Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Audience Participation: As I Contemplate A Trip West, How Do You Travel?

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One thing I've realized. I know very, very little about beer not produced in Wisconsin.

I have the occassion to drive to Portland, Oregon starting on Thursday through Monday (Labor Day). I'll be passing through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Aside from Surly and Upright, I have no idea what beer is any good, what I should be getting, or even what I can expect to find in stores. I have to check luggage for my flight back (I'm taking a tent with me and tent stakes aren't exactly allowed in the carry-ons, you know?), so I plan on bringing back as much beer as I can.

There is one side of me that says "Eh, f- it, figure it out on the road." This is my impetuous sense of adventure that can result in really cool, unique stuff based on the personal recommendations of people and places that you meet and see along the way. It is this sense of "get in a car and go" that, frankly, got me into this trip to begin with (you will find out, if you were to meet me, that you can pretty much talk me into doing anything that I've never done before). However, this is putting my faith in strangers as I have no frame of reference or guide to show me the way. Moreover, there is a huge possibility for missed opportunity for the sake of spontaneity.

On the other hand, by planning and having some idea of what to look for, I can maximize the bounty of my trip. This is my first trip out there, and while I may get back to Oregon or Washington, the odds of me being in North Dakota, Wyoming or Idaho anytime soon is pretty slim. So, my other option is to assiduously research the breweries and brewpubs, make a list of stuff that I want and go straight for that at the liquor store and supplement that list (or check that list) with local knowledge.

So, what do you think?

How do you travel? Do you throw caution to the wind or do you do your research down to the beer bar closest to your hotel?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beer, Cheese ... and Startups ... and Beer Startups

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Yestday Dane101 posted an article from TechCrunch about the entrepreneurial spirit here in Wisconsin. I've talked about my friends over perBlue, one of the highlighted companies that is making some pretty nifty mobile games.

Earlier this week, I was happy to attend a talk by Madison's Economic Development Director, Mr. Tim Cooley. He pointed out what a lot of us in "the biz" already know: Wisconsin's problem isn't a shortage of talent, infrastructure, or ideas, but rather a shortage of capital. We don't have enough people - venture capitalists, investment firms, etc - willing to invest in all of the startups going on here.

The situation is getting better, particularly for "big name" industries such as biotech and e-commerce. And, part of the reason for that is the recent (2005) investment tax credit passed by the state to give an incentive to invest in these kinds of companies that is now starting to pay some dividends. This is a 25% credit on funds invested into "Qualified New Business Venture". Obviously, this begs the question: what is a Qualified New Business Venture and does your company qualify? The rules are as follows:
To be certified as a Qualified New Business Venture by the Department of Commerce, businesses must be able to answer "Yes" to the following six questions:

1.Are you seeking private equity funding for pre-commercialization activities related to the development of a proprietary new product or process in Wisconsin?

2.Have you been in business for no more than 10 consecutive years?

3.Are your principal administrative offices located in Wisconsin?
and
Does at least 80% of your payroll go to people employed in Wisconsin?

4.Do you have less than 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees?
(FTE=Total number of hours worked per year multiplied by total number of employees divided by 2,080 hours)

5.Do at least 51% of your employees work in Wisconsin?

6.Since its inception, has your business received, in aggregate, no more than $10 million of private equity investment in cash?
It is my belief that brewery startups would qualify as "Qualified New Business Ventures" under this definition. There are two issues that would determine eligibility: 1)"pre-commercialization activites" and 2) "proprietary new product or process". The second is easy: recipes are trade secret, hence proprietary. Easy peasy. The first is a little more difficult: "Pre-commercialization activity".

Some organizations define pre-commercialization activity as things like market analysis, research and development, and product testing. On the other hand, "Commercialization Activities" are generally understood within the product life-cycle to assume a product is available for the general public. So, "pre-Commercialization" would be anything prior to "available to the general public". In the software universe, the equivalent of "beta" testing would be "pre-commercialization".

So, let's apply that to the brewing industry for a moment. What does "pre-commercialization" mean in a brewing context? Beta testing? What is beta testing? Well, how many batches do you think it takes to perfect a recipe, to do market analysis on the success of a recipe to determine acceptance, and then roll out the product to a wider market?

I'd argue that most brands take at least 2 years, if not 5, to become fully refined. Take, for example, O'so's Picnic Ants Saison - last year's version was very, very different from this year's. And not in a "rotating brand" kind of way like "Stone Anniversary" or something. Rather, this year's is a refinement, based on market analysis and product testing, research and development, beta testing; call it what you like, but it is no different from the 5 years that GMail sat in beta to refine it for general consumption.

So, I would argue, any brewery that otherwise meets the other definitions would be engaging in "pre-commercialization" activity by limited release of new brands to refine proprietary recipes. So, what's "limited release"? Good question. GMail was in beta for 5 years and it counted as "limited release" because you had to be "invited"; given the multiple millions of email gmail.com addresses before it came out of beta, I'd argue "limited release" is a pretty fluid definition. Or, for a more local option, look at perBlue's Parallel Kingdom - it qualifies. Alice.com qualifies and it has thousands of users - far more than drink, say, BrewFarm beer.

Yet another way that the brewing industry is similar to the software industry ... So, I think it's time to add "breweries" to the list of things that Wisconsin is known for. Oh ... wait ...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Glarus Abt

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On Monday we talked about how the rest of the midwest is innovating and being creative and collaborating in unique ways that don't seem to be present in Wisconsin. A commenter mentioned that Beer Advocate barely recognizes Wisconsin in its list of top brewing states. I would argue that there are systemic reasons for that beyond the apparent "truth" of the matter asserted: for instance, all of the other states have much larger cities than Wisconsin does and Beer Advocate is all about numbers. Second, few Wisconsin breweries distribute outside of Wisconsin, so the potential pool of tasters is considerably smaller. Of course, this is somewhat self-perpetuating in that lack of distribution prevents demand and increases awareness of other brands, leading to less demand and awareness.

Not to mention that we in Wisconsin are a little ... how shall we say? ... odd?

Blissfully ignorant of trends going on in the rest of the universe, Wisconsin breweries are putting out some phenomenal Dortmunders (Brewfarm Select), Weizen Dopplebocks (Capital), Saisons (O'so), Old Ales (Lakefront Bridge Burner), and bizarre bastardizations that defy description (Matacabras and Thermo Refur). Only Brewfarm Select (available in the Twin Cities) is available outside of the state (I don't think Capital and Lakefront send these particular brands out of state).

[ed note: also Thermo Refur is available in MN. I understand that many WI breweries pick and choose a few outside-WI locations, but, for the most part, only regular and a few seasonals are making it out and certainly very little of the stuff might be considered innovative, creative, or interesting.]

Which brings us to the one in-state brewery that does seem to get the attention and notoriety it deserves: New Glarus. Notoriously reclusive, New Glarus keeps on trucking, and getting high marks from smuggled bottles that seem to blindly find their way around the world. Pssst...hey...I have a bottle of Raspberry Tart...need a bottle of Imperial Saison...

