Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 July, 2015

MIA - NaCl and Coriandrum sativum: Egon's Revenge from Next Door Brewing

I emailed Next Door Brewing a few months ago asking if they were going to brew Egon's Revenge again this year. Head Brewer Bryan Kreiter replied that he was intent on doing so and that he may switch from the use of acidulated malt to create the tartness to actually culturing some bacteria from raw grain for the job. This was good news indeed as I thoroughly enjoyed last year's batch. It was a bit heavier than I'd expect from a gose – an imperial gose, perhaps? – but it was refreshing and had goodly amounts of salt and coriander. A very tasty brew.

The gose seems to be gaining in popularity these days. Leipziger Gose is available at Riley's these days in small bottles. (I'm not sure if they are .331 liter or 12 ounces.) And U.S. craft brewers are brewing it more often. Dexter's had some Widmer Brothers Marionberry Hibiscus Gose a few years back which was exceptionally tasty and I've seen cans of gose by Destihl and Anderson Valley on Madison shelves lately. Sure, the IPA is not fearful of the competition but the gose is much more prominent now than it was just a few years ago.

When I finally saw that Egon's Revenge was again on tap I made my way to Next Door with all due haste and purchased a growler. How did this year's batch compare to last year's?

This year's Egon's Revenge pours a dark blond. (It's a beauty, eh.) Because of the wheat the beer is hazy. I believe that gose is traditionally unfiltered as well. My pour produced a lovely big, pillowy white head which lasted quite a while. There was a fair amount of effervescence with a goodly number of bubbles heading upwards.

As expected, a lemony tartness was the first thing that caught my nose. This was joined by a bit of grain or biscuit aroma and just the faintest hint of some kind of spiciness which I took to be coriander since it didn't resemble a Noble hop. It didn't have that grassy-herbal component. Also unsurprising was that the tartness was the first thing that jumped out at my tongue. No lemon taste, though, like one would get with lactic bacteria in, say, a Berliner Weisse. I thought that this year's batch was more tart than last year's which I appreciated. ER has a nice smooth medium-light body which means that I was able to catch plenty of grainy notes plus some sweeter notes akin to corn (not creamed corn). There may have been a hint of salinity in there but I suspect it might have been wishful thinking. Last year's batch was so wonderful because, unlike the ER from 2013, I could taste the salt and coriander. I struggled but could taste no coriander and I'll say there was a 50/50 chance of a patina of salt. What a disappointment.

Egon's Revenge finished smoothly with a bit of dryness from a smidge of herbal hoppiness. I believe it has somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 I.B.U.s.

What a let down. I was looking forward to some saline-coriander goodness but struggled and failed to taste it***. (See comments below.) Even as the beer warmed I couldn’t taste it. Tis a shame. Still, ER clocks in at 4.6% A.B.V. is rather light, and has some fine tartness. Ergo it really is quite refreshing. Disappointing but refreshing. Like a Berliner Weisse, it's not uncommon to drink it mit Schuss (with syrup) in Germany. While there will be no tear in my beer, there will probably be some Waldmeister in there.

Junk food pairing: Quaff your stange of Egon's Revenge with a bowl of chiwda which is Indian snack mix. This will likely have the missing coriander and salt and be very tasty to boot.

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Lazing On a Sunny Afternoon

Piper lazing on the A/C unit.

Marilyn was checking out the neighborhood through the screen.

Flowers! Not sure what kind these are but they are in a pot with double impatiens. The little sign hoolie said that didn't need much light but they almost died on the porch. Once they got some southern exposure they flowered once again.

Pineapple sage. Does anyone have a recipe?

I thought this flower wasn't going to make it either but these gorgeous yellow flowers just keep blooming. The ornamental grass in the same pot, however, has been given a different fate and has gone to meet its maker.

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30 July, 2015

A Little Light Beer: Where the Helles Summer? by Southern Tier

For the most part, I am a seasonal beer drinker. I enjoy headier brews when the weather goes cold and lighter ones during the warmer months. When it's 85 degrees out as it now, I just don't want to drink an imperial quad bourbon barrel aged anything. That stuff can sit in my cellar until autumn. No, when it's scorching outside I go to hell. Er, I l mean I like to reach for a helles.

