Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lakefront Brewery - The Tour

I love touring a brewery; it really puts you in touch with the family and community aspect that most craft brewers seem to cultivate.

Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery has all the elements that I would want to experience in a good brewery tour: it's in a nice old "brewery like" building; the employees are nice and definitely seem to love their jobs; the tour is easily accessible; and of course, there is a large amount of fresh beer to be had.

Although the brewery is in a "great place on a Great Lake," Lakefront's facility is not actually on a lakefront, but rather, near downtown Milwaukee on the Milwaukee River. The building is an old brick warehouse, surrounded on the street by a hill, an old rusty train bridge, and the "renewal" of Milwaukee's downtown, condos.

You enter through two large wooden doors and pay the very reasonable $5 fee and are then presented with some very cool wooden nickels which entitle you to free samples from the bar. The bar is in a very large room that is artificially divided in the center and filled with tables. The room doubles as a banquet hall where people hold weddings and other events, and has a nice old Milwaukee aesthetic, albeit sparse.

After you have quaffed a few of Lakefront's offerings, you head downstairs into the brewery itself. The passageways inside the brewery are narrow, so make sure you get to the front of the pack if you want to hear what is going on.

Besides walking past fresh bags of malted barley and giant vats, there is some visual candy of the unexpected sort, especially for baseball fans. Lakefront acquired some relics from Milwaukee's County Stadium and preserved them inside the brewery, a proper place to house relics of the Brewers if you ask me.

The Brewers mascot is a happy fellow who looks like a Swiss/German immigrant and is named "Bernie Brewer." Bernie used to reside in a chalet fitting to his teutonic appearance, and slide into a giant frothy mug of beer upon home team homers, but alas the chalet went the way of the "two-fisted slobber" when County Stadium was torn down. In the Brewer's new home of Miller park, Bernie does not have a chalet, nor does he slide into a large beer mug, which is all the more sad considering the namesake of the stadium.

I thought that I would never again be able to experience this glorious icon of my childhood and of Milwaukee's history, but the good people at Lakefront have preserved it for us. Within the brewery are not only the entire chalet, but also the beer mug, as well as the front of a giant faux-keg with "Go Brewers" on it. Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you that I have been to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Titletown, and actually standing in the chalet (that's right, it's open to the public) was an equally great sports moment in my life.

After the completion of a talk on the brewing process, an "in brewery" sample, and a discussion of kegging, including jokes about the bung and the bung hole, we were in for a real Milwaukee treat: we got to sing the Laverne & Shirley theme song while a bottle with a glove on it spun by. I must say to the beer lover and native Milwaukeean, it was epic.

After this you head back upstairs for some more sampling as well as nice surprise: a free glass pint with a proper Lakefront Brewery logo on it. All this for five dollars.

The information side of the tour is not lacking; however, it's not really overwhelming either. The spoken part of the tour is not the main reason to go here though: it's the total experience. This is an old warehouse, in brew city, with old baseball lore and TV sitcom kitsch built in! It really doesn't get a whole lot better than that. Try the "East Side Dark" and the "Riverwest Stein" while you are there: two beers that are named for two classic and dynamic Milwaukee neighborhoods, and have classic and dynamic tastes to match.

Thank you so much to the people at Lakefront Brewery for making this a totally unforgettable experience for Amber and me. Cheers!

Links of Interest:

Lakefront Brewery Tour

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Winter is starting to wear on, as those of us in the upper Midwest have been treated to alternating thaws and snow storms. You might wonder what, besides severe drought, hurricanes and earthquakes, keeps us from moving to warmer climes. Well in Wisconsin, we have good friends and good beer to get us through, and I have found a delicious gift from Kulmbach, Germany to help us make it to April.

Kulbacher Brauerei produces a number of different brands, the one familiar to me being their EKU Pils; however, we're not here to talk Pilsner because obviously we need a little more than that to make it through the winter. Rather, let's talk about an Eisbock.

An Eisbock is similar to a regular doppelbock, except after lagering for an astounding nine months, a layer of ice is removed from the vessel, effectively concentrating the flavor and alcohol (11%) of the beer.

Kulbacher's eisbock is called "EKU 28," and is an outstanding example of an the style. The beer pours a light copper color, with a small head. The smell is very fruity, with hints of honey and caramel, and a slight tinge of alcohol. The mouthfeel is very creamy, with some of the carbonation mixing in, and amazingly, the alcohol is not very noticeable. I've had Belgians and barleywines this strong, and I have to admit, in comparison, the alcohol in this just disappears in the flavors. There are strong tastes of fruit, mostly raisins for me, and a syrupy sweetness that is just cut perfectly and subtly by alcohol at the end of the sip.

