Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 August, 2016

Just Say Ja to Oktoberfest: Oktoberfest by Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu



You know it's July when American Oktoberfests hit store shelves. I managed to refrain from buying any until late August this year because, well, that's just how it should be.

Pretty much everyone and their mother brews an Oktoberfest here in Wisconsin these days. Lake Louie brewed their first one this year. Ale Asylum decided to finally bottle a lager this year and that lager was an Oktoberfest, Oktillion. It's surely the most resilient vestige of the state's German brewing heritage which has laregely been cast to the wayside in large measure to accommodate hoppier eyepahs and the style's attendant off-shoots. Breweries that specialize in ales even find the time to do a little lagering during the summer.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, is that Wisconsin brewers have largely avoided tinkering with the style. Milwaukee Brewing Company's Hoptoberfest, an aggressively hoppy take on the style, springs to mind as an exception. But I have yet to see Oktoberfests blitzkrieged by brettanomyces or assaulted by Citra. I am sure that there are more modifications of the styles out there than just Milwaukee Brewing's, but I don't see them. Perhaps they're at taprooms and brewpubs. Or I am oblivious to them.

My guess is that my intro to the Oktoberfest was Capital's. In fact, I think Capital tutored me in seasonal beers. And I recall when New Glarus introduced their Oktoberfest, Staghorn. It was love at first sip.

While those two beers will always be part of my late summer/autumnal drinking ritual and have special places in my heart and liver, I have to be honest and say that the Oktoberfest that I was looking forward most anxiously was Sierra Nevada's.

Last year the venerable California outfit decided to "explor[e] the roots of Germany’s famous Oktoberfest beers" by partnering with a different German brewery to produce a version of the style. The first collaboration was with Brauhaus Riegele and the resulting bier was simply fantastic. This year Sierra Nevada teamed with Bamberg's Mahrs Bräu.

Oktoberfest pours a medium yellow/light gold color which puts it in the wiesn or pale Märzen camp. From my experience, Wisconsin Oktoberfests are amber. But, from what I've read, the paler variety is what you will be served in Munich at the Oktoberfest. It was clear which made for a very pretty sight as did the loose, white head that formed atop my bier. The foam went away fairly quickly. However, there was a goodly amount of bubbles inside.

Taking my first sniff of the bier reminded me why it only took one brew last year to make it eagerly anticipated this year: bread. That lovely bread smell. There was a little honeyed sweetness, but not much. This year Sierra Nevada is advertising the use of a rare variety of Belgian hops called Record. As far as I know, this was my first encounter with them. My nose caught some grassy hoppiness but I am not sure if that was Record or not.

Just like last year's Oktoberfest, the new iteration was like a bakery in a bottle, steeped in Maillard toastiness. Simply wonderful. It was complemented by some less toasty and more yeasty bread flavor, a touch of doughy sweetness, and a very healthy dose of hops which were both spicy and herbal tasting. Was this the Record hops?

The plethora of malty mannas faded on the finish allowing a zesty, spicier hop taste to take center stage where it offered up a firm bitterness and dryness. Alas, Schaumhaftvermoegen was absent.

Ausgezeichnet! Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu have created a great Oktoberfest full of the Maillard toastiness that I love. But they've also tweaked tradition by giving the bier a heftier hoppiness. Not content with that, the two breweries made sure that the hops would be of a different character at each step: grassy to my nose, herbal/spicy to the taste, and then an almost citrusy Saaz flavor at the end. Just marvelous.

The bier is 6% A.B.V. and has a light-medium body which will go very well over the next few days as temperature cools down into the low 70s.

Junk food pairing: Pair this year's Sierra Nevada-Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest with pork rinds or some Cheetos White Cheddar Puffs. To satisfy a sweet tooth, heat up a Pillsbury Apple Toaster Strudel.

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30 August, 2016

I Dined on Mince and Gose of Quince: Geisterzug Quince Gose by Freigeist Bierkultur



Another bier from Freigeist!

I have previously enjoyed Sebastian Sauer's spruced gose as well as one laced with rhubarb. He takes a – how shall I phrase it? - German approach to brewing gose. Rather than upping the sour to levels that would corrode metal or extreme doses of other flavors, Sauer retains the spirit of, in his words, "the classic, very balanced and nuanced beer" that is the traditional German gose. However, as you can see, he is happy to ignore any "purity" laws that would prevent him from using fruit or other flora.

This time around I have Sauer's Geisterzug Quince Gose. From what I've read, the quince is native to central Asia but gained popularity in the West during the Middle Ages. I gained a taste for it when I came across a Renaissance era recipe for quince marmalade and made it in my kitchen. Apparently it was fairly common here in America back in the day but now it seems to be more of a specialty/"ethnic" item. I don't believe that I have ever seen a quince for sale in Madison. Indeed, the fruit is so rare in these parts that even quince & apple, a local purveyor of preserves, offers none of the former. But quince's profile may very well have changed over the past several years as more ethnic grocery stores have opened.

Geisterzug Quince Gose is a lovely light gold color and hazy. My pour yielded a nice, frothy head. The white crown decided to stick around for a little while which made for a pretty sight as did a fair helping of bubbles inside.

The philosophy of brewing balance was apparent with the aroma. Lemony lactic sour came first. It was, however, not deathly pungent and found itself on equal footing with that wonderful floral apple-pear fragrance of the quince. My nose also discovered a slight sweetness here too.

Gentle carbonation joined a measured citrus flavored tartness making for a firm, but not overpowering, acidic tang. Again, balance is the key with the quince complementing the sour in strength while its floral fruity sweetness made for a nice contrast to the sharper citrus tartness. I also tasted a mellow spiciness which may have been coriander.

My sips finished with the quince fading and the tang filling the void. The salinity became apparent here as well. Lastly, my mouth was left with a mild fizzy acidic feel. Schaumhaftvermoegen came as a clutch of thin foamy streaks as well a smattering of spots.

Another fine brew from Freigeist. I suppose that going in with a taste for quince went a long way in predisposing me to enjoy this bier. Beyond that, however, I appreciate Sebastian Sauer's application of balance which allows sour to co-exist with sweet in harmony allowing each its place in the sun. As the bier warms the quince comes ever forward yet you never forget that you're drinking a sour bier. The balance, the light body, and the relatively moderate 5.2% A.B.V. all add up to an excellent brew.

Junk food pairing: Pair Geisterzug Quince Gose with lighter fare such as plain potato chips or, because we're talking German bier making pork almost mandatory, plain pork rinds.

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|| Palmer, 6:28 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

29 August, 2016

A Berliner in Verona: Berliner Weisse by Wisconsin Brewing Company



This past Wednesday the Wisconsin Brewing Company loosed a small batch of Berliner Weisse into the wild as part of their Forward! series. My understanding is that these brews are released and then feedback is solicited with the possibility that one of these test brews may make it to the big time and hit store shelves and tavern taps.

I am not sure who brews these beers and wouldn't be at all surprised if they are made by brewmaster Kirby Nelson's minions. Just look at WBC's partnershipwith the UW-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the fact that Blister in the Sun was concocted by the minion known as Clint Lohman. The brewery has a reputation for working with people new to the trade and allowing them to show off their chops.

The Forward! series has come up with a few beers these past two or three months that have interested me and this trend looks to continue into over the coming weeks. And so once more unto the breach…

Berliner Weisse poured a light yellow hue and was quite cloudy. There was about an inch of loose, white foam atop the glass that lasted just shy of a minute. There was a fair number of bubbles in the bier but not exactly what one would expect from the "Champagne of the North".

The aroma was puzzling because there wasn't much of one beyond a very faint citrus smell from the lactic sour. I encountered this same phenomenon last month with WBC's Czech pils that was devoid of scent just like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Perhaps there is some kind of olfactory quirk at play here. Breweries smell like, well, breweries – they smell like malt in hot water. Maybe one's nose becomes desensitized to certain beer smells if you are standing in a room with the aromas of the brewing process swirling and eddying around you. Still, I would think that hops and lactic acid smells would still be discernible even if more delicate malty ones were not. Do the Germans have a lengthy word for this kind of thing?

Upon tasting I noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of carbonation. Not too surprising given the relative paucity of bubbles. The tartness was middle of the road, although I don't mean that in a pejorative sense as when discussing rock music. There was some lemony citrus taste to the sour and I was surprised at how full the wheat flavor was.

At the finish the taste of the wheat lingered along with a mild lactic tartness. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen.

While it may not rank with the greatest Berliner Weisses ever made, this bier was pretty tasty. It wasn't mega-knock-your-socks-off tart but neither was the sour so faint as to approach homeopathic strength. My preference is for a tad more tartness but I cannot complain as it had a nice, mildly acidic taste. However I will complain that the bier was short on citrus. I wish it had a little more of that lacto-lemon flavor. Oh, and more carbonation too. On the other hand, I enjoyed the wheat flavor quite a bit.

