Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but the podcast is up.

On part one of this weeks podcast we discuss Scottish brewery Brewdog's attempt at making an "authentic" India Pale Ale by putting their beer in casks on a boat. Then part one of our spontaneous stout tasting, where Kyle and I are blind and Jon is not. In this segment we taste Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, New Glarus Coffee Stout, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout and Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout. Stay tuned for the rest of the tasting in part two.

Here's the mp3.


Monday, March 30, 2009

A Pet Peeve

Come see our huge tap selection!!!!! Oh Yeah? The five Bud taps, the Four Leinie's taps, Becks, Heineken, Harp, Blue Moon, Guinness, Three Miller Taps and the obligatory Bells? Labatt's AND Molson? Great. Fan-f-ing-tastic. You have 21 beers on tap. Great. 20 tasteless, functionally identical beers made by faceless corporate marketeers with an army of distributrons that loyally do your bidding based on whichever beer is receiving the heavy marketing push this week.

And Bells.

What's with that? Why is Bells always the obligatory throw to craft beer? Yeah, there's almost always Spotted Cow, but that's hardly a comfort. It's like pointing out that Capital Amber is on tap. It's OK, but surely we can do better. And Bells. Why, if you are going to give a tap line to a craft, would you give your one tap to Bells? Look, I have no problem with Bells. Really. But we have a gazillion breweries from Wisconsin that would be far better: Central Waters, Tyranena, Lakefront, Furthermore, etc etc etc. All of which are distributed by the same distributors that are already controlling the tap lines.

And, there is the problem. It's not the bar that even controls the taps; it's the distributors. The distributors provide tap handles, line cleaning services, and other pseudo-freebies and in return the bar lets the distributor decide what goes on tap. Thus, we end up with tap lines that are identical; we end up with what the distributor wants you to drink. We end up with whatever the nameless, faceless, marketeers who have significant stakes in the distributors want us to have. With this power, the distributors are uniquely positioned to really make a difference and push quality beer. Yet, oddly, they choose not to. I've spoken to many distributors - they aren't bad people, many of them are extremely knowledgeable and they love good, craft beer. So, why don't they put it on tap when the ability to do so?

And when they do throw a bone, why Bells? Why not Stone? Or Great Lakes? Or Goose Island? Or Summit? Or any number of other large-ish, regional, popular breweries? For some reason it's always Bells. Anyone care to guess why?

By the way. Has anyone else noticed that all of the sudden Leinie's is everywhere? It seems like Miller is ramping it up something fierce. I suspect that Miller is even pulling their own Miller brands (e.g., MGD, Miller Lite, 64, etc.) for Leinie's brands. I'll leave alone for now some things that were actually spoken by a Leinie's rep, because I want to talk about them much, much more in the near future. (I'll give you a hint: 1) "There's no such thing as bad beer"; 2) "If you think about isn't every beer a 'craft' beer"?) But has anyone else notice the new flood of Leinie's brands? Or is it just me?

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Follow-Up On Pricing

On Wednesday I was sent an email by a Brewer who chooses to remain Anonymous, but it is very definitely pertinent to the conversation re: Pricing. I'll leave it (more or less) unedited:
CoGS for a case of our line-priced beer is $14.00. That cost includes labor, ingredients, glass & crown, packaging & shipping.

[ed note: two notes: 1) "line priced": all of the different "lines" or brands of beer are all priced the same - think of it as a "default price" - not everyone does this, but most do just because it's too weird for the consumers to have one brand from a brewery at one price and another similar (non-season/special) brand at a different price, plus it's hard for retailers to keep track of; and, 2) strictly, labor isn't considered COGS, but, as you'll see this isn't a conversation between accountants, it's just to give round numbers and it doesn't include all labor, just some of the brewery employees; 2a) for you non-business folks - "COGS" is "Cost of Goods Sold" and is basically the material costs of getting the product to a finished point - it does not typically include incidentals to sale like R&D, advertising, shipping, etc.]

We sell a case to the distributor for $20.25. Our margin is 30%.

Our distributor sells a case to the retailer for $29.00. Their margin is 30%, and is generally the same across the board.

[ed note: even aside from this particular brewery, markup from distributor to retail is pretty universal at 30%]

The retailer sells a case for $36.00 (assuming $8.99/six-pack on the shelf). Their margin is 25%. Sometimes, depending on whether or not they are competing on price or trying to get maximum dollar, you will see upwards of $9.49/six-pack or downwards of $8.49/six-pack, but 8.99 is a good bet.

So, we have $6.25/case with which to buy trucks, coolers, forklifts, computers, advertising and promotional items. With which to repair broken things. With which to conduct research and to develop new products. With which to buy gas, hotels and meals to participate in festivals and beer dinners. With which to turn on the lights, pay our rent, heat the building and make phone calls. WIth which to secure property for future growth. With which to pay for professional services like graphic design, law and accounting. With which to pay ourselves a very modest stipend (think "working check-out at the gas station part-time"). And so on.

As CoGS increases, so will the price of our, and everyone else's beer. Because we live in the margins. This is not a "woe-is-us" proclamation, but rather fair warning that the ten-dollar six-pack is right around the corner.

So, there you have it. With price increases in raw materials, do not be surprised to see $10 six-packs soon. It's hurting the bigger folks too. I'll talk about this more soon (either later today or Monday) but Leinie's put a hold on the well-received Big Eddy series purely because of raw material costs and availability.

Given all of this, I don't know why anyone who was just starting up would build their own brewery from day one - the numbers are just too risky and there's just too much slack in the current system that can be purchased for less than a mashtun and fermenter. It also creates a spiral whereby there's this constant need to grow, even if you can't maintain it sustainably, just to meet numbers/loans/equity expectations. Of course, the catch is that the more you grow, the faster you outgrow what you're already paying for and need to get additional loans for expansion, which adds to the loan requirements, which requires more growth, and round and round it goes.

Of course, numbers are different for brewpubs, but that should put some perspective on the $9 six-pack.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

n part two of this weeks podcast, we continue our discussion with the folks from Brocach Irish Pub, talking about stout and St.Patrick's Day.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tasting Notes: Furthermore Thermo Refur

For those who didn't really think much about it, "Thermo Refur" is an anagram of "Furthermore." When I talked to Chris about this beer back at their release party in January, I asked what pricing was going to look like and he said that because of the limited quantities they wanted to sell it in single bottles at the price as a "broken down" six-pack of Makeweight, which goes for about $12 for a six. (wow! that was a long sentence)

Price aside, I've finally gotten a chance to grab this thing in bottles and taste it a more suitable environment. Yes, it's true, a crowded, dim, bar with loud music and plastic cups is not the ideal opportunity for critical analysis.

So, here we go. The bottle tells me 55 degrees in a snifter. So, that's what I did. Although a note about the bottle - there's a slight "ridge" near the top of the bottle that looks like the bottle is broken - I don't think it is, but it certainly looks like it is cracked and it is definitely weak (to be fair: I bought 3 of them and this is the only bottle with this defect, but still ...)

a bright and sour aroma that smells like an open bag of hop pellets hits the nose even as it is pouring; a slight rubbery smell and a hint of roastiness finishes the aroma; the hazy, brownish-reddish body shows little carbonation though a nice aggressive foamy head formed on top; with as much "other stuff" as is in this thing - e.g., red beets and black pepper - the malt profile is pretty upfront and the hops are fairly restrained; although after that initial malt hit, the red beet flavors come through; I gotta say, I'm not a huge fan of red beets and these, together with the brett, lend some pretty funky, earthy, astringent flavors on the back of the palate; the black pepper helps to clean up the finish, but the beets and funk overpowers the finish

I will admit, as the beer warms up and you get to the bottom of the snifter, the brett character becomes more charming than abrasive and gives this beer a pensive dubbel-cum-trappist-esque quality

I can't help thinking that barrel aging would do wonders for this beer; oak barrels would be cool; whiskey barrels on a very light blend would be pretty interesting; a wine barrel might be pushing it a little

How Much Do You Pay?

