Friday, December 6, 2013

Yelp Crusade: you're Funny!

I make no excuses: I use Yelp. I don't use it as a noob, I have developed Yelp-reading skills -- Yelp Fu, to use the parlance -- and do pretty well with it as a guide. It works best if there are at least twelve reviews to look at, and usually what I do is go to the lowest reviews. Check them for commonality, check them for obvious bias, check them for the kind of idiocy we're here to talk about (see below), and then weigh that against the good reviews. If there are a lot of low reviews, that's not good...unless the place is exactly what you're looking for. Not everyone's looking for the same thing.

Still, we all know that there are douchebag reviews on Yelp. You know what I'm talking about: the vegetarian that gives a 1-star review to a BBQ place, the guy who's obviously dissing the place because his ex-GF is a waitress there, the overachiever who's down on everything from their hometown, anyone who talks about what "the hubby/wifey" likes, the ding-dong who's pissed because the place won't let their 18-month-old sit at the bar, the "I'm an expert on (insert ethnicity here) food, and this was (and sometimes they end there, but more often they add ) not authentic," and so on. And usually I look at those, and think, bullshit, you tiny little person, and ignore them. But Yelp doesn't let you actually say that to them, much as I'd like to.

So I'm starting a new thing. Any time I see one of their stupid reviews, ESPECIALLY the ones that are oh-so-serious or angry? I'm marking it as "Funny." I encourage you to join me...assuming you ever get within sniffing distance of Yelp.We can make it our signal to each other: determinedly serious review ("These people know nothing about canine health if they expected my dog to eat leftovers that weren't refrigerated") with a "Funny" vote? That's a "PSSSST! This guy's fulla crap, pass it on!"

See you in the Funny papers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Prohibition: deader than the Dinosaurs? Not quite...but we're working on it

Let me just blow the cobwebs off, and...

Hey! I am still alive after all. Most blogs don't come back after three months dead time, but this is not most blogs! And while it's "just" an infographic, this is more important than most infographics, because it's packed with real facts, not guesses and BS. It came from my friends at DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.

This is about REPEAL! When Prohibition was smacked back into a deep dark Cave O' Shame for all the lies it told, damage it caused, and joy it prevented...and it's never come back out, because Prohibition just doesn't work. This "great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose," was tested on the whole country, as if we were lab rats in some Skinner Box, so the bluenoses could prove to us that booze was the source of all evil. They were wrong, and once the good people of America realized it, they righted the wrong, and Happy Days Were Here Again.

So on December 5th, we're gonna party like it's 1933. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

This is still Seen Through A Glass!

I have no idea why my blog now has no title. 
Or why it looks hideous. 
I'll try to fix it. 
Damn you, Blogger!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Moving On

There is going to be a major change in this blog.

I'm going to stop writing it...mostly.

I have accepted a full-time position as managing editor of Whisky Advocate magazine, which starts today. Part of the terms of employment were that my writing is to be exclusive to the magazine, so I agreed to stop writing further about beer and whiskey on this blog.

I will still be writing occasionally about personal travel, and since I'm still very much a beer and whiskey drinker, there will be talk about that. But I'll be writing tasting notes and trend analysis elsewhere. An exception was made for the Session Beer Project blog, and it will continue, so there's that.

It's been fun. It's been an education. I thank you all for reading, and I hope some of you will stick around for the next chapter. I'll have some information for you next year about a project I'm currently wrapping up: my first whiskey book, titled Tasting Whiskey, from Storey Publishing, due out next year about this time.

Quick nap before continuing to write more Tasting Whiskey...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Parker's Heritage Collection 2013, J. Walker Platinum, and some Monkey Shoulder

Got a sample of the latest Parker's Heritage Collection, the Promise of Hope single barrel bottling. 10 years old, 96 proof, top floors of Rickhouse EE (Parker's favorite), no barrel number. And I gotta say...just smelling this after having some Elijah Craig 21 last night (a pretty good night; more on that shortly) reminds me that I just plain like bourbon under 15 years old better than the older stuff everyone's peeing themselves over these days.

If you're expecting tasting notes... I'm minded not to say. Parker told me once that he doesn't understand how people can taste things like mangoes, or leather in whiskey; 'I only put two things in it,' he said, 'corn and oak. I taste corn, and oak.'

Cheers, Parker. I taste corn. And oak. It's made them taste so damned good!

