Tag Archives: great dane

New Brew: Great Dane Belgian Barleywine

9 Mar

Currently on-tap at the Great Dane downtown, Belgian Barleywine is a monster of a beer and over a year in the making.  According to Robin Shepard of Isthmus, brewmasters Kirby Nelson of Capital Brewery and Rob LoBreglio of Great Dane Pub & Brewing collaborated some 14 months ago on a beer with sights set on pushing the boundaries of traditionally-brewed beer.

The Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer should only be made from 3 ingredients – water, barley, and hops (yeast’s role in fermentation wasn’t fully understood until the 1800’s with the help of Louis Pasteur and wheat as a fermentable is still technically non-compliant with the law).  While the law was repealed in 1987, brewers in Bavaria and those abroad with German roots still use the Reinheitsgebot as a marketing tool and signifier of tradition and quality.

It was with this rich tradition in mind the Kirby and Rob set out to make the strongest (by alcoholic potency) beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot in the world.  Using Austrian über-bock Samiclaus and its 14% abv as a benchmark, Rob’s barleywine expertise as inspiration, they implemented an extended fermentation where additional wort was added to the special blend of high-alcohol-tolerant Belgian yeasts at 4 to 5 hour increments over the course of 5 days and aged the 10-barrel batch for 14 months. Despite falling short of their 17% abv goal, the resulting Belgian Barleywine is no joke at nearly 14% abv.

Beer: Belgian Barleywine

Style: Belgian-style barleywine

Vitals: ~13.75% abv, proprietary blend of Belgian-style yeast strains, adheres to Reinheitsgebot

My take: sits a densely hazed cider brown in the snifter with a thin ring of tan bubbles struggling to survive around the perimeter.  Nose is intensely fruity with notes of dried apricot, golden raisins and clovey Belgian yeast.  As you might expect out of an ale with the heft of 3,000 lbs of barley behind it, the palate is drowned in sticky sweet malts that again evoke concentrated dried fruits along with caramel and banana-clove courtesy of the Belgian-style yeasts.  The sticky mouthfeel is somewhat tempered by the dryness of the high-octane alcohol presence, but this is still a beer that will stick your lips together.

There is word that some of this rocket fuel might make its way into bourbon barrels for a later release.  I personally think wine barrels would be a more natural fit for the fruitiness and yeast profile of this beer, but am intrigued either way to try this beer again with the benefit of some age and softening.  A very cool collaboration by two of Wisconsin’s best brewers.  Won’t likely be available for long so get your butt downtown and get your six ounces before they’re locked back in the cellar.


Heads/Up(date): Sprecher Restaurant and New Westside Brewpub

18 Sep

A few new details regarding the new Sprecher-licensed restaurant and pub coming to the old Houlihan’s space on the Far West side from last night’s Alcohol License Review Committee meeting via Dane101‘s Michael Donnelly

Sprecher’s, 1262 John W Hammons Dr: The bar at this location after Houlihan’s closed in 2008 was only open for seven weeks before being evicted because they couldn’t pay their rent. Building owner Kevin Lederer decided he’d take matters into his own hands and open a restaurant and bar there.

Lederer contacted Wisconsin brewer Sprecher for permission to use their name and products at the new restaurant. The place will have a casual menu of American food and a family friendly atmosphere — the latter supported by the fact that Sprecher’s flagship product is a root beer. Lever has plans to return to the council in the spring to apply to expand to a sports patio, but he isn’t currently asking for a capacity increase.

Schumacher asked how much experience they had. Lederer responded that Sue Gergem, the agent on the license, operated Houlihan’s. He then asked why they had to sell American food when with the Sprecher name German food would make much more sense. The committee laughed and approved the license.

Doesn’t sound particularly exciting at this point, but given its location, the audience and vibe they’re going for is not surprising.  I’m with Schumacher in wishing they would go for a more authentic German feel with the menu.  Are there not enough places to get a burger or chicken strips on the West Side?  Please send all hate mail calling me an elitist hippie snob liberal commie for being snarky about West Side chain restaurants to: Complaints Dept c/o TGI McChangs & Lube, 666 Unnecessarily Windy Rd.

In other area beer news, it looks like the rumored brewpub slated to replace the defunct J.T. Whitney’s is shaping up.  Again, via Michael Donnelly:

Vintage Brewing Company, 674 S Whitney Way: Members of the Kraemer family run Vintage Spirits and Grill, downtown on the corner of University and Frances. Now they’re planning to pull in even more of their plan to open a new brew pub on the site of the old JT Whitney’s. In addition to the folks working downtown now, owner Trent Kraemer’s cousin (who he described as an award winning brewmaster) will brew the beer, his uncle will handle the finances, and they’ll grow hops and barley at his grandparents’ farm outside Madison. They plan to bring in local ingredients to use for the food.

The new bar would have lower capacity then Whitney’s did and they’re sacrificing some bar space for a larger banquet space in the back to support meetings and smaller weddings.

Clear supported with the stipulation that the requested entertainment license would only be used for the banquet space. Schumacher moved to approve with Clear’s condition, and the motion carried.

