Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

20th Anniversary Ale

Lakefront Brewery, Inc.
Milwaukee, WI

Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 9%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Pair With:
Two reviews ago I wrote about Three Floyd’s Brian Boru, stating that my impetus for reviewing it was that I needed to clear out the 2007 remnants in the beer fridge, making room for new and exciting 2008 selections. That was by no means an insult to the beer; on the contrary I found Brian Boru to be a tasty lil’ Irishman. However, after further review there is an even more urgent 2007 remnant that needs to be taken care of. Milwaukee-based Lakefront Brewery’s 20th Anniversary Ale, a limited-edition, one-time-only release that coincided with, well … their 20th anniversary (duh), is screaming at me to give it the Nigel treatment before it’s too late, so I shall now oblige.

Although Lakefront’s Anniversary Ale was commissioned to celebrate their 20th birthday in 2007, it didn’t roll off the assembly line until December (at least to the best of my knowledge; November at the earliest). Thus, please don’t blame Nigel for being behind the times and not acknowledging Lakefront’s milestone during the proper year, as I had very little say in the matter. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to me that I’m drinking it during year number 21, I’m just hoping it’s a worthy ale to celebrate with. I’m rather excited to try it since it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Lakefront brew in a bomber, and it checks in at a powerful 9% ABV, which is somewhat out of character for a brewery that prides itself in making nice, solid, drinkable ales that aren’t intended to blow your socks off.

Before I begin, however, I’d like to make another passing reference to the year gone by. Every year, the fine folks at Lake Superior State University in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan (for the geographically challenged, it’s in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, just north of the North Pole and slightly south of Hell) comprise a list of banned words for the coming year. These are typically popular words or phrases that were latched onto by the American populace over the past year or so and used to the point that you want to punch the next person who utters them. Of course, Sault St. Marie isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of pop culture, so some of the selections tend to be a bit dated, but it’s the thought that counts. (Seriously LSSU: box social? steam engine? Beatlemania? Atari 2600? Get with the program up there …) I won’t bore you with the details of this year’s list, but it is fun to check it and past lists out, which you can do on Lake Superior State’s website.

Inspired by the mighty Lakers, Nigel threw together a quick list of banned words for 2008 in the world of craft beer. I don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus here, but in the post 9/11 world in which we live, I feel it is important to share my random thoughts with you, with the hopes of giving back to the community. After all, beer is the new wine (unlike back in the day, prior to the craft beer surge), and you shouldn’t need to enroll in a webinar to learn these terms, all of which contain some pop.

“Extreme Beer”—as in “dude, this beer is like so TOTALLY extreme, bro! It makes me wanna bust out my board and crank dat soulja boy!” Honestly, people, we’re talking about craft beer, not the X Games, so find a better description.

“Shortage”—as in “hops shortage.” Yes, it’s a reality, but honestly … unless you’re gonna replace your petunias with hop vines this spring, there isn’t much you can do about it, so STOP TALKING ABOUT IT! Related: “Price Increase”—as in “the hops shortage is going to increase the price of my favorite beer.” Yeah, inflation’s a bitch … deal with it.

“Merger”—unless we’re talking about merging my imperial IPA with some peanuts, I’m not interested. I understand that beer is big business, but please just let me get drunk and don’t bore me with the technicalities.

“Booming”—as in “the craft beer industry is booming.” While this is certainly a good thing, perhaps we should find a better adjective that doesn’t frighten small children with sensitive ears and doesn’t sound like we dropped out of school in the 8th grade.

“Eddie Glick”—ugh … enough said.

“New England Patriots”—this has nothing to do with craft beer … I’m just sick of hearing about these cheating sons of bitches.

All right, with that out of the way, it’s on to bigger and better things, like Lakefront’s 20th Anniversary Ale. As I stated previously, this is a bit of a change for a brewery that prides itself on solid offerings that appeal to a wide variety of people in a number of different situations and typically doesn’t give in to the popular trend of trying to prove they have a bigger weiner. Lakefront’s growth over the past two decades has been nice and steady, with a continued belief in brewing quality beer for the masses while remaining both environmentally and consumer friendly.

20th Anniversary Ale is an American Strong Ale, at least according to the few web sites I could find mention of it on (surprisingly, I found no mention of it on Lakefront’s official site, although I did burst with joy when I discovered they were going to begin bottling their IPA in 2008). The bomber cracks open with a bit of haze and a mild hoppy tinge. The pour is very nice: a deep golden brown/mahogany hue with a lively head as it enters the glass. The head slowly dissipates, leaving a creamy pillow on the top of the glass throughout the drink (that would be my official Lakefront pint glass from one of my many brewery tours, all of which unfortunately have the Pumpkin Lager logo on them). Translucent without sedimentation, it’s a very picturesque brew in the glass.

The aroma is quite pleasing. Clearly there is a decent hop addition of the American variety (I can’t quite pinpoint it), as well as some sweet caramel malt. Hoppy, sugary, sweet, fruity, and earthy, it’s very satisfying scent, although it could be stronger. At times I get a whiff that reminds me of being at the brewery, which is by no means a bad thing, particularly when compared to the usual Milwaukee River/Lake Michigan stench that permeates in the Downtown/Eastside/Riverwest neighborhoods of Milwaukee (Nigel lives a few blocks from the brewery and knows that stench all too well).

The flavor is good, with a plethora of tastes that come through to various degrees but never in excess. The initial taste is a nice kiss of American hops—not too excessive, but enough to give it a good bite. This is soon followed by a sweet, sugary malt flavor of caramel and toffee, which gives it more body than any other Lakefront brew I’ve had previously. A nice bit of fruitiness is also detectable, both a citrusy zip of grapefruit and orange peel (aided by the hops), as well as a tinge of darker fruit. As the beer warms, it begins to develop a more one-dimensional flavor and becomes quite earthy. Noticeable grassy flavors come bursting through at the end, as does the first hints of alcohol (it is 9 percent ABV after all). While it’s by no means a bad flavor, it does lose some of its initial complexity and sweetness. Strong ales aren’t really meant to be drunk at cold temperatures, but I actually preferred this chilled more than I did in the 45-55 degree range. Medium- to full-bodied, it goes down relatively smooth and has a noticeable aftertaste. Since it comes in bomber form and is so high in alcohol, this is not meant to be a session brew but rather a one time treat to celebrate Lakefront’s milestone.

All in all, I was fairly impressed. The aroma and initial taste were great, and though it began to lose some qualities at the end, it wasn’t enough to downgrade it to three-mug range. Lakefront’s 20th Anniversary Ale captures many of the flavors and qualities that have made this small brewery on the shores of the Milwaukee River a regional success, and I have to say I was quite pleased. Since production and distribution of it is very limited, I’m not sure if you can find it outside of the Milwaukee area, but if you do, or if you’re in Milwaukee, be sure to give it a shot. While it is a bit pricey at $8-10 for a bomber, it offers a nice treat. Here’s to Lakefront, and we certainly hope the next 20 years are as successful as the first!


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 10, 2008.
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