Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pre-Great Taste Party #7 - Weekend Update

Taking some time off of the ACT 8 Ride to get out of the heat, and rain, and grime, to relax at the Firefly in Oregon. Checked some emails, and it was good news for you:

Brasserie V: confirmation about Shelton Brothers from owner Matt Van Ness: "They are bringing in a bunch of special kegs for the evening. Still waiting for the final lineup. For sure beers from Jolly Pumpkin, Haandbryggeriet, Dieu Du Ciel!, and more. Still finalizing plans, will have most beers available starting at 5pm, and probably do a few special tappings at certain hours during the evening. Will update you with any further info and a beer listing once I have it in hand."

Friday, July 30, 2010

To Whet Your Appetite

My moles inside the Great Taste have scavenged up some goodies for you and I'll be leaking them out over the next few weeks as I get them. OK, it's not the war memo on Afghanistan or the deluge of BP, but the are probably more interesting!!

First to leak is Goose like some Bourbon County Stout? How about VANILLA Bourbon County Stout?
Hourly tappings:
Spooky (Black Imperial IPA)
Scully (White Pepper Strawberry Saison)
BCBVS (Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout)
Pepe Strano (Sour Ale brewed w/ Black Pepper)
King Henry Barrel Aged (Barley Wine)

Regulars on-tap will be Sofie (Belgian Farmhouse), Matilda (Belgian Pale Ale), Pere Jacques (Belgian Abbey), and Green Line (American Pale)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pre-Great Taste Party #6

So, are you sick of these yet? Me neither. Just wanted to promote a commenter to full post:

Vintage Brewing Company - Vintage Brewing Company and Furthermore Beer

Scott Manning, Brewmaster at Vintage Brewing Company:


The great people (and great beer!) of Furthermore Brewing will be joining us at Vintage Brewing Co. Friday night 8-13-10 for a GTMW pre-party. We'll be pouring their entire portfolio (and perhaps a surprise or two), with brewmaster Aran Madden on hand for the festivities. For those who don't know Furthermore, theirs are some of the most intriguing and best beers around: "Thermo Refur" sour ale brewed with red beets, "Knot Stock" pale ale brewed with cracked black pepper, "Oscura" coffee infused Mexican dark name but a few. We at Vintage are big fans and are very excited to share the stage.

Brewer/partner Scott Manning (me!) of Vintage will be here, of course, with the usual wide array of Vintage Brewing Co. beers. Of note, 4 new offerings: "Derby Girl ESB", "Alpentraum" (Weizenbock w/ portion smoked malt), "TigerRye Amber", and the world debut of our new high gravity abbey "DeVille", the "cadillac of abbey ales".

BTW we're also on the #6 bus line, at its western terminus, the West Transfer Point. We're just a short walk across the Walgreens/Applebees parking lot.

AND also on Friday, we'll be running the Vintage Prison Bus between the Vintage downtown and Vintage Brewing Co on the westside...perhaps with an extra stop along the way. We haven't set the schedules or routes exactly yet.

Sorry to continue the bombardment...thanks for your tireless efforts to keep beer lovers informed!

This is cool in so many ways. I have absolutely NO f-ing idea how I'm going to get to all of these places. But, hopefully Mrs. MBR will be DD ...

Also, more from Pearl Street Brewery at Dexters:
They will have the most excellent Dankenstein IIPA and the brand spankin' new Rubber Mills Pils. It's a Pils. One of these days I'll do a post on some weird distinctions that some places in Europe (mostly Bavaria/Poland/Czech) make between Pilsner and Pils (think: a cross between a pilsner and barley wine)

Pre-Great Taste Party #5

The list of breweries just keeps on coming in!! Sometime next week I'll gather all of these emails into one, comprehensive email that lists all of the events, transportation information, and other goodies about getting around in Madison (if you happen to be visiting).

The Haze - Lagunitas - 5-6 taps of hoppy Lagunitas beer. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Madison. Seriously, the pulled pork here is amazing and it happens to go very, very well with hoppy IPAs. So, grab some dinner, enjoy one of the the California hopsicles and get your evening started right. (location: Downtown)

Dexter's Pub - Pearl Street Brewery - The gang at Pearl Street will be here to say hello and you'll have a wide assortment of 7 different selections of wonderfully bold Pearl Street beer to choose from. Dexter's to Malt House to Alchemy (or vice versa) is a great, easy stumble ... er ... walk. And you'll get Pearl Street, O'So, and Upland. That's a pretty good night if you ask me. (location: East/Atwood)

I'm trying to follow-up with the folks that ran the shuttle last year to see if they are doing it again. So, if you know anything...ummm...let me know. In the meantime, Travis' bus idea - the #6 and a $4.50 all day pass is a very, very good idea.

Press Release Thursday - CRACKLE - Fire and Froth at Olbrich Gardens

***Disclaimer: Mrs. MBR is on the Board at Olbrich***

Three huge bonfires, awesome music, Food Fight food, and Wisconsin craft beer?

--------START PRESS RELEASE---------------
CRACKLE – Fire & Froth
at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
October 22 7 – 10 p.m.

Sharon Cybart, Manager of Marketing & Public Relations

Olbrich is pleased to introduce CRACKLE – Fire & Froth, an exciting new event at the Gardens! Watch flames from bonfires dance on the Great Lawn and savor a variety of frothy Wisconsin brews. Move to the bluesy tunes of the Cash Box Kings, a local up-and-coming band dedicated to carrying on the spirit of the 1940s and 1950s post-war blues sound. CRACKLE will be on October 22, from 7 to 10 p.m. Bring lawn chairs and blankets to spread out and enjoy the party!

Tempt your taste buds with delectable edibles perfect for a crisp fall evening provided by Food Fight Restaurants: Johnny Delmonico’s, Bluephies, and Market Street Diner. Appetizers, entrees, and desserts won’t disappoint – pick up a snack or make it an entire meal! Hot chocolate, coffee, and hot apple cider will also be available. Food and beverages are an additional cost above ticket price. Cash and check are preferred, credit cards will be accepted. All food and drink will be served in eco-friendly disposable containers. No carry-in food allowed.

