Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 August, 2015

Dan Carey's Thumbprint Is All Over This Beer: Berliner Weisse by New Glarus Brewing

The grand parade of Berliner Weisses continues today with Dan Carey's take on the style from New Glarus.

This is the fourth or fifth Berliner Weisse that I've reviewed this summer. If you'd have told me back in, say, 2008 that I wouldn't have to wait too long before I had this many to choose from, I'd probably have called you crazy. I just couldn't see sour beers having that great of an audience. Hence why I tend not to prognosticate. This light, bubbly, sour wheat beer, this "Champagne of the North", is readily available here from multiple breweries throughout the summer and probably throughout the year.

As best I can tell either Carey first brewed Berliner Weisse for the limited-release Unplugged series back in 2008 or that year was the last time it was brewed before going into hiatus. Either way it returned in 2013 and has been a Thumbprint (i.e. - the new name for Unplugged, MTV references having become passé a long time ago.) release ever since.

Berliner Weisse pours a yellow/light gold color and is hazy. As you'd expect from a beer called the "Champagne of the North", it was quite effervescent. My glass was adorned with a big, pillowy white head with lots of bubbles going up the glass. I do believe that last year's batch was criticized for being overly carbonated.

Brewmaster Dan Carey puts his own touch on his Berliner Weisse by adding grape juice to the beer. Prior to the beer's resurrection in 2013, Pinot Grigio and Riesling grape juice was added to the beer although it seems that only the latter has been used since the reintroduction. I caught that grape in the nose as well as the lemony sour aroma from the lactic acid bacteria. Faint but still present was a bit of graininess from the Wisconsin white wheat. I wonder why white wheat was used here instead of red wheat. What's the difference in wheat varieties for brewing?

The taste mimics the aroma. At first I discerned the mellow grape and then the lemony sourness. The grape flavor was not very strong but one can certainly taste it. I suppose it counters the tartness a little bit with a touch of sweetness. A surfeit of carbonation adds some dryness and that fine alliterative Wisconsin white wheat is present as well with a bit of grainy flavor lingering in the background.

Berliner Weisse finished with some of the lemony tartness hanging around as well as that dry, fizzy carbonic acid bite. My glass was left with some good Schaumhaftvermoegen.

This year's batch seems to be less tart than in years past. I don't write that to imply that this Berliner Weisse isn't tart or is in some way compromised, but rather that it seems just a bit less pucker-inducing than previous batches. This batch also tastes lighter to me; there is less body here. Previous iterations just seemed to be fuller tasting all around – more sour, more grape, more grain. Not that they were imperial or doppel versions of the style, mind you, but they tasted bigger to my palate.

Is this new diminutive version a problem? No, not really. All of the requisite flavors are still there and Dan Carey still sets his Berliner Weisse apart by his use of grape juice. It's probably an even better summer thirst quencher now. On the other hand, the fuller tasting version had its virtues as well. It was more of a sipping beer whereas the lighter iteration is more for quaffing. Plus I think the heartier version fared better with heartier fare. This one pairs better with lighter foods such as…

Junk food pairing: Pair New Glarus' Berliner Weisse with lighter junk foods such as Cheddar Cheese Almond Nut-Thins or a nice, greasy plain Kartoffelchip.

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|| Palmer, 4:11 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Grätzer, er, Grodziskie That May Really Be a Lichtenhainer: Grätzer by New Belgium and 3 Floyds Brewing Cos.

Last year New Belgium and 3 Floyds collaborated on a brew and thusly Grätzer was born. Grätzer – the style, not the beer shown above - is made from oak smoked wheat malt exclusively. It was rather light on the palate and hopped enough to have been at least moderately bitter. At some point and some places willow bark was also part of the recipe.

While new Belgium and 3 Floyds concede that it's "a long-buried style from Poland", they use the German name for their beer. These Polish brewers make a good case for using the Polish appellation, Grodziskie.

The supposed “easiness” that German names carry over the Polish ones is an echo of anti-Polish propaganda, which was never examined in the West after World War II. Indeed, Polish language may appear strange and difficult to some, yet it is important to recognize the harm in the claim that such difficulties are somehow “universal” or “natural” and to learn about the history of such thinking and the continued harm it brings.

Now that I've wasted a bit of your time arguing that the beer at hand should properly be called a Grodziskie, it's a bit ironic that this concoction doesn't seem to be a Grodziskie at all but rather some kind of Lichtenhainer since, as Ron Pattinson points out, the Grodziskie was not a sour beer whereas the brew here is.

Regardless of nomenclature, I carry on…

A word of warning before I continue: the beer was released last spring or summer and the bottle says that the contents were best enjoyed by May 2015. So I'm a bit late. Hopefully three months or so didn't diminish the beer significantly.

Grätzer pours a deep, deep reddish brown that was nearly black. My glass was opaque and the beer defied any attempt to get light to penetrate it. I held the glass up to a light on my ceiling and then to a window but neither could penetrate the Stygian gloom held therein. From what I could tell the beer was clear. It was nicely effervescent too with a big foamy tan head that proved in no hurry to dissipate.

Smoky goodness caught my nose first. Curiously enough, I also smelled some sweetness that was tropically fruity. There were also some wonderful toasty-chocolate/coffee roasted grain tones. A fine start, if you ask me. The taste was similar. There was a moderate smokiness hand-in-hand with more of those chocolatey grainy flavors. The malt also provided some sweetness here which I found to be like stone fruit as opposed to mangoes or papayas. These flavors were tempered by a bit of dryness from the carbonation. Lactobacillus was added to the beer but in a small quantity. I caught a hint of sour immediately but the tartness came mostly in the finish which saw the nearly ubiquitous smoke come to a diminuendo and be superseded by some herbal hop bitterness and the more pronounced lacto sour.

Judging purely by Grätzer's Cimmerian appearance, you'd think this was a heavy beer but that's not the case. Grätzer has a light body and is rather small at 4.5% A.B.V. yet it is a tasty gallimaufry of malt pleasures with the grains offering smoky, chocolatey, and sweet flavors. While the malt is front and center on the palate, the carbonation and the lactic acid bacteria help keep everything balanced. As for the finish, I thoroughly enjoyed how the taste changed from being malt-centric to one that was slightly dry with some hop bitterness and acidulous to boot. Grätzer is a rather nimble beer as it managed to be rather hearty yet also light & refreshing at the same time.

Junk food pairing: If you still have some Grätzer and don't want to give it to me, then drink it now and pair it with Jay's Barbeque potato chips. Unless Jay's has changed the recipe, these chips have a prominent paprika flavor as opposed to a sweet BBQ sauce one. The earthy spice complements the smoke well. If you can get your hands on Polish junk food then I'd bet Lay's Papryka chips would be the perfect companion.

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|| Palmer, 11:30 AM || link || (0) comments |

28 August, 2015

Are you gassy? Is it gas?: Scurry by Off Color Brewing

When Dave Bleitner and John Laffler, the proprietors of Off Color Brewing, decided they weren't going to brook any IPAs in their line-up, they instead went out and sought obscure styles. Scurry is one of Off Color's annual brews and resurrects the old north German Kotbusser. The Kotbusser, named after the town of Cottbus, was a pale top-fermented beer that was brewed with oats and honey. It was also apparently a sour beer not unlike the Berliner Weisse. Unfortunately the beer went the way of the dodo around the turn of the 19th century thanks to the popularity of lagers and, presumably, the Rheinheitsgebot.

