O'so, Funk Factory, Central Waters, Forequarter: A very Wisconsin beercation

There are a couple times a year when beer geeks from Wisconsin and beyond get all whipped into a frenzy: Craft Beer Week, the Great Taste of the Midwest, and a handful of smaller beer parties like Capital Brewery's Bockfest. This last weekend provided the dedicated drinker, the dorked-out drinker -- and yes, those with a little disposable income -- with the perfect opportunity to block off three whole days for a little beer vacation. A beercation, if you will.

I wrote a little bit about the release party at O'so Brewing in Plover for Isthmus not too long ago, and Friday was the day. Not sure what to expect, my wife and I walked in the front door of the O'so tap room -- and were immediately asked if we were there for the bottle release, and handed numbered tickets. From that point on, we could drink and socialize to our hearts' content. Good organization, and what a tap list.

Rare beers dominated the board, and we ordered a platter of sampler size pours for a couple bucks apiece. You can see my full commentary on Untappd, but the Project LO sour ale and Indonesian Coffee Night Train porter were particularly impressive. I got to witness the new coolship being filled, which turned into a surprisingly emotional event. People were congratulating Levi Funk, the creative force behind much of the O'so event, and as the tent filled with steam from the boiling wort, not just the evening but our very lungs were suffused with Funk's accomplishment.

The bottle release was as smooth as we could have hoped (check out the image gallery below), and the pub next door turned out to have a really terrific Friday fish fry. Seasoned batter, tender haddock, and a lightly mustardy tartar sauce. The massive tap list there complemented O'so's, and there were even a few bottles left over at the brewery for the folks coming through town the next day.

Because oh yeah, there were a couple folks coming through the next day. One of those brewery events I mentioned before? Central Waters' anniversary party every year is turning into one. Last year's was a bit of a cluster, or so the complaints would have you believe, so this year the brewery sold advance tickets that assured buyers of an allocation of Sixteen, the newest iteration of CW's barrel-aged anniversary stout. (Spoiler alert: there were still complainers.)

One of two bars at the Central Waters brewery.

Here's where I have to cop first to a little minor-grade rock star treatment. Turns out we were very, very, very early for getting in line. As in, I don't know that the brewery expected anyone to show up more than an hour early, in that weather. Suffice it to say, we wandered into the tent to see no one in line, but a bunch of beer industry insiders getting food and drinking from plastic samplers. One of those friends took pity on our confused looks, ushered us inside, and got us the blessing from a Central Waters employee (hi, Jordan!) to hang out in what was in fact the VIP party.

So yeah, that happened. Great beers on tap (2013 Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout, 2014 Peruvian Morning, Exodus -- EXODUS), pretty darn good food for sale from Urban Street Bistro, and the sale of a really damned good imperial stout. The organization at O'so's party was much better, but Central Waters seemed to run through its list well enough. (Folks weren't turned away, at least.) By the end of the weekend, we'd brought home just shy of three dozen bottles. Not all for us, mind you, but it was quite a sight on our kitchen table nonetheless.

And I knew there was at least one more person receiving a haul that significant in Madison: Hastings Cameron and his compatriots at Forequarter. (I know how big the haul was because my friend Lee Davenport was the one tasked with doing the hauling and I helped lift.) Forequarter had put together a six-course sampling dinner based on the four beers O'so and Funk Factory had released on Friday, and -- again, spirit of disclosure, apology for big-timing, etc. -- Cameron offered me a sort of a buy one get one deal to attend with my wife.

When is a baked potato not a baked potato?

Pairing food with sour beers can be a challenge, but starting with a spritzy shrub-like cocktail made with the vinegar of an early barrel of the date-infused Sikaru that had turned acetic and an amuse-bouche whipped lardo-filled potato meringue atop powdered pork fat, bacon and chive (in other words, a modernist baked potato) was a hell of an opening salvo.

Roll these dice.

Soft cubes of pine-cured beef and the Scarlet Letter cranberry sour blonde each offered balanced sweet and pungent flavors, mirrored in citrus gelée and horseradish, salmon roe and milk crisps. Raclette cheese and mustard seed brought a rich peppery funk to a confit parsley root, paired with the Winds of Change Bretted APA.

Confit parsley root on a magic raclette carpet

Forequarter has me sold pretty much any time it offers smoked fish, and the smoked mackerel with popped amaranth seeds and shaved quick-pickled beets was no exception. The mackerel was velvety, and lightly pickled beets are just about the perfect individual item to pair with any sour beer. That this was paired with the Sikaru sour with dates made it our favorite course of the night. The nuttiness of the amaranth highlighted the warm, soft date sweetness at the center of the Sikaru.

Pretty and delicious? This one's got it all.

The meal closed out rich, with what I'm assuming was either compressed and/or meat-glued brick of tender, perfectly seared pork shoulder in a miso-salmon head broth, topped with radish batons and pickled peppers and served alongside a lightly torched puck of sweet potato purée. The steak knife provided was entirely unnecessary. Dweller on the Threshold, a straight-up lambic, did all the cutting, breaking up those rich flavors without intruding too far on the tongue. No, no knife was needed, but a spoon for that salty, fishy broth would have been just fine.

Pork brick.

And then the sourdough beignets, bubbly-crisp like a wonton skin, seated on a dollop of malt cream and shined up with a glaze of reduced Sikaru. The kind of dessert you want to keep eating, even though you know that its preciousness is part of the dish. Its paired drink, a cocktail of mission fig rum, bitters and scotch, was potent, but once it warmed a bit, the fig flavors became more pronounced and dovetailed nicely with the Sikaru glaze.

Can't pronounce 'beignets' without 'YAY.'

Levi Funk was at Forequarter too, checking in on those ordering the pairing menu, pouring samples for those who didn't, and generally putting himself out there. Smart guy, that Levi, and his involvement with Cameron and the Madison restaurant scene is already blossoming into another project. The beers released this weekend -- those that weren't opened and enjoyed already, anyway -- will continue to develop in their bottles and the cellars of those who bought them, and the barrels for Funk's new batch are loaded up and bearing the mark of his double-F logo. So much went into this weekend, and was carried off so successfully, that I think we'll be benefiting well into the future.