Tickets go on sale August 1. Tickets are $15 for Olbrich members, $20 for the general public, and $10 for designated drivers. A limited number of pre-sale tickets are available. CRACKLE is a rain-or-shine event, but will relocate inside in case of inclement weather. Additional tickets may be sold the day of the event, weather permitting. Must be 21 years old to attend. Call 608-246-4550 to order tickets by credit card, or purchase them at Olbrich Botanical Gardens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. All proceeds benefit the Gardens.

For more information call 608-246-4550. Olbrich Botanical Gardens is located in Madison, Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Monona at 3330 Atwood Avenue. Visit Olbrich's website at

# # # #

Olbrich Botanical Gardens is owned and operated by the City of Madison Parks Division in partnership with the Olbrich Botanical Society.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pre-Great Taste Party #4

Confirmation on Goose Island.

Goose Island will not be at Sardine's this year, but will be (unsurprisingly, I guess) at the new Chicago-based chain on the square "Francesca's al Lago".

And some updates:

Malt House - O'so Brewing Company - on tap: Hopdinger Picnic Ants Saison, Black Scotch, Dominator Dopplebock, Bourbon Barrel Night Train (!!!!), and Hop Whoppin' IPA

Drackenberg Cigar Bar - Potosi Brewing Company - on tap: Gandy Dancer Porter, Good Old Potosi, Belgian Wit, and Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale.


some rumors about Founders at Brickhouse, but I haven't been able to confirm that.

New Brewery: House of Brews

***Disclaimer: I have been helping Page to start this brewery, but I have no financial or operational interest in it. Page gave me permission to write up this article, and my enthusiasm for this project is mostly unrelated to my work on the project (in fact, I became involved precisely because I was so enthusiastic for this excellent project). Nonetheless, fair warning that I do have some prior interest in this project.***

Conspicuously inconspicuous. Say that five times fast. But that's the perfect description for a new micro-brewery about to open its doors on Madison's Far Eastside. It is sliding under the radar, and it will make most of its money under the radar (though not under the table). But it will be there, as a gathering place, as a place of learning, as a perveyor of quality beer.

House of Brews is the imaginitive leap of Page Buchanan, a hard-working, gregarious, home brewer who has lived and worked in Madison by way of California many moons ago. He has this bizarre mix of laid back California Cool, and Midwest Union Work Ethic. When he left his job as a union representative the idea to start his own brewery was a natural, if expensive, one.

As a member of the Madison Homebrewer's And Taster's Guild ("MHTG"), Page's beer has been much-loved for years. If you haven't had it, it's only because you haven't looked. Conspicuous, yet inconspicuous. No MHTG meeting or social gathering would be complete without bombers or corny-kegs of Page's wonderful, flavorful, sessionable beers. MBR has served his beers at its yearly charity events(an "Ale-toberfest" last October, and a Rye Kolsch at the most recent event in mid-June). Bottles of his now-legendary Imperial Pumpkin are still popping up at events around town.

So, what is House of Brews. Like I mentioned, it's part brewery, it's part education, and it's part bar.

The brewery itself will be both traditional and non-traditional. Non-traditional in the sense, that one primary component of it will be the ability to subscribe to the brewery much like you would a CSA ("Community Supported Agriculture"). Indeed, Page refers to House of Brews as a "CSB" ("Community Supported Brewery"). It works like this: at the beginning of the year, you pre-pay for your beer for the year (or 6-months), to the tune of around $300 (though the exact price-point is still being worked out). Throughout the year, then, you get whatever beer Page makes.

Unlike more traditional breweries, there will be very few "regular" or "stable" beers - the focus is on new and interesting, thus there will be few "house" beers. You might get Rye Kolsch, you might get an Imperial Pumpkin, you might get a smoked lager. Who knows? The subscribers will have the opportunity to vote on what gets brewed. Throughout the year, you'll be given notice that your beer is ready, and you can pick it up at the brewery.

Like a more traditional brewery, House of Brews will also distribute its beer to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores around the state (mostly in the Madison area to start).

Because of the nature of the business, brewing so many beers in many small batches, brewing will almost always be going on. So, the education component of House of Brews will put an emphasis on de-mystifying the brewing processes. Want to see how the Rye Kolsch gets made? Just stop in and you'll have a front-row access to a chatty brewmaster. While there is some hope that this could eventually turn into a Brew-on-Premises site, due to legal issues (i.e., BOP is currently illegal in Wisconsin) this is, sadly, not a part of the current offerings.

Finally, as a bar, the location is ideal for stopping by on your way home or meeting someone out for a beer. Just off Hwy 51 near Buckeye Rd, it's tucked back into a wooded industrial park. It's probably on your way home from work if you live on the Eastside of Madison or Stoughton or Sun Prairie. The front bar area will be nice and big, with a small, tree-lined patio out front. There will be numerous areas where you'll be able to grab a beer and pull up a seat and watch the brewing going on with access to workers and the work (brewers and beer!) made paramount.

Much like Page, I assure you that his beer will be ubiquitous, yet under the radar. House of Brews will surely have the quality that we (beer drinkers) demand, the diversity that we (beer drinkers) enjoy, and fit perfectly into the culture of craft.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pre-Great Taste #3 - The Hits Just Keep on Coming

Am I the only person old enough to remember Casey Kasem on America's Top 40? Does anyone even care about the American Top 40 anymore? Why 40? Why not 50?

Oh well.

Another Pre-Great Taste Event. Or, to use the nom-de-guerre suggested earlier "The Great Waste". All events are Friday Night August 13th, generally starting "after work"-ish.

The Cooper's Tavern - Summit Brewing Company - A number of Summit Brewing Company taps including a special cask-conditioned ale to be named later. Brewmaster Mark Stutrud will be on-hand for the festivities. (location: Downtown)

Natt Spil - Lake Louie Brewing Company - unknown if Brewer Tommy Porter will be there or what will be on tap, yet. But Natt Spil has some great wood-fired pizza. (location: Downtown) (thanks commenter tylerlawman)

Maduro - Bells - according to commenter "tylerlawman" Bells is confirmed for 25 taps.

Pre-Great Taste Update #2

The events just keep rolling in.