The only other commercially brewed Kotbussser that I've encountered is Berghoff's Germaniac. Off Color has used molasses here which may or may not be traditional. They also threw in dark malts so their spin on the style isn't pale, as you can see.

Scurry pours a deep reddish brown and I found myself again delighted by a beer that wasn't yellow or gold like all the goses and Berliner Weisses I've been quaffing lately. The beer is also clear and highly effervescent. After pouring my glass held a large tan head. Upon putting the bottle down foam immediately began to form inside of it and make its way up the neck. For an instant I was worried that I'd have one of those grade school volcano science fair demos on my hands. There were lots of bubbles going up my glass to the plus-sized head that formed on both the bottom and the sides of my glass.

The first scent on my first sniff was a metallic smell. I have read that molasses can give a metallic taste so I wonder if they were responsible for this aroma. Upon further inhaling, I didn't catch instead smelled mostly sweet scents like caramel and honey. There were also hints of roasted grains. The first taste on my first sip was carbonation which didn't surprise me considering all the foam my gentle pouring and bottle handling had produced. (I swear I handled everything with care!) Underneath the very prominent dryness and slight tartness of the carbonation I could discern hints of chocolate and even a bit of smokiness. These latter surely came from the Dark Munich and Chocolate malts and probably the molasses as well. I did not detect much sweetness which may be because of the beer's "cool, controlled fermentation".

Scurry had a light body which I think was mostly due to the over-abundance of carbonation. Had there been less of it, I highly suspect it would have had heavier body given its 5.3% A.B.V. I did notice that the beer was very smooth, likely because of the oats. The finish was dry with a hint of hop bitterness that tasted peppery. I ended up with some decent Schaumhaftvermoegen.

This beer had too much carbonation, pure and simple. My assumption is that Off Color was not intending for Scurry to challenge their own Fierce for the title of "Champagne of the Upper Midwest" and that the over-carbonation here is a mistake. The fizz is just too powerful and batters the tongue as it struggles to get a grip on the roasted grain flavors underneath and whatever other tasty treats may be lurking in the brew. Quite a shame. I intended to buy some more of this beer next time I'm in Chicago because Scurry sounds absolutely fantastic on paper and there are hints of a very tasty beer to be had but they are obscured by all of the carbonation.

Junk food pairing: Pair this extremely ebullient version of Scurry with Lay's Southern Biscuits and Gravy. Give all that carbonation a goodly amount of fat to cut through.

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|| Palmer, 11:54 AM || link || (2) comments |

26 August, 2015

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: First Bavarian Pale Ale by Apostelbräu

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: First Bavarian Pale Ale by Apostelbräu

I'm in media res of clearing out the beer in my basement. Now, I don't mean the big brews aging on a shelf in the corner but rather the other ones on the floor. Occasionally I'll run across a real gem that escaped my mind. It is rescued in the nick of time and a fine gustatory experience is had. At other times I run into beers have eluded me for just too long and they've taken a turn for the worse. What follows is one of these latter cases. Sadly.

A pale ale brewed in Germany?! Yes, you read that right. Note also how Apostelbräu brands itself as a craft brewery. Rudolf Hirz of Apostelbräu is a bit of a maverick, apparently. I read that he also innovated in the late 1980s by brewing spelt beer, spelt being a variety of wheat. The grain also features in First Bavarian Pale Ale. It seems that the grain is more common in Germany than it is here in the States where it's generally considered a specialty grain.

The first thing I ponder when seeing a beer from Germany such as a pale ale or one that departs markedly from the Rheinheitsgebot is whether or not the brew is export-only. It's one thing for German brewers to brew English pale ale and to add things like quince, spruce, and rhubarb to their beers; but, if these are just going to be exported never to touch the lips of German drinkers, exactly how much has changed? Luckily it seems that First Bavarian Pale Ale is available in Germany as well as at Binny's in suburban Chicago.

The beer poured a nice gold, as you can see. It was naturtrüb - naturally hazy. From what I've read, spelt has more protein than the other more common varieties of wheat so I am left to wonder if spelt beers are hazier than normal wheat brews. My pour produced a fine head that was white and pillowy and which dissipated rather slowly. There were rather few bubbles in the liquid itself.

The aroma was rather sweet with the malt having a caramel scent. This is likely due to the age of the beer but there was also grassy hops to be had so I assume that the beer wasn't quite senescent yet but rather middle aged. On the tongue the sweetness all but disappeared which again leads me to believe that the beer, while not fresh, wasn't ready for the old beer home. It had a mellow malt flavor which was bready while the grassy hop flavor returned. It didn't have much in the way of fruitiness which I presume was the result of its, shall we say, extended aging.

It finished a bit watery with a moderate spicy hop bitterness.

This brew wasn't as far gone as either the Roggen Gold or Uerige Alt that I've had recently. Or at least I don't think it was judging by the hop flavor and the lack of sweetness on the tongue. Still, this was not a fresh beer.

It should go without saying that I'd love to try a fresh(er) bottle of First Bavarian Pale Ale. It tastes like Apostelbräu used a Noble hop here instead of…well, what do the English generally use in their pale ales? Fuggles? Goldings? From what I've been able to gather, Apostelbräu was one of the first breweries in Germany to try their hand at an English pale ale. I wonder if this was inspired by beers from England or by the American craft beer boom or…? The use of spelt here gives a Teutonic slant on the style and, if Noble hops were used, then all the more so. Another one to look out for the next time I'm at Binny's. Has anyone seen this here in Madison?

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|| Palmer, 3:56 PM || link || (0) comments |

What-Ifs, Maybes, and Might-Have-Beens: Roggen Gold by Schlägl

I'm in media res of clearing out the beer in my basement. Now, I don't mean the big brews aging on a shelf in the corner but rather the other ones on the floor. Occasionally I'll run across a real gem that escaped my mind. It is rescued in the nick of time and a fine gustatory experience is had. At other times I run into beers have eluded me for just too long and they've taken a turn for the worse. What follows is one of these latter cases. Sadly.

I found a bottle of Schlägl Roggen Gold at a Binny's in suburban Chicago back in the past immemorial. Stiftsbrauerei Schlägl is an Austrian brewery while their Roggen Gold is a rye ale.

I absolutely love rye in beer. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I love rye in beer styles that I like. Aw hell, it even makes IPAs palatable – Founders Red's Rye IPA is a great beer. I feel so ashamed that this beer got lost in the shuffle. This being the case, I have written not a review but a tantalizing glimpse of what may have been.

Roggen Gold pours a gorgeous light copper. The beer is aesthetically pleasing on its own but it gets bonus points because I've been drinking so many beers that are yellow in color lately (Goses, Berliner Weisses, Helleses, a Zwickel) and this stands in stark contrast. The beer was hazy and there was lots of particulate matter floating about. Oops. Despite the beer's age, it was still rather effervescent. I got a decent head that managed to last a little while and there was a goodly number of bubbles going up.

The aroma was all malt. There was bread dough, honey, and then the earthy rye. The taste was very similar with a pronounced honey sweetness and some spicy rye goodness. The finish was rather sweet with just a touch of spicy hop flavor in there.

