Milwaukee Beer Week 2016 – An Exploration

It’s April again, which means more awful weather, the dawn of a new baseball season, and most importantly – Milwaukee Beer Week. As always, there’s a ton of events (more still being posted as of this piece), and knowing which ones aren’t to be missed can be challenging. As is the website itself, a clunky page lacking usability. But this is what I’m here for. The following are the parties I’m most looking forward to. An exploration into insanity:

Saturday April 16 – Two really stand out for me here – The Central Waters “Cellar Spring Cleaning” event at Rumpus Room from 3-6pm should be really fun. Various vintages of bourbon-aged beers from the guys from Amherst. Peruvian Morning will make an appearance, among others, which is reason alone to check it out.  Trust me when I say that Rumpus’ entire draught lineup will be insane for beer week this year – so many specialty one-offs on at the same time, it’s kind of unfathomable. Further north, New Belgium at Draft & Vessel in Shorewood from 5-7pm is also intriguing. The Lips of Faith Golden Ale collaboration with Hof Ten Dormaal will be on draught, and it’s one of my best beers of the year so far. Yes, a golden ale. This could also be a time to try the new Heavy Melon, which sounds like the name of a Blind Melon metal cover band.  Capacity always comes into question here, so get in early. Since I know you Bay View kids don’t ever feel like leaving your bubble, Burnhearts is throwing a bunch of barrel aged beers on tap. Decisions are hard.

Sunday April 17 – The obvious juggernaut is the Crafts & Drafts festival, sponsored by Discount Liquor taking place across the street at Serb Hall. This bash full o whales is always popular, and the VIP tix are worth it. Money goes to a good cause(s) as well, so you can feel better about yourself as you’re drinking slain mammals, I suppose. Limited tickets available, get em while they’re still around.

Monday April 18 – The Gose style beer is featured Bavette all week. This lunch/dinner/butcher spot is easily my favorite place to eat in the city during the work day – there’s not a snoozer of a menu item here.  Anderson Valley’s new Briney Melon, a salted watermelon gose, is quickly becoming my low abv go-to beer. The special runs all week, so if you can’t get in on Monday, feel free to visit any other day. Plenty of tartness to go around.

Tuesday April 19 – After the 2nd annual Central Waters dinner is over at Morel, walk the 10 feet next door to Camino for the after party.  I’m not sure I’ll have any room left in my stomach, but I promise you’ll enjoy The Promise (sorry), a specialty one-off stout aged in tequila barrels. It’s quite smooth for the alcohol content, and definitely worth a try. Camino serves food til midnight, so if you get a 2nd wind, go ahead and get that Milwaukee bratwurst.

Wednesday April 20 – Main draw is the annual Central Waters tap extravaganza at Burnhearts, but this year I’m opting for the BA beer night at Palm Tavern. This was an incredible amount of fun last year, and I’m sure this round will be no different. There’s a few Lagunitas Waldo tappings throughout town when the clock hits 4:20 (GET IT?) if you’re looking for some superdankness in your life. Venues include Rumpus, World of Beer Tosa (#burbdrankin), and Stubby’s (I think). Speaking of Lagunitas, I’m interested in the beer dinner at Vagabond. The Aunt Sally Sour I had there the other day was superb. I’ll definitely be checking out the Supplier Karaoke Throwdown at the new Safe House/Newsroom Pub starting after 9:30. I’m always down for awful singing, and making fun of people that I know while drinking beer. Plenty of options!

Thursday April 21 – Stacked Burger bar has a few wood-aged 3 Sheeps bbls in their cooler. Busting out one of my favorites in recent memory – Midnight Bourbon – for this event. If you missed that beer before, don’t waste your opportunity to try it here. Starts in the evening. Maybe some Sheboyganites will venture out of their habitat down to the big city.   If Goose BCS is your thing, Upper 90, of all places, has vintage bottles of 2013 and 2014, as well as a keg of 2015. Could be a great spot to avoid all of the crowds that can normally accumulate when the BCS alarm is wailing.  I’ll be venturing over to Wolf Peach for their Oysters & beer pairings and some point. Featured brewers are North Coast and Ommegang, so I’m sure there will be a few Belgian style brews to be had with the sea creatures. It kicks off at 5pm, but the pairings are available through Saturday the 23rd. Get to shuckin’! Also involving North Coast, that amazing vintage Old Stock Ale flight with cheese pairings at Sugar Maple starting at 6pm is extremely tough to pass up. I believe there’s 4 years of vintages on hand, and that stuff ages wonderfully.

Friday April 22 – People with a central nervous system and the ability to make rational decisions will probably go to Vanguard to watch cartoons and drink North Coast Cherry Berliner Weiss on tap. You’re a failure if you don’t do this.

Saturday April 23 – As the Uber receipts start accumulating in your inbox, you take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask “Why?” Because you live in Milwaukee and it’s your DUTY. So shove some more tubed meat in your mouth hole at Sugar Maple for the 5th annual (5 years already!?) Oskar Blues Sausage fest. From 12-4pm. Head back north to the Rumpus Room after 3pm for some Surly magic on tap. Sleep for 24 straight hours on Sunday. Arise only to drink water. God help us all.


