Tag Archives: Benz Beverage Depot

A Visit to the Tallgrass

The siren song of the sampler pack got me again.  I am lazy and did not bottle my latest batch of homebrew—an Australian sparkling ale—until this weekend, so I have found myself lacking in the liquid refreshment department.  A trip downtown to Benz Beverage Depot is always dangerous because the plethora of bottles and cans is overload for my brain.  In a good way, of course.

On an endcap was an eight can sampler from the Tallgrass Brewing Company out of Manhattan, Kansas.  At the time I was relatively unfamiliar with Tallgrass having only sampled a small glass of their Velvet Rooster at a beer tasting event over five years ago.  The sampler pack contained two 16-ounce cans of Buffalo Sweat, Oasis ESB, 8-Bit, and IPA.

8-Bit already won a place in my heart with its label art:

8 Bit Ale

I know that for a lot of people the term “8-bit” has little or no meaning.  For someone who grew up with a Nintendo controller the term brings back fond memories of marathon sessions of Contra—yes, I remember the sequence of inputs to get 30 lives—and RC Pro-Am.  I wonder if anyone will mythologize the later video game systems like individuals of my age bracket get misty when thinking about the original Nintendo Entertainment System?

The beer utilizes something called a hop rocket in its production.  The hop rocket is an in-line hop infuser that really puts hop aromas at the fore of a beer.  8-Bit uses the Galaxy strain in the hop rocket which gives it a distinct aroma over beers that use more common Cascade, Centennial, or Willamette varieties.  Normally, I am not a fan of dry hopped beers but 8-Bit was surprising.  Anyone up for a game of Super Mario Brothers?

Oasis is a big beer:

Oasis ESB

At 7.2% ABV and 93 IBU, this about as big a beer as you get without starting to enter into the “extreme” category.  By the way, who would have though a decade ago that a beer approaching 100 IBU would not be considered outrageous or extreme?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Even though Oasis is big, it manages to be a beer you can drink without feeling like you’re fighting each drink down in some exercise akin to self-flagellation.  I attribute this to a heavy malt profile that compensates for the beer’s bigness in other areas.  Too many “extreme” beers are thin on the malt and the attempt comes across as a carnival ride.  You know, cheap thrill that leaves you wondering why you spent $5 to risk your life on something held together by a cotter pin placed by a Joe Dirt extra.

The originally named IPA gets a little lost:

Tallgrass IPA

Why?  After the experience of the first two beers there is something that just seems so standard about IPA.  Sure, it’s hopped pretty well (60 IBU), but after a can of Oasis that seems like a cool down following a marathon.  It’s decently heavy at 6.3% ABV, but again after a can of Oasis you are coming down a little bit.

In the end, IPA is a well-crafted India Pale Ale.  The problem is that this style has flooded the craft beer market and, increasingly, it is hard to tell one brewer’s well-crafted IPA from another well-crafted IPA.  It’s an embarrassment of riches for beer drinkers, to be sure, but it has to be killing the marketing directors of these companies as they look for ways to stand out.

When something is referred to as sweat, buffalo or otherwise, the first drink is always a leap of faith:

Buffalo Sweat

At only 20 IBU, Buffalo Sweat is a very mild beer for a style that almost demands a little more bittering.  The result is that the primary flavor you get is not of alcohol or hops, but of the roasted barley.  It is almost like a smoked beer.  As a matter of fact, I would have sworn this beer used smoked malt if I had not read the description that was devoid of any mention of smoked malt.  Interesting.

On the same endcap was a four-pack of Halycon unfiltered wheat.  With the weather getting warmer it seems like such a perfect time for wheat beers to make a comeback into the refrigerator.  I picked up the cans as well:

Halcyon Wheat

Amazingly, at just 20 IBU this beer felt and tasted a little more “beer like” than Buffalo Sweat which also came in at 20 IBU.  Unlike some other wheat beers, hops are brought forward via the aromas rather than bitterness.  It works to make the beer seem bigger than it is without overpowering the delicate wheat base.