Yet even New Glarus, while worldly in its releases, seems ignorant of trends. In the last years it has released the sour Imperial Saison, Berliner Weiss, Old English Porter, and Cran-bic. Yet, in the year of sour, only the softly tartish Enigma approaches sour. Instead, New Glarus chooses to release its Cherry Stout and now, this, an Abt.

Do you even know what an "Abt" is? I don't. Hell, I don't even know how to pronounce it. I've heard it pronounced like "apt", like "abbot", and my own personal choice "A.B.T."

Beer Tutor tells me that an "Abt" is another name for a "quad". Which is interesting because New Glarus just brewed a Quad.
Created by La Trappe, Abt (also known as quadrupel) are Abbey and Trappist beer styles of great strength and bold flavors. Abts tend to be darker with dark fruit flavors while Quadrupels tend to be lighter in color and may have a peachy taste. Both styles have strong, rich, malt flavors with very low hop content and flavor. Alcohol presence is very noticeable and the ABV is usually over 10%.
Not sure I buy that distinction, by the way; I've had "quads", such as Ommegang's Three Philosophers and Avery's Reverend (not to mention New Glarus' own Quad) which are darker. Perhaps not quite the dark emphasis, a brighter fruit yeast and alcohol notes, but not exactly light and "peachy" either.

In any event, it's not exactly the trendiest beer in the world and I don't exactly foresee a coming onslaught of quads and abts in the near future. Maybe we don't need the validation that the rest of the country seems to crave. As of yet we've managed to sustain more breweries per capita than almost any other state in the nation; our domestic market is supportive and seemingly insatiable. So, here we are, with a stereotypical Wisconsin craft beer - obscurity and independence made extremely well.

New Glarus Abt
BeerAdvocate(A-). RateBeer(91).
[Ed Note: Matt, Travis, and I all wanted to review this beer, so rather than draw straws or rocks-paper-scissors or race to the blog, we all wrote a review]

Matt:
Appearance: Brown with ruby highlights, small head.
Aroma: Lots of Belgian yeast character; dark fruit, raisin, plumb, a bit of clove.
Flavor: Similar to the smell, Belgian yeast esters with some Pilsner-malt grainyness and just a touch of caramel. Quite dry in the finish, not a lot of malt character. This was probably made with only base malt and dark candy sugar, with little or no character malts.
Drinkability: Nice and dry, maybe even a bit drier than it's Belgian inspirations, but the ABV and warming alcohol flavor make this a sipper, not one for the session.
Summary: A nice addition to the Unplugged lineup, if not as innovative as some of the other offerings. Quite similar in yeast character to a beer like St. Bernardus 12, but a little bit lighter and drier in the finish, making it seem more like a higher ABV dubbel than a Grand Cru/Dark Strong, but now I'm just splitting hairs.

Jeff
Appearance: a beige foamy head sits on top of a saddle brown body with an orange-ish glow on the edges
Aroma: smells of cherries and a slight oakiness; a bit roasty and a shimmer of alcohol on the end of the nose
Flavor: a little more malty than the nose might imply, the yeast esthers are definitely front and center, but there is a strong caramel malty sweetness; a definite alcoholic syrupyness hints at the strength
Body: big-bodied and slightly syrupy
Drinkability: Definitely not one to pound, and I would be hard pressed to drink more than one in succession, but I'm enjoying the one that I have in front of me, and, really, what more could you ask for
Summary: I did this entire review without reading Matt's (above) first. I think he's probably right on with his assumptions about the malts, but I sense some roasted malts in there as well that may add some color and a bit of aroma and the tiniest bit of flavor, but the candi sugar is prevalent; I disagree about the dryness though, there's a crispness in the front of the flavor profile, but the finish does not seem dry at all; overall, it's enjoyable as a refined beer perfect for sipping in the late fall, setting down to age for a few years, or pairing with a braised chicken in red wine sauce.

Travis



Appearance: pours a dark, opaque mahogany with lighter ruby edges.  A finger or so of greyish khaki head fades to spotty skim after a minute or two.

Nose: Bready yeast dominates the first whiff, with dark cherry, rum-raisin and nutty notes carrying through to a sherry-like finish.

Palate:  Liquid bread rolls onto the tongue as dry, crackery malts make way for candied dates, raisin, vanilla, cherry and green apple skins.  The yeast, candi sugar, malt bill, and alcohol content combine for a drying overall impression in the mouth.


Dan has created a truly "authentic"-tasting Belgian-style beer with the Abt.  Throw this in a svelte .3L bottle and slap a Made in Belgium sticker on it and I wouldn't bat an eyelash.  Belgian beers are especially defined by the yeast strain used and those characteristic spicy-estery notes have proven difficult for most American brewers to replicate.  If Capital Brewery's Weizen Doppelbock is liquid banana bread, the Abt is liquid fruit cake.  I mean that in the best possible way, of course.

Without the use of excessive barrel-aging or wild yeasts that can often lend an over-engineered feel to some of the Unplugged-series beers (the Quad and Imperial Saison come to mind - though I did enjoy both), the Abt is allowed to shine as a fine replication of the complex elegance that makes the abbey beers of Belgium so memorable.  I can't wait to revisit this beer after a year or two as the yeasts and malts are allowed to mature, mellow, and meld.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On Our Neighbors To The South

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As I think about the upcoming weekend in Chicago(or the past weekend, since you're reading this on Monday), my mind is drawn to the "problem" of Illinois and Chicago specifically.

Wisconsin has a love hate relationship with the State of Chicago, and also the State of Illinois. But make no bones about it - Chicago is its own state - if you were to look at Illinois' statutes and laws, it is littered with clauses like "In counties with a population in excess of 1 million people, then X, otherwise, Y." There is only one county in all of Illinois with a population in excess of 1 million people. Chicago, literally, has its own rules separate from the rest of the state.

But, really, when Wisconsin-ites talk about FIBs, what they are really talking about is people from Chicago-land (as an aside: I love that people really call the Greater-Chicago area "Chicagoland"; it sounds like an amusement park) - Chicago, and the outlying suburban areas (often, especially the outlying suburban areas). We are infrequently concerned about people from Peoria, or Matoon, or East St. Louis; it's the fucking bastards from Chicagoland that we flip off and swear at - behind their backs of course. We would never turn down the tourism dollars.

Which brings us back to the point of this post (you were beginning to doubt there was one, weren't you?): Wisconsin has always had its beer to lord over our wonderful southern neighbors. Heck, even the Wrigley faithful celebrate a Wisconsin beer - Old Style. Not to mention the suckers buying cases of Leinie's while they blow their cash in the Northwoods.

Even ignorning for the moment the fact that Miller's world headquarters have abandoned Milwaukee for Chicago, if the Great Taste is any indication, Wisconsin is in for some serious competition. Just a small list of breweries in Chicago-area producing amazing beer: Three Floyds, Goose Island, Metropolitan, Revolution, Flossmoor Station, Half Acre, Two Brothers, DeStihl, and Piece. Beer there is exploding and the market is practically insatiable.

