My First-ever Beer-industry Publication

Entrepreneurship, Food and Drink, Media, Wisconsin, Writing

screenshot - chocolate chili stouts

Big announcement. Da, da, DAAAAHHH!

I’ve recently published my first-ever piece of actual beer-industry writing. Please go have look!

Totally excited about Mobcraft, a real up-and-coming, two-year Madison brewery, ready to break ground on their $2 million facility.

I’ll be freelance blogging for them. This first post of mine is an article on chocolate chili pepper stouts, in advance of their newly-bottled beer No Stout About It.

My next piece for them will come out in the coming days. Stay tuned . . .

Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry — Japanese Style

Food and Drink
The Spot cobia2

Seared cobia and a snifter of Louie’s Reserve Imperial Scotch Ale

(Before I start, I should mention this isn’t a fried fish review.)

Lately, the Friday fish fry menu has been the draw for us at The Spot. While I enjoyed the fried walleye last week and the grilled salmon the week before that, tonight the seared cobia gets my vote.

Cobia is a firm, fairly fatty, flavorful white fish. The Spot flash sears it: the skin side comes crispy, the meat side, bronzed, and the core, wonderfully raw.

Think sashimi, but add carmelized fat (if you eat the skin) and a more succulent lusciousness. Searing collects the juices and drives them inward, concentrating the moisture and fat to boost the flavor into the realm of the highest-quality toro. The Japanese call seared fish or meat tataki. But rather than pounded flat or sliced thin as in tataki, the Spot’s seared cobia is an inch-and-a-half thick.

What a surprisingly adventurous dish for such a straight-ahead, casual restaurant. Anyone squeamish of sashimi or tartare might want the grilled salmon or fried walleye, instead. But I’m sure the palates of Madison’s Near Eastsiders will take to it, no problem.

I’m not used to any sauce on a seared piece of fish. But the chef adds TWO: a) a pesto cream, which seems a 21st Century update of the traditional mustard-mayo on tuna carpaccio — perfect for this mostly raw fish; and, b) a balsamic reduction. But, wait! There’s more. The fish floats atop a fluffy cloud of Parmesan risotto. Sound like an overwrought train wreck? Nope. It’s an ingenious amalgam of surprising textures and flavors that scores brilliantly. The sweet/tart drizzle of the balsamic reduction weds the rich sauce to the fatty fish perfectly. And the humble Parmesan risotto, which rivals the best I’ve had anywhere, causes no confusion with its only moderately-rich, mildly salty cheesiness. (I actually don’t love the Vegetable Quinoa Risotto elsewhere on the menu.)

Just a side note: at first blush the piece of fish seems small. But one feels that mild disappointment only relative to the portions of restaurants charging twice the price of this dish. There may not be a lot to take home in a doggy bag. But with the risotto and the nice pile of broccoli, it’s plenty substantial, especially at just $17. I actually do have some left over and look forward to my midnight snack.

We then totally enjoy dessert: a savory, pumpkin cheesecake. The muted sweetness of the filling leaves the pumpkin really prominent. The dish gets its sweetness instead from candied pepitas (so flavorful and chewy, they’re clearly fresh-roasted) and a dollop of sugary fresh cream. The bartender tells us the pastry chef is formerly of the fancier restaurants Harvest and Graze.

When we first started eating at The Spot, I was addicted to the burgers. I’ve tried all three of the burgers on the menu and would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. They’re all half-pound (I think) patties, grilled to order on a beautiful roll, with a side of wilted mustard greens (or any side dish). $8 for the basic burger, including the side dish? No wonder I was addicted.

I have tried the pork tenderloin and the sirloin steak. But I return again and again to the fish. I love the salmon from the regular menu. And another standout special has been the escolar.

Fish. That’s the chef’s strong suit.

Check out their menu, here.

Eww: the Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bar

Food and Drink, Health

strawberry shortcake

Although I enjoy the cattiness of a scathing New Yorker film review, I myself take no pleasure in calling out bad products on my blog. I generally skip yucky beers or boring sitcoms, choosing to write about things I want to share with others. (My review of cycling rain jackets is a rare exception.) Chalk it up to temperament, I guess.

