With a full line-up of beers on tap in their Lincoln Warehouse taproom every Friday and Saturday night, kegs of Loop Station available at the Explorium and at last weekend’s Keg Killer festival, Milwaukee can finally get a taste of what Eagle Park Brewing Company has been brewing up the last few months.
Back in October, when I first met Jack, Max, and Jake for one my first interviews here on Milwaukee: Beer Craft, I was struck by their resourcefulness, entrepreneurialism, and genuine love of craft beer. But I still had one question: was their beer good.
After stopping by their warehouse taproom a for a flight and a conversation, I have my answer: Yes. Absolutely yes.
You can tell alot about a brewery about beers they open with. I call these first impression beers.
For Eagle Park, that first impression includes a diverse array of nine well-balanced but singularly delicious beers.
Many a brewery typically opens with a standard lineup. An IPA, a Stout or a Porter. Maybe a Pale Ale. Maybe a Brown Ale. These beer styles form a solid core for any brewery to build on, and they are also a kind of proving ground for a new brewery. After all, if you can’t nail an IPA, then what business do you have running a brewery?
Always ambitious and ever evolving, Eagle Park Brewing’s Head Brewer, Jack Borgardt, chose to open with all of these core styles, as well as an Imperial Porter, two IPAs, and Loop Station, a Kӧlsch via-Mexico which is the rare gateway beer that appeals to both craft-beer neophytes and enthusiasts alike.
Certainly one of the advantages of starting small and putting your taproom next to your Brew House, as Eagle Park has done with their Lincoln Warehouse location, is that you can afford to offer an array of beers, and to experiment, avoiding the problem, common to many new breweries, of opening up with only too-well-trodden beers on tap.
Borgardt however has crafted a first-impression lineup that’s chock-full of interesting details and little surprises while remaining flavorful and balanced. His beers are well-conceived, revealing a genuine love of beer and an artist’s understanding of how flavors fit together and read on the palate.
Imagine my delight as I sat first walked into Eagle Park’s taproom for a tasting.
Similar in sensation to discovering an oasis in the desert, their taproom was cozy without being small, genuinely inviting. A deep leather couch, perhaps five standing tables, and a bar for fifteen people put the capacity of the space at around sixty or ninety. Painted cement walls, an old oriental rug, a barback constructed of old pallets, and tables reminiscent of a lighting truss, suggest a cross between a band’s ideal practice space and a speakeasy.
That delight was only compounded when Jack told me that instead of tasting four beers, I’d be tasting nine.
Here, in no particular order, are my notes on the nine beers I tasted.
Jack first poured Loop Station, a Kӧlsch brewed with lime peel, agave nectar, and sea salt.
Designed to embrace the best of a Mexican Lager while celebrating the German brewing tradition that informed brewing in Mexico, Loop Station is the quintessential gateway beer.
Bright and balanced, Loop Station retains retains a touch of a vinous character typical of a Kӧlsch, fitting it in on the palate between the hint of lime that opens the beer and the base of malt flavors that finished it. Super clean with perfect lacing, Loop Station somehow manages to taste like a week in Mexico while never tasting overly idiosyncratic or gimmicky.
As soon as I can get bottles — which should be this spring — I plan to take a six-pack of Loop Station with me whenever I visit friends or family that don’t drink craft beer.
Next, was Borgardt’s Amber. Though Jack described an Amber as, “a no frills beer you can crack and not have to think about,” his example of the style is more complex that his words suggest. A nice creamy head scented of graham cracker and a breath of esters and fruity malts. Supremely drinkable, this Amber was reminiscent of a Belgian Dubbel: a complex of layered malt flavors, caramel, and graham, yet without the phenols and esters. 18 IBUs balance out the beer with a slightly spicy hop presence that lets Jack’s malt choice shine through. “It was basically me just experimenting with different malts,” Jack told me. Cara Munich, Crystal 80, “a touch of Rye,” and a caramel malt, are only a few of the malts used, contributing to a deep, layered maltiness.
From there we moved to Line Check, Eagle Park’s Brown Porter. A play on a traditional Porter, Line Check is a hybrid of Borgardt’s Amber and a Porter. With “a hint of chocolate,” Line Check exhibits a bit of graham-cracker with “a little bit more of a caramel note to it” from the use of Cara Pils malt, which also contributes body and a nice, creamy, mouthfeel. Bittered only with Colombus, Line Check is a malt-forward yet balanced.
