Over the next several days I will be tasting everything I can get my hands on from one of the most exciting new Iowa breweries, Peace Tree Brewing Company in Knoxville. They started making beer barely more than year ago, and hosted their grand opening just last March. However, as I understand it, they now produce as much beer as anyone else in the state.
What has driven this explosive growth? The powerhouse team behind Peace Tree, Megan McKay Ziller, her husband Scott Ziller, and her father Daniel McKay have managed to hit a sweet spot that has enabled their continuous expansion. In my mind it is three specific factors.
First, the beer. No brewery can have any measure of success without consistently producing drinkable and interesting beer. Peace Tree lured brewer Joe Kesteloot from the Cold Spring Brewery to capably tackle that side of things. This and the next few posts will certainly examine Peace Tree’s beers.
Next, the marketing. The label and tap art is unique and interesting but also classy and consistent. The bottled beers come in those squat, round bottles you’d usually see holding a particular Jamaican beer (“hooray, beer!”), which makes them stand out just a little bit more. And above all, the team has done a great job of getting accounts in some important Iowa bars and retailers, making their beer highly available. I’ll talk more about this later.
Lastly, it is authenticity. Peace Tree exudes honesty. The brewery is named for the old stump that today juts out of the reservoir named (questionably) Lake Red Rock. Before the area was flooded, this tree served as a meeting point for Native Americans, and later fur traders.
It is in that vein that tonight I taste two beers that are named for local landmarks. The Red Rambler is an homage to the building the Peace Tree brewery is in, which in a former life was a Nash Rambler dealership. After that I’ll have the Black River Gumbo Stout, named for the rich black gumbo soil of the Des Moines River. This brewery actually has a beer named for dirt.
The Red Rambler pours mostly clear, a beautiful copper to ruby color, with some creamy off-white head. The nose is light but very intriguing. The malt is most prominent, with plenty of melanoidins making toast and caramel notes. In the background lie nut and raisin aromas, with a bit of a fruity hoppiness adding character.
The flavor is very refreshing. The bitterness is immediately apparent – strong, but smooth. Rich malt flavors help bring it in balance, but this beer still leans towards hoppy. Herbal hops combine with bread and toast for a lively and interesting flavor. The body is present, but not full, and the carbonation light and creamy. The malt flavor lingers for a moment, the herbal hops just a moment longer.
The Black River Gumbo Stout is, appropriately, a very dark beer, black to all but the brightest of lights. The ample creamy head is pale bronze color. The aroma is rich with roasted malts. A toasty, woody, even smoky character is offset by a rich and sweet nuttiness. Hazelnuts and walnuts are joined by plums before being overtaken by burnt bread. A deeply mesmerizing aroma.
The flavor is certainly roasty, but much less oppressive than suggested by the aroma, coming off more like coffee and chocolate. Fruity character from the Belgian yeast makes for a lively balance. Thick caramel and roasted malt flavors do battle with the herbal hops and fruity yeast across the surface of your tongue. Eventually the malt wins out, leaving a caramel malt sweetness and roast malt bitterness lingering for a moment, not unlike a good coffee.
Peace Tree Black River Gumbo Stout
Peace Tree Red Rambler