First of all, please forgive my horrible camera phone pictures. I don’t have the latest greatest phone, and I didn’t want to drag my canon with me because, well frankly, because I have to lug a ton of stuff with me wherever I go, whenever I go anywhere. That happens with two kids. That and I think I may have broken or fractured my toe. So there you have it.
Anyway, thanks to Nana Sally and Papa Tom (my Godparents and Aunt and Uncle) Andrew and I had a date night. Not just any date night mind you, this has been planned for a year. We attended the soft opening of the new brewery lastnight, the night before the full opening tonight. The building isn’t finished yet, but it’s going to be stunning when it’s done. The restaurant side is pretty much done but they’re still working on the brewery.
Andrew of course, belongs to the mug club, which entitles him to a 24 ounce hand crafted stoneware mug with his own number on it and $3 draft beers (instead of $4) that which he gets to keep at the end of the year. They are offering up 120 more mugs, on a first come first serve basis. (See their facebook page for more information) Which I WILL HAVE.
Backpocket is a 100% Iowa crafted, German inspired, craft brewing enterprise. They’re not new to this gig. Though Backpocket is located in the Iowa River Landing district in Coralville, it grew out of Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery out of McGregor, Iowa. The demand for their German Style beers quickly outgrew the capacity they had at McGregor, so they landed a prime real estate spot in Coralville, with the 15,000 square foot brewery. Which, according to Business380.com, makes it the largest brewery in Iowa. Pretty cool, huh?
At the soft opening, Backpocket staff greeted us at the door, of course, to scan our tickets (I felt a little bit like a VIP! – really, we just were lucky to get one of the 300 tickets in the 4 minutes it took them to sell out – but still…) We seated ourselves, reviewed the beer and pizza menu (more on that later!) and of course, ordered a sampler.
Golden Coin – Helles
Helles is a German Blond Lager, very drinkable, smooth, light on the hops, kind of sweet. One of those “makes me very happy after spending all day in the sun doing manual labor” kind of beers. I don’t have the stats, but here’s the hops and malts used via their website. As they say, it has a very light “hop nose” and “little to no upfront bitterness.”
Malts – Pilsner, Caramel light, Carapils
Hops – Hallertau Mittelfruh and Traditional
5.2% alcohol by volume
Penny Whistle – Weizen
Penny Whistle is a Bavarian Wheat Beer with a little more hop nose than the Helles. Still, very drinkable, a little heavier than the Gold Coin, but full of flavor.
5.5% alcohol by volume
Slingshot – Dunkel
A very popular Dunkel or German Dark Lager, Slingshot was yumm-o. I made notes that it had a slight coffee flavor (so of course I would like it) but it wasn’t bitter and definitely not hoppy. I would say toasted and malty – making it slightly sweet on the tongue after the coffee flavor. Another slightly heavier beer than the wheats, (nothing close to a stout or a porter – Dunkels color is dark, but they’re still relatively light) but still refreshing and full of complex flavors. Really a lovely beer.
Malts – Pilsner, Carmel Light, Carmel Dark, Munich, Chocolate
Hops – Hallertau Mittelfruh, Perle
5.3% alcohol by volume
Wooden Nickel – Scottish “Peated” Lager (or Ale)
Ahhhh Andrew and I do love a good Scottish Ale. As a matter of fact, our favorite homebrew so far has been the Scottish Ales. My notes for this beer simply said YUM! Peated means that the malt is smoked over burning peat to create a darker flavor characteristic and smoky aroma of an Islay or sometimes Irish whiskey. I liked Backpocket’s description of it’s beer…so here…
“So, a German, a Scott and an Iowan walk into a Bar and… an entirely unique beer was invented. Traditional German yeast, hops and techniques, paired with the smoky ﬂavor from Scottish malts, all somehow born in Iowa.”
5.7% alcohol by volume
Jack Knife – GPA
Jack Knife is more hoppy than the other beers. not my favorite, because my palate just does not enjoy a hoppy beer. My husband, however, loves hoppy beers. Their highest alcohol volume beer at 6.2%, is a unique blend of German and American Hops. And as far as the hop nose, this one isn’t quite the IPA hop of say, Peace Tree’s Hop Wrangler or even more their Hop Sutra, but it’s still quite hoppy. Jack Knife is a GPA which is simply “German Pale Ale.” Great for someone who wants to train their palate to truly enjoy the hoppy side of beers. Again, I’ll leave it to Backpocket to describe this one.
“When it came to creating a unique take on an IPA, one countries hops wasn’t going to cut it. German hops for a smooth bitterness, American hops for perfect aroma and the result – a “GPA” that would make any IPA want to change its name.”
