Friday, December 31, 2010

Year In Review: 2010 Awards

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It's become something of a tradition here to call out some of our favorite beers from throughout the year. These are beers that, for some reason, have resonated in our consciousness this year.

Unfortunately, for who's know what reason, this year was not 2009 - an epic year for beer in Wisconsin, with lots of great new brands and styles. 2010 was much more slowly paced in terms of new releases; of course, that's not to say the beer wasn't any good, but it there wasn't much that really jumped out any of us.

So, with that in mind, here's what Madison Beer Review thought about 2010.

Best Experimental Release
Joe: Vintage Jolupukki (sahti)
Robyn: None that stuck out
Matt: Central Waters Peruvian Morning
Jeff: Vintage Rochambeau - I was obsessed with this beer in the late-spring, early summer. Scotty's obsession with Sorachi Ace hops has rubbed off on me and this Belgian Pale Ale just hit all the right notes.

Best New Release
Joe: Vintage Better Off Red
Robyn: Vintage Pumpkin Disorderly
Matt: Furthermore Hopperbolic
Jeff: Furthermore Hopperbolic and Central Waters Illumination - I know, I said I wasn't going to talk about Furthermore, and you can feel free to discount my opinion accordingly, but Furthermore knocked it out of the park with this IPA that on its first release is one of the top, if not the top, IPA in Wisconsin. For a runner-up, Central Waters' Illumination IIPA was mighty tasty.

Best Seasonal
Joe: New Glarus Staghorn
Robyn: Lake Louie Milk Stout; Central Waters Peruvian Morning
Matt: Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru
Jeff: O'so Picnic Ants - O'so was pretty quiet this year, but still managed to improve the Picnic Ants to be a fantastic early-summer must-have.

Best Special Release
Joe: Grumpy Troll Grumpy Creek on Cask (Great Taste)
Robyn: New Glarus Enigma and Abt
Matt: New Glarus R&D Geuze
Jeff: Capital Barrel Aged Imperial Doppelbock - it's so special it isn't publicly available yet; but what I've had of it (thanks Kirby!!) makes it the most-anticipated release of 2011 (if it even gets released). Rich and overloaded with alcohol, the bourbon-barrel notes compliment the texture, flavors, and aroma perfectly.

Best Year-Round Release
Joe: No Vote (conflict)
Robyn: Titletown Schwarzbier
Matt: Tyranena Bitter Woman
Jeff: BrewFarm Select and BrewFarm Matacabras - I do not buy 12-packs of many beers, BrewFarm Select is one of the few that I buy by the case; along with Capital Pilsner, Select is one of the two best light-beers in the state. And Matacabras. I could write pages about the awesome-ness of Matacabras. The complexity, the aromas, the flavors, the versatility - if a bigger-named brewery in the South-Central part of this state had made this, named it something boring, and slapped a red-foil wrapper on it, it would be BeerAdvocate's number 1 beer in the universe; as it is, cherish this jewel.

Best Brewery
Joe: No Vote (conflict)
Robyn: Vintage Brewing
Matt: New Glarus
Jeff: Dave's BrewFarm - I know, they only sell two beers; but that really sort of misses the point. Dave's BrewFarm is not, primarily, a brewery at all. It's not about making obscure styles or precise laboratory perfection. It's not about big, bold beers; it's not about mild ales so subtle you need a phd to taste anything. It's not about packaging, or label design, or trends. The BrewFarm is a way of life. It is kicking back with good, tasty beer. It is dropping in just to see what's going on. It is about always having something going on, even if what's going on is nothing at all. It's about the abundant beauty and comraderie that one can take in with a beer in your hand. It is about experimenting purely to satisfy curiosity. It is about experimenting with what's on hand in a sustainable manner. It is about caring about your customers and world around you and having a brewery that manages to do all of those things at once.

Best Brewpub: vote in the poll to the right there. Can anyone take down Grumpy Troll, winner 3 years in a row? Voting ends 2/28.

Some Disclaimers: Joe works at Ale Asylum (if you take a tour there, say hello), so while he reluctantly voted for some of the awards, he didn't feel it appropriate to vote for (or against) Ale Asylum. Robyn works for Vintage Brewing Company behind the bar and coordinating their beer education program; this is a relatively new gig for her, and I'm sure her votes are unbiased, and not intended as Vintage jingoism [ed note: one of my favorite words]. Indeed, Vintage had a very strong showing this year and Head Brewer Scott Manning deserves all the kudos he gets. Jeff is on an advisory board for Furthermore Beer; it hasn't even met yet, is not a permanent gig, and Jeff isn't getting paid for it. But, nonetheless, transparency prevails. Matt used to work for Ale Asylum, but no longer does. Finally, Travis works at Barriques; it presents no conflict, except when I want his beer discount and can't get it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review - Top 10 Posts of 2010

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Let's look at the Top 10 Posts of 2010, determined by your comments:

10 and 9. We had a bunch of posts that tied for number of comments: Happy 25th Sprecher, A Post on Beer While Traveling, Vintage Brewer Scott Manning Asks What You Want To Drink This Summer, We Discuss Point's Whole Hog Series.

8. I ask what you are drinking, and you responded.

7. MBR reviews The Cooper's Tavern.

6. A review of Pearl Street's Dankenstein IIPA draws quite a few comments.

5. Brennan's sells a "Spotted Cow" cheese and I ask if that's trademark infringement.

4. A trip to Milwaukee's Sugar Maple, was not so sweet.

3. Another trademark discussion, about Walter's Beer and Northwoods Brewing Company's attempt to revive what may, or may not, be a "dead brand".

2. A discussion about how many times one needs to visit a place before writing a review about it. (aka, MBR dumps on Vintage Brewing Company).

And the Number 1 post this year for comments: Stone Brewing Company announces that they are leaving Wisconsin.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Thoughts On Tasting Beer - A Resolution

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It's going to be the new year next week. So, in advance, I'm highlighting something that you will see more of this year - tasting beer. Not just drinking it and analyzing it, but taking it apart, breaking it down, and getting into the flavors of beer.

Now, I'm no "supertaster" like Robyn [ed note: something she didn't mention: women are far more likely to be supertasters than men - 35% to 15%, respectively, actually], and generally my palate is fairly challenged, though it is getting better. So the point of this exercise is to train my palate to recognize flavors when they present in the beer. So, knowing, for example, that a Belgian Dubbel might have "clove" or "plum" or "fig" flavors, it would probably help to know what those things taste like in a beer. Hence, the point of this post.

I have to admit I was inspired by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and his weekly 60-minute infomercial on Discovery called "Brew Masters." So far I have stayed away from writing about it, because I don't really think I'm an unbiased reporter of things Dogfish Head; you either like Sam and his company or you don't. I like what Sam does, but find it really hard to write about because, for the most part, it's not really about what is in your glass, how it tastes, or what you think of it - it's about the process and research and experimentation. Whether it should be put into a bottle for general availability is an entirely different issue.

In any event, I was actually very interested in his episode about the draft-only Dogfish beer Ta Henket. It was the process of flavoring this beer that I found utterly fascinating. First, Sam and a few others went to a spice market to find spices that would be candidates for inclusion in the beer. They discussed why they thought a particular spice would or wouldn't work (too strong/very floral/pungent, etc.) and they purchased enough to use for testing. They went back to their tasting facility - in this case, a table outdoors - and made a "tea" of sorts out of a plain yellow-fizzy beer (unsure which it was) and each of the spices. They smelled, tasted, and combined each of the teas until they found a combination that worked. It was very similar to a coffee cupping.

Now, I know, the brewers out there are going to tell me: but we all make teas all the time with the beer and hops and spices. Fair enough, but it wasn't until I saw Sam go through this ritual that the idea seemed really useful on a consumer-level as well. The connection of beer to food was never as visceral to me for some reason.

And, really, could this be a new step in my beer-cocktail obsession? We'll see...

In conjunction with implementing this in some form or another, I am going to start homebrewing more seriously. I've managed to get myself up to simple all-grain recipes, but I'd like to start undertaking a more concerted effort to actually learn what the hell is going on with the creation of beer. I'll have some limitations because of my lack of a dedicated refrigerator for lagering, etc. but I'll worry about that when I have to. But few things have the impact of teaching taste than creating beer - each step teaches what flavors on top of flavors taste like. It is easier to taste and smell the differences in grains and hops when they are fresh, raw, materials.

I'll try to let you know when I'm undertaking such experiments and you can follow along at home. If there's enough demand, maybe we'll do a public testing and see how that goes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Supertasting leaves bitter taste behind

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Do you remember that little genetic test you did in freshman biology? The one where you put the little piece of paper that had been dipped in a chemical in your mouth and if you could taste it you had the recessive gene, but if you couldn't, you didn't? Yeah, that one. I was the only one in class that could taste the chemical on the paper and I'll tell you what: it was a mouthful of mind-numbing, bitter nast.


