Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tyranena Brewing Company, Lake Mills WI

In tackling the task of highlighting the many fine and some not-so-fine breweries in Wisconsin, I might as well start with my current favorite, the Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, WI. I have already highlighted one beer from this fine brewery, the absolutely wonderful Bitter Woman IPA, as described in Ten Beers I Go Back to Again and Again:

A very complex malt palate (the brewery lists 2-row, Vienna, Carapils, Wheat, Caramel malts in the grain bill) is supported by a very assertive but absolutely clean bittering. Citrus and pine notes prevail on the nose and the palate. An outstanding American IPA (India Pale Ale).
This is a beer for which one's mouth literally waters. But the Bitter Woman is by no means the brewery's one hit wonder. A while back I was able to secure a sampler pack of a variety of Tyranena's products, so I got a crack at each of the brews in their standard line-up. Some of these aren't my favorite styles, but believe me there's not a bad one in the bunch. For example, Three Beaches Blonde is a light ale perfect for those who aren't sold on the intense bittering of an IPA or fear the dark roast of a porter or stout. This beer has a wonderful fruity quality and a nice hint of honey on the finish.

Still on the lighter side of things, but more my style, is the fine Headless Man Amber Alt. This eminently drinkable brew strikes a fine malt-hop balance and finishes clean and smooth, with a pleasing caramel sweetness. The Stone Tepee Pale Ale is a nice example of an American pale, with plenty of juicy citrus hop flavor and aroma, dry finish, but a more subdued bittering than the IPA.

Very, very interesting is the Rocky's Revenge, a brown ale aged for a time in bourbon barrels. I've had examples of this from what I surmise were two different batches. The first, I would say, was a little over-the-top in terms of the bourbon essence and I caught what might have been just a hint of astringency (from the oak?). The second try, though, was wonderful, with a creamy vanilla and oak essence blending beautifully with the nutty goodness of the brown ale. Fabulous.

The Chief Blackhawk Porter is a fine example of the style, roasty and pleasingly bitter, with a very nice coffee note which I can never quite get in my porters and stouts.

But the best of all that I have had comes from their Brewers Gone Wild! series. Unfortunately, I have only had one in this series, but it's a doozy; indeed, I currently have two left of a four-pack that I bought just to verify my initial impressions (research trials, you know. Must be scientific about these things.)

The Devil Made Me Do It! Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Porter pours intensely black with a dark, compact head. It bears its formidable alcohol level with grace and goes down with a wonderful, silky smoothness. Many brewers and drinkers attribute this to the oats and I have to say that there does seem to be something about the mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout that is truly special. This beer presents its porterly goodness in an intense roasted coffee rush followed by an astounding denouement, a lingering smoky note wafting gently away like a ring blown from a fine cigar. Incredible.

According to their Web site, their beers are as yet only available in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But if you are in either of these two states, I encourage you to try the excellent brews from this remarkable brewery.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Breweries of Wisconsin

I have the privilege of living in southwest Wisconsin, an area described as the "Jewel of the Midwest" by one of my friends who does not have the good fortune to live here. Wisconsin has a venerable history of brewing. And it currently has some really outstanding breweries (none of which rhyme with "filler", by the way.) So I'd like to start a series on the breweries of Wisconsin and what better place to start than with the impressive book, Breweries of Wisconsin, by Jerry Apps?

Apps' book is a remarkable piece of research and a fascinating look into Wisconsin beer making's humble roots, its expansion throughout the state, the establishment of certain Wisconsin cities as major brewing centers, the massive decline brought about by Prohibition, and the on-going resurgence of commercial brewing in the state:

Wisconsin's brewery history began thirteen years before Wisconsin became a state and a year before it became a territory. By the late 1890s, when dairy cows began grazing in Wisconsin fields and dairy barns began gracing the rural countryside, nearly every Wisconsin community already had an operating brewery. Wisconsin was a beer state long before it became known as America's dairyland (p. xiv).
In an appendix, Apps enumerates a partial list of Wisconsin breweries he has catalogued in his own studies and, by a rough count, there are at least 325. But this list is mainly comprised of those large enough to be noticed and surely does not include inumerable smaller, local breweries. Today, according to the latest update at Wikipedia, the count of breweries in Wisconsin is around twenty five, with another few dozen brewpubs. This is actually a large increase from twenty or so years ago when the count would probably have been more like ten in total. What happened between then and now to cause this enormous decline? Prohibition, of course.

Apps hits the nail on the head with one of his chapter titles: "From Temperance to Prohibition". Indeed, the whole "Temperance Movement" is inaptly named. The Catholic Church teaches temperance, that is, moderation in all things including the consumption of alcohol. Certain elements of Protestantism manage to glom onto all of the passages of Scripture that condemn drunkenness, while weaving around all of those passages of Scripture that speak positively about the moderate consumption of alcohol. It's sometimes called "Puritan", but that is perhaps a bit unfair since many (most?) of the Puritans enjoyed a good pint of ale as much as anybody (although cf. the article "Puritans & Alcohol" for a slightly different view.)

Anyway, long and short of it is that the "Temperance Movement" was not about temperance at all but about total abstinence. And this movement finally had its way with the enactment of full-blown Prohibition in this country in 1919. One effect of this was to devastate the vast network of local Wisconsin breweries.

As in other parts of the country, a few mega-breweries were able to survive, by switching to products such as malt extract (as a nutritional supplement) or soda pop. One of the really fascinating parts of Apps' book is how a number of smaller Wisconsin breweriesmost notably Point and Leinenkugel'swere able to weather the storm.

Now, of course, the country has shaken off Prohibition (as a constitutional amendment, although not entirely as a mindset) and a certain renaissance of craft brewing, starting in the 1970s, has led to the establishment of a number of very fine new breweries in the state. In a series of upcoming posts I'd like to give my views and reviews of the many fine and certain not-so-fine brews that gush forth from the breweries of Wisconsin.

If you have a favorite Wisconsin brewery or Wisconsin brew, please share that with us in the comment box. And if there is one you're curious about, ask. I will do my best, as daunting as it may be, to secure a representative sampling of their products and report back here. ("What do I need with another six pack of beer? It's research, Honey, research! My readers are counting on me.......")