Remember when I used to do brewery reviews? Me neither. I think it’s been a solid 8 months since I last reviewed Boone Valley. Which is just wrong.
I’d like to right that wrong today. As luck would have it, I live about five minutes from a brewery in Altoona. While I’ve already been to this brewery a couple times, I have yet to write about it. So here we go!
Establishment: Wing Nutt Brewing Company
Location: 480 Center Pl, Altoona, IA 50009
Background: Wing Nutt has been around since June of 2016, which makes it one of the newest breweries in the metro. I attempted to visit several times last summer, but could never figure out the damn hours. Which wouldn’t be a big deal now, but was somewhat annoying when I lived half an hour away. After several misfires and no discernable schedule, I gave up trying to visit. At least until I moved to Altoona.
Being small and relatively new, Wing Nutt serves a number of taps from other more established breweries. Confluence, Boone Valley and Peace Tree are a few I’ve noticed on rotation.
Sound familiar? If not, go back and read my blog.
Décor: I’ve called past breweries “inconspicuous.” Wing Nutt brings that to a new level. Tucked in a small strip mall neighboring an Anytime Fitness and generic dentist, this combination tap house-brewery would never be noticed unless you were diligently seeking it out. The interior is modest, with nine bar stools and 11 tables providing plenty of options for seating. A ceiling-mounted projector was showing college basketball.
The decorations are a jumble of hipster stereotypes: coffee bean bags, odd paintings, an old bicycle and tables made out of tire rims. However, there were also decidedly unhipster adornments: American flags, old rugs and an surprising amount of blank wall space. It’s like Wing Nutt is trying to give off a craft brewery vibe without off-putting the traditionalist middle-aged crowd. That’s a fine line to walk.
The music was a hodgepodge, to say the least. Wing Nutt has one of those new-fangled “Rockbot” music players. It’s kind of like a jukebox for millennials. However, whomever set the playlist was clearly not a millennial. Songs ranged the gambit from Florida Georgia Line and Whitney Houston to Prince and Breaking Benjamin. Which is fine, but I’ve been a few times where it exclusively played modern country and Ke$ha. Safe to say I only stayed for one beer that day. Clearly Wing Nutt is haphazardly playing to the 20-year range of visitors, without knowing what really works. Or the bartender put the thing on autopilot. Speaking of which…
Staff: One bartender was working when I visited Sunday afternoon. A middle-aged man with a mustache and Wing Nutt t-shirt, he was pleasant and greeted me upon entry (granted there were only 7 people in the bar at that time). I asked for a flight, and he oddly suggested a number of guest beers. This struck me as strange: wouldn’t a brewery recommend their own beers first? Since I had tried most of his previous recommendations, I asked for house beers. He wisely asked which styles I preferred, to which I gave him a “green light” to run the spectrum. He promptly poured me four flight glasses and opened a tab.
Something I thought was interesting was a young teenager playing darts by himself when I entered. It turns out said teenager was the bartender’s son. I guess there are worse places to be when your dad brings you to work. The son sat by me for a solid hour, but was glued to his phone.
No problem. I was glued to my laptop.
Patrons: One thing I’ve noticed about Wing Nutt: it’s never busy. I’m surprised when more than ten people are there. But when people are present, they usually match the same description—older couples. What constitutes older? Somewhere between 30 and 50. But what really sticks out are those accompanying the patrons: children. Of all things, Wing Nutt is a family-friendly brewery. The foosball table and dart board are usually occupied by elementary-aged children. I suppose mom and dad would like a drink, but don’t want to bring the kids to some dingy dive bar where there’s nothing to do.
Their loss. Dive bars are awesome.
Most breweries have a “game shelf” where bored patrons can play a second-hand board or card game to pass the time. People take advantage of this much more at Wing Nutt than any other brewery I’ve visited. On today’s visit, a 30-something couple was playing cribbage, five 40-somethings were playing a board game, and a 30-something father and his daughter were playing go-fish. A couple with a newborn seated behind me discussed adopting a golden-doodle puppy and Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom.
