Friday, June 27, 2008

Audience Participation: You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato


After a long night at the Stone Release Party at Maduro last night, I've come to the conclusion that there are essentially two types of people in the universe. Those like me, and those not like me. Which seems a bit obvious, and perhaps I should explain a little.

Part way through the evening, the guys from Stone broke out some of the "good stuff" for us to sample – a Stone XI, a Double Bastard, a Russian Imperial, an Old Guardian. It was during the tasting of the XI that I began to realize that some people are like me, and others are not. If you've never had the XI, it's not like anything you've had before; it is a testament to Stone that they have many beers for which you could say that. We tasted it before we knew what it was, and I had guessed that it was a super-hopped up stout – it was dark and smooth with some roasty notes and lots and lots of hops, it was missing the body of a stout, particularly a Stone stout, but it otherwise fit into a notion of something that seemed similar to a stout to me. Everyone seemed equally confounded by it, but we all really liked it. Of course, Stone calls it a Black IPA and when we read that on the label we all immediately said "What?" Then we said "Oh. That makes sense."

But, the bigger point is this: how do you sell these things, these beers, that really kind of defy any sort of typical classification system. I've found that there are two responses to this: 1) it is what is, you just describe it, and the consumer trusts the brewery that it is brewed with quality; 2) you find comparisons that are a close fit and shoe-horn the description into something a bit more familiar. And, before you accuse me of slobbering on Stone again (or, how did Chris say? Tonguing the kernels of the corn in their shit?) there are a number of American, even Wisconsin, breweries that are making these beers that don't fit neatly into categories: Furthermore's Makeweight comes to mind immediately, many of Tyranena's Brewer's Gone Wild Series, some of New Glarus' Unplugged stuff.

Anyway. I subscribe to theory #2. Many others subscribe to theory #1. My argument for this shoe-horning is less for my own benefit than an argument for the average person who approaches these beers. A person who probably does not have the beer-vocabulary to get at what a Black IPA might be, or have the industry knowledge to implicitly trust Stone. So under my theory you could argue that this thing is a bit like a stout, creamy and roasted, crossed with an Imperial IPA, super-hoppy. Taking two categories that a person would be familiar with, and using them to shoe-horn the beer into expectations. Because, really, a beer that is "a nice blend of intense hop flavors, hop bitterness and roasted malt notes" could also describe the Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA, which is a very, very different beer.

Of course, the counter-argument is: it is what it is, the consumer needn't have any expectations when the bottle is opened. Trust the brewery and decide if you like it. If you like it, work backwards from that.

So. Where do you, assuming there is a "you" out there, stand on this? Do you see something and trust the brewery and make a determination if you like it? Or do you seek to form some sort of pre-drinking expectation based on the familiar? There is also the recognition that these are not exactly mutually exclusive positions; you can make sure those that approach a bottle under theory #2 have some basis for comparison by effectively using the language on the bottles to convey those comparisons, but those that subscribe to theory #1 could just refrain from the reading the bottle.

By the way, and I don't know if I'm supposed to mention this or not, but I figure if you've read this far that I'd throw you a bone, there may be a slight chance that the Stone XI will have the same fate as the Stone V. But you didn't hear it from me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Some Things To Look Forward To


Most immediately (and this is the last time I mention this, I promise): Tonight (Wednesday) is the Stone Crawl in Milwaukee. Starts at 7pm at Sugar Maple, The Stone, Lulu's, and Roman's in BayView. There will be a bus going between each of these so you can get to the bars that are a little further away.

Thursday is the Stone Release Party at Maduro in Downtown Madison. Starts around 6pm.

OK, so that's it for Stone for a while.

Some upcoming new releases:

Tyranena Brewers Gone Wild: Scurvy Orange-Peel IPA; a 6.5% ABV Extra IPA brewed with orange peels – should be on shelves in Madison, but I haven't seen it and Woodman's on the west side does not have it.

"The orange comes through in the aroma and a bit in the flavor and contributed somewhat to the bitterness. I am now debating whether to dry hop the beer at all for fear that the orange character will be overwhelmed... but what the heck... it's not an IPA from us unless it has been dry-hopped. For those that are interested, we used Summit as our bittering hop, Simcoe as a flavor hop, added both Summit and Simcoe in the whirlpool and will be dry-hopping with Summit and Simcoe. May add some orange peel to the fermenter to enhance the aroma and flavor"

New Glarus Unplugged: Berliner Weiss – should be available sometime in July. I'm super excited about this beer. The Berliner Weiss is a rare style of wheat beer (typically more than 50% of the grain bill is wheat), and is sour, similar to open-fermentation Belgian beers. It is typically served, in Berlin, with various flavor syrups to compliment the sourness.

Ale Asylum: The Tripel Nova Belgian Tripel is available at the brewpub, and you can now sit outside in their beer garden.