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My Top 20 Beers of 2015

I had some beer in 2015. You won’t like this list, and that’s ok. There’s plenty of beer out there, but these were my favorites.

20) Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout (2015) (BA Imperial Stout. Bottle/tap. 9.5%) This beer has always been good. If CW keeps doing great things with their barrel-aging warehouse (see: continued expansion), then this beer will continue to be great. Honestly, it’s really dialed-in this year. The price is always fair, which is another plus for me. A fantastic brew filled with dark chocolate, a medium body, and just the right touch of bourbon. For me it’s the benchmark for any WI barrel-aged stout.

19) Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout (Coffee Stout. Bottle, 6.2%) Appeared in the snowpack variety pack in late 2014/early 2015 but I’d buy a standalone case of their coffee stout if I could. Extremely well balanced, slight nuances of bitterness in the finish. People who thought this beer was “too thin” were weird.

18) Firestone Walker Parabajava (BA imperial coffee stout. Bottle, 14%) I am a huge fan of Parabola, the best-priced BA Imperial Stout in America. Therefore, when you add a heaping amount of coffee to it, well then this is a no-brainer. Brewery only release, feel free to trade that Honus Wagner baseball card for it. An absolutely rich, massive, espresso bass drop.

17) Sixpoint Hi Res (Double IPA. Can, 10.5%) The return of Hi-Res featured a lower abv than last years version, promoting even better ‘drinkability’. This year’s hop canister was shipped fresh to distributors within 3 weeks of production. Although my tongue was scorched hours after drinking, it still made for a fun one & done.

16) Modern Times City of the Dead (Coffee Stout. Bottle, 7.5%) My affinity for caffeinated bean-infused brews continues. Coffee stout that tastes as if it were pressed through a charcoal britta filter. Absolutely fantastic, one of the best “export style” stouts I’ve ever had. North Carolina tobacco road charred flavor, chock full of artisanal bakers chocolate, keurig coffee cup madness. A bitter delight.

15) New Glarus Hopster (Hoppy Wheat. Bottle, 5.2%) A hoppy wheat with the flavor of a zested lemon.  Gumballhead the cat was SAD to hear about this one. More hoppy than it was wheaty, this brew was technically a hefeweisen that disappeared from shelves relatively quickly. When fresh, this one was dynamite. Would love to see how it would behave on tap with the carbonation turned down a bit. Hopefully we see this again in Spring ’16.

14) Lagunitas High Westified BA Coffee Stout (BA Coffee Stout. Bottle/tap, 12.1%) Perhaps the best barrel-aged coffee stout for the price, ever.  Yes they made plenty, but did you have any? Held up well over the months after release too, which was an added bonus. Aged in a variety of High West Double Rye/American Prairie Bourbon barrels. Mormons are good for something. Sale or no sale, I’ll continue to drink Lagunitas as long as they make beer like High Westified.

13) Surly Todd the Axeman, a Citra and Mosaic IPA.  I don’t want any other IPAs for as long as I live. I meant that previous sentence for a month or two when I wrote it. Until I tried Abrasive (Double IPA. Bottle/tap, 9%)  Better than Todd in every way. Yes it’s unfair to compare the two, I get it. But Abrasive’s big oatmeal body leads to an entirely new complexity here. I lied, I don’t want Todd anymore, I want Abrasive. Forever. Creamy body, with palate-crushing hop presence. Abandon all hope after popping that top. All other IPAs seem like preteens at a One Direction show.

12) Tyranena / Lakefront Two Lakes (Triple IPA, tap. 9.5%) – Get your tickets out, we’re all aboard the grapefruit hype train.  Typical citrus-y front, hop bitterness in the back end.  Extremely well done and impossibly drinkable for 9%.  Is it a triple? No, but that’s semantics.  They used three hops, so I guess it’s a triple? That’s not even a real style. If you would have told me that Lakefront/Tyranena would be capable of producing such a fantastic beer together, well I probably would have called you a liar. I stand corrected, this one was stellar. I wouldn’t be upset if either house decided to package this, depending on the price point.

11) NG R&D Wild Peach (Sour/Wild Brown, bottle. 7.2%) Technically released in 2014 but enjoyed in June 2015 for me. Big funky yeast & peach aroma atop a sour fruit base.  Beautiful Georgia peach flavor, extremely complex with added notes of bourbon and oak.  Like drinking trigonometry.

10) Toppling Goliath Sosus – (Double IPA. Bottle, 8%)  I love the front-stage presence of Citra hops in Pseudo Sue, which was going to make my list for the 2nd year in a row. Until I tried the Mosaic miracle that was Sosus. Just a wonderful beer. 100 IBUs and lip-smackingly perfect, with gorgeous stained-glass label art. Their other mosaic brew was Pompeii, which I thought lacked the body that was so prevalent in Sosus. I could still drink Sue forever, but the Sosus was just outstanding. These guys have had some issues with their former brewer leaving, so I’m glad to see quality hasn’t decreased (at least in the beers that I’ve tried). Haven’t tried Sue cans yet, but it’s on the wish list.

