Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not Entirely Sure Why This Is News ...

But Goose Island, from Chicago, Illinois, is expanding into the New England market. Eventually. But, rather than burden their Chicago brewery with the output, they will use Redhook's brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

There's a few interesting things at play here:

- Goose Island, RedHook, Widmer, and Kona are all part of the Craft Brewers Alliance. What is the Craft Brewers Alliance? Well, it's a single, publicly traded, company. It's sort of like a co-op but the company's shareholders are not its breweries, but the public (including a significant portion owned by Anheuser-Busch). However, it acts as a purchaser of raw materials so that the breweries can lump orders together to get better pricing and availability. It also acts as distributor to take advantage of regional penetration by each of its brands. Its brands are typically distributed through Anheuser-Busch's network of distributors.

- Apparently, now the partnership also includes allowing partner breweries to brew at your facility. Provided each of these breweries has some excess capacity this allows easy introduction of participating brands into the region. If Goose Island wants to enter New England, it doesn't need to spend millions to build a facility, it can just brew there. It's not entirely clear whether this is a contract (RedHook, technically, brews Goose Island's recipes) or alternating proprietorship (Goose Island brews its own on RedHook's equipment) relationship. But, the fact is that there is very little risk in this arrangement.

- The beer will not immediately be sold in New England, but rather be destined back into the Midwest (probably to Eastern-Midwestern markets like Ohio). This gives Goose Island some time to figure out if the arrangement will work and to iron out the wrinkles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Non-Compete Agreements

Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, and North Dakota Have all held that non-compete agreements are completely and always invalid. California, in particular, has a strong policy in favor of "competition and employee freedom."
Gokli, Rayna. Illinois Business Law Journal.
While noncompete agreements can indeed protect your business, enforcing them can be tricky - especially in Wisconsin, where the law is peculiar. ... Courts are concerned about protecting the employee's ability to make a living, and in Wisconsin, noncompete agreements are particularly disfavored.
Frantz, Ellen M. River Valley Business Report. Legally Speaking: NonCompete Agreements Tricky Propositions.

Courts in general, and Wisconsin courts in particular, as a rule, are not in favor of employers telling employees what they can and cannot do; particularly after the employee leaves the employer. Of course, it happens all the time. Confidentiality agreements, shareholder agreements, stock redemption agreements, and, yes, non-competes all restrain former employees in some way. But none are so controversial as non-competes.


Well, think about it for a minute. I hire you and in exchange, demand that you not work in some competitive manner for some period of time afterwards. Sounds reasonable, right? I'm letting you work for me and in exchange just ask that you not work for a competitor afterwards.

However, I am an attorney. I ask that you not work for any law firm in the Midwest for a period of 5 years after you work for me. How reasonable does that sound? You can't do the one thing that you are trained to do (practice law) in the place where your family is (the Midwest) for a period of time that your job skills will deteriorate if not used. If you want to work after you work for me - you have a choice: pick up your family and leave "the Midwest" or change fields. If you don't agree to this, you can't work for me. How many people do you think will agree to this? Will the best attorneys agree to this?

The touchstone for the enforcability of Non-Compete Agreements ("NCA") is reasonableness. Are the terms of the NCA reasonable. What does "reasonable" mean? Well, the court determines that. And, what if the court finds that the NCA is unreasonable, or a part of it is unreasonable? The court uses a "blue pencil" to, basically, re-write the agreement as it deems reasonable.
In examining restrictive covenants, the [Wisconsin Appellate] court applied the following canons of construction to noncompete provisions: “(1) they are prima facie suspect; (2) they must withstand close scrutiny to pass legal muster as being reasonable; (3) they will not be construed to extend beyond their proper import or further than the language of the contract absolutely requires; and (4) they are to be construed in favor of the employee.”
Stevens, Michael L. Wisconsin Court Invalidates Noncompete Agreement Due to Indefinite Extension Provision. February 2, 2008.

