Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

26 September, 2016

A Surfeit of Festbiers



From Green Bay we now head southwest to Lake Louie Brewing.

Hypothesis: Tom Porter and the gang out in Arena brew a tasty Dortmunder Export and fine, if boozy, helles bock. And so, while they mostly brew ales, they have a proven track record with lagers. Odds were good that the brewery's first Festbier would be a winner.

Experiment: Lake Louie's Oktoberfest went the pale Märzen route with its gold color. The bier was clear revealing a goodly number of bubbles making their way up to a nice bed of white foam. All of that effervescence gave my tongue a firm, yet gentle, carbonic bite. Bread, a mild honeyed sweetness, and a touch of spicy hops came in the initial salvo while a bit of roasted grain and even a tad of toasty, Maillard reacted malt were noticeable upon repeated quaffs.

The lovely malt flavors quietly faded as the spicy hops grew louder as they took on some grassy tones leaving my tongue high'n'dry.

Conclusion: Really good. Easily the best Oktoberfest I've had this year from a Wisconsin brewery. Cheesehead brewers have basically shit the bed this Oktoberfest season sending countless German settlers a-spinning in their graves. Lake Louie's Festbier has a nice bready flavor, which, if it had been fuller, I wouldn't have complained. Plus the hops gave a nice bite on the finish. As a bonus, the Schaumhaftvermoegen was generous and pretty.

Lake Louie's Oktoberfest went well with Late July Bacon & Habenero tortilla chips which have what is likely the best bacon flavor on any chip anywhere, anytime.



Back up north to the Wisconsin interior and Central Waters.

The cicerone cries
Amidst the gadarene rush
To slumgullion



About 90 miles west of Amherst lies Black River Falls and the Sand Creek Brewing Company. They've got a nice little place up there.

Another Wisconsin brewery that specializes in ales. Methinks their Oktoberfest is their only lager. I give them credit for putting a brunette in a dirndl on the label, though, instead of a blonde. Thinking outside the box.

I have to wonder if Sand Creek exists but for the grace of contract brewing. This is not meant as a sleight – simply an observation. Or perhaps Wild Ride Eyepah sells like gangbusters and I am blissfully unaware. It's just that I don't see hordes of Chicagoans crossing the border in search of their beer. Hell, I don't see them around Madison much outside of liquor stores. Oscar's Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, a darn fine beer, used to be seen (by my eyes, anyway) more frequently in taverns and restaurants but is a relative rarity today. I guess not making grapefruit beer has taken its toll.

Onto the Oktoberfest…

Sand Creek apparently took a more traditional route with its Festbier as it was amber. Nice and clear, it was a lovely bier to be sure. The head was a light tan and I got about an inch of the stuff. Inside there were bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles. It looked like it has having an embolism.

The aroma was, overall, on the mild side. What there was was led by caramel which didn't surprise me given the bier's hue. Just a little roasted grain peeked out from behind some grassy hops.

The taste too was, to put it kindly, mild. Again, a bit of caramel sweetness was most evident but that's not to say the bier was sweet. This was joined by some apricot-like fruitiness as well as grassy-peppery hops. If this bier was a palimpsest, then that would be the bit that got erased yet faintly bled through. On top of all this was a harsh, dry acidic bite from all of that carbonation. It was like Oktoberfest champagne. Zoinks!

As what little malt there was faded, my tongue was hit with a one-two combination of carbonic bite and very peppery hops which made things quite dry and equally as bitter. On the plus side, there was some nice Schaumhaftvermoegen in my glass with a few streaks of foam for decoration.

I get that Festbiers are not supposed to be as malty as doppelbocks. And while I'm not a big fan of Bohemian pilsener levels of hops in them but, if that's your thing, go for it. But for Pete's sake, have a good, firm bready, malty base. Sand Creek joins several other Wisconsin brewers who are putting out Oktoberfests that lack a solid grainy foundation. I had a Paulaner Oktoberfest a few weeks ago at a chain restaurant in the middle of mall Hades and it was great. It was shipped from Bavaria in who knows what kind of container an indeterminate amount of time ago yet it was superior to the Oktoberfests from just down the road a piece.

