Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Awards

Today is the last day of 2008 2009. A year that has seen much for the brewing industry. The big got bigger, and the small got ... well ... bigger. This could be one of those years that a few years in the future we look back and can point to things that happened and say "this was a turning point". The AB-InBev merger changed the American and global landscape in ways that we can't really imagine right now. Some Wisconsin breweries took industry-leading steps in producing, brewing and marketing beer that will be the future of global microbrewing. History has been revealed within the construct of modern trends in ways that could re-define a style. On the other hand, it could all just be an insignificant point on the timeline of the universe without any real consequence at all.

In any event, at least we got some good beer, right?

Best Experimental Beer: Brewed in 2008, but released in 2009, Furthermore's Thermo Refur was a hodgepodge of style, technique and ingredient that worked (or didn't work) really, really well. It was the first in a theme repeated throughout the year about temperature and taste. This beer really likes warmer temperatures - treat it with respect and you just might like it. But, then again, you might not.

Best New Release: O'So Dank. OK, I haven't published my review of it yet, but trust me, if you think I slobber on the knob of Furthermore and New Glarus you'll accuse me of taking it bending over from O'So next year. I'm sorry. Was that too graphic? The leaps and bounds that O'So has made this year has vaulted Marc and company into the top of the Wisconsin brew chain. The improvement is obvious to anyone who has been to a beer festival lately; the lines for these guys rival the lines for some of the best in the region. And the adoration is well-deserved - they're making some really unique, challenging, and fun beer. This beer reminds me of a really hoppy Bridge Burner. Technically a "special release" since it's the first anniversary beer, I put it here in the hopes that they will make this every so often just for me.

Best Seasonal: Ale Asylum Ballistic. OK. Technically a "new release" but it will be a seasonal for them, so there. My favorite quote from my interview with Otto regarding the likelihood of an imperial IPA: "Probably not. Our take on the style would have to be so brutally hopped it wouldn’t tickle the taste buds so much as beat them into submission." Not more than 6 months later Satisfaction Jacksin is on the shelves beating our taste buds into submission.

Best Special Release: Tyranena Dirty Old Man. Rye? Check. Whiskey? Check. Porter? Check. Practically everything I love combined into one beer? To quote myself: "I'm all over that like a fly on shit." I can be so poetic.

Best Year-Round Release: New Glarus Hop Hearty IPA. New Glarus now lists this under "Beers we have known and loved" which leads me to think that it will not be brewed next year. That makes me very, very sad. So, a "new release" that's technically a "special release", a "seasonal" that's technically a "new release" and a "year-round" that isn't going to be made any more. Should I just stop labeling the awards and call it "Beer I Liked This Year Award #X"?

Best Beer 2009: New Glarus Old English Porter. Sorry everyone. You either love it or hate it. And, well, I loved it. It made me re-examine the very nature of a whole style of beer. It caused me to write seemingly endless words about porters, what porters are (and are not); it caused numerous comments both for and against. Poured at 55 degrees, its complex interaction of sour, roast and smoke make this not just one of the most unique beers in Wisconsin or the United States, but truly one of the best beers in the world.

Best Brewery 2009: Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI. All year Lakefront has impressed. The Imperial Maibock tasted fresh and inspired, the IPA was a fantastic summer thirst-quencher, the Holiday Spice was pretty darn tasty. And the Local Acre. We haven't actually talked about the Local Acre yet, but we will very, very soon and we will be talking about it in a lot of detail. In fact, so much detail you'll probably be posting here to stop talking about it. And, I won't stop talking about it. It is the future of the brewing industry. And not to minimize the work of others (like Dave Anderson at BrewFarm and Paul Graham at Central Waters and Bo Belanger at South Shore and Kirby Nelson at Capital who also have put in a lot of work that we will talk about in nauseating detail), but Russ Klisch deserves to be recognized for his dedication to this project and his environmental and local-centric ideals.

Best Porter 2009: O'So Nighttrain. The readers (who may have been directed here by someone up in Plover, not to point fingers ;) voted for O'So and I can't say that they are wrong. The Nighttrain is a fantastic, full-bodied, chocolate and espresso punch.

Best Brewpub 2009: vote in the poll on your right in the coming days and results will be tabulated in March.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lakefront Holiday Spice Lager

I really, really want to get up a review of the new Lakefront Local Acre. But, I'm trying to put together an event for that tasting and it looks like it'll have to wait until after the New Year. So, sorry. In the meantime, since it's the holidays, here's Lakefront's Holiday Spice Lager.
Our version of a winter warmer: brewed with cinnamon, orange zest, clove and generous amounts of honey. Pours a deep amber to
ruby color with an off-white head. Aromas are fruity and spicy, with a slight floral undertone from the lager yeast. The flavor is smooth, full and spicy, balanced by the bite of Mt. Hood hops and a substantial, warming alcohol character. This is a full bodied beer, making it a holiday taste sensation that will warm your bones on a cold winter night.

Great with holiday meals; really cuts through the richness of fatty meats like goose and beef roast. Also a nice treat on its own…try sipping our Holiday Spice Lager by the fire on a cold Wisconsin evening and create joyful holiday memories that you'll hold on to.
Lakefront Holiday Spice Lager
BeerAdvocate(B+). RateBeer(85).
Appearance: A dense, two-finger, white-ish head; body is bronzed brown; looks a lot like a brown ale, or a dopplebock; a large helping of carbonation
Aroma: clove and cinnamon is immediate; the orange is a little harder to spot; a sweet, bready, earthy fruit maltiness
Flavor: plenty of alcohol bite competes with the spicing for your attention; malt is hidden, though the hops come out more in the finish
Body: so viscous, the bubbles look like they are struggling to make it to the top, more like oozing to the top; it coats the mouth, has a long, alcoholic finish
Drinkability: this is definitely a sipper; I might be able to drink two if I had one with dinner, but I certainly wouldn't be driving afterwards
Summary: A nice holiday treat; someone on the Lakefront website mentioned that they had annual holiday bet if you could drink a six-pack of this in one evening - this isn't something I would recommend, or even try; I'd like some more complexity, to see the malts come out of the spicing and the alcohol, but even as it is, it is a nice sipping beer that is definitely something a little different.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tyranena Sheep Shagger


Tyranena Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale
BeerAdvocate (A-). RateBeer (UR).
Appearance: hazy burnished copper, with a foamy golden tan head; I really like the look of this beer, it looks pretty in my authentic imperial pint glass; it has very fine carbonation
Aroma: malt and rising bread; a low alcohol-like aroma in the back;
Flavor: hard and malty; with a surprisingly clean finish; a bit of hops and alcohol and a very slight viscosity to it that keeps the malt flavors; not as complex as, say, the Lake Louie Louie's Reserve, but very tasty
Body: the water hardness was a bit surprising; I expected a softer, more pillow-y, viscous, mouthfeel and didn't really get that at all; the finish is cleaner than I would have expected
Drinkability: A very versatile beer that would pair well with just about any traditional midwestern winter meal from spaghetti and meatballs to meatloaf, lasagna, beef brisket stew, or ... well ... lamb
Summary: This is a very fine beer and if it seems like I'm picking at nits it's because there's really nothing to not like about this beer; it is what it says it is, and while I'd like to see softer water, or more malt complexity, I'd heartily recommend this along with Lake Louie's fine scotch ales

Friday, December 18, 2009

Press Release Friday: Bigfoot Draft Vertical Tasting

At The Malt House on Monday night. Be there. Period. $10 for a flight. Why are you even questioning that?!

------------START PRESS RELEASE--------------------
Beer fans,
The Bigfoot draft vertical is back! We're tapping 2001, 2004, and 2009 vintages of Bigfoot barleywine on Monday 12/21 to celebrate the solstice. Yay, the days will be getting longer.

A flight with all three vintages will be $10. Sierra Nevada staff will be here from 5-7pm to talk about the beer and give away prizes. Bring a friend, this is going to be fun!


Ha ha! I know how to post on this site!

