Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 June, 2015

Several Species of Small Flowery Botanicals Gathered Together in a Vat and Brewing with a Pict: Fraoch Heather Ale by Williams Bros. Brewing

After drinking my trifecta of gruits I figured that was it. Where else was I to get a gruit in these parts? Well, a trip to my local purveyor of adult beverages induced anamnesis. Fraoch Heather Ale from Scotland's Williams Bros. Brewing Company must surely qualify as a gruit. It's not uncommon in Madison stores and I'd had it before. How could I have forgotten?

Williams Bros. likes to portray themselves as the keeper of an ancient Gaelic beer recipe and, while it makes for good copy, I'm a bit skeptical that Fraoch tastes much like the heather ales that Picts drank while groovin' in a cave back in the day. Still, I give them credit for brewing this beer regardless of how close it hews to tradition and for getting good distribution so that Fraoch didn't languish in the High Street specialty stores of Edinburgh and Glasgow. If I can get it at my grocery store down the street, they've surely done something right.

Fraoch is brewed with wheat in addition to barley malt. Aside from the titular flower, there's bog myrtle and ginger here as well as some First Gold hops which must be more prevalent in the UK than here in the States. Yeah, there's hops but they're outnumbered here by other botanicals so I see no reason to disqualify Fraoch from my gruit pursuit.

As you can see from my not-too-shabby photo Fraoch pours a beautiful light gold. It was clear and I got a pillowy white head that dissipated rather quickly. The beer wasn't particularly effervescent as there were only a few bubbles to be seen making their way up the glass. Ooh, that aroma! It was positively luscious with a wonderful floral scent along with bread and a malt sweetness that was akin to stone fruit.

Unfortunately Fraoch didn't taste as good as it looked or smelled. It began rather tastily with a brisk, slightly minty attack followed by the wonderful taste of heather. As someone whose experience with heather is confined to this beer, I am rather flummoxed as the Internet purports that heather is rather low in floral qualities. But I tasted a taste that was floral in the way people tend to think "floral" tastes. Perhaps another ingredient highlighted the floral bit or it depends on what parts of the heather plant you use. Regardless, this flavor segued into a spicy bitterness which I took to be the bog myrtle and hops in combination. There were hints of bread and malt sweetness underneath but the beer has a rather light body to the point of tasting a bit watery. This is not a cardinal sin in and of itself but the heather flavor was rather weak. I had to let the beer sit on my tongue in order to get a good dose of it. Now this is a problem. While it's admittedly been a while since I've had Fraoch, I recall the heather taste being much more prominent then than now. Since I've been on this gruit pursuit, I've come to adore floral flavors in beer and this was rather disappointing.

The beer finished a bit on the dry side with moderate spicy bitterness. My glass was adorned with just a little bit of lacing that clung to its side.

Fraoch needs more heather. The bog myrtle/hop bitterness dominated here instead of providing balance to the malt and the heather. It was as if there was a pause on my tongue where the heather should have been before the bitterness kicked in. I will also note that I couldn't taste the ginger but it may have been responsible for that bite at the beginning of my sip.

Junk food pairing: Froach pairs well with sharp cheese-food products such as Easy Cheese as well as Haggis & Black Pepper Potato Chips.

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23 June, 2015

What Frederick II Drank After a Hard Day of Crusading: Prof. Briem's Grut Bier

Next on the gruit docket is Professor Fritz Briem's 13th Century Grut Bier. Who is Prof. Fritz Briem? From what I can gather, he is a big wig at the Doemens Institute in Germany which appears to be a sister organization to the Siebel Institute in Chicago where he also held a position. (The Sielbel Institute in Chicago is where one can learn to brew professionally.) Matthias Neidhart of importer/distributor B. United International approached Herr Briem about historical beer styles and the result was the Historic Signature Series. Briem developed the recipes while the beers themselves are, according to Beer Advocate, brewed at the Weihenstephan brewery. In addition to the gruit at hand, two other beers have been brewed in the series under Briem's auspices: 1809 Berliner Weisse and Grodziskie.

