One of the most memorable discoveries to emerge from a full afternoon of tasting at the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest last weekend was from one of state's newest breweries -- Sweet Mullets Brewery & Pub, set to open next month in Oconomowoc. Owner and brewmaster Mark Duchow is no stranger to southern Wisconsin beer enthusiasts. He grew up near Oconomowoc and, among other brewery gigs, he was brewmaster at the Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mount Horeb for several years. Duchow likes to use local ingredients in his beers, and his Wild Buckwheat Red, with its Wisconsin hops and buckwheat, was a big part of why his brewpub was voted Best of the Fest.
What is it? Wild Buckwheat Red from Sweet Mullets Brewery & Pub in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Style: Sweet Mullets Wild Buckwheat Red doesn't fall squarely within categories of commonly judged beers, such as those identified by the Beer Judge Certification Program or the World Beer Cup. However, it does have attributes of the American Red Ale, a medium-bodied beer with light reddish copper to light brown color. American varieties of hops are used to give this style a medium, sometimes assertive, bitterness in flavor and aroma that is well-balanced, with medium caramel maltiness. The American Red Ale ranges in alcohol from 4.5 to 6% ABV.
Background: This was the first time Mark Duchow made his Wild Buckwheat Red, which he plans to serve at the grand opening of Sweet Mullets. Because it's made with Wisconsin "wild" hops, this beer is likely to make its mark as a fall seasonal, when the hops are freshly picked. Duchow actually grew the hops for this beer on his farm in Green County. He started his vines from hop rhizomes he discovered along the Military Ridge Trail between Mount Horeb and Blue Mounds. When Wisconsin was a major hop-producing state in the mid 1800s, the railroad was used to transport them from the fields to the breweries, and whatever fell from those rail cars helped create pockets of wild hops along many of the state's rail corridors.
Wisconsin was also a leading state for growing buckwheat. Duchow obtained the buckwheat for this beer at the Rock River Thresheree, an annual festival held near Edgerton. The buckwheat was milled into a flour-like grist that Duchow added to the mashing stage of the brewing process. The buckwheat combines with Maris Otter malt to accentuate the beer's mouthfeel and biscuit-like malty tones. The beer is unfiltered, so expect it to have some haziness. It takes about four weeks to make, and it finishes at 5.5% ABV.
Duchow is teaming up with Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning to make the initial batches of beer for the pub. Duchow and Manning hope to unveil some of the early brews over the next few weeks at the west-side brewpub. Duchow and his partner, Barbara Jones, hope to have their Oconomowoc brewpub open by the last week of February. (Watch the brewpub's website and Facebook page for announcements, dates and times related to the grand opening.) Once open, Sweet Mullets also plans to offer draught beers to select Madison tap accounts.
- Aroma: Light, but firm, floral hoppiness.
- Appearance: Hazy amber color, with a medium soft, marbled, tan head.
- Texture: Medium to full bodied, bubbly, with a distinctive round mouthfeel.
- Taste: The maltiness is up front with biscuit and nutty tones. There is an accent of medium bitterness in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A nice blend of maltiness with a mild dry, grassey, bitter finish.
Glassware: This beer will most likely be served in the basic bar pint. However, the Willy Becher, with its inward taper near the lip, will coax the aroma to the nose and hold the head. It's also a great glass to show off the brilliant amber-copper color of this beer.
Pairs well with: The biscuit and nutty tones of the Wild Buckwheat Red pair very well with the resiny tones of basil-infused olive oil found in Pesto Cheear from Otter Creek Organic Farm -- which was voted Best of the Fest for cheese.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: The firm maltiness of biscuit and nutty tones combine with lots of round and smooth mouthfeel to make Wild Buckwheat Red an exceptional beer. One shouldn't expect the sharp bitterness of the American Red Ale; that's why it only generally fits into that category. However, the wild local hops do add a grassy bitterness to the background and finish, complementing the buckwheat and nutty flavor of the English Maris Otter malt. This beer really shows the brewing expertise of Duchow and sets the stage for many good beers from Sweet Mullets. I'm planning to arrive early for the grand opening in hopes of another taste of Wild Buckwheat Red, because it won't last long in a crowd of beer fans.