#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.

Mojo

Mojo

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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#Burbdrankin – Magellan’s in Waukesha

Sometimes, you just don’t want to drink at the place you always go. That other neighborhood bar has gotten a bit stale & you just don’t want to see the regulars that you’re accustomed to seeing. You’ve been to that highly touted beer bar on plenty of occasions – weren’t you just there last week? It’s time for something different, something new. Venturing out of your comfort zone for beer pleasures can be a fun, rewarding experience if you know where to go. Often times, those beer pleasures can be found

[pause for effect]

IN THE SUBURBS.  Away from the hustle, the bustle, and the muscle of the city. Into the wooded areas where clear skies, fresh air, and jacked-up trucks with those ridiculous tires that are loud and probably make that vehicle get 5mpg are common. (We’re not going that far out, though).  I call this #burbdrankin. Drinking in the suburbs can be entertaining, and most importantly – cost-effective! And sometimes, you might be pleasantly surprised at the beer selection too.  Throughout April I’ll be highlighting a few of the suburban venues that are doing beer-loving folks a favor.

In this case, can Waukesha be described as a “suburb”? Probably not, but let’s roll with it anyways. I ventured into Magellans on a Sunday afternoon.  It was 12:15, and I was the only person there. Matter of fact, I’m not even sure they were ready to open yet. The Old Style sign on the exterior doesn’t scream “CRAFT BEER HERE”, but don’t let it turn you away (Or the road construction, which is a pain in the ass). 30+ taps await you inside, from domestic shit like Coors, Miller and Blue Moon to fun shit like new-to-WI Ballast Point Sculpin, trusty Great Lakes Eddy Fitz, a Karben 4 line, and a duo of Wisconsin’s Central Waters & New Glarus. I first went to Magellans almost 5 years ago, and to see them add a boatload of taps and redo the side room with new tables/walls/art was great to see. Braving the one-way labyrinth that is Waukesha streets, one can certainly get thirsty. I quenched mine with a Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter followed by a Central Waters Illumination IPA. So the beers are good. What about the food? Magellan’s has you covered. A double-sided bar menu has more than enough choices to sustain even the pickiest of eaters. The pizzas are what get me going though. I ordered the “So Ho Special” – a ham, mushroom, ricotta, onion, green pepper and pesto pizza. I’d love to tell you how great it was, but I instead received a Mexican breakfast pizza. It was topped with Chorizo, eggs, chilli powder, and green pepper. And it was delicious, no complaints here. The 10″ was more than enough, and was probably closer to 12″, but who’s measuring? The beers are beer-y and the food is great, no matter what you get. Go here.

Magellan’s is an unassuming bar with a great variety of beer on draught and highly underrated pizzas. I don’t go to Waukesha much, but you can bet that when I’m there I’ll make it into Magellan’s.  It’s #Burbdrankin done right.

Scan these with your eyeballs

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My Top 20 Beers (and 1 Cider) of 2014

Ah, 2014.  The year brewers resurrected gose. The continued punch of the mislabeled “session” ale.  The jowl-curling funk of endless sours. The hoppy lager. The menial task of barrel-aging everything. You were a strange year for beer, 2014, and the future looks just as weird. (* denotes beer is/was available in Wisconsin) Let’s get crazy:

21) Virtue Mitten* (Bourbon barrel-aged cider. Bottle, ?%) This is not a beer. This is a cider. I originally included it in the top 20, but that’s not fair. Because this is a list for beer…not ciders. However this semi-sweet cider from Michigan had an incredible balance of caramel and oak that blended supremely with the contents in the bottle. I rarely drink ciders, but if I’m in the mood, I prefer an English dry. American sweet ciders are the devil, but this one happened to be angelic.

