Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 November, 2015

The Third Time Is the...: Raspberry Sour Porter by Freigeist Bierkultur

Earlier this month I thoroughly enjoyed Freigeist Bierkultur's Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter and Lichtenhainer. In addition to Kirschen, they also brew the porter bier with Himbeeren, a.k.a. – raspberries. I guess this is a Himbeerbier. (Doesn't that just roll off the tongue?) Will the third beer be the charm?

As I noted with the Kirschenbier, the base is a porter that, according to the brewery, draws upon two historical porter styles. First is a sour German version and the second is a brackish British take on the style. Neither of these ur-styles is familiar to me but this is hardly surprisingly. From there Freigeist adds fruit juice and/or "real fruits during fermentation".

Salzspeicher Raspberry Sour Porter pours black and opaque. When you hold your glass up to the light at just the right angle you can see that it's a deep mahogany and appears clear. While I was unable to see what, if anything, bubbles were doing inside the glass, the beer was crowned with a nice ¼" tan head. This is a very pretty bier. My wife shared my aesthetic judgement and said as much after seeing my glass from an adjoining room. Either I unknowingly married Jaime Sommers or her spectacles are just that good.

The aroma was similar to its cherry counterpart in that the fruit was most prominent. I'd be lying if I wrote that it smelled just like fresh raspberries, but it did smell pleasantly fruity. On the porter side of things, I caught bitter chocolate in the aroma as well. This beer smells like pure Deutsch dessert decadence.

Unsurprisingly, the taste is similar with the raspberry up front while the malt contributes subdued dark chocolate and even more subtle coffee flavors. I found the raspberry to be rather sweet. Not cloyingly, but it tasted as if the fruit contributed only a hint of tartness with the sour porter doing most of the work in that department. I'm not sure what bacteria sour the beer. It doesn't take particularly funky as whatever strain of brettanomyces it is that gives you that wet blanket flavor nor is it citrusy like lactobacillus. Think New Glarus' Belgian Red. Or Raspberry Tart, for that matter. The porter is imbued with that kind of tartness.

I'd be lying if I wrote that the beer tasted of fresh raspberries. Instead I was reminded of the Frango Raspberry Chocolate candies you find at Marshall Fields. Or a raspberry liqueur. It just lacked that sprightliness, that zestiness that tastes fresh and real. The beer tasted raspberry-flavored as opposed to raspberry-infused.

Some salinity came through at the finish which accentuated the lingering raspberry and bitter chocolate flavors. There was also a tannin-like bitterness that added some dryness. Schaumhaftvermoegen consisted only of a few thin streaks.

For a brew that is dessert in a bottle on paper, it has a medium body that makes for a very drinkable beer. A 6% A.B.V. works well for a digestiv or to be drunk on its own outside of a meal. Sadly, after the fantastic cherry sour porter, this one was a real let-down. The porter part remained great but the raspberry just didn't take like real juice in the way that the cherry did.

Junk food pairing: As with the Cherry Sour Porter, I will recommend either some pork rinds or dark chocolate covered peanuts depending on your mood.

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This Beer's Name is Abraxxxas and It Is Smoky and Sour: Abraxxxas by Freigeist Bierkultur

Oooh! Another bier from the free spirits at Braustelle in Cologne. The last (and first) bier of theirs I reviewed was a cherry sour porter and now I have a Lichtenhainer.

What is a Lichtenhainer? The name derives from the town of Lichtenhain in central Germany. Lichtenhain is a suburb of the city of Jena which is about the size of Green Bay. According to Ron Pattinson, students at the university in Jena did a lot of drinking in Lichtenhain. (For my fellow Wisconsinites, imagine if UW-Green Bay students headed over to De Pere to consume mass quantities.) The style was popular in Thuringia, the region of central Germany wherein lies Lichtenhain, and brewed in various cities in the area.

If you read Ron's post, you'll find that the style is described differently at different times by different people. For example, some say it should be brewed with 100% barley while others include wheat in their descriptions. Regardless, Lichtenhainer is a light, sour, and smoky bier with a de-emphasis on hops. Presumably it belongs to the same family as the Berliner Weisse, gose, and Grodziskie/Grätzer. Also like its cousins, I assume that Lichtenhainer fell out of fashion starting in the second half of the 19th century as lagers became popular and the Reinheitsgebot began to be applied outside of Bavaria.

Abraxxxas can perhaps be described as an imperial Lichtenhainer as it is the bigger (6% A.B.V.) version of Abraxas (3.8% A.B.V.) I have never had the latter so I'm unsure if the beer at hand is more sour, more smoky, etc. than its little brother.

If memory serves, the last few beers I've reviewed have had a golden hue and Abraxxxas is no different. The beer was hazy as well which led me to believe that there's wheat in it. My pour produced a nice off-white cap – about an inch of frothiness atop the turbid golden elixir. There was a modicum of bubbles going up inside the glass.

The aroma surprised me by being very fruity. First peach and then cherry were bound together by gentle wisps of smoke. The smell was an olfactory joy like no other I'd experienced before. The taste had a measured smokiness to it and not a more intense one like a Schlenkerla rauchbier. Just as the smoke flavor was restrained so too was the sourness. It was a lemony lactic tartness but far removed from the near-lethal sours from Destihl that I've had lately. While they may both be sibilant words, smoke and sour aren't flavors that I generally think of as going great together. Chocolate and peanut butter they ain't, right?. Yet the contrast between a modicum of smoke and a little citrus sour is quite tasty. A bit of carbonation added a hint of dryness and there was a distinct grain/cracker flavor which became a bit sweeter and breadier as the beer warmed. This provided a more 'neutral" taste to the proceedings and some contrast to the smoke'n'sour.

For the finish the gentle, luscious smokiness lingered while the carbonation added a bit of bite. This dryness commingled with a hint of bready sweetness for a rather complex ending. The Schaumhaftvermoegen was pleasing as there were some large patches of foam lining my glass.

