Beer Baron: Karben4’s anniversary beer a storybook in barrels | Beer

CHRIS DROSNER For the State Journal

In the beer industry these days, the only constant is change. And at Karben4, the only constant is change and Fantasy Factory.

To ring in 2022, the Madison brewery began its 10th year by bidding farewell to most of its regular beers that don’t carry a gun-wielding, unicorn-riding ninja cat on their label and not putting only two new beers all year round next to Fantasy Usine.

And its seasonal lineup will mostly be replaced by two new rotating monthly beer series aimed at very different audiences.

Happy Fun Times focuses on what owner and brewmaster Ryan Koga calls “trendy beers” — contemporary styles like hazy IPAs and fruity sours. The series, which drops monthly on the third week of each month, opens with a cold IPA – a trendy style that debuted at Karben4 as a Fantasy Factory strain in the most recent mixed pack.

The other monthly series, World Beer Tour, will feature a more traditional style of beer from around the world the first week of the month. This month is a bit heavy in Scotland, and Koga has mentioned Finnish sahti, Irish dry stout, New Zealand pale ale, Belgian styles and many lagers, among others, as coming down this international highway.

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Each of the fast-moving series will be brewed in 15-barrel batches, which means most bottle shops will only receive three cases or less of each beer, unless pre-orders warrant doubling or tripling the batch. Koga said.

“It’s all going to be turn and burn,” he said. “We want it to be exclusive and fresh. And we definitely want it cleared before next month’s ideas come to fruition.

The stable backdrop against which all this turning and burning will occur is three really solid beers. You know Fantasy Factory, probably Wisconsin’s most distinctive IPA and the one Koga hopes to position as a staple of Wisconsin bars modeled after Spotted Cow and Riverwest Stein.

The new Midwesty, an American lager brewed with pilsner malt and flaked rice, is an addition that isn’t at all out of place in this beer but keeps it from being the pilsner its label claims to be. . But it is a classic American lager and very good – light in body but relatively malty with just a slight kiss of hops. The label has supper club vibes, and this clean and easy drink would feel right at home in that setting.

The other year is Hawk Jones, an IPA session that began last fall as a tribute to Major Durwood “Hawk” Jones of the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Jones died in December 2020 when his F-16 crashed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during a training exercise. The beer is a worthy tribute – a bright, clean, slightly hazy version of the style that succeeds where many session IPAs fail due to an unexpected crack in the malt profile.

This is all important, but the purpose of this column isn’t just to outline the ins and outs of Karben4’s lineup for 2022. I’m here to tell you about Priest Prophet & King.

This barley wine aged in a motley assortment of wine and spirit casks was featured as Karben4’s anniversary beer last year, despite not being originally brewed for that honour. Koga said. The idea of ​​using it for an anniversary release came plagued by a pandemic that also cast a shadow over this year’s release.

After its success last year, Koga decided to make it the first beer that Karben4 brews each year; the 2023 version was brewed on Monday. The beer then passes through a range of barrels selected by head brewer and “barrelmaster” Sam Koelling for the rest of the year. The barrels used in the first two iterations of PPK aged bourbon, scotch, rum, wine, brandy and more, and some of them later held coffee beans or maple syrup. This year’s batch is a mix of eight to 10 barrels, Koga said, all or nearly all different.

There’s something good about barleywine – a time-bound beer – that sits in those brewery casks and matures and grows, you might say, as the pages of the calendar turn.

“All the ups and downs and all the joys and sadnesses or whatever the whole year – it’s kind of like our storybook, that this beer sits there to age throughout the year “, did he declare.

Priest Prophet & King

Style: Barrel Aged Barley Wine

Brewed by: Karben4, 3698 Kinsman Blvd.

How is it : Due to their complexity and, generally, rarity, barrel-aged barley wines are among the most sought-after beers in some beer-connoisseur circles. Some might call it life. A b-wizzle we regularly see here is Central Waters’ Bourbon Barrel Barleywine Ale, although the barrel blend used in Priest Prophet & King makes it much more complex.

Where, how much: PPK will be released exclusively at Karben4 Bar on January 18, both in four-packs priced at $25 and in draft, including a cask of the 2021 edition reviewed below. For reasons I can only assume had more to do with the pandemic than the beer itself, last year’s four packs of PPK remained available in the dining room cooler until spring. That won’t happen this year.

Alcohol factor: A big beer to start with, she soaks up even more alcohol while she sleeps on tap. The 2021 edition came in at 10.5% ABV, though the 2022 recipe (and onwards) is slightly tweaked.

Close: Okay, buckle up. The 2021 PPK – samples of which were provided by Karben4 – pours a somewhat cloudy chestnut brown with a bronze head that lasts longer than most barrel-aged beers. And you know you’re dealing with something wild right from the start because the aroma comes out of the glass to meet you instead of the other way around. It is intensely alcoholic, with notes of caramel, golden raisin and red wine dominating. Hold your nose to your glass long enough and you may notice dozens of other notes emerging from the blend.

A sip is a dive into layers of spirits; a vinous sherry-like note leads the charge on my palate, but you should also be able to detect hints of bourbon, rye and even rum. It’s a sip, no doubt, and the 16-ounce can is best shared with at least one other person. The barrels overwhelm some of the base beer – you get malty caramel, but I wonder if this year (or…I guess the 2024 version?) would be better served by a stiffer canvas to paint all those barrels. But that’s a quibble; PPK is a terrific beer that should inspire an annual winter visit to Karben4 for any beer lover in Madison – or even Wisconsin.

At the end of the line : 5 stars (out of 5)

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Got a beer you’d like the beer baron to pop the cork off? Contact Chris Drosner at or follow him on Twitter @WIbeerbaron.

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