Review: Short’s Bellaire Brown

by Ryan Urban

Brown ale. There may be no more generic name for a beer style. There may also be no style so nuanced.

Southern English Brown, Northern English Brown, American Brown. They are generally malty, with toffee, caramel, nutty, toasty, earthy tones. But hops can play a role too, providing slight or considerable bitterness, fruity or earthy aromas and flavors.
Brown ales fall somewhere between an English mild and a porter–another category of lots of variation.

Brown ales are kind of hard to pin down–at least for my palate. Many I’ve had can simply be described as “meh.” But others really hit the spot.

After reviewing my Untappd history, it seems I’ve good ones–from Ale Asylum, Surly, South Shore, Stevens Point, St. Francis, Pearl Street, New Holland–but I haven’t revisited any of them in 2 years or more. The exception is Bell’s Best Brown, which, honestly, I buy every fall for the packaging alone–owls are my favorite–though the beer is pretty good too.

When  I want a malty, easy-drinking beer, lagers come to mind–those great Bocks and Dunkels. I’m a lager man–what can I say?

But I can’t help but think I’m overlooking those top-fermenting browns. This realization came to me recently when I bought Short’s Bellaire Brown.

Shorts began distributing in Wisconsin last year, and this is the first and only beer I’ve tried from the Elk, Michigan brewery. I Ignored Short’s unfamiliar lineup for months  until a trusted bottle shop employee recommended Bellaire Brown.

This is my kind of brown. Those heavily-hopped or overly-nutty browns aren’t for me–keep the hazelnut out of my coffee and my beer.

But the Bellaire falls on the subtle side of the style, with nice caramely, toasty tones. The beer also has a wonderful dark brown appearance, perfect tan head and a full body.
However, Short’s says it’s “It’s hardly classifiable as a brown.”

What?! So, I guess I’m still trying to wrap my head around browns.  The journey continues. For now, I’ll pour another Bellaire and just enjoy it.

Goes great with a plate of Gouda and crackers.

Rating: Glass — GROWLER — Case — Keg

For the latest podcast, click here.

Review: Blacklist Verte

By Ryan Urban

Last winter on a trip to Duluth, Minnesota, I made the goal to visit all of port city’s breweries. Bent Paddle, Canal Park, Fitgers and Lake Superior all offered distinct spaces and great beers.

After browsing Blacklist’s lineup, I searched the Internet earnestly to find its location. I was, of course, disappointed to find it didn’t have one. It was an increasingly-rare contract brewery only.

But, I received a serendipitous consolation, finding Or de Belgique on tap at the Tavern on the Hill restaurant.

I had never heard of Blacklist before that weekend, and had no real expectations.

But I was blown away at first sip. The beer is a malty 9.5% Belgian Golden Strong Ale with all the wonderful complexity associated with the best in the style–Honey, lemongrass, pear, banana, spice and more.

This past January, I visited the Twin Ports again. A quick “Google” revealed that Blacklist now had a taproom. It became the first stop.

In a long, but spacious building with minimalist reclaimed wood trim and barrel-based tables, my female companion and I enjoyed being waited on by a helpful server.

An export stout—simply titled Dark–caught my eye, and proceeded to please my palate. But what next?

Though it wasn’t on the menu, I asked for Or de Belgique, hopeful there was a bottle somewhere. No such luck. But the server pointed to Verte, which he said was Or de Belgique with some extra dry hopping. I took a bomber to go.

I popped it a week later, and was not disappointed.

Dangerously easy-drinking, Verte has the marvelous complexity of the original, with an added dimension with tangy aroma and dryness from the Saphir hops.

I’ll be seeking another bottle on my next trip north. Paired with a salmon plank would be perfect.

Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Review: Door County Brewing Silurian Stout

By Ryan Urban

It’s rare that I remember the first time I had a specific beer. But I remember the first time I had Silurian Stout by Door County Brewing Company.

I was watching Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 at a bar called the Court N’ House—it was near the court house—in Eau Claire.

