Friday, June 21, 2013

Scott Manning from Vintage Brewing – Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival

                Towards the end of the festival, I got a chance to talk to Scott Manning of Vintage Brewing.  Scott brought two of my three favorite beers from the fest, so it was great to talk to him about them.  Sadly, one was a fest favorite and it ran out early and I wasn’t able to snag another glass while we spoke, but we did enjoy a few beers during our discussion!  Thanks Scott!

WIBG -            What did you guys bring today?

Scott Manning -                We have nine different beers on tap, although we are down to seven at this point.  We’re moving a lot of Hibiscuis Saison and the Dubbloon was pretty popular one too, that’s our Abbey Dubbel aged for seven months in a Yahara Bay rum barrel.  So, there’s a whole lot fo complexity of flavor, almost barleywine like as far as the depth of maltiness.

WIBG -             Yeah, I keep sending people over here for Dubbloon, I should probably stop doing that.

Scott Manning -                Yeah you probably should, although you can send them over here for Square Pig, that’s another good one.  It’s our hoppy Rye Ale.  We’ve got a new beer called Crooked Grain Crooked Grain which is an India Brown Ale, so its as hoppy as an IPA, but its as rich as a nice brown ale, its kind of a hybrid.  We’ve got our Schwarz bier back on tap now and our Kolsch, so a couple of really stalwart German styles.  I’m drinking a Schwarz bier right now, its dark, but at the same time its very light on the palate and refreshing.  Our Day Tripper is our Summer Ale, there’s a whole lot of summer flavors going on right now.  Whipoorwill is our Belgian Style Wit, which is really palate pleasing on a warm summer day.

We also have our Grätzer which is 100% Oak smoked wheat as the grist bill.  So it’s quite smoky, but also quite hoppy.  We tried to replicate the Marynka hops from Poland, we enlisted the help of our friends over at Gorst Valley to match the oil content and build it.  So it has some Saaz and some English hops that matched up well with what we think Marynkas might taste like, without being able to get some.  It’s a really archaeic style, Grätzer haven’t really been popular since the 1800s, and only around the little town of Grodzisk.  It’s our lightest beer in color, and our lightest beer in alcohol, but its drinks soo big.  It’s got all this oak, smoked flavor, and this wonderful hop flourish right up front and then its gone from the palate.  It reminds me a little of sausages, and that’s a very complimentary thing to say for a smoked beer in my world, but we don’t want to call it the hotdog beer necessarily.  But, when you first sniff it, there’s something in there that reminds you of a great mild sausage.

WIBG -            Would it be possible to try some of that?

SM -       Oh, yeah sure.

(Scott filled my glass with Grätzer)

WIBG -               Oh, Nice!

SM –      Isn’t that beautiful?  IT has awesome head retention from all that wheat.  There’s tons of protein so you’ve got this big sticky head that just stays there and leaves a nice lace in the glass.

WIBG -                                 Well, it definitely is a hot doggy, smoky kind of beer.

SM –               I brewed this for the first time last year and I thought , “there’s no way that the public is going to go for a weirdo, archaic, polish smoky beer, but they went ape-y for it, it was great!  The Isthmus, a magazine out of Madison named it their best beer for the year for Madison, for Wisconsin.  It was unbelievable.  Not that I don’t believe it doesn’t deserve that, I just feel like there is an awful lot of great beer in this state.

WIBG -              Well yeah, it’s a great archaic style, Zymurgy did a write-up on Grätzer, four or five issues ago

Scott Manning –               That’s true, ours deebuted right before that issue came out, so it made us look like superstars, like “Wow,” somehow we invented this thing.  We like to stay just one step ahead if we can.  I hear that at GABF this is the first year that Grätzer is going to be judged as its own style.

WIBG -              So, are you going to be submitting this?

Scott Manning –               We’ll see.  It won’t be judged up against the smoked porters or smoked rauchbiers, its going to be its own thing.  I think in previous years Grätzer was not well understood.  It takes a few good articles and some good modern research to help redefine and learn the facts.

