Thursday, September 30, 2010

Congratulations Chris Myers - MBR Reader and Stella Artois Draught Master

My failure to pour a proper pint is well documented. However, Chris, a reader of MBR, which I'm sure provides the basis for much of his awesome abilities, has won The United States Stella Artois Draught Master competition and will compete in London. Congratulations Chris, I hope you like Stella Artois.

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Stella Artois Crowns 2010 World Draught Masters U.S. Champion. Wisconsin’s Chris Myers Masters Stella Artois 9-Step Pouring Ritual, Qualifying for the World Finals in London09.21.2010 – Boston, MA – Among hundreds of spectators and a multitude of media, Chris Myers was crowned the 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Masters competition U.S. Champion on Friday, Sept. 17 at The Liberty Hotel in Boston.

The 32-year-old web developer qualified in Madison, Wisc., before winning the New York City regional competition. He now heads to London Oct. 28 for the 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Masters Finals, where he will again demonstrate his beer-pouring prowess before a panel of distinguished judges who will carefully scrutinize each and every phase of the essential Stella Artois 9-Step Pouring Ritual.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to win the 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Masters U.S Championship—my hours and hours of practice paid off,” said Myers. “I had an incredible time in Boston and look forward to representing the United States next month, and hopefully Stella Artois as the global winner. To represent such a respected brand would be an honor.”

Now in its 14th year, the annual competition epitomizes Stella Artois’ dedication to delivering superior beer the world over and showcases the unique Belgian beer experience that Stella Artois aficionados have enjoyed for more than six centuries.

Before the American judging panel of Marc Stroobandt (Master Beer Sommelier), Avril Maxwell (2009 Stella Artois World Draught Master), Ashley Daley (NESN-TV Reporter) and Gregg Glaser (Beer Writer/Editor – All About Beer & Yankee Brew News), Myers defeated Washington, D.C.’s Brady Locher during the final match of the night. Las Vegas’ Scott Ast finished a close third.

Among the 16 U.S. finalists, 15 were top finishers in eight regional semi-final markets – Tampa, Orlando, Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Washington D.C., New York City and Boston – and one was a wild-card participant randomly chosen from the top 25 national scorers in the interactive 9-Step Pouring Ritual game found at Over the course of the night, each competitor demonstrated their mastery of the 9-Step Pouring Ritual.

The 16 U.S. finalists who competed in Boston:

William Huetz , Tampa

Chuck Rogers, Tampa

Grant Huff, Orlando

Sarah Arnold, Las Vegas

Scott Ast, Las Vegas (THIRD PLACE)

Will Schneider, Denver

John Van Bockern, Denver

Ryan Petro, Phoenix

Chris Meyers, New York (FIRST PLACE)

Ryann Wietecha, Boston

Jerome Eno, Boston

Nate Garel, Boston

Therese Steiner, Boston

Aimee Chambers, Washington, D.C.

Brady Locher, Washington, D.C. (SECOND PLACE)

David Silverman , New York City ("What’s Your Pour Score" wildcard)

“A perfect pour is fundamental to experiencing the perfect Stella Artois,” said Alexander Lambrecht, global marketing manager for Stella Artois. “The brand’s time-honored 9-step Pouring Ritual helps ensure all adults around the world are served as they have been in Belgium for more than 600 years. Belgium’s gold-standard lager should only be poured one way, and it is important that all those who enjoy Stella Artois pay as much attention to serving it as we do to making it.”

Next month, Myers will rendezvous in London with the other 31 individual competition winners from around the world to perform the centuries-old Belgian Pouring Ritual and compete for the 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Masters title. The Draught Master crowned at this year's global competition will embark on a quest during which he/she will visit more than 20 different countries as a Stella Artois brand ambassador and share his/her passion and dedication to the craft of the perfect pour.

For more information and to join the global Stella Artois community to begin your own personal quest for perfection, visit

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bar Review: Sugar Maple, Milwaukee, WI

As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Milwaukee for Sprecher's 25th Anniversary over the weekend. After checking out the party and enjoying some fine beer, Mrs. MBR and I headed out for some food and to check out one of the better-known beer bars in Milwaukee, the Sugar Maple. We discovered rather quickly that there is no food there, so after getting some food we came back, to what I have to admit was a rather mixed experience.

First, the good: the band in the back. I didn't even know there was a band in back until a gentleman from Chicago asked if I like jazzy avant-garde classical quartets. Hot damn, do I!

Playing guitar, stand-up bass, cello, and xylophone (vibrophone?) was the (a) Jason Seed Ensemble that I found a compelling mix of complex, entrancing, and intricate. Clean arrangements with space for movement, it was at once intellectually stimulating and relaxing. It was unfortunate that they were tucked into a closed back room with little notice to anyone that they were even there. The 7 other people in the room and I really enjoyed it.

On the other hand, for such a great reputation, I found the bar itself to be rather lackluster. While the taplist was extensive, it was hardly unique or original, filled with year-round and seasonals of generally available craft breweries from around the US. Southern Tier's 2x IPA was on cask. Otherwise, it was a fairly predictable mix of Goose Island, Bells, Victory, New Holland, and Sierra Nevada with an occasional throw to Upland or Grand Teton. A handful of Wisconsin breweries rounded out what is otherwise a decentish mix of larger national and regional craft breweries.

But what really got my hackles up was the listing of Furthermore's Oscura as a "coffee stout". And, my generally favorable impressions of Furthermore notwithstanding, it is this kind of stuff that really peeves me. When I questioned the bartender about it he said "Yeah, we've been getting a lot of returns of that, it's not very good." A) way to sell your product. B) it's not a coffee stout, maybe that's why you get a lot of returns. As a coffee stout, Oscura is, admittedly, a disappointment; it would be too thin, with a distinct lack of malt backbone and hoppiness, not to mention a clear failing with regard to alcohol and color. But it's not a stout. It's a California Common, a beer more like Anchor Steam than Peruvian Morning.

