Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

04 May, 2015

Getting Better With Age: Terrance by Lakefront Brewing

Lakefront's My Turn series began in 2011. These limited edition beers showcase the potatory predilections of the brewery's employees and not just those who specialize in zymurgy. Front office folks also get to proclaim their tastes.

Terrance came out in 2013, if memory serves, and is a Kölsch. Sadly, I recall bottles of it languishing on the shelves of Jenifer Street Market. Apparently most Madison microbrew drinkers are like Madison Craft Beer Week co-founder Jeff Glazer who craves "weird or exciting or creative" brews. If it's not laced with an exorbitant amount of hops, isn't soured with bacteria from the brewmasater's toilet, or isn't aged in a Malort barrel, well, why bother? On the other hand, this left plenty for me and perhaps a few others who don't prize novelty above all else in beer.

The Kölsch is a specialty brew of Köln (Cologne), Germany. The beer we know today goes back to around the turn of the 19th century. Lagering (i.e. – storing the beer in temperatures that approach freezing for a couple of months) was quite hip and trendy at the end of the 19th century time yet Köln was still under the influence of its own Reinheitsbegot laws which outlawed bottom-fermenting beer. Not wanting to miss out on the trend of the day, brewers there used top-fermenting yeast but lagered their beer. The term "Kölsch" (or "Koelsch") is a protected appellation so only beers of this style brewed in the Köln area can rightly use the name. Hence the use of "Kölsch-style" on Terrance and other American iterations.

By all appearances, Terrance adheres to the conventions of the style. It is clear and straw-colored and looked mighty fine in my stange. Kölsches are supposed to be well-carbonated and my pour had lots of bubbles making their way up to a nice, fluffy white head. The beer had a slightly fruity aroma with yeast and bread smells also being prominent.

Like the color, the Kölsch is supposed to be light-bodied and Terrance hits the mark. It had the perfect biscuit/cracker flavor from the pale malts that was just slightly sweet but there was also a vaguely berry-like fruitiness to it, a flavor derived from the yeast. Hops were faint here but I could taste a subtle Noble spiciness underneath everything. The carbonation gave my tongue a little zing as well. That spicy hoppiness returns in the finish and made it fairly dry.

My glass was decorated with an abundance of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

As I noted above, Terrance was released in 2013 which means that the bottle reviewed here has been sitting in my cellar for a stretch. I recall drinking this beer fresh, however, and I think that it has improved greatly with age. Back in 2013 Terrance had a heavier mouthfeel with a bit more sweetness and it tasted more of dough than my preferred clean, biscuit flavor. The doughy taste seems very common in Wisconsin Kölsches with Point's Three Kings Ale, Leinenkugel's Canoe Paddler, Sand Creek's Groovy Brew, House of Brews' Prairie Rye, and the new Parched Eagle's Golden Ale all having this taste. Exceptions to this rule include Big Bay's Wavehopper and Vintage's Sister Golden Ale (the reformulated one). Not knowing exactly how all of these beers are brewed, I will say from my little experiment here that, generally speaking, more lagering seems to be needed for Kölsches.

My aged Terrance was extremely tasty. It had a clean taste in which the fruity flavors from the yeast and the biscuity ones from the malt are allowed to come to the fore. The hops were subdued and I wouldn't have minded just a bit more of them. Terrance's 4.2% A.B.V. paired with its crisp flavor makes for a fine brew on a hot day.

Junk food pairing: The Kölsch style is all about subtlety and so I recommend a junk food on the mild side. Pair (aged) Terrance with Monterey Jack Cheez Its.
|| Palmer, 1:39 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

28 April, 2015

Smells Like Victory: Kirsch Gose by Victory Brewing Company

I must admit that I am not familiar with Victory Brewing beyond having had the occasional Prima Pils. But I was intrigued when I read that they would be releasing a kirsch gose. I like gose beers. I like cherries. A truly tantalizing combination.

