Monday, March 29, 2010

Sprecher Pub - It's Related to Tomorrow's Post, But I Wanted To Give Its Own Due

I'm not going to make this long and drawn out. It is what it is. And it's basically Granite City with Sprecher Beer and without the fermentation tanks.

So, if that's your thing, it's fine.

Some quick notes:

- The Isthmus Review was not particularly favorable and some of the items have been addressed since then. For example, the Prime Rib was fine and the grilled shrimp was pretty decent.

- Our server did a great job of pushing; virtually every order was followed with "would you like to add ..." or "do you want to try ..." or "How about some ..."

- Like Granite City, they have a pub club card for $10 which gives you discounts on drinks and some other stuff. We were advised of this card not only with the numerous marketing pieces around the restaurant itself but by our server.

- The beer. First the good: Black Bavarian is great as usual; the oak-aged doppelbock was nice and soft and bready with great oak aroma. The bad: the EPA was dreadful - it was thin and the hopping schedule (and yeast? and grain? the combination of everything?) made it taste less like an EPA (Extra Pale Ale - typically an "American Pale" or somewhere on the hoppy side for a pale ale) and more like Bud Light Lime. I was told they are trying these new recipes to appeal to a younger crowd, but frankly, I think they just missed badly on this one. The IPA2 was not very good either - about as hoppy as a regular IPA but without any of the flavor.

- I think it's weird that they don't have the Sprecher Ginger Ale (a fine Ginger Ale, in my opinion) on-tap. Mrs. MBR was a little under the weather and rather than a "free refill" $1.75 or $2 tap soda, it was a $3.50 bottle. Which, I don't have a problem with that; I just think it's strange that it isn't on tap.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Beer Week(s) - Capital Imperial Doppelbock

OK, back on track, finally. I think. It's been a busy few weeks, but I hope you'll bear with me.

The nice thing about these big beers is that they do keep well. In a previous post we covered aging in pretty gory detail. What we discovered in that article are that the two biggest factors in aging are yeast and alcohol. In both cases, more is better. For yeast you are looking for sediment in the bottom (the yeast) that is active. High alcohol means a lot of sugars. A lot of sugars means that if there is yeast, there is something for the yeast to act on. A lot of sugars also means a lot of flavor, malt flavor to be precise. Over time these flavors will meld together and the flavors will mellow and combine to create greater complexities.

This beer hasn't really been aging that long: a few months to be precise - this is definitely from this year's batch, but I think I bought it in, maybe, December or so. So, it's got a few months on it. In a few years, the others in my cellar should be pretty interesting.

A final note: Imperial Doppelbocks are not typical. It's great to see Capital experimenting with these because, in my mind at least, doppelbocks and other lagers are what Kirby and Co. do best. I had this doppelbock straight out of the fermenter back in early December, so it'll be fun to taste it in a bottle to compare. The notes on the front of the bottle indicate amber candi sugar was used to increase fermentables and, therefore, the alcohol. That means, the body probably isn't a whole lot bigger, but the alcohol will be pretty high and there should be a little bit of hard-candy-like sweetness in the finish along with a long, esthery, finish.

Let's find out shall we?

Capital Imperial Doppelbock
BeerAdvocate (B+). RateBeer (78).
Appearance: a thin, wispy head that even an aggressive pour doesn't do much for; the alcohol clings to the side providing wine-like legs; more carbonated than I might have otherwise expected; the deep, deep caramel color is virtually impenetrable
Aroma: malt, malt and more malt; lots of big, malt complexity in the aroma; the candi sugar and alcohol are there at the front, but the caramel and munich(?) malts come in quickly; they all combine for a pretty amazing earthy fruity aroma, like caramel or sweet chocolate covered cherries or figs; a slight brandy aroma; if it seems like I'm writing a lot about the aroma, it's because, well, the aroma itself is pretty damn awesome
Flavor: thick-bodied with alcohol present in the front, middle and finish; the candi sugar is present though the base malts really shine to provide a sophisticated, brandy-like flavor; as it warms up, the caramels and biscuits come out more in the finish
Body: coats the mouth like a syrup, without being syrupy, and the alcohol provides a continuity of flavor that really stands out
Drinkability: a four-pack goes a long way, one person really doesn't need more than a 1/2 bottle of this, but it would definitely pair well with most any sophisticated winter Wisconsin meal; I wouldn't feel bad serving or drinking this at any dinner instead of wine
Summary: very, very nice; I wish the flavors really popped more, as it is they are surprisingly subtle behind a pretty big wall of alcohol giving it more of a wine, as opposed to barleywine, character; I think this is because with beers like this, we are used to barleywine, and ale yeasts that provide big yeast esthers and flavors of their own that compete with, and add to, flavor complexities; in this case, the lager yeast finishes clean and somewhat dry, leaving the ale expectations unsatisfied; but, amazingly, the lager yeast allows the yeast to stay out of the way, really allowing the alcohol and malts to shine; moreover, also missing here are the big hop characters that we often find in barleywine; again, the lack of hops (many barleywines can be in excess of 80+ IBU!), really lets the malts and alcohol render this closer to a wine than an barleywine; this is a beer that really needs to be served at close to cellar temperatures, not refrigerator temps, so pull it out and let it sit on a counter for a good 20 to 30 minutes before you even serve it - the sweet spot for this thing is close to 55 or 60 degrees

