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.
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.
The news these days is full of stories about the federal government shutdown. Many focus on the larger narrative of the battle between the political parties, but some take a look at how folks outside of Washington, DC, are being affected. I was very interested to read a recent AP piece from Carrie Antlfinger (in Milwaukee) and Todd Richmond (in Madison) about the headaches that the shutdown is causing craft brewers. As they write,
the shutdown has closed an obscure agency that quietly approves new breweries, recipes and labels, which could create huge delays throughout the rapidly growing craft industry, whose customers expect a constant supply of inventive and seasonal beers….
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, is a little-known arm of the Treasury Department. The agency will continue to process taxes from existing permit holders, but applications for anything new are in limbo.
“One could think of this shutdown as basically stopping business indefinitely for anyone who didn’t have certain paperwork in place back in mid-August,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, which represents more than 1,900 U.S. breweries.
As a big lover of black IPAs (AKA IBAs), J will be sad to hear this bit of news:
Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee has applications pending for new packaging of its IBA dark ale and for permission to offer a sour cherry dark lager called John, a brewery employee’s own concoction.
The brewery hopes to launch the IBA packaging in November and John in December, but nothing is certain now. If the shutdown causes delays, the brewery will probably have to rush the beers to market, he said.
“If we lose that first month, we lose out on a good chunk of money,” brewery spokesman Matt Karjnak said. “Right now, it’s only been a week so it’s not too bad. Two weeks, three weeks is when we’re really going to start sweating here.”
Check out the full story at HuffPost.
Picking up where I left off yesterday, here’s a look at more of the beer and wine adventures that J and I had on our recent road trip to the West.
Oregon wineries: We visited a few Willamette Valley wineries this time, including a visit to the Van Duzer tasting room. As you can see below, the view is just gorgeous. Our friends told us that the wines have greatly improved in recent years after a new winemaker came on board; the work is paying off, as we enjoyed our tasting flight. We also made a repeat visit to Sokol Blosser. There we got to visit their beautiful, new, sustainably built tasting room, and once again sample their amazing wine. We left with a bottle of the dessert wine that on our last trip I was surprised to love so much. Speaking of our last visit here, our tasting guide Jim was on duty again this time around. Amazingly, he remembered us and our friends from our visit a year ago, and he was as engaging as ever. Thanks to search-term bots that scour the web (for mentions of, say, Sokol Blosser), he even knew that I’d talked about the winery on this blog last fall. Very cool!
The Local Beer Bar, Eureka, CA: On our drive from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area, we stopped at this great bar, which I discovered on Yelp. They had dozens of amazing beers on tap, and a cooler full of a wide array of bottles for drinking on site or taking to go. The bartender was friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and the patrons all seemed to be beer geeks (90% men when we were there) who were happy to be drinking great craft beer in the company of their own kind. We geeked out with a few of them about West Coast and Midwest brews. Once again, I neglected to take notes on which hoppy beers J tried, but I know that I had the Noel de Calabaza (on tap) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, a holiday seasonal that I was delighted to try even in August. It was an absolutely fantastic sour! As the Jolly Pumpkin website describes, you can expect “deep mahogany and malty, layered hops, figs, raisins, sugar plums, cashews betwixt rum laden truffles.” Mmmm! I also picked up a sour from Mikkeller that I’m saving for another day: Spontannoble 2012. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit to The Local.
Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA: Of course, no self-respecting lover of great beer could drive near Santa Rosa, California, without visiting Russian River Brewing Company. The place was very busy even at 2 pm on a weekday, but we managed to snag two stools squeezed in near the front end of the bar. It was a bit of a madhouse there at the entrance to the pub, with folks crowded around to buy bottles, growlers, and swag to go or a beer to drink while they stood waiting for a table or a seat. Nevertheless, it was well worth the stop. J tried Pliny the Elder (I think) and Row 2, Hill 56. I was driving, so I kept it to one: Propitiation, a truly delicious barrel-aged sour porter. We also snagged a few bottles for the road, including Damnation (bottle-fermented golden ale), Temptation (sour ale aged in chardonnay barrels), and Supplication (sour ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries added). And yes, most of their beers have “-ation” religious names, making it nearly impossible to keep straight which is which. We even heard a bartender tripping over his tongue and getting confused as he tried to name and describe several beers to a patron.
Steins Beer Garden, Mountain View, CA: J and I missed this the last time we were in town, but we were happy to find it this time. (The prices are steeper than Montana Ale Works, but this is Mountain View after all.) I had the amazing Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge on tap for the first time, and then had a fun flight of mostly stouts that included North Coast Brewing‘s Old Rasputin (nitro), Clown Shoes‘ Vampire Slayer, and High Water Brewing‘s Campfire Stout. The bartenders weren’t nearly as knowledgeable as at the Local, but we had a nice time regardless.
