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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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Beer Here: Cranberry Special Ale from Sand Creek Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

If you're looking for a fruity accent to pair with a Thanksgiving meal, you might consider cranberry in a six-pack. Sand Creek Brewing offers a beer made from Wisconsin cranberries that will ll fit right in with turkey, dressing, and other fall foods. It's a brew with berry-like bouquet and a bronze color topped with light tints of reddish-pint foam.

What is it? Cranberry Special Ale from Sand Creek Brewing Company of Black River Falls, Wis.

Style: Cranberry Special Ale is an amber ale to which cranberries are added. As the name indicates, the basic style is known for its rich amber color and medium- to full-bodied mouthfeel. The amber has low to mild hoppiness, and its flavor profile more commonly shows off a moderate to strong maltiness, with sweet and caramel tones. The amber ale ranges in alcohol from 4.5% to 6.2% ABV.

Background: Sand Creek's cranberry brew is made with concentrated juice purchased in 55-gallon barrels from Urban Processing of Wisconsin Rapids. The juice is actually made from the previous year's cranberry harvest. Brewmaster Todd Krueger says he adds it directly to the hot wort in the brew kettle: "It's been stored in an almost frozen condition, so it comes out it like a big juicy iceberg that floats."

To reduce some of the tartness associated with cranberries, Krueger adds Splenda, the same no-calorie sucralose-based artificial sweetener commonly found in grocery stores.

Sand Creek plans the release of its Cranberry Ale to coincide with the Warren Cranberry Festival in late September. This year, Krueger made about 1,000 cases of the beer, enough to keep it on store shelves through the holidays. Cranberry Special Ale takes about two weeks to ferment and ends up at around 5% ABV. It sells for about $8/six-pack.

The Sand Creek Brewing Company of Black River Falls makes about a dozen beers under its own labels of Sand Creek and Wisconsin Brewing. It also makes products under contract for several others, like Furthermore Beer in Spring Green.

Before the end of the year, Sand Creek will release four-packs of its newest brew, Frank's Wild Ryde. It's a double India Pale Ale made with rye malt. The beer is named for Frank Oderbolz, whose father, Ulrich, founded the Oderbolz Brewery in 1856, on the site of the present Sand Creek brewery. Frank Oderbolz died in 1911 in a boating accident involving a wild ride over the local dam on the Black River.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light fruitiness, essence of cranberry.
  • Appearance: Clear copper-bronze color with a medium rocky head with tints of pink.
  • Texture: Medium bodied and bubbly.
  • Taste: Starts with a maltiness amid the cranberry nose. The fruitiness is tart and quickly asserts itself.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The cranberry fruitiness gives an overriding tartness that is sharp without an overpowering sourness. There's a little complexity with a softness to the ending that gives hints of sweetness.

Glassware: The goblet or wine flute will show off this beer's color and focus its nose. Make sure you have a glass with a long stem that allows you to handle this beer without warming it up too quickly. Serving it very cold accentuates the fruity sharpness.

Pairs well with: Cranberry Special Ale makes for a great Thanksgiving appetizer beer. Its fruity tones will set the stage for the big meal to come, even perk up the appetite.

Rating: Two Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: C (mediocre) at Beer Advocate, and 14/32 (overall/style) at Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Todd Krueger says he likes to tweak the recipe for Cranberry Special Ale from year to year to compensate for tartness and acidity of the concentrated cranberry juice. The 2010 version is not a sweet berry beer. It has an overriding sourness that is softened by the Splenda, but the sweetener seems to linger almost on its own in the aftertaste. I do appreciate the beer's cranberry presentation in aroma, pinkish head, and how the fruitiness asserts itself up front in the flavor profile. It's a welcome sign of the season and a brew that will make a nice addition to the holiday table.

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