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At Home Tastings

Madison, WI


Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Wine Beer Distillery Blogger- Picture of Blog Authors- Photo Credit: Alyssa Eidsness Photography
Your authors: Cru and Hannah

If you follow us, you know that we do a great deal of our reviews on location. You’ve also probably gleaned that it’s something that we here at Crusin' For Booze enjoy; traveling to various locations throughout Wisconsin. Meeting the people that create the imbibements, take in the vibe of the spaces, and truly immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and tastes of a given establishment really bring us joy. We may not always come out and say it, but if you haven’t figured it out, we also relish the opportunity to travel around our great state and while enjoying everything Wisconsin has to offer from roadside attractions to fantastic views, to getting lost on back roads, and making friends with folks along the way.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin beer wine distillery bloggers- Humble Forager at home tasting

On the flip side, though, something we have only briefly touched on in our Humble Forager review, is the home tasting. This week, rather than do a specific review, I wanted to take the time and breakdown some of the aspects of a home-tasting and how we put them to good use in both the professional and casual lenses of tasting beer, wine, or spirits.

Now, you may think it odd that a blog that focuses a big part of its reviews on the vibe of establishments would do any sort of home reviewing or beer tastings. To a certain extent, you are correct. We do try and prioritize visiting the establishments that we review, if possible. However, that isn’t always going to be the case when we run into retail only creators. These exceptions may not have a space to call their own, such as Untitled Art, may have no tasting room at all such as Humble Forager, or may be straight to the consumer like Restoration Cider.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Well if you’re tasting beer at home aren’t you just drinking beer? Hell, I do that every Friday night and you don’t hear me going on about it.”

To this I would say, there is a difference between tasting beer and drinking beer. It’s largely going to be in your approach to drinking beer, wine, cider, spirits or really any sort of alcoholic beverage and what purpose said beverage is serving. Are you there to taste it or are you there strictly for a good time? While they are not always mutually exclusive, sipping on a few different whiskeys at home is different from doing shots at home. Doing a home wine tasting is different than brunch with the ladies, or a bottle of wine on date night. Again, it’s all in the mindset you approach the beverage with. That’s not to say you might not end up with a hangover after a drawn out tasting, especially if you start re-tasting or revisiting different samples one too many times.

While not always the case, a majority of the time spent at the home tasting is going to involve notes, some ranking/comparisons, and discussion over the beverage. In stark contrast, throwing one back with friends is usually paired with games, conversations, jokes, general socializing and rarely are you focusing on what you’re sipping on outside of maybe the odd comment or two. Again, how you’re approaching beverages is going to be a key difference. I’d also venture that, in the spirit of ranking and comparison, you’re going to be looking at a variety of whatever you’re tasting. Whether that's a sampling of a certain style of beer, a bunch of beer from the same brewery, or maybe a couple of bourbons all from the same general area. I think a successful home tasting needs at least three of your given imbibement that you’re focusing on.

But why, why should you think about doing a home tasting? Why not just go to your favorite store, grab the beer you like, a pizza, and go home and have yourself a nice little night?

Well, for starters, let's talk practicality. We do this as professionals. It’s a job. And while drinking can be fun and enjoyable, trust me, there are times that driving all over the state can take its toll on both you and your wallet. I fully encourage everyone to visit as many places as they can in Wisconsin because I think there is a lot of fantastic places to see, sights to take in, and people to meet, but that’s not always practical. If you notice in our reviews, we try and point out if a place is worth making the drive to visit. We’re no strangers to what things cost and we know people value their time off. We are right there with you. That’s going to be the first argument for doing a home tasting. With today's prevalence of craft brews, spirits, and wine, there are no shortage of stores that are going to be carrying a large smattering of imbibements right on their shelves to try. It’s going to be much cheaper to run down to Woodmans grocery store and grab some beer than to go from LaCrosse to Green Bay to Milwaukee and back home. It’s easier now than ever to access a huge variety of craft beer from smaller and smaller breweries as they attempt to carve out their own market shares. It’s quicker, easier, and often times cheaper to do a home tasting.