Truth be told, I adored this bier from my first sip. To start, I love smoke beers. From the smokier Schlenkerlas to this brew with its much milder smokiness, it is simply a flavor I love. Seemingly against all odds, the smoke and sour just blend perfectly. Abraxxxas' body is medium-light with the carbonation giveing the beer a nice bubbly mouthfeel. The A.B.V. aside, "imperial" is perhaps not an appropriate descriptor as there isn't anything heavy, über-intense, or otherwise dictatorial about Abraxxxas' flavor. Instead it is quite easy-drinking with a 500ml bottle being nowhere near enough.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Abraxxxas with a handful of Sriracha almonds. They add a little more complementary smoke as well as a bit of chili which melds well with the beer's smoke'n'sour fantasia.

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Taurus to the Left of Me, Cancer to the Right: The Twins by Lake Louie Brewing

Last year Lake Louie Brewing overhauled its line-up. Beers were shuffled around into various series and new brews were introduced as well. The transformation continued into 2015 and included the introduction of a maibock back in the spring called The Twins. The name is a reference to Gemini, a sign in the zodiac, but both the beer and Lake Louie gained a measure of infamy back in April when a Madison Craft Beer Week event featuring the brew was held at the Silk Exotic strip club and promoted with the catchphrase, "Grab hold of a pair."

Puerile humor aside, the maibock is a potent pale lager. Brewed and lagered over the winter, it's tapped in the spring and serves as a liquid transition between the dead of winter and the rebirth of life in the spring. Although associated with Munich these days, the bock was invented in the north-central German city of Einbeck. The brewers of Einbeck were renowned for their quality beers and legend has it that Duke Maximillian of Bavaria recruited an Einbeckian brewer by the name of Elias Pilcher in and brought him to Munich in 1614 to demonstrate his mad skills for the poor, backwards southerners who took the northern style like a junkie to the needle. They are the ones who bestowed the name "bock" onto the beer as a corruption of Einbeck.

The modern maibock came about in the mid-19th century when Hofbräuhaus took advantage of then-new malting techniques which allowed for paler malts. The result was the pale (helles) bock we enjoy today each spring. I've never traipsed around Munich in the springtime so I am unsure of what an authentic maibock tastes like. These lighter bocks are generally hoppier than other iterations of the style but there is disagreement as to the malt character. Should it be sweet or more bready? At the end of the day I suppose it's irrelevant and that there is likely a fair amount of variation.

Although released back in the spring, it is once again Starkbierzeit (strong beer time) and it seemed appropriate to pull a bottle of The Twins out from my cellar last week.

The Twins pours a lovely golden hue. I got a small off-white head that went away all-too quickly. Being clear, I could see that there were many a bubble going up inside the beer. The aroma was distinctively sweet with honey and apricot scents standing out. As befitting a style that is hoppier than your average bock, there was also some grassy hop aroma to be had which became more pronounced as the beer warmed.

Whatever may or may not be the "authentic" taste of a maibock, sweetness prevails here. It's a clean sweetness, though, with it coming from malt. I tasted a stonefruity flavor primarily, although there was also a bit of toffee in there. Those grassy hops made a welcome return from the nose into the taste. While not a particularly hoppy beer, the hops were definitely more pronounced that in other types of bocks. All those bubbles I saw translated into some bite. Not enough to really challenge the malt sweetness but, in tandem with the hops, the carbonation made for a nice little distraction.

The one thing which did throw down the gauntlet before the sweetness was the alcohol burn. The Twins is around 8% A.B.V. but it tasted even headier. While Galen would have lauded the sanguine properties of The Twins, Matt Kenseth would recognize this beer's ability to fuel his car. I suspect that one's interest in feeling the burn on the tongue is going to go a long way in determining whether you enjoy this beer or not.

At the finish the malt sweetness gives way to some hop spiciness and its attendant dryness. And there's the omnipresent vital heat from the alcohol as well. Schaumhaftvermoegen was sparse with only a few dots around my glass.

As I noted above, this is a boozy-tasting beer and I was surprised by the heat. Once my tongue became acclimated, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I am not a hophead. My preference for malt-forward beers was certainly satisfied here but I appreciated the extra hops too. Bocks are usually quite lean on them but I thoroughly enjoyed the additional bitterness and the grassy/spicy flavors in The Twins.

One of, if not the, first microbrews I ever had was Capital's Maibock. Not only did it serve as an introduction to quality beer but also to the concept of seasonal suds. And so I have to admit that the style has a special place in my heart. It's nice to have another local maibock to indulge in come spring.

Junk food pairing: The Twins is a big beer with very intense flavors. With such brews I prefer not to try and counter the beer but to complement it with other intense flavors. Bleu cheese and chilies are favorites. Dip some Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel Combos in a blue cheese dips. Or find a nice spicy potato chip like the Spicy Thai ones from Kettle Brand. This mélange of flavors is guaranteed to keep away the chill.

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23 November, 2015

Every Sweet Has Its Sour: Here GOSE Nothin' by Destihl Brewery

The last time I drank a sour beer from Destihl, I felt like I was putting my mouth's life at risk. Counter Clockweisse had enough tartness to fell a horse. Since then I've been consuming comparatively tame beers and my tongue has been rather happy. But now the belle epoque is over and it's once more unto the breach, dear papillae.

Here GOSE Nothin' is another entry in the Wild Sour series from the downstate Illinois brewery. It's billed as a "Leipzig-style gose" with no frills, i.e. – no fruit, no exotic spices shat out by monkeys to be collected and processed by virgins, etc. This is a straight-up sour wheat beer with salt and coriander.

