Madison Craft Beer Week! An interview with Jeff Glazer (co-founder)

By: Thomas Muhs

Sometimes the coolest opportunities just fall into your lap without you expecting it and this interview I got to do certainly fit that bill. One of the favorite topics of discussion in our office is craft beer and recently one of our interns got a job working on Madison Craft Beer week. He sent me an email saying that he knew I wrote for a beer review website and that one of the co-founders was looking to get the word out about the event to as many different beer blogs and websites as he could and was wondering if I would be interested in talking to him. I said absolutely, just let me know how I can get a hold of him and we’ll go from there.

So we met at a local brewpub in downtown Madison called the Great Dane, made quick introductions, ordered a beer and then just launched right in. I had some questions that I wanted to ask him specifically while he was there but otherwise I tried to let the conversation flow as naturally as possible. We talked about a variety of different topics; some of our favorite craft beer makers, the craft beer website he ran from 2007 until 2012, and what the true definition of being a craft beer really means. It was a great conversation, Jeff is a very interesting and insightful guy in the world of craft beer and I appreciate him taking the time to talk with me.

(Authors Note: The following conversation is paraphrased and re-created to the best of my knowledge and notes I took. I wanted to record the conversation but the brewpub was too loud.)

Thomas: So tell me a little bit more about how the event itself is structured, who participates in it, etc.

Jeff: It’s a 10 day event that always starts the same weekend as tickets go on sale for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival. We do that because Great Taste is a big event and tying our event to it in an indirect way helps to generate buzz for Craft Beer week and it stays fresh on everyone’s minds. The kickoff celebration this year will be a cask ale fest with 18 different casks at Madison East Side Club. Tickets are $30. Now we (meaning the organizers of Madison Craft Beer week) are only responsible for hosting the cask ale kick-off event, we don’t directly have a hand in any of the other events that take place during the other 10 days.

Thomas: See I find that really interesting that you guys as the organizers only host the kick-off event and then everything else that takes place during the week is on its own accord. Is there a reason that you took a really hands-off approach and how many events take place during the week?

Jeff: Last year we had at least 300 individual events that took place and the reason we took more of a hands-off approach was that we wanted to remain as neutral as possible to get the word out. And by remaining neutral, it allows for different businesses and organizations to really become a part of it and participate instead of having the event be sponsored by or dominated by a large brewery or distributor. This really allows for not only a lot of different events, but great events as well.

Thomas: What is your timeline as far as how you put this whole thing together?

Jeff: We start planning for the event in October; this is when we set out the schedule for the event and deadlines we need to meet. We start by talking to distributors and brewers who were either involved last year or who want to be involved and we get their feedback. One thing that really helps with planning is that we have a good relationship with the venues that host events during the week and that has been a big factor in allowing the event to grow every year. We start talking to venues in February, and we get their feedback as well and try to take that into account. We start really focusing on getting the word out to the individual consumer by mid-March. We use all different forms of advertising and social media to get the word out; we take out ads in local print news publications and magazines as well as beer specific publications. This year we are expanding our advertising reach to have ads placed in city buses which we are really excited about, radio, TV, posters and we also have coasters which we will be distributing to local bars and breweries to use as advertisement to customers. In April we start distributing official guides which tell you about all the events that will be going on during the week.

Thomas: So what is your favorite part about the whole week if you had to pick one thing?

Jeff: Well besides the beer, I would say that my favorite part about the week is attending an event and meeting someone there who showed up on a whim or maybe went with some friends and didn’t know what to expect and is now a craft beer convert. I see craft beer in the larger sense as a community, but as an idea I see craft beer as being artisanal, creating new things and willing to go outside the mold, but it’s also about being local and being an individual as well. To see those bonds form and to see people understand the big picture of what craft beer means is a really great thing to see.

Thomas: You are obviously very passionate about the subject of craft beer, what was it that really got you into the world of craft beer? If you could pinpoint it to one particular moment.

