You could say this is one weaselly beer. The Great Dane at Hilldale Mall just tapped Pine Marten Red Ale, a brew that pays tribute to the reddish-brown weasel that roams Wisconsin's North Woods. Brewer Don Vasa has made a beer that shares a few qualities, in a good way, with this rare and endangered little creature.
Like the animal, the beer has a deep reddish-amber color, and its hoppiness, with a piney flavor and aroma, is reminiscent of the conifer forest the marten calls home. Moreover, for every pint of Pine Marten Red Ale you sip, the Great Dane donates to protecting the specieis.
What is it? Pine Marten Red Ale from the Great Dane Pub and Brewery at Hilldale Mall.
Style: Don Vasa is as skittish as a pine marten when asked to put this beer into a clear style category. However, he says its deep malty backbone and strong hop character make it closest to an imperial or double red ale. Known for strong hoppiness, yet balanced with nearly equally assertive malty and fruity esters, the imperial or double red ale is a medium- to full-bodied beer. The color is deep reddish-amber to dark copper. Alcohol content can be high and noticeable at 6.3%-8.4% ABV.
Background: Pine Marten Red Ale gets its color and body from seven types of malt, and distinctive Simcoe hops impart the piney hoppiness. Vasa says he really likes these hops because of their resiny tones, which match the robust malty combinations in the beer. "I had worked on an India Pale Ale recipe for the downtown Great Dane, a beer that had a lot of hops but just not the body I wanted," he explains, "so in making this beer I went heavy on the caramel, raisin and fruitiness from all the malt to match the Simcoe hops." The result is a beer that has assertive flavor and complexity.
Vasa got the idea of donating to the protection of the pine marten from friend and fellow beer drinker Ricardo Jomarron, president and founding member of the Habitat Education Center. For each pint of Pine Marten Red Ale sold, the Dane will donate 25 cents to the center. Pine martens are an endangered species in Wisconsin. They are found in the mature conifer forests of the northern part of the state, concentrated in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. They're about the size of a housecat, but weigh only a few pounds, with a bushy tail and a distinctive vertical line running from the corner of the eye up toward the ear. Pine martens are nocturnal and are one of the few weasels known to climb trees.
The Pine Marten Red Ale is not nearly as elusive, but it is a "specialty" brew for the Great Dane-Hilldale. Vasa is waiting to see how well it sells before deciding if he'll make more. So far, he has brewed just one 11-barrel batch (approximately 350 gallons) that should last into late September. At 25 cents a pint to the weasel, that's about $700. Vasa admits that's not very much money, but also hopes the beer will bring attention to the cause. A regular pint sells for $5 and growlers are $10 (refill).
- Aroma: Hoppy.
- Appearance: Hazy reddish-amber color with a thick, marbled, tan head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, with a soft roundness.
- Taste: Firm, caramel malty start, with assertive piney hoppiness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Lingering piney hoppiness and a light warmth.
Glassware: The hoppiness of this beer stands up well in a wide-mouthed English or British pint glass. The clear glass shows off this its brilliant color, and the slight curve near the top of the glass will hold the its head and allow you a good grip for sipping.
Pairs well with: Pine Marten Red is firmly hopped, so the bitterness has the ability to cut through heavy sauces, cured meats and smoked fish, or even the charbroil flavors from the grill. I'm partial to a medium-rare ribeye with a beer like this, because it cuts through the gristly nature of that cut of meat. If you like Mexican food, this is a beer that will match exceedingly well with the most aggressive chili peppers.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Pine Marten Red Ale is a great hoppy beer with a lot of body and malty complexity. Okay, I admit I like the image of it all -- a beer whose qualities evoke the appearance and habitat of its namesake. I like the beer's caramel-malty and raisin flavors at the beginning that really compete for your palate before the piney hoppiness ultimately takes over. Like the pine marten, this brew is not tame. Rather, it's one that lovers of hoppy and bitter beers should find intriguing, even incredibly satisfying. It's quickly become a new favorite of mine at the Hilldale Dane.