I've not quaffed a whole lot of brews by Green Bay's Hinterland Brewery
and have only reviewed a trio
of them. They've been a mixed bag, in my humble opinion, but I am quite partial to Winterland
with its vital juniper berry heat. But when I saw their Oktoberfest
, I jumped at the chance to try it on for size.
If I were to describe Green Bay as being "up north" I would surely draw indignant comments from some fellow Cheeseheads. The whole concept of "up north" is arguably a state of mind or way of living rather than a physical place but I tend to think of it as being demarcated by a line that goes from Hudson to Oconto (roughly). Once you get north of Eau Claire and Wausau – then
you're up north. Perhaps my definition was influenced by living near Eau Claire, but really, north of this line your conurbations get smaller and smaller and fewer and farther between. There's lots of forest, Indian reservations, and bears. People get around on snowmobiles and sleighs in the winter more than we do here in the southern part of the state.
And so, Green Bay is more mid-state. While the city is our third largest, its microbrew scene lags behind that to west in the center of Wisconsin where you have Red Eye, O'so, Central Waters, and Point too. I say "lag behind" meaning simply that Green Bay breweries don't seem to get as much publicity or have quite the reputation of their mid-state peers down here in the southern part of the state. Then again, at least they don't have it as bad as Eau Claire area breweries, many of which don't even distribute down here.
Hinterland, Titletown, and Stillmank all distribute to Madison (I don't believe that Badger State Brewing does, though) yet they are a bit like the Rodney Dangerfields of brewing down here – they don't get no respect. That's not true but they don't seem to have found a breakout beer, a beer that really makes a name for the brewery, a beer that can take them from yeoman to royalty, so to speak. Perhaps it's where I roam on the Internet, but praise for Green Bay breweries tends to be parceled out in words like "solid" as opposed to "stellar".
Perhaps Green Bay's microbrewers can make a name for themselves with Festbiers…
poured a gorgeous deep gold color with a slight haze. My bad luck streak in pouring school continued with my glass getting a teensy bit of white foam up top that quickly transmogrified into a thin film. A smattering of bubbles inside the glass were making their way up.
As I was waving my glass around to see if the bier was more gold or amber, the smell of butter wafted into my nose. I was hoping it was just an illusion or a trick of the nose but, upon giving Oktoberfest a sniff, I caught a big wave of butter which was followed by caramel and black pepper. What a bummer. The disappointment was compounded by the fact that I had run into the same problem with their Weizen Bier. I tasted half a six pack of that before consigning the rest to a date with the Madison Water Utility. (This is in addition to a butterscotchy tasting bottle of Lakefront's Brandy Barrel Aged Cherry Lager. I have yet to open a second bottle.)
But stiff upper lip and all that so I plowed on and poured some into my mouth. I was quite surprised not to taste any butter. Instead I found that it had a nice little carbonic bite and that the black pepper made a return appearance. Indeed, the spicy hop flavor was quite prominent. There was little malt sweetness, just a bit of stone fruit and dough along with a mild bread taste. As the bier warmed, the butter flavor crept in until it overpowered the vein of Märzen goodness that I had found.
I tasted some lingering malt sweetness at the end which butted up against more of that spicy, peppery hop taste which I really liked. The hops added a modicum of bitterness and dryness. Just the perfect amounts, truth be told.
The peppery hops reminded me of Great Lakes' Eliot Ness just as did Tyranena's Oktoberfest, Gemutlichkeit
. The line between a Vienna lager and an Oktoberfest, at least far as American brewers go, is pretty blurred. So blurred that Coke bottles glasses will do you no good. I tend to think of Vienna lagers as being a bit drier than their Bavarian cousins but that distinction seems to be going the way of the dodo.
But let me not stray too far from the big "D'oh!" here that is the big buttery aroma and taste. This is two styles in a row from Hinterland in which I tasted diacetyl. Either Hinterland has a quality control problem somewhere along the line or my gustatory organs are failing. Am I alone in this experience?
Moving beyond butter, Oktoberfest wasn't bad. Or it had potential. Or something. One thing it did have was the virtue of not being particularly sweet which I appreciated, but this was mostly due to the fact that grain taste was thin on the ground. The bier was also lacking in more savory malt flavors. There was little bread taste and a shortage of the Maillard reacted toasty taste (that is the gold standard for me) in the same way Venus has a shortage of water. I really liked the peppery hop flavor, though, and I think I am growing accustomed to Oktoberfests that aren't afraid to give hops something more than a bit part. Still, more maltiness is needed to make the contrast complete.
Junk food pairing: I've been thoroughly enjoying Cape Cod's Smoked Gouda potato chips lately so they get the nod with their smooth cheesiness and hint of smoke.
Lay's had a limited run of smoked gouda chips and I saw similarly flavored Triscuits last weekend. Smoked gouda snacks appear to be a pico trend. I approve.
Labels: Beer, Hinterland Brewery, Märzen, Oktoberfest