Although most closely associated today with the German city Leipzig, the gose originated in the town of Goslar in north central Germany at some point in the 16th century. (The river Gose flows through the town.) A cousin of the more popular Belgian witbier, it is a top-fermenting sour wheat beer flavored with salt and coriander with the sour coming from the addition of lactic bacteria these days. The style was extremely popular in the 19th century but is now on the endangered species list. It went into decline after World War I, seems to have gone extinct in 1945, but has been revived in fits and starts ever since. For a much more thorough history of the gose, read Ron Pattinson.

Being a fairly rare style, I've not had many a gose. The only German iteration I've had is Leipziger Gose. As for American versions, my first experience came by way of Gordon Biersch's take on the style at the Great Taste of the Midwest. Schell has tried their hand at it as well and Anderson Valley with mixed results.

Closer to home, Next Door Brewing here in Madison brewed a gose called Egon's Revenge last year. I rather liked it and head brewer Bryan Kreiter says that it will be brewed again this summer with a tweak here or there. For instance, instead of using acidulated malt to create tartness he hopes to "culture some wild yeast/bacteria from raw grain and sour the wort pre-boil."

On their website, Victory proudly proclaims of Kirsch Gose "European tradition and American ingenuity come together in the truest sense..." I am not sure what they mean by this but assume that they are saying that adding cherry juice to a gose is a unique example of American creativity. Or some such thing. While a fine idea, it is not paradigm-shifting. If you go here, you can see how it is common to quaff a gose in Leipzig mit schuss, that is, with a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup just like a Berliner Weisse. Caraway schnapps is also traditional. (N.B. – the website has graphic photos of tasty beers and may lead to the impulsive purchase of plane tickets.)

I served my Kirsch Gose in a tulip glass because I bought a couple at Goodwill and hadn't used them yet. That and I hoped this beer would have a nice cherry-laced aroma that would be concentrated by the glass. Traditionally gose is served in a vessel that is essentially a graduated cylinder. (See photos at above site.) Despite my lousy photography (it was cloudy outside), Kirsch Gose is an exceptionally pretty beer. It is a touch hazy with a gorgeous light-orangey/hibiscus red hue. Bubbles made their way up to the generous pillow of pink foam atop the brew.

My choice of glass was fortuitous as there was indeed a luscious cherry aroma to be had along with a hefty dose of lemony tartness. Also present was a hint of biscuit. Goses have a modicum of hops but I could detect none of the German Spalt hopfen in the nose.

On the tongue the beer unleashed a wave of lemony tartness as to be expected. It was very pronounced but I've had beers that were even more sour. The tartness finds a friend in the cherry flavor which was sweet, but only just. The fruit flavor let the sourness predominate but the cherry made sure you knew it was present. Underneath all these flavors was a bit of bread. What brought everything together was the salt. The salinity was obvious but not overpowering. Not only did it make a nice counterpoint to the sweet and sour but also gave the beer a nice complexity. The mouthfeel is medium-light and the wheat makes it smooth but the salt added a depth of flavor that belied the overall lightness of the beer.

Kirsch Gose finishes on the dry side with the cherry, tartness, and salinity all lingering on the tongue. And my glass was left with some wonderful Schaumhaftvermoegen. Victory nailed the visual aesthetic here on the head.

To my palate and that of my significant other, Victory has hit one out of the park with Kirsch Gose. It has a wonderfully complex mix of sweet, sour, and savory yet it remains light and refreshing. It is easy drinking as witnessed by the rapidity at which our 4-packs were emptied.

Junk food pairing: Pair Kirsch Gose with Chinese shrimp chips. They're the chips that look like Shrinky Dinks before you fry them and then turn into light, crispy chips after a bath in the oil.
|| Palmer, 5:30 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

27 April, 2015

Mutatis Mutandis: Betray Ale by Wisconsin Brewing Company

I recall the spring of 1991 when I walked into my dorm room and found my roommate proudly brandishing a bottle of Capital Maibock or as he referred to it, Mindblock. If memory serves, this incident was my introduction to seasonal beer drinking and also when I became enchanted by Kirby Nelson's bock-brewing diablerie. You had Maibock in the spring as the air began to become more temperate and then, as the leaves withered, there was Autumnal Fire followed by dark and blonde doppelbocks to stave off Jack Frost.