In this case I’m compelled to warn others away from this quote-unquote “ice cream” bar.

Either the quality of this product has eroded over the past 38 years, or my taste sure has changed since I was eight years old. (It’s probably not an either/or scenario!) Walking home from our neighborhood beer bar last night, I had the munchies and bought one of these babies in a corner store. “Cake-coated vanilla ice cream, with a strawberry flavored center.” That’s how Good Humor describes it on their site. That, and a prolix list of mostly chemical ingredients. The nutrition app Fooducate describes it differently:

“D+ much worse than average.”

good humor Strawberry shortcake D+

That’s about right.

At eight years old, however, I was addicted to them. The Strawberry Shortcake bar led me down the path to my first real scolding from my parents. That summer my family had just joined a country club, whose swimming pool snack bar inexplicably allowed second graders to sign the tab for hot dogs, sodas, and ice cream on a stick.

For four weeks, before my parents would get the first monthly snack bar bill, I ate five or six of them a day. Often, more. The snack bar was like a narcotics sting operation, with a detective undercover behind the counter in an apron and hair net, enticing addicts to come and get it. Technically that would be entrapment–inducing my brother and me into downing hundreds of dollars’ worth of sugary things we wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

The mid-1970s was a hard time for the fifty-year-old Good Humor brand, what with upstart competitors like Mister Softee and the health food craze that spawned frozen yogurt. Could country club snack bars have been a ploy to boost Good Humor sales? The company certainly could no longer ride the coattails of their genius, mid-century, sleeper PR campaigns. Ever heard the urban legend of the hero Good Humor man who rushed a pregnant woman to the hospital in his jingly ice cream truck? I sure had.

At the end of the month when the jig was up, my parents gave me a strong talking to, disappointed I didn’t have better sense. But could I be blamed? Was it not an insane setup:  that hundreds of dollars’ worth of ice cream could be purchased and consumed in a single month by an eight-year-old and his little brother?

[image credit:  Nestle (drumstick.com)]

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Food and Drink

Kidney_beans - photo by Sanjay Acharya

My biggest cooking frustration? Waking in the morning to assemble ingredients for the slow cooker, only to find I’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight.

No problem, Plan B is always the “quick soak,” i.e., boiling the beans for five minutes then covering and leaving to soak for an hour. That is, if you have an hour to spare before leaving for work.

Turns out, there’s no reason to soak beans, at all. Or at least that’s what food editor Russ Parsons contends in a recent LA Times piece. In it Parsons surveys the history of the soaking question, talks with food writers on both sides of the aisle, attempts to put the question to bed with science, and crows that he’s been anti-soak for decades. The article even looks at the question of beans and flatulence!

“That’s wrong,” says my wife, when she asks me about the bag of unsoaked beans among the rest of my ingredients. She recites the main reasons an overnight soak is necessary: cook time, tenderness vs. mushiness, flavor, and, yes, reduced flatulence. I’m not surprised by her recalcitrance in the face of legume reform. Every bit of advice I’ve ever seen, heard, or read sides with my wife.

Yet, here’s Parsons from the LA Times article.

Letting dried beans sit overnight in a bowl of cold water does nothing to improve their flavor or their texture. In fact, it does quite the opposite. . . . Finally, soaking does absolutely nothing to reduce the gas producing properties of beans.

We shall see. I’m dumping the bag of unsoaked pinto beans into my Crockpot, now . . .

Bean Soup with Tamarind and Ginger (7-qt. slow cooker)

1 lbs. dried  pinto beans

0.5 lbs. ham hocks

2 lbs. chicken drums

5-inch piece fresh ginger sliced

1 can tomato, diced 24-oz.

3 med onion, cut in 1/8th’s

6 dried red chile peppers

5 tablespoons tamarind soup base

7 cups stock + 2 cups water

12 cloves garlic, sliced

1 bunch kale or collards

Directions for SEVEN QUART Slow Cooker:

Wash and sort beans.