Whatever the flaws, it still made for a tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day. It comes in at 3.8% A.B.V., by the way, and the brewery has raspberry and woodruff syrups available for those wanting a shot of sweetness.

Junk food pairing: I thoroughly enjoyed the jalapeño white cheddar popcorn we had while quaffing our Berliner Weisses. The salt enhanced the sour which was complemented by the mild chili flavor.

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28 August, 2016

A Pils Fit For Perseus: Radio Free Pils by Wild Onion Brewery



Wild Onion's Radio Free Pils is so new that the brewery's website doesn't even have a page dedicated to it. Wild Onion Brewery, on the other hand, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Although its name refers to the city of Chicago, "Chicago" being a corruption of the Potawatomi phrase for wild onions, the brewery is located firmly out in the far northwest suburb/exurb of Lake Barrington.

I don't know that I've ever had a Wild Onion brew before but I have a feeling that I have. Somewhere, somehow. But I feel confident in saying that I've never bought any of their bottles or cans before. This is likely due to me seeing their eyepahs and stouts on the shelf. No offense to Wild Onion but why go to Chicagoland to get those beers when I can get 5 Rabbit's Latin American-inspired cervezas, Off Color's off kilter brews, Metropolitan's wonderful lagers, and the only rye Märzen I've ever encountered.

Last month I just happened to be at a Chicagoland liquor store (ahem) and stumbled upon Wild Onion's Radio Free Pils. I wasn't sure what the medusa with scuba mask artwork meant, but it looked pretty cool and certainly caught my eye. And it was a pils instead of an eyepah. I will admit, though, that I was a bit hesitant and only bought a single can. The reasons were twofold. First that the Wild Onion is primarily an ale brewery, from what I can tell, and brewing a pils seemed like a bit of bandwagon jumping to me, truth be told. And secondly there is a trend, however small, of American brewers releasing a pils when its actually an American Pils Nouveau. I am expecting Noble hop flavor and instead get an orchard's worth of trendy tropical fruit.

Radio Free poured a dark straw color and was, oddly enough, slightly hazy. (Was this a newfangled New England style pils?) I got a big, white, creamy head that, sadly, disappeared at a good clip. There were bubbles aplenty inside which made me wish I had a pilsner glass at the ready. Except for the haze, Radio Free seemed to be quite pilsnery – in appearance, anyway.

Upon smelling the beer a wave of relief washed over me. I could not detect any fruit. Well, no fruity hops, that is. Instead I was treated to a rush of fresh grass. It was wonderful. There was also a touch of black pepper as well as some biscuit. Oh, and some sweetish orange which didn't come across as hoppy to me but rather like an olfactory illusion manufactured by some malt sweetness and the Noble hops. If that makes any sense.

The taste had a solid biscuity backbone that came with a bit of dough. That great grassy hop aroma came through here too and was just fresh and summery and oh so good. A mild citrus hoppiness was present too but this was the dry Noble kind, not the juicy American variety. Surprisingly, the beer wasn't as fizzy as I thought it would be, treating my tongue to a fairly moderate amount of carbonation.

Malt fades quickly on the finish leaving the hops to their own devices. In this case they brought a fairly substantial spicy-black pepper flavor along with a not insignificant amount of bitterness making for a dry denouement. A few large patches of foam lined my glass along with a cornucopia of spots.

Despite being on the singles shelf where beer, in the words of Off Color's John Laffler, go to die, my can of Radio Free Pils tasted fresh. It seems that the brew was introduced in June/July so it didn't have enough time to go south. And that's a good thing because the big – almost zesty – smell and taste of fresh grass from the hops here was superb. We're talking Platonic ideal of pils goodness. Even better, this taste of flora went to the cotillion with spicier tasting hops and some dry, citrus flavor and did a little dance and made a little love in a lupulin ménage à trois.

I also appreciated that the malt, although not big, made its presence known with a fine biscuit flavor tinged with sweetness. The beer's body was light but fuller than other pilsners that have a smaller malt component. Radio Free Pils is 5.2% A.B.V. and can be a fine thirst quencher on a hot day but, really, this is a sippin' pils. Don't chug it to beat the heat; savor every sip instead.

Junk food pairing: Radio Free is not a delicate little flower but nor is it a big, burly brew. Try some thick potato chips with generous dollops of dip. Onion is fine but don't shy away from bacon & horseradish.
|| Palmer, 11:24 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

24 August, 2016

This Bier Belongs to the Realm of Light and Righteousness: Pear Abraxxxas by Freigeist Bierkultur



American microbrewers have yet to embrace the Lichtenhainer the way it has its cousins, the Gose and Berliner Weisse and I don't see this changing in the near future. Sour is acceptable – indeed, it is trendy. Smoke, however, is not.

As I noted when I reviewed the non-fruited version of this bier, its name comes from the central German town of Lichtenhain and was popular back in the day. The Lichtenhainer is a light, sour bier just like the Gose and Berliner Weisse but also smoky like the Grodziskie/Grätzer. The best of both worlds!

Freigeist Bierkultur seems the obvious choice to resurrect this near-extinct German bier style. Proprietor Sebastian Sauer obviously has a keen interest in his country's brewing history as he does his best to nurse historical styles that are on life support back to health. And he often does so thumbing his nose at any brewing regulations that seek to restrict the ingredients he can put in his biers.

I'm not sure exactly what regulations he flaunts because the more I read about German brewing laws, the more confused I get. It seems that the infamous Reinheitsgebot underwent some changes when Germany was reunited in 1990 and also that brewing laws vary by state. Unsurprisingly, I get the distinct impression that Bavaria's laws are the most restrictive. Witness Camba Bavaria beset by the Bavarian government who didn't take kindly to the use of lactose in their milk stout.

My bottle says that the bier therein was brewed at Eittinger Fischerbrau in Eitting, Germany. I looked up Eitting and discovered that it is located in Bavaria. I guess Sauer was trying to hide in plain sight. He must have had to barricade himself inside the brewery against the Brauereigendarmerie when he unleashed his Mango Gose Eisbock.

What we have here is Abraxxxas with pear. Coming in at 6% A.B.V. Abraxxxas is the big brother to Abraxas which is a shade lighter at 3.8%. Swiss-German author Hermann Heese adorns the label as he apparently referenced the gnostic deity Abraxas in at least one of his novels. (I don't recall any mention of god in Demian.)

The bier pours a light straw color and has a slight haze. Historically some brewers used wheat in their Lichtenhainers while others did not. Freigeist apparently has. The big, white, frothy head did not last long but there was plenty of effervescence as the plentiful bubbles in the bier attested.

That luscious temptress that is smoke made her presence known in the aroma. Not a deluge, but more than a simple tchotchke. The sour seemed to be lactic as there was a bit of citrus sour here too. The pear was on the faint side and was joined by vinous/tea-like smell.

All of those bubbles added up to a healthy carbonation. Lady Smoke was big and bold on my first sip but she mellowed as I continued to taste her. She has that rich, savory smoke taste which leads me to believe that we have beech wood smoked malt in Abraxxxas. The sour which was fairly prominent to my nose was on the mild side to my tongue, although it had a nice citrus taste. At first the pear was faint but there if you looked for it and it gave a nice bit of sweetness. However, as the bier warmed, the fruitiness gave up wallflower status came out to dance. Mind you, we're not talking Ballast Point levels of fruit but I didn't have to look for it.

At the finish the smoke faded but the tartness remained to greet a goodly dose of spicy hops which added some bitterness and made things rather dry. I also detected some salinity which I didn't expect as there was none in the non-fruited Abraxxxas. Schaumhaftvermoegen was notable by its absence.

The pear and the smoke reminded me of that tasty dish Bohnen, Birnen und Speck, auf Hamburger Art (Beans, Pears and Bacon, Hamburg Style) while the pear and spicy hops hinted at a saison. It is best to let pear Abraxxxas warm before quaffing as it brings out the pear flavor and sweetness and gives you this wonderful gestalt of smoke, sour, and sweet. The moderately sharp and acidic feel really helped give this bier a slightly dry, wine-like taste which was thoroughly unexpected and quite tasty.

Junk food pairing: Go with a bag of Steakhouse Funyuns with your pear Abraxxxas. The steakhouse part will add some complementary smoke flavor while the mild onion-esque taste enters into a synergistic relationship with the pear that results in gustatory delight.