Jeff: I can, actually. It was back in 2004 and I was spending time with my brother who is six years younger than me. We were in Chicago and at one point he asked me if I had been drinking any craft beer lately, which I hadn’t. At that time I mostly drank a lot of imports. So my brother went out and bought a few different beers for me to try and one of those beers he bought was a 12oz bottle of Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA. We split the bottle between the two of us and I remember that it tasted like nothing else I had ever had before and that was what really sold me on craft beer. Another moment that I remember which really solidified my love of craft beer was when I tried a beer called New Glarus Old English Porter. When it came out, it got universally negative reviews and eventually was pulled from the shelves because it sold terribly in stores. It was a sour porter that tasted a lot like Rodenbach, but the biggest reason I think that it didn’t do well was because it was simply labeled as a porter and when a beer has a label to it, you expect it to taste a certain way and then when it doesn’t live up to or match that expectation, people end up not liking it. We put labels on things because we want a shorthand for what to expect but it also makes me wonder why we have labels for beer styles at all. If you think about it, putting a label on something already gives you a framework for what to expect but in a lot of ways I think it holds back the creativity of what a craft beer can and should be. In a lot of ways, the definition of craft beer is limiting. Because to me it’s more than just creating beer at a small level and it’s more than just any company that isn’t owned by Anheuser Busch or MillerCoors, craft beer has a sense of artisanship, it’s about being willing to try new things and take a risk for something that could potentially be truly great. Craft beer doesn’t neatly fit into any one definition that we’ve given to it and there are a lot of different beers and beer makers that continue to defy definition. So that Old English Porter really reminded me about what being a lover of craft beer really means and I hope that craft beer week continues to explore these different ideas and bring more people into the craft beer community fold.

Thomas:  Well I have to say this has been a really great interview, you really have provided me with a lot of insight on things I would have never thought about, so I figured we could end with this question; what is your favorite beer and/or style of beer?

Jeff: My favorite style is an IPA, I am an avowed hophead, and I love west coast style IPA’s. I think the one beer that really embodies that style is Stone IPA. My favorite individual beer however is Augustiner Maximator Doppelbock from Munich. It’s not as dark and muddy as a lot of other Doppelbock’s but it’s also drier and fruitier in taste which I really like.

So I encourage anyone in the Madison/Wisconsin/Midwest area, hell anyone anywhere around the country, if you’re looking to take a beercation (is that a word? If not it is now) come on out to Madison, Wisconsin from May 2nd-11th and take part in as many great events as you can.

www.MadBeerWeek.com

 

Ballast Point Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager)

By: Benjamin Welton

Back in my dumber days, I used to mull over the idea of getting a tattoo. At first it was going to be my mother’s name across my heart. If she were alive, I think mom would die of embarrassment if she saw her name across her son’s chest, so I deep six’d that one.

The next idea involved a Victorian-era diver’s helmet. It was to be either on my bicep or across my back. The reason? None in particular, aside from the fact that I have always been fascinated by the sea and sea exploration.

Well, then I joined the Navy and realized that the life of a diver was not for me. So, accordingly, I decided to nix making my torso a shrine to the Ghost of Captain Cutler (that’s a Scooby-Doo reference, in case you’re wondering). In fact, I decided to never get any tattoos at all. Still, that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a good diver’s helmet, and admittedly it was this taste in imagery that led me to purchase Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL in the first place.

Before opening this big bottle, I had a pang of buyer’s remorse. You see, previously, I had had a not-so great experience with Ballast Point. My one and only time drinking the Sculpin IPA hadn’t  been pleasurable, so I began drinking the Fathom IPL with little to no enthusiasm. Well, you know what they say about keeping your expectations low…

Fathom-IPLFirst Impression: Besides the eye-catching label, the first thing noteworthy about the Fathom IPL is that it comes only in single bottles. At 22 ounces, the Fathom IPL is good enough for two pints, which, for the purposes of my diet, is perfect.

Pour: Since the “IPL” stands for “India Pale Lager,” the Fathom is a nice combination of an IPA and a pilsener. With a color stuck somewhere between straw and crystal malt, the Fathom is a crisp-looking creature that comes equipped with a clean white head. There’s something refreshingly cold about the way this beer looks, and in fact watching this beer migrate to the top is akin watching the last gasps from a skin diver sinking to the bottom of the Bering Sea.

