Friday, January 30, 2009

This Is Not An Invitation For Everyone To Start Sending Me Press Releases

It's two-for-one day here at MBR. Like I said a few weeks back, I don't want to get in the habit of just posting press releases and I promise to keep it to a bare minimum. But, this one is really cool news from a project that we brought to you back in June of 2008, Dave Anderson's BrewFarm.

If you'll recall Mr. Anderson is starting a sustainable brewery project in Wilson, WI that uses solar, wind and geothermal power for the brewing operations and will grow its own organic hops right on the farm.

A pretty awesome project that not only showcases Wisconsin brewing but Wisconsin's commitment to renewable energy; both areas where we can be leaders in the new "green" economy. Next time I have Mr. Anderson on the line, remind me to ask him about his CO2 policy. Seriously.

OK, a brief aside before the press release because it's actually a really interesting issue that causes some consternation amongst brewers and the environmental folks. The brewing process generates quite a bit of CO2. It has to go somewhere. When it's trapped in a bottle it provides carbonation, which in turns leads to the pretty foamy stuff in your glass. But, in the fermenting process it causes all kinds of problems so it is directed away from and out of the fermenting vessel. If you talk to environmentally conscious brewers like Tommy Porter or Rob Larson or Russ Klisch, they recognize the problem that releasing CO2 into the atmosphere causes. Brewery operations of a sufficient size can recapture this release and use it to generate power that is added to the power grid. But it's very expensive for all but the biggest breweries (even City Brewery, a sizable brewery in La Crosse, WI, needed the help of a $250,000 grant). As a result, most small breweries begrudgingly release these emissions back into the air. So, I'd be curious to hear what Mr. Anderson is doing about this, if anything, on his BrewFarm.

Anyway. On to the Press Release - the BrewFarm is having a "barn raising" party for the wind turbine that they are putting up on February 3rd (that's Tuesday). If you happen to live in or near Wilson, WI you can show up at 9am and witness it for yourself. If you're a news organization and want someone to cover this event, I'd be happy to drive up there for you, just let me know.


Wilson, WI

Please join us for the raising of what will be the start of Wisconsin's
Wind-Brewed Beer on Dave's BrewFarm, a sustainably-based craft brewery in
Wilson, WI. On February 3, 2009, at approximately 9:00 a.m., we'll be
putting up a Jacobs 31-20, a 20kW wind generator on a 120-foot tower to
harvest the bountiful winds on the northern ridge of Wilson. The generator
is projected to provide up to 50% of the needed electricity for the

The wind generator is but one component of the sustainable aspect of the
BrewFarm project, with geothermal heating/cooling and solar thermal rounding
out the renewable energy mix. Greywater recycling will handle the brewery's
wastewater, which will be used in the hopyard and orchards of Little Wolf
Farmstead, the agricultural component of the project.

The BrewFarm is an innovative demonstration project showcasing the latest in
renewable and sustainable business practices, and rural development. Our
hope is that through "leading by example" other businesses will adopt these
(and other) sustainable strategies, realizing that every effort helps the
planet - and the bottom line.

Be sure to dress warm, as this is an outdoor event - and may take some time
given the variable conditions of the day. It "usually" takes about a half
hour for the crane to lift the tower - the crane is scheduled to arrive at
8:30 a.m. and will take a half hour (+/-) to get set-up. If there's any
questions be sure to call first.

2470 Wilson St.
Wilson, WI 54027
(takes about an hour from the Cities)

More Information About The Old Fashioned

I've been to The Old Fashioned twice since they've started their "every brewery in Wisconsin" project and I'm convinced it's one of the awesomest things in Madison this winter. If you haven't been over there, get there. They'll be doing this for a while, so it makes sense to stop in often.

I mention it because luck would have it that on Wednesday the 28th I got an email: "Hello, I am Jennifer from The Old Fashioned. Just wanted to say thank you for the article. I have been working on this Beer project for some time and getting close to the final goal. We finally got all 30 tap lines in and by Thursday we will have 120 different Wisconsin bottled beers. Our goal is to carry every brewery in the state that is able to provide us with either bottles or taps. We should be at that point in April as Thirsty Pagan in Superior and Angry Minnow will be able to supply to us at that point. I believe on my last count, 8 other brewpubs (including stonefly) are not able to provide us with anything at this time. Currently we are representing 45 breweries around the state."

120 different Wisconsin beers, plus 30 taplines. Be still my heart. So, I followed up with some questions and Jennifer was kind enough to respond and give me permission to reprint her responses.

MBR: I've been over to the Old Fashioned twice now (during this project, I've been there far more than that), and both times have had a great experience (my only gripe is the frosted mugs). How have you been able to work around the distributors for this or have they been generally cooperative? [ed note: both times I was the Old Fashioned, the server initially brought me a frosted mug and I had to ask for a non-frosted mug. I know, it's nit-picky, but a) frosted mugs suck all the flavor out of a beer, and b) if I have the person responsible for it on the line, I might as well mention it.]

Jennifer: First, let me say that I agree on the frosted mug issue. Starting Monday the bartenders are going to ask which type of glass the customer would prefer. Many of our customers would get pretty upset when we were serving items like "Lake Louie Scotch Ale" in a room temp. glass. So as default we served everything in chilled unless asked. Now, after I finish this round of staff training, they are going to ask the customer. [ed note: Thank you!!!!!]

The first challenge of this project was locating all the breweries in the state. I discovered that a master list does not exist [ed note: on Wednesday we published the excise tax records for Sept 2008, so that should help!]. Second was finding out who could handle the sales of kegs/bottles. Next it was trying to get distributors to pick up some of these accounts for us. O'so (out of Plover) and Pearl St. (signing up next month) are the only two that were picked up by any distributor. [ed note: this is interesting; I'm glad that O'so and Pearl Street might get some regular availability here now but it would be nice if there were even more] Below is a list of all the places in which I (or a retired gentleman we just hired) go or will be going to pick up beer:

Titletown - Green Bay
Hinterland - Green Bay
Potosi - Potosi
Calumet - Chilton
Red Eye - Wausau
Bull Falls - Wausau
Angry Minnow - Hayward (coming soon)
Thirsty Pagan - Superior (coming soon)
Minocqua Brewing - Minocqua
Pearl St. - La Crosse
Northwoods - Eau Claire

[ed note: everyone, please stand up and give a round of applause to Jennifer and the "retired gentleman" who drive all over this damned state, so that you don't have to. It is a 5.5+ hour drive to Superior; there is one brewpub in Superior. And it will be on tap here in Madison because Jennifer and/or "the retired gentleman" drove 11 hours for you.]

Below is a list of beers waiting for open lines to tap.
Titletown - johnny blood red
Tyranena - Scotch Ale
Lake Louie - Kiss the Lips IPA
Sand Creek - Woody's Wheat
South Shore - Rhoades Scholar Stout
Calumet - Rowland's Rye [ed note: I drool enough on this site about Calumet, but the Oktober and this are probably my two favorite beers of theirs - my brother is a big fan of their dark and Matt and Jon both loved the Total Eclipse]
Calumet - Fat Man's Nut Brown
Potosi - Cave Malt Ale
Potosi - Good Old Potosi
Tyranena's - Paradise by the Dashboard Lights (double cherry porter) [ed note: this is the new Brewer's Gone Wild; is it even available in bottles yet??]

The idea is to run a couple kegs of each and switch it up. We have six core lines that will never change and 24 rotating lines. We will be switching a great deal. My head is spinning thinking about it. [ed note: mine heart is swooning]

Sorry, here is the list of brewpubs that can not provide beer.
Grumpy Troll
Randy's Fun Hunters Beer
Silver Creek
Stone Fly
Rail House
Rustic Rail
Delafield Brew House
Great Dane [proximity]
JT Whitneys [proximity]

I am sure I am missing a couple small operations in this list but, all of these places are not able to provide us with beer at this time. Just found out today that Nicolet Brewing is opening back up and will be carrying them in April.

Also, any beer you would suggest on tap - we are always open to other ideas.

MBR: So, there you go. Everything you wanted to know, and more, about the Wisconsin Beer Project at The Old Fashioned. For me: I reviewed the Wild Rice Lager from Minocqua and really liked it. It might be fun to put on a bunch of pre-pro lagers, like the Wild Rice from Minocqua, the Madison St Lager from Calumet, Fauerbach, Essers, etc. Or in March to put up all the stouts these breweries can provide. Put in the comments any particulars that you'd like to see.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Contract Brewing, Part I - The Source Document

If you listened to Beer Talk Today last night, we told you that this document would be available here today. I'll stay relatively silent about it for now, because we'll have a lot more about the details of this document next week. But, we decided to publish this so that you could see for yourselves what we are talking about. We thought about just publishing the parts that were relevant, but we didn't want to edit the document and face charges of having significantly altered it. The only thing that has been removed from this document is the name of the person that provided it and their phone number. I hope the breweries that are listed here recognize that disclosure is the better part of discretion in this case; this is a public tax document, after all.

