Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sweet Mullets Brewpub

This past weekend, at the ripe ol' age of 26, I went to my first Brewers game at Miller Park in Milwaukee! It's an iconic experience for any Wisconsinite.
The group that I traveled with was pretty pumped to see the "Brew Crew" play, but everyone was significantly less enthused about paying eight bucks at the park for a Miller Lite. Yeeeeesh! So we decided to take a detour to grab a couple of beers before the game at a new, local brewpub in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Sweet Mullets opened this past March and offers an ever-changing lineup of microbrews. We found out that the brewery is called Sweet Mullets because the head brewer had a really sweet mullet at one point. Mullets aside, this guy knows how to brew! When we visited, they were featuring: Eleven - Belgian IPA; The Captain - Pre-Prohibition American Pilsner; MECO - Ginger Wheat; 501 - American Red Ale; 505 - Export Stout; Autumn Leaf; and Rye Bob- American Rye.
The "standouts" for our group were the ginger wheat, the stout, the red ale, and the pre-prohibition pilsner. This was a really wonderful brewery with a skilled brewer. Typically when I taste a beer flight,  maybe one out of 10 beers is worth a second look. At Sweet Mullets, half of the beers we sampled were complex and noteworthy-- the other half were also excellent, enjoyable drinkers. It was honestly really difficult to pick which beer to get a pint of after the flight. All of the beers were that good.
I ordered the ginger wheat because I'm a sucker for well-executed wheat beers. It had great flavor and the ginger didn't overwhelm the nose or the taste of the brew. Other members of our posse ordered the stout, which was very smooth and full bodied. It wasn't bitter like some stouts and had a rich nose with hints of caramel. The red was malty but with an unexpected (and skillfully done) dry finish. The pilsner tasted yeastier than a typical pilsner, but that gave it the satisfying complexity of an unfiltered beer.

The food at Sweet Mullets was excellent as well. The chipotle beef tacos were a nice alternative to most "pub grub" you find at Wisconsin bars. Their homemade chicken corn chowder was also a great Fall choice. The brewpub offers cheese boards and (of course) cheese curds.
the pickled egg

The brewmaster at Sweet Mullets, Mark Duchow, also makes his own pickled eggs that you can purchase for a dollar a piece. According to our bartender, Mark thinks that "every bar needs pickled eggs." We were so impressed by his beers that we decided to test out his pickling prowess as well. It was a memorable experience! It essentially tasted like a spiced hard boiled egg. The pickled jalapeno garnish was nice touch as well. I recommend taking the plunge and trying a pickled egg if you're in an adventurous mood. The eggs are purchased fresh from a local farmer in Oconomowoc :)

You can follow Sweet Mullets on their facebook page where they post new brews and special events that they're running at the brewpub! The brewpub is located at N58W39800 Industrial Road, Suite D, in Oconomowoc.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Homebrewing Pumpkin Beer

Fall is in the air and that can only mean one thing... the words "pumpkin" and "spice" are being added to the names of all things edible. And I seriously can't help myself. I see a pumpkin latte and it pulls me in like a neodymium magnet.

