Friday, December 31, 2010

Year In Review: 2010 Awards

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It's become something of a tradition here to call out some of our favorite beers from throughout the year. These are beers that, for some reason, have resonated in our consciousness this year.

Unfortunately, for who's know what reason, this year was not 2009 - an epic year for beer in Wisconsin, with lots of great new brands and styles. 2010 was much more slowly paced in terms of new releases; of course, that's not to say the beer wasn't any good, but it there wasn't much that really jumped out any of us.

So, with that in mind, here's what Madison Beer Review thought about 2010.

Best Experimental Release
Joe: Vintage Jolupukki (sahti)
Robyn: None that stuck out
Matt: Central Waters Peruvian Morning
Jeff: Vintage Rochambeau - I was obsessed with this beer in the late-spring, early summer. Scotty's obsession with Sorachi Ace hops has rubbed off on me and this Belgian Pale Ale just hit all the right notes.

Best New Release
Joe: Vintage Better Off Red
Robyn: Vintage Pumpkin Disorderly
Matt: Furthermore Hopperbolic
Jeff: Furthermore Hopperbolic and Central Waters Illumination - I know, I said I wasn't going to talk about Furthermore, and you can feel free to discount my opinion accordingly, but Furthermore knocked it out of the park with this IPA that on its first release is one of the top, if not the top, IPA in Wisconsin. For a runner-up, Central Waters' Illumination IIPA was mighty tasty.

Best Seasonal
Joe: New Glarus Staghorn
Robyn: Lake Louie Milk Stout; Central Waters Peruvian Morning
Matt: Ale Asylum Mercy Grand Cru
Jeff: O'so Picnic Ants - O'so was pretty quiet this year, but still managed to improve the Picnic Ants to be a fantastic early-summer must-have.

Best Special Release
Joe: Grumpy Troll Grumpy Creek on Cask (Great Taste)
Robyn: New Glarus Enigma and Abt
Matt: New Glarus R&D Geuze
Jeff: Capital Barrel Aged Imperial Doppelbock - it's so special it isn't publicly available yet; but what I've had of it (thanks Kirby!!) makes it the most-anticipated release of 2011 (if it even gets released). Rich and overloaded with alcohol, the bourbon-barrel notes compliment the texture, flavors, and aroma perfectly.

Best Year-Round Release
Joe: No Vote (conflict)
Robyn: Titletown Schwarzbier
Matt: Tyranena Bitter Woman
Jeff: BrewFarm Select and BrewFarm Matacabras - I do not buy 12-packs of many beers, BrewFarm Select is one of the few that I buy by the case; along with Capital Pilsner, Select is one of the two best light-beers in the state. And Matacabras. I could write pages about the awesome-ness of Matacabras. The complexity, the aromas, the flavors, the versatility - if a bigger-named brewery in the South-Central part of this state had made this, named it something boring, and slapped a red-foil wrapper on it, it would be BeerAdvocate's number 1 beer in the universe; as it is, cherish this jewel.

Best Brewery
Joe: No Vote (conflict)
Robyn: Vintage Brewing
Matt: New Glarus
Jeff: Dave's BrewFarm - I know, they only sell two beers; but that really sort of misses the point. Dave's BrewFarm is not, primarily, a brewery at all. It's not about making obscure styles or precise laboratory perfection. It's not about big, bold beers; it's not about mild ales so subtle you need a phd to taste anything. It's not about packaging, or label design, or trends. The BrewFarm is a way of life. It is kicking back with good, tasty beer. It is dropping in just to see what's going on. It is about always having something going on, even if what's going on is nothing at all. It's about the abundant beauty and comraderie that one can take in with a beer in your hand. It is about experimenting purely to satisfy curiosity. It is about experimenting with what's on hand in a sustainable manner. It is about caring about your customers and world around you and having a brewery that manages to do all of those things at once.

Best Brewpub: vote in the poll to the right there. Can anyone take down Grumpy Troll, winner 3 years in a row? Voting ends 2/28.

