Friday, February 29, 2008

Hey Barkeep! I Want Head

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This week's question raises the issue of head. Why do some beers foam more than others?

We can break the beer's foaminess into three components: head formation, head retention and head stability.

Head Formation

The foam is formed, essentially, by carbonation, either natural or forced. Brewers can cause beer to be carbonated in two ways. The first, and oldest, way of carbonating beer is called "natural" carbonation; it is also called bottle-conditioning. The second method is called "forced" carbonation. Natural carbonation (aka bottle conditioning) is performed by adding a small amount of active yeast to the closed container (a bottle, barrel, keg, etc.). Adding yeast causes a small amount of further fermentation. One of the byproducts of fermentation is CO2. In the course of the beer-production process, this CO2 usually escapes. However, because the bottle is closed, there is nowhere for the CO2 to go. It can either go into the headspace (the space in the bottle between the cap and the liquid), or it can be dissolved into the liquid. Since there is not much headspace in any given bottle, most of the beer is dissolved into the liquid itself. When the beer is opened and poured, the CO2 escapes the beer in the form of bubbles.

And that, essentially, is the start of your head. The bubbles of CO2 rise through the glass and escape through the top of your glass. Thus, the amount of bubbles that exist are a function of how highly carbonated the beer is. But that's not the end; if it ended here you would essentially have some fizzing but no accumulated head, much like carbonated water. For that, you need head retention.

Head Retention

The basic principle of head retention is that the CO2 bubbles bind to substances in the beer that form a skin around the bubble. The CO2 then escapes into the air leaving the skin at the top of the beer. Malts that are high in protein (also wheat and unmalted barley) lend comparatively more binding power for the bubbles, thus provide more head. Also, isohumulones found in hops and used for bittering contribute to formation of a nice frothy head on the top of your beer. Fats, like those found in oats and coffee and chocolate, however, destroy foam. Of note, detergents also destroy foam, so make sure you thoroughly rinse your glassware to eliminate residual soaps.

Head Stability

The viscosity of the beer, to some extent, determines how well the head sticks around. The slower the beer pours, the thicker or more body the beer has, the harder it is for the head to fall away. For example, raw and flaked barley (also, dextrin malts) in the malt bill add body without adding fats like oats would. Some beers, particularly Irish beers like Guinness, Beamish, and Smithwicks, use a mix of nitrogen with the CO2 in carbonating their beers (as a side note: this is part of what that widget in your bottle of Guinness does). The nitrogen creates smaller bubbles and a more stable head. Many people will also tell you that bottle conditioning causes the smaller bubbles, thus a more stable head. And the sticky iso-alpha-acids in hops can help cause the foam to cling to the side of the glass.

Hopefully, this went at least a little way towards answering how head is formed. For more information, check out these awesome sites: www.byo.com, BrewWiki. And, to learn how to pour your beer correctly to form that perfect head, check out Beer Advocate's instructions.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

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Last week we promised a review of Baltic porters. Forgive us, if we were delayed a bit by our Brewery Profile of Furthermore Beer (Part 1, Part 2).

Baltic Porters are an interesting beast, a cousin, of sorts, of the Imperial Stout. In the 1700s and 1800s the British were (as they are now) known for their pale ales, stouts and porters. Like the Imperial Stout, and the India Pale Ale, the Baltic Porter originated as a British style created to travel long distances. The India Pale Ale (IPA) was originally created to send pale ale to the British troops in India. The Imperial Stout was created to send the delectable and luxurious stout to Russian royalty. The Baltic Porter, however, was created to take advantage of new markets in Northern Europe. So that the porter could last the long trips, like its IPA and Imperial Stout brethren, the recipe was boosted with extra malts and, especially, hops (which were used as a preservative as much as for their bittering properties). This results in more alcohol, increased body, and more bitterness. A seemingly perfect concoction for today's American brewing scene.

Of course, a British Porter was cold-fermented ale. However, as the Baltic States started brewing these porters themselves, rather than rely on imports, the breweries used the yeasts on-hand from their own Germanic brewing history – lagers. So, today, most Baltic Porters, despite its history as ale, are actually bottom-fermenting lagers. The BJCP tells us that Style 12C is typically between 5.5% and 9.5% ABV, with roast-y or nutty, malt complexity; often with cherry, raisin, caramel or coffee or molasses, but no burnt flavors or aromas; color should be "dark reddish copper" or "opaque dark brown" but never black. The hops should primarily add bittering and little aroma, some spicy hops may be OK. Of course, feel free to ignore the BJCP and just expect a dark, full bodied lager and let the flavors tell you whether you like the beer.

Heavyweight Brewing Company, creator of Perkuno's Hammer (BA.RB.), was based 1.5 hours across the river from Philadelphia in Ocean Township, New Jersey. But it closed in 2005. Its Perkuno's Hammer was a much-beloved Baltic Porter and many were sad to see it go. However, it has been revived by Victory Brewing Company based in the far west-side suburb of Philadelphia called Downington. Of course, Victory Beer is pretty readily available here in Madison. Presumably, once the East-Coast market is taken care of, its Baltic Porter, "based on" the Perkuno's Hammer recipe, will also be available here. The scuttlebutt on Victory's Baltic Thunder (BA. RB.) is that when Heavyweight closed, its beers were still under contract for distribution by Heavyweight's distributors. When Victory made the deal with Heavyweight to continue brewing Perkuno's Hammer, the distributors complained and demanded that they still be allowed to distribute it. Thus, in order for Perkuno's Hammer to continue to be made at and distributed by Victory, it would need a name change (ha-ha! you'll never know it's me if I just wear a disguise of these silly glasses!). Hence, the Baltic Thunder. From beer-demi-god Lew Bryson (one of the consultants that helped to create Perkuno's Hammer): "Bill Covaleski [editor's note: Mr. Covaleski is Brewmaster and President of Victory Brewing Company] had this to say about the project: 'Ron [Barchet] and I have always been big fans of Perkuno's Hammer, and Tom's beers in general. This was one beer that we simply could not let vanish, and when we reached out to Tom about keeping this great beer alive, he was very enthusiastic to collaborate to that end. This is another example how Victory lives to delight our own inner beer geek, and the beer community as well.'"

So, here you have it (muchos gracias Bryan Kolesar at the superbly awesome Brew Lounge): Heavyweight's Perkuno's Hammer and Victory's Baltic Thunder

Perkuno's Hammer:

Appearance: cola-colored; if I saw this out of context, I'd think it was flat soda – light, wispy tan head with decent lacing
Aroma: smoky and multi-faceted, with aromas of sweet espresso, currants, and toffee
Flavor: a smooth, pungent taste somewhat like soda; raisins and currants with subtle coffee-like, dark chocolate sweetness; a slight lingering booziness
Body: upfront alcohol and hop punch of bitterness; it finishes surprisingly quick and clean (must be the lager in it), which keeps it tasting less full-bodied than it is
Drinkability: nice and smooth, amazingly complex, each sip and each temperature brings new flavors; tastes supremely well-aged
Summary: one of the few beers that would actually pair well with a stew or French country fare – it's flavors would compete successfully, but still leave room drink; not so heavy it is a meal in and of itself

Baltic Thunder:

Appearance: bubblier than Perkuno's Hammer; a deep mahogany with substantial, but wispy tan head
Aroma: musty and leathery like damp, sweet earthy fruits; roasted aromas follow, falling into coffee-ish notes
Flavor: a definite hammer; the alcohol and hop bitterness hit you over the head, based on earthy slightly sweet malts (toffee, chocolate, and coffee); as quickly as it hits, it's over
Body: muscular but not beefy
Drinkability: the punch up-front makes it hard to commit to a whole 22 oz (be prepared to split this 2 to 4 people); but given Perkuno's Hammer, the thought of this aging for 3 or 5 years is drool-inducing
Summary: like sex with a seventeen year old – it is over-aggressive then spent as quickly as it gets started; would pair very well with an aged cheddar (Hook's, your 10 year aged would be unbelievable with this; local restaurants and retailers with good cheese selections – Brasserie V, Barriques, Steve's, etc. – might be able to sell quite a bit by pairing these)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Brewery Profile – Furthermore Beer, Part II

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Furthermore Beer. Ready. Fire. Aim.