I think the official internet rules are "If three people discuss a topic based on the same thing it's officially a meme." So, with my $.015 on the issue, this makes beer pricing officially a meme for the week. Tag, you're it.

Jeff Alworth wrote about Stan Heironymus's post that made note of a non-beer forum discussion about the price of a six-pack of Half Acre beer in Chicago.

And it made me realize that I've come kind of far, for better or for worse, from when I first started this site a year and a half ago. I told myself I would "tell it like it is" and "speak from a consumer's perspective" and I would "keep it real" and be the "voice of reason." And somewhere along the way that was, to quote my father, "thrown out the window."

I guess what I'm saying is that I think once upon a time, maybe even as recently as a year and a half ago, I would have raised bloody hell if I had to pay a whole $9 for a six-pack of beer. Not special beer mind you. But regular-old-beer from the small, unproven brewery down the street.

Like Stan and Jeff noted, I suspect that the average reader of this site, like the readers of their sites, don't really think twice about spending $9 for a six pack. Heck, as I'm writing this, I'm sipping on a ThermoRefur that I spent $2 on a single 12 oz bottle of.

So, without going into my own opinions and buying habits on this, how much is too much for a six-pack of your regular-old-everyday beer?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On this weeks podcast we get to our series on Stouts by interviewing the owner and bar manager at the restaurant that probably puts more pints of stout into people's bellies than any other in Madison, Brocach Irish Pub on capital square. In part one we talk about the roots of Brocach, what makes it special, the importance of clean beer lines, and the Madison beer culture.
Stay tuned for part two on Thursday where we talk about how they handle the crowds on St. Patrick's Day.

the mp3

Monday, March 23, 2009

BeerWars - The Movie

With a title that make me think more of SpaceBalls than of a full-fledged documentary about brewing and the craft beer industry and culture and consumerism around beer, I was hesitant to write about it. The mass push and blitz of advertising put me off even more. My ennui wasn't helped by the fact that there are only two theaters in all of Wisconsin showing this movie in its initial run: one in Kenosha, and one in Appleton.

But, it's an important movie with a goal of education and shedding light on the back-room politics driving which beers end up on our grocery and liquor store shelves. But, I agree with Andy Crouch:
It’s an anachronistic exercise to continue to view the beer industry through the prism of us versus them, small versus big. Case in point: ask any craft brewer you know about their access to market concerns five years ago compared to today. It’s the difference between having trouble getting a space on a big brewer’s truck versus finding enough time to return all of the new distributor inquiries from around the country. Access to market is no longer the looming problem. Deciding which markets to turn down and how to keep fresh product on the shelves are the problems today.
It's simply not a fight that's particularly relevant. The purchase Budweiser by InBev has created a giant sucking sound in the gut of American brewing. Combined with the layoffs of all of the big breweries around the country, there is a glut of knowledgeable industry folks with nothing but time and a severance package. And distributors are getting increasingly antsy about the relationships with Bud and other big breweries who are looking to cut costs by extending payment schedules out to 120 days.

So the industry is ripe for a hot, trendy product to pick up some of the growth troubles at the larger breweries. The problems for breweries today, unlike in the past, is less in finding a distributor, but in picking which distributor. Which isn't to say there isn't a fight on. The large breweries are not going to give up the fight. And with Sam Adams creeping over 2 million barrels of production, and thus out of the definition of "craft brewery", there could start to be some fighting within the craft brewing ranks. The Brewers Association impending war over consumers will certainly lead some tension between the mass of small breweries and those that led the fight like Leinenkugels and Red Hook and Goose Island but who are now owned, at least in part, by corporate overlords like Anheuser-Busch and Miller. Not to mention the rapidly growing ranks of Sam Adams and Great Lakes and Magic Hat that are now so large that it's hard to find a meaning basis of differentiation between them and those that are owned by the corporate behemoths.

So, the story is likely to become much more nuanced even by the end of 2009. And while BeerWars certainly sets the stage, it's about a fight that is mostly over. But its fundamental message "about keeping your integrity (and your family’s home) in the face of temptation" remains spot on.

Now, if a theater in Madison, Milwaukee or La Crosse would like to pick this thing up...maybe I can get a bit more excited about it?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Site Is Ready To Go

Welcome to the New and Improved Madison Beer Review (though still the same writer). Hopefully, you'll find the site easier to read, a little less cluttered and a little easier to use. You'll notice two things that will be of the utmost help - the first is the new menu system. It is populated with popular beer bars, restaurants, breweries, brewpubs and homebrew shops. If your bar, restaurant, etc. is not listed, please contact me and I'll vet it to add it. I've also added some local blogs and reading and some other fun beer-related blogs. You'll also find some useful resources.

Second, check out the label cloud below the archive. The bigger the words, the more posts that appear under that label. It's an easy and fun way to cruise through the archives.

If you are interested in advertising with MBR, you can either go to http://www.projectwonderful.com/ and sign up and find us, or you can email me, and I'll send you some advertising information.


Sorry For The Outages

Trying a new website design, so the site may change from time to time and/or go in and out of service. Please be patient.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cooking With Beer - Waterzooi

We finish the week of cooking out of Lucy Saunders' The Best of American Beer & Food with a traditional Flemish dish called "Waterzooi". The recipe comes from Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef. It is a watery chicken stew of sorts that uses seasonal vegetables - in this case, winter seasonal vegetables of carrots, onion, fennel, leeks, celery, and potatoes. It also calls for a Belgian Tripel or strong golden ale. I have in my notes that I wanted to use Furthermore's Makeweight, but since I had a bottle lying around of Ale Asylum's Mercy, I used that instead.

This is another great meal that takes a little bit of preparation, a lot of waiting, and nets a whole ton of food for a pretty decent price - especially if you use vegetables that you happen to have lying around. You could easily substitute other vegetables like parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, squash, eggplant - whatever you happen to have on hand. And while it calls specifically for a Belgian beer, preferably a tripel, you could easily use anything that would cook well, like a pilsner, bock, pale ale, or probably go darker to impart a little bit of color in the sauce with a brown or porter or even a stout might be interesting. In other words, it's an extremely versatile recipe that is great for leftovers.

Following is the recipe, I'll add some notes at the end.
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs chicken breast, boned and chopped into 1-2 inch strips
3 large shallots, minced
3 large leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and julienned
2 carrots, julienned
2 stalks celery, sliced
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
4 c chicken stock
1 c tripel or strong golden ale
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 c heavy cream
1/4 c Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced

Put butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and place over medium heat until the butter bubbles. Add chicken and stir. Let chicken brown 3 minutes, then reduce heat to low. Add shallots and cook 3 minutes.

