Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black Cauldron – Grand Teton Brewing

                The latest Grand Teton Brewing Cellar Reserve beer, Black Cauldron Imperial Stout, released earlier this month, August 15th, in 750ml bottles.  However if you have been keeping up with Grand Teton Brewing over the years, you might recognize Black Cauldron as having previously been a seasonal beer.  So, I thought it was a little strange to see it make the jump to the limited Cellar Reserve release schedule.  I reached out to the Grand Teton Brewmaster, Rob Mullin and he was kind enough to provide the rationale for the move and add a few great insights into other aspects of the brewery, so be sure to check that out below.  Long story short, Black Cauldron is a popular beer that deserved a slightly stronger release 8% (seasonal) to 9.5% (Cellar Reserve) to highlight the aging potential of the beer and show off the love for what has become one of the favorite beers amongst the brewery staff as well.

                 I always look forward to the Cellar Reserve releases, and although it seems too hot to be drinking an Imperial Stout in August, September is right around the corner so it will soon be stout weather again!  There’s a lot I could say about Imperial Stouts and the early brewing traditions that inspired Black Cauldron, but between the original description and the added info from Rob Mullin, it’s pretty much covered.  On with the review!

They Say:

There are few styles of beer more flavorful than Imperial Stout. Our thick, rich version is brewed with plenty of caramel and roasted malts and subtly spiced with Cascade and Super Galena hops. We accentuate the natural smokiness of the brew by adding a small amount of beechwood-smoked malt. At 22.5 degrees starting gravity and 9.5% alcohol by volume, this beer boasts flavors of chocolate and coffee, along with raisins and dried fruit soaked in sherry.

Black Cauldron is a strong ale best enjoyed in moderation. Try pairing it with full-flavored grilled or roasted meats. Rich desserts like chocolate cake, truffles, fruit tarts, caramel flan or crème brûlée are all excellent matches.

We brew our Black Cauldron Imperial Stout to recognize and honor the women in the history of brewing. Brewing has been women's work since the dawn of civilization. In all ancient cultures, beer was a gift from a goddess, and women maintained status and power through their skills as brewsters. This remains true today in indigenous cultures from Asia to Latin America, Africa to remote villages in Scandinavia. Around the world, women bake bread and brew their own beer.

In Europe, the rise of cities brought commercial brewing, as governments realized the potential tax revenue to be had from large breweries. By 1445, the first all-male brewers' guild was established, the campaign against witchcraft burst forth across Europe, and the purge of women from brewing had begun. Beer historian Alan Eames has written that, when an occupation was listed, most of the women burned for witchcraft in Europe were brewsters or alewives.

Most of the imagery we associate with witchcraft today originated with the brewster. The large black cauldron bubbling over with foam? A brew kettle, of course. The black cat? Necessary to keep rats out of the grain store. The tall pointed hat? It allowed the brewster to be seen over the heads of taller men in the marketplace. A broom? The symbol of household domesticity, it is still associated with brewing all over the world.

Without the work of these women through the ages, it's entirely possible beer would not exist today. To learn more about the role of women in today's brewing industry, visit For more on the history of brewing,

With its dark malts, alcohol and unfermented sugars Black Cauldron is ideal for prolonged cellaring. We’ve enjoyed samples aged as long as nine years.

Original Gravity (Plato): 22.5º
International Bitterness Units: 54
Alcohol by Volume: 9.5%
Color (Lovibond): 40.0º

Black Cauldron Imperial Stout will be available August 15, 2015 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750 mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

Black Cauldron is definitely one of our favorite beers to brew, and it's become one of our fans' favorites as well, consistently ranking among the best beers we brew. The beer was one of our first Cellar Reserves, and it really belongs in that series. We've tasted Black Cauldron as old as nine years, and found them quite good. Everything about this beer asks for extended cellaring: the tannins from the dark malt, the unfermented sugars and the alcohol all work together to help Black Cauldron age gracefully.

We like this beer so much that we wanted to brew it every year, and several years ago we moved it to the Seasonal Series so we could do that. Then we realized that our packaging was causing confusion for our distributors and customers. We had some hoppy beers in big bottles that were mistakenly cellared, and many didn't realize the Black Cauldron could be aged, since we were putting it into 12 ounce bottles. In order to simplify and rationalize our packaging we decided to put only beers we think truly cellarable into the big bottles, and we moved hoppy beers like Pursuit of Hoppiness and Trout Hop Black IPA into the Seasonal Series (and 12 ounce bottles.)

Our compromise (with ourselves and our fans) is that, unlike the other Cellar Reserves that must wait at least three years before they're brewed again, we'll be releasing Black Cauldron every other year. That way we and our fans can put away enough bottles each time to get through to the next release. In addition, with this year's batch we've increased all those things that make the beer cellarable, including bumping the alcohol from 8 to 9.5% abv. Our guess is this (and future) releases will age even better than past versions.

You might have noticed new label artwork with this release, too. The previous Black Cauldron label, designed by our then-artist Gabby Prouty, was one of my personal favorites. It included two beautiful "brew faeries" or brewsters, and allowed us to tell the very cool story of women in brewing's history. I really like the link between the historical brewster and today's witch imagery. That story is still available on our website.

Beginning with this summer's Sour Grand Saison our current artist, Kathleen Hanson, has been redesigning our Cellar Reserve Labels with her own wonderful original watercolors and updated graphic design, including the removal of our old, iconic oval with barley sheaves. Kathleen struggled, but was unable to find an artful way to keep the brewsters on the label. She amplified the focus on their cauldron, and on the fire-dragon encircling it. That dragon, by the way, references the original inspiration for the beer's name: Black Dragon's Cauldron, a spectacular geothermal feature in the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone, named for its resemblance to a "demon of the backwoods."

I Say:

                Black Cauldron Imperial Stout pours a deep opaque, pitch black with a thick, creamy dark tan head capped with a few rocky bubbles.  The head holds excellent retention (5+ min) before fading to a slight haze with a thick collar that leaves light lacing being in the glass.  Aromas of charred barley, coffee, milk chocolate, and a subtle smokiness waft off the glass following the pour.  As Black Cauldron warms, notes of plum and sweet alcohols become more prevalent betraying the 9.5% ABV of the beer.  The aroma is pleasant but a little fruitier than many imperial stouts.