Now, about last night... I got a sample of Johnnie Walker Platinum, too. But they wouldn't ship it to Pennsylvania because of our stoopid liquor laws, so my friend Jim Carlucci agreed to receive it across the river at his home in Trenton, and that's where I went to pick it up, and, you know, have a dram with my man Jim!

I don't usually include schwag shots, but this is just too cool; they sent the bottle (and a flydrive with pix and descriptions, and a coaster) in an aluminum briefcase. Nora's lusting after it, I think.

Platinum is an 18 year old blend, and has a suggested retail of $110...roughly halfway between Black and Blue, so to speak. Jim's not a big Scotch drinker, but he was eager to try it; score one for the metal briefcase and the sharp-looking bottle. I poured two drams. Sherried malt, toffee, fresh fruit pie, and a sophisticatedly reserved smoke. An elegant dram on the palate, as the malt and toffee/fudge comes out more, and that smoke curls around at the back. Could be just the right drink at some moments; probably quite good with cheese and nuts. Only thing is...I kind of have the sneaking suspicion that Platinum is for people who can afford but just don't understand Blue. Maybe I'm wrong, but it tweaks at the back of my mind. Not going to stop me from finishing the dram, though (I've poured another tonight...)

Next we had Grant's Monkey Shoulder, a blend of their three malts: Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie. I tweeted on this: "Fruit, spice, baked desserts, dry malt." I'll add that it had a very pleasingly full mouthfeel, a real roll-around-the-palate sensation. An enjoyable dram indeed, and Jim was smacking his lips; hey, maybe I do like Scotch! It's like beer: if you think you don't like it, here, try this...

Then I hit him blindside: Danfields 21, a delicious bottling from Black Velvet that doesn't come to the U.S. market, and man, that's a shame. Luscious, sweet, with a spicy soupçon of rye; when we toured Black Velvet back in June, and went out for dinner with the distillery staff, we tore into doubles of this at dinner, and just loved it. If you see it at Duty Free, get it, or get a Canadian friend to mule some in.

We wound up the night with the Elijah Craig 21 I mentioned above (Barrel 41). I've never been a huge fan of the EC 18 year old; I'm unabashedly in love with the EC 12, and have said so frequently. This 21 year old reminded me why. Good, but...strong oak in the nose, pinching wood on the palate. The broadness of it saves it, but it's not one I'd reach I will for that Parker's Heritage 10 year old. I've gone back to that, and I'm drinking it now. I do like that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trends, and the Trendy People Who Are Trending Them

A rare cross-posting from my Session Beer Project blog, because there's more here than just session beer. 

"Not Even Justin Timberlake Can Save Bud Light Platinum"
You know how I know session beer is the smart new trend for craft brewers?

Because the big brewers are making higher ABV beers.

Check out this story in Ad Age. ABInBev and Miller Coors are betting big on boozier beers.

That appears to be part of the playbook for MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which have turned to pricier, higher-alcohol line extensions to recapture share from growing liquor brands. The latest entry: Miller Fortune, which will debut next year at 6.9% alcohol by volume with a marketing strategy aimed at luring millennial males during nighttime drinking occasions.

The brew, in the works for months, follows A-B InBev's recent launches of Bud Light Platinum and Budweiser Black Crown, which both check in at 6% ABV, compared with 4.2% for most light beers. The goal for brewers is to reach variety-seeking drinkers whose habits lead them to the liquor shelf and away from beers their fathers drank. 
(Can anyone tell me what the latest sales curves are like on Platinum? Thought I heard they sucked. Oh, here it is: "Not Even Justin Timberlake Can Save Bud Light Platinum")

Guys, guys, guys...People don't want beer with more alcohol. They want beer with more flavor. And Bud Light Platinum doesn't have beer flavor, it has added flavor, artificial flavor. Session beers have real flavor, and that's what people want. Good luck with the big beers; you're only about eight years behind the curve.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Will it fall? YES, it will

Joe Stange has a great piece in DRAFT magazine, called "Will it fall?" about the current boom in craft beer and craft brewery construction. Go read it, and then let's think about it.

I've got two things to say about this, and I'll save the important one for last. But first, this quote bothered me: 
“What the industry is afraid of is low quality, and that will taint the quality of craft beer overall,” says Jeff Schrag, owner of Mother’s Brewing, a regional microbrewery that opened in 2011 in Springfield, Mo. “But I don’t know,” he adds, looking thoughtful. “There’s a lot of beer now that’s tainting the image of craft beer.”
Really? "a lot"? I am coming across more poorly-made beers than I have in quite a while -- after running into them all-too-often in the mid-1990s -- but it's still a very small amount, a small percentage compared to what I was getting back then (and I have to lay some of them off -- still -- to bad tap maintenance at bars, though that's better also). So I'm wondering if what we're talking about here is more about "beer that doesn't live up to the wild expectations of alpha beer geeks." Big difference.

