Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pale Ale, Pt. II

Yesterday we began our dissection of the term "pale ale" with a brief history of the emergence of the term, and subsequent tweaking to get India Pale Ale (IPA). I mentioned at the end of the article that legendary brewer Bass had copied Hodgson's pale ales to gain access to the Indian market (in part due to loss of the Baltic market because of the Napoleonic War). "But wait," you might say, "Bass doesn't taste like an IPA. It might be a pale ale, but it tastes more like a North American Amber Ale." Well read on dear beer-lover, there are explanations for this.

First, to quote the old Olympia slogan (a low-rent beer from the Pacific Northwest that was eventually bought by Miller and closed in 2003), "It's the water." Bass was brewed in Burton-on-Trent, where the water has a very high sulfate content. The nature of the hard water allowed Bass (and others) to use high hop levels without getting a piercing bitterness. According to

The secret to the Burton brewers' success came from the water, an ingredient often downplayed in beer recipe formulation. The sulfates of the Trent basin helped the Burton beers achieve their clarity and bitterness and allowed the Burton brewers to far exceed Hodgson's India Ale in clarity, hopping rate, and marketability. The high sulfate content allowed brewers to use hopping rates well beyond that compatible with the carbonate water of London. Sulfates actually change the mouthfeel and perception of bitterness. High sulfate content results in a sharp, clean bitterness, unlike the harsh clinging bitterness of highly hopped beers brewed with water high in carbonates.

Second, while IPAs have shown a considerable boom in the United States in the last 20 years, there is some varience within the style, and thus some varience in the American thought of what an IPA is. Additionally, modern British IPAs are not really true IPAs at all, and are in fact more like English bitters. More on bitters later, but first you're probably getting thirsty. Allow me a suggestion for what I think is a good representation of what these original IPAs were.

A balanced IPA that is high in hop aroma and alcohol, yet has some malt complexity to balance it out, is Anchor's Liberty Ale. Introduced in 1975, this San Francisco based beer is between gold and amber in color, and uses top fermenting ale yeast. Additionally the beer is dry-hoppped, with hops added to the brew during maturation, a process that was often done in the old days for insurance against microbes before a long sea voyage. Despite the dry-hopping, this isn't a "hop for the sake of hops" brew, as it is just slightly sweet, balanced with malt and a nice diversion from the hop-bomb ales of the West Coast. Put this one somewhere between Bass, and the American hop-drop kick. Now back to the story.

With IPAs emerging as their own style, there needed to be an easy differentiation between these pale ales and the beer being produced for the English domestic market. While many brewers continued to market their pale ales, pubgoers came up with a new name to separate them from IPAs and the Burton exports: bitter.

The term "bitter" for a type of beer grew directly out the development of pale ale. The pale ales produced for sale at home were generally lower in alcohol and hops than their IPA counterparts, and didn't need the maturation process that an IPA did. They were "running" beers and could be served after just a few days in a cellar. Somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, the terms pale ale and bitter were used interchangeably in the UK.

As bitters evolved into an entity onto themselves, variations emerged within the style. Bitters can be almost as dark as a stout, or approaching a golden ale, although they are generally a deeper bronze or copper color. There are best bitters, special bitters, and extra special bitters (ESB), which ususally signifies different alcohol levels. There is no general agreement as to what constitutes "ordinary," "best," or "extra special," in bitters, and there can be varience from brewery to brewery.

Bitter is used much less frequently in the US versus the UK (although ESBs are easy to find), and generally refers to a pale ale with a lower hop content than the typical American pale ale (APA).

More on bitters and APAs tomorrow.

Links of Interest:
Anchor Brewing

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IPA, APA, ESB, WTF? (Pale Ale, Pt. I)

With so many beers out there claiming to be “pale ale,” how does one know what to expect in a brew? There are India Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, Extra Pale Ales, Bitters, the list goes on. In the next couple of installments, we’ll get to the bottom of the history and stylistic variants of the pale ale, and offer some recommendations too.

