Twitter Folks Talk to Me About GTMW 2017

Beer festivals are typically awful, run-of-the-mill, drunken stupors starring someone you didn’t ever want to see again after high school. Not so with the 31st (!!!) Great Taste of the Midwest, put on by the fine folks of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. It is essentially “Beer Christmas”, as I’ve called it. The vibe, the aura, the power of the fest is unmatched. Normally the weather is pristine (it was again this year), the people are courteous and jovial, and the breweries bring their best liquid. Everyone has different schemes to attack the fest (timed tappings or no timed tappings?) (Drink by style?) (Only visit people you’ve never heard of?) and all of them are correct.

Since this was my first GTMW that I wasn’t able to fully experience, I relied on some Twitter friends for my annual blog post covering the event. Simple instructions were to provide me with your favorite beer experience of the day. Have fun with it, get emotional, really dive into the depths of your brain to tell me about your favorite beer and why. I didn’t want just a beer review – I wanted an anecdote about how they felt when they tried something they really, truly enjoyed. Tasting beer is an experience, in a communal gathering place, a way to reminisce about the best of times. Here’s what I was given:

Kevin @Kagecentral:
My Favorite beer at the fest was New Glarus 2016 R&D Geuze. Another reminder of the beer mastery we have regular access to and I sometimes take for granted. Also was the first festival my wife and I have gone to since having our first kid, and we were able to get drunk together (instead of just me getting tipsy). She agreed that was her favorite beer, and that beer is awesome and worth driving to Madison for. Those choice affirmations feel great.

Russell @rehaug:
It was 3:17 and I found myself deciding between standing in line for the 3:30 tapping of Great Lakes BA Christmas Ale or grabbing another beer in-between. I began making my way to the nearby Real Ale (cask) tent, dodging a stumbling, sweaty pirate en route. I quickly scanned the list of casks and then stopped in front of Lakefront’s Brandy Barrel Cherry Lager with Vanilla. “#20,” I confidently ordered with a knowing grin, which was met with the volunteer telling me that cask beers are much different from kegged beers and was I sure I would like it? I nodded politely, took my sample, and walked away, realizing with each sip that this festival houses hidden gems everywhere you look.

Max @Max_ofthe_Shire:
I’ll start by saying that a friend of mine brought in a bunch of delicious delicacies from the Northwest, so I had way too much on Thursday. That all-too-familiar feeling carried into Saturday, so lessons were learned at my first Great Taste. I came in expecting Ardea Insignis or Morning Delight to take the day, but I was blown away by BA Maple Vlad from Hailstorm. It had just enough coffee for my liking and the purest maple flavor I’ve tasted in a beer. I tried their vanilla and coffee variants which were also great, but nothing measured up to Maple Vlad on that day.

Kyle @KyleNabilcy:
The beer world is fraught with shitty names. “$100 Yoga Pants” feels like it could be right in line with the sarcastically misogynistic standard. Thankfully, Corridor Brewing doesn’t appear to go in that direction with its $100 Yoga Pants cucumber blonde ale. The beer is crisp and refreshing, without being obnoxiously cucumbered, and the brewery resists gross gender jokes in its description of the beer. It was a refreshing pour that lasted long into the day, probably a victim of what people thought it might have been instead of being celebrated for what it was.

Chris @WSJBeerBaron:
“…So I had two highlights, one from his yin and one from my yang. My favorite pour of his was Solemn Oath’s Oktöberface, a take on märzen that I found particularly malty and sweet, though not cloyingly so, and unusually intense for the style – though right on par with how Solemn Oath would approach it. The most successful pour in the other direction was Cherry Sour from Upland. I love Upland’s traditional sours, but they have some serious pucker so I wasn’t sure how this would go over with Dad. But this one wasn’t an acid bomb, and that wood character worked in perfect harmony with the woody, pit-like character of the cherries.”

Michael @BeerDazed:
Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a full-fledged barrel-aged (bourbon) stout guy. Imperial Oak Brewing’s Quiet Giant absolutely nailed it for me. Ultra dark, rich, and complex with notes of smooth bourbon, cinnamon and vanilla stopped me still in my tracks after sip number one. I actually knew this was going to be a winner from just the appearance of this brew in my glass. Fine, mocha-colored head, viscous motor oiled liquid, and the aroma. I may have went back for a second pour.

