Friday, November 30, 2007

Beer of the Week

Located in a Swiss immigrant enclave of south-central Wisconsin, New Glarus Brewing is owned by Deb and Dan carey. New Glarus produces a wide variety of brews, mostly in the Germanic style, and are probably best known for their "Spotted Cow" beer, a sweet yellow farmhouse ale with yeast in the bottle, loved by hippies and frat boys alike. But we're not here to talk about Spotted Cow, we're here to talk about the BOTW, New Glarus' latest offering "Organic Revolution."

We talked earlier this week about organic beers, and this was one of the beers I mentioned. It's not the best beer in world, but it certainly isn't bad. I like that New Glarus is responding to the progressive Wisconsin market and is offering this organic amber ale. It's a light copper color and has minimal head and carbonation. The brew uses organic Hallertau hops from Germany, and I've heard some people say it's grassy and hoppy, but to me this isn't an overly hopped beer; the organic Wisconsin malts are certainly not overshadowed. There's kind of muddled sweetness going on versus a crisp hoppiness.

This isn't New Glarus' best beer, but it's a noble effort. Support the organic revolution and pick up a six-pack of this BOTW next time you're at the store.

Links of Interest:

New Glarus Brewing

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Green Beer

No, we're not talking the dyed Miller Lite that the Holister crowd downs at the "urban" sports bar on St. Patrick's Day, we're talking environmentally friendly and tasty beer.

You would have to be living in a cave not to have noticed the explosion of the Organic foods movement over the last 10 years. Perhaps partially a reaction to the deluge of chemicals, pesticides, and general industrialization of agriculture, and perhaps part of the overall movement towards environmental sustainability, Organic products are an expanding market growing 16 percent between 2004 and 2005 and expected to grow an additional 11 percent each year through 2010.

Organic farming is nothing new. It has it's genesis in the 1930's, and has enjoyed a new life since the 1970's. As the new organic movement grew there was pressure for the USDA to step in and set a standard in what had been a patchwork of local and state organic certification. The USDA took its first steps in 1990, announcing the option of certification, and then further solidified the rules in 2000.

Although the USDA had been under considerable pressure from agribusiness, for once the government sided with the small guy. Among the practices that large agribusiness wanted to allow for organic food were: irradiation to kill bacteria, genetic modification, the use of sewer sludge as fertilizer. All three were banned by the USDA under the 2000 rules, thanks in a large part to public outcry and the objections of small organic farmers. The USDA went as far as to adopt all of the recommendations of the National Organics Standards Board, including a total ban on antibiotics in animals raised for organic meats.

With the standardization of the rules, and an obvious market demand, organic beers, wines, and spirits were a logical next step. Since all are produced using simple recipes of produce and water, there is nothing to stop producers from introducing organic beverages.

Like traditional foods, the percentage of organic beers to conventional beers is small, but it is growing. Organic beer sales have increased from $9 million in 2003 to $19 million in 2005. While total beer sales fell slightly in 2005, organics increased by 40 percent. The trend was so stark that it caught the attention of the evil empire, Anhueser-Busch, who now produces two different organic beers: Wild Hop lager and Stone Mill pale ale.

While some may look at A-B's entry into the market as a blessing, it could also be a curse. Under current regulations, beverages labeled organic have to contain at least 95% organic ingredients. A-B's organic beers use non-organic hops (they are a small fraction of the total ingredients of the beer despite a large impact on flavor), and A-B is currently lobbying the USDA to add hops to a list of "exemptions" of non-organic things that can be used in organic foods.

A-B's excuse is that the hops are not commercially available. Apparently they didn't talk to Russ Klisch of Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery. Lakefront produces an organic ESB that uses 100% organic hops, and Mr. Klisch has taken availability into his own hands, growing two fields of organic hops to be used in the beer. A-B fails to mention in their petition for the exemption that the majority of their hops for their organic beers come from fields that they own, grown in Idaho. If A-B was actually concerned about the supply of organic hops, they could simply go organic themselves.

I'm assuming that since you are reading this, you are a discerning beer consumer, so I won't recommend that you try the Bud products. Some common, yet craft brewed options come from Butte Creek, of California, and Wolaver's of Vermont. Wolaver's is brewed by Otter Creek Brewing and has a full slate of beers including a witbier, an IPA, and a brown ale. Both Wolaver's and Butte Creek can be found in about 25 states (note: even Wolaver's uses some non-organic hops to supplement its supply; its beers are made 98% organic).