Thank you Tallgrass for spreading the good word about cans in you “Canifesto.”  If there is a downside to cans for craft beer, I cannot find it.  Small-scale canning equipment has been improved and brought down in price to such a level that it is within reach of almost any craft brewer packaging beer for retail distribution.  I realize that 22 ounce bottles and six-packs of longnecks are the calling cards of the American craft beer vanguard, but cans are the future.  Of all the craft beers that I have had in cans not a single one has had the distinctive “skunk” aroma or flavors associated with UV penetration.  Plus, the cans are just a more environmentally sensible choice.  Can all that you can!

Peace Tree Brewing’s Hop Wrangler and Cornucopia

On Small Business Saturday following my trip to the NewBo City Market I made my way over to Benz Beverage Depot to see what looked good on the wall of beer.  The little bottles from Peace Tree Brewing in Knoxville looked enticing.

I have seen these little bottles in six packs at several stores in the area, but never pulled the trigger.  What got me this time was that one of the seasonal brews—Cornucopia—was available.  How can a good Iowa resident pass up a beer made with corn?  So, I ended up with two six packs of beer: one each of Cornucopia and Hop Wrangler.


Corn is considered an adjunct in beer and, in general, it gets a bad rap because it is associated with cheap mass market beers.  However, if all we did as beer aficionados was follow the edicts of the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot)we would end up with beers that only contained water, barley, hops, and yeast.  Corn is just another ingredient in the toolkit of the craft brewer.

In this case the results are not promising for corn.  Cornucopia comes across a little thin with minimal carbonation.  I gave the beer the benefit of the doubt on the carbonation, but bottles two and three were no different.  It’s not that I want a beer to be overly carbonated or bursting with artificial bubbles of carbon dioxide, but near flat beers seem to have less life to them in terms of flavor.

Additionally, the beer is overly sweet without a balance of hop bitterness.  Some people like their beer this way, but I would prefer more balance.  It’s one of the reasons I have avoided brewing up a batch of either homebrew recipe from the White House.  Too much sugar for my blood.

Hop Wrangler was a different story:

This is what I consider to be a well-crafted American-style IPA.  Before hop bombs and the obsession with going to the stratosphere in terms of IBU, the American-style IPA was about using non-traditional hops and new methods to break out of stereotypical molds.  Obviously, this was in the early years of the craft beer movement and the frontier has moved farther afield but there is a place for a well-balanced American-style IPA.

Hop Wrangler is dry hopped for aroma and you get a real whiff of that when your nose enters the glass.  It is not overpowering by any means and the bitterness of the actual beer is not overpowering either so the effect is appreciated.  Dry hopping is a nice touch when it is done to a level that is not like a punch in the face that is followed by a bitterness in the beer that is like getting strangled.  Too much of a good thing is definitely possible when it comes to hops.

Batting .500 is pretty good and it left me wanting to try what else the folks at Peace Tree Brewing are up to in Knoxville, Iowa.

Another Trip Down the Mississippi to Great River Brewery

About a month ago I wrote about two beers from Great River Brewery–Roller Dam Red Ale and 483 Pale Ale.  A trip to Benz Beverage Depot on Small Business Saturday yielded another pair of beers from the same brewers.  This time around it is Farmer Brown Ale and Redband Stout.

First up, Farmer Brown Ale:

Described as being “mildly hopped” (~22 IBU) the beer has a surprising amount of alcohol (7% ABV) relative to its stated bitterness, but the hope was that it would be balanced by the body which is heavy on malt character.

However, the combination makes the beer come across much more bitter than its stated bitterness would lead you to believe.  Part of this is due to the use of dark crystal and chocolate malt which, depending upon the darkness of the roast, can have a very bittering effect on the beer.  I believe that is what is happening here.

What about Redband Stout:

A dark beer with coffee added?  Who would have thought?  Oh wait, this is getting to be a trend and a good one.  This beer is a product of adding cold pressed Redband Coffee to the Great River Brewery’s Straight Pipe Stout.

