Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 February, 2016

A Singularity of Tastiness: Apparent Horizon by August Schell Brewing Company



Schell, whose motto is "German craft beer", is well-known for its selection of German bier styles that are familiar to craft beer drinkers – hefeweizen, pilsners, bocks, et al. Back in 2013 the venerable brewery jumped headlong into the sour trend with the Noble Star series, its take on the Berliner Weisse, a light, bubbly, tart wheat bier. The Berliner Weisse was extremely popular in its native city in the early 19th century but its popularity was on the wane a hundred years later as lagers were ascendant. A couple world wars, economic hardship, and Germany being riven in twain all led to the near extinction of the Berliner Weisse in the latter half of the 20th century.

As a couple German brewers kept the flame alive, American microbrewers discovered the style and have slowly but steadily resurrected the Berliner Weisse on these shores. Schell brewmaster Jace Marti has also resurrected a couple of cypress lagering tanks dating back to the mid-1930s for fermenting his takes on the style.

Although I have described the Berliner Weisse as being a light, bubbly, and tart – the "champagne of the North" according to Napoleon and/his soldiers – the style has changed over the centuries. The proportion of wheat to barley has changed over time, for example, and smoked wheat used to be standard. And the bier has been brewed to various strengths over the years. Today in Germany it is not uncommon for a Berliner Weisse to be served mit Schuss, a.k.a. - with a shot of fruit syrup, Himbeere (raspberry) or Waldmeister (woodruff). I've read that this practice started in the early 20th century but cannot find that website at the moment.

Today we have Schell's Apparent Horizon, a Berliner Weisse brewed with 35% of the grain bill given over to rye as well as lactobacillus bacteria and brettanomyces yeast, the latter known for the funky, "barnyard" aroma and flavors it produces. At 5.1% A.B.V. it is known as a vollbier or full beer in German, quite a bit higher than the more common 3.5-4%. The label says it was bottled in August 2015 and is, to best of knowledge, the latest bier in the Noble Star line.

Hopefully as the days grow longer and warmer my photographs will get better but, for now, all I can do is apologize. Apparent Horizon poured a lovely yellow gold and was slightly hazy. However, the bier got cloudier with each pour and it was quite turbid by the time I got to the bottom of the bottle. My initial pour produced a small white head but a second more aggressive one gave a larger one. It dissipated quickly just like champagne. And just like champagne there were veritable armies of bubbles inside the glass going upwards.

The bier's aroma had a fairly potent dose of that lemony lactic acid tartness. But there were also earthy, woody smells as well which came from the cypress tanks and the not insignificant amount of rye in the bier. Oddly enough, my nose also caught some sweetness which was more like honey than fruit.

My tongue could not help but notice all those bubbles that caught my eyes attention. Light and bubbly are two wholly appropriate words here. The wheat stood out as did the lemony lacto tartness. While some Berliner Weisses present the drinker with enough sourness to strip paint, Apparent Horizon was more temperate. You couldn't miss the tartness but was also moderate enough to allow a host of other flavors to come through including more subtle ones like the woodiness from those cypress tanks. There was some rye spiciness as well as a semi-sweet floral taste. Topping things off was a moderate wet blanket funk from the brettanomyces.

The finish had some lingering lemony tartness which, when it finally gave way, left my palate to enjoy a woody/floral afterglow. My glass was left ohne Schaumhaftvermoegen.

Apparent Horizon is the eighth entry in Schell's Noble Star series and Jace Marti is at the top of his game. This is a complex bier yet every flavor was in its place with none being overpowering. As a lover of rye in beer I was excited to drink this brew and was not disappointed. The rye was quite tasty and lent a little dryness. While the bier was tart, it was not overly so which meant that it was only mildly acidic. Again there's that moderation and balance at work. Besides the rye, I especially like the woody notes from the cypress tanks and that mysterious floral taste. They really pushed an already wonderful blend of grains, yeast, and bacteria over the top and made the bier even more complex yet retained a wholly approachable character.

Junk food pairing: I highly recommend pairing Apparent Horizon with some dill pickle potato chips.

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25 February, 2016

Porch, you magnificent bastard - I read your book! (The Path to Victory by Douglas Porch)



World War II was a big deal in my house when I was a boy. My father was a voracious reader and he had a small library devoted to the subject. People like Chester Nimitz and George Patton were talked about as if they were great uncles. He had a particularly keen interest in the Pacific Theater and was always interested in meeting veterans of that part of the war. When he did, most did not want to talk about their experiences in places like Iwo Jima or Okinawa. But on he pushed.

It is no surprise that his interest rubbed off on his sons. While in elementary school I wrote a paper on the attack on Pearl Harbor. While I've always had more than a passing interest in the history of World War II it was really my brother who shared my father's passion on the subject. When our father died I was happy to let him keep all of dad's books on it. My brother became one of those WWII history nerds who could tell you exactly how many casualties there were at a given battle and recite a list of every model fighter plane Messerschmitt built and the precise date they were introduced into combat.

