Friday, December 28, 2012

Karben4: Ryan Koga

Sorry for the late post on this, I sent a co-conspirator of mine out to Madison to visit the newest Madison brewery, Karben4.  While he was there, he was able to get an interview with Ryan Koga, the head brewer.  Enjoy!!

Ryan first worked in a brewery while he was attending graduate school in Billings, Montana.  It started as “helping a friend” by picking up shifts on the bottling line at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company.  His “a-ha beer moment” came on that same bottling line.  He told me “I didn’t really know anything about beer when I started”.  But one day he decided he needed to know what was actually going into these bottles that he was filling.  He grabbed an oatmeal stout right off the line and everything else is history.   It’s official… Ryan is most certainly a Beer Geek (oh and he’s originally from Appleton)!

Karben4 Brewing has moved into Ale Asylum’s old place on Kinsman BLVD (in Madison).  However, when I first stepped into the taproom, it’s easy to see that they have been hard at work since moving in.  The taproom has been almost entirely redone.  There is now a much larger bar and it wraps around the corner instead of the ‘one-sided’ bar set-up AA previously had.  The new space is much more open and also has new artwork that caught my eye.  The artist is Ryan’s old time friend Tom… I’ve heard rumors he is also going to be involved in designing the artwork for the labels.  I think you’ll understand why I’m excited to see the final product once you have seen the paintings inside the taproom.

“I am the only brewer on staff now. My other partners (Zak and Alex) help me out when I need it, but they fulfill other crucial roles. We'll hire more staff as the demand requires. He is working with a 15bbl brew house that was partially acquired from AA when they took over the building.  Ryan also purchased and installed 3 new 30bbl fermentation tanks.  I was lucky enough to get a sample of the SamuRyePA (pre-filtration), straight from one of these new fermenters.  I will admit, I was caught up in the moment; but the ‘not-quite-ready’ sample went down like candy and smelled like a bowl of fruit loops.  I am looking forward to sampling the final product at the soft opening tonight (December 28).

Once everything is firing on all cylinders Karben4 will have 5 flagship beers; a smoked porter, an amber ale, an APA made with rye (SamuRyePA), a session ale and an Irish red.  They will also offer a ‘rotator’ IPA, with a different version for each season.  The first of which will be a Black IPA.  Avaliable on tap for the soft opening will be the NightCall (the smoked porter), SamuRyePA and BlockParty (the amber ale).  

When I asked Ryan what his favorite style of beer is he said it really depends on his mood.  His favorite kind of beer is a beer that is well balanced and original.  Some of his all-time favorites include Rogue’s Dry Hopped Red, Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Montana Brewing Company’s Expresso Porter.  When it comes to his own beers, the Irish Red is his favorite in the winter and the SamuRyePA is his summer favorite.  

Ryan’s advice to hombrewers is pretty simple.  “Take good notes and do your research”.  When developing his own recipes he does as much research as possible; opinion pieces, culinary reviews on specific ingredients, histories, other recipes, etc.  He believes he can put more of himself in a beer if he knows the history of the style and each component.  He also said a high school chemistry book is always good to have on hand!

Then I asked him if he had any advice for someone interested in starting a craft brewery.  His initial comment was “Do more research!”  They prepare for the worst and hope for the best, making sure to pay close attention to every detail. “We make our own luck”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shock & Awe – Finch’s Beer Co.

                Finch’s Shock and Awe is an American Brown Ale, with a rather interesting name and a very cool label.  For those of you who grew up in the 80’s like I did you are sure to recognize the Rock’em Sock’em robots, and that alone may be enough to draw you in.  Much like 8-Bit Pale Ale from Tallgrass, Shock and Awe seems designed to tug at memories of childhood, or at least create a sense of retro appeal and almost demand to be purchased.

                The other beers that I have had from Finch’s have been well-brewed, and while they may not have held strictly to the style categories they were all very enjoyable.  I was contemplating including a little about the style category in this post, but I will save that for another time.  If you are interested in a little more background knowledge of Finch’s or, interested in reading reviews of their other beers, check out my reviews of Cut Throat Pale Ale, Secret Stache Stout, or Threadless IPA.

                On to the review.  Unfortunately, Shock and Awe does not have enough reviews for a score on either of the two major ratings sites.  However, I have still seen it on the shelf at many liquor stores in Milwaukee, so you will likely still be able to find it.

                Finch’s doesn’t have any information out there on Shock and Awe, so I hope you don’t mind if I skip the standard “They Say” section and just get straight on with my review.

I say:

                Shock and Awe pours a hazy chestnut with a creamy tan head that holds excellent retention and leaves considerable lacing in the glass.  The aroma is of orange (fruit and peel) and floral hops, slightly toasted nutty notes, caramelized sugars and vanilla.  The citrus and floral hops work well, creating a complex aroma not found in many American Brown Ales.

