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Belt’s Beer Garden: 500th Review!

Today I sit down with Pollyanna co-owner Ryan Weidner and review their Dawgma

Today we reach a milestone. The 500th beer review. And for this momentous occasion, I found the perfect beer from Pollyanna Brewing Company.

Pollyanna began in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, Illinois and has now expanded to three suburban locations (Lemont, Roselle, and St. Charles). They also have a few ties to NIU and have supported Huskie athletics and the NIU Alumni Association (NIUAA) for quite some time.

The latest act of support came earlier this year when they announced that they had teamed up with the NIUAA to brew Dawgma, a German-style kölsch and an NIU themed beer.

Dawgma is one of a just dozen beers with connections to colleges, a trend that began in 2011 when UC-Davis and Sudwerk Brewing teamed up to make Gunrock Lager. And, while it’s not officially licensed by NIU, the Alumni Association was able to get permission from the school to sell it on athletic premises and use the Huskie logo.

As a huge beer drinker with ties to NIU, there was no better way to reach 500 beers than with this NIU beer.

But, to make this milestone even more special, I reached out to Pollyanna and Ryan Weidner, Huskie alum (’98, MBA ’12) and co-founder/CFO of Pollyanna, agreed sit down with me and talk about the beer and brewery.


Hustle Belt: How did this collaboration come about?
Ryan Weidner: This was really the brainchild of Reggie Bustinza (Executive Director, NIUAA). He and I had become friends and after he saw Ragin’ Cajun Ale (a beer brewed by Bayou Teche for the University of Louisiana) he thought it’d be a great idea for us to do. And I was on board right away.

It started as a draft only thing but we wanted to get it out for the 2019 football season and had to work quickly to do so. The draft lines at Huskie Stadium were all accounted for though, which caused a few problems for us. Luckily, we were able to get a few kegs out there to sell it at the Illinois State game. After that, we had some time to plan since the Huskies were gone all of September and were able to start canning it.

Right now it’s also scheduled to be available at the Convocation Center for all NIU basketball games as well.

HB: Why a kölsch?
RW: We wanted something sessionable that everyone would enjoy, not just craft beer drinkers. We though an IPA might scare some people away but wanted to keep it an ale as lagers just take too much time to brew. We also wanted it to be a style that Pollyanna doesn’t have on the market right now but that our brewers were excited to make. They love German beers and have even studied in Germany and a kölsch just seemed like the right choice for everybody.

HB: Will there be more to come in the future?
RW: Yes. We want to keep Dawgma as a mainstay, as it has a huge demand and draw right now. If possible, having it year-round would be great. But we’re actively thinking about others as well to compliment Dawgma. And the future holds some playfulness and experimentation, which we’re looking forward to.

HB: What does the future hold for Pollyanna?
RW: Well, we just opened the St. Charles location and, as we have two others, I think we’re good on taprooms at the moment. We don’t want to over-extend and have us look too chain-like. As for production, we’re looking like we’ll hit 5000 barrels in 2019 and even more next year.

At the moment we sell to 800 different locations and are available in 24 counties in Illinois and, in September, we expanded into Kentucky as well. But, while we still plan to grow, our main focus continues to be on the local area so we don’t over-saturate ourselves.

HB: What about the future of beer? What styles do you see becoming popular?
RW: As I like to say, beers that my parents would drink. I think you’ll see sessionable, lighter beers are going to become more and more popular. People are looking for those lighter, lower ABV brews like pilsners, golden ales, cream ales, and…yes, even kölschs. They’re styles that both beer aficionados and non-craft drinkers can enjoy. You’ll still have a huge chunk want those full styles like IPAs, but I think we’re going to see a big shift towards those more crushable styles.

HB: What is your favorite beer that you make and your favorite brewery/beer outside of Pollyanna?
RW: I’m an IPA guy so Lexical Gap (their year-round IPA) is my go-to, it’s just so easy to drink. Or our Take It Easy, a coconut cream ale. Outside of our stuff, Pipeworks is my favorite brewery and their Guppy series is amazing.

HB: Finally, best place to have a beer and watch NIU?
RW: C’mon, that’s easy. Fatty’s. The environment, and it being so close to the stadium, creates an amazing experience and it doesn’t get any better than that. I know everyone says Fatty’s but…there’s a reason for that. It’s just an electric place.

Once more I would like to thank Ryan for sitting down with me and answering my questions. Now, though, as this is a beer segment…on to the 500th review!

While most of the Dawgma cans were sent to Huskie Stadium to satisfy the thirsty fans at football games, I was incredibly lucky and found a single pint at a local beer shop. Supplies are still incredibly limited, both in DeKalb and Chicagoland, but a handful of places might still have some cans and a new batch is scheduled to be released in the next few weeks.

This kölsch was brewed with pilsner malt, German hops, and a kölsch yeast. It has a 5.2% ABV and just 17 IBU and, if you can find it, a four-pack of cans runs about $9 or it’s around $3 for a single can.

Dawgma poured a translucent light golden color with about half a finger of pure white head topping it off. The foam almost immediately fizzles down to thin ring around the edge of the glass with a few patches of bubbles floating in the middle.

The smell was light but had some nice sweetness to it from the malt. That typical flaked corn characteristic was there as well and reminded me of a certain breakfast cereal. The German hops provided a pinch of citrus beneath it all.

A mild carbonation started off the sip, fizzling on my tongue for a moment before the flavors were able to burst through.

And, as the aroma indicated, this beer began with a sweet pop that was immediately followed up by a flaked grain flavor (mostly wheat and corn) that took control early.

At the midway point, there was a little pop of hops that added some citrus rind and a light lemony sour note. A slight bitterness also showed up here, but nothing worse than you’d get with say a regular domestic beer…just a friendly reminder from the hops that they were, indeed, used.

Once that lemony tart flavor joined the party, it didn’t want to leave. The remainder of the taste is a nice balance of bran and lemon that slowly fades away.

Dawgma ends crisp and clean. There is no real aftertaste and just a smidge of dryness. After every sip you’re instantaneously ready for another…it made this brew a little too crushable. I killed this pint much faster than I wanted to…but no regrets. It’s that good.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of most kölschs (or lighter beers in general) and would much rather be drinking a hop-bomb of an IPA. However, this one was damn good. I can see why Huskie Stadium is having a hard time keeping in stock.

This one wasn’t plain and boring like most, that seem to just have that corn flake flavor and a little sweetness. This one actually has flavor. The burst of citrus and lemon midway through really compliment the other flavors nicely and had me going back for more almost as soon as the last sip ended.

I definitely would get this one again (if I can find it). And not just because of the NIU connections but, more importantly, because it’s actually a really good kölsch.

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