With the hotter days of summer now upon us, the lighter wheat beers seem just right with their crisp citrus flavors and effervescence. The folks from O'so Brewing in Plover recently held a tasting of their beers at The Malt House and brought along a few great summertime brews.
The Big O is a light-bodied beer made with a heavy dose of wheat malt; this and the Belgian Saison-style Picnic Ants seemed to be the brews of choice at the tasting. The Big O is one of O'so's best sellers and is easily found in the Madison area in six-packs and on a handful of tap accounts.
What is it? The Big O from O'so Brewing Company of Plover.
Style: O'so Brewery owner Marc Buttera resists classifying The Big O within a strict style definition. However, it loosely fits within the blonde ale style; these beers are known for their straw to golden-blond color and crisp dry palate. Blonde ales are light- to medium-bodied and offer a light malty sweetness. They range from 4%-5% ABV.
Background: Considered a flagship beer for the brewery, The Big O is made with 25% wheat malt, orange peel and American ale yeast. O'So makes about a dozen different beers, but this, Rusty Red, Hopdinger, and Night Train are the year-round offerings, and all are available locally. "Madison is a huge market for us because people appreciate unique stuff," says Buttera.
O'so Brewing is a fairly small brewery. When it opened in 2008, it made only 350 barrels of beer, but it's on track for over 1,200 barrels in 2009. One of the brewery's challenges is that it only owns 400 reusable kegs; Buttera laughs that he has to remind his brewery workers to drink from bottles when in the brewery because they need the kegs for tap accounts.
Buttera also owns a homebrew supply business that operates next door to the brewery in Plover, a town located just south of Stevens Point. "Our homebrew store is one of the largest in the state, and its allows us to play because we always have 50-pound bags of grain, fun stuff, sitting around," he says.
Buttera and his staff of three, plus his wife, Katina, have been making plans for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival on August 8. "We've been playing at the brewery, pulling off 12 gallons of beer from the different batches and doing different stuff with them," Buttera says. "We plan to bring at least seven beers to the Great Taste that will be beers we don't intend to brew again, because we want to show we have a lot going on and can crank out something more than standard beers."
Wondering about the name O'so? Buttera says he remembers a similar name for a soda company when he was a kid. The play on words "oh so good" offers name recognition, and it certainly did for Marc in reminiscing about the days of drinking O-So Grape soda pop.
The Big O finishes at 4.5% ABV and sells for about $8.50/six-pack. It's currently on tap at The Old Fashioned. The brewery's Hopdinger is scheduled as the beer of the month at the restaurant in October.
- Aroma: Yeasty with hints of orange.
- Appearance: Hazy yellow-golden with a thick, soft, white head.
- Texture: Light and bubbly.
- Taste: Firm yeasty start with an orange and spicy background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Overall, a very clean finish with a light, yet firm, dry orange citrus notes.
Glassware: The Weizen glass with its inward taper at the top will hold the thick and soft white head while focusing the light orange aroma from the orange peel.
Pairs well with: The Big O is a great beer to match with a Saturday morning visit to the Dane County Farmers' Market and a fresh green salad. It'll handle most salad dressings but is especially well suited for vinaigrettes. Enjoy it as fresh as possible, and serve it refrigerator-cold (less than 42 degrees F) to bring out its crisp citrus palate-cleansing qualities.
Rating: Two Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: The Big O is crisp, light-bodied, and effervescent, with a bright golden color. Hints of orange make it thirst quenching and an ideal beer for a hot day. But its fruity edge beyond the orange tones was a little too sour, and it left me looking for more malty softness to balance out the flavors. Despite that, it's a beer that I'll certainly have again. O'so is a brewery to watch as more of its products turn up in Madison. I'm especially fond of Picnic Ants, but that beer, which is sold in 22-ounce bottles, is a little harder to find.