Just spoke to a brewer I know who told me he had just talked to The Dude: first brewing was done today at Dock Street, and the opening is looking good for about two weeks from now. Wow. Kinda weird that it's finally happening.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Bill and Nancy Barton wasted no time in proving they are still in the game after the break-up of their problematic Yards Brewing partnership with Tom Kehoe. I got a link to this site in an e-mail today (that originated with Philly beer historian Rich Wagner): Philadelphia Brewing Co. is the name of the new business they'll be rolling out at the Amber Street facility in Kensington.
Best of luck...to all parties. Me, I'd love to see both breweries thrive. It would be good for Philly to have two production breweries.
Oh, and BTW...Uncle Jack already broke this one: Scott "The Dude" Morrison is the mystery brewer at Dock Street. Scott gave me permission to release the story while I was on vacation, and I missed the e-mail in the flood of spam I got. Hoping to be open in August.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 02:32
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Organic beer. As I said in a story not long ago, it kind of sounds like "Amish sex." But beer was made that way for over 5,000 years, and...Amish babies are still made that way. (When I get a good line, I hate to use it only once.)
Organic beer's a phenomenon right now, booming like the rest of the organic market, although there's a bit of a problem sourcing organic hops. That became quite a bit more acute recently when the USDA backed into suddenly requiring all hops in organic beer to be organic -- they were previously allowing some non-organic hops in "organic" beers because organic hops simply weren't available in some varieties -- but that's a huge story, outside the scope of this tasting note (and it's a story I'm getting paid to write elsewhere, so I'm not doing it for free here!).
You can tell a beer is a phenomenon when contract brewing starts. Folks see the opportunity, and they can't wait to slowly raise the money to build a brewery and slowly build a market. They want to get in right away, and that's what Jon Cadoux did. He homebrewed some batches of organic beer, than cut a deal with Shipyard Brewing in Portland to brew up his Peak Brewing beers: an Amber, a Pale Ale, and the Nut Brown I'm drinking right now.
In that piece, there's a great quote from Morgan Wolaver (owner of Otter Creek/Wolaver's, where he brews the Wolaver's line of organic beers) about why people will or won't drink organic beers that applies beautifully to this one. "Is organic beer healthier for you? If you drank the beer over the next 60 years, maybe. It is better for the planet. Benefits in that way trickle all the way back to the farmer. But when you're sitting at the bar, do you really give a shit about the farmer? It has to be a quality beer." Dead on, Morgan: I don't care about who or how it's made: how's it taste?
Jon Cadoux has done okay on that angle here. As I've said many times, brown ale is one of my least favorite craft-type, traditional style. It just doesn't do much for me. But this is tasty stuff, in a laid-back (best-guess ABV is 4.6%), easy-drinking kind of way. It sidesteps the hop issue rather neatly by not going real hoppy (Magic Hat's Orlio IPA, a seasonal release, tasted pretty decent yesterday (I nipped a sip from a bottle I used to make a loaf of beer bread), but more in the pale ale range), and focuses instead on the malty, nutty, cocoa aspects: smart.
Now...would this be my first choice? To be honest, probably never. But that's more a reflection on me: I'm not a brown ale fan, and I'm not really what you'd call 'crunchy' or green. But if I got one of the e-mails I get fairly often, asking about beers for diabetics, or fatvolk, or vegans, or celiacs, and someone asked me if there were any organic beers...I'd recommend this one without hesitation...for them. Me, I'm looking for an organic pilsner. Anybody know of any?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell just sent me a clipping from the July 19 Chestnut Hill Local, Len Lear's "Table Hopping," in which the inimitable Len reviews Triumph's Center City brewpub. Alas, his evening was spoiled! Here's why:
"The night we were there, several area press people were invited to sample the beer and food. One table full of beer writers had to be the loudest group of obnoxious crumbs I have ever encountered in a restaurant. Their non-stop racket could probably have been heard in New Jersey. Obviously a restaurant is in a tough spot when faced with such a rude, rowdy gang, especially when they are invited guests -- in fact, I'm sure some people would even say you should expect such behavior in a place that makes beer by the tank -- but it can still spoil an otherwise pleasant evening.