For whatever reason I think of roggenbiers as being weissbiers with rye. I was wondering if it would taste anything at all like a weissbier and it didn't. But I have to admit that I'm not sure if this is because all the esters/phenols dissipated over time along with any semblance of hops or because those banana/clove flavors had never been there in the first place. Roggen Gold had a nice medium-light body and I couldn't help but think what this stuff must have tasted like had it been fresh(er). The rye was prominent here in both the nose and on the tongue. I dream that it was the same lo those many years ago.

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|| Palmer, 8:04 AM || link || (0) comments |

25 August, 2015

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Off Color

While I may not have been sure if Snarling Badger is still a blended beer, there's no doubt that Off Color's Troublesome is. But instead of a Berliner Weisse, Troublesome aims for Gose territory.

As I noted when I sampled their Berliner Weisse, Off Color treads a path less worn. Rather than being yet another moth taken by the IPA flame, the men behind the beer, John Laffler and Dave Bleitner, sought inspiration from obscure German styles when brewing the cornerstones of Off Color.

The Gose is a light sour wheat ale notable for being seasoned with salt and coriander. The people of Leipzig were apparently good joiner-inners because the Gose originated in the town of Goslar, about 115 miles from Leipzig in the early 18th century and, as the 19th century came to a close, Gose was the official brew of Leipzig. The style is most closely associated with its adopted home today. In my mind, anyway.

As I said above Troublesome is a blended beer and not brewed strictly in accordance with tradition. An unadorned wheat beer comingles with a sour brew fermented by lactobacillus alone. This is the second time this week I've encountered a sour brew that was untouched by brewer's yeast. Salt and coriander are added later.

Troublesome pours hazy and is light yellow in color. I didn't get much of a head but there were bubbles galore going up as well as clinging to the side of the glass. I've always heard that, if there's carbonation on the side of the glass, then the glass is dirty. Now I feel badly. Are there any circumstances under which those bubbles would adhere to the side of glass even when it is clean? We're talking 50+ year-old glassware here so perhaps imperfections in the glass would qualify? I hope so because otherwise I've just admitted to the world that I am a poor dishwasher.

The aroma was at once enticing and disappointing. To begin with the latter, I only caught a rather faint whiff of the lemony tartness that the lactobacillus produces. That tangy bouquet is such an exhilarating way to begin a beer and I lamented its paucity here. On the other hand, the coriander was quite distinct which has not been my experience with most of the Goses that I've encountered. There were also notes of grain and a sweet scent that reminded me of simple syrup.

If the aroma had induced fears of a sour beer lacking tartness then they were allayed when I took my first sip of Troublesome. It was moderately sour. I didn't get a blast of lemon/citrus sour but the beer still had a goodly tartness to it. Wheat/bread was also present as was the coriander. Most of the Gose beers I've had are American and the coriander usually eludes my tongue. I wonder why this should be considering that these same brewers have little or no compunction about putting their customers' tongue through alpha acid hell. The coriander in Troublesome is not overpowering or prominent but it is distinct. Just enough to stand out a bit yet subtle enough to blend in with the other flavors.

As someone at Next Door Brewing can attest, my ability to discern salt in beer is woefully inadequate. I could taste no salinity in Troublesome, which is not a problem, but I did have a problem discerning what the salt was doing to the flavor. The grainy/bready flavors didn't come across to my tongue as having been enhanced by salt; they tasted as they have appeared in other beers ohne Salz. I think that the flavor of the coriander was heightened by it, though, as it tasted less delicate than it does if you just taste it right from the jar.

There was also a goodly amount of carbonation which was readily tasted and added dryness and balance to the grainy flavors. Troublesome finished dry with a lingering tartness and just a hint of the hops which were herbal and peppery. Sadly my glass was not left with much Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Troublesome has a nice, light body and is rather smooth on the tongue which I presume is because of the presence of oats. The tartness and high carbonation make for a very refreshing beer. At 4.3% A.B.V. one can get good and refreshed without necessarily getting good and sloshed. Off Color did a great job of producing a sour beer that has more than sourness going for it. It is going a step too far to say that the flavors here are balanced because the tartness is most prominent. But it's kept in check to a degree by the carbonation. Plus the grainy flavors don't get lost and neither does the coriander. Everything just works well together.

Junk food pairing: Gose pairs well with lighter fare so try seafood flavored junk food such as Shrimp Funyuns or Lay's Rock Baked Scallop with Butter and Garlic potato chips.

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|| Palmer, 2:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

24 August, 2015

The Biggest Berliner Weisse I've Ever Had: Snarling Badger by Grand Teton Brewing

Looking back, I've had a lot more Berliner Weisses in the past few months than I thought possible and now it's time for yet another one. It doesn't seem so long ago that the style was considered exotic and strange. I recall sharing one several years ago with a friend who was repulsed by the beer's foetid vapors and hideous tartness. My first encounter with a Berliner Weisse wasn't quite so horrible but it did take me a little time to become accustomed to the style. While there are far, far fewer Berliner Weisses than there are, say, IPAs, fans of the former are luxuriating in a bounty of beers these days. This time around we have one from Grand Teton Brewing which is, I just learned, in Idaho.

Snarling Badger is the brewery's summer seasonal but was originally intended to be a one-off brew back in 2012. The ur-Snarling Badger was unique in my Berliner Weisse experience in having been a blended take on the style. A batch was brewed and fermented entirely with lactic acid bacteria and then blended with another batch that had been fermented with hefeweizen yeast to produce banana and clove esters/phenols which contrast with the citrus sour produced by the Lactobacillus. I'd never heard of fermenting exclusively with Lactobacillus and found this rather intriguing. I wonder how the product of lacto fermentation differs from one fermented with brewer's yeast and then lacto-soured. Unfortunately I can find no evidence to indicate that the blending process was ever used beyond the initial batch in 2012.

Also, Snarling Badger is what might be termed an imperial Berliner Weisse as it is 7.5% A.B.V., more than twice the strength of a traditional Berliner Weisse. I use "traditional" cautiously here because the style dates back to the 16th or 17th century and has changed much over the years. The notion that a Berliner Weisse is strictly about 3% A.B.V. seems to be a 20th century one that developed as the style was rapidly disappearing. I don't doubt for a minute that there was a starkbier ("strong beer") version of Berliner Weisse over in Germany at some point over the past few hundred years.

Snarling Badger pours a yellowy gold that is hazy from the wheat in the grain bill. My glass got only a small head that was soon to be gone. Still the beer was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles moving up my glass and a fair number of them clinging to the side. It is the "Champagne of the North", after all. (Which makes me wonder about reports of last year's batch of Berliner Weisse by New Glarus which rated it as over-carbonated.)

As was expected, the beer had a pronounced lemony aroma but there was another citrus smell to be had – tangerine. It reminded me of the new (and inferior) Tangerine IPA by Potosi in cans which I find to be syrupy, though Snarling Badger was by no means as cloying. Also present was another sweet fruity aroma, namely a stone fruit smell that, in combination with the tangerine, made for an almost treacly nose. This was not going to be the Berliner Weisse that Napoleon encountered. Notably absent were any banana or clove aromas as one would expect if some hefeweizen had been blended in.

Snarling Badger's taste was much like the mix of aromas that my nose caught. The lemony tartness from the lactic acid bacteria was there but so were a couple of sweet flavors. First was a doughy, grainy sweetness while second was peach-like. The sweetness was prominent but it never crossed that threshold into cloying. I think that the carbonation really helped the Lactobacillus in keeping the sugary hordes in check by adding some dryness to the flavor.

