Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 January, 2016

Admirable Restraint: German Pilsner by Great Dane Pub



I recall the opening of the first Great Dane Pub. It was a dreary, rainy November day in 1994. A friend and I stopped in after class and found ourselves packed in like sardines and surrounded by middle-aged office workers. It was as if the G.E.F. buildings downtown had all emptied into the place. My companion and I seemed to be the youngest people there outside of staff. The beer was excellent but the massive crowds and the very naughty wandering hand of a woman who had probably worked at DWD for a few decades had us out the door after only a couple.

In the intervening 20+ years, the Great Dane has become a Madison institution with three more outposts having been added in the area and one up in Wausau to boot. Being our first brewpub, it became the template for those that followed. The Great Dane's lobbying efforts begat the so-called Brewpub Bill or Brewpub Tourism Development Act in 2007. Great Dane brewmaster (current?) Rob LoBreglio is friends with Kirby Nelson of Capital/Wisconsin Brewing Company and the pair have collaborated on beers over the years. And I'm sure there have been brewers at the Great Dane who have gone on to careers in the industry.

The Great Dane is a cornerstone of the Madison-area microbrew/craft brew scene and it continues to evolve. Last summer the brewpub began canning two beers and six packs of Hopsconsin Red Ale and German Pilsner began adorning store shelves.

Also known as Verruckte Stadt (German for "Mad Town"), German Pilsner and has been pouring forth from Great Dane taps for ages. Sadly, the last time I was at a Great Dane the big board didn't actually say Verruckte Stadt for some reason.

German Pilsner pours a nice straw color. In my glass it had just an ever so-slight haziness to it. I got a nice, big, frothy, white head which was happy to stick around for a while. And true to form, there were plenty of bubbles inside the bier making their way upwards. Pilsners are truly amongst the prettiest of beers with their brilliant color and effervescence. They make you thirsty by just looking at them.

The aroma was a lesson in modesty with some moderate grain and grassy hop scents. Nothing extravagant, but it was like putting blood in the water. Except it was the air. And grain & hops instead of blood. Like IKEA's furniture, German Pilsner's taste was clean and simple. It had that light pils crackery graininess with just the barest malty sweetness. I found that those grassy hops had taken on a spicy/peppery flavor. The carbonation was evident and the bier was bubbly and slightly dry.

On the finish, the malt flavors faded while the hoppy ones kicked in a little bit harder. And so the bitterness was a bit more pronounced as was the dryness. There was some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen left in my glass with webbing everywhere.

I must admit that German Pilsner/Verruckte Stadt is the bier I drink most often when I'm at a Great Dane. It is not a big bier (5% A.B.V.) and can go well with just about any food that you'd order there. I really like the malt flavor which kept the sweetness at bay, something I appreciated. Being a German-style pils, the hops don't knock your socks off though they do more than simply play a supporting role. While there are times when German Pilsner/Verruckte Stadt tastes a little too laid-back and I wouldn't mind if there were just a bit more malt and hop flavor, it is, overall, a nice, easy-going brew.

Junk food pairing: Verruckte Stadt is a light-bodied beer that shows gustatorial restraint so take it easy on the food. Try some French Onion Dip Pringles or some light, poofy Cheetos Puffs with their fine, moderately sharp cheese flavor.

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28 January, 2016

The Surprising Transmogrification of Berghoff Beer: Pilsner (Hop Forward Lager) by Berghoff Beer



Berghoff has been around since the late 19th century and I have been drinking their brews since the early-90s and have memories of buying it at the Pinkus McBride convenience store. Back then Berghoff held a middle ground between the swill of macros and the fuller-flavored microbrews of Capital, Sprecher, New Glarus, and their ilk. Berghoff's beers were much better than a Miller or Bud but not as good as a Capital Amber, an Edel Pils, or a Black Bavarian. And the price of Berghoff reflected this.

Flash forward to 2013. Ben Minkoff, whose family owns Berghoff, had taken the company reins and the fruits of his plan to revamp the brewery's beers and reputation began to be realized. New brews appeared on store shelves while the old staples were reformulated. I reviewed one of the former, Germaniac, a Kotbusser-style ale, that summer. Then last year Berghoff continued its transformation with the introduction of two new beers: an IPA and a pilsner.

Pilsner says "Hop Forward Lager Beer" on the label in nice, friendly letters. Such bragging gave me the impression that the bier was an IPL or some other American neo-lager style undreamed of by the mid-19th century brewers of Plzeň. But I decided to try it out anyway. Besides, "Forward" is the Wisconsin state motto so perhaps that's what lured me in.

Berghoff Pilsner pours a moderately dark yellow and had the expected crystal clarity of the style. My glass had about 1/2" of creamy white froth on top and lots of bubbles inside going up looking for a place to live.

A very pretty bier, to be sure. But would it beat my tongue into submission with a citrus/pine hop flavor or the latest pretender to the hop throne, tropical fruit?

The aroma was quite surprising as my nose took in a really nice, potent floral/herbal hop aroma. This was not going to be a big, spicy Saaz-y Czech-style pils nor was it going to be a West Coast grapefruit, spruce, mango smoothie, and lime chutney American take on the style. A pleasant surprise. There was also a bit of grain/cracker scent to be had. Pilsner had a medium-light body with a clean grain flavor with a slight malt sweetness to it as well. The hops kept the floral aspect of the aroma into the taste but took on more grassy notes. For a bottle boasting hop forwardness, Pilsner did not boast a lot of hop bitterness. It was there but not overwhelming as I had expected. And there was some bit from the carbonation.

Pilsner finished with its malty flavors fading which allowed the hops to step forward, so to speak, after having transmogrified yet again. Here the hops took on some spiciness and along with that a more pronounced bitterness. That and the carbonation made for a fine, dry ending.

I was pleasantly surprised that Pilsner in no way attempted to mimic an American IPA and that Berghoff instead hewed to tradition by making what I would characterize as a German pils. While I mean no offense to Minkoff and company, I am also surprised to be able to write that my tasting notes say, "Great!" This is a fantastic German pils. Berghoff hit my sweet spot here with the perfect malt taste. There's just the right amount of clean crackery grain along with just the right amount of malt sweetness. After a spate of imperial pilsners with a rather more pronounced sweetness, it was so good to taste just a hint of that honeyed malt flavor.

This bier is hop forward insofar as all pilsners are that way. Pilsner was hopped very well and I enjoyed very much how the hops change from aroma to taste to finish. The hops are always pronounced but never assertive and find harmony with the malt.

Junk food pairing: Berghoff Pilsner is 5.7% A.B.V., a little more than your standard pils, so you'll need something to chow on while drinking it. You cannot go wrong with pretzels but try some Steakhouse Onion Funyons. Frito-Lay didn't go overboard with the roasted root vegetable flavor which will complement Pilsner well.

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27 January, 2016

A Nice Pair: Sumatra by 3rd Sign Brewing



As I mentioned last month when reviewing 3rd Sign's Madagascar, the brewery's motto is "Dually Brewed" and its logo is the zodiacal symbol Gemini, the Twins. And so they take on beer styles in pairs. Madagascar is a vanilla mild ale and its companion brew is called Sumatra, a coffee mild ale.

As I also noted last month 3rd Sign Brewery is the in-house label of Octopi Brewing. Octopi is located in nearby Waunakee (the only Waunakee in the world, mind you) and devotes itself to contract brewing. 3rd Sign allows the crew at Octopi to flex their muscles and showcase their talents for prospective customers; it gets a product on store shelves and gives thirsty patrons of Octopi's tasting room something to drink.

The beer pours a lovely medium dark mahogany that is quite clear. I managed only a small tan head that went away rather quickly which seems to be typical of the style. There was a medium amount of bubbles inside going upwards.

Sumatra contains cold pressed coffee from the eponymous Indonesian island by way of Madison's JBC Coffee Roasters and you can't miss it in the aroma. Taking a whiff my nose was struck by the big rush of fresh, strong coffee. There was a little malt sweetness in there as well but the nose was all about the coffee which smelled wonderful.

The coffee was right there to greet my tongue too. While I generally like African coffees the best because of their earthy, chocolatey tastes, I also enjoy Sumatran coffees. They tend to not be as earthy tasting as African ones, but more so than South American coffee which often have brighter, vaguely fruity flavors. In this beer, the coffee tasted fresh and the brewers did not skimp on the joe. While there was plenty of coffee flavor, it was complemented by some light toffee from the malt as well as just enough grassy hop flavor to let you know it's there. The hops didn't give much bitterness but the carbonation added a hint of acidity and tanginess. The beer had a pretty clean flavor overall.

The wonderful coffee flavor lingered on the finish while those grassy hop flavors swelled and added some bitterness to the picture. My glass was left with a moderate amount of lacing including some nice thick strands of foam.

Sumatra emphasizes the coffee a bit more than Madagascar did its vanilla. The coffee comes on very strong at first but it mellows out as you continue to drink. It remains out front but find eventually the other flavors find complementary spots on your tongue. While the balance of the flavors is shifted a bit, you do get a fantastic fresh coffee taste full of earthy and nutty tones that are simply delicious. I also really enjoyed the grassy hop flavor. It was a nice contrast to the coffee as well as the toffee flavor of the malt. This beer is 4.5% A.B.V. and is very easy drinking. The coffee never overwhelms so you can quaff a few Sumatrans in your next session.

