Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great American Beer Fest Winners

Yeah, yeah, 70% of all entrants win at least one prize. Whatever. Congrats to the folks below who won awards at the most prestigious beerfest in the country.

Capital Brewery Co., Capital Bavarian Lager, Bronze, Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest
New Glarus Brewing Co, Totally Naked, Bronze, American-Style Lager or Premium Lager
New Glarus Brewing Co, Raspberry Tart, Bronze, Fruit Beer or Field Beer
Rock Bottom Brewery - Milwaukee, Pilsner, Gold, German-Style Pilsener
Titletown Brewing Co., Dark Helmet, Bronze, German Style Schwarzbier

Interesting to note:
- Only five winners this year. It's hard to tell how many actually participated, but unless you have immediate aspirations to distribute outside of Wisconsin, is there really a need to even send beer? Yeah, if you win you get to advertise it, but how much does "Bronze at GABF" really buy you and is it worth the time and money?

- All of the awards were in German beer categories (except for Raspberry Tart).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

In part one of this week's podcast, we taste Goose Island's reserve series Sophie, a Belgian golden ale with a portion aged in wine barrels.

Here's the mp3


Monday, September 28, 2009

An Encounter With A DUI Checkpoint

No, not me, but Tomme Arthur of The Lost Abbey was stopped on his way home from his brewery. I like the idea of random checkpoints, but admittedly there's a lot of negatives - and, frankly, the checkpoints are unconstitutional here in Wisconsin anyway. There's some possibility that this could change in the near(ish) future.

In any event, Tomme posted his story and his thoughts into a pretty compelling (if not entirely convincing) case against such checkpoints.
I was put through the paces last night. It was brutal. Sure I had been drinking and the officer was just doing his job. Yet, I felt helpless in that I was completely lucid (albeit wiped out from traveling) and about 3 blocks from my home.
Without a doubt, this was one of those wake up calls. Last night was not a heavy night of drinking by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, I found myself being asked to step out of a vehicle in a grocery store parking lot so I could walk the line. ... It’s amazing that with all the effort that was put into this Checkpoint, no one was found arrested for DUI on this evening.

So, you have a long day, a much needed beer or two, dozens of stops and no arrests. A supreme "waste of time." But, Tomme admits as much that it was a wake-up call. The point isn't just to catch drunk drivers, but rather to put some fear into people before they leave the bars that there just might be a checkpoint in the 5 blocks between the bar and your home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

PorterPalooza #4 - Scuttlebutt Porter

This one of those rare sightings on shelves around here. I think I picked this up in the Janesville Woodman's. I know next to nothing about Scuttlebutt Brewing Company. Scuttlebutt is based in Everett, Washington, a Northern suburb of Seattle. Based on the website info about this beer, I am expecting a robust porter a little lighter than Edmund Fitzgerald. Let's see, shall we?

Scuttlebutt Porter
BeerAdvocate (B). RateBeer (76).
Appearance: a twist of the cap and vigorous pour yields a thick, tan foamy head; somewhat dense, but falls away quickly; a dark brown, let's call it black, body
Aroma: roasted, malty and sweet with a light fruity hop kick; the website calls it mocha, but I'm not sure I'd quite go that far; my handy-dandy vintemp says 47 degrees, so it's possible that the aroma is yet somewhat muted; I think it's more hop aroma than most and is interestingly balanced
Flavor: roasted malt that acts a bit like a dark-roasted coffee - full bodied, but with a pleasing astringent bitterness; a slight sour-y tang and hoppy bitterness in the finish are pretty cool
Body: like many porters, it seems fuller-bodied than it actually is; the finish on this is dry, as in roasty, but it is not clean - the flavor sticks around and coats the mouth
Drinkability: because of the fuller-feeling body, I'm not sure I'd drink more than two, but a) this warms up well, and b) it would take me a while to drink 2, and c) I'd really enjoy drinking 2.
Summary: While similar to, say, the Ale Asylum Contorter Porter, the long, rather than dry, finish distinguishes this Northwestern brew from its Midwestern counterpart. This is a fun departure from the norm around here and it would be pleasing to drink as an everyday beer - the folks in Everett should consider themselves lucky to have it as their local. Is it the best porter ever? A conspicuous lack of complexity and muddiness of flavor prevents it from being in the top ranks, but as a local brew and a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of our Seattle brethren, it fits the bill well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On this weeks podcast, Jon and Matt taste the most sessionable beer made by Minnesota's Surly brewery, Bitter Brewer. Can this beer hold up to all the buzz created by beers like Furious and Darkness?