I hope you find this document as interesting as I did. Keep in mind it only reflects the amount of beer produced for which taxes were paid in September of 2008. We called the Excise Tax Processing Unit and spoke with multiple people there. In addition to all of the other support for our assertions that we provided last night and will reiterate next week, we were assured by the folks at the Unit that any taxes paid are paid at the place of production.

So, please, comment. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Don't forget, tonight at 9:00pm on WSUM, 91.7, Beer Talk Today and Madison Beer Review will be on the air. We are going to debunk the myths of contract brewing. We will look at how contract brewing works, the popular myths and misconceptions and truths about contract brewing, and we will look at, and talk to, some contract brewers around the state - including some that you may find very, very surprising. So, if you're in Madison, tune in tonight to 91.7. Otherwise, you'll have to wait to next week.

The final installment of our aged beer tasting with David Sanborn. As the alcohol consumption increased, our level of intelligible conversation decreased, but hopefully we found some clips that are interesting. In this segment we taste Brouwerij 't IJ Zatte, Regenboog 't Smisje Tripel, Great Divide Old Ruffian Barleywine, and J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale 1998. What Barleywine is best? Is "silage" a positive adjective when describing a beer's aroma? Only those that listen shall know.

Here's the mp3


Monday, January 26, 2009

A Lesson To Be Learned In Listening


First. As you may know, Madison Beer Review distributes an audio show called "Beer Talk Today." Well, if you didn't know, Beer Talk Today is a radio show that runs on University of Wisconsin student radio station, WSUM. It used to run on Saturday at 5pm, but it has moved and is now on in the more convenient Tuesday at 9pm time slot. I mention this because tomorrow is Tuesday, and I assure you that you will want to tune in. Next week we are running an entire week of content about contract brewing – we are going to look at what contract brewing is, who in the state is contract brewing, and some of the debate and consternation that surrounds the contract brewing issue. But tomorrow night's broadcast, which will be released as our podcast next week contains the core of what this is all about. To some extent, I'll clue you in: 1) contract brewing is not inherently bad, beer that is contract brewed is not inherently worse than non-contract brewed beer; 2) contract brewing is bad when there are not sufficient quality control mechanisms; 3) contract brewing is bad when those involved are not honest about it because it deceives the public as to the source of the beer; 4) there are breweries in Wisconsin that contract brew their beer but are not entirely upfront with this fact to the public. Tomorrow night, we'll let you know one of them – and you may find it somewhat surprising.

With that plug out of the way …

I don't know how many of you follow Tomme Arthur's Brewer's Log (blog). For those of you unaware, Tomme is the head brewer at Lost Abbey. Known for being particular, he makes some of the best beers in the world; and, in a point that we will follow-up a little more next week, you could argue that he is a contract brewer (Tomme's Lost Abbey project is brewed by Port Brewing Company; Tomme happens to be head brewer of Pizza Port, but Lost Abbey is considered a distinct entity; can you be a contract brewer when you brew your own beer at your own premises? Tune in next week and find out). [ed note: see the comments, but I confused a lot of things, and made some assumptions that weren't necessarily true. Port Brewing is a distinct entity from Pizza Port, though that relationship is a bit of a mystery as there appears to be a lot of cross-over between the two; Lost Abbey is a brand line of Port Brewing and not a separate brewing company; thus, while, if Tomme is brewing some of Pizza Port's beers it would be a contract situation, it definitely appears that Lost Abbey/Port is not a contract situation. Oh. And Tomme is not the head brewer of Pizza Port, he is the head brewer of Port, though he used to be the head brewer of Pizza Port; Pizza Port's head brewer is Jeff Bagby. Sorry for the confusion.] In the meantime, Tomme also has a blog that he posts to infrequently, but I wanted to cut and paste from parts of it because I thought it was interesting.

"We're in the midst of a serious expansion here.  I just got word that the two used 120 bbl Fermenters we bought from Bert Grant's old brewery are on a truck in Portland and should be here tomorrow. … We purchased these tanks to go along with our new (albeit used) bottling line. … It will be such a huge boost in our production to get this piece of equipment up and running.  We have out grown our little bottling "system" and very much need to get better with this part of our operations. … As part of our new packaging operations, I met with a label company this week about purchasing a new labeler.  We're hoping this will make us much more efficient and cut down on our waste.  We discussed some options for the labeler and it would appear at this time that we'll be installing some sort of coding system for the bottles as well.  In an ideal world, we would have coded our bottles from day one but that just wasn't part of the system we've been running."

So, the gist here is that Lost Abbey (or is it Pizza Port?) is expanding. Tomme will be making and bottling more beer. With any luck some of it will make it here to Wisconsin. Although, I have to think that the odds of that happening any time soon are pretty slim. But, as most any brewer will tell you, bottling is a huge pain in the ass. Bottling lines are expensive. They have a lot of small moving parts. They break down frequently. While the mistakes are relatively infrequent, even one mistake can take hours to troubleshoot and undo. But, there's a point in here and it's this:

"Lately, I have received numerous emails and complaints about some of our bottles and the "lack" of fizz.  It's probably one of my least favorite things to do but answering emails and complaints about our beers is something that comes with the territory.  I tend to take it harder than I should but at the same time, I cringe when I read about flat beer.  It's our job to ensure that they aren't lifeless.  The challenge is that I can't taste every bottle and "guarantee" that they are good to go.  That part sucks. … As a process, we are committed to bottle conditioning and the flavor gains that come with it.  It just sucks when the process doesn't go as well as planned and there is deviation.  I, for one, am hoping that our new packaging line and our new head brewer can help us find stability in this area.  We have to get better at this.  We're growing and looking to expand markets.  As such, we need to be better."

Listen to your customers. Tomme Arthur makes bottle-aged Belgian beers. Depending on style, the carbonation, even in a properly carbonated beer, can be quite low (e.g., a Belgian Dubbel or Tripel or Quad). Tomme could have just written his customers off as idiots. He could have said "HA! You don't know what you are talking about. This beer isn't Budweiser; if you want something highly carbonated go buy a PBR." There are some brewers, including some here in Wisconsin, who have this attitude. They believe that the customer is beneath them and the process they've set up. "I have brewed this same beer the exact same way for the last 11 years, if there's something wrong with it, there's something wrong with you." But that isn't what Tomme did. He acknowledged that the brewing process isn't exact; there will be some batch to batch variation, and to some extent that is expected and welcome. But, if something is wrong, then something is wrong. If the bottling line is unreliable and it results in beer getting to your customer that is not the best representation of you or brewery, then you need to do something to fix it. Sometimes, it's as simple as being honest with the customer: "Hey, we just got some new equipment, it doesn't work exactly like the old equipment, we think our beer is still good, but we're still working with the system. Even though we use the exact same recipes, we are still trying figure out some of the fine-tuning we need to do to perfect it on this new equipment." But, sometimes you need to buy a new bottling line and put in a batch-numbering system so that you can troubleshoot problems from your customers.

Ultimately, it's about accountability. And the producer is always accountable to the customer. Whether directly, in terms of respecting your consumers enough to be honest with them; or indirectly, where your customers will stop buying your product if they feel you aren't listening to them and addressing their issues. Look, I'm the last person to trot out the cliché "the customer is always right." Because, you know what, we aren't always right. But it takes honesty and public discourse to address these issues and at the end of the day, the customer is going to go the producer that treats them with respect and provides them with a quality product. Like Tomme, don't be afraid of customer complaints, take them as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and your consumers and use it as an opportunity to make yourself and consumers better producers and consumers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

God Bless The Old Fashioned

No, not the drink made with brandy or whiskey, but the place on the square in Madison. For the next, honestly, I don't know how long, The Old Fashioned has on tap every brewery available in the state of Wisconsin. How f'ing awesome is that? Calumet - not usually available outside of a 30 mile radius of Chilton? Check. In fact, as of Tuesday night, they had already run out of Calumet's brown ale and only had the Total Eclipse, a dark imperial schwarz-ish sort of thing that is amazingly rich and complex. Pearl Street Brewery? Check - the Downtown Brown, Pearl Street's flagship, was the beer of the day Tuesday. Red Eye Brewing Co. a brewpub in Wausau? Check - the Scarlet 7, a Belgian ale brewed with caramelized figs, was on-tap. The only breweries not available were The Great Dane (if you want The Dane, it's around the corner!) and Stonefly (we were told by staff that Stonefly doesn't brew enough to spare a keg for this event; damn you Jacob! You're going to make drive all the way to Milwaukee go on that Mustache Ride to heaven.).