As an avid Packer fan, I had no reason to root for either team, and just wanted to see a good game. But the bartender asked me to pick a side—there were orange or green Jell-O shots on the line, depending which team scored.

I bet on Denver, which proceeded to get blown out by the Seahawks 43-8. One shot. Thanks, Peyton. The game was… forgettable.

But one beer was not!

Dark, nice tan head served in a weizen glass. Vanilla is apparent on the nose, but subtle enough on the tongue. Sweet and creamy, almost a peanut butter quality, but dark chocalaty, toasty malts held their own—unlike the Broncos.

I began seeing Door County on the shelves shortly after that. With other great beers in the Door County lineup—Polka King Porter, Pastoral Saison, Le Printemps Saison, L’automne Biere De Garde, etc.—the Baileys Harbor brewery has since grown to the point that it is contracting much of its brewing to Octopi, down state in Waunakee, Wisconsin.

I’m not sure where Silurian—a reference to the Silurian Period when the Great Lakes were a much larger inland sea—is brewed currently, but it’s still as tasty as I remember back in 2014.

It would be a good choice once again alongside some bar peanuts and friends when New England and Atlanta play this Sunday. If I can’t pick a winner in the game, I can at least pick one on tap.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Beer Run Episode #7

To listen now, click here. Or enjoy our blog recap first.

Beer Review: Ale Asylum Oktillion

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Not to be confused with this Disney villain—though we didn’t get her name right.

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We talked Oktoberfest variations.

Oktoberfest beer

Drink up the best of Oktoberfestbiers before they’re out of season.

In Brew News:

Self-Driving Truck’s First Mission: A 120-Mile Beer Run
World’s longest pub crawl: Maths team plots route between 25,000 UK boozers
Voldemort buys Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies

Interview: Isaac Showaki of Octopic/Third Sign.

 

We gave a shout out to our good friends at the Handy Homebrew Show!

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Matt Paulson of the Handy Homebrew Show and our very own Carl Cooley.

Kick back, uncap and listen to our full episode below. Cheers!

Beer of the Week: Valkyrie Big Swede

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Valkyrie Big Swede

I live in a beer desert. I live in a town of 8,000+ that doesn’t have a brewery. I lived here 5 years before any place even offered an IPA or stout on tap. One Wisconsin brewmaster once told me Barron County is where craft beer goes to die.

But there has always been a single saving grace. Twenty miles down some county roads lies a beer Valhalla at Valkyrie Brewing in Dallas, Wisconsin.

When I think of Valkyrie, I think of small town charm, unique beers and nice people.

When entering Dallas, it would seem the last place to have a craft brewery, much less one that’s been around 22 years. With a population of 400ish, there isn’t much happening in Dallas. There’s a gunsmith shop, antique store, post office, fire hall, one bank, one gas station, a church, a park, a restaurant, another bar and Valkyrie. But owners Randy and Ann Lee keep the beer flowing for cheap ($1 for 8 oz.), served with smiles and hearty laughs that would make anyone feel more than welcome in their taproom, which is adorned with medieval weaponry.

When I think of VaIkyrie, I also think of truly one-of-a-kind beers. A Valkyrie beer never reminds me of another beer. There’s a smoked Marzen (Whispering Embers), coffee milk porter (Warhammer) and black licorice IPA (Raven Queen). Some are more traditional, like the Velvet Green Irish stout, Night Wolf schwarzbier and Abbey Normal tripel, but they are still all their own.

One of my favorites—right up there with Warhammer and Berserk Barleywine—is the Big Swede Swedish Imperial Stout.

What makes it Swedish? I’m not sure, but it has all the hallmarks of delicious big black stout. Loads of caramel, vanilla and booze all the way down. A year in the fridge makes it all the better.

It will be a go-to this winter while the brewery is closed (January and February). Make a trip before then to stock up. The best time is this weekend at Dallas Oktoberfest, featuring a kubb tourney, 1860s baseball, polka band and weiner dog races!

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG

Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada-Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest

It’s about high time I wrote on a beer from Sierra Nevada, a pioneer, a staple and a true favorite brewery of mine.

