Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 April, 2015

Smells Like Victory: Kirsch Gose by Victory Brewing Company



I must admit that I am not familiar with Victory Brewing beyond having had the occasional Prima Pils. But I was intrigued when I read that they would be releasing a kirsch gose. I like gose beers. I like cherries. A truly tantalizing combination.

Although most closely associated today with the German city Leipzig, the gose originated in the town of Goslar in north central Germany at some point in the 16th century. (The river Gose flows through the town.) A cousin of the more popular Belgian witbier, it is a top-fermenting sour wheat beer flavored with salt and coriander with the sour coming from the addition of lactic bacteria these days. The style was extremely popular in the 19th century but is now on the endangered species list. It went into decline after World War I, seems to have gone extinct in 1945, but has been revived in fits and starts ever since. For a much more thorough history of the gose, read Ron Pattinson.

Being a fairly rare style, I've not had many a gose. The only German iteration I've had is Leipziger Gose. As for American versions, my first experience came by way of Gordon Biersch's take on the style at the Great Taste of the Midwest. Schell has tried their hand at it as well and Anderson Valley with mixed results.

Closer to home, Next Door Brewing here in Madison brewed a gose called Egon's Revenge last year. I rather liked it and head brewer Bryan Kreiter says that it will be brewed again this summer with a tweak here or there. For instance, instead of using acidulated malt to create tartness he hopes to "culture some wild yeast/bacteria from raw grain and sour the wort pre-boil."

On their website, Victory proudly proclaims of Kirsch Gose "European tradition and American ingenuity come together in the truest sense..." I am not sure what they mean by this but assume that they are saying that adding cherry juice to a gose is a unique example of American creativity. Or some such thing. While a fine idea, it is not paradigm-shifting. If you go here, you can see how it is common to quaff a gose in Leipzig mit schuss, that is, with a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup just like a Berliner Weisse. Caraway schnapps is also traditional. (N.B. – the website has graphic photos of tasty beers and may lead to the impulsive purchase of plane tickets.)

I served my Kirsch Gose in a tulip glass because I bought a couple at Goodwill and hadn't used them yet. That and I hoped this beer would have a nice cherry-laced aroma that would be concentrated by the glass. Traditionally gose is served in a vessel that is essentially a graduated cylinder. (See photos at above site.) Despite my lousy photography (it was cloudy outside), Kirsch Gose is an exceptionally pretty beer. It is a touch hazy with a gorgeous light-orangey/hibiscus red hue. Bubbles made their way up to the generous pillow of pink foam atop the brew.

My choice of glass was fortuitous as there was indeed a luscious cherry aroma to be had along with a hefty dose of lemony tartness. Also present was a hint of biscuit. Goses have a modicum of hops but I could detect none of the German Spalt hopfen in the nose.

On the tongue the beer unleashed a wave of lemony tartness as to be expected. It was very pronounced but I've had beers that were even more sour. The tartness finds a friend in the cherry flavor which was sweet, but only just. The fruit flavor let the sourness predominate but the cherry made sure you knew it was present. Underneath all these flavors was a bit of bread. What brought everything together was the salt. The salinity was obvious but not overpowering. Not only did it make a nice counterpoint to the sweet and sour but also gave the beer a nice complexity. The mouthfeel is medium-light and the wheat makes it smooth but the salt added a depth of flavor that belied the overall lightness of the beer.

Kirsch Gose finishes on the dry side with the cherry, tartness, and salinity all lingering on the tongue. And my glass was left with some wonderful Schaumhaftvermoegen. Victory nailed the visual aesthetic here on the head.

To my palate and that of my significant other, Victory has hit one out of the park with Kirsch Gose. It has a wonderfully complex mix of sweet, sour, and savory yet it remains light and refreshing. It is easy drinking as witnessed by the rapidity at which our 4-packs were emptied.

Junk food pairing: Pair Kirsch Gose with Chinese shrimp chips. They're the chips that look like Shrinky Dinks before you fry them and then turn into light, crispy chips after a bath in the oil.

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27 April, 2015

Mutatis Mutandis: Betray Ale by Wisconsin Brewing Company



I recall the spring of 1991 when I walked into my dorm room and found my roommate proudly brandishing a bottle of Capital Maibock or as he referred to it, Mindblock. If memory serves, this incident was my introduction to seasonal beer drinking and also when I became enchanted by Kirby Nelson's bock-brewing diablerie. You had Maibock in the spring as the air began to become more temperate and then, as the leaves withered, there was Autumnal Fire followed by dark and blonde doppelbocks to stave off Jack Frost.

As the craft beer scene matured and an unremitting hop assault on the tongues of drinkers began, Nelson largely stayed out of the fray preferring to remain at the helm of a "Wisconsin lager" brewhouse. In 2012 Nelson left Capital to join the new Wisconsin Brewing Company and promptly shocked longtime Capital fans by brewing two IPAs out of the gates. But there was a collective sigh of relief from these folks when WBC released a maibock called Big Sweet Life last spring.

