Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

26 August, 2015

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: First Bavarian Pale Ale by Apostelbräu

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: First Bavarian Pale Ale by Apostelbräu

I'm in media res of clearing out the beer in my basement. Now, I don't mean the big brews aging on a shelf in the corner but rather the other ones on the floor. Occasionally I'll run across a real gem that escaped my mind. It is rescued in the nick of time and a fine gustatory experience is had. At other times I run into beers have eluded me for just too long and they've taken a turn for the worse. What follows is one of these latter cases. Sadly.

A pale ale brewed in Germany?! Yes, you read that right. Note also how Apostelbräu brands itself as a craft brewery. Rudolf Hirz of Apostelbräu is a bit of a maverick, apparently. I read that he also innovated in the late 1980s by brewing spelt beer, spelt being a variety of wheat. The grain also features in First Bavarian Pale Ale. It seems that the grain is more common in Germany than it is here in the States where it's generally considered a specialty grain.

The first thing I ponder when seeing a beer from Germany such as a pale ale or one that departs markedly from the Rheinheitsgebot is whether or not the brew is export-only. It's one thing for German brewers to brew English pale ale and to add things like quince, spruce, and rhubarb to their beers; but, if these are just going to be exported never to touch the lips of German drinkers, exactly how much has changed? Luckily it seems that First Bavarian Pale Ale is available in Germany as well as at Binny's in suburban Chicago.

The beer poured a nice gold, as you can see. It was naturtrüb - naturally hazy. From what I've read, spelt has more protein than the other more common varieties of wheat so I am left to wonder if spelt beers are hazier than normal wheat brews. My pour produced a fine head that was white and pillowy and which dissipated rather slowly. There were rather few bubbles in the liquid itself.

The aroma was rather sweet with the malt having a caramel scent. This is likely due to the age of the beer but there was also grassy hops to be had so I assume that the beer wasn't quite senescent yet but rather middle aged. On the tongue the sweetness all but disappeared which again leads me to believe that the beer, while not fresh, wasn't ready for the old beer home. It had a mellow malt flavor which was bready while the grassy hop flavor returned. It didn't have much in the way of fruitiness which I presume was the result of its, shall we say, extended aging.

It finished a bit watery with a moderate spicy hop bitterness.

This brew wasn't as far gone as either the Roggen Gold or Uerige Alt that I've had recently. Or at least I don't think it was judging by the hop flavor and the lack of sweetness on the tongue. Still, this was not a fresh beer.

It should go without saying that I'd love to try a fresh(er) bottle of First Bavarian Pale Ale. It tastes like Apostelbräu used a Noble hop here instead of…well, what do the English generally use in their pale ales? Fuggles? Goldings? From what I've been able to gather, Apostelbräu was one of the first breweries in Germany to try their hand at an English pale ale. I wonder if this was inspired by beers from England or by the American craft beer boom or…? The use of spelt here gives a Teutonic slant on the style and, if Noble hops were used, then all the more so. Another one to look out for the next time I'm at Binny's. Has anyone seen this here in Madison?
|| Palmer, 3:56 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: Roggen Gold by Schlägl

I'm in media res of clearing out the beer in my basement. Now, I don't mean the big brews aging on a shelf in the corner but rather the other ones on the floor. Occasionally I'll run across a real gem that escaped my mind. It is rescued in the nick of time and a fine gustatory experience is had. At other times I run into beers have eluded me for just too long and they've taken a turn for the worse. What follows is one of these latter cases. Sadly.

I found a bottle of Schlägl Roggen Gold at a Binny's in suburban Chicago back in the past immemorial. Stiftsbrauerei Schlägl is an Austrian brewery while their Roggen Gold is a rye ale.

I absolutely love rye in beer. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I love rye in beer styles that I like. Aw hell, it even makes IPAs palatable – Founders Red's Rye IPA is a great beer. I feel so ashamed that this beer got lost in the shuffle. This being the case, I have written not a review but a tantalizing glimpse of what may have been.

Roggen Gold pours a gorgeous light copper. The beer is aesthetically pleasing on its own but it gets bonus points because I've been drinking so many beers that are yellow in color lately (Goses, Berliner Weisses, Helleses, a Zwickel) and this stands in stark contrast. The beer was hazy and there was lots of particulate matter floating about. Oops. Despite the beer's age, it was still rather effervescent. I got a decent head that managed to last a little while and there was a goodly number of bubbles going up.

The aroma was all malt. There was bread dough, honey, and then the earthy rye. The taste was very similar with a pronounced honey sweetness and some spicy rye goodness. The finish was rather sweet with just a touch of spicy hop flavor in there.

