Tag Archives: Big Grove Brewery

First Quarter 2020 Beer Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral

Here is what my beer purchasing history looked like for the first quarter of 2020:

Q1 2020 Beer

In terms of drinking “local” I only purchased one beer that was not produce nearby.  At a hotel bar in Davenport my choices were fairly limited, but for some reason Summit Brewing’s very good Saga IPA was on tap.  I will admit that I am conflicted when it comes to large-ish regional breweries like Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It is not local to me, but it is definitely still more of a craft brewery than something owned by the giant brewers.  Nonetheless, one beer from a non-local brewer over the course of three months is pretty good.

I was doing really well buying beer that did not produce any packaging waste, but then coronavirus upended all of my plans.  Before leaving for an aborted ski trip to Colorado I stocked up on some local beers from Big Grove Brewery and Iowa Brewing Company.  Big Grove Brewery’s Easy Eddy has become my “go to” beer over the last six months or so.  Available in twelve packs widely across my metro area it is an easy pick-up.

In Colorado I found myself really digging the beers made by the folks at Hideaway Park Brewery.  On the Saturday that the state of Colorado effectively closed all ski resorts for the season—only two hours or so after I arrived in Winter Park—I was sitting on barstool at Hideaway Park enjoying several draft beers.  I also bought two six packs to take back home and hunker down for a period of isolation.  Damn coronavirus.

If there is one thing that I can ask everyone and anyone who ever drinks beer it is to support the local breweries in your community any way possible during this really shitty period of time.  A lot of the business that these breweries count on is gone.  There are little to no commercial account activity in bars and restaurants.  On site draft and merchandise sales are gone.  It is hard times.  Buy a six pack if you can.  Hell, buy a case if you can.  Even if it sits in the refrigerator for several weeks that is okay because the cash flow might just help your local brewery make it through until we can all raise a glass again at the bar.

Drinking Local in the Fourth Quarter of 2019

Here is how my fourth quarter 2019 beer consumption worked out:

Q4 Beer.png

You will notice two trends: heavy on the Big Grove Brewery and a tilt toward Colorado beers at the end of the year.

The emphasis on the Big Grove Brewery beers was due to holiday parties and wanting to be a crowd pleaser.  The three six packs ended up as mixed six packs—two of each kind—for a gift exchange.  Needless to say, my gifts ended up getting “stolen” the most.  Genius.

The Colorado tilt is all about location, location, location.  I spent Christmas break in Grand County, Colorado and these were the beers that were on tap or in the small liquor store by our condo.  I was said to not see any Outer Range Brewing on tap anywhere, but I managed.

It was a “no claws” kind of year as I managed to avoid the hysteria and mania of the summer of hard seltzer.  Seriously, does anyone actually enjoy those monstrosities?  The number of times someone has introduced a White Claw with the statement, “It doesn’t taste that bad” is staggering.  This is like people telling me that they chase a workout with a couple of Michelob Ultras.  What is the point of drinking a beer after working out if it does not actually taste like beer?

For 2020 I have some goals regarding beer buying and consumption that is going to up the ante from just being about “drinking local.”  Stay tuned.

The Death of “Middle Craft” Beer

American craft brewing legend Dogfish Head Brewery, the mad geniuses from Delaware, sold to Boston Beer, the parent company that brews Sam Adams Boston Lager among many other beers.  Neither brewery should be considered a micro-brewery, but neither is a macro-brewery.  They both exist in some kind of middle ground.  Being in that middle ground may mean death or consolidation going forward.

Apparently, the top 50 craft brewers are having trouble with many posting severe year-over-year declines.  These are the craft brewers that I would define as “middle craft.”  The challenge for these breweries is giving you the beer drinker a reason to try them over, say, a handful of hyper local breweries that may only sell products from their own taproom or a few commercial accounts.

