Wednesday, December 31, 2008
We've already given out Most Improved Retail Selection: Barriques in Madison. With the hiring of a beer specialist, and the subsequent surrender of the beer buying to David Sanborn, Barriques has turned their Fitchburg location into a great "singles" bar.
Best Experimental Beer: Grumpy Troll Iced Maggie. An "ice cured" IIPA that took advantage of the multiple sub-zero days that froze Wisconsin last winter.
Best Beer Bar (Madison): The Malt House, Madison, WI. Yeah, I know, I initially derided it's lack of anything to do, but it's singular focus on beer (and now scotches and whiskeys and bourbons), its dedication to reasonable prices, and its workday ambiance make it a mecca for beer buffs passing through the city.
Best New Release: Furthermore Oscura. More iced coffee than espresso mud, it showed a great playfulness and exceptional skill to pull off a flavorful, different summer brew. It is a beer that will distinguish Furthermore for a long time.
Best Seasonal: Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout. A big, bold flavorful beer that is like drinking a cherry cordial with immense malt complexity. We should consider ourselves lucky that we can get this here in Wisconsin. It's only a pity that Central Waters doesn't package this in a 22oz bomber or, even better, a caged and corked 750ml bottle.
Best Special Release: Lakefront Bridge Burner. A different kind of beer for Lakefront, it is a great effort from a brewery that has a lot of flexibility to experiment in the upper end now that their everday lineup is firing on all cylinders.
Best Year-Round Release: Rowland's Calumet Oktoberfest. Always available. And, to my mind, the single best beer you can find every single day of the year anywhere in the world. And, no, I'm not exaggerating.
Best Beer 2008: Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru. Is it a blonde? A tripel? A quad? Who cares!? It's great. Big and bold and flavorful, it is great to finally see Ale Asylum start to unleash some of their Belgian beers on the public.
Best Brewery 2008: New Glarus Brewing Company. They just keep getting bigger, but they just keep getting better, too. Unlike other breweries that struggle to maintain quality as they get bigger, New Glarus has not missed on a single beer all year. The Unpluggeds were unparalleled and the new Alt really shows that New Glarus has something to add to the worldwide beer conversation.
Best Brewpub 2008: Please vote for Best Brewpub in the poll to the left there. Polling will be open until February 28, 2009, then we'll tally it up and announce the results.
Monday, December 29, 2008
8 Comments: 1/20/2008: Since It's So Cold Out, Let's Talk About Snowshoes - a post about New Glarus' Snowshoe Red Ale and labels turned out some great commentary on where to buy beer around town
8 Comments: 9/12/2008: Audience Participation: Beer Cocktails - from the disgusting Bud Light Chelada to Brasserie V's sophisticated Beer Floats and everything in between draws a great discussion
7 Comments: 10/15/2008: How To Sell Beer For $700 A Bottle - an article looking at labels and marketing and pricing in the wine industry and how little things turn into big bucks turned into a fascinating discussion between drinkers, brewers and retailers about labeling and pricing and the agriculture and consuming culture of beer
7 Comments: 3/14/2008: Audience Participation - Random Beer - A recommendation from Brennan's turns into a lively discussion on that beer that in retrospect we wonder how we ever came across it (Coors Arctic Ice?!)
7 Comments: 2/1/2008: I Really Want To Like JT Whitneys - Pent up frustration over the inconsistent quality at JT Whitneys Brewpub brings in quite a few "me too"s from the gallery and some great comments from ex-brewery staff
Further Makeweight and Three Feet Deep, Sand Creek Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, New Glarus Showshoe Ale, Heavyweight Brewing Company's Perkuno's Hammer and Victory Baltic Thunder, Tyranena Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter, New Glarus Imperial Weizen, Ale Asylum Bamboozelator, Capital Platinum Blonde, Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout, Aventinus Eisbock, Kapuziner Bavarian Hefeweizen, Bud Chelada, New Glarus Hop Hearty IPA and New Holland Existential Ale, Furthermore Oscura, New Glarus Berliner Weisse, Tyranena Scurvy, Capital Rustic Ale, Hacker-Pschorr Sternweisse, Viking Weathertop Wheat, Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA, Minocqua Wild Rice Lager, Minocqua Scotch Ale, Viking Invader Doppelbock, Rowland's Calumet Oktoberfest, Delafied Oatmeal Stout, Capital Autumnal Fire, Leinie's Fireside Nut Brown, New Glarus Alt, Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru, New Glarus Apple Ale, Lake Louie Louie's Reserve, Tyranena Spank Me Baby Barleywine, Lakefront Fuel Coffee Stout, Central Waters Coffee Stout, Lakefront Bridge Burner Old Ale, Ayinger Celebrator, Radeburger, Tucher Bajuvator, New Glarus Organic
Least Sagacious Post
2/4/2008 - This Imperial Post - a post praising the fact that "Thankfully Wisconsin breweries are mostly free of the habits of others to develop 'imperial' version of beers that are in no way 'big' beers." Only to have a number of Wisconsin breweries turn around and produce "imperial" wheat beers, "imperial" alts, "imperial" rye porters, "imperial" saisons, and others. In the exact same post I lamented the fact that Stone Brewing Company was not available in Wisconsin.Then, later in the year, to much fanfare, Stone's beer became available here.
Most Sagacious Post
7/9/2008 - Drinkability - The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had run an article about Stevens Point Brewery and mis-applied the definition of "drinkability" - and we drew the distinction between "drinkability" (do you want another one) and "sessionability" (do you want another one right now) and talked about how low drinkability is not necessarily a bad thing and high sessionability is not necessarily a good thing; little did I know that Budweiser would soon take this same misapplication to a whole new level.
Biggest Industry News of the Year
5/29/2008 - Anheuser-Busch is purchased by InBev. While this doesn't seem to have much impact on the craft industry, it will, in all likelihood, actually end up being good for craft brewers as InBev will turn Budweiser into more of a global brand with less particular emphasis on the United States market, thus opening up some marketing room for the craft industry.
Theme for the Year: Agriculture and the Brewing Industry
We talked about New Glarus' Oraganic Revolution and the Adnams' Green Beer and the meaning of Organic; we even saw City Brewery in LaCrosse using its Biogas to add energy to the grid. Then, at the beginning of the summer we looked at Dave Anderson's BrewFarm - a sustainable farm and brewery being put together in Wilson, Wisconsin. Then agriculture really started rearing its head in late July. We had posts on the use of local wheat and other Wisconsin grains (for example in the Minocqua Wild Rice Lager). Then we had two posts in October about agriculture, commodification, and geographic indications. We raised this issue again in November when we talked about Ale Asylum's Mercy Grand Cru. As the craft beer industry becomes more and more sophisticated these issues are going to keep coming up; this year laid a good foundation for that discussion.
Topic of the Year: Binge Drinking
Wisconsin took a lot of flak this year for being number one in the nation in binge drinking. Again. We talked about this in the context of beer taxes on a number of occasions. We discussed alcohol content and the misnomer of what a "drink" is. We talked about what happens when the appropriate serving size is mistakenly a pitcher. We even proposed a solution that appears to have at least the support to debate its merits from college and university presidents: lower the drinking age. Of course, to throw wood on the fire, the University of Wisconsin announced they were going to start teaching college kids how to by-pass the bars entirely and brew their own beer for class credit. And then finally, it was "officially" made a big deal by both the New York Times and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Next post we'll cover some MBR Awards for 2008.
Friday, December 26, 2008
But one week from tomorrow, on Saturday January 3rd, at the High Noon Saloon, Furthermore will release their next beer. And what a doozy it is. I'll let Chris Staples, the ringmaster of the Furthermore Circus, explain:
At 10:30 or so, we will tap the inaugural keg of "Thermo Refur", a freaky Aran Madden creation involving bretanamyces, organic red beets, black pepper and some black malt for a high-alcohol, used band-aid sort of vibe. We considered "Red Menace" and "Fugly" as names, but settled for a simple cheeky anagram. We are only releasing a small quantity of this beer in kegs. We're guessing it's not going to be for everyone (sort of like sea urchin or a root canal), so there will also be three other varieties of Furthermore on tap.OK, Furthermore and black pepper, check - good stuff, can't go wrong with a proven favorite. But from there, the imagined taste sensation just takes off into WTF-land.