Ah, notoriety. Yes, folks, it must be told that I am an obnoxious crumb, and Philly's best-known beer writers are a rude rowdy gang. Man, I just hate it when people have a good time at a brewpub. They make beer by the tank there, you know (as opposed to making it by the...what, barrel? Vat? Bottle?).
If you take a look, I admitted that things got loud that night: "...a tasting session with Jay Misson (which got rapidly raucous; the working press ain't used to gunning down five quick beers)..." Oh, wait a minute... I noted that it was the non-beer press that got loud. Must have been a case of mistaken identity. Never mind. Although it's nice to note that Len and I had the same opinion of the Mint Julep Gelato. (Thanks, Don! That was a hoot!)
My latest Condé Nast Portfolio column is up (actually went up last Friday...I've been busy), and it's something I've been thinking and talking about for a few years: the parallels between the beer industry of today and the American wine industry of 30 to 40 years ago. Here's my pitch to my editor where I laid the whole thing out:
- Market dominated by a few big companies making technically competent but bland products (Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony vs. A-B, SABMiller, & Molson Coors);
- Strong import sales dominated by products essentially similar to domestic products, but "imported!" (Lancer's, Mateus, Riunite vs. Corona, Heineken, and Labatt Blue);
- Product seen generally as either expensive to be sipped by a few rich snobs and or jug-cheap to be chugged by drunks (French imports and jug wines vs. microbrews and malt liquor);
- 'Shocking' successes by small American producers in blind competitions against Old World producers (The Judgment of Paris vs. great performances by American brewers in the UK-based Brewing Industry International Awards over the past ten years);
- The rise of small producers emphasizing quality and variety (Mondavi, et al vs. Sierra Nevada and Anchor, et al.).
That's the seed. The real nut, and the pay-off of the column, is the implications for the beer industry and craft beer in particular. Go read.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Man, you just can't go on vacation; you miss everything.
Jack Curtin has reported that the long-expected Yards Brewing break-up is finally underway. Check the link for details; the skinny is that Tom Kehoe is taking the Yards name and beers and starting a new operation, while partners Bill & Nancy Barton will keep the brewery and -- according to Kehoe, since Bill's not commenting until the papers are complete -- start their own brand.
Sad day for Philly brewing, but not as sad as it could be. I hope that this comes off as planned; lots of places where it could slip.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 16:52
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
After a great breakfast at the Roadhouse (see post below), I cajoled the family into letting me make a quick stop at Berkshire Brewing in South Deerfield, Mass. Berkshire's always been a favorite, and one of those 'under the radar' breweries that turns out excellent beers, self-distributes, incurs a very low debt load, and is practically unknown outside their small distribution area. That's starting to change, and I think it's going to change a lot, real soon.
Monday, July 16, 2007
I had the rare chance to have breakfast at two of my very favorite places on consecutive days last week...and I took it. I'm a diner breakfast hound, and I maintain a whole breakfast hagiography in my head, based on coffee quality (and mug quality, too), pancake texture, homefried flavor, omelette innovation (the Miss Albany Diner takes the cake on that one, and if there was any way to fit them into this breakfast orgy, I would have), and overall atmosphere.
So Friday morning I got everyone up (after going out and filling up on diesel and coffee myself), left our motel in Northampton, Mass., and drove through the countryside to the Roadhouse, just north of Belchertown. I first ate here with Cathy, back in 1989, when we drove up north out of Connecticut early on a Saturday morning, just cruising around. We came across it just as we were getting hungry, and it was great. I've been back three or four times since, and never been disappointed.
The place looked almost exactly the same: small, open, simple. But the menu had evolved. They've gone very much fresh, local, and organic food: fair trade coffee (delicious, get the Fogbuster blend), local ingredients, and organic where possible. I got two eggs over easy, big chunky homefries, thick toasted slices of house-baked onion-dill bread, and a delicious house-made corned beef hash. It was excellent, and we didn't need anything to eat until around 3:00.
