Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Brew: Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

Hello denizens of Madison Beer Review!  I'm Travis, one of the news guys.  Nice to meet you all.  I managed to get Jeff drunk enough at his charity brewers party a few weekends ago that he invited me to come write over here.  Some of you may have seen some of my ramblings over at my personal blog, 43north/89westI'd like to thank Jeff for the humbling opportunity to join the team as MBR enters a new, collaborative phase.  I look forward to polluting the innerwebs with Jeff and Matt for a good long while!  My first bit is my take on a new hop bomb from the the burgeoning Central Wisconsin brewing scene.

Central Waters Brewing out of Amherst, WI has made quite a name for itself over the past couple years with a series of big beers that spoke to the then-current trend in craft brewing - bourbon barrel aging (it would seem that the Belgian-stlyle pale or IPA is the next big thing).  Barrel-aged versions of their imperial stout, coffee stout, and barleywine put them on the national radar with high ratings on both beer advocate and Rate Beer (if you're into that sort of thing).

Hoppy styles have never been a focus for Central Waters.  While I know I'm not alone in bemoaning the loss of their excellent Lac du Bay IPA (replaced with the solid Glacial Trail IPA), CW's strong point has always been their stouts and barleywines.  Their most recent offering, Illumination Double IPA, marks their entry into the extreme hops category.  Could a brewery known for their barrel-aged takes on rich, malty styles pull off a tongue-scorching DIPA?  I was certainly willing to put my palate on the line to find out.

Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

Style: Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 9% abv; 108 IBUs

Company Line: "Can you say palate wrecker?  This Double IPA comes in at 108 IBUs.  As hoppy as it gets with a mouthful of citrus flavors.  Grab one today and illuminate your tastebuds."

My take: pours a vibrant amber in the glass, producing ample sticky foam that hangs around.  Aroma bursts with pine sap, grapefruit, mango and apricot.  Palate brings clean piney hops, citrus peel, tropical fruit and bready malt.  Mouthfeel softens considerably as the beer warms and the smooth, spicy malt shines through the brash hops edge.  Some cooling alcohol in the finish, but overall, the considerable abv is well-masked.

My first sample of this beer, shared among a group of considerable beer palates two weekends ago, gave many of us an impression of cooked vegetables reminiscent of Oscar Blues' Gubna.  While not entirely unpleasant, it wasn't exactly desirable and distracted somewhat from the purity of the hop profile and robustness of its malt backbone.  I didn't get any of that in tonight's bottle, however, leading one to blame either inconsistency or wonky palates for the aforementioned vegetal character.  Based on my latest experience, Central Waters has crafted a crisp, juicy double IPA that does well to cut through the sticky June air like the lightning that has illuminated the night sky for so many recent nights.

Monday, June 28, 2010

MBR! New! And Improved!

It's been entirely too long in coming, but Madison Beer Review will be welcoming two quasi-new regular contributors.

You know Matt Lange as one of the voices of Beer Talk Today. Matt brings a great knowledge of beer and some work in the industry to Madison Beer Review. He has written on music and beer and actually knows a thing or two about journalism. He brings far more legitimacy to MBR than I probably deserve. So, welcome, Matt!

Travis Reinke has been a regular commenter on Madison Beer Review since almost the beginning of this site. He's been actively involved in the Madison beer scene (read: drinking copiously) and brings an excitement that I can only describe as infectious. So, welcome, Travis!

Between the three of us, I'm hoping that we can manage at least three posts a week. And, the two of them should bring some alternative perspectives on the industry that are definitely welcome. We'll be bringing better coverage of the Wisconsin beer scene and will hopefully be more on top of events before they occur.

Great things! Thanks a lot and keep the comments coming.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Potosi Brewing Company, Part II

On Monday we looked at what Potosi Brewery is today - a non-profit brewery and museum dedicated to keeping alive the history of the American brewing tradition. What Potosi Brewing Company encompasses in its entirety is what the brewing industry was in the years before any of our lifetimes. It tracks, and it lives, the history of brewing in America.

Today, as in the early days of our country, brewing is about place, about location, about regionalism, about microcosms of our country. As the industrial revolution swept through the world, the machinations and march in the name of progress and efficiency wiped clean any trace of the personality, pride, and personal investment that any of us felt towards the place breweries held in our society. In the name of progress and prohibition we wiped beer off the map for more than 13 years in many places of our country. It is only now, almost 100 years later, that the industry is recovering.

