Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Beer That Capital Could Have Made With Its Wheat (Hacker-Pschorr Sternweisse)

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First, a correction. Last Friday I published a rather scathing review of Capital Brewery and derided the choice to use Washington Island wheat to make lawnmower/golf-cart beer instead of more traditional German styles.
Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German lagers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based lager (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional lager (Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.
It was subsequently pointed out to me that these traditional German styles are not actually lagers. Ron Extract, one of the smartest beer people on the planet and Brother and Director of Sales and Distribution for craft beer importers, Shelton Brothers notes:
Weissbier and its close variations are always top-fermenting. The unique banana-clove flavor is not so much from the wheat as it is from a particular strain of top-fermenting yeast, and the production of those esters requires a rather warm primary fermentation, even by ale-brewing standards. Some Weissbiers may undergo cold aging later in the brewing process, but this isn't uncommon in ale brewing and isn't really cause to think of them as a kind of hybrid style. If anything, Weissbiers are among the more extreme examples of ales.

Bockbier, in Germany, normally indicates a lager. Terms like "Weizen Bock" or "Weisse Bock" were initially applied metaphorically, to mean something like "Weissbier's answer to bock". Having said that, there probably were top-fermenting bocks in Germany at one point, since historical records of Bockbier predate the specific use of bottom-fermentation. Also, most Dutch bokbiers are top-fermenting, though the connections of some of these to German bock are somewhat tenuous, at best.
So, please remove "lagers" from the above pull-quote and substitute instead the word "beer."
Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German beers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based beer (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional beer(Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.
Of course, the point isn't that Capital is making ales, not lagers, but rather that it has gotten away from its roots in a not entirely competent manner.

So, today we are tasting a drink-from-the-bottle/golf-cart beer purchased at the West-side Woodman's that Capital could have chosen to make. It comes in a gorgeous presentation in a 500 milliliter bottle with a flip-top and fancy silver label with dark blue and red accents. It's a relatively recent import into the US, sold on the website as a blend between a white and an amber wheat beer. BA only has 10 reviews (for a B+). RateBeer has a few more reviews (64) with a slightly more mediocre rating (64th percentile).

Hacker-Pschorr Sternweisse
Appearance: poured from a nice flip-top 500ml into a 20oz wheat beer glass; huge, huge, huge head on top of a murky, sandy-ish, camel-ish, dun-ish colored unfiltered body
Aroma: banana and clove-ish yeast is primary; eventually the yeast aromas settle (or you get used to them?) and the sweet malts start to come through
Flavor: not nearly as hugely flavored as the aroma would suggest; malts, some biscuity carameliness comes through - primarily from Vienna and Munich malts; the yeast adds an earthiness; very little hops
Body: thin - in fact almost too thin; the flavor dissipates quickly, though not cleanly
Drinkability: very refreshing; a nice summer treat
Summary: One MBRer thought it smelled like used sweaty socks; the flavor is a little thin, but for a summer beer it works well in 90 degrees and humid; In fact, given the thin flavor, this beer might be one of the few that I might actually recommend an orange wedge - which is an interesting development as many of these "new" weisse beers are developed with the specific intent of being supplemented with fruit as is the popular modern custom.

There is some suggestion that perhaps this beer is intended to be consumed straight from the bottle - hence, the flip-top bottle for easy and solid re-closure. But, more interestingly, that makes it even more like something Capital could shoot for, as it is very definitely a quality "drink from the bottle" beer.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Furthermore Oscura

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I mentioned a few weeks back the unveiling of Furthermore's newest beer, the Oscura. Perhaps it isn't fair for me to review it, to be honest. Its almost like brewer Aran Madden got into my head and picked the two things that I love only slightly less than my fiancee (yes, she reads what I post here occasionally): beer and coffee. It's also like he got into my head and knew exactly what I hate about most coffee beers - they're always so darned heavy and rich that you couldn't drink more than one at a time even if you wanted to (note: let's practice what we learned - they are highly drinkable, but not sessionable). Now, I love Founders' Breakfast Stout, or Beer Geek Breakfast, or Central Waters' Brewhouse Coffee Stout, as much as the next person. But man, "breakfast" is right - you don't need to eat for another 4 hours after drinking one of any of those.

In typical Furthermore style, the beer is a mash-up of styles and ingredients (in this case Mexican and Midwestern) used to create something entirely unique (thankfully, not a Chelada).

First, instead of basing the recipe on a thick, heavy imperial stout, Furthermore's is based on the more lightweight California Common Beer, aka Steam Beer, aka Vapor Beer, that is typical in Mexican amber lagers like Dos Equis and Negra Modela. What does that mean, "California Common" or "steam" or "vapor" beer? Well, most lagers are fermented at cold temperatures, around 40 degrees or so. These beers use lager yeast, bottom-fermenting, but ferment them at warm temperatures - like around 60 degrees or so. Why? Well, California and Mexico are not exactly known for their cold temperatures. But, when German immigrants moved there, in California's case in the mid-late-1800s, in Mexico's case a little later, they brought their brewing traditions with them and a stubborn insistence on using German lager yeasts (for a similar ale stubborness you only have to look at the Baltic porter style, which were originally cold-fermented ales). The result is a beer with characteristics of both lagers, a clean distinct flavor profile, and ales, a slightly fruity/ester-y bite.

Then, on top of this obscure (particularly in the Midwest) brewing style Furthermore added something that is both Mexican and Midwestern: flaked maize - a nod both to Mexico's obsession with corn and its role in brewing to help lighten a beer without losing body.

Then, on top of that, is added some coffee from an all-female coffee cooperative in Nicaraqua courtesy of Madison-based coffee importers Just Coffee.

Our coffee beer is more "iced coffee" than "double-mocha-mud", more "summer quencher" than "winter warmer". ... Whole beans are soaked in the beer during cold maturation - the alcohol extracts and retains aromatics that would otherwise be lost to hot water. You want numbers? Well, numbers you shall have: 15 degrees Plato; 37 IBU's; 5.3% ABV.