Place all ingredients (except for greens) into slow cooker.

Switch slow cooker to high until simmering.

Switch to low.

Cut greens into 2-in. strips and add 10 – 20 min. before serving.

Exciting New Anime: Knights of Sidonia

Media

Knights of Sidonia lifeboat pod

No matter how much I like an anime series, I hesitate to make blanket recommendations. I’d hate for my writing to entice someone to watch anime for the first time and have them come away thinking I have terrible taste in TV. See, there’s a learning curve to watching anime. (The giant anime sweat drop? It means he’s embarrassed.) Without “anime literacy” an anime newbie can watch even the best series and think it’s silly, or worse, a product for children. Knights of Sidonia is definitely not for children.

Also, even the best anime suffers from radical swings in quality over the course of a long season. Think of Joss Whedon TV shows—Buffy, Dollhouse, Firefly. We love them for their high highs, despite the admittedly horrid lows.

That said, Knights of Sidonia (KOS), a recent Netflix Original Series, is some of the most thrilling military science fiction I’ve seen in a long time. It’s certainly not without its shortcomings. Its relationship drama doesn’t succeed the way the military aspect does; the several love-triangles and the central rivalry between the hero and his nemesis are so thinly drawn as to feel tacked on. Yet the stunning battle scenes–the eye-popping visions of sci-fi adventure futurism–make the series more than worth one’s while.

Although I don’t have time to review KOS in full, here, I’ll drop a few observations.

1) How to Repopulate the Human Race

The show’s renderings of deep-space survival create an intriguingly realized future. Sidonia is a “seed ship.” It’s a Battlestar Galactica setup. When the earth was overrun by aliens, the last survivors escaped on Sidonia and survived seven centuries drifting about the galaxy. How did the seed ship repopulate the human race? Successful cloning explains all the look-alike characters in the cast. Others form a “third gender,” changing sexes depending on available partners. Apparently there are limits to seeding “success”: Sidonia holds regular mass funerals for compulsory deaths to keep its fragile ecosystem in check. An “organic converter reactor” processes all the bodies and human excrement for fuel that powers Sidonia.

2) Hillarious Site Gags

KOS re-imagines space travel in (ahem) compelling detail, like the skin-suit catheter (see image). Not only is the catheter necessary for spending many hours (or even days) in the tiny cockpit of a giant robot, the skin suit also filters urine for drinking water.

In one quiet scene our hero averts his gaze to leave his co-pilot her privacy while she photosynthesizes. (Yes, in the future we will only eat once a week because, via genetic modification, we will all photosynthesize.) But because they’re in the glass-bubble cockpit, he can’t escape her nude reflection. Hence, he doubles over in discomfort at the emergence of his catheterized erection!

3) Space Opera!

The space opera (i.e., soap opera in space) elements are by turns wonderful and awful. In quieter moments, the romance between the hero and his love interest can be quite affecting, like when the two are stranded in deep space together, trying not to freak out in the face of dwindling food and water rations.

Sadly, the show’s fan service tends towards the sleazy: untold millions were spent to animate the zero-gravity jiggling of curvy female figures in skin-tight space suits.

4) Warning:  It Goes Fast

That the script doesn’t wait for slower viewers can be a bit frustrating at times. Like any good cyberpunk fiction, KOS respects the intelligence of its audience, rarely overexplaining its backstory and future-tech. The show assumes fans will take multiple passes by hitting rewind or will binge-watch the whole season again later, anyway.

For instance, there appears to be a blunder of failed script-supervisor continuity when we watch a pilot eject from her exploding robot in only her space suit. But in the next scene we see her floating in a spherical, escape-pod lifeboat (see image at very top of this post).

Where’d that come from? Turns out the escape pod is stored in each pilot’s backpack, in some futuristic wonder of nanotechnology. Very cool. I definitely missed it the first time around.

