Wisconsin Brewing Company of Verona tweaked the recipe of its Golden Amber lager this past summer to create Badger Club. Since the beer’s introduction last month in bottles, sales have soared to make it the brewery’s top-selling beer. It could theoretically become its flagship brew. “The last time someone asked me what our breakthrough beer was, I said we haven’t brewed it yet. But now if asked, I’d say our breakthrough beer is Badger Club,” says brewery president Carl Nolen.
While it does make for a nice Badger tailgate beer, there’s no direct association with Wisconsin athletics. Over the past few years, brewmaster Kirby Nelson has been looking back at pre- and post-prohibition era breweries for ideas for Wisconsin-themed labels and marketing. He calls Badger Club an homage to the state’s nickname. A few early uses of “badger” in beer labeling include: auerbach’s Badger Club (Madison), Effinger’s Badger Brew (Baraboo), and Calumet Brewing’s Badger Brau (Chilton).
What is it? Badger Club from Wisconsin Brewing Company.
Style: Badger Club is very similar to an Oktoberfest (a Märzen lager), a style known for being medium-bodied, golden to light copper in color, with a malt focus in aroma and flavor. They are usually not hop-forward, yet hopped enough to lend balance. Oktoberfests can be classified among a large catch-all category of amber lagers, but they are often stronger, with more body and malt character. Oktoberfests range in strength from 5-6 percent ABV.
Background: Badger Club’s beginnings as a golden amber lager go back to a trial batch of beer called WBC #001 released even before the brewery opened in fall 2013. It eventually became one of the brewery’s first beers and while it was well received, it never stood out, at least enough for Kirby Nelson. “I always thought our amber was okay but that we could do so much more with it.” Last summer Nelson went back to the drawing board, tweaking the malts and changing the hops and yeast altogether. “It’s full-flavored, yet relaxed. It’s a beer with more confidence from its malty backbone and balance,” says Nelson.
A dramatically different malt bill centers on Munich and caramel malts. (The prior amber showcased a bready malt called Moravian 37.) Nelson also changed the hops; Cascade now provides a crisp balance to the malt.
Badger Club first started appearing in Madison on draft in mid-August. One of its first unveilings was at Great Taste of The Midwest. Bottles started turning up in October and now it can be found statewide. Badger Club finishes at 5.5 percent ABV and an estimated 28 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). It sells in six-packs for around $9.
Aroma: A light, yet firm, maltiness.
Appearance: Clear copper color, with a soft tan head.
Texture: Medium-bodied with softness.
Taste: A smooth caramel maltiness with hints of bready and biscuit sweetness.
Finish/Aftertaste: Just enough Cascade hops to balance the malt and give it a clean ending.
Glassware: The Willi Becher, with its inward taper near the lip, will focus the pleasant bready and biscuit maltiness of the aroma.
Pairs well with: Fish fries, brats and burgers. In fact it’s hard to imagine what it won’t complement.
The Verdict: Badger Club redefines what an amber lager can be. This is a flavorful beer with a lot of personality. I like its malt-forward aroma and smooth caramel tones. The Cascade hops are in the background, without grapefruitiness; there’s just enough to lend balance against the backdrop of the malt. Its smooth malty profile goes great with a range of food pairings.