There is, of course, more to being green than simply buying organic. Samuel Smith of the UK produces several organic beers, but to reach you, they have to be shipped across the Atlantic, which means more packaging and more fossil fuels burned in transport. Drinking locally is also a key part of drinking green. Fortunately there are options for those of us in the Midwest as well.

Mentioned earlier was Lakefront Brewing's Organic ESB, from Milwaukee. To me, Lakefront's ESB lacks the balance of a proper ESB. It's too hoppped without enough malt balance. It's not a bad beer, but it's certainly not great. I'm a fan in general of Lakefront beers, but although organic, ESB is one of the weaker offerings. Perhaps now with time and its homegrown hops, Lakefront can improve this one a little.

New Glarus Brewing of Wisconsin has recently released an organic of their own, called New Glarus Organic Revolution. Is Revolution an amber lager or an amber ale? It's colored and amber, and smells like a German lager, but tastes like an ale. It's medium to light bodied, with spicy, grassy hops, and a sweet malt back. I prefer it to Lakefront's organic, but I've had better from New Glarus.

Hopefully as more growers begin to offer organic options for brewers, the variety and quality of organic beers will improve. This is in part driven by market demand, so go into trying organic brews with open eyes and a green thumb. We've come a long way in the organics market, but have much further to go. I give a green thumbs up to those brewers who are leading the pack and repsonding to green beer drinkers.

Cheers to the Pioneers!

Links of Interest:

Organics on Amber's blog
Lakefront Brewing
New Glarus Brewing

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Ireland's Ancient Breweries

Is it coincidence the theories discussed were hatched after a night at the pub?

From Wired.

P.S. A "cerevisaphile" is a conessouir of ales and lagers. "Cerevisaphilic" is a made up word from what I can tell.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Beer of the Weekend

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I wasn't able to get you a Beer of the Week, so I was damn sure to get you a Beer of the Weekend.

Although the Oktoberfest/Fall season for breweries has come and gone, you can still find those straggler sixers here and there until well after Christmas. Lukcy enough for me I came across a leftover sixer of Left Hand Brewing Company's Oktoberfest.

Hailing from Longmont, Colorado, Left Hand takes its name from a English translation of a Native cheif's name, whose tribe wintered in the area. Although the brewery has been around since 1993, they did not even begin packaging in 12oz bottles until 1998 after merging with Tabernash brewery of Denver.

In addition to a their famous Sawtooth Ale, and a large selection of staples, Left Hand also produces several seasonals, including Oktoberfest. The beer is 6.0% ABV, and is dominated up front with sweet malts, like any Oktoberfest should be. It has a nice dry, clean back from the German Magnum and Vanguard hops, and is smooth and medium bodied. It doesn't have the caramel richness or malt complexity of some of the Germans, it's a bit more earthy and nutty, but it is a solid Oktoberfest and a worthy effort. Lucky for me Oktoberfest shoppers did not know of Left Hand's quality; now you do.

Link of Interest:

Left Hand Brewing Company

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Beer on the Brain's Holiday Gift Guide

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we are free to cast aside gratefulness and begin wallowing in holiday fueled consumerism in earnest. But with "Black Friday," crowded mall parking lots, gift certificates for everything imaginable, and Ebay, there is a lot to wallow through. With so many people to shop for, and so many proprietors to patronize, where does one begin? Allow us to help you with Beer on the Brain's 2007 Holiday Gift Guide.

Brewery Gear

Any beer lover loves to rep his/her favorite micro or local brewery. Heck, it's practically a required uniform for attending any beerfest. In the age of internet shopping, one doesn't need to travel to Chico to get a Sierra Nevada hoodie, one simply orders through the inter-tubes. Find a brewery from your giftee's home state, or share some local brewing lore from yours.

Lakefront Brewery E-Store
Sierra Nevada E-Store

Drinking Ware

While the can itself will suffice when chugging some Hamm's, sometimes we drinkers want a proper vessel to appreciate the color, head, and nose of a beer. There are many different styles of glassware that often correspond to a particular type of beer. There are goblets for Belgians, pilsner glasses for lagers, and of course pint glasses and mugs for the lot of them. There are many logo covered pint glasses to be had out there, but sometimes an unadorned pilsner or goblet adds a touch of class to your beer drinking experience.

Beer Advocate's glassware guide
Glassware on

Beer, duh.