"Helles" simply means "light" in German. The style is rather new having been introduced in 1894 by Spaten in Munich. From what I've read it came about because German brewers were keen to take advantage of new malting technology which could produce pale malt as well as a desire to compete with the Czech pilsner which was the bee's knees at the time. To my taste, the helles should have both malt sweetness as well a more grainy malt flavor plus some Noble hop bitterness for balance and dryness.

Earlier this year Southern Tier introduced Where the Helles Summer?, their rendition of a Munich Helles Lager. If memory serves, it started appearing on shelves in February. While the name is wholly appropriate for that month, I was still keeping the cold at bay with heartier brews like bocks and one of my favorite winter seasonals, Schell's Chimney Sweep. When the weather warmed, I pulled Where the Helles Summer? out from the cellar as a palliative.

It poured a beautiful light gold color and was moderately hazy. While I got a nice foamy white head, it didn't last very long, unfortunately. With the caveats that I'm neither a brewer – I've brewed or helped brew beer three times in my life – nor any kind of beer expert, I recall that German iterations of this style tend to have longer lasting heads. I mean, if you look at German glassware, you often see a line marking volume somewhere with space above it for head. Look at photos of servers from Oktoberfest. If you can peel your eyes away from the cleavage you'll see that those steins have plenty of foam at the top. Why do German beers seem to produce more foam that lasts longer? Is it my warped perception or do German brewers use ingredients with different properties than American brewers? Is decoction to blame? Anyway, there was a modicum of bubbles in glass moving upwards.

The nose held notes of grain and bread – that typical helles malt combo – as well as a light fruitiness that I can best describe as berry-like. The latter surprised me as it was an aroma I'd associate more with a Kölsch. Southern Tier advertises What the Helles as having been brewed with three types of malt and three types of hops. They don't specify which varieties so I'm not sure where this scent came from.

That grainy, biscuit aroma came through in the flavor as did that berry scent. The berry-like fruitiness was not very prominent but certainly noticeable. And there was also a mild grassy hop flavor as well. The hops provided some balance to the grain and fruit flavors but it was the malt that got the spotlight here. On my tongue a bready sweetness came in towards the end and gave way to a more intense grassy hop bitterness at the dry finish.

Where the Helles Summer's light body and 4.6% A.B.V. makes for a refreshing summer drink. From my admittedly limited experience with the helles I have come to prefer ones that maintain more of that toasty biscuit flavor throughout. Where the Helles is by no means bad but the finish was a bit odd going from rather sweet to rather bitter in almost no time flat. It was a jarring gustatory experience. I'd rather that it had less malt sweetness and a more consistent grainy flavor that melded with hops.

Junk food pairing: Where the Helles Summer? pairs well with milder junk foods like Cheddar Jack Cheez Its.

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28 July, 2015

Aldo Leopold Invented a Bench?!

Until this summer I didn't know that famed environmentalist, UW-Madison professor, and denizen of Sauk County Aldo Leopold invented a type of bench which now bears his name. About a month ago a friend and I built one and it turned out pretty well.

I remember that most angles were cut at 60 degrees and that I moved my hand in the nick of time at one point to avoid a drill bit. It now sits in my friend's backyard in front of his chimenea. Why he does not invite me over to drink his beer and sit in front of a fire is a mystery.

That same day we smoked some brats.

Well, the duty was handed over to me so I smoked some brats. It was my first time smoking anything and I had an offset smoker at my disposal along with some hickory and charcoal. It was a good learning experience. The wurst turned out well with the cherry brats a real stand out with pork, smoke, spices, and cherry all vying for attention on the tongue. Jim's Meat Market is a fine purveyor of brats as well as other meats. Chicken wings are probably next.