                Sweet, smooth caramel maltiness leads in the first sip with notes of dates and raisins. Slight notes of roasted barley, light coffee, and smoked malts round out the sweetness and draw attention to the moderate level of hop bitterness.  Sweet alcohol notes are also present in the flavor, serving as a reminder of the 9.5% strength, but without becoming overwhelming.  Full bodied, Black Cauldron has a smooth maltiness that is always welcome in an imperial stout, and a moderate level of carbonation which helps to break up the viscosity of the beer.

                I really enjoyed this Cellar Reserve release of Black Cauldron, and thought it was an excellent beer.  Oddly though, I had my first bottle of Black Cauldron a few years ago when it was part of the seasonal release schedule, and frankly I don’t think I enjoyed it back then.  My how the years have changed, my palette has developed, and my appreciation for Black Cauldron has grown as well.  The higher ABV is much appreciated and serves the notes of dates and plum excellently.  The slight notes of roasted barley and smoked malt serve are reminiscent of the open wood fires used in the early days of brewing.

                This is a wonderfully enjoyable beer that should age well for years to come, and it is great that it was released in the larger format bottle as opposed to the 12 oz bottles of previous releases.  If you can find this on a shelf, pick up a few bottles one for now and a couple to age!

                That’s all for tonight, check back soon for another review!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vanilla Wafer Porter – Mobcraft

Many Mobcraft releases are an interesting take on a style, or a blending of two different styles to create a unique new product with the potential to be great!  Vanilla Wafer Porter, Mobcraft’s 20th release seems a little tamer than many of the other recent Mobcraft releases, falling back on an adjunct addition that is definitely at home in a well-brewed porter, vanilla and cocoa nibs.  Now I love a good Vanilla Porter, especially in the winter when the dark malts and vanilla can be paired with Christmas cookies or pumpkin pie.  Vanilla Wafer Porter however was released this past July, as a byproduct of it receiving enough pre-orders in April to be released as the 20th batch.  For those of you who are unaware, almost every new Mobcraft batch begins as a recipe concept submitted to the Mobcraft Beer website, batch 20 was submitted by Colt Seaberg of Rockford, IL.  The submitted recipes are then pitted against each other in a competition to find out which beer will receive the most pre-orders through the Mobcraft website.  This creative means of deciding what to brew next has led Mobcraft to release many interesting one-off beers in their short history, and I am sure there is no shortage of interesting beers in their future.

On to the review…

They Say:
Rich Porter with a little cocoa throughout the mouthful with a strong vanilla wafer finish.
Scaled down so you can brew your own 5 gallon batch

·         1oz Vanilla
·         2oz Cocoa Nibs

  • Safale US-05

  • 1.5lbs Victory
  • 7lbs Pale Ale Malt
  • 3lbs Amber Malt
  • 1lbs Red Wheat
  • .75lb Roasted Rye

  • 60

  • 1oz Willamette @ 60

GRAVITY - 1.068/1.015

IBU - 25

ABV - 7%

I Say: 
                Vanilla Wafer Porter pours a very clear dark walnut color with dark mahogany highlights around the edges when held to the light.  It is capped by a moderately thick, small bubbled, white head with slight rocky breakup.  The head holds moderate retention; lasting 2-3 minutes before fading back into the glass and leaving a minimal amount of lacing behind.  Rich biscuit and vanilla aromas waft out of the glass, joined by light notes of milk chocolate.  A slight hint of toasted malts and vanilla round out the aroma invitingly.

                Slight vanilla and milk chocolate notes lead the flavor with notes of roasted malts coming out later.  Vanilla and slight biscuit flavors become increasingly pronounced as the beer warms with the chocolate notes never quite dissipating as the roasted malt flavors fade.  The overall impression is of one of those cream filled wafer cookies that I loved as a kid.  With a moderate maltiness and a moderately low level of hop bitterness this beer comes in a little light on the bitterness for a porter, although a more pronounced hop bitterness would not have provided the same drinking experience.  Medium bodied with a moderate level of carbonation, this beer comes in as expected for a good porter.

                Vanilla Wafer Porter is definitely reminiscent of a cream filled wafer cookie with the added benefit that it doesn’t taste stale immediately after opening the package.  It is a well thought out and playful beer that brings back childhood memories.  While drinking it however, I couldn’t help but feel that a full body would have really knocked this beer out of the park; as the biscuit, vanilla, and chocolate flavors would have greatly benefited from the full bodied beer giving it a richer feel.  I suppose that would have been a step away from the wafer cookies it was attempting to emulate however.

                Vanilla Wafer Porter is a solid beer that is well worth picking up if you can find it at a store near you.

                Well, that’s all for tonight, check back soon for another review.

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

City Fox - Brenner Brewing

                I often try to have a new beer every night, and while I do have a kegerator I have been through quite a few commercial kegs and never even thought of getting the same keg more than once.  That changed with City Fox though, the Mosaic hopped pale ale from Brenner Brewing Company in Milwaukee.  With summer right around the corner I wanted an excellent fruity pale ale, and took a cue from brew master Mike Brenner when he mentioned that City Fox was his favorite beer.  While I was at the brewery I ordered a City Fox at the bar, had one sip, and immediately ordered a 1/6th barrel to keep on tap at home. 

Until recently, ordering a keg, or filling up a growler at the brewery were the only ways to enjoy City Fox at home, which was great for those of us with a kegerator but not so great for the majority of craft beer enthusiasts.  Fortunately a few weeks ago bottled City Fox made its debut at Milwaukee Discount Liquor, and recently became available at multiple outlets the Milwaukee area and as far west as Madison.  As one of the Brenner Brewing’s flagship beers, it shouldn’t be too surprising that City Fox is quickly selling out in the stores that stock it.

The beer, a pale ale brewed with Mosaic hops, is a pretty straight forward pale ale with a fairly simple grain bill using only 2-row malt, one of the more common base malts in American craft beers, and caramel 20 malt (20 lovibond denoting the color of the malt). Unlike darker caramel malts which can provide considerable sweetness and well defined caramel flavors, Caramel 20 is roasted at a lower temperature resulting in much more subdued flavors, adding a light maltiness while providing a note of sweetness as well as light toffee notes with a subtle hint of caramel.  Mosaic hops are well known for being particularly fruity, with flavors of stonefruit, lemon, mango, melon, berries, peach, grapefruit, with floral and earthy notes.