The next day, I woke up before everyone else again, and toddled down the street to another of Lew's Breakfast Top Ten: The Littleton Diner. It's a classic Sterling diner (which has had a dining room added on in the rear), and I parked at the counter, had three or four cups of coffee, and snarfed down a grilled blueberry muffin. Later, after everyone had woken up and got dressed, I led them all down the street, and we ate properly.
I had exactly the same meal I'd had at the Roadhouse the day before...talk about separate but equal. The Littleton Diner's house-made corned beef hash has real chunks of corned beef in it, you can really feel that it's meat, and it's superb, probably the best corned beef hash I've ever had.
Happy guy. Can't wait till tomorrow, when I get to have breakfast at Moody's, in Waldoboro, Maine...anyone know a great place for breakfast in Portland?
Posted by Lew Bryson at 08:06
I don't like to trash a brewpub or brewery, especially on the basis of one visit. I'm just passing through, most times, and only stop in once, maybe twice. What if it was just a bad day, a bad batch, or a lax moment? I know, excellence -- or even competence -- is a full-time thing, something that shouldn't have bad days...but it happens. So I try to make allowances, and check as deeply as I can on those short visits.
Most times. But sometimes the signs are all in alignment, and a place just does not feel right. Such was the case at the Italian Oasis in Littleton, NH, on Friday night. I really wanted this place to be good, because it's right across the street from Thayers Inn, the old inn where I always stay when I'm up in this part of New England (really, I've been staying at the Thayers since 1989), and I like Littleton, it's a neat New England town. A good brewpub in town would have made things just so much better.
But the danger signs were there. It's a small place, there's an O'Doul's neon in the window, there's a fogbank of cigarette smoke when you walk in, and on a Friday night, over 3/4 of the customers were drinking bottled macrobrewery beers or mixed drinks. I saw only a couple folks drinking the house beers. Not a good omen.
I ordered a Black Bear Stout. Cathy thought a bit...and ordered a glass of shiraz, what turned out to be a very smart move. When the beer arrived, she immediately said, "That's not very dark for a stout." It was mildly sour, and what flavor did get through the sour, cheesy wrongness was not very stout-like: very little roasted malt or barley, no bitterness (from hop or roasted barley), no coffee or chocolate notes, no dry finish. It was the worst brewpub beer I've had since Gettysbrew closed. I left 3/4 of the beer on the table, and I only drank that much to complete my notes...and confirm my disbelief. No wonder everyone was drinking Lite.
I cannot believe that while Philadelphia was enjoying Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge, I was stuck at this miserable excuse for a brewpub. It just baffles me how anyone can brew or serve beer like this and not know that it's so bad. Moat Mountain in North Conway has good beer, I got a nice Trout River Rainbow Red in St. Johnsbury, hell, the local deli next door has good bottled beers (and an amazing selection of non-cigar smoking shtuff), it's not like they can't know. What's the deal? Too cheap to throw out bad batches? Too gutless to take the steps needed to make sure bad batches don't happen? Maybe some bad business decisions on the quality of the system in the first place?
Brewers and owners should taste their beer every day, preferably with a control beer alongside to avoid 'crap creep,' when you've had off beer so long it starts to taste normal. Beer this bad is obvious, and there is simply no excuse for serving it.
That said, did I say anything to our waitress about how bad it was? No, I did not, because the service was almost as bad as the beer -- she was pleasant, the few times she did pay any attention to us, but we couldn't get her attention for ten minutes -- and all I wanted was to get the hell out, go back to our room, and get out a bottle of the Berkshire Brewing beer we had in the cooler.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
We left on vacation Thursday afternoon; dropped off Penderyn (first time at the kennel: traumatic for all of us) and ran up through NJ to the NY Thruway, across to the Taconic State Parkway, and peeled off just before the Berkshire Spur to go to Chatham, where there's a new brewery, unimaginatively called Chatham Brewing Company. I'd e-mailed the folks there, and learned that their beers were on at a pub in Chatham called the Peint o Gwrw Tafarn ("Pint of Ale"), a Welsh/English-themed place. And that's where we stopped for dinner.