Capital: The website now lists a "Rustic Ale", an unfiltered amber ale, as a year-round beer; yet to see this one in the wild, but we'll keep an eye out – made with grain from Washington Island (apparently, they are going to milk that one for all it's worth); how it will fit with their very popular Amber offering is yet to be seen.

Furthermore: Will be unveiling a new beer on June 28th at their barn party in Spring Green (party starts at 5pm – if you don't know where the Furthermore Sh*##y Barn is, just ask someone in Spring Green).

Lakefront: The White (wit) should be out soon.

Rush River: Small Axe Golden Ale, a quasi-hefe-weizen, should be out, if you live in an area where Rush River is available.

Stevens Point: Nude Beach is out and lightening up the summer.

Sand Creek: One of these days I'll have to review the Hard Lemonade.

Viking: Queen Victoria's Secret IPA is out, the Dim Whit is out in July.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Farm + Brew = BrewFarm


We first mentioned this about ten days ago. First picked up on by Wisconsin's Bio Energy Forum, we posted a link to a St. Paul Pioneer Press article about a new brewery in the works up in Wilson, Wisconsin. Well, we were able to track down the guy starting up BrewFarm, and managed to get him to answer a few questions in his free time.

Madison Beer Review: Who are you? What is your brewing experience? What were you doing immediately before starting BrewFarm?
David Anderson: Who am I? Dang good question. I suppose how it relates to beer and brewing would be most relevant.

I started homebrewing in 1993-4 and people seemed to enjoy my creations. I took that encouragement and attempted to open a brewpub in Plymouth, MN from about 1995-2000 - long story short, I couldn't raise the needed investor money to get the project fully funded and operational. In 1996 I went to the Siebel Institute in Chicago, IL for commercial brewing training. My first brewing job was with Ambleside Brewing Co. in Minneapolis - was there for the 1.5 years it existed. [ed note: Ambleside sold its brewing equipment to Wisconsin's Tyranena Brewing Company] I then sold specialty beer for the Wine Company in the Twin Cities. Moved to Massachusetts to work with a beer importer, got back into brewing with Paper City Brewery in Holoyoke, MA for 2.5 years. Created a craft beer export company ("Brewer's Alchemy Exports") and then moved back to Minnesota to (eventually) open a brewery.

Prior to starting this incarnation of Dave's BrewFarm, I picked up a few consulting jobs: I spent nearly three months in Vietnam working with a start-up brewpub, 10 weeks in Aosta, Italy working with a start-up craft brewery, two week in Israel working with a start-up, one day in Tulsa, OK doing a site selection audit for a start-up. I also worked with a brewery in South Dakota on brewery layout and equipment sourcing.

I am also a Great American Beer Festival Judge and internationally, I've judged the last two years of the "Birra dell'Anno" (Craft Beer of the Year) in Milan, Italy. I judged homebrewing contests on/off for the past 12 years.

MBR: When did you get the idea to start BrewFarm and what prompted it?
DA: The BrewFarm concept was hatched in the Summer of 1995, and as to what prompted it, I've always enjoyed being out the countryside and had thought the idea of a farmhouse brewery made a lot of sense - combining passions.

MBR: Being from Minnesota, what made you choose Wilson, Wisconsin? What was it about the state laws and regulations that made you choose Wisconsin over Minnesota?
DA: I drove all over western WI for 6+ months looking at dirt - the 35 acre site in Wilson has a wonderful combination of rolling pasture and woods, with great wind and solar resources.

WI is just a lot more pro-brewer/brewer-friendly than MN. I have a lot more freedom to sell my beer as I see fit, though I do plan on shipping back to MN - the Twin Cities is a very good specialty beer market with a lot of enthusiastic beer fans.

MBR: What is the basic philosophy of BrewFarm and what are the some of the highlights that put that philosophy into practice?
DA: Dave's BrewFarm will be a sustainably-based venture. I received my permit for my wind generator - it's going to be a Jacobs 31-20 - a 20 kW generator on a 120-foot tower. Heating and cooling will be handled via geothermal. I will have solar panels for thermal water heating - breweries use a lot of hot water. A lot of engineering will go into process energy use and efficiency - how to use, save, utilize energy without sacrificing. A lot of thought is going into this. And it's not just "green" for green's sake – all the renewables and processes have to make functional and fiscal sense. I guess the philosophy is one can make great beer and be "gentle" on the environment; it just takes a bit of forward thinking and some additional funding up-front. It will pay for itself in a relatively short time.