Add leeks and fennel, and cook 3 minutes or until leeks are soft. Add carrots, celery, potatoes, stock, cream, beer, bay leaves, and thyme, bringing mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Do not bring to a boil, just a light simmer, or cream will curdle. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Ladle Waterzooi into warm bowls and garnish with parsley
---------end recipe--------

OK, some notes:
- use the biggest f-ing stock pot you got. I used a good sized "dutch oven" sized stock pot and I got the leeks and fennel in, but it was overflowing before I could get the potatoes in and had to transfer it to a larger, proper, stockpot.
- The prep on this took a little longer than I expected and start (open refrigerator to pull out veggies) to finish (put in a bowl and start eating) took about 90 minutes; I was taking pictures while I did it, but still ... and I have this device that looks like vegetable peeler, but actually has little ridges in the peeler part that juliennes things, pretty handy - otherwise you can probably skip the julienne and just chop the carrots and fennel
- keeping this thing from boiling is a trick and a half. I wasn't able to manage it and the cream curdled/separated. It didn't taste bad, it just doesn't look great.
- I used a red onion instead of shallots. Turns out I had shallots, I just didn't realize it - still, I like red onion and it turned out fine - this recipe is extremely flexible
- Mrs. MBR didn't think the beer stood out enough, but I was able to note a faint hint of the yeast and malt and it definitely added body to the stock. But this and the Chicken and Artichokes were definitely light on the beer flavor and I don't know if that's because both of these had a lot of competing flavors or if the beers themselves just weren't distinct enough or if the cooking process muted the flavors. This might be interesting if instead of chicken stock, you just used water.
- Another winner. It was pretty easy to make - the prep took some work and the boil issues were kind of tricky, but otherwise, super simple. And we have a lot of leftovers. Kids'll love this one too.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Man, Talk About A Really Specific Law

In Wisconsin, the general rule is that breweries aren't allowed to give anything away except tasters less than 3oz. We'll ignore, for the moment, reality and just all agree that this is the law. This means that beer fests, etc. have to pay for the kegs that the breweries then serve to attendees.

There are two exceptions to this rule, codified in Wisconsin Statute Section 125.33(2):
"(h) [breweries may] contribute money or other things of value [read: kegs] to or for the benefit of a nonprofit corporation, exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code ..., which is conducting festivals of limited duration ..."
--- So (h) basically allows breweries to donate kegs to festivals held by 501(c)(3) nonprofits, this seems reasonable, as a public policy we want to encourage charitable giving and fundraising by these entities, so we carve out a narrow exception that allows breweries to donate beer, that's all fine and dandy

Here's the second exception:
"(hm) [breweries may] contribute money or other things of value to or for a nonprofit corporation which conducts an autumn ethnic festival of limited duration in a 2nd class city that had a population in 1986 of at least 49,000 but less than 50,000 ..."
--- Does that seem really specific to you? It does to me. How many cities in Wisconsin do you think had a population between 49,000 and 50,000 in 1986??? Off the top of my head, I can think of one: La Crosse, WI. So, unless I'm mistaken (and I don't think I am - how many other cities of this size have an "autumn ethnic festival" worthy of carving out an exception for?) this exception allows breweries to donate beer to the La Crosse Oktoberfest (an "autumn ethnic festival"). All the other festivals and Oktoberfests? Screw you, you have to pay. I don't get why we make an exception for this one? Why the protectionism? More importantly, why go through such tortured specificity to get to it? Why not just say "La Crosse, WI"? Why say "a 2nd class city (HA!) that had a population in 1986 (why 1986?) of at least 49,000 but less than 50,000"? Do any other cities even fit this description? The only ones I can find that are close are Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Wauwatosa. Presumably, if these others do fit that criteria, they could start "autumn ethnic festivals" (read: Oktoberfests) and breweries could donate beer to them.

Press Release Thursday - Inaugural Malt Crawl

Inaugural as in "First" - I don't think this has anything to do with re-enacting the President's first day.
----------Begin Press Release----------
One bus, One Sunday evening, Five venues of beer and scotch malt greatness in Madison.

Sunday April 5, starting at 3:00 and going until 9-ish:
• Monroe St Bistro • Maduro • Opus • Dexter's • Ale Aslyum

Join us on a spring salute to the mighty power of malt as tasted in craft beer and
fine scotch. Tickets are $65 and include six drinks total plus deluxe accommodations on
our Mighty Malt Bus. The five participating venues were selected for their kick-ass tap
lineup, rockin’ Scotch list, knowledgeable owners and, in one case, on-site brewing

Limited seating is available and tickets must be pre-purchased at Monroe St. Bistro. Hope to see you at this Spring edition of the malt crawl, or perhaps our summer or fall crawl!


Jen Anne | Monroe St Bistro | 2611 Monroe St | 441-5444

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the second part of this week's podcast we review two beers from the Grumpy Troll pub and brewery, their Stein Beer (yes, a real Stein Beer made with superheated rocks) and their Belgian style India Pale Ale.

Here's the mp3

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cooking With Beer - Chicken and Artichoke Hearts in Anchor Steam Beer

This recipe comes from Diane Alexander, chef at The Brickskeller, a restaurant in Washington DC renowned for its beer selection. In keeping with picking some of the easier recipes from the book The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing & Cooking With Craft Beer, this recipe is fairly simple. It involves some sauteing and deglazing and then baking for an hour. Easy enough.

The really nice thing about this recipe is that it was relatively inexpensive. I bought a whole 4 pound chicken at Carniceria Guanajuato (on Midvale at the Beltline) for $1.50 per pound(!!), 2 cans of artichokes, the remaining half of box of mushrooms from what we used for the stroganoff, less than $2 worth of dried figs, and a six-pack of Anchor Steam. Total cost of this meal was around $20 and it made 2 dinners and 4 lunches for two people (6 meals!). As leftovers it's versatile enough to shred up and make wraps and sandwiches, or finely chop and make ravioli filling, or to mix and match with other foods. Admittedly, the recipe calls for fresh figs; I don't know where you get fresh figs in Madison in March (yes, I know, only make food with ingredients that are in-season - blah, blah) so I used dried figs from Whole Foods.

Following is the recipe, I'll make some comments about it at the end:
3 pounds fryer chicken pieces trimmed (6 to 8 pieces)
1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp hot paprika
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
8 oz fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
12 ounces steam beer
2 oz fresh figs, diced
1 Meyer lemon, cut into 6 wedges
Fresh minced parsley

Preheat oven to 325F. Dredge chicken pieces thoroughly in mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat butter and oil in large deep skillet over medium heat. Brown each piece of chicken on all sides, without crowding the skillet.

As the chicken browns, transfer the pieces to a large casserole. Set skillet aside. When the bottom of the casserole is covered with chicken, add half the artichokes and half the mushrooms. Add any remaining browned chicken, then the remaining artichokes and mushrooms.

Deglaze the skillet with steam lager and a whisk to emulsify pan drippings. Mix in fresh figs and simmer over medium heat 1 minute, scraping skillet well to mix in all of pan brownings. Pour warm fig-beer over chicken. Cover casserole with foil and bake 50 to 60 minutes or until tender.

Serve with steamed rice, garnish with lemon wedges and minced parsley.
-----End of Recipe-----

As far as ingredients, as mentioned, the only difficulty was the figs - and I just bought dried figs at Whole Foods. They seemed to work well, though I suspect that some of the fig juice that we would have had with fresh figs would have added to the sauce. I forgot to serve our dishes with the lemon wedges and parsley even though I had them in the refrigerator. Technically this was not a difficult meal to make at all. I suspect beginners may have some difficulty with the browning, but if you over or under-brown it isn't a huge problem because there's plenty of time for the chicken to cook in the oven.

I really liked this meal. It was easy, it was cheap. It was good. The figs were a unique earthy-raisin-like flavor that I'll be using in more meals. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The artichoke hearts and mushrooms were tender. There are plenty of flavors to go around. My only complaint with this recipe is the use of Anchor Steam, actually. There are quite a few flavors going on here and the Anchor Steam isn't flavorful enough to stand out. It adds some nice sweetness, and brightness is there; but, I can't help thinking that a more ale-like beer would work better - a Belgian Tripel or even a Flemish Sour or Brown or even a simple IPA.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the first part of this week's podcast, we have news in 60 seconds, covering the expansion of New Belgium, the sale of Labatt USA, and Samuel Adams raising their prices. Also, we discuss the pro's and con's of tap beer.

the mp3

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cooking With Beer - Smoked Porter Beef Stroganoff

I happen to have in my possession, a cookbook by one Ms. Lucy Saunders, called The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing & Cooking With Craft Beer. I like beer. I like food. I like to cook. Seems like a pretty natural fit to cook with beer.

