As a lot of you know, Sly Fox released their Royal Weisse in cans in April. As many of you probably don't know, they thereby became the second east coast micro to release a canned hefeweizen. Butternuts Beer & Ale, of Garrattsville, NY, has had a hefe called Heinieweisse for a while now. The brewery contacted me a few weeks ago, and sent me some samples. Tonight I got to taste the two of them, the only two canned American hefes I know of, with some delicious veal sausages I got at Rieker's Prime Meats in Northeast Philly.
I'll cut to the chase: the Heinieweisse did not come off well in the head-to-head comparison. The depth of flavor was not there, the classic hefe character was not there, and there was an unpleasant mineral component to the beer. The Royal Weisse was very impressive, full-flavored, würzig, and refreshing. I'm going to try some Heinieweisse solo, maybe tomorrow.
Monday, April 30, 2007
As a lot of you know, Sly Fox released their Royal Weisse in cans in April. As many of you probably don't know, they thereby became the second east coast micro to release a canned hefeweizen. Butternuts Beer & Ale, of Garrattsville, NY, has had a hefe called Heinieweisse for a while now. The brewery contacted me a few weeks ago, and sent me some samples. Tonight I got to taste the two of them, the only two canned American hefes I know of, with some delicious veal sausages I got at Rieker's Prime Meats in Northeast Philly.
Since I had to stay straight enough to drive 6 miles back out to my motel, I was in real good shape Sunday morning. Got up about 7:00, showered, dressed, and packed, and went downtown to pick up Woody. We broke our fast at the Zodiac Dinor (2516 State St., (814) 455-3543), where I had another Greek sauce omelette. Good omelette, but the Greek sauce was cold in spots: kinda like it had been heated up rapidly and unevenly. Bummer. Quiet on a Sunday morning. We read the paper and headed southeast.
I'd decided I wanted to skip the Interstates this Sunday morning, so we picked up Rt. 6 and then ran down through the Allegheny National Forest. Great roads, great ridge-running, and we made good time. Woody was dozing on and off, so I just let the Passat run and listened to the music. We ran I-80 for about 20 miles, then got off near Clearfield. I was headed for Otto's, but also for Port Matilda, where I pulled off for a kind of second breakfast at Clem's.
Clem's does barbecue, and I love it. I regularly go out of my way to get it, because Clem Panteleone agrees with my theory of barbecue: the meat is more important than anything: the smoke, the wood, the sauce, the atmosphere.
The smoke? Clem cooks his ribs hot, over fire. Heresy, but shut up and eat 'em. The wood? Clem uses oak because (he told me) hickory has too much flavor and masks the pig. Sauce? It's a rich red sauce, sweet and tangy, but it's not baked on like some places. And Clem's place has NO atmosphere; hell, it doesn't even have four walls or a place to sit. But the kid working the place did come out and offer everyone some wings to sample (I just don't eat wings any more, they're death on the diet, but I had one. Mmmmmm...). And the pork is just fantastic. I got a combo plate of a half rack of baby backs and a portion of boneless "country" ribs. Good Gawd, it was so good that I ate till I hurt. I hate doing that any more, but I held even on weight over the trip, so I guess I got away with it.
We wet-napped our faces and got out of there. Down to Otto's, the great brewpub on the west end of State College. No need for lunch, obviously, but I did get a half-pint of Arthur's Mild, and it was tasty and session-delicious. Owner-brewer Charlie Schnable took a break from epoxying the floor of his new coldroom to join us for a quick beer, then took me on a look in the brewhouse. It has filled up since the last time I was in there! Lotsa tanks, and Charlie's kind of wondering what he's gonna do next. Hope he keeps making the delicious beer he's been making.
We were joined at the bar by Sam Komlenic, who I last talked about in the WhiskyFest posts. Funny; I correspond with Sam fairly often, but this is the most I've seen him in two years. A pleasant change. As you can see from the picture to the left of Sam and Woody, Sam, another former "big guy," has benefited from the Weight Watchers program; dropped 30 lbs. and never stopped drinking beer and whiskey. It works, folks! Sam treated us to a sample of some pre-war rye whiskey, and it was damned nice. Thanks, Sam.
We were going to take a spin out to Millheim to see how the Elk Creek brewpub project was coming along, but I got a call from Cathy: my brother-in-law had had an accident and was on the way to the ER. We finished up and hit the road. About the time I dropped Woody off in Lancaster, I got another call: the brother was not as bad as we'd been told, and he was going to be fine. Good. Danke, Herr Gott. So I drove home, and enjoyed the presence of my family and my wee dog. A good weekend.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
My Erie Weekend: Part II (Part I is here).
I got up Saturday morning (April 21) hankering for a dinor breakfast (that's how "diner" is traditionally spelled in Erie; apparently no one is really sure why), and although I have a couple favorites, I'm always looking for something new. I fired up the Web and found the Lawrence Park Dinor, an authentic Silk City diner (Silk City made the "railroad car" diners; there are some modern diners named Silk City -- not the same thing): game on!
It was a long, somewhat complicated way off, so I MapQuested directions and a map, and took non-flash digicam pix of both screens with my new camera (a Canon A630, a bigger camera with more battery power and more comfort for my big hands, I'm very happy with the pictures I'm getting now): brilliant idea, worked like a charm, and after a 15 minute drive in the early morning sunshine, I pulled up in front of the beautifully maintained Silk City you see above. It's so damned authentic that it's on the National Register of Historic Places. How many of those serve breakfast?
I got a seat at the counter, right by the grill, where the owner, George Gourlias, was frying eggs and potatoes, slapping down the ham, and turning bacon. Gawd, it was tremendous. Coffee came quick and hot, and when I saw "Greek Sauce Omelette" on the menu, I knew it was for me.
