For one week -- okay, for those counting, 10 days -- Madison Craft Beer Week has allowed us to put aside our divisions and focus attention on a common thread of interest -- beer! A brew by that very name, Common Thread, has become the toast of local brewpubs, tasting rooms and tap houses around Madison. Made at Capital Brewery, the beer is a collaboration between brewmasters Kirby Nelson (Capital), Rob LoBreglio (Great Dane), Tom Porter (Lake Louie), Scott Manning (Vintage), Page Buchanan (House of Brews) and Mark Knoebl (Grumpy Troll). The result? A showcase of remarkable brewing talent.
What is it? Common Thread is a beer made through the collaboration of six Madison area brewers.
Style: Common Thread is what its creators call a "Wisconsin Common." That's a reference to the style that inspired it, a California Common beer, made popular by the Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco, which has trademarked it as "steam beer." The style refers to a medium-bodied beer, bubbly from high carbonation. It is known for a light but sharp, hoppy aroma with hints of fruitiness. Expect some of that light fruity tone in the main flavor profile, mingled with a light grainy-maltiness and even some toasted caramel notes. The beer is fermented at temps that are on the high end (warm) for lagers and the low end (cool) for ales. In the case of Common Thread, it fermented for about three weeks at 61F. The style ranges from 4.5% to 5.5% ABV.
Background: Common Thread is called a "Wisconsin Common" because it's brewed by a collective, and also because it includes mostly locally harvested ingredients. Much of the malted barley that goes into the beer is a six-row brewer's pilsner malt grown in northern Wisconsin by Bo Belanger, the brewmaster at South Shore Brewery in Ashland. That base-malt is mashed with specialty malts like Munich, Caramel and Carapils. Hops are a mixture of Newport, Northern Brewer and Chinook, and were also Wisconsin-grown from Gorst Valley Hops of Mazomanie. Common Thread finishes around 5% ABV and 38-40 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Only about 35 barrels of Common Thread were made for Madison Craft Beer Week, so when it's gone, its likely to be gone for good. The beer's been appearing in select tap houses, and the brewpubs and taprooms of the men who created it, with most going to Capital Brewery, Vintage Brewing, and all four Madison-area locations of the Great Dane, where fans can also find a commemorative glass mug and t-shirt celebrating the project. Participating Common Thread brewers are already discussing making another special brew in 2013, possibly a different style.
Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning has already worked with Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson to harvest some of the yeast from this year's Common Thread, and he's using it to create a second-generation brew. It's a pilsner he's calling Loose Thread. Vintage hopes to offer it on tap in late May.
- Aroma: A hint of biscuit and bread-like maltiness, but overall very clean without a strong nose.
- Appearance: Clear, amber/copper colored with a medium, soft white head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, round and bubbly.
- Taste: Clean, nicely balanced. A firm, mild malty body with caramel and biscuit tones. There is a light soft and sweet fruitiness in the background of the main flavor.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Clean and bubbly, with a touch of evergreen-like bitter dryness from the Northern Brewer hops.
Glassware: The custom-made Common Thread glass mug is a good showcase for this beer. The thick handle insulates the beer, allowing it to remain at serving temperature, which helps maintain its bubbly crisp nature.
Pairs well with: This is a nice beer for a range of foods, from mildly seasoned burgers and soups to the traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry. While it's not an assertive beer, you'll be surprised how well it works with moderately flavorful entrees. Just don't expect it to compete with aggressive spices, heavy sauces, or robust sweetness.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Common Thread is a very nice session beer. With balanced flavor and a clean mouthfeel, it's easy to enjoy more than one at a sitting. It's middle-of-the-road and versatile with food. Because it's a collaborative effort by some of our best Madison brewmasters, and because it's brewed with mostly Wisconsin-grown ingredients, Common Thread is a common-sense choice in good local beer.