Category: beer

Wild Wisconsin: An impending surge in sour brews

Madison Craft Beer Week 2012, round 1

Anniversary Sour from Red Eye Brewing Company of Wausau (right), on tap at The Malt House during the 2012 Madison Craft Beer Week. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

As I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, I fell in love with sour beers several years ago. Thankfully, I’m not the only one, as output and sales are growing across the country and here in Wisconsin.

As we get further into 2014, we’ll be seeing the arrival of new sours from Wisconsin’s craft brewers. Last week Isthmus beer columnist Robin Shepard took a look at the exciting happenings at O’so Brewing and reviewed their Winds of Change, a sour APA. And last month, Shepard’s Isthmus colleague Kyle Nabilcy encouraged readers to “savor the sour.” He offers a brief primer on sour beers and their recent history in the US, and then takes a look at Wisconsin’s near future:

Both New Glarus and O’so of Plover have brand-new coolships, and both brewers are, unsurprisingly, planning on expanding their sour programs.

O’so brewmaster Marc Buttera has plans to open a new brewing facility, and the path to that goal is lined with 750mL bottles of wild and sour beer. “I would love nothing more than doing all funky beers,” he says. “That’s actually the direction our brewery is going to take.”

Buttera has teamed up with Levi “Funk Factory” Funk, an aspiring gueuze purveyor, to release four new beers on Jan. 24 at the O’so brewery. Three are sours of limited quantity, hewing to the traditional lambic process “as close as you’re going to get here, in this state.”…

2014 stands to be a strong year for sour beer production in Wisconsin. Beyond the O’so releases, there should be a collaboration on a wild ale from Grumpy Troll and Sweet Mullets, and both lambic-style beers and beers fermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces from Madison’s own Vintage Brewing.

Head here for Nabilcy’s full piece; also check out Shepard’s Wisconsin craft-beer 2014 preview here.

Brewing beer amid the California drought


Bear Republic Brewing Company. Photo by Flickr user Christi Nielsen, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last week I caught a story on the PBS NewsHour about the current drought affecting much of California. As the piece by Spencer Michels details, ranchers, vintners, farmers, and others whose livelihoods rely on a sufficiently wet landscape are facing tough times. In a small Sonoma County town, a craft brewer is going so far as to help the municipality dig new wells:

SPENCER MICHELS: One of Cloverdale’s most thriving businesses depends on a lot of water. Bear Republic Brewing Company, a regional brewery that makes Racer 5 IPA, is trying to conserve water. For every gallon of beer, they use 3.5 gallons of water, much lower than the industry standard.

Co-founder and brewmaster Richard Norgrove says he isn’t sure if Cloverdale’s wells will provide the brewery with enough water this year.

RICHARD NORGROVE, Bear Republic Brewing Co.: We may have to truck it in. We could move our production out of state. We could move our business to a community that’s not affected by water use problems. But those aren’t really part of what the family plan is. We’re local and want to stay here.

SPENCER MICHELS: Instead, to insure an adequate water supply, Bear Republic has entered into a private-public partnership with Cloverdale to bring more wells into production.

RICHARD NORGROVE: We have lent them close to a half-a-million dollars to accelerate their well drilling, which is really helping the infrastructure for the community. If we don’t manage our watershed, we may not even be able to grow this business, because there’s not going to be enough water for everybody.

SPENCER MICHELS: And the town is equally enthusiastic with the arrangement.

For more on the Cloverdale in particular and the California drought in general, check out the full video and transcript at the PBS NewsHour website. For further details on how Bear Republic and Cloverdale are confronting the problem of scarce water, check out this recent article by Kevin Fagan for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Southern Wisconsin brews to watch for in 2014

Vintage Brewing Co.'s Jinja Ninja

Vintage Brewing Co.’s Jinja Ninja (foreground). Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Isthmus beer reviewer Robin Shepard recently offered a look at the year ahead, providing a list of 14 anticipated beers from southern Wisconsin breweries. It’s a wide-ranging survey of some of the folks making fine beer here and some of the styles we’re lucky to explore. Among them? A new version of Vintage’s Jinja Ninja, which I have previously enjoyed in its standard incarnation. The new spin?

This batch of spelt-based ginger-spiced beer will be aged for about eight months in a Cabernet barrel. Spelt, a grain similar to wheat, has a deep nutty flavor. The Cabernet barrel-aging is a fun twist that should lend sweeter fruitiness to complement the ginger. A release date hasn’t been set.

Others include Common Funk, jointly produced by the Grumpy Troll and Sweet Mullets, and an intriguing set of collaborations spearheaded by Sierra Nevada with multiple breweries, one of which is our own New Glarus Brewing Company.

For the details, all the beers, and links, head here.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro: A man in search of a pub


Photo of Ari Shapiro by Flickr user COD Newsroom, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro is giving up the White House beat to head to London.

Why, you ask, does that merit a mention on a blog about eating (and drinking) in the modern world? No reason, honestly, but he’s so dang smart and talented, not to mention out and adorable, that I couldn’t help but find an angle. Thanks to Punch, I’ve got one.

Ari, it seems, is a fan of local beer, craft cocktails, and the neighborly exchanges that take place between customers and their favorite bartenders. As Leslie Pariseau describes,

During the lead up to the 2012 Presidential election, Shapiro found himself on the campaign trail following Mitt Romney from swing state to swing state. “You feel like you see the inside of airplanes and busses and hotel lobbies more than you see any actual place that you’re in,” he says. “One of the photographers for AP had an Instagram feed of hotel carpets, and it was just one swirling pattern after another, which is kind of a metaphor for the way we felt.”