Alchemy - Upland Brewing Company - additional detail on this is that Brewer Caleb Stanton will be at Alchemy pouring will start at 8pm or thereabouts. They will be pouring a number of Upland brews including: Upland Oktoberfest, Upland Wheat, and Baddest Elmer's Bourbon Barrel Baltic Porter (!Sweet!!) (location: East/Atwood)

The Malt House - O'So Brewing Company - not sure yet which brews will be poured, but Founder and Brewer Marc Buttera will be there to sign autographs and kiss babies. (location: East/Atwood)

Drackenberg Cigar Bar - Potosi Brewing Company - unsure which beers will be poured, but Head Brewer, and ex-Bells Brewer, Steve Buszka will be there to answer whatever questions you can throw at him. Personally, I'm really excited about this one. Even though Drackenbergs is next to impossible for me to get to, it's a great little cigar bar with a fun, rotating taplist. (location: Near North)

Let The Drooling Begin - Great Taste of the Midwest PreParty #1

Yes, it is still 3 weeks before the Great Taste of the Midwest. 19 days and 6.5 hours to be precise. But who's counting?

If you don't have a ticket, now is time to start hauling out the knee pads, join the Homebrewer's Guild, plan your storming of the gates; whatever it is that you think you need to do to get tickets because chances are you did not get tickets during the 3 hours they were on sale back in May. And, please, do not ask me for tickets. I don't have any. At least not for you.

Friday night, of course, has becoming a tradition. Great Taste Eve. Whatever you want to call it. We should have a naming competition. What should the evening of pre-party debauchery be called? Best answer will win something. Not sure what yet, but we'll figure it out.

Anyway. The plans are still being put together for all of the events going on Friday, August 13th (ooo....Friday the 13th!!!). But the first confirmations are in.

Drum Roll Please:

- Jordan's Big 10, come on down! (but please turn off that damned music on your website) And bring Stone Brewing Company and New Belgium Brewing Company with you. Typically one of the first events to start, the taps turn on at 4pm and will Jordan's will become "normal" again at 9pm. (location: Regent/Monroe)

- Brickhouse BBQ: Shorts Brewing Co. and Central Waters will be on-tap hosted by (location: Downtown)

- Barriques on West Washington: Hinterland Brewery will be bringing some special kegs to put on tap. Stop in for a nice cup o' joe to keep you awake while you party. Heck, have some great artisan cheese and grab some munchies too. (location: Downtown)

- Brasserie V: Shelton Brother Importers are taking over the taps, possibly with some surprises that you won't find anywhere else in the country. (location: Regent/Monroe)

- Alchemy: Will be having a beer dinner with Southern Tier on Tuesday August 10th, and will have Upland Brewing Company from Indiana on Friday, August 13th. The Upland Ard Ri Imperial Red is one of my favorite midwestern beers. (location: Atwood/East)

-Maduro: I don't have official confirmation, but I will bet dollars to doughnuts that Bells will take over all the taps like they have for the past 87 gazillion years. (location: Downtown)

Monday, July 26, 2010

What is Beer?

At his blog “Desperately Seeking Session Beer,” Ken Weaver posted a really interesting interview with Dan Carey of New Glarus. The interview was supposed to focus on the Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart (which fit the definition of session beer laid out by Lew Bryson’s Session Beer Project, whether or not they really are sessionable beers), but much of the interview is spent looking at the state of the craft beer world as a whole. There are quite a few interesting opinions and revelations. The first of which is that the next unplugged beer will be an Abt:
“We’re making an Abt. Our next Unplugged will be an Abt, like St. Bernardus or Westvleteren 12, something like that. We’re going to be brewing that here in a few weeks, and that’ll be released in August.”
I thought that the Unplugged Quadruple they made a few years back was pretty good, but really intense. I’m excited to see what their Abt will be like.

Most of the interview focused on something that comes up a lot in conversations with beer geeks: whether “extreme” beers are a good or bad thing for craft beer in general. Dan seems to lean more toward session beer, making some interesting observations about craft beer sales and how extreme beer fits into the market:

“The easiest way for me to say it is, is the extreme beers are doing an important job for the beer business by forcing the medium up. Thirty years ago, a pale ale with 30 IBUs – that was like, woah, this is woah, this is, this is like way out in left field, this is, this is crazy beer. Now we have people who are pushing 100 IBUs and god knows what percent alcohol, so what that does is it pushes the medium up. Although the average person is never going to go for a 100-IBU beer, because these people are pushing the extreme, now the average person who was raised on Coors Light is drinking a 30-IBU beer and liking it. And so I think it’s a good thing.” I never would have thought about extreme beer in this way, but it makes complete sense.

There is one point Dan makes on which I disagree, or at least don’t agree completely, and that I bring up because similar sentiments have been made by many other people at one point or another:

“The problem with and BeerAdvocate is that you get this little snapshot, that people will drink a glass of beer sitting around in their underwear in front of their computer, and you have to scream really loud to be heard, but beer is not meant to be drank that way. It’s a social beverage, and something that you sit around with friends and enjoy. So personally, I don’t want to drink a 9% alcohol beer. Anything over 5 or 6 ounces, I can’t take it, I can’t buy a 22-ounce bottle of 9% alcohol, because I’m going to dump about two-thirds of it down the drain because there’s no way I could drink it.”

This is a very common complaint about the craft beer movement, and one that, setting aside underwear-clad internet-screamers, I can’t really understand. Beer obviously has an important place in larger social situations. At the bar-b-q or the baseball game or the family reunion, beer is, as Kirby Nelson would say, an adjunct to the enjoyment of life. This is one of the things that beer can do, but it’s not the only thing. It can be a beverage that you enjoy without thinking too much about it, or it can be something you analyze and scrutinize. It doesn’t have to be taken seriously, but it can be. Writing off hard-core beer geeks who write reviews and trade beers and take pride in having tasted all of the top fifty beers on rate beer, or whatever it may be, ignores the fact that these internet interactions with like minded obsessives are social interactions, albeit non-traditional ones. And while you may not want to drink a whole 22 oz 9 percent abv beer by yourself, sitting in your living room with a couple of beer geek buddies enjoying that bottle can be a great social experience.