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|| Palmer, 6:10 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 August, 2016

The Evil Rye: Böse Roggen by Excel Brewing Company



It is a testament to my tenure in IT that whenever I see this bier bottle, I don't think of doing well at some endeavor but rather of spreadsheets and green Xs. Excel the brewery is an adjunct (pun intended) of the Excel Bottling Company in Breese, Illinois. Breese is downstate, east of St. Louis, in the land that gave us Uncle Tupelo.

The brewing operation began in 2012 and Excel completely revamped its line-up in 2014. The bier at hand, Böse Roggen (German for "evil rye"), was a result of the changes. The special insight that rye and dark lagers are match made im Himmel is apparently unique to Illinois as the only other instance I know of this spectacular combination is Arc Welder by Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing.

Excel began distributing to the Chicago area about a year ago, it seems, and I picked up my six pack three weeks ago out in the burbs.

Böse Roggen appears to be totally black until you hold it at an angle to the light where you can see that it's really a very deep reddish brown. My best guess is that it was clear but I can neither confirm nor deny that one. While I have a thing for bright, pale beers with big, fluffy white heads in the summertime, this one had a big, loose tan head that lasted a fair while and radiated its own dark aestival beauty.

The Excel webpage notes that Böse Roggen is made up of 50% rye which is a combination of rye malt and chocolate rye malt. The more I think about chocolate rye malt, the more I think it should be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Food or perhaps be mentioned on those gold discs we affix to interstellar probes to demonstrate to the aliens out there that we come in peace and that at least some of us are epicureans.

Getting back to the bier, my nose beheld all that rye. You could smell its spiciness. But there was also the chocolate part of the equation with roasted grain, bitter chocolate, and coffee in equal parts to the rye making for a complex yet balanced aroma.

And that wonderful, earthy spiciness came through quite well to my tongue. Joining it were the requisite Schwarzbier tastes of coffee and chocolate, the latter being less bitter here than on the nose. The carbonation was pretty mild as was a grassy hop flavor. Overall a nice, clean lager taste with an emphasis on rye and dark malts.

All of those dreamy malt flavors dissolved into a hoppy finish that was a bit on the peppery side. This made things rather dry - not Bohemian pilsener territory but rather dry nonetheless. There was some Schaumhaftvermoegen with a couple decently-sized patches as the odd speck of foam.

Ausgezeichnet! The big dose of rye pays off here, to my taste, with the grain's prominent spiciness being a real treat to both my nose and tongue. As a fan of dark biers, I loved the schwarzbier base with its rich coffee and dark chocolate flavors that the chocolate rye malt added. And being a schwarzbier also means that Böse Roggen has a fairly light body and a clean, crisp lager taste. (It comes in a 4.8% A.B.V.) Rye and dark malts are two of my favorite ingredients and so this bier was like winning the lottery for me. The only problem with Böse Roggen is that I've got to cross state lines to get my hands on it.

Junk food pairing: For a sweet indulgence, pair Böse Roggen with some Dark Chocolate Crunch Pretzel Crisps and let the chocolate melt into the dark roasted flavors of the bier. On the savory side grab a bag of smoked gouda potato chips. The creamy cheesiness complements the bier's smooth taste while the smoke does the same with the rye and roasted grain.

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22 August, 2016

I meet Raquel Welch. I buy a nice mango American Kölsch.: Mangö by Clown Shoes Beer



This being my first encounter with a brew by Clown Shoes I sought out some info about them on the Internet. I discovered that all of their beers are contract brewed – as is Heady Topper. Clown Shoes began back in 2009 when Gregg Berman, then a wine distributor, decided to start a career in the glamorous brewing industry. He contracted with Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Massachusetts and seems to be with them today.

The article I found noted "In fact, some of the most sought after brands like Heady Topper and Clown Shoes are widely known to be contract brewed." Not only did I not know that Clown Shoes was contract brewed but I was also blissfully unaware that their beer was amongst the most sought after. (I guess in Rumsfeldian language this was an unknown known. Or would that be a known unknown?) I suppose I read an element of rarity into "sought after" although I suppose that is not necessarily so. One could understand that sense of being hard to get if Clown Shoes was only distributed in areas that have place names out of H.P. Lovecraft stories. But I can buy it here in Madison so it cannot be scarce in the same way I understand Heady Topper to be.

Truth be known, I tend to think of Clown Shoes as the brewery that made Tramp Stamp and features brown-skinned women in various states of undress on their labels. (On the other hand, I do not recall a blonde ale with a skinny, blond woman in a bikini on the label.) This is perhaps unfair but they created labels to catch my attention and succeeded. Yet another pale ale, however, failed to catch my interest. It was, I believe, back in the spring that I heard about Mangö, Clown Shoes' mango American Kölsch and this did, however, catch my interest.

Clown Shoes has some distribution here in Madison but I have never seen Mangö in these parts. Instead I found it in suburban Chicago. It is billed as an "American Kölsch" but I am not sure what this means. Perhaps they just didn't want to slap "Kölsch-style" on the label.

Regardless, Mangö pours an inviting light gold color. It was hazy which makes me wonder if American Kölsches have wheat in them. My guess is that the very small white head that my pour begat would have been larger had I been using a stange. Alas, mine remain unpacked. The foam proved fleeting although the beer was quite effervescent with all kinds of bubbles inside.

The aroma featured the dual attack of the titular fruit as well as some cracker. The mango was up front, though not super pungent, while the grain came around the back in a pincer movement.

My guess was that the light berry-like taste of a traditional Kölsch (from the yeast) would be overpowered by the assault of the tropical fruit. While the customary fruity taste was indeed M.I.A., the mango's assault was really more like an extrovert at a meeting of Marcel Marceau Appreciation Society. It was never a cloying onrush but rather stood out because of the company. Still, the beer's clean, crisp taste come through. There was a light grain taste as the base and some grassy tasting hops that added contrast to the mango.

The M ingredients faded at the finish allowing those hops to take over. Everything about Mangö is an exercise in restraint so we're not talking a big hoppy blast but certainly enough for satisfyingly dry finish.

From what I can tell Mangö was introduced last year and I'm sorry I never stumbled upon it sooner because this is one tasty brew. A fellow from ancient Greece once opined "everything in moderation" and Clown Shoes have taken this to heart. This is simply a nice, light brew with a slight emphasis on the mango that doesn't drown out the tasty, light grain and hop flavors.

I know crafty brewers want me quaffing their Oktoberfests but I am still in the mood for beers like this.

Junk food pairing: Mangö's core philosophy is one of moderation/restraint and this should carry into your food pairing. Get some El Rey lemon flavored Tostaditas Chips. They are thin, light, and crispy. On the other hand, you can throw convention out the windows and double down on the fruit with mango snack cakes. Check your local Asian grocery store for these.

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|| Palmer, 6:23 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

19 August, 2016

I want all my rauchmonbozia (smoky goodness): Foraging Swine by Scorched Earth Brewing



We return to northern Illinois after having gotten a taste of summer there earlier this week courtesy of Scorched Earth, which harbors at least one Twin Peaks fan I have discovered. Today we move onto autumn(?!) with their fall seasonal, Foraging Swine smoked ale.

If you look at the list of beers at Scorched Earth's website, you'll see that they categorize them. Hoppy beers are in "Hop Head Central" while Belgian styles fall under "Belgian Goodness". Most of the German bier styles are put into the "Cavemen" category. So far, so good. But soon the taxonomic wizard who came up with the clever names goes off the rails. Foraging Swine is the lone denizen of "Crazy Town". There's nothing deranged about being cuckoo for barley malted by smoky puffs. Indeed, you'd have to have a screw loose not to enjoy it.

Scorched Earth's website neglects to specify ingredients and they have yet to answer my inquiry** as to the type of wood used to smoke the malt here. But with the swine on the label and all the talk about pork in the description, I'll hazard a guess that it was beech wood. While the image of the boar rooting around for morel mushrooms as a foraging list sits in a nearby bucket is all pastoral and amusing, it does reinforce the stereotype of smoke beer all tasting like bacon which they do not.

Foraging Swine pours a lovely autumnal deep amber. It was a bit hazy which was odd. Perhaps there's some wheat in there. A quarter inch tan head dissipated rather quickly although the beer was laced with a goodly number of bubbles. The beer sure looked pretty and was a picture of fall with that deep amber color. (He writes on a summer day projected to be in the high 80s.)

Ooh la la! Foraging Swine has a big, firm smoky aroma and, after smelling it, my conviction that the beer has beech wood smoked malt was strengthened. Not being a chemist nor particularly well-versed in the smells imparted by burning wood, the best way I can describe it is as being smoky and spicy whereas cherry wood produces a sweeter, fruitier smoke flavor. There was sweetness there, though, from the unsmoked malts with honey and stone fruit aplenty. Tucked into the background was a little tea as well, though it was herbal smelling and not astringent.