MBR: What kinds of hops and barley will you grow? Will it be more than you need? What will you do with the excess?
DA: I only plan for hops - barley and the associated malting process is very intensive, way beyond the scope of what I want to accomplish. I have 50 fuggles rhizomes growing at the moment. I will be planting many varieties and other herbs/spices/fruits/vegetables for use in the brewing process to create unique beers. Any excess hops would be sold. Once a web site is up, I would make it known what is for sale. The land is "organic" - not yet certified but hasn't had chemicals used on it for more than 10 years. I'm not using chemicals for the hops - more of a "holistic" approach to growing. Wisconsin was the number one hop growing state during the 1860-1870s, so yes, hops can/do grow in WI. Hops are kinda "weed-like" - it's often harder to kill them than grow them. I plan on growing 1-2 acres of hops - that's about 200-300 vines. Harvesting will be by hand (I pay volunteers in beer to pick hops - A lot of beer...). [ed note: anyone who likes beer want to go pick some hops?] Hops take a few years to become established and productive, so percentage-wise, it'll be small. There are so many varieties out there, not all will come from my land.

MBR: What kind of distribution do you envision, if any?
DA: I will self-distribute. I plan on being small and staying small. This is not about knocking out thousands of barrels of beer - I want to create "curious beers of distinction" [ed note: we'll put a TM on that for ya] and spend time crafting and aging. Interesting things can happen...

MBR: Will you give tours or on-site seminars to help others?
DA: Indeed, tours and seminars are planned. I'm definitely into the passing on of knowledge and any other assistance I can lend. Goodness knows that's how I got to this point!

I hope to enlist the help of students at UW-River Falls and UW-Stout for various agriculture projects and renewable/sustainability projects. I want to promote a "living classroom" atmosphere at the BrewFarm.

MBR: What's the official name of this thing? Dave's BrewFarm? The BrewFarm? BrewFarm?
DA: The dba names are: Dave's BrewFarm Brewery on Little Wolf Farmstead. Essentially two businesses but intertwined. I'll be growing hops, therefore the name of the farmstead: The botanical name for hops, Humulus Lupulus comes from its old German name, humela, plus lupulus meaning "Little Wolf" – and there it is ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hey Barkeep! Stone, huh?

NOTE: Change to this post!! The Milwaukee Stone Crawl is WEDNESDAY, NOT MONDAY

So, lots of questions about this Stone Brewing thing. What's the big deal? Why should we be excited? Don't you have anything better to do than drool on the knob of some uppity San Diego beer?

Addressing the last of these issues first, no, quite frankly I don't have much else going on. And. It's a really tasty knob.

Stone Brewing CompanySo. First, let's get the important stuff out of the way. Stone will officially be available on Monday in both Madison and Milwaukee. In fact, it's really even better than that. Pretty much everywhere except far Western Wisconsin will at least have access to Stone. So, La Crosse, you're out of luck. Platteville, if there's anyone out there, you're out of luck. Dane, Rock, Green and Iowa Counties and pretty much every county north of Central Wisconsin, you're today's lucky winners. And, of course, Milwaukee and Eastern Wisconsin. So, where in these counties can you get it? I've been told there are about 60 places just in Madison that will be getting it. The distributors have been taking pre-orders for a few weeks, and all of the non-chain retailers should be getting them in the first part of the week. So, Woodman's, Star, Riley's, Steve's, and the better beer bars around the city will all have it. So, as they say in the industry, penetration is deep.

Which beers will we get? A good question, I'm glad you asked. All of the regulars and seasonals. The jury is still out on the limited releases. We'll cover the whats a little further down the page. But, for now, you can know that the Pale Ale, the IPA, the Ruination IPA, and the Oaked Bastard will all be available in six and/or four packs. We should have 22oz bottles of the Smoked Porter and Arrogant Bastard. Draft will be IPA and Arrogant Bastard only. So, no Double Bastard, sorry. Milwaukee has some slightly different availability, as you'll see in a minute.

So, release parties. Yes. You heard right. Like waiting in line at the damn record store for 12:01am, to buy that first edition Pearl Jam "Vs." CD (man, I think I'm dating myself there - for all of you youngster its like having to wait for the new Linkin Park; OK, maybe we can both agree that it's like waiting for the new Jay-Z?), there will be release parties in both Milwaukee and Madison.

In Milwaukee, the release party is Wednesday night night.
Milwaukee is a Stone Crawl amongst a bunch of pubs. I don't have the order but I do know that Wednesday night we're going to have a bus to go from Lulu's to The Stone to Sugar Maple to Romans. It sounds as if we'll have kegs of Ruination, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Pale Ale, Arrogant Bastard and last but certainly not least Stone IPA.
So, yeah. Milwaukee gets all of those on-tap. Madison has to suffer with just Arrogant Bastard and the IPA. While Maduro's, among others, will have Stone on tap on Monday just like Milwaukee, the "official" release party isn't until the evening of Thursday June 26th. Stay tuned for more details as that approaches.