And still more?! Yes, yesterday and today’s extensive lists still don’t cover all the great (and occasionally not-so-great) beverages that we enjoyed on our trip. Others included Terminal Gravity Brewing‘s Bar X Stout (delicious!) on tap in Oregon and Unibroue‘s Éphémère Apple (too reminiscent of a green apple Jolly Rancher) on tap in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Coming soon: post(s) about some of our culinary adventures!
As I alluded to in a few earlier posts, J and I took a big road trip in August. Big, as in 5300+ miles big. From our home in Wisconsin, we made our way across the Great Plains to Oregon, down the Pacific Coast to the San Francisco Bay Area, and then hightailed home again so that J could be back at work for some commitments he couldn’t get out of. In roughly chronological order, here are some of our craft-beer highlights:
Montana Ale Works: With a very nice tap list, good food (more on that another day), and a cool space in a former railroad freighthouse, I can see why folks like it here. Oh, and did I mention the super reasonable prices of the beer? Four-dollar pints of delicious craft brews! J had Bozeman Brewing Company‘s Hopzone IPA and something else hoppy that was a new addition to the menu, while I had Bozeman Brewing’s Plum St. Porter and (or? I can’t quite remember) Snake River Brewery‘s Zonker Stout. (Some details get sketchy when this blogger gets into full-time vacation mode!) One of the few souvenirs we came home with was a pint glass sporting MAW’s logo of a gear surrounding a red and black yin and yang.
Breakside Brewery: Although we didn’t spend the night in Portland, we did have a chance to stop by Breakside’s restaurant and pub, which had been recommended to us by a friendly, beer-loving Portland couple. They were on a road trip of their own, and we chatted with them at the Montana Ale Works bar. I enjoyed Breakside’s Imperial Apricot Sour and a small pour of their Oatmeal Stout, while J unsurprisingly tried a couple of their hoppy brews, whose names I have forgotten. While perusing their swag list, I realized that I had forgotten to pack a ball cap, which I would need for sun protection in the coming days, so I snagged one here. With trucker cap newly in tow, all I was missing was a hipster mustache and I too could look like a true Portland man!
1856: J was supposed to drive us away from Portland, but his Breakside beers were too potent and left him ill-equipped to do so safely, as did mine. So, we seized the opportunity to stroll through Portland on a sunny (thank you, trucker cap!) afternoon and headed to this small wine and beer shop. Their selection was limited, but I was very excited to find something unique that I otherwise would not have had a chance to try: Logsdon‘s Cerasus. As their website describes, “This is our organic kriek beer, a barrel-aged Flanders style red ale with two pounds of fruit added per gallon of beer. We added both sweet and tart Oregon cherries during the aging process with a combination of several yeast strains and lactic bacteria to develop a secondary fermentation.” In my opinion, it wasn’t as good as the dearly departed Wisconsin Belgian Red from New Glarus, but I was glad to have tried it.
More Oregon brews: Our Oregon drinking also included beers of the west like 10 Barrel Brewing Co,‘s Apocalypse IPA, Green Flash Brewing Co,‘s West Coast IPA, and Deschutes Brewery‘s Black Butte Porter, all of which were highly enjoyable.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will feature some fine Willamette Valley wines and more great beer adventures.
Adrienne So had a nice piece in Slate recently about the craft-beer trend toward hoppy (sometimes aggressively hoppy) beers. She makes the case that some brewers and beer geeks have perhaps gone a bit overboard. For the uninitiated, she offers an introduction:
Hops are the flowers of the climbing plant Humulus lupulus, a member of the family Cannabaceae (which also includes, yes, cannabis), and they’re a critical ingredient in beer…. Recipes usually call for only a few grams of hops per gallon of beer produced, but those little flowers pack a big punch. In addition to their bittering properties, hops impart strong piney, spicy, or fruity flavors and aromas. They also contain antimicrobial agents that act as natural preservatives.
Although they make up a small proportion of the ingredients used in beer, hops command the vast majority of the industry’s passion. Beer geeks have an intensely emotional relationship to hops. We wax poetic about the differences among varieties: the mildness of the Saaz, the bright tang of the exotic Sorachi Ace.
Nevertheless, she argues, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing:
From a consumer’s standpoint, though, beers overloaded with hops are a pointless gimmick. That’s because we can’t even taste hops’ nuances above a certain point. Hoppiness is measured in IBUs (International Bitterness Units), which indicate the concentration of isomerized alpha acid—the compound that makes hops taste bitter. Most beer judges agree that even with an experienced palate, most human beings can’t detect any differences above 60 IBUs.