Taste: Underneath the fragrant aroma of orange citrus and bouncy hops, the Fathom IPL hits the mouth like an ocean tide gently reaching a beach in northern California. Although Ballast Point is headquartered in San Diego, the Fathom IPL tastes very German and overall it has a Teutonic flavor that would be paired well with either Knackwurst or Bockwurst. Sauerkraut wouldn’t hurt either, for the Fathom has a small spice kick to it. Simply put, this beer is like Bret “The Hitman” Hart – it’s excellence in execution.

Grade: A

ABV: 7%

IBU: 70

 

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel

By: Chris Lukie

Regional breweries are what I feel a craft brewer strives for.  They want to be the go to brand for everyone within a 30 mile radius at minimum, yet will happily serve beyond those borders.  Ayinger is an ancient brewery found outside Munich, which does just that. Although they cannot partake in Oktoberfest, they have established themselves as The Local craft brewery and also exports to America to share their perfect brews.  A simple train ride to the town of Aying, a few minute walk to the brewery which is clearly visible from the station, and you experience a beautiful brewery made for jaw dropping and expecting it as well.  They treat you well (you pay 5 or 10 euros for it) with a guided tour, a souvenir glass, full mugs of beer from the tanks, a dedicated area that serves as brewery basics and a museum of sorts, and a big finish that includes multiple tastings.  Of course they brew only German styles, but they make the Beautiful Beverage perfectly.  Which is a good thing cause they have had enough years to get that shit right.

ayingerFirst Impression: Ayinger delivers this brew in an easy to hold 17 oz brown bottle.  To me this is the perfect size. It fits in my hand perfectly. It’s a great serving size. It fills my glass just right. All coming up positive. The label is classy and vintage in the German manner, but a bit tame compared to our colorful ‘play on words’ beer names and eye catching bottle clothing.

Pour: This Beautiful Beverage pours black, and held to the light you see a crystal clear beer of a brilliant reddish color.  The head is stable and you could hear the carbonation sizzling just trying to hold those aromatics in.

Taste: Nose then tongue. For your pleasure. I smell caramel with a whiff of coffee and roasted malt flicking the tip of my nose.  The taste is true bottom fermented goodness mixed with caramel and roast.  Lager-like crispness and slight warming from this medium body brew makes me smile.  The roast flavour quickly disappears, but the crystal lingers. Hops are nothing more than a balance point here and play their supporting role with Oscar perfection.  This is a great session brew that is both enjoyable and drinkable.

Grade: B

ABV: 5%

IBU: Just right.

My White Ale at Rock Bottom Brewery

By: Chasse Gunter

When I worked full time, I found it hard to find the balance between work, writing, and drinking. And when I was unemployed, I found it hard to find time to write. But in order to uphold the title on my business card, and justify buying a nice beer, I journey out to find a beer worth a story. My journey takes me into the heart of Seattle’s rich younger brother, Bellevue, just a block away from Microsoft’s evil-spy-movie-looking headquarters (which is only out-eviled by Starbucks’ actual evil headquarters—seriously, look it up, it’s creepy). Actually, I had a (prospective) job related drug screening in Bellevue’s bland health cubicle district, which is the real reason I was so many buses from home. But now that the urine test I had so rigorously studied for was finished, I gravitated to Rock Bottom Brewery.

I was relieved to discover that a bar which caters to the richest youngest people on the planet serves craft beers affordable by a man of my modest financial stature (I’ll give one woo to anything under four bucks). I award the brewery additional points for offering low priced beer to customers well-known in the service industry to be the lowest tipping millionaires either side of the Mississippi. As a long-standing cog in the service industry, I am less concerned with Microsoft’s monopoly on software products and more concerned about their employees inability to perform small fractions. Or maybe evil henchmen just don’t tip. I am disappointed when the bartender tells me they don’t serve the mango Kolsh. Actually he said “a mango Kolsh;” for apparently each location has a different brew master—and—well, brews. A well dressed man takes a bar stool next to me and gives the bartender an unsolicited explanation regarding how great his day was. When asked if his was the same, the bartender just frowns and pours more drinks.

white_aleFirst Impression: I choose the next tastiest sounding beer from the happy hour menu—the (or this?) Rock Bottom’s White Ale. God, there are more suits in here than in a deck of cards…sorry, I’m not on my game. As I wait for my beer to arrive, I write down the description from the menu “two row malted barley and wheat with a hint of orange and coriander.”