For whatever reason I think of roggenbiers as being weissbiers with rye. I was wondering if it would taste anything at all like a weissbier and it didn't. But I have to admit that I'm not sure if this is because all the esters/phenols dissipated over time along with any semblance of hops or because those banana/clove flavors had never been there in the first place. Roggen Gold had a nice medium-light body and I couldn't help but think what this stuff must have tasted like had it been fresh(er). The rye was prominent here in both the nose and on the tongue. I dream that it was the same lo those many years ago.
|| Palmer, 8:04 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

25 August, 2015

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Off Color

While I may not have been sure if Snarling Badger is still a blended beer, there's no doubt that Off Color's Troublesome is. But instead of a Berliner Weisse, Troublesome aims for Gose territory.

As I noted when I sampled their Berliner Weisse, Off Color treads a path less worn. Rather than being yet another moth taken by the IPA flame, the men behind the beer, John Laffler and Dave Bleitner, sought inspiration from obscure German styles when brewing the cornerstones of Off Color.

The Gose is a light sour wheat ale notable for being seasoned with salt and coriander. The people of Leipzig were apparently good joiner-inners because the Gose originated in the town of Goslar, about 115 miles from Leipzig in the early 18th century and, as the 19th century came to a close, Gose was the official brew of Leipzig. The style is most closely associated with its adopted home today. In my mind, anyway.

As I said above Troublesome is a blended beer and not brewed strictly in accordance with tradition. An unadorned wheat beer comingles with a sour brew fermented by lactobacillus alone. This is the second time this week I've encountered a sour brew that was untouched by brewer's yeast. Salt and coriander are added later.

Troublesome pours hazy and is light yellow in color. I didn't get much of a head but there were bubbles galore going up as well as clinging to the side of the glass. I've always heard that, if there's carbonation on the side of the glass, then the glass is dirty. Now I feel badly. Are there any circumstances under which those bubbles would adhere to the side of glass even when it is clean? We're talking 50+ year-old glassware here so perhaps imperfections in the glass would qualify? I hope so because otherwise I've just admitted to the world that I am a poor dishwasher.

The aroma was at once enticing and disappointing. To begin with the latter, I only caught a rather faint whiff of the lemony tartness that the lactobacillus produces. That tangy bouquet is such an exhilarating way to begin a beer and I lamented its paucity here. On the other hand, the coriander was quite distinct which has not been my experience with most of the Goses that I've encountered. There were also notes of grain and a sweet scent that reminded me of simple syrup.

If the aroma had induced fears of a sour beer lacking tartness then they were allayed when I took my first sip of Troublesome. It was moderately sour. I didn't get a blast of lemon/citrus sour but the beer still had a goodly tartness to it. Wheat/bread was also present as was the coriander. Most of the Gose beers I've had are American and the coriander usually eludes my tongue. I wonder why this should be considering that these same brewers have little or no compunction about putting their customers' tongue through alpha acid hell. The coriander in Troublesome is not overpowering or prominent but it is distinct. Just enough to stand out a bit yet subtle enough to blend in with the other flavors.

As someone at Next Door Brewing can attest, my ability to discern salt in beer is woefully inadequate. I could taste no salinity in Troublesome, which is not a problem, but I did have a problem discerning what the salt was doing to the flavor. The grainy/bready flavors didn't come across to my tongue as having been enhanced by salt; they tasted as they have appeared in other beers ohne Salz. I think that the flavor of the coriander was heightened by it, though, as it tasted less delicate than it does if you just taste it right from the jar.

There was also a goodly amount of carbonation which was readily tasted and added dryness and balance to the grainy flavors. Troublesome finished dry with a lingering tartness and just a hint of the hops which were herbal and peppery. Sadly my glass was not left with much Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Troublesome has a nice, light body and is rather smooth on the tongue which I presume is because of the presence of oats. The tartness and high carbonation make for a very refreshing beer. At 4.3% A.B.V. one can get good and refreshed without necessarily getting good and sloshed. Off Color did a great job of producing a sour beer that has more than sourness going for it. It is going a step too far to say that the flavors here are balanced because the tartness is most prominent. But it's kept in check to a degree by the carbonation. Plus the grainy flavors don't get lost and neither does the coriander. Everything just works well together.

Junk food pairing: Gose pairs well with lighter fare so try seafood flavored junk food such as Shrimp Funyuns or Lay's Rock Baked Scallop with Butter and Garlic potato chips.
|| Palmer, 2:13 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

24 August, 2015

The Biggest Berliner Weisse I've Ever Had: Snarling Badger by Grand Teton Brewing

Looking back, I've had a lot more Berliner Weisses in the past few months than I thought possible and now it's time for yet another one. It doesn't seem so long ago that the style was considered exotic and strange. I recall sharing one several years ago with a friend who was repulsed by the beer's foetid vapors and hideous tartness. My first encounter with a Berliner Weisse wasn't quite so horrible but it did take me a little time to become accustomed to the style. While there are far, far fewer Berliner Weisses than there are, say, IPAs, fans of the former are luxuriating in a bounty of beers these days. This time around we have one from Grand Teton Brewing which is, I just learned, in Idaho.

