Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Hope You'll Follow Along To The End

Last Thursday, no make that a two weeks ago today, I was sent an email from a friend who happens to be a brewer starting up a brewpub in Sun Prairie.

What? You didn't know that there was a new brewpub opening in Sun Prairie? Huh. Well, shame on you. There's a new brewpub opening in Sun Prairie.

Anyway. His brewpub isn't entirely the point of this post. This friend of mine, Joe Walts, has been test-batching beers that may, or may not, end up at his brewpub. As a fair bit of disclosure, one such test-batched beer ended up at my wedding. He tested a mint porter at one of Furthermore's Shitty Barn parties, he's tried a cardamom stout that was excellent, he's made a Belgian Blonde that was nice, not to mention india pale ales, pumpkin beers, and a sour concoction that may eventually see the light of day.

Joe is a good brewer and his plan for his pub is excellent - think of The Malt House, if it were a brewpub. What I mean to say is that it is a return, or maybe a departure to, the British Pub. A place where the local community congregates to discuss the issues of the day over a pint and some light food. People come and go from these places. They meet their friends at these places. These places are the neighborhood. TVs aren't necessary. Pool tables are superfluous. Dart boards ... well ... a dart board wouldn't hurt for a little authenticity, eh? Anyway, you get the point.

The point of the pub is collegiality and neighborliness. Something that I think we've lost in a day where we're too busy driving from point a to point b to stop on our neighbor's lawn and ask how the kids are doing. Maybe you'll see each other at the kids' soccer games.

But, hell, in a universe where Facebook brings together friends from not only all over the city, but the state, country and world, who needs neighbors? I can drink a beer at home and play Farmville with my high school buddies until the cows get lost and come back home again. If I want to discuss politics I can just log in to and post my missives in the comments. If I want to find out the latest in beer, I can just head over to ... ... ...

But you know what? When you're in a strange city far from your family and long-lost friends and acquaintances, having neighbors is a great thing. Having a local pub filled with the people who live in your neighborhood, suffer from the same crappy traffic, put up with same egotistical alderman, and have to tolerate them damned whippersnappers and their boomboxes, can be pretty great thing. Going out of town and need someone to watch the cat? Neighbor. Grilling out on a gorgeous summer evening and have 8 hotdogs but only 6 buns? Neighbor. Have a lawn that needs to be mowed, but your mower blade rusted because you left it sitting out in the rain for two straight weeks and you just haven't had a chance to run to Home Depot because it's entirely the wrong direction from where you work? Neighbor.

So, wouldn't it be great to have a place where you can say hello to the guy whose lawn mower you'll be borrowing? It'd probably be even greater if that place had good beer.

Oh. Wait a minute? You were taking me literally? Ha! I was talking figuratively. Maybe I should have been more clear.

One of Joe's neighbors in this Wisconsin Beer Community is Gorst Valley Hops. What's interesting is that both Joe and Gorst Valley are relatively new to this neighborhood. And anyone that's ever moved into a neighborhood knows that the new guys have to stick together because the old guys like to point and laugh until you figure out that trash day is on Thursday.

You may have seen Gorst Valley Hops' booth at The Great Taste of the Midwest last weekend. Heck, you might have been the really drunk guy that asked Gorst Valley Hops to fill up your sampler glass. If you are a brewer you probably saw a Gorst Valley sales rep who tried to give you a card and let you know that while Gorst Valley's hops are currently sold (to Lake Louie, if you wanted to know), they are taking orders for next year.

Gorst Valley is committed to bringing hops back to Wisconsin. In the 1800s, Wisconsin was one of the largest hop growing centers in the world. A blight wiped out those crops, but recent price inflation has made a more stable (and local)source a higher priority. To that end, Gorst Valley has been arranging "hop growing seminars" to teach local farmers what it takes to grow hops here in Wisconsin. They are finding varieties that grow well here. Heck, they are even taming ferile Wisconsin hops in the hopes of deriving a pure Wisconsin breed that we can claim for our very own.

Moreover, Gorst Valley is being a good neighbor and are committed to the brewing community. This year's crop is staying in-state. Every year Gorst Valley is going to reserve a portion of their hops for homebrewers to buy direct from the source. And, Gorst Valley gave their neighbor Joe Walts some Cascades that have ended up in a bottle that is now sitting in my refrigerator.