How many customers do you think Sugar Maple turned off of Furthermore because of this simple mistake? Do you think Bell's would be happy if it had label Consecrator a porter? Or Three Floyds would be happy if Dreadnaught were labeled a Maibock? These seemingly innocuous descriptions set a customer's expectation. Otherwise unfamiliar with a brand, if I see and expect a coffee stout and get a California Common, I'm going to wonder why in the hell the brewery can't make a proper stout.

So, I suppose as a neighborhood bar serving locals The Sugar Maple is probably a good bar. But would I recommend people to search it out? Not really. If I happen to be near it, I'll probably duck back in and hope to get a properly described beer. But, I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy 25th Sprecher Brewery

Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing in 1965 and thus began the history of modern American craft beer. It was another 15 years before craft grandpappy Sierra Nevada opened its doors.

While Capital was begun in 1984, Sprecher actually managed to get its beer to market first in 1985. Started by Randy Sprecher, a supervisor at Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee, much of Wisconsin's craft brewing heritage is owed to this oft-forgotten craft brewery on Milwaukee's North Side.

Going back to 1988, Sprecher has consistently been winning awards not just for its quality beer, but its trailblazing business. You see, the 1980s and early 1990s were not a good time to be a craft brewery. The masses (that's you and me) were not particularly interested in drinking full-bodied flavorful beer. We were too busy debating the relative merits of "taste great" versus "less filling" and oggling Spuds Mackenzie betwixt two buxom beauties. It was during this time that American audiences were bombarded with Born on Dates and the Bud Bowl.

And Sprecher Brewery made Black Bavarian, and it was good. It was everything that Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Pabst, Blatz, Milwaukee's Best, Coors, and Grainbelt were not. It was full bodied, roasty, complex, and dark. It tasted great out of the workman's sized bottles, but it also begged to be put into a glass. It got better as it got warmer.

I have no idea if Black Bavarian is Sprecher's true "flagship" but for all intents and purposes it is. It is its best known, most well-loved beer. It has held up well over the ages, and heck, it's probably Wisconsin's flagship. We make great dark lagers is a universal stereotype because of Black Bavarian. Today beer geeks from all over the country come to Wisconsin and seek it out. New Glarus Wisconsin Cherry and Sprecher Black Bavarian; those were the first two requests from beer geeks back home when I moved to Wisconsin.

It would be delusional to say that Wisconsin craft brewing wouldn't be here with out Randy Sprecher. But it would be entirely accurate to say that Wisconsin craft brewing would not be what it is today without Sprecher Brewing Company. And, for that we should all thank Randy Sprecher and the folks at Sprecher Brewing Company.

Thank you and Prost!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Press Release Monday: Viking No Longer Viking, But Rather A Different Viking Is Now Viking

Rumors of the death of Viking Brewing Company in Dallas, WI [ed note: ,] are greatly overrated. Turns out there is a name change coming.

[Ed note: from my mother (I kid you not): "Just because I'm an English teacher and have to prove I do read your beer review articles: In the first sentence - any time a city and state/city and country appear in the middle of a sentence, the state or country needs to be followed by a comma (Madison, Wisconsin, and ---, Iceland,) AND since this sentence uses "need" as a verb and not a noun that can own something, no 's" So, I corrected mine, I wonder if Ann will correct hers in light of the English lesson. By the way, if you want a proofreader, just send my mom an email...sheesh.]

------START PRESS RELEASE--------------
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ann Lee
Viking Brewing Company

Dallas, WI: After sixteen years, the Viking Brewing Company of Dallas, Wisconsin need’s to find a new name. Recently, the brewery sold its U.S. Trademarked name “Viking” to the Viking Brewery - Vifilfell Ltd. of Akureyri, Iceland who wanted to import its Viking beer into this the U.S. Randy Lee, owner of Viking Brewing Co. USA had this to say, “We’ve been in negotiations with Viking, Iceland for some time now, and we finally reached terms that we can both live with. It’s going to be difficult to come up with a new name because we’ve been Vikings for so long that we just don’t know how else to behave, but I guess, now we will have to become civilized.”

Well, apparently Viking, USA is not in any real hurry to become “civilized”. They plan to mark the occasion by having the World’s Longest Brat and an actual Viking funeral at this year’s Dallas Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 2. The Dallas Oktoberfest holds the record for the longest brat set in 2009 at 101 feet long. This year’s brat, also made by Louie’s Finer Meats of Cumberland, will be even longer. To cook the brat, Ryan Lentz, the owner of Clicker’s Restaurant and Bar, had to build a special grill. “Oh, we’re not going to just beat our last record by a little bit. We’re going to shatter it to pieces! We’re going to have a brat that’s 125 feet long,” said Ryan. “It’s going to take a lot of charcoal, Hanson and Young Auctioneers are donating that, and it is going to take a lot of hands to turn the brat, but we’re going to have a lot of volunteers that day. This is history in the making so get there early if you want to see the long brat being cooked at 10am.”

The charcoal in the grill isn’t the only thing that will be blazing at the Oktoberfest. The brewery is going to have a Viking funeral. “That’s right; we are going to Torch a Viking ship. Many of us have gotten pretty attached to the name ‘Viking’ through the years. A Viking funeral will be a good way for everyone to have closure so we will be able to start anew,” said Ann Lee, owner of Viking, USA. “We haven’t chosen a new name for the brewery yet, we are still searching for that right one. If fact, I am going to set suggestion boxes out at the Oktoberfest to Name that Brewery.”