Greek sauce is a puree of ground beef and spices similar to Coney Island sauce, usually put on hot dogs, often called "Texas Hots" or "Texas Wieners." Greek sauce is found all across New York State, from Brooklyn to Plattsburgh to Buffalo, but it's also all across Pennsylvania, from Philly to Scranton to Erie. When I was doing the research for the latest Pennsylvania Breweries, I found a very early reference to Greek sauce in Kane, Pa., up in the northwest corner, possibly pre-dating the Coney Island use usually given as the first (George said it was invented at Coney Island, for example).
George did his omelette French-style: a light cake of eggs, still moist, and tri-folded, with the Greek sauce ladled generously over the top. Great sauce, spicy but not overdone, and I tore into it. George has the place for sale; he's been there for 15 years, I think he said, has another restaurant on the west side of Erie, and is looking to open something different. He's certainly got a good business to sell: the Park was busy, friendly, and smelling great.
I finished breakfast, drove around a bit, then went back to the room and did some writing. About 11:00 I called Woody, arranged to meet him at the Maritime Museum, where he was touring the brig Niagara, Pennsylvania's flagship. Woody's retired Navy, and was fired up by the idea of the three-week sailing school course offered by the Museum. I picked him up and we headed for the brewpub for the fest.
You can see the 1920s public architecture influence on Union Station in this shot: it's a grand building, and the restoration inside makes BrewErie a great place to host a fest (although I'm afraid the carpet's going to need a cleaning; lotta spilled beer). I was signing books and working the crowd; saw plenty of old friends and tasted some great beers. Penn's Weizenbock was a great pour, as was the rye beer from North Country and a surprisingly huge and delicious barleywine from Hereford & Hops.
The three-hour sessions were a good idea, no one got out of hand. Actually, for a first-time fest, it was extremely well-run. The only problem I noted was that the crowd was allowed to linger after the first session was over. With only an hour between sessions, people were hustling to re-set for the second session, and the brewers didn't get much of a break. Lessons learned. On the other hand, it was good to have the second session done at 8:00: plenty of evening yet to enjoy!
Speaking of which...about 7:20, Mary showed up at my table. Did I still want to go out to the lighthouse? You bet! We made arrangements, and by 8 I was following Dorothy's Honda SUV out onto Presque Isle to the lighthouse, where she lives in the attached brick building. I offered up a growler of Brian Sprague's Hellbender Porter (rapidly accepted and poured into shaker glasses), and we made the ascent up 76 spiral steps to the top. You can see the view to the left. It was awesome. We were about 70 feet above ground level.
About this time we were joined by two more of Dorothy and Mary's friends (sorry, ladies, I should've written your names down!), one of whom was from Bucks County. We talked home ("Oh, no, that's been torn down. Nope, sold. Oh, yeah, used to be there, but they closed.") as the sunset slowly faded, and then the timber doodles came out. I had read in A Sand County Almanac about the way woodcocks fly up in the twilight and then spiral downwards, crying out as they dropped, but I'd never seen it. Woodcocks spiraled down around the lighthouse, and I was enthralled. What a great moment. But we had to go down, it was getting dark. You can see the steps as we descended in the picture: that's Dorothy on the left and the two later-arriving friends to the right.
Afterwards, Dorothy and Mary and I finished off the porter and talked beer for a while, then I finally headed back. The park was closed, but Dorothy told me how to get out past the gates. I saw deer and coons as I drove slowly down the isle (it's not actually an island, but has been in the past at times). I grabbed some dinner, picked up Woody, and headed back to the brewpub, which I've already told you about here. And that was pretty much Saturday. Just a bit more happened on Sunday. Coming up soon.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The San Francisco Chronicle reported April 22 that some pot smokers sound more like wine lovers in describing various strains of weed. "I would describe this as grapey, candy-like, sweet, with a slight undertone of spice," said Oakland medical-marijuana dispensary CEO Stephen DeAngelo of a recent sample. "It is grapey, but I get flowers," added Rick Pfrommer, purchasing agent for the Harborside Health Center. "I would use the word pungent. It has a pungent funk undertone."
Harborside alone offers medical users 40 types of marijuana to choose from, crossbred from strains originating in Burma, India, Mexico and California. Websites like weedtracker.com offer product reviews and other information. Jorge Cervantes serves as the unofficial guru of marijuana "cannasseurs"; he judges different strains of the drug for High Times, which sponsors the annual Cannabis Cup.
"Some of the fragrances you should look for are sweet, spicy and musty," said Cervantes. "If it's sweet, what's it like? Is it like bubblegum? Is it like honey? ... Is it minty? What does that mean? Is it like a rose? Or a cherry?"
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? And here I thought weed was weed. Should have known better.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 10:31
While I'm pointing out good pieces, check this one by "Uncle Jack" Curtin. Jack's done a very nice piece for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News on the wave of good new beer bars in the western suburban reaches of Philadelphia. It's more than your standard "there's a good bar here with this stuff on tap and food on the menu, then there's another bar here with this stuff on tap and food on the menu" kind of story that all too often passes for "beer writing" (hey, I'm guilty, sometimes it's what the editor wants). Jack does more than tell you about these places, he tells you why they've opened and why they're succeeding. The piece is called, appropriately, "The Tipping Point."
Jack's put his finger on something I've been thinking about (and writing about). Craft beer has reached a level of sales, interest, and visibility that could be likened to a critical mass. As it moves more into cool bars, restaurants (both indie and chain), and supermarkets, it's going to be in front of more and more people as a viable, respectable alternative, and more and more of them are going to make that choice. The toughest problems for the industry in the next five to ten years are going to be keeping up with demand -- expanding production fast enough to make the beer that people want -- and getting access to the market in the face of continued wholesaler consolidation that often makes getting beer on the shelf a business of 'Eliza on the ice,' hopping from wholesaler to wholesaler as they merge, go under, and pop up.
