The Iowa State Fair Craft Beer Tent is a fantastic idea. The Iowa State Fair has always been one of those traditions that for me has started to lose its freshness. You can honestly skip a decade, go back, and you won’t have missed a thing other than to notice that a few more things have been stuck on sticks and called “food.” For a lot of people, its just the same old thing, year after year. Look at the mighty hog balls, see if the State Police have any gruesome displays in the Hall of Justice, listen to the vegematic man hawk his vegetable slush (does anybody actually drink that crap day after day?), and watch the bees make honey. It had bogged down into a standard script of monotonous sameness until this year. This year the Iowa State Fair Craft Beer Tent trailers were wheeled into position in a back lot behind restaurant row and things are different. There is a new reason to go to the fair. And every year it promises to be different with different, new beers and other fermented drinks available to try out. And what better way to take a break from the August heat than to swill some great beer?
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, but I did get to try about seven new beers that I’d not tried before. My intention is not to write a full review those beers here but to alert people that if they are looking for a new reason to go to the Fair, or if they are hoping to find a new distraction while already there, then this is a great opportunity. Here are some quick tasting notes of just a few of the beers I tried:
Appanoose Rapids Brewing Company #14 Summer Weiss. This is a new brewery for me. They had just this one offering. It is a classic Weissbier, with a tangy taste with tones of fresh pine and oranges. Definitely in the “sweet” category.
Backpocket Brewing #36 Slingshot Dunkel. This is another brewery that was new to me. It seems that his outfit is just getting started and is related to Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery in McGregor. This was one of four offerings and was the one dark beer. It offered a traditional blend of malt and hops but this is not a super malty beer. I was told that this is their top seller.
Lost Duck Brewing Company #23 Canvasback Blonde Lager. This lager was the only offering from this brewery. It was a very drinkable beer with a hoppy flavor and an undertone of malt.
Millstream Brewing Company #10 Schild Brau Amber. I am a huge fan of Millstream beers. They just never disappoint and I’ve never had that whiff of ammonia that I get with some of the other, larger microbreweries (there is an oxymoron). This is Millstream’s flagship brew and features a balance between malt and hops. The balance of this beer made it fairly unique among the other beers that featured fairly strong character in one direction or the other.
Raccoon River Brewing Company #26 Vanilla Creme Ale. As the name implies this beer has a very strong vanilla taste. I might tire of that much sweet vanilla if I had a full 16 ounces.
The pricing seemed to be a bit stiff, given that $7.00 is a pretty penny to pay for a cup of beer, but it is a whole 16 oz. and prices are high all around the Fair. A sampler option is to pay $7.00 for three 5 oz. tastings.
The staff was made of both volunteers and paid staff and they were enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The trailers that were used to dispense the beer were well marked to identify the brewer and the general type of beer.
I should add that displaying Iowa and other Midwest products is what the Fair is all about. Although the roots of the Fair were in showing pigs, bulls, dairy cows, corn cobs, pies and other agricultural products, it is just as important to show other value-added agricultural products as well. Craft beer is a great addition to the Fair and even though lots of fairgoers will still want their Bud Light, I did see some of those die-hards at least sampling the various offerings, so from a marketing standpoint the tent is serving its purpose. The more people give these beers a try the more likely it is that craft brewers will have a lifetime convert to keep drinking their product. I sure hope that they continue this as a new tradition. In fact, the breweries ought to go together and put up a formal tasting building and make this a permanent addition to the Fair.