The matriarch of this family of beer can be traced back to England, where brewers were looking to develop a more consistent and paler variety of ale. Unfortunately, the wood kilns used to roast malts often produced off-flavors and very dark malts. When coke was produced from coal in the 18th century, it allowed for a high heat pale malt that could be produced consistently. These original pale ales were a notable departure from the sweet English brown ales, as well as the dark porters, and were enjoyed by drinkers as far back as the 1750’s.

An export problem created the first split in the pale ale family tree, when British brewers were trying to overcome the long shelf life and resistance to temperature fluctuations that would be needed in brew headed to their tropical colonies, especially India. Continual rocking and high temperatures were not friendly to British browns and porters, not to mention chugging a porter in the Indian heat doesn’t sound all that appealing, does it? Shipping rates to colonial India were low (thanks in part to the value of silk and spices that could be shipped back), so the brewers that came up with a solution to the sea voyage would be rewarded handsomely with profit.

The solution was found in brewing a pale ale that had a higher alcohol content and more hops, which made it inhospitable for microbes. The beer also matured during the long voyage, giving it a flavor all its own. This recipe tweak is purportedly attributable to George Hodgson, who was subsequently copied by many brewers, including the legendary pale ale brewery Bass, and the India Pale Ale, or IPA, was born.

More splits in the pale ale tree to come tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Beer of the Week - Update

Our BOTW from last Friday was Ale Asylum's Ambergeddon. I received an email today from Bandit at Ale Asylum detailing the beer a bit more, and I thought I would share.

Ambergeddon is our second best selling beer, behind Hopalicious. We’re very proud of the fact that our hoppiest beers are the ones doing the best. Hopheads may be willing to try anything associated with the words ‘hops’, but to be part of a hophead’s consistent rotation is another story altogether.

True. I'm not one of those hophead's that jumps at hops for the sake of hops, but I do get that taste from time to time, and Ambergeddon is a beer that I keep coming back to.

As with all of our beers, Ambergeddon is unfiltered, which reduces the possibility that the beer will come in contact with oxygen (the death of shelf life in beers). It is also all natural, with no additives, preservatives, fruit, horse hooves, extracts, get the picture. Water, malt, hops, yeast. This is what we mean by “Fermented in Sanity”, our tagline. We brew bold, unaplogetic beers for those who appreciate quality and consistency.

Beers brewed in the Reinheitsgebot fashion. I appreciate that, and I appreciate Bandit at Ale Asylum writing me back to share some of the Ale Asylum story.

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Bad News for Beer Drinkers Everywhere

According to an AP article, a shortage of hops, as well as rising costs of fuel, glass, and aluminum are going to push up beer prices in the near future.

This is a great time to support your local beer economy, and buy from your local craft brewer.

Full story here.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Beer of the Week

Even though the last two beers of the week were from south-central Wisconsin, we promise that not all of them will be; however, it is Amber's birthday today, so in addition to this BOTW being a delicious brew, it is a nod to Amber. Happy Birthday! With that, we’re thirsty to name Ale Asylum’s Ambergeddon as our recommendation for weekend libation (of course, in moderation).

Our BOTW comes from right in our own back yard, Madison, Wisconsin. Ale Asylum brews a wide variety of beers including a stout, an American pale ale, a blonde ale, and a Belgian dubbel.

Ambergeddon is hard to classify. The brew is a cloudy unfiltered rich red-auburn and has a thick but short head. It has some of the maltiness of a traditional amber ale, but it has hops in an almost IPA level. The mingling of the hops and the malt is one of the qualities that make this beer stand out. Is it a hoppy beer, or a malty beer? It's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.

The perfect balancing of malt and hops makes this a beer you can have again and again. It satisfies a wide array of tastes and has a cool name to boot. Congrats to the Ale Asylum on Ambergeddon for being our second Beer of the Week.

Links of Interest:
Ale Asylum

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brasserie V

Amber and I stumbled across a very nice suprise while shopping for Halloween wear yesterday: a new restaurant and "tap room" on Monroe Street in Madison called Brasserie V. A Brasserie is a fancy word for a place that is a beer bar, that also usually serves hearty, simple or cheap food. While Brasserie V certainly lives up to the first part of the definition, its food is not what I would call simple, nor is it cheap, but it is fantastic.