Some of the breweries not currently on tap will be coming on tap later (though not the aforementioned Stone Fly or Dane) and many of the breweries are available in bottles. For instance, The Northwoods BrewPub from Eau Claire. Three beers from this brewpub are available in bottle: The Floppin' Crappie ale, the Prickly Pike Pilsner, and the award-winning Lil' Bandit Brown Ale. Who can resist a beer named "Floppin' Crappie"?! Matt ordered the Lil' Bandit. Amazingly, the Floppin' Crappie was voted Best Beer at the Sturgis Brewfest in 2004. These bikers must be immune to headaches, because after one of these bad boys, my head is killin' me. Another hint: don't bother with the glass with this one. Just drink it straight from the bottle. There was no head, it's not particularly pretty (just a hazy orangish-bronzish sort of thing) and it was way thin. The website mentions caramel and honey, and to the extent it has a flavor, that's probably as good as anything. I won't even go into the Lil' Bandit - the fact that the Lil Bandit won an award (a silver!) at the Great American Beer Fest, says more about the Beer Fest than the beer.

The reason I bring this up is because it triggered a conversation between me and the Beer Talk guys about what the point of this beer in a bottle might be? Matt and Jon suggested it was simply to sell beer. But any fermented malt beverage in a bottle and get it on a shelf and someone will buy it. Heck, someone might even like it. But, Northwoods certainly doesn't seem to be aiming for any sort of quality or artistic merit. I suppose that's a fine enough reason - Americans, Wisconsin-ites, drink a lot beer that doesn't really aim for any quality or artistic merit. Take, for example, Miller or Budweiser or Busch Light or Keystone Ice.

But the weirder thing is that this is from a brewpub. Why is it in a bottle? Is there really enough demand for this beer (and the brown and the pils) to bottle it?! If so, who is buying it? Eau Claire is rich with bottled beer options - Rush River, Leinie's, Black River Falls, Viking, and now Surly, and countless others? Who, other than those who like the name "Floppin' Crappie", are buying a twelve-pack of this? Even to go fishing. For crappie. At the brewpub at least you have the "novelty" of being straight from the source.

I can understand the whole "Northwoods" thing. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling; or rather huntin', fishin', snowmobilin', drinkin', abusin' tourists. I get that. Setting up a brewpub is a great way to corral that culture into an easy money-machine. Minocqua Brewing Co. does a great job of this, and their beers are great. Shipwrecked, in Door County, while another one that inexplicably bottles, is fine. But leave this stuff at the brewpub; there is no need to take home a bottle of it. Some free advice to anyone traveling to the Northwoods - it never tastes as good here as it does there.

And I don't mean to be mean to Northwoods, specifically, I just happened to be drinking a Northwoods Floppin' Crappie. My point is that there are very few brewpubs where it's necessary to get beer to go. Growlers are fine, but, really, isn't the point of a brewpub to be neighborhood hangout? Even some place like Grumpy Troll or Delafield or Riverside or Titletown. Their beers are good, heck, some of them are great, but so are their restaurants. Unless there is some terrific demand, it seems to me that the beer serves its purpose far better at the pub than on a shelf.

I don't know. Maybe I'm hypocritical. I don't have a problem with Ale Asylum. They're a bottling brewpub. And how do you differentiate Northwoods from something, like, say, Bear Republic in California or Goose Island in Chicago where they started as brewpubs and became bottling breweries? I don't know, maybe I'll buy another Floppin' Crappie and do a side-by-side comparison with the Hop Rod Rye.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

The second part of our aged beer tasting. In this clip we drink Bell's Wheat Love Ale, New Glarus Unplugged Eisbock, New Glarus Unplugged Tripel, Central Waters Satin Solstice Imperial Stout, Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Central Waters Cosmic Charlie Barleywine.
Which beers aged well? Which did not? Which beer has the aftertaste of Riesin, the chocolatey chew? Listen to find out.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Dane To Open In Wausau

The Great Dane opened its first location in Downtown Madison in 1994. In 2002, its Fitchburg location opened. A few short years later, in 2006, The Great Dane opened next to the newly remodeled, upscale, Hilldale Mall. Abutting against the laws in place at the time, The Great Dane fought for a change in the brewing laws here in Wisconsin; that October those changes were made. Now, The Dane is taking full advantage of the opportunity presented.

Last year Hereford and Hops, the Wausau brewpub, shuttered its windows. Soon, The Great Dane will be taking over the brewpub formerly known as Hereford and Hops. I had a chance to ask Eliot Butler, co-owner and President of The Great Dane, some questions about what the newest Dane will look like.

What made you pick Wausau?

It is a great community. There are a lot of cross connections between Wausau and Madison so brand familiarity exists. Plus, we had a motivated seller with a great location.

Did (or Do) you have any other locations in mind in Wisconsin? Is there non-Wisconsin expansion in the future?

We are capped at 10,000 bbls per year (and/or 6 pubs) so we have to see what our company's annual production total will be with Wausau and an expanded Hilldale location. Potential locations for the last 2 in WI: East side of Madison, Milwaukee and/or a surrounding community, or maybe La Crosse or the Dells... There are no current plans for stores outside Wisconsin but after we hit the limit here we will approach that question.

When will the Wausau location open?

Some time in April, hopefully...

Who will be the brewer up there?

Rob LoBreglio will do the initial brewing and he will hire and train an assistant who will eventually take over the brewing duties.

Finally, what are some things that you are doing to transform the old Hereford and Hops?

Removing the "grill your own steaks" grills and adding a gas fireplace, creating a pool hall similar to that at the Madison Great Danes , sprucing up the decor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

We're back! The first Beer Talk Today of 2009 and we got off to a great start, sitting down with Barriques beer purchaser David Sanborn. David let us (Kyle, Jon, Matt and our Madison Beer Review associate Jeff Glazer) raid his amazing aged beer collection, and pick his brain about aging beer. Part one of the aged beer tasting includes tastings of Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait, Drie Fonteinen Kriek, Cuvee De Koninck, and Fuller's 1845.

What beers get better with age? What beers get worse? What beer tastes like Pez? How about "rustic barn"? You must listen to find out.

Here's the mp3.

But wait, there's more. Outtakes! These clips were not particularly relevant to our discussion of aged beer, but are too entertaining to be ignored.

On David Sanborn's Introduction to Craft Beer:

A discussion of cappers and cheap beer:

Excitement over Surly and Summit:


Monday, January 19, 2009


I wanted to throw this out there, so two posts today. I had some housekeeping kinds of questions.

Do you like the events stuff like we did last week? Do you find it useful? I know the breweries like being able to get the information out. And, I try not to just publish press releases; I want add something constructive. But do you expect or like getting that kind of information here? Or do you have other sources for getting that information and don't really expect to find that stuff here?

How many "beer events" do you typically go to a year? I'll be honest, I probably hit up half a dozen a year. I usually hit one, maybe two beer fests, a tasting or two throughout the year, maybe a brewery party, maybe a beer dinner. A lot of it is a cost thing; with events in the $30-50 range, it costs me twice that to attend if I bring my wife along. It's rare that I have $60-100 lying around for 4 hours of beer. Are these events too expensive or do you (or the breweries that attend) only expect that you'll attend one or two a year? Would you attend more if they were cheaper? For example, Furthermore's Brew-Ha Ha at the High Noon was only $8 (+$2.75 beers), so my wife and I could attend for less than $25. The Arthritis Foundation has a beer event here in Madison that's only $25; for $50 that's basically a night out for me and my wife. Every now and then I'll splurge on a $100 beer dinner, but that can't be an every-month sort of thing for us.

Should I do a better job of keeping the Wisconsin Beer Calendar updated? I only ask because it's a lot of work to keep updated - it's not particularly useful if it isn't comprehensive - but I think it's a good idea. What say you, oh faithful readers?

While I have your attention. Is there anything else? Of course, we're always open to ideas, but this is a good place to ask specifically if there's anything that you want to see from MBR or Beer Talk Today. We're here for you. Do you want to see more on homebrewing? Beer basics (process or ingredients)? Do you want more interviews? More reviews? More of the law and business stuff? Any places you want us to hit up. In the near future we will be traveling to La Crosse and Wausau (in separate trips, obviously), and possibly up to the Ashland area. Anywhere else?