Think about the consequences of that for a moment. Put it in perspective with the perceived "brain drain" that our state wrings its hands over. What's the central problem of "brain drain"? After school, our most talented students are leaving for (let's be honest) Chicago (also New York and Atlanta). What are students drinking in college? Swill? Probably. Yeah, Spotted Cow is in its rotation, and every now and then students will pick up a Capital or Furthermore or Ale Asylum or Lakefront or Pearl Street. But, for the most part, students are drinking Milwaukee's Best, High Life, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, and pretty much anything they can get for $40 a keg.

After school, when these students have jobs and discretionary income, they become the beer geeks, the people that enjoy and are willing and able to pay a premium for good beer. But, if they are leaving Wisconsin and buying beer in Chicago, what do you think they are drinking? New Glarus? Nope. Tyranena? Probably not. Capital? Maybe, but probably not. See the above amazing list of breweries and brewpubs that litter the Chicago landscape.

When these people come back to Wisconsin to raise families, (because no one wants their kids in the Chicago School District, right?) what will they drink? Goose Island? Pretty good bet. It's only a matter of time before the other breweries are here (oh, and those brewpubs? they can distribute here, too).

Goose Island has upped its game considerably in the past few years. When I lived in Chicago, I refused to drink, or even acknowledge the existence of, Goose Island - I had some shockingly awful service at the brewpubs and had sworn off of them. But even I have to admit that Sofie, Bourbon County Stout, Pere Jacques, Matilda, and Demolition are all amazing beers. It's only a matter of time before Half Acre (brewed at Sand Creek, by the way [ed note: it was pointed out that Half Acre recently installed their brewery and only a portion of their product is still at Sand Creek with the rest now being brewed in Chicago at the Half Acre complex]) or Metropolitan or Flossmoor are here. The only thing that keeps Three Floyds from selling better than it already does is price and lack of non-year-round brands.

I don't think that I am atypical of the "New" Madison-ian, or even "New" Wisconsin-ite. I'm not from here, but came here (via Chicago) and brought with me my own tastes and preferences. I drink a lot of Wisconsin beer, but I also have a sweet spot in my heart for Great Lakes Brewing Company. As more and more people make their way here (young, professional, high-tech) they bring with them their preferences. And as our own "brain drain" folks come back, they too are bringing preferences with them.

So, I'm sure you're asking, what's the point? The point is we, Wisconsin breweries, need to be competing with these breweries that have, in the past, not really presented much of a threat. More brands, more creativity, better execution. Bigger regional and national presence. It is no longer feasible to ignore markets outside of Wisconsin. Our market is a great beer market, but it's getting crowded with folks from Chicago (see the list above), Colorado (see all of the great Colorado breweries), California, and the East Coast, not to mention the entire rest of the Midwest.

To grow, and be recognized as some of the best breweries in the world (which we are), we need to be more pro-active. A strong Brewers' Guild is essential. Strong laws and a legislature that promotes the growth of one of its best revenue-generating industries is also essential. But being tuned into what it is going on regionally, nationally, and globally, reacting to those things, collaborating, innovating, and being creative is essential for survival. Because each in that long list of Illinois breweries is doing all of those things very well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jeff's Great Taste of the Midwest 2010 Recap

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I think Matt and Travis hit everything right on the head for the most part. But, of course, I still have a penny or two of my own thoughts to commit to paper.

What did I like? I thought the organization, again, was fantastic - especially given the sheer number of people involved in putting this event together. Whether it runs like a greased pig or not (I'm not sure that's the right metaphor), it certainly seems to evade falling apart. This year, the entrance line was cleared in record time - down from almost (over?) an hour last year, to under 20 minutes. Event staff and volunteers did their jobs, were accessible, and friendly. The brewers seemed to know what they were doing, where they were going, what time to be there, and all of their needs seemed to be getting met. Significantly, I did not hear a single brewer, volunteer, or even attendee complaint.

What Did I Really Like? The week encompassing the Great Taste has turned Madison into a week long celebration of craft beer for the entire Midwest. Philly, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Portland, all have beer weeks. But few celebrate the beer of their particular REGION as well as Madison does. It makes a statement that not only is Madison one of the premier beer destinations in the entire Midwest, but it is a leader in Regionalism and emphasis on local food. Beer tastings and beer dinners all week, and a Kegs and Eggs Breakfast at Old Fashioned on Sunday really showed the amazing things that can be accomplished in the entirety of the food industry when everyone is focused on local. Without the Great Taste of the Midwest, this celebration would not be possible; with the Great Taste, this celebration makes Madison the epicenter of Midwestern beer for an entire week.

Room for Improvement? I've gotta say that this year's glassware was definitely a big miss; it was entirely too large and I felt like I was dumping a lot of beer. Others were clearly taking advantage of the generous pours. While I like the traveling minstrel idea with the music, it often gets lost - so either dump it entirely, or make it more of a focus.

Not Good: Like Travis and Matt both pointed out, this year's losers were mediocre to poor sour beers, of which there entirely too many. I thought Kuhnhenn's Cask Geuze was a perfect example: watery, thin and one-note, it didn't really add anything to the style. Also a big loser was spirit-barrel aged beer. A Port-Barrel Aged Rauchbier from New Albanian was strange and unenjoyable (although the next tap-handle to the right, the Bourbon Barrel Sour Brown was fantastic).

Good: Good sour beers: Jolly Pumpkin's Biere de Mars, DeStihl's (Normal, IL) Sour Brown and Sour Strawberry (!?) were excellent, and Travis' winner the Brugge Brasserie (Indianapolis, IN) Pooka a sour beer aged with boysenberries was excellent. Speaking of weird fruit...while Minneapolis Town Hall's Mango IPA did not work, and Old Hat's (Lawton, MI) Peanut Butter Stout wasn't as bad as you might thing a beer brewed with peanut butter would be, the aforementioned Brugge Brasserie (boysenberry) and DeStihl (strawberry), in addition to Dave's BrewFarm's Bumbled honey pale-ale, O'so's Big O Cranberry and Short's Imperial Spruce India Pilsner (almost a top-3, despite "Imperial India Pilsner" making no sense at all) made great use of "adjuncts".

My Top 3: while my tastes are different from yours and there's no possible way to try everything, of the things that I had, these are my Top 3 from the 2010 Great Taste of the Midwest:

Honorable Mention: Revolution Brewing Company's Coup D'Etat Saison. Revolution is a new craft brewery in the heart of hipper-than-thou Logan Square in Chicago. Revolution brought an impressive range of beers from the big (Sodom, an Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with Three Floyds) to the small (Gomorrah, a small beer made from the second runnings of the Sodom). But my favorite was the Coup D'Etat Saison, a dry, spicy, grassy, peppery saison that is surprisingly strong (7.5%) for a summer day.

Number 3: Vintage Brewing Company's Sahti. Making use of an antiquated Finnish style of beer that uses juniper instead of hops, and an ecclectic mix of grains Brewer Scott Manning has produced a crisp, fresh summer beer that weighs in at only 5.3% ABV. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for gin, so the fresh and interesting fruity pine-notes from juniper is a pleasant experience. It is a wonderfully different sort of beer that is available right here in Madison.