Let me start first with the main part of this definition, and the main reason that you should visit V (or this blog): beer. V has an amazing selection of taps, if a bit heavy on the Belgian side (not a bad thing), including many brews rarely seen on taps this side of the Atlantic.

The selection is worth listing in its entirety: Abbaye des Rocs Triple Imperiale (10% ABV, Belgium), Ale Asylum Diablo (8.5% Wisconsin), Anchor Porter (5.6% California), Brugse Zot (6% Belgium), Capital Autumnal Fire (8.5% Wisconsin), Chimay Triple (8% Belgium), Corsendonk Pater (7.5% Belgium), Duchesse De Bourgone (5% Belgium), Erdinger Weiss Dunkel (5.6% Germany), La Trappe Quadrupel (10% The Netherlands), Murphy's Stout (4% Ireland), St Bernardus ABT 12 (10% Belgium), St Bernardus Tripel (8% Belgium), Unibroue Chambly Noire (6% Canada). I won't even go into their extensive bottle selection that includes gems like Konigshoeven Dubbel, Westmalle Triple, Dogfishhead Pumpkin Ale, NC Brother Thelonius, and Ayinger Weiss.

The brews are served in appropriate glasses, sometimes matching the brewery from which they came. They also have beers on special for you bargain hunters out there, and wine for those of you that should probably be reading a different blog.

The food had a French meets American Posh feel, with a diverse selection of sandwiches, salads, and entrees that can cater to most palettes, from Pomme Frites and Cheese Plates, to a portabello sandwich and BBQ pork with red cabbage. I had the Wisconsin Rainbow Trout, which was cooked to perfection and stuffed with a garlic and leek mixture that made the fish melt in your mouth. Amber chose the Prince Edward Island mussels, which were served in a white wine, butter and garlic broth. The mussels were a fine quality, not rubbery, and were much complemented by the broth.

Between the amazing beer selection, excellent food, and attentive service, we think we may have found a new favorite in Madison. If you live here, go, and if you don't, make a point of visiting when you are here.

Links of Interest:
Brasserie V

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Brewpub Expansion in WI

It indeed appears that the ceiling on brewpubs will be somewhat lifted to allow for 6 locations and 10,000 barrels produced annually.

More here.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article here.

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New York Plays Catch Up for Once

An article in the New York Times talks about the growth of cask-conditioned ale in New York City. Welcome to the rest of the country 5 years ago New York! You can knock our fashion here in fly-over land, but we've got you on beer.

In all seriousness, there is some good info in there on casks, so check it out.

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Good News for MN Beer Lovers

Having lived in the great state of Minnesota for 8 years, I know first hand that the state suffers from a severe lack of craft brewing. The two large independent breweries, August Schell of New Ulm, and Summit Brewing of St. Paul, are woefully inadequate at satisfying the needs of a discerning and thirsty populace.

Well there is a star on the horizon Minnesotans. At this year's Great Taste of the Midwest (held annually in Madison), we had the good fortune of sampling the wares of a new St. Paul suds producer, Flat Earth Brewing Company. We sampled the Bermuda Triangle Tripel, which was a tad sweet for my liking, however good, but Amber found it excellent.

Today is a big day for Minnesota and Flat Earth, as Chisago Lakes Distribution picked up 100 cases of their Belgian Pale Ale in 22oz. bottles. Where are these 22's going? According to Flat Earth the full scope is not known, but here is a quick list: Cellars - Roseville, Cellars - St. Paul, Cellars - Eagan, Cellars - Plymouth, Princeton's - Maple Grove, Surdyk's - Minneapolis (Next Week), Dolce Vita - Chaska (Next Week).

Drink up Twin Cities!

Links of Interest:
Flat Earth Brewing

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Expansion for WI Brewpubs Legalized

Wisconsin’s legislature has finally agreed on a budget in what was an embarrassing and arduous session of negotiations. Wisconsin’s budget agreement is nearly four months past the deadline and the bickering in Madison has been rancorous and tiresome.