Whenever I hear people say something like “beer is about enjoying a few pints with friends and family on a cool summer evening with the breeze blowing through the trees and bla bla bla…” I always think yes. I love doing that. That is one great thing that beer can do. But it’s not the only thing. It’s far too dynamic a beverage to be shoehorned into only one use, and ignoring or writing off everything else is a bit dismissive. And while this interview focused on all the positive aspects of session beers, of which there are many, I feel like the man who chose to brew an Iced Barley Wine probably agrees with me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I've Got Stella Skilz

Wednesday was a weird day. You'll have to excuse me for being rather meandering and long-winded about this, but it's one of those things that, I think, makes the beer industry so bizarre and wonderful. My only regret is that I have no pictures to show you.

Entry Date: July 21, 2010
Dear Diary:
My day started miserably enough. I was sick today. Not really sure why I was sick, but I was. My tummy hurt and I spent the whole day fighting to keep my eyes open. Work was useless and futile and I could do little but sit at my desk like a lump. But some mighty strange things happened to me today.

Around 9am I received an email from the Brewers Association telling me that MBR is going to have media credentials for the Great American Beer Fest! I could hardly believe it. On a whim, a few weeks ago I submitted an application for media credentials. Figuring it was a long shot, but that if given the chance, I might be able to talk my way into it, I submitted the application on the theory that I could spend 3 weeks writing about the GABF. I could generate all kinds of great content that people would be interested in reading about: interviews with participants (Kevin Eichelberger, come on down!), audio recordings and podcasts, photographs, live blogging. And best of all, I could do it all from Denver, Colorado during the GABF the premier beer festival in the United States. A few days ago, I received an email from the Brewers' Association PR person in charge of new media credentials telling me, basically, "we don't typically give credentials unless you have 10,000 page views." And, oh, dear diary, MBR doesn't come anywhere close to 10,000 page views even in a "typical" week. But, the note went on, if I could provide some justification they might just issue credentials anyway. So, into my best marketing and persuasive writing mode I went spilling word upon word about the relevance of Madison Beer Review to the Wisconsin beer market. Extolling the virtues of the GABF, of the long-windedness I generate about the event. Offering 3 weeks of coverage, that, might, if things go well, generate a total of 10,000 page views. Today the response said: "Silly MBR, we didn't mean 10,000 page hits for a single day, but cumulative. You win." Oh, dear diary, how ecstatic I was.

Until I saw the cost of airfare and hotels in Denver for the four days of GABF. And I was sick to my stomach.

Mrs. MBR and I spent some time discussing the merits of dropping close to $1,000 for both of us just to get to and stay in Denver, let alone the money in beer and food, and not including the festival tickets, since I was getting those for free (or at least one of them, it's not entirely clear yet whether there are two media passes or not).

At 2pm, I was still not feeling well, but it was silly to leave work because I had an event for the AIDS Network at 5:30pm and, thus, I couldn't just go home and fall asleep watching the Tour de France like I wanted to. So, around 5:15 or so, Mrs. MBR and I headed off to the ACT8 get-together. ACT 8, is a long bike trip (300 miles in 4 days) put on by the AIDS Network to raise awareness and general funds for the AIDS patients in and around the Dane County area. It is a long, grueling ride and the minimum entry donation is $1200 to ride, and $70 to be on the crew. Mrs. MBR is riding, and I am on the crew. We have raised over $2000 so far. If you'd like to donate more, you can do that here and you support will be greatly appreciated!

Thank you Diary for your generous donation.

In any event, I was not well, and the event was at Naut-i-gal on the North Side - the exact opposite direction of my own home. The AIDS Network had reserved the back yard of Naut-i-gal and there was food and some gear items set up. People were hanging around just chatting about prior years, and getting the lay of the land and introducing themselves to people they were about to spend a lot of time with. In one corner of the yard was a portable tap setup with Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe on tap. Being AB-InBev products, although, apparently, free, I skipped the Stella for a Capital Wisconsin Amber (much more on this in the coming days, oddly enough).

Stella Artois, owned by InBev, the worldwide beer giant that recently merged (purchased) Budweiser, is in the midst of a very large marketing push to counter some of the "high end" damage being done by, oddly, Dos Equis and "the most interesting man in the world". So, Stella is countering with a "super premium" ad push of its own with ads featuring distinguished gentlemen in starched button downs austerely pouring and critically examining a beautiful gold, if otherwise normal tasting, pale lager.

I have no problems with Stella as beer, but I don't feel that I need to support AB-InBev, so I largely ignored the setup and went with a good, old, Wisconsin Amber from a local producr. Besides, I wanted to work on the cryptogram on the front of the Wisconsin Amber label.

As Mrs. MBR and I are sitting, chatting about when it would be appropriate to leave and contemplating the goodness of the bruschetta and chips and quacamole, a Stella rep came to our table and chatted us up. Look, I understand, it's her job to get people to participate, to join the fun, to enjoy the wonderful taste of free beer. Personally, I get enough free beer in my life that dangling it in front of me doesn't really do much for me. But, on the other hand, it is free beer. In return I just had to "compete" to pour the best Stella Artois according to the 9 (NINE!) Steps of Pouring a Stella Artois properly. And give up my email address.

Given that she was clearly bored, there was a lack of participation, and she gets paid for the number of the names that she gets, I agreed. How hard could it be, right? Plus, free beer. Mrs. MBR did not participate. So, I inquired, what do I need to do? Ms. Stella set the ground rules. The "Bartender" would demonstrate all nine steps once through, then I would be asked to perform the steps and I would be evaluated by the judge sitting at a nearby table. At the end, I can keep the beer and the glass. Second place is a set of 6 Stella Artois mugs. First place got a "premium gift pack" and went to a "city-wide" competition where the grand prize was a flight to Dever.

Wait. Did you just say a flight to Denver? You don't happen to know when this flight to Denver is, do you? Umm...not really, but some time in the fall maybe. Oh? Like September? Yeah, I think so, actually. Like the 15-19? Yeah, now that you mention it, it could be. You have got to be shitting me. I'm in. Please do not finish second - the last thing I need is 6 Stella Artois glasses.

