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Beer Here: Maple Surple Brown Ale from Lake Louie Brewing

Credit:Kristian Knutsen

Earlier this spring, Lake Louie Brewing announced a series of changes to its line-up. Over the summer, the brewery is releasing five brand-new beers, presented in three distinct series. One of these new creations is Maple Surple, a brown ale made with maple syrup. "It's like having French toast," says Lake Louie owner and brewmaster Tom Porter. "It's really sparked a lot of creativity and fun in the brewery."

What is it? Maple Surple from Lake Louie Brewing of Arena, Wisconsin.

Style: Brown ales are copper to brown in color and medium-bodied. They are smooth malty beers with a range of flavors, from caramel sweetness to roasted chocolate. They have little hop flavor or aroma. These brews commonly fall between 4.5% and 6.5% ABV. Maple syrup is an adjunct added to the beer for aroma and flavor. The timing of when it is added to the wort, or fermenting beer, will influence how much drinkers will smell or taste the syrup's sweet qualities. Adding it later in the process generally brings out more aroma and sweetness.

Background: Lake Louie is embarking upon an expansion of its beer portfolio in order to continue growing in a larger and more competitive craft brewing scene. These changes are centered on new products, packaging and branding, with five new brews schedule for release over summer 2014. The new beers will be presented in three distinct series: Hop-A-Louie, beers that are hop-forward; Session, beers with generally less than 5% ABV; and Dark Shadows, beers that are darker and more robust.

"Have I changed my attitude as a brewer? Yeah, I want to keep making all my mortgage payments," says Tom Porter. While he doesn't plan to change perennial favorites like Arena Premium, Warped Speed Scotch Ale and Louie's Reserve, he knows it's important to keep up with the desires of beer enthusiasts. "I feel that to move my business forward, it's important to keep things fresh, which in the eyes of the consumer is to address what's new," he explains.

Maple Surple is one of the first two new Lake Louie beers to be introduced. It was released on tap for the first time in early May during Madison Craft Beer Week, and soon after it started appearing on local store shelves. Porter has actually been working on the recipe for the beer since last fall, and it might have been released earlier had it not been for a lengthy federal approval process for the label.

Porter likes to name his beers with references to classic movies, television shows and songs; Warped Speed is a nod to Scotty from the original Star Trek, while Mr. Mephisto's Imperial Stout recalls the character who served as host of Lenny's Inferno, a horror-movie television program that aired Friday nights on WMTV in Madison from the late '60 through the '80s. The name for Maple Surple hearkens from the same era. It comes from the the 1964 song "Dang Me" by country-western singer Roger Miller; the chorus has the line "Roses are red and violets are purple, you are sweeter than maple surple."

The introductory batch of Maple Surple was made with maple syrup from Vermont; Porter couldn't find enough of the consistency he needed from Wisconsin. However, Porter recently located a supplier of maple syrup located less than 15 minutes from his Arena brewery. "[They're] just a bunch of guys who make syrup as a hobby," he says. "the main guy's name is -- unbelievably -- 'Tom Porter,' a distant relative of mine."

The syrup Porter uses for Maple Surple is much more intense than what most people are familiar with at breakfast. "It's been cooked and concentrated to a higher strength than what you want on your pancakes," he says.

Porter adds the syrup, in five-gallon pails, to the beer after it is finished fermenting, in order to lend lots of maple aroma and flavor. "The whole brewery just immediately smelled like breakfast when we took the lid off the bucket," he laughs.

Maple Surple finishes at 5.9% ABV, and is packaged in 12-ounce bottles for $8-9 per six-pack. Due to success of the initial seasonal batch, Porter has made a second, which is scheduled to be released the third week of June.

Maple Surple is one of Lake Louie's darker, richer malty beers that are presented in its Dark Shadows series (which is named itself for the late '60s gothic soap opera). Other beers in that line include Dino's Dark and Milk Stout. Porter plans to add more beers to the series, but probably not until next year.

The other new Lake Louie beer that's already been released is Bunny Green Toe, a double IPA that hits 70 IBUs and 6.8% ABV. Its name is inspired by the 1998 Coen brothers L.A. noir The Big Lebowski, specifically the character of Bunny Lebowski (née Knutsen), whose green polish-painted toenails are integral to the film's shaggy-dog caper. It is presented in the brewery's Hop-A-Louie series, along with Mosquito Beach, a steam beer that debuted in 2011 and will return this summer. Rounding out the series line-up is Grade 10 India Pale Ale, which is named for Trailer Park Boys. This brew is still in the development stages because Porter is intending to use hops from the Pacific Northwest that are so new the variety doesn't even have a name yet; Grade 10 is planed for an August release.

The Session series, meanwhile, will feature Golden Booty Cream Ale (a renamed version of Coon Rock Cream Ale), 10-81 (a low alcohol IPA), and Impulse Drive, a lighter version of Warped Speed. "I'm looking forward to that one the most," says Porter, a Star Trek fan. "I love the name."

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Strong and assertive aroma of maple syrup.
  • Appearance: Clear, amber-bronze color. A medium, soft, tan head.
  • Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, soft and bubbly.
  • Taste: There is a caramel maltiness that blends with the sweet maple syrup flavor. That sweet maple is evident from the first whiff. While you get the maple in both the aroma and flavor, it's more about the aroma.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The maple syrup lingers with a light hint of roasted-maltiness.

Glassware: The Willi Becher works well for Maple Surple because it focuses the maple aroma under the nose while showing off the clean amber-bronze color.

Pairs well with: To appreciate the maple flavor and aroma, enjoy Maple Surple on its own. It can be a nice after-dinner beer dessert.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Lake Louie Maple Surple has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Tom Porter is right -- Maple Surple makes you think breakfast! The aroma is saturated with maple. The flavor too has lots of sweetness; while it comes on strong, it blends nicely with the malty-caramel tones of the brown ale. For those conscious about locally sourced ingredients, Porter will be using Wisconsin maple syrup for next year's release.

Lake Louie Maple Surple is a good beer to enjoy after a big meal, or even as a night cap. Better yet, try it in the evening on the patio or by a fire pit. This isn't a light thirst-quenching brew for a hot day of summer yard work; one or two at a sitting is about right because the beer can seem filling. Its body and sweetness are best suited for a mild night under the stars.

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