Black malt. Black malt. Black malt. Deeply roasted. Burnt. Earthy. Coffee-like. Bitter chocolates. Okay. I can wrap my mind around that. Add some pepper and it's tasting a little like Queens of the Stone Age - dark and heavy riffs that just take you deeper.
Organic Red Beets. Let me repeat that, for those of you who think you didn't read that right the first two times. Organic Red Beets. Red f-ing Beets. Now. This is interesting, because I hate beets. Hate beets. There is no part of my palate that even feigns to tolerate them. Yet, here they are. In a beer. Is this the first commercial beer to ever use beets? Not beet sugar. Beets. The sugar content, like the traditional Belgian candi sugar, should throw the sweetness and alcohol into the stratosphere. Like a ripping violin arpeggio on top of the menacing thunder of black malts and pepper.
Who knows what the earthy, soft, scab-like flavor of the beet will actually impart. Although, Chris hints at it when he mentions the "used band-aid sort of vibe." Now, if that's not something to entice you...
Brettanamyces. Sorry to correct your spelling there Chris. The wee little beasty charged with turning your beer sour. Lambic/geuze, oud brun, and flanders reds all use this peculiar and notoriously unpredictable yeast strain to impart sourness. So, that thundering black malt and black pepper, that stratospheric violin of beets; yeah, play those in a minor chord.
Given that new brett beers can be a little harsh, is there an oak-aged version sitting around somewhere? Will we have an oak-aged Thermo Refur in three years? The possibilities are tantalizing.
Oh. And the name. "Thermo Refur" - a nice throw to Lake Louie's "Liquid Reefer" which we all know and love as "Louie's Reserve" - and slyly put, to fool the labeling nazis, as an anagram of Furthermore.
So head on out to the High Noon on January 3 and take part in one of the very few opportunities you'll have to get this stuff on tap. At $2.75 you'll be able to figure out whether it's more "used Band Aid" or Beethoven.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
For those of you who celebrate such things, Merry Christmas. For others who celebrate other things, enjoy your Chinese dinner. For everyone else, enjoy the days off of work. If you work in the service industry and have to work tomorrow, sorry about your luck.
For the next week or two, really until after the New Year we are going to be on auto-pilot. That doesn't mean we won't have content, because we will - in fact, we're going to have some really good content. But, if we aren't the most timely, please excuse us.
On Friday we'll run a brief piece about the first event of the New Year that is rapidly turning into a pretty badass release party. Then all next week we will look back on 2008, with a review of some of the silliness that has gone on here on the site. We'll also hand out some awards for 2008. Finally, we'll take a look at things to look forward to in 2009.
You won't want to miss it!
Catch ya on the flip side.
ps. do people even say that anymore?
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Part one of this weeks podcast features news in 60 seconds, covering the Great Dane/Capital Brewery's attempt to create the biggest all malt beer ever, Australia's first no-carb beer, and AB-InBev loosing it's EU copyright battle [ed note: I think they mean 'losing its EU trademark battle'].
Here's the mp3.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I'll do some math for you: $15/six comes out to about $.2083 per ounce. Which, if we do our handy, dandy conversions is about $4.58 for a 22oz, or $5.28 for a 750ml. Well, that doesn't seem quite so expensive now, does it? Which, to me, seems like a weird way to sell beer. $15 seems like a lot for a six pack. But we don't blink at $5-7 for a 22 or 750. In fact, it's not really until the $10 mark that we really start to evaluate the "value" of a 22 or 750.
With that said, why aren't Wisconsin brewers bottling these more desirable beers in different package sizes that provide much higher margins? I mean, as a consumer, hey, great, I'm all for it. But it seems like there is a huge missed opportunity here. For example, what if Tyranena released its Brewers Gone Wild Series in 22oz's instead of four packs? Four pack = 48oz. It sells for about $9.99 for a four pack, or, magic of magic, $.2081 per ounce. The Brewers Gone Wild Series are always in high demand, so let's assume Rob will sell all of the beer that he brews under the Brewers Gone Wild. If instead of $9.99 for a four-pack, he sold his BGW's for $6 in a 22oz package size, that translates to $.2727 per ounce: 23% more income without exceeding consumer expectations in the slightest. Yes, the 22oz bottles are slightly more expensive, but they use standard caps. And, really, are they $.06/ounce more expensive than 12oz bottles?
And that's assuming a relatively reasonable $6 for 22oz bottles – Three Floyds sells for $9 or $10 for their regular beers; Rogue sells for $6 for their regular beers. Etc.
For Central Waters, perhaps the Coffeehouse Stout is an experiment to see how well the package size sells? In the meantime, we're left with 12oz bottles of the Bourbon Barrel Stout (BA, A-; RB, 98).
Central Waters Bourbon Barrel StoutAppearance: deep dark brown with a thick, foamy beige head; the head falls away somewhat quickly leaving some alcohol, but no lacing, on the sides
Aroma: sweet and bourbonish with a dense aroma of chocolate and malt – almost of bitter chocolate, with a long, lingering brightness
Flavor: chocolates and bourbon with a long, lingering bitter dark chocolate finish
Body: deep and thick; like drinking chocolate out of bottle with a slight cordial flavor, without the cherry
Drinkability: perfect for an aperitif, a six pack would be nice to supplement and sustain throughout the winter
Summary: a great beer that is rapidly becoming the hallmark and calling card of Central Waters – a reputation maker and a business sustainer; a damn fine beer.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Madison Beer Review is slowly being dragged into the new century (we'll ignore for the moment the fact that we were created in the new century). We have officially formed a Madison Beer Review Facebook page! I have no idea where this is going, but become a fan, post some comments, post pictures of your beers; heck, we might do some Facebook exclusive content - you never know. In the meantime, you can put a profile to all of those people out there who comment. It's possible you already know one of them. Plus, it'll make it easier for you to know when MBR is doing events around the state. Next up, mastering the Twitter.
Frank Beer bought H&M Distributing: Frank Beer is the Dane County area (near-northern and near-western counties) distributor for breweries such as New Glarus, Tyranena, Lake Louie, Furthermore, Central Waters and Stevens Point; Frank also distributes PBR and Old Style among others. Frank has purchased H&M, a distributor mostly focusing on Miller products including Leinie's and Peroni and non-Miller products such as Labatt and Heineken (Labatt and Heineken are not SABMiller products, but does Miller import them?). As Frank takes over H&M's clearly non-craft segments, perhaps these buyers will find some room for the Wisconsin crafts.
In other industry news, A-B InBev has lost its battle in the EU courts over rights to the trademark Budweiser. This litigation has been going on for a very, very long time. It all got started because there is place in the Czech Republic, back when it still a part of the Holy Roman Empire, called Budweis. The town of Budweis has a brewery which produced a beer called, predictably, Budweiser (the English bastardization of "Budějovický"). Well, as we are well aware, the United States also has a brewery that produces a beer called "Budweiser." There is some dispute as to who started first and when, but the end of the story basically goes like this: Anheuser-Busch has prevent Budweiser from entering the United States under the name "Budweiser"; so, here in the United States, Budweiser, also called Budvar in the EU, goes by the name Czechvar. Well, until a few days ago Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser had been approved by the EU. No more. However, in a weird quirk of the EU, this ruling does not really effect any decisions or registrations that already existed in the individual member states. Basically, an EU mark is kind of a "default" state that exists unless the individual member state varies the default; where the two are in conflict, the general rule is that the member state's rulings and registrations prevail in the member state. Hopefully that makes some sort of sense.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Wisconsin District Attorneys want to raise taxes on beer and other alcohol to help pay District Attorneys.
We'll do this old-skool - my comments in italics:
Two area DAs support higher tax on alcohol
State proposal would fund more prosecutors
By John Lee • Gannett Wisconsin Media • December 9, 2008
Two prosecutors in the region say they support a proposal to raise the state's beer and liquor taxes to pay for more prosecutors.
Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz and Waupaca County District Attorney John Snider say their offices could use additional prosecutors.
----Has Mr. Kratz talked this over with others in Calumet County? I find it odd, or maybe not, that a County DA in Calumet County of all places would want to risk his elected position in the home of one of the largest malting facilities in the United States. Not to mention the brewery across the street.
The Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, saying there is a link between alcohol abuse and criminal behavior, is asking the Legislature to approve a "modest" increase in alcohol taxes to fund prosecutors' pay raises and 121 prosecutor positions it says are needed to handle a growing caseload statewide.
----There is also a link between drug abuse and criminal behavior, between education and criminal behavior, between genetics and criminal behavior, between environment and criminal behavior, etc. etc. etc. A lot of things contribute to criminal behavior, but Gov. Doyle cut the funds to the District Attorneys and now they're scrambling, I get that. But taxing beer because it contributes to criminality? Please, why not tax bowling alleys because criminals meet there?
----Now look, I'm an attorney. I fully support the idea that DAs need to be paid better. I think it is criminal (there's that word again) that this state gives its public officers barely inflation increases (often not even that!) for jobs that start out poorly paid to begin with. Yeah, I know, boo-hoo for the guy making $48,000 a year. But when 1/3 of that goes to taxes, then 1/3 of the remainder (if you're lucky!) goes to school loans, these attorneys are left with less than $25,000 with which to pay for housing, cars, and other living expenses. And for that awesome salary they have to work endless hours with ridiculous case loads against defense attorneys with years more experience, in a job that only draws notice when it is done poorly. It's a terrible life. They should be paid better for it. But there are options other than taxing a tentatively-linked product at best. Lobby the federal government for student loan relief for public service. Lobby the state for tax relief. But to tax beer and alcohol?
Wisconsin's beer tax — the third lowest in the nation — hasn't gone up since 1969. The liquor tax, among the lowest nationwide, hasn't increased since 1981, other than when a new tax on hard cider was added in 1997.
Wisconsin's 6.5-cent tax per gallon of beer is two or three times less than what neighboring states charge. The tax is 14.8 cents in Minnesota, 18.5 cents in Illinois, 19 cents in Iowa and 20.3 cents in Michigan.
----They also have lower state income taxes than Wisconsin. We pay more on income taxes, they pay more for beer. So what?
"For years, the state budget process has placed prosecutors at the back of the line to the detriment of public safety and crime victim services," said Ralph Uttke, Langlade County district attorney and president of the WDAA.
----Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The man speaks the truth.
The prosecutors' proposal drew opposition from the Tavern League of Wisconsin, which represents bars.
It doesn't make sense to raise the beer tax and earmark that increase for a specific budget item, Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger said Monday.
"That's not the way state government works," he said. "We think it's a bad precedent, and if there's going to be a discussion on taxes, it needs to be more global."
----Mr. Stenger is absolutely right. That's not how the state government. We don't publicly debate things and come to some amicable solution before putting reasonable bills that care for the public interest! Mr. Uttke should just do what Mr. Stenger and the Tavern League does and make the public discussion more "global" and theoretical and then surreptitiously buy-off legislators who will get the bill added at the last minute to an over-due budget. That way you can short-cut this whole "debate" thing and get the solution you want - geez, haven't you heard the phrase "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission"?
The WDAA resolution also supports using additional revenue generated from the alcohol tax increase to fund law enforcement, crime victim services, community outreach, prevention and education, and other programs designed to decrease crime in Wisconsin.
----How much do they want to raise the damn tax!? That's a lot of "additional revenue". Plus, what do they want to do about Tereca Berceau's Beer Tax? Is this in addition to her crack-pot idea or is this support and extension of her crack-pot idea that we've put holes in time-and-time again?
"Any funding source we can find to help get more prosecutors makes sense," said Kratz, who noted that he could use a second assistant district attorney, but wouldn't request one until area counties with worse shortages get some help.
----That's so noble of you Mr. Kratz.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Here's the mp3
Stay tuned for part two on Thursday. Does Part II include the juggernaut of Great Lakes Christmas Ale? You'll just have to wait until Thursday to find out.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Lakefront Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale Appearance: A huge beige dense, foamy head on top of a gorgeous, deep amber body; poured into a tulip glass, it rivals Lake Louie's Louie's Reserve and Augustiner's Maximator Doppelbock as one of the prettiest beers I've laid my eyes on (you can tell I have a thing for redheads). The foam pockmarks deeply and falls away slowly, leaving some amazing lacing on the sides
Aroma: huge caramel and biscuit malt aroma with a strong piney, earthy, grassy hop aroma to round it out – smells as intriguing as it looks
Flavor: complex malts of biscuit and bread and caramel and alcohol, with a strong hop flavor that exactly mimics its aromas; the flavors are not muddied, but layered nicely
Body: a hop bitterness and finish cleans this beer nicely, but not before the complex malts fight it out for prominence;
Drinkability: obscenely drinkable and extraordinarily versatile, it is great on it own, but would compliment virtually any winter meal very well.
Summary: It's great to see Lakefront break out a bit and make something a bit more sophisticated. Their reputation is definitely as a "workday" beer; a focus on highly drinkable, high quality, sessionable beers. One of the few Wisconsin brews sold in a 22, its moderate price (I think I paid $4.99 at Barriques?) and extraordinary drinkability, make it worth picking up a quite a few bottles, storing some of them and drinking others when the mood strikes. For a sophisticated beer it definitely carries through on Lakefront's drinkability mantra
BA (B+).RB (90).
Friday, December 12, 2008
Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee StoutAppearance: A thick tan head from an aggressive pour that settles to a brown crema; a dark, deep black body
Aroma: A very muted coffee and roasted malt smell; not a huge aroma at all
Flavor: coffee bitterness is immediately obvious, but there's some background dark chocolatey-ness to it as well, it is followed by a fast-paced alcohol and hop finish – where Bear Republic's Big Bear Stout sets the standard for hoppy beer with an amazing cascade hit, Central Waters has a nice, big, powerful hop finish that's nowhere near a hop-bomb but is thankfully not brash cascade hops.
Body: Smooth, thick and creamy like a mocha shake
Drinkability: Very nice; where Lakefront's was a great rotational beer to get you through the winter; this is one to pull out on those nights when you just crave a big flavorful stout
Summary: The hops were somewhat surprising and really help to compound and accentuate the coffee and chocolate bitterness, bringing out both of those flavors in a more pronounced manner than the malt bill alone would accomplish; it is a nice, big thick beer, which while pairing nicely flavor-wise, doesn't really make for a light meal when paired with a hearty, spicy beef chili.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Here's the mp3
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Star Liquor, at 1209 Williamson Street, in Madison, is hosting Dogfish Head for a tasting between 4pm and 7pm on Friday, December 12.
Russ is also well-known for his fight against Budweiser over organic standards in brewing. Quickly, as a background, the basic gist is this: the USDA certifies foods organic; of course, very few processed foods can be made absolutely, 100% organic - some base component, say salt, a minor component of most foods, is just too impractical or costly to obtain organically (we will, for purposes of this article ignore the logical retort of "so what?"); in any event, the USDA publishes exemptions for non-organic products that can be used in foods that can still be certified as organic. So, OK, to the fight: Budweiser wants to add hops to the "exemption" list. Their argument (Budweiser's) is that hop material comprises a very, very small percentage of beer. But, Russ pointed out, hops are integral to the very essence of beer, to exclude them would be "a threat to organic certification at best, and intentionally misleading to consumers at worst." Using non-organic hops in an "organic" beer is not only a cheap shortcut, it's intellectually dishonest and, as Russ points out, is misleading.
Anyway. The point is, Russ is one of the good guys fighting the good fight for craft brewers here in Wisconsin and in general. We'll see in future posts just how innovative Russ is. But for now, we'll just say he's got some really interesting cards up his rolled up sleeves.
One of those interesting things is a partnership with local Milwaukee Riverwest coffee roaster Fuel Cafe. He's used their coffee in a stout to make his Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout.
