Friday, September 28, 2007

Along Came Paulaner

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There's an inner struggle at work here. On the one hand, there's a desire to "damn the man," deny the corporate monstrosities, stick my middle finger in the air and tell InBev, SABMiller, Anheuser-Busch, and Heineken to die. On the other hand, there's beer like Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Lowenbrau, Pilsner Urquell, Franziskaner, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, Grolsch, Guiness, Red Stripe, Murphy's, and countless other; all owned by either InBev, A-B, SABMiller, or Heineken. These are all good beers despite their corporate ownership.

The only conclusion is that there isn't a solution. There are some great brands owned by world-wide beverage conglomerates. The bigger problem is access to the brands not owned by world-wide congolmerates. That's the real nefariousness of the world-wide distribution systems. They have the money and power to force these brands, but unfortunately the vast majority of their sub-par brands, on unknowledgeable retail outlets. Why are "high end" restuarants serving Amstel? Why are high end restaurants serving St. Pauli Girl, Leinies and Rolling Rock as "premium" beers? The answer is usually because they care more about their wine selections and they are generally uneducated about beer selections. It's a shameful situation. Take a look at L'Etoile's wine list. I invite you to locate their beer selection on that website; yet a Loterbol Blonde would compliment their chicken entree very well. Of course, maybe the problem is that they can't charge $150 for a bottle of Loterbol Blonde; but they can for Deus.

This is a problem with the retailers and restaurants. Retailers and restaurants especially need to stop being lazy about beer. Stop listening to what the distributors want you put on your shelf and your table and get out and know your product. Take some pride in your selections.

Educate your customers on styles. This is done regularly for wine, both formally via in-store tastings and informally by talking to the customer and making suggestions. Restaurants even more so. Customers frequently ask for wine recommendations. If good and interesting beers were offered, they would ask about those as well. As much as they can be useless, shelf talkers can't hurt; use them (by the way, one of the projects we are working on here at MBR is to create shelf talkers for use at retail). Educate your servers on beers like you educate them on wines. Make sure your wine stewards know your beer selection inside and out. Make sure your bartenders know your beer selection inside and out.

There's no reason that high-end beers like Cantillon, Abbaye Des Rocs, Girardin, Panil, and others can't be sold regularly or served in restaurants paired with fine food. It's not really the customers' place to demand these at restaurants and retail; for the most part these outlets are take-it-or-leave-it. But, if the restaurants and retail took the time to be educated on these beers, there is ample opportunity to differentiate the business in a crowded "wine-centric" marketplace. Retaurants like Brasserie V and The Great Dane at Hilldale have proven that customers are eager for these beers and eager to learn. Bars and Retail like Maduro and Star Liquor and Steve's and Riley's have shown that education and selection can sell these beers.

Here's the offer: If you are a restaurant or retail outlet and you are serious about improving your beer selection drop us an email, we will be more than happy to be an unbiased, independent guide and help you find quality beers that match your food and get you pointed in the right direction.

Paulaner

Appearance: copper/golden amber and crystal clear, 1/2 inch foamy head, strong bubbling action

Aroma: bold and malty, strong bread-like aroma, mildly sweet, with nice flowery and complex hoppiness

Flavor: upfront sweetness with a light caramel flavor, the malts are very subdued, but combine with each other nicely; the hops hit from the get-go, and hold up nicely through the finish adding a clean, solid end; very little aftertaste

Body: medium-light, with moderate carbonation; burpy

Drinkability: I've already finished about 1/2 of it and I've just been tasting it; irresistable

Notes/Summary: this is a fantastic oktober; like Spaten it's what Oktobers should be; I'm not sure I could pick a "favorite" between this and the Spaten; while I really like both, I have a nagging sensation that they could be better

Recommendation: very highly recommended. The only downside is the relatively high price to buy this in Wisconsin; in terms of value, Capital gets you close enough for better price

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thirsty Troll Brew Fest - Mount Horeb, WI

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Some of us at MBR are a little newer to the whole "craft beer" thing than others. Prior to last year, I would have classified Heineken as a quality beer and my experience with imports was limited to Labatt's, Molson, Corona, and Guiness. I had no idea things like "The Great American Beer Fest" even existed, let alone the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild and their world-reknown Great Taste of the Midwest.