Friday, March 19, 2010

Press Release Friday - Monks Who Brew Beer Dinner at Haze

Madeline Scherb author of the new cookbook, Taste of Heaven, is hosting a beer dinner this Sunday at the wonderful new Haze Restaurant in Downtown Madison.

It's a little steep, but Trappist/Abbey beer and Haze food? It's definitely worth the price if you can swing it.

----------START PRESS RELEASE-----------------
Contact: Kyle Wood or Christopher Pax – 608-260-2680




The Haze
106 King Street
Madison, WI 53703
Sunday, March 21
$65 + tax
Reservations Required – 608-260-2680

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today - Vintage Brewing Company

On this episode of Beer Talk Today, we head out to the new Vintage Brewing Company to try the first three beers produced in the new brewpub, the Weiss-Blau Heffeweizen, Dedication Belgian Abbey style ale, and the Scardey Cat Double Oatmeal Stout. We also talk briefly with brewmaster Scott Manning. Editor's note: I call Scott "Eric" for most of the clip before he corrects me, and I have no idea where I got Eric from.

Here's the mp3.


Monday, March 15, 2010

No, New Belgium Was Not Purchased By In-Bev

A real conversation:

Person 1: So what're you talking about
Person 2: About craft beer availability at bars
Person 1: Really? Like how you can have 15 tap lines and all of them manage to suck?
Person 2: No, how all the small breweries are being bought out by bigger breweries like Anheuser-Busch.
Person 1: Like who?
Person 2: Stella Artois and Fat Tire
Person 1: Ummm...Fat Tire was not bought out
Person 2: Yes they were.
Person 1: I don't think New Belgium was bought by Anheuser-Busch
Person 2: Yes they were, that's why they are so readily available now
Person 1: I think that has more to do with their marketing and relationship with their distributor
Person 2: No, they were bought out. I wish I had an iPhone so I could look it up and show you
Person 1: Ok.

So, I had to look it up, just to make sure, because believe it or not, this is not an uncommonly held belief. Others have reported that there are some retailers who think the same thing. And retailers that should know better.

But, just to be sure, I sent an email to Bubba SmithSpeed [ed note: sorry Bubba :(], Area Manager for Wisconsin, over at New Belgium and this is what he had to say:
Thanks for the heads up. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say we were owned by one of the big boys, well, I’d have over a $100. When I first got to the Northwest (which was only a couple of years after NBB [ed note: New Belgium Brewery] had been up there), I would hear how we were bought by Miller. This was primarily due to the fact that we were distributed by a Miller house and “other people” had no problem in lying to try and tarnish our brand. This could very well be the same case, or at least a variation of it. I also heard about people saying we are owned by AB before we even got to their parts of the state (here in WI). Again, not true and am sure it’s because we are distributed by a company that sells our and their beer. So it’s a common thread to hear people say (and unfortunately, think) that we are owned by the larger brewery that our distributor also carries. The other one that I’ve heard over and over is that we are owned by Coors. This one is generally just fueled by the fact that we both brew in CO.

Since we aren’t in every state, some people are confused as to why we all of a sudden shown up there. Since we go with beer houses that also distribute at least one of the big boys, some people think that we have affiliated ourselves with them. Nonetheless, we are still a privately held company and 100% employee owned.

It’s a unfortunate that it takes a couple of years to break down these barriers/false claims. However, it’s people like you that help us in fighting the good fight and letting people know the truth.
Awwwww....People like me? Shucks.

*** A humorous side note that was pointed out to me after I had related this to someone else: It was actually Stella Artois (InBev) that bought Anheuser-Busch.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Review of Craft Beer Numbers

Sorry, even more diversions from Big Beer Week(s). I know. But bear with me for a bit and we'll get back to that. The most recent Industry numbers were released and I wanted to go over them with you.

In 2009 the US added 57 new breweries, all of which are considered "craft breweries" by the Brewer's Association. We won't really get into what the BA considers to be a "craft" brewery, that is a horse that has been flogged long after it was dead.