With all of the pleasantries out of the way, what the heck ARE all of these beers and what's the big deal about Stone?

Stone is rated in the top 10 breweries in the world by RateBeer. Three of its beers, including one of its year-round beers, are in RateBeer's top 50 beers in the world. Four of its beers are in BeerAdvocate's Top 100. Its Levitation, an Amber Ale, won Gold at the 2007 Great American Beer Fest. The list goes on and on. The point is, they make really good beer.

Arrogant BastardSo, what do we know about the beers themselves? Well, you can almost always count on hops. Most of their beers are "assertively" hopped. Assertively? Perhaps "aggressively" would be a better word. But, for all of the hops, they manage to maintain some semblance of balance. The Arrogant Bastard (RB.RB.), their signature beer, is a 7.2% ABV American Strong Ale. They make a "big" version of the Arrogant Bastard called the Double Bastard; it's 10% ABV and 100 IBUs of knock you on your ass. The Smoked Porter is much like New Glarus' Smoke on the Porter with the touch of smoke and rich chocolate and molasses notes. The Russian Imperial, also coming in a bourbon barrel flavor, is considered by many to be one of the best beers on the planet, not to mention a best-in-class entry.

They also have some awesome limited releases that we may, or may not see. But, if you want to drool a little and stand amazed at the ingenuity of American craft brewers, you can read up on the Vertical Epic, 10 years of brewing and aging producing ten beers to be consumed sometime after 2012. Yeah, it's a gimic. You got a problem with gimics? Me neither. Especially really cool, really tasty gimics.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It Was Such A Beautiful Day on Tuesday


It was 70 degrees. Sunny. A crisp spring breeze was blowing through. After two straight weeks of hot and/or humid and/or torrential downpours, it was a welcome respite to segue into summer. And what better way to celebrate than with a couple of uber-hoppy India Pale Ales.

Of course, the big news this week is that Stone Brewing Company is coming to town. But they aren't here yet, so the Stone IPA, a 77 IBU Magnum and Centennial hop-cicle, will have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, we can enjoy some great beers purchased over at Star Liquor on Willy Street: the New Holland Existential Ale and the New Glarus Hop Hearty IPA.

New Glarus Hop Hearty IPA
6-pack purchased for $7.99 + tax, 6.10% ABV. East Kent Goldings and Cascade Hops. BA. RB.
Appearance: served at 51.5 degrees, a thick, bubbly off-white head over an opaque fine-leather body; fine bubbling
Aroma: a fresh spray of citrus and hops greats the opening of the bottle; a surprisingly strong musty, bread-like caramel malt aroma; the goldings are upfront, and the cascades come in and fade quickly, leaving the subtle, floral notes behind
Flavor: surprisingly muted; the bitterness is definitely there, but for all of the aroma, where did the flavor go? Each of the flavors hinted at in the aroma eventually come through, but you really have to look for them; repeated sips bring the flavors out more;
Body: soft and medium bodied, with a long, drying, almost peppery, finish
Drinkability: the flavors add up while you drink it, but if you let the flavors go between sips (what, are you a nursing major?), it can be hard to pick them up; while the cascades make this is a uniquely American beer, its lack of assertiveness renders it more continental; while it defies expectations, the Hop Hearty is a very subtle, well-balanced IPA

New Holland Existential Ale
Purchased for $7.49 + tax for a 22 oz, 10.5% ABV. This has been described as either an extremely hoppy barleywine or a really big IPA. It was released on April 21st, so at this point it is about 2 months old – the hops should still be fresh. BA. RB.
Appearance: thin, off-white head; crystal-clear, no beading or bubbling; a deep golden body
Aroma: hops; that's all there is to it; hops; if you've ever opened a 1 oz package of hops and taken a deep breath while holding it up to your nose, that is what this smells like;
Flavor: thick and citrusy; I wish I could say there was some malt in there, there is, it pokes its head through every now and then; but the hops
Body: thick and syrupy, if there were such a thing as hop juice, this would be it; about the consistency of orange juice, and a very similar flavor
Drinkability: much like the Sierra Nevada Harvest, or the Dogfish Head 120, if you consider yourself a hop-head, you owe it to yourself to find a bottle; if you don't like hops, you can pass

Summary: While I had been hoping for a hop bomb to start the evening in the New Glarus Hop Hearty IPA, I was pleased to find something much more refined and complex. Typical of Wisconsin breweries; taking a style that most Americans expect to be over-the-top, and turning down the dial a little, relaxing a bit, demonstrating quality brewing skills with complexity and finesse. The Existential is a conversion beer; in other words, if I thought I knew somebody that could be convinced to drink craft beers and never look back, I could give them a bottle of this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Folks Who Troll BeerAdvocate Forums Already Know This

Direct from the horse's mouth, here's some information about Stone coming to Wisconsin. They have the information for release parties in Milwaukee, but they are still working on the details for a Madison release party. So, without further ado:
Hey all,
Martin Saylor with Stone Brewing Co. here.