When my brother died last year I felt that the family legacy of interest in and knowledge of World War II only had me to carry it on. And so I decided to do some reading on the topic. However, I didn't just want to sit down and read something like Samuel E. Morison's multi-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, a favorite of my father's. No. If I was not able to deny the ghosts of my father and brother then I at least would have to tack a course of my own devising. (To be expected, I suppose, since I had already tackled The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang.)

Douglas Porch's The Path to Victory was not my first foray into the subject of WWII after my brother's death but it's the first I've written owing to circumstance. The subtitle of the book is "The Mediterranean Theater in World War II". While the Mediterranean was certainly spoken of in our house, it did not have the cachet of the campaign to take the Solomon Islands or the Battle of the Bulge, for example. And in American culture today it is over-shadowed by the Ambrosian-approved D-Day landings. A perfectly suitable subject for me.

A military historian, Douglas Porch, the back cover tells us, "is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School". The book's text is just shy of 700 pages with another 100 or so of notes, index, and whatnot. This is not a slim introductory volume. Indeed, the book is not aimed at your average lay reader but at students of military history although I would say that interested people – like me – along with the Internet can get through it with good comprehension.

The book's thesis is that the Mediterranean was the pivotal theater in the war though not the decisive one. Events in this theater prefaced, influenced, aided, and abetted the more conclusive ones in theaters to the north. Not being a military historian, I am unqualified to judge the success or failure of Porch's argument. Instead I want to highlight some elements of Porch's story that caught my attention. Some directly relate to Porch's thesis while others do not.

One thing I found interesting was that Porch has a wide view of what constitutes the Mediterranean Theater. He included Eritrea/Ethiopia as well as the greater Middle East. While Italy controlled East Africa, FDR could not send aid through the Red Sea as he was not allowed to put American ships into combat zones. Once Britain had cleared the Horn of Africa of Italian forces, U.S. ships were free to sail the Red Sea and onwards towards Suez.

One significance of the Middle East was, unsurprisingly, oil. Gasoline was rarely in short supply for Allied troops in North Africa while it was so very often for the Germans and Italians whose oil came from across the Mediterranean in Romania. I was unaware that Britain invaded Iraq in April 1941. In addition to preventing German intervention in the region, it would "showcase its [Britain's] value as an ally for the United States." Indeed, Churchill and the British army did a lot of the equivalent of a peacock displaying his tail feathers to get the attention of the United States and lure it into the war. Rommel running roughshod around North Africa was an embarrassment to the British, not only from a purely operational point of view, but also a strategic one. It made Britain look bad and perhaps not like a worthy ally for Americans watching from across the Atlantic.

North Africa is generally thought of as the first act of the Mediterranean Theater. While I knew about the dramatic and perhaps romanticized duel between Rommel and Montgomery in supra-Saharan Africa, it was interesting to get the details of their encounters. It was also interesting just how awful Montgomery's predecessors were. They used the same losing strategy over and over again – charging head on into the ranks of Rommel's panzer tanks which demolished the British foes. Montgomery's victory over Rommel at El Alamein was due in no small part to letting artillery and air support get first crack at the panzers which then drove forth into an arena populated with British tanks and anti-tank guns dug into the desert and lying in wait for their prey.

North Africa is also where American soldiers made their debut in the West and it was not exactly pretty. Operation Torch was the Allied invasion of Algeria and Morocco. While thankful for being joined in the war, battle-hardened British soldiers were less than impressed with the green G.I.s. Porch says that "Infantry attacks often became murderous undertakings". He also notes "poor infantry-armor cooperation", American tanks that "charge[d] off unsupported on their own, and commanders "reluctant to seize battlefield opportunities."

Although I probably shouldn't have been, I was surprised at all of the animosity amongst the ranks of upper command. Not only between Americans and British, but amongst the Americans and amongst the British. Take the British Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson. Montgomery described him as being "neither skilled nor gifted" while Patton thought that he "seems earnest but dumb".

With the efforts of Stephen Ambrose, Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg, and the media generally to portray America's "Greatest Generation" as having won the war with the D-Day invasion, it was thrillingly refreshing to read a much less romanticized account of some Americans and American efforts in WWII. As Commander-in-Chief of Allied Expeditionary Forces Dwight Eisenhower is described by Porch as having a "natural reluctance to make hard decisions." Then there's U.S. Army Major General Lloyd Fredendall who shuffled papers bravely out of range and chose to "disparage 'Jews, Negroes, and the British' from his concrete-encased bunker well to the rear."

And these comments are just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes I found myself amazed that we and the British managed to fight a common enemy.

Operation Husky was the name of the Allied invasion of Sicily and is usually thought of as being Act 2. While the Allies took the island, the thing I recall most vividly is that they let the Germans successfully retreat to Italy. Porch puts the Allied inability to prevent this down to "poor organization, lack of imagination, and inactivity."

