Thursday, June 26, 2014

Small Breweries with Big Flavors

The term “small brewery” gets tossed around a lot these days. It has come to mean almost nothing. Is New Glarus Brewing, which produces more than 125,000 barrels of beer a year, a small brewery? It is when you compare it to the Miller beer factory in Milwaukee where they produce more than 9 million barrels annually. But if you tour the brewery in New Glarus you’re not going to come away from it saying, “My, what a small brewery.” It’s a big brewery.

Well, here are a couple of breweries you can describe as small without having to qualify a damned thing. Door County Brewing and Black Husky Brewing are two truly small Wisconsin breweries making excellent beer.  Luckily we’re able to get some of that beer here in Oshkosh. Let’s taste some of it...

Polka King Porter from Door County Brewing
Door County Brewing was launched last year by John McMahon and his sons, Ben and Danny. They started without a brewery of their own and have been making beer on contract at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls. Earlier this year, they opened their own facility in Bailey's Harbor. There they’ll produce small-batch and seasonal brews while continuing to make their year-round releases in Black River Falls.

Polka King Porter is available year-round and it’s about as good as a brown porter gets. There’s a whiff of chocolate and carmel malt in the aroma with a healthy note of roast tagging along. The mouthfeel is big and round. Porters are all about darker malt flavors and this beer brings plenty of that. Toffee, chocolate, coffee and roast... just what you’re looking for in a dark, hearty ale. The beer finishes with a clean bitterness that makes everything gel. There’s a reason porters have endured for over 400 years. Polka King is a dead ringer for the style and one of the best American-brewed traditional porters I’ve tasted. Polka King is available at Festival Foods in Oshkosh where a 6-pack of it sells for $8.49.

Howler Imperial Pale Ale from Black Husky Brewing
Black Husky was launched in 2010 by husband and wife Tim and Toni Eichinger. Located in Pembine, WI – pop. 1,739 – their brewery is housed within a 400-square-foot cabin in the woods. They produce less than 200 barrels of beer a year with the bulk of it going to Milwaukee. The brewery self-distributes and we’ve been getting a good taste of their stuff recently thanks to Adam Carlson at Gardina’s whose been bringing in their beer on draught and in bottles.

This beer hit the shelf at Gardina’s just last week in hand-numbered bottles. It’s part of the brewery’s “Howler E Series” brewed with Equinox hops, a new hop breed getting a lot of love for it’s juicy, fruit flavors and aroma. You can’t miss that in the aroma of this beer. It gives up a plume of citrus fruit tucked into a pie-crust like malt aroma. This beer is big. There’s no ABV listed on the label, but it has to be in the vicinity of 10%. The flavors come at you in a rush. The hops are prominent with an herbal, minty flavor that’s unique to say the least. Their bitterness builds slowly thanks to the beautifully thick malt flavor that kept reminding me of German honey cookies. The flavors linger in the mouth forever with the malt sweetness eventually being undone by the hop bitterness. This is a substantial beer; one you should make an effort to try if bold, hoppy beers are your thing. Gardina’s is selling Howler Imperial Pale Ale in 22 oz. bombers in the packaged beer section for $9.99. It’s worth every penny.

Great beers from actual small breweries. This is what it’s all about, folks. Do yourself a favor and enjoy some small-brewery beer this weekend.

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