As the craft beer scene matured and an unremitting hop assault on the tongues of drinkers began, Nelson largely stayed out of the fray preferring to remain at the helm of a "Wisconsin lager" brewhouse. In 2012 Nelson left Capital to join the new Wisconsin Brewing Company and promptly shocked longtime Capital fans by brewing two IPAs out of the gates. But there was a collective sigh of relief from these folks when WBC released a maibock called Big Sweet Life last spring.

It wasn't long before a draught-only India Pale Pale Bock, a helles bock, hit taps around town. And this year it has been christened Betray Ale and bottled to replace Big Sweet Life.

The maibock ("May bock") hails from Munich in southern Germany and is the lighter-colored member of the bock family having a golden hue that can wander into amber territory. Like other bocks, this style has a rich malt flavor but is often more hoppy than its cousins. It is brewed in the winter and brought out to celebrate its departure in the spring.

Betray Ale is billed as being an "India Pale Pale Bock" so you know that Nelson has taken the greater hop flavor of the style to heart. Nothing seems out of place, however, when you poor the beer into a glass. It is clear with a nice deep yellow color. Bubbles galore run up from the bottom of the glass to a nice white head that stuck around for a while.

The first indication that this isn't the bock of springs past comes in the nose. I was taken by surprise when I smelled grapefruit. There was a little bit of a bread-like scent in the background but the citrus/grapefruit fragrance dominated. After taking my first whiff I was rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I was not amused at smelling 20+ years of drinking Nelson's maibocks go down the drain because many people have lost sight of the fact that beer is a malt beverage, not merely a vehicle for hops. On the other hand, it simply had an alluring aroma.

I was unsurprised to find that grapefruit was not to be found solely in the nose. It was the first thing I tasted. While very prominent on the tongue, this hop flavor was not bitter. In fact, I think that the malt comingled with it to make a very sweet, fruity flavor akin to a pink grapefruit juice cocktail. While I inquired of WBC as to what kind of hops are in Betray Ale, I have not yet received a response. WBC advertises the beer as being dry hopped so I presume the grapefruit aroma and flavor come from that addition of hops. Simcoe?

There was also just a touch of spicy hop flavor underneath all the citrus. Once the hoppiness recedes, you get a brief flash of malt sweetness that was a mix of stone fruit and corn. (Not creamed corn, by the way.) Betray Ale is 6.5% A.B.V. so, while it is a good strength for a spring night, it's not super-potent and you cannot taste the alcohol. Considering all of the sweetness, Betray Ale has a medium body that befits a maibock. I found the finish to be smooth yet slightly dry with lingering citrus hop flavor.

To be blunt, I drank about half the bottle and gave the rest to my significant other. If she hadn't been around, it would have been poured down the drain. Kirby Nelson can brew a damn fine maibock so why hide that behind all the lupuline macquillage? If Betray Ale had about a quarter of the citrus flavor, then I suspect I'd like it more. A quarter of the citrus plus a bit more Noble hop spiciness. Use the grapefruit flavor as an accent and not the main attraction. As it is, the brew just tastes too syrupy, too much like grapefruit juice cut with sugar to dull the tartness. While I hate to see tradition suddenly disappear, I am not opposed to change and the creation of new traditions. But Betray Ale is Old World tradition ruined by New World novelty.

On the plus side, my glass was left with some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Junk food pairing: Drink Betray Ale along with cheese curds, preferably those made with a beer batter that tastes like beer instead of grapefruit. The salt and fat should help counter the cloying fruit punchiness of the beer.
|| Palmer, 5:51 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

23 April, 2015

Willkomen in Wisconsin, Metropolitan Brewing

Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing recently announced that they'll begin distribution in Wisconsin come May Day so you can raise a glass of their fine lager to the proletariat or cool yourself off after leaping over your Beltane bonfire. To celebrate, Ale Asylum will be hosting a welcome party on Wednesday, 29 April.