If you know that your giftee is a beer lover, you could always get them something you know they will love: beer. Save the 30-pack of PBR for the next tailgate contribution, and get them something they would truly enjoy. There are sampler packs at your local beer mecca, but for something more upscale, consider a beer of the month club. There is considerable latitude in this field: from a 6 pack a month, to a case, and from a California club, to an import club. Now, I don't know about you, but to me this sure beats a pie of the month club.

West Coast Beer of the Month Club
Microbrew BOTM Club
The International Beer of the Month Club

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Be Safe on Thanksgiving!

Looks like I'm safe if I stick with the Hamm's! Travel safely America!

It would take 21 bottles of Hamm's to kill me

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Water Street Brewery

Established in downtown Milwaukee in 1987, Water Street Brewery (WSB) was certainly at the vanguard of the brewpub movement. Housed in a turn-of-the-century brick building with large brew kettles visable behind glass walls, the brewpub exudes Milwaukee charm.

Water Street initially offered just three varieties of beer, but now WSB has a full slate, including a pale ale, a weiss, an amber ale, an Oktoberfest, a "Munich" lager, and a large rotation of seasonals, this time featuring a "Black Lager."

The Weiss did not stock up in calibre to some of the great Germans like Hacker-Pschorr or Franziskaner, but it was well made and delicious. To put it on more equal footing, I prefer it to the Great Dane Crop Circle Wheat (a brewpub in Madison).

The Black Lager, however, was delicious. Although it does use some malts that have been roasted longer, it's much more a black pilsner than a stout. It's light but definitely has texture, with a clean malty taste reminiscent of a St. Pauli Girl Dark. Definitely reccommended.

The menu is extremely extensive for a brewpub and offers the full gamet of fare: from appetizers, to salads, to sandwiches, to chef specialties. The current brewmaster is George Bluvas III, but I confess I'm also interested in who the executive chef is. There were classic Milwaukee sausage options, with wares from nearby Usinger's, as well as light fare with a Yellowfin sandwich, salads, and vegitarian options.

Located near Milwaukee's Performing Arts Center (PAC), the Pabst Theatre, and the Bradley Center (home of the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles), the WSB is ideally situtated for you to try it's food and more importantly, it's beer. Visit this Milwaukee staple the next time you are in town.

Links of Interest:
Water Street Brewery

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Pabst Americana - Grain Belt

In this series we explore the vanishing regional beers of America. Our first will be Grain Belt, of Minneapolis.

1890, four breweries, John Orth, Heinrich, F.D. Norenberg and Germania, merged and began operating out of Orth's facilities, the largest of the four. 2 years later the brewers commissioned a new building to house their facilities. Four different architectural styles were incorporated in the building to signify the four former breweries, and the result was a castle like structure that to this day sits on the bank of the Mississippi in North-East Minneapolis. The city of Minneapolis bought the structure in 1987 to prevent demolition and today the site is home to the RSP Architecture firm as well as a branch of the Minneapolis public library system.

In 1893 the breweries reincorporated under the name Minneapolis Brewing Company, the same year that a new line of beer was rolled out: Grain Belt.

Grain Belt became a huge success in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, and became Minneapolis Brewing's flagship beer. Unfortunately for the fortunes of the Minneapolis Brewing company, the puritanical forces of America had seized the country and found it's whipping boy in alcohol. Prohibition stopped the production of Grain Belt, while the brewery switched to producing Near Beer (ugh, the very thought!), malt syrup, and soft drinks.In 1933, America came to its collective senses and Grain Belt was brewed once again.

After prohibition, beer drinkers preferences began to shift away from the corner bar an into the home, aided, in part, by the spread of electric refrigerators. Grain Belt introduced take home bottles (they already had returnable long-necks), as well as cone top cans that opened just like bottles. Around this time Grain Belt erected a large 40'x40' sign on Nicollet Island with a bottle cap behind its trademark red diamond logo. The sign still greets motorists driving across the Hennepin Avenue bridge just outside of downtown Minneapolis, although it is no longer lit up.

After World War II, beer consumption at home continued to increase, as well as a preference for a smooth lager. In response Grain Belt launched the "Premium" beer, a golden lager that came in clear bottles. This is the Grain Belt that most of us are familiar with today. "Premo" was slightly more expensive, but it was a huge commercial success and became a staple for the brewery, igniting years of growth, despite its proximity to the brewing titans in St. Louis and Milwaukee. By the end of the 1960's, Grain Belt was the 18th largest brewer in the country and the company had changed its name to the Grain Belt Breweries.