Furthermore Oscura

Appearance: a deep saddle-brown and thinly bubbled body underneath a one-finger foamy, crema
Aroma: medium roast coffee; some maltiness comes through; unable to detect any hops in the aroma
Flavor: the coffee is the most obvious, but it retains some beeriness - maybe some lightly roasted vienna malts - perhaps some biscuitiness/breadiness (is that a word?!) comes through long after the finish; a hop presence holds up the coffee bitterness, but also helps to clean up the finish a little
Body: medium body with a long alternatingly coffee/hop/malt finish - not a "soft" beer at all.
Drinkability: If you like coffee, and you like beer - well, you can't go wrong; its body keeps the sessionability high, but it seems that only real coffee nuts would want to drink more than one at a time.
Summary: Personally, I find this to be a fun beer - refreshing and interesting it is definitely a break from the same-old, same-old. Served in a tulip glass, or other formal beer glass, it might make an amusing after-dinner drink - instead of asking "who wants coffee?", you can ask "who wants coffee beer?".

Friday, July 25, 2008

Capital Rustic Ale

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I admit it, I'm befuddled by the moves made by Capital Brewery. What is going on over there is, really, beyond me. I've thought about it. I've talked to others about it. I've tried to talk to them about it.

At the end of the day, I'm left with the idea that Capital is trying to change its image to fit into a more modern concept of what it thinks a craft brewery is supposed to be. But, the truly confusing part about this move is that the people involved have really been going at it so haphazardly. For example, Capital's complete abandonment and dismantling of its German lager roots to "chase the dragon" of craft ales. Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German lagers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based lager (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional lager (Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.

Add to this fascination with ales a sudden "modernization" of the labels. But the labels have not been completely redesigned, just touched up a little to add some new flourishes. They insist on pursuing ridiculous legal action. The beer garden there has turned into complete and utter chaos most nights. I've been on three brewery tours and between tour guides not knowing what they are talking about or Kirby himself just not caring enough to bother answering questions, it's not worth the inexplicable $5 fee. What's so galling is the fact that the new beers have been so damned mediocre. Even old-schoolers seem to agree that there has been an overall decline in production consistency and quality recently.

What we are left with is a brewery that appears to care more about appearances than quality. It is particularly troubling because Capital had such a sterling reputation as a torch-bearer of the true German heritage that is so pervasive here in Wisconsin. Maybe it's jealousy. The other guys get to sit with the cool kids at the IPA lunch table, they get to sip imperial stouts after snowboarding, they get to nosh with Ingrid Synhaeve over a Belgian Tripel. American craft brewing is sexy and exciting. But it's also hyper-competitive, often juvenile, and always fickle.

Being the hot American craft brewery is sort of like being the high school quarterback; it's great for getting laid as a teenager, but the odds of long-term success are remote. On the other hand, being the best traditional brewery is more like being the SuperQuiz master on your high school academic decathalon team; all the jocks kick dirt in your face and laugh until you're the one 20 years later with the phat bankroll and marrying the jock's sister.

Capital Rustic AleCapital Rustic Ale

Appearance: a vigorous pour into a tall wheat glass forms a dense bright white three-finger head atop a crystal clear, bubbly coppery body
Aroma: malty and strangely metallic; no hop aroma; somewhat reminiscent of the aroma of the Capital Oktoberfest
Flavor: Malty? Maybe? There's a very quick flavor of caramel, then its gone leaving the idea of beer in your mouth; the metallic bitterness holds through in the finish as it warms up
Body: thin and hard-watered; somewhat vacuous
Drinkability: I'm just not feeling it, while it would sessionable if you liked it, I'd rather have Fauerbach's amber;
Summary: I like ambers and reds but this one is just not doing anything for me; it's thin with very little flavor; maybe Capital is going for the golf-cart beer drinkers who want a colored beer, but still can't let go of their tasteless macros; maybe that's the whole new strategy of Capital – they've found a market in people that want to drink local beers but don't actually want to let go of their college swill and prohibition-era lagers; this is a legitimate demographic but, it's odd, because New Glarus has managed to target this audience with the Spotted Cow without abandoning quality and flavor; it's the same audience that goes for Gray's and Fauerbach – is that really what Capital is going for?

Two last things: 1) this metallic-i-ness is very common in a lot of recent Capital beers that I've had. I have no idea what causes it, but it is definitely there, it is not pleasant, and it is pervasive across seemingly all of Capital's beers; 2) the website says that this is an "American Amber Ale" and there is no f-ing way this is an American Amber (medium to full bodied, strong caramel maltiness, with high hop flavors).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tyranena Scurvy

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First things first. I totally dropped the ball on getting you folks more information about the Lac Du Flambeau Brewfest going on Saturday, July 26th (that's this weekend for those of you who, like me, walk around in a haze wondering what day it is). So, if you are in Minocqua, or are looking for some good beer, it's only about 3.5 hours due North from Madison, straight up 51. It starts at 1pm, ends at 5pm and only costs $20. It'll give you a great opportunity to taste some of the beers of the Northwoods. Like Thirsty Pagan Brewery from Superior, WI.

And, of course, Tyranena will be there. Possibly with their Scurvy on-hand. The label of this Brewers Gone Wild series item proclaims it to be an India pale ale brewed with orange peel. "An ample ale exploding with luscious, fruity hops and a citrusy blast of orange zest."

Appearance: clear bronze, with a solid one-finger off-white head
Aroma: the first aroma is of hops, then following with the orange which is surprisingly pronounced; almost like smelling orange juice; a scent of candy (caramel malts?) sweetness lingers
Flavor: definitely an IPA; strong hoppy flavor, with citrus and grassy hops; the strong orange-like aroma doesn't really come through in the taste except, seemingly, in the hops - though it would not surprise me that this citrusyness was a result of the orange peel; I can't tell if my mind is playing tricks on me, but every now and then I get a faint, quick, flavor of the off-white rind found on the inside of an orange peel, it's a sharp bitterness that doesn't seem entirely attributable to hops; there is a light touch with the malts
Body: light bodied with a medium mouthfeel, the hops finish the flavors, but leave a lingering bitterness
Drinkability: the hops on this are strong, but it is quite refreshing; a good summer dinner beer for when you've come in from the 90 degree heat, taken a shower, and settled in for dinner in your thankfully air conditioned home.
Summary: Tyranena, of course, makes great IPAs. Really any opportunity to make one is reason enough to buy one, if you ask me. Indeed, four of Tyranena's last ten Brewer's Gone Wild have been IPAs. But I struggle to really get the point of the orange zest. I think it adds quite a bit of "authenticity" to the aroma - where the hoppy citrusiness is never quite "true" to the oranges and grapefruits that are always referenced. Is this something that Rob was playing with as a research for some less-expensive shortcuts to dry-hopping? I mean, he achieves the effect of dry-hopping with cascade hops without actually having to dry-hop with hops - a process that can be very expensive given today's hop shortage.