The beer pours a pretty golden hue. It was also, oddly enough, clear. Perhaps it was filtered. Or, more likely, I am simply ignorant on the matter of proteins in wheat beers. My glass was graced with a massive, firm white head and I was under the impression that a beer's head was related to proteins. Oh dear. I fear that I am out of my league on this matter. This beer was bubbly. I mean this stuff was effervescent in a champagne kind of way. In addition to the generous head, there were rather a lot of bubbles in the beer floating upwards and onwards.

Considering Destihl's reputation (in my mind) for deadly sour brews, I was surprised (and pleasantly so) that the first thing my nose caught was a green apple scent as opposed to a citrus one indicative of lactic bacteria. That came next in the form of a very lemony scent. All of these fruity smells made for a great nose that was fresh and piquant.

The taste was the reverse of the aroma. That lemon/citrus lacto tartness was immediate and prominent. Its astringency dominated the flavor although some green apple was in the background. As its appearance alluded to, Here Gose Nothin' is a very we'll-carbonated brew with all of those bubbles giving a nice bite. The style's signature ingredients, the coriander and salt, were both present but relegated to supporting roles. I could taste the coriander but it was a bit of spiciness tucked away in the back somewhere. Likewise, there was enough salt to hint at salinity but I had a hard time tasting its effect otherwise. As the beer warmed it took on a slightly funky sourness. Instead of being solely a lemon/citrus thing, a bit of that wet blanket seeped in.

As you'd expect from a gose, Here GOSE Nothin' has a light body. The lemon tartness lingered into the finish with the bite from the carbonation and the salinity moving up. Sadly, there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen left on my glass.

Here GOSE Nothin' is a very tart beer. Not lethally so but it certainly takes its sourness to heart. I really liked the bright, fresh citrus flavor provided by the lactic bacteria along with the slightly more muted green apple notes. Letting it warm slightly produces another layer of funky complexity with a moderate dose of barnyard. If hefty doses of brettanomyces aren't your thing but you're not above smaller ones, give this beer a go(se). I found the salt to be just about the right amount but wished there was more coriander. I like coriander and think it provides a nice counterpoint to all of the tartness.

Despite the spicy shortcoming, Here GOSE Nothin' is a bracing and refreshing detour from the heavier beers I've been drinking lately in anticipation of winter's arrival.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Here GOSE Nothin' with some chevda. I like the additional coriander it brings as well as the other wonderfully pungent spices.

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20 November, 2015

A Gose to Drive Scurvy and the Winter Blues Away: Blood Orange Gose by Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Here we are waiting on half a foot of snow to fall and I'm going to write about a gose. Stranger things have happened at sea, I guess.

The gose is an old German style. It is a top-fermented sour wheat bier that is flavored with salt and coriander in addition to hops. Gose originated in the town of Goslar and soon spread to Leipzig where it gained immense popularity. It's one of many northern German beers that fared poorly in the face of the 19th century lager trend and the application of the (in)famous Reinheitsgebot laws to breweries outside of Bavaria in the early 20th century. The style died a slow death in its homeland and was finally pushed into extinction in the aftermath of World War II. Since then it has been resurrected by a few breweries in Germany. However, gose is making a much greater comeback here in the United States where sour beers are en vogue and American microbrewers are happy to oblige.

Some American brewers stay true to tradition while others tweak it by adding flavors beyond salt, coriander, and hops. One example of the latter that comes to mind is the Marionberry Hibiscus Gose by Widmer Brothers that Dexter's had on tap a couple years ago. Another is the bier at hand: Anderson Valley's Blood Orange Gose.

My photo isn't too bad this time. Putting white paper behind the glass really helps with getting the true color of the beer across which, in this case, is a light gold. It was slightly hazy which is understandable given the wheat in the grain bill. My stange was graced with a nice frothy white head which was in no hurry to dissipate. There were a few bubbles going up the glass.

The aroma was rather simple to my nose but it was a citrusy extravaganza of the titular blood orange and that lemony scent of the lactobacillus bacteria which gives the bier its sour taste as well. And it was the lactobacillus which I tasted first upon taking a sip. My tongue got a decent dose of that piquant lemon tartness. The blood orange, which was so prominent on the nose came through in a more moderate way on the back end of my sip. I could also taste the wheat with some breadiness coming through but it was in the background as was a modicum of carbonation.

At the finish that lemony lacto tartness lingered and there was also a little bite from the carbonation. Sadly, no Schaumhaftvermoegen was left on my stange.

For reasons only known to Anderson Valley, they make Blood Orange Gose available in October through April. Why they would foist a wonderfully light-bodied and fairly low alcohol (4.2% A.B.V.) brew on us in the colder months is beyond me. I guess you'll want to buy some in the spring and hold onto it for the summer months because this is a great beer. And I say this despite not being able to taste any salinity nor coriander. Perhaps these flavors would have been more apparent if the bier had been warmer. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the blood orange-lemon combo. While tart, it was moderately so. This is not like a Destihl wild sour which should come with a warning label saying consumption could damage your tongue.

I was not impressed with Anderson Valley's regular gose, The Kimmie, The Yink, and the Holy Gose Ale but the addition of citrus really helps. This is simply a great, refreshing bier.

Junk food pairing: This is a light-bodied brew with flavors that are not overly intense so pairing something counter risks overwhelming it. Instead find something complementary like lime chili tortilla chips.

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|| Palmer, 8:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

Once You Go Schwarz, You Never Go Back: Fishin' in the Dark from Capital Brewery

Back in 2012 Kirby Nelson left Capital Brewery for the pastures of Verona. When Brian Destree took over Nelson's role, Capital was widely viewed as something of an Augean stable, littered with unfashionable lagers. Destree was charged with the Herculean task of turning things around and he did so by diverting rivers of IPAs into the brewery's portfolio.