It's true, release date is set for June 23rd. We're having kickoff parties in both Milwaukee and Madison. In Milwaukee it's more a Stone Crawl, we're renting a bus with our distributor Beechwood Distributing. Details will be available soon but here's what I have so far:

Parties at Sugar Maple, The Stone, Lulu's and Romans for the night of the 25th. I guess the bus will really just be needed for the Roman's stop as the other's are walking distance from one another. We'll be featuring vintage kegs and our "core" lineup. When I get the vintage details I'll forward, I believe we're looking at some Vertical 07, Old Guardian, and possibly some Imperial Russian Stout 08.

The beers available to Wisconsin on a full time basis will be Arrogant Bastard Ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Ruination Ale, Stone IPA, Stone Pale Ale and Stone Smoked Porter. Our special releases will also be available as they are released.
So, there you have it. Release information. I'll try to post more as I get it. I'm still trying to track down prices, and whether we'll have sixes, or bombers, or both. What availability will look like for kegs. And all of the other information y'all haven't even realized you were thinking.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Some Random Thoughts


Today's column is inspired by the all of the real-life journalists who can't be bothered to write real columns so they just list a bunch of random things and expect that to be sufficient. Except, these are legitimate questions that you can take seriously.

Why doesn't Wisconsin have beer from Stone Brewing Company, Lost Abbey, AleSmith, Brooklyn, or Alaskan Brewing? These are some of the top breweries in the world and constitute most of the top 10 in American brewing, but our distributors can't be bothered to get them here. Thankfully this is being rectified in some measure by the impending arrival of Stone. While all of my sources say June 23rd is the day, I will note that they didn't say 2008. I've been told that kegs and bottles will roll out on the same day. From the sounds of things it's all coming together pretty quickly – which means it can all fall apart pretty quickly, too. So, like many, many others I'll believe it when I see it. It's not yet known which brands we will be receiving. I'll hopefully have more about this next week.

But the point still holds. Why can't we get the others? It's not like they are secretly stashed away in their respective locales (admittedly, Lost Abbey and AleSmith are a little less distributed, but I've seen bottles of these for sale here in the Midwest). These are brands that have pretty deep penetration into the United States. We just don't have them here, in Wisconsin. Having these brands not only brings great beer to our state, but it might just jump start some of the creativity here as well as it seems the Wisconsin craft brewing industry is desperately searching for some inspiration.

Speaking of lack of inspiration. The Belgian Triple is the new IPA. Everybody has a Belgian Triple now. You know the drill, light bodied, high alcohol, low hopping, sugary sweet, moderate carbonation. Rinse, repeat. I have no problem with Belgian Triples. My favorite beer in the entire universe is a Belgian Triple. Much like the IPA, it is a very easy beer to brew, but a very difficult beer to brew correctly. The key to the Triple, and to the IPA, is balance. Nobody wants to suck on a sugar packet. There needs to be some malt backbone, and at least enough hopping to provide some damn closure. And, I know, I don't like picking on Capital, but it's very frustrating to go out East and have Brooklyn's Local 1, then have to come home and drink the Prairie Gold. Which isn't really fair to Capital. To be honest the Prairie Gold is a good, quenching, sweet summery beer. If you haven't had one, you should go out of your way to get one, or, heck, by a six. It's truly good stuff.

And, not to nitpick, but has anyone seen Capital's Baltic Porter on tap here in Madison or in Milwaukee? I've seen it on tap. In freaking Chicago.

Although talking about trying to find inspiration. I can't wait for Tyranena's Imperial Black Weizen. To quote Brewer Rob: "I am not at all sure what [the] beer style is exactly supposed to taste like. Now I thoroughly enjoy our Hefeweizen... the clove and banana flavors... but a Black Hefeweizen would have those flavors masked by the darker malts... and an Imperial would limit the ability to consume multiple glasses that is so easy with the lighter Hefeweizen." I'm a big fan of Dunkel Weizens.

This is what the BJCP (Class 15B) has to say about Dunkels: Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor. The balance and intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. Optionally, a very light to moderate vanilla character and/or low bubblegum notes can accentuate the banana flavor, sweetness and roundness; neither should be dominant if present. The soft, somewhat bready or grainy flavor of wheat is complementary, as is a richer caramel and/or melanoidin character from Munich and/or Vienna malt. The malty richness can be low to medium-high, but shouldn't overpower the yeast character. A roasted malt character is inappropriate. Hop flavor is very low to none, and hop bitterness is very low to low. A tart, citrusy character from yeast and high carbonation is sometimes present, but typically muted. Well rounded, flavorful, often somewhat sweet palate with a relatively dry finish. … By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is usually Munich and/or Vienna malt. A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness. Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character, although extreme fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and produce off-flavors. A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.