But enough politics, what does this have to do with beer? Well as part of the budget wrangling, rules on breweries were changed. Wisconsin had a law on the books dating back to the end of Prohibition that stated that any brewery making more than 4,000 barrels of beer per year cannot sell their own beer at more than two retail locations that they operate. For example the Great Dane Brewpub of Madison recently opened a third location on the city’s west side. Since it was the Dane’s third establishment that they owned, and they produce more then 4,000 barrels annually, they were prohibited from selling their own beer at the new location.

The law was intended to separate the channels of delivery to prevent a beer production/distribution/retail monopoly, but it unintentionally hindered small chains of brewpubs like the Great Dane and the Milwaukee Ale House.

Although the official details are not out yet, it’s being reported that the rules have changed to allow for the expansion of brewpubs like the Great Dane. No word yet on what the change is specifically, although it could be the “10,000 barrel, 6 location” compromise that was considered by the Senate Committee on Transportation, Tourism, and Insurance, which also apparently handles beer.

We’ll keep you in the loop as this story continues to brew.

Links of Interest:
AP Story
Great Dane
Milwaukee Ale House

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beer of the Weekend

Now that you have some background on Trappist beers, allow us to get personal with one in our "Beer of the Weekend" segment. BOTWE won't be a regular feature like BOTW, but it does give the authors a handy excuse to chug different beers at the end of a long work week.

Chimay is one of only six Belgian breweries that produce Trappist beers. Chimay is brewed by S.A. Bières under the supervision of the Abbey of Scourmont. Established in 1850, the beer is still brewed within the walls of the abbey and is bottled a few miles away.

Chimay produces three different beers as well as a smattering of cheeses. Of these beers, the nod to BOTWE goes to Chimay Grande Réserve, a.k.a. Chimay Blue. Chimay Blue is a strong hearty beer, clocking in at 9% ABV, with notes of roasted malts. The brew has a nice, somewhat floral bouquet, but it is not as pronounced as I would expect from a beer of this style. Blue is top-fermented (ale-style) and refermented in the bottle, and for ideal tasting, the beer is not pasteurized. Chimay blue is slightly sweet, but it has a nice acidity and bitterness on the back of the tounge, making it less sweet then some other similar Belgians.

Chimay is best served in a chalice-style (a.k.a. "Gourmet") glass, so that you can enjoy the aromas and color of the brew; however, if you're out hiking on a beautiful fall day with good friends, please don't hesitate to take our amateur advice and pass the bottle around.

Links of Interest:


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Put La Trappe in La Bouche

With all this talk of Belgians and Tripels, I thought maybe I would shed some light on a part of Belgium’s rich brewing tradition: Trappists. Not all Belgian beers are Trappist, and not even all Trappists are Belgian. Trappist beers are named for an informal term referring to the monks that brew them.

Trappists are named for the abbot Armand Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé, who became abbot at the abbey of La Trappe in Soligny (France) in 1663. Rancé rebelled against the liberalization of the Cistercian order of monks. He advocated for a more austere lifestyle in the tradition of Saint Benedict, and a return to monastic traditions (ironically originally insisting that only water was drunk). In 1666 this led to a splintering of the Cistercian order and the “Trappists” were born.

In the Benedictine model, monks were to work: "back to God by the labour of obedience, from whom they had departed by the idleness of disobedience". Some monks took to agriculture and others to crafts; cheese making was common trade. Being that there was no ban in the order of alcoholic beverages, some made beer or wine.

Trappist and Belgian beers increased greatly in popularity in the late 20th Century and lead to abuse of the term “Trappist” in reference to beer. In response, 8 “Trappist” monasteries formed the International Trappist Association (ITA) in 1997. The ITA laid down criteria for what it takes to be labeled “Trappist,” and developed a logo to be displayed on products signifying that the criteria had been met. The ITA apparently takes these rules quite seriously, going so far as to eject one of the original abbeys (Brouwerij de Koningshoeven, a.k.a. La Trappe of the Netherlands) in 1999 for signing a brewing agreement with an external company that did not give the monks sufficient supervision over the process (one of the criteria). La Trappe was allowed to use the ITA logo again in late 2005 after sufficient modifications were made. La Trappe is marketed in the US under the name Konigshoeven, although during the interim the brews could be found labeled under their La Trappe name.