My personal favorite of the day was the first beer that I tried – Mikerphone “That One Guitar”. Hazy IPAs are about as played out as Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69”, but I’ll be damned if my first sip in the hot sun wasn’t my best experience of the day. The thirsty beer masses descending on their first brewery of the afternoon, the sound of ravenous neckbeards storming the grassy hills. Close second was New Glarus’ draft version of  Pommier Sauvage, an older R&D release that was full of dry, sour apple deliciousness paired with champagne note while a cool, steady breeze danced over me.

A huge thank-you to my esteemed panelists who lent me their words for my second post of 2017. I took no pictures, so you get no pictures. You get a recap list of these people’s stellar suds of the day. You won’t find them on shelves, but you could find them at 2018’s Great Taste of the Midwest.

New Glarus R&D Vintage 2016
Lakefront Brandy Barrel Cherry Lager with Vanilla (firkin)
Hailstorm Barrel-Aged Maple Vlad
Corridor $100 Yoga Pants
Solemn Oath Oaktoberface
Upland Cherry Sour
Imperial Oak Quiet Giant
Mikerphone That One Guitar

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Milwaukee Beer Week 2017 – Isn’t Every Week ‘Beer Week’?

The St. Pats shenanigans are over, the spring thaw is upon us, and the weather teeter-totters like a teeter-totter. Baseball season is underway. Milwaukee beer week is almost upon us. Let’s dive in:

Once again, Milwaukee Beer Week is using the same awful website layout with the same terrible user interface and whatnot. Some things never change. Something that has changed is the inclusion of self-distributed brewers being involved in the festivities. It’s a welcome concept, especially since they were all essentially shut out in years’ past.  We’re ~2 weeks away from the kickoff date, and I’m disheartened to see such little participation thus far. Seems to me that either beer reps are doing less events this year, or they’re just behind on submitting them. I sure hope it’s the latter, as Beer Week gives me a great excuse to leave the house, every night, for beer-related activities. FOR SCIENCE!

Saturday April 22 – The Bruery /Bruery Terreux dominate my plans this day. A vintage keg or two alongside other new stuff, as well as a bevvy of bottle pours. The west coast sour/adjunct brewers are never cheap in price, but the end result typically blows me away. The hue/aroma/mouthfeel of Bruery jams are always intriguing. Rumpus always features flights as well. They’ll open early at 2pm I believe. Highly recommended.

Sunday April 23 – I, for one, am excited that Half Acre is being sold in Wisconsin. I’ve enjoyed many so far, and I’m sure I’d enjoy them more at Burnhearts. Lots of big beers here alongside some live music, starting at 5pm. Navaja is scary good. Looking to try the Tuna.

Monday April 24 – Sober up at home.

Tuesday April 25 – After the Central Waters dinner at Morel, stop by Camino for the after-party around 9pm. Milwaukee loves Amherst.

Wednesday April 26 – Uber, take the wheel.  We have the always-packed Burnhearts Central Waters showcase, the annual Goose Island beer dinner at Tess, and a new player coming to the plate – Brown Bottle throwing down a gauntlet of Founder’s brews. Founders takes over every tap at this former Schlitz-heavy bar. KBS will be flowing, with a portion of the proceeds going to a veteran’s initiative nearby.  Always enjoy drinking great beers for a good cause.  After Brown Bottle, I’ll be meandering over to the Hi Hat/Garage for the ‘Big Hugs & Handshake’ event. For those of you lucky enough to know him, the Boulder rep Eric is a hilarious cat. This event essentially has the customer spinning a game show wheel to possibly enjoy a Half Acre Big Hugs stout, or a Boulder Chocolate Shake porter. Furthermore, lucky participants either get to hug the Half Acre rep, or shake the hand of the Boulder rep. It’s so dumb that it just might work. Creepy and beautiful at the same time really.

