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Iowa beer review: Backpocket, Millstream Brewing, Toppling Goliath

I bet you were worried I wasn't going to include Toppling Goliath, weren't you?


It is Friday, and while I've obviously read a lot about Iowa and watched the Solid Verbal Nature Film about the rivalry a couple dozen times, I'm still reveling in Melvin Gordon's transcendent performance from last week. I celebrated with multiple Wisconsin beers and multiple Kentucky bourbons, as is tradition.

However, it is time to move on and focus our attention on our other corn-loving cousins. You know, the ones you dislike more and hope don't make it to Thanksgiving because they are unrefined and smelly? I'm talking about Iowa, people!

This week, the Badgers travel to Iowa City and take on the Hawkeyes. Contrary to popular belief, there are other breweries in Iowa besides Toppling Goliath Brewing Company. I know, I know, I sound crazy. But believe me, it's true!

One of the first Iowa breweries I was exposed to was Millstream Brewing Company out of Amana. They have been brewing European-style beers since 1985 and are a pillar in the Iowa brewing community. I first discovered them the first time I was in Ames (sticking it to the Hawkeyes again, GO CLONES!) visiting my future sister-in-law. Their Schild Brau Amber is the flagship, and has won multiple awards (17 by my rudimentary count) since 1987. It is an excellent adaptation of the Vienna style lager and would probably be mistaken for brewed in Munich if it didn't have a label. The malty sweetness is nicely offset by a slight hop bitterness, and the beautiful amber color is a sight to behold. Millstream might not be a trendy brewery, but they make high quality beers and are worth searching out this weekend.

I reached out to Iowa's resident horse expert Adam Jacobi to see what his thoughts were on Iowa's breweries and he came back with a pretty emphatic answer.

I had never heard of Backpocket Brewing, but with it sweeping Jacobi's medal stand, I felt it needed further attention. Out of Coralville (a mere stone's throw away from Iowa City) Backpocket also specializes in German style lagers. Their most-reviewed beer on Beer Advocate is the Slingshot Dunkel and their fall seasonal is called Hawktoberfest, an obvious pun on Oktoberfest (which I'm sure Jacobi loves). They have a taproom in Coralville that offers growlers ($14 new, $10 refill), so load up Saturday morning before the game and then again on Sunday morning before you leave town. Adam also suggested, and was backed up by Patrick of BHGP, Peace Tree Brewing.

Another brewery I have yet to have the pleasure of sampling, Peace Tree, out of Knoxville, comes highly rated by all the nerdy beer websites. The Beer Advocate bros gave their Hop Sutra (double IPA) a 94. It is available "sporadically in bottle and on draft," and they offer growlers until 5 p.m. today, SO HURRY UP AND GET THERE! Although, their taproom is open Saturday morning, too, for pints and food.

Lastly, we get to Toppling Goliath. If you consider yourself even slightly a beer nerd, you've heard of these guys. They ship limited amounts of their beer to Madison already, and I know that I have my friends on high alert whenever a new shipment comes in. They also have a standing order to buy as much as they can carry for our next tailgate. [There used to be a link here to a DRAFT Magazine article about Toppling Goliath. I was contacted by the head brewer at TG and he informed me that just about everything in the DRAFT post was wrong. I removed the link.]

While fueling the hype machine ('sup Frank Kaminsky?) might not be the best idea, Toppling Goliath does produce some excellent beers. The Pseudo Sue APA, named after Sue the T-Rex, is a Citra hopped delight that attacks your olfactory system with grapefruit and citrus. Besides Hopalicious, Pseudo Sue is one of my favorite APAs on the market. These two would be perfect for a pre-game taste test.

The winner, striking an early victory for their respective home state, was a beer that blew my mind at Great Taste of the Midwest two years ago. TG's Mornin' Delight is a Russian Imperial Stout that was released at a certain time during the festival, and when I got in line 45 minutes before it was tapped I was at least 100 people from the front. They brew the massive stout with real maple syrup and a "super secret brewer's ingredient" which I can only assume is meth. It poured a thick, jet black and smelled exactly like breakfast. There was coffee, syrup, vanilla and a caramely sweetness. It was extravagant. I am getting thirsty just writing about it.

Iowa is a relative youngster on the craft beer scene, but the state is producing a bunch of beers that are worth your time and money. If you are traveling to the game, enjoy stopping at one (or multiple) of these spots and be on the lookout for local beer on tap at any watering holes you frequent. In fact, that's good advice for anywhere you go. My new Travel and Leisure column will be starting shortly.

Enjoy the 2:30 p.m. start this weekend, y'all, and as (almost) always enjoy a beer for me since I'll be at work and my bar's GM is an Iowa grad. Although, does anyone really graduate from Iowa? It's more, like she escaped from Iowa. My bar's GM is an Iowa escapee. I should congratulate her tomorrow.