In an absolutely dreadful economy, craft beer still managed to produce 7.2% more beer and 10.3% more dollars than 2008. This is despite an overall decline in the general beer market of 2.2% and a decline in imports by 9.8%. Craft beer now represents 4.3% of the volume share for beer, and 6.9% of the beer dollars.

I'd be interested to see those numbers broken out by region. I suspect that we here in the Midwest drink far more than 4.3% of the volume of our beer in craft beer. Here in Wisconsin I'd think that number would be even higher, possibly well over 10%. That's just based on empirical evidence, I have no numbers to back me up. But, consider the success of Spotted Cow here in Wisconsin. If you are in the rest of the Midwest consider the ubiquity of breweries such as Great Lakes, Bells, Goose Island, and Summit. These are all craft breweries. You'd be hard pressed to find a bar anywhere in the Midwest that doesn't have at least one tap, let alone bottles, dedicated to one of those.

But we can do better. And we should be doing better. I spoke with Kirby Nelson, Brewmaster at Capital Brewery, and he related a tale of visiting Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He went into a local bar and noticed that there was no Point on-tap. How can a bar in Stevens Point, Wisconsin not serve Point Beer on tap? How can a bar in Spring Green not carry Furthermore? How can a bar in La Crosse not carry Pearl Street? And on down the line.

One tap is not enough. Because that tap is going to be Spotted Cow. That's a given. But craft needs two or three or four or five taps. And, no, Miller Beer's Leinenkugel brand doesn't count. You'd be hard-pressed to find a corner of this state that does not have a true craft brewery in it. We all have local breweries. Support them. They employ your neighbors and put tax dollars in to your schools.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MBR and CheeseUnderground Literacy Network Tasting

I've mentioned this before, and I promise tomorrow we'll get back to Big Beer Week(s), but I wanted to give it one last shout-out before the event tomorrow.

Madison Beer Review (me) and CheeseUnderground (Jeanne Carptenter) are getting together to present a beer and cheese tasting. The event is free of charge. It is at The Malt House starting at 6pm.

You read that correctly. Beer and Cheese Tasting. Free.

Yeah. That's how we roll around here. Jeanne has very generously offered to donate the cheese and The Malt House is donating the beer.

Jeanne is going to give a brief talk about artisnal cheese and what makes artisnal cheese just so damned ... artisnal. You'll get to taste some damned mighty fine cheeses, as well (menu below). Then I'll talk about beer styles. I will try to be brief. But, anyone who's heard me speak will probably attest to my rather long-windedness. But I will try to keep it brief. Then we'll taste some beer and some cheese.

Why are we doing this you ask? Nobody just hands out free beer and cheese right? Well, this event is part of a series of events to raise awareness about the Literacy Network.
Literacy Network serves primarily low income adults and families in need of literacy services by offering programs specifically tailored to the needs, goals, and different learning styles of the individual students: One-to-one Tutoring for ESL and Basic Literacy; Small ESL classes; Community Literacy; Family Literacy and English in the Schools; Integrated English and Civics Education; Workplace Literacy.

All programs are free of charge.
Since their programs are free of charge, so is ours. Of course, a $5-10 donation per person to Literacy Network might be a nice thank you.

What can you expect?

Saxon Creamery Saxony
Uplands Creamery Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Marieke Aged Gouda
Marieke Foenegreek Gouda

Tyranena Bitter Woman
Central Waters' Peruvian Morning Coffee Stout
O'So Dominator Dopplebock
Furthermore Knot Stock

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Big Beer Week(s) - Pearl Street Brewery Dankenstein

Dank, from Urban Dictionary:

1. sticky, hairy, stinky, and highly potent marijuana.
2. Adjective meaning good.

Could you use that in a sentence please?
1. I got an oz of dank nugs for 280.
2. That burrito was dank as fuck.

-enstein: of or related to Frankenstein; a monster

Pearl Street Brewery Dankenstein
BeerAdvocate (). RateBeer().
Appearance: served at 47.9 degrees, a little cooler than I generally prefer IIPAs, but we'll see how it goes and it'll probably warm up towards the end of this review; whisky-soaked coloration and crystal clear; a fine, stiff, thick head that leaves a white sticky lace on the side of your glass (man, that sounds dirty)
Aroma: loads of hop complexity, not much malt in the aroma, though there is some in the back if you're looking for it; the hop aroma is mostly pine-y and resin-y, a bit of pepper and spiciness in there, with a lot of orange
Flavor: bitter is the first noticeable thing; malt comes through in the body, and there is a pretty strong alcohol burn in the back; the hops are sticky and flavorful with all of the aromas coming through in the flavor - citrus, pine, resin, pepper
Body: strong and syrupy, with a long, alcoholic finish
Drinkability: I'd say you can't drink more than one in a sitting, but I've done it, more than once; and, yes, I was worse for the wear the next day
Summary: this is a big beer that won't be for everyone; it is sticky and highly potent, with big hop flavors that are slightly out of balance with the malt-iness; this reminds me, probably more than the Ale Asylum, of the Dogfish 90 in its syrupy hoppiness; where the Satisfaction Jacksin is a good IIPA even for those who don't typically like big, hoppy beers, this is a great beer, but is a slightly more "advanced" hop-head beer

