Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 December, 2015

Swedish Delight: Förgås by Dugges Ale- & Porterbryggeri AB



Förgås is the first beer I’ve had whose name contains both an umlaut and a ring. This is because it’s Swedish. Online translators tell me that it means “perish” and I’m in no position to dispute this. I am lead to believe that the name is a joke which makes sense to Swedes or that there is some cultural understanding that I lack because the label shows a person dealing with assembling a box from printed directions which is perhaps IKEA inspired. This is the front. On the back that same figure stands proudly next to a building that it apparently constructed which appears to be a church (parrish?) with “DIY” in a box above its head. Exactly what perishing has to do with anything here is above my pay grade.

Regardless of the name, Förgås is billed as a Scandinavian Style Gose Ale. I am not sure what this means exactly – lingonberries? fish? reindeer? - but the beer was brewed in Sweden by Dugges Ale- & Porterbryggeri AB although Stillwater Artisanal Ales is listed on the label. A collaboration of some kind? I believe that the beer began appearing here in the States over the summer. I bought my bottle in October or November and popped it open recently.

It pours a very pretty light gold hue and was crystal clear, which was non-traditional as goses aer usually a bit hazy. I got a big, frothy off-white head and there were lots and lots of bubbles inside. Apparently my stange was dirty because there were clumps of bubbles adhering to the side. Oops. Despite my poor glass washing, Förgås looked really nice and inviting. It was bright & shiny and the effervescence gave the impression of there being a hive of activity that the drinker couldn’t help but want to be a part of.

How much does appearance contribute to one’s beer drinking experience? I’ve had some tasty brews that were not charismatic and some that proved the maxim that all that glitters is not gold. There is also the American habit of thinking that dark beers are heavy and viscous. This attitude is likely changing but I’d bet that it is still quite prevalent.

All of this comes to mind because I listened to an episode of the wonderful Human Zoo recently in which it was revealed that it’s easier to get people to accept global climate change if there’s a dead or dying plant in the room than if there was a healthy, verdant one off to the side. I think this was in the back of my mind when I was sampling Förgås because I gave extra consideration to its appearance. The beer’s refulgence and effervescence really lured me in and made me want to try it.

My aside aside, Förgås had what I thought of as being a fairly typical, non-Scandinavian aroma. There was a big grainy smell with some citrus/lemony tartness lurking underneath. It didn’t smell particularly salty nor was I able to discern any coriander. On the first taste a pronounced lemony tartness hit my tongue followed by the carbonation. It was a bright blast of dry, acidulous tartness that was quite a jolt. The sour flavor subsided on subsequent sips which allowed the grainy flavor to come through along with just a hint of salinity. Förgås also had a herbal and slightly minty flavor which I thought of as being eucalyptus-like. I suppose there could have been some juniper in there as that’s a spice not unfamiliar to Swedes. Whatever it was, it gave a nice contrast to the sharper flavors.

The finish was dry and tart with the lacto-lemon lingering along joined by the herbal flavor. Schaumhaftvermoegen was in abundance with webbing lining my stange.

My first foray into the world of the Scandinavian gose was quite a treat. In addition to its good looks, Förgås is a very tasty brew. It has a nice, light body yet this is not a thin beer. It is quite flavorful with the style’s trademark tartness sitting well next to a nice and rather more substantial grainy flavor than I was expecting. I loved the herbal component here too – that eucalyptus/juniper flavor was singular in my gose drinking experience.

Junk food pairing: The gose is a light beer so find delicate food pairings for your Förgås. Try some yoghurt-covered pretzels or some of those shrimp chips that are like Shrinky Dinks until you fry them whereupon they poof up to a light and tasty companion.

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30 December, 2015

Funky Cold Hefe-Gerste: Dampf Loc by The Local Option Bierwerker



It is not often that one sees a dampfbier so when I saw Dampf Loc I had to grab a bottle.

Let me get the producer spiel out of the way first. Dampf Loc is a Local Option Bierwerker brew. The Local Option is a tavern in Chicago that collaborates with breweries to make beer with their name on it. Most of the collaborative brews are made with Pub Dog Brewing Company out east in Maryland. I'm not sure if the crew from The Local Option actually brews the beer out at Pub Dog or if they simply help formulate the beer or who. I've encountered articles calling The Local Option gang "gypsy brewers" while others say that they simply design the beers. Since I don't get paid to do this I am going to, as Iris DeMent sings, let the mystery be.

Dampf Loc is a dampfbier or "steam beer" in German. It's a style that arose in southeastern Bavaria in the dim and distant past and died out about a hundred years ago. The name reportedly comes from the vast quantities of foam and bubbles found atop the beer as it fermented which had the appearance of steam, as if the beer were boiling. Beneath the foam was an all-barley brew being fermented with weissbier yeast that would not be lagered. This traditional description doesn't stop the German brewery that resurrected the style from lagering their dampfbier nor from using a non-weissbier yeast strain, however.

But wait. Perhaps you are saying, "Don't we Americans have steam beer?" Yes, yes we do. Well, it's Steam Beer™ when the Anchor Brewing folks brew it. Otherwise it's a California Common. This American iteration – today, anyway – is an all-malt beer that uses a lager yeast but ferments at warmer temperatures than is normal for lagers. Furthermore the beer is cold conditioned at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit instead of being lagered at around 35 degrees.

And so, while the dampfbier and the Steam Beer share a name and both confound common brewing expectations, they aren't that similar otherwise.

Alrighty, then. Onto Dampf Loc.

It pours a dull gold color and is quite turbid. This is a very effervescent bier. My pour produced a large ecru head that was firm and in no hurry to leave. In addition, there were lots of bubbles inside the bier making their way upwards.

I was rather surprised, even if I ought not to have been, that Dampf Loc had a big banana aroma. I just wasn’t sure what kind of phenols/esters would be produced by the weissbier yeast in the absence of wheat. There was also an equally prominent bready smell while a grassy scent lurked in the background. Curiously enough, the banana did not come out in the taste. In its stead was an earthy vanilla flavor along with bread & dough, stone fruit, and some grassy/herbal hop flavor that wasn’t particularly bitter. While there is some sweetness here, the taste is actually fairly clean as the honeyed flavors are rather subdued and kept in check by the carbonation as well.

The bier almost does a 180 at the finish which is crisp and dry as the sweeter flavors fade and the hops move to fore and become spicier tasting. There was Schaumhaftvermoegen aplenty with my glass having been lined with webbing all around.

Not knowing what a traditional dampfbier tastes like I am unable to judge Dampf Loc on its authenticity or lack thereof. On the other hand I found it to be a very tasty brew. It had a medium-light body which made it quite refreshing after shoveling wet, heavy snow. I liked how it had an ale-like taste with some fruity flavors and sweetness yet finished very much like a lager with a Noble dryness. I also enjoyed the balance in the taste between malty sweetness and some fruitiness from the yeast.

Junk food pairing: Pair Dampf Loc with warm, soft pretzels. They will accent the maltiness of the bier while at the same time avoid getting in the way of the more low-key flavors on display.

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27 December, 2015

Roots to Branches: Shady Character by Forbodden Root



Forbidden Root describes itself as being "Chicago's first botanic brewery". I interpret this to mean that they're taxonomic dilettantes who have casually tinkered with hop's status in the plant kingdom without informing any devotees of Linnaeus such as practicing botanists. Oh, and they consider any remaining plant life fair game for flavoring their brews.

There must be something in the water in Illinois because Scratch Brewing Company at the other end of the state takes a very similar approach. Like Forbidden root, Scratch does use some hops but, from what I can tell, mostly flavors its brews with other ingredients foraged or grown locally.

Forbidden Root was founded by Robert Finkel, a refugee from the world of venture capital. B.J. Pichman is brewmaster and operations manager. Brewer, author, and brewing consultant Randy Mosher is a partner in the venture financially and creatively. I take it that he helps formulate the beers as well as designs the labels, packaging, etc.

The team takes inspiration from history – those days of yore when brewers did not have sacks of Citra hop pellets dropped off on their doorsteps by the postperson. Tellingly, neither "grut" nor "gruit" appear on the brewery's webpage. "Botanic" has more cachet these days. Or the former words have medieval European connotations, perhaps. But even when hops are used, Forbidden Roots' beers still contain generous amounts of alternative botanicals.

I recently purchased a four-pack of Shady Character, a porter laced with licorice, black walnuts, roasted chestnuts, star anise, and tellicherry pepper.

It pours a very deep brown which appears black in the glass. While I was pouring I noticed that the beer looked a bit muddy – like there was sediment in it. Not a problem and understandable considering the beer was flavored with the fruit of the forest floor. I got about ½" of tan head that was neither in a hurry to dissipate nor desperately keen to stick around. I couldn't see inside the glass so I'm not sure if there were bubbles shooting up or not.

The first thing I thought of after taking a whiff was Chinese plum wafers. These are about the size of a quarter and slightly thinner and I ate many as a kid. Check out your local Chinese/Asian grocery store. The typical deeply roasted grain porter smell came next followed by more botanicals – licorice and nuttiness, though I couldn't tell you if it was the black walnut or the chestnuts or both.

The black malts came through well in the taste as primarily coffee but also some bitter chocolate. I could taste the licorice as well as that Chinese plum wafer. I am curious as to what gave that flavor and aroma. Despite the fruity taste, this isn't a very sweet beer. There is some sweetness, presumably from the dark caramel malts, but it is balanced by a fair amount of bitterness. Forbidden Roots says Shady Character has 33 I.B.U.s but lists no hops which comports with my tastebuds who thought that the bitterness was from the black malts. Rounding things out was some nuttiness in the background of unknown origin.

The beer finished with that plum wafer flavor and the malty sweetness took their leave while the black malt bitterness and the licorice/star anise lingered. There wasn't much in the way of lacing as most of the foam slid down into the beer leaving only a few random spots.