So, what's the summary? Well. It's a good beer. Heck, they could even move it to a year-round beer, if they wanted. I could see this selling quite well in 22oz bombers all year round. But, as a "special" release - well - it doesn't really seem to have the "special" to it. Maybe it's just because Tyranena is coming off an amazing, exceedingly strong-flavored, run for the Brewers Gone Wild series: the imperial rye porter, the imperial oatmeal coffee bourbon porter, Hop Whore, and Spank Me Baby Barleywine were all fantastic big beers. Nonetheless, I still think you should grab a four-pack of the Scurvy while it's still available, because it is definitely worth drinkin'. Do you need two four-packs? Well. That's a different story.

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Ode To Homebrewing

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I was out of town last weekend and I had this killer post ready to go Friday that was going to go up today. At the last minute I killed it because, well, frankly it was going to generate more drama than I was looking for right now and I had already covered much of it with my post last Wednesday.

If you care, and I'm sure you don't - but it IS semi-relevant - I was at a bachelor party in Memphis, Tennessee over the weekend. Mine, actually. Now, the great thing about Memphis is: a) it's about as hot as Madison in July, so you don't really lose anything weather-wise by going; b) Beale Street serves until 2:30 or 3:00am, and some places until 6:00am; c) Graceland; d) a great scene that serves bachelor parties well, if you get my drift; e) it's much cheaper than Vegas or Miami or any of the other places where people typically hold these things and are of similar quality.

But here's two bad things about Memphis: a) it's a 10-hour drive from Madison, and doesn't often have "special" rate air fare - especially from Madison or Milwaukee; b) there's not much there in the way of craft beer. For a city its size (about 700K people) it doesn't have any major regional or even local breweries. A quick search of BeerAdvocate's handy BeerFly, a "yellow pages" of a given city's beer sites, reveals 4 listings for "brewery, brewpub, or beer bar." FOUR.

So, what's a poor boy to do? Headed to a bachelor party in a city with virtually no chance of quality beer?

Brew your own.

Let me tell you. A 5-gallon corny keg of beer (a little over 2 cases worth of beer) to keep in the hotel room is a really, really good idea. It cost $35 in raw materials and about 4 hours to produce. And for the input, rewarded with a constant supply of good beer that made me forget about the fact that we were staying in a hotel across the street from a Flying Saucer.

For those in Madison, who I've found are not particularly well-traveled to the south, The Flying Saucer is a chain, mostly in the South, that typically has around 300 different bottles and around 50 to 100 taps at any one time. It's a really great beer bar that specializes mostly in regional beers, so there's usually not much in the way of "wow" factor, but it is one of the few places you can get a Harpoon UFO outside of the NorthEast, for example. And, for a region that is severely lacking in quality microbrews, it's a lighthouse in a sea of Yuengling (America's #1 beer in chronology, brewing since 1829).

I took with me a 5-gallon keg chock-full of 4.5% ABV Amber ale goodness that was really more like a light porter. I had steeped too much caramel and roasted malts and got more of that coffee-like roastiness and color than I had anticipated. Plus, the local homebrew store, Wine and Hop Shop, was out of the hops that I typically use for this beer (Centennial and Northern Brewer), so I had to subsitute more mild continental hops (East Kent Goldings and Perle) and, fearing that this would not assuage my hop requirements, at the last minute added a dry-hopping of Cascades for a more complex hop aroma that would hopefully help to lighten the beer up a little bit. It worked and I ended up with a dark-ish amber/not quite brown/almost light-ish porter thing that everyone really seemed to like. It was just the right amount for our between drinking bouts of drinking and never seemed to weigh us down.

If you, the fine readers out there are interested, we will try to bring you more about brewing your own beer - a suprisingly simple, moderately inexpensive, and highly rewarding hobby. Is this something y'all are interested in learning about? Should I track down of the fine folks at Wine and Hop, or call up Marc over at Point Brew Supply?

Please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here's some great homebrewing information sources and blogs:
Wine and Hop Shop (1931 Monroe Street, Madison, WI).
Point Brew Supply (1816 Post Road, Plover, WI).
Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild.
How to Brew Beer - John Palmer.
BrewWiki.
BeerSmith (While not an endoresement of this product, it is my brewing software of choice for its ease of use, scalability, transparency, and price).
Home Brewing Blog by BeerSmith.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fridays During The Tour - Week 3

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OK, last Tour post, I promise. Through the first 12 stages (the riders are on stage 13 today) and after over 50 hours of riding, Aussie Cadel Evans has a 1 second lead over Luxembourgian Frank Schleck and a 38 second lead over American Christian Vandevelde. The Top 12 are all under 5 minutes from the lead. Even without drugs and relatively little external drama, this tour is turning out to be one of the best in recent memory. Heck, I even got my dad, a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes football and baseball kinda guy, hooked on the excitement of the damned thing. And, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin are easily best announcers on television.

So, starting Saturday, the tour heads along the Ligurian Sea, into the Italian Alps, with a stage or two in Italy, then back into the center of the country through the Rhone-Alpes and Auvergne regions.

Bierra BoeroStage 14 and Stage 15 - Through the plains of Nimes and into the Alps on Sunday, there are no breweries until the tour crosses over the Italian border and passes through Frassino. There the tour will pass the B&B La Birra Della Valvaracho where Bierra Boero is brewed. Bierra Boero has been brewing since 2006 and now has 7 beers, ranging from a wheat to a porter and many in between.

Stage 15 ends in Prato Navoso, Italy and Tuesday is a rest day in Cuneo, Italy before trudging back up into the mountains and back into France. The 157 km Stage 16 from Cuneo to Jausiers is bereft of any breweries.