City Fox is open fermented at “elevated” temperatures, which can enhance the fruity esters created by the yeast during fermentation.  It has something to do with reducing the CO2 saturation and hydrostatic pressure in the beer, which I suppose would make sense.  Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure at a given depth of a liquid, and it takes into account any additional pressure pushing down on top of the liquid.  In a sealed conical fermenter, the CO2 that is being generated during fermentation only has a small blowoff tube, building up pressure on top of the fermenting wort until it is able to escape out of a relatively small hole.  In open fermentation on the other hand the CO2 that is being created can more easily leave the headspace in the fermenter, decreasing the downward pressure of CO2 while also reducing CO2 in suspension.  The lower concentration of CO2 allows the yeast to be more active, and produce more esters.  The elevated temperatures meanwhile also aid in the production of esters while increasing the rate at which the yeast reproduce, eat sugar and make alcohol.  Open fermentation is a wonderful thing, but it can be tricky and produce unintended off-flavors if it is not closely monitored, which is why most breweries have moved away from it for a majority of their production.

I apologize if anything I mentioned above is technically incorrect, although I am sure someone will call me on it if it is.  Moving on to the review…

They Say:

                This session ale has a simple grist of just 2-Row and Caramel 20 malts so we can showcase the fruit and citrus that come naturally from the Mosaic hops and fermenting this beer at elevated temperatures in an open fermentation tank.  We hope you love it as much as we do.  Everything we do starts with art.

I Say:
                City Fox pours a crystal clear copper tinged amber with a thick, creamy white head and a slight rocky breakup.  The head holds decent retention (3-5 min) before fading into the glass and leaving moderate lacing behind.  Tropical and citrusy fruit aromas abound from the glass.   Fresh mango, papaya, lemon, grapefruit, guava, and gooseberry aromas mingle with notes bubble gum.  A subtle maltiness adds light bready notes that blend well with fresh melon in the finish.  The aroma is amazing, and surprisingly complex for a single hop beer, even if that hop is Mosaic.

                City Fox has an upfront sweet maltiness with subtle notes of toffee.  The sweet malts add complexity to the hops and additional fruitiness arising from the open fermentation.  Tropical and citrus fruit flavors are dominant throughout with notes of mango, minello oranges, sweet pineapple, and ripe cantelope.  Melon, orange, and sweet malt notes linger into the finish and aftertaste.  Moderately malty with a moderate level of hop bitterness, City Fox is medium bodied with a moderate level of carbonation.

                This is easily one of my favorite beers right now with the strong tropical fruit and citrus notes that come from Brenner’s combination of Mosaic hops and open fermentation.  As I mentioned towards the beginning of this post, I never get the same beer twice for my kegerator, but City Fox has proven to be the exception and honestly, after getting back to back kegs of City Fox.  I’m planning to get a third keg the next time I have a spot because I really miss having City Fox on tap in my house.  City Fox is also available in 6-packs, or growlers if you are close enough to the brewery to pick one up.  I also recently found out from Mike that all 6-packs sold in the month of July at Discount Liquors (Milwaukee-metro liquor store) come with a free tour at the brewery so head out and pick up a 6-pack soon to take advantage of the awesome deal!

                Well, that’s all for tonight, check back soon for another post!

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sour Grand Saison – Grand Teton Brewing Company

                I always look forward to the Grand Teton CellarReserve beers, because while I enjoy the annual and seasonal releases, the Cellar Reserve Series takes the normal releases up a notch to the level of extraordinary beers.  The annual May 15th release is the sour release of the year with the Snarling Badger Berliner Weisse in 2012 and Oud Bruin in 2013.  The 2015 sour release, Sour Grand Saison sounds like a beer that can blow the previous releases out of the water as a blended sour, utilizing three different brews; a traditional saison recipe, a batch fermented with Brettanomyces Drei, and a batch dosed with lactobacillus.  The blend of the three beers should add additional complexity and create a beer more interesting and arguably better than any of the three component beers.

                The blending of different components into a superior finished product has long existed in the worlds of wine, whiskey, and scotch; but only relatively recently expanded into the realm of craft beer with the expansions of barrel aging.  One of my favorite breweries out on the west coast, Firestone Walker has been successfully blending beers utilizing the palates of some of the best sommeliers in the country for their annual anniversary release.  The move by Grand Teton into the realm of blending is an awesome feat and sure to result in a beer that is superior to the sum of the component beers.  I went into Sour Grand Saison hoping that blending created an amazing beer able to draw on the characteristic flavors and aromas of each of the component beers while at the same time coming to represent something new.

                As usual with Grand Teton Cellar Reserve releases I reached out to Brewmaster Rob Mullin to get any additional information he might have that would shed light on the planning behind this beer.  This time around he wrote the entire description, so he didn’t have much to add.  Let’s move on to the review.

They Say:

            VICTOR, ID – Grand Teton Brewing Company, known throughout the West for their exceptional craft brews, is proud to announce the release of Sour Grand Saison, the second in their 2015 Cellar Reserve series.

            Grand Teton Brewing first brewed The Grand Saison in 2011. It was one of their customers’ favorite -beers, garnered rave reviews and won a major international competition. Not content to rest on their laurels, Grand Teton’s brewers have updated the beer for 2015.  Using an old brewing technique called “three threads,” they blended a trio of unique beers into one harmonious whole.

The brewers of Grand Teton started by reproducing The Grand Saison 2011 recipe. The first “thread” follows centuries of tradition, using European hop varieties—German Hallertauer Tradition, UK Goldings, Czech Saaz and French Strisselspalt. They used a very light base malt accented by just a touch of German Wheat and Munich malts. Finally, they fermented it very warm with a classic Belgian yeast strain to bring out the spicy flavors that are common to saisons.

The second “thread” fermented with Brettanomyces Drei (also known as Brettanomyces Trois.) This wild yeast from Belgium produces a very delicate tartness with lovely aromas of tropical fruit like mango, peach, pineapple and guava.