20) Surly Cacao Bender (Brown Ale. Tap, 5%) My favorite brown ale on the planet due to a robust addition of cacao nibs, coffee, and vanilla. Surly makes a lot of great brews, but I keep finding myself fawning over this one every year.  Now that the destination brewery is complete, a trip to the source is necessary. Until then, cross your fingers that they continue to bring it to Great Taste.  Just missing the top 20 was 3 Sheeps ‘Hello My Name Is Joe’, also a coffee-induced brown ale. That one is good as well, but not quite Surly good.

19) Summit 3X Mild Ale* (English Mild Ale. Bottle/Tap, 7.2%) The Union series of beers from the St. Paul brewery continues to impress. Finding new, intriguing, different ingredients and pumping out stellar beers. Do not sleep on this one. I won’t even try pretending to know how these ingredients work so cohesively, I’ll let the brewer tell you in this informative piece here. Recently on draught and in bottles in WI.

18) Logsdon Farmhouse Ales  Peche ‘N Brett (Saison. Bottle, 10%) A brettanomyces & sour peach explosion to the senses. Aged on oak and 10%abv. Quite the designated hitter, I enjoyed this in the parking lot of Miller Park before a ballgame. That makes no sense.  Is it weird that I can’t remember what vintage release I had? Oregon, I love you, but you’re bringing me down (because I can’t get stuff from you easily).

17) Green Flash Road Warrior* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 9%)  Probably my surprise beer of the year.  Would you guess that Green Flash would make something hoppy? Well they did, and they added a dump truck full-o-rye to the brew. Things escalated quickly with this one; whether fresh or with some age on it, this beer continued to impress me. Piney, resinous hops in the front with a biscuit-y, malty cradle in the end. Obvious GF hop bite paired with a tinge of spice, but the (crystal?) malt softened it overall.  Green Flash is all hops, but this one offered just that little bit more.  Still tasting good right now if you can find it, I think this was a late Summer release this year.

16) Westbrook Gozu (Gose. Bottle, 4%) Ah yes, the year of the Gose. A true session beer,  this little delicacy was brewed with a special addition of Yuzu fruit. Lemon warhead candy flavor, eye-squinting sourness reminiscent of 5Alive soda, prickly bubbles in the back.  Odds are you might have seen the canned Gose from the South Carolina brewers floating around;  God knows I saw enough it around at friends houses & bottle shares. While I loved that beer, the Gozu took it a step further.  It was just so damn good, the sourness was off the charts, but you could taste a hint of the sweet-salt seesaw too. Pleasant notes of malted wheat, coriander; finish was semi-dry and champagne-like. The style made famous by brewers in Leipzig, Germany saw a huge push due (in my opinion)  to Anderson Valley’s Kimmie, Yink & Holy Gose cans earlier this year. Looks like the rise in popularity is here to stay, as Brewers seem to be toying with Gose recipes all the time now.

15) Sixpoint Hi-Res* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 10.5%)  This little golden canister of sex assaulted my tongue precinct during the early part of this year. An endorphin-morphing hop bunker-buster that ravaged my mouth.  Not complete deforestation like Dogfish 120, which I still don’t know how people drink (authors note: Do not drink 120 if you’re already intoxicated).  Hi-Res made Bell’s Hopslam its bitch in a blind taste test. Even better than Sixpoint’s popular Resin, Hi-Res is the older brother that only visits the family during holidays. Hopefully we can expect this one back in early 2015.

14) Founders Dissenter*(Imperial India Pale Lager. Bottle/Tap, 8.7%) I don’t even like TYPING the words ‘imperial india pale lager’.  Alas, this beer worked wonderfully. The hoppy notes of an ipa with the clean, crisp finish of a pilsner lager. The two essences didn’t fight with each other, rather serenaded and danced, like Carlton Banks to Tom Jones. My only problem with this beer was the terrible label art which depicted Harry Potter pausing on a mid 18th century English cobblestone street.  Someone in the Founders art department needs a swift strike to the septum.