I'm thinking about that a lot, especially after a tweetstream I was involved in yesterday about the definition of "craft beer." At one point, people started talking about "gateway" beers, because we were talking about Blue Moon, and I had said that no matter whether you thought it was "craft" or "crafty" (the Brewers Association's cute term for beers that come from breweries they don't like), it was introducing a LOT of people to the wider world of beer, and they often went on to other crafts from there. So, said one person, it's a gateway beer. 

I have a problem with that term. Are all witbiers gateway beers? And American wheat, and hellesbier, and blonde ale, and kölsch, and pilsner, and (insert the beer you think isn't as good as IPA or imperial stout or Belgian strong or sour ale here), and -- of course -- Fat Tire and Boston Lager, are they all just gateway beers? If you say it that way, "Oh, they're gateway beers," aren't you essentially saying that they don't measure up?

We're getting too wrapped up in this whole what is/what isn't thing. Step back. Stop telling people that the beer they're drinking is the wrong beer, stop insisting that they drink what you want them to drink. That's the same shit you all got pissed off about when the big brewers did it. When I was a IT buyer for a pharmaceutical 20 years ago, if a supplier started bad-mouthing another vendor, I showed them the door. Tell me about your products. Don't shit on the other guy's. Let's stay focused on the positive.

Now, the second thing... "Will it fall?" Yes, most definitely. Allow me to explain, though it should be obvious. Back in April, I visited the Glenlivet distillery, and walked around it with their "Guardian of Malt," the wonderfully affable Ian Logan. We talked about the boom in Scotch whisky.

"The last downturn was in the mid-1980s," he said. "[Glenlivet's parent company] Chivas just kept turning out spirit, right through the downturn, and now Glenlivet is set with ample supplies of aged whisky." Unlike most of their competitors, he was too kind to add.

"It will turn down again," he then added, matter-of-factly. "It always does. These things are all cyclical, and there are limiting factors on how big it can get." We talked about those limiting factors, but they're really whisky-oriented, and not relevant here...except for capital. Capital is always a limiting factor; how much money can you borrow, at what rate? Capital's been relatively cheap for quite a while, and that's starting to change.

But take it from an industry that has a much longer perspective on this than craft brewing; yes, craft brewing will eventually take a downturn. It's inevitable. Light beer did, and as recently as 2003, that still looked unstoppable. Vodka will. No, really, it will, eventually. And so will craft beer. Now, it may take ten years, it may take twenty, and some brewers will be hit harder than others, will happen. Tastes change, perceptions change, economies change.

Should you plan for it? As a drinker, certainly not. We older farts survived years in a craft beer wasteland; we can teach you the skills you'll need when it happens. But don't live that way now! As Crocodile Dundee said of desert fare; "You can live on it, but it tastes like shit." Live for the moment!

Should brewers, bars, wholesalers plan for it? Well, some. Think harder about expansion plans, and debt in general. But...we had plenty of warning signs the last time around. Keep your ears and eyes open, and take off the rose-colored glasses. This will not last forever...but it may easily last through your next expansion cycle. Pay attention, and you should be okay.

And remember: when I say "fall," I'm talking about retrenchment, a dip, not a disappearance. The few-and-far-between days of breweries we knew back in the 80s and early 90s? That's not going to happen again in our lifetimes. 

But yeah. It will fall. Breweries will close. People will drink something else. YOU might even drink something else, hard as that is to believe now. 15% growth just can't go on forever. Happens to everything.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Session No. 78: Your Elevator Pitch For Beer

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus of the Appellation Beer blog. This is how it works: on the first Friday of each month, beer bloggers write about a predetermined topic. A different blog is chosen to host each round of The Session. The host blog selects a topic, and then posts a roundup of all the responses received. For all you need to know about this beer blogging concept, including the upcoming topics, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s blog page about The Session. 

I haven't done the Session for a LONG time, but this one caught my eye. It's hosted by James at Beer Bar Band. Topic: Your elevator pitch for beer.
"You walk into an elevator and hit the button for your destination level. Already in the elevator is someone holding a beer…and it’s a beer that annoys you because, in your view, it represents all that is bad with the current state of beer.
You can’t help but say something, so you confront your lift passenger with the reason why their beer choice is bad."