Lakefront Fuel Cafe Coffee StoutAppearance: a 1/4 inch tan head on black body that browns out towards the edges; more carbonated than I would have expected with nice small bubbles
Aroma: roasted malt but light on the roasted coffee aroma with a subtle cranberry-ish-ness on the finish
Flavor: tastes exactly like it smells with a fast dry finish
Body: a porter-like finish makes it seems slightly leaner than its big-boned body would otherwise suggest
Drinkability: I could definitely see this in regular rotation throughout a winter, it's definitely good enough to drink and I'd definitely have another, especially if I had it lying around the house
Summary: I'll probably buy twelve and keep them in the cellar and mete them out over the course of the winter; it's not the full-flavored smooth drinking stout bomb of Central Waters' Bourbon Barrel Stout, but it's not trying for it either - it hits its ambitions of being a good beer for everyday drinking
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Here's the mp3.
Monday, December 8, 2008
There are three issues we should address before we get to the review. First, why age beer; second, what is the effect of aging; third, how do you age a beer.
The first issue is why in the world anyone would cellar, or age, a beer. We typically think of beer as something to pound in quantity straight out of the bottle, or, if you are lucky and skilled enough, out of a funnel, or, perhaps while standing on your hands above a keg, or maybe, maybe, to put into a chilled pint glass. Heck, many beer manufacturers put "born on" dates and "best by" dates on their beer. We talk about beer getting skunked. We talk about beer going bad. As the kids might say, WTF?! Why would voluntarily save a beer?
In some cases beer does, in fact, go bad. Hops can have undesirable effects when exposed to some kinds of light over a period of time – which is why we have to be careful about clear bottles; there is some debate that Heineken's green bottles are not particularly good at shielding beer, either.
But, that is not the kind of "going bad" that we are talking about. What we are talking about here is the effect of time on a properly stored bottle (or can) of beer. And, in many cases, the effects are very, very pleasurable. In other cases, the effects are very, very unpleasurable. It just so happens that the beer manufactured by those that put "born on" dates and "best buy" dates on their bottles does not keep particularly well. The effect of time on these kinds of beer make the beer very very not good. So, these manufacturers instill in the consuming public this idea that beer, in particular their beer, which represents about 90%+ of the beer sold in the United States, goes bad – the implied, or rather the un-corrected general implication, is that all beer goes bad since, after all, 90% of the beer sold in the United States will.
There are some styles, however, that hold up very, very well over time. Like a fine wine, these beers can change their very nature over the course of time and become much more complex, much more developed, much smoother, much richer.
Which brings us to our second question: what is the effect of aging. First, it is important to know what is in a beer bottle. Beer, duh. But let's look a little closer at what is in that bottle. Water. Malted barley and other grains. Hops. Yeast, in suspension in the beer, but also, possibly, on the bottom of the bottle [ed note: if the beer is bottled with a small portion of active yeast to aid in the conditioning and further fermenting of the beer, the label will often denote this as a "bottle conditioned" beer]. And, in addition to the ingredients that are in the beer, there is one more thing in the bottle and one more thing on the bottle that impact aging. Headspace and a cap, respectively. Each of these items affects the effect of time on that beer.
So, what happens to a beer over time? Well, much the same things that happen to beer before it hits the bottle. It continues to ferment on yeast; it continues to steep in its base ingredients. If the water is poor quality, the poor quality will become more pronounced. If there is oxygen in the headspace or the cap is not on tight, the beer will oxygenate.
But the two biggest actors on the aging of beer are yeast and alcohol. "More alcohol means there's more sugars and flavors that can evolve." [cite] "If there is yeast in the bottle, that's good. The yeast will continue its fermentation for a few years, changing the existing flavors and adding new ones, before it dies out and adds its own taste, a biscuity flavor found in old Champagnes, [Brooklyn Brewery, Head Brewer Garrett] Oliver said." Hops present an interesting issue: while in fresh beer they provide a bright bitterness and delicious aromas, these are relatively short-lived effects. Over time these effects will decrease significantly. In the place of bitterness and, to some extent, aroma the beer will "steep," much like tea leaves. But this effect can be volatile – in some cases bringing in the grassiness of the hops, in others simply turning overly sharp like an 'over-steeped' tea.
"All beers don't age the same," said Nasser Eftekhari, owner of Beer Mania in Brussels, a specialty beer store that ships Belgian beers suitable for aging to customers around the world. "Usually, brown beers age better than light beers, and the big beers [volume-wise – e.g., 22oz and 750 ml bottles] twice as long as small bottles." He added, "Alcohol and aging have a direct relationship. More alcohol is usually better for aging." [cite]
One final note before we get to how: beer that is pasteurized will not age.
Great. This is all great! How do you start aging your beer? Well, BeerAdvocate has a great article about aging beer. Basically: keep the bottles out of the light, in temperature-stable areas that stay at about 65 degrees. Cellars, unsurprisingly, are very good at this. It is generally recommended that you keep the bottles upright ("Long storage of a beer on its side can create a yeast ring (or water-mark) inside the bottle, which will not settle. Storing a beer upright will ensure that the yeast compacts to the bottom of the bottle." And "The upright storage method decreases the amount of exposed beer thus slowing oxidation of the beer.") Personally, I have a cabinet in an out of the way place in my apartment that I've commandeered for beer-storage purposes. Hopefully your significant other, if applicable, is as patient and indulgent as mine.
Appearance: poured at 48 degrees in a small brandy snifter, the head, what there is of it, is white and wispy; the body is a hazy deep mahogany with orange and ruby on the edges
Aroma: sharp and malty biscuit comes through on the front reminding one of a newly finished desk with some floral and grassy notes along with chestnut and a caramel
Flavor: huge and smooth malt and alcohol like a fine, ummm, barley wine? Slightly whiskeyish, with a slight woodiness despite the fact that this is not the bourbon-barrel-aged version of this beer; a tinge of flower-iness, maybe chamomile, in the finish
Body: a nice clean, warm finish with a medium body and full, but not syrupy, mouthfeel
Drinkability: very nice and smooth, it is perfect in a brandy snifter and I would split this 12oz bottle with someone to celebrate a nice meal or an important occassion
Summary: I still have one more bottle to save for some time in the future, maybe 2016.
Friday, December 5, 2008
The second item is a letter, poem actually, to the editor by one "M.W.". This letter was published in the Wisconsin State Journal, Friday, July 8, 1932 - remember the repeal of prohibition is beginning to look certain at this point.
One day I passed a brewery so oldSeriously. You can't make this stuff up.
that stood there so brazen and cold.
As I gazed at it my mind went back to the years that were past
when that old brewery was running full blast.
Oh brewery, I said, you have caused many a heartbreak and many a tear
on account of the manufacture of your whiskey, wine and beer.
You have caused children to go hungry and to go without shoes
with the selling of your booze.
Up spoke the old brewery with a sneer,
you better get busy, for when we get back our whiskey, wines and our beer,
we will soon have saloons on the corners as of old
and we will cause misery and suffering untold.
We will make it unsafe for the traffic of the street
and endanger the lives of those that we meet
by causing the driver to run wild.
But what care we for the lives of man, woman, or child?
Then he said again with a sneer,
if we can only get back our whiskey, wines and beer
as of the past.
I will soon have this old brewery running full blast.
But what care I for the misery and the sin,
if I can fill my coffers to the brim?
Some choice information about the history of Prohibition and the relationship of America with alcohol:
- "The Pilgrims drank so much beer on Mayflower that they’d almost run out by the time they reached America, and they may have landed at Plymouth simply because they didn’t have enough beer to fuel the search for a better place. 'We could not now take time for further search and consideration,' one passenger wrote, 'our victuals being much spent, especially our beere.'"
- And, if you want to know the first American Beer Cocktail - beer (either ale or lager, probably depending on where in colonial America you were and whether the town was English or German), molasses and rum: "Among the most popular concoctions in colonial-era taverns was a drink called 'Flip.' The bartender filled about two-thirds of a mug or pitcher with beer, added a dollop of rum, sweetened the cocktail with sugar, molasses or dried pumpkin and then stirred it with a red-hot poker, which made the drink bubble, gurgle and steam."