Snarling Badger is the brewery's summer seasonal but was originally intended to be a one-off brew back in 2012. The ur-Snarling Badger was unique in my Berliner Weisse experience in having been a blended take on the style. A batch was brewed and fermented entirely with lactic acid bacteria and then blended with another batch that had been fermented with hefeweizen yeast to produce banana and clove esters/phenols which contrast with the citrus sour produced by the Lactobacillus. I'd never heard of fermenting exclusively with Lactobacillus and found this rather intriguing. I wonder how the product of lacto fermentation differs from one fermented with brewer's yeast and then lacto-soured. Unfortunately I can find no evidence to indicate that the blending process was ever used beyond the initial batch in 2012.

Also, Snarling Badger is what might be termed an imperial Berliner Weisse as it is 7.5% A.B.V., more than twice the strength of a traditional Berliner Weisse. I use "traditional" cautiously here because the style dates back to the 16th or 17th century and has changed much over the years. The notion that a Berliner Weisse is strictly about 3% A.B.V. seems to be a 20th century one that developed as the style was rapidly disappearing. I don't doubt for a minute that there was a starkbier ("strong beer") version of Berliner Weisse over in Germany at some point over the past few hundred years.

Snarling Badger pours a yellowy gold that is hazy from the wheat in the grain bill. My glass got only a small head that was soon to be gone. Still the beer was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles moving up my glass and a fair number of them clinging to the side. It is the "Champagne of the North", after all. (Which makes me wonder about reports of last year's batch of Berliner Weisse by New Glarus which rated it as over-carbonated.)

As was expected, the beer had a pronounced lemony aroma but there was another citrus smell to be had – tangerine. It reminded me of the new (and inferior) Tangerine IPA by Potosi in cans which I find to be syrupy, though Snarling Badger was by no means as cloying. Also present was another sweet fruity aroma, namely a stone fruit smell that, in combination with the tangerine, made for an almost treacly nose. This was not going to be the Berliner Weisse that Napoleon encountered. Notably absent were any banana or clove aromas as one would expect if some hefeweizen had been blended in.

Snarling Badger's taste was much like the mix of aromas that my nose caught. The lemony tartness from the lactic acid bacteria was there but so were a couple of sweet flavors. First was a doughy, grainy sweetness while second was peach-like. The sweetness was prominent but it never crossed that threshold into cloying. I think that the carbonation really helped the Lactobacillus in keeping the sugary hordes in check by adding some dryness to the flavor.

At the finish the tartness ebbed away allowing a slight grassy hop bitterness to come through.

This was my first time drinking a Berliner Weisse that was this potent. While there was a goodly amount of sweetness, it didn't suppress the sourness. However, if you really want lip-puckering tartness that will kill your tastebuds, then Snarling Badger isn't the beer you're looking for. For a beer that is this big and sweet, it had a lighter body than you'd expect and the surfeit of carbonation no doubt gives it a lighter mouthfeel. While the sweet and sour were more or less in balance here, this beer is too big to be a summer thirst quencher. However, it made for a nice summer nightcap.

Junk food pairing: Pair this big beer with heartier junk foods such as thick cut potato chips or Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces.
|| Palmer, 3:48 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 August, 2015

This is not a kellerbier. I repeat, this is not a kellerbier: Zwickel by Urban Chestnut

I used to think that zwickel was just another name for kellerbier and the zwickel/kellerbier was simply helles that was unfiltered and unpasteurized. Now I believe this view to be wrong and am not really sure what a zwickel is. It seems that it's a light kellerbier, with a bit less alcohol and less hoppiness. Oh, it also features more carbonation because, unlike the kellerbier, the bung is firmly in place on the tanks so the precious carbon dioxide does not escape. It also seems that kellerbiers and zeickels are lagered for differing lengths of time but I cannot confirm this. Oh, and a kellerbier seems to be, in extreme shorthand, a hoppy, still Märzen. Which I guess means that the zwickel is, in extreme shorthand, an unfiltered, unpasteurized helles. It would seem that a trip to Franconia is in order to clarify matters.

Unfortunately I won't be stepping foot in Germany any time soon but luckily Urban Chestnut's brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, hails from Munich and began to learn his craft there. And I am also fortunate that he brews Zwickel.

Kuplent's zwickel pours a lovely deep yellow and has the requisite turbidity with all that tasty yeast still in there. This was quite an effervescent brew as I got a nice fluffy white head which was in no hurry to go anywhere. In addition there were lots of bubbles forming at the bottom of my glass only to make their way upwards.

