Scudder Brew Tour: Final Push to Illinois

Our last day was possibly our most eventful. We drove late the night before to stop in Grinnell, Iowa for a lighter final day of driving. Due to a series of unfortunate events including a minor barstool injury and hospital visit, we ended up not being home until 12:30 a.m.

As a preface, I should say that after stopping at Upstream Brewing Company in Omaha, Neb., Dad complained about a sore heel. I had to drive to Grinnell and open doors for him at the hotel because of the pain in his foot. More on that later.

Millstream Brewing Co. in Amana, IA

We woke up early and drove an hour to Amana, Iowa. The seven Amana colonies are Iowa’s biggest tourist attraction. It is a 160-year old German community smack dab in the center of Iowa’s seemingly endless fields. Nestled in one corner of the historic town is Millstream Brewing Company, circa 1985.

They’re one of the oldest craft breweries we stopped at and have a very distinct focus of keeping their minds on the local consumer. The original 20-barrel fermenting tanks were handcrafted by a local welder. They make an Märzen-style Oktoberfest that sells out rapidly in the weeks before the colony’s huge German festival.

“We’ll go through about a month’s worth of beer over Oktoberfest,” brewmaster Chris Priebe said. “This place was built for the Amanas.”

Brewmaster Chris Preibe of Millstream Brewing Co.

Unlike many brewers we met, Chris was not a homebrewer before getting into the business. He has been at Millstream since the summer of 2000 but has been brewing since 1993, having been educated at the Siebel Institute in Chicago.

At Millstream, he makes a small series of mostly German-style lagers with a few other brews thrown in. When we visited, they were brewing the Iowa Pale Ale, a pale with a flowery nose and nice, calm hopping that was not overwhelming. It is by no means one of the hop-monsters we’ve seen elsewhere.

“We have people tell us they like our pale because it is not as hoppy,” Chris said.

One of their other flagships is the Schild Brau Amber, 2010 gold-medalist at the World Beer Cup. It’s a Vienna-style lager that’s aged for five weeks. It’s a light amber color with a nice smooth finish. We even bought a few bottles to bring home.

Front Street Brewery in Davenport, IA

On our way out, I noticed Dad limping a little bit.

“It’s feeling better than it was last night though. I may have you drive more today,” he said.

We drove on to Davenport, Iowa and stopped for lunch on the banks of the Mississippi at Front Street Brewery. Over lunch we tried a sampler of five of their brews. The house stout was currently unavailable so they had nearby Bent River Brewery‘s Uncommon Stout on tap. To finish out the sampler we tried a devilish (dare I say, blasphemous) concoction, mixing the stout with Front Street’s Cherry Ale.

On their own, Front Street’s Cherry Ale and Apricot Ale were nice. The apricot was unique and tangy, a light wheat without making the fruit overwhelming. Same with the cherry, it was a fine brew with a hint of cherry. When mixed with the stout, it all of the sudden became a sort of Cherry Coke drink. Dark with coffee notes from the stout while still having the light burst of cherry.

My favorite, however, was the Raging River Ale. It has a roasty nose with smooth English-style bitterness. It’s well-malted and well-made.

The Front Street Brewery at the Davenport, IA Freight House

We chatted with bartender Andy Skelton over lunch. Andy is a homebrewer as well and just wrapped up his second batch with his roommates. He told us that Front Street is on the verge of a move down the street to the historic Freight House in downtown Davenport, which the city is revitalizing with local markets and restaurants. We stopped by the new brewery and peeked in the windows. We’ll have to stop by next time we’re in the quad cities.

Before we left Amana in the morning, Chris, from Mill Stream, gave us a recommendation to stop at Great River Brewery. Because of time, we didn’t think we’d be able to add another stop in Davenport. On our way out of town, construction by the river made us take a detour through town. On the detour, however, we drove right past the brewery. So, as good brewery road-trippers, we pulled over to have a look.