WIBG -               It was almost a dead style, right?

SM –               The way I heard it, and it may be from the Zymurgy article, is that a few brewers were left over from the breweries that still produced Grätzer.  The old brewers were still lingering around and a new home brewing movement is going on in Europe, just like it is here.  So there are a lot of young brewers, bringing it to these old guys and asking if this is what they remember.  It really was kind of rescued from the grave almost.  But a true Grätzer, as I understand it would be a lot lighter than this even.  So it should start around 7 or 8 degrees Plato, which is very easy on the grain, so it should dry right out and be a 3-3.5% beer.  It’s really a thirst quencher, something that you could still maintain while you are working.

                This one is a bit beefy for a Grätzer at 10 Plato, so we’re talking 1.040 specific gravity, but I think, at least for us in our pub that I don’t want to put out a beer that’s so small we have to discount it in a weird way because then the perception is well, why is this $3 when everything else is $4, so I just made it a little bit bigger.  It’s an Imperial Grätzer, if you like.

WIBG -                                 This is really good, thanks for brewing this, and thanks for bringing it  Thanks for helping to revitalize old styles!

SM -                It’s one of the things we like doing, and I like doing.  Being forward looking as far as modern American brewing, but at the same time with a name like Vintage we have to level it out.  We have a bar full of great old console tv and cool little knick knacks that we remember and even a few things that our folks remember, and even older than that.  So it makes sense for us to really be curious about the past.

                We did a Gruit with Sweet Mullets Brewing Company, the Toil and Trouble.  And that was a lot of fun, to get your imagination going, do a little bit of research and speculate on what things would tasted like in the middle ages knowing that they didn’t have any understanding of yeast really, as far as the microbes that were doing clean fermentation.  You know it would have been sour, it would have been like how do you get a pleasing sourness with not hops and the kind of rustic malt bill they might have had.  So it’s the kind of thing I really like doing.  It’s not punch the clock and come in to brew beer, it’s more about “how do we bring new and interesting flavors to our locale.

That’s all for today, check back soon for another post.  And if you enjoyed this post, I am working on scheduling a full interview with Scott!

Happy Drinking!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nate and Matt from the Great Dane Pub - Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival

                In the first of my interview posts from the Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival, I talked with Nate, the brewer at the Great Dane Hilldale location and towards the end of the discussion, executive chef Matthew Moyer showed up for one final question.  Great Dane brought some pretty solid beers to the party, with their Rusty Lawnmower Amber Lager and their Old Glory American Pale Ale.  On a warm, sunny day, both were easily quaff-able and refreshing!

WIBG –                So, you guys brought your Rusty Lawnmower and your Old Glory Pale Ale today, right?

Nate – Yeah, Rusty Lawnmower is a specialty of our brewer Pat who works at our Fitchberg location.  He’s fond of making lots of specialty lagers, so this is his summer amber.  There’s not a lot of floral hop character.  It’s present, but theres a good deal of bite on it its just a real smooth, clean and drinkable.

                We also brought out American Pale Ale, Old Glory.  It’s one of the standards that we always have on tap at all of our locations.  It’s a fairly well balanced Pale.  There’s still a lot of rich malt character, but of course it’s a Pale Ale so it’s a hop forward beer.  It’s hopped exclusively with Cascade hops all the way through.  We use about 6 lbs dry hopping and its one of our flagship hoppy ales.

WIBG – So, is it primarily late hopped?

Nate -   We do an initial addition at the start of the boil then we do an addition with 10 minutes remaining, a whirlpool addition, and then a lot of dry hopping.  A lot of what we do at the Great Dane is that we try to present a classic style representation.  We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just jurying to make good classic beers.  So when you look at our list we have a scotch ale, several pilsners, we have a hefeweizen.  All are very traditional.  Most of the beers we are trying to emulate are classic, old world styles.  So, when it came to the pale ale, we wanted to make it an American Pale Ale, and who invented that syle, Sierra Nevada.  So, we tried to emulate the style and our beer is pretty damn good too.