Furthermore Beer is Head Brewer Aran Madden and business partner Chris Staples. Aran brews the beer and Chris finds people to buy it. Last week we looked at their backgrounds and what brought them to Spring Green, Wisconsin. The last item of note was Chris' preference for balanced, as opposed to "big", beers. Aran showed a surprising preference for the Bud Chelada, a "weird colloidal mix of pink tomato plasma suspended in a Budweiser."

For years Aran's sister had been lobbying for him to set up a brewery in Spring Green. Coincidentally, American Players Theatre, the spring-to-fall Shakespearian theatre company nestled in the woods of Spring Green, were interested in putting their name on a private label beer. The initial discussions weeded out a true "white label" option as too transparently gimmicky. Instead, Aran saw this as a great opportunity to launch the Furthermore Beer brand. Thus, "Proper" was born out of the desire to honor the work of the theatre with a summer-time ale that is both elegant and refreshing. The spring board of American Players Theatre also offered a tie to the area for Furthermore; "Spring Green is a cultural Mecca with a history of odd ideas coming to fruition. Thus, keeping Furthermore based here seemed like the right combination of 'in the mix' and 'out of the way' – Low country, high art."

Aran and Chris had a name for their brewery, a recipe for their first beer, and a contract to sell it. What they were missing was a place to brew it. Of course, they had two options: build a brewery or contract with a separate brewery.

Aran (A): Sand Creek was one of four breweries that we looked at to help us get beer in a bottle for the APT release while we cobbled together a cheap brewery (recall the lessons from Church Brew Works, Mr. Sean Casey, from last week's interview) in Spring Green. Sand Creek just happened to be the first ones to say "Yes" to us. The most notable of the declining breweries was William Kuether Brewing in Clear Lake. William Kuether hadn't been open long, but the day I decided to call them, I saw their equipment for sale on the web. That was the reality check for Furthermore. The Kuether website transmitted rays of enthusiasm and love of beer, but the sales couldn't pay for the build out. Chris and I decided to assume that those guys were smarter than us, and we made a dumb-man's pact to constantly reexamine how our choices to grow the business might lead to its demise. When Sand Creek said yes, and we realized that they could do more for us than just two batches, we shifted our plan to stay with Sand Creek for the first year of getting product to market. As the first year was coming to a close, we reevaluated and again pushed back plans to build. Each time we decide not to build Chris and I feel like we can breathe again. We just don't have the resources to build a brewery, and I've seen too many equipment auctions to assume that stick-to-itiveness or dumb luck or black pepper is going to make this work.

Chris (C): There seem to be two primary pitfalls inherent to a brewery build-out: building too small or bankrupting yourself by building at all. We're doing our best to avoid both pitfalls. Sand Creek has been key in allowing us the flexibility to change our plans every five days.

Contract brewing just describes a relationship whereby one brewery has another brewery brew beer. It can be very hands-off, where the contracted brewery gets the recipe and runs with it; it can be very hands-on, where the contracting brewery is actually present during the brewing process and directs the brewing – in this case, the contract is really just to merely use the equipment. In other words, contract brewing can mean many different things. With minimal financing and high flexibility, contract brewing offers the best options for the fledgling brewing company. The biggest wrench in the contract relationship, however, is the relationship itself. A bad relationship can sink even the best recipes. The relationship requires constant monitoring; monitoring the recipes, monitoring the standards, monitoring the malt and hops and water quality, monitoring the final product, monitoring the brewers and the assistants.

C: We wanted to work with somebody who was geographically proximate, who had done contract brewing before, and who wouldn't look down their noses at the size of batches we wanted to brew initially. But we also were looking for somebody who would benefit from our growth if we were to be successful and not be just another brand coming off of their bottling line. Most importantly, we needed for Aran to be brewing our beer. Todd at Sand Creek is willing to let Aran touch his equipment, if you know what I'm sayin' …

A: I want to be as hands on as I can, but there are times when Todd (Sand Creek's Brew Master) is doing so much juggling that I just step in when I can. Other times I get the brew house to myself. I go up for every brew (although I have missed a couple) … Missing the occasional brewing is generally not a big deal because, who steps in? The guy who has been running the brewery for eight years. Where I feel my role in the brewery is critical is in ensuring that the practical end of brewing is in step with the concept of the beer. So the Proper can lean towards lighter if we were, say, correcting for letting too much run-off collect in the kettle. But the Knot Stock can't be under-peppered, even if one were to dump a quarter of the needed pepper on the floor because a pump broke and Knot Stock rushed out of the fermenter into the "pepper dose-tank" rather than the other way around, overflowing the dose tank and the pepper contained there within. That's the kind of stuff that I want to be around for since the beers are my babies. Todd's got enough of his own babies to worry about. It's not really his job to make nuanced decisions about the direction of Furthermore beers.

The relationship has also been very successful. With this success, Furthermore has since purchased some land in Spring Green.

A: We want to build on our newly acquired land, but the brewery part will be phase two or three. We first need an office, storage, a bigger cold room, and a dedicated test batch space—more of a commercial kitchen than brewery. Brewery would likely be phase two, and we're looking at 3,000 barrels as a reachable volume within a short time of build-out. We don't think we would build if we were not within striking distance of that mark.

C: Specifically, all site planning is dependent on the size and shape of the site. Part of the hold up (phase one/phase two issues aside) is that we would like to add to the site and are waiting to find out if that is possible, and if so, if the price is right. What we already have is enough, but we'd benefit from some flexibility. Neither Aran nor I care to be in the restaurant business, so our intent leans more toward the tasting room/beer garden end of the visitation spectrum. Our primary identity is as a commercial brewery.

Aran mentions that 3,000 barrel per year is the short-term target for production in order to build-out the brewery. Currently, Furthermore sits at about 700 barrels and they are currently growing through expansion into more markets. Chris predicts that 2008 will bring somewhere near 1200 barrels. "I think we'll continue to be on or above target this year, but it wouldn't surprise me if we experienced a growth-dip in year four or five. It goes against my cheery, optimistic instincts to say so, but the combination of natural plateaus, market conditions and general economic malaise causes me to be cautious as I predict our growth." Thus, predicting when Furthermore will be within striking distance of 3,000 barrels, and fit for that brand new brewery, is difficult at best. Having plans for growth, adding new beers, expanding into new territories, differentiating income, are all reasonable ways to ensure that the brewery continues to grow. Of course, another reasonable way to supplement growth would be to contract out some of the excess capacity. Growth in a competitive industry and trying times for luxury goods like beer can be difficult.

The trying times we are all facing economically has been in spades for a brewing industry faced with hops shortages, barley shortages, and shortages of purchasers. "It looks like we are going to be okay. No hurtful substitutions thus far. Most of the problem is in the beginning-of-year crunch to buy what we need. Hops-wise, we look good. Cash flow wise, we are feeling the pinch like everyone else." But the pinch isn't just economic. We are at a time of unprecedented interest in the environment and ensuring that business continues in a manner that will, if not improve, at least prevent further erosion, of our environment.

C: Both Aran and I believe that humanity strains the Earth's resources horribly, that global-warming is a problem, that virgin forests should be preserved, that maintaining biodiversity is critical, that the Euro is over-valued, that the situation in Darfur really sucks, that Berlin has better nightlife than Madison, that Telecasters are superior to Stratocasters, that Capitalism has its pros and cons, that America is not ready for a Mormon in the White House, that we must reduce our carbon footprint, that the Slow movement is where it's at and that the way that Furthermore Beer can best act on its beliefs is to be economically healthy and to stay true to its mission. Because from financial strength and clarity of vision comes the capacity for acting out of compassion. From acting out of compassion comes our radiant humanity. From our radiant humanity comes a hypo-allergenic beer, all proceeds of which will be donated to the River Valley Schools and 4Petesake (look it up). And I'm not kidding. Sure, we'd like to build green and employ green practices. We're about 235 decisions away from really wrapping our brains around how we can mitigate the resource-intensive nature of a manufacturing operation. But yeah, we take environmental and civic responsibility seriously.