At the finish the tartness ebbed away allowing a slight grassy hop bitterness to come through.

This was my first time drinking a Berliner Weisse that was this potent. While there was a goodly amount of sweetness, it didn't suppress the sourness. However, if you really want lip-puckering tartness that will kill your tastebuds, then Snarling Badger isn't the beer you're looking for. For a beer that is this big and sweet, it had a lighter body than you'd expect and the surfeit of carbonation no doubt gives it a lighter mouthfeel. While the sweet and sour were more or less in balance here, this beer is too big to be a summer thirst quencher. However, it made for a nice summer nightcap.

Junk food pairing: Pair this big beer with heartier junk foods such as thick cut potato chips or Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces.

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|| Palmer, 3:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

23 August, 2015

This is not a kellerbier. I repeat, this is not a kellerbier: Zwickel by Urban Chestnut

I used to think that zwickel was just another name for kellerbier and the zwickel/kellerbier was simply helles that was unfiltered and unpasteurized. Now I believe this view to be wrong and am not really sure what a zwickel is. It seems that it's a light kellerbier, with a bit less alcohol and less hoppiness. Oh, it also features more carbonation because, unlike the kellerbier, the bung is firmly in place on the tanks so the precious carbon dioxide does not escape. It also seems that kellerbiers and zeickels are lagered for differing lengths of time but I cannot confirm this. Oh, and a kellerbier seems to be, in extreme shorthand, a hoppy, still Märzen. Which I guess means that the zwickel is, in extreme shorthand, an unfiltered, unpasteurized helles. It would seem that a trip to Franconia is in order to clarify matters.

Unfortunately I won't be stepping foot in Germany any time soon but luckily Urban Chestnut's brewmaster, Florian Kuplent, hails from Munich and began to learn his craft there. And I am also fortunate that he brews Zwickel.

Kuplent's zwickel pours a lovely deep yellow and has the requisite turbidity with all that tasty yeast still in there. This was quite an effervescent brew as I got a nice fluffy white head which was in no hurry to go anywhere. In addition there were lots of bubbles forming at the bottom of my glass only to make their way upwards.

The aroma was a little bit of heaven. It smelled like bread - full of yeasty, grainy goodness. There was also a note of spicy hoppiness from the Hallertau Perle und Mittelfrueh varieties. Zwickel tastes like fresh bread. There was a bit of mild doughy sweetness (which veered towards apricot as the beer warmed) but Zwickel had a lot more of that superior bread crust-melanoidin flavor. The yeast also added to the impression that one was drinking liquid bread. More beers ought to remain unfiltered, in my humble opinion. Finally, the plentiful carbonation lent a little dryness to this decidedly malt-focused brew.

There wasn't much to taste of hops until the finish where the Noble Hallertaus exerted some peppery bitterness and helped Zwickel finish on a dry note. My glass ended up with a couple moderately sized patches of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

While I can imagine that Zwickel tastes exceptional coming right from the tap at Urban Chestnut, St. Louis is much closer than Franconia and it still tasted fantastic to me. Just as hopheads are going ga-ga over Citra hops these days, I get my thrills with that bread crust kind of flavor that European malts seem to provide. And there's no shortage in Zwickel. At 5.2% A.B.V. it is perhaps a bit stronger than is traditional and the bready flavors are at the fore here but this is not a very hearty brew. It has a nice medium-light body, is not very sweet, and is bubbly making it quite suitable for warmer weather.

I'd love to taste Zwickel fresh down in St. Louis. I have friends who swear that Pappy's Smokehouse is the best BBQ on the planet and there's an Urban Chestnut outpost less than half a mile from Pappy's. But, since there's no trek to St. Louis in the near future…

Junk food pairing: Pair Zwickel with Pepper Jack Cheese Nut Thins. Both are relatively light fare but the chili makes for a nice contrast to the mellow, bready flavors of the beer.

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|| Palmer, 6:59 PM || link || (0) comments |

19 August, 2015

A Catalogue of Tastes & Smells, Brewed in the City of Milwaukee, on the West Side of Lake Michigan: Increase Wheat from Milwaukee Brewing Co.

Last year at either a Craft Beer Week or a pre-Great Taste event the Milwaukee Brewing Company was pouring a new gooseberry Berliner Weisse. I thought it was rather tasty but was disappointed because it was available only in Milwaukee and, if I recall correctly, solely on draft. This year, however, the brew, christened Increase Wheat, has been bottled and given wider distribution.

The beer is named after Increase Lapham, the renowned 19th century naturalist and scientist who lived in Milwaukee. While his mailing address may have been in our state's largest city, Lapham surveyed the entirety of Wisconsin, reported on Native American effigy mounds, and catalogued the state's flora and fauna, including the gooseberry. (Lapham Elementary School here in Madison is named after him.)

Increase Wheat follows in the footsteps of several of Milwaukee Brewing Company's brews whose names refer to city landmarks and famous Milwaukeeans. It's nice to see them show pride in their city and expose people beyond John Gurda's reach to tidbits of the city's history. And in a time when many beer labels feature cartoon hop cone superheroes as well as scantily clad women, seeing Lapham and his level on the six pack holder is a refreshing change of pace.

I did my tasting on a fairly warm, sunny day which was perfect for the style and provided plenty of light for my snap which turned out not too shabbily.

Increase Wheat is a lovely yellow in color and is hazy. It is a wheat beer after all. As befits a "Champagne of the North", it's also very bubbly. My pour had a nice fluffy white head which stuck around. There was also a surfeit of bubbles making their way up the glass.

The aroma was marvelous with that characteristic lemony tartness complemented by gooseberry and grain. Milwaukee Brewing stayed true to style here and didn't brew a quad imperial Berliner Weisse. Increase weighs in at a typical 3.1% A.B.V. and the addition of rice helps give it a very light body. That citrusy/lemony sourness is right there leading the charge on your tongue but so the gooseberry which adds its own, slightly mellower and sweeter, tartness is not far behind. There's a goodly amount of sour here but it's not amped up so as to be threatening. You'll pucker, don't get me wrong, but swiftly adjust. Underneath it all is the wheat which gives a nice bready flavor here. In addition you can taste the carbonation which, along with the rice, adds a layer of dryness to it all.

Increase Wheat finishes as it began – tart. I found that the citrus tartness yielded to that of the gooseberries. There's not much hops to be had here. I suspect that the Tettnanger hops that are present just helped add to the overall dryness of the beer.

I thoroughly enjoy Increase Wheat. Here in the summer heat it proves to be exquisitely refreshing. It gets points from me for its dual tartness attack with a sharp, citrusy sour rubbing up against the gooseberry's blunter, sweeter contribution. The sour flavors are like paint with the light graininess providing the canvas. There's always that wheat for the tartness to prop itself upon and to provide a little contrast and texture too.

Junk food pairing: Berliner Weisse is a light style so you want something fairly easy going to pair with it. Try some Funyuns with your Increase Wheat. It's got that root vegetable thing going on for starters. The overall flavor won't overpower the beer while the beer will cut the salt. Plus salt & sour is simply a fantastic combination.

