Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wisconsin Brewery Tour

This is the Wisconsin Brewery Tour, we check the various breweries around the state and fill you in on what's going on. It's a good way to get everyone up-to-date on what the Wisconsin breweries are up to for the month (or so).

Minhas: Nothing new to report. They still don't have any information about Lazy Mutt on the site; in fact the first result when I google "lazy mutt beer" is a press release 'review' from the Sioux City Journal. By the way, RateBeer gives it an "8" ("nose and taste of corn, cardboard, and hay. Club soda finish") and BeerAdvocate gives it a "D+" ("Kind of like rotten fruit mixed with molasses.")

Ale Asylum: Nothing new to report on their site. Rumor has it that the Tripel is out this week, though.

Blu Creek: Nothing new on their website; the events are still from 2007.

Capital Brewery: You can get tickets for the Belleville American Music Festival (July 11-12, 2008) at the brewery. The Beer Garden officially opens on May 23rd; May 24th is Saturday Night at the Movies with National Lampoon's European Vacation!

Central Waters: Nothing new to report. The tap room at the brewery in Amherst is open Friday 4-9pm and Saturdays 3-9pm.

Furthermore: The 2008 Fatty Boombalatty is on shelves as of March.

The Great Dane: Bands at each of the locations regularly through May. Mother's Day (May 11) brunches downtown and in Fitchburg - reservations recommended.

Gray's: Nothing new to report.

Lake Louie: Still nothing new.

Lakefront Brewery: Lakefront is one of the few micros available at Miller Park. May Madness for the Guitar Hero tournament begins May 11. Beer dinner on May 9.

Minocqua Brewing: Will be at Red Crown Lodge on May 10th.

New Glarus: In July New Glarus will be releasing a Beliner Weiss for its "Unplugged" series - this should be really fun as it is a style that is very rare outside of Germany. We'll have more when it is out. Edel Pils is out in May and Dancing Man Wheat is out in July.

Pearl Street Brewery: No new news to report, apparently.

Rowland's Calumet Brewing: Finally online!! Beer Fest on May 18th is sold out.

Rush River Brewing: Still unavailable in Madison or Milwaukee. Their hefeweizen is now in season!

Sprecher: MaiBock was released last week. May is Sprecher's Book Drive - so take them a book! May 5th is the "Blessing of the Bock" at the Falcon Bowl. And May 18th is the Calumet Beer Fest!

Steven Point Brewery: Nothing in the near future. The "Nude Beach" wheat ale is out on May 1st.

Leinenkugel's: Summer Shandy is out and distribution has been extended. Leinie Lodge Family Reunion is June 14th.

Sand Creek: I was intercepted by when I tried to visit. Is everything OK up there?

Tyranena: May 4th is Brunch at the Brewery. May 5th is Bark and Brew, a series of doggy seminars. Brewers Gone Wild now available: Devil Over A Barrel Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Porter Aged in Bourbon Barrels (that's a hell of a name!)

Viking: website was down - sorry guys!

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Day (or 3) Late and a Dollar Short

Earth Day was earlier this week. And I was going to write this really awesome article about the perfect way for Wisconsin's craft breweries and craft beer drinkers to single-handedly save the planet from Al Gore. But, remember a few days ago when I said I was lazy? Yeah. I wasn't kidding.

Whatever happened to returnable bottles? The inimitable Joe Sixpack has an article about returnables.
Go visit a brewery in Belgium or Germany, and the biggest piece of equipment you'll see is the bottle washer. Placed at the head of the production line, the machine automatically sorts, scrubs and sterilizes bottles and their plastic cases. Watching one of the machines at work in Norway, I marveled at how people even dutifully replaced the caps on plastic containers that were returned to be reused by the bottler.

Likewise in Canada, beer drinkers return an astounding 97 percent of refillable bottles. The Brewers Association of Canada boasts that refillable bottles are "quite possibly the most environmentally friendly container on earth" and claims its so-called "closed-loop" system diverts more than a million tons of waste from landfills each year.
There's no reason why even if the distributor or the retailers don't take them back, the breweries themselves can't take them back. It would have not only the advantage of getting the bottles back, but it gets customers out to the brewery. Maybe they stay and have a beer while they're there (not that you could feed them while they were there, and now we have this whole "Wisconsin drinks and drives too much" thing going on)? Is it that reasonable for me to save up Tyranena bottles, it's not like it's right down the street. But Ale Asylum is. And that might just make the difference in deciding to buy one beer over the other. And, it's not like I'm never in Lake Mills (or Amherst, or Spring Green, or Janesville), I could save up my bottles and take 'em with me when I get there.