Trappist beers should not be confused with Abbey beers, which often take their name from monasteries that no longer brew. Even those few that are made within the walls of an abbey are not necessarily Trappist. Like Abbey Beers, Trappist doesn’t actually refer to a particular style of beer, as the monasteries can brew various varieties. Most are top-fermented, and the “Single, Dubbel, Tripel” designations are common (loosely referring to alcohol content), but there are also witbiers, bocks and blondes.

Currently there are 7 Trappist monasteries that brew beer: six in Belgium and 1 (La Trappe) in the Netherlands, but the possibility of other Trappist monasteries beginning to brew or restarting brewing does exist. More to come on Belgian beer and Trappist ales later in the week.

Link of Interest:
La Trappe
Press Release regarding La Trappe's ban
St. Benedict

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Beer of the Week

As a regular feature here on Beer on the Brain, we’d like to offer you a suds suggestion heading into your weekend. Due to a lack of creative power, we’ve decided to call this segment our Beer of the Week.

Amber & I don’t agree on every beer (Lakefront Brewery’s Pumpkin Lager for example), but our inaugural BOTW is one we can: Lake Louie’s Brother Tim’s Tripel.

Hailing from Arena, Wisconsin (about 30 miles northwest of Madison), Lake Louie produces a wide variety of beers: several ales, a witbier, and a couple of porters and stouts. There is definitely no shortage of delicious tripels out there, and a few perhaps better than Lake Louie’s, but that critique is not to detract from this excellent beer.

It pours a cloudy orange color, a little darker than many tripels out there and has an excellent fruity aroma, ringing with citrus. There is a minimal head to it, and I would put the carbonation at moderate. The beer feels good to drink; it has a thick mouthfeel, and is simultaneously smooth with a hint of tartness. The alcohol is not pronounced and the beer has a sweet and spicy finish.

If you like Unibroue's La Fin du Monde, then you should give Brother Tim's Tripel a try.

Links of Interest:
Lake Louie

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wisconsin on Tap

As mentioned here, Amber and I recently went to a beerfest called Wisconsin on Tap in Wisconsin Dells. It was part of their “Harvest Fest,” and honestly, it would not have been worth it to venture up there if there weren’t 27 microbrewers to accompany the pumpkin painting, goat petting, and craft buying.

Overall, the beerfest was great. I thought the idea of a Wisconsin only fest was a good one, and there were breweries from all over the state, from Milwaukee to Superior. The lines were never long, the vendors were friendly, and in case of rain, the stands were all covered under a massive tent. There were also a mustard tasting as well as a cheese tasting, which were nice touches of Wisconsin culinary tradition, and a nice break from the suds as well (pacing oneself is key, people; chug in moderation).

As part of the beerfest, they passed out rating cards, so all participants could rate the brews available. It was a cool idea, but the cards did not include any of the special tappings, not to mention that the beers listed were often not the ones available, or the listed beers were assigned to the wrong brewery. Fortunately we were prepared with our own notebook to rate and remember the beers and breweries.

Before we give out the full list of our ratings, I wanted to talk stout before to prep our fine readers for our winner, our favorite beer of the fest: Delafield Brewhaus’ Czar’s Choice Bourbon Stout.

Russian or Imperial Stouts were first brewed in England, and featured a high alcohol and hops content to help preserve the beer for its long sea voyage to the Baltic. The style nearly died out after the Bolshevik revolution, when exporting to Russia halted and production was switched to the domestic market. The beer no longer matured in barrels along the voyage, instead being immediately thrust onto the market. Apparently this did little to advance the beer as a style, and it faded away until being picked up by Samuel Smith’s.

Delafield’s Czar is indeed a “beefed up” version of an English sweet stout, and is aged for 12 months in a barrel as well, in this case, a bourbon barrel. Now I don’t think that the original imperial stout had the lactose in it that Delafield’s does, but the brew had a heavy coating body, and was sweeter than most stouts, almost mimicking the sweetness one would find in a wheated bourbon like Maker’s Mark. The combination of the bourbon taste with the milk stout sweetness is what really set this brew apart for us. It was smooth and heavy, with a complexity added by the bourbon that would be impossible to replicate. This is not a beer one has with dinner; this is a beer one has as desert. Our congratulations go out to Delafield Brewhaus. They’re located about halfway between Madison and Milwaukee, right off of Interstate 94. If you’re in the neighborhood, pay them a visit. They may not have the Czar’s Choice, but there are plenty of other beers to quaff as well.

