Lazy Post: Quick Thoughts on GTMW 2014

I’m not hungover today, which is a miracle (and a disappointment, I suppose).  Even though I feel just fine, I seriously lack the motivation to develop a proper post on this year’s Great Taste of the Midwest. It was fun. Many beers were had. Some better than others. Saw some old friends. Met some new friends. Waited in some lines. Didn’t wait in others. Got sunburned. Thanked volunteers. Took a taxi. Ate some Rocky Rococo’s pizza.

My Favorite Beers of the Fest:

Kuhnhenn ‘Pure Michigan’ Peach Lager – Light in color, tart in flavor, wonderful.

Kuhnhenn Caramel Cocoa Macaroon Coffee Stout (firkin) – “Ok, I’ll try this, but there’s no way a beer with this many flavors or ingredients will be good.”  (Sips beer)  “Ok this is good.” The firkin tent was unstoppable this year.

Kuhnhenn Bourbon Brett 4th Dimentia (firkin) – “Why’d they have to add brett to this beer? It was great on its own.” (Sips beer) “Oh come on!”

Surly Cacao Bender – Brown ale infused with coffee, vanilla and cacao nibs. I enjoy the coffee notes in this. Still one of my favorites of all time.

Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue – Obviously.

Boulevard Hibiscus Gose – Why was there no line for Boulevard? Shame on you people.

Boulevard Two Jokers – Why not make a huge witbier?

Surly Darkness (firkin) – Better (and hoppier) than I thought it would be.

Side Project Brewing Blueberry Flanders – Was easily the best beer I had at the event. Sour blueberry extravaganza. Needed more of this, for sure. Amazing stuff.

Quick Thoughts:

Booth-wise, New Holland’s ‘Caddyshack’ theme was deserving of 1st place. Also enjoyed the other movie themed booth: Goose Island’s Blues Brothers, complete with full band playing behind chicken wire. Did not like waiting in Goose Island’s line though.
Revolution’s “Gene Pool” was fantastic as well – really enjoyed the ‘Bean Gene’ (coffee beans added to Eugene Porter). Others raved about the Blue Gene (blueberries added to Eugene). Why was Founders on the hill all by themselves? Why was the line for Half Acre absolutely ridiculous all damn day?

I mostly enjoyed the obvious trend of session, gose, and berliner weiss beers at this year’s GTMW. You could find a low alcohol summer sipper at virtually every booth. Had the Guava at 5Rabbits, Pickle Kolsch at Flat12, Counter Clockweiss Berliner Weiss at Destihl – the list goes on and on. There were still the imperial stout giants and fat, sticky double ipas, but I opted to go for sweet, tart, and dry light-abv’s for the most part. And I was rewarded.  However, Central Waters award-winning 16, Odd Side Ales Mayan Mocha Stout, and Indeed’s Rum King Imperial Stout all graced my glass.

What else? The GTMW app was great.

Here’s a picture gallery for you to look at.

 

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5 Non-WI Beers You Should Probably Be Drinking Right Now

Did you know there’s other beer manufacturers outside the state of Wisconsin? Shocking, I know. Here are the beverages from other American places that I’ve been downing lately:

Dogfish Head Festina Peche - A tart morsel of perfection, Dogfish Head Festina Peche lays prickly groundwork on your tongue through a transformation of peach flavor and carbonation. Very light, very satisfying. 4.5% means you can have a few. Glad to see DFH back in our market here after their absence. A refreshing Berliner Weiss treat. Also, there’s this:

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Westbrook Gose - A near-defunct style that beckons for summertime, this traditional German brew made by Westbrook in South Carolina is just about perfect. Per usual, I prefer the canned format.  A sour, salty brew that pours a cloudy haze for days. A lot citrusy, a little salty, with large, billowy white head. Talk about your desert-island beer – this 4% is a true winner.

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Anderson Valley (The Kimmie, The Yink & The) Holy Gose
Another Gose makes the list. This one a bit more sour – with tangy lemon dominating the palate. Soft wheat and spice notes round out the finish. Part of their ‘HWY 128 Series’ that I honestly know very little about, this northern California brewer gets very little love in our parts. I implore you check this one out if you can find it. Perhaps their best brew yet.

Summit Union Series #3: Southern Cape Sparkling Ale
Our neighbors to the northwest blend a variety of interesting and hard-to-find ingredients to make the #3 beer in their Union Series: Southern Cape. A remarkably balanced ale that blends Australian pale malt, Chilean caramel malt, Waimea hops from New Zealand and Southern Passion hops from South Africa. This beer is simple while being complex, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Taste follows the nose – slight bitterness without being too forward. Very light on the tongue with a taste that’s difficult to describe. Almost a champagne quality in this – 4.4% and one that I’ve gone back to multiple times so far this summer.

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Avery IPA - Honestly I could have chosen about 380 other out-of-state IPAs for the last spot, but something continues to lure me back to Avery. White Rascal is smart for the times, but Avery’s IPA is just dynamite. Pours a glowing orange, pungent floral hop bouquet, with 1″ of foam. Sticky, oily perfection. Quickly becoming one of my most-purchased IPA’s. Delicious in any package, and one of my favorites from Colorado.

Enjoy the summer, it’ll be gone tomorrow…

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5 WI Beers You Should Probably Be Drinking Right Now

I mean, do whatever you want, but these beers are tasting mighty fresh right now.