And sip you should. This beer is no joke at 11% ABV. I would have a few of these at the end of the night, maybe after a meal. I know from experience that this is not a beer you should wrangle with without a proper meal in you. Besides, it goes excellent as a post food digestive, or as we in Wisconsin might appreciate it, as a winter warmer.

Links of Interest:

Kulmbacher Brauerei (English)

PS: Thanks to for the link.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Beer of the Week

Our beers of the week here have been heavily focused on American brewers, mainly from Wisconsin and California, but our friends across the pond invented the brewing game, and certainly can still make a proper ale.

Fuller's brewery, properly known as Fuller, Smith, & Turner, is headquartered in West London's Chiswick district on a site where beer has been produced for over 350 years. FS&T produce a wide variety of award winning British styles, including their flagship "London Pride," a "London Porter," and our BOTW, "Fuller's ESB." If you need a refreshment on ESBs, we discussed them back here.

Fuller's ESB has always been a good beer to quaff during winter, as it was actually introduced as a winter beer in 1971 to replace a now defunct beer called Old Burton Extra. ESB has all the elements of a good winter brew: a solid ABV at 5.5% (strong for a British draught), a strong malt base, and noticeable but balanced hop back (in this case the traditional Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops).

The beer pours a rich beautiful deep amber color with a minimal white head that fades away, but leaves a white ring throughout. It has a rich toasted biscuity maltiness, even revealing a hint of Oktoberfest-like caramel. For a member of the pale ale family, this bitter doesn't have much bitter bite. The hops are there, but you can tell they've been used more so for flavoring than for bittering. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy with just the perfect amount of carbonation to let the flavors shine. I recommend getting it on tap when you have the chance.

Very British, and very excellent.

Links of Interest:


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Doing it Wrong

A while back BOTB raved about a new local establishment called Brasserie V. Well the Capital Times has caught up with us and finally got around to reviewing the place. Allow me to draw attention to one specific portion of the review:

"The restaurant is known for its selection of Belgian beers, but we started off with a couple of glasses of red wine, the rich Terrazas malbec ($6.50) from Argentina and the domestic 14 Hands cabernet sauvignon ($6). Both were decent, reasonably priced choices."

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!

First allow me to point out that the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines a brasserie as:

"n. A restaurant serving alcoholic beverages, especially beer, as well as food." (emphasis added)

And the Random House dictionary defines it as:

"noun - an unpretentious restaurant, tavern, or the like, that serves drinks, esp. beer, and simple or hearty food." (emphasis added)

The etomology of the word comes from French, brasser "to brew or to malt," and that from Old French, where a similar world, bracier, meant "brewery."

The idea that this is an establishment that focuses on beer is implicit in the name, and should go without saying; but, people are saying. Again, from the review:
"The restaurant is known for its selection of Belgian beers..."(emphasis added)

People in the community are noting that this is a place in which one should take note of the beers offered, especially of the Belgian variety, but yet:

we started off with a couple of glasses of red wine, the rich Terrazas malbec ($6.50) from Argentina and the domestic 14 Hands cabernet sauvignon ($6). (emphasis added)

So, you go to a place that is intrinsically a house of beer, a place that is known for having rare imported beer, and you order a glass of red wine? For god's sake, you don't go to a steak house and order the veggie plate! You don't go to the Waffle House and order fucking pancakes! You don't go to Red Lobster and order...well you don't go to Red Lobster at all.

I don't really care if you don't really care for beer, when you are a restaurant critic you can take your nose from viticulture's ass for 5 minutes and partake in other alcoholic beverages, every bit as nuanced, especially when the house is known for them. I think that people who are interested in actually going to Brasserie V might also be interested in sampling some of the wares that make this an interesting place to dine, and thus, might look for said information in the review.

Poor form.

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Beer of the Weak

This is only our second installment of "Beer of the Weak," mostly for the reason that I would rather keep this a blog about beers that are great, versus a blog on beers that suck; however, in this case Miller has forced my hand.

During the summer, I found a distinct pleasure in kicking back on the couch with the windows open and following my local baseball team, the Brewers, on the television. These telecasts were inundated with an ad for a ridiculous new Miller product, "Miller Chill."

A variation on the Mexican tradition of a cervesa preperada (prepared beer), Miller Chill is a light lager that has lime and salt added to it, in the mode of the traditional serving method of terrible Mexican beers like Corona and Tecate.

Sounds like a terrible idea right? Well I figured that this product would quickly fade away, especially once the winter set in. I was wrong. Yesterday I saw an ad proclaiming that "even in winter, you need refreshment," or something equally banal.