                The flavor is toasted nuts; roasted, caramelized malts; hints of vanilla, biscuits, a minor amount of citrus with a moderate to high level of bitterness, at the edge of being too bitter for the style. Shock and Awe is medium-bodied with a moderate level of carbonation.

                Shock and Awe is a good American Brown Ale, although it seems a little bitter for the style.  Unfortunately the IBUs for it aren’t posted so I am not sure if it is just an issue of perception, or if they are indeed high.  Either way, this is a good American Brown Ale from a very good somewhat local craft brewery.  If you enjoy Brown Ales, be on the lookout for this one.  At around $5 a bottle (at least here in WI), it’s definitely well worth the price!

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

                Happy Holidays and Happy Drinking!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Smoke Monster – Black Husky Brewing

                Smoked beers bring back pleasant, happy memories of warm campfires, childhood camping trips, and summer camp.  I definitely enjoy a good smoked beer and I definitely have enjoyed the Black Husky beers that I have tried, so when I saw Smoke Monster was in stock, I picked up a couple bottles to enjoy during the cold winter months.

As with a few of the other beers from Black Husky, Smoke Monster seems to have a double meaning, referring both to the style, rauchbier, and perhaps the legendary “smoke monster” in “Lost”.  The big reveal of the smoke monster in Lost left a lot to be desired, but the beer definitely did not.

If you are interested in finding out more about Black Husky, check out my earlier reviews of their Hefe Weiss WheatAle, Sproose Joose and Sparkly Eyes.  On to the review

            Smoke Monster does not have reviews on either Beeradvocate or ratebeer.

They say:

Smokey is a dog not quite right in the head, some might even say insane. One of her most beloved activities is digging a deep hole in the ground and barking into it for hours on end. We aren’t quite sure what she’s looking for, but we suspect she is looking to take on the Smoke Monster. If anyone could defeat the Smoke Monster it would be Smokey, so we offer you Smoked Monster in recognition of her timeless efforts.

                Brewmaster, Tim Eichinger adds that he uses cherry wood smoked malt for the pleasant smoky aroma.

I say:

                Smoke Monster poured dark mahogany with a thick, creamy, tan head that held throughout the entire glass and left behind excellent lacing.  The aroma is full of cherry wood smoke, sweet malts, caramelized sugars and just a slight hint of spiciness.

                The flavor is of smoky and sweet caramel with vanilla and earthy notes.  The flavors blend flawlessly, making this a very enjoyably beer!  Smoke Monster is medium to full-bodied with a moderate level of carbonation.  At 9.9% ABV, the alcohol does not play a distinctive role in the in the flavor, or mouth feel.

                Smoke Monster is a very enjoyable smoked beer that further proves the brewing genius of Mr. Eichinger.  If you live in the Milwaukee area, or up near Pembine, you really should be looking for a brew from Black Husky!

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

                Happy Drinking!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Black Friday Imperial Black IPA – Lakefront Brewery

                With all the madness surrounding Black Friday shopping it was about time for a brewery to get involved.  On 11/23/2012 Lakefront Brewery released their limited Black Friday Imperial Black IPA to the waiting masses.  As with any black Friday sale, the line started early and outpaced demand as the beers sold out by 9:15 AM.  As with many limited release beers the demand was far greater than the supply, leading Lakefront to place a 3 bottle limit on purchases.  Having been out of the state on Thanksgiving I had resigned myself to not being able to try this latest special release beer, but was pleasantly surprised to come back from Thanksgiving and find a bottle waiting for me here in Wisconsin.

                I was planning on including a little background on Lakefront in this post, but I want to get this post out sooner rather than later, so I will do a background on Lakefront Brewery section in a future Lakefront beer review.  So, on to the review!

                Black Friday does not have enough reviews to have a score at either Beeradvocate or ratebeer.

They say:

Black Friday Imperial Black Ale combines massive dry-hopping with loads of roasted malt.  Its bold citrus and tropical fruit aroma leads to an assertive, full-flavored malt backbone with a big, juicy hop finish.  The 10% ABV will surely wake up your senses and be worth the wait.

I say:

                Black Friday poured opaque black with a thick, creamy tan head that held retention through the entire glass, and left exquisite lacing.  The aroma was full of hoppy goodness with notes of mango, papaya, strong tangerine/mineola/orange notes with subdued pine on the back end.  The malts were equally as complex adding roasted barley, and dark chocolate to the aroma.

                The flavors were very close to the aroma, but much maltier than the aroma indicated.  The tropical and citrus fruit hop notes that were strong in the aroma were definitely there in the flavor, but roasted, nutty, chocolate notes combined with malty sweetness, with a piney hop/bitter finish were more dominant.  Alcohol warmth was present throughout and it became more noticeable as the beer warmed.  Black Friday was medium to full-bodied with a moderate level of carbonation, perfect for the style.