Of course, I had heard of Oktoberfest in Germany, but couldn't have told you that it was held in Munich, let alone in September. Hell, I couldn't have circled the Bavaria Region of Germany (Bavaria is in Germany!?!) on a map. The extent of my interaction with Belgium was a vague knowledge of their soccer league (I'm still not entirely sure how I came into possession of a Club Brugge soccer jersey). And the fact that Guiness is in Ireland really held no special significance except that I knew I could drink it on St. Patty's Day with abandon.

In other words, I wasn't the full-blooded, regional craft beer snob that you see before you today. I thought beverage snobbery was relegated to wine and scotch. Little did I know. After all, beer is ... well ... beer. It's something that you consume with a bong for God's sake (we'll ignore the snobbery and conoisseurship of other items that can be consumed in bongs). When was the last time you saw a wine bong? Or a scotch bong? Standing on your head to drink beer is considered a skill.

But beer, unlike wine and scotch, is a social drink. While wine parties exist and scotch parties, too, they are nothing to the all-night kegger. Wine parties are something that you invite your close friends to and sip while discussing whether Bitsy is handling her pregancy well, or whether Tad is going to get that offer of partnership. Scotch is best consumed in a dark room with your closest confidantes with an "imported" cuban cigar. But beer. There's an exuberance, an interactivity, to beer that makes it perfect to consume in quantities with total strangers.

Of course beer doesn't have to be consumed a dozen at a time. Pouring a Sam Adams Uptopia (25% abv) into a snifter to be sipped gently (pinky sticking straight out of course) while reading Kant and Vonnegut is about as far from your typical evening with beer as you can get. Yet, both the kegged American light lager and the American strong ale are part of our (American) brewing language. Neither is more, or less, authentic beer than the other. There is a place in the lexicon for both.

And, this dichotomy of ranges, but inclusiveness of tastes, is what makes beer fests like Mount Horeb's Thirsty Troll Brew Fest, such great events. Hippies, lawyers, college kids, tourists (hippie law students from Iowa?), and the curious all packed into Grundahl Park to sip everything from Spotted Cow to Autumnal Fire. Packed under the big tent on a beautiful last-day-of-summer, the hordes could take their complimentary 4 oz sampler glass up to any one of dozens of breweries and brew pubs and sample any one of almost one hundred beers, sodas, and wines.

As for the event itself; it seemingly went off without a hitch. We were greeted with a brewery list, useful pencil (provided by this fine site with a handsome "www.madisonbeerreview.com" stenciling), a sampler glass, and a little marble to drop into a bucket of our favorite brewery. There were no long lines or long waits. There could have been more food. The music, by Madison favorites The Kissers, was surprisingly good.

It's the fifth year the Mount Horeb Chamber of Commerce has put on this event. The Thirsty Troll Brew Fest is gloriously Wisconsin-centric. Only three breweries were from out of state (to be fair, there were two out-of-state no-shows) but even those three are widely available and loved here (Bells, Goose Island and Summit). It acts as a great showcase for the craft brewing industry in Wisconsin (we'll put "craft" in quotes though, since, as we've discussed before it's seems difficult to lump Leinies, or even Goose Island, or Sprecher into the "craft" label). If only more had shown (or been invited?). It would be nice to see Viking, Central Waters, and some of the other "North Woods" breweries represented; but practically every major Southern Wisconsin craft brewery was there (though no Lakefront, and no Brewery Creek). The beers they brought were representative of their breweries. My only qualm is that, with the exception of Goose Island's Matilda, Capital's Autumnal Fire and two beers from Sprecher, there were very few "special" beers there. Tyranena did not bring their Brewers Gone Wild series; no specialties from New Glarus, Grays, Ale Asylum, Lake Louie, Sand Creek, or Summit.

Being Wisconsin-centric and the end of summer the beers themselves were mostly wheats and lighter beers. A few brought along their Oktoberfests and IPAs. But there were very few porters or stouts or dark lagers. That isn't a complaint; just an observation. For me, the winner of the day was Stonefly, a small brewpub near UW-M in Milwaukee. With names like "Moustache Ride Pale Ale" and an IPA that triggers twitches it's so bitter, it's exactly the type of small brewer striking it on their own that makes Wisconsin such an exciting place for beer lovers.