This is probably as good a point as any to declare that I didn't know that Mussolini was such an incompetent boob. The guy would not listen to his generals and ignored the reality on the battlefields. I felt sorry for the Italian troops most of whom were ill-equipped and undertrained with Il Duce telling them to fight or be killed for cowardice.

One upshot of Mussolini's numbskullery, which forms part of Porch's thesis, is that it obligated Hitler to send troops and supplies to do what the Italians were incapable of doing. Hitler worried about Italy and the Balkans – his southern flank – and he dedicated many divisions along with tanks and air power to the Mediterranean Theater and away from Russia. For quite some time the only battles being fought between the Allies and the Germans were in the Mediterranean. They helped instill confidence in Stalin that the Allies were attempting to help the Soviets. The Allies feared that Stalin would make peace with Hitler depriving them of a very big and powerful ally which kept many German soldiers occupied in Eastern Europe.

With the Germans expelled from Sicily, shipping became much safer in the Mediterranean which meant that many more American supplies reached the Soviet Union. And as the Axis were increasing pushed back, Hitler diverted air power from Norway south to take on the encroaching Allies. This meant Arctic convoys had a much easier time getting supplies to Murmansk.

The generally perceived final act of the Mediterranean Theater is the invasion of Italy. Again, Porch proved quite enlightening. Monte Cassino, Anzio - I'd heard of these places but here I got all the gory details. Yet again I must admit to ignorance – I didn't know what a long, hard slog Italy was for the Allies. Field Marshall Albert Kesselring and (who had been allowed by Allied bungling to escape Sicily) his German troops put up heinous resistance. The worst fighting of the whole theater seemed to have been in Italy.

Aside from the particularly hellish campaign that was the invasion of Italy, three things stick out for me. First is the contribution of Moroccans in defeating the Germans. The Germans took advantage of the mountains and create defensive lines with bunkers high up making the valleys into kill boxes. It was the Moroccans who proved adept at scaling the heights and taking out German installations. As Porch says, "German POWs were so intimidated by the bunker-busting techniques of the Moslems that they declared the experience worse than Stalingrad."

On a tangential note, Porch mentions more groups of valorous non-white combatants – the Fourth and Seventh Indian Divisions (OK, not wholly non-white) - which "were considered among the best troops fielded by any army in the war."

The other thing that sticks in my mind about the invasion of Italy is the behavior of Lieutenant General Mark Clark. In May of 1944 the Allies launched Operation Diadem which saw opposed by the German Tenth Army. Clark put his quest for personal glory above Diadem's strategy by focusing on taking Rome – which would be a publicity coup – instead of defeating the Germans. Porch says, "...he both allowed the escape of the Tenth Army and did nothing to advance the capture of Rome, while at the same time taking heavy casualties."

Lastly, Porch notes that VD ran rampant amongst Allied soldiers in Italy. May Italian women (and girls) were eager to please for food or money and by the summer of 1944 there were 19 VD hospitals in Italy to help cure the Greatest Generation.

I think that Porch would agree that North Africa, Sicily, and Italy are the three main elements of the Mediterranean Theater but that there was much more to the theater than these three campaigns. In addition to what I've already mentioned, there was Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944. And the general rehabilitation of France as a fighting ally.

To reiterate Porch's point, the Mediterranean Theater was the handmaiden to decisive campaigns of the war. It forced Hitler to commit troops, tanks, and planes which had to be taken from other areas, most notably the eastern front. Significant amounts of American supplies were able to reach the Soviet Union only by virtue of the Allied success in the Mediterranean. And it was this theater in which American commanders and soldiers cut their teeth and learned their trade. Porch argues they needed the training and practice of the Mediterranean to be ready for the invasion of France on D-Day.

As I mentioned at the beginning, The Path to Victory is not really aimed at those starting out on the subject. It's more for students of military history. One example illustrating this is that Porch compares a situation to that of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I. If World War I is not your strong point, then you'll be running to the Internet to assess Porch's comparison. Porch also has a penchant for French phrases which may send the reader to a dictionary. Beyond these things, Porch writes clearly and presents his material in a linear fashion.

The book looks at the big picture. By this I mean that it was written in a fairly traditional style whereby the generals are personalized with brief biographies given while the grunts, the G.I.s are generally generic people who are parts of larger units moved around by the generals. Occasionally, however, Porch does get down to the grunt level to illustrate a point. I say this not to disparage Porch because the text of the book is almost 700 pages and his goal was to present a broad view of an aspect of the war generally given short shrift. Porch has no problem presenting commanders in a less than flattering light while, as I noted above, lavishing praise on non-white soldiers, people often left out of lay histories of the conflict.

I have barely scratched the surface of what Porch brings to the table here. The book ranges from really fun passages about larger than life characters such as George Patton to fairly dense, theoretical sections dealing with strategy. It's not just this battle happened on this date and this many men died. We get glimpses into Hitler's view from the north as well as the struggle between Churchill's desire to preserve the Empire and FDR's ambition for the United States. Porch has a lot of balls in the air here and he juggles them well. You get just enough of peripheral issues and events to see how they fit in the Mediterranean Theater without ever going off into left field.