KOS escape pod A-0

KOS escape pod A

KOS escape pod B

KOS escape pod C

5) The Good with the Bad

It’s a shame the first half of Episode 5 gives us one of the most exciting battle scenes ever filmed, a thrill negated by the episode’s second half: an overlong, ham-fisted delivery of backstory, all in unnecessary and terribly written dialogue. When Captain Kobayashi argues with Dorm Mother Lala, she reminds her of a factoid neither could have possibly forgotten: “We’re the last two surviving members of the first strike team in human history to have destroyed a gauna, 600 years ago.” Ugh.

I guess it’s no worse than Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead talking out loud to God, the empty chapel amplifying his cartoonish Southern accent.

6) Coincidence or Cosmic Convergence?

Though spelled differently, the series shares its title with the Muse album “Knights of Cydonia.” Coincidence or cosmic convergence? Judge for yourself by watching the hilarious, sci-fi/kung-fu/spaghetti Western mashup video of Muse’s song on YouTube:

Beer Roundup #10: Three Coffee Stouts

Food and Drink

Lagunitas Cappucino Stout coffee beer

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average
3.5 = good (many better beers out there; won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

 

A Note on the Style:  Coffee Stout

Coffee Stout is actually not a style you find described in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program).  A coffee stout is essentially an American stout in which the brewer has added coffee beans or grounds to the boiling wort.  The result is generally a beer of middling alcohol content (say, 5% – 7% ABV), low to middling hop bitterness (30 – 60 IBU), and a pronounced roasted coffee flavor.

Cappuccino Stout, Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.2 / 5
22 oz. bottle, 9.2% ABV, 82 IBU.

This is a double stout, by the way.  The other two beers in this roundup are regular stouts.

A nice looking pour from a bomber into a tulip glass. Somewhat thin-looking, black, to be sure, with a smallish head, and very sticky lacing.

Perhaps this bottle hasn’t benefited from sitting in my cellar for five months. The coffee aroma seems muted.  A lactose smoothness in the nose makes the coffee-and-cream character astonishingly accurate.  (Pretty sure this was not brewed with any lactose, though, so technically it’s not a “sweet stout” or “milk stout.”)  There’s some vanilla, biscuit, unsweetened cocoa, and a grassy bitterness that must be hops.

Coffee flavor in the mouth is highly bitter, a mouth-puckering acid disrupted some by a milky sweetness that renders the burnt flavor a semisweet chocolate. The vanilla comes forward, with lots of dark chocolate and a subtle buttery caramel. Finish dries out a bit . . . No. Scratch that. The finish is pretty dang sweet. Yes, it’s black coffee and sugar.

If not for being a bit watery in body, the lactose-seeming creaminess makes the “capuccino” element awesomely spot-on.

I used to be in love with this beer. I’m wondering, it should be noted, if five months sitting has hurt this beer. I’ll have to wait ’til next year to see if a fresh specimen recaptures that old magic.

Jingle Java, Bent River Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.55 / 5
12-oz. bottle, 6.5% ABV, 29 IBU.

How lucky to have found this winter holiday beer still lingering in the singles cooler of my neighborhood bottle shop.  It’s fabulous.

This is the most stunning coffee flavor I’ve ever had in a beer. It really is an iced-Americano, with carbonation. The aroma is pure cold coffee with milk.

Flavor in the mouth is uncannily straight-up fresh-brewed iced coffee. There’s a tart, tinny hop bitterness that tries to remind one this is beer. But the aggressive French-roast flavor resists such a notion. There’s a nice sweet vanilla in the background that helps a milk chocolate undercurrent emerge from the dark depths.

Best coffee stout I’ve ever had. Blows doors on New Glarus Coffee Stout. While there are better coffee-infused stouts of imperial strength (Central Waters Brewhouse, 8.2%; Southern Tier Mokah, 10%), Jingle Java beats anything in the 6% – 7% alcohol range.

I wonder how much the low bitterness (29 IBU) plays a part in this brew’s success?