The day begins with the Dallas-Sioux Creek Joint Fire Department’s Annual All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Breakfast from 7- 9:30am at the Fire Hall. Prices are $6 for adults, $3 ages 6-11 old and children ages 5 and under eat for free. Proceeds will be used to upgrade the Fire Department’s equipment.

From 9am-5pm, there will be an Arts and Crafts Fair. Many local crafters and artisans will have booths set up in the park to sell their products. Vendors are still welcome to sign-up. No vendor’s fee; just donate an item worth $15 or more to the silent auction. Call Nicole at 715-837-1412.

The Mark Rausch Memorial Car Show will take place on a side street near the fire hall from 10am-5pm. There is no entry fee and each entry will receive 1 Free Drink & Sandwich Ticket. A Best of Show Trophy and a People's Choice Trophy will be presented during the raffle drawing at 3:00. Call Ryan at 715-837-1416.

An Antique Tractor Show will take place on a side street near the fire hall from 10am-5pm. There is also no fee to enter and each entry will receive 1 Free Drink & Sandwich Ticket. Best of Show Trophy sponsored by Balts Scrap and Demolition will be presented during the raffle drawing. Call Doug Balts at 715-837-1667.

At 11:00 at the Park, a Kubb Tournament for the Viking Cup begins. Kubb was a yard game played by the Vikings. Tournaments are held in Europe and now in the U.S.A. Kubb teams will play to win the "Viking Cup" made by Losse Clay. For more information, contact Eric Anderson: or 715-830-0122

Also at 11:00, Clicker’s will serve the World’s Longest Brat made with Viking’s beer along and other great German foods. Viking Brewing Company will have 4 of their beers on tap and root beer floats made with their own JD’s Old Fashioned Root Beer. Live music will begin at 1pm with polka music and dancing featuring Lenore Berg and Her All German Band.

At Noon, the Dallas Fire Department is having a Fireman’s Water Ball contest in Clicker’s parking lot trophies sponsored by Allied Waste. And to make things even more interesting, the Fire Dept is having its Fall Gun Raffle drawing at 3pm in the fire hall. Prizes include 1st: Henry Golden Boy .22 Rifle, 2nd: .17 Cal HMR Stainless Barrel Thumb Hole Stock , 3rd: Rem 870 12 Ga 3" Mag Camo Stock Turkey Gun, 4th: Bear Carving by "The Bear Guys", 5th. Turtle Carving by "The Bear Guys", 6th & 7th: $25 Clicker's Gift Certificate.
Other happenings in town include brewery tours of Viking Brewing Co. from Noon – 2 PM. Come and see how Viking brews its beers; A Silent Auction from 10:00- 3:30 on main street; the Viking funeral will be at 5 o’clock at the park and Morris Dancers performances around to throughout the day. After glow by the Royal Clark Band from Beaver Dam, WI at Clickers.What could possibly make this event even better? You can buy a Dallas Oktoberfest mug for $6 (while supplies last) and have the first mug of Viking beer or root beer FREE (refills only $1). Remember to come to Dallas on October 2nd for a really great time! Oh yeah, watch for the occasional cannon blast at the park. The Dallas Oktoberfest will be held rain or shine. To see photos from past Dallas Oktoberfest, go to: Dallas is located between Ridgeland and Chetek on Barron County A. From Chetek, take county I west, continuing on A into town. From Menomonie, take 25 north 2 miles past Ridgeland turning east on county A into town.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Session 4 - Let's All Drink Too Much And Make Asses of Ourselves

By the fourth session everyone, and I mean everyone, is about done with beer. None of the brewers are taking any home. People that have been there for 3 days are tired and hungover. And then the party starts. What had been a nice polite fest, with table-workers sticking to strict 1 oz pours, becomes pure bacchanalia, full glass pours, yelling, screaming, running around; hardly anything is even left, and, in fact, some breweries, like New Glarus, Russian River, Lost Abbey, Founders, Three Floyds, Oskar Blues, are done. If you weren't there in the first three sessions, your choices became much more limited.

But that's OK, everyone's just there to drink anyway.

caveat: this is my own personal list, culled from the more than 150 beers that I tasted, and the notes that I took (yes, I was a dork and took notes on all 150+), if you had been there, your list would probably have been different. Also, keep in mind that I barely had any beer from the Midwest the entire time I was there.

Odell Deconstruction (Fort Collins, CO): a 10.5% Belgian Golden in 5 parts; the ale is made, split into 5 different vessels (1 wine, 1 oak, 2 bourbon, and a stainless), then recombined and aged. Amazing complexity, body, and carbonation combined for my favorite beer of the entire festival.

Funkwerks Saison (Fort Collins, CO): An organic brewery from Fort Collins, Colorado, this saison hit every right note; their other beer, a wit, is simply a white beer recipe with the saison yeast. Spicy, lemony, with a bit of barnyard funk, the soft mouthfeel complimented the effervescent carbonation perfectly to create a sophisticated champagne quality.

Green Flash Palate Wrecker (Vista, CA): Along with Stone, these guys make some of the hoppiest, most bitter, but well-composed beer out there; this is their answer to one of my favorite Stone beers: Ruination. An IIPA in the west coast style, this beer is all about hops; hop bitterness, hop aroma, hop flavor, hop forward, hop middle, hop end. The complexity and touch in this beer is something to behold.

Russian River Supplication (Santa Rosa, CA): A brown ale with cherries, it is Russian River's version of New Glarus' Enigma, with a bit more of a sour punch. It is aged in Pinot Noir barrels which adds an extra oomph of acetic pucker and bright aroma to match a fairly, surprisingly, hefty body.