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Dichotomy of Style - Case Study: Oktoberfest

I'll try to keep this a little more brief than the sprawling mess I spit out on Monday about "descriptive" versus "prescriptive" interpretations of style. But, I think the Oktoberfest "style" is a pretty good example of Americans getting it wrong and the over-reliance on style as a prescriptive ideal.

If you'll recall, last year the Beer Talk Today guys and Madison Beer Review teamed up to taste a number of "Oktoberfest" style beers. You can listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. One of the interesting things to come out of that 13 beer tasting was how similar a number of the beers were and how very different others of them were. And, contrary to the staidness implied by my missive of the German brewing industry we saw that it was the Germans, not the Americans, that were most divergent from "style".

How can that be? Think about it for a second. It is a style that is, in theory, based entirely on a limited subset of beer. There's not even a "universe" of beer to describe. There are six breweries at the Munich Oktoberfest. Technically, these are the only six breweries in the world that are even allowed to call their beer "Oktoberfest". For the interested, those breweries are: Paulaner, Spaten, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, and Hofbrau.

Yet, the BJCP describes "Oktoberfest": "Domestic German versions tend to be golden, like a strong Pils-dominated Helles. Export German versions are typically orange-amber in color, and have a distinctive toasty malt character. German beer tax law limits the OG of the style at 14P since it is a vollbier, although American versions can be stronger. 'Fest' type beers are special occasion beers that are usually stronger than their everyday counterparts."

The description is rather interesting. You'll note that it highlights the American hijacking of the style. Indeed, one of the things that we found in our tasting was that the range across the four German Festbiers was far broader than the remaining nine American. The Germans were everything from light and distinct (Weihenstephaner) to rich and Malty (Spaten) to hoppy (Paulaner) to a pale and light-bodied (Hacker-Pschorr). Three of these four comprise half of the only breweries in the world even at "Oktoberfest". I can tell you from experience that Augstiner's "fest" is similar to the Hacker-Pschorr, if a little maltier - though no darker in color.

Yet, the American version is almost invariably amber-colored, medium-bodied, and rich; often with some caramel notes and sometimes very hoppy. Heck, Avery makes an Imperial Oktoberfest. Yet, the American's always invoke "German tradition" in marketing these beers. In turn, Americans tend to think of Oktoberfest as a rich, malty, amber-hued beverage and thus, we come to expect it. Since we expect it, breweries make their Oktoberfests in this fashion - no one is going to mess with "German tradition" so the beers tend be uniformly similar. The final turn of the screw is when the BJCP and Brewers Association "describes" the style that has developed and publishes the findings which breweries and consumers take as a prescriptive notion of how the style should be brewed.

To be fair, thankfully both the BJCP and Brewers Association note the American stylistic differences from the German. The BA goes so far as to separate the American from the German entirely (though still calls them "oktoberfest", not simply "festbier"). Yet, inexplicably, American advertising of these beers calls up the German heritage and history and implies, if not outright absconds with, connection to these Bavarian brews.

It is through this iterative narrowing focus of the style that the marketplace becomes "boring." Boring here isn't a derogatory term, it just means that the style is uniform with little to differentiate the brewery. And, it's all based on this idea of prescriptive reading of style - whether in hard-line form from the guideline authors, or from consumer expectation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Press Release Tuesday - AIGA and Randy Mosher

As I think I've mentioned on this site before, I am, among other things, a trademark attorney. I'm only slightly obsessed with branding and logos and design. So, when I heard about this event, I was, I'll admit, slightly turned on. Come on! Just take a look at the pornographic poster for this event!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009  6:30pm  Lakefront Brewery
1872 N. Commerce Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212

This October, join us for an evening with Randy Mosher, designer, author, and world renowned brewing and beer expert. Find out how his "multi-career" approach of design, writing, and teaching has given Randy the credibility and contacts that have resulted in a happy and successful career. From a design degree, to studios, to agencies, to self employment, and on to beer, Randy has evolved out of design's mainstream and into a unique and interesting career that combines his passion for beer and his love for design.