If this is "botanical brewing" then I say bring it on. I have reviewed a few gruits here and I've come to really enjoy them, especially those that use flowers. Shady Character, on the other hand, makes a good case for the forest floor as source of flavorings for beer instead of verdant fields. There are few sharp flavors here and instead we have earthier, more rounded ones. I like how the nutty flavors meld with the darker malts as the licorice and star anise provide a brighter flavor to give contrast as hops would. Shady Character is 6.7% A.B.V. and has a medium body which make for a hearty bulwark against the cold. On the other hand, it's not that big of a beer and it's unique, rich flavor isn't cloying. Thusly it makes for a nice of change of pace from the season's sweeter bocks and boozy imperials stouts.

Junk food pairing: Shady Character has a lot of flavor on its own so pair it with something complementary and unobtrusive. Try some pumpernickel pretzels if you crave the savory. If you have a sweet tooth go with some dark chocolate covered pretzels.

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Lilywhite Lager, She Gonna Lead You Right: White Lager by Schalfly Beer



My first encounter with a Schlafly beer was quite impressive. It was a very tasty Kölsch and gave me my first hint that there's more to St. Louis' beer scene than foreign conglomerates making watery garbage. In addition it demonstrated that Schlafly was adept at brewing Germany styles of bier. This autumn the brewery announced a new winter seasonal - White Lager(PDF) - a zwickelbier. The idea was to offer something lighter than the more typical winter fare of doppelbocks, imperials stouts, and the like.

The German zwickelbier, a.k.a. - kellerbier, is an unfiltered pale lager. I think of it as an unfiltered helles with more hops. "Keller" means cellar while a "zwickel" is a little valve on a fermentation tank used to sample the brew. The idea behind the style is that you are drinking very fresh bier from a fermentation tank still sitting in the cellar. Thusly drinking a zwickelbier from a bottle seems to be a bit contradictory to the premise behind the style. And so the treat here is the yeast that remains in the bier as opposed to the freshness. For the record, my White Lager has a date of 13 October 2015 on it. I purchased the six-pack in late November and had my tasting a couple weeks or so later in mid-December.

White Lager pours a dark yellow color. With the yeast not having been removed, the bier is hazy, though just slightly. My understanding is that while zwickelbiers and kellerbiers are essentially two words for the same bier, the zwickel usually has more carbonation. In this case I got a small white crown in my glass that dissipated quickly. However, inside the bier itself were many a bubble.

The aroma was equally fresh bread and grassy hops. Test batches of the brew contained orange peel but I didn't smell any citrus which leads me to believe that this ingredient was left out of the batch or batches that were bottled. While White Lager doesn't have the most complex aroma you'll ever wrap your nostrils around, the breadiness here was rich and inviting.

As it was in the taste. It had that wonderful melanoidin/Maillard reaction toasty bread goodness in spades as well as some yeasty dough flavor as well. I personally love the helles/zwickelbier/kellerbier because it's those toasted grain tastes that are most prominent. White Lager didn't rock the boat with malt sweetness being minimal. The hops were grassy to the tongue but took on a floral side as well which was quite tasty though there was little bitterness. Carbonation added a little dryness in lieu of bitterness.

As the malt fades on the finish, the hops come to the fore. They lose the floral notes and take on Noble spicy ones along with a liberal dose of bitterness making for a rather dry conclusion.

THIS. This was a very tasty bier. I applaud the paucity of sweetness which allows the clean toasted grain flavor to really shine. And it is these melanoidin/Maillard reaction flavors that I crave in bier. The hops give their all and manage to offer a nice balance. I appreciated how they changed through the tasting process taking on floral and spicy qualities at different stages. White Lager is 5.5% A.B.V. and has a rather light body so it's not going to warm you up this winter. On the other hand, I can certainly imagine it as being a crisp, refreshing drink for quaffing after snow shoveling or other outdoor activities.

Junk food pairing: I like potato chips with my zwickelbier. For a traditional take, try some kind of dill-flavored chips. But don't be fooled. White Lager can handle something a bit spicier such as Jay's Hot Stuff chips too.

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Reeling Me In: Take Two Pils by SweetWater Brewing Company



Atlanta's SweetWater Brewing Company began distributing in Illinois back in March of this year. Amidst the interest of having a new brewery's beer to sample came controversy when the flagship store of the Binny's liquor store chain refused to stock SweetWater's winter seasonal, Happy Ending. The issue featured images of a box of facial tissue and a geisha so it was obvious what kind of happy ending was being promoted. While I don't mean to suggest that the issue of sexism in the craft beer industry is unimportant, this episode ended up being a tempest in a teapot. In the end, just the one store refused to stock the bottles.

Still, this episode is all I've heard about SweetWater since their beers started being stocked by our neighbors to the south. Were they just not that good? Or perhaps the brewery was just one more being stuffed into already crowded shelves and coolers. Whatever the reason, SweetWater's beers just didn't seem to be generating much publicity.

Prior to the tasting at hand I'd sampled a brew of theirs while in Alabama a few years ago. I believe it was a 420 but I cannot recall. But now I can easily find their brews on treks to Chicagoland. On a recent visit I picked up a six-pack of SweetWater's Take Two Pils, one of brewery's annual beers.

Take Two pours a brilliant straw color and is quite clear. I expect pilsners to be quite effervescent and this beer exceeded those expectations. My glass was adorned with a huge, firm white head that had staying power. On the inside there was no shortage of bubbles going upwards.

Going into this without knowing much about SweetWater, I was a bit anxious to know if Take Two was going to be an IPL or more akin to a traditional pilsner. The aroma had a wonderfully fresh, pungent hoppiness to it. It leaned towards traditional Noble hops with a very grassy smell that also had a touch of spiciness. But just as I had concluded this would be a tried and true take on the style, I tasted a little bit of citrus in there too. Beneath the hops was a nice, delicate bit of cracker maltiness.

The taste had a similar balance of flavors. The body was fairly light with a clean malt flavor that was like cracker or biscuit with very little sweetness. In contrast there was a goodly amount of hoppiness here with grassy and herbal flavors predominating. But it wasn't just a festival of your typical Noble hop flavors. Sure, there was some pepper but also black tea and a woody flavor too that was like cedar. Presumably I was tasting just what Styrian Golding hops can do. In addition there was a fair amount of bitterness here. SweetWater claims Take Two has 35 I.B.U.s worth but it comes across as being a more bitter beer because of the light body. All of those bubbles in and on the beer also came through in the taste with a nice bubbly mouthfeel.

For the finish the malty flavors faded and the hops took on more spiciness but also a touch of the floral. The crisp hoppiness and the carbonation gave the finish an accute dryness. My glass was lined with Schaumhaftvermoegen galore. There was webbing everywhere connecting several thick splotches of foam. A very pretty conclusion.

I get anxious when a brewery that makes mostly ales, and plenty of hoppy pale ones at that, ventures forth with a pils. Some seem downright perfunctory – a nod and a wink to life beyond the IPA. Any fears I had that SweetWater were in this category were quickly swept away. I was lured in by the fresh hoppy aroma which featured mostly traditional scents. But what got me hooked was the flavorful herbal complexity against a clean, restrained maltiness. Take Two had the perfect hop-malt balance in a pilsner to my taste. There was enough of the cracker for some body and to be a platform for the medley of fresh herbal hop goodness.

Junk food pairing: Pair Take Two with some plain tortilla chips and a milder salsa. Too much heat or sharp chili flavor will detract from the Jenga-like balance of flavors here.

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22 December, 2015

My Date With a Rauchbier: Tinder by Uinta Brewing



Utah's Uinta Brewing began distributing their wares here in Wisconsin earlier this year to, as near as I can tell, relatively little fanfare. Apparently their Hop Nosh IPA enjoys neither widespread adoration nor whale status. I believe that Uinta beer hit store shelves not long after Ballast Point's did so perhaps they suffered from being in the wake of the IPA leviathan.

I must admit that I haven't exactly jumped head-first into the Uinta line-up but I did try their Baba Black Lager over the summer and thought that it was quite tasty. Around the same time I noticed bottles of Tinder on store shelves. A rauchbier? A rauchbier lager?! In addition to be a coveted style, it came in trendy 750ml bottles whose corks were lovingly secured with muselets. Of course I had to try it.

I brought the first bottle I purchased with me to Stevens Point where it was the prelude to a night in which two friends and I polished off a case of Point Especial and then went out to Ella's to drink more Point and play hammerschlagen. From what I can recall of that brief encounter with Tinder, I enjoyed it but wished that it was a bit smokier. Still, it was a nice beer to be drinking on the patio with two old friends on a nice spring evening.

I bought a second bottle with the intention of giving it my strict attention and doing a review. And I have finally gotten around to doing so.

The bottle I emptied (with help from my frau) was filled on 22 January of this year. Fresh this stuff wasn't. Still, I don't feel that it was over the hill and think that it is fair game.

Tinder pours a light amber hue. The bier was turbid, something I don't recall from my first encounter but there are a few things that I do no remember from that day. My pour generated about ¼" of frothy light tan head that dissipated rather quickly. For reasons I cannot explain my notes do not say a word about any effervescence inside the glass.

Upon taking a whiff my nose was hit by a blast of fuliginous fumes that carried the style's trademark bouquet of bacon. Most beers smell good. They have aromas that arouse our Dionysian sides and heighten our anticipation of liquid refreshment. For me, however, rauchbiers take these visceral reactions even further and induce salivation. It's is probably partly the bacon-like scent and partly some Pavlovian conditioning that happened in my past that I don't want to talk about. The upshot here is that I loved Tinder's aroma and I have not yet mentioned the sweet apricot-like scent and the faint grassy hop smell in there as well.

Upon taking a taste my tongue was hit by a wave of hearty smokiness – the promise of bacony goodness fulfilled. This was joined by some malt sweetness that kept the stone fruit theme going with a peachy flavor as well as a more subtle and more toffee-like one. The smoke was most prominent at first. As the bier warmed it and the malt sweetness came in roughly equal doses. And finally the sweetness overtook the smoke as the end the bottle came in sight. The bier never became cloying, however, as there was always a good dose of carbonation to be had.

Malty sweetness lingered on the finish but was joined by some grassy/peppery hop flavor that added dryness but little bitterness. Alas and alack, there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen on my glass.