There's one more problem looming, but that's the topic for the May Buzz on my website. It could be the worst one of the lot, and it's one we've seen before. See you there, next week.
Stan Hieronymus put some interesting stuff up on his blog today, a new study on British beer drinkers. They're "young and hip," according to the study. Stan notes in fairness that the study was commissioned and done by beer people; of course it was, otherwise it never would have gotten done, never would have even been conceived. It's got to make you wonder what a similar study would find here in America.
Good stuff, go read.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 07:41
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I'm going to tell you about the Erie weekend (the pictures are too good to waste, and it was great to see this fest succeed so well in what is essentially virgin territory), but while I'm working on that, I wanted to take a break and talk about something that happened Saturday night, post-fest. It was about 11:00, and Woody Chandler and I had wound up back at the BrewErie brewpub, drinking porter and looking for Paul Koehler. Paul used to be the brewer at Pearl Street, in Buffalo; now he's working for Flying Bison, and looking like it agrees with him. I wanted to have a couple bourbons with him in honor of old times.
While we were working on our pints and looking for Paul, a guy came over and started talking to me; he'd recognized me and wanted to talk beer. Okay, I can do that, no problem. We talked beer, and we soon came around to finding that he was a homebrewer. From there it developed that he was a homebrewer with ambitions; he'd reached that point where he'd started thinking about going pro because he had what he thought were some good recipes. Well, okay, that's cool, that's how things get started. But then we started talking about the recipes: hops, hops, and more hops, 7%, 9%, 12%.
"What about a beer people can drink more than one or two of?" I asked him. "You might need to brew one of those."
He paused, looked thoughtful, and brushed it aside. "People drink anything they're told to," he said (or something like that; I was tired, we were drinking, it was late). "They just drink those weak beers because of marketing."
"Weak?!" I said. "5%'s not weak, and that porter I'm drinking is probably less than that. It sure isn't bland!"
Well, okay, he allows, but it's nowhere near hoppy enough. Hops do not equal flavor, I tried to explain to him, there are other components to beer flavor, and people like those other components. You can't get by as an all strong, hoppy beer brewery. (Paul had showed up by this time, and we were drinking Wild Turkey 101 and more porter.)
Mr. BigBeer of course brought up Dogfish Head, Three Floyds, and so on. I pointed out that all of them had struggled for years before getting their big beer agenda together, and they were all now pretty well established; someone starting from scratch might want to think about the local market.
"Well, I suppose that with enough marketing people would buy a 5% beer just to drink," he says.
"You're not getting this, are you?" I finally told him right to his face. "People don't buy 5% beers because they've been hypnotized by commercials. They buy them because they like the way they taste, and because they want to be able to drink more than one or two. They drink them because they want to have a beer that isn't going to sand-blast their palate. This isn't about marketing."
His wife eventually took him home; a friendly parting, really, he was a nice enough guy except for his session beer blindspot. But that blindspot continued to bug me, to the point of having to blog (and you know how I hate that).
Where does this attitude -- that people who don't like hoppy beers or big beers are stupid sheep who only think they like the beers they like -- continue to come from? Every time I ask that question, I'm assured that nobody really thinks that anymore, that we all get it, that Imus isn't really a racist... Yet every time we have a few after a fest, someone starts talking trash about "fizzy yellow beer drinkers" and how real beer drinkers begin at 6% and 50 IBU.
I'm not going to argue for session beers, or lambics, or malt-bombs. That's not the point, and besides, I've already done it. I want to argue against this pernicious and simple-minded "bigger is better" attitude among the geekerie.
Beer is nearly unique among alcohol beverages in that lower alcohol styles are still taken seriously -- at least by some experienced tasters. Lower alcohol spirits and wines are generally not well-regarded by critics, but most serious beer tasters will doff their caps to a good lambic or bitter. We should celebrate this. Beer is a drink you can tear into without getting swiftly whacked, a drink of moderation. Celebrate. Beer has a very broad sensory palate, not limited to one type of flavor. Celebrate. Beer is diverse, it has variety, this is what the whole microbrewery revolution is about.
People do not drink porter because it has been marketed to them. No one who makes porter has the money or the inclination to mount a huge marketing campaign to sell people on drinking porter. People drink it because they like it.
Hey, who knows: maybe some of the people who drink Bud do so because they like it! Maybe even Miller Lite!
Radical thoughts. Sorry, it's late. I know it's an article of faith among the cognoscenti that if people would just taste craft beer with an open mind, they'd all be drinking it. Nope. Not really. And there are millions of folks who drink 5% and lower beers all the time who love them: stout, helles, kölsch, pilsner. They're not all stupid sheep, and it's insulting to think of them that way.
Variety. That's what it's all about, and it runs both ways.
Alaskan Brewing sent me a sample of their 21st anniversary beer, Alaskan IPA. This is one west coast brewery not known for hopping the crap out of their beer, so I was interested to see what they'd do with an IPA. Cathy and I split it with dinner tonight (chili and cornbread).
Not bad! I was actually expecting something bizarre and over-the-top -- I mean, they've been holding back -- but this was a nicely balanced beer, good hop aroma, firmly bitter and medium-bodied, but still crisply drinkable. The hops tamed the chili heat (it was a fairly mild batch I'd made back in February with beef chunks and bratwurst, then frozen, but I'd jazzed it up tonight with ground ancho chiles and a dusting of powdered chipotle for a nice smoky touch), the malt pulled the sweet out of the fresh-baked cornbread. Nice stuff. Wish I could get more of it around here.
I hosted a beer dinner and beer fest in Erie last weekend, and it was a big success. But to host it, I had to get there, which is why I drove across Pennsylvania on Friday, April 20; "4-20 Day," as Woody Chandler reminded me. It's also Woody's street number, and it's also Hitler's birthday. Really. I just happen to know that.
