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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wormburner Brewing Company of Davenport, Iowa

Something that I find fascinating and exciting about my wife's hometown of Davenport, Iowa, and the rest of the Quad Cities area is the number of microbreweries and craft beer scene. I've been with my wife, either in girlfriend or wife mode, since 2001. That time period has included numerous trips to her hometown. It doesn't seem like all that long ago, I started hearing about some of the local beer companies. I heard about Great River Brewery, and got to bring home some cans of their product. I fell in absolute love with their Farmer Brown Ale and the Red Band Coffee Stout.

Then, I did some research before a subsequent trip. I discovered some other places: Front Street Brewery, Bluecat Brewpub, Bent River. I stumbled onto a Quad Cities certified beer judge with his own blog, Alan of the QC Beer Guy blog. Then, I hear about Against the Grain Brewery & Alehouse. And to really up the ante, there's a locally sourced craft distillery up the road in LeClaire! Each trip back, I try to check out another microbrewery in the area. So far, I've covered visits to Bluecat, Bent River, and Front Street. But there is really something invigorating and fresh about finding out about a new, upstart brewing company, even before they have a location in mind.

While in Davenport over Christmas, my inlaws were debriefing me on a new brewery that they had seen a Facebook friend had liked. So, in my beer geekness, I had to find out more. What I discovered was Wormburner Brewing Company!

Craig Smith is the owner and brewmaster of Wormburner Brewing Company. As with many startup breweries, Craig started out as a home brewer. He has not yet secured a location for the brewery to call home. For the moment, he is working out of his downtown Davenport business office. Diligence is something that Craig values when seeking the location; he wants to make sure it will be a great fit for the brewery, and the community and people surrounding it. Until he has moved into a storefront, Craig considers himself still just a home brewer. With every hobby brewer, there comes a spark that urges him or her to take their passion to the next level. In Craig's case, it's the enjoyment of bringing great brews to friends, family and now to the public.  

When the time comes to open the doors on his full-blown operation, he will be enlisting the help of a couple of great brewers in the Quad Cities area to assist in the more mechanical side of the setup. Craig will definitely reaming the visionary of the company, and hopes to absorb the talents of the other brewers that will be joining him at Wormburner. 

An unexpected aspect of opening a brewery is the amount of non-brewing, business-oriented, promotion, paperwork-laden labor that it entails. This should not come as a surprise, nor an obstacle for Craig Smith. Craig and his wife, DaMel, own two other downtown Davenport businesses: Salon Lucé, a salon in the building that houses his office, and  Spa Lucé, the high end spa in the ground level of the historic, award-winning Hotel BlackhawkThe Smiths' operation started as a boutique salon, opening in April of 2008 with three employees. With Craig's wife, a hairdresser for fifteen years, as the workhorse behind the salon, and Craig as the CFO and manager, they quickly grew their business to two locations, with nearly 30 empolyees, currently. This type of self-motivated business drive, knowledge, and experience will be a major benefit to Craig as he begins to tackle the back of the house operations for the future brewpub.

Now, what's with the name? Wormburner... Typically this term describes my feeble golfing skills! However, in Craig's case, it harkens back to his childhood. Anyone from our generation will remember the Glow Worm toy!

"It's kind of a quirky story about the name," begins Smith. "When I was a very young kid, probably a toddler or so, I carried around with me a glow worm everywhere I went.  My babysitter called me "worm" for that reason. Another group of boys my same age went to the same sitter.  When we made it to high school the nickname resurfaced and caught on like wildfire, and from there, it just stuck. Now over ten years separated from that time, my close friends still call me Worm! (However, I don't necessarily introduce myself to others as such.) One friend in particular called me "Wormburner"  because of the brewing process, requiring a high BTU burner to boil the wort."

And thus, Wormburner Brewing Company had its name! Craig believes his old babysitter would be tickled to know that the name lives on!

Every brewery, whether a micro-, a nano-, or other, has their flagship beers. Craig says his Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) will always dominate the planned menu. Colorado has been entrenched into the craft beer world for years. Craig's first trip to Colorado introduced him to this new world that was not widely known in Iowa. This began his love for more flavorful beers, with more hoppy character. In the Quad Cities area, that was a hard to find beer type. Now, years later, the craft beer scene has really grown in the QCA, with the likes of Great River, Bent River, and others. Smith wants to share his passion, and become part of the craft beer scene in the Quad Cities.

Wormburner Brewing Company is moving quickly toward becoming a proper brewpub and tasting room. Craig is currently working with is attorney to complete and acquire all the proper licensing requirements to brew and sell beer to the public. He hopes to have everything in order, within the next few months. This includes pinpointing the yet to be determined location, as I mentioned earlier. Craig believes, most likely, that downtown Davenport will be the home of Wormburner. However, he is still open to suggestions through the Wormburner Brewing Company Facebook page.  

