Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

04 July, 2017

It Wears the Color of the Summer Soldier: Grandes Lagos by Great Lakes Brewing Company



It wasn't that long ago that I was enjoying a hibiscus beer and now here comes along another one.

Beers made with the tropical flower aren't exactly ubiquitous but they're not rarities that come around as often as Halley's Comet either. Here in the Madison area we've got Vintage's Hibiscus Saison that heralds the arrival of warmer weather every spring; starting this year Revolution's Rosa now also heralds that meteorological change for we Cheeseheads. 5 Rabbit's Huitzi features the flower as does Milwaukee Brewing's Weekend @ Louie's. And surely there are other examples from breweries farther afield some of which surely distribute here. Ooh! Widmer Brothers' Marionberry Hibiscus Gose. Can't forget that.

The latest hibiscus brew to come to my attention is Great Lakes Brewing's Grandes Lagos, a Mexican lager that spent some quality time with the tasty flower. It's a spring seasonal that I believe was introduced last year but only on draught so now folks farther afield can enjoy it.

To be honest, I don't know what a Mexican lager is. Lakefront introduced one this year called El Wisco so perhaps this is something of a trend. With novelty being so highly coveted by the American microbrewing scene, every style will surely get 15 minutes of fame. After some limited investigation, my hypothesis is that a Mexican lager from an American microbrewer is a pale lager made with maize and generally given a name that begins with "El" or ends in "-ito" for that extra touch of authenticity.

Grandes Lagos (i.e. - Great Lakes), like the last hibiscus beer I had defied my expectations and wasn't pink. Rather it was more of a pinkish orange and quite clear. Nothing much to report as far as the head goes. Small, white, and off like a prom dress. However, the brew was fairly effervescent with a decent number of bubbles inside. All in all, a pretty beer.

My nose caught some popcorn, biscuit, and of course that lovely floral scent of the hibiscus.

I suppose the point of a craft Mexican lager is that it helps you beat the heat by being light and refreshing. Grandes Lagos certainly is that with its light body, firm fizz, and solid crispness. None of the flavor here were particularly strong – there was a little corn to be tasted alongside a mild maltiness The hibiscus was complementary and not overpowering. It had a bright floral taste plus some tartness which went well with a mild grassy hop flavor.

The floral tartness remained after the beer had gone down my gullet and it was joined by a little spicy hoppiness which was moderately bitter. Just enough to conjure a pleasant dryness. Not much lacing – just an occasional spot or two.

Endowed with that essential aestival trifecta of being light, fizzy, and crisp, Grandes Lagos is made for the dogs days of summer. The corn and malt are pretty mild (but not too weak) so, while they are always there in the background, it's the tasty hibiscus that shines. I love their floral flavor and the gentle tartness they bring.

Junk food pairing: Stick with lighter fare for Grandes Lagos. Try a bag of guacamole flavored potato chips or some white cheddar popcorn.

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02 July, 2017

Allegory of the Kölsch: Pear(?) Kölsch by Capital Brewery



This was something of an oddity I found at Growlers To Go-Go recently - a pear Kölsch. I say odd not because Capital is a stranger to German bier styles because they're not; and not because pear Kölsch is some heretofore unknown exotic brew. Indeed, Capital brewed it a few years ago for a pre-Great Taste of the Midwest party and again last year. The Kölsch is apparently something of a fixation for the brewery's director of operations, Zach Faber, who has been honing his Kölsch for a few years now.

No, what's got me flummoxed is that Capital released a non-pear Kölsch this past spring so either Growlers To Go-Go got things mixed up or Faber is continuing his search for the Platonic ideal of a pear Kölsch.

Personally, I love the idea of adding some pear to the rather humble Kölsch. It's not that you're adding something novel because the style has native pomaceous flavors owing to its yeast. Instead you'd be bolstering the bier's built-in fruitiness to make it stand out. Well, that's my Platonic ideal, anyway.