It's a nice little place in a quiet little town, a dark wood bar and dining room, with a kind-of/kind-of-not Brit pub menu: Nora got lasagna, Cathy had a salmonburger, Thomas a burger, and I got fish and chips (real good, quite crunchy crust with moist fish inside). But you know, I didn't pick the place for the food. It was the Chatham beers. They had three -- porter, IPA, and amber -- and I got the porter. It was served too cold, but it warmed up and got real nice: full, dark, a stout-style straddler with roast and dark bitter chocolate notes, and a clean finish. Cathy got the IPA, and it was clean, but clumsy: possessed of a flat, harsh bitterness. But they also had the IPA on cask, and it came across much better: a touch of sour and sulfur in the nose, but opened up quite nicely in the mouth: not quite as blaringly bitter as the push version, some prominent ale-yeast fruitiness, and a clean finish.
All in all, a very nice experience. Chatham's already won a bronze at TAP New York, and I think they've got a good future if they can keep things moving.
We're on vacation, and I'm just taking a moment before checking out of our hotel this morning to tell you that we drove up the Mt. Washington Auto Road yesterday. Phenomenal. Just an incredible view (that's Thomas looking down on it all), and an awesome road -- the Passat took it in stride, no over-heating, hardly used the brakes on the way down -- and a great brewpub meal after we got down at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery in North Conway, NH. Whew. Gotta go get one more great diner breakfast at the Littleton Diner. More when I get a moment.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Reading Premium returns. The folks at Legacy Brewing have revived Reading Premium, done it as a separate company...but more on that shortly.
First the story. I got an invite to come up to Reading, PA for the launch of the revived Reading Premium at the Canal Street Pub. And, kind of in the spirit of "take your kid to work day," I asked my mother if she'd like to go with me. It was kind of in the spirit of Mom used to drink Reading, too. She talked herself into it and then out of it, and finally said yes. So I drove up to Reading with the Little Dog, my dad met me at Canal Street and I traded him Penderyn for Mum, and the two of us went into the pub.
The launch was all the way in the back, a nice old room in the restored building, and I quickly got my mom a cold glass of Reading. That's her with Legacy/Reading partner Dave Gemmell in the picture. The beer? It's good, kind of kölschy, with more body than a light beer. It breaks clean without any cloying, but it's got a hint of sweetness to it. Real drinkable stuff, put me somewhat in mind of the late lamented Stegmaier Summer Stock Lager.
I got Mum another Reading and buttonholed Dave's partner, Scott Baver. What's the story, I asked him? Are you really brewing it? Is there corn in it? Why brew Reading Premium?
There is 10% corn in it, a respectable amount of the grain, not overdone. Yes they're really brewing the draft, at least for now. The Lion is doing the bottles (Dave had told me earlier that they were very happy with the job The Lion was doing with it; "They have it down," he said), and if things heat up, they'll be doing some halves, too, but it was important that they brew at least some of it there in Reading.
Then Scott got rolling. "This beer represents not only Reading's strong history, but strong future; the town and the beer. It's not just a great beer, but a great city. The brewery did 500,000 bbls. in its heyday, and the town was proud. Then the town fell apart." It did, Reading fell on some hard times, along with other PA cities in the area, when manufacturing got priced out by overseas firms. "We have strong new leadership in the town, innovative people who see a future and won't give up. There are people in the streets at night again. (He's right, the place used to be deserted after dark, but it's getting lively.) Reading Premium represents what's to come." (Hey, I wrote all this stuff down, figure I might as well give it to you.)
"So what's this beer? This isn't a micro beer, this is the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, it's comfort food beer. I really wish my dad was still alive, so I could have taken the first case down to his house, and say to him, 'Look what we did! We brought Reading back!'
"I've been in craft-brewing 15 years, but this is something else. It's a deeper emotion that goes back generations. We ran an ad about this re-launch, and the phone didn't stop ringing for three days. It amazes me how deeply it goes, people's roots with this brand. It's unexplainable. It's not just old-timers, it's craft brew drinkers who say, "We want a lighter beer, but one not made by a big brewer." They want to be proud of buying local beer.
"Look, you can't drink 9% beer all day. We are vastly proud of Legacy, and this will make it even more high-end, even more experimental. But Reading is the right beer at the right time. The POS (point-of-sale, Reading clocks and calendars and posters and lights) is still hanging in 90% of the bars in Reading. We start in that core and build a strong market. It's not Legacy, it's a separate company."
