It had been quite an afternoon of bold beer sampling at last month’s Great Lakes Brew Fest.
Small pours of IPAs, double IPAs, chocolate stout and blended sour had come and gone, but then I found a straight up, traditional pilsner that really stood up to those assertive brews.
Truth be told, my fondness for pilsners has been rejuvenated lately. It’s a hard style to brew well and not many American craft brewers are making them. It takes extra time in the fermentation stage to allow the balance of a good pilsner to shine.
The reward is malt flavor that is to the point and clean, followed with a generous measure of European noble hops. The combination is totally unique and it’s often less than 5 percent in strength.
As American craft brewers continue to turn world brewing tradition on its ear, I was happy to meet a brewer who stuck to the book.
Introducing Mike Marr, the owner and brewer at Buffalo Creek Brewing in nearby Long Grove, Ill.
Once upon a time, at another Great Lakes Brew Fest not long ago, Marr’s beer got such an encouraging response that he decided to solidify a business plan. He’d brought seven kegs of Marrvelous, a German Kolsch that is Marr’s top seller to date. “We couldn’t believe how fast people were drinking it and how many times people came back,” Marrs recalled, adding that at one point he saw 200 people in line for it.
Kolsch hails from its namesake city, Cologne, Germany. It’s light in color, flavor and alcohol, “and people love it,” said Marr. He stamped his name on this brand after matching a challenge from friends to make a Kolsch beer during his home brewing days. A touch of wheat adds light fruitiness and the hops impart a dry finish.
You’ll find it in Kenosha along with 360 Pils, Beau Fleu — a double IPA that could change the way you, too, say Buffalo — and 42K, a very strong Belgian Strong Ale named in remembrance of the brewery’s pricey water connection fee. Buffalo Creek’s address, 360 Historical Lane, determined the pilsner’s name, a Czech tradition of calling out each pilsner’s place of origin.
Marr and his wife Christine were in Munich for Oktoberfest last month and wound up seated with brewers from around the world inside the Lowenbrau tent, where every 60 seconds “Prost! Prost!” rang out, signaling another sip from their liter steins, he recalled with a laugh.
There was little time to rest upon their return trip, as preparations for Buffalo Creek’s own Oktoberfest were in full swing. The BIG Ludwigski, Marr’s Oktoberfest beer, took over his top seller and Buffalo Creek’s one-day celebration just about polished off this year’s debut offering.
More debuts are in store for Marr’s operation, which marked its first year in July. Equipped with a 15-barrel brewhouse that can produce 3,000 barrels per year, reaching out to the surrounding area is a high priority and Kenosha is on his radar.
Bill Siel, a retired Kenosha News photojournalist, has been homebrewing since 1989 and has been involved in Kenosha’s craft brewing community since 2012. Since 1991, he has been a certified beer judge through the American Homebrewers Association’s Beer Judge Certification Program.