At nearly every stop, Shapiro’s oasis was the hotel bar. At the end of a long day in decidedly unglamorous cities like Cincinnati or Reno, he would find his way into a middling hotel chain bar (think Comfort Inn and Courtyard by Marriott) with nondescript carpet and bad lighting. Surprisingly, almost every time—whether in the belly of the South or the middle of Iowa—he could find a local beer. It gave him a sense of grounding that “was a really refreshing antidote to the sense that every place has become the same.”

Instead of disparaging Anywhere, U.S.A. Shapiro found “that there still exists a local food and drink culture that people are really proud of everywhere—not just in the rarefied niches.”

The article concludes,

“I’m told London is a city that enjoys its drink,” he says optimistically. But Shapiro is baffled at how the English manage to drink as much as he’s told without going bankrupt. He balks at the price tag of a regular cocktail converted into British pounds, and is instead focused on finding his own corner pub. “It seems to me that, in Britain, no matter your age or class or wealth, you have a neighborhood pub—like a communal living room.” A place to revisit, and most definitely a notch up from the anonymous hotel bar.

Head here for the full piece, which also reveals that Shapiro is renowned for his homemade Poire Williams. (I didn’t know what that is either, but it’s an amazing and lovely thing, so check out the article.)

Enhancing the terroir of craft beer


Photo by Flickr user brocktopia, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

NPR’s Alistair Bland recently posted about ways that some craft brewers are creating decidedly local flavors in their beers:

Last week, Aaron Kleidon went for a walk in the Illinois woods and returned with a bag of lotus seeds. The seeds were bound not for his dinner plate, but for his pint glass.

In a few months, Kleidon will have lotus-flavored beer at the small brewpub , which he owns with two friends in Ava, Ill. The microbrewery specializes in beers with seeds, leaves, roots, fruits and fungi foraged from a nearby wooded property. The brewers have even made a saison from chanterelle mushrooms.

Why, you may ask, would anyone want to add strange seeds and mushrooms to their beer? The answer is to create a taste of place. It’s a concept long recognized by and winemakers, who call it terroir, but is mostly absent from the craft of brewing.

Head here for the full story.

Turning spent beer grain into granola bars and more

Holly Richmond at Grist (and Nicole Wakelin at That’s Nedalicious) recently posted about a small company that’s turning beer-making byproducts into a non-liquid form of nutrition. As Richmond details,

Up to 90 percent of beer ingredients are wasted (and not the good kind of “wasted”). So ReGrained is making some of that spent beer grain into beer-flavored, nonalcoholic granola bars….

The San Francisco-based company adds local ingredients — such as Ghirardelli Chocolate, NOM — and the end result is Chocolate Coffee Stout or Honey Almond IPA bars. Which sound pretty amazing, surprisingly.

You can order your own from the ReGrained website.

As Nick Carbone reported earlier this year for Time, Alaskan Brewing Company has found another use for their spent grain:

Brewers across the world ship their grain to farms for use as animal feed, but there’s not a large market for it in Alaska, given the state’s small agricultural industry. What’s more, Alaska’s capital is only accessible via sea or air, making it prohibitively expensive to ship the spent grain out of town….

Alaskan’s solution?

The brewery installed a $1.8 million boiler last year that takes the mashed-up, waterlogged grain – the primary waste product from its brewing operations – and uses it to create steam in order to keep its kettles cooking.

Check out the full story here.

Spent grain

Photo of spent beer grain by Flickr user Jinx!, used under a Creative Commons License (BY-SA 2.0)

Brewing beer more sustainably

Ale Asylum

Photo by Flickr user FarOutFlora, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A couple interesting articles about sustainability efforts in the brewing industry were recently posted on the news website of the UW-Madison’s Department of Engineering Professional Development. The first by Meg Turville-Heitz focuses primarily on the big multinationals. For example,

“Sustainability is a concept of rapidly increasing importance in the brewing industry,” says Ryan Griffin, a sustainability advisor with See the Forest, LLC, and a former asset management engineer at MillerCoors, which remains a client. As a student in the Master of Engineering in Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison he has worked to spread ideas learned from a systems perspective to the organization. “One such idea is using the concept of industrial ecology to analyze resource use throughout our supply chain,” says Griffin. “We are now beginning to build long-term partnerships with our material suppliers to design sustainability into how we operate. This could mean helping barley farmers grow their grain with less water, or our packaging suppliers use less energy to produce their materials.”

He notes that water and energy efficiency per barrel of beer brewed “are two metrics the company has actively worked to improve for the last five years. Two MillerCoors breweries are already at world class levels of water consumption per barrel” or less than a ratio of 3:1 water use to beer, and “others are close behind,” he says. Additionally, six of the company’s eight breweries have achieved goals of zero waste to landfills.

Find the full article here. The companion piece looks at the efforts of a couple local breweries:

New Glarus Brewing Company in southwest Wisconsin has been experiencing double digit growth, averaging 18% every year since it opened in its initial Riverside Brewery in 1993, says founder and president Deb Carey. “We’ve just completed $9 million in expansion and another $11 million on the way,” she says, adding “We doubled the capacity of our Hilltop brewery from 150,000 to 250,000 barrels per year.”

Those expansions have been a model in sustainability. “It’s been about reclaiming steam, heat exchangers, reclaiming chemicals, our own sewage treatment plant, wind and solar,” says Carey. For example, the chemicals used to rinse the three miles of pipe in the facility are re-used in washing down floors, and treated wastewater drawn from their own treatment plant – reducing the brewery’s impact on the community sewage treatment system – has been used in irrigation on the grounds.

For more of the local angle, including a look at some of the sustainability efforts undertaken at Ale Asylum, head here.