On Wednesday we talked about brewers growing their own (hmmm, maybe I wasn't as remiss as I thought). Not only would this practice stabilize hop supplies, but it would significantly reduce the gasoline used trucking the hops across the country (most American hops come from the Yakima Valley in Washington, Oregon and Idaho) or indeed all over the world.

Adnams brewery has launched the first "carbon neutral" beer in the United Kingdom.[article at Publican via RealBeer]
“If this beer sold in comparative volumes to Broadside it would be the equivalent of taking six cars off the road a year,” he said. “It is a great-tasting light golden beer and it is greener than any other beer on the market.”
What was the most effective means of reducing the carbon footprint of this beer? Yeah, you guessed it. Local ingredients. Adnams also used a "very light malt" - although that phrase is somewhat ambiguous - does the malt weight less or did they simply use less malt?

So, what's the lesson here? Well, it seems like it's the message we've been preaching from the beginning - drink and brew local! In this case, by acquiring local ingredients not only are raw material inventories stabilized (thus prices and availability are easier to predict, making costs and profits easier to forecast), but you support your local farmers. I have it on good authority that farmers like to drink beer. Sourcing locally also reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the fossil fuels required to truck you ingredients all over the place. Using and re-using re-usable bottles not only saves water, fossil fuels and landfill space, but it generates positive goodwill by drawing customers out to the brewery. How's that for environmentally friendly?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All Kinds of Interesting Information About The Grumpy Troll

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote up a very nice, albeit brief and summary, article about The Grumpy Troll on Monday. The article makes some really interesting references that might be worth looking into.

Reference Number 1
The whole point of the article was to congratulate Mark Duchow, brewmaster at The Grumpy Troll, on his gold medal from the World Beer Cup, held last weekend. We'll add to that, and say "Congrats to Mark and the whole group over there at The Grumpy Troll." The brewery received the award for its Baltic Porter, a thick and delicious hoppy, roasty, cold-fermented ale. Two other breweries won awards: Lakefront won a silver medal for its Traditional German-Style Bock; Miller won a gold and a bronze in the American-Style Specialty Lager category for its Steel Reserve and Mickey's Ice, respectively. (seriously? Mickey's Ice? I'm going to have get me a case of that stuff and check it out - it keeps winning awards, Mickey's also won at the Great American Beer Fest - anybody down for some grilling and Mickey's Ice?)

While only three Wisconsin breweries won, a number of our breweries didn't even participate, for example, Ale Asylum, New Glarus, Furthermore, Viking, Hinterland, Tyranena, and Rush River. Though none of these breweries even makes a Baltic Porter, so The Grumpy Troll's medal is safe. This isn't to take anything away from Lakefront, either - like the lottery, you can't win, if you don't play; moreover, Capital did participate, so what does that say about Lakefront that they beat out Capital, a brewery renowned for its German-style bock beers. But, I think it would be interesting to see how many medals Wisconsin could take if all of our breweries participated in these things.

Anyway. Congrats to The Grumpy Troll, Lakefront and Miller.

Reference Number 2
Nestled into the middle of the article, is a really interesting tidbit of information that I have been holding off on saying anything about, but that I find really fascinating.
Duchow was back at work Monday, planting some hops in Dane County that will eventually be used in the beers created at the Grumpy Troll.
When I spoke with Mr. Duchow back in February about his Iced Maggie, he had mentioned this project to me. Eventually, I will write much, much more about this, but I wanted to make sure that everyone saw this. Best way to negate the effects of a hop shortage? Grow your own.

The Grumpy Troll is growing its own hops. Lakefront is growing its own hops. Kent Palmer, author of Madison Magazine's "Bottle Half Full" column, has called on the University Research Park to add Wisconsin hop-hardiness to its agenda.

So, here's something to chew on while I work up a full article about this exact topic: if all of the Wisconsin brewers (I don't know, via the Brewer's Guild or something?!) chipped in some funds and rented land, could they grow all the hops they needed and not have to rely on external suppliers?

Reference Number 3
"But federal alcohol regulators vetoed the use of the word "Amnesia" on a proposed label for the beer, which Welshinger plans to bottle for carryout sales at the brew pub." I've talked to a lot of people in bars and on the streets - you know, random, every day people, like you and me. Almost to a person, they are surprised that the federal government regulates the text on beer labels. I can't say that I'm surprised, and I find it moderately interesting that other people are. In any event, yes, the Federal government has a whole division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms dedicated to making Rob Larson's life miserable. In any event, apparently the Feds think that putting "Amnesia" on a bottle will imply a promised effect of the beer. And, that cannot be countenanced. So, boringly, the labels on The Grumpy Troll's bottles of Baltic porter will call it the "Baltic Porter." And, by the way, they only intend to sell those bottles to go at the brewpub.

