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.

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

My First Sips of Ale Asylum

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For my after dinner stop at Madison Craft Beer week – I had the chance to stop by the Argus again to try some Ale Asylum beer. It was late and had been a long day – so I didn’t have much, but I did try a couple I really liked!

I walked into the Argus with a much different scene than I did when I went to try Left Hand just a night before. It was packed. Clearly this local brewery had some fans, including a crowd of Wisconsin State Assembly Republicans both veteran and freshmen – as always, it’s nice when we can agree, even if it’s just on a nice glass of craft beer. The people there ranged from your average Madison foodie, to folks in their suits that just left work, to the parents of those people. My expectations were high.

I tried the Hopalicious Pale Ale. This one smells great for starters – like nice smooth citrus. It’s a medium weight beer, and they fit just about all the hop flavor into this thing they could without making it too crazy.  Just so you’re not too overwhelmed, there’s a nice hint of citrus flavor.

Next I had the Bedlam! Belgian Style IPA. This one also smelled nice and citrusy, but as expected the texture was smoother and creamier. There were plenty of hops to around in this one; it’s basically a great example of a straight forward Belgian Style IPA. I wouldn’t have this while you’re trying to eat a bunch of food, or if you’re trying to stay awake for more beer, it will fill you up really fast.

This was a great first try at Ale Asylum beer, but really just the tip of the iceberg. The have a full list beer, and have recently started expanding their distribution a little farther north, which will hopefully help me in Titletown. A list of their beers, both regular and seasonal can be found here: http://aleasylum.com/aboutus-info/brewerybeers/.  You can also follow them on Twitter at @Ale_Asylum.  I’d say so far my expectations have been met; Ale Asylum is going to be the number one stop on my list next time I get in to Madison, Wisconsin.

The Gem of Central Wisconsin

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Dinner on Wednesday night was at a classic spot in Madison, The Old Fashioned. They routinely have one of the best beer selections in the area, and the best cheese curds in Madison, and I really mean the best. We put our name in for dinner with enough time to go upstairs and participate in the Central Waters tap takeover upstairs. Folks who like beer often cite Central Waters as a gem in Central Wisconsin. I have been a fan of their Glacier Trail IPA for a while, but trying more was a treat.

First I tried the Illumination Double IPA. This was a dream come true and one of the best IPAs I tried all week it had an almost minty edge and the hops had a real crisp kick. For someone who likes a straight up wonderful hoppy beer without anyone trying to soften it up – this one is for you, and I absolutely loved it.

Next I tried the Hop Rise Session Ale. This beer was great because it had a lot of nice flavor – but was subdued enough to have during a meal. It was a little creamy, very smooth, and had a great citrusy hoppy taste that anyone who appreciates good flavor should at least have a sip of, especially over the summer months.

The next two beers were on the darker side, and both really well made. First was the Rye Bourbon Barrel Stout. I don’t particularly like bourbon barrel beer, but this lightly aged beer had a little extra sweetness, was moderate on the creamy scale, and high on smooth scale. I’m not saying anything for sure, but even if you don’t really like the bourbon barrels, you should still give this one try if you’re looking to expand you’re beer vocabulary.

Last was the Peruvian Morning Coffee Stout. This was great. A lot of breweries make a super straight coffee stout that tastes exactly like iced coffee. This one was a little different. It’s really light, smooth, had a great coffee taste, but also had a light vanilla spice taste. If you like a little flavor in your coffee and are more of a coffee snob than a beer snob – this is so your beer.

After we tried beers – we had a good dinner. Now I don’t usually write about food, but I wouldn’t be doing due diligence if I didn’t at least briefly talk about these cheese curds. They make a lot of different styles of cheese curds here but this are lightly deep fried, never soggy, and never too big so you can take small bites, and really enjoy them. I don’t like huge cheese curds with a ton of breading, so in my book, these are prefect small golden brown pieces of cheese curd heaven, and I hope you can go to the Old Fashioned and decide for yourself someday.

All around this place has good beer (beer week or not), and a great spread of Wisconsin food. You’re not really visiting Madison if you don’t stop by.

More Information on the Beer (at Central Waters & the Old Fashioned):

On the Web: centralwaters.com/beers/ & www.theoldfashioned.com

On Twitter: @CWBrewing & @Theoldfashioned

Things to Google Before You Go:

Wisconsin Style Old Fashioned

Barrel Aged Beer

Colorado Takes Madison

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My last stop on Tuesday night during Madison Craft Beer Week was the Argus, a place I had been introduced to as a great spot for after work happy hour, to carry on a good conversation, and/or to eat really amazing cheese fries. Tuesday night they were having a tap takeover & meet and greet with folks from Left Hand Brewery in Colorado.

We walked in to a small crowd considering how well these guys make beer. Last year, I had been introduced to their Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro. It’s smooth and chocolaty, and a good example of how to make a good stout. If you like dark beer, this is a must have and probably Left Hand’s most well-known beer.

Next I was in heaven when I had the opportunity to try Left Hand’s Twin Sisters Double IPA for the first time. Like any good IPA it starts off with a bitter bite that you don’t think will fade out – until you get a taste of the sweet malty aftertaste that this beer has. If you like an IPA with some interesting, well put together flavors, you should give this one a try.

Midway through our Left Hand tasting, we got to meet Matt, a nice guy who works for Left Hand who was there to talk to us about the beer, make sure we were having a good time, and to give us some fun stickers. He started out asking if we were drinking Left Hand and asking how we liked it. We discovered that it’s his job to travel and talk about the beer, and that he basically has the best job in the world (even if he isn’t using his engineering degree a whole lot). His co-worker, a self-proclaimed Ryan Braun look alike (you can guess which one he is), had started out bartending and worked at a few different spots before he started at Left Hand.  They were both excited to be in Wisconsin and seemed ready to make sure that we loved beer from Colorado right alongside beer from Wisconsin. We also learned that Left Hand makes about 50,000 barrels a year and distributes widely for you to find them nearby if you have a decent liquor store, but does make a special beer for “beer weeks.”

That was our next beer, and we tasted really quickly why it was made for weeks with lots of drinking: it tastes just like coffee. If you’re at a Left Hand beer week event and are getting a little slumpy, make sure you order the Week Sauce Porter. This one goes down just like a creamy iced coffee and sits at just 6% ABV. It’s a great beer for halfway through a night of serious beer drinking.

Overall this was a great experience. Lots of times you’ll go to meet and greets where the folks from the brewery just sit at the bar – these guys did the opposite and made sure to engage everyone, have fun, and answer questions about their process. It’s always great to hear about great Wisconsin breweries at beer week – but these Colorado folks can make an amazing beer, and absolutely take the cake for making sure everyone had the beer they wanted the whole time.

More Information on Left Hand:

On the web: http://www.lefthandbrewing.com

Follow them on Twitter: @LeftHandBrewers

Things to Google before you go (if you get out to Colorado):

Beer on nitrogen

Great American Beer Festival