The fact that Stonefly and Leinies can co-exist under the same tent makes the Thirsty Troll Brew Fest such a fine exhibition of Wisconsin beer. So, kudos to Mount Horeb. Thanks for the fine beers and the local breweries. We look forward to the brew fest reappearance next year; hopefully your continued success will bring more Wisconsin breweries into the fold.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Oktoberfest #6 - Day 3 Sample B (Point)

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We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.

Unfortunately this is the last Wisconsin Oktoberfest that we have in our refrigerator. More Wisconsin Oktobers exist, unfortunately they have proven elusive in obtaining in singles form. If you have any of the following, please get in touch with us, and we will arrange somthing:

Viking Rauch
Central Waters Oktoberfest
Lakefront Oktoberfest
Berghoff Oktoberfest
Pearl Street Lederhosen Lager
City Festbier

In the meantime, the last beer is Point's Oktober. As a general rule, at MBR we aren't beer snobs; we are more than happy to drink well-made quantity beers. While we enjoy champagne-style beers, we also like the champagne of beers. In other words, we can appreciate beers brewed for the masses, so long as they are still quality beers. And, that's what you get with today's beer, the Point Oktoberfest. It's a quality non-craft beer. (RB. BA.)

Day 3 Sample B (Point)

Appearance: dense 1/2 inch head that takes it time slipping away, darker copper/amber in color; looks very nice

Aroma: big caramel, sweet and fruity aroma, smells almost artificial in the caramel

Taste: little hop character at all though there is some faint sharpness, all caramel and malt, given the aromas, the taste is surprisingly muted, not much complexity in the malt

Body: quite thin and finishes quickly with little residue or residual bitterness

Drinkability: not bad, I could drink this but would prefer Sample A or some of the others when looking for an Oktober

Summary/Notes: again, not bad; it seems a little thin for the style, and the hoppy-ness is way muted, and while the flavors are light for the style, the style is really all about drinkability and this, unlike some previous samples, has good drinkability

Guess: Point

Recommendation: not a bad choice for an Oktober; there are better examples of the styles to be had, but still would be a good choice

Friday, September 21, 2007

Oktoberfest #5 - Day 3 Sample A (Tyranena)

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We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.

Not too surprised at this one today. I tend to like Tyranena's beers. Though, I'll admit, this one kind of baffled me at first, because I would have expected more hoppy-ness from Tyranena. But, this shows that they can make solid beers without getting heavy-handed with the hops. Ultimately, the subtle hop characters showed themselves, but this isn't a show-off beer. At the end of the day, it is a very drinkable Oktoberfest.

Tyranena Gemuetlichkeit Oktoberfest Day 3 Sample A (Tyranena)

Appearance: thin head, light copper in color, crystal clear, little carbonation

Aroma: not much aroma; faint malt and some caramel sweetness, very little hoppy-ness,though some grassy notes seep through

Taste: front of caramel malts and some slightly roasted notes, light and sweet, nice hoppy bitterness actually just before a fast finish that leaves very little aftertaste

Body: medium-light body, with a soft feel, but not syrupy, not very highly carbonated, but the tastes fade quickly so the carbonation isn't missed

Drinkability: very drinkable, could probably have quite a few of these in a large mug wandering around a tailgating party at the Big 10 pub getting ready for a badger game

Summary/Notes: doesn't taste quite "finished" but it's quite drinkable and very good, I could drink this anywhere; very solid for the style, though could use a little more hoppy-ness and perhaps some fullness and depth in the body to round it out

Guess: Tyranena

Recommendation: would search this out to serve as a good Wisconsin oktoberfest; like others, there are better out there, but few represent the state better

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Essen Haus and Spaten Oktoberfest

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When last we left you, we were suffering from the inability to find a consistent single bottle selection here in Madison. Though recent discussion have pointed to Steve's on University as having the best selection, while Riley's is slightly different, and Woodman's can be more numerous. In any event, we had decided that we might be better off finding some of these beers on tap. So, we got ourselves to the bastion of German-ness in Madison, WI: Essen Haus.

