Archive for the ‘Wisconsin’ Category

Mil-wacky in March, Part 4: Miller Brewery

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

It’s Miller Time. ™ © ®

Friday morning was rather dreary and damp, but we had drinking to do. The first stop of the day was the behemoth complex of the Miller Brewing Company. Obviously, I’m a craft beer fan, but with many friends in the Midwest, and several trips to Milwaukee, I’ve had my fair share of Miller Lite as well. I insisted that the Miller tour was a mandatory part of our trip for the Lady Friend, so she can truly appreciate the SCALE of these macrobreweries. The facility in Milwaukee produces 10 MILLION BARRELS of beer every year, and that’s just one of their 11 breweries across the country. By comparison, Harpoon Brewery in Boston produces 125,000 bbls a year. Miller makes 80 TIMES more beer from ONE facility. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

So, we started our tour. It’s free, but has a number of rules and warnings. Nothing too scary, but yes, there is walking involved, and yes, there are a number of stairs to climb in the brewhouse. It’s not the most fun tour on a rainy or cold day, as you hoof it down the road and in and out of various buildings, but totally worth it in the end. No smoking, no bathroom breaks (this was a concern for the Lady Friend), and no strollers, though if you’re the sort of psychopath that thinks it’s cute and fun to bring very small children who wail incessantly on a public tour, then I hope you develop an ear infection that makes you drastically more sensitive to sound, rendering the cries of your little stinkcritter as unbearable to you as it is to everyone else around you. This goes for airplanes, restaurants, and movies theaters as well. No one likes your horrible offspring except you, so just stay home to raise your brood where you won’t bother the rest of us.

Yes, there were some children on this tour… what makes you ask?

Anyway, they start off by taking your picture in front of a painted Miller mural in the lobby that you can purchase later, packaged with a keychain, for about $20. A nice Disney-level scam to add to the magic. The actual tour begins with a little propaganda film that tells a brief history of Miller Brewing so the tour guides don’t have to. They changed the film since the last tour I took, where the slogan “It’s Miller Time!” was flashed so many times on the screen that it was laughable. I stopped counting at 15 references in a 10-minute film. However, that’s gone now, and they focus instead on a Katy Perry-wannabe dressed as the Girl in the Moon logo from the Miller High Life branding. According to the film, the brewery was started in 1855 by German immigrant Frederick Miller, when he purchased the Plank-Road Brewery. They brewed 300 bbls in their first year, and really expanded the brand in 1871, when they provided beer to the citizens of Chicago following the Great Fire. Ownership of the company finally left the family when Miller’s anti-alcohol granddaughter sold the majority to W.R. Grace and Company in 1966, which was later purchased by Phillip Morris in 1969. Miller Lite came along in 1973, creating a new horrific category of “low-calorie” beers. In 2002, Phillip Morris sold Miller to South African Breweries (SAB) to create SABMiller, similar to Budweiser’s Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. In 2007, SABMiller and the Molson Coors Brewing Company combined to create the MillerCoors joint venture, which is currently where the branding remains today. So, Miller Brewing Company is actually SABMiller in a joint venture with MillerCoors. Big business.

Handily labeled.

Following the film, the tour guide takes over. Our guide, whose name I didn’t catch, was like an excitable version of a T.G.I. Friday’s waiter on meth. You know that overly-friendly “everything is magical and happy here, all day, every day, never any problems nope nope nope” tooth-grinding forced-smile kind of attitude? Like that. As if he’d be beaten with a pillowcase full of Miller Lite cans for not reaching his smile quota, or having too few pieces of flair. So Chipper McGee led us on a short walk down the street to the bottling plant and distribution warehouse. They put the beer into bottles, cans, and kegs, and ship it out. There’s really not much else to tell about this place, except for throwing out some numbers. Staggering numbers. They package 500,000 cases of beer per DAY, enough beer to fill 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a year. 60% of the beer goes to cans, 30% to bottles, and the remaining 10% into kegs. It’s pretty quick too: 1400 bottles are filled per minute, while cans can go at 2000 per minute (1.5 cases per second). 15,000 kegs are filled per day, going to bars and restaurants nation-wide. The kegs are stored cool, and aren’t pasteurized like the cans and bottles. The big argument there is that pasteurizing (heating the beer, then cooling rapidly to increase shelf-life) eliminates bacteria in the beer. Well, allegedly, it also decreases flavor, which you certainly won’t notice in Miller Lite, but might notice in a hoppy craft brew. That’s why many craft beers are best drunk within a certain window of time, before the hops and flavors start to diminish, whereas a pasteurized macrobrew can likely sit on the shelf for years with no ill-effects. According to Miller, pasteurizing beer buys them 17 weeks of unrefrigerated storage. Ick.