Last weekend I went to the Westside Community Market off of University Avenue (which is a great Saturday farmer's market alternative if you don't want to fight the crowds on the capital square), and I scored a beautiful 16 lb pumpkin. MTC co-author, Greg, and I decided to brew a pumpkin ale under the supervision of my fiance (and master homebrewer), J. Incase anyone wants to try our recipe, here's the play-by-play for brewing a malty, spiced pumpkin beer.
 Here's our pumpkin! We purchased it from Don's Produce booth--their farm is located in Arena, WI
 In addition to a 12-16lb pumpkin, you'll need the following ingredients:
6 lbs golden light malt extract
1.5 lbs crystal malt 60L
1 cup brown sugar
2 oz williamette hops (for boiling)
1 oz mt. hood hops (for aroma)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, chopped
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered Irish moss
American Ale WYeast
For those of you who live in the Madison area, we like to purchase all of our homebrewing supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe street. The staff there is super friendly and very knowledgable! 
 It takes about an hour to roast the pumpkin, so you want to get that prepped and in the oven before you start your beer. The first step in preparing a pumpkin is removing the stem. This will help the pumpkin fit in the oven a little better and the stem won't burn during the roasting process. Greg used his Conan-like braun to rip the stem off. A knife will work, too.
 After removing the stem, wash off any excess dirt from the skin of the pumpkin. I'm not sure if this step is totally necessary because you end up scooping out the pumpkin flesh and the skin isn't even part of the brew. But the inner germaphobe in me thought it would be best if our gourd was squeaky clean. You never know, right? 
 Next, you'll want to slice the pumpkin in half. This can get tricky, so make sure that you're using a REALLY sharp knife and that you're stabilizing the pumpkin on your cutting surface (you don't want your gourd rolling away on you). We had a box of bandaids on hand just incase this step went awry, but luckily we didn't have to bust them out. 
 Phew! After slicing your pumpkin in half, you're going to want to scoop out the guts.
We used a spoon to scoop out most of the innards (halloween jack-o-lanter style), but to get all of the other strings and seeds out, nothing works better than getting your hands in there.
 Here's what the finished, prepped pumpkin will look like. Put the pumpkin on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 1 hour at 350 degrees. (added bonus: it'll make your house smell awesome)
When you pull your pumpkin out of the oven, make sure to check that it's done by poking it with a fork (it should feel tender, kind of like a baked potato). If your fork doesn't go in easily, it might be a good idea to put your pumpkin back in the oven for a few minutes. 
Here's where it get's really fun (read: really messy. Seriously, wear an apron or a poncho or one of those golfing rain suits with the waterproof pants). Scoop out all of the pumpkin flesh into a bowl and beat it with a hand mixer on the highest speed. This step increases the surface area of the pumpkin which will help add pumpkin flavor to the mash. For a glossary of brewing terms, scope out this handy link.
This is the desired consistency you want for the pumpkin pulp. Get a load of that vibrant, yellow color!
   Now, you're ready to brew!! You want to bring 2 gallons of water up to 150 degrees. Add the pumpkin pulp and the grain bag (filled with your crystal malt) to the water. Keep this mixture at 150 degrees for aprox 30 minutes.
Remove the grain bag and bring the mixture to a boil. Add in your malt extract and the "boiling" hops ("boiling" hops are used in the boiling phase of brewing. You'll still have some "aroma" hops left over for the end of the brewing process).
It's really important to STIR STIR STIR after adding the malt extract because you don't want the sugars in the malt to burn to the bottom of the brew kettle. You want to boil this mixture for 60 minutes total. After the first 50 minutes, add your spices (cinnamon, ginger, allspice, vanilla bean, etc.) and the Irish moss. After 58 minutes, add the "aroma" hops.

Once the 60 minutes is up, you want to cool the mash. We filled our kitchen sink with cold water and ice cubes, then plopped our brew kettle in there-- it worked great! At this point, you'll want to sanitize your carboy and tubing. It's important to note (just incase all of this pumpkin man-handling and ingredient adding looks like the hard part), homebrewing is 90% janitorial work and 10% brewing. Awesome sanitation means awesome beer!! So spending a little extra time up front scrubbing and rinsing is totally worth it in the long run :)

After your carboy is sanitized, fill it with 3 gallons of cold water. Then, pour your mash through a funnel (with a mesh filter in the bottom) into the carboy. Because the mash is so thick from the pumpkin pulp, it's going to take a little longer to filter the liquid into the carboy. It took us almost 90 minutes to get the mash liquid into the carboy. If needed, you can pour a little extra water through the funnel in order to bring your batch up to 5 gallons total. Once the contents of the carboy cools off to 80 degrees, you can pour in the activated WYeast.

Finally, put a stopper and air lock in the carboy and place it in a dark location to ferment for two weeks! You'll want to find a dark place because sunlight oxidizes the hops which can alter the taste of your brew.

If you have any other questions about homebrewing, is a great resource. Also, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian is considered the beginning homebrewer's bible. There are some seriously great tips in there!

Happy fall everyone! :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Germans in Wisconsin

My grandfather turned 90 this year.  This is a considerable age for anybody, but grandpa represents the last of a very unique minority in Wisconsin.  Despite our sizable German population, not many people actually speak the language.  My grandfather is last of a generation growing up in Wisconsin that spoke German as their mother tongue.