There are some really neat things that some breweries are doing to make getting label approval easier. For example, Lake Louie, puts the same label on everything and only changes the neck sticker. There's a brewery in Indiana called Barley Island Brewing Company, that prints a label with four styles listed on it, with check-boxes next to each style - the style contained in the bottle is checked with black sharpie.

ps. Speaking of Tyranena, a friend of the brewery is auctioning off a collection containing 4-packs of each of the last six Brewer's Gone Wild series. "The money will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as part of Jessie's Rock N' Roll Marathon fundraising." Bidding starts at $50. Keep in mind most of these beers are not, and never will be again, available - they are the best that Tyranena has to offer. Bidding ends April 29th (next week); winner will be announced on April 30th.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Much Would You Pay For A Beer?

One of the more highly acclaimed breweries in the world, Danish brewery Mikkeller is perhaps best known for its Beer Geek Breakfast a thick, oily imperial stout. (BA. RB.) Recently this, and a few other brews by Mikkeller and Mikkel, the head brewer at Mikkeller, have made their way to Madison (is the Struise Mikkeller available at retail here? I know Shelton Brothers had this at a tasting at Maduro). But, in any event, Mikkel is making some of the best beer in the world; like Hansel, he's so hot right now.

Unfortunately I missed this when it was originally posted at the end of March, but "Mikkel, Jeppe, and Michael [ed note: Jeppe and Michael own a retail outlet in Denmark] decided to create a special, 8 month sherry cask barrel-aged version of Mikkeller’s rare and delicious X Imperial Stout that had been brewed exclusively for the beer festival in Valby, Denmark in May 2007. This is a one-time, very limited edition - only 40 bottles (75 cl champagne bottles) are available! Each bottle has been numbered and signed by brewer Mikkel." These bottles were auctioned off and 100% of the proceeds were to be donated to Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke – Mozambique, a Danish NGO working to promote democracy in Mozambique.

So, what would you guess bottle #1 of this fine beer sold for? Would you believe 579€ (approx US$914)? For a single champagne bottle of beer. Granted, the money went for a good cause, but still. (bottle #40 went for 131€, which is US$206).

Is there any occassion where a $915 bottle of beer is appropriate? Or do you drink it with burgers on a Sunday night while watching the Simpsons?

And speaking of good ideas: enough with the bourbon barrels, bring on the sherry cask aged beers!

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Call It Civilized Discussion On A Valid Point; You Call It Wholesale Thievery

I'm a bit conflicted about this post. On the one hand, I feel like I'm ripping off the fine folks over at A Good Beer Blog (which, by the way, when I first ran across it, I was instantly jealous that Alan thought of the title before me, because it's a great title). See, last week Alan finally decided he was going to allow anonymous posting by some brewers who had contacted him asking for such a forum. It's an interesting dilemma. Having such first-hand accounts from the industry that we write about is a unique opportunity and one that could reap great benefits. But, anonymous posting by those in the industry is somewhat frowned upon unless there is a good reason for it - attribution and taking credit (or blame, such that it may be) for your comments and all that. Anyway, Alan finally relented it and allowed the brewer to post anonymously. So, what was so important that this brewer felt the need to air it publicly in his first post? Yeah. A bit of whining about the folks at R(h)ateBeer.

Now, I've never seen that "R(h)ateBeer" formative before. Kind of clever. But, anyway, this is where my dilemma comes in. I wanted to weigh in on this discussion. And, of course, the "proper" place to do that would be on Alan's site in the comments section of that post. But, I also wanted to make sure that if any of the fine Wisconsin brewers had this same issue and just happened to read this blog (is there anybody out there?), that they would get the message, too. So, I've decided that I would post my comments here, instead of Alan's blog. Sorry Alan.

So, that's a long way of getting to the wholesale thievery:
Sites like R(H) are a thorn in the side for many brewers. They are dominated by a handful of posters that don't reflect the opinion of the general public.
You can read the rest of the post over there to get more of Secret Brewer XJ17.

