On a Rainy Walk

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During my recent visit to Rochester, MN to see family, I took a short walk to grab a couple things at Walgreens in a neighborhood I had never been in before. It was a little rainy, and had been a long day – the kind that can really only be cured by a little alone time, a good walk, or a great beer.

On my walk back, I stumbled upon a sign for Forager Brewery, so I went on in. First I’ll say that these folks are nice. Midwest nice is still real even since I’ve left the region. I was welcomed by a host who let me know they operate a restaurant, brewery, coffee shop, and even a little market on the grounds I visited. The wood fire pizza smelled amazing.

I went to the bar to ask about some of their staples, and some of their more interesting beers. I was on a sour kick, so first I tried an Apricot & Wild Plum Sour (5.2% ABV, 20 IBU). You can tell someone spent some time working on this. It smells like wine with a little tartness. Your first sip will taste sharply sour and bubbly, and settle in slowly so that you enjoy every moment of this beer being perfectly refreshing. This sour has a pleasant aftertaste, and can only leave you feeling happy. If you don’t like sours, get ready to pucker up a little – it’s a risk – but a risk worth taking.

Next I tried the Imperial Blackberry Berliner (8% ABV, 5 IBU). If the Apricot & Wild Plum sounded too sharp for you, but you don’t mind a little more alcohol content, this may be the beer for you. This is a pretty straight forward beer – it tastes just like a good blackberry. Like the berry, this beer smells sweeter than it tastes – and a consistent taste stays in your mouth from the first sip. Unlike what you might think of a beer with such a sweet name, this one sits well in your stomach, and leaves room for you to have one more.

I couldn’t resist tasting one of the landmark IPAs made at Forager. Hip Hops IPA is one of the house favorites as recommended by my bartended – and I can see why. Your standard hop head loves this because it straight up smells like hops and tastes like hops. The first smell is crisp and piney, and when you taste, you can grab a hint of pineapple.

Everything I tasted here had good flavor, started with a little bite and really, really settled in well. The staff at Forger were great, friendly, and game to talk to you about what you’re looking to sip on so you have the best experience possible.

I should also add that at Forager you can find Kutzy Market – a locally sourced market, great food, awesome coffee, and can witness some great artwork (that you can even see  when you take a look at Forager’s Beers online). They appreciate art so much that the wall paper in their bathroom is old sheet music where you’re likely to find at least one classic you sang in high school choir.

This place doesn’t just have good beer – they have a personality and a mission. I recommend checking them out.

Check out more from Forager on their website, on Facebook & @ForagerBrewery on Twitter.

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My Last Minute Beer Post Vacation

Cigar City

Last week I finished a much needed no cell phone, no computer vacation on a cruise ship that went to Mexico and the Cayman Islands. I stayed the night after my cruise in Tampa, and with the free time I had, there was really no choice but to check out some local beer. I decided on Cigar City Brew Pub where I had an appetizer, dinner, and sampled six beers. Just a quick note – Cigar City has a Brewery and a Brew Pub in Tampa. They do have many beer selections in common – but some are different.

First I want to acknowledge we were at a super early dinner, so it was pretty empty. Our waiter was still very welcoming and wonderful and recommended beer really well for me. He even talked to me about what folks typically drink in Tampa and some of the feedback he gets on beers. A few quick notes on the food before I dig into the beer, because I have to:

  • If you’re from Wisconsin like me, you’ll appreciate their beer cheese pretzels (top notch).
  • Everyone everywhere should start putting plantains on cheeseburgers. Everyone.

On to the beer!

I’m going to start with two basic beers that are a go-to at Cigar City. They’re both must haves if you visit.

First, the beer that put Cigar City on the map, the Jai Alai IPA. It’s a perfect IPA for a vacation in Florida and I absolutely understand why everyone loves it. This beauty has a light hop and orange fruit (almost melon-y) smell. Once you taste it, the experience gets even better. It tastes bitter, but quickly leaves you with a fruity aftertaste.