Junk food pairing: The coffee means that Sumatra will go well with some sweets such as dark chocolate-covered pretzels or a Take 5 bar. On the savory side try some Extra Toasty Cheez-Its. Those additional Maillard reactions will play well with the coffee on your tongue.

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26 January, 2016

From the Frozen Tundra: Packerland Pilsner by Hinterland Brewery



Pilsners are trendy these days, I guess. Green Bay's Hinterland Brewery resurrected their Packerland Pilsner in 2014 after a hiatus of 17 years. Demand for the beer just went away back in the late 90s. But now the pils is popular again with many brewers who primarily traffic in ales adding a one to their repertoire.

Sadly the Packers' season is over but fans who cannot get enough of the green and gold can always reach for a Packerland. After having had a bad experience with a brew that wasn't Packerland recently, I've been checking dates on beers. My bottle of Packerland dates back to around Guy Fawkes Day. So, while not born yesterday, I think it should be suitable for a sampling. This was the first time I'd had the bier so I didn't know what I was getting into. Would it be a Czech-style pils with a generous dose of spicy Noble hops? Or more like its German cousin with a hint of asceticism?

Packerland poured a light gold color and was quite clear. I only managed to eke out a small white head that went away rather quickly. However, there were lots of bubbles inside going up which made for a rather pleasant looking glass of bier.

I caught a crackery grainy smell as well as a little corn when I took a whiff. Quite frankly, I was surprised to not catch any hops in the aroma. Considering the bier's flavor, I wouldn't be surprised if I simply had a stuffy nose (it is January, after all) and was unable to detect some hoppiness. That light graininess was also caught by my tongue as was a little doughy malt sweetness in a clean overall taste. There was some hoppiness present here with a bit of grassy/spicy hop flavor that gave very little bitterness. Packerland certainly leaned towards the German version of the style in its restraint.

The finish was fairly dry with the malt flavors fading to allow some spicy Noble hop flavor to emerge along with (finally!) some bitterness. While my glass was not overcome with Schaumhaftvermoegen, there was some decent thinly-streaked webbing to had along with a lot of foamy specks.

While Packerland seemed to be aiming for German pilsner status, the hop flavor wasn't just moderate, it was nearly MIA. Packerland has a nice, delicate maltiness, but it sat waiting idly to host a party of Noble hops but only one or two of them showed up. Believe me, it is not often that I will proclaim that a beer needs more hops but this is definitely one of those rare occasions.

Junk food pairing: Keep it simple with Packerland and have plenty of pretzels and potato chips on hand. French onion dip would also be welcome.

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25 January, 2016

Smooth Operator: Cashmere Hammer by 3 Sheeps Brewing Company



Nitrogenating beers is the latest fad in microbrewing. Instead of an arsenal of strictly carbon dioxide bubbles, nitro beers are given a shot that is mostly nitrogen with a small amount of CO2. The effect of this on a beer's taste is that your brew will be smoother on the palate because there's much less carbonic acid which is formed when CO2 is dissolved in water. Less acidity means less of that tingling sensation on your tongue and a beer that tastes much more smoove.

Guinness is famous for their nitrogenated beers and the widgets that they put at the bottom of cans that release the gassy goodness when the can is opened. Now that the fad is gaining momentum, Guinness introduced a nitro IPA last year while Sam Adams will be introducing three nitro beers shortly if they're not already in stores – a nitro white ale, IPA, and coffee stout.

Truth be known, my experience with nitro beers is basically limited to cans of Guinness stout. There are likely some one-offs nitro brews that I've had on tap but, when I read "nitro beer" I think of cans of Guinness. I've used the word "fad" here intentionally because most nitro beers I've seen to be essentially gimmicks. A large segment of American microbrew drinkers covet novelty so adding some nitrogen to the beer you have sitting around already is a relatively simple way to create something "new". This is not to deny the effect nitrogenation has on a beer's taste. But I just don't believe that everyone had their road to Damascus moment at the same time and put a ton of thought into it. Jesus, there's even a coffeehouse here in Madison that has a coffee put into kegs and nitrogenated because "The infusion of nitrogen creates a stout-like head and mouthfeel."

I blather on about this because the beer at hand is Cashmere Hammer by 3 Sheeps up in Sehboygan. It's nitro rye stout.

Cashmere Hammer pours a deep, dark sepia. It was opaque when looked at head-on but, from an angle it appeared clear. One is supposed to pour a nitro brew such as this by turning the bottle upside down and putting it in your glass. (Mouth side down, that is.) I did not come across this information until I had already poured a glass and so my initial encounter with the much-ballyhooed nitro effervescence was quite brief – a small tan head that dissipated very quickly. When I poured the remaining beer into my glass later, it did so with a bit more vigor and managed to get a larger head and more foaming action.

Epic fail. I guess.

I proceed hoping that I didn't completely thwart the brewmaster Grant Pauly's intent and still had a drinking experience that was at least a reasonable facsimile of what he intended.

The beer smelled as I expected with the dark malts giving a luscious coffee aroma that had some dark chocolate mixed in there too. Because of some stray Pavlovian conditioning, I initially thought it odd that I couldn't smell any bourbon but then quickly recalled that this was not a barrel-aged brew. The prominence of these ingredients were reversed in the taste where bitter chocolate was most evident followed by the coffee. There was also a slight malty sweetness as well as a hint of the rye which seemed to blend in with grassy hops that gave some flavor but not much bitterness.

So what about the nitro? I tasted a medium body but the mouthfeel was very smooth – "velvety" is what my notes say. It is a very different taste from your normal carbonated beer. Lacking the bite of carbonic acid, it's very silky – somewhat reminiscent of those bottled frappuccinos.

For the finish the dark malt flavors faded leaving some malty sweetness which was joined by some more of the earthy rye and a grassy/peppery hop taste that brought a slight bitterness with it. My glass was left with just a few specks of foam but no other lacing. I'm not sure if this is par for the course or if my poor pouring is to blame for this.

I really enjoyed Cashmere Hammer. The dark malt flavors were scrumdillyicious and I love rye in beer. While it was a rather subtle flavor here and I wish that there was more, it was quite welcome nonetheless. The nitro smoothness makes it exceedingly quaffable but this beer is 6.5% A.B.V. so beware. I shall endeavor to try Cashmere Hammer again and practice my inverted pouring technique. I'd like to know if getting that nitrogen out of solution adds much to the flavor or if I simply missed the aesthetics.

Junk food pairing: Cashmere Hammer may have a smooth, creamy taste but it's got a lot more going on. Don’t be afraid to pair it with bigger foods like Xtra Fiery Sweet BBQ Pringles or some kind of hamburger/cheeseburger flavored potato chip.

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24 January, 2016

You Can't Help But Sing: Smoke by O'Fallon Brewery



After trying O'Fallon's Hemp Hop Rye and being suitably impressed by its tasty mix of grains and nutty hemp seeds, I was keen to try another of their brews. The one that captured my attention was Smoke, a smoked porter. I have a profound love of smoked beers and think excuses for not sharing my amorous feelings are lame.

There are probably more smoked porters available here in Madison than I think there are. Karben4's NightCall comes to mind first. Brewmaster Ryan Koga uses smoked malts judiciously to put a subtle smokiness underneath the dark malt flavors. And then there's one from Alaskan Brewing Company. Sadly, I must confess to never having tasted Alaskan's take on the style. If I were a betting man, I'd bet on this changing soon. Beyond these two, I am not aware of any others available here.

Now that I look back, I did try this beer back in 2008 on the day The Malt House opened. Well, here we are 7+ years later and it seems like a fine time to revisit the brew.

As I expected, it poured a lush, deep mahogany color. Putting some into another glass, I saw that it was clear but I didn’t see any bubbles going up. However, my pour produced about a quarter inch of rich, frothy, tan head that dissipated fairly quickly. Too bad because the glass sure looked purdy for those seconds that it had that crown.

If I was worried that there would only be a hint of smoke in this beer instead of a good, manly dose, then my fears were allayed when I took my first sniff. The aroma was saturated with that rich bacony scent of smoked malt. Underneath it was some evidence of dark malts in the form of some slightly bitter coffee smell. Taking my first sip I found myself in heaven as the smokiness smothered my tongue in its loving embrace. O'Fallon did not skimp on the smoked malt here. As with the aroma, the dark malts lurked underneath with their coffee and bitter chocolate flavors. There was also a little carbonation to be tasted.

For the finish, the smoke lingered for a short spell before the carbonation and some grassy/spicy hop flavor and attendant bitterness kicked in to make for a moderately dry ending. Sadly, there was no lacing to be had.

This is one tasty beer with its big, rich smoky flavor. Yet the hallmarks of a porter – those earthy dark malt flavors – are present too, just not prominent. And the hops are rather mellow only really coming out to play in the finish and making for a nice, flavorful change of pace. I went into the kitchen during my tasting and spontaneously burst into song – Donovan's "Barabajagal".

"Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was his name now."

Yes, this beer is just that good.

Junk food pairing: There's no need to eat smoked meat with a smoke beer that already has a big smoky flavor. It's not a bad idea, but I also like to pair them with foods that have an earthy taste like Jays Hot Stuff potato chips with their big paprika taste. You also can't go wrong with a soft pretzel and some warm sharp cheddar cheese food product dip.

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23 January, 2016

Spirit of St. Louis: Hemp Hop Rye by O'Fallon Brewery



I believe that this is the very first time that I've reviewed a beer by O'Fallon Brewery. It resides in Maryland Heights, Missouri which is a suburb of St. Louis. Sadly, I've tasted and reviewed more beers by fellow St. Louisans Urban Chestnut and Schalfly and neither of those breweries are distributed here in Wisconsin unlike O'Fallon. As best as I can recall, the only O'Fallon beer I've tasted is their Wheach, a peach wheat beer that I sampled at the Great Taste a few years ago.