We can see then that some phenol and ester-y components (often associated with higher ABV imperial beers, but also a by-product of some ale yeasts) can be appropriate. The trick will be ramping up the ABV without overpowering the complexities inherent in the style, particularly since you can't rely on roasted malts. I don't know whether Tyranena is setup to do a decoction mash (a process that New Glarus uses frequently, and most recently on their Bourbon Barrel Bock) but it's a neat trick that adds body and ABV without making the grain bill in ridiculous proportions.

Allagash may be leaving Wisconsin, so pick up the 750s and bombers while you can. It's a frustrating move because Allagash makes excellent, excellent beer. The Allagash White is a great beer to take home to your girlfriend or fiancée or wife or lady friend and serve with grilled chicken dinner instead of white wine.

Oh. Rodenbach may be going away for a little while, too.

The last poll results are down. Your favorite Spring style was the Maibock. Tied for second were the Bock and Weizen. A close third was the Irish Red. Picking up the pack was the Irish Stout. No Guinness or Three Feet Deep love, eh? Ah well. Next poll is up. Vote for the best Wisconsin brewing region! I'll be very curious to see who wins. The Northwoods is overshadowed by Leinie's, but has some excellent small, local breweries and brewpubs. The Central region is really starting to get a lot of respect with Central Waters, the new O'So, Stevens Point, Calumet, and a host of new brewpubs in the Appleton/OshKosh area. The SouthEast, of course has all of the great Milwaukee-area breweries and brewpubs. From Lakefront to Silver Creek. Meanwhile the South and SouthWest has the twin 500 pound gorillas of Capital and New Glarus, with brewpub kings The Great Dane and The Grumpy Troll along with newcomers like Ale Asylum and Furthermore. So, get your votes in!!

Finally. A nasty little rumor about a new brewery possibly starting to brew next year up in Wilson, Wisconsin. Rumor has it that the brewery, run by Minnesotan brewing veteran David Anderson, is on a hop and grain farm and that the beer will be made entirely from hops and grains grown on that farm. Possibly even a maltings on the farm to malt their own grains and windmills on location to provide power; the water will come from a local well. If anyone knows anything about this (David Anderson?), please, please get in touch with me. This could be a very, very awesome thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Malt House

Wonder's Pub was the first. Then Maduro. Then Brasserie V. Then Dexters.

Now The Malt House. Sitting at the corner of East Washington and Milwaukee, beer has been served at this location, more or less, since 1858. Now re-opened by the current President of the Madison Homebrewer's Guild, it is set to re-invigorate the East Side, like Brasserie V has done for the West Side, and Maduro has done downtown.

The Malt House opened on Monday, June 9th, and the celebration lasted late into the night. By June 10th there were 5 of us, 1 who was me, and 2 of whom were from the Homebrewers Guild.

But, as if to pass the baton, the veteran bartender from Wonders is now behind the taps at The Malt House teaching the newbies how to muddle drinks. Speaking of which, the service was fantastic; they know about the product and can offer recommendations, even if they may not care for the Cantillon Framboise.

The decor is a work in progress. While it does have a gorgeous, authentic, late-1800s backbar, the orange walls, occassional beer-related poster, and yellowed 50s-era lighting leave a lot to be desired. The bartenders were thinking candles. I'm thinking TVs or a pool table or dart board.

Other than the beer and liquor, there is nothing at this bar to draw people in and keep them there. While us beer folks will definitely hit it up, the lack of diversions may make it hard to keep people there. Granted, Brasserie V doesn't have TVs, but they have a more residential location, top notch food, and live music. Granted, Maduro doesn't have pool tables or darts, but they have live music, a downtown location, and cigars. Dexters, of course, has food.

The tap list at The Malt House is split between Belgians (Duchesse, Cantillon, Corsendonk, etc.), priced between $6 and $10, and "Americans," priced at $3.50. The prices on the Belgians are typical going rates, and while we've said before that you can buy these for less on retail shelves, that's not really the point. On the other hand, $3.50 for a pint of Ale Asylum is a steal (is it even that cheap in their own pub!?). The Americans are almost entirely from Wisconsin, with Bells to break up the cheese-staters. There are some interesting tap selections (Capital Prairie Gold, Ale Asylum Big Slick) and some boring selections (New Glarus Fat Squirrel, Tyranena Brown, Bells Two Hearted). What would make this selection stand out is to choose local and regional seasonal and one-time releases. I would think there would be enough to sustain a tap rotation. I can't really complain about the Belgians, though it seems to me that limiting the selection to "Belgians" would seem to eliminate great choices from the rest of continental europe.