Turns out what this actually tests is whether or not you're a supertaster. The chemical on the paper is 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), and while most folks (medium tasters) apparently find PROP tolerably bitter (even pleasantly bitter?), for supertasters it’s almost unpalatable. So if you're a hophead, you are definitely not a supertaster. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


With taste bud densities of ten to 100 times greater than the general population, supertasters experience a heightened sensitivity to all flavors- especially salt, sweet, bitter and spice. While this means that we can better experience some of the more nuanced flavors in food and beverages, it also means that we tend to steer away from extreme flavors, such as hoppy beers and spicy foods.


There are some health benefits to being a supertaster- we generally avoid very sweet, salty and fatty foods, which leads to lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and obesity. However, we also tend to avoid vegetables containing cancer-fighting flavanoids, such as spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli (vile weed!). Other problem foods include hoppy beers, liquor, coffee, tea, peppers and olives.


As a new writer to MRB, I wanted to post about supertasting so that you all know what perspective I’m coming from when writing reviews. In general, I tend towards the malty end of the spectrum, though I’m working on developing at least an appreciation for the hoppy beers, if not a love for them. Don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’m trying. In the meantime, I might leave the hoppy beer reviews to Jeff since mine will inevitably be summarized by “yech.”


Side note: an FYI for all you hopheads out there- bitterness is generally nature’s warning for toxins and poison. From an evolutionary perspective, bitter equals bad. So if you ever find yourself stranded in the woods somewhere Bear Grylls style, don’t succumb to your bitter-loving taste buds- you’ll likely regret it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Want Some of That Tasty Beer Money?

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Get into politics. We'll talk about the CARE Act in a second, for now, just let this wash over you.

In all 32 House members were given wholesaler contributions within a month
of signing on to the legislation [ed note: the CARE Act] - including at least 10
lawmakers who were given contributions within a day of co-sponsoring
the bill, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from the Center for
Responsive Politics and public records.


So what is the CARE Act? Well, if you ask the distributors you get one answer:
The CARE Act aims to clarify congressional intent that states have primary authority to regulate alcohol; prevent the additional erosion of state-based alcohol regulation through the expansion of the Granholm v. Heald decision, but not allow intentional or facial discrimination against out-of-state or out-of-territory producers unless the state or territory can demonstrate that the challenged law advances a legitimate local purpose that cannot be adequately served by reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives.
What does that mean? It means they want to make the three-tier system federal law. In 2005, the Supreme Court decided Granholm v. Heald. In Granholm the Court held that state laws that permitted in-state wineries, but not out-of-state wineries, to direct-ship to in-state customers are unconstitutional. The laws were meant to protect small wineries and allow them, but not large, corporate out-of-state wineries, to ship directly to customers - a service that greatly increases purchases at wineries by tourists. The Supreme Court said, basically, that if the state were going to allow in-state wineries to ship to in-state customers, the state also had to allow out-of-state wineries to ship to in-state customers.

The distributors CARE, because direct shipment to customers bypasses the distributors.

In a general sense, distributors are not super-concerned with small wineries shipping a few cases of wine to a few tourists. However, with these specific laws unconstitutional, states, if they want to grant their small wineries this right, must also allow big, corporate wineries (the bread and butter of the distributors) to also direct-ship to customers. So, if I want a magnum of Kendall Jackson reserve, I can just order it straight from the winery instead of walking into Woodman's. And that's what the distributors are afraid of.

So, the hard-working lawyers at the National Beer Wholesalers Association ("NBWA") came up with the Comprensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2010 ("CARE Act"). It would reverse Granholm and specifically allow states to discriminate between in-state producers and out-of-state producers.

Sounds like just the sort of thing that small breweries would like, right? Protectionist legislation that would allow them to ship to their in-state customers, even if they have to stop direct shipment at the border. However, the Brewers' Association, the craft beer lobbying group, roundly opposes the proposed legislation.
As currently drafted, H.R. 5034 would amount to an abandonment of Congressional authority over interstate commerce in alcohol beverages. It will undermine existing federal authority over taxation, product composition, labeling, advertising, and importation of goods from other nations. ... Congress should not provide states with a free hand to enact new and inequitable protection for wholesalers. Similarly, any serious discussion of an equitable distribution system must assure access to market for small brewers, allowing them to distribute beer in order to build a market for small brands.
Fair enough. The Brewer's Association thus argues that the system works pretty well right now. Enacting the law will only make it more confusing about who can ship where; some states will allow in-state but not out-of-state shipments, others will allow both, some will allow neither. Today, if anyone can direct-ship, everyone can direct-ship. Easy.

While many predicted that Granholm would re-define how the alcohol industry works, the reality is that in the five years since the Granholm decision, little has changed. The reason? It takes time and money to direct ship alcohol. And why go through the hassle when you can just walk down to Woodman's to buy it? Nonetheless, the NBWA feels it necessary to spend millions of dollars to buy your Congress-critter's support.

There is only one Representative from Wisconsin listed as supporting the CARE Act: LaCrosse-area representative Ron Kind, who won re-election in this past election. Oh look: Rep. Kind received a nice, fat $10,000 check from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, I'm shocked and amazed. Bet that money came in handy for his re-election that won by a mere 3 percentage points.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bar Review: Capital Tap Haus

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In some ways it's futile to "review" a bar like the Capital Tap Haus. Inside there is little to distinguish it from every other tavern in the state: tall-top tables in front of tvs, a large bar, some booths opposite the bar and a few seats in the back for privacy. It's surprisingly small. Which means that when there are a little more than a few people there it can feel very cramped very quickly. Most nights this probably isn't much of an issue. But, for ball games it will get miserable quickly. And for Friday night fish it meant that our group, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. MBR, along with the crew from Madison Fish Fry, had a hard time finding a place to wait for our table without being in the way of the staff trying to serve customers and customer trying to get to and from seats.

While we waited we had a beer. You have a choice of Capital, Capital, Capital, or Capital. Of course. They had only one "special" tap - the Tett Dopplebock - which was a little disappointing (the selection, not the beer - the beer was fine, hoppy, flavorful doppelbock). But, the tavern is new, and Capital has not released the Barrel Aged Imperial Dopplebock yet or developed some new stuff for them. Indeed, it's interesting to note that the dedication to Capital, with no formal relationship between the two, makes for a somewhat awkward situation; it's sorta like hanging out in the bedroom of someone smitten with an unrequited love.

Admittedly, the staff seemed fairly knowledgeable about the beer and were certainly friendly and helpful. Though most requests for help deciding resulted in a suggestion of "Supper Club". The 1 hour wait for the table came with numerous apologies (certainly unnecessary) and timing updates.

Our meal left something to be desired however. I have one HUGE pet peeve (and a number of small ones), but I ask one thing: if I order an appetizer please bring it before the meal. I'm willing to overlook making me keep my fork and not refilling water glasses in a timely manner, and pats of butter straight out of a freezer or refrigerator. But I'm not willing to eat my appetizer with my meal. Do not bring it with the meal. I want an appetizer while I'm waiting for the meal; once I have the meal, I have no need for the appetizer - I'm not ordering it because I need more food, I'm ordering it because I want to nibble while I wait for my meal. So, when we ordered our appetizers and then asked a number of times if said appetizers were coming, and then our meals came out first, we simply sent the appetizers back. No harm no foul in my book, but I'm sure they would have rather had me pay for appetizers that they made.

The fish was large and flaky but the beer batter was doughy and chewy; the fryers had lost quite a bit of temperature by that point or they put too many pieces in the fryer at once. Either way, the crust definitely detracted from the fish. Neither the table nor the fish came with bread (a big minus). The coleslaw was ... coleslaw. I'm not a fan of coleslaw so whatever, but it was nothing fancy. The fries were very good: Belgian-style, twice fried frites like those perfected at Brasserie or Jacs.

As an overall experience it was fine and perhaps fish isn't their forte. I'm sure a burger on a Tuesday night would have been more pleasant, as it's a completely inoffensive place. It's serves the same crowd as the Great Dane, Old Fashioned, Graze, the old Local, Argus, or even Coopers or the other number of places that are substantially similar. But, it's got a great location right on the way to football games for people that park up on the square (those of us with free parking there) and right next to the farmer's market. It's inoffensive, doesn't cater to the "student" crowd, and serves Capital beer.

In other words, it doesn't need me to write reviews to convince you to go there. You'll be there eventually, I assure you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Teaming Up - Fish Fry and Beer

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Madison Beer Review and Madison Fish Fry are teaming up tonight. We're heading over to the new Capital Tap Haus for some fish and beer. Expect the reviews on Monday.

In the meantime - what's your favorite place for fish fry and beer?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Five Gallons At A Time: Predicting Brewhouse Efficiency

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The content of this page was updated on 8/14/2012, but the latest multipliers are listed here.

Somewhere else, homebrewers are debating the merits of continuous sparging vs. batch sparging. Among commercial brewers, there's very little debate: continuous sparging rules. Here, I'm going to illustrate how a batch sparging simulation can help you predict your brewhouse efficiencies regardless of the sparging method you actually use. How's that for diplomatic?