Stage 17 - Embrun to L'Alpe D'Huez - On Wednesday July 23rd the tours engages in a brutal 210 km high mountain stage through the Alps. This one stage features 3 of the most difficult climbs in all of France. The Col du Galibier, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and a finish on the L'Alpe D'Huez promises to make this, literally, a make or break stage. With the distinct possibility of eliminating virutally every sprinter and completely destroying the climbers, if you only watch one stage of the entire tour - this one will be unbelievable. Alpe D'HuezAnd, there's more! What? More! How could you ask for more? Well, consider this a bonus. About 31 km into the ride, just as the peloton will begin break apart on the climb up Col du Galibier, there is a brewery in Briancon called Brasserie Artisanale des Grands Cols. By all accounts it is not a particularly good brewery. But still. It's better than nothing and it should provide carbs needed for the day.

Stage 18 - A foothills stage coming out of the Alps and into Saint-Etienne. About 8.5 miles southwest of Chavanay is an organic brewery called Brasserie du Pilat. Pilat brews 5 blondes, 3 ambers and 3 saisons. This makes the second all-organic brewery that we have seen along the route. Which is interesting to me because I think I can count on one finger the number of all-organic breweries here in the states. Of course, these French breweries are all small-time and I am sure there are plenty of small breweries and brewpubs not named Wolavers that are all-organic that just do not have high availability. But we have also seen a number of breweries that offer a few, if not all, organic beers. Nonetheless, it does help to bring to focus a trend that we here in the states may view simply as a trend, but that the French take very seriously - namely organic and sustainable agriculture. Outside of Paris, France is still very much an agricultural country and to prevent the erosion of that industry, they must make their agriculture sustainable. They simply cannot afford to rape their arable land in the name of industrial agriculture. I think there is an agricultural attitude here in the US that says that we can continue to fertilize and genetically enhance and monoculture our way through. But, I think we are starting to learn that this simply is not sustainable. Erosion reduces arable soil table, fertilizers wreak havoc on the waters, and monoculture requires trucking necessary fertlizers and soil nutrients all across the country in diesel trucks getting 7 MPG, $5/gallon at a time. Thankfully we are starting to see at least the forward-thinking Wisconsin brewing industry doing something about it - whether it is David Anderson's BrewFarm or South Shore Brewery leading a buying group and purchasing Wisconsin-based grain and hops. Hopefully these measures prove that local, sustainable agriculture is the only way to reduce reliance on others, decrease costs, stabilize an economy and ensure quality. Apparently the French already know this.

Anyway. Sorry for the little diatribe there, sometimes I get a little carried away.

Stage 19 - Roanne to Montlucon - this is the last stage that we will cover for the Tour as no beer is along the Stage 20 time trial and Stage 21 in Paris - well, you're probably not in Paris to drink beer. Besides, there is only one brewery that is only kinda sorta along today's route. Just shy of 9 miles south of Commentry is Brasserie des Sagnes in La Crouzille. Brasserie des Sagnes makes two beers. I'll let you guess the style? Think you've figured it out? Did you guess Blonde and Amber? If so, you would be correct. The brewery is not open to the public, though, so you'll just have to settle for finding their beers in local restaurants and bars.

I hope you've enjoyed this trip through France. I had no idea what to expect when I started this, but it is possible to make some general observations. First, French beer is not a big industry, there are very few active discussions or reviews of these beers and with limited exception are not available outside of their immediate areas. Even the major cities are often without major breweries. It is difficult to make any pronouncement as to quality - while some reviews haven't been particularly favorable, few have been atrocious and there simply isn't a very big sample size. Most of these breweries appear to very local, so the extent that these breweries are putting out "table beer" is it really fair to judge them on any particular set of criteria other than "not bad" or "would spoil your meal"?

And second, French beer, or at least much of it, attempts to duplicate the sustainable agriculture of the renowned French wine industry. For this reason few of them would even be capable of growing large enough for inter-national distribution channels.

In any event. I hope you've enjoyed this brewery tour of the Tour. Au revoir.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

News From, you know, Around

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InBev purchases Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis headquarters will become North American headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev. All breweries will stay open. For now. Of course, InBev is famous for slashing payroll and cutting jobs while niche-i-fying every brand. Unfortunately, by sheer fact of being bought out by a global monolith Anheuser Busch loses its niche-defining quality - namely that it is an American beer. Others anxiously wonder what will happen with A-B's marketing team. The buy-out leaves Pabst and Sam Adams to fight over banalities that make each uniquely qualified to lay claim to America's #1 Brewery.

MillerCoors to split baby. A few months back Miller Brewing Company (owned by SABMiller) and Coors agreed to join forces under the US entity MillerCoors. Of course, much blood was spilled debating where the world headquarters of this beast would be. Coors aficiandos argued that Golden, Colorado was the only place that made sense. Miller freaks pointed out that Milwaukee was better suited. Well, the board of MillerCoors has decided that Chicago is the place. The Milwaukee and Golden offices will remain, but administrative positions will be replaced by increased brewing jobs as the breweries in each city will re-tool slightly to brew each other's beer.

Unsurpisingly China produces the most beer. In other news: water is wet. China has 1.321 billion people - good for 20% of the world population. Well, it turns out, China produces 22% of the world's beer. Not surprising given the cost of labor there makes manufacturing less expensive than in Europe or the US. The top four beer producing nations are China, US, Russia and Germany (in that order).

Finally, back in May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that bars can do what the state or municipalities ask them to, even if the bars aren't specifically told to do it. The basic gist was that, based on concerns about drink specials on Friday or Saturday nights contributing to binge drinking in bars near the UW-Madison campus, the state of Wisconsin and city of Madison made it known that may, you know, if ya want, you can stop doing that. No laws. No regulations. Just a vague hint. So, in a move that surprised no one, all of the bars simultaneously got rid of their drink specials. Of course, sensing some collusion, some helpful residents sued the bars for acting anti-competitively. Well, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said, these bars are actually exempt from antitrust liability because the city of Madison said "pretty please" which basically coerced the bars into banding together to screw the customer and do nothing to actually stop binge drinking.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Glarus Berliner Weisse

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A few breweries have some new beers out, so over the next few weeks or so we'll actually do some reviews here. What!? Crazy. I know. But, honest-to-goodness reviews. First on the list is the New Glarus Berliner Weisse.