The lore of beer in the original settlement of America is well-rehearsed, if largely bereft of actual fact. The story goes that in 1612 two Dutch traders named Adriaen Block and Hendrick Christiaensen formed the first brewery in the United States on the southern tip of what is now Manhattan. Then, as the legend grows, the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Rock not because it was the final destination, but because the ship had run out of beer. Through the 1600s and into the 1700s brewers here, like in England, were mainstays of society. Beer, and especially cider, was largely considered a necessity. By the mid-1700s England, needing to raise money to support its colonies and increasing conflagrations with France, started taxing beer (as well as tea), leading, in part, to the American Revolution. In 1789 Washington imposed the first (of many) "Buy American" policy and promised to only drink American-made Porter (make that, Dan Carey!).

By 1810, according to tax records, there were already 132 breweries operating in the United States. Keep in mind, there were only 17 states at the time and none West of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In 1840, the first brewery in Wisconsin was opened by Richard Owen in Milwaukee on Clybourn (named Huron St then) called "Milwaukee Brewery". Less than nine years later, a number of breweries, including Sprecher Brewery (later Fauerbach Brewery) in Madison, were already well-established.

By 1849 there were a number of breweries dotting Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, Watertown, and Portage - just to name a few. Then, an Englishman named Gabriel Hail, started a brewery on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River at the bottom of a hill in a small community that would come to be known Potosi. Mr. Hail named the brewery, naturally, Gabriel Hail Brewery. And the history of those early days of Hail Brewery are an amazing and fascinating read.

In 1860 there were 200 breweries in the state of Wisconsin. 200. Think about that for a minute. Wisconsin had only even been a state for 12 years. Today there are still less than 100. Heck, in 1860 there were 40 breweries just in the city of Milwaukee. There were almost 3 times the number of breweries in 1860 in Wisconsin as there are today. 3 times! Wisconsin was one of the largest hop growing regions in the world - a fact that would almost bankrupt the entirety of Sauk County in the 1870s when the hop crop began growing again in Europe and prices plummeted.

By the 1900s towns that were so small they don't even exist anymore, like British Hollow, had breweries putting out thousands of gallons of beer. These were not mom-and-pop operations - these were large facilities supporting thousands of people all across Wisconsin. A brewery itself would employ not just a brewer and assistant brewer, but would need folks to lug bags of grain and hops, would need folks to lug kegs around, would need at least a few bar maids to serve beer, would need a truck or two to deliver beer around town. A brewery supporting just the town of Mineral Point would easily employ 50-100 people, not to mention the maltings that produced its barley and taverns and inns that would serve its beer. A brewery like Potosi that served not just South-Western Wisconsin, but Dubuque, Iowa and parts of Illinois would likely be the cause of employment of well over 100 people, in a town that today even has less than 800.

By the end of prohibition there would be just 79 breweries in the state of Wisconsin - Potosi among them. By the 1980s there would be just 8.

It is this rise and domination and struggle that Potosi's Brewing Museum seeks to capture. Because this ebb and flow is identical all across the United States. The history that these breweries produced needs to be saved and documented so that we can remember the central place that these establishments have played, and will continue to play, in our lives and our neighborhoods and our families. The museum looks at not just the beer itself, but at the people, and the communities as well and it takes you on a fascinating trip through history where, somewhat surprisingly, Potosi Brewery has been all along.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Potosi Brewing Company - Part I

It all started with the offer of free beer. One of the "perks" of this blog is that occassionally I get offered free beer. In many (most) cases, I turn down those random offers. Just because you send me beer doesn't mean I'm going to write about you and it certainly doesn't guarantee a good review. But, in this case, the offer for free beer was intriguing. It came from a PR person at Potosi Brewing Company.

I've been meaning to write about the revived Potosi Brewing Company for a while (just like you've been meaning to have a Potosi beer for a while, but just haven't really gotten around to it). Instead of them merely sending me some beer, though, I offered to drive out there and the only requirement would be that someone be there to show me around and answer some questions. They agreed and a few days later, on a Saturday when Mrs. MBR was off doing non-Mr. MBR things, I took off for a day-trip to Potosi.