The next thing that makes a home tasting approachable is there’s really no pressure on you doing a home tasting. How can tasting any sort of booze be high pressure? I’ve touched on it a few times, but there can sometimes be pressure when you end up in a one-on-one tasting situation with whoever is serving wine or beer, and there can also be some pressure if you’re doing a tasting with an owner. Plus, you might be wiped out from a day of travel, or wiped out from several other activities or tastings from earlier. But at home, a lot of that pressure gets removed. There will be times when Hannah and I agree to do a tasting at home, order some takeout or cook, and spend some much needed R&R with Barlow after a long week.

One of our other variations of hometasting, that we do once a month, is a beer-swap/ tasting with Mr. and Mrs. Tin Fox. This sort of tasting was born out of necessity since they have a newborn Baby Fox. Again, from the practical standpoint it’s a little easier to do a hometasting than cart a newborn around to breweries. What started as an idea to give them a bit of relief evolved into what has become a ritual and will eventually turn into a new segment that we include here on the blog. For now though, a few examples of what we have done is themed tastings that feature: Winter Beer, Special Release Beer, and, recently. Beer from some well-known breweries that actually take a physical trip to get the beer since it’s only sold on site. As you can see below. We picked some rare beers from Jester King down in Texas and 49th State Brewing in Alaska.

“But Crusin' For Booze, those aren’t Wisconsin beers at all!”

You’re absolutely correct. Crusin' For Booze has a goal of reviewing every imbibement establishment throughout the state of Wisconsin. You all know that. But, one of the less tangible aspects of doing a home tasting that features friends or fellow enthusiasts is one that cannot be understated and that’s experiencing different perspectives and taking other’s palate’s into account. I’m a firm believer that Wisconsin, especially when it comes to beer, produces some of the best stuff available. Mr. Tin Fox is an excellent foil to that as he often travels far and wide across the country to pretty infamous spots in Colorado, California, Texas, and just about everywhere in between. Both he and his wife bring a well-traveled bag of experiences to our tastings that either keep some of our notions in check, or reinforce the belief of the quality of Wisconsin beer. Not only that, but Mrs. Tin Fox and Hannah have similar palates and have tried all sorts of sours, two minds are often better than one and you know if a sour gets both of their stamps of approval, then its truly worth paying attention to. In contrast, Mr. Tin Fox is a dyed in the wool lover of the most hoppy and bitter IPAs that exist in the nation, I find his fondness for them often can temper my detestment of them and it’s only because of doing home tastings with him that I have come to begrudgingly appreciate some of the nuance that style can offer. And although we aren’t always tasting stuff from Wisconsin, it would be dubious of me to claim we have the best beer around without tasting what’s considered the best from around the nation.

And this is all just through the lens of examining beer. The variations in individual palates can play a key role in determining characteristics in wine or spirits as well. While not entirely unique to home-tastings, a group effort in describing aromas of wine as well as fruit notes or other flavors, can help you to start to draw a little more consistent conclusions. Say Hannah tastes strawberry but I get raspberry. While both can, and are noted, if everyone is getting strong notes of strawberry and I’m still tasting tart raspberry there’s a chance that my palate might be blown out, that I’m tasting a totally different sample (it’s happened) or that I need to consider getting my taste buds back to neutral before further tasting. The group tasting can act as a sort of beverage focus group, really.

The final aspect of the home-taste that I find helpful, and that gets back into the practicality of it, is that it can be easier to revisit certain beers - say, for a top ten list - at home than it is to travel back to the original location. Don’t get me wrong, we have some favorites that we travel back to regardless of distance to check in on their consistency. Hillsboro Brewing Company comes to mind, since it’s a recent favorite of ours and we make an annual trip there since the drive is quite scenic. But some spots we’ve rated highly and are a bit of a hike to get to (looking at you Tribute Brewing Co. and 608 Brewing Company) wherein it’s way more convenient to do a home tasting when checking out if their beer still holds up.

We always hope to see all of our readers out and about, exploring Wisconsin and enjoying everything our state has to offer. We want you to take our reviews to heart and if we suggest its worth an hour drive, a two hour drive, or if it’s an absolute must stop, we mean it wholeheartedly. But, we understand not everyone has the time, money, or enthusiasm to do that but that doesn’t mean you’re completely left in the dust when it comes to tasting everything Wisconsin has to offer.

We will see you out there, or follow along at home, just remember to drink local. Until then, keep on crusin’ don’t stop boozin’.

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