Some Disclaimers: Joe works at Ale Asylum (if you take a tour there, say hello), so while he reluctantly voted for some of the awards, he didn't feel it appropriate to vote for (or against) Ale Asylum. Robyn works for Vintage Brewing Company behind the bar and coordinating their beer education program; this is a relatively new gig for her, and I'm sure her votes are unbiased, and not intended as Vintage jingoism [ed note: one of my favorite words]. Indeed, Vintage had a very strong showing this year and Head Brewer Scott Manning deserves all the kudos he gets. Jeff is on an advisory board for Furthermore Beer; it hasn't even met yet, is not a permanent gig, and Jeff isn't getting paid for it. But, nonetheless, transparency prevails. Matt used to work for Ale Asylum, but no longer does. Finally, Travis works at Barriques; it presents no conflict, except when I want his beer discount and can't get it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review - Top 10 Posts of 2010

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Let's look at the Top 10 Posts of 2010, determined by your comments:

10 and 9. We had a bunch of posts that tied for number of comments: Happy 25th Sprecher, A Post on Beer While Traveling, Vintage Brewer Scott Manning Asks What You Want To Drink This Summer, We Discuss Point's Whole Hog Series.

8. I ask what you are drinking, and you responded.

7. MBR reviews The Cooper's Tavern.

6. A review of Pearl Street's Dankenstein IIPA draws quite a few comments.

5. Brennan's sells a "Spotted Cow" cheese and I ask if that's trademark infringement.

4. A trip to Milwaukee's Sugar Maple, was not so sweet.

3. Another trademark discussion, about Walter's Beer and Northwoods Brewing Company's attempt to revive what may, or may not, be a "dead brand".

2. A discussion about how many times one needs to visit a place before writing a review about it. (aka, MBR dumps on Vintage Brewing Company).

And the Number 1 post this year for comments: Stone Brewing Company announces that they are leaving Wisconsin.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Thoughts On Tasting Beer - A Resolution

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It's going to be the new year next week. So, in advance, I'm highlighting something that you will see more of this year - tasting beer. Not just drinking it and analyzing it, but taking it apart, breaking it down, and getting into the flavors of beer.

Now, I'm no "supertaster" like Robyn [ed note: something she didn't mention: women are far more likely to be supertasters than men - 35% to 15%, respectively, actually], and generally my palate is fairly challenged, though it is getting better. So the point of this exercise is to train my palate to recognize flavors when they present in the beer. So, knowing, for example, that a Belgian Dubbel might have "clove" or "plum" or "fig" flavors, it would probably help to know what those things taste like in a beer. Hence, the point of this post.

I have to admit I was inspired by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and his weekly 60-minute infomercial on Discovery called "Brew Masters." So far I have stayed away from writing about it, because I don't really think I'm an unbiased reporter of things Dogfish Head; you either like Sam and his company or you don't. I like what Sam does, but find it really hard to write about because, for the most part, it's not really about what is in your glass, how it tastes, or what you think of it - it's about the process and research and experimentation. Whether it should be put into a bottle for general availability is an entirely different issue.

In any event, I was actually very interested in his episode about the draft-only Dogfish beer Ta Henket. It was the process of flavoring this beer that I found utterly fascinating. First, Sam and a few others went to a spice market to find spices that would be candidates for inclusion in the beer. They discussed why they thought a particular spice would or wouldn't work (too strong/very floral/pungent, etc.) and they purchased enough to use for testing. They went back to their tasting facility - in this case, a table outdoors - and made a "tea" of sorts out of a plain yellow-fizzy beer (unsure which it was) and each of the spices. They smelled, tasted, and combined each of the teas until they found a combination that worked. It was very similar to a coffee cupping.

Now, I know, the brewers out there are going to tell me: but we all make teas all the time with the beer and hops and spices. Fair enough, but it wasn't until I saw Sam go through this ritual that the idea seemed really useful on a consumer-level as well. The connection of beer to food was never as visceral to me for some reason.

And, really, could this be a new step in my beer-cocktail obsession? We'll see...

In conjunction with implementing this in some form or another, I am going to start homebrewing more seriously. I've managed to get myself up to simple all-grain recipes, but I'd like to start undertaking a more concerted effort to actually learn what the hell is going on with the creation of beer. I'll have some limitations because of my lack of a dedicated refrigerator for lagering, etc. but I'll worry about that when I have to. But few things have the impact of teaching taste than creating beer - each step teaches what flavors on top of flavors taste like. It is easier to taste and smell the differences in grains and hops when they are fresh, raw, materials.