Despite the whiny and overly-aggressive tone and the singling out of RateBeer (BeerAdvocate gets some blame in here as do all of us to some extent), Secret Brewer XJ17 makes a good point. Namely, don't believe everything you read on the internet. With rare exception nobody knows who these raters are. Why put any trust in them? Would you trust a complete stranger who came up to you while you were in the beer section and said: "The aroma of that beer is hairy and sweaty, its flavor is like dried fruit, flowers and pencil shavings." (a real live comment at RateBeer, by the way) You don't know that person. What the heck do they know about beer? What do they know about sour brown ales? Have they even ever tasted another sour brown ale? No, of course you don't take their word for it.

But maybe we can take something from the fact that this same beer is in the "98th percentile" at RateBeer. But really, is this any different? "Dude, me and all my buddies got together and we rated a bunch of beers and that beer you've got in your hands; that beer, man, it's in the 98th percentile." That's nice. Sounds like a dull evening, but cool. How many of those were sour brown ales? Was this a blind tasting or were you peeking at the label? How many beers did you have that evening? How many of you even tasted this beer?

So, you can see, while not entirely worthless information, these ratings systems are, for the most part, masturbatory and congratulatory missives from nowhere in particular. Really not much more than the aggregation of notes scribbled on bar napkins.

Maybe, we can say that those beers with a large number of reviews are more accurate. Maybe. But, what's a sufficiently large number of reviews? 500? 300? 100? 50? And it still doesn't solve the "hype" problem - both for breweries and styles. Certain breweries, because they do actually put out good beer, have garnered a certain "mystique" about them; this "mystique" has been generated through the combination of creating great beer and careful scarcity (it can't be too scarce - people actually have to be able to get some to send to their friends somewhere so that the friends in the other place can brag that they got the beer from their friends and people will actually know what they are talking about). So, when people receive these "scarce" beers they think "ooo, it must be good - my friend told me it was good and he had to mail it to me." Many of the beers rated in these systems (and reviewed on blogs like this one all over the country) fall prey to the "hype" issue.

Nor does it solve the "purpose" problem. For example, is this beer intended (either by the brewer or the taster) to be carefully sipped and scrutinized carrying a new flavor explosion at every sip? Or, is it intended for drinking during a football game with chips and hotdogs? And, how does that "98th percentile" number figure into that? I mean, Stone's Double Bastard is in the "99th percentile" at RateBeer, but you wouldn't want to drink it during a football game with chips and a hotdog. Or, I don't know, maybe you would. In either event, "99th percentile" doesn't really answer that question, does it?

When beers are reviewed on this site (we never attribute numbers or ratings), we try to ensure that you are given as much information as possible to help you in the beer section. But, there are many sites that simply refuse to review beers at all. We toyed with this notion when we started this site, but finally realized that if we were going to call the site "Madison Beer Review", we should, probably, review beer (although, to be honest, we didn't really intend "review" in such a literal meaning - but, perhaps our true intent would have been made clearer if we called the site "Wisconsin Beer News Reporter" but that didn't really have the same ring to it).

So, to get back on point. I hope that the Wisconsin brewers out there that look at sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate (and this one, for that matter) take anything with a grain (or 10) of salt. While I've certainly been swayed by positive or negative reviews and/or ratings, I've also been swayed by things like pretty and ugly labels, phraseology on labels, clever or silly names for your beer or brewery, coin tosses, and random whims. All of which are equally valid reasons for choosing to drink, or not drink, your beer. So, just relax and have a brew.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fruit Ales, Mixed Cheese, Fromagination and the Common Link of Lucy Saunders


When I heard about the cheese and beer tasting on April 24th at 6:30pm at Fromagination, I had to get more information. I mean, cheese, beer, it is a match made in heaven. When I saw that Lucy Saunders was leading the tasting, I really needed more information. I had heard of Ms. Saunders quite some time ago. Originally published in 1996, her first book, Cooking With Beer is a classic. Cited by no less an authority than Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the singer) in his Great Beer Guide, it provides more information about cooking with beer than anyone could possibly have guessed. For example, most traditional cookbooks that use beer in a recipe (stout soups, for example) suggest using old beer both to get rid of it and because it has typically gone flat, Lucy advises otherwise: "Flat, old beer usually tastes oxidized and not so pleasant as fresh beer. Try whisking your beer in a separate bowl to release some of that excess carbonation, and let it settle before measuring into your recipe."

So, for all of you baking and pastry chefs wondering what to do with that dual Middle English/English Literature degree, if you like beer maybe you can write about beer. "I have always loved the taste of beer, and collected recipes that went well with beer. When I was studying baking and pastry in the 1980s, I began writing freelance articles about craft beer and continue to do so now."

Ms. Saunders has also written Grilling with Beer and her newest book is The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer.