About Randy:

Randy Mosher does marketing consulting, brand identity and packaging for small breweries in the US and abroad. A 1996 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Mosher worked as a designer, art director and creative director at design studios and advertising agencies before going solo in 1991. Since then, his work has focused mostly on food and drink, especially beer.

Mosher has many other connections to craft beer and homebrewing. He is author of three books on the subject, and writes frequent articles in beer-related magazines and teaches classes on recipe formulation and beer styles at Chicago's Siebel Institute, the country's oldest brewing school. He is active in the governance of the Brewers Association, the American Homebrewers Association and the Chicago beer Society.


6:30pm  | Time to enjoy a Lakefront Brew and Socialize
7:30-9:00pm  |  Presentation and Questions

$15 for members
$30 for non-members
$10 for student members


Want to Carpool from Madison? Contact Gage at


Many thanks to our partners on this event:

LakeFront Brewery
Digital Edge Printing

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Dichotomy of Style

An issue that keeps recurring throughout beer criticism, and even the industry itself, is the function and value of style guidelines. Indeed, this is a debate held in just about any industry where styles are generally outlined; e.g., cheese, wine, restaurants, cars, etc.

There are a few accepted guideline definitions. The Beer Judge Certification Program is probably the most-widely cited. The BJCP sets out as its goal "to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. ... The guidelines are not meant to describe every beer style made in the world (at least not yet). They are meant to cover the most common ones entered in homebrew competitions. The style descriptions are based on currently acknowledged world class examples, historical references to styles no longer brewed, and writings of noted beer researchers and journalists." [emphasis mine]

Thus, before we go too much further, let's look at the things I highlighted: "describe" and "entered in homebrew competitions." We'll talk about descriptions in a little bit, but it is important to note that the primary purpose of the BJCP guidelines to provide a framework for judging homebrew competitions. It sets out "rules", more or less, that must be followed by amateurs entering their beers to be judged in a BJCP-approved contest. Thus, if a homebrewer wants to enter a beer as an "altbier" the BJCP has set out guidelines that it deems a proper description of altbier for judging purposes.

Another source of accepted stylistic guidelines is the Brewers Association. The Brewers Organization is a national guild body of both professional and amateur brewers. These guidelines were established in 1979, and updated yearly since, for the purpose of "providing beer style descriptions as a reference for brewers and beer competition organizers. Much of the early work was based on the assistance and contributions of beer journalist Michael Jackson. ... The availability of commercial examples plays a large role in whether or not a beer style 'makes the list.' It is important to consider that not every historical or commercial beer style can be included, nor is every commercial beer representative of the historical tradition (i.e., a brewery labeling a brand as a particular style does not always indicate a fair representation of that style)."

Again, there is the word "descriptions", which we will come to in a minute. But, here, we see that the guidelines are reference-point. There is also an explicit acknowledgment that just because a brewery labels a beer with a particular style does not mean that the beer falls within the described style. For reasons I'll get to in a minute, I wish that the parenthetical were a bit more artfully worded. But nonetheless, it does recognize that styles are not rigid.

Which brings us to the final acknowledged authority on style: Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter himself. His two seminal books, Ultimate Beer and The Great Beer Guide, both set out a world-wide categorization of beer that was heretofore unparalleled. Jackson traveled the world cataloging beer and assiduously arranging the beer into categories that we now recognize as beer styles. Much of it was based on historical reference; we need not attribute the invention of "doppelbock" to Jackson. But we can certainly attribute a careful description and definition of the style to him.

Of course, descriptions of style existed long before Jackson. Since the early 1800s there are references to what is and is not a Porter, for example. But none had compiled the list of styles into one tome in an easy-to-reference manner. A feat that would revolutionize beer, American beer in particular, as much as the hydrometer or glycol chiller ever did.