Java Lava, Pearl Street Brewing Company
Rating:  3.9 / 5
12 oz. bottle, 6.0% ABV, ? IBU

Wow, a third really good coffee stout in one night. USA! USA!

Earlier I had Jingle Java, by Bent River, out of Rock Island, Illinois. I’ve heard Bent River has an amazing imperial stout festival. The Jingle Java was actually a cut above this one, but this is still rather decent.

It’s not over the top amazing, like the Jingle Java. But this beer has an excellent demitasse essence.   Great creamy mouthfeel, despite the high carbonation.

Hmm.  As the level in my glass recedes, I see it’s actually nowhere near as good as the Jingle Java.  But it’s a solid brew.

Beer Roundup #9: Three Double IPA’s

Food and Drink

Hop Juice

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average
3.5 = good (many better beers out there; won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

A Note on the Style:  Double IPA, Imperial IPA

Imperial IPA, a.k.a. Double IPA.  A friend of mine recently asked about the terminology.  Rather than referring to an increase of ingredients or the number of fermentation stages, “double IPA” is a nickname for “imperial IPA” (from the acronym “IIPA”).

Hop Juice, Left Coast Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.14 / 5
12 oz. bottle (4-pk), 9.7% abv, 82 IBU.

From a bottle into a tulip, it pours a hazy amber, with very little head, but prodigious lacing.

Remarkably reserved, semisweet aroma. A pleasing herbal and earthy hop aroma. Some barely perceptible Wonder bread in the background, though one must strain to detect the mere whiff of grain.

In the mouth it’s an interesting sub-piney bitterness.  No, wait, I’ve got it:  it’s cold sake!  Very bitter on the backend.  Balance comes from a neutral (not sweet) maltiness. No, scratch that.  As it warms, there’s a serious candy sugar sweetness. Deep hop flavors dominate, spurred on by a sharp alcohol twang.

Medium-bodied, almost chewy. Well-carbonated, with a slippery alcohol warmth.

A very good double IPA, though not as malty as I like them. It supplies a nice sweetness, but it’s missing something. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Nevertheless, I think I’ll be buying one more 4-pack (though none for the cellar).

Palate Wrecker, Left Coast Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.18/5
12-oz. bottle (4-pk), 9.5% abv, 100+ IBU.

Wow, what a great smelling beer.  Its claim to fame is its aggressive hop bitterness.  But the sweet aroma is my favorite feature of this brew.

It’s an awfully handsome, clear golden pour into a tulip, with a big cottony head that sticks around.

The aroma really distinguishes this brew. Sweet, juicy fruits galore: red grapefruit, pineapple, and finally sweet tangerine. Perhaps a honey/floral tea character.

In the mouth, the early sweetness is all fruit juice. Yum.  The hops come on as a salty, white grapefruit bitterness. There’s almost no malt sweetness; the sweetness is fruit, only. Not candied fruit, just ripe, juicy, sweet citrus. Once it’s down the gullet, the aftertaste turns sharply bitter, as if smearing the the throat with white grapefruit rind. That hurts this beer.

Great medium-bodied richness. The high carbonation is a welcome cleanser.

Heelch O’Hops, Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Rating:  3.95 / 5
12 oz. bottle (4-pk), 8.7% abv, 100 IBU

This brew was featured in a Draft Magazine article that had everyone talking, “Three Imperial IPA’s That Rival Heady, Pliny.”  The title truncates the full names of the two beers roundly considered among the best double IPA’s, “Heady Topper” and “Pliny the Elder.”  Those two are also among the most difficult to find beers in the US.,  which is why people are always looking for close substitutes.

Heelch O’Hops ought not to have been included in that article.  (The other two beers featured:  Doozy by Mother’s Brewing and Hopothermia by Alaskan Brewing.)  Heelch O’Hops is certainly not bad.  It’s just not anywhere near the vicinity of elite class brews.

It pours a finger of white head atop a thin, clear, yellow liquid. The foam leaves lacing stuck hard.

A disappointingly subdued, peppery aroma of shy hops. No detectable malt presence in the nose.

