Monday, March 31, 2008

An Example of Creative Use of the Dopplebock

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A few weeks ago we talked about the post-brewing treatment called "ice distillation." Of course, we mentioned at the time that this process is "illegal" in the United States. None of you breweries out there are actually removing a significant portion of water? Right? Yeah. Thought so. In the US, the ABV of beer cannot be increased by more than .5% as a result of the freezing process.

German breweries are not subject to the same requirements.

In 1872 Georg Schneider I purchased the Weisses Brauhaus in Munich, Germany; even at the time, the Weisses Brauhaus was the oldest wheat beer brewery in Munich. To this day, the entire lineup of G. Schneider & Sohn's output are wheat beers. Which, makes their wheat dopplebock particularly interesting. The amateurs among you will say "Wait! I have excellent memory recall! And you said last week that the original bocks were brewed with wheat and now bocks brewed in that original style are designated as 'Ur-'bocks to denote the 'original' style. Therefore, this should an 'UrDopplebock'!" Well, no. Not exactly. Recall the DOPPLE-bock is not related to this original bock. And, considering that, it is odd indeed to use wheat as in the grain bill.

The G. Schneider & Sohn brewery is more commonly called Schneider-Weisse, and their wheat dopplebock is called Aventinus. (BA. RB.) It has received universal acclaim and is the crown-jewel of the Schneider-Weisse brewery. At around 8.5% ABV it certainly packs a wallop. Well, this crown-jewel has been ice distilled to 12% ABV.

Let's see what it tastes like shall we?

G. Scheider & Sohn Aventinus Eisbock. Dated 2007, bottle number 02622. This beer was procured at Steve's Liquor on the West Side for just under $4. While a tall wheat glass might be appropriate, I'm going to test the 12% ABV in a small snifter at around 50 degrees.

Appearance: a quick foamy 1-finger head forms, then dissipates quickly, sort of the head on a soda; the carbonation is higher than expected; the coloring is crystal clear and the shade of well-caramelized sugar
Aroma: malty with bright grape and plum aromas, a slight not-yet-ripe banana smell comes through and a soft earthiness rounds out the bottom
Flavor: banana and fruit-ish; the malts hold up the background with amazing complexity, a slight caramel flavor on the finish where the 12% ABV pokes its head out, but if you didn't know it, you would never guess that this was such a heavy hitter
Body: medium to full-body that loses carbonation and coats the mouth more with a pleasant, children's medicine flavor (just to be clear: please do not give this children as medicine)
Drinkability: for a 12% ABV version of a style known for sometimes being over thick and syrupy it comes off quite nicely, particularly at lower temperatures
Summary: A great beer; if you consider a fan of the style you will love this beer; if you don't typically like the style, you may still like this one as it holds up well when cold and has a fruitier taste and aroma than typical

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hey Barkeep! What's With Bocks In the Spring?

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Our question this month is timely (aren't they all?). We were asked why bocks, a dark, often heavy-ish lager, are an early-spring beer.

The term "bock" in its modern usage, refers to virtually any strong lager; strong being over 6.5% ABV or so. While they are often dark beers, it is interesting to note that Michael Jackson points out that the original bocks, because of the high usage of wheat at the time and in the location, are actually what we would now call a "Weizenbock" or a "Wheat Bock." It was also top-fermenting (an ale) and fairly well-hopped (in excess of 30 IBUs).

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The bock was born in Einbeck, Germany sometime in the 1300s. As described above, however, it is painfully obvious that today's bock beer bear little resemblance to the original beer produced in Einbeck. Well, sometime in the 1700s, Southern Germans, because their beer (at the time) was so miserable, began to demand "that beer from Einbeck" - or, as they would have pronounced it in their fine southern drawls "Einbock." However, the southern breweries didn't have consistent access to wheat. The hard water in southern Germany was not very hospitable to hops, it made the already bitter hops, overly bitter (by contrast, the water in the hills and mountains of Northern Germany is much softer). Finally, the Southern breweries were far more familiar with lager fermenting than with the Northern top-fermenting. In short, it was the type of bastardization of a style that we continue to see today (to wit: the American wheat ale). And, the two styles could have competed with each other except for the fact some time around the turn of the 19th century, almost all of the breweries in Einbeck burned to the ground. With that, the world was left with the Southern German variation of the Einbeck-originated style: a dark, malty, sweet, lager. These days, beer brewed in the Northern style, lighter and hoppier, are designated "Ur-" (meaning "original").

