one of the original Union delivery trucks.2010-10-24-bottling-line There is a large collection of memorabilia of the various Dortmund breweries: mugs and glassware, beer mats, bottles, labels, signs, and advertisements. This last bit especially allows the visitor to immerse oneself in another era. There is a fair amount of equipment, and numerous placards that explain the process of the production of beer. Unfortunately the signs are only in German, so an English speaker might wish to arrange for a guide.

The Museum may very well be a bit slanted towards the brands currently owned by the museum’s owner. That point notwithstanding, it provides a valuable look at the history of the beverage that made the city great. It would be all too easy to lose the stories of the people and places that drove Dortmund’s breweries’ growth, and with it the growth of export beer, especially given today’s high-speed merger-happy international beer market. Fortunately the existence of the Dortmund Brewery Museum ensures that won’t happen anytime soon.

A delightful antique.  Every day each brewery worker was given a token that this machine would redeem for a free shift drink.

A delightful antique. Every day each brewery worker was given a token that this machine would redeem for a free shift drink.

The large, shallow vessel is called a kuhlschip, at one time used to cool hot wort to fermenting temperatures (and it is still used for lambic).  The device in back is a convoluted-flow chiller.  The hot wort runs back and forth through the tubes, and cold water cascades down the outside.

The large, shallow vessel is called a kuhlschip, at one time used to cool hot wort to fermenting temperatures (and it is still used for lambic). The device in back is a convoluted-flow chiller. The hot wort runs back and forth through the tubes, and cold water cascades down the outside.

A photograph of open fermenters at the former Hansa Brewery, proof that even high lager brewers have humble origins.

A photograph of open fermenters at the former Hansa Brewery, proof that even high lager brewers have humble origins.

There is no better brand.

There is no better brand.


Friday, September 24th, 2010

Bacchusbräu brewhouse - Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

This is the first of several posts that I took notes for in Germany but didn’t get around to finishing. The last few weeks there and the first few back home were hectic. Anyway, on to the beer.

While traveling with my mother around the Middle Rhein Valley, I had a chance to try the beer from one of the smallest breweries in Germany, Bacchusbräu in Bacharach, Rheinland-Pfalz. On their 200 liter brewing system Armin Mahl makes the beer to go along with wife Annette’s wonderful cooking. But this is truly just the Theatergastronomie adjacent to the theater they built, which features marionette shows as well as ones with regular actors.Braumeisterbrötchen On one side of the building, directly facing the old city wall, and beyond it the Rhein, there is a patio under the canopy of an old carousel and a fence made of barrel staves.

I was impressed with just about everything about this place. They bake a rich and savory mini loaf of multigrain bread called Braumeisterbrötchen – Brewmasters’ Rolls – that are stuffed with fillings. The vegetarian one had cheese, mushrooms, onions, and caraway seeds, and was divine.Cat at Bacchusbrau Oh, and their cat is ridiculously friendly.

I started out with the standard lager, Loreley. They call it a pilsener but it really seems to me to be a classic Munich helles. Named after perhaps the most famous rock in the world, Loreley is easily one of the best German beers I have had the pleasure to taste.

A yellow gold with a beautiful haze is topped with some creamy white head. The rich malty aroma is thick with bread and just a little sweet. Delicate floral noble hops dance.

Bacchusbräu Loreley and 1689The flavor of Loreley is barely dry, but still has a strong malt richness. The high quality malt used clearly shows through, so the beer tastes quite fresh. The palate is full and round without intruding. It is not bitter, but rather remarkably balanced.

Next I had the Münchner dunkel, called 1689. I’m not certain what the name refers to, though I know that year there was some unpleasantness related to the Nine Years’ War in nearby Mannheim and Heidelberg.

A pleasingly opalescent very pale hazelnut brown with some white head. The aroma is light, with malty caramel and hints of hops, and a little sweetness. It is promising, but much too fleeting.

The flavor is also a bit on the mild side. Caramel and toast malt flavors are complimented by an earthy and herbal hop character. The hops also lend a reasonable bitterness. Something is making it a bit astringent, Bacchusweizenwhich grows more prominent through the taste. The palate is full but still drinkable, but the 1689 would benefit from a bit more carbonation.

The wheat beer is named simply Bacchusweizen. It is naturally very hazy, and by looking at the bubbles rise, clearly very active. Golden straw in color with a creamy, cloudlike white head. The aroma is light and bready, with a lot of cloves as well. Some floral on the nose could be from hops.