Who's Woody Chandler? Woody's one of the folks who picked up my mid-Atlantic column at Ale Street News. He's a character, a guy who wears a braided beard and black horn-rims, wears monks' robes to beer festivals, but a guy who is as honest as the day is long. So I offered him a ride to Erie. We rolled the Passat across the state, up to Harrisburg, the 322 route to Lewistown and then up to I-80 for an invigorating 140 miles before hanging a right onto I-79.
We were joined by Tim Bowser, seen in the picture to the left between Matt (in the red) and myself (in the overalls). Tim's working on opening a brewpub himself, Elk Creek in Millheim, PA. He was pleased to tell me that he'd landed a brewer for the pub -- not open news yet, apparently (tell me if I'm wrong, Tim!), but I know the guy and his beer, and Tim's done quite well getting him to move to Millheim.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Three kids and a bunch of kegs at Sprague Farm & Brew Works in Venango. I drove across PA yesterday with Woody Chandler (yes, that Woody...the guy who took over my Ale Street News column for upstate PA) on the way to the beer dinner and fest in Erie, and we stopped in at Sprague and Voodoo. Good stories, good pix, good beer, but...I gotta get ready for the fest right now. Just wanted you to see how family-friendly breweries are, for now. Talk to you soon.
A gratuitous picture of Penderyn, our Welsh Corgi. It's fun to watch a puppy discover how much fun Spring can be, gives you a fresh perspective on the seasons you've seen turn so many times.
A note to his breeder, Katie: how about those ears?! That lazy left one is right up these days, he's looking proper. But you know...I kinda miss the way it used to flop over!
Tuesday April 17th saw a beautiful moment at Triumph Center City Philly, and I'm not talking about the screaming metal monkey to the left. The brewers of the three Triumph brewpubs -- Princeton, New Hope, the new Center City spot, and 'executive brewer' Jay Misson -- held a brewers reception, inviting brewers from the region to come to the newly opened brewpub. It was a nice idea, and it was great to see everyone come out.
Brewers came from as far away as Troegs and Appalachian in Harrisburg, Stewart's in Delaware, and Anheuser-Busch in Newark, NJ. (Really: these guys are all in the Master Brewers Association of America, and Jay's just become the president of the local chapter -- see how happy he is in the picture to the left? -- and everyone came out for their colleague's new operation.)
As you can see, Jay, like me, spent most of the evening drinking Patrick Jones's excellent kellerbier. It rocked as only an unfiltered pils can rock: aromatic, a touch sulfury, and utterly refreshing, the lager equivalent of cask ale. I also tried the dunkel (which, honestly, I thought needed a bit of work; it was a little sharp, not as glass-smooth as I like a dunkel to be), the porter (very nice beer, hoppy but not obtrusive with it), and the Chico pale ale (yup: Cascades, clean, good drinker, no issues here).
Had good chats with Scott and Lee from Legacy, Casey and Robin from Flying Fish (hadn't seen her in a couple years, nice to get caught up), Brugger from Troegs, Whitney from Appalachian (good to meet the new brewer; very pleasant young woman with a microbiology background, love to see that from a brewer), Suzanne from Sly Fox, Ric from Stewart's, the King of the Philadelphia Craft Beer Scene (don't worry, folks, we shook hands, and smiled, and I went across the street to Eulogy afterwards and had a nice glass of draft Allagash Curieux), and with Triumph partner/founder Adam Rechnitz (who pointed out the screaming metal monkey to me).
I know I'm missing people, and I apologize. It's so infrequent that all of the beer folks in the area get together in a non-work setting that isn't after an exhausting day at a fest. You see how much everyone enjoyed it in this picture out on the street afterwards. Get yourself down to Triumph; the parking's not as bad as you might think (well...on Friday and Saturday nights, but take SEPTA!), I parked on-street for a buck, only three blocks away, and the walk did me good. Thanks to Triumph and Jay Misson for this very gracious "hello" to the craft beer scene.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Just saw this posted on BeerAdvocate. I have always liked the folks, the beer, and the business model at Custom BrewCrafters, a little brewery in a little town (with a big falls) in upstate New York. To see them doing so well (about 22% growth a year over ten years? Nice!) is a great indicator that things are indeed hitting a tipping point.
You can get a look at the plans here.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The prep work for WhiskyFest is months-long, and done by Amy, John, and Joan. I make a couple suggestions, but mostly, I come in at the last minute. My job at WhiskyFest is running the seminar rooms. We have to make sure they're set-up and ready to go on time, that the distillers know where they are, that we know where the distillers are (and what they look like; it's an ever-changing roster), that we have all the AV needs covered, and that the distillers have all their stuff from the hotel shipping area. And, of course, we have to handle all the last-minute changes: this room needs 5 glasses, not 4; these guys decided they do want an LCD projector package after all; oh, we do have tasting mats, could we just slip them under the glasses?
Seriously, it's a lot of work, and a certain amount of confusion, but the Hyatt -- like the Marriott in NYC -- has gotten quite good at it over the years and the staff doesn't even bat an eye anymore at these requests. We thought we had an advantage this year: NexTel walkie-talkie phones we rented for four staffers (plus three extras for each ongoing seminar to call in any problems -- like guests who had over-Fested). But after a 20 minute training session we realized that there was no way that we could show the seminar speakers (or their assistants, really) how to work the things in 30 seconds, and after half an hour, we realized that the things flat-out sucked for what we wanted to do: you could not set them to ring loud and long for an incoming alert, which we absolutely needed in the din of WhiskyFest. Which was too bad, because the reception was great, unlike our cell-phones. Grrrr....
The Hyatt staff did a great job this year, and we were set up in the 7:00 seminar rooms before the Fest even started at 5:30. Then the adjustments started: find the presenters, shake hands, see if they're okay, if they need anything (not usually), if they have tasting mats (paper mats to put the different glasses of whisky on, usually with notes to tell the guests what they're tasting), that kind of thing.