The flavor is also disappointing in the mouth. Where’s the malt, the sweet, or the bread that I want in a IIPA? The hop character gives grapefruit pith, rather than sweet orange or tropical fruit. An astringent pine on the back end forces one to take this brew seriously.  It’s that bitter.   Finishes bitter-dry.

Thin body, with moderate to high carbonation.

A quality brew, to be sure, but disappointing that it’s merely an IPA on steroids:  it’s got none of the malt balance or bigger body or sweet fruit of the double IPA’s I love, such as Hopslam, Chillwave, Hi Res, or Double Crooked Tree. Especially disappointing at $12.00 / 4-pack.

Easton Bell Sports: Now That’s Customer Service

Entrepreneurship, Health

Easton Bell $0.00 highlighted

Just wanted to send out some well-deserved praise for a company with excellent customer service.

Last December I damaged my Giro snowboard helmet.  I bent the metal snap of the goggle strap on the rear of the helmet.  (I mean the strap at the rear that clamps down over the strap of ski goggles).  After unsnapping the strap to remove my goggles, I found I could no longer close the snap.

I use this snowboard helmet for winter cycling.  As I don’t have a car, I need it on a daily basis.  This was an especially cold winter here in Madison.  I generally switch from wraparound glasses to ski goggles below 15°F.  While I don’t use goggles everyday, this is Wisconsin!

So, I emailed Giro, asking where I could buy the replacement parts.  I wasn’t optimistic.  In this age of disposable products and terrible customer service (I’m looking at you, AT&T, major airlines, Chase Bank, etc.), I half-expected to be told there are no replacement parts, if I were to be answered, at all.

They actually got back to me the very next day.  It was Customer Service Rep Amber Thomas, from Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Giro.  She said she would put the replacement strap in the mail, and I should receive it by the end of the week.  Sure enough, the strap arrived two days later.  I was thrilled to be able to use my goggles the rest of the season, without having to buy a brand new helmet.

(For those of you who say you don’t need the helmet strap to use goggles:  while running errands around town on my bike, I’m constantly removing my goggles and putting them back on.  This is much, much simpler to do with your helmet’s goggle strap latched to your goggles, as if the goggles were an integrated part of your helmet.)

When I wrote Amber back expressing my gratitude, she replied, “We just want you to have a fully functioning helmet.”

What you’re looking at in the image above is the packing list that arrived with the replacement parts.  Notice the figures listed in the “price” columns.  That’s right, “$0.00”

But, wait.  There’s more.

Several years back, I had a great little micro-light for the top of my skating helmet.  This was back in Houston, where the heat and humidity made Rollerblading at night the natural choice.  You need a light to skate at night, obviously.  Some of you may know this micro-light I’m referring to, called The Flea, by Blackburn.  They still make the Flea, but back then the Flea charged off of any battery via a little charging device.  My charger had a wire break loose.  I emailed Blackburn about it.  Same as with my helmet, Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Blackburn, sent me a replacement charger at no cost.

We’re talking a company with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.  So how do they succeed while giving away equipment at no charge?  By making lifelong customers like me.  That’s how.

Just FYI, after selling one of its several manufacturing divisions, the company has recently rebranded itself as BRG Sports.

Beer Roundup #8: Three American Barleywines

Food and Drink

Old Horizontal - Victory

To Buy or Not to Buy?

1 = horrible
2 = bad
3 = average
3.5 = good (many better beers out there; won’t buy this again)
4 = very good
4.5 = great
5 = rare best

 

A Note on the Style:  American Barleywine

(This style note is essentially the same as the one from my post “Beer Roundup #7:  Three Midwest English Barleywines.”)

American breweries produce both types of barleywine, the malty “English” style and the hoppy “American” style.  As I’m more of a malt guy, I prefer the sweeter English style.  The hoppy American style comes with hop bitterness to rival even the most mouth-puckering IPA.    All barleywines have a stiff malt backbone and generous sweetness, but the hop-forward American-style is often so bitter as to be indistinguishable from a high-alcohol double IPA.  Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are double IPA’s; I love me a double IPA when it’s got intense sweetness to offset the high IBU, like Bell’s Hopslam, Dogfish Head 120 Minute, or Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree.  Same with American barleywines:  as long as it’s both bitter and sweet, it’s got my attention.

