Tag Archives: Beer

Coeliacs Need Love Too: Estrella Damm Daura

11 Jan

Damm good for a gluten-free beer

I’ve got a thing for gluten.  Bread, pasta, beer – three of my favorite things in this world.  I can’t imagine what I would do if, one day, I found out I couldn’t have them anymore.  Too painful to even think about.  Unfortunately for many, the simple act of consuming these basic staples of the average Western diet is enough to send their digestive tract into fits.

Thankfully for the Coeliac beer lover, “beer” or beer-like beverages can be made from grains other than the main offenders barley, wheat, rye and oats – sorghum and millet are among the more popular. Unfortunately, most of these alternative-malt beers bear little resemblance to their glutened brethren in the taste department.  Daura, the two-time champion in its category at the World Beer Awards from Spanish brewer Estrella Damm, eschews exotic grains for science and uses proprietary technologies to create a beer with less than 6ppm of gluten from barley malt.  The real question is – does it taste like beer?

I was introduced to Daura at a local beer distributer event/trade show here in Madison a few months ago.  Pro-tip: stick around long enough and the beer reps will give you their leftovers rather than lug it back to their cars.

Estrella Damm Daura

Style: Gluten-free Euro-style Pale Lager

Vitals: 5.4% abv, 6ppm or less of gluten, ~$6.99/4-pack at Barriques Wine and Spirits

Company Line: “Estrella Daura is a 5.4% mainstream pilsner lager with a universal flavour and character.  The high quality of the beer is due to the fine selection of ingredients – ensuring that Daura has all the taste, but none of the gluten of a regular beer.”

My Take: Daura pours a pale straw yellow under snow white head typical of Euro-style pilseners.  Aroma hits all the Euro lager notes of light cereal malts, crisp, grassy hops, and a hint of  citrus and spice.  Hits the palate with dry, biscuity malt and faint, herbal noble hops, lending a crisp, spicy finish.  Body is light and bubbly, as one would expect.

Look, Estrella Daura is a pale lager.  It tastes like a hundred other pale lagers I’ve sampled from Europe, Latin America and Asia.  That’s what’s amazing about this beer.  It tastes like beer.  Most of the gluten-free beers I’ve tried taste like some Frankenstein mash-up of cream soda, tequila and Four Loko.  For a coeliac who wants nothing more than a beer that tastes like beer, Estrella Daura is a game-changer.  Hands-down the best-tasting, most beer-like gluten-free beer I’ve had.  I still hope I never see the day when there’s nothing but Estrella Daura in my fridge, though.  No offense.

New Brew: Hinterland Oktoberfest

16 Sep

As Matt (colleague over at Madison Beer Review) posted last week in his Friday Links (which spawned a brief discussion in the comments section), it did seem as though the Oktoberfest beers were out on shelves and on-tap in our favorite bars earlier than ever this year.  Maybe it was just the late summer heat clouding our memories and confusing our internal calendars.  Either way, Oktoberfests are here to stay for the next couple of months as a favorite fall seasonal in the German heritage-heavy Upper Midwest.  Wisconsin brewers do a predictably good job with the style in general with New Glarus’ Staghorn (currently The Old Fashioned’s $2.50/pint beer of the month for September), Capital’s Oktoberfest, Tyranena’s Gemuetlichkeit (Gesundheit?!), and Central Waters’ Octoberfest some of my favorite local examples year in and year out.

A new (re-)entry into the Madison market this year, Green Bay Brewing Company’s Hinterland brand has made impressive in-roads with its novel packaging (German-style 16-ounce pints in 4-packs) and tap-lines, creating an admirable line-up including its much-beloved Luna Stout as well as Pale Ale, Amber, Cherry Wheat and Maple Bock.  Oktoberfest debuts as their fall seasonal, a fitting tribute to its German roots.  As the days get noticeably shorter, the air catches a chill and weekend mornings and afternoons become dominated by football, the rich maltiness and smooth drinkability of Oktoberfestbier can hardly be beat.