Before Jackson's escapades from the mid-60s through his death in 2007, styles were, more or less, confined to a region. The existence of things like "German Porters" and "Belgian Porters" didn't, for the most part, exist. Of course, I'm not saying that no German brewery brewed a Porter, but the Germans didn't call it a Porter. A dark ale-like thing brewed in Germany was more likely crowned "alt" there and brewed in an ale style with lager yeast. Moreover, the Belgians didn't set out to brew a "dubbel" they just brewed a brown beer with "double" the recipe and the yeast in use in Belgium and called it a "dubbel".

It wasn't until much later that someone, Jackson, came along took all of the "things" that the Belgians called "dubbel" and attempted to set out a loose description of all of these things together.

Thus, throughout history, and even in all of the guidelines themselves, we see that stylistic definitions are "descriptive." Yet, drinkers and brewers alike both treat these styles as "prescriptive."

Descriptive means that the style tries to explain how things actually are. The describer looks around at all of the things that are attributed with a particular name and attempts to put forth some common characteristics. By definition this description will be incomplete and set out a range of values for the things described, as all of the things are not identical.

Prescriptive means that the guidelines are setting out the way things should be. Often prescriptive guidelines are ideals. In language, for example, "when adults learn a foreign language, they typically want someone to tell them how to speak, in other words to prescribe a particular set of rules to follow, and expect a teacher or book to set forth those rules."

Likewise, when people want to learn how to brew beer, it helps to have a set of rules to follow and be told how to brew. Hence, the BJCP guidelines set out "prescriptive" rules for having beer judged at homebrewing competition. And, to the extent that the Brewer's Association is intended for competition, like the Great American Beer Fest, it is also prescriptive.

But, what about non-competition situations? Are these guidelines prescriptive or descriptive? I find it hard to find in the stated goals or underlying purpose set forth by the various bodies anything that indicates that we should take them as anything other than merely descriptive. But, I hear time and again from brewers themselves that "we brew to style" or "this beer is brewed to style." In many cases these are beers intended for a market whose primary consumer is unfamiliar with beer. In this case brewers are clearly brewing with a set of guidelines in mind.

Far be it from me to deride a brewers' choice, but is there really any need for more than one brewery to "brew to style"? If two beers are both brewed to style, they are going to taste very, very similarly. If everyone brews to style, we end up with a very homogeneous marketplace. Moreover, we end up with very static styles.

On the other hand, if we see style guidelines, as a general rule as descriptive we end up with a far more dynamic range of beer. Of course, applying this standard seems to imply that a brewer could develop a light-bodied pale ale and call it doppelbock. Not only would that be confusing in the marketplace, it would reveal a contempt for history, and a sense of sarcasm not generally appreciated by the beer-buying public. But, maybe that's what the brewer is going for.

The margins are a harder call. What to do with last year's "Alt" from New Glarus? The Alt was a beer that was far beyond what the descriptive category prescribed. Yet, here it was. Not only was it fully within the spirit of the style, but it pushed the style in a way that is uniquely American and seemingly lost to the Germans, thus it is fully within the brewing spirit as well.

Finally, it is this descriptiveness versus prescriptiveness that results in confusion in the marketplace as different consumers have different views of the role of the guidelines. For example, last week's debate about Sand Creek's Badger Porter. Given Sand Creek's place and purpose in the market, I expect that a product like Badger Porter would be "to style", and in that regard I think the beer falls short. If we take the guidelines as descriptive, then the Porter is simply not to my tastes and what my limited descriptive experience tells me to expect from the style. As a descriptor, do I handle Sand Creek as one point in the range or as an outlier to be ignored. On the one hand, this is one of the hazards of "brewing to style" - you get held to the style. On the other, the brewer has to rely on the drinker's experience, and let' face it, we're not all Michael Jackson.

Remind me later to tell you about Oktoberfests.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This One Couldn't Wait Until Monday

This has been a bit of a lazy week for me. It's been ridiculously busy the past few weeks, so I sort of took last week off a bit.

To make up for it, a bonus Saturday post. I was talking with some friends recently and someone mentioned that Germans like to mix beer with soda. I'd never heard of this, and frankly it sounds disgusting. But, not only do the Germans mix their beer with soda - they BUY pre-mixed beer and soda. Thankfully, so far this year Germans have purchased 4.7% less of these beer mixes.

