Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Huge beer doings in Sackets Harbor

Just picked up a hot rumor from a usually reliable source: Sackets Harbor Brewing is planning to break ground on a new $4,000,000 brewery from the ground up in Sackets Harbor this summer. Capacity is planned to be in the 10,000 bbl+ range; if that seems outlandish, remember that Sackets Harbor already has a fairly well-known contract presence. The brewery will include both bottle and canning lines, and will produce both Sackets Harbor beers and a long-promised line of soft drinks. They will also be competing for the growing trade in small-batch contract brewing.

My source says they may have already acquired the ground and tax breaks (they oughta get tax breaks, IMO: this area needs the jobs). If you're wondering where the Sackets Harbor brewpub is getting all this money, they are now part of a new holding company, North Country Hospitality Company, a regional group of restaurants, resorts, recreation outfits, and a bakery.
It's all more of the Second Breath of Microbrewing.

One Guy Brewing, Four Guys Painting

Guy Hagner continues to slouch towards the birth of his rough beast of a brewery, One Guy Brewing, in Berwick, PA. My son Thomas and I went up last year to help with demolition; last week I took my daughter Nora along for a day of painting.


As you can tell by the road signs Nora snapped a picture of (I forgot my camera; thank God one of us had some journalistic reflexes), we were pretty far upstate. It was a nice drive; we came up through Doylestown (breakfast at the Cross Keys Diner!), grabbed a big coffee to go at the Yum Yum Bake Shop in Quakertown, and then ran Rt. 309 north to Hazleton (neat drive over hills and through woods), where we caught SR 93 over the ridge to Berwick. Another big coffee at Dunkin Donuts (couldn't find a local place, sue me!), and we pulled into the future home of One Guy Brewing.


And this is the future heart of One Guy Brewing, the tiny stainless heart of a tiny brewing enterprise. Guy described it as a "lot of scaled-up homebrewing techniques," including a mash-tun that doesn't have a false bottom: it has a number of copper pipes in the bottom that have slits cut in them to strain the mash. It's going to be tiny, labor-intensive, and totally manually-controlled (or in microbrewery-speak, intimate, hand-crafted and artisanally-made).


The plan: a number of beers, leaning towards the lager and session end, but mostly whatever he wants to do. There will be room for about 35 people in the tasting room/bar, but he won't be open late or often: he's mostly looking for growler and bottle sales (he'd do kegs, but they've gotten wicked expensive). Bottles? Yeah, he's got a bunch of really cool old returnable bottles from gone-under local breweries and soda companies, and the plan is to get the whole returnable bottle idea rolling again: clean 'em, sell 'em locally (with a fairly chunky deposit), drink 'em, return 'em.

In the meantime, we painted. Nora painted the door between the brewroom and the taproom, I worked up on the scaffold with a Wagner power sprayer, giving the over head a once-over. It took forever, and we didn't get much done. Guy did some more later in the week, but he told me that a friend then came by with a serious power sprayer and did the whole thing in about two hours. The beauty of the proper tool!

When does he open? Well, there's not a lot left to be done, work-wise. There's still some painting left to do, and the bar has to be put in and the hot dog cooker rigged up (that's your whole menu, folks). The main entrance needs to be cut and the door put in, two current entranceways need to be walled up (for licensing requirements), and the bathroom needs to go in. But mostly he's waiting on approvals from the PLCB (which actually seem to be moving pretty quickly), PA Dept. of Agriculture (food-service), and the ATTTB (the feds, successor to the ATF). Wait and see.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rams Head to shut down Annapolis brewery

In a not-so-surprising move, Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis will be removing their gleaming Beraplan brewhouse from their premises to make more room for seating for their very popular musical venue [Possible correction: I've heard from a reasonably reliable source that the tanks are being removed; brewhouse will stay, presumably for decorative purposes]. The brewery, Annapolis's first in modern times and known for their Fordham brand, will hardly be missed, given that Rams Head has the use of the big Southern brewery outside of Wilmington, DE, and now owns 51% of Old Dominion. They hardly have a capacity problem. Sad to see it go, but good fresh local/regional beer continues to flow at all six Rams Head Tavern locations: and that's a good thing. (Thanks to former Rams Head brewer Allen Young (currently at G-B VA Beach) for the news tip.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pennsylvania Beer Action Alert

Pennsylvania Beer Lovers: Please take a look at this.

It's news of PA Senate Bill 674, which proposes allowing beer distributors to sell 12-packs, and taverns to sell up to 3 six-packs. Pathetically incremental, I know, but it's a start. Please e-mail your PA Senator (you can easily do it here) and ask them to vote for Senate Bill 674. This bill will not affect consumption (it lets you buy LESS beer), it will not allow supermarket sales, it will not affect underage drinking. It is a convenience for citizens, that's all.

And for all you tavern owners, beer distributors, and folks in the Biz who would not like to see the boat get rocked...better to settle for a small rocking that might take some of the pressure off.

SBP: Session Summer of Love gets BIG press

You've got to check this out. It's a story in the New York Times (so yes, you'll probably have to register to read it; do it, already, it's worth it just to be able to read the Times's beer stories) on the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, titled "Welcome back, Starshine."

And right there in the third paragraph, right beside the picture of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey International Pop Festival, you will find this:


But the wild cards are in places like Zieglersville, Pa., where a three-day Session Summer of Love beer celebration will feature a mini-firkin fest; or at the Palms Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, where the Rain nightclub will hold a three-night rave event called Summer of Love, the Love-In, billed as an “all-out sensory assault.” If just thinking about these events leaves you tired, you can head to Starbucks for a 40th anniversary Monterey Pop CD set. (And if, like the squares of old, you need help with the lingo, a firkin is one sixth of a hogshead.)

Now, you and I know that they just happened to Google on "Summer of Love", and the Session Summer of Love Fest came up and they giggled, but...how about it, folks?

