Archives for posts with tag: beer

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?

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!