9) Off Color Whiskers – (BA American Wild ale. Tap, 8.5%) Imbibed at Great Taste, this was a complex Rose-inspired sour with Brett. Somehow clocked in at 8.5%, this pink ale was perfect for acting classy as fuck at a beer fest. Aged in (I believe?) English wine puncheon bbls, sour in just the right amount. Pinkies out.

8) Revolution Brewing Cafe Deth – (BA Imperial Stout. Tap, 11%) Another Great Taste swallow, Revolution brought this year-aged Bourbon  imperial stout with coffee and added cherries to it. Popped! Warmed my chest like a black-coal burning furnace. The brew was black as coal as well, with a midnight garnet ring of sex around the top. This one went quick. Fun stuff on a fun day.

7) New Glarus R&D Wild Barrel –  (BA Wild ale. Bottle, 7.5%) Aka the Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel, lives up to the hype again. AGAIN! More sour brown fruit funk than bourbon wood, yet still perfect. Dark fruit, “forest floor” tones (whatever that means). First had at Great Taste of the Midwest 2015, most everything else was pale in comparison. Wisconsinites are spoiled to have New Glarus.

6) Fulton War and Peace – (Imperial Stout. Bottle/Tap, 9.5%) Why aren’t more people talking about this brewery, and more importantly, this beer? War & Peace is the best non barrel-aged, regular ol’ coffee stout on planet earth.  I will fight you over this. A stellar beer disguised as your am cup-o-joe. Why it doesn’t receive more accolades is beyond me. Put it in your Monday morning Thermos & get back to me about your productivity.

5) Almanac Citra Sour -(Wild/Sour ale. Tap, 7%)  On tap at the famous Toronado in San Francisco.  From the bottle: “A Sour blonde ale aged in wine barrels and dry hopped with citra hops”. Pretty adept description. I’m beginning to think I like Citra and Mosaic hops.

4) 4 Hands Madagascar – (BA Imperial stout. Tap, 9.3%) See, now what we’ve got here is a barrel-aged imperial milk stout with whole vanilla beans added.  And I need more of it.  Easily my favorite beer of Great Taste this past August. St Louis continues to kill it, and this would be another brewery I’d welcome with open arms to WI.

3) Jolly Pumpkin La Roja du Kriek – (Wild/Sour red. Bottle, 8%) Drank this bad boy in an sardine-packed Mikkeller bar in the homeless-y part of San Fran downtown. Sort of a hard one to describe. Let’s go to the bottle info: “Sour Amber Ale with Michigan Cherry Juice. This is what happens when 3100 gallons of 2013 La Roja meets 50 gallons of Michigan tart cherry juice, aged in oak barrels and bottle conditioned – a perfect blend of sour and tart joie de vivre! ” This stupidly expensive bottle portrayed a cherry-pressed  sour with an amber hue. Sick G-funk was apparent everywhere. Step to this, I dare ya.

2) Prairie Pirate Noir – (BA Imperial stout. Bottle, 12%) Imperial stout aged in Jamaican rum barrels. Sweet sweet sweeeeet, thinner mouthfeel stout. But scary complex: Rum soaked raisins, toffee tannins desperately seeked my stomach. Sugar cane meets steel-cut oats meets the ghirardelli chocolate assembly line. A remarkable 12oz bottle. Not worth the price in most cases, but still one of my favorite beers I had this year. Letting this one warm was a wise decision as well, as crests of vanilla, oak and caramel peaked out.

1) Perennial Abraxas – (Imperial Stout. Bottle, tap. 10%) I mean, what can you say?  Coffee and Vanilla variants were also had on draught at Rumpus one fateful Saturday afternoon, but they still couldn’t beat the original. Abraxas is that perfect blend of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon spice. The Coffee one-off was good, but muted the spices that I like so much in the original. Vanilla was a tad too sweet for my taste. The Coffee + Vanilla cuvee was nice, and necessary. That being said, my original friend Abraxas takes the proverbial cake. 2nd year in a row it makes the best-of list, and for good reason. This is a puzzling beer for me, as I’m a notorious hater of putting anything spicy in beers. Somehow, this sublime fusion of sweet and spicy works effortlessly. It’s just so velvety, so smooth. It angers me so much that it actually reminds me of how I peaked in High School. Yeah, it’s THAT good. Even the beer novice can pick up every note in this beer – begins with a sweet chocolate & coffee tango, followed by vanilla, cinnamon, and is that ancho chile? Back to the beginning again with the sweetness after the swallow.  A truly unique experience.

Call me names and tell me which beers I missed out on in the comments section or on twitter @wisconsuds

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No Ragrets – 6 days in San Francisco

A few months back, the wife and I decided that we were going to take a vacation to San Francisco over the long labor day weekend. I had never been west of Vegas, so at the ripe age of 31, I would finally be in California, walk among Redwoods, and see the Pacific ocean.

Oh, and drink all the beer and eat all the food.