The taste of the Bacchusweizen is dry, with a solid clove flavor. There is a good wheat character manifesting as bread and rich maltiness. The light hop flavor is spicy, complimenting the clove from the yeast. The palate is dry and quite lively. The adding of flavor hops to weizen is a relatively new concept, but there are a few that do it do good effect, including this one. Even discounting the hops this beer is a unique hefeweizen, drier and spicier than most. Very refreshing.

Finally the bock beer, Burg Stahleck – Verlies. Burg Stahleck is the castle overlooking the town of Bacharach, now a youth hostel.Bacchusbräu Berg Stahleck - Verlies Verlies is the German word for “dungeon”. They properly serve this strong beer in a hefty stone mug.

It is richly hazy, with a deep caramel brown color and creamy tawny head. The aroma is rich and sweet with caramel, dark fruit, and a rich spiciness of cinnamon and cardamom, pepper and cloves.

The flavor is malty and sweet. The spiciness on the taste is quite strong, dominated by cinnamon and pepper. The alcohol makes itself apparent with a warming sensation. The whole of it almost gives the impression of brandy. The Verlies is full but not cloying, active but not bothersome, and rich but still drinkable. Just well-crafted strong beer goodness.


4.2 (3-9-8-4-18)

++Burg Stahleck – Verlies

4.2 (4-9-7-4-18)


3.8 (3-7-8-4-16)


3.8 (4-7-7-4-16)

Some Kölsch in Köln

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Frank MöhlenkampA few folks from my program and I went on a brewery tour in Köln last weekend. To me ‘brewery tour’ implies a tour through a brewery, but instead it was a tour around Köln with stops at beer halls. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was a very good time anyway. The guide was named Frank Möhlenkamp and he was quite entertaining. He had plenty of anecdotes about the history of Köln and a unique manner. He even gave a decent (if somewhat simplified) description of the brewing process. Not as much information about the beer as I would have hoped, but an entertaining evening nonetheless.

Brauhaus Sion

The first place we stopped at was the Sion Brewery. On the outside of this beerhall is the supposed founding date 1318, but Herr Möhlenkamp was quick to point out that this simply means there was a brewery in that building in 1318, not a particularly surprising fact given the brewing tradition of Köln.Sion Kölsch He observed that one may elsewhere inside find a date of 1511, or if one were to dig a little deeper find the year 1912. I have noticed that this temporal confusion is a problem endemic with German breweries.

The Sion Kölsch is a pale, brilliantly clear golden color with a thick white head that leaves a solid lacing on the glass. The nose is quite light, with just a bit of pale malt character and a fresh hop aroma.

The body is full but remains refreshing. A bready malt flavor is light and intangible like gossamer. There are hints of grassy and earthy noble hops. The flavor is barely disturbed by a corn taste coming through.

The second stop on our tour was a visit to the Köln bürgerhaus. When the Kölners rebuilt their city hall after the war, they built in statue enclaves that harken back to those for the saints on the outer walls of many gothic cathedrals.Köln Bürgerhaus However, the statues here are important figures in the history of Köln. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the figures underneath the statues, intended to represent what the person would see when they look in a mirror. The heroes of Köln would see angels and flowers and such, but the bottom row of statues holds the more infamous characters of Köln’s history, along with the Kölners’ impression of their true character.

Brauerei Gaffel

After the stop by the bürgerhaus we moved on to the Gaffel Brewery. Gaffell (along with Reissdorf) is one of the kölsch beers that are widely available in the states. Nevertheless I had yet to rate it on this blog.

Gaffel KölschThe Gaffel Kölsch is a brilliant deep gold. There was some big-bubbled head but it went away quickly. It has some light and refreshing malt aroma.

The flavor is somewhat malty, but mostly I just notice a sulfuric taste on the bottom of the tongue. It is also a little corny sweet and leaves a bit of a mouth coating.

Dom Brauhaus

Our last stop was at the Dom Brewery, but as I had already rated that kölsch a little while ago I just relaxed and enjoyed the beer and company, something that is quite easy to do in Köln.

