Barley Wines That Stand Out
- Feb 23 '16
When Michael came to O’so Brewing Company in Plover, Wisconsin it was to see a home brewer’s dream come true. Back in 2003, home brewer Marc Buttera opened a tiny brewing supply store – 200 Square feet, too small for even a bathroom. And he paid for the startup with a 5,000 charge to his credit card. Not much more than a decade later, he’s expanded to a brewery with production now up to 7,000 barrels a year. And the beer he’s brewing includes some of the most clever and unique in all of Wisconsin, often made with indigenous Wisconsin ingredients. Like the Kartoffelbock. It’s a maibock, a strong German lager with a Wisconsin twist – potatoes (Wisconsin is the third leading potato producer in the United States). This is the beer Marc asked Michael to help him brew.
First, 500 pounds of mashed potatoes went into the water in the vessel. Then, an 80/20 mix of pilsen malt and six-row malted barley (which provides extra enzymes). It took hand paddling to ensure that the mixture was homogenous, which allowed the temperature to be evenly distributed throughout. The mixture was brought to boiling, a level of heat not normally used at this stage. It was then added to another vessel, in which a nearly identical mash was being made at a lower temperature (122 F) and without potatoes. When added together, the temperature balanced out in the low 150’s. It’s a variation of a traditional German and Czech technique called decoction, which – complicated chemistry aside - enhances the flavor and color of the beer and the production of sugar, which then breaks down into alcohol.
The next step was adding the hops. In the case of what, without the potatoes, would basically be a traditional German beer, German hops were used: tettnang for a spicy, noble flavor; hallertau, a quintessential German hop to give the beer its crisp quality; and magnum hops for bittering. Hops with a high alpha content, such as the magnum, are ideal for bittering because they produce the lowest amount of vegetable matter.
The end result was a caramel colored big, strong and very tasty beer.
Michael summed it up this way: “I would not have suspected a potato beer would be this tasty this pretty and this drinkable.”
In the tap-room between the brew-house and the much-expanded brewing supply store, Michael met some of O’so’s loyal and enthusiastic fans, who were enjoying a wide range of O’so beers, including:
And O’so’s whimsical approach to making excellent beer isn’t confined to the names of the brews. Watching Lupulin Maximus (an oak aged Imperial IPA) being bottled, Michael saw two unique elements. First, workers were stuffing a whole Centennial hop cone into each bottle before capping. Second, those workers were wearing large costumes that made them look like walking beer bottles (they do it only for this beer). And the beer was good too.
Just a few doors down from the brewery is Mikey’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, home to some of O’so’s biggest fans. Here, Michael joined chef Justin Vargas to do some beer-centric cooking: Bone-In Apple Compote Hopdinger Pork Chops.
Michael helped cut each individual chop, and season them with pepper, kosher salt, and fresh rosemary before cooking. Then he helped create the compote – diced apples and minced red onions sautéed with Hopdinger pale ale, garlic, brown sugar, local Wisconsin honey, salt and pepper. The pork chops were then topped with the compote before spending a few more minutes in the oven to caramelize the glaze.
At dinner, the dish was paired with the same beer it was cooked in,Hopdinger, the dry-hopped pale ale with citrus notes and Munich malt flavor. The hops and the sweet flavor of the apples harmonized perfectly, while the floral notes of the hops paired with the rosemary.
Next came Volcano Braised Pork Shank (with IPA smashed potatoes) paired with the Rusty Red, a “nutty amber,” made with both Vienna and Munich malts. The smooth, malty flavor of the beer and its restrained hop notes brought out the best in the pork without overwhelming it.
A Chilean pan-seared salmon dish, with a three-berry compote made with honey and the Rusty Red ale, was paired with both O’so’s Memory Lane (a German-style pilsner with a noble hop aroma and a sweet, malty flavor) and the Big O (a wheat ale with an orange note). The results were remarkably different; the pilsner complemented both the sweet and savory aspects of the fish, while the subtleness of the Big O tended to balance out the totality of the heavily flavored dish.
The night ended fittingly with the Night Train Portr, paired with tender mussels steamed in the beer as well. The rich oatmeal porter’s chocolate notes paired perfectly with the earthiness of the mussels.
It was a meal – and a visit – that were both oh so good.