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Düsseldorf Calling: Uerige Alt

My little altbier trifecta ends with a taste of Düsseldorf - Uerige Alt. Credit must go to Riley's Wines of the World for carrying Uerige's bier as I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Uerige was established in 1862 which means it's been around for most of the time there's been this beer that we call the Düsseldorfer Alt. I did some reading on the origin of the altbier and ended up getting thoroughly lost in a labyrinth of 16th and 17th century Westphalian and Bavarian alimentary laws. The altbier's cousin, the Kölsch, springs from Cologne's brewing traditions shaped by a 1603 law banning bottom-fermented beers. As far as I can tell the point of this law was to preserve the city's brewing heritage against the encroachment of lagers but surely it also had something to do with protecting the city's indigenous breweries. Did Düsseldorf have any similar laws? I could find nothing at Ron Pattinson's blog indicating that it did but this could very well just be lazy researching on my part.

It seems that the brewers of Northern Germany spent a lot of Renaissance fending off the influence of Bavaria. In 1551 a Munich law mandated the use of bottom-fermenting yeast there and a couple years later Bavaria outlawed brewing in the summer because of ales going south. In what appears to be a series of laws aimed at protecting the consumer, Bavarians unwittingly elevated lagerbier above ales. The lager trend spread and brewers in places like Cologne and Düsseldorf struggled against it. It seems that the altbier and Kölsch are the products of brewers clinging onto tradition on the one hand (top-fermenting) and yielding to trends on the other (lagering). Hence the native style for these brews is Obergäriges Lagerbier - or top-fermented lager beer.

In doing my reading I also learned that the altbier and Kölsch, while top-fermenting, are fermented at cooler temperatures (55°F-60°F) than your average ale (65°F-75°F).

My photo didn't turn out too badly here and, as you can see, Uerige Alt is a beauty. It's clear with a nice copper color. My pour had a nice off-white head that was in no hurry to leave. The aroma was sweet with caramel and raisin notes in my nose. I was surprised not to catch any hops as I was under the impression that the alt was fairly hoppy – in the Czech pilsner range. But, as with any other beer style, your mileage may vary. Plus I wasn't sure how long the beer had been sitting on the shelf when I bought it.

Curiously enough, I didn't find much in the way of hops in the flavor either. The dominant flavor was roasted grain which veered into chocolate territory slightly. But there was also this slight plum-like flavor and I tasted something I can best describe as being like vermouth. The latter of these was quite unexpected. The beer wasn't very sweet but had a medium body. I think the carbonation helped add to my tongue's impression that this wasn't a particularly sweet beer.

The beer finished dry with (finally!) some spicy hop goodness coming through.

I am reluctant to make any definitive judgements about the beer as I can't vouch for its freshness. With that caveat, I will say that I rather liked this beer. The fruitier flavors weren't as prominent as roasted grain ones and I really liked the chocolate tones. These flavors melded well. Actually, Uerige Alt had a rather more complicated malt profile than I expected. There were just more fruity bits comingling with more roasty bits than I thought there would be. The absence of hops until the finish was disappointing, however.

Junk food pairing: Uerige Alt goes well with Cheez-It Duos Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan crackers. These brighter tasting snacks help provide some balance since there's not much hop bitterness to be had.

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13 August, 2015

Some Pre-Great Tasting

The day before the Great Taste of the Midwest I stopped in at Buck and Badger as Schell Brewing was to be featured as was St. Francis Brewing. I was hoping to try some Schell's Starkeller Peach, a peach-laced Berliner Weisse, and their One Five Five, a red lager brewed in honor of the brewer's 155th anniversary. If Arminius, their hoppy lager, was available, then all the better.

From what I can tell, Starkeller Peach sold out within about two hours after arriving in Madison. I was quite surprised by this as the previous Noble Star brews were around for a while after hitting shelves here. Apparently people got all fired up over the presence of peach and – BAM! – they snagged up every bottle before I knew it. The succeeding release in the series, Cypress Blanc, was still on store shelves last time I checked. This bodes well for me as long as there's no peach in the next release.

The Great Taste's stellar reputation rests, in part, on the fact that they require brewers to attend and represent their beer. While this is good and pure, I've rarely had time to chat with brewers at the Great Taste for very long. There's usually a thirsty horde behind me seeking suds. That's what makes these events the day before so nice. You can corner a brewmaster and have an honest chat of, if you're lucky, a few minutes. Brewmaster Jace Marti was at Buck and Badger last Friday and I borrowed his ear for a while, I can tell you.

I began by asking him about Schell rebranding itself as "German craft". I have speculated here that it had to do with the Brewers Association declaring Schell to be "crafty" and not craft because of the use of adjuncts in Grain Belt. Marti confirmed this. But he also said that Schell takes their German heritage seriously. They seem intent on differentiating themselves in the microbrew world by exploiting and innovating German brewing traditions rather than going all IPA all the time.

While I'd hoped to taste Arminius, an extra hoppy lager, there was none to be had. In fact, I don't recall ever having seen it here in Madison. Marti or his cohort told me that it had been discontinued. It never caught on, they believe, for marketing reasons. On the bright side, they brought Starkeller Peach.

I guess you could describe it as an imperial Berliner Weisse aged with peaches. (Truth be told, I didn't know it was 7%+ A.B.V. until I looked it up just now.) It was full of sour peachy goodness and I poured myself multiple samples. There were also bottles of Cypress Blanc, a Berliner Weisse/American pale lager hybrid with brettanymyces and hopped with Hallertau Blanc hops. It was potent too at 7.4% A.B.V. (No wonder I was so hungover the next day.) This was light, tart, and oddly fruity for not having been aged with fruit. Good stuff.

Marti told me that the next Noble Star release is going to be called Apparent Horizon, a rye Berliner Weisse. Rye is for me what peach is for the Madison Beer Advocate crowd so I'm really looking forward to this. I politely asked Marti to bring back Emerald Rye and told him that I adored Chimney Sweep, a rauch dunkles. Marti revealed that he'd lived just outside of Bamberg, Germany, home of the rauchbier, for a couple years and he recalled wander into town when he had time for some fine smoke beer. This provoked an instant mancrush on my part. I turned green with envy. Marti expressed a preference for Spezial over Schlenkerla and also noted that rauchbiers tend to get smokier over time. I.e. - they are much less smoky when you're in Bamberg drinking them fresh from the barrel as opposed to opening the bottles you get at the store.

Jace Marti was a swell guy and I recommend chatting him up if you get the chance. You could hear the love he has for his job as he described the restoration of the cypress aging barrels Schell uses for the Noble Star beers. He was quite proud of the beers he made and of working within the German brewing traditions that have informed Schell since the brewery was established in 1860.

At some point I stopped pestering Jace Marti and joined my friends. Sadly there was no One Five Five on tap but I did try Schell's Cave Aged Barrel-Aged Lager which is a dunkles aged in whisky barrels. It was outstanding. A fairly big beer at 7.7% A.B.V. but not a leviathan with flammable fumes emanating from your glass. The roasted malts melded with the whiskey instead of being overpowered by them.

Also present was St. Francis Brewing. I have a bottle of Lust, their weissbier, at home waiting for me. Beyond this, I have to admit I've never tasted their beer. But they brought some of their brand new lemongrass Berliner Weisse with them. Here it is being tapped.

O'zapft is!

I chatted for a bit with a brewery rep who was also a certified cicerone. A charming fellow who gave me the skinny on St. Francis and their beers. The Berliner Weisse was the brewery's first attempt at the style. Unfortunately, champagne of the North it wasn't. It was woefully undercarbonated which made me wonder why they'd brought it. On the other hand, it was light and refreshing and I could certainly see this being a great summer brew with proper carbonation.