- "By then [the 1790s], nearly every American farm contained a sizable apple orchard—not to make apple pie but to make hard cider, which was the country’s most popular beverage, guzzled daily by young and old alike. 'In rural areas, cider took the place not only of wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice and even water,' wrote culinary historian Michael Pollan. 'Indeed, in many places cider was consumed more freely than water, even by children.'"
- "Paine’s Celery Compound, advertised [in the late 1800s and turn of the century] as a 'Nerve Tonic and Alternative Medicine,' contained a mere 21 percent alcohol, but the booze was fortified by a dose of cocaine, which no doubt contributed to its popularity."
- "Part of the popularity of patent medicines was their appeal to a growing segment of the American population—prohibitionists. In fact, a patent medicine called 'Old Dr. Kaufmann’s Great Sulphur Bitters,' which contained 22 percent alcohol, targeted prohibitionists with ads featuring an endorsement by Mrs. S. Louise Barton, 'An Indefatigable and Life-Long Worker in the Temperance Cause.'"
- "The [original attempt at a prohibition] amendment failed in 1914, but gained strength during World War I, when the league exploited America’s anti-German hysteria by deliberately associating beer with German-American brewers. 'Kaiserism abroad and booze at home must go,' declared the [Anti-Saloon League]’s general counsel and wily Washington lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler."
- Some great imagery: "'There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment,' said Senator Morris Sheppard, 'as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.'"
- "We drink a beer while eating a hot dog at baseball games and sip a Bloody Mary while tailgating at football games. World Series winners celebrate by pouring champagne over their teammates’ heads. And stock car racing—which came into its own as a sport after World War II—was created by moonshiners. ... Moonshiners souped up their cars so they could outrun federal 'revenuers' on twisty mountain roads and, in the 1940s, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing began organizing races on dirt tracks. 'About all your good dirt track drivers were involved in moonshine,' Junior Johnson, the famous NASCAR driver, told me in an interview in 1999. 'That’s kind of the way it started.'"
But one brewery in particular, founded in 1851 and finally locked and closed 107 years later in 1958, has an ignominious history, inextricably linked to Prohibition. For while the brewery existed for 107 years, including the period of Prohibition, it only brewed for 105 of those. In 1931, Eulberg Brothers Brewery based in Portage, WI was raided by federal "revenuers" and shut down for illegally brewing during Prohibition. It would re-open in 1933 when Prohibition ends.
Prohibition began in 1919. How could a brewery, a relatively large building, go unnoticed operating for so long? Brewers in Wisconsin were allowed to make "near beer." When prohibition began the law criminalized the production of any beverage exceeding .5% ABV; later this limit was raised to 3.2%. Through the use of de-alcoholizers, breweries could remove the alcohol, and unfortunately most of the flavor, from beer. Many breweries, including Potosi and Hausmann tried to continue operations selling "near beer." While Potosi managed to limp along, Hausmann closed in 1923. In 1933, when Prohibition ended, only 79 breweries resumed operations; over 130 breweries had closed and ceased operations. Of course, the small breweries that had re-opened were unable to compete with the largest breweries that had re-opened: Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, etc. By 1972, 39 years later, only 8 breweries would remain in the State of Wisconsin.
Other breweries just illegally sold the real deal.
The production of "near beer" only tells part of Eulberg's story, though; Eulberg was only licensed for "near beer" until 1924 when its license was revoked and it was fined $1000 for also selling "real beer." But the revocation of the license didn't stop Eulberg. The reality was Eulberg Brothers was also a maltings, a facility for malting barley, and it used this cover as a front for its now-illegal "real" beer production.
In 1844 a man from Hesse-Darnstadt, Germany by the name of Jacob Best founded a brewery in Milwaukee that he called initially Empire Brewery, but because of all of the breweries named Empire Brewery renamed his brewery "Best and Company." In 1848, Bavarian Frederick Adam Sprecher founded Sprecher Brewing Company at the corner of Willy St and Blount in Madison. In the next few years, Mr. Sprecher's brother-in-law, also from Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, would come to Wisconsin and open his own brewery in Portage, WI. This man was Karl Haertel and he found Haertel Brewery in Portage, WI in 1851; Haertel would later be branded under the name "City Beer." This same year, his emigrant-city-mate Jacob Best would brew 225 barrels of beer in Milwaukee.
In 1859, Frederick Adam Sprecher would die and send his brewing operations into disarray for a few years. In 1862, Jacob Best dies and his sons, Jacob, Jr, Phillip, Charles and Lorenz take over ownership (control had passed in 1853 when Jacob, Sr. had resigned to become involved in politics). However, it quickly becomes obvious that Phillip is running the show, and Charles leaves to found Plank Road Brewery, also in Milwaukee. Plank Road Brewery would eventually become Miller Brewing Company. By 1864, "Best and Company" was now "Phillip Best and Company" and was brewing 4900 barrels of beer a year. But in 1866 Phillip Best abruptly dies. While Junior sticks around and helps to run it, Phillip's son-in-law, Captain Frederick Pabst takes control of Phillip Best and Company. In 1889, Capt. Pabst would rename Phillip Best and Company, nee Empire Brewing, Pabst Brewing Company.
In the meantime, in 1868, Karl Haertel's other brother-in-law, a Bavarian named Peter Fauerbach purchases Karl Haertel's recently deceased brother-in-law's brewery, Sprecher Brewing Company and renames it Fauerbach Brewing Company. A few years later, with Karl approaching old-age, his daughter marries a brewer from Milwaukee named Jacob Best, Jr. Junior takes over operations of Haertel Brewery in 1876. By 1880, Jacob, Jr. had Haertel Brewery pumping out about 3,000 barrels a year.
But, Jacob was growing tired of the brewing and he, and his wife Elizabeth Haertel sold the brewery in 1884; while Junior leased the facility out to the new brewers, control completely left the Haertel clan in 1894. The purchaser was a brewer who had gotten his start in Dubuque, Iowa and Mineral Point, Wisconsin named Peter Eulberg. Peter purchased Haertel with his brother, Adam and together they ran Eulberg brewery until 1895 when Peter died. In 1901, Peter's brother Adam died and the Estate of Adam Eulberg ran the brewery for a number of years until 1907 when Adam's sons (Jacob, Julius, William, and Joseph) purchased the brewery from the estate.
As mentioned above, the Eulberg Brothers ran the brewery, with its best brand "Crown Select" until 1919 when Prohibition required that the Eulbergs install de-alcoholizers. Eulberg remained licensed to sell "near beer" until 1924 when its license was revoked and the brewery was fined $1000 for selling "real beer." Most breweries would have stopped brewing. But not Eulberg. The brewery was also a malting facility and Eulberg would malt grains grown in the area for use by other breweries. This malting acted as a cover operation for bootlegging until 1931.
Then, at noon on July 1, 1931, the federal "revenuers" busted into Eulberg Brewery and arrested 3 workers. It was a day meant for drama. The weather was so hot that day, a searing 98 degrees, that 14 people died from the heat; 93 people had died that week alone from temperatures that hit over 102 degrees. It was a brutally hot summer. Farmers were haying in the moonlight to stay out of the sun. It was also, pun aside, a very dry summer. But, prohibition was very much in swing; from the Capital Times of July 1, 1931:
A certain man, in a certain local hotel, has not suffered greatly from the heat. Refusing to leave the hotel during the heat wave, this man has lounged about his room in scanties since the torrid spell began with an electric fan in operation and with a bathtub - full of beer on ice at his side. Whenever his stock becomes depleted, he sends out for more beer to refill his bathtub. This man's room has become a mecca for heat relief seekers, it is said. Wednesday, July 1, 1931, Afternoon Edition, pg. 10.I love that not only did "a certain man in a certain hotel" do this, but that it was newsworthy. It was a day that my Cleveland Indians lost to the Philadelphia Athletics 11-7; future hall-of-famer Earl Averill hit a two-run homerun, and two others had two RBI each - in fact, only the Phillies' shortstop did not have an RBI against the luckless Indians that day.
