There’s been a lot of exotic, pricey, fancy beers taking up space in this column lately. Lest anyone feel I’m suffering from an acute case of snobbery, I’m gonna kick it old school today. Going back to basics… keeping it real.
A long time ago, a lot of central Europeans came and set up shop along the north-east and the central parts of this land. With them they brought their beer; lager, pilsner and bock. Lagering is the easiest and least expensive of these styles, therefore it began to dominate the burgeoning midwest brewing scene.
Some of us can recall with much fondness the “budget beers” of the past. Besides the once-again popular Pabst Blue Ribbon, there was Burgie (with an exclamation point, for some reason), Hamms (who remembers the cartoon commercials with the Hamms bear?) and Olympia (“It’s the water,” was its proud boast).
These were the beers that “dad” drank when he came home from a long day at work; when he mowed the lawn on a hot afternoon. They were the inexpensive brews that fueled many a college kid through the semester; their low prices meaning the young men still had money left over to subsist upon. There was nothing frilly or complicated about any of them. They were simply solid utility beers based upon recipes hundreds of years old.
When I saw that Capital Brewing from Middleton, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison, has a lager called Supper Club, I almost let out a shriek of delight. Instead, I started to laugh… caught up in a wave of nostalgia and admiration. You see, up north where people substitute “pop” for soda and say “eh” a lot, supper clubs are everywhere; most of them with a plastic light-box sign advertising for any of the above-mentioned beers.
What’s the difference between a restaurant and a supper club? The latter only opens after 4pm. That’s it.
Pay a visit to one of these charming establishments and you’ll find elderly veterans trading war stories over char-broiled steak smothered in sauteed mushrooms. Ladies gossiping between bites of their pasties — pastry dough stuffed with seasoned beef, potato, onion and, sometimes, rutabaga. All local, all comfort food, all about the budget beer.
Capital’s Supper Club is a nice tip of the hat to those ubiquitous dining halls. No muss, no fuss, this is a clear golden lager devoid of heavy flavors or textures to weigh down the palate. Crisp and clean, it offers up nice scents of grassy hops with biscuit-like malt and faint honey. Flavors are both at once citrus and cereal grain, low hop bite and an ultra-tidy finish. And Southerners can find some merit in a Yankee brew; one of its ingredients is corn grits.
To me, it’s a wake-up call to an over-indulged palate and a trip back to a simpler time. See you at the supper club for a bratwurst, eh… I’m hungry, don’tchoo know. And thirsty.