Bear Republic Ryevalry (Healdsburg, CA): A beer that defies description from a brewery that, despite being small brewer of the year a little while ago, is chronically underrated. It's an imperial india pale ale made with rye and belgian ale yeast that creates that this huge, hoppy, spicy, earthy, well-rounded, complex monster of a beer.

Duck Rabbit Duck-Rabbitor Dopplebock (Farmville, NC): Yes, breweries from places other than California or Colorado can make a decent beer, believe it or not. And this tiny brewery from Farmville, North Carolina (yes, an unfortunate city name) specializes in dark beer and manages to hit a homerun with this dry, medium-bodied, roasted and caramel doppel is a pleasurable wave of malt after malt.

Trinity IIPA (Providence, Rhode Island): The brewpub and brewery from Rhode Island, not from Colorado Springs, had a fantastic Imperial India Pale Ale with a classic American profile of bright, fruity, citrusy hops, a clean, pine-y finish. It was nothing fancy, but man did it taste great.

Yard's General Washington's Porter (Philadelphia, PA): From historic Philadelphia, Yards makes this as a throwback to the classic porters of General Washington's time; it's, really, the Porter everyone (except for me) wishes New Glarus' Olde English Porter had been, deep and rich, but with a hint of sour tang.

Squatters Fifth Element (Provo, UT): Another sour Belgian saison/farmhouse, this beer is aged in oak and tastes it. Bright, light on the tongue with a nice smoky oakiness, the body is a little bigger than Funkwerks, but it hits the spot and quenches. Who knew something so awesome could be made in Utah?

Barrio Dunkelweis (Tuscon, AZ): Brewed as a dark version of their regular hefeweizen, this beer's bright yeast character really stood out. I'm sensing that my palate lends itself to this lemony quality, as most of the non-IPAs I've put here seem to share that quality, but, like I said, it's my preferences.

Some honorable mentions: Allagash Curieux, Sprague Farm Rust Belt Amber, Twisted Pine's Billie's Chilies, Blue Mountain IIPA, Cascade Sang Noir, Ninkasi Tricerahops, Naked City Duplicity.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Session 3 - The Awards

As soon as I can decompress and go through my notes and interviews, I promise a more thorough piece on what, exactly, the point of the Great American Beer Festival is. For now, let's congratulate the 4 Wisconsin crafts that managed to score a medal.

Stevens Point Brewing Company took Gold for their Horizon Wheat (unfiltered)
Titletown Brewing Company took Gold for their Boathouse Pilsner (Bohemian)
New Glarus Brewing Company took Bronze for Raspberry Tart
Capital Brewing Company took Bronze for Weizen Dopplebock

Oh. And Miller won a few as well, but I can't really, in good conscience, consider them a Wisconsin brewery since their headquarters is now in Chicago and they are owned by a South African conglomerate.

Also, thank you for representing to the Wisconsin crafts that did actually attend the event this year:

Capital Brewing Company
Grumpy Troll Brewery, Restaurant, and Pizzaria
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Lakefront Brewery
New Glarus Brewing Company
Northwoods Brewing
Pearl Street Brewing Company
Red Eye Brewing Company
Sprecher Brewing Company
St. Francis Brewery
Titletown Brewing Company

11 of the 66 breweries in the state; 5 of which are brewpubs. (Stevens Point Brewing Company was not actually at the festival, but only entered beer in the competition)

I do have to take a brief aside and vent for a minute though.

These 11 breweries represent less than 17% of the breweries in the state. That more than 1/3 of the breweries participating managed to score a medal is phenomenal. Colorado had more than 66% of their 100+ breweries participating; of course the event is held there. California, with 220 freaking breweries, had better than 30% there. Even looking at the Midwest: Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio had over 25%; Indiana had 32%; Illinois had 36% of their breweries participating. Wisconsin's Brewers Guild did not have a booth at the GABF.

No wonder the rest of the country doesn't respect us. And, yeah, I understand not needing external confirmation or validation of quality. We make damned good beer, who cares what the rest of the country thinks? Well, pretty soon this state will be saturated with breweries (from inside and outside of our state) and our breweries will competing on the shelves with the Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana breweries. Not to mention California and Colorado and Oregon. And breweries that have some flashy bling to hang on their sixers and 22s to show off a bit. Just looking at the numbers, there is a considerably better chance that consumers will have never heard of the Wisconsin brewery.

I understand it's a short-term expense, but it's long-term marketing that will pay off. Sure, it'd be nice if the Brewers Guild was able to hold a festival to raise money, like other states' brewers guilds do, to subsidize brewery entries. But even in the best circumstances you can't rely on that; breweries need to get out and market and sell some beer - because sooner rather than later our breweries will need to rely on someone other than the Wisconsin beer drinker to make some cash and stay in business.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Session 2 - The Day in Pictures

To quote Rocky Balboa: "Ding. Ding."

Falling Rock Beer Bar. Generally considered one of the best beer bars in the United States. The taplist here is incredible even if the prices are a little steep. But I did manage to score half-pint pours of Green Flash's Le Freak ($6), Russian River's Santification ($6),and The Lost Abbey's Framboise De Amorosa ($7).

The Denver Convention Center. Very artsy, no?

After I picked up the media pass, it was off to Wynkoop Brewing Company. The fresh hop IPA was a nice thirst-quencher while sitting on the patio in sunny, 80 degree weather.

This is the line inside at 4:30pm. The event doesn't even start for another hour yet and this line folds in on itself and winds around the building for what is probably a full city block along the side of the venue.

Sorry for the yellow, but the lights inside were, well, yellow gym stadium lights. This is just one quarter of one aisle. There were 6 aisles.

Oskar Blues did not win best end-cap, but the beer was pretty good. Ten Fidy wasn't out yet, so I had to settle for a Gubna.