Uinta notes that the inspiration for this bier came when the owner and the brewmaster were in Germany. This sounded quite familiar and then I recalled that this was also the genesis of Surly's NEIN, a rauch weizen. This being the case I must implore more brewers to visit Germany.

Tinder is a fine bier. It has a fairly light body yet is full of clean malt flavor. The smoke and sweet tastes are very well-balanced here although I must admit that I'd prefer a little less sweetness. If you're familiar with Schlenkerla's Märzen or Urbock then know that Tinder is not as smoky tasting as those biers. However, the smoke is not just used to accent other malt flavors as it is in something like Karben4's NightCall porter. I also really liked how the hops added a little peppery zest and some dryness at the finish to contrast with the big festival of malt. Tinder clocks in at 6.5% A.B.V. and is one of those Goldilocks beers – not too big yet not too light. It has enough malt flavor and booze in it to be hearty yet its light body and dry finish keep it from being cloying or filling. A bier for all seasons.

Junk food pairing: Try some Jay's Hot Stuff potato chips with Tinder. The big paprika taste will complement the rauch perfectly.

Epilogue: I see that there are still bottles of Tinder in Madison. Uinta's website no longer lists it so I assume that the bier has been retired. Not surprising if the large numbers of bottles at Woodman's East and Jenifer Street Market are any indication. Rauchbier fans should get it now and drink as soon as possible.

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A Behemoth of a Beer: Smoke Monster by Black Husky Brewing



Black Husky Brewing made the news earlier this year when it was announced that the tiny northwoods brewery would be moving to Milwaukee from Pembine – pop. ~1 ,000 - up in the northeast corner of the state. At the current facility brewmaster Tim Eichinger brews around 300 barrels per year while the new digs will increase capacity to around 2,000 barrel per year.

Eichinger has vowed to never brew a lager or session beer which, although disappointing, is not particularly surprising. Black Husky's line-up is a sea of big, boozy ales. They have two flagship beers: a pale ale and a double IPA brewed with spruce. I sampled the latter at The Great Taste of the Midwest a few years ago. It was certainly bracing in the mid-August heat. Then last year I saw bottles of Smoke Monster and picked one up. As the name implies, Smoke Monster is a smoke beer. The brew is part of the limited "Beware of the Dog" series which sounds strange because, Black Husky is so small as to make all of their beers limited editions. My bottle has been hibernating in my cellar until very recently when it was called up to be part of my mini-smoke beer marathon.

Smoke Monster pours a deep, dark mahogany. You have to hold up your glass to the light and peer at just the right angle but you'll see. From what I could tell the beer was clear. I got a finger or two of creamy light tan head that dispersed rather quickly. Peering at the glass I saw a lot of bubbles making their way up from the bottom.

The aroma was very fruity with both plum and pear scents. Smoke was underneath and rather subdued for a brew named "Smoke Monster". This is a big beer at 9.9% A.B.V. and it just smelled potent. The moniker became more apt on my first sip upon which my tongue was inundated with a fantastic bacon-like smoke taste. This flavor became less pronounced as I drank more and the beer warmed. As the smoke subsided, sweetness moved to the fore. There was the plum from the aroma but also a more honeyed malt flavor. Mixed in there was a mild tartness that reminded me of apple cider vinegar. This and the carbonation added a gentle acidulousness which I liked.

My guess is that the tartness was an off-flavor and the result of my storage practices. But it was mild and not off-putting to my palate. Indeed, I rather liked how the tartness contrasted with the sweeter tastes.

On the finish the sweet'n'smoke faded and the tartness became more prominent yet remained tasty. I was also able to taste the hops which had grassy and spicy flavors and added some bitterness. And there was also the reminder that this is a potent potable. I could really taste the booze. There wasn't much lacing to be had – only a few spots – as the vast majority of it slid down into the beer.

Smoke Monster made for a nice change of pace from the other smoke beers that I've been drinking lately which have been German styles. This is a sweeter brew with different fruit flavors than the banana-laden weizens of the past couple of weeks. I really enjoyed how the stone fruit and smoke complement one another here. Smoke Monster has a medium body but it drinks bigger than that. This is definitely one to sip leisurely. Sit back and enjoy the changes in the beer as it warms. What begins as a big smoky burst gradually mellows to a smolderingly good foil to the more toothsome flavors.

Junk food pairing: Being a big beer, Smoke Monster can withstand pretty much any food you throw at it. Jerky or snack sticks of any flavor – teriyaki, honey, plain – are a good match as are chips slathered in a sharp Velveeta cheese food product dip.

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21 December, 2015

The Beer Drank a Real Horrorshow: Fresh Hop Citra Pils by August Schell Brewing Company



It is a new tradition but a tradition nonetheless for Schell's Jace Marti to brew a single hop pilsner every autumn with freshly harvested hops. From what I've gleaned from the Interwebs, it appears that the practice began in 2012 when Marti brewed a Citra pils for the brewery's Stag Series, a line of limited edition brews. Apparently the experiment went well enough that Schell created a new series of biers called Fresh Hop the following year to continue the experiment. After Mosaic and Equinox hops getting the call the past couple of years, we are back to Citra hops for 2015.

Since the Fresh Hop biers are pilsners, they fit into Schell's "German Craft" ethos while also catering to hopheads who cannot get enough of newer American hop varieties. This year's bier was shipped out in October although I did not get my mitts on some until this month. This is partly due to Schell biers taking a while to arrive in Madison as well as my own laziness in going to Riley's which seems to be the only (or perhaps, closest) place in Madison that carries Fresh Hop. So, while my sample of this year's bounty may not be the freshest Fresh Hop ever, I still think I quaffed it in a reasonable time frame.

This year's Fresh Hop pours a lovely straw color and is quite clear. My pour produced a substantial creamy white head and there were oodles and oodles of bubbles inside making their way up from the bottom of my (pilsner) glass.

The Citra hop variety is relatively new having come onto the market in 2007. As the name implies it is known for citrus elements in its aroma and flavor. When I took a sniff of Fresh Hop, I found it rather lacking in citrus. It was there, but very restrained. I thought that floral and grass aromas dominated. The malt was also detected by my proboscis in the form of a crackery smell. Sehr gut!

Those grassy and floral aromas were also in the bier's taste. And as with the aroma, citrus notes were present but very much in the background. While the hop flavors were prominent, hop bitterness was not. The malt was mainly a cracker flavor but there was also a bit of bready sweetness that seemed to highlight the floral hop taste. As you'd expect from a pilsner, the overall taste was clean. Carbonation added some sparkle and dryness.

For the finish the hops lost their floral quality and the grassy taste was joined by some spicy hoppiness. There was also more bitterness here which made for a nice dry ending. My pilsner glass was teeming with Schaumhaftvermoegen and was lined with lots of thick webbing. Gorgeous. This aftermath made it look like I did some work or some such thing.

One nice thing about Fresh Hop (and other similar beers) is that you get an intimate experience with a single hop. Granted, this bier was lagered for about a month so it is definitely a different gustatory experience than a Citra-hopped IPA right out of the barrel. Still, you also get a very different experience from your normal Nobly-hopped pils.

And my experience was quite positive. I love the Fresh Hop series! Brewed as a more restrained German pils as opposed to the more robust Czech version, you get a nice clean maltiness with hops that demand your attention but don't threaten to overwhelm. This bier has a light, bubbly body that allows the Citra hop flavor to shine. And I did like the Citra. I really enjoyed the floral flavor yet also how the finish was traditional pils territory with a more Noble set of flavors and customary dryness.

Junk food pairing: German pilsners are rather delicate – not frail! – biers and they should be paired with lighter fare. Try some Vegetable Thins crackers dipped in Cheez Whiz sauce or topped with the American cheese flavored Easy Cheese.

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This Bier Has Been Censored: Cranberry Alvarez by MobCraft Beer



I was a bit hesitant buying this bier, I must admit. MobCraft is one for two on the weizen front to my taste. Don't get me wrong, Batshit Crazy is a very tasty beer, in my humble opinion - the folks at MobCraft are not untalented. And that the other beers of theirs that I've had range from awful to good is not a hanging offense. But none of their brews really jump out at me as having that special, ineffable something that makes any of them extraordinary. Sometimes I get the impression that the brewery spends too much time brewing the often novelty crowd-sourced beers that they're known for.

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that MobCraft quit fielding ideas for beers from the unwashed masses. You gotta dance with the one that brung ya, after all. However, I do feel that MobCraft's beers are largely middle-of-the-road and sometimes I wonder what would happen if they were forced to brew straight-up beers. I am going to review a hefeweizen here. Can MobCraft brew a good hefeweizen without tea, fruit, or elements of a gose? I don't know and MobCraft don't seem eager to try. With most of their beers being very hoppy, barrel-aged, having coffee, vanilla, fruit, and so on, it's hard to gauge the level of talent that MobCraft has.

Let's move onto Cranberry Alvarez which was renamed Cranberry Censored for reasons unknown to me. Presumably Barry Alvarez or another bigwig at the UW was unamused.

Cranberry Alvarez pours a dull light red. The dullness is the result of the bier's cloudiness which, in turn, is the result of proteins from the wheat. I got a big pink head on my pour. It was one of those stiffies – a rigid head that you get a little bit of with each sip but there will be a bit of left when all the liquid is gone. There were oodles of bubbles coming up from the bottom of the glass. I thought it was a nice looking bier.

Wisconsin leads the nation in growing cranberries and I'm going to assume that MobCraft used native fruit in this bier. If this is the case, then Cranberry Alvarez's aroma smacks of Wisconsin with a wonderful tart cranberry bouquet accompanied by some wheat/bread in there too. The hefeweizen is often a well-carbonated bier and Cranberry Alvarez is no exception. It's a light and bubbly bier with some nice cranberry tartness hitting the spot. But I could taste only a little grain and even less of the trademark yeast flavors which here was a shade of banana. Overall the bier was thin. As it warmed some grapefruit hop flavor came out (the Mosaic hops, I presume).

The finish was quite dry with the lingering cranberry tartness joined by the carbonation and moderate grassy hop flavor and a fair amount of bitterness. My glass was lined with webs of Schaumhaftvermoegen which made for a pretty ending.