While I've never strolled the Straßes of Cologne and tasted the freshest Kölsches in their hometown, I am rather picky when it comes to the style. I prefer it to have a distinct, clean cracker taste along with a nice fruitiness that is part pomaceous, part berry-like. The ale yeast provides the fruitiness while ample lagering gives the crisp malty/wheaty taste. (Though I am told that the lagering process for a Kölsch differs from that of, say, a pils.) And for me the gold standard is Reissdorf. They balance these flavors perfectly like a well-mixed album where each instrument and voice has its own space yet blend together in a harmony.

Capital is no stranger to German bier styles or lagering so I was quite looking forward to this brew.

It lit my glass* up with its brilliant light yellow hue which, along with its clarity, made for a very attractive brew. My only complaint is that my pour managed only a small crown of white foam which dissipated quickly. Though there was a fair number of bubbles inside the glass.

My nose got all excited taking in the requisite fruitiness, including pear. Not too strong, mind you. There was also some biscuit and a tad of grassy hops.

The truth about whether this was a pear Kölsch or not would be revealed by my tongue. It discerned a light fruitiness which definitely had some pear as well as apple and that nebulous "berry-like" taste. Having said this, it didn't taste like there was any added pear; just the normal flavor you get from the yeast. There was also a little fizz and the wheat/malt. Unfortunately it was not the crisp, crackery flavor I crave in my Kölsch. Instead it was mushy, dough-like kind of grain taste.

I liked how the fruitiness lingered on the finish as a mild herbal hoppiness made its presence known. Not particularly bitter but just enough to lend a little dryness. After emptying my pseudo-stange it was left with some Schaumhaftvermoegen - lots of spots and a few patches of webbing.

I am no supertaster but will go out on a limb and say that this is not a pear Kölsch. The fruitiness just didn't seem stronger than I'd expected from a non-fruited brew. Regardless, I really enjoyed the fruit flavors here which included pear. My gripe is that the grains tasted doughy instead of crisp and crackery which muddles the overall flavor instead of giving everything room to stand on its own yet harmonize with each other. This tasted more like Gaffel or Sünner as opposed to Reissdorf which is not a hanging offense. Capital Kölsch is still very tasty. It's light and goes down easily. Plus the modicum of hops on the finish make for a nice contrast.

Junk food pairing: A little salt helps bring out the fruity flavor here, makes it more distinct. But don't overwhelm your palate. Try some plain potato chips or regular Cheez Its.

*My stangen are still packed away in the basement but my wife saved a mole jar and it proved an adequate substitute.
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01 July, 2017

Beltane's Flower: Hibiscus Gose by Boulevard Brewing Company



Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company began distributing to Wisconsin back in the spring. I must admit that when I first heard the news, I wasn't excited. But this wasn't due to Boulevard, whose beers I was not familiar with; rather it was because of Pavlovian conditioning. I mean, it seems that the other breweries who have begun distributing here all brought an arsenal of eyepahs. (I'm thinking particularly of Golden Road.) Strolling down the beer aisle at Woodman's I'd see stacks of eyepahs by breweries new to the state – session, double, juicy, New England – the whole lot. And so when I heard about Boulevard's immanent arrival I couldn't help but think "Do these people not realize we already have dozens of native eyepahs that are just as bitter/juicy/fruity/cloudy as something imported from distant lands?"

Then I did a little reading and discovered that Boulevard brews a hibiscus gose and a little excitement began to well within. Suddenly I recalled having had a hibiscus goes Dexter's one time but soon realized that it was Marionberry Hibiscus Gose by Widmer Brothers.

Hibiscus is, perhaps not exactly trendy, but certainly much more common than when I first had a beer infused with the flower. This was back in 2009 or thereabouts which means I was oddly on the bleeding edge of beer trends for what is likely the first and only time. This was at the home of Joe Walts (he of Ale Asylum fame) when he introduced me to a hibiscus saison that he had created with Robyn Klinge (she of Madison Craft Beer Week fame). It was an extremely tasty brew and, though Joe never opened his brewpub, the recipe found a home at Vintage Brewing when Robyn was their beer ambassador (or whatever her title was.)