We went to a few bars and restaurants over six days.  Ok, we went to A LOT of them. In an effort to try and be concise here, I’ll  provide some info on all the worthwhile establishments we visited. In chronological order, they are:

1) Precita Park Cafe – Small corner cafe that carries superb local beers on tap, wine, coffee fare and had a pretty stellar food menu.  I caught the halibut sandwich in my mouth which had avocado, chipotle mayo and some other stuff that I can’t remember because it was the first place we ate when the plane landed and I was malnourished, parched, delirious.  Paired it with an Almanac Golden Gate Gose – bright, bubbly, and a touch of salt. A good way to start the trip. That Almanac portfolio is legit.

2) Old Bus Tavern – Later that night, we hit up a new brewpub in the Mission area (we stayed at a place near Bernal Heights)  called the Old Bus Tavern. Apparently once a food truck or something in an old VW bus, some dudes got together and made this little badass brick & mortar spot. It’s only been open for a couple months, but you couldn’t tell as the service, food, and beer were all pretty good. They had plenty of guest taps along with 4 house brews – Lemon Basil Saison, Rye Pale Ale, Chipotle Porter, and Lemon Drop Session IPA.  The Lemon Basil Saison was as advertised, basil nose and lemon flavor.  It was a little clumsy in execution, but not terrible. I went with the Lemon Drop Session IPA, where at 6%…was not a session. Chicken Liver mousse and pickled quail eggs (on top of fried onions – a cute little nest for the puckery devils!) were highlights food-wise. I expect this place will be great for the area.

3) BEL – After Old Bus, we walked a bit south to a new Belgian bar, aptly titled BEL.  This also seemed new, as the walls were somewhat bare and a bit lacking in character.  But the bar was busy, and the Belgian beer-centric taps were ordered often. Being in SFO, I went with an Anchor Porter, which is admittedly an odd choice, especially given the heat wave they were in. Call it a dessert craving, I don’t know.  Add some more Belgian breweriana, and this place is a winner.

4) Dynamo Donuts & Coffee – Early the next morning, it was our first donut shop stop. High end, delicious circle pastries make my heart flutter. Sit inside to watch the donut makers at work, sit outside to enjoy the sun. (This unseasonably warm weather hung around our entire stay. 70s & 80s every day – no fog, no rain, no nothing. It was strikingly beautiful every day – at some points 10 degrees over the avg high.  I’ll take it).  Espresso crunch donut with an iced coffee that I never really finish. Enjoy the Mission Murals as you make your way over to Dynamo.

5) Jack’s Cannery Bar – Fishermans Wharf! Quite possibly one of the biggest tourist traps I’ve ever seen. Colors! Lights!  Shops full of plastic-y knick-knack stuff made in China! The wharf has it all. In that loud-noised & burst-graphics heaven, offset a block or two is Jack’s Cannery Bar.  An odd everyman’s watering hole boasting 68 taps, dark wood interior, RedBull logoed umbrella outdoor patio, and a small food menu. The Anchor Meyer Lemon Lager was interesting, but I definitely enjoyed the Heretic Brewing Evil Cousin IIPA more. West coast hoppy beers are pretty prevalent here, umm, obviously. I’ll take another. Both bartenders were English, which was weird. An interesting spot, but probably the best available in that area if you’re around there.

6) Alioto’s – After a short hop up to the windy Lombard Street to complete our tourist trap Thursday, we ventured back down to the wharf because … well, clam chowder.  I needed it. All of these waterfront places looked the same, so of course we chose the place that also has a Milwaukee bar by the same name. Someone on Twitter notified me that this spot actually does have ties to the brew city bar, but I don’t know what kind. Clam chowder in a bread bowl is fantastic. Crab sandwich not so much.  It’s expensive down here obviously.

7) Pi – Fast forward a few more hours when my urge to shove more stuff in my gullet roars back. We walk to Pi Bar – pizza and beer is what they do here. I’m a sucker for pesto on pizza, so that was conquered, with portabella shrooms & Italian sausage thrown on for good measure. Thoroughly enjoyed a Moonlight Death & Taxes black lager, which tasted more like a malty, cocoa-infused porter. Was later told that this beer, among many others from their brewery and even other local breweries – are gluten free.  Plenty of breweries don’t advertise that their stuff is gluten free, which I find odd.  They don’t want the stigma.  Little do they know that Wisconsinites would be rabid over that stuff.

8) Craftsman & Wolves – a yuppie, expensive, ridiculous breakfast joint that was completely over the top yet pretty delicious. If you go, get the Rebel Within. It’s basically a muffin with a soft-boiled egg shoved inside with onions and crumbled sausage throughout. Warmed up for your enjoyment. It’s a stupid savory snack. C&W is your bakers favorite bakery.  Or something.