This awesome stuff that you see the ad for there is a mix of alt-bier and cola called "diesel". Too bad JT Whitney's isn't still around, that would be a great place to try such a concoction.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On Part Two of this week's podcast, we continue our talk with Joe Walts of the forthcoming RePublic Brewpub. On part two of this weeks podcast, we get an excited caller asking Joe about homebrewing, a discussion of the merits of organic versus conventional malt, and all about the beers Joe will brew at RePublic.

the mp3


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Better Know Your Fall Beerfests - UPDATED


First, sorry for the lack of a post on Monday, but I was recovering from a long weekend of beer. On Friday, Madison Beer Review had the honor of sponsoring a hole for the Downtown Madison Optimist Club's golf event. Mrs. MBR and her helper elf served the beer, I golfed. If you look really closely you can see the MBR logo on the hole sign there :)

Saturday was Thirsty Troll, and Sunday was the Packers and Bears game. Monday was recovery day.


The summer has the glory of The Great Taste of the Midwest, but the fall has the quantity. Every weekend is a veritable cornucopia of beer-soaked bacchanalia. It started last weekend with Thirsty Troll in Mount Horeb and Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis. This coming weekend is the Great Lakes Brew Fest, then LaCrosse Oktoberfest and Quivey's Grove Beerfest.

Thirsty Troll - September 12, 2009

The neighborhood get-together of beer fests. It's not a big, reputation-building event. It's not meant to be. It's just a bunch of locals getting together to drink lots of good beer and hang out on a gorgeous early-fall afternoon. This year was no different. Nothing too special was brought in, though Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter was the group favorite - a rich, roasted coffee and alcohol almost-stout with a citrus bite; perfect for the coming fall months. For some friends in from Chicago, the Ale Asylum Ambergeddon and Tyranena's Bitter Woman rounded out the top 3. It seems that Sand Creek and Furthermore have had some recipe tweaks; the Cranberry Ale isn't nearly as tart (which is a good thing!), and the Oscura seemed a lot less coffee-like and more Mexican Lager-like than I had remembered it being. Either O'So didn't bring enough beer, or people really liked Marc Buttera's brews, because O'So was cleaned out almost an hour before closing time; based on the lines at his booth, I'm guessing the latter.

Autumn Brew Review - September 12, 2009 - Minneapolis, MN

I know, it's not in Wisconsin. But, it does seem like it attracts a lot of Western and Northern Wisconsin folks. For example, Pearl Street, Viking and Rush River were all conspicuously absent from Thirsty Troll. But, more importantly, I think, this was the official launch of David Anderson's BrewFarm: "I'm pouring six different beers I brewed on my pilot system at the Autumn Brew Review - my 'big' debut you could say. My contract brews are coming together and should have one or two ready to go by the end of OCT. Ran into a snafu with my brewing kettle - the firebox looks like a grenade went off inside and is currently unusable. Working on a retrofit that's gonna take some time." You can read some great coverage over at Beer Geek Heaven, the blog of Frank at The Nova in Hudson, WI.

Great Lakes Brew Fest - September 19, 2009 - Racine, WI

All this week is Milwaukee Beer Week (great info about MBW at the Beer Buffalo Lodge), culminating in the big Milwaukee/Chicago-area blow-out that is The Great Lakes Brew Fest. Tickets are still available and they're only $39 for a whole day of drinking. Plenty of shuttles are available from hotels and bars all around the city, so you don't have to drive anywhere. Again, has, well, the .info. But, I do know that Pearl Street is bringing their Smokin' Hemp Porter, which makes me very, very happy.

La Crosse Oktoberfest - September 25 - October 3, 2009 - La Crosse, WI

Call it NotSoberFest if you want, but it's an institution and one of the biggest, baddest, specific-law-exemption-havenest keggers in the Midwest, if not the US. You're not going to get a whole lot of craft beer, but you will get a whole lot of beer. It's a party, so enjoy it. UPDATE: Wednesday, September 30th is Craft Beer Night at the Oktoberfest; it's not exactly clear what this entails, but it goes from 5-8pm and will presumably feature at least a few La Crosse-area, Wisconsin and Minnesota breweries. I'm trying to get some information about this for you.

Quivey's Grove Brewfest - October 3, 2009 - Madison, WI

Quivey's is one of the longest running craft beer festivals around. A great mix of in-state and out-of-state breweries, there's always something for everyone. Tickets are still available, though the remaining 250 will go quickly, so get your tickets now!

