It finally happened. It only took 2.5 hours and the pretense of a wedding, but I finally made it back up to Chilton, Wisconsin to visit Rowland's Calumet Brewing Co. for their Oktoberfest. And during Oktoberfest season no less!
Today I'll finally sit down and review the beer for you. But first, even without drinking the beer, the reason why Rowland's is one of the top breweries in the state if not the country or the world: they both care and don't care simultaneously.
Taking the "don't care" part first, what I mean is that they do their own thing - and they are relatively unconcerned with the opinions of others in determining the course of their brewing operations. They have a tried and true operation - if you live within 30 miles of the brewery, or have the wherewithal to truck out there, you can be one of the privileged few to drink it. But, they are not about to compromise quality just to chase down every last person who wants their beer. I had a really interesting discussion with Bonita, wife of the late Bob Rowland, about the state of the Wisconsin craft brewing industry. About the chasing of trends. About the hard work that these "old timers" have put in to lay the groundwork for these new breweries. About not sacrificing quality.
Which all goes to show that they do care about their customers. They are concerned about their customers getting the absolute best beer experience. While I was driving to Chilton from Madison I got a phone call: "Bonita Rowland just called the house to see if you were coming up to pick up the keg." At the time I was about 20 minutes from the bar. When I arrived and introduced myself I was grilled by Bonita on my preparations for keeping the beer chilled - she didn't want the beer sitting out and warming up because it tastes better chilled. Chilling a keg can be a daunting task for the average person, not everyone has large enough vessels to chill a half-barrel keg - to solve the problem she offered me a large plastic tub to keep it in (I didn't need it). She also gave me a CO2 tank and regulator pre-set to serve the beer at optimum carbonation.
But the absolute deal-clincher showed, to me, how Bonita and Rowland's Brewery care about their customers. When the keg was loaded into my car, I stopped back at the bar because I wanted to have a beer before I left. As I sipped on my rye beer (one of the best I've had, by the way) and purchased a growler of the dark to take back to Madison for a friend (he raved about it), we started discussing some of the things I related above. In the course of the conversation it was revealed that I had purchased the keg to serve at my wedding reception being held on my finacee's family farm. As we were talking, Bonita wandered to the back and came back with a bottle champagne that was kindly gifted to my now-wife and me. Completely unnecessary. But, it's how things are done there.
So, if you take the trip to Chilton - and I highly recommend that you do - tell Bonita that Jeff sent you. Have a beer or three, sit back, relax and enjoy some of the finest beers, breweries, brewers and bars in the world.
Rowland's Calumet Brewing Company - Oktoberfest
Appearance: a thin, wispy head on top of a crystal-clear deep amber body; moderate bubbling
Aroma: caramel and bready malts dominate with a slight grassiness on the finish of the aroma; smells of dark honey sweetness
Flavor: strong and caramel, with a fast, clean finish that leaves you waiting for the next sip
Body: medium-light to medium body, firm, with a light mouthfeel and no lasting presence
Drinkability: while firm enough to feel like you are drinking something, I can, unfortunately, drink way too many of these - it is highly sessionable and the up-front, clean sweetness leaves me wanting more and more
Summary: If I were putting together an island top-5, this would be in the top 2 and I'm not really sure what the other one would be (maybe Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja or Bam?)