A stout is a great choice to add coffee too because the beer’s bold flavors, particularly from dark malts, can handle the additional potent flavors from coffee.  If you tried this with a light lager it would come across like that coffee infused Coke from a few years ago.  That is to say, bad.

The real fault I find in Redband Stout is that the beer’s flavor really lingers in your mouth and on the back of your throat.  It’s almost like the heavy handed hop forward beers from the Pacific Northwest that seem to just stay in your mouth and nose for a long time after each drink.

It’s no Coffee Bender, but that is not such a bad thing considering the Surly product is my current favorite.

Great River Brewery Beers

On a trip to Benz Beverage Depot, my local institution for beers of all kind and wine if I decide to get nasty, I came across a couple of local craft beers that looked interesting.

Great River Brewery in Davenport, Iowa–okay, they say they are based in the Quad Cities–was founded in 2004 in Iowa City but moved eastward in 2008.  The good folks at Great River are brewing up six different beers on a regular basis and I picked up two four packs of Roller Dam Red Ale and 483 Pale Ale.

Roller Dam Red Ale is up first:

Mild in alcohol (5.3% ABV) and bitterness (30.6 IBU) this version of a red ale is easy drinking, which is turning into a backhanded compliment for beers that are not supremely memorable yet well executed.  The problem that I have with red ales in general is that I always seem to taste something “soapy” for lack of a better adjective.  Starting way back in the mid-1990s when I would quaff Leinenkugel’s Red with friends in the summer before college to red ales that I have tried from craft brewers across the country there has always been that “soapy” flavor.

483 Pale Ale does not have any of that “soapy” flavor:

Why?  This is one “hop forward” beer.  Great River claims it is “aggressively” hopped with Centennial hops.  No argument with that assessment.  You can tell this is a dry hopped beer because the aroma is powerful from the moment you crack open the can.  Dry hopping is the new black in the craft beer scene because it allows for a bold hop aroma with over bittering.  483 Pale Ale is mild in alcohol (5.3% ABV) and moderate in bitterness (48 IBU) so the dry hopping is the characteristic that really comes to the fore throughout the glass. If anything, the heavy hand with a single hop comes across as a little bit one note and the beer would be well served to mix it up with some of the more obscure hops available.  Regardless, this is a well crafted beer.

On a different note, I am becoming a convert to craft beers in cans.  It just seems like a much more logical packaging option than glass bottles–no light penetration, lighter packaging, no breakage, etc.  With the advent of more small scale canning systems the hope is that more brewers will go the can route.



New Belgium Brewery Odds & Ends

After my trip to Colorado I was in the mood to sample more of what the brewing’s mad scientists across the Front Range had to offer.  A quick trip to Benz Beverage Depot yielded a couple of interesting beers from New Belgium Brewery: Brett Beer and Prickly Passion Saison.  Both are beers in the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium.

The Brett Beer is first:

The best Belgian beers that I have had try to find a way to balance the malt with either hops or alcohol.  With this beer I think that the New Belgium folks were trying to go the alcohol route—granted the beer is not that heavy—but it comes across as too much.  Like homebrewers who get obsessed with making the most potent brews possible without regard to flavor the Brett Beer just tastes of alcohol to me.

How about the Prickly Passion Saison:

Let me get this out of the way: I did not taste any prickly pear cactus at all in this beer.  In fact, it tasted like a well-crafted saison and nothing more.  That is no mean feat, but the inclusion of any other flavors seemed like a complete marketing gimmick to me.  Maybe my palate is just not very refined.

This seems to be a growing trend in beer land—gimmicks.  It’s no longer enough to produce a well-made beer.  It’s no longer enough to refine your craft to a level that allows the ingredients and method to be showcased in a subtle and surprising way.  Nope, now it is about brewing beer with yeast cultivated from some dude’s beard or uses an insane amount of hops.

With that being said, the Prickly Passion Saison was a good beer.  It was just not worth the extra price that I paid compared with other well-crafted saisons.