Has Zieglersville ever been mentioned in the New York Times before? (Well, actually, yes: five other times in the past 141 years. But who's counting?)

Has your beer festival been mentioned in the New York Times? (Probably not: fewer than 40 have been.)

Are you going to make it to Zieglersville this weekend for the Session Summer of Love, an amazing three-day session beer event that includes a Session Beer Project-approved dinner Thursday night (seriously, folks, a steal at 40 clams!), a mini-real ale fest Friday night, and a full-out, first-of-its-kind session beer festival on Saturday afternoon (pay as you go and a great $15 barbecue buffet to boot)?

Of course you are! Because you weren't in the Haight in '67, you weren't in Chicago in '68, and you weren't at Woodstock in '69, and this is your chance, your lone chance, O beer lover, to say "I was there at the first one, baby!"
See you in Z-ville.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another brewpub in Southwest PA, back on track.

Way back in November of 2002 I wrote a paragraph in my Ale Street News column about a beer bar in Harmony, PA that was looking to put in a brewery: the Harmony Inn, owned by Gary Barnes. Things moved kind of slowly, and then the flooding from Hurricane Ivan crushed the plan for a couple years.

Barnes is back at it, as this Post Gazette story shows. He intends to call the brewery Murdering Town Brewing, after a nearby Delaware Indian village. Good luck to them.

Why Beverage Analysts Need to Drink More

Uncle Jack quotes and notes an AP wire story about beverage industry analysts' angst about major brewers', particularly A-B's, purported lack of focus on their "core brands." What this means is that major brewers aren't as profitable and the A-B juggernaut has stalled out short of total market domination: brilliant Wall Street thinking is that you have to pour more money into the things that aren't working, like slumping Budweiser, MGD, and Original Coors. It worked before, the reasoning is: make it work again.

This ignores the possibility of a whole new market dynamic, the split to light beer on one track and full-flavored beer on the other, with 'premium' beers falling badly in the middle, something that A-B actually seems to be seeing pretty well; their problem so far is with execution.

Jack finds a nugget in the story in one analyst's (Goldman-Sachs's Judy Hong) proposed cure: buy a large craft brewer, or buy Absolut in a joint venture with Fortune Brands to break into the spirits market. More brilliant Wall Street thinking: if you have a problem caused by a lack of focus on your core brands, the solution is to dilute your focus even more by getting into entirely new segments of the market. How much are these people getting paid, and how can I make some of this easy money?

But take a look at this. I found my own nugget. Coors gets a pat on the back from Citigroup analyst Bonnie Herzog for focusing on their "core three brands: Coors Light, Blue Moon, and Keystone Light..." Blue Moon a core brand? Blue Moon? Coor doesn't release figures on individual brands, but from what I've been able to glean, Blue Moon did between 200k and 300k bbls. last year (inexact, I know, but I got what I got (see the comments below; it's actually a much larger range of guesses)). That's core brand territory for a brewer like Boston Beer or Sierra Nevada, but Molson Coors?

I don't know if this means that Blue Moon is popular in Manhattan, or if Molson Coors is in such bad shape that 200,000 bbls. of beer is a major concern. Actually, I do know: it means that "beverage industry analysts" need to get out and about more often, and take a look at what's really going down.

Buying a large craft brewer is not going to help A-B: sales of that large craft brewer will plummet when folks find out it's now A-B. There are only a few craft brewers out there large enough to make a difference: Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium. Their whole image is built on things like craftsmanship, beer decisions made by brewers, and "we're not a megabrewer."

Blue Moon is not a core brand. I like the beer, I like some of their seasonals a lot (I really hope they bring out the chardonnay grape beer they had at GABF; I know, I know, but it was delicious), but it's got a long way to go before it's crucial to the success of Molson Coors.

Buying into spirits is not going to help sales of core brands. It's just diversification, something Wall Street dives into every twenty years or so, inevitably followed by some balding old guy being hailed as a contrarian genius when he says companies have to focus on their main business. Ho-hum. It's all about selling stock and making money on anything but actual production.

Wall Street: I'm available, call me.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pleasant surprise at the Warsaw Cafe

I've been walking and driving past the Warsaw Cafe for ten years; of course I have, it's right across Locust Street from Monk's Cafe. I can't tell you how many times I looked into this small restaurant and thought, "Damn, that place looks nice; we should try it." I've even read good reviews, but still never got there.

We went today. Cathy's mom Claire was in town; we got tickets to Riverdance for her birthday. Hey, it was great. Impressive entertainment, virtuoso musicianship by the 5-person 'orchestra,' and we had front-row seats up in Family Circle at the Academy of Music. But we got out of the matinee later than I'd expected, and by the time I'd called Ralph's, they were full, with no openings till 9:00. Crap. "Hey, Cath...why don't I run in and see if they've got a table at the Warsaw? Want to try it?"

Well, long story short, we all went in (they went in; I parked the car) and got dinner. Very nice: blinis with caviar, pierogies, perfect pumpernickel; I got the Transylvanian Casserole (Balkan lasagna with ground veal, eggplant, spinach, and cheese layered with filo; quite tasty with the good dusting of fresh chopped dill), Cath had some tasty cabbage rolls, the kids had crab cakes (Thomas has a gift for ordering against the culinary grain) and beef stroganoff, Claire had a big juicy chunk of grilled salmon. Dessert was the only disappointing note: the coffee was excellent, but the chocolate whisky torte, while tasty with golden raisins and almonds, didn't taste much like whisky at all. The Munich cheesecake was good, a light-textured thing, like a ricotta cheesecake.

So....? Yeah, the pleasant surprise was the beer! There was a small bottle display, but a good one: Okocim Pilsner and Porter, Tyskie pilsner, Paulaner Hefe and pilsner, Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout, and a big bottle of Hevelius Kaper that they had on special for $5.25. Had to try it! I wasn't sorry, either; it's an 8.7% strong lager -- that means it doesn't really fit neatly into any pigeonholes; if I had to make a call, I'd pin it as a blonde doublebock or a super-maibock. It was big, malty, medium-full bodied, and smooth, a pleasant surprise indeed. Pretty good little beer selection for an Eastern European place in Philly.