New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat – Nothing says summer like a quaff-able hefeweiss. Our favorite with-yeast German brew sticks around for a few months here, but I always notice that it disappears earlier and earlier as the years have gone by. Your typical banana & clove nose with a prickly carbonated mouthfeel really signify that warm weather is here. Put on your dancing pants and get to it. (I imagine lederhosen are too hot to dance in, though?)

New Glarus Thumbprint Berliner Weiss - So it might be a little over-carbonated now. So the brewery might want it pulled from shelves.  So you may have a hard time finding it. Unless you’re me, who has a case in the basement, resting silently. A shockingly Rayon Vert-esque 4-5″ foamy head will greet you upon first pour. Make yourself a sandwich or watch an episode of Family Feud and come back to it later. This 2.5% patio pounder still tastes perfect, regardless of any secondary fermentation issues the bottle might have. This is still a great beer and a great style for the 3 months where our weather is actually nice. Open carefully, pour slowly, sip onward.

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Karben 4 Fantasy Factory - Holy hell this brew is just about perfect. Massive citrus notes upon a sweet, grainy malt base. Mango, passion fruit, and grapefruit envelop the tongue and take you on a ride to pleasure town. Oh, we’re going all right. Readily available in Madison and at a few select venues in Milwaukee. Seek it out if you’re looking for a dynamite American IPA. I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on these guys – everything I’ve had from them so far has been a winner.

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Black Husky Howler (Simcoe and Equinox versions) A 10.5% pale ale, served on tap and in a 22oz bomber in the Milwaukee area.  A mighty malted brew that stacks up against the huge hop addition in it. Massive without being offensive, nano-brewmaster Tim Eichinger has easily made my favorite brew of the year so far with Howler. A touch of honey adds a nice dimension to this – an essence of sweetness lingers for a second before the sticky hops ravage the enamel on your teeth. Black Husky also brewed with a new hop variety titled “Equinox” which is known for its unique citrus aromatic components and oily profile. Personally I found the Equinox to be high in vegetal-type content. I prefer the Simcoe version, but the Equinox hopped variety was interesting yet different enough to ensure my full attention. Pick either, you’ll still be a winner.

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Milwaukee Brewing Company Outboard Cream Ale - Within the sexy, sleek 16oz sky blue can hides a beautiful example of what a refreshing cream ale should taste like. Easily Milwaukee Brewing Company’s best beer to date, Outboard sings with a soft wheat-base and just a morsel of bitterness in the back end. However this beer is not hoppy, rather a happy dose of cereal-malted goodness with a slap of sweetness in the back end. Crushable 5%. Typically a style that doesn’t usually receive a lot of love. (Had it been available at the time of this posting, the soon-to-be released M.B.C Increase Wheat would have been in this Outboard spot. Increase Wheat is a Berliner Weiss made with Gooseberries – sweet and sour as advertised.  I was able to get a taste of this at the brewery last week and did NOT disappoint. Drink this in July and August while it lasts)

Fellow Wisconsinites – what are your favorite summer brews to sip on?

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Milwaukee Beer Week 2014 – There Will Be Beer

Milwaukee Beer Week is back with a new website, another passport, and seemingly bigger and better events. There will be beer.

Combing through all the bars & restaurants participating can be a little daunting. Picking your poisons can be as well. The following are events that I feel will most likely be the brightest this year.   You’ll be able to find me at the majority.

Saturday April 26
The annual 4pm beer week firkin kick-off is in full effect again, with your usual craft-pouring venues tapping casks.  I’ll probably opt for places like Hotel Foster, Steny’s, World of Beer, or Benno’s. It’s always a surprise what firkins are tapped where, so go with your heart, I guess?
Not on the official event listing is the Bottle Trade Event at Hoyt Park @ The Landing in Tosa. Craftbeercompass has officially declared this the first of its kind during the week – you can check out his event listing here. Goes from 3:30-5pm.
If you’re not into the guessing game when it comes to firkins, Finks has a Lagunitas L’il Sumpin Sumpin they’re tapping at 5pm. It’s also bring-your-own-vinyl night there, so dust off your momma’s 50’s showtunes records and show the eastsiders what’s up.

Sunday April 27
3Sheeps Brewery and Collectivo Coffee get together for a coffee & beer-themed brunch at the Iron Horse hotel from 8am-noon.  You do not need reservations for this event, just stop in between the times mentioned. The 3 Sheeps founders will be going from table to table with beer flights as well, I’ve heard. The Collectivo coffee used in the Cortado Stout and Hello, My Name is Joe porter (I think?) should caffeinate  your morning well.
After the shakes subside, it’s worth checking out Discount Liquor’s “Crafts & Drafts” event, being held at Hart Park this year.  Heard some great reviews of the charity event last year, with rare Euro & American beers abound.  As of this post, not sure how many VIP/General tickets are still available – but there is a commercial on the radio promoting it.
If you’re not able to get into C&D, Points East is showcasing big ABV% beers all week, including the Ommegang Game of Thrones series, which are usually fun. Appearances by North Coast, Avery, and Epic are on the list as well there I think.  Can’t go wrong with a dozen wings!