Finally, there's been this weird discussion amongst beer bloggers, and even some academics, lately about Twitter . In the left corner, hailing from New England, in the BeerAdvocate Black and Gold Shorts, is Andy Crouch: "All told, for my money, Twittering beer seems a pretty ridiculous endeavor and kind of the polar opposite from what makes beer great, namely the whole conviviality and bringing people together thing."

In the other corner, is ... well ... no one really. The others, such as Alan McLeod, aren't necessarily champions of Twitter but rather take a more pragmatic approach: "The opportunity the digital world provides is not only the democratization of peer to peer communication but also it levels the economic barriers that previously were only overcome by funding from a publisher or payment by a regional trade or beer association." While that might be a more compelling argument for blogging, as to Twitter it is relevant insomuch as any technology that can democratize, or, more appropriately maybe, proletariatize, craft beer is a good thing.

I haven't decided where I fall on this whole Twitter thing. A good friend of mine has made some pretty compelling arguments in its favor. But, honestly, I still don't get it. I think I'm going to set up an MBR Twitter account and see what happens.

Please comment and let us know.

Dark Horse Perkulator Doppelbock

Dark Horse, the brewery from Marshall, MI, was the first brewery I blogged about. The folks from the brewery were kind enough (cornered) to speak with me for over 2 hours about what they're doing and their philosophies. We talked about the five stouts that they brew and what was coming for the years to follow. They mentioned brewing kombucha, a fermented sweet tea, as an alternative for non-beer drinkers. In the meantime, they've also brewed some great beers - the Crooked Tree IPA continues to be a stalwart and classic example of the style here in the Midwest. The Double Crooked Tree is one of those sought-after beers that we all brag to our friends that we managed to score a six-pack of.

I'm a big fan of the Sapient Trip Ale, a dangerously drinkable Belgian Triple. And with this beer, and others in their oeuvre, Dark Horse reminds me a lot of Furthermore. They both are relatively uninterested in leaving well enough alone. A Belgian Tripel? Bah! Boring, let's screw with the basic ingredients and the yeasts to make an absurdly refreshing 9% beer. Should we call it "Makeweight" or "Trip Ale"?

And now the Perkulator Dopplebock; a fall seasonal released in September. What does the brewery have to say about it?
"Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock"
Very insightful guys. A dopplebock? Eh. It's been done - let's add coffee to it. Sound familiar? Maybe because we've already heard it with Mexican steam beer.

BeerAdvocate rates it a B+, RateBeer advocates a 77. But you know how we feel about ratings, right?

Dark Horse Perkulator Dopplebock
Appearance: two-headed goat, color label (there are multiple labels for this beer, one is in-color, the other is black-and-white, though I couldn't find anything online about this); served at an appropriate 54 degrees in an oversized snifter, it poured a thin, white, wispy head onto lot of a nice, dark-roasted coffee colored body
Aroma: less fresh coffee and more like wet coffee grounds, has a damp mustiness to it that is similar to a coffee filter after you've made a fresh pot of coffee; some aroma of caramel and roasted malts, a faint winey brightness
Flavor: dry and roasted coffee; tastes exactly like it smells
Body: solid medium body with a dry, clean finish and lingering coffee bitterness
Drinkability: while I wouldn't finish the six-pack in one sitting, that's not really the point here and I would keep this six pack to mix in with other winter staples
Summary: a lack of complexity and an overbearing coffee flavor prevents this from rocketing to the top of my list, but it's really a fun, solid doppelbock that I would not hesitate to recommend to someone who was looking for something a little different (provided they are a coffee drinker)

Friday, January 16, 2009

More Cool Events

Before I get to the Madison Malt Society, I received an email from Chris at Furthermore yesterday - unfortunately I was not able to post it yesterday, so hopefully you weren't freezing your ass off at Cork & Bottle wondering where the heck Furthermore is:

"This is a "it's too dang cold!" alert. Stay home & stay warm by NOT coming to Cork & Bottle tonight (Thursday, January 15th) for a tasting. NEW DATE: Thursday, February 19th from 4:00 pm until 6:00 pm."

The Madison Malt Society is holding a Celebration of American Distilling. February 19th, 2009 from 7pm to 10pm at the Edgewater Hotel. Tickets for the event are $55. For your money you get a unique opportunity to taste distilled spirits that you may not otherwise have the chance to taste here, "We have set up a pilot program through the Department of Revenue that will allow us to bring in some products that are not sold in Wisconsin." Like spirits from breweries Dogfish Head and New Holland. You also get the chance to help out the Teresa McGovern Center, a substance abuse center here in Madison.

This sounds like an awesome event. I find it interesting that breweries like Dogfish Head and New Holland can both distill liquor, yet Wisconsin breweries cannot. Maybe one of these days we'll take a good hard look at that. I received some information in a press release, so I'll just quote that here:

This will be a premiere tasting event featuring spirits from across America. Included in this event will be some of the legends of Kentucky Bourbon, as well as micro distillers from across the country that are making some of the most interesting spirits on the market today. Here in Wisconsin alone we have seen the birth of four new distilleries in just the last two years, including one right here in Madison, Yahara Bay

Our goal is to attract many of the principles from these distilleries so participants in the tasting can really gain first hand knowledge of the production of these products. They can also experience the passion that these producers have for their work.

Madison Malt Society is an organization dedicated to the celebration of artisinal distilled spirits from around the world. We taste, research, and purchase our passion. The society includes members of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild and senior staff of Star Liquor.

Sponsors for this event include: Union Cab, The Isthmus, and Lakeside Press.

Tickets for the event are $55 and are limited in quantity so don’t delay. Ticket price includes a glass as well as specialty appetizers from the Edgewater.

In Madison tickets are available at:

Star Liquor (608)255-8041
The Malt House Tavern (608)204-6258
Yahara Bay Distilling (608)692-1858

For Milwaukee and Chicago Locations please check:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Audience Participation: Capital Brewery Edition

Like we said on Tuesday, no audio this week - but it'll be back next week. In the meantime, here's some interesting stuff you'll want to read:

Beer Dorks: Feel The Fire - Eddie does a vertical tasting of Capital's Autumnal Fire to solve the mystery of The Great Lessening. His theory, as well as mine, is that Capital has mucked with the recipe of the Autumnal Fire. I'll let you decide whether said "mucking" is a good thing, but needless to say, the theory is that last year's Autumnal Fire was more Oktoberfest than Dopplebock, while the "original" recipe was definitely more "dopple", more full-bodied and complex. I won't ruin the fun, but I do want to add one comment. I don't have a problem with Capital mucking with their recipes, if they are messing with them, but at least cop to it. And, to be fair, I will admit that around '07 is when I first saw Capital advertising the fact that the Autumnal Fire was built on a marzen base. But maybe that's why we think they are messing with it; knowing the information has opened our eyes to it.

Speaking of Capital, Robin Shepard has a review of Capital's Barbara Imperial Doppelbock. I haven't had it, so I have no comment. But, is it too little too late? Never! If it's good, great! Robin seems to love it. We could use a brewery pushing the boundaries on lagers. But, if it's anything like the Baltic Porter ...

And, speaking of Capital, again. Here's something to think about, mull over in your head, and comment on: Do you expect that 100% of the wheat in Capital's Island Wheat actually comes from Washington Island? Do you expect that Chardonnays contain 100% Chardonnay grapes? Do you expect that "All Beef" hotdogs are actually 100% beef? Are these three questions related?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rush River Bubblejack IPA

IPAs, India Pale Ales, aren't typically associated with Wisconsin. Yet, Ale Asylum and Tyranena specialize in these hoppy beasts. New Glarus makes a proper British IPA. Central Waters has two: the Glacial Trail is an American IPA, and the Lac du Bay, when it's available, is a British IPA. Stonefly, the Milwaukee brewpub, brews a mean IPA. The Grumpy Troll made an iced IPA. Many of our other brewpubs make an IPA a regular seasonal.

Today we'll review an IPA from a brewery that isn't available here in Madison. [ed note: Jeff needs to stop buying beer in bulk and get out to the retailers more often; Rush River is apparently available at Riley's, Steve's, Woodman's and Sentry, and probably a number of other places, in the Madison area] Rush River is based in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, a small town on the Mississippi River in the triangle between Hudson, Eau Claire and La Crosse. Or is it River Falls? Though they have yet to update their website properly to show slightly more expanded distribution (or settle on a location apparently), Rush River is available mostly in the Hudson/Eau Claire/River Falls area and in plenty of places on the Minnesota side of the border. In fact, given the paucity of Wisconsin distribution, this is more a Minnesota beer brewed in Wisconsin than a Wisconsin beer. Indeed, some clicking around reveals that Rush River began as a Minnesota brewery, and only moved to Wisconsin when it needed space for a bottling line. Unfortunately, Minnesota's brewing laws are not particularly friendly (yes, even less friendly than Wisconsin's), so there are a few of these border breweries that take advantage of the fact that it is easier to brew here and just export to Minnesota.