I'm not really sure why I've never bought any of their beers until now. Better late than never, right? I chose to buy some Hemp Hop Rye because I generally don't go seeking amber ales out and wanted to try something new; I absolutely love rye in beer; and I enjoyed hemp seed in Pearl Street's Smokin' Hemp Porter.

Hemp Hop Rye pours a gorgeous copper hue. It was crystal clear and so I could easily see the surfeit of bubbles inside the beer going up to the crown of tan foam. The head lasted for what I think of as being an average amount of time – about thirty seconds or so.

The aroma had a pronounced malt sweetness which sat comfortably alongside a mixture of grassy and citrus hops. Despite not smelling a dozen exotic fruits along with a cornucopia of spices and herbs, I rather liked the relatively modest combination of scents. The malts came to life on the tongue where a honey flavor joined a bit of toffee and a roasted grain taste. My beloved rye added a touch of spicy dryness while the hemp seeds imparted just a bit of nuttiness. I couldn't taste the citrus hops and instead found that another variety gave a gentle spiciness but little bitterness. O'Fallon seems to have used a yeast that didn't add much flavor because I didn't taste any. Either that or I'm very much out of practice on amber ales.

Those malt flavors faded on the finish allowing grassy and spicy hop flavors to come through with a moderate amount of bitterness and a slight dryness. Sadly there wasn't much lacing left in my glass beyond a few specks of foam.

I've been trained to think of amber ales as being IPAs with a modicum more malt flavor. Hemp Hop Rye clearly challenged this expectation. There is nothing big about it and instead its flavors are relaxed and balanced. It's only 25 I.B.U.s and the Cascade hops were used judiciously and not to batter my tongue with grapefruit flavor. On the grainy side of things, the malt makes for a nice medium-light body and is never cloying. I wish that there was more rye in the mix but I enjoyed the touch of spicy goodness it offered here nonetheless. I also liked the subtle nutty flavor of the hemp seeds. The beer excels at offering counterpoints to the malt while never letting one disturb the fine balance.

Very tasty.

Junk food pairing: Hemp Hop Rye pairs well with snack that contain nuts like a trail mix as well as cheesy foods such as plain Cheetos Puffs.

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22 January, 2016

Pass the Cup of Crimson Wonder: Crimson Wonder by Valkyrie Brewing Company



Up in northwestern Wisconsin lies the Village of Dallas which is home to Valkyrie Brewing Company, formerly Viking Brewing Company. Like the community in which it is located, Valkyrie is tiny. It produced around 500 barrels back in 2013. Valkyrie is run by Randy and Ann Lee and it certainly merits a name like "craft brewery". Unless things have dramatically changed since 2014 profile Randy Lee still brews using converted dairy equipment and, because of climate control issues, brews lagers in the winter and ales in the summer. When I was there in 2009 there were no computer screens to watch, no buttons to hit. Lee's beers are truly "hand-crafted".

I recently pulled out a bottle of Valkyrie's Crimson Wonder, described as a "Wee Heavy Scotch Ale". This is a style which I know very little about. When I think of wee heavies I think of, well, heavy brews that are dark in color and dominated by malty sweetness with the hops struggling to add a little counterpoint. It is exactly this kind of brew that gives dark beers a reputation for being big and viscous – the very stereotype that dunkels and schwarzbiers have to battle against.

Crimson Wonder is no longer listed at the brewery's website so I am assuming that it is now a beer of the past. I bought my bottle several months ago and it has been sitting in my basement ever since. Valkyrie does not pasteurize their brews so, upon bringing it up from my cellar, I was very curious to find out what had happened to it over the past several months.

The brew poured a dark brown that let just a smidgen of light through. Being such a dark elixir I couldn't tell if it was clear but twisting and turning my glass so I could peer through it at just the right angle gave me the working hypothesis that it was indeed clear. At least at the top – who knows what may have settled to the bottom? I got a very small, creamy tan head that was here and then gone in no time. There did not appear to be any bubbles inside the beer which was not at all surprising as I don't think of Scotch ales as being particularly effervescent.

The aroma was quite boozy but also had big malty caramel and vanilla scents. That vanilla really came through in the flavor although caramel/toffee wasn’t far behind. I didn't really catch the smoked malts on the nose but they were certainly there in the taste, especially as the beer warmed, and the complemented the sweetness very well. While I don’t know how much alcohol is in Crimson Wonder, it too gained in strength as the brew lost its chill. There was a little bit of grassy hops in the middle here but they couldn't impart much bitterness against the malt assault.

Crimson Wonder finished with the malts slowly fading and those grassy hops kicking in for some dryness in addition to an ever-increasing boozy burn. There was not much in the way of lacing on my glass aside from the occasional speck of foam.

I found the beer to be a bit thinner than I thought it would be with the malt flavors not being quite as rich as expected. Knowing that it was not fresh, it is possible that this was the result of some oxidation. On the other hand, the caramel/toffee flavors tasted like caramel and toffee instead of prunes/dried fruit. Despite this I thought it tasted very nice. While I like the flavor of smoked malt and wish there were more here, there was still a decent dose to be had in Crimson Wonder that accented the sweet malt flavors perfectly.

As the beer warmed up, it began to taste more and more like whiskey. The alcohol became hotter and hotter – a great way to chase away the chill on a subzero night.

Junk food pairing: Crimson Wonder is a big beer and can handle whatever you care to eat along with it. I recommend hearty fare like Snyder's Pumpernickel & Onion pretzels and Lay's Bistro Gourmet Applewood BBQ and Smoked Cheddar potato chips.

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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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20 January, 2016

A Prickly Situation: Otra Vez by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.



I reviewed several Sierra Nevada brews last year and was quite impressed with the their takes on lagers/German bier styles. Some adhered to tradition while others tweaked the tried and true. Then news came that the venerable brewery would be adding a gose to their year-round line-up. But not just any gose, a cactus grapefruit one. The gose is a light, refreshing bier – perfect for summer – so it seems odd that Sierra Nevada would choose to release it in the bowels of winter. I grant you, it's nowhere near as cold in California as it is here in Wisconsin, but it's still not exactly balmy out there.

This new brew, Otra Vez, started appearing around Madison earlier this month. And now that we are looking at sub-zero temperatures, I decided to pull out a bottle and pretend I was drinking the self-styled "perfect warm weather beer" in warm weather. It was packaged on 29 December.

The gose is a German light-bodied sour wheat bier that is traditionally flavored with salt and coriander in addition to a modicum of hops. Sierra Nevada has seemingly eschewed these flavors and instead opted for the tastes of California with grapefruit and prickly pear cactus.

Otra Vez (which apparently means "again" in Spanish) pours a straw hue. It had just the lightest haze to it. My glass was capped with a big, frothy, white head that stuck around for quite a while. (I presume the head was courtesy of the wheat proteins. Regardless, it looked really nice.) The bier was quite effervescent as I spied with my little eye many a bubble inside working its way up.

As I was ogling my glass I could smell the bier and it smelled lively and refreshing. Once I really put my nose to it I caught the grapefruit and a vegetable scent – the cactus. Now, I have had prickly cactus before in the form of nopalitos, sliced cactus pads. But it was some time ago in a dish along with many other ingredients and seasonings. Ergo I cannot recall what it tasted like. Here it tasted a lot like a cucumber with floral overtones. The grapefruit was unexpectedly subdued and not particularly tart while the carbonation was generous. Otra Vez is a bubbly brew, to be sure. While neither the Sierra Nevada website nor the bottle gives salt as an ingredient, I thought I tasted it. Not a lot and not really a taste in its own right – it was more like the cactus flavor was accented by it.

Unlike the goses I've had lately, Otra Vez did not make my lips pucker. Indeed, it had just a touch of lactic acid tartness which melded into the grapefruit's own, albeit restrained, acidic bite.

And it was these tart flavors which lingered throughout the finish. Sierra Nevada says that Otra Vez was brewed with two kinds of experimental hops but only has 5 I.B.U.s and I don't know that I could taste them. There was not much Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had with only a few spots of foam left on my glass.

Otra Vez was a definite change of pace for me as far as goses go. It has a nice light body and is 4.5% A.B.V. so this is no imperial/double/gose-on-steroids. It's not sweet and does not taste like a Jolly Rancher nor eucalyptus. I really enjoyed the grapefruit/cactus combination, although I wouldn't have minded if there was more grapefruit. But the cactus added a nice, juicy savory melon flavor which I'd bet is spectacular on hot summer days. I'd also enjoy a bit more tartness as well.

Still, I enjoyed the bier's restraint. There's nothing imperial or double about it yet Otra Vez is not a simple brew. It has a multitude of flavors that come in moderation and are placed in balance with one another. I can see myself drinking this again (and again).

Junk food pairing: Otra Vez is a light bier so pair it with similarly easy going food such as lightly-salted & thin cut potato chips. It will also go well with Oriental puffed rick cracker snack mixes that have a touch of seaweed in them.

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19 January, 2016

From the Cellar: Dirty Old Man by Tyranena Brewing Co.



In the process of organizing the beer in my cellar, I came across this one: Tyranena's Dirty Old Man, an imperial rye porter that was aged in rye whiskey barrels. To be honest, I was not sure when this beer was released but I put it aside anyway.