Number 2: Surly Tea Bag Furious. Take one of my favorite beers on the planet, the over-hopped amber Furious, double-dry-hop it for an huge complex hop aroma, and age it in a cask to get some awesome subtle wood undertones? Come on, it rarely gets better than that.

Number 1: Schlafly/O'Fallon/New Albanian C3. St. Louis Brewing Company, better known as Schlafly, was on my list last year with a refreshing Dortmunder. This year, Schlafly has teamed up with O'Fallon and New Albanian for a whole series of "session beers with a unique twist." C1 was an Oak Aged Dry Hopped Smoked Rye Pale Ale and C2 is a Smoked Belgian Dark Strong Ale. New Albanian explains the C3 thusly:
C3 is extreme in its restraint, in our collective ability to resist the abundant urges to add more and explore more ideas in a single beer. By dialing in our collective vision, we have struck out in a new direction with C3.

Based on the classic English Mild, C3 features Marris Otter, Munich, Brown and Carafa malts.

After much debate the collective again went with the theme of restraint, and a single hop was the choice: Citra.
The C3 is an amazingly complex, yet easy-to-drink beer. Hops were used in every portion of the brewing process, except the boil so there is very little hop bitterness, but huge flavor and aroma from the funky, musty, citra hop. This funkiness combines with the clean, but complex malt flavors to produce a beer that tastes like it should be three times its size, but manages to weigh in at a palty 4% ABV. FOUR PERCENT ABV SHOULD NOT TASTE THIS AWESOME.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Travis' Great Taste of the Midwest 2010 Recap

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Another year, another Great Taste in the books.  2010 marked my 5th consecutive year attending the granddaddy of regional beer festivals.  With my Wooden Anniversary has come a new perspective on the fest as well as a different plan-of-attack, or more accurately - lack-thereof.

After a few years of arriving in-line early enough to be among the first few dozens of entrants, allowing for plenty of time to scour the program and plot a course and schedule special releases, recent years have devolved into more of a wander until something catches your eye or your beer is empty and you spot the nearest vacant booth strategy.  In my advanced age (I'm 26 - yeah, I know - shut up already, kid) I just can't be bothered to join the crush and wait 15 minutes in the cattle line for another sample of Dark Lord or its ilk.  I've had it, it's great, but there are hundreds of other beers that I haven't tried and likely never will if not at this fest.

Trying to carouse with and/or guide a growing list of friends, beer acquaintances and roommates also made it tough to stick to any coherent route or schedule.  Sure, I missed a lot of fun and rare special releases from the heavy-hitters like Surly, Founders, Three Floyd's and the like, but I also stumbled upon some hidden gems from lesser-known breweries that I had yet to discover and at this point in my Great Taste career, frankly, that's just more appealing.  Anyhow, on to my impressions from this 24th iteration of the Great Taste of the Midwest:

Trends:
Sour grains - Every brewer and their brother brought a sour beer or 3 to this years fest.  Certainly, the modern beer nerd's palate has grown much more accommodating to the funkier side of brewing in recent years.  I've made it a point to head straight for the Real Ale tent when I enter the fest the past couple of years as some of the more interesting recent offerings have poured from these gravity-fed, softly-carbonated, slightly-warmer vessels.  My first beer of the fest this year was a cask gueze from Kuhnhenn Brewing out of Warren, MI.  It fell a bit flat, both in tongue-twisting funk and carbonation, but it was fun to see American craft brewers tackle this challenging Belgian farmhouse lambic style (unfortunately, I missed New Glarus' R&D Gueuze, which seemed to be a resounding success).  Plenty of buzz surrounded Brugge Brasserie's sour offerings, especially Pooka, their boysenberry sour (which I regrettably missed) and their secret, by-request-only Spider, which rivaled New Belgium's La Folie in the masochistic acetic acid tongue-torture quotient.

Smoke in the water - Another modern trend in craft brewing has brought rauchbier into the relative mainstream.  Once a German niche, smoked beers are more and more prevalent every season and its a movement I fully endorse.  Minneapolis' Town Hall Brewery brought a Smoked Hefeweizen this year that struck a nice balance between rich, meaty smoke and the light body and fruity esters you expect from a German-style weizen.  I also managed to stumble upon Blind Tiger Brewery in Topeka, KS, who brought its GABF Gold Medal-winning Smokey the Beer.  Smokey didn't disappoint with a light, crisp body billowing with smoky goodness.  One of my overall favorites from the fest and perhaps only my second sample at the Real Ale tent after crashing the gates was Fat Heads Brewery's (Ohio) Smoke and Burn Porter - a version of their Up in Smoke Porter aged in bourbon barrels with chipotle peppers.  Smoke and heat in one beer?  SOLD.

Honey/Crisp - Meads and Ciders have long had a presence at the taste with standout examples from Wisconsin's own White Winter Winery and AEppelTreow Winery often being some of the more memorable and palate-soothing samples I enjoy.  Michigan's B. Nektar Meadery has added to the stand-out mead presence in recent years as well.  This year, Kentucky's Cumberland Brewery brought a refreshing Huckleberry Meade and I know I tipped a few other passable meads from other enterprising breweries this past weekend.

Hits: 

  • Fat Heads Cask Smoke and Burn Bourbon Barrel Chipotle Porter
  • O'so Spike's Maple Sap - brewed with 100% maple sap instead of water and aged on maple chips.  Like drinking maple butterscotch, but in a good way
  • Titletown India Ink - super roasty black IPA doesn't hold back with the schwaarzbier-esque malt profile and a nice piney hop character
  • Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee Stout - if you haven't had this yet, FIX THAT.  Purest coffee flavor in a beer I've ever experienced.  I ended my taste with a full 8oz pour to facilitate the post-fest wake-up process.
Misses:
  • Ill-conceived sour beers - just because you can throw some wild yeast in a tank doesn't mean you should.  These beers are intricate and finnicky and take years of practice and honed technique to get right.  We don't need every Brewpub 'N Steakhaus inflicting their infected experiments on us.  Use them in your house salad vinaigrette and leave these to the experts until you're ready. /endrant
  • Peanut butter beers - more of them every year, still yet to try one that wasn't either 'meh' or 'blech!'
  • Giant tasting glasses - It's an attractive little mini-stein that I will be happy to use for personal tastings and sharing big beers, but it's just too damn big for a beer fest of this nature.  Too many generous 7oz pours that I had to dump on the ground for my own health.  As soon as I saw it I knew it was going to be trouble.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Matt's Great Taste of the Midwest 2010 Recap