SBP: Summer Love Fest Update

Folks, we've got some news and updates for this coming weekend's Session Beer event at Ortino's Northside in Zieglerville, PA. Now, look: I know this is Memorial Day weekend, the traditional first weekend of summer, and more importantly around here, the weekend everyone heads down the shore to open beach homes, hit the Boardwalk, and start mindlessly regressing to drinking light beer. Let's say it again: "the weekend everyone heads down the shore." Let me just say one word: traffic. Wait, here's another: crowds. And two more: screaming kids.

So...exactly why are you even thinking about going down the shore instead of to Ortino's Northside? That's what I thought! Why not join us and let John Ortino do the barbecuing for you, let Dan and I pour your beers, and relax in the sunny Zieglerville countryside to the beat of the session beer life?

My dinner is Thursday night, May 24 at 6:30p.m. That's the grand premiere of the brand new outside bar. We have a menu: Tomatillo salsa with fresh-made corn chips, steamed clams made with Legacy's Midnight Wit, bar-b-que chicken with some tater salad, and some of Linda Ortino's homemade desserts (don't roll your eyes: Linda's ginger pound cake was a big hit at the first session dinner). We'll be joined by a special guest: Nodding Head brewer Gordon Grubb, who is a strong supporter of session beers and the Session Beer Project. The beers are confirmed: Allagash White, Stoudt's Weizen, Union Barrel Works Kölsch, Nodding Head Berliner Weisse, East End Brewing Wheat Hop and one of the last kegs in the country, so we've been told, of Oud Beersel Framboise. Be prepared to let out your belts: no one ever goes away hungry from one of these dinners. Only $40, and I dare you to find a comparable beer dinner in the area for that price.

Cask-Away Night is Friday, May 25, starting around 6 p.m. or so, also out on the new bar. We have four cask ales confirmed at this point: Legacy's Brown Aled Girl, two Nodding Head beers -- All Night Mild and Pale Ale, and a delicious Belgian Pale Ale from Iron Hill North Wales that I am dying to try on cask. Friday night is pay-as-you-go. Come on out and show these brewers that the suburbs know how to drink cask ale!

THE MAIN EVENT is Saturday, May 26: The Session Summer of Love. Kick off your 2007 Summer with what we believe is the first-ever American all-session beer festival: 30 craft beers pouring, all 5.5% ABV...or less! We have 25 confirmed at this point; the list is below. We also have an all-you-can-eat buffet of summer love barbecue: pulled pork, barbecued chicken and ribs, brisket, corn, taters, pasta salad, and even more side dishes. That's $15 (a gut-stuffing steal), the beers are pay-as-you-go. Everything starts at 1:00.

Saturday Beer List
CHURCH BREW WORKS-PIOUS MONK DUNKEL (rare appearance)
LEGACY-MIDNIGHT WIT
RIVER HORSE-SUMMER BLONDE
APPALACHIAN-PEREGRINE PILSNER
ROCK BOTTOM-tba (count on Brian McConnell for something excellent)
MANAYUNK BREWING-BELGIAN FARMHOUSE ALE
EAST END BREWING-FAT GARY BROWN ALE (rare appearance)
BROOKLYN-LAGER
BARLEY CREEK-ANTLER BROWN
PENN-WEIZEN
FLYING FISH-FARMHOUSE SUMMER ALE
WEYERBACHER-HOUSE PALE ALE (rare appearance)
YARDS-PHILLY PALE ALE
GENERAL LAFAYETTE-PACIFIC PALE ALE (rare appearance)
ALLAGASH -WHITE
STOUDT'S- WEIZEN
UNION BARREL WORKS-KOLSCH
SLY FOX-BRITISH PALE ALE
LEGACY-READING PILSNER (rare appearance)
SOUTHAMPTON-SECERT ALE
DOGFISH HEAD-SHELTER PALE ALE
NODDING HEAD-BERLINER WEISSE
EAST END BREWING-WHEAT HOP (rare appearance)
VICTORY-WHIRLWIND WIT
LANCASTER-SUMMER RYE
TROEGS-DREAMWEAVER WHEAT

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another Summer Beer: Otter Creek White Sail

Otter Creek has been doing some new and exciting stuff since Morgan Wolaver bought the place and made his organic beers full-time. The Otter Creek brand wasn't banished, thank God, and they've been having a great time with their World Tour beers. This isn't one of those, just a Summer seasonal Witbier with orange peel and coriander. Let's open it up.

Hmmm...pretty clear for a wit. There's a wet oats smell to the head that's kind of nice, but no real citrus or coriander. Wow. Pretty light on the spices and flavorings. I get the coriander when I pull some air through it, but not really any citrus. I hate to get overwhelmed by a wit, and I hate to complain about this after bitching that the Steg Midsummer White was over-spiced, but there's just barely enough flavorings here to make this something other than a wheat ale. Sorry guys, there's just not enough here.

Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde Lager

Another beer Maui Brewing sent me: Bikini Blonde Lager. Supposed to be a helles lager, let's have a taste. Pours plenty of foam, with a brilliant blonde body. If I'm gonna get picky...the foam's kinda big-bulky, too many large bubbles, but that's pretty picky. Flavor's good, not real hoppy, which I was a little nervous about.

Body's right, malt's there, but...it's finishing a bit sweet, not with that elusive malt dryness that marks the classic and notable helles. I like just about everything else about this beer, but that sweetness is bothering me, and putting me off from that sip after sip evaporation that the style should bring to my drinking.

