Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

19 February, 2014

Capital to Fire Up the Pork Rocket Tonight

From Capital Brewery's Twitter feed:

Tonight @The_Side_Door try some bacon infused Maibock and mint infused Dark Voyage. Also you can enter to win Bockfest tickets for this Sat

Hopefully putting bacon in a hop rocket for bacon-infused beer will not become a trend. Why ruin a perfectly good maibock?

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German Culture Making a Comeback in Milwaukee

The food and drink part, anyway.

Above is the shiny, new dining room at Cafe Bavaria which opened in Wauwatosa earlier this week. It is the latest German food establishment to open its doors in the greater Milwaukee area recently and join fixtures like Mader's, Karl Ratzsch's, and Kegel's Inn. Cafe Bavaria is a more contemporary and upscale place than the mainstays. You can get schnitzel but also Bavarian pho. (?!)

The beer menu looks good. You've got your typical helleses and weissbiers but also two Kölsches (one on tap that you can get in the proper - .2L – sized glass), an altbier, a radler, three rauchbiers, and even a German pale ale. To their credit, there is also a selection of Sprecher and Lakefront brews as well.

The north side's Estabrook Beer Garden, a public bier garten like those in Munich, turns three this year. Estabrook is a sister establishment to the Old German Beer Hall in Milwaukee which opened back in 2005.

And that's not the end of it. Also planned is another bier garten in Bay View's Humboldt Park which is, interestingly enough, just a block from a friend's house. And in suburban Glendale the former Bavarian Inn will be turned into an official U.S. Hofbräuhaus outpost. The Hofbräuhaus will brew on premises so patrons will have fresh bier.

In addition to restaurants and bier gartens, we have the Milwaukee Pretzel Company which opened last year and makes Bavarian-style pretzels.

I wonder why there is this resurgence in German food and drink. Perhaps it's simply a case of what's old is new again. I found this article about Milwaukee rediscovering its German heritage but it really doesn't have an answer beyond the possibility of people just looking back at their and Milwaukee's past. I guess it's a task for an aspiring sociologist.

Concomitant to this, I noticed last month that an upscale contemporary German restaurant has opened in Chicago - The Radler. They even have a couple haus biers including a radler.

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17 February, 2014

Public Subsides for a Public Market in Madison Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come...To Die

I discovered this morning that Mayor Soglin is directing Madisonians to a survey in order to find out what we want in a public market. I began the survey but didn't find a space for indicating that the city shouldn't be spending any money on the project and quit.

Remember when former mayor Dave Cieslewicz lamented that Madison was behind "in the race for coolness" because we lacked a public market? If not, here he is at schilling for Richard Florida:

Many major cities and most of our competitors in the race for coolness have built or are planning to build a public market. Toronto, Minneapolis, Seattle, Milwaukee, Vancouver and a host of other smaller cities have markets.

I thought about this when I read this article about the Governor's Conference on Economic Development which was held last week. One of the speakers was Morris Davis, an associate professor at the UW and its James Graaskamp Center for Real Estate and this bit stood out:

Speculating on what makes Minnesota more attractive than Wisconsin, Davis said it could be that Minneapolis is a bigger draw than Milwaukee. Investing in Milwaukee might help, he said. “We need a place where they’re going to want to live. I think Madison is that place; I don’t think Milwaukee is,” Davis said.

Milwaukee, as our former mayor noted, has this place:

Despite the presence of (a rather nice) public market, it seems that the young and the cool are choosing poor old Madison, sans public market, over Milwaukee. Will someone please tell this to Messrs. Soglin and Cieslewicz? Somehow despite not having a public market, Madison continues to thrive and be the choice of many young, cool folk. Somehow despite not having a public market, Madison continues to, in Cieslewicz's words, conduct community.

Going back to Mr. Davis:

He said Wisconsin should aim toward getting young people in Illinois and Minnesota to relocate here. Michigan’s college grads are also a good target, he said. Every year, 90,000 people leave Michigan, Davis said.

That's a lot of people leaving Michigan and many of them go to Chicago/Cook County. In fact, 56% of new Cook County residents come from Michigan. Does Chicago have a public market which makes it so "cool" to attract that many people? A recent look at census data shows that Milwaukee County is the top supplier of in-migration to Dane County. People are leaving a city with a public market?! Number two on that list is Asia. Presumably neither the Chinese government nor the U.S. government officials that approve H-1Bs are warning immigrants that Madison doesn't have a public market.