So, I gave her my name and email address and the bartender showed me what to do. Now, I've seen and poured a lot of beer in my life. I have a bartender's license (yes, I know, I'm an attorney, but, I have a bartender's license, too). I've seen and poured a lot of fancy beer in my life, I am generally familiar with the need and procedure for clean glassware and a good dollop of head. The "9 steps" basically clean the glass, put a good head on top, and provide a nice presentation at the end. Scrub the glass, rinse the glass, clean the inside at beer temperature, turn on the tap, pour down the side then into the middle to a nice 2-finger head, remove the glass, turn off the tap, scrape the head off, rinse off the outside of the glass, make sure it looks OK, and present it to the customer. If you can do all of that while holding the glass by the stem and keeping the marketing (i.e., logo) facing the customer, you're doing well. And, I kicked its ass.

Yes. I won. By five points over second place. My execution was flawless, I almost forgot the "spill skirt" that is useless and no actual bar uses anyway. Admittedly, Stella Artois, in the bubble-shaped stemmed glassware, is a very, very pretty beer. It is crystal clear and bright yellow with a shockingly white head of foam. The logo and presentation is very refined. It's flavor is rather undistinguishable, but it's fine enough and I've even been known to order one on occassion.

So, what did I win? I won a large Stella Artois glass (in addition to the one I got for competing), a foam scraper thingy, and a "booklet" about the nine steps of pouring Stella Artois and the history of Stella. Pablum. But, more importantly, I've won the right to compete against 7 others for the flight to Denver.

The final competition will be held at the new Brickhouse BBQ next to Riley's downtown next Thursday. I've been told that the marketing will start around 8pm with the actual competition starting around 9 or 9:30pm or so. I implore you to come out and cheer for me so that I can win and we can prove that Madison Beer Review is worth the media credentials that I scored so that I can drink free beer for three days and you can read all about it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Books About Beer - A Taste of Heaven

This book has suffered long enough at the vagaries of my schedule. I first meant to write about this February, then March, then April, then June, then last week. Finally, today, I will end my own personal hell of confliction, pray for my own repentence, and take my penance, for you shall be delivered the information about this most fine book by Madisonian Madeline Scherb, A Taste of Heaven (you can get it in electronic form here). Part cookbook, part guidebook, part history, this book has everything you'd want to know about Trappist Beer, Trappist cheese, Trappist bread, and Trappist body lotion (!?).

I had a chance to interview Ms. Scherb about the book, about beer, and about monks and nuns.

MBR: What is your background and why would you want to write a whole book about Trappist Monks and Nuns and the food they make and the things they drink?

Madeline Scherb ("MS"): I was on a journalism fellowship in comparative religion when I came up with the idea for my book, A Taste of Heaven. I needed a class project and since I'm Catholic and I like a good beer, I put two and two together and came up with the idea to write about food and drink made by monks and nuns. Also, 9/11 was a big influence on me. I was living in New York at the time and that event made me re-think my priorities. I was unhappy at my PR job and wanted to get back to writing, and I'm glad I did because the book was the result!

MBR: Why monks? In other words how the heck did monks and nuns get into the brewing business in the first place? Legend has it that monks started brewing because their churches were also inns during the middle ages and that rather than serve water, which could kill people, the innkeepers (monks) would create wine and beer. Is the legend true? If so, what kinds of beers would these have been? What would that beer have tasted like?

MS: Beer and wine were safer than most drinking water in the Middle Ages. Also, wine was necessary for Mass, so monks got to be quite good at making it. They once owned some of France's finest vineyards! Beer was more common in northern countries like Belgium and Germany, where monks started to make it for their own consumption and then sold the surplus to pilgrims and other travelers. It was common for a monastery to have a little pub and guest house, just like they do today. I can only imagine what the beer might have tasted like back then. Monks were allowed to drink beer during Lent as a kind of "liquid bread," so I imagine it would have been a hearty beer.
MBR: My understanding is that there are more than 7 trappist monestaries. Why are only those 7 allowed to called their beer "authentic Trappist products"? What if the Monestary of the Holy Spirit in Georgia (an American Trappist Monestary) were to start brewing beer - presumably it could not call its beer "Authentic Trappist" beer? What makes beer "Trappist" such that this should be the case? What about beer like Ale Asylum's "Trappist-Style" Pale Ale?
MS: There are hundreds of Trappist monasteries around the world, however only a small handful make beer. Six of those are in Belgium and one is in the Netherlands. They are: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren in Belgium, and Koenigshoeven in the Netherlands. True monastery beers are so delicious and have such a high reputation that secular producers started putting monks and abbeys on their labels, and the monks felt it was necessary to distinguish their product. In fact, if you see a monk or abbey on the label of a beer bottle, I can guarantee it wasn't made by monks! The abbeys developed the Authentic Trappist Product label to help customers identify their beers. To qualify for the label, a beer must be made entirely within the walls of a monastery, with some oversight by the monks. Most monasteries employ lay labor these days, but the monks are involved in the management of the breweries even at abbeys where they are no longer making the mash themselves. The monks at Westvleteren still make the beer entirely by their own hands. Of course, Westvleteren beer is notoriously hard to get a hold of and the best place to drink it is at the abbey brew pub (see my book for a suggested itinerary for Abbey Brew Pubs).

[Ed Note: You can read more about geographic indications here]

"Trappist-style" typically refers to a beer that is dark, malty and often uses candy sugar, such as Chimay's Grande Reserve or Rochefort (both delicious beers). However, Westmalle abbey is said to have invented the Belgian Triple style and newer abbeys such as Achel are making beers that break with tradition. Orval is one of my favorite Trappist beers and it is quite hoppy and has a refreshing aroma. GQ magazine just recognized Orval beer on it's "Must Try Now" list!

[ed note: The use of "-style" in this manner is highly controversial. It basically comes down to whether beer is, or is not, intended to be protected similarly to "wine and spirits", which are expressly prohibited from the use of geographic indications by merely appending "-style, -kind, -imitation, -like, etc.". - Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Article 23, of which Belgium, Netherlands, and the United States are signatories. It's the same reason I can't call my pale, fizzy wine "Champagne-style".]