Pictured: Half a million cases of beer.

From the bottling line, we go down to their 200,000 sq ft warehouse, which has a capacity of 500,000 cases. Since they package 500,000 cases per day, there’s a nearly daily turnover rate, which is staggering for that amount of beer. 3% of the product is loaded onto train boxcars (which used to be the primary shipping method back in the day) but the whopping majority, 97%, simply goes into trucks.

Across the street is the actual brewhouse, a multi-story affair with six, 590 bbl kettles that are 18′ deep, producing 26,000 bbls of beer every DAY. It takes 3-4 weeks to finish the brewing process before the beer is packaged. Miller claims to run at 98% waste free, with their spent grain going to livestock feed. A question about the usage of genetically-modified (GM) hops stopped the otherwise chipper tour guide cold, with a forced smile and shaky reply of “I’m not sure, but I will find out that answer for you!” As we descended the stairs, I remarked to the Lady Friend that perhaps a bigger concern would be the use of GM corn, rather than hops, since Miller is a major producer of adjunct lagers. Later on, at the tasting portion of the tour, the guide informed us that yes, GM hops are used, but with a twist: Miller actually owns several patents on specific hops, I’m assuming some sort of proprietary hybrids. I wasn’t aware you could patent a hop. Moreover, the guide confirmed that yes, lots of GM corn was used as well.

The Brewhouse. Big time.

The side of the modern brewhouse is slathered with an absolutely immense mural which can be seen for MILES. The tour guide told me it was one of the largest hand-painted murals in the country. Like most things on the tour, it’s mind-blowingly big.

Here’s a picture from a sunnier day.

Next, we popped into the “famous caves” built to keep the lager beer cool and happy. Dug into a hillside, the lagering caves were packed with ice to keep the lager yeast satisfied, even in warm summer weather. Ale yeast likes warm (room temp) climates to ferment, while lager needs cooler surroundings. There’s even a “spooky” visitor in the caves: a projected video of the ghost of Frederick Miller, talking about the social, family aspects of his fine German beer. Some of the small children weren’t terribly fond of this portion of the tour, and there was some hullabaloo to that effect.

Following the caves, it’s sample time. You’ll either head across the street to the Beer Garden, an outdoor patio, or into the Miller Inn, depending on the season. Last time was a beautiful sunny September day, but the cool rainy climate of this March visit meant we popped into the Inn. There were three samples provided, with a larger-than-usual pour of about 8oz, in a tasting glass (the Beer Garden serves in plastic cups). We went through Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and a new offering, Miller Valley Ale, with a sweetish malt nose and taste, and reddish amber color, dark when compared to the usual pale straw yellow pilsners. It wasn’t bad, but was especially tasty compared to Lite and High Life. But really, what isn’t?

Left to right: Plank Road Brewery replica, Historic Caves, Miller Inn, Refrigeration Building,
Brewhouse (1886). Modern Brewhouse is on far right of frame.

That’s pretty much the tour. You hike back down the road to the main visitor’s building, and can browse the ludicrous number of logo-emblazoned products in the gift shop. We didn’t linger, because there were other stops to make (more breweries!) and we didn’t need any Miller Lite pint glasses. They’re not terribly exclusive. There are quite a few to choose from, as the MillerCoors venture produces Coors, Coors Light, Hamm’s, Icehouse, Keystone, Mickey’s, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller 64 (new! It’s Miller Lite LIGHT), Milwaukee’s Best (Beast), Beast Ice, Olde English, Red Dog, Steel Reserve, Blue Moon (Coors’s “craft” beer), Killian’s, the Leinenkugel lineup (bought in 1988), Foster’s, Molson Canadian, Molson Golden, Molson Ice, Molson XXX, Sharps, and Sparks. Oh, and they contract brew PBR. That doesn’t even include the imports owned by SAB. Here’s the full list.

As a whole, the tour doesn’t sound that exciting because it’s a very corporate, very controlled affair, and they really don’t like it when you wander off the marked path or ask uncomfortable questions. It attracts a LOT of tourists and families, so be prepared for that as well. Still, the tour is WELL worth doing if you’re in Milwaukee. It’s free and there are samples at the end. Even if you’re a craft beer/ anti-macro type drinker, you really need to go on this tour just to see the sheer SCALE of this operation. Miller puts out something like 40 MILLION BARRELS of beer a year, with 10 million coming from this facility alone. It’s simply staggering. Go there and see for yourself.