I am getting paranoid that my tongue is simply giving out. Is my brain malfunctioning? That Paulaner was a symphony of malt tastes in harmony. Bread, Maillard toastiness, a little doughy sweetness, and some roasted grains all played in time and accompanied by a chorus of hops. But it's like the brewers of my state are mired down in fourth grade strings class trying to play some twelve-tone Schoenberg while being led by a conductor doing the St. Vitus dance.

Junk food pairing: spray some Easy Cheese on Smoked Gouda Triscuits to accompany your Oktoberfest.

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21 September, 2016

I Watched Steinkrugs Glitter in the Dark Near the Siegestor Gate: Bent Tuba by Titletown Brewing Company



OK, Green Bay. You may not draw the attention that various breweries here in the southern part of the state do as I hypothesized previously, but that certainly doesn't mean you don't warrant more love. So strut your stuff this Oktoberfest season. I am rooting for you. Hinterland was unable to pull through due to diacetyl so now it's time for Titletown to step up. John Brockington is counting on you. Don't let him down.

Titletown turned 20 this year. While that makes the brewery something of an elder statesman, they didn't begin distributing down here in Madison until relatively recently. Good thing they finally did because Titletown brews an absolutely fantastic pils and a stellar schwarzbier as well.

With a proven ability to brew up wonderful lagers, I just knew Titletown would make a great Oktoberfest.

Bent Tuba poured a simply beautiful deep gold with a tint of amber. It was perfectly clear. Titletown went the newer route with a paler brew. The small white head didn't hang around long while just a few bubbles could be seen inside.

Unlike the Oktoberfest brewed across the street which smelled like a movie theater concession stand from 20 paces, Bent Tuba had very little aroma. For a second I pondered the possibility of a conspiracy, that I was in fact drinking a test brew from Wisconsin Brewing Company. But no, I wasn't. There was a faint bit of caramel and an even fainter scent of bread. The grassy hops were muted. While the aroma was disappointing, or rather the lack thereof, I'd had beers with precious little smell that tasted fine.

As is now my wont, I concentrated on the carbonation on my first sip and did not find it wanting. It added a pleasant little bite. Some tame notes of roasted grain mingled with a light caramel taste that had just a touch of sweetness. Overall, it had a nice, clean lager taste. The hops were not exactly ostentatious here merely whispering their soft grassy pleas to be tasted.

For the finale, the malt flavors faded – this did not take much – allowing the hops' spicy side to be revealed. In concert with the carbonation, they gave dryness but not much lingering bitterness. Schaumhaftvermoegen was nowhere to be found.

OK, so I had a bit of an epistemological crisis here. All of the requisite flavors were present but the grainy ones were lost like tears in rain. What should have been full and rich was instead thin and watery. On the plus side, the sweetness was restrained. And I really liked the hops at the end where they became a little spicy. But the dryness was without its malty counterpoint.

Junk food pairing: If you don't happen to have any soft pretzels und Obatzda on hand, then grab a bag of Snyder's Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Sandwiches.

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16 September, 2016

Boreal Brew: Oktoberfest by Hinterland Brewery



I've not quaffed a whole lot of brews by Green Bay's Hinterland Brewery and have only reviewed a trio of them. They've been a mixed bag, in my humble opinion, but I am quite partial to Winterland with its vital juniper berry heat. But when I saw their Oktoberfest, I jumped at the chance to try it on for size.

If I were to describe Green Bay as being "up north" I would surely draw indignant comments from some fellow Cheeseheads. The whole concept of "up north" is arguably a state of mind or way of living rather than a physical place but I tend to think of it as being demarcated by a line that goes from Hudson to Oconto (roughly). Once you get north of Eau Claire and Wausau – then you're up north. Perhaps my definition was influenced by living near Eau Claire, but really, north of this line your conurbations get smaller and smaller and fewer and farther between. There's lots of forest, Indian reservations, and bears. People get around on snowmobiles and sleighs in the winter more than we do here in the southern part of the state.