If the Metropolitan folks show up you know it will be fun. I am hoping to attend so I can wrap my lips around some of their Arc Welder rye dunkles. It is the nectar of the gods.

|| Palmer, 7:41 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

01 April, 2015

Medieval Salve Kills Antibiotic Bacteria

Perhaps the Dark Ages aren't as dark as generally thought.

Researchers have discovered that a medieval salve for eye infections is very effective against some nasty strains of bacteria which laugh at futile attempts to kill them with antibiotics. The recipe was taken from the above "Bald's Leechbook". I presume that none of the researchers knew Old English which means that a medievalist of some stripe at some point had to translate. Score one for liberal arts majors!

But researchers recently found that a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon treatment for eye infections works as an antibiotic against one of today’s most notorious bacteria, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The British researchers will present their findings this week at an annual microbiology conference held in the United Kingdom.

Christina Lee, a professor in Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe from the Old English in Bald’s Leechbook, which was written in the 9th century and is one of the earliest known medical textbooks. The researchers prepared four batches of the recipe, which called for two species of garlic and onions, wine, and bile from a cow’s stomach brewed in a brass cauldron and let sit for nine days before use.

take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.

The researchers tested the concoction on cultures of MRSA bacteria in synthetic wounds as well as in rats. No individual ingredient had no effect on the cultures, but the combined liquid killed almost all the cells; only about one in 1,000 bacteria survived. At more dilute concentrations, the salve didn’t kill the bacteria, but still interrupted their communication, preventing them from damaging tissues.
|| Palmer, 3:08 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

30 March, 2015

First U.S. Penny Was Godless and Instead Promoted Science

A rare "Birch cent" recently sold at an auction for $1.2 million.

The coin, known as the "Birch Cent," was made in 1792, months after the one-cent denomination was first authorized by Congress, according to the auction house Stack's Bowers Galleries.

It was made in a trial run for the penny, and depicts Lady Liberty. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington discussed the design in letters dated August 1792, before it was presented to Congress as an option for the new coin.

The article makes it sound like this was merely a prototype coin and not legal tender. Having now looked at Wikipedia it would seem that this coin lost out to the Chain cent as the first penny used as legal tender in the United States. The profile of Lady Liberty was retained for the front of the Chain cent.

While the Chain cent merely says "Liberty" on the front, the Birch cent says "Liberty Parent of Science & Industry". For all the bluster of charlatans such as David Barton about the United States supposedly being a Christian nation, "In God We Trust" was not placed on American currency until 1864. And here we can see the privileging of science over religion in the very early days of our republic.

|| Palmer, 3:06 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

A Winter Wonderland: Winterland by Hinterland

My previous review tasted a beer that was heavy on the juniper so, in keeping with that theme, I'm going to again engage with a brew that eschews hoppiness in favor of the coniferous. This time we have Hinterland's Winterland.

Hinterland is up north in Green Bay. From what I can tell, the brewery has a something of a middle-of-the-road reputation. I don't hear people bad-mouthing them but they also haven't found their break-out beer like Spotted Cow or Hopalicious – that beer known statewide and upon which their reputation is made.

Winterland, a porter brewed with juniper, is the brewery's winter seasonal. I believe the beer was first brewed or perhaps bottled back in 2010 but it took me until this past winter for me to give it serious consideration.

The beer pours a deep, dark brown that is opaque. When you look at it in the narrow portion of a glass, you can see that the brew is clear. My pour produced a nice, pillowy head that was tinted brown. And it hung around for a fair spell. As I drank, I got some pretty good lacing to decorate my glass. On the nose Winterland gave off a lot of that coffee aroma from what I take to be the chocolate or black malts. Oddly enough, there's also a slight berry fruitiness in there. And of course there's the resinous, piney goodness of the juniper.