The aroma was a little bit of heaven. It smelled like bread - full of yeasty, grainy goodness. There was also a note of spicy hoppiness from the Hallertau Perle und Mittelfrueh varieties. Zwickel tastes like fresh bread. There was a bit of mild doughy sweetness (which veered towards apricot as the beer warmed) but Zwickel had a lot more of that superior bread crust-melanoidin flavor. The yeast also added to the impression that one was drinking liquid bread. More beers ought to remain unfiltered, in my humble opinion. Finally, the plentiful carbonation lent a little dryness to this decidedly malt-focused brew.

There wasn't much to taste of hops until the finish where the Noble Hallertaus exerted some peppery bitterness and helped Zwickel finish on a dry note. My glass ended up with a couple moderately sized patches of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

While I can imagine that Zwickel tastes exceptional coming right from the tap at Urban Chestnut, St. Louis is much closer than Franconia and it still tasted fantastic to me. Just as hopheads are going ga-ga over Citra hops these days, I get my thrills with that bread crust kind of flavor that European malts seem to provide. And there's no shortage in Zwickel. At 5.2% A.B.V. it is perhaps a bit stronger than is traditional and the bready flavors are at the fore here but this is not a very hearty brew. It has a nice medium-light body, is not very sweet, and is bubbly making it quite suitable for warmer weather.

I'd love to taste Zwickel fresh down in St. Louis. I have friends who swear that Pappy's Smokehouse is the best BBQ on the planet and there's an Urban Chestnut outpost less than half a mile from Pappy's. But, since there's no trek to St. Louis in the near future…

Junk food pairing: Pair Zwickel with Pepper Jack Cheese Nut Thins. Both are relatively light fare but the chili makes for a nice contrast to the mellow, bready flavors of the beer.
|| Palmer, 6:59 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

19 August, 2015

A Catalogue of Tastes & Smells, Brewed in the City of Milwaukee, on the West Side of Lake Michigan: Increase Wheat from Milwaukee Brewing Co.

Last year at either a Craft Beer Week or a pre-Great Taste event the Milwaukee Brewing Company was pouring a new gooseberry Berliner Weisse. I thought it was rather tasty but was disappointed because it was available only in Milwaukee and, if I recall correctly, solely on draft. This year, however, the brew, christened Increase Wheat, has been bottled and given wider distribution.

The beer is named after Increase Lapham, the renowned 19th century naturalist and scientist who lived in Milwaukee. While his mailing address may have been in our state's largest city, Lapham surveyed the entirety of Wisconsin, reported on Native American effigy mounds, and catalogued the state's flora and fauna, including the gooseberry. (Lapham Elementary School here in Madison is named after him.)

Increase Wheat follows in the footsteps of several of Milwaukee Brewing Company's brews whose names refer to city landmarks and famous Milwaukeeans. It's nice to see them show pride in their city and expose people beyond John Gurda's reach to tidbits of the city's history. And in a time when many beer labels feature cartoon hop cone superheroes as well as scantily clad women, seeing Lapham and his level on the six pack holder is a refreshing change of pace.

I did my tasting on a fairly warm, sunny day which was perfect for the style and provided plenty of light for my snap which turned out not too shabbily.

Increase Wheat is a lovely yellow in color and is hazy. It is a wheat beer after all. As befits a "Champagne of the North", it's also very bubbly. My pour had a nice fluffy white head which stuck around. There was also a surfeit of bubbles making their way up the glass.

The aroma was marvelous with that characteristic lemony tartness complemented by gooseberry and grain. Milwaukee Brewing stayed true to style here and didn't brew a quad imperial Berliner Weisse. Increase weighs in at a typical 3.1% A.B.V. and the addition of rice helps give it a very light body. That citrusy/lemony sourness is right there leading the charge on your tongue but so the gooseberry which adds its own, slightly mellower and sweeter, tartness is not far behind. There's a goodly amount of sour here but it's not amped up so as to be threatening. You'll pucker, don't get me wrong, but swiftly adjust. Underneath it all is the wheat which gives a nice bready flavor here. In addition you can taste the carbonation which, along with the rice, adds a layer of dryness to it all.

Increase Wheat finishes as it began – tart. I found that the citrus tartness yielded to that of the gooseberries. There's not much hops to be had here. I suspect that the Tettnanger hops that are present just helped add to the overall dryness of the beer.

I thoroughly enjoy Increase Wheat. Here in the summer heat it proves to be exquisitely refreshing. It gets points from me for its dual tartness attack with a sharp, citrusy sour rubbing up against the gooseberry's blunter, sweeter contribution. The sour flavors are like paint with the light graininess providing the canvas. There's always that wheat for the tartness to prop itself upon and to provide a little contrast and texture too.

