Friday, February 27, 2015

Angry Molly – Big Bay Brewing

                A while back I posted a less than kind review of a Big Bay Brewing release, but every brewery deserves a second chance, so when I noticed bombers of Angry Molly on the shelf at my local store I figured it would be a good time to give Big Bay another shot.  I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this beer given my previous Big Bay experience, but I’m a sucker for Imperial Stouts during the winter.

Big Bay brewing currently contract brews out of the House of Brews in Madison, a chance since the last time I wrote up one of their beers.  Page Buchanan at House of Brews is a great guy and a wonderful addition to the Wisconsin craft beer scene.  By opening his brewery up to contract brewing he, like other Wisconsin contract breweries, allows aspiring brewers the chance to effectively rent his equipment to brew their beers.  Opening a new brewery is a capital intensive move and contract breweries allow new brewers to enter the industry without the upfront capital usually required.  Some people like to bash beers that are contract brewed, but all it means is that more aspiring brewers can push out more beer more quickly.  Everyone gets their start somewhere, and contract breweries allow us, the beer drinkers, to get to try as many new beers as possible.  Heck, even the Boston Beer Co. used to rely on contract brewers and Miller Brewing still does, at least for one of their product lines.

                Unfortunately the information readily available on Big Bay Brewing is still limited, and aside from a periodically active twitter feed, the brewery has gone dark.  Dear Big Bay, please update your website to keep up with your new releases.  How else is someone who does not follow your twitter feed supposed to keep up with your new releases like Angry Molly?

                Since I don’t have much more to offer on Big Bay Brewing, let’s move on to the review.

They Say:

                The Russians tangle with the Irish in this hybrid Imperial Stout.  Its brew and name take inspiration from a certain feisty lass, at once sweet with a deep, pitter complexity.  You’ll find notes of chocolate, coffee and toasted caramel that marry perfectly with white wheat and flaked out textures, giving her a soft, velvety demeanor.

I Say:

                Angry Molly pours a deep, opaque black with a moderately thick, creamy tan head that holds excellent retention (5-10 min) before fading to a thick collar around the edges of the glass.  The collar leaves moderate lacing behind in the glass, which is a great sign.  Milk and dark chocolate lead in the aroma, followed but a hint of medium roast coffee.  Caramelized sugar and a slightly sweet alcohol bring up the back end.  This is definitely a great smelling imperial stout.

                Baker’s chocolate, and dark caramel take the lead in the flavor.  Medium roast coffee and slight notes of roasted barley blend into dark and milk chocolate with a hint of vanilla on in the middle.  The finish has a slight latte character with notes of coffee and vanilla lingering into the aftertaste.  As Angry Molly warms to room temperature the smoothness fades and a very slight roasted barley astringency becomes apparent, although your glass will probably be empty before the astringency is apparent.  Angry Molly has a wonderfully full maltiness with a moderate level of hop bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malts, and there is pleasing alcohol warmth that hints at Molly’s 9% ABV.  With a medium body and a moderate level of carbonation, Angry Molly is very drinkable; and quite enjoyable.

                I am glad that I picked up a bottle of Angry Molly when I saw it on the shelf at my local store.  Every brewery deserves a second chance, and this beer goes a long way towards redeeming Big Bay Brewing in my mind.  Angry Molly is an excellent hybrid of a Russian Imperial and an Irish Dry Stout, and a very good Imperial Stout is always appreciated this time of year.  As good as it is, I can’t help but wonder how much more impressive it would be if it was barrel aged.  Perhaps there is a barrel or two filled with Angry Molly right now…  I sure hope so.

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

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Seventeen – Central Waters Brewing Co.

                Like Sixteen last week, Seventeen is an Anniversary beer released by Central Waters.  As with Sixteen, Seventeen is aged in bourbon barrels and, like Sixteen before it, a relatively small release with the initial push being at the Anniversary party on Saturday January 24th, 2015.  Tickets, which came with the option to purchase up to 8 bottles of Seventeen sold out fast, which isn’t surprising because the Central Waters Anniversary release is quickly becoming one of the can’t miss beer events in the country.  I love seeing the success and wide respect a great Wisconsin brewery is obtaining on a national scale and I would put a beer from the Central Waters barrel program up against any other barrel aged beer in the country, it really is that great!

                Unable to make the Anniversary party, I thought I had missed my chance to get a bottle of Seventeen this year, fortunately after some trading I was able to land two bottles of this year’s release.  As I mentioned, I am a huge fan of the Central Waters barrel aged beers and had to try a fresh bottle before laying the other one down in my cellar to await a vertical pour once I have the Eighteen release next January.  I’m hoping that there will still be a few bottles of Seventeen left at the brewery the next time I drive up north so that I can pick up a few more for future consumption so that I don’t have to be so guarded with my one remaining bottle.