Potosi is a town of about 711 people along the Mississippi River. There are two unique things you should know about Potosi: 1) It is the Catfish Capital of Wisconsin and 2) according to Ripley's, Potosi contains the longest Main Street in the United States without a cross-street. Neither of those are really reasons to visit (unless you are a big fan of Catfish)

But, the drive itself, through the hills, valleys, hollows, and rivers of the Driftless Area, is a reason to visit. When glaciers retreated after the last ice-age about 50,000 years ago (unless you're one of them Intelligent Design folks in which case, well...not really sure how to explain glaciers and ice-ages there, sorry), they left behind silt called drift - it is the mud, dirt and rocks carried along with the glaciers as they travelled. However, this area, in Southwestern Wisconsin, didn't have any glaciers and hence it's pre-ice age features - deep eroded valleys, cliffs, and ridges - are still there making for a dramatic and beautiful drive (or bike ride)

So, besides the Brewery, what is there in this so-called Driftless Area? Well, from Madison, you can stop in Mount Horeb (grab a beer at The Grumpy Troll) and the artist's community of Mineral Point (grab a beer at Brewery Creek or some cheese at Hook's) and mining capital Platteville (grab a beer at Steve's Pizza where they have a great tap and bottle list, believe it or not). Also nearby is casino-laden and historic Dubuque, Iowa; not to mention shopping and recreation in Galena, Illinois, both of which are less than 45 minutes away. Also in the region are Spring Green (home of Furthermore Beer), Dodgeville (home of Uplands Cheese and the Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Governor Dodge State Park), and Rewey (come for the fireworks, stay for the ... ummm ... because you're too drunk to leave).

But, really, you want to make sure you hit Potosi Brewing Company. I left at 11:00am and I was sitting in the brewery by 12:30pm. It's an easy drive straight down 151 South to 35 North, to North Main Street. If you have some time and want an even more scenic drive, get off of 151 South just past Platteville on Cty Hwy O which turns into Main Street in Potosi. The twists and turns will leave you wishing you had charged the batteries in your camera. The brewery itself is down and at the bottom of the hill in Potosi; you are greeted at the parking area by a large old-style yellow aluminum can telling you that you are in the right place. Take a gander at the hop trellises, both the newer up-and-down style and the old tent-style growing patterns. Then, head into the brewery and museum.

We'll talk about some of the history of the place a little in Part II and talk about the Museum itself in more detail there as well. For now, grab some lunch and a beer at the pub. I had the Good Old Potosi Burger which was fantastic and the flight of beers (I should note that the fine folks at Potosi picked up my tab, which was completely unexpected, though appreciated). I'll review a few of the beers in more detail in Part III of this series.

While I ate I spoke with the Executive Director of the brewery Greg Larson and brewmaster Steve Buszka. Mr. Larson really sees Potosi, with the brewery and brewpub and river access, as a center of tourism for all of Southwestern Wisconsin. In that capacity, the Brewery already draws about $4 Million worth of business each year into the region and it's only been open since 2008. As word gets out about the Museum and Brewery, Potosi has the ability to be one of the premier draws.

Brewmaster Steve Buszka has an intimidating reputation despite his friendly, ebullient, demeanor. Steve was a brewmaster at Bells when Bells was still called "Kalamazoo Brewing Company" and he helped to develop the geek-tastic Expedition Stout and Two Hearted. More recently he has been in charge of more large-scale contract breweries; including the brewery and distillery in Brighton, Michigan that invented Five Hour Energy. Weird where your career sometimes takes you.

The goal of Potosi is to provide high quality beer with a focus on traditional and easy-to-approach styles. For this reason, many of the beers are not highly hopped, weird-flavored, or adventurous and experiemental. But, what they do focus on, and something that seems to be missing in modern American craft brewing, is cleanliness and full flavor in simple beer. Their beer is full of the nuance and complexity and charm that will never put them at the top of the BeerAdvocate Top 100 but will be favorites in the refrigerator long after Three Floyds and Stone wear out their welcome.

Because of space limitions (like so many American breweries) Potosi brews mostly ales. The lineup includes, among others, Good Old Potosi (a pale light ale), Cave Ale (an English-style Pale Ale), Snake Hollow (a nice, English-style IPA), Bock (a ummm...bock and one of the only lagers brewed at Potosi), and if you head out to the brewery you can have a classic Czec Pilsner or the sturdy Oatmeal Stout.