Hinterland Oktoberfest

Style: Oktoberfest/Märzen

Vitals: n/a; Hinterland’s beers are woefully underdocumented on the innerwebs.

Company line: “Lightly filtered, deep golden brown, very malty and lightly hopped. Velvet smooth mouthfeel with rich grainy flavorhinterlandbeer.com”

My take: pours a light golden amber under a loose, foamy head that quickly fizzles to a spotty film.  Aroma is rich with caramel and bready malts, lightly nutty, with a dash of herbal hops and a faint metallic whiff.  Palate is malt-heavy, per the style with layers of caramel, biscuit, and grain husk  on the mid-palate offset by an apt touch of slightly grassy hops that carry through on the finish.  Starts off full-bodied and finishes light and crisp, encouraging sessionability.

Another fine example of the venerable style to add to a solid Wisconsin roster.  Hinterland is quickly becoming a welcome addition to the local beer scene with a growing line-up of well-made beers that do the Fox Valley and Wisconsin as a whole proud.  Whether you can boast German heritage or not (REINke in the house, y’all!), the beers of Oktoberfest make the impending deep freeze all the more bearable and are one more reason why autumn, however brief an appearance it makes ’round these parts, is my favorite season in Wisconsin.

Five Years, So Many Beers: A 2010 Great Taste of the Midwest Retrospective

18 Aug

Bow to the Beer

Another year, another Great Taste in the books.  2010 marked my 5th consecutive year attending the granddaddy of regional beer festivals.  With my Wooden Anniversary has come a new perspective on the fest as well as a different plan-of-attack, or more accurately – lack-thereof.

After a few years of arriving in-line early enough to be among the first few dozens of entrants, allowing for plenty of time to scour the program and plot a course and schedule special releases, recent years have devolved into more of a wander until something catches your eye or your beer is empty and you spot the nearest vacant booth strategy.  In my advanced age (I’m 26 – yeah, I know – shut up already, kid) I just can’t be bothered to join the crush and wait 15 minutes in the cattle line for another sample of Dark Lord or its ilk. I’ve had it, it’s great, but there are hundreds of other beers that I haven’t tried and likely never will if not at this fest.

Trying to carouse with and/or guide a growing list of friends, beer acquaintances and roommates also made it tough to stick to any coherent route or schedule.  Sure, I missed a lot of fun and rare special releases from the heavy-hitters like Surly, Founders, Three Floyd’s and the like, but I also stumbled upon some hidden gems from lesser-known breweries that I had yet to discover and at this point in my Great Taste career, frankly, that’s just more appealing.  Anyhow, on to my impressions from this 24th iteration of the Great Taste of the Midwest:

Trends:

Sour grains – Every brewer and their brother brought a sour beer or 3 to this years fest.  Certainly, the modern beer nerd’s palate has grown much more accommodating to the funkier side of brewing in recent years.  I’ve made it a point to head straight for the Real Ale tent when I enter the fest the past couple of years as some of the more interesting recent offerings have poured from these gravity-fed, softly-carbonated, slightly-warmer vessels.  My first beer of the fest this year was a cask gueze from Kuhnhenn Brewing out of Warren, MI.  It fell a bit flat, both in tongue-twisting funk and carbonation, but it was fun to see American craft brewers tackle this challenging Belgian farmhouse lambic style (unfortunately, I missed New Glarus’ R&D Gueuze, which seemed to be a resounding success).  Plenty of buzz surrounded Brugge Brasserie’s sour offerings, especially Pooka, their boysenberry sour (which I regrettably missed) and their secret, by-request-only Spider, which rivaled New Belgium’s La Folie in the masochistic acetic acid tongue-torture quotient.