Monday April 28
Sanford, arguably the best fine-dining restaurant in Milwaukee, is hosting a “cellared” beer dinner. Each course is expertly paired with a brew that’s been carefully aged over a few years. Long story short – if beer dinners are your thing, this will be one that will become legendary. I’ve heard that this event has been planned for almost a year and features cellars from a few restaurants, bars, and private owners’ own reserves. If you have the money and the time, I highly suggest going to this. Not sure on price or # of seats, but I have a feeling that people will be talking about this one for years to come.
If your budget doesn’t allow a Sanford dinner, the other big event of the evening is the rare beer tapping at Palm Tavern. Barrel-aged beauties from  a variety of suppliers will certainly pack this cozy spot. 6pm is the start time, and you can bet many of the kegs are small and will run dry quickly. Don’t miss this one, if you can squeeze in.
After Palm Tavern, head northeast to the nautical-themed Blue Jacket for an evening with 3 Sheeps flights and appetizers. If the weather is nice enough (unlikely), maybe the garage-door-wall will be opened. For what it’s worth, this Monday looks to be one of the marquee nights for Milwaukee Beer Week. Tuesday a.m. outlook: sucky.

Tuesday April 29
Plenty of  food-inspired events to choose from today.  A 7-course Central Waters pairing at Palomino is intriguing. To the west in Waukesha, Bernie’s Tap Room is tapping KBS for all you hunters that didn’t score a bottle (myself included).  Both of those are neat & all, but you’ll find me at Roman’s for the Goose Island, Charcuterie & Cheese event, which starts at 5pm.

Wednesday April 30
At this point, I’ll probably need to take a vacation day to recover from the previous few days. That vacation day will come to a screeching halt as Landmark 1880 puts a few Avery specialties on tap at 2pm. (Liquid lunch, anyone?) Afterwards, grabbing dinner at Tess sounds like a good idea, as their annual Goose Island beer week beer dinner kicks off around 6pm. I can’t stress enough how great beer dinners are at Tess – I’ve been to 5 of them now. While many other venues can lack in execution, the people at Tess are true professionals when it comes to putting these on. If you’ve never been to a Tess brew dinner, make your way over and enjoy how it’s done.
Tradition does come into play though, as Burnhearts brings a flock of herons at 6pm.  Their Central Waters takeover event always brings limited and one-off suds just for beer week. A plum-infused beer, a cask of illumination with added pineapple and coconut, and the juggernaut anniversary brew ’16’ will be on tap, among many others. I’ll…need a ride home.  Might be a good time to test out Uber. I’ll never test Lyft as I will never enter a car that has a pink mustache on its grill. I mean, that just seems like common sense.

Thursday May 1st
A Surly beer dinner at Rumpus? Is this for real? Can it be?  I can barely find the words to convey my excitement. NO REALLY, this is happening! Spots are filling up quickly though, so if you want in, I’d call soon.  Don’t know much about this one right now though.
If that event is full, head over to the revamped Spin (now EVO) and play ping pong while sipping on a KBS, Sweet Repute, or Centennial IPA. That event starts at 6pm, and you’d be high not to go.
If ping pong isn’t your thing, head over to The Stone in Bay View for some specialty tappings from Boulder Brewery. Always enjoy my time at the Stone – just a great neighborhood spot that I feel needs a bit more attention.  Or don’t go, that’s fine too.

Friday May 2nd
Friday in Wisconsin means Fish Fry’s everywhere.  Beer Bistro, Trocadero, Benno’s, Tess – pick a place and enjoy regional tradition.
The barrel-aged beer and spirits event at Prodigal is where I’ll be though. One of my new favorite spots in Milwaukee. Always has an eclectic beer and bourbon list, and the food is wonderful. Virtue cider will be pouring at this event, which is reason enough to go.  A barrel-aged Oskar Blues brew is icing on the cake.  Call for reservations.

Saturday May 3
Beer week comes to a close. We’ll stumble out of bed with bloodshot eyes & shriveled livers, ready to close out the insanity. How about some cocktails to switch things up? Boone & Crockett has you covered.
In my opinion, the big event of the day goes to World of Beer on Brady St, which is throwing up 30 (!!!) New Belgium taps.  Proceeds benefit the Wisconsin Humane Society, so I’ll definitely be in attendance. Felix Rarity, La Folie, and their Lips of Faith collaborations will be mine.
Otherwise I heard great things about the Sugar Maple Sausage Party last year (a sentence I never thought I’d write), so I may check that out if there’s time between Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I have a feeling Sugar Maple will be tapping some things not even mentioned on the beer week paraphernalia, so don’t be surprised if you wander in during the week and see something on draught that…shouldn’t be there…but is.
Another great event to close beer week is the Central Waters, New Glarus, Sprecher, 3 Sheeps beer & cheese pairing at Wisconsin Cheese Mart/Uber Tap Room. Decisions decisions – it’s a difficult life we all lead.

Final reminders: Drink Water. Be nice to people and your bartenders. Taxis are smart.  Enjoy good beer.

Thank you for reading.

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Q&A with The Enlightened Brewing Company

At this very moment there are more breweries in the United States than at any other point in history.  And the number is inexplicably rising.  Never mind saturated markets, limited space on the shelves or the terrible thought that there might not be enough ingredients to go around.  People are opening breweries in every corner of the country every day. Two of these people are Milwaukeeans Tommy Vandervoort (27) and Grant Willey (24), who are feverishly working to perfect their small brewery named The Enlightened Brewing Company. On a cold late December evening, I met the 2 new business owners at my favorite haunt Landmark 1850 to talk about their journey so far & what’s in store for them in the future.