My tongue did a little dance upon tasting the beer. The brewmaster did not shortchange it in the smoke department as it had a sizable beech woody taste. We're talking Schlenkerla territory here. Ausgezeichnet! Overall Foraging Swine had a pretty clean taste. There was some malty stone fruit sweetness which really came forward as the beer warmed but I couldn't taste anything from the yeast. Some moderate grassy hops helped take a little of the malty edge off.

The smoke lingered in my mouth just as I hoped it would. Those hops, however, had their own designs on my tongue and so they built up a nice black pepper taste and a fair amount of bitterness on the finish which ended up being pretty dry. There was no lacing to be found.

Good stuff, Maynard! Considering the smoke beer's poor reputation, I was quite pleased that Scorched Earth not only brewed one but brewed one with a fairly intense smoke flavor. It's the main attraction here and not a side show. But don't be fooled by the label and the beer's description. This beer does not taste like bacon. While the malts dominate here and make for a medium body, I thoroughly enjoyed how the hops went from grass to pepper and made for a dry, spicy finish. A wonderful contrast to all of the grainy goodness.

A great beer but I'm going to let the rest of my four pack age a spell. Foraging Swine is Scorched Earth's fall seasonal but it comes in at 7.7% A.B.V. and we're still in a sweltering summer.

Junk food pairing: Pair Foraging Swine with Lay's Brazilian Picanha potato chips. They have a hearty grilled beef flavor to them that just goes well with the beer's smoke.

** - my inquiry was eventually given an answer: yes, it is beech wood smoked malt here.

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18 August, 2016

Diane, if you ever go to Algonquin, that Gose is worth a stop: Sweetie Pie by Scorched Earth Brewing Company



On a recent trip to Chicagoland The Dulcinea and I stopped in at a liquor store on our way out into the exurbs. My intention was to grab a six pack or two of brews unavailable here in Madison, especially Hoss which, sadly, has been demoted from year-round to seasonal. While I saw no Hoss, I did end up bringing home quite a bit more beer than I had planned.

One of those brews was Sweetie Pie, a strawberry rhubarb gose from Scorched Earth Brewing. While I'd heard of and a bit about Scorched Earth, this was the first time I can recall encountering their beers. I think that at least part of the reason is that they don't distribute widely in the city. Chicagoland is very large, after all. They are out in Algonquin, which is a northwest suburb/exurb.

This was my second strawberry rhubarb beer with the first being New Glarus' Strawberry Rhubarb. While the brew from Little Switzerland is a wild ale, Scorched Earth's is a kettle soured gose. The same fruits being taken in similar yet different directions. Sweetie Pie, being a gose, has had salt added. In this case it is pink Himalayan sea salt. Beyond the normal NaCl qualities, I do not know what the blushing mineral has going for it.

Sweetie Pie is bright yellow. It was also quite hazy which surely is the because of the wheat in the bier. Goses are traditionally made of 50%+ wheat although I don't know the percentage here. The ¾" head on my glass was soda-like with bubbles jostling for attention when they weren't popping rather loudly. There was also a fair number of bubbles below the surface. Overall quite pretty, though I'd have like the head to have stuck around a bit longer.

The aroma was pleasantly fruity. First there was the sharp, lemony smell of the lactic acid which was followed by sweet, aromatic strawberry. The citrus was fairly strong while the strawberry was just a RCH less pungent.

On my first sip my tongue felt like German Sixth Army in 1942 as it was routed by a blast of lactic tartness. Contrary to the aroma, it didn't taste particularly lemony. The sour lessened on subsequent sips and my tongue recovered to taste that the rhubarb adds its own tartness which was not as sharp as the lactic variety. The strawberry was fairly sweet but not overwhelming and made for a tasty contrast. The wheat stood out and was joined by some more of a barleyed grain flavor. Just as the label boasts, the grains bear more than a passing resemblance to the crust of a pie. The lactic acid and carbonation combined to give the bier a nice bite and and overall acidulous taste. I couldn't really taste the salt as a distinct flavor but it added a fullness to the flavor and likely helped the wheat stand out.

The tartness lingered on the finish along with some of that wheat flavor. The latter I think was helped out again by the salt which became more apparent. Ixnay on the Schaumhaftvermoegenscray.

This is a very fine bier. After the initial salvo of sour, it mellowed a bit and found the perfect middle ground. (I only wish there was more of a citrus flavor to the sour.) While the strawberry was only able to temper the tartness a small amount, it's a testament to the brewers at Scorched Earth that it still stood out in its own right instead of bowing completely to the sourness. The whole sweet and sour dichotomy, the Jungian thing, if you will, was darn near perfect here. And they put just the right amount of salt in. It enhanced the flavor overall and left just a hint of salinity at the end for a unique finish.

It's like having the month of June in a glass.

Junk food pairing: I like to really savor the fruit and veg in this bier and so avoid big, bold flavors in accompanying food. Try some plain old potato chips. If you must have added flavoring, keep it mellow with something like sour cream and cheddar.

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17 August, 2016

The duality of beer. The Jungian thing.: Rauch Pils by Mikkeller

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Wowzers! It appears that this is my first Mikkeller beer. That's odd.

Mikkeller, it says here, was formed in 2006 by friends Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller in Copenhagen. They built upon their homebrewing obsession and took inspiration from American microbrews. Keller would bow out after a short time leaving Bjergsø alone as the brewery's mastermind.

Mikkeller is a "gypsy brewery" meaning the company does not own a brewing facility, although that is apparently changing. Ergo Bjergsø trots the globe and makes his beers at other folks' breweries. Whatever you may think of the practice, it seems to have served him and Mikkeller well.

Although I've apparently never had a Mikkeller beer before, they do stick out in my mind because of the sheer numbers of beers I see by them. In 2013 they made 124 brews. Novelty is Mikkeller's stock and trade, I guess.

I don't have an explanation as to why it's taken me so long to try one of their beers. Part of it is surely just not having any inclination towards a style or a particular ingredient. Part of it may also be the curating here in Madison. Perhaps Madison bottle shops simply carry styles that are unlikely to catch my attention. After all, I did buy this bottle in Chicagoland.

Still, I am happy to continue the Summer of Rauch 2016 with brewery new to me. In addition to being my first Mikkeller beer, I do believe it is also my first rauch pils. This batch was brewed at D'Proef in Belgium.

Rauch Pils is a lovely light amber color and hazy, which I thought odd and not pilsner-like. But multiple derivations from the norm can be a good thing. My pour made a big, loose, white crown that lasted an average amount of time. In a more pilsnery vein, it was quite effervescent with plenty of bubbly action that made me with I had unpacked my pilsner glasses.

Taking a whiff I caught that joyous, guaiacol goodness. I won't attempt to positively ID the type of wood used to smoke the malt but it smelled like Beech wood smoke to me. There was also a little cracker and even a dash of malt sweetness. And, being a pils, you had to have hops. In this case they smelled spicy. I don't recall any indication on the bottle as to whether this was supposed to be a Czech or German or Danish or whatever pils but the hop aroma was Bohemian to my nose.

When my tongue finally got in on the action, it was quite pleased. The smoke was at DEFCON 3 – not a DEFCON 1 Schlenkerla state of smoke but certainly much more than a background or accent flavor. And no, it did not taste like bacon. The non-smoked malts added a touch of sweetness while the hops took a grassy turn here on the taste. The greens were not very bitter and played second fiddle to the malt and I was reminded overall of a German pils.

Things took a turn back towards the Bohemian on the finish as the hops, whatever varieties they may have been, became rather peppery and chased away most of the malt flavor smoky or not. This made the taste pretty dry but not to the levels I associate with Czech pilseners. The lacing on my glass was really nice as there was one ginormous patch of foam surrounded by thin streaks.

After drinking Rauch Pils I decided that more people should make smoky pilsners. I really enjoyed the contrast between the pils elements – the hops, the light body, the fizzyness – and the smoke which brought a flavor less sharp to the table and one that added a fuller feel to the beer.

Junk food pairing: Rauch Pils pairs perfectly with Jays Barbeque potato chips. I like these chips because they taste more like a dry rub than a sticky sweet BBQ sauce. The big paprika taste has a nice earthy taste to it to complement the smoke but the chips are thin and light making for a nice contrast.

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16 August, 2016

Farm to Glass: Honey Kolsch by Rogue Ales



I have not exactly plumbed the depths of Rogue Ale's (and Spirits) catalogue of brews. It seems that I've reviewed only two of their beers and one wasn't even really a beer. Sadly, when I hear Rogue's name mentioned or see their logo, I still think of "novelty" beers first. You know, that Voodoo Doughnut beer – whatever it's really called, the one they brewed using yeast from the brewmaster's beard, et al.

