Living History Farms has a great thing going to keep spirits up during the off-season when the farms and town are not open for tours—the Cabin Fever Series. Last month we attended the Sips and Sweets event, which featured local dessert bakeries and samples from area spirits distilleries. This month was the vaunted Beer and Bread event, when various regional breweries sample their beers and a few bakeries offer bread and other munchies. This event was much more crowded than Sips and Sweets, and lines were longer, waiting for the brews. The sponsoring bakeries were South Union, La Mie and Sweet Binney’s, plus a smaller one featuring breads made from Iowa-made beer bread mixes. The breweries giving away various varieties of their craft were Confluence (Des Moines), 515 (Clive), Number 7 (Ankeny), Great River (Davenport), Raccoon River (Des Moines), Millstream (Amana Colonies), Exile (Des Moines), and New American Brewing Co. (Ankeny).
In addition to free samples and nibbles, there were some fellows from various craft beer stores and the Iowa Craft Brewing Association, displaying their wares and trying to seduce the average brew fan into believing that yes, indeed, he really can set up brewing and bottling, perhaps even growing hops, in his very own basement/garage/backyard.
I have to say that I was already a fan of several of these local breweries so there were no disappointments. There were, however, some pleasant surprises for me. Millstream sampled its Cabin Fever Doppelbock, a dark, rich concoction of toasted malt deliciousness. The rep pouring the samples said that this is one of their unusual brews, available only once every few years. Likewise, at the Great River table, the Dirty Blonde, purporting to be a chocolate lager, really did taste as described—like dessert in a glass. It had some sweet fruity flavors I usually associate with isomyl acetate in hefeweisse. Both Great River and Millstream had some packs for sale, but I only procured the Doppelbock, as the Dirty Blonde had already been snatched up. The Great River rep said their beer is increasingly available in area HyVee and Dahl’s stores.
Perhaps my favorite was the 1789 Porter from New American Brewing This is a very smooth, dark beer that upholds the tradition of porters. I happen to like porters.
As you might expect, every brewer had a number of super-hopped beers. I did not know that hops can be an anesthetic, but its true. I found this out the hard way when my eyes went numb. I thought that only opticians could do that trick. There were some powerfully hoppy beers this year.
I quizzed the Living History Farms staff about the event, wondering if it had sold out as it had in previous years. The report was no, but almost. The Cabin Fever Event for April, featuring Grilled Cheese, HAS already sold out. Grilled Cheese? I have no idea what the draw is for that. I like a good grilled cheese as much as the next person, but selling out?
It seemed that there weren’t as many vendors here as in previous years; and I saw no home brewers offering samples. I was a tiny bit disappointed that there wasn’t a featured informational session/lecture, as there had been at the Sips and Sweets. But that gave more time to wander around the tables, ducking in here for a piece of bread, there for some cheese, and trying to game the long clustering lines for a sample of the Brews. I should say that the lines were mostly in front of Confluence. At least it seemed like a line. Some people seemed to just get in line behind anyone that they thought might be in a line. Sort of like Soviets on grocery day. The place was pretty well packed. I kind of wish that they would not put the cheese and cracker table in the middle of the room. It makes it hard for the lines to work properly. They seem to get wrapped up over each other as they spiral around the cracker table. That is a minor complaint. I really appreciate Living History Farms’ efforts to find some distractions during this too-long winter.