Archives for category: Alcohol

With all the acts of political suicide taking place here in Wisconsin, it’s been hard to keep up with some of the things I enjoy in my normal, non-political life.  These include researching the gruesome deaths of my favorite poets, half-heartedly translating things from German and investigating the beers of the world.  But given the turbulence of local politics, isn’t now, more than ever, the time when I should be turning to the benevolent brewers for comfort? And so, I again dip my toes in that golden-hued pool of discovery as I recently tried for the first time, and probably last, Dogfish Head’s 60-Minute IPA.

The fact that I probably won’t have this beer again doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with its quality, but with the fact that Dogfish Head, based out of Delaware, announced last week that it is ending its distribution efforts in Wisconsin and handful of other states.  Madison Beer Review has a good analysis as to why Wisconsin is both a desirable and difficult market for out-of-state craft brewers, so I won’t try to recreate their analysis.  But I think they hit the point perfectly: In Wisconsin we support craft brewers with a passion, but we favor Wisconsin brewers above others.  I certainly consider myself a typical Wisconsin beer drinker in this respect; unless given a direct recommendation based on my proclivities, I will always choose a Wisconsin beer before anything made out-of-state.

Although this may certainly limit the variety of beers that come and stay in Wisconsin, I think our support of local craft brewers is one of the best things about Wisconsin.  And, for the record, our brewers are fantastic and are generally incredibly inventive.  These, often small-scale, brewers can afford to innovate because they have this local support.

So does Wisconsin need the presence of highly-regarded out-of-state brewers like Dogfish Head? Despite my unending support of Wisconsin brewers, I have to answer yes.  The more variety that can be brought to the state, the more local breweries will have to develop to remain relevant with the public’s taste preferences.  In other words, bring the beer to Wisconsin so that the Wisconsin brewers can make those beers even better.

So how was my first and possibly only taste of Dogfish Head?  Pretty good.

I tried the 60-Minute IPA, the loss of which several of the Fishdog Head mourners of Twitter had especially marked.  The initial taste of the 60-Minute IPA is really golden, almost like a honey feeling. It has an almost-sweet effervescence that eventually leads into a full-bodied hoppy finish, which is bitter but not especially daunting.  Overall, it was a pleasant drink that would go well with many of the heavier meals we cherish here in Badgerland.

My one gripe was that the hops, although well balanced and not overpowering in the beginning do eventually overpower all the other flavors of the beer. By the end of the bottle all that initial golden shimmering on my tongue was no more. It was hops and all hops.  But as the hop trend continues and I am forced to have more and more hoppy beer, I have begun to suspect that this is just the nature of hops.  Once hops get on your tongue for a while they just kill off more subtle flavors.

This is why I find the trend towards hoppy beers pretty annoying.  It’s not that I don’t like a full-bodied beer, but I like to taste all of the beer as I drink down the bottle.  Are we drinking works of art, or are drinking competitions to discover the human tolerance level for bitter flavor?  What’s the point?

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6:59: Okay, looks like everything’s wrapping up now so I’m going to stop blogging shortly. If anyone has any comments or questions for me, please let me know. Thanks for reading.

6:57: I also appreciate that some of the union advocates explained clearly that the rights to collectively bargain also helps them improve situations and services for the people they serve.

6:54: Breaking: Republican Senator Dale Schulz will offer a compromise to the amendment so that the Governor’s collective bargaining proposals will sunset in two years.  A sign that Republicans are wavering on this? Well…remember that Governor Walker can just veto the sunset proposal.

6:53: I agree that the voter ID bill passing is also devastating to Wisconsin. It’s like everywhere you look it’s just more poopy stuff.

6:51: Long-term control over the budget? This man is already the most powerful Governor in the United States.

6:49: Public sector unions are also partners in economic development! Public sector employees are also trying to make ends meet and help their children. Sheesh. They aren’t aliens who scavenge the landscape.

6:47: Andrew, yes. It’s important to remember that teachers and all of the people affected by this have families. My dad was a teacher. These are middle-class people who contribute to the community in and outside of the workplace.

6:46: Nancy, thank you for making it clear that this is not about money.

6:45: Nice camera trickery Any Choi.

6:42: Got to text to save Democracy!

6:41: Okay–if anyone says Wisconsin or Capitol or Madison–have a drink.

6:38: I feel like I should have extended the drinking game into the regular news cast. Madison East plays Verona now? The new Badger Conference configuration makes me feel like I’m 40.