9) Faction Brewing – Drive through enough stop signs, hairpin turns, one-ways, over railroad tracks and next to what looks like government housing and you’ll find Faction. You will need a GPS (phone) and a co-pilot to talk you through directions as if you’re driving a rally course. Faction (and St. George Spirits, no less!) is not easy to get to, but once you’re there it’s most certainly worth it. In what was once a military instalation, Faction (and other distileries nearby) are nestled in old hangars. Serving only their own brews, Faction proved to be a diamond in the Alameda/Oakland rough, literally. Had a 5-brew sampler which included a true-to-style Porter, an interesting South African hopped IPA, a nitrogenated white chocolate stout, a decent pils, and a perfect IPA consisting of sticky, floral resinous equinox and mosaic hops. The patio was full on the mid Friday afternoon that we went. What an interesting view of the San Francisco bay from here – dry & desolate in the forefront, aquatic and … bridge-y in the background. Definitely a worthwhile stop. Very impressed with the beers here.

10) Oakland Coliseum – aka O.Co Coliseum.  Boy I’m struggling to find some nice words to say about Oakland Coliseum here.  Yeah I’m still coming up empty.  We attended an A’s-Mariners matchup Friday night, and lo and behold there was an ‘Oktoberfest’ celebration in the club level beforehand.  Goose Island (huh?), Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Strike Brewing, Drake’s, Firestone Walker, were in attendance. Easily the best part was the ceramic commemorative steins that each attendee was given. But all beers were poured into 6oz plastic cups instead, so that was dumb. Even your chicken tenders sucked, Oakland. Better beer available than Miller Park though, I will say.

11) Mikkeler Bar – Mikkeler bar is every beer geek’s wet dream. Quite possibly the most audacious, fun beer list I’ve ever seen – with prices to go with it.  Mikkeler is not cheap – nor should it be, when you have stuff from overseas that I can’t even pronounce. Now a hard-to-vocalize name doesn’t mean the beer is good obviously, but when there’s Cascade sours next to Jolly Pumpkin rarities next to Hill Farmstead collaborations on draught from a specific cooler temperature on a holy grail of a pouring system – it’s hard not to get a little excited. Add a downstairs room with even more sour bottles to choose from, and there’s really no reason why anyone should ever want to leave here. Unless of course you run out of cash flow. Shoutout to bar manager Kirby, who was extremely kind all around and showed us a great time.  Regretfully didn’t have any food, but from what I saw it looked phenomenal. Mikkeler bar is that bucket list beer bar that one must experience to believe. Honestly. I want to live in it.

12) El Farolito – In the same day as a rich man’s bakery visit in the morning, an expedition to a small Oakland brewery, followed by that spot where the ‘professional’ athletes play (Brett Lawrie can go straight to hell), then back to downtown to see young kids drink crazy beer…one gets hungry. El Farolito (24th & Mission) was highly recommended, and now I know why. This is, without a doubt, some of the best drunk food I’ve ever had. Al Pastor super burrito at midnight? Don’t mind if I do.  The clientele was hammered and obnoxious, much like the self-serve sauces. Packed to the gills and cash only, this place was easily one of the highlights of the trip. Quick service was the guinda del pastel.  That means ‘icing on the cake’ in spanish, according to google search I just did.

13) Wise Sons Jewish Deli – A jewish deli smack-dab in the middle of a predominantly Latino neighborhood.  I love you San Fransisco. You get the idea here – bagels, lox, pastrami, eggs.  You know, breakfast stuff. L’chaim.

14) Mitchell’s Ice Cream – It’s a busy ice cream shop.  Everything was busy this weekend.  Never before seen flavors like Ube (purple yam ice cream?), Thai Tea (a blaze orange colored dessert), and a ton of other tropical flavors with names I’d never heard of.  I ordered a peanut butter indulgence and was given pistachio.  That’s not even close, but I’m a pistachio fan too so I win. Are you still with me?

15) Public House @ AT&T Park – How a restaurant within a baseball stadium plaza should be done.  Beers, and lots of them, available on tap and in bottle. They even allowed you to carry it into the stadium in a plastic cup. Allagash (which I still can’t believe is distributed in Cali but not WI), Cellarmaker, Anchor, Almanac, and a few other local breweries rounded out their good tap list. Very busy on game days and event settings, much of it standing room only. Get there early.

16) Russian River – When your buddy who lives in the area offers to drive you to both Russian River and Lagunitas in the same day, you take him up on that. The wonderfully gracious Nick (check out some of his fantastic artwork here) was kind enough to escort the wife and I up north on a sunny Sunday.  In my mind I pictured a wood-accented picturesque brewery with gleaming stainless steel tanks..sitting outside on a table which overlooked the Russian River, among large indigenous coniferous trees.  This was not to be, as the only thing outdoorsy about Russian River is their logo.  The place is in a strip mall. For real! A line had already formed by the time we got there around 10:15am (it opens at 11), and by the time we got in line around 10:30am, we were about 20 people back.  At opening, the line had grown to about 50. But ultimately it doesn’t matter where RR actually is – their beer is amazing.  And not just the favorite Pliny (Blind Pig is better, btw, and I’ll fight you over that), or all their “-tion” beers – ALL of their stuff was downright amazing. An English style Pale ale? Perfect. A robust porter? Done. A nitro stout? Forget about it.  Every beer I had was wonderful. Watching the (3? 4?) bartenders continuously fill growlers for people’s labor day parties, or pour 2oz tasters for the many tasting trays (one of which was for us) that went out was quite a sight. Not only is their beer delicious, but I found their food (we had a bbq chicken pizza) to be great too. Yet another brewery that you just have to visit. It almost angered me how great their beers were.  You get a gold star, Russian River.