Next I want to highlight the Tocobaga Red Ale, which our bartender insisted had quite the following of loyal drinkers. It has a clean spicy hop smell, and that’s exactly the aftertaste the beer leaves you with – making it a really well rounded experience. The taste when the beer hits your tongue gives you a quick kick of sweet caramel malt flavor before heading back to hops. Overall the flavor in this beer is really clean, and with a smooth texture and medium weight it’s easy to drink.

There are four other beers that I tried on draft at Cigar City – and I wanted to do my best to summarize them all here quickly for you.

The Cody Fowler Brown Ale is great for those of you who want a smokey beer and a hoppy beer all at the same time. This beer wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well put together. It smells like roasted chocolate, and has a bitter smokey taste. If you like smokey beer you’ll absolutely like this. If you don’t like smokey beer, you should stay open and take a note that Cody Fowler is actually a little less bitter than you’d expect and doesn’t have a typical dry sticky aftertaste of smokey beer, it has a light hoppy one.

Next up is the Clara Frye Rye IPA (which people should really call RyePAs – right?). This might be my favorite. Smells like light floral hops, bitterness, and a hint of orange peel. What’s great here is the flavor follows the smell, and it only remains consistent from there. This is a straight forward, ultra bitter, medium weight beer. If you like hoppy beers with a little bit of creative flavor, this is the beer for you.

The Minaret ESB (on Nitro) has an interesting malty tart apple smell, and the bitter hop flavor is added in when you start to taste it. The aftertaste is light and since it’s on nitrogen, it goes down very smooth. If you like a lot of flavor, give it a try!

Last but not least, the La Rubia Blonde Ale is one of those nice beers for those of you who aren’t typically beer drinkers because it’s a lighter weight than your average blonde, and sneaks that hop flavor in really discretely.  La Rubia smells floral and lemony and begins with the same taste. Some super subtle hops pop up late in your tasting. It leaves you with a crisp aftertaste and is easy drinking.

Cigar City Brewing has a lot of creative brews, which usually means something for everyone. I didn’t like them all, but they’re certainly decent quality and a good bunch to taste. There were two good defining traits of Cigar City’s beer for me. One was that the aftertastes were all clean, complementary of the beer’s flavor, and not overwhelming. The second is that most of the beers were slightly lighter weight than I thought they would be – which made for easier drinking.

For more on Cigar City, you can follow them on twitter @CigarCityBeer, and check out more of Cigar City’s Beers on their website. You’ll find a lot of great looking brews that should be great to try.

Old World Beer – New World Cheese

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Before I left Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to take the Sprecher Brewing Company Tour – and then participate in the reserve tasting where participants could try ten different Sprecher beer, all paired with a Wisconsin Cheese.

Let’s start with the tour. This is not a beer in hand tour because honestly, a lot of kids like to tour soda factories, and Sprecher makes some great soda (if you haven’t had it – you’re missing out). Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, but very scripted, a totally different experience than Lakefront or Milwaukee Brewing Company. If you’re looking for family friendly – this is your tour. Honestly I think our tour guide could have benefitted from a drink or two before he started. The most helpful thing that was talked about on this tour that you just don’t always hear about is the different marketing segments in the craft beer world. Lots of folks say their a craft brewery, some are brew pubs, some are microbreweries – but what does that mean? Read up here.

Next we’ll talk beer. If you just signed up for the regular tasting, you’ll be able to enjoy all the beer on tap in the small tavern. If you signed up for the reserve tour, you’ll get to go in a nice back room with maybe 15 other people to hear about some more great beer.

I want to talk mainly about the beer – but I’ll make sure to highlight some of my favorite beer & cheese combos.

The first beer was their Chameleon Hop on Top. This would be a great introduction to a Pale Ale for someone who was exploring beer for the first time. It’s 4.2 ABV and has familiar tasting malts and hops – so if you don’t like this, you probably don’t like pale ale.

Second, we tried Sprecher’s Hefe Weiss. This one was described on our guide as coarse and grainy – but I found it to be lighter than our guide described it. This one, again, tastes exactly how you would expect it to reading the name, but the cheese they added in with it made it this pair one of my favorites. The paired cheese was White Cheddar Cranberry from Monroe, WI. It was nice and tart just like the beer, but had a great mix or spicy flavor and that traditional sharp white cheddar taste that really balanced out the beer well.