This is quite unfair and Rogue offers more than quirky novelty beers and they should be judged on their own merits instead of standing in the shadows of a Sriracha beer (which is pretty tasty, if I do say so myself). I would think that I'd be more into Rogue as a brewery, more interested in delving into their portfolio because I've come to think of it as the consummation of much of the promise of microbrewing. Allow me to explain although I will probably over-romanticize by filtering my hazy memories through rose tinted glasses

In the first half of the 1990s when I was developing my new-found taste for quality beers, the microbrewing movement was, in my opinion, much more aligned with the Slow Food movement than it is today. Back then small breweries – they were micro, after all – that were local was an ideal valued much more 20+ years ago, to my memory. It was understood that there could be variation amongst batches of the same beer because microbreweries weren't like Bud or Miller or Coors. Their production facilities weren't based on Taylorism. Microbrewers were like cobblers with their pegs and awls, not Nike factories.

As time went on microbrews became craft beer and that sense of drinking beer deliberately, drinking beer as an act akin to buying organic carrot from a local farm has faded. I am thinking of a quote from a brewer I heard on a recent episode of The Beer Temple Insiders Roundtable. Sadly I cannot quote it verbatim but it stated that refraining from brewing an IPA was like throwing money away. It was an irrational act.

I feel that locality, understanding where ingredients come from, and the like have taken a back seat to satisfying a hop fetish. People want their Citra and don't seem to really care where it comes from or what else may be in the beer. However, I have to concede the fact that people can name a hop variety and seek it out is to be counted as a victory for the Slow Food Movement. After all, how many friends of Spuds Mckenzie could name the hops used in Bud?

To bring this back to Rogue, the brewery/distillery/cidery/soft drink maker has farms. I don't know if Rogue owns them outright or who but they're called Rogue Farms and they supply the brewery with some of the ingredients used in their brews. And so I give Rogue credit for making good on the promise that the mingling of the microbrewing and Slow Food movements held back when the two were more aligned. Farm-to-brew was the logical endpoint when the two movements were combined.

Rogue Honey Kolsch is made with malt and hops grown on Rogue Farms and honey made by Rogue bees. I liked the idea of this combination from the moment I read about it and was keen on trying it. I found a six pack at Steve's on University Avenue and haven't seen it anywhere else in Madison.

It pours a medium yellow and was definitely on the hazy side. Rogue uses some wheat in the brew which I presume is producing the haze. A traditional German Kölsch, however, would be clear. I got roughly an inch of loose white foam atop my glass (I still need to unpack my stangen) while there were bubbles galore inside the bier.

That distinctive floral, sweet-yet-savory smell of honey shone through on the nose. I'm no honey expert nor do I know where Rogue's bees were getting their nectar but it was less floral to me and more earthy, for lack of a better description. There was also a little bit of lemony citrus and a touch of grain.

All those bubbles translated into some healthy carbonation. I was really happy add the honey flavor. It seems that most of the honey beers I've had don't use much. And so it becomes a minor accent in both the aroma and taste. Here the flavor is rather prominent and leans more to earthy and maybe woody than floral yet it also gave a sweetness like apple. The malt tasted dual-layered with both lighter biscuit as well as a sweeter, more doughy flavor.

If the bier's smell and taste were decidedly not traditional because of the honey, then at least the finish was more like the German import. It was moderately dry with grassy and spicy hop flavor pushing any lingering malt out of the picture. The bitterness was not big but was abetted by the carbonation. Rogue's in-house Alluvial hops are very Noble-like. My glass finished all gussied up with lots of Schaumhaftvermoegen. There were thin streaks almost everywhere and specks of foam in between.

A really tasty brew. The honey is perfectly toothsome and was used judiciously. Not too much nor too little but rather just the right amount. The bier tasted clean and fairly crisp as if it were lagered for a while. On the malt side, there was a bit more doughy flavor and less of that light, crackery taste that I prefer in a Kölsch. Still, the bier managed a fine light body. If I have a realcomplaint it is that it didn't taste very much like a Kölsch. But perhaps there's a tradeoff to be made: you can have your typical fruity yeast flavors or you can have a moderate big honey taste but not both at the same time. Or maybe that apple sweetness I tasted wasn't all honey but was rather the yeast as well.

Regardless of how well or how poorly Honey Kölsch adheres to German or stylistic tradition, it is a tasty brew that goes especially well in the heat.

Junk food pairing: Having a light sweetness and a splendid honey flavor means Honey Kölsch will go well with other honeyed foods. Try Lay's Honey Barbeque potato chips or some Snyder's Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces.

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12 August, 2016

Sláinte Mhath: Swamp Thang by Oliphant Brewing



The fine folks at Oliphant up in Somerset have heard the siren call of the Summer of Rauch 2016 and given us a smoky twofer. First there was a rauch Vienna lager and now I have Swamp Thang, their "smokier scotch ale".

It seems that American craft brewers know one and only one Scottish beer – the scotch ale or wee heavy. I don't recall seeing a Scottish ale or a Caledonian Stout or a Pict Pale Ale or anything that isn't a wee heavy. It's like there's this stereotype that all Scottish beer styles are big, dark, and malty. Surely not every Scotsperson has the temperament of Inspector Rebus and hangs out catching a cool breeze on the Isle of Skye needing a heady brew at all times. Don't the Scots have a lighter, fizzier brew for those times when the sun shines as couples traverse the Royal Mile?

I don't know enough about the brews of Scotland to even make an attempt at commentary although I'm sure that, if there were other Scottish styles then an American microbrewer somewhere must surely have given it a go. I just haven't seen them and big Scotch ales represent the land of Sean Connery...Now that I look at Oliphant's beer list, I see that Swamp Thing, Swamp Thang's smaller sibling, is called a "smoked Scottish ale". Harumph.

Swamp Thang (I'm not sure if it should be capitalized or not as the folks at Oliphant seem to be devotees of ee cummings.) pours a lovely deep mahogany. Up to the light the beer was revealed to be clear with an abundance of bubbles. Up top was a big, light tan heid that was rather loose and lasted a fair while.

The smoke greeted my nose with a hearty olfactory handshake. It smelled beech-woody – but not bacony! Joining the smoke was a nice bit of caramel sweetness along with booze. The beer smelled quite a bit like whiskey.

A big blast of smoky goodness started my sips. Again, no bacon here just simple smoke which sat atop more of that caramel and a little malted sweetness which was redolent of dried fruits like apricot. My tongue also caught something that was earthy in a woody, tabaccoy kind of way. While there may have been a lot of bubbles in the beer, I didn't taste that many. Still there was some carbonation to help cut the malt. And of course there was an alcohol burn.

While the smoke faded at the end, the malt sweetness lingered on. It was joined by some grassy hop flavor and some bitterness too which managed to eek out a decent bit of dryness for a nice contrast to all of the malty flavors. Swamp Thang is 8.2% and so there was more booziness to be had on the finish. My glass was left with foam everywhere – loads of webbing all around.

Oliphant has gone 2/2, in my book, this Summer of Rauch. I absolutely loved the smokiness here and I'm sure Robert Burns would have written a poem about it were he still alive and living in Wisconsin. ("Wee, heavy smokie...") There's enough smoke flavor here to satisfy the most ardent fans of the fuliginous but this is a big brew and the other flavors pull though just fine. Indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed how the smoke melded with the other, sweeter malt flavors. Despite being a big beer, it had a medium-heavy body that fended off chewiness. And the hops did a yeoman's job here chasing the malt away for a nice dry finish.

If I knew ore about crowlers and Oliphant's filling prowess, I'd buy more and put them in the cellar for the cooler weather of the Autumn of Rauch.

Junk food pairing: Go full Scot and pair Swamp Thang with a bag of Haggis & Cracked Pepper potato chips. Er, crisps.

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11 August, 2016

The Appeal of Bell's and That Christmas Tree Smell: Quinannan Falls Special Lager by Bell's Brewing Company



I do believe that this is my first review of a brew by the venerable Michigan outfit, Bell's Brewing.

Bell's has been around quite a while now. Founded by Larry Bell, it began life as homebrewing supply store called the Kalamazoo Brewing Company in 1983. A couple of years later he began selling his beer. Thirty one years, a second brewery, and one name change later, Bell's is one of the OGs of the microbrewing world and one of the biggest as well making north of 300,000 barrels per year. While I knew that it had been around for a few decades, I didn't know that it was that big. I see here that they distribute in 19 states.