Wisconsuds (W): So where did you guys meet?
Grant Willey (GW): At the Milwaukee Public Market.  I had been working at Groppi’s  in Bay View & one day they said they didn’t have work for me there, but needed help at the bar they owned at the Public Market. I was like “so am I fired?” The answer was no, they just needed extra help there that day. I went & the rest is history.
Tommy Vandervoort (TV): I’d been working there since November 2012, and when Grant came in February that’s how we were eventually introduced.
GW: I was talking about homebrewing with a different coworker & they were like “Have you met the other guy who’s into that?”
TV: Other guy? I’m the other guy?!
GW: Yeah, you’re the other guy.
TV: Initially I asked you about your homebrewing setup, didn’t I?
GW: Yeah, we both seemed to NOT know the same stuff, so it was great to get to know each other.
W: You guys bring your setup together for the brewery?
TV: It’s a combination of our homebrew equipment and a new system we put together in order to make more beer.  We definitely bought a bunch of stuff and the system we’ll be brewing on is brand new.

W: When do you think the first batch will be ready?
TV: Probably April or May.

W: How did you come up with the name Enlightened Brewing Company?
TV: I incorporated the LLC in January 2013, but have been working on the business side of it for more than 2 years now. We were running with the name ‘Enlightened Imbiber’ but the more I talked to people, the more people were like “what’s an imbiber?”
W: People don’t know what the word  ‘imbibe’ means?
GW & TW: NO!
TV: And they didn’t know how to say it either. They’d be like, “What’s an im-Bieber?” After Summer we changed our business name to the Enlightened Brewing company.
The whole thing is…
GW: We should read the mission statement to you.
W: Yes, do that
GW: “For those who love to think, for those who love to drink, and for those who are fairly certain they can do both at the same time. For those who marry their beer with merry conversation and fellow imbibers in the discourse of enlightenment.  Drink it down and lighten up.”
W: That’s deep. I like it.
TV: That’s the whole thing. The deal with beer culture – getting good friends together. People who are intelligent and can talk about religion, politics, et cetera. All that stuff that’s off limits at the dinner table – we say ‘fuck that’ – get together, have some good beers, find a good place and sit down & hash it out. Not going to agree on things all the time, but at least we can find peace over good beer.  Great beer is universal.

W: It’s 2014, there’s already thousands of breweries out & it’s gonna keep growing. Why start a brewery now?
GW: Cuz we want to. (Laughs)  I actually think there’s room for even more breweries. There’s as many breweries  now as before prohibition. However, now we have a much larger population, distribution has improved greatly. Sure we’ll probably see some of these new breweries fail, given that peoples tastes’ change and for other factors. Maybe we’ll see older breweries that have been around for awhile start to decline as well. Who knows. There’s room for competition.

W: The reason I ask is because what I think you’re doing is great, but I also think you’re crazy. Are you?
TV: No, we’re just tired of working for others. We have to do something. If we’re working on the premise that we’re going to do our own thing and start our own business, there is no other option. It’s an interesting world, because there are plenty of homebrewers out there that brew amazing beer, but it’s a lot more than that when you want to do it for a living.  So it helps that we’ve made so many connections in the industry before deciding to go forward with the brewery.
GW: We’ve collectively been in the bar industry for more than 12 years now.
TV: Going through the process in the last few months of going through licensing, and the physical space, the equipment -
GW: and the plumbing, the plumbing…
TV: Yeah, we had some issues. But I can see why homebrewers don’t take the next step.  We’re starting up as small as we can & still make a living off it. But we’re going to be big enough that we can supply beer to whoever will need it.  There’s plenty of space left for new brewers – even with all of the craft brewers in America, it’s still only a 3 or 4% of total market share.  So we both think there’s room to grow.
W: Self-distributing to start?
GW: Yeah.
W: Kegs only, or package as well?
TV: Kegs only. We’d like to package, but a bottling line in our space isn’t feasible.
GW: Only 515 square feet.
TV: Say we want to barrel-age something. Let it sit for a year. And maybe we’ll hand-bottle bombers as a super special release. Maybe. Whatever we do, we’ll be passionate about it.

W: How did you eventually decide on the space, and where is it?
GW:  A great building manager, the price, and the ability to lease were the big factors.
TV: It’s located at 1st & Becher, across from Horny Goat actually – it’s the big red warehouse.
GW: Much of the building is studio space.  You’ll hear a lot of band practices in there when you swing by.
TV: There’s really a lot of potential in that building – there’s a distillery moving in there, the guys from Milwaukee Pizza Company are going in there. And this is really the neighborhood that we want our beer in.

W: What Makes you guys different from other startup breweries?
GW: I think our big advantage is being tied in with the local community. Tommy has been one of the best bartenders in the Bay View for a long time. Just being plugged in is a great thing.
TV: That’s true. The community part.
GW: We know beer quality too. We’re not putting anything out there that isn’t perfect to us. You should retry that stout that I  shared with you awhile ago.
W: Yeah?
GW: You’ll try it again soon, I’m sure. Anyways, there’s a lot of breweries out there that are about our size, and their beers are as good as ours – but they don’t know the community and they’re trying to self-distribute and it’s proving to be very difficult. Right now we’re worried that we might be spreading ourselves too thin – there’s so many places serving such great beers already. We’d like to be a part of that.  We’ve got some crazy ideas up our sleeve; right now I’m working on acquiring some barrels from a distillery in the state.
TV: We’re not in it for marketing, or money – it’s what we want to do for a living. We try beer all the time & we trust our palates. Like we’ll try something and think “Hey it’d be awesome to make it this way, or this style.”  Sometimes even the name of the beer comes first before we brew something.
W: What happens if you make a bad beer? Will you dump it?
TV: It certainly wouldn’t go to market, that’s for sure.
GW: We’d throw some bacteria in it and call it a sour.
TV: (Laughs) No, we wouldn’t do that.  If anything we’d drink it ourselves until we couldn’t anymore & dump the rest.