This Friday, in fact any Friday, well, really, any day, get to the Essen Haus. If it's the last thing you do in your life, you will thank me for it. But here's the secret (and I risk my own happiness in telling you this) get there after 8:30pm. We showed up at Essen Haus at 7:45pm - the parking lot was packed. In fact, there were no available spots in the regular lot; we would have had to park across the street. The line was out the door and people were milling about in the parking lot waiting for tables. We had some beer to pick up at Riley's, so we went there for 45 minutes (they had sixes, but no singles, of the New Glarus Staghorn, which is first spotting of this fabled beast in the wild). Back to Essen Haus and we found parking without a problem. We were seated shortly (not more than a five minute wait, which was more from the hostess seating the people in front of us than because a table wasn't ready).

If you have never been to the Essen Haus, you are in for a treat. It is like walking back in time, or at least across the ocean and few sizeable countries, to a rustic Germanic pub. The bar has wooden steins hanging from the ceiling. The tap list is a peg board above the bar, and a few chalkboards with the current taps. The restaurant proper is a Bavarian märchenland. Animals hang from the walls. Signs advertising authentic Munich bier. The chandaliers are huge, the seats are big and sturdy. The tables foster rowdy discussion. Glass boots filled to the brim with beer are visible on a majority of tables. The waitresses (do they have waiters?!?) wear authentic bavarian stylings. The atmosphere is fun and boisterous, but not obnoxiously loud; the din lends a festive atmosphere.

First, I'll let you know that they had Spaten Oktoberfest on tap. (BA.RB.) From the sound of things, they may be getting others on tap or in bottle, but right now only the Spaten. This would not be a problem. The tasting notes for the Spaten Oktoberfest follow this post.

We had the fish fry. Forget what you've read in the Isthmus or Madison Magazine. The best fish fry in Madison is at the Essen Haus. The Avenue Bar's (the winner this year in both polls, I believe) fish fry can be somewhat greasy. The generous portion of fish at the Essen Haus is fried perfectly with no greasiness, and served with potato pancake (applesauce or sour cream) or beer-battered fries.

But, this is the secret. If you get there at 8:30pm not only will you avoid the crowds, but you are treated to the musical stylings of an authentic Bavarian Polka Band. They often rotate the bands that play there, so check their website (if they can get it updated) to see who's playing - or just head on over. The band we saw was fantastic. Patrons were singing and clapping along and, literally, dancing in the aisles. Don't feel bad if you don't know how to polka, someone will teach you (and if you're having trouble, just hop back and forth from foot to foot and you'll be close enough).

The Essen Haus is truly one of the not-so-hidden gems here in Madison. In one evening you can celebrate the Germanic history of much of Southern Wisconsin. Their food is authentic and unparalleled. And, most importantly, the beers are authentic and unparalleled. They offer five of the six Munich breweries, with only Augustiner not represented on the tap list.

Here are my tasting notes for the Spaten Oktoberfest.

Appearance: crystal clear, definition amber
Aroma: mild sweet, grassy and floral
Flavor: caramel and bitter; not alcoholic or sharp; muted bitterness; can taste depth of malt; a little "muddied"; not as "clean" of a taste as optimal
Body: firm medium body with good depth and lasting effects
Drinkability: I could drink too many of these and really enjoy it

Summary: An associate said "It tastes like the smell of falling leaves" and, I am quoting from a scribbled on corner of a placemat, "Somehow [this] beer just tastes right with a background of oompa music and a chorus of good, spontaneous polka whoops." This beer, to me, is what Oktoberfests should shoot for. It's not the best Oktober I've had (there are better out there) but if you were to look up "Oktoberfest" in the dictionary you'd find a picture of this beer (well, not really, you'd probably be treated to a 5 sentence description of the festival held in Munich, but you get my point).

My understanding from others is that since Spaten was purchased by InBev in 1999 the quality of this beer has diminished somewhat. I don't find that hard to believe. The yeast is a little one-note, and the hops could be more expressive; but the basic foundation is still there and it is very definitely a solid beer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oktoberfest #4 - Day 1 Sample B (Capital)

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We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.