As you probably know, brewhouse efficiency decreases as runoff gravity increases. To understand why, it helps to view mashing from a new perspective. Typically, we think of using more grain as a way to increase the gravity of a fixed volume of wort. Instead, you should think of using more grain as a way to increase the volume of a low-gravity wort. When you brew a high-gravity beer, you simply stop lautering before the full volume of wort can be collected. Because sparging dilutes the wort exiting the lauter tun, stopping the runoff early results in a higher-gravity beer. However, it also leaves more sugar behind in the lauter tun. The end result is that the small volume of high-gravity wort has less total sugar than the large volume of low-gravity wort that could have been collected from the same mash. That's why gravity comes at the expense of efficiency.

Batch sparging is a powerful tool because it's easy to simulate. By entering a few calculations into a spreadsheet, you can quickly determine the runoff gravities and brewhouse efficiencies for different amounts of grain. If you assign a maximum brewhouse efficiency for continuous sparging and assume that batch sparging and continuous sparging will have the same minimum efficiency (essentially a no-sparge situation where you only collect the first runnings), you can create an efficiency curve for continuous sparging by starting at the maximum efficiency point and linearly decreasing the difference between the two sparge methods until they converge at the minimum efficiency point.


The method can be refined by optimizing the water-to-grain ratio for each grainbill and generating additional curves for multiple batch sparges, e.g. sparging twice for a total of three runoffs. According to Kai Troester's Batch Sparging Analysis, batch sparging is most efficient when the runoff volumes are equal. I didn't assume that was true when I started, but I ended up with the same result after running my calculations over a wide range of water-to-grain ratios. Here's a graph that shows the peak efficiencies - represented by runoff gravities - over a variety grainbills, water-to-grain ratios and number of sparges.

Using the ideal water-to-grain ratio for each simulated condition resulted in the efficiency curves shown below. The curve for continuous sparging was created, using the same method described above, from the curve for three batch sparges.

The simulation assumes a perfectly efficient lauter tun, which means that all inefficiencies are due to spent grain wort retention. That allows me to account for equipment efficiency in a separate variable, the maximum brewhouse efficiency of a given brewery, which will eventually be multiplied by the brewhouse efficiency curves to predict a final brewhouse efficiency value for a target runoff gravity. To make that as easy as possible, I converted the curves into multipliers by dividing them by the maximum brewhouse efficiency of the continuous sparging curve.

If your max brewhouse efficiency is 85% and you want to brew a beer with a runoff gravity of 1.065, you should assume a brewhouse efficiency of 0.884 x 85 = 75.1% if you'll be employing a continuous sparge. Basing the continuous sparge values on a batch sparging simulation may not exactly represent what happens your lauter tun, but it'll get you pretty darn close.

If you'd like to check out the simulation itself, you can download it here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Update: Wisconsin v North Dakota

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On Wednesday we talked a bit about drunk driving rates between North Dakota and Wisconsin and proposed some reasons why, in 2008 when the last set of data was available, Wisconsin had higher rates of DUI than North Dakota despite similar "bar v. grocery store" numbers. Well, apparently, the new numbers are out and North Dakota has caught up. Indeed, the entire Upper Midwest has the highest rates, while the Midwest in general is all above average.



What differentiates the Upper Midwest in particular from the rest of the country? Well, I hate to say it, but do you see the East Coast there? Where it's almost entirely blue (meaning below average)? Yeah, they have trains there so people don't have to drink and drive. Just my own little opinion there.

Bust Out Your Calendar - Madison Beer Week

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The details are starting to come together for a new week-long celebration of craft beer in Madison. Unlike Beer Weeks in other cities, this celebration is not being put together by the distributors, but rather is being driven from the ground up by the fine folks at The Malt House (Bill Rogers) and Madison Beer Review (Robyn Klinge and Myself, Jeff Glazer).

The result will be a panoply of events over the course of Madison Beer Week, including (but not limited to): tastings, dinners, educational events, food and cheese pairings, movie showings, and awesome bar specials all around town.

Madison Beer Week is being scheduled for April 29, 2011 through May 8, 2011. Stay tuned to this station for more updates as it comes closer. You can also stay up-to-date with Madison Beer Week on Facebook.

Feel free to post comments with suggestions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Something You Didn't Know: Wisconsin Has A Lot of Bars

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What is this? The study looked at references in Google Maps for a given geographic area, a series of connecting concentric circles. It compared references to "grocery store" and to "bar"; if there were more references to grocery stores within that geographic circle, it colored the circle yellow, if there were more references to bars, it colored the circle red. It's important to know that there is no shading here, so whether there was 1 more reference or 50 more references cannot be determined. You will notice that Wisconsin is the only state that is almost entirely red.

So, what does that mean? Well, it means we have a lot of bars as compared to grocery stores. Making some logical assumptions it means that we drink outside of the home (at a bar) more than we drink inside the home (grocery store). It also means that we have to drive home from bars. So, it's no surprise that we lead the nation in DUIs. Here's the graph from 2008 of the nation's highest reported DUI:
Something interesting to note: North Dakota has a lot of bars, but few reported DUI. Maybe it has something to do with this graph:
Percentage of total population reporting a DUI in the last year. Interesting that "small metropolitan" has more DUI than "non-metropolitan": "Large metropolitan areas have a population of 1 million or more and usually have better public transportation options. Small metropolitan areas have a population of fewer than 1 million. Non-metropolitan areas are outside metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), as defined by the Office of Management and Budget" [cite]

Wisconsin MSAs v North Dakota MSAs. MSAs in Purple and some of the darker gold are considered MSAs as well.

The combined population of North Dakota's MSAs is 366,564 of a total population of 642,200. Or approximately 57% of its population resides within a MSA (which isn't entirely true, because it's largest MSA is Fargo, which shares a considerable population with MN). None of North Dakota's MSAs are "Large". For Wisconsin 3,611,018 of its 5,363,675 people lived in inside of an MSA; approximately 67.3% of its population. Only Milwaukee is a "Large MSA" (over 1 Million pople).

So, what does that mean? Well, about 2/3rds of Wisconsin residents live within the geographical type most likely to drink and drive - Small Metropolitan Statistical Areas. While only 1/2 of North Dakota residents do. This difference in population gathering alone could account for the vast majority of the difference between Wisconsin's DUI rates and North Dakota's despite similar concentrations of bars.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Big Bay Beer On a Mother F-ing Boat

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For the record, Shorewood is a Near-North Side suburb of Milwaukee.

Big Bay Brewing Company is the newest craft brewery to hit the market. With a retail shop in Shorewood, Wisconsin, the beer itself is brewed at Milwaukee Brewing Company under an alternating proprietorship model.

I haven't had their beer, but you'll have to forgive me for being skeptical. I received the press release on Thursday and it reads like a marketing person trying entirely too hard to convince me that this is something unique.

Big Bay is owned by 10-year veteran of Miller Brewing and MillerCoors' "Product Innovation" Division, Jeff Garwood, striking out on his own with some recipes purchased from a brewery consultant.

A quick aside before I go on. Keep in mind that it is entirely possible that Mr. Garwood's endeavor is driven by a love for craft beer; he's worked over a decade in the industry, after all. But, I am a cynic by nature, so you'll have to forgive my cynicism. I did not interview Mr. Garwood and I suspect that even if I had, he would not have opened up to this line of questioning. With that said ...

The marketing copy smacks of the kind of industry speak that can be a real turn-off: "An important element of Big Bay Brewing is the brand’s ties to the water." Really? The brand is 2 days old (the first beer was released on 12/1 and I write this on 12/3). And already the brand is tied to the water? How the heck does that happen? The lakes are already starting to freeze.


Rarely does this sort of overt narrative succeed. Why? Well, consumers are smarter than brewery executives usually give them credit for being. The brand only becomes "tied to the water" when the consumer says it's tied to the water. If the brewery wants to push that narrative it needs to act in conformance with the narrative, not just talk about the connection.

And six-packs of 12-ounce bottles do not exactly walk the narrative of "take us out on the water."

Randomly walk into any of the 7 million boats or ice-fishing huts on any lake in the State of Wisconsin. What percentage of the beer do you think is in bottles? If I were to guess, because I have no idea other than my own experiences, I'd venture to say that it is less than 15%. Bottles are made of glass. Glass and water do not mix very well.

People take Leinie's camping because they can get it in cans and it's sold at bait shops all through the Northwoods. Capital is successful on golf courses because it is in cans and its primary demographic is affluent suburban men. Oskar Blues is hip with the back-country folk because it is in cans and hoppy as hell. These connections work because the brewery follows-through on the connection. Consumers believe them because they are honest. New Belgium actually cares about the environment. Dogfish Head actually cares about creativity. Stone actually cares about collaboration.

This Macro-Industry push attitude rarely works in the craft beer industry. Anheuser-Busch and Miller have the marketing might to make true what follows from the advertising. Thus, if Miller runs commercials that show beautiful girls swarming on guys drinking Miller Lite, it can hire beautiful women to go to a bar and hand out free beer for a week. Advertising becomes reality.