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Good – Gotta give my boys in the Madison Homewbrewers and Tasters Guild big props on organization once again. Everything ran smoothly, and giving out the programs and glasses early made entrance into the park extra smooth. The Real Ale tent was also a highlight. I particularly enjoyed the cask offerings from Surly, which included the hard-to-acquire Darkness imperial stout and a great Cedar-aged Cynic saison.
Bad – Glassware. I might be totally out on a limb on this one, and I know it’s weird to bitch about too much beer, but the glass was to too big. While they are very nice mini-steins that will make a great addition to my collection, they were literally twice as large as last years (I tested it out once I got home). This being a tasting event, larger pours make it harder to try as many beers. I know that you can dump something out if you don’t like it, but if I do like it I feel a kind of “don’t waste good beer” obligation and have to finish my whole sample. After a few four ounce pours of oak aged Imperial stout, the speed with which I went around the rest of the festival was significantly hindered.
What Got Me Excited – As much as I might say I love session beer and try to oppose “extreme beer” as a trend, I have to admit it is the extreme beers that get me excited at this festival. The bourbon barrel aged beers came out again this year, as they always do, and while anyone can throw a beer in a barrel, the ones that do it well can be fabulous. I made sure to show up for the special tapping of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (their stellar coffee and oatmeal stout aged in bourbon barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup) and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout, both of which were as good as advertised. I also waited with an enthusiastic crowd at Pearl Street, where the folks working at the booth led us all in a chant of “Dankenstein! Dankenstein!” as they got ready to tap the Imperial IPA. I also got to check a beer off my bucket list when I was able to try Sam Adams Utopias, the highest ABV non-distilled beverage in the history of man, or something like that. The 27 percent ABV beer was more like a cordial or strong port wine than a beer, but was certainly an experience.
What Just Didn't WorkShort’s Brewing out of Michigan had a list of very interesting sounding beers, such as the Agave Peach Wheat, Nice Spice, and Blood Orange Wheat Wine. The only problem was, none of them were any good, with way too much spice and fruit, and a strange off flavor in the wheat wine.
Favorite Beer – Another big trend we’ve seen in craft beer has been a big explosion in sour beers. As more consumers are beginning to appreciate these styles, more and more craft brewers are experimenting with them. For some breweries this just means tossing some bacterial cultures into a beer to see what happens, or worse yet, labeling an infected batch “Belgian” or “experimental sour” and passing it off as intentional. But for others this trend has brought out great amounts of creativity and led to some extremely sophisticated and delicious beers. This year I particularly enjoyed the Pooka from Brugge Brasserie, a bright pink boysenberry sour, and Jolly Pumpkin’s mildly sour and delicious Biere de Mars. But the best beer I had all day was a Gueuze from New Glarus. Pale golden in color, refreshingly tart and complex, the beer was as good as any Belgian Gueuze I’ve had. A really astonishing accomplishment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Genessee Buys Magic Hat - Some Last Minute Industry Buzz To Whisper About

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According to the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, Genessee parent company, North American Breweries, Inc., has purchased three "craft" breweries: Magic Hat, Pyramid, and MacTarnahan's. I'm not familiar with MacTarnahan, but Pyramid and Magic Hat are familiar to most everyone. Seattle-based Pyramid is famous for its hefeweizen, while Vermont-based Magic Hat hasn't found a beer it can't put an apricot into. Both breweries started as small, local breweries but have rapidly grown to quasi-national brands with placement in big-boxes like Walmart and Target.

I'll be honest, this came about 2 or 3 years before I expected it to. I don't know if this is going to be the trigger that sets off this regional/national consolidation of craft brands, but I certainly see this becoming more and more prevalent in the coming years. The reason for this is obvious, but I don't think you could pick more stereotypical breweries to outline the reasons why.

North American Breweries has always been about brand management. For other examples, consider brand breweries like LaCrosse/City Brewery or even Minhas/Monroe. However, NAB's brands are aging. I grew up, literally, on Gennessee and Genny Light and Honey Brown was one of the first "different" beers that I ever had. But these are hardly flying off the shelves these days (I can't remember the last Dundee's Honey Brown that I had). For NAB to stay relevant they needed new brands.

On the other hand, Pyramid and Magic Hat clearly have big aspirations. They are out to grow, and grow quickly. With their own pluck they were able to get rather large national accounts and get into states with a relatively limited brand selection, but enough name recognition to gain traction.

Along with acquiring the brands themselves, NAB adds some breweries dotted around the country that will allow other NAB brands to reach other parts of the country as well. Thus, this purchase really helps everyone involved.

Unless, of course, NAB trashes whatever goodwill Pyramid and Magic Hat have by turning them into Gennessee and Genny Light and Honey Brown. Luckily for the sellers they've already got their money.

36 Hours in Madison

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This is a re-post of an article I wrote last year, in conjuction with Hoosier Beer Geek and STLHops. It is just a reminder of some of the wonderful non-Great Taste related stuff that you can do in Madison. Of course, you probably know all of this, but sometimes its fun to be reminded of what's in our backyard.

Welcome to lovely Madison, WI (photo by Luiz Castro)

You’ve successfully braved the traffic in Chicago, construction in Rockford, and you now find yourself in the capital of Wisconsin, where you can Live Like You Mean It (alternate state slogan: “Illinois’ Largest State Park”). Hold on to your hats, because there’s more beer here per capita than any other place East of the Rockies and West of Michigan. In the immediate area around Madison are 10 breweries and brewpubs, and countless more beer bars and gastropubs. We will assume for the moment that you are not here for The Great Taste of The Midwest (if you were, this article would be very short: “Go to Great Taste.”)

Before we get started, you'll want to know two things about getting around Madison. First, the public transport is terrible, so you'll have to drive or walk - this means that one of you will need to remain sober. Second, this town is impossible to drive in - you can print out directions, you can ask for directions, you can know exactly where you're going and you will still get turned around and diverted by one-way streets, streets that change names three times in five blocks, and roads that never run the same direction for more than half a mile. Just suck it up and do what I do: swear very loudly at the steering wheel.

While it's highly unlikely that you've gotten into town at 5pm on a Friday (Chicago traffic at 3pm on a Friday!? HA!), we'll pretend that you did:

Friday 5 p.m.

UW Memorial Union Terrace - While it's on-campus, it is open to the public and is a great place to start your evening. A large, diverse taplist of everything from a house amber to local offerings from Capital and New Glarus to more typical college fare like Labatt's and Miller. During the summer, you can sit on an iconic John Deere Green Sunburst Chair looking over Lake Mendota (one of four lakes in the Madison area) and plan your evening. This location makes for great people-watching and the bandstand is typically active. There are two things you'll need to know about the Terrace: 1) parking can be a challenge, during the summer the school ramps are typically open to the public and available and there is one right near the Terrace, though it can fill up quickly on nice evenings; 2) you need to be a member to buy a pitcher of beer (secret note: on busy Friday evenings, or really most evenings, it's rare that they ever check for your Membership ID).

Friday 8 p.m.

