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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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Beer Here: Matacabras from Dave's BrewFarm
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Dave's BrewFarm has been turning up in Madison for about six months now. Despite being a relative newcomer to Madison's competitive beer scene, this small western Wisconsin brewery is attracting a lot of attention for its brews, particularly a big, bold, dark amber-colored strong ale named Matacabras. The beer's name is a reference to the legendary north wind in Spain that's so strong it's famed for killing goats.


What is it? Matacabras from Dave's BrewFarm of Wilson, Wis.

Style: Brewery owner and brewmaster David Anderson describes Matacabras as a beer that doesn't fit neatly within common styles. When forced to categorize it, though, he says it's very close to the Belgian strong ales, due to its Belgian Trappist yeast and high alcohol content. Belgian strong ales are amber to dark brown in color. Their malty character can be rich and sweet, with complexity in flavor from roastedness and mild hoppy bitterness. They are commonly brewed with candi sugar, which can add to the style's alcoholic strength, ranging from 7% to 11% ABV.

Background: Matacabras is made with rye malt, brown sugar and three hops, including Millennium, Perle and Amarillo. Anderson says he likes to start with yeast, and then create the environment for it to do its thing. Matacabras has hints of spiciness, and Anderson says he is often asked if its recipe includes cinnamon and cloves. However, there are no spices in Matacabras: "It's all a reflection of what yeast can do when given the right place to live and make beer."

The BrewFarm is actually part of his small farm home near Wilson, Wis., about 45 minutes east of the Twin Cities. Anderson has a small seven-barrel brewing system in the basement of his home, where he makes Matacabras and about a dozen other beers for draught sales. Larger production associated with bottling Matacabras occurs at the Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls.

Anderson's home and basement brewery are actually powered by a wind generator he installed to reduce his electric bill. Matacabras falls into what Anderson calls his "wind series" of brews, which includes a doppelbock named Kotura, which in Siberian folklore is the "Lord of the Wind." Anderson also makes an older style of beer known as gruit, labeled "Harukaze," Japanese for "spring wind."

Matacabras sells for around $9-$11/six-pack.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Yeasty and spicy.
  • Appearance: Ruby coppery color with a medium bubbly and tan head.
  • Texture: Full-bodied and round.
  • Taste: Starts with a yeasty sweetness with a raisin-like spicy background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Some light dryness and warmth.

Glassware: The clear schooner will show off the beer's color, and its thick glass will go well with its full-bodied nature.

Pairs well with: Matacabras is a nice match for meat entrees, especially grilled steaks. It also goes well with slightly mild, sweet and smoky cheeses. Try it next to a goat cheese -- for the symbolism alone.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: A- (excellent) at Beer Advocate and a 91/95 (overall/style) from Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Matacabras has assertive sweetness with hints of plum and raisin. The flavor is bold and distinctive, and stands out among other Wisconsin-made dark Belgian strong ales. For those reasons, I like it a lot. While some might find it too assertive, I enjoy it for its versatility as a great meal beer. It'll match well with grilled steaks, but its sweetness is also very complementary to barbecued ribs and chicken. Matacabras has a modest 8% ABV, which accentuates the sweet fruitiness as the beer warms to room temperatures in the glass, becoming almost sherry-like in character.

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