WARNING! Madison Beer Review has been hijacked. Hijacked by Mrs. MBR for an unscheduled post. Um, sorry, Mr. MBR. That's what you get for letting me know the passwords.

The holidays are upon us. I want the Comments section filled with suggestions for beers that would make great gifts for Mr. MBR. As this is Madison Beer Review, a focus on local ones or at least locally available would be appreciated. Tell me what beer and why you recommend it. If you are nice, you will likely even see reviews of my final picks on this very site. And as an added bonus you may get some gift ideas for Chrismas, Kwanzaa, and the last few days of Chanukkah.

Now please get to it.

I now return control to MBR and promise not to break in again. Until next December.

Curiosity Killed The Cat - Cran-phyre

While I haven't written about it much, in my non-MBR life I've been a bit obsessed with beer cocktails. You know, the idea of mixing beer with other, non-beer (or other-beer), liquids or solids to achieve a new drink. I know among the beer cognoscenti that you can have your red velvet cape and goblet forcefully taken from you if you admit even being in the same room as a beer cocktail.

For me, it started with the Chelada debacle that wrote about back in June of 2008. The idea that there was a group of people in the universe who put clamato juice (CLAMATO!) in their pale lager, liked it, convinced others that this was a good idea, and that this idea became a big enough force that Anheuser-Busch dedicated shelf space to it. I find the mere existence of such a culture fascinating.

Shortly thereafter I linked to an article from BeerAtJoe's (a San Francisco-an with some ties back here to Madison) talking about a drink consisting of tomato-water with lager in a salt-rimmed glass called a "redeye". Heck, serve it in a fancy a glass, someone might actually be fooled into purchasing this rich-man's chelada. Then I saw Zane Lamprey's TV Show called Three Sheets." And this dude gets into a whole panoply of beer cocktails.

Not to mention my obsession with shandy at this year's Great Taste of the Midwest.

So, I had a bottle of Eisphyre and a bottle Cranbic open from my tastings this past week. I wonder what would happen if you mix the two 1:1.

Wisconsin Cran-phyre
Appearance: looks like Eisphyre, with bubbling; a little more "yellow" than the deep amber seen in the original
Aroma: malt on fruit with a pronounced lambic character that comes through
Flavor: tastes like Cranbic with a lot of alcohol
Body: softness from the Eisphyre is predominant, but Cranbic cleans up the finish; the alcohol continues to linger
Drinkability: actually pretty damn good; the cranberry flavor component is a little weird, cherry might work really well, but actually pretty darn good; I'd drink more of this
Summary: I was surprised. I had no idea what to expect when I mixed these two, but they complimented each other amazingly well. Like I said, the cranberry was a little weird, but not really that weird. It tasted both like, and not like, each of the two beers and was quite complex and enjoyable.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Glarus Cranbic

Another one of my biases, I'll warn you ahead of time: I don't like cranberries. I'm coming around to them, but, really, I just don't like them. Way too sweet and sharp for my tastes. I love lambics, but cranberries, not so much. So, I solved the problem of my bias by finding an unbiased third party to taste this beer for me: Mrs. MBR. She loves cranberries. And lambics.

So, today's review is my notes, verbatim, from Mrs. MBR's mouth.

New Glarus Cranbic
BeerAdvocate (A). RateBeer (98).

Appearance: honey-ish, but it's reddish; kinda red, but kinda not; a strawberry blonde maybe
Aroma: smells like a fruity shampoo I used to have, but in a good way; you can definitely smell fruit, but not necessarily identifiable as cranberry
Flavor: Everything that Sand Creek Cranberry isn't [ed note: Mrs. MBR and I went to the Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, WI and bought a 6-pack of the Sand Creek Cranberry; neither of us finished the bottle we started and we dumped the other four down the sink; this was a few years back, and I believe that the recipe for that beer has been changed for the better]; tart, sweet and drinkable; definitely tart, with a tinge of sweetness; like a raw cranberry
Body: light on the tongue; dry champagne-like; strong, the immediately gone, but the memory remains
Drinkability: I would drink again, but not tonight; a great cocktail-party beer
Summary: {OK, I'm back} Truth be told, I did drink some of it, and even for my non-cranberry-liking predilections, I thought it was pretty decent, though I couldn't help thinking that I'd like it even more with cherries instead; but Mrs. MBR really liked it, and the champagne comparison is quite apt. In fact, this beer looks very, very different when served (as suggested) out of a champagne flute, than out of a pint glass (or, in my a case, a low-ball tumbler).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Capital Eisphyre

Doppelbocks are a tough style to crack. In some respects I hold beers in the style to the highest of standards. Some of the most revered old-world beers are doppelbocks, or its cousin the "old ale." One of the problems, I think, with the doppelbock is that anything short of the top echelon is uninspiring at best and terrible mouth-syrup at worst.

Moreover, it is a style in which my clear personal preferences are somewhat off-style. Which is to say, I like them drier with a little less of an alcohol bite. Yet, these are often considered hallmarks of the style. Unfortunately, like Hallmark greeting cards, can make the beer a little sappy. (Was that comparison a little over-stretched?)

This year sees the latest incarnation of Capital's Eisphyre, a 9.8% ABV doppelbock modeled on the Autumnal Fire.

Capital Eisphyre
BA (A-) RB (96)
Appearance: thin, foamy head; tan; crystal clear, brilliant amber; almost whiskey-like color; very pretty; served at 56.4 degrees.
Aroma: not huge, but definitely sweet alcohol and some caramelized sugars and malt
Flavor: soft and foamy but not carbonated; caramel, dark cherry, brown sugar and alcohol; nice malt complexity, but much more muted and understated than I was expecting
Body: soft and foamy; long finish demands sipping
Drinkability: For a full-bodied, 9.8% ABV doppelbock it is surprisingly light on the palate and easy to sip; not really intended for sessionability, but definitely looking forward to the next one
Summary: this beer presents an interesting dilemma for me because I really like it; but, it doesn't hit my wheel-house on doppelbocks; for instance, the muted, subdued flavors, despite the obvious complexity, encourage frequent sips, yet because of the long (long!) finish, the flavors get muddied; maybe at a colder temperature where the impact is more concentrated this beer might shine a little more, but, at least for me, the doppelbock is a 50+ degree beer. Like I said, though, even despite my quibbling this is a fantastic beer and a great representative for Capital.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Today we taste the newest beer from the New Glarus Unplugged series, Wisconsin Cran-bic.

Here's the mp3.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I'll keep it relatively brief, but wanted to point this out. New Belgium, following in the steps of Sam Adams and hundreds of Belgian breweries, have created a "special" glass for their beer. You can purchase it here.

In typical fashion, each feature of the glass serves a specific purpose: a narrow opening that enhances aroma, a globe shape that focuses the aroma, etchings in the bottom that create surface blemishes to encourage bubbling, it is stemmed to prevent warming from the hand.

These glasses provide a couple of functions other than the specifics pointed out. First, they are great marketing pieces, providing another avenue of customer recognition. It also presents the product in a unique fashion that allows the brewery to be creative in a manner in-tune with its own philosophies. Finally, from a pure price perspective, it provides an interesting presentation in a respectful manner and, chances are, it isn't a full 16oz pint - yet bars can, and will, charge full "pint" prices. Thus, more servings from each barrel at the same price.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Your List of What Not To Buy

In anticipation of tonight's showing of BeerWars the movie, I wanted to present you with a list, prepared by BeerWars creator Anat Baron, of brands owned by AB-InBev and MillerCoors. Keep in mind that this is partial list, these holding companies own many, many more brands; but these are some of the top sellers.

--------------------START LIST-------------------------


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

REMINDER: Beer Wars, Wednesday, Dec 2, 8pm, Majestic Theater

Just a reminder that MBR is joining up with Dane101 and Furthermore Beer to present Beer Wars: The Movie. There will be a free tasting beginning at 8pm, with the movie beginning at 9pm. Immediately following the movie will be a short Q&A session with Furthermore owners and operators Aran Madden and Chris Staples.