Finally, it should be noted that Potosi's mission is to provide education and to capture the history of the American brewing industry. In support of this goal, Potosi is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and all of your money goes directly to the support of this goal. It is your (and my) money that allows past generations to speak to us today through Steve's beer and the Potosi Brewery and Museum.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Press Release Thursday: Summer of Sour Beer at Grumpy Troll

More sour beers this summer from Brewmaster extraordinaire Mark Duchow:

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

A Sour Summer

Currently on special we have Grumpy Cherry lambic. This will be followed by Grumpy Peach, and then Sour Stein, a traditional stein beer made with hot rocks, fermented out in an old bourbon barrel where it was inoculated with lactosbacillus and let to rest for 9 months. After kegging we let it age in our in-house cave for another several months. Finally, ending our sour summer will be Sour Ginger which was inoculated with lactosbacillus and aged for a year.

Coming Soon

Sunshine, a Belgian double with a brett blend at 20%. (Brettanomyces is a non-spore forming genus of yeast, and is often colloquially referred to as "Brett". Belgian Lambic beers owe their unique flavour profiles to brett.) This is a fruity beer of banana, sweet pear, and apple with an o.g. of 15 degrees plato. It was brewed with 100% Weyermann Munich and fermented with a Belgian golden ale yeast. The brett blend was from a belgian golden ale brewed last year. The brett was added and fermented inside an old bourbon barrel for 6 months. Sunshine was brewed in honor of our solar panels. The beer will be on tap most likely within the next three weeks. For more info on our solar brewing see the links below.

2nd Annual Grumpy Troll Challenge

The Grumpy Troll Challenge is a collaboration between MHBTG and the Grumpy Troll in which three home brews are chosen and brewed at the Grumpy Troll. The best of these beers will be chosen by our customers over a months time in a side by side taste test. The challengers are Nevin McCoun with Breakfast Brown, Charles "C.J." Hall brewing Samurai Sunryes Sasion, and Kyle Deiubla's Cali Brown. These beers will be on tap in August.

Micro Brews and Solar Panels

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Press Release Tuesday: Furthermore Shitty Barn Sessions

Never ones to censor themselves, the Shitty Barn is getting some use this summer:

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

Spring Green welcomes the convergence of a new generation of music with new a generation of businesses.

Acoustic. Living room-esque. Musician and audience without separation. Hot charcoal. Beer. Music.

Let it be known: We are committed to the cultural life of Spring Green, WI. We adore great music. We, as a new generation of business owners within our community, possess the resources, wherewithal and motivation to do cool stuff. Thusly, we will produce a summer concert series to be known as “The Sh*tty Barn Sessions”, whereby audience and performer coexist in an intimate and integrated space with as little separating instruments and ears as possible.

For one Wednesday evening June through September, The Sh*tty Barn Sessions will be held at 506 E. Madison St. Spring Green, WI. The concerts will be small, low-key, pre-ticketed, early, and acoustic(ish).

Doors at six for open grill and social hour, then show time at seven.

Bring-your-own grill-ables. We provide condiments, paper plates, a cup to fill with Furthermore Beer, and a seat on the cold, hard barn floor (bring a blankie, stadium seat or folding chair if you wish). The concerts begin early evening and are family-friendly (age 6+ welcome).

There will be 4 Sessions in the Summer of 2010 (maybe 5, if the stars align properly).

Session No. 1: June 16th, Josh Harty
Session No. 2: July 21st, TBD
Session No. 3: August 18th, TBD
Session No. 4: September 22nd, TBD....
You can find more info and the event listed at

Presented by :

Furthermore Beer:
Yahara Guitars:
Erin Fuller Graphics:
MJ Hecox:
Sweeping Design:

Stayed tuned for more artist announcements!

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Options

So on Thursday we looked at one way for young brewers to raise money: angel investors. That article looked at how investors might be willing to invest in brewing with the tacit recognition that, like investing software companies, the investors don't actually want to own a brewing company - they want to make money. Today, we'll look at a little bit different of a model, also based on the technology industry: incubators.

Let's pretend that you are a brewer who wants to start your own brewing company. You have a partner who is charismatic and friendly who will take care of your sales. You are 25 years old, you've been an assistant brewer at a few breweries around the country, and you don't have a trust fund that gives you access to endless cash. You also don't have the kind of financial connections that give you access to people who have endless cash that they are willing to hand over to you.

OK. Stop. Let's change directions for a minute.

Let's say that you are a Brewers Guild in a state known for its brewing heritage. There is plenty of room for growth in an industry that seems to have almost endless demand. You have a handful of "rich" brewers and a lot of brewers that are getting by fairly well. You'd like to encourage brewing in your state, but you'd like to control that growth in a responsible manner. Let's say you have something like 75 members in your guild.