Pour: It’s a beautiful golden wheat color with a pleasant aroma of freshly skinned orange zest It smells as purdy as it looks: less cloudy than many other wheat beers with a light orange head. I hear the bar tender sliding my debit card over and over with no avail. I pray to the credit card gods that my card doesn’t decline.

Taste: I put it up to my peasant lips and gently gulp some down. Though extremely crisp, there is a spicy bite of coriander that quickly joins the mouth party. While it goes down smooth and malty, the sourness and spice comes on unexpectedly; and while not overpowering or unpleasant, an orange would have been perfect on the rim for this late arrival mouth party—but I recently heard from my younger richer brother that bartenders typically don’t assume men want fruit in their beer, unless specifically requested. I didn’t ask, and suggest you do.

Final impression: It’s crisp with a nose of orange peel and lingering spice and a couple things nice. As I swish the last third of my beer around my mouth seeking adjectives for coriander, the well dressed man with the great day offers me a job with Komo 4 News. These corporate types cut to the chase quicker than you can find a synonym for coriander. We exchange business cards and unspecific words. “I’ll give you a call,” I assure him. But honestly, in this bustling local economy in denial, my leisure time can’t afford the hit from a third job. Plus, I gave up evil for lent. I’d take this beer over another job any day—but the Mango Kolsh from the Westlake Rock Bottom Brewery, I’d take that over two jobs. Unswayed by the dark side, I tip the bartender and start my journey home.

Grade: A-

ABV: 5.3%

IBU: 11

Rock Art Brewery Midnight Madness Smoked Porter

By: Benjamin Welton

The German rauchbier certainly falls under the “acquired taste” headline. Few people enjoy the taste of smoke, and even less people enjoy the taste of smoky, barreled brews. In my life, most of my acquaintances and friends prefer the lighter stuff—you know, lagers, pilsners, and the like. The tribe of dark beer drinkers is a small one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t strong or vociferous. In fact, nine out of ten times, the person who drinks dark beer exclusively can usually be found at the bar’s end, carrying on about how other styles of beer are deficient.

The intensity of this obsession is strange, and it certainly has a cult-like atmosphere. At times, you’d expect porter and stout enthusiasts to the take to the mountains with drums and flutes. Well, that’s what the good people at Vermont’s Rock Art Brewery want them to do, for their Midnight Madness brew is a smoked porter that captures all of the cold comfort of rural New England in wintertime. This beer is pagan too, with its hints of the fire and its aged taste. Like the Kokopelli (a fertility deity worshipped by the Native American tribes of the Southwest) that adorns the bottle, the Midnight Madness feels like old music dancing on the tongue.

rock-art-brewery-smoked-porterFirst Impression: There’s no trick here: from the label to the packaging, everything about this beer is dark. Rock Art knows their audience, so there’s not much aesthetic charm going on here. The Midnight Madness is presented simply, with a purple and black color scheme that is both spooky and calming. Weird, right?

Pour: Like most porters, the Midnight Madness has a strong head and a deep black coloring. Although the website calls it “dark ruby red,” this beer is darker than Danzig’s hair. Also, while the website states that this beer has a “medium body,” my eyes and taste buds call it heavy. If the Midnight Madness were a professional wrestler, it’d be ECW-era Taz—stocky, strong, and intimating

Taste: The beachwood smoke is there, but it’s not overpowering. Although this is a pungent beer with black and crystal grain hops, it’s smoother than one would think. Conversely, this beer (which looks like tar) won’t crinkle your face with too much bitterness. As far as porters go, it’s neither outstanding nor abysmal. But, compared to the usual fare one finds at most bars, the Midnight Madness is a witches’ brew made for that double vision that Foreigner once sang about.

