Wisconsin: Spotted Cow, New Glarus, New Glarus

Knut made an interesting observation today about the way social media (a far better phrase than “community”) creates the unexpected, brings beer fans and brewers together on the level. No one is in charge and each is responsible for their own degree of honesty. I was so interested that I tried to use Google’s Swedish to English translator to see what the hubbub was all about and here is what I learned:

Holds up the cup. Noting that it is indeed good dark to be an IPA. For the glass to my nose to pull me in a lot of pine and citrus. Wait? May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something, and facing me is not the fresh hops, you might think should be there given that it is nybrygd. The taste is quite sweet, feels a little stale and boring, not very bitter, either. Nejdu, the batches were no further at all! Really sad, it felt more like a brown ale than an IPA on the verge of DIPA.

I was stunned. It was like looking in the mirror – beer tasting notes are actually the universal language. Forget Latin. To hell (dare I say) with Esperanto. We are all one though the power of “May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something.” Frère! Tovarich!!

This made me want to do the unexpected myself, bring the distant nearer. And, oddly, do it with corn. I worry about corn. And I am worried about the anti-corn forces out there, the barley storm troopers who would have you believe it is the drinker’s fault – your fault – that the maize beer is simply no good, that rice beer is the sole dominion of the macro-industrial Babbitt. I like to think corn has its place. I like to think that the Einstein or Newton of alt-grain brewing has yet to be born. He may even be among us. Uncelebrated. Unloved. He might be that lump over there on your sofa right now.

So, I took it upon myself to do what I can in the cause of corn and to start with the highest expression of corn, New Glarus Spotted Cow and add to it a Belgian of dignity / snob appeal to come up with some thoughts about what a corn brew might be. Tonight, that test is being done with Duval. I had hoped for Orval but the local LCBO was out of it. So Duval will have to do.

100% Spotted Cow: it pours a lovely slightly lemon golden. On the schnoz, it’s creamed corn (which I love), a little cream of wheat (which I also love) and a zig or a zag of yeasty goodness (who doesn’t like that?). Light bodied, slightly yogurt soured lager yeast, a bit of steely hop, fresh corn (not boiled like some of the unbest beer) and graininess. Finish is light – steel, grass, corn. What is not to like? Pure homage to the golden age of American beer. Wish it came in a can at my own corner store.

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Duval: slightly lighter with the Duval whipped egg white head. The smell is very nice. On the sniff, the sweetness of the corn now has bracing from the light spice of the Duval. On the mouth, there is a bit of a nullification like when two waves come up each other out upon the ocean… and disappear. Less corn but also less Belgian bubble gummy spiced goodness. But there is body and at the back end heat. You could see that a well handled tripel or Belgian strong gold could handle a little corn.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Duval: More whipped egg head but not enough corn flavour to justify the blending. While both beers are more fine in flavour than most I sip on an average day, the Duval spice really overpowers here and the corn is just a weird intrusion. No, this experiment really needs to be about Duval as a adjunct to the adjunct laced brew and not the other way around. Yet, there are some flavours that start to remind me of less than thrilling biscuity fruity sparkling wines.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Duval: This is good with the blend breaking out into a two step with the Spotted Cow sitting up front and the Duval carrying up the rear. Just a white froth head with open watery corny on the first swish followed by greater complexity with the finish marked by spice. The best of the blends and gives me hope for that ultimate Orval smackdown.

There you have it. The experiment you have all been waiting for. What did I learn? That you have to be careful pouring Duval into a shot glass as it readily explodes into a meringue of a head in the blink of an eye. And that Spotted Cow is a grand brew worth the respect given by the BAers. I have two more of these corny treats to go. What to blend with them?

Can’t We Just Admit We Like Corn Sometimes?

One of the things I don’t get about beer lovers is the seething disrespect of corn – aka maize for some of you. OK, maybe not seething but my comment the other day that I now craved New Glarus Spotted Cow was met with particular surprise by Jeffery Glazer of Wisconsin’s Madison Beer Review who wrote to say that “Spotted Cow is good, but to drive halfway across the country for it? I’d be really curious to hear what was said about it to cause such a reaction.” In response I wrote:

It’s the king o’corn, baby! I like the ur-cream ale Genesee Cream but I also like cream corn, corn chowder, corn on the cob and corn chips. I think the taste of corn gets a bum steer as far as corn and beer goes. Why praise other grains yet diss the maize? I have grown corn, have watched it grow and, I have to admit, admire it privately. Stan brought the Spotted Cow (as well as a few other New Glarus) and this corntastic beer made me love it. It is clean, has the raw chew-the-cob sweetness and is also balanced and without a tinge of chemical, the hallmark of modern corn-y brew…Did I mention it comes with corn?

I asked Stan when we were sipping his giftie if it had flaked corn and he thought maybe it was just corn sugar but was not in the know. I would be surprised if there is that much unfermentable corn in it from just a powder. Nonetheless, I am here to bear witness, bretheren and the real lesson here is that cream ale like Spotted Cow is corn ale and cream ale should be great! It is just a style, after all. Corn is, folks, and corn should be more than the flakes in your breakfast bowl. As I mentioned, I understand that there are two ways to get corn into beer. The most common is through glucose or corn sugar which is derided as an adjunct gone mad in American macro lagers but praised in Belgian tripels when, as I learned from Al Korzonas in his useful Homebrewing, Volume 1, simply combined with a little fructose to make candi sugar. This sort of addition of corn gets you a little more alcohol and a little less body but not much flavour – and certainly not the creamed corny goodness that is at the heart of Spotted Cow. Flaked maize is more like rolled barley or oats, a raw grain product that leaves plenty of unfermentables to add flavour. That is what I think I am tasting in that brew.

Maybe you know more than me but where are the rest of the corny adjuncts – the malted corn, the roasted corn or the crystal corn that some agronomist or another sort of lab-coated egghead should have developed by now? Surely a grain as versatile as corn could be subject to more treatments that might make for some other great beers. Surely there is a Department of Cornology in some Midwest US state working on coaxing more flavours from the humble yellow kernal. As far as may daydreams of future beer goes, I would think that the residual sweetness of corn could work in a roasty stout. The huskineess of a dried cob might also work when blended with a little rye malt. And Jeffery pointed out that it would also fit with the local and sustainable trends we are seeing becoming more and more important.

If corn can make a fine whiskey, why not a beer? And are there other fine corn beers out there, some modern chichas, that I do not know about?