Beer has been paired with other foods in recipes since, well, the beginning of beer and food. "It has been an ingredient in stews (carbonnade), fritters and batters in the Middle Ages, and even used as an ingredient in desserts." The German monks used beer as sustenance during their fasting. The link between beer and other foods is so inextricable that brewers use traditional foods in preparing their beers. "The pumpkin ales, hot pepper beers, chocolate beers, fruit beers, are all related by the use of culinary ingredients and creativity on the part of the brewers. Jeff Hamilton of the Sprecher Brewery, which is making the Mamma Mia Pizza Beer, particularly enjoys cooking Italian sausages in the beer, along with peppers and onions."

It seems strange that there is no compunction over using wine when cooking. We do it all the time – we add some chardonnay or Riesling to a chicken dish to add some sweetness, we add Merlot or Cabernet to that stew to add some body and depth of flavor. But, when it comes to adding beer, there is a gap in knowledge and some hesitance. Ms. Saunders more than capably fills that information gap: "maltier brews will contribute more browning to foods such as poultry that are normally lighter in color, and bottle conditioned beers are more effervescent, and are good in a batter or sauce where the texture will make a difference. I prefer to use a fresh beer in good condition - because I want the flavor of the beer in the final dish to be good - those old recipes that start with 'Take a half-can of flat beer' … all I can say is, 'eeuwww'. Homebrewers can turn less-than-perfect brews into vinegar and mustard salad dressings or spicy barbecue sauces, but that's about all I would recommend. Truly, it is best to cook with something that you would enjoy drinking!"

As for pairing beer with your food, thankfully there are not any general rules of thumb with beer like the age-old "red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat" tropism.

People should taste widely and sample lots of different styles of beer - upon first tasting a beer, let the flavors guide your palate to think of food pairings you might enjoy. In general, I think of a pairing as a complement, contrast or an entirely new combination of flavors. Every person has differing thresholds of sensitivity to specific flavors and so I encourage people to be open to trying new beers, new combinations with foods. The color of a beer is not a reliable cue, as there are strong, vinous and light gold Belgian-style ales that would overwhelm fish or poultry, and dark ales that taste mild and sweet, and would be a bland match to spice-rubbed grilled steak. So, the best pairings start with tastings.

Speaking of pairing beer with food …

Ms. Saunders was originally introduced to Madison's wonderous Fromagination by a third-party, Jeanne Carpenter the blogger extraordinaire behind Cheese Underground. The tasting on April 24th will be Ms. Saunders' third event: "It's been a fun mix of people - some are new to craft beer and tasting, and other attendees are very knowledgeable. It's a relaxed exchange, and very sociable."

The tasting itself will pair fruit ales with mixed-milk cheeses. Mixed-milk cheese? You know, cheeses that mix goat, or sheep and cow's milk.

The Carr Valley Cheese Co,'s Gran Canaria is one of the state's leading gold-medal mixed-milk cheeses, aged in olive oil, and it will be paired with a gold-medal ale – the New Glarus Brewing Co. Wisconsin Belgian Red Cherry Ale. The Belgian Red is made in the style of a Belgian kriek and aged in wooden vats. The smoothness of the cheese and its aromatic aged notes go so well with the tart cherry taste.

Why mixed-milk cheeses and fruit ales? "I thought it would be fun to experiment, and I hadn't seen a class devoted to a tasting of just mixed-milk cheeses." As good a reason as any. Like the Gran Canaria/Belgian Red combination, to develop the lineup for the event, Ms. Saunders says: "I taste each of the cheeses individually and think of beers that might go with them. I then taste the cheeses on a separate occasion with the 8-9 different brews, and winnow the selection down to my favorite matches. I have taste memories of the beer I've sampled, so I can think of possible pairings at the outset. I like to feature Wisconsin breweries as much as possible, but for the April class, there will be some imports because of the popularity of Belgian lambics. Since more Wisconsin cheesemakers are experimenting with mixed-milks, we'll sample mostly the award-winning cheeses from Wisconsin."

It promises to be an awesome experience. "I hope class participants enjoy learning about the creativity of the cheesemakers and brewers we will be featuring, taste something new to them, or at least a few pairings that will be new to them, and get a few samples to enjoy at home, too." The mixed-cheese and fruit ale tasting is April 24th at 6:30pm at Fromagination. It costs a mere $30 per person and you can register in-person or give them a call – visit Fromagination online at

Ms. Saunders' newest book, The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer, has an entire chapter dedicated to pairing cheese and beer. While signed copies of this book will be available for you to purchase at the tasting, she has some free advice:

Age, temperature, freshness, fat and saltiness all play a huge role in how well a pairing will work. One recommended pairing is that of a dry stout with blue cheese. But, I tried a stout with a very young blue cheese that turned metallic on the palate - not the result I'd anticipated at all. So, again, you have to taste what's in front of you, and have a selection of beers to pair. A cheese changes in flavor as it warms to room temperature, so be sure to try pairings at the proper temperature for best aromatics.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Post #100! WOOHOO!!! LET'S PARTY!