And so, Green Bay is more mid-state. While the city is our third largest, its microbrew scene lags behind that to west in the center of Wisconsin where you have Red Eye, O'so, Central Waters, and Point too. I say "lag behind" meaning simply that Green Bay breweries don't seem to get as much publicity or have quite the reputation of their mid-state peers down here in the southern part of the state. Then again, at least they don't have it as bad as Eau Claire area breweries, many of which don't even distribute down here.

Hinterland, Titletown, and Stillmank all distribute to Madison (I don't believe that Badger State Brewing does, though) yet they are a bit like the Rodney Dangerfields of brewing down here – they don't get no respect. That's not true but they don't seem to have found a breakout beer, a beer that really makes a name for the brewery, a beer that can take them from yeoman to royalty, so to speak. Perhaps it's where I roam on the Internet, but praise for Green Bay breweries tends to be parceled out in words like "solid" as opposed to "stellar".

Perhaps Green Bay's microbrewers can make a name for themselves with Festbiers…

Hinterland's Oktoberfest poured a gorgeous deep gold color with a slight haze. My bad luck streak in pouring school continued with my glass getting a teensy bit of white foam up top that quickly transmogrified into a thin film. A smattering of bubbles inside the glass were making their way up.

As I was waving my glass around to see if the bier was more gold or amber, the smell of butter wafted into my nose. I was hoping it was just an illusion or a trick of the nose but, upon giving Oktoberfest a sniff, I caught a big wave of butter which was followed by caramel and black pepper. What a bummer. The disappointment was compounded by the fact that I had run into the same problem with their Weizen Bier. I tasted half a six pack of that before consigning the rest to a date with the Madison Water Utility. (This is in addition to a butterscotchy tasting bottle of Lakefront's Brandy Barrel Aged Cherry Lager. I have yet to open a second bottle.)

But stiff upper lip and all that so I plowed on and poured some into my mouth. I was quite surprised not to taste any butter. Instead I found that it had a nice little carbonic bite and that the black pepper made a return appearance. Indeed, the spicy hop flavor was quite prominent. There was little malt sweetness, just a bit of stone fruit and dough along with a mild bread taste. As the bier warmed, the butter flavor crept in until it overpowered the vein of Märzen goodness that I had found.

I tasted some lingering malt sweetness at the end which butted up against more of that spicy, peppery hop taste which I really liked. The hops added a modicum of bitterness and dryness. Just the perfect amounts, truth be told.

The peppery hops reminded me of Great Lakes' Eliot Ness just as did Tyranena's Oktoberfest, Gemutlichkeit. The line between a Vienna lager and an Oktoberfest, at least far as American brewers go, is pretty blurred. So blurred that Coke bottles glasses will do you no good. I tend to think of Vienna lagers as being a bit drier than their Bavarian cousins but that distinction seems to be going the way of the dodo.

But let me not stray too far from the big "D'oh!" here that is the big buttery aroma and taste. This is two styles in a row from Hinterland in which I tasted diacetyl. Either Hinterland has a quality control problem somewhere along the line or my gustatory organs are failing. Am I alone in this experience?

Moving beyond butter, Oktoberfest wasn't bad. Or it had potential. Or something. One thing it did have was the virtue of not being particularly sweet which I appreciated, but this was mostly due to the fact that grain taste was thin on the ground. The bier was also lacking in more savory malt flavors. There was little bread taste and a shortage of the Maillard reacted toasty taste (that is the gold standard for me) in the same way Venus has a shortage of water. I really liked the peppery hop flavor, though, and I think I am growing accustomed to Oktoberfests that aren't afraid to give hops something more than a bit part. Still, more maltiness is needed to make the contrast complete.

Junk food pairing: I've been thoroughly enjoying Cape Cod's Smoked Gouda potato chips lately so they get the nod with their smooth cheesiness and hint of smoke.

Lay's had a limited run of smoked gouda chips and I saw similarly flavored Triscuits last weekend. Smoked gouda snacks appear to be a pico trend. I approve.

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13 September, 2016

Märzen Ohne K: O-toberfest by O'so Brewing Company



The 2016 Oktoberfest season rolls on today with O'so up in Plover.