Now without further ado, here is a complete list of our rankings, with 5 being the most delicious, and 1 being stagnant pond water. Anything 3 and above is definitely worth trying. Cheers!

Links of Interest:
Delafield Brewhaus
Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout
Ale Asylum
Moose Jaw Brewing
The Grumpy Troll

Delafield Brewhaus (Delafield) - Czar's Choice Bourbon Stout - 5

Ale Asylum (Madison) - Happy Ending Belgian - 4.5
Moose Jaw (Wisconsin Dells) - Dunkel Weizen - 4.5
Grumpy Troll (Mt. Horeb) - Spetsnaz "CCCP" Stout - 4.5

Ale Asylum (Madison) - English Porter - 4
Cross Plains Brewery (Cross Plains) - Esser's Best - 4

Great Dane (Madison) - Drop Anchor Steem - 3.5
Delafield Brewhaus (Delafield) - Oktoberfest - 3.5
Milwaukee Brewing (Milwaukee) - Pull Chain Pale Ale - 3.5
Cross Plains Brewery (Cross Plains) - Cross Plains Special - 3.5
JT Whitney's (Madison) - Heartland Weiss - 3.5
Furthermore Beer (Black River Falls) - Knot Stock Pale Ale - 3.5

Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee) - Bourbon Cherry - 3
Great Dane (Madison) - Oktoberfest - 3
Great Dane (Madison) - American Pale Ale - 3
Sand Creek (Black River Falls) - Cranberry Ale - 3
Sand Creek (Black River Falls) - Stout - 3
BluCreek Brewing (Madison) - Wild Blueberry Ale - 3
Milwaukee Brewing (Milwaukee) - Louie's Demise Ale - 3
Grumpy Troll (Mt. Horeb) - Oktoberfest - 3
Furthermore Beer (Black River Falls) - Proper English Ale - 3

Pangaea Brewing (Wisconsin Rapids) - Lilja's Wisconsin Heifer Weizen - 2.5
Thirsty Pagan (Superior) - Gicchi Gummi Golden - 2.5
JT Whitney's (Madison) - Badger Red Ale 2.5
Great Dane (Madison) - Pilsner - 2.5
Tyranena (Lake Mills) - Bourbon Barrel Ale - 2.5

Pangaea Brewing (Wisconsin Rapids) - Lilja's Pulling Boat Pale Ale - 2
Furthermore Beer (Black River Falls) - Fallen Apple - 2
Furthermore Beer (Black River Falls) - Three Feet Deep Stout - 2
Stone Cellar (Appleton) - Ankle Biter Amber - 2
Delafield Brewhaus (Delafield) - American Ale - 2

Minhas Craft Brewery (Monroe) - Mountain Creek - 1.5

Minhas Craft Brewery (Monroe) - Lazy Mutt Farmhouse Ale - 1
Stone Cellar (Appleton) - Vanilla Stout - 1

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Black & Tan

All this talk of stouts has reminded me of one of my favorite bar beverages I pull out of my beer repertoire occasionally when seeking variety: the Black & Tan. A Black & Tan is a mix of any stout or porter and a lighter ale or lager.

Many Americans know a Black & Tan as a mix of Guinness and Bass, separated for visual effect by pouring the Guinness over a teaspoon. The nitrogen carbonation (nitrogenation?) of Guinness versus the traditional carbonation of Bass allows the Guinness to perch atop the “cocktail” for the duration of the drink.

An additional twist on this beer cocktail is the Half & Half, which substitutes Harp Lager for Bass Ale. The name change is not just to differentiate the use of a Harp versus a Bass, but has specific political connotations as well. The Black & Tan were a paramilitary force used by the English to suppress the Irish independence movement. While supposedly deployed to fight the Irish Republican Army, the Black & Tans developed a reputation of harassing and assaulting civilians as well. Additionally, Bass is an English beer, while Harp is an Irish beer. In this light it’s easy to see why Irish pubgoers are not exactly lined up around the block to order a Black & Tan.