13) New Glarus Moon Man* (American pale ale. Bottle/Tap, 5%) Yeah that’s right.  Good ol’ no coast pale ale New Glarus Moon Man.  When was the last time you were truly able to appreciate this Carey masterpiece? Have you ever had a bad Moon Man? Why do I keep finding myself seeking this beer? How can it always be so perfect? When was the last time YOU had this beer?  Find yourself. Find this beer. Recreate the love.

12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss* (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ?%) So there might have been an issue with bottle refermentation, but it doesn’t matter. They say good things come to those who wait. Well, if you still have any bottles laying around, you’ll be waiting awhile to sip it upon prying off the cap. Takes about 5-10 minutes for the oceans of billowy foam to recede. The taste is near perfection though.  A poppy, carbonated shot of sour and tart. Here’s to hoping this can be an annual Summer release.

11) Black Husky Howler (Simcoe)* (Imperial pale ale. Bottle, 10.2%) – From the best nanobrewery in Pembine, WI comes Howler. A big, daunting double IPA that featured the simcoe hop.  Later on the Equinox version was also released, and while I enjoyed both, I preferred this dog. Big mouthfeel, with the alcohol extremely well-hidden. Not sure where that 10% is hiding. Not overly bitter, but the piney hops are definitely there. Bark at the moon.

10) Karben4 Fantasy Factory* (IPA. Bottle/Tap, 6.3%) As I write this, Fantasy Factory is currently, slowly showing up on draught all over Milwaukee. And for good reason – it’s delicious. While the uninspired tap handle reminds me of the pipe weapon in the Clue board game, the bottles are exciting and showcases a kitten riding a unicorn with rainbows and other shit like that.  The ADD child in me is squealing with delight! Anywho, the beer is sparked with orange zest, a darker hue, and a conifery, grapefruit-y finish alongside a medium body. I could drink this all day. A welcome addition to the Wisconsin brewing scene.  Bottles in Madison only, it seems.

9) O’So Convenient Distraction* (Porter. Bottle/Tap, 10%) From the description: Imperial Porter masterfully blended with Aquacate coffee from the Narino region of Columbia and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Say what?! A pitch-black brew that held zero head retention. An ungodly amount of coffee grounds in the nose – you could smell it from a few feet away, either after opening the bottle or pouring from the tap. Coffee, cocoa, vanilla, caramel…all wonderfully molded together with ease. A solid step up from Night Train, which I also adore. Will be seeking this one out again. According to the internet, Bourbon Barrel Aged Convenient Distraction will be released January 23, 2015.

8) Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin (Barleywine. Bottle, 12%) I can’t even begin to describe what’s going on here, so I’ll let the brewery tell you. This beer was unbelievably delicious.

7) New Glarus Scream IIPA* (Double IPA. Bottle, 9%) What was once simply known as IIPA shifted into Scream. Apparently named after an eagle that circled the brewery at one time. Yeah, ‘MERICA! Hoppy talons stalked Wisconsinite taste buds early in the summer, and then more rapidly into the Fall and Winter. New Glarus kept on producing it, and we kept on drinking it. Quite possibly the best double ipa to come out of WI to date. Who wants to fight about it?

6) Central Waters Sixteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle/Tap, 11%). The anniversary imperial stout kept in 21 year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for a few months. This beer somehow popped up at nearly every Central Waters beer dinner in the city, and I was elated every single time. A true gem of a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. We’re a month away from their 17th anniversary party, and hopefully I’ll be there.  Can’t get your hands on any Sixteen – the brewers reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout 4 packs are out now, but going quickly.

5) Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue* (Pale Ale. Bottle, 6%) Have you not had the citra-magnified Pseudo Sue yet? Well take your tiny T-Rex arms somewhere to drink it. When you get there, bask in the grapefruit flavors of Iowan heaven.