I remember when O'so first hit store shelves in Madison and tasting Duzy Piwo. Not only was it a tasty blonde ale but, I, having some Polish blood in me, appreciated how the name paid tribute to the Polish heritage of Portage County. Those days are long gone and O'so is now renowned for its sour beers. This is probably a good thing because had they tried to specialize in, say, barrel aged beers, there would have been mass carnage. I recall drinking one of their early attempts at aging beer in bourbon barrels during the inaugural Madison Craft Beer Week at Jan's Unfriendly or whatever moniker the tavern at Baldwin and E. Washington had at the time. It was barrel aged Night Train (now Night Rain thanks to a trademark dispute) and the emphasis was clearly on the bourbon. That stuff was rocket fuel and the walk to The Malt House did us good, I can tell you.

I'm trying to recall if I've ever had O'so's Oktoberfest, O-toberfest. Odds are that I have at some point but it apparently didn't stick out enough for it have left an impression. O'so is primarily an ale brewery and so I am a bit nervous going in here. Until recently they brewed a pilsner, Memory Lane, which was serviceable, and I believe they continue to make a doppelbock as well as an American pale lager, Doe in Heat, neither of which I've ever had, to my recollection.

It's not that ale breweries cannot make a fine lager, but rather that this is done relatively infrequently, from my experience. So let's find out how O'so fares.

O-toberfest is a deep amber and so falls into the more traditional Oktoberfest realm, at least as far as appearance goes. Oddly, it was just a touch hazy. While this may get you docked points at a competition, I personally don't mind. Unlike the last Oktoberfest I poured, this time I got a good crown of foam – almost an inch of loose, off-white stuff. It lasted a slightly shorter period of time than I think of as average but it had nice effervescence with a fair number of bubbles inside.

Caramel sweetness was at the top of the aroma followed by some toasted grain, a dash of grassy hop, a pinch of vanilla, and even some stone fruit which was closest to plum. That caramel made me even more anxious because I prefer more toasted grain. But I wasn't surprised considering the beer's color and, besides, the sweetness may be toned down in the taste.

Well, no. While not very sweet, toffee and dough were the first footers that crossed my tongue's threshold. The taste was really just like the aroma, at least as far as its constituent parts. Add in some stone fruit, a touch of vanilla, and a light roasted grain flavor. Carbonation and some spicy tasting hops that hovered in the background and tried to corral everything into some kind of order.

Malt sweetness lingered at the finish and was joined by more of the hop spiciness which added only a modicum of bitterness and a hint of dryness. Schaumhaftvermoegen was noticeable by its absence.

I did not care for O-toberfest all that much. It has a nice medium light body but the malt flavor was primarily sweet and lacked fullness. While it didn't taste exactly like wort, it leaned in that direction. The malt tastes were just not very rich and they remained disparate instead of coming together in a gestalt of grainy goodness. I am going to stick with Infectious Groove and Picnic Ants when I need my O'so fix.

Junk food pairing: I paired my O-toberfest with some Ruffles All Dressed potato chips. "All dressed" is a Canadian thing which apparently means everything including the kitchen sink. And so the chips have a little sweetness, some vinegar tang, smokiness, spice – the whole 9 yards.

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12 September, 2016

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit: Gemutlichkeit by Tyranena Brewing Company



Poking around the Tyranena website I see that they no longer offer Stone Teepee Pale Ale. That's too bad because that label used to make me laugh. You see, at a previous job there was an historic preservationist who would get exasperated with people who brought up the subject of the supposed stone pyramids underneath the waters of Rock Lake over in Lake Mills, home of Tyranena. He'd get calls from "researchers" wielding "proof" that the mounds of stones were man-made and aligned with the sidereal movement of the heavens. These calls were in addition to ones such as the time someone phoned him up to breathlessly relate how she saw "spirit orbs" rising up from some Native American effigy mounds.

So, just to get his goat, I'd ask him about the pyramids. If he was in a good mood, I'd get a pair of rolling eyes and a moderately curt, "Shut up." And if he were in a bad mood, I'd get, "There are no pyramids. They are just piles of rocks!"