You are looking at about half of the line for Dogfish Head beers. They were running Palo Santo through a Randall of coffee beans; very, very yummy.

Ah. There we are. Got the light figured out on the camera, just in time to take a picture of Uncle Billy's Brew and Que from Austin, Texas. I really enjoyed the "Hell in Keller" kellerbier. A great example of one of the things that breweries do much, much better than wineries: humor.

A picture of the only Michael Jackson worth giving a damn about.

The media lunch had some fancy food.

Not to mention fancy beer. Twisted Pine Saison.

Another of the fine beers at the Media Luncheon. You will notice that this beer, The Alchemist Ouroboros IIPA, states that this bottle is indeed a rare sight; the brewpub in Waterbury, Vermont doesn't even have growlers. Hand bottled and labeled just for the media lunch. Thanks John!

"Surf and turf" (pork and salmon) and beer. As I mentioned in my post on Day 1, this year the media privileges were expanded a bit and the event was a little more lenient about who they let in. The lunch was mainly for folks in the "big boy" media (Food and Wine Magazine and Spike TV). Still, I'd like to give a shout to some of my media homies that were nice enough to say hello: Steve at,  Stan at, Mike at Philly Philms shooting a documentary about the beer culture of Philadelphia, Lee at Thrillist Denver, and Ginger Johnson at Women Enjoying Beer who happens to know Madison's own House of Brews brewer, Page Buchanan.

Cigar City Humidor IIPA won one of the three medals for best IIPA the next day.

Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate with a bit of raspberry. Oh and the Oakshire O'Dark 30 Cascadian Dark Ale (a new, pretentious name for Black IPAs; apparently there's some "debate" over what a "Black IPA" means, so these breweries are now calling their beers "Cascadian Dark Ale").

Whiskey aging barrels at Stranahan's Distillery.

Jess George, proprietor and head distiller at Stranahan's pours some of his amazing whiskey. I love that craft distilling is kind of coming along for the ride with craft beer; these guys are making some wonderful stuff and I seriously need to buy a bottle; though at $55 a bottle, I will drink it slowly.

New Glarus Brewing Company represent. The lines for New Glarus rivaled those of Dogfish Head and the Raspberry Tart managed on the 4 awards bestowed on Wisconsin craft breweries (Point won Gold for its wheat, Titletown won a Gold for its Boathouse Pilsner, and Capital won a Bronze for its Weizen Doppelbock). Coming soon a discussion about why Wisconsin could only manage 4 measly awards. Any guesses? I'll give you hint: it's not because we aren't as good at brewing.

Roasted Barley on display. Looks like coffee, doesn't it. This is what gives your beer that deep roasted, chocolatey flavor and aroma.

The building, despite its size, could sometimes get ridiculously crowded. Even so, I still managed to find some folks from Wisconsin to chat and share a beer with.

See? Crowded. Very, very crowded. Each session got progressively more crowded and raucous until the place was bursting at the seams on Saturday night. 49,000 people attended the Great American Beer Fest this year.

Me and Sam Calgione of Dogfish Head. His sticker says "Sorry I lost my voice Calagione." Thankfully he could still pose for a picture. Sam, of course, is one of the biggest of big personalities in the craft brewing universe; his beer, and willingness to tolerate pictures with even the riff-raff like me, are why his breweries is one of the powerhouses of Amercican Craft Brewing.

And Charlie Papazian. Without Charlie, none of this - the Brewers Association, the GABF, Madison Beer Review - would be here.  Sure, I'm sure someone would have done it eventually, but Charlie grabbed the craft beer bull by the horns and rode it to almost 10% of the entire beer market. Looking at the numbers, craft beer alone could soon surpass the entire American wine industry in dollar sales. Thank you Charlie.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Sesssion 1 - Red Eye Preaches Truth

While it was 60 degrees and raining in Madison, it was 80 and sunny in Denver, Colorado. SInce we were waiting to check in at the hotel anyway, Mrs. MBR and I decided to wander around the city. The media hotel, the Denver Grand Hyatt, is a short-ish walk from the Convention Center. After a brief run-in with Center security (“you can’t check in until 1pm”, “yes, I can”, “no you can’t”, “why don’t you just tell me where to go if I could check in before 1pm”), the riff-raff waited for Mr. Heironymous to stop blathering on with the one registration person about letting the riff-raff in this year.

An aside. This is a huge damned event. Huger than huge. There’s a gazillion breweries serving 8 gazillion beers. I know we’re all a bunch of n’er do wells. I know they let the riff raff in this year. I know we’re a lousy drunken lot that will leave the gorgeous Denver Convention Center much worse for the wear. But, really, plastic glasses? Lame.

Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado

So, Mrs. MBR and I were off to check out Tattered Cover to get our book geek on (I’m the product of an English teacher and I was dumb enough to bring my copy of Roberto Bolano’s massive paper-weight 2666 with me as my airplane fare). Lunch at Wynkoop Brewing Company. Some wonderful pub food accentuated with the bitter, fruity, fresh hop IPA, Belgorado.

At 5:00, 30 minutes before the real riff-raff was let in, the distinguished members of the media, and me, were the first into the 2010 Great American Beer Fest. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get any beer until 5:30. So, 30 minutes to wander about, I headed over to Red Eye to see what brewer, and GABF judge, Kevin Eichelberger was up to.

“We just finished our Oktoberfest. It’s probably the best I’ve ever brewed.” It’s darker, more traditional, and about 6.5% ABV. Unfortunately, it’s not here in Denver. Apparently, for a beer to be on-tap here, you have to send the keg almost a month ahead of time. If you’re submitting a beer for the competition, it needs to be here 3 weeks in advance. “Brewers complain all the time about that,” says Kevin. “The beer goes bad and it doesn’t keep for the three 3 weeks in the bottle.” His attitude is much like mine: Screw ‘em. If you can’t put a beer in a bottle that is shelf-stable for one month, you probably shouldn’t be winning a brewing competition anyway.