I also cruise the main hall of the festival, making sure no one's getting in ahead of time (exhibitors or guests; we don't want anyone getting in the way of the people who are setting up), answering questions, and checking to make sure no one's putting posters or display materials up on the walls or the curtain dividers. That's one of our rules, for a two-fold reason. We don't want any inadvertant damages to the hotel's walls or curtains, and we also like to keep a level playing field between the big and little distillers, as much as possible. We don't let anyone pour in front of the table for the same reason, along with cutting down on the congestion that would inevitably create.
This is also an opportunity for me to say hi to friends and folks I know...and to get a picture of Cathy with Dr. James Swan, the creator of Penderyn, our little dog's namesake. We each had a quick taste as well: "A light, pleasant drinking whisky," as James said; very pleasant stuff.
At 5:20, John takes the podium and welcomes the exhibitors to WhiskyFest. He goes over the rules -- 1/4 oz. pours, no pouring in front of the table, no free bottles to anyone (full or empty, Illinois law forbids it), no serving drunks -- and reminds them that all the rules are in their best interests. Then the doors open for the first part of the Fest: VIP ticket holders, press, and Malt Advocate Whisky Society members get in an hour early for the first crack at things in a less-crowded setting. We check to make sure things are running smoothly, then duck out to run the seminar rooms again.
At 6:30 the doors open wide and the steaming hordes eagerly rush in, smiles on their faces. About 15 minutes later, I'll take the mike to make my first announcement of the available seminars ("Good evening, Chicago! Welcome to WhiskyFest!!" Always met by roars and applause, that one), hit it again at five before the hour, and then run off to the seminar rooms to make an request to the guests that they respect the speaker, each other, and the whisky...and to have fun. We had no problems with drunks at Chicago this year: thank you, Chicago.
A wee bit of drama this year: Lincoln Henderson, the scheduled speaker for Suntory's 7:00 seminar ("Yamazaki Time"), is running late from the airport. At 7:05 I stick my head in and ask the Suntory rep how things are. He gives me a tight smile: "5 minute video running. 45 minute seminar." The smile broadens and he shrugs. I go looking for John; as he says himself as soon as I tell him what's going on, he's probably the second-most qualified guy at the Fest to do the presentation. We go over to the room, but Suntory's American rep is at the mike and doing fine. Whew. Lincoln did finally arrive at 7:30, he took over, and we let them run a bit long.
"Running a bit long" is an issue. The first seminars end at 7:45, at which point we have to get the guests and presenters out of the rooms as quickly as possible so the hotel staff can clear the tables of glassware, tasting mats, and...stuff (replacing tablecloths if necessary), put down the new mats and glasses and...stuff, and let the distillers quickly pour as many as six samples, all of which Cathy and I have helped with at one time or another. So we like to have the first seminars clear out as close to 7:45 as is polite. Some run long, and it can get a bit snarky, but we always get it done. Two seminars started five minutes late this year, but the guests were very good about it, and even applauded the announcement.
A word about that. This was possibly the smoothest, best WhiskyFest ever. We had very few problems with "over-enjoyment," which were handled with smooth cordiality by hotel security. The food was excellent and plentiful (the braised short ribs were delicious, as was the Mediterranean cheese and vegetable selection), the floor was not as congested as it's been in the past, and the room didn't seem to get as wicked hot as it does sometimes (you put a bunch of people in a room and give 'em whisky, it's gonna get hot). And of course, there's that wonderful smell. "I like this event," said Deb, the hospitality manager for the hotel. "It smells like whisky." Yes, indeed!
Finally, it was over. I got a couple drams myself (some Caol Ila independent bottlings, the mysterious Templeton Rye, George T. Stagg, Van Winkle 15, some more Penderyn, and a few sips of the Old Pulteney range. Then I headed over to the beer corner for a wet-down with Goose Island Matilda and a variety of Unibroues. Ah, refreshment. Goose Island brewer Greg Hall did a seminar this year, a first: barrel-aged beers. Very well received, I heard.
Last call, and we relaxed as everyone filed out. A well-behaved crowd, as Chicago usually is. As you can see by the picture, we got a bit silly. Then we went to Clark Street Ale House and got even sillier. John bought a huge stack of delicious pizzas, and we ran a tab for about two hours. I was disappointed to learn that other people had found that cask Pride & Joy wonderful too, and it was gone. But I was real happy to learn that it had been replaced by Two Brothers Cane & Ebel Rye, a thoroughly delicious and drinkable beer that I stayed with all night.
We were joined at Clark Street by Derek Hancock of Gordon & MacPhail and Brett Pontoni of Binny's (and probably some other people, to be honest, but I was focused on Cathy, the Malt Advocate staff, and the beer). Two more Malt Advocate folks joined us at Clark Street: Steve Beaumont, our long-time Taste columnist and well-known drinks writer (who was there with his charming and fun girlfriend, Maggie), and Sam Komlenic, our new copyeditor, who some of you may remember as the other guy who got thrown out of the bar in Wilkes-Barre with me after The Lion's 100th anniversary. Sam's also the guy who sent me the pictures of the fire at Schnitzel's Tavern in Bellefonte.
