Sunday, November 4th, 2012

trying to break into a bottle of Hinterland's Bourbon Barrel DoppelbockOn the advice of a friend, I bought a couple bottles of Hinterland’s Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock. Good advice. Even at the price of six ninety-nine a bottle, I was glad I made the extra effort to find some.

And speaking of effort: Hinterland gave each bottle a little hipster cachet by dipping the cap in some kind of bulletproof black plastic that’s impervious to nearly every sharp object in our kitchen. I don’t know what that crap is, but it isn’t wax, the stuff that bottles are usually dipped in and which is pretty easy to peel off, all the better to get at yummy stuff inside. The stuff on the caps of Hinterland’s brew is very emphatically not easy to peel off. It isn’t even very hard to peel off. It’s all but impossible to peel off. Hey, Bill Tressler! I love your beers, but I hate this bottle! Whoever you hired to do this to your beer ought to give you your money back.

There. That’s a load off my mind.

Now, back to the beer: I like it. I like it a lot. It’s dark, and I like beer that tends toward a darker color. This is really a very important characteristic of beer. I think beer ought to be reddish, or brown, or almost black. I get no kick out of beers that are orange, or yellow. Those are the colors of fruit drinks, or cocktails. Not that there’s anything wrong with cocktails. I like cocktails, too, but they’re not beer. To my eye, a beer’s color is a cue to what I like to think of as how sufficiently it serensifies me. After I drink a beer, I like to feel that it stuck to my ribs. That’s the difference between a beer and a cocktail. A cocktail goes to my head, but a beer sticks to my ribs.

And I like it because it’s got a flavor that I can’t help but think of as “wiseass.” I like a wiseass beer. It tastes very much like beer, but it has a way of suggesting it’s a beer doing a good impression of a drink that’s got a lot more going for it than beers made from the usual ingredients. It says, Sure, I’m a beer, but there’s something about me that isn’t like other beers. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that, in this case, that particular characteristic comes from the bourbon barrel part of this beer’s upbringing.

Finally, it comes in a pint bottle. Beer that comes in a pint bottle has something very important over beers that come in other sizes. Twelve ounces isn’t enough for me. After finishing a twelve-ounce bottle I always want more beer, but I don’t necessarily want another twelve ounces. It’s not a good size for me. It doesn’t fit. Neither does twenty-two ounces. The last few swigs from a twenty-two ounce bottle of beer make me feel like I drinking it because I have to. A pint is the perfect amount. It never feels like too much, and on those occasions when I want more, another pint isn’t too much, either. Bravo to Hinterland for figuring this out.

Hinterland Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock | 5:17 pm CDT
Category: beer, food & drink, play | Tags:
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Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I have the teensie-weansiest little headachette this morning, just a little pressure at my temples that makes my eyelids squeak when I blink them, as if they’re on rusty hinges. I’m sure it’ll go away after a cup of coffee.

This is definitely not the fault of the beer I drank during our tour of breweries in the Fox Valley. That beer was just way too good to be the cause of any kind of hangover, no matter how slight. There’s no way I can accept that such lovingly crafted, drinkable brews could in any way be deleterious to my health.

There was that Bloody Mary I nursed at the bar in the morning while we were waiting for the bus to pull up. They’ve never given me a headache before, but there’s always a first time.

The bus left the curb in front of Alchemy, one of our favorite places to go have a bite to eat and tip a brew after a long, hard slog through the work week. It also happens to be the headquarters of Hop Head Beer Tours, run by a trio of guys (Justin, Pepper, and a third guy who wasn’t able to make the trip and I forgot the name of because I wasn’t taking notes. Mea culpa.) who have been slaving away to give ordinary people such as me and My Darling B the extraordinary privilege of visiting the most amazing breweries in Wisconsin and talking to the guys who love to make beer.

I just realized: In every brewery we’ve been to, the brewers have all been guys. Why don’t women brew? There are plenty of women who love to drink beer. Why would they leave the brewing to the guys? I might have to look into that.

Anyway, we called a cab for the trip to Alchemy at nine-fifteen, figuring that it would be prudent to assume that we would need a cab ride home when we returned. I called Union Cab because their cabs are yellow. I deeply believe that cabs should be yellow with a belt of black and white checks. Union Cabs don’t have the checks, but at least they’re the right color. Okay, I don’t believe any of that. I called Union because they made a catchy radio jingle out of their phone number that always pops into my head whenever I think of calling a cab. A yellow Prius pulled up at the driveway precisely at nine-fifteen and the driver, after saying hello and confirming the destination, switched on a episode of This American Life and we were treated to a story about interstellar space travel. Would this happen anywhere other than Madison?

When we signed in, we learned that our group that day would be very intimate, just eight people and Eric “Bruiser” Brusewitz, the head brewer at The Great Dane. Bruiser brought along a box of six growlers, gallon jugs of beer, from the Dane for us to sample during the bus ride to Appleton. The bus itself was not a typical coach: The front half had coach seating, but the back half had four big, comfy wing chairs and two tables with bench seating on either side. The tables let us sit together in a close little group, pass around the beer samples and ask Bruiser a lot of questions, which he was more than happy to answer in great detail. And there were a lot of questions: Bruce, one of the guys taking the trip, was a home brewer who was really into the chemistry of fermentation, and Bruiser had not only been to brewer’s school (yes, there really is such a thing), he’d also traveled to breweries in Britain and Germany to learn about their brewing techniques (and drink beer – that lucky guy’s got the most awesome job in the world). Not only did he answer every question we asked him, he also had lots of great stories about brewing beer that made the trip way more fun than if we had just sat around drinking beer. Not that drinking beer all by itself isn’t fun.