So, why the spring?

Well, in the days before temperature control, even ale yeasts stop fermenting when the whether gets too warm. In Einbeck, these temperatures were usually reached in early May. So, in May, when the beer was done fermenting, a spring fair was held and the citizenry drank of this Einbeck beer.

And the goat often seen and associated with bock beers? Bock means "billygoat" or "goat" in German.

What about the dopplebock?

Believe it or not, the dopplebock originated in parellel with the bock, but is rather un-related. I'll let Mr. Bryce Eddings (you can read his blog, here) tell you about the Dopplebock:
Munich means “the home of monks” and it was so for the followers of St. Francis of Paula. These vegetarian monks from Italy observed two fasts each year – one during Lent and one for the month leading up to Christmas. It has often been told that European monks of this time relied on dark beers to sustain them through their long fasts and these Paulaners were no exception. They developed a particularly dark beer with a lot of protein and carbohydrates carried over from the mash that served them well during the times when solid foods were prohibited.
Because these beers were so similar to the bocks, the public began calling them "dopplebocks" and so we have dopplebocks at Lent and Christmas. This original dopplebock recipe is still made today by the brewery carrying the same name as these monks: Paulaner and the beer is still called what it was then "Salvator." In honor of the "Salvator" most breweries christen their dopplebocks with names ending in "-ator" (e.g., Ale Asylum's Bamboozleator).

Some interesting reading about bocks:
Wikipedia
All About Beer: Beer Styles: Bock
Beer.About.com (Bryce Eddings)
Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter: Original Bock: The Beer The Doctor Ordered
Hoosier Beer Geek: the Knights dissect the BJCP bock guidelines

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sometimes Even We Go On Vacation

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Sorry for the lack of notice, but a road trip came up rather suddenly and it is very difficult to publish this thing from a moving vehicle. I need to get me one of them super-fancy cell phones with full keyboard and internet access, I guess. Though, I suspect corporate may deny the reimbursement request. Anyway. In the coming weeks we'll publish some reviews of the awesome beer we acquired. But, first, we need to tie up a few loose-ends around here.

Central Waters' second Brewers' Reserve of the season is a Bourbon-Barrel Barleywine. A version of their Kosmyk Charley's Y2K Catastrophe Ale (our review can be found here) aged in Bourbon Barrels for one year. Expect there to be some earthy, woody, booziness to one of Central Waters' premiere beers.

Appearance: thin, bubbly off-white head quickly forms and dissipates over top of a deep coppery brown quasi-viscous body
Aroma: sweet and alcoholic, like a not-so-mild bourbon whiskey
Flavor: bright and bourbony, does not taste blended at all; a malty, roasted caramel attack; the bourbon-barrel flavors overwhelm any malt complexity; as the beer warms in the glass, the malts begin to assert themselves more and even some hops begin to poke through
Body: medium, boozy body, with lingering flavors that beg to be sipped
Drinkability: strong and boozy at first, mellows into a whiskey as it warms, then its malty beer base asserts itself
Summary: while fresh off the shelves this beer has already been aged for one year, the bourbon is almost overpowering and can benefit greatly from further aging; this beer changes significantly from cold to warm, yet its complexity is ultimately overshadowed by the unblended bourbon barrel aging - we bought two bottles of this, and maybe when we review it again next year or the year after it will have mellowed a bit

Speaking of (barley)wines. The awesome San Franciscans at Beer at Joe's have pointed us to a must-read article at Vinography about pairing food with wine. The gist of the article gets to one thing that I constantly preach: this is not rocket science - do not be afraid to experiment, and drink what you like.
Lie #1: For any given food/dish there is a "perfect," "ideal" or "correct" wine pairing.

Lie #2: There are a ton of mistakes and pitfalls out there -- lots of wines just "don't go" with certain foods and vice versa.