+Sion Kölsch

3.8 (4-8-7-4-15)

+/-Gaffel Kölsch

3.0 (3-7-6-3-11)

Sprecher Tasting Notes!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Astute readers may remember that I said I had lost the notes I took on the Sprecher Brewery tour. Well guess what? Cleaning out my disc golf bag I found them! That’s certainly a strange place to put them, but that’s where both of my “lost” pages were squirreled away.

First up, the Mai Bock. This blonde beer has a slight amber tint. There is barely any haze below some creamy white head. The aroma is bright with malty caramel and bready notes. The taste is dry and the body thin, so immediately this seems almost flavorless. Upon inspection you may note the hint of a dirty, earthy hop flavor that reminds me somewhat of the hops in PBR.

Next I tried the IPA², their double India pale ale. This one is a pale caramel amber color and is almost clear. The head is creamy and off white. There is a slightly sweet, delicate floral hop nose that comes through as lilacs and roses. The flavor is rich with earthy hops. On the sides of the tongue a somewhat one-dimensional bitterness disappears quickly, leaving a lingering malty sweetness.

I went on to have the Abbey Triple. This golden yellow beer has some turbidity and some white head. The aroma is exactly that of one of Elvis’s favorite sandwiches, peanut butter and banana. I would hardly believe it transcribing these notes now if I hadn’t written, “No foolin. An Elvis sandwich. Weird.” The flavor is strongly of bananas with a bit of clean malt and clove character coming through. This one has a lot of unfermented sugars remaining giving it an over the top sweetness that turns cloying. I’m not really sure why all these breweries think that you make a Belgian-style tripel with hefeweizen yeast, but this is yet another one. (Brewers: go with Wyeast 1762 or White Labs 500, please!)

Then, at the behest of the brewers, I tried Hop on Top, their new extra pale ale. They were soliciting comments, so presumably this was still in beta, and it showed. Brilliantly clear and the color of straw, this beer has only a hint of white head. The hop aroma is grassy, sharp, and green (the character of fresh, unkilned hops). The first thing I notice on the taste is that the body is pathetically thin and the beer entirely lacks malt flavor. There is a strong grassy hop taste, but this takes on the almost medicinal character of hop extract. Watery and thin, this beer is actually very unpleasant to drink.

To wash that taste out I had their Russian Imperial Stout. It is pitch black with a big pillow of tan head (that doesn’t quite last long enough). The nose is mild, earthy, and dry, with toast and a good amount of coffee. The roasty and robust flavor, strong with coffee (though not overpowering), is almost meaty. A light sweetness and plenty of carbonation activity keep this richly flavored beer from being oppressive. Sprightly, like Chris Farley.

+Sprecher Russian Imperial Stout

3.8 (4-7-8-4-15)

+Sprecher IPA²

3.3 (4-7-6-3-13)

+/-Sprecher Abbey Triple

2.8 (3-7-5-2-11)

+/-Sprecher Mai Bock

2.6 (3-7-4-2-10)

--Sprecher Hop on Top

1.5 (1-5-3-1-5)

New Milwaukee

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I just realized I forgot to post about my trip to Milwaukee two weeks ago. Too bad, because somehow (just as I did with the Rogue Ten Thousand Brew I got in Arizona) I lost the page of reviews I took at the Sprecher Brewery. Well, easy come, easy go. The brewery tour was good but the guide was a little misinformed. Maybe they’ll be kind enough to send me a case of beers and I’ll rerate them. I do have a bottle of the barleywine that I’m going to sit on for a little while.

Kyle directing beer flow.

Kyle directing beer flow.

I also visited the Silver Creek Brewpub in Cedarburg where my brewing school buddy Kyle works. They were doing an overnight brew of their Octoberfest. That was quite entertaining, if a little tiring after spending all day at the Locust Street Festival.

I’ve had a number of their beers (this time and before) but only remembered to write notes for one, the Imperial Maibock. I think I’ve made it clear that maibock is one of my favorite styles, plus you’ve gotta respect imperials, so I knew I was in for a treat.

Head brewer Steve checking the gravity.

Head brewer Steve checking the gravity.

This one pours a hazy golden amber color with some off-white head. The nose is delicate – toasty and dry with some hints of caramel. On the taste the spicy herbal hop character comes out, followed by some sweetness as caramel and toast. They’ve managed the great balance between the hops and malt that defines a maibock. It gives just a bit of a mouthcoating without being too cloying, the mark of a good imperial.

+Silver Creek Imperial Maibock

3.6 (3-6-8-4-15)