We drank, we walked back to the hotel (about half an hour, but I needed it). Cathy and I spent another day in Chicago: another morning walk, the Field Museum (great little Tibet exhibit, and we saw a Maori troupe perform in front of the Maori longhouse they have: fantastic). Then we met with our Chicago friends George & Sue Sarmiento (George was Cathy's boss back in the 1980s, and just a hell of a great guy) for drinks at Kirkwoods (one of the many nice little corner bars in Chicago, and some decent drafts, too), then went to Resi's Bierstube for dinner. Great half-liters of Hofbräu (exceptionally good, great body, clean and not overwhelming) and Spaten Maibock, and a delish plate of leberkäse, with a nice chunky portion of potato salad to go with. After that hearty meal, we went out to a jazz club with Kathy and Jamie (Honkers Ale and Maker's Mark Manhattans)...and finally called it a night and a weekend. We had an uneventful flight home, despite the nasty weather, and were re-united with our kids and little dog. A really nice trip.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 08:50
Friday the 13th was Fest Day in Chicago. Cathy and I did a walk in the morning (teased by a tantalizing smell of chocolate being made that I never did track down), then had a healthy oatmeal at a Corner Bakery (a chain, yes, but of Chicago origin, so...) and went back to the Hyatt to get set for the evening. We set up over 2,200 tasting/nosing glasses, the programs and free copies of Malt Advocate, checked the seminar room set-up, prepped the ballroom as much as possible, and then went out to lunch.
We went to the downtown Rock Bottom brewpub at the corner of State and Grand Sts. (had some pix, but they got garbled, sorry), and stepped up to the bar, back by the pool tables. Cathy started with a glass of dry stout (pretty unremarkable stuff, unfortunately), I got the hefeweizen (a Bavarian-type classic, tilted towards the banana side and deliciously fresh and zesty). Our bartender, Autumn, also got us two barrel-aged samples: an impie stout (good, bourbony, but could have been more robust for an impie) and a winter warmer (excellent: big and malty, with rich bourbon-infused depth).
We ordered lunch and sipped and chatted. The place looked a lot like the Denver RB: dark honey-colored wood, broken up into a series of medium-sized rooms (we were actually in a kind of alcove, an ell of the bar), an older look rather than the more modern look of RB King of Prussia. I finished my wheat and ordered a Brown Bear Brown Ale (good -- a chocolate edge, drinkable, with a nice touch of mineral dryness).
Lunch came: I had a smoked chicken enchilada with rice & beans and some kind of potato corn hot salad...thing, all quite good; Cathy had a portabella melt on a small focaccia-type roll (juicy without being wet, nice) and barbecue beans (great flavor, but the onion straws on top quickly got soggy and yucky). We split on two sides: brown ale-braised mushrooms (delicious, done just right, and enriched by the ale) and roasted asparagus (not so: underdone -- I like it crisp but not crunchy -- and not so flavorful). I'd love to see more restaurants do this steakhouse-style vegetable side thing.
We walked back to the Hyatt, Cathy read and took a nap while I drank coffee and wrote the entry on Thursday. We showered and got dressed, and went downstairs about 3:00. Time to get to work.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Cathy and I flew out to Chicago on Thursday to work WhiskyFest Chicago, part of being on the Malt Advocate team. We got a quick run into downtown from O'Hare, checked in, and saw a load of whiskey folks while we are the front desk: Kris Comstock of Buffalo Trace (I asked him if Sazerac prez Mark Brown had been embarrassed by the cover article I wrote on him and the distillery in the current issue; yes, he was! Mark's a real team guy, staying in the background, but his story was so darned compelling that he wound up being the anchor of the piece), Julian and Preston Van Winkle, Elmer T. Lee (Buffalo Trace distiller emeritus and just a real nice fella), and Richard Paterson, master blender at The Dalmore. Good people, and we'd be seeing more of them shortly, but right now we wanted to get a drink!
So we ran up to our rooms, dumped our stuff, freshened up a bit, and grabbed two cabs. It was me, Cathy, John Hansell, and the husbands of our current and former office managers: Jim McGinley and Jamie Fox. We were headed for the Clark Street Ale House, our favorite, never-miss stop in Chicago. Except we're here once a year or so, and we're not completely clear on where it is ("It's easy," I told Cathy, "you go over to Clark Street, turn right, and walk till you get there."), so we wound up giving the cab drivers directions to Fado.
What? Hey, we're dopes, but we're adaptable dopes. "Guys," I said, "This is not a problem. I just happen to have here a $25 gift card for Fado that I got for Christmas. Let me stand you a round of Guinness!" And that's just what we did. Good jar, too.
Then we went to Clark Street. They were just opening, and Erin, the bartender, wiped things down, set out fresh pretzel rods, and took our orders. John and I, as we almost always do, got pints off the handpump, which was an exceptionally delicious barrel of 3 Floyds Pride & Joy Mild. I'll tell you, it was superb. If anything, it was only flawed by being maybe too exuberantly hoppy...but we were of a mind to forgive it that tiny flaw. Damned nice beer. Cathy got a Great Lakes Ed Fitz Porter, always a good choice. Second round: I got the Two Brothers French Country Ale, a solidly malty ale with a nice dry edge to it. A favorite when we're here.
Then we headed to Binny's for their pre-WhiskyFest tasting. Wow. I had two great tastes of Laphroaig, the Quarter Cask (breathtakingly peaty, but bright and lively, fresh air whisky) and the 30 Year Old (classy, smooth, still peaty but mellow with it). I got a quick hit of Canadian Club Classic 12 Year Old (sweet, but not mawkish with it, a nice whisky), some Stranahan's (still not doing it for me), two Caol Ila's (a 12 year old that was quite lively, and a 25 that was just delicious), a Ledaig (had to try it cuz I just learned how to pronounce it: "Leh check"), and a Bruichladdich (wurf, peat, malt, some fruit, nice whole). I was busy.
We were in need of some refreshment, and the Duke of Perth was right down the street, so...off we went. I got a Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted IPA (fruity, bitter, fresh, real drinkable) and Cathy got a Summit Maibock.