Everything’s bigger at Miller.

Mil-wacky in March, Part 3: Great Lakes Distillery

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

Here we go.

This is one of the reasons I wanted the Lady Friend to come to Milwaukee.

Well, this and Trev’s wedding.

But this is also awesome.

Great Lakes Distillery. Yes, they make booze in there.

I think I visit here every time I come to Milwaukee. It used to be that you’d enter around the back, right into the warehouse portion of the building, where the actual distillery is set up, but these days they’ve got a brand spankin’ new retail shop and tasting room up front. It’s pretty snazzy. Still, on larger tours, the “old” tasting room down on the production floor is used. We entered the new tasting room, and thankfully the paint-and-drywall smell had faded since my last visit, though there was a mural still in progress. The Lady Friend and I sidled up to the bar and ordered a cocktail. GLD highly encourages having a cocktail along on the tour. It helps you pay attention. Since the Kinnickinnic Whiskey was back in stock (they were completely drained last time) I led off with a simple Whiskey Sour. I have no idea what the Lady Friend went with, though I suspect it had grapefruit juice. There are a number of cocktails available across most of their spirit lineup for about $5-$7 if I recall, though they might make you one off-menu if you’re super nice and they know how to make it. Michael led off as our tour guide this time, and the Lady Friend and I, along with one older couple, grabbed our drinks and headed down the stairs to the production floor.

I hate saying “this is where the magic happens” but a lot of good stuff is born here.

First, the history. GLD was officially started back in 2004 by a video-tech guy named, well, Guy. Guy Rehorst. He realized that there were NO distilleries in the state of Wisconsin, so he started his own. Due to licensing, permits, and just building the place, it took until October of 2006 to get their first bottle out the door (it was vodka). Since GLD began, eight more distilleries have sprung up in Wisconsin, with eleven more on the way. The craft distillery market is starting the same sort of building boom that craft beer had about 10-15 years ago, and currently they’re growing at the rate of about one new distillery in the US every month. By 2015, it’s projected that there will be 500 distilleries in the country, which means like craft beer, there’s going to be a lot more choices on the shelves. Which is awesome.

Distilling itself is fairly simple. You take, well, ANYTHING that ferments, and boil it. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so the alcohol turns to vapor. Then you cool and condense it back down into a liquid, and you’ve got booze. Probably some pretty rough and firey stuff, but still booze. As Michael said “A child could do it. It’s also a felony.” Depending on what you make, there are at least a few rules in place. Vodka must be distilled at a minimum of 95% abv (right out of the still… it gets diluted down to usually about 40% abv/ 80 proof). Whiskey must be made from 100% cereal grain (wheat, rye, barley, corn… you get the picture). Brandy must be made from 100% fermented fruit (usually grapes, but also apple, pear, peach, cherry… lots of choices). Gin must have juniper berries in it somewhere. Rum must be made from 100% sugar cane (cane sugar or molasses).

Once you’ve got your spirit, sometimes you need to age it. For that you need a bonded warehouse, as described in my Ryan & Wood Distillery post. The government technically owns this part of your distillery, and you have to pay them excise tax when you take liquor out of there. It costs GLD about $3 per bottle to take their own liquor out of the warehouse to sell. This factors in to “you get what you pay for” when it comes to cheap booze. If a bottle of cheap vodka costs $6, you know $3 is automatically going towards the government for excise tax. Another $1 goes to distribution costs, another $1 to the retailer, and prob about $1.50 for the cost of the bottle. What’s left for the cost of actual ingredients? (Actually, in this scenario, it adds up to -50 cents.) The point is, a lot of smaller, craft distilleries have higher prices due to better ingredients, among other overhead costs, and the government always gets their cut.

Now that we know how to make booze (and pay the government to make it nice and legal) it was time to go taste the stuff. Since there were only four of us in the tour, we went back upstairs to one of the tables in the tasting room. Michael went through each spirit, and we got a pour in a nice little Glencairn tasting glass, a very classy touch. We tasted the year-round spirits, though there are several smaller batches produced, including a unique Pumpkin Spirit, made from Lakefront Brewery’s Pumpkin Lager, and a line of brandies (Grappa, Kirschwasser, Pear/ Eau-de-vie, and Apple).

Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Vodka Red Wheat Vodka
Nose: Sweetish. Medium heat in the nose. Very neutral.
Taste: Medium heat in the taste. Good mouthfeel with decent smoothness. Neutral and pleasing.

Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Citrus & Honey Vodka Flavored Vodka
I hesitate to call this “flavored vodka” due to the mess of cotton candy, blue raspberry, whipped cream, and other silly flavored vodkas out there. This one is made with actual lemons (the distillery staff gets to zest endless piles of lemons by hand) and Wisconsin-sourced honey. GLD actually distills the flavors together, rather than simply adding them to the spirit. No sugar is added after distillation.
Nose: Lemon Pledge and honey sweet. Very aromatic.
Taste: A tad hot, but perfectly nice. Sickly lemon, like cleaning fluid. Not overly sweet.

Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin “Milwaukee Gin”
GLD thinks that their gin doesn’t fit into either the London Dry or Dutch Genever categories, and calls it simply “Milwaukee Gin.” They use a very mild juniper berry, and add cinnamon, anise seed, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, Saigon cassis, cardamon into their botanical mix. Then the twist: sweet basil, and Wisconsin ginseng. I think it’s an excellent gin. You can read more about my thoughts here.
Nose: Mild pine, sweet spruce. Sugary pine smell, with a mildly hot nose.
Taste: Sweet pine, with spiciness. Very nice. Has a little zing to it, but in an interesting way.

Kinnickinnic Whiskey Blended Whiskey
The Ojibwe word “Kinnickinnic” means “mixed” or “blended” usually referring to tobacco, but in this case is a blended whiskey made from a straight bourbon, and a 4-year-old malt whiskey produced at the distillery. They were out of this on my last visit, but Guy was incredibly gracious and got his last bottle out of his car to give us a taste. Since then, they bottled another batch, so I got another taste this time around.
Nose: Hot alcohol on the nose (it’s 86 proof and unfiltered). Mild sweet bourbon lingers below the heat.
Taste: Hot, with a slight spice. Rye? Smooth vanilla from the aging. Very Scotch-like, but lighter like an Irish whiskey.

Roaring Dan’s Rum Maple Rum
All rums need a pirate mascot, and GLD’s is no exception. “Roaring” Dan Seavey was a pirate on the Great Lakes with all kinds of adventurous shenanigans. The color varies batch-to-batch, as it’s a single barrel product (they don’t mix the barrels together). Wisconsin-sourced maple syrup used, and bottled at 90 proof. This was the first bottle I bought from GLD.
Nose: Sweet, sugar maple. Hot in the nose. Sugar cookies.
Taste: Warm burn, then sweet maple washes over. Finishes hot and alcoholic, which keeps it from getting overly-sweet. Yum.

Amerique 1912 Absinthe
GLD is one of the few domestic distilleries I can think of that makes an absinthe. I won’t get into the troubled history of the spirit here, but it was banned in the US in 1912 for various reasons, and has started to make a comeback with legalizations and the cocktail craze. It’s an interesting liquor, with a crazy story, and GLD makes two versions: Verte (green) and Rouge (red). I brought back a bottle of the Rouge after this trip.
Absinthe Verte (diluted with water, no added sugar)
All-natural color from chlorophyll.
Nose: Licorice. Black Twizzlers. The Lady Friend recalls Good n’ Plenty. A lingering sweetness.
Taste: Very pleasant. Anise taste, but drinkable after the louche. Very light alcohol kick.
Absinthe Rouge (diluted with water, no added sugar)
All-natural color from hibiscus.
Nose: Sambuca-like anise aroma. Hot alcohol, but with much more sweetness.
Taste: Licorice, but much sweeter. Almost a touch spicy. Very nice, if you like licorice (I don’t). Very drinkable even if you don’t particularly like anise flavor. It impressed me enough to buy a bottle.

Guy had suggested that we try their new Apple Brandy, though it wasn’t on the tasting. We went over to the bar and Michael totally hooked us up with a sample.
Apple Brandy
Made from 100% Wisconsin-sourced Heirloom apples. Spends 3 years in aged bourbon barrels so that GLD can “put bold flavors in cups.” Well said.
Nose: HOT alcohol nose with a tart apple aroma.
Taste: HOT. Sweet apple, obviously, but complex. There are layers of both sweet and tart that flow underneath. But this is one of the more alcoholic tasting of the spirits. Still, quite tasty. The Lady Friend even bought a bottle of it.

Then he made us a Jack Rose! And yes, GLD does make their own grenadine. I asked. The drink nosed a bit hot, more so than a Laird’s applejack version, but had an amazing flavor. Very apple-y, with a tart cider start, sweet sugary mid and tasty clean apple finish. Wonderful.

