Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Pull Chain Pail Ale

Milwaukee Brewing Company
Milwaukee, WI

Style: American Pale Ale

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

Nigel recently returned from summer break extolling the virtues of the Midwest and the wonderful array of craft beer produced here. I backed up my gloating by reviewing brews from California and Colorado, respectively. Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly fall under the category of practicing what you preach.

I thought I’d take a shot at redemption with this review, which is for Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Pull Chain Pail Ale. It would be hard to get much closer to Nigel’s home than the bottling side of the Milwaukee Ale House, located a mere 1.2 miles from Nigel’s home base. (In reality, Lakefront Brewery, Water Street Brewery, and Rock Bottom Brewpub are slightly closer, but who’s counting?) I’m also going to take a shot at redemption by actually giving this brew the correct name when I submit it to our publisher, unlike my last review which I mislabeled “Hail to the Chief,” rather than the proper name “Ale to the Chief.” Perhaps Nigel hailed a few too many sips of said ale and developed a slight case of retardation at the end of the review. But I digress.

As for Milwaukee Brewing Company, if you’re unfamiliar with it, there’s good reason. MBC is the retail/bottling side of the popular establishment Milwaukee Ale House, which is located in the trendy Third Ward area (yes, there is such a place in Milwaukee) on the southern edge of downtown. Opened in 1997, the Ale House quickly developed a niche in the revitalization of the historic Third Ward, and last year they expanded their business by purchasing another location nearby that serves as a larger brewery and bottling plant, as well as opening a second brewpub in the far northern suburb of Grafton. While the new brewery faced the typical legal hurdles associated with local bureaucracy, they are now up and running and distributing Milwaukee Ale House’s flagship brews Louie’s Demise and Pull Chain Pail Ale, along with a couple of other brews. I’m not sure as to the current distribution situation or what MBC’s long-term goals are, but they are currently found at most Milwaukee area craft beer retailers.

I’ve spent many an evening at the Ale House, and Pull Chain is typically my beer of choice, depending on what the seasonal situation is. To be honest the Ale House, while a great place to frequent (primo location, great atmosphere, good food, and lots of live entertainment), the brews tend to be fairly average. Perhaps the recent expansion will allow for new recipes or tweaks of the current recipes, but as of now I can best say that I highly recommend visiting the Ale House if you’re in Milwaukee, but don’t expect too much from the beer.

As for Pull Chain Pail Ale, it’s a clever name that serves as an ode to blue collar Milwaukee, where in the old days a steam whistle would indicate to the workers that it was time for a beer break. Beer boys would bring pails of cold suds to the workers, who would quickly indulge and return to work. Perhaps if we had incentives like that nowadays in the financial sector, the mortgage brokerages wouldn’t have fallen asleep at the wheel and allowed the economy to teeter on the brink of an epic collapse. But again, I digress.

Pull Chain pours with a pillowy white head of well over an inch, which gradually settles into a creamy lace that lingers throughout the drink. A beautiful golden brown hue, Pull Chain has a decent amount of sedimentation, something that I feel is important in any craft pale ale (this is how you can quickly tell if it’s an “authentic” craft pale or some pseudo-craft version brewed by Bud or Point or whomever). Aromas are pleasant and very heavy on the citrus. The light, crisp aroma of Northwest hops dominates, with a zest of grapefruit and orange peel, as well as a surprising lemony bite. A touch of pale and caramel malt provides a secondary sugary backdrop to the citrus, making for a well balanced, pleasant, textbook aroma for an APA.

The taste supports the aroma, and again is a textbook example of a light, crisp, refreshing APA that maintains a decent hoppy bite. The floral hop effervescence makes its presence felt throughout the drink, with the light citrusy zip of grapefruit and lemon permeating to various degrees. A sweet, sugary malt backbone provides a bit of body in the background, as does a noticeable hint of earthy graininess. A high amount of carbonation and zesty bite makes Pull Chain a touch rough on the palate, but for the most part it goes down smooth with a mild aftertaste. Checking in at a modest 5.5 percent ABV (not an official ABV, but I saw a few references to that and I’d estimate it as well) and light in body, this is an ideal candidate for a session beer, as it often is for me during long evenings at the Ale House.

Ultimately I give Pull Chain Pail Ale a generous four mug rating, simply based on style. It’s one of the better APAs I’ve had and is a brilliant example of the style. However, as a craft beer in general, I’d probably go with a high three mug rating. (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wish we had half mugs!) The general crispness and huge, yet tolerable, hop profile is tempered perfectly by the sweet, earthy malt, making Pull Chain light and refreshing but exceptionally well-balanced. While Milwaukee Brewing has a long way to go to establish themselves in the extremely crowded market that lies beyond the brewpub doors, this is a great start. In the early going, however, this is a lone bright spot.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on September 30, 2008.
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