Friday, November 28, 2008

Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru

Grand Cru. Does anyone really know what this means? The wine industry has a very specific meaning for it. The beer industry does not. But there does not appear, to me, to be any reason why the beer industry cannot co-opt the wine industry meaning. Doing so would take some discipline, in the lack of wine industry's legal and business processes that enforce the standard.

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 Cru

Appearance: 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

New Glarus Alt


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

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Our first Thanksgiving special. Sit back with a nice warm cup of egg nog or mulled beer, or perhaps a room temp British Bitter, and enjoy!

Here's the mp3


Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Sorry, Have We Been Neglecting You

So, the last review that we did was seventeen days ago. In the last month we've reviewed two beers. Ah well. That happens. There's been a lot to talk about, I suppose. Well, we got through almost the entire Autumnal Fire season without reviewing it. Capital's Winter Skal is out again. New Glarus has two new beers out. Lake Louie's Louie's Reserve is out and probably sold out by now. Ale Asylum has a new beer out. And those are just the Madison area breweries. So, over the next few weeks we are going to concentrate on actually reviewing some beer around here. So, if you are a brewery and you would like to make sure that your beer gets reviewed, well, now would be a good time to send it.

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

Have Some Time To Kill?

Maybe we'll turn this into a semi-regular feature. We'll see. In the meantime, here's some good non-MBR beer-related reading from the relatively recent past.

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).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Apropos of our article on Monday, the second part of this week's podcast has Jon and Kyle talking about Wisconsin's reputation as a drinking state.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Our Stupid Laws Don't Seem Quite So Stupid

The sage David Lowery, once said:

I don't know what the world may want,
but a good stiff drink it surely don't.
So I think I'll go and fix myself a tall one.

Cause, what the world needs now
is a new kind of tension.
Cause the old one just bores me to death.
Cause, what the world needs now
is another folk singer
like I need a hole in my head.

I don't know what the world may need,
but a V8 engine is a good start for me.
Think I'll drive to find a place,
to be surly.

Surly: Sullenly ill-humored; gruff; threatening, as of weather conditions; ominous; arrogant; domineering

Surly: a small, but rapidly growing, American craft-brewery based in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a northwestern suburb of Minneapolis. Surly has a stellar reputation among craft breweries. But, as of January 1, 2009, Surly will have to cease sales of growlers and growler fills at the brewery. Not only do Surly's license fees increase eight-fold (from $500 per year to $4000 per year) merely for selling 3,500 barrels (instead of 3,499), but this model of business growth and community support and reputation must cease direct interaction with consumers and stop filling growlers.

It's a ridiculous clause that does not seem to serve any function. I'd love to know what public policy, social good, or even distributor-related benefit (because I assume that the distributors lobbied for this one) is gained by having Surly Brewing Company stop selling growlers of its products. Are distributors really afraid that growler fills are going to do them in? If so, why don't the distributors sell in growler packages themselves and "compete" with the brewery? (not that it's really "competition" at all).

So, to "celebrate" the ignominious 3,500 barrel milestone and have a proper Irish wake for the growler-fill policy (and SurlyFest, and Darkness Day), Surly has brewed 30 barrels of a one-time-only Double IPA. For $17 you can bring in your growler to the brewery on December 27, 29, 30, and 31 and Surly will fill it directly from the fermenting tanks.

The good news is: now that Surly is bigger they are starting to distribute in Wisconsin. The first tapping will be today (Wednesday, November 19th) at Paddy Ryans in Hudson, WI. Surly's Bender will be tapped all night and Darkness, Surly's Russian Imperial Stout, will tap at 7:00pm. After the 19th you can find Surly on tap in and around Hudson and Eau Claire. No cans yet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisconsin Hits The Big Time(s)

Wisconsin's inability to stop drinking (and doing things after they drink, like driving) has made the New York Times. For the week around October 18th, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a whole series of articles about this very topic.