In the 1970's Bud and Miller were stepping up their advertising and marketing campaigns and regional brewers like Grain Belt were feeling the pressure. Amidst financial troubles in 1975, the shareholders agreed to sell the company, and by the end of the year the company was out of business and the once mighty brewery was closed. By 1976, both the original Grain Belt and the new Premium brand were acquired by Heileman Brewing of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and were being brewed at the cross town rival brewery, Schmidt, in St. Paul.

Under Heileman, Grain Belt took a back seat to Schmidt, and of course, Heileman's flagship, Old Style. Marketing was stepped down, packaging was downgraded, and the recipe was changed. During the 1980's, Heileman began to have it's own financial problems, and closed the Schmidt plant at the end of the decade. Fortunately, the Grain Belt brands were purchased away from Heileman and reincorporated under the Minnesota Brewing company name. By 1991, Grain Belt was once again being produced in St. Paul.

Once reinvented as Minnesota Brewing, the old Grain Belt recipes were brought back. Although the brand's reputation had taken a nose dive under the Heileman leadership, Premium's resurgence was helped along by winning Best American Lager at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. "Premo" was jumped on by old fans and Twin Cities hipsters, but it wasn't enough to be profitable in a sea of giant macros and ever-expanding micros. The company was soon bankrupt. Again, Grain Belt received a stroke of fortune. Another local Minnesota brewer, August Schell of New Ulm, decided to purchase the Grain Belt brands.

Although the original Grain Belt Golden has been phased out, Grain Belt Premium has flourished under Schell, and is to this day still available throughout the Upper Mississippi River Valley. Among the regional breweries of yore, Grain Belt is a bit of a success story: it's still around; it's still brewed in it's home state; it's still independent; and, it doesn't taste like shit. Next time you are in the Twin Cities, ask for a "beer of exceptional quality," toss back a "Premo," and taste some history.

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Support your local Macro?

Today it seems you are limited to 3 choices when it comes to a cheap American style lager: Bud, Miller, or Coors, and Miller and Coors are the same company now! Regional breweries used to dot the country like the Golden Arches, but most have been bought out, disbanded, or maginalized. Some still exist be they are rare and are usually owned by a larger company.

The empires of these beloved regionals have fallen to be replaced by distant, giant beer monoliths that might as well make beer on the moon (Aside to venture capitalists: if you want in on my "Lunar Brew" now's the time to jump). These breweries may be shadows of their former selves, but they will not be forgotten, as we probe the histories of these empires in a segment I call: Pabst Americana.

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Beer of the Week - Joyeux Anniversaire!

Since this week I am celebrating the anniversary of my birth, it is only right that the BOTW be a anniversary celebration of sorts as well.

We talked a little about the Canadian brewery Unibroue back here , so if you want a little of the brewery back story, go check it out.

Each year, Unibroue releases a special brew outside of its standard repertoire to commemorate the anniversary of the brewery. This is the 16th year of the brewery, and the beer has been aptly titled "16" as well.

My only criticism of this beer is that it is totally within the comfort zone of Unibroue; however, Unibroue makes excellent beers in the Belgian tradition, so this isn't entirely a bad thing.

While you can get most of Unibroue's roster in 12oz. bottles, the 16 only comes in a 750ml champagne style bottle. This brew is so delectable that you're probably going to want a whole bottle to yourself, so buy an extra bottle to share. Be advised that 16 weighs in at 10% ABV, so after you've sucked down 750ml, call a cab.

16 has an exceptional head, forming a tall, tight layer of thick bubbles to protect the brew before eventually settling to about 1/4". The beer is a cloudy burnt orange, and has a yeasty citrus aroma, backed by a honey-like malt sweetness. The initial taste is sweet, but the alcohol and the hops/yeast mix give it a balanced almost "sour apple" type back. The carbonation is penetrating and the finish is alcohol dry. Delicious!

If you don't like the Belgian yeast and noticeable alcohol, then you aren't going like this beer. If you are a more adventurous quaffer, then hoist a glass and salute 16 years of quality brews from Quebec, and Unibroue 16, our first Canadian BOTW.

Joyeux Anniversaire!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beer of the Weak

After my scathing review of Granite City, you may think that I have spit enough anti-corporate vitriol this week; I haven't.