Yeah. Uh. Post #100. Big f-in deal, you say. I hear ya. But, I gotta say, when I started doing this last August, I never imagined it would get to 100 posts. Why? Well, because I'm kinda lazy (you did notice that the post didn't get posted until mid-morning today, right? Yeah. Well, after drinking 3 pints of water within 10 minutes of waking up because of those APAs last night - pretty much points out the fact that A) I was in no condition to write this post last night [remember, the whole "lazy" thing? Add to that the lesson learned "don't write about drinking beer while actually drinking beer"], and B) I wasn't in much better condition early this morning).

So, here we are, post #100. Some awesome stuff coming up in the near future. Our next Brewery Profile is in the works - and I'm really excited about it. We have an interview next week with Lucy Saunders, beer-cook extraordinaire. Wha? Beer? Cook? mmmmm.... We interviewed her about her upcoming beer and cheese tasting at Fromagination (fruit ales and mixed-milk cheese). So, that's coming up next week. Spring has sprung, so they say, and we will be putting up some reviews of those spring-time weizens and wheat ales, and pale ales.

2007 Total US BreweriesIn the meantime, the Brewers Association has released some of its statistics on the craft beer industry. Some pretty exciting stuff - assuming of course, you geek-out about statistics like I do. Did someone say r-squared? dirty to me. Ummm... yeah, hi, I'm back. Sorry. Where was I? Right. Statistics. Well, as you can see from that little pie-chart (see? beer. pie. the food connection is laid bare at last!) on the left there, pretty interesting, don't you think? The most interesting part of it that I see is that bigger-than-50% chunk labeled "brewpub." We know how the state of Wisconsin defines brewpub. But, how does "the industry" define it?
Brewpub: A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is often dispensed directly from the brewery's storage tanks. Where allowed by law, brewpubs often sell beer "to go" and /or distribute to off site accounts. Note: BA re-categorizes a company as a microbrewery if its off-site (distributed) beer sales exceed 75 percent.
So, rather than focus on how many barrels per year a brewery produces, like the state of Wisconsin, the industry focuses instead on what percentage of beer is sold on-site versus off-site. This seems like a far better metric to define a brewpub. For instance, you could be as big as you like, but as long as your on-site sales don't exceed 25% of your total sales of beer, you are not a brewpub. This would allow breweries like Tyranena or Lakefront or Milwaukee Ale House to have small restaurant facilities without being labeled a "brewpub" and falling under the brewpub laws.

Anyway, what this pie-chart shows us is that over 50% of all of the breweries in the United States sell greater than 25% of their beer on-site. In raw numbers this is pretty astounding. That means that there is a lot of local beer out there. Breweries that are representin' their blocks, yo. Breweries where the only way to get their beer is to walk in the front door and order it from a bartender. Breweries that are literally serving their communities. In the interest of full disclosure, however, if you look at the list of all of the breweries in the United States, you will find that some brewpubs are chains where each member of the chain is considered a separate brewery.

Even despite this, the sales of beer from brewpubs represent less than 9% of the craft beer sold in the United States and less than .35% of all beer sold. In fact, all craft beer only represents 3.79% of the beer sold in the United States. Last year there were 211,489,982 barrels of beer sold. 96.21% of it was sold by 43 of the 1449 breweries in the United States. In other words, 3% of the nation's breweries account for over 95% of the nation's beer. This, to me, seems to show a huge opportunity.

2007 Growth RatesIn fact, last year the craft beer segment grew an astounding 12%. This is compared with 1.4% growth by those other 43 breweries and 1.4% growth for imports. Of course, 12% of next-to-nothing is still next-to-nothing. But, as we saw above, there's a lot of room for growth. Given the fact that the whole industry is only expanding by 1.4% (coincidentally, only .5% higher than the population growth of the United States), we can safely assume that the industry has reached its saturation point. There are approximately 211.5 million barrels of beer that can be sold in the United States most of which (96% actually) is nothing more than liquid marketing. There's no reason why all of it can't be sold by quality breweries serving their local communities.