I decided that a person's beer choice isn't bad; I like the way things are going with the current state of beer. But solitary drinking...drinking with someone else is a lot more fun.

Hey, I see you have a [whatever beer; it really doesn't matter]. Did you get that down in the bar? Yeah? So...if I can ask, why are you taking it back to your room? Seems so lonely.

Bar's full of losers, hey? I hear you...that's pretty much why I'm headed back to my room, but that beer idea, that's a good one.

Tell you what. Beer's such a social beverage, and you seem like a sociable type; I kinda hate to see that go to waste. How about we go back down to the bar, and we can talk for a while over some beers. I'll get the next round.

It would be a relief to talk to someone other than my phone for a bit, right? Oh, we can talk about whatever, I just like conversation with my beer. Politics, sports, your mother-in-law, whatever.

When I go to Europe, I love the way people in bars will just strike up a conversation with you, sit right down at your table, and talk.

Here in the States, folks will go into a bar, watch the TV, and never say a word to each other. Seems like a waste of the centuries of effort that went into making beer the perfect drink for solving the world's problems for an hour or two.

This is your floor? about that beer?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Victory to open a second brewpub (in addition to their second brewery)

Just got news confirming the rumors that Victory will be opening a second brewpub in Kennett Square "in the 2nd quarter of 2014." That's in addition to the large second production facility scheduled to open this fall in Parkesburg, PA. Here's the press release:

Victory in Kennett: Downingtown–based Brewery Announces Second Brewpub Location in Kennett Square, Pa 
DOWNINGTOWN, PA – Victory® Brewing Company (Victory) is pleased to announce that it will extend its craft beer experience in Chester County, signing a lease with Kennett Square Realty and committing to develop an upscale brewpub, with on-premise brewing and a takeout beer component, in Kennett Square, Pa.
“The announcement is a culmination of nearly a year’s worth of planning and effort, and we couldn’t be more excited than we are today to finally confirm for our excited fans, who have been asking, that yes we are in fact headed to Kennett!” said Matthew Krueger, Vice President of Retail Operations.
The nation’s 26th largest craft brewery, Victory’s second brewpub location will occupy all 8,234 square feet of the bottom floor of a four-story, luxury apartment building in Kennett Realty Group’s latest upscale townhome, apartment and retail community, Magnolia Place.  Kennett Realty is owned and operated by the Pia Group, who also own Kaolin Mushroom Farms Inc. and South Mill Mushroom Sales.
Magnolia Place as it will look in a post-Victory world.
“We could not have found a better partner than the Pia family, a group that shared—and are now helping us realize—our vision to bring Victory to Kennett,” Krueger continued, a sentiment echoed by Mike Pia, Jr., developer with the Kennett Realty Group.
“Victory’s mission to provide high quality food, a family-friendly environment, and of course, delicious craft beer, all with a focus on community, ethics and environmental stewardship, made them an ideal partner for this project,” said Pia.  “We’re looking forward to the exceptional experience they’ll bring to the community of Magnolia Place and the greater Kennett Square area.”
Called Victory at Magnolia, the location will accommodate a 250-seat restaurant with space for outdoor dining, and boast a chef inspired menu, featuring some of the company’s signature dishes, including their Hand Tossed Pretzel and Wings of Victory.  The space also will be equipped with a five-barrel brew house to keep new, site-specific brews—along with Victory’s existing lineup of world-class ales and lagers—flowing.
Victory at Magnolia is targeted to open in the second quarter, 2014.  The brewery also is finishing construction on its second production brewery in Parkesburg, Pa., expected to be operational this fall.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drink Me at Tired Hands...but Be Nice

I found out yesterday that my face -- okay, an interpretation of my face -- is currently adorning the "new beer window" at Tired Hands Brewing in Ardmore, PA. Jean Broillet IV, the owner/brewer, inspired by...something, named his latest beer, a session IPA (Jean makes a lot of hoppy beers (really wonderfully aromatically hoppy beers), a lot of session beers, and a lot of funky beers), Be Nice. It clocks in at 4.2%, and he describes it as a reddish session IPA. When someone -- rightly -- asked if that wasn't the same thing as a pale ale, he responded that it drinks like a DIPA, and he didn't think anyone would guess that it was as low in ABV as it is.

I guess I'm going to have to make the trip out to Ardmore and try this one. I mean, I don't see any way I can not have one (or four) of these, right?! Thanks, Jean, pretty cool!

(A rare cross-posting from The Session Beer Project blog; been doing a lot more posting there these days, you should have a look.)