Milwaukee Breweries: MobCraft and Urban Harvest

The second stop on my Milwaukee brewery tour took us to MobCraft and Urban Harvest. I had just spent hours in the tattoo chair, so I was ready for something better than mediocre.

We arrived at MobCraft first, and found the place hopping. There were tons of people there, and it was a bit loud, but the space was welcoming and open. There were a foosball table off to one side, which had an excited set of people going crazy, as well as one of those sword fighting setups that beep when you strike the other person. Because it was so crowded we took a seat at the bar and I looked over the huge menu.

MobCraft has a lot of beers that are suggested by members of their community, and so they change things up quite a lot. They have a whole system of voting for which beers to make, and then that beer is available for a limited time. I ordered up a flight of things that sounded interesting, and then started sampling.

For the second time in two days I was blown away by the amazing quality that a small brewery can put out. Every beer I tried was beautifully balanced and flavorful. Three of my four beers were darker beers, and the complexity of roasts were on full display. I was doling out 4 starts for almost every beer. I also tried one of their sour beers and found it to be really good; not too tart, but not too sweet.

I enjoyed their beer so much I ordered up a four pack of cans to bring home. I was confident enough in what I had tasted that 3 our of 4 of the cans I brought home were not beers I had tried. I’ve gotten through a couple of them since I’ve returned and I’m just amazed at how good their beer is. This is another one to put on your list of places to hit for really good beer in the MKE area.

IMG_2284.jpgOur second stop was a quick visit to Urban Harvest. They’re located in a very old building in an old downtown area in the Walker’s Point area. The vibe in the building reminded me of old Stillwater, MN. I selected a couple of beers to sample and took a seat. Many of their beers were very strong, and so I actually only took a couple of small sips. However, everything was nicely done, though not quite to the level of blowing me away. It was solid, competent beer, in a great environment.

It appears that they also have a small theater attached that does music and comedy shows. At one point the taproom got very crowded as the show let out, and everyone streamed back in. Overall, another good find for a place to check out if you’re in the area.

I’m pleased to report that Milwaukee has some good beer going on, and I was happy to get to experience it. There’s still a lot more places I’d like to hit if I’m in town there again. As with Minnesota, the craft beer scene is growing, and there’s a lot of opportunity for really great flavors wherever you go.

Milwaukee Breweries: Enlightened and Eagle Park

On my trip to Milwaukee this weekend I made sure to spend some time visiting the local breweries. On Friday my son and I headed over to a couple breweries that were in the same building, Enlightened and Eagle Park.

We arrived at Eagle Park, which has a nice entrance off the main drag, with a big garage door that I would assume makes for a really nice summer hang-out spot. I ordered up a flight of 4 beers and opened up Untappd to start logging my thoughts. First though, I should mention that the interior space at Enlightened is really cool. It’s an old loading dock, and so their brewing equipment is elevated above ground level, which makes it look like it’s on display. The overall vibe was really industrial and cool.

However, I found the beer to be mediocre. A problem that I’m discovering in many small breweries lately is the lack of balance. Hop and malt character needs to work together, not against each other. In the case of Enlightened, I found many of their beers were dank when it came to bitterness. Earthy and dank for a hop character isn’t a bad thing, but you need to match it with a malt bill that balances it out. Personally, I like a little bit more caramel and sweetness in my malt backbone if you’re going to do earthy hops.

I didn’t find any of their beers undrinkable, but I just wasn’t that impressed. Probably the best in the batch for me was the Rye, which had a nice tartness to it. However, I really wish new breweries would spend more time on recipe development before launching and thinking that they can just shove anything to market. If you’re the only game in town that’s one thing, but this is Milwaukee, and all we had to do was head upstairs for a totally different experience.

IMG_2266.jpgEagle Park Brewing is on the second floor of the same warehouse building as Enlightened, and you even have to get buzzed in by a call box to enter. Once you find your way up, you’re greeted with a quaint little taproom that is decorated simply with a lot of music posters. It’s obvious that they enjoy music quite a lot at Eagle Park.

For as mediocre as Enlightened was, Eagle Park was a breath of fresh air. Everything I had there was really, really good. In particular I LOVED their Peach Milkshake beer. It was fruity and creamy, without being too chemically tasting. Perhaps it was my joy at finding decent beer, but I gave that one 5 stars. I was also very impressed by their Set List IPA. It was a truly balanced IPA, which seems to be a rarity these days. The hop character matched the malt body, and made for a really nice and drinkable beer.

I enjoyed their beers so much that I picked up one of their ‘make-your-own-4-packs’ to bring home. I’m saving some of them to share with friends, but the Peach Milkshake might not make it that long. I’m very excited with what I tried at Eagle Park, and I’m excited to see them grow. I was told that they’re actually moving to a bigger space soon, and it’s a well deserved upgrade. If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend checking them out.

Next up, another couple of places that help restore my faith in brewing.

Loony’s Brews

As always, when I’m traveling I like to engage in some beer tourism. Last week when I was in International Falls for the start of the Arrowhead 135 I took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t running the next morning, and hit the local brewery. Technically, Loony’s Brews is in Ranier, which is a small town just a couple miles to the east of IFalls. We headed out after we checked in to our hotel, to see what the local beer flavor was like.

Loony’s is located in an old building right on the lake front. Even in the dark, we were able to make out the outline of the Canadian shore across the channel. In fact, they get a lot of boat-up business in the summer time with Canadian’s coming across from Fort Frances to sample some American brews. When we arrived, the channel was mostly frozen, and there were only a few of us from the race hanging out in the place.