The Beer

We've already talked a bit about the Proper; it was developed with APT in mind. But, it existed only after the idea of Furthermore Beer existed.

A: The seed of the business was the beer, which when reworked, would become the Knot Stock. Equally important was the idea of the Proper, making it specifically for the particular experience of attending a performance at American Players Theatre. There were a few other styles or ingredients that I felt could lend to a distinguished line-up, but the rest of the beers didn't come into clear focus until, well, the last possible moment.

The beer development process is an interesting one.

A: Bringing a beer into focus begins with a match between a workable concept and a sense that the beer would do the culture of craft beer some good.

A: Then we test batch.

A: Then we let our adrenaline build as we approach a self imposed, but publicly stated deadline and BOOM!!

A: We get government approval for our label, and we can proceed.

Some beers are a little easier than others. For example, brewing with apple cider can be very difficult and inexact. "The first Fallen Apple was a work in progress all the way up to packaging. I had made a similar beer before, but differences in cider, brewing water and yeast all amounted to a lot of tweaking along the way." The test batch phase also presents some fun and interesting opportunities for friends, family and Chris.

A: Three feet deep took a sharp turn in the test batch phase when the data came back from our unfocused group (friends and family drinking bloody marys, eating biscuits and gravy). We were comparing the sire of the present beer with one that was quite a bit thicker. The feedback we received was varied, but the sentiment that struck a chord with us was that there are a lot of big stouts out there, why not try to make a ballsy stout that isn't thicker than ketchup.

And some beers are born out of desire not to be unemployed.

A: Boombalatty was a test batch winner. I did two tests with high temperature fermentations that were failed miserably. When Chris started looking at the want ads, I knuckled down and put together the Fatty. Didn't need to change a thing for production.

While the current culture likes to refer to anything in combination as a "mash-up" but in the beer world there seems to be two contravening forces that drive development: the desire to push the envelope and the desire to make some drinkable. Thus any beer that both pushes the envelope and is drinkable must be a "mash-up" of sorts.

A: My method of recipe formulation grew out of the need for balance, and I tend to start in the middle of the spectrum, abstractly – numbers on paper, and push the malt and hops around until things are out of balance to the degree that I want them to be. That becomes the basic template. If there is an odd ingredient that brings a particular element to the beer (i.e. tart apples, prickly pepper) then the recipe flexes to ensure that that flavor is a welcomed addition and not an irritation to the palate. That's how drinkability and edginess coincide.

Unfortunately, there are some in the beer community that judge to style. There's an attitude that beers are to be judged by how closely the beer comes to some defined style guideline. This community shuns the non-reinheitsgebot ingredients as not genuine and off-style beers as not authentic. But Furthermore couldn't be further from this class:

C: There are so many fine examples of beers of a particular style that instead of trying to re-make them, you should drink them! Hell, we don't even know how to classify our beers, which is one reason they have such funky names. The modern domestic brewing scene is largely unconcerned with history, and I think that is its strength, and in a larger sense, very much in keeping with America's strength. The downside of that is the notion is that because something is new or different it is better, which ain't necessarily so. In the end, the consumer decides what has merit at the check-out counter and when the Barkeep asks "What'll it be?" And while we try to pay attention to what the geeks say, what the Average Joe buys and what the barkeep suggests, our offerings only have to pass one test: can Aran and Chris get behind this beer? Can we offer it in good faith?

A: We really do see it as our responsibility to create beers for the consumer that are, if not unique, at least rare. The Proper is the exception to the rule as far as bending style goes, but the reason for brewing and the beers place in the artistic community is certainly right up there with rare/unique. With respect to brewing's past and its sanctity, I think that someone is missing the point if they think a Knot Stock is a break from tradition. It is simply the next line in tradition. I can't believe heather has made it as far as it has in brewing tradition when there was pepper to be had. [editor's note: heather was used in some brewing traditions because of a lack of hops; heather provides a flowery aroma in place of hops] If someone thinks fruit doesn't belong in beer, and therefore won't drink a Fallen Apple, then they are missing out. That's not to say that everyone who drinks it likes it, but to handcuff your pleasure potential in such a way seems silly.

Otto Dix - Triumph of Death, 1934

So where does the inspiration come from?

C: The films of Atom Egoyan and Hal Hartley. The prose of Walker Percy and James Joyce. The music of Miles Davis, of Marc Bolan, of Mike Watt, of Odetta, the street art of the graffiti culture and the fine art of Otto Dix. The poems of. Of. Of…. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind (just kidding.) I can find something to appreciate in any personal expression. I love the human form and its physical, spiritual and emotional contortions. It makes me a shitty and indiscriminate critic, but distinguishes me as a wide-eyed enthusiast.

A: Jiminy Christmas, Staples! Tone it down a little. Its no use having a conversation with this man without being able to Google whatever the hell it is he is talking about. Of course I can't own up to not knowing what the hell he's talking about because it would break the poor boy's heart to know that he went into business with someone whose reading list consists only of "assignments." So dull and common am I. What I do have on Chris is formal training in visual arts (BA, University of Pittsburgh), as well as rods and cones that can still distinguish between green and black. Sometimes when he is making me feel like an imbecile in concocting a one sentence description of a beer that I created, I will simply tell him that such vocabulary just doesn't look good printed on an off-white background. All he can do is throw his hands up and curse his visual imparity.

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about Furthermore Beer with talking about the Furthermore Beer labels. Acclaimed as triumphs in graphic design, the labels are instantly distinct and recognizable. While the wine world seems to have caught on that the labels themselves can be art, beer labeling tends to be very functional. Not so with Furthermore.

A: In terms of label influences, I would have to give a lot of credit to Erin Fuller of EF Graphics. With my art background, I had a natural desire for Furthermore's visual identity to look as though it came right off the gallery wall. When we were doing our graphic pow-wows, Erin would often describe images that I liked as looking more like a wine label than a beer label, or more like Soviet propaganda than a beer label. In the end, Chris and I came to the realization that we wanted our imaging to be different, but not misdirected. It shouldn't not look like a beer label.

C: Aran and I spent lots of time talking with Erin about what we wanted. She showed us what we said we wanted and then showed us what she thought we should have. Wow, did we suck and wow, is she ever awesome. "Print" magazine honored her work in their annual design review. So I know there are the "they contract brew and have pretty packaging, so they're just a marketing company" musings out there. Well, we don't own a brewery and don't believe that packaging has to look like an afterthought. We also know that people choose to try things for less noble reasons than the quality of the product, so it would have been obnoxiously self-defeating to have put anything but our best design foot forward.

C: There's an internal logic to our packaging: The year-rounds have a single label style – the kitschy representative image; the seasonals have a style – the abstract-ish use of arrows; the single-batches have a style – the black & white photograph. It means we have a good starting-point each time we need a new label, but have sufficient flexibility and variety to keep things visually interesting. Our philosophy is that nothing is sacred: not the beer, not our business plan, not the package. The two elements of design which are relatively constant, though, are the red circle with the "F" and the use of the arrow, however abstracted. The arrow is, to us, indicative of movement, of progress, of direction. It is a mandate.

Progress. Unique. Exception to the Rule. Movement. Edgy. Balanced. All describe Furthermore Beer.