I do, however, have a complaint to register. My copy of the book was the American first edition paperback and the maps were of such poor quality as to be useless. By this I mean the print quality. It was like they started with maps that were originally 1"x1" and then blew them up for the book. Most of the words on the maps are tiny, pixelated, and illegible. This didn't render the book useless but a lot of the battles and the events Porch described blur together because, unless you find similar maps from another source, you're never quite sure which division went where and what road who is on and what the overall look of a campaign was.

My admonitions and criticisms aside, I highly recommend The Path to Victory. I only wish that I could talk it over with my brother and father.

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12 February, 2016

In the Basement Bars: Suburban Beverage by Perennial Artisan Ales



The final brew of a trio of sour biers from the folks at Perennial Artisan Ales that I'm reviewing is called Suburban Beverage, a gose. After having tasted a couple of Berliner Weisses, Pineapple Kumquat and Hopfentea, I have concluded that the folks at Perennial enjoy tropical fruit flavor in their German style sours and that they aren't shy about making their brews tart. I will add that all three biers come in at 4.2% A.B.V. Perennial is quite consistent if nothing else.

Suburban Beverage may be a gose but it is far from traditional. While it does contain salt as is typical for the style, it was also brewed with orange peel, lemon peel and key lime juice which are highly irregular. The label also indicates "spices" so we shall see if that means the conventional coriander or perhaps something different. Also on the label is a bottled date of 7/2015 which means that this bier had been in my cellar for about 5 months before I consumed it.

Suburban Beverage pours a light gold. The bier is hazy. Unlike with Hopfentea, I managed to pour this brew and get a nice head. It was big, white, and loose and it stuck around for a little while. There was a goodly number of bubbles inside going upwards.

The aroma brought Fruit Stripes bubble gum to mind with its very sweet fruity scent. It wasn't a particular fruit but rather like a gestalt of all tropical fruits in one. And there was the lemony lactic tartness that I've come to expect from Perennial. Rather potent on the nose but not potent enough to subdue the sugary tropical sweetness.

As with the previous two Perennial brews, the first thing my tongue encountered was a dose of lemony lacto tartness that could fell a horse. The sour mellowed as I continued drinking but not by a whole lot. A brisk but not deadly bit of tartness carried throughout my session. Blending into it were the citrus flavors from the fruit components added with the lime juice standing out amongst its peers in the tartness. I am fairly particular when it comes to salt in my gose and I think Perennial did a nice job here with just the right amount to both accent the ingredients as well as to just barely come across as salinity. There must be cinnamon amongst the spices used here because it combined with the salt and grains in the bier to fool me into thinking that I was drinking a graham cracker.

Suburban Beverage finishes quite clean with a lingering tartness courtesy of the lactic acid as well as the lime juice. There was, sadly, no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had

Perennial impressed me here not only with being able to produce the perfect amount of tartness in three sour biers in a row but also with the salt. It not only accented the other ingredients but was also a flavor of its own, if only just. I like to taste the salinity in a gose but it should definitely be low-key and not the zymurilogical equivalent of a salt lick. I liked the citrus flavors here quite a bit but I just couldn't get past the lime-flavored graham cracker taste of the bier. The cinnamon just didn't do it for me. I don't dislike graham crackers either. I just didn't think that the tartness went well with cinnamon. This is a shame because I otherwise really liked this bier, especially the lime juice had commingled with the lactic tartness.

Junk food pairing: Pair Suburban Beverage with some tortilla chips. The cinnamon goes especially well with mole flavored chips.

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11 February, 2016

Taking the Hopfentea Plunge: Hopfentea by Perennial Artisan Ales



As I mentioned previously, I have a trio of brews by Perennial Artisan Ales to review. First came Pineapple Kumquat Berliner Weisse and now we have Hopfentea (or "hops tea", I guess. Not sure if that's grammatically correct Deutsch or not. At least they ran the words together.) Hopfentea is a Berliner Weisse that had tropical fruit flavored tea steeped in it. Or so I gather.

I've actually had this bier before – at the Great Taste of the Midwest in 2013. I enjoyed it then although I had no recollection of doing so when I sampled it again last week. This bier was bottled in 4/2015 and it's likely I bought my bottle last summer. It was brought home and placed in my cellar away from the light.

Hopfentea pours a light gold hue while the bier was turbid. Somehow I managed to pour some "Champagne of the North" without producing a big head. **face palm** And so I ended up with a rather small, white head that went away quite quickly. But there were plenty of bubbles inside the bier so my glass at least had a bit of that bubbly, effervescent look.

Perennial sure loves tropical fruit flavors in their Berliner Weisses. Sadly, I am not exactly the most experienced consumer of tropical fruits. The label appears to have a papaya on it but it doesn't betray the flavors of the teas that were used in making the bier. And so I can only tell you that the aroma is rife with tropical fruit. Papaya? Maybe. I can say that I didn't catch pineapple or kiwi or banana. Imagine papaya, mangoes, star, and passion fruits blended together. Along with that nebulous aroma there was the distinctive lemony tartness from the lactic acid bacteria.