Finally, Grand Teton’s brewers produced a third “thread” of saison, this one soured with Lactobacillus, a common and beneficial microorganism that we encounter every day. It gives yogurt its tang and helps to ferment pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut. In Grand Teton’s Sour Grand Saison, Lactobacillus provides a delightfully tart, tangy and crisp, citrusy-sour flavor.

Each of the three “threads” were carefully tasted and combined to create the wonderfully complex and delicious Sour Grand Saison.

Saison is the original summer beer. First brewed in southern Belgium for thirsty farm hands, these crisp, bubbly, and refreshing brews demand to be consumed on hot summer days. Grand Teton’s version, with its acidity and blend of living microbes, should cellar well, becoming more interestingly tart and complex for several years.

This style pairs well with an astonishing variety of foods. Drink it with grilled sausage or chicken, green curry with coconut milk, or a summer salad with vinaigrette and crumbled bleu cheese.

            Alcohol by Volume: 7.5%
            Original Gravity (Plato): 15.5˚ P
            International Bitterness Units: 34
            Color (Lovibond): 5.0˚

Sour Grand Saison will be available May 15, 2015 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750 mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

                The beer was bottled with live Brett, so we do expect it to become even more tart over the next couple of years in the cellar. 

I Say:

Sour Grand Saison pours a slightly hazy golden amber with a thin, white medium to large bubbled head that quickly fades to a think collar of small bubbles around the edges of the glass.  The haze clears up with the beer becoming very clear as it warms to room temperature.  Aromas of guava, mango and peppery yeast phenols bound out of the glass.  Notes of tart lemon, pineapple and peach round out the aroma transitioning into slight peppery saison yeast phenols with a hint of ripe guava on the back end.

                Fruity aromas become fruity flavors with peach and mango leading.  Notes of citrusy pineapple and lemon provide a nice transition into a moderately tart sourness.  The peppery phenolics from the Belgian Saison yeast used in the first strain serve as a pleasant transition to additional fruity flavors from the second and third strain as notes of fresh guava, mango, and peach round out the back end.  Peach and guava linger into the aftertaste as an excellent fruity Brett Drei sign off.  With a moderately high level of carbonation and moderately light body this is sure to be a pleasantly refreshing beer over the hot summer months ahead.

                The three strains blended to produce this outstanding beer each presented an interesting variation.  The first strain brought the peppery phenolics that are present in many of the best saisons.  The second, Brett Drei strain brought with it the full, bright tropical flavors of guava, mango, and peach, really upping the fruity, wild flavors of the beer which should develop and become more complex as the beer matures in the bottle.  The third strain, soured with Lactobacillus, adds the excellent tart citrusy notes of that are at home in a good Berliner Weisse and serve to provide a refreshing lemony tartness, although the yogurty tanginess that sometimes arise from the use of lactobacillus is thankfully absent.  Each of the three strains serves to add excellent complexity to the released product creating an awesome beer that should age well for years to come!

                I am often a fan of Grand Teton beer releases, and Sour Grand Saison is no exception.  In fact, this is probably my favorite Cellar Reserve release since Double Bitch Creek (which I hope they bring back, 2016 CR release please?)!  This is a remarkable beer that should mature extremely well becoming increasingly tart, sour, and complex with age.  I know I’m going to pick up as many bottles as I can find when this makes it out to Wisconsin, so anyone in the Milwaukee metro area might want to try and beat me to it.

                That’s all for today, check back again soon for another review!

                Happy Drinking!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sour Safari – MobCraft Beer

                Mobcraft Beer has been releasing sour ales since shortly after they opened in 2013, although prior to this bottle release of Sour Safari, their sour offerings were primarily available at beerfests, with Sour Safari making its debut at Great Taste of the Midwest last year.  The bottle release of Sour Safari, which came out a month ago is a lactic fermented sour red ale in the vein of a Flanders Red Ale, but with a focus on the tart, vinegary notes that come from adding a healthy dose of lactobacillus to a beer either pre or post-fermentation.

A couple previous Mobcraft releases have taken on sour notes in the bottle after release, so my hopes were high that this sour release would have the strong sour notes characteristic of the Flanders Red style.  Arabian Date Night for instance had some considerable lactic, yogurty notes after being in the bottle for a couple months, and that was by all accounts an un-intentional souring; one that turned out remarkably well.  Sour Safari on the other hand is released as a sour, so it should have the aroma and flavor profile of a sour beer.  With a retail price in the $4 range for a 12 oz bottle, this is notably inexpensive for an American Sour and could be an excellent bargain for the style if it’s a good beer with only DESTHIL’s Sour Series coming in at a similar price point.  That said, on to the review.

They Say:
                Sour Red Ale Aged in Oak Barrels.

I Say:

                Sour Safari pours a hazy reddish tinted caramel with cuprite (bright red) highlights.  The beer is capped with a moderately thick, rocky white head that holds low retention (~2 minutes) before fading to a thin layer of hazy bubbles and a thin collar around the edges of the glass.  The aroma is fairly restrained with slight notes of vanilla, oak and balsamic vinegar on the front end.  Light dark cherry notes blend with a hint of solvent-like phenols and a subtle vague funkiness that’s too indistinct to tie down.  Cherry notes and the slight funkiness linger into the finish.  More cherry and fuller vanilla notes develop as Sour Safari warms, providing an exceptionally pleasant aroma.

                Mellow dark cherries blend with vanilla and a slight note of balsamic vinegar to lead the flavor.  A slightly yogurt-like tartness rounds out the back end with tart cherry notes and a flavor similar to red sour patch kids providing a nice, but restrained, sour kick.  Lingering notes of cherry and subtle oak notes linger long after the last sip.  With a medium-light body and a low level of carbonation, Sour Safari seems to fall a bit flat but maybe I just got an under-carbonated bottle.

                Being the first commercial sour release from Mobcraft I was hoping for the tart, lactic sour notes that have developed overtime in some of the other Mobcraft releases like Arabian Date Night.  Unfortunately, while sour notes linger throughout Sour Safari and tart balsamic vinegar flavors are beginning to develop, this beer will require considerable aging before it can compete alongside other sour red ales like Rodenbach Grand Cru, The Lost Abbey Red Poppy, Central Waters Exodus, or DESTIHL’s Flanders Red.