Grade: B

ABV: 6.0%

IBU: Approx. 35

Flying Dog’s Underdog Atlantic Lager

By: Benjamin Welton

Comedian and author Jim Norton is fond of saying that all comedians have vices. From gambling to sex, comedians, according to Norton, are people incapable of controlling their vices. Their only balm lies onstage, and making people laugh is their way of keeping the black dogs of depression at bay.

Comedians aren’t the only victims of such inclinations either. Writers are notorious for their unhealthy appetites, and making it all worse is the fact that the world’s greatest writers are often celebrated and lionized for also being the world’s biggest drunks. Olivia Laing’s The Trip To Echo Springs: On Writers and Drinking tries to get to the meat of the matter, while any amateur interested in investigating the link between tequila and typewriters ought to start their search in the library looking for names like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Parker, and Thompson.
The “Thompson” there means Jim Thompson, but Hunter S. could fill that space just as well. Although the king of gonzo journalism was better known for his pill habit, Thompson wasn’t averse to alcohol by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Thompson shows himself to be the unofficial beer guru for the legendary East Bay motorcycle gang.
Apparently, the people over at Flying Dog Brewery, which is based in the unlikely locale of Frederick, Maryland, know Thompson’s drinking history well, for every product that they produce is dedicated to Thompson and Ralph Steadman – the British cartoonist who first began his working relationship with Thompson with 1970’s “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.” The Underdog Atlantic Lager is yet another drinkable tribute to the Great White Gonzo, and it should taste good to any aspiring clicker and clacker of the keys.
Flying_Dog_Underdog_Atlantic_Lager
First Impression: As with all the other Flying Dog brews, the Underdog Atlantic Lager’s exterior displays a Steadman original. Against a backdrop of exploding ink, a growling bitch (it might be a male, but “growling bitch” sounds better) sits perched on a barrel in a position of waiting. The bitch is all of us, and what we want is a beer – the drink that Thompson called “the drink of thugs, convicts, rowdies, rakes and other depraved outlaws who thrive on the quick bursts of night-energy…”  Personally speaking, I’ve always loved the Flying Dog labels, and this one is no different.
Pour: The Underdog Atlantic Lager is a solid and bubbly yellow that does exactly what beer should do when it hits your glass or cup. You can sniff and chew all you want, but all you’ll come away with is the correct idea that this is lager beer – nothing fancy and no gimmicks needed (RIP Chris Candido).
Taste: Because it has rye, wheat, and cara-pils malts, and also because it has perle and goldings hops, the Underdog Atlantic Lager tastes like an All-American summer. This beer is what Milwaukee should be making but isn’t. But, despite how good it tastes, this beer can’t fight the fact that it’s a lager. In the grand scheme of things, the lager is beer’s ugly cousin, and George Orwell was right when criticized any man who would take a lager over an ale. Still, for a lager, the Underdog Atlantic Lager is in fine form, and I am sure the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson wouldn’t mind a can.
Grade: B+
ABV: 4.7%
IBU: 28

Cisco Brewers Captain Swain’s Extra Stout

By: Daniel Marcoux

Cisco beer

What is it about cereal TV commercials?  Their kitschy taglines are engrained into our heads well into adulthood: “Kid tested, mother approved.”  “They’rrrreee Grrrreat!”  “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”  “Breakfast of champions.”  “Snap! Crackle! Pop!”  “Hey Mikey!  He likes it!”  “I’m coo-coo for Coco Puffs!”  “You and the Captain can make it happen!”  (Sorry for wasting 10 seconds of your life there, but need I say, point proven?)  Walking through the aisles of my local bottle shop, I took one inspirational glance at Captain Swain and thought to myself, “Yes, we can make this happen.”  I mustered up the courage to join Mr. Swain on an adventure navigating though a black sea of clandestine malts and spine tingling hops.  Will it be safe sailing?  Time to run them numbers.

First Impression:  Love the simple packaging.  The picture of the captain reminds me of an old baseball card that used to be attached to a pack of cigarettes in the late 1800s, Honus Wagner style.

