Congratulations to our friends at MobCraft for being named Wisconsin’s Best New Brewer and getting this great write-up in Madison Magazine! Exciting announcement as we work with them to create Saison De Cilantroctus for release at Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace during Madison Craft Beer Week 2014.
Henry Schwartz realized when he was 19 years old that it was legal for him to buy brewing ingredients, but not legal to buy beer. A few years later he and two friends (Giotto Troia and Andrew Gierczak) started MobCraft and recently released its first commercially available beer: Participation Pale Ale. The malt-forward heavily-hopped pale ale was the result of crowd-sourcing which differentiates MobCraft from the rest of the pack.
Each beer brewed by MobCraft is the result of an online vote where fans can submit votes and even recipes for which beer they would like to see brewed next. But, the video can probably explain it better than I can.
Currently, MobCraft is brewing at the House of Brews off of Stoughton Road in Madison, Wisconsin where they lease space for the tanks they bought from brewmaster Page Buchannan. MobCraft hopes to be able to build their own brewhouse in the near future when they plan to add a subscription option tho their beer distribution.
The subscription would involve a three, six, or 12 month commitment where subscribers would get a four-pack of 22oz bottles of each brew delivered either to a local pick-up location or to their home. The home delivery option would be a bit more expensive as it would involve the beer being (for legal reasons) back to their homes. The beer will cost an estimated $25 per four-pack before shipping charges, but Schwartz says the crowd-sourced beer will be worth it.
“The focus of the company will be to make really cool beers,” said Schwartz. “Not just Ambers and Pale Ales, but indigenous beers with non-traditional brewing ingredients.”
Currently MobCraft’s Participation Pale Ale is Available at Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace, the Majestic, 8 Seasons Grille and the Lakefront Pub in Whitewater. MobCraft only made seven barrels, so I recommend trying this beer while you can, because before long the beer will be replaced by the highest vote getter. The Most Mobbed Double IPA is next on their brewing schedule.
I just so happened to be at the Great Dane in Fitchburg yesterday following an Ultimate Frisbee game and was fortunate enough that is was also the release day for Wisconsin Brewing Company‘s #003 Porter. I hadn’t been able to try any of the previous WBC releases so I bought a pitcher to share with the team.
The nose is of dark roasted malt and the ensuing roast flavor is coupled with chocolate overtones and a strong malt backbone with a well-balanced bitterness. The beer had a nicely retained off-white head and a surprisingly full body for a beer that weighs in at a mere 5.2% ABV. Kirby really nailed this one! This Porter was a refreshing way to replenish some nutrients after having a good sweat on the Ultimate field without being too filling.
Kirby is using a blend of caramel, special roast and deep chocolate malt to create a deeply rich tasting Porter. Wisconsin grown Brewer’s Gold Hops add the needed bittering to balance the malt intensity. The resulting beer is bold and assertive, yet is quite sessionable.
The Porter is available at the four Madison-area Great Dane locations and the Vintage Brewing Company while supplies last. The Porter is the third beer in WBC’s test series following the IPA and the Golden Amber Lager. Now that Dark, Hoppy and Light styles have been covered, it is anyone’s guess as to what Kirby will brew next. Perhaps a Scotch Ale or something Belgian?
There is a lot of speculation in the craft beer community about Wisconsin Brewing Company (WBC) and what they will be bringing to the increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace.
During my hardhat tour a few weeks ago, Marketing Coordinator Jessica Schulter didn’t give away much information about branding strategies saying, “We don’t want to be pigeon-holed…it is basically whatever Kirby feels like brewing really.”
While longtime Capital Brewery Brewmaster Kirby Nelson is known for his world class Dopplebocks and strong German-style brewing background, Schulter thinks that Nelson will embrace the freedom in his new role and produce some really great beers.