When we moved onto the Special Amber, one of Sprecher’s best-selling beers, I just thought to myself that I should give this to all of my friends who don’t like tasting craft beer. I really do feel like this beer could be a good introduction to craft beer texture for newbies, but the flavor just wasn’t enough for me. The malt flavor was complex, but not bold, and certainly not worth the effort in my book. The hops were nice and familiar tasting, but it’s just not enough. I want to like it, I just don’t.

The next beer was the Pub Brown Ale – paired with Horseradish & Chive Havarti. It was great. The beer taste was complex and had a great combination of caramel and pale malt. There’s just a hint of fruit flavor in this beer that on the tour you’d learn comes from an Irish yeast culture. The cheese was full bodied, spicy, and fresh tasting. This combination took me a little longer to get down, but it was worth it.

The Mai Bock was the next one I tried, and it was right up my alley for the summer months. It had full hop flavor, light fruit flavor, and smelled great. It’s a nice light spring beer with a great flavor, and a nice kick, coming in at 6.0 ABV.

When I heard the next beer was to be paired with wonderful, crumbly Aged Cheddar Cheese from Chilton, WI, I was almost too excited to pay any attention to the Great Czech Style Pils I was about to drink. This is a classic Pilsner with some earthy, spicy flavor that really draws you in. It’s clean cut enough for summer, but flavorful and aromatic enough to satisfy those looking for something a little creative.

FUN FACT: If you think something tastes a little off, or just a little different in the Pilsner, that would be the soft water you taste that we make special here to mimic the naturally occurring water used in Eastern Europe.

The Chameleon Ryediculous IPA was really, really yummy – but you really have to drink it slow to make sure that your stomach doesn’t get overwhelmed. This one starts out citrusy and earthy – but turns out to be an aggressively hoppy beer the more you drink. It finishes nice and clean, but you’ll want to take a quick break between drinks to really let this one sink in.

A good straight forward version of a solid Belgian Beer is Sprecher’s Abbey Triple. Sprecher is great at making sure everyone who visits their brewery can taste a great example of a great European beer. This one is a staple – and nothing out of the ordinary for Sprecher.

The last really hoppy beer of the bunch was the IPA2. This style of beer was originally brewed in England for British Troops stationed in India – so naturally it’s rather aged and has certain sweetness to it. This one is double dry hopped – so the hop flavor is extra potent for those of you who like coarse, hoppy beer.

A great way to end a bunch of drinking is always with Stout that tastes a little bit like coffee. The Russian Imperial Stout was great example of a deep roasted coffee flavor with a sweet end that tasted a little like licorice. This was paired with my favorite cheese of the day, the Sartori Espresso BellaVitano it was nice, sweet cheese with espresso rubbed into it. Needless to say to say, I had a few extra pieces of this one.

If you stick around – you might get a chance to try something else. We were able to try the CitriBomb, a nice, citrusy IPA that smelled, and tasted like some amazing fruit, and was a great way to end the tasting. If you pop back out into the tavern, you’ll have the opportunity to try some their great sodas, and extra beer or two, and run over to the gift shop before you leave to get everything from coasters to beer scented soap.

Overall – great choice. The reserve tasting is a few extra dollars, but I say they are well, well worth it.

More on Sprecher:

Follow on Twitter: @sprecherbrewery

More on the Beer: http://www.sprecherbrewery.com/beer_menu.php

My Birthday Beer in Milwaukee

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I want to start this one out by mentioning it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I started a new job, went through moving, and have had a lot on my plate during the last few weeks. I’ve always told myself that no matter how hard I work, I should keep my hobbies, even if it’s just a few hours a week. I’ve done a pretty terrible job of keeping a good balance this month. I visited Milwaukee Brewing Company on June 1st – and I’m never waiting this long to write about good beer again.

Milwaukee Brewing Company was great. You shouldn’t need to worry about making reservations because they only allow half of their tour to be reserved, and allow the other half to be walk ins so that they can promote a culture where if someone decides they want access to good beer . It’s one thing have a good beer – but it’s another to have a company that values making sure as many people as possible can have access to it.