"The norm for us will be beers that are off-beat, because that's our civic duty."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brewery Profile – Furthermore Beer, Part I

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Furthermore Beer

The dynamic duo of Head Brewer Aran Madden and business partner Chris Staples are, together, more commonly known as Furthermore Beer. While the headquarters of Furthermore Beer is in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the brewing is contracted to Sand Creek Brewing Company up the street in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. We were able to ask Chris and Aran some questions over email since they are so busy expanding their distribution to include Madison, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Eau Claire, Manitowoc, Appleton, Sheboygan, Green Bay and Door County.

Neither Chris nor Aran is a native Spring-Green-ian. Having both come to the area from elsewhere. Aran was born in New Jersey, then lived (briefly) in North Dakota and grew up in South Western Pennsylvania (most of the rest of country would vaguely refer to this area as "Pittsburgh"), some time in Colorado, then brewing school in Davis, and back to Pittsburgh. Chris was a bit more active, making the tour from St. Louis to Chicago, then Texas, Detroit and back to St. Louis, off to college in Iowa and work in Sacramento, then back to St. Louis.

Aran (A): I got from there to here in 2005 with a combination of wanderlust, career floundering, and a starry eyed dreamer of a sister who thought utopia could only be achieved if all the Maddens lived in one place. Oddly enough, the weekend we moved to Spring Green, she and her husband left town for 2 months for an acting gig.

Chris (C): I moved back to St. Louis to be near family in the mid '90s. Around the same time I fell in love with a woman who was born and raised in Spring Green (my wife). I eventually came to my senses and moved to Spring Green to be with her.

Aran Madden

It wasn't until college at the University of Pittsburgh that the brewing bug bit. Aran was in Fort Collins, Colorado with the Student Conservation Association, "a volunteer program that allows college students to avoid earning money", when random chance brought on by a nascent love for beer caused him to be in Coopersmith's Pub & Brewing Company.

A: I fell into the brewing wormhole in Fort Collins, CO. I had only been to one other brewpub before, in Pittsburgh, but there was no wormhole there. The place in Pittsburgh had seemed to me at the time to be a German themed restaurant that simply used beer to up the level of novelty. Coopersmith's was far more approachable as a den for beer lovers. It was Americana, not "the old country". Coopersmith's non-traditional beer names such as the Horsetooth Stout and Punjabi Pale Ale were certainly part of what did it for me. It launched beer into the realm of cultural relevancy. Oddly enough, after falling down the wormhole, I was spit out back at the oom-pa-pa joint in Pittsburgh – could have been seconds later, could have been years, I can't be sure – but I realized it was indeed a beer-first brewpub. The owners just happen to be twenty years older than me and hooked on a German feeling.

The next year, again in Colorado with the SCA but this time at Red Feather, Aran purchased his first homebrewing kit. At the end of the summer he hauled it back to school at Pittsburgh and continued homebrewing for two years ("my eagerness outpaced my skills or knowledge") and got a job "at a place with a really good six-pack selection … yep, for the discount." The owners of this place, The Pittsburgh Deli Company, looked into starting a brewpub and went to Portland, Maine to look into purchasing some brewpub equipment.

A: Their interest in opening a brewpub catapulted me into seriously considering brewing as a profession. I knew that the Pittsburgh Deli fellas were right up there with me, more eager than learned, so I figured that if I wanted to be a key player in their plan I would have to out-learn them. That's when I committed to going to brewing school. … I had the choice of applying to American Brewers Guild, outside of Davis, CA, or The Siebel Institute in Chicago. Siebel seemed a more rigorous course, but ABG had an apprenticeship program with placement in a participating brewery, and I hadn't been to Cali outside of a family vacation.

Based on such fine selection criteria as "I had never been there before" Aran headed off to learn under the tutelage of Dr. Michael Lewis, the same person who some years earlier had taught New Glarus Brewing Company's Head Brewer Dan Carey and scores of the world's premier brew masters.

A: He was probably in his late fifties at the time, maybe older – an Englishman who is a no-bullshit, bad ass. He's got a big old deep voice and he seemed like nobility, but the kind that would lead the charge into battle. Okay, the guy is a chemist, maybe I'm laying it on a bit thick. But it was brewing school – we all felt like studs and he was the Stud-in-Chief.

Brewing school is over and back to Pittsburgh to help Pittsburgh Deli get their brewing operations going. Except, Pittsburgh Deli's brewery never materialized. The plan just kind of fell apart, and during this time Aran had taken a gig brewing at the Foundry Ale Works as an assistant. Like all first jobs, sometimes the first is not the final destination, and Aran soon left Foundry for greener pastures at one of the pre-eminent brewpubs in Pittsburgh the Church Brew Works. One of the most elaborate and beautiful breweries to be housed in a church, Church Brew Works enjoys a great reputation. The fine beer and fine dining are both in the true "American" tradition; which is to say, a melting pot of cultures and traditions that combine to create fare that is uniquely new, yet instantly familiar. A place where pierogies and quesadillas and crab cakes all live happily on one table. A place where the scotch ale and Dortmunder export live happily on the same bar.

After tasting the waters at Church Brew Works, the opportunity came along to become the Head Brewer back at Foundry Ale Works. It was a job just too hard to pass up, so back to the Foundry.

A: The owners of the Foundry fired their brewer, with whom they had a contentious relationship, and I went back to get the head brewing experience. Some of that experience was about brewing, some of it was working relationships—contentious. There was just the oddest mix of incompatible personalities in that place at all times. The beauty of the Foundry was that I was able to do whatever I wanted from a recipe standpoint, and all of the experiments went on tap. There was no such thing as test batching. That's the beauty of a seven barrel pub setting. It was also at the time of the first big boom in craft brewing and any sense of competition was based more out of gamesmanship than business. All the brewers were pretty easy with each other – trading tips and trading yeast. But after three years it all fell apart. I went back to the Church Brew Works, the Foundry gave up on brewing. They had lost steam and closed five months later.

Church Brew Works Brew House

After the Foundry closed, Aran found himself back in the sanctuary of the Church Brew Works where he worked with Head Brewer Bryan Pearson. "Bryan is smart as hell, and as far as I can tell, he got that way from feeding off the lesser brains of creatures like me." Unlike the contentious relationships at the Foundry, the Church offered learned study and a place where the man in charge was "always open to discussion and was willing to change his position when it was the right thing to do, and he ate other peoples' brains." But more than brewing, Aran was able to eat the brains of the brains behind the Church Brew Works, Mr. Sean Casey (not the baseball player). The Church was a family business, and Mr. Casey ran it like a business and a family. From him, Aran learned the business of running a brewery and discovered a principle that would help to steer Furthermore's future decisions:

A: His family business was an equipment company that bought and sold steel mill equipment. That might give people a sense of why Furthermore has yet to buy its own brewing equipment. The guy who sold the equipment to the company that sold the steel to the company that made the brewing vessels told me that I would go out of business pretty quick if I was under capitalized and tried to float a loan for a bunch of pretty equipment. Well, Furthermore is under capitalized, so…

Chris Staples

In the meantime …

Chris Staples, native St. Louis-er, was off in Iowa and Sacramento chasing degrees in literature and philosophy. Which, as many people with philosophy and literature degrees eventually discover, provides "considerable service-sector experience." After moving back to St. Louis to be near family, Chris met and fell in love with the woman who is now his wife. As often happens to young men in love, Chris moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere to be with his girl. The small town was Spring Green, where this girl had been born and raised.

C: Upon arrival, I was employed by both American Players Theatre and Taliesin, and ultimately stayed at Taliesin, where I managed the Tour Program and ran a restaurant. I went on to do project management and administrative work with Renaissance Farm and White School Studio.