Kevin’s a veteran here. He’s been judging for a long time, and his brewery, Red Eye, is now a veteran of the Wausau area. “Thursday and Friday are OK. On Saturday, I stick around for about an hour after the awards, then get the hell out of here.” The Saturday evening session is a madhouse. Imagine the biggest, most stereotypical frat party on Langdon. Tri-Delta, can I help ya, help ya, help ya. Dude, you got a funnel for that? The Situation on his most drunken night. What up bra? Should be a blast.

So, it’s now 8:55pm, I’m in the media center looking through my notes. Gaslight Anthem and Reel Big Fish accompany the notes of myself, Philly Philms, and I’ve had 48 beers. I had a tri-tip sandwich for “dinner”, but mostly it was a liquid lunch. My notes consist of, basically, three different notations: :) :| and :D I have 10 :D, 15 :), and the remainder are :| and one :(.

Rifle Brewing Company, Rifle, Colorado. Check out the awesome tap handles.

I’ve successfully managed to stay within myself. Mostly East-Coast (Mid Atlantic and North East), Colorado, and SouthWest. The big favorites? Odell’s Deconstruction, a 10.5% ABV golden ale, brewed in 1 recipe, each aged in 5 different barrels, then joined back together, was awesome; the complexity requires far more than a one ounce pour to reconstruct. Grand Teton has become a big friend of MBR. Seriously, I’d never heard of these guys and my parents brought back the Extra Special Brown, I brought back the Lost Continent Double IPA from my trip to Portland, then I find out they’re in Wisconsin. What?! The Troup Hop black IPA was awesome. Finally, two breweries well-known to the Wisconsin region, Avery and Allagash, produced some great, fun beer with their Depceleuse wild ale and Curieux barrel-aged wheat-wine-thing (maybe?), respectively. Only one beer, so far, hasn’t been worth the one ounce pour I received, and unfortunately, I have to call out New Jersey Beer Company’s Belgian Abbey; insipid doesn’t begin to describe the mouth-washed-out-with-soap taste that I had.

More tomorrow. Maybe I'll even have some links for you.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Brew: Hinterland Oktoberfest


As Matt posted last week in his Friday Links (which spawned a brief discussion in the comments section), it did seem as though the Oktoberfest beers were out on shelves and on-tap in our favorite bars earlier than ever this year.  Maybe it was just the late summer heat clouding our memories and confusing our internal calendars.  Either way, Oktoberfests are here to stay for the next couple of months as a favorite fall seasonal in the German heritage-heavy Upper Midwest.  Wisconsin brewers do a predictably good job with the style in general with New Glarus' Staghorn (currently The Old Fashioned's $2.50/pint beer of the month for September)Capital's OktoberfestTyranena's Gemuetlichkeit(Gesundheit?!)and Central Waters' Octoberfest some of my favorite local examples year in and year out.

A new (re-)entry into the Madison market this year, Green Bay Brewing Company's Hinterland brand has made impressive in-roads with its novel packaging (German-style 16-ounce pints in 4-packs) and tap-lines, creating an admirable line-up including its much-beloved Luna Stout as well as Pale Ale, Amber, Cherry Wheat and Maple Bock.  Oktoberfest debuts as their fall seasonal, a fitting tribute to its German roots.  As the days get noticeably shorter, the air catches a chill and weekend mornings and afternoons become dominated by football, the rich maltiness and smooth drinkability of Oktoberfestbier can hardly be beat.

Hinterland Oktoberfest

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen

Vitals: n/a; Hinterland's beers are woefully underdocumented on the innerwebs.

Company line: "Lightly filtered, deep golden brown, very malty and lightly hopped. Velvet smooth mouthfeel with rich grainy flavor"

My take: pours a light golden amber under a loose, foamy head that quickly fizzles to a spotty film.  Aroma is rich with caramel and bready malts, lightly nutty, with a dash of herbal hops and a faint metallic whiff.  Palate is malt-heavy, per the style with layers of caramel, biscuit, and grain husk  on the mid-palate offset by an apt touch of slightly grassy hops that carry through on the finish.  Starts off full-bodied and finishes light and crisp, encouraging sessionability.

Another fine example of the venerable style to add to a solid Wisconsin roster.  Hinterland is quickly becoming a welcome addition to the local beer scene with a growing line-up of well-made beers that do the Fox Valley and Wisconsin as a whole proud.  Whether you can boast German heritage or not (REINke in the house, y'all!), the beers of Oktoberfest make the impending deep freeze all the more bearable and are one more reason why autumn, however brief an appearance it makes 'round these parts, is my favorite season in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: The Plan of Attack

My itinerary, and hence my posts, will be something like what follows. My general plan is to use Thursday and Friday to split the room in half and drink geographically pointedly ignoring the Midwest. You can find the map here. On Saturday, I am going to look for specific styles and try to do some interviews; I've already set up interviews with Kevin Eichelberger of Red Eye and Mark Duchow of the Grumpy Troll.

I plan to take pictures and I've been testing some live blog stuff with some audio and video capabilities. Are you interested in video interviews or commentary if I can get the subjects to agree? Unfortunately the festival itself does not have wireless, so I'm limited to reporting from the media center. In the comments, I'd love to hear some ideas for coverage.

