In September of 2007, I was traveling on business to the heartland of America - Des Moines, Iowa, home of the Iowa caucuses, and center of finance, insurance, and publishing. As Forbes Magazine’s fourth "Best Place for Business" in the USA, Des Moines is the ideal place for a professional summit. Our hosts were aware of my romance with craft beer and were excited at this excellent opportunity to show-off their city. That first evening, we found ourselves at Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company at 309 Court Avenue, in the historic Saddlery Building that had welcomed clientele since 1881. Located near the confluence of the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, the building fell victim to floodwaters that surged 19 feet deep during the Great Flood of 1993. Scott Carlson, owner of Court Avenue Brewing, resurrected the vacant ground level of this historic site in 1996 when he moved his custom brewing equipment into place, poised to deliver up fresh beer to a thirsty city.
The sleek chestnut brown of the bar merges eclectically with the roughened brick walls and historic feel of our surroundings and I think how charmed Beer Hunter Michael Jackson (who had passed away a few weeks earlier) would have been by this haven for malt. I notice every bit of décor, every nuance as it mixes with the aromas of victuals and beer. Between the bar and dining area, a case holds mementos of past patrons: mugs signed by the 2005 Iowa Cubs and by Herman’s Hermits, Johnny Rivers, Henry Rollins, the Little River Band, Al Franken, and Jerry Seinfeld. I was, indeed, standing in the star-studded gateway between the Eastern and Western U.S., and this little gem added grist to my visit.
Head Brewer Mike Gauthier had already left for the day, but the staff appeared excited that he would be entering into competition at the Great American Beer Festival the following month. They introduced me to Sophie’s Mild with toasty malt notes, impressively dry and malty. We sampled Topping Pale Ale, Honest Lawyer IPA, Pointer Brown Ale, and a host of others, and I was greatly impressed that Jackson’s influence had made it possible to drink good beer in this area of the country.
Memoriale at Court Avenue Brewing
As the first anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death approaches, Head Brewer Mike Gauthier is in a reflective mood. Ten years ago, Sheffield’s in Chicago introduced this beer lover to the thrill of craft beer with an impressive lineup of micros. Says Gauthier, “I was ‘forced’ to give up drinking bad beer because there really wasn’t an option there…that, and the rest of the staff made fun of me for it. That’s when I really got turned on to craft beer.”
His obsession had taken him to Great Divide Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado to sink his teeth into the brewing process from the bottling line to cellar man, and into the launch of the big beers: Titan IPA, Yeti Imperial Stout, and Hercules Double IPA. Now, as Head Brewer for Court Avenue Brewing, he has taken the lead by designing an anniversary beer to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson. A portion of the proceeds from each pint will be donated toward Parkinson’s Research.
Memoriale awakens to mirror the image of Fuller’s ESB, a distinctive local favorite of Jackson’s from London, England. Given Michael’s roots, Gauthier thought it best to honor him with a beer of English tradition. He chose Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter and Pale Crystal malts, Dingeman’s C-45 and MFB Cara Pilsener for the grain bill. Since English Noble hops have a strong historical tie to British ales, Gauthier uses Northern Brewer for bittering in the boil; then does dry hopping with Goldings, adding a fragrant citrus profile to the nose. For fermentation, White Labs 002 is the most appropriate choice, one with a striking resemblance to that used at Fuller’s. Gauthier hopes to release his commemorative beer on August 30th, the anniversary of Jackson’s death. This first release will be served on tap, but he has plans to create a proper cask version for the Second Anniversary Memoriale.
As an extra touch to Jackson’s memory, Mike Gauthier has designed table tents for the brewpub, describing Michael Jackson as one of the beer world’s “most beloved and respected family members” and reminding beer enthusiasts that Court Avenue Brewing is truly committed to furthering a cure through Parkinson’s Research.
Photos are (from top): Bar area at Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewery, showing-off mug club mugs on ceiling; Mugs signed by Johnny Rivers, Al Franken, Jerry Seinfeld, and others; Head Brewer Mike Gauthier