Chris discovered the wonders of craft beer while in Sacramento after suffering the handicap of poor local beer choices in the Midwest at the time (Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and Milwaukee's Best in Iowa). Sacramento is a place where the "lawn mower" beer is Sierra Nevada or Henry Weinhardt, and home to the wonderful Rubicon Brewing Company, a brewpub whose flagship IPA is typical of the Northern California style, and Fox and Goose, an old-school English pub. Then "not long after putting down roots in Spring Green, Tom Porter started doing his magic. It was Tom's beer (editor's note: Tom is proprietor of Lake Louie Brewing Company in neighboring Arena) that made me fall in love with the idea of beer as regional and potentially spectacular." Chris had also met Aran's sister, "who has an inimitable way of discerning that people have something in common." Then, while at a village committee meeting where both Chris and Aran had separate, unrelated, agenda items the two met.

C: "[Aran] was proposing to buy a municipal building. … He got his ass handed to him, and I felt so bad for him that I invited him over for a beer. We had a conversation that night that continued long distance (Aran was still in Pittsburg) for almost another 2 years. The initial talking point was that we were both considering starting small businesses in a small town. What Aran had going for him was technical ability and a bomber history. What I had going for me was an intimate knowledge of the local market, a metric boatload of chutzpah and a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor.

In 2005, Aran jumped from Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh to Spring Green for the purpose of starting his brewery. The two combined forces to get the ball rolling and in November of 2005, Furthermore Beer became a full-time endeavor. And, really the best way to describe what each brings to the table at Furthermore is to let Chris tell you:

C: Aran makes the ball, we collectively decide the rules of the game involving the ball and I go find people to play with the ball. We share an 11x8 office, so when we are there together we don't tend to work autonomously at all. More of a left brain/right brain thing. When we first started, every act was a two-person effort. As the business has grown (along with our desire to not kill each other), we've gotten better at recognizing each other's strengths and staying out of each other's ways. Aran is by nature technical, particular, detail-oriented and conservative (not politically) – the downside of which is that he gets stuck in his own head and can't see the forest for the trees. I, on the other hand, am a Luddite with terrible attention to detail but an instinctive understanding of how to get from point A to B and I don't observe limitations well. We call it "Ignorance on Fire." Dare I say, without me, Aran would be sitting on his original batch of Knot Stock in an old village garage, waiting for someone to walk in and buy a keg from him, but getting yelled at by his neighbors instead.

Thus Furthermore Beer was created. We have laid the ground work for the young and skilled brewer and the chutzpah-laden business person to set off on this journey of beer-making together. This profile will continue on Monday when we will look into brewing philosophies and some of the nuts and bolts of brewing Furthermore beer. In the meantime, we'll leave you with some of idea of what beers turn these guys on, the beers that inform the tastes of our intrepid travelers.

C: I don't care for especially malty beers or hop-monkey beers. This isn't to say I don't like a malty backbone or hoppy aroma/finish. I just don't like hops for hops sake or excessively sweet beers – beers lacking balance. With that said, my favorite beers can be categorized this way: Wisconsin, National and International. Locally, Lake Louie's Arena Premium and Tommy's Porter are common 6-pack grabs for me. Ale Asylum's Ambergeddon is a party in a bottle. New Glarus' Enigma (when aged) blows me away [editor's note: New Glarus' Enigma might just be one of the most under-rated beers in recent Wisconsin beer history]. Regionally, the Three Floyds Alpha Claus is pretty incredible. The Surly Cynic Ale and Fest beers were really creative and enjoyable. Hennepin from Ommegang is awfully good. On the International front, I often grab Hitichino (White Ale and classic Japanese Ale – which my wife points out reminds her of Knot Stock). My all time favorite is Houblon Chouffe. Sam at Dog Fish Head sets the benchmark for creativity in brewing and is a perennial favorite. It's hard not to look in my own back yard and admire Tom Porter's ethos. Todd at Surly is also admirable. And I suppose proximity does make the heart grow fonder, so it's fun to watch Aran Madden work.

A: It is the mystique of beer that first drew me to brewing, and although experience takes the magic down a notch, I still allow myself to let the beer take me where it will. It keeps the adventure factor alive. In that regard, I will change my mind and tastes frequently based on what turns me on in the moment. That said, I haven't order a nut brown since I don't know when. I have a really difficult time with malty beers that don't include a counter point. Bison Brewing in Berkley was one of the first breweries that I had a man-crush on. They made freaky beers that were good. Loved Lost Coast in Eureka because they had good beer and the funkiest labels. I used to really like North Coast in Ft Bragg, but they remain on the shelf for me, filed in best beers of the 90's – not a big deal to me now. When I'm in Black River Falls, if I'm having a beer, the beer of choice is Wild Ride. New Glarus' Belgian Quad recently sent me into a tizzy. That's good juice! I need to go buy some more of it! Lake Louie's Coon Rock is probably the beer I order most often at The Shed in Spring Green. I think they must use a chicken stock base for that beer. I keep trying to decode it, but it is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I have a thing for Stone Fly in Milwaukee. I think that it is the oddity factor that draws me to it, brewer Jacob included. I'm sure that a lot of it has to do with Jacob being so damn cool – and welcoming! [editor's note: we drooled over Stone Fly at the Thirsty Troll Brewfest back in September, Jacob was enigmatic and the beer was his equal).

A: My most recent covetous feelings for other peoples beers should shock and disgust most readers. It is the Anheuser-Busch Chelada, which, for those of you who are out of touch with the brewing underground, is a Bud and Clamato blend, a weird colloidal mix of pink tomato plasma suspended in a Budwieser. I leaked info of my new obsession to Nate and Jess at Native Bay in Chippewa Falls, during a post-beer-dinner drink-up. They magically produced a TWENTY-FOUR OUNCE CAN of the remedy for my hangover breakfast. It really is worth trying. That AB would make something so hairy is astounding, but it is worth tasting. Stupid good.

So, there you have it: Aran Madden, Chelada lover. Some things in this world are so bizarre they can only be true.

Monday: Part Two of the Furthermore Brewery Profile.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brewery Profile: The Preliminaries - What Does It Mean To Be A Craft Brewery

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“Craft beer” is an interesting phrase. We instantly know what it means, yet anyone, even the marketing whizzes in the beer industry responsible for such word-crafting as “worthmore”, would struggle to define it. Oh, we can come up with a marketing definition, a product category, of “craft beer” – in fact The Brewers Association has done just that, and we discussed it here. We talked about how this definition outlines three categorical limitations for breweries: production limits (under 2 million barrels per year), ownership limits (25% or less ownership by non-craft brewery), and quality limits (must produce all-malt, as opposed to adjunct-riddled beer)*. We also said then, and reiterate now, that this definition seems to focus on an objective specification of a product class, rather than a true definition of the phrase. To be more precise, we could (and probably should) call breweries that conform to The Brewers Association definition “small” rather than “craft” – the two are not synonymous, and this definition merely focuses on how big a brewery is and what it uses. Miller, or, if you prefer, Leinenkugel’s, wants to define “craft beer” or “craft brewing” as “having a variety of interesting styles of beer.” Now, as then, we will set aside this definition as patently absurd.**

We all know what “beer” is. Right? But “craft” presents more of a problem. Wikipedia defines craft as “a skill, especially involving practical arts. It may refer to a trade or particular art.” This is more useful. It presents three words that are useful in outlining a definition: skill, art, trade. Rearranging these words reveals a better definition:

craft beer: a trade involving the skilled art of brewing beer.

Even this definition takes some unpacking. What does it mean to be engaged in a trade? What do we consider to be skill? Where is the "art" in brewing beer? You will notice something about this definition. It has nothing to do with size or quantity, either in barrels or diversity of product line. Anheuser-Busch could be a craft brewery under this definition. As you will see, whether it is or not is entirely a decision best left to the marketplace.