4) Avery Tweak (Imperial Stout. Tap, 18%) HEY SO I HAD AVERY TWEAK AT THE SUGAR MAPLE EVENT WHEN THEY CAME TO WISCONSIN OFFICIALLY IN JANUARY IT WAS VERY GOOD AND I COULDNT BELIEVE IT WAS 18% BUT IT WAS AND THERE WAS COFFEE IN IT IT TASTED LIKE COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE AND LIKE A STOUT SHOULD AND WAS ODDLY SATISFYING ARE WE SURE IT WAS 18% AND THEN I NOTICED IT WAS SMOOTH AND REAL GOOD TWEAK WAIT THE BREWERY NOW BOTTLED IT AND AGED IT IN BOURBON BARRELS OH THATS NEAT. TWEAK!

3) Perennial Abraxas* (Imperial Stout. Tap, 10%) Perhaps my most welcome addition to Wisconsin. St Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales finally made me like a beer that had a little spice kick, something I don’t normally gravitate towards.  Ancho chilis, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon provided a complex backdrop to this imperial stout. The bouquet is all cinnamon & red pepper flakes, the taste a luscious dark chocolate bar.  I’d take Abraxas over Prairie Bomb! any day. Killer beer from the heart of the heartland.  Haven’t had coffee or barrel-aged versions yet.

2) Side Project Blueberry Flanders (Flanders Red. Tap?, 7%) Sweet Heavenly Father I need more of this. On a bright sunny day in August during the Great Taste of the Midwest, Perennial brewer Cory King  poured one of the greatest beers I’ve had to date in my little souvenir 4oz mug. A midnight purple hue, standard Flanders red balsamic sourness packed with blueberry fruit. The brew was fermented in Missouri oak Chambourcin (don’t ask me)  barrels then aged atop Michigan-grown blueberries. The end result was perfection. Released in July of 2014, my dream is to one day hold my very own unicorn bottle.

1) Cigar City Forgotten Islands (Quadrupel. Bottle, 15%) Listen, I realize that in terms of being an actual beer, it fails. This is, legitimately, a Mai Thai in a beer. Orange curacao parading with Peychauds bitters, prunes & plums, and Goslings Black Seal rum. A beer cocktail, this delicious boozy mess was so off the wall, yet so perfect. A 15% quad aged in Jamaican Appleton Estate Rum barrels showcased an explosion of tropical fruit flavors from orange, guava, mango and papaya. The spices of cinnamon, clove, and even a hint of ginger were also present. This concoction was all over the place – one could probably subjectively pick out 20 different flavors and aromas in it with ease. It was complex, but not overbearing somehow. The alcohol finally came out as the liquid warmed, but it only made it more perfect. This beautiful disaster was chaotic, raw, silly, and sweet. I’ll never understand how Tampa, FL’s Cigar City brewed this, and now that I look back on it, I’m surprised they even released it. Makes me long for a drink with an umbrella in it right now.

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Beers I’m Drinking Lately

Now, not all these are not winter beers, per se, more than they are beers that I am currently drinking. Dec 21st isn’t too far away, but don’t let the calendar run your beverage intake life. Here’s some standouts that currently have my heart:

1.) Anchor Christmas Ale – new year, new bottle, new recipe. Anchor has been serving up this end-of-the-year favorite now for 40 (!!!) years. Always dark, roasty, with some spice additions here and there, Anchor Christmas signifies the beginning of the holiday season. One day, I’ll find someone to race me in taking down one of the 1.5liter magnum bottles. Anchor Liter-hands?
Here’s a creepy 3-year old video describing the processes behind Anchor Christmas Ale from the brewery’s website.

2.) Three Floyds Alpha Klaus – An American porter with roasted English malts, Mexican sugar, and a myriad of hops. Normally I prefer 12oz offerings, but I’m always happy to pick up a bomber of this when I see it at retail.  At 6%, it won’t leave you slack-jawed and snoring on the couch after completion. One of the few Three Floyds selections that doesn’t have that same Three Floyds house yeast taste to it. A solid porter that belongs in your possession.