Liederkranz (Mens Choir) in Wausau, Wisconsin 1884.
Madison's Fire Station No. 2, made entirely of German volunteers,
in front of our 2nd capitol building.  1872.
The history of Germans in Wisconsin is enormous.  Roughly 45% of Wisconsinites claim German heritage (compared to the rest of the United States which claims 17% on average).1  The first wave of Germans in any sizable number began in the 1830’s.  At this time Germany wasn’t even a unified country, just a series of duchies and principalities that shared a common language.  But Germans were attracted to Wisconsin due to the wide availability of fertile farm land and the natural resemblance the Wisconsin landscape had to their own beloved Germany.  Soon, Germans established themselves all over Wisconsin, but congregated mostly in south-eastern Wisconsin; communities like Racine, Kenosha, and Milwaukee became centers of German culture and influence.  They brought their customs, traditions, and holidays with them from the Old Country, and strengthened their communities by opening their own schools and churches.  Brewing became a trademark occupation of Germans in Wisconsin, and names such as Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller, all come from German families that settled in Milwaukee. 

In other parts of Wisconsin, the Polish, Scandinavians, and Irish established themselves.  When Wisconsin earned it’s statehood in 1848, the state’s constitution was published in English, German, and Norwegian to meet the needs of this citizens.2  Margarethe Schurz, a German-born woman that moved to Wisconsin, opened the first United States Kindergarten (conducting class in German) in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1854.  German immigrants had became so populous in Wisconsin, that they formed their own infantry regiment during the Civil War, the 9th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment.  But when the English-bred Yankees came in from New England, they targeted the wide-spread Germans in their crusade to homogenize American culture. In 1889, the Bennett Law was passed in Wisconsin that required the teaching of all school subjects in English – public or private.  Some towns only spoke German.  Many Lutheran and Catholic parochial schools were operated by Germans, and their preferred medium was German.  The new law incised many previously non-political rural Germans and the law was struck down in 1891 by newly-elected Democrats voted into place by the German population.  Anti-German sentiment was growing and hit a fever-pitch during WWI, when sauerkraut was renamed 'Liberty Cabbage' and many German families changed their last names to sound more English.  The second-largest brewery in the United States, Miller, was originally Müller.  And the influence didn't end at the turn of the 20th century.  Milwaukee, with it's high German population, was a beacon of Socialist politics in the early 1900's.  The Sewer Socialists (so named because of the excellent infrastructure they maintained) kept a Socialist mayor in Milwaukee from 1910 to 1960!

Grandpa August and my grandmother, June.  1946.
My grandfather was born in Milwaukee in 1922, in the middle of the last big wave of German immigration.  He grew up on a small farm in LeRoy, Wisconsin, which was almost all German.  The road signs and newspaper was all written in German, and it wasn’t until WWII that English became the language of the land.  Grandpa August grew up speaking German with his family and neighbors.  I spoke to him recently about his childhood, speaking German in Wisconsin in the 1930’s.

Im LeRoy – ein kelines Dorfden meistens Leute waren alle Deutsch, die alle deutsche gesprochen.  Endlich, mit dem Krieg, English waren wirklich gesprochen, aber ich habe alle English gelernt in die acht Jahren, in die katholishe Schule, die mit Schwesternnicht leute von der Strassesie warren alle Schwestern – in Racine, Wisconsin.  Dominicans, sehr gut.  Aber wenn Sie aelter sind, dann vergisst man immer noch mehr und gesprochenlich mehr.  Wir gehen zu Deutschland und dann drei, vier Tag mit den Leute sprechen – deutsch, dann kommt e simmer wieder zurueck.

Translation: In LeRoy – a small town – most of the people were German and they all spoke German.  However, with the end of the [Second World] War, English was really most spoken.  I learned everything in English in the eight years I spent at the Catholic school, with the nuns not people from the streetthey were all nuns.  The school was in Racine, Wisconsin.  When you’re older, then you are always forgetting more and having more difficulty speaking the language.  We go to Germany, and then in three or four days of speaking German with the people, then it always comes back again.

Keeping traditions alive.
Today, there are a number of German-medium schools in Wisconsin, including the private Deutsche-Amerikanische Kulturvereinigung Schule and the Milwaukee German Immersion School, which is a K-5 school in the Milwaukee Public School system.  Because of Grandpa's upbringing, he caught the attention of Joseph Salmons, a professor at UW-Madison researching native German speakers from Wisconsin and their influence on modern Englis.  Using his band of merry grad students, Salmons records and gathers speech from German speakers all over the state.  From this, we can see how German (as well as Polish and Norwegian) has influenced the way modern English is spoken in Wisconsin.  It is fascinating research, and if you'd like to learn more, check out the Wisconsin Englishes website.