Nelson recently brewed a 10-barrel test batch at the Great Dane nof what will eventually be WBC’s American IPA. While WBC had expectations that the beer would sell out in a few weeks, it in fact shocked them selling out in just a few days. The American IPA along with a Golden Amber Lager released earlier are the first two sneak-peeks the public has gotten an opportunity to try.
Currently, there is a tasting set for their third trial beer which will be released at the Great Dane and the Vintage Brewing Company on Tuesday July 16th, but WBC isn’t saying what style of beer it is yet, but they are certainly building intrigue amongst craft beer seekers which is clearly part of their marketing strategy.
I asked Schulter what the risks were in opening a multimillion dollar brewery capable of producing 100,000 barrels of beer annually right out of the gate and she seemed more than confident that WBC will be successful.
“We’ve got guys who have been in the brewing industry since they legally could be,” said Schulter referring to Nelson and former Capital Brewery President Carl Nolen. “Think about it…Wisconsin…Beer…Perfect! How could it go wrong?”
Schulter also says that with the new brewery being a little more automated, Nelson will have more time to be the face of the brewery.
“I wish we could have Kirby give every tour,” said Schulter. “He is so knowledgeable and passionate about beer and the beer business.”
The brewery plans to give tours of their Verona complex which features a Wisconsin-made brewhouse ideally on November 1st (which also happens to be Nelson’s birthday). Until then, the beer-curious can stay tuned for information at wisconsinbrewingcompany.com.
In the last few years Madison has seen it’s number of breweries rise substantially. Karben 4, One Barrel Brewing Company, and House of Brews are the new kids on the block and Ale Asylum moved to it’s new facility. By the end of 2013, the building that housed the Appliance Service Center on Atwood Avenue will be transformed into the Next Door Brewing Company.
“I am such a stickler for brewing to style as as judge,” said Symonds, “But as a brewer I am interested in making interesting beers.”
Symonds will have plenty of opportunity to experiment in his new three-barrel brewery which will allow for quick beer turnover and provide a lot of leeway for experimentation. While experimentation and creative brewing may fill a few of Next Door Brewing Company’s tap lines, Symonds plans on having three consistent brands available every day. He says one will be a lighter beer, one will be some form of an American Pale Ale, and one will be something a little higher in alcohol, perhaps around the seven percent range. Symonds didn’t give away too many secrets about his brewing plans, but talked more about the atmosphere he is hoping to create.
“We really want it to be a place where the community can come and talk to one another,” said Symonds. “We wanted it to be in a neighborhood where people could walk in…A place for political discourse.”
While 2439 Atwood Avenue is currently an empty building, Symonds hopes to remodel the space and install the brewery to begin brewing and serving to the public by the end of the year.
Former Capital Brewery Brewmaster Kirby Nelson returned to the Capital brewhouse on Saturday representing Wisconsin Brewing Company for the brewing of the second annual Common Thread beer, which this year is a collaboration between ten Wisconsin breweries.
Nelson didn’t miss a beat as he casually got behind the controls at the brewery, where he was brewmaster for 25 years. His return to Capital for the collaboration efforts shows the immense sense of community and brotherhood craft brewers have with one another and exemplifies what Common Thread is all about.
“It is meant to be a big rally for Madison and Wisconsin brewers,” said Vintage Brewmaster Scott Manning. “We got a crazy notion last year, that a group of ‘competing’ craft brewers could get together, invent a tasty new beer, have a blast brewing it, and release it in celebration of both Madison Craft Beer Week & American Craft Beer Week. The idea was to toast our town and it’s beer culture, to support local agriculture and industry, and to brew as a tribute to our common bond as scientists and artists in the cause of Great Beer.”