An American abbey could use the Authentic Trappist Product label if it makes beer according to the requirements for the label. I don't know of any abbeys in the United States that are making beer, but I'm hopeful. Personally, I would like to see nuns make beer.

Also, a couple of monasteries in Germany make beer: Andechs, which has a rather famous brew pub, and Plankstetten which makes a spelt beer. I think they are Benedictine monks.

MBR: Given the high expense of Trappist beers, I am unlikely to use them to cook with. Can you persuade me otherwise? Is there any particular recipe that just simply would not taste the same with any other beer?

MS: Expensive is, of course, a relative term. I am always on a tight budget and was never more so than while writing my book, however, I would much rather spend five or six dollars on a Trappist beer and support the monastery with my purchase than buy a cheaper beer. I probably would stick to the real thing for Charlie Trotter's beef cheek-with-miso recipe in my book or, say, the wonderful roast cod recipe from Vincent Wauthy in Rochefort, Belgium. But I have happily experimented with local Wisconsin beers as substitutes in the French Toast recipe that calls for Westmalle. (By the way, Trappist beers are a little more economical per bottle over at Woodman's grocery store but I usually get mine at Whole Foods.)

MBR: What is unique about the Trappist culture in particular that makes their foodstuff so darn tasty? Is there some kindred spirithood with the Slow Food movement?

MS: Monks and nuns were living an "organic" lifestyle long before the Slow Food Movement was born. They used to farm to support their abbeys. They grew vegetables, raised cows and made cheese (some still do), had fruit orchards and ate mostly vegetarian meals. But I think the secret ingredient that makes all their products so wonderful is simply this: They live to pray, not to work. Work is a form of prayer for them. They balance work with prayer, and pray seven times a day. They see all things as part of God's creation including the beer, cheese, caramels and chocolates they make. Thus a Trappist beer is, if you will forgive a cliche, a true taste of heaven! Cheers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Books About Beer - Wisconsin's Best Beer Guide

Wisconsin's Best Beer Guide, by Kevin Revolinski
It's not the prettiest book on the shelf. The cover isn't designed by Randy Mosher. The prose isn't Michael Jackson. But author Kevin Revolinski, The Mad Traveler, knows about getting from Point A to Point B and what to see and do along the way.

Wisconsin's Best Beer Guide has been around for a few years now. First published in 2004, it was a comprehensive snapshot of Wisconsin brewing. Well, a lot has changed in the intervening six years, so it was time to update the book. Filled with the basics on beer, where the book really shines is its sheer comprehension and user-friendliness. Kevin spoke with almost every brewer at every brewery and brewpub in the state. The book is filled with their inside scoop on which beers are their favorites, and when to visit, and what the secret handshake looks like to get a discounted (or free) beer and tour of the place. Hint: the handshake looks a lot like showing a bartender the book and slyly asking if the brewer is around.

It's funny. As I talk to brewers around the state, they all seem to mention this book. I don't know why that is. Like I said, it's not much to look at and Kevin, while knowledgeable, isn't exactly Michael Jackson. But what does work, is its pure functionality and Kevin's enthusiasm for the subject. He treats every brewer and brewery the same. New Glarus and Granite City get the same number of pages in the book as Stonefly and Northwoods Brewing. Along the way, Kevin provides some excellent travel tips that include when and how to get there, interesting beer sites along the way, and what other beer-related stuff might be within stumbling distance of the brewery.

Few people are going to read this book cover-to-cover. But put it in your car next to the Wisconsin map and when you find yourself on a family trip, or just out to kill a day, look up your area and Kevin will point you in the right direction. Do that a few times and with the discounts in the book (seriously, I wasn't kidding about the free beer handshake) you'll easily make up the $12.99 you spent for this great guidebook to Wisconsin Beer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

MBR in California Part Two

After two days in wine country drinking Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs and Double IPAs, I spent the rest of my trip in San Francisco, a city that many would argue is at the center of California’s beer scene. Home of the historic and pioneering Anchor brewery, the famous Toronado bar, and close proximity to many of California’s most celebrated breweries, San Francisco is as good a place as any to evaluate the West Coast beer culture. While this wasn’t specifically a beer-drinking trip, I was able to hit up some of these sites while experiencing the culture of San Francisco.

One of the places I needed to go to was Toronado. For many this is the ultimate craft beer bar, the original no frills, nothing-but-great-beer establishment that was a huge influence on places like the Malt House. The feel of the place was grungy, with old, beat-up stools and tables, and stickers completely plastering the walls. The service left a bit to be desired, with a slow moving bartender who was seemingly annoyed when I asked to see the (extensive) bottled beer list. The tap list was no doubt impressive. The vast majority were California beers, with a few choice selections from Germany and Belgium. The imports were fairly standard: Schneider, Dupont, Lindemans, though I give them props for having Rodenbach Grand Cru on tap. The local beers were heavy with Russian River, Lost Abbey and Sierra Nevada. I tried Lost Abbey’s Serpent’s Stout, a big, black, boozy beer, and a glass of ’09 Russian River Consecration, their Cabernet barrel aged sour beer. To me, this aged beer might be what sets Toronado apart. With so many breweries in the area making world-class beers in styles that age well (Barley Wine, Imperial Stout, sour styles), having the capacity to age kegs and occasionally put some old stuff on tap is really cool. Even though I had really enjoyed the current vintage of Consecration when I had it at Russian River two days earlier, the ’09 was far better. All the flavors, the sourness, the wine and tannin flavors, the malt profile of the base beer, just all seemed more well rounded and fit together better; it was quite possibly the best sour beer I’ve ever had. If this were my local pub, the occasional sight of ’09 Consecration, ’08 Angels Share or ’07 Bigfoot on the tap list would be something that would keep me coming back.

We also stopped at a “certified organic” brewpub called Thirsty Bear in the SoMA district. This might be the only brewpub I’ve ever been to where the food was better than the beer (although the Great Dane does make a pretty mean hamburger…). The pub had the unique pairing of house brewed beer, predominantly English and American ales, and Spanish cuisine. I had the flight, and many of the beers, especially their popular Golden Vanilla, had a strange off flavor I can only describe as “green,” a phrase homebrewers use when their beer needs a little more time before being ready to drink. That being said, the cask ESB was quite nice, and the antipasto flatbread with Serrano ham was fantastic.