By the way, of local note: 3 of the 50 largest breweries in the United States are in Wisconsin (Miller, Minhaas, and New Glarus) - one of which doesn't even distribute outside of the state. 2 of the 50 largest craft breweries are in Wisconsin (New Glarus and Capital). You'll notice Leinenkugel's is nowhere to be seen - you would find them represented in Miller Brewing Company's number.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mama Said ... Knock You Out

As LL Cool J once proudly barked "Don't call it a come-back, I've been here for years."

Schlitz is returning to bottles, eliminating the accelerated fermentation, dropping the corn from the grain bill and adding some hops. Don't believe me? Maybe you'll believe the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. According to the article, the "new" recipe is actually an "old" recipe used by Schlitz before it made some changes in the late 1960s.
[Accelerated fermentation, adopted by Schlitz in 1967, is a process] where every yeast cell is held in active suspension in the fermenter until it has converted the sugars to the desired amount of alcohol. ABF was devised as a control over beer quality and uniformity. It hastened fermentation by 10 days and allowed a 25% increase in the brewery's production capacity (this process was widely adopted by other brewers). But the word was out among beer drinkers that Schlitz had changed the taste of its beer. The rumor was that the beer was still 'green', not properly aged. While some thought the taste change came from the new process, others thought that it was due to the kind of barley available in the mid-1970's (some believed that Schlitz had switched from barley to corn).

Initially, the altered Schlitz beer was thought to possess several advantages. A lighter beer, one which the public had begun to demand, resulted from the new recipe. An aftertaste was eliminated, encouraging beer drinkers to consume more. Also production costs were trimmed by as much as fifty cents per barrel. Yet, as it appeared to the public, Schlitz was cutting on quality in order to increase profits-and was ruining the taste of the beer in the process. From Michael Reilly's History of Schlitz.
While some question exactly which change caused the downfall of Schlitz, the fact is in the 50s it was America's #1 beer and by the early 80s it was a second-rate has-been not even good enough for consumption by drunk fraternity boys. At some point Schlitz was purchased by Stroh's and then later by Pabst who owns it now.

Psi Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity - 1965-1966Schlitz is returning to the recipe that was good enough to almost single-handedly decimate the Wisconsin brewing industry. By the early 1900s Wisconsin was home to over 200 individual breweries, by 1972 there were only 7. In the 1950s, while the vast majority of Wisconsin's breweries were closing, Schlitz became the nation's largest brewery and by the 70s it was still riding that wave of popularity.

Interestingly, this new bottling allows us to take a virtual trip back to the mid-60s. Fauerbach's new recipe is its old recipe, revived from a recipe sold in the mid-60s; and Schlitz's new recipe is its old recipe, revived from a recipe sold in the mid-60s. So, grab the golf clubs, the skateboard, and the guitar, put on that groovy sweater set and get a case of the Schlitz and Fauerbach and we'll have ourselves a safari party.

What place do these "new" beers serve in today's market though? It seems hard to believe that Schlitz or even Fauerbach could be marketed as a "premium" beer. Yet, one would think there would be some premium attached to the "authenticity" angle. The conventional wisdom is that there are two types of beer drinkers out there - those that care what they are drinking (you and I) and those that don't (drunk college kids and the vast majority of the indifferent masses). But, it appears that there may be a third category now, comprised primarily of wistful baby boomers recalling the fraternity days of yore and yearning for that Schlitz and Fauerbach (is Hamm's due for a make-over?!).

So, more generally, the premium derives from the age-old marketing of nostalgia - the idea of linking people and events to products and then later using marketing efforts to recall those events and people and thus invoke desire for the product. We see this here in Wisconsin with Leinenkugel's and their evocation of the Northwoods and its rustic beauty and the fact that Leinie's is so entrenched there that all of our positive associations with the Northwoods invariably revolve around the drinking of a Leinenkugel's. Thus, by merely showing the Northwoods, perhaps via an image of a dock and a sunset along a small wooded lake with a folding chair set on a handmade pier, Miller successfully draws the link between the viewer's recollection of that experience with the beer present during that experience - Leinenkugel's.

Why do I have this gnawing fear that in 30 years Milwaukee's Best Ice is going to be making a comeback? And pictures of young 20-somethings doing kegstands, wearing Umbros or flannel, to a soundtrack of Mudhoney and Soundgarden.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Enough With The Doppelbocks Already!

Ok, we're done with doppelbocks for a while. But not before we bring to you the king of doppelbocks, the Ayinger Celebrator. A low-alcohol beer for the style, it weighs in at a "mere" 6.7% ABV, but it will change your mind about what you think a doppelbock should be.