                I would love to go into the artistry that is barrel aging, and had I not covered it in my post on Sixteen which literally just went up this past week, I would delve into it again.  However, if you read my Sixteen post you likely aren’t interested in reading the same material again, but if you are please refer to my earlier post.  One thing is for sure though, Central Waters certainly excels at the art, and they will undoubtedly get even better at it each and every year.

                On to the review…

They Say:

                Seventeen is the product of blending two different bourbon barrel aged stouts to achieve a beer worthy of its forerunners.  Barrel aging and blending is an art form, and we like to think we get better at it year by year.  Happy Anniversary!

I Say:

                Seventeen pours a deep, opaque black with a moderately thick, creamy mocha colored head.  The head holds very good retention (~5 min) before fading to leave a thick collar around the edges of the glass, although surprisingly the collar leaves little lacing behind.  Coffee leads in the aroma taking on chocolate notes to become mocha-like.  Notes of vanilla and a strong bourbon character add depth in the middle of the aroma.  A slight hint of wood, vanilla, and toasted marshmallows from the barrel blend wonderfully with dark chocolate in the finish.

                Dark Chocolate and bourbon lead in the flavor when Seventeen is cold out of the bottle.  Smooth, almost silky, malts bring notes of mocha, vanilla, dark chocolate that become more evident as the beer warms in the glass and the bourbon becomes more restrained.  The finish has notes of coffee and sweet, warming alcohol.  As Seventeen warms closer to room temperature, the bourbon notes become more prevalent again, with notes of mocha lingering in the finish.  Seventeen is a very malty beer, with what could be a considerable malty sweetness nicely mellowed out by oak and bourbon from the barrel aging.  Full bodied, with a moderate level of carbonation, this is a wonderfully silky smooth beer with a slight alcohol bite.

                Barrel aging is an art and once again, Central Waters has shown a level of mastery over that art, although they would likely say they are still in the process of learning the intricacies of barrel aging.  At the start of this post I mentioned that I would put the Central Waters Barrel program up against any other barrel program in the country, and this remarkable release reaffirms that belief.  Seventeen, while not as rare as some, is an excellent beer and should easily pull in some big trades, if you are into that.  If you can get your hands on a bottle, drink it immediately, if you can get your hands on two, lay the second one down for a year.  If you were at the release and picked up the full allotment of eight bottles then quite frankly, I am very jealous; please send some my way ;).

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

                Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Monday, February 16, 2015

5 O'Clock Shadow (2015) – Grand Teton Brewing

                The 2015 Cellar Reserve series from Grand Teton Brewing is kicking off with a re-release of a 2012 Cellar Reserve classic, 5’O Clock Shadow Double Black Lager, an Imperial Schwarzbier.  I’m often a fan of Grand Teton Cellar Reserve releases and was particularly excited to find out that one of my favorites from 2012 was being re-released, especially since I recently finished my last bottle of the 2012 release.  When I reached out to Brew master Rob Mullin it turned out that he has kept and is still enjoying a few bottles from the 2012 release as well.  This release should be another great one that hopefully has the aging potential of the previous release.

                A Schwarzbier (black beer), is a specialty style from the southern Thuringen and northern Franconia regions in Germany and is believed to have originally been developed as a local variant of a Munich Dunkel.  Darker than a Munich Dunkel, a Scwarzbier is the product of darker malts and the style tends to reflect that win subtle roasted barley notes that can present themselves as chocolaty.  Caramel flavors may also be in evidence depending on the recipe and preferences of the brewery.  It’s probably easiest to think of a Schwarzbier as the German version of a Porter or Stout, with local brewers using the water and ingredients they had at hand to develop a darker, roasty beer to enjoy during the winter months.  Unlike a Porter (aside from a Baltic Porter) or Stout, a Schwarzbier is fermented with a lager yeast, giving it a cleaner, crisper flavor with none of the fruity notes that many ale yeast strains can produce.  Ideally a Schwarzbier should be served in a tall flute, or a tulip glass to show off both the color of the beer as well as its creamy off-white head.

                A traditional Schwarzbier is 4.5-5% ABV, although at such a low ABV a traditional Schwarzbier would not age well.  Fortunately for their Cellar Reserve release, Grand Teton bumped up the alcohol content with considerably more malt than is traditional, bringing it up to 7.6%.  At 7.6% 5 O’Clock Shadow is at the lower end of what I would usually consider to be a good cellaring beer, but if the 2012 release is any indication (same ABV), the 2015 release should age well.