From The Times: "When it comes to drinking, it seems, no state keeps pace with Wisconsin. This state, long famous for its breweries, has led the nation in binge drinking in every year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began its surveys on the problem more than a decade ago. Binge drinking is defined as five drinks in a sitting for a man, four for a woman."

I've stayed relatively silent about this topic for a few reasons. But (you knew there was a "but" coming didn't you?), I have a few issues with this characterization of Wisconsin's "binge drinking" problem. First, let's get the "definition" of binge drinking out of the way: Five drinks in one sitting for a man; four for a woman. What is a sitting? 30 minutes? 1 hour? 3 hours? 7 hours? If I'm sitting at a bar watching a late football game and then stick around for dinner and maybe say hello to some friends, it could easily be "one sitting" from 3pm until 11pm. Five drinks in eight hours? This is a problem? I don't know about you, but I would not be legally drunk after that, provided that the five drinks were relatively low-alcohol beer.

But, that's the second problem with the definition? What's a "drink"? A beer? What kind of beer? Bud Light (about 4% ABV)? Dogfish Head 120 (about 21% ABV)? Wine (12-22% ABV)? Liquor (40-50% ABV)? In their standard serving sizes? We've already talked about that whole ball of wax.

Sure, if I did 5 shots of Jack Daniels in 20 minutes, I might be a bit schnockered and probably shouldn't drive a car 10 minutes later. But, this activity isn't unique to the University of Wisconsin; stupid college students all over the country do this. [ed note: MBR does not endorse this activity - it leads to doing stupid things like drinking 5 more shots in the next 30 minutes, and you don't even want to know about after that - and it sucks to puke your brains out for the next 12 hours] The "problem" that the Times (and the Journal Sentinel) see is this:
Whatever the reason, plenty of Wisconsin people say they need to make no apologies for their fondness for drinking.

“I work 70, 80 hours a week, and sometimes I just want to relax,” said Luke Gersich, 31, an engineering technician, who drank a Miller as he watched the Monday Night Football game at Wile-e’s tavern. On a weeknight, he said he might drink seven or eight beers. On a weekend, it might be closer to 12.
Namely, that some 31-year old engineering technician is downing "7 or 8" (probably 10) on a weeknight (though which weeknight? Monday Night? Are the Packers on?) and "closer to 12" (probably 15-18) on the weekends.

A football day? Is he at home or a bar? Did he drive? Did he neglect his children? Is it every day or just a few times a month?

I'm not making excuses, I'm just saying that this article is fairly imprecise in its language. And we all know how much I hate imprecise language.

If it doesn't affect anyone (including the drinker), who cares? The problem is when this person does his drinking at a bar and drives home. The problem is when this person goes to a Packers game 3 hours away from where he lives and has no option but to drive home. The problem is when this person goes home and beats his wife or children. The problem is when this person can't make it through a day without getting drunk.

As much as the Madison City Council would like you to believe otherwise, the solution is not prohibition. The solution is allowing random alcohol checkpoints (currently "unconstitutional" in this state). The solution is viable public transportation alternatives (not raising the fare on an impractical and nonsensical bus system). The solution is harsher penalties for alcohol-related crimes. The solution is better alcohol counseling and family abuse prevention.

The solution is not taking your ball and going home.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hey Barkeep! What Does It Matter How Many Rows The Barley Has?

Beer 201 today.

You have, no doubt, heard us talk about two-row and six-row malted barley. A common question that we get is, "what is the difference" and/or "what difference does it make"? If you think of a shaft of barley (such as the one to the left there), you can imagine the grains grow around in orderly rows around the shaft. Well, some are more orderly than others, and some varieties have bigger grains than others.

Think about it this way: a shaft of barley is only so big; it can only support so many grains. The grains are either (relatively) bigger, but fewer, or the grains are smaller but more numerous. Six-row barley is, as you might guess, the smaller but more numerous grains (there are six rows of grains on the shaft, sort of); two-row barley grains are bigger and less numerous.

