Monday, November 19, 2012

Ride Ye to Wisonson!! The great breweries of Wisconsin

Wisconsin! I guess you should expect no different from a state that crowns its baseball team with the name the Brewers, but somehow I had never considered Wisconsin as being among the uber cool brewing states. There is California (1), obviously, Oregon (2), yeah, New York (3), sure, Michigan (4), no doubt, Pennsylvania (5), a surprising yeah, but Wisconsin?


I have had some Wisconsin beers before, especially the awesome brews by New Glarus, thanks to trading beer online. In fact, I liked them so much that when my buddy and coauthor Jim McDevitt went on a cross-country trip, I asked him to grab me some beer from this great state.

And yeah, even though he spent all of five minutes in this state, there was loads to bring home. In addition to a few beers I may post about later, Jim grabbed me a mixed pack of beers by New Glarus. This was the highlight of the BIG RIDICULOUS BOX OF BEER he brought home for me. (You write a book or two with someone, you're kind of tight, you know?) The pack had four beers, and they tasted a little something like this:

Spotted Cow – This is a pleasant, smooth beer that drinks like a lager but features a touch of ale zest. That’s because it has the softness of a lager, but more hopping and bitterness, albeit not MUCH hopping and bitterness. It’s very moderate, especially compared to today’s American ales. This beer is not worth going crazy to find – there is nothing particularly special about it – but it is a pleasant everyday beer that combines easy drinking with more taste than you’ll get from the big brewers. Recommended if you like Anchor Steam, Yuengling, or Fat Tire. 4.8% ABV

Totally Naked – This is your standard pilsner or light lager. Light, crisp, dry finish, light golden in color, a mild hop bite at the end of a mildly grainy but smooth draught. Fans of big craft beer flavor will be underwhelmed. Drinkers of Miller and Coors will like it because it will feel like home. I wouldn’t gravitate to this beer, but I sure would like to see it on tap instead of the latest product by the big guys. Recommended if you like easy-drinking macro lagers (Bud, Miller, and Coors). 4.25% ABV.

Two Women – A traditional German-style lager. They call this a pilsner, though it’s dark for the style. It has a malty smell with faint hints of dark breads, but nothing overwhelming. The beer has a nice, almost red ale-ish malt backbone with well-balanced, Earthy hops. It’s not HUGE on flavor, but it’s pleasant. Like the other beers in this mixer, Two Women drinks nicely but doesn’t make me say, “Holy cow, that’s good!” Recommended if you like Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Killian’s Irish Red, or Smithwick’s. 5% ABV.

Fat Squirrel – A traditional English brown ale that boasts all the hallmarks of one. A chestnut color and aroma. A taste of rich brown malts, nuts, and touches of caramel. A smoothness of character with just a bit of sharp roast at the end. This is a good beer and a good example of the style. Recommended if you like Newcastle. 5.8% ABV.

Overall – I have had a few of the fruit beers by New Glarus, and they were some of the best I have ever had. Seriously. BEST. So when I had this mix pack I had high hopes. Well, these beers are all GREAT for their given style, perfect examples of simple, drinkable brews. Which is to say, this is a BOOoooOOring mix pack for big beer geeks, but an AMAZING mix pack for people who either love awesome easy drinking beers or for beer geeks who appreciate the subtlety in making a good drinkable beer.

Verdict: If you are in Wisconsin or know someone who will be, get this mix pack. You'll be glad you did.

(1) - Stone, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, North Coast, The Bruery, Ballast Point, Green Flash, Lost Abbey, Firestone Walker, and a TON more. And when I say a ton, I mean a ton. Look at that long list, and realize I still left out 21st Amendment, Anchor, Lagunitas, and others.

(2) Deschutes, Full Sail, Ninkasi, Widmer, and the most overpriced beers in America, Rogue.

(3) Southern Tier, Brooklyn, Ithaca, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and more. (I did not forget you, South Hampton.)

(4) Founders, Bell's, Atwater, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, and more.

(5) Weyerbacher, Troegs, Victory, Yards, Lancaster, and the ever popular Yuengling, among others.

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