Junk food pairing: Berliner Weisse is a light style so you want something fairly easy going to pair with it. Try some Funyuns with your Increase Wheat. It's got that root vegetable thing going on for starters. The overall flavor won't overpower the beer while the beer will cut the salt. Plus salt & sour is simply a fantastic combination.
|| Palmer, 5:45 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Düsseldorf Calling: Uerige Alt

My little altbier trifecta ends with a taste of Düsseldorf - Uerige Alt. Credit must go to Riley's Wines of the World for carrying Uerige's bier as I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Uerige was established in 1862 which means it's been around for most of the time there's been this beer that we call the Düsseldorfer Alt. I did some reading on the origin of the altbier and ended up getting thoroughly lost in a labyrinth of 16th and 17th century Westphalian and Bavarian alimentary laws. The altbier's cousin, the Kölsch, springs from Cologne's brewing traditions shaped by a 1603 law banning bottom-fermented beers. As far as I can tell the point of this law was to preserve the city's brewing heritage against the encroachment of lagers but surely it also had something to do with protecting the city's indigenous breweries. Did Düsseldorf have any similar laws? I could find nothing at Ron Pattinson's blog indicating that it did but this could very well just be lazy researching on my part.

It seems that the brewers of Northern Germany spent a lot of Renaissance fending off the influence of Bavaria. In 1551 a Munich law mandated the use of bottom-fermenting yeast there and a couple years later Bavaria outlawed brewing in the summer because of ales going south. In what appears to be a series of laws aimed at protecting the consumer, Bavarians unwittingly elevated lagerbier above ales. The lager trend spread and brewers in places like Cologne and Düsseldorf struggled against it. It seems that the altbier and Kölsch are the products of brewers clinging onto tradition on the one hand (top-fermenting) and yielding to trends on the other (lagering). Hence the native style for these brews is Obergäriges Lagerbier - or top-fermented lager beer.

In doing my reading I also learned that the altbier and Kölsch, while top-fermenting, are fermented at cooler temperatures (55°F-60°F) than your average ale (65°F-75°F).

My photo didn't turn out too badly here and, as you can see, Uerige Alt is a beauty. It's clear with a nice copper color. My pour had a nice off-white head that was in no hurry to leave. The aroma was sweet with caramel and raisin notes in my nose. I was surprised not to catch any hops as I was under the impression that the alt was fairly hoppy – in the Czech pilsner range. But, as with any other beer style, your mileage may vary. Plus I wasn't sure how long the beer had been sitting on the shelf when I bought it.

Curiously enough, I didn't find much in the way of hops in the flavor either. The dominant flavor was roasted grain which veered into chocolate territory slightly. But there was also this slight plum-like flavor and I tasted something I can best describe as being like vermouth. The latter of these was quite unexpected. The beer wasn't very sweet but had a medium body. I think the carbonation helped add to my tongue's impression that this wasn't a particularly sweet beer.

The beer finished dry with (finally!) some spicy hop goodness coming through.

I am reluctant to make any definitive judgements about the beer as I can't vouch for its freshness. With that caveat, I will say that I rather liked this beer. The fruitier flavors weren't as prominent as roasted grain ones and I really liked the chocolate tones. These flavors melded well. Actually, Uerige Alt had a rather more complicated malt profile than I expected. There were just more fruity bits comingling with more roasty bits than I thought there would be. The absence of hops until the finish was disappointing, however.

Junk food pairing: Uerige Alt goes well with Cheez-It Duos Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan crackers. These brighter tasting snacks help provide some balance since there's not much hop bitterness to be had.
|| Palmer, 11:12 AM || link || (5) comments | links to this post

13 August, 2015

Some Pre-Great Tasting

The day before the Great Taste of the Midwest I stopped in at Buck and Badger as Schell Brewing was to be featured as was St. Francis Brewing. I was hoping to try some Schell's Starkeller Peach, a peach-laced Berliner Weisse, and their One Five Five, a red lager brewed in honor of the brewer's 155th anniversary. If Arminius, their hoppy lager, was available, then all the better.

From what I can tell, Starkeller Peach sold out within about two hours after arriving in Madison. I was quite surprised by this as the previous Noble Star brews were around for a while after hitting shelves here. Apparently people got all fired up over the presence of peach and – BAM! – they snagged up every bottle before I knew it. The succeeding release in the series, Cypress Blanc, was still on store shelves last time I checked. This bodes well for me as long as there's no peach in the next release.

The Great Taste's stellar reputation rests, in part, on the fact that they require brewers to attend and represent their beer. While this is good and pure, I've rarely had time to chat with brewers at the Great Taste for very long. There's usually a thirsty horde behind me seeking suds. That's what makes these events the day before so nice. You can corner a brewmaster and have an honest chat of, if you're lucky, a few minutes. Brewmaster Jace Marti was at Buck and Badger last Friday and I borrowed his ear for a while, I can tell you.