Whenever I review a beer for the first time by a stalwart such as Bell's I usually add a disclaimer and this review will be no different. To wit: I am not anti-Bell's. I harbor no animosity towards them. It's just that I associate the brewery with its Oberon and Two Hearted Ale, neither of which hold great appeal for me. Oberon is fine, don't get me wrong. It is like their Spotted Cow – something that is nice in a pinch but I don't seek it out. Two Hearted is an eyepah, a style which is not really my style. However, I must admit that I do like their Oarsman Ale.

And then I heard about their Quinannan Falls Special Lager and figured I'd give it a try. At first I thought the beer was named after a favorite vacation spot in the U.P. but apparently the boreal, idyllic scene exists only in Larry Bell's head. The beer is unpasteurized and was dry-hopped. While the beer's webpage mentions at Simcoe hops are part of the recipe, it doesn't explicitly say that the brew was dry-hopped with them.

Quinannan Falls pours a lovely straw color and was clear. The head was a big dollop of firm, white foam that was so happy to be in my glass that it decided to stick around as long as it could. Nicely effervescent, there was a pilsner-like level of bubbles inside. A very pretty brew to be sure and one that looked perfect on a warm summer day.

Truth be known, I did not know about the Simcoe hops when I purchased the beer and was taken by surprise when my proboscis took in a big whiff of pine and floral scents. American nouveau lager was to be the order of the day, I guess. In addition to the hops, there was a light, airy grain smell too.

For better or for worse, the first thing I notice about a beer these days when I taste it is the carbonation. This is partly about me simply being more cognizant of the gas and its role in taste but I think it also has to do with the fact, when you see bubbles, you expect to taste them too. And Quinannan Falls is well carbonated. I felt a little tingling on my tongue and tasted some dryness. Beyond that, the beer had a really good, clean lager flavor with the malt having a cracker-like taste. It was crisp with streaks of pine and floral hop flavors that gave only moderate bitterness.

But that bitterness swelled on the finish as the hops took over. A resiny taste which was surely the Simcoe was joined by something that tasted like Saaz – a spicy taste and attendant bitterness. The end result was a hefty dose of dryness and also a wintergreen burn on my tongue. There was a lot of Schaumhaftvermoegen with big, thick streaks everywhere.

From first pour to last drop Quinannan Falls has the visual appeal of beer down cold, so to speak. It looks like it could quench thirst from 50 yards. And it has a great crisp, clean lager taste with notes of light, toasty grain. But I remain ambivalent about the hops. Quinannan Falls may be 6.5% A.B.V. but it has a light body and a gentle malt flavor. I liked the hops flavors but I think the pine was a tad too strong. I prefer a beer with a pine/resin taste to have a fairy big malt presence. I am not trying to imply that Quinannan Falls tastes like turpentine or any such thing. Indeed, I was happy to finish my can. But after one, it was off to drink something else.

Junk food pairing: I recommend pairing Quinannan Falls Special Lager with Lay's Indian Tikka Masala potato chips as they have a lovely, aromatic flavor of a thousand spices that blends well with the pungent hoppiness of the beer.

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10 August, 2016

Yippee-ki-yay!: hans macgruber by Oliphant Brewing



When I saw the name of this bier, it was instantly familiar. Hans MacGruber, Hans MacGruber...nope. I just couldn't place it. I DuckDuckGoed it and it turns out that Hans Gruber is the villain from Die Hard played by the late and much lamented Alan Rickman. "MacGruber" is the name of a Saturday Night Live sketch that parodies MacGyver.

In addition to the teasingly familiar name, I was happy to see that Oliphant had decided to join the Summer of Rauch '16 by brewing a smoked Vienna-style lager.

The Vienna lager is one of my favorite styles of beer. I suppose it (or variants thereof) was one of the first microbrew styles I encountered back in the early 1990s with the amber lagers of both Capital and Sprecher. Its flavor of toasted grain imbued with a bit of malt sweetness and balanced by Noble hoppy goodness really appealed to me then and continues to do so now.

The style dates back to 1840 and was introduced by Anton Dreher, an Austrian brewer who had studied in both Munich and the United Kingdom where his head became filled with thoughts of pale malts and lagering. And he merged the two in his Schwechater Lagerbier, the ur-Vienna lager. Dreher had a veritable brewing empire - a lager baron, if you will. If I ever meet Ron Pattinson, I think I'll ask him if he likes Wire and then his opinion on Dreher. This should get him discoursing for hours. (If you read this, Ron, and want to return to Wisconsin, I'd be happy to attempt to host.)

Curiously enough, Dreher's son had plans at one point to open a brewery in Milwaukee.

Nothing against Oliphant but I am usually a little apprehensive when drinking lagers from small brewpubs/breweries. It's just that these outfits have less space to dedicate to aging a lager for 4-8 weeks. When I talk to brewers, they generally acknowledge that brewing a lager is tough - there's less margin for error than with an ale. Again, I'm not taking a shot at Oliphant but there are breweries out there that make 100% ales and then one day decide to brew a lager because pilsners are trendy or simply for shits and giggles and they come up with a completely mediocre beer.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all this, I was rooting for Oliphant to pull through here. Not only had they gone through the trouble of brewing a lager but also a rauchbier. I wasn't expecting Schlenkerla quality here but I was also hoping that they weren't merely cycling through styles until an eyepah was on the docket again.

My hans macgruber poured a lovely golden brown. It was plenty clear so I could see a bounty of bubbles inside the bier. Perched atop my glass was a big, light tan head that lasted a fair while. Visually, Oliphant had produced a stunner.

The aroma was heavenly and it was as if there were cherubs perched on clouds of smoke around my glass, joining me as I took in the mild smokiness which suggested, but did not smell like, bacon. There was also a luscious roasty malt sweetness.

Smoke flavor in beer is very polarizing. I have argued previously that the smell and taste of bacon in rauchbiers is largely a mass hallucination. Drinkers who've never tasted a smoke beer hear that they taste like bacon and thusly are predisposed to tasting the meat from that wonderful, magical animal. This taste also seems to be most commonly attributed to malts smoked with beech wood.

In hans macgruber the smoke is rather modest in contrast to your archetypal rauchbier, a Schlenkerla Märzen. While not very strong, it is certainly more than a mere accent. It tasted like Beech wood smoke to me but mine is an amateur palate when it comes to smoke. The Vienna lager came through loud and clear with some roasted grain flavor as well as a honeyed malt sweetness which was just a touch bigger than the smoke. To round things off was a little grassy hop flavor around the edge which tag-teamed with the carbonation to add a little sharpness, a little dryness.

Eventually the malt sweetness fades leaving the smokiness to welcome a heightened hoppiness which was a bit spicy and boosted the dryness a tad. But the finish wasn't extreme with only moderate bitterness. There was a fair amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen left in my glass with a few scattered patches accompanied by the odd foamy streak.

Although hans macgruber doesn't have quite the crispness that I find in the Vienna-style lagers from established lager breweries, I think they did a damn fine job. The smoked and unsmoked malts are like Yin and Yang – (more or less) in balanced. And not only did the smoke come in moderate doses, it also didn't evoke bacon very much. It tasted like smoke. I also thoroughly enjoyed how the carbonation and hops worked together to add some counterpoint to the maltiness. Everything finds harmony in hans.

A most worthy entry in the Summer of Rauch 2016.

Junk food pairing: With medium malty body and 5.4% A.B.V., hans macgruber is no lawnmower beer. But it is happy to be paired with food. Go with some Old Dutch Ripples Bacon Cheeseburger Sliders potato chips.

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09 August, 2016

She Wore Lemon: Meyer Lemon Lager by Anchor Brewing



I had an Anchor Steam relatively recently and, oh man, was it good. It was one of the few microbrews in Madison taverns 25 years ago and having one again after a several year hiatus was a real treat.

Formed in 1896, San Francisco's Anchor can lay claim to being one of the oldest American craft breweries. It has a real Behind the Music history too with the brewery burning down multiple times, surviving the Noble Experiment, going into decline and slouching into the 1970s before rising like the Phoenix to become one of microbrewing's elder statesmen. They began brewing Liberty Ale – made with Cascade hops – back in 1975 and it stands as sort of a proto-American West Coast eyepah. Anchor is a storied and pioneering brewery.

After reacquainting myself with Anchor, I began to keep a closer eye on their spot on liquor store shelf and noticed their Meyer Lemon Lager. Was the titular Meyer one of the brewers? Or perhaps the brewmaster's hound? No. A cursory search turned up that it was a variety of lemon. Then I went and drank most of my six pack before discovering that it was actually a lemon-orange hybrid that originated in China and became popular in California by the mid-20th century with its sweeter, less tangy yet still lemony taste.