17) Lagunitas – Writing this now, after the Heineken buyout, and my feelings don’t change one iota. Although typically a little one-dimensional (Hey, do you like hops?), I am a fan of Lagunitas beers. I am still a fan of Lagunitas, and their brews. On their BUSIEST day of the year (no joke – there were people in every nook, cranny, and crevice of this place the Sunday afternoon we visited), I found the Lagunitas operation to be…oddly well-run.  Efficient, little worker bees scurrying around carrying their iconic mason jars filled with beers, plates of cheese boards, salads, and burgers.  This hive was buzzing – from the gift shop, to the open grassy space on the hill, to the taproom which was 3-4 people deep the whole day. Truly impressive to see everything going on all at once.  People were happy. I was happy. The food we had was good – bahn mi & a hummus plate.  The taproom only cherry hotside sour was an interesting mix of approachable sourness and grassy hoppiness. Their hospitality was unmatchable. My feelings on the company acquisition will be for another post (no, it wont), but I can tell you that this place will be just fine. Good people (thanks Johnny) & good vibes.

18) Trick Dog – I don’t typically take naps, but after sending my stomach and brain into a California tornado of tastebud stimuli, I needed one. Groggy, but ready to ‘make the most out of our vacation!!!’, we headed to Trick Dog. Winner of many a cocktail award, Trick Dog was a nice change of pace from our beer-heavy week. A cocktail program that changes with the seasons, ordering is a fun game in itself. Here’s a dog calendar, order a drink by dog breed/month and page through the cute canines. We opted to sit in their tiny, 10-table dining room upstairs. It was approximately 90 degrees. Better than 50 I guess. My bourbon-focused and gin-focused cocktails were good, but for $13 a pop I was waiting for free refills, or something. San Fran you’re great but expensive. Trick Dog’s “Trick Dog” is not just a clever name – it’s a hamburger disguised as a hot dog in a hot dog bun. I don’t know how you don’t get that if you’re dining in.

19) The Mill – What is it with people and toast here? I’ve never seen a line out the door of an establishment for toast. Just toast!? Seriously, toast. A thick-cut $4 slice of charred bread with toppings.  I don’t get it, but I guess I’m part of the problem.  I opted for the dark rye with cream cheese and salt & pepper. Companion ordered the lemon poppy with almond butter and honey.  They were good, but again, it’s toast. TOAST.  The toaster assembly line had 2 people feverishly taking tickets out of the printer and popping bread in the slots. Something I never thought I’d see…a toaster assembly line in a coffee shop.

20) Toronado – With our trip winding down, I really had one more spot that I just had to visit. The no-nonsense, decades-old (I think?), cash-only Toronado.  A small, yet awkwardly charming bar with a deep Cali brew draught list among some high end Euros. Dusty Duvel magnums lined the one wall, while the other was plastered with stickers from years ago (Milwaukee institutions well-represented!).  I’m grouping the Rosamunde Sausage shop from next door into this entry, as you’re able to take the gourmet grilled sausages into Toronado to devour.  Let me tell you that imbibing the Almanac Citra Sour while binging on a hot Italian with sweet peppers & grilled onions is a near cathartic experience. “Is this heaven?”, I ask myself. Close.

Even with all the places we visited, here’s a small list of the ones we didn’t: Anchor (closed all weekend), Cellarmaker (next time!), Almanac, Rare Barrel, cocktail destinations Elixir, Comstock, and Rickhouse, Magnolia Brewery, Speakeasy Tap room, Church Key…and I’m sure there’s more.  Clearly there’s not a lack of places to go out in this hilly bayside haven. A great vacation destination. I have no ragrets with my decisions, except writing this much content.

Visual stimuli:

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Great Taste of the Midwest 2015: Caffeine Dreams

Yesterday was the 2nd Saturday in August, which meant it was time for thousands of people to gather in Olin Park in picturesque Madison, WI for the Great Taste of the Midwest. New brewers, new beers, new layout. The weather was overcast but some sprinkles weren’t going to impede anyone’s desire for more beer. But you’re not here for a weather report, you’re here to waste 10 minutes of your life and read about what beers I liked.  At least that’s why I think you’re here.

5) Off Color Brewing – Whiskers
The Chicago-based brewers collaborated with Central State Brewing out of Indianapolis for this Rose-inspired American Wild Ale.  Central State focuses on Brettanomyces brews exclusively, so that’s neat.  This beer was tart, sour, barely pink-hued and an impossible 8.5% abv but was easy-going on the palette.  The ale was aged in puncheon barrels, which I had no idea were until I googled it just now. Wonderful stuff.