I’m usually a big fan of Mobcraft beers, but this one seems a bit rushed and could have used more aging prior to the release in order to gain the tart sour notes characteristic of a Flanders Red.  I’m going to give this beer the benefit of the doubt and say that it should get better with age; it’s just not there yet.  If you are looking for a good sour ale that you can open for immediate consumption, you might want to look elsewhere.  However if you have the patience to wait for this beer to develop then by all means pick up a few bottles and keep them in a cool, dark place for some extended aging.  As for me, I am going to look for more bottles, if I can find them, hide them away, and hope that in another year or two this will become a great Sour Red.

That’s all for today, check back soon for another post!

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Petri Chor – Mobcraft Beer

                With the increasing prevalence of barrel aged beer releases from MobCraft Beer Co, it was only a matter of time until the guys released a Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout.  Released in collaboration with Riley’s Wines of the World, Petri Chor is a small batch beer aged in one of three barrels, two of which were selected by Riley’s and one of which was selected by MobCraft.  Rileys selected an Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year barrel and an Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003; while MobCraft brought an Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Barrel as well.  The three barrels were kept unblended for three separate barrel aged releases and each was rather limited with the MobCraft barrel receiving a 400 bottle run.

I lucked out on this beer receiving a bottle from a buddy after I was unable to find any in my local market.  I kept seeing notices that Petri Chor was in stock at Liquor stores in the Milwaukee market, but the last bottle was always gone by the time I made it in.  It was a long, frustrating hunt but I ended up getting a bottle from the portion aged in the MobCraft Beer selected Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year.

Fun fact before moving on with the review, I was curious what Petri Chor meant so I googled it, and found this courtesy of Wordsmith.Org.

petrichor (PET-ri-kuhr) noun - The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

[From petro- (rock), from Greek petros (stone) + ichor (the fluid that is supposed to flow in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology). Coined by researchers I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas.]

"Petrichor, the name for the smell of rain on dry ground, is from oils given off by vegetation, absorbed onto neighboring surfaces, and released into the air after a first rain."
Matthew Bettelheim; Nature's Laboratory; Shasta Parent (Mt Shasta, California); Jan 2002.

"But, even in the other pieces, her prose breaks into passages of lyrical beauty that come as a sorely needed revivifying petrichor amid the pitiless glare of callousness and cruelty."
Pradip Bhattacharya; Forest Interludes;; Jul 29, 2001.

                A pleasant smell, or the blood of the gods, should be a great experience, right?  On to the review!

They Say:

                Where one Journey Ends, Another Begins!  This beer began its journey a long time ago.  Buried deep in the belly of a rickhouse in Kentucky laid just one barrel of bourbon whiskey that would find its way to Madison after being hand selected for its quality.  A plan was hatched to age in this barrel a beer of epic proportions, and one that could showcase the individual character of the whiskey formerly held within this barrel. Petrichor was born as a result of the collaboration between MobCraft and Riley’s and is a beer like no other.

                ABV – 9.5%

I Say:

                Petri Chor pours an opaque dark brownish/black.  It’s capped by a moderately thick creamy dark tan head that holds moderately low retention (less than 2 min) before fading to a thick collar that lingers around the edges of the glass, although the beer leaves minimal lacing behind.  Strong, slightly sweet notes of whole grain bread lead in the aroma.  Charred oak, smooth, slightly sweet bourbon, caramel, vanilla and a hint of coconut each play their part, as the bourbon and barrel add their signature contributions.  The finish brings with it a subtle smokiness with lingering notes of whole great bread, and the caramelized sugars of a nice, hearty bread crust.

                The flavor carries forward many of the excellent sour, bourbon, and barrel characteristics that were present in the aroma, only they are magnified three fold. Light fudgey chocolate, caramel and vanilla lead in the flavor and are intermixed, reminiscent of a caramel turtle, or vanilla bean truffle.  Semi-sweet bourbon and a slight oakiness round out the flavor.  The bourbon brings with it notes of toffee, vanilla custard, and a hint of rye with lingering barrel char.  Notes of caramel and vanilla lingering with the bourbon and oak in the finish, and remain well into the aftertaste providing a firm reminder that this beer was aged in bourbon barrels.

                Petri Chor is pretty restrained in the stout characteristics for an Imperial Stout, although by its own admission, it is a beer built to showcase the bourbon character of the barrel.  Drinking Petri Chor, I definitely taste the toffee, custard, rye, and char that are characteristic of a dram of Elijah Craig 12 year.  In that, this beer is a tremendous success.  I would love to see a wider variety of bourbon barrel stouts, and really just more barrel aged beers from Mobcraft and hope there are many more to come.  Chances are if you don’t already have a bottle of Petri Chor, you missed out because I haven’t seen it around in months.  If you find a bottle however, it is well worth the price!

                That’s all for tonight, check back again soon for another review!

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wiscosinbly!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Interview with Mike Brenner - Brenner Brewing Co

I first met Mike Brenner over two years ago to discuss his, then in the works, brewery for one of my MBA classes at Marquette.  I was supposed to meet with him to discuss growth and distribution plans with the final goal of submitting suggestions to help Mike reach his 5 year sales goals.  I don’t know if any of my suggestions were helpful, or if he even perused my write-up, but I suppose at this point it doesn’t matter anymore.  Mike opened his brewery, Brenner Brewing Co., last November and it’s quickly taking off.  With a love of the arts, a strong local presence, an MBA from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and a brewing degree from the Siebel Institute of Technology, Mike has a promising future in the Milwaukee craft beer scene.  His brewery, which was in the works for a few years is bound to be a boon for the city.

I really enjoy talking to Mike when I get the chance, and really enjoyed this interview.  I hope you find this interesting, because I sure had a blast!

WIBG:           A lot of professional brewers get their start with home brewing, what was it that led you to brewing?

Mike:         There was a point where I moved back to Milwaukee in 1996, and I was living at my parents while one of my best friends was living in a house with a bunch of dudes.  We would all hang out and drink, and one day we thought we should try and make our own beer.  It was like the classic formula, I was 22, so it was like; let’s find a better way to get wasted.  Unfortunately it wasn’t very romantic.