W: Able to talk about any establishments that are ready & willing to put you on tap?

TV: Odd Duck has been extremely supportive. I worked for the owners for awhile, and they’ve agreed that when we’re up & running that we will be on tap there.
GW: We have our hopefuls & probables. From certain places. Not going to name them yet.
TV: I know the places we’d LIKE to be on. We hang out in Bay View, so obviously we’d like to be on at Sugar Maple, Burnhearts, Palm (Tavern).
GW: Mike Romans.
TV: Yeah. Obviously those are the *ideal* places we’d like to be on, but we really have to brew the right beers first.

W: I feel like there’s a point in every beer lover’s life where you experience a perfect beer moment. Whether it’s a certain beer, or the venue, or the night, you know. Can you think of your perfect beer moment at that perfect beer place?
TV: Hmm.
GW: Good question.
W: I came up with them so I can start. Mine was at The Porter Beer Bar in Decatur, GA after a long day of work – and had the best Founder’s Porter. I’d had it many times before, but at that exact moment, I took one sip of it and thought “This is the best beer I’ve ever had.” It was the perfect beer at the perfect time. Sounds hippie-ish, but if you have a memory, I want to hear it.
TV: One of my earliest ones I remember was after I turned 21. I was developing my palate at Hollander Downer and chose a beer that I’d never had – Rodenbach Grand Cru.  I didn’t even know it was sour. Popped it open, poured it out and tasted it – and my mind was blown. I had never had a beer that tasted like that before. My world has never been the same since. I was with great friends, and overall that was a pretty magical moment.
W: That’s a good one. Everyone’s got those moments.
GW: I think as far as my first ‘holy shit’ moment with beer was when my dad ordered me a Tripel Karmeliet. We were out at a bar watching a soccer match at 7am – I smelled it, tasted it – I, too, had no idea that beer could taste like that. I don’t know – every beer I had after that for a long time just didn’t compare. It just blew me away and it still does. And that’s why people pay a $8, $9 for a bottle of beer.

W: Are you going to concentrate on any certain styles? Are you going to have a flagship that you’ll make if people keep asking for it? Or will you just keep brewing different stuff?
TV: The market will have to dictate that. People ask us that all the time, but I don’t have an answer for it. We’re so small, it’s going to be a batch by batch thing. We have ideas for beers – and we’re going to make those.
If something sticks, we can dedicate more production to that, but eventually we’ll have to grow to keep experimenting. On the flipside of that – we don’t want to be shackled down to one beer.
GW: In short no – we won’t have a flagship.
W: What’s something you want to make?
GW: I had an idea for a Berliner Weiss where we go over the top for the style – super tart. And then for the syrup that would be added to it – there’s a japanese berry that they call the ‘Miracle berry’. I don’t know the technical term, but they feed it to kids before they eat fermented soybeans, because they’re disgusting – but the berry makes everything taste sweet. People call it “flavor tripping” or something. It’s way out there and I’m pretty sure that’s never been done before in a beer. Not sure how we’ll do it, or if it can be done – but that’s some of the out-there thinking we want to experiment with. I want to do an autumn seasonal where we use smoked malt and use burning leaves somehow. I wanna do shit with black truffles, I want to use squid ink -
W: 3Sheeps did that to their IPA. Sorry man.
GW: What?
TV: Did they really?
W: They really did.
GW: Ok so we won’t do that. (Laughs)
TV: What about – have you ever had sorrel?
W: Never.
TV: They use it in salads. A leafy green, it’s like a sour leaf. It’s good but I love sour everything. I want to extract that sourness – how cool would a green Berliner Weiss for St. Patty’s day be?
W: Gloriously gimmicky.
TV: Yes, but I still think it could be a green beer opportunity. It could turn brown, who knows! Eventually I want to make a great schwarzbier, I really do. That’s one I want to nail.

W: If you could be on tap in any Wisconsin bar, which would it be?
GW: Romans would be a big win for me personally.
TV: Yeah, I’d feel honored and privileged for that one too.
GW: He knows quality beer. He goes to great lengths to have a great list. It’d be very flattering. Von Trier too – I started drinking there when I turned 21 and that’s another one. Chad the bartender always put great beer in front of me. I trusted him and it was very rewarding.
TV: I still say Odd Duck. They are quality through and through. Quality over everything else there – they’re creative, great people.

W: What are your thoughts on MKE beer scene as a whole?
TV: I feel like it needs some work. It’s going in the right direction, but I don’t know. Grant and I have talked about this – the reputation is ‘brew city’, but the craft is still just getting off the ground. We’re living in Miller’s shadow still. I wish there could be more done in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is doing good, Milwaukee though…
GW: You know, but Wisconsin – we have Dave’s Brewfarm, Central Waters, Black Husky and many others doing great things. You can’t compare Milwaukee to Madison though. (In Madison) you have Ale Asylum, Karben4, One Barrel, Next Door, Great Dane, MobCraft all around. They’re above Milwaukee’s craft scene still.