Five Summer Beers

I got a boatload of samples last week, and I thought I'd taste a few.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale -- 'Wheat ale brewed with lemon and grains of paradise.' I like pepper in beer; it gives it a spike nothing else can. The SASA pours a cloudy dark orange, and has a full nose: mostly lemon, but some spicy notes as well. It tastes a bit heavy for a summer ale up-front, but the lemon and grains of paradise (a peppercorn-like spice, also called alligator pepper) clean things up quickly, and it finishes with a clean note of malt sweetness. Very interesting beer, with surprising complexity; seems like it would be great with chicken and pork.

Samuel Adams Hefeweizen -- Okay, tamp down the prejudice: this is not a hefeweizen, it's an American unfiltered wheat ale, and I get really pissed by the whole idea of calling that a 'hefeweizen.' That's an established style, and it's all about a specific yeast character married to a high-wheat grist. This is all about unfiltered beer and innocuous flavor. That said...The SA "Hefe" is not bad as these abominations go. It's got some body, it's got a bit of hop, and it's fresh. Call it a Wheat Ale, and I might even like it. But I just can't get past it not being a hefeweizen.

BridgePort Haymaker Extra Pale Ale -- BridgePort makes some beers I really like: their IPA is a PNW classic, and I loved the new Beertown Brown seasonal. The Haymaker is good, too, but I'm having a bit of a problem with it. I like the idea of a summer beer from the PNW being malt-balanced (Haymaker is only lightly bittered at 15 IBU), but I'm afraid it may be too big at 12.8 P and 5.3% ABV. It's tasting more like a fall beer to me than a summer beer: heavy with the malt. If they backed off on the size, and re-tooled this as a mild (while still calling it an extra pale ale, of course), I think they'd have a winner for a summer beer.

Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat -- This beer always smells like it ought to be bright red, like a Sno-Cone. The cherry aroma blowing off it is rich and sweet. The label says it "combines Michigan cherries with a generous portion of wheat malt." Well, I have to say I think they've changed this one. The SA Cherry I remember tasted like a damned Sno-Cone, too, but this is a much better beer. There's cherry, particularly up-front, but it quickly slides into a malty middle that's quite impressive in its complexity: cookie and oats and bread, very nice. I'll be having this again, should be good with barbecue.

Stegmaier Midsummer White -- You guys know I'm a big Steg/Lion fan. I've been particularly digging their new line of Stegmaier seasonals, the Brewhouse Bock, Summer Stock Lager, and the Winter beer. They replaced the Summer Stock with Midsummer White this year, so I gave it a try. I'm not happy. There's an overdose of spice that tastes plastic/resiny, and the body's too heavy. This needs to be a lot lighter in the body, and the spicing needs adjustment. Bring back the Summer Stock. This ain't cutting it.

Probably have more samples to taste next week.

Import beers hit a soft patch while crafts surge

Not to get bogged down in month-to-month stuff, but...Miller Brewing has an industry-focused newsblog, BrewBlog, that I would recommend to you: solid beer biz news, and it's very amusing to watch them beat up on A-B; they're relentless.

There was a post today about supermarket beer sales. The short version: Crafts were up in April, imports were flat.

The longer version:

Crafts picked up sixth-tenths of a point of case share in supermarkets during the four weeks ended May 5, according to beer sales statistics from Nielsen. Crafts have been gaining share for more than three years. (emphasis added)

Boston Beer, the brewer of Samuel Adams and the biggest craft brewer, saw share grow by a tenth of a point during the latest period, according to Nielsen.

Import share, meanwhile, was flat during the period, according to Nielsen.

The group was dragged down by negative trends by the two biggest imports, Corona Extra and Heineken. Corona lost three-tenths of a share point during the period;
Heineken.

Heineken Premium Light, which drove imports’ share growth last year, was flat.


What's all that mean? Like I said: don't get bogged down in month-to-month. The import sales are not a trend yet. Craft sales, on the other hand, are definitely on a long-term trend upwards.

Iron Hill North Wales beer alert

Just a quick note: I spun over to the Iron Hill North Wales brewpub yesterday to meet with Dan "Get Your Butt to Ortino's" Bengel about the Session of Summer Beer Love Session Fest, and tried the new Saison. Wow, excellent beer. Not a session beer at about 6.2%, but very nice: spicy, dry as a bone, refreshing, and tasty. I bought a growler of it, and a growler of the Belgian Pale, which is tasting very nice (opened it up and had it for dinner with a mixed grill Cathy threw together: beautiful). Brewer Larry Horwitz said there's an inside chance that the BP might be joining the Iron Hill regular line-up: good idea. At 4.2% [not 3.8%, as originally posted; sorry] , it's very flavorful and definitely session strength.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SBP: session-strength pils coming from Victory...

Just got a hot flash from noted Victory rah-rah boy Richard Ruch:

And there is a new Braumeister Pils that should be available in two weeks. This will be a true session brew at 4.7%. The single hop is a German Spalt Select. The sample I had from the fermentation tank last nite had a slightly spicier and hoppier flavor profile than I expected. It was very delicious....looking forward to a number of slow pours of this beauty throughout the summer.

Me too, Ruch, me too!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA

Maui Brewing sent me some cans of their beers: Big Swell IPA, CoCoNut Porter, and Bikini Blonde Lager. The Big Swell sounded like the right choice for dinner tonight (grilled London broil with my Manly Marinade: ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire, liquid smoke, and horseradish), so I stuck a can in the freezer for 20 minutes and popped it.

Very nice! Big IPA, 6.2% ABV, and cram-jammed with hop flavor. It's plenty bitter, has a good body to it, and a piney warning aroma of hops within. The look is deep amber-orange, somewhat cloudy, and a seriously tenacious cap of foam. Nice beer if you like a big American-type IPA...in a can, too. It met the Manly Marinade on even terms; the sweet ketchup actually brought out the malt depth. Good stuff, Maui!

More Anniversaries

After noting the Stoudt's 20th anniversary, it's only right to tip the hat to several other anniversaries either just celebrated or about to be.