From Buck and Badger it was off to The Capital Tap Haus where the Capital crew would be offering various and sundry brews made especially for this pre-GTMW party. Sadly, none of my photos from the Tap Haus were in focus. There was a rye pilsner on offer which was tasty despite not having been lagered long enough. The chocolate peanut butter stout was also tasty. Just enough peanut flavor. I also got a glass of Vacation Request, a rye ale that is hopped with Lemondrop hops, a new variety. This beer is going to be bottled so look for bombers soon. It was tasty. The rye spiciness was moderate but noticeable. It was light and refreshing. Not too hoppy. Balanced.

My former co-worker Doug, he of OverServed fame, was there. I got to chat with him for a spell which was nice because I hadn't done so since I started my new job. He is good friends with Ashley Kinart, Capital's brewmaster, and so I got a chance to speak with her for a while as well. I opined that the rye pilsner should be an annual. Of course I pleaded with her for a rauchbier. While one is not forthcoming, she did suggest a tour of the Weyermann malt factory in Bamberg and she thought it was a cool experience. So that's on my bucket list now.

My friends and I stopped at the Caribou for a nightcap. It had been years since I'd been there. The jukebox was one of those fancy touchscreen deals and the taps had changed too. And there was no Ruthie. (Does anyone know if she's still around?) But really, The Bou was basically the same as it ever was. I do believe that we had Central Waters Summarillo which was quite tasty for a beer with "India" in its style's name.

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09 August, 2015

At the Bottom of a Dark Wisconsin Lake: Headless Man Amber Alt by Tyranena Brewing Co.

After my disappointing experience with Port Huron's Amber Alt I decided to follow my whim and keep on the altbier path. Surely there must be a tasty one outside of Düsseldorf. Next up was Headless Man Amber Alt from Tyranena.

Tyranena was founded in 1998 which makes them pretty ancient in Madison area craft brew world. To put it in Lord of the Rings terms, Capital, founded in 1984 or '85, is like Ilúvatar. It was there at the beginning. (And doesn't Kirby Nelson look like ol' Eru?) Brewmaster Rob Larson and his minions over in Lake Mills, about 25 miles east of Madison, are like one of the Ainur who, along with others, sang the sweet microbrew song in the 90s (and 2000) to give us the craft beer world we have today. The brewery has a nice tasting room and also a fine outdoor area. It's a friendly atmosphere with hounds running around and people having a jolly time. It's been a while since I've been there but their chili cook-offs were a hoot.

Headless Man pours a beautiful amber as opposed to the more traditional copper. It is clear and effervescent. My photo shows the nice tan head my pour produced and there was a fair amount of bubbles in the glass going up, up, up! The aroma was very sweet-smelling with both caramel and fruity – like plum - scents present.

Considering the aroma I was surprised by the flavor. It had a slight fruity/apricot sweetness and a dryness from the carbonation, was readily apparent, and the mix of German hop varieties. I found it to be a bit watery and light on malt flavor. The beer didn't taste like it had been lagered or at least not lagered long enough. Like Port Huron's altbier, Headless Man had a medium body but was remarkably lacking in malt flavor. I found this to be blatantly odd because I've never known a Rob Larson brew to be lacking in flavor. It may be flavors I don't want to taste but a watery beer from him? Unheard of.

Headless Man finished dry with a lingering spicy hoppiness and left some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass.

Sadly, this was another drain pour. I've had Headless Man before and I don't recall it tasting like this. I think I must have hit an unlucky altbier streak. Maybe Woodman's singles cooler malfunctioned. It was just too watery and those fruit flavors just didn't belong. Something must have gone awry down in Lake Mills. Hopefully my memory isn't playing tricks on me. because I thought that, when things are going right, this is a tasty, malty brew. At 5.25% A.B.V. it's a bit bigger than the classic altbier and approaches sticke alt potency.

Junk food pairing: As with Port Huron's curiously similar altbier, I'd pair Headless Man with steak-flavored potato chips like Ruffles MAX Flame Grilled Steak chips or Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak flavored chips. The latter are or were to be had at Woodman's East along the opposite side of the dairy aisle wall.

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This Altbier Induces Fremdschämen: Amber Alt by Port Huron Brewing

Wisconsin Dells is the state's most infamous tourist trap, drawing hordes of families from Illinois to area theme parks, arcades, and restaurants. Nestled away in a nondescript business park on the fringes of town lies Port Huron Brewing Company. The brewery's name comes from a 1917 Port Huron (Michigan) steam tractor proudly owned by brewmaster Tanner Brethorst's family. Port Huron tends to creep under the craft beer radar because they do not brew an IPA, although that is supposed going to change this year.

Brethorst did his time in the southern Wisconsin brewing scene before striking out on his own. He worked at Tyranena, Lake Louie, and Capital Brewing in addition to taking classes at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. He also honed his skills across The Pond in Munich for a spell. In 2010 he decided to brew professionally and Port Huron started rolling barrels out its doors in 2012.

As I noted above, Port Huron has no IPA or even a plain Jane pale ale to its name. Sometimes I wonder how a craft brewery can remain in business without being able to satiate the hop addicted. Indeed, of Port Huron's four annual brews, two are German styles – a hefeweizen and an altbier. I was happy to see Brethorst brew an alt as it's a style that does not get a lot of love in these parts.

The alt is the specialty brew of Düsseldorf. Like it's cousin from downriver, the Kölsch, the alt is top-fermented and then lagered. I've never found any definitive explanation for this. It seems that the style derives from an older ("alt" means old in German) ale which mutated in the late 19th century amidst the onslaught of lagers. Alt is traditionally served in a stange like the Kölsch but the altbier variation is shorter and wider. Luckily I have a couple of these so, if you come over to drink altbier with me, it will be served to you in one of these instead of the ubiquitous shaker pint.

Port Huron's Amber Alt comes in a prepossessing copper color. I swear, it looks much better than my lousy backlit photo. The beer is clear and effervescent. My pour got a nice fluffy, off-white head that lasted a good while. Beneath it many bubbles made their way from the bottom of the glass to the top. My nose caught a sweet malty aroma that was stone fruity along with a cleaner biscuit scent as well as a yeasty one. I guess you could say it smelled very much like bread.

Oddly enough, the first thing I tasted was the spicy-peppery hop flavor of what I think are Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops with the malt being conspicuously absent. It was genuinely weird. The beer has a medium body but for just a very short time it tastes really watery. Then a bready malt flavor pops in from out of left field. None of the stone fruit flavor from the nose is present so Port Huron gets points for lagering the beer.

Amber Alt finishes dry with the malt giving way to more of the Noble hop spicy bitterness. I was left with some fine Schaumhaftvermoegen.

This ended up being a drain pour. I don't know if it was the vicissitudes of craft brewing or my ineptitude at keeping my bottle cool and out of the sun but Amber Alt was watery. There were good flavors in there but they didn't come together. It tasted like each of the flavors were in a line and hit my tongue one after another instead of in a glorious gestalt of Noble malty kinship. First the hops, then the water, then the malt, and then the hops again. Hopefully this was a bad bottle whoever may be at fault. I shall try Amber Alt again at some point to verify my findings here.