So what?

Well. Using barley in beer works like this: the grains are steeped in water to cause them to swell and begin to germinate. This early-germination process converts the starches in the barley to sugars that are then fermented to make alcohol. This germination process is halted before it completes to optimize the sugar content. This steeping and halting process is called "malting" and barley that has been steeped and dried is called malted barley. Two-row barley has fewer protein and more starch available for conversion. Six-row barley has more protein and less starch available for conversion.

This means that if you have the same amount of six-row and two-row malted barley, there will be less sugars and more proteins/husky content in the six-row than in the two-row. Or, stated alternatively, the two-row will contain more sugar and less protein than the six-row. This, in turn, means that beer made from two-row malted barley will ferment "better" and have less of a "grainy" or "husky" taste. Or, again stated in the alternative, six-row malted barley will be less fermentable and more "husky"/"grainy" in flavor.

Two-row malts are favored in traditionally English, German and Belgian styles. Six-row malts are frequently found in American and French styles. In American styles these six-row malts are frequently combined in the grain bill with corn or rice. Moreover, two-row barleys do not grow particularly well in Wisconsin soils and climates; however, six-row barley does grow fairly well here.

There's a myth and perception that somehow two-row are "superior" to six-row; but this subjective judgment is exactly that. French biere de gardes, some of the most sophisticated beers you can find, are traditionally made with six-row barley. The huskiness, the graininess, can be sublime if allowed to shine and not overpowered by assertive hop or other grain flavors.

While far from a definitive statement on malting and barleys, I hope you've learned something here. This is a subject that gets quite scientific (and beyond my ability to relate to you in a way that I can make understandable) quite quickly and starts to introduce the reason why brewers are skilled, artistic, scientists and not just mad alchemists.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Sorry this got up so late - technical difficulties. Part two of this weeks podcast has a public service announcement and our reviews of Leinenkugel Fireside Nutbrown and Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wisconsin Brewery [News] Tour

I did some digging and found someone at The Great Dane willing to at least admit that the Dane is looking into Hereford and Hops in Wausau. It has not gotten any further than looking right now.

New Glarus' Alt will be available on November 14, 2008. The new Unplugged, Apple Ale, should also be hitting stores in November. Enjoy it!

Capital has released their annual report. Some interesting reading if you are the type of person to be interested by annual reports. Sales increases for Capital were modest (7.3% gain), but they suffered a an almost 20% rise in raw materials, a 142% rise in interest expenses, a 7.5% rise in marketing expenses. Overall, net income at Capital is down over $200,000 and it has eaten into their cash reserves. It's been a tough year for craft breweries - costs are eating into profit margins and can't be wholly pushed off on to customers. Customers are tightening their discretionary spending. Bank loans for capital expenditures have caused increased interest payments. Unfortunately for Capital they are a public company and must bare all for he universe to see. And, the silver lining, if there is one, is that even despite the rough year they still made money. Although, as if to pile on, despite their promises to fight Anheuser Busch over the trademark registration for "America's #1 Rated Brewery" Capital has abandoned the application for registration.

Speaking of trademark problems. Sand Creek's Brewers, Jim and Todd, have set up a blog and have been running it for a bit. It's a pretty interesting look into the day-to-day lives of brewers. Turns out Sand Creek is having some problems with another brewery using Sand Creek's trademark, Pioneer Pale Ale. Everyone collectively boo the poor sportsmanship and lack of creativity shown by stealing someone elses' beer names.

Milwaukee favorite, Stonefly Brewing Company, has a brand spankin' new website. But, like most breweries, can't seem to keep it up to date.

Finally, Furthermore Beer's graphic designer, Erin Fuller, won more awards from Print Magazine for her package design. Last year it was for the labels. This year it is for the six pack designs. Congrats, Erin. Now, they just need to start winning some awards for their beer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

The first part of this weeks podcast has beer news, including a discussion of falling sales in the UK and elsewhere, and a craft beer movement in Italy.
Stay tuned for part 2 this week, in which we taste the new Leinenkugel offering fireside nutbrown and Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Noire.