I began by asking him about Schell rebranding itself as "German craft". I have speculated here that it had to do with the Brewers Association declaring Schell to be "crafty" and not craft because of the use of adjuncts in Grain Belt. Marti confirmed this. But he also said that Schell takes their German heritage seriously. They seem intent on differentiating themselves in the microbrew world by exploiting and innovating German brewing traditions rather than going all IPA all the time.

While I'd hoped to taste Arminius, an extra hoppy lager, there was none to be had. In fact, I don't recall ever having seen it here in Madison. Marti or his cohort told me that it had been discontinued. It never caught on, they believe, for marketing reasons. On the bright side, they brought Starkeller Peach.

I guess you could describe it as an imperial Berliner Weisse aged with peaches. (Truth be told, I didn't know it was 7%+ A.B.V. until I looked it up just now.) It was full of sour peachy goodness and I poured myself multiple samples. There were also bottles of Cypress Blanc, a Berliner Weisse/American pale lager hybrid with brettanymyces and hopped with Hallertau Blanc hops. It was potent too at 7.4% A.B.V. (No wonder I was so hungover the next day.) This was light, tart, and oddly fruity for not having been aged with fruit. Good stuff.

Marti told me that the next Noble Star release is going to be called Apparent Horizon, a rye Berliner Weisse. Rye is for me what peach is for the Madison Beer Advocate crowd so I'm really looking forward to this. I politely asked Marti to bring back Emerald Rye and told him that I adored Chimney Sweep, a rauch dunkles. Marti revealed that he'd lived just outside of Bamberg, Germany, home of the rauchbier, for a couple years and he recalled wander into town when he had time for some fine smoke beer. This provoked an instant mancrush on my part. I turned green with envy. Marti expressed a preference for Spezial over Schlenkerla and also noted that rauchbiers tend to get smokier over time. I.e. - they are much less smoky when you're in Bamberg drinking them fresh from the barrel as opposed to opening the bottles you get at the store.

Jace Marti was a swell guy and I recommend chatting him up if you get the chance. You could hear the love he has for his job as he described the restoration of the cypress aging barrels Schell uses for the Noble Star beers. He was quite proud of the beers he made and of working within the German brewing traditions that have informed Schell since the brewery was established in 1860.

At some point I stopped pestering Jace Marti and joined my friends. Sadly there was no One Five Five on tap but I did try Schell's Cave Aged Barrel-Aged Lager which is a dunkles aged in whisky barrels. It was outstanding. A fairly big beer at 7.7% A.B.V. but not a leviathan with flammable fumes emanating from your glass. The roasted malts melded with the whiskey instead of being overpowered by them.

Also present was St. Francis Brewing. I have a bottle of Lust, their weissbier, at home waiting for me. Beyond this, I have to admit I've never tasted their beer. But they brought some of their brand new lemongrass Berliner Weisse with them. Here it is being tapped.

O'zapft is!

I chatted for a bit with a brewery rep who was also a certified cicerone. A charming fellow who gave me the skinny on St. Francis and their beers. The Berliner Weisse was the brewery's first attempt at the style. Unfortunately, champagne of the North it wasn't. It was woefully undercarbonated which made me wonder why they'd brought it. On the other hand, it was light and refreshing and I could certainly see this being a great summer brew with proper carbonation.

From Buck and Badger it was off to The Capital Tap Haus where the Capital crew would be offering various and sundry brews made especially for this pre-GTMW party. Sadly, none of my photos from the Tap Haus were in focus. There was a rye pilsner on offer which was tasty despite not having been lagered long enough. The chocolate peanut butter stout was also tasty. Just enough peanut flavor. I also got a glass of Vacation Request, a rye ale that is hopped with Lemondrop hops, a new variety. This beer is going to be bottled so look for bombers soon. It was tasty. The rye spiciness was moderate but noticeable. It was light and refreshing. Not too hoppy. Balanced.

My former co-worker Doug, he of OverServed fame, was there. I got to chat with him for a spell which was nice because I hadn't done so since I started my new job. He is good friends with Ashley Kinart, Capital's brewmaster, and so I got a chance to speak with her for a while as well. I opined that the rye pilsner should be an annual. Of course I pleaded with her for a rauchbier. While one is not forthcoming, she did suggest a tour of the Weyermann malt factory in Bamberg and she thought it was a cool experience. So that's on my bucket list now.