Very cool to see that at least a portion of the hops and malts will be grown at a local family farm and always good to see another (hopefully) quality beer establishment on the West Side.  While I never had a chance to sample a lot of J.T.’s offerings outside of a few festivals, most reviews were lukewarm at best.  With the Great Dane creeping further west with its Hilldale location, the new crew will have to step its game up as they will no longer be the only players in the West Side brewpub game.  Looking forward to checking them out in the future.

Dinner and Drinks: Natt Spil

13 Sep

You do know the secret password, right?

What was once “that strange , dark little place next to the Great Dane without a sign” has become one of my favorite places in Madison to grab a bite or a couple drinks, but usually both. I’m not sure how many times I walked by the narrow street frontage, half-noticing the frosted glass windows with warm light glowing through and the faint beat of a DJ. It just didn’t sink in that there was this quirky, hip little restaurant and bar tucked behind the Great Dane on King Street that I had never heard of. They don’t have a sign. They don’t have a website. They don’t have a phone. They don’t take credit. What was this place? Who do they think they are? This is Madison, not Wicker Park. Once I got past the air of pretense, I discovered one of the real gems of Downtown Madison.

Natt Spil is a dark, moody little space – a typical long, narrow space with a bar and small kitchen (with wood oven) hugging one side, with tables hugging the other. Lit by Chinese paper lanterns and adorned with carved wooden walls and strange symbols that combine the aesthetics of steampunk and Lord of the Rings, it’s hard to know what to expect from the menu for an uninitiated newcomer. As you make your way to the back of the house, going up a ramp and passing a makeshift DJ booth, you pass through a hobbit-like round doorway and find a couple small tables surrounded by tree stumps for stools and completely overshadowed by a full-wall photograph of an elderly woman indulging in some sort of pipe. Asian hobbits. That’s the vibe I got from this place the first time I walked in.

Drinks: a single menu pulls double-duty for their extensive drink list as well as food. On the drinks front, Natt Spil offers an impressive list of wines, spirits, specialty cocktails, and local tap beers. A beer man fist and foremost, I must admit to more experience from that end of the bar. The selection, while certainly limited, is rotated routinely and generally offers 4 to 5 taps including a couple Lake Louie and Great Dane beers and a small bottle list of both local and the odd import. My most recent trip allowed me to sample the Great Dane’s new Imperial IPA on tap. The Hilldale location has offered an Imperial IPA as a permanent offering for some time now, but I was not aware of its presence downtown. It may very well be the same recipe and it certainly shared many of the pine and citrus hop notes and sweet-yet-light apricot body of its Hilldale incarnation which I have enjoyed on many occasions.

The specialty cocktails are another area where the creativity of the bar shines through. A few visits ago I tried their High Tea, a light, refreshing drink made with both green tea and house-infused ginger-lemongrass vodkas. They also offer classic if not exactly commonly-offered drinks like the Sazerac, a cocktail based on rye whiskey, absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters.

Dinner: not surprisingly, the menu at Natt Spil is as eclectic as its decor. A traditional appetizer menu is largely replaced here with a selection of dim sum ($3-5), featuring items such as spicy pork and water chestnut shu mai, Thai chicken “lollipops”, Mongolian beef dumplings, as well as mussels by the half ($5) or full pound ($9) served in a wonderful spicy broth, and Mediterranean and Mexican snack plates featuring various tasty spreads and dips. A fine meal can be made mixing and matching from the diverse array of small plates or shared as starters among a larger group.

The selection of main courses is small and no less eclectic than the starters. The standout for me is their intensely flavorful Three Cup Chicken (or Tofu), cooked with generous amounts of fresh ginger, garlic, sesame oil and rice wine, served with jasmine rice and an intensely piquant pickled tomato and cucumber salad. I have ordered this dish enough times to research the recipe (it is actually a fairly traditional Taiwanese dish) and make it for myself at home several times. I’ll be sure to post my recipe here in the near future. Their pulled pork sandwich is a safer choice, but flavorful and served on great French bread. The aforementioned wood-fired oven is put to good use preparing their selection of delicious thin-crust pizzas. The Braeburn apple and Brie is lightly sweet and not everyone’s cup of tea, the Greek Goddess Love Nest is a melange of Mediterranean classics (feta, olives, artichoke, red pepper) and they often have specials that you won’t find on the menu. The crust is so thin that it has a tendency to soak up the liquid in the toppings and get soggy, but the pizza is good enough to scarf down before it gets to that point.

I’ll made an admission here: I want to hate Natt Spil. Its eccentricity can come off as contrived. The layout is cramped; the bench and log seating are more at home around a campfire than an upscale-ish restaurant. It’s dark, it’s loud (especially when the DJs really crank it up). Service is hit and miss. It’s pretty close to the perfect restaurantifiation of your typical Madison hipster. So why don’t I hate it? Well, I love the food and I know I’ll always be able to find a good local beer on-tap; but there are lots of places like that in Madison that offer those things in a much less obnoxious setting. I guess there’s that part of me deep down that wants to hang out with the cool kids. It’s hard work to be hip and Natt Spil never makes it easy on you. I guess the fact that I keep coming back means I’ve passed the test. But you? I’m not so sure you have it in you. So you might just want to head back up the street and put your name in at the Dane. It’s already pretty packed in here.

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