I cannot say enough good things about our experience at Mad Fritz Beer. It was unlike any other brewery visit I have ever experienced, and the fella and I were inspired enough to buy one of every beer that we tasted.
Mad Fritz is run by Nile and Whitney, who started out as winemakers. Nile hosted our tasting for us. He’s crazy smart and really into approaching beer-making from a winemaker’s lens, which means that he’s a lot more interested in where his ingredients originate than most other beermakers. They have quite a few “single origin” beers. Everything they make is barrel aged in some way, so each batch takes 1-12 months to create. Ingredient origins are listed on the back side of each bottle (pictured, right).
Unfortunately, Mad Fritz is a really small operation, and they don’t distribute to liquor stores/bottle shops. The beers are only available at the brewery (by appointment only), as part of a membership, and in select restaurants and bars (mostly upscale or beer-focused). Memberships are only available to purchase a few times a year, since they need to plan their allocations in advance, but you can sign up for the waiting list on their website.
The tasting atmosphere was really casual, since Nile had some actual beer-crafting work to do. There’s a small table and a few chairs in the brewing area, which gave us a chance to ask questions about how the process works, since we were sitting right in the middle of everything.
The beers are also “style-ish,” kind of riffing off of traditional styles. They are unique, the bottles are all dated, and the beers are meant to be enjoyed within 2-3 months of the bottling date. More malt-forward (in general) than hop-forward, they are meant to be enjoyed from wine glasses, and each batch is different. The beers are all named after fables, and the labels feature traditional artwork that has been recolored.
Nile explains all of this in a chill way, being obviously crazy smart, but without talking down to his guests.
I’m not sure if we visited on a “typical” Saturday, but our visit went like this:
– Fella (who works in the alcohol industry) chatted with a wine guy on a Wednesday night in Dallas.
– Wine guy said that when we make it to Napa (we’re new Bay Area residents), we should check out Mad Fritz Beer, if we are into beer.
– Fella comes home from business trip, calls Mad Fritz, asks if we can visit, permission granted for 11am on Saturday.
– We show up at 11, Nile starts pouring samples while he’s working on brewing.
– A member shows up to pick up his allotment, and Nile invites him to join the sample party. At about noon, another couple shows up, and they start the same tasting that we’ve had from the beginning.
It was all very relaxed, and once I got past the idea that we were imposing (took about 6 minutes), it was a ton of fun.
So let’s get to the beer, right?!
The Peacock and the Crane: Kind of a kölsch, also possibly a Kellerbier. It’s aged in Chardonnay and Riesling barrels, and it’s so light, effervescent, and crisp. What a great way to kick off our tasting. We were hooked right about. Fella: 4.25, Mel: 4.75
The Lion and Other Beasts: Grisette. Grisettes are not usually very bitter, and this one starts out just a touch bitter for me, but then tapers off with some sweetness. The brettanomyces yeast kind of takes over the flavour and offers a little funkiness. Fella: forgot to rate this, Me: 4.
The Wind and Sun: Belgian Strong ale, also kind of saison-ish. This beer features oolong tea, which gives it a floral characteristic. I am usually not into ingesting flowers, but I made an exception for this one. It was light and pleasant, and I don’t know, maybe the Peacock & the Crane just went straight to my head, but I liked this one a lot more than the fella did. Fella: 3.5, Me: 4.25.
Humulus Lupus Oast House Ale: I forgot to ask why this one doesn’t have a fable name. This is a Belgian blonde, also kind of IPA-ish. It uses exclusively Sonoma County hops, and I found it to be smoother than a typical West Coast IPA, and therefore, much more tolerable for me. The fella liked this a lot, and said it would be a good, versatile beer to pair with a lot of foods. Fella: 4, Me: 3.75.
The Fox and the Stork: Weizenbock. This beer features Sonora wheat, which is an heirloom white wheat, locally grown, of course. It’s light and fresh, with notes of honey and yeastiness. Really pleasant and easy to drink. Fella: 4.5, Me: 4.25.
Local Origins Farmer’s Ale: Everything they make is local, but this is especially locally sourced. This batch is made with plums, so the colour of the beer is a little reddish, but it tastes light and slightly fruity. It’s not quite a sour or a saison, but it’s not a fruit beer, either. Somewhere in the middle. Fella: forgot to rate this, Me: 4.
The Eagle’s Nest: I always cringe when I get to the IPAs in a tasting, but Mad Fritz gets me. This DIPA was fierce, but didn’t taste like someone poured perfume into my beer. It came off as a little bit sour, with a bitter and hoppy finish. It’s not my favorite style still, but this was something I could both enjoy and respect. This might mean that traditional IPA lovers would hate this, but the fella was still into it. Fella: 4.25, Me: 3.75.
The Lion and the Mouse: Abbey Ale. I’m always here for the Belgians, or anything made by monks. Nile isn’t an actual monk, as far as I know, but this beer was based on a traditional Belgian Dubbel. It’s a little oaky and a little spicy, but still smooth. It’s quite unique. Fella LOVED this, and I liked it a lot. Fella: 4.75, Me: 4.25.
The Crow and the Water: Irish Dry Stout. This drank fairly true to the style label. It had a strong coffee flavour and just a little sweetness, with a nice dry finish. This was one of our favourites, and I think the fella bought four bottles of this. Fella: 4.75, Me: 4.5.
The Old Man and Death: Imperial Rye Stout. At 14%, this is SERIOUS, but doesn’t drink too boozy. It is a little bitter, but I find rye unpleasant, and I didn’t find anything about this to be unpleasant, so I guess the rye blends in well. Strong dark cocoa flavour, but nice and smooth feel. Fella: 4.25, Me: 4.25.
The Fox and the Leopard: Doppelbock, but I found it to be more bitter than most doppelbocks. This was good, but it couldn’t compare after the two stouts. The fella liked it much more than I did, and compared it to a lager. Fella: 4.5, Me: 3.75.
Overall, this was such a great experience. Once we finished our tasting, I chatted with a few of the other tasters, while the fella said he was going to buy a few bottles. He ended up buying one of everything we tasted, plus a few extras of the ones we liked best, and signed up for the membership as well. I should know better than to leave him unsupervised, but we look forward to getting a few more bottles in a couple months!