Saturday, September 29, 2007

First STAG poll in the books

Thanks to the easy to use Blogger poll widget, I ran my first STAG poll this week: "What do you like most on STAG?" The answers weren't really all that surprising.


With 45 people voting, the most popular selection, at 46% with 21 votes was Newsy Stuff: openings, closings, new beers, and the like. Next was Trip Stories, at 10 votes, for 22%. Tasting notes just edged out SBP notes, 6 votes to 5 votes, at 13% and 11%. Penderyn brought up the rear: only 3 votes were for pictures of my dog (and one of the votes was my daughter).

So what? Nothing, really, just for fun. But it is about how the posts work out, roughly, so I hope most of you are happy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Democrats Don't Get It; Any Republicans?

Choose Responsibility has a YouTube video link up at their blog, a clip of the Democratic presidential candidate debate at Dartmouth last night, where a mother of two asked if any of them would back removing the federal mandate for a 21 LDA, which she believes to be counter-productive. Joe Biden led the very disappointing responses by bloviating about drunk driving deaths, alcoholism, and fetal alcohol syndrome...all of which really have nothing to do with the 21 LDA. Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson fell over themselves to agree, dismissing the very idea of lowering the LDA, or giving that power back to the states (because that, after all, was what the woman was really asking).

Russert cut to the chase and asked if anyone was in favor of it. Mike Gravel (hell if I knew he was even running) and Dennis Kucinich spoke up, Gravel hitting the popular tagline that's driving the 18 LDA movement -- anyone old enough to fight and die for this country should be able to have a drink -- and Kucinich added that we needed to have confidence in young Americans: drinking age of 18, he said, voting age of 16.

None of them have gotten the depth of Choose Responsibility's position (my position): the 21 LDA does not prevent worse damage from young drinking, it is causing it. Still, it's out there in open national debate, at what is arguably the highest level. I have to see this as an advancement for the cause. And I'll predict that in a wide-open Republican debate, the only candidate who will be in favor of an 18 LDA will be the Texas quasi-libertarian, Ron Paul.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Does John Know? Blogging, now

I told you about the "What Does John Know" feature we added to the Malt Advocate website. After a couple weeks fight--er, working with doing it through the website software, John's come to his senses and gone to a WebPress-based blog. I think you'll find it a lot easier to read (and search) now, and you can add it to your RSS feed, like I did. Comments may be coming soon, too. Welcome to blogging, John!

Problems with the hops crop: the latest word

David Edgar, one of the earliest members of the Association of Brewers (now the Brewers Association), is, among other things, a rep for HopUnion, Ralph Olson's hop company. He posted the following on the BA Brewers Forum this morning, and gave me permission to copy it here. It's pretty much self-explanatory.
(David writes:)Ralph Olson asked me to post to the Forum to help clarify some of the rumors that have been circulating. Following are my notes from a conversation a few minutes ago with Ralph.

"During the past week the hop industry has seen two fires in the US. Both were kiln fires at hop growers facilities. In both cases only the kilns were affected and the picking machines were left intact. However the structural damage to the growers' facilities would have to be considered major; and there were some hops lost.

There have been rumors of warehouse fires. As of this moment in time there has been no warehouse fire. However, harvest is still underway and everyone is still at a heightened alert status, because this is the time of year for spontaneous combustion.

On a larger note, the world hop supply has been very tight and appears to be getting tighter by the day as the crop comes in smaller and smaller than what was anticipated, worldwide. Because of the world shortage we have temporarily held up on sales until we know for sure what is coming in. And yes, prices are going into the stratosphere, however very little is to be found even at these high prices. We have been overwhelmed with requests.

There will be hops available, however you must keep in mind that it may not be the hop that you normally use. I have been talking about a shortage in the making for the last couple of years. Even though I have stated this, I still am taken aback at how great this shortage appears to be. I also see the potential for this to last for a few years, as so many acres have been pulled out, around the world, due to poor prices in the past."

Which about covers it.

Mike Gerhart Leaves Dogfish Head

Heard from a reader (okay, Dan Bengel, who I'm not sure can actually read...) that Mike Gerhart had left his position as Distillery Manager at Dogfish Head. I checked the Dogfish website and found an ad for the position, so I called the brewery to confirm. Sure enough, Sam Calagione's wife Mariah confirmed that Mike had parted on good terms, citing a desire to work closer to family in upstate NY and Vermont. Best of luck to him; microdistilling is popping in both states, and Mike is certainly a skilled distiller.

Sic Transit Gloria Brewpub, Sic Transit Gloria Philadelphia

Dan Gross reports at the Philadelphia Daily News website that the locked-down Independence brewpub will rapidly become a sports bar, confirming what Uncle Jack and Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell said at the time of Independence's abrupt closing. The particulars:

THE OWNERS of the Public House (18th & Cherry) will soon open the Field House (1150 Filbert), a giant, high-end sports bar on the site of the former Independence Brew Pub, which closed abruptly last month.
Brian Harrington confirmed yesterday that he and partner Gary Cardi signed a lease last week on the property and are hoping for a Nov. 15 opening.
They're going for a similar American fare menu to their popular Public House, and Harrington says "it's not your onion rings and frozen appetizers type of place." The bar will have a raw bar and the pair hope to attract conventioneers as well as catering to a local crowd.

Sigh. I guess I should be happy it's at least a local "giant, high-end sports bar", and not another damned ESPN Zone.