Tyranena is something of an underrated brewery, in my opinion. I think it enjoys a good reputation generally but doesn't seem to have an "it" beer. Honestly, I am surprised that Bitter Woman never became the official state IPA. It came out in – what? - 2002? Scurvy, an IPA with orange zest, predates the current citrus IPA trend by a few years, if not more. And Rocky's Revenge? They were barrel aging back in 2004, long before it became de rigeur. It's like brewmaster Rob Larson is so ahead of the curve that he's behind it now.

Gemutlichkeit, Tyranena's Oktoberfest, is a "limited seasonal" and is only available in Wisconsin. It complements the brewery's other autumn seasonal, Painted Ladies, a pumpkin spice ale which is apparently not limited. Perhaps the brewery has only a limited amount of space to dedicate to lagering.

Gemutlichkeit is a burnished gold color and as clear as day. This puts it in the camp of the newer, paler Wiesn style. Sadly, I managed to pour the bier and basically produce no head. My inability to simply create foam was astounding. All I could manage was a white film atop the bier that doesn't even count. There was a smattering of bubbles in the brew itself.

Dinner was on the stove when I drank my bottle of Gemutlichkeit so it's possible that my nose was skewed here. My caveat aside, I smelled grain which was not sweet but more bready as well as some hops that were grassy-floral. The recipe calls for both Liberty and Tettnanger hops but I'm not sure which one contributes more to the aroma. I think of the latter as being like spicy, almost like black pepper so I am going to guess it's the Liberty here.

Those Tettanager hops made themselves known in the taste, however, which had a distinct bit of pepper to it. The malt tastes here were of bread as well as biscuit and some sweetness too which had both toffee and honey flavors. Carbonation was firm, though not big while the medium light body leaned more towards medium and was clean'n'lagery.

For the finish the malt flavors found themselves gently swept aside as the spicy/peppery hop flavor came through. Overall it was not very dry or bitter but there was just enough hop to chase away the lingering malt sweetness. Curiously, there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

It had been several years since I'd drank a Gemutlichkeit and I enjoyed it as much now as I did then. Honestly, I was strongly reminded of Elliot Ness by Great Lakes with the peppery taste. There is a nice bready flavor to be had here, though not a strong Maillard toastiness, but it is subtle with the malt sweetness over shadowing it. This is not to say that Gemutlichkeit is very sweet, but I would have liked a bit more of that bread flavor so as to give the sweet taste a run for its money. I really liked the peppery hop flavor, though, and how it remained steadfast throughout.

Junk food pairing: My Gemutlichkeit went well with some Cape Cod Smoked Gouda potato chips as well as a handful of pretzel sticks.

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08 September, 2016

Thus Brewed Stutrud: Oktoberfest by Summit Brewing Company



It is now September so I feel more comfortable drinking Oktoberfests than I do when they appear on stores shelves in July. While singles shelves can be where beers go to die, this time of year they are cornucopias bursting with fresh Oktoberfests from far and wide. Well, there's no guarantee that the bottles from Munich haven't accumulated seniority but surely more local brews are still in the flush of youth.

After admitting my guilt a couple months ago when it comes to not giving our neighbors to the west, Summit Brewing, enough love, I jumped at the chance to try their Oktoberfest again. Besides, it had been a long time since I'd last had one.

While I have not done a large scale survey of American Oktoberfests, the anecdotal evidence I've accumulated thus far shows that they tend to be some shade of amber and have a range of sweetness that goes from "Oh, there's a bit of sweetness in there" to "I think I just got a cavity and developed diabetes to boot." My understanding is that, if you were to actually go to Munich and hit the bier tents during Oktoberfest, you'd be served a paler version of the brew known as Wiesn.