UPDATE: Dells On Tap - October 17th - The Dells, WI

Dells On Tap is part of the Autumn Harvest Fest in The Dells. It only costs $25 and you get 5 hours of drinking (1pm - 5pm) in the middle of Leaf Season in The Dells. The Dells' central Wisconsin location and the late nature of the festival (it's one of the last of the fall) means that it is well-attended by breweries from all over the state.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the first part of this weeks podcast, we interview Joe Walts, owner and brewmaster at the forthcoming Sun Prairie brewpub RePublic. We talk to Joe about his start as a brewer, brewing at JT Whitneys and Otter Creek, the difficulties of starting a business in a recession, and choosing Sun Prairie over Madison.

Here's the mp3


Friday, September 11, 2009

PorterPalooza #3 - Sand Creek Badger Porter

For some reason we haven't really reviewed much of Sand Creek's output here. The Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout received a pretty solid review, but I think that's the only Sand Creek beer that's been reviewed on the site.

Granted, there's nothing particularly sexy about Sand Creek. These days, the vast majority of the output there is under contract. But they have a great reputation with contracts, brewing not only Furthermore, but Half Acre from Chicago, and Dave's Brewfarm, among others. But, still, they make pretty solid beer in their own right. Again, nothing fancy, no funky Belgian wits or crazy American pale ales, but a strong IPA, a good Chocolate stout, and some lighter fare thrown in. The Groovy Brew and the Cranberry Ale could use some re-tooling, neither are really my thing, and the Hard Lemonade makes it hard to take them seriously.

Todd and the guys at Sand Creek are good folk, but the contracting does pull them in twenty directions at once, which I think impacts their ability to innovate or be creative themselves. I don't think that's a bad thing, so long as quality doesn't suffer, it just means that the house brands aren't going to stray too far from style. Great for mass consumption, but won't score you points with the geeks. Frankly, I'd take the money over BeerAdvocate ratings any day, too.

Sand Creek Badger Porter
BeerAdvocate (B-). RateBeer (51).
Appearance: a dense, but foamy light-tan head recedes quickly; a chestnut brown body with definite amber highlights; it looks like a very nice porter; fine bubbling looks almost bottle-conditioned
Aroma: light aroma that is classically malty; a little nuttiness and some caramel seem to come through, but it's really just "malt"
Flavor: thick-bodied but light in the flavor, there's a faint tangy brightness in the end; tastes like a more-full bodied Newcastle but without the strong nuttiness that Newcastle has
Body: full-bodied and soft, the body is quite nice actually
Drinkability: maybe out of a bottle at a bar this might pass for a porter, but in my glass under the microscope, so to speak, I don't really need another one
Summary: The lack of any strong flavor or aroma makes it hard to recommend this; the porter style isn't one of those styles that you can pass off as a "low-flavor, high-sessionability" kind of thing - it needs flavor - any flavor really; smoky, burnt toast, nutty, coffee, chocolate, pick one, it doesn't matter, but its gotta have flavor and this just isn't there; don't get me wrong, if I were at a bar and in the mood for a porter and this was what they had, I'd drink it without complaint and it would pass for its purposes; it's not poorly made and I'm sure this low-flavor drinkability is what they are going for, but as I'm finding in my travels around the style, that's just not really what porters are about

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Press Release Thursday - Reminder - Thirsty Troll Brewfest This Weekend!

OK, I didn't actually receive a press release, but I did just buy my tickets.

You can go here for more information about the Thirsty Troll. It's this Saturday, the 12th, from 1-5pm. $30 gets you through the gate. $55 gets 2 of you through the gate. A great price for four hours of tasting hundreds of beers made by dozens of breweries. A partial list of attendees:

Ale Asylum Brewery, Madison
BluCreek Brewing, Black River Falls
Esser's Best, Cross Plains Brewery
Capital Brewery, Middleton
Flying Dog, Frederick MD
Goose Island, Chicago, IL
Furthermore Beer, Spring Green
Great Dane Brewing, Madison
Magic Hat, Burlington VT
The Grumpy Troll Brewery, Mount Horeb
Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee
Lake Louie, Arena
New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus
Leinenkugel Brewing, Chippewa Falls
Potosi Brewing, Potosi
O'so Brewing, Plover
Pyramid, Seattle, WA
Purple Feet Wines
Stone Cellar Brewpub, Appleton
Sand Creek Brewing, Black River Falls
Tyranena Brewing, Lake Mills