6.2% alcohol by volume
Backpocket also, like many craft brewers, went the way of the tree’s favorite drink, Root Beer. Also a great option for kids. We didn’t try it though, we kind of forgot.
So, enough about the beer. The beer was fantastic. As a matter of fact, we’re kind of craving it right now. But I must tell you about the pizza. Like Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon, Backpocket invested in a beautiful Italian style pizza oven that tuns out pizza in about 90 seconds. Yes, I said 90 seconds. (COOL!) I don’t have any info on the oven at Backpocket, but it looked a little more new-age than the oven at Lincoln Wine Bar, but it turned out some fantastic pizza just the same. Beautifully crispy crust that held it’s shape from plate to mouth. With simple and few ingredients, each pie that we had was full of flavor and worked perfect with the beer.
The pizzas offered lastnight at the soft opening were:
BBQ – BBQ sauce, chicken, spring onions, provolone cheese, and cilantro garnish
Margherita – Basil, fresh mozzarella, tomato
Produce Pie – Tomato, mushroom, spinach, kalamata garnish
Solid Combo – Sausage, roasted pepper, red onion
Meatza – Bacon, pepperoni, sausage
Each 10″ personal pizza is adorned with either a white or red sauce, and fresh ingredients, carefully placed so you get a little of everything in each slice. The crust wasn’t quite as chewy (less gluten in the flour most likely) as the Lincoln Wine Bar’s pizza crust, but it had a wonderful flavor and texture. The pizza was as unique as the beer itself.
We will most definitely be going back frequently, so I’ll post as I learn more. I will also try to get a little more history about the brewmaster himself, when it’s not so crazy busy for him. Or at least, when he might have a minute to stop and breathe. According to my husband, he started out as a microbiologist or some kind of super smart scientist type who followed his passion of brewing beer. Which in and of itself, is pretty damn cool.
So. See you there?
Who knew Coralville, a small but mighty town near Iowa City, would host 1800 people to drink beer? So we’re calling this a Drink Local Iowa blog post. Coralville hosts several events a year including 4th Fest, Winterfest, A Local Farmers Market (hey, we all know these Farmers Markets can get OUT-OF-CONTROL,) Music in The Park, and several other great activities that keep the town of Coralville’s residents hoppin’ (uh, no pun intended).
Coralville’s first Winter Beer Celebration was held on Saturday January 28 2012 at the beautiful new Coralville Marriott and Conference Center Exhibit Hall. From 11-1, you could go on an exclusive hard-hat tour of the new (to Coralville) local brewery, Back Pocket, also in the newly renovated Iowa River Landing District. Though it was a bit chilly, the wait was short, the sun was out, and we walked into a huge building with heat. So it all worked out. Backpocket is not new to brewing. In fact, Back Pocket currently operates it’s German-Style beer (or should I say bier) brewing operation at Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery in McGregor. The new building is a whopping 15,000 square feet, with an option to double that space if needed. My guess is they’re going to need it.
There were forty-one microbrewers at Brrr Fest, twenty of them from Iowa. Everything from small (but popular) breweries like Sutliff Cider (which was technically classified as a mix between a beer and a champagne or wine-so what the heck, let’s call it a beer for now) to well known breweries like Rock Bottom.
How we Landed at the Brrr Fest
My husband has a micro-micro-micro brewing operation out of our basement that is meant for our own enjoyment and we’ve become sort of beer snobs. The likes of Busch Light never see the light of our refrigerator. In fact, one corner of our fridge is dedicated to those beautiful amber bottles with fun lables – or no labels. I’ve grown to enjoy less hoppy and more intense beers like stouts and bocks. My husband likes more hoppy varieties like American Pale Ales and Reds. So that is what we tasted. Time was limited, and our livers could only work so fast, so we tried what we liked in moderation. But you can read more about our beer adventures on My Husband’s Homebrew. So naturally, my husband couldn’t resist the temptation to attend (he would get TWO glasses if we both got tasting tickets…) and was looking forward to the hard hat tour of Back Pocket.
On With The Tasting
I am only going to list my top three, because you can’t sit here all day and read about every one that I tasted. And I tried to stick with tasting from Iowa Breweries, though there were breweries from all over the midwest. Microbrew crews traveled from Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and of course came from all parts of Iowa.