Regardless of your Oktoberfest's color, the key is the malt flavor. My preference is for a rich, decocted, Maillard reacted, toasty malt taste with sweetness kept to a minimum. I had some Spaten Oktoberfest recently and, while I am not qualified to determine whether it is the Platonic ideal of the style, it certainly fit the bill for me. American renditions of the style – the ones I've had, anyway – rarely achieve this Überflavor. This is not to say that American brewers who don't decoct cannot concoct a fine Festbier because they do, but rather that they tend to achieve a bready taste that lacks the toasty element to it that German brewers conjure so well.

Summit Oktoberfest pours a lovely amber that is crystal clear. My mini-stein, an Oktoberfest glass from some Kohler festival a few years back, got about ¾" of off-white foam which lasted about 30 seconds. Now, when I see photographs from Oktoberfest, I see a buxom blonde carrying litre steins that have about three times the head. Methinks I need pouring lessons. Anyway, a smattering of bubbles inside helped make this a mighty pretty bier.

The aroma represented perfectly the duality of the Oktoberfest – that Jungian thing, if you will. A lovely bread scent was predominant but there was also a honeyed sweetness there in the background. This boded well to my taste.

Oktoberfest was a bit sweeter than the aroma betrayed with some honey and dough-tasting sweetness but it was far from cloying. Atop this was a really tasty bread flavor. Summit decocts their Pilsener but I do not know if this bier was brewed using that method. The taste here is slightly chewy and like fresh bread as opposed to the more toasted taste of Maillard reacted nectar. The carbonation's firm hand kept the malt from running amok as did a spicy hoppiness that loomed over the proceedings in a very tasty manner.

Malt sweetness came to the fore on the finish but not for long. The Summit webpage indicates that Saaz hops are used here and you could really tell on the finish. Their characteristic sharp, mint-like spiciness rose to the occasion and cleared the sweetness out leaving a trail of bitterness and dryness in their wake. My glass began pretty and ended the same way with some really nice streaks of Schaumhaftvermoegen.

I really liked the bready malt flavor here. Unfortunately the taste found itself equaled and occasionally bested by sweetness. It's not that this is a cloyingly sweet bier, I just wish that the balance leaned a bit in the other direction. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Saaz hops as they made for a nice departure from the normal hoppiness of a Festbier. The bier retains the Noble taste but kicks it up a notch for a little sumpin' sumpin' to keep the sweetness honest.

Junk food pairing: I enjoyed pretzel sticks smothered in garlic dip – the stuff you get at Corn Fest in Sun Prairie - with Oktoberfest.

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07 September, 2016

You Got Hala Kahiki in My Bier: Laka Laka by Horny Goat Brewing



I am embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize this was a Horny Goat beer until I took it out of the refrigerator to drink it. It was purchased in late July down in suburban Chicago as part of a mix'n'match set, although it was The Dulcinea that chose it. A pineapple hefeweizen sounded tasty and I just didn't take notice of the brewer as she put the can into the six pack holder.

Once I was aware that this was a Horny Goat brew, it occurred to me that I have not seen their beers around Madison in a while. Or at least I cannot recall doing so. Surely my eyes just wander past them and the brewery hasn't left the market.

Horny Goat was founded in 2008 in Milwaukee and is a brewery that hires other breweries to make their beers. My can indicates that they are City Brewing in La Crosse and the Stevens Point Brewery in – where else? - Stevens Point. However, the company opened a brewpub called the Horny Goat Hideaway in the Cream City but it closed last year. Presumably a period of retrenchment is over and now it's time to rebuild.

Laka Laka is, as I noted above, a pineapple hefeweizen and appears to be a summer seasonal. "Laka" is, according to Wikipedia, the name given to two different heroes in Hawaiian mythology while "laka laka", according to Urban Dictionary, means to have sex or to f*ck off. Presumably the former is being invoked here.

Laka Laka pours a medium yellow/light gold. Its slight haze did not prevent me from seeing a copious amount of bubbles inside. A small, loose, white head dissipated quickly. To be honest, I was not expecting this bier to be great but it sure got off to a nice start because it looked really nice.

Unsurprisingly, the aroma was heavy on the pineapple. It smelled like pineapple juice, actually. There was also a little bit of honey. Combined, they gave the bier a very sweet, though not overly cloying, scent.