Thursday April 27 – Friendly neighborhood bar owner Mike Romans is gonna break out some Goose specialties starting at 6pm. 2013 BCS, 2015 BCBW, and…oh yeah…the 2015 BCS Regal Rye, one of my favorite beers ever. After you get kicked out, swing on through to the 2nd Annual Beer Week Supplier Karaoke Throwdown at Fixture Pizza Pub. This 2nd street haunt has steadily become one of my favorite spots to drink in the city – they consistently have an incredible beer list that must be experienced. I’ll be there as I like to silently judge terrible karaoke singers while not having the balls to go up there and sing something myself. Rap karaoke is a cop out. The tunes start at 9pm.

Friday April 28 – Go out for happy hour with the coworkers you don’t hate.

Saturday April 29 – the return of Tess’ backyard bbq event. This was amazingly fun and the weather was fantastic last year. Enjoy some smoked meats with some draft beer bombs at this awesome east side venue. Much like an unruly United airlines policeman, this lineup can get out of hand quick, so pick and choose your liquid carefully.

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My Top 20 Beers of 2016

Here we are, yet another calendar year has passed. In it, many nights that I drank too much. Chased porpoises with shaker pints of water.  Laughed jovially with friends, colleagues, and enemies. Pulled up a rickety bar stool at a dimly lit drinking establishment to revisit an old favorite or branch out and try something new. A year filled with ups, downs, sideways, and slantways. Moments captured behind a tulip glass, whether clear or foggy. Times were had, good and bad.

Truth be told, I’m not quite sure why I develop this end of year best-of list. Think of how many beers I *didn’t* try? Maybe I write these to see how my tastes change over time, or maybe to reflect on trends or styles that made a comeback or got lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it’s to remind myself that beer actually CAN be fun, when you strip down all the bullshit involving price gauging, the 3 tier system, never-ending beer releases and limits, barrel-aged waxed idols that are a complete letdown, etc etc. This is coming off pessimistic, and that’s alright. Maybe that’s the current state of my beer world.

20) Barley John’s Old 8 (Porter. Can, 8%) Not sure why I hadn’t heard of them until this year, but goddamn if this non-traditional mega porter isn’t the perfect blend of sweet and roasty. A thick, viscious black pour with heaps of bakers chocolate and notes of coffee. Great on draft and even better in the 16oz tallboy. I know virtually nothing about these guys, but I do know this is a beer you should try if you haven’t yet. Brewed in northwest Wisconsin too.

19) Funky Buddha Wide Awake It’s Morning (Adjunct porter. Bottle, 10%) My favorite adjunct Floridian brewers returned with this monstrosity. A beefed up version of their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, Wide Awake Its Morning was similar to drinking an Americano with a shot of 5 hour energy dumped in for good measure. There’s just so much going on here – chocolate, coffee, bacon smoke (?), salty pork rinds (?), molasses (?), syrup (?) Throwing the kitchen sink at the base beer helped. Normally I don’t go for massively sweet abominations, but for some reason this worked for me. I actually enjoyed this version over the barrel-aged version I had last week. Weird, who am I? I’m just a pig in the mud, sipping on this…

18) Veil Daddy’s Home (‘Triple’ IPA. Can, 10.6%) Al Bundy would hate this beer. And I thought I would too. I’ve been a somewhat harsh critic on this new ridiculous fad that is the ‘Northeast IPA’ or ‘Milkshake IPAs’ or whateverthefuck people are calling them nowadays. Purposely cloudy unfiltered disasters quickly canned and sold at many a brewery in the northeastern corner of our lovely country. It’s a bit overboard, and I’m over it. But, of course I had to try them to see what the hype was about. Some are good, others are not. This one, in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Other Half, was a giant IPA that was juicy (2016 buzzword that needs to die) without being incredibly sweet. If that makes sense. Huge hop aroma, flowers and resin bathe in a tub of lupulin. This beer is on this list probably for the fantastic package design, let’s be honest. But really the beer was good. The beer was good. I promise.