The first question you might have is "What the heck is a Berliner Weisse?" Would you be surprised to hear it is a wheat beer from Berlin? No. That probably wouldn't be too surprising.

Would you be surprised to learn that it is on the verge of extinction as a beer style? Would you be surprised to learn that they are routinely supplemented with woodruff, or raspberry syrups? Would you be surprised that it is often the base of a beer cocktail to be combined with sherry or flavored liquors like Kummel.

So, then, what is a berliner weisse? The BJCP classifies the Berliner Weisse as a sour ale in Style 17a and notes that only two traditional breweries remain in production. A berliner weisse should be very pale in color, with active bubbling and carbonation. It will pour a huge foamy, loose head that will disspipate quickly. It will look and act much like champagne. While traditionally served in very large bowled stemware, it could also be served in a champagne flute.

The flavor is what makes the berliner weisse unmistakable. Distantly related to both pilsners and wild fermentation beers such as the Belgian lambic and geuze and the Leipzig-ian Gose, the first tastes are sour and sharp. Like the similar styles, some can be fruitier than others. And, much like the others, it will age very well. The body is very light and effevescent and the under 5% ABV should not be noticeable. It can be blended or unblended with aged and is sometimes made with lactic sugars or yeasts.

There you have it. The technical details on the style of berliner weisse. Its sharp flavors and history make it acceptable to be mixed with anything from pilsners, to liquors, to flavored syrups. Its sophistication and complexity and high carbonation also make it an appropriate celebratory beer (getting married soon? try it for a toast at your rehearsal dinner or even, gasp, your reception). Also, interestingly, it is a great beer to make in the current materials shortage: it is a very low-hopped beer and has a high percentage of wheat (not exactly difficult to get a hold of) in the grain bill.

New Glarus' Unplugged Berliner Weisse is barrel fermented, and aged over Reisling and Pinot Grigio grapes. The neck label reports that it is bottle conditioned with a blend of five yeasts.

New Glarus Berliner Weisse

Appearance: Poured into a tulip glass, the white head came quickly, though a careful pour kept it from growing too large; what head did form fell away quickly. The body is straw colored and highly carbonated with fine bubbling.
Aroma: It immediately smells of grapes with the aroma, almost, of a white wine. Eventually some maltiness comes through and faint yeastiness.
Flavor: sour and intensely tart; the first taste is all sour with a fast finish of grape juice; once you are over the sour and tart, a mellow grainy maltiness is clearly discernible; as it warms up the sourness dissipates some and some sweetness comes through
Body: light bodied, but very soft
Drinkability: a very nice beer that would hold up well to repeated drinking; its flavors prevent sessionability, but is one that I would look forward to have another
Summary: Sour beers are right up my alley (to get the personal biases out of the way), so I was really looking forward to this one; right now, it is a good, unique, summer beer, with an amped up grape-juice-like quenching freshness to it; dissapointingly, unlike the best geuzes and lambics, it seems a bit one-note and further warming or repeated drinking doesn't seem to reveal anything other than sour and grapes and pilsner; the pilsner base seems overwhelmed; the lack of complexity makes me think that this is an unblended, young beer. Knowing its pedigree gives me hope that time will treat this beer very well and in 4 or 5 years from now some (but not all) of the sourness will mellow out and the grapes and grains, already present, will assert themselves.

If some of you out there are brave enough to mix the Berliner Weisse with syrups, liquors or beers, perhaps you would be kind enough to post the results of said tasting here on the site. We have some raspberry syrup and some liquors on the MBR liquor shelf, maybe we'll comment on it sooner or later.

Enjoy it now and stock up for the future!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fridays During the Tour - Week 2

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Well, I'm glad there are some others out there who have the same appreciation I do for the Tour de France.

Now starting its second week, the tour takes a long road through the Pyrenees, but never actually crosses into Spain or the Basque.

Les Freres BrasseursStage 8: Figeac to Toulouse - We now come into a region of France that has a few more breweries. On today's flat stage leading into the Pyrenees, the peloton will pass right by Les Freres Brasseurs in Blaye Les Mines. If you happen to there on July 12, you can watch the tour go by from the pub. Les Freres Brasseurs has two beers, a wheat blonde called "Tarnea", and an amber called "Tolosa." No reviews up on Beer Advocate, but RateBeer is unimpressed (Tolosa, Tarnea).

Once in Toulouse, 300 yards west of the Platz Wilson, and a mere 600 yards from the Stage 8 finish line, is Brasserie Frog & Rosbif, one of a collection of FrogPubs. Timeout here for a minute: FrogPub? The English have invaded France and are taunting them! Apparently the large wooden badger had better success than the rabbit. The Frog & Rosbif is an English pub put smack in the middle of Toulouse, complete with dart competitions, rugby matches, and a full line of English-style beers with generally favorable reviews (RB. BA.). The Ginger Twist sounds like something straight from Leinenkugel's: "What happens when you reduce the hop content & make up the difference with ginger, lemon & lime? A deliciously-refreshing cold amber beer with a fizzy twist!"

Stage 9: Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre - the first of the true mountain stages, the chain-microbrewery theme continues about 5 miles to the Southwest of Toulouse in Labege with Les Trois Brasseurs. Rumor has it that there is a brewery along the way, in Borderes Louron, but there seems to be no information about it. Ah well. On to stage 10.

Brasserie Pression PaoloiseStage 10: Pau to Hautacam - Today is the shortest non-time-trial journey, a mere 156 km (about 97 miles) that features the brutal 17km (10.5 miles) climb of the 7.4% Col du Tourmalet and a 7.2% uphill finish. The good news is they are off tomorrow; the bad news is there is no beer along the way.

However, the off day, Tuesday, is back in Pau. Perhaps with the off day, folks might want to head three miles away to Lescar, to Brasserie Pression Paloise. For a mere 20 Euro (about $31), you can get a 5L "growler" of the blonde, blanche, or ambree; 30 Euro (about $46) you can get a 5L "growler" of the Speciale Blonde, brewed with honey and green apple liquor.

Stage 11: Lannemezan to Foix - This nice day back runs right past Brasserie Artisnale d'Ariege Pyrenees. Ariege-Pyrenees makes four beers: a blonde ("La Brouche"), an amber ("carabell"), a blanche ("Plume"), and a brown ("Magie Brune"). All of which are un-pasteurized and unfiltered.