The brewery is legendary for its pervasive Pale Ale and legacy as a trailblazer in the craft beer industry, dating back to 1978. I didn’t realize how significant the company’s influence was until I read “Beyond the Pale” by brewery founder Ken Grossman. I highly recommend it.

As the book titles indicates, Sierra Nevada is more than a great pale ale. The brewery makes consistent, balanced beers of all styles. I especially look forward to the fresh-hopped Celebration Ale toward the end of every year.

This year the wait is tempered by the arrival of crisp, flavorful Oktoberfest. It is the second lager collaboration Sierra Nevada has done with a brewery in Germany—this time  Mahrs Bräu, of Bamberg.

I am a fan of the 2015 version made with Brauhaus Riegele. I drank my fair share of it before it left the shelves.

How wunderbar that not only is Sierra Nevada doing another collab, but it turned out awesome.

The 2016 Oktoberfest is lighter, but malty enough, with a blitz of spicy noble hops.

Sierra Nevada indicates that it is brewed with a number of relatively unsung American and German hops—magnum, palisade, saphir, crystal and record, which the brewery says has been “nearly forgotten.”

Nearly forgotten?! I’ve never heard of it, but this scheiss is great!

Just as refreshing as this beer, is the fact that Sierra Nevada continues to do new, genuinely interesting things. I see many veteran breweries throw themselves at cringe-worthy fads or simply go stale.

With a dedication to the beers it makes well combined with a willingness to branch out through Beer Camp and other collaborations like this, Sierra Nevada keeps it interesting and keeps its crown as one of the best in the business. They might even be the first brewery to make a tasteful Oktoberfest-themed game.

This Mahrs Bräu collaboration will likely remain my go-to light lager for the rest of 2016, preferably with some good butterkäse and crackers.

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG

More on my Sierra Nevada experiences here.

 

Beer of the Week: Brewing Projekt WISCoast

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Brewing Projekt WISCoast.

I am proud of the brewing scene in Northwest Wisconsin. Breweries are relatively sparse over a large area spanning from the Chippewa River to Lake Superior, but most of the dozen or so make great beer. Some are among the oldest microbreweries in the Midwest—South Shore in Ashland and the one and only brewery in my county, Valkyrie. More recently, Hudson, Hayward, Superior, Menomonie, Somerset and other towns have become home to some skilled brewers serving beer in distinct spaces with great character. Oh, and there’s good old Leinenkugels.

Soon, the region may have its first mid-size craft brewer. After months of negotiating terms with the City of Eau Claire—without little evidence of progress—The Brewing Projekt reached an agreement to move into a larger, vacant space across the street from its current site in the heart of Eau Claire. The news came after a rally attended by more than 500 people, including myself. What a fun affair, with music, great weather and a dozen style-shifting, flavor-packed beers on tap.

It had been an extra-long time coming for these brewers, who had to cut through a considerable amount of red tape just to be licensed to brew, in large part because owner William Glass also owned Fire House bar in Eau Claire.

But where there’s a will there’s a way. Now, the Brewing Projekt envisions its new space as a destination brewery. It is my hope that the “Projekt” will be a stepping stone to making Eau Claire a destination city for beer lovers. Though much different than The Projekt, a block down Oxford Avenue, Lazy Monk Brewing makes superb representations of classic Central European styles—more about that here. Further, K Point Brewing is growing on the south side, Brewster Bros. and, of course, good old Leinenkugels up the road in Chippewa Falls. There are many more within 30 miles of Eau Claire, all serving beer on par in quality as that of most breweries in Madison, Milwaukee or the Twin Cities.

Eau Claire also offers other amenities prized by many beer lovers—an extensive system of paved trails and singletrack for bikers, good paddling waters, Ice Age hiking trail, challenging disc golf courses and a fantastic music scene highlighted by the Blue Ox and Eaux Claires festivals.

But let’s get back to the beer. My first from The Projekt, and a delight during the dog days of summer, WISCoast Pale Ale is a good introduction to the brewery’s distinct lineup.