Lie #3: Because of #1 and #2, food and wine pairing is an art that is hard to learn, requires deep knowledge, and generally is best left to experts.
I can't say it better: "[T]he single most important variable in the success of wine and food pairing lies completely out of the control of every sommelier and chef in the world. And that variable is me, you, and every single person that sits down to a mouthful of food and a swig of wine." If you like American light lagers, drink a Miller Lite; but don't be afraid to experiment. Next time, try a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with that pizza; try a Fuller's London Porter with your chicken; try an Ayinger Kristal Weizen with your steak salad. If you like it, great; if you don't, the worst case scenario is you are five dollars poorer. If you are someplace like Maduro or Brasserie V, do not be afraid to ask for samplers before you buy.

In other words, at the end of the day, it is only beer. Find out what you like. The experts are paid to be experts and they can tell you the differences between a Kristal Weizen and Berliner Weisse, but they can not tell you if you will like one or the other; be wary of any that purports to do so - they may say that they prefer one over the other, but the sommelier or bartender has no idea if you will like it or not.

One last bit of news: Miller will be expanding distribution of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy to 40 of 50 states this summer. I can't say I'm suprised, Miller is going to ride the Leinkugel's "crafts are hot" thing for as long as they can. The fact is Leinie's is still a mere shadow of what it was and Brewery Creek (in Mineral Point) makes a shandy that you can actually taste the component beer and lemonade.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Trove of New Beer - Day 5 - Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout

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Well. One of the things that we here at MBR wanted to do in the new year was to post more, you know, reviews of beer. I think we've accomplished that. Hopefully these posts have inspired you to go out and try some of the new seasonal beers that are on the shelves. While we've focused on the limited run beers, also remember that each of these breweries make yearly seasonals like Capital's MaiBock, Tyranena has a dopplebock (they were going to do a maibock again this year, but the Dirty Old Man used up available fermenter space), New Glarus has their Road Slush Oatmeal Stout coming out, Viking has its JS Bock - there is a veritable cornucopia of seasonal beers on the shelves these days.

We'll explore next week what makes Bocks so late-winter-early-spring appropriate. But today and Friday we'll take one last look at stouts and barleywines - the ultimate winter beers. They are styles that keep us warm and satiated and are perfect for those long winter nights. Central Waters has two new special releases that are available in the Madison area ONLY in single bottles (although I've seen retailers stash sixes behind the scenes, presumably for people if they ask or are reserved for those who get their names on "the list") - and expensive twelve ounce bottles at that - upwards of $3.49 in most places. And, in keeping with a popular trend, both are aged in bourbon barrels.

Fermenting is typically done in very large steel tanks. But fermentation is often a two-step, and sometimes three-step process whereby during the last stage of fermentation, the "spent" yeast is removed and the beer is left to age - this is technically considered fermentation because the beer is not filtered at this point and there is some residual active yeast remaining to further ferment the beer. Ales in particular have a long tradition of being aged in, and frequently served from, oak casks. Well, some American brewer somewhere along the line got the genius idea of aging beer in barrels that had been used to age bourbon. By aging in bourbon barrels the beer comes in contact with the sides of the barrel that had previously been in contact with bourbon. Thus, you get beer that tastes of bourbon.

However, the bourbon-y taste can be overwhelming. So, most brewers reserve some of the beer to be aged in regular steel tanks. Before bottling, the two beers (the bourbon-aged and the non-bourbon-aged) are blended back together (and sometimes left to age again for another week or two). For example, Tyranena's Dirty Old Man Rye Porter Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels, is a 40/60 blend (I think; I'm sure someone will correct these numbers if they are wrong) of 40% aged in rye whiskey barrels, and the remaining 60% aged in the regular manner. Notably, The Grumpy Troll's Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale was unblended; after it warmed up, it tasted exactly like drinking whiskey/bourbon/scotch - a pretty neat trick for beer.