Black & Tans don’t have to come in the form of Guinness and Harp or Bass, in fact many are already premixed. Mississippi Mud, produced in Utica, NY is an all-American black and tan that doesn’t require special bartender teaspoons, or even a glass to be enjoyed. It’s certainly not the best B&T I’ve ever had, but it’s hard to resist drinking out of that widemouth “white lightning” jug. For a Midwestern example, try Gray’s Black & Tan, from Janesville, Wisconsin, another example of a premixed.

If you’ve never experience the flavor and sight of a black and tan, I suggest you order one the next time you find yourself in an Irish pub. The visual effect alone is enough to justify the purchase.

Also, I’m putting as one of the websites below, but navigate at your own peril. It made me feel like I’d had a few B&Ts when I went there.

Links of Interest:

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


We gave you some background on Oktoberfest, and some Oktoberfest beers back here. Well, who would we be to talk about Oktoberfest with out attending one, or in this case, throwing a fest of our own.

Two weekends ago Amber & I hosted our very own Oktoberfest celebration in the spirit of the season. Although the weather was not very autumn-like, the event was a huge success, complete with grilled meats and other delicious Amber-cooked foods, bocce ball, a hula-hoop chugging contest, many great friends, and of course, great beer.

As part of our party, we encouraged people to bring a 6-pack of their favorite fall beer. Not everyone’s fall beer is the same naturally, and it was a very un-fall-like 85 degrees, so some warm weather beers were represented as well. We ended up with beers from some of the world’s great brewing regions: Wisconsin, Colorado, Belgium, and of course Germany. There was pale ale for the hop-heads, weisses and wits for the wheat fans, and of course many oktoberfests for the malt lovers.

The beer was all placed into communal coolers and made for a cornucopia of delectable fermented beverages with more than enough for every person and every palette. I highly encourage you to try this approach to throwing your own Oktoberfest party, or any other party full of beer lovers. It’s almost like your own beer festival.

The only casualty of the event was our picnic table. Please chug and lounge responsibly.


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Monday, October 15, 2007

Now that's a Stout Porter!

It was a good weekend for beer. Amber and I went to a beerfest in Wisconsin Dells called: “Wisconsin on Tap”. The event featured 27 Wisconsin microbreweries and Goose Island, a Chicago based brewery that got in on a technicality: they have “Wisconsin distribution.” I like some of Goose Island’s beers but we did not approve of them sneaking into a Wisconsin only beerfest, and didn’t drink any of their beers in silent protest. We’ll have a full review of the event later in the week, but to prepare you for some of the highlights I’ve decided to give some background on a type of beer perhaps less common than traditional ales and lagers, at least in the United States: stout.

When I first began drinking beer, I didn’t know that porters and stouts were essentially the same thing. I knew they were both similar in taste and appearance, but in my ignorance I assumed they were produced in different ways; although there are different types of stouts/porters, they are essentially of the same family.

Porters first arose in England sometime between 1730 and 1750, depending on who you ask. While some argue that the name porter came from the dark beer’s popularity among workers who carried food and goods through London, others dispute the authenticity of such notions, including Michael Jackson (the legendary beer critic, not the moonwalker). In any case porters were dark beers that generally used more roasted malts.

Brewers often made several different strengths of porter and would use certain adjectives to differentiate between the styles. Stout, long used as an adjective for “strong” beer, was used to designate strong varieties of porter. In fact, Guinness, perhaps the most well known stout in the world is a variety of porter. In 1799, the Arthur Guinness brewery stopped making ale and decided to focus efforts on its porters, one of which, the Guinness Extra Superior Porter, is the precursor of today’s Guinness Original and Guinness Extra Stout. Guinness produces dry or “Irish” stouts, but there are other varieties of stouts as well: imperial or “Russian” stouts, coffee, oatmeal, chocolate, milk and Baltic.

More to come on stouts when we discuss the Wisconsin on Tap beerfest. Now, go to your local Irish watering hole and enjoy some flavor and history by chugging a few pints of the black stuff (in moderation, of course).