Of course, these last few breweries, which appear to be pretty decent breweries, present one of the problems of the French beer: none of it is available here. There's the infamously bad Kronenbourg 1664, made in Strasbourg, that isn't exactly making people clamor for biere francois.

A few of the French microbrewies are managing to make it into the country, but availability is very low. Stellar foreign microbrewery importers Shelton Brothers have managed to find a few French breweries to bring into the country. But these breweries are all along the Belgian border, where, unfortunately, the Tour will not be going this year. Tops among these are La Choulette, Duyck (the "Jenlain" beers), and my favorite, Thiriez. La Choulette and Thiriez have decent availability here in Madison, though only a few of the styles, so ask around for them. Jenlain's Noel was on-tap at Maduro back around Christmas, but I haven't seen any of it in bottles or on tap since.

Stages 12 & 13: Lavelanet to Narbonne to Nimes - two long flat stages that get the riders out of the Pyrenees and along the French coast of the Ligurian Sea between its border with Spain and its border with Italy. There are two breweries along both of these stages, both of which are in Stage 13, the first (Brasserie du Pays D'Oc) at about the halfway point and the second ("Micro Brasserie Pilote Viti R&D") shortly before the finish. Taking the second of these two first, it is a research brewery of plant genetics company Stapht and its beers are not available commercially. As for the first, all (both) of the beers available as Pays D'Oc are 100% organic; all are bottle-conditioned, unpasteurized, and unfiltered. They specialize in two styles: the French bier de garde, and the Belgian saison.

So, that's it for week two of the tour. Next week we'll finish it off with some breweries along the Italian border in the Alps and finishing at the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Drinkability

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I kind of forget that sometimes, maybe, not all of you know what I'm talking about. Well, quite frankly, I think that occurs more frequently that what I might suspect as I often get puzzled looks wherever I go. But, how I mean it in this context is, that I think I throw around words and assume that everyone ascribes the same definition to those words as I do. I think I do a pretty good job of providing definitions if I get too esoteric and I try to avoid industry slang. But sometimes I don't even realize that something is industry slang, or that I ascribe a definition to something that not everyone would agree with.

To wit: Drinkability

A few weeks back, I was at a bar in Boston with an old friend of mine and I mentioned that a particular beer has great "drinkability." And my friend, a PHD candidate in philosophy, so a questioner by nature, asked me to define what I meant by "drinkability." I asked him to be more specific about what he meant by what I "meant." What does mean to "mean" something? Yeah. We'd had a couple and it's sometimes fun to mess with philophers. So, I told him my definition of "drinkability."

I had forgotten about this conversation, and didn't really think much of it at the time, until I read this recent article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Stevens Point Brewery.
"Our goal is to have someone drink our beer and say, 'That was great. I'll have another,' " Martino [one of the owners of Stevens Point Brewery] said.

That statement might seem like a no-brainer. But there are brewers that target customers who prefer beers that tend to be less "drinkable," a term used by brewers that refers to how full a person feels after drinking a beer. For example, Miller Lite is considered more drinkable than Guinness Irish Stout.
I found this paragraph interesting for two reasons: first, the implied disdain for beers that aren't, using this person's definition of "drinkable", drinkable; and second, the rather curious definition of "drinkable" which isn't at all what I mean when I say something is "drinkable."

Without knowing any better, I'd say this definition came from the owners of Point Brewery, who do make beers that you can drink a lot of. They have every incentive to confuse the precise "industry" definition of "drinkable" with the more general laymen's reference to "drinkability."

But this particular usage of the term "drinkable", the ability to drink multiple beers in one sitting, or the "fullness" of the beer, provides the definition for a different word in the brewing industry: sessionable. If something is "sessionable", or something is a "session beer", then it is said that one can drink many of them in one drinking session. A session beer is one that does not make you feel full, typically low-alcohol (4-5% ABV), and generally "lighter" in flavor - like something that Point Brewery makes.

When beers are reviewed on this site, one of the criteria we use in reviewing the beer is "Drinkability." We do not mean it in the "makes you feel full" sense of the word. In other words, we don't mean "sessionable." For this, we will either say that a particular beer would make a good "session beer" in the summary comments, or it will be implied from the aggregation of other categories. For example, we might say that the beer has a light or medium-light body or mouthfeel (body is another category for review). We might say it has a low alcohol content. And we might say that it has good drinkability.

In the context of this website, and in the context that I understand others in the brewing industry to use the term "drinkable", I mean the "desire to have another." Period. No implied time frame. I don't necessarily mean immediately. No reference to body. It is not necessarily a light beer. Just plain ol' "would I drink another one." Nor is it a quality judgment; there are many great beers that I would not to drink repeatedly.

Take, for example, two beers that we've reviewed on this site: the New Holland Existential Ale, and the Three Floyds Fantabulous Resplendence. Both of these beers are great beers, I really enjoyed them, but they have low drinkability ratings (despite being medium-bodied). But, at least for me, they are beers that serve a specific time and place. Thus, drinkability is low. I wouldn't want another one. I enjoyed them, but I don't need a second any time soon. Brewers typically recognize this, and these beers are generally limited edition or annual releases.

On the other hand, are beers like Bear Republic's Big Bear Black Stout. A highly drinkable beer, despite being a full-bodied stout. I wouldn't want to drink more than one at a time. For one thing it comes in 22oz bottles; for another, it is a big heavy, high alcohol, stout. It is not a "session" beer. But it has a great drinkability - I could drink one of them everyday until the cows come home.

Thus, with this definition of "drinkable", it is curious to me to say Miller Lite has high drinkabilty, and Guiness has low drinkability. Because, quite frankly, while I could drink more Miller Lites in one session, I'd rather drink the Guiness. So, for me at least, the exact opposite result is the case - Guiness is highly drinkable, Miller Lite, not so much. But, what's even more interesting, is that Martino's comment falls squarely within my definition, provided you are willing to accept "just not right now" as a caveat.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Another New Brewery - O'So Brewing Company

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OSo Brewing CompanyIn the last few years alone a number of new breweries have opened in the state of Wisconsin: Furthermore, Rush River, Ale Asylum, Silver Creek, and BluCreek; going back into even the late 90s is Pearl Street, Viking, The Great Dane, Milwaukee Ale House and Central Waters. Add to that the stalwarts of Lakefront, Capital, New Glarus, Sprecher, and Grays. Not to mention the plethora of other small breweries spread throughout the state such as Calumet, Titletown, South Shore, et al. Well, you can add one more to the list: O'So Brewing Company in Plover, just south of Stevens Point.