Here's the mp3


Monday, November 10, 2008

A Town Within A Town

Madison has more of these "towns within the town" than I've seen most anywhere. These are towns that, at one point, were separate and distinct from Madison, but because of Madison's growth, are now wholly (or partially) surrounded by the City of Madison. They also are not subject to the city of Madison's laws and regulations - more specifically, they are not subject to Madison's smoking ban. Confusingly, one of these towns is called "Town of Madison" - a 3.6 square mile bit of land on Madison southside that is the remnants of Madison's pre-capital days. An interesting note: by 2022 the Town of Madison will be completely annexed by the cities of Madison and Fitchburg. The others are Monona, Maple Bluff, and Shorewood Hills.

The village of Maple Bluff, in addition to being the home of the Governor of the State, is also the home of Drakenberg's Cigar Bar. Tucked into a non-descript strip mall next to Manna Cafe at 611 N. Sherman Ave in the Lakeview Shopping Center, it is, as you would guess, a cigar bar - but it also has a pretty decent liquor selection and darn fine beer selection. The breweriana (liquoriana? cigariana?) on the walls is impressive. The lights are low and the air is sweet and hazy from the cigars. Honestly, my favorite thing is the awesome collection of cigar ashtrays.

On tap is a diverse selection of the usual (Guiness, Leinie's, etc.), but also some other more quirky and unique: Flying Dog's Double Dog IPA, Atwater's VooDoo Vator Dopplebock, among others. The bottles are a decent selection of Germans (Franziskaner), Belgians (Gulden Drak) and American (Schlitz).

Drakenberg's is definitely a dude's paradise; but it's not really a date place. So, in comparison to its obvious counterpoint - Maduro - I wouldn't hit it up after taking a date out to a fancy dinner on the square. But, I would go there with my buddies to grab a cigar and beer before going out on the town. It doesn't have Maduro's suave citified pretensions, but rather has the feel of a gentleman's club before that term was co-opted by the strip joints. It's only drawback is that they do allow cigarette smoking inside, so the spicy cigar smoke is cut by the acrid stench of cheap cigarettes.

Like I said, the beer selection is solid and, frankly, unexpected. The taps should rotate frequently and the bottles are interesting and hopefully getting better. It's definitely worth checking out. It won't be everyone's thing, but if you like (or can tolerate) cigars, it's a good place to get something a little different. Unfortunately for us Westsiders, it's not very easy to get to. But you Eastsiders now have Alchemy, Dexters, Malt House, and Drackenberg's to quench your beer thirst.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It’s Time To Stop Celebrating and Start Hibernating


Oktoberfest is over. You know how I know? I went to Granite City last night and they said so. Despite the rather large table-top advertisement imploring me to purchase a mug of their finest fall seasonal, the server told me "No, sir. I'm sorry we just ran out last week. Oktoberfest is over." Damn. So close. "But," she continued, "you should try our bock, it's similar to our Oktoberfest." It's schadenfreude and kismet rolled into one; I've been railing about this confusion, calling things "bock" that are, clearly, not bocks. And, while Granite City's Brother's Benedict Bock is probably not within the alcohol range typical of German bocks, its profile is close enough to give them a pass on the "bockery" of calling things "bock" that are not.