As I expected, Hopfentea didn't skimp on the tartness in the flavor. It was a big, lemony blast of the stuff. The tropical fruit flavors were in the background here and added a pleasing mellow sweetness. And I could taste the non-fruity bits of the tea too. There was a very pronounced herbal flavor that was also quite dry. To me it tasted of black tea but I cannot say exactly what kind of tea was steeped in the bier taste. Lastly I can say that there was plenty of carbonation to be tasted which gave the bier a nice, bubbly, champagne-like quality.

The finish was pretty clean and dry as the tartness lingered as did the herbal/tea, though not the fruit, flavor. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

As with the Pineapple Kumquat, the fruit flavor here is pretty mild. Then again, it is provided by flavored tea. Hopfentea had a really nice tartness to it which mellowed only slightly as I drank more. Sadly, the acidulousness combined with the astringency of the tea to make something which I didn't find particularly pleasing. It was just too sour and bitter with too little fruitiness for counterpoint. I am curious as to whether Perennial changed the recipe or if my tastes have changed.

Junk food pairing: I would recommend something sweet to counter the astringent tea flavor of the bier. Try some Honey Nut Chex Mix or Lemon Crème Oreos.

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10 February, 2016

Just Like the Beach at Waikiki: Pineapple Kumquat Berliner Weiße by Perennial Artisan Ales



I was a bit surprised to discover that I have never reviewed a beer from Perennial Artisan Ales. While I've tasted their beer previously I've never sat down with a bottle and written an account of what happened next. Well, that's about to change. Indeed, this will be the first of a trio of reviews featuring brews from the St. Louis brewery.

To be honest, it wasn't until last year that I paid much attention to Perennial. This is not intended as a slight because I've had their beer at the Great Taste of the Midwest and was never suitably unimpressed. I suppose that my eyes just wandered elsewhere when confronted with the sinfully sizable selection of beers to be had on store shelves. I don't think the human brain evolved to handle quite so many options. It is keen on two at a time – fight or flight, hot or cold, ale or beer, and so on. Anyway, I noticed a Perennial Berliner Weiße appear on the shelf at some point last year. And then another one did a couple months later. And then yet another one.

First up is Pineapple Kumquat Berliner Weiße. The label says it was bottled in 8/2015 which means the bier was about six months old when it was poured into my maw. Despite being a style with relatively low alcohol, I've had Berliner Weißes older than this which were fine. Kept away from light and cool, I think a Berliner Weiße will keep for a while. Perhaps it's the acidity that keeps them it good shape.

Pineapple Kumquat poured a light yellow. It was cloudy, as was expected, and topped with a big, firm white head that dissipated rather quickly. As befitting a "Champagne of the North", it was quite effervescent with lots of bubbles inside the beer moving on up.

The aroma brought images of women bearing leis and libations garnished with small umbrellas to mind with its rather pungent tropical fruit smell. It was easy to discern the pineapple but it had been ages since I'd been confronted with a kumquat which is a small orange-like citrus fruit. There was a big lemony tartness from the lactic acid bacteria which was joined to a non-lemon citrus component which I presume to have been the kumquat.

Despite the ability of the beer's smell to conjure images of a luau, the tropical fruits were rather mild in the taste. Again I was able to discern the pineapple and there was an overall tropical fruitiness but the bier had to warm up a bit before the fruit really tasted anywhere near as prominent as the aroma suggested. I was also able to taste a little grain after the bier had its chilly edge taken off. The lemony lacto tartness was quite big on first sip and it retained a pronounced sourness throughout my session. (I do believe that I drank the whole bottle.)

For the finish, the tropical fruit flavors faded which allowed the lacto tartness to linger. This combined with the carbonation made for a rather clean and dry ending. Schaumhaftvermoegen was minimal with just a few small spots of foam.

This was a rather well-carbonated bier. With its light body and fizzy taste, it made me wish that it was summer instead of the bowels of winter. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of pineapple and kumquat but felt that the tropical fruit flavor was too subdued. While I wasn't looking for huge fruit flavor as if I had drank it mit Schuss, I was rather hoping for something more than a pineapple/kumquat accent. There was a hint of sweetness from the fruits which rounded off the lactic tartness just a little bit. And that tartness was big and it stayed that way more or less the whole time. Perennial really nailed the sour here, in my humble opinion. Despite my desire for a more substantial tropical fruit flavor, this is still a very tasty brew.

Junk food pairing: Pineapple Kumquat is a light, fizzy bier. (It rolls in at 4.2% A.B.V.) This being the case, keep your food pairings on the light side as well. I prefer plain potato chips or some lime-chili tortilla chips.

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09 February, 2016

Fill My Glass With That Doppelvision: Doppelvision by Milwaukee Brewing Company



February. It's cold outside and Shrovetide is ceding to Lent. For pagans/wiccans it's time to celebrate Imbolc and rejoice that spring is on its way. Now this - this is the time for a doppelbock. Luckily I had a bottle leftover from last year that I opened recently.

