Wisconsin made quite a showing at this year's Great American Beer Festival. The industrial mega beer factories picked up the obligatory awards for the styles no reader of this paper would be caught drinking, but the craft breweries were what placed Wisconsin among the nation's top brewers.
New Glarus Brewing Company is getting attention once again for its award-winning Belgian Red Wisconsin cherry ale. It took another gold medal at the GABF in a very large field of 64 fruit beer entries, but all of the awards given to this highly sought-after beer are also attracting a little bit of unwanted attention to the Madison-area brewery.
The Confederation Des Brasseries de Belgique has challenged the brewery over its use of the word "Belgian" because they say is misleads people into believing the beer is made in Belgium. Never mind that the label reads "Belgian Red Brand" or that Wisconsin cherries are prominently mentioned, and never mind that none of the other brewers of Belgian-style beers in North America haven't gotten that kind of adverse attention.
Belgium has a great beer-making tradition, as do England and Germany, but none of these countries are entitled to a monopoly on the wide variety of styles that have inspired so many of North America's great beers. I haven't heard many complaints about North American brewers producing "English" ales or "German" lagers. This isn't a case of a company trying to present itself as something it is not. It's a proudly Wisconsin product and everyone knows it.
In all the fuss over the Belgian Red, it's easy to forget that New Glarus also took bronze medal in the same category, for its Apple Ale. Dan Carey's going to have to start thinking about brewing a third fruit beer if he wants to try to sweep the category next year.
By the logic of the Belgian fuss, Capital Brewery better watch out for brewing "Bavarian lagers" and other German beer styles. Capital's Dark Lager took a bronze medal in the European-Style Dark/Munich Dunkel category, adding to Capital's long history of awards at the GABF.
J.T. Whitney's brewmaster Rich "Over the Hill" Becker just turned 40 and he made a beer to celebrate the occasion. Becker's original plan for his birthday beer was an Oktoberfest, but he obviously decided the occasion demanded a bigger beer, so he made a bock instead. Owner David Bookstaff didn't give Becker his wish that the beer be served in litre steins (although a few people supplied their own steins for the occasion), but he did surprise the guest of honour by serving it in commemorative pint glasses featuring a caricature of Becker. Over the Hill is a rich, malty brew just a bit on the sweet side, but not overly sweet. The overall impression, to this writer at least is that it is a cross between a bock and many of the winter lagers now on the market from some of Wisconsin brewers, largely because of the slight chocolatey flavour derived from the carafa malt.
The west side brewpub is featuring a Nut Brown ale for the winter, with a 16º P Christmas-spiced wheat beer coming later in the month. By the time this column appears, the India Pale Ale should be back on draught. This version of Becker's IPA is 17º P, 55 IBUs, dry hopped with East Kent Goldings, and unfiltered. Hey, Rich, remember, life (and beer) begins at 40 IBUs!
A birthday wasn't the only thing Rich Becker was celebrating during the last two months. In October, his smoked ale took a bronze medal at the GABF. Look for J.T.'s Smokin' Ale to return in January, with a party to celebrate the award.
The Green Bay Packers may have had their problems recently, but J.T. Whitney's Frozen Tundra will remain on tap throughout the season, and the first pint is on the house during Packers games.
Angelic Brewing Company will have a Belgian Abbey Ale on tap in December, along with a porter. With the trouble New Glarus has had because of the name of its Belgian Red, maybe Dean Coffey should be sure to call the beer a Belgian Abbey-style ale, eh? For later in December or January, the Madison brewpub will bring back the tripel that has been so popular as one of their winter seasonal beers.
Aside from the specialty beers, the big news at Angelic is that the pub is under new management, and Coffey is very enthusiastic about the improvements already made.
Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company won two awards at the GABF, Peck's Pilsener won the gold from among 31 entries in the Bohemian Pilsener category, and the Vienna lager bronze (23 entries) for Devil's Lake Red Lager. At the pub, the pumpkin will probably be gone, but try the ESB and Velvet Hammer Bock. Speaking of big gravity beers, the barley wine will be back in January.
One of the newest places to find Great Dane beers is Sal's Pizzeria on State Street. Great Dane partners Rob LoBreglio and Eliot Butler opened the New York-style pizza establishment, and Rob can sometimes be found tossing the dough when he's not back at the Great Dane supervising the brewery.
Gray Brewing Company of Janesville has brought back its Winter Porter as the current seasonal. If you still manage to find Gray's Autumn Ale on the shelves of your favourite store be sure to grab a six pack (along with that six-pack of Winter Porter) before it's gone.