17) Anchor Dry-Hopped Steam (Steam beer. Bottle, 5.4%) Absolutely. How do you innovate a classic without completely bastardizing it? You dry hop it with some experimental hops, of course. This new edition cuts the malty sweetness of Steam with some hoppy undertones while still staying true to the original. Yet another beer that will most likely get completely overlooked from perhaps America’s most iconic brewery. Speaking of, I could go for a Cali Lager too…

16) Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA (IPA. Bottle & tap, 6.7%) So Sierra Nevada went bananas this year with the IPA releases. I couldn’t keep track of the majority of them – wet hops, fresh hops, harvest, estate, celebration, experimental, select. Pump the brakes, let me catch up! First, a distinction, from the SN website for a refresher course:

Over recent years, there has been some confusion about the difference between fresh and wet hops. While it may seem like semantics, to us it’s an important distinction.
Wet Hops are un-dried hops, picked and shipped from the growing fields within 24 hours.
Fresh Hops are the freshest dried hops to come from the fields, typically within seven days of harvest.

Now that we’ve covered hops, I’d like to explain how much I enjoyed this beer. Sticky green Yakima valley freshie that was oh-so satisfying. Easily my favorite Harvest beer of the year, the parrying of bitter vs balance on this was perfection. Lagunitas’ Born Yesterday coming in 2nd and Founders Harvest in a distant 3rd for those keeping score at home. One of my favorite seasons, that way-too-short harvest time of year.

15) Blackrocks 51k (IPA. Can, 7%) Marquette, MI based standard IPA that’s anything but. Citrusy and a twinge of hop bitterness. There’s something good in that Marquette water. I crushed a 6er of this in a day and felt the need to go to the U.P.

14) Lagunitas High Westified Imperial Coffee Stout (Imperial Stout. Bottle, 12.2%) Oh just your average run-of-the-mill imperial stout aged in High West Bourbon Barrels. And in 6packs, my God, SIX PACKS! He’s returned, albeit in scarcer quantities than I was expecting, a couple weeks ago. Disappeared quickly, to be ingested by a few lucky folks. I love coffee beers, and I don’t see that changing. Just like I don’t see this beer ever leaving the best-of list as long as they continue to brew it. Overseas conglomerate stake purchase or not, if the beer is good – I’ll drink it.

13) Toppling Goliath Double Dry-Hopped Citra Pseudo Sue (Pale Ale. Bottle, 5.8%) A prime example of a big-bodied pale ale injected with a double dose of Citra hops. Massive notes of tangerine and orange, with a gorgeous brilliant golden body. The love affair with this Iowa brewery continues. Sosus might be in this spot had I got a chance to imbibe it this year.

12) Sierra Nevada Celebration (IPA. Bottle & Tap, 6.8%) Commercially available, well, everywhere, this beer is the opposite of a whale. You take this beer for granted. Hell, we all do. A wonderful representation of a fresh hop beer at a great price. You know how cost ineffective it is to use whole-cone hops in every beer you make? Sierra could cut corners, but they don’t. All they do is continue to make fantastic beers at great prices for beer lovers of all types. It’s always great, and it’ll always be there for you come November with it’s big flowery bouquet, perfectly balanced bitterness, and it’s benchmark flavor. I had this beer many different ways in 2016 – on draft, on cask, from the tank at the source(!), and in the bottle. It’s just so good every time. Like a loyal family dog, that Celebration.

11) Bells Barrel-Aged 30th Anniversary (Imperial Stout. Tap, 14.1%) – Commemorating their 30th anniversary (wait what?), Bell’s developed a hearty Russian imperial stout. Then they said, “Hey let’s let this age for 10 months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels”. And all was right in the world. Lucky to be one of the folks who enjoyed a pour on draft at Benno’s. Divine in every sense of the word – rich, complex, oaky chocolate. No barrel burn – just supreme confidence in a glass.

10) Saison DuPont (Saison. Bottle, 6.5%) Fight me.

9) Central Waters Cassian Sunset (Barrel aged/spiced stout. Bottle & tap, 10.5%) It’s seems like this beer came out years ago. Really just 11 months ago. This new offering from Wisconsin’s best barrel-aging program featured local coffee tangoing with cinnamon and vanilla beans. Scary drinkable, given the fact that it was 10+%. A wonderful blend that didn’t have any one element dominate the brew. Heavy on the roast, coffee, and a touch of vanilla sweetness and cinnamon spice. Think of Abraxas’ younger 12oz brother. Great beer, one that I hope they continue to make every year.