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Gemütlichkeit on Monroe: The Freiburg Gastropub

Yesterday The Dulcinea and I took dinner at the neu Freiburg Gastropub over on Monroe Street. I'm not sure when it opened exactly but I believe that it was earlier this month. It had a nice interior with a tin ceiling and the place smelled of freshly cut lumber.

The staff seemed to be folks in their 20s and were notably not clad in lederhosen nor dirndls. We were allowed to choose a table and chose one with a view of the outside but not at a window. Water arrived shortly after we sat as did a basket with brot und a pretzel.

The pretzel was tasty as was the brot although it was fairly plain white bread. Gastropubs are too fancy for landbrot, I guess. The brot basket also had a small hoolie of a mild senf. Every table was adorned mit a crock of senf, spicy Düsseldorf senf.

I can testify that this stuff had some kick.

And then there was the beer. FG has a goodly German beer selection plus the requisite IPAs and assorted American microbeers. As I noted yesterday, the beer menu features an alt und a Kölsch, a feat beyond the ability of the Essen Haus for reasons unknown. The D and I went with the Aecht Schlenkerla Maerzen Rauchbier. They even had Schlenkerla glasses! Monroe Street isn't exactly the altstadt in Bamberg but the glass was a nice touch nonetheless.

Mmmm…full of smoky goodness with a bit of spicy hops on the finish. Ausgezeichnet!

After devouring the brot und pretzel, we were served our Vorspeise brat stickers.

Sheer novelty, of course, but they were pretty tasty. Wonton skins filled with some bratwurst and topped with mustard and pickled onion. The wurst was good although mild by which I mean I'd have like to have tasted a bit more nutmeg and coriander.

Soon enough the rest of our meal arrived. The D had Wiener Schnitzel while I went with the Rinderbraten.

The schnitzel was pretty good but I found the breading a bit bland. Don't get me wrong, breaded and fried pork is one of mankind's greatest inventions but I do like to season my breading for schnitzel with a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, a couple smidgens of mustard powder – just a little something to accentuate the pork. My Rinderbraten was very tasty. The beef was tender and still quite pink in the middle with mustard seeds aplenty. The only shortcoming here was the paucity of gravy. Beef roast and mashed potatoes requires at least a gallon of the stuff. About those kartoffeln…they were exquisite topped as they were with diced bacon and fried onions.

I have no explanation for the sea-change in my palate last night but I actually ate my asparagus. My father used to pick it every spring from the railroad embankment by our house in Chicago and he tried to entice me into eating it but I always resisted. The German part of me has been ashamed of this gustatory shortcoming for years. Thinking that it had been a while since I last tried asparagus I decided to give it a shot once again and found that it wasn't so bad. The preparation was overly salty to my taste but the vegetable itself wasn't disgusting. And so I learned to appreciate asparagus. If they were still alive, my father would have been proud while my brother would have said that I'd gone over to the Dark Side.

For dessert we had a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a.k.a. – Black Forest Cake:

This was fantastic. The cherries on the perimeter were perfectly tart while the cake itself had just the right amount of sweetness, i.e. – it wasn't very sweet. A Snickers bar probably has the same amount of sugar as the entire cake from which my piece came.

Overall Freiburg Gastropub was quite impressive. There was a slip here or a difference in taste there but, on the whole, the food was excellent. We generally went with more traditional German dishes but the menu features more contemporary fare. There were also options for vegetarians and others who are crazy enough to abstain from pork. The beer selection was impressive with a rauchbier, alt, and a Kölsch on tap. They even had stangen for the Kölsch which makes me shudder at the thought of paying $7 for .2 liters of the stuff, if the menu is to be believed. Sunner is just not that good, in my opinion. I'd consider paying that price if I were a bit tipsy and the Köbes was a frau wearing a low cut blue dress with her boobs hanging out playing the role of the damsel in distress with her fully loaded kranz weighing her down. Under such circumstances I might have to be a gentleman and step in to help.