In the past—okay, the 1990s—middle craft was the place to be as beer drinkers sought out different beers and the quality control at a lot of craft breweries was just bad.  I cannot tell you how many small breweries were making beer that would make most semi-skilled home brewers spit out their stout.  You sought out a New Belgium Fat Tire or Boulevard Wheat because those were well made beers from breweries you trusted.  You knew you were not going to waste $8 on a six pack.  Heck, you might even pick up something a little unusual from the same brewery when you were in the mood for a change.

That dynamic is long gone.  Award winning breweries are scattered across this nation.  Between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City I can patronize a half dozen breweries putting out good and sometimes great beer.  Those same breweries have won medals at prestigious beer festivals and have reputations well beyond the borders of the state.  Expanding my field of view to the entire state opens up a whole host of small, innovative, and well regarded breweries making all sorts of different beers.  If you do not believe me just spend a minute perusing the tap list at the Iowa Taproom in Des Moines.

All things being equal, why would I buy a New Belgium Citradelic over a Lion Bridge Brewing Tag?  Or, why would I buy a Dale’s Pale Ale over a Big Grover Brewery Arms Race?  I like all four of the aforementioned beers.  I choose to buy the local products almost every time.

This is the reality for the beer business in 2019.

Drinking Local in 2019

One of my 2019 “resolutions” was to drink local.  Now, I already spend most of my beer dollars on local beer but I thought it would be instructive if I really went out of my way to drink local and record the results.

Here is how things shaped up for the first three months of 2019:

First Quarter 2019 Beer List.png

Big Grove Brewery, ReUnion Brewery, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, SingleSpeed Brewing, and Exile Brewing are all breweries from Iowa.  The six pack of Denver Beer Company Incredible Pedal was purchased in Colorado, so I am going to count that as local.  Therefore, the only non-local beer that I purchased for home consumption in the first quarter of the year were two six packs from New Belgium and Lagunitas.

Away from home things look a little different.  Most of the beers I consumed were either purchased at the brewery taproom (Barn Town Brewing, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, Big Grove Brewery) or close to the brewery (SingleSpeed Brewing, Clock House Brewing, Green Tree Brewery, Outer Range Brewing, Bonfire Brewing).

I did end up drinking some Lagunitas IPA at an event in Davenport.  This was the most “craft” option available and it goes to show how far beer has come in the last decade.  When you are somewhat disappointed that Lagunitas IPA is the best option you know things are pretty good right now in the state of beer consumption.

The only other non-local beers that I consumed away from home were a Surly Liquid Stardust that I was eager to try when it became available on draft at a local establishment and Roadhouse Brewing Mountain Jam that was recommended to me by a server in a Colorado stop.

Looking back I would say that my efforts were solid.  Only Lagunitas, owned by Heineken, would not be considered a craft brewer under the guidelines set forth by the Brewer’s Association.

Friday Linkage 6/5/2015

The week just flies when you get a bike ride in for six straight days. I could get used to this life if the weather would just continue to be pleasant. Fat chance of that happening as the summer humidity is already starting to build here in Eastern Iowa.

On to the links…

Solon Farm Converts 25 Acres into Largest Hopyard in Iowa—I cannot wait to enjoy some of these local hops in a tall glass of Big Grover Brewery beer.

Research Downplaying Impending Global Warming is Overturned—If all this is looking a lot like what happened to tobacco companies in the 1990s it should because a lot of the same players are involved on the side of industry. They just shifted issues and are still getting paid to spread disinformation and lies.

The Beginning Of Wildfire Season Means More Bad News For Drought-Stricken West—No one knows how big or bad this wildfire season will be, but considering how dry California is right now there is the potential that it could be huge.

The Texas Floods Are So Big They Ended the State’s Drought—I doubt that the solution will be long lived, but it is amazing how much rain the storms in Texas brought to bear.

Disturbing Infographic Shows How Plastic is Clogging our Oceans—Hint, it’s a lot:

plastic-buildup-720x6888.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smart

New Report Suggests U.S. Can Meet Its Climate Goals Without Congressional Action—We have the tools to address the worst aspects of climate change and it does not require a functioning legislative branch of government. Imagine that.