Dirty Old Man is part of the brewery's Brewers Gone Wild series, which features big brews made in limited quantities. It seems that this beer was brewed for the first time in 2008 and that my bottle dates from 2012. I also discovered via the Interwebs that only 40% of the brew was aged in whiskey barrels. This would explain the rather modest 7.9% A.B.V.

Tyranena has been barrel aging since long before it became de rigueur for everybody and their mother to barrel age everything they can get their hands on. (We now have barrel aged coffee, tea, pickles, mustard, maple syrup, honey, et al.) Their Rocky's Revenge, brewed for 12+ years, is a brown ale blended with a portion that has been aged in bourbon barrels. It was probably the first barrel aged beer I had and is extremely tasty.

So how did Dirty Old Man fare over the past few years?

Like any porter, it poured a deep, deep brown that looked black in my glass. A very thin tan head made a very brief appearance. Staring into the beer all I could see was Stygian gloom so I can't say whether or not there were any bubbles inside. It seems quite unlikely, however, given the paucity of foam.

At the time I sampled the beer I was unaware that only a portion of the beer was barrel aged. And so I was surprised when I took a whiff and didn't get drunk off of the fumes. The whiskey was certainly there but I also able to catch a little roasted grain and coffee in there too. On tasting I noticed that these elements were reversed. The malt flavors – coffee, mostly, with some roasted grain and bitter chocolate – were out front leaving the whiskey to bring up the rear. There was just a hint of the rye to be had in the form of a little dry spiciness.

While there were a lot of great flavors here, it was quite obvious that time had taken its toll on Dirty Old Man. It had a syrupy malt sweetness to it that signaled oxidation. I will say, however, that this was one of the smoothest, most velvety beers I've ever tasted that wasn't nitrogenated. Dirty Old Man finished with some lingering bitter chocolate taste and bit of boozy heat.

Despite the wear and tear, my Dirty Old(er) Man wasn't bad. The sweetness was bearable as the great coffee and bitter chocolate malt flavors combined with the booze to offset the effects of age. I am hoping that Tyranena brews this beer again because I would imagine it that it is excellent fresh. Plenty of whiskey flavor but not enough to make it rocket fuel. Instead it melds with the great taste brought by the dark malts. And I'd love to be able to taste the rye grain more.

The current Brewers Gone Wild selection is Benji's Smoked Imperial Porter Brewed With Chipotle Pepper. This beer, on the other hand, is quite fresh having been bottled last week.

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18 January, 2016

Porky Pils: Pils Al Pastor by Evil Twin Brewing



Yet another Evil Twin brew. This is, if my count is right, the third brew that they had their hand in that I've in the past month or so. I use the word "they" but honestly don't know if anyone beyond founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø is actually a part of the company.

While I'm not positive, I do believe that I bought my bomber of Pils Al Pastor back in October around the same time I secured that bottle of Bela. I was perusing the beer at Jenifer Street Market and noticed several single bottles of interest. Most of them were pilsners, curiously enough.

I finally got around to sampling it earlier this week so the bier suffered because of my unfortunate tendency to buy too many beers and not getting around to drinking them in a timely manner. Some brews have certainly suffered at my hands and I've been up front about that. Others have handled the indignity well. Indeed, some are just fine after their extended stays in my cellar. Thankfully my backlog of brews is down to about a week's worth of reviews. After that it'll be some dips into my Limited Exclusive Cellar Reserve™ series as well as some newer brews. So you two people who read these things will have some fresh and novel stuff to deal with.

And so back to the brew at hand, Pils Al Pastor. Evil Twin has this to say about it:

Spicy, sweet and sour – this beer was inspired by a rad barman's ancho chili, pineapple and lime accented cocktail pairing for the iconic pork and pineapple taco served across the street. A provocative pilsner; feel free to drop a dime (vintage phone booth style) on it. A little good-natured defiance of the bar’s cheeky name is part of the plan for this roguish collaboration.

Because I'm at that age, I have no idea what "feel free to drop a dime (vintage phone booth style) on it" means.

Anyway, Pils Al Pastor comes in a 22oz bottle and I guess one would consider it to be an imperial pilsner as it comes in at 8% A.B.V. In addition it is flavored with pineapple, lime, and ancho chili.

It pours a lovely light gold color and appeared to have just the slightest bit of haziness. Curiously enough, my pour produced only the most minimal white head which was gone in a New York minute. I have to wonder if whatever was used to add the pineapple, lime, and chili flavors, which I presume were real pineapple, lime, and ancho chilis, degraded the foaming action here. On the other hand, there were more bubbles than even Raymond Babbitt could count.

On one hand, the aroma was sweet and pineappley. On the other there was a big wave of hops that were West Coast IPA heaven with a juicy mix of citrus and tropical fruits along with a dash of the floral. They signaled that this bier was deviating from the norm and was not akin to traditional pilsners. Those hops were very much present in the taste where their luscious fruit/floral flavors stood equal to the sweetness here which seemed to come from the pineapple as well as a more honeyed contribution from the malt. Although pungent, the hops were not particularly bitter and so allowed the earthy sweetness and gentle heat of the ancho chilies to come through. The lime flavor was restrained and seemed to be blended in with the hops.

The fruity/malty sweetness slowly faded on the finish. The ancho spiciness and its mild heat filled the vacuum along with a very pronounced spicy hop bitterness, the bier's only concession to a traditional pilsner. Just as at the start, my glass was quite pretty adorned as it was with plenty of Schaumhaftvermoegen. There were streaks of foam everywhere.

Being an imperial pilsner, Pils Al Pastor is a big beer. But not only in terms of its A.B.V. It has a medium body but a heavier mouthfeel with its pronounced sweetness. I liked the rush of fruit'n'floral hops here and they complemented the other fruit additions well. The flavors here are big but balanced…for the most part. The thing that I just couldn't abide was the sweetness. While I liked the combination of flavors, it was just too syrupy for my taste. All of the fruit flavors here made for an overall taste that was cloying and akin to soda, especially with the abundance of carbonation. I suspect that I'd have enjoyed this more had this been a non-imperial pils with more a more restrained fruitiness.

Junk food pairing: In keeping with authorial intent, I'd have plenty of chicharrón/cracklin/pork rinds on hand when consuming your Pils Al Pastor.

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17 January, 2016

Goodbye Sister Deesko: Deesko! by 3 Floyds Brewing Co.



3 Floyds bills their Deesko! as a "Munster-style Berliner Weiss". Not being familiar with the brewery's hometown, I'm not quite sure what makes this a Munster-style brew. I tend to think of 3 Floyds ethos as being about high octane and very hoppy beers. So perhaps it's the high amount of alcohol – 6.5% A.B.V. – in Deesko! The Berliner Weisse is traditionally a very low alcohol brew with about half that. Heaven forfend the Berliner Weisse from an IPA hopping regimen!

Although described as being "perfect for summer", I bought this bottle back in October which, if this tweet is any indication, means that it was fresh at that time. Since then the bomber has been in my cellar out of the light and keeping relatively cool. Opening the bottle I wasn't expecting its age to be a problem as the Berliner Weisse style is about the tartness from lactic acid instead of more delicate hoppiness which degrades with age.

Perfect for summer. Then why was this bier released in the autumn and why did I drink it during a cold snap in January? Uff da! Truth be told, I have more Berliner Weisses in the cellar that will be consumed soon.

Deesko! pours a light gold/deep yellow color. It was quite cloudy - so much so that it was almost opaque. As befitting a Champagne of the North, my glass ended up with a large slightly off-white head that dissipated at a moderate pace. There was a fair amount of bubbles in the bier going up the glass. While not pristine like a pilsner, I thought it looked rather good with its light color and generous foam radiating tasty refreshment.

The aroma was quite potent with a splendid tartness that was both lemony/citrusy along with sharp green apple. It was a big, zesty blast to the nose and I expected something similar for my tongue. Lo and behold the bier had a massive lemony sour taste that made my lips pucker. Although there was a goodly amount of carbonation, it couldn't really compete with all of that lactic tartness. Underneath all of this was a bit more malt than you normally find in the style but Dessko! still had a fairly light body and wasn't very sweet.

Sadly, there was also a herbal/medicinal flavor as well that veered into Band Aid™-like territory. While not pronounced, there was just enough of it that the tartness wasn't able to conceal it. Various sites on the Interwebs say these kinds of off flavors are the result of chlorophenols, produced when phenols made by the yeast come into contact with chlorine.

On the finish the tartness lingered for quite a while along with that off flavor, which was milder than it was earlier. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be found as it all had slid down into the bier.

I think I would have really enjoyed Deesko! had there not been that off flavor. I didn't pour it down the drain, however, and instead applied some Waldmeister (woodruff) syrup and polished off the bottle. I tried to add just enough to disguise the medicinal flavor yet not to make it taste overly sweet. Having accomplished this, I found it quite tasty with a nice tartness. The body was still light enough to retain that easy drinking quality. This was after work and I quaffed the bottle fairly quickly.

Junk food pairing: Dessko!, off flavors or not, pairs well with pretzels, preferably soft ones, adorned with a nice, sharp cheese food product.

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14 January, 2016

A Taste of Summer in the Depths of Winter: Briney Melon Gose by Anderson Valley Brewing



This post will complete a trifecta of reviews of goses by Anderson Valley Brewing. It began with their traditional gose, continued with a blood orange version, and now we finish with their Briney Melon Gose, watermelon-infused take on the style. The Anderson Valley website has no page dedicated to the brew that I can find but I read earlier this month that the bier sold well since being introduced last summer and is going to be canned. Cans will be available in March.