Junk food pairing: Pair Amber Alt with a hearty junk food such as a steak-flavored potato chip like Ruffles MAX Flame Grilled Steak chips or Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak flavored chips. The latter are or were to be had at Woodman's East along the opposite side of the dairy aisle wall.

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The Champagne of the North from the South: Fierce by Off Color Brewing

Off Color Brewing is one of our brewing neighbors to the south. It began a couple years ago in Chicago and was founded by John Laffler, who had worked for Goose Island in the Bourbon County department, and Dave Bleitner, who left Two Brother Brewing to partner with Laffler. I have to admit that Off Color interested me from the get-go with their first two bottled beers being a gose and a kotbusser. Plus Laffler told an interviewer, "Everybody else makes IPA, so why would we?" and described IPAs as "a beer I don't care for". A man after my own heart.

I'd imagine that many BCS fans were expecting a prominent barrel aging program from Off Color considering Laffler's pedigree. Even though OC has done some barrel aging, they haven't staked their reputation on it. Instead Laffler and Bleitner have spent their time brewing a range of beers from lagers to ales, big beers to session brews, sours, obscure styles, and many points between. Fierce continues the brewery's tradition of making lesser-known German styles (and ales at that)and is a Berliner Weisse. Yeah, it's not obscure like the kotbusser but it's no pils either.

By looks alone Fierce seems true to style with its light straw color and hazy complexion from a hefty dose of wheat. Looking at the bottle one sees that the brew is 3.8% A.B.V. which is also traditional as the Berliner Weisse is not generally a very potent brew. One often hears that Napoleon and/or his troops dubbed the Berliner Weisse “The champagne of the North.” This sounds wholly apocryphal to me but it is certainly true that the style should be bubbly and indeed my pour of Fierce resulted in a nice big white head. The beer was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles forming at the bottom of my glass and heading upwards.

I could smell the beer while the glass was still several inches from my nose as I fumbled with my camera and it smelled mighty fine. It had the characteristic lemon/citrus tartness that I've come to expect from the style. Also present was a bit of graininess plus a some sweetness with citrus/orange tones. Luckily it was a fairly warm out when I drank this brew because it was perfect for the day for it. That lemon tartness shone through but was tempered a bit by all the bubbles which added welcome dryness. The label notes that the tartness was achieved via kettle souring. This, I believe, means that
Lactobacillus is added prior to boiling and the addition of hops as opposed to letting the beer sit around and gather bacteria from the air or from a barrel. Fierce is rather sour but I found that its lemon aspect to be fairly subdued.

The beer's light body also made it quite refreshing on a summer day. It finished on the dry side owing to the generous carbonation and lingering tartness. Unfortunately, there was not much Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had as it all slid down the wall of the glass.

Fierce is a very tasty brew. It's light body, wonderful lemony tartness, and all those bubbles just make for an exceptionally refreshing drink during these warmer months. The beer boasts 3 I.B.U.s so hopheads need not apply as you'll never find the hops. They probably add to the overall dryness but I couldn't taste them. I also appreciate that it is a true session beer coming in at 3.8% A.B.V. as I can have a few of these after work and still be able to watch Blake's 7 that same night and recall the plot in the morning.

Junk food pairing: Pair Fierce with lighter foods. You don't want something that's going to completely overshadow the beer. Try some thin pretzel sticks or those fancy new Lays West Coast Truffle Fries potato chips.

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05 August, 2015

A Scandal in Arena: Blue Peter by Lake Louie Brewing

There have been quite a few changes at Lake Louie these past several months. Coon Rock Cream Ale became Golden Booty and a slew of new brews were introduced in a trio of equally new series – the Dark Shadows, the Hop-A-Louie, and the Session. From my perspective most of the publicity has gone to the three new IPAs with some attention given to The Twins, a new seasonal Maibock, as it was the center of a minor brouhaha during Madison Craft Beer Week where it was featured at an event hosted at the Silk Exotic strip club. Less attention has been given to Blue Peter, another new beer which happens to be an Export or Dortmunder or Dortmunder Export, whichever term you prefer.

The Dortmunder arose, quelle surprise, in Dortmund, a city in west central Germany that was in the middle of the German industrial heartland where coal mining and steel mills ruled the day. It seems that the miners and millworkers in the 1880s took to a heartier brew to satisfy their thirst. The Dortmunder is a pale lager that sits between the pils and the helles. It's less hoppy than a pilsner but more so than a helles. It also has more malt sweetness than either style making for a slightly bigger beer. The style was extremely popular in Germany until the 1970s when the pilsner won out. It was also fairly big here in the States as I recall DAB ads here and I do believe that I saw TV commercials as well.

Blue Peter pours a beauty of a light gold, eh. It is clear and very effervescent. As you can see, I got a big, fluffy white head that had some staying power. If you look at the photo I think you can tell that the bubbles are rather large. I noticed that, anyway. They just seemed to be larger in diameter than your average bubble. There were also lots of bubbles in the beer working their way up.

My proboscis initially caught some fine cracker-grain aroma but this was followed by a sweeter malt scent that was reminiscent of apricot. There was also a bit of mild grassy hop to be had. The taste mirrored the aroma for the most part with that graininess goodness sharing the stage with a sweeter malt flavor that was less fruity here than in the nose and more doughy. I found that the hops tasted a bit more herbal than they smelled. The rather faint hoppy aroma belied just how prominent they'd be on the tongue. There was a clear herbal bitterness to be tasted. Not as bumptious as an American pale ale but rather about the same as a Czech pilsner which is probably not to style. Lake Louie's website indicates Blue Peter has a scandalous 45 I.B.U.s which is surely more characteristic of a Bohemian-style brew. The goodly amount of carbonation here accentuates the hop bitterness.

Blue Peter has a nice lagery clean and dry finish wherein the bready malt sweetness gives way to spicy/herbal hop bitterness. I'll also note that I didn't get much Schaumhaftvermoegen as most of the foam simply slid down the side of the glass.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no Dortmunder Export expert. American microbrewers don't exactly flock to the style although Great Lakes' Dortmunder Goldis a notable exception. (Does anyone remember The Malt House's deals on Fauerbach Export? Ooh, I drank a lot of that stuff.) From what I can glean from various websites, Blue Peter seems mostly true to style with additional hop bitterness being the main, if not only, deviation from the norm.

But this is not a hanging offense. The extra malt here keeps the hops from getting out of line. The beer's medium body and 5.8% A.B.V. prevents it from being, to my mind, a real summer tippler. But, then again, my vocation involves sitting behind a desk and no physical labor. Three cheers to Tom Porter for brewing a rather neglected style and for brewing it well.

Junk food pairing: The extra hops in Blue Peter means it pairs well with the grease and salt of deep fried cheese curds. Skip the ranch dipping sauce and go for bleu cheese dressing and drown yourself in Dortmunder dairy gluttony.

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04 August, 2015

And On the Seventh Day God Created the Baklava Sampler Platter

I was in Chicago over the weekend and of course I stopped at a grocery store. My primary goal was to get some quinces at the Produce Center since my last attempt to make a marmalade of quince ended up as a brick. The quinces were cooked just too long, much to my shame. Unfortunately there were no golden apples to be had. And so I purchased...