This is yet another beer that never should have been. Now I'll admit that when you're sitting on the beach in the hot Mexican sun, having a light lager rather than stout makes a lot of sense; especially when, if you are actually IN MEXICO, you probably don't have all that much choice. I will also acknowledge that being in that sun drenched atmosphere, the idea of a lime in one's beer sounds refreshing. But how much of one's life is spent sitting on the beach in Mexico? If it exceeds one tenth of one percent, consider yourself fortunate, and fortunate enough to buy a better light lager than Miller Chill and fortunate enough to have someone apply the salt and an actual lime to the beer for you.

Aesthetically the beer is repulsive. As if you couldn't grasp the "with lime" phrase on the bottle, they had to make the bottle green, perhaps also trying to capitalize on the "Ecto Cooler as nostalgia" market.

As far as the lime juice is concerned, have you ever used that lime juice that you squeeze out of a lime shaped container? Not that great right? That's what it's like. Fresh limes actually floating in and mixing with the beer is much better.

I guess it's hard to say what the beer actually tastes like because it's obscured by the lime and the salt. Needless to say, as a brewer you're not going to be overly concerned with brewing a high quality lager when you're just going to pollute it with, what are in the culinary world, STRONG tastes like lime and salt.

I really hope that this beer does soon fade away, and I hope that Americans will be able to cope with their increased workload of having to arduously squeeze their own limes into their beers. Once again I hope that Miller takes their energies off of gimmicks and puts them into drinkable beers.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Beer of the Week

It's been a big beginning of 2008 for me: I got engaged, I was offered a large law school scholarship, the Packers are in the NFC Championship. So it's only fitting that this beer of the week is equally big.

Sprecher Brewing, originally from Milwaukee but now in a suburb, is perhaps best known for a soda of all things. Their root beer is known far and wide, and rightfully so; it's delicious.

But this old-world style brewery offers much more than just pop. They have a delicious dark lager called "Black Bavarian," a decent Oktoberfest, and an excellent amber lager, simply known as "Sprecher Amber." But none of these beers are "big" enough to be this week's BOTW. We need something big, something strong, something that reeks of old brewing lore. I turned to a rare offering from the brewery: Czar's Brew, Russian Imperial Bourbon Stout.

I love a good imperial stout. This beefed up version of a English stout featured high alcohol and hops content to preserve the brew for its long sea voyage through the Baltic. Coming in at 11%ABV, Czar's Brew certainly lives up to the "unapologetically strong" aspect of the imperial Stout.

The beer is black, but not as thick as I was expecting, much thinner for example than Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Imperial Stout or Fuller's Breakfast Stout, which both pour like motor oil. In fact, if I had one complaint about the beer, it's that it's too thin.

The head is small but persistent, and leaves some lace on the glass. It's not as dark as the heads on the aforementioned stouts either.

The nose is amazing: bourbon, wood, chocolate, berries, it's all there. Some bourbon barrel beers smack you in the face with whisky aroma, but this one blends it nicely. Some styles are better suited for bourbon aging, and stouts are definitely one of them.

The mouthfeel is thin as well, and slightly dry. At 11% the alcohol dries the taste a little, but it isn't overpowering. A semi-sweet chocolate taste and bourbon mix and mingle.

This definitely a bold beer, and I would buy it again, but if I could offer some suggestion to the brewer, it needs to be a little bit thicker and it's way overpriced. It's going to be hard to find this one out there; there were only 1000 liters produced. It's expensive, but compare the experience you'll have drinking it to that of a fine wine, and you'll be more accepting of the price.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pabst Americana - Natty Boh

Like Grain Belt is to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, National Bohemian, or "Natty Boh" as it's affectionately referred to, is interwoven in the history of a great American city: Baltimore. The beer's slogan, "From the Land of Pleasant Living," paid homage to the good life enjoyed by the residents of this city on Chesapeake Bay.

First brewed in 1885 Natty Boh was a Baltimore staple and emblematic of both the city's working class, and the incestuous fate of so many regional breweries.

Natty is much like a Hamm's or a Pabst: a pale American lager that isn't going to wow you, but has a little more flavor than a Bud Light. It's perfect to wash down a sausage and makes a great compliment when watching sporting events.

In fact, beer and sports have always gone hand in hand in Baltimore. When local competition was fierce in the brewing industry, announcers for the Orioles or the Colts (they were in Baltimore back then) were paid by the breweries to mention the beers. Another local brewery, Gunther's (which was eventually bought by Hamm's), paid the Colts announcer to exclaim "Good as Gunther's" whenever the team converted a successful extra point.