Last year when Ashley Kinart was Capital Brewery's Assistant Brewmaster, she was given liberty to concoct a brew of her own devising. Rather than continue the march into IPA oblivion, she instead proved herself to be a recidivist by brewing Fishin' In The Dark, an imperial schwarzbier. The idea came to her in a daydream:

"'In the middle of this terribly long Winter I had this day dream that I was canoeing down the Wisconsin River with my boyfriend and we stopped on a sand bar to do some fishing. It was late in the day and we made our last cast while the sun was setting. We started humming the tune to 'Fishin’ in the Dark' and the idea just popped in my head,' said Kinart. 'That night I thought about what a beer with the same name would taste like, and the next day I pitched it to Brew Master, Brian Destree."

Dark lagers are amongst my favorite bier style so I was quite pleased to hear about this development although I was bit flummoxed at the notion of an imperial schwarzbier released just in time to greet summer and its attendant hot temperatures.

Trying to distinguish between a dunkles and a schwarzbier seems to be more art than science. There is the obvious difference of color. Science helps out here. "Schwarzbier" means "black beer" and thusly these beers are darker than their dunkles cousins. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure of just how different they are supposed to taste. It seems that your Munich dunkles is supposed to emphasize Munich malt and its attendant toasted flavors from Maillard reactions while a schwarbier aims for a lighter flavor involving dark malts that don't venture into the bitter/burnt territory like a porter.

Sprecher's Black Bavarian is generally classified as a schwarzbier. While it has an SRM of 40+ giving it the requisite color, it has a much richer malt flavor than, say, Köstritzer's schwarzbier. Black Bavarian has more alcohol and a heavier body too. Methinks this conundrum deserves more research. Preferably done in Deutschland. (I hear that schwarzbier is undergoing something of a resurgence in the former DDR, especially Saxony.)

Let's look at Ms. Kinart's creation.

As you'd expect, Fishin' in the Dark pours a deep, deep brown that looks very schwarz sitting in a glass looking licentiously drinkable. It’s quite opaque so I couldn't observe its clarity and was too lazy to pour a small amount in a separate glass to try and determine such. My pour gave me a nice tan head of about a centimeter. Because of that aforementioned opacity, I couldn't see inside the beer so there may have been effervescence of an Alka-Seltzer-like intensity and I wouldn't have known.

The aroma began with a sweetness like raisins before notes of coffee and dark chocolate enveloped my nose. Truly lovely even if the sweetness was a bit surprising. Those coffee and chocolate scents came through in the flavor with some slight bitterness as did a smidgeon of smokiness which was most welcome. There was also some sweetness here but the plum-like flavor was more subdued than the dulcet aroma. The overall flavor was clean with the emphasis on the malts. I also caught a little bite from the carbonation.

This being an imperial beer and weighing in at 7.5% A.B.V., the body was medium-heavy. It also means that I could taste a little alcohol burn in the finish as the coffee/roasted grain flavors lingered. Towards the very end a mild peppery hop bitterness kicked in to complete a dry finish. My glass was left with some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen as there were some nice tan webs left on the sides.

While having a heavier body than your typical schwarzbier, Fishin' in the Dark was not syrupy and retained a surprising amount of the nimbleness on the tongue of its non-imperial cousins. There is an intense maltiness to this beer which I loved. Slightly bitter coffee and dark chocolate flavors cozied up to a more mellow roasted grain taste in harmony. I buy Fishin' in the Dark in June and stash it away in my basement for chilly autumn days like today. Capital's Munich Dark is much better suited for summer.

Junk food pairing: While drinking Fishin' in the Dark eat some Baby Swiss Cheez-Its dipped in asiago-artichoke dip. The salt will intensify the malt flavors while the cheese and mayonnaise will provide a soft, mellow counterpart to them.

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18 November, 2015

Catching the Microbrew Zeitgeist: Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter from Freigeist Bierkultur

German brewers are not especially well-known for brewing porters. It is perhaps more correct to say that they are well-known for avoiding them like the plague. But The American microbrewing revolution is being felt across The Pond. And rather than genuflect before the pilsner clerisy, the insurgents at Freigeist Bierkultur are fomenting a little rebellion in their fermenters.

Freigeist means "free spirit" (or "free-spirited" or something akin to that) and Freigeist Bierkultur "is the experimental offshoot of Cologne's revolutionary small brewery, Braustelle. Here we strive to break the chains of industrial brewing by reviving and updating, Germany's unique, historical beer styles." Looking over the brewery's portfolio, it seems that they're doing a good job of it. For instance, I see a Doppelsticke Alt and, being in Cologne, this is must surely go beyond peccadillo into heretical territory.

Beyond being a brewing fifth column sent from Düsseldorf (however, they also brew Kölsches), Freigeist brews beers unlike any other German brewery. At least any other German brewery whose bottles reach the shores of Lake Mendota. Their brews occasionally pop up at Riley's which is where I picked up a bottle of Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter.

"Salzspeicher" means salt warehouses, specifically, the ones on the bottle's label which are located in Lübeck. They achieved notoriety for being used in the classic silent film Nosferatu and are featured because this porter was brewed with salt. Freigeist maintains that the beer is based on an East German sour dark beer crossed with an old English porter style which had salt in the recipe. I've not encountered mention of these types of porters previously. This isn't surprising as the style has a convoluted history that's beyond my ken. (And outside that of most drinkers, I suspect. Recall the hubbub surrounding New Glarus' Old English Porter.) Despite this, I was quite intrigued by a salty-sour porter brewed with cherries.

My Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter had a rather small tan head when I poured it. Holding my glass to the light, the beer had a deep mahogany hue and was opaque when looked at straight on. From what I could tell the beer was clear but I couldn't discern effervescence owing to the aforementioned opacity. Tart cherries dominated the aroma at first. It gave way to a hint of salinity in addition to the expected roasted malt scents that were akin to well-done and burnt toast.

As with the nose, cherry was prominent in the taste but there was no sweetness to be had. Instead the fruit lent a wonderful tartness to the beer. Underneath the fruit I could taste more sourness but I could not identify it. The overall sour profile reminded me of New Glarus' Belgian Red. Perhaps a bit of some strain of brettanomyces but it was mild. The cherry tartness was more prominent but there was a hint of funk behind it. Musty but not a whole barnyard's worth.