Unlike the other two gruits I've had recently, Briem uses neither bog myrtle nor mugwort in his brew. Instead we have bay, ginger, caraway, anise, rosemary, and gentian. Oh, and there's also pollinated wild hops. Quite an interesting mix. (I'd never heard of gentian and had to look it up. It's a flower that is used in many beverages in Alpine areas.) Can there be hops in gruit? Sure, why not? One can imagine a brewer in the High Middle Ages having hops as but one among a vast array of botanicals to flavor his or her beer before the lupulin devil took pride of place.

Briem's brew poured a light gold color and was slightly hazy which is not surprising considering that there is wheat in the grain bill in addition to barley. I got a paltry head which dissipated rather quickly. The beer was not particularly effervescent either as there was only a periodic bubble to be seen. And what did this concoction smell like? I definitely caught the ginger. There was also a floral scent in there which I presume was the gentian. A hint of pine and some malt sweetness rounded out the aroma.

The ginger returned on the tongue while the rosemary and anise were also quite discernible in moderate amounts. The beer was light-bodied with just a bit of carbonation evident on the palate. I was a bit surprised to find that the brew was slightly tart like a Berliner Weisse with a bit of that lemony/citrusy tartness. It was really the botanicals that shone through here with the malt and wheat in the background. As the beer made its way back the bay and caraway came out and wasn't bitter at all.

As I drank my glass was left with little Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Of the three gruits I've tried so far, this one has the lightest body which has the effect of emphasizing the botanicals. There's no bog myrtle or wormwood here for bittering which makes for a very different taste – he's not trying to emulate the role of hops here. In addition, Vintage and New Belgium's brews had much more prominent floral tastes than Briem's gruit. Instead he utilizes spices and herbs with sharper flavors that contrast more with the grainy flavors and sweetness.

My gruit trifecta has been a flavorful journey but I must admit that Briem's take enthused me the least. This is partly because I really like floral flavors which are absent here and I am not a fan of anise while I can take or leave caraway most of the time. (Unseeded rye for me, thanks.) However, neither the caraway nor anise was very prominent here. I could taste them but there was a lot happening on my tongue at the time. Don't like the anise? Then don't worry because there's ginger and rosemary around the corner to help. This gruit is a bit of a roller coaster ride in that new flavors are always appearing. You get some this on the front and then some of that on the middle of your tongue and yet even more new flavors appear in the finish. It gets high marks from me for a having just the right amount of tartness and a high refreshment factor for warmer weather with a moderate alcohol content of 4.6% A.B.V.

Junk food pairing: Prof. Briem's Grut Bier pairs well with Snyder's Bacon Cheddar Pretzel Pieces. You've got the two main German culinary staples: beer und pork.

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20 June, 2015

Heute bin ich ein Berliner

A glass of Scotty's Berliner Geist mit Schuss from Bavaria Sausage. They have Waldmeister und Himbeer.

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A Taste of Deutschland at Vintage

The Dulcinea and I went out to Vintage for dinner earlier this week. Scanning the beer menu I noticed that Scott Manning's gruit was still there so I ordered one after The D went in for a Maltiplicity Maibock. Alas, there was no gruit to be had. Instead I went for one of these:

It's Scotty's dunkelweiss. It was absolutely delicious with the dark malt giving some chocolate flavors that were complemented by the bananay esters from the yeast. Incredibly tasty take on a style that is much neglected by Wisconsin brewers. At least those that bottle/can. Somebody tell Dan Carey to brew Black Wheat again.

The maibock was also very tasty. As its name says, it is full of bready, malty goodness.