                On to the review!

They Say:

5 O’Clock Shadow Double Black Lager is brewed in the German Schwarzbier (black beer) tradition. Schwarzbier is to lager what stout or porter is to ale. Like those dark British beers, Schwarzbier has long been considered nourishing and even curative. German doctors often recommend Schwarzbier for nursing mothers. Our Brewmaster, born in Munich, was the beneficiary of just such advice.
We have taken the traditional Schwarzbier, intended to be a “session beer” with typically moderate alcohol, and almost doubled its strength to 7.6% alcohol by volume. We brewed our version with a fine balance of German crystal and roasted malts and spiced it with German Tradition hops. We fermented 5 O’Clock Shadow at cold temperatures with a select German lager yeast and cold-conditioned it for sixteen weeks to create a velvety smooth, easy drinking springtime brew.

This German lager pours a deep brown, almost black color with ruby highlights. It has soft dark chocolate notes with hints of caramel and a light roasty finish.

5 O’Clock Shadow pairs nicely with hearty, spicy foods. Try it with barbecued, roasted or blackened meats and sausages. Steaks and burgers, especially charred, will complement this beer.  Recommended cheeses might be a fine Munster or even a buttery, well-aged cheese like Gouda.  For dessert we suggest a raspberry tart or ginger pear cake.

Alcohol By Volume: 7.6%
Color (Lovibond): 40.0ยบ
International Biterness Units: 38

5 O'Clock Shadow will be available February 15, 2015 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750 mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

I've been drinking our 2012 5 O'Clock Shadow every few months since its release. Our "cellar" is pretty steady 40F, and I'm liking the older version even better now than when it was fresh. I did a vertical with a class I'm teaching, and pretty much everyone there agreed, so I'd definitely recommend laying some of this down. At least at that colder temp, I don't think the '12 has peaked yet.

Imperial Schwarzbier is an ideal candidate for cellaring, since the tannins in the dark malt and the unfermented sugars both serve to protect the beer over time. The fact that it's already had twelve weeks aging in the tank before it was bottled also helps a lot. I think you've heard me say this before, but I love brewing lagers. It's what I first brewed professionally, almost a quarter century ago at Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia. This yeast strain, which I picked up while at Old Dominion, is probably my all-time favorite yeast. I love its clean flavors that really show off the malt, and I have great memories of visiting the monastery where it originated.

I've been looking for a while, and I finally found a local source for spicy German mustard--the kind that comes in a toothpaste tube.  It's probably easy to find in Wisconsin, but was a struggle here. Now I'm using it on almost everything. One of my new favorite pairings is good bratwurst, German mustard and 5 O'Clock Shadow. The spiciness of the yeast does a great job with the bitterness from the dark malts, and the sweet maltiness of the beer accentuates the flavors of a good brat. It's particularly good if you boil the brat in 5 O'clock Shadow before grilling it.

I Say:
                5 O’Clock Shadow pours a deep translucent black walnut with garnet highlights when held
up to the light.  A thick creamy khaki colored head with moderate rocky breakup quickly forms in the glass with a rigorous pour.  The head holds good retention, lingering in the glass for a few minutes before fading to a thick, ½ inch collar around the edges and leaving behind heavy lacing in the glass.   The aroma brings mellow dark chocolate on the front end with a hint of caramel.  Subtle herbal and mellow piney notes linger around the edges, barely evident alongside the malts.  A very slight spiciness is in evidence, which I take from Rob Mullin to be a byproduct of fermentation courtesy of the yeast.  The aroma is wrapped up by notes of baker’s chocolate on the back end.

                Dark chocolate and caramel malt flavors are joined by roasted barley notes on the front end.  The flavor takes on a subtle spiciness which could be either the hops or the yeast, and a hint of pine.  The dark malts lend a perception of smokiness to the beer, but I must be attuned to smoky flavors in beer because I pick them up in a lot of beers that contain roasted barley.  There is a full maltiness with 5 O’Clock Shadow, and a moderately low level of hop bitterness, which combined with the spiciness of the yeast, and slight char from the roasted barley serves to mellow the sweetness that malts bring.  Starting rich and malty, the beer has a drying finish reminiscent of eating a bar of baker’s chocolate.  Medium-full bodied with a moderate level of carbonation, 5 O’Clock Shadow has the mouthfeel of a good Schwarz bier.