I cannot speak to the historical porters upon which this beer was based but it had the typical malt flavors one expects from a modern porter. That is to say that black malt flavors prevailed with coffee and dark chocolate undergirded by a tinge of that ashy, burnt bitterness. I could also taste the carbonation but only just.

The beer had a medium body and was rather smooth. It finished with the cherry tartness and chocolate flavors from the malt lingering. As the chocolate faded, cherry was joined by a touch of grassy hops. My glass was left with very little Schaumhaftvermoegen – just some small patches here and there.

Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter mixes an abundance of chocolate malt flavor with cherry to make a velvety smooth beer. This may read very dessert-like but the tartness of the cherries and the additional yeast/bacteria add just the right amount of funky sourness to dispel that notion. This isn't a lip puckeringly sour beer. Everything is kept on an even keel with just enough tartness to put it on equal footing with the malt flavors which are highlighted by the salt. Not being an extreme beer, it was quite easy to drink the entire half liter bottle myself. And I could do so as the beer is 6% A.B.V.

When I finished the bottle I found myself wondering if this beer is actually distributed in Germany. From what I've read it seems that the bottled "craft" beers of Germany are export-only or, at least, not widely available in Deutschland. I sincerely hope Freigeist Bierkultur's biers are available in its homeland because, if Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter is any indication, this new wave of German brewing is not to be missed. Freigeist also gets my respect for not simply aping American IPA culture and tacking its own uniquely German craft beer course.

Junk food pairing: If you're in the mood for something savory, then pair Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter with pork rinds. The fatty goodness with complete a flavorful trifecta. For dessert, pair it with dark chocolate covered peanuts. You can get these is large quantities rather cheaply at Farm & Fleet.

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11 November, 2015

Straight People Don't Know What You're About: Smokin' Hemp Porter by Pearl Street Brewery

Not unlike hops, hemp originated in Asia with the Chinese growing the plant back when bands of proto-Brits were mapping ley lines and tweaking their fancy stone circle which would later be known as Stonehenge. A few thousand years later 18th century London brewers were getting irritated by unwelcome middlemen aging the breweries' fresh brown beer and selling it to alehouses for a tidy profit. And so the brewers added more hops and aged the beer themselves until it was "racy and mellow". River and street porters became enamored of the beer and the brew became known as "porter".

Hemp made its way west to Europe and eventually to the Americas. During World War II Wisconsin led the effort to produce hemp for rope and twine by outgrowing every other state. Indeed, our 146,000 acres yielded upwards of 75% of all commercial hemp in the country. (This presumably explains the countless gallon freezer bags of ditch weed that I encountered in college.)

And now here in the 21st century Pearl Street Brewery up in La Crosse has woven these strands of history together in Smokin' Hemp Porter. A dose of cherry wood smoked malt joins toasted hemp seeds in the ebony depths of a porter.

The beer pours a deep brown that appears black unless you hold your glass just right up to a light. It was mostly opaque but appeared to be clear. Atop was a small tan head that dissipated quickly. The opacity of the beer rendered me impotent in discerning the state of bubbles inside the brew. The aroma was rich with the scents of the Dark Side of the Grist – there was coffee, dark chocolate, and that bitter, almost ashy, black malt smell. As for the cherry wood smoked malt, there was a little of it to be found stewing in the salmagundi of roasted malt goodness. This beer would be more akin to Karben4's NightCall than a Schlenkerla rauchbier. There was also a hint of malty sweetness like plum to be had as well.

The malt profile changed just a bit from nose to tongue. Gone were the chocolate notes that my proboscis enjoyed but those of coffee and bitter, highly roasted malt remained. Much to my delight, that bacon-like smoked malt flavor was much more prominent in the taste than in the aroma. It wasn't an intense smokiness but certainly a stronger flavor than scent. Dryness from the carbonation helped keep the malt party from getting totally out of control. There was also a little nuttiness which I assume came from the hemp seeds. The only other beer I can think of with hemp seeds in it that I've had is O'Fallon's Hemp Hop Rye. This was at the Great Taste a few years ago and my palate was not able to dedicate itself to discerning hemp flavor at that time.

Smokin' Hemp Porter has a nice medium-heavy body. It is definitely not a viscous Lenten doppelbock but it is a bit more hearty than, say, a malty amber ale. It finished rather dry. The bitterness from the black malt lingered a short time as the carbonation added a bite and grassy/spicy hops came through sotto voce. Alas and alack, my glass was left with no lacing.

Being a big fan of smoked malt in beer, I'd have been thrilled as pie had there been more of it in Smokin' Hemp Porter. That said, it was still a very good beer. The smoke that was present was quite tasty and worked well with the rush of earthy flavors from the dark malt. It is simply a great porter accented with a wisp of smoke and touch of nuttiness from (presumably) the toasted hemp seeds.

Smokin' Hemp Porter is a limited release beer let loose on 4/20 each year. I still see it around Madison so it would seem that my sample was aged.

Junk food pairing: Pair Smokin' Hemp Porter with some Buffalo Blue Cheese Combos. The chili flavor will try to penetrate the Stygian malts but fail while the blue cheese will add a rich, earthy pungency that will complement the beer's grainy flavors.

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09 November, 2015

(Katzen)jammer Gose by Sixpoint Brewery

I found one of these lurking in my basement and thought it my duty to drink it (and the other lighter beers) still remaining to make way for some heartier selections to help keep the cold at bay.

Sixpoint Brewery may be located in Brooklyn but co-founder Shane Welch cut his homebrewing teeth here in Madison and worked at also Angelic Brewing Company which was over on the 300 block of West Johnson. Because of Welch's Wisconsin ties, it seems that we here in Madison are occasionally treated to the odd rarity around the time of the Great Taste or whenever Welch feels like coming back to visit his erstwhile mentor, Dean Coffey, of Ale Asylum.