The evening ends to the raucous sounds of Madison's own Pale Young Gentlemen.

Press Release Tuesday - Brews For WYOU

A bit of disclosure is probably necessary: Mrs. MBR used to be on the board for WYOU. Still, it's a great cause and it keeps an outlet for public access to television on the air. So, get thee to The Nottingham Co-op on Saturday night, donate some money, drink some beer, and eat some food. Who knows, you might just get the itch to video tape yourself at a White House State Dinner and want to take advantage of WYOU's programming to make yourself famous.

----------------START PRESS RELEASE-----------------------

WYOU Community Television Announces
“Brews for WYOU”

Madison’s WYOU hopes to raise $2,000 with the first in a series of craft brewers’ events designed to preserve community television.

Madison, WI - WYOU launches the first event in its "Brews for WYOU," a craft brewers series to preserve community television to be held at the Nottingham Co-op, Saturday, December 5th, 2009. Beginning at 8pm, the event showcases quality beer from Furthermore Brewing in Spring Green, WI and Blucreek Brewing in Madison . Both breweries have donated half-barrels to aid in WYOU’s fundraising efforts. Brewing representatives will be on hand to answer questions and facilitate the pouring.

“Brews for WYOU” will also feature an adventurous sampling of live Madison music including hip-hop stalwarts The Crest, grunge mavens Axiom, indie rockers The Sesters, plus a genre-blending mix from DJ Polarbear. All performers are also donating their time to benefit the station.

Along with video highlights of WYOU programming, "Brews for WYOU" will also feature Access TV Legend Cooking with Bob grilling live and in person on the outdoor patio.

The Nottingham Coop is located at 146 Langdon St. on Lake Mendota . Admission prices range from $8 - $10 and include complimentary beer. Guests must be 21 and over with valid I.D.

WYOU is the public access television station serving the city of Madison and Dane County in Wisconsin . The station has been a resource to the citizens of Madison since 1976 for the production and distribution of locally produced programs. Our producers include students and teachers, conservationists, social workers, accountants, activists, healthcare workers, independent filmmakers and members of local religious organizations. Our mission is to stimulate and facilitate open community use of the public access station for the development of local television programming. We educate the community in the use of digital cameras and editing software and provide facilities for independent producers to learn how to create programs.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Praise Of 6-Row Barley


Six-Row barley.

The Brewer's Handbook: "Generally, six-row barley has a higher enzyme content for converting starch into fermentable sugars, more protein, less starch, and a thicker husk than two-row barley. ... The husk of the malt is high in polyphenols (tannins) that contribute not only to haze, but also imparts an astringent taste."

Brewer's Market Guide: " outside North America most of the world's brewing nations exclusively use two-row barley for malt. Six-row barleys, if produced overseas at all, are largely used only for feed. ... Modern American brewing practices have relied on six-row barleys, partly because they were better adapted to many regions. ... The historical preference for two-row barley is based on the fact that two-row barley yields malts with 1-2% greater theoretical extract, meaning that brewers can brew more beer. ... Today, North Dakota and Minnesota produce the majority of the six-row malting barley in the United States, with lesser amounts produced in South Dakota and Idaho. Two-row barley production predominates in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, and Wyoming. Both climatic and qualitative differences contribute to the split. ... When western or European two-row cultivars are grown in the Midwest, they generally yield less and have fewer plump kernels than adapted six-row varieties. This is because the western two-row varieties were developed for areas that may get hot during the day, but that have cool nighttime temperatures that allow the plants to "recover"; the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures is not as great in the Midwest as it is in the West. ... Disease pressure in the Midwest also limits the yield of many two-row cultivars. ... Before the breeding breakthroughs of the 1970s, the extract from six-row malts was as much as 4% below those of two-row malts. The release of the cultivar Morex (so-named because it has "more extract") in 1978 marked a trend toward higher extract levels for six-row barley. Currently, six-row malts are only 1-2% lower. ... A high protein level often indicates a thinner kernel with less starch available for conversion to malt extract. Acceptable six-row malting barleys may range from 12 to 13.5% protein, whereas two-row cultivars range from 11 to 13%; barleys with greater than 13.5% protein are rarely used for malt. ... Six-row barleys are generally believed to have a higher husk content because they tend toward thinner kernels, but husk content varies with growth environment. High husk content barley can mean more phenolics end up in the wort, thereby contributing an astringent flavor to beer. Oxidizable polyphenolic substances react with proteins and may contribute to haze formation. ... Because the protein in corn or rice adjuncts is largely insoluble, it is possible to replace a portion of the malt with adjunct and thus dilute the overall level of wort-soluble nitrogen. Cereal adjuncts can be used to replace up to 40% of six-row malt grist without adversely affecting fermentation performance. ... Six-row malts contain higher levels of the DMS precursor SMM, presumably because of their higher protein content. ... The high protein and enzyme content of six-row barley makes it unlikely that a brewer producing an all-malt beer would wish to use exclusively six-row malt."

6-Row Barley Varieties

Brew Your Own: "The interesting fact about 6-row barley is that it is only grown in North America. ... The other thing about 6-row barley is that it has become a symbol of what the European brewers don’t use."

Central Waters Hop Harvest

Lakefront Local Acre

South Shore All-Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where Do We Go From Here

Lew Bryson links to an interview with SABMiller head Graham Mackay. The general gist is that industry consolidation is, for the most part, over. There simply aren't any more pieces to buy. There are a couple still out there, Grupo Modelo and FEMSA for example. The big guys, AB-InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, and Carlsberg, are not likely to be purchased - they are, for the most part, "family owned" (!HAH!). So, now what?

Well, I want to take up the "now what" question because I think the "now what" question will affect the craft beer industry more than consolidation has. Over the past decade, market share here in the United States, proportionally, has been moderately stable. Anheuser-Busch has been number one, floating between about 45% and 60% or so, and Miller number two, between 20% and 30%, with Coors and a variety of imports and regional macros making up the difference between the remaining percentage, with micros/craft at 4% and growing rapidly. It doesn't seem like micro/craft growth is affecting any one category more disproportionately than others. Imports have been taking a hit, but I would doubt that this is because of crafts specifically, but a more general domestic/protectionist/pro-USA trend.

Consolidation with global powers like InBev, SAB, and Molson have allowed American macros to increase production and gain revenue and profits despite the meteoric rise of American crafts. The past few years have seen growth by the American macros in places like Asia, South America, Russia and particularly Africa; markets that are more than off-setting American losses. These places, largely vast wastelands of quality beer, are where concentration will be focused. South Africa will host the World Cup and Africa, as a continent, is growing rapidly where countries are stable enough to support it. There is plenty of opportunity for market growth in these regions.

In general, I think these macros will let the US market settle out over the next 10 years. There is a lot of growth and uncertainty over the American market. Who will shake out as major players? How will up-and-comers handle their growth? How will regional brewers respond? What will the market look like? For the most part (Blue Moon and Leinenkugel excepted for reasons I'm not really going to go into), the macro attempts to tap into and participate in this market have failed.

Frankly, it seems to me, that the macros, AB-InBev/SABMiller/MolsonCoors, are happy to ply their trade elsewhere, take their proportional share here and let the market settle out. All the while keeping an eye on the market until the craft market actually starts making a dent. And, while 10% market share is a nice goal for crafts, both AB and Miller crap 10% market shares. They won't even perk their ears until crafts hit 15-20%.

So, what does this mean for American craft brewers? There's plenty of market for the taking and the big-boys aren't really going to put up much of a fight. The real battle, though, is going to take place in the distribution tier. Already distributors are acquiring significant craft portfolios with a "collect them all" attitude. Distributors view crafts, largely, as a commodity. They never know which one will hit, and they don't really care - they just want to be owning the one that does.