Should we even properly consider Rush River to be a Wisconsin brewery? Well, this question can be put off for another day. One of the brewers at Rush River, Dan Chang, grew up in Milwaukee and the particular six-pack of the Bubblejack I procured was obtained in Milwaukee. How long until it is available in Madison? My guess is that it'll be a while – Ale Asylum and Tyranena pretty much monopolize (oligopolize? Duopolize?) the hops round these parts. [ed note: In addition to being clueless, Jeff is apparently not that good making predictions, either]

Rush River Bubblejack IPA

Appearance: a thick, dense pale two-finger head; a hazy copper body chock-full of floaty-bits – the bits appear to be both yeasties and hop-floaties (yes, those are the technical terms)
Aroma: grassy and citrusy – more lemon than grapefruit, but good, balanced complex aroma; a faint mustiness and a bright sweetness
Flavor: oily hops; lemon and pepper and citrus and grass and pine all mingle together, with a long bitter hop-metallic bitterness; there is a faint light-caramel maltiness that sneaks through, but this is, for the most part, an all-hop IPA
Body: a long, lean body with an emphasis on complexity
Drinkability: a great every-day IPA for the hop-head, it pairs well with food, even food of moderate spice, but also is lean enough to follow it up with another (or another two or three)
Summary: I'm a hophead, I like my IPAs on the thin side with plenty of hoppiness; it really comes down to whether you require balance out of your IPAs or whether you like your IPAs as mild hop-bombs. Me, I'm of the latter variety – I like my hops. In that regard, Ale Asylum's Hopalicious is nice and Tyranena's Bitter Woman works, but both have more have more maltiness and less complexity in the hops than this. That's not to say I like this more, or like those less, they're just different and this is every bit their equal. It reminds me of a true West Coast IPA, such as those of Lagunitas. Too bad it's not available in Madison, you'll just have to get one next time you're in the Twin Cities.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

E-Mail List Tuesday - Follow-Up On Thermo Refur

No audio again this week. We have some great material from an Aged Beer Tasting that was hosted by Mr. David Sanborn, unfortunately, it was about 5 hours of material (not including the additional 3+ hours of homebrew tasting) and it couldn't be edited in time. So, next week, we resume Beer Talk Today.

If you're on the Furthermore email list, you already know this. If you aren't, I'll reprint it here:

Hello, All. And a "Happy New Year" to you while I'm at it.

The flip of the calendar from 2008 to 2009 brings with it an awareness on our part that there are a bunch of places we're supposed to be in January and February. I thought I'd share:

1/15 - Madison, WI - Cork and Bottle tasting from 4:00 until 6:00.
1/16 - Milwaukee, WI - MKE Art Museum event from 7:ish until 9:ish
1/24 - Woodbury, MN - Top Ten Wine & Spirits tasting from 1:00 until 4:00
2/03 - Milwaukee, WI - Comet Cafe Beer School, evening
2/21 - Milwaukee, WI - MKE Public Museum Food and Froth - TENTATIVE - evening
2/22 - Milwaukee, WI - Milwaukee Ale House Beer Fest from 1:00 until 5:00
2/24 - St. Paul, MN - Happy Gnome Beer Dinner, evening
2/27 - Milwaukee, WI - Blatz Liquor tasting- TENTATIVE - from 5:00 until 7:00
2/28 - Milwaukee, WI - Whole Foods tasting - TENTATIVE - from 11:00 until 2:00


On another note, we are in the process of a protracted release of very limited quantities of "Thermo Refur", the beer we debuted at the High Noon Saloon at the Imperial Brew-Ha-Ha. (NOTES: bottles will be released as 12 oz. singles - you won't have to buy twelve to try one. Thermo Refur should be served at about 55 degrees F in a wine glass or a snifter.) Here are the "where's, when's and how much's":

Madison - 8 kegs and 55 cases. Keg locations are TBD, but I'd ask after tap Thermo Refur at Brasserie V, Monroe Street Bistro, Dexter's, the Malt House, The Old Fashioned, Magnus and Barriques. Kegs have already been released to Frank Beer, our distributor. Bottles are due out in mid-February, and should be available at Star, Jenifer Street Market, Riley's, Cork & Bottle, Whole Foods, Steve's on Mineral Point Rd., Steve's on University and Barriques on McKee Rd in Fitchburg.

Spring Green - The General Store, mid-February

Milwaukee - 4 kegs, early February (concurrent w/ our appearance at "Beer School"). I'd look for it at Comet Cafe and Sugar Maple.

Twin Cities - 4 kegs, late February (concurrent w/ out appearance at Beer Dinner). Happy Gnome would be a good place to start.

Ok, then.



Monday, January 12, 2009

Medieval Feast at The Grumpy Troll


Welcome to medieval times!

The Grumpy Troll is having a medieval-themed beer dinner on Thursday, January 22nd. Cost is $50 per person. Yeah, it seems like a lot. But, for your money, what do you get? Six Courses. Not to mention beers paired with each course. As a new twist, for this beer dinner brewmaster Mark Duchow brewed a beer specially for the dinner; it will be released at the dinner and only the small that is left will be put on tap for the general public. This dinner will feature a steinbier to bring you the taste of peasant Bavaria in the mid-1100s.

I was able to ask The Captain a little about this dinner and the stein beer that he is brewing for it.

MBR: So, how did the steinbier turn out?
Mark Duchow (MD): It turned out just as I hoped. I fermented the beer in three different bourbon barrels, two with a British ale and one with a Belgian Golden ale. The Belgian needs a little age to get the full character of the beer, but the two British are just perfect. The beer is starting to pull a hint of the barrel, woody/vanilla and the flavor and aroma has a wonderful caramel/toffee running through it.

MBR: Can you describe how you made it and some of the ingredients?
MD: The base malt I used was Briess Bonlander Munich. This malt has a rich toffee/biscuit character that would match the effects of the super heated stones, hint of smoke/toffee/caramel. The process was a little complex, first I had to heat several rock to around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, carry the super heated rock to the wort drop them in without incident and transfer the wort back into the brew kettle. This whole process took a little luck and a lot of planning.

MBR: What stein beers did you look at/taste to model yours after?
MD: Stein Beer originated in the Alpine regions of Europe where the rocks needed, (“Graywacke” a dark sandstone that resists shattering under the great stresses of super heating and quick cooling), where easily quarried and transported to the breweries. Unfortunately, for the style, by the start of the 20th century, most-of-all the stein breweries had fell to the way of modern brewing techniques.

About 8 or 9 years ago Tom Porter [ed note: Mr. Porter is the brewer of Lake Louie] had brewed a Stein beer for the Great Taste of the Midwest. It was a very impressive beer and he has a good story to go along with it. I would say that Tom's beer sent me on the quest to produce a stein beer for The Troll. This wonderfully unique style of beer may have been forgotten in the pages of history if it wasn’t for the Rauchenfels Brewery in Marktoberdorf, Bavaria back in 1982 where they revised the technique and you can buy their beer today. I was also lucky enough to be in Kentucky recently so I took the opportunity to drop by Bosco’s Brewpub and try their version of the style.

MBR: How do you differentiate your stein from, say, an oktober/marzen or a vienna or a dark or even a simple bock?
MD: What make this beer different from all other beers is the process of dropping super heated rock into the wort. In doing so the rocks quickly caramelize sugars to the point in which a cauldron of smoke and steam rises out of the vessel and the air fills with sweet malty steam and 20 minutes later the rock where still boiling the wort. This whole process took place outside in our parking lot. This process it is one of the oldest ways of making beer dating back before the time Rome fell. The flavor is caramel/toffee and since it was fermented in wood it also picked up the character of the barrel, very unique beer.

MBR: Anything new coming down the pike?
MD: I am not sure if you know we have twelve beers on tap along with one cask conditioned beer. We have been having a little trouble with our website lately so getting info from that source is a little difficult. Beers coming on line are Curly Peated Scotch ale, Monk Sweat Belgian Golden ale a British styled IPA, along with several more. We plan to keep six and rotate six on our tap system.

In March we are getting together with the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild for a homebrew competition, the winners, up to six, will join me to brew their beer at the Troll so we can feature it on tap. In February we plan to open our pizza restaurant in our upstairs..... It is just like having two brewpubs in one.