I'll try to let you know when I'm undertaking such experiments and you can follow along at home. If there's enough demand, maybe we'll do a public testing and see how that goes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Supertasting leaves bitter taste behind

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Do you remember that little genetic test you did in freshman biology? The one where you put the little piece of paper that had been dipped in a chemical in your mouth and if you could taste it you had the recessive gene, but if you couldn't, you didn't? Yeah, that one. I was the only one in class that could taste the chemical on the paper and I'll tell you what: it was a mouthful of mind-numbing, bitter nast.


Turns out what this actually tests is whether or not you're a supertaster. The chemical on the paper is 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), and while most folks (medium tasters) apparently find PROP tolerably bitter (even pleasantly bitter?), for supertasters it’s almost unpalatable. So if you're a hophead, you are definitely not a supertaster. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.


With taste bud densities of ten to 100 times greater than the general population, supertasters experience a heightened sensitivity to all flavors- especially salt, sweet, bitter and spice. While this means that we can better experience some of the more nuanced flavors in food and beverages, it also means that we tend to steer away from extreme flavors, such as hoppy beers and spicy foods.


There are some health benefits to being a supertaster- we generally avoid very sweet, salty and fatty foods, which leads to lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and obesity. However, we also tend to avoid vegetables containing cancer-fighting flavanoids, such as spinach, cabbage, kale and broccoli (vile weed!). Other problem foods include hoppy beers, liquor, coffee, tea, peppers and olives.


As a new writer to MRB, I wanted to post about supertasting so that you all know what perspective I’m coming from when writing reviews. In general, I tend towards the malty end of the spectrum, though I’m working on developing at least an appreciation for the hoppy beers, if not a love for them. Don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I’m trying. In the meantime, I might leave the hoppy beer reviews to Jeff since mine will inevitably be summarized by “yech.”


Side note: an FYI for all you hopheads out there- bitterness is generally nature’s warning for toxins and poison. From an evolutionary perspective, bitter equals bad. So if you ever find yourself stranded in the woods somewhere Bear Grylls style, don’t succumb to your bitter-loving taste buds- you’ll likely regret it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Want Some of That Tasty Beer Money?

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Get into politics. We'll talk about the CARE Act in a second, for now, just let this wash over you.

In all 32 House members were given wholesaler contributions within a month
of signing on to the legislation [ed note: the CARE Act] - including at least 10
lawmakers who were given contributions within a day of co-sponsoring
the bill, according to a POLITICO analysis of data from the Center for
Responsive Politics and public records.


So what is the CARE Act? Well, if you ask the distributors you get one answer:
The CARE Act aims to clarify congressional intent that states have primary authority to regulate alcohol; prevent the additional erosion of state-based alcohol regulation through the expansion of the Granholm v. Heald decision, but not allow intentional or facial discrimination against out-of-state or out-of-territory producers unless the state or territory can demonstrate that the challenged law advances a legitimate local purpose that cannot be adequately served by reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives.
What does that mean? It means they want to make the three-tier system federal law. In 2005, the Supreme Court decided Granholm v. Heald. In Granholm the Court held that state laws that permitted in-state wineries, but not out-of-state wineries, to direct-ship to in-state customers are unconstitutional. The laws were meant to protect small wineries and allow them, but not large, corporate out-of-state wineries, to ship directly to customers - a service that greatly increases purchases at wineries by tourists. The Supreme Court said, basically, that if the state were going to allow in-state wineries to ship to in-state customers, the state also had to allow out-of-state wineries to ship to in-state customers.

The distributors CARE, because direct shipment to customers bypasses the distributors.

In a general sense, distributors are not super-concerned with small wineries shipping a few cases of wine to a few tourists. However, with these specific laws unconstitutional, states, if they want to grant their small wineries this right, must also allow big, corporate wineries (the bread and butter of the distributors) to also direct-ship to customers. So, if I want a magnum of Kendall Jackson reserve, I can just order it straight from the winery instead of walking into Woodman's. And that's what the distributors are afraid of.

So, the hard-working lawyers at the National Beer Wholesalers Association ("NBWA") came up with the Comprensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2010 ("CARE Act"). It would reverse Granholm and specifically allow states to discriminate between in-state producers and out-of-state producers.

