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.