Smoke in the water – Another modern trend in craft brewing has brought rauchbier into the relative mainstream.  Once a German niche, smoked beers are more and more prevalent every season and its a movement I fully endorse.  Minneapolis’ Town Hall Brewery brought a Smoked Hefeweizen this year that struck a nice balance between rich, meaty smoke and the light body and fruity esters you expect from a German-style weizen.  I also managed to stumble upon Blind Tiger Brewery in Topeka, KS, who brought its GABF Gold Medal-winning Smokey the Beer. Smokey didn’t disappoint with a light, crisp body billowing with smoky goodness.  One of my overall favorites from the fest and perhaps only my second sample at the Real Ale tent after crashing the gates was Fat Heads Brewery’s (Ohio) Smoke and Burn Porter – a version of their Up in Smoke Porter aged in bourbon barrels with chipotle peppers.  Smoke and heat in one beer?  SOLD.

Honey/Crisp – Meads and Ciders have long had a presence at the taste with standout examples from Wisconsin’s own White Winter Winery and AEppelTreow Winery often being some of the more memorable and palate-soothing samples I enjoy.  Michigan’s B. Nektar Meadery has added to the stand-out mead presence in recent years as well.  This year, Kentucky’s Cumberland Brewery brought a refreshing Huckleberry Meade and I know I tipped a few other passable meads from other enterprising breweries this past weekend.

Hits:

  • Fat Heads Cask Smoke and Burn Bourbon Barrel Chipotle Porter
  • O’so Spike’s Maple Sap – brewed with 100% maple sap instead of water and aged on maple chips.  Like drinking maple butterscotch, but in a good way
  • Titletown India Ink – super roasty black IPA doesn’t hold back with the schwaarzbier-esque malt profile and a nice piney hop character
  • Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee Stout – if you haven’t had this yet, FIX THAT.  Purest coffee flavor in a beer I’ve ever experienced.  I ended my taste with a full 8oz pour to facilitate the post-fest wake-up process.

Misses:

  • Ill-conceived sour beers – just because you can throw some wild yeast in a tank doesn’t mean you should.  These beers are intricate and finnicky and take years of practice and honed technique to get right.  We don’t need every Brewpub ‘N Steakhaus inflicting their infected experiments on us.  Use them in your house salad vinaigrette and leave these to the experts until you’re ready. /endrant
  • Peanut butter beers – more of them every year, still yet to try one that wasn’t either ‘meh’ or ‘blech!’
  • Giant tasting glasses – It’s an attractive little mini-stein that I will be happy to use for personal tastings and sharing big beers, but it’s just too damn big for a beer fest of this nature.  Too many generous 7oz pours that I had to dump on the ground for my own health.  As soon as I saw it I knew it was going to be trouble.

Check out this post, and LOTS of other great Wisconsin beer content over at Madison Beer Review.

New Brew: Capital Weizen Doppelbock

7 Jul

Today’s New Brew isn’t exactly a first-time entry into the market.  Last brewed in 2002, Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson has resurrected his Weizen Doppelbock as the latest entry in the Capital Square Series of high-octane special-release beers.  Kirby has proven himself to be the Da Vinci of Doppelbocks, with his Blonde Doppelbock, Autumnal Fire, Imperial Doppelbock, and EisPhyre all among the best bockbiers made in America today.

The weizenbock is the platypus of the beer world.  Blending the bright fruity esters and spicy yeastiness of Bavarian weissbier with the rich caramel maltiness and high proof of the venerable doppelbock, weizenbocks are banana bread in a glass, but retain good drinkability, even in warm summer months.

Capital Weizen Doppelbock

Style: Weizenbock

Vitals: 8.0% abv; courtesy of The Isthmus’ Robin Shepard: Liberty hops; Bavarian hefeweiss yeast; wheat and Munich malts

Company line: “A boosted version of all the personality quirks that make the Bavarian Weizen style unique and beloved.”

My take: pours a dark, murky amber with ample white, soapy head that fades quickly.  Aroma exudes clove and banana schnapps.  Liquid banana bread in the mouth with complex notes of chocolate-covered peanuts, soft caramels, and spice.  Finish is mostly dry with a lingering spice note.  Mouthfeel is dense, yet smooth.