Unfortunately for brewers, this means that they shouldn't expect significant marketing efforts by the distributors. It will be up to the breweries to do their own marketing and push their own product. A problem only exacerbated by the fact that the distributors are indifferent and, in fact, are encouraging competition in places where your brand might otherwise succeed. Of course, competition is never a bad thing, but it means that you'll have to fight for every sale with not only other crafts your own size, but larger regional and national crafts, and young, smaller up-starts as well. "Partnering" with a distributor will be largely meaningless because they only have incentive to help those that will bring them the most money.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On today's podcast we have news in 60 seconds, including info on the most expensive bottle of beer ever sold.

Here's the mp3


Monday, November 23, 2009

PorterPalooza - Roundup

So, what did I learn about Porters that I didn't know before?

Well, I really like proper "English Porters." And, say what you will about New Glarus' Old English Porter, it undoubtedly fits into the mix with Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter and St. Peter's. There is a brightness to these British-style Porters, a lightness of palate, a tang, and a cleanness of finish to them.

Moreover, this British-style is almost exactly the opposite of the American-style, of which Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is probably a classic and the O'So Nighttrain is a darn good runner-up. The American style is more full-bodied, if not truly a full mouthfeel, and a compound of roasted and coffee flavors and aroma. Any bitterness or bite comes from roasted malts and a more generous handful of hops. There can be some that are over the top, like Dark Horse's Black Bier with its huge chocolate and roasted malt profile, and some that are more reserved like Sand Creek's Badger Porter.

So, what are the dangers of the Porter? To my mind, the porter is an easy beer to make, but a difficult beer to make really well. The emphasis is on ease of drinking, but it can't sacrifice flavor - the porter is primarily a flavorful beer. To that end, many American porters can veer very, very close to being a stout; especially with the "heavying" of the stout. Finally, the emphasis here is on malts, though hops can make nice complimentary notes, particularly to help provide a clean finish.

To that end, much like the "Imperial Pilsner", an "Imperial Porter" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. An "Imperial Porter" would be a stout, and mostly defeats the purpose of the porter - with its focus on easy-drinking working man roots.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some Things That You Should Read

Why Dave's BrewFarm is releasing a pale lager, BrewFarm Select, as its flagship. It's gotten some good reviews in places like BeerAdvocate (it hasn't been reviewed on RateBeer, yet), and there's not really any doubt that it's a quality product. For now it is contract brewed and canned at Stevens Point. It does present an interesting challenge though, because it will need to compete with other "macro"-ish lagers that are much more entrenched - e.g., Spotted Cow, Point, Leinie's, etc. It's not currently available here in Madison, though I understand that the BrewFarm is looking for local distribution.

Shut Up About Barclay Perkins uncovers evidence of Yogurt Beer. It's not nearly as disgusting or strange as it might appear. It is beer (wort) that has been soured with yogurt cultures and then ale-fermented. Crazy, crazy stuff. Bets on first Wisconsin brewery to attempt this? Who wants the over-under on Furthermore? Who wants O'So? Damn hippies.

MADD Virgin Drinks. They're delicious AND socially responsible. Chardonnay, Merlot, Sparkling Wine, Margarita, Mojito, Pina Colada, and Lager with Lime. All 100% alcohol free. Does it really make sense to be training kids to acquire the taste for alcohol-filled drinks if you are against kids drinking? And, what tool would show up at a party with this stuff?! DUDE!!! LET'S BONG THIS MADD LAGER WITH LIME! CEMENT MIXER WITH THE MADD MOJITO AND PINA COLADA!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the first part of this week's podcast we explore what time does to a pumpkin beer, tasting a five-year-old bottle of Dogfish Head's heavily spiced Punk.

the mp3


Monday, November 16, 2009

Press Release Monday - Lakefront Beer Dinner at Kil@wat

Very excited about this one. Sorry for the late notice, but Lakefront is going to be releasing its Local Acre Lager, made with 100% Wisconsin ingredients. We will talk about this in much, much more detail. But, in the meantime, get a taste at what looks to be a phenomenal event on Wednesday.

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Autumn's Elegant Beer Pairing Dinner
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Join Kil@wat and Lakefront Brewery for a five-course, locally sourced and organic-infused dinner created by Chef Robert Ash. Each selection will be paired with a complementing Lakefront Brewery beer choice. It's a celebration of our shared dedication to local, organic delights.

Guests are treated to an exclusive preview of the not yet released Lakefront Brewery Local Acre Lager. 100% Wisconsin grown, this true Wisconsin Lager boasts ample amounts of 6-row organic malted barley to give a hearty body and hazy straw color. Malty sweetness is balanced with an elegant finish.

Appetizers at 6:00 pm | Dinner at 6:30 pm | Cost is $45.

To reserve your dinner, please contact:
Gregory Banach

View the menu:

Register Online:

Beer and Music, vol 1

I like beer. I love music. The two often go hand-in-hand. But expressing the relationship between beer and music can be difficult, at best. How do you expound on the similarities between Bruce Springsteen and Lakefront? Or the Three Floyds and The Transplants? Or Brooklyn Beer and Neil Diamond?

The only way I know how is to just let you listen to what I think a brewery sounds like. Or, perhaps stated in the alternative, here's some music that reminds me of a brewery.

In this case, the music is stylish, poppy, up-beat and easy on the ears. But if you really listen, there's a lot going on: a ton of lush instrumentation, complex and/or humorous lyrics, time changes and vocalization.

Take a listen to these songs and tell me what brewery YOU think of. I'll post mine eventually, but I'll give you a hint that it is a Wisconsin brewery or brewpub.

ps. I want to make this a regular feature, so let me know what you think.

Allo' Darlin' - Henry Rollins Don't Dance

Andrew Bird - Imitosis

I'm From Barcelona - Mingus

You'll have to click through for this one, sorry.
Miniature Tigers - Giraffe

So, what brewery does that music remind you of?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beer Wars! MBR, Dane101 and Futhermore Beer Present ...

In the coming weeks we'll talk more about Beer Wars - The Movie. There is a lot of debate and interest around this movie. But, first, I wanted to simply make the announcement that Madison Beer Review has teamed up with Dane101 and Furthermore Beer to present Beer Wars - The Movie on December 2, 2009 at The Majestic Theater here in Madison.

A convenient Facebook Event has been set up for your easy-rememberance here.

Here's some more info about this event:

Dane101Madison Beer Review, and Furthermore Beer are excited to present the first Madison screening of the documentary Beer Wars. The film is described as "a no holds barred exploration of the U.S. beer industry that ultimately reveals the truth behind the label of your favorite beer. Told from an insider’s perspective, the film goes behind the scenes of the daily battles and all out wars that dominate one of America’s favorite industries." It explores what it takes to be an independent microbrewery in the shadow of the beer industry big dogs and what those smaller companies are doing to fight for a market share.
This December 2 screening at theMajestic Theater will feature a tasting with Furthermore Beer with a Q&A following the film with brew master Aran Madden and marketing master Chris Staples. We will finish off the night with a rousing and beer lifting performance from Madison's very own Pale Young Gentlemen. Watch a trailer for the film below the fold.
Doors will open at 8 p.m. so people can get a taste of what's on tap at Furthermore.
The film will start at 9 p.m. and will be followed by a question and answer session with Chris and Aran. Pale Young Gentlemen will take the stage shortly after 11 p.m. Admission is $7 for a fun night of libation and film.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Continuing with this week's sort-of-theme of tasting beers from breweries we've talked about but never tried, we taste Lost Abbey's Avant Garde. Also, some sidetracks about carbonation and food pairings.

Here's the mp3


Press Release Thursday - Tyranena Turns 10!

Saturday night. 3pm to 10pm. $2.50 pints. Big party. Lake Mills. Be there or be square.

--------------START PRESS RELEASE---------

Our Tasting Room opened its doors Friday, November 12, 1999…
Ten long, arduous, heartbreaking, fulfilling & successful years ago!

Old friends and new are welcome to join us this Saturday, November 14, for a night of remembrance and celebration, both of the last ten years and those surely yet to come.

~ 3:00 to 5:00 pm - Rewind to '99 ~
Enjoy a legendary Wisconsin beer for just $2.50 per pint, the price we charged back in 1999 when the Tasting Room first opened! And get your CLEAR Tyranena growlers filled for just $5.00 each.