Wednesday (today) Night: arrive in Denver
Thursday: Fest from 5:15pm to 10:00pm - tables ABCDGHKL; basically the MidAtlantic, Rockies, New England, and SouthWest; some breweries to look forward to include: Southampton Publick House, Allagash, Wynkoop, and Uncle Billy's Brew & Que.
Friday: 12-2pm is the Media lunch with beer pairings, we'll see about this, sounds a little rah, rah, but, eh, free beer. Immediately after the media lunch is a media-only tour of some Denver-area breweries and "rare beer" tasting to quote the media guide:
Tour breweries in style on a bus with 40 other fellow journalists. 2 p.m. Depart from Marriott Denver City Center. (1701 California St.) and visit Breckenridge Brewery (471 Kalamath St.), then to Rackhouse Pub & Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Distillery. Next stop is Wynkoop Brewing Company and a tour of Colorado’s first brew pub. Your special media VIP bus tour finishes at 4:00 p.m. at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting where more than 20 craft brewers will pour limited edition craft beer at the Wynkoop.

Then I'll start drinking at the festival: having left tables EFIJM; the Pacific (California), Pacific NorthWest (Oregon/Washington), and SouthEast. A power house day that will include: Cigar City, Duck Rabbit, Ninkasi, Full Sail, Mad River, Lost Abbey, Bear Republic and The Bruery. In all honesty, I may leave some of this for the Saturday afternoon session.

Saturday Afternoon: 12:15-4 or so I'll finish up what I didn't get to on Friday and do some interviews. May even try to duck out early to spend some quality (sober) alone time with Mrs. MBR.

Saturday Evening: 5:15-10; Pick and choose some styles and go on a treasure hunt to find beers inside those styles. Not sure which I'll choose yet, but you can bet that Bamberg-style Smoked, American-Style Malt Liquor, and Leipzig-Style Gose will all be on the list.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: On Awards

The Great American Beer Festival. I've written about it before; mainly as a one-off to list the winners of various prizes. So, that should tell you something about what it is. It's a beer festival (duh), but there is also a competition component to it. A brewery can participate in either, or both, of the events.

Mathematically, 70% of all breweries participating in the competition, win at least one medal. Of course, many breweries enter in many different categories, so it's not just for a particular brand. But 70% of all breweries win at least one prize. Which shouldn't be that surprising. There are 133 styles of beer to be judged in; at 3 awards per style, that is 399 possible awards. There are approximately 460 breweries participating. Sheer numbers dictate that most breweries are going to walk away with prizes of some sort.

Add in the fact that even the best tasters can't distinguish between Paulaner and Great Lakes Oktoberfests. Most of the tasters (professional judges, by the way) taste multiple categories for long periods of time. It means that it's, in my opinion, a fool's errand to judge beer on this sort of scale. In fact, we could argue, not facetiously, that it's a fool's errand to judge beer at all.

Really, is your "best" even remotely similar to my "best" even when we take into account the often broad specifications within style? Can you even explain how one might reconcile New Glarus' Olde English Porter with O'So's Night Train, both porters, in a blind tasting? Can Leinienkugels' Fireside Brown even remotely stand up to Grand Teton Extra Special Brown? How do you put Central Waters Glacial Trail, a fine malt-nuanced IPA, into the same category as Old Schoolhouse's Ruud Awakening IPA, a 100+ IBU monster that is, somehow, not an Imperial IPA and determine who the "winner" is?

Winner of what? How close you can get to "average"? Is that really a goal? Let's see how average we can be? You want to be the most average brewery in the US? You want to brew the most "average" beer in a category? Congratulations?

So, I think it's fair to say I fall on one side of the "awards" line. So, I posed the awards issues to Brewmaster Kirby Nelson of Capital Brewery. Kirby and Capital will be at the Great American Beer Fest, and, incidentally, have historically done very, very well there. So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Kirby Nelson:

Interesting that you are asking me to take the “pro” side of an argument that I am more towards the neutral/con side myself. Which I know sounds like I am trying to talk bullshit to a bullshitter but I have always been somewhat skeptical of many of the competitions that are out there. For a couple reasons. One, I am not an official/certified/nerdified/what have you beer judge. And I don’t wanna be. And I don’t have to be because I know what I am doing and tasting and it has served me very well. Yet I have met many “judges” who I really felt really weren’t what I would consider super capable or impressive when it came to tasting from what I could see. I would like to add that the overall sophistication of judges and consumers has greatly increased since Capital began to state the bleedin’ obvious.

Another reason is that I know better when it comes to a gold, silver, or bronze type contest. I believe is no such thing as the “best” beer. It is in the eye of the beholder and just like music, you have to seek out what you enjoy and not let some compromise laden panel of “experts” make your decision for you. It also has amused and puzzled me that one year at a given contest a beer like Fire can do well, be out of the running the next, and then come home with a gold the following. Same beer, brewed consistently the same, dependably excellent from one year to the next, yet erratically medaled. This is the nature of these types of contests and I just have no desire to be part of the judging in these events. It would lead to violence.

With that said, we enter a number of contests and have been fortunate enough to do relatively well in them. And I plan to keep entering them. And the reason is we are in a very competitive industry. Walk into a good size retailer and you are facing a wall of beer of many different varieties, producers, claims, and other pick this beer hyperbole. One way to try to stand out is by having awards to show off. And if your brewery has a variety of these awards to brag about it certainly adds to your credibility of whatever claims to greatness you are stating. We certainly have taken advantage of the aura awards can add to our marketing efforts. With that said I sometimes have to wonder how effective that’s become because I can’t help but notice almost every brewery out there uses “Award Winning” as a descriptor. In fact I see it more than “Nothing but the Highest Quality Ingredients Used” type of thing these days. Or “Craft Brewed” for that matter. And don’t even get me started on “America’s #1 Rated Brewery”…………………………………..

