Kentucky Breakfast Stout is Here!!

It’s that time again so get it while you can! That is right, one of the hottest annual releases, Founder’s KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout), is here again.

This beer is so hot that you actually have to ask for it Woodman’s. They won’t even put it on the shelf with the other beers.

So why is this beer so great, I mean, besides the great taste?

The KBS is an Imperial Breakfast Stout brewed with coffee, vanilla, and aged in used bourbon barrels. Contrary to rumors, this beer is not merely Founder’s Breakfast Stout aged in oak.

The Breakfast Stout is also an Imperial Stout, but brewed with coffee, chocolate, and oatmeal and is 8.3% ABV compared to the KBS’s 11.2%.

While both beers are great to the pallet of an Imperial Stout lover, the KBS has a denser body, fuller roasted flavor, and it has many bourbon, vanilla and oak notes which do not exist in the original Breakfast Stout.

The quality of this brew is reason enough that you should go out and get it while you can…if you still can. This beer will be sold out soon so don’t hesitate to get to the store.

Capital Supper Club

When I talked to Capital Brewery president Carl Nolen for my quarterly piece about beer in the Madison area for “Suds, Wine and Spirits”, he told me that he was really excited for the beer that we Madisonians are now seeing on billboards around town: Capital Supper Club.

Nolen told me that the beer was the most popular in their beer garden during the trial run and that he expected it to do well once it went to bottles. The rumor in the beer community is that Nolen expects the beer to surpass Capital Amber, the brewery’s flagship beer.

Why is the Supper Club so popular one might ask? Well, probably because it is the most popular style of beer in America, an American Lager.

To me this beer is just another version of Miller Genuine Draft or Pabst. The beer even follows the American tradition of using corn to get cheap sugars instead of sticking to the Reinheitsgebot (German Purity Law).

I will not tell you whether or not to like this beer because it is not my favorite style. In fact, many people will love that they can enjoy a craft-brewed version of cheap American beer while living the “Supper Club” lifestyle Capital Brewery wants them to.

To each their own. If this beer truly surpasses the popular Capital Amber my hats go off both to the marketing team and to the folks willing to step up their beer-game…even if in appearance and price only.

Imperial Beers

Did you ever wonder the difference between an IPA and an Imperial IPA? A Stout and an Imperial Stout? A Pilsner and an Imperial Pilsner?

Well, a long time ago there were not so many varieties of Imperial Beers, in fact I think I recall in my lifetime Russian Imperial Stout being the only one. The Russian Imperial Stout was a darker, stronger version of the Stout that the English created as Porter and the Irish copied as Stout. The idea behind the Russian Imperial Stout is similar to the reason the IPA was developed: Beers exported on a long journey to Russia would spoil before the made the long journey to Russia so brewers brewed them to higher alcohol and hop levels (both acting to preserve the beer).

Since then, American brewers have hijacked the idea and seem to be making “Imperial Just-About-Anything.” Why you might ask? We aren’t in Russia. American brewers live up to the American stereotype of doing everything bigger and (to some folks) better.

Here is how it generally works, though there is no real formula. If one wants to make an Imperial IPA, they merely take the recipe for a standard IPA, add a good percentage (30 per say) more Pale Malt (base grain) and more hops to balance the inherent sweetness that comes with adding more sugars. Now instead of a 7% ABV/60 IBU (International Bittering Units) you might end up with a 10% ABV/ 90 IBU IPA (and if you do this give me a call…I love beer that goes too far).

So the basic understanding one must have when buying an Imperial Beer is: First, do you like the base style of the beer? And second, would you still like it if it had twice the flavor and more alcohol than the base beer? If so, give one a whirl. I love them. Just remember these are not your corn-substituted, dorm-room, watered-down, beer-bong beers. These are sipping beers, take it easy.

Lakefront Brewery–Come for the Tour, Stay for the Beer

While touring all of Milwaukee’s breweries a few years ago for a story I was writing, I noticed that one of them stood far above the others. The Lakefront Brewery is renowned for its above-average/borderline outstanding tour.

What differentiates the tour from all others one might ask? I think the first and most important factor is that the tour is merely $7 and gives each patron four refills, a free souvenir pint glass featuring one of the Lakefront beers’ logos, and a coupon for a free Lakefront beer at a local establishment later that day. One would be lucky to order two beers (even of lower quality) for such a low price anywhere in town, plus they would miss out on the education.

The tour starts with its most important distinguishing factor: Everyone is allowed to fill their glass of beer and take it with them on the tour. Following the fill-ups, a knowledgeable brewery employee will take everyone to the brewing floor of the actual brewery. Once on the brewing floor, patrons are entertained by a physical slide show (cardboard graphics) and a detailed description of how Lakefront makes beer and why they make it that way.

The tour then takes a break for participants to refill their glasses at a mid-brewery portable tapper station. After the glasses are filled everyone learns about kegging and bottling at Lakefront and the tour is capped by a group sing-along of the Laverne and Shirley theme song celebrating the beer that made Milwaukee famous.