While Common Thread’s 2012 inaugural brew was California Common (steam-beer) beer was a collaboration between six local breweries, 2013’s will be a Biere De Garde and feature ten breweries including:
- Capital Brewery
- Vintage Brewing Company
- Great Dane Brewing
- The Grumpy Troll Brewery
- Lake Louie Brewing Company
- House of Brews
- Karben4 Brewing Company
- One Barrel Brewing Company
- Potosi Brewing Company
- Wisconsin Brewing Company
“We’ve bolstered our ranks and we’re aiming even higher this year- more local pro brewers, bigger batch size, bigger soapbox…same feel-good, local, crafty mission,” said Manning. “Let’s work together to make a beer to make Madison (and Wisconsin) proud. And let’s lead the charge for Wisconsin’s craft brewers to work together, buy and support local, and to elevate our state’s brewing culture beyond its gilded history, into a future of relevance leadership, and prestige.”
While the logistics of the brew are being handled by Capital Brewery, all money made above and beyond the costs of producing the beer will be donated to the Wisconsin Brewer’s Guild. 2012’s Common Thread raised more than $4,000 for the organization, which benefits small brewers across the state.
Each brewery has allocated a certain number of barrels to be sold on their premises, and the rest of the brew will be available through General Beverage for restaurants and bars during Madison Craft Beer Week which takes place May 3rd through May 12th.
Isthmus beer writer Robin Shepard recently wrote an article about the Ale Asylum‘s new Blood Red Ale which is a hoppy red ale served exclusively at the Ale Asylum. While I haven’t been in to the brewery to try it as of yet, I think the fact that the brewery uses Citra hops exclusively is an interesting example of how the Ale Asylum is doing something really unique with their American-style brews.
To sum it up: Remember the triple-hops brewed Miller Lite commercials? Yeah, it is kind of like that (because that is how most styles of beer are brewed) except the Ale Asylum likes to use one hop varietal exclusively for each beer giving beer drinkers an opportunity to understand how that particular hops bitters, flavors and aromatizes beer.
Hopalicious – Cascade
Ballistic – Amarillo
Satisfaction Jacksin – Centennial
Blood Red – Citra
Below is Shepard’s article and following that is the response I posted on the Isthmus web page.
Citra might be the most grapefruity of all hops surpassing the Amarillo Ale Asylum uses in the Ballistic IPA. One of my favorite things about Ale Asylum’s hoppy brews is their use of a single hops in each beer to help distinguish that flavor exclusively. A great way to learn about American hops is to sit down with a Hopalicious, a Satisfaction, a Ballistic and put them next to the Blood Red. Four American style hops featured exclusivel in four beers is pretty awesome.
Eight years ago Wisconsin native Ryan Koga moved to Montana to start college. The young man who knew nothing about beer or brewing before he left, has returned home as the face and brewmaster of Madison’s mysterious new brewery Karben 4.
“I started off on the bottling line just trying to make rent money,” said Koga. “I didn’t even know anything about beer at all, especially craft beer. I had my eyes opened to what was true around me. I fell in love with it.”
Eventually, Koga moved up the ladder at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company in Billings, Montana to become the head brewer. He later helped the ownership open a second location and consulted on another small brewery before returning to Wisconsin to open Karben 4.
“My family and I decided I finally knew enough to be dangerous,” said Koga. “So we decided to be dangerous.”
“Wisconsin is undoubtedly one of the nation’s strongest beer cultures,” said Koga. “Historically, popularly…whatever else. I wanted to bring what I had become good at and bring it home and try it here.”
Koga says that he is excited to be here at this point in Wisconsin’s craft beer evolution and that Wisconsin’s beer day of taking craft beer to what it can be is just starting.
“That’s why I am pumped,” said Koga. “The enthusiasm is already here. There is already stellar beer being put out. But I think where it is going to end up is a lot further down the road than it is today, and that had a huge influence on me choosing Madison in my home state of Wisconsin. It is where I was raised, it is where my pride is and where my heart is and I wanted to be a part of what was about to happen.”
Koga and his business partners researched markets all over Wisconsin, but says Madison always came to the top of the list. While doing research, Koga called the president of Wisconsin brewers guild and asked if any other breweries were opening in Madison.