We're all familiar with Beer Can Chicken, but I've always been looking for something a little more. It always seems to me that when beer is mixed in the cooking process that it's used as a novelty for a trick to show your buddies with can of Old Mil when you're all gathered around a grill in late July. In fact, I've seen recipes for beer that specifically call for "flat beer" and "can of cheap beer." But, I'm a firm believer in the cooking rule: if you use crap ingredients you'll get crap results. You don't cook with wine you wouldn't drink; why would you cook with beer that isn't any good (either objectively or subjectively).

So, when this book fell into my lap, it was a godsend. Finally, something that takes beer as an ingredient seriously. I've had a chance to read through the book a couple of times. Not every recipe uses beer, but there is always a specific, generally widely available beer that is suggested. The forward, written by Randy Mosher, interviewed by Beer Talk Today last week, uses the phrase "gastroindustrial monoculture", which is awesome. But his final salvo is right on: "The good beer movement is very hands on, so get busy. You can play a part in getting people to abandon their habitual behavior and shock them - with dazzling beer and food - into thinking about eating and drinking in a whole new way."

The author's introduction is equally inspiring in setting up the entire book: "Because beer is food, it is capable of being enjoyed on several levels simultaneously, including the texture of carbonation, the aromatics as each tiny bubble in the crown of foam bursts, and the flavors perceived on the tongue and palate." The book can be roughly divided into two: educational and cookbook. As an education piece about beer and the pairings and flavors of beer balanced with the flavors, aromas, colors and presentation of the food.

There is an entire section on pairing beer and cheese that tells you more than you could possibly hope to learn in a single reading. Working through some of the recommendations (e.g., baby swiss/cask-conditioned farmhouse ale, dunkelweizen/smoked gouda, etc.) could keep you entertained and entertaining for years. Another section talks about pairing beer and chocolate.

Finally, the bulk of the book discusses food and beer pairings. It puts regional beers in context with regional foods. For example, Bell's Sparkling Ale pairs brilliantly with a dip made of smoked great lakes fish; or, a pan-seared pacific salmon in ponzu sauce with a dark, American brown ale. And, again, there's so much information here that even absent the recipes this book is must have reference for food and beer.

Then, we get to the recipes themselves. As a cookbook, the book has plenty of recipes. But many of them are not for the novice cook. Many of the recipes are complex and technical. But there is still plenty to be learned as each recipe has some introductory text and a recommended beer pairing. Not every recipe uses beer as an ingredient, but each is intended and designed to pair with a beer: for example, the Bittersweet Salad on page 87 that pairs well with a Belgian Tripel.

To keep things simple, I decided that the first thing I would make out of this cookbook was the Wild Game and Mushroom Stroganoff. Stroganoff is a simple, basic dish that keeps well. I happen to have some beef from my wife's farm in the freezer, and since the cow was in the field, that's close enough to "wild" for me. The recipe calls for a smoked porter. I know Rob made one for Benji before he left, but I'm not sure if Tyranena ever plans on releasing that and in any event it wasn't in my refrigerator - so I picked up a 22oz bomber of Stone Smoked Porter.

First, I threw together a rustic loaf of Rosemary, Sage and Fennel Seed Bread to go with the meal. I made the bread with a packet of dry yeast, 325 grams of water (about 72 degrees) and around 525 grams of a mix of white, wheat and corn flours. It was set to rise twice and baked at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Yes, I know, egg noodles, bread, very starchy. But I'm not on Adkins. And besides it'll make us full enough that we'll be able to eat this all week. Quickly, here is the recipe (by the way, thank you to Lucy for letting me reproduce these):

2 lbs elk, moose, or beef sirloin roast well-trimmed
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 c yellow onion, diced
1/3 c shallot, minced
1/2 lb sliced crimini mushrooms, or a mixture of cremini and morel mushrooms
12 oz smoked porter
1 1/2 c beef broth
1 pint sour cream, lightly warmed
1 lb egg noodles

Cut meat across grain into thin slices about 1 inch long. In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and salt to taste; saute just until browned. Remove meat and reserve juices in skillet.

Add butter to juices in skillet and cook over med-high heat until bubly; add onion and shallot and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute 2 minutes. Add meat and collect juices on platter back into skillet.

Meanwhile, heat beer in bowl in microwave or in small saucepan on stove until steaming. Add beef broth, stirring until dissolved. Add broth to meat mixture. Bring to a simmer, lower heat and simmer loosely covered or uncovered for 30 minutes. Add warmed sour cream and gently stir until mixed. Simmer, covered, over low heat 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over cooked pasta.

----end recipe----

A few notes about this recipe. First, I don't have a microwave, so I had to heat the beer in a saucepan and add the broth to it - I'm not entirely sure why I did this or what heating it accomplished that adding it straight to the meat/onions/mushrooms wouldn't have provided. Second, heating the sour cream didn't seem to add much either as I still had some minor separation in the final product, though not much. I didn't have crimini or morel mushrooms, so white button had to suffice. From start to finish this recipe took a little over an hour and required me to stand at the stove for most of that. This is a bit more time and attention than I typically expect for stroganoff.

But, the better question: was it worth it? Heck yeah. The smoked porter added a subtle but sweet smokiness that rounded out the creaminess well and provided great complexity to the beef flavor. It was a little "thinner", a little more "liquid-y" than I typically make stroganoff, but it's a matter of style and tasted wonderful. It held up really well for leftovers.

On Wednesday we'll tackle the Chicken and Artichoke Hearts in Anchor Steam Beer.

UPDATE: In the course of compiling this cookbook Ms. Saunders aggregated recipes from a number of sources - this one came from Chris Swersey, ex-brewmaster of Leinenkugel's Ballyard Brewery (inside Chase Ballpark), tour guide in Salmon, ID, and competition manager for the Brewer's Association.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Barleywine Week: Almost Done – A Delay Tactic


Two things that are semi-related to our topic this week, combined with our topic for next week.

Unfortunately, no Barleywine tasting today. I was going to put up some tasting notes for the Dogfish Head Red & White – a beer that takes Barleywine a little more literally than most: "Malt beverage brewed with coriander & peel with pinot noir juice concentrate added with 11% aged in pinot noir barrels and 89% aged on oak staves." Yes, it's a beer brewed with coriander and orange peel (almost sounds like a wit or white beer, eh?) with "pinot noir juice concentrate added". I have no idea what that means. Other than the obvious "they added pinot noir juice concentrate"; I have no idea what "pinot noir juice" is – perhaps the unfermented juice of pinot grapes? If I were to guess that seems as good as any. And a concentrate of that. Who makes that? Minute Maid? Can you buy it in the freezer aisle to go home and add water and have pinot noir juice for your morning breakfast? If not, why not? That sounds pretty good actually. But it's not really clear what "added" means. Added when? At fermentation? To the boil? To the aging tanks? Given that this beer 100% barrel aged (89% in oak, 11% in pinot noir barrels) was the concentrate added when the beer was moved to the barrels? As you can see, it's not really clear what "added" means. If I were to guess? I would guess that the pinot noir juice concentrate was added sometime after fermentation and before it went into the barrels, perhaps a secondary fermentation before barrel aging? Maybe added to the primary fermenter; this is a 10% ABV beer, so the juice concentrate would have definitely provided fermentable sugars to jack up the alcohol above and beyond your typical wit (usually in the 4.5-5.5% ABV range).