8) Central Waters Eighteen (Barrel aged Stout. Bottle & tap, 11%) Amherst’s Central Waters anniversary stout bombers are the only reason I leave Milwaukee county in January.

7) Bruery Terreux Les Ronces (Wild ale. Bottle, 6%) So at the beginning of the year, a couple of guys and I went in on a Reserve Society membership. It was costly. I didn’t even buy that many bottles, so it could have been much, much worse. This brew in particular made the membership completely worthwhile. Let’s go to the label to get your tastebuds tapdancin’:
Loosely translated as “The Brambles”, Les Ronces is rooted in Southern California charm. The juicy fruit was commercially brought to life near Bruery Terreux at Knott’s farm in Buena Park, California in the early 1930s. Since their peak in popularity, the berries have become more scarce and elusive, and at the same time, an ideal cohort for our wildly traditional bière. In Les Ronces, the boysenberries impart a reddish-purple hue to the oak-aged ale, with their sweet-tart flavor profile complementing the sour blonde base in a light jammy, puckering and refreshing fashion.
Yeah, it was incredible.

6) Arclight Soursmith Kriek (Wild ale. Draft, 4%) FOBAB, you were a highlight of 2016. You mean to tell me EVERYTHING is barrel aged? Sure, I’ll attend. I know nothing about Arclight besides that they reside in Michigan and that they make tasty beers. I’ve never been to Belgium, but I have a feeling this tastes like the krieks they make over yonder. Simply put: American sour ale aged in wine barrels on cherries and fermented with wild yeast and bacteria harvested from local orchards in SW Michigan. Utterly stunning on draft. Jam.

5) Toppling Goliath Imperial Golden Nugget (Double IPA. Bottle, 8%) This 100IBU double IPA featured an emperor penguin in royalty garb on its badass label. The brilliant yellow-golden hue invited every sip to be cherished and praised. Everything about it was great and I’m angry I don’t have more.

4) Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis (Barrel aged wild ale. Draft, 5.2%) Yeah, I know, this list is getting preposterous at this point.  My favorite at FOBAB was this Smuckers-jelly approved beverage. Purple-drank in a glass packed full of blackberries and a sour, oaky backbone. I feel as this is what ascending into heaven tastes like.

3) Lindemanns Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene (Kriek lambic. Bottle, 7%) I don’t know a lot about beer, but what I do know is this one is most likely my favorite lambic I’ve ever had. I just continued to buy it throughout the year. Beer share? Get it. Friend’s birthday? I’ll bring one. New puppy? Here let’s open this. Flag day? Better go pick one up.  Seek this out if you haven’t had a chance to try it yet. I’m sure there are some high end stores in WI that still have this collecting dust.

2) Perennial Abraxas (Imperial Stout. Bottle, tap. 10%) Shocker, I know. The way Perennial seems to effortlessly blend all the ingredients in this beer deserves a Nobel prize. I dislike spicy beers, yet love this one. My love affair with it continues.

1) Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight (Imperial coffee stout. Bottle, 12%) For the love of God, the hunt for this beer is absolutely worth it. I don’t even care anymore. I’m usually one to make fun of folks that are willing to give up their cellar/wedding ring/first born to get their hands on a beverage that you’re just gonna piss out of your body in the end, but sweet Jesus this beer might be worth it. Are we POSITIVE this isn’t barrel aged? A mega stout packed with coffee with little hugs of maple and vanilla. A brew so complex, I want to punch myself in the face for trying to determine what’s happening with it. Stands up to the hype and spits down on the peasants below it. Price points be damned, this is my favorite beer of the year. (Thanks Ben P!)

Thanks for reading this thing. I don’t have pictures this time because WordPress isn’t working properly. I’ll add some later.

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Trip Into the World of Lagunitas Brewing – Chicago

One of the many great things about living in Milwaukee is its close proximity to Chicago.  You know, that real city to our south. Two weekends ago I had the privilege of attending my first FOBAB. Last weekend, a getaway adventure with my companion to see the fine folks at the kinda-new Lagunitas Brewing Company.

