Only two comments for today, both related to things we do not have in Madison:
A. Thankfully Wisconsin breweries are mostly free of the habits of others to develop "imperial" versions of beers that are in no way "big" beers. Take, for example, the Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner. A pilsner is a beer known for being a light, refreshing, soft, subtle beer. By beefing up the malt bill to increase the alcohol, it defeats the "light" nature of the drink. Pilsners should have some hoppy bitterness and aroma, but it seems silly to overload a beer with low-bitterness noble hops - it defeats the purpose of the subtle nature of the pilsner hop profile. Then consider the "Imperial Wheat Ale." A thick, alcohol-ridden sipping beer - why even call it a wheat ale? The "Imperial" additions defeat the entire, refreshing, purpose of the drink. You want to take big gulps to quench that thirst? Think twice when that beer is 10% ABV. So, what should they call it? It doesn't have the fruitiness of the Belgian Ale that it more resembles. The comments to last Friday's posts point out the inherent problems to marketing to the American public: namely, you have to call it something that people are familiar with so that they have a basis for understanding what it is like even if that label is not entirely accurate. In JT Whitney's case they make slightly off-style beers - and in this case, it is a beer that is interesting in and of itself, but its label creates an irreconsilable contradiction that only reflects poorly on the brewery.
2. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is also free of beers from Stone Brewery out of San Diego. As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Stone is considered one of the top ten breweries in the world (or at least the country). Of the others, it is along with Founders, by far, the most widely distributed. Yet, for some reason, we still cannot get these beers here in Wisconsin. I had the pleasure of a vertical tasting of the 2006 and 2007 Double Bastard. They are amazingly complex, big, malty, bitter, plum and fig creations that demand and compel repeated drinking. But we have no access to them. Granted, there are lots of breweries that we don't have access to (Alaska and Brooklyn just to name a few). And while I would argue that it would be nice to have access to these as well, it is competition from breweries like Stone that make our own breweries better. Stone is willing to test the limits of style in a way that remains drinkable and surprisingly approachable; a philosophy that some of our own breweries could stand to embrace.
Thus, Wisconsin has the good and the bad. Be thankful that we have not embraced the ridiculous creation of big versions of subtle beer styles. However, when undertaken in a thoughtful and responsible manner seemingly normal styles can be made sublime.