Nowadays, the influence of the German immigrants and their culture can be found all over Wisconsin.  From bratwurst to beer, to polka and even our language, Germans have made Wisconsin what it is today --  a great state with a wonderfully rich heritage and culture unlike any other in the country.  Prosit!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Better Know A Town: Lake Mills

You’re in Madison and you’ve done pretty much everything.  New Glarus, though quaint, can only entertain the out-of-town relatives so many times.  Where else can support a full-fledged day trip?  Enter Lake Mills.  This small, unassuming town has more than you’d think.  An easy 20-minute drive down I-94 from Madison, Lake Mills is a great getaway when Madison is otherwise occupied.

Lake Mills is a town steeped in history and intrigue.  The lake itself has a Loch Ness-style myth stating that three pyramids sit at the bottom of the Rock Lake.  This lake is also known as Tyranena, a name that was at one time used by the city before the white settlers switched back to Lake Mills.  Though aerial photography has not proved the pyramids yet, some locals are hopeful that their story will be vindicated by future academics.

Carp's Landing

Recommended Reuben.
We got our start at Carp's Landing pub and grill.  With a Sunday brunch that included house-smoked ribs and brisket, and a menu that featured “Wisconsin’s Best Reuben” we knew that we had to try it out.  Located in historic downtown Lake Mills, this place was accessible and spacious.  The brunch was buffet style but featured a large variety of options including some surprisingly delicious house-smoked barbecue.  The Reuben was indeed tasty, but could have used more of that house-brined corned beef between the bread.  A big redeeming quality of Carp's Landing was the $1 mimosas during Sunday brunch—a welcome counterpoint to the beer we’d be sampling later in the day.

The reconstructed palisades of Aztalan

 After fueling up, it was only five miles east of town to get to Aztalan State Park.  I have to admit, my insistence of stopping here was directly due to my degree in archaeology courtesy of Beloit College, but the consensus from the group was that it was both a relaxing and educational way to spend an afternoon.  Though discovered in the 1830’s when the first permanent European settlers came to area, much of the settlement was destroyed by local farmers until preservation societies and the government intervened in the 1960’s.  Aztalan finally made the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and is now a stare park so that all may learn and enjoy the rich culture of the Mississippians.

The large mound at Aztalan
Aztalan is the northernmost site in a series of mound-builder settlements (known academically as the Mississippian Culture) that ranged from northern Florida to Wisconsin.  Aztalan featured a series of large mounds built between 900 and 1300 CE and the modern state park even has reconstructed wood palisades to help visitors envision what the site might have looked like in it heyday.  We strolled the mounds, read the signs, and learned about the people that called Wisconsin home before our ancestors moved to this beautiful land.

Chief Blackhawk at Tyranena Brewery

Needless to say, magnificent ancient societies can take a lot out of somebody.  After tromping around the mounds, we had worked up a thirst.  Lucky for us, Tyranena Brewery is right down the road from Aztalan.  Tyranena has been brewing since 1999 and making some of the best craft beer Wisconsin has seen.  They’re one of the first breweries in the state that experimented with bourbon-barrel brews, and have been producing an impressive range of beers that keep both connoisseurs and newcomers to craft beer curious for more.  In the sampling room, we had a flight of 9 brews for only $10--a great deal for anybody looking to try the line.

Going down the line
Favorites of the day were the two "Brewers Gone Wild!" releases which are only made for a limited time.  The HopWhore was an impressive Imperial IPA that kicked you in the mouth with 7.5% alcohol and a whole lot of hops.  This thing was bitter.  The other was Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter Aged in Rye Barrels.  Both the name and flavor was a mouthful.  Rye, rye, and more rye was backed up with hefty malt and oak flavors.  Simply delicious.  Another quirk that we loved about Tyranena was the beautiful Golden Retriever that wandered the sampling room.  Apparently there are a few dogs that hang out at the bar.  The one we met was very friendly and cultivated a welcome atmosphere at the brewery.

For me, the combination of archaeology and beer was divine.  Lake Mills has earned More Than Curds' seal of approval and makes a great day trip for the whole family.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fall color

Yes, it is only early September, but in Wisconsin that means that autumn -- clearly the most superior of seasons -- is right around the corner!  And proof of this annual phenomena is illustrated very clearly in the Wisconsin Fall Color Report.  It's a handy little site that tells you where the color is coming in and where it the color peak your county is at.  So far, there's fall color in only four counties, but come October the forests will bloom with dusty hues of amber and fire.

Check in with More Than Curds for fun autumn activities, photos, and recipes!