Long on my to-do list, I traveled to Amana, Iowa this weekend to visit Millstream Brewing Company. The primary prompt to make this visit finally happen was the THIRSTY Classic, a homebrew competition sponsored by THIRSTY, The Iowa River Society of Talented Yeastmasters. The competition was held at Millstream.
The competition was perhaps scaled back this year due to a couple of Des Moines clubs were invested in a Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day event they had organized at Raccoon River Brewing Company in Des Moines. (I taught my friend how to brew a few weeks ago–for me was Teach a Friend More about Beer Day–Jimmy and Kyle signed up to steward for the first time.) No matter, it was a fun day, and I met a lot of friendly Iowa brewers and drank a goodly amount of excellent beer. Susan Walsh and her THIRSTY crew put together a solid event with one of the best competition lunches I’ve ever had (the homebrewer-smoked brisket was great).
The brewery itself was also fun to explore, and buzzing with tourists throughout the day. Located in the quaint town of Amana, which is filled with interesting shops, the brewery has a pleasant outside seating area to relax and drink fresh, local beer.
Walking in the front door, you find the gift shop/taproom loaded with steins, glassware and beer. There were about eight taps, with a blend of Millstream’s sodas and beers. During the best-of-show judging, I headed straight toward a pint of the oatmeal stout, fresh and lovely. There for the competition, it was easy to walk around and eyeball the brewing system and bottling line. However, a cursory look-see reveals that there are no fermenters around this tight space. Head brewer Chris Priebe took me to check out where the fermentation and lagering takes place.
The fermenters are located directly below the brewery, in the basement. Seems a good way to avoid tripping over hoses all day. But really, the choice was dictated by the building. The lagering also happens in the basement, in a separate cold room kept around 40 degrees F. Many of the original fermenters were custom built, so to get inside to clean, one must first take out about 24 bolts. A hassle, but it gets the job done.
While the beer finishes in the basement, it begins upstairs. The mill and grain storage are located directly above the brewery.
At the end of the day, I came home with a first place ribbon for my Oaked Revolution Ale and a third for my Belgian Pale Ale. Interestingly, the “un-oaked” Revolution didn’t judge so well–but when’s the last time you had a Colonial ale? I can take neither the good nor the bad too seriously for a beer like this. However, it seems lame to score a beer down because it “detracts from this modern palate,” or “though appropriate, isn’t wonderful,” or if you’re “not sure I really liked it.”
Kyle, Jimmy and I stopped for dinner at Rock Bottom in West Des Moines on our drive home for a nightcap and a belly full of chow. Good stuff, they have. I had the Goldings Pale on cask, as well as a pint of their Rye Porter. Both were excellent.
And since we arrived home, safe and sound, the trip was even better. In the center of brewvana, right where I like to be.