Friday Night Fish Fry - a Wisconsin tradition, fried cod and hash browns (with melted cheese and onions) is your number one bet. From the Terrace you have a number of options: 1) Walk up State Street to State Street Brats; 2) Walk all the way up State Street to the Capitol; 3) head over to the near-East Side.
      State Street Brats is a University landmark bar, with a decent taplist of macros and Leinenkugels, it's definitely more atmosphere than beer-geek friendly. Don't worry, if you want to hit Brats but want to front-load your evening with good beer, it's open late and you'll probably end your night on State Street anyway.
      Capitol - you have two options for Good Beer and Fish Fry on the Capitol. The Old Fashioned is a local quasi-gastropub with a phenomenal taplist of only Wisconsin beers; this summer they are featuring beer from every single brewery and brewpub in the state, so there is beer here that you can't get anywhere else in the state, let alone the world. You can also head over to The Great Dane Pub. The Great Dane is a world-renowned brewpub and this location is the original (there are three others). The food is great, the beer is better.
      East Side - if you're me, though, you get in your car and you head over to Madison's near-East Side, which is quietly turning into a beer mecca in the city. Get your fish on at Alchemy Cafe or Dexter's Pub - both terrific dive bars with great food and amazing taplists.

[ed note: all of these locations have Great Taste related events going on. For an authentic fish-fry without the crush of people, check out the Madison Fish Fry blog (yes, there is a blog about Madison-area fish fries), or the Wisconsin Fish Fry blog. Both are excellent sources for making up your mind for you. My personal favorite is Feiler's.]

Friday 10 p.m.
(photo by ibm4381)

Hit A Beer Bar - There are four in the area that are all phenomenal. On the East Side and an easy walk from Dexters or Alchemy is The Malt House. The Malt House has a great taplist divided evenly between Belgian, Wisconsin, and "Pub Choice". The bottle list is extensive, and the scotch, bourbon and whiskey lists are equally compelling (it is the Malt House, after all). Maduro is downtown on the square. While the taplist at Maduro is usually Bells-heavy, it does feature a number of great selections from all over the world, in addition to a great wine selection and cocktails. One thing to beware of at Maduro: it is a cigar bar - if you like cigars, it has a pretty decent selection (though there are better cigar bars in town like Drackenburg's, also on the East Side and has a decent beer selection, and Hemingways, on the West Side, conveniently located near the Great Dane Fitchburg); if you don't like cigars or like smelling like cigars, it may not be your place. Two other beer bars worth heading to are Brasserie V and Monroe Street Bistro on the Near West Side. Both have excellent food, so you can grab a bite to eat there as well. Brasserie V has a selection that focuses on Belgian and American Belgian-like beer. You can find some great beer on tap here that you can't get anywhere else on tap. The staff at the Brasserie is probably the most knowledgeable in the city about great beer. Monroe Street Bistro is an unauthorized "spin-off" of Brasserie V and has a slightly more populist taplist as well as cocktails.

[ed note: Monroe Street Bistro is now "Jac's". For non-beer cocktails or wine and to avoid the throng of Great Taste buffoons, head out to Eno Vino on the far west side for a great wine bar, Fresco on the top of the Madison Art Musuem makes a real Tom Collins (those of you who appreciate a Tom Collins know what I'm talking about), or Martini Bob's at Smoky's]

Friday Late Night

Most of the beer bars mentioned above, except Brasserie, are open until bar time (1am or so). Though, really, the action after about 11 pm is all on State Street. Hit up Paul's Bar, The Irish, and State Street wouldn't be complete with at least walking into the Kollege Klub. You can end your night with a brat at State Street Brats or a gyro or pizza from any number of local purveyors of drunk food.

Saturday - I hope you're up early and not too hung over, it's going to be a long day and you'll probably drink a fair amount of beer.

Saturday 7 a.m.

Start your day with a good breakfast and some coffee. It's not a Saturday morning in Madison without the Dane County Farmer's Market. One of the largest producer-only farmers markets in the country, the breadth of food available is astounding. Get there early, grab some coffee from any number of local roasters (Ancora on the square and Michaelangelo's just off the square on State are my preferred haunts), and cruise the baked goods and cheese or vegetables or meats (buffalo jerky anyone?). Grab a 6oz block of goat cheese from Fantome Farms or a 5-year aged block of Cheddar from Hook's and some fresh-baked bread or muffins and take your coffee down to Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace and relax for a minute or two to start your day off right.

Saturday (photo courtesy of Eating in Madison A to Z) - Ready for some brewery tours? You have plenty of options, not to mention brewpubs to stop and grab some lunch. Breweries within an easy drive include: Tyranena in Lake Mills, New Glarus in New Glarus, Capital in Middleton, and Ale Asylum on the Near East Side of Madison. If you're looking for an itinerary, let me suggest the following:
    10am - New Glarus Brewing Company - it's a self-guided tour and quick, the tasting at the end of the tour is reasonable ($4, I think?); the new brewery should be open by mid-summer and they'll have beer available for purchase at the brewery that isn't available anywhere else.
    12pm - Capital Brewery, Middleton, WI - a trip to Madison isn't complete without a beer at the traditional biergarten here. Known for its dopplebocks, Capital is a Madison institution.
    3pm - Tyranena, Lake Mills, WI - it's a forty-five minute trip from Capital to the far east side Madison suburbs; make sure you check what time the tour is on Saturdays (usually held in the early afternoon). Tyranena's tours are fun, and the beer is amazing; they typically have some stuff on tap at the taproom that is not available anywhere else.
    6pm - Ale Asylum, Madison, WI - last stop, Ale Asylum. Tours are by appointment only, but the taproom has plenty of beer that you can't buy around town including a full line of Belgian blondes, dubbels, tripels, and quads.

[ed note 2009: an alternate itinerary would be to start at Tyranena and skip the tour there, but keep heading East to Milwaukee and check out some of the breweries there or hit up a Brewers game]

[ed note 2010: most of the breweries will either be really busy or not doing tours because of the Great Taste, but they should all be open. Some other good options that avoid the breweries and the Great Taste area, include The Madison Zoo, a Madison Mallards baseball game (Friday night is Robin Yount night!), and checking out some of the lake activities.]

Want a brewpub for lunch or dinner? Check out The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb, Gray's Tiedhouse in Verona, the former-JT Whitneys on Madison's West Side (should be open mid-June), or The Great Dane in Madison (two locations - downtown and West Side) and Fitchburg. Head a little farther West to tourist-friendly Mineral Point for Brewery Creek, or head into Milwaukee (only an hour away) and stop at Delafield Brewhaus, Water Street Brewpub, Stonefly, or Milwaukee Ale House.

Saturday Night

For dinner take the twenty minute drive to Mount Horeb, WI and visit the award-winning Grumpy Troll. A pizza joint upstairs, a more formal dining experience downstairs, the beer is equally awesome both places. Head brewer Mark Duchow mixes up the taplines frequently with everything from an authentic, stone-heated steinbier to a flanders-style red. The Baltic Porter and IPA have won numerous awards.

Sunday
(photo courtesy of Eating in Madison A to Z)

As you're dragging yourself awake, drive or walk over to Mickie's Dairy Bar near UW's Camp Randall. The breakfast-only diner serves a ton of pancakes, waffles, corned beef hash, and milkshakes. The menu is on the wall, and it's cash only. Oh, it's also a seat-yourself situation, so if all of the tables are full just hang around for a minute; servers may or may not point you in the right direction, but you'll get a table soon enough.