Lagunitas is just one of those breweries that people seem to either love or hate. They’ve got an outspoken owner, a tendency to overhop the hell out of everything, a big-ol corporate 50% buyout, and the whole ‘weed is everything’ thing. But something has to be said about how an early 90’s startup brewery who really didn’t know what they were doing helped launch an entire style trend. Say what you will about their beers – the flagship IPA has steered so many people into the world of other higher-end beers, is widely available, and when fresh – is extremely tough to beat.

The scope of Lagunitas Chicago can’t really be seen from the outside. The exterior seems to stretch on forever, but maybe “just” a city block or two. But think about that – a goliath white-sided warehouse in the middle of a residential area making 600,000+ bbls a year. Housed in a former movie studio lot, it’s hard to explain just how large it is. Getting to the taproom inside is a journey in itself. A blue lighted hallway with disco balls, lazers, and a familiar Gene Wilder “Pure Imagination” tune sets the mood for what you’ll see – which actually can sometimes defy explanation. (Note – I can’t imagine the folks at the check-in desk enjoy hearing that song for hours. God help them). After climbing 3 flights of stairs and following some neon signs telling you where you can and should go, you eventually arrive at the taproom. A birds-eye view of tanks, tanks, more tanks, pallets of beer, master carton cases, other things you’ve no doubt seen before in a brewery. It’s odd and wonderful at the same time to be above such a colossal empire.

What about the beers though? I opted to go with the sampler because I’m an indecisive glutton and wanted to refresh my memory on some old favorites. Needed to have an IPA from the teat, of course. Brought back memories of years ago when beer was fun, and people didn’t take themselves so seriously. Tasted like danky jog down memory lane. Others I tried were Nighttime black IPA, a seasonal one I always enjoy due to the big, roasty malt backbone. I got chocolate and roast coffee next to sticky hops. For someone who normally doesn’t understand black IPAs, I dug it. Also got a chance to try the new Dark Swan sour, a prickly purple brew that wasn’t too extreme in any sense. Really liked this one and I’m glad our area will see some some draft. Last but not least – their Imperial Stout. One of their least hoppy offerings, this 9.9% beverage is sneaky delicious. Revisit this if you haven’t in awhile.

Overall: A great taproom, with awesome food options (Nachos were A+). Friendly staff, fun and fresh beers – and an ungodly amount of space. THERE’S JUST SO MUCH ROOM. Gotta believe there’s built-in room to grow here. Worth the hour and a half trip south, fun stimuli for your eyes and taste buds await. Check it:

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FOBAB 2016: I Got Wood

The Festival of Barrel Aged Beer (or FOBAB, as the kids call it) was held at the UIC forum this past weekend. Presented by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, the 14th Annual (14th!!!) gathering spans 2 days of 3 total 4-hour sessions (make sense?). Boasting 179 brewers and over 420 beers aged in some type of barrel, this festival is not for the faint of heart or weak of palate. As a FOBAB virgin, not having a game plan going into it was both exciting and scary. I was lucky enough to acquire a ticket from a friend who was unable to attend the Saturday afternoon session. Tickets were $60 a piece and I’m told they typically sell out online within minutes of becoming available.

A friend and I took the train to the city of sausages and arrived around noon. Shortly thereafter got in line outside with a bunch of men in Dickie’s brewery workshirts. Like cattle being herded, we broke through the gates and into a room where all dreams come true. FOBAB is real, and it’s spectacular.

FOBAB entries fit (in most instances) into one of the following categories: Strong Porter/Stout, Specialty Strong Porter/Stout, Barleyine/Wheatwine, Classic, Strong Pale, Strong Dark, Fruit, Specialty/Experimental, Wild Beer/Brett, Wild Beer/Sour, Wild Beer/Sour w Fruit, and Cider/Mead/Perry. Upon entry into a much-too-dimly-lit conference room, eyes were wild to scan the various beers and brewers, which were separated into rows with the above categories. On the far side of the venue, neckbeards assembled in droves to try the strong and specialty porters/stouts. This far end of the room was barely walkable throughout the entire 4 hour session. A printed program was necessary in navigating where you wanted to visit next. Each brewery was manned by a volunteer, typically pouring from pitchers tapped from 1/6bbls.