                As with previous Cellar Reserve releases, 5 O’Clock Shadow is a pretty great beer.  Rob Mullin added, up above, that he is still periodically opening the 2012 Cellar Reserve release of 5 O’Clock Shadow and does not believe the beer has peaked yet.  Having opened my last bottle of the 2012 release recently I would agree with his sentiment, the beer aged remarkably well.  Using the 2012 release as an example, the 2015 release should age similarly and be good for another 3+ years.  I know that I am going to be on the lookout for bottles of 5 O’Clock Shadow when it hits the Milwaukee market in a few weeks!  If previous release prices are any indication, you should be able to find a bottle for $7-12 depending on your liquor store of choice.

                That’s all for today, check back later this week for another review!  Cheers!

                Happy Drinking!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sixteen – Central Waters Brewing Co.


                For the past few years, CentralWaters has been releasing a barrel aged imperial stout as an anniversary brew.  Distribution is usually fairly limited if you are not one of the few people to make it up to the annual bottle release party.  Distribution throughout Wisconsin is often sparse and when Sixteen was released in 2014, my local liquor store only got one case, which of course sold out within an hour.  Fortunately Central Waters kept a considerable stock of bottles for sale at the brewery, so when I stopped by a few months ago I was able to pick up a few with the hopes of aging the bottles in my cellar for a while.  With the recent release of Seventeen it seemed like a good time to open the bottle and find out how it was after just over a year in the bottle.

                As I touched upon in an earlier barrel aged beer post, both the type of barrel used, and the spirit that was in that barrel greatly impact the “barrel character” of a barrel aged beer.  If you are a bourbon, scotch, or whiskey drinker you are probably well aware that even from barrel to barrel the same spirit tastes different, which is probably why blended spirits are so popular.  They are more likely to taste the same from one bottle to the next, and from one year to the next.  I wish there was more information readily available on the bourbon barrels used by Central Waters, and in hind sight, I probably should have asked.

While brewing is an art form, barrel aging is an art all its own.  A brewery can make an educated guess about how a beer will turn out after being barrel aged, and quite a few release a remarkably consistent product from year to year.  Other breweries are all over the place with each new vintage of the same beer having different characteristics, part of which is due to the barrels used for that release or subtle changes to the recipe based upon feedback for the previous vintage..  Another factor to consider is that all barrels will eventually go sour, they aren’t exactly hermetically sealed, and quite a few of the bugs that turn beer sour exist inside the wood already.  It isn’t a question of whether a barrel will go sour, just a question of when.  Many breweries only use a barrel one time before getting rid of it, although a few like to use it more than once, but each successive batch is more likely to turn sour than the previous.  The character of the barrel also becomes stronger over time, although each brewery takes a different stance on barrel aging with some aging for only a couple months while others age for at least a couple years.  The final beer is always a direct result of the above factors, and the only way to figure out if the beer is ready for release is to taste it, those lucky guys and gals!  Then again, it probably isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it sounds.  Enough about barrel aging though, let’s get on with this review!

                If you are interested in a little background on Central Waters and how they got to where they are now, please check out my earlier post on their Oktoberfest.

They Say:

                To celebrate our Sweet Sixteen, we made this Anniversary beer that builds itself on the shoulders of its predecessors.  Using a bigger, bolder imperial stout, we age this beer for 21 months in oak bourbon barrels.  The result – rich, decadent bourbon, vanilla and toffee; complimented by the chocolate and roast of the stout.  Enjoy this beer from our Gold Medal winning Anniversary Series, because Sixteen is a milestone, but our life is just beginning.

                Serving temperature: 45-50°F.

I Say:

                Sixteen pours an opaque black with a thin, small bubbled latte colored head that holds low retention and leaves minimal lacing behind in the glass.  I usually do a pretty aggressive pour, or at least start with one to try to rouse a head, but was unable to get a very thick one to form in the glass.  Aromas of cocoa beans and vanilla from the toasted barrel come to the forefront in the aroma.  They are amply supported by caramel, and bourbon, with a hint of oak on the back end.  The moderately complex aroma is pretty solid, and serves as an enticing introduction to this beer.

                Cocoa powder leads in the flavor, immediately followed by a strong dose of bourbon.  The strong bourbon fades to notes of caramel, and a slight oaky character.  Toasted marshmallows and vanilla are also in evidence.  The finish brings notes of dark chocolate, and slightly sweet bourbon which linger into the aftertaste.  The full malt body of Sixteen is supported with a moderate bitterness, some is undoubtedly from the hop addition, although the dark malts in the beer bring slight bitter notes along with them as well.  There are no hop flavors though, at least none that I was able to detect, then again this is a 1 year old beer, so many of them would likely have faded by now whether they existed in the fresh beer or not.  With a full body, and a moderate level of carbonation, Sixteen comes in right where a good barrel aged imperial stout should be.