WIBG:         You had your start in the art world, what made you transition from owning a gallery to owning your own brewery?

Mike:         I think it was a lot of different thing.  It was a perfect storm of weird.  I was running a non-profit art group that I had founded for 9 years, I had a gallery that I had been running for four and a half years, I had been running Turner Hall for about a year, and I was doing free-lance graphic design.  My best friend was driving a BMW to his awesome job and I was driving a broken down ’97 Honda Accord and I just thought what the fuck.  Here I am, I have four jobs, but I am still sleeping on an air mattress in my art gallery and living off McDoubles, this is crazy!  What am I doing?  I realized there had to be a better way to support the arts.

WIBG:           How many brewers do you currently have on staff?

Mike:         There are two of us now, Ray and I.  There’s a lot going on here.  There will be a lot of days where he ends up brewing and I’m busy with the rest of the business.  I’m only a few months in and already delegating.

WIBG:           How often are you brewing to keep up with the demand for your beer?

Mike:         We are probably brewing like once every 2-3 weeks, but it kind of goes in spurts.  The last month we brewed every week, and now we haven’t brewed for 2 weeks and it’ll probably be a couple more weeks until we brew again because the system was so big, which was one of the strategies behind the business plan.  I figured if we buy more equipment up front, we can brew fewer batches because each batch is larger and we don’t have to spend as much time brewing.  So right now I don’t have to hire someone to brew full time, and I have time focus on the rest of the business.

WIBG:         Since you aren’t brewing constantly, you must have a pretty big system, what size if your brew house?

Mike:         It’s 30 barrels (945 gallons) and I have six fermenters.  There are four 60 barrel (1890 gallons) conical fermenters and two open 30 barrel (945 gallon) tanks.  In hindsight it cost a lot money up front, and I really wish I had some of that money now.

WIBG:         What made you choose to go with two open tanks?

Mike:           I don’t know.  As someone who homebrewed and then went to Europe (as part of Siebel) there are a lot of great European breweries making amazing beers in open tanks…  At the brewing school they had some small horizontal tanks, but almost all the batches we brewed there were open too.  I just can’t imagine not having the option to ferment in open tanks; the flavor is just much more complex.

WIBG:         With the Open fermentation, you lose some control, have you had any batches that have gone unintentionally sour?

Mike:         None of the batches in the open tanks have gone sour because the room is HEPA filtered.  We did have one batch of our IPA that went sour though, right after we started.  The first batch that we brewed was our Maiden Opus sour and when we moved it something didn’t get cleaned right and we soured a batch of the IPA.  There was also a blind spot in the tanks that doesn’t get cleaned, so that IPA was how we found out. 

WIBG:         Did you dump the sour IPA, or do you still have some around?

Mike:         No, we saved it because if you add brett (brettanomyces), lacto (lactobacillus), and pedio (pediococcus) to anything it tastes delicious, at least in my opinion.  We ended up letting the IPA sour for a few months and then blended it with the Maiden Opus.  The maiden opus is 90% 2-row, 10% Caramel-20, Saaz hops, and European Ale yeast.  Then after it fermented, we added in the Roeselare yeast blend and we transferred it into Opus 1 Cabernet barrels and transferred the IPA into the fermentation tank after we thought it was clean, but it got infected.  We decided to age it and blended it 50:50 with the Maiden Opus.

WIBG:           Did you blend all of the Soured IPA with Maiden Opus, or do you have some sour IPA left?

Mike:         We do, to make the blend; we took all except for 3-4 barrels of the original batch Maiden Opus to blend 50:50 with the IPA.  Then we took the IPA that was left and filled up the Opus 1 barrels again.  So, now we’ve got the soured IPA in Opus 1 barrels, and it’s been sitting there since November.  We also still have some of the Maiden Opus still in oak with one batch that has raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in the barrel.

WIBG:         Are those all going to be released for a one year anniversary party?

Mike:         I think so.  We will pull some at one year and will likely save some for the second anniversary to see what it tastes like then.  That’s the fun of doing all the barrel aging, we can just save one barrel and see what happens.

WIBG:           Are you worried about any cross-contamination with your barrels, like the Sour IPA or Maiden Opus souring any other upcoming barrel aged releases?

Mike:         I think we learned our lesson very early, so we have been very careful since then.  Now we have a separate set of hoses, seals, and valves for souring.

WIBG:           With one intentionally sour beer, Maiden Opus, and now a sour IPA, are there plans to expand your sour beer line?

Mike:         For sure.  We’re going to do an Oud Bruin, sour brown ale, in the next couple weeks.  And then, we’ve reserved enough Cabernet barrels to do a couple more batches of beer in cabernet barrels.  And I’m trying to look for other wine barrels to age beer in as well.

         I really like wine barrel aging instead of bourbon barrels for some reason.  I’ve never been super enthusiastic about whiskey and bourbon barrel aged beers, I think because they are so common and so rarely done well.  They are often overpowering, if I wanted to drink whiskey I would drink whiskey.

         So yeah, we’ll keep adding sours because I love sours, so we will see what’s happening.  Right now all of our sour barrels are aging next door, and I wish I had another warehouse with more space.

WIBG:           Do you have any plans to upgrade your system, or warehouse space?

Mike:         Not right now.  Because we are self-distributing we are a little behind our initial sales projections.  We can still hit our initial 5-year sales projections with the equipment we have, so I am actually starting to talk to some people about contract brewing.  It goes in spurts though, so like 3 weeks ago every fermentation tank in the brewery was full, but we usually have at least one open fermenter.

WIBG:         Since you are thinking about getting into contract brewing, will you get more fermentation tanks if you get requests?

Mike:         I don’t think I would invest any money in that, I mean contract brewing for me isn’t something I am super excited about.  It’d be nice to make extra money, but this is my baby so I am pretty protective.  We keep it clean here so the idea that we could have someone else coming in here is a little unnerving.

I think if were to get into contract brewing, it would be someone else coming in and doing their thing.  I wouldn’t brew for somebody else, so that kind of arrangement would have to be the right person who keeps it as clean as we do.  So contract brewing would be a pretty minimal endeavor, it would be for maybe 1 or 2 people tops.