Our first stop was not at a brewery at all, but at Schultz’s Cheese Haus in Beaver Dam, because Justin, one of the trip organizers, wanted to pair the beer we were drinking with some cheese. He chose a cheddar and bleu cheese mashup that Bruiser paired with a porter. Everyone gobbled up the cheese and the porter was so good that everyone asked for more.

The first brewery we visited was The Stone Cellar Brewpub tucked away in a part of Appleton known as Between The Locks, quite a pleasant surprise because my brother and I used to hang out in a bar called Skyline on the top floor of the building. The bar’s still there and still called Skyline, but it’s known as a comedy club now. I popped in for a quick peek at this almost-forgotten corner of my misspent youth and it doesn’t look much different.

The Stone Cellar’s brewery is on the ground floor above the pub. Collin, the brewer on duty, gave us a quick and dirty explanation of how he turned water, barley and yeast into beer, moving from one giant stainless steel tub to the next, before we machine-gunned him with questions. Actually, I think we salvoed before he was finished. In either case, he was more than happy to answer all our questions in as much detail as Bruiser did. When we were done in the brewery we retired to the pub where we got a complimentary pint of whatever we wanted and a commemorative pint glass with the pub’s logo silk-screened across the side. Some day I’ll have to hang a shelf or two where we can put up all the pub glasses we’ve collected in just the past few years.

Our next stop was at Title Town Brewing Company in Green Bay, a total geek-out for me because not only was it a brewpub, it was a brewpub in a train station, the old Chicago Northwestern station on Dousman Street. Brent, one of the brewers and, I think, one of the owners, too (I wish I’d kept notes), was into the history of the place and not only had a lot of beer memorabilia, he also had lots of photos of the depot, of trains at the depot, of railroad heralds, and on and on and on. It was fantastic. I’m still geeking out about it. Oh, and the beer was delicious, too.

Our last stop was dinner at Hinterland Brewing’s Green Bay restaurant (there’s one in Milwaukee, too), which was literally right across the street from Title Town. Where Title Town was more like a pub, Hinterland came across as a tony high-end restaurant, very quietly lit and actually very quiet. We tucked into a scrumptious taco dinner on the top floor before trooping downstairs for a tour of the brewery. Almost all the breweries we’ve been to are packed tightly into small spaces, but I’ve never before seen mash tuns and fermenters packed so closely and efficiently together as they were at Hinterland. We had to walk single file between the fermenters in the cold room, weaving our line between the legs of the giant tanks.

And that was our glorious day out. We came back with all the usual bling: pint glasses, a six-pack and a bottle or two, some coasters we pocketed as keepsakes. Oddly, neither one of us bought a t-shirt this time. I slept on the way back and I don’t think I snored too loudly, not that anybody else on the bus was going to care. I’m pretty sure most of them slept on the way home, too.

Fox Valley Brewery Tour | 11:35 am CDT
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Friday, December 10th, 2010

I had a picture to post for you, but my google profile has merged with my Picasa profile and although I’m sure it was all for my own convenience and pleasure, it seems they haven’t worked all the bugs out because I can’t link to photos right now, I can’t even see any of my photos on Picasa right now, so I’ll just have to rely upon the awesome power of the English language to describe what I was going to show you a picture of: Beer. It was a bottle of beer. There. Pretty evocative, eh?

It was a bottle of pale ale from the Hinterland brewery of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s terrific beer, but their bottles are plain as a glass of milk. Chocolate milk, in this case, because the labels are black with a big white “H” in the middle of a yellow circle with the word “Hinterland” in white block letters underneath. There’s also a smaller label on the neck of the bottle, also black, that says “Pale Ale,” also in white block letters.

It reminds me of those white cans of generic beer they used to sell back in the 80s. Each can had the word “BEER” on it in black capital letters. It was awful stuff, completely unlike Hinterland pale ale except that the labeling sort of sparks a memory. You probably can’t get any Hinterland beer outside of Wisconsin and, if so, too bad for you because it’s just delicious, pure ambrosia. I’d drink it all day long if I could retain the motor skills necessary to keep hoisting the bottle to my lips, so it’s probably a good thing I can’t.

I’m thinking of beer because My Darling B and I will depart for Milwaukee, the Wisconsin city that used to be known as Cream City because they made so much beer there that it, uh, looked like cream? I don’t know. My guess is, it had something to do with a creamy head of beer. Anyway, my birthday is this weekend and we’re celebrating with a trip to Milwaukee to tour some of the pubs there, a tour we found out about while dining at one of our favorite Madison taverns, the Alchemy cafe. We bought the tickets on impulse, I tucked them into my wallet and I entirely forgot about them until this afternoon when I was rooting around in there for a dollar. Oh shit, I thought to myself, I have to get up early tomorrow! But that’s okay, I’ll be able to nap on the bus because the pretty girl sitting next to me will let me put my head on her shoulder.

Beer | 10:23 pm CDT
Category: beer, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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