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.
Labels: Beer, Pilsner, South Shore Brewery