In any event: beer + wine = Barleywine. But I didn't get a chance to taste it yet because, well, I was home alone last night. And while I don't have any problems drinking alone, I'm not going to down a 750ml bottle of a 10% ABV beer by myself. I could. But I won't. So, you'll just have to wait until next week when I can find someone to drink this thing with.

In the meantime, I was looking up barleywines and I found this cool recipe to make Barleywine Marshmallows. No, I did not actually make them. But we are going to talk about this book in some pretty gory detail next week because it's awesome. We don't think twice about cooking with wine, so why should we think twice about cooking with beer? Well. We don't.

Second food-related item from the PRNewswire, via Reuters: Point Brewery and Brakebrush Brothers are teaming up to bring you frozen Point Amber battered chicken wings. Now, this is something that Beer Buffalo Lodge should be all over. "Brakebush Brothers, a leading supplier of chicken products for foodservice and consumers based in Westfield, Wis., uses Point Amber Classic in the batter for Tappers, resulting in a hearty, yet delicately crisp and tasty coating with a hint of hops and a distinctive amber color." I like Point, I like wings. I'll admit, the "distinctive amber color" gives me some pause for concern. Tappers are only sold to restaurants, taverns and pubs, so you'll have to get them next time you're in your local watering hole.

More importantly, this is something that more breweries should be looking to do: not chicken wings specifically, but working with food processors, restaurants and taverns to find new and unique ways of using the beer other than just serving it in a bottle to drinkers. For example, a Dogfish Head rep told me about an ice cream and sauce that a chef made with the Palo Santo Marron. Yum. But braising bases, sauté liquids, reductions, soups, stews and chilies; the options are endless.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On part two of this weeks broadcast we continue our conversation with Randy Mosher, author of Radical Brewing and Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink, about historical beers. What beers have been made with animals as ingredients? How about eggs? Molasses and bran? You must listen to find out.

the mp3


The Death Of JT Whitneys Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

It turns out that Whitneys isn't dead. Just in a coma. It should be re-opening very soon. Same location. Same staff. New Owners. Hopefully owners that will actually fund a properly-run brewery.

According to Head Brewer Rich Becker, JT Whitneys could re-open as early as Friday (yes, tomorrow):
The lease for the building should be signed on Thursday. Unless something unforeseen happens we will be open on Friday with some of our own beer. If all else goes well I will be able to order the malt that I require and we will have a larger choice of beer up soon. The actual transfer deal for control of the Brewpub has not been signed yet but will most likely be done by the end of next week at which point we will be officially under new ownership.

So there you go. Hardly even missed a beat.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Barleywine Week: New Glarus Iced Barleywine

As we are bringing Barleywine Week(s) to a close (we have one more beer to go on Friday), we would be remiss if we didn't mention the New Glarus Iced Barleywine - one of the few barleywines from Wisconsin breweries: Central Waters' that we reviewed last week, and an award-winning barleywine from The Great Dane (which appears to be on-tap now, if want to hustle on down and get some). (Lakefront appears to have had one called Beer Line, but I haven't seen it, any Milwaukee folks want to comment?? And Titletown had one called Blitzen).

This is an iced barleywine. We've talked about "iced" beers before, and it appears that this is one is also "ice cured" or "ice aged" - meaning that it was aged for a period of time, probably months, at below-freezing temperatures. The effect of this "shock" appears to be to instantly "age" the beer. So, instead of having to wait two years, you only need to let the beer age for 2 months in a freezer.

Madison Beer Review does not recommend doing this with the bottle in your freezer, unless you like cleaning up exploded beer bottles.

New Glarus Unplugged Iced Barleywine
Appearance: Deep amber, almost ruby-colored body; darkest of the barleywines so far; a thin white head falls back quickly; fine, bottle-conditioned carbonation
Aroma: alcoholic and fruity; a strong woody and wine-like aroma
Flavor: fruity and hugely malted; earthy and fruity like dark, thick figs, cherries and grapes, a slight bitter chocolate-y-ness on the back of my tongue
Body: soft and full-bodied with a long, bitter, alcoholic finish
Drinkability: Very nice, but I'm not sure I need another soon, I'd put it pretty low on the drinkability scale; but that's not a knock on its quality, only that I don't "need another" anytime soon
Summary: The flavors are big, and strong and the body is full - it's a filling beer that is really quite smooth although the finish is kind of oddly sharp; I don't know if it's a hop-thing or a mix of malt-thing, but while I like this beer I'm just not feeling it. It's hard to place the icing, because while it seems to have affected the malt complexity, it doesn't seem to have mellowed out the hops, leaving an odd congruence of smooth and sharp. I've spoken with a lot of people, and I understand that I'm fully in the minority on this beer [BA (A-). RB (94).]

JT Whitneys Officially Closed

MadisonDining.com has the scoop.

I can't say I'm surprised. In fact, this is again something I've known was coming for a while, but my sources wouldn't let me cite them. Needless to say, it's been a long time coming as the quality there has decreased significantly in the past year. Strangely, I'm not ready to blame it on the brewmaster, ownership has been strangling the brewery for money for quite some time.

Personally, I gave up on the brewery side of things when they served their kristal weiss in an infected line, which made it intensely sour. I mentioned to the manager that it tasted more like a berliner than a kristal (not a good berliner mind you) and then, magically, a few weeks later they have a "berliner weisse" on tap. They did the same thing with the "belgian dark" that became a "sour brown" when too many customers complained.

It's a shame. JT Whitneys used to be good and the west-side brewpub will be missed. There are rumors floatin' around that "they" (there are some folks a part of Whitneys that will not be a part of the new brewpub) may re-open in a different location. Still up in the air whether it will be the same name or not.

Also up in the air is the fate of JT Whitney's non-brewpub spin-off in Oregon, Hawthorne's.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Belgium In Wisconsin

I'll admit, back in February, I was "outraged" that New Belgium wasn't in Wisconsin and told the distributors to "GET YOUR ASSES IN GEAR" (emphasis in original) and start "importing" New Belgium.

I knew at that time that New Belgium was going to be in Wisconsin by the end of the year. Yes, I know, I'm a jerk. Sue me. It was one of those rumors that I knew but didn't have any public source to confirm. But, the Anonymous commenter should be proud of himself for standing up for the distributors - there aren't many people doing that these days: "Hey, maybe...just maybe it's not the distributors that are holding up access to New Belgium. It could be that the brewery is trying to manage their growth - kinda like New GLARUS."

So, I knew at the time that the comment was irrelevant. Sorry for misleading you. I hope you'll forgive me.

Here's a recent article from Marketwire and here's the gist of that article:
New Belgium Brewing (www.newbelgium.com), best known for its flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale, is expanding its distribution and portfolio dramatically in 2009. ... the brewery is poised to enter six new markets as well; North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, South Dakota and Wisconsin all by end of summer. New Belgium is still vetting distributors in potential markets.

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the first part of this weeks podcast we test intro music for our newish segment "Kyle's Editorial," and the editorial this week involves Miller Lite's new "triple hops brewed" ad campaign. Then we move on to part one of our interview with Randy Mosher, author of Radical Brewing and the new book Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink. We ask him about the new book, his beer and food pairing recommendations, and his thoughts on triple hops brewed Miller Light. Stay tuned for part two this week, when we talk with Randy about brewing historical beer styles.

the mp3.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Barleywine Week(s): Stone Old Guardian

La Cave du Vin sits at the top of the hill in a dining, retail and entertainment district near Case Western Reserve University on Cleveland's near East Side. it is, in many respects, like The Malt House here in Madison; it has no TVs, plays comfortable music and stays out of the way of people who are just out to have a nice conversation around some good drinks. the lights are dim, people are packed in tightly, there is a loud, white-noise buzz from the din of fifty conversations occurring concurrently.