Sounds like just the sort of thing that small breweries would like, right? Protectionist legislation that would allow them to ship to their in-state customers, even if they have to stop direct shipment at the border. However, the Brewers' Association, the craft beer lobbying group, roundly opposes the proposed legislation.
As currently drafted, H.R. 5034 would amount to an abandonment of Congressional authority over interstate commerce in alcohol beverages. It will undermine existing federal authority over taxation, product composition, labeling, advertising, and importation of goods from other nations. ... Congress should not provide states with a free hand to enact new and inequitable protection for wholesalers. Similarly, any serious discussion of an equitable distribution system must assure access to market for small brewers, allowing them to distribute beer in order to build a market for small brands.
Fair enough. The Brewer's Association thus argues that the system works pretty well right now. Enacting the law will only make it more confusing about who can ship where; some states will allow in-state but not out-of-state shipments, others will allow both, some will allow neither. Today, if anyone can direct-ship, everyone can direct-ship. Easy.

While many predicted that Granholm would re-define how the alcohol industry works, the reality is that in the five years since the Granholm decision, little has changed. The reason? It takes time and money to direct ship alcohol. And why go through the hassle when you can just walk down to Woodman's to buy it? Nonetheless, the NBWA feels it necessary to spend millions of dollars to buy your Congress-critter's support.

There is only one Representative from Wisconsin listed as supporting the CARE Act: LaCrosse-area representative Ron Kind, who won re-election in this past election. Oh look: Rep. Kind received a nice, fat $10,000 check from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, I'm shocked and amazed. Bet that money came in handy for his re-election that won by a mere 3 percentage points.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bar Review: Capital Tap Haus

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In some ways it's futile to "review" a bar like the Capital Tap Haus. Inside there is little to distinguish it from every other tavern in the state: tall-top tables in front of tvs, a large bar, some booths opposite the bar and a few seats in the back for privacy. It's surprisingly small. Which means that when there are a little more than a few people there it can feel very cramped very quickly. Most nights this probably isn't much of an issue. But, for ball games it will get miserable quickly. And for Friday night fish it meant that our group, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. MBR, along with the crew from Madison Fish Fry, had a hard time finding a place to wait for our table without being in the way of the staff trying to serve customers and customer trying to get to and from seats.

While we waited we had a beer. You have a choice of Capital, Capital, Capital, or Capital. Of course. They had only one "special" tap - the Tett Dopplebock - which was a little disappointing (the selection, not the beer - the beer was fine, hoppy, flavorful doppelbock). But, the tavern is new, and Capital has not released the Barrel Aged Imperial Dopplebock yet or developed some new stuff for them. Indeed, it's interesting to note that the dedication to Capital, with no formal relationship between the two, makes for a somewhat awkward situation; it's sorta like hanging out in the bedroom of someone smitten with an unrequited love.

Admittedly, the staff seemed fairly knowledgeable about the beer and were certainly friendly and helpful. Though most requests for help deciding resulted in a suggestion of "Supper Club". The 1 hour wait for the table came with numerous apologies (certainly unnecessary) and timing updates.

Our meal left something to be desired however. I have one HUGE pet peeve (and a number of small ones), but I ask one thing: if I order an appetizer please bring it before the meal. I'm willing to overlook making me keep my fork and not refilling water glasses in a timely manner, and pats of butter straight out of a freezer or refrigerator. But I'm not willing to eat my appetizer with my meal. Do not bring it with the meal. I want an appetizer while I'm waiting for the meal; once I have the meal, I have no need for the appetizer - I'm not ordering it because I need more food, I'm ordering it because I want to nibble while I wait for my meal. So, when we ordered our appetizers and then asked a number of times if said appetizers were coming, and then our meals came out first, we simply sent the appetizers back. No harm no foul in my book, but I'm sure they would have rather had me pay for appetizers that they made.

The fish was large and flaky but the beer batter was doughy and chewy; the fryers had lost quite a bit of temperature by that point or they put too many pieces in the fryer at once. Either way, the crust definitely detracted from the fish. Neither the table nor the fish came with bread (a big minus). The coleslaw was ... coleslaw. I'm not a fan of coleslaw so whatever, but it was nothing fancy. The fries were very good: Belgian-style, twice fried frites like those perfected at Brasserie or Jacs.