Kirby said his inspiration for this beer was Schneider Aventinus, the first weizenbock I ever had, and arguably the benchmark for the style.  He’s reaching in the right direction and his doppelbock chops definitely shine through.  Ultimately, this one lacks the depth and harmony of flavor of the German classic, but it remains a supremely drinkable, highly interesting beer that combines the richness of a winter brew, with the thirst-quenching character of a summer brew.

Check out this post and other great beer-related news at Madison Beer Review.

New Brew: Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

2 Jul

Another IPA from Stone Brewing? Not exactly Breaking News.  Long-standing standard-bearers of the West Coast-style pale ale, the thought of another amped-up IPA as a special release doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great at what they do and their IPA and Ruination are textbook examples of their styles, but when you see a special anniversary release, you expect something a little unique.  Stone’s 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA takes a page out of the Redcoats’ playbook and puts a decidedly British spin on a Stone classic.  The results?  A supremely big, exquisitely balanced beer that celebrates with style, 14 years of boundary-pushing, palate-crushing, quintessentially American brewing.

Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

Style: British-style Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 8.9% abv; Brewed with all British ingredients including white malt and Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops; ~$6.99 at Barriques Wine and Spirits

Company line:

We went to England this past spring as self-styled “IPA Hunters” on a mission to learn more about the confusing and often contradictory history of India Pale Ale – to look for some certainty where those before us have found mostly mystery and mercantilism. While our success in this pursuit is open to debate, there can be no question that we returned home inspired by the ghosts of Burton and by the experience of poring over 150-year old brewer’s logs handwritten in (India?) ink. Stone Brewing Co., after all, traces its lineage back to the British Empire’s brewing history: we make ales, and all of our original offerings used traditional British styles as a jumping-off point. If this seems a roundabout way of letting you know that, yes, we are in fact brewing another IPA to mark our Anniversary, well, so be it.

This one however, promises to be different! From the imported white malt to the “Burtonised” water to the rare yeast strain to the most pungent hops Kent has to offer, we used all British ingredients to brew our “Emperial” IPA.* While we may have brewed Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA with our own distinctively modern, San Diego-style touch, what good is history if you can’t rewrite it to suit your tastes?

In this case, our tastes called for highly intemperate quantities of Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops, bestowing upon this dry-bodied ale a powerfully spicy, earthy aroma. On the palate, peppery hops assert themselves early and often, with malt sweetness making a brief appearance before being beaten back by a long, complex, and decisively bitter finish. What better way to contemplate the fate of empires past, present, and future?

My take: pours a striking goldenrod in the glass under ample white foam.  Aroma is intensely herbal with notes of bitter lemon, pepper, and sweet malt.  Cracked pepper and herbal, resinous hops slam the forepalate, with lightly sweet, slightly biscuity malt carrying through to grassy, bitter citrus peel finish.  Body is light and drinkability high for the strength.

This is certainly a different take on an imperial IPA for Stone.  Torch-bearers for the Southern California School of juicy, dank, super-hopped pale ales with amped up, sticky sweet malt backbones.  While no-less Super-sized on the hops front, the Emperial retains the grassy, herbal bitterness and dry, biscuity malt profile of more traditional British IPAs and the result is intriguing.  Much like our representatives on the football pitch, Stone has managed to play the strengths of the English and American camps to a perfect draw.  Extreme-minded American palates might be yearning for more punishment, but a little bit of balance goes a long way with this commemorative brew.

New Brew: Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

30 Jun

Today’s review will also be my first featured over at one of my new homes, Madison Beer Review. Don’t worry, loyal followers (you’re out there, right?), I’ll still be posting here with the same piss and vinegar as always.

