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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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A 2014 All-Star break for Madison beer and breweries
Cheers to Wisconsin brewers and their beers!

So much continues to develop in Wisconsin's brewing scene that it's worth taking a moment to think about all the great beers that have been released recently. As a nod to Major League Baseball's All-Star break, now is a good time to call attention to a few of the stars from the first half of 2014.

All-Star beers

Grand Cru from Hinterland Brewery
First offered in 2012 on draught-only by Hinterland at its Green Bay brewpub, this Grand Cru was bottled for the first time this spring. It offers a lot of malty sweetness and dark fruitiness with hints of grape; there's even a touch of coriander and orange in the background. This beer is sold in single 16 ounce bottles, and if you're lucky, you might find some of this on shelves. It's a great beer to age, and will get even better with a year or more of cellaring.

The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari from Vintage Brewing
I really enjoy Scott Manning's approach to making beer. The brewmaster for Vintage Brewing seems to have boundless creativity when it comes to adjuncts and ideas for blended flavors. His latest gem is a version of the brewpub's popular Belgian Dubbel, named Dedication, that is aged for over a year in French red wine barrels. The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari is rich in Belgian yeasty character with a smooth backbone of red wine inspired by a classic silent film.

IBU and ABV over replacement

Johnson Double India Pale Ale from Lakefront Brewery
Johnson is the first double IPA brewed by Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery. It's also the eighth release in the brewery's My Turn series, for which employees are given the opportunity to design a beer. This one was created by and named for Chris Johnson, Lakefront's director of business development. It's made with six different hops, and finishes at 70 IBUs and 8% ABV.

Scream IIPA from New Glarus Brewing
This is an IPA that lives up to its name! At 85 IBUs, Scream is one of the hoppiest beers New Glarus Brewing has ever produced. Introduced in June, it should be available through the rest of the year. Much of its bitterness comes from whole leaf Cascade hops, and it also features Columbus hops grown in the brewery's own hop fields, along with Wisconsin-produced barley.

Ghost Ship White IPA from Capital Brewery
Brewmaster Brian Destree adds about 10 pounds of dried orange, bitter orange, lemon and grapefruit peels into the beer, which was introduced in March, and marked the latest in a new nautical-themed hoppy releases from Capital Brewery. It's a lighter bodied IPA, but one with a lot of crisp citrus bitterness. It finishes at 5.6% ABV and 55 IBUs.

Heavy Head Imperial Pilsner from the Great Dane Hilldale
Released at the beginning of the year, this big and bold beer seemed like a contradiction to the light clean and crisp flavor of the Pilsner style. However, as an imperial, there was a rich, strong and assertive hoppiness that gave it attitude. Its name comes from a line in Shakespeare's Henry IV: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." And, it's among the strongest lagers the Great Dane has made, topping off at 12.18% ABV with a respectable 30 IBUs.

Kremlin Russian Imperial Stout from House of Brews
Owner and brewmaster Page Buchannan stepped up bottle production at House of Brews in early 2014 with the launch of this Russian Imperial Stout in 22-ounce bombers. Kremlin is big, dark, full bodied and strong at nearly 10% ABV. Later this fall, Buchanan is planning to release a barrel-aged version. With Kremlin and a handful of other select beers available in bombers, House of Brews has been able to expand distribution to select stores in Chicago and Milwaukee.

On deck

1. Capital Brewery continues making headway, albeit rather slowly, on its new production facility in Sauk City. "It's happening, unequivocally," says brewmaster Brian Destree, "we plan to be up and running by early next year." Though weather has been a hold-up in its plans, Capital has already purchased much of the bottling and packaging equipment for the new facility, and designs for the tank layout and brew house have been finalized.

Capital will keep its Middleton brewery and bier garten operational even after it starts operations in Sauk City. The city of Middleton is pulling out all the stops to make sure Capital doesn't abandon its location, and has approved a $4 million festival area that is being built adjacent to the current facility. The project ensures that Capital won’t be abandoning its Middleton roots, and in fact, the brewery has plans for additional investments and improvements of its own once the project is completed.

Construction is proceeding along Terrace Avenue, where a market arcade will be covered by a large awning. This space will be used for a farmers' market and community events, including a free trolley that will stop at the brewery. Capital president Scott Weiner says its bier garten activities will be expanded to highlight what the city is planning. "Smart people will want to have a beer after the farmers' market, and if they attend a community event, we want to be there with beverages," he says. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by this September.

2. The Parched Eagle Brewpub is currently in the works for the Madison area. The dream of Jim Goronson and Tom Christie, it remains a few steps from becoming reality. Finding the necessary amount of funding has been challenging and slowed their progress towards a planned fall opening. The pair hasn't abandoned plans to locate the brewpub in Middleton, but they are looking at other sites that might fit their business model. Their eventual goal is to offer at least five year-round brews: an APA and IPA, a kölsch, a robust porter, and a Belgian dubbel.

3. Ryan Koga, co-owner and brewmaster at Karben4 Brewing, says its initial release of bottled beers will be in August, or perhaps September. Since initially revealing his plans for bottle releases in March, Koga hasn't wavered from wanting to make Fantasy Factory the brewery's first foray into six-packs. The assertively hopped IPA is the brewery's most popular beer. Once the bottling line is operational, as originally planned, that brew will be joined by Block Party Amber Ale, Lady Luck Irish Red Ale, and Night Call Smoked Porter in short-neck bottles. Later in September, watch for a draught return of Karben4's fall seasonal Oaktober Ale, which I named my top Wisconsin beer of 2013.