Imperial Line Check:
Pulled directly from the fermenter in Eagle Park’s brewhouse, which is shares a cement wall with their taproom, Imperial Line Check is a 10.2% ABV, 50 IBU Imperial Porter mashed with Vanilla Beans and Caco nibs for a deep, infused flavor that Jack builds on by adding a fresh dose of the spices during secondary fermentation. Slightly warming, richly flavorful, Imperial Line Check opens with vanilla that turns to a deep, caramelly maltiness, then a hint of caco, then a balancing, earthy, bitterness and an alcoholic warming reminiscent of your first kiss.
It’s rare that a brewery opens with a beer this big, but as Eagle Park co-owner Max Borgardt once said, “we do nothing small.” That maxim (pun intended), definitely speaks to the ambitions this beer embodies. Imperial Line check is bold and complex, but it is also carefully conceived and well planned: Jack brewed the beer months ago, anticipating the time needed for Imperial Line Check to mature and mellow, a decision which speaks to Jack’s foresight and craftsmanship.
Imperial Line Check also rounds out Eagle Park’s lineup, effectively adding in something for the craft beer cognoscenti and balancing a tap list with several beers that are likely designed to have a broader appeal.
Oatmeal Brown Ale:
With a slightly creamy oat character rounding out the Crystal 40, Crystal 60, and some Chocolate Malt, this beer had the beautiful head retention and the rich malt profile you might expect from these character malts. With flavors tending toward the lighter, nuttier side of Oat character, this Brown ale was still fairly dry, without the heavy sweetness that can sometimes be associated with Oats.
In Eagle Park’s opening lineup, this is a beer many will make the mistake of overlooking. Too often seen as wallflowers at a party, Brown Ales are often skipped over by drinkers hoping for a more exotic brew, yet just as with that quiet kid at the party, this beer’s seemingly unassuming presentation hides depth of character. Don’t let Eagle Park’s Brown Ale sit forgotten in the corner or you’ll be missing out on a good time.
Then we have the stout. While stouts can sometimes seem a bit stodgy, Eagle Park’s embraces the best aspects of the style while adding interest and depth of character through a clever addition to the malt bill.
In an intriguing use of ingredients, this Stout was brewed using Golden Naked Oats — a crystal make a crystal oat from Simpsons — which add a berry-like sweetness, body, and a slightly creamy, caramel flavor, resulting in an eminently drinkable version of what is already a very drinkable style.
Roasty and creamy but never not astringent, this Stout was balanced more through through 40 IBUs of hops than through heavily-kilned malts. A touch of Nugget hops add to the finish and earthiness that rounds out the beer’s bitterness and grounds it.
This 8.2% ABV, 80 IBU, juice monster of a Double IPA opened with melon, tangerine, pineapple, and passion fruit, favoring hop character over bitterness, using these late-hop additions to also balance the beer’s 80 IBUs. With a mouthfeel that also balanced the bitterness, this is a Double IPA that can be appreciated both by hop heads and by those who sometimes fear hop-forward beers. Brewed with only two malts, Jack created a subtle but firm base on which he layered flavors with El Dorado, Simcoe, Galaxy, Citra, and Mosaic hops.
I would have taken home a case of this if only it were available.
Double IPA with Azacca:
Papaya, orange, and pineapple meet garlic, grass, and earth, with lasting rosemary bitterness. Deeply flavored despite using only two malts and a single hop, this beer is stands with any of Milwaukee’s other IPAs and Double IPAs.
Currently Milwaukee’s hop scene is defined by the likes of Good City’s Motto and Varietal #2, Third Space’s Happy Happy and Happy Juice, and Like Mind’s Horehound. I’d put both of Eagle Park’s IPAs in that league. Bright, floral, tropical, juicy, with a pleasing bitterness, these are beers that add dimension to Eagle Park’s tap list and make the brewery worth a visit for any beer lover.
The final beer I tasted was a hop-forward Pale Ale that smelled inscrutably of chocolate yet was reminiscent of a fresh-hop beer. “We’re still trying to find that perfect Pale Ale,” Jack told me, “which is hard to do.” Brewed with “pretty standard hops,” Cascade, Nugget, and Centennial, this pale ale was more complex and thoughtful that is often the case with similar examples of the style.
While many visits to a new brewery leave me thinking, “I can’t wait to see what they brew up next,” or “They seem solid, but this was kind of a boring lineup,” I left Eagle Park as excited by the flavors and variety of beers on show as I was intrigued by the brewery’s nuanced takes on classic styles and recipe formulation.
But possibly the most exciting thing will be the day when I can hit my local bottle shop and pick up six-packs of these beers. Now I have another reason to hope for an early Spring.