Consider Mr. Garwood's own words when describing his position at Big Bay:
Marketing leadership with strong background in packaging and product
innovation. Passion for identifying the white space and taking nebulus ideas and
refining them as they move through the development process. Career goal is to
bring value and values to CPG companies with marketing innovation and brand
development using my acumen, creativity, and relationships.
Not passion for beer. Not passion for brewing. Not even passion for boating. A passion for "identifying the white space and taking nebulus ideas ... through the development process." There's nothing like brewery owners that refer to their own company in marketing speak (if you were wondering, "CPG Company" is a "Consumer Packaged Goods" company). Indeed, for specific examples of the kind of product innovation Mr. Garwood has in mind, one need only consider the "innovative" Miller vortex bottle (Mr. Garwood's "Innovation" Division at MillerCoors was directly responsible for that one. You're welcome.).

"Big Bay beers are developed from unique and custom recipes that are steeped in the brewing traditions and simple ingredients of years gone by." That's why the first two beers are a kolsch and an amber. Very unique recipes. Leinie's alone makes 7 amber beers (including "ambers", "reds", "vienna", etc. which often have caramel/vienna/munich malt, etc.). Capital makes 5. Lakefront makes 6.

If Mr. Garwood wanted to "tie" his beer to the water, perhaps his first beers should have been a pilsner (a style known for its soft water quality) and a Burton Ale (a style known for its particularly hard water quality). Perhaps the press release would have had marketing copy extolling the importance of water in brewing, the importance of water conservation, the importance of boating organizations in the preservation of water quality around the world, and, maybe, even a brief blurb about Mr. Garwood's love for boats.

As for the beer itself, I'm sure brewery consultant, Jim "The Beer Doctor" Lueders is very good at his job. For example, in just 2010 he's been winning medals for the recipes he provided to Morgan Street Brewery in St Louis and he is opening his own brand-new project, a zero-emissions brewery in Stevensville, MT just outside of Missoula.
Again, I haven't had the beer, I'm sure it's fine. I'm only writing from what I see in a press release and what some simple research can turn up. But I have to ask, does Wisconsin really need another Kolsch and Amber? Even if they're on a Mother F-ing Boat?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cellar Series: 2009 New Glarus Golden Ale

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When we last left you with the Cellar Series, I had cracked open a 2006 Tyranena Spank Me Baby Barleywine after aging it for 2 years. Today, we've lifted the cap on a slightly younger beer - the 2009 New Glarus Golden Ale - the first beer in the R&D Series from Wisconsin stalwarts, New Glarus. At the time of its release, it was one of the finest Belgian beers on the planet, with a good strong hop presence, dry finish, and clean, crisp taste.

How has a year in the cellar treated this beer? Stored at a fairly stable 60 degrees or so (a little warm), I put the bottle in the refrigerator for a little over an hour or so before opening it. The initial temperature was around 55 degrees.

The body has mellowed considerably, while the head virtually explodes out of the tulip glass I chose for this beer. The aroma is understated, but contains glimpses of the bright hops, substantial malt, and evolving yeast presence. A year of clean pilsner malt, aged hops, and bottle conditioning have given the beer a decidedly more complex flavor. Most noticable is the drop in the hop bitterness, which has been replaced by a more flavorful approach. Combined with the yeast and graininess of the malt, there are notes of orange, citrus peel, lemon grass, raw sugar, and a slight pepperiness from the 7%+ ABV. The body has become soft and paunchy, yet retains its clean, crisp finish. The beer fills your mouth, but is not heavy or overly big.

As an overall impression, this beer continues to impress. If you have a bottle, drag it out and open it up. Drink the bottle yourself, or split with 3 or 4 people over nutty, buttery, cheeses and clean, peppery crackers. A light vegetable or chicken Risotto would pair nicely and emphasize the complexity and soft body; while a deep, rich braised beef would highlight just how light this beer actually is.

In short, a great, young beer, has gotten terrific with age. I would put this beer up against any of the finest Belgian Golden Ales. Indeed, BeerAdvocate puts it in the Top 3 for the style with Orval and Westvleteren Pale. After a year, it doesn't have the sharpness and hoppiness that the style is typically known for, and that it possessed a year ago, but it has shown grace and style in aging and creates a fine, nuanced, classy glass of beer.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Five Gallons At A Time: Kvetching about Clones

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Brew Your Own is a great magazine. Ashton Lewis, an articulate and highly-educated professional brewer, answers readers' technical questions. Jamil Zainasheff, a multiple Ninkasi award-winner at the AHA National Homebrew Competition, writes about how to brew various beer styles. Chris Colby, the editor, puts brewing conventions to the test with his worldwide brewing experiments (and elegantly designs the tests to minimize the inherent procedural inconsistencies between experimenters). The editorial review board is populated with ingredient suppliers and acclaimed commercial brewers. There's a nice little table near the front that explains the magazine's recipe assumptions so you can easily adjust the published recipes to suit your brewing setup. In short, a lot of thought goes into the magazine and it shows.

However, there's one topic I've never paid much attention to: clone recipes. That changed when I saw the latest BYO cover page, which boldly proclaimed "New Recipes & New Tips from New Belgium". Think what you will about New Belgium selling beer in Wisconsin, but their understanding and application of brewing science are top-notch. When they discuss brewing practices, I listen. Turning straight to the article, I was disappointed to see a clone recipe of 1554 that would taste absolutely nothing like 1554. I'm not sure I can print the recipe without legal hassle, but anyone who's tasted both the beer and Belgian Dark Candi Syrup can attest that the syrup, or something similar, is a major ingredient in 1554. So why was I looking at an all-malt recipe?

Reading through the article, I couldn't find any mention of the brewery giving advice on the recipe (the body of the article claims that 1554 is fermented with lager yeast, but it didn't attribute the claim to the brewery itself). Translating a recipe from a commercial brewery to a home brewery is largely an uncontrolled process, but incorporating the commercial brewery's ingredients and procedures will get you a lot closer to the mark than simply guessing. I'm not suggesting that homebrewing magazines only print clone recipes with extensive professional input, but publishing which aspects of the recipes come straight from the sources would make troubleshooting a lot easier for cloning enthusiasts.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Press Release Friday: Lakefront Brewery Tours All Day Today

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Bored and checking your RSS reader while everyone else is out and about? Clicking through random websites and have nothing better to do today? Really missing work and need to get out of the house?

Get ye to Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee and take a brewery tour. The brewery is open all day on Friday and it's one of the best brewery tours you'll go on.

-----------START PRESS RELEASE----------------

Day After Thanksgiving Tour Extravaganza!

Celebrate your Thanksgiving with a Lakefront Brewery Tour on "Black Friday!" Not in the mood to fight the crowds at the mall? Come to Lakefront Brewery instead! Tours ALL DAY LONG! Tours start every 30 minutes on November 26th beginning at 12:30pm and ending at 8:00pm!
For complete details please see our Tours page:
http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com/details_details.html

Please note that tours are first-come, first-serve on a walk-up basis. We also have a select number of tickets available for advance online purchase for each tour. If online tickets are sold-out, please plan to arrive early for walk-up tour tickets.

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Andy Klisch
Lakefront Brewery


We invite you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

http://www.facebook.com/lakefront

http://www.twitter.com/lakefront

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interested In Selling Your Beer In Chicago?

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via Jay Brooks and his Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Surprise! Beer distributors in Chicago are corrupt. I know. You are shocked. We all are. But consider the following.

"Independent brewers say the brand-name distributors, with deep pockets and abundant supply, often resort to pay-to-play business practices that mirror the worst of Chicago politics. Sources say the big brewers and their wholesalers keep out the independents by offering cash, new tap systems, free beer and other incentives to tavern owners and retailers in exchange for taps or shelf space for mainstream brands. Some bar owners have set up separate marketing companies to take in the cash"
Pay to play works like this: you want your beer distributed by us? Then you need to give us a deal. The intriguing part is that there has become a whole secondary market for this type of graft that has resulted in marketing companies that accept the money and/or gifts to keep the money separate. So, instead of paying a bar, a distributor might pay a "Marketing Consulting Company" to market its beer; said Marketing Consulting Company just happens to be owned by the same people as the bar.

Brewers call Chicago a whores' market,” says Deb Carey, co-owner of New Glarus Brewing Co., of New Glarus, Wis., which sold draft beer in Chicago for two years in the mid-1990s. New Glarus pulled out, Ms. Carey says, because it didn't want to participate in illegal business practices such as giving away beer to get bars to carry its products.

Ms. Carey says Illinoisans constantly are urging her to sell her Spotted Cow ale here again, but she's not interested. “Everyone has a hand out and everyone wants some cash, (free) beer or a discount,” she says. “As far as I'm concerned, it's not worth the graft and hassle.”