The Malt House has a huge selection of bottles, some interesting, some not so interesting. Eventually they will have these all in a handy printed form, but for now you'll just have to stroll over to the refrigerator and have a look - if you want lagers you'll have to ask for them because they are under the bar.

Once you find The Malt House (it really is there at the corner of East Wash and Milwaukee, but the old signs are still up) it's a great, east-side location to grab a great beer in a laid back environment. If we could just get a tv or pool table we might stick around for more than one.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Everyone's Aware That There is a Business Geek Running This Show Right?

Straight from the Harvard Business Online, is an article about asymetrical competition. I know, really, I can hear you through the internet's wires and across the 802.11g airwaves: "Dude. I didn't subscribe to your blog for this crap. Tell me about the Edel Pils."

Well. You'll just have to get your Edel Pils review from the Isthmus this week, folks. I'll ruin the surprise and tell you that Robin gives it 3 Bottle Openers (out of 4).

In the meantime, Umair Haque has some really interesting things to say about asymetrical competition. So, come along for the ride. Trust me, your consolation prize is that we won't be posting on Monday because the MBR staff is going out of town.

So, what is aymetrical competition? Well, think about it like this: Coca Cola used to be the number one brand in the US, it's now Google; Barrack Obama beat Hillary Clinton. "Pint-sized revolutionaries are able to pop seemingly out of nowhere and topple yesterday’s giants – fast."

I think you see the parallels. Or, if you don't like clicking on links: craft beer is the pint-sized revolutionary and Miller/A-B are yesterday's giants.

So, how does this happen? Well, "in asymmetrical contests, yesterday’s sources of advantage become today’s sources of disadvantage." What does that mean? Well, what are the advantages of big beer? National penetration. Large, efficient breweries. Scores of attorneys and money just waiting to crush or buyout the competition.

So, how are these a disadvantage? No localization of product. Highly polluting industry. Bad press. Just to name a few.

So, what's one way to start turning over the goliath? Well, Mr. Haque looked at how the Obama campaign worked and instead of ferreting away resources and hiding critical information from subordinates, the campaign freely shared information with everyone in the orgaization in order to better leverage their skills with that information. Not only does this require and build trust in the organization (the street workers are being trusted to have the voter and donation lists!?), but instead of giving the lists over to the competition, the volunteers "used their own laptops and the unlimited night and weekend minutes of their cell-phone plans to contact every name and populate a political organization from the ground up."

What does this mean to the brewing community? Well, maybe instead of hoarding secrets, it would be more beneficial to share information that is traditionally considered "trade secret." Like what? Well, like using the principles of open-sourcing to leverage public knowledge and fanaticism to create a fantastic dopplebock recipe like Flying Dog did. To create joint-collaborations like Avery and Russian River's "Collaboration Not Litigation" instead of wasting precious resources by suing each other over calling your beer "Salvation." Maybe by sharing your hops and grain sourcing with others, like Sam Adams, instead of hoarding it to their detriment.

I think it's important to recognize that craft breweries are not, really, in competition with each other. Not yet, anyway. To the extent that Furthermore can lend a hand to Rush River or BluCreek, and vice versa, it helps the whole craft beer industry. Sure, maybe they forego short-term profits, or even sacrifice a trademark, but the goodwill generated from the publicity brings more drinkers to craft beer.

The second important point that Mr. Haque makes is that these differences, between the small revolutionary and the big industry, are fundamental and inherent to the organization - they are not just strategies for overturning competition, it is how these companies, and campaigns, do business. "The difference is in the DNA. ... It’s new DNA that drives asymmetrical competition – when we organize and manage in new ways, we are able to tap new sources of advantage."

As if to emphasize the point, Mike Masnik over at TechDirt points out that ideas are easy, execution is difficult. There is more to be gained in execution by talking openly with outsiders than by secreting your information behind locked safes. But, more importantly, Mr. Masnik points to a blog post by a venture capitalist named Brad Burnham who notes that the most successful companies that he's backed were the ones who had a culture of openness - the ones more interested in getting it right than impeding competition by withholding information. The one's whose very DNA was based on trust and learning and building a culture of loyalty.

For example, a brewpub that puts its entire business plan online. Doing so not only generates comments and input from those who may be able to help, but it makes the next brewpub startup infinitely easier. And, while one could argue that perhaps the Brewers Guild should be able to provide some of the guidance that RePublic is looking for and documenting, the role of the guild in these matters is perhaps another post for another day.

Miller creating an open-source beer is a publicity stunt - Miller is not interested in sharing its recipes, or learning anything, or engaging anyone, it is interested in selling more beer and it's good advertising. Flying Dog brewing an open-source beer is a true grassroots effort to engage the knowledge, creativity, and enthusiasm of its beer-drinking public. Not only does the result create a fantastic, complex beer as good as anything made by "secret ingredients" by the InBev monstronsity, but it shows a respect for the drinkers and homebrewers who not only participated in its creation, but who drink and appreciate it. Building a community that not only appreciates your product but appreciates the way you go about creating that product, that shows that mutual respect, not only sells beer, but creates loyalty - an asset far more valuable than a six-pack.