The taste was similar with pineapple juice taking the lead. It was quite sweet but the generous carbonation helped take the edge off as did a hint of some spicy hops that were like a wallflower in the background. I struggled but was unable to taste any flavors that make a hefeweizen a hefeweizen. No banana, clove, or bubble gum.

For the finale, some of the sweetness stuck around and was joined by vanilla – the first sign that this was a weissbier – while the hops gained traction and came out to the dance floor. Bitterness was still retrained but the contrast was stark considering how sweet this bier is. Schaumhaftvermoegen consisted of a sizable group of spots towards the bottom of my glass.

I will admit that I liked Laka Laka but this is because it tasted like pineapple juice and pineapple juice is good stuff. On the other hand, I couldn't taste any wheat nor any of the fine flavors that the yeast produced such as banana or clove, excepting a dash of vanilla on the finish. All of that juice de-hefed the bier.

I don't want to deny hard pineapple juice a place in the pantheon of summer thirst quenchers but I ws expecting and hoping for more hefeweizen. If you add so much fruit or fruit juice to your beer so as to obscure the hallmarks of the style, is it still that style? I thought about this when I was drinking that mango Kölsch last month. With that bier, the light, delicate fruit flavors from the yeast were supplanted by a light, delicate dose of mango. Yet I liked it greatly.

Here I think the difference isn't simply that pineapple supplanted an estery taste here or a phenolic one there. It's that, excepting the hops, the tell-tale characteristics of beer were in absentia.

Junk food pairing: Go for the authentic Hawaiian experience and pair your Laka Laka with some Spam flavored macadamia nuts.

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04 September, 2016

Don't Fear (The Smoke): Fear of Ghosts by Stillwater Artisanal Ales



While I knew that I'd encountered Stillwater Artisanal Ales previously, I had completely forgotten that my previous two run-ins were both collaborations and that Stillwater was a "gypsy" brewery.

And so this is my first solo Stillwater brew. Fear of Ghosts is a smoked sour farmhouse wheat ale and also quite a mouthful. Although folks of an agrarian bent around the world have been brewing ales for some time, "farmhouse ale" tends to refer to – here in America, anyway – a Franco-Belgian variety. Admittedly, this is not a style with which I am very familiar but O'so's Picnic Ants has slaked my summer thirst many times, although I have no idea how "authentic" it may be.

I tend to think of these beers as being wine-like in that they're on the dry side with fruity and spicy tastes courtesy of the yeast but lacking sweetness. Plus they have a little tartness as well. In this case I was drawn by the promise of smoke. It is, after all, the Summer of Rauch and the idea of a smoky saison was novel and intriguing. Fear of Ghosts debuted back in the spring.

The beer pours a light yellow and has an almost spectral haze in keeping with being a wheat ale. My glass had a big, firm, white head but it disappeared rather quickly. Inside there was a thriving colony of bubbles.

Juicy pineapple stuck out on the aroma which led me to believe that the beer had been dosed with nouveau American hops. The sour part of the style was lemony here while some earthy, resiny notes were a bit further back. I was struck by the absence of smokiness, sadly enough. This combined with West Coast pale ale flavors made for an inauspicious start.

On the first sip my tongue was greeted with a spookily large dose of lemon-tasting sour that let up some as I continued sipping but was always keen on reminding me that it was there. Those tropical fruit and pine/resin scents made a return appearance here. The tartness helped keep the beer dry tasting as did its attendant acidity and the solid carbonation. As it warmed, a little sweetness crept in, but just a touch, as did barnyard funk. I let the beer sit a bit longer and the funk got stronger as some grapefruit came through as well as a hint of the wheat. But no matter what I did, I could not discern any smoke.

Unsurprisingly the tartness lingered into the finish as did the nouveau hop flavors. However, there was not much bitterness to be had. There were a couple of small patches of foam left on the glass along with a smattering of spots.