Whole rye bread! I'm not sure that any breadery in the Madison area makes this. Perhaps a store imports it. The best local analog I can think of is the Bavarian rye from The Bread Barn. That is a fine brot but this loaf has more rye. Also no caraway here. Ingredients are rye flour, whole rye flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, water, salt, and honey. The crust is chewy while the non-crust interior is soft and fluffy. I had a sandwich made with this stuff for lunch today and it was tastilicious.

And I just had to buy some kolaczki - raspberry and apricot. Thankfully storm clouds moved in otherwise we might have ended up at Sweet World Pastry and become the proud owners of a lot of baumkuchen.

Makowiec (poppy seed roll) is obligatory. Luckily I am not required to take a drug test. That chocolate cheese rugela on the right came from New York Bagel and Bialy. Open 24/7 to serve all of your bagel and bialy needs. Also got raspberry cheese rugelach.

Yes, I also bought bagels - egg, onion, and mish mosh, a.k.a. - everything.

Just a store front or two down from the bagel joint was what I believe is a fairly new bakery - Libanais Sweets. They had multiple sizes of baklava sampler packs.

Tasty. Very tasty indeed. One species here is made with rose hips or rose water or rose something. Mmmm...I had no idea that there were so many iterations of baklava but the bakers of the Ottoman Empire had centuries to tinker and perfect recipes so it's not surprising.

They also had a large assortment of cookies.

Cookies dipped in chocolate then dipped in diced pistachio. Fantastic! And not overly sweet which means you can eat more in a session. They're session cookies.

It's ratatouille and session sweets all week for me.

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Back to the Garden 2015 Edition

The garden is doing well this year.

We've got squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and chilies. The kale was massacred by rabbits. R.I.P. The chili plants remain small with only a modicum of fruit. I blame the relatively cool weather. On the other hand, we've been harvesting toms, zukes, and squash for a while now. The plants have been extremely fecund. So much that we now have enough ratatouille to feed an army yet the produce still comes.

There must be 4 or more varieties of tomatoes out there. I never knew there was a species of tomatoes named after Paul Robeson. Must be commie tomatoes. We also have Old German, Genuwine, and others.

And here's a cat in a window.

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Heute bin ich ein Berliner (Redux): Berliner Geist by Vintage Brewing

Scott Manning at Vintage traded smoke for sour this summer and brewed a Berliner Weisse instead of a grodziskie. At least we're still in the light wheat beer ballpark.

The Berliner Weisse is an old beer style. As the name implies, it's a northern German style and is a cousin of the gose and other obscure/extinct German beer styles which as a group are likely cousins of the Belgian witbier. Berlin is reputed to have had several hundred breweries churning out Berliner Weisse in the first half of the 18th century. However, as the lager became ever more popular in the second half, the Berliner Weisse and its brethren faded into obscurity. I do believe that there are a couple of breweries in Germany that still brew the style with Berliner Kindl being the most popular as far as I can tell.

Assuredly acidulous, the Berliner Weisse is imbued with lactic acid bacteria to get your lips a-puckerin' and, back in the day, picked up brettanomyces naturally for a bit of funkiness. I don't think I've run into an American take on the style that had brett but surely some microbrewer out there has made it. I also see that a German is attempting to resurrect the original brett-laden style.

Berliner Geist ("spirit of Berlin") pours a brilliant straw color. It was rather clear which I found odd as all that wheat normally makes the beer hazy. Legend has it that Napoleon dubbed Berliner Weisse the "champagne of the north" and so it should come as no surprise that I got a big white head (which settled quickly) and that the beer was quite effervescent with a lot of bubbles in my glass.

Also unsurprising was the big lemony tartness that assailed my nose when I took a whiff. It smelled mighty fine. My nose also detected graininess and some malt sweetness. The taste was very similar to the nose. On first sip you recoil from the lemony tartness. After a few sips it mellows out, however. Berliner Geist is definitely tart but I have to admit that I've tasted ones that are even more sour. I think Scotty has found a happy medium here. I also caught some grainy flavors that were bready and you can really taste the bubbles.

Berliner Geist finished with its tartness fading into a lingering bread flavor. There are German hops here but very little and certainly not enough to take the focus away from the sourness. Indeed, I didn't notice them at all.

For this review I went ohne the Schuss or syrup that often accompanies a Berliner Weisse. Apparently this practice dates back to the 1920s. Personally I prefer the Waldmeister (woodruff) but Himbeer (raspberry) is also available at Vintage. Plus you can buy both flavors at Bavaria Sausage. At 4.7% A.B.V Berliner Geist is a bit stronger than normal but that's how Scotty rolls. He never misses a chance to make his potables just a bit more potent. Still, it's not overly boozy. With its light body, citrus sourness, and all those bubbles, Berliner Geist is quite refreshing in the summer heat.

Junk food pairing: You don't want anything too heavy to go with your Berliner Geist. You can't go wrong with plain potato chips in most cases but you can get away with some Chicken in a Biskit crackers. For pairing with cheese, try some American or Cheddar Easy Cheese.

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02 August, 2015

Stange, Stange on the Wall, Who's Kölsch is Fairest of Them All?: Schlafly Kölsch (-style)?

Summer has become truly hot here in Madison which means I am quaffing ever lighter brews here in the sun as I await August's welcome corn. On a fairly recently trip to Chicago I purchased some aestival-ready brews from St. Louis. One of them was Schlafly Kölsch-style beer (I don't want the keepers of the Kölsch Convention coming down on me for implying that this brew was made in Köln.)

Ah, the Kölsch. The style does a delicate balancing act with the trio of grain, fruitiness, and hops. No mere golden ale, this beer must be lagered!

My Schlafly Kölsch poured a deep straw color and was slightly hazy. I presume the haze came from the wheat. My understanding is that the style is traditionally all barley so this is a deviation from the norm. My pour produced a fine pillowy white head which stuck around for a while. There was a fair amount of effervescence with bubbles aplenty moving on up.

The aroma was lovely with cracker and that unique Kölsch fruitiness vying for my nose's attention. That fruitiness comes from the yeast and Schlafly brags that theirs comes from the Gaffel Brewery. Being in Köln, Gaffel brews a true Kölsch. After smelling the beer I think that I started drooling in anticipation of what was to come. Disappointed I was not. It was crisp with that cracker aroma translating to the taste. Plus there was that trademark fruitiness which is mellow and berry-like to my tongue. Lagering takes the edge off those esters. That light graininess eventually gives way to a bit of malty sweetness which I tend to think of as tasting a bit like corn, though not creamed corn, mind you.

The brew finishes fairly dry with biscuit flavors fading and giving way to a moderate spiciness courtesy of Perle and Hallertau hops. Most of the Schaumhaftvermoegen slid down the side of the glass but I did have a couple sizeable patches of foam that clung.

I loved this brew. It may be the best take on the Kölsch style this side of Köln, where Reissdorf rules from what I can taste. My tongue was happy to let the grainy flavors battle it out with the fruity ones for supremacy. The light, unassuming cracker flavor is one of the main reasons I drink beer. This is not to damn the fruitiness because it too is great here and in perfect proportion to the malty flavors. Once a stalemate is reached, the hops come in and clean up. This balance of flavors, a light body, and a moderate alcohol content of 4.8% A.B.V. make Schlafly Kölsch a thoroughly satisfying summer brew.

Junk food pairing: I like to pair Kölsch with milder junk foods so enjoy Schlafly with some plain potato chips or regular Cheez Its.

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