As an overall experience it was fine and perhaps fish isn't their forte. I'm sure a burger on a Tuesday night would have been more pleasant, as it's a completely inoffensive place. It's serves the same crowd as the Great Dane, Old Fashioned, Graze, the old Local, Argus, or even Coopers or the other number of places that are substantially similar. But, it's got a great location right on the way to football games for people that park up on the square (those of us with free parking there) and right next to the farmer's market. It's inoffensive, doesn't cater to the "student" crowd, and serves Capital beer.

In other words, it doesn't need me to write reviews to convince you to go there. You'll be there eventually, I assure you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Teaming Up - Fish Fry and Beer

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Madison Beer Review and Madison Fish Fry are teaming up tonight. We're heading over to the new Capital Tap Haus for some fish and beer. Expect the reviews on Monday.

In the meantime - what's your favorite place for fish fry and beer?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Five Gallons At A Time: Predicting Brewhouse Efficiency

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The content of this page was updated on 8/14/2012, but the latest multipliers are listed here.

Somewhere else, homebrewers are debating the merits of continuous sparging vs. batch sparging. Among commercial brewers, there's very little debate: continuous sparging rules. Here, I'm going to illustrate how a batch sparging simulation can help you predict your brewhouse efficiencies regardless of the sparging method you actually use. How's that for diplomatic?

As you probably know, brewhouse efficiency decreases as runoff gravity increases. To understand why, it helps to view mashing from a new perspective. Typically, we think of using more grain as a way to increase the gravity of a fixed volume of wort. Instead, you should think of using more grain as a way to increase the volume of a low-gravity wort. When you brew a high-gravity beer, you simply stop lautering before the full volume of wort can be collected. Because sparging dilutes the wort exiting the lauter tun, stopping the runoff early results in a higher-gravity beer. However, it also leaves more sugar behind in the lauter tun. The end result is that the small volume of high-gravity wort has less total sugar than the large volume of low-gravity wort that could have been collected from the same mash. That's why gravity comes at the expense of efficiency.

Batch sparging is a powerful tool because it's easy to simulate. By entering a few calculations into a spreadsheet, you can quickly determine the runoff gravities and brewhouse efficiencies for different amounts of grain. If you assign a maximum brewhouse efficiency for continuous sparging and assume that batch sparging and continuous sparging will have the same minimum efficiency (essentially a no-sparge situation where you only collect the first runnings), you can create an efficiency curve for continuous sparging by starting at the maximum efficiency point and linearly decreasing the difference between the two sparge methods until they converge at the minimum efficiency point.


The method can be refined by optimizing the water-to-grain ratio for each grainbill and generating additional curves for multiple batch sparges, e.g. sparging twice for a total of three runoffs. According to Kai Troester's Batch Sparging Analysis, batch sparging is most efficient when the runoff volumes are equal. I didn't assume that was true when I started, but I ended up with the same result after running my calculations over a wide range of water-to-grain ratios. Here's a graph that shows the peak efficiencies - represented by runoff gravities - over a variety grainbills, water-to-grain ratios and number of sparges.

Using the ideal water-to-grain ratio for each simulated condition resulted in the efficiency curves shown below. The curve for continuous sparging was created, using the same method described above, from the curve for three batch sparges.

The simulation assumes a perfectly efficient lauter tun, which means that all inefficiencies are due to spent grain wort retention. That allows me to account for equipment efficiency in a separate variable, the maximum brewhouse efficiency of a given brewery, which will eventually be multiplied by the brewhouse efficiency curves to predict a final brewhouse efficiency value for a target runoff gravity. To make that as easy as possible, I converted the curves into multipliers by dividing them by the maximum brewhouse efficiency of the continuous sparging curve.

If your max brewhouse efficiency is 85% and you want to brew a beer with a runoff gravity of 1.065, you should assume a brewhouse efficiency of 0.884 x 85 = 75.1% if you'll be employing a continuous sparge. Basing the continuous sparge values on a batch sparging simulation may not exactly represent what happens your lauter tun, but it'll get you pretty darn close.