W: Grant, pick one:  Horace, Amy, or Ulysses S?
G: There’s one I don’t know.
W: What? Which one?
G: The first one.
W: Horace?
TV: Really?
W: Horace Grant? Chicago Bulls? Rec Specs?
GW: I’m a soccer guy, sorry.
W: Basketball player…
GW: Well I’m still sticking with Ulysses. He’s on the $50 bill.

W: Tommy, you need to pick one: Boy, LaSorda, or Gun?
TV: Like the Thompson submachine gun?
W: Yeah. Tommy Boy, Tommy LaSorda, or Tommy Gun. Choose carefully.
TV: Wasn’t Tommy Gun a porn star?
*Silence*
TV: What, you guys don’t know your porn stars?  Also why isn’t Hugh Grant in these choices? Whatever, I’m saying Tommy LaSorda.
W: You remember when he got hit by that bat & fell like a ton of bricks?
TV: That was funny – not funny.

That was really the gist of the interview. More beers were had. More conversation was had. Laughter filled the air. You get the picture.

The impact ‘local’ beers have had on the craft beer scene in the past couple of years has been massive . I find myself torn all too often though – and have vocally expressed that just because it’s local – does not mean it’s good. In terms of the Enlightened Brewing Company, however – I *can* tell you that what I’ve had so far has been exceptional.  If the beer is good – the people will drink.  There won’t be any flashy marketing or enormous gaudy tap handles behind this stuff – it’s simply going to be 2 normal dudes making interesting, good beer. In an on-premise market that’s dominated by cash from big corporations, I really do hope they’ll be able to not only survive, but also thrive. Time will tell if we’ll find the path to enlightenment. God that was cheesy.  Here’s to hopefully seeing some Enlightened Brewing Company beer in the near future. Best of luck to these guys. May the daunting hurdles make way for big wins.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Michigan Beer Edition

Years ago, I planned a Michigan beer trip.  The amount of great breweries in Michigan is staggering – travel an hour in any direction and you’re bound to pass by an old standby or a new upstart brewery sure to please. However, for reasons outside my control, I never got to take that expedition. The other day my wife expressed interest in taking that trip.  Like a (thirsty) Phoenix rising from the ashes, my planning got underway once again. Instead of coming up with one trip, I developed three.

The basics: We’ll be leaving from Milwaukee on a Friday, returning home at some point on Sunday. A 3 day trip encompassing all things Michigan beer. Some days have a lot going on – obviously we’re not going to get hammered at every brewery, as that would make for an impossible (and dangerous) trip. Just visiting and having a pint will suffice, as well as purchasing some wearables or glassware or what have you. As much as I’d like to, we won’t be visiting Ann Arbor or Detroit area on this venture. That will be saved for another time. Either way, here are the options:

MI Trip #1:
Fri:

Leave Milwaukee in morning.
Lunch at Redamak’s
Visit Greenbush Brewery Pub
Visit New Holland Brewery Pub
Check into hotel in Grand Rapids, MI
Visit Hopcat for dinner/drinks

Sat:
Breakfast in Grand Rapids @ __?__
Some type of workout to not be fat the entire trip
Visit Founders
Visit Dark Horse (1.5 hours away.  I’d rather take I90 east to I69 south outside Lansing, but I know nothing worthwhile on that route. Our friend google maps says quickest route is straight south then straight east.)
Mid afternoon food stop @ Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.  If we’re running behind on time, Dark Horse’s food looks pretty great, so we may just eat there. I’ve been to the Eccentric Cafe before, so it is not a must-stop.
Visit Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, because I love gimmicks and this place sounds great.
Back to Grand Rapids for overnight. (No sense staying overnight in Kalamazoo, right? Then again, would cut down on trip time back home the next day)

Sun:
Leave MI to visit 3 Floyds for lunch and last beers of the trip. I’ve been here many times before and the food never disappoints.
Back to Milwaukee (2 hours)

MI Trip #2 (with Chicago detour):
Fri:
Leave Milwaukee mid-afternoon
Check in room at Longman & Eagle, Logan Sq., Chicago
Dinner @ Kuma’s Corner Belmont (While I find the ear-splitting metal music to be a bit much, the grub here is out of this world. I’ll suffer for my stomach.)
Adult beverages @ Small Bar Albany Ave
Nightcap & overnight @ Longman & Eagle.

Sat:
Drive to Grand Rapids, MI – Lunch @ Founders & possible 2pm brewery tour.
Visit Mitten Brewing Co
Visit Brewery Vivant
Dinner @ Hopcat
Overnight in Grand Rapids.

Sun:

Visit New Holland Brewery Pub 11am
Visit Greenbush Brewery Pub
Back to Milwaukee

MI Trip #3
Fri:
Same as MI Trip #1 Friday itinerary, but add Founders if possible after hotel check-in.

Sat:
Leave Grand Rapids early am, travel 2 hours north to Traverse City, MI.
Visit Short’s Brewing Pub
Do Traverse City touristy stuff.

Sun:
Leave for Milwaukee by
A) Driving south to Muskegon, MI & take the Ferry to Manitowoc, WI. This option is way too expensive.
B) Driving 7 hours around Lake Michigan.

