Beer is flowing from Madison's newest brewery. You may have seen House of Brews tap handles at a few favorite beer hangouts over the last several weeks. The east-side brewery just started turning out beers in September. Its first beer, Prairie Rye, is slated to become its flagship brew. It's crisp with a light yet distinctive dryness that follows the German brewing tradition of the Kölsch style. It's a beer well worth seeking out.
What is it? Prairie Rye Kölsch from House of Brews of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: Originating in Köln, Germany, the Kölsch style of beer is made with ale yeast and fermented warm, yet it is commonly aged at colder temperatures. It is sometimes referred to as a blonde cousin to Altbier, brewed in the neighboring city of Dusseldorf, just down the Rhine. Expect the Kölsch to be golden to straw color and effervescent. The flavor offers some subtle sweetness, but with a slight dryness that adds to an overall crisp impression. The mouthfeel is light to medium. While there is some hoppiness, it's slight. The Kölsch will range in alcohol from 4.8% to 5.3 % ABV. The Kölsch name, in German law and tradition, applies only to beer from Köln, and it is brewed to strict standards, including with 10% to 20% wheat.
Background: Prairie Rye is the first beer released by House of Brews, first appearing locally in early September. It's made with pale, Pilsner and rye malts. Just over one-fifth of the total grain is rye malt, which adds some color and distinctive flavor -- a mild nutty dry tone to the flavor. The hops in Prairie Rye include Czech Saaz and Hersbrucker (similar to German Hallertauer).
House of Brews owner and brewer Page Buchanan likes architectural names for his beers. He initially wanted to call this one Frank Lloyd Rye. However, when he asked the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for permission, he was turned down.
Prairie Rye, being a Kölsch, is a beer that Buchanan feels is a signature brew from his homebrewing days. It's a style that won't hide many flaws, so when it's done well it reflects a good brewer.
As of early October, about eight different bars have been carrying Prairie Rye and/or one of the brewery's two other beers: Full House, a pale ale; and Dark Cellar, a brown ale. Vintage Brewing, the Old Fashioned, Dexter's and the Malt House are just a few local venues where you are likely to find one or more beers from House of Brews.
Prairie Rye sells for around $4 per pint, depending on the bar. It finishes at about 4.5% ABV.
Buchanan assembled the House of Brews brewing system with equipment sourced from several different breweries and dairy operations. He continues to work on the facility, located on the east side at 4539 Helgesen Dr., and plans to include a tasting room in the front of the house, as well as a CSA-style purchasing option for his customers in 2012.
- Aroma: Begins with a light malty nose with just a hint of roastedness.
- Appearance: Clear light golden-orange with a thin, soft tan head.
- Texture: Light to medium bodied and bubbly.
- Taste: A light malty start with a crisp fruity sourness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Crisp with a light dryness.
Glassware: Most bars will offer Prairie Rye in a standard American pint glass or an English pint if available. Traditionally the Kölsch is served in a glass called a stick or stange, which is a tall, clear cylinder with no taper and a rather small capacity of about 7 ounces.
Pairs well with: The crispness of this style ends up going well with a range of food options. It is especially nice with grilled and baked vegetarian dishes that are light to moderately spicy. Just don't go too heavy on the entree flavor. The beer is also a wonderful palate cleanser.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: House of Brews is hoping to find its niche with Prairie Rye. The Kölsch is one style that isn't very common locally, or among many Wisconsin breweries and brewpubs for that matter. Just offering it sets House of Brews apart from the crowd. The added rye malt in Page Buchanan's version gives it a distinctive dryness, while its color, flavor and body will please those who enjoy the Kölsch style.
I like its firm, but light, dryness. Prairie Rye is a nice entry into the Madison beer scene, and I'm looking for more good things from Page Buchanan.