OK. Now that we've set the background, my proposal is this: the Brewers' Guild purchases a brewery that is specifically for one of two things: 1) research and development; 2) young brewers' incubator.

So, what would that structure look like? Maybe the Guild decides a 7 (or, really, even a full-scale 30) barrel system would be about the right size and that said 7 bbl system will cost, with land acquisition, approximately $750,000 (probably on the low side, but they can situate the land anywhere and some breweries probably have some equipment that can be used to off-set prices); so, you have $10,000 investment by each member of the Guild and the Guild can buy the system outright. More realistically, you have a $4,000 investment by each member to make the 40% down payment (common for these kinds of business deals) for a mortgage on the land and equipment; mortgage payments would be made by renting/leasing the equipment.

Now, the Guild itself owns a brewery for the benefit of Guild members. How does the Guild make money? If you want to use the brewery you can rent it/timeshare it. This could be either a straight contract, or more likely, an alternating proprietorship whereby the tenant brewer would lease the equipment while it makes its own beer.

There could be some rules in place to make it a true incubator and not just a contract brewery. First, any brewer renting it must be a member of the Brewers Guild. Second, any brewer not using it for research purposes can only rent/lease it for the equivalent of 2 or 3 years, after which they must go somewhere else. Third, the Guild could also establish, in partnership with one of the many fine Universities, an educational component that would teach brewers how to run their business and structure financing for their own brewery. This provides two benefits: 1) educating the brewers; 2) (and more importantly) gives brewers access to people connected with the University that typically have the money associated with these kinds of investments.

Why would a Brewers' Guild do this? Well, it would provide an invaluable service to its members. Not just in terms of providing brewers a place to brew. Having this kind of structure in place would encourage the kind of education and research in brewing that would make the Brewers Guild and the state one of the top brewing centers in the world. On top of that it provides income to the Brewers Guild for the kind of marketing that its members could take advantage of to raise awareness of the benefits that local breweries have in the community. Not to mention that it could provide common research systems that none but the richest breweries can afford.

But wouldn't it compete with other contract breweries in the state? Sort of, but not really. Brewers that aren't a member of the state's Brewers Guild couldn't use it, so out-of-state breweries looking to brew in-state would still have to go to contract breweries in the state. Brewers that are purely marketing companies would not have access to it because they wouldn't be brewers, i.e., they wouldn't qualify for a Federal Brewer's License. Brewers who aren't prepared after 3 years would also need to look elsewhere to other contract breweries in the state. Brewers that need more than 7 bbl system would need to look elsewhere.

Again, it's just an idea. It would, admittedly, require a Brewers Guild that actually cared about its members and the state of the industry. Is Wisconsin there yet? Probably not. But it could be.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Raising Money

As many of you know, I am an attorney. What many of you may not know is that I started my career in software development during the first internet boom of the mid-to-late-90s. None of this legal advice, nor am I even commenting on the legality of the models put forth. It's just a summary of many conversations I've been having over the past few months. Today and Monday we'll look at some rather unique models for encouraging startups in the brewing industry based on some models that the software industry uses.

What I always find interesting is the similarities between the software and brewing industries. You typically have a small group of very knowledgeable people with little capital but a huge amount of talent trying to get a company off the ground. Initial, proof-of-concept, costs are fairly low. But soon the marketing and production costs begin to skyrocket.

Technology folks talk about the start-up cycle as consisting of a few elements: 1) idea, 2) proof-of-concept, 3) marketability (sub-divided into salability and profitability), 4) scalability, 5) sale. So, 1 and 2 typically are handled by one or two people. It is late part-two or part three that seed funding begins. Is the idea marketable, will people, anyone, use the product and can the product be profitable? At this point, a third person, a marketing-specific person, might be brought in. This is typically a first-round of seed funding that covers the cost of bringing the third person and some marketing efforts and to finish rough development.

The second step, early-stage funding, typically focuses on seeing if the idea scales. This is where more developers are hired and a CEO might be appointed from a Venture Capital firm to oversee costs and product development to make sure scalability can happen in a profitable manner.

Finally, the product is sold off to a company interested in the technology, brand, or whatever. The difference in how much the investors put in, and how much the company/brand sells for, is where angels and VCs make their money.

