Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 October, 2015

A Confluence of Fine Flavors from Eau Claire: Rowdy Rye from Northwoods Brewpub

The Northwoods Brewpub up in Eau Claire recently announced that it is pulling up stakes and moving to Osseo, about 20 miles south. The new facility means more room to brew more beer and also a venture into the world of distilling. The food side of the business is being deemphasized and the brewpub is presumably severing its connection to The Norske Nook. Fans of lefse and pie can take solace knowing that Osseo is home to the ur-Norske Nook so, while you won't be able to get your lefse wrap in the same building, it will be available down the street.

When the brewpub opened back in 1997, it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first microbrewing venture in Eau Claire in the nine or so years since Hibernia Brewing closed. (Hibernia was the first brewery I ever toured, well before I was of legal drinking age, sadly.) Northwoods caused something of a sensation in 2010, at least for old timers in the western part of the state, when they began brewing Walter's, a brand thought lost to the ages in the mid-80s when the brewery closed and became Hibernia. A friend who attended college in Eau Claire in the 80s confirmed that nouveau Walter's tastes just as bad as the original.

Northwoods doesn't seem to get much love in the craft beer world of Wisconsin. I put this down to limited distribution (e.g. - Woodman's East no longer carries their brew which is where I always saw it) and the stigma of the lack of a year-round IPA. (At least according to their website and my memory.) This being the case, the brewery is expanding which makes me wonder where the beer is being sold. The Twin Cities, perhaps?

The Wikipedia article on Hibernia Brewing features a quote from Hibernia's president Mike Healy: "The worst mistake I ever made was trying to sell the beer in rural areas." How well does craft beer do in northern Wisconsin? My impression is that it doesn't do very well.

Valkyrie Brewing up in Dallas (about 50 miles north of Eau Claire) sold most of its beer in the state largest metros. Brewmaster/owner Randy Lee told Robin Shepard "About 80% of our production is going to Madison and Milwaukee." Black Husky up in Pembine faces a similar dilemma, although it will be resolved soon when the brewery moves to Milwaukee. Brewmaster Tim Eichinger told the Wisconsin State Journal's Beer Baron, "Up here you don’t get a whole lot of craft beer." Furthermore the Baron notes that the vast majority of retailers that carry Eichinger's beers are in Madison and Milwaukee.

Then again Spotted Cow is ubiquitous and Capital Amber was almost everywhere I went the last time I was in rural northern Wisconsin. There are brewpubs/breweries in Florence, Hayward, Somerset, Menominee, and Superior. But northern Wisconsin is home to most of the counties with the highest unemployment rates in the state. What impact do tourists have? It would be interesting to find out how much beer O'so and Central Waters sell in Portage County and environs.

I am going to cease the arcadian speculation now because I have come to praise beer from up nort, not to bury it.

Today we have Northwood's Rowdy Rye. I bought it at the brewery (are their beers still available in Madison?) where there are refrigerated six packs as well single bottles to assemble one's own. I was in Eau Claire to attend a wedding which had a trailer with three or four taps of Northwoods' brews so I drank a fair amount of their beer that weekend.

Rowdy Rye is light amber in color. The beer was hazy yet still pretty. My pour gave me a fairly dark tan head of about ¼". There were a few stray bubbles going up. My nose caught the rye first. I absolutely love rye – in beer as well as in bread. I'm trying to convince various companies to add it to toothpaste, deodorant, toilet paper, and muslin. (Without success, I must admit.) I mean, what would you rather armpits smell like on a hot summer day: "sport" as conceived by some poindexter chemist who was beaten up in high school by the football team or the lovely spiciness of rye? (And so I remain contented with beer and bread.)

After the sharp, spicy rye aroma came, alas, butter. It would seem this bottle was inflicted by diacetyl. The buttery scent was moderate at first and became less prominent with successive sniffs which also picked up a little bit of fruity sweetness – think apricots and dates – plus a hint of citrus. Rowdy Rye's grain bill is 42% rye and so the massive cloud of spicy rye that permeated my dining room was to be expected. It is also brewed with Cascade hops which probably gave the citrus note on the nose.

The taste was similar to the aroma with rye and its sharp black peppery flavor out front. Thankfully the diacetyl was subdued here with only a slight buttery flavor present. Carbonation offered a little bite and some dryness. I was surprised at how clean the beer tasted. I think this was because all those fruity esters were overpowered by sharper, less sweet flavors. A little bit of malt sweetness in the background and some citrus zing from the hops complemented the rye's dominance.

I was also surprised at how lager-like the finish was. It was rather dry with the rye spiciness and a mild earthy hop bitterness taking their final bows before shuffling off. My glass ended up with some pretty good lacing. Long, narrow bands of foam lined the glass.

I had Rowdy Rye prior to drinking this bottle and I caught no butter aroma or flavor. The diacetyl here was a rather minor impediment because the flavor is dominated by the earthy, spicy rye. The hops added a little citrus which means that, overall, sharper flavors prevail. There's a nice zestiness to the beer which, combined with the medium-light body, makes this a most refreshing brew. (I initially had Rowdy Rye during warmer weather and can vouch for this.) As someone who likes rye, this beer gets high marks. And as someone who is not a hophead, I appreciate the moderation in hopping show here. The hops abet the rye rather than attempt usurp its position at the top of the flavor chain.

Junk food pairing: Pair Rowdy Rye with southwestern snack mix. The salt will bring out the barley malt a bit more and the chili flavor accentuates the zing that the rye and hops give the beer.

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|| Palmer, 1:29 PM


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