So, going back to my example. A court could say that it is unreasonable to prevent an attorney from practicing any kind of law in the whole of the Midwest for a period of five years after s/he's done working for me. So, maybe the judge just re-writes the NCA. Maybe the judge decides its reasonable to limit the scope to just "intellectual property" law, and the geography to just Madison, and the time to just 2 years. So, now, my NCA has gone from "law in the Midwest for 5 years" to "intellectual property in Madison for 2 years." And, if I don't like it, maybe the court just scratches the whole thing. Pretty big risk, not to mention expense, to lose out on getting key employees, don't you think?
"In recognition of our currently dismal economy and the need to permit people to work, some courts -- even in states that generally enforce noncompete agreements -- have demonstrated a reluctance to enforce these agreements."
Beck, Russel. Computerworld. Beyond the Non-Compete. June 2, 2009.

"But, MBR," you say, "the employee chooses to accept the NCA. They willingly and freely signed it in exchange for employment."

But, consider this: "The [employer] will always be at least weakly better off with a non-compete agreement so that it is optimal for her to impose such a clause when there is no incentive problem." Krakel, Matthias. Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems. Should you Allow Your Agent to Become Your Competitor. The employer will always be better of with a non-compete. Moreover, NCA's are effective in reducing wages over the term of employment since the employer only needs to offer enough money to get the employee, not keep the employee, since the NCA prevents the employee from leaving. Id.

Moreover, the risk to the economy at large can cause shifts in industry dominance. A classic example is Silicon Valley, where NCAs are not enforced. It is widely agreed that one of the primary drivers of the development of Silicon Valley and proliferation of high-tech jobs in California, rather than Boston (the home of MIT and nearby Dartmouth and Cornell), is the non-enforcement of NCAs. Samila, Sampsa. Copenhagen Business School Summer Conference 2009. Non-Compete Covenants: Incentives to Innovate or Impediments to Growth. June 17-19, 2009. In the case of Silicon Valley, the non-enforcement of NCAs allowed employees to spin-off new companies and hire others from the same general area working on the same general problem. Id. This led to a boom in the high-tech industry there creating a number of industry giants, even amongst the companies most often raided for talent (e.g., Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle, etc.). Thus, there is a strong economic growth incentive to the non-enforcement of NCAs.

Finally, NCAs hurt the employers. First, the existence and requirement of an NCA limits the potential pool of employees, especially where NCAs are not industry standard. Consider the following situation: Industry A has a surplus of potential employees for the job availability, job turnover is relatively high, and spin-off is likely. Thus you have a situation where a large pool of people is applying for a relatively small pool of unstable jobs. As an employee you will prefer a firm without an NCA. You will delay accepting a job with the firm requiring the NCA as long as possible to see if there is anything else. For the firm, this means not only will the best employees (the ones that all firms want) not come to your firm, but will delay coming to your firm as long as they possibly can.

Morevoer, imposing the NCA hurts the firm by preventing experimentation with employees. Simply put, not all employees are a good fit with every firm. However, the NCA impedes the employer's ability to remove imperfect matches. "In the absence of perfect information, anything that adds friction to the movement of employees across firms ... will obstruct the trial-and-error process and increase the odds of a poor match." Id. So not only are firms left with only those employees that would agree to the NCA, but the odds of being stuck with a poor match are particularly high, as well.

So, the practical reality is this:
If an employee finds himself in a situation where he has found a new job, but signed a non-compete agreement with his prior employer, he may still be able to take the new job. The employee should generally not disclose the existence of the non-compete until later in the interview process, when the potential new employer has expressed a strong interest in the job candidate. That way, the employer will be more likely to work with the employee to find a way to hire him.
Gokli, Illinois Business Law Journal. In other words, the NCA is meaningless without enforcement. Employees could sign them and simply break them, forcing the old and new employer to fight it out (and probably settle). In such a case, the NCA has not only decreased the quality of the employees, but added to your legal bill as well (first in drafting it, then in enforcing it). And the end result is that the employee probably works for a competitor anyway, or at the very least the court re-writes your NCA.

Or, you could just save yourself the money and headache and provide a great enough workplace that your employees don't want to leave.
ps. This is not legal advice, if you have any questions regarding non-competes and their enforceability please speak to an attorney.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MBR Logo Wins Award

A few months back I asked Gage Mitchell of Gage Mitchell Design if he wouldn't mind designing a new logo for MBR. I was unsure what to do with this logo: shirts and hats were an obvious choice, but I just kind of sat on it for a while because I was too lazy to update the site graphics. Well, turns out the design was so awesome that the folks at I Heart Logos voted it into the first I Heart Logos design competition book of winners.