                It’s one of our most popular beers, we have to ramp up APA production in the summer time because the amount of people who drink APA’s in the summer just skyrockets.

WIBG – Is it one of the beers you guys send out to the Madison Mallard’s games?

Nate -   IT is actually out at the Madison Mallards, but its not on tap at a lot of locations out there.  The more flagship ones that we just go through a ton of out there is our German Pilsner which is an all Pilsner malt base with nothing but Hallertau hops from beginning to end; and then of course our most popular selling beer is our Crop Circle Wheat, a German hefewiezen that also has Hallertau hops, but of course in very small amounts.  We sell more of those two beers in the summer time than anything else.  That’s what I am making non-stop, just to keep up.

                We also have some scotch Ale out there at a few tap locations and then we changed a Belgian Pale Ale and added a ton of wheat, its called Belgian Sunshine.  They kept telling us they wanted a fruit beer, but we wanted to brew something that we could be proud of.  We didn't want to throw together some fruit beer that people would just say, “oh look, it’s got cherries in it”.  We really wanted to do something nice and we really loved this sort of Belgian Wheat Pale, so we decided to load it full of orange peel in the beer, and serve it with a slice of orange as well.  It really get this nice citrusy character and the Belgian esters from the yeast are really nice, and the mouth feel from the wheat is almost fluffy in your mouth.

WIBG – What hops did you use in the Belgian Wheat?

Nate -   We used Hallertauer.  Originally, when we brewed it at the Hillsdale location we used Crystal, because it was something that we had to use soon and we had the perfect amount of hops left to use for the beer.  It came out beautifully, but we don’t have any Crystal right now so we decided to go with something that had more noble hop character.  Our brewery is a big fan of Hallertau hops, we use a lot of Hallertau hops. 

WIBG – So, what made you guys decided to come with the andoullie sliders?

Nate -   Every year we do beer and food here at this festival and it was totally our executive chef’s call.  He’s a big fan of creole food and if you look at pub food, if you go to some of the nicer gastropubs and brewpubs, you’re going to find a lot of creative sliders.  So, it’s kind of a hip thing that’s going on in brewpubs and that culinary scene.  It fits this setting because it’s a small sandwich that you can carry around.

Matthew Moyer -            We started making homemade andoullie in house, so when we were thinking about what to make for the beerfest I thought it would be a good idea to do andoullie sliders.   So, we made the patties and then tried to pair them up with the beers and it turned out nicely.  It definitely pairs well with the APA.

                That’s all for today, still more interviews to come, so keep checking back!

                Happy Drinking!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival – Part 1

                When the Wisconsin Brewers Guild pairs up with high quality restaurants, DRAFT Magazine and the Wisconsin Cheese Board, the results are practically guaranteed to be amazing.  This past Saturday was my second Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival and for the second year in a row, it was epic.  Not only did many of the brewers bring amazing limited beers, some of the best chefs in the state provided excellent food.  Yeah, that’s right, not only great beer, but great food as well.

                Unfortunately, even over the course of four hours in the festival I wasn’t able to sample everything, beer or food although there were a few lines that I found myself waiting in over and over to sample another beer from the same brewery, or another of the excellent menu items on display.  I usually don’t steal blog formats from people, but I really enjoyed reading the post that Tim, the Beer Runner put up, nice and succinct, so I will do my review of the categories he created

Best Food:          My favorite food, the table I made a beeline to was the NorskeNook pie stand.  Their pies are amazing!  I had four slices throughout the course of the day!
Runner Up:         Great Dane andoullie sausage sliders were amazing paired with either the Old Glory American Pale Ale or the Rusty Lawnmower Lager.