Trade

A trade is an occupation requiring skilled work. To say that a craft brewer is engaged in a craft must necessarily imply that the brewer performs his (or her) task as an occupation. Of course, The Brewers Association definition addresses this issue squarely. Yet, we are presented with the interesting question as to whether a brewer who is not engaged in brewing as a profession or occupation can truly be considered a craft brewer. The obvious answer seems to be “no.” If for no other reason than logic would preclude that a non-professional brewer could not possibly be sufficiently skilled in the art. More technically, however, such a brewer would not (could not) be a “craft” brewer, but rather a skilled, artistic brewer (perhaps we can call them “artisan brewers”); the very definition of “craft” requires that the brewer be engaged in the profession. Thus, engagement in brewing as a “trade” presents a sort of barrier of entry. Yet, the craft brewer must be more than engaged in the trade, for many professional brewers are neither skilled nor artistic.

Skill

Skill is “learnt capacity or talent to carry out pre-determined results.” A brewery that cannot consistently carry out predetermined results, a brewery that cannot reproduce its successes, is not skilled – it is lucky. Luck is not craft. However, skill can be learned. One can get better at the skill of brewing beer.

At the end of the day, skill is not the hard part. One can be engaged in the trade of brewing and be very good at it, but could still not be a craft brewer. A person can be very good at tracing works of visual art, but that doesn’t make him an artist; it just makes him a conservationist. As one of the foibles of the English language, we do not have a separate word for highly skilled professional brewers. But nonetheless, such a brewer has not yet met the definition of “craft.”

Art

Anyone can follow a recipe and create less than two million barrels of a fermented malted barley beverage and fall within The Brewers Association’s definition of “craft beer.” But “art” is more than following a recipe. Art is “made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas.” Thus, the craft brewer must intend to stimulate the senses and the human mind, to transmit emotions and ideas through the brewing of beer.

Rather lofty ambition, no?

It would be impossible to set out an objective definition of “art.” Mankind has tried for thousands of years, and at the end of the day, only the intent of the artist and the willing acceptance of the audience can determine artistic merit.*** Thus, even this definition falls prey to the same issues identified in The Brewers Association definition. Namely, how is the intent of the brewer to be determined? For The Brewers Association, this issue is problematic because that particular organization is tasked with fitting breweries into a product category; a task ill-suited for such subjective standards. For our purposes however, this is not a problem at all: we can determine the intent of the brewer by simply asking questions and evaluating the responses and coming up with our own determination.

It is with this purpose in mind, to ask questions that probe the skilled and artistic nature of the brewing enterprise, that we bring to you the MBR Brewery Profile. In this feature, we will ask questions and leave to you to evaluate the responses within the context of the craft brewing definition(s). Hopefully you will find the answers you are looking for, and in any event these promise to be entertaining and enlightening.

On Friday we will present the first profile in this series: Furthermore Beer.


*This definition would eliminate many of the small breweries here in Wisconsin that use corn in any significant portion of the grain bill to lighten the flavors of their beers.

** Not to be dismissive, but even setting aside the vague terms “variety” and “interesting” the focus is on quantity, not quality.

*** Yes, we could argue whether an “audience” is strictly necessary for the creation of “art”, but that is an argument probably best saved for after having consumed too many craft beers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Playing Catch-Up

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Artist Series T-Shirt 1 - Adopt-a-BullFirst, it is the distinct pleasure of Madison Beer Review to offer our very first Artist Series' t-shirt designs. Designed by Missy Goodman, an artist residing Portage, WI, the "Adopt-A-Bull" shirt looks great and the sales of this shirt will help support the Columbia County Humane Society. Please support the CCHS, Missy and Madison Beer Review through your purchase of this great shirt!

Second, Bryan over at The Brew Lounge asked for an update on our Miller Chill challenge: we have two people who both outed other people (in one case a wife, and in another case, a roommate) as Miller Chill lovers. We actually have reports of a third that will be revealed very soon; and the answer may be very surprising ("Next, on the News at 10 O'Clock, People that Love Miller Chill; the answer may SHOCK you!"). And speaking of Bryan, he was nice enough to send some Philadelphia beers our way (Victory's Baltic Thunder; the forefather of the Baltic Thunder, now-defunct Heavyweight Brewery's Perkuno's Hammer; and Sly Fox's Saison Vos) and on NEXT Monday we will have some reviews of those legendary beers for you.

Third, speaking of blogs, a tour of some Midwest-Region beer blogs that should be regular reading:

Beer Dorks: Their recent discussion of Earl Butz and the industrialization of American agriculture is a must-read. Despite its length, the article's greatest flaw is that it is not longer.

Kent Palmer: Beer writer for Madison Magazine; his most recent post about the place of modern American brewing may just bring a tear to your eye.

Pint and Fork: Another Madison-area blog about beer (and food), Nick's writing is some of the most intelligent I've read about food and drink in and around Madison. His dissertation on organic labeling will destroy your morning and make you think twice (or even three or four times) about that organic certification.

Hoosier Beer Geek: Their most recent post rounds up some good time killing articles, but their review of the Bud Chelada is classic.

STL Hops: I went to a store the other day and someone commented that the writing here at MBR was "prolific" - I wish we could be half as prolific as STL Hops. A true resource for finding and exploring beer. The listing of local availability is something we are working on here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Wisconsin Brewery Tour

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We're going to start yet another running feature here. We'll call it Wisconsin Brewery Tour, and we'll basically check out the various breweries around the state and fill you in on what's going on. It's a good way to get everyone up-to-date on what the Wisconsin breweries are up to for the month.

Minhas: Nothing new to report. Brewery tours are up and running and for the "uheard of" (take that for what it's worth) price of $10, you can tour the facility and taste some beer. Strangely the Lazy Mutt is not in the beer selection.

Ale Asylum: Nothing new to report on their site.

Blu Creek: Nothing new on their website.

Capital Brewery: BockFest! February 23, you can head over to Capital Brewery in Middleton, drink the new MaiBock and Blonde Dopplebock, catch some flying fish, listen to some great music and have an all-around dandy ol' time. Festivities start at 11am and the taps get turned off at 4pm.

Central Waters: The winners of the 2007 Great Heron Homebrew Competition have been posted. This year's winner is an old ale made by Edward Mathis from Beecher, WI. Mr. Mathis will be "Brewmaster for a Day" at Central Waters and get to make his recipe on Central Waters' seven barrel system for serving on-tap at the brewpub. The recipe will also be entered by Central Waters' in the new Pro-Am category of the Great American Beer Fest! An awesome prize. Congratulations the Mr. Mathis.

Furthermore: The MakeWeight is officially out in the wild now, so if you can find it, buy it. And you can now find it in more places as Furthermore is now distributed in Madison, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Eau Claire, Manitowoc, Appleton, Sheboygan, Green Bay and Door County.

The Great Dane: St. Patrick's Day specials like green beer, corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew (probably an Irish stout or two as well). Also, available only at the Hilldale location, the Notoberfest - an Octoberfest-style beer brewed all-year-round.

Gray's: It's hard to know when it was posted (presumably February 13, 2008), but brewery tours are cancelled this weekend; so, if you were planning on trekking down to Janesville (or you live there!), put it off for two weeks.

Lake Louie: Nothing new to report, other than that they need to update their site more frequently ;)

Lakefront Brewery: Preparing for the release of their Snake Chaser Irish Stout. Tonight is their Beer Dinner and special tour by head brewer Russ Klisch focusing on Lakefront's environmental efforts.

Minocqua Brewing: Beer Tasting class on March 3rd and the Taste of Tomahawk on March 15.

New Glarus: They are just putting the finishing touches on the new brewery (nice drawing Deb!). The next in the Unplugged Series, the Imperial Weizen, comes out this month; while I'll reserve judgement, my opinion on "imperial" versions of light styles is well-known - I'm not averse to the beers, but I'm not a fan of the nomenclature.

Pearl Street Brewery: No new news to report, apparently.

Rush River Brewing: Now bottling in six-packs from their new outpost in River Falls, WI. While they are not available in Madison yet, you can find many of the beers in the Minnesota/Wisconsin border area. With an interesting pedigree, and three solid styles (IPA, Amber and Porter) as the backbone, this may be a brewery to keep an eye on.