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On Part Two of this week's podcast, we continue our end of summer Lawnmower Beer tasting. In this clip, we taste Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Grain Belt Premium, Furthermore Proper, New Glarus Spotted Cow, a second bottle labeled Capital Island Wheat (one of the two we tasted was Capital's "experimental"), and Goose Island 312. Plus our reactions as Kyle reveals what was what.

the mp3

Bonus Clip:
We reflect on the adventure that was our Stout tasting:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

PorterPalooza #2 - St. Peter's Old-Style Porter

A few weeks back I began this obsession with New Glarus' Old English Porter. You'll recall that New Glarus' latest unplugged is intensely sour with roasted and biscuit tones that come out as the beer warms up, along the lines of a dark Rodenbach. New Glarus creates this sourness by blending aged (sour) beer with new (un-soured) beer to a mix that suits that the drinker (in this case, Dan Carey).

St. Peter's Brewery, of Suffolk, England has created a porter that is also a blend of old and new beer. One of the few ubiquitous British beers (Fullers and Samuel Smith's being the others), St. Peter's aims to produce classic British beer and have won numerous awards for its style-defining (literally) porter.

I'm going to do things a little differently with this because I want to get the review out of the way first and then compare this with the New Glarus Old English Porter. So, check out the review and I'll meet you again below the review.

St. Peter's Old-Style English Porter
BeerAdvocate (B+). RateBeer (80)
Appearance: a vigorous pour at 50 degrees produces a one-finger, tan head that is foamy on a dark, almost black body
Aroma: roasted and burnt but muted with a light earthy, grassy hoppiness (fuggles maybe?);
Flavor: light and funky; not what I expected from the aroma at all; the end is a bitter from burnt (black) malt and not a hoppy bitterness (like the Dark Horse Black); there is a mouth-puckering bitterness and anise-like flavor here that I'm surprised to find; there is a malt complexity here that tastes like a non-oily Palo Santo Marron;
Body: light bodied; unlike the NG Old English which is medium-bodied, but the sourness makes it seem light-bodied, this one is actually light-bodied
Drinkability: with the weird flavors going on here, I'm not sure I'd want more than one - but a 1.9 bottle is perfect for me once a winter
Summary: If this was my quirky local beer, I'd be happy to drink this, but I can definitely understand why others would have more reserved judgment; as it is, I'd probably drink this, a year later forget what I thought of it and buy another; it's kind of different and it's definitely not a "robust" porter like what we've become accustomed to here in the states.

Ok, now back to our comparison with the New Glarus Old English Porter

These two share similar bodies, though they clearly arrive at it differently - which is to say both appear to be light-to-medium bodied. Moreover, both are very different from what we tend to think of as "typical" porters - which is to say, Robust Porters (like Edmund Fitzgerald). But these two beers are aged very differently: New Glarus obviously intentionally sours its beer, while this one has a strange aged flavor that makes me question how the "old" part of this aged. This one didn't sour so much as funkify and there's a little Belgian-like funk, but it comes out more like a licorice quality. We can say for certain that this brewer's "mix" is not nearly as aggressive as Dan Carey's. In fact, it makes me wonder what the "old ale" portion of this beer actually tastes like.

So, these two beers are clearly from the same lineage. But, they present a challenge. Were the "old" porters intensely sour or were they more funky and earthy like this one? Or, were they both? Beer ages differently depending on the vessel and location of the aging beer, so it's very possible that some were vinous and sour and others were funky and burnt like this one.

This is making want to drink more porters ... so ... stay tuned ...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

In this week's episode of Beer Talk Today, we join with Madison Beer Review for an end of summer Lawnmower Beer Tasting. On Part one, we taste Capital Island Wheat, Coon Rock Cream Ale, Miller Genuine Draft, Victory Prima Pils, Budweiser, Cheesehead (a Capital beer), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Fat Tire Amber Ale. Then we get in a long conversation about New Belgium and the Wisconsin beer market.

