If I told you a beer brewed in the Madison area won best in show at a beer festival last weekend populated by only Wisconsin brewers, which would you guess it was?
I might have guessed Ale Asylum’s Bedlam Belgo-India pale ale, House of Brews Kremlin imperial Russian stout, New Glarus’ fruity Serendipity, Vintage’s Dubbloon or perhaps Fantasy Factory, the new IPA from Karben4.
Instead, the decorated beer caught me off guard (more on that later).
The fest in question was the second annual Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival in Glendale, just north of Milwaukee. Because it’s a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, the trade group for the state’s craft breweries, this festival is an important one for many of the brewers in attendance.
Lake Louie Brewing founder Tom Porter, who was one of many brewery owners behind the taps at their respective tents, noted the guild supports an increasingly important function for state brewers: that their interests are represented at the state Capitol, where lawmakers have gotten a bit handsy on a thriving industry in recent years.
Despite the competition — June 15 also lured many breweries to the Door County Beer Festival in Baileys Harbor and the Beer, Bacon & Cheese festival at New Glarus Polkafest — many Wisconsin brewing bigwigs made time for the Beer Lovers Festival. Lakefront founder Russ Klisch; South Shore owner Bo Belanger; Jeff Hamilton, president of Sprecher Brewing and the guild; Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning; and Capital brewing chief Brian Destree all were pouring beer and chatting with beer lovers.
The magnitude of the event showed up in the product they brought, too, with a number of new or special brews being poured, including a new Berliner weiss from Titletown Brewing, a chai tea porter from Point Brewing, a jasmine IPA from Milwaukee Brewing and a Pearl Street Brewery porter made with toasted hemp seeds. Lakefront also rolled out the next brew in its series of special releases to celebrate its 25th anniversary, an easy-drinking apricot Belgian-style wheat.
Despite all the out-there brews, the one to emerge from the fray was as straight-ahead as they get, a beer known to only the die-hards of one of the area’s best brewpubs.
Troll’s Gold Lager
Style: Lager. Let’s just leave it at that, as it falls mostly between the traditional lager variants.
Brewed by: The Grumpy Troll, 105 S. 2nd St., Mount Horeb.
What it’s like: It’s softer and boozier, with more malt-forward sweetness, than a Pilsner Urquell, but that landmark beer is a good starting point.
Where, how much: Short of a festival, Troll’s Gold can be purchased only at the source, within yards of where it was brewed. Pints are $4.50, with a fill of a growler — a 64-ounce jug to take home — setting you back $12.50.
The beer: In the Grumpy Troll-emblazoned pint glass, Troll’s Gold’s color justifies the name, the color of a sunny summer evening. The aroma is all floral Old World hops and a mild, grainy sweetness. With a sip, that balance flips. The malt sweetness runs the show on the front end, only to be reined in by those floral, slightly spicy hops, which carry Troll’s Gold into a crisp, clean finish. That slightly bitter lager yeast character is present but not overwhelming throughout this surprisingly (considering the alcohol content) drinkable brew.
Booze factor: No ordinary lager, Troll’s Gold brings a robust 6.2 percent ABV, roughly equal to a standard IPA.
The buzz: Troll’s Gold isn’t a new beer for the Grumpy Troll, but it hasn’t been brewed since at least 2006, according to longtime Troll bartender Nate Gauger, who poured my pints last Sunday. That would be two brewmasters and, in the craft beer world, generations ago.
While my Grumpy standbys had been the rich, chocolatey Spetznaz stout and English imperial IPA Maggie, the touch brewmaster Mark Knoebl brings to Troll’s Gold is impressive and well worth the trip to Mount Horeb.
Bottom line: 3½ stars (out of four)