One thing you won’t find at Wing Nutt is young single people.
Oh well, I’m working anyway.
Food: Nada. Wing Nutt advertises take-out menus for local restaurants, but doesn’t serve any food. Unless you count the pretzels used to cleanse one’s pallet. You’re welcome to bring your own food. The people behind me brought in bags of chips to share.
Beer: Nine beers and one cider were available on tap, only five of which were brewed on-site. I decided to try four of the five house beers, mostly because I’d tried most of the guest beers already.
#1- Uncomma Stout-Chocolate Stout
Mmmm. This jet black brew was a safe but innovative take on the traditional chocolate stout. It tasted more bitter than your run-of-the-mill stout, but from an agreeable aftertaste of dark chocolate. When I think of stouts, I usually think heavy, easy drinking and smooth. While the Uncomma was easy to drink, the alcohol was higher than a traditional stout (Guinness is only about 4%), and not as sweet as say a milk stout. I imagine this beer was brewed with simplicity in mind, but seasoned drinkers will taste slightly more complexity than they are used to.
Ah, Belgian beer. The bane of my father’s taste buds.
“I never really understood spiced beer.”
Dark brown with fringes of amber from the light, this “spiced beer” didn’t taste overly mulled. The stout half of its pedigree was emphasized more than traditional Belgian zestiness. Aside from that, the beer was kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong—it tasted fine. But sip after sip left me wondering what I was drinking. I don’t feel compelled to try the Betrunken again. Which kind of defeats the “drinkability” purpose of a boring beer
I’d skip this one.
#3-Cherri On My Wayward Son-Cherry Smoked Rye
There’ll be peace when you are done. If you can finish this beer.
Fruit flavored beers are always tricky. Too much flavor and you get a pucker-worthy radler. Too little flavor and your beer becomes boring. I usually prefer subtle fruit flavors, such as Fox Brewing’s Zorro (lime-infused wheat). The Wayward Son lived up to its name—undisciplined and immature. Far from the tart cherry after taste I was expecting, I couldn’t pick up any notes of cherry whatsoever.
Wait! There it is!
Never mind. That was just some backwash from lunch.
So if your cherry smoked rye doesn’t have cherry, it should at least have a smoky flavor, right? I couldn’t detect that either. Most smoked beers are overpowering, and taste like bacon. The Wayward Son certainly didn’t taste like bacon, but didn’t have a subtle aftertaste of smoke either. What did I taste? Awkward bitterness. Not the same lingering bitterness of a well-hopped IPA, but the bitterness of a confused rye beer with an identity crisis.
Don’t you cry no more. You don’t have to finish it.
While the Wayward Son was awkwardly bitter, the 3.5 provided a pleasant dose of hops more refreshing than harsh. This pleasant pale ale had a fresh floral scent and light taste, complemented by its bubbly amarillo appearance. This would be a great beer for people who like hops but like to slowly nurse several beers throughout the evening. I don’t care much for pale ales, but this was a solid beer. You won’t be blown away by it, but you’ll probably appreciate it.
Bill: My flight of four beers came to a total of $7. Which isn’t bad. And pints are only $4.75, which is a tad cheaper than the average brewery’s $5 pint. In terms of value, Wing Nutt is a solid place to get a drink. Especially when you consider you can drink several other major breweries for less than you would at their tap rooms, all in one place.
The Verdict: Wing Nutt is my local brewery, so I am compelled to like it. That being said, the beer isn’t anything special. It isn’t terrible either, but you’re probably not coming for a ground-breaking beer anyway. Wing Nutt knows its niche: a family-friendly brewery for people who don’t like the generic bar scene. More established breweries like Confluence may have larger selections and more visitors, but Wing Nutt doesn’t care. Why else would they serve Confluence? Wing Nutt knows that its strong suit is a quiet place to play cards, have a conversation and enjoy a higher echelon of beer, brewed on-site or elsewhere.
I’ll continue coming to Wing Nutt because it is quiet and modest. If you find yourself in Altoona, I suggest checking out this humble microbrewery. I’ll see you there.