Tag Archives: Lion Bridge Brewing Company

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.

Happy Hour at Lion Bridge Brewing Company

On a beautiful early summer afternoon in Iowa a bunch of coworkers decided that it would be the perfect time to cut out of work a little bit early and get some drinks for the ever-so-correctly named “happy hour.” Thankfully, the group’s consensus was that we drive down to Czech Village and quaff brews from Lion Bridge Brewing Company.

I have been to Lion Bridge before and I am a member of the “community supported ales” program, so my distinct interest was noted. The great thing about what is going on in this particular brewery is that different beers are being produced at a pretty good clip, with some disappearing after making a single appearance. This was the case with some mushroom inspired beers brewed to coincide with a local festival celebrating the morel mushroom season. This is the great thing about small, regional breweries putting out beers that are tuned so perfectly to what is happening in their local ecosystem.

It all started with a 12 ounce tulip of Iron Lion:

Iron LionThankfully, it was only a 12 ounce tulip because if I had been knocking back 20 ounce imperial pints things might have gotten ugly. The beer comes in at a hefty 8.2% ABV, but it does not drink that big. It is brewed with hibiscus and ginger. The ginger really comes through in a good way, but I think that the hibiscus is too delicate of a flavor to compete with the heavy alcohol.

Iron Lion was a great beer to enjoy on a sunny afternoon:

Purchase 3 Mug RatingAfter realizing I was putting down some serious beer, I switched to half pints and ordered a glass of Ryed in the English Countryside:

Ryed English CountrysideThis beer confused me a little bit. Either it is trying to be an English pale ale or an American style IPA because I was getting hints of both styles of beer. I may be quibbling here about style. However, it is my opinion that an English ale will be malt forward and an American style IPA will be hop forward. Ryed in the English Countryside was trying to do both at the same time and something was lost in translation.

That being said it is still a good beer and my coworker who is not a big fan of American style IPAs was happy to drink imperial pints all afternoon long:

Two Mug PurchaseI ended the afternoon happy hour with a half pint of Usonius

UsoniusThis is a steam or California Common beer, which is an odd style because it uses a lager yeast fermented at ale temperatures. It’s an American original and a west coast staple. I have a certain fondness for the style dating back to Anchor Steam being one of the earliest craft beer crushes that I had when great beer was hard to find.

Unfortunately, I found Usonius to have some of the bad traits associated with steam beers. Most notably, the flavors were really muddled and the aromas were distinctly burnt. This may have been a result of the malt profile or the beer style, but nonetheless it was a real letdown after the greatness of Iron Lion:

One Mug HomebrewI also had my growler filled with Workman’s Compensation to take home and enjoy this weekend on the patio. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Finally, a Trip to Lion Bridge Brewing Company

1441430_457244274380802_767164573_nWith my Community Supported Ales (CSA) certificate in hand I finally made my first trip down to Lion Bridge Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village. I know, it seems crazy that someone as into beer as me would wait this long to visit a brewery in his own backyard but life has a way of intruding on so many things.

A note on the space first. In 2008 Czech Village, along with a lot more of Cedar Rapids, was decimated in an apocalyptic flood. Slowly areas have begun to rebound as infrastructure was rebuilt, etc. It is great to see a person making a commitment to an area like the good folks behind Lion Bridge Brewing. The brewery is housed in a building that once contained a business called Maria’s Tea Room. I cannot speak to that business, but I imagine it was quite different. Finished in an industrial chic the tasting room reminds me a lot of Perennial Artisan Ales setup in St. Louis. This is a very good thing.

I would have included some pictures, but I did not want to be that guy photographing everything like a blogging a-hole. It did not seem to fit into the ethos of the evening.

The first pour was a pint of Workman’s Compensation. At 4.7% ABV this beer is aiming to be a session beer, in terms of alcohol, but its body is significantly more malt forward than most session beers. It lingers on your palate more like a brown ale than would be expected.

Calling a beer a session beer is getting to mean as little as the term pale ale in the American brewing spectrum. One consistent theme is a lower alcohol content, which is a good thing, because it seems like every time I turn around someone is releasing another beer that is riding north of 9% ABV. Try drinking a few of those after work and doing anything other than craving fried mozzarella sticks for the rest of the evening. Nonetheless, the beer was a success:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

As a member of the CSA, I was entitled to my first growler fill gratis and I chose Workman’s Comp.  Drinking it over the course of the last couple of days I cannot help but draw some comparisons to beers that use coffee extracts or dark roasted chocolate malts. It has that coffee bitterness, in a good way, that is somewhat unexpected. Try it for yourself and see if you notice the undercurrents.

Next was a pint of Mad Maximillion.

Mad Max was described as being aggressively hopped with Australian Topaz, a variety heretofore I had not been exposed, but I doubt that most American “hop heads” would consider this to be a bomb of resin and such. It’s a smoother bitterness without the lingering hop resins that can build sip after sip until you are left with a mouth full of hop aroma that makes it seem like you are breathing out of a bong.

I did not get a chance to try it, but Mad Maximillion was available on a nitro draft system. Overall, a solid beer:

Two Mug Purchase

Belgian Golden Wheat was really surprising. I expected this to be the lightest of the three beers in terms of both alcohol and body. It was the highest alcohol (6% ABV) and the body was light, but not to the point like a lot of wheat beers where it is vapid. Saaz hops, I do not know if these are from the Czech lineage, are always a welcome addition because the variety has a really clean profile with a lot of peppery notes. Combine Saaz with a rye malt base and you have a really complex peppery beer. Just an idea.

I came in wanting to savage this beer, but left liking it as much if not more than Workman’s Compensation:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

Overall, the beers being poured at Lion Bridge Brewing are a nice departure from the hop forward pale ales that seem to dominate American craft brewing.   You won’t find piles and piles of Cascade, Willamette, Amarillo, or Citra hops. It’s a nice change of pace to drink beers with different profiles.

Here is to hoping that a patio is in the plans because warm summer nights call out for enjoying a beer al fresco.

It’s not that Kind of CSA

Everyone is probably familiar with your regular ol’ CSA or community supported agriculture were you get a season’s worth of vegetables, barring weather catastrophe, in exchange for an upfront show of monetary support.

Well, this is not that kind of CSA.  Soon, in the Czech Village section of Cedar Rapids, Lion Bridge Brewing Company will be open for business.  Currently, shares are available in what brewmaster Quinton McClain is calling “community supported ales.”

For $80 you get a series of benefits including a growler and first fill, t-shirt, discounts on growlers every time you fill, and growler fills of beers that are normally only available by the pint.  My CSA membership arrived this weekend.  I am #56:

CSA Certificate

Check out the progress being made on their website or Facebook.  The world is a better place with good beer.