As you might expect from the name of the place, their specialty is wine. Or at least it was. It is also one of the best beer bars in the country. Along one wall is four refrigerated doors of beer. Beer from all over the world and of any and every style imaginable. The modus operandi at La Cav is a bit of a departure from most places. You select your own bottle from the refrigerator like you would at a retail liquor store, and then set them at your table, unopened. A server walking by will take note of your purchases, bring you appropriate glassware and then open the bottle for you. This process provides a unique mix of self-service and server skill. These servers are amongst the most knowledgeable I've ever met; to a person they have an encyclopedic knowledge of inventory, style, and tasting notes. They are comfortable and capable of making a recommendation that turns out to be exactly what you are looking for.

My step-brother, six years my junior, got me into craft beer. I gave him his first Labatt, he gave me my first Dogfish Head 120. When I manage to make it back to Cleveland, my hometown, La Cav is our haunt. Three years ago, my step-brother and I were there and he says to me: "They have a beer tap that I want you to try. This is one of the few places in the country that has this beer on tap. It'll knock you on your ass and kick you in the teeth."

And that is how I was introduced to San Diego's Stone Brewing Company and The Double Bastard. It was one of those experiences, like the Dogfish Head 120, like the Augustiner Maximator, that completely changed my perception of what beer is and what beer could be. The Double Bastard was, and remains, unlike anything I've ever had. It is an all-out assault on the palate with a big hoppy aroma and bitterness and over-the-top malt paunch (it certainly ain't no backbone). Yet, it is more than that; it is complex, it changes as it warms and as it ages. Heck, it changes depending on the glass you choose to put it in. It shows a skill in design and execution that few other breweries in the world possess. And it will indeed knock you on your ass and kick you in the teeth.

The Double Bastard is at the very top of American West Coast brewing. It is the definition of what we mean when we say that a beer tastes like a "West Coast" beer. It is more than merely "imperial." Stone doesn't need to call their IPA "imperial" - "Ruination" suffices; big and over the top is assumed. But it's also more than just "over-the-top." There is a skill to super-hoppy beers that not every brewer possesses. And "West Coast" implies not just "big", but skillful. Not just an assault on the palate, but a depth and complexity that makes you want another. It what breweries like Stone, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic, Lagunitas and others do so well. And that breweries here in the Midwest, along the East Coast, and around the world simply can't replicate. Each beer is a challenge and a statement in and of itself. The rest of us can only respond.

I'm not saying that Stone is the best brewery in the world. They might be, but I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that West Coast breweries are the best in the world. I'm not even saying that they make the best hoppy beers. I'm just saying that "West Coast" means something. It mean something in the way that "Trappist" means something. It mean something in the way that "Cotes du Rhone" means something or "Sonoma" means something. It is a quality, attitude and philosophy of production that is inseparable from the place and unreproduceable anywhere else in the world. New Glarus or Harpoon or Duvel or De Struise could make The Double Bastard or the Black Bear Stout or the Bigfoot Barleyine ingredient-for-ingredient and they would only be mere imitations.

Stone Old Guardian Barleywine - Limited Early 2009 Release
Appearance: Served at a brisk 49 degrees, it is a white, wispy head; dark honey in color and mostly clear, one of us thought it looked like wood varnish
Aroma: alcohol, pine and citrus with a biscuity, light woody maltiness underneath
Flavor: lighter and more refined than the 11.3% ABV barleywine title might have implied, it has the body and taste of fine red wine, though it is well and finely carbonated; the hops are noticeable first, but as you sip through the glass the malts come forward with a slight toffee and clean malt flavor
Body: a lingering bitterness leaves a pleasant hop and malty flavor
Drinkability: I could drink more of this in a heartbeat; at 11.3% in a bomber, I'd share the bomber among three or four people for dinner
Summary: Definitely not in the same vein as the "hit you over the head" beers that Stone is known for, but it is a big, hop-forward beer that is something that you might take home to meet the parents

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Afternoon Press Release - Furthermore

I usually only run these things on Tuesday and Thursday, but since two of the Madison events for Furthermore are this weekend (tonight at Come Back Inn, tomorrow at High Noon), I thought I would do them a solid and publish it for anyone who's actually reading these things at 3 in the afternoon on a Friday.

-------- Start Press Release .... Now --------------

Well, friends - it's that time again: time for me to dust off spellcheck and get unlazy enough to communicate with you the myriad goings-on of your pals at Furthermore Beer. I shall now proceed chatting you up:


3/5 - TONIGHT! - Come Back Inn, Madison - Boombalaty Release, 8 until 10
3/7 - Saturday - High Noon Saloon, Madison - Festivale Beer Fest Thingy, 1 until 4
3/18 - Wednesday - Turner Hall, MKE - Bonnie Prince Billy (sponsoring!), evening
3/21 - Saturday - Happy Gnome, St. Paul - Firkin Fest, afternoon-ish
4/8 - Wednesday - Malt House, Madison - Tasting, 5 until 7
4/25 - Saturday - Octoberfest Grounds, LaCrosse - Btwn the Bluffs Fest, 2 until 6


Spring Green - bottles at The General Store

Madison- Bottles (singles) at Steve's Mineral Point, Steve's University, Star, Cork & Bottle, Jenifer St Market, Barriques Fitchburg, Riley's, Whole Foods. Kegs at The Old Fashioned and Alchemy. Still holding out for Malt House, Dexter's, Brasserie V and Monroe Street Bistro.

Milwaukee - Bottles (singles) at Otto's, Groppi, Three Cellars, Whole Foods & Discount Liquors. Kegs at Sugar Maple & Comet.

Minneapolis/St. Paul- Kegs only at Happy Gnome, Maddy Pig, Grumpy's NE, maybe Acadia and maybe Grumpy's NE.

Red Wing (of all places) - keg at Norton's. FATTY BOOMBALATTY IS BACK! This week. All markets. Go assert your ability to keep us in business by buying Fatty like hell won't have it. In exchange, we will continue to show our love for you by showering your inbox with beery news.

The English Barleywine and the Old Ale


The modern difference between an English Barleywine and English Old Ale are slim. Indeed, the primary difference is that the Old Ale tops out around 9% ABV, whereas the Barleywine starts at 8% ABV, and where the Old Ale is singularly malty, to even out the booziness, the barleywine will have some hop balance. Indeed, the BJCP notes, vis-à-vis Old Ales: "Fits in the style space between normal gravity beers (strong bitters, brown porters) and barleywines. Can include winter warmers, strong dark milds, strong (and perhaps darker) bitters, blended strong beers (stock ale blended with a mild or bitter), and lower gravity versions of English barleywines." The Brewer's Assocation, in its recently released 2009 styleguide (pdf), notes about Old Ales: "A distinctive quality of these ales is that they undergo an aging process (often for years) on their yeast either in bulk storage or through conditioning in the bottle, which contributes to a rich and often sweet oxidation character. Complex estery characters may also emerge."

In each of these, the barleywine notes are essentially identical except that they note that barleywines tend be "bigger". In modern parlance, the barleywine is an Imperial Old Ale; it has higher alcohol, more aggressive malt flavors and higher hopping rates.