While I expected Boulevard's Hibiscus Gose to be pink it was more orange – almost amber. Not sure how to explain that. Also curious was the fact that the bier was clear. Being a wheat brew it's normally a touch hazy but I suppose filtering highlights the color. I got a medium-sized white head which stuck around for a little while. Inside there was a modicum of bubbles.

The aroma had that lovely floral scent of the hibiscus as well as some citrus from the lactobacillus.

My tongue was greeted with a fairly big dose of sour that was moderately lemony. Then the hibiscus kicked in with a firm bit of the floral. The flowers also lent a tangy bitterness. I'd swear I caught just a hint of coriander, an ingredient I wish was generally more prominent in goses. Similarly, there was a tad of cracker underneath. The lacto and carbonation gave the beer a pleasantly acidic patina.

The finish was wonderful with a hint of the hibiscus accompanied by a lingering tartness from the flower. It was here that the salinity became noticeable and it helped bring the coriander out of the botanic malaise and to the fore. Sadly there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

Delicious! I appreciated that the bier didn't have a lethal sourness. The lacto and hibiscus kept things nice and tart, though. Aside from adding some tartness, the hibiscus adds a tasty floral accent to the gose. I know some folks who are turned off by flowers in their food and drink. Unlike say, rose hips, hibiscus, at least in the beers I've had, has a taste that is brighter and less richly aromatic. The sour along with a light body and low alcohol – 4.2% - made it extremely refreshing on a hot day. This is a great bier and it was quite fortuitous that Boulevard began distributing here when they did as Hibiscus Gose is a spring seasonal. I look forward to next year's batch already.

Junk food pairing: Pair Hibiscus Gose with something that tastes of warmer climes such as lime flavored tortilla chips or guacamole Takis.

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29 June, 2017

Smoke from South of the Border: 15 Feet by Off Color Brewing



I am returning to my hometown of Chicago and Off Color Brewing here after having had a fine pilsner of theirs. Chicago has a large Polish/Polish-American population which once included my babcia. I have fond memories of eating her Polish cooking as well as other gustatory memories such as making a stop at a pierogi restaurant before seeing Son Volt at The Vic and nearly falling asleep behind the wheel after eating at a Polish all you can eat joint. It is only fitting then that Chicago's Off Color brews a Grodziskie. Native to Poland, the Grodziskie (a.k.a. - Grätzer) is a piwo that's light, smoky, and hoppy made from 100% smoked wheat. Or so the theory goes, anyway. Quite a ways away from the pilsners and Baltic porters that the country is known for.

15 Feet is one of Off Color's seasonal piwos and I bought a six pack back in the spring after stopping at a pierogi wholesaler in Portage Park. It has one foot in tradition with the other in today. While brewed with 100% applewood smoked wheat, the brewers either couldn't get their hands on any Polish hops or were keen on tweaking things to reflect the current microbrew ethos. Regardless, 15 Feet features Sorachi Ace hops, a Japanese variety that boasts lemon and lime scents and flavors. An odd-sounding pairing on paper, to be sure. But smoked beer is a passion of mine and I couldn't resist no matter how incongruent the ingredients.

Grodziskies as conceived today are not big beers – the Poles leave that to Baltic porters – and 15 Feet comes in at a mild 3.5% A.B.V. which, I have read, was standard, for at time at least. And so 15 Feet is a very light yellow color. It's got that wheat haze which made it only slightly difficult to see a fair number of bubbles inside. My glass was adorned only with a small white head and it didn't stick around very long.

The aroma was succulently smoky with a touch of fruity sweetness. It was applewood smoked, after all. I will admit to not being intimately familiar with Sorachi Ace hops but I found that they gave a pleasant citrus scent here.