It wasn't long before a draught-only India Pale Pale Bock, a helles bock, hit taps around town. And this year it has been christened Betray Ale and bottled to replace Big Sweet Life.

The maibock ("May bock") hails from Munich in southern Germany and is the lighter-colored member of the bock family having a golden hue that can wander into amber territory. Like other bocks, this style has a rich malt flavor but is often more hoppy than its cousins. It is brewed in the winter and brought out to celebrate its departure in the spring.

Betray Ale is billed as being an "India Pale Pale Bock" so you know that Nelson has taken the greater hop flavor of the style to heart. Nothing seems out of place, however, when you poor the beer into a glass. It is clear with a nice deep yellow color. Bubbles galore run up from the bottom of the glass to a nice white head that stuck around for a while.

The first indication that this isn't the bock of springs past comes in the nose. I was taken by surprise when I smelled grapefruit. There was a little bit of a bread-like scent in the background but the citrus/grapefruit fragrance dominated. After taking my first whiff I was rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I was not amused at smelling 20+ years of drinking Nelson's maibocks go down the drain because many people have lost sight of the fact that beer is a malt beverage, not merely a vehicle for hops. On the other hand, it simply had an alluring aroma.

I was unsurprised to find that grapefruit was not to be found solely in the nose. It was the first thing I tasted. While very prominent on the tongue, this hop flavor was not bitter. In fact, I think that the malt comingled with it to make a very sweet, fruity flavor akin to a pink grapefruit juice cocktail. While I inquired of WBC as to what kind of hops are in Betray Ale, I have not yet received a response. WBC advertises the beer as being dry hopped so I presume the grapefruit aroma and flavor come from that addition of hops. Simcoe?

There was also just a touch of spicy hop flavor underneath all the citrus. Once the hoppiness recedes, you get a brief flash of malt sweetness that was a mix of stone fruit and corn. (Not creamed corn, by the way.) Betray Ale is 6.5% A.B.V. so, while it is a good strength for a spring night, it's not super-potent and you cannot taste the alcohol. Considering all of the sweetness, Betray Ale has a medium body that befits a maibock. I found the finish to be smooth yet slightly dry with lingering citrus hop flavor.

To be blunt, I drank about half the bottle and gave the rest to my significant other. If she hadn't been around, it would have been poured down the drain. Kirby Nelson can brew a damn fine maibock so why hide that behind all the lupuline macquillage? If Betray Ale had about a quarter of the citrus flavor, then I suspect I'd like it more. A quarter of the citrus plus a bit more Noble hop spiciness. Use the grapefruit flavor as an accent and not the main attraction. As it is, the brew just tastes too syrupy, too much like grapefruit juice cut with sugar to dull the tartness. While I hate to see tradition suddenly disappear, I am not opposed to change and the creation of new traditions. But Betray Ale is Old World tradition ruined by New World novelty.

On the plus side, my glass was left with some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Junk food pairing: Drink Betray Ale along with cheese curds, preferably those made with a beer batter that tastes like beer instead of grapefruit. The salt and fat should help counter the cloying fruit punchiness of the beer.

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23 April, 2015

Willkomen in Wisconsin, Metropolitan Brewing

Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing recently announced that they'll begin distribution in Wisconsin come May Day so you can raise a glass of their fine lager to the proletariat or cool yourself off after leaping over your Beltane bonfire. To celebrate, Ale Asylum will be hosting a welcome party on Wednesday, 29 April.

If the Metropolitan folks show up you know it will be fun. I am hoping to attend so I can wrap my lips around some of their Arc Welder rye dunkles. It is the nectar of the gods.


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01 April, 2015

Medieval Salve Kills Antibiotic Bacteria



Perhaps the Dark Ages aren't as dark as generally thought.

Researchers have discovered that a medieval salve for eye infections is very effective against some nasty strains of bacteria which laugh at futile attempts to kill them with antibiotics. The recipe was taken from the above "Bald's Leechbook". I presume that none of the researchers knew Old English which means that a medievalist of some stripe at some point had to translate. Score one for liberal arts majors!

But researchers recently found that a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon treatment for eye infections works as an antibiotic against one of today’s most notorious bacteria, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The British researchers will present their findings this week at an annual microbiology conference held in the United Kingdom.

Christina Lee, a professor in Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe from the Old English in Bald’s Leechbook, which was written in the 9th century and is one of the earliest known medical textbooks. The researchers prepared four batches of the recipe, which called for two species of garlic and onions, wine, and bile from a cow’s stomach brewed in a brass cauldron and let sit for nine days before use.

take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.

The researchers tested the concoction on cultures of MRSA bacteria in synthetic wounds as well as in rats. No individual ingredient had no effect on the cultures, but the combined liquid killed almost all the cells; only about one in 1,000 bacteria survived. At more dilute concentrations, the salve didn’t kill the bacteria, but still interrupted their communication, preventing them from damaging tissues.

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