“Small brewers can't afford to pay to play,” she adds. “I really blame the big domestic brewers for creating this mess.”
Go Deb Carey. Pull no punches. I'd be curious to know what kinds of deals Wisconsin distributors get for putting her beer on-tap here in Wisconsin. I'm not insinuating anything insidious - deals are fine as long as everyone (all of her Wisconsin distributors) gets the same deal. Where the problem happens in Illinois, and Wisconsin for that matter, is where some retailers get "better" deals than others. Look, it would be disingenuous to say that this happens only in Chicago - and one of my biggest issues with this article, and the reaction from Jay Brooks notes this fact, is that these practices are hardly limited to Chicago. Chicago just happens to be really good at it.

A spokesman for MillerCoors says the brewer takes “pride in doing our business the right way.” He adds: “Pay-to-play practices are illegal and are not accepted practices or behavior by MillerCoors or its distribution network. All MillerCoors employees are trained through ethics training annually. These practices are called out as illegal.”

In a statement, Anheuser-Busch says it “always respects and abides by the laws in all jurisdictions where it does business and believes its wholesalers do so as well.”
Thank you Marketing Department.

Complaints are rare, and few result in agency action. In the 10 years through last May, the liquor commission had issued 406 administrative fines for “of value” violations—state-wide. Rock Island led the way with 52 violations, followed by 24 in Galesburg and 23 in Moline. Chicago's total for the decade? Nine.

In one Chicago case, Snickers Bar in River North was fined $500 in 2009 for accepting a free keg refrigerator from River North Sales & Service, according to commission documents. In another case, the documents show, Fireside Restaurant & Lounge in Edgewater paid a $500 fine for accepting a free kayak from a distributor to use in a drawing in which patrons had to purchase a beer to get a raffle ticket.
What? You mean to tell me that NOBODY is complaining about getting free cash and equipment and beer? Unbelievable. Even the people getting screwed don't complain because if they did they'd never get distributed or put on-tap.

John Hall, president of Chicago-based Goose Island Brewing Co., thinks authorities have higher priorities than investigating pay-to-play in Chicago bars. “When you think about all the issues in this state and city, I don't think people want to spend more money enforcing this when we don't have enough money even for education,” he says.
Man, if you can't feel the slime coming from that statement, you haven't lived in Chicago long enough.
At least a dozen distributors are licensed to operate in Chicago. But just three control two-thirds of the market: Chicago Beverage, part of the Reyes family's $12-billion-a-year holdings; River North, co-owned by Yusef and Jonathan Jackson since 1998, and City Beverage-Illinois, recently acquired by Mr. Trott, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker, through his Chicago-based BDT Capital LLC. (Anheuser-Busch retains a 30% stake.)
Yusef and Jonathan Jackson, by the way, are the children of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. You will recall that Yusef and Jonathan's brother, Jesse, Jr. was the infamous "Candidate #5" reference by Gov. Blagojovich for candidates to take President Obama's seat. Candidate #5, Jesse Jackson, Jr., offered to raise over $1Mil in campaign funds for Gov. Blagojovich if he were to be appointed Senator.

In Illinois, unlike Wisconsin, the brewer can have a stake in the distributorship. Can you imagine that City Beverage, 30% owned by A-B, really has that much interest in selling any craft beer other than Goose Island (in which A-B also has an ownership interest)? I would doubt it, too. Indeed, check this out:

Chicago Beverage now carries Sam Adams, New Belgium and local favorite Half-Acre, among other craft beers. River North and City Beverage distribute popular Goose Island in its many varieties, as well as Fuller, Brown Ale and others. Nonetheless, the upstarts claim only 5.3% of the Chicago market vs. 6.3% nationally and even more in many other big cities.
So, despite the great beer bars starting to populate Chicago, they hardly make a dent in the overall beer consumption there. And that is borne out in the "regular" bars and restaurants throughout the city where, if there is a "craft" on-tap it is Goose Island Honkers Ale and little else.

So, what does pay to play look like?
The most common approach, says a former sales manager for a national brewer who asked not to be named, is for wholesalers to give away beer or pay cash for tap lines.

A bar, for example, might “swipe” a distributor's credit card for food or a Super Bowl party without ever providing those services. Brewers and distributors might provide retailers with menus, T-shirts or other promotional items.

A craft brewer tells Crain's that Rockit Bar & Grill, with locations near Wrigley Field and in River North, wanted to charge him $3,000 to put his beer on tap. ... Five of the six beers on tap at Rockit come from River North.

In addition to the cash, the bars received numerous free kegs throughout the year for fictitious marketing events, the former employee says, adding that he personally “swiped” Chicago Beverage's credit card on several occasions for the payments.

A former employee at Bar Louie, a national chain with three locations in Chicago, tells Crain's that both MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch paid $1,000 per tap handle annually and threw in a free keg for every five sold. The former employee, who asked not to be named, says Bar Louie ran the payments through a third-party marketing company set up by its owners.
Keep in mind, this isn't necessarily just Chicago. This stuff happens all over the United States, including here in Wisconsin. Maybe it's not this endemic. Maybe it's not this obvious. But it happens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hey Barkeep! I Hear Unpasteurized Beer Gives Me More Breast Milk

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I am a person of a certain age. And that age is about when all of your f-ing friends start to have kids. It's all fun and games until someone gets pregnant. Then the next thing you know everyone in your whole damned circle of influence has bread in the oven. Eating for Two. In the family way. Profaning Jesus and all the angels in heaven by shamelessly advertising the fact that you have HAD SEXUAL INTERCOURSE YOU TROLLOP.

Of course, beer and pregnancy are not exactly two things that go together. I've had friends, and have heard actual, real, live doctors encourage pregnant women to have a glass of wine or beer on occassion while pregnant (note: not carte-blanche to go out and get hammered every night). Heck, in just my parents' generation, it was not uncommon for women to drink and/or smoke while pregnant and I turned out OK. In other words, moderation has rarely killed too many people (born or otherwise).

But the other day I get a phone call from a friend of mine. He was clearly sheepish calling me - hesitancy in his voice, skirting the subject, etc. And this is a dude that I have known for, essentially, eternity. There is not much that this guy need to be sheepish in asking or telling me. He is my brother from another mother. Yet here he is, reduced to mawkishness by a simple request from his wife : what is a good unpasteurized beer?

"So," I posit, "why do you care if the beer is unpasteurized?"

"Well," he goes on, "[insert friend's wife's name here] was told that drinking unpasteurized beer aids in breast milk production."

"Um." Awkward. I gave him the name of a few local breweries likely to not pasteurize their beer and hung up. I quickly related this story to Mrs. MBR who quickly said "horseshit" or something similar.

So, here we are. At the precipice of research. Does drinking unpasteurized beer aid in breast milk production? I have to admit, I never saw this coming.

On April 20, 1862 Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard wrote completed the first tests on pasteurization. [ed note: that is really weird. Aside from the "haha 4-20" jokes, April 20 happens to be this friend's birthday.] Pasteurization was predicated on germ theory. Germ theory says that many illnesses and phenomenon such as the spoiling of beer, wine, and milk were caused by the growth of micro-organisms. These micro-organisms are not particularly tolerant of heat.

The process of pasteurization is fairly simple: heat the thing up very quickly for a specific period of time then cool it very quickly. We pasteurize dozens of things: milk, beer, wine, eggs, maple syrup, orange juice, just to name a few. Its effect is to neutralize (kill) a number of organisms that lead to illness and the spoliation of products.

Most larger-scale breweries (i.e., above about 10,000 bbls or so) pasteurize their beer because it aids in shelf-stabliziation. Most smaller breweries do not - most breweries that bottle-condition their beer do not - and some larger breweries do, and re-introduce new yeast after pasteurization. For many small breweries, they simply do not have the cash to spend on pasteurization equipment.

Pasteurization has saved the world from diseases that raged in the 1860s like diptheria, salmonella, strep, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, and listeriosis. All bad, nasty things that the world is better off for taming, right? Definitely, all things that we would want to prevent from getting into a baby's system through breast milk, right?

Like anything in our god-forsaken universe, pasteurization is not without debate. According to the Campaign for Real Milk, pasteurization destroys destroys nutrients and immune system components found in milk. For example, Vitamin A is degraded, and other proteins and enzymes are denatured. Numerous studies have shown that pasteurized breast milk is not as healthy for newborns as the stuff straight from the tap. Of course, it's much harder to get a hold of donated breasts than donated breast milk. If you happen to find someone willing to donate their breasts, please let me know.

So, that's, in a terribly lax and general way, the debate about pasteurization. What about pasteurized beer? What the heck does unpasteurized beer have to do with producing healthier breast milk?

After researching this article, I assure you Google has all the wrong impressions about me and my purchasing habits. Nonetheless, online baby sites such as iVillage and Babycenter.com have some rumor-based recommendations. iVillage says "An ingredient in beer has been shown to increase maternal prolactin levels, but this is with non-alcoholic beers as well (DeRosa et al. 1981). There is a lot more involved in establishing an abundant milk supply than merely increasing a mother's prolactin level." Rather unhelpful.