I was in heaven as the first wave of smoke wafted over my tongue. It had that same fruity sweetness to it as I had smelled. Not mega-potent but rather a glorious golden mean. Those hops gave a definite lemon-lime flavor which, I have to say, reminded me of 7-Up but not in a sickly sweet cloying kind of way. A little wheat came through and the carbonation gave a little bite that made the piwo a tad dry.

On the finish the smoke lingered as did some citrus. But then a dash of Nugget hops brought forth a moderate dose of resiny bitterness which elevated the dryness.

My glass was left with lots of foamy spots.

This is really effin' good. As a lover of smoke I was entranced by the luscious smoke wrapped in its semi-sweet fruitiness. Kilometers away from the hackneyed "bacon" descriptor. The citrus taste went splendidly with the smoke which, if you think about it, isn't all that odd considering we put citrus juice on grilled meats. On top of all this was a gentle earthiness. Light, refreshing, and with just the right amount of smoke. Perfect refreshment for a summer day.

Junk food pairing: Root vegetables are a staple of the Polish diet and so I heartily recommend busting open a bag of potato chips to go along with your 15 Feet. Smoked gouda are highly recommended but Kettle Chips' Backyard BBQ variety go well too.

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25 June, 2017

A Brew for Sue: Tooth & Claw by Off Color Brewing



When I think of Chicago's Field Museum, I usually think of the final scene of Damien: Omen II. That's where Damien is on the museum's stairs looking down at his chauffeur as a ride beckons and his aunt Ann's corpse burns inside. Now, when that scene doesn't come to mind then I envision what everyone else does: Sue the T-Rex. Back when I was a kid visiting the museum it didn't have a fancy bistro nor a house beer. Things have changed since then.

The story goes that when Off Color's John Leffler was at Goose Island, he sought advice on honey and befriended melittologist Megan Beckert in the process. Flash forward a few years and you find Leffler getting Off Color, well, off the ground while Beckert was at the Field Museum looking to revamp its food offerings. She approached Off Color about brewing a special beer for the museum and the result was Tooth & Claw which debuted in 2013.

Tooth & Claw is billed as a dry hopped lager/pils and as per the museum's requirements for a broad audience, there's nothing extreme or out of left field here which is sort of odd considering Off Color's reputation. My experience with their brews is devoid of lagers, as I recall, so I was keen to find out how well they could brew one. From what I've read, the beer began to be bottled and distributed outside of the museum not long after its debut. If so, I find it odd that I never ran into it until recently. I found it at a store in the city so perhaps it's not found so readily out in the suburbs.

Since I was to enjoy some Chicago beer I figured I'd also put on some Chicago music for the occasion - The Polkaholics! This was keeping with family tradition of drinking beer and dancing the polka.

Tooth & Claw pours a lovely light gold. Like a good pils it is clear and had a brilliant white head. However, I didn't get that much foam and what there was didn't last long. As expected it was plenty fizzy.

The aroma was what I expected – some biscuity malt and hoppy vapors that were grassy in the main but with a touch of spiciness. I can't find anything to indicate exactly what variety of hops was or were used in the dry hopping process (all German varieties were used) but I take it that the Hersbrucker were behind the grassy scent while the Tettnang added that peppery spiciness.

Truth be told, the taste was more or less what I figured it would be as well. The malt had a nice mellow cracker taste to it but also a slight honeyed sweetness which I presume came from the Carapils. This combo gave it a medium-light body. I could taste all that effervescence I saw in the glass and it gave the brew a bracing crispness. Overall the hops were at what I'd describe as a medium level (35 I.B.U.s) although I am sure eyepah drinkers would brush it off as being on the mild side. My notes say the hops tasted "herbal-grassy" and this is a combo I really enjoyed here. I guess the Hersbrucker and Tettnang provided these flavors while the Herkules ramped up the bitterness more generally.

