I made a trip north the other weekend to the Ames area. It was an interesting trip, to say the least. Just west of Ames is a state park where I drove my car the wrong way on a one way. I hope to post photos in the near future. After that embarrassing spectacle, I visited a small nearby brewery, which significantly raised my spirits. Then I got lunch at Hickory Park (thanks for the tip, brother), and cockily tried to review another brewery. I painfully learned one is my limit.
But the first brewery was good! Here’s my review:
Establishment: Boone Valley Brewing Co.
Location: 816 7th St, Boone, IA 50036
Background: According to the bartender (whose name I unfortunately forget), Boone has been around since 2011, which would make it fairly old in the world of Iowa craft brewing. The tap house was more recent, and sat across the street from the active brewery.
Décor: The tap house was pretty inconspicuous, located along a side street of downtown Boone. The old brick building sported a brown awning advertising the name, with “BVB” etched into the windows flanking the door. Inside, a few comfy-looking armchairs looked out the windows. The man who would serve my beer was seated in one, reading a brewing encyclopedia. We were the only ones there. Which seems appropriate, since the tap room had only opened 8 minutes earlier.
The bar was extremely small, with only five stools. Unlike most breweries, Boone did not list its beer selection on a chalkboard. Beers on tap were listed on laminated menus along the bar. The area behind the bar was clean and elegant, with a brick accent wall, etched mirror sporting the same “BVB” behind the tap line, and shelves of neatly stacked pint glasses and growlers.
Framed ribbons hung adjacent to the bar, leading me to believe Boone was better known in the craft beer scene than their tiny tap room would have you believe. The atmosphere was mostly quiet, save for the 90s alternative rock streaming from the speakers; Smashmouth, Semisonic, Sugar Ray, Barenaked Ladies.
Staff: It bugs the crap out of me I can’t remember the bartenders name. I even made a point to ask.
Whatever. We’ll call him Meryl.
Meryl looked the part of an eccentric brewery guy. He sported camo shorts, glasses, a florescent-yellow baseball cap, and a moustache to be jealous of.
Meryl impressed me the moment I walked in. You’ve gotta respect a bartender who reads beer encyclopedias when it’s slow. Based on our conversation, Meryl seemed to be more involved than just pouring beer. He spoke to Boone’s distribution circuit, the brewing process, and was in-the-know about other brewery owners.
I’m visiting a beer festival Meryl will be at this weekend. I’ll ask his name again.
Patrons: It was just Meryl and I for a while. Then one other guy came in. There wasn’t much small talk, but we did have some lovely conversations about craft beer and other breweries. Meryl and the other patron shared my sentiment that Exile Brewery was mediocre at best. Which was appreciated.
Two other middle-aged gentlemen came in before I left, who also had little to say that didn’t reference beer. Boone isn’t the place you’d visit for lively conversations with hot young people. But it’s an excellent place to visit for no-frills discussions about beer with older folks.
I appreciate both, depending on the day.
Food: Boone did not have food on the menu, but did have a large jar of pub-mix pretzels behind the bar. Maybe these are reserved for overly-intoxicated patrons?
Beer: Nine beers and one cider were available on tap. I decided to go for a flight, asking Meryl for his suggestions. This is what I ended up with:
#1- Roxie Irish Red- Irish Red Ale
Wow. I was not expecting anything interesting from an Irish Red. The crisp, deliciously malty Roxie was probably the best Irish Red I’ve ever had. The color was more orangey than red, but that’s hardly an issue. There is a reason the accounts for 70% of Boone’s distribution.
And best of all, it was an accident. Boone’s master brewer liked hoppy beer, brewing an Irish red just to fill in the gaps for hop-adverse drinkers. And it became their most popular beer.
For good reason. I am making a point to bring Roxie home to Minnesota with me. It is seriously that good.
The obsidian black Halligan was a pleasant drink. The smoothness was reminiscent of an oatmeal stout. “We went for style, not reinventing the wheel.” -Meryl
I noticed notes of chocolate and coffee, yadda yadda yadda. It’s a generic porter, like Meryl said. What you’d expect, but nothing more.
#3-Semi-crazy Blonde: Blonde Ale
The Blonde was golden yellow, with a light, citrusy flavor. I tasted a little bit of hops, but nothing overpowering. This beer was good, but pretty forgetful in my opinion.
I asked Meryl what a Maibock-style beer entailed. He opened his mouth, paused, then flipped open the beer encyclopedia. “Maibock: A Begian-style bock beer typically consumed in May.”
That wasn’t overly helpful.
The Maibock was a lighter, cleaner beer than I expected. Especially considering it’s 7.5% ABV.
“It hides it well, but you still know there’s alcohol in the glass.” -Meryl
This stuff was pretty tasty, but you’d have a difficult time drinking more than one.
#5-Boone Valley IPA: IPA
“It used to be called ‘Iron horse’, but we had to change the name for legal reasons.” -Meryl
Boone Valley was a solid IPA, mostly because there was enough malt to cut the hop bitterness. At 7%, this is not a session beer, but would still be a good choice with a meal.\
#6-Barrel-aged Stout with Vanilla: Stout
Meryl recommended the Bourbon-aged stout, but said it sells out about five days after going on sale. Which is probably for the best, since Bourbon beers are wasted on my unrefined palate. That being said, I was a fan of the vanilla stout.
This stout had more vanilla than oak flavor, which was appreciated. The vanilla was extremely prevalent, without being nauseatingly rich. A solid stout, to be sure.
Bill: Meryl was a champ and only billed me for four beers. My flight of four came to a total of $6.00, plus a $2.00 tip. That places Boone as one of the cheapest places I have sampled beer.
Before visiting, I figured Boone Valley Brewing Co. would be a small brewery trying to grab hold of the craft beer craze emanating from Des Moines. Instead, I found an impressive locale that has been around longer than most of the city breweries—and with great beer to boot. Hands down, the Roxie was one of the better beers I’ve had in my life.
And I don’t say that lightly. My dad works for a beer distribution company. I’ve tried A LOT of beer, and goof beer at that. I will definitely bring a 12 pack of the Roxie home to Minnesota this summer. And if you ever find yourself in the Des Moines area, try another of Boone Valley’s delicious beers. These guys may be out in the boonies (pun intended), but they make some seriously good beer, and at a great value. I highly recommend Boone Valley Brewing Co.
Stay tuned for my exploits in Kansas City, the “Why the fuck does anyone live here?” city.