While I liked the cranberry in Cranberry Alvarez, the bier was watery. There was very little of the expected phenolic flavors, although I give them a modicum of credit for using yeast that gave more pungent banana flavors than clove ones. If not tasting much like a hefeweizen is this bier's cardinal sin, then its venial one is being overly hoppy, especially on the finish. To me, hops in a hefeweizen should basically be also-rans. The style is about a wheat/malt stage to showcase the flavors born of the yeast. Even lacking the latter, I think the hoppiness present would have interfered with a fully armed and operationa hefeweizen.

Junk food pairing: Pair Cranberry Alvarez with some trail mix. A little salt to help bring out the subdued grain taste and some dried fruit sweetness to make up for the lackluster yeast flavors.

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A Rauch Weizen from Minnesota? Oh Yaah, Doncha Know, Hey: NEIN by Surly Brewing Company



Wowzers! Zwei rauch dunkelweizens in one week. Life is good.

From Surly Brewing in the Twin Cities comes NEIN, an imperial smoked dunkelweizen brewed to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the brewery. Apparently Surly brews a big beer every years to celebrate their founding.

NEIN keeps up that tradition with its 10% A.B.V. According to Surly, the inspiration for the bier came "from a trip that head brewer Todd Haug took to Bamberg to visit the Weyermann (Malting) facility." That facility is in Bamberg, Germany, the epicenter of that most luscious of libations, rauchbier. In addition to the smoke malt, NEIN was aged on charred oak for extra flavor before being put into 750ml bottles. In terms of potency and volume, this is definitely a bier to share.

It pours a deep, dark amber that appears brown in your glass. Holding my glass to the light, NEIN appeared, oddly enough, to be clear. I guess it's a rauchdunkelkristallweizen. How do you like that for a compound noun? As I held my glass up, I noticed a goodly number of bubbles moving upwards towards the rather small dark tan head that sat atop the bier. The crown disappeared with some haste.

Every time I review a weizen I feel obliged to confess that I prefer that banana flavors from the yeast prevail over ones that are more like clove or bubble gum. Thusly I am always a bit apprehensive when trying a weissbier because, if notes of clove are dominant then I feel disappointed. I won't pour the stuff down the drain or any such thing but that bier is, fairly or not, stigmatized in my eyes. Luckily NEIN had an aroma that was chock-full of those banana-smelling phenols. In addition there was a pronounced smokiness that was redolent of bacon and a woody smell that reminded me of sherry.

That wonderful banana-bacon combination came through in the taste as well. What a divine pairing of flavors! I've seen more than a few people take one sip of a rauchbier, not enjoy it, and then denounce the whole concept of smoke beer. But I find that the more I drink a rauchbier, the less assertive the smoke becomes. NEIN has a pronounced smoke flavor but it steps back the more you drink ceding space on the tongue to vanilla and woody flavors. The woodiness in the flavor is less vinous than it was in the aroma. Here it's more like oak. Carbonation added a kiss of dryness atop it all.

NEIN finishes much drier than I thought it would with the banana-smoke fading as hops with a grassy/spicy flavor but a modicum of bitterness take over. I also tasted the boozy warmth of this big bier for the first time in the finish. Lastly, the woody/sherry element turned back towards sherry here. Curiously enough, there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

As someone who is rather ambivalent about Surly, I must admit that NEIN was ausgezeichnet! It is a bier deserving of a snifter and your time. The medium body is slightly deceptive as the bier holds a medley of big, bold flavors. Each sip unfolds like a narrative with yeasty phenols melding with smoky malts at first. Then they are joined by woody notes from the aging vessel until a gustatory climax is reached. At the denouement hops prevail along with a satisfying boozy warmth that lingers as you enjoy the fellowship of those with whom you share this heady elixir.

Junk food pairing: NEIN is big bier with assertive flavors. Find yourself some chipotle potato chips – the thicker, the better. The gentle smoke of the chips will accent the smokiness of the bier. On the sweeter side, drink NEIN with Nilla Wafers or their generic equivalent. The vanilla flavor goes well with the bier's woody flavors and the vanilla-like ones from the arboreal aging process.

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18 December, 2015

A Beer CAMRA Could Love?: Madagascar Vanilla Mild Ale by 3rd Sign Brewery



Waunakee's (the only Waunakee in the world, don’t forget) Octopi Brewing opened its door back in October. The brewery is the brain-child of Isaac Showaki, co-founder and former co-owner of Chicago's 5 Rabbit Cervecería. When that situation went south, Showaki headed north to the Madison area. His experiences with contract brewing while at 5 Rabbit left something of sour taste in his mouth and he was determined not to let other brewers suffer as he did. Hence Octopi which aims to be there for brewers who need extra capacity yet don’t' want to sacrifice quality.

3rd Sign Brewery is Octopi's house brand which demonstrates the brewer's abilities to prospective customers while also establishing a foot hold in the microbrew market. 3rd Sign refers to the third sign in the Zodiac, Gemini. With a twins motif, 3rd Sign brews beer in pairs and so their initial releases were a brace of IPAs and one of English mild ales, each with a slightly different twist than its sibling.

I give Showaki, brewmaster Michael Krause, and marketing director Adam Vavrick credit for brewing a style, the mild ale, that very few in Madison seem to give a rat's ass about. Indeed, the only person I know that gets really excited at the mention of English beers is a friend who spent a year in the UK during college. (You can lead him around by the nose with the mere promise of London Pride.)

My ignorance of English brewing history and tradition far outweighs my knowledge of it. For a primer on the mild check out Ron Pattinson's blog post "A Short History of the Mild". On my to-read list is Martyn Cornell's Amber, Gold, & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers. While Messrs. Pattinson and Cornell can give you the straight dope on the style, I think of the mild as a low-alcohol dark beer that emphasizes maltiness but with enough hop bitterness and flavor to remind you that there are indeed hops in the brew.

Madagascar features vanilla from the eponymous island nation while it's sibling, Sumatra, is instilled with coffee from its island nation. My wife has taken a shine to Madagascar so we've had bottles of the stuff around the house since it was introduced last month. I finally got around to trying one relatively recently.

The beer pours a dark amber color, so dark, that it was close to being opaque. Putting my glass up to the light it appeared to be clear. I got maybe one finger's worth of khaki froth atop the beer. It didn't seem to be particular effervescent as I observed no bubbles inside. But, as I have mentioned, the beer is very dark.

My nose caught a pungent whiff of vanilla at first sniff. I became a bit worried that this was going to be the equivalent of a DIPA with Madagascar scoring above 100 on the International Vanilla Units scale. Subsequent inhalations revealed some nutty aromas and woody ones too. Bringing up the rear was a hint of toffee.

On my first sip the vanilla was quite pronounced but it mellowed as I drank more. I was surprised at the body which was heavier than I expected. Then I read the label which said that lactose sugar had been added. In addition to body, I think the lactose had a large hand in giving Madagascar its very smooth mouthfeel. On the other hand, it didn't seem to add much sweetness to the flavor. There were some toothsome toffee and apple flavors, however. Grain provided roastiness plus there was oaky flavor too. Despite not seeing much effervescence inside the glass, the carbonation was evident on the tongue. Hoppiness was mild with some faint strains of grassy flavors and little attendant bitterness.

Those hops built up on the finish as the vanilla faded. Never assertive, there was just enough hops to add that nice grassy flavor along with some dryness. The lacing on my glass was wonderful with webbing all over the place.

Madagascar is 4.5% A.B.V. which makes it rather heady for the style. I would have loved to have seen 3rd Sign produce a mild at 3.5-4% to A) see how much flavor could be packed in there and B) just to go against the prevailing attitude in craft beer which is that more is more. (650+ I.B.U.s! Double! Imperial!) My dashed hopes aside, Madagascar is very tasty.

I cannot recommend to prospective drinkers enough to let this beer warm a bit after you pull it out of the refrigerator because it transmogrifies into one pukka brew. The vanilla, while sticking out like a sore thumb initially, eventually integrated itself into the woody and roasted grain flavors of the malt. Those malt flavors become more pronounced while the milk sugar softens and smooths the beer's body. The hops perk up too but never oust the vanilla from pride of place.

Junk food pairing: Despite the vanilla, Madagascar is still something of an unassuming beer. Thusly I recommend less ostentatious accompaniment. Go with some plain potato or corn chips. Dips should be kept at bay, if possible, though guacamole might work.

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When In the German South, Smoke Gets in Your Mouth: Roog by BraufactuM



Today we have another rauchbier from Germany that I purchased on a recent trip to Chicago: Roog, by BraufactuM. Roog is a rauch weizen while Braufactum, whose motto is "Das Craft Bier", seems to be a subsidiary of Radeberger which is the largest brewing company in Germany as of whenever the websites I found saying as much were published. That makes BraufactuM the Teutonic equivalent of Blue Moon or Shock Top, I suppose. The off-shoot seems to have come into existence back in 2010 with their biers making it to these shores three years later.

I admit to knowing little to nothing about the German brewing industry. However, this doesn't stop me from speculating. American craft brewing seems to have made its mark (ahem) in Germany. This combined with declining bier consumption must be making the big German brewers a bit nervous. Not only has Radeberger created a microbrewing subsidiary, but so has another large German brewing concern, Bitburger. Their subsidiary Craftwerk, goes beyond the pale (lager) and into American territory with hoppy pale ales as does BraufactuM. And no, I don't know why the terminal "m" is capitalized.

My mostly baseless speculation aside, I am happy to support some German brewers if they're going to leave me with more rauchbiers at my disposal.

Roog (no idea what that means) pours a lovely deep mahogany. Holding my glass to the light, the bier appeared to have the characteristic weissbier cloudiness. A crown of about a ¼ inch of tan frothiness topped my bier. It lasted about a minute before disappearing.

This bier had one of the best aromas I've ever encountered in a brew: it smelled just like banana bread. Well, smoky banana bread. Mind you, that bacony smokiness was very mild here in the aroma. Mostly it was mouth-watering banana bread. As someone who is more enamored of banana flavors in weissbier than of clove-like ones, I took this to be a good portent.