The finish was rather dry with all those bubbles and the hop taste became spicier taking on more of a black pepper thing. That fizz also lent a mild acidity. Schaumhaftvermoegen was light on the ground with only a handful of spots lining my glass.

I hope that my saying that the beer turned out large to be what I expected isn't taken as a slight because this is a damn good beer. The malt was perfectly restrained yet didn't lead to a watery brew. Just enough there to aid and abet the hops. I also thoroughly enjoyed the resurgent hop spiciness at the end; it added a nice tang. But I must also say that I am really loving grassy/herbal hop flavors these days and Tooth & Claw has them in spades. There's just something about the more vegetal/green flavor that I enjoy. They can give a beer a vibrant, fresh immediacy that is simply wonderful. You almost expect to taste dirt next.

Tooth & Claw is 5% A.B.V. so you shouldn't find your museum going experience impaired at lunch.

Junk food pairing: Grab a bag of The Daily Crave's Smoked Gouda Lentil chips. They're light and crispy so they don't get in the way yet the cheese adds a nice smoothness on the tongue. And smoked foods are simply great and go well in all situations.

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24 June, 2017

Scenes from Eastmorland

Here are some other sights around Eastmorland.

A very noticeable one is the giant chicken in the front yard of a house on Johns Street just off of Walter.



There's also a Marlboro Man-like figure leaning against a tree.



Another one with a white handkerchief and a pipe resides just down the street.



Over at the corner of Richard and Schenk is a house with faux log siding.



Eastmorland has its share of Little Free Libraries such as this one which I think is on Ontario Street.



In addition we have a Little Free Pantry by Lansing and Milwaukee.



Poor hippies.



On one walk The Dulcinea and I came across a drake standing in the middle of the sidewalk. His Frau was relaxing on the lawn.



In the backyard of the old home at Johns and Margaret stands this lunar table with sidereal stools.



I've noticed a couple corners lacking houses and instead have wide expanses of grass. Here's one at Richard Street and Starkweather Drive.



I am unsure if there were homes at the corners that perhaps burned down or if these plots were intentionally kept open. This one is at Harding and Hargrove. The owner has recently been planting and laying decorative stones.



I must admit that I don't know what this concrete monolith is. Whatever it may be, it sits in the middle of the retaining pond that runs along the Capital City Trial. I believe it's over by the baseball diamonds/Thai Pavilion.



My guess is that it has something to do with the water utility. There's a pumping station or some such thing just down the trail at Olbrich Park. Or maybe it was once a support for a foot bridge…?

Like the lakes that feed it, Starkweather Creek can get pretty gross during the summer but the city and DNR are trying to remediate the pollution.



I went down to the creek's shore by the bridge at Milwaukee and Fair Oaks and found that it wasn't as bad as I had expected. Much less garbage, for instance. More info can be found here at the city's website.

Meanwhile at the Royster Corners development at Dempsey and Cottage Grove Road the retention pond thingy has been extended and a part of it has become a native Wisconsin plant farm. This is by Royster Oaks Drive and the Capital City Trail. I don't know what exactly this entails as I've never seen anyone there to ask but there was a tent for the green-thumbed to ply their trade in there.



The plant farm is home to geese. Lots of them.



So many that the sidewalk is cover in shit.



On one walk we spied a fox on the (ballast) rocks. It was coming down from the railroad tracks along an access path when it saw us. Presumably it was looking to break its fast with a nice goose. Upon seeing us, though, it headed back up to the tracks and jogged alongside them before eventually disappearing.

Lastly here's the Voit Farm.



I have wondered about it ever since I began shopping at Woodman's back in the early 90s. It's owned by the same family that owns the concrete plant next door and has been there for ages – somewhere on the order of 160 years. The Wisconsin State Journal ran an article about the Voits back in 2006 which gives the details.

A friend used to live in the neighborhood and recalls the carnival rides the family hosted for the big East Side Business Men's Association summer shindig. Today the home is unoccupied and the barns are deteriorating. From what I can tell they alternate corn and soy – this year it's corn – but don't seem to harvest it. There was still soy on the vine last November. I presume they need to plant crops for property tax reasons.

