As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Milwaukee for Sprecher's 25th Anniversary over the weekend. After checking out the party and enjoying some fine beer, Mrs. MBR and I headed out for some food and to check out one of the better-known beer bars in Milwaukee, the Sugar Maple. We discovered rather quickly that there is no food there, so after getting some food we came back, to what I have to admit was a rather mixed experience.
First, the good: the band in the back. I didn't even know there was a band in back until a gentleman from Chicago asked if I like jazzy avant-garde classical quartets. Hot damn, do I!
Playing guitar, stand-up bass, cello, and xylophone (vibrophone?) was the (a) Jason Seed Ensemble that I found a compelling mix of complex, entrancing, and intricate. Clean arrangements with space for movement, it was at once intellectually stimulating and relaxing. It was unfortunate that they were tucked into a closed back room with little notice to anyone that they were even there. The 7 other people in the room and I really enjoyed it.
On the other hand, for such a great reputation, I found the bar itself to be rather lackluster. While the taplist was extensive, it was hardly unique or original, filled with year-round and seasonals of generally available craft breweries from around the US. Southern Tier's 2x IPA was on cask. Otherwise, it was a fairly predictable mix of Goose Island, Bells, Victory, New Holland, and Sierra Nevada with an occasional throw to Upland or Grand Teton. A handful of Wisconsin breweries rounded out what is otherwise a decentish mix of larger national and regional craft breweries.
But what really got my hackles up was the listing of Furthermore's Oscura as a "coffee stout". And, my generally favorable impressions of Furthermore notwithstanding, it is this kind of stuff that really peeves me. When I questioned the bartender about it he said "Yeah, we've been getting a lot of returns of that, it's not very good." A) way to sell your product. B) it's not a coffee stout, maybe that's why you get a lot of returns. As a coffee stout, Oscura is, admittedly, a disappointment; it would be too thin, with a distinct lack of malt backbone and hoppiness, not to mention a clear failing with regard to alcohol and color. But it's not a stout. It's a California Common, a beer more like Anchor Steam than Peruvian Morning.
How many customers do you think Sugar Maple turned off of Furthermore because of this simple mistake? Do you think Bell's would be happy if it had label Consecrator a porter? Or Three Floyds would be happy if Dreadnaught were labeled a Maibock? These seemingly innocuous descriptions set a customer's expectation. Otherwise unfamiliar with a brand, if I see and expect a coffee stout and get a California Common, I'm going to wonder why in the hell the brewery can't make a proper stout.
So, I suppose as a neighborhood bar serving locals The Sugar Maple is probably a good bar. But would I recommend people to search it out? Not really. If I happen to be near it, I'll probably duck back in and hope to get a properly described beer. But, I wouldn't go out of my way for it.