4) Revolution Brewing – Cafe Deth
One of the very few lines I waited in yesterday, and boy was it worth it.  Revolution brought the heat, in beer and tubed meat form. You have to give a brewery credit for slinging free Chicago-style dawgs during a beer fest. Anyways, here we have a 12.5% barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout with added coffee & cherries. The beer poured black as my non-functioning fitbit band, with a dark mahogany ring around the perimeter. Truckloads of chocolatey oak, coffee, and a barely-there dark fruit sweetness in the finish. Dark brown head & an aroma of fresh coffee grounds.  This was from 2014, so I’m just going to take a guess & say age has done good things to this. Have always been a fan of the Eugene series, and this one further catapaulted my affinity for Rev.

3) New Glarus Brewing – R&D Wild Barrel
Ah yes, the rare bottles of Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel were flowing at breakneck pace yesterday. Lines moved quickly for a small taste of the delicious nectar from New Glarus’ new fruit caves. More sour funk than bourbon barrel presence, this spontaneously fermented sour brown showcased fruit backed by wood. A wonderful example on how funk should be handled. Bottles sold out at the brewery by 10:30am on Friday and by 11am on Saturday. Glad they kept some cases behind for the Taste. Obviously.

2) Perennial Artisan Ales – Kyoto Coffee Abraxas
Let’s keep the caffeinated train rolling. Holy shit, all aboard. Like Sump & Abraxas banged in an alley & 9 months later we have this coffee infant. But it’s not an infant, it’s a 10% imperial stout brewed with Kyoto coffee.  Not sure if the usual addition of cinnamon & chiles were added to this batch, as I didn’t get much heat, or spice. Regardless, this was downright amazing – chocolate on chocolate, with espresso backing the sweetness. Mouthfeel was actually in the medium range – this wasn’t as viscous as I thought it would be.  Something tells me Corey King had something to do with this one. YOU WONDERFUL BARISTA, YOU.

1) 4 Hands Brewing Co – Madagascar
From the back seat of their creepy black-matte ‘falcon’ van came the absolute best beer of the fest.  It wasn’t even close – one sip and you knew you tasted perfection. On an island all its own (get it?), this bourbon aged imperial milk stout was created with the addition of vanilla beans.  I typically enjoy vanilla, but find beers with the bean usually tasting of an artificial, cloying sweetness. Not here though. A perfect blend of roasty malt with sweet milk sugar and vanilla  in the back end, Madagascar was everything perfect with yesterday. The magicians of 4 Hands had the difficult task of competing with the nautically-inspired Bell’s brewery booth and boat, and admittedly had a strange/poor booth placement, sort of in no-man’s land. I went back and consumed Super Flare IPA, a collab with Wicked Weed brewing.  Delicious. Walked back awhile later and had a pull of the coveted Volume 1 – an imperial whiskey-bbl aged stout with coffee and cacao nibs. Also pretty tasty.  4 Hands slayed everything else I had yesterday, by a longshot. Between Perennial and 4 Hands, you could basically spend an entire day in beer heaven should you go to St. Louis.

In addition to the beers listed above, I probably had almost 10 other beers with coffee added. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I find my fascination with the caffeinated bean unknown. Whatever it is, I drank them by the glass half-full yesterday. Other styles that I gravitated to included berliner weiss’, goses, and wild ales. I also missed out on a ton: DinoSmores from Off Color, the delicious Mango Mama from Minneapolis Town Hall, TG’s Mornin Delight – the list could go on. I missed SO MUCH. Let these pics percolate:

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#Burbdrankin – Mequon Pizza Company in Mequon

I love thin crust pizza. Like, saltine cracker thin that it almost breaks when you pick it up. Deep dish is just too doughy for me.  Unless I’m in Chicago, then yeah, gimme that shit. Otherwise, I have always been a thin crust dude. Wells Brothers in Racine is my absolute favorite, but Mequon Pizza Company is a seriously close second. And that kinda-sorta-proprietary cheese on the bottom, then sauce, then toppings thing they do is great. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve never had a bad pie there, I don’t even think it’s possible for them to make one. The MPC is fast, efficient, and the staff is always great.

But what about the beer? There’s a mix of domestic and import, from easy-going like Miller Lite and Spotted Cow to bigger stuff like Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA.  Would you expect a large pink elephant Delirium tower pouring Tremens & Nocturnum? Well they do, and that’s awesome. Dogfish 120 was on too, as well as other fun oddities from O’so. The tap list was all over the place, but in a way that everything pouring made sense.

Sitting at the bar, I noticed that there was a great variety of Dogfish bottles in the cooler, with a few larger-format bottles above them.  Never in a million years did I think I’d see 22oz Alesmith IPA bottles at a pizza place in Mequon, WI.  Lo and behold, mere minutes after spying the California beauties, 2 younger guys sat next to me and each ordered one to take down themselves. Craft beer really can reach the burbs. Again, I have to give credit for these smaller establishments recognizing that good beer wins, and ultimately can be very profitable to stock.

