The thing that blows me away about pulling up to Big Grove Brewery in Solon, Iowa is that it sits on the location of the infamous Joensy’s. For those of you not familiar, Joensy’s was a grease pit of a restaurant famous for the ridiculous Iowa delicacy known as the pork tenderloin. Yes, this is the sandwich where the meat patty is three or four times the size of the bun. I do not know why it is done this way and in over ten years of living here I have not been given a satisfactory answer even from people who have spent their entire lives living in eastern Iowa.
That despicable eatery closed and the building was torn down to make way for Big Grove Brewery. The same group behind several area eateries is behind this establishment and the professionalism shows. It’s a beautiful space inside. You can get a great idea of what things look like at the Facebook page. I did not want to be that guy taking pictures of a place while people were drinking and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes play a lackluster game against Wisconsin. When the weather goes back to warm I will look forward to enjoying the patio space as well.
I wanted to get a sample of everything that Big Grove had to offer. Five 6.75 ounce glasses of each house beer seemed appropriate, but too bad for me neither Solon Wheat nor the IPA were available. Popularity is a helluva thing. I was able to get pours of the dry stout, Dirty Little Secret, and DIPA (in order from left to right):
Dry stouts are a hard nut to crack. As beer drinkers we have lots of expectations about what a dry stout should be like due to a large quantity of Guinness being poured down our throats from a young age to the great examples from both Irish and American brewers. Big Grove’s version hits all the right notes and does not try to be gimmicky in any way. I find this to be the best way to honor the style because a dry stout is a beer you fall back onto when the weather turns a little colder and you want something that is heartier than a light lawnmower beer but not veering into heavy winter beer territory. Who am I kidding? I could drink a dry stout in just about any weather because the style is surprisingly light given its color and the alcohol is never so much that a second pint will not get you into trouble.
I was not a fan of Dirty Little Secret. It is a strong beer (~9% ABV), but the alcohol just seems to be amped up by the sweetness of the beer. It was described as being a strong ale with a fruit profile. It was fruity all right. Like so many strong “sipping” ales this beer was crossing over into the territory occupied by wine and that has always been something that I did not like.
DIPA was a complete success. Described as a “double” IPA, the beer oozed with a resinous hoppy goodness. The beer uses a mix of Simcoe, Chinook, and Warrior hops. That is a good thing because at 9.7% ABV there needs to be a lot of flavor to balance out that kind of alcohol. There is also some sweetness present that lingers in your mouth for just about the right amount of time. I am going to give credit to the locally sourced honey.
As a consolation prize I was also able to get the same size pours of Toppling Goliath’s Golden Nugget and Millstream’s Oktoberfest( in order from left to right):
Toppling Goliath is always putting out excellent brews. If you have a chance to be in Decorah—which if you like mountain biking it is a must do for the region—take a side trip to the taproom.
Golden Nugget fall right into my wheelhouse in terms of beer. It’s got the alcohol (6% ABV) and bitterness (56 IBU) that are just about ideal for an IPA. The use of Nugget hops is interesting because I do not know of another craft brewer using this variety.
Recently, Toppling Goliath began packaging their beer for distribution. This is going to be great because so much of what I drink is consumed at home. A trip to the brewery or bar is an undertaking with two small children in tow.
Millstream is getting to be like Old Man River of the beer scene in Iowa. When there were no other local craft brewers Millstream was in operation in Amana putting out a variety of traditional styles. In the past I have found the beers to be hit or miss, but with the increase in competition I feel like the quality has improved to something much more consistent.
Okotberfest is proof of this growth. The beer is solid in every way possible. I do not have a lot to say about Okotberfest style beers because I find them to be the lawnmower beers of fall. A good one is easy and satisfying to drink without requiring you to put on your thinking cap to decode just what it is that you are drinking.
Another thing that I want to mention is food. Unlike the simple vittles offered at a lot of taprooms, Big Grove is as much a restaurant as a brewery. The selection could best be described as upscale or re-imagined American. Neither my wife or I was in the mood for a meal, so we stuck to some snacks.
Parmesan fries and a tater tot casserole were perfect for a late afternoon lunch replacement before picking the kids up from grandma’s house. Yes, I said tater tot casserole. This is not your average Ore Ida tots in some gloppy sauce. The tots were extra crispy—the sign of fresh and hot oil—over a simple base of local ground beef and sharp cheddar. Perfect food for a crisp fall day.
The Parmesan fries were fried well, but I do have to say that the Parmesan was probably shredded too early in the day and lost some of its signature bite. There is a delicate balance with Parmesan and time is not its friend. Disregarding the lifeless cheese on top, the fries below were excellent—again a sign of a fresh vat of oil maintained at the proper temperature.
I may sound like I am repeating myself, but there is no greater sin in bar food than a poorly maintained fryer. Oil is not some ever bearing liquid of myth. It needs to be replaced frequently or it will take on a bad set of flavors that will be passed on to every subsequent dish that is delivered to its maw. Just watch an episode of Bar Rescue to know how ill-maintained most fryers actually are and it will make you appreciate the times you come across food that has come from oil that was loved.
When I get a chance I will be making a return trip to Solon to try the Solon Wheat and IPA as well as any other specialty beers that are tapped. It was well worth my time on a glorious Saturday afternoon and it will be worth your time as well.