~ 5:30 pm - An Evening Tour ~
Congregate in the lobby for an evening tour of our not-quite-as-modern-as-it-used-to-be brewing facility.

~ 7:00 to 10:00 pm - Party Like It’s 1999 ~
Beer & Cheese Pairing, Special Tappings & Live Music by Greg Boerner
Our friends at Roth Kase in Monroe have paired some of their fantastic, specialty cheeses with some very special Tyranena beers we've been saving for this occasion. Enjoy these pairings and the blues & rock ‘n roll stylings of one of our long-time and favorite performers, “GB” Greg Boerner.

Here's a list of what we plan to have on tap this Saturday for the Anniversary party; some beers will be on tap all day, others only from 7:00 to 10:00 pm.

*Paradise by the Dashboard Lights - Black as the back seat of a car parked in the deep dark night. A soft roasted and fruity perfume entices. The firm, full-body seduces. The tartness of freshly plucked cherries finishes it off. Tingling with anticipation? Open up your eyes, I got a big surprise.

*Imperial Oatmeal Porter brewed with Cocoa Nibbs - A variation of our base Imperial Porter brewed with oatmeal and roasted cacao beans (nibs). Nibs add a subtle chocolate flavor and a slight nuttiness, without added sweetness.

*Benji's Smoked Chipotle Imperial Porter - Brewed by the recently departed Benji. (He's alive, he just moved to California!) This variation of our highly reviewed Imperial Porter features a rich, smoky flavor and subtle heat from fiery chipotle peppers. Something to keep you warm on cold, Wisconsin nights!

Dirty Old Man Barrel-Aged Imperial Rye Porter - Dark black with a cappuccino head. Full-bodied with modest carbonation. Spicy rye, chocolaty malt and balanced oak barrel flavors.

*Painted Ladies Pumpkin Ladies - Painted Ladies is a pumpkin and spice-infused amber ale. Expect hints of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice and ginger and a rich body from pureed pumpkin.

*Bourbon-barrel Aged Spank Me Baby Barley Wine 2006 - Ruby appearance. Fruity nose. Rich, thick malty body. Stiff hop backbone. Thank you ma'am, may I have another? Oh yeah, baby! (The original release non-barrel-aged beer while this version is straight from the bourbon barrel!)

*Bourbon-barrel Aged Scotch Ale 2008 - Last year's Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale aged for nearly a year in oak bourbon barrels.

*Bitter Woman in the Rye - Brewed with an orgy of hops to satisfy the cravings of the most indulgent of hop heads. Hop flavors, aromas and bitterness dominate. Balanced with rich caramel malts and enhanced with the spiciness of rye. Catch a Bitter Woman in the rye.

Deb & Glenn's Barrel-Aged Blueberry Kinda Lambic - Post-fermentation brown ale, added to once-used bourbon barrels with hand-macerated blueberries and inoculated with Lambic yeast/bacteria blend. A wonderfully complex beer with hints of wood, berry and sour twist.

Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale - The Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale is another variation of our Peated Wee Heavy. A smaller percentage of the malt is peated, which means it is kilned while a peat-fire is burning nearby. From the burning peat this beer has a subtle, smoky flavor.

We will also have our 6-year-round beers on tap:

Three Beaches Honey Blonde - Three Beaches Honey Blonde Ale is a light-bodied beer with a sweet citrus flavor from orange-blossom honey and cascade hops.

Headless Man Amber Alt - The Headless Man is brewed in the "old way" of a Düsseldorf-style Altbier. This beer boasts a deep copper color, aromatic hops and Wisconsin caramel malt for a remarkably smooth and delicious taste.

Stone Tepee Pale Ale - Stone Tepee Pale Ale is brewed in the tradition of an American pale ale. This beer celebrates the American hop, with its characteristic bitterness, flavor and aroma.

Bitter Woman IPA - Bitter Woman IPA is our Wisconsin variation of an India Pale Ale. This beer is intensely bitter, almost grapefruit-like, with a mighty hop flavor and aroma.

Rocky's Revenge - Rocky's Revenge is an American brown ale with a portion aged in bourbon barrels. Each bourbon barrel will contribute its own unique character to this rich, satisfying ale.

Chief BlackHawk Porter - Chief BlackHawk Porter is a robust black and sharply bittersweet ale. This full-bodied beer is complimented by chocolate, caramel and roasty flavors.

*Indicates that the beer will be on tap ONLY from 7 to 10 pm... or until the keg blows!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

PorterPalooza #8 - Samuel Smith Taddy Porter

Ok, this is the end of the porter tastings, I promise. I've had probably double the number of porters that I've actually written about, and I imagine, you're probably sick of reading about porters. Either later this week or next week, I'll do a recap of what I've learned during this Porterpalooza. But, let's just say it was surprising in some respects, not so surprising in others.

But before we get to the conclusion, let's look at a beer that is considered a classic in the style, the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter.
The Old Brewery at Tadcaster was founded in 1758 and is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. Samuel Smith is one of the few remaining independent breweries in England, and further is the last to utilize the classic Yorkshire Square system of fermentation solely in stone squares.
Just this one paragraph of the importer's description of Samuel Smith raises some pretty interesting issues. First, Samuel Smith's Tadcaster brewery was founded before the advent of porter in the late-1800s. Tadcaster is 20 minutes southwest of York, UK in Central England.

Although the statement that Samuel Smith's is one of the few independent breweries in the UK is a bit of an understatement, it's still important to note that despite (or perhaps because of) its success, it remains unassociated with Diageo, Heineken, AB-InBev, SABMiller, and all of the other brewing giants. Indeed, the Society of Independent Brewers, of which Samuel Smith's is not a member, shows dozens of independent brewers just in the Northern counties of the UK.

But most interesting is the reference to the Yorkshire Square system of fermentation. A Yorkshire Square is a unique system of quasi-open fermentation. An open vessel is constructed out of 5 slabs of local, Yorkshire, stone (4 sides and the bottom). Heat is maintained from the existence of a second, outer, square that is a little lower and about 2 inches bigger all the way around. In this outer square, water of the correct temperature is kept to keep the inner square at the appropriate temperatures. There is a second square above the first square with a series of ramps and pipes.

The beer is added to the inner vessel and long-fermenting yeast is added. This particular strain of yeast takes a long time to fully ferment (about 6 days), but its fermentation is very active. The yeast overflows from the bottom vessel into the top vessel and wort is frequently pumped out of the bottom vessel into the top to reincorporate the yeast. Thus, the process is (was) high manual in that it required frequent skimming of the top and rousing and aerating of the yeast to keep it active. After primary fermentation, residual yeast is often used for cask conditioning.

Beers of this system tend to be very smooth and fuller bodied.

Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter
Appearance: A huge tan, almost brown, head; dark, dark brown body; almost black; crystal clear
Aroma: roasted and tangy with almost a sour note or two (is this a blended porter?!); a bit of a coffee aroma underneath, and a pretty strong earthy, grassy hoppiness is present
Flavor: Something like sourness is the first thing that I notice, then a pretty strong roastiness comes rushing in; hoppy bitterness remains in the finish, as does the metallic tanginess of the sourness - while it's going to sound worse than it is, imagine the taste in your mouth after biting down on tin foil when you had braces - you know the part that you liked about it, the excitement, the tingle, the strangeness? That's sort of what is present here.
Body: the body thickens up as it warms up, but it is still thinner than I might have expected
Drinkability: See the summary, because this beer changes completely as it warms up; but I really like this beer at all temperatures and it would do well for those that like stout, but don't like the huge fullness
Summary: As mentioned above, this beer does a 180 as it warms up; from an aggressive, sour bite, to warm, smooth and chocolately; I love the complexity here and keep drinking it if only to see what flavor will come next. I suspect that this beer is exactly what people had in mind when Dan Carey said he was going to brew an "Old English Porter" - and it is very, very similar. Except New Glarus amped up the sour to reflect Dan's taste for sour beers, and included some more historically accurate smoke that brought a more pronounced dryness in the finish. Otherwise these are very, very similar beers and an appropriate end to a journey that began with the New Glarus Old English Porter.

ps. This beer paired perfectly with the sweet dry-rub beef ribs and squash and sweet potato in coconut milk that I had this evening.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Press Release Tuesday - IndieHops

OK, normally I don't use press releases for non-Wisconsin stuff, but these guys seem genuine (they included a picture of themselves with the press release - how can they not be genuine?). Plus, given the craziness of the hop crops the past few years, it probably makes sense to add another supplier to your Rolodex.