The history of barleywines really isn't particularly interesting, believe it or not. Even the history of Old Ales isn't terribly interesting. There's no cool "we were making it for the Queen of Russia" kind of stories. No "food for fasting monks". No trips to India. It's an interesting history, only because the style, Old Ale, goes back so long, that it's difficult to separate the Old Ale/Common/Small brewing cycle from the development of the brewing process. And, at the end of the day, unless you're an uberbeergeek, which admittedly many of us are, the history of sparging just isn't that compelling of a story.

Still want to hear about sparging? Sheesh. You're persistent. Alright. Do you know how modern day sparging works?

A quick lesson in beer making if you weren't paying attention on the last tour you went on: beer is made by steeping grains in hot water and draining the hot water into a kettle, boiling it, adding some hops, cooling it, adding some yeast and letting it sit for a while (yes, that's all there is to it; do you know how to make loose-leaf tea? If so, just make loose-leaf tea in a really big teapot using malted barley instead of tea and your tea cup is a large metal tank). The water that's added to the grains is called "liquor" (yes, confusing, get over it) and liquid that comes off the grains is called wort (pronounced "wert").

OK. You with me? Good, cause it gets kind of weird here.

You need to get the wort off the grains and into a kettle; that's fairly easy to accomplish, you drain it through a hole. But there's a bit of an efficiency problem here. If you drain all of the water off of the grains at once you are left with a whole lot grain that still has a lot of fermentable sugar. In order to capture some of that residual sugar, the grains are rinsed with warm water (around 170 degrees or so) and that water drains out and is added to the wort as well. [side note: if this is a continuous process, we add as much water as we take wort as we're taking it, it's called "continuous sparge" – this was invented by Germans]

Well, we can have a pretty efficient brewery if we take as much as sugars from the grains as we can get to put into our beer. Efficiency being defined, roughly, as the amount of fermentable sugar we achieve using the least amount water to achieve our target water levels. Confusing, no? Look at it this way: let's say you add 5 gallons of water to 7 pounds of grain. How much wort are you going to get out? And how much sugar will be left over that you didn't capture? I don't know either, but it will be much less than 5 gallons and it won't be all of the sugars. So, how much water do we need to add to 7 pounds of grain to get 5 gallons of wort and as much of the sugars as we can get? I don't know that either off the top of my head, but it's more than 5 gallons and you'll have to add some to grains to rinse them. So, what sparging does is this: the brewer calculates what's the minimum amount of water that she can use to get the grains to release all of their sugars, then how much more water does she need to add to get it off of the grain kernel itself and have the final water level equal to what she needs.

Yes. It's a lot of math. Proof that those who worry that UW's brewing class is encouraging alcoholism has no idea how beer is actually made. It's a lot of math. And a lot of chemistry. And a lot of biology. But mostly a lot of math.


You can do what the British did. Add a lot of water to a lot of grains, pull it all off at once, residual sugars be damned (for now). Use this wort to make a strong beer like an old ale, or a barleywine. Then, add water to the grains again and let it steep to pull out the residual sugars and make a beer out of that. This is called a "common" beer. Then, if the first beer you made was really strong, like, I don't know, an Old Ale or Barleywine maybe, you can actually get a third beer out of the grains. This is the "small" beer. This style of brewing is called "parti-gyle" brewing and there aren't many breweries doing this anymore because it's not terribly efficient.

So, the beers made from the first runnings were of the highest quality and highest fermentability. These were known for being big, strong, beers that were really boozy. Especially when they were aged in oak barrels and they took on some of the bacterias and woody qualities made them taste a lot like wines. In 1903 Bass called theirs a "barleywine" and the name just kind of stuck.

See? Unless you care about sparging, the history of barleywines and old ales is kind of lame.

[ed note: parti-gyle brewing was also done by the Belgians and why we have the Tripel, Dubbel, and Blonde (strong, common, small). Yes, that is true. Bust that out next time you're at Brasserie V]

George Gale 2007 Prize Old Ale

Appearance: A surprising 2-finger white head on a gorgeous crystal-clear, finely carbonated, body; there is wine-like legs on the side of my glass just from the head falling; looking in the bottle, not much yeast on the bottom for a bottle-conditioned beer – but it's still young, so maybe it just hasn't settled out yet?
Aroma: I could smell the hops and alcohol immediately upon pouring it; closer inspection reveals a fruitier, almost Belgian-y, slightly sour/fruity aroma – dark fruits like cherry with caramel and bread-like maltiness beneath the bright aromas
Flavor: not at all what I was expecting; amazingly soft, the flavor has a big fruity sourness with a long booziness on the finish; the malts are biscuity and caramel, but the flavor is strangely Belgian
Body: thick, soft and velvety; reminds of a Belgian Dubbel
Drinkability: as a young beer this thing is surprisingly feisty and fun; for a 9% big beer it is amazingly sessionable
Summary: not at all what I was expecting; this is a fun beer that I'll have to grab more of to age; it was only $3.99 at Woodman's West for this 1 pt 9oz bottle – a great deal! It reminded me a lot of a Belgian Dubbel without the funky spicing; the finish was "cleaner" than I might have suggested above because of a distinct dryness that came through – though I think it's so strong that it overcame the dryness (if that makes sense??)

PS. I'm wondering if this sourness isn't a sign of infection; it's not so terrible that it makes the beer bad; in fact, like noted above it is kind of fun and rather enjoyed it, but it seems so incongruous, so off-style, even in a young beer, that I wonder if this bottle isn't somehow infected? Clearly it was capped OK, the carbonation and head were fine, so the bottle was sealed properly, but this sourness is, honestly, baffling. Though, this review by the Alstrom Bros does indicate that Jason had some tartness as well in a 1996 bottle; although he had some huskiness that I didn't get in this 2007 version. Honestly, if this wasn't an Old Ale I wouldn't have thought twice about it, but the tartness/fruitiness was really quite overpowering.

PPS. In retrospect using this beer to illustrate the barleywine pre-cursor of Old Ale probably wasn't the best idea; this beer was so far from the norm, that I'd have a hard time recommending it as a good example of the style. Although I really enjoyed it, I'd have to say that if you are looking for an Old Ale that is a little more "barleywine-like" (despite Mrs. MBR saying that she though this beer tasted like a young red wine) you'd probably be better served with Fuller's Vintage or 1845, though the Harvieston Old Engine Oil is good, too.

PPPS. I wrote this review before I wrote the article. In light of the history of Old Ales and barleywines, the lactic and sour characters that were once common in these beers seem pretty prevalent here. Maybe this one is just super-authentic. This beer has me completely befuddled; I'm going to have to go buy more of this.

PPPPS. Has anyone out there had this beer? If so, please comment and let me know what you thought/remembered of it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Arthritis Foundation FestivAle

A quick plug for an event that Madison Beer Review is participating in this weekend. Come on out on Saturday to the High Noon Saloon at 1pm to the Arthritis Foundation's FestivAle. There's an ad for it above this post; tickets are a great value. $20, I think? Quite a few breweries are participating, including Furthermore, The Grumpy Troll, Ale Asylum, Tyranena, Sand Creek, BluCreek and a few others, if I remember correctly.

Moreover, I think there might be one or two spots left for the pre-festival beer tasting that Madison Beer Review is hosting. For an extra $20, you get early admission to the FestivAle for a one-hour course using five beers not available at the Festival to showcase brewing ingredients and the brewing process. MBR worked with Barriques Market to provide a food pairing for each beer and we'll cover not only the brewing process, the ingredients, and pairings, but glassware and more. It's a course for beginners and connoiseurs alike.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Barley Wine Week: Central Waters

I've had these barley wines taking up space on my wine rack for two weeks now, so I figure it's time to talk about barley wines. What better place to start than Central Waters' Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale; yes, we reviewed it last year, but it might be kind of fun to compare this years' tasting notes against last year.