Sprecher: February 29th is the "Leap Year Party!" The beer pages are very informative for each of their styles.

Steven Point Brewery: The Maibock is now available. The Point Bock Run is March 1.

Leinenkugel's: No events planned until June. The Big Butt Dopplebock, a 5.8% bock brewed with chocolate and caramel malts, is now available in stores; not really "big" but we'll let them have their marketing anyway.

Sand Creek: Manitowac Jaycees Beer Lover's Brew Fest is Saturday the 16th from 5pm to 9pm. And on February 23rd is the 3rd Annual Bid N' Brew to raise money for the Fond du Lac Area Catholic Education System (FACES) (is it just me, or does it seem strange that a Catholic organization is using beer to raise money!?). You can see a lot of their other events here; and, there are a lot of them!

Tyranena: The Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter is now (finally!) available - bottles have been spotted in the wild at such places as the West-Side Woodman's; it is also on tap here in Madison at The Local. March 13th is The Hop Luck O' The Irish; a pot-luck of corned beef and cabbage, with a competition to judge the best (the use of Tyranena beer as an ingredient is the only requirement).

Viking: Viking is now being distributed in the Twin Cities! March 27th is a brewery dinner at Native Bay Restaurant in Chippewa Falls, WI (there's some confusion here, as Native Bay's website shows Viking last December and Bell's in March, while Viking's website says theirs is in March - maybe someone can clear this up for us?).

I think that about covers it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Bounty

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I am offering a bounty for anyone who can honestly claim that they like "Miller Chill" or "Bud Chelada". This includes people in the "target demographic" (hispanics and females). I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes either drink. Yet, the success of Chill is all the talk at Miller; it passed 350,000 barrels in mid-October. [cite] Even despite "Miller Chill [being] priced as a worthmore, not a “regular brand.”" [cite] (by the way, priced as a "worthmore"? Who talks like that?!) Yet, let's look at some reviews of Miller Chill from around the web; we'll throw "miller chill review" into the ol' Google-o-tron:

Beer Advocate ("Pardon me, but just what the f--- is this?")
more from Beer Advocate ("a beer for people that don't like beer. It actually tastes like a really bad diet soda.")
Opinionated Beer Page ("It is unspeakably foul and in a vomit-green bottle to boot.")
Tallahassee.com ("I can’t imagine buying it ...")
Slashfood (comment: "it tastes like urine from a dehydrated person. water is vastly superior.")
Cat Dirt Sez (comment: "nay. it is truly, truly terrible.")
Realbeer.com (comment: "I wouldnt know from experience but I bet it tastes like it has passed through a goat." - although to be fair, this site, inexplicably, has a number of "positive" reviews, but as one of the comments points out "Just wanted to point out that real people do not all say marketing stuff like “this is a great summer beer” or “so refreshing”. It is sad when you have to put fake replys to sell a terrible product!")
And, seriously, if this is the best Miller can find to support its product, it should re-evaluate itself.

And that's just the first ten hits off google. My own experience with Miller Chill (served at Lambeau Field no less!) was less than positive, and I have yet to speak to a single person who actually likes this stuff. Yet, in speaking with local distributors, it flies off shelves. Who is buying this stuff? If you have bought a six-pack or greater of this stuff AND enjoyed it, please comment here. You need not post your name, this is purely an intellectual exercise; but I am truly interested in knowing who is drinking this stuff and why you like it.

I know, Miller Chill has been out for almost a year, why bring this up now? Well, apparently this stuff is so "great", that Anheuser-Busch is making one now. Probably to mix with the Bud Chelada product that is clamato and beer. And, an extra bounty if anyone can bring to me a single person who ever, EVER, had beer with tomato and clam juice prior to Anheuser-Busch putting one in a can.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sustainable Beer Drinking

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First, a note about The Grumpy Troll's Ice Maggie that I talked about last week. MBR was out at The Grumpy Troll on Saturday and we sampled the Iced Maggie and it was fantastic. The flavors were as if the beer had instantly aged; soft and hoppy without being bitter; it really hit its stride once it warmed up, though it was actually quite good at the lower, chilled temperature at which it was served.

Released in October, New Glarus introduced a pale ale called the Organic Revolution. It uses organic Hellertau hops from Germany (Hallertau is a subdued and mildly spicy all-purpose hop, used both for bittering and aroma). It also uses "Wisconsin organically malted barley" - a mildly confusing statement since it is not immediately clear exactly what "Wisconsin" refers to - the malting or the barley; we will assume it means the malting, since presumably if the barley were from Wisconsin there would have been an "Island Wheat"-sized media blitz about the ingredients being local and the phrasing would be more along the lines of "malted Wisconsin organic barley." Finally "even" the carbonation is organic, referring to the practice of using active yeast to carbonate beer - called "bottle conditioning."

However, the organic label and beer are not without controversy. The organic brewing industry is bedeviled by two antithetical views: the public and small farmers who put time and effort into growing and crafting products without tainting the final product with modern pesticides or genes against the corporate giants who want to keep standards low to allow their short-cut products to be labeled "organic."
Until recently, certified “USDA Organic” products were allowed to include up to 5% non-organic ingredients. [Hops, on the other hand provide only bittering and aroma qualities and constitute a very small percentage, by weight, of the final product.] In practical terms this has meant that many brewers have used all or mostly all non-organic hops in their certified organic beers. [cite] However, a USDA rule-change went into effect in May 2007 requiring that all ingredients in USDA Organic products must be organic – with a few exceptions.
Of course, there are always some exceptions and there we pushes by a number of brewers to allow non-organic hops to be used in certified organic beer. This push failed, and as of October 21, 2007 all certified organic beers must use organic hops. But, hold the presses, at the last minute hops were added to the exemption list and a seven day comment period was allowed. During that comment period, Russ Klisch, brewer at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, had this scathing comment to make (on the record):
Adding hops to the National List (Section 205.606) would irreparably damage the reputation and credibility and integrity of the organic brewing industry . . . Organic hop varieties are currently available to brewers . . . beer is not beer without hops and organic beer is not organic beer without organic hops . .. Adding hops to the National List offers an unfair competitive advantage to macro-breweries, specifically, Anheuser-Busch. As the oldest continuously bottled and first certified organic beer to be bottled in the United States, Lakefront Brewery has been able to source and brew with certified organic hops for the entire production run since its first batch of Lakefront Organic ESB 12 years ago. Our commitment to the organic industry and organic farming is strong and genuine and we consider Anheuser Busch’s (among others) lobbying attempts to add hops to the National List a threat to organic certification at best and intentionally misleading to consumers at worst. To change the rules midstream to suit the shortsighted demands of a single, powerful entity can only damage the credibility of the Program.
Unfortunately, Mr. Klisch's pleas went unheeded, and the last-minute exemption is now "final" (on an "interim" basis); in other words, certified organic beers can use non-organic hops.

We agree with The Beer Activist that this seems a little strained. Reversing this decision to remove hops from the exemption list will be very difficult. Now that the cat has been let out of the bag, so to speak, the "organic" certification has been "diluted" to include non-organic hops. So, we end up with the strange situation presented by the Organic Revolution (and Lakefront's Organic ESB) - a certified organic beer that is "more organic" than it needs to be. And, if the certification is changed now, there will be "certified" organic beers that are no longer "organic" without having changed anything. FUBAR.