Cieslewicz asks, "So, why should millions of your tax dollars go for a market?" and the answer is they shouldn't. If it is true, as two recent studies indicate, that young people are driving less, then perhaps those millions of dollars could be sent over to Madison Metro. As the article linked to above says, "They consider public transportation the best option for digital socializing and one of the most likely ways to connect with the communities they live in." (See, Mr. Cieslewicz, public transportation is also about community building.) Madison Metro is looking at BRT and needs a new maintenance facility. And however nice apps are for tracking your bus, they don't change headway times or add routes to underserved areas. (Plus I'd love to see better signs at bus stops.)

A public market would be a nice piece of middle class bling and if someone like Curt Brink can find millions of dollars from private investors to build one, then I say more power to him. City officials should be helpful and accommodating. But if it's public money that's needed, put it to better use, a use that can benefit all Madisonians.

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11 February, 2014

How Can Madison Attract More Entrepreneurs?

Over at the Atlantic Cities blog Richard Florida writes about a report on what entrepreneurs seek out in cities where they would locate their companies. The report was done by a group called Endeavors Insight did surveys and interviews with the founders of fast-growing companies. The results were interesting.

For one, size matters. These top business-creators gravitated towards cities with at least a million residents in the metro area. This offered the scale and diverse array of offerings needed to attract talent.

A city also needs to be able to appeal to the young and the restless. The entrepreneurs surveyed were a highly mobile bunch when they first started out...But eighty percent of respondents had lived in their current city for at least two years before launching their companies, meaning that cities had to catch them early. And once they started their first company, these business leaders rarely moved. So attracting this mobile group at an early age is key.

The top rated factor by far was access to talent. Nearly a third of those surveyed mentioned it as a key factor in their decisions for where to live and work (many specifically prized access to technically trained workers). Entrepreneurs explained that they proactively sought out the places that educated and ambitious workers want to be.

The study found that two other key factors in the location choices of entrepreneurs are major transportation networks (like airports and highways that can connect them to other cities) and proximity to customers and suppliers.

Can Madison learn anything from this?

We are not a metro area with 1+ million people. A strike against us. But Madison surely does have some appeal to the young and the restless. We have bike lanes, farmers markets, and a good cultural scene for a city our size, though it cannot compete with that of larger metros. (On a side note, I will say that I met a gentleman at last year's Gamehole Con from out of state who said that Madison has the best cultural scene in the Midwest outside of Chicago.) I would think that the UW provides a good pool of technically trained workers but perhaps they all leave after graduation because Madison is not large enough.

The whole customers and suppliers part isn't really something I can comment on since I don't know enough about those factors. But the transportation bit made me think. We've got the highways that lead to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities in addition to much smaller cities. While we do have an airport that offers some direct flights, it shuffles many people off to larger cities where airlines have hubs that can take them onto their destination. While there is just no way for Madison (nor any city in the entire Midwest) to compete with Chicago here, might it still be possible to leverage the Dane County Regional Airport to our advantage?

Recall the report by the Progressive Policy Institute which was released last autumn. It ranked Dane County 9th in growth of tech/IT jobs from 2007-2012. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the report quoted a Madison computer science professor and entrepreneur named Paul Barford who said, "There's no direct flight between Madison and San Francisco. If we could get that, it would unlock amazing opportunities in the state."

When I first read that I thought, "Well, Mitchell Field in Milwaukee has direct flights to and from San Francisco." Then I heard that the state of Indiana was subsidizing direct flights between San Francisco and Indianapolis in order to bolster the latter city's tech sector. Even the state's Republican governor was in favor of the subsidy. Given the Endeavor survey results, the testimony of one entrepreneur here in Madison, and the desire for such flights from Indianapolis' tech community, it is certainly something for us to look into. Has the Madison tech community approached the governor and/or the WEDC about a similar setup here? In another article, which I cannot locate the moment, someone from Indy was criticizing the the times of the service offered there. He maintained that they need an earlier flight to Indy as apparently venture capital likes to get in, get down to brass tacks, and then head home that same day. So it's worthwhile to keep an eye on how things go down in Indianapolis.

The Endeavor report also noted, in Florida's words:

At the very bottom of the list were taxes and business-friendly policies, which are, unfortunately, exactly the sorts of things so many states and cities continue to promote as silver bullets. Just 5 percent of the respondents mentioned low taxes as being important, and a measly 2 percent named other business-friendly policies as a factor in their location decisions.

I have to wonder just how much common ground tech entrepreneurs in Wisconsin have with the "old guard" WMC members. The former group is asking for an educated workforce, infrastructure, and quality of life while the latter is seeking tax cuts and supporting politicos who cut education, seem to ignore infrastructure if it's not a road, and don't seem to care much about quality of life issues because taxes must lowered at all costs.