Behind the bar is a board listing beers that were coming soon. Amongst them were Leipziger Gose and a brew by Prof. Fritz Briem. A manager-type was seated at the bar and struck up a conversation with us. I asked him which Fritz Briem brew he was going to have and he said that it'd be the 1809 Berliner Weisse. He also told me that he was trying to get his hands on a rare barrel of a pine flavored gose which I assume is Freigeist Geisterzug Gose, a spruced gose. Sehr interessant! Oh, and he was trying to make the switch from Sunner to Reissdorf as well.

It was really nice to see a restaurant concede that there is worthwhile German cuisine and beer outside of Bavaria.

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27 July, 2015

A Little Bamberg In Madison

My Bierkampf rant about the lack of respect accorded to smoke beers in this town must have been the subject of a tweet judging by the hits it got and the fact that Chris Drosner, a.k.a. – The Beer Baron, himself left a comment.

Luckily not everyone avoids rauchbier like the plague. The shiny new Hop Cat downtown has Aecht Schelenkerla Fastenbier on tap (I guess when you have 130 taps you've got to attach those lines to something.) while the shiny neu

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George Hodgson + Pierre Celis + James Harrison = Blister in the Sun by Wisconsin Brewing Company

Blister in the Sun is Wisconsin Brewing Company's latest summer seasonal. Billed as an "India White Lager" this creation of Kirby Nelson's minion Clint Lohman takes the Belgian wit, adds more hops, and then lagers it. When I first heard of the brew I recalled that Coney Island did something similar with their Albino Python. How would this creation compare?

I got a chance to chat with Herr Lohman a few years ago when he was Scott Manning's minion at Vintage. It was either a pre-Great Taste event or a Craft Beer Week one. I found him to be a very pleasant fellow and fun to chat with so I'm happy that one of his creations has been bottled and is being distributed throughout the land. It's also nice to see WBC innovate with lagers. In some of my more officious posts here I've opined that Nelson and WBC ought to stop trying to jump on the IPA bandwagon and instead take advantage of the presence of a brewmaster whose reputation is based on 30 or more years of lager brewing. They've split the difference here with a lager whose style is prefaced with the dreaded "India".

Blister in the Sun is a spin-off of the Belgian wit. The witbier (or white beer) is a wheat ale known for being light on the hops and instead having a flavor that highlights coriander and orange peel. Lohman's creation is light gold/deep yellow in color which seems to be a bit darker than your average witbier. Blister is rather clear also unlike a traditional witbier. I presume the beer's clarity is due to the lagering process as opposed to an absence of wheat. My pour got a foamy white head which lasted for quite a while. The brew is quite effervescent with lots of bubbles going up. A very pretty beer to be sure.

The India in this India white lager was quite apparent in the nose with grapefruit bitterness from the Amarillo hops being quite prominent. There was also some coriander and a bit of bready sweetness to be had as well. With Blister being 7% A.B.V. I was expecting a fair amount of malt flavor and a body with a bit of heft. My expectations were met, for the most part. It had a medium body and there was definitely some bready malt flavor to be had but it undergirded more grapefruit hop bitterness as well as the coriander and the mellower fruitiness of the Nelson Sauvin hops. The orange peel tasted much sweeter than I anticipated as it blended with the malt to provide some contrast to the hops.

The beer finished fairly dry with the citrus hop flavor becoming more herbal and the typical clean lager taste.

I chatted with Scott Manning over at Vintage not too long and he said that Lohman had a real affinity for the Amarillo/Nelson Sauvin combination during his tenure there so he wasn't surprised by Blister in the Sun's use of these hops. They contribute lots of citrus and fruit flavors which taste quite refreshing on a hot summer day but also belie the fact that this is a fairly big beer at 7% A.B.V. You'll want to sip this stuff in the shade instead of quaffing in quantity.

Having lectured you about how and where to drink Blister in the Sun I shall say that I found it much tastier than I thought I would. India anything beers are a turn off for me because of over-hopping. While the hops are certainly prominent here, they are not completely overwhelming and do allow the other flavors of the beer to come through instead of doing a blitzkrieg attack on my tongue. I also appreciated how the coriander and grainy flavors provided contrast to the hops. Blister in the Sun is the aestival version of a barleywine in winter – a heartier beer to sip while enjoying the weather of the season.

