Tag Archives: Toppling Goliath

House Pale Ale #1

Somewhere I read a line that really stuck with me. It described brewing a lot of different types of beers as a “series of one night stands.” It was meant to convey that the results might be satisfying, but you were only skimming the surface of your possible skill set because there was no baseline from which to grow.

Okay, it was a metaphor that was meant to shock a little bit and I am sure the writer was not trying for a bit social commentary. The idea, however, is solid. To get the most out of your talents as a brewer and to make the best beer possible you need to focus on creating a single so-called house recipe.

With my keezer finished and pouring pint after pint, as well as the occasional growler, it seemed like a perfect time to start devising a house recipe of my own.

My goal is to create a beer similar to my new favorite—Toppling Goliath’s pseudoSue. I wanted to produce something that had a lot of Citra hop notes and was light enough to drink more than one:

House Pale Ale No 1

The recipe was a fairly simple extract brew with no steeping grains and a low level of hops. It went as follows:

  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Citra pellet hops, 30 minutes
  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minutes
  • Safale K-97 yeast
  • 1 oz. Citra pellet hops, dry hopped after one week of primary fermentation.

Primary fermentation was for 2 weeks, with the dry hopping one week in, and the beer was keg conditioned for 2 weeks prior to hooking it up to the keezer.

I put this beer into the keezer under pressure and waited a few days to serve. The first few glasses were…um…disappointing. The dry hopped Citra notes were overpowering and there was not enough body in the beer to hold up the flavors. iBrewMaster calculated the batch to have 4.6% ABV and 36 IBU.

A few days later the pints went down better, as if the beer had mellowed somewhat in the keezer. Subsequent pours in the following weeks have confirmed that this was a beer that needed some additional time to have the flavor profile blend and mellow somewhat. Oh well, my desire to drink my homebrew got the best of me.

Overall, a minor failure for my firs go at a house pale ale recipe.

One Mug Homebrew

The biggest change I am going to make in recipes going forward is to reincorporate some specialty grains steeped prior to the boil. I believe that this will add some needed complexity and body to the base of the beer so that it can handle bolder hop profiles. We shall see.


Iowa Beer Trail stops at Toppling Goliath

Before I even begin talking about Toppling Goliath I want everyone out there to know that I am a fan. This was not the first time I have had either of these beers—usually it’s on tap and imbibed after a long day on the bicycle—and I am a big fan of Decorah, Iowa in general.
Decorah is a small town in northeast Iowa that is home to Luther College and a surprising bike culture. The good folks at Decorah Human Powered Trails maintain a sweet network of singletrack that will kick your ass if you do not respect the surprising topography of the region. Recently, the Trout Run Trail—an eleven mile paved loop through town—was completed and it looks sweet. Heck, even some of the people at Surly Bikes are down with Decorah.
To top it all off, Decorah is also the home of Toppling Goliath. It’s a small brewery that only recently started to self-distributing bottles in the region. Today I am going to talk about Dorothy’s New World Lager and pseudoSue.
Dorothy’s New World Lager is a steam beer or California common:
Usually beer is separated by what yeast it uses and steam beer is no different in that it uses lager yeasts. However, unlike most lagers which are fermented at cooler temperatures, steam beers are fermented at temperatures considered to be optimal for ale yeasts. It’s a little bit of technical beer brewing talk, but the result is a beer that is hard to classify as either an ale or a lager so it occupies a sort of middle space between the two camps.
This is the beer that got me started on Toppling Goliath several years ago when I ran across a tap at a bar in Iowa City. A steam beer from Iowa? Bring it on!
Dorothy’s is a great beer to pair with just about anything. No single flavor or aroma comes across as overpowering and the middling alcohol means you can have a few without stumbling around like a hipster on a PBR bender.
It is, however, best enjoyed under certain circumstances. My suggestion is to spend the better part of a hot summer day struggling through that sweet singletrack I mentioned earlier and topping the afternoon with a few pints pulled at the Toppling Goliath taproom. It’s about the perfect way to spend a day in Iowa.
Purchase 3 Mug Rating
pseudoSue is an entirely different beast:
First off, this is a beer that you have to hunt down in bottles. What do I mean by that? Fans watch the Facebook page of Toppling Goliath for deliveries and scurry to buy up their limit. Two bottles is never enough.
Second, it’s a beer I wait for a quiet moment to enjoy. Why? It might be my favorite beer in the entire world right now. Sorry, Coffee Bender from Surly Brewing but you have been replaced atop the mountain. Fear not, for I will buy many cans of Coffee Bender on my next trip north but I do not anticipate drinking you quite like I do pseudoSue.
This beer is a showcase for the Citra hop and boy do you ever get a wallop of that particular profile. In terms of both aroma and flavor this beer is Citra through and through, but it drinks clean enough that you are never left with a mouthful of lingering flavors. Each drink is like a gift of perfectly balanced beer.
If you get a chance to buy a bottle—which is just pure chance unless you stalk the Facebook page—or see it in tap you will be glad that you ordered a pint in lieu of other less worthy beers.
Purchase 4 Mug Rating
I like this beer so much that it is the basis for my attempts to create a “house pale ale” to be on tap in my keezer at all times. More on the first experiment to come later in the week.

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):


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.

New Bo City Market

Approximately four years ago—June of 2008—the Cedar River finally crested well above flood stage in an epic disaster that inundated much of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.  After three years of often bitter back and forth the wheels of recovery finally seem to be moving in the right direction.  Just to give you an idea:

The new public library, whose predecessor was completely flooded and transferred to a private entity for redevelopment, is finally under way forming a new heart to the urban core.  The city offices are moving back downtown for the first time since the flood as renovated buildings are completed.  Several long gestating projects are underway and demolition of ruined properties has reached well beyond the halfway mark.

There is still a lot of work to do until the city can be considered “healed,” if that is even possible but there are signs of progress.

An opportunity that was “birthed” by the flood was to reimagine a former foods warehouse into something useful to the community at large.  Sure, a warehouse that provides a service has utility but located in a burgeoning entertainment and—dare I say—lifestyle part of town would be a waste of space.  Following the flood, plans were hatched for the New Bo City Market in the New Bohemia district of downtown Cedar Rapids.  Across the Cedar River from the more famous Czech Village, New Bohemia or New Bo was becoming a nightlife and arts destination.

The idea is great—build a facility that can be used year round as a market for local vendors, much like a farmers market but with the benefit of cover, and serve as a center for community events.  Considering that the former warehouse loomed over the neighborhood like a sullen ogre only makes the transformation more of a plus.  Check out the progress and news at the Facebook page for the New Bo City Market or join the Friends of the New Bo City Market group.

Four years ago this is what the area looked like:

The arrow is where the New Bo City Market will be located when it is complete.

So, the immediate are will go from looking like this after the flood in 2008:

To looking something like this in fall of 2012:

If you get a chance, check out the happenings at the New Bo City Market’s Facebook page where new photos are added regularly and the progress of construction is well documented.

Every time I am downtown I take the opportunity to pass by the construction site and see the progress.  Along with the new coffee shop and bookstore going into the CSPS building this area is becoming a real destination.  It helps that Parlor City has somewhere close to 50 beers on tap and many great Iowa beers included in that inventory.  When I need a Toppling Goliath fix, Parlor City is the go to place.