While the bier didn't taste like banana bread, it did have that banana phenol flavor. Joining the yeasty contribution were a moderate smokiness, some wheat/grain, and some unexpected sweetness. The bier is brewed with caramel malt and caramel wheat which surely explains the latter. There is also dark wheat in the grain bill and it blended with the smoky flavor well. Smoke flavor in beer is rather divisive. People tend to either enjoy it or loathe it. I am of the former but must say that the rauch here has been tempered. This is nowhere near as rauchy as Schlenkerla's Weizen. Folks in that small group who are in the middle about rauchbiers will likely find a friend in Roog.

The smoke and banana flavors faded at the finish which allowed the hops to come through. They had a herbal/grassy flavor which wasn't overly bitter yet, in concert with carbonation, they made for a fairly dry ending.

In a word: ausgezeichnet! Roog has a medium-light body (yet weighs in at 6.6% A.B.V.) that handles the myriad of flavors here very well. I loved how the smoke and banana flavors, present in roughly equal measures, did this graceful pas de deux on my tongue. They just mixed perfectly. One may take the lead but then it would hang back and let its partner do so. In addition, there was just enough sweetness to enhance to the yeast flavors while dark wheat complemented the smoke flavor with hints of coffee. Sheer gustatory joy.

Junk food pairing: Pair Roog with Snyder's Bacon Cheddar Pretzel Pieces to accentuate the smoky aspects of this bier. You can also can stuff some dark chocolate covered pretzels in your maw to complement the banana flavor. Alternate them or, if you're brave, eat both at once and see what happens.

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16 December, 2015

We All Came Out to Bamberg, On the Regnitz River Shoreline: Helles Schlenkerla Lager by Schlenkerla



It will be difficult, if not impossible, for me to maintain any sense of objectivity here. You see, I adore rauchbiers and the rauch helles is something of a rarity here in Madison. The luscious, er…let's try that again. What I mean is…Helles Schlenkerla Lager can be found on tap at Freiburg Gastropub or it was when I was last there a couple of months ago. Whenever I've gone there and had a Schlenkerla helles, it's always been a bit like how I imagined it must have been for those culinary aesthetes who got to sample woolly mammoth steak at that infamous fancy dinner back in the 1950s.

OK, so Helles Schlenkerla Lager is not exactly rare and exotic like mammoth meat. But it isn't commonly available here in bottles. (On a side note, I highly suspect that the bottles of Schlenkerla's other biers over at the east side Woodman's date back to a time when woolly mammoth roamed the land.) Microbrewers don't seem to have rushed to fill the void either. Lakefront did brew and bottle the fantastic Luther a few years ago but that's the last time I recall an American rauch helles hitting store shelves here in Madison. And so a recent trek to Chicagoland saw me in a Binny's on Black Friday where I snagged the last bottle of this precious elixir. I guess all those Bourbon County Stout buyers grabbed a Helles Schlenkerla Lager for good measure.

If you've read this far and are still wondering what a Helles Schlenkerla Lager is, then let me tell you. It is one of the tastiest things in the known universe. A helles is a light Bavarian lager known for its easy going maltiness and a light hopping regimen. This iteration from the fine folks at the Schlenkerla brewery in Bamberg, Germany ups the tastiness quotient by adding smoke, a.k.a. - rauch. This bier uses not the normal smoked malts but rather the same yeast slurry used in brewing their other rauchbiers which are flush with the pungent earthy, clove-y, savory flavor of broken down lignins.

Helles Schlenkerla Lager pours a lovely clear yellow which belies the tantalizing smokiness within. My pour produced a nice ivory head of about a quarter inch. It dissipated fairly quickly leaving behind a thin film of foam on top of the bier which had just a few bubbles inside making their way upwards.

Rauch is the order of the day for the bier's aroma. But the smoky temptress granted her favors in moderation and it was not like having a pound of bacon underneath your nose. There was some bread to be had as well as an unexpected hint of fruitiness that was reminiscent of a Kölsch. Sort of berry-like yet also akin to grapes or verjuice. The smoke is doled out judiciously in the flavor as well in the aroma. Its goodness is omnipresent but it never seeks to overpower. Indeed, the bier's clean grain/biscuit flavor, the sine qua non of the helles, was never in doubt. The malty contributions were joined by some grassy hop flavor though not very much bitterness. There's just enough carbonation for an ephemeral kiss of dryness.

The bier finishes with the smoke fading and hops taking its place. Grassy flavor is joined by some spiciness along with just a touch more bitterness. Just enough hops to take the malt edge off while never drifting into dryness. Upon emptying my glass, I found it lined with some fine Schaumhaftvermoegen. There was beautiful webbing all around the glass from stem to stern.

I hope to be drinking one of these beers at Schlenkerla in Bamberg soon. Until then I will suffer with bottles of indeterminate age imported from that city via Chicago. Still, Helles Schlenkerla Lager is one of my favorite biers. It has a fairly light body yet manages to be equally adept at being an easy going thirst quencher and something a bit more substantial. I think it does this by keeping the smoke, biscuity grain, and hop flavors all in more or less equal proportions. There's nothing extreme going on here but rather the merging of crisp, clean flavors into a perfect zymurgilogical gestalt.

Junk food pairing: Pair Helles Schlenkerla Lager with a meat flavored potato chip like hot dog or, if you can find it, bratwurst. For a special treat, try it with some chocolate-covered marzipan.

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15 December, 2015

Spröcketbier Black Rye Kölsch by Stone Brewing Company



Stone helpfully put the words "DRINK FRESH" on this bottle in nice, friendly letters. Sadly, I did not heed their admonishment and I thank my lucky stars that there was no enjoy by date on the bottle to really induce a guilt trip. I gave my beer cellar a thorough sorting this past weekend and came across several beers that shouldn't have been cellaring. Alas, some were too far gone and met a less than dignified fate. Thankfully, some of the beers, while past their primes, were still drinkable. This is one such brew and here is its story.

Spröcketbier won the first Stone Spotlight Series competition. I am not exactly sure what this competition entailed but, since the architects of this brew are both employees of Stone, I presume it was some kind of intramural thing. The beer was released in the spring of 2014. I honestly am not sure when I purchased it but I can say that it has been in my basement ever since hidden away from the damaging rays of the refulgent orb in the sky.

Spröcketbier is a black rye Kölsch the likes of which I am sure would throw the signatories to The Kölsch Convention into apoplectic fits. It's bad enough to add rye to the bier but to compound the horror by making it black is surely beyond the pale, so to speak. Personally I think it sounds amazing even if I am to sample but a shadow of the beer's former glory.

The stuff appears as the Stygian gloom of an H.P. Lovecraft story in a glass. Sure, if you hold it to the light just right you can see that it's a deep chestnut but, if approached like a normal person, the bier is black and opaque like the heart of Cthulhu himself. My unsuspecting stange, accustomed to white, pillowy heads instead got about a quarter inch of tan foam. It dissipated rather quickly. I saw no bubbles inside the bier. On the other hand, my vision was unable to penetrate the murk. It seemed so very odd to think that this was a Kölsch and not a schwarzbier or stout. But it was in a stange so it had to be a Kölsch, right?

Before I proceed I'd like to remind the reader that this bier was from 2014 and beyond its prime. How would this bier have tasted if I had heeded Stone's advice and drank it fresh? I'll never know. Thusly I am like a beer archaeologist, uncovering old beer and trying to piece together how it tasted when it was young all those years ago.

Spröcketbier's aroma was redolent of a stout with roasted grain smells most prominent including coffee. There were also some hops here that were mild and grassy. It seems likely that, when fresh, these hops would have been much more pungent. Although Spröcketbier looks not unlike motor oil, it has a medium body that leaned towards the lighter side. The roasted grain and coffee from the aroma were present in the taste as was a slight smokiness. I could taste the spiciness offered by the rye as well, though it was the flavors of the darker malts that carried the day. Kölsch biers are known for a certain fruitiness from the unique yeast used in fermentation. I taste it as being berry-like and I was happily surprised to be able to taste it amongst all the grain flavors. It was a mild flavor but it was there. Rounding things out were a bit more of those grassy hops, which were not very bitter, and some carbonation.

The coffee flavor faded on the finish to a moderate bitterness courtesy of the carbonation and the hops which had some spiciness added to the grassy flavor. My stange was left with only a few specks of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Despite this bier's age, it didn't taste oxidized. Stone says it has 40 I.B.U.s, well had, which would put it in the range of a Czech pilsner. My bier certainly wasn't that bitter as one would expect. Nonetheless I very much enjoyed Spröcketbier as I love the flavors of rye as well as darker malts. To best of my knowledge, the rye flavor wouldn’t have diminished with age so I will opine that even more spicy rye goodness would have been optimal. On the other hand, I would guess that the fruitiness of a Kölsch fades as the bier ages. I suspect that fresh Spröcketbier would have been a fairly intense brew with some big roasted grain flavors taking on a liberal dose of hop bitterness as the rye and yeast fruitiness did their best to accommodate them.

Junk food pairing: Normally the Kölsch is a bright, crisp bier with delicate malt and fruity yeast flavors. Spröcketbier is more like that bier's darker, Falstaffian cousin. Ergo it can stand up to heartier fare such as Flame Grilled Steak Ruffles or Herr's Baby Back Ribs chips.

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14 December, 2015

Selling Lager By the Pound: #Poundsign - A Trendy Lager by Against the Grain & Stillwater Artisanal Ales



It is very odd but there is precious little on the Interwebs about this beer. Granted, I haven't perused the entire thing but I shouldn't have to subscribe to NexusLexis, right?

What I can say is that #Poundsign – A Trendy Lager was brewed at Against the Grain's brewery in Louisville along with Stillwater Artisanal Ales who made the trip from Baltimore, apparently. Beyond this I'm in terra incognita. I am not familiar with either brewery nor can I say that I've ever tasted beer from either of them. And so am uniquely unqualified to judge where #Poundsign fits into the overall scheme of things for AtG or Stillwater. Useless as tits on a nun, I know.

From what I can tell, the beer came out in August and I purchased a single can at Steve's Liquor on University rather recently for too much money. I suspect the high price was due to this being a beer brewed in limited quantities but also because of the color photo reproduced on the can.