Retail area where you can buy bottles and bottles of awesomeness.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the bar, sipping cocktails, and chatting with owner Guy Rehorst, whom I had met on my last visit. He’s a really nice guy, and will tell you basically anything you could want to know about the distillery, or just the industry in general. I’ve been a big fan of the spirits he’s made for the past several years, and make it a point to stop by every time I’m in town. It’s great to see a craft distillery making some great products. I like a lot of variety with my drinking, and largely gloss over the big brands, as I do with beer. Instead of Bud/ Miller/ Coors, the liquor industry has Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, and Diageo. Heavy hitters. The good news? GLD is in the works to enter the Massachusetts market, and hopes to be in Boston-area shelves by the end of the year. Keep an eye out for some more tasty choices. Highly recommended.

Mil-wacky in March, Part 2: Mil-wacky, Wis-cahn-sin

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

Ok. Enough Chicago. Time for the real destination: Milwaukee, WI. We flew into O’Hare with the intention of driving up to MKE, so we started off with the acquisition of our sweet rental vehicle, a Chevy Captiva/ Daewoo Winstorm. The Lady Friend had reserved a “small” vehicle, and we got this monsterous crossover contraption that looked like a Big Wheel made from Legos, stale breadsticks, and shellac. Since I’m used to driving Elsa, who is only about 4′ tall, or Phantom, the Lady Friend’s Corolla, the Captiva was like sitting in a ski lift. Apparently this counts as a compact vehicle in the Midwest. Still, it did seem to move better than most domestic plastic monsters, and in about an hour, we hit Milwaukee.

Holy redneck, Batman. I think we made a wrong turn and drove to Alabama.

We met Trevtastic and cohort Meissner for brunch at The Wicked Hop (Milwaukee is really into brunch) and started with a few beers. The Lady Friend asked me to find her something new and local, and got Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout from Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, WI, about halfway between Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Not exactly local, but at least in the same state. I went with a Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter, which was quite tasty. Much smoother than her Oatmeal Stout, which was on the bitter side. The Lady Friend was content with sipping her stout while I went for a second round: Lakefront’s Poison Arrow IPA. I’m told it’s only available on tap at The Wicked Hop, but I wasn’t able to confirm that. Still, I’d never seen it before, and it was mighty tasty: an excellent West-Coast style IPA. While finishing up, I got a message from LB, a friend from high school who moved to Milwaukee (by way of Flore-da) several years ago. We were crashing at her house for the rest of the trip, and she shot me a text to say she was doing some work around the corner above the Milwaukee Ale House. We still had a bit of time to kill before our 2pm Great Lakes tour, so the Lady Friend and I headed over for a hello, and a quick drink.

Can’t have an alehouse without ales. And mugs.

The Milwaukee Ale House is the brewpub for Milwaukee Brewing Company. I had been here for dinner on my previous trip, and found their beers to be good, but not great. Their IPA in particular irked me last time, as it was described as “aggressively hopped” but was pretty weak. It had some hop to it, but was nowhere near anything I’d call aggressive. I made a point this time to try some other hoppy offerings to see if they could stand up. While the Lady Friend tried their Hop Happy IPA, I went with a pale ale, followed by a sample of their dIPA.

Pull Chain Pale Ale 5% abv 43 IBU
Nose: Bitter aroma; sharp, slightly savory, English-style hop with a decent cereal malt sweetness.
Taste: Tastes much as it smells. Sharp, bitter English-style hop with a cereal maltiness. Overall bitter, but drinkable.

Double IPA Double Imperial Pale Ale 9.5% abv, no IBU listed.
For some unfathomable reason, this beer was listed under the heading “Session Beer.” WTF? Session beers are defined at 4-5% abv, depending on who you ask. How could a 9.5% double IPA possibly fit that category? Anyway, the menu also claimed that their dry hop was “totally over 25 pounds!” when making the beer. Ok then. Let’s taste it.
Nose: Candy sweet, almost like a bubblegum Belgian, but heavier, with more body behind it.
Taste: Wheaty bubblegum sweetness, but with an alcohol kick. Tastes like a wheat beer with a shot of grain alcohol. Not very well balanced, since I didn’t get much hop bitterness, and too boozy.

So, not the greatest experience. I’d still love to give the full lineup of MKE Brewing a run and see if there’s some gems in the mix, because I haven’t hit any yet. That said, the beers I have sampled were all perfectly drinkable, just not anything I’d seek out specifically. Perhaps on my next MKE voyage I’ll have time to give them my full attention, but this last trip had other priorities. It was time for a tour of Great Lakes Distillery. Right after I took some shots of a Lamborghini Murciélago that was parked at the curb.

