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So, throughout the research of this trip, we have consistently been referring back to ratebeer to confirm where we should visit as a priority, particularly while we are in the USA as there are so many bloody breweries. The list has taken us to some of the more random parts of the states that a lot of tourists don’t get to, but nothing like the town of Decorah, nestled in Iowa.
We drove here first thing from Marshall, which for us was already fairly in the middle of nowhere and soon after we left that small town we were met with grey skies, long boring straight roads, the random Amish community in among the prairies & nothing else particularly interesting. Attempting to complete the 5 hour journey ASAP we sped along… which typically meant we were met with the sight of the flashing red & blues in the rear views. AAHH SSHHII..!
Luckily, the friendly cop (who sounded and looked like something out of Fargo), took interest & sympathy in these 2 random Brits looking for beer in the prairies, and let us off with a “drive safe” and a slightly reduced fine. Phew.
So on we went, dead on the speed limit of course, hoping and praying our next stop will be worth it…
We were of course here to visit Toppling Goliath, and for those in the know, it will be obvious as to why we have made this trip to the middle of nowhere. With a population of 8k people, Decorah is probably one of the least likely locations (at the time of writing) to be the source of 4 of the top 50 beers in the world. So, with all that said, we were extremely fortunate to be hosted by Clark Lewey and Mike Saboe, Toppling Goliath’s founder & president and executive brewmaster respectively. This was going to be a good one & definitely worth the speeding fine!
For some unknown reason to us, Clark & Mike seemed to take a liking to us Brits & with their natural welcoming mid-western nature we were treated unbelievably well.
We started with a sample of Scorpius Morchella, usually only available from the tap room, and then went on to tour the brewery and taste the base of Dragonfruit Fandango directly from the fermenter. This is a departure from the styles they are famous for, but it was clear from the base that is going to be an absolute belter of a sour.
We carried on through the tour, passing the ageing barrels from Merlot to Whisky, and then sat back down to sample the number one beer currently in the world – Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout… Just for clarification here this was rated number 1 beer “you’ll never taste” in Esquire Magazine. And here we were, tasting it. With the brewer & the owner of the company.
Was now the right time to tell them we weren’t anyone special?
Well lets at least enjoy the beer first hey!
What an absolute treat, such a thick rich beer, amazing notes of maple syrup, some coffee roastiness and after it warmed up a little, subtle notes of vanilla and that great dried fruit flavour you get from some of the awesome barley wines of the world. The way this beer clung to both the glass and your mouth when you taste it is something else – massive lingering aftertaste.
The good news is Mike gave us the recipe for it and chucked in a couple of Pappy barrels to age it in.
Okay we may be joking now.
After savouring every last drop and telling the guys about our trip and some details about what we are planning for when we get home, it was time to head out and take a sneak peek at the their new $10 mill brewery & tap room’s future new home.
To keep this brief, as we are aware we are waffling on a bit (hard not to in the circumstances), the new site is a) massive – we counted over 40 fermenting vessels on the plans b) going to be freaking incredible! With multiple other plans in the pipeline, Toppling Goliath from it’s humble Iowan routes will become a stalwart of the American craft brewing scene.
The funny thing about all of this, is it just left us firstly extremely thankful to the TG team for just being generally awesome people & secondly conscious never to become too big for your boots to host two travelling randoms.
Finally it made us want to work even harder on our business, so one day we will return the hospitality and show Clark, Mike & the TG team around our UK brewery and have them try beers that we’ve brewed that blow their minds.
Here’s hoping hey?
Phew, so after that awesome visit, waking up still in absolute shock at what happened the day prior, we drove out to Des Moines, the state capital of Iowa. Another place that doesn’t see too many tourists based on the surprised faces of multiple people upon hearing our British accents. This has happened a few times and seems to naturally result in chat of what British TV programs they’ve seen and enjoyed – Downton Abbey & Top Gear seem to be firm favourites.
We were here to get to a couple of breweries, and as a decent stopping off point on our way down to Kansas City.
We headed straight to 515 Brewing upon arriving in Des Moines, to check out their small taproom and see what was going on. A nice 7 barrel plant just behind the bar & 20 taps, that were mostly their own beers, but with a few of the local breweries guesting in there as well. Board games a plenty should you wish, and a nice outdoor terrace for when the weather picks up (sadly we have been dodging storms and tornadoes in the past few days).
These guys were great but definitely had a hard act to follow in TG!
A short drive away, we headed to Confluence Brewing Co. and were met with some live music – a cool guy playing guitar and playing away on a harmonica. They had 15 beer taps, growlers and crowlers available to take away and yet again a massive selection of board games. They were in the process of a huge expansion into a larger outdoor taproom space, so think it’d be an entirely different place now.
Sadly for both Confluence & 515, our heads were firmly still in Decorah.
And probably forever will be!