                The Black Friday Imperial Black IPA was an excellent beer that showed of the tremendous brewing acumen of the Lakefront team.  All of their beers are top notch and they somehow found a way to raise the bar even higher with Black Friday!  It’s too bad it was such a limited release; hopefully they will release it again next year!

                That’s all for today!  Check back soon for a post on Smoke Monster from Black Husky Brewing!
                Happy Drinking!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bourbon County Stout 2012 – Goose Island

                It was surprisingly easy to find bottles of the 2012 release of Bourbon County Stout.  I was surprised that I was able to find not one 4-pack, but four.  I originally had the 2012 release at the Great Lakes Brewfest, but had already been there for a few hours before the limited pour, so I was in no state to take notes or give the beer a full review.  In the weeks that followed, I tried a few bottles of Bourbon County Stout with friends and noticed strong alcohol notes, indicating that the beer would likely benefit from more time in the bottle.  Therefore, with my 16 bottles, I decided the best thing to do would be to wait and let it develop, hoping the strong alcohol notes would fade.  Before getting on with the review though, how about a quick background on Goose Island, a former craft brewery, now wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

                The Goose Island Brewery was founded by John Hall in Lincoln Park Chicago on May 13, 1988.  After traveling around Europe John developed a preference for more full flavored beers than the mass market American Lagers that dominated the American beer scene.  Back in the US, John Hall opened Good Island, bringing in his son, Greg.  Goose Island grew over the years, as the popularity of their beers grew.  By 1995, demand for Goose Island beer outgrew the capacity of the Clyborn Brewpub and a larger brewery and bottling line opened.  In order to keep up with demand, the Hills opened a second Goose Island Brewpub near Wrigley Field in 1999.

                Goose Island continued to grow, in 2006, Widmer Brothers Brewery purchased a 42% share in Goose Island, and the Hall’s signed a distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch, allowing them to expand into new markets.  On March 28, 2011, Goose Island was sold to Anheuser-Busch, Widmer Brothers (now the Craft Brewers Alliance) sold their 42% share to Anheuser-Busch as well.  Perhaps prompted by the sale, brew master Greg Hall announced his intention to step down.  He now makes craft cider in Michigan.  Meanwhile, his father remained with the company and is currently in charge of the day-to-day operations of Goose Island.

                Many have said that Goose Island “sold out” when they literally sold out to Anheuser-Busch in 2011.  The Brewer’s Association certainly agrees, no longer referring to Goose Island as a craft brewer.  It is hard to not buy in to the argument that Goose Island has “sold out,” abandoning the craft beer spirit that allowed them to succeed.  However, so long as they continue to produce quality beers they will continue to remain successful.

                On to the review.  On Beeradvocate, Bourbon County Stout has a score of 98.  Over at ratebeer, it has a score of 100 overall and 99 for style.  Unfortunately, neither of the review sites has Bourbon County Stout separated into vintages, odd since the blend is slightly different every year.

They Say:

Brewer's Notes:

Brewed in honor of the 1000th batch at our original Clybourn brewpub. A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. 
Recipe Information:

Style: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Alcohol by Volume: 14.5%
International Bitterness Units: 60
Color: Midnight
Hops: Willamette
Malt: 2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black
Serving Suggestions:

Preferred Glass: Snifter
Food Pairings: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Cheese Pairings: Capriole Bourbon Chocolate Torte
Cellaring Notes: Develops in the bottle for up to 5 years

I say:

                Bourbon County Stout pours translucent black with a thin, dark tan head that falls back into the beer quickly and leaves minimal lacing in the glass, although if you will pardon my use of a wine term, it has great legs.  The aroma is of bourbon, vanilla, caramelized sugar and chocolate with harsher fusel alcohols becoming dominant as it warms.
                The flavor is also dominated by bourbon with background notes of roasted malts, sweet caramelized sugar, vanilla, chocolate and harsh fusel alcohols (think Everclear, cheap Vodka or Rubbing Alcohol).  The harsh alcohol notes increase in the flavor as it warms, holding true to the aroma.  Bourbon County Stout is full-bodied with a low level of carbonation, making it slightly syrupy, and it has a noticeable astringency will hopefully lessen in the bottle.

                The 2012 release of Bourbon County Stout has a noticeable harshness both in astringency and fusel alcohols, hopefully the two faults will fade over time and the beer will become much more enjoyable in 6 months to a year.  If you have a few bottles of the 2012 release you will likely be best served saving them for later, just be sure to find a dark, cool, dry place to store them and your efforts will hopefully be rewarded.  If you must drink your bottle, or bottles sooner than June 2013, hopefully yours aren’t as astringent and fusel as mine.

                That’s all for today, check back soon, maybe even tomorrow for another review!

                Happy Drinking!