Again, this day was baffling. I can't really point to a reason why, but I've never really been a huge fan of Capital. Part of it is, I suppose, that their beers are mostly low to un-hopped lagers. Not really right up my alley. But, for the most part I find their beers to be unremarkable. Also, maybe it's because they try to market themselves as a small "we're just good ol' folks from Madison" when, in fact, they are one of the largest breweries in Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee and Chippewa Falls (and, to be technical, not in Madison, but Middleton; and, not to start a war or anything, it's a distinction that many Middleton-ians are quick to make). Maybe it's because they insist on doing silly things like trying to trademark "America's #1 Rated Brewery." (I promise a post in the relatively near future about why this absurd.)

In any event, I was surprised when I found out that Sample B was Capital. I was surprised for 2 reasons: 1) see above paragraph; 2) I just had the Capital Oktoberfest the night before and I didn't recognize it in the blind tasting. Though, to be fair, as you'll see, I recognized it - just not as Capital.

What I found is that Capital has made the best regional Oktoberfest tasted thus far; it is appropriately sweet, with a complex but not overwhelming bitterness. The body was spot-on, and the head was near-perfect. So, without further ado, the tasting notes:

Capital OktoberfestDay 2 - Sample B (Capital)

Appearance: amber, good foamy head, little lacing, somewhat hazy, though hard to tell if this is from the mug frosting over or the carbonation, or if it's just a hazy beer

Aroma: malty and caramel; earthy and a faint fruitiness hidden behind the grassy scents

Flavor: strong, but not overpowering caramel; not terribly complex in the malt flavors, but could just be that the malts are working well together and there isn't much layering to discover; the caramel specialty malts are present, but not overwhelming, while the base malts really shine; after the caramel taste, the hoppy bitterness takes over and provides a nice finish;

Body: a solid medium to medium-light body, moderately carbonated with no long-lasting flavors; crisp

Drinkability: this is a very good Oktober; I could drink quite a few more of these;

Summary/Notes: while it could be better, the malts could use some depth and the yeast shows no character at all, and the hops could be a little more forward, it's really quite a solid Oktober; the subtle complexity of the hops is really nice

Guess: New Glarus

Recommendation: buy 6 of these; hell, buy 12 of them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oktoberfest #3 - Day 2 Sample A (New Glarus)

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We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.

I'll admit, today's samples baffled me. Here's some reviews from Beer Advocate and Rate Beer of New Glarus' Oktoberfest, called Staghorn. It gets, almost exclusively, really really good reviews.

There are some theories floating around though to explain many of these glowing reviews. In talking with a lot of beer folks, most seem to agree that New Glarus has an "aura" about them that raises the reviews almost uniformly. Virtually every review is over 3.5, and many top 4 (on a scale of 5). Some of the reason for this is the general unavailability of New Glarus beers. Outside of Wisconsin New Glarus is practically impossible to get a hold of. And, New Glarus is world reknown for some of their beer (e.g., the Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart). So, people think that all of their beers must be great. Something of a "since this isn't widely available, it must be good" theory of reviewing.

So, I dare some of you reading this blog who gave the Staghorn such high reviews to subject it to a blind taste test. You might be surprised. I was. Here are the notes.

New Glarus StaghornSample A (New Glarus Staghorn)

Appearance: light amber/copper; no head; crystal clear

Aroma: very light aroma; very faint yeasty/breadlike aroma; only very slight grassy hoppiness

Flavor: very faint caramel flavor, somewhat roasted and earthy, almost nutmeg; an off metallic flavor that may be the hops trying to assert themselves; flavors are very muted, almost like they were afraid of making it too sweet; the anti-sprecher

Body: thin to medium bodied and moderately carbonated, a strange metallic flavor lingers, I think it's a faint hint of hops, but it's really hard to grasp a hold of the bitterness

Drinkability: At a crowded outdoor festival, I probably wouldn't notice the metallic flavors, and it's light enough bodied that I could definitely drink a few, I'm just not sure, if I were looking for an Oktober, that this would not my standard; it's too dialed down

Summary/Notes: it's really not that bad of a beer, but it's not a bold example of the style (ed note: after I found out this was New Glarus and was surprised: the bottle, and the marketing materials suggest that this Oktober has some spices in it, and that may be what is muting the caramel flavors so much, but it still doesn't excuse the almost complete absence of hops; the flavors asserted themselves a little more as it warmed up, but still muted; this review was poured at normal refrigerator temperatures)

Guess: Point

Recommendation: If you're stuck in a bar with nothing else except macros to drink, it wouldn't be a bad choice, but there are better examples of the style out there

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Frustrating Quest

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A short diversion in our quest to report on all of the commercially available Oktoberfests being produced here in Wisconsin. As mentioned in the first post on this topic, I wanted to compare the Oktobers of Wisconsin against the classics; the six major Munich breweries that have tents at the Oktoberfest (a quick reminder: Paulaner, Spaten, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, and Hofbrau). But, there's a catch (actually 2 catches) to finding these around town.