On the one hand an old family farm is pretty neat but on the other it seems a waste. I believe that the Voit's property is in the Town of Blooming Grove and not the City of Madison although the town is set to be annexed within the next 10 years. Perhaps the city will incentivize the land's sale/development if the Voits do nothing during the interim. A family farm museum type thingy would be pretty neat but I'd also like to have more businesses within walking distance. Land east of Starkweather Park next door is now for sale with the Swiss Colony facility going away so change is afoot.
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11 June, 2017

In the Pines, In the Pines: Pacific Wonderland by Deschutes Brewery



This may very well be my first review of a Deschutes brew. I've certainly had beers from the Portland brewery – their porter and stout – but, for the most part, it's been simply a brewery from Portland that brews a lot of eyepahs for me. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they go their way and I go mine.

But a few months ago I noticed Pacific Wonderland Lager at Woodman's and I figured I'd give it a try. The brewery apparently decided to do something a little out of left field by brewing a lager and making it a year-round offering. At first I figured it for an eyepul but, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the hops were all German. Granted, one of them, Tettnang Mandarina is citrus flavored so there is a nod to the American hopping regime.

This whole fascination with citrus-flavored hops and very hoppy beers is kind of like Apple products for me. Despite owning Windows computers, I recognize that Apple makes fine equipment. So it's not that I dislike Apple computers, it's more that the people who use them are often times assholes who feel the need to be dismissive of Windows, talk up the usually chimeric advantages of Macs, and make sure you are aware of just how conspicuous their consumption is.

On a recent episode of a beer-related podcast one of the hosts talked about having spent some time in Europe. If I recall, this personal said that he became pilsnered-out to which his co-host remarked something akin to it must have been a relief to return to the States and have a beer with flavor. Right. Because malt and Noble hops are tasteless and beer never had flavor until about ten years ago. What a jagoff. I have no problem with fruit-flavored hops; it's the people who fetishize them and say that without them a beer has no flavor.

So back to Pacific Wonderland. Would it be a lager hopped like an eyepah? Adhere to European tradition? Was something wonderful going to happen?

The beer had a lovely straw color but was oddly hazy. Not exceedingly so, mind you, just unexpected. My pour gave me a medium head of frothy, white foam that, pleasingly, lasted a good amount of time. It was nice and bubbly.

Taking a whiff, I found it to be a little Old World and some New. Some biscuity malt was joined by a variety of hoppy scents including herbal, a dash of pine, and faint lemon/citrus. Not a bad start at all.

I found the taste to be similar with a nice, light cracker maltiness. From the Old World I tasted some herbal and spicy – almost Saaz-like – hoppiness and from the New there was some pine with a dash of citrus for good measure. I will reiterate that all of the hops are German - Hallertau Herkules, Hallertau Mittelfruh, and Tettnang Mandarina.

The finish was crisp and quite dry as that piney hop flavor prevailed although there was a touch of citrus in the background. It was also rather bitter with black pepper and herbal flavors lurking beneath the pine. Schaumhaftvermoegen was everywhere with webs of white lining my mug.

I have to give Deschutes credit for trying to bridge the traditional and the new by brewing a pils that uses all German hops yet including newer ones that have trendy, fruity flavors. However, this beer just did not appeal to me. There was too much pine taste to it. (They likely came from the Herkules hops.) The beer's light body and restrained maltiness seemed defeated by the rather cloying resiny taste. I've had other pine-tasting/spruce tip beers which I enjoyed but here it was almost overwhelming. On the plus side I liked the fruity hop flavor which was more of an accent but nevertheless contrasted deliciously with the herbal and spicy hop tastes and complemented the biscuity malt well too.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Pacific Wonderland with a bag of Jays Garlic and Onion potato chips and a brick of pepper jack processed cheese food product.

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