Junk food pairing: Pair Blister in the Sun with spicy foods like Jalapeño Cheddar Chex Mix or Lay's Sriracha Potato Chips.

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26 July, 2015

So Much for the "Hidden Gem" on East Washington

Earlier this year the McGrath Property Group proposed redevelopment of part of the north side of the 1200 block of East Washington. A couple of used car lots would be removed (amen!) and the Patriot Glass building, a quonset hut, would have the facade removed and the building re-purposed. Quonset huts are semi-cylindrical buildings made of steel and date from World War II when the Navy needed a lot of easy to assemble buildings. Someone at McGrath called the quonset hut at 1212 E. Washington a "hidden gem" while project architect Joseph Lee said "it would offer 'a striking appearance' and serve as 'a great space for office, retail, restaurant or a bar.'"

I recently changed jobs which necessitated taking a bus down East Washington and recently noticed that the hidden gem is gone. A couple of months after The Cap Times reported on the project McGrath filed a Letter of Intent (PDF) with the city which noted that the quonset hut would be demolished. That's too bad. I'm no Lee Bey or Blair Kamin nor do I have a great affinity for quonset huts but keeping it would have given the project something unique. As it stands now, we're going to get three storeys of "Modern Warehouse", whatever that may be.

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Kirby Nelson Gets His Rocks Off

Back on 12 July Kirby Nelson, Mike McGuire, and the rest of the Wisconsin Brewing Company crew got out from behind their fancy computerized brewing equipment and put some craft into their craft beer. The occasion was Depth Charge, a new annual event at the brewery where the order of the day was to make a stein beer or “stone beer”. Cast your mind back to the plight of the medieval brewer who didn't have stainless steel steam jackets. Instead she had wooden vessels that couldn't withstand direct heat. How to boil the wort? The solution was to heat rocks and put them into the brew kettle.

A stein beer isn't a style of beer but rather descriptive of a brewing method just like the more common lagerbier/lager beer. In this case Nelson was brewing a Scotch ale. I've never had a stein beer before although Mark Duchow of Sweet Mullets Brewing Co. in Oconomowoc brewed one about three years ago. Putting red hot chunks of granite into wort is reputed to produce a brew that is smoky and sweet which seems an apt description of the Scotch ale.

McGuire told me that the plan had originally been to use curling stones but that they were unable to withstand the heat and disintegrated in a test fire. Replacements were hastily found and you can see them being heated above. It was McGuire who drove the telescopic fork lift that carried the stones to the vat-in-waiting.

I'm not sure why curling stones were originally chosen. Perhaps someone at WBC was a curler or it simply seemed a good symbol of our boreal traditions. Whatever the case some curlers from the Madison Curling Club were present with brooms in hand to keep us riff-raff away from the hot stones. And, with the object being the brewing of a Scotch ale, a group of bagpipers were also on hand to regale the stones on their journey to the wort.

Nelson, like McGuire, was clad in lederhosen but he was perched on a rising platform along with a couple of other WBC folks. And a flintlock pistol or two.

After a couple pistol shots and some admonitions to the crowd to stand back, McGuire lowered the rocks into the kettle.

No rocks exploded and no bystanders were scalded by the wort. Once the luscious brown liquid was reduced to a simmer we were allowed near the kettle. It smelled fantastic- full of smoky caramel goodness.

Patrons were allowed to reserve bombers of the finished brew for $20 a pop. They're due in October.

Depth Charge is to be an annual event and Nelson said that next year he'd be making a doppelbock steinbier. It looks to be a fun event and potentially a replacement for the bockfest that he hosted at Capital for many years. Instead of throwing chub from the roof while perched on a dinosaur, Nelson can emcee as heated stones are dropped into a brew kettle. The day also featured music with John Dee Graham taking the stage at 2.