I will add that I do believe when a brewery has consistently done well in contests over the years it does show that they can consistently produce products that are well made, excellent examples of the category that particular beer (or beers) represents, the erratic nature of these types of contest notwithstanding. It demonstrates the brewery in question knows what they are doing. And the most legitimate judging that I have been part of and is objective and very fair and highlights a brewery’s competence is the Beverage Testing Institutes approach to scoring beers. And it is interesting of how Bengston’s (sp?) or Kramer’s Tables never enter into any discussion of what beer is better than others. In fact, it’s been so long since I utilized these tools I would have to refresh my memory of how to use them. If you have any desire to fond out why BTI’s system is the way to judge beers or what Bengston’s and Kramer’s tables are all about you’ll have to come out here and discuss over beers.

So to sum up this mess I would say that contest results are to be taken with a grain of salt. And of course it feels good to see one of your beers listed as a medal winner in a contest, that’s human nature. And if your beers do well, take advantage of the results. And if they don’t, the judges are fuckin’ morons.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Well, This Should Be Awkward

It's trademark day here at MBR.

Courtesy of, Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA) is suing Moylans (Novato, CA) for trademark infringement. Why? Check out the taphandles:

So, what does this have to do with the Great American Beer Fest? Well, frankly, not a whole lot. Except that both will be in the same area at the GABF. Lost Abbey at booth I33, Moylan's at booth I22; do you think feces can be hurled that far? I do.

ps. We'll be talking about the Great American Beer Fest for a while, so sit back, relax, enjoy. I'm as curious as you to see where this goes ... let's just say we're off to a rather interesting start, no?

Capital Tap Haus

Coming soon to 107 State Street. 100% Capital Beer. Capital Merchandise. Capital name. Not owned by Capital Brewery.

Got to love licensing. [ed note: per Kirby below, there is no licensing arrangement]

Interestingly, the original Capital Brewery, Hausmann's Capital Brewery, used to be on a brew-pub on State Street in the late-1800s (though closer to State and Gilman, if my memory serves me correctly).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Let's Talk About Fests, Baby

We are in the midst of what I affectionately term the "busy season" for the brewing industry. Every weekend from mid-August through mid-October has at least one, if not two, or three beerfests going on around the state. I'll mention a few here, but please, if you know of any others, throw 'em up in the comments and I'll promote them up to the article.

I have a particular bias for two of them, and I'll talk about those when we get there. But, let's just look at the ol' calendar, shall we?

September 10: Milwaukee Oktoberfest (through October 2) - held at the Old Heidelberg Park in Glendale this event stretches every weekend (not Sundays) from early September to early October. Flush with polka and more accordians than you can shake a stick at, the beer flows freely (though not for free). It's not a typical beer fest, though, so don't expect tasting samples of obscure brands, it's a family-ish event to celebrate our German heritage. Gee, maybe you could learn a thing or two.

September 11: Thirsty Troll - one of the best values on the circuit. It is not exclusively Wisconsin-only, but it's darn close. A great place to get a taste of all the great beer this state has to offer at a reasonable price and little pushing, shoving, or snobbery. Just a good ol' laid back time.

September 17: Great Lakes Brew Fest (also on the 18th) - the beer fest with ego issues; it now spills over on to a second day, just to "prove" that it must be the best. And they do get awfully darn close to being "the best" - unrestricted to breweries from the Midwest as the Great Taste is, you can find beer from all over the country and spend two days in drunken bliss. Also on Friday night is the Cystic Fibrosis Keg and Cork event at Capital Brewery. I have to admit a little bit of bias since I helped them a little to get some of it set up, but it's a great, laid back, social event more than a beer fest - meant to be a night out with some great beer, wine, and food more than a beer fest of 4oz pours.

September 24: LaCrosse Oktoberfest. Ah. Not-Sober-Fest. What do I need to tell you about this that would make a lick of difference. You're going to go. You're going to get hammered. You're going to like it. Just make sure you check out Pearl Street's newest seasonal beer - their Oktoberfest, brewed specifically (and only) for this event. Also, September 24-26 is the New Glarus Oktoberfest; a grand time of yodeling and celebration of Swiss/German heritage - and the release of New Glarus' Staghorn Oktoberfest. [ed note: thanks Anonyous #2]

October 2: Quivey's Grove - another venerable institution in Madison. Every one that I've been to has been absolutely gorgeous weather. I think it's because the fest is held at Camelot. Also on October 2 is the Sand Creek Oktoberfest held at the brewery: "Craft booths, food, live music, and beer of course." [ed note: thanks Nate!]

October 16: Dells on Tap. Thank you Anonymous #1.

October 22: Crackle - a newcomer to the schedule, this is another one that I've had my paws in to some extent. Mrs. MBR is a board member of Olbrich Gardens where this event is held. Fair warning - the beer isn't free, but there will be great giveaways, awesome food by Food Fight, and five raging bonfires throughout the gardens to keep you warm. This is my favorite time of the year - cool, crisp air, wet leaves, football, fires and marshmallows, beautifully colored trees, a nice Oktoberfest beer. Personally, I choose to believe that they scheduled it here to celebrate Mrs. MBR's wedding anniversary (the 18th through 21st). So, bust out a mere $20 and come to my anniversary party.

November 6: Janesville Fall Fest-of-Ale. Thank you Anonymous #1, again. As a side note, this event appears to be indoors, which is probably for the best in early November, anyway.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Links!

Links to some interesting beer stuff:

Ancient brewers tapped antibiotic secrets
: Apparently some ancient populations used beer to make antibiotics.
Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers: Moderate drinking is best, but apparently even people who drink in excess live longer than those who abstain.
Octoberfests Out Early: This is a few days old now, but I agree with the author of this piece; doesn't it seem like all the Octoberfest beers are out a little too early this year? (Though I'm not sure why he posted the beginning of Tristram Shandy at the end of his post.)

Have a good holiday weekend everybody!