And I can't help but tie this into Madison's preternatural preoccupation with having a public market. The article at hand doesn't mention it but it can surely be argued that it falls under quality of life for attracting a talent pool. But does it really help all that much? The last time I wrote about this subject, local tech entrepreneur Phillip Crawford left a comment saying, "We don't need a public market. That's a boondoggle. High speed internet _everywhere_ which would have been just as amazing 10 years ago as it would be today, would be great." I don't mean to imply that Mr. Crawford's opinion prevails amongst his peers but I do think that pitching a public market by saying that it is a big quality of life factor to attract young tech people is a claim to be skeptical about. In light of the Endeavor report, perhaps investing in high-speed internet access would be a better use of public money.

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Thank you, Doug Hurst, for our daily liquid bread: Generator Doppelbock by Metropolitan Brewing

Here in the depths of winter it's always nice to have a stronger beer to help get you through the chilly nights. Doppelbocks are a good choice for me. These beers date back to the 17th century when the Paulaner monks in Munich brewed a "double bock" to sustain them through Lent. Mind you, in these days of double/trippel/quad/imperial madness, one might think that doppelbocks traditionally were gigantic beers but they were only slightly higher in alcohol than normal bocks, landing the realm of 7% A.B.V. The monks had their monastic duties to attend to, after all, and the abbot wouldn't take too kindly to his sheep showing up at vespers all shitfaced. Still, it's not unheard of for some varieties to hit double digit A.B.V. The Paulaner monks eventually named their liquid bread "Salvator" and the practice of adding –ator to the names of doppelbocks caught on.

The folks at Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago released their take on the style, Generator, back in December, if memory serves. I am unsure if this marks the brewery's first doppelbock but I do believe that it is the first time they've bottled one. I am also fairly certain that Generator is their first winter seasonal to be bottled. At 8.2%, it's perhaps a bit more boozy than tradition dictates but it will certainly keep you warm and provide enough sustenance until Metro's spring seasonal, Iron Works Alt, is released.

Considering the vast quantities of malt that go into this style, it should be no surprise that Generator pours a deep, dark sepia. And even my lousy photo reveals that it's clear. I got a nice tan, pillowy head which lasted a goodly while which I found surprising since I thought that alcohol tended to 86 foam. My glass was left with a modicum of Schaumhaftvermoegen. Doppelbocks are about the malt and Generator smells nice'n'sweet. I detected honey and stonefruit along with some black licorice and even a hint of grassiness from the hops.

Generator is sweet on the tongue as well - I caught toffee flavor as well as bread – but it's also clean. All of those fruity flavors were lagered away. It is a smooth beer and, considering all of the malt that went into it, it had a much lighter body than I thought it would have. Indeed, this stuff goes down easily – perhaps a bit too easily. Also surprising was the hop presence which is stronger than in most doppelbocks I've had. Here the spicy hop flavor is fairly intense veering near to black pepper and while it doesn't outdo the malt it does a yeoman's job in trying.

This is a very fine doppelbock. It tweaks the liquid bread formula a little bit with some extra hops but doesn't stray too far from the tried and true doppelbock legacy. It is also deceptively drinkable with a lighter body that means it'll go down easily for a while before the alcohol catches up with you.

Junk food pairing: A big beer like Generator demands spicy pork rinds.

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The Last Express Now Available for iOS and Android

One of my favorite video games of all-time, 1997's The Last Express, is now available for iOS and Android devices. In the game, you take on the role of Robert Cath, an American riding the last run of the Orient Express before World War I breaks out. Your friend Tyler Whitney, whom you were to meet aboard the train, is dead in his compartment and it's up to you to figure out what happened.

As Cath, you've got to work around the conductor to sneak into other compartments and search for clues. Your fellow passengers all have their own secrets and part of the game is to listen to their conversations, at least the ones in languages you can understand. You do all of this in the game's wonderful art nouveau look which was achieved by rotoscoping live-action sequences. The creators even hunted down a car from the original Orient Express itself for added verisimilitude.

There is some action/fighting to be done but mostly you need to poke around the train for clues and piece together what happened to Whitney and the other stratagems unfolding aboard the train.