Michelob is the Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) subsidiary famous for such delicious brews as Michelob Golden Light and Michelob Ultra (I'm guessing Martin Lel, the Kenyan who won the New York marathon, chugged a few of the later when he was done).

While browsing the selection at my local beer market, I saw something out of place. In a beat-up green six-pack near the leftover Spaten Oktoberfest, sat Michelob "Marzen," subtitled "Octoberfest."

Here is a beer that never should have been. Michelob is taking a tradition from Bavaria, one of the world's holiest beer bastions, and putting not only into the context of the world's largest brewery, but also a brewery that puts rice in its best sellers (Germany has a "law" against this, the Reinheitsgebot). Bud already has a stranglehold on the world macro market, does it need to stick its fingers into the market of beer tradition too?

I would be surprised to see this brand around much longer. To me, people who are looking for a good Oktoberfest are going to scoff at Michelob, while the rest aren't going to care about Oktoberfest anyway. Maybe there are a few post-frat yuppies out there that will bring it to the next Monday Night Football gathering or other similar bro-love fests, but I hardly expect it to expand the market that Bud already has.

For full disclosure, I'm from Milwaukee, which could explain me being so vehemently anti-Bud, but I like to think it's because their beer sucks. Now, I may write a beer blog, but I haven't forgotten my roots; I'd drink a High Life over any Bud product any day of the week. You can even throw Miller Lite on top of that last statement. I just think that Miller's beers have more character, which is something that I also look for in buying an Oktoberfest: something that Michelob Marzen is woefully short on.

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More bad news for beer drinkers


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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Corporate "Brewpub"

I suppose it was only a matter of time: realize that America thought brewpubs were quaint, unique, and a part of the community, and suck the soul out of it for packaging and mass consumption.

Amber & I went to the Granite City brewery this weekend in Madison. Perhaps I should say a Granite City versus the Granite City because there are similar structures in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, and Ohio. In fact this NASDAQ listed (GCFB) publicly traded company has ballooned from 1 location to 20 locations in just 8 years. In fact, their second "brewpub" opened for business less than 18 months after their first. To me that says "business plan" more than "brewery." The experience at Granite City reflects that.

The exterior of Granite City (which was in a mall parking lot) looked like a prefab sprawl-pod that just as easily could have hung up a "Tumbleweed" or "Applebee's" sign. The interior was drab and boring. This place didn't reek of brewing lore; it was closer to TGI Friday's, 10 years superficially matured.

The menu was extensive, extremely extensive, which made the following omission that much more glaring: the lack of vegetarian options. Now, I'm no vegetarian, but I do like to limit my meat intake, and there were no options for that. What if I wanted to go there with my veggie friends? Are they to have a house salad and nothing more?

The service was OK, although I felt like I was dealing with Chili's rejects. What was with all the buddy-buddy chat, and the upselling? I'm not afraid to order an appetizer, I just don't want one. Also, he knew nothing about beer, which in a brewpub is kind of a "no-no."

To the important stuff: I hate to say it, but their IPA and bock weren't bad, if unadventurous. The IPA was a clear copper with a minimal floral head, and a nice sufficient hopped finish. At 5.2%, it could stand a little more alcohol, but it was definitely drinkable. The Bock was slightly better than the IPA, but also not outstanding. It was smooth and moderately malty with an almost non-existent head. It was slightly sweet, but not overpowering. Drinkable, but middle of the road and vanilla, especially for a Mai Bock. We also sampled the "Northern Light," which was a light lager, that tasted like a Miller Lite. I was afraid it would be watery, but it wasn't; there was a little American lager flavor shining through, although there was scant carbonation and no head. To tell you the truth, you'd be better off ordering a Miller Lite.

When I first heard about Granite City, I was thinking that it was a new upstart brewery from the Minnesota city from which it takes its name (St. Cloud). But this brewpub was an idea cooked up in a board room, not a brewpot. There is obviously a lot of financing behind this chain, and you can be sure that if you live in Suburbia, Granite City is scouting mall parking lots near you. If during the holiday season, you find yourself out in the sprawl doing some shopping, I would suggest checking it out for yourself; it's a nice respite from the Olive Garden. Otherwise, don't go out of your way.

Links of Interest:
Granite City

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Beer of the Week

This BOTW, is our first from California, courtesy of Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma. Perhaps best known for their hops-to-the-face IPA, this NorCal brewery also makes an Imperial Stout, a Pilsner, and a bunch of seasonals including "Brown Shugga."