First, not all of the Munich breweries are available and of the ones that are available, not all of them have Oktoberfest styles available. Second, it is impossible to find single bottles of them at retail.

It turns out Augustiner isn't available anywhere. Which, in itself is not entirely true. I was cruising the aisles of the West Side Woodman's and found a set of sixes from Augustiner (though not the Oktober). The beer was in blank-labelled American-style beer bottles in "Augustiner" boxes, but the shelf-tag was handwritten. Now, go look here and here, look at the bottles and tell me what you think of that situation. Yeah. Seems a little shady to me, too. If I get a chance, I'll head over there and snap a photo so y'all can see for yourselves. Hofbrau (aka "Hoff Brau") has been spotted, but no Oktobers, ditto with Lowenbrau. I'm not really that surprised, these are definitely not huge international breweries. Lowenbrau's lager is fairly popular, but there isn't much diversity in availability. Ditto with Hofbrau, except that it's "popular" beers aren't nearly as popular as Lowenbrau's.

So, Augustiner, Hofbrau, and Lowenbrau Oktobers have not been spotted here in Madison. Hacker-Pschorr Oktober has been seen occasionally in the wild, including places like the Copp's in Fitchburg (sorry for the West Coast bias all you East-Siders). Spaten and Paulaner are all over the place; probably because they are both now owned by super-mega-worldwide conglomerate InBev.

Suffice to say, while this blog is popular, it's not popular enough that we're flush with beer around here. We buy our beer in the stores just like everyone else; and buying a six pack of every style of Oktoberfest is prohibitively expensive. I've been able to find (sometimes by subterfuge) some of the Wisconsin Oktobers as singles. But, the German Oktobers remain elusive as singles and we just can't shell out $7.99 a six for each of the beers. This is extraordinarily frustrating.

Why is retail afraid of singles? They can charge more for 6 singles than they can for a six pack. And one isn't really substitute for the other. For example, I'd love to buy a single of Capital's Autumnal Fire (an award winning dopplebock). But it's not really a beer I need six of (unless I want to cellar them). So, I won't buy any. But, if I could buy a single of that, a single of some others of a similar style, I might find one I like and actually want to buy six (or four). And, while, yes, I know that somewhere in town there is a single of Autumnal Fire floating around, the effort required to find it is fairly high - no store in town has a consistent singles policy.

More importantly for retailers there's no downside to selling singles. Retail can charge $2 for a single, but only $8 for a six (generally). If they sell six singles they can make $12, an increase of $4 per six ($16 per case). Ultimately, they would sell more beer. People, like me, might be curious enough to pay $2 for a single of a beer that they've never had even if they might be hesitant to purchase a whole six. It would promote high-margin craft and foreign beers and allow the less initiated to explore these beers for a more reasonable introductory price. Instead, the retailers just sell singles of beers no one wants or local year-long beers (e.g., spotted cow - who the hell buys a single spotted cow!?!?).

My best guess for the reason is a fear on the part of the retailers that if they allow singles of the seasonals or limited releases people would never buy sixes. There are two responses to this: 1) so what? and 2) that's not really true. In the first case, as it is, they are missing sales, the question is whether they are missing five sales; and really, in terms of raw dollars, the question is whether they are missing three sales (remember, you can sell four singles for the same price as one six). I would argue that they are missing sales from those who would be willing to try one, but don't want to risk (without knowledge) the price of six. As to the second point, while I don't have any actual, empirical knowledge, I suspect that people who want to buy sixes aren't going to forego the six to just buy one (or two or three - because remember anything four and above is, at minimum, a wash in terms of dollars). Moreover, those who would be disposed to buy a six and only purchase one are more likely to actually purchase seven - one, plus a six when they realize they like it and want to share with their friends, or cellar it, or just drink six themselves. And, if they don't like it, people are likely to be far less irritated and unsolicitous having shelled out only $2 than being out $8 and have five beers they don't like.