Central Waters Brewing out of Amherst, WI has made quite a name for itself over the past couple years with a series of big beers that spoke to the then-current trend in craft brewing – bourbon barrel aging (it would seem that the Belgian-stlyle pale or IPA is the next big thing).  Barrel-aged versions of their imperial stout, coffee stout, and barleywine put them on the national radar with high ratings on both beer advocate and Rate Beer (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Hoppy styles have never been a focus for Central Waters.  While I know I’m not alone in bemoaning the loss of their excellent Lac du Bay IPA (replaced with the solid Glacial Trail IPA), CW’s strong point has always been their stouts and barleywines.  Their most recent offering, Illumination Double IPA, marks their entry into the extreme hops category.  Could a brewery known for their barrel-aged takes on rich, malty styles pull off a tongue-scorching DIPA?  I was certainly willing to put my palate on the line to find out.

Central Waters Illumination Double IPA

Style: Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 9% abv; 108 IBUs

Company Line: “Can you say palate wrecker?  This Double IPA comes in at 108 IBUs.  As hoppy as it gets with a mouthful of citrus flavors.  Grab one today and illuminate your tastebuds.”

My take: pours a vibrant amber in the glass, producing ample sticky foam that hangs around.  Aroma bursts with pine sap, grapefruit, mango and apricot.  Palate brings clean piney hops, citrus peel, tropical fruit and bready malt.  Mouthfeel softens considerably as the beer warms and the smooth, spicy malt shines through the brash hops edge.  Some cooling alcohol in the finish, but overall, the considerable abv is well-masked.

My first sample of this beer, shared among a group of considerable beer palates two weekends ago, gave many of us an impression of cooked vegetables reminiscent of Oscar Blues’ Gubna.  While not entirely unpleasant, it wasn’t exactly desirable and distracted somewhat from the purity of the hop profile and robustness of its malt backbone.  I didn’t get any of that in tonight’s bottle, however, leading one to blame either inconsistency or wonky palates for the aforementioned vegetal character.  Based on my latest experience, Central Waters has crafted a crisp, juicy double IPA that does well to cut through the sticky June air like the lightning that has illuminated the night sky for so many recent nights.

New Brew: O’so Picnic Ants Farmhouse Ale

15 Jun

I’ve made no secret of my affinity for O’so Brewing and their willingness to experiment despite their recent entry into Wisconsin’s competitive craft beer market.  Their Jack’s Lantern (a pumpkin ale brewed with rye and smoked malt) wowed me this past fall and their silky smooth Dank (imperial red ale) wooed me this past winter.  Their summer seasonal, Picnic Ants  Farmhouse Ale, made its debut last year in bomber and draft, but I don’t think I ever had a chance to try it.  Luckily for me, they’ve chosen to release this year’s iteration in six-packs, one of which I quickly snatched up across the street at Barriques Fitchburg. I even found it on-draft at the Echo Tap of all places.  O’so is quickly becoming a ubiquitous presence in the Madison beer scene.

Belgian farmhouse ales, or saisons, are made for summertime – crisp, tangy, dry, spicy – perfect thirst-quenchers for those with a fondness for the funky.

O’so Picnic Ants Farmhouse Ale

Style: Imperial Saison/Farmhouse ale

Vitals: 7.2% abv; Styrian Goldings hops; yeast strain also used by the makers of Saison Dupont; ~$9.50/6-pack at Barriques Fitchburg

Company Line: “A deliciously fruity, spicy Belgian-style farmhouse saison.  What’s a picnic without ants!”

My take: pours a vibrant tangerine orange in the glass with a finger of creamy foam that hangs around ’til the end.  Bouquet is bright and peppered with citrus peel and spice and a faint hint of barnyard funk.  Black pepper, citrus peel, and tart, underripe fruit flood the palate, which strikes a balance between spicy and soured.  A lingering dry, slightly puckering  finish makes for a wonderfully refreshing warm-weather quaffer, despite its considerable strength.  The extremely high fermentation has led to plenty of funk and fruit and the yeast strain’s thoroughbred pedigree rounds out the drinkability quite well.  I’ll take Picnic Ants over picnic mosquitoes any day.

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