WIBG:           Since you are known for supporting local arts and music, do you source any of your ingredients locally?

Mike:         We get the grains for most of our beers from Briess Malting.  The bacon bomb is mostly Weyermann Beachwood smoked malt, our amber uses some special B, and that’s Belgian.  But other than that I use malts almost exclusively from Briess.  I haven’t used any Wisconsin Hops yet.

         For our Russian Imperial Stout, Witch Craft, we used all Kallas honey, they’re on the north-west side of Milwaukee.  And we’ve used all Anodyne coffee in our coffee beers.  Those guys are awesome neighbors, so we love working with them.

WIBG:         I know you have only been open a short time, but are you planning any special releases?

Mike:         Every release is special and Maiden Opus will be around for a while.  Right now we’ve got a Czech-style, Bohemian-ish Pilsner with 20% rye, which kind of makes it not at all a Czech Pils.  We used almost all Weyermann Bohemian Pils malt for that.  So it has Rye and I put in some Acidulated Malt, so that’s kind of weird.  Then we started the fermentation in one of the conicals and lagered it in one of our oak foudres in the walk in cooler.

WIBG:           You have foudres too, how big are they?

Mike:         I think they are 40 hectoliters (1056 gallons); it’s been a while since I bought them, so I can’t remember.

WIBG:           What made you decide to ferment in open oak foudres?

Mike:         Going to Pilsner Urquell in Pilsen and seeing in their cellar got me interested.  They had giant oak vessels filled with a special beer that you could only get at the brewery in the Czech Republic.  It just made me think, I want to ferment a beer in a big oak vessel.

WIBG:          So you just went out and got some?

Mike:         Well, mostly, yeah.  I want to use them for sours, because another part of the brewing school was traveling all over Europe.  We went to places like Rodenbach and they had like 450 of those foudres there.

         Before we soured them though, I wanted to do something with it.  I even thought about doing a, just to be a snotty asshole, using barrel-aged water.  Like filling up the foudre with a thousand gallons of water, get the oak flavor in the water and then try to brew with it.  I might still try to do that.

WIBG:         That could turn out good

Mike:           …or it could be disgusting

WIBG:           There’s only one way to find out though, right?

Mike:           Absolutely!

WIBG:           Are you planning any upcoming collaborative releases?

Mike:           Maybe.  I’m trying to get something going.  There’s one guy I went to brewing school with who has been trying to push us a group of us from Siebel to brew a collaborative beer.  He works at Butcher Knife in Steamboat Springs, and another guy works at the Commons Brewery in Portland, and they wanted to do a beer with Bell’s as well.  He’s wanted to do this since October; he sent me another e-mail in February to ask if I was in.  I told him I was, so, we’ll see if that happens.  Otherwise I know the guys at the Commons in Portland are definitely down for it, so I know we are doing that at some point.  I am going out there for the craft brewers conference so that would be a good time to do it, but we’ll see, maybe I’ll fly those guys out here to do it.

WIBG:           You mentioned Butcher Knife in Steamboat, have you ever been to Steamboat, it’s a nice place?

MIKE:           I’ve went to school in Colorado twice, but I’ve never been there.

WIBG:           When were you out in Colorado?

Mike:           I moved there in the spring of 1994 for a semester, and then I came back and was playing music professionally for about a year and then I went out for the fall of ’95 and spring of 96.  Then I came back here and stated at MIAD.

WIBG:           I think the last time we talked I mentioned that I also went to CSU, 2004-2009.

Mike:           Oh yeah?  It was great out there.  Kind of a weird thing going out there two different times and being like fuck it, I’m going back to Milwaukee, where the real beer is…

WIBG:           I keep talking to people who talk about how craft beer is really exploding there.  When I was there, it was only New Belgium, Odell’s, and Coopersmith’s.  Those are probably the ones that were around when you were there too, right?

Mike:           I think when I was out there it was only New Belgium. I think they had just gotten out of their garage in ’94.  Back then I didn’t even know what craft beer was.  I was there spring of ’94, and after I came back I was like, I want to brew Fat Tire, how do I brew Fat Tire back here in Milwaukee.  I grew up drinking Miller then I moved out to Colorado and realized there was something else, something better.  I don’t think I drank a Coors the whole time I was there, it was like blasphemy, but Fat Tire seemed like it was okay.

WIBG:           Yeah, I was so happy when I left Fort Collins, I thought I was finally leaving Fat Tire behind, I didn’t think I would see it again.  Then week after I got here, New Belgium expanded distribution into the state and Fat Tire was everywhere. 

Mike:           Well, that was it, I first had Fat Tire there, and then for years I was like, there’s this beer called Fat Tire, and it’s great.  Then when they launched it in Milwaukee I realized I didn’t really like it.  But at the time I went from Miller to Fat Tire, and I was really excited about it.  Then by the time I had it again, I had tried like a million beers and I wasn’t as excited about it.  That’s the beer that started it all for me though.

WIBG:           So, what’s your favorite beer style?

Mike:           I don’t know.  I think I like weird shit, like things I’ve never tried before.  I think I default to either Belgian sours or IPAs.  If I go somewhere, because I have to drink so much professionally, I just try to find something I haven’t had before.  That’s just the way I try to do it.  If I’ve had everything on the menu at a restaurant or a bar and I need to drink I will get a Belgian Sour first.

WIBG:           How about your own beers, do you have a favorite?

Mike:           Umm, it depends on my mood.  I really like our sour, it’s pretty mild, but I can pick up the pediococcus a bit more now even though it’s been in the cold.  I can taste the vinegar from the pedio more, which I like.  But I think just an easy drinking beer like the City Fox.  When we were bottling that I pulled one right off the line and was like, I’m going to crush a thousand of these this summer.  I’m going to be drinking this all summer long.  So, that’s definitely going to be the go to.

WIBG:           So since you bottled that, is there anywhere in particular that you are distributing to?