Brown Shugga is called a "fortuitous mistake" by the brewery that resulted in a copper colored strong ale. The Shugga has a very sweet carmelly, molases front (perhaps the reason for the name) and a piney hops finish. The head is minimal, but remains throughout. At 9.9% ABV, you'd think that the Shugga would have an alcohol taste, but it really doesn't; the sweet malts and hoppy finish are too much to cut through. Considering the sweetness and alcohol content, this is a beer that should be sipped, but for some unexplainable reason, it seems to force chugs.

The Shugga is a little too sweet and strong to drink every day, but it is a perfect end of fall beer, and a great one to share with some friends. Congratulations to Lagunitas for being our first California Beer of the Week.

Links of Interest:
Lagunitas Brewing Co.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Beer, Barley, and Biofuels

Could the lucrative lure of ethanol turn barley farmers into corn farmers? Could ethanol be made from barley as well as sugar cane and corn? And most importantly, will this make my 6-pack cost more!?!?!?

An interesting read from Green Living: here.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Interview with President of Capital Brewery

A recent article in Dane County's Business Watch magazine included an interview with Capital Brewery president Carl Nolen. I mentioned Capital in the previous article, so I thought the interview would be illuminating to those of you who try Capital's beer, as well as to beer drinkers in general. The article is no longer available online, so I've chosen some highlights to share.

Business Watch: Why are there so few craft-brewed lagers compared to ales?

Carl Nolen: The cost of doing business is one factor. An ale brewery takes less than half the aging time for its beer than a lager brewery. For ales, it takes 10-15 days. We have a doppelbock called Autumnal Fire. It's an outstanding beer, but it takes nine weeks to get through the production cycle....

BW: What exactly is a craft beer?

CN: The textbook definition of craft brewing is varied. From a revenue perspective, a craft brewery generally pays lower taxes than a large brewer. In Wisconsin, all brewers, including Miller, are taxed 50% less on the first 60,000 barrels of production, meaning that craft brewers who produce less than that - and that's all of us - pay a lower tax overall.

From a production definition, craft brewers are also those that have a full, natural process with no additives. That's certinaly the case for us. We use malted barley and wheat in our production. We don't add rice or corn or anything of that nature.

From a consumer standpoint, however, craft beer is something totally different. To the consumer, the fascination is the experience. A few years ago coffee was limited to regular or decaf. Talk to a manager at Barriques (a Madison wine and coffee shop) and you realize there are more than 1,000 different varieties of of coffee. This translates to the variety in our category as well.

BW: The craft-brewing industry is exploding in varieties, brands and breweries. Is there a point when there will be too many brands and not enough consumers?

CN: The chances are likely that we'll reach a saturation point. Right now, the craft segment constitutues about 3% of production, while the industry growth in total is flat. It's been flat for a long time and what's never talked about is that the industry is actually shrinking on a per capita consumption basis....People are drinking less, but they're drinking better.

In Wisconsin, we're ahead of the curve. Here in Madison, craft brands constitute closer to 7% of the market. I would think that Wisconsin can handle about a 10% market share of craft brands. The majority of that percentage will come from in-state breweries and consumers who want to drink what's locally produced.

BW: I've heard that, while farmers make wine, engineers make beer. Is there a sense of terrior with beer similar to that of wine? What's the attraction with drinking locally?

CN: When you think about Wisconsin brewers like Russ Klisch from Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery, Deb and Dan Carey from New Glarus Brewing, Bo Bellanger from South Shore Brewing in Ashland or Tom Porter from Lake Louie in Arena, you realize that they're personalities in their communities. They put everything they've got into it. I don't know one of them that talks about making money; they all talk about making beer. You get to meet them at these local beer festivals and taste their beer. I think that's what puts a face on local production.

Capital Brewery's business strategy is not to be a regional or national brewer. That's different from what would have been the case years ago, when success would have been determined by how quickly you spread from coast to coast. Before that however, everything was local. There was a corner brewery in every small community in America, and your market was about as far as you could see from the tallest building. When things changed and everyone went national, a lot of very good breweries went out of business. But now things have gone full circle again.

Links of Interest:
Capital Brewery
Business Watch Magazine

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Jack Frosted Mugs

The mercury is finally starting to drop here in the upper midwest; we saw snowflakes yesterday! So, in anticipation of that first onslaught from Old Man Winter (which us seasoned Midwesterners know can come at any time now), it's time to suggest some good brews for winter.