Scott finally brought things to a close. "I'm a big believer in karma. It's time. I'll be damned if I'll let 15 years experience go to waste. It's a big mistake by craft brewers: if you're not reaching 85% of the market, why not focus on a brand for them?"
Well...maybe. I've seen this kind of retro-revival tried before -- Acme, Rhinegold, Narragansett, National Premium. Hasn't worked really well yet. I asked Scott about that, and we agreed that Reading had an edge, in that it was a small market, it only went under in 1976 and was 'label-brewed' for quite a few years after that, and that having the town name was a plus...and there is all that POS, I've seen it. Besides, this is by far the best-tasting retro-brew I've had.
Will it make it? Dunno. But I know my mom's going to buy some as soon as it hits Lancaster County (Psst, Scott: get into Lancaster ASAP, and not just for my mom!). And I think we'll probably be drinking some Reading the next time we go on The Hunt. It's that kind of beer.
Friday, July 6, 2007
When I was in Germany back in January, my buddy Nick Bruels -- who's living in Franconia for now -- rode the train up to meet me in Düsseldorf for Sticke Day at Zum Uerige. We had a great time, drinking sticke alt with Guy "One Guy" Hagner and Tom "Heavyweight" Baker, who were also over in Franconia at the time, disassembling a German brewhouse for shipment back to the U.S. (my Uncle Don was along too, just to make Jack Curtin's day...long story). In fact, Nick took the picture of me that's at the top of the blog with his cellphone that day; that's a glass of sticke in front of me. Good day.
Anyway...Nick being the tireless champion of local beer that he is (and besides, he owed me for lunch at Schlenkerla two years ago), he brought six bocks along from various tiny breweries in Franconia, something at which Franconia excels. I didn't know what the hell to do with them, I was very tight on luggage, and Don and I wound up drinking two and stuffing the others in the bags somehow. Long story, really.
Anyway...I was going out with some friends tonight who had asked me to talk to their nephew about jobs in the brewing industry. Happy to help, and we went to a BYO place, so I brought a variety of beers along. The surprise favorite of the night...was the last of the Nick bocks, Griess Hefetrüb ('unfiltered,' essentially) Bock. It was a blonde bock, 7.2% ABV, and just a pure beauty of malt: no discernible hop character, no fruitiness from the malt (unlike the deliciously fruity, chocolatey 4-year-old Ommegang we had for dessert). A simple powerful smoothness that spoke volumes about the skill of this country brewer.
Gotta get back to Franconia, with about two weeks to drink.
Got another call from Guy Hagner today: he got conditional state approval for the brewery today. But don't get excited yet, NE PA folks: he's still got some construction work to do (that's why it's "conditional" approval), and he intends to have a lot of beer brewed and in tank before he opens.
Still...it's getting closer.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 16:42
My latest column for Condé Nast Portfolio is up, an introduction to summer beers. I've got a few of my favorites in there, like Allagash White, Penn Weiss, and Nodding Head's Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, and...well, I kind of felt I had to stick Miller Chill in there too, though I did say I hadn't had it yet. Has anyone? Is it nasty, curiously refreshing, or just plain strange? I haven't even seen the stuff yet, but it sounds like it's selling well, so I felt obligated to mention it in the closing paragraph about light beer. Because after all, as I said, if there is a season for light beers, it must be summer. I guess.
Me for a cold Steg 150...
Check this out. After the ridiculous news from Alabama's beer scene we looked at here, here's a touchingly tragic confirmation that at least some Alabamans get it. Olde Towne Brewing in Huntsville burned down yesterday morning, and the local paper reports that hometown beerlovers are distraught. Rightly so, but I particularly relished the comments of City Councilman Bill Kling. The story reports that he:
lamented the loss of the brewery in a phone interview, noting that it comes as other home-grown outlets such as Terry's Pizza and the Thirsty Turtle have closed or are slated to close. "What are we going to be?" he asked. "Just another town with cookie-cutter, franchise restaurants?"
