Fearful Symmetries

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21 January, 2016

The Wrong Yeast for the Right Job: Commuter by One Barrel Brewing



One Barrel Brewing opened up in the summer of 2012 on Madison's near east side. It was a very hot day – 90°+F, if memory serves – and the joint was hopping when I arrived there after work. The air conditioning struggled to keep the joint cool as dozens of patrons, including local politico Tammy Baldwin, eagerly emptied pints of beer from the newest purveyor of micro, nay nanobrews.

I began the evening with a pint of Commuter, a Kölsch-style ale. It tasted more like a golden ale to me than a proper Kölsch that had spent time lagering. I didn't find this surprising as proprietor Peter Gentry had only a one barrel brewing system. Regardless of how well the bier adhered to convention, it was tasty and really hit the spot on a tropical summer evening.

Since that day One Barrel went on to brew beer at House of Brews on the east side for draught accounts. And then last fall Octopi Brewing, a contract brewery who counts One Barrel as its first customer, opened in Waunakee. The beer brewed at Octopi, well some of it anyway, is being bottled and sold around town with the six packs appearing on shelves in November.

I recently picked up some Commuter to taste if it had changed since I first sampled it a few years back.

It poured a slightly dark straw color and was a touch hazy. My stange was topped with a nice big, shiny white head that took half a minute or so to dissipate. There were more than a few bubbles inside making their way up. In the early afternoon sunlight my glass looked as a thing of beauty.

The aroma was most odd. I took a whiff and then struggled for a split second. Was I smelling what I thought I was smelling? Indeed, my nose was taking in banana. A strong, pleasant banana smell but in a Kölsch? How blatantly odd. I also caught some faint grassy hop in there too. And I could taste the banana as well. Had the wrong yeast been used? Why was I tasting a hefeweizen? Some crackery graininess was underneath the slighty sweet fruitiness as was a corn flavor. Subsequent sips revealed a bubble gum taste along with the banana. Above it all was some nice carbonation keeping things from getting out of hand.

Commuter finished with that banana flavor lingering as the grassy hops grew in intensity a little bit bringing with them a mild bitterness that gave some dryness to contrast with the fruity flavor. Just as my glass started out looking pretty so too did it finish with lots of Schaumhaftvermoegen. There was webbing all around.

I have absolutely no idea why I was tasting those banana and bubble gum flavors. It was as if someone had used weissbier yeast instead of the Kölsch variety. Very different indeed from my initial encounter with Commuter. Beyond this totally out of place taste, this is a fine bier. It's light and fizzy (4.8% A.B.V.) – perfect for those lazy, hazy days of summer. The restrained grain flavor let the yeasty flavor assume control, although it was the wrong one. And the hops were done perfectly, to my taste with a little grass flavor that blossomed with more bitterness at the finish.

Junk food pairing: Stick with lighter and less boisterous food when quaffing Commuter. Try some guacamole flavored tortilla chips or a stack of honey mustard Pringles.

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|| Palmer, 5:25 AM

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