There is this dichotomy in the IPA/IIPA universe. There's a balance theory where the big hops are proportionately balanced by big malt bills for an all-around flavorful beer that happens to be really big. Satisfaction Jacksin, and the Titletown HopMonster are both good, Wisconsin, examples of this. Two Brothers' Hop Juice, Bells' Hopslam, and Great Lakes' Lake Erin Monster are all in this vein.

There is another side of IPA/IIPAs where any idea of balance is thrown out the window, the malts take a backseat and it's all about hops and alcohol, and as much of both as you can get. Dankenstein is one of the few Wisconsin IIPAs to attempt this; we are not a people that traditionally embrace unbalance. Three Floyds Alpha King/Alpha Kong, Dogfish Head 90/120, and Stone IPA/Ruination are all in this vein. In my own personal universe, I can respect balance and I really like balanced beers; but these big, unbalanced hop bombs are some of my favorite beers made in the world.

So, try a few different IIPAs and see if you like them and what you like about them. You will quickly find that people have pretty strong preferences and phrases like "best ever" and "undrinkable" get thrown around a lot. Make up your own mind, each of them has their proponents and opponents so don't feel bad taking a side and putting down a flag. And, best of all, enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hey Barkeep! What Is A Beer Dinner, Exactly?

It's been a while since we've run "Hey Barkeep!" here, but this was a great question and rather than respond in the comments, I thought I'd promote it to a full post.
What is a beer dinner exactly? I just moved here recently from Iowa. Are they expensive? What can we expect at them?
Well, I'll take the questions in order:
- A Beer Dinner is a generally a 4-5 course prix fixe menu hand crafted by a chef to pair with specific beers.
- You can expect to pay anywhere from $40-$75 per person, depending on venue and brewery.
- What can you expect? Well, I'll just go through the last Old Fashioned/Harvest/Titletown Beer Dinner that I went to, as it is fairly typical, cost was $45.
Salt Cod Croquettas and Aoli; Titletown's St. Norbert Pilsner
A tender croquette of ground salted cod, breaded and pan fried (I think? Maybe baked or lightly broiled?); the aoli was a classic garlic dipping sauce and it was accompanied by micro greens; it paired very well with a nice, light classic pilsner; neither over-powered the other, but both were light, yet full-flavored
Marinated Pork Skewers; Titletown's HopMonster
A big hoppy, full bodied, full flavored IIPA, paired with bite-sized pork skewers that had been marinated in rich, but not hot, spices; this was a full-flavored bomb of a plate with rich, decadent Indian spices, like cardamom, and cumin, but not hot spices; the beer competed nicely by providing plenty of malt body to go with a giant, citrus, American hop IIPA
Braised Beef With Prunes And Potatoes; Titletown's Railyard Ale
Amazingly tender braised beef was served with figs, and prunes, and small potatoes to emphasize the earthy fruits and strong flavors in the beef; the beer, a nice caramel-y, sweet Alt, is a rare style that holds up well to strong flavors, yet won't make you full
Dunbarton Blue Roelli Cheese, Shullsburg, Wisconsin; Titletown's Procrastinator Dopplebock
A cheese rarity - the cheddar/blue hybrid, provide a great creaminess and strong, but not overpowering, tart bleu-cheese flavor that really showcased the creamy texture and dark roastiness of a well-crafted, full-bodied dopplebock.

As you can see from the meals advertised in the comments, there are a lot of these that occur throughout the winter at various restaurants around Madison, indeed around all of Wisconsin. Indeed, Brasserie V holds them on almost any special, and most non-special, occasion. There are a lot of talented chefs in Wisconsin and there are a lot of talented breweries, so it is great to see them pairing up to show off their abilities and make a case for beer as a sophisticated, food-quality beverage.

In my opinion, the prices on these things can be a little stiff to attend too many of them. So, it would be nice to see restaurants work beer pairings more into their menus by way of suggestion and knowledgeable staff, and by regularly stocking these beers that match so well.