A Lamborghini in Milwaukee seems as out of place as a John Deere tractor in NYC.

A Sampling of Lakefront Brewery’s Brews

Aside from the weekly Rule 37 drink this week, there wasn’t much to tell in a Monday Hangover post. At least, nothing noteworthy except Saturday night’s event: a beer tasting party featuring some brews from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI.

I was introduced to Lakefront a couple years ago while visiting Milwaukee. I crashed with Trevtastic and Murs, and it just so happened that they lived a couple doors down from the brewery, along North Riverwalk Way, on the banks of the aptly named Milwaukee River. It’s one of the better tours I’ve been on, and for $7 you get four drink tokens, a tour, and get to trade in your plastic tasting cup for a real pint glass at the end. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and I’ll go into more detail with an official review and tour in a couple weeks, after another trip out to Mil-wacky.

I recently visited Lakefront as part of Trevtastic’s bachelor party shenanigans at the end of Febtober. We were having some samples before the tour (Lakefront highly recommends sampling before the tour, and taking one along with you. It makes the whole experience much more interesting.) and one of the guys in the group pointed out the owner, Russ Klisch, who was standing nearby. I’ve been a fan of Lakefront’s products since I first tasted them, though they’re difficult to find in Boston. I went over to introduce myself to Russ to tell him my thoughts, and let him know about the blog. He took my card, looked at it and said “Drinking blog, huh? Hmmm… well, we should give you some samples then.” Um. Why yes! Yes indeedy, please and thank you. Free beersies! He wandered off and came back with a four-pack of bombers to sample, making the rest of our group regard me as some sort of wizard, able to conjure free beer out of thin air.

With some careful packing, all four bombers made it back to Boston intact and ready for tasting. I wanted to taste all in one session to compare/contrast the different styles from the same brewery, but four bombers (88oz of beer total) is a hell of an afternoon session, especially with abvs starting at 6.5%. So, I decided to invite a small tasting panel over to sample some beers that you simply can’t get around Boston. The attendees included the Lady Friend, Irish Lad and Wifey, the Engineer (who also attended the previous tasting of California beers) and his wife, and my brother the BeerBro, who came down from NH for the night. The two wives settled into a few cocktails, while the other five of us tucked into the Lakefront bombers. The bottles were a wealth of information, with the back label giving many details about the individual brews, abv info, IBU ratings, plato scale gravity readings, and even a lovibond degree. Ubergeeky, though I wish more breweries put this much thought and effort into their labels. It’s nice to see a brewery give you all the information you could want and more, so you can learn about your beer. Nice touch, Lakefront.

Bring on the beers.

Local Acre Lager It’s a lager. Duh.
7% abv, 36 IBU
Made from locally-sourced (Wisconsin) ingredients, an example of a true farmer-brewer product.
Nose: Little to no aroma, but a faint hint of cereal grain sweetness.
Taste: Cereal grain start with a slight bitter snap. There was a medicinal, stale quality to the finish that none of us could quite put our finger on. Wifey called it an “acrid” sensation, almost like burnt plastic. It didn’t ruin the brew, but it was puzzling as to what that flavor actually was. I almost think it could have been some rye in the mash bill, and the Irish Lad wondered if it was the difference between six-row barley that’s normally used, and the two-row included in this brew. It may have simply been the booze, as a 7% lager is definitely up there.

Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale Strong Ale
8% abv, 45 IBU

Nose: Hoppy, with a dark malt aroma.

Taste: Malty, but tastes a bit thin. I got a boozy flavor to it, but it was well-balanced with the sweetness of the grain, though certainly a sweeter beer. The Engineer thought it was too thin, but wanted to drink it all night. It is very drinkable for the abv, and could get dangerous when you pound several of these at 8% and try to stand up. I think the thinner quality actually helps the drinkability, as a more syrupy, heavier ale would weigh on you. Bridge Burner is a great balance between flavor and chug factor. Very nice.