But in Portage, it was a different story. The Sheboygan Press picked up a UP (United Press) report about the raid at Eulberg Brewery at high-noon:
Federal prohibition officers raided the plant of the Eulberg Brewing corporation here today, arrested three workmen and seized a quantity of beer. Warrents charging the officers of the corporation with conspiracy to violate the federal prohibition laws will be sought, the agents said. They reported seizure of 315 barrels of beer in vats, six barrels of the finished product, thirty-one half-barrels, twenty-four quarters, and 4,000 pint bottles of brew.The Capital Times noted on July 1 that "It is reported that many Madison speakeasies have been selling alleged beer from the Eulberg brewery for the past two years. The action of the federal officials is expected to cause a temporary 'drought' here."
The three corporate officers charged were Eulberg brothers Julius and Joseph and brewmaster William Broeske. That Friday, July 3, all three posted a bond of $2,000 (about $27,000 in today's money) each. A hearing was set for July 29; that hearing was subsequently postponed. On February 20, 1933 Julius and Joseph were both convicted and sentenced to six months in prison by a Chicago federal court. Julius' sentence was immediately suspended for three years - he would never have to serve time, as prohibition ended the following year. Joseph was granted a ten-day stay, during which time he would apply to President Hoover for a pardon. Joseph's pardon was not granted, and on March 1, 1932, a year and a half before the end of federal prohibition, Joseph Eulberg was sent to a Milwaukee prison to serve his six-month sentence. After a mere eight days, with prison life not sitting so well for Mr. Eulberg, he again asked President Hoover for clemency. Joseph Eulberg was released from prison in September of 1932.
During this year, 1932, tremors started in the industry that prohibition would be repealed. Breweries started to removed their de-alcoholizers and started taking orders, automobile factories started producing heavier duty trucks, glass companies started churning out more beer bottles, even crate makers started ramping up production of beer cases. In fact, the posh Drake Hotel in Chicago, built during prohibition, was getting together funds to purchase a bar, since one had never been installed.
On Sunday, December 2, 1932 the Wisconsin State Journal ran a column by Henry Noll:
Anticipating the return of beer, oldtimers who enjoy the beverage are looking forward to the day of the schooners. They still have recollections of the "good old days" when they were able to buy a glass of beer for five cents and eat all the free lunch they could consume. ... There is a possibility that if beer is legalized by Congress that it will be sold in restaurants. That means no free lunches will be provided. ... Madison once had about 90 saloons every one of which served lunches with beer. ... Before Congress deprived the beer drinkers of their favorite beverage, Madison supported three breweries. Fauerbach's is the only brewery now in operation. The other two were Hausmann's on State St. and Breckheimer's on King. Haumann's also operated the malthouse on Sherman Ave. This was known in early Madison days as the Rodermund Brewery. ... Many people delighted in taking Sunday walks out Sherman avenue and dropping into the malthouse where they drank several beers, chatted about old times, and then resumed their journeys. ... We also remember the days of the Oster Brau which was manufactured each spring by the Breckheimer Brewery. Some of the patrons of the Breckheimer Saloon still have the taste of this brew in their mouths. ... Hausmann's barroom was a popular place for university professors and students who loved their beer. ... It is expected that as soon as Congress puts its OK on the manufacture and sale of beer , Fauerbach's will begin to turn out the old style brew again. ... On the east and south ends of the city were maintained both "First and Last Chance" saloons. By coming into the city, people were confronted with signs reading "First Chance." Upon leaving they were informed by signs dangling in front of the same places that it was their "last chance."
With the ushering in of FDR and The New Deal in 1933, the repeal of prohibition picked up steam. As of June 18, 1933 with repeal looking certain, The Wisconsin State Journal reported that our heroes, Eulberg Brewery in Portage were granted a license to begin brewing "real beer" again; 52 breweries had thus been granted new brewing licenses - another 25 would be granted licenses by December 5. Finally, on December 5, 1933, Utah ratified the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition.
While the beer industry is again exploding with new breweries. By the early 1980s, only 7 breweries remained in the state of Wisconsin. Eulberg resumed brewing in 1933, its most famous beer being branded "Crown Select." The brewery was sold only 11 years later, in 1944, to two gentlemen from Waukesha named Lawrence and Alvin Bardin. In 1958, Alvin and Lawrence closed down the brewery in Portage and moved the brand to a contract brewery in Waukesha. In 1960 they ceased selling beer under the Eulberg name. The old Haertel/City/Eulberg brewery no longer exists; in its place is the Portage Chamber of Commerce building.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Tune in next week when they redeem themselves with an awesome interview with Ale Asylum's Dean Coffey.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Reserve was our Beer of the Year (the Isthmus, too). Can it take the crown two years in a row? Well. You'll have to check back in late December or early January to find out. Until then, here's the low down:
Lake Louie Louie's Reserve
Appearance: Poured into the exact same becher pint as I used last year (I washed it in the meantime, don't worry), the head was brief but softly foamy that works down to a wispy Wisconsin winter cloud; the body is deeply copper and ever-so-slightly opaque; nice lacing on the sides
Aroma: a subtle dark tea and biscuit aroma; like drinking a proper British breakfast – the malts then come forward and remind me that I am smelling a beer, leaving me wondering why exactly I'm smelling it (or writing about it for that matter) and not drinking it
Flavor: roasted chocolate; if you took a chocolate bean and put it in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes it might smell like this; if said oven was coated in peat; if you took a whole bunch of these beans, steeped them in a water and added some cream for body, well, it would probably taste really nasty. This is the exact opposite of really nasty.
Body: bold, assertive, surprisingly sulfate hardness that helps to clean up a bit; a very slight hoppy and alcohol bitterness in the finish and lead a slight residual brightness
Drinkability: A great example of a drinkable, if not sessionable beer; give me one every day for the rest of my life, but it would be a struggle, for me, to drink 3 of these in a row
Summary: It seems "bigger" than last year's version, more bold, more assertive; a fantastic beer that continues to show that Wisconsin's brewers aren't just master lagermeisters
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Tune in next week when they redeem themselves with an awesome interview with Ale Asylum's Dean Coffey.
Monday, December 1, 2008
A few years back New Glarus regularly brewed an Apple beer in addition to their world-famous Wisconsin Belgian Red (Cherry) and Raspberry Tart. My sources all tell me that 3 of them didn't sell well, and while the apple was generally considered to be the best of them, it was also the most expensive, so it got axed. What is unclear is whether this recipe is the same as the old apple recipe, or whether this is entirely new - I wasn't around when that first apple beer was.
So, if you know this answer or who would like to reminisce about that old apple beer, feel free to comment.
New Glarus Apple AleAppearance: While the "original" apple beer was sold in the 750ml package like the Cherry and Raspberry are, this Apple Ale is sold in New Glarus' traditional Unplugged twelve-ounce bottle with red foil cap wrapper;
Appearance: Golden, very clear; I can almost watch the tv through it; in fact, you can read through it
Aroma: very faintly apple; smells like an apple is in the same room as you; a little more if you really stick your nose in it; very little aroma
Flavor: sour apple, but not sour green apple; not like candy apple; otherwise really smooth with a hint of tart apple - like a good granny smith
Body: a light beer, but not thin; not a big bodied beer
Drinkability: I could drink this all day and I can't drink many beers all day - does not give me any fullness; I could drink two back to back
Summary: could definitely get drunk on these without ever realizing you're drinking beer; me like it.
Friday, November 28, 2008
So, what does Grand Cru mean to the wine industry? In France, indeed anywhere in the world, certain locales, because of weather and soil conditions, are more ideal than others for growing grapes. They are places where, if the conditions are perfect, will grow the absolute best grapes capable of being produced. Think about it this way: regardless of how great the weather, regardless of how great the treatment, regardless of the timing of the picking, the grapes grown at Wollersheim will not be as good as the grapes grown at Chateau Haut-Brion. They cannot be. In fact, according to a Bordeaux classification, Chateau Haut-Brion is one of the five best places (the fourth best actually) in Bordeaux for the growing of grapes. Thus, it gets the label "Grand Cru" - the vineyard (Chateau), the land, is given the designation - not the wine.