Milwaukee Brewing Company's Doppelvision is a doppelbock aged for a month in bourbon barrels. The bier is one of a handful of the brewery's Destination Local series which features stronger brews in 750ml bottles that are for sharing with a fellow faster, heathen, kith, or kin. This is the 2015 version which was released last spring in the cruelest month. The bottle has been biding its time in my cellar which is relatively cool and dark.

"Doppelbock" means "double bock", an extra strong version of an already fairly strong brew. The legend that I've always read and heard was that the bock was invented in the 17th century by the Paulaner monks in Munich. To tide themselves over Lent, they brewed a strong bier, a.k.a. - liquid bread – that became known as bock bier. At some point in the next century the bier got stronger and the monks called it "Salvator" after their savior. The "-ator" suffix would go on to become synonymous with the doppelbock.

The doppelbock emphasizes the malt. I mean, how much sustenance can you get from hops? They average around 7% A.B.V. but some are much stronger.

Doppelvision was a lovely reddish brown color and a bit lighter than I expected. I tend to think of doppelbocks as being dark biers and barrel aging to add even more darkness. These are, of course, misconceptions that addle my brain. In reality, doppelbocks probably tend to be darker than bocks but rarely have the ebony appearance of a stout. The bier was clear. My glass had a beauty of a head that was big, firm, and tan. It stuck around for about half a minute. There were bubbles everywhere inside the glass going upwards and onwards.

That the bier had been aged in bourbon barrels was undeniable from the aroma which had a pronounced booziness to it. Much to my delight, roasted grain and even some bitter chocolate were evident as well. Looking at the brewery's website I see that they used basically every malt they had lying around which included chocolate malt so these scents were unsurprising. Also unsurprising, but quite welcome, was the smell of caramel. Doppelvision was made with no less than four caramel malts.

The booze reappeared in the taste and gave it shades of smoke, wood, and vanilla. I felt that the bier had a good, big bourbon taste but I've certainly had barrel-aged beers that tasted like someone forgot to take out the bourbon before putting the beer in. Despite giving it the old college try, the whiskey could not keep the malt down as the bier had a big caramel flavor from all of those aforementioned malts. Underneath all of this was some roasted grain flavor too. The carbonation perhaps took the edge off of the sweetness and added a little tingling to my tongue.

On the finish all of those malty flavors faded allowing an unexpected burst of grassy hops to pop through the layers sweet, grainy goodness. The hops brought with them a little bit of bitterness. It was here that the bourbon gave off a little more than flavor with some alcohol heat coming through as well. My glass was left with some really nice Schaumhaftvermoegen. Thick strands and big splotches of foam lined my vessel.

With the boozy heat on the finish and the presence of the whiskey on the nose and my tongue, it is surprising that Doppelvision is only 8% A.B.V. It tastes bigger than that. Quite aside from the potency that the whiskey had endowed, I really enjoyed the flavor of wood and vanilla from the gentle aging process. They harmonized well with the myriad of malts flavors here. I also appreciated that Doppelvision wasn't very sweet. Big malty beers can become cloyingly so and the brewer deftly avoided that pitfall here.

Junk food pairing: Being a big bier, Doppelvision can handle heartier foods. You can't go wrong with pork rinds and/or cracklin'. I mean, German biers and pork go together like peanut butter and chocolate. I also would recommend some jalapeño or jalapeño & cheddar thick-cut potato chips.

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03 February, 2016

Taste the Depths of Winter: Yodo Con Leche by 5 Rabbit Cervecería



Ooh! Two brews from 5 Rabbit in a row. It's my lucky week.

5 Rabbit Cervecería co-founder Andrés Araya is originally from Costa Rica and he tells us gringos on the label of his Yodo Con Leche that "yodo" is Costa Rican slang for coffee and, more generally, means "something rich, dark and intense". This beer will be quite different from Huitzi, a Belgian pale ale infused with floral flavors and named after a hummingbird god who battles winter to allow the return of spring. No avian heroes flaunting their flora to be had here. This is an imperial porter (doesn't that make it a stout?) laced with Costa Rican coffee which means it's an Orphean descent into the Stygian gloom we denizens of boreal climes know all-too well.

In addition to the coffee, Yodo Con Leche is brewed with milk caramel. I will also admit to being quite pleased to read that amongst the grains used was chocolate rye. Being enamored of both dark malts and rye, I had very high hopes for this beer.

Yodo Con Leche looked as I expected – black. While it is really a very deep brown, in a glass it looks positively pitch. No hint that the rebirth of spring is anon to be had. I think that the beer was clear but it was basically opaque and so difficult to tell. My pour produced a moderate light brown head that was gone all-too quickly. The beer's opacity meant I could not tell if there were any bubbles inside.