A commenter at Babycenter has this bit of wisdom: "I have owned a natural food store for 20 years and nursed 3 babies. It is the hops plant that flavors the beer that acts as a galactagogue - a term that means 'encouraging abundant breast milk.' Hops can be used as a tea as can raspberry leaves, stinging nettle, oatstraw, and red clover blossoms OR hops can be taken as an additive free, stronger hops flavored beer like a stout and low alcohol or alcohol free beer can be sourced. Hops is calming, inducing sleep and is a natural carminative (reducing cramping and colic as it relaxes the digestive system as well) so is especially good before nighttime feedings." Very authoritative.

Childfun.com gets us in the right direction, though: "Beer is preferable to other alcoholic drinks, because it contains vitamin B, which helps prevent dehydration. You might want to ask your doctor about taking extra vitamin B if you want to drink other drinks. ... It's best to drink unpasteurized and unfiltered beer. Unpasteurized beer contains live yeast, which manufactures more vitamin B, and helps prevent dehydration."

So, under this theory, beer yeast produces Vitamin B and prevents dehydration. University of Maryland has something to say about the nutritional value of brewers yeast: "Brewer's yeast is often used as a source of B-complex vitamins, chromium, and selenium. The B-complex vitamins in brewer's yeast include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), and H or B7 (biotin). These vitamins help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which provide the body with energy. They also support the nervous system, help maintain the muscles used for digestion, and keep skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver healthy. However, brewer's yeast does not contain vitamin B12, an essential vitamin found in meat and dairy products; vegetarians sometimes take brewer's yeast mistakenly believing that it provides B12, which can be lacking in their diet."

Finally, Livestrong provides a good summary: "There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that brewer's yeast stimulates breast milk production. Kelly Bonyata considers brewer's yeast to be of 'questionable' efficacy when it is used by nursing women. However, Bonyata notes that it is generally safe and a good source of necessary nutrients for nursing mothers. Other natural galactagogues, such as fenugreek and fennel, may be more effctive alternatives."

In other words, yeast in beer is not terribly effective and there are better ways to get your milk flowing. But, if you're going to drink, it might as well be moderate levels of unpasteurized beer. So, who will be the first craft brewery to use that as their tagline?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Innovating Tradition

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Perhaps for good reason, Wisconsin is the Land of Lagers. Our craft (and macro, for that matter) reputation began with Sprecher and Capital and Leinenkugels. Our tradition is steeped in Miller, Pabst, and Old Style. Our new breweries are kicking out some of the best bocks, dopplebocks, eisbocks, and kolschs made in this country (or any country).

So, it should come as no surprise when a brewery releases a whole series of lagers. Well, what if those lagers are treated like ales? Hopped to the gills, with a single strain of hops? What if the lager uses wet hop?

We're all familiar with single hop IPAs. Mikkeller has a whole slew of them. But what about single hop lagers? Personally, I've never heard of a single brewery doing a single-hop lager. Until last Thursday when Dave Anderson, of Dave's BrewFarm, posted to Facebook that he was brewing up the first of a series of single-hop lagers. The recipe is all-new (not merely a hoppy Select), and its unknown yet whether the beers will end up in bottles. For now, you'll just have to drive out to the Labrewatory in Wilson, Wisconsin, about halfway between Eau Claire and the Twin Cities. First up is the citrusy tastiness of Amarillo. Yesterday he announced that the next in the series would be the pine and resin Simcoe. If you want a say in what comes next, go check out his Facebook site and let him know. Personally, I'm pulling for East Kent Goldings or Perle.

From the other corner of the state comes the latest release of Local Acre from Lakefront. Last year's was a nice, strong lager that put the focus clearly on the Wisconsin-grown 6-row Lacy barley. This year's recipe is tweaked to take advantage of the hop harvest and the nearby hop fields. On-tap at various locations and in bottles around the state, the hops are big and bright and oily. While the oiliness and mouthfeel of the fresh hops somewhat masks the softness and subtlety of the malt, it is a big change from last year that is a wonderful beer in its own right. It is great to see Lakefront using the Local Acre name to house a beer made with 100% Wisconsin ingredients. And, in the process, innovating in style with a fresh hop lager.

[editor's update: completely forgot to mention Capital's lagers - HopBock, and Tett - in the first case a hop(pier) bock, and in the second a dry-hopped dopplebock]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Five Gallons At A Time: Malt Extract vs. Water

2 comments
Malt extract brewers: after adding extract to your kettle, do you often find that your volume is too big and your gravity is too low? The reason why is because malt extracts contribute volume in addition to gravity. The good news is that you can compensate for it without math. You just need to heat less water than you normally would, dissolve your extract and top up the kettle with water until you reach your target volume. Done! That said, there are times when it's helpful to know your water volume. For example, if you want to treat your water.

In the case of extract beers, the solution is pretty simple. If you use dry malt extract, you can assume it adds 0.075 gallons per pound. If you use liquid malt extract, you can assume it adds 0.084 gallons per pound. The only complication is that your pre-boil wort volume will probably be measured hot while your water volume will probably be measured cold, and water expands when it's heated. To calculate the hypothetical cold volume of your pre-boil wort, you can use the following formula:

Cold Wort Volume = Hot Wort Volume x Hot Water Density / Cold Water Density

The density of tap water is around 8.33 lbs/gal and, if you stir your malt extract into near-boiling water, you can assume the hot water density will be 8.04 lbs/gal. From there, you can calculate your required water volume by plugging in your cold wort volume into the following equation:

Required Water Volume = Cold Wort Volume - (Malt Extract Volume Contribution x Malt Extract Weight)

It's not difficult at all, but we should drive the point home with an example. Let's assume your target pre-boil volume is 6.9 gallons and you'll be using 6.3 lbs of dry malt extract. Here's your required water volume in two easy steps:

Cold Wort Volume = 6.9 gal x (8.04 lbs/gal) / (8.33 lbs/gal) = 6.7 gal
Required Water Volume = 6.7 gal - 0.075 gal/lb x 6.3 lbs = 6.2 gal

Speaking of water treatments, I've read that malt extract batches should be brewed with distilled or RO water because water minerals survive the malt extract production. However, I've never seen any quantitative data to support the claim. Do extract manufacturers treat their water supplies to achieve optimal mash pHs? Are certain minerals retained more efficiently than others? If you're an extract brewer who's willing to measure your pre-boil pHs and provide some basic data on your recipes (brewing with untreated tap water is fine), give me a holler at the email address in my profile. If I learn anything useful, I'll done post it to this here weblog.

---------- This line separates the practical stuff from the geeky stuff ----------

Calculating the required water volume was pretty easy, but I had to figure out the malt extract volume contributions myself. Hey, maybe this website will become the go-to the place for people look up those values! That would be super cool. Anyway, I'm going to show you how I arrived at those numbers so you can figure out the impact of any adjunct on your required water volume. Here's a quick outline of the process:

-Figure out your ingredient yield.
-Calculate your the cold volume of your pre-boil wort.
-Calculate the total mass of your wort.
-Convert the target specific gravity of your wort to degrees Plato.
-Calculate the required mass of your ingredient.
-Calculate the required mass of water.
-Convert the required water mass to a volume.
-Calculate the volume contribution of your ingredient.

To illustrate the calculations, let's assume your target pre-boil volume is still 6.9 gallons. Instead of assuming a weight of malt extract, though, let's assume your target pre-boil gravity is 1.042 and you'll be using a dried malt extract called Briess CBW Pilsen Light.

Yield is the percentage of an ingredient's weight that contributes to wort gravity. Differences in yield are the reason why dried malt extracts result in higher wort gravities than equivalent weights of liquid malt extract (liquid malt extracts have more water than dry malt extracts, which contributes to weight but not gravity). There are a number of ways to figure out your ingredient yield. Sometimes you can look it up on the manufacturer's website. Often, you'll find data for a similar ingredient and decide it's close enough. Occasionally, you'll need to make a sample solution and do some math. In the case of our example, Briess provides a table that results in a yield of 97%*.

Figuring out your cold pre-boil wort volume is exactly the same as our earlier example. It's 6.7 gallons.