I hope you've found this tour of Madison interesting. Madison has more good food and good beer than anyone could ever possibly consume. If you're going to be in the area, please let Madison Beer Review know and we can always get you pointed in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

O'So Picnic Ants

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From the website regarding the Picnic Ants: "Picnic Ants is an Imperial Saison fermented extremely warm with Belgian yeast. 12 oz. bottles; 7.2 % ABV, 4 packs. ABV: 7.1%"

The website isn't particularly helpful. It tells you that the beer is a "saison", that it's "imperial", that it's "fermented extremely warm", and that it uses "Belgian yeast". If you don't know what a saison is, what it means to be imperial, what "extremely warm" means, or the significance of "Belgian yeast" you would have no idea what was in this bottle. And, not to pick, nits ... errr ... ants, I suppose ... but the website says "4 packs" but I purchased mine in a six pack.

Let's start with the "Belgian yeast" and "extremely warm" because knowing those will tell you, as you'll see, much more than "saison" or "imperial" will. As we all know beer can roughly be divided, at the genus level, into lagers and ales. As a general rule of thumb, though not in any absolute sense, to be sure, ales are fermented at "warm" temperatures and lagers are fermented at "cold" temperatures. This is true for a variety of reasons that are largely irrelevant for now. Suffice to say, "warm" typically means temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees farenheit, while "cold" typically means temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees farenheit.

Beer yeast is very temperature dependent. Just like some people are winter people and some delusional, sadistic bastards like hot and muggy, some yeast prefers to work at cooler temperatures, while other yeast likes to work at warmer temperatures. Cold-temperature yeast will often refuse to work at warmer temperatures and may even die if the temperatures climb too high, while others will simply refuse to do anything if the temperature is too cold. And, some, at sufficiently high temperatures will go into overload and work extremely fast.

What does it mean for yeast to work fast or slow? Well, excuse the non-sciency part of this explanation, but this is how it works, more or less, in my head. >Yeast convert sugars into alcohol. [ed note: you do remember that malting barley makes sugars available, soaking the malted barley gets the sugars into water, thus creating "wort"? Of course you do.] In this process, the yeast can sometimes produce, as a byproduct, various esthers that contribute unique flavor and aroma components to beer. Again, as a general rule, the faster the yeast works, the more esthers that will be produced. Thus, ale yeasts tend to do this much more readily than lager yeasts.

As an ale yeast, yeasts from Belgium tend to work in the upper-end of the temperature range, and tend to work very quickly and efficiently. Thus Belgian yeasts tend to produce a lot of esthers and create dry (little residual sugar) beer. So, when you hear "Belgian" or "Belgian yeast" you know that the beer can, and probably will, have complex flavors generated not just by malt and hops, but by esthers produced by the yeast during fermentation. These tend to be, though are not always, bright, fruity, sometimes lemony, sometimes sour-ish, sometimes astringent, flavors. [ed note: with hefeweizen yeast, this produces the banana flavors common in that style of beer]

So, if you hear "extremely warm" and "Belgian yeast" you now know that this is a shorthand for "yeast-produced esthers that will contribute significant complex fruity and alcoholic flavor and aroma".

Oh. If you want to know about Saisons, check out the BJCP Style 16c. And "imperial" means "big", which, really, for a style with typical deviations from 4.5% to 8%, 7% doesn't really make it all that "imperial", just "strong".

O'So Picnic Ants Saison
BA (C+). RB (86).
Appearance: golden and hazy with a thin wispy white head; active carbonation in a stemmed pilsner glass; looks summery for a 7% ABV beer
Aroma: surprisingly strong malt forward aroma with lemon and coriander; a slight licorice-like aroma on the back
Flavor: almost white-wine-like; dry and melon-y bright; some strong alcohol on the finish; a slight oak-y astringency; subdued flavor
Body: very, very dry with little malt sweetness, finishes clean with lemon and pepper in the end;
Drinkability: very nice and clean with some strong aromas, the flavor is subdued and dry making it dangerously possible to drink too many
Summary: saisons, as a style, are all over the map; while this one is on one end of the map, tending more towards the light flavored, with the emphasis of flavor in the yeast-produced esthers, the malt flavors stay out of the way and hops add some nice floweriness, but are otherwise muted; when I first had this beer a few years ago, I had been less than impressed, but this year's batch is far more pleasing and enjoyable and I look forward to this recipe evolving and perfecting

Monday, August 9, 2010

Guide to the Great Taste

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You're in town for the Great Taste. Or, perhaps you find yourself in town and want to know what the deal is. Well, MBR is here to answer your questions. Following is an itinerary and some helpful hints for navigating the Great Taste of the Midwest on August 14, 2010 at Olin Park.

The celebration of beer has turned into a full week of events, dinners, and parties. Your week will kick off on Monday:

Madison Beer Review and Kevin Revolinksi appear on the Dan Potacke Show at The Frequency at 6:30pm. A night of a comedy talk show centered around beer replete with a free beer tasting led by your fearless writer (that's me, if you were wondering).

Tuesday is an off-day, so relax with the new New Glarus ABT that is now on shelves (review eventually). Vintage is having a Unibroue Beer Tasting, $10 tickets are available at Steve's Liquor (thanks Jesse!).

WednesdayAlso on Tuesday is a beer dinner at The Alchemy. New York brewery Southern Tier is invited to pair its beer along with the fine chefs at The Alchemy for a great craft beer fix.

[ed note: not really sure how I got this on my calendar as Wednesday. Sorry for the confusion]

Wednesday: Nothing, to my knowledge.

Thursday is a Bell's beer dinner (warning: pdf) at Brickhouse BBQ starting at 7pm. Bell's beer tasting at Star Liquor from 4-7 (thanks again, Jesse).

Friday is full of pre-Great Taste (the "Great Waste") Parties, which I'll cover below.

Saturday is, of course, The Great Taste of the Midwest. Please take a cab or walk if you can. Cabs from the Great Taste are only $1 to go to your hotel or home (not to go to a bar or restaurant, sorry folks).

Sunday, for the first time ever, is a Kegs and Eggs event at The Old Fashioned. What is Kegs and Eggs? Well, from 9am to 2pm you can get $1 taps of any beer (what!?). A breakfast special of 2 sunny side up eggs, 1/4lb of bacon, rosemary potatoes, toast and a pint of any beer for $10.95. A great deal!


View GT Preparties (courtesy MHTG) in a larger map

Now, for your Friday evening parties:

West Side
- 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)

- Brasserie V: Shelton Brother Importers are taking over the taps with beer from Jolly Pumpkin, Haandbryggeriet, Dieu Du Ciel!, and more. Updated taplist: Serafijn Pale Ale, Kaimai Porter's Rye Ale, Mikkeller Monk's Brew
Mikkeller Rauch Geek Breakfast Stout, Nøgne-Ø Imperial Brown Ale
Haandbryggeriet Odin's Tipple, Christoffel Bier, Christoffel Wijs, De Ranke Saison de Dottignies, Dieu du Ciel! Aphrodite, Kulmbacher Mönchshof Kellerbräu, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bier, Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam (location: Regent/Monroe)

- The Mason - Crispin Cider - I've been assured this is a must-see event! Crispin rolls big and there are sure to be some interesting ciders and perrys on tap! So, if you want to get your cider on - hit up The Mason at the corner of W Washington and Park Street (location: near west).