Although it was introduced in bottles and on draft back in the summer of 2015, I don't recall ever having seen it available here in Madison. I bought my 22oz bottle in Chicagoland back in November and sampled it earlier this month. Like too many brews I review here (something I hope to correct soon), this was not the freshest bier when I bought it and got around to drinking it. But, being a gose, I was not expecting the passage of time to have degraded the bier very much. Tartness is the main component here so it wasn't like I was going to encounter a dull, drab hoppiness as if this were an antiquated IPA.

Briney Melon pours a brilliant yellow hue, even if this is no apparent from my photograph. The bier was just a touch turbid but you would be hard pressed to notice this if you weren't a dork holding his up to the light and staring at it intently. I got a big, white head that dissipated rather quickly. There was a modicum of bubbles inside going up. Some of those bubbles were on the side of my stange which likely means that I need to do a better job of dishwashing.

As I mentioned in my previous review of a gose, I probably like more of a saline character in a gose than is traditional. From my understanding a gose should have enough salt to accent flavors and not really be tasted. Personally, I like to be able to taste just a hint of the salt – enough to know it's there. With the word "briney" being in the name of this bier, I was not at all surprised to be able to catch salinity in the aroma. Not a lot, mind you, but it was there. Briney Melon is watermelon-flavored but the fruity smell was less watermelon specifically and more melon-y in general. I couldn’t pinpoint a specific fruit, just that it was melon. There was also some mild graininess – like cracker - to be had in the nose.

Anderson Valley were not shy about making this a tart brew. I can just imagine what my face looked like upon taking my first sip and getting a blast of tartness that was moderately lemony tasting. The watermelon flavor was slightly sweet and potent enough to make its way through the lip-puckering sour and establish itself as a prominent taste. And, unsurprisingly, Briney Melon was briney. It had just enough salt to aid and abet the other flavors and also to let you know it's there. A bit of light graininess hung in the background while a hint of carbonation nipped at my tongue.

The bier finished dry with the melon flavor fading to more tartness. I couldn't discern any hops. Alas and alack, there was not much Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had beyond an occasional small streak of foam.

Briney Melon had a lot to love including a heady tartness that is exhilarating yet not tiring. It has the perfect amount of salt, to my taste. It brought out the other flavors of the beer very well and I could taste the salinity, though only just. The problem was the melon flavor. Watermelon seems like a wonderful addition to a gose but the "natural flavors" here made the beer taste like a Jolly Rancher. I was reminded of Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss or Sunset Wheat in how the fruit flavors in these beers don't taste like real fruit.

This is a real shame because I really like this bier otherwise. It's got a nice, light body – it's 4.2% A.B.V. – and is easy drinking and quite refreshing. Yet there's a lot going on here with the fruit, salinity, and tartness.

Junk food pairing: I like to keep the Southern cooking motif going when pairing with Briney Melon. Try some Chicken in a Biskit crackers with mild cheddar Easy Cheese and/or some deep fried mac & cheese bites.

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13 January, 2016

No More Oak Oppression: Bela by Destihl Brewery



This post marks the first Destihl review of a brew that isn't a part of their Wild Sour series. In fact, this may be the first bier of theirs that I've ever tasted that wasn't part of their Wild Sour series. It is possible that I have tasted something by them at the Great Taste, I suppose.

Bela is an imperial pilsner that comes in a half-litre bottle. I bought mine back in October, if memory serves, when it arrived on store shelves alongside a couple other of the brewery's offerings that were similarly bottled - Clarice Grand Cru and Tripel.

I forgot to mention that Bela is aged on oak spirals. Seeing this made me a bit apprehensive. While I like the flavors that oak aging imparts to beer, I do have my limits. Karben4's Oaktober Ale crossed those limits last year while Atom Smasher from Two Brothers was like having the barbarians at the gates. I suppose I was just worried that, since it was an imperial bier, everything would be amped up to eleven and that my tongue would suffer oak oppression.


Truth be known, I'm also a bit apprehensive about imperial pilsners. Excessive hoppiness aside, it's really the malt flavor that suffers when a brewer decides to embiggen the style. For me, a good pilsner will be dry and lack malt sweetness. The grains should come across as like crackers rather than bread or dough and be very crisp. Imperial pilsners, on the other hand, are usually rather sweet and taste more like an overly-hopped helles bock rather than a pils. Gone is the crispness and subtlety to be replaced by a honeyed, hoppy hammer blow.

Bela pours a lovely clear light yellow/straw color. My pilsner glass was put to good use here as it was topped with a large ecru crown that had an almost yellow tint. And there were lots of bubbles inside the bier movin' on up. A very pretty bier and a good example of glassware showcasing the visual aspects of a brew.

I was quite pleased that the oak on the nose was rather moderate. While it was the first thing I smelled, it did not overwhelm the other flavors which included a bit of cracker-like graininess and a fruity aroma which was like peach.

Destihl's website claims that Bela is 9.7% A.B.V. but my bottle said 10.2%. Considering this, I was impressed with the bier's medium body, lighter than I had expected. As with the aroma, the oak was unmistakable in the taste but it by no means hogged the spotlight. At 85 I.B.U.s a massive blast of spicy hoppiness was expected. It was like ODing on Saaz. Alas, there was no room for light, crackery flavors here and instead I tasted bread and a honey malt sweetness. The carbonation helped maintain a modicum of dryness and keep the malty sweetness from becoming cloying.

The malt flavors quickly faded on the finish leaving my tongue exposed to a very dry bitterness from the hops. Destihl notes that it uses "generous amounts of Czech Saaz hops" here. This is an understatement. Generally gradations of beer flavor intensity go from moderate to pronounced to assertive. The hops on the finish here were severe. Bela left behind a lot of Schaumhaftvermoegen and my glass was lined with webs of foam.

If you'll indulge some rules lawyering for a moment, Bela, to my taste, is not a pilsner. It's too sweet and lacks the crispness I expect from the style. Having said this, Bela is never cloying and it has a great, smooth mouthfeel. The alcohol is well-hidden with very minimal burn. And my arboreal fears proved unfounded as the oak was very mellow and complemented the malt perfectly. My only complaint is that the finish is too dry, too bitter. It didn't make Bela undrinkable by an stretch of the imagination but it did get me to take another sip rather quickly so that the luscious, smooth maltiness could assuage my tongue's distress.

Junk food pairing: With Bela being such a big beer, you'll need equally potent food to go with it. Start with processed cheese foods like dips made with Velveeta or its equivalent or sharp cheddar Easy Cheese on a hearty thick-cut potato chip or soft pretzel.

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12 January, 2016

Fear of the Schwarz: Midnight Star by Bull Falls Brewery



Last autumn I was duly impressed by Bull Falls' Oktoberfest. I learned that the Wausau brewery expanded in 2013 and the new digs allowed brewmaster Mike Zamzow to do decoction mashes a process that many German brewers swear by. Decoction means drawing a portion of your grain-water mixture, a.k.a. – mash, boiling it, and then returning it from whence it came. Practitioners say that the process gives life to rich, toasty melanoidin/Maillard reaction-y malty manna from heaven that can be created no other way. Others poo-poo the claim and point towards the malt itself.

Not being a brewer, I can't say I fall on one side or the other. As a drinker, I can say that many German biers have a malt taste unmatched by most American brewers. Decoction? Maybe.

Regardless, Bull Falls' has made a commitment to German bier styles and brewing methods. This coupled with the fact that I love schwarzbiers made me eager to taste Midnight Star, their Schwarzbier. I've been unable to find it in Madison but grabbed a four-pack last month when I was up in Stevens Point.

The schwarzbier is a dark lager and I struggle to define a difference between it and its cousin the dunkel. Both have relatively light bodies like a pilsner or helles despite having the appearance of a heavier brew such as a porter or stout. I tend to think of the schwarzbier as having more roasted grain flavors – like coffee or chocolate – than a dunkel yet these malt flavors are much more subdued than in porter or stouts.

Midnight Star pours a disturbingly light mahogany. While my photography skills are quite poor, I think you can get an idea of how light it is from my picture. For contrast check out a couple other schwarzbiers – here's Night Wolf from Valkyrie and Metropolitan's Magnetron. Midnight Star is clear but saw no bubbles inside the bier. On the other hand, I did get a nice ecru head on my glass that was frothy and luscious.

Things fared better with the aroma as the malt gave a really nice bready smell as well as some of roasted grains. Also in there was a hint of some grassy hops. Midnight Star had all the flavors that I expected of it. Malt dominated the medium-light body with coffee and roasted grain flavors being the most prominent but there was some sweetness underneath. I couldn't taste much in the way of hops but the carbonation added a little dryness.

The problem was that, although the requisite flavors were present, they were too weak. The bier was a bit watery.

While there wasn't a lot of hop flavor to be had, the finish was dry anyway owing to a smidgen of hop spiciness, the carbonation, and a paucity of malt for contrast. My glass was left with a goodly amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen with thin streaks all around.

Sadly, Midnight Star was disappointing for me. I very much enjoyed their Oktoberfest as well as their helles and was expecting good things here. Unfortunately the bier is simply too watery as I suspected from its light color. A schwarzbier ought to be a glass of Stygian gloom, not allowing any light to escape its depths just like a black hole. The malt flavors here, although tasty, are weak and watered-down, not just more subdued as in a dunkel.

