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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Bison Blonde Makes Its Debut

A toast to Milwaukee’s new beer

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Milwaukee has given birth to another beer! Looking to lighten up a stressful career as a marketing and public relations consultant, Craig Peterson pursued a more easygoing, fun way to spend his time: brewing beer. As an added bonus, the formation of the Buffalo Water Beer Co. in 2007 helps to quell the sting of our city losing yet another national brewing company.

With the assistance of Jim McCabe and the Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s brewery on Second Street, Peterson perfected the recipe for his company’s flagship beer, Bison Blonde Lager. The brew is made in accordance with the Bavarian purity law of 1516, which states that the beer can only be made with water, barley and hops. The standards have since added yeast, which wasn’t included in the original text because it wasn’t known to be an ingredient in beer. Peterson says his intention was to create a flavor profile that balances the slow burn of a spicy Buffalo wing, a mainstay on appetizer menus around the country.

The brew also had to be light enough that the thirsty could drink a few without feeling too heavy or bloated. “I wanted to make the toughest beer there is to make,” Peterson explains. “While an ale takes 16 to 20 days to manufacture, a lager takes six weeks and it’s very difficult to mask any imperfections.”

Bison Blonde is quite an accomplishment, especially for a beer company’s first brew. The lager has a deep golden color and a pleasant citrus aroma. Its body is fizzy and light, the carbonation just right for cleansing a palate that’s been involved with some spicy foods. Unlike a dark ale with high bitter counts, the flavor of hops in the Bison Blonde is subtle and doesn’t clash with fiery flavors. The beer’s alcohol by volume measurement is pretty tame at 4.4%, lessening the odds that a few too many Bison Blondes will cause the overindulgent to reacquaint themselves with those wings.

Without a tasting or a recommendation, how does a customer decide on a brand while standing in an aisle filled with rows of micro-beers? Packaging. Peterson knows this and has created a convincing marketing plan that encourages the buyer to try the beer just once. After that, he allows the Blonde to speak for herself. The branding for the Buffalo Water Beer Co. is Americana in feel, its logo an image of the great American bison that was the centerpiece of an American $10 bill in the early 20th century. Buffalo Water also refers to the intersection where the company is located, the corner of Buffalo Street and Water Street in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Bison Blonde is quickly and thoroughly making its way into stores, restaurants and bars throughout the state. Early on, Peterson scored a lucrative retail account with Woodman’s Food Markets, an employee-owned supermarket chain based out of Janesville that is one of the largest sellers of craft beers in Wisconsin.

Whether you’re indulging in a swanky dinner at the Wisconsin Club or grabbing a slice at Transfer, Bison Blonde makes an appearance.

Peterson said he next intends to create a nutty brown ale with more hops and a dash of pepper. After that, an American wheat beer. Then, perhaps, a seasonal Weiss beer in time for summer. Like the plaque on his office desk reads, Peterson likes to “Dwell in Possibility.”