While chowing down we caught Scotty as he walked by and were graciously supplied samples of the above, his Berliner Geist, a Berliner Weisse which he said would be ready on Friday, i.e. – yesterday. It was warm and not fully carbonated but it was still tasty. Light and moderately sour, it portended a growler and me on my porch anon. Scott said that he was unsure if the kitchen would be amenable to making some Schuss. I shall find out if there is Waldmeister to be had there or not. Otherwise I shall have to concoct some myself.

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15 June, 2015

Maiwein im Juni

I made some Maiwein, or "May wine" in English, over the weekend. It's simply Waldmeister (woodruff) steeped in riesling wine. Woodruff blooms in the spring, hence the drink being associated with the month of May. The riesling was a bit too dry for my taste and I shall have to get something a bit sweeter next time. If this stuff was sweet as the gentleman at the liquor store suggested, I'd hate to taste the dry variety. I'll need to keep an eye out for some Wollersheim White Riesling or otherwise learn a bit more about wine. The woodruff was dried - I have no idea where one can get fresh woodruff in the Madison area - and it lent an herbal, straw-like flavor to the wine. A nice, cold glass of this stuff makes for some fine Teutonic refreshment on a warm day.

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04 June, 2015

And Your Beer Smells of Elderflowers!: New Belgium's Gruit

Next up on my quest for hopless beer is New Belgium's Gruit.

New Belgium is in Fort Collins, Colorado and they've been around since 1991 which makes them craft brew veterans. I find their Fat Tire amber ale in coolers at most summer shindigs I attend at friend's homes. Fat Tire is fine by my palate although I don't go out of my way to buy it. Indeed, I rarely give New Belgium's annuals and seasonals a glance although I do enjoy 1554 dark lager. However, I do always check out their Lips of Faith line which features more experimental brews. The Coconut Curry Hefeweizen went well with the Thai food I and my fellow RPGers ate at various gaming sessions last winter. And so when I saw that New Belgium had brewed a gruit, I just had to grab a bottle.

I must admit to being quite surprised when I poured myself a glass and found that, unlike my local gruit from Vintage, this stuff was so pale in color. My chromatic confusion must surely be because I associate gruit with being the stuff people in 1350 quaffed after a hard day of setting the bodies of plague victims alight which would have been dark and smoky. Instead New Belgium's iteration is a nice dark straw hue that's a big hazy from the wheat in the grain bill. I got a nice white head while a modicum of bubbles were found below.

With an herb/spice mix containing ingredients that I was unfamiliar with, I was keen on taking a whiff to find out what these exotic botanicals smelled like. It's just extra fun knowing that you're to get something different instead of more fucking grapefruit hop aroma. My nose caught plum, a bit of sweet, doughy malt, orange, and a floral scent which I presumed to be the elderflowers.

The first thing my tongue noticed was that tingling from carbonation. The beer didn't look particularly effervescent but it tasted so. Beyond that the elderflowers returned from the aroma and there was more of the stone fruit malt sweetness. The beer also had earthy, almost musky, overtones. I'm not sure if these came from a particular botanical or if it was the product of multiple herbs/spices. Whatever the case, they complemented the floral taste really well and made a nice contrast to the sweetness of the malt. The gruit had a medium-light body which was smooth as it was brewed with oats. As the beer warmed, the malt became more prominent yet the balance of flavors remained.

The bitterness came at the finish. All that bog myrtle, horehound, yarrow, and wormwood really did the job and it was a lasting bitterness. Just like with the Vintage gruit, there was a subtle minty burn here as well which I take to the bog myrtle. My glass was left with some nice lacing.

I am beginning to get the hang of the new-fangled gruits. You use a few herbs/spices that are bitter and then something floral for aroma and to add to the flavor. As it stands, New Belgium's gruit is mighty tasty. My palate has really taken to floral flavors in beer. There's a pleasing détente here between the sweet and the bitter, the earthy and the floral. While I'm sure an India Pale Gruit with 100 I.B.U.s of mouth-puckering wormwood astringency can't be too long in coming, I enjoy the gentle bitterness of the gruit. I also really appreciate how this brew's body had one foot each in the medium and light. The beer is easy-drinking yet it does not venture into the lawnmower beer realm. It is, ominously enough, 6.66% A.B.V. yet it doesn't taste that big.