But, if your bock is similar to your Oktoberfest? Something is wrong. OK. They are both lagers. And maybe I'm picking nits. But this type of verbal confusery is irritating to those of us trying to raise the bar in beery discourse. But, really, if someone ordered a champagne and you said "I'm sorry. We're out of the champagne, but you should try to our chardonnay, it's similar to our champagne," you would think the server is cracked. It not only speaks ill of the education of the server, but it speaks ill of the establishment that would tolerate such lack of education. Especially if said establishment were known for its wine! A fortiori, a server at a brewpub should know better than to say "our Oktoberfest is similar to our bock." Our burger "is similar to" our steak. Our salmon "is similar to" our tuna. Our Sprite "is similar to" our champagne. We could go on with the SAT lessons, but I think you get my drift. Substitute != Similar. No. Your Oktoberfest is not similar to your bock; the bock is a substitute for the Oktoberfest. And, if they are similar Granite City should reevaluate its brewing. Or, at the very least, it should reevaluate its nomenclature.

Sorry. I didn't even want to talk about Granite City. It's just one of those stupid pet peeves of mine that probably no one else on the planet shares. While we're on this diversion though, I've been told that this is beer snobbery. But I don't think it is. I demand precision in language in every aspect – not just beer. So, maybe it's general snobbery, but it is certainly not exclusive to beer.


So. How about that weather, huh? Blue skies, pleasant sun, nice breeze, seventy degrees. Earlier in the week. Today: blustery, chilly, rainy, leafy. It's enough to make you want to stay inside, turn on a good movie, order some pizza in, make some popcorn and sip a fine oatmeal stout. Good thing I was smart and bought a growler of Delafield Brewhaus' Oats and Barley Stout.

Delafield Brewhaus Oats and Barley Stout

Appearance: Pitch black with a thin tan head
Aroma: deeply roasted and malty sweet; a slight earthy backbone
Flavor: should be served at warmer temps (low 50s minimum) as refrigerator temperatures result in a harshly roasted, thin-tasting, thick bodied beer; as it warms up the sharp tininess decreases considerably, revealing a soft roasty and chocolatey beer; the roastiness carries through on the finish as the flavors just kind of trail off
Body: soft, thick and heavy, but not syrupy
Drinkability: great for a late night of reading (weapon of choice these days: Rabbit is Rich) and watching movies; it's flavors are unique and welcome, but its sessionability is fairly low
Summary: a note: growlers don't have an infinite time period for freshness; this is especially true of beer that is on nitrogen – it loses any carbonation it might have had very quickly; So, I do not recommend getting growlers filled of nitrogen beers unless you know you will drink it quickly.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Part two of our discussion with the film makers behind the 99 Bottles documentary, including discussions of free beer, the controversial SB 224 Brewpub legislation, 99 Bottles ill-fated opening in Milwaukee, the tastings going on at the screenings, and structuring a film around "ordinary" people asking questions.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

More on Old Beer - Rowland's Madison Street Lager

On Monday we talked about Leinenkugel's lame attempt at recalling the early days of American brewing with their "1888 Bock" that was neither brewed in 1888 nor a bock.

We talked about how these things were, and are, called "bock" despite not being very bock-like. Well, we do have a more appropriate name for these beasts - Pre-Prohibition Lagers (aka Classic American Pilsner). It is typically brewed with 6-row barleys, American hops, and some corn (flaked maize) in the grain bill is acceptable. It is differentiated from the Modern American Lager (e.g., Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Pabst Blue Ribbon, et al) by its fuller mouthfeel, higher hopping rate, and creamier texture.

I'd go into it further, but George Fix wrote a better article about it than I could way back in 1994 - Explorations in Pre-Prohibition American Lagers, Brewing Techniques, May/June 1994.

In the last of the beer brought back from my pilgrimage north to Rowland's Calumet Brewing Company in Chilton, Wisconsin, we bring to you: the Madison Street Lager

Appearance: pale gold with a two-finger lacy white head
Aroma: light, grassy and floral not much in the aroma, but aroma isn't really a focus for this beer
Flavor: light and bubbly with a subtle biscuit and caramel flavor; soft and husky - surprisingly complex for a workman's beer; some of the hoppy grassiness comes through in the flavor and there is a bitterness on the end that finishes off this beer cleanly; almost a very light Oktoberfest/marzen profile
Body: light but not watery
Drinkability: well ... three-fourths of the growler is gone and it was just opened an hour ago
Summary: back when Hausmann's Capital Brewery served free lunches at the corner of state and Gilman, they would have served a beer very similar to this one; I would say it's too bad this isn't bottled, but, really, as a farmer in Eastern Wisconsin done with your labor for the day and checking in on the local gossip, I can't think of a better treat than to have this on tap all to yourself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