Sixpoint's brews have had very limited exposure to my tongue. Being a brewery with a penchant for the hop-forward, I've mostly avoided their beers. Back in the spring I read that Welch was bringing out a gose and so I grabbed a six pack.

Jammer is described thusly at the Sixpoint website:

...the Mad Scientists continued modifying the Jammer recipe until it reached the apex of gustatory pleasure. Generations of German brewers, many of whom hung a hexagram outside their breweries, passed down the style and our friends at Jacobsen Salt provided us with the key ingredient. It's salty, it's sour, and it's stupendous. It's Mad Science.

OK. I lied. It really goes like this:

...the Mad Scientists kept tweakin' that Jammer till it rocked so hard. Bygone brewers, repping the Sixpoint star, provided the concept and our friends at Jacobsen Salt hooked us up with the key ingredient. It's salty, it's sour, and it's slammin'. It's Mad Science.

I think that, if I'd read this brotastic description before buying, I'd never have bought it. Maybe Sixpoint was trying to appeal to the Ultimate Frisbee crowd or the Greek systems around the country.

Regardless, Jammer is a gose and goses are totally crushable in the summer. Er, I mean I find goses to be eminently refreshing during the warmer months. They're light-bodied and have a nice citrus tartness complemented by salt and coriander.

Jammer is a lovely refulgent yellow. It was quite clear which I thought odd as gose is usually cloudy with wheat proteins or whatever bits from the grain that add that haze. My pour produced a big, multi-fingered head that was solid. This white crown barely budged as I moved the stange. There were a few bubbles going up in the glass.

The aroma had the expected lemony lacto, though it was rather mild. But then again, even a gallon of concentrated lemon juice would be mild in contrast to the last sour beer I had, the rather fulsome Counter Clock Weisse. There were also some crackery/grainy smells to be had here too. Lastly, I caught a little coriander. I personally like a good, stiff dose of coriander in my gose but, in an age of sour beers that are either so sour or inundated with enough fruit flavor that the defining salt/coriander combo is lost, I'll take what I can get.

I was surprised at the paucity of tartness in the taste. It was only mildly sour. I was also surprised at the near total absence of any lemony or citrusy flavor. Instead there was a soapy flavor as in it tasted rather like how you'd expect laundry detergent to taste before it was scented. Carbonation added a bit of dryness while, as with the aroma, there was some cracker-like grain flavor and a hint of coriander there in the background. I tasted some salinity as well but the salt did more to enhance the soapy flavor than to stand out in its own right.

The tartness lingered on the finish where a slight herbal hoppy flavor made itself known. (Jammer is only 16 I.B.U.s) My stange had some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen. There was webbing around most of it.

Jammer was light and bubbly and made my glass look very pretty. Unfortunately, it tasted more like Tide Gose Laundry Detergent than beer. Where was the lemon flavor? I'd also have liked more coriander but this was no deal breaker. What a shame. Sixpoint brewed a gose that hewed to tradition insofar as they didn't hop the living fuck out of it nor was it boosted to imperial potency. Sadly, the souring part of this sour beer falls short.

Junk food pairing: I'd highly recommend drinking another gose but, if you're stuck with Jammer, then get some Fritos Scoops! and load them with a bacon-horseradish dip. I've seen Heluva Good! dip at Woodmans.

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05 November, 2015

Roll Out the Barrel: Stag #9 by August Schell Brewing Company

I'll say right up front that I have a lot of respect for August Schell Brewing Company. While I don't think every beer they brew is fantastic, I highly appreciate their willingness to stick to their guns. It is said that you dance with the one that brung ya and after 150 or so years of German-influenced brewing tradition Schell hasn't abandoned it in order to be able to slap "IPA" onto bottles, have a line of lambics, or have an excuse to throw a release party for a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout called something like Tyr or Fimbulwinter or Loki's Pride.

Instead they adopted the slogan "German Craft Beer" and meld Teutonic tradition with contemporary tastes. The Noble Star series delves into the sour world of the Berliner Weisse with a variety of takes on the style; hopheads get the Fresh Hop series – a pilsner each autumn that is brewed with a single variety of freshly picked hops; they also got Arminius last year, a hoppy lager (it didn't do very well as was discontinued); and earlier this year the ninth entry in the limited release Stag Series was a barrel-aged lager.

Stag #9 is a dark lager that was aged in American whiskey barrels which sat for a prolonged period of time in the brewery's original lagering caves.

The beer pours a deep, deep mahogany. So deep, in fact, that it appears jet. It's the kind of beer you'd expect to be expelled from non-Euclidian taps at the taverns of R'lyeh. Holding my glass up to the light and craning my neck, I caught a shallow spot in the glass and found the beer to be clear. My pour produced a good two fingers of dense, frothy foam. I tried as best I could to check out the effervescence beneath the head but failed.

As has always been my experience with barrel-aged beers (does anyone else remember the barrel-aged Night Train that O'so poured at Jan's Friendly during the very first Madison Craft Beer Week? Gott im Himmel! That stuff could fell a horse.), I smell the booze first and Stag #9 was no different. It had a moderate whiskey aroma that was kind enough to let some of the dunkles come through. Ergo I also caught the scent of roasted malt as well which was like coffee. I suppose this shouldn't have been a surprise as the beer is a mere 7.7% A.B.V.

That whiskey came through in the taste as well. But again, it was moderated by the grainy tastes which gave coffee and dark chocolate flavors as well as something nutty/woody underneath. There was a distinct bitterness from the dark grain too, as with a porter. Dark lager is perhaps a better descriptor for this than dunkles as those German brews generally don't have that bitterness. The beer had a medium body and was rather smooth although the carbonation could also be tasted.