“She tipped me off that Ale Asylum was going to expand and this was right before they were going public saying that they were going to expand,” said Koga. “So I just cold-called Otto (Dilba) the next morning and just said hey, I heard you guys are doing your thing so I guess that probably means you are going to upgrade your equipment—so what if you just sold me your equipment?”
Koga worked out a deal for some of the equipment which the Ale Asylum folks left in place as Karben 4 moved into the 3698 Kinsman Blvd. location that housed Ale Asylum since their inception in 2005.
Why Karben 4?
“With a lot of names and brands people want to be able to understand it right away—and Karben 4 is certainly not that,” said Koga. “It is not in an effort to be pretentious or anything else.”
Koga explained that he wanted to have a brand that would be able to stand by itself like Nike or Google. The ownership wanted something that didn’t mean anything before the company existed or are able to understand who they are.
“It was something that would speak to our personalities that would never paint us into a corner that our beer names or styles would have to follow some sort of theme that was put out there,” said Koga. “Karben 4 is a way of implicitly saying ‘geeks’ without having to outright say it…It is meant to make people uncomfortable, it is meant to make us uncomfortable at first, but it is something that allows us to define who we are as we grow and as we fill out. People will help us define Karben 4 and what it is.”
“The goal is to stay in the tap room as long as possible until we understand what our brand is, how people perceive us, and what beers they really want,” said Koga. “Until we understand all of the factors, I don’t think we are prepared for distribution in bars and restaurants in full force.”
Koga says staying in the taproom will allow Karben 4 to develop its brand and use feedback to understand what its niche in the market is.
“Internally we feel that one of the worst things we can do for strategy is to put a bunch of product into a bottle when nobody knows who we are and we haven’t tested our product,” said Koga. “We can’t just put it on a shelf and hope people find us.”
Koga also hopes tho add at least one more fermentation tank to the three 30-barrel fermentors they already have. He says that having to expand the brewery will be a sign that things are going well.
Koga said Karben 4 picked their flagship beers as their first five (NightCall Smoked Porter, SamuRyePA, Block Party Amber Ale, Lady Luck Irish Red, Undercover Session Ale) releases. While they may change a little bit, they will always be in Karben 4’s regular lineup. Koga has been surprised which brew is emerging as an early favorite amongst patrons.
“NightCall, the smoked porter has been talked about since we opened,” said Koga. “I’m flabbergasted…One of my specialties is to make a richer beer with a little bit more complex flavor that is smooth and works out together…So to have the Smoked Porter be the on in the spotlight, I’m pleased as I could be. That’s awesome!”
Favorite Wisconsin Beers
“Dan Carey makes some of the best traditional German beer you’ll find and I thoroughly enjoy his works,” said Koga. “I have been drinking them for years now. Every time I came on vacation I was often given special requests to bring back Spotted Cow for folks in Montana. The same thing goes for Capital. They are a Lager factory. They are awesome/stellar at making lagers.”
Koga says that Madison is such an eclectic population that one can find a niche and a following in the market if they are doing something consistent and cohesive. He is confident that Karben 4 can succeed with their “malt-forward beers”, though he says he loves hops and can’t keep is head out of the brewing kettle when he is brewing hoppy beers like the Silk Scorpion Black IPA. He also eludes to having a bit of a passion for Porters.
“I love Tommy’s Porter,” said Koga. I have been pawing on that a lot since I’ve been back…I got stuck in my booth at Beer and Cheese and I heard he Lake Louie Brewmaster Tom Porter) was there and he’s one of the people everyone says you’ve got to meet. I also really dig on Ale Asylum beers. My bachelor party was Sticky McDoogle and Hopalicious the whole time. I am not a huge fan of Belgian style beers…but I will willingly and lovingly order Belgian beers at their (Ale Asylum’s) place…I absolutely love Bedlam.”
What He Loves About Beer
Koga thinks making good beer is more than just producing a quaffable product, and thinks there is an emotional side to it as well.