We've talked about barley wines a couple of weeks back regarding an aged version of the Tyranena Spank Me Baby Barleywine. We even talked briefly about Iced Barleywines when we looked at The Grumpy Troll's Iced IPA. Indeed, this past year, two Wisconsin breweries won awards at the Great American Beer Fest for their barleywines: Central Waters for their Bourbon Barrel Barleywine and The Great Dane for their Old Scratch Barleywine.

Well, this week (and into next week) we'll look at a wide range of barley wines. We'll look at "West Coast" barleywines, we'll look at some Wisconsin barleywines, and we'll spend some time really getting into the style. We'll even look at something I didn't think would happen: an Iced Barleywine. But, first, a simple reminder of what the barleywine tastes like.

Central Waters Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale
Appearance: served a room temperature, a foamy, thin white head quickly dissipates off of a garnet-tinged brown ale
Aroma: sweet fruit and alcohol; smells like a muted brandy; a leathery, hoppy layer lies right beneath the up-front flavors
Flavor: big and malty and firm bodied; surprisingly hoppy in the mid and finish, there is very little of alcohol smell in the flavor; a strong biscuit and leather malts
Body: firm and long in the finish
Drinkability: a nice, easy-sipping beer that pairs well with everything; a six-pack of this could hold a person over quite well
Summary/Comparison: this tasting was performed without reference to last years' review. Turns out it is similar, which really shouldn't be that surprising; it seems that this year's is a little less boozy in the flavors though the body is full of it - maybe from the hops that are still very pronounced, though not overwhelming. A good base barleywine to start our week(s) off.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Response To The Wisconsin State Journal's Editorialist

Two articles yesterday about raising beer taxes:

One, an editorial from the State Journal. I almost didn't dignify this with a response since it reads like little more than a press release from some pro-tax lobbyist. But there's a couple of point that I want to make that I haven't, or maybe have?, made before.

"A higher tax on beer — as well as wine and booze — would simply charge a small user fee on drinkers to help pay for all the costly damage a small yet significant number of them cause."

First, let's get one thing straight here. This is a raise on the excise tax. The proposal does not include wine or spirits (more on that later). It is not a proposed sin tax. To the extent the customer would see any increase, yes, it would be minimal. But, we aren't the ones that pay the tax to the state - the breweries do. Right now the beer tax is $2, with a 50% rebate for small breweries. Let's say the proposed tax raises the barrel tax to $3 and eliminates the rebate. If you are brewery that makes 10K barrels per year, you were paying $10K in taxes. You will now pay $30K in taxes. A 300% raise in taxes!!!! How easily do you think Ale Asylum could absorb a 300% increase in taxes? Of course, this assumes that the small brewery rebate is eliminated.

I haven't heard anything to suggest that this rebate would be eliminated. In which case, we keep the small brewery rebate. Do you know how many breweries this tax would effect, then? Three. Miller, Leinies, and New Glarus. I can't imagine Deb Carey will be too happy see her margins decrease against Ale Asylum or Furthermore or Pearl Street or O'So. For these three breweries, they couldn't raise prices, they would have to absorb the "pennies per bottle" because they need to remain competitive against the other breweries who aren't affected by the tax increase.

"Just a couple pennies more per bottle could raise tens of millions of dollars to combat Wisconsin’s drunken driving scourge."

Who wrote this? Sally Struther? Are we funding laptops in Africa? You know what will fight the "drunk driving scourge"? Tougher laws on drunk driving. First time DUI is a ticket?!? No sobriety checkpoints. No Dram Shop Act. If the state isn't going to take drunk driving seriously, why should anyone pay for it? Maybe instead of paying for the consequences, we should focus more on preventing it from happening in the first place? How's that?

"The beer tax should not become just another way to balance the budget on the backs of ordinary people. The beer tax should only be raised if the money will be used specifically to prosecute and prevent drunken driving, which would benefit ordinary people."

Why should it fall only on beer at all!? Why not tax wine and spirits, too? Heck, raise taxes across the board and base it on the amount of alcohol in the bottle. If the problem is with drunk drivers, hit 'em where it hurts - in the cheap vodka and brandy.

Article Number Two from Wisconsin Radio Network.

"The Governor wants to increase the tax on cigarettes by 75-cents a pack. He says beer, when used responsibly, can be a perfectly safe product. Governor Jim Doyle says he doubts [the tax] will happen ...."

Finally, some sanity.

Tuesday Press Release

Two Events Going On This Weekend:

One at The Grumpy Troll: The Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild will conduct the Grumpy Troll
Challenge Homebrew Competition at the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub in Mount Horeb,
Wisconsin (about 30-45 minutes SW of Madison) on Saturday, 7-March-2009

Competition entry is open only to members of Wisconsin homebrew clubs, but
we welcome all BJCP judges to join us for the judging. The winners will
brew a batch of their winning beers with Brewmaster Mark Duchow for sale at
the pub. Yes, that was plural, winners. The judges will pick 3-5 winners,
but will not select a Best-of-Show winner. Customers will be the
collective BoS judges. The 3-5 winning beers will be brewed, be served at
the pub, and Best-of-Show honours go to the best-selling beer.

The other is the Arthritis Foundation FestivAle:
Saturday, March 7, 2009
12:00 - 4:00 p.m.
High Noon Saloon, Madison, Wisconsin

Join us for FestivAle! Try a variety of distinctive craft beers, all created right here in Wisconsin.

All guests will receive a souvenir pint glass. Enjoy snacks, music, and great raffle prizes!

Taste of Wisconsin Session

Celebrate the taste of Wisconsin! In this exclusive session, learn how to pair Wisconsin's most distinctive craft beers with our finest local foods. This session will include beer and food samples, and is appropriate for advanced beer connoisseurs and fledgling beer lovers alike!

The Taste of Wisconsin Session has been created in partnership with Madison Beer Review and Barriques Market. Space is extremely limited; please purchase tickets early.

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

This weeks show was full of technical difficulties, but throughout all of the nonsense we were able to get at least one good clip, Kyle's editorial and our discussion on beer glassware. Also, Jon discovers the word "opine."

the mp3.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Awards: 2008 Brewpub of the Year

In the super-accurate, statistically indisputable, Madison Beer Review poll that's been running on the left there for the past 2 months, you, the readers, have made your decision.

Your 2008 Brewpub of the Year is The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. They beat out a late surge by Ale Asylum here in Madison. The Dane was a distant third, with Titletown in Green Bay and Milwaukee Ale House in Milwaukee effectively tied for 4th. Delafield Brewhaus in Delafield didn't manage to garner much support.

I wonder how Milwaukee's Stonefly brewpub would have fared if I had remembered to include it. Or Red Eye, up in Wausau, or Riverside over in West Bend, or any of the others from around the state. Next year's poll we'll try to get a bit more comprehensive.

This is the second year in a row that The Grumpy Troll has won. Grumpy Troll won last year in a bit of a landslide: 56 votes to 19 for the Great Dane and 13 for Ale Asylum.

To be fair, The Grumpy Troll has been doing some really interesting things this past year to earn their win: Brewmaster Mark Duchow spent the year innovating in the brewery, starting the year with the Iced Maggie, they experimented with some sour beers over the summer, and created a true steinbier. They managed to score a gold at the World Beer Cup for their Baltic Porter. And in their free time, Doug and Steve have completely re-tooled the food to pair with Mark's beer and have re-designed the upstairs bar into pizzeria.

So, congratulations to the folks at The Grumpy Troll, they are setting the bar in Wisconsin for brewpubs.