#Poundsign pours a burnished light yellow color. This along with its clarity gave me the impression that I was looking at a glass of American pale lager that was trendy in the same way PBR is trendy. Where were my tight jeans and ironic mustache? As you can see my pour produced a big white head that was both pillowy and ephemeral. There was a paucity of bubbles going up the glass.

My nose found the aroma to be rather simple, yet delectable. There was a little bit of grain but a lot of bright floral hoppiness. That I did not expect. An ironic PBR-eque statement this was not. Upon tasting it I found it had a light body like an American pale lager (it's quite sessionable at 4% A.B.V.) with a mild cracker-like grain taste which also featured some subtle corn in there too. The hops were prominent just like on the nose though the floral flavor was joined by more citrusy ones. It brought the flavor of Amarillo hops to mind but I cannot find anything indicating what hops were actually used in the beer. Regardless it had a really clean, sprightly flavor, abetted by carbonation, that made me feel bad that I was drinking it in December instead of August.

On the finish those floral hops faded and were replaced by more bitter ones that tasted grassy and spicy which dried out the finish. Schaumhaftvermoegen consisted of but a few thin streaks here and there.

The floral and citrus hop flavors really surprised me. #Poundsign had a great, fresh hop taste to it. They brought with them very little bitterness, however. In a feat of lupulin agility, #Poundsign did a 180 at the finish with more Noble-tasting ones coming through to give the beer a whole different spin. It made for a tasty change of pace.

Junk food pairing: Pair #Poundsign with some Kettle Brand Salt and Pepper potato chips. The salt will enhance the malt flavor of the beer while the pepper will initially provide some nice contrast and then meld into the Noble hop flavor on the finish.

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Everybody Got to Deviate From the Norm: Pimock by Freigeist Bierkultur



Sadly, this marks the final Freigeist brew for me to review. For the moment, anyway. This last bier is one of the more experimental brews from Freigeist. It isn't a traditional bier dragged from obscurity into the 21st century nor is it a familiar bier tweaked a little bit. Pimock ("outsider") is labeled as a Rhineland Weizen. What is a Rhineland Weizen?

Freigeist may have invented a new style here. It takes the familiar Bavarian hefeweizen and turns it on its head by infusing it with the spirit of Cologne. (Cologne being the brewery's home town and in the Rhineland.) Instead of the normal yeast which imparts the characteristic banana and clove flavors, Freigeist uses Kölsch yeast to impart a whole new taste. The bier also has more hops than a normal weizen.

Pimock pours a lovely amber color – a bit darker than the typical hefeweizen. Like its Bavarian cousin, this bier is cloudy with all that yeast still floating about. My glass had a nice tan head of about ½ inch which stuck around and made for a pretty sight. There wasn't much in the way of bubbles going up, though.

It is said that the most important sex organ is the brain. Likewise the most important olfactory and gustatory organ must also be our gray matter. One's experience with a beer depends on many factors. Are you drinking in a social setting? Or are you alone? What mood are you in? What do you have a taste for at that moment? For example, Miller High Life is not my cup of tea yet it can taste really good when offered to me after I've been working outside on a hot day.

I mention this because I had one of those psych-out moments with Pimock. I put my glass to my nose and inhaled a nice malty smell that was like bread as well as corn. The aroma had a fruity sweetness to it which at first was like apricot to my nose. Then I began to think about how this is a Rhineland weizen so there won't be any of those banana/clove phenols. And just at that moment I started to smell banana. My brain just couldn't help itself. I don't care if you've achieved Elder God Cicerone status – your brain will play tricks on you. That Platonic idea of bier will always be just out of reach and we're stuck arguing about shadows on the tavern wall.

At this point my ability to smell had been compromised so I moved onto the taste. As you can imagine, there was a prominent wheat/bread taste to Pimock. Then came a fruity sweetness just as in the aroma. Thankfully my senses weren't seeing, smelling, and tasting bananas everywhere by this point. The fruity flavor here was like peach and nectarine to my tongue. There were definitely more hops here than in the typical weizen but you won't mistake Pimock for an IPx. I could taste a pleasing amount of peppery/grassy hops but there was little accompanying bitterness.

On the finish the grain flavors subsided allowing more of that hop flavor to come through. It took on a rather spicy edge here which added a good dose of dryness. On my glass was some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen with a slew of narrow streaks around it.

While the use of Kölsch yeast here is novel, it was really the hoppiness that caught my attention the most. I really enjoyed how the peppery hops contrasted with the stone fruit sweetness here. These two flavors simply went together well. Pimock has a light body and is 5.3% A.B.V. which seems in line with Bavarian weissbiers. It drinks a lot like its Bavarian counterpart except that I found Pimock to be less carbonated so it's missing that bubbly mouthfeel typical of weissbiers of the south.

Junk food pairing: Pimock will benefit from pairing with Mexican. Try some lime-chili puffed corn chips or jalapeno-tinged Cheetos.

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Ridin' On a Ghost Train: Geisterzug by Freigeist Bierkultur



I have another bier from Freigiest Bierkultur here - Geisterzug, a spruced traditional gose. "Geisterzug" means "ghost train" and I'm not altogether sure what the name means. My guess is that since "geist" means "ghost" in addition to "spirit", it's a reference to the brewery. And the train part refers to Bayerischer Bahnhof, one of the last remaining gose breweries in Leipzig which is located in a former train station. This just can't be right so, if anyone out there knows the truth of the matter, please do divulge.

The building on the label is the Völkerschlachtdenkmal or Monument to the Battle of the Nations which commemorates Napoleon’s deafeat in 1813 at the Battle of Leipzig. Presumably this is the building that the city is famous for and the one everyone knows. A bit like the Capitol here in Madison, I would imagine.

And seeing that building the (German) drinker will presumably realize that the style is associated with Leipzig which indeed the gose is. Freigeist claims that Geisterzug is "Based on a recipe dating back at least six hundred years" and I have no reason to doubt this. Bayerischer Bahnhof brewed some spruce gose some of which made it to Madison this year. I had a glass at Hop Cat although someone at Freiburg Gastropub said that they too would be getting a barrel. That version was very tasty. The bier itself was heavier than an unadulterated gose with a deeper yellow color that was almost gold. Its bigger body played host to a big spruce kick. Unexpected but delicious.

I could tell that Freigeist's take was not going to be as bold. It poured a yellow hue that was turbid. This dull yellow bier may not win any beauty contests but was redeemed aesthetically with a big, firm, white head that was in no hurry to go away. I spied a few bubbles going up the glass but that was it.

The aroma was Himmely with a spalsh of lactic lemon scent that melded perfectly with the resiny spruce. Underneath these more piquant smells was a bit of cracker graininess. This was an appropriate prelude to the taste. My tongue caught the citrus/lemon tartness first. It was not a big blast of sour but instead provided a nicely tempered zestiness. Considering the bier's color and light body, I was surprised at the relatively prominent bready flavor here that was tinged with just a hint of sweetness. The spruce was, like the tartness, moderate, but it certainly helped to maintain a balance amongst the various tastes.

Malt flavors come to the fore towards the finish but quickly fade and yield to a new trinity of sour, spruce, and a newcomer – herbal hoppiness. There isn't much bitterness, mind you. These elements are well-balanced although that resiny spruce taste lingers long after the other flavors have gone. My glass had some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen with some thick webbing to be had.

Fantastisch! Geisterzug was very easy drinking yet the grains weren't hidden in the background. I think this was due in large part to the salt. There was enough of a malt backbone to play the foil to the tartness and spruce which were not overwhelming and complemented one another very well. Coriander was minimal, however, and seemed to get lost in the spruce. The trinity of grain, spruce, and sour were in perfect balance here. These flavors were given enough room to breathe yet never dominated one another. This moderation and harmony of flavors meant that I had no problem quaffing the half litre bottle by myself.

Junk food pairing: Try some Cheez-It Duoz Smoked Cheddar & Monterey Jack crackers with Geisterzug. Alternatively, the bier will pair well with sausages so hot dog flavored potato chips are a good match as well.

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13 December, 2015

A Taste of Mexico

When I moved to Madison, Mexican food cuisine was mostly Pedro's, Chi-Chi's, and Taco Bell. The only sign of remotely authentic Mexican food was a small grocery store at Fair Oaks and Milwaukee. Thankfully that situation has changed. Dramatically. You can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a Mexican restaurant that is at least decent. And there are several Mexican grocery stores here now too. One of the great things about this is that I can get a fine bowl of pozole in Madison now.

Today, despite it being the warmest December day since the end of the Little Ice Age and me not having a drop of Mexican blood, I made a pot of the luscious hominy and pork stew. It turned out rather well, if I do say so myself.

Here it is simmering away:



My plate of toppings. Nothing like some fresh jalapeño in chilly weather.



And here it is being served:



This was the first time I'd ever made pozole and I'm happy with how it turned out. I think the next time I make it I'd like to use either homemade chili powder assembled with some quality spices from Penzeys or a similar place. Or basically any chili powder that costs more than $0.99 for a few ounces. In my defense, I did use some good quality cumin.

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11 December, 2015

The Still Waters of Colgone Run Deep: Ottekolong by Freigeist Bierkultur



Sadly, my basement will soon be bereft of biers from the free-spirited brewers of Freigeist Bierkultur in whose mission is to liberate the German palate from the chains of industrial brewing conglomerates. They do this by mining Germany's rich brewing history and devising brews that at times respect lost traditions and embrace the microbrewing revolution at others. Sometimes their biers do both at once.

Today we have Ottekolong ("Eau de Cologne"), an unfiltered Kölsch. Since Freigeist is located in Köln (Cologne), it was their destiny to brew one, the city's official bier style. I wonder how this bier is marketed in its hometown, if indeed it is. "Kölsch" is an appellation reserved for biers from a select group of breweries in and around Köln. Since Ottekolong does not conform to the specifications of the style and is not brewed by a signatory to The Kölsch Convention , they must label it in such a way to escape the scrutiny of the bier polizei. Wie sagt man "Kölsch-style" auf Deutsch?