Cisco beerPour: Jet black with a khaki head.  The lacing was prominent on the side of the glass as I drank.  It smelled like a malt bomb with some chocolate, molasses, syrup, and alcohol.

Taste: Mmmmmmmm!  I have to say, I was a little nervous with the smell of this beer that it would be too syrupy and one noted, but that’s not what I get with the taste.  Right of the bat there are really rich chocolate malts with a robust and roasty flavor.  I like this Swain guy, because for a stout, it actually has nice piney, hop bitterness to it.  It is a little floral as well, but the main stay of the brew is certainly the roasted malt.  If you’re looking for a super creamy and thick stout, I don’t think this would be the beer to get, but it has such a unique flavor to it for what can be a pretty mundane style of beer.  The carbonation of the brew is nice, but its mouthfeel is thin for the style.  I wish Cisco would have put some protein in this guy to beef it up a bit.  The finish on the beer has a molasses character to it with a touch of alcohol; I’m not shocked this beer is 8% ABV, on the way down it does have a subtle burn.

Final Impression:  Hey Mikey! I like it! It’s a solid beer and certainly a unique stout, however in my opinion it really drinks more like a charred and roasted black IPA.  The roasted flavors dominate, but I’ve never had a stout this piney before.  Additionally, the thin mouthfeel fits with the aforementioned style rather than an extra stout.  It’s nice on a cold day, but not hearty enough to replace a breakfast of champions.

Grade: B+

ABV: 8%

IBU: Not available, but would be interesting to know.

Bell’s Hopslam

By: Daniel Marcoux

Hopslam

Do you see this man on the label?  Yikes.  That’ll be one expensive hospital bill.  Death by hop cones.  Not the worst way to go out, but it looks like a scene straight from Exodus 10.  Moses said to the Pharaoh, “Let my people go! … If you refuse to let them go, I will bring hops into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left … They will fill your houses … something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.”  Whoa.

I might have taken it upon myself to modify that verse a little bit… locusts or hops… what’s the big difference?  I’m sure that when making Hopslam, the good people at Bell’s Brewing, from Comstock, Michigan, were aiming to plague this beer with hops, hops, and more hops.  Will I want to let this beer go, or will it be an experience unlike that of any of my ancestors?  Time to find out.

Hopslam 3First Impression:  A lot of hype with this beer.  Wondering if it’s justified.

Pour: A very pretty golden color with off white head, that actually laced very nicely as I drank. The smell is that of Skittles, hops, mango, tropical fruits, a little resin/pine.  Awesome aroma.

Taste: I have to say, with the way this smelled, I’m surprised with the first sip.  It’s more piney than tropical and the honey is quite dominant in the taste and texture.  It might be weird to say that a beer has a distinctive texture, but the honey really thickens up the body and adds a layer of residual sweetness that rides along in your mouth from start to finish and clings to your teeth after you swallow.  Once you get past the first two sips, the hop presence becomes more tame, however the resiny and piney flavor from the hops remains the big ticket in the brew.  Again, I don’t quite get any of the citrus or tropical flavors from the hops, but I get a sugary sweetness that cuts through the pineyness of the hops.  As I’m drinking it, it really reminds me of Brown Sugga by Lagunitas; an intensely hoped brew with a kick of sweetness t o balance things out.  For 10% ABV though, it really goes down dangerously smooth.  I’m writing this with the glass half full, and I’m beginning to feel the effects of this beer.

Overall:  It’s a great beer with a fine hop presence, however, as limited as this is and as hard as it is to get, I think I could find a suitable alternative locally and be just as hoppy… I mean happy.  If you missed out on the Hopslam experience, Lagunitas Brown Sugga or even Sucks is fairly comparable in all areas except for the aroma (in my opinion).  Nice taste, nice ABV, bad availability.  As with many mythical beers, I’m not sure if the hype is justified on this one.