As the whiskey and grain flavors receded, a dry finish was revealed with carbonation, the bitter grain flavor, and a touch of herbal hops all conspiring together. I also caught a little bit of heat from the booze. There were sheets of Schaumhaftvermoegen to be seen all around my chalice.

The dark lager/dunkles is one of my favorite beer styles because it highlights the earthy, Maillard reactiony side of roasted malt flavor rather than the sweeter, toffee tastes of caramelization. Coffee and dark chocolate flavors are in abundance here but also present is a rather sharp, burnt malt bitterness. (Black Patent malt, perhaps?) I enjoyed how the various malt flavors and the whiskey were all in harmony with none overcoming the others. As I noted above, Stag #9 is 7.7% A.B.V. so this is not a rich, viscous imperial stout that pours like motor oil. Being a lager, it is clean and more reserved, in a sense. Too much whiskey could easily have crowded out the malt. Still, Stag #9 has some big, bold flavors and I thoroughly enjoyed this re-working of a favorite style.

Junk food pairing: If you have any Stag #9 then drink it sooner rather than later. (Whole Foods in Madison had six packs for $7.99 recently – a steal.) And when you do drink it, pair it with the bold flavors of Snyder's of Hanover's Pumpernickel & Onion pretzels with a potent brown senf to assert the food's presence. Your tongue will be overloaded with heady, roasted grain goodness.

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04 November, 2015

Drinkin' La Vida y Muerte: Vida y Muerte from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria

I've been a fan of Chicago's 5 Rabbit Cerveceria for a while now and have sought out their beers on visits to Chicago over the past 3+ years. Their beer is now being distributed in Wisconsin which means that I can drink their suds more frequently. The brewery is inspired by the founders' Latin American backgrounds: Andres Araya is Costa Rican while Isaac Showaki hails from Mexico. (Showaki left 5 Rabbit in 2013 and has since relocated to the only Waunakee in the world to found Octopi Brewing.)

Rather than simply fabricating a line of Latin American IPAs, 5 Rabbit are more interested in utilizing tropical fruits, Costa Rican coffee, chilies, et al in a variety of ways to pay tribute to Latin American culture and history. I have previously reviewed 5 Lizard, a "Latin-style witbier", and 5 Lizard, which is billed as an "Oaxacan-style dark ale". I highly recommend both but especially the latter as the weather is about to get chilly.

Some of 5 Rabbit's fall seasonal, Vida y Muerte ("Life and Death") made its way to Madison. The brewery refers to it as a "müerzen" as it "loosely based" the beer on the märzen.

I lucked out and got to drink a Vida y Muerte on a gorgeous fall evening and so my photograph is pretty fair. The beer was a lovely amber color and slightly turbid. My tulip glass was graced with a couple fingers of nice white head that hung around for a while. There were lots of bubbles in the glass going upwards. This is one effervescent brew.

While Vida y Muerte may be a distant cousin of the Oktoberfest, it also trades on the so-called pumpkin beer with the addition of Mexican cinnamon along with other unnamed spices. That cinnamon was readily apparent when I took a sniff as was nutmeg. There was a caramel sweetness here too but I'm unsure if it came from the malt or the dulce de leche or milk caramel. Perhaps both. I could also smell grass which I'll put down to the Glacial hops, a variety with which I was unfamiliar until now.

The taste is similar to the aroma with the spices being the first thing my tongue noticed. While the spices were front and center, they didn't overwhelm and allowed that caramel sweetness to come through. Milk sugar is added to the beer so there is a definite sweetness but this isn't a syrupy sweet mess. Vienna and Munich malts are used and while I didn't end up in melanoidin cielo, there was some tasty bread flavor. Although a kusine of the festbier, Vida y Muerte is an ale and I tasted some fruity flavors as well which were like cherry. Lastly, the carbonation added a little bit of bite.

At the finish the cinnamon and nutmeg ebbed away and were replaced with grassy and spicy hop bitterness which brought a moderate dryness to the close of the proceedings. My glass was left with some decent webs of lacing.

I was rather surprised at just how light-bodied Vida y Muerte is. With its beautiful amber color, a 6.3% A.B.V., and all that milk sugar and caramel, I expected something a bit heavier. I recall drinking this beer immediately after coming home from work and being very thirsty. It went down quite easily, I can assure you. The spices were pronounced but they weren't oppressive. The malt and milk sugar/caramel added just enough sweetness to provide a base for the cinnamon and nutmeg while the carbonation and hops kept everyone in line. While I prefer a little more body in my autumnal beers, Vida y Muerte was still a nice sweet treat for Halloween/Día de Muertos.

Junk food pairing: Having lost my brother earlier this year, Día de Muertos took on especial significance for me. Ergo I paired Vida y Muerte with some Pan de Muertos. The extra bit of sweetness was fine but I really liked how the bread added more heft to the mouthfeel, a little more base for the spices.

Prost, my brother.

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03 November, 2015

Feeling Sappy: Maple Surple from Lake Louie Brewing

Last year Lake Louie revamped their line-up, introducing a slew of new beers and renaming one as well. I reviewed one of those new brews, the fine Dortmunder Export Blue Peter, previously and it's time to taste another. Looking at the brace of Lake Louie Prairie Moon growlers in my kitchen, I can't help but think of how far the brewery has come since it began back in 1999.

While Wisconsin doesn't have a strategic maple syrup reserve like Quebec does I think of maple syrup as a quintessential part of Wisconsin culture. This is likely due in large part to the time I spent up north making the stuff with my father as the snow fell. I would empty the buckets from the trees into a holding barrel as my father added the sap into his custom made sap boiler. It was a labyrinth of stainless steel. A coffee can with a small hole near the bottom was setup at one end. The sap leaked from it into the boiler where it made its way around the steel walls of the maze. By the time it arrived at the opposite end, it was syrup and could be drawn away into gallon jugs.