And we, the public, know the difference between publicity stunt and genuine-ness; we can spot the fake from a mile away.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Is There Always So Much Sausage With Beer?

I think it has to do with the "beer gut" - the paunch associated with the lazy, now-married, starting to have kids, lawnmower and golf beer. But, beer has this reputation for making us fat. And rightly so. And, I think that's what keeps the ladies away from the stuff. Which is unfortunate, because that means when us guys are drinking there is a very high likelihood that we are drinking with other dudes.

An informal recollection of average beer drinking guys, gives me the entirely scientific conclusion that the average dude drinks something like 8 beers during the course of a five hour poker game. At somewhere near 150 calories for a "normal" beer, 200 calories for a "dark" beer, and 100 calories for a "lite" beer, it is the equivalent of anything from a light dinner to your recommended caloric intake for an entire day. Add to that the typical consumption of chips, pizza, and beef jerky and it's no wonder that we have beer guts.

So, the inability of your average guy to regulate his own calorie intake, makes an entire class of consumables seem much more unhealthy than they are. Sound familiar? Yeah. The pork rind folks have a similar issue, I think.

Anyway. My point is, that a "serving" of beer (12 ounces, typically) is not really significant higher in calorie content than a single serving of wine; although one could argue that the beer's recommended "serving size" is much truer to the actual consumed serving size than wine's recommended serving size. When was the last time your wine glass contained a mere 4 ounces? Yeah, if it's anything like mine, probably when you were done with half of the wine that had been poured. And each "serving" of wine has about 100 calories. So, a "generous" wine pour is about the same as a beer.

Yet, the females prefer their "sophisticated" wine, and the guys all gather round the keg.

Thankfully, there are at least a couple of beer chicks out there. Now, if we can just get more brewsters.

Monday, June 2, 2008

I Suppose I Had To Have It Eventually

I didn't want to purchase a 4-pack of the stuff. What if it sucked? Then I'd be left throwing 3.5 of them down the drain. But I finally found one on its own in the wild, and like a hungry cheetah circling a lonely gazelle, I snapped it up before I would never see it again. The following are my scribbled notes.

Budweiser Chelada - Budweiser and Clamato Juice (note: clamato juice is tomato and clam juice)
Appearance: big, foamy and pink, very hazy; tomato-y reside on the sides of the glass; thick and viscous, like pus that oozes out of a week-old sore
Aroma: an alarming spritz of tomato, followed by the faint smell of celery and salty water
Flavor: very hard to figure out what this tastes like; not really tomato, a slight gag reflex, and carbonated water
Body: thick and long lasting - the taste won't go away ... please make it stop
Drinkability: no.
Summary: no.

I have consumed some pretty terrible drinks in my day. I've had my mouth washed out with dishwashing liquid. And nothing, I repeat, nothing, is worse than brussel sprout Jones soda. This has got to be one of illest advised travesties of the "beer" universe. I hesitate to even call it beer. I can't fathom a scenario where this drink would quench my thirst. I can't envision the events that would unfold that would cause me to pause and say "You know, this would be enhanced by a Budweiser and some clamato juice." I immediately think, well, bloody marys are good on Sunday mornings after a long night of drinking; but this is far too muted of a flavor to serve that purpose, and the strange carbonation and fizziness of the thing wouldn't really settle a stomach.

In fact, short of losing a bet, I struggle to comprehend why a person would mix clamato juice and beer in the first place. I think simple genetics prevents me from appreciating clamato juice, although I can understand it. But mixing it with Budweiser, or any beer for that matter? Why? Who looks at a can of clamato juice and a can of Budweiser and says: "You know? I'll bet these two would go really well together." But, apparently there is at least some precedence for this bastard mixology.

I was speaking with a friend from the Tomah area as I was getting ready to drink this (and trust, there was a lot of internal confidence boosting going on to get ready to drink this), and, I asked her if she had had this particular beer before. Suprisingly (maybe, maybe not, if you've met this friend of mine), she admited that not only had she had it, but she'd had the Bud Light version as well. She didn't like either of them. And, I kid you not, she said "I prefer just to mix clamato juice and beer from separate cans, it tastes much better." This is an astounding revelation! Finally someone from this foreign culture that created, or at least enjoys, this Frankenstein's monster of a drink! So, I enquired further. Where did you get the idea to mix these two things? "Oh, my dad and brothers have been doing it for years on camping trips." What? Really?

Who the hell takes clamato juice camping!?