Mike:           We haven’t even done 6-pack holders yet, right now we are only distributing in cases with dividers to bars and restaurants.  We were just trying to ease into it.  We hadn’t even run the bottling line prior to the first time we bottled City Fox.  So the first time we ran City Fox it took us 7.5 hours to get 10 cases of beer bottled.  We had to set up the line and when we starte running it and labels were flying everywhere and bottles were smashing on the floor.  We had 2 entire 55 gallon garbage cans full of 17 cent bottles with 6 cent sticker labels on them.  I was so pissed, it was so much waste.  And then we ran it again and kind of got it dialed in.  By the time we ran the Bacon Bomb, it was better.

           By the time we ran the IPA we did like 100 cases in less than 3 hours.  So I think we kind of have it figured out.  There was only like a case of bottles wasted instead of half a palette.

WIBG:           Is there any particular brewery or brewer that you look up to, or look to for inspiration?

Mike:           Mostly New Belgium, because of the Fat Tire.  *nervous laughter*   Umm, I don’t know.

WIBG:           Have you met Peter Bouckaert when you’ve dealt with New Belgium.

Mike:           No, but I’ve meet a lot of guys there, and they’ve always been awesome to us.  All jokes aside, I was like I don’t know if I can make the Pale Ale, because we use all Mosaic hops, like some dumbass home brewer, “I use the hardest hops in the world to get.”  I put up a post on the pro brewer forums and asked if anyone had Mosaic, they e-mailed me and one of their guys who is from Wisconsin hooked me up and sent hops at their cost.

           Then when we were messing with the foudres, we had heard that they might have issues when they were brand new.  I met a few of the guys when I was out in Colorado for the GABF and they gave me their cards, so we were e-mailing them back and forth and they gave us lots of good advice.  They were super cool actually.  All jokes aside, the structure of their business is awesome, which is great.  There aren’t a lot of places where all of the people love to work where they work.  That’s one of the great things about this industry.

WIBG:           New Belgium is pretty famous for going employee owned, do you think you have any plans to go employee owned like they are?

Mike:           Fuck no! Just kidding….  I don’t know.  I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of the breweries, you get into this passing it on.  But basically you have all these breweries run by owners who are getting to retirement age and they don’t have kids who are ready to carry on the torch, so have to figure out what to do with their business.  So they either go employee owned, they sell it, or they pass it off onto their kids.  With many of them, they are left with two options, they could sell their business off to AB-Inbev or they could go employee owned.  I think that’s going to be a big thing with a lot of the first round craft breweries soon, because they put in their 20-30 years and then what? 

           I’ve got to start procreating…

WIBG:           Do you have a favorite beer?

Mike:           Umm, this is such a tough question because everyone judges you based upon what you say.  I don’t know if there is any specific beer that I look forward to.  I think for me it really is about new stuff, so there isn’t something that I am like “I can’t wait till this comes out.”

           I have never gone to Dark Lord Day and I’ve never waited in line for the Black Friday beer at Lakefront.  I don’t, there’s something about that, not like I wouldn’t love people to do that for one of my beers, but I’m not the kind of person who waits in line for something.  It’s really just new stuff.

           Although, maybe that’s not true, because I have totally geeked out at beer fests when they pour one ounce pours of Dark Lord or Utopias.  I do that, but they are just such weird beers, so it’s just not worth it.  It’s not just like any Imperial Stout, you know?  Really when you have a beer like Utopias it’s just so ridiculous…

WIBG:          Coming from home brewing, do you have any advice for home brewers that could help them brew better, more consistent beers?

Mike:           I think the key things I did when I was home brewing that helped a lot, at least when getting investors, is that people would say this doesn’t taste like homebrew.  I think the key things were getting the beer off the yeast as quickly as possible to get all the off flavors from autolysis, the yeast cells exploding.  That was a key thing, trying to be very good about going from primary fermentation into secondary and moving the beer of the yeast as quickly as possible.  Monitoring it, so you know when it’s done fermenting, and pulling it off the yeast.  I think that’s a big one that even I would get sloppy about because it’s a tone of work, but I think it makes a huge difference in the taste of the beer.

           Other than that, there’s a lot of stuff that most people don’t do, or don’t know about.  Like actually oxygenating the wort, buy a carb stone for $20.  Initially I was using lab grade oxygen, but I switched to a little fish tank pump with an air filter and then I aerated.  Even adding a little yeast nutrient to strengthen the yeast cell walls.

WIBG:            A lot of home brewers, myself included, dream of starting a craft brewery.  Do you have any advice for someone who may be hoping to start one in the future?

Mike:           It’s all about planning and sticking to the plan.  That’s the hardest thing.  I talk to a lot of investors, or a lot of people who are interesting in investing who said they have wanted to invest in this industry for decades, and they have talked to a million home brewers, and they were interested in investing in those people.  But that those home brewers could never put pen to paper, like never write a business plan.  I think if you really want to do this you need to write a business plan.  You have to get serious about the numbers, or find someone who can for you.

           I think also, it’s a lot easier for investors to swallow the idea of giving you money if you’re like, “I’m the beer guy,” and then this is the books guy.  That’s partially the reason I got the MBA, because I can’t work for someone else, I have to be the final word.

           If you are really serious about starting a business you really have to focus on the numbers and understand what you are doing and stick to it, that’s key.

WIBG:           Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to?

Mike:            We didn’t really talk about the arts component at all.  Each label features a different Milwaukee artist and once we go into 6-packs we will have codes on there that you can scan and find out about the artist, see their work, and download music from local bands.  So the bottles become little, well I call them 12 oz. ambassadors for Milwaukee and all the cool shit that happens here.  We also got the artist’s studio with 22 artists next door and a couple thousand square feet of gallery space.  It’s really important to us to support art and what we do here.  That was the whole point of starting the brewery.  So we also try to get strategic partnerships with like Alverno Presents, sponsoring their events and other art and music events.  Or working with bars where we sponsor their green room so the bands get free Brenner beer when they play there.

           We’ve also build a stage and we are working on getting a better sound system for bands, and we’ll be doing some more live music.

            Well, that’s all for my interview with Mike Brenner.  I really enjoyed hanging out with him, and talking about his brewery.  Hopefully you found this as enjoyable to read as I found the conversation.

            That’s all for tonight, check back again soon for a beer review!

            Happy Drinking, and remember to always drink Wisconsinbly!