------------START PRESS RELEASE------------------
We are pleased to announce the launch of our new business, Indie Hops, LLC.

Our mission is to supply 100% Oregon grown aroma hops to the craft beer industry. Everything we do will be driven by the need to serve craft brewers exclusively.

100% of our hops will be grown from acreage in the heart of the Willamette Valley, the finest terroir for aroma hops in the U.S. We will be working with heritage Oregon farmers who have a reputation for growing premium hops in a certified sustainable, Salmon Safe fashion. We are Oregon's first and only hop pellet milling operation.

We are dedicated to learning from you, no matter how big or small your brewery, the varieties hops you need and want. The craft beer movement today is strong, thanks to the relentless pursuit of quality beer by craft brewers. To insure further gains in market share, that spirit needs to carry through to suppliers of key brewing ingredients as well.

We at Indie Hops are committed to coaxing peak quality out of existing hop varieties, and investing in the future to introduce new aroma hops for craft brewers to further showcase your skills. And we'll do this using a sustainable, transparent and fair pricing structure.

Indie Hops is looking ahead. In our quest to bring to you new aroma hop cultivars, we are investing in collaborative breeding and fermentation research. We have pledged $1 million to establish the "OSU Aroma Hops Breeding Program Sponsored by Indie Hops" in Corvallis, Oregon. We are optimistic that in the next five years, we can deliver even more flavorful and aromatic hop varieties to your brew kettle.

We are also committed to organic hop production. In 2010, our farming partner Goschie Farms will be planting for us 20 acres of organic aroma hops. We are investing in the future to make organic hops a more viable option than they are today

We are mindful that most of you are locked into long term supply contracts. We hope that if new needs arise, or you're looking for a fresh start, you will consider Indie Hops - we are in it for the long haul. In the meantime, we'll be calling from time to time to learn more about your particular needs, as well as to keep you abreast of new developments on our research front.

Please take a look at our website at Our phone number in Portland, Oregon is 503.452.4677 and our toll free number is 877.719.4677. We are excited to have a chance to earn your trust.

In Hop Pursuit,
Jim & Roger, Co-founders
Indie Hops, LLC &

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

We're back! Now that we've gotten the swine flu out of our systems, we got a chance to sit down and chat about recent craft beer related experiences and to taste a beer by a brewery that has come up many times on the podcast, but whose beer none of us had ever had, Brewdog. Today we get to try Brewdog's Riptide Stout.

Here's the mp3

Bonus clip: Kyle talks about brewing bum wine and his offensive costume choices:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When In Chicago...

I'll warn you ahead of time, that I have no pictures. But I've been asked for more beer and food related posts, so here you go.

I was in Chicago for a Halloween Party and Mrs. MBR and I stayed at a friend's place. This friend is a bit of a bachelor and his culinary skills are a bit ... limited. But, we like to show him that cooking isn't really that hard, and it's a great way to get the ladies. So, when we go down there, I like to make meals that look much more impressive than they actually are. This weekend:

Beef Roulade with spinach, goat cheese and roasted red peppers
Roasted Carrots in maple syrup glaze
Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I know, you're wondering: "What does this have to do with beer"? Well, as you'll see the braising sauce for the roulade was Goose Island Harvest Ale. The Harvest Ale lends a nice malty profile that compliments nicely the red pepper and goat cheese.

Here's some recipes that I made up on the spot to the best I can recall them. I made the Sweet Potato Fries first and we ate them as an appetizer because we were hungry. If I'd thought about it, I would have made a lemon-pepper aoli for a dipping sauce. This made enough for 3 people with not much left over

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
5 medium bakedsweet potatoes, peeled, cut into fries [ed note: duh, you haven't baked them yet]
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

preheat oven to 400 degrees
Cover potato fries in olive oil and salt and pepper
bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring and turning frequently

Maple Syrup Carrots
1/2-3/4 lb small carrots (I just cut the tips and tails off, didn't peel them and only cut the larger ones in half length-wise)
2-3 tbsp maple syrup

Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Combine carrots with maple syrup in small casserole, cover in aluminum foil
Bake for 25-30 minutes

Goose Island Harvest Roulade
1 largish red pepper, roasted, peeled, sliced into thin strips
1 large (or 2 small) red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 tsp thyme
1.5 tbsp butter
.5 lb spinach (I think it was about 1/2 lb, it was a small-ish "container" of pre-washed organic spinach), stems removed
5 oz goat cheese
2.5-3 lb round steak (my friend didn't get a round, though and we had 3 top sirloins totaling around 2.5 lbs or so - worked pretty darn well)
1/2 c Goose Island Harvest Ale
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sweat onion and garlic in butter and a dash of salt and pepper, approx 10 mins; add red pepper and thyme, cook an additional 3-5 mins; Add spinach, and continue to sautee until wilted; remove from heat, add to bowl and mix with cheese

Pound beef into thin, flat steaks (I used the bottom of a bottle of wine, because I didn't have a meat tenderizer); spread thin layer of spinach and cheese onto top of steak; roll steak loosely, tie with string

Add olive oil to same pan and bring to med-high heat; sear roulade on each side, about 2 mins per side; add beer, cover and put into oven for 25-30 mins

Remove beef from pan, remove string and let sit while making pan sauce

Bring remaining juices to boil and scrape bottom of pan, reduce to 1/4 c or so, add 1 tbsp butter

Slice beef into 1/4 inch rounds, cover with sauce and serve

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Press Release Tuesday - Hop-A-Tui

A pretty awesome event going down in Racine on Saturday, the 21st. From the guys that brought you Great Lakes Beer Fest ... is ... Hop-A-Tui

--------------Start Press Release---------

The Ultimate Beer Social

Sip ~ Taste ~ Share
Sat. November 21

Memorial Hall (basement bowels cir. 1932)

Racine, WI
7-9 pm Sampling From Six Secret Brewers

9-11 pm Hop-A-Tui Sampling (participant shared beer)

Tickets (Limited to 400)

Advanced: $25 plus two bottles of craft beer or equivalent or home brewed beer to share $10 Designated Driver (complimentary soda)

Live Reggae Music by King Solomon
Sponsored by the Great Lakes Brew Fest and Kilties Drum & Bugle Corps.

Brewers Featured as of 10-28


Central Waters


Left Hand

More to be added
Food Available for purchase

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Business Geek Strikes Again

Wanted to point out an article over at Wine and Spirits Daily from last week because a) the article has some really interesting things to say, and b) to give some link love to a pretty darn cool virtual rag.

The 2010 Census will show that "the concept of an 'average American' is gone, probably forever," says demographics expert Peter Francese. ... Peter said results will likely find that "no household type neatly describes even one-third of households. The iconic American family -- married couple with children -- will account for a mere 22% of households." The most prevalent type of U.S. household? Married couples with no kids, followed closely by single-person households. There will be more "blended families, single-parent families and multigenerational families, as well as multiple families doubling up in one household."

In one respect: duh. But, it is interesting to see these things being spelled out explicitly. I think there are couple things at work here to change these family units. First, people are marrying and having kids later. My super-scientific survey of "people I know" reveals that all were married after the age of 25. And the one who wasn't is now divorced. My survey group also reveals that people are having kids later - mostly in late-20s and early-30s. Third, people are moving out of the house and becoming independent earlier. For the most part, 21 year olds are not living at home, like they might have in the past, but are out on their own - often living with roommates.