In the brewing industry, however, instead of labor costs - initial start-up capital is almost entirely equipment-based. But interestingly, the numbers are fairly similar to a start-up technology company. Where a technology startup might need to raise $500K in a three-year cycle, a brewery needs to raise $500K now, but it will last for three (or more years - and bonus, you can sell it at the end unlike sunk labor costs for hiring a $100K developer and bunch of computers that will obsolete in three years; we can talk some other time about the technology industry's developments to reduce equipment costs, though)

Yet breweries have a harder time finding start-up capital than technology companies. There is an entire investment structure around funding technology companies.

What I propose is that breweries could be funded by similar "angel"-style investment along the model of software development. It would require thinking about brewing in a new way and would look at brewers, breweries, and brands in a more commodified manner from an investment standpoint (even if not from a consumer-facing standpoint). So, what brewers need to think about, and what they've never thought about before, but what angels will ask as one of the first questions is: what is your exit strategy? Are you looking to hold? Or are you looking to sell off brands? The latter is more attractive, but represents a rather large shift in the brewing model.

But think about a brewer like Mikkeller. It owns no brewery, no stainless. Mikkel basically shops his services around and contract brews everyting. It's an interesting model. A professional brewer, with his own recipes, but no stainless. He takes his recipes and brews them under his label at various breweries around the world.

But, what if he licensed his recipes to breweries? He'd have even lower costs with returns based on sales generated by other companies. He could tap into their success to sell his brands. The brewery licensing his recipes would get "Mikkeller" recipes to market which carry a premium on the market.

You have a product with very low costs to get to market, but the equipment itself has very high costs. So, basically dividing up the brands produced on the equipment could be one way to split up the cost.

For example, an investment group is looking for 10% return. So, on a $1,000,000 investment they want to get $1,100,000 back. In software, the way it works is that the angels give the company $1,000,000 in return for stock, then when the company is sold to someone who wants the technology, the angel, in theory, gets something more than $1,000,000 in return. But, breweries don't really work like that. You don't really ever "sell-off" a brewery in the same course, or meaning, as you "sell-off" a software company. But you can, or could, "sell off" brands.

So, say, again, you have a brewer like Mikkeller. Mikkeller could "sell off" let's say "Jackie Brown", a wonderful, hoppy, brown ale. A brewery like, say, Sierra Nevada, without a brown ale but a rather sizable distribution network, could purchase (or license) Jackie Brown from Mikkeller. While, of course, the beer would be brewed by Sierra Nevada, not Mikkeller, the recipe would be the same and there is some portion of the goodwill that would transfer - there is plenty built-up in the marketplace - and it would, of course, be necessary during the change-over to insist on some amount of quality control. But at the end of day, there would be "Sierra Nevada Jackie Brown by Mikkeller" not "Mikkeller Jackie Brown". As certain brewers get known for these kinds of transactions, a greater portion of the goodwill will transfer as the marketplace begins to recognize "start-up" or "recipe" brands.

But, in this way, shortening the sale cycle from, essentially, never to approximately 1-3 years for a brand to build a reputation in the market is much more in-line with the software life-cycle. So, a brewer would need to sell 11 brands at $100,000 each to recoup the investors' money. Thinking about the life-cycle and proliferation of brands, this is extremely possible. Separating out the brewery equipment entirely to create a "brewing incubator" would also be possible - a pure alternate proprietorship where investors could make money on the equipment itself, not just the brands that it spins off.

Finally, these models provide more immediate, quantifiable, returns and more exit points for investors who aren't necessarily interested in owning a brewery, but want to make money off of the brewing industry. An investor could quantify, and valuate, what specific brands developed by a particular brewer are worth and there would be competition in an investment marketplace for brewers, not just brands.

I'm not saying that this model is for everyone. Though in reality, with the sale of distribution networks to and among distributors, there is already some of this in the second-tier. I'm really just proposing the second-tier sale to the first-tier. But, it is an option that brewers who are trying to figure out how to raise money could look into.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You Voted For It - Vintage Wit

OK, well, the consensus seemed to actually be for a mild. But, nonetheless, Brewmaster Scott heard your pleas for summer and came up with a Wit.

A really, really good wit.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of witbiers. [ed note: see the post script below for a fun turn of events] There's, maybe, a handful that I don't find too bad, but as a general rule, I'm not really that big on them. The spicing - cloves, orange, orange peel, coriander, cumin - are often overbearing. If it's not sufficiently attenuated, the body is syrupy. The yeast (and modern American tastes) can make it overly lemony.