I ordered up a couple of flights and dug in. Overall, the beer was passable, with a couple standout items. In particular, the Black Swan Stout was quite tasty, and I could see drinking a couple of these on a harsh cold evening. Much of the other beer was OK, but it felt like they could use a bit more practice with recipe development and process control. I felt like the biggest issue was that the balance between malts and hops could use some tweaking. Sometimes the hop profile would be good, but would need more backbone on the malt side to carry it, or vice versa.

IMG_2177.jpgThat isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the beer at Loony’s. I simply feel that it has room to grow and improve. They’ve only been open and brewing for less than a year, so it’s understandable that they’re still getting their legs under them. Considering the other options available at the bars around town, and I’ll take an adequate craft beer any day.

One of the difficulties with small town breweries is that they are often the only brewery around for many, many miles. When you don’t have others to compete against, and collaborate with, it takes longer to develop, and build up flavors. I have no doubt that Loony’s will continue to grow, and if I’m back there next year I look forward to seeing what’s new that they have to offer.

Birch’s on the Lake

On Saturday, I spent the morning running and volunteering at a local half-marathon with good friend Mike B. The race was held at Gear West in Long Lake which is right near a brewpub that I had never been to, Birch’s on the Lake. Despite not running a half marathon, we were both ready for a big meal. We ran almost 7 miles at the crack of dawn, and then volunteered for over three hours on our feet. It was time to replenish.

Birch’s had 8 beers on tap and was serving their weekend brunch menu. We ordered up a flight of all 8 beers and shared them so we could each taste them all. I was happy to see a few sours on the menu and had high hopes for them. The standout one for me was the Blood Orange berliner, which was super tart, but easy drinking. I was a bit disappointed by the Boysenberry Gose, as it was incredibly sweet, and almost syrup like.

The red rye and blonde ale were both very nice and easy drinking. They were the kind of beer I could see enjoying on a patio out on a lake. I had high expectations for their Chipotle Stout, and unfortunately it didn’t match up to what I had at Big Axe in Nisswa. The one beer that really stood out for us was their coffee ale. This was a straw colored beer infused with coffee and it had amazing flavor. The coffee flavor was rich and fresh, and the malt body of the underlying beer was very smooth. I recently had another pale coffee ale, and this beer knocked that one’s socks off. A truly amazing brew.

Our food arrived, and we enjoyed a nice time relaxing and talking about running and hiking. Birch’s was a great way to finish off a great morning, and I can see going back there if I’m ever in that neck of the woods again.

Blacklist Artisan Ales

This past weekend, while in Duluth for a race, I took a brief break in the action to stop by the newest taproom on the North Shore, Blacklist Artisan Ales. I only had about 45 minutes between activities, and so we walked down Superior Street for a quick taste of what they had to offer.

I took a seat at the bar and ordered up a flight. They had a pre-set flight, which was fine with me, as I had just finished running 16 miles and wasn’t in the mood to think too hard. The beertender explained that they specialized in Belgian style ales, and on the flight I had a Belgian Wit, Belgian IPA, Belgian Golden Strong, and a stout on nitro.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Belgian beers, as I find the yeast flavor a bit too “strong” for my liking. I can’t explain it fully, but there’s a sweet character to Belgian yeast that I find distracting from enjoying the malt and hop character of a beer. I started my sampling with the Belgian Wit. It was pretty much as I expected, a very boldly Belgian beer, but on par it was pleasant to drink. The lighter malt body of the wit was refreshing, and since it was just a flight sample, I found the beer acceptable.

Before I went to the next beer on the flight the beertender offered me a sample of their Keller Vienna which they had brewed up just for their Oktoberfest celebration that was going on. There was polka music on the speakers, and a small stage set up for people to dance. The entire space is a beautiful old building, with windows facing the street as well as Lake Superior. It’s light and fun, and is the type of place I could see myself sitting at for long periods of time.

The second beer on the flight was their Belgian Golden Strong. Immediately I noticed that it had a much, much more subdued Belgian quality than the Wit. It actually surprised me a lot, as I was expecting an even stronger sweetness. Instead, I found a very pleasant and drinkable beer, that still hinted at a Belgian ancestry, but it didn’t knock you in the face with sweetness. I’ve only occasionally enjoyed Golden Strong’s, but this beer was something I could see drinking more of. That’s a high compliment in my book.

Next up was the Belgian IPA. Again, this beer had a much more subtle Belgian character to it. It was distinctly Belgian, but not so strongly that it overpowered the hop character. It was a well rounded beer that would appeal to IPA fans as well as Belgian drinkers. Finally, I finished up with their Stout on nitro. Holy cow was this a perfect stout! It had a beautiful hint of chocolate that balanced wonderfully with the roasty character of the malt. Serving it on nitro just made everything better, as the smooth finish left the chocolate notes dangling on your palate well after you had taken your sip. They distribute this beer in cans, but on CO2. If I want the nitro version, I’ll have to come back.

Finally, I was treated to a quick taste of their Spruce DIPA. This was a nice refreshing beer, but at 9.5% is has to be a sipper. I usually have a hard time tolerating such high ABV, so I was pleased I got to get a simple taste before ending my visit.

I can say without a doubt that Blacklist is worth stopping by. The space is warm and inviting, and our beertender was friendly and helpful. As for the beer, it is all brewed exceptionally well, and for a non-Belgian drinker like myself, it provided a lot to enjoy, while still being a Belgian-heavy brewery. I loved the balance that they were able to achieve in their brews, and I will most certainly be making a stop back here from time to time as I’m through the area. I’d suggest you put in on your list as well.