New Glarus Organic RevolutionThe Organic Revolution fermented by New Glarus Brewing Company need not worry about having its bona fides revoked; its barley and hops are both organic.
Appearance: Golden and surprisingly clear for a bottle-conditioned beer, a thick, white one-finger head form on top, while the few yeast particles aid the formation of bubbles
Aroma: lemon and grassy yeast aromas, with a slight peppery nose,
Flavor: a mix of flavors fight each other out for your attention; in one corner you have the grassy, earthy, and mild hops, in the other corner you have the fruity, lemony and bright yeast, in the other corner you have the focused malts, all of which swirl together, but never quite meld - instead keeping separate and playing off of each other.
Body: light bodied with carbonation; like typical bottle-conditioned beers, the carbonation wears off quickly, turning this from a pale ale into almost a sweet belgian ale
Drinkability: light and pleasant with no real reason not to drink it
Summary: if you like pale ales drink it quickly, if you like belgians let it sit for a bit, it's two beers in one! Inexplicably, Beer Advocate and Rate Beer both treat this one kind of badly - traditionally New Glarus fares pretty well there, even for beers which aren't so fantastic, but in this case, the BA and RB folks have chosen to rake a pretty decent (if non-descript) beer over the coals. Certainly no worse than Spotted Cow, if anything this beer's only downside is that it fails to differentiate itself. But still, a good beer and if you are in the market for making the world a better place, you can buy a six pack and rest assured that German organic hop farmers are being handsomely rewarded.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I'm A Sucker For Random Emails

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Having grown up in the technology generation, I am skeptical of unsolicited emails from addresses that I do not recognize that do not have a subject line filled in. Emails like that generally only mean one thing: penis enlargement pills that don't work.

Thus when the email came in from "brewmasterduchow" (who?) with no subject line (warning!) I was a bit skeptical. But the interesting thing about Gmail is that it has this very brief preview of the email; in this case, it only showed 13 words. One of those words was "beer" (not too surprising, a lot of spam is targeted to the address it is sent to), another of those words was "ice." And, together those words formed the magic phrase "ice beer."

This is probably a peek into my past that I shouldn't let you have; you may think less of me after this. But I came of (drinking) age in the era of the ice beer, so I have a special fondness for them. Everything was iced. Icehouse had just been released. Milwaukee's Best was iced. Heck, this was a time when my favorite beer in the world was Bud Ice. For my (ahem) "21st" birthday, my next door neighbor had bought a case (30 pack) of Keystone Ice. (note: neither MBR nor anyone affiliated with MBR endorses underage drinking, not that we've done anything like that, or anything; we also do not endorse drinking 30 Keystone Ice in one evening).

Icing beer is this magic process whereby liquid theories are put to test. The basic idea is this: water freezes at 32 degrees farenheit, however, alcohol freezes at a temperature much lower than that. So, if beer is brought to 32 degrees or lower, the non-alcohol part of the beer (the water) will freeze. The ice can be removed, usually through a filtration system, and leaves a drinkable liquid that is a much higher concentration of alcohol and a greater concentration of malt.

But, icing beer is not just for crappy American lagers to punch up their alcohol by one half of one percent. An entire style of beer exists that takes advantage of the icing process to accentuate the alcohol esters and smooth out the body. Of course, two styles immediately jump to mind that are known for the estery flavors and smooth bodies: bocks and barley wines. Given the warm fermentation of a barley wine, they are not typically iced (it would kill the yeasts that remain active and allow the style to age so well). However, bocks, a high-alcohol, estery, smooth, cold-fermentation lager, are iced frequently; so frequently that a whole style, the eisbock, has been recognized.

Well, it stands to reason that if bocks can be iced to great success, other styles can be as well. As mentioned earlier, barley wines would be a good example, except that aging really brings out the best in a barley wine and the icing process would kill the yeast. However, there is another high-alcohol ale style that is best consumed fresh: the India Pale Ale. While we are not aware of other IPAs that have been iced, one has been on tap since Thursday, January 25th at The Grumpy Troll over in Mount Horeb, WI. And, this brings us back that email that we received from "brewmasterduchow."

The Grumpy Troll - Mount Horeb, WIMark Duchow (aka "The Captain") is the brewmaster for The Grumpy Troll, a brewpub in Mount Horeb, WI.
A few months ago Doug and I were talking about Ice Beer in the brewery over a couple beers. Doug loves ice bocks, and the Maggie Imperial IPA, his thought was to Ice the Maggie. "BRILLIANT!" we said.
And, thus, the idea for the Iced Maggie was formed. However, as we've talked about in the past, small breweries do not often have access to high-level equipment. And, in this case, the problem was that the chiller that The Grumpy Troll uses would not cool the Maggie under 25 degrees. The Maggie, already a beer of moderate strength, would not freeze at 25 degrees, it just sort of turned to slush.
What I needed was a place that was much cooler than 25 degrees. Well Canada stepped in and sent Wisconsin a bunch of cold, no F-ing cold air, and yesterday's high temperature was 0, yes I said zero, 25 degrees colder than I could drop the chiller! So I kegged up the beer and set it out on the loading dock, BRILLIANT!
Thanks to the cold weather we've been having lately, The Grumpy Troll successfully created an IPA-cicle. There is some debate as to what happened next. The problem is thus: there is some question as to the "legality" of ice distilling beer in the state of Wisconsin. If you were to ask Brewmaster Duchow, The Captain, he will insist that he did not ice-distill the Maggie, merely that the Maggie is "freeze cured" a process that will provide many of the same benefits but will not impact alcohol levels.

MBR will be taking a field trip to The Grumpy Troll on Saturday, February 9th at 2pm for the purpose of testing this freeze cured beer. Come on out and meet us for a drink. For those interested, The Grumpy Troll also gets The Big Ten Network, so you can stick around and watch the Badgers avenge their loss to the Boilermakers later that evening.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A State-Wide Discussion

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Here we have analysis from Madison about an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel regarding a brewery in LaCrosse providing energy matter to an energy utility in Minnesota that serves Wisconsin. Whew!

You can read the article yourselves, but the gist is this: City Brewery and Gunderson Lutheran Hospital have won a $250,000 grant from Wisconsin-based Focus on Energy. Based on a system of re-capturing energy from wastewater generated in the brewing process used by many large breweries, City Brewery is providing the hospital with biogas to be burned in the hospital's new biogas generator to produce electricity; the electricity generated will be credited back to a Minnesota energy utility that serves the LaCrosse area.

This is exactly the type of localized synergy that we should be encouraging, so it is refreshing to see creative solutions being rewarded. There is little reason why other breweries cannot supply local biogas generators and thereby provide a source of green energy for their communities.

What is biogas?
Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. [It] is comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide. ... The methane in biogas gives it the ability to be used as a fuel. The combustion of which releases energy.[cite]
In other words, without oxygen the breakdown of organic matter by the beer fermentation process results in wastewater saturated with gaseous by-products such as methane and CO2. Not surprisingly, Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer, is the world's largest user of technology to separate the gas from the wastewater. In fact, by using biogas "Anheuser-Busch breweries avoided more than 258 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels by using this renewable fuel." [cite]

The Beer Institute has produced a compelling publication highlighting all of the ways that breweries can and are reducing their energy footprint; you can view this document here. This publication mentions that outside of biogas, another brewing process can help provide alternative energy resources. Coors has been the leader in extracting the ethanol from waste-beer to be blended with gasoline; in fact they produce over 3 million gallons of ethanol of year to offset our reliance on foreign oil. Moreover, brewers frequently reuse the CO2 derived from the fermenting process to carbonate their beers.

Thus, there are many ways that our local breweries can help our local environments. It is nice to see them being rewarded for these efforts.

Monday, February 4, 2008

This Imperial Post (or Some Comments From Places That Are Not Wisconsin)

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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.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I Really Want To Like JT Whitneys

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On the corner of Odana and Whitney sits a brewpub. It has big screen tvs, a nice big friendly bar, decent enough food, free poker. It has all the makings of a neighborhood bar, even despite the fact that it isn't really in any neighborhood. But why do I wish they just wouldn't brew their own beer? Some of their beers are very good. But many of them aren't. I'm afraid to order any of them for fear that I will get one that isn't any good.

Sorry I can't be more specific. But maybe it's my fault. Maybe I shouldn't even bother with their barley wines and the weizens and the belgian beers (just to name a few). Just go, order an IPA or Alt or Kolsch, watch the Badgers game, play some pool and call it a day.