Bigfoot, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Rating:  4.39 / 5
12 oz. bottle (4-pk), 10.2% abv, 73 IBU.

A glinting copper pour into a tulip glass, with an inch of off-white fluffy head that plasters lace on the glass.

The syrupy viscous feel in the mouth is too wonderful not to mention first. The first sip comes with a short-lived sugar sweetness. Then bitter grapefruit renders the sugar a memory. The citrus morphs to tarry pine. Whoa, this brew is too bitter. I immediately want to throw this in the cellar to teach it some manners.  That said, there is a secondary sweetness that calls out from the bitter abyss, alluding to a caramel malt sweetness that’s promised with a year or two of cellar aging. But the spicy alcohol heat teams up with the bitter hops to silence such rumors.

Stepping back to take in the aroma, a pungent honey and ripe melon seem to confirm the ghost of the sweetness. As the glass warms, the bloated bitterness deflates a bit, and a moist, grainy bread emerges, allowing that original simple syrup sugar to creep back into the room.

Rough-edged and impressively huge, like Greenflash Barleywine, this brew lacks the balance and polish of my favorite American barley wines:  Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale and Alaskan Barley Wine.

Beer Line, Lakefront Brewery
Rating:  3.96/5
12-oz. bottle (4-pk), 12.5% abv, 52 IBU.

Sticky, two-finger creamy head and lacing. Rouge-brown amber fluid.

My least favorite beer aroma hits the nose first:  leather. Milky rice pudding and wonder bread make up the malt bill. Brown sugar and vanilla, plus a mild booziness.  Very little hop bitterness in the aroma.

In the mouth the leather greets the palate, first, unfortunately. There’s a waterlogged driftwood that seems wedded to a chocolate-toffee sweetness and a nice estery burn.  Finishes with a loamy top-soil earthiness and a floral bitterness.

Medium- to full-bodied. Creamy and slick, a sticky, bitter finish.

This afternoon I was overly impulsive, buying two 4-packs of this brew.  Perhaps my judgment was clouded by the joyous memory of two recent Midwest barleywine discoveries:  1) just last month I cellared three four-packs of the enviable Stevens Point Whole Hog Barleywine (Wisconsin); and, 2) last month I was floored by Schell’s Stag Series BW (Minnesota), on tap at Mason Lounge.  Those two are a cut above this Beer Line barleywine (Wisconsin).  I don’t think I’ll be buying anymore of this one.  (Going by my ratings system, 4.0 is the cutoff point for purchasing any beer again.

Still, this is a fairly delicious barleywine, more English-style than American. I’ll throw the remaining seven bottles in the cellar.  Maybe a year might do good things, especially with the 12.5% ABV.

Old Horizontal, Victory Brewing Company
Rating:  4.41 / 5
22-oz. bottle, 11% abv, [85] IBU (estim.)

A bomber poured into a tulip glass creates a seriously handsome, ruddy copper glass of beer. It’s topped by a finger of fluffy off-white head that stays and stays, with sticky lacing.

Hoppy aroma, though quietly so.  An indeterminate spiciness.  Sweet grain. The alcohol is present.

Flavor in the mouth opens with sweet bread and red wine, plus a spicy alcohol.  Becomes instantly bitter from the citrusy hops, which dominate through the middle palate and onward through the finish. The sweetness rings as an echo on the backend, though sweetness here is refracted by the intense, white-grapefruit bitterness.

A medium- to full-bodied, luxurious mouthfeel, with a lively carbonation.

Classic American barley wine, very much like Bigfoot, though even bigger (except for the aroma). Intensely hoppy and spicy. The one drawback might be the near eclipse of malt sweetness by the tannic wine and citric bitterness. Nothing a bit of cellaring won’t cure.