Milwaukee Brewing Company is a great spot to visit in the summer. It has an open garage style front you can walk right in – and there’s ice cream right down the street for after your tour. You’ll walk in, check in or sign up, and continue to the bar, where you get one full glass of beer, and then a series of “half pours” after the first one – and they really more like ¾ pours. You can start drinking a half hour before your tour – and stick around for a half hour after to sample whatever beer you want to drink.

I started out with Hop Happy IPA. It was a light weight, and straight up traditional tasting minty hoppy beer. If you like IPA, you’ll like it. If you don’t know what a well-made, standard IPA is, try this; it’s how it’s supposed to taste. It’s a winner. I tasted this beer in a bar full of what was clearly a group of great summer- loving folks who clearly came on bicycles and didn’t take the time to take their bike helmets off during the tour. The first few minutes at MKE Brewing were all around entertaining.

I had the chance to fill up before my tour group got called over to start the tour – it was Pull Chain. It’s ridiculously hoppy and mildly coarse, but light enough to have more than one, great for hop lovers looking for a smooth drink. If you get it in house, you’ll get fresh ground cascade hops on top.

When you start your tour – you’re going to get to watch a nice video about the history of Milwaukee Brewing Company and Milwaukee Ale House. If you go in the middle of the day – your tour guide will probably have had a beer or two; ours was drinking Jasmine IPA from his coffee mug – and that’s what I tried next.  The Jasmine IPA has a light aroma scent with a strong creative hop mixture as the flavor. It’s medium weight – and tolerable in the heat until you realize it’s at 6.6 ABV. This one is absolutely stronger than it tastes.

After filling up – we got back to learning about beer, and some fun facts about Milwaukee Brewing Company. We learned about how much solar power they use to power their company – and how they’re one of the most environmentally friendly breweries in the region. You’ll also hear some fun facts about the history of beer, including some anecdotes about trade routes to India from Europe and the fermentation process for international history buffs.

If you’re like me, this is the point in the tour when you’re participating, asking questions, and making sure everyone knows that you’re the expert in the crowd. Naturally, I thought that meant it was time for me to use my ticket for an extra strong beer – and I tried the O-Gii. If you like farmhouse ale, you’ll like this sweeter, stronger, more well aged version of it that gives it a unique twist of American and Belgian style flavor. This beer is deceptively light for an over 9.0 ABV – so don’t drink it too fast.

The last beer I tried on my way out was Louie’s Demise. It’s great amber ale that adds a non- traditional hint of sweetness – making for a more drinkable, flavorful beer. This one really has a balance that’s missed too often by brew masters looking to make good amber.

On your way out, you should be sure to take a look at all of the art work and posters for the different kinds of beer they make, and ask about the ones you think are interesting. There are some awesome stories behind the names of beer at this place.

Overall this place is a must attend if you’re in Milwaukee. The staff is friendly (they all wore Christmas ties with their shirts that day), the beer selection strikes a great balance between classic and creative, and the crowd will always be a ton of fun.

Check Out More Information on Milwaukee Brewing Company (& some other great spots I visited) here:

MKE Brewing: mkebrewing.com, @MKEbrewco

Bel Air Cantina (this is where I had dinner the night before my tour – great choice, great tacos): http://belaircantina.com/, @BelAirCantina

Beer on Division Street

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Those of you who have been reading know that some of my best beer tasting days come unexpected. I was flying back into Chicago after a job interview, and ready to drive back home to Green Bay later in the afternoon (after a terrible, overnight delayed flight I might add) when my boyfriend invited me to join his brother’s birthday party. As part of Chicago’s Beer week, they were going to jump around a couple bars featuring IPA’s, and that’s my kind of party. The night turned out well in part because of the kind of beer I was drinking. I noticed while I was writing this that all of the beer I had was relatively strong, flavorful, and light enough to have a lot. Cheers to that.

Our first stop was Small Bar, where I started with the Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. There’s always one beer during a beer week, whether you visit for the whole week or just a day, that you finish thinking “this is great for beer week;” this was that beer. This beer is nice and light, not too strong, but has a great bitter flavor with a nice sweet malt aftertaste. I say it’s great for beer week, because one or two won’t get you plastered, you can take the time to taste it, and be ready for more. It was a great start to the night.