Tröegs and Appalachian Brewing Companies both celebrate their 10th anniversary this year, in the same town, something that doesn't happen that often. ABC celebrated this past weekend with Outhouse Races (obviously some PA Dutch influence, there); Tröegs will be celebrating later in the summer.

Zeno's, the seminal beer bar in State College, PA, celebrated 35 years on May 6th. I haven't spent nearly enough time at this excellent bar, but I do remember the time I have spent fondly...if not always with crystalline clarity. Cheers for the pioneering work!

Stegmaier, the Lion's house brand, is 150 years old this year; hence the Stegmaier 1857 brand. Sieze the excuse to have a party, right on the brewery grounds, on June 2. There will be live music and the intro of the latest Stegmaier seasonal, Midsummer White. Get more info.

Congratulations to all!

SBP: BeerAdvocate Support

Props/kudos/cheers to The Brothers Alström of BeerAdvocate: recognizing the ABV-tilted nature of their BeerAdvocate Top 100 Beers list, they also have a Top Session Beers list here. Before anyone else brings it up, yes, I know, the list is heavily weighted to the beers between 5.0 and 5.5% ABV, but that's okay. This is a very healthy start, and something I'm quite happy to see. Check it out, start thinking session. (Thanks to Tony/WVbeergeek of BA for the link!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hammered

I hope you all know that Victory Brewing has picked up the license to brew Perkuno's Hammer, the Baltic porter I had a hand in instigating and naming at Heavyweight Brewing. Heavyweight closed last year, of course, and I was a bit bereft: no more Hammer. Luckily, some other people felt the same way, and yesterday was Hammerfall at Victory.

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We were standing in the control room at Victory. It was stiflingly hot, the AC was out, and we were all waiting for the moment when this first Victory brewing of the Hammer would start. Ron Barchet (Victory brewmaster): "Tom, do you want to push the button?" Tom Baker (Heavyweight owner/brewer/everything): "Me? Push the button?" Brian Hollinger (Victory brewing engineer): "That's the one there." Dave Sippel (Victory ass't brewer): "I already pushed it." Me: "Oh. What time is it?" Brian: "It's 1:00." Me (looking at a clock that says 1:03): "Cool, 1:00, right on time." (Silence for about a minute; people sweat) Me again: "Um...exactly what is going on now that we've pushed the button?"

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Turns out it was milling that had started up, so we trooped down to Victory's marvelous wetmill. Ron explained how wonderful it was: the malt is wetted very carefully so that the husk gets wet and soft, but not the kernel. This way, when the malt hits the rollers -- which are set quite tightly -- the kernel cracks as always, but the husk is not broken up, like it is in a dry mill. This makes for a better filter bed, and less tannins from the husk (because of less surface area).

Ron believes that there are only three wetmills in use at micros in the U.S.: Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Victory (and Deschutes, too: see comments below). It's wicked expensive, and expensive to maintain as well, and because there are so few of them, if it breaks down, a tech has to come from Germany. It's broken down once so far, which put a crimp in brewing. How long were they down? "A week," Ron admits. "But the benefits are worth it."

Why is it that Victory is in company with two much larger craft brewers? "Because it's important," Ron said. "The stability and flavor improvement you can get from the wetmill are very important in the kind of beer we make." Why don't other brewers invest the quarter million dollars in a wetmill if it's so important? "Because here the owner is the brewmaster," said Ron. "The benefits in shelf-life and flavor are clear." Clear, but not something you can easily measure and put a price on? "Right," said Ron, and grinned. "But here the accountant is the brewer, too."

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Ron had pulled me a glass of Sapphire Bock, an interesting beer. A friend of his from brewing school works at a German brewery near the hops regions of Bavaria, near the Austrian border. The Bavarian hops growers came to him and said, look, we know the American craft brewers are using a lot of hops (damn betcha!). How can we get them interested in buying some of our very fine hops? Make a hoppy beer with them, and serve it at the Craft Brewers Conference, he says. Oh, wonderful, you must make us a hoppy beer with this new Saphir hop! He convinces them that it would make more sense for an American brewer to do it, and he knows just the guy.

So Victory makes a hoppy bock to his specs, and as Ron said, "It was interesting making it to his recipe. It's not what I would have done, but it's a perfectly good way of doing it." This was his opportunity to point out -- absolutely correctly -- that Victory had gotten big enough that people have started to complain that they don't do anything really interesting any more. "That's ridiculous," he said, "getting big has let us do even more interesting stuff, like this! Look out at the bar, we've got over 15 beers on right now." Victory's single-hop pils series has been nothing short of brilliant, but of course, they get no credit for it from the bulk of the geekerie because 1)they're lagers; and 2)they're under 7%. Sigh.

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The grist is welling up from the bottom of the mash tun. It's thick, it's cakey, it's got beans in it (over 100 lbs. of black-eyed peas; the Roman beans were crazy expensive, over a dollar a pound), it's...getting really high. "I've never seen it that high," says Brian. "Get that!" Tom shouts gleefully, "The Hammer's too big for Victory's mashtun!" They split the mash into another vessel (mash cooker?), and kept going.

The aiming point for the Original Gravity of the wort was 20.5P, a big boy that should ferment out right around 8%, maybe a bit higher. Hopping is early additions of Tettnang and Hallertauer; as Ron says, they've got contracts that make it economically reasonable to use these deliciously aromatic hops for bittering hops.

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My greatest Hammer Moment was sitting at the bar at dba in Manhattan, about three months after the Hammer came out in 12 oz. bottles, and hearing the bartender telling another customer about "this beer we had in last week, it was the best f---ing beer, it was big and black and fantastic, had some weird name, something hammer, like the God's Hammer, or something, and it rocked!" And I realized..."Are you talking about Perkuno's Hammer?" "Yeah, dude, that's it! That beer's f---ing awesome!" A moment I cherish.