Rookies and prospects

1. The brewing community in Wisconsin is growing, not only in size, but in terms of more women taking leadership roles too. Brewing has generally been considered a male-dominated business, but several breweries are challenging that stereotype. This spring, Ashley Kinart made her first solo brew at Capital Brewery with Fishin' in the Dark, an imperial schwarzbier. Andrea McHenry of Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills developed a beer for International Women's Collaboration Brew Day. Annie Leitzke was recently hired at Vintage Brewing as an assistant brewer. And Moriah Waters, who has been a regular behind-the-scenes at Ale Asylum for a couple of years, is now taking on more of a direct role in brewing.

2. Bryan Kreiter recently took over lead brewer responsibilities at Next Door Brewing. He has been with Next Door for about six months, and worked alongside Keith Symonds, who left the east-side brewpub in May. Look for Kreiter to release a Belgian tripel within the next few weeks.

3. Greenview Brewing made its debut in May with its first offering: Alt Brew Farmhouse Ale. This gluten-free operation is the creation of husband-and-wife team Trevor and Maureen Easton, and is one of the smallest breweries in Madison. Greenview makes one-barrel batches of beer in a small room it leases at the House of Brews. Their beers are available in 22-ounce bottles in select outlets and taverns around Madison. This fall, Trevor Easton plans to expand his line-up of gluten-free brews to include a dark beer.

4. One might say that MobCraft Beer just finished its rookie season after launching last summer. Most of its beers are developed from ideas via recipes submitted and voted upon by customers, so the brewery has become known for its eclectic offerings. On of its most recent is Hop Gose the Grapefruit. The Gose (pronounced "gose-uh") is a very old style that is a light-bodied wheat-based beer with sour and salty flavors; MobCraft's take was to add elements of grapefruit to the brew. While sipping it, I can almost hear Brewers' announcer Bob Uecker proclaiming "Get up, get out-a-here, Gose!" Come the end of July, watch for a raspberry ginger sour called Sour Support.

MobCraft currently has an agreement with House of Brews to use its equipment. However, the company is planning its own standalone brewery, and is the first business in the state to take advantage of a new equity crowdfunding program. MobCraft has been storing a 10-barrel brewing system until it finds a suitable location and can raise sufficient capital to build its own brew house. Co-founder Giotto Troia says he hopes to have a new operation functioning by the end of the year.

Veterans trading teams

1. Kirby Nelson spent 2013 working with his business partners to launch Wisconsin Brewing Company, after spending 27 years as brewmaster at Capital Brewery, which he left in 2012. His massive new brew house in Verona opened last fall, and debuted with four standards. All were solid hits, including the Amber Lager and Brown Porter, and Nelson surprised long-time followers by releasing two hoppy brews, his American IPA and Session IPA. He also recently introduced a great maibock named Big Sweet Life, which came at the heels of Porter Joe, a beer made with coffee from Barriques. And the brewery's new summer release, a saison named Zenith, is a great lighter refreshing beer for the season.

2. Don Vasa recently joined the Ale Asylum brewery team after several years of brewing at the Great Dane's Hilldale location. Vasa is well respected among local brewers for turning out solid hits like Billiards Brown, Pine Marten Red Ale, and Hop Rush Pale Ale.

3. Steve Buszka helped put the revived Potosi Brewing Company back on the brewery map. He was brewmaster there from 2009 until this past February, when he became lead brewer for O'so Brewing in Plover.

4. Steve McCoy took over the brewmaster responsibilities at Potosi Brewing following Steve Buszka's departure. Before taking on the job, he worked for five years at City Brewery in La Crosse.

Taking the field in the second half of the season

1. New sour beers are now making their debut from the wild fruit cave at New Glarus Brewing. The first two are an Oud Bruin and lambic-style blonde ale, which brewmaster Dan Carey plans to use as base beers for blending with different fruits. The sour blonde, also called a gueze, will be the base of this fall's release of Cranbic. The wild fruit cave is located in the Riverside Brewery, which is where New Glarus was originally based before opening its Hilltop Brewery in 2008. The cave includes a coolship: a large, shallow, open-top stainless steel tub that sits ready to be infected with wild yeasts, essential to the brewing of sour beers.

2. Ale Asylum is gearing up to for a new bottle release in August. Kink is the new name for its Belgian Abbey, known in the taproom as Happy Ending. As the brewery has grown in its new location on Madison's north side, many of its beers previously available only on site are now finding their way into bottles. Unshadowed, released this summer, originally went by the name Hatha-weizen. This new name-change of the abbey to Kink is because "Happy Ending" is trademarked by Sweet Water Brewing of Atlanta. In a twist of irony, the bottling line that Ale Asylum uses today was purchased from Sweet Water in 2012.

3. Scott Manning loves to dig up beer obscurities and offer them on tap. His appreciation for beer history always turns out to be tasty. Given that, and just in time for the Great Taste pre-party at Vintage Brewing, the beer I'm looking most forward to is a hoppy Czech-style amber known as a Polotmavý. The style is a hybrid between a dark lager and a pilsner -- think of it as a hoppy Oktoberfest.

The Wisconsin craft beer scene continues to grow at the blistering pace that's been set over the last couple of years, and enthusiasts should keep their eyes open for word of even more new breweries coming down the line. As the local industry expands, new big-name out-of-state beers make their way into the local market, and more people develop a taste for craft creations, malty and hoppy and sour alike, the rest of the year is looking bright. The beer community will once again come together when the annual Great Taste of the Midwest returns on Saturday, August 9, complete with a host of pre-parties in the week building up to the festival. Cheers!

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