Most folks who like a good beer have had a Stone IPA, but it was a treat to try it on cask. In true Stone tradition, this IPA is flavorful & bold. It’s much smoother on cask – and if you’re a fan of coarse IPA’s you should be prepared. The flavor is great. It has a nice citrusy smell, light citrus bite when you start sipping it, and a nice minty hop flavor. It’s a great example of a classic, well-made IPA.

I just have to add that a grabbed a side of macaroni and cheese at small bar. It’s really good. It is full of not too sharp creamy white cheddar, is topped with bread crumbs, and is the perfect size for a snack if you’re having trouble holding out until dinner.

Our next stop was Jerry’s, both for dinner & drinks. My next beer was Three Floyd’s Artic Panzer Wolf – I had this once or twice before this visit, but never really took time to write down how it tasted. Honestly it’s fairly standard – but went really well with dinner. This beer is medium weight – and super flavorful. If you’re a hop head who likes some creative malt flavor on the side, this is a good one for you. It also balanced out my dinner really well.

This is another one of those paragraphs in the blog that talks about food. I just have to mention Jerry’s – because you shouldn’t ever go to Chicago without going to Jerry’s and getting a kick ass sandwich. They have a menu of dozen’s creatively crafted and named sandwiches. If for some reason there isn’t something for you – you can even build your own. My personal favorite is the “PB&J&C,” the “C” stands for chutney. Think about your classic PB&J with light cheese, a touch of super flavorful chutney, and some fresh fruit. It’s really a perfect twist on classic.

I should say, I rarely use the phrase “perfect twist on a classic;” if I want a classic, I’ll just have that. Jerry’s has something for everyone – and always a perfect sandwich to go with your beer. I left this experience both refreshed, a little drunk, and ready for our next stop.

Last, we stopped at Bangers & Lace, where I forgot in the presence of an intriguing menu that we were even out for IPA. First I tried the Stone Imperial Russian Stout – I liked this one, but I just had a couple drinks; at this point in the night, I had no business having any more. It was sweet & smooth, but still really strong. It has a balanced flavor involving dark fruit, chocolate, and coffee flavors. The beer is medium weight, so you can drink it pretty quickly if you like the taste, but you’ll probably feel it if you don’t take your time for at least a little while.

The beer I decided to order a full glass of was Stone Mixtape. This had a nice caramel malty taste offset by a few bitter notes that give it a seriously well rounded flavor with a spicy edge that also includes a hint of sharp citrus and bitterness. It’s no surprise that if you look into it a little more, you’ll find out that this beer is a limited release blend of some amazing past Stone creations. It was another light weight, strong beer with a nice kick. Your stomach could handle eating with it – but honestly; it would just spoil the taste.

I wouldn’t recommend either of the Stone beers here for those of you who are new to the beer world; they’re really something to ease into. In a nutshell, you’ll like both of these if you like sweet, creamy, and strong. If you’re looking for something standard to compare to, I think that those of you who like Belgian Abbey style ale should give these a try.

Overall, it was a great night. More information on these places, which were all great, is below. If someone ever invites you out for a good night of quality beer drinking with good people, I recommend going. Socializing with intelligent people is fun, and good for your health. While Wisconsinites tend to have a foul opinion of folks from Chicago – I will say Chicagoans are really starting to appreciate, serve, and make good craft beer. It’s always a good day when we can highlight something we have in common.

More Information on the Places:

Jerry’s: @WithHotSause, http://jerryssandwiches.com/*

Bangers & Lace: @bangersandlace, http://bangersandlacechicago.com/

Small Bar: @SmallBarDst, http://www.thesmallbar.com/

*I want to start lobbying for Jerry’s to have a side of grilled vegetables. Then I could have an absolutely perfect meal there. They either have veggies with interesting dressing, or pickled veggies. Grilled vegetables are pretty serious to me.