Tom offered his best Hammer Moment. The first run of the Hammer was in individually numbered 750 ml bottles, with a label that was pretty faint to begin with, and rapidly faded to next to nothing in a cooler. And George Gray, the owner of Andy's Corner Bar, the legendary beer bar in Bogota, NJ, calls him to ask him what the hell this great beer is. "What's the name?" Tom asks. And George says he doesn't know, it's just a white label with a line and 320 written on it in Sharpie ink. Yup, that's the Hammer.

Ron's best Hammer Moment was when he decided Victory should keep it alive. "My first thought when I heard Heavyweight was closing was how that was too bad for Tom. But my second thought was 'Where am I going to find more Hammer?!' And that's when I thought we should figure out a way to do it." Now that's a great Hammer Moment.

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I had to leave; had to get home and get back to work. But the Hammer was on its way. Victory's brewed two 50 bbl. batches yesterday; as Tom said, he only brewed 150 bbls. of Hammer in the whole first year of production. It's coming out in 750s and draft. But it may not be called "Perkuno's Hammer." There may be legal action from other interested parties. Ron: "We may not call it Perkuno's Hammer, but we're making it."

We suggested a few other names: Perkuno's Bummer, Perkuno's Hemmorhoid, Perkuno's Mallet. It was obviously a slow day for imagination. I still like one of my original suggestions: Black Blizzard. Whatever name it comes out under, we'll know, and we'll let everyone know: Perkuno's Hammer strikes again!

SBP: Philadelphia City Paper embraces Session Beer

Philly City Paper ran another good beer piece yesterday: "Basic Training: Local writers and companies lead the retrograded session beer movement."

The piece, by Tim Hyland, quotes General Lafayette owner/brewer Chris Leonard, Tröegs co-founder Chris Trogner, Victory co-founder Bill Covaleski, and myself. A very positive piece on the session beer idea: thanks, CP and Tim.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

SBP: Putting Our Session Beer Where Your Mouth Is

We teased you.

We promised you.

We threatened you. (Well, Dan did.)

And now it's finally here:


The Session Summer of Love
at Ortino's Northside
May 24, 25, and 26

That's right, folks: three days of session beer events. If that's not a Session Beer Project, I don't know what is. Ortino's Northside in Zieglersville, which hosted my first Session Beer event back in March, has stepped up to the plate with three events that promise extended drinking pleasure, smaller beers that will let your drinking day last longer. Radical.

It all starts Thursday May 24th at 6:30, when I host another session beer dinner. We'll be out on the new patio -- with the new outdoor bar and tap system -- getting into summertime mode with a menu of steamers, bar-b-que chicken, and tater salad. Nice light stuff, and we'll have some great lightweight beers (is that fun to say? You bet!): Allagash White, Stoudt's Weizen, some Kölsch from the new Union Barrel Works in Reamstown, a very rare out-of-Philly appearance of Nodding Head Berliner Weisse, an even rarer Pennsylvania appearance of East End Wheat Hop (because this Pittsburgh brewery is in Westsylvania, y'know), and a final special treat, the classic lambic Oud Beersel Framboise. That's value for the money at a $40 ticket. You can get them by stopping by The Northside or calling 610-287-7272 during business hours.

Then on Friday, May 25th, drop by for our "Cask Away" night, when we'll be serving up some perfect pins of session beer that washed up on the Zieglersville shore. It's pay-as-you-go in a challenge to Philadelphia: they say the suburbs don't drink cask ale. With beers like Nodding Head's All Night Ale (an espresso-infused dark mild) and Legacy Brown Aled Girl, I figure the suburbs will be there for a serious session. (We're still arranging beers on this one; we'll have at least five, and I'll put them up as we get them.)

The big event is Saturday, May 26th, when we unveil what we believe is the first event of its kind anywhere in the U.S.: a festival of session beers, where no beer will be served that's over 5.5% alcohol by volume. Get some great beers that won't sucker-punch you! A partial list: Southampton- Secret Ale, Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale, Legacy Reading Pilsner, Victory Whirlwind Wit, Stoudt's Weizen, Lancaster Summer Rye, Erie Mad Anthony Ale, Sly Fox British Pale Ale, East End Wheat Hop (plus another, probably Fat Gary Nut Brown), Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel, General Lafayette Pacific Pale Ale, Iron Hill Belgian Pale Ale, Union Barrel Works Kölsch, and some more of that Oud Beersel Framboise. You may also see some Weyerbacher Blanche, Penn Weizen, Barley Creek Brown, Climax Helles, Summit Wheat, Brooklyn Brown or Lager, ABC Pilsner, River Horse Summer Blonde, and Tröegs Dreamweaver, and we're still trying to decide what to pour from Nodding Head, Dogfish Head, and Yards. Saturday starts at 1:00 and it is all pay-as-you-go, no entrance fee, ticket, secret password, or nothin'.

Now...is that session enough for you?

I'm doing a little research myself this weekend with a sixtel of Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale at a family event. As Uncle Jack mentioned at the Beer Yard site, I was involved in a blind judging panel at the recent Manayunk Beer fest, where we picked this as Best of Show out of a field of 21 entries. I always liked the FFFA, but the blind tasting made me decide to have another look. Just in case the session should pale -- or it gets cold, or a snake bites someone -- we've also got a case of Brooklyn Local 1 and some Victory Saphir Bock. It pays to be prepared.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"It's Like I Don't Even Know You..."

I don't know Natalie MacLean. I've never met her. But I thoroughly enjoyed her book "Red & White & Drunk All Over," and I've enjoyed her website writing. We've exchanged e-mails and links, and that was enjoyable, too; Natalie's quite personable.

But something she wrote is hitting the blogwaves, and I'm baffled. Uncle Jack's already posted the text at his site; go read it and come back.