In fact, the doppelbock style is one of the more diverse styles in the beer ecosystem. While the stereotype of the style is thick, and malty, with strong notes of bread and caramel exemplified by Tucher's example, there are some like Capital's Autumnal Fire that are lighter and even sweeter, or Ale Asylum's Bamboozleator which keeps some of the body, but brings in more of the coffee notes.

Moreover, the doppelbock is a style that is hard to like. The intense concentration of malts and lack of any hopping make them, at time, very unbalanced beers in the same ways, but opposite, that some IPA's can be overly hoppy and cloyingly bitter. A poorly made doppelbock will be syrupy and overly sweet, sort of like drinking straight maple syrup. The best made doppelbocks are amazingly complex, with notes of fig and coffee along side the bread and caramel, well enough carbonated to not be syrupy, but weighty enough to be sustenance on the early and late-winter days for which they were intended.

Personally, it took me years to appreciate the style. For some unknown reason I kept drinking them. The beer snobs I had come in contact with all praised these beers as some of the best examples of some of the best breweries in the world. In other words, contrary to Anheuser-Busch's assertions, the doppelbock is the king of beers - a style that is all about subtlety.

If a brewery can make a good doppelbock, it is a good brewery; though I wouldn't go so far as to say a brewery should be judged by its doppelbock, unless it wants to be. It's not a picky beer, like Barleywines - barleywines are either good or bad, there are very few mediocre barleywines in the world; but, it's not a simple beer like the amber ale - it takes a world-class f-up to screw up an amber. It is a sophisticated beer - the very best in the world reveal new flavors and aromas at each experience; yet, the doppelbock goes very well with simple fare like hamburgers.

Ayinger Celebrator
Appearance: A deep ruby red, with off-white soapy head; mild carbonation with small, fine bubbling
Aroma: earthy, a cherry fruity brightness underlies the mild malt breadiness
Flavor: smooth, velvety, mild and full with complex malt flavors, the munich malts shine through nicely; fig and cherries come through just before the long, full bodied finish
Body: medium to full bodied; it seems much fuller than it is, but is definitely a meal and a half
Drinkability: one of the most drinkable full-bodied beers I've had
Summary: versatile, goes well with beef roulade and hamburgers; a must-drink for any doppelbock fan and will convert the unconvinced; the goat trinket is almost worth the price of the six-pack

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What The Heck Is She Looking At?

It's kind of fun roaming the aisles of the local retail outlets and trying something that looks interesting simply because it's there. To wit: The Tucher Bajuvator Doppelbock (I dare you click on the link - the damned music will not be gone from my head!). (BA. RB.)

Tucher Brau
This 8.2% ABV doppelbock is made by the Bavarian Brauhaus, Tucher. Founded in 1672, it is one of the world's oldest constantly active breweries (although, the oldest, still active, brewery in the world is Weihenstephan, just around the corner in Freising, Bavaria, founded 632 years earlier in 1040). Today, this historic brewery is owned by the Radeberger Group, purveyors of the hubristically-named Radeberger Club Edition.

It only seems inevitable that the world will see "Bajuvator Platinum Ice Edition - the world's illest iced doppelbock, perfect for you and your homies to chill with." Or however they say that in the posh Nurnberg nightclubs. Or, gathering from the advertising image above: "Bajuvator Noir - the nightcap before your nightcap." With Bajuvator, you can spend the perfect evening staring vacantly at the moon and the stars overlooking the night-time cityscape wondering if you're going to be getting any before you dump the blonde moron your assistant had the nerve to set you up with because her high school friend is 36 and still single - when you told her you had a "deposition" today she asked which bank you used because her friend Molly is a teller at the one on the square and she's so nice and friendly and stuff; if that doesn't say "Tucher" (pronounced with a short "u" and a "ch" as in "church"??), I don't know what does.

Seriously, what the hell is she looking at? Perhaps some commenters might make some suggestions as to what she is thinking about or looking at?

Tucher Bajuvator
Appearance: dark saddle brown, with a creamy 1/2-finger head well-carbonated
Aroma: big, malty aromas, mildly sweet and slightly caramelized with a hint of nuttiness and hoppy grassiness
Flavor: thick and porter-like; almost like a sharp, ester-y oatmeal stout; the full flavors coat the mouth pleasantly and leave a bright alcohol-metallic taste
Body: full-bodied, a classic doppelbock mouthfeel
Drinkability: a completely harmless beer; perfect for sipping on while watching early season baseball games from the warm comfort of your own home; would pair nicely with burgers or pizza
Summary: if you like doppelbocks, this is right up your alley, a perfect example of the style with no accoutrements or American-ized flavors to get in the way