Biggest Surprise Food/Beer:       The Milkshakes at Sassy Cow/Karben4.  While all the milkshakes were excellent, the Smoked Porter Chocolate Milkshake was easily my favorite.
Runner Up:         Vintage Brewing Portable Pot Roast.  Ribs, parsnips, cheese, mashed potatoes, garlic and scallions all combined and deep-fried?  They should really serve this at the State Fair!

Best Cheese:     Deer Creek 7-year Proprietor’s Grand Reserve, sharp and salty!
Runner Up:         Swiss Valley Cave of Faribaults Fini Cheddar

The food I am most disappointed that I missed:                Deep Water Grille Blackened Whitefish Sliders
Runner Up:         ThreeLions Pub Shepherds Pie

Favorite Beer:   The toughest part of a great beer fest is picking a favorite.  Unable to pick just one, I have a three-way tie:

1)      Vintage Brewing Dubbloon, a Yahara Bay rum barrel-aged Abbey Dubbel.  With everyone rolling out barrel aged beers now, it is refreshing to see a well-done example.  The choice of aging a Belgian Dubbel in a rum barrel was spot on!

2)      Vintage Brewing Grätzer Ale, a traditional Polish wheat ale that is pleasantly smokey and reminiscent of grilled hotdogs.   

3)      Titletown Brewing Berliner Weisse, few beers are as refreshing on a warm day spent in the sun as a Berliner Weisse, and Titletown definitely brewed up a great one!  They even brought the Woodruff syrup!

Beer I am most disappointed that I missed:        Point Brewing Company’s Chai Tea Porter.  After hearing good things about it at the fest and reading the the Beer Runner’s review I feel like I missed a great one.
Runner Up:         Silver Creek Porter.  There are a lot of excellent beers from Silver Creek Brewing, but their Porter is my favorite.  Sadly, with a limited pour, I missed out because I was on the other side of the fest

Celebrity Sightings:        Well, since the brew masters and owners from most of the breweries showed up for the fest, it’s a super long list.  However, I do appreciate Dave from Deep Water Grill, Nate from Great Dane, Heather from Titletown Brewing, and Scott from Vintage Brewing taking the time to talk to me about what they brought.

Best non-beer drink offering:    Sprecher Hard Rootbeer.
Runner Up:         Sand Creek Hard Lemonade Special Reserve

Brewery I wish I would have spent more time at: Pearl Street Brewing
Runner Up:         Fox River Brewing Co.

                that note, there’s always next year!  There you have it, short, succinct and to the point.  If you didn’t make it this past Saturday, buy a ticket for your dad and take him to what is definitely one of the top beer fests in the state!

                That’s all for tday, check, back through the week for more on the 2013 Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival!

                 Happy Drinking!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Interview with Jeff Hamilton

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Hamilton, the current president of Sprecher Brewery and the Wisconsin Brewers Guild as well as one of the founders of the Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival!  In my opinion, the Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival is probably the best beer fest in the state.  Not only does it feature almost every brewery in the state, it also offers food pairings from some of the state’s best chefs!  Last year was my first year going to the Beer Lovers Festival and it’s definitely at the top of my list, every year!

                Enjoy the interview!

WIBG:   Prior to joining Sprecher and working in the craft beer industry, what industry were you involved in?

Jeff Hamilton:   Actually, I am a Metallurgist, or metallurgical engineer.  I spent a lot of time in the metal casting business.  Probably the most fun thing I did was work for Carroll Shelby for a while making wheels.  After that, I worked for about 13 years with Rockwell Automation in the plant automation business.  Then I came over to Sprecher as the Vice President and General Manager, and I have been President for three years.

WIBG:   How long have you been with Sprecher?

JH:          I’ve been here eight years.

WIBG:   How long have you been the president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild?

JH:          I’ve been president for three years and I’ve been on the guild board for seven.

WIBG:   Were you involved in the craft beer community prior to joining Sprecher

JH:          I was not involved in the craft beer community, but I was a big fan of beer and I had done some home brewing as well.