6:36: Don’t Republicans know that withholding pay from Democrats will only emphasize the point that the 14 Democrats are in Illinois on principal, not for their own self-interest? It just makes the Republicans look spiteful and aggressive.

6:35: I do love the parents who have come out in lieu of the teachers. Very cool–people often forget that there are thousands of us who are engaged in this fight even though it doesn’t directly affect us.

6:33: Umm…I don’t think the Senators’ leaving is unethical. I can understand that Republicans don’t want them to vote from Illinois, but I think the ethics behind them leaving is solid. How ethical is it to change 50 years of labor law, affecting 200,000 people, in 5 days?

6:30: Peter Barca is so great at yelling. I kind of wish that I had him in my apartment when I’m trying to clean: Un.be.liev.a.ble that you did NOT scrub out that GROUT!!!

6:26: Nice shot of a woman in the background wincing and trying to refrain from getting angry as a man in front of her says our taxes are too high and that the Dem Senators need to do their jobs and come back to vote.

6:24: But I do appreciate that Channel 3 is letting some regular people talk. Nice reasoned response from an anti-bill person.

6:23: Channel 3 missed an opportunity to mention that it was over 60,000 protesters against the measure.  It was far from even.

6:18: Governor Walker pretty much hit every point I expected, but I think it’s disingenuous of him to pretend like he’s acknowledging the concerns of the protesters, when he really isn’t at all. The key thing nobody wants to let go of is the right to bargain. Bargaining is an important too that enhances civil service protections.

6:17: I do agree with Sen Miller and Prof. Franklin’s analysis that the Dems are giving room for compromise, while making it clear that the right to negotiate should not be touched.

6:15: Had to take a break to catch up with all of the drinks I didn’t get to take! Also, thanks News 3 for putting on Charles Franklin. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but he does a good job explaining everything.

6:14: Also, please remember that this is not just state employees but all public workers.

6:13: Everything Miller is saying is fine, but it’s so awkward. Maybe people will relate to him?

6:12: Miller seems uncomfortable and nervous.

6:10: Mark Miller’s doing the rebuttal? I’d rather see Erpenbach as he’s been much more engaging throughout this process.

6:09: Governor Walker, your ancestors are from Wisconsin? Also, what has made this state great is the rights we have given to our workers.  It’s the progressive history you are trying to end.

6:08: 1,500 state employees will be laid off by the end of June. Please ignore the gun to your head. I’m modest and reasonable.

6:07: I would be up for more taxes instead of civic unrest. Also, it should be noted–the dems plugged a $7 billion hole. Out of state protesters from Nevada! Where were they today? I didn’t see them.

6:05: It’s modest.  Wisconsin eat your kids and your future.  Modest proposals on the county level–that’s why he was sued by and lost to county workers. We’re up to about 6 drinks I think.

6:04: Dear private workers who support Gov Walker: You have the right to unionize and bargain. This would take those rights away from the public sector.  That’s the issue.

6:03: It’s about the budget and protecting the taxpayer.  Did you know that Wisconsin worker? Sheesh–3 drinks!!

6:02: He understands–that’s why he’s taking away what you’re asking for. Drink 3 times!

6:00 p.m. He loves government workers. What a sweet way of showing it. Drink up!

6:00 p.m. Okay–Fireside about to start.

5:45 p.m. Nice national CBS news face time for the Dem 14.  Okay–I’ve got to get my glass of 3 buck chuck.

5:40 p.m.: A note on logistics–I will be watching the fireside on Madison’s CBS affiliate, Channel 3.  Their coverage has been by far the most extensive this week and they are devoting an entire hour to the fireside chat, a democratic rebuttal and analysis.

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Tonight at 6 p.m. (CST) Wisconsin Governor Walker will address the people of Wisconsin via a fireside chat.  It’s like FDR except that he’ll try to convince us that it’s okay to give massive tax breaks to corporations, while simultaneously saying “we’re broke” in order to justify stripping collective bargaining rights for middle-class people.  Or maybe he won’t talk about the collective bargaining proposals at all, as he sometimes doesn’t.  Also he might not talk about how he wants to make it easier to cut poor people’s Medicaid benefits. Those things are messy and all boo-hooey. It’s not like he’s not a hero or anything; Governor Walker is totally the reverse Robin Hood!