The first of the Central Waters Brewers' Reserve special releases is the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout. It is unknown if this is a blended beer, though presumably it is. Although the label is helpful enough to tell us that the beer is aged with eighty pounds of Door County cherries, and that it is aged for six months.
Appearance: served at 52 degrees, it is a gorgeous crystal deep ruby red, with a nice small tan head that quickly dissipates
Aroma: while the very first aroma is sweet, sweet cherries, the bourbon raises its head quickly with subtle earthy roasted malt underneath and a grassy brightness on the very end
Flavor: exactly like eating a cherry cordial; the cherry flavors burst in the mouth, while the bourbon notes follow soon behind supported by deeply roasted malts; despite the big, sweet flavors it remains nicely complex
Body: not as heavy as you might think, while the bourbon and hops hang around to keep the flavors fresh in your mouth, the finish is nonetheless clean
Drinkability: like most stouts, one is enough, but I would drink this any day and could probably drink two if I "needed" to
Summary: Central Waters hits another homerun and shows yet again why it is one of the best breweries in our state, and probably one of the best breweries in the country; while Wisconsin breweries tend to stay out of the National obsession with "big" beers, its a shame that this one isn't distributed further and can get the recognition it fully deserves.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Trove of New Beer – Day 4 – Capital (Platinum) Blonde Doppelbock

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Few beers arrive each year to the fanfare of Capital's Blonde Doppelbock. Three Floyds has Dark Lord Day. Lost Abbey has its Angel's Share. Of course, the granddaddy of them all – Guinness has St. Patrick's Day (some 13 million plus pints of Guinness are served around the world on St. Patrick's Day). Of course, Guinness is available year round, unlike the Blonde Doppelbock, the Dark Lord, or the Angel's Share. But Bockfest is a celebration like no other here in Wisconsin. Over-the-top. Disorderly. Cold. A lot of fun. And, by all accounts, the Blonde Doppelbock is worth all of the attention:

  • 1996 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (85 - Silver)
  • 1997 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (91 - Gold)
  • 1998 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (97 - PLATINUM)
  • 2001 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (96 - Platinum)
  • 2002 World Beer Cup (Gold)
  • 2003 North American Brewers Association (Bronze)
  • 2004 North American Brewers Association (Gold)
  • 2004 USBTC Grand Champion in the catagory of Bock/Doppelbock
  • 2005 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (96 - Platinum)
  • 2006 World Beer Cup (Bronze)
  • 2007 Beverage Testing Institute World Beer Championships (98 - Platinum)

RateBeer gives the Blonde Doppelbock an 83. Beer Advocate gives it a B+.


Capital Blonde Doppelbock

Capital Blonde Doppelbock

Appearance: a 12 oz brown bottle, the cap seems a little loose-fitting, but no apparent lack of carbonation on the pour, however, it does make me question how well this would last; a small fast white head dissipates quickly; while the label proclaims this to be a platinum blonde, it's more like a strawberry blonde or gold
Aroma: malty and caramel, though not overpowering; an unquantifiable brightness that's almost hoppy but is more probably the 8% ABV
Flavor: a light flavor, reminds me of a wimpy, high alcohol marzen (Oktoberfest); the earthy, grainy maltiness comes through first, with a light caramel sweetness and a slight spiciness on the back end; the rich flavors occasionally present new experiences as the beer warms
Body: medium to medium-light body that finishes before it gets cloying
Drinkability: unbalanced and overly malty, with a slight booziness in the finish;
Summary: If this is your thing, it could be quite drinkable; but, like most doppelbocks, try one on tap somewhere before you commit to a six pack

Friday, March 14, 2008

Audience Participation - Random Beer

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I'm going to keep at this until we actually get some audience participation here.

So, what's the best or worst random beer you've had? A beer that you've ended up getting at the store because the retail help recommended it and was right or very very wrong. Or, beer that someone brought because they know you like beer that either hit the spot or completely missed the mark.

My interest was piqued on the first grilling day of the year yesterday. We went to Brennan's to pick up some stuff to throw on the grill and while there we got some beer. While I was at the car, the other person came out with a beer that the beer guy had told her was a "good brunch beer." What qualified that for a grilled steak dinner is beyond me, but it was under his recommendation.

It was the El Toro William Jones Wheat Ale. (BA. RB.) It was actually all right - not about to make me give up hope for the recommendations at Brennan's. A run-of-the-mill American Wheat Ale. Unfortunately, we're kind of spoiled in Wisconsin, and the wheat ales available from our own in-state breweries outshine this every day of the week.