One might expect a beer so dark as to absorb all of the light around it like a black hole to be heavy but Winterland has a nice medium body. It's slightly chewy but mostly smooth. The roasted grains are front and center with their bitter chocolate and coffee flavors but the juniper is no slouch either. When you pull a Winterland out of the refrigerator the juniper is definitely noticeable but the malt is still at the fore. As the beer makes is ascent to room temperature, the sharp piney flavor of the juniper grows. The effervescence complements the pine notes well here.

The brew finishes on a slightly bitter and dry note. It is here that my tongue became aware of the hops. While I'm not sure what varieties were used, they tasted like the Noble kind with a spicy, almost peppery, flavor that accented the fresh, resinous juniper very well indeed. Winterland weighs in at 7.5% A.B.V. which means it's a fairly potent brew but I couldn't discern any alcohol burn.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Winterland and that it will be a go-to winter seasonal for me later this year when Boreas reminds us that the snow is once again on its way. Why I neglected to give it its full due until now escapes me. It is a hearty brew and I love juniper. Here the spice plays well with the prominent roasted grain and Noble hop flavors. The juniper also reminds me of Wisconsin's pinery up north and of venison since I like to cook it with the berry. In this sense Winterland is a fine addition to the Badger State beer portfolio as I appreciate brewers and beers that reflect their regional origins.

Junk food pairing: Try Jay's Onion & Garlic Ridged Potato Chips. Let the sharp, clean juniper go head-to-head with the pungent root vegetables on your tongue.
|| Palmer, 1:03 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

17 February, 2015

The Yule Goat: Joulupukki by Vintage Brewing

On my most recent trek to Vintage I was disappointed to find out that I was a day late for this winter's Joulupukki as the last barrel had been emptied the day before. But fate smiled upon me last weekend on a trip to the Woodshed Ale House where the terminal keg of the season was still spilling out its juniper goodness.

"Joulupukki" has become the Finnish word for Santa Claus though more literally it means "Yule goat". It is also the name of one of Scott Manning's winter seasonals – his take on the Finnish sahti beer. The sahti is a traditional Finnish style of beer that can involve grains aplenty other than barley and is flavored with juniper. It's generally one the higher side in alcohol compared to other styles. Beer Advocate says the style ranges from 7%-10%.

This beer beer has a lovely deep amber color. It's clear but opaque. My pour didn't generate much of a head although there were bubbles lingering at the top. My nose nearly climaxed at the heavenly aroma with malty sweetness mixing with a bright floral scent and the trademark pine of the juniper. It was very refreshing not to smell any hops.

On the tongue, Joulupukki tastes much like it smells. The malt has a stone fruit sweetness here which is balanced somewhat by piney, resinous juniper and a hint of spice from the rye. Scott cleared out his spice cabinet for this one with cardamom, orange peel, clove, and whatever else he found at the ready making its way into the brew. These flavors were not very prominent but they did complement the malt very well and toned down the brighter flavors just a bit. For such a malt-forward beer, it was very light on the tongue and not syrupy at all. Although the carbonation didn't stick out on the pour, I could really feel the effervescence on my tongue making a nice contrast to the sweetness.

The beer finished smoothly with a hint of dryness as the bittering hops (~8 I.B.U.s) came through and melded with the lingering juniper. Sadly, there was no lacing on the glass. Presumably this is due to the paucity of hops. Joulupukki, if memory serves, weighs in at 6.8% A.B.V. This is not the heartiest beer ever but it will warm you up and, after a few too many, you'll have that blue alcoholic gleam just like the Finns in John Dos Passos novels.

I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful boreal mix of flavors that is Joulupukki. This is not at all surprising since I love rye in my beer, love juniper, and am not a hophead. The emphasis here is on the malt sweetness along with the spicy rye which are complemented by the earthy flavors brought by the juniper and other spices. Joulupukki is heady enough to be a fine winter warmer when seeking shelter from a cold winter's night but can also be a nice, cool refresher upon stepping out of the sauna. My plan is to convince Scott to age some of next year's batch in akvavit barrels.

Junk food pairing: Joulupukki goes well with Annie's Extra Cheesy Cheddar Bunnies. Just don't eat them while you're in the sauna.

|| Palmer, 1:26 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post