Ottekolong pours a lovely gold hue. In a violation of The Kölsch Convention it is unfiltered and therefore a bit hazy. My stange had a small ivory head that dissipated quickly while there was a fair amount of bubbly action inside the glass.

As one would expect, the aroma had abundant cracker and toasted grains smells along with the style's characteristic fruitiness from its unique yeast strain. But there was a Noble hop presence as well that was grassy and slightly peppery too. Although Ottekolong has a light body, the clean, grainy taste was a bit richer here than in the Reissdorf, Früh, and Gaffel that I've had. This was balanced by some carbonation and those hops which were also grassy and peppery to my taste. The fruitiness was quite subdued here with the hops looming over it, especially the peppery notes.

Those hops became a little spicier on the finish which, along with the carbonation, made for a nice, moderately dry ending. Most of the Schaumhaftvermoegen slid into the bier leaving behind just a few dots of foam.

Ottekolong was basically everything you could want in a Kölsch. It was very refreshing with its light body (4.8% A.B.V.) and some nice bubbliness. Still, it was not short on flavor. The malt was substantial enough for a good, solid cracker flavor yet it didn't weigh on my tongue. I'd have loved it if there was a bit more fruitiness but, as it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the peppery hop flavor. It wasn't overpowering but rather it turned Ottekolong into a more spicy/savory take on the Kölsch than I am used to. The real shame is that I drank this bier in December instead of June.

Junk food pairing: Ottekolong is light yet hearty enough to take on a variety of junk foods. For example, it will pair well with the sweet heat of Pringles Xtra Fiery Sweet BBQ or the savory goodness of their Cheeseburger chips.

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10 December, 2015

I Drank Beer From Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Itasca - What a Bonanza!: Continental Lager by Church Street Brewing Company



The Church Street Brewing Company is likely not the first brewery mentioned when you ask about Chicago area purveyors of fine suds. Revolution, Half Acre, Pipeworks – these breweries and their hoppy brews enjoy good reputations and are often in the Chicagoland beer limelight. But Church Street, in suburban Itasca, has been grabbing my attention the past couple of years on treks to Chicago area liquor stores. This is mainly because A) the brewery opened in 2012 and B) I noticed that their take on my beloved helles is available year-round. As their website says, brewmaster Joe Gregor's "true love lies in German lagers".

Church Street does not join Metropolitan in the ranks of pure lager breweries or brew only German styles but their roster is weighted towards those styles. And I am unsure if I even have any of their helles left so today, which is apparently something called National Lager Day, I am reviewing their pils. Considering the brewmaster's predilections and all of the German ingredients in it, I opened my bottles thinking that Continental Lager would be a German pils and not a Czech one.

Continental Lager pours a lovely straw color that is much brighter than my photo allows. (I hope my pictures will start to improve sometime soon after the solstice.) It is clear and quite effervescent. I got a HUGE foamy white head that lasted seeming forever. Obviously I poured the bier poorly as the crown was so large, I had to wait for it to settle. Once it did and I was able to fill the glass further, I was left with a lovely brew that had many a bubble going up to the generous head. Why I didn't use a pilsner glass is lost on me but I'm sure this would have been an absolutely lovely bier. Even without the "proper" glass, it still looked like a beauty.

The aroma featured fresh bread astride some corn. There was a mild herbal hoppiness which I wouldn't have minded if it were a bit stronger. But, being a German pilsner, everything is a bit more restrained than in its Bohemian cousin. Lastly there was just a hint of malt sweetness and also a very mild fruitiness that was reminiscent of a Kölsch.

That malty primacy in the aroma could be tasted. Continental Lager has a light body but a big malty taste of biscuit. Herbal hop flavor was joined by a touch of spiciness that really worked well with the grain. And that light fruitiness that I caught on the nose was also present here but took on a deeper character that was like raisin. It was an odd flavor for a pilsner but it was very mild and not at all unpleasant. Just atypical. The carbonation was easily tasted and I liked the restrained bubbly dryness it added to the mix.

I liked the crisp, dry finish quite a bit. The hops really stepped up their intensity and joined with the carbonation. My glass was left with a bounty of Schaumhaftvermoegen with webs of the stuff everywhere.

Continental Lager hit the spot. It had the requisite Teutonic restraint and even-handedness that I expect from a German pils. It was malty but not overly so; it had a nice hop flavor but it never went unchecked and instead provided balance to the overall flavor. To my taste it was akin to the Great Dane's Verruckte Stadt, a local German pils, with a slightly bigger malt backbone and the hops just a bit more vigorous while not having the brisk, spicy dryness of a Czech pilsner.

Continental Lager is 5.3% A.B.V. so, while not a session beer, it is a beer you'll want to have more than one of. Just as Led Zeppelin were "tight but loose", this beer is light but heavy. It goes down easy yet it has substantial flavor.

Junk food pairing: Steady on with the junk food. I recommend pretzels – hard or soft - with a mild cheese such as American Easy Cheese.

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09 December, 2015

Teutonic Tyrrany: The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest by Avery Brewing Company



I thought that I was done with Oktoberfests back in October but I've been dragged back into the fray...

Avery Brewing Company began back in 1993 in Boulder, Colorado. It's a brewery that's never been on my radar. I don't mean this as a slight but simply that no one ever told me that I ought to try their brews nor did any of their beers ever jump out at me as something that I ought to be drinking. Things changed last year when I took notice of some bottles that had some unsavory characters on them. Avery may be the only brewery to have a line of beers featuring autocrats on its labels. The first entry in their ("supremely limited") Dictator Series, an imperial stout, featured Czar Nicholas II of Russia. It would not be until the third installment, however, that his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was given a brew of his own: an imperial Oktoberfest.

I recently grabbed a bottle of the latter and played some appropriately themed songs by Iron Maiden, Fish, and IQ as I sat down to contemplate the legacy of World War I. And savor what will surely be my final Oktoberfest of the season.

The Kaiser pours a deep amber color – almost copper – and is clear. I got about an inch of nice tan foam atop the bier while inside there was a fair amount of bubbles going upwards. This bier is sehr schön and one can imagine the Kaiser himself lovingly gaze at it as he did his dreadnoughts. The nose was also quite lovely with bready malt commingling with its sweeter side that was reminiscent of peach. Alongside the grainy festivities was a healthy dose of spicy hop aroma.

The promise of an Oktoberfest is a vein of rich malts flush with flavors redolent of the staff of life itself. An imperial Oktoberfest doubly so. And The Kaiser delivers in spades. First I caught a nice bready flavor that was somewhere between fresh bread and toast – lovely Maillard reaction goodness. The clean taste also yielded some malt sweetness that was like apricot and honey. But this was not a sweet bier as these more toothsome flavors were quite subdued in contrast to the more savory ones. These massive German malt flavors overpowered the hops just to the point where I could barely discern any Nobility. Carbonation added a little dryness while a 9.3% A.B.V. meant there was a generous burn from the alcohol.

On the finish the malt sweetness moved to the fore and lingered while some spicy hop bitterness finally came through. And the alcohol became even more noticeable. My mini-krug was left with some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen all around.

For being such a big bier, The Kaiser retained the medium body of its non-imperial cousins. It had a great bready malt flavor that kept the sweetness at bay. The alcohol burn is wholly appropriate for even these warmer than normal December nights although one may not appreciate it in August when the beer is released. A great bier to share on an autumn evening.

Junk food pairing: Cheese curds! Seriously, cheese kurds and Oktoberfests are a match made in Himmel.

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08 December, 2015

Watery Domestic: Altbier by Prost Brewing Company



I've found it difficult to find a good altbier here in Madison. Finding a tasty Kölsch, the alt's lighter cousin, is much easier. It's by no means impossible to find some delectable alt goodness but my enjoyment is limited by the seasonal availability of altbiers that I enjoy drinking. I recommend Schmaltz's Alt by Schell, Iron Works by Metropolitan, and Rhine Heights by Vintage Brewing. They are less sweet than other iterations of the style found on store shelves. They taste more like Obergäriges Lagerbiers and less like brown ales. To my tongue, anyway.

This being the case, I was happy to hear that Steve's Liquor had begun to carry or had finally brought the fact to my attention that they have been carrying the beers of Prost Brewing Company. Prost is a Denver brewery that makes traditional German bier styles. I see no evidence of barrel aging, brettanomyces, nor a single Cascade hop in use over there. I decided to check out their altbier on a recent trek to Steve's.

As you can see from my photograph, Prost doesn't use puns as names for their beers nor do labels feature anything fancy. Just simple German austerity. How they get away with this is beyond me. I guess not trying to be clever and ostentatious makes you stick out in a craft beer crowd.

Altbier pours a rich copper color. The bier was clear with a fair number of bubbles going up. My glass featured a small ecru head that, sadly, didn't last very long. The aroma was rife with malty goodness. A rather sweet scent came first that was stonefruity but more savory, roasted grains came hot on its heels. Altbier is laden with Hallertau hops and I caught them on the nose as a restrained bit of grassiness.

Upon tasting I found that the fruity sweetness of the malt was rather like plum and that it wasn't as prominent as it was on the nose. Here the roasted grain flavor had pride of place. Behind that was just a little toffee flavor. The clean grain flavors were abetted by grassy/herbal hop flavors and bitterness. I think I was expecting more hop presence after my dreadful encounter with some senescent Uerige altbier this past summer. As Ron Pattinson noted, fresh Uerige is fairly bitter so now I expect all altbiers to be so when there is surely variation even in the brews made in Düsseldorf, the style's hometown. There was also a little carbonation to be had.

If all of this sounds pretty tasty, well, it could have been. The flavors themselves were good but I found the bier to be very thin. It had a pretty light body and the overall malt flavor tasted like the amateurish first steps of a homeopathic brewer.

The finish had that light malt sweetness fade to modicum of herbal hop dryness. No Schaumhaftvermoegen was to be had.

I really hope this was just a bad batch because I'd love to have a gut altbier year-round. Prost Altibier has all of the requisite flavors but it's just thin. The malts lack richness and depth – they have only hazy memories of Maillard reactions. I'll try this bier again but I am going to give Prost's other biers a chance first.