The aroma smelled very boozy to me. This caught me by surprise as the beer is "merely" 8% A.B.V. and not barrel-aged. But it had an earthy, astringent kind of smell which was alluring. Coffee was also prominent and, being from Costa Rica, had a certain brightness to it, a certain sharpness that I generally don’t taste in African varieties. From the aroma alone I knew that, as the Dave Bowman simulacrum said in 2010, something wonderful was going to happen.

As befitting an imperial porter, Yodo Con Leche has a medium-heavy body. Not motor oil but definitely not a brew to be quaffed. I immediately tasted coffee on my first sip but not the coffee. The rich, roasted flavors of the dark malts hit my tongue first so that coffee flavor was joined by dark chocolate. The coffee coffee then made itself known. While not a big flavor, it gave a nice earthy bitterness underneath the malt. As the ebony elixir made its way to the back of my tongue the rich, creamy sweetness of the milk caramel appeared from out of the gloom. It added just enough toothsome caramel flavor to balance the earthy, roasted flavors of the malts and coffee.

While there was a little lingering sweetness on the finish, a modicum of bitterness from the dark malts joined with some grassy-tasting hops for a surprisingly dry ending. I think I caught just a hint of the spiciness of the rye here too. Sadly, there was no lacing to be had on my glass.

I believe that the 2015 batch of Yodo Con Leche was released in July. I bought my bottle here in Madison later in the summer or perhaps early in the autumn. The bottle sat in my cellar during the interval until last week. I am just not that keen on drinking imperial porters in the heat of summer. February proved to be the perfect time for this beer. Still, while not fresh, it was filled with wonderfully rich flavors. I was surprised that the dark malts contributed relatively little bitterness yet the roasted grain taste shone through. There was just enough coffee and milk caramel to get all of the flavors to harmonize into an exquisite gestalt.

Junk food pairing: Try Yodo Con Leche with some Reese's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. The dark chocolate will complement the roasted grains of the beer while the peanut butter's sweetness will do the same with the milk caramel. The overall effect is to amplify the already big and rich flavors of Yodo Con Leche and take them to a new level of goodness.

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02 February, 2016

A Midwinter's Ale: Huitzi by 5 Rabbit Cervecería



Chicagoland's 5 Rabbit Cervecería really seems to be feeling its oats. They have a shiny new webpage and have revamped their marketing with new beer categories. And they have no shortage of new beers either. I have said it more than once but I will repeat it here that I am a big fan of 5 Rabbit. The cervecería penetrated the Cheddar Curtain and began distribution here in Wisconsin last year. Unfortunately they don't appear to be shipping their core annual – The Fives – here yet. That's too bad because I find 5 Lizard, a "Latin-style" witbier, and 5 Vulture, an "Oaxacan-style" dark ale, to both be outstanding beers.

Instead we are getting the more limited brews with bottles of their ChocoFrut beers, fruit-flavored stouts, gracing store shelves. Today, however, I am reviewing Huitzi ("wee-tsee"), a self-styled midwinter ale. It's a Belgian golden ale by style that was brewed with hibiscus, ginger, chamomile, and honey. The beer is no longer brewed and it seems that early batches omitted the chamomile. My bottle was purchased in the autumn of 2014 and has been sitting in the dark in my cellar ever since. It's 8.7% A.B.V. and I felt it a suitable candidate for a gentle aging regimen.

I promise that, once warmer weather returns, my photos will get better. Either that or I'll take some time to backlight my pictures. Until then you'll get a thousand words and I will start off by saying that Huitzi (short for Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war) pours a lovely dark gold with a pronounced reddish tint from the hibiscus. It was rather cloudy but this may be the result of aging as my last pour was rife with sediment. Huitzi was nicely effervescent. My pour produced about a ¼" of light tan head that hung around for a little while and there were lots of bubbles inside working their way up.

The aroma was intriguing with the hibiscus and honey standing out. But there were also those fruity Belgian yeast esters and a touch of malty sweetness. Huitzi had a medium body that was flush with the typical tasty Belgian ale fruity flavors from those esters/phenols along with the accompanying dryness. Atop this were the botanicals. The chamomile stood out here but the hibiscus wasn't too far behind and they gave a slight bitterness. Ginger was relegated to the background where it added a little bit of earthy flavor along with just a smidgeon of that malty sweetness that I caught in the aroma.

The finish had the floral tastes lingering and joined by some alcohol heat as well as a moderate amount of grassy hop bitterness. Sadly, my glass was left with no lacing.

Truth be told, I do not drink Belgian ales very often. And so Huitzi was something of a treat for me in that sense. I really enjoyed the herbal/floral taste here from the hibiscus and chamomile. They are nice flavors but here they tacked a course that complemented the fruity flavors as well as the dryness that the yeast provided while still standing on their own. The small alcohol burn in the finish certainly helps in midwinter and those hops offered more botanical tastiness. Huitzi is a fine way to chase away Jack Frost while also offering hope that spring is not that far off.

