Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Sweet Mullets
Oconomowoc, WI

Style: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 9%

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

Nigel’s last review was for a new brewery in the Badger State, Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps. I thought I’d follow that up by touching on another recent addition to the Wisconsin craft beer scene and one that’s sure to have a much less interesting name.

Meet Sweet Mullets Brewing Co. in Oconomowoc. And scratch that comment about less interesting names.

Oconomowoc lies about 30 miles west of Milwaukee, on the western fringes of the high rent district known as Lake Country. Oconomowoc is mostly known for bearing a name that few from outside of Southeast Wisconsin can pronounce and none can spell. Oconomowoc’s biggest claim to fame is the fact that it was one of three cities in which “The Wizard of Oz” premiered in 1939 (the others were Kenosha, Wisconsins and Cape Cod, Massachusetts). Oconomowoc’s only claim to brewing fame prior to Sweet Mullets was the fact that the Pabst Farms were located on the city’s eastern edge. That’s the same Pabst family that owned a brewery in downtown Milwaukee back in the day that won a blue ribbon, creating a beer that middle-aged hipsters would cling to some 120 years later.

Sweet Mullets opened in March of 2012. Co-owner and brewmaster Mark Duchow has numerous ties to southern Wisconsin’s craft beer scene, including stints at Milwaukee’s Water Street Brewery, Gray’s Brewery in Janesville, and Mount Horeb’s Grumpy Troll Brewpub. Sweet Mullets’ opening was highly anticipated after its Wild Hopped Buckwheat, made from hops harvested along old railroad corridors in Wisconsin and Wisconsin-grown buckwheat, won the “Best of the Fest” at the 2012 Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest in Madison. That prestigious prize came a month before the brewery actually existed. Duchow’s style is one of experimentation, with a focus on local ingredients. Sweet Mullets serves a select variety of small plate food items, also focusing on the pairing of fine food with fine beer.

For those seeking out Sweet Mullets, don’t rely on your GPS. Use Google Maps, and when you find the factory with a small wooden post saying “Brewpub,” right after you scream “where the fuck am I, this can’t possibly be it,” you’re there. Not exactly a prime location, but once inside you’ll find a nice atmosphere, something that’s half rustic pub, half warehouse, but all about good beer and food. Typically there are about eight to 10 Sweet Mullets brews on tap, including a couple of seasonal or limited offerings, as well as a couple of guest taps. The guest taps I’ve witnessed on my visits are from Vintage Brewing in Madison, a brewery that Sweet Mullets has collaborated with on their unique Toil and Trouble, a modern take on the medieval gruit style.

Eleven IPA is a prime example of Sweet Mullet’s desire to experiment. Granted, Belgian IPAs are very much in vogue right now, but Eleven has a slightly different twist. Many of the Belgian IPAs I’ve had are reminiscent of a standard American IPA, but with Belgian spice present in the flavor (clove, coriander, orange zest) oftentimes giving only a nod toward the Belgian components and focusing mostly on the IPA. Not so for Eleven. This is a Belgian trippel through and through, and the kiss of American hops that comes through at the end makes for a rare combination of two styles that Nigel really enjoys.

Eleven pours out of my Sweet Mullets growler with a creamy head that penetrates deep and foams up quickly, then settles just as quickly leaving a nice creamy lace that clings to the side of the glass. A translucent golden brown color without much sediment, it’s a nice looking beer in the glass and exactly what I’d expect a blend of a Belgian trippel and American IPA to look like.

The aroma is nice and strong, much more reminiscent of a Belgian ale than an IPA. Grassy notes of light malt are quickly greeted with effervescent aromas of tropical fruit blended with the peppery spices one expects from a Belgian ale. Only a slight hint of American hops are present in the aroma, with a touch of pine detectable at various points. Overall it’s a somewhat acidic smell, one that punches at the nostrils but is not necessarily unpleasant.

Eleven’s flavor backs up most aspects of the aroma, and proves that this isn’t simply a “hybrid” American IPA. On the contrary, this appears to be an authentic Belgian-style ale that has been “Americanized” due to the incorporation of American hops. Initial flavors resemble what one experiences when they sip most Belgian ales: Belgian yeast strains and plenty of spice (clove, coriander, and black pepper). Top it off with some citrus zest (tropical fruit, orange, and grapefruit), and pale malt, and you have a fine Belgian ale. However, American hop notes are present on occasion, with bitter hints of pine that temper the otherwise spicy, citrusy Belgian profile. The overall body and profile is slightly thicker and darker than a standard Belgian ale, another indicator that there are a couple of styles in play. While the flavor is a bit stronger, the brew a bit darker, and the alcohol a lot higher (9 percent ABV) than a Belgian session ale, Eleven is still a good summer beer (albeit a sippin’ beer) due to its light body and refreshing characteristics.

Ultimately, Eleven is an outstanding example of Sweet Mullet’s take on craft beer. While touching on a style that’s more popular right now than Instagram photos of Justin Bieber drinking shit beer, the crew in Oconomowoc stepped up with a slightly different twist on the Belgian IPA. For those traveling between Madison and Milwaukee on I-94, a quick side trip to Sweet Mullets is certainly in order. Once you finally find the damn place, you can be certain there will be plenty of unique, tasty craft brews on tap, and a great atmosphere to boot.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on July 29, 2013.
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