As I mentioned recently, J and I have been away on a combination vacation and work trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. We managed to have some nice adventures in food and drink. I’ll be posting about the former soon, but without further ado, here’s a look at some of the best sipping and quaffing we enjoyed.
Farmers’ Reserve No. 1 from Almanac Beer Company
Friends we were visiting (thanks, E & V!) took us to a fantastic little beer shop in Mountain View, California called Jane’s Beer Store. Although they were all out of the sour beer I was seeking from Russian River Brewing, I did manage to snag another local bottle that I had read about online and was very intrigued by. Almanac Beer Company—founded in 2010 by former homebrewers and dedicated to highlighting local ingredients and making beers that pair well with local, seasonal foods—have a line of “Farm to Barrel” specialty beers. Here’s their description of Farmers’ Reserve No. 1:
Our first California wild ale is brewed with a blend of Cabernet & Muscat Grapes from Alfieri Farms, Concord grapes from Hamada Farms and plums from Twin Girls Farm—all located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. Aged for over a year in used wine barrels, this sour ale blends rich flavors of the 2011 autumn harvest with farmhouse funk.
It was everything that crazy description promises and more! If you enjoy sour beers and are in the SF Bay Area, seek this one out. For opinions on both sides, check out Jay H.’s takes (both pro and con) at the Beer Samizdat blog.
Calabaza Blanca from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
It took a trip to California (and the helpful staff of Jane’s Beer Store) for me to discover a fine Michigan craft brewer. Here’s how Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales describes their lovely Calabaza Blanca:
Aged in large oak casks and refermented in the bottle, Calabaza Blanca is a Belgian Biere Blanche. Spiced with orange peel and coriander, you’ll find it refreshingly tart, with a wonderfully dry finish.
It was delicious! I can’t wait to seek out their beers here in Madison.
Hell or High Watermelon Wheat from 21st Amendment Brewing
After enjoying our time in Mountain View, J and I spent a day in the city (i.e., San Francisco), which started off with lunch at 21st Amendment Brewing. I didn’t love their veggie burger as much I hoped, but I was very pleasantly surprised by their brilliantly named Hell or High Watermelon Wheat. When beers start to feel gimmicky and in danger of tasting like soda pop, I get wary. But, I decided this was my best chance to give this brew a try, and I’m really glad that I did. It was refreshing and flavorful and shockingly well-balanced—or at least as well-balanced as a beer served with a wedge of watermelon could ever hope to be. I can imagine loving an icy cold one (or more) of these on a hot summer day.
BRUX Domesticated Wild Ale, a Russian River and Sierra Nevada Collaboration
After our California adventures, we headed to Seattle. If it took a trip to California to discover Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin, it apparently took a trip to Washington for me to discover Cali’s BRUX. I splurged ($24 = yikes!) and ordered it during our second trip to The Pine Box (another excellent name; it’s housed in the chapel of a former funeral home). As Natalie reports at Russian River’s blog,
BRUX was brewed in Chico (at Sierra Nevada) and will go through their distribution channels, which will, of course, greatly increase your chances of getting a couple of bottles. BRUX is a “domesticated wild ale”, or an ale fermented with Belgian yeast, finished by a secondary bottle fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis.
Josh Jackson has a nice and spot-on review at Paste; here’s a taste: “The citrus hop profile stands out with a bready richness underneath, meaning you don’t have to appreciate Belgian sours to enjoy this beer…. [It] is a more subtle, well-balanced Belgian-style golden that goes down easy with plenty of flavor and 8.3% ABV.” For a second (also glowing) review, see what Gary Dzen has to say at Boston.com.
Belgian Strong Dark from Pfriem Family Brewers
I’ve so far focused on some of the beers that I discovered during this trip, so I thought that I should close with one that J truly loved. On our last night in Seattle, we stopped by Brouwer’s Cafe for food and drink. Our bartender was great, and when J was ready try another of their 64 (!) tap beers for his second round, he suggested J try the Belgian Strong Dark from Pfriem of Hood River, Oregon. As their website puts it, “you don’t have to speak Flemish to appreciate the bold, complex flavors of fig dipped in dark chocolate, ripe fruit and toffee in this immense Ale.” J’s favorite imported beer is the St. Bernadus Abt 12 (which Brouwer’s also had on tap), but J said he liked this one even better, since the sweetness in the Pfriem was turned down a notch or two compared to the St. Bernardus.
Believe it or not, these have been just some of the highlights of our trip. Others include fine beers from Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery, both in bottles and on tap; lovely craft cocktails—some featuring local spirits and other local ingredients—at Seattle’s Local 360, Knee High Stocking Company, and Skillet Diner; and, as I mentioned yesterday, some fantastic coffee at Seattle Coffee Works. Even though it’s good to be home, this recap already has me jonesin’ to head back to the West coast!