Link of interest:

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Friday, October 12, 2007


This journal chronicles the beer journeys of two beer lovers from the upper Midwest, Amber Toner and Ryan Simatic. This isn’t Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer, just two amateur beer enthusiasts and their ramblings. However, if you are a casual beer lover, we’re confident that you will enjoy this journal as much as you’d enjoy a weiβ on a hot summer day.

First some background on the contributors:

Ryan Simatic

Ryan was born and raised in Brew City, USA: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Coming from a long line of suds enthusiasts, it was only a matter of time before Ryan developed the love of beer shared by his father and grandfather. Ryan also spent 8 years in Minneapolis, graduating from the University of Minnesota, before moving to another of the country’s great beer bastions, Madison, Wisconsin. Ryan has owned a small business, as well as worked for environmental advocacy. Currently Ryan works for a bank and will be attending law school beginning next September.

Amber Toner was born and raised in the beer heartland of Wisconsin, on the mean streets of a hole-in-wall town called Black Earth, where she spent her youth chug training in the cornfields of her native lands. Amber moved to Madison 8 years ago and currently works as an attorney babysitter/legal assistant, on matters of environmental and labor law. Although an equal opportunity beer drinker, Amber often gravitates towards those beers that share her name. When she is not enjoying a brew she can be found knitting and wrangling her furry babies, Brownie and Liebe, a French Bulldog and Pug, who also enjoy a few nips from mommy’s mug.

We hope you enjoy our journal, and share a delicious brew while you read.


Ryan & Amber

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If the word “Oktoberfest” was used in a word-association test, the most common response would surely be “beer.” Many cities around the world hold an Oktoberfest celebration, including: Cincinnati, Ohio; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Denver, Colorado; Blumenau, Brazil; and Hong Kong, but the fest from which all these others draw their name is held annually in München, Bayern (Munich, Bavaria).

Since its inception as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildberghausen in 1811, beer has been a central pillar in what has become a Bavarian tradition. Although beer stands long allowed fairgoers to fresco their tonsils with the Bavarian brush, the beer tents that we know and love were not added until 1896 by landlords who were backed by the local breweries.

Today Germany’s Oktoberfest draws 6 million people from all around the world to revel in Bavarian culture. The question for those of us not fortunate enough to travel to Deutschland is: what Oktoberfest beers would be good to enjoy at my local fest, or in my own home. After some exhaustive “research” we have some recommendations for you.

Aus Deutschland

Spaten Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)

According to Spaten’s website their Oktoberfestbier is brewed each spring for “das größte Volksfest der Welt” (the largest folk festival in the world), and is 5.9% alcohol. Spaten Oktoberfest is a medium bodied amber beer, just slightly sweet with a rich malt body and just enough hops for one to notice the bitterness. In contrast with many American Oktoberfest beers, it is not spicy, nor is it too sweet or rich in body to prevent you from quaffing multiple mugs of this delicious lager (Amber & Ryan encourage you to chug responsibly).

From the US

Samuel Adams Octoberfest (Boston, MA)

Sam’s Octoberfest is an excellent American variety. It has a rich copper color, and a deep malt taste that according to their website is balanced by “German noble hops.” The beer is not as sweet as Spaten’s and the hops come through a little bit more. It has a medium body and you can definitely have more than two of these in a sitting (again, please chug in moderation).

Sprecher Oktoberfest (Glendale, WI)

Established in Brew City itself, Sprecher has since moved its operations to Milwaukee’s suburb of Glendale. Sprecher has a large roster of year-round beers and sodas (try the root beer), as well as a large selection of seasonal brews of which the Oktoberfest is one. The Oktoberfest is 5.75% alcohol, and boasts a blend of Caramel, Munich, and Pale hops. The beer is exceptionally smooth, even more so than the Spaten or the Sam Adams. The body is also slightly richer than both of the aforementioned beers, but it lacks the hops bite. Compared to other Oktoberfests of the area, Sprecher wins out, so if you’re in Milwaukee make sure you have your barkeep pull the tapper on this one a few times (Amber & Ryan suggest you take a cab, drunkie).

Stay tuned for pictures from Amber & Ryan's very own Oktoberfest!

Links of interest:

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