My hope going in was to have a good warm weather beer. You know, a crisp lager with some citrus zing and not too potent. At 4.5% A.B.V., Meyer Lemon Lager seemed to be perfect...on paper.

In my glass, Meyer Lemon Lager was a lovely gold color and a bit hazy as well. I think my photo exaggerates the haze because of the angle at which it was taken. I managed a big, fluffy, white head on my pour which lasted a long while. An effervescent brew, it was full of bubbles. A beauty of a beer, eh.

The aroma was led by – quelle surprise – lemon. This was followed by a cracker-like graininess as well as a faint encounter with spicy hops. Anchor notes that the beer has Cluster, Nugget, Steiner, & Experimental Hop No. 07270. I cannot find evidence of a hop variety called "Steiner" although a company called S.S. Steiner has a hop called Experimental No. 07270 so perhaps this is just an instance of poor copy editing. In that case, the Nugget and Experimental Hop No. 07270 were used in dry hopping and so should be most prominent in the smell. I didn't catch much of a hop smell but it seems that Experimental Hop No. 07270 is spicy.

So what does a Meyer Lemon taste like beyond the Wikipedia description? Well, a lot like a lemon, to my taste, although it did have a patina of orange. It didn't really taste sweet to me – in this beer, anyway, but it was less sharp tasting, less tart. In addition to liking the taste of the Meyer lemon, I also appreciated how much of it ended up in the beer. It was a Three Bears kind of thing: not so much as to drown out the nice biscuity malt flavor nor too little so that it was relegated to the background in a purely ornamental role. Indeed, it was just the right amount.

I wasn't able to discern any of those Cluster hops. Not being familiar with them, I wasn't sure what to be on the look out for. Apparently they are like grapefruit and pine so I can definitely understand how those flavors could get lost in lemon.

The lemony zing slowly faded on the finish where I was finally able to taste hops. The citrus tartness never disappeared but was overshadowed by grassy/spicy hops which made for a dry, slightly tart finale. My empty glass was left with some really nice lacing. Strands thick and thin were in abundance.

Anchor hit the nail on the head here. I wanted a good summer thirst quencher and they delivered. The folks in San Francisco whipped up a good, crisp pale lager and mixed it with just the right amount of citrus fruit flavor. The Meyer lemon has a bracing tartness to it but not mouth-puckeringly so. Tasty and refreshing; a wonderful summer brew.

Junk food pairing: Go get yourself a bag of Lay's Chinese Szechuan Chicken potato chips to go with your Meyer Lemon Lager. The Meyer lemon originated in China and San Francisco has a large Chinese/Chinese-American population. Plus the chips have a nice soy-garlic base that's highlighted by the mellow burn of pepper and that mixture complements the citrus of the beer perfectly.

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08 August, 2016

Measuring a Summer's Day: Tangelino by Hop Haus Brewing & Vintage Brewing



Back in late June Scott Manning from Vintage Brewing made a trek out to Verona where he met up with Phil Hoechst, brewmaster of Hop Haus to ostensibly brew a collaboration beer. But, from my experience, these so-called "collaborations" are nothing more than excuses for brewers to get drunk and shoot the shit with one another while they bark orders at minions to do the real work. And some lucky brewers get to leave their brewhouse for a spell. They are the brewing equivalent of the kaffeeklatch which surely makes such an event a bierklatch.

The end result of that early summer wang dang doodle was a beer called Tangelino. Scott described it to me as a hybrid brew that was part APA and part saison. "Brewed with clementines and cubeb peppercorns. Aged on pureed Tangelos and dry hopped with Citra and Waimea hops." It had been a long time since I last cooked with cubebs so I was really keen on trying this brew.

Cubebs are a Javanese peppercorn. I am not sure if it originated in Indonesia or simply flourished there. Regardless, it was a staple spice in medieval Europe. To my taste, it's like black pepper but with a little citrus to it and I think it would be wonderful in a pilsner should any brewing types out there need a challenge.

I had to look up Waimea hops and found that they had the aroma of "intense tangelo". Tangelino is a just a citrus fiesta with real fruit as well as fruity hops. However, I knew none of this on a recent visit to the Hop Haus. If memory serves, the menu simply described Tangelino as a "citrus saison".

Tangelino poured a hazy yellow. My glass of it was part of a flight and, by the time I got it to our table, it had only smattering of white foam on top. There were a few bubbles to be had inside.

The beer's aroma was full of doughy, malt sweetness interlaced with overtones of allspice from the cubebs. Ha! I keed, I keed. It was first and foremost a blast of citrus. I'd imagine that if I ever were to take a tour of the Tropicana factory, it would smell like this. Behind the Citric Wall was some sweetly scented tropical fruit as well as a little grass/earthiness which I took to be the cubebs fighting their way out from behind all that fruit.

It should hardly comes as a surprise that Tangelino had a big citrus taste. But it was sweet rather than tart. I don't know that I've ever had a tangelo so I cannot honestly say how much of the flavor was that fruit vs the Clementines vs. the hops. Think sweet, juicy orange/tangerine as opposed to grapefruit or lemon. There was a modicum of bitterness and some honeyed sweetness which tasted malty. As the beer warmed the cubebs came out of the shadows and added a nice, mellow pepper flavor.

The fruit and sweetness fade to a dry, wine-like finish laced with a spicy bitterness and some zesty pepper from the cubebs. A couple large patches of foam lined my glass along with specks everywhere.

As someone who avoids Citra hops and citrus eyepahs like The Plague, I thought Tangelino was a fine beer...for me to poop on!

I keed, I keed.

As someone who avoids Citra hops and citrus eyepahs like The Plague, I thought Tangelino was pretty tasty. My wife and I agreed, however, that it wasn't very saison-like, at least as far as our amateur palates were concerned. It didn't have the fruity yeasty flavors that we associate with the style. Still, there was French saison yeast used here. I probably could have quaffed a whole pint, though that would likely be my quota. It reminded me of Wisconsin Brewing Company's Nectarine and S'Wheat Caroline in that all three beers have a lager-like malt taste – clean with no yeasty flavors getting in the way of fruit-flavored hops and, in this case, real fruit.

I was surprised at how Tangelino retained a fairly light body amidst all the fruity sweetness. It never got cloying and I think this is at least partly due to the carbonation, the dry finish, and the cubebs which offered an earthy contrast to all the citrus. At 7.3% A.B.V. Tangelino has some heft but it drinks like a much lighter brew and really hit the spot on a summer's day.

Junk food pairing: If you're keen on emphasizing the fruit then get your hands on a box of Hostess Orange Cup Cakes and amp up the citrus sweetness. Personally I would help out the underdog cubebs and pair Tangelino with salt and pepper potato chips.

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07 August, 2016

Lager! Lager! Erik Jensen Shed His Grace on Thee: Sea to Sea Lager by Green Flash Brewing Company



While it would be madness for me to say that the zwickel/kellerbier is a trend in microbrewing, I have run across a trio of them this summer courtesy of New Glarus, Weihenstephan, and Summit. A picotrend, perhaps? An unfiltered pale lager, I am quite partial to the style and its Maillard reacted malt goodness which gives a wonderful yeasty bread flavor.

San Diego's Green Flash Brewing is well-known for its eyepahs and so I did a double and almost triple take when I saw Sea to Sea Lager, a zwickel, from them in the cooler of a local purveyor of fine brews. Not only was I amazed that they had a lager on offer, I was also surprised that it wasn't an eyepah masquerading as a pilsner.

Truth be told, I've never had a Green Flash beer before. I see their bottles on the shelf and am under the distinct impression they simply want to pummel me with hops all day, every day. Ergo I avoid their brews. Could an eyepah brewery brew a good zwickel with its emphasis on gentle malt flavor instead of a West Coast wave of fruits and pine? I was suspicious at first that they had merely brewed an India Pale Zwickel, all of the tasty toasty malt flavor having been washed away by a cascade of citrus. My fears were allayed when I saw the words "Hallertau Mittelfreüh and Czech Saaz" emblazoned on the side of a can.

The name of the brew comes from the fact that Green Flash will soon be opening a brewery in Virginia and will then have facilities on either coast.

Sea to Sea pours a nice darkish straw color that borders on yellow. It has a slight haziness to it. A big, frothy, white head adorned my glass for a minute or so. It was rather an effervescent brew with lots of bubbles inside.

I smelled a bit of cracker as well as a fairly faint bit of pepper which I presume came from the Saaz hops. But the primary scent was a more grassy dose of hops that was a bit like hay. All in all, the bier had a fresh, pungent smell about it.

