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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 37.0° F  Light Drizzle
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Beer Here: Stein Beer from the Grumpy Troll
Stein Beer and the Medieval Feast Beer Dinner were a wonderful tribute to the creativity of Grumpy Troll brewmaster Mark Duchow, owner Doug Welshinger, and chef Steve Eckstein.
Credit:Robin Shepard

The Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb offered a different kind of winter diversion last week by hosting a Medieval Feast Beer Dinner. Five courses and dessert were paired with beers that had been carefully selected by brewmaster Mark Duchow. As the theme would suggest, the overarching premise featured dishes such as Camelot Salad, King Arthur Stone Soup, lamb chops, and leg of fowl. Duchow's major contribution was a special creation called Stein Beer, made with an Old World brewing technique that leaves some very distinctive flavors.

What is it? Stein Beer from The Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb.

Style: Steinbier is more of a technique than beer style, and some beer historians consider it among the oldest methods for brewing. When beer was long ago brewed in wooden vessels, one couldn't just heat the vessel with liquid by holding it over flames. Rather, brewers heated stones in a fire and then dropped them into the vats to heat the liquid and produce wort. These techniques are generally traced to a region known as Carinthia, located now in the southern part of Austria.

These rocks, when superheated and dropped into the wort, caramelize the sugars from the malt. The resulting beer often features caramel and toffee flavors, and sometimes a roasted smokiness. Other factors can influence the taste, such as the type of base malts that the brewer uses. If the rocks are heated by fire, then the type of wood used can also add flavor. Old brewery records indicate beech wood, apple and pine were commonly used.

Adding the stones can make for quite a spectacle, with lots of smoke, steam, or even an explosion of liquid. The rocks themselves can split or crack, adding to an already messy process. These days, commercial brewers and backyard homebrewers usually prefer granite or basalt to avoid shattering, which can leaves shards in the brew kettle, or worse, one's glass.

Background: Grumpy Troll brewmaster Mark Duchow heated stones obtained from a Mount Horeb landscaper over an oak fire in the brewpub's back lot, a process he says took nearly 12 hours. "We dropped about 50 pounds of granite stones into the steel tub containing the mash, and it boiled for over 20 minutes," he explains. "When they were dumped in we got boiling, smoke steam and the most awesome toffee aroma."

Once the stones cooled enough for the boiling to stop, the liquid was brought back into the brewery and mixed with hops in a brew kettle. Duchow made about 150 gallons of Stein Beer. From that, he took about 100 gallons and added an English yeast and fermented it in bourbon barrels for additional sweetness and hints of bourbon. This is what is currently on tap at the Grumpy Troll, and Duchow estimates it will be available through mid-February. It sells for $4/pint or $15/growler.

If you miss this version, Duchow is aging around 40 gallons of the Stein Beer that was made with a Belgian Golden Ale yeast. He says he will probably release this in March. Duchow also says given the initial popularity of his Stein Beer, there's a good chance he'll make another batch, or even make it a part of the regular lineup at the brewpub.

The Grumpy Troll is also remodeling its upstairs bar. By mid-February, the renovations are expected to be completed on a new pizza kitchen and dining area of the restaurant. It will remain part of the brewpub, and will continue to serve its beers on tap.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Malty and roasted.
  • Appearance: Cloudy brown color with thin, off-white head.
  • Texture: Smooth, full bodied.
  • Taste: Firm caramel and toffee flavors. A light roastedness in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Hints of smoke, but overall a lingering caramel maltiness.

Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Stein Beer in a common Shaker pint glass. However, if you take home a growler, this beer needs a large tankard of some type. Perhaps given its nature, this is one beer that a non-glass mug or a clay tankard might be appropriate to celebrate the beer and its history.

Pairs well with: Stein Beer was paired with a large leg of fowl at the beer dinner, just what you would expect for a medieval feast. A side of porcini mushroom stuffing provided a sweet earthy compliment. Adding to this experience, Grumpy Troll wait staff intentionally took away all of the silverware, leaving no choice but to grab the leg in hand and chow down.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).

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

The Verdict: What a fun treat. Stein Beer and the Medieval Feast Beer Dinner were a wonderful tribute to the creativity of The Grumpy Troll's brewmaster Mark Duchow, owner Doug Welshinger, and chef Steve Eckstein. It's not a beer I'd drink every day, but its sweet malty and toffee flavors really grew on me enough that I drove back to Mount Horeb a few days later for a growler. I'll definitely head back there when the next batch made with Golden Ale yeast comes on tap. I thoroughly appreciated it for its uniqueness, and Duchow's sense of trying something you will not find elsewhere.

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