Although I have no plans to be up north in the near future, I do intend to try this bier again when I can. This must have been an off batch.

Junk food pairing: Until it's proven that Midnight Star can deliver the goods, pair it with easy-going things like plain potato chips or pretzels.

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11 January, 2016

The Schwarz Is Not Strong In This One: Schwarz in a Box by Capital Brewery



Back in 2014 Capital Brewery'sAshley Kinart was given free rein to create a beer of her own devising and she delivered Fishin' in the Dark, an imperial schwarzbier. That autumn she was promoted to brewmaster and promptly brewed Schwarz in a Box in time for the holidays.

Schwarz in a Box, as the name implies, is also a schwarzbier. I found a bottle of it last month and was a bit surprised that it had been brewed again as it seemed to have gone all but unnoticed last year. I poked around the Internet only to discover that my assumption was quite mistaken and that I had, in fact, purchased a bottle from last year. Not the end of the world, but something to keep in mind as you read on.

As I admitted in my review of Fishin' in the Dark, I'm not really sure how to define a schwarzbier. It's a dark lager but is not a big, viscous brew like a porter. Think a pilsner but dark in color and with the flavors of dark malts. So what's the difference between a schwarzbier and a dunkel? I'm not sure. I think a schwarzbier should be a bit darker in color and have more malt flavor, including a little sweetness, but is quite similar to the dunkel. A bigger dunkel, perhaps?

All of this is moot here because Schwarz in a Box is 7.6% A.B.V. and, like it's summer cousin, is an imperial schwarzbier. (Anyone care to venture a guess as to the difference between an imperial schwarzbier and a Baltic porter or dunkel bock?) But for the holiday season Kinart has infused the bier with spices. And so, keeping in mind that this brew is by no means fresh, here's what I found.

Schwarz in a Box pours a dark sepia that appears black in the glass. Looking straight on the bier is opaque but if you approach it at an angle, it seems to be clear. The small tan head went away rather quickly. Because the bier is so schwarz I had a hard time determining if there were any bubbles inside the glass.

The aroma lets on that this is no normal imperial schwarzbier. Orange peel and cinnamon were up front with some vanilla and perhaps ginger in the background. I found it odd that I could discern no malt. Thankfully the maltiness came through in the taste. Unfortunately, despite a medium body, there wasn't much of it. Cinnamon ruled the roost with the orange peel by its side. While invisible to the eyes, carbonation cut any potential sweetness out and added a little dryness. Pulling up the rear were the expected malt flavors of roasted grain and coffee.

Some spicy hops came through at the end and helped make for a pretty dry finish helped along by the carbonation and a late burst of cinnamon. A modicum of Schaumhaftvermoegen lined my glass.

In short, Schwarz in a Box is like cold mulled bier. Mulled beer has been around for ages although it's not a trend that seems to have been embraced by American craft beer drinkers. Regardless of tradition, this bier will succeed or fail on its own terms. To my taste, it is the latter. The spices, especially the cinnamon, overpower the malt flavors here. I love dark lagers with their great blend of toasty/bready and roasted/coffee malt tastes. That mix is lost here in a miasma of spices. I have nothing against the theory behind this brew but the bier needs room to breathe.

So what was lost over the past year? If the beer had become excessively oxidized from age I'd expect a syrupy sweetness to it. But that wasn't present here and the bier didn't taste old to me - it simply tasted over-seasoned. I give Ashley Kinart credit for thinking outside of the box, so to speak, but I prefer it to have been more malty tasting. There's just not enough schwarz in this schwarzbier.

Junk food pairing: Schwarz in the Box pairs well with standard Christmas party kind of fare such as 7 Layer Dip Combos or Molten Hot Wing Ruffles.

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08 January, 2016

Should You Choose to Drink It: Mission Gose by Evil Twin Brewing



A few days ago I had a gose that Evil Twin conspired with Two Roads to brew. Now I have a solo effort from the Danish-American gypsy brewing concern - Mission Gose.

Mission Gose is brewed with eucalyptus. This is quite ironic because both Evil Twin's collaboration bier and a Scandinavian gose, Förgås, that I reviewed last week both had a minty herbal flavor that I described as tasting like eucalyptus. I've apparently stumbled upon a new trend in microbrewing. At least amongst northern European microbrewers.

Evil Twin is a so-called "gypsy brewery" meaning that there is no Evil Twin beer factory. Instead proprietor Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø uses the facilities of others to brew his recipes. In this case, Mission Gose was brewed in South Carolina at the Westbrook Brewing Company. The bier was released last spring although I purchased my bottle back in the autumn. I don't recall seeing it prior to that here in Madison but that could have simply been myopia on my part as opposed to preternaturally slow distribution.

Going into this endeavor, I had some idea of what a gose with eucalyptus or eucalyptus-like flavor tasted like so I was not really occupied with the novelty of this combination but rather with how well the bier was brewed. The gose is a light, sour wheat ale that is traditionally flavored with coriander and salt that sit behind the tartness and the style's generous effervescence. It's a zesty, fizzy sour delight. Or is supposed to be, anyway. Would Evil Twin adhere to tradition, more or less, or would it dismember the style ingredient by ingredient and reassemble them into a trendy Frankenstein gose-like beverage to appeal to craft drinkers who don't understand words like "balanced" and "subtle"?

I took it as a good omen that the label said that Mission is a mere 4% A.B.V. At least this was not an imperial double quad triple that could fell a horse with one sip. It poured a lovely gold hue which was much darker than I expected. It was quite clear although there was sediment at the bottom of the bottle which came out in my terminal pour. Huge was the dull white crown atop my glass. The head was frothy with fine bubbles. The action inside was no less busy as there were a lot of bubbles going up from the bottom. Very pretty.

The dull, herbal mint smell of eucalyptus was front and center in the aroma. It combined with the lemony/citrus scent of the lactic tartness and gave off this wonderfully mellow, fruity melon-like smell. I've never encountered such a thing in a beer's aroma before. Very nice.

That lemony tartness exploded out of the gate upon taking my first sip. As per normal, the puckering potential diminished a bit as my session went on and my tongue acclimatized itself to the acidity while the carbonation dried out the flavor a bit as well. The eucalyptus wasn't particularly strong but it was no slouch. Here the herbal aspect was most prominent with the mintiness being a bit dull.

Exactly how much salinity a gose should have is a matter of debate. I think I profoundly irritated someone at Next Door Brewing by suggesting their gose wasn't salty enough, amongst other sins. My impression is that there should be enough salt to accent the flavors, to boost them, but not so much that the drinker would say that the beer has been salted. My personal preference is that I should be able to taste the salt but only just. I like to taste the barest hint of salinity in my gose and Mission does just that. Very tasty.

At the finish the lemony tartness and some dryness from the carbonation lingered along with a bit of the eucalyptus. Aside from a couple spots, there wasn't much Schaumhaftvermoegen as it slid back into the bier.

Mission was a wonderful surprise for me as it just hit all the right notes for me. It had a lactic tartness quotient that was big yet never approached deadly. A nice light body was complemented by plenty of fizz for a lively, refreshing treat. While I cannot definitively say that there is no coriander, another trademark of the gose, I can tell you that I didn't taste any. Regardless, I enjoyed the eucalyptus as it works well with the light body and carbonation. And it had just the right salinity. Mission isn't a balanced beer but it gets the right flavors in the right proportions.

Junk food pairing: Pair any remaining bottles of Mission Gose you may have with something fairly light such as plain potato chips. I've read that gose was often paired with some Kümmel back in the day, also try some chivda with your glass.

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07 January, 2016

You Got Beer in My Cocktail: Old Fashioned Berliner Weisse by MobCraft Brewing



Madison’s (soon to be Milwaukee’s) MobCraft Brewing is famous for pioneering the crowdsourcing of beer recipes. My experiences with their brews have been very hit or miss but I don't mind trying out one of their brews every so often that sounds interesting.

And of one their brews that sounded interesting was Old Fashioned Berline Weisse. Just as the name indicates, it's a Berliner Weisse flavored with various spices and aged in either bourbon or brandy barrels in order to turn an unsuspecting bier into a simulacrum of Wisconsin's unofficial cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

In addition to not knowing much about beer, I also don't know much about cocktails. So I've gleaned from the Interwebs that the ur-Old Fashioned was made by muddling sugar and bitters and then adding whiskey. The concoction was then garnished with an orange slice. Cheeseheads, however, tweaked the recipe at some point lost in the mists of time to use brandy instead of whiskey and added a splash of soda or sour mix. It also gained a maraschino cherry for additional garnish. This article by Rachel Fell seems as good an introduction to Wisconsin's version of the drink as any. And it comports with what I've always heard about the state's love affair with brandy, namely, that it began at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago after some visitors from north of the border fell in love with Korbel and returned home to spread the gospel.

I recently tasted the brandy barrel aged variation of Old Fashioned Berline Weisse. The brew was released back in July 2014. While not fresh, my bottle has been stowed away in my cellar so it's been kept relatively cool and out of light.

Old Fashioned Berliner Weisse pours a gold hue which was rather darker than I expected. While my initial pour was clear, my last one was totally turbid. This was an extremely effervescent bier as befitting a "champagne of the north". Foam rushed out of the bottle upon de-capping. In my haste to put the cap into my bottle cap recycling can, I didn't notice the frothy ejaculate and, like Onan, some of it ended up on the floor. Once decanted, my glass had a large off-white head that proved to be in no hurry to depart as well as a country ton of bubbles in the bier itself moving on up.