So, what's the best, or worst, random beer you've had?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Trove of New Beer - Day 3 - Ale Asylum Bamboozleator

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The only unfortunate thing about Ale Asylum is it's out of the way location. But even on a random Tuesday evening the pub area was well-populated with college students and construction workers and young professionals. And, the bonus for trekking all the way out there is five beers that Ale Asylum doesn't bottle: the Big Slick Oatmeal Stout, Diablo Belgian Dubbel, DisPorterly Conduct English Porter, Sticky McDoogle Scotch Ale, and the 8.5% ABV Bamboozleator Dopplebock. The Bamboozleator is a departure from Ale Asylum's typical, well, ales and a sneaky incursion into a world dominated Capital Brewery. And while the Bamboozleator may never be confused for the Celebrator or Maximator, it can certainly run with the Autumnal Fire.

Ale Asylum Bamboozleator
Appearance: a brilliant, clear copper with a thin off-white 1 finger head that dissipates quickly, leaving strong lacing on the side of the glass
Aroma: big and malty with a slightly sweet caramel aroma, but up-front aromas of freshly baked bread
Flavor: strongly malty with an inexplicable cherry or currant sweetness; a slight alcohol estery-ness comes through at the end but little to no hop bitterness, which is a pleasant change of pace for Ale Asylum's beers
Body: a medium bodied dopplebock with the style's trademark syrupiness as it warms - and this is what differentiates it from the Autumnal Fire, which is more of a dopplebock trapped in an Oktoberfest's body; the Bamboozleator is much more in-line with the style's traditions though it leans towards the more medium bodied (though not as light bodied as the Maximator) and towards the fruitier - if I didn't know any better I'd think that perhaps the fruitiness came from an ale yeast, but that's not possible, is it?
Drinkability: well, let's just say that Ale Asylum will not sell you a pitcher of the Bamboozleator; at 8.5% ABV more than one probably requires a DD.
Summary: a nice restrained lager from a brewery known for its hoppy ales; perfect for sipping on those blustery spring evenings while going over the last numbers of the day with your work cohorts.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Trove of New Beer - Day 2 - New Glarus Imperial Weizen

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New Glarus' latest release in the Unplugged Series is upon us. Virtually every past release in this series has been fantastic, and there is little to reason to believe that this will be any different. Having said that, it falls prey to one of my biggest irritations: "imperial" versions of beer styles that are known for their subtlety. Of course, as you might expect, this phenomemon is unique to American breweries. Never content to leave well-enough alone, everything has to be bigger, and bolder, and more upfront. Subtlety is not exactly our forte. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that we want to kick up the grain bill on the pilsner, double the hops on an already bitter beer, and throw in the spice rack on the wit. Where will the madness end? Not at the weizen, it appears.

Before I get the comments that say "Bah, you sourpuss, we Americans are experimenting, playing with convention, taunting and flouting the traditions that the continentalists hold so dear. In the supreme tradition of the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, Manifest Destiny, the Industrial Revolution, WWII, the Lunar Landings, and the Fall of Communism, we are sticking up our middle fingers to those on the other side of the pond and saying 'we go where you don't have the balls to go'!" I understand that. Heck, I can get behind that. But what I think is silly is retaining the naming conventions and simply pre-pending "Imperial" to the front of it. In the first place, an "imperial" hefeweizen is not a hefeweizen; the additional alcohol, hops and flavor would destroy the whole, refreshing point. In the second place, it's just childish and uncreative. Show some gumption and come up with a new style; or, if it's a one-off development, be creative and use a non-style based name.

In any event, with my rant out of the way, let's get on to the tasting. By the way, you can read Nick's awesome review of the Imperial Weizen at his blog, Pint and Fork (he takes much better pictures than we ever do).