So there you go.  Each trip has its pro’s & con’s.  Trip #1 is pretty aggressive in terms of breweries/pubs/restaurants visited. That said – it hits all the places I really want to go – Greenbush, New Holland, Founders, Hopcat and Dark Horse.  The Saturday night portion needs some work, especially if Kalamazoo is worthwhile to stay overnight. What’s there to do in Kzoo?
Trip #2 is the most expensive of the 3, with the Chicago part being very fun but putting a dent in the ol’ wallet. It also excludes Dark Horse, which I’ve heard is great.
Trip #3 includes the most driving, which is never really exciting. Although Traverse City & Short’s sound great, the 7 hour drive home on Sunday does not sound appealing. Obviously these are not set in stone and parts can be moved around, but I think I’ve got some good plans here. That said – have any comments to add or breweries/restaurants as must-visits? Let me know in the comments section & be sure to vote in the first poll EVER on this here site. Technology!

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My Top 20 Beers of 2013

2013 is gone. It’s never coming back. And sadly, neither are some of the following beers on my best of the year list.  I’ve had a lot of good ones, but here are the great ones. (* denotes that the beer is/was available in Wisconsin)

20) Ommegang Fleur de Houblon* (Belgian pale ale/Summer ale. Bottle, 6.8%) A golden-colored brew that smelled exactly like fresh-picked flowers. A huge herbal note was ever-present in this hoppy, highly-carbonated Summer ale. Very easy to drink with a hint of that Belgian yeast that’s common in Ommegang liquid.

19) Firestone Walker Parabola (Russian Imperial stout. Bottle, 13%)  Still the best tasting stout on the market for the price tag, without question.  A viscous black beer that sucks you in and keeps you there. An intriguing, perfectly balanced stout overall. Consistently awesome. Rumored to be coming to Wisconsin soon…

18) Fremont Bourbon Abominable (Bourbon barrel-aged winter ale. Bottle, 11%)  Fremont Brewing became my favorite west coast brewery in 2013.  Every offering I tried from them was absolutely stellar.  My Seattle hookup really came through for me this year, that’s for sure. Chocolate, oak, and a touch of vanilla with some bourbon warmth noticeable throughout this one. A gem of a bourbon winter ale, without being overly sugary.

17) Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Amalgamator (American IPA. Tap, 7%) Enjoyed on draught from the show floor of the Great American Beer Fest in October.  Yet another west coast-derived beer makes the list. A complex, juicy citrus zest with just the right amount of malt backbone made this  a big winner for me. Everything an American IPA should be.

16) Half Acre Akari Shogun  (Wheat ale. Can, 5.5%) Described as an American Pale Wheat Ale, this is simply a cloudy wheat beer meant for consuming in shockingly large amounts. Finishing a 16oz can comes as natural as blinking and/or breathing. This hazy, medium-bodied brew has a touch of lemongrass and a bit of sweetness, but neither was off-putting. Half Acre makes another winner.

15) Fremont The 1st Nail (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11.5%) A massive oatmeal stout packed with possibly the most discernible flavors in one beer ever. Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, licorice, cinnamon – this beer takes your senses on a rollercoaster ride to enlightenment. As the bottle states: “Pale barley, smoked barley, brewer’s licorice, cinnamon bark, oh my my.”
Indeed.  Brewed in honor of a Seattle beer bar called The Pine Box.  In a strange twist of coincidences, I met the owner of the Pine Box at Star Bar in Denver during GABF.  Best wishes of prosperity to the Pine Box owners in 2014.

14) Bruery Humulus Lager* (Pilsner. Tap, 7.2%) A “double pilsner” – a style that sounds completely ridiculous and should be mocked.  However, this imperial bubbly brew was crisp, clean, and showcased what a lager can and should be. Ended with a  stellar grassy finish that begged for another sip.  Very nice and easy-going on the palate.  Bruery has a lot of hits (and some bad misses…), but this was my favorite beer of the year from them.

13) AleSmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout* (Imperial stout. Tap, ?%) When I developed this list, I tried to pick a variety of brews that people would know, were generally available in their respective markets, and not completely obscure. This beer fits zero of the above categories. Thrown on tap at the Rumpus Room in downtown Milwaukee during their initial rollout into our market, this extremely rare brew showcased the dedication of AleSmith’s award-winning brewers to a T. Gigantic coffee-forward aroma.  A perfect velvety swirl of chocolate flavor paired with an impeccable roast quality. Ended with a frolic of hops to balance the thick, decadent body. Painstakingly produced by adding cold-brewed exotic Vietnamese coffee during the brewing process (at which point – I forget) – a single 1/6bbl takes an entire day to make correctly. A meticulous, perfect beer that I’d kill a kitten just to have another 10oz pour. And I like kittens.

12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss*  (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ~4%) Finally, a Wisconsin beer makes the list. Is Dan Carey the best brewer in Wisconsin? Yes, yes he is. In America? Maybe. New Glarus Berliner Weiss was my go-to beer this summer, as I probably consumed a case of this sweet, carbonated nectar. A little tart, a little sour, but overall just a great representation of a style that seems to be gaining popularity. No need to pour syrup in this one – it’s perfect as is. Refreshing is an understatement.

11) O’Dell Myrcenary (Double IPA. Bottle, 9.3%) Hops on hops on hops. As I’ve stated previously, this beer is a sticky, resinous grapefruit punch to the face. Myrcene (which I’ll name my daughter, if I ever have one) oil is extracted from the hop to give this brew it’s hopped-up nose and flavor. Finishes clean and the alcohol is very well-hidden. Has always been a favorite of mine, and thus deserves a spot on the list.

