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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Siam Strong Pale Ale from the Great Dane Hilldale
Brewer Don Vasa called this beer Siam in reference to the hops; the 'Si-' for Simcoe and '-am' for the Amarillo.
Credit:Robin Shepard

I recently found myself needing a break from my seasonal quest for the perfect big malty winter beer and discovered a wonderfully hoppy surprise at the Hilldale Mall outpost of the Great Dane. Normally this time of year I'm pretty content with finding something robust and dark to take the chill off a cold snowy day. However, after considering a few of those big beers, the ones that can sometimes suggest time for a nap or bedtime, I was lured by the Dane's description of this new beer: "medium to high bitterness and aromatic hoppiness."

What is it? Siam Strong Pale Ale from the Great Dane Pub and Brewery at Hilldale Mall.

Style: The strong pale ale features American hop varieties with lots of bitter flavor and hoppy aroma, and is distinguished by its citrus-like hop character. The style is deep golden to copper colored, and medium bodied with little emphasis on maltiness. These beers generally range from 4-5% ABV, though they can reach higher.

Background: Great Dane Hilldale brewer Don Vasa made the Siam Strong Pale Ale with Simcoe and Amarillo hops. The former are often used for their aromatic properties and piney-like flavor notes, while the latter are grown in rather limited acreages and are known for their citrus aroma and flavor. Together, these hops combine for a unique bitterness that offers a grapefruit-like character to the beer.

Vasa says that's what he was intending. "Siam falls in the zone between the Pale Ale and the India Pale Ale," he notes, "and we serve it cold on a carbon dioxide driven line as opposed to our hand pull-beer engine, which brings out those bitter flavors even more." Vasa called this beer Siam in reference to the hops; the "Si-" for Simcoe and "-am" for the Amarillo. Siam is on the strong side of pale ales at 6.3% ABV. It sells for $6/pint and $14/growler, and is available only at the Great Dane's Hilldale location.

The Great Dane Hilldale has been open since 2006, but has only been brewing for just over a year. It is now in the midst of a major renovation. In early January, Vasa drained his fermentors so they could be moved elsewhere in the building to allow for a 4,000 square foot expansion of the brewpub. The remodeling creates space for more sit-down dinning, three pool tables and a few other bar games like shuffleboard. It will also feature a second floor mezzanine for additional dining.

Vasa says for the next few weeks he'll be unable to brew at the Hilldale location and is hoping his supply will hold out until the work is completed in mid-to-late February. Once finished the Hilldale brewpub will also expand its beer making capacity by 15 barrels, as a new cold liquor tank is installed and a15-barrel fermentor is added to the others within the brew house.

The Great Dane has also purchased the Hereford and Hops Stakehouse and Brewpub in Wausau. Co-owner and brewmaster Rob Lebreglio says extensive remodeling is already underway, and he hopes to re-open the central Wisconsin brewpub by mid April. That will make it the fifth restaurant bearing the name Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, if one includes the independently-operated concession at the Dane County Regional Airport.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Strong resiny hoppiness.
  • Appearance: Hazy, orange to copper colored. A thick, marbled, off-white head.
  • Texture: Medium to full-bodied, bubbly.
  • Taste: Strong bitterness in aroma and flavor, with hints of grapefruit dryness.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The dry grapefruit-like hoppiness lingers.

Glassware: Siam Strong Pale Ale has a strong enough nose and flavor for the typical English or Nonic pint glass.

Pairs well with: This beer's bubbly effervescence and hoppy bitterness need a spicy entrée. Given the assertive citrus qualities, you might match the Siam with Asian-influenced dishes. The brewpub's Mandarin Chicken Salad works well.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers.

The Consensus: This beer has not received enough ratings to be evaluated by Beer Advocate nor Rate Beer.

The Verdict: I really enjoyed the citrus nature of Siam Strong Pale Ale. Its assertive hoppiness, especially the dryness with notes of grapefruit and pine, makes this a different beer than many local pale ales. Siam is a beer well worth the trip to the Hilldale Great Dane.

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