Great River Brewery in Davenport, IA

The big, garage-style doors of the brewery were open wide with folks inside cleaning kegs while Darius Rucker music played on loud speakers. We couldn’t stop long, but we at least introduced ourselves and chatted for a short bit.

The tap room didn’t open until four, but it seemed like it would be a nice place. The woman cleaning kegs told us there’s no TVs, no food, just people talking and drinking good beer.

“People can order food or bring in their own, but we don’t make anything,” she said, adding that they do serve peanuts.

Soon we were back on the road, and Dad continued to massage his calf from the driver’s seat.

“The pain is starting to shoot up my leg,” he said. “You’re gonna have to drive the rest of the way home after this next stop.”

Our last road stop was at Rolling Meadows Brewery, a production-only facility located on a farm just outside Springfield, Ill. It’s down about four unpaved roads where GPS directions are unavailable and the roads only recently got real names.

Head brewer Dustin Regan labeling bottles at Rolling Meadows

Brewers Seth Koerner and Dustin Regan, as well as owner Caren Trudeau, showed us around. The farm consisted of a brewery building, a greenhouse, a small home, a vegetable garden, a hop garden and 40 sweeping acres of wheat. Rolling Meadows isn’t making all-estate or all-organic beers yet, but they’re doing as much as they can to get there as soon as possible. They’re growing wheat on the farm (it’s too cold in Illinois for barley) along with Cascade, Kent Goldings and Chinook hops and a wild hop strain on the hop field.

In the meantime, they are making three regular beers and a seasonal to distribute around the Springfield area. The Lincoln’s Lager is a crisp, smooth copper lager. It’s very natural with only hops, yeast and grain; right up Dad’s reinheitsgebot alley. The Abe’s Ale is a maple syrup brown ale with brown sugar, maple syrup and mollasses. It’s smooth with a nice malty finish at 9% ABV.

Wheat fields at Rolling Meadows Brewery in Springfield, IL

The Springfield Wheat, however, is what stood out to me. The whole trip (and whenever I try a wheat for that matter), I look for the very traditional, heavy hefeweizen without the banana and citrus of so many American styles. This hefe is the one I’d been looking for. It is crisp and clear with clove notes. It’s refreshing with only the slightest banana on the nose. Dustin said it ferments at 41 degrees.

After leaving the brewery, Dad went up the road to shoot some photos of the wheat field. He had a heavy limp the whole way up the road. I drove to meet him and he winced getting into the car. While I drove farther south he began researching on his phone.

After some self-diagnosis and phone calls to doctors and family members in the medical field, we feared a blood clot and turned the car back around to Springfield’s St. John’s Hospital. We got to the emergency room and served our time in the seemingly-perpetual waiting room.

After some blood tests and an X-Ray, the doctor diagnosed crutches and keeping off the injured foot. Apparently, Dad had hurt a tendon by putting it at a weird angle while sitting on a stool at the bar in Omaha. We’re calling it a “minor barstool injury” and have prescribed lots of porch time with the many samples we’ve collected on our journey.

I drove the rest of the way home, arriving in Carbondale shortly after midnight. It was a nice drive to think back on the whirlwind past ten days.

Earlier in the day, before we left Rolling Meadows, we chatted with Dustin about all the different places we stopped.

We mentioned Trailhead Brewing Company in Missouri and how we started off in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. We talked about how Wichita Brewing Company in Kansas was fun because we saw that homebrewing really isn’t much different than what the pros do. We talked about all the things we learned about making German-styles from Prost Brewing Company in Denver. We talked about the food pairing of Thai Me Up in Jackson. We reminisced about the great people we’d met like Mike Kilroy at Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City.

“Sounds like quite an adventure,” Dustin said.

It sure has been.

We’re back in Carbondale, but stay tuned tomorrow for the final installment of the Scudder Brew Tour.

Photos by Paul Scudder

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