Tag Archives: lake louie

Do they still make them like they used to?: Louie’s Reserve Scotch Ale

16 Nov
Louie's Reserve

Everything tastes better in a Schlitz chalice. Did people really drink Schlitz out of chalices? That's baller.

I’ve made well-known my affinity (and I’m not alone here) for Arena, WI’s own Lake Louie Brewing Company and their stable of well-made, no-nonsense ales.  They just so happen to brew one of the first beers that really blew my mind as I entered the world of craft beer in college.  An amped-up version of the already-formidable Warped Speed Scotch Ale, Tom Porter’s Louie’s Reserve (affectionately referred to as Liquid Reefer in its early days for the strength of its effect on its imbiber) showed impressive balance for the depth of flavor present.  My initial review from beeradvocate, circa 2005:

Pours a dark garnet/mahogany with a finger and a half of khaki head that fades to a whispy coating, Nose is phenomenal: barrel-aged bourbon, warm vanilla, chocolate-covered cherries, smokey caramel. Just amazing. Taste is just as complex and warm as the nose: a hearty caramel malt backbone smothered in woody vanilla ice cream, sweet cherries, chocolate caramels, a light floral hop bite for balance and a healthy warming alcohol that spreads quickly throughout your chest. Body is velvety smooth and creamier than cream, yet insanely drinkable. This really seems like a barrel-aged scotch here, sublimely mellow yet incredibly complex. This is Warped Speed’s sophisticated, elegant, well-traveled big brother. If you can find it, get it. The most refined beer I’ve had to date.

Was I giddy as a school-girl or what?  Hyperbole aside, it really was a beer that opened my mind to the complexity possible from humble malts and hops. Unfortunately, future batches of this very-limited-release fall seasonal failed to live up to the first blush.  Brewery-admitted problems with fermentation led to some metallic off-flavors and a harsher overall experience in the next year’s batch and subsequent batches never seemed to capture the magic of the initial sampling.  Was part of this a matter of my palate maturing and tastes changing?  Quite likely.  Regardless, I always try to pick up a bottle or two a year to see if that special experience can be recreated.

Beer: Lake Louie Louie’s Reserve Scotch Ale

Style: Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy

Vitals: 9.0% abv

Description: “A bolder version of our Warped Speed Scotch Ale. Truly one of the finest Scotch Style Ales available on the planet. VERY LIMITED SUPPLY.”

My take (2): The malt complexity is still there.  Rich caramels.  Brandy-soaked fruits.  New is an increased hops presence that, perhaps puts up a stronger fight to combat the malt sweetness, but in my opinion sullies the subtle balance present in earlier batches and accounts for the “harsher” overall impression of later batches.  Still, this is a wonderful beer that was just made for late autumn sipping with its rich malt depth and warming alcohol content.  The  2009 vintage is certainly the closest they’ve been to the 2005 in my opinion and I’m glad to see their heading in the right direction.  Do yourself a favor and pick some up while it lasts, which is never very long.  Go on now.

Beer Me: Lake Louie Brother Tim’s Tripel

13 Sep
43N/89W: Now with eye candy!

43N/89W: Now with eye candy!

If you haven’t heard of Lake Louie Brewing Company by now, you’re not paying attention.  What started as a pipe dream for former auto-industry engineer Tom Porter in a utility shed in Arena, WI has quickly become the source of some of Wisconsin’s most consistently well-made and sought-after beers.  I remember the first time I tried a Lake Louie beer, which was early in my journey through craft beer.  Back then, the only way you could try their beers outside of a few small pubs around Arena was in growler form.  For the uninitiated, a growler is a 64-ounce glass “jug” most often used by brewpubs to allow patrons to take their beer home with them.  For fledgling breweries, it’s a low-cost way to get your beer in stores without investing in expensive bottling rigs.  My first Lake Louie experience was a big ol’ jug of their venerable Warped Speed  Scotch Ale, a high-octane, ballsy malt-bomb.  I was in love.  While all of Tom’s beers aren’t as brash as the Warped Speed, they all show a reverence for their respective styles that is rare from such a young brewery.  The beer I’m enjoying tonight while the Packers put an old-school hurt on the Bears on opening night, Brother Tim’s Tripel, has experienced a number of facelifts over it’s relatively short life.  Speaking with Tom on brewery tours and at various beer events around town, I learned that he has tweaked the recipe a few times mostly to polish some of the rougher edges that often poke through in American versions of the classic Belgian style.  This has been the third or fourth release I have had the pleasure of sampling.

Beer: Lake Louie Brother Tim’s Tripel

Style: (American) Belgian Tripel

Description: “Based on the strong abbey style ales of Belgium, this tripel has a spicy nose and a delicate, fruity balance of malt, hops, and yeast on the tongue. – lakelouie.com”

Vitals: limited August release

My take: Pours a hazy golden yellow with 4+ fingers of frothy-white head that leaves great lacing on the glass.  Spicy yeast and bright fruit dominate the nose, though the alcohol makes itself known just a little too much.  Mouthfeel is thin and beyond the spice and fruit tipped off by the nose, sweetness and booze comprise the lasting impression.  Like all-too-many American takes on the style,  it is just far too sweet and rough on the booze front.  The great thing about a true Belgian tripel is the complex spice of the yeast and the lemony dryness of the body.  While spice we’ve got in spades, the underfermentation has left this one a little cloying to do the style justice.  It’s not a bad beer objectively, and quite frankly, if this were called a “golden ale” or “Belgian pale” it wouldn’t have the built-in expectations that taking on a Trappist style brings into play.  The delicate balance that the lighter Belgian styles require seems to elude many American brewers and while Tom’s Prairie Moon Farmhouse Ale works as a refreshing summer quencher, Tim’s doesn’t have the benefit of orange peel and coriander to hide its shortcomings.  I think Tom is best when he tackles traditional British styles like porter, milk stout, scotch ale and pale ale where his brewing fundamentals truly shine and there is certainly no shame in that.

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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