So, aside from the interesting demographics, what does that mean? Well, it means that people have significant piles of disposable income from the ages of 21-29. They aren't supporting families at a young age (like their parents probably were), they aren't living at home if they are single, and they are employed in jobs that allow them to pay rent. This also happens to be a group that likes beer, as opposed to wine. So, if these consumers can be shown that beer is "respectable" and "dignified" I would't be surprised to see the 40-70 demographic (typically wine drinkers) change to a greater percentage of beer drinkers in the coming years.

While 80% of people age 65-plus will be white non-Hispanics, just 54% of children under age 18 will be white non-Hispanics, and will account for fewer than half of births by 2015. Hispanics will be both the nation's fastest-growing and largest minority. ... And in the nation's 10 largest cities, Peter says, "no racial or ethnic category describes a majority of the population....with the younger population substantially more diverse than the old."

Wow. Just. Wow. So beer for rich white kids will be a bad idea. More importantly, though, is that trends in Hispanic and non-white cultures are going to become even more important. A bad omen for those of us that don't like clam juice anywhere near our beer, but a good omen for breweries that play with convention and attract a wide audience.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

PorterPalooza #7 - O'So Nighttrain


Based on the lines at pretty much every recent beer festival I've been to, O'So is a strong, up-and-coming brewery. In business for the past two years out of the side/back of their brewing-supply store in Plover, WI, early batches tended to the spotty. But, a few years in now, most of the kinks worked out, Brewmaster Marc Buttera is starting to hit his stride.

O'So brews a number of styles: by my count off of their website is 15 just in the "current" styles, and an additional 4 that have been retired - almost 20 styles in less than 2 years of operation. While I wasn't personally a fan of the Picnic Ants Saison, the Jack O'Lantern smoked rye pumpkin belgian beer thing made me take notice, as did the Lupulin Maximus, Dominator, and Oktoberfest. I reviewed the Hopdinger as part of the IPA kick I was on this past summer and found myself really liking it despite some questionable reviews from RateBeer and BeerAdvocate.

Based on the notes on the outside of this bottle, I expect the Night Train to be a robust, as opposed to brown, porter:
This complex Porter is black as the coal that fueled locomotives for generations. Made with judicious amounts of crystal and chocolate malts for a rich, smooth, creamy experience. Go ahead and jump on the night train. Enjoy.

O'So Night Train Porter
BA (). RB (84).
Appearance: As the label promises, it is jet-black; a thick, tan head makes think there might a judicious use of hops as well
Aroma: the aroma jumps out of the bottle and up to the nose as soon as liquid hits the glass; chocolate and caramel with a hint of hops and roastiness lend it a dark espresso quality
Flavor: If this were on nitrogen, it would taste like chocolate milk; a lot of chocolate, with a hint of roastiness; the caramel comes through on the back but there isn't a big hoppiness that I wouldn't have been surprised to find
Body: Full to medium bodied with a bit of a lingering flavor of dark-roasted espresso
Drinkability: the body militates against sessionability, but I'd put this up with the Edmund Fitzgerald in terms of heavier-bodied porters that I would drink as much of as would fit in my belly.
Summary: Very nice for a cold winter-evening porter; my only real complaint is one that I have generally with "Porters" of this body - what's the difference between this and a stout? With this one in particular, without the strong roastiness typically associated with porters of this heft, I'm not sure I could make a logical argument for classifying this as a porter instead of a stout. Indeed, it's heavier and bigger than many stouts. So, nomenclature aside, it's really enjoyable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Big(ish) Beer In The Governor's House?

I'm all for recklessly publishing unconfirmed reports, so I'll join Madison television's WKOW blog "Inside Scoop" in perpetuating the rumor that Dick Leinenkugel might get into the Governor's race.
Sources tell Inside Scoop Leinenkugel has increasingly been approached to consider the upcoming governor’s race. They say Leinenkugel’s intial, polite deflection of the flattering prospect has transformed into subtle consideration of the idea.
From my sources in the beer industry (probably not nearly as impressive a list as "Inside Scoop"s "sources") support for Leinenkugel as Commerce Secretary was relatively tepid. About the most support anyone could muster was "well, at least he likes beer." And, for folks in the beer industry, I guess that's all you really need.

At this point, about the best the industry would expect is not to have legislation that would move the industry backwards. Forwards may not happen. But at least it wouldn't go backwards, like, if say, Kathleen Falk were to somehow end up in the Governor's seat.

I don't know enough about Leinenkugel's political leanings to make an informed decision about his fitness for the highest office in the state. It seems that not a whole lot of others do either. He has a bit of an "outsider" reputation here, which could be a good thing.

It seems that Republicans are content to sit on the sidelines and snipe instead of wasting resources. Which, to my unpolitical mind, seems like a good idea; staying out of the Governor's race would give them more resources to dedicate to Assembly and Senate seat elections - which they'll need before the Governor's seat would do them any good. In the meantime, Republicans can let the Democrats waste their time with a relatively unexciting choice for 4 years, not let anything get through, blame the Dems for not getting anything done, then have good numbers for a solid Gubernatorial bid in 2014 when they'll have a better idea of Paul Ryan's political ambitions.

Unless Tom Barrett gets in the race.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Useful Conversion Chart For You

Sorry but this is going to be a busy week for me and I'm not sure how much I'll get to post. But for something else I am working on, I came up with this super-handy conversion chart. Hope you find it as useful as I have.

12 oz bottle
1 gallon
1 case
1/6 bbl
1/2 bbl
1 bbl
12 oz bottle
1 gallon
1 case
1/6 bbl
1/2 bbl
1 bbl

Thursday, October 15, 2009

AB 287 Hearing Recap

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the hearing on Tuesday. But I asked Chris Staples of Furthermore Beer for his thoughts and he was more than happy to provide some notes. He makes some excellent points and I can only say that I'm disappointed by the extremes and ignorance displayed by both sides of the debate.

While these extremes make for incendiary sound-bites, they add nothing to constructive negotiation and only foster ill-will from the other side and in the public. I expect it from the lobbying groups (health care and the tavern league), I am sorely disappointed to see it in our elected officials.

With that said, Chris Staples:

Chris Staples here. I own a small brewing company in Spring Green, Wisconsin called Furthermore Beer. I used to work for Information for Public Affairs in Sacramento, California where I dealt with legislation from all fifty states and the Federal government on a daily basis. My father was killed in a car accident that was not related to alcohol. My father-in-law (son of the former Chair of the UW-Madison Political Science Department and now deceased) was responsible for killing someone in a drunk-driving accident for which he spent significant time in prison. My wife and her siblings live with the fallout of that destruction every day. I was also at the hearing on Assembly Bill 287 ("The Beer Tax") from 10 am until 2:15 pm. I am still working on sorting through everything I heard and saw, and am will try to put a finer point on my observations, concerns and criticisms in the coming days. But here are a few of my initial reactions:

* I believe the author of the bill is well-intentioned, despite being hard to like: being willfully ignorant or grossly uninformed as regards the three-tier nature of the brewing industry and being very dismissive and smug about how Bill 287 would affect not only our State's brewers, but the economy as a whole is no way to achieve reasonable debate, partnership and cooperation in addressing social ills.