As I noted above, Old Fashioned is brewed with various spices and they are meant to mimic bitters. On the nose I could smell the cardamom and star anise, but not the juniper. There was also the scent of the oranges. Everything on the aroma reappeared in the taste. And again, I could not taste juniper. Joining those spices and the fruit was brandy. The barrel aging was done with a relatively light touch so, while you cannot miss its flavor, it doesn't overpower the other components. Being a Berliner Weisse, this is a sour beer courtesy of lactic acid. And Old Fashioned has an assertive sour flavor, though it isn't particularly lemony or citrus-tasting as is usually the case.

This is something I've wondered about since I've started drinking sour beers. Why is it that some lactic acid sour beers have that lemon flavor whereas others do not? Does that taste fade with age, perhaps? Something to investigate.

Lastly, I shall note that the carbonation is prominent. Not only is the Berliner Weisse a fizzy and vivacious style, but all those bubbles help imitate the soda or sour that is used in the Wisconsin iteration of the cocktail.

For the finish those spices lingered a bit until finally fading which allowed the lactic acid to prevail for a sour, dry finale. Schaumhaftvermoegen was sparse as the vast majority slid down into the bier. However, there were a few spots of foam to be had.

While I don't indulge in Old Fashioneds and it's been several months since I stole a sip from one, MobCraft's tribute to my state's favorite cocktail tasted very much like how I remembered its namesake tasting. My frau, who indulges in an Old Fashioned much more frequently than me, gave it the thumbs up saying that it tasted just like the cocktail. It was as if our dining room had been transformed into a supper club.

Beyond the whole mimicry element, Old Fashioned is a tasty brew. It has a light body and is all fizzy and bubbly yet it also boasts a plethora of flavors from spices, fruit, barrel aging, and bold bacteria. I was quite impressed with just how much I could taste the brandy considering the bier is only 5% A.B.V.

Junk food pairing: If you should have any Old Fashioned left, begin by pairing it with the fried equivalent of a relish tray. Grab some dill pickle potato chips and some vegetable chips. Once you've polished those off, go for Meijer Prime Rib & Horseradish Wavy Potato Chips.

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06 January, 2016

For the Naughty Beer Drinkers: Krampus Imperial Helles by Southern Tier Brewing Company



Because I automagically think of the bearded Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” when I am confronted with evil twins, I was going to begin this post by writing that Krampus is like the bearded Santa Claus. Luckily I was immediately struck with the stupidity of the statement and quickly abandoned the idea. Instead I shall say that Krampus is this horned, cloven hooved figure in European folklore that leaves the nice kids to Santa and deals with the naughty ones. Representations of him are a bit Pan-like but much more sinister and without the flute. St. Nicholas Day is 6 December (and still celebrated in Milwaukee) with the preceding night dedicated to Krampus. Some cities’ celebrations feature people dressed up as the beast himself and running around the street causing low-level mayhem.

Just as finding candy in your shoe on the morning of 6 December serves to remind you that Christmas is coming, so does the appearance of Southern Tier’s Krampus, an imperial helles, on store shelves.

The idea of an imperial helles seems contradictory. The German Beer Institute** describes the style as “a gentle beer”. It’s one that is “mildly malt-accented” and never has a harsh finish. The hops in a helles are “less aromatic” and “less aggressive” than those in pilsners. So what is an imperial helles? A kinder, gentler take on the style? With even milder malts and duller pacifist hops? It is as if we approach a homeopathic brew.

Krampus pours a light copper color. This was my first clue that this was going to be a different beast from your average Joe helles. The bier was quite clear. I got about ¼” of tan head that dissipated in what I consider to be an average amount of time, roughly a minute. There was a healthy amount of bubbles in the glass going upwards.

On taking in the aroma, I knew that I’d have to leave behind all descriptions of the style. I had feared that 3 Floyds’ helles would be over-hopped and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. Southern Tier, on the other hand had no qualms about hopping the living fuck out of Krampus. The floral and citrus hop scents here were very aromatic and quite aggressive. Behind the almost impenetrable wall of lupulin was a modest bit of honeyed malt sweetness.

I fully expected the taste to be hoppy scorched earth policy. The hops lost the citrus and most of the floral qualities too in the taste. In their stead were aggressive, nay warlike, hop flavors that reeked of pine and resin. They waged war on my tongue as some remaining floral hoppiness stood idly by. The malt, the part of the bier that should really stick out in a helles, struggled against the bitter lupulin assault so I was only able to taste a moderate – moderate when compared to the hop flavor, that is – honey sweetness.

Krampus finishes very dry as what little malt flavor there is quickly overrun by that piney hop flavor. My glass was left with some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen as there was a good amount of webbing lining it.

Southern Tier claims that Krampus is brewed with 4 kinds of malts and 2 kinds of hops. Numerical superiority didn’t help the grains here as tradition and style guidelines were dispatched with for this brew. This bier is severely hoppy. It looked nicely effervescent but not even the carbonation could cut through the tangle of pine and floral hops. There was no sign of the helles’ sine qua non - those wonderful toasty, melanoidin-y/Maillard reaction-y malt flavors.

If a blitzkrieg of piney/resiny hops are your thing, you’ll no doubt enjoy Krampus. I guess I was naughty last year because drinking Krampus was not unlike punishment. Sadly, it bears little to no resemblance to the style I have enjoyed for 25 years.

Junk food pairing: Launch a counter-assault on Krampus by pairing it with fried foods like jalapeño poppers or cheese curds dipped in a bold, zesty ranch or blue cheese sauce.

**While I wouldn’t say that everything at the German Beer Institute’s site is gospel and there is bound to be variation, I find their description to generally be true.

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Not An Alpha Beast: Gorch Fock by 3 Floyds Brewing Company



I was surprised to find out last year that 3 Floyds brews a helles as a summer seasonal. (And even more recently that they brew a pilsner year-round.) To my mind 3 Floyds is a prototypical American microbrewery with an arsenal of extremely hoppy pale ales and a Russian imperial stout that gets a big release party once a year at the brewery as is becoming mandatory for the style. I'll cop to not being a fan of the brewery, though more through simply not having tasted many of their beers rather than disliking them. (I will also admit to not being impressed by a story I heard about the brewery's appearance at the Great American Beer Festival a few years back - they were reportedly very disrespectful to attendees.)

But that was then and this is now. And a helles isn't a pale ale. I didn't see the words "imperial" or "double" on the label so I cautiously and optimistically purchased a bottle of Gorch Fock. My only worry was that the bier was going to be hopped all to fuck. It was a chance I was willing to take as breweries, at least the ones that sell their beers in Madison, generally don’t brew a helles.

The helles was born in 1894 at the Spaten Brewery in Munich. It was apparently the southern German answer to the trendy Bohemian pilsner. While it retained the light color of its Czech cousin, the Bavarians inverted the flavors so that the malt took pride of place while the hops were relegated to a supporting role. Would 3 Floyds, a brewery that proudly proclaims, "Scorched earth is our brewery policy", be able to pull off a beer that is about subtlety?

Gorch Fock, the name of a large German sailing ship, pours a lovely light gold color. It was a little hazy. My pour produced a small white head which was gone in a New York minute. There was many a bubble inside making its way upwards.

I took a whiff and my nose was greeted by the scent of bread, which was expected. Also expected was some mild grassy hop aroma. Quite unexpected were the (very) mild fruity flavors. An apricot-like flavor was strongest followed by one that I noted as being like citrus but this was because it was a slightly sharper, zestier kind of flavor as opposed to tasting like an actual piece of citrus fruit.

Gorch Fock had a rather light body as is typical of the style but there was still malt action to be had with clean biscuit and bread flavors joined by a little malt sweetness that was like honey. The helles is not an alpha beast and I am happy to report that my fears were allayed as 3 Floyds did not hop the living fuck out of this bier. Instead there was some grassy hop taste but not much bitterness. Lastly I could taste some carbonation.

Those grainy flavors slowly faded on the finish allowing grassy/herbal hop flavors to come through and add moderate bitterness for a nice dry ending.

I was thrilled that Gorch Fock is a rather gentle bier (5% A.B.V.) that utilized Noble or Noble-tasting hops with admirable restraint. But it lacked in the malt department to my taste. Not only was the bier was a touch thin to me but it also lacked a depth of that melanoidin/Maillard reactiony toasted bread kind of flavor that I adore and that I feel should be prominent in a helles. I did not pour this bier down the drain and, if memory serves, my frau and I finished the bottle. While it was a refreshing drink to have after work, it just didn't push my helles buttons.

Junk food pairing: 3 Floyds did not enforce its scorched earth policy in brewing Gorch Fock so pair it with lighter fare such as potato chips or, as I did, regular Cheez-Its.

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04 January, 2016

To Keep Jack Frost at Bay: Big Eddy Ryewine Ale by Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company



Leinenkugel's Big Eddy series began in 2007 with a draft-only double IPA that was available here in Madison and in Milwaukee. Big Eddy beers are big, bold brews full of flavor and alcohol too. Most are also chances for the brewery to experiment with styles that are otherwise not represented in its portfolio. Such is the case with Ryewine Ale, a barleywine with a healthy dose of rye.