3.) New Belgium Accumulation – A criminally underrated beer that is described as a ‘white IPA’.  The addition of wheat brings a softer mouthfeel to the brew, while Mosaic and Amarillo dry hop additions create a citrusy spike.  Lemon, grapefruit, passion fruit? Love the aroma on this beer & also dig the fact that it’s the anti-winter winter beer. With all the nutmeg spice bombs floating around, grab this one for a whirl.

4.) Founders Dark Penance – I’ve had this massive black imperial IPA now from the bottle and on tap, and it hasn’t disappointed me yet. Fat, resinous ribbons of pine and sticky hop oils vanquish the tongue with every sip.  However the big malt additions leave a dark, roasty character too, so you won’t be completely overwhelmed. 100 IBUs and a cocky 8.9% will have your chest feeling a little warmer in no time. Please enjoy this one next to a crackling fire, or that shitty electronic space heater that you just plugged in.

5.) Victory Storm King Stout – When was the last time you had this one? I revisited it a week ago, and was surprised at how bitter this stout can get, especially as it warms. Quite a nice balance between the espresso-like flavors and the hoppy undertones. Did you know that Victory uses whole-cone flower hops in their beers? That’s expensive and a bit silly, but you can’t deny that this brew is delicious. Bitter bakers chocolate and an odd floral-ness not usually found in the style.

6.) Summit 3x Mild Ale – This spot was originally intended to go to Great Lakes Christmas Ale, but after having the new Union series beer from Summit, it was clear.  Admittedly, this is an odd beer and a difficult one to describe.  Not quite a hybrid beer, but not a traditional beer either. Using a variety of American and English malts and an experimental hop variety, the 3X Mild ale is really unlike anything I’ve had before. How this liquid is 7.2% is beyond me – it’s astonishingly drinkable and has a lingering sweetness that makes you come back for more. I’ve been a huge fan of the Union series of beers from Summit – bringing ingredients from around the world together for one cohesive experience. This press release can describe what’s going on much better than I can.

Go enjoy these beers now.

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In Search of Beer Outside of Madison

So last weekend I decided to take a trip towards the state capital to hunt for beer outside the city limits.  Finding good beer within is easy – but what about the outskirts?  My elastic waistband sweatpants and I left Milwaukee around noon in the midst of a dreary, overcast day.  As I exited on HWY 30, I realized how close to Karben 4  I was.  Having only been to the space while Ale Asylum inhabited it, I decided to go check out the spot and see if I could get some Fantasy Factory IPA bottles. There were plenty of growlers floating around, and the pub fare looked enticing, but sadly no bottles were available to-go. The bartender did say that they were currently bottling Fantasy Factory (Sure enough, the bottling line was humming along behind him; Unicorn-graced labels scurrying quickly in single-file fashion) and that they would be in distribution to local retail on Monday (Nov 24). Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Picking back up on the drive, I decided to head northwest to Middleton via 113 & M, two roads that I had never used before.  While living in Madison for years, I had never needed to check out the stretch of highways north of Lake Mendota. Noticed a few folks walking the trails of Governor Nelson State Park, which I didn’t even know existed. Either way, arrived at the first stop on my journey around 1:30pm – Craftsman Table & Tap.  Besides the Free House, this would probably be the only other place I’d stop in Middleton for good brews. A solid tap list included 4 Tyranena lines (remnants of a recent tap takeover, I’m sure), Lake Louie, O’So, and Karben4 from Wisconsin and Epic, Founders, Lagunitas, and Perennial to round out the selection. While the exterior screamed ‘ordinary’, inside Craftman’s wall holds inviting vibes.  A mix of earthy brown tones cover the tables, walls, and window shades here. Big booths covered the outside of the room, with a mixture of high & low top tables gathered towards the center. Perhaps it was the overcast day that made it seem dark & drab inside, but I was really in need of a fireplace here. But the food was great (especially for a Food Fight restaurant! Chicken & Avocado wrap was top notch), and it took every ounce of willpower for me not to order an Epic Big Bad Baptist.  Went with the Karben4 Lady Luck (or was it Block Party? There were conflicting menus) and watched some collegiate athletes throw a pigskin bladder on an elongated field.  Will be back in the summer season to sit on their rooftop patio. The 20 bar seats will have to suffice until it’s nice enough to go back out.  Crappy story short – I’d go here again.craftsmanpint