And of course there was plenty of beer to be drunk while lounging beside the retaining pond. Blister in the Sun, their new India White Lager, was to be had along with what was touted as a special fresh batch of Big Sweet Life, Nelson's traditional maibock. The Dulcinea took a shine to the former starting at around 11:00 that morning. Inaugural Red was also on tap. If the shelves at Woodman's were anything to go by, this beer, developed by UW students, is selling well. I sure hope so because I heard a rumor that WBC had gone through five years worth of money in only two. I also hope that this is pure rumor mongering.

WBC has a nice semi-rural location and there was a goodly sized crowd on hand to witness the dropping of the stones. Many people brought their children and a few brought picnic baskets with them. While the place lacks the Old World bier garten feel of Nelson's old stomping grounds in Middleton, it certainly had that wonderful neighborly social vibe that Nelson sees his brews as being the perfect complement to.

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24 July, 2015

The Beer I Should Have Reviewed Last Autumn: Schell's Fresh Hop Equinox (2014)

Schell began billing itself as a "German craft" brewer last year. I've never encountered an explanation for the rebranding effort but I've always assumed it was partly a response to the Brewers Association declaring that Schell was crafty but not a craft brewery a bit more than a year before. I also assume that Schell was trying to stake out its own territory and differentiate itself from the hordes of craft brewers out there who pump out IPAs of various colors and strengths as if they were desperately attempting to resurrect a defunct style.

This is certainly not to say that Schell is incognizant of trends. With millions of ironically mustachioed men out there gleefully calculating on their iPhones just how many moles of humulone are in a bottle of 3 Floyds Alpha King, the fetish for hops just cannot be ignored. Bowing (perhaps) to the tyranny of the minority and, I would imagine, a desire to give new ingredients a try, Schell developed the Fresh Hop series. Fresh Hop beers are pilsners brewed to showcase a particular variety of hop with the cones entering the brew kettle no more than 48 hours after they've been harvested. To date newer varieties of hops have been utilized. The initial Fresh Hop came out in 2012 and featured Citra hops with Mosaic being featured the following year. Last year's batch put Equinox hops into the spotlight.

I was unable to find out exactly when Equinox was first grown but it was given its moniker only last year when it was decided by the hoppy powers on high that "HBC 366" was not a particularly sexy name. Having read about it a bit, it seems that Equinox is like the Swiss Army knife of hops – it adds aromas and flavors that are fruity, citrusy, floral, and herbal – basically every olfactory/gustatory quality a hop can have. Well, until an entrepreneurial farmer crosses the venerable hop with a corpse flower.

Fresh Hop Equinox, as you can see from my slightly out of focus photo, pours a brilliant straw color. It is as clear as a pilsner can be. My pour resulted in a fine pillowy white head that lasted almost the livelong session. (Not sure if this is because I drank quickly or if the head lasted a long time.) Fresh Hop was an effervescent brew with lots of bubbles making their way up the glass.

Perhaps it was because my Fresh Hop wasn't particularly fresh – not that it was very old either – but my nose didn't catch everything and the kitchen sink like I expected after reading about these Equinox hops. Descriptions made it sound like I'd take one whiff and be overwhelmed by a bouquet that included notes of every tropical fruit known to man. That did not happen. I did, however, catch a bright citrus scent as well as a mellower grassy one which I felt was a rather nice combination. All of these were present in the taste. But wait! There's more!

The citrus scent became more focused and made me think of orange, more specifically, mandarin orange according to my notes. I really enjoyed the floral notes that were present here too. Schell does a good job with pilsners, to my taste, as they capture very well the biscuit kind of flavors I prize so highly. No exception here. There was also a mild and slightly sweeter malt flavor here as well – think graham crackers. The carbonation added a bit of dryness. Fresh Hop finished as you'd expect a pilsner hopped with a Nobler variety like Saaz to finish – dry with a good dose of spicy/grassy hoppiness.

My glass had minimal Schaumhaftvermoegen as the foam quickly slid down the side of the glass and into the waiting arms of the beer.