Bill gets it. I'm glad he used this opportunity to voice it. Local breweries are local attractions. Chains make you "just another town." Best of luck to the folks at Olde Towne in getting back on their feet; best of luck to the good people of Huntsville in getting their local brewery back.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Residents of Allegheny County, the Penn. county that contains Pittsburgh, are facing a quick and somewhat sneaky shot at imposing a 10% "poured drink" tax to fund public transit. What's really irksome about this is that it's coming from the State legislature, in the form of an "enabling bill" that will allow the county to impose these taxes (there is also "enablement" for a real estate transfer tax (don't move to Pittsburgh, it'll cost ya!), and for a rental car tax: hey, why not soak tourists and visiting businessfolks all you can, throw in a big lodging tax, too!).
I am not against public transit. I'm not nuts about property taxes, either, which the politicians claim is the only alternative open to the county. But you know, I'll be dipped if I can see why the only choices for improvements to Pittsburgh's public transit system are either having the entire state pay for it -- as in, what the hell benefit do I get from improvements to Pittsburgh's public transit system -- or shoving the burden onto Pittsburgh's drinkers. What, folks going to bars and restaurants are the only ones using public transit?
And don't be buffaloed by the bloviating of Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, who said in the Post-Gazette that the tax may not even be enacted by the county, or that being against this bill was being against home rule for Allegheny County. That's ridiculous. If you're against unfair, booze-based taxation, you're against this bill. Why wait until it's in the hands of the county council, kill it now.
Like I always say about booze taxes: we pay enough now. If a government service is of benefit to the entire public -- and I think public transit is, if only because it gets cars off the road -- then the entire public should pay for it. Excise taxes are always a bad idea. Why not a bill to enable an extra 1% of sales tax for Allegheny County? Then everyone pays. This is a bad idea, an unfair idea. If you live in Pennsylvania -- anywhere in Pennsylvania -- do like I did and contact your state Senator and Representative today and let them know that you're for fair taxation, and that you're against the legislature represented by House Bill 1629.
Just thought I'd warn you, I'm going to be a bit scarce in July. First I'll be in Scotland, tasting whisky with Malt Advocate publisher (and friend) John Hansell, and I'm not planning on taking my laptop: we want to travel light through security. We've got our family vacation after that, and then a family reunion right after that.
I'll be trying to do my regular paying writing through all that, so I'm afraid the blog's going to take a bit of a hiatus. I'll probably start posting again right around the same time as my Session Beers gig at the Tria Fermentation School on the 24th.
Posted by Lew Bryson at 08:37
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
I'm going to try a YouTube insert here...
That's the story on Shiner 98 from the Spoetzel brewery in Shiner, Texas; you'll find it an unusually fact-filled bit of marketing, even giving specific malt and hop information. I got some samples of this a few weeks ago, and we've been enjoying it -- slowly, because we aren't sure where we can get more! Shiner 98 is the third in a series of five beers leading up to the brewery's 100th anniversary in 2009. Shiner 96 was a Märzenish lager, Shiner 97 was a damned nice schwarzbier.
Shiner 98 is a "Bavarian Amber Lager." What's that? I asked, and was told that it was a helles, but they just decided to make it darker. More of that vaunted American innovation, I guess... The malt comes through big and clear -- this is a decocted beer, with a full 20% share of Munich malt in the mashbill -- and although it's supposed to have 30 IBU, the hops are unobtrusive, German-style. Mmmm, full and delicious, and it's very good with food, sausages and stuff. I'm going to finish off my samples tomorrow at our 4th of July picnic. And then... I think maybe a trip to Delaware is in order. I saw Shiner 97 there last year; might get lucky.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
The new July Buzz at my website is all about building your taste muscles. There's talk about "supertasters" in the beer and wine blogs and sites lately because of a three-part series on Slate.com about the physiology of wine critics. Mike Steinberger winds up delving into the phenomenon of the 'supertaster,' the person with many more than the average tastebuds. It's interesting, and amusing, but mostly it makes you wonder why the rest of us bother.
Fear not! You can taste more in your beer and whiskey, starting today! Just read my free and educational Buzz, and you can be on your way to a more enjoyable glass of booze in only minutes a day!!
Posted by Lew Bryson at 08:21