Going further, at one time the Orioles were owned by the then president of National Brewery, Jerry Hoffberger. Natty was served in the now defunct "Memorial Stadium," solidifying the beer as nostalgic for legions of current Baltimore sports fans.

Like Hamm's, National came up with an image for its star beer that would turn into an advertising icon, and in this case, an icon for the city itself. "Mr. Boh," the one-eyed (for whatever reason) mustached mascot for Natty Boh, was used by the brewery post-WWII, and was huge by the time of the reemergence of American breweries in the 1950's. The mascot itself was retired in the 1960's, but the image of Mr. Boh is still on bottles of Natty to this day, not to mention all over Baltimore. From bar memorabilia, to signs, to T-shirts, Mr. Boh is still around, and can currently be seen proposing to the Utz potato chip girl. Good choice Mr. Boh.

National Brewery merged with the Canadian brewer Carling in the 1970's, and the facility in Baltimore was closed, with production being shifted to a facility in the Baltimore suburb of Halethorpe. In 1979, National was acquired by G. Heileman of Wisconsin, which, like the earlier profiled Lone Star, was then subsequently sold to Stroh's of Detroit in 1996.

Laden with debt, Stroh's was broken apart in 1999, with most brands, including Natty Boh, being sold off to Pabst. Pabst still brews Natty Boh, but production is no longer in Maryland. The bulk of the stock is contract brewed in North Carolina, and some is brewed in Pennsylvania.

Natty Boh is still very much alive, and still very much a part of Baltimore, but there's a sadder side to it too. It's yet another bit of local flavor that was chewed up a spit out by the forces of corporate consolidation and globalization. The prize beer of Baltimore is no longer even brewed in Maryland, gone to cheaper, larger facilities for contract brewing. While it may just be an average American macro, it's one of those breweries that's more than that. Ask a few Baltimore natives and I'm sure you can find one with a soft spot for the good old days of the National Brewery and Natty Boh.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Better Stock Up Now

By now we've all heard the terrible news about the world hops market, and shortages being faced here in the US, especially by our favorite local craft brewers. Madison's Isthmus outlines the prospects for a few brews here in the immediate Madison area. Those of you who love such brews as Lake Louie's "Kiss of the Lips IPA" might want to stock up now, and those of you who don't live in the Midwest still might want to stock up on your local hoppy beer of choice before the price goes up, or the availability runs out.

Full Article

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Beer of the Week

Hailing from the microbrew rich state of Michigan, New Holland Brewing first impressed me with their over the top setup at the Great Taste of the Midwest (aka Beerfest), a tasting event held anually in Madison. Next, they impressed me with their delicious IPA. I'm not a huge IPA fan, but I certainly appreciate a good one, and New Holland's "Mad Hatter" is certainly that.

Established in 1996, New Holland has a nice selection of mainstays (I've been told the Kolsch is good) as well as some seasonals and high gravity selections. Mad Hatter is a year-round brew, dry-hopped to bring out that floral hop character. Besides the flowery smell, there's some citrus in the nose too, and the beer pours with a medium sized head. At 5.8% ABV Mad Hatter is in the right range for the style and has a medium body and mouthfeel like a good IPA should.

One thing I really like about this IPA: the hops are definitely assertive, but not aggressive. This isn't a hop-bomb double imperial IPA; it lets the hop aromas and flavors swirl around your palette and slowly deliver a rich sophisticated taste backed with subtle malts. Well Done.

Links of Interest:

New Holland Brewing

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

You might have done it too

Admit it: if you read this blog, you might have considered it.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Extreme Brews

I've always found extreme beers to be a little ridiculous. I would go on about how I feel about ridiculously hopped up beers, but Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery, phrases it ever so eloquently:

“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?” Meanwhile, Garrett finds it offensive that brewers use terms like double I.P.A. “It’s claptrap intended to cloud the illustrious history of the style,” he said. “It’s like calling a wine double Beaujolais — it’s an insult.”

From a New York Times article on "extreme" beers.

Notice not one of the beers was rated over 2 1/2 stars.

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I came across this article today, a list of the 7 things that only make sense when you're drunk. Number 7 was "Drinking Crappy Beer," which featured a prominent picture of Pabst. Now, I usually drink something a little bit more palette stimulating than Pabst, but I'm certainly not above it. This isn't Schlitz Red Bull we're talking about here; it's the Blue Ribbon.

To counter the damage done to the other beer that made Milwaukee famous, I present:

7 Popular Beers that are Worse than PBR

7. Rolling Rock

Why is it that you can get this beer everywhere? Just because it comes in a green bottle, doesn't mean it's good. Did you know that they make a light version of this beer? It's true! The brewmaster says it's made using two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.