If you'd like to check out the simulation itself, you can download it here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Update: Wisconsin v North Dakota

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On Wednesday we talked a bit about drunk driving rates between North Dakota and Wisconsin and proposed some reasons why, in 2008 when the last set of data was available, Wisconsin had higher rates of DUI than North Dakota despite similar "bar v. grocery store" numbers. Well, apparently, the new numbers are out and North Dakota has caught up. Indeed, the entire Upper Midwest has the highest rates, while the Midwest in general is all above average.



What differentiates the Upper Midwest in particular from the rest of the country? Well, I hate to say it, but do you see the East Coast there? Where it's almost entirely blue (meaning below average)? Yeah, they have trains there so people don't have to drink and drive. Just my own little opinion there.

Bust Out Your Calendar - Madison Beer Week

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The details are starting to come together for a new week-long celebration of craft beer in Madison. Unlike Beer Weeks in other cities, this celebration is not being put together by the distributors, but rather is being driven from the ground up by the fine folks at The Malt House (Bill Rogers) and Madison Beer Review (Robyn Klinge and Myself, Jeff Glazer).

The result will be a panoply of events over the course of Madison Beer Week, including (but not limited to): tastings, dinners, educational events, food and cheese pairings, movie showings, and awesome bar specials all around town.

Madison Beer Week is being scheduled for April 29, 2011 through May 8, 2011. Stay tuned to this station for more updates as it comes closer. You can also stay up-to-date with Madison Beer Week on Facebook.

Feel free to post comments with suggestions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Something You Didn't Know: Wisconsin Has A Lot of Bars

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What is this? The study looked at references in Google Maps for a given geographic area, a series of connecting concentric circles. It compared references to "grocery store" and to "bar"; if there were more references to grocery stores within that geographic circle, it colored the circle yellow, if there were more references to bars, it colored the circle red. It's important to know that there is no shading here, so whether there was 1 more reference or 50 more references cannot be determined. You will notice that Wisconsin is the only state that is almost entirely red.

So, what does that mean? Well, it means we have a lot of bars as compared to grocery stores. Making some logical assumptions it means that we drink outside of the home (at a bar) more than we drink inside the home (grocery store). It also means that we have to drive home from bars. So, it's no surprise that we lead the nation in DUIs. Here's the graph from 2008 of the nation's highest reported DUI:
Something interesting to note: North Dakota has a lot of bars, but few reported DUI. Maybe it has something to do with this graph:
Percentage of total population reporting a DUI in the last year. Interesting that "small metropolitan" has more DUI than "non-metropolitan": "Large metropolitan areas have a population of 1 million or more and usually have better public transportation options. Small metropolitan areas have a population of fewer than 1 million. Non-metropolitan areas are outside metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), as defined by the Office of Management and Budget" [cite]

Wisconsin MSAs v North Dakota MSAs. MSAs in Purple and some of the darker gold are considered MSAs as well.

The combined population of North Dakota's MSAs is 366,564 of a total population of 642,200. Or approximately 57% of its population resides within a MSA (which isn't entirely true, because it's largest MSA is Fargo, which shares a considerable population with MN). None of North Dakota's MSAs are "Large". For Wisconsin 3,611,018 of its 5,363,675 people lived in inside of an MSA; approximately 67.3% of its population. Only Milwaukee is a "Large MSA" (over 1 Million pople).

So, what does that mean? Well, about 2/3rds of Wisconsin residents live within the geographical type most likely to drink and drive - Small Metropolitan Statistical Areas. While only 1/2 of North Dakota residents do. This difference in population gathering alone could account for the vast majority of the difference between Wisconsin's DUI rates and North Dakota's despite similar concentrations of bars.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Big Bay Beer On a Mother F-ing Boat

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For the record, Shorewood is a Near-North Side suburb of Milwaukee.

Big Bay Brewing Company is the newest craft brewery to hit the market. With a retail shop in Shorewood, Wisconsin, the beer itself is brewed at Milwaukee Brewing Company under an alternating proprietorship model.

I haven't had their beer, but you'll have to forgive me for being skeptical. I received the press release on Thursday and it reads like a marketing person trying entirely too hard to convince me that this is something unique.

Big Bay is owned by 10-year veteran of Miller Brewing and MillerCoors' "Product Innovation" Division, Jeff Garwood, striking out on his own with some recipes purchased from a brewery consultant.