Last but definitely not least we are having a Medieval Beer Dinner on the 22nd of January.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Comment on Kathleen Falk's Alcohol Initiative

Lew Bryson calls them the "New Drys", a reference to the tea-totalers who brought on the days of prohibition. Kathleen Falk calls it an "Alcohol Initiative" and has put together a government-sanctioned and paid-for commission of like-minded prohibitionists to tackle Wisconsin's "alcohol" problem.

I'm not sure what's worse. The fact that the commission exists at all. Or, maybe it's the fact that the commission consists entirely of "nurses, teachers, alcohol and drug counselors, school counselors, administrators, local officials, religious leaders, business people, activists and community organizers." Or, maybe it's the fact that the opinion of these people actually means anything. In any event, it's soon about to get much more difficult to get a drink in this town.

I don't know about you, but I need a drink.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (though, I suspect it's sort of like banging my head against the wall, or Stockholm Syndrome - if the abuse continues long enough maybe I'll come to like it) the problem isn't the weapon, it's the user. Guns don't fire themselves. The weapon itself, without a moron to pick it up, load it, turn off the safety, point it at someone else, and pull the trigger, is not a particularly good bludgeon.

Likewise, alcohol, in and of itself, is not a societal ill. Or rather, the discussion that alcohol is, in and of itself, a societal ill, is a completely separate discussion. For now, we operate under the idea that, absent abuse, we have no problems with alcohol. So, we start from the premise that there is no need to ban alcohol. While we tolerate its regulation (don't want any funny stuff going on) we don't ban it completely. Any of it. Beer. Wine. Malt Liquor. Malternatives. MD 20/20. Colt 45. Grain alcohol. Bourbon. Whiskey. Rye. Vodka. Brandy. None of it, in and of itself, is harmful (remember the caveat: absent abuse).

So, the question then, is: how do we prevent abuse?
I would then ask: How do we define "abuse"?

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
  1. A maladaptive pattern of alcohol abuse leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one or more of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

    • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfil major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school; or neglect of children or household).[this looks at performance]
    • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine). [this also looks at performance in the context of hazardous activities]
    • Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct).[now we see "improper" as defined by our legal norms]
    • Continued alcohol use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication or physical fights).["improper" as defined by social and cultural norms]
"Alcohol abuse" is a largely subjective issue that is comprised of personal internalities (health), personal externalities (performance both in everyday and hazardous activities), and some sense that the conduct of the abuser is "improper" either legally, culturally, or socially.

We can use laws to regulate use of alcohol in the performance of hazardous activities, but all of these other issues fall outside of the realm, or even possibility, of legislation.

Let's explore the legal scope briefly. The theory is that the performance of hazardous activities poses inherent dangers to others; we must perform these tasks as diligently to our abilities to prevent destruction to others. Primarily, we are concerned with vehicles here. Even assuming deterrence as a valid reason for regulation we are faced with a problem of enforcement. And, really, does this require a commission of "nurses, teachers, alcohol and drug counselors, school counselors, administrators, local officials, religious leaders, business people, activists and community organizers." No. It requires a meeting between Kathleen Falk, Governor Jim Doyle, and policemen to actually get out and enforce the laws that we have. It requires providing proper funding and the tools to enforce these laws. It requires something other than a near-moronic reading of the Wisconsin Constitution to allow random sobriety checkpoints.

Wisconsin is one of 11 states that constitutionally prohibits one of the most effective means of deterring drunk driving: sobriety checkpoints. The 11 states are: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Alaska and Rhode Island. What are the states with highest incidence of DUI? Oh! Shock: Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wyoming, Michigan. Among others. Admittedly, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Texas and Alaska are all relatively low on the list. Also, there are states that allow DUI checkpoints that are relatively high on the list.

But, look at the list of who is on the list : 4 of the "top" 10 don't allow DUI checkpoints; 7 of the top 10 are grain belt states. Which leads me, and others, to believe that in addition to having large expanses with small rural centers that contain clusters of activity (and bars) (in other words, people have to drive to get to where they are going), that there may be cultural and social issues that simply can't be legislated. Cultural problems require cultural solutions. And, in this regard, perhaps there is something that can be done by a commission of "nurses, teachers, alcohol and drug counselors, school counselors, administrators, local officials, religious leaders, business people, activists and community organizers."

Can this commission develop cultural changes that erase a German and Northern European heritage that practically worships at the feet of beer and socializing? Not likely .

And certainly nothing is going to be accomplished by fiat of Kathleen Falk. Nothing is going to be accomplished without changing, or circumventing, the underlying social or cultural issues.

"The culture of smoking has become unattractive. I don't know how we get this culture to become unattractive," said one of the participants at the first meeting of this commission. But smoking didn't become "uncool", people didn't just wake up one day and go "holy shit! this stuff'll kill ya!" The reality is, smoking just became a pain in the ass. So, if we want to apply the lessons learned about smoking, we can make people drink outside. We can tax the hell out of it. We can sue the makers of alcohol for putting out a product and actively advertising it in the face of reams of data that shows that it's bad for you. Oh. Right. We already did that and it didn't work.

So, what's the goal? Lower levels of underage drinking as some in the commission have suggested? Well. You can get rid of the drinking age, that'll solve that problem. No. Underage drinking is not the problem. Read that again, underline it, bold it, cut it out and mail it to your alder-critter. Underage drinking is not the problem. Irresponsible, excessive drinking, regardless of age, is the problem. In that regard, I don't care what the "underage drinking studies" show, age is irrelevant.
Caldwell and Bettin recommend getting messages to children as early as K-6, or even preschool. It is important to target developmental transitions, utilize multiple strategies across multiple levels and settings, and deliver consistent, community-wide messages, they said. What does not work, they said: scare tactics, messages to "drink responsibly" and confrontational interventions. Instead, they advised focusing on increasing a young person's perception of risk for alcohol effects, addressing alcohol accessibility and alcohol marketing to youths, and involving parents and families.
I'm not concerned about the accessibility issue. The advertising issue is a bit of red herring, so I'll ignore that, too. But teaching children from a young age that alcohol, in all forms, is not exactly good for you certainly isn't a problem. I think adults could probably use a little education, too. I'm more than a little concerned about the content and form of getting that message across, though; it is very easy to overstate the dangers of alcohol. Rather, it's far too easy to preach abstinence when intelligence is the better lesson (just look at the Evangelical/Sex Education debate) - know when to say when, take public transport, encourage bars to cut patrons off quicker, etc.
Getting parents and families involved in the teaching of responsible consumption of alcohol is the key. But, how can you teach someone who is not allowed to perform a task how to do it responsibly? And, if you do, eventually, allow them to perform the activity, why would you possibly do it at a time when the student is away from the teacher?And what if the parent themselves are not responsible drinkers?

One last question to ponder while you're sitting in your car stalled out in rush-hour traffic down the Monroe Street Corridor, East Washington, or on the Beltline: What is Kathleen Falk going to do if/when the commission comes back and tells her that one of the best things that can be done to eliminate the dangers of irresponsible drinking is to have a competent public transportation system that implements not just a feasible bus line, but light rail, and even passenger train service? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thermo Refur

Before the New Year we warned you about a beer release party held at the High Noon Saloon by Furthermore Beer. Chris Staples described it thusly: "A freaky Aran Madden creation involving bretanamyces, organic red beets, black pepper and some black malt for a high-alcohol, used band-aid sort of vibe."

On Monday, we talked about the effect of temperature on the aroma and flavor, the experience, of a beer. We've talked in the past about glassware. In this beer, Aran Madden's Thermo Refur, we see the perfect reason why we, consumers, need to demand proper serving temperatures and proper glassware.

Some background on this beer. Aran Madden himself admitted, the most improvisational beer he's ever made. It is made with organic beets. A lot of you may be thinking "EW! Grody to the max", and we'll get to the flavor in a minute; but the basic procedure for using them was for Aran and Chris to sit around one day, peeling a bunch of organic red beets. These beets were then run through a food processor to rather fine pulp to keep it from clogging up the fermenters at Sand Creek. This pulp was then added to the secondary fermentation. Like the Knot Stock, this beer is also made with cracked pepper. It has some black malt. It has brettanomyces, a squirrelly, bizarre yeast that makes beer funky and somewhat sour.