This week we spoke to David Oplinger and Jason Williams, the co-producer and director of the 99 bottles documentary, a look at craft beer in Wisconsin. Part one has some beer news, and the first part of our interview, touching on Berry Weiss, the idea for the movie, the logistics of getting to 16 breweries, death by brewkettle, vintage brews and their favorite Wisconsin beers.

here's the mp3

The documentary revolves around questions the crew gathered from beer drinkers, asking them "what would you ask a brewmaster?" So we extend the question to you: what would YOU ask a brewmaster? Comment on the blog and let us know!


Monday, November 3, 2008

The Old Is New Again - Leinie's 1888 Bock

Maybe it's just breweries running out of things to do. Maybe it's an attempt to tap into an older market. Maybe all of these breweries have simply found old recipes lying around and didn't know what to do with them. But, the fact is, there has been a resurgence in old recipes. For example, Miller has dug out the "original" recipe for Schlitz. August Schell, celebrating its 150th year of brewing, is producing a series of Anniversary beers based on old recipes (available in draft only). Potosi Brewing Museum has (re)opened in Potosi, WI in a brewhaus that's been there since the 1860s - it also has a brewpub where patron can sip original recipes. Fauerbach, a Madison-based brewing company dating back to the late 1800s, has resurrected and is brewing pre-macro lagers, including a "bock" that is based on an original recipe.

And finally, it wouldn't be a trend unless Leinenkugel's jumped on board, Leinie's has jumped on board. Leinie's is releasing an "original" 1888 Bock recipe. It will be available from January to March 2009. They probably wanted to celebrate its 121st Anniversary. Call me skeptical, and really, I hate piling on Leinie's because Leinie's really isn't as bad as someone who reads this site might think, but I am really skeptical on this one. First, why now? 121 years later? Can't wait four more years and at least call it 125 years? Where was this recipe 21 years ago in 1988?

Second, any old American recipe that is billed as a bock is immediately suspect in my mind: while they were called bocks, they bear little resemblence to what we would now think of as a "bock" and they bear even less relation to true German bocks of the time (decoction mashing, moderately high ABV, continental hops). One of the things we noted in our review of the Fauerbach Challenge, another revitalized bock, was that while these beers were called bock, problems with logistics prevented the use of high quality grains that don't (or didn't, or weren't) grow(n) in Wisconsin (e.g., 2-row barleys), and that these beers were supplemented with grains that did grow well in Wisconsin, like corn. For this reason, it was difficult to attain the moderately high alcohol levels common in bocks (typically 6.3-7.2% ABV - by the way, Leinie's claims that this one weighs in at a mere 5.1% ABV). Not to mention the falling out of favor of brewing practices like decoction mashing and the use of noble hops.

That doesn't make them bad beers, they are what they are, but they aren't bocks. And now, Leinie's is claiming that this recipe, allegedly from 1888, not only uses all 2-row malted barley, but caramel and chocolate malted barleys and cluster hops? I refuse to believe, without proof, that Leinenkugel's was using cluster hops (by the way, not a noble hop - not to mention a malted barley like chocolated malt) in 1888. The fact is, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is and was in the middle of nowhere - Leinie's would have had a very difficult time sourcing such high-quality raw materials at a time that not only predates the highway system, but cars and modern transportation logistics that could have kept a cluster hop anywhere near fresh.

So, we have a beer that is called "1888 Bock" that is, in all likelihood, neither brewed in 1888, nor a bock. Great marketing on that one, Mr. Secretary.