WIBG:   What is your opinion of the explosive growth of the craft beer community and craft breweries in Wisconsin and nationally?  Do you think the growth is sustainable?

JH:          I think there are two major factors driving the explosion of craft beer.  People are much more interested in what they are consuming.  If you look at the popularity of the food channels, there are a lot of people that are interested in exploring flavorful foods a lot more than they have in the past, so I think that’s one thing.  Also, the flavors that craft beer can offer are really enhancements to that whole experience.  People are looking for flavor and craft beer brings that, because beer pairs very well with food.  The second factor is the movement towards things that are local.  People would much rather spend their money on products that are produced, grown and offered within a few miles of their home rather than something that may have come from halfway across the country.

WIBG:   Do you think the growth is sustainable?

JH:          I think it will be sustainable for quite some time.  I think if you look at any industry, and there are a few I could cite here in recent history.  Software is one of those things that if you look in the late 80’s and early 90’s there was an explosion of that industry.  Everything was moving from non-computer to computer, if you will, and there were a lot of companies jumping in to make all different kinds of software.  Over time a lot of that has shaken out, that boom came and went, although now computers are part of our everyday lives.

I guess another one that was more recent is in the early 2000’s there was a huge explosion in the popularity of custom motorcycles.  That was one of the hottest things going.  Harley’s business rode up to all time highs as part of that and then it kind of tailed off.  It’s still very popular, but certainly not like it was then.

So I think that every business has natural cycles.  When it appears that things are hot, like they are for craft beer now, a lot of people want to get involved.  They see it as their way to prosperity I guess.  The other part of it is that a lot of people just love beer and there are a lot of intriguing things about making your own beer, or making beer for others.  I think it’s bound to taper off like any natural cycle, but I think you are going to see steady growth.  The trend of people moving to more flavorful, more local beers will continue.  I think you will continue to see the erosion of the large, less flavorful beers.

WIBG:   With that in mind, is that what lead you to work to develop the Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival, since you were one of the founders of the festival?

JH:          What led us to develop that, I think are probably the needs of a couple of organizations.  I am part of the Glendale Convention and Visitors Bureau, and our mission is to try to bring business, activity and activity into Glendale.  Glendale’s CVB had some marketing funds available and we were looking for a signature event for the city.  The Brewer’s Guild at the same time was looking for a way to not only promote craft beer but also to raise funds to operate our organization more efficiently.  So it seemed that two things were coming together tat the right time

                The popularity of beer festivals has increased a lot over the past 5, 6, 7 years.  There have been several festivals pop up in the area since we started this one. So, at that point, there weren’t a lot of festivals in the Milwaukee area, the Brewer’s Guild has things to offer that a lot of the other festivals don’t.  One of the unique things about this festival is that you will be served by the president, or brewmaster, or general manager or whoever the person is who’s running the plant or producing the beer.  You’re not going to be talking to salespeople or outside promoters or retail people.  You are actually going to be talking to the people who know the most about the beer.

                One of the unique things about this festival when we started it is that we want food to be an integral part.  So, you also get to talk to a lot of local chefs while you are there, right beside the brewmaster and we try to make sure we are serving beer and food that pair well and complement each other.

WIBG:   I really do like getting the chance to meet the brewmasters and local chefs.  I really do think that the Beer Lover’s Festival is probably one of the best festivals in the state.

JH:          I would like to agree with that, but I’m a bit biased.

WIBG:   There is no other festival that you can go to and meet the brewers.  Everyone who is there has a chance to talk to the brewers and the chefs, not to mention tasting the wonderful food and beer pairings that are created.

JH:          Yeah, I love this festival, and we get a lot of good feedback on it, so I think it’s a winner.

WIBG:   When pairing chefs with breweries for the festival, is that something that you leave up to the chefs and breweries, or is that something that is figured out ahead of time?

