Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Shantytown Doppelbock

Tyranena Brewing Company
Lake Mills, WI

Style: Doppelbock
ABV: 6.3%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Nigel’s late winter/early spring “Tour o’ Dark Beers” continues with my latest review, Tyranena’s Shantytown Doppelbock. As I noted in a recent entry, I’m trying to squeeze in as many dark brews as I can before … check that, IF … the weather turns warmer. While I love porters, stouts, strong bocks, and barley wines, the urge to indulge in these dark, powerful, warming styles begins to wane when the snow melts, the waters open, and the major leaguers return to their respective home cities to inject each other in the buttocks with, uh … vitamin B-12 and flaxseed oil. As sure as the swallows returning to Capistrano, Nigel returns to hops when spring arrives.

Tyranena has two concurrent themes when it comes to naming their brews. The Brewers Gone Wild series, a limited edition line of powerful, tasty “extreme” brews, utilizes titles that coincide with the edginess of the series, as they tend to be both fun and risqué. The regular line tends to use names that honor local heritage, brews like Chief Blackhawk Porter, named after a 19th century Indian war chief who led an uprising in present day Wisconsin and Illinois; Stone Teepee Pale Ale, which refers to the mysterious ancient mounds located on the bottom of a local lake; even the name Tyranena can be traced back to ancient Indian tales. Local residents with a penchant for history may know the story behind these names, but to many of us non-locals, a little explanation is often necessary.

Shantytown Doppelbock goes right along with heritage theme, though its history is far less ancient. Any resident of the upper Midwest, particularly Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan, knows the relevance of the ice fishing shanty. For the unfamiliar, a shanty is basically a rudimentary shack that is modified and placed on top of a frozen lake so the fisherman can stay out of the elements while he sticks his pole in the hole. These shanties range from the simplest one-man stalls with no heat to somewhat sophisticated “rooms” that can seat a few people and are equipped with heaters, semi-comfortable chairs … some even have minor kitchen capabilities and entertainment (just in case the exhilaration of sitting on top of a hole in the ice waiting for a fish to bite isn’t enough, there’s always the option to turn on some AM radio or watch the local PBS affiliate). Depending on conditions, these shanties usually pop up around the holidays and disappear in early March when the warm weather makes the ice too treacherous to support such weight. The more you know …

I’ve done my share of Tyranena reviews over the years and at some point I usually state that this is a nice brewery that was significantly elevated with the creation of the Brewers Gone Wild Series. I always felt their regular lineup was very good when it came to hoppy selections, but was far weaker with darker styles. Shantytown was part of the basis for that argument, along with the strangely similar maibock selection, Fighting Finches. Neither is bad by any means, but they fall short when compared to many other magnificent craft doppels and maibocks available in the Midwest and nationwide.

Shantytown pours typical of a doppel, with a mild creamy head of less than a quarter of an inch that quickly dissipates, leaving a slight trace at the edge of the glass. It maintains the fiery red hue that marks craft doppelbocks, though it’s slightly lighter than the typical parameters of the style. Some sedimentation is present, but there is a bit more caramel in the color than there should be.

The aroma is indicative of what’s to come: it’s weak and non-descript. There is a noticeable earthy malt profile but not nearly to the level I’ve come to expect from a powerful bock. Faint aromas of sugary, sweet caramel malt come through if you inhale deep enough, but for the most part it’s a light, somewhat stale generic “beer” aroma. If the aromas were properly enhanced, Shantytown would fall right in line with its craft doppel brethren; unfortunately, it falls well short.

The taste has a bit more personality than the aroma, though it does little to bump this up to anything other than a low three-mugger (I actually flirted with two mugs, but I feel it deserves an average rating as it’s by no means a bad beer, just bland for the style). The malt that was virtually impossible to detect upon inhalation is more present on the taste buds, with a nice touch of sweet malt bringing forth flavors of caramel, molasses, and a mild maple syrup tinge in the background. There is a distinct earthiness that comes through after a few sips, which quickly tempers the initial sweetness but doesn’t completely overwhelm it. Bread-like qualities are present, aided by a too strong yeasty profile in my opinion. Surprisingly, I did taste some hop characteristics in the distant background … too faint to pinpoint, but a nice added touch. As the beer warms slightly and the session progresses, more of the typical doppel characteristics come through, though not enough to save it from the dreaded beer purgatory. While Shantytown is a bit lighter in body than many doppels can be, it still falls in the medium/heavy range, with enough thick, sugary malt to make your tongue curl on occasion. Smooth on the palate and sporting a moderate ABV for the style (6.5 percent) with a mild aftertaste, this could be a session beer if so inclined, but I can’t picture too many viewing it as such.

All in all, I give this the ever-so enthusiastic rating of “eh, whatever.” The malt characteristics need a swift kick in the ass if this is to become anything other than average. Personally, I’ll stick with Tyranena’s hop offerings and the BGW series, but dark beer lovers may want to give this a shot, as they may be more impressed than Nigel was.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 1, 2008.
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