So, what should we do with it? It's already up on the site. T-shirts? Hats? Hoodies? Pint glasses? It would be pretty cool etched into the bottom of a pint glass, no?

Thanks Gage! Your design is awesome. You can see more of Gage's beer-ish-related work here (World of Beer Festival logo) and here (Luxe Bohemian Cafe and Bar in Charlotte, NC).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Beer Arts and Crafts - Brewing Beer in a Coffee Maker Edition

Yes. Brew beer in a coffee maker (thanks BoingBoing). I am SO trying this at home.

The concept is rather simple: you're trapped on an oceanographic research vessel and you need a beer. All you have on hand is a coffee maker, some filters, a few jars, rubberbands, handkerchiefs, and whatever the vessel kitchen has on-hand. How do you make beer with that?

Perfect beer is meticulously planned and carefully crafted.

Screw that.

You’re six days into a 2 month expedition, and if you were lucky enough to not be on a dry ship, it’s de facto dry by now anyway. You’re eying the ethanol stores, the crew is eying each other, and all hell will break loose if y’all don’t get some sweet water soon. This is no time for artistry.
The tools you need are simple: an electric drip coffee maker with hot plate, a coffee filter, 2 1-liter glass sample jars with air-tight lids, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 rubber bands, and a source of clean (preferably R/O) water.
However, in keeping with the maritime theme of this recipe, seaweed should be your bittering agent of choice. Both bladderwort and sargassum have been used effectively to make very tasty beer.
If you try, post here how it goes.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Article on New Glarus Old English Porter

Heads up. I wrote an article last year about New Glarus' Old English Porter. You'll recall that we had quite a bit of discussion about this beer here on MBR.

In any event, I wrote up a longer and more detailed version of that article that I shopped around to various beer magazines. Beer Magazine picked it up, and finally published it. So, I just went to Borders yesterday, it's still on the stands - page 66 of the August/September issue. Go out and grab a copy. By the way, it's my first article in a national print magazine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Making the Business of Beer a More Difficult Place to Be

Jeff Alworth, of Beervana, wrote an article about a Texas brewery that has dared to trademark "Beervana". Basically, the gist of the article is this: Portland is and has been known as "Beervana" for a very long time, a Texas brewery shouldn't be able to pull this out of the public domain and use it, but whatever, we're not too pissed because we're too stoned and drunk to do anything about it. OK, I made that last part up.

Because the reality is pretty simple. An enterprising person or brewery with a few grand to kill in legal fees could challenge the registration (a "cancellation" proceeding) on the grounds of "genericness" or even "geographical indication". Because, if, indeed, Portland/the Pacific Nortwest is and has been known as "Beervana", it would be similar to me trying to me trying to trademark the word "Badger". In other words, in a technical, legal sense, the Trademark Office should require a disclaimer of any descriptive or generic portion of a mark - since the entire mark, in this case, is generic/geographic in origin, the mark should have been disallowed.

I'd be happy to take this on for someone. My rates are reasonable.

But, the bigger point that Jeff makes is this: "As micros get more and more macro, we're going to run up against these kinds of seizures of the psychic landscape of brewing. It's not a tiny brotherhood anymore; it's big business." You'll recall the "Monster v. Monster" debacle last year. Monster Energy was legally in the right. But the court of public opinion felt very differently. But the sentiment is correct. As more and more breweries get in on the business, there will be landgrabs for territory, landgrabs for equipment, landgrabs for trademarks.

What if Lake Louie, for example, were to start selling in Iowa? What if shortly after hearing that Lake Louie was coming, an Iowa brewery started selling "Coon Rock Ale"? Then Lake Louie comes into the market, who gets priority? What's fair?

I can give some legal answers, of course. We can look at priority dates and dates of first use. We can evaluate the mark as applied to the goods and services. We can go through the Polaroid factors to determine the equities of infringement.

But does any of that matter in the court of public opinion? No. I have to tell clients frequently: just because you can, doesn't mean you should. The intricacies and nuances of legal protection do not translate well when the opposition is: "F- you outsider, leave my people alone."

It seems pretty "easy" when you have David v. Goliath. What about when it's David v. David? The "bad guy" stuff - like my example above about "Coon Rock" and intentional infringements - are pretty easy. But what about the more usual case, where the problems are a little more difficult.