But you know? I'm not. I'm still pissed that this great site for a brewpub never reached its full potential. I blame Jim Bell and his pissing contest business tactics, I blame the Dock Street management folks for not committing immediately to the brewery expansion that was desperately needed, and I blame the following owners for their constant announcements of big changes right around the bend that somehow just never occurred. I blame the beer geeks who could never see past the Guinness and Miller Lite taps to give this brewery-handicapped place a fair chance and support the beers that Tim Roberts did such a great job brewing.

Nodding Head's great, Triumph is excellent, and although Manayunk suffers from the same beer confusion Indy did -- I just got a press release about a Corona event there -- there's still damned good beer being made there. (Whoops. Forgot Dock Street. Sorry, haven't had a chance to get there since it opened!) But where the hell are all the brewpubs that should be in this town?

You'd think that with the big Belgian jones this town obviously has -- Bridgid's, Monk's, Eulogy, Abbaye, Zot, the brand-new Belgian Cafe and the Beneluxx Tasting Room -- that a Belgian-beer brewpub like Brewer's Art would be up and running... Anyone? Anyone? Iron Hill, by God, I love you guys, but why no Philly Iron Hill? Can't be the money, right, they've got a big building fund warchest.

Gordon-Biersch builds big lager palaces like mad in Virginia; does Lagerville USA get one? Nope. I'll tell you what: if I were Dick Yuengling, or one of his daughters (okay, try not to think about that one too visually), I'd open a Yuengling brewpub in Philly. It's a freakin' natural, and done right -- like in the Independence site -- it would kill, and they'd sell even more Lager...and maybe we'd finally see some of those specialty recipes from the old days that they used to tease us about. A game menu for that upstate touch, decor like the brewery taproom, a big giftshop, a big promotional on the first day of deer season...you don't have to pay me for the idea, Dick: it's yours. Free.

But no one does anything. All we do is yap about how great we have it here. Well, you know, it's pretty good. Yeah, yeah, I know, I can get a very wide variety of beers, and there are some excellent bars -- I don't really have any complaints about the places that are here, love 'em -- and there are restaurants with real beer lists. I know that, hell, I've said it too, I've been a big friggin' cheerleader for this town.

But I've also been to both Portlands, I've been to Pittsburgh, I've been to DC, I've been to Madison, I've been to Köln and Düsseldorf, and I'm telling you, we could do better, a lot better, and more people should be saying so. Philadelphia needs more brewpubs to truly be a great beer town.

The floor is open.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Just the coolest damned thing

Check out this event on the Michael Jackson Toast list:

"MESZ in the UERIGE-Hof
Bergerstrasse 1, Dusseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia
Description
On Sunday we want to open a fresh barrel of UERIGE Sticke (Unfiltered, about 2 weeks before Sticke-day) to remember Michael Jackson and his work in Düsseldorf. We start at 8 p.m. MESZ in the UERIGE-Hof, the place where Josef Schnitzler met Michael the first time in the early Eighties."

Now...is that just pretty damned cool, or what?

Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks: "three in the tanks."

News from Millheim, PA: Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks is "actually going to happen," Tim Bowser tells me. They've got TTB approval, his brewer, Tim Yarrington, best-known for his award-winning beers at the Long Valley brewpub in NJ, has three beers in the tanks, and the PLCB inspection is on Thursday.

The place looks great, too. Tim sent the picture you see, and said Tim has "turned it into a very sophisticated facility."
Millheim's a long way out there, probably easiest to reach from State College. But it's worth the trip just for the scenery, and it's a cute little town, too. And now...it's got a brewpub. We should have word on the actual opening soon; you'll see it here. Brewpubs springing up in the beautiful rural back-country of Pennsylvania: Spring House, One Guy, Elk Creek, Voodoo, Sprague, North Country, and I hear that someone's re-opened...no, we'll do a separate post for that one. You're just not going to believe it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saison Imperiale -- De Proefbrouwerij

I got a great box of samples from SBS, courtesy of Alan Shapiro, with mostly De Proef and some De Proef/Lost Abbey collaborations. I had the first one tonight: Saison Imperiale, a Belgian Farmhouse Ale that De Proef brewed once...for now. I didn't read any tasting notes or background on this -- except that I know De Proef, and they make some wild stuff, literally.

So I was expecting a DuPont-like beer, only bigger...but when I poured a beer with a distinctly coppery color, and a funky brett edge in the nose, I wasn't surprised. And this is a unique beer, or at least a rare one. It's 8.5%, malty/sweet in the body, but funk-edged the whole way through, that kind of cheesy rim that brett brings, the horsey/iron stuff. The fun thing is the pleasant amount of body that the malt and size of this one brings to brett beer. Brett beers usually run thin, at least in my experience. This has some malt to it, which I like.

Overall? I'd say, make it again, Sam. Hey, just got an e-mail from Alan: De Proef is making the Saison Imperiale year-round now. Excellent!

Friday, September 21, 2007

SBP: Market Pressures come to bear on SBP

The big story in brewing circles is cost of ingredients (Stan mentions it here). Guys are talking about the price of hops going way up -- maybe to the point that not everyone will get the hops they want -- and the price of barley going up steeply under the demand of land to grow fuel for the Big Ethanol Boondoggle. We're looking at stiff price increases -- a couple bucks a case -- just so brewers can keep up.

What do I think about all this? Well, I'm reminded of something Fritz Maytag said (to a bunch of rye whiskey distillers and bottlers we got together for a Malt Advocate roundtable interview) about the crunch of sharply increased demand for rye whiskey and low aged stocks of the same:
Can I comment on the age thing? Broadly speaking, the whiskey world thinks that older whiskey’s better. It’s like the wine world used to think that older wine was better. And I submit to you that older whiskey is different. Wonderfully different