If you're looking for short day trip, the grand opening for O'So is July 19 at the brewery in Plover; you can also hit Stevens Point Brewery in Stevens Point and Central Waters' Brewery in nearby Amherst.

Owned by Marc Buttera, owner of Point Brew Supply, and Bart Peterson, a quality control engineer by day. Marc handles the brewing and agreed to answer some questions.

Marc Buttera: I am originally from Kenosha, and headed to Stevens Point at age 19 to go to a tech school and get away from the craziness in my life at that time. My neighbor was the President of the local brewclub. He turned me on to the art of brewing and the rest is history.

Madison Beer Review: What is some of that history?

MB: I was a homebrewer for 13 years prior to opening O’so Brewing Co. My first beer was a Barley Wine, imagine that! My wife and I opened Point Brew Supply five years ago, and that exposure and immersion into all the ingredients helped me to learn very quickly. I studied everything from Fix to DeClerk, Noonan to Palmer in hopes of answering customers' questions about homebrewing. I am truly a geek at heart.

MBR: Given the self-imposed "geek" label and Bart's implied geek-i-tude (he is a quality control engineer), do you take a particularly anaytical approach to the brewing process?

MB: Our processes are tightly watched and regimented; documented almost to a fault. All of the information that we gather helps us to troubleshoot problems as they arise. We do this because of a strong concern for consistency from batch to batch. I would love to bring some PLC control into our brewhouse to make some of our jobs easier, but other things are more pressing at this time. [ed note: PLC is "programmable logic controls" - these are the computerized systems that can help automate the brewing process to reduce human error points] But, I also understand that Art plays a major role in the creation of unique beers.

Discover the art of freestyle brewingMBR: Your slogan is "Discover the art of freestyle brewing", can you talk about what that means to you and how you implement that?

MB: Primarily I think it means to live and experiment through the beer. At Point Brew Supply, If I want to try something, I might tell the customer, “Hey, you wanna try this and see how it turns out?” Most of the time, they would agree to it. Basically, just trying to be creative at all times. We have yet to bring wild yeast into the brewery, but we plan on doing a series of beers called the Microbe Series. Corked and caged, and bottle conditioned would be fun. I had mentioned in the past about a pepper beer, that one is going to take some R&D. South Shore Brewing does some cool spicing that is inspiring. We just try to have fun. Make sure people have a good experience drinking our beer. Stick to the fundamentals and stay creative.

MBR: So, what styles do you produce?

MB: We have brewed about 13 beers to date. Our 5 main beers are year round (Big O, Hopdinger, Rusty Red, Night Train, Duzy Piwo). I really have a soft spot for Belgians so I hope to always have some Belgian-thing in the works. Just brewed a Belgian Saison for our Grand Opening on the 19th of July. 90 degree ferments are fun!!

MBR: It seems like Central Wisconsin is the place to be for beer these days, how is your relationship with the other breweries there?

MB: Very good, everybody is in this thing together. There are 6 breweries/brewpubs within 50 miles of each other. The competition brings out the best in people. Everybody has to get along! Central Wisconsin will soon be discovered.

MBR: How do you see O'So fitting in with that community?

MB: O'so fits in because we mud the style lines, in my opinion. We would like to cater to the people who want something unique. I am sure every brewery has a different reason for getting into the business (money is probably not one of them), but ours is to open peoples' eyes. The common goal in this area is good beer. If everyone makes good beer in this area, it is a selling point just to be associated with the area. Duzy Piwo is one of our flagship beers that means "Big beer" in Polish. This community has a huge Polish population. We want to embrace that.

MBR: Last question, how can people get your beer?

MB: Right now, we distribute in Central Wisconsin exclusively. Though, we do have plans to branch out in the near future. We are currently self-distributing. We can't afford the hit off the top and frankly, we are afraid that we will lose some of our personal touch with our accounts if we go to a distributor. I guess every brewery faces the decision at some point.

MBR: Thank you Marc!

And, if you don't live in Central Wisconsin and can't make it to their grand opening on the 19th, O'So has a very busy summer running around the state pouring at festivals and tastings.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fridays During The Tour

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Hopefully you find this cool rather than irritating.

Starting July 5th until July 27th, the Tour de France is going on. A grueling three week race where the drama is often more exciting than the race itself. Heck, just in the weeks running up to the Tour one of the top racers in the world, Tom Boonen, was banned from participating because he tested positive for cocaine and Floyd Landis' 2006 victory was officially stripped for use of performance enhancing drugs. You can witness the excitement on Versus where, amazingly, the announcers make 4 hours of riding a bike seem really, really interesting.

So, how is this relevant? Well, France's wine industry gets all the glory, but the brewing industry is less well-recognized. For the next three weeks then, to bring some attention to all of the interesting beers in France, we will be highlighting breweries along the race route. Each Friday we will lay out the stages for the coming week and point out the breweries along the way. We will also try to point out some of the more interesting styles and bring some of the bigger names in French brewing to you.

Here are some Google Earth files that you may find useful for following along: BeerMe, Tour de France.

Without further ado:

La Taverne Saint MartinStage 1: Brest to Plumelec - only one brewery along the way for this first stage. Le Taverne Saint Martin has an abbey bier as their house specialty, along with an amber, a blonde, and a blanche (basically, an unspiced wit). These choices highlight a typical brasserie beer focus in France - drinkability. Other than the abbey, these are probably high carbonated and tend towards the sweet; as the breweries get closer to Belgium, some of the farmhouse funk (bier de garde, which we'll talk about later) and sourness becomes more typical.

Stage 2: Auray to Saint-Brieuc - no major breweries in either the start or the finish, though they do pass by the Brasserie Celtik in Cleguerec, a few miles outside of Neulliac, about half-way through the stage. Brasserie Celtik, a bottling brewery, also has a blonde, a blanche, and an ambree.