Fear of Ghosts gets low marks from me for the phantom smoke flavor. My palate is not particularly discerning so it is possible that there was some smoke flavor in there. If there was any, it's likely that it was on display in the same sense the plans for the bypass that went through Arthur Dent's home were. And then there's the matter of those trendy pale ale hops that I tend to avoid. Truth be known, I liked the tropical fruit and resin tastes in this beer. They didn't try to steal the show like Kanye West at the MTV Awards and were content with joining the chorus of flavors instead.

I liked the beer's firm and consistent tartness as well as its brett funkiness which slowly gained strength but never overwhelmed. It has a pretty light body which went well with the dryness. This brew was really nice on a hot day, though it weighs in at 6% A.B.V.

Junk food pairing: Pair your Fear of Ghosts with some kind of lime-chili chip such as Takis Fuego chips. The lime tartness will complement the beer's sour and its citrus flavors.

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03 September, 2016

A Wondrous Hypotyposis: Smoked Dubbel by Wisconsin Brewing Company



Last week Wisconsin Brewing Company unveiled another brew in their Forward! Series. This time out it was a Belgian dubbel, a smoked dubbel, no less. With the Summer of Rauch 2016 having precious few weeks left, The Dulcinea and I headed out to Verona to give the beer a taste.

The last time I reviewed an entry from the Forward! Series I found myself wondering who brewed these beers. Was it brewmaster Kirby or was it his minions? The veil was lifted last week as it was revealed that Smoked Dubbel was brewed by a production intern named Adam.

The beers of Belgium are certainly ones that require more of my attention and that of my mouth. It's not that I don't enjoy them, it's that, well, I've been neglectful. While I've read a tad about Belgian beers, I am probably on par with a proctologist's knowledge of the human heart. I know they're out there and I am happy for it. I just don't know a whole helluva lot about them.

As a style, the dubbel is apparently a Trappist ale or abbey ale, if you don't happen to be a Trappist monastery. "Trappist ale" is a legally protected appellation like "Kölsch" or the letter M printed in yellow and is produced by just 11 breweries around the world. As someone who enjoys medieval European history, I revel in the thought that contemporary monks are following in the footsteps of their forebears of many centuries ago. For my part, when drinking one of these beer I like to envision myself as a monk – think Remigio from Name of the Rose - having a quick pick-me-up before starting my shift at the scriptorium. It's like drinking history.

A small, white head that was very loose disappeared quickly leaving me with a glass full of a light copper color that had perhaps a very modest red tint. It was very cloudy and I didn't see much in the way of effervescence. I'm not sure if the beer should be clear or not. I tend to think of these brews as at least having yeast remaining in them so I wouldn't be surprised if clarity isn't an issue.

I had to do a double-take with the aroma. It was very sweet with caramel but also had a big banana scent which was joined by bubble gum. Now, I know dubbels should taste fruity but I didn't think that they resembled a Weißbier so closely. I was just expecting some raisin to be in there too.

The first thing that struck me upon tasting the beer was the lack of carbonation which no doubt contributed to the very smooth feel on my tongue. While the banana made a return engagement, it was accompanied by stone fruit – think plum & apricot – and topped off with some caramel sweetness. The precious smoke was moderate at first and then quickly faded into the background to become a pleasant accent to the fruity flavors.

That banana taste lingered at the end along with some of the sweetness as some grassy hops made their presence known. While they didn't give a lot of bitterness or dryness, it was just enough to overcome the fruity sweetness for a nice contrast. There was no lacing left on my glass.

While I certainly wouldn't have complained about this beer having more smokiness to it, I enjoyed its subtle support of all the fruity esters and phenols and whatever other chemicals the yeast produced. This was cherry wood smoked malt which sounds like the perfect fit for this style. If you've ever had Karben4's NightCall, think that level of smoke. Although Smoked Dubbel had a lot of nice flavors, it was thin-tasting. I expected a much richer malt flavor as well as a fuller body than I got.

I give Adam credit for conceiving this beer but it just didn't come off correctly, to my taste. Hopefully he'll try again because a smoked dubbel sounds like a perfect autumnal alternative to "pumpkin beers".

Junk food pairing: Since Smoked Dubbel is only available at the brewery, pack your picnic basket with some Fig Newtons and Andy Capp's Cheddar Fries.

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