Jace Marti and the folks at Schell have done a great job here with Fresh Hop. It's medium light body and rather modest (by U.S. standards, anyway) 5% A.B.V. make it suitable for having more than one in a session but so does the array of inviting flavors here. Being a lager, the malt component is clean leaving the Equinox hops to take center stage. They offer grass and citrus in the nose and then add those plus floral notes on the tongue. For the finish they mimic a Noble hop with a bit of spiciness. Fresh Hop marries Old World subtlety with New World brashness for a brew that is at once quite approachable yet also unpredictable.

Junk food pairing: if you still have any Fresh Hop drink it now before the 2015 hop crop is reaped. And do so with a handful of Blue Diamond Wasabi & Soy Sauce almonds. Fresh Hop's finish will complement the wasabi while the myriad of other flavors in the beer will both accentuate and contrast with these little umami bombs. It's like a party in your mouth.

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22 July, 2015

Brenner Is Da Bomb: Bacon Bomb by Brenner Brewing (Alliteration Is In)

Milwaukee's Brenner Brewing is a relative newcomer. If memory serves, the brewery opened in Milwaukee's Walkers Point neighborhood last year and they began distributing here in Madison only last month. Or was it May? Regardless of when Mike Brenner's brews arrived on Madison store shelves, it was a rather quiet affair from what I could tell. It doesn't seem that Brenner has a flagship beer like Spotted Cow that is widely known nor a highly sought-after IPA that gets the hop heads hotter than a whore in a cucumber patch.

I was happy to hear that Brenner would begin distribution here in Madison because they brew Bacon Bomb, a rauchbier. The poor rauchbier. Back in May during Madison Craft Beer Week I was as The Malt House chatting with owner Bill Rogers and Metropolitan's Tracy Durst. I brought up rauchbiers and Bill said that he no longer carries them as apparently I was the only person who drank them. L-A-M-E. Rauchbier just gets no love. The Wisconsin State Journal's Beer Baron, Chris Drosner, "can't stand smoked beers" while Isthmus' beer writer Robin Shepard admits "Smoky beers are not for everyone, and I'm one of those who shy away from them." L-A-M-E. And seriously Mr. Shepard, some German rauchbiers that have an overwhelming smoke flavor "can leave the impression that the wort was filtered through an ashtray"? That sounds pretty asinine to me. Granted, I've never been to Germany but none of the half dozen Schlenkerla beers I've had tasted like they were ever near an ashtray. Does Mr. Shepard ever complain about the overwhelming hoppy bitterness of IPAs that taste like they were mopped up from the floor of a malort factory? Does he ever complain about brett beers that can leave the impression that the wort was filtered through a swamp?

Don't worry, though, dear reader. I'll be your pregustator since the professionals in this locale are lame and won't help you.

On to Bacon Bomb.

Ooh la la! Just look at that deep, sexy reddish brown color! It pours clear and I got a nice tan head which dispersed rather quickly. The effervescence was on the low side with only a smattering of bubbles on the bottom of my glass. And notice how my glass has a slight, in the words of Robin Shepard, "inward taper" to focus/concentrate the smoky goodness at my proboscis. As I looked at the beer it was impossible not to smell it. In fact, I could smell the smokiness upon opening the bottle. Brenner advertises that it uses both German beechwood and Wisconsin cherrywood smoked malts in Bacon Bomb and there was a certain sweetness to the smoke aroma which may have come from the cherry. In addition to the rauch goodness there was a hint of an earthy/camphor-like scent – black pepper is added to BB.

And what would a beer named "Bacon Bomb" taste like? Bacon! Smoke! My baseline rauchbier is something by Schlenkerla and BB certainly has plenty of that smoky bacon flavor, though not as much as Schlenkerla's Märzen oder Urbock. It was right around the level of their Weizen. The pepper was in the background here though certainly noticeable. And there was a bit of bready, malty sweetness to be had as well. Brenner notes that they use a yeast strain which makes for a light body and I have to say that I was rather surprised by this. In fact, I'd rather that the beer were a bit heavier on the tongue. There is also chocolate wheat in the grain bill and I have to say that I prefer beers with smoky/roasted grain flavors to, in general, have a mouthfeel that is more towards medium than light.