A quick aside before I go on. Keep in mind that it is entirely possible that Mr. Garwood's endeavor is driven by a love for craft beer; he's worked over a decade in the industry, after all. But, I am a cynic by nature, so you'll have to forgive my cynicism. I did not interview Mr. Garwood and I suspect that even if I had, he would not have opened up to this line of questioning. With that said ...

The marketing copy smacks of the kind of industry speak that can be a real turn-off: "An important element of Big Bay Brewing is the brand’s ties to the water." Really? The brand is 2 days old (the first beer was released on 12/1 and I write this on 12/3). And already the brand is tied to the water? How the heck does that happen? The lakes are already starting to freeze.


Rarely does this sort of overt narrative succeed. Why? Well, consumers are smarter than brewery executives usually give them credit for being. The brand only becomes "tied to the water" when the consumer says it's tied to the water. If the brewery wants to push that narrative it needs to act in conformance with the narrative, not just talk about the connection.

And six-packs of 12-ounce bottles do not exactly walk the narrative of "take us out on the water."

Randomly walk into any of the 7 million boats or ice-fishing huts on any lake in the State of Wisconsin. What percentage of the beer do you think is in bottles? If I were to guess, because I have no idea other than my own experiences, I'd venture to say that it is less than 15%. Bottles are made of glass. Glass and water do not mix very well.

People take Leinie's camping because they can get it in cans and it's sold at bait shops all through the Northwoods. Capital is successful on golf courses because it is in cans and its primary demographic is affluent suburban men. Oskar Blues is hip with the back-country folk because it is in cans and hoppy as hell. These connections work because the brewery follows-through on the connection. Consumers believe them because they are honest. New Belgium actually cares about the environment. Dogfish Head actually cares about creativity. Stone actually cares about collaboration.

This Macro-Industry push attitude rarely works in the craft beer industry. Anheuser-Busch and Miller have the marketing might to make true what follows from the advertising. Thus, if Miller runs commercials that show beautiful girls swarming on guys drinking Miller Lite, it can hire beautiful women to go to a bar and hand out free beer for a week. Advertising becomes reality.

Consider Mr. Garwood's own words when describing his position at Big Bay:
Marketing leadership with strong background in packaging and product
innovation. Passion for identifying the white space and taking nebulus ideas and
refining them as they move through the development process. Career goal is to
bring value and values to CPG companies with marketing innovation and brand
development using my acumen, creativity, and relationships.
Not passion for beer. Not passion for brewing. Not even passion for boating. A passion for "identifying the white space and taking nebulus ideas ... through the development process." There's nothing like brewery owners that refer to their own company in marketing speak (if you were wondering, "CPG Company" is a "Consumer Packaged Goods" company). Indeed, for specific examples of the kind of product innovation Mr. Garwood has in mind, one need only consider the "innovative" Miller vortex bottle (Mr. Garwood's "Innovation" Division at MillerCoors was directly responsible for that one. You're welcome.).

"Big Bay beers are developed from unique and custom recipes that are steeped in the brewing traditions and simple ingredients of years gone by." That's why the first two beers are a kolsch and an amber. Very unique recipes. Leinie's alone makes 7 amber beers (including "ambers", "reds", "vienna", etc. which often have caramel/vienna/munich malt, etc.). Capital makes 5. Lakefront makes 6.

If Mr. Garwood wanted to "tie" his beer to the water, perhaps his first beers should have been a pilsner (a style known for its soft water quality) and a Burton Ale (a style known for its particularly hard water quality). Perhaps the press release would have had marketing copy extolling the importance of water in brewing, the importance of water conservation, the importance of boating organizations in the preservation of water quality around the world, and, maybe, even a brief blurb about Mr. Garwood's love for boats.

As for the beer itself, I'm sure brewery consultant, Jim "The Beer Doctor" Lueders is very good at his job. For example, in just 2010 he's been winning medals for the recipes he provided to Morgan Street Brewery in St Louis and he is opening his own brand-new project, a zero-emissions brewery in Stevensville, MT just outside of Missoula.
Again, I haven't had the beer, I'm sure it's fine. I'm only writing from what I see in a press release and what some simple research can turn up. But I have to ask, does Wisconsin really need another Kolsch and Amber? Even if they're on a Mother F-ing Boat?