I will confess that I do not drink barleywines very often. But it's not that I have a distaste for the style. Far from it. I have wonderful memories of drinking my first back in 1991 or 1992 when a bottle of Old Nick touched my lips. A few years later I sampled the Great Dane's first barleywine with a friend whom I hadn't seen for some time. And so I have fond memories associated with the style but it just rarely seems to find its way into my glass these days. On cursory introspection I will attribute this to the fact that I like to sit back and sip on barleywine while in no hurry whatsoever. Small doses to be savored over time, a spirit which is lost to me these days as my attention seems to jump from one thing to another.

/omphaloskepsis

Originally released in the spring/summer(?!) of 2013, I picked up a four-pack in the fall of 2014 and it has been aging in my cellar ever since. I recently brought one up from hibernation and decided to see how well it could chase away the winter chill.

Ryewine Ale pours a deep mahogany that is opaque unless you cant your head so that you're not looking at the glass perpendicularly. It looked clear but I was unable to be certain. My pour produced a very small tan head that was off like a prom dress. I could not see any bubbles inside the beer at no matter which angle I peered into the beer's depths.

Sadly I did not drink any Ryewine Ale when it was fresh and so I'm not able to tell you how this two and a half year-old version tastes in comparison to its youthful self. Having said this, I can say that sticking my nose into my snifter revealed a wonderfully sweet aroma overflowing with notes of vanilla, caramel, and a plum-y fruitiness.

I was surprised upon taking my first sip that the beer's body was lighter than I had expected. It was fairly heavy but not syrupy and viscous as my nose led me to believe and tasted much like the aroma. The vanilla which had been quite prominent to the nose was here but reduced. It blended well with a big fruity sweetness. Balancing the sweetness was, quelle surprise, alcohol. Ryewine Ale is 10% A.B.V. and suffered no shortage of boozy burn. As someone who loves rye in beer, I was happy to taste some of that earthy spiciness but it didn't stand out as I'd hoped.

On the finish the vanilla/sweetness combination faded as a boozy warmth settled in. Before long some grassy hop flavor and bitterness appeared and gave the finish some unanticipated dryness which was quite pleasant after all of the preceding sweetness.

As you probably surmised, Ryewine Ale did a fine job of chasing off Jack Frost. By definition the barleywine is a sweet beer but Leinenkugel did well by it in keeping this one from being treacly. The alcohol, a little carbonation, some rye, and those hops on the finish keep the sugary flavors from overpowering the palate.

Junk food pairing: Help keep Ryewine's delicate balance and pair it with some dark chocolate covered pretzels or mellower cheeses such as Colby or Provolone Cheez-Its.

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An APA by Any Other Name Would Smell As Bitter: Vacation Request by Capital Brewery



I first tasted Vacation Request back in August at a pre-Great Taste event where I also got to chat with Capital Brewery's brewmaster Ashley Kinart. I found her to an affable person so, if you get the chance to talk to her, do so.

I'm not sure if this beer was meant as a one-off or if it sold poorly and has been flushed down the memory hole because I can find nary a reference to it at Capital's website. Bottles appeared on store shelves not long after my sampling above which means this beer dates to late August or early September at the very latest. For a beer described as a "Light-bodied ale brewed with Mandarina Bavaria and Lemondrop hops", I am probably doing it a disservice by drinking it now but so it goes. I'll be gentle.

Honestly, I don't know how to classify Vacation Request stylistically. I suppose that, if Kinart felt it to be an IPA, Capital would have advertised it as such considering the marketing value of "India" and "IPx" these days. Perhaps after tasting the beer's taxonomy will become clearer.

The Mandarina Bavaria hop is a rather recent invention having been introduced in 2012. Hailing from Germany, it's part of a wave of Teutonic hops that mimic popular American varieties with predominant citrus and other fruit aromas and flavors. See also Saphir and Hüll Melon hop varieties. Lemondrop hops, on the other hand, are born and bred in Washington state and appear to have become widely available only last year.

Vacation Request pours a light gold hue that is just a touch hazy. This was one effervescent brew as I got a big, firm, white head that would have lasted until 2017 had I not poured it into my waiting maw. There were countless bubbles inside my glass making their way upwards.

It was quite unsurprising that the beer's aroma was dominated by bright lemon and citrus scents. There was also a hint of the herbal underneath, however. A "citrus hopped ale" indeed. Those aromas translated into the taste. Big lemon (Lemondrop) and tangerine (Mandarina Bavaria) flavors burst forth onto the tongue. These flavors were not, however, very zesty. Instead they were rounded and mellow in the same way that citrus scents in dish soaps lack a sharpness. Concomitant to this, the hops also provided a pronounced herbal bitterness and a faint floral taste too. There was a hint of the malt in a bread-like taste as well as a hint of earthy rye spiciness. Lastly there was carbonation which added a nice dry counterpoint to the festival of citrus.

Those citrus flavors faded in the finish and were superseded by the herbal taste and some bitterness to ultimately end on a fairly clean, dry note. My glass was left with a lot of lacing. There was a surfeit of thick webbing along with a smattering of dense patches.

Although I give Kinart credit for putting rye into this beer, the truth is that the malt is deemphasized here. To me, this along with a paucity of yeast flavors makes Vacation Request an American IPA or an APA. Despite the fact that my tasting did not involve the freshest beer, Vacation Request still managed to deliver big, bold hop flavors. All of that citrus gave the brew a sprightly taste that was underpinned by some herbal bitterness and the sharp, earthy rye. I liked the flavors of the hops themselves although I'd like to try fresher brews with them. And while not a fatal flaw, I have to admit that I do wish that there was more malt here. Ultimately I find beers where the grains are the brewing equivalent of the Washington Generals to be fine in small doses but unsatisfying in the long haul. I'd rather that the hops get something substantial to play off of and meld with rather than being considered an end in and of themselves. Still, Vacation Request was tasty and a nice introduction to two new hop varieties.

Junk food pairing: Pair Vacation Request with Chipotle Cheddar Pretzel Crisps. The pretzels and the salt will add a little body to the proceedings with the light beer while the light touch of smoke complements the citrus flavors of the beer very well.

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From the Land of Ice and Snow: Geyser Gose by Evil Twin and Two Roads Brewing Companies



I must admit to being familiar with neither Evil Twin Brewing nor the Two Roads Brewing Company. While I've certainly seen the former's beers on store shelves, I am not sure that I've ever tasted their beer. Evil Twin is a gypsy brewery. Proprietor Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø doesn't own a brewing facility and instead formulates beers and then has someone else brew them to his specifications. In researching the company I discovered that Jeppe is the identical twin brother of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the owner of Mikkeller, the renowned Danish microbrewery, which is also a gypsy outfit.

From what I have gathered, Geyser Gose is a collaboration between Evil Twin and Two Roads and not simply the latter following the recipe of the former. Indeed, the can features the likenesses of both Bjergsø and Two Roads' brewmaster Phil Markowski. Well, half a likeness each, anyway. This being the case, Geyser Gose served as an intro for me to both breweries and a rare chance to try a Two Roads brew as the Connecticut brewery only distributes in New England.

Geyser Gose pours a hazy yet brilliant yellow color. I got a big, foamy white head that took an average amount of time to dissipate. I spied a few bubbles making their way up inside the beer.

The Two Roads website notes that the beer was brewed with "Icelandic moss, rye, herbs, sea kelp, skyr (Icelandic yogurt) and birch-smoked sea salt". I have to admit to being a tad leery of such everything-including-the-kitchen-sink kind of ingredient lists for beers. These lists sound gimmicky plus, if you put just one crystal of birch-smoked sea salt in your batch, then you can list it as an ingredient. I don't mean to impugn the reputations of the breweries at hand but I look at that list and ask myself, "Well, what kind of moss? Surely there's more than one type of moss in Iceland. What does moss taste like?"

Most of those ingredients will mean exactly nothing for the vast majority of people who drink this beer. While I don't doubt the accuracy of this list, it comes across more as some opaque braggadocio rather than helpful description.

Going in with the expectation that I'd be smelling something akin to Icelandic curry, I caught a crackery grain smell, some lemony tartness (Was this from the skyr?), and a nice herbal bouquet that was dull and minty - like eucalyptus, if I may reuse a description from my previous post. Geyser Gose has a fairly simple aroma yet it was decidedly pleasant. It was alluring in a rather conventional gose manner and not one of olfactory overload that made me want to find out just what the hell is going on with the beer.

Considering all of the ingredients used to make this beer, it was a bit surprising to me just how little I could taste of what I would think was moss or kelp. There were a couple different tart flavors. First was a moderate lemony/citrus one followed by a flavor that was like green apple and verjuice. The light body yielded a restrained cracker/graininess. I couldn't taste any salinity nor could I detect any smokiness. The closest thing to kelp and moss I tasted was the return of the herbal from the aroma. On my tongue it was a nice grassy mint flavor. Geyser Gose's carbonation plus the variety of tart flavors gave the beer a rather sharp, fizzy acidulousness that surrounded the rest of the flavors.

For the finish, the tartness flared up and then lingered with salt coming in at the very end. There was little Schaumhaftvermoegento be had with just a few spots and streaks to be had.

I will admit to being slightly disappointed that all of those exotic Arctic ingredients added up to a mere bit of herbal flavor. On the other hand, I thought that that minty herbal flavor made a nice departure from the traditional coriander. The variety of tart flavors was a real treat and they imbued the beer with some zestiness which was curiously invigorating on an overcast winter day.

Junk food pairing: Pair you Geyser Gose with some mild salt & vinegar potato chips as these will boost the tartness quotient. On the other hand, some rye chips will add salt and a spiciness that will both boost and provide contrast to the herbal flavors in the beer.

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