It has been a year of interesting headlines about the Madison beer scene. True, no new breweries or brewpubs opened during 2007, but none closed either -- in a very competitive business.
Our newest beer venues, Ale Asylum, Granite City and Gray's Tied House, all hit their stride in their first full year of operations, after opening in 2006. New Glarus Brewing was at the height of its multimillion dollar expansion. And, on the big beer stage, Miller and Coors, the nation's second- and third-largest brewers, announced they were combining their operations.
It was also a year when those who follow beer reviews learned of the passing of beer writer Michael Jackson in September. Jackson was an opinionated Brit, known around the world as "The Beer Hunter," who had a beer geek following that would rival the fans of the pop music icon with the same name.
Looking back on a year of beer experiences brings a smile if you were one of the lucky 5,000 who got to experience the annual Great Taste of the Midwest. Elsewhere, beer tastings and festivals throughout the state introduced microbrews to thousands and let aficionados discover new favorites. And Wisconsin brewers were well represented as seven Badger State breweries brought back medals from the 26th Annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo.
There was also the local brouhaha over state legislation to allow the Great Dane to sell its own beer at its Hilldale Restaurant. When the dust settled, the Great Dane got the changes it needed, but the political move caused disgruntlement among fellow brewers. To celebrate victory, the Great Dane at Hilldale held a symbolic post-prohibition party and debuted its beer on tap -- despite the restaurant's having been open since 2006.
As we ring in the new year and look back fondly on all of the empty beer bottles from 2007 (some of which I discussed on The Daily Page), let's recall a few tasty memories of the year just passed.
Most surprising beer
New Glarus Brewing Company -- Smoke on the Porter
Brewmaster Dan Carey lets go periodically with his "unplugged" series of beers, and this is a great, fully bodied, mild yet firm roasted porter. There is wonderful balance between the chocolate malt and the smokiness. The inspiration of this beer came from the aromas from the brewery's New Glarus neighbor, Hoesly's Meats.
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company -- Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout
Didn't think Leinie's had it in 'em, but what a wonderful aggressive, big malty brew. Lots of warmth from the alcohol.
Best seasonal beer
Tyranena Brewing Company -- Gemuetlichkeit Oktoberfest
One of the favorite seasonal brews distributed this past fall. Brewer and owner Rob Larson doesn't make much of this seasonal beer, and in 2007 it didn't stay around long. Smooth, caramel malt flavors dominate.
Best beer for a nightcap
Central Waters Brewing Company -- Fatty Boombalatty
This Belgian white beer has great hazy-orange color and wonderfully yeasty fruit flavors. Close your eyes, sip and think about those bubble gum esters you're tasting (that's a good thing for this beer).
Lowest-cost beer with "some" flavor
Minhas Craft Brewery / Joseph Huber Brewing Company -- Berghoff Red
At $6/six pack, this one of the least expensive microbrewery beers with some amount of individual character. Clear copper body and a bubbly tan head combine with a mild caramel malty body. Nothing too special, but it's a reliable red ale.
Best beer for a bowl game
Ale Asylum -- Hopalicious
Looking for a great American pale ale to compete with those chips, salsas, chili and cheese during the big game? This has lots of hoppy bitterness with an assertive citrus nose that will compete with the best of spicy game-time munchies.
Best beer to ring in the new year
Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company -- Merry Isthmus Ale
This chocolate milk stout is silky smooth and sweet. Cocoa is added to the brew kettle for additional flavor, creating a long, lingering chocolate and vanilla finish.
Best beer after shoveling snow
Capital Brewery -- Autumnal Fire
Autumnal Fire is a dopplebock, that Brewmaster Kirby Nelson says has an Oktoberfest personality. Smooth caramel tones prevail and a moderatly high alcohol content of 7.8% will leave you with a fire inside.
Best beer of 2007
Lake Louie Brewing: Louie's Reserve (L.R.)
A case of this appeared under my holiday tree. It was the best gift I ever bought myself!