New Glarus Imperial Weizen

Appearance: A huge and rapid head prevents pouring the entirety of this beer at once, even into an oversized weiss glass; the white head is as wide as the palm of my hand incredibly dense; a cloudy yellow golden body with lots of rapid carbonation
Aroma: huge aroma of citrus and spice: grapefruit, oranges, lemons, cloves, banana; each smell brings one of these aromas to the forefront
Flavor: bitterness starts and finishes this beer; in between is a smooth strong banana and clove flavor; Nick mentions cinnamon, but I'm having trouble finding that, instead I sense a rounded flavor of grapefruit, clove and orange in the long finish
Body: smooth and surprisingly full (though definitely not full-bodied), the carbonation contributes to the head, but really does not seem to have any effect on the palate.
Drinkability: of course, the "big" nature of this beer erases some of the refreshing-ness typical of the style; however, it is very pleasant and I would welcome more of these -
Summary: it's a shame that this is a limited edition released in the winter, because one of these on a warm late-spring evening might be very nice - but, as the label notes, this beer won't age very well and will dull with time; it is definitely best consumed immediately, so saving this for later is not a very good option.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Reply to a Response

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A few months back (in December) I was invited to write an op-ed piece for the Capital Region Business Journal regarding the self-serving Senate Bill 224, aka The Great Dane Bill. I thought my article took a reasoned stance against the bill. I essentially argued that this was specialty legislation of the worst kind: passed with hardly a debate and appended to a budget bill in a manner that could only generously be considered questionable.

In March, the Capital Region Business Journal published a response to my article by Mr. Eliot Butler, president of The Great Dane. It takes him no less than two sentences to attack: "Unfortunately, the article ignores the merits of the bill and the growth opportunity it provides for Wisconsin brewpubs and instead reports inaccurate information based on insincere rhetoric spread by opponents of the bill." As for the first point, it was an editorial - by its very nature it only took one side of the issue - that was my assignment; if you would like a full, bipartisan discussion of this issue you can see the numerous posts published here. However, while I generally welcome healthy debate - for there is much to debate about this (despite the lack of debate by our legislators in actually PASSING this bill) - I do not welcome being called "insincere" or my hard work in researching this issue passed off as "inaccurate."

Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Butler is too quickly dismissive of his opposition:

1) "The December article that ran in this publication (which, is sort of like being referred to as "that guy" when you are standing in the room and is rudely dismissive, thank you very much) reported the popular myth that the new law would rob traditional, non-brewpub breweries in the state of their ability to sell food at retail to visiting guests if they produce more than 10,000 barrels annually."

I'm somewhat concerned by the phrase "popular myth" because this is exactly what the legislation does. No brewery producing over 10,000 barrels of beer annually, under the new law, can sell food at retail. It's that simple.

"The new law has absolutely no impact on traditional breweries currently operating in Wisconsin." (emphasis mine) 

Ah, well. That's something entirely different and takes my entire article completely out of context and shows a gross misunderstanding of my arguments. I never once said it would impact Wisconsin breweries as they currently exist. My arguments are entirely future looking (admittedly, I used Ale Asylum as an example, but only for point of reference of a "traditional brewery" that actively leverages its pub facilities).

But there is some pause here, as we consider Mr. Butler's statement, because even it is not entirely forthright. For example, yes, there is to be a "grandfather clause" included in this legislation so that any brewery currently in existence will continue to operate under the old rules (if it chooses). But the scope of this grandfather clause is very much in dispute. It has been suggested by some that merely changing corporate structure, or being bought out, or buying out another brewery would negate the grandfather clause and thus pull a current brewery within the aegis of the new law.

Second, Mr. Butler entirely misses the point: the legislation prohibits this business model for future breweries looking to open in the state of Wisconsin. If someone were considering opening a brewery and brewpub, one in the vein of Great Lakes Brewing Company, Goose Island, Two Brothers, Bear Republic, or scores of other world-renown breweries and brewpubs that compete for sales in the state of Wisconsin, it would not be possible. There is an active disincentive to invest in world-class (or even best-in-region) food service. Of course this is convenient for Mr. Butler, but seriously hampers the options of future brewers in this state and negatively impacts the abilities of future breweries to compete with breweries in just our own region, let alone nationally or globally. In fact, given this strong disincentive, why not just open your brewery/brewpub in Rockford, Illinois or Dubuque, Iowa and ignore the question entirely; such a brewery could advertise to consumers in Wisconsin and distribute here without having to deal with the hassles of our protectionist legislation. This is the alternative that Mr. Butler's legislation provides. 