Junk food pairing: On the savory side try some Kettle Cheddar Beer potato chips with your Prost Altbier or, if you have a sweet tooth, you can't go wrong with a handful of dark chocolate covered pretzels.

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Cerveza for Gringos: Super Pils by 5 Rabbit Cervecería



5 Rabbit Cervecería opened in 2011 and has developed a reputation for creative Latin American-inspired cervezas as well as for telling Donald Trump to go f*ck himself. I jumped onto the 5 Rabbit bandwagon early with trips to Chicago being like Christmas no matter what time of year they were as long as I could bring home some of their beer. Christmas came early and unexpectedly this year when their cervecería began being distributed in Madison. From what I can tell not every one of their cervezas is available here yet. Indeed, my bottle of Super Pils was purchased on a recent venture to Chicagoland.

The beer is part of the cervecería's Gringolandia series. ("Gringolandia" is term of endearment used by some Latinos to refer to the United States.) These beers eschew the Latin American influences and instead are slightly more conventional "interpretations of some popular craft beer styles". In this case we have what is essentially an imperial pilsner although an English yeast was used as were some decidedly non-Noble hops.

Super Pils pours a lovely light gold/straw color. The beer was hazy but this is by design – it is unfiltered. And so it was unsurprising that I got a good, pillowy off-white head that was in no hurry to dissipate. There was a country ton of bubbles going up the glass. The aroma had a pronounced grain/breadiness to it which was wonderful. It also had some honey sweetness as well but this was rather mild. As for hops, there was a distinct peppery smell.

This beer is 7.2% A.B.V. so a lot of malt was used and it shows. That great bready bouquet came through in the flavor as well. The honey sweetness was there too but content in a supporting role. All those bubbles I saw added a nice sparkling dryness to counter the malt. The beer is brewed with a combination of Celeia and Saphir hops, the lupuline intricacies of which are unfamiliar to me but it seems that both of them contributed to the peppery/spicy hop flavor here. Oddly enough, I found the hops to be mild side.

A pils is best when fresh and my bottle wasn't fresh. But I don't have reason to believe it was particularly stale either. The beer did not taste oxidized. Perhaps it's just my expectations set by "imperial" and "drinks like an IPA". Probably a combination of things.

The finish saw some bready sweetness fade to a mild dryness undergirded by the carbonation and topped by peppery/herbal hop bitterness. Schaumhaftvermoegen was medium with a fair amount of webbing connecting patches littered around the glass.

While I have not had occasion to taste much of Celeia and Saphir hops, I really liked the peppery and herbal flavors they brought to the table. I suspect that a fresher bottle would have had brighter and bolder versions of these flavors but, as it is, I really enjoyed them here. Super Pils also had a strong malt flavor that was short on sweetness, which was great. With all the booze and all of the malt flavor, the beer surprised me with its medium-light body and a dangerously easy drinkability.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Super Pils with some lime-chili tortilla chips or, alternatively, some garlic plantain chips. All of these chips have flavors that can withstand the extra maltiness of the cerveza and complement the hops.

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06 December, 2015

Eudaimonia in a Bottle: Boathouse Pilsner by Titletown Brewing Company



Green Bay is Wisconsin's third largest city yet it doesn't enjoy much of a microbrew reputation in these parts. There is no shortage of beer from that city on Madison store shelves but no Green Bay brewery seems to have found a winning formula for gaining notoriety, for getting their beers to stick out in a crowded microbrew landscape. Perhaps this is just me. Or perhaps it is just Madison. Regardless, that is changing if for no other reason than the sheer volume. Once available only in the Fox Valley region, beer from Green Bay's breweries is now widely available on Madison's store shelves and on taps too.

If the quantity riddle has been solved, then what about quality?

Until now my experience with Green Bay suds consisted solely of Hinterland which I've found to be hit and miss. But now I expand my purview to include Titletown.

Titletown Brewing Company opened in 1996 in a disused railroad depot which used to be owned by Chicago & Northwestern. The brewpub grew and finally opened a production brewery which not only expanded capacity but also included a bottling line. Six packs became available in and around Green Bay early this year while Madison saw them arrive in July. Madison was, oddly enough, the first area outside of the Fox Valley to see Titletown bottles.

Green 19 IPA and Johnny Blood Red Irish Style Red Ale came first but were soon joined by Boathouse Pilsner. The bottle's label proudly boasts that it is a "Gold Medal Winning Beer". This refers to its first place finish at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in the Bohemian Pilsner category.

What's a Bohemian pilsner? For starters, it's probably the only recognition Americans give to Czech brewing culture and tradition. We tend to think of the Bohemian pils as an addendum to a larger German brewing tradition instead of something that stands on its own. For more on Czech pivo I highly recommend reading some Evan Rail. Rail is a writer who lives in Prague (or lived there for a while) and has traveled the Czech Republic to taste its pivo. He has written a beer guide to his adopted hometown as well as a blog post that's no longer available with corrections and addenda to the Oxford Companion to Beer's entries on Czech beer and brewing.

Both he and Ron Pattinson make a strong case that we've really sold the Czechs short.

And so back to the question: what is a Bohemian pilsner? The Bohemian pilsner is, in simplified terms, a malty pale lager with a goodly amount of Saaz hop spici- and bitterness. If you scour the Interwebs you may find Rail's three-part history of the style and its progenitor, Pilsner Urquell.

Let me begin by apologizing to Titletown for my dreadful photo. It does not do their pivo justice. Boathouse pours a lovely dark straw/light gold color. The beer is crystal clear and I think you can see this despite my poor photography skills. My pour produced a small off-white head that, sadly, dissipated very quickly. On the other hand there was an abundance of bubbles going up my pilsner glass. I'd expect a much larger and longer-lasting head and hope that my glass wasn't dirty. But aside from that, this is one pretty beer.

The aroma was very malty with notes that were bready, almost doughy. I was surprised at how subdued the hops were here with a relatively mild herbal hoppy smell that had a hint of the floral to it. Boathouse had a really nice clean malt flavor that was bready and biscuity and less sweet than the aroma let on. It was a solid malt base but not as big as something like an Oktoberfest. The hops were more grassy than herbal to my tongue. Carbonation was also evident and added more dryness.

I finally tasted some spicy hop flavor at the finish which was moderately dry as the breadiess petered out. Schaumhaftvermoegen was lacking. Indeed there was none to be had.

In contrast to a Pilsner Urquell, Boathouse is rather mild. When I think of a Bohemian pilsner I think of Saaz hops with their intense pepper/spicy flavor and a hefty dose of bitterness that adds a lot of dryness. Boathouse does not have this. What it does have is a great clean bready flavor with just enough hops to achieve a delectable balance. The hops here are mostly grassy and herbal tasting instead of peppery and spicy but they still complemented the grainy goodness perfectly.

I really enjoyed this beer. Its polished gold clarity gave it a visually arresting look especially after my recent brown ale and turbid weissbier reviews. The bready flavor here was fantastic. There was a hint of sweetness that added another malty layer to meld with the hops. And while those hops may not be stereotypically Bohemian, they were flavorful and stood on their own yet didn't drown out the malt flavors. Aristotle would be proud of brewmaster Dave Oldenburg for having created a beer that places all of its flavors in perfect proportion.

Junk food pairing: Boathouse has a medium-light body. This paired with its relatively restrained hops means that you'll want some lighter fare to go with it. Try some Pepper Jack Cheez-Its or Jays Hot Stuff potato chips with their earthy zing of paprika.

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04 December, 2015

Liquid Folk Art: Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale by Back Forty Beer Company



As I wrote yesterday, I recently spent some time down in Montgomery, Alabama. While there my wife and I jumped a broom and spent time with her family. And, of course, we sampled some Alabama brews.

My most extensive sampling was of beers from Back Forty Beer Company in Gadsden which describes its beers as "liquid folk art". Alabama is not exactly flush with breweries and, from what I can tell, most microbreweries there do not bottle or can. Back Forty does and a trek to a supermarket down there yielded a six pack of their Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale which was brought back to Madison.

Truck Stop was Back Forty's second offering when it was first released in 2010. It is brewed with wildflower honey from Alabama and was one of many brown ales I saw in Montgomery. They were nearly as common as IPAs, a decidedly different situation than here at home.

For the occasion I busted out my mini-British pint glass which was from the Great Taste at some point in the past several years. The beer poured a dark amber hue that reminded me of maple syrup. It was clear. Back Forty is not particularly effervescent as I got a small off-white crown which did not stick around for long and only a few stray bubbles were to be seen floating upwards.

My nose caught a mildly sweet earthy aroma from the honey followed by some caramel. On successive sniffs I also discerned a very mild floral scent which I would think flowed from the honey. Malt was the order of the day in the taste which was surprisingly clean. Moderately sweet toffee was followed by roasted grain and coffee notes from the chocolate malt. Carbonation added a little dryness while what are surely the Willamette hops came through as a bit of spicy bitterness which became bolder as the beer warmed.

I was surprised by the finish which was rather dry. The malt sweetness petered out rather quickly which allowed the carbonation and grassy/herbal hop flavors to come through. There was not much lacing to report and the vast majority of the foam slid down into the beer.

Truck Stop has a rather light body which belies its 6% A.B.V. But this is likely a plus in the Deep South where it's hotter and the heat stays longer than here in the Upper Midwest. I was pleasantly surprised by the use of chocolate malt and the resulting roasted grain flavors which are coveted by my palate. It added a little extra depth to the flavor and kept the sweetness in line.

I enjoyed Truck Stop quite a bit. There's nothing intense or in-your-face about it but rather you get a nice easy-going set of flavors. The brown ale was ascendant back in the 1990s when I started drinking microbrews and I drank my share of Pete's Wicked Ale. But the style fell out of favor. I'm as guilty as anyone for this as I haven't allowed myself to be charmed by the mellow maltiness of the brown ale very often this millennium. What's old is new again.

Junk food pairing: Grab a handful of trail mix to go with your Truck Stop. The dried fruit will complement the toffee notes perfectly while the salt accents the roasted grain while bringing out more hop flavor and bitterness.

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