“I love Bordeaux wine,” said Koga. “When I am having red wine…when there is Bordeaux around, that’s my style…I thought to myself, you’re a brewer, you know, can you create that certain emotional experience you have when you are having a Bordeaux? There is a certain way I always feel when I have it, it just connects with me. If that were a beer, what would it be? What would the experience be?”
Koga says that is his statement with the Lady Luck Irish Red which he hopes people will connect with emotionally.
I’ve been re-Tweeting “best of” beer lists a lot lately and figured it was time I made my own awards. With that being said, here they are.
MOMMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT
WARPED SPEED SCOTCH ALE
The Warped Speed Scotch Ale is one of those beers that not only taste great every time, but one which also really packs a punch. It has been a staple of my diet for a few years now and I suggest it at work to patrons who “don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day”. Brewmaster Tom Porter easily could have won awards for “Nicest Guy in Wisconsin Brewing” or “Brewmaster with the Coolest Guitar Collection,” but the Warped Speed Scotch Ale is truly his most generous gift to those of us who like a little extra bang in our brew without having to fork over extra cash for a beer that only comes in four-packs. Thanks Tommy!
HONORABLE MENTION: CENTRAL WATERS – SATIN SOLSTACE
Finally, a beer that I can drink with my mom! Once Miller Genuine Draft Light switched to the 64 calorie version my mom needed a new brand and found solace in Spotted Cow. She has since branched out to a few other craft and imported beers, but I will always remember Cow as the beer which eased her transition to the wonderful world of craft brewing. I recommend this to all beer-curious people at the bar as a good craft beer to try to get their feet wet. It must be working because it is one of the few craft beers that regularly outsells macros in certain pockets of Wisconsin.
HONORABLE MENTION: CAPITAL SUPPER CLUB
Lakefront took local ingredient sourcing to a whole level with Wisonsinite. Not only are the water, grain and hops all from Wisconsin, so too is the yeast which was developed by Jeremy King from Northern Brewer. Lakefront says “their new strain is believed be to the only North American-grown yeast in commercial use today as well as the first native brewing yeast from Wisconsin.” And to top it off, the Summer Weiss is a very refreshing and tasty summer beer.
HONORABLE MENTION : CAPITAL – ETERNAL FLAME
Everything about this beer was great. A collaboration between six brewmasters (Tom Porter – Lake Louie, Scott Manning – Vintage, Kirby Nelson – Capital, Rob Lobriglio – Great Dane, Page Buchannan – House of Brews, and Mark Knobel -Grumpy Troll), the Common Thread was a great-tasting example of a California Common with wonderful marketing and a brilliant logo that really made me appreciate what Wisconsin Craft Brewing is all about. None of these guys ever say anything bad about each other, and in fact work together more than the public might be aware. The mindset is not every craft brewery for themselves, but every craft brewery together against the InBevs and SABMillers of the world.
HONORABLE MENTION: MIDWEST HOPS AND BARLEY COOPERATIVE – FIVE BEER RELEASE from SPRECHER, CENTRAL WATERS, LAKEFRONT, BULL FALLS, SOUTH SHORE
OUTSIDE THE BOX
MAD TOWN BROWN (Chai Spiced Brown Ale)
With a touch of lactose for a creamy sweetness coupled with fresh homemade Chai Tea Spices, this beer was the most interesting brew I tried in Wisconsin. I am not normally a fan of Chai Tea and honestly thought I would hate the beer, but I have got to give credit to Dan and Peter who really put together a winner here. A must-try if you are in the Madison area.
*For full disclosure, I do work at the One Barrel Brewing Co, but I had nothing to do with the formulation of this beer. I just appreciate its uniqueness.