Anyway, come back at 6 pm for our first-ever liveblog/drinking game.  To prepare for your intoxication here are the drinking game rules:

Take one drink whenever Governor Walker says:

1. Taxpayers

2. This is about balancing the budget

3.  Layoffs

4. Public employees are good people.

5. Share sacrifices

6. These concessions are still better than the private sector

7. Flexibility/Resources/Tools for local government

8. Cuts

9. Budget emergency

Take two drinks if he says:

1. Taxpayers support this/Protecting or standing with the taxpayers

2. Silent majority

3. It’s time to get back to work

4. Wisconsin is broke/We’re broke/We don’t have the money

5. Out-of-state protesters

6. Nobody should be surprised by this

7. They need to do their jobs/Do your jobs

Take three drinks if Governor Walker says:

1. Modest proposal

2. Paid protesters

4. I understand

5. Elections have concequences

Any other suggestions? Leave in the comments. See you at 6 p.m.

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On my way home from Cheese Days (which I wrote about sort-of recently) I stopped by one of favorite bars: Le Tigre.  Due to its location, my lack of a car and Madison’s lack of late-night public transportation, I rarely get there.  But we had a car for Cheese Day! So we got there.  If you live in Madison, or are ever in Madison, please take the opportunity to visit Le Tigre.  It’s located in a strip mall, which, admittedly, doesn’t normally signal a great night out:

But on the inside, Le Tigre is the most glorious themed bar/lounge you will ever encounter.  Everything is decked in tiger memorabilia: Tiger rugs, tiger statues, stuffed tigers, tiger photos, tiger beer.  The bar seats are orange.

In addition to the whole tigers-wearing-WWII-veterans-caps and tigers-wearing-earmuffs thing, the bar only takes cash, always has the same one bartender (who we believe is the owner’s son), only plays music from the 50s and 60s from a jukebox and we believe certain curse words are grounds for immediate expulsion.

The drinks are good, the prices reasonable, the clientèle is generally young-ish and glad to be there (as they should be, lucky ducks!).

The strange thing about Le Tigre is that I first heard it identified as a dive bar.  Yes, it’s certainly is a unique bar, maybe a strange bar, but not a dive.  Aren’t dives there just to make one feel miserable?  What is a dive?

And with that, gentle reader, began a soul-searching journey that may also end with this post, because lord knows, I don’t have a good track record of sticking to a topics.  What are the intangible qualities about a place that make us shudder at the thought of picking someone up there?  My friends, allow me to try to make the intangible, you know, tangible.

As I begin this (perhaps one-post-long) journey, here are my thoughts as to what makes some bars dive bars and others places you take your mom after Mother’s Day brunch:

1. Atmosphere: This is a key ingredient.  Does the atmosphere seem unstylishly old-fashioned?  For instance, wood paneling? This is not necessarily a bad thing, some of our favorites (like Le Tigre) are whimsically old-fashioned, or have a certain classic classiness.  Are the walls covered mainly in signs and advertising for a certain types of beer (say Milwaukee’s Best or Keystone Light or Michelob Ultra)?

The question truly with atmosphere is–how is it all coming together?  Is the bar too spacious with lots of flooring between objects? Does that alienate you?  Does is sort of remind you of a sad dog chained up to a dilapidated house?  Are there sober people in the bar? Do they look like they’re enjoying themselves?

Another way to rule out a dive: does the bar feel homey?  Are  the owners an old couple who smile at each other, or better yet, are they a young couple and the wife is pregnant and wiping out beer glasses?  If so, that’s not a dive.  That’s an episode of EastEnders.

2. Clientèle: How old are the patrons?  This is a key question that  separates many campus bars from true dive bars.  I would argue that any bar that caters to  patrons who are mostly under thirty is not a dive.  Young people, in whatever capacity (drunk, hopeless, belligerent, unfailingly stupid) bring a certain sparkle to any misery.  For them, the future CAN change.  The next job, relationship, educational choice, or move could turn their lives around.  Even people in their thirties can, to some extent, give off this aura–but when the bar starts to fill with the grey hair and crows feet, the immediate optimism of youth evaporates and a bar can become a true dive.

Another question with clientèle: are there people on dates?  Are they sober and actually talking to one another?

3. Drinks: Here’s another big clue to whether you’re in a dive–what are you holding in your hand?  Is it a can of Keystone Light?  If so, well, I think you know where you are.  Does the bar only serve cans of terrible beers that exists only to get you drunk as cheaply as possible?  Or are there tap beers?  Are there local taps, or even microbrews on tap? Can you get mixed drinks?  Can you get cocktails?  Once you start answering yes to these questions–then you may not actually be in a dive.  Maybe you are just in a small town and in a tavern.   Those are dives.  Those are cultural. Dives are where culture ends and sadness begins.