10) Saint Arnold Pumpkinator (Pumpkin ale. Tap, 11%) What the hell is a pumpkin/spice/stout concoction doing on this list? Normally I find pumpkin stouts to be a poor idea, but Saint Arnold’s version proved to be pretty good. Sweet without being overly cloying, this brown sugar & cinnamon brew had rich pumpkin flavors paired with a toffee/chocolate note of a big stout. Slightly unbalanced overall, but a fun take on a style I don’t normally find appealing.  Had this on tap @ GABF, so I’m struggling to rehash my description of it here.  (For what it’s worth, Cigar City’s Good Gourd is still my all-time favorite vegetable beer).

9) Boulevard Tank 7 (Saison. Tap/Bottle, 8.5%)  Pours a billowy, foamy white head. Belgian yeast apparent in the aroma. Medium mouthfeel, a bit prickly on the tongue. Golden in color and finishes very dry. Simply put: A perfect farmhouse ale. If you haven’t had this yet, stop reading and figure out how you can procure one immediately.

8) Olde Hickory Event Horizon (Imperial stout. Tap, 8.5%) An extremely rich stout from North Carolina. Had @ GABF – big bourbon wood notes abound in this. Heavy, a bit oily, but very fun. Would eventually like to land a bottle of this to age to see how it changes.

7) Summit Union Series Rebellion Stout* (Foreign Export style stout. Bottle/Tap, 8.5%) Truth be told I don’t normally find Summit to be an exciting brewery. My thoughts on them changed dramatically when I had their new Rebellion stout.  A foreign export style double stout that was packed full of molasses, licorice, and some dark fruit notes thrown in for good measure. The beer uses English hops yet somehow ends almost Belgian-y. The brew finishes with a slight hop bite and some astringency, but overall this full-bodied brew is one to seek out if you haven’t yet. You might be pleasantly surprised.

6) Goose Island Gillian* (Wild ale. Bottle, 9.5%) The wild/sour ale craze continues. Described as an ale with strawberries, honey, and white pepper aged in wine barrels, Gillian definitely produced a myriad of flavors. One could easily pick out the strawberry sweetness, touch of honey, and dry pepper finish within the brew. A big saison/champagne-like quality in this one, due to the liquid sleeping in wine barrels for some time. The price tag was difficult to stomach, but the beer itself was worth it. I’d be very interested to see how this one changes over time.

5) Sixpoint 3Beans* (Baltic porter. Can/Tap, 10%) An imperial porter that used 3 different beans (cacao, coffee, and romano) to create a massive, full-bodied brew. A great concept for sure – using an old brewers ingredient in the romano bean to add a bigger mouthfeel to the beer. It was incredible when fresh (early 2013), and the 10% abv was virtually unnoticeable. A beer that almost didn’t happen due to Hurricane Sandy.  I’m glad that it did though – loved this one.  A labor of love indeed – if you have 15 minutes, watch how it was made: http://youtu.be/vKLRG-eMXgM

4) New Glarus Wild Sour* (Sour. Bottle, 5%)  I’ll let the bottle do the talking for me here: Naturally soured by farm valley winds blowing wild yeast into our oak casks. Finally, after a year and a half of patient coaxing Wisconsin dark malts whirl in a kaleidoscope of cedar, caramel, and tart green plum exuberance. Available to the exclusive few who travel off the beaten paths, this is authentic Wisconsin sour brown ale. Truly unique this Sour Ale is brewed for those who live on the wild side and is suitable for laying down or consuming immediately, serve at 40-45 degrees F.
I’ve consumed plenty. As with many New Glarus products, it’s hard to lay them down at all because they taste so perfect immediately.

3) Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 12.7%) Bourbon county stout aged in rye whiskey barrels with added raspberries and blackberries from Michigan.  Heavy on the fruit in aroma, with a slight rye dryness in the finish. Earthy and viscous, this beer was perfect. Say what you want about the AB takeover – if the Goose keeps on putting out beers like this, I don’t care if Enron owns them. Drink the beer. It is good.

2) Central Waters Fifteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11%) We’re seeing a trend here with Central Waters anniversary stouts! A colossal, roast-forward stout made with care in little Amherst, Wisconsin. Label notes that Fifteen aged for 28 months in Old Heaven Hill 14 year-old bourbon barrels for their 15th anniversary celebration. Haters like to say that Central Waters stouts have a thin body & don’t stack up to bigger stouts, to which I disrespectfully disagree. Don’t you talk ill of my favorite Wisconsin brewery. I will verbally throw insults at you like a hungry, rabid marmoset. Anxiously awaiting my first trip to CW for their 16th anniversary party in less than 24 days…

1) New Glarus R&D Very Sour Blackberry* (Sour/Lambic. Bottle, 5%) From the handwritten-style label on the 16oz pint bottle:
Fermented and aged in oak barrels – on yeast lies – with Oregon Marion Blackberries. Refermented in this bottle – open with care. This is a Wild, Funky Sour Beer! Brewed Nov. 2010 Bottled Aug. 2013.
Beer pours a brilliant purple hue with a delicate pink head. Aroma is blackberry jam – you can smell it from 20 feet away, no joke. Taste is tongue-curling sour – you can really feel it in your tonsils. Tart as hell & moderately carbonated.  This was a clear choice for my favorite beer of the year. Lives up to the hype and then some. Unfortunately for…well, everybody – this beer was only sold at the brewery during Great Taste of the Midwest weekend.  Two thousand bottles total, I think? Regardless, be prepared to roll out some heavy hitters to attain one of these. If you do, you’re in for a rare treat.

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