There were quite a few places I did not have time to make it to, namely the City Beer Store, the 21st amendment brewpub and La Trappe. We tried to get a tour of the Anchor Brewery, but their tours are by reservation and sell out about two months in advance in the summer, so if you’re heading to San Francisco be sure to book your Anchor tours early.

Overall, part of me wants to say I was really impressed with San Francisco’s beer scene, and part of me was a little underwhelmed. This reaction is likely due to the unrealistic expectations that were floating around somewhere in my brain, visions of a city where every bar had a plethora of craft beers on tap, where every time I tried to order a beer I would have to make impossible choices between beers I’d never heard of. This was, of course, not the case. In general, wandering around to bars and restaurants with my friends, the amount of craft beer on tap didn’t seem much different from what one would see in downtown Madison, with the names of the breweries switched from New Glarus and Capital to Sierra Nevada and Anchor. Anchor Steam beer and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were everywhere, often along side an Anchor Liberty Ale or Sierra Nevada Torpedo or Summer Lager. It should be said that these “accessible” craft beers are definitely more aggressive than Spotted Cow or Island Wheat, which might say something for the beer savvyness of the average San Franciscan, but the variety and access to other great local breweries (21st Amendment, Firestone Walker, Stone, Russian River, etc.) was not as great as I was expecting. I think I saw a Firestone Walker beer on tap once.

This is just my one, limited experience, but my week in California allowed me to understand why people consider the West Coast to be the center of craft beer, while not necessarily becoming convinced of this fact myself. I guess I’ll just have to go back and do some more research.

Friday, July 9, 2010

MBR in California


A while back I was drinking a beer and talking with Ale Asylum brewmaster (and, full disclosure, my former employer) Dean Coffey, and I casually mentioned how annoying I find it that West Coast beer geeks seem to think that California is the center of the craft beer universe, often disregarding or diminishing the achievements of other regions. Surely, I argued, the Midwest has just as many great breweries and craft beer consumers as they do out west. Madison in particular seems to be a very beer savvy town, where virtually every bar has at least a Capital and New Glarus tap, with most sprinkling in a few other local crafts for good measure. How arrogant of those west-coasters to suggest that they are so far ahead of us?

“Well,” Dean replied, much to my surprise, “they are a long way ahead of us.” There are simply more bars and restaurants serving more local craft beers, and more people drinking them, he told me. I suddenly realized that my anti-California rant had been totally ridiculous, considering I had never actually been there to experience the craft beer scene for myself. I’d never had beer from breweries like Russian River and Firestone Walker that do not distribute in Wisconsin. Clearly there are great breweries and passionate fans here in Wisconsin, but it is certainly possible that there is a place with even better breweries and even more devoted fans. Maybe California really is the center of the craft beer universe.

A recent trip to San Francisco to visit some friends gave me a chance to experience the beer culture first hand, and even coming in with some high expectations, I was fairly impressed with what I found.

The first beer adventure on the trip was up in Sonoma county wine country. I was traveling with my fiancĂ©, and when she suggested visiting some wineries, I immediately agreed, found a nice little hotel for us to stay in Santa Rosa and even offered to drive our rental car from vineyard to vineyard. Why would a beer geek be so excited to go to wine country? Because right in the middle of all those vineyards, and within walking distance of the aforementioned hotel, is the Russian River Brewing Co. Brewpub, makers of the highly renowned imperial IPA’s Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, as well as a series of wine barrel aged sour beers. I had heard legends of these beers, of bottles and growlers being shipped across the country from beer geek to beer geek, and the chance to try them on tap was something I was not going to pass up.

After a long day of sipping wine and driving along the Pacific coast we finally made it to Russian River, and the first thing I did was order a pint of Pliny the Elder (Pliny the Younger, the bigger of the two beers, is an extremely limited release that usually sells out in less than a day; needless to say, I was unable to try this beer). Even with all the hype surrounding this beer and the traveling it took for me to taste it, I can safely say it still exceeded my expectations. It has huge west coast hop flavor and substantial bitterness without being undrinkable. Many double-IPA’s achieve balance by upping the malt sweetness to even out the hop bitterness, but Pliny somehow retains a relatively light and drinkable body and tons of bitterness without being astringent or unpleasantly bitter. Truly a fantastic beer.

After the Pliny, I had the sampler platter of all 15 beers on tap. The more sessionable beers, despite receiving accolades from some, didn’t do a whole lot for me, although this it is quite possible that after drinking a pint of double IPA, no blonde ale or ordinary bitter are going to stand out very much. I enjoyed both of Russian River’s other two IPA’s, the Blind Pig and Russian River IPA, and was blown away by the wine barrel aged sour beers. I got to try three: the Temptation, aged in Chardonnay barrels; Supplication, aged in Pinot Noir barrels; and the Consecration, aged in cabernet barrels. The Consecration was my favorite, a Belgian strong dark ale base that takes in a bit of tannins and complexity from the wine barrels and a nice amount of sourness and funk from bacteria and Brettanomyces wild yeast, it was great at the brewpub, and the ’09 version I found on tap at Toronado in San Francisco might have been the best beer of the trip (more on that later).

After trying the sampler and a very enjoyable pint of Pliny the Elder, I can see why Russian River has gained such a strong reputation. It’s too bad they don’t distribute outside of the west coast, but I suppose that’s part of the fun of traveling.

Stay tuned for part two of MBR in California on Monday, where I explore the beer scene in San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Brew: Capital Weizen Doppelbock

Today's New Brew isn't exactly a first-time debut into the market.  Last brewed in 2002, Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson has resurrected his Weizen Doppelbock as the latest entry in the Capital Square Series of high-octane special-release beers.  Kirby has proven himself to be the Da Vinci of Doppelbocks, with his Blonde Doppelbock, Autumnal Fire, Imperial Doppelbock, and EisPhyre all among the best bockbiers made in America today.
The weizenbock is the platypus of the beer world.  Blending the bright fruity esters and spicy yeastiness of Bavarian weissbier with the rich caramel maltiness and high proof of the venerable doppelbock, weizenbocks are banana bread in a glass, but retain good drinkability, even in warm summer months.