We would have stayed, but we had dinner reservations for Maza, a Lebanese restaurant across from Delilah's. Wow, was it ever good. We let the owner, Joe, talk us into "a feast!" and he was so right. Maza, he told us, means something like 'tapas,' and he just kept bringing more little plates out: baskets of fresh pita (still warm), hummus, tabbouleh, kibbeh, roasted eggplant, chicken with couscous, shrimp with couscous, lamb/beef sausages (grilled all up and delish), and kebabs. Plenty of Lebanese red wine (a very nice cab/syrah blend) and Almaza Lebanese beer. Dessert was cashew baklavah and orange rice pudding, with coffee spiced with cardamom. We were stuffed and happy, what a fantastic meal.
So a couple of us went across the street to Delilah's to thank owner Mike Miller for making the recommendation to go to Maza. That's where we were joined by regular Malt Advocate writer and Chicago native Terry Sullivan. We had one beer, then Sullivan packed me into his little Scion boxmobile (see below; surprisingly comfortable, even on Sullivan's 6'4" frame, and as he said, "If I ever run out of work, I can always deliver bread") and we whipped off to the Old Town Ale House, one of his favorite bars, and had one more beer before I begged for mercy and went back to the hotel. And that was Thursday. More later about the Fest.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 14:32
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
If you're wondering where I am...I'm up to my neck in receipts and mileage diaries, doing taxes. I had hoped to be doing posts on whiskey this week, leading up to WhiskyFest Chicago, but as usual, poor planning has put me at the Windy Corner of Taxes.
But it's not all bad. The one thing I like about tax time is that it calls for going back through all my notebooks, where I keep mileages, expenses (you'd be amazed how many bars just aren't set up for receipts, and tips only get recorded if you do them on credit card, which I don't like to do: I was a bartender, and cash is better), and dates.
And so tax time means re-living my year in beer and booze. The trip my dad and I took to western PA last summer, in the frothy ferment of new breweries out there, was all there in little scratches on the paper. The hops trip to A-B's Idaho ranch, with page after page of deep hop research by Dr. Val Peacock (and pint after pint of roaring IPAs at the bar in Couer d'Alene). The fascinating and peaceful visit to Laird's, a little corner of Kentucky quiet in New Jersey. And Monk's dinners, many-splendored and studded with memories of stand-out food, ethereal beers, and laughter with solid friends.
Like I said; it's not all bad. But it does mean that I'm not blogging...so that's where I am. I'll get back to it in Chicago.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 06:41
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Today is the 74th anniversary (apologies for getting my math wrong earlier!) of the first fruits of Repeal, when FDR and the new Congress jiggered the Volstead Act to allow sales of 3.2% ABW beer (heh, and light wines, but no one ever remembers that!) after thirteen years of Prohibition, and 20 states (and the District, of course) took them up on it. The 21st Amendment wouldn't be ratified for another eight months, but Americans had their beer back, and we celebrated.
According to Will Anderson's From Beer to Eternity, triumphant throngs surrounded breweries and "cheered themselves hoarse." I woulda been there, better believe it. Anderson quotes that beer was "flowing freely and in great volume" in Philadelphia; the country consumed over 1,000,000 barrels of beer in just that one day.
Victory Brewing, who has used "Resist Prohibition" as a slogan for years (God bless them), brews a beer for occasions just such as this: Throwback Lager, a "pre-Prohibition pilsner," brewed using yeast from the old-school Philadelphia Christian Schmidt brewery and "a small portion of brewer's corn." Throwback to the old days, and 'throwback' because that's what you'll do, throw back another one. Great quaffing beer, and just under my SBP parameters at 5.4% ABV, which is what you need to celebrate a day like this.
On a day like this...remember that beer is a drink of moderation, that most of it is drunk in good health, and that most beer drinkers are solid citizens, not drunken reprobates. Don't let people talk you into being embarrassed to drink beer, don't let people talk you into raising taxes on beer, don't let people talk you into restricting beer. Because we already fought that fight. And today we celebrate the Victory.
After I'd had my second Rochefort, and sung Good Friday services (singing bass in an a capella octet), it was time to have the main meal of the day. I stopped at the fish counter at the Newtown Farmer's Market, and got two nice chunks of tuna and two soft shell crabs, then stopped at the supermarket on the way home and got a pound of large shrimp.
Cathy made a pot of fettucine while I melted a couple tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. That's how I did the crabs, just butter, salt, and pepper. I did the shrimp in another skillet, with olive oil, plenty of garlic, and lemon juice. I would have liked to add some white wine, but we were out (We're fixing that tomorrow), and some capers, but Nora doesn't care for them.
When the shrimps were done, we tossed them with more olive oil and the fettucine. I gave the skillet a quick wipe, added peanut oil and sesame oil, heated it up, and tossed the tuna in with a good shake of coarse sea salt. We put big bowls of salad (Romaine, red leaf, and some nice spring mix) out, and whole wheat bread and chevre.
What to drink, though? After some reflection, I had a bottle of New Belgium Springboard Ale, a spring seasonal that's a kind of wit-like thing, but 6.2% ABV, with an addition of oats, and spiced with Wormwood, Goji berries, and Schisandra...whatever the hell that is. Springboard was a perfect choice for the meal: the edge of the flavors cut the garlic and the richness of the tuna, the carbonation lifted the cheese and the olive oil, and it just tuned beautifully with the chevre. Best of all, it didn't overwhelm the crabs, which were excellent, delicious, juicy. I do love living near the Chesapeake this time of year.
Friday, April 6, 2007
It's Good Friday. And it's The Session (a first-Friday joint blog by a bunch of beer-loving-bloggers). Time to blog about dubbels.
I'm a cantor at my church, St. Andrew's in Newtown, PA. As a cantor, this is Holy Week, but it's also hell week: I sang Palm Sunday, had long rehearsals Tuesday and Wednesday nights, sang Holy Thursday services last night (I'd like to do the 11:00 PM prayer next year), and in about three hours, I'll be in my choir robe, singing the poignantly piercing music of Good Friday, one of the heaviest services of the year. Follow that with the intense two hours of Easter Vigil mass (in which I'm carrying the big candle into the church again: big guys get the duty), and then back up for a massively musical Easter morning mass, and by 1:00 Easter afternoon, I'll be truly ready to break my Lenten fast...and maybe take a nap after a couple beers.