Peace Tree Brewing
In my opinion, the star of the show, the belle of the ball, the bon vivant was Peace Tree Brewing Company out of Knoxville. Don’t get me wrong, there were a LOT of beers that were wonderful by other brewers, and some that I even liked a little better. But the fun and fresh merchantry of Peace Tree’s uber hip staff (not to mention the cocoa-nator…yeah, you read that right…) made Peace Tree one of the breweries with the longest lines and happiest tasters. Not only are they interesting and fun and hip, they know their beer and they know how to sell it. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to try new things. As I bumbled my way to the front, I saw it. The cocoa infuser dubbed the cocoa-nator. I’m not exactly sure how they spell it, because frankly I was more interested in the process of infusing beer and chocolate. Brilliant!
The Black River Gumbo Stout was wonderfully chocolaty and smooth with a slight but pleasant aftertaste. The complex flavor created by six different malts and three varieties of hops made the stout interesting and full bodied. This is a beer to drink with a big steak, a slice of dark chocolate, or to add into a hearty stew. The Blonde Fatale, a Belgian style unfiltered blond ale with light hops and light but full flavor and high ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of 8.5% (most beers are 4-6% ABV.) was also very tasty and is one I will definitely look for this summer.
We didn’t spend a lot of time here, because we’ve tried many of their beers they had at the fest already, and the lines were long and getting longer. So we tried a couple we hadn’t and bought some merch. Which you can also do on their website. I did wait to stroke the brewmaster’s beard for $1 (I’ll do just about anything for this blog) but alas we ran out of time, and he was quite busy.
Raccoon River Brewing Company
Raccoon River Brewing Company out of Des Moines takes a more culinary approach to brewing with interesting combinations, food pairings, and the beer equivalent of a brew rainbow with brews ranging from a “tall grass” light to a flavorful vanilla ale to the more heavy dark stone crusher stouts. Another brewery with long lines and hoppy tasters, (har har) Raccoon River had everything from a whisky barrel aged stout to a very popular (and favorite of this gal) vanilla cream ale. At first, I tried the Stone Crusher Imperial Stout, which was complex and full bodied with a pleasant aftertaste. Andrew tried the Vanilla Cream Ale, which he didn’t care for (but he doesn’t like sweet flavored beers) but I loved. It was a cross between a light beer and a cream soda. Next up was the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout. This stout was similar in flavor to the original Imperial Stout, but being aged in Templeton Rye oak barrels added an interesting (but wonderful) whisky flavor to the background of the smoky foreground of the stout. This beer packs a punch at a whopping 12.5% APV. The type of beer to savor with a nice hearty meal. Then the brewmaster, David Coy, suggested I step aside and he would let me try their “Black and Tan,” a combination of the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout and the Vanilla Cream Ale. WOW! What a combination! The mellow sweet flavor of the Vanilla Cream Ale cut the more heavy flavor of the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout, making it very easy to drink. Raccoon River will be on my list of places to stop the next time we go to Des Moines.
Keg Creek Brewing Company
Keg Creek Brewing Company from Glenwood had probably my favorite stout of the event. The Sharp Street Stout. Andrew decided to try the Keg Creek IPA, which he noted on his sheet as “good IPA” which is a high compliment coming from “the man of few words.” Keg Creek Brewing Company seems to be a smaller, but up and coming local microbrewery with a ton of talent and potential. The people working the event were very friendly, knowledgeable, and beer-focused showing a definite love for their craft. At the event, this brewery had a very local, unpretentious, very comfortable, but very knowledgeable well-crafted feel. According to their website, the brewery hosts many events in their taproom, including everything from book signings to tastings featuring other microbreweries. Keg Creek prides itself on their “history as home brewers” and their love of the process, experimentation, and education. Which may be part of why I enjoyed their booth. Keg Creek offers four regular brews, with seasonal or specialty brews on occasion. Wabash Wheat, Breakdown Brown Ale, Keg Creek IPA, and Sharp Street Stout. They also featured a specialty batch of Black Lager that I didn’t get to taste, but wish I would have. The Sharp Street Stout was an outstanding stout with a strong coffee/cocoa flavor but not over powering and very smooth. As a fan of both coffee and chocolate, this immediately made it’s way into my palate memory. Their motto that day was “don’t be afraid of the dark” and they were right. The Keg Creek IPA was a hoppy American IPA (or more appropriate, APA) that was less hoppy than an India Pale Ale but more hoppy than some of the other APA’s I’ve tried. It was darker than most Pale Ales and had a good sweet (caramel) flavor, with little aftertaste. Even though this was a fairly bold APA, it is good for the intermediate beer connoisseur to break into the wide world of Pale Ale beers.
Like I said, there were 17 other Iowa Microbrews at this event. I wasn’t able to hit them all, but most of the ones I did hit, had pretty good beer. The 1800+ people who showed up at the sold-out event can corroborate my claims.