Bacon Bomb finishes with some lingering smoke flavor as well as herbal/grassy hoppiness. Again, going by the touchstone of rauchbier, Schlenkerla, BB has a more prominent hop flavor. It's not very strong, mind you, but it does provide some contrast as well as some dryness to the finish.

To the best of my knowledge Bacon Bomb is brewed year-round which is fantastic news. There is a distinct paucity of smoked beers around town. BB has a goodly amount of smoke flavor and I love the addition of pepper. It is 5.3% A.B.V. and goes down quite easily. My only complaint is that the body is on the thin side. This isn't a fatal flaw – more an observation on how Bacon Bomb compares to the Platonic Ideal of a rauchbier. Along these lines I have to admit that I don't know what style BB is. It tasted closest to a Märzen but I think the addition of chocolate wheat keeps it from strictly adhering to a recognized style.

Junk food pairing: I found that Bacon Bomb went quite well with Extra Toasty Cheez-Its as well as Jalapeño Smokehouse Almonds.

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|| Palmer, 9:20 PM || link || (2) comments |

The Feng Shui of Beer: Lakefront's Cherry Lager

Spring is apparently the season for cherry beers. First I tried Victory’s wunderbar Kirsch Gose and now we have Lakefront’s Cherry. Cherry is one of Lakefront’s seasonals and I believe it is their late spring offering following Lent and the brewery’s Shrovetide maibock.

Lakefront is one of the grandfathers of Wisconsin microbreweries. The venerable brewery started in 1987 just after Capital and Sprecher but it’s only been in the past several years that growth has really taken off. They innovated by brewing a gluten-free beer, New Grist, and have more recently taken the plunge into the IPA waters. Plus Lakefront simply brews some really tasty annuals with their Riverwest Stein Beer, an amber lager, being a fairly common sight on taps in Madison.

Most of the brewery's year-round beers are now ales but most of their seasonals, including Cherry, are lagers. Cherry, then is at once a nod to the German brewing traditions of Milwaukee as well as a novel pairing of beer and fruit. I suspect that most beer drinkers tend to think of Belgian kriek lambics when it comes to cherry brews and not German-style lagers. (Although German brewing traditions once included the Kirschenbier, which was apparently similar to a kriek.)

Cherry, as you can see from the photo above, is a pretty reddish brown. I got a nice pink head on my pour but it didn't last long. It was also rather effervescent as there were lots of bubbles heading upwards and onwards.

The brew's bouquet was as nice as it looked with a bready, malty sweetness and the scent of tart cherries being most prominent. I also caught a more general fruity aroma that was redolent of stone fruit. The beer's flavor mirrored the nose with the succulent sour cherry flavor from the Wisconsin Montmorency cherries hitting your tongue first. Hot on these fruity heels was the fine grainy flavor that tasted less sweet than its aroma. It was a bit like toast and reminiscent of melanoidins or whatever you call those wonderful malt flavors you get from Malliard reactions.

Cherry finished with a nice lingering cherry tartness plus a bit of spicy hop (Mt. Hood?) flavor.

Truth be told, I thoroughly enjoyed this beer. It has a fantastic fresh tart cherry flavor which is complemented by a malt-grain flavor that isn't too sweet and just a touch of hop bitterness for good measure. All of the flavors are in harmony here as if it were brewed according to feng shui. (Perhaps Lakefront's tanks point north to Door County.) I'm not sure what kind of malt or malts were used in this beer but I loved their toasty flavor. I wish more American brewers would use melanoidin-rich malts or decoct or do whatever it takes to get these flavors.

Cherry's medium body and 6% A.B.V. make for a nice spring beer – some succor for those final cool days before the summer heat descends.

Junk food pairing: Raise a glass of Cherry along with some pork rinds and/or smoked string cheese.

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|| Palmer, 8:08 PM || link || (0) comments |