To me, a good winter beer is full-bodied and malty. It doesn't have the intense hops of an IPA or APA, nor is it light and crisp like a Pilsner or an American lager. A good winter brew is hearty, malty, and satisfying. It doesn't have to be drank at a cold temperature, and it pairs well with the savory meals and treats of the holiday season. With that in mind, to the beer!

Capital Winter Skål - Middleton, Wisconsin

Capital Brewery, located in the Madison suburb of Middleton, is an all-around excellent brewery. Focusing on the German styles brought over to Wisconsin from the old-world, Capital produces solid annuals like their Wisconsin Amber and Island Wheat, and a bevy of seasonals including a great domestic Oktoberfest, and their Winter Skål. The Skål is a rich amber color with an off-white head. It has a very malty aroma with very little hops present. The taste is earthy with a balance of subtle spice. Skål is a nice medium bodied brew that clings to the palatte, but doesn't have the "chew your beer" feel, or the rediculous spices you'll find in some other winter beers.

Summit Winter Ale - Saint Paul, Minnesota

I'm hardly one to recommend something from Summit; their flagship Extra Pale Ale, the IPA, and the Grand Pilsner are all easily surpassed by many domestic breweries, but I have to hand it to them: Summit Winter Ale is good. It pours a very dark, coffee brown, which is accompanied by a subtle coffee taste. The roasted malts are very noticeable in a "winter warmer" style, but are subtley balanced by Williamette, Fuggle and Tettenanger hops. The beer comes in a 6.2% ABV, but beneath the malt start and hop finish, you don't notice an alcohol flavor. This is far and away Summit's best beer.

McEwan's Scotch Ale - United Kingdom (Scotland)

Clocking in at 8% ABV, McEwan's Scotch Ale is an example of a strong scotch ale, or a "wee heavy." It isn't a winter beer in the sense that it is a winter seasonal (it's brewed year round), it's just a good brew to have in winter. McEwan's is a deep copper and is a carmelly, malty sweet delight. Are there hints of cola in there? There are definitely hints of alcohol in there. Like most Scotch beers, this one doesn't have the hops as bittering agents; it's smooth and solid. It may not be a winter seasonal, but it will sure warm you up.

Links of Interest:
Capital Brewery
Summit Brewing

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Beer of the Weekend

After a busy weekend, Sunday night was the perfect time to plop on the couch with Amber and the dogs, and enjoy our company. Sunday night is also the perfect time to enjoy our BOTWE, Unibroue's Don de Dieu.

Our first Canadian brewery to grace these pages, Unibroue is located in Montreal's francophone suburb of Chambly. I've been to Montreal, although not Chambly, but from what I understand, there is an old fort, Unibroue, and not much else there.

Unibroue's saga begins in Lennoxville, where Unibroue acquired shares of an existing brewer that was in financial trouble in order to bypass Quebec's tough restrictions on brewing licenses. Unibroue eventually gained all shares of the former brewer and then mergered the old brewery with Unibroue to create the brewery we know today.

In 1992, Unibroue became associated with a Belgian brewmaster, a nameless person described by the brewery as an "expert in producing beers on lees," that is, unfiltered beers with live yeast in them, which causes a refermentation (or completion of fermentation) that occurs in the bottle.

Don de Dieu is a triple wheat ale at 9% ABV that Unibroue has produced since 1998. It has a deep yellow color, just approaching light orange. The beer is very smooth, although the carbonation is noticeable, and is just slightly sweet with a fruity, malty body. The head of the beer was not as nice as I would have expected, eventually totally vanishing, although I would have to try it again to pass a complete judgement on that. I had mine with some spicy Asian noodles, and it paired ideal. I would imagine it would go equally well with spicy Latin flavors.

Unibroue makes many quality brews, so look for them next time you're in the beer depot, and make sure you try Don de Dieu, our Beer of the Weekend.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Beer of the Week

After all this talk on pale ales this week, it would seem odd not to nominate one for BOTW. I'm sure after hearing the tales of the pale ale, bitter, IPA, and APA, you're more than ready to pour one over your tonsils. Fear not loyal hop surfer, I have a brew for you.

In addition to the new school of craft brewers from the Pacific Northwest, Colorado has emerged as a front in the American beer revolution. I'm not talking about the Silver Bullet here; with quality breweries like Flying Dog and New Belgium, Colorado has shed it's Coors image and now produces some of the nation's finest beers.