A quick swing southeast on the beltline (Madisonians call it this instead of a bypass. I’m not really sure why) brought me to the second stop, the Flying Hound Alehouse.  This unassuming pub sits in a newer, blossoming shopping area of Fitchburg.  It’s a short skip & a jump away from the HyVee.  Flying Hound has a good beer list that focuses on American crafts with a few of the Belgian & German standbys for folks who are afraid to get anything else. The Evil Twin Falco IPA was easily the most popular for the hour I was there – bartender probably poured about 10 snifters.  I opted for the Big Sky Slow Elk oatmeal stout, simply based on the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I had anything from the Montana brewer.  It was on nitro, and it was just ok.  And since everyone is obsessed with local stuff, had a pint of Central Waters Mudpuppy porter immediately after, which I always enjoy. Not sure how new the Flying Hound is, but there wasn’t much going on in terms of decor. That being said, if I lived in Fitchburg and didn’t want to head into Madison, I’d either be at Flying Hound or the Fitchburg Dane.flyinghoundlistflyinghound

Continuing east, met up with a college buddy of mine who just had a kid.  I said salutations to the mother and baby, then immediately went to his basement to see how much his cellar had gotten out of control. There’s a lot of beer down there.  I didn’t snap a pic, but it’s rather impressive. Also impressive was the Toppling Goliath Naughty Temple that we opened. Last year’s release of a Templeton rye barrel aged India pale ale did not disappoint. Extremely drinkable at 7.2%. Smelled like booze and vanilla.  Tasted like oaky pine, a little sweetness in there too, really fun beer.  One of these days I’ll make the trek across the state and into Decorah, IA territory. Great beer.tgtemple

Nearing the end of my journey, I had to meet a friend downtown who was kind enough to get me a bottle of the extremely sought-after New Glarus Very Sour Peach:  The annual release before GTMW that sends Illinoisans into pandemonium.  This meeting point was the Echo Tap.  Businesses stay afloat by updating and revamping the food, spirits, and overall image, I get that.  But in the case of the Echo Tap, the venue was a shell of its former self. Gone are the days of the dark, dingy, dive-y feel of the Echo.  I don’t know when they remodeled, but the once magnificent gritty bar is no more. It’s now updated, complete with lighting (you can SEE the food & drinks!) and a big tap list.  What happened to my old Echo? The place where homeless folks and vagrants came in for a beer?  The dark upstairs section with the pool table with virtually no light? Times they are a changin.  I can’t hate on the bar too much though, as they have expanded their tap beer selection – and I had a Karben 4 Fantasy Factory.

All in all a great day with some great brews and good company. There’s plenty of good beer outside of Madison proper. Middleton, Fitchburg, Verona, and the list goes on from there.

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GABF 2014: Back for the First Time

The older I get, the less enthused I am about penning the perfect prose for your unwavering eyes. Yet here I am, staring at a computer screen, again writing about all things Great American Beer Festival. To cover the scope of the fest would be ludicrous, and much of what I said last year is still correct. There’s a lot of people to see. There’s a lot of incredible places to visit. There is a metric shit-ton of beer to consume. This was my 2nd trip to the GABF, so I’m back for the first time – smarter, sexier and destined to win.