The taste was similar but, if I may channel John Madden for a moment, different. The malt, which was like restrained cracker on the nose, was transformed into a fuller flavor. "Biscuity" is a fair descriptor. However, the hops haven't faded into the background. There a nice grassy/herbal taste with perhaps a touch of citrus which surely the Hallertau Mittelfreüh and the Saaz have, in the immortal words of Emeril Lagasse, kicked it up a notch with an even spicier and more pungent flavor.

Unsurprisingly, the Saaz shine on the finish. The malt fades and a sharp pepper flavor is ushered in that is vaguely redolent of mint and it brings the dryness with it. (You hear me?! Dryness comes with it!) Don't get me wrong, we're not talking Bohemian pilsener levels of Saaz hoppiness here but a fair amount nonetheless. There was a goodly amount of Schaumhaftvermoegen with a some thick streaks of foam lining my glass.

I needn't have worried about Green Flash's ability to brew a lager because Sea to Sea was quite tasty. It had a good, clean lager taste with plenty of malt goodness. While I tend towards something a little more like bread, I really cannot complain here. And I loved the grassy hop flavor here. It was fresh and piquant and every bit as toothsome as trendier hops that taste like passion fruit. With its light body and sessionable 4% A.B.V., Sea to Sea is a great brew for these dog days of summer.

Junk food pairing: Try lighter fair such as Lay's Brazilian Picanha chips with their pungent simulacrum of chimichurri sauce or some White Cheddar Cheetos Puffs.

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02 August, 2016

Sunny, Tropical Leipzig: Flamingose by Uinta Brewing



What compels you to place your faith in a brewery?

My run-ins with Salt Lake City's Uinta Brewing have all been pleasant experiences. Far from being a den of Mormon misfits eschewing brews, Utah's capital is home to some really good beers. After a fantastic black lager and a fine rauchbier, Uinta earned my faith and trust. And so I let them take my tongue on a tasty detour with a cucumber saison.

If someone were to say that two beers is not nearly enough to place one's trust in a brewery, I'd say that's a fair cop. Unless you are a new brewery, two beers is a small and likely unrepresentative sample of your brewing acumen. Just because a brewer masterfully whips up batch after batch of [insert style modifier] eyepahs doesn't mean that he or she can automagically concoct a good helles. So, statistically speaking, I had no good reason to put my tongue in Uinta's hand, if you will. Yet I did.

Earlier this summer I heard that Uinta was going to release a pineapple gose called Flamingose. I like goses; I like pineapple. It sounded like a great combination.

I should really unpack my beer glasses as I've been using all of two types of glasses for reviewing purposes since I moved. While I don't want to, I might have to use one of those ubiquitous shaker pints for a little variety if I can't quit being lazy.

Flamingose poured a dull medium yellow. The gose is brewed with no small amount of wheat so I didn't expect this stuff to be clear but it was, like, totally turbid. There was about an inch of fluffy white foam in my glass and it lasted a good long while. My gaze could not penetrate the haze so I couldn't tell how effervescent it was.

An inviting aroma had a surprisingly restrained pineapple scent as well as a little tartness that was vaguely citrus-like. I was not expecting to smell hops. Sure, the gose is traditionally brewed with hops but they are generally faint. Here I caught a little dank hay and a goodly amount of tropical fruit. Ruh ro, Raggy!

Although I was unable to see any bubbles inside my glass, I could sure taste them as Flamingose has a nice fizziness to it. My tongue and nose agreed: the pineapple was pretty mild all around. The tartness was also toned down in contrast to most goses I've head. Even German imports are more sour than this. The salt wasn't tasted as much on its own as was its effect on the other flavors. Sure, there was a hint of salinity but everything else had a fullness to their taste that one wouldn't normally get with such a light bier. A dash of coriander brought up the rear while tropical fruit and melon flavors from hops led the charge though they didn't add much bitterness.

For the finish there was more of those fruity hop flavors and they lingered as a mild bitterness settled in. There was Schaumhaftvermoegen aplenty with many a thin foamy streak lining the glass.

My wife said it best after tasting it, "I don't like this stuff at all." Well, perhaps not the best because I really think there's a good, if understated, gose underneath all the Ballast Point trappings. The nouveau hops used here are Galaxy and – quelle surprise! - Citra but they are not listed on the label, although they do appear at the bier's webpage. While Flamingose is not very bitter, I do find the fruity hop flavors to be cloying. It has a nice medium-light with an emphasis on the latter body (it's 4.2% A.B.V.) but the paucity of tartness means there isn't much sharpness or zing to it because the carbonation can't do it alone. Instead it has a very muddled flavor - of fruit punch.

A big disappointment from Uinta but I have by no means given up on them.

Junk food pairing: Flamingose is a bier that deserves to be be counter-paired. Put those fruity hops in their place! Try something spicy like Kettle Brand Red Curry potato chips or just something potent like salt & vinegar popcorn.

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01 August, 2016

A Midwestern Affair: Family Values by Sierra Nevada, August Schell, et al



Beginning last fall I went through a phase of sampling beers from Sierra Nevada and along the way I reacquainted myself with the brewery after an absence of many years. While I consumed a fair amount of their Pale Ale in the first half of the 1990s (R.I.P. Pinckney Street Hideaway), my taste drifted and it seemed that there wasn't a day that went by that didn't see a new Wisconsin brewery to acquaint myself with.

Sierra Nevada doesn't seem to have a brew that is spoken about with the awe and reverence of, say, Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper. Regardless, the brewery, one of the micro-veterans having been founded in 1979, brews around 1 million barrels every year without that cache. A Yogi Berra-like quip is needed along the lines of "Nobody drinks them anymore. They're too popular." This revenant drinker, however, will testify that it is one of the best breweries out there. True, I don't drink their IPAs so I cannot even begin to speculate on how well or poorly they deal with that particular trend, but the fact is simply that Sierra Nevada brews several beers that appeal to my tastes and they brew them very well.

The Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America began in 2014 and features the venerable brewery partnering with other microbreweries around the country to brew beers and then having a party bus traverse the nation to stop at Beer Camp shindigs where beer is consumed in mass quantities. This year saw a change in the brewing process. Instead of collaborating with a single brewery, Sierra Nevada is joining forces with six clusters of brewers who are neighbors geographically. August Schell leads the Midwest brigade and it has produced Family Values.

Family Values is an Imperial Brown Ale with Cocoa. For the occasion Schell rounded up Dark Horse Brewing in Michigan, Sun King Brewing in Indiana, Perennial Artisan Ales in Missouri, and Half Acre in Chicago. These breweries were represented by "Minnesota wild rice, Indiana honey, Missouri oats, Michigan hops, and cocoa nibs from Illinois". From my experience, when brewers "collaborate" they mean that they stand around drinking and talking while someone occasionally deals with ingredients and I don't doubt for a minute that Family Values was concocted in just that manner.

My glass was topped by a large tan head that lasted a fair while. The beer was a gorgeous deep mahogany hue and was clear so I was able to see a whole mess of bubbles inside.

A luscious sweet aroma emanated from my glass. Mainly it smelled like cherries to me but the sweetness was tinged with an earthy scent which I thought was the honey mingling with the wild rice. If this is indeed the case then that is one of my favorite new combinations. Those cocoa nibs shone through as well as wonderful dark chocolate. Dark, roasted malt scents rounded out the aroma.

Carbonation was firm but not fizzy leaving the oats to more or less have their way and make the beer rather smooth. Just enough to break up any malt stranglehold. Bitter chocolate and a plum-like malt sweetness went toe to toe at the fore of the flavor. I couldn't taste the honey, sadly enough, but the wild rice made for a tasty nutty flavor in the background.

Those malt flavors do a slow fade at the end allowing some fairly bitter herbal hops that were vaguely reminiscent of a herbal cough drop (Reeeeeeecolahhhhhhh!) to add a goodly dose of bitterness as well as make a dry finish. This being an imperial brew (8.5% A.B.V.) there was an alcohol burn that you could just not miss. Certainly no Everclear but the heat grew as the beer warmed and Ralph Wiggum might be forgiven for thinking it had purple berries in it.

I don't particularly care for the name "Family Values" as it sees to be a term loaded with twee Flyover Country-esque stereotypes of the Midwest but I certainly cannot complain about the liquid itself representing the part of the country I which I live. Those cocoa nibs add a simply wonderful dark chocolate flavor that is at once bitter yet rich. The oats give a nice smoothness which accommodates the fruity malt flavors and the nutty taste from the wild rice. That fruit-nut combination here is a sheer joy for the tongue.

Junk food pairing: This is a pretty big beer rich in a myriad of flavors and requires the culinary equivalent of a Brawny paper towel for maximum enjoyment. I recommend well-salted and peppered French fries with some kind of cheese food product sauce like Velveeta. Big and bold!

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