Fearful Symmetries

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18 April, 2016

All the Goats Went Crazy Up in Cell Block #9: Jailhouse Bock by House of Brews



House of Brews has been and remains something of an underdog in Madison's microbrew scene since opening in 2012 insofar as none of proprietor Page Buchanan's beers has achieved a "must-have" notoriety. (Yet!) I've heard very little criticism of his beers but I also tend not to hear that any given House of Brews beer is the apotheosis of a particular style. My guess is that this is due in no small part to the fact that Page bottled only bombers until relatively recently and eschewed IPAs, by-and-large, until last year when he brewed four of them. The IPA cannot accurately be called a favored style of mine. In fact, my refrigerator is where IPAs go to die, generally speaking, but I rather liked Page's Pagoda IPA. (Full disclosure: I know Page and have spent a fair amount of time in his garage drinking his Prairie Rye.)

My understanding is that business has picked up for House of Brews now that Full House Observatory Pale Ale and Standing Stones Scotch Ale are available in cans. Business must also be good for Page's contact brewing sideline. He surely can lay claim to having made the dreams of more homebrewers come true than anyone else in the state. The list of people whose beers he's brewed or rented space/equipment to is quite lengthy: Dead Bird, Bent Kettle, Greenview, MobCraft, The Hop Garden, Rockhound, Viking Brewpub, Big Bay, and One Barrel. (What have I missed?) Page was also an inspiration/mentor to Jim Goronson of the Parched Eagle Brewpub. He is the unsung hero of the central Wisconsin brewing world.

My taste in Page's brews leans towards his Prairie Rye, Kolsch-like ale brewed with the titular grain, and Bungalow Rye ESB. (I see a pattern there.) And while last year's IPAs didn't capture my interest, this year's promised series of lagers certainly does. First up is Jailhouse Bock, which I initially sampled back in February at the Great Dane's Bockfest. It was one of many, many bocks I drank that day so I was happy to recently revisit the bier.

Jailhouse is a doppelbock or "double bock". The style dates to the second half of the 18th century when the Paulaner monks of Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich first brewed the style to help sustain them through Lenten fasting. Doppelbocks tend to be dark, potent, and full of calorie-rich malt sweetness.

Keeping in line with tradition, Jailhouse Bock pours a dark copper color. It was quite clear which gave me a good view of the abundant bubbles inside. The bier had a small ecru head that dissipated quickly.

The bier smelled much like I expected. It had a very juicy, fruity aroma up front – stone fruit to my nose. (Dear Messrs. Drosner and Rostad – some of us come to beer from food service where "stone fruit" is no more weird and exotic than "citrus". It was pretty rich hearing you guys complain about highfalutin writers who use the term as you waxed eloquently about a luxury food item. Pot. Kettle. Black.) Caramel came in a close second with toasted grain completing the aromatic trifecta.

Jailhouse Bock is one of the smoothest biers I've ever tasted. There may have been a lot of bubbles visible in the glass but they could not stem the tide of velvety malty sweetness. The caramel flavor was rich and buttery, not that it tasted like butter, an off-flavor in bier. This shouldn't come as a surprise considering the use of malts known for imparting sweetness: caramel, honey malt, and Special B which, I discovered, is a Belgian caramel malt. There was also some roasted grain flavor but Jailhouse is really about the sweetness.

It would be easy for such a heavy, sweet bier to become cloying but a healthy dose of Nugget hops really comes through on the finish. All that caramel is given a run for its money by surge of herbal/spicy hops that not only deliver a nicely contrasting flavor, but also a goodly amount of bitterness. Considering how sweet the bier begins, it's surprising just how dry your taste ends. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

I admit that I'm less than timely with this post. It is spring according to the calendar but it's summer outside. Eighty degrees is less than ideal doppelbock weather. My tardiness aside, do grab a bottle of Jailhouse Bock if you see one around. For such a big, (~8% A.B.V.) sweet bier, it was quite easy drinking because it is so buttery smooth. That and the sweetness confronts its hoppy nemesis on the finish and loses, giving the drinker a nice, dry ending to each sip.

Junk food pairing: Jailhouse Bock can handle whatever food you throw at it and will subsume lighter flavors into it hefty malt body. Grab a bag of garlic yuca chips or Herr's Kansas City Prime Steak flavored potato chips.

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|| Palmer, 3:50 PM

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