Here's the mp3


UPDATE: Some info about the Cheesehead Lager that we tasted. I was wrong, it was not made in 1994, it was made in 1997, so it's only 12 years old. Capital made Cheesehead from August 1997 until January 1998 when they and their distributors were sued by Champion Beer Co. who held the rights to the Cheesehead name for beer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Press Release Friday - Furthermore Shitty Barn Party

Normally I use a press release to supplement, rather than supplant, the day's post. Unfortunately, even the best laid plans can go awry - or something like that. In any event, I didn't get the post I wanted to write written last night.

But I did get a poster from Chris Staples of Furthermore Beer about their annual Shitty Barn Party. It's always a blast, and this year will be the biggest blast yet.

The event is being put on by Furthermore Beer and Gastro Non Grata, the Twin Cities-based producers of food and beer events with a "Mickey Rooney/Dirty Garage Rock feel". Furthermore is celebrating the latest release of Fallen Apple. Everyone is celebrating just 'cuz. Amazing food is coming from Underground Food Collective, they of Bike the Barns and Pre-Industrial Pig Roast fames. Chef Nate from Chippewa Falls will help out, too.

Music will be played by The Chambermaids, Private Dancer, and Madison's Droids Attack. Art installation and on-site screen printing by The Art Department.

Oh. Don't forget Just Coffee and a meat raffle. A meat raffle? Yeah. A meat raffle.

All of this for a suggested donation of $10 that will help off-set the costs of bringing all of this awesomeness to you. If you are afraid of drinking and driving (and you should be!) please carpool (if you have a ride or need a ride, please comment here and maybe MBR can facilitate the getting of people from one place to another). You are more than welcome to crash in and around the Shitty Barn. If you do, Furthermore has offered Bloody Marys and breakfast for the detritus.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

West Side of Madison Gets New Beer Bar

I got a tip the other day of some interesting developments on the far West Side of Madison. At Old Sauk and John Q. Hammonds Drive, where Houlihan's used to be, is a sign in the window of the closed restaurant reading "Coming Soon Sprecher Pub Restaurant."

I wasn't aware of Sprecher having pubs or restaurants and it appears that this is their first. But it struck me as odd. Is this a brewpub? Is it more like the Gray's Tied House where most of the beer will be trucked in? Will any brewing be done on-site? What does Sprecher have to do with this? Can they be a brewery and have a facility like this? What the heck is going on?

So, I sent an email to Sprecher and this is what I got back:
The Sprecher Pub is an independent business from the brewery. There will not be brewing at that location. They are planning an outdoor biergarten. They will be featuring Sprecher beers and sodas, although not exclusively. We will be providing them with specialty and limited edition beers in addition to our regular offerings. That’s about all I know at this time.
Basically, a beer bar that has a lot of Sprecher on tap.

It will be interesting to see if this is a proper beer bar or if it is simply a typical bar with Sprecher instead of Leinenkugel's and Blue Moon. It's not a huge risk for Sprecher since all the brewery itself is risking is its trademarks (and therefore reputation). But, it's an interesting way of getting a tied house or brewpub without actually having a tied house or brewpub. It's an interesting side-step around the rules.

I'd be curious to see what the terms of the trademark license stipulate. Is it a flat-fee (or stepped flat-fee) arrangement or is it a royalty? Either way it acts like a quasi-ownership interest without actually having an ownership interest. Think about it. Under a license arrangement Sprecher gets paid for bar operations (possibly even pre-tax, so it's better than being an owner - and they get paid even if the brewery doesn't succeed). If the bar does poorly, the trademark, and hence the brewery, suffers. So, it acts like an ownership interest, it even looks like an ownership interest (the name's on the door) but isn't actually an ownership interest. And all the state (or Feds) require is that there be no actual ownership interest. Problem solved. Neat, huh?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MBR on Here on Earth, Wisconsin Public Radio

I've finally managed to get this up. I was on Wisconsin Public Radio's Here on Earth with Bill Rogers of The Malt House and Paul Graham of Central Waters. We talked about beer for a little under an hour. I think there's a lot of great information here and it was a fun and lively discussion. We even had some callers!

Here's the MP3.