2) As for sincerity, let's ask the ambitious Mr. Butler a question. Mr. Butler, at your current rate of growth (2000+ barrels per location) you will reach the 10,000 barrel limit before you reach a sixth location. What will you do then?

Well, his answer must one of two, he must say either:

     a) Sir, I promise that I will stay within the letter of the law and I will be content to have my five locations in the state of Wisconsin and call it a day; or,

     b) Sir, this situation is entirely temporary, and I fully intend to keep working with the brewing community to develop a solution that will allow reasonable expansion of brewpubs and yet allow flexibility to our more traditional brewing industry. In the next few years we will be working with the Brewers Guild to propose new legislation that will remove these hard caps and/or permit traditional breweries to allow some form of food service in their breweries, regardless of size.

While pondering which of these you think most closely matches Mr. Butler's "sincere" response, keep in mind that the obvious consequence of (A) is that Mr. Butler looks to continue growing outside of the state of Wisconsin and thereby removes potential tax dollars and employment from this state. Is this really in the best interests of the breweries and consumers in the state of Wisconsin? (maybe, if one were to have a negative opinion of Mr. Butler's beer, it would be). And, in considering (B) look at the need Mr. Butler has for changing the law he spent so much time and money to develop (i.e., none).

Look. I am in no way saying that the old law was good; it was crap. But the new law isn't any better (for anyone other than the Great Dane) and seriously impedes the ability to create a truly workable and reasonable solution. Really, I wouldn't have a problem with this law, if it had been the result of a legitimate legislative process; but it was hastily attached to an overdue budget in the hopes of sneaking it in so that Hilldale could be up and brewing in time for the busy holiday season. And, really, I wouldn't even have a problem with that, if Mr. Butler would call a spade a spade and just say "Hey! We didn't care about the future impact of this bill to anyone other than ourselves. We presented a bill that is in our best interests and sucks to be you." I'm OK with that - it is the legitimate marriage of capitalism and modern politics - but only if he admits to it instead passing off his insincere rhetoric as being in the best interests of the Wisconsin brewing industry and the Wisconsin consumers. Nobody is going to begrudge modern business a selfish self-interest; but it seems insincere and inaccurate to deny it.

By the way, you can read my interview with Mr. Butler about this very issue, here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Trove of New Beer – Day 1 – Tyranena Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

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The name says it all. Literally. Thanks to Federal labeling laws, there is more information packed on this bottle than anyone probably needs. Of course, if you can figure out the maze, you can probably make a lot of money explaining it to brewers (because, you know, they're just rolling in the cash).

Tyranena Brewers Gone Wild Series: Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Appearance: pours a thin tan foam that builds up to a dense, mousse-like impressive head; the color is dark brown, almost black, very little carbonation
Aroma: malty, with wafts of roasted coffee; a smoky sweetness brightens the aroma like a fresh breeze, an earthy-rye nose rounds off the finish nicely
Flavor: a jumble of flavors all hit at once fighting for the palate; it's a fight that the taster can't wait to see which wins; the soft rye holds up the woody whiskey sweetness and roasted flavors; a light bitterness creeps through reminding of licorice
Body: soft and thick, like drinking a big malty milkshake
Drinkability: big and thick; would love to drink more than one, but not sure it would be possible
Summary: like drinking coffee in the morning out of the same shot glass from the night before

Monday, March 3, 2008

Audience Participation - Surprises

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What places have had the most suprising tap (or bottle) lists, either good or bad?

I was out at Tyrol Basin, in Mount Horeb, late last week and their tap list is suprisingly strong: 2 New Glarus (Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel), Capitol Maibock, Hopalicious, and the left field entry of Great Lakes' Edmund Fitzgerald. Not to mention the half a dozen expected macros on tap. I was pleasantly suprised not only at the quality of the taps, but the Edmund Fitzgerald is an awesome non-local, craft selection; they easily could have chosen something like Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams. The bottle choice was a little bland, but with that stuff on tap, who needs bottles? And while I didn't have one, the Bloody Mary's look awesome.

In the suprisingly bad category, is Queen Anne's at the Westside Club; only two selections Coors Light and Labatt's. As I think I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for Labatt's, but still - only two beer selections at a supper club serving a pretty good fish fry? And, Coors Light? I would have expected at least Miller Light.