Here's a hypothetical taken from a real case - the names have been changed to protect the innocent. What do you do?

Offsides Brewing Company, a relatively new upstart founded in the late-90s/early 2000s in Wisconsin. For the past 7 years they have been growing steadily and are just starting to take their first steps outside of the state - some distribution in Minnesota (started in 2005), some in Illinois and Indiana (in 2007), a few cases make it back to Ohio where the head brewer is from just to satisfy a very local market there (2010). But Offsides is definitely interested in national distribution - they just aren't quite there yet. They are in discussions with distributors in Missouri, Maryland, California, and Iowa. Given this basic fact scenario, evaluate the following situations? You have 2 hours to answer this question. [ed note: sorry, I blacked out during the flashback to law school exams.]

A. Offsides finds out about a winery in New York called "Offsides Winery". The winery was started after Offsides Brewery, but was unaware of the brewery.

B. Offisdes finds out about a brewery in California called "Offsides Brewery". The brewery was started after Offsides Wisconsin.

C. Offsides finds out about a brewery in Missouri called "Off-the-Side Brewery." The brewery was start before Offsides Wisconsin.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Furthermore Hopperbolic Release Parties

All right. A few things to talk about here. The first of which is that Furthermore Beer is teaming up with Madison Beer Review for some release parties around Madison. MBR is only involved in the Madison-area shindigs, by the way.

Furthermore Hopperbolic Label
  Shitty Barn Parn - Official Release Party: Shitty Barn, Spring Green, Sat. Oct.23 from 6pm to 2am
Madison Release Party - High Noon Saloon, Madison, A Freakin' Halloweekend, Oct. 29 and Oct. 30, $8 cover, $7 with non-perishable food item.
Hoppy Hour: The Malt House, Madison, Nov. 3, 5pm to 7pm
Hoppy Hour: Sugar Maple, Milwaukee, Thursday, Nov. 4, 7pm to 11pm
Hoppy Hour: The Shed, Spring Green, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5pm to 7pm
Hoppy Hour: Vintage Brewing Company, Madison, Thursday, Nov. 11, 5pm to 7pm
Hoppy Hour: Brasserie V, Madison, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 5pm to 7pm
Tasting: Star Liquor: Friday, Nov. 12, from 4pm to 7pm

So, what is Hopperbolic and why should you care?

So, we all know Furthermore. We're familiar with Knot Stock, Makeweight, Fatty Boombalatty, Thermo Refur, etc. etc. Except for Proper, a, um, proper English pale ale, Furthermore's Modus Operandi is to take a pale ale and add some weird shit to it (multiple yeast strains, cracked pepper, beets, apple cider, etc.). I've always likened it to modern culinary techniques and the "play with your food" aesthetic because it comes off far more polished than most beers with weird shit in them (pizza beer and blueberry lagers come to mind).

Tired of being known as the "weird, but good" brewery, Brewmaster Aran Madden set out to make a straight-up, honest to God, IPA. When this idea was in its infancy, the idea was to take 6 different hop strains and add them at 6 different times, or something like that. But as the beer evolved in the test kitchen, it became something a little different. You see, Furthermore, just down Highway 14 from Mazomanie, found out that they could source all of the hops for this beer from Gorst Valley.

The problem, however, is this: Gorst Valley is growing ridiculously fast. It can barely keep up with demand as it is. But Jim Altweis, and the fine folks at Gorst Valley are committed to Wisconsin craft beer and will go out of their way for Wisconsin craft brewers. So, they struck up a deal: Gorst Valley would find some hops for Furthermore, and Furthermore would basically take what they're given.

This is Hopperbolic. An IPA recipe that will change, evolve, and mutate over time based on the quantity and variety of hops that are available to Furthermore. It will only ever contain 100% Wisconsin-grown and processed hops. But those hops might be cascade, they might be Mt. Hood, they might be Northern Brewer, they might be Centennial. The first batch will contain Nugget, Cascade, and Mt. Hood varieties.