My friends and I stopped at the Caribou for a nightcap. It had been years since I'd been there. The jukebox was one of those fancy touchscreen deals and the taps had changed too. And there was no Ruthie. (Does anyone know if she's still around?) But really, The Bou was basically the same as it ever was. I do believe that we had Central Waters Summarillo which was quite tasty for a beer with "India" in its style's name.
|| Palmer, 2:37 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

09 August, 2015

At the Bottom of a Dark Wisconsin Lake: Headless Man Amber Alt by Tyranena Brewing Co.

After my disappointing experience with Port Huron's Amber Alt I decided to follow my whim and keep on the altbier path. Surely there must be a tasty one outside of Düsseldorf. Next up was Headless Man Amber Alt from Tyranena.

Tyranena was founded in 1998 which makes them pretty ancient in Madison area craft brew world. To put it in Lord of the Rings terms, Capital, founded in 1984 or '85, is like Ilúvatar. It was there at the beginning. (And doesn't Kirby Nelson look like ol' Eru?) Brewmaster Rob Larson and his minions over in Lake Mills, about 25 miles east of Madison, are like one of the Ainur who, along with others, sang the sweet microbrew song in the 90s (and 2000) to give us the craft beer world we have today. The brewery has a nice tasting room and also a fine outdoor area. It's a friendly atmosphere with hounds running around and people having a jolly time. It's been a while since I've been there but their chili cook-offs were a hoot.

Headless Man pours a beautiful amber as opposed to the more traditional copper. It is clear and effervescent. My photo shows the nice tan head my pour produced and there was a fair amount of bubbles in the glass going up, up, up! The aroma was very sweet-smelling with both caramel and fruity – like plum - scents present.

Considering the aroma I was surprised by the flavor. It had a slight fruity/apricot sweetness and a dryness from the carbonation, was readily apparent, and the mix of German hop varieties. I found it to be a bit watery and light on malt flavor. The beer didn't taste like it had been lagered or at least not lagered long enough. Like Port Huron's altbier, Headless Man had a medium body but was remarkably lacking in malt flavor. I found this to be blatantly odd because I've never known a Rob Larson brew to be lacking in flavor. It may be flavors I don't want to taste but a watery beer from him? Unheard of.

Headless Man finished dry with a lingering spicy hoppiness and left some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass.

Sadly, this was another drain pour. I've had Headless Man before and I don't recall it tasting like this. I think I must have hit an unlucky altbier streak. Maybe Woodman's singles cooler malfunctioned. It was just too watery and those fruit flavors just didn't belong. Something must have gone awry down in Lake Mills. Hopefully my memory isn't playing tricks on me. because I thought that, when things are going right, this is a tasty, malty brew. At 5.25% A.B.V. it's a bit bigger than the classic altbier and approaches sticke alt potency.

Junk food pairing: As with Port Huron's curiously similar altbier, I'd pair Headless Man with steak-flavored potato chips like Ruffles MAX Flame Grilled Steak chips or Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak flavored chips. The latter are or were to be had at Woodman's East along the opposite side of the dairy aisle wall.
|| Palmer, 7:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

This Altbier Induces Fremdschämen: Amber Alt by Port Huron Brewing

Wisconsin Dells is the state's most infamous tourist trap, drawing hordes of families from Illinois to area theme parks, arcades, and restaurants. Nestled away in a nondescript business park on the fringes of town lies Port Huron Brewing Company. The brewery's name comes from a 1917 Port Huron (Michigan) steam tractor proudly owned by brewmaster Tanner Brethorst's family. Port Huron tends to creep under the craft beer radar because they do not brew an IPA, although that is supposed going to change this year.

Brethorst did his time in the southern Wisconsin brewing scene before striking out on his own. He worked at Tyranena, Lake Louie, and Capital Brewing in addition to taking classes at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. He also honed his skills across The Pond in Munich for a spell. In 2010 he decided to brew professionally and Port Huron started rolling barrels out its doors in 2012.

As I noted above, Port Huron has no IPA or even a plain Jane pale ale to its name. Sometimes I wonder how a craft brewery can remain in business without being able to satiate the hop addicted. Indeed, of Port Huron's four annual brews, two are German styles – a hefeweizen and an altbier. I was happy to see Brethorst brew an alt as it's a style that does not get a lot of love in these parts.

The alt is the specialty brew of Düsseldorf. Like it's cousin from downriver, the Kölsch, the alt is top-fermented and then lagered. I've never found any definitive explanation for this. It seems that the style derives from an older ("alt" means old in German) ale which mutated in the late 19th century amidst the onslaught of lagers. Alt is traditionally served in a stange like the Kölsch but the altbier variation is shorter and wider. Luckily I have a couple of these so, if you come over to drink altbier with me, it will be served to you in one of these instead of the ubiquitous shaker pint.