The one reason I have heard for the non-singles policy is that singles sections are difficult to maintain. But, I find this hard to believe. It can't take more than 30 minutes a day, if that. Moreover, this would be a viable argument if a store didn't have any singles. But, most of the beer retailers in Madison do have some singles; just not nearly as comprehensive a selection as one would hope.

So, the policy of limited single bottles is baffling to me. Both the retailers and the breweries (by failing to encourage distributors and retailers to promote singles) are missing a great opportunity to sell more beer. Hopefully they rectify this. Beer retailers in other cities have figured this out. If you go to Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, etc. you will see stores (and beer caves) that specialize in single bottles. The reason is because it makes money.

Nonetheless, that leaves us wanting to find Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, and/or Spaten Oktobers in single servings somewhere around town. The first thought: a bar somehwere in this town will have these on tap. If you were looking for German beer on tap in Madison where is the first place you'd think of? Probably the first place I thought of: Essen Haus. Our review of the Essen Haus and the Spaten consumed therein is coming next week, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oktoberfest #2 - Day 1 Sample B (Leinenkugel's)

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We continue our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find Oktoberfests from some of the breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.


Sample B (Leinie's)
Appearance: light amber/dark cider, head holds well
Aroma: heavy malt but not sweet, light caramel and grassy, slightly yeasty
Taste: light and fruity with a light caramel flavor; but doesn't really taste like an Oktober; hops are all aroma, no bittering;
Body: light and highly carbonated; taste dissipates quickly
Drinkability: I could drink a lot of these, which I suppose is the point, but taking my time doesn't really seem like it's even an Oktober

Notes/Summary: Seems too light to be an Oktober, though aroma was nice; seems created to please American-style beer consumers (those that like Bud/etc.)

Guess: Leinie's
Recommended: No; at least not if you're looking for an Oktoberfest beer

Friday, September 7, 2007

Oktoberfest #1 - Day 1 Sample A (Sprecher)

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We have officially begun our quest to try all of the commercially available Oktoberfests from Wisconsin breweries. If we can, we will try to find some of the smaller breweries that aren't readily available here in Madison (Viking, Central Waters, Calumet, Lakefront, etc.); but we are starting with the ones that are.

The methodology is simple: blind tasting of two different Oktoberfests. In the mbr refrigerator is all of the Oktobers. One of us sets up the glasses with two random unannounced Oktobers, and another tastes without knowing which beers have been poured. Tasting notes are taken, and guesses are made as to which Oktober is being consumed. The following is those tasting notes; unedited. We try not to "rate" the beers, just to review them. Enjoy. If you have had any of these beers, please feel free to post your review in the comments.


Sample A (Sprecher)
Appearance: amber in color, thin foamy head dissipates quickly
Aroma: sweet and alcohol-y, no hops
Taste: cloyingly sweet, slight hoppy bitterness on back, seems more like an ale than a lager;
Body: thin and syrupy, well carbonated, bitterness sticks around
Drinkability: hard to tell, but doubt I would want a lot of this; if one drank quickly the syrupy-ness and alcohol might go unnoticed (ed note: it doesn't)

Notes/Summary: Not terrible, but seems a little syrupy and sweet; depth eventually shows itself, but caramel gets in the way; perhaps straight from the tap drank quickly this would be better

Guess: Capital
Recommended: With reservations; it has a unique "strong ale" taste that some will not like

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Oktoberfest!

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I'll admit, fall is my favorite time of the year. Here in Wisconsin it's particularly great. The weather is cooler. The air is crisper. The rain is more cleansing. The leaves change color. The corn is sweet and tender. Brats and burgers are the order of the day. Baseball is exciting. Football is starting. And, Oktoberfest!

While the classic festival begins on September 22nd, a number of Oktoberfests occur here in Wisconsin.

September 7 - September 23 (weekends only) - Milwaukee Oktoberfest
September 14 - September 16 - Chippewa Falls Oktoberfest
September 28 - October 6 - LaCrosse Oktoberfest
October 5 - October 7 - New Glarus Oktoberfest
October 6 - Dallas Oktoberfest

If you know of others, please email me where, the date, and a link to a website so that I can verify it.