Lake Louie debuted Maple Surple last spring but this year's batch was released in September. It's a brown ale with maple syrup added. (The name comes from the Roger Miller song "Dang Me" which contains the classic couplet "Roses are red and violets are purple, you are sweeter than maple surple".) I've not drank many brown ales in recent years and have no good explanation for this. They got lost in the shuffle, I suppose. Back in the 90s I had many a Pete's Wicked Ale and enjoy the malt emphasis of the style which is rather unassuming in contrast to the more brash pale ales which are all the rage these days.

Maple Surple has a beautiful amber hue and is quite clear. My glass was appealingly coiffured with a big, foamy ecru head that did a good job of sticking around for as long as it could. There was a goodly number of bubbles making their way up the glass. I presume that the maple syrup was added rather late in the brewing process because the aroma was rife with that woody, toothsome smell of maple syrup. There was a bit of sweet malt that was like raisin in the background but it was the pungent maple smell that stood out.

I was shocked – SHOCKED – that the maple syrup flavor was also king on the tongue. It was strong and sweet, though not cloyingly so. That raisin-like malt sweetness was here too as was a more savory roasted grain flavor. Some herbal hoppiness and the carbonation tried to temper the sucrose soiree. The beer's body was medium-light but veered towards the latter. And the maple syrup really gave it a very smooth mouthfeel.

On the finish I found that the maple flavor trailed off as the carbonation and more of that herbal hop bitterness took the edge off of the sweetness for a surprising dryness.

My glass was not left with a lot of lacing but there were a few nice strands around the glass.

I think Tom Porter of Lake Louie got the maple in Maple Surple just right. It's up front but won't put you into diabetic shock after one sip. There are 22 I.B.U.s of bitterness here which lend a nice herbal dryness on the finish and a minimal amount of contrast to the maple flavor. The beer would have benefited from more roasted grain flavor. Although the maple was applied in moderation, I still feel that more toasted grain flavor would have helped to keep Maple Surple from being close to a one trick pony.

While I liked Maple Surple, I can't drink many bottles of it. It's not extremely sweet but sweet enough to be filling after one. It comes in at 5.8% A.B.V. which means it can help ease the transition into autumn. The maple flavor also provides a nice alternative to the all of the fest biers and brews flavored with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg that line store shelves at this time of year.

Junk food pairing: Pair Maple Surple with Biscuits and Gravy potato chips to kick the faux breakfast thing into overdrive.

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02 November, 2015

An Inland Sea, Bo's Symphony: Inland Sea Pilsner by South Shore Brewery

You don't get much more up north than South Shore Brewery. Perched on the south shore of Lake Superior in Ashland, the brewery has been quietly quenching the thirst of folks in northern Wisconsin since 1995. If memory serves, I occasionally see their Nut Brown Ale or Rhoades Scholar Stout on shelves here in Madison but their distribution down here seems to be rather erratic. (Either that or I'm just not looking in the right coolers.) This wasn't always the case as I saw and drank their beers on a fairly regular basis back in the early 00s.

From what I can tell Madison is not alone in seeing but a small amount of South Shore beer. It sounds like southern Wisconsin receives but a little. Because of limited distribution to these parts and, I'd wager, the lack of an IPA in its portfolio, South Shore tends to fly under the radar. To remedy this, owner Bo Belanger has built another production facility in Washburn, just north of Ashland on Chequamegon Bay.

South Shore is ahead of the curve when it comes to using locally sourced ingredients with Belanger having founded the Midwest Hops and Barley Co-op in 2007. Most, if not all, of the base malt used in Belanger's brews are locally-sourced with much of it grown just a few miles outside of Ashland. Presumably the grains are grown by co-op members. Back in 2012 the co-op provided fresh hops to South Shore and four other breweries in the state for a limited series of wet hopped brews. I have no word on just how local the yeast he uses is which means that it was not sourced from Belanger's beard. And the honey in the beer at hand comes from local bees.

Inland Sea Pilsener used to be called Honey Pils but I am unsure of when the name was changed. It pours a light gold and was clear. The brew was quite effervescent with a generous off white head that lingered and a country ton of bubbles going up the glass.

The aroma was grassy at first. I'm not sure what kind of hops are used in the beer but they smelled more grassy and herbal than of the more typical Saaz spiciness. From my experience, beers brewed with honey don't usually smell that much like honey. Rather you usually get a subtle earthy/floral something in the aroma. I think caught some of that here melding with bread and dough scents. The latter was sweet but of a tempered sweetness with those earthy overtones. My glass of Inland Sea smelled pleasant enough but lacked the bracing hop aroma that I expect from a pils.

South Shore doesn't say whether Inland Sea is meant to approximate a pilsener from Bohemia or its German cousins. Judging from the aroma, it leaned towards the latter and the taste backed this up. German pilseners tend be less intense than Czech ones which really emphasize the Noble hops. Inland Sea had a cracker-like malt flavor but the hops were again more herbal in character instead of spicy. There was a faint sweetness in there too which I found to be like plum. Disappointingly, the beer's light body had a very thin mouthfeel. It just tasted watery.

The finish was slightly dry with the carbonation and some grassy and (finally!) spicy hop bitterness helping out. My glass was left with some fantastic Schaumhaftvermoegen with large patches of foam interspersed with rather dense webbing to be found all over the glass.

What a shame. A bad batch, perhaps, or improper handling of the beer after it left the brewery. Visually Inland Sea was perfect but it was just too watery. What should be a symphony (or at least a tone poem) of sharp, spicy hops as well as crisp, biscuity malt flavor is instead a weak atonal mess. I have to wonder what happened here. If South Shore's distribution expands, I'll be giving Inland Sea a second chance to prove my hope that this was simply an anomaly.

Junk food pairing: I paired my Inland Sea with some find Spicy Cheese Cracklin Curls by the Porkie Company of Cudahy, Wisconsin. All that fat and just a smidgen of heat provided a nice contrast to the thin pils.

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