We were served a pint glass from a chilled tap line at the High Noon Saloon at promptly 10:30pm. It looked black. Of course, in the dim lighting of a bar, anything remotely dark looks black. Shortly before I ordered, Aran had suggested that we find a light source to look at the thing, so we bid him adieu to go find a source of light and taste this thing. Held under the light hanging over the pool table, it was a murky purplish, garnet, crimson, blood-like color. There was virtually no aroma, save a faint earthy muskiness. It tasted thick and bitter. It tasted like a hop bitterness. And that was it. There was a faint earthiness to it. A fellow-reviewer thought she detected some medicine or stale prunes. The mouthfeel was definitely full. In fact, it had the consistency of blood. It was definitely dry and the taste, mercifully slackened.

We were left not really sure what to do with this cold, mostly full, pint glass of a beer that could, charitably, be called "interesting." We were standing there debating whether it would be rude to just leave it on the pool table and back away from it when Mr. Staples came by.

Damn! Trapped!

We chatted with him a bit about the beer, mostly about how it was made and the marketing plans for it, and tried to avoid looking him squarely in the eye lest we betray what we were planning on writing.

But, a funny thing happened while we were talking. The warmth from our hands warmed the beer up a bit. Some of the hop and roasted malt aroma started peeking out. The musty sourness of the brett started receding a bit. But the flavors changed completely. Gone was the harsh bitterness. Now we were greeted with a big malt complexity that was "rooted" (HAHAHA!) by the sweetness of the beet. It wasn't a harsh beet flavor; the roastiness of the malts and the sourness of the brett kept it interesting. The finish was crisp and peppery, complimenting the dark flavors very well. I thought it tasted almost like a muted version of Stone's Double Bastard. It arrived at almost at the same place, in an entirely different manner. Indeed, one might be attempted to compare it more to a peppery red wine. Furthermore Wine? Ha!

This beer is going to be available in VERY limited quantities. I've been told that about 10 cases are headed for Milwaukee, while Madison will get about 50 cases. It will be sold as a single 12 oz bottle. They wanted to do 22oz, but they aren't set up to bottle in that size. The rest of what they brewed will go to select restaurant accounts, although I forgot to ask where (maybe someone who knows wants to let people know where they can get this?).

But, some serious education needs to accompany this beer or you, retailers, will have some very disappointed customers on your hands. To start, please do not put this beer in your refrigerators - both retailers and consumers. You are far better drinking it at room temperature than refrigerator temps. If you have a cellar, put it there to keep it chilled. If you must put it in the refrigerator, let it sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes before you open it. Second, you will do yourselves and your customers a disservice to serve this beer in a pint glass. Let its colors shine in a red wine glass. Trust me, you can reasonably split a 12 oz bottle between 2 people; it was 8.5% ABV before the beets were added, so it's probably closer to 9% ABV. For restaurants, six ounces is about a normal wine-glass pour.

The moral of the story here is that this beer completely changed from what it was a refrigerator temps (38 degrees) to warmer temps (closer to 55 degrees).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let's Say Hello To Some New And Smiling Faces

It's the start of the new year (more or less) and we've had quite a few new people checking out the site lately. I want to say, "hello" and give you a tour around the place. This will be a good introduction for the new folks, and, maybe the others might learn a thing or two while we're at this. You can say hello to people directly by joining our Facebook page.

First, let me introduce myself. I'm Jeff. I am the Editor-in-Chief and primary author or most of what you read here. Occasionally, others will contribute, but most of the written material is mine. I try very hard to publish written material on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, sometimes I skip a day, or sometimes I simply don't have time to write and publish something. When I'm not publishing here, I'm an attorney. That's about all you'll hear me say about that, but it informs what you read here because I like to focus on the business and legal aspects of the brewing industry.

Of course, there are all kinds of beer reviews and brewery reviews and plenty of ranting and raving about the culture of craft beer. But, I know a lot of beer geeks, and frankly, they can be as bad as wine geeks. I try to lay my biases out on the table: I like ambers, hops, and long walks on the beach; I respect lagers as every bit the equal of ales. But one thing that I want to make sure is that craft beer is accessible. I try to write in plain language, avoiding industry jargon; or, where necessary, to inform you of the jargon if it's particularly neat. I also try to disabuse people of the popular notions and misconceptions that they have about beer. Even more particularly, I try to disabuse the industry folk about popular notions and misconceptions that they have about the people that drink their beer.

Finally, on Tuesdays and Thursdays Madison Beer Review publishes a podcast produced by Matt, Jon and Kyle for UW Student Radio. The podcast is called Beer Talk Today - subscribe to it, they do a fantastic job and are a riot. Because of school schedules and the rigors of producing a radio show, they aren't producing one this week.

With that said, here's some of the content you'll find here. While I try to do it one Friday a month, one regular feature, which published yesterday (Monday), is called "Hey Barkeep!" It operates under the assumption that there are no dumb questions, only dumb people. When I'm out and about the city, whether it's drinking or speaking or just talking to folks, or if I get emails or, if my wife asks me a question that I think is particularly interesting, I explore questions people have about beer. Yesterday I looked at why Americans and Europeans differ in their serving temperatures.

Occasionally something will send me off in a different direction and I'll get my panties in a bunch. Usually it's when the media continues to stereotype and perpetuate damaging myths about the brewing industry; though occasionally it's at the brewing industry itself for not taking its consumers seriously. More amusingly, I think, it's when wine snobs try to apply their snobbery to beer; which, sadly, happens more often than you might think.

Sprinkled liberally throughout are pieces on law and business. Such as this series of posts on The Great Dane Bill, SB224, that could end up hurting Wisconsin craft brewers more than anyone might have suspected.

Finally, at the end of each year we hand out some awards. This is 2008's awards. This is 2007's awards.

Take some time to dig through the archives there on the right-hand side, you never know what you might find. Please comment and be active in the discussion - we have some great people who contribute and the more we discuss these topics, the more knowledgeable we all are. You never know who might respond. Anyway. Welcome. I hope you like what's going on here. Things are a lot different from when I first started doing this. Or maybe not.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hey Barkeep! Why Is This Beer So Darn Cold?

I've been asked this question a couple of times lately, so today we'll tackle the issue head on: Why do Americans drink their beer at refrigerator temperatures; or, in the alternative, How can Europeans drink warm beer?

We constantly hear: "cold filtered", "ice cold mountain water", "serve chilled", "have an ice cold brew", "ice cold beer here!", "man, I could go for a frosty one." We see "cold activated bottles", Budweiser and MGD are served in frosty mugs. We, Americans, have come to expect our beer to be cold. In the summer we reach for an ice cold beer when we come in from the hot outdoors. We think beer has gone bad if it warms up to room temperature. We get concerned that beer will be skunked if it is moved from a cold place, to a warm place, back to a cold place. But, what we find is that this fear of warm beer is almost entirely driven by those that produce American lagers (i.e., Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc.).

Since 90%+ of the beer that we drink in this country is produced by these macro breweries, and is, in fact, American Lagers, we assume that all beer should be sold at refrigerator temperatures. This impression is further reinforced by retailers that keep their beer in walk-in refrigerators or other refrigerated areas, even retailers that should know better. To some extent this is a chicken and egg situation; consumers won't buy beer that isn't in a cooler, so retailers keep beer in coolers, so consumers think that all beer needs to be in coolers and won't buy beer that isn't in a cooler.

And, as you will see, some beer, like American Lagers, should be consumed at refrigerator temperatures. But, not all beer should. And, in fact, some beers should not.

So, let's look at what effect refrigeration has on the final product that we call beer. Note: we are not talking about fermentation temperatures. To some extent we will talk about conditioning, which is a form of fermentation, but we are talking about storage and consumption of beer here.

Some companies, like those interested in selling keg systems for American Lagers, want you to believe that the ideal storage and serving temperature is 38 degrees F. Their argument is essentially that beer that is warmer than 38 will foam unnecessarily (lost profits!), and beer that is too cold will not foam enough (lost profits!). But, what this article fails to mention is that these theories only apply to American Lagers that are carbonated like American Lagers. What if the beer on tap is a barley wine, a style that is less carbonated than an American Lager? What if the beer on tap is a stout, or a doppelbock, or an IPA? Each of these styles requires different carbonation, different pressure settings to dispense properly, and different temperatures.

Let's start, then, at the bottom. Why are American Lagers best served at 38 degrees? The primary reason is carbonation. American Lagers are force-carbonated by carbon dioxide (CO2). What does that mean? Well, beer by its nature is flat; we carbonate beer to give bubbles. Why do we want bubbles? Because, circularly, we don't want flat beer. In other words, the bubbles provide respite from flavor and body. So, there is something about the flavor and body that we find undesirable. In this case, the American Lager, a very light beer as it is, its very purpose is to be a session beer: something that we can drink in (significant) quantities. Something that is refreshing. Well, bubbles make the beer taste even lighter, and we feel like we can drink more of it.