Junk food pairing: New Belgium's Gruit pairs well with rosemary potato chips. Even better if there's garlic on 'em too.

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03 June, 2015

What Happened to the Harold's Chicken on the East Side?

I was thrilled when a Harold's Chicken Shack opened over on East Washington. There are times when I get a hankering for some fried chicken and there just isn't much beyond a KFC by me on the east side. (Plus they had Italian beef and Chicago Polishes.) And now that location has closed, although the west side location remains open.

At the franchise's Facebook page a post from 29 April reads:

Thanks to local businesses hatin on other black owned businesses is why Madison cant have anything!

This was followed by another post dated 13 May that says in part:

We appreciate all of your support! Unfortunately the EAST location has come to and END, the WEST location is open at 707 s gammon rd. Our presence was unwanted at our 2810 e wash location thanks to te SLUMLoRD Micheal [sic] Matty and RPG Rental and the Madison police Dept.

Did the business garner a lot of calls to the police or some such thing? What happened?

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Coming Soon: Chris Farley Documentary I Am Chris Farley

A new documentary about comedian and Madison native Chris Farley called I Am Chris Farley is set to debut this summer. According to Cinema Blend the movie "will get a very limited theatrical run later on this summer, touching down in a few key (read big) markets" so it probably won't screen in Madison. After that it heads to Spike TV followed by video-on-demand.

I can say that I was once in the same building as Chris Farley. That was at Babe's Grill & Bar which was over on West Washington in The Depot. The occasion was the Badger's appearance in the Copper Bowl. My friends and I were in one room while Farley was in another although we were informed that he was holding court. One of my friends disappeared for a while and returned saying that he had been interviewed by a reporter. We all ended up being mentioned in the The Capital Times the next day with my friend having gone on record dissing Mormons.

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02 June, 2015

Forward: Anger Into Action Documentary Seeking Support

Race is a hot topic here in Madison these days. The latest entry into the community conversation took place last Friday when the Justified Anger coalition unveiled their "Our Madison Plan" which was designed to help set the city on a course to deal with the problems that have beset the black community here. I was not at the event but I'd bet that Jonathon Leslie-Quam, Jamie Quam, and Sheba McCants were as they are the producers of a documentary called Forward: Anger Into Action which looks at Madison as it tries to deal with a black community falling further behind its white counterpart. They describe it as "an observational portrait of a city at a crossroads". Here's a teaser:

The project is seeking money via an IndieGoGo campaign and it looks like it will be very interesting. You can also find out more from this article at The Madison Times.

That article at The Madison Times notes that the genesis of their documentary came on the heels of the "Race to Equity" report which was released in October 2013. It laid out for all to see the iniquitous disparities between whites and blacks in Dane County with regards to poverty, unemployment, education, arrest rates, et al. So it's no surprise that the report seems to be the movie's starting point. Given the frequency of Rev. Alex Gee in the trailer, he seems to be the protagonist of the movie. With the sting of the "Race to Equity" report still lingering Gee loosed his "Justified Anger" essay onto Madison's white liberals in The Capital Times. A black middle class pastor and a native of Madison (as opposed to an interloper from Chicago), Gee described being the victim of racial profiling by Madison's men in blue and pointed an accusatory finger at the white liberal majority of the city. A large swathe of white Madison shivered at the touch of this Ithuriel's spear

In the trailer Erica Nelson, the Project Director for the Race to Equity Project says that her organization's report took a lot of people by surprise. This is extremely sad considering that another report, "The State of Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point", had given a similarly distressing picture for blacks in Madison five years previously. While I cannot say with certainty why that earlier report didn't start a larger conversation in Madison about racial disparities, the few returns I got in a Google search for it sure makes a prima facie case that a paucity of media attention is a leading factor.

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