We could do this in the beer world. We could designate areas of the world, areas of the United States, areas of Wisconsin that are ideal for the growing of grains or hops. In theory, these could be different for different varieties. Maybe one place is best for growing Robust barley, while another is ideal for growing Cascade hops, while another best for growing other types of barleys or other types of hops. Or, perhaps like in France, Wisconsin could be granted by a larger National body, the right to grant "Grand Cru" designations to barley and/or hop fields. You get the point. Let's say, for example, that Chilton, WI turned out to be the best place in the state of Wisconsin for growing Robust barley, a brewing-quality six-row barley, any beer made entirely (or to some before-agreed percentage) from Chilton Robust barley could be labeled Robust Grand Cru.
The Grand Cru designation would carry quite a bit of market premium as customers could be guaranteed that this beer was made with the absolutely best barley ingredient. Of course, it would still be incumbent upon the brewery to make a quality product. The Grand Cru designation is one that only applies to the raw material, not to the quality of production (that's what traditional trademarks are for). The biggest downside to this is actually on the malting side where those grains designated as grand cru could not be mingled with other commodity grains. It would require quasi-de-commodification of the grain market - something that I'm sure Briess is not exactly excited about.
Until then, the general nomenclature in the beer industry is that Grand Cru simply designates a beer, usually of some traditionally Belgian style, that is of "highest quality." And so it is with Ale Asylum's new Mercy Grand Cru. A Belgian style ale of the highest quality. As with most true Belgians this beer doesn't really fit into a style; it isn't a blonde, it's not really a tripel, or a quad, or a dubbel - it is sort of a mish mash of all of the above. What it is, is really, really good.
Ale Asylum Mercy Grand CruAppearance: Served at 45 degrees, the beer pours with a thin wispy head on top of a tawny, well-muscled body; the legs on this looker are terrific
Aroma: soft, woody, earthy aromas of cherry and a subtle lemony brightness or grassiness; the end of the nose has a nice, warm booziness
Flavor: where the aromas are soft and inviting, the flavor is crisp and multi-layered; clear distinction in the complexity between malts and fruity yeastiness; it tastes like looks with a firm body, strong alcohol finish, and deep malt flavors
Body: firm and thinly bubbled with a long bright, alcohol finish
Drinkability: perfect to pairing with rustic spinach and braised chicken with pan seared potatoes (it goes with left over turkey, too); although I prefer it in a brandy snifter, with the lights low and a good movie (say, SuperTroopers? ;) and a better woman (or man, if that's your thing)
Summary: Although I think it's probably a bit nit-picky, one frustration with the Wisconsin craft brew industry is the lack of creativity in packaging; Spotted Cow, Hopalicious, Alt, Hop Whore, Mercy - all packaged in 12oz bottles with screw-top or pry-off tops. Very few bombers (only Central Waters' Coffee Stout and Lakefront's Bridge Burner, that I know of) and very few 750s (only the two New Glarus fruit beers). This beer is begging for a corked, caged, fancy-labeled 750ml or 22oz bomber. Heck, even a 500ml Grolsch-style bottle would be better. Still, an awesome beer that will leave you begging for Mercy.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The alt. It's a simple style for simple people. Take, more or less, any red beer – some pale base malts, some caramel specialty malts – add to it some innocuous noble hops, add some ale yeast, let it ferment at basement temperatures for two weeks and you're done. Really. It's that simple. So, what differentiates the "alt" from, say, an amber ale? An alt is fermented at lower temperatures. So, what differentiates an "alt" from, say, a marzen (aka "oktoberfest", or "amber lager")? The alt actually uses ale yeasts. That's it. Three types of amber beer: amber ale, amber lager, and the hybrid alt.
The amber is an exceptionally drinkable beer and one that can absorb just about anything. That's why there's so many different variations. Very warm fermentation? Mexican steam beer. Lots of hops? American Amber. Add some roasted malts? Light porter. Add some Munich and Vienna malts (both specialty malts with a very distinct biscuity/caramel/dry profile)? Vienna Lager. Just about every brewery on the planet makes an amber beer (or two or three) of some sort. In the grand scheme of things, we really have 3 general classifications of beer: light, amber, dark. If you don't like the wimpiness of classic light beers, but don't want to be weighed down by the classic darks? Easy. Amber.
It's a style that is made for Wisconsin. Wisconsin-ites have been drinking amber beers forever. Indeed, one could say that we are defined by our amber beers. Leinie's Red. Capital's Autumnal Fire. Lakefront Stein. Point Amber. The scores of Oktoberfests that litter our festival grounds. It is a beer for those who love beer and love to drink a lot of it. And we Wisconsin-ites love our beer, and we love to drink a lot of it. Heck, Capital alone makes five: Oktoberfest, Autumnal Fire (an Oktoberfest doppelbock), the Rustic Ale, the Wisconsin Amber (an amber lager), and the Winter Skal (a Vienna lager, which is an amber that uses specific types of malts).
As for alts. This specific style itself is a little rarer. But, Tyranena makes an excellent alt. The enigmatic BluCreek makes one. JT Whitneys make 2 or 3.
New Glarus has an amber ale (the Snowshoe) and an amber lager (Staghorn). But this time Dan Carey, head brewer at New Glarus, sat down and made a beer that speaks straight to Wisconsin-ites. He said, "Wisconsin, I have heard your call. I love you. I will make a beer just for you. One that will speak to your love of beer. One that will speak to your worker's love for the craft of beer making. One that will open its arms to you. One that will knock you on your ass if want to have a party." So Dan took some pale malt, some caramel specialty malts, a little bit of the noble hop, some oak chips for a little woody classiness, did his own special New Glarus thing (an extra-long kettle boil and a brief open fermentation), and made a 9% ABV altbier that oozes Wisconsin. Mr. Carey unleashed this on the world in early November, and it is now a permanent year-round beer for New Glarus. Call it an altbier, call it a Triple Alt, call it a DoppelAlt, call it whatever you want; but it will answer your call.
I have reserved my drool for New Glarus for a long time. I've always thought New Glarus was over-rated. And in many respects I still think that; Spotted Cow is fine, if unspectacular; Hop Hearty, Fat Squirrel and Road Slush is "eh" to middling for me. The Snowshoe is OK. Dancing Man Wheat is good. Edel Pils is great. Etc. New Glarus was fine, but nothing special. But this year, Dan has seemingly kicked it into high gear. Imperial Weizen. Berliner Weiss. The unbelievable Bohemian Lager. This year's Staghorn was a standout. And the continued solid output for the year-rounds. And now this. Combine the Alt and the other year-rounds with the unparalleled Unplugged series, and New Glarus' new R&D line that is coming, and it is hard to fathom a better all-around brewery in the United States.
New Glarus Alt
Appearance: bronze and hazy with a nice, stable foamy white head that forms on top
Aroma: caramel, bready, a hint of lemongrass and a slight booziness
Flavor: a smooth, clean, caramel malt attack with a brightness and finish that leave me wanting more; the hops are virtually undetectable until the finish where they meld perfectly with the yeasty booziness that comes through; although it doesn't start dry, it finishes cleanly
Body: a medium lean build; think Roy Jones, Jr. – a 170 pound lean, mean light heavyweight.
Drinkability: Thank you, sir, may I have another. After 3 or 4 though you may not be able to order another.
Summary: You can go through the dictionary and find every superlative and all of them would be accurate. Dan Carey is an evil man to dress up this nasty of a beer in such a diminutive package (9% ABV? an altbier? How coy.)
It is a beer that will challenge Capital's Autumnal Fire, Lake Louie's Louie's Reserve, Central Waters' Bourbon Barrel Stout, Lakefront's Bridge Burner, and Rowland's Oktoberfest (or Dark or Pils) as the best that Wisconsin has to offer (as an alternate, in case the other states want to keep it to 12ozers or beer that is only available in bottle, you can add Ale Asylum's new Mercy Grand Cru, which we will review on Friday). Put those six beers in a six pack against any other state's and Wisconsin will have a strong argument as the best brewing state in the United States. We don't brag much here (California, I'm looking at you) and we don't get the glory (Colorado), but these are some of the best beers available in the world, so you should count yourself lucky that they are available to you because none of these are available outside of our borders.