JH:          It’s kind of a work in progress.  The first years, we tried to accommodate requests, like this restaurant wanted to work with this brewery or vice versa.  That’s become very difficult when we have 40 breweries to work with, so usually what happens is that if it’s a brewpub they are going to bring their own food to pair with their beer.  After that, we kind of pair people up.  The chefs and brewmasters come up with the pairings that they are going to do.

WIBG:   What are your opinions on canned craft beer, and do you expect an increase in the number of breweries that switch to canning rather than bottling?  Do you think it will become mainstream?

JH:          I hope it does, because it’s the best thing for the beer and it’s the best thing for the environment.  There are no real bad things about cans, and there are a lot of really good things about them.  So, I certainly hope it becomes more and more mainstream and I think that it will.  Every time I pick up one of the trade journals there’s another brewery switching over to canning their beer.

                Beer doesn’t like light and it doesn’t like oxygen, so a can is the best container for it, besides a keg.  So I think that’s part of it.  The other part of it is that it’s a lot cheaper to move aluminum than it is to move glass.  Water and glass are very expensive to transport so any time you can take some of that weight out, you are doing a good thing.

                Finally, cans are by far the most recycled item on the planet.  People say that glass is recycled and our glass is probably about 70% recycled for our bottles, but that’s very high.  Mostly it’s probably in the 40% range, and plastic is even worse.  People throw it in the recycling container but there’s nobody to buy it, so a lot of it goes into the landfill anyway.  With aluminum cans, almost every can that is dropped in a recycling container, or pretty much ever can that is thrown along the roadside is going to be turned back into a can.  The only can’s that probably aren’t going to go back into that cycle are the ones that people throw in the garbage, when they shouldn’t be.

WIBG:   Do you personally have a favorite beer either in the Sprecher lineup, or from another brewery that you look forward to?

JH:          Sure, I could list a few.  As far as Sprecher goes, I like our hoppier beers, so I like our IPA, which is one of the beers we make all the time.  From time to time we make a couple other specialty beers, we made Citra Bomb with fresh Citra hops and that was probably my all-time favorite, but I like the IPA.

                As far as other Wisconsin beers that I like, I am a fan of the O’so Hop Whoopin, Blacktop from New Glarus, and Hopalicious from Ale Asylum.  I guess if I had to look beyond Wisconsin, my favorite beers are probably from Firestone Walker out of California.  That’s not really available around here but it happens to be right up the street from where Randy Sprecher lives, so I end up going up there quite a bit when I am out in California.  I am pretty fond of most of their stuff.

WIBG:   I usually only ask brewers this, but since you are the president of the Wisconsin Brewer’s Guild, you probably have a unique perspective on it.  Do you have any advice for someone looking to start a brewery in the state?

JH:          I would say do a lot of homework and talk to a bunch of other brewers if you can.  I think a lot of people tend to think this is a very easy business, but it’s probably one of the hardest things you are ever going to get into.  It’s very highly regulated, one of the most highly regulated industries there is.  There is a whole lot of science and chemistry involved, you rely on microbiology for your products and that’s something that isn't always controllable so you have got to know what you are doing and know how to use science to control nature.  I also think that people often think there is a lot more of a margin in beer than there is.  So, I would advise people to take a good hard look at their business plan before they dive in.

                Having said that, I think there is room for many more breweries here.

WIBG:   Is there anything else that I haven’t asked that you would like people to know, either about Sprecher, the Brewers Guild, or about the Beer Lover’s Festival?

JH:          I would just say that the Beer Lover’s Festival is a great opportunity for Father’s Day.  A lot of people bring their father; I think that’s a really cool thing.  I don’t know too many dads that wouldn’t like to have a trip to a beer fest.  So, it’s a great way to spend Father’s Day!

That’s all for today!  If you don’t have your tickets to the Wisconsin Beer Lover’s Festival, you can still get them on their website or at the gate the day of the event!  Hopefully I will see you there!
Check back next week for my fest review!

Happy Drinking!