Classy in the Country

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I was pretty certain that my Wednesday was going to be a normal day full of research and work, which I don’t particularly like, especially when compared with beer tasting. Lucky for me, the day turned out very different. I had a chance to go to an awesome exhibit in Appleton about Wisconsin’s food, drink, and the history behind it including everything from immigration, to farm strikes, to sturgeon fishing – then finish the day with some good beer. I took a picture of one the first fat testers used in cheese making, and a lot of other pictures. If you have any doubt that Wisconsin is awesome, I really recommend looking into this exhibit more.

Getting to the beer – I had to take my friend to get her car fixed at her boyfriend’s garage that’s in the middle of a small residential neighborhood in Suamico, WI. We needed something to do while it was getting fixed. Despite your stereotypes of places in the country in Wisconsin, most of these places take credit cards and have the whole to do now, but our stop was even a step up from that.  If you’re ever north of Green Bay in what might seem like the middle of nowhere if you’re from a city – you should totally stop at The Bottle Room. They have a room full of wine, great artisan food (obviously including an amazing cheese plate), and some great Wisconsin craft beers.

I tried a flight of four craft beers that I think are a good fit for the summer months. Luckily, it was craft beer week at The Bottle Room & I got myself a flight of four beers at 6 ounces each for fewer than ten dollars. It was a winner.

First I had the Horny Goat: Watermelon Wheat. When I first read the name, I very seriously thought it was going to taste like kool aid. I’ve had one watermelon beer before, and it was interesting.  It basically tasted like someone mixed some cream and watermelon together, with a wheaty after taste.  That was 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon (not my favorite beer – but kudos on the name). The Horny Goat beer was better. The watermelon taste was still light – but the experience was a little more complex. It started off bitter hoppy taste, but quickly transitions into a nice wheaty watermelon. It’s not sweet – you taste it on the back of your tongue where (I learned this in Girl Scouts and for some reason remember it), you taste sour and bitter flavors.  The taste slowly gets more subtle as you wait for the taste to settle in – which I recommend.

Next was Abita: Spring IPA. This is a nice light IPA that goes well with summer. The first thing I noticed was the tangy smell. The first tastes will taste tangy, medium on the bitterness and hoppiness scale, and some light spicy flavor will settle in quickly – and that will be the lasting taste. This beer has all around a bunch of nice soft, light flavors that are flat out balanced really nicely. If you’re looking for a good summer beer – give it a try.

The Dark Horse: Crooked Tree IPA is not so much for summer, but it’s not extremely heavy, so it worked for me. This is a great beer for those of you who like bitter beer. It has some citrusy overtones, an all-around bitter flavor, and a dry, crisp end to each sip. Even though the flavor doesn’t scream summer, for those of you who look for a crisp, thirst quenching texture in your bitter beer for the summer – this is worth at least a sample.

Last I tried the Central Waters: Shine On. For all you Florida Georgia Line fans who are intrigued, this one is a medium weight, hoppy, spicy red. If you like reds, you’ll like this. I have to say I thought it tasted pretty standard, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. This red is high on the hoppy end and low on the molassesey end. Give it a try and decide for yourself – the folks at Central Waters know what they’re doing.

The best days are always the ones that are full of unexpected fun, and learning. This was one of those days. The Bottle Room was great. The wait staff knew what they were talking about – and they really have something for everyone. The friend I was with likes wine – so she got to sample four of those while I had fun tasting my beer.

Whenever I write about a spot in Northeast Wisconsin, I really have to stress that I am doing all I can to encourage folks who come up here for Packer games to venture away from Ashwaubenon, go to a nearby town, or go downtown, and support some of our great local folks instead of the chains downtown. You’ll find some great down to earth folks who know a lot of Wisconsin’s rich culture, a smaller crowd, better beer, and people who know more about it. The Bottle Room is just another example.

More about the Bottle Room:

www.the-bottle-room.com/

@TheBottleRoomGB

More on the Breweries I Tasted (and you should too):

Horny Goat – www.hornygoatbrewing.com, @HornyGoatBrewCo

Abita – www.abita.com, @TheAbitaBeer

Dark Horse – www.darkhorsebrewery.com, @DarkHorseBrewCo

Central Waters – www.centralwaters.com, @CWBrewing