Regulators Give Green Light to Largest Minnesota Solar Energy Project—$250 million spread over 21 sites is a lot of solar in a state more associated with hot dish and passive aggressive behavior than harvesting the sun. Is Minnesota the United States’ Germany when it comes to solar PV?

Insane Solar Jobs Boom About To Get $32 Million More Insane—Here is when things start to snowball. As jobs become realized and the sector becomes attractive to investment the ancillary jobs in R&D, program management, etc. will start to flourish. There may be hope for us yet.

Coal Industry Received More Than $73 Billion In Last 8 Years—War on coal my ass. The world spends billions every year propping up this dirty fuel.

How Renewable Energy in South Africa is Quietly Stealing a March on Coal—Coal is dead. Developing countries are trying to get out from under the long term entrapment of coal fired power and renewables are the go to source because they are not dependent on the old paradigm.

Meat Giant Hormel To Gobble Up Slightly Smaller Meat Giant Applegate Farms—“Big organic” just got even bigger as the purveyor of everyone’s favorite canned meat product is buying the maker of those ubiquitous chicken sausages that come out during grilling season.

We’re Eating Less Meat—Yet Factory Farms Are Still Growing—It’s like the Lorax. These operations just keep on biggering and biggering. Everyone needs a thneed.

It’s Raining Nitrogen In A Colorado Park. Farmers Can Help Make It Stop—Between nitrates in the water and nitrogen in the air modern farming is a very dirty business. Unsurprisingly, modern management and practices can reduce the impact significantly.

Invasive Carp Caught Farther Upstream on St. Croix River—This is a big deal for the water ecosystems of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region because these invasive species decimate local populations of fish.

The Real Sharing Economy Doesn’t Require Apps, Just Kindness—The “sharing economy” is a buzzy term for something that people in closer knit communities have been practicing since the dawn of time. When you know your neighbors it’s a lot easier to ask someone to borrow a tool you might use once a year. Trust me, I own a pickup and I am everyone’s friend about once a year.

Iowa Beer Trail Stops at the Kalona Brewing Company

Like a lot of the country eastern Iowa is getting in the craft beer scene hot and heavy lately.  Great River Brewery is putting out a variety of quality brews.  Backpocket Brewing is filling growlers in Coralville and being found in liquor stores throughout the area.  Big Grove Brewery in Solon is already pouring pints and garnering an excellent reputation.  I have not had a chance to visit, but SingleSpeed Brewing in Cedar Falls has gotten favorable reviews from people I trust.  Lionbridge Brewing Company is opening in Cedar Rapids sometime soon.

I am sure that there are others that I am forgetting or have not even heard about at this time, but needless to say times are good for beer drinkers in Eastern Iowa.

A new entrant to the field is Kalona Brewing Company in—where else?—Kalona, Iowa.  I ended up with two quart bottles of the brewery’s Old Skool Saison Farmhouse Ale and Quick Wit Belgian style wheat ale.

Let’s kick it old school:

Old Skool

And a quick turn to the other beer in the kitchen:

Quick Wit

I want to talk about these two beers together because I feel that they share many of the same characteristics, despite being of different styles, and in my opinion are about on par with each other in terms of rating.

Both beers are middling in terms of alcohol (4.1% ABV for Old Skool and 5.1% ABV for Quick Wit) so there is no danger of drinking a pint and wondering how you are going to get anything done later in the evening.  As you can see from the color in the above pictures both beers are also light in terms of body, so neither beer fills you up to a point where you feel like you have just visited the Old Country Buffet with some hungry teenagers.  Trust me, don’t do it.

While I do not have an official IBU rating for wither beer, my tongue would put it at 25 IBU or less for both beers.  Neither have any kind of overwhelming hop notes in a positive or negative way.  Granted, these are two styles of beer not known for embracing the over the top hopping of pale or amber ales.

Old Skool and Quick Wit were well put together beers, but nothing particularly memorable.  The quality was good enough where I would pick up a different beer from the same brewer.  In the end, I rated both beers with two mugs:

Two Mug Purchase

On the Iowa Beer Trail: Big Grove Brewery

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):

Big Grove

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):

TG_Millstream

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.