By: Guest Columnist – Chuck Swain
Let me start out by saying I like beer. I like all kinds of beer. I especially like Wisconsin beers, but I had something happen 40 odd years ago that changed my life, and it changed my view of all beers, not just Wisconsin beers. In 1970, when the Experimental Aircraft Association switched the location for their convention from Rockford, Illinois to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I decided to play host to some of my customers (I’m in the airplane business) and set up a quiet, cool place in the woods where my friends and customers could sit back, enjoy a cold beer and wait for the seemingly endless parade of vehicles to exit the parking area after the afternoon airshow. So far, so good…
The law of un-intended consequences reared its head and what started out as a quiet little party soon grew into something no one could have anticipated. Friends and customers were soon joined by my suppliers who after a days’ worth of meeting and greeting their customers in the old, hot, claustrophobic exhibition areas were anxious to cool off too! That was soon expanded into “Could I bring some of my better customers over with me?” It was all good, for awhile, but soon the crowds turned into teeming throngs all clamoring for beer.
Now, to be fair, my suppliers did their fair share and brought beer with them, but it wasn’t the kind of beer I was used to. It was beer from all over the country, you know, local breweries, craft beer and for the most part, small batches…and it was wonderful! “If you take one, bring one” became law at our campsite simply because it was getting expensive, even with the vendors helping. Un-intended consequences again…the crowds became even bigger and the variety of beers expanded exponentially. I was suffering under an embarrassment of riches and it kept getting better. My tastes have been altered by exposure to the world. Whereas at one time I was satisfied with Hinterland and New Glarus, once I tasted Marzenbier and Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout…well, I was ruined. Please don’t misunderstand, I still love Wisconsin beers, but there are so many others out there.
I used to confine my selection to hoppy beers, the British are particularly good at them, but I began to notice that there was a seasonal aspect to beers that I was completely unfamiliar with. Spring beer generally lent itself to the wheats and pale ales, summer was hoppy IPAs and the fall, well, that Is the best part. There is a huge selection to draw from. Brown ales, imperial stouts, vanilla porters, and of course, the pumpkins. There’s an old adage that says, “The best way to enjoy a pumpkin beer is to take off the cap and pour it down the drain.” With a few notable exceptions, I’d agree. The whole pumpkin thing has, in my opinion, been way overdone. That being said, here are the exceptions:
Gored by Avery Brewing Company. If I’m going to drink a pumpkin, it’ll be this one – mild flavor, not overly spicy and not sweet. It is brewed with hops so it has some body to it.
Punkin by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales. Nice and malty, not sweet. Gives you a warm feeling when drinking it, not unlike a good whisky.
Pumking by Southern Tier Brewing Company. Awfully sweet, almost like a dessert beer. But not overdone with the pumpkin – A definite honey finish.
As for the rest of the “fall beers”…fall is harvest season and hops are one of the crops that are fresh and available. Can you tell I like hops? Founders Brewing Co. makes a Harvest Ale loaded with fresh hops. It has a light, grassy flavor with plenty of malt to balance. Southern Tier Harvest is an ESB – Extra Special Bitter with English hops and very malty. Sam Adams Octoberfest is slightly bitter because of the German hops, but malty and caramel for the finish, and Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Extra is a double IPA, but you have to be careful, it’s over 8% ABV. Very hoppy, bright and fruity, it is one of my personal favorites.
There are literally thousands more to choose from. I have been very fortunate to have some exotic samples that are not available to everyone but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that in Dodge County there are several liquor stores that carry a surprising variety of good quality beers. The Chill Zone in Beaver Dam is my personal “Go to” store because it’s convenient and the owners are knowledgeable and friendly, but it’s not the only source for exotic goodies, just search around!
With the explosion in craft/micro- breweries in this country today versus, for example, the 60’s when we were stuck with a dozen big breweries whose products were homogenized and bland, Isn’t this a great time to be alive!