                Aging has certainly been kind to Sixteen, as it usually is with a good Imperial Stout.  The strong bourbon aroma and flavor blend nicely with the chocolate and caramelized sugars from the base beer and the toasted oak of the barrel.  This is an excellent beer, and I wish there was an easy way to get more of it.  There is sure to be some out there in someone’s cellar, or who knows there might even be a few cases left at the brewery.  One thing is for sure however, if you do happen to find a bottle of Central Waters Sixteen you should definitely pick it up!  I have one more bottle, but I am hoping to save it for a three year vertical when Eighteen comes out next year.

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

Happy Drinking, and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Door Kriek – Funk Factory Geuzeria & O’so Brewing Company

Friday January, 23rd, 2014 marked the release of the second round of collaborations between Levi Funk, of the Funk Factory Geuzeria and Marc Buttera, of O’so Brewing Company.  This latest round release featured two beers: Framrood, a raspberry lambic; and Door Kriek, a cherry lambic.  The two beers, released exclusively at the party, were “spontaneously fermented” by allowing the hot wort (unfermented beer) to cool in a shallow open vessel referred to as a coolship.  The wort cools in the coolship (more on this below) and is then added to the fermenter, in this case French Oak barrels for fermentation.  If you would like a more in-depth discussion of the use of coolships in brewing, please refer to last week’s Framrood post, for now though, let’s give Door Kriek its due.

                A kriek is a lambic with cherries.  All lambic-style beers can vary in taste based upon the microbes that fermented the wort, but a kriek is also heavily influenced by the choice of cherries used.  For Door Kriek, Funk Factory and O’so used what I believe to be Wisconsin Montmorency cherries from Door County, which are well known for their tart, or as some would call it, sour flavor.  Compared to the sweeter Bing or Ranier Cherries which can be eaten on their own, tart cherries are commonly used as an ingredient in something that can cut the tartness like a pie, a jam or jelly, dipped in chocolate, or paired with something savory (like cheese or meat) to give a recipe added depth.

                Last year Marc Buttera and Levi Funk released the first in what will hopefully be many collaborative lambic-style beers, and now here we are with the second major launch event, and a bottle of Framrood.  On with the review.

They Say:
                Door Kriek is a blend of lambic style beer that was aged in used French oak wine barrels for 18-24 months.  It was then re-fermented with two pounds per gallon of tart cherries for three months.  We are proud to be using 100% tart cherries grown by a small family farm operating in Door County, WI, an area long-famous for their superb cherry crops.  Expect this Kriek to be tart yet balanced, complex yet delicate, and bursting with that pi-cherry flavor we love!

                We recommend drinking Door Kriek in the first year, but it will age very well in the cellar.

I Say:

                Door Kriek pours a brilliantly clear, bright red with pink highlights when held up to the light, the color is reminiscent of watermelon juice.  The thin, small bubbled, white head holds very low retention before fading to a very thin collar and leaving behind minimal lacing.  A soft, pale maltiness leads in the aroma, with a hint of fruity tartness.  Light tart pie cherries and a slight funkiness  linger into the finish.  The tart pie cherries become more prominent as Door Kriek warms to room temperature.   

                Door Kriek is mildly funky, with a strong note of tart pie cherries on the front end.  Notes of tart lactic acid mingle with slight barnyard/horse blanket funkiness and the tart pie cherries that linger throughout.  There is more tart pie cherry in the finish and long lingering aftertaste.  As in the aroma, the cherry notes become more prominent as the beer warms to room temperature.  At the end of the bottle, I poured a little of the yeast dregs in with my last few ounces of Door Kriek.  The addition of the yeast added a strong pie crust character which turned the tart pie cherry into a cherry pie, an amazingly awesome cherry pie!  Door Kriek is light bodied with a moderately high level of carbonation, which is dead on for a good kriek.
                Door Kriek is an excellent kriek with a moderate level of funkiness and a strong tart pie cherry flavor.  As with Framrood, Door Kriek will continue to develop in the bottle becoming funkier and picking up additional depth as it slowly oxidizes; the wild yeasts will make the beer even funkier.   In a recent twitter exchange with Crooked Stave, they mentioned that they prefer their American Sours after at least one year of aging in the bottle.  I guess that means I will have to hold onto my last bottle of Door Kriek for at least a year before I open it.  It will be hard to hold off that long because this is an excellent kriek that, like Framrood, signifies great things to come from all future Funk Factory / O’so Brewing collaborations.  With a beer like this, I can’t wait to taste the Funk Factory Geuzeria’s upcoming releases! once Levi starts rolling out releases.

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

                Happy Drinking, remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!