October brought the long-awaited opening of Milwaukee Ale House. Located in the warehouse and entertainment district south of downtown, Milwaukee Ale House features dining and beer in a beautifully-renovated building on the river. Jim Olen, formerly of Green Bay's Titletown Brewing, is already producing some good bers in the Sprinkman brewhouse. Pull Chain "Pail" Ale seems perhaps a bit unremarkable when you first taste it, but let the beer warm up to proper temperature and the hops begin to come out in the flavour to make for a very satisfying beer. The session ale is a very enjoyable lower gravity beer. Also try the Sheepshead Stout and Louie's Demise. Your beer novice companions should be encouraged to try the Downtown Lites or the Solomon Juneau.
At the pre-opening party, Jim Olen tapped a cask of a blend of Louie's Demise and Pull Chain and, ummmm, had a little accident with some glassware as he swung the mallet. Not to worry, no one was hurt and the beer was a crowd-pleaser.
Milwaukee Ale House also offers a selection of guest brews from Wisconsin breweries.
Sprecher now features its Winter brew as the current seasonal. The dark, malty lager is slightly sweet, but the sweetness is balanced with just enough sharpness from the black malt and roasted barley to give it the robust character it needs to be a good winter warmer.
Wisconsin Brewing Company is featuring Silver Fox as its winter offering. Before its release, the brewery identified the upcoming beer as a Vienna/Märzen style, but it ended up being a "winter ale" rather than a lager. Confused? Sure, but personally I think it's not a bad move. Both of the other Milwaukee County micros are already predominantly lager breweries, and Wisconsin Brewing probably benefits from its status as an ale-only brewery; we'll enjoy the great WBC ales for now.
Lakefront continues, slowly but surely, to make progress on the location for the brewery expansion. Look for Beer Line Barleywine for the brewery's 10th anniversary.
Fox Valley/Green Bay
Fox River Brewing Company's new location at the Fox River Mall is now open. The first specialty beer at the new location is Pumpkin Sumthin, with an oatmeal stout also expected to be on draught soon.
Slab City is now offering what Bill Winsand calls a "nontraditional bock."
Titletown is celebrating its first anniversary with a special beer for the occasion. The Green Bay brewpub also hosted a Scotch tasting.
There's still no snow accumulation in Madison, but if you go "up north" you're likely to find snow for cross-country skiing and other winter recreation, and there's a 100% chance of finding beer across the northernmost parts of the state if you know where to look‹Twin Ports in Superior, South Shore in Ashland, and Rail House in Marinette. If you're in Door County, Sturgeon Bay's Cherryland and Egg Harbor's Shipwrecked will have some holiday beers to welcome you in from the cold.
LaCrosse may be known for its 25 cent glasses of Old Style, but Bodega Brew Pub keeps working to bring good beer to the home of the giant six pack. Bodega usually has one of its own beers on draught, plus an excellent selection of craft brews and imports. There aren't many places in the Midwest where you can find LaTrappe on tap, so don't miss a chance to enjoy some at Bodega if you're near LaCrosse. Jeff Hotson also does a number of tasting events to help encourage people to expand their ideas about beer.
The new Northwoods brewpub is running into some difficulty with its neighbours to the north in Chippewa Falls. Leinenkugel's, which has a Northwoods lager as one of its brands, is reportedly seeking to prevent the brewpub from using the name "Northwoods." Stay tuned.
Pioneer Brewing of Black River Falls is now distributing its pale ale and lager in the Madison area.
Dick Leinenkugel was promoted from heading the sales division to vice president of sales and marketing, joining his older brother "Jake" in Leinenkugel's top management. This is the season for Leinenkugels' tastiest beer, the Winter Lager, a wonderfully malty and chocolatey, but well-balanced winter beer. It's not a high gravity beer like many of the "winter warmers" we see this time of year, but it offers a lot of flavour. This is a beer worth getting and serving to both your beer-conscious friends and those who still need to be introduced to good beer.
Huber Brewing Company won another GABF award for its Berghoff lager, with a bronze out of 13 entries in the Dortmunder-European-style Export category. Berghoff Hazelnut Winter Fest is the current seasonal.
The Stevens Point Brewery has its Point Classics Gift Pack on the market for sharing holiday cheer with your friends who need an introduction to one of Wisconsin's historic regional breweries. The gift pack includes two bottles each of Classic Amber, Pale Ale, Bock, and Maple Wheat. The Point Classic Amber took a GABF bronze from among four entries in the American-style dark lager category.