This can’t be understated: The sheer volume of fantastic beers at this festival is daunting. So many of them are specialty one-offs, with various barrel treatments or fruit additions not normally found on your high end bottle shop shelf. Jealousy creeped in slowly as I realized that Chicago does get many of these breweries that are unattainable in WI – Firestone Walker, Jester King, Wicked Weed, Fremont and what have you. Being overly selective is almost a necessity in a room full of whales. As the minutes turned to hours, awards started to roll out. A woman screaming into a microphone gave us mispronounced breweries and beer names that won gold, silver, and bronze medals. Here are those winners, via the fellas at The majority of winners were from IL, but there were a few from WI, MI, and CA that made the cut as well. As the medalists were called, folks scurried over to where they were being poured to try a 2oz sample of what judges deemed best. I took this opportunity to continue walking casually up to tables that had no lines. I enjoyed this option.

My favorite beers
Picking favorites here is another tough task, as nearly everything I tried was remarkable. There were very few duds in the 20+ (???) beverages I tasted. It’s real easy to get buck fucking wild at this show. Decided to exhibit a little restraint and take it easy. Glad I did. Here are my winners.

5) Hailstorm / Transient collaboration “Agnitio” – winning the gold in the wild beer with Brett category was this fine beverage from Hailstorm and Transient. A funky saison aged in oak and then aged longer in red wine barrels. Dry hopped with Hull Melon hops. Not something I’d usually dig, but this liquid was so complex, deep, and funky to an impossible degree. Really great stuff, and from a brewery I hadn’t previously heard of in Hailstorm.

4) Perrin “No Rules” – I did not mark this a zero, I marked it a 10. I’d heard about this one from some Michigan friends, and now I know whey they go ape shit for it. Completely over the top, like dessert on dessert. No Rules is a big porter aged in bourbon barrels with a heavy addition of cinnamon, coconut, and turbinado sugar. A sticky sweet 15% behemoth. A standout for me in the specialty strong porter/stout category.

3) Smylie Brothers Brewing “Gin Barrel Farmhouse” – Admittedly I’m a sucker for anything aged in gin barrels. I love how the wood + ingredients impart an herbal, juniper/berry/sage spice into the liquid, if done correctly. I’d never had anything from Smylie Brothers, or Chicago Distilling for that matter. But this straw-colored saison was expertly balanced and blended with the aforementioned botanical gin flavors from the barrel they used. A great option in between massive stouts and tongue-puckering sour/acidic fruit beers. At 5.75%, I considered going back for more.

2) Jester King “Nocturn Chrysalis” – In the annex room of wild sours with fruit and the cider/meads sat the most dazzling beers of the entire fest. While I was unable to try the much-talked about Weldwork Peach Climacteric beer (I may have been the only attendee to not get a chance to imbibe this), I did try the Grape Kool-Aid colored Nocturn Chrysalis. Sour, puckery, Smuckers jammy sour pop. A glorious representation of a neutral wine barrel-aged sour refermented with blackberries. Only 5.5%, these guys simply do no wrong in my book. A stunning purple hue, with fresh picked berries in the aroma. Mess with Texas.

1) Arclight “Soursmith Kriek” – My personal best in show. From the program: “American sour ale (wheat ale) aged in wine barrels on cherries and fermented with wild yeast and bacteria harvested from local orchards in southwest Michigan”. A perfect rendition of an American Kriek, dark cherries and plum notes throughout a highly carbonated masterpiece. Like liquefied cherry pie; would consider kicking kittens for another taste. I think it’s warranted. Sounds like a trip to southwest Michigan is looming quicker than I thought. I’m not alone in this one either – it won gold in the Wild Sours with Fruit category.

FOBAB was an absolutely amazing time. If you ever have the chance to go – do that. The sheer scale of amazing beer available is tough to navigate in the moment, just like it’s hard for me to explain here. Take a look at some visual aides below.

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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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