This beer is not destined for Joe's brewpub. Heck, even mentioning this beer and RePublic Brewpub together might give you the wrong impression. This is not a RePublic Beer. It is simply a beer that Joe, a brewer, made using some hops given to him. But both Joe and Gorst Valley asked my opinion of this beer. And both were insistent that I publish it for all the world to see. Because, you see, transparency is vital to a community. You know what happens when you keep things from your neighbors? Your neighbors turn out to be Jeffrey Dahmer or Dick Cheney.

I hope you've read all the way to here and I hope this post has had a point. I'm not entirely sure it has.

Joe Walts' Pale Ale featuring Gorst Valley Hops Cascade

Appearance: A thick three finger (at least!!) head in my stemmed glass. The 53 degree body is murky and resembles the brown of the bottle I poured it from. While the head foams up impressively, it falls away somewhat quickly leaving a little residual lacing on the sides of the glass.
Aroma: I smelled the signature Cascade grapefruit and pine and orange as soon as I opened the bottle and before I had even poured it out. The aroma in the glass is more pine than citrus, but a faint oranginess lies behind the somewhat forward malts; there is a breadiness to the malts
Flavor: a very light bitterness is predominate, there is some caramel sweetness in the malts that might come from either the malt itself or as caramelization from the kettle boil; it is not overpowering, but nor is it distinct; I'm having a hard time describing the flavor only because there is no one flavor that really seems to jump out at me; as I make may through the beer, the bitterness and citrus pucker of the taste is a little more forward
Body: the bottle conditioned creaminess is prominent and I suspect that some of this has to do with the rather warm-ish temperature that I chose to drink this at; the body is otherwise soft and medium built, with a clean malt finish, but a lingering hop bitterness that begs for another drink
Drinkability: well...I went through this one pretty quickly; a sessionable beer in that I wouldn't feel bad ordering a pitcher of this and accidentally drinking it myself; at this warm temperature it warms up well, which means it's perfect for long discussions at a pub
Summary: If I were given this beer in an unlabeled bottle and asked to review it (ummm....) I would put it squarely in the Pale Ale or even American Amber category. Given that "pale" seems to lean ever-more-amber-ish these days, this probably qualifies as a pale ale. Which is to say, this is not an American Pale Ale in any sense other than that it uses American, as opposed to British, hops. As for the hops themselves, it's hard to tell if it's the hops or the application or my own personal biases that leaves me wanting a little more; it is so tantalizingly close to that almost-but-not-quite-over-hopped, American, profile that I want just a little bit more. Which is probably why I went through this bottle so quickly. The Cascade is a low alpha acid hop, so I wasn't expecting much in the bitterness, but I could have used more. The cascade is a very aromatic hop, and I was somewhat disappointed it didn't stand out more against the malts.

OK...I'm a sucker for my own curiosity. This one is straight out of the refrigerator at 42 degrees. ...

Appearance: the same (a big head)
Aroma: a little more citrusy, and some grassiness/earthiness comes through; the aroma is even more muted than at the warmer temperature (to be expected, I guess)
Flavor: again, even more muted; the bitterness is more pure with the typical citrus-like pucker, but not as pronounced and it doesn't reverberate as long
Body: not as creamy, but still finely bubbled; seems a little thinner; wonder what this would taste like straight out of the bottle?
Drinkability: At this cold of temperature, none of the flavors are strong enough to bring me back for more, there is some of the bitterness, but unlike the warmer temperature where it was tantalizing, the suppressed flavors leave me waiting for this one to warm up rather than to have another one
Summary: I like it at the warmer temperature better;

FINAL SUMMARY: I'll admit to my biases - and my biases are towards hoppier (i.e., more bitter, bigger) beers; at cold temperatures this is a mediocre to average American craft pale ale (though in a different way - Joe and I have talked about this at length and this beer does not suffer from the problems that so many craft breweries do, with the higher mash temperatures leading to syrupy light bodies and unbalanced profiles). At the warmer temperatures this is a good American craft pale ale. Having talked to to Joe a little about this beer, I know he wasn't trying for a big hoppy beer - he was shooting, I suspect, for something like what I had when this beer is at its warmer temperatures. Something that is relatively unassuming, but tasty, that can be ordered by the pitcher (for sharing at a table, not for drinking, Kollege Klub-like, by a single person). Something that would fit at an American British Pub. For Gorst Valley, I would say that this seems a little muted on the citrus, though it's definitely there - particularly in the bitterness that comes through in the finish - but the aromas are more in-line with the pine that often comes through in Cascade hops. It does seem on the low end for the specs given by HopUnion, but it might just be Joe's nuanced touch.

All-in-all a very favorable experience. A beer that I would be happy to drink at a brewpub. And hops that are tasty even at lower dosages.

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