One other thing you should note about those beers that represent the best that Wisconsin has to offer. Only two of them are lagers, the others are ales. This bucks the conventional wisdom regarding Wisconsin beers; that all we make are boring German lagers. Classified under the "boring" lager are of course Rowland's Fest (dark or pils), all made to high degree of competence - perhaps even better than many of the German masters themselves - but also a unique take on the doppelbock. The hybrid, lagered ale is unique variation of the altbier. Of course, the true ales are a scotch ale, a stout, a strong ale, and a Belgian Grand Cru, respectively.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
This whole exercise was prompted by a trip to Toby's Supper Club in Macfarland. Toby's is a typical Wisconsin supper club just off of Highway 51 right as you get into Macfarland from the North. If you aren't paying attention you may drive past the building set aside into the left-hand corner of 51 and the Beltline a few dozen times. But once you find it, the good news is that you only have 30-minute to one hour wait until you eat your Friday Fish Fry. But, with typical Wisconsin efficiency, a waitress will come around and take your order while you are drinking in the bar area. And so it was with us. Toby's has a number of beers in bottle; I didn't even notice if any of it was on-tap, but given that they had to scrounge up the two pint glasses that we had to ask for, I'm guessing they don't serve a lot of tap beer. Four Capital beers, Four Leinie's beers, one Ale Asylum, and then the full assortment of Macros: PBR, Hamm's, Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, etc. etc.
And it occured to me as I noticed the roomful of 50-60 somethings: Why do they not sell Fauerbach, Cross Plains, Hausmann, or any of the other macro-like Wisconsin beers here? If these are going to sell anywhere, they will sell here. Heck, I'd buy an Esser's Best (Mrs. MBR is an EB fan) or a Fauerbach. But this is the environment for which these beers were created. As it is, this is now Capital's and Leinie's market apparently. So, we ordered a Capital Autumnal Fire and a Leinie's Fireside Nut Brown.
The Autumnal Fire was good. It tasted like one would expect Autumnal Fire to taste. The only significant difference from last year's review is that this year's variety seems to have bulked up the body a bit. Last year we said: "Perhaps one of the few complaints would be that the tastes don't hold together, once the sharpness hits, the flavors are gone, leaving little residual flavor. It is a difficult beer to savor." But this year's is definitely savorable. A nice improvement for Capital and I'm glad that they haven't let this flagship sink. My only complaint would be that this is not a beer to be consumed out of a bottle at refrigerator temperatures. I understand the need to keep it in the fridge, where else are they going to put it. But, it absolutely should be served in a pint glass and let breathe for a bit; a bottle will constrain the flavors and the aromas, and really what's the point of drinking this fine a beer if you can't taste it or smell it?
The Leinie's Fireside Nut Brown, though. If only I could put it back in the bottle. Preferably with a note telling them to stop producing this immediately. We always say here that reviews are subjective - and it's possible that there are people out there that find this beer a sweet, welcome winter warmer. Heck, I've seen people ordering Bud Lime, so you never know. But, I am not one of them. It's only flavor was that of hazelnut syrup. You know those syrups that coffee shops use to flavor your latte or coffee drinks? Yeah. Take about 7 pumps of that and put it into an otherwise boring, but not bad, brown ale. Not particularly good. I'm really beginning to wonder what the heck is going on at Leinenkugel's. Everything they sell now is some "flavor" or another - Apple Spice, Nut Brown, Lemon Shandy, Berry Weiss, etc. Maybe it's an aggressive attempt by Miller to capture the market that finds these "beers" attractive without actually branding them as Miller beers? And, really, fruit beers and flavors aren't bad, but do they really need to be so cloyingly sweet? It's like Leinie's thinks that consumers don't possess taste buds. Honestly, if I had wasted the money on a six-pack of this, I'm not sure I'd finish it - and I don't know anyone that I dislike enough to give it to.
Friday, November 21, 2008
From the New Yorker: A long (and I mean long) article about the state of American craft brewing. It uses Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head as its foil to talk about how the current crop of American craft brewers are changing the nature of the beer industry, and what we as consumers see as beer. It also looks at the impact that American beer-related creativity and ingenuity is having on the world-wide craft beer movement. An excellent article, if you happen to have the better part of a Sunday morning to kill.
From our brethren in Oregon: An article that I'm jealous that I didn't write. Jeff Alworth discusses what the future of American craft brewing will look like now that the InBev purchase of Anheuser-Busch is complete. He proposes, and I think I agree, that you are going to see a regionalization of the beer industry. There will likely be "national brands" like Bud or Miller or even Coors, but as Jeff notes, "Breweries are gone, replaced by 'plants,' just as faceless as the beer they make. I suspect there's still a little pride in Colorado of Coors and in Milwaukee of Miller, but it must be a vestigial, nostalgic pride. There's nothing about Miller that says Milwaukee anymore--the association is purely reflex memory." In their place will be regional giants like Boston Beer in the North-East, Yuengling in the South [ed note: In the comments, Emily reminded me that Yuengling isn't actually based in the South, and in fact their distribution is more mid-Atlantic and the Eastern South; but the point still holds to the extent that they very definitely dominate this region], Sierra Nevada in the West, New Belgium in the Mountain Region, etc. These regionals will, of course, have some national penetration, but will retain a, comparatively, overwhelming market share in their own geography. They can even gain market share within their region against the nationals by having advertising budgets big enough to take advantage of affinity marketing opportunities that arise from the regional association. Just below those will be sub-regionals, like Harpoon (NorthEast) or Great Lakes and Bells (Midwest) or Abita (South) or Avery (Mountain) or Flying Dog (Atlantic/MidWest) or Alaska (west), that maintain their purely intra-regional identities. Personally, I see consolidation happening within these regions with breweries threatening to move up tiers, but not vertically. In other words, Boston Beer has no reason to merge with Yuengling - there would be few distribution advantages in doing so. But, if Harpoon were to get big enough, there may be some advantage of Boston Beer purchasing Harpoon (a growing sub-regional brewery within its own region) to gain certain brands (e.g., a hefeweizen and IPA).d But absent brand acquisition and the elimination of competition, there would be no reason for it; for example, there would be reason for, say, Sierra Nevada to purchase Alaska. Similarly, the MidWest doesn't really have a regional giant like Boston Beer or Yuengling - a combination of sub-regionals, for example Bells and Great Lakes, could create one (maybe in some sort of joint-partnership that would allow group purchasing and greater market share in communities within the region but wouldn't destroy their individual identities) and might be a reason to merge.
An article by soon-to-be-ex-Madison Magazine beer-writer, Kent Palmer: Normally I like Kent's writing; it's fluffy, but still informative - perfectly suited for bringing quality beer to the type of folks who subscribe to Madison Magazine. But he, like all of us, has his biases - and his is a predilection towards The Great Dane and Capital - both places where his band has played. But he should know better. In his current Madison Magazine fluff-piece that "reviews" the year in beer awards given to Wisconsin breweries he says: "Give The Great Dane (Madison/ Fitchburg) an honorable mention; they helped amend Wisconsin's Prohibition-era tied house laws. Now our state's smaller brewers can compete and brew more, taking advantage of economies of scale through expanded production and distribution." This sentence is not only wrong, it borders on a flat-out propagandist lie. This law does the exact opposite of help our state's smaller brewers - it severely hampers their ability to scale their breweries to compete with out-of-state and regional breweries. Let's not kid ourselves. This law does not help anyone except The Great Dane. At this point, it is not really a hindrance to others, but it will be - and it certainly does not help them. Shame on Kent; he should know better.
Finally, the un-imitatable Lew Bryson takes on the wine industry: Lew writes about how pairing wine at Thanksgiving is a fools errand; just better to go with beer. And, well, I agree. Rather than shoe-horn some wine style that doesn't go with anything, to quote Lew: what wine goes with Lima Beans?, it's far better to just drink a beer that perfectly accompanies your scalloped oysters (dry stout).