So...are you pissed off? Yeah, me too, but not by the beer v. wine thing. There are bored wine writers facing deadlines all the time, and this kind of thing has been done to death. That's what pisses me off: the "done to death" part. I like MacLean's wine writing because it's honest and fresh and very much not "same-old same-old," and this piece of dreck is nothing but.

Three years ago I might have taken it apart, point by point, but you know, I've done that. I am no longer trying to educate wine writers who refuse to get it unless they're paying me for the lessons. I am happy to share beer and whiskey knowledge with Eric Asimov at the NYT, a wine writer who most certainly does get it. I'm learning about wine myself, the fun way: I'm drinking a variety of it.

The thing that's most painful about this screed that MacLean slopped out is that it's so obviously an attempt to stir things up. She has not only turned her blind eye to craft beers, artisanal beers, the huge spectrum of beers beyond mainstream...she's telling us that she is as she does it. "Oh sure, you can talk about your craft ales and your artisanal brews, but most beer..." Right, we get it, you're deliberately avoiding the rocks that hole your argument, just as you're avoiding box wine, jug wine, fortified wine. It's not about a real argument, or creating a serious discussion. It's all about the bandwidth, baby: drive the traffic.

Well, that's why I cited Uncle Jack's website, not hers. I'm driving what meager traffic I influence to him. He deserves it.

*****************

And to all you wine-bibers who are chortling over this...watch your back. You were thought to be every bit as nasty, pathetic, and drunk-oriented fifty years ago. A dedicated band of small, smart, passionate producers turned things around. Sound familiar? Okay, I'll spell it out for you: that's what's happening in beer right now. So why not lighten up and check out the good stuff? You might find something you really like, and a bottle of La Chouffe is a lot less than a comparable bottle of pinot noir.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Support Your Local Brewery™

It is very good to see that the Brewers Association has finally enlisted the assistance of you and me, the beer drinkers, to lobby on the behalf of breweries. I've been doing it for years, but I'm not always aware of what's happening in the legislature. The BA has created a group to get the word out and mobilize the awaiting enthusiasm of craft beer drinkers: Support Your Local Brewery.

I've signed up to receive e-mail alerts when there are issues affecting breweries unde debate in my state legislature. I assume we would also be alerted to national issues. I encourage you to do likewise.

Great work, Brewers Association! Now, if you could just remember that it's not just ales that are made by craft brewers...

SBP: Mild Weather in May

I didn't find mild on Friday, when we were supposed to blog about it for The Session, but I did find it in abundance yesterday, so I'm going to step into the Wayback Machine and pretend this all happened when the beer-blogging calendar wanted it to...

Mild is perhaps the archetype of session beers. It's low in alcohol, nicely flavored with malts and usually a good ale yeast, and it's a smooth, easy drinker.

But it is unfortunately hard to find. Mild just isn't that popular in the U.S., for a variety of reasons. It's looked down on as uninteresting by a number of beer geeks -- not big enough, not hoppy enough -- which includes a number of brewers. "Mild" is not a familiar beer name for most Americans, who unfortunately won't try a beer if it's called "Mild" (or "Bitter," for that matter).

On the other hand, I wasn't surprised at all to find milds at a homebrewing event. Homebrewers, for all their tendencies to go big and go crazy with exotic and experimental beers, also have a respect for uncommon beers. They also know that a flawless low-alcohol beer says more about their skill than a big, chunky beer that might be hiding flaws under heavy layers of hops and roasted malts. And they also like to drink, which mild is perfect for. I meet more and more homebrewers who tell me that they almost always have a mild or bitter around to drink every day.

Sure enough, while walking around the grassy field of the Southern California Homebrewers Festival on a perfect SoCal afternoon, I came across some milds in short order. The Maltose Falcons club was pouring four of them, all on cask (That's right: four, on cask. There were about 16 other beers and meads on tap as well. This is not your typical homebrewing event, these guys are serious. I was awed): Rainier (hopped with the new Mt. Rainier hop), Oat Malt, and Alderwood (made with smoked malt), the fourth wasn't on when I made my run, and I've forgotten the name, sorry.

The Rainier reminded me somewhat of the Three Floyds Pride & Joy Mild, in that it was refreshing, but perhaps too hoppy for the style. The Alderwood was good, not overdone at all, but a bit odd. The Oat Malt was just what I was looking for: good malty flavor in spades, light-bodied but not thin at all, and a subtle richness that rounded things off nicely. And it was really tasty with the "Big Dick's Famous Pickled Egg" I got at another club's stand. For about ten minutes, I was in mild heaven. If not for the "try me, try me!" vibe that festivals like this generate, I'd probably have stuck with this for quite a while, and would have been happy.

The only sad thing about this was that I had to go to a homebrewing festival to find more than a single mild. To be honest, finding a mild in Philly would probably have required some serious searching. There aren't any local brewers who regularly make a mild; Victory has on occasion, Weyerbacher made a nice one back five years ago or so, and Yards has done one.

But they just don't sell. Why? Philadelphia is a town that gets cask ale, possibly more than any other U.S. town. But while pale ales and IPAs and porters and stouts thrive on cask here, milds don't even show up. I have to be honest, too: it's not a case of "milds don't sell because no one makes them, and no one makes milds because they don't sell" circular illogic. Brewers have tried making milds, and they languish in the market.

Is it the name? Is it the unfamiliarity? I don't know if I completely buy that: there are lots of people buying beers with unfamiliar names, just look at the popularity of Belgians. One of Yards' most popular beers is their Saison, hardly a household word outside geek circles.

Are they boring? Not at all, when they're made well. Maybe that's part of it, that brewers don't have enough faith in mild to make it without pumping it up somehow, over-hopping it, or smoking it, or pushing the upper edge of the style on ABV. When things like that get done to a mild, they don't ring true. It's like poodle-clipping a Golden Retriever. Just let the mild be a good mild, don't cover it up.