MyTurn Series DAN Baltic Porter
8.5% abv, 37 IBU
The MyTurn Series is a sort of employee-brew project, much like White Birch Brewing’s Apprentice Series. Apparently Dan’s Baltic Porter was VERY popular, so I was glad to snag a sample.
Nose: Nice roast with a dark chocolate bitter.
Taste: Medium syrup quality. Sweet, dark chocolate syrup is cut by the bitter roast. Very nice, very smooth, very tasty. Unremarkable, in that it’s indistinguishable from any other Baltic Porter, but could be said to be a perfect example of the style. I thought it was outstanding as it was exactly what a Baltic Porter SHOULD be, though in that regard it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. It’s the Toyota Camry of Baltic Porters; perfectly reliable, but nothing that would catch your eye. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

IBA India Black Ale
6.5% abv, 50 IBU
I thought this was a neat trick. There has been a lot of discussion in the craft beer world about “black IPAs,” that is, an IPA made with a darker malt. I discussed it briefly here with the Widmer Brothers Pitch Black. The question is a matter of semantics: how can you have a BLACK India PALE Ale? Many breweries have adopted the term “Cascadian Dark Ale” to appropriately describe their brews, though Lakefront simply avoided the whole thing by calling their brew an India Black Ale. How simple is that? Nicely done.
Nose: Smokey and savory. Definitely a bit of smokiness in there, most likely from roasting the barley, though I don’t recall coming across a smokey quality in any other bIPA. The savory smell likely points towards some Sorachi Ace hops in the mix. The Engineer agreed, getting an aroma of “greasy smoked sausages.
Taste: It’s got a decent bitter hoppy start, but nothing in the follow through. It falls off quickly, with a mild hop linger. It was the Irish Lad’s favorite of the four Lakefront beers, though the Engineer said it “does not have the malt you’d expect.” I agreed, thinking that it was a bit thin, though very drinkable. Strangely, the BeerBro and Irish Lad both got a finish that reminded them of a Scotch Ale. I think they’re both insane.

Serendipitously (an awesome word I never get to use), the Irish Lad had brought over a pair of Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scotch Ales. We cracked them and set about to comparing. To me, a Scotch Ale is usually all malt with little hop. Most I’ve had in the past range from a medium syrupy quality up to a sensation of drinking a glass of malt extract. The Old Chub, while certainly malty, did not have any such syrup to it, and was the lightest mouthfeel Scotch Ale I think I’ve had to date. That said, it was very nice; malty and sweet with some vanilla notes. After tasting, the BeerBro and Irish Lad conceded that it was entirely different from the IBA, and I still am not quite sure what sensation they were getting from the finish of the Lakefront brew.

We went on to taste a couple homebrews from a Smash project the Irish Lad and I had concocted, and the night’s events pretty much faded from there. Wifey conned us into some silly game that several of us managed to sabotage quite well, and I found myself with a Sweaty Betty Blonde Wheat Ale from Boulder Brewing, and finished off with a fantabulous Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. Overall, the group seemed ambivalent about the Lakefront beers, though I enjoyed them overall. The lager had that unidentifiable taste in the finish, which is a good reason to have others sample with you, throwing in their opinions. Unfortunately, that one trumped the whole group of us. The Bridge Burner was tasty, if a little sweet, but certainly didn’t feel like an 8% beer. That’s a good thing. I felt the Baltic Porter was a perfect example of its style, and would love to pick up another. The IBA just wasn’t doing it for any of us however. It seems like Lakefront is brewing milder versions of various styles, choosing drinkability over innovation. It’s a fine tactic to choose, but I like to see breweries pushing the envelope a bit more. It’s why Sam Adams disappoints me time and time again; they have unbelievably vast resources, and yet create middle-of-the-road beers. Their Bonfire Rauchbier is what led me to have the Lady Friend try a REAL rauchbier. Sure, it comes down to what you can actually sell, and most people don’t want the crazy obscure beers, but Boston Beer Company could certainly afford to take a few more chances. Lakefront is nowhere near that size, so I’m willing to cut them a lot more slack. I love their regular lineup, but was expecting a bit more punch from these special bottlings.

That said, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
Buy some if you can find it.

Quote of the night: “Can beer get a yeast infection?” “Yeah, it’s called brett (brettanomyces).”

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Rule 37: The Floradora ft Great Lakes Rehorst Gin

Modern Drunkard Magazine’s articleThe 86 Rules of Boozing, by Frank Kelly Rich states:
Rule 37. Try one new drink each week.
The Rule 37 series of posts chronicle my attempts to accomplish this feat every week.
For the recipes of R37s past, click the Htf do I make these drinks? tab.

We finally had a bit of winter, though it took until March to get here. After all the cold and wet, I needed a sunny tropical drink to warm me up, as I’m getting rather full of stouts, porters, brown ales, winter punches, toddies, and other winter warmer tipples. This one fit the bill as a rather happily fruity drink for one of the few wet and snowy evenings of the season. And it gave me an excuse to crack open my bottle of Great Lakes Distilling Rehorst Gin, acquired from the distillery on my recent trip to Milwaukee.