Billing itself as Colorado's first microbrewery, the Boulder Beer Company of Boulder (of course) has been brewing beers since 1979. Although perhaps not as popular as their Hazed & Infused dry-hopped ale, another recent addition to the brewery's line is their Mojo IPA. Mojo is made with Amarillo and Centennial hops, which are similar to the Cascade hops that made Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale famous. The beer has a deep yellow, approaching orange color and a nice clean smell spiked with notes of citrus. The hop aroma is there, but it won't singe your nostrils. The mouthfeel is light with a dry crisp finish...not much malt balance here. At 6.8% ABV, this probably isn't a beer you can drink a ton of, but it sure rolls off the palette like you could. This isn't the caliber of a Liberty Ale or a Sierra Nevada pale for me, but the intense citrus makes this an interesting IPA, and a very drinkable beer that I actually prefer to Boulder's flagship Hazed & Infused.

A nod goes to Colorado and Boulder Beer for being our first non-Wisconsin Beer of the Week. Cheers!

Links of Interest:
Boulder Beer

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pale Ale, Pt. III

Two days ago we started our exploration of the genesis and development of the pale ale world, which included the development of the India Pale Ale (IPA). We followed that up yesterday with an IPA recommendation, a Burton brewers overview, and an introduction to English Bitter. Today we continue on our IPA-like voyage to unravel the term pale ale, talking more about bitters, and the American pale ale (APA).

As I mentioned yesterday, bitters are less common stateside, and are sometimes found masquerading as a plain "ale" or simply as an "ESB;" however, bitters, both in name and style can be found.

Nestled between downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota is Town Hall Brewery. Town Hall is a bar-lovers bar. It has lots of dark wood, a proper food selection, beer specials, a huge scotch selection, pool by the hour, and a great patio. Additionally they have a few good brews. The West Bank Pub Ale is so named for a section of the city on the west side of the Mississippi River, and it used to go by the name West Bank Bitter. While it is perhaps more hoppy than other "mild" ales, it has a nice malt balance. It has an alcohol content of 4.6% (which might fall into the "best" category of bitters in the UK) and is what Town Hall calls their "session beer" (you can have a few and not get totally munted). The beer has smooth medium bodied mouthfeel, and is a rich copper hue. If you're in Minneapolis, swing by Town Hall for an American example of an English bitter, and try the award winning Oatmeal Stout while you're there.

So where does the APA fit into this?

Knowing the brashness and ingenuity of Americans, it should come as no surprise that American brewers would not be content to simply adopt the brewing traditions of the old countries...not without a few tweaks that is. Early Dutch and English brewers brought over their traditions of ales and porters, but later, Central European immigrants did the same. Brewing innovation in the mid-19th century brought the pale lager and pilsner to the fore, and the popularity of this beer spread from Germany and Bohemia all over Europe and to the United States. These pale lagers began to dominate the US market and could be produced easily using indigenous grain like corn. Towards the end of the 20th century, the early traditions of American ales had all but vanished. Simultaneously, consolidation and taxation were doing a number on the other side of the pond, and British ale crafters were disappearing or producing low alcohol bitters. The ale traditions of early America were in serious jeopardy: enter the California ale revolution.

The San Francisco based Liberty Ale mentioned in yesterday's column was Anchor Brewery's attempt at a real ale. First produced in 1975, it emerged as one of the first (if not the first) known examples of a commercially successful ale produced in the US in quite some time. Just a few years later in 1980, a brewery in Chico, California produced what would become what many consider the prototype of the APA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a truly American flare, using Cascade hops, giving the brew a dry, floral character, without the carmelly malt back of a British pale ale. This unabashed "in-your-face" hop flavor is a characteristic of the APA, which is drawn in part from using native hops. Sierra's is in the middle of the color range for what you might find in an APA, and has been a huge commercial success. Sierra Nevada has since expanded their brewing facilities and produces many other quality brews including an IPA and a Porter. Breweries like Anchor and Sierra Nevada helped prompt the huge agricultural boom of hops in the Willamette and Yakima valleys, further expanding the possibilities for unique American ales.

APAs are almost synonymous with the craft brewing explosion of the last twenty years, so go to your local beer depot and find a local example. For a Midwestern example, try the Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale, made in Cleveland. It's not my favorite, as many of the West Coast breweries do it better, but it's worth a try.

Links of Interest:
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Great Lakes' Burning River

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