Hopperbolic will be a year-round release, so it is not, specifically, a fresh hop beer. [ed note: I was informed this morning that the first year will not be year-round, they don't have the hop quantities for it though, but it is planned to be year-round when availability permits] Though, admittedly, this first batch will be super fresh out of the fields and off the processing line. In keeping with the local ethics, Hopperbolic will only be available in Wisconsin. Supply will be dictated by the amount of hops that Furthermore can get, so this first release will be tap-only. If enough hops are available, the second batch could get bottled.

This post and the events MBR are helping out with are independent of the next announcement, but, in fairness, I do need to make this announcement.

Finally, this is the last that you will from me for a good amount of time about Furthermore Beer. As you all know, I am an attorney and do some amount of work (though not exclusively) in the brewing industry. That makes this blog a little different from most, I am not a writer by trade, and I don't write about things from a journalistic point of view. I write about the things I do because I find them interesting and, it turns out, most of you do too.

In any event, I have been asked to be on an Advisory Board for Furthermore Beer. This will be a temporary position (a couple of years or so) and unpaid position. Just so you know, an Advisory Board is not a Board of Directors. It's sort of like one, but an Advisory Board doesn't have any real authority. It just listens to and discusses issues and makes recommendations. The company is under no obligation to follow those recommendations. While this appointment does not cause a conflict for me legally, either with this site or for my other clients, I believe that it would cause a moral/ethical conflict for me on this site. And, to be honest, I almost turned it down because of the conflict that it would cause with Madison Beer Review.

I decided to accept it because, frankly, I like Furthermore Beer and they asked me to help. I don't see it as significantly different from journalists who assist breweries in recipe development, or brewhouse design, or any number of other "outside gigs" that we are often asked (and sometimes paid - whether "officially" or "unofficially") to take on. For this reason, I feel it will not be appropriate for me to write about or review Furthermore Beer - I just can't help but think, if I were in your position, that my views would be tainted or biased. I know a number of writers do not feel the need to make this disclaimer, but I feel that you can't trust me without transparency, because I wouldn't trust me if I didn't disclose this and later found out about it.

I may occassionally post Press Releases that I feel you might find interesting, and Matt or Travis might post reviews about Furthermore, but it will not be at my suggestion or instigation and I will have no part in the review or article. I may even, if confidentiality and with permission, of course, post about my experience on the Advisory Board since those who read Madison Beer Review for interesting bits of beer business insight might find that interesting. I'll keep you posted, but this will be it for a while.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Milwaukee Brewing Company Solomon Juneau

I've always liked the Milwaukee Ale House. Though I can't remember ever being really blown away by any of their beers, it's always a place I seem to end up at when I'm in Milwaukee. A nice location right on the Milwaukee river, decent pub food and solid house made beer are all good reasons to check it out.

The Milwaukee Brewing Company, as they call the production brewing side of their operation, almost didn't happen. Their business plan from day one was to start a brewpub, and once that was successful, expand out into production brewing. But when the brewpub bill reared its head a couple of years ago, making it illegal to operate a brewpub and a production brewery that produces over 10,000 barrels a year, the Milwaukee brewing folks had to act quickly to finish their production facility before the law went into effect, grandfathering them in as an exception to the law. (Ale Asylum is another example of such an exception)

At some point the Milwaukee Brewing Company began distributing their product here in Madison, with seemingly little fanfare. Each time I've seen a six pack of their beer on the shelves my thoughts have gone something like "Louie's Demise...I've heard of that somewhere before. Wait, that's a Milwaukee Ale House beer! Oh yeah, they bottle their stuff now." Then I buy something else. I also can't think of any conversations with my beer geek pals that have involved Milwaukee Brewing Company, nor any mentions of them in any of the beer geek blogosphere that I inhabit.

But that all changes today. At some point Milwaukee Brewing Co began a "Timed Release" series of seasonal beers, and I decided to try out the Solomon Juneau Extra Pale Ale. I probably did a poor job of choosing a beer to review; their website calls it "the perfect summer ale," so it's very likely that this beer was bottled a while ago and has been sitting on a store shelf for a few months. And with the first frost advisory of the season already upon us, this might not be the best time to drink a summer ale regardless of freshness. Oh well, with that in mind, here's the review:

Appearance: light straw with little to no head.
Aroma: A fairly pronounced noble hop aroma; grassy, spicy.
Flavor: Very nice hop flavor up front. Czech saaz is an excellent and unexpected choice in this type of beer. The bitterness is moderate, and the malt on the finish is a touch sweet while still being a bit watery and blank on the finish.
Drinkability: The reduced bitterness and low ABV (4.8) keep this beer pretty drinkable, although the malt sweetness wears on you a little bit as the glass goes down. A slightly lower Original Gravity and slightly higher attenuation, keeping the ABV the same, would make this one a little bit better.
Summary: This is one in a line beers I've had in the past year that hit your palate in a similar way: big hop flavor and aroma up front makes your brain think "IPA," then all of a sudden the flavor drops away to a moderate bitterness and light body that almost seems watery and bland after the rush of flavor that the beer begins with. Surly Bitter Brewer, Grumpy Troll Grumpy Creek, New Glarus Moon Man and (with a bit of a twist) Chameleon Brewing Hop on Top all had a similar progression of flavors. And similarly, after the first sip I think "meh, interesting idea, ok beer," but by the end of my glass I always want more. That's pretty much the definition of a great session beer, right?
This particular one is a tough sweeter in the finish than the others I mentioned, which hurts the drinkability a bit, but the great flavors from the Saaz and Styrian Golding hops make this one worth seeking out, even if it would be better in warmer weather.

Golden Ales with the flavor and aroma hops of an IPA: the new pink?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Most Of This Has Nothing To Do With Much Of Anything

Some beer you should drink that is new on the market. No, not all of it is new on this market. Hell, some of these you can't even get in the state. But, there's some cool stuff out there and this is just some of it.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. No, not Guinness Stout - originally an "export porter". No, not even Guinness Extra Stout - a heavier version of Guiness Stout. But, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Available in the rest of the universe since forever, it is now available in the United States. Lew Bryson seems to really like it. If stouts are your thing, this is your holy grail. But it's more like the Holy Grail is now being mass reproduced and sold at Target, which sort of ruins a bit of it's "grailiness", no?

Rodenbach Vintage 2008. Tired of the wife yelling at you for taking up so much damned space with all of that beer that you're saving for some apocolypse that will probably never come? Well, worry no more. Rodenbach is doing the aging for you. "Vintage 2008 was aged in oak vat number 96 at Brouwerij RODENBACH in Roeselare, Belgium for the last two years. The 750 ml bottles are cork topped and the Flanders sour ale resembles an Oloroso sherry wine with its deep red, coppery glow. Cask 96 was chosen for this year’s special Vintage because its track record in producing sour beer over the years has been superior." Rodenbach's availability can be sketchy so who knows whether this will actually be available in Wisconsin. Speaking of which ... anyone know if this is available in Wisconsin?

Tiny Bubbles. You have to go to Hollister, California for this one, but it's an authentic Gose (Mr. Snooty McSnottipants requires that we all pronounce this "goes-a"). What is a Gose? Well, it's sort of like a wild fermentation berliner weisse, though not actually wild since he pitches Wyeast lactic cultures, and with hefe yeast, and not from Berlin. It's similar to Gueze, but pronounced with a pinky out; described as a salty gueze, or a Berlinner with balls, the recipe is about 60 percent unmalted wheat and 40 percent pilsner and 100% sour. This ancient style is from Goslar and Leipzig, and it was almost dead; expect a Sam Adams Gose within the year.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project Once Upon A Time. Dan brews beer as a "gypsy brewer" (a pretty stupid title if you ask me, but it effectively connotes what he does - travel around to different breweries brewing beer on their stainless). He gets some of his ideas from a crazy Dutchie named Ron. Ron and Dan are obsessed with the past. In particular Ron is obsessed with digging up obscure facts about obscure beer brewed in a relatively concrete past. Dan is obsessed with brewing these beers. This project is called the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project and the series of beers that involves Ron is called the Once Upon a Time Series. The latest in this series was released this past weekend and it's called KK. Pretty lame name if you ask me. "The beer itself is a KK, brewed on Chiswell Street in November 1901. ... If you've paying attention to these pages you'll realise that we're talking about a Burton. ... Dark, hoppy and 7.8% ABV, ...." That, on the other hand, does not sound pretty lame. Sounds pretty f-ing awesome actually.