Grade: A-

ABV: 10%

Original Gravity: 1.087

Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otoño (Autumn Fire)

By: Daniel Marcoux

Autumn Fire 1

Sour brews are the fasting growing craft beer style on the market right now, at least that’s what NPR told me on my way to work a month ago.  They are refreshing, tangy, unique, difficult to replicate, and have alcohol.  What more do you want out of a brew?  What I really love about sour ales is the painstaking care that goes into each brew.  But how can it be such a delicate process to craft one of these masterpieces if all you’re doing is just throwing in bacteria in the beer?  Well citizens, it’s much more than that.  Often, these beers are transferred to oak, are aged years upon end, and have several additions of fruits, yeasts, and anything else you might imagine along the way.  As homebrewers know, making sour/wild ales is also quite risky; the bacteria and specialty yeasts used in these beers are invasive!  The owner of my local homebrew shop once told me that a patron fiddled with making one of these guys, spilt some beer that was fermenting along the way, and his basement was inoculated with sour producing yeast.  Every beer he brewed afterwards tasted sour.  Proceed with caution.

That being said, one such brewing company that takes the challenge of sour brews head on is Jolly Pumpkin from Dexter, Michigan.  I haven’t had a brew from them that lacked a little tang and the majority of beers they release spend some quality time in oak barrels.  Their beers also tend to be a bit more complex than just bearing a sour punch, and this beer (Autumn Fire) is one such example.  Let’s get into it!

Autumn Fire 2First impression:  What’s with the sad lady on the front?  Cheer up hun, the beer will remedy any sorrows.

Pour: For being unfiltered, I am genuinely surprised how clear this beer is.  However, this is a 750 mL bottle of beer, and I have about two more pours to go – I suspect that the yeast in the bottom will make its way out on pours 2 and 3.  The color of the beer is light amber with a fluffy off white head.

Taste:  First sip, I got a lot of sour notes upfront with a lot of lactic acidity.  It sort of shocked my tastes buds, but on the second go around, it was a different story.  The malts in the beer do shine through past the initial sour kick with a bready and caramel sweetness to them.  I’m not sure if the label is subconsciously making me think about falling leaves, but the best way I can describe the taste is like going outside on a crisp fall afternoon and smelling the air – this is where I think the spices in the beer (mostly nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon) poke through.  The beer itself is not sour per sé, but it has a tart kick throughout it with continual funkiness from start to finish (barnyard, hay – the usual suspects in wild beers).  The finish on this brew is dry, dry, dry.  The aftertaste leaves you wanting to dive back in to satisfy the thirst this beer creates.  There is also a definite bitterness on the sides after you swallow, but the taste of the brew itself is not bitter at all; I think the bitterness comes from the tannins in the wood and perhaps from the chestnuts used during the brewing process.

Final Impression:  For a fall seasonal, I think Jolly Pumpkin nailed this.  It truly reminds me of the tastes and smells of the northern U.S. fall season.  The only gripe I have with the brew is its finish.  It could be a little more rounded – some of the sweet breadyness of the malt would have been a nice contrast to the dryness of the oak.  The amount of tartness is what you would expect out of any Jolly Pumpkin brew, and I really enjoy it.

Grade: B+

ABV: 6.1%

IBU: ?

Crooked Stave Batch 60

By: Katie Schroepfer

Denver brewery Crooked Stave has been getting a lot of attention lately for their unique sour beers. The head brewer is a master at sours, making them all very exceptional and great tasting. For some people a sour beer is the worst idea ever, and for others all they want is a delicious sour beer that leaves them wanting more. Batch 60 is one of the best sours that I have ever had; it’s too bad it is a limited release brew.

crooked-stave-batch-60First Impression: The label is great. It has a good description of the beer on it and it flows well with what Crooked Stave is all about. Everything about the beer is appealing.

Pour: The head is thin and white, disappearing quickly. The beer has an orange color to it, providing a lemon and flowery scent.

Taste: This is a fruity sour beer with a lingering, tart-flavor. A bit of a citrus taste is also involved, giving you a good variety of tastes to make this an all-around excellent beer. Batch 60 has an impressive sour flavor to it, giving its drinker plenty of sour for one sitting.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this sour beer. Crooked Stave has never let me down and it has always been great to try their new sours.

Grade: B+

ABV: 6.7%

IBU: ?