Well, apparently I'm on a little break. I wasn't planning on it, but actual (as opposed to virtual) life has been very busy lately. Every now and again I seem to have to rediscover that there is a world out there beyond the four walls of my home office. Ah, the world—a magical place where the air does not smell like the inside of a used bookstore, lighting effects come from the actual sky, and giant plants grow apparently without requiring attention from anyone. Remarkable, considering I cannot get small plants to grow even with obsessive attention from me. (I used to joke that I should grow potted dandelions, which might be funny except that I could probably kill those too.)
Plus, with two dehumidifiers going full time, I have nearly gotten the basement dried out after the recent rains and am getting back to jousting at windm...er, building die Dunkelkammer.
And my high school reunion was this weekend. I didn't participate in every event, but I got to go on a brewery tour with some former classmates at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, craft brewers of Pull Chain Pail Ale, Flaming Damsel Real Blonde, and of course the locally famous Louie's Demise, sold at the Milwaukee Ale House on Water Street in Milwaukee's old Third Ward.
Most of the people on the tour were there for the company—some of us had not seen each other in 35 years—but I learned a lot on the tour as well. For instance, I'd never heard the term "green veneer" before—said of a company that seizes on some environmentally conscious aspect of its enterprise and makes a big deal of it for PR purposes. The Milwaukee Brewing Company, by contrast, is green through-and-through, going so far as convert cooking oil from a smattering of nearby restaurants into bio-diesel to power their operation. I learned that barley is the beer's magic ingredient and that other grains—including the recently touted "wheat"—are mere fillers. Plus, I learned that, contrary to popular belief, cans are actually a more premium form of container for beer than bottles.
My friend and classmate Kate next to a bottling machine, a modern iteration of the one her great-grandfather invented. He also invented the automated label-applicator and bottle capper, which left his descendants prosperous.
Our tourguide, Jim McCabe, said that while bottles are perfect for short runs of experimental brews—just print up a few labels and there you go—cans have to be manufactured specially in large numbers (evidenced by a giant mountain of cans stacked against one wall of the brewery awaiting their contents—see below). Cans are far more ecological, for two reasons. Although both glass and aluminum are technically recyclable, in practice far more cans get recycled than bottles; and bottles are far more expensive and wasteful to ship.
Jim also says the can gets a bad rap for imparting a "metallic taste" to its contents. That's actually (surprise) user error: people who drink directly out of cans are tasting and smelling the aluminum along with their beverage (not to mention ingesting whatever unsanitary crud might be deposited on the top of the can: Milwaukee Brewing actually ships its cans with protective covers over the whole top). He says if you want the best taste, always pour a canned beer into a glass before you drink it. That eliminates intimate contact with the metal and "gets the nose involved." Once that's done, people in blind taste tests can't tell the difference between beer from cans and beer from bottles.
So why "Louie's Demise"? Part fact, part legend. In 1886, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Louie Eisold, an immigrant born in 1847 in Saxe-Meiningen, Germany, and a local ladies man, got in to a brawl in a bar with another man. At issue was the man's stunning young wife, with whom Louie had been overly friendly, and Louie got smashed over the head with a deadly weapon in the form of a full glass of beer. The blow proved fatal. Legend has it that as Louie went down, still clutching his own beer, an onlooker pried the drink from Louie's hand and lifted it to toast Louie's lustful ways—even as Louie himself was expiring on the floor. Louie's demise has been honored locally ever since: his framed death certificate hangs in a place of honor at the Ale House.
The modern-day brewer (that's his wife in the top picture, at the brewery—she's the sister of one of my classmates, hence the connection) says, with admirably genteel phrasing, that Louie's Demise is "for those who appreciate the search for true love."
The Milwaukee Brewing Company is a tiny operation—in its infancy, according to Jim—and the tour is short and sweet. They've only been giving tours for four weeks now. But anybody can come. If you're in the area, and interested, you can find out more at the Milwaukee Brewing Company website.
And now, back to my break. The next noise you hear will be Ctein on Thursday morning, for some very approximate value of "morning."
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.