Port Huron's Amber Alt comes in a prepossessing copper color. I swear, it looks much better than my lousy backlit photo. The beer is clear and effervescent. My pour got a nice fluffy, off-white head that lasted a good while. Beneath it many bubbles made their way from the bottom of the glass to the top. My nose caught a sweet malty aroma that was stone fruity along with a cleaner biscuit scent as well as a yeasty one. I guess you could say it smelled very much like bread.

Oddly enough, the first thing I tasted was the spicy-peppery hop flavor of what I think are Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops with the malt being conspicuously absent. It was genuinely weird. The beer has a medium body but for just a very short time it tastes really watery. Then a bready malt flavor pops in from out of left field. None of the stone fruit flavor from the nose is present so Port Huron gets points for lagering the beer.

Amber Alt finishes dry with the malt giving way to more of the Noble hop spicy bitterness. I was left with some fine Schaumhaftvermoegen.

This ended up being a drain pour. I don't know if it was the vicissitudes of craft brewing or my ineptitude at keeping my bottle cool and out of the sun but Amber Alt was watery. There were good flavors in there but they didn't come together. It tasted like each of the flavors were in a line and hit my tongue one after another instead of in a glorious gestalt of Noble malty kinship. First the hops, then the water, then the malt, and then the hops again. Hopefully this was a bad bottle whoever may be at fault. I shall try Amber Alt again at some point to verify my findings here.

Junk food pairing: Pair Amber Alt with a hearty junk food such as a steak-flavored potato chip like Ruffles MAX Flame Grilled Steak chips or Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak flavored chips. The latter are or were to be had at Woodman's East along the opposite side of the dairy aisle wall.
|| Palmer, 4:54 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Champagne of the North from the South: Fierce by Off Color Brewing

Off Color Brewing is one of our brewing neighbors to the south. It began a couple years ago in Chicago and was founded by John Laffler, who had worked for Goose Island in the Bourbon County department, and Dave Bleitner, who left Two Brother Brewing to partner with Laffler. I have to admit that Off Color interested me from the get-go with their first two bottled beers being a gose and a kotbusser. Plus Laffler told an interviewer, "Everybody else makes IPA, so why would we?" and described IPAs as "a beer I don't care for". A man after my own heart.

I'd imagine that many BCS fans were expecting a prominent barrel aging program from Off Color considering Laffler's pedigree. Even though OC has done some barrel aging, they haven't staked their reputation on it. Instead Laffler and Bleitner have spent their time brewing a range of beers from lagers to ales, big beers to session brews, sours, obscure styles, and many points between. Fierce continues the brewery's tradition of making lesser-known German styles (and ales at that)and is a Berliner Weisse. Yeah, it's not obscure like the kotbusser but it's no pils either.

By looks alone Fierce seems true to style with its light straw color and hazy complexion from a hefty dose of wheat. Looking at the bottle one sees that the brew is 3.8% A.B.V. which is also traditional as the Berliner Weisse is not generally a very potent brew. One often hears that Napoleon and/or his troops dubbed the Berliner Weisse “The champagne of the North.” This sounds wholly apocryphal to me but it is certainly true that the style should be bubbly and indeed my pour of Fierce resulted in a nice big white head. The beer was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles forming at the bottom of my glass and heading upwards.

I could smell the beer while the glass was still several inches from my nose as I fumbled with my camera and it smelled mighty fine. It had the characteristic lemon/citrus tartness that I've come to expect from the style. Also present was a bit of graininess plus a some sweetness with citrus/orange tones. Luckily it was a fairly warm out when I drank this brew because it was perfect for the day for it. That lemon tartness shone through but was tempered a bit by all the bubbles which added welcome dryness. The label notes that the tartness was achieved via kettle souring. This, I believe, means that
Lactobacillus is added prior to boiling and the addition of hops as opposed to letting the beer sit around and gather bacteria from the air or from a barrel. Fierce is rather sour but I found that its lemon aspect to be fairly subdued.

The beer's light body also made it quite refreshing on a summer day. It finished on the dry side owing to the generous carbonation and lingering tartness. Unfortunately, there was not much Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had as it all slid down the wall of the glass.

Fierce is a very tasty brew. It's light body, wonderful lemony tartness, and all those bubbles just make for an exceptionally refreshing drink during these warmer months. The beer boasts 3 I.B.U.s so hopheads need not apply as you'll never find the hops. They probably add to the overall dryness but I couldn't taste them. I also appreciate that it is a true session beer coming in at 3.8% A.B.V. as I can have a few of these after work and still be able to watch Blake's 7 that same night and recall the plot in the morning.

Junk food pairing: Pair Fierce with lighter foods. You don't want something that's going to completely overshadow the beer. Try some thin pretzel sticks or those fancy new Lays West Coast Truffle Fries potato chips.
|| Palmer, 2:35 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post