Day 1:
After disembarking our plane (complete with Chauncey Billups in first class, sup dawg), our group of 5 hustled over to Avery Brewing Company in Boulder.  It was noon, the sun was shining, and about hundred people were already there, if not more. I’m a huge Avery fan, and their beers did NOT disappoint. They are currently building a much bigger brewery in a different location, which is a very good thing because this place was TINY.  Hopefully they’ll build a state-of-the-art facility to coincide with their world-class brews.  A monitor showing a skeleton of a building and construction equipment surrounding it was on display. Looks good so far.
Best Part:  Tasting PumpKYn for the first time. All their (jealous) neighbors in the industrial park with their obnoxious “NO AVERY PARKING” signs.

Shortly after some killer BBQ at Avery, we traveled a few minutes to Boulder brewing.  We abide-d and imbibed in the Dude’s Bane, their limited-release barrel-aged barleywine. Still a little young, this beer hasn’t hit its optimal taste just yet.  A nice treat though for sure, along with a sampler of the rest of the taproom stuff.
Best Part: The decadent Shake chocolate porter; also seeing the limited space their canning line uses, yet somehow still gets the job done.

We left to check into the Denver hotel and take a quick nap. One must be well rested and hydrated for the Thursday night GABF session. We arrived shortly after the opening, as to not wait in a silly line to enter. I was behind a tall white monster with 6′ dreadlocks on my way in. Upon inside, I spent most of the time wandering around the pacific and pacific northwest areas, jamming on some Almanac, Cellarmaker, and Speakeasy to name a few. The 2 standout suds for me were the Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin (because why wouldn’t you add pumpkin to a barleywine?) and the Yazoo Caribbean Daydream, an admittedly messy, complex brett beer that had no idea what it wanted to be. Loved it anyways. Bros “Ooooh’ed” when people dropped their plastic cups, the big brewers had huge lines, and mediocre food was had by some. I wandered and stopped at a few places with small or no lines. I did not get drunk. Plenty of other glossy-eyed folks did that for me.
Best Part: Mega hipster Garrett Oliver served me a Brooklyn Sorachi Ace.  He looks better in suspenders than I do. :(

Day 2:
We woke up too early to attend the Gospel Brunch at the Oskar Blues Hops & Heifers farm. It was a religious experience.  Go on this if you can, it’s worth the money. Ate the food, pet the goats, and drove back to their Tasty Weasel taproom when it opened. Grabbed some merch and beer to-go.
Best Part: Getting a Wayne’s World inspired shirt. Sipping on an extremely rich Coconut Porter, “Death By Coconut”.

On to Left Hand.  A brewery also in the process of buying the land next door and across the street for a major expansion. Forgot how good their Oktoberfest is – a great representation of the style. Warrior IPA was fresh and pungent.
Best Part: Trying to wrap my head around their machine that carbonates/nitrogenates their bottled brews. I can’t even explain it properly.  Engineers are smart people.

Back to Denver. We have more to drink, obviously.  A quick stop at Breckenridge Brewery downtown location. Right next to Coors field, and in walking distance to many other places on our list.
Best Part: Sorry, but the awesome booze selection here wins out.  Their Agave Wheat was simple and easy like Sunday morning, but I noticed the great Colorado whiskeys and bourbons. Also, the guest taps here were pretty impressive as well.

We decide to walk to The Source. The route takes you under a sketchy overpass or two, but within 30 minutes you’re standing outside a massive brown brick warehouse. Within the Source are the magicians who work for Crooked Stave, masters of brewing sour brett infused morsels of delight. Our group of 5 probably had every 4oz taster of what was available, each being better than the last. Blueberry, Pomegranate, Cherry; whatever your heart desired, they create a sour funk fruit beer to quench your thirst.  It was mind-blowing, as was the line of beer nerds 5 deep at the small bar for the hour+ we stayed. 4 bartenders handled the majority of the parched dogs barking requests at them, but not well enough as our tab was probably $100 cheaper than it should have been. Thanks Denver, you’re the best.
Best Part: The beers, and the overall vibe in Crooked Stave within The Source. Well done.

