Friday, April 16, 2010

On the Road: Des Moines

2010 has been the first year of multiple competitions for the Wort Hogs. We started off by entering the Upper Mississippi Mashout, then participating in the KC Bier Meisters annual competition by submitting entries and judging. Last month we headed up to Des Moines to help judge at the IBU Open, and we spent this past weekend in O'Fallon and St Louis to judge at the Garage Brewers Society's first annual Champion of the Pint. On that trip, we not only brought back our 14th medal of the year, we heralded passing 190,000 miles on our odometer. I'm looking forward to passing the 200,000 mark toward the end of the year after driving to the National Homebrewers Conference as well as several more competitions in the fall. I've had an incredible time so far at all the homebrew competitions and our corresponding travels, so I thought I'd make a few posts out of our journeys ... First up: Des Moines.

We were there over the weekend of March 13th, arriving Friday evening after work. We made it a point to hit up a couple of brewpubs, Raccoon River and Court Ave Brewing, as well as a couple of beer bars. Both brewpubs had great beer, and I recommend stopping by both if time allows.

We first hit up Raccoon River and ordered their sampler paddle, which included your standard lineup of an IPA, a red, light ale, brown, stout, a seasonal (porter, I think) - and something I've never had before: a vanilla cream ale. I really enjoyed the beer on my first two sips, but after a while the amount of vanilla extract in the beer wore on me. It was pretty thin in body and lower in carbonation than I would have preferred. I think it'd be quite good on a really hot day with a splash of orange juice and higher carbonation.

We trekked a half mile east to Court Avenue Brewing Company (and by "trekked" I mean "drove"). Mr Wort Hog ordered their Templeton Rye-aged rye ale and I, without realizing how much beer I would end up getting, ordered the massive sampler tray. I did indeed try ALL of their standard lineup (the cask ale and cider were not part of the sampler), and the German Hefeweizen was my favorite. The IPA, really a Pale Ale, was a close 2nd. I have to say, though, that their 21st Amendment ale was amazing. It's a completely different beer from Boulevard's Rye-on-Rye but every bit as delicious. Toffee and vanilla abounded, balanced by a mild spicy bitterness. But mostly toffee. It's a year-round offering now, so I highly recommend your next trip to the D.M. include Court Ave and a glass of this beer.

In the same area of Court Ave Brewing is Royal Mile, a British pub with a decent tap list. Upstairs it houses Red Monk, a Belgian beer bar with a spectacular selection of Belgian beers. We didn't stay long, as it'd been a long day already and we had a long day of judging ahead of us. However, I did get a very spritzy Belgian ale that took about 15 minutes to settle to the point of being drinkable. It came in a green bottle with a green label that had cursive writing and even a special cap to manage the amount of pressure in the bottle. I wish I'd written down the name (it was long and, well, in French), as it was very delicious but hard to drink. I suppose it's a good beer for the calorie-conscious, as it takes forever to consume. By the time your friends are finishing off their 2nd beer, you'll be halfway through this one. I

Our trip wouldn't have been complete without visiting El Bait Shop before getting out of town. There's an impressive number of Rogue beers available there (25 in all, if I'm counting accurately from their Flying-Saucer-like menu), so if you're a Rogue fan you don't want to miss it. The Wort Hogs first laid eyes on each other at a Rogue Public House (and spent many subsequent hours there), so we definitely have an attachment to the brewery... other than the fact that it makes excellent beer.

The atmosphere was laid back and friendly as well, though extremely crowded and louder than any place I think I've been to that wasn't playing live music. The volume in that place was insane, so either avoid the place on Friday & Saturday nights or learn sign language so you can have a conversation. For posterity, check out this video on YouTube showing their taps. Check your speaker volume first.

I would have liked to stop by the Hessen Haus, as it has an impressive list of German beers available, both on tap and in the bottle. It was highly recommended by our Des Moines friends but after a long day of judging and drinking, I was ready to hop in the cab and head back to the hotel room.

Overall, I was impressed by the number and quality of beer hangouts in Des Moines. I'm sure there are others in town as well, but these were the top spots we were recommended by the local homebrewers - and their named spots did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination. Next time you're in Des Moines, any of these places should satisfy your craving for quality craft beer.


  1. So here's what's crazy...El Bait Shop, High Life Lounge, Royal Mile, Red Monk, and Hessen Haus are all owned by the same group of investors. They also have a Chinese pizza joint, an Irish pub, and are getting ready to open a sports bar called Mullets. Wacky!

  2. Great trip report...thanks for the post!

  3. I count 14 medals, there was 1 at UMMO.

  4. I is good at math. Sometimes 1 + 3 + 5 + 5 = 14....

  5. or 13. (good grief) I can't get it right.


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