- Vintage Brewing Company - Vintage and Furthermore Beer - get your hippie on and enjoy some of the most innovative beer in Wisconsin. Along with Kevin Eichelberger at Red Eye, Marc Buterra at O'So, and Mark Duchow at The Grumpy Troll, Brewmasters Scott Manning of The Vintage and Aran Madden of Furthermore make some of the most interesting beer in the state, if not the Midwest. So, you get two-for-one here. (location: West Side)

- The Grumpy Troll - The Grumpy Troll - duh. Head on out to Mount Horeb and hit up The Troll. With any luck the sour peach is still on tap - it is an awesome, soft, fruity, but not over-bearing, sour beer that is a highlight of the Troll's Summer of Sour. (location: Mount Horeb)

Downtown:

- Brickhouse BBQ: Shorts Brewing Co. and Central Waters will be on-tap hosted by BeerSpot.com - updated Taplists!! Central Waters: Peruvian Morning (coffee stout), Bourbon Barrel Barleywine (one of my favorite Wisconsin beers), Bourbon Barrel Stout (world famous), and Illumination IIPA (yum!). Shorts: Huma Lupa Liciuos (similar to Dark Horse's Crooked Tree), Key Lime Pie (wha?!), Black Licorice Lager (OK, gotta try that), and Good Humans (uhhh...) (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)

-Maduro: Bells will take over all the taps to celebrate their 25th year of brewing. Keep an eye for Bells at the Great Taste itself - 25 taps and their own tent! (location: Downtown)

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

- Natt Spil (211 King Street, if you've been looking for an address) - 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. From one of the owners, Prentice, Brewer Tim will be there (get better soon, Tommy) serving Coon Rock, Kiss the Lips, Tommy's Porter, Warped Speed, Arena Premium, and, maybe, just maybe, if you ask really nicely, a sixth barrel of Louie's Reserve will be go on tap. DJ Nick Nice will kicking out the jams. Starts at 3pm til bar time. (location: Downtown)

- 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)

- King and Mane - New Holland - the new name for the old "Local", King and Mane, just around the corner from Maduro (Bells) and Old Fashioned (everything!) is slightly more upscale-ish these days. Which is a good fit for New Holland, if you ask nicely, I'd be willing to bet the reps might have some of the gin or "hopquila" hidden somewhere. In the meantime, enjoy the 87,000 versions of the Mad Hatter. Check in throughout the evening as the rumors are that a cask might be tapped at some point. (location: Downtown)

- Old Fashioned - Red Eye and Dave's Brewfarm - in a class with very few others, Red Eye is, like Hansel, so hot right now. The beer birdies tell me that a very special Red Eye will be tapped, for its world premier, at Old Fashioned on Friday night - the scuttlebutt is that Brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger will be introducing a Double-IPA based on the recipe of the Thrust IPA. Also on hand will be brewmaster Dave Anderson of Dave's Brewfarm helping to pour the Brewfarm Select and Matacabras. Manager Jen will be on the road Wednesday and Thursday picking up beer from every small brewery she can so that they will be representing many of the hard to find beers (please Calumet Dark, Rye or Oktoberfest, please, please, please!!). I should have a full taplist for you soon! (location: Downtown)

- Francesca's al Lago - Goose Island - Moving from Sardine's to Chicago-based chain Francesca al Lago next to Starbucks (and near The Coopers Tavern, Maduro, Old Fashioned, King and Mane, and Barriques) on the square, Goose Island will be bringing their new-found sophistication to the party. (location: Downtown)

East Side:

- Alchemy: 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)

- The Glass Nickel - Founders Brewing Company - located near Alchemy, Malt House, and Dexters, The Glass Nickel has some of the best pizza in town. Oh. And Founders ain't so bad, either.

- 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. Taps will be: Barrel-aged Night Train, aged Black Scotch, aged Dominator, Picnic Ants, and their new Hop Whoppin' (location: East/Atwood)

- Dexter's Pub - Pearl Street Brewery and Flying Dog - 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 including Dankenstein IIPA and the new Rubber Mill Pils. Dexter's to Malt House to Alchemy to Glass Nickel (or vice versa) is a great, easy stumble ... er ... walk. And you'll get Pearl Street, Flying Dog, O'So, Upland, and Founders. That's a pretty good night if you ask me. (location: East/Atwood)

- Ale Asylum - The Ale Asylum - not too far from the other East-side locations, few do it bigger and bolder than Brewmaster Dean Coffey. The Tripel Nova and Satisfaction Jacksin are on tap and tasting great. (location: East Side)

- Drackenberg Cigar Bar - Potosi Brewing Company - 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/East)

OK. I think that's about Everything. Sorry for the length of this post, but that should cover it. I will have some updates as taplists get finalized through the week. If you see me out and about (I'll be the one in the beige-ish brown Madison Beer Review shirt!), please say hello, I promise not to bite (unless that's your thing).

One last note about transportation:

PLEASE DO NOT DRIVE IF YOU WILL BE DRINKING. Cabs will be plentiful this weekend. The #6 bus will get you everywhere that you need to be, so be patient and take the bus for some cheap ($4.50 for an all-day pass) transportation around town. If you insist on driving, please have a designated driver and be careful - Madison is not exactly the easiest town to get around in, so make sure you have directions (and even then you'll still get lost, I assure you).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pre-Great Taste Party #8

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OK, three last things as the updates are slowing to a trickle.

King and Mane - New Holland - the new name for the old "Local", King and Mane, just around the corner from Maduro (Bells) and Old Fashioned (everything!) is slightly more upscale-ish these days. Which is a good fit for New Holland, if you ask nicely, I'd be willing to bet the reps might have some of the gin or "hopquila" hidden somewhere. In the meantime, enjoy the 87,000 versions of the Mad Hatter. Check in throughout the evening as the rumors are that a cask might be tapped at some point.

Old Fashioned - Red Eye - in a class with very few others, Red Eye is, like Hansel, so hot right now. The beer birdies tell me that a very special Red Eye will be tapped, for its world premier, at Old Fashioned on Friday night - the scuttlebutt is that Brewmaster Kevin Eichelberger will be introducing a Double IPA.

Finally, we'll have a complete summary on Monday of everything. But remember, I and Kevin Revolinkski will be on The Dan Potacke show at The Frequency at 6:30pm on Monday Night to kick off your week of beer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Press Release Thursday: Vote for Upcoming New Glarus Beer

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The folks over at New Glarus are letting the people vote on beers for next years line up. You can vote on beers brewed before or give ideas for new ones.
Of course we all know what the correct vote is: Alt!

http://newglarusbrewing.com/BeerBallot.cfm