Since specific gravity is defined as density divided by the density of water, and density is defined as mass divided by volume, you can figure out the mass of your wort as follows:

Wort Mass = Specific Gravity x Cold Water Density x Cold Wort Volume = 1.042 x 8.33 lbs/gal x 6.7 gal = 58.2 lbs

If you have a problem with lbs as a unit of mass, feel free to use the gravitational acceleration at your local altitude to convert your known weights to slugs and back. I'll be drinking beer and laughing at you. Either way, the next step is to convert your target specific gravity to degrees Plato with the following equation (if you want to know why the conversion is different than other formulas you may have encountered, you can read my long-winded explanation here):

GP = ((116.716 x SG - 569.851) x SG + 1048.046) x SG - 594.914 = ((116.716 x 1.042 - 569.851) x 1.042 + 1048.046) x 1.042 - 594.914 = 10.5 P

Degrees Plato, the unit of gravity used by many commercial brewers in the US, is the mass percentage of dissolved sugar in wort. If you know the mass of your wort and the percentage of that mass that comes from dissolved sugar, you can figure out the total mass of dissolved sugar. The total mass of dissolved sugar is commonly called 'extract', which is easy to confuse with 'malt extract'. When a brewer says 'extract' and it's not obvious they're referring to an ingredient, they're probably talking about the mass of dissolved sugar. Once you know how much extract your wort should have, you can use your ingredient yield to figure out the required mass of your ingredient. After subtracting your ingredient mass from your wort mass, you'll be left with the mass of your water. Here are the calculations for extract, ingredient mass and water mass:

Extract = (GP/100) x Wort Mass = (10.5 P / 100) x 58.2 lbs = 6.1 lbs
Malt Extract Mass = Extract / (Yield/100) = 6.1 lbs / (97/100) = 6.3 lbs
Water Mass = Wort Mass - Malt Extract Mass = 58.2 lbs - 6.3 lbs = 51.9 lbs

Rearranging the definition of density will allow you to calculate your required water volume:

Required Water Volume = Mass / Density = 51.9 lbs / (8.33 lbs/gal) = 6.2 gal

To figure out how much volume the malt extract adds per pound, I subtracted the water volume from the cold wort volume and divided it by the mass of malt extract:

Malt Extract Volume Contribution = (6.7 gal - 6.2 gal) / 6.3 lbs = 0.079 gal/lb

Finally, I repeated the calculation for a wide range of target gravities to verify that it remained constant. But I used 0.075 gal/lb in the earlier example, right? It's true! The difference was caused by rounding errors that don't occur when you automate your calculations in a spreadsheet. For example, it would have been silly of me to claim your malt extract mass was 6.2812 lbs and your water volume was 6.2275 gallons. If you want to do the easy water calculations, 0.075 gal/lb is the number to use.

*Ingredient manufacturers often report their yields as either (a) the specific gravity of 1 gallon of wort made with 1 lb of the ingredient or (b) the weight of the ingredient, in lbs, required to make 1 gallon of wort at a certain specific gravity. In either case, Yield (% wt) = 100000*(SG-1)/Wt/46.2.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Not-So-Long Downhill Run Of Stone Brewing Co In Wisconsin

29 comments
BeerNews.org is reporting that Stone Brewing Company will be exiting the state due to, well, let's be honest, lack of interest. To quote a Stone rep: "WI: We are exiting the state due to challenges in keeping a volume flow that would ensure frequent shipments of fresh beer."

On the other hand, Stone is looking at getting into Minnesota: "MN: Indeed, we are researching the market and talking about potential with some folks." So, our loss is their gain, I guess.

I'm somewhat conflicted about this news. I mean the bad news is that one of the best, and one of my favorite, breweries in the country will no longer be available. The good news is that product won't be sitting on the shelves and we won't have to suffer with half-assed product support from a company that doesn't care about our market. Towards the end here, we were barely getting seasonal releases, we didn't get any Vertical Epic or Anniversary releases. Conversations with retailers in the Madison area reveals that a Stone rep hadn't been through in probably close to a year or more. Moreover, the distributor (GenBev here in Madison) wasn't pushing it (favoring to foist Supper Club on us instead) and general consumers weren't demanding it.

The other thing this means is that Wisconsin breweries are doing a good job of selling in the state. Consumers are foregoing out-of-state breweries for quality offerings from O'So, Furthermore, Central Waters, Lakefront, and Pearl Street - not to mention Capital and New Glarus. Stone is only the most high profile of a number of breweries that have tested the water here in Wisconsin, just to turn tail and leave - Steamworks comes to mind.

So, one of my favorite deals in the city - Double Bastard on tap at Jordan's at Happy Hour for $3 a glass - is going away. A shame. Guess I'll to pick some up in Minnesota or Illinois when I'm there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Five Gallons At A Time: Compensating for Yeast Starters

6 comments
If you're a homebrewer who uses liquid yeast from Wyeast or White Labs, one of the steps you can take to ensure healthy fermentations is to make properly-sized yeast starters. In general, the size of your starter will be proportional to the gravity of the beer you're brewing. The Mr. Malty Pitching Rate Calculator will do the math for you.

A drawback of yeast starters is that they dilute your original gravity and hop bitterness. Thankfully, it's easy to compensate for a yeast starter in your recipe*. Let's say that you want to brew a 5 gallon batch with an original gravity of 1.060 and hop bitterness of 60 IBU. If you typically lose a half gallon of wort in your fermenter, your total fermentation volume should be 5.5 gallons. According to the pitching rate calculator (with the drop-down menu set at "Simple with O2 at Start"), you should make a 2-liter yeast starter. Because one gallon equals 3.785 liters, your yeast starter will be (2 liters)/(3.785 liters/gallon) = 0.5 gallons. To calculate the volume of your main batch that should end up in your fermenter, subtract the yeast starter volume from the total fermentation volume. The resulting value is 5.5 gallons - 0.5 gallons = 5 gallons. If you lose half a gallon between your kettle (measured hot) and fermenter (measured cold), your post-boil volume (measured hot) should be 5.5 gallons.

You can figure out the target gravity and bitterness of your main batch by rearranging the mixing formula:

Aa + Bb = Cc -> a = (Cc - Bb)/A

Capital letters represent volumes and lowercase letters represent either specific gravities or IBUs. A/a represents the main batch, B/b represents the yeast starter and C/c represents the combined "wort" in the fermenter (the formula treats the yeast starter as an unfermented liquid, which is necessary to determine the effective original gravity of the beer). Assuming your yeast starter will have no hop bitterness and a specific gravity of 1.040, the target gravity and hop bitterness of your main batch can be calculated like this:

OG = (5.5 gallons x 1.060 - 0.5 gallons x 1.040)/5 gallons = 1.062
Hop Bitterness = (5.5 gallons x 60 - 0.5 gallons x 0)/5 gallons = 66 IBU

When you plug the new numbers into your recipe software, your grain and hop bills should automatically be adjusted. To maintain a consistent color and flavor, I recommend tweaking your percentages of specialty malts and flavor/aroma hops so their weights remain the same. That way, your yeast starter simply replaces some of your base malt and the IBU correction is achieved in your bittering hop addition.

*Geeks: the most accurate way to do this is by calculating the total masses and extract masses of the two known quantities, and then using the relationship between specific gravity and degrees Plato to calculate the volume and gravity of the third quantity. However, for low-gravity liquids such as wort and yeast starters, the the simplified method described above will result in smaller margins of error than your measurement methods can detect. Where mass analysis becomes essential is for post-lauter additions of high-gravity liquids (e.g. honey) and solid adjuncts (e.g. corn sugar).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Writers for MBR

3 comments
Again, I apologize. This has been weird posting week here at MBR. Hopefully that will be changing soon as I have another very exciting announcement to make.

MBR is getting more writers! So, please put your hands together for Joe Walts and Robyn Klinge.

You already know Joe. He's a professional brewer currently working at Madison's Ale Asylum; he's also worked at JT Whitneys (in Madison), Otter Creek (in Vermont), and Fox River Brewing Company. You got to know him on MBR from his days trying to start up RePublic Brewpub. That project got so far as to have a space reserved out in Sun Prairie before falling apart due to lack of funding. Joe is also a regular commenter on MBR. Because of his position at Ale Asylum, Joe won't be writing about the industry, but, rather, will be bringing his knowledge of brewing to you in some technical pieces on homebrewing and commercial brewing. Brewing is partly science and partly art and few people understand and have a love for the science of it better than Joe. So, dig out the chemistry and biology books, track down a turkey fryer and 7 gallon carboy, and come along for the ride.

You probably already know Robyn, too. If you've had a beer in the city of Madison, there is a very good chance it was served to you by Robyn. At one point she could spotted in Ale Asylum, The Mason, and Vintage Brewing. Interestingly, she brings a background much like my own - working in IT (or at least for an IT company) before dumping it for bigger, better, less lucrative work in a more interesting field. Few people get along with more people in the industry than Robyn - it is impossible not to like her and spill your guts to her. And she will drink circles around you. She also travels. A lot. To really cool, interesting, beer-related places for beer-related reasons. [ed note: no, you pervert, I did not say "she gets around"] She'll bring a great voice to Madison Beer Review and her travel experiences will open up MBR to the bigger world of beer around us.

So, please welcome both of them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Audience Participation: What Are You Drinking?

11 comments
I have to admit, I've been a very bad beer blogger lately. Not only have my posts been sporadic and inconsistent, they've had little do actually do with beer. Part of the reason is that work is consuming more of my life than I'm consuming beer. And I had a ridiculous cold.