#burbdrankin yall.
IMG_20150410_165908966  IMG_20150410_165855602

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#Burbdrankin – Crafty Cow in Oconomowoc

So last Wednesday on April 9th, our area saw a little severe weather. To our south, this Darwinistic dipshit had a ” completely crazy” “holy smokes” moment, in which he captured some “oh my gosh” footage:

Totally ridiculous video, fella. The elements certainly weren’t optimal in southeast Wisconsin either, but I’ll take my chances driving in inclement weather if it means doing some necessary #burbdrankin research for my 6 readers. And research I did. When I left the Milwaukee area around 6:45, it was lightly sprinkling with a few sad, gray clouds looming ahead. Half an hour later, I’m white-knuckle driving under a death-metal black storm cloud unleashing torrential downpours in between specks of lightning. Exiting hwy 67, I believe I muttered something like “Well this was stupid”. Actually that is exactly what I said. But burgers and beers were within reach, so I pressed on amongst swirling ominous clouds.

It’ll normally take around 50 minutes to get to the Crafty Cow from Milwaukee; this instance was an hour. Smack dab in the middle of this quiet town lies a bar-restaurant that can hold it’s own against any city spot. Open since December 2014, the Crafty Cow specializes in microbrews alongside ‘stuffed’ burgers. 20 tap lines in all, with 2 dedicated nitro lines and 2 cider taps as well. The room itself was spacious and welcoming – a long narrow space filled with a few high tops, ample bar seating, and some larger bench tables for bigger groups.  A big, bright logo is painted on the west wall under some spotlight lighting. An out-of-order skeeball machine was the only dark cloud in terms of the venue. The back bar shelves were littered with purposely-placed empty bottles of a who’s who in hard-to-find beers from around the country.  Looks like many a bottle share has been had here.

While the beer list was good, the spirits list was surprisingly great. Stranahan whiskey, Breckenridge bourbon, and a variety of other gems rounded out a well-curated whiskey list. Nice to find that upon a visit where I expected that beer would rule. If cocktails are your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

The stuffed burgers reigned a beef thunderstorm on my tastebuds (see a pattern here? I’m relating everything to weather! Gee willikers!) I went with the Aloha burger, which shoved mozzarella cheese and ham slices inside a burger patty.  Topped with raw onions, bbq sauce and pineapple rings.  I’d eat it again, no doubt.

The proprietor Devin was one of the nicest dudes I’ve met in the business.  Very young, but extremely smart and incredibly ambitious – this place is in great hands. It takes stones to open a craft beer stable in a previously-untouched area. He told me that he spent a lot of time in Minneapolis (a city that I believe kicks Milwaukee’s ass in terms of beer) and therefore his draught list tiptoes high-end with solid entry-level suds.  The drinks appeal to the novice and nerd very well. Case in point I started with a Boulder Mojo Nitro IPA, and finished with an imperial citra IPA from Tyranena.  Similar style from different sides of the craft spectrum.

Overall the Crafty Cow is a fun place with an impressive array of both brews and booze. The theme seems to be working – there’s rumblings of some bars opening close by that are trying to appeal to the savvy drinker as well.  Easily my new favorite go-to spot on excursions between Milwaukee and Madison.

And since it’s closer to Milwaukee, they’ve decided to partake in Milwaukee Craft Beer week with the following upcoming events:
Saturday April 18 – tapping a Double Crooked Tree. Let’s hope Oconomowocans (yeah?) are ready.
Thursday April 23 – Putting all 4 of the New Glarus Fruit beers on tap. I haven’t seen Strawberry Rhubarb & Serendipity for awhile.  Having all 4 next to each other is a thing of beauty.
Friday April 24 – Two words: Perennial Abraxas. Get on it.

I took a pic while driving because I'm dumb.

I took a pic while driving because I’m dumb.



Inside the Cow that is Crafty

Inside the Cow that is Crafty

Taps on top of taps

Taps on top of taps

Reflection of empties on the back bar shelf.

Reflection of empties on the back bar shelf.

Check that spirits list

Check that spirits list

Tyranena Citra IPA

Tyranena Citra IPA

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#Burbdrankin – Champps Americana in Brookfield

What can be said about this not-so-hidden gem that hasn’t already been said?  It what seems like overnight (it wasn’t, but it feels like it), this national corporate chain has transformed itself from run-of-the-mill to a venue with one of the greatest beer lists in the outskirts of the city. I’ll admit that I know nothing about the sports bar group, but I find it amazing that the people in charge are given such freedoms to put what they desire on tap. The variety on draught is astonishing.  Would you expect to see 5 Ballast Point handles, or the new Lagunitas High West BA Coffee Stout being poured? Session IPAs, Unsessioned IPAs like Double Crooked, Foreign Export Stouts, and the rest of the best.  Well, they were all on the night I waltzed in. The volume that pumps out of here is absurd, so you can bet that this place will continue to see more rare treats you won’t believe they can acquire. On the evening I was there during March Madness, the bar and the dining section were full for hours.  It really was amazing to see. The food was good, the beers were better.

Champp’s is impressive and a worthwhile stop if you’re in the west ‘burbs. The place is already a staple with folks from New Berlin and Brookfield. Kudos to the owners and managers of this place to have the stones to put delicious beers on tap and trust that the clientele will come around to them.  And they definitely have. So even though people who don’t know any better might initially look at you funny after suggesting Champp’s for a visit – just smile inside when they realize they were wrong.

This is the spot where pictures would go if I had taken any that were good.

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