The summer solstice means the lighter-bodied hefeweizens and Belgian Wit beers (white beers) have arrived. It's also the height of the beer garden season. Middleton's Capital Brewery, one of my favorites, is well known for its festival atmosphere, community events, music and occasional Saturday night movies. In contrast, the setting at Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills seems laid back, almost intimate. With live music there on Friday and Saturday evenings, it's a relaxing place to enjoy a brew and appreciate the sunset with friends. Local performers are so close to the crowd there, it's not surprising that on breaks they grab a beer and join a table, sometimes needing to be reminded to start the next set.
Both breweries have beers perfectly suited for kicking back in a beer garden. At Capital, a few old recipes are returning this summer. After a couple of years in hibernation, Fest, a golden German lager with smooth maltiness, just hit store shelves. Brewmaster Kirby Nelson is also bringing back Kloster Weizen and his Weizen Doppelbock. Kloster Weizen is crisp, with lemon aroma and hints of banana. The Doppelbock, on the other hand, is a hazy copper color with a touch of spiciness - and the strength of a doppelbock at nearly 8% ABV. Kloster Weizen is scheduled for draft release; the Weizen Doppelbock will be available in four-packs.
In the Tyranena beer garden, the light and crisp Fargo Brothers Hefeweizen is the current beer of choice. It will be followed by a light-bodied Belgian Wit. Brewmaster Rob Larson has also released a Belgian IPA called La Femme Amère - French for Bitter Woman (a reference to the brewery's American IPA with the same name). La Femme Amère is yeasty with accents of orange and apricot, a malty backbone and intense hoppy finish.
My annual favorite among the summer-released wheats is Ale Asylum's Hatha-Weizen. It's light and crisp, with a brilliant golden color and all the banana and clove esters one expects in a hefeweizen. On the hoppy side, Ale Asylum's Satisfaction Jacksin, a double IPA, will turn up in six-packs in about a week. Tripel Nova, light gold in color but a big Belgian Tripel nonetheless at 10% ABV, makes its yearly appearance beginning in July. Faithful fans of Nova need to mark their calendars for June 27 for "Aged Asylum Fest," the brewery's customer appreciation day. Brewmaster Dean Coffey will tap several aged versions of his beers, including a two-year-old tripel.
Out on Madison's west side, Vintage Brewing Company brewmaster Scott Manning has been doing a little historical research. He's developed a modern recipe for a Finnish beer called Sahti. The style dates to the 1500s and is made with juniper berries. This amber ale is light and refreshing, with an underlying dryness from rye malt.
And beginning this week, Manning starts weekly keg tappings of cask-conditioned beers. Every Wednesday he's unveiling something new on the hand-pulled (beer engine) taps. Cask-conditioned beers are served at cellar temperatures and are less carbonated than usual drafts. His initial releases include a yeasty and fruity Dunkel Weizen, alongside a sweet and full-bodied Bourbon Barrel Oatmeal Stout that has been fermented with oak chips saturated with Jim Beam.
If you enjoy hoppy cask beer, the Great Dane-Fitchburg just tapped its Human Pathos IPA. It's a clear copper color, medium-bodied, with lots of resiny bitterness, yet with a malty and biscuity background.
Sour beers are plentiful this summer, especially those made with cherries. Mark Duchow of Mount Horeb's Grumpy Troll is serving a cherry lambic called Grumpy Cherry. It's more sweet than sour, but still fruity and sharp. When that's gone, there'll be a peach version called, yes, Grumpy Peach. The Great Dane-downtown also has a cherry ale in its lineup for later in summer.
New Glarus Brewing Company's Enigma was released early and is still on local shelves. Enigma gets its tartness from Door County cherries and a smooth oak finish from being aged in wooden barrels.
Last Wednesday New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey brewed the latest beer for his "Unplugged" four-pack series. Come August, look for a dark brown ale called the Abt (short for "abbot," or the head of a monastery). This strong Belgian Dubbel is made with Belgian yeast and candi sugar (a Belgian brewing sugar) that'll put it at 9% ABV. Expect rich chocolate and raisin sweetness; it should make a fine dessert beer.
Carey also has a Belgian farmhouse ale known as a gueuze-style lambic planned for late summer. It too will have a very distinctive flavor and will likely become something fans of Belgian beers seek out. I for one am looking forward to it; however, it's not a beer for everyone. The style is described by certified beer judges with words like "moderately sour," "acidic," "musty," with "barnyard aromas of horse blankets." Even so, sign me up.