Stage 3: St Malo to Nantes - While the early part of the stage is bereft of beer, Nantes and the surrounding area has four. The tour will pass right by Brasserie Nantaise, a quality bottling brewery with an ambree and a blonde. Les Trois Brasseurs is a bottling brewpub in nearby St Sebastien sur Loire. As I'm sure you've been able to guess, they have an ambree, a blonde, and a blanche; they also have a scotch ale. Les Trois Brasseurs has not fared well on RateBeer, but at least it's beer!

Cholet, FranceStage 4: Cholet Time Trial - Nothing in Cholet, though Brasserie Melusine is about nine miles south in Chambretaud.

Stage 5: Cholet to Chateauroux - Like we said, France is known more for its wine than for its beer for a reason. Again, no breweries along the way, though Brasserie de la Lande is about 10 miles south of Chateauroux in Jeu les Bois between the finish of stage 5 and the start of stage 6.

Stage 6: Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy - Again, nothing directly on the route, though Ferme Brasserie des Collines is about 7 miles East of Ladapeyre (mid-point of the first two sprint points).

Stage 7: Briode to Aurillac - A short hilly stage that has no breweries along the way. Enjoy the scenery; hope you grabbed some beer to tie you over until Saturday (stage 8) where there are 4 breweries along the route through the flatlands of South-Western France leading into the Pyrnees.

Hope you've enjoyed this little feature. We'll see you next Friday when we look at the breweries in the Basque region and along the France-Spain border in the Pyrnees

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Breaking News - Angelic Brewery Officially Closed

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While it seemed inevitable since the falling out between the brewers (Dean Coffey and Chris Riphenburg who went on to found Ale Asylum) and management of the Angelic, the axe has finally fallen.

Staff got the call today to lock the doors and not bother reporting tomorrow.

We'll know more in the coming days, but just thought you'd want to know.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Furthermore’s Got a New Beer

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Last year's Makeweight was a pretty good success for Furthermore, a moderately hopped Belgian Pale Ale, it further laid on the table the modus operandi for what is quietly becoming one of the more innovative breweries in the state.

Earlier this year, we learned of head brewer Aran Madden's strange predilection for the Bud Chelada, an allegedly Mexican-influenced beer that we just can not get with. But, that's not to say the fine folks south of the border have nothing to add to the beer conversation. Indeed, it seems like everywhere we turn everyone is jumping on the Mexican beer bandwagon. But, it's a fine line to toe. On one side of the line, is Dos Equis, a fine Mexican vienna-style lager. On the other side, is Bud's disaster of Land Shark Lager, which seems to have, as they say, jumped the shark. Indeed, many of the original Mexican lagers have a unique brewing history that perhaps accounts for some of the discrepancy, that certain je ne sais pas, that prevents many of the Mexican clones from tasting "right."

While Anchor claims that the "steam" beer was invented by them, and maybe it was, the Mexicans have been warm-fermenting lagers for quite some time. Typically, lagers are cold fermented around 40 to 45 degrees or so; it's partly what gives them that "clean", non-ester-y, taste. However, some lagers can be warm-fermented, set in temperatures closer to 62 degrees or so. While they are still bottom-fermenting, they take on some of, but all of, the warm fruitiness typically found in ales.

This Mexican-style, warm fermented lager, is what brewer Aran Madden has made - A brown warm-fermented lager in the Dos Equis and Negra Modela tradition. Light and mildly caramel with a medium body, a beer with more flavor and oomph than the paler versions typically served with a lime in the bottle.


Furthermore Beer - Oscura

But, as with everything bearing the Furthermore name, there's a twist. And that twist comes in the form of coffee grown by an all-female grower's co-op in Nicaragua and sold by Just Coffee. I'll let Aran tell you about it:

This coffee beer is more "iced coffee" than "double-mocha-mud". I started with a brown Mexican lager to compliment the coffee of choice, Nicaragua, from La Fem Co-op, roasted by Just Coffee of Madison. Flaked maize was added for creaminess, and to appease the sun gods. An extra-warm fermentation lets the yeast create more interesting flavors (the California-common effect, or Vapor Beer, if you speak Beer-Spanglish). Bitterness was increased as a counter point to the sweet flavor of un-brewed coffee--whole beans are soaked in the beer during cold maturation. The alcohol extracts and retains aromatics that would otherwise be lost to hot water. My hat is off to Just Coffee, whose product (and presence) warranted a new approach to coffee beer.

Ed Note: laying corn-products at the feet of the gods is an effective form of sacrifice. In a drunken rage over the ferocity of the wind, I once participated in the sacrifice of Tostitos to the wind gods. It worked.

This beer, dubbed Oscura, was unveiled last Saturday at Furthermore's Second Annual Sh*##y Barn Party out in Spring Green. It was a firm beer that steps aside and lets the coffee be the star. While most other "coffee beers" are stouts or heavier beers meant to use the coffee to aid in drawing out the roasted malt notes of the beer, in this case, the beer is a vehicle for bringing the aromas and flavors of the coffee to you. I didn't detect much of the alluded to creaminess, but that may have been due more to the shock of the coffee flavors and the less-than-ideal formal tasting conditions than anything else.

You will be able to find out for yourselves sometime in mid-July as Furthermore expects the Oscura to hit stores sometime between July 10 and July 17.

Oscura literally means "dark" in Spanish. Of course, the name immediately evokes the Camera Obscura, a large dark room with a single pinhole that served as a camera in the early days of photography, until you recall that there is no "b" on Furthermore's label. Other references to Oscura are found throughout Latin American literature and film, including the poem La Noche Oscura ("The Dark Night of the Soul") by renowned Spanish poet San Juan de la Cruz and written in the mid-late 1500s. According to Wikipedia: "[La Noche Oscura is] widely considered to be among the best poems ever written in Spanish. … Dark Night of the Soul (from which the spiritual term Dark Night of the Soul takes its name) narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. It happens during the night, which represents the hardships and difficulties she meets in detachment from the world and reaching the light of the union with the Creator. There are several steps in this night, which are related in successive stanzas. The main idea of the poem can be seen as the painful experience that people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God."

So, Furthermore. Think your beer lives up to that?