The (La?) Floradora
Found this recipe in my trusty standby, Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail.
Dale says that this one is “named after the 1900 Broadway hit that introduced the Floradora Girls, who all were five feet four inches tall and weighed 130 pounds.”

– 1 1/2 oz gin (GLD Rehorst)
– 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
– 3/4 oz Framboise liqueur or raspberry syrup (Flag Hill’s Raspberry Liqueur)
– Top with ginger ale

This is a BUILT drink, so pour the gin, lime and raspberry into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with ginger ale and a lime piece, and give it a stir with a straw. I opted for a giant tentacle of lime peel. One piece! I managed to double-back with the channel knife. I’m stupidly proud.

All you can smell is fizzy lime on the nose. The taste is carbonic fizz at first, from the ginger ale. A hint of lime tart follows, and is rapidly blindsided by the raspberry. Yikes. That raspberry really dominates the drink. Not that it’s a bad flavor, but it completely masks the gin. Well, not entirely. As I type, there’s a hint of juniper pine in the finish, a last gasp of spirit evaporating from the clutches of the fruited liqueur. I can see how this would be a chick crack kind of drink: you’d never even know there was liquor in it. It’s not bad at all. I wonder if the easy-going Rehorst is just lost in there. Maybe a big bold Plymouth would hold its own. Actually, the gin comes through in a burp. Sorry, that just happened. Yeah.

I tasted the Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin neat on their distillery tour, and found it to be very mild and friendly, though still full of flavor. I’m continuously working up the gumption to get myself into gin, but the Rehorst is like Gin 101; even a non-gin drinker can enjoy this one. Guy Rehorst, the owner of Great Lakes, jumped in for the tasting portion of the tour, and said the same thing I’ve been hearing from a lot of craft distillers: he made the gin HE wanted to drink. If you’re going to be creating your own line of spirits, you may as well enjoy them. And this one is certainly enjoyable. Like Double Gold medal at the San Francisco Spirit tasting competition (2008) type enjoyable. Two of the more interesting ingredients are Sweet Basil, and Wisconsin Ginseng, which apparently is a real thing. They claim it’s like the best ginseng evar, but I’ll just take their word for it. GLD even wants to classify the spirit as a “Milwaukee Gin” saying that it’s not quite a London Dry, but not quite a Genevere.

Since it got a little lost in the Floradora, I decided to give the Rehorst another go, but in a Negroni:

Nose: Sweetish, but with a mild spicy hint. Not hot pepper spice, but more like cinnamon/nutmeg type ground spices. Ginseng, I suppose.

Taste: Gin is much more prevalent than in the Floradora. Almost seems spicy, with a medicinal alcohol kick in the mid. Syrupy Campari glues the drink together, and sweet vermouth rounds out the experience. Could be that famous Wisconsin ginseng that I’m tasting, almost like a ginger. Certainly a hint of spice, though the Campari makes it difficult to nail down. The two combined create a cinnamon sensation. VERY tasty.

After a taste, the Lady Friend noted that she could taste the gin more than in a normal Negroni. She’s usually distracted by the Campari, but in this case, she was also able to pick up a spicy note to the gin.

Overall, it’s a tasty gin. The spicy notes really add something to the Negroni, without using a more flavorful vermouth (I believe I used Gallo this time; Martini is my usual brand). However, I can see how this delicate gin could get lost in a more powerfully flavored cocktail; don’t use it as a substitute for Plymouth gin. It shines in a simpler drink. Granted, the Campari-based Negroni can be overwhelming for a mild gin, but the spicy notes of the Rehorst really add an extra nuance to the mixture.

I don’t really buy much gin, but I bought a bottle of this. So there you go. It’s good, get some.

The Monday Hangover: Feb 25-26

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

There will not be a Rule 37 drink post this week. On Friday, I went to Milwaukee for Trevtastic’s bachelor party. Apparently I picked the ONLY day this year that they’ve had snow (like the rest of the country).

What is this, Narnia?

…and that’s about it. That’s all I remember. I woke up again at Logan Airport last night.


I went to Mil-wacky and all I got was this lousy hangover.

So here’s a picture of Trevtastic from the LAST time I went to MKE, and had one of the top ten hangovers of my life.

Somebody is actually marrying him.

For those interested, I will be returning to MKE at the end of March, and will be formally touring and reviewing several local drink-related business, including Lakefront Brewery and Great Lakes Distilling.

That is all.
End communication.

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