Junk food pairing: If you are lucky enough to still have a bottle of Huitzi around, be sure to have some Chicago mix popcorn with it when you pop it open. You'll get the saltiness and mellow cheese from the cheesy popcorn that will enhance the botanical in the beer while the caramel corn will add a little sweetness and body.

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01 February, 2016

The Bier That Makes Your Tongue Approve...It's: Infectious Groove by O'so Brewing Company



I recall back in 2008 or so drinking my first beer by a shiny new brewery up in Plover (that's in central Wisconsin, for any non-Cheeseheads) called O'so Brewing. It was a Duzy Piwo, tasty blonde ale that seemingly disappeared from shelves as quickly as it had arrived. Hoppier pastures beckoned, I guess.

O'so has been around for about eight years now and recently introduced a couple of new beers. Liquid Soul, an imperial stout, is the brewery's latest winter seasonal. Infectious Groove, a Berliner Weisse and polar opposite of the big, black stout, has been added to their year-round line-up. The Berliner Weisse is a sour wheat bier and, while Wisconsin breweries have had sour brews available all year long, I think Infectious Groove may be the first native one in six packs. It would appear that sour beers have truly gone microbrewing mainstream here in Wisconsin.

Infectious Groove is made by what's known as kettle souring. Instead of the bier becoming infused with bacteria from the air or some kind of storage vessel as it ages, lactobacillus bacteria are added to the boil kettle – the kettle in which grains and water are boiled – without the heat and allowed to sit for anywhere from one to several days. During this time the bacteria, like their brewing yeast brethren, eat some of the sugars from the grain. But instead of pooping out alcohol and carbon dioxide, the bacteria give us lactic acid which gives the Berliner Weisse its trademark tartness. With their job being done, heat is applied once more and the bacteria are killed.

This method of souring beer is relatively quick, easy, and easy to control. I'm sure any brewer out there will also tell you that this is a vastly oversimplified description or at least a very incomplete one of how brewers sour their beers without resorting to lengthy aging processes. While I am certainly no expert nor a particularly experienced consumer of sour beers, I think the big takeaway from this is that when you sour a beer by adding a particular bacteria from a packet purchased from a lab, you get a clean kind of sour. You're limiting things to a single strain of bacteria instead of the being at the mercy of what the wind blows your way or what lurks the pores of wood in a barrel. It's a trade-off, I guess. Ease, quickness, controllability, and a narrower band of flavors vs. the lengthier time, more difficulty, and the wider band of flavors of stochasticity.

OK, let's get back to Infectious Groove.

It pours a dark yellow and is quite turbid. No filtering here. I got a medium white head that dissipated rather quickly and I noticed only a few bubbles going up my glass. It didn't look like a champagne of the North.

The aroma had a really nice lemony tartness which I'd expect from a Berliner Weisse. But I also caught an unexpected berry sweetness which was quite pleasant. Would I taste this fruitiness? Not initially, at least. Infectious Groove proved to be a very sour bier with a big lemony/citrusy tartness. I find that most sour brews taste extremely tart at first but that my tongue acclimates itself to the acidity and so the beer tastes less sour as the session goes on. The same is true here but Infectious Groove lost less tartness than most sour beers I've had. As my sipping continued I noticed a sort of vegetable-like funkiness reveal itself. It was not fruity and it was not a moldy, barnyard, wet blanket kind of thing either. I'd never tasted anything like it in a bier. It was pleasant, pretty mellow, and complemented the familiar lemon tartness well.

Behind all of the tartness I caught a rather pronounced bit of wheat/grain. A welcome surprise as the grains are usually quite subdued in my experience with this style. Lastly there was some carbonation that added to the general acidulousness of the bier.

The finish was lemony and funky with the tanginess lingering. There wasn't much in the way of Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had aside from a few small spots of foam.

If we here in Wisconsin are to have a year-round Berliner Weisse for the first time (or at least the first time in 100+ years) then we are lucky to have Infectious Groove. It has a nice light body and, although it may not look like a champagne of the North, it has a nice fizziness to it which will no doubt be welcome in the dog days of summer. It does come in at 4.8% A.B.V. which is a bit higher than traditional dictates, though. What really makes it stand out to me is that the graininess is not buried underneath all the tartness (really couldn't taste hops, however) and that it maintains a good, solid sour throughout. The initial blast of sourness lessens but not greatly. And I should mention the other funky tart flavor which, although unidentified, added some depth to the overall flavor as well as a nice complement to the citrus sour.

I also want to mention that I also drank some Infectious Groove mit Schuss – some waldmeister (woodruff) syrup in my case. The tartness held up really well as I was able to produce an admixture that was both tart and slightly sweet with a pronounced waldmeister flavor. Most impressive.

I've read that Infectious Groove is replacing Memory Lane, a pilsner, in O'so's line-up. As a lager lover I am saddened to hear this. But Infectious Groove is a worthy and very tasty bier and it eases my sadness. Greatly.

Junk food pairing: I personally like potato chips with my Berliner Weisse. Plain works fine but lemon & pepper or lemon & rosemary ones are great as they complement the bier's tartness well.

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