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.


  1. Have you ever thought that the reason those breweries are special is because they are hard to get?
    How much whining would we have about other great beers say, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, if it wasn't available everywhere? Instead it is somewhat forgotten about.
    To me its a great reason for a road trip.
    Here's to local breweries!

  2. Your sources are correct on Stone. I already have an order in. It has been worked on for more than a year so it is not all that rushed. Brooklyn I think is worried about demand being overwhelming but I will certainly continue lobbying.

  3. I've had the Baltic on tap at Smokey's and of course at the Bier Garten.


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