First of all, having grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, I’ll drink anything with a cow on it. Citrusy hops and wheat make this an incredibly fruity, refreshing beer. The Brewing Projekt states, “Crafted to be wickedly crisp and totally refreshing.” Agreed.

Don’t wait for the expansion to visit The Brewing Projekt. Make a day or weekend of it. Eau Claire is very cool.

Rating: Glass – GROWLER – Case – Keg

 

 

Beer of the Week: Central Waters Cassian Sunset

 

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Central Waters Cassian Sunset.

If Goose Island is #1 in the barrel-aged beer game, Central Waters might well be a close second. This is a common ranking in the Midwest.

In my book, however, Central Waters is #1. Granted, I’ve only had two vintages of the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Reason: 1. Hard to get in Northern Wisconsin 2. Only released once a year 3. I’m not into shelling out extra cash or trading for beer 4. Goddamn InBev.

Alternatively, I can get better than a half-dozen of this Amherst (WI)-based brewery’s barrel-aged beers in a year’s time for less than $15 per 4-pack. This lineup is all affordable, consistent beers with big barrel character.

Granted, this has changed somewhat with tickets to the brewery’s anniversary releases selling out in minutes and the introduction of $40 per bottle Ardis Insignis.

So, is Ardis Insignis worth it?

Hell, I have no idea. I didn’t even bother to enter the raffle because I’m not paying $40 for 22 oz. of beer. Hey, I gotta draw the line somewhere.

No, rather I’ll be reviewing another recent release, Cassian Sunset.

Central Waters says: “A bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with local Emy J’s coffee, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon.”

First thought: “YAASSS! A new Central Waters beer!”

Second thought: “Oh no, they’ve taken a perfectly good BB stout and ruined it with spices and shit.”

You must understand, beers jam-packed with vanilla and/or coffee have almost always ended in disappointment for my taste buds.

Well, I bought some anyway. After all, I could attest to the fact that Emy Js has great coffee, having spent 4 years in college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And, Central Waters’ Brewhouse Coffee Stout is a rare exception to my “coffee beers suck” belief.

After my first glass, my suspicions seemed correct. I was ready to give away the other three bottles.

But, the first taste was from a shaker pint glass at a cold temperature. I felt I had done an injustice. So, a week later I had another from a tulip/snifterish glass at the proper temp. Big improvement.

Yes, the coffee, vanilla and cinnamon is there, but remain subtle enough. I still can’t say I’m a fan of these additives, but there is good balance in this beer. I certainly can’t fault Central Waters for trying something new with its tried-and-true barrel aging project.

This beer is, ultimately, another testament to the fact that Central Waters is one of the best in the business.

Too often beers are made extreme for extreme’s sake. Central Waters has certainly jumped in on the popular trends of incorporating barrel aging or huge amounts of sexy hops, fruit, peppers, spices, etc. But the brewery has also shown enough restraint and skill to produce flavorful beer that is also easy-drinking. I was surprised how quickly I finished my glasses of Cassian Sunset.

This supped-up bourbon barrel stout is decadent, like maybe spice cake, brownie and coffee ice cream mixed together. That sounds a little strange and excessive, but damn, I’d be a fool not to try it.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Beer Run Episode #5 Blog Recap

Review: Green Man Porter

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“Faulkneresque” as in William Faulkner

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“The cover of this edition is particularly effective in summarizing both plot and character. Addie Bundren has died and her family is carting her coffin to Jefferson to be buried with her people. The macabre funeral journey faces natural catastrophes of flood and fire as well as an intense family struggle. Her husband (Anse) and her children (Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman) all have their own agendas as they travel toward the burial. Cash makes the coffin and carries his tools with him; Jewel’s treasured horse serves several symbolic functions in the story; and they travel, coffin and all, in a wagon drawn by a team of mules.”

Similar motif going on at Burial Brewing Company.

 

Asheville beer scene lives up to the hype, including Sierra Nevada.

 

By “Going to Stout” we mean the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

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And by Michael Jackson, we mean this Michael Jackson.

 

This is a cask beer engine.

 

Billy Dee Williams, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Here’s another classic in our book.

 

Here’s the whole show.