* From the outside looking in, the two most persuasive sound-byte arguments for increasing the tax is that 1) it's only 2.5 cents per bottle of beer, and that 2) the beer tax hasn't been raised for 40 years. As regards the former argument, the Bill's author, Rep. Berceau and her allies seem content to hold on to this notion that it's only going to cost the drinker 2.5 cents, and that consumers shouldn't complain because it affects people based on how much the drink (ergo we tax "problem drinkers" disproportionately), and that industry will simply be able to pass the tax on with no ill effects (or grossly exaggerated negative impact at worst). What was incredibly insulting to me was the lack of willingness or worse, lack of understanding, that the supporters of AB287 showed by adhering to these notions. A tax at the production level gets inflated at the distribution level by 30% and gets again inflated at the point-of-sale by about 30% (depending on the particular retailer or bar.) The suggestion seemed to be that we, as brewers, could somehow bypass the MANDATED three-tier system to make sure this tax doesn't get inflated. Supporters also fail to acknowledge that as craft brewers, we know that our sales will decrease as the price of our product goes up. And yet, our fixed-costs don't change. Therefore, we have to raise the price further. It's unavoidable if we wish to stay in business. So the consumer, whether a light, moderate or heavy drinker, will be paying much more than 2.5 cents per bottle. On top of which, it is my political instinct that a) the author of the bill WANTS THE TAX TO BE INFLATED, despite insisting it is only a 2.5 cent tax increase per bottle and that b) the author knows it would be political suicide to do the thing that would actually achieve the result she seeks, which is to tax all alcohol (not just beer, and not just WIsconsin producers) at the at the point of purchase/consumption and not make this an issue about whether breweries are paying their fair share. Which leads me to the latter argument. Yes, it is true that the beer tax has not been increased for forty years. A fair enough point. But what no one has said is that that fact is a failure of past Legislatures, not of contemporary brewers! If today's legislature suggested raising the beer tax $1 per barrel, it may not provide Rep. Burceau for all the money she seeks for treatment and law-enforcement programming but it would be hard for industry to argue against. Instead, today's Legislature will have the opportunity to enact a tax on the brewing industry that seeks, in one fell swoop, to compensate for a FAILURE OF THE LEGISLATURE FOR THE LAST FORTY YEARS by crippling my business at a time when our industry is already struggling. Rep. Ott asked "where is the money going to come from?" Well, I know one thing for certain: it can't come from me if I'm out of business as a result of a beyond-the-pale tax increase the extent of which I could not have foreseen when I wrote my business plan in 2004. In other words, I am happy to help contribute my fair share. By I can't contribute enough to compensate for the lack of an appropriate and sane tax predating my business by 36 years. And to those who spoke about how unfair it is to have to pay for services we don't use through taxation, I say "get a grip": we all do it all the time. People without kids pay property taxes which benefit the schools. People whose homes aren't on fire or aren't the victims of a crime pay for fire and police services. People who don't drive much pay for roads. People of means pay for social programs that help people without means eat, clothe themselves and their children, provide shelter for a variety of reasons, cover health care costs, etc. Such is the nature of our democracy. And before scapegoating the brewing industry as being irresponsible and not paying its fair share relative to other states, please acknowledge the levels of taxation on our industry relative to other industries and our state compared to other states. As an industry, we pay an astonishing amount in the form of taxes and would appreciate it today's Legislature would consider that fact as opposed to being insultingly dismissive of our concerns.

* Those in attendance heard devastating testimony from Wendy Calvillo, whose twelve year-old son and husband were killed in a head-on collision near Fort Atkinson in February of this year. I don't think anyone in that room will ever forget what we heard. My deepest sympathies go out to Mrs. Calvillo and her surviving children. As the father of two and as a person who's own father was killed in a non-alcohol-related automobile accident, all I can think to say about the injustice she and her family have suffered is horrible, senseless, violent and criminal. And yet, I was left with a competing feeling which I'm reluctant to even voice given the magnitude Mrs. Calvillo's loss: she is seeking emotional solace in the form of a punitive measure on a responsible and heavily-burdened industry which, given the legislative analysis available for Bill 287, has dubious capacity to effect the change it seeks given the vague allocation guidelines and the lack of protection for the funds raised. And I'm very sad to say that I don't imagine that raising the beer tax is going to decrease Mrs. Cavillo's pain. I think that the logical extension of her reasoning and experience is that there is absolutely no acceptable circumstance or condition by which someone loses their loved one in a drunk-driving "accident". And while no reasonable person would disagree with this assessment, the only way to ATTEMPT to achieve this is with total prohibition of alcohol. And we know that even then, people with the desire and/or need will find/make it/consume it anyway. There is a certain risk to individuals and society to permitting any number of products and behaviors: guns, jet-skiing, fast food, alcohol, cell phones, automobiles, unpasteurized cheese. And yet, as individuals and a society, we routinely accept these risks and call it the price of choice and liberty. With all due respect to the Calvillo family and with a heart that cries out in sympathetic agony for their loss, I don't accept that it is suitable to beat-up on the beer industry given the great unlikelihood of prohibition.

* "Smartest Dude in the Room" award goes to Michael M. Miller M.D., President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the Medical Director of NewStart Treatment Program based at Meriter Hospital in Madison. He did a great job of cutting through the b.s., identifying the problem, suggesting that the status quo isn't working, offering that Assembly Bill 287 is better than nothing, but also noting that beer, wine and liquor aren't the problem: that alcohol is the problem, and that a tax on alcohol makes more sense than a tax on beer. If anyone in that room was going to win fence-sitters over to the affirmative side of the debate, it was Dr. Miller. My only qualm was his characterization that we grow our businesses by growing our audience, and that the way we all do that is by making our product attractive to children. I think this carryover argument from the cigarette debate doesn't apply to our industry, particularly the craft-end of the industry where neither price nor flavor profiles make the product conducive to consumption by children. Nor do smaller producers possess the resources to reach-out to a younger audience via advertising and marketing. That disagreement aside, I think everyone involved in this debate could learn from Dr. Miller, and I believe he had the best grip on the root issue and would be a great partner both for the industry and for the pro-tax folks. I would personally be willing to help Dr. Miller in any way within my means.

* "Rabid Dog" awards go to the woman from Colorado who has been involved with providing some manner of treatment services for six years and who told the Committee she was there for "informational purposes" (if you wish to speak before the committee, you have to declare whether you are there to speak for the issue, against the issue or are there for informational purposes) and proceeded to go on a five-minute ill-informed industry-bashing tirade. Whatever. Equally asinine was the Tavern League of Wisconsin who proceeded to go on a five-minute embarrassingly ill-supported legislation-bashing tirade that amounted to: "our members can't take any more taxes!" Well that may be true, but why? In both cases, raising one's voice does not add clarity to the debate.

* "Biggest Disappointment" award goes to my own Representative, Steve Hilgenberg, District 51. He gave the least passionate, least detailed and least engaging address to the Committee. "You know, it's time. And people want it." Ug.

* Also notable were three of the Committee members: Reps Bies, Ott and the gentlemen sitting second from the right (as facing the Committee) seated nest to Rep. Berceau. Rep. Bies quite surprised me, perhaps more because of my own assumptions and prejudices: I am a life-long Democrat with a deep anti-authoritarian streak. Rep Bies is a retired law enforcement officer and a Republican. And to be truthful, he was the only member of the Committee who made any damn sense at all. He spoke well. He asked pointed questions. And he seemed to actually follow the debate with an eye toward advancing to a conclusion. I really appreciated his presence on the Committee and his repeated questioning of speakers regarding the efficacy of treatment and the protection/earmarking of the proposed additional funds. Rep. Ott, on the other hand, seemed quite content to admonish and lecture both speakers and audience. I found him to be patronizing and annoying while offering little of merit to consideration of the question. And the third Representative (whose name placard I could not read. Apologies.) seemed constitutionally incapable of understanding the three-tier system, and why, if a tax was applied at the production level, it would increase as it went up the supply chain such that the politically defensible 2.5 cents per bottle became much more at the cash register or bar rail. I literally bounced my head off the table when for the fourth time he became exasperated and asked for clarification on this issue. For goodness sake: do your homework!

Anyone who has read this far probably stands in opposition to this Bill. But on the off chance you are a supporter of AB287 and are still reading, please consider that this proposal has dubious merit: the funds will be poorly protected and questionably allocated, and while the status quo may not be acceptable, there is more than one way to go about change. This Bill truly will hurt an important industry which is already contributes disproportionately and operates on razor-thin margins. In any case, these are my impressions, based on my time at the hearing. Take them as you will, and please know they are offered in good faith and as an attempt to enliven debate surrounding this important issue, not stiffle it. Feel free to pass this along.


Chris Staples