6. Summit Extra Pale Ale

How did this end up as Summit's flagship beer? Sometimes at restaurants it is simply listed as "Summit," which is all the more ironic because even within the brewery, it's hardly that. Thank god Surly showed up in a nearby Minneapolis suburb to give Minnesota some real ale.

5. Miller Genuine Draft

This is without a doubt, the worst beer in the Miller lineup. I'd rather have a High Life or a Lite any day of the week. Somehow this boring lager became the star of the show, pushing the much more nuanced High Life to the sidelines. Anyone remember the plain old "Miller" that came in a red can? They should have stuck with that.

4. Corona

I think corona is Spanish for "urine." Mexicans can make decent beer; Pacifico and Negro Modello are examples, but the largest selling Mexican beer in America is nothing special. Put a little salt and lime in an Old Milwaukee and it'll taste the same.

3. Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss

Weiss? Are you kidding me? This sweeter version of a Leine's original somehow captured the hearts and minds of sorority girls everywhere. My guess why: it's watered down and sweet. Perfect! Also, note to Leinie's, a Weiss is unfiltered by definition.

2. Stella Artois

This insult to the Belgian brewing tradition is the worst of the European lagers to hit the American shores. It's not terrible or anything, but it's certainly not worth bringing it across the Atlantic, and definitely not worth the price. Any of the German lagers are more flavorful, and somehow smoother too. Also the "Anno 1336" on the bottle? Total BS. This beer wasn't produced until 1926.

1. Budweiser

The king of beers my ass. This rice-using macro brew only got where it is because Schlitz, Miller, Pabst, and Blatz had to slug it out in Milwaukee. This character devoid swill is the definition of hype. I'm taking the 1893 blue ribbon win over the baseless king of beer title.

Honorable Mention: Heineken. Heineken? FUCK THAT! PABST BLUE RIBBON!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Miller to Acquire Grolsch

Grolsch, the iconic Dutch beer brand known for its recloseable swing-top, is to be acquired by SABMiller. According to a story in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Miller will concentrate on expanding the presence of the Grolsch brand in Latin America and Africa. Most Americans are familiar with Grolsh's Pilsner, which accounts for 90% of sales. Unfortunately the deal will likely not expand distribution of Grolsh's other brands, including their Weiss.

Story Here

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Beer of the Week

Each year, in what I think is a fabulous event for the world of home brewing, Samuel Adams sponsors a nationwide homebrew contest. "Longshot," as the contest is known, asks participants to submit beers in one of 23 styles, and then holds regional contests around the nation, this year in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Winners are selected from the regionals, and the top four are selected from those winners. Then the top two have their beer recipes replicated by Sam Adams and distributed in six-packs across the country (three were distributed in 2007 from the 2006 winners).

Since the judging doesn't take place until the later half of the year, and it takes a little while to get the production going, the 2006 winners are in circulation now, with 2007 to be starting soon. The winners from 2006 included a Boysenberry Wheat (Amber's favorite), an English Old Ale, and a Dortmunder Export style from Bruce Stott of Massachusetts.

A Dortmunder is slightly different from the nearby pale lagers of Munich and the pilsners of Bohemia. It's got the maltiness of a German lager, with the hop aroma of a pilsner, yet is slightly stronger than both. Using only one variety of malt, Mr. Stott was able to capture the delicate balance of the Dortmunder.

It's a rich yellow color, with a subtle noble hop nose, and a thicker mouthfeel, heavier in alcohol. It has a minimal head that fades away with some nice lacing.

A great beer for summer, but honestly it would be nice to drink year round. Congratulations to Mr. Stott for bringing his homebrew to a national audience and making our beer of the week.

Links of Interest:

2007 Longshot Info

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Beer

Is it 2008 already? I was expecting flying cars and beers delivered directly into my living room via pneumatic bank tubes; one can dream.

My message for the new year is contained within the title of this article. Get out there and try a new beer. While this may come at first glance as a mere suggestion to support the economy of craft brewing, it's actually more than that.

Trying a new beer can bring you together with new friends; it can make you remember old ones. It can make you dream of visiting the quaint settings of the brewery, it can make you dream of brewing on your own.

It can get you drunk and share something you wouldn't; it can make you listen to something you wouldn't.

It can expand your taste buds, making you more adventurous in dining, and who knows, maybe even in travel.

I encourage you to try this new brew from a local brewery, to taste your local brew culture, and also to support local business and be green. A new beer may just be the start of a new life.

Cheers to 2008!

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