4. Food: Is there food?  Food does not immediately rule out a dive bar experience.  But certain foods can.  For instance tapas can not be served at dive bars.  Special quality hamburgers with secret sauce (that is actually good) can not be served at dive bars.  Popcorn? Maybe.  Cheese curds?  Yes.  Gourmet cheese curds? No.  Basically the question is, would people come here for lunch to eat the food and not necessarily drink?  If yes, this is not a dive bar.

5. Loneliness/Misery: Here is the unsayable sayable.  Do you feel bad for being there?  Are there single people at the bar looking miserable? Do desperate men make terrible passes at you in a way that makes you sad for humanity.  When they smile at you, do they have all of their teeth?  Are there groups of people sitting around and not talking?  Do they look like they’re having fun, but really there’s  a deep pain behind their eyes?  Do you fear you will die in a place like this? Do you think your mother would feel sad for you if she saw you in this bar nursing a Keystone Light?  Do you stare at your can of Keystone Light and question the fundamental purpose of your existence?  Is the bright light of  your youth smothered by the garishness of neon?

If yes, Dive City.  There is a vacancy just for you.

Join me as I maybe never compend the bars I happen to stumble into.  I am lazy and I fear bars.  I like good beer.  Cheers!

Dear Beer gods,

It has been a truly wonderful and blessed beer life. You hath been most generous in bestowing on me rare glimpses of the great mysteries of your centuries-old craft.  The Radler of Bavaria, the yeasty  wheat brews of wherever–somewhere in Germany, the Pilsner of the Czech Republic, the smoked beer of Bamberg, the tart Berliner Weisse, the fruit beers of Belgium, and scores and scores of great Lagers, Pilners, Stouts, Porters, Bocks, Ales–these are the monuments at your feet.

Allow me to be the light to your winter

Last year, I thought I met the paragon of brewing:  The New Glarus Crambic.  Based on the great fruit brews by Lambic, the Crambic used Wisconsin cranberries and was made as a limited edition “art beer” by Daniel Carey, the master brewer at the New Glarus Brewing Company.  So tart, rich, sweet, tangy and creamy–it was the perfect compliment to the heavy, holiday food of the fall.  Perhaps the perfect beer.  The treasure of the season.  One that I was unsure if I would ever see its equal when it forever disappeared off the shelves.

Then I met the New Glarus Enigma.  Another art brew by Daniel Carey.  This beer takes all of the great things of last year’s Crambic (the rich sweet-sour fruitiness,  creaminess) with a shadow of what I think is a barley flavor (something more traditionally beer-like–a deep sourness).  The result is a beer that actually causes different positive reactions on different parts of the tongue.  My tongue isn’t very gifted when it comes to this–but it was obvious.  This was a pleasant and amusing surprise.

Fruit beers are a favorite, guilty pleasure of mine, but they can be so gross if done poorly (I’ve had them taste like cool-aide with a shot of beer, or the opposite–a regular beer that tastes like someone simply poured in a pack of Crystal Lite.) But New Glarus has really masted the art of a well-balanced, complex fruit beer that doesn’t taste anything like a gimmick.

Here’s how New Glarus describes the Enigma:

A complex and intriguing original. The mystery began with wild yeast spontaneously fermenting a rich treasure of malted barley and cheeries. Unlined Oak casks breathe deep vanilla hues and chords of smoke into this sour brown ale. Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description. Wander off the beaten path.

In  other words, I will be stocking up on these like a little squirrel with nuts in my cheeks–I want these to last through the long northern winter or until New Glarus decides to bring back the Crambic.

Long live the beer gods!

Tonight, I say good bye to a friend whose company I have enjoyed this summer.  As I type, I am finishing my last Stock Ale from the Mill Street Brewery in Toronto.  I was in Toronto over Memorial Day weekend and, for nearly three months, have savored my souvenir Stock Ales up to this last orphan.

This beer certainly won’t change anyone’s perception of what beer can be.  But it’s a crisp, smooth beer with no excessive, bitter  finish–perfect for a summer evening.  Yet, it never feels light or watered down.  It really has a full body.  In the brewery they said that this beer is what Ale would have tasted like 100 years ago. Uncomplicated, but almost creamy.  I tried maybe six beers before I found this one (and to the bartender–thanks for your patience!).

This trip was also my first time in Toronto, and Canada for that matter.  The whole experience was great– the people were hospitable and funny, the city livable but cosmopolitan.  Here are some of my favorite pictures.  Enjoy!