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10 February, 2014

The Revenant Brew: Baderbräu Chicago Pilsener

Baderbräu bills itself as "Chicago's Original Craft Beer" and, while it may not be wholly accurate, its trademark Czech pilsner was first brewed in 1988. Michael Jackson famously called it "the best pilsner I`ve ever tasted in America". Unfortunately, the company ran into financial problems and went bankrupt in 1997 whereupon the name was bought and then resold to Goose Island. GI brewed the beer until 2002. Fast forward to 2010 when the Baderbräu trademark was bought by a couple of investors who brought the brand back from the dead. They contracted with Argus Brewery on Chicago's south side and the resurrected beer finally returned to taps in 2012 and bottles shortly thereafter.

The beer pours a light golden color and is clear. There were lots of bubbles streaming upwards towards the generous, pillowy head from the bottom of the glass. And the foam stuck around for a while too leaving some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen. Certainly a pretty beer but I thought it was a bit darker in color than most pilsners I've seen. It smelled really nice. It had a biscuity aroma along with a mild grassy hop scent. Curiously, there was some slight sweetness to it as well – reminded me of raisins.

The flavor was a bit more like bread than, say, crackers and there was a definite stonefruit sweetness. Not particularly strong but definitely noticeable. This gave the beer a slightly heavier body and wasn't quite as crisp as I was expecting but it remained medium-light. Mouthfeel was similar yet still on the light side and smooth. It was also nice and effervescent so you had that tongue tingling sensation and I think this helped give the beer a lighter feel. Oddly, it didn't taste as hoppy as I had expected either. To me, Czech pilsners are well-hopped with that Saaz goodness up front but here the spicy hoppiness was a bit further in the background than I was accustomed to. Still, it managed to balance the maltiness very well.

It finished dry with some nice bitterness and a lingering grassy-herbal hop flavor.

Despite being a smidgen heavier and sweeter than I was expecting, Baderbräu is some very tasty stuff. The malt and hops were balanced nicely and, at 4.8% A.B.V., it is fairly sessionable. Not being as sharp and light as some of its peers, I probably wouldn't make Baderbräu my go-to beer for the bowels of summer when it's 90 degrees out but it sure did the trick after work one day when it was below zero outside.

Junk food pairing: Pair Baderbräu with Buffalo Wing Goldfish Puffs. They're light enough not to enhance the beer's malt profile too much and have some zing to them to provide contrast on the tongue.

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05 February, 2014

More Than Meets the Eye: Magnetron from Metropolitan Brewing

Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing is one of my favorite breweries. They brew tasty beers and refuse to populate their line-up with IPAs like a bunch of lemmings. Instead Metro offers fine beer of a more Teutonic nature. Last year they tweaked their line-up and started bottling seasonals with Magnetron, a schwarzbier, being the late autumn/early winter entry.

As far as I can tell, the difference between a schwarzbier and a Munich dunkles is that a schwarzbier goes easier on the malt and isn't as sweet as a dunkles – a milder dunkles, if you will. The thing is, I've had beers that are considered to be schwarzbiers that had had more malt flavor than some dunkles. The line between the two styles is a bit blurry for me. For instance, Sprecher's Black Bavarian is categorized as a schwarzbier yet it emphasizes the malt more than Capital's Munich Dark which is, taxonomically speaking, is a dunkles. Methinks only a trip to Germany can solve this conundrum. Since that's not going to happen in the near future, I will have to content myself with domestic brews like Magnetron.

Magnetron looks black from afar but closer inspection of the narrow part of the glass reveals it to be clear and a very deep reddish brown. I didn't get much of a head on my pour which may very well have been my fault. What foam I did get went away fairly quickly. The nose was fairly sweet – like apricots or plums – along with a bit of coffee from the roasted grains.

The beer tasted much like it smelled with some stonefruit-like sweetness sitting alongside the roasty chocolate and coffee flavors. Don't get me wrong here. These flavors are present but not strong. What we have here is very much like a pilsner – clean and restrained – but with some bonus features. The body is medium-light – a bit heavier than a pilsner yet lighter than something like an amber lager. You can taste the bubbles here so the mouthfeel is smooth and sprightly. There isn't much hoppiness to be had until the finish which was dry and featured a little bit of spicy noble bitterness.

While the Magnetron's dark color mirrors the short winter days, it's nothing like a stout or porter. It is not heavy, there is no burnt grain taste, and no single flavor towers over the others. This beer balances malt sweetness and roastiness in a smooth elixir with a bit of noble hops thrown in for good measure and a classic lager finish.

Junk food pairing: Drink Magnetron with Snyder's Bacon Cheddar pretzel pieces. This is a German style of beer so you are basically obligated to eat pretzels with it. But here you have bacon flavoring to complement the roasty grains and cheddar because, well, you pair beer with cheese, right?

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