Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pudgy in My Glass

I don't write many beer reviews anymore.  I know there are many people out there that do a better job of that than I (search Twitter for @iabeerbaron) but sometimes you get the opportunity to try a great beer that you feel the need to share your experience.  I recently wrote about the good people at Pulpit Rock Brewery in Decorah, IA and their first ever bottle release.  Pudgy, an 11.6% abv Imperial Stout aged on 4 different kinds of vanilla beans lived up to the hype.

It poured dark and thick with little to no head.  The smell of vanilla was predominant along with some roasted and chocolate malts.  The mouth feel was creamy and velvety smooth with soft carbonation.  Marshmallow, vanilla and chocolate danced on my taste buds, not competing with each other, more working and blending together.  I had some chilled and allowed some to warm to see how  the flavors differed, and honestly I didn't notice a great deal of difference.  All the same flavors where there, maybe just in a slightly different balance.

In short, if you were lucky enough to get a bottle it's worth keeping and drinking.  I know the thought of trading is tempting when you can get 3-5 other great beers for this one, but I think you'd be doing a disservice to yourself not to enjoy this brew while you can.
Fun with filters

If I'm going to talk about one beer, I might as well talk about two.  My first true attempt at a NE IPA (or NE Iowa IPA) called Hazy Little Thing Called Love was inspired by the IPA's brewed by 515 and Pulpit Rock.  I'm quite happy with how it turned out.  Don't get me wrong, it's still not in the same league as 515 and PR, but good enough I'm happy to share this beer with others (including the brewers at PR) and not feel ashamed by it.

I used a pound of home grown hops that I split in the beginning and end of the boil (mixture of Nugget and Mt Hood.)  I also mixed several ounces of Mosaic, Galaxy, and Wai-iti hops at the end of the boil, and double dry hopped during and after fermentation.  This resulted in a well balanced IPA with enough bitterness to keep from being too sweet, yet loads of passion fruit, peach, and citrus making it very easy to drink.  I also used a pound of flaked oats during the mash process for the first time.  This added a little haze and smoothed out the mouth feel.  This is a beer I will likely brew again.  Will I make some minor changes?  Sure.  I would probably add more dry hops and try to keep the carbonation on the softer side.

After slowing down on my home brewing the past few years, I've been a bit underwhelmed by my last several brews, and I finally feel like I'm getting back into my brewing groove, if you will.  The pursuit of making the perfect beer still eludes me, but I finally feel I'm back on the right track.  I'm thinking about brewing smaller batches more often so I can keep experimenting with my recipes and improving my brewing skills.  In the meantime, I'm lucky to live in Iowa where there are many fantastic breweries only a short drive from me.  Cheers!

Friday, March 3, 2017


The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful at work, but I was lucky to have a little time on the weekends to spend some time at two of my favorite breweries.  515 in Des Moines and Pulpit Rock in Decorah are straight killing it.  The small but mighty breweries are kicking out some fantastic beers made even more enjoyable by the awesome people that brew them and work there.

Scottie and Whitney keeping everyone hydrated!

I'll start first with Pulpit Rock and their first ever bottle release.  Pudgy, an Imperial Stout aged with vanilla beans.  They had just 400 bottles of liquid goodness for sale on a cold Iowa morning, the day after a snow/ice storm, and the craft beer community still showed up to sample some incredible beer.  1 bottle of Pudgy may not be be enough so luckily the guys at PR (Pulpit Rock) out did themselves with the on tap line up.  A few of the standouts, Stink Juice (Double IPA,) Pillow Talk (fruit beer,) and Sticker Shock (Imperial Stout.) 
The craft beer community has quickly caught wind of the beers these guys are making, and the trading sites are going crazy as everyone tries to secure a bottle from the first release.  I've seen people offering up to 5 great beers just to get a hold of one Pudgy.  You may ask, is it worth it?  Honestly, I can't answer that yet, as I have yet to enjoy my bottle.  I can tell you this, if it's as good as their other great beers like Stink Juice, Loopy Lynn, Sticker Shock, or #Gallagher, it most certainly is.  I'll post an update after I indulge myself on its vanilla goodness.

Check out their Facebook page for more of these great photos from the release courtesy of Erik Dutcher.  And don't just check them out online, if you haven't been there, make a point to go, you will not be disappointed.
When you go to PR, one thing you'll notice is the small space they have.  You'll also notice they recently started a barrel aging program and some of the barrels are tucked away in any spare space they had around the taproom. I noticed this little note on a barrel as I walked past and it made me laugh.  Please don't touch the barrels when you visit, nobody wants to see Bob cry!!

Bob, Justin, and Mike are the brewers at Pulpit Rock.  They are talented, creative, funny, kind, and just plain good people.  This brings me back to a theme from a previous entry when I met with Austin from Single Speed Brewery.  Good people make good beer.  Much like Austin, these 3 are some of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.  They love what they do, and really enjoy great beer.  Don't be afraid to say hello, or bring something special to share with them.  Also, bring some growlers to fill, or buy their crowlers when available, because you are going to want to take their beer with you.  Trust me.
Speaking of good people and good beer, there's plenty of both at 515.  Every time I visit Des Moines I have to stop at 515.  I know there are plenty of other great breweries in the area, but this place keeps drawing me back.  Partly due to beers like Hopitits, OJ IPA, Dart Dodger, and Castaway Porter, and partly because of the people that work and visit there.  They have a little more room that PR,  but every time I go it always seems to be packed.  There's a good reason for that, the beer is that good.

You can get their Milk Stout, Brown Ale, Doppelbock, and many other great beers, but I tend to be drawn towards their hoppy selection.  That is because Barb makes some of the best Pale ales and IPA's around.

Not to be outdone by the guys at Single Speed or Pulpit Rock, Barb, from 515 is again, not only a very talented brewer, but an exceptionally good person.  After chatting over Twitter with her, I was finally able to meet her on this visit.  Again the brewing passion is evident as is her kindness.  She let me try some of Unholy Trinity, an IPA brewed in collaboration with Alluvial and Pulpit Rock, straight from the brite tank.  The beer wasn't for sale yet, or even kegged, but she knew I was interested in trying it and wouldn't be around Des Moines when it hit the tap room.  That is above and beyond what anyone should expect from any brewer or brewery.  Yet it is just another example of what makes places like 515 so great!

515 IPA Flight

Being inspired by all these great IPA's being made in Iowa, I decided to try my own NE IPA, or NE Iowa IPA as we like to call them.  It's a simple mix of Maris Otter and 2 Row Pale malts with an abundance of Galaxy, Mosiac, and Wai-iti hops at the end of the brew and double dry hopped.  I won't pretend it's as good as those IPA's mentioned above, but I do think it's one of the best beers I've made in a long time. so thanks Pulpit Rock and 515 for the inspiration!

If you like to know the people that make your beer, follow them on Twitter (Mike and Barb are very entertaining #SexyRespirator.)
@PRBC_Bob (fun game, finish a growler every time Bob tweets!)
You can also follow me @Crinkletalk