While it is called Oktoberfest, the festivals usually occur in September, but can last as long as November. The very first Oktoberfest was a marriage celebration and occured in Bavaria on October 12 and October 17, 1810. In 1819 the town of Munich took over the festival and determined that it would be held every year.

Today there are 6 traditional German breweries that participate in Oktoberfest: Spaten, Lowenbrau, Hofbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, and Paulaner. Over the next few weeks, I will be trying the Oktoberfest (marzen) style from each of these breweries (assuming I can find them!), and from the Wisconsin breweries that I can get a hold of. First up will Oktoberfests from Tyranena, Point, Sprecher, and Viking. So, stay tuned because I love Oktoberfest beers.

The Oktoberfest style is often referred to as "marzen" (BA.RB.) and it is similar in style to the American Red; they are a medium-bodied, amber colored beer that generally have a mild hoppiness (not citrusy) and a caramel/sweet maltiness to them. They are usually low-alcohol, moderately carbonated with a fairly thick, foamy head served crisply chilled in a stein or faceted mug. Perfect for Saturday afternoon football games.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Given the Absurdly Hot Weather Today

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If you get some time and want to take a nice day trip and do some reverse-tourism, get in your hybrid SUV and take your cultured Madisonian self on over to the local art haven of Mineral Point. Unless you go today, you'll miss the Iowa County Fair, but that's not really relevant to this blog, is it? No. Not really any good beer to be had at the Iowa County Fair.

However, if you head out there, when you're done touring historic Pendarvis miner colony and you've had your fill of local artisans and antique woodwork, and you've toured Hook's Cheese (award winning colby, bleu, and cheddar), head on over to Brewery Creek Inn. It's a small brewpub (and inn) at the bottom of the hill in Mineral Point. They serve fine food (if you're there on a Friday, they generally have three or four different fishes to fry) and their beers are quite good.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with the hot weather I alluded to in the title of this post. Well, take a gander at their tap list. Down at the bottom there you will see "shandy." Now, that's a little odd. An obscure beer style being brewed by two Wisconsin breweries? Well, I can tell you which one is better. Hint, it's not the one made by the company up in Chippewa Falls. As I said in a prior post, I was moderately surprised at just how tasty the Leinie's Summer Shandy was. (BA.RB.) As a serious beer, it's not particularly strong even for a weak style; but it's really quite refreshing in a "I don't want quality, I just want something to quench my thirst" kind of way.

Well, forget about Leinie's. Order the shandy from Brewery Creek and you will never question how to quench that thirst again. Brewery Creek has brewed a solid, light bodied wheat beer which they mix with half a pint glass of real lemonade. Not Minute Maid, or any of that concentrate stuff, but real live lemons - the kind that gives you a nice pulp to chew on while you contemplate your next sip. You get a nice smooth, light summer beer, with all the kick of homemade lemonade. In fact, if there's one complaint about this beer it's that the lemonade almost steals the show. But, really, we've all had wheat beers, why not let the lemonade shine a bit, eh?

In fact, drinking this shandy just made want to experiment with it. What if they used a sour belgian yeast to make the beer balance just a little bit more. What if they brewed a raspberry or cherry beer to mix with the lemonade. Just imagine all the possibilities.

While I was there, I also had the Dark Amber Ale. It made me ask the question: what's the difference between a "dark amber" and a "light porter" - and except for half a pound of chocolate malt, I'm not sure that there is one. If you like ambers, you can probably bet on the Brewery Creek dark amber. It pours a dark, port-like color with a typical white-ish foamy head that shows a good stability; it's actually hard to call it amber at all, but there is some crimson that shines through, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Not overly hoppy (as seems all the rage the days; though, I will save for another post my sturm and drang about the american tendency to overly hop, with those g-d-mn cascade hops, a perfectly fine amber ale) with a sweet, though not terribly complex, caramel maltiness. The body is a little thin (which I think keeps it on the "amber" side of the amber/porter debate), but it is otherwise very solid.

So, like I said, if you find yourself with a Saturday to kill, or you just want to go somewhere different for dinner (Mineral Point is only 45 minutes away - only 20 minutes further than the Grumpy Troll), I implore you to check out one of the lesser-known brewpubs in the region.