Uber, you beautiful bastards, come get us, take us to Falling Rock! It’s around 8pm at this point, and with GABF night 2 in full swing, we decide to take advantage of the (possible) space still available at the mecca of beer bars in Denver. Like a hawk on a field mouse, we preyed over a table until we no doubt scared a gaggle of girls away. Victory was ours, and soon Firestone Walker DBA was mine. Yet another brewery that doesn’t make a bad one. Chicago rebels Revolution had an outdoor tap event around 9 or 10, so I had a Bean Gene porter that I liked very much.  A fun-loving Sam Calagione was next to me at this point, but was getting mobbed by fun-loving drunk folks, so I missed my opportunity for some DFH wisdom or a joke or something. I am once again not drunk, just extremely tired, slightly dehydrated (even with the numerous pints of agua), and dreaming of a night that doesn’t involve sleeping with tiny throw pillows under my head.  Some old friends I went to college with swung by around 11pm.  Let me tell you that 11pm is a poor time to be at Falling Rock during GABF.
Best Part: The drunk couple that sat next to our table and gave me a few ounces of Firestone Walker PNC, a crazy tequila-bbl-aged imperial stout.  Thanks drunk San Diegans.

Day 3:
Fort Collins. Had never been there before. Will definitely go back. A great area code.
Lunch at Choice City Butcher & Deli.  If I owned a place, it would be a mirror image of this. Amazing tap beer aside some huge-ass sandwiches. What’s not to like?
We check out the juggernaut New Belgium Brewing. It’s large.  They brew a lot of beer. The tour is 90 minutes.
Best Part: Tour guide Tara, and being in the same room with the Foeders that contain La Folie and Le Terroir. Tasty.

Onward to Odell, where I finally could get my fix of Myrcenary. Myrcenary is possibly my favorite double IPA on the planet.  It’s a sticky, resinous hop poltergeist that’s sent to destroy your esophagus. If ever a beer could be described as grapefruit without actually having grapefruit in it – it’s this one. A stunning outdoor seating area encompassed most of the brewery surroundings. Dogs, kids, families, old senile folks – people of all ages enjoyed this spot. Killer vibe, and the 90’s Pandora (I’m assuming) blasting from the speakers didn’t hurt either.
Best Part: Tupac’s “How Do You Want It” providing a stellar backdrop for busting a cap in Myrcenary’s ass.

Picture us rollin’ to The Mayor of Old Town (how did this go from a Ludacris theme to ‘pac?), where we gawked at 100 tap lines and ordered some decent bar grub. Too much fun stuff to have here, so we all ordered a sampler flight of 4 brews.  Not sure why I do this to myself. Still not sure exactly what it was, but there was a New Belgium Quad Shandy (not a typo) drank. It was oddly satisfying.

Onward to Funkwerks. It’s a dark night out now, and I have no idea where we are or how we got there. Extremely small brewery perfecting the art of saisons & belgian ales. I decided to go with their Dahlia, a strong Belgian Dark Ale that tasted like burnt raisons alongside some malty sweetness. Should have stuck with the raspberry brew that everyone else was raving about. Ah well. Let’s go somewhere else while we’re still coherent!
Best Part: The plethora of to-go bottles from Funkwerks. That Raspberry Provencal was dynamite.

The hippies were camped inside Equinox Brewing, gently swaying to some vocal-deprived rock-jazz-fusion ‘band’. I was not on enough hallucinogens to understand what anyone was dancing to, so our group basically sat around a table and didn’t talk to each other. We cropdusted the place a few times, shared a few chuckles, and left hour into being there.
Need sleep.
Best Part: Laughing at the few locals who were so high they could barely function.

We came home the next day. We watched football in the airport. I reminisced about visiting 10 breweries in 3 days on top of attending GABF.  I needed water.

Here are some pictures.

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