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Getting Crafty

From ales to lagers to stouts to IPAs, getting into craft beer in hopping local scenes can be quite a ride to the novice domestic drinker. But if Busch Light is your go-to choice, don’t be afraid to try something new: take a flight with The Messenger to learn more about some of the quality local offerings made right in Fort Dodge.

For Ron Grebner, brewer and owner River Hops Brewing on Central Avenue, variety is the spice of life. At River Hops, where all beers are made in small batches of less than 210 gallons — one defining characteristic of craft beer — he said it takes more creativity to produce artisan creations that please the palate.

Craft beers are usually produced in smaller batches, making them more exclusive in availability and unique in flavor. Micro-brew, a buzz term you may have heard, simply indicates the size of the batches. Grebner simply says his beer is “less mainstream.”

“When people say I don’t like beer or I only like Busch Light, that’s like saying ‘I’ll only eat white rice,'” he said. “Why would you do that? Why would you limit yourself?”

Follow us to see that the possibilities for hops and grains are truly endless. River Hops Brewing’s Nitro Milk Chocolate Stout finishes foaming after a pour, with an unbelievably creamy texture topped by a smooth, foamy head.

First up on our flight is Training Wheels, a lager designed for those new to craft beer. With only 15 IBUs (International Bittering Units–the bigger the number, the more bitter your beer will be) this light flavor is the perfect introduction that Grebner hands to those accustomed to mass-produced domestic beers.

Despite the endless commercials national beer producers can afford to fund telling you otherwise, Grebner is confident that this locally-produced option will be more pleasing.

“To me, it’s better than domestic” he said. “It’s fresh, it’s just nice.”

Lagers are fermented in cold temperatures, usually about 58‚, for about two months. With a bottom-fermenting yeast, lagers take a bit longer than other beers to produce than, other types of beer.

“When you look at capacity, it makes it harder (to produce lagers),” the owner said. River Hops Brewing owner Ron Grebner draws a pour of Dopple Bock that has soaked in a former bourbon barrel to transform into a flavor almost unrecognizable as beer.

Next up is the Lemon Lager, a pleasingly sweet and refreshing choice that lives up to its name with a a natural lemon puree that makes it intentions immediately clear. Think lemon-custard sweet, rather than a tart sour flavor.

Also along the route of citrus is the Ox-ider, one of River Hops’ flagship offerings that’s comprised of Oxbow Orange and Soldier Creek Winery’s Ghost Pig Cider.The option requested by some customers gives the best of both worlds between cider and beer, offering a zippy delivery of tartness balanced out by the pleasing mouthfeel of the Oxbow Orange. Thanks to the cider, the mixture gives a little more bang for your buck, too, with an alcoholic beverage volume brought up by Ghost Pig’s 7.8%.

Next up is The Patriot IPA, a stronger, a New England-style India Pale Ale that’s hazy and frothy. With a complex flavor rounded by lots of juicy fruit notes, it’s a not-so-bitter style worth a try for everyone.

“It’s got a lot of flaked oats, flaked barley and flaked wheat, which helps with the haze and creams it,” Grebner said.

A typical ale, fermented at 60-72‚, tends to have a lot of bitterness derived from the hop additions. The more you put in, and the longer you boil it, the more bitter it’ll be, Grebner said. But The Patriot is dry-hopped (hops are added mid-fermentation), meaning all the flavor you taste comes from the ingredients.

With many handcrafted, small batch options to choose from at breweries like River Hops on Central, Fort Dodgers don’t need to go far to find quality beer.

Another pale ale option ranking a bit higher on the bitterness scale is the Remnant, hopped with Cedar Falls grains. Grebner said he would like to eventually use Iowa-grown hops for 100% of his selections. So far, hops from Iowa are used in five of his 13 beers.

Ready for something stronger? Follow us to the stouts.

Our penultimate stop is the Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Stout, a solid chocolate offering that delivers a dark, bold profile that slips your taste buds the chocolate upfront, accompanied by complementary but slightly less dominant peanut butter globs.

“It’s a really nice milk chocolate stout, so it has a good quantity of lactose in it to milk it up,” Grebner said.

Though he declined to articulate just how he gets a beer to taste like a semi-sweet chocolate and peanut butter bar, he did let us in on part of the secret.

“It’s somewhat proprietary,” the brewer chuckled before explaining that the grains are simply roasted to give it a chocolate aura.

Stouts and porters are made with darker grains, making them heavier with a much more robust taste. Grebner analogizes it to toasting bread for different lengths of time.

“It’s the same grain, it’s just how long you roast it or process it,” he said.

Our final stop is as pleasing to the eye as it is the the palate. The Nitro Milk Chocolate Stout, infused with nitrogen with a pour that produces an unbelievably frothy head, delivers a payoff for the risk of diving into the ambitious stout territory of brewing.

While you can certainly taste the passion in any of these local offerings, any option on the River Hops menu proves true to its style.

Reprinted from The Fort Dodge Messenger

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