CO2 is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. Before pasteurization and force-carbonation, and even in some styles today, beer was carbonated in the bottle or keg by providing some tiny amount of sugar for the tiny amount yeast that is still active to feed on; the beer continued to ferment in the bottle or keg. During normal fermentation this CO2 is vented away from the container. In the bottle or keg though, the CO2 is kept in the bottle. Where, where does the CO2 go? If there is headspace in the container, the CO2 goes into the headspace and then is vented out when the container is opened. If there is more CO2 than there is headspace, the CO2 is absorbed back into the beer. When the beer is opened and poured, the CO2 escapes the beer in the form of bubbles.

For pasteurized beer there is no active yeast remaining, so if we want carbonation, we have to introduce CO2 into the beer since we can't generate it. Well, the more CO2 we can get into the beer before the beer is "saturated", the more carbonated the beer will be, the more bubbles (and, generally, foam) we will get. It turns out that the colder the liquid is the more CO2 it can absorb before it becomes saturated. So, beer that we force-carbonate and that we desire to be highly carbonated, is cooled to get the right amount of CO2 into it.


What does all of that mean? Beers that are highly carbonated should be served cold (chilled) to maintain maximum carbonation. Conversely, beers that are not highly carbonated do not need to be served cold. Wine is the same way, wines that are carbonated, typically white wines and sparkling wines, are served cold (chilled), while wines that are not carbonated (typically reds) can be served at room temperatures.

But, cold not only affects carbonation, it affects aroma and taste.

In the first place aroma is completely suppressed at low temperatures. The volatile compounds in malts and hops, essential oils that are soluble in alcohol, which provide aroma, are not released at low temperatures. It is only by warming up that these essential oils are released from the alcohol in sufficient quantity to be detected by our noses. So, beers that have very little aroma component, low hopped beers like American Lagers, can be served cold; beer for which aroma is a desirable attribute should not be served cold.

The other thing that happens when foods, like beer, are cold is that taste buds are "frozen", thus narrowing the range of tastes that can be perceived. On a technical level, what actually happens is that the bodily function (gene/protein combination) primarily responsible for transmitting taste (a gene called TRPM5) behaves differently at cold temperatures than at hot temperatures. In particular, though it is true for almost all flavors, bitterness in particular is transmitted more intensely at warmer temperatures. This means that any beer for which flavor, such as bitterness from hops, is a desirable component should not be served cold. Interestingly, it also means that super-hoppy beers should not be served too warm or it will be overly bitter.

The suppression of aroma and flavor is a distinct advantage for American Lagers. Brewed with low-quality six-row barley* and a significant proportion of corn or rice, these beers are essentially made using animal feed – stuff that doesn't taste particularly good. The producers don't want you to taste their product. So, they highly carbonate it and encourage it to be consumed as cold as possible. It's also why when that Budweiser or MGD or PBR warms up it tastes terrible - it's carbonation is gone and the true flavors are fully revealed.

But that doesn't mean all beer needs to be served cold; only beer that you don't wish, or need, to smell or taste. Lighter beers like pilsners and light lagers can be served cold and are very refreshing. Beers like weisse beers (wheat beers), typically use other methods to 'overpower' the cold suppressing effects and can be consumed cold (the yeasts that these beers use provide a fruitiness that overpowers the cold). Even beer that is best served cold should not taste terrible when warm though - you can verify with some well-made pilsners or weisses; let them warm up and they are still eminently drinkable.

But most other beer should be served at least at 50 degrees F to encourage aroma and prevent the suppression of the flavors.

What I find most interesting, is that beer, as its temperature chages, changes itself. For example, when the beer is cold we can't smell it, and thus cannot rely on that component to inform our tastes. Our taste buds are frozen to certain flavors, but still allow others. As the beer warms up, the aromas are released adding a new component to the flavor, and our taste buds are able to detect a wider range of flavors revealing some flavors that were not detectable earlier.

This has gone on long enough. On Wednesday we'll review a beer that is completely different at cold, tap, temperatures (remember, 38 degrees?) and warmer room temperatures.

*I do not mean to denigrate six-row barley implicitly; I love six-row barley beers like biere de garde; but it does provide a huskier, less 'refined' barley flavor that some find undesirable.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009: The Year in Preview

Well, on Monday, you know LAST YEAR, we did a 2008 Year in Review. Well, today is 2009 and we're going to look at the year coming up. This will be the post that in December of 2009 we'll look back and go "HA! How could you have been so stupid!" But, we do it anyway because, well, we have to write about something.

Some things to look for from the Wisconsin and United States Brewing Industry.

1. The First "All-Wisconsin" Beer. It is coming. I don't know who will brew it - my guesses are either Lakefront or Central Waters, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Capital or New Glarus stick their necks out first. Basically, the groundwork has been laid for brewing-quality barley and the first of Wisconsin's hop fields are starting to turn out sufficient quantities. The scuttlebutt is that come September we may see an All-Wisconsin fresh hop beer made with Wisconsin malted barley, Wisconsin hops, and Wisconsin water.

2. Brewpub expansions and Brew-Tourism. Some small breweries are going to start putting in tasting rooms and some existing brewpubs are going to open more locations. Don't be surprised to see The Great Dane outside of Madison, or Water Street or Milwaukee Ale House opening up more locations. It's not a great market for this stuff, but with other brewpubs going under we may see the more established names going in and scooping up facilities and renovating them under their own name. Similarly, breweries and towns are starting to see more and more interest in tourism to the breweries - those that don't have tasting rooms will get them quickly, those that have them will start advertising them more. In this regard, hopefully the cities and state will help out with business development dollars (so generously available from the feds for spurring the economy).

2a. Microbrewing. Brewing is relatively easy to do in a simple way; beer is expensive to buy from a distributor. Restaurants, with a small system, could easily produce enough beer to supplement current liquor and beer needs. Moreover, as we saw last year with O'So Brewing in Plover, we may start to see other related companies open up a brewing component. For example, O'So is owned and run by the owner of a homebrew shop in Central Wisconsin. It's these kinds of periphery industries that may start to explore brewing in an extremely local way. Seattle, Washington has something like one brewpub for every 37,500 people - if this ratio held in Madison (pop: 223,389), we would have six brewpubs - we currently have 4 - the two Great Danes, JT Whitneys and Ale Asylum. If you were to include the Greater Madison Area, or Dane County if you prefer (pop: 463, 826), we could support up to 13 at the same ratio as Seattle - we currently have 7 total in Dane County (add one more Great Dane - the Fitchburg location - The Grumpy Troll, and Grey's Tied House - although one could question how much they actually brew out there). So, don't be surprised to see more brewpubs - or brewbars (bars that don't serve food in any meaningful way, but do brew their own beer) - in 2009.

2b. Contract Brewing. Many of the new beer brands will be contract brewed. For example, a restaurant could develop a recipe, have Point brew it for them and then ship it back, and sell it under a private label. This used to be done quite frequently, and I suspect we'll start seeing more of it again. Starting a new brewery can be very expensive, and it can be much more cost-effective to find excess capacity at an existing brewery and, excuse the pun, tap into it. Brewing entities like Furthermore Beer and Mikkeller (a Danish brewer who doesn't own a brewery, but contract brews some of the most sought after beers in the world) are showing that contract brewing doesn't have to be a dirty word. With the right supervision and quality control and recipe development, in other words, acting like you are running your own brewery, contract beer is no different from beer produced via a very large capital expenditure. These deals need to be partnerships, not simply "here, brew this for me." This isn't to say that there won't continue to be a lot of bad contract brewing. The fact is, recipes are developed by people who don't know what they are doing, contracts don't contain sufficient quality supervision requirements, and, unlike a brewery that can brew whenever they want, when a batch goes bad - you can't just dump the bad stuff. So, in many respects there needs to be an even higher importance placed on quality than even in a non-contract situation. We will talk much, much more about contract brewing in the coming weeks.

3. Expanded and Improved Beer Lists. Even the Wall Street Journal is calling beer the new wine. Mid-range and high-end restaurants are, hopefully, finally going to ditch Amstel Light (I still haven't figured out why 'fancy' restaurants all sell this crap) and Heineken (it's been interesting to watch Heineken move from a 'premium' brand to a 'club' brand) and move towards American (Wisconsin) crafts; three trends are driving this move: 1) greater knowledge from the consuming public about craft brands; 2) localization of food sources and the demand for locally produced food and beverages; 3) increased sophistication in the marketing of beer. With each of these trends, chefs (mostly cool people who all, when customers aren't looking, drink beer) are starting to realize, like the rest of us, that beer can bring a huge flavor palatte to the table.