But today... Good Friday is a fast day, on top of being meatless in Lent. I got into the spirit of sacrifice early, and drove down to the Red Cross donor center in northeast Philly to do apheresis, 90 minutes hooked up to a machine that strips a pint of platelets out of my blood while I listen to my MP3 player (my "MePod") and read Red, White, and Drunk All Over, Natalie MacLean's extremely well-written wine book that I am enjoying immensely.
Back home, grab the laptop, pet the dog, say hi to Cathy and the kids, and I'm back out the door, running on two cups of coffee and a piece of bread with peanut butter at 7:00 AM. Fast day.
So with all the Catholic freight of the day, with all the meaning this day has for me -- it's not just singing: I'm a faithful Catholic, and Good Friday rings me like a gong -- I decided that for my dubbel drinking for The Session, it had to be aTrappist dubbel. I went to Isaac Newton's, here in town, and got a Rochefort 8.
The pour was a bit turbid, unfortunately, but the yeasty, spicy, fruity aromas make me feel better about it. There's a solid cap of mousse on the top, with a little rip of brown where some yeast clouded through. It's a mix of tiny, tiny bubbles and bigger ones that are still not the chunky spheres you'd see in a coarser beer.
"Coarser beer?" Judgmental? You bet. Because when I take a sip of the stuff, and get that bountiful flavor, so much that it takes me a while to sort it out (which isn't helped by the pungent cigarette smoke in the bar): light fruity notes, like a just-ripe pear or a white nectarine, a lift of surprising dryness in the back of the mouth, and a wonderful, eerily refreshing character for a 9% beer...when I take a sip of Rochefort 8, a whole lot of other beers pale in comparison, and I ain't talking Lovibond. And I realize that the fasting is perfect. My tastebuds and palate are hungry and quivering, the beer tastes alive on them.
This beer (and the food...always the food) is one of the main reasons I have to go to Belgium (that's right, folks: Lew's never been to Belgium. Never been to the UK, either). Because I want to emulate a mentor, John Hansell, and sit in a cafe all afternoon and drink my fill of it (John did that with Westvleteren, but the emotion's the same). I could do that here, but the cost is prohibitive.
Ha! So instead, I'm going to buy an airline ticket, stay in a hotel, rent a car...eh, the madness great beer can inspire, and the cheerfulness with which we accept it. Another dubbel will wreck me, with nothing in my belly but the memory of wheat bread and chunky-style...but I want one. Oh, dear. Because it does drink so nice.
Is beer holy? Is Trappist beer holy? Is anything holy? My patron, my chosen saintly guide, is St. Augustine, who I chose because what attracted me to the Church originally was the rigor and depth of its theology, of the time and brilliance brought to bear on understanding the mysteries of Christ. But I can claim no such theological weight for myself. I know more than most about Church history because of college studies, but holiness? It's beyond me.
Goodness and rectitude are more my speed. I can attest to the goodness of the Rochefort. Its depth continues to intrigue me, and it is a wonder how this beer can be 9%, rich and chocolatey and complex in flavor, and yet drink like a session pale ale.
I'll go with tradition: these beers are fast-evaders, monks' cheats for holy days. I'll order another. But I'm just going to enjoy it by myself. A private prayer, if you will. And then I'll go home, get a hot shower to open up my throat, and robe up to praise the sacrifice that makes me, even me, a holy child of God. Which is why today, Good Friday...it's dubbel or nothing.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
I'm not a big YouTube fan: there's so much crap out there. But...I picked up this link off BeerAdvocate: YouTube - Debate on BIR for HB195
It's audio of a recent committee debate in the Alabama legislature on whether to change the law to remove an alcohol cap of 6% on beer. It's both priceless and pathetic.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 22:42
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
[Actually, make that two PA brewpubs open now, as of April 6, and congratulations to all involved. Both places are now officially open: go enjoy!]
Triumph Old City, Philly's first new brewpub in seven years, opens on Thursday, April 5 (117 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, 215/625-0855). There are at least two more brewpubs on the way for the city, and maybe a couple more in the wings. Things are looking good.
Union Barrel Works, the long-awaited Reamstown brewpub from Tom Rupp, opens...soon. (6 N. Reamstown Rd., Reamstown (MapQuest calls this Stevens, I don't buy it, but what do I know?), 717/335-7837). I talked to Tom's wife Amy yesterday, and there are still a few inspections to go. If you've been following this, you know that inspections have been a trial for UBW (and Tom), so she didn't want to set an opening date (which some folks predicted as early as last November...). Amy promised to let me know when they have a firm date.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (and other papers) are reporting that Boston Beer and City Brewing have agreed to brew an undisclosed amount of Samuel Adams beers at the Latrobe brewery, formerly the home of Rolling Rock. It's a beaut of a modern brewery, and this will be good news for Latrobe and for City Brewing...and for Pennsylvania.
Latrobe plant to brew beer for Boston Beer Co. - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Posted by Lew Bryson at 13:00
Miller Brewing's BrewBlog tipped me off to this brief squib in an LA Times story about the new directions Bacardi is taking under new CEO Andreas Gembler. What caught their interest was that Bacardi was angling to buy Absolut, currently owned by the Swedish government; the Swedes are making noises about selling it off. But what caught my interest was this line:
"Gembler says Bacardi could expand into other kinds of spirits and that it would like to own a cognac and an American whiskey — to cash in on the increasing popularity of the category."
Follow the money: American whiskey is heating up. Heaven Hill is expanding production and bottling capability. Maker's Mark doubled their distilling capability a few years ago. Good news for American whiskey makers, and eventually, for American whiskey drinkers.