Capital Weizen Doppelbock

Style: Weizenbock
Vitals: 8.0% abv; courtesy of The Isthmus' Robin Shepard: Liberty hops; Bavarian hefeweiss yeast; wheat and Munich malts
Company line: "A boosted version of all the personality quirks that make the Bavarian Weizen style unique and beloved."
My take: pours a dark, murky amber with ample white, soapy head that fades quickly.  Aroma exudes clove and banana schnapps.  Liquid banana bread in the mouth with complex notes of chocolate-covered peanuts, soft caramels, and spice.  Finish is mostly dry with a lingering spice note.  Mouthfeel is dense, yet smooth.
Kirby said his inspiration for this beer was Schneider Aventinusthe first weizenbock I ever had, and arguably the benchmark for the style.  He's reaching in the right direction and his doppelbock chops definitely shine through.  Ultimately, this one lacks the depth and harmony of flavor of the German classic, but it remains a supremely drinkable, highly interesting beer that combines the richness of a winter brew, with the thirst-quenching character of a summer brew.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Skirmishes and Battles in the War on Alcohol At The National, State, and Local Level

Measure 1

Jay Brooks has been writing (a lot) about the latest developments in San Francisco to tax, excuse me, apply a fee to, alcohol sold within the city limits of San Francisco.
The stated rationale is that the “fee” is meant to cover the so-called harm caused by people who use alcohol by charging a fee to the distributors and retailers who sell it.
Essentially it would work by adding a fee to wholesalers who distribute within the city. Jay looks at the man behind the curtain, the Marin Institute, to look at the organization pushing the latest wave in alcohol taxes ... errr ... fees.

You should really read Jay's article about this whole issue and I only bring it up here as a caution to what is surely the next wave to strike in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin since the beer tax has been, temporarily, shut down and the 40-oz law can't get passed.

It is important to note the distinction between this alcohol tax and, say, the tobacco tax (whose lobbyist is helping to write the beer tax here in Wisconsin). First and foremost, tobacco hurts everyone that uses it; alcohol does not. Second, tobacco, by necessity, hurts those around the person using it; alcohol does not. It is possible to use and consume alcohol in a responsible, reasonable manner that neither harms yourself or others. And those that do so should not bear the brunt of a tax meant to subsidize those that refuse to be responsible.

Of course, you might point out that we have a lot of subsidy programs in the United States where a group that is not affected help to pay for a group that is. For example, social security, welfare, unemployment, etc. But, a person does not choose to get old, be poor, or get fired; thus, in the name of fundamental fairness we aid those in need of help. One can choose not to drink and drive. And I shouldn't be asked to subsidize those who choose poorly.

Measure 2

The Madison Alcohol Licensing Review Committee ("ALRC") has approved a measure, that would prohibit retailers from selling alcohol to "habitually intoxicated persons". Whatever that means. Though it starts with "anyone arrested six times in a 180-day period will be added to the list." Right now that is about 30 people. So, for the benefit (?) that the public gains from 30 people not having access to liquor, we are asking retailers on every purchase to not only check ids, but to cross-reference that to a list of 30 people to make sure the person is not on the "banned" list. And, if the store clerk, who isn't personally liable for the action, happens to get it wrong, the store owner gets to go in front of a judge and explain himself. What's the point? Is this law really necessary?

Chris Walker, at Dane101, has an interesting take on this issue.
We should do whatever we can to prevent reckless, drunken behavior from known abusers of alcohol, especially if they’re repeatedly troublesome for law enforcement personnel. The individual should be held to account for the most part – it is, after all, their own choices that have led them to drink and led them to the liquor store in question in the first place. But if a list of names is given to liquor store owners of people the city determines should not be purchasing alcohol, and if they sell them booze anyway, to a certain extent some responsibility rests with the liquor store itself for whatever will happen after that.
But that assumes too much, in my opinion. His argument in favor of the list and the law, presumes the existence of the law. But, why should we presume it to begin with? Why should the list exist from the get-go? Walker likens it to gun ownership and requiring gun stores to do background checks on gun buyers and limiting sales to felons and repeat gun "abusers". But it's hardly a compelling comparison, unless the basis for addition to the list is multiple DUI arrests. But it isn't. The only "crime" is being drunk too often - and for that we, as society, are going to pre-emptively, maybe, possibly, prevent someone from, maybe, committing the "crime" of panhandling while intoxicated for the seventh time. Yet, oddly, a person with six DUI convictions could still be served by a retailer. How's that for messed up priorities?

Measure 3

A new law that went into effect yesterday (Thursday), may be too little, but at least it's a step in the right direction. The law applies to multiple-DUI offenders:
Require ignition interlocks for all repeat drunken drivers and for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or greater. Ignition interlocks prevent motorists from starting their vehicles until they pass a breath test.

Make a fourth drunken driving offense a felony if it occurs within five years of a previous offense. Before, drunken driving wasn't a felony until the fifth offense.

Eliminate lighter punishments for offenders who have blood-alcohol levels below 0.10. When the Legislature dropped the limit from 0.10 to 0.08, it set lower penalties for those with levels between 0.08 and 0.099. Now, everyone will face the same punishment.

Expand to the rest of the state a Winnebago County program that gives judges the option of offering reduced jail time to offenders who complete alcohol or drug treatment. County boards would have to approve the program, which backers say would reduce recidivism.

Make first-offense drunken driving a misdemeanor if a child younger than 16 is in the vehicle. All other first-time offenses would remain traffic offenses.

Increase criminal surcharge fees on all offenders as well as fees on drunken drivers when they seek to reinstate a revoked driver's license.
These are definitely measures that I can get behind. But, still, first-time DUI is a traffic offense? And, it's not a felony until the fourth DUI (and, even then, only if within 5 years of the third offense)? Personally, I'd argue for even tougher DUI laws - there is no excuse for it. If you are drinking and impaired stay off the road. Period. First time offense needs to always be a misdemeanor. Second offense should be a felony with mandatory ignition inter-lock. So, while I applaude the modest increase in penalties, it isn't enough.