To my mind, Great Lakes Holy Moses is one of them that I'm just not a fan of. Yes, some people like it, but I'm not among them. Blue Moon. Bells Winter Wheat. Not a fan. I prefer Wits like Jolly Pumpkin's Calabaza Blanca, Wittekerke, (both wonderfully, but not overbearingly, lemony) and Allagash White (I love the spicing there).

But Brewmaster Scott has done a wonderful job on the new witbier. Scott uses fresh Indian coriander (I was assured freshness makes all the difference in the world - it is less musty and more peppery-grass-like), and subtle orange, and a secret ingredient that adds a little oomph to the body and slight, hop-like oiliness (ok, I'll spoil the secret: chamomile), the beer is flavorful and refreshing.


ps. while doing some research I discovered that I actually posted a review of Holy Moses on one of the popular beer review sites! On September 29, 2006, almost a full year before I ever even thought of starting MBR. Let's see what the nascent beer geek has to say, shall we? Drumroll please:
Originally from Cleveland, this is one of the few Great Lakes beers I haven't had yet. Given the general high quality, and my general fondness for witbiers, I was excited to give this a try.

As it pours it is blanch white, and becomes a beautiful golden ale with large dense white head. Even as it pours you can smell the citrus and coriander and malt, and if you let it set for a minute, the maltiness really comes to the front and the orange is a complimentary olfactory highlight. The taste is bright and oddly reminiscent of a brisk fall afternoon of football. There is some carbonation, but it dissipates quickly and the taste left is somewhat bread-like, syrup-y and sweet, but strangely unfulfilling because the coriander leaves a bit too much spice behind.

Overall a supremely drinkable beer. It compares favorably with the Leinie's Sunset Wheat but with a bit more pepper and spice.
Complimentary olfactory highlight? Oh, to take that one back. But there it is.

MBR Reviews of Wittekerke and more on Holy Moses, Ommegang Witte, and Victory Whirlwind makes me wonder when I started to dislike wits so much. I clearly liked them for at least the year between September 29, 2006 and August 29, 2007. Weird.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Apparently It's The Summer of Sour Beers

La Folie, Enigma, Grumpy Troll Flanders Ned now the Great Dane has an "oud bruin" sour red? I guess we know what this summer's trend is. Though, to be fair, Grumpy Troll, New Glarus, and New Belgium have all made "oud bruin"/"flanders red" in the past. And, last summer The Great Dane had a "flanders red" as well (called "Red Flanders" if I remember correctly).

Today (well, yesterday by the time you read this) the New York Times had an article about sour beers.
Most brewers don’t leave the process to chance. They add various souring bacteria and Brettanomyces yeast, which bathe inside the warm, dark womb of the oak barrels, devouring sugars with a rampant aggressiveness. The bacteria create strong sour notes while Brettanomyces adds distinct aromas and flavors, combinations of sweetness, tart acidity, fruit, earth, cloves and barnyard funk.
Not surprisingly, the NY Times has better pre-press fact-checkers than Madison Beer Review [ed note: our motto: "We'll get it right eventually. Please comment."]
Some neighboring Sonoma County winemakers consider the yeast a scourge capable of destroying entire vintages of wine and refuse to sell Russian River the chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet barrels in which the sour ales age.

“Some winemakers won’t even enter our brewery for a beer because they’re so disgusted by Brettanomyces,” Mr. Cilurzo said.
Mr. Snobby Pot, I'd like to introduce you to Msr. Snooty Kettle.

All in all, I'm happy to see sour beers getting their due. It's quite a conundrum though; very few breweries actually make good sour beers. We'll talk about the relative dynamics of the word "good" some other time, needless to say, it means whatever we think it means. The point is that there are not many "passable" sour beers out there. I can think of, off the top of my head, at least one hundred million pale ales that are "passable" - something that even if I don't "like" I'd at least drink if someone handed me a glass of it. But sours? I can think of good (and great) ones and I can think of ones that if I never swallowed again it would be too soon. None that are "passable".

And, more to the point, as a brewer, do you want to risk a brewery infection on something that you might not be able to pull off? And, if you are willing to take that risk, who's to say your consumers will even drink it?

Even at the best American sour breweries, sour beer accounts for less than 2% of their sales. Is it worth the effort? Given that if you get it right, it can make your reputation? Is it not worth the effort?