Getting a good mild is something that's at the heart of the Session Beer Project. The beer-blogging project this post is part of, The Session, is about milds this month: I hope it generates some interest in brewers and drinkers alike. Otherwise, mild is going to be treated the same way Tom Pastorius at Penn Brewing says dark beer is treated, like going to church: everyone talks about it, but most people don't go more than once or twice a year.


That's not enough to keep a beer alive. If you see mild, get it. If it's good, get stuck into it. I'm counting on you. And meanwhile... keep up the good work, homebrewers.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Milds: Why I haven't done The Session...yet

Yesterday, Friday, May 4th, was the day for The Session, the beer blogging we've been doing, and Jay Brooks declared it to be Mild Month. Everyone else is checking in...and here's Mister Session Beer Project, silent. What's up?

I'm in California, and couldn't even look for mild yesterday. It's a long story, but here's the gist: today I'll be having at least four milds...and I'll be in late. But I'll be there. You betcha!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pennsylvania Brewery news up on my site

I've got some Pennsylvania news up on the site: a three brewer move involving John Harvard's Wayne, Johnstown Brewing, and the soon-to-open Rivertowne Pourhouse; and an update on One Guy Brewing in Berwick.

Get it while it's hot.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Triumph Eats Good, Too

Triumph Old City threw a press dinner last night, and I didn't want to pass up the chance to hang around with the working press, so once again I made the trek to Chestnut Street (although this time I did have to pay for parking...). There was a brewery tour (which included a look at the grist gun, a thoroughly cool piece of brewing technology I hadn't seen before) with Patrick Jones, a tasting session with Jay Misson (which got rapidly raucous; the working press ain't used to gunning down five quick beers), and then...dinner.

Triumph Old City is all about small plates and sharing, so the food came in sharing-friendly configurations. Three little burgers on a plate, for instance: a burger-burger, a mushroom burger (made of mushrooms, that is: vegetarian) with bacon (brilliant!), and a pork roll burger ("Just to get pork roll on the menu," said Jay). Crisp little traingles of thin crust pizza with mushrooms and truffle oil. Grilled shrimps and scallops.

And then there was dessert, which is the real reason I'm even posting this, because I got the chocolate mint julep gelato, and it was phenomenal. Imagine a really good chocolate gelato, with a clean dose of fresh mint flavor, stuffed with as much Knob Creek as they could fit into it without dropping the freezing point to an unworkable level. It was frickin' awesome.

And yeah, the beers were pretty good too. And Jay took me aside and explained the dunkel I bitched about before, and we talked about Sinamar and dark malts and, well, I hate it when the brewer's right. Just ask O'Reilly.

A Milestone...Kind Of

Seen Through A Glass is officially of note!

I got my first spam comment this morning. STAG is out there enough that the spammers have noticed, which means I'll be trashing spam comments.

Wow. I feel validated and violated at the same time.

Onwards!

Stoudt's at 20

It seems hard to believe, but Stoudt Brewing notches 20 years this year. I don't know if it seems like yesterday or forever -- guess I'm getting to that age -- but I can tell you that the brewery's never looked better.

Carol and Ed Stoudt threw a party at their beerhall to celebrate (That's Ed, my hatted self, Carol, and Bill "Mr. Victory" Covaleski...um, towards the end of the party), and Cathy and I went up. We pulled in behind a Berkshire Brewing pickup; wow, I said, they're coming in from all over! We ran into Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe and the Iron Hill Gang right away, grabbed some beers -- Pilsner, natch -- and started going on about whatever was on our minds.

The dinner, paired with different Stoudt's beers, was excellent, very well-prepared, and the evening's entertainment was exceptional as well: a roast of Carol and Ed by friends from the brewing industry: Covaleski, Gary Bogoff (from Berkshire Brewing), Ken Allen of Anderson Valley, Chris O'Connor of Northampton Brewery (also celebrating 20 years this year), Sebbie "East Coast Rogue" Buhler, and Mark Edelson of Iron Hill.

There was at least one other roaster, but I'm blanking; Cathy and I were sitting with the Iron Hill brewers, a raucous and hilarious bunch, and I may have paid less attention at times than I should have. One major topic of table conversation was how Edelson, who was 'batting cleanup' as the last roaster, was going to do after the phenomenal performance by O'Connor, who brought the house down with his stories and barbs. We howled when Larry Horwitz (Iron Hill North Wales brewer) texted Edelson to ask him that, and Edelson responded "Im screwed."

We couldn't allow that to happen of course, so we sent him some material, and we collected some single brewer's cards and put them in my hat for Mark to pull out a "Mystery Date" for Carol's two unspoken-for daughters. The look of grateful relief on his face was a beautiful thing, and as you can see by Carol's reaction in the picture to the left, he killed.

After Mark redeemed himself, we got the release we'd been waiting for: the 20th anniversary beer, Smooth Hoperator. As you might guess from the name, it's a hopped-up doppelbock (although I've seen it tagged as an amber lager and an AIPA on various beersites...either I'm nuts or they are). Smooth as a preacher's downfall, powerfully hoppy, and just a bit dangerously drinkable at 7%, this one's a winner.

So, okay...that's the party. Thoughts on the Stoudt's 20th anniversary? Well, pleasure, mostly, and some vindication. I've always been a fan of this brewery, lager/German-oriented as it is. I've been friends with Ed and Carol for years, been to a number of their fests. I'm very glad to see the brewery finally off contracting; I think the beer has benefitted from the focus, and I'm glad to see the response from the customers has been positive. I'm hoping that people will give them another look in the light of the 20th anniversary: this is a brewery with relevance. The classic styles they continue to produce are some of the best American iterations of their type.

Here's to plenty more years of fine beers from Stoudt's Brewing. Stick to your guns, keep brewing lagers in a family tradition, and don't back down on the Germanosity of the whole operation. And whatever has to be done to keep the fests going, do it, they're still some of the best around.

From Cathy and I: Prost, Stoudt's! Viel Erfolg!