Finally, something a bit more local: Furthermore Hopperbolic. The latest quirky release from Furthermore is a not-quite fresh hop IPA that really won't be all that quirky. Challenged to stop putting non-beer things in beer, Brewmaster Madden brings you a straight IPA the only way Furthermore knows how - a 100% local hop brew (hops courtesy of Friends-of-MBR Gorst Valley Hops) with no recipe. Well, obviously there's a recipe. But, the recipe will change based on the availability of hops. Summits aren't available? Goldings and Nugget it is. Oh? No Cascade? We'll use some Centennial instead. Chris can explain it better than me: "A few words about Hopperbolic - it's a beer we're releasing and changing over time based on the volume and varietal yield of the hopyard - it WILL evolve over time. Presently, Gorst Valley is able to provide us Nugget, Cascade and Mt. Hood. We will be producing a total brewed yield of between 40 and 60 bbls this fall. We'll be doing it in two or three batches, the first of which will be keg only. While we're kind of known for doing funky stuff, we wanted to serve up Gorst Valley's crop in the best way to assess the hops themselves. We're not getting too crazy with process or recipe, just really trying to let the harvest shine through. Maybe you'll like the changes from one batch to the next, maybe you won't - that's cool. We hop(e) you will enjoy the idea, indulge the experiment and revel in the return of hops-growing to southern Wisconsin." Some more news coming on the release of this beer; for now you can just drool.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bar Review: The Mason, Madison, WI

The conceit is rather simple: serve good, craft beer in a mason jar. Why a mason jar? How the hell should I know? Why not a mason jar. It conveys homey-ness, it conveys relaxation, it conveys familiarity, it conveys ... ummm ... preservation?

When you run out of cups at home because you're too lazy wash the dishes, you use Mason jars. So, pretend you're at home I guess.

They do, actually, have other glassware - a stemmed straight-walled ale glass that is used for some of the "fancier" items on-tap. Speaking of the taplist ...

It's good, not great, and interesting in a "there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to this", sort of way. The Mason features somewhere near about a dozen taps, some Wisconsin, most not. There always seems to be Dogfish Head on tap, so if you get a hankering for Midas Touch or Festina Peche you know where you can go. It's taplist is probably most comparable to Maduro's fairly safe list with the occassional oddity thrown in. Admittedly, it is not nearly as comprehensive or deep as Malt House, a similar bar on the East Side of Madison, or Brasserie V, a Belgian-specialty powerhouse on the West Side of Madison. But it does follow in those traditions by catering to its neighborhood with better-than-average to great beer.

But Dogfish Head is probably a good model for the ecclecticism here. From the lounge-y decor with inexplicable roosters, blank tvs, and miscellaneous knick-knacks and covered lamps, to the taplist ranging from Monks Cafe to Festina Peche to Oskar Blues Gordon to Lost Coast Downtown Brown. I like this kind of experimentalism - there's a wide range of beer to choose from and limited taps, so pick something and go with it and see what happens. Drackenburg's Cigar Bar has a similar beer-choosing methodology it seems, and it works well to keep the taps rotating and fun.

The clientele and bar staff is knowledgeable and chatty, so just showing up and saying hello is a viable option. In other words, it's a friendly neighborhood bar, with a good taplist. Is it the most daring taplist, best beer bar in town? No, but it's not trying to be. Should all of your friends drive in from around the Midwest to check it out? No, but that's not its purpose.

It's a great place to grab a good beer that you don't have to think too much about and have a conversation or meet some folks out. It's a neighborhood bar right on the outskirts of downtown that, for me at least, is a great place to meet the wife on the way home to grab a drink after work. If I lived in the Vilas neighborhood, I'd probably be there far more often than I should.

But, MBR, you say, you just complained about The Sugar Maple yesterday for being a similar bar and that bar has way more taps going and it has music. Ah. I guess the way I see it is that the Sugar Maple is a destination, or its reputation is as a destination. And, as a destination, a place to seek out, I'd argue, that you can find better. It is a fine neighborhood bar, though its staff knowledge seemed suspect (though, admittedly it was one trip; comments from others who have been there on multiple occassions assure me that my trip was an aberration). Here, the staff knowledge seems up to par, and it doesn't profess to be, nor is it seen as, anything more than a neighborhood bar that serves pretty decent beer.

So, go, check out the Mason Lounge on Park Street (at West Wash, next to Falbo Brothers Pizza) here in Madison and let me know what you think.