Wednesday, October 5, 2016. Riverwest, Wisconsin —
I went in to this event the way I prefer to go in to everything in life: mixing equal parts aplomb and naivety. Excited but with no real sense of what I was getting myself into, I went to this bottle release more to explore something new than to getting my hands on something I knew was great. And I think that’s a good way to approach beer in general. I’m no exception to the rule that we can get stuck in a rut of drinking the same two or three styles that we really love from the same four or five breweries we know well.
On one hand, really learning in depth about a few styles can drive a detailed understanding of the style that can spill over into new, untasted styles. But the downsides are the risk of of becoming one-dimensional and missing new things.
Black Husky is one of the new things I’m glad I didn’t miss out on.
Maybe it was the huge log serving as their beautiful bar, maybe it was the carved wooden statue of a Husky taking up the space of ten men, maybe it was the spruce-y scent of Sparkly Eyes itself, but whatever the case, when I walked in to Black Husky Brewery I felt powerfully as if I were a lost hiker discovering the oasis of a beautiful new brewery just on the other side of a mountain.
That sense of discovery carried over to my first sips of Sparkly Eyes, which I drank in the waning light of the early October sun, the shadows around my feet palpably cold. A lightly malty nose; crisp, with an IBU level equivalent to an Alaskan winter. This beer was like living alone on the Alaskan tundra for a solid year: wild enough that it could change you in ways you may not notice until you return to society.
I immediately returned to the bar to learn more. Sparkly Eyes has 94 IBU (which is now my new IBU PR). There, I learned that the brewer, Tim, uses an entire BRANCH of spruce for use in making the beer. He has actually built a larger version of a hop-basket especially for this purpose. While I had heard of using juniper berries in a beer or of the Nordic practice of using juniper branches to create a false bottom in the mash tun, using a whole tree branch in the boil was totally new to me.
On the whole, Sparkly Eyes had this outward gruffness which belied a inner warmth, something which I like to think is one of the defining characteristics of Black Husky Brewery as a whole. Just check out this sign I saw posted to the brewhouse window.
Several things delight me about this. First, the water spots clearly indicate that this was written in the midst of brewing. Next, the third item on the list seems to winkingly indicate that the person writing it knows what a curmudgeon he’s being.
Further, there are metal nameplates on the bar.
That detail is so suggestive. Sitting there, I felt I was in a Northwoods bar where talk was cheap and the art or survival was the only art worth practicing. But it also felt like this was home to someone, even if that someone couldn’t be there all the time. That speaks of a genuine warmth.
And — ultimately — that was how I felt about Sparkly Eyes as a beer. This was not a beer for the faint of heart, it was a beer for the adventurous and the brave, for those of us who have not totally forgotten what it mean to be a little bit wild.