Frankly, I haven't been drinking much beer lately. Bought a six pack of Louie's Reserve (OK, I lied, in the interest of full disclosure, I was actually given a six-pack of Louie's Reserve, courtesy of Star Liquor when I went in and bought 3 cases of beer to donate to the Olbrich Crackle event for their drawing). I had a couple of beers at The Malt House the other day (Red Eye Scarlet 7 and Goose Island Minx). I went to the Furthermore Shitty Barn Party (Hopperbolic, mostly, with a few of the guest brews thrown in) and Mrs. MBR bought a six-pack of Fallen Apple and Guinness. And, that, for the most part, has been the extent of my beer drinking for the better part of a month. Relatively boring.

Except for the Minx and the Hopperbolic everything is pretty standard stuff. The Minx was actually really good and sparked an interesting discussion about Goose Island - the brewery that everyone wants to hate, but their beer is just too damned tasty.

So, what have you been drinking? Feel free to just post a brief note - don't need to provide commentary, if you don't want. I'm curious. What are you drinking?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not Entirely Sure Why This Is News ...

0 comments
But Goose Island, from Chicago, Illinois, is expanding into the New England market. Eventually. But, rather than burden their Chicago brewery with the output, they will use Redhook's brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

There's a few interesting things at play here:

- Goose Island, RedHook, Widmer, and Kona are all part of the Craft Brewers Alliance. What is the Craft Brewers Alliance? Well, it's a single, publicly traded, company. It's sort of like a co-op but the company's shareholders are not its breweries, but the public (including a significant portion owned by Anheuser-Busch). However, it acts as a purchaser of raw materials so that the breweries can lump orders together to get better pricing and availability. It also acts as distributor to take advantage of regional penetration by each of its brands. Its brands are typically distributed through Anheuser-Busch's network of distributors.

- Apparently, now the partnership also includes allowing partner breweries to brew at your facility. Provided each of these breweries has some excess capacity this allows easy introduction of participating brands into the region. If Goose Island wants to enter New England, it doesn't need to spend millions to build a facility, it can just brew there. It's not entirely clear whether this is a contract (RedHook, technically, brews Goose Island's recipes) or alternating proprietorship (Goose Island brews its own on RedHook's equipment) relationship. But, the fact is that there is very little risk in this arrangement.

- The beer will not immediately be sold in New England, but rather be destined back into the Midwest (probably to Eastern-Midwestern markets like Ohio). This gives Goose Island some time to figure out if the arrangement will work and to iron out the wrinkles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Non-Compete Agreements

5 comments
Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, and North Dakota Have all held that non-compete agreements are completely and always invalid. California, in particular, has a strong policy in favor of "competition and employee freedom."
Gokli, Rayna. Illinois Business Law Journal. http://www.law.uiuc.edu/bljournal/post/2008/11/05/Non-Compete-Agreements-Friend-or-Foe.aspx
While noncompete agreements can indeed protect your business, enforcing them can be tricky - especially in Wisconsin, where the law is peculiar. ... Courts are concerned about protecting the employee's ability to make a living, and in Wisconsin, noncompete agreements are particularly disfavored.
Frantz, Ellen M. River Valley Business Report. Legally Speaking: NonCompete Agreements Tricky Propositions.

Courts in general, and Wisconsin courts in particular, as a rule, are not in favor of employers telling employees what they can and cannot do; particularly after the employee leaves the employer. Of course, it happens all the time. Confidentiality agreements, shareholder agreements, stock redemption agreements, and, yes, non-competes all restrain former employees in some way. But none are so controversial as non-competes.

Why?

Well, think about it for a minute. I hire you and in exchange, demand that you not work in some competitive manner for some period of time afterwards. Sounds reasonable, right? I'm letting you work for me and in exchange just ask that you not work for a competitor afterwards.

However, I am an attorney. I ask that you not work for any law firm in the Midwest for a period of 5 years after you work for me. How reasonable does that sound? You can't do the one thing that you are trained to do (practice law) in the place where your family is (the Midwest) for a period of time that your job skills will deteriorate if not used. If you want to work after you work for me - you have a choice: pick up your family and leave "the Midwest" or change fields. If you don't agree to this, you can't work for me. How many people do you think will agree to this? Will the best attorneys agree to this?

The touchstone for the enforcability of Non-Compete Agreements ("NCA") is reasonableness. Are the terms of the NCA reasonable. What does "reasonable" mean? Well, the court determines that. And, what if the court finds that the NCA is unreasonable, or a part of it is unreasonable? The court uses a "blue pencil" to, basically, re-write the agreement as it deems reasonable.
In examining restrictive covenants, the [Wisconsin Appellate] court applied the following canons of construction to noncompete provisions: “(1) they are prima facie suspect; (2) they must withstand close scrutiny to pass legal muster as being reasonable; (3) they will not be construed to extend beyond their proper import or further than the language of the contract absolutely requires; and (4) they are to be construed in favor of the employee.”
Stevens, Michael L. Wisconsin Court Invalidates Noncompete Agreement Due to Indefinite Extension Provision. February 2, 2008.

So, going back to my example. A court could say that it is unreasonable to prevent an attorney from practicing any kind of law in the whole of the Midwest for a period of five years after s/he's done working for me. So, maybe the judge just re-writes the NCA. Maybe the judge decides its reasonable to limit the scope to just "intellectual property" law, and the geography to just Madison, and the time to just 2 years. So, now, my NCA has gone from "law in the Midwest for 5 years" to "intellectual property in Madison for 2 years." And, if I don't like it, maybe the court just scratches the whole thing. Pretty big risk, not to mention expense, to lose out on getting key employees, don't you think?
"In recognition of our currently dismal economy and the need to permit people to work, some courts -- even in states that generally enforce noncompete agreements -- have demonstrated a reluctance to enforce these agreements."
Beck, Russel. Computerworld. Beyond the Non-Compete. June 2, 2009.

"But, MBR," you say, "the employee chooses to accept the NCA. They willingly and freely signed it in exchange for employment."

But, consider this: "The [employer] will always be at least weakly better off with a non-compete agreement so that it is optimal for her to impose such a clause when there is no incentive problem." Krakel, Matthias. Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems. Should you Allow Your Agent to Become Your Competitor. The employer will always be better of with a non-compete. Moreover, NCA's are effective in reducing wages over the term of employment since the employer only needs to offer enough money to get the employee, not keep the employee, since the NCA prevents the employee from leaving. Id.

Moreover, the risk to the economy at large can cause shifts in industry dominance. A classic example is Silicon Valley, where NCAs are not enforced. It is widely agreed that one of the primary drivers of the development of Silicon Valley and proliferation of high-tech jobs in California, rather than Boston (the home of MIT and nearby Dartmouth and Cornell), is the non-enforcement of NCAs. Samila, Sampsa. Copenhagen Business School Summer Conference 2009. Non-Compete Covenants: Incentives to Innovate or Impediments to Growth. June 17-19, 2009. In the case of Silicon Valley, the non-enforcement of NCAs allowed employees to spin-off new companies and hire others from the same general area working on the same general problem. Id. This led to a boom in the high-tech industry there creating a number of industry giants, even amongst the companies most often raided for talent (e.g., Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle, etc.). Thus, there is a strong economic growth incentive to the non-enforcement of NCAs.

Finally, NCAs hurt the employers. First, the existence and requirement of an NCA limits the potential pool of employees, especially where NCAs are not industry standard. Consider the following situation: Industry A has a surplus of potential employees for the job availability, job turnover is relatively high, and spin-off is likely. Thus you have a situation where a large pool of people is applying for a relatively small pool of unstable jobs. As an employee you will prefer a firm without an NCA. You will delay accepting a job with the firm requiring the NCA as long as possible to see if there is anything else. For the firm, this means not only will the best employees (the ones that all firms want) not come to your firm, but will delay coming to your firm as long as they possibly can.

Morevoer, imposing the NCA hurts the firm by preventing experimentation with employees. Simply put, not all employees are a good fit with every firm. However, the NCA impedes the employer's ability to remove imperfect matches. "In the absence of perfect information, anything that adds friction to the movement of employees across firms ... will obstruct the trial-and-error process and increase the odds of a poor match." Id. So not only are firms left with only those employees that would agree to the NCA, but the odds of being stuck with a poor match are particularly high, as well.

So, the practical reality is this:
If an employee finds himself in a situation where he has found a new job, but signed a non-compete agreement with his prior employer, he may still be able to take the new job. The employee should generally not disclose the existence of the non-compete until later in the interview process, when the potential new employer has expressed a strong interest in the job candidate. That way, the employer will be more likely to work with the employee to find a way to hire him.
Gokli, Illinois Business Law Journal. In other words, the NCA is meaningless without enforcement. Employees could sign them and simply break them, forcing the old and new employer to fight it out (and probably settle). In such a case, the NCA has not only decreased the quality of the employees, but added to your legal bill as well (first in drafting it, then in enforcing it). And the end result is that the employee probably works for a competitor anyway, or at the very least the court re-writes your NCA.

Or, you could just save yourself the money and headache and provide a great enough workplace that your employees don't want to leave.
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ps. This is not legal advice, if you have any questions regarding non-competes and their enforceability please speak to an attorney.