I know my fellow beer geeks out there would like to know more technical aspects of Wormburner. At the moment, Craig is brewing on a system that is just slightly more sophisticated than a typical home brewer setup. He started out with one to five gallong batches, but now works with up to 20 gallon batches, in order to yield enough to bottle, label, and get out as samples. One major challenge he faces, until he upsizes to the proper brewhouse is Lagering. As many of you may know, lagers are fermented at a controlled, low, consistent, temperature. So, lagers are a beer style that will be on hold until Wormburner Brewing Company is established, in the actual location. Right now, Smith has three sample beers: Smooth Operator, an Iowa Pale Ale, a Belgian style called Dark Side of the Moon, and an American Pale Ale called Oregon Trail. I have been fortunate enough to receive a couple samples each of the Smooth Operator, and Dark Side of the Moon. [See below for tasting notes, and my thoughts.]

I asked Craig what his vision is for Wormburner Brewing Company. He wants to create an upscale brewpub similiar to the one at Potosi Brewing Company in Wisconsin. He's looking to have five to ten mainstay beers, and rotating seasonal and brewmaster specials to keep things interesting and fresh for the fans of WBC. In the long term sense, Craig is wanting to see his beer on the shelves of local stores, and beyond. Craig sums up his vision very well:

"One thing I've learned in business is that if you think little, you are going to get little; think big, and well, you're going to get big."

Frankly Tasting Notes

Smooth Operator: Iowa Pale Ale

The Smooth Operator Iowa Pale Ale is an India Pale Ale that clocks in at approximately 7.1% alcohol by volume (ABV). The hop bill consists of Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Warrior, and Simcoe. The predominant hop flavor and aroma is contributed by the Simcoe hops, as it was used in the boil, and the dry-hopping process.

When I first tasted this sample bottle at the end of December, it poured slightly hazy, with a pale golden color. It kicked up a nice, fluffy white head, with some good retention. I picked up piney, resiny, slightly sweet on the nose. Tasting the beer gave notes of breadiness, slighly citrusy, a slight maltiness. A moderate bitterness and hop character was present. The mouthfeel seemed a little thin; it should have had a bit more body to it. Overall, I felt it was a good IPA.

Last night, I opened my second bottle of Smooth Operator. What a difference a month of resting can make, sometimes. The appearance was roughly the same: hazy, a bit darker golden to amber color, fluffy white head with fantastic lacing on the glass. The aroma had changed a bit; more piney, a bit of that "dank" character that sometimes reminds you of a recreational herb, a little citrusy. The first thing I noticed on the tongue was a bit more spiciness from the hops, a little more bitter than before. There was a presence of a nice malty backbone, but had a fantastic hop flavor from that Simcoe dry-hopped contribution. The mouthfeel was still a bit thinner than I'd like, and Craig admits it's thinner than he would have liked, as well. The beer leaves a nice dry finish in my mouth. Overall, I went from thinking this was a good IPA, to being a much better IPA. I could see myself drinking this on a regular basis, while in Davenport, if the mouthfeel is enriched, as Craig may be working on! Craig warns me, though, that the Smooth Operator may not necessarily make the final cut for his lineup. Also, one concern could be the label, as several people have commented on the photo I posted last month, and on a Facebook post by Craig, about how similar it may be to the Boulevard labels, especially the 80 Acre beer.

Dark Side of the Moon

 Dark Side of the Moon is Wormburner's Belgian style ale.

When I first tried Darkside of the Moon at the end of last month, Craig warned me it had not quite conditioned and carbonated as much as he wanted. I couldn't reisist, and I tried it, anyway. The lack of carbonation didn't make too much difference, to me. I rather like my Belgian ales a bit "flatter", for lack of better term. I failed to take written notes on my first tasting, but I can tell you I really enjoyed Darkside, and thought it was a fantastic example of a Belgian ale! Last night, I had the opportunity to try my second bottle of it. It poured a bit darker than a Belgin Witbier, with a dark straw to nearly amber with a slight tinge of red, perhaps. A nice hazy appearance, as you would expect. A very thin head, but still carbonated a bit more than before. It was good carbonation, in my book, for this style. Each bottle, of the sample batch, contains one coriander seed; I like this! The nose reveals an orange and coriander character, with a grainy, bready note. Fantastic flavor in this beer! There was the typical Belgian flavors, yet there was just that something more... that je ne sais quoi... I just can't put a name to the flavor. However, I love it! The finish had just a light sweetness to it. A very drinkable beer. I could really see myself enjoying this decently chilled on a warm summer day. Another huge positive to this beer is the fact it can be a step into craft beer, for fans of Big Beer-owned Blue Moon. Many people enjoy that beer, and could easily get into this beer as a local, craft alternative. Looking forward to trying this at the new brewpub, on a future Davenport visit!


  1. I loved it, excellent job there my friend!

    1. Thank you, Larry! I appreciate it!

  2. Always nice to see the QC get the props it deserves for it's brewing/distilling! It's a great time to live in the QC. Thanks for giving our local businesses some ink!