Things sure have been dark lately over at Door County Brewing.
The beer! I mean the beer; this month saw the release of its second straight dark-as-a-November-evening seasonal.
But it has been a turbulent year-plus for the Baileys Harbor-based brewery, too.
The founding story of the brewery was that of John and Angie McMahon creating a reason for their two adult sons, Danny and Ben, to come back to Door County — while also filling a community need. In 2013, that vision was realized as Door County Brewing began production, with John the warm, bushy-bearded face of the operation, Angie planning events, Danny leading the brewing and Ben managing the taproom and booking musical acts.
Today, the McMahons have all moved on, though longtime sales director Rick Gerondale notes that other local founding partners remain on board.
Danny McMahon is now head brewer at Luce Line Brewing, which opened a year ago in Plymouth, Minnesota. Taking over for him in Baileys Harbor is Matt Sampson, who joined Door County in late 2017, shortly after the announcement of the brewery’s Hacienda brand offshoot. Gerondale calls Sampson the “science guy” who’s the “solely responsible” creative force behind Hacienda’s mixed-fermentation program.
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Door County also made a major shift in where it was brewing in 2021. While Hacienda beer is made at the relatively small Baileys Harbor brewery, the Door County brand has long been brewed at other breweries; first at Sand Creek in Black River Falls, later at Octopi in Waunakee.
This spring, Door County’s Bare Bottom Madness was its first beer brewed at 3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan, marking the beginning of a transition away from Octopi. Gerondale noted it was fitting that this was Door County’s first batch at 3 Sheeps: The beer’s namesake backstory features hijinks by a sheep farmer from Sebastopol, a township about 10 miles south of Baileys Harbor.
After a few years on hiatus, Bare Bottom Madness, a former pale ale, was resurrected after a few years on hiatus as a hazy IPA, the first of a few Door County beers that Sampson revamped this year. The year-round Polka King Porter, previously much more on the brown/English side of the porter scale, is leaning a bit more robust and American these days.
Sampson also debuted a banger of a fall seasonal in the new Dark Skies, a rich, chocolatey dark lager that was an ode to Newport State Park, the only International Dark Sky Park in Wisconsin. Probably my biggest Beer Baron regret this year is not pouncing on this fast-moving beer quickly enough to tell you about it before its supplies ran out.
But Door County’s latest dark seasonal is a fine alternative. You may remember Silurian Stout as a straightforward but tasty milk stout in its first iteration, or amped up with vanilla (and saying so on its label) in its second. It’s been tweaked again, this time to what Gerondale called a “no-nonsense” oatmeal stout.
I, for one, have had enough nonsense in 2021. Let’s check out this stripped-down stout.
Style: American oatmeal stout
Brewed by: Door County Brewing Co., Baileys Harbor. I think I mention it every time I write about Door County or Hacienda, but the taproom is an absolute must-visit if you’re in the area, particularly on a night with live music.
What it’s like: The new iteration of Silurian features an assertive bitterness that is a bit of a throwback in stouts these days and is a far cry from the last vanilla-laden version. This one drinks a bit like Deschutes Obsidian Stout or Earth Rider North Tower.
Where, how much: Door County Brewing climbed a price tier for this seasonal; my six-pack was $13, a couple bucks more than its flagships. Silurian may be a little bit tougher score than those, so stick to your proven bottle shops for this one.
Booze factor: At 6.4% ABV, it isn’t huge, but a few Silurians too quickly will get you a-slurrin’.
Up close: Silurian pours a mid-November picture — black beneath a thick tan head, and an aroma of dark chocolate billows forth from the glass. That roasty, almost mocha-like character continues on the palate, with an aforementioned and ample bitterness that does soften a bit as the beer warms (and your palate acclimates to the hops and roast). The oatmeal lends the beer a moderately full but soft mouthfeel — an attribute that is welcome in keeping Silurian from becoming too flinty. Almost-too-flinty is right up my alley, but folks who enjoyed this beer from its vanilla version a few years ago should proceed with caution.
Bottom line: 4 stars (out of five)