Archive for January, 2011

An Open Letter to the Gordon Biersch Brewery

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

To whom it may concern,

With all the choice available in the craft beer market today, it is a wonder consumers are able to decide on anything. Considering that, I appreciate your efforts to reduce the number of brands I want to try and recommend. You see, Gordon Biersch is one brand that in the future I will not be buying.

Why you may ask? Because I make a point of ensuring that my money is well spent on the production of quality beer. Recent action by Gordon Biersch against the Oskar Blues Brewery has shown exactly where your company is spending money: not on making good beer, but on attacking those that do.

As has been reported in several media outlets the past week, Gordon Biersch has sent a notice of cease-and-desist to Oskar Blues, forcing them to stop using the name ‘Gordon’ on their classic seven-year old beer. A beer, I might add, named after a real person, Gordon Knight, one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement.

This legal wrangling smacks of the same sort of thoughtless corporate hackery that a certain large brewer knows quite well, rather than the spirit of support and camaraderie that has built up the craft beer movement over the last several decades.

I hope that this was merely an oversight, and that such strongarming will not be attempted again.

Quite sincerely,

Andrew Couch

[ed. note: This article was originally posted under the title “An Open Letter to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group and Centerbridge Partners” before I was made aware of the questionable distinction between Gordon Biersch, the brewery, and Gordon Biersch, the restaurant group.]

A Few Madison Brews

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Tonight I’m trying a couple beers I picked up last time I was in Madison. The first two are from Capital Brewery out in Middleton, and the third was brewed by Ale Asylum on the northeast side. Capital is renowned for their lagers, so I’m trying their märzen as well as a new beer that just might wholly embody badger nation. Ale Asylum, on the other hand, is known for beers overflowing with hops, so I’ve got a double India pale ale to round out the night.

The golden age of the supper club may have come and gone in most places, even in Wisconsin. But these eateries still grace the occasional roadside of the cheese state and remain on the mind of badgers young and old. There is no better testament to that than the newly released Supper Club, a “true American Lager.”

The Supper Club looks about what you would expect, crystal clear, a golden straw color, with some bone white head. More head retention than your average American-style lager. The nose is very subtle. Some bready malt and the faintest herbal hops are balanced by the right amount of sulfur. Right for the style, that is, but still too much for my taste.

The flavor, too, is remarkably average. A decent malt character, but nothing to write home about. Again, the noble hops work themselves in, but almost imperceptibly. The taste of sulfur adds some background noise that could come from the yeast, but perhaps it’s a veritable corn adjunct. The body is on the weaker end, even for this type of beer.

Overall, this beer would fit in nicely with many made in this country in times past, but I’m not sure it’s enough to warrant production by an otherwise respected brewery. Since it’s not as hoppy as PBR nor as malty as Bud, I just don’t see myself ordering it. I suppose it fits the bill, though.

Next up I will be trying Capital’s Oktoberfest lager. This märzen has a thick and pillowy off-white head above a mildly hazy, gamboge-colored beer (hardly the “fiery amber” they claim). The nose has that restrained maltiness that many Oktoberfest beers do, the sensation of bread and barley just under the surface, trying vainly to break free. The hops add a hint of herbal character to the aroma. As it opens up, the toast becomes more noticeable, but it is still much too restrained.

The flavor is richly malty. Bread, biscuits, and toast combine with the taste of my sister’s homemade pizza crust. This strong and supple malt flavor is backed with a reasonable herbal hop flavor, though for a style originally intended to exhaust all the hops for the season, it could use more. A light residual sweetness and mild bitterness tease the palate. Both disappear relatively quickly, leaving a sessionable beer, as any Oktoberfest should be.

Tonight I will be rounding out these relatively mild lagers with an aggressively hoppy double IPA from Ale Asylum. The Satisfaction Jacksin pours a very hazy mahogany. The pale golden ochre head is full and creamy. The nose is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. This beer exudes the citrusy character for which Pacific Northwest-grown so-called C-hops earned their place in the hop pantheon. No wonder it is so hoppy, as it has “over 3 pounds of Centennial per barrel.” I could sit here just smelling this all day.

But I have to try it. The taste is hoppy. Quite pleasantly hoppy. Rich floral and citrus flavors burst forth, backed up by a solid malt foundation. The caramel and toast flavors of the malt meld harmoniously with the grapefruit character of the hops. Amazingly, there is almost no perceptible bitterness, despite the significant hopping rate. A full and creamy palate certainly works to that end, balancing what bitterness was to be had, while remaining fresh and lively. This beer is like Cookie Monster: big, fuzzy, and sweet.

And one more note: if you search for this beer, do not click on the link for “Satisfaction Jackson,” that’s not what your looking for.

++Ale Asylum Satisfaction Jacksin

4.3 (4-9-8-4-18)

+Capital Oktoberfest

3.8 (3-7-8-4-16)

+/-Capital Supper Club

3.0 (3-6-6-3-12)


Monday, January 10th, 2011

While I was in New York I also got up to the Bohemian Hall, a century-old beer garden in Astoria. There, I tried the lager from the second largest brewery in the Czech Republic, Pivovary Staropramen.

The Staropramen is a clear, golden straw beer with a coppery haze breaking through. The thick and creamy head is bone white and leaves a significant lacing on the glass. Sure the nose has a rich maltiness, but it is sullied by a fairly prominent sulfury corn character.

In the flavor as well the corn overpowers the malt, disturbing the caramel and toast notes. Even more difficult to detect was the herbal and earthy character of the noble Czech hops. While the body was full and creamy, it was just a bit cloying.

This lager shows promise, but it doesn’t measure up.


3.1 (4-6-6-3-12)

Weihenstephaner Vitus

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

I stopped in at the Radegast beer hall on 3rd Street in Brooklyn. Plenty of wood and dim lights decorate this bar that has at least a dozen choices on tap at any given time. They’ve got a fair bottle menu of mostly German lagers and Belgians to boot: the entire line of Lindeman’s impresses me, the Boon Gueuze impresses me more. Lively staff, mustard produced in-house, and (according to my buddy Trevor) tasty sausages.

I had a draft of Vitus, a bock beer made with wheat (weizenbock), produced by the oldest brewery in the world, Weihenstephan. The brewery (as well as the university of the same name) sit atop a mountain overlooking the town of Freising in Bavaria. I’m not sure the Radegast should be offering this beer in 1.5 liter mugs; just one full liter of a beer over 7.5% alcohol is probably plenty.

The Vitus pours a golden straw color and deeply hazy. The generous head is frothy and bone-white. A strong spiciness and shades of banana lead the aroma and are accompanied by cloves and an earthiness.

Rich bready malt flavor and some residual sweetness almost entirely hide the alcohol. All that is present is the spice and just a hint of heat. A light herbal hop character complements this and balances the malt. The faintest hint of bananas. Creamy carbonation gives a soft and rounded body.

Overall this beer is wonderful. Flavorful, but still dangerously sessionable. A quote from my tasting notes: “how does it hide the whatsit percent alcohol?”

++Weihenstephaner Vitus

4.4 (5-8-8-5-18)