HONORABLE MENTION : NEW GLARUS – SERENDIPITY
GO BIG OR GO HOME
NEW BREWERY LOCATION
Ale Asylum’s $8 million brewery expansion is probably the biggest move in Wisconsin brewing last year. The new location is beautiful, with tons of space to expand, windows where patrons can watch beer being made and packaged, and, oh yeah, it’s really close to my house. More space coupled with efficient bottling and kegging lines ensures better quality and easier distribution which will allow Ale Asylum to enter markets in entire state of Wisconsin in one fell swoop. With quality product and incredible branding, I foresee Ale Asylum becoming a household name in all of Wisconsin and potentially on a larger scale in a very short amount of time.
HONORABLE MENTION: KIRBY NELSON LEAVES CAPITAL TO START WISCONSIN BREWING CO.
This jalapeno ale is the most drinkable I have had to date. It has the taste of jalapenos without being to spicy to enjoy and entire pint. Ordinarily, I would never had considered such a category for an award since pepper beers are often too peppery for my pallet, but Sweet Mullets really nailed this one. If you are ever in Oconomowoc, stop by the brewery and give Jorge a taste and tell them Brewsconsin sent ya.
HONORABLE MENTION: GREAT DANE – TRI PEPPER PILS
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED BREWERY
With CSA’s being all the rage these days I love the idea that House of Brews was created with a similar business model. The idea of creating a community of beer enthusiasts that all share in the bounty of brewing through a subscription system is one of a kind as far as I know (didn’t bother to Google it though). Page Buchannan built House of Brews as a place where not only can customers drink the beer, but talk about beer and have some influence on what is brewed. As a brewer and beer-lover, I like the idea that we no longer have to sit at home and drink whatever the brewery decides to make, I like the idea that I can “subscribe” to a beer or series of beers, and I sincerely like Page and House of Brews and appreciate that they bring something new to the table.
HONORABLE MENTION: ONE BARREL – NANO BREWERY
FAVORITE WISCONSIN BEERS BY STYLE
AMERICAN PALE ALE: NEW GLARUS – MOON MAN
AMERICAN IPA: POTOSI – SNAKE HOLLOW
IMPERIAL IPA: ALE ASYLUM – SATISFACTION JACKSIN
AMBER: SPRECHER – AMBER
RED: LAKEFRONT – FIXED GEAR
PORTER: O’SO – NITE TRAIN
STOUT: HOUSE OF BREWS – SNUG OATMEAL STOUT
IMPERIAL STOUT: SPRECHER – RUSSIAN IMPERIAL
LAGER: LAKEFRONT – HOLIDAY SPICE
FRUIT BEER: VINTAGE – RASPBERRY HIBISCUS SAISON
Probably about seven years ago or so, my cousin Josh and I went on a tour at the Sprecher Brewery because I was writing a story for the Milwaukee Alcoholmanac…and because we both really like beer. At the end of the tour, Josh asked the tour guide if they ever thought about making a fermented version of their world famous Root Beer. He didn’t answer the question. What he did do was go down to the basement soon returning with a keg of something labeled XX.
Sure enough, Sprecher had been experimenting with the fermented root beer for some time and would occasionally have it on tap in their tasting room. We were impressed by the brew and it went to the back of my mind until Josh posted this link on Facebook today:
Sure enough, after all these years they have finally decided to package and market what they are calling Hard Root Beer, but what to me will always be the basement secret known as the XX. The Baraboo News Republic article quotes Sprecher president Jeff Hamilton as saying “We are being very cautious to make sure that there is a distinction between our regular root beer and this rather adult version,” he said. “We’ve made sure the bottle looks completely different than our root beer bottle. It’s a different size, and the labels look different.”
I am not normally a fan of sweet malt beverages–girly drinks if you will–but I really remember this one being good and I will certainly be reviewing it for Brewsconsin as soon as it becomes available here in Madison, WI. Thanks to Sprecher for always making good beer and for being the first brewery I remember touring as a kid. Apparently my Cub Scout Leader didn’t realize Sprecher made regular beer in addition to their famous root beer and took about six of us seven-year-olds to tour the brewery back in 1990. To this day, it is the only brewery I have toured in both its past and present locations.