As I prepared to write about Iowa’s Toppling Goliath Brewing Co., I realized that my knowledge of the state is negligible. I could sit here and pretend like I have a clue about Iowa, but that would only demonstrate an utter lack of integrity on my part.
When thinking about Iowa, I’ve always envisioned corn — field after field of tall, tasseled stalks with clinging ears of sweet nuggets of starchy sustenance — and a supremely flat landscape.
What got me to ask, “So what’s Iowa actually like?” was the wording on one of the cans I sampled for this week’s column that reads, “Brewed in beautiful Decorah, IA.”
OK, Iowa, let’s take a closer look at you.
After spending some time on Travel Iowa’s website, I learned that The Hawkeye State is home to the bridges of Madison County, Effigy Mounds National Monument and the “Field of Dreams” baseball diamond. There are numerous outdoor and historic activities like Maquoketa Caves State Park, Backbone State Park, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and the American Gothic House.
I discovered rich pockets of arts and culture with museums (Figge Art Museum looks exciting), festivals (get in touch with your Nordic roots at Scandinavian Days) and there’s even a substantial tract of land comprised of seven traditional German villages called Amana Colonies. European roots are revered and kept alive in this state, whether those ancestors came from Norway, the Netherlands or Germany.
In short, from my brief online immersion into Iowan culture, it in many ways reminds me of Lancaster County, what with bountiful farming communities, an abundance of hiking trails, cultural festivals and a vibrant German heritage.
There are currently more than 80 craft breweries in the state, according to the Iowa Brewers Guild. With numerous in-state hop farms and malthouses, brewers can embrace the “buy fresh, buy local” paradigm and keep resources and revenue within the borders.
In all, I’m intrigued about Iowa, a state that’s certainly flown under my travel-loving radar for far too long.
A visit to Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. has now become one of the top experiences when I visit, since its beer is what piqued my interest in the first place.
Now in its 10th year, Toppling Goliath prides itself on award-winning India pale ales and stouts, and estimates the revenue brought to that beautiful town of Decorah for beer releases, when considering sales from the taproom, area restaurants, lodging and souvenirs, tops out at more than $1 million.
The photographs of the taproom remind me of the Troegs Independent Brewing space in Hershey; with a 100-barrel brewhouse at Toppling Goliath, it also puts it at a similar level of production.
Short of traveling to Iowa to find a seat at one of the brewery’s three bars, you’ll likely see cans popping up at some of the local purveyors of craft beer. I tried four of the cans to come to our area and found them to all be well balanced and finely crafted. Also of note is that these beers are certain to make fans of the hazy IPA movement smack their lips in pleasure.
Three of the beers had Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex depicted on the label and in the title (you can actually meet and greet Sue at Chicago’s Field Museum in the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet). Toppling Goliath and Field Museum have a partnership focused on this line of beers for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Pseudo Sue is a 6.8% alcohol by volume pale ale, singularly hopped with Citra. It poured a hazy, dense yellow fading to orange as it dove deeper into the glass; it smelled of orange, mango, a catty quality, green herbs, grass and fresh pine sap. The flavor featured overripe mango, sticky pine and juicy citrus with a pithy bite. It reminded me more of an IPA than a pale ale, what with the overdrenched hop aroma and flavor, an ABV out of normal range and minimal malt presence.
Double Dry Hop Pseudo Sue
The Double Dry Hop Pseudo Sue, also a pale ale at 6.8% and singularly hopped with Citra, poured nearly the same color, an ombre ranging from yellow-gold to amber-orange and with the same haze and head. It carried many of the same aromas, but with more intensity; the fruitiness was more pronounced and pineapple joined the party while the green herbaceous, pine and catty qualities were muted. In flavor, it also was similar, but with a softer, creamier mouthfeel, a brighter and juicier character from the dry hopping and a lesser bitterness. Again, it didn’t remind me of a traditional pale ale at all and was more like a textbook New England IPA; so if that’s your jam, you’ll certainly dig this rendition of Pseudo Sue.
To finish out the T. rex experience, I tried King Sue, a double IPA hitting a modest 7.8% ABV and with a whopping 100+ IBUs (International Bittering Units). It poured a dense, murky orange with little light filtering through; it could have been orange juice but for the pretty, creamy white head resting like a pillow on top of the body. The aroma was full of mango, orange, pineapple, vanilla, cream and orange pith. In flavor, fruit-forward hops dominated all else, with pineapple, mango, orange and grapefruit. There was an exceptionally clean bitterness from the beginning of the sip to the end, where it finished crisply and on the dry end of things.
This was a superb beer in this style with no alcohol heat and juicy without being soft. While I’m not the most enthusiastic fan of ultra-hazy IPAs, this one was lip-smackingly delightful.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.