The now brew-knowledge-enriched patrons are then invited to enjoy the remainder of their refills in the upstairs beer garden/hall and enjoy free pretzels. While other tours might have fancy presentations or educational tours followed by good beers, Lakefront combines all of these elements which leaves one with a personal satisfaction found in no other tour I have visited thus far (and I get around). Lakefront Brewery Tours, I salute you.

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New Glarus-Most Versatile Brewery in Wisconsin?

While I think most of the breweries in Wisconsin do an excellent job making quality beer, I would have to make the argument that New Glarus Brewery is the most versatile of the group.

To start with, New Glarus brews a wide variety of beers covering almost every style imaginable including some they might have invented. In addition to their delicious Cracked Wheat, they also have a Black Wheat beer, something consumers won’t find at most breweries. Another interesting and unique beer New Glarus brews is its Apple Ale which utilizes real Wisconsin apples.

While New Glarus presents a wide variety of beers keeping consumers who like to try new beers from getting bored, they also have a beer for those who don’t like trying new beers. Spotted Cow is one of, if not the most popular, micro-beers made in Wisconsin. This Cream Ale is the beer which many macro-beer loyalists seem to enjoy. In fact, it is the first micro-beer my mom would drink after years as a Miller drinker. She has since graduated to drinking Harp lager and there is hopes within the family that someday she will continue to branch further and perhaps even partake in a future family beer tasting. I give most of the credit to New Glarus for providing her a gateway to the world of beer through Spotted Cow.

As I have said, New Glarus has a beer for those looking to try something new and a beer for those who have been unwilling to enjoy something new…but what about me? Sure I enjoy New Glarus’ variety, but as a self-proclaimed beer geek, I am always looking for something that pushed the envelope.

The final piece (and big gun) of New Glarus’ versatile arsenal of brews is their Unplugged Series. Unlike the concert series which bears the same name, the Unplugged Series is more intense and in-fact louder than other beers.

The Iced Barleywine take the Barleywine style which is already extreme and freezes out some of the water thus concentrating the flavor and alcohol content. The Imperial Weizen (one of my favorite beers of all time) takes the traditional German Weizen style over the top with way more ingredients than a standard batch of Weizen and then dry-hops the traditionally under-hopped style with American Cascade hops. If they ever make this one again it is well worth a taste…that is, if I do not buy it all first.

As I hope I was able to demonstrate, New Glarus has something for everyone who enjoys beer. While the micro-breweries in Wisconsin all have their strong points, versatility is clearly New Glarus’ strong point.

Beer Festivals

For those interested in trying a vast variety of beers in a short amount of time beer festivals are probably just what you are looking for. With the Milwaukee Museum’s Food and Froth festival in our rear-view mirror folks who are interested in attending similar summer festivals need to start signing up soon.

One of the most difficult tickets to get one’s hands on is traditionally the Great Taste of the Midwest here in Madison, Wisconsin. Tickets for the August event go on sale May 2nd and will likely be available until a little later in the day on May 2nd. When August rolls around it may be too late to get anything other than an overpriced scalped ticket for the event.

Another thing one needs to take into consideration at their first festival is responsible consumption. Chances are you will be presented with more than one hundred beers to sample. One can not realistically sample every beer responsibly so choosing the styles of beer one likes and breweries one wants to hit ahead of time is a good idea. Also, requesting smaller pours is reasonable if you are planning on trying a greater number of beers.

Regardless of one’s drinking habits, it is almost always a good idea to find alternative transportation home. So many people underestimate the total amount of beer consumed from the small sample glass and still others feel the need to drink $50 worth of beer considering that is the cost of many of these festivals.

Just remember to keep safe, have a plan of action, and enjoy all the good beers being offered.

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Homebrewing

While I usually spend my time rambling about the latest and greatest beer on the market and how it got to be that way, I think it is about time for me to talk about the thousands of folks who brew beer for themselves.

Publicly, there does not seem to be much talk about homebrewing, but there are actually communities of homebrewers everywhere in the country who are eager and willing for you to try their beers and to tell you what you think of them.

Homebrewing was re-legalized by Jimmy Carter in 1979 and has grown exponentially since that time. Increasingly a wider variety of information, tools, and ingredients have been made available to the general public and it is no coincidence that the insurgence and success of microbreweries in the 1990’s is related to and has inspired homebrewers across the nation.

Homebrewing is safe, legal, and for many people done right in their own kitchens, garages or basements. If you have ever thought about starting to brew your own beer, plenty of information can be found online, at homebrewing shops, or at local homebrewing clubs (your home town likely has one). I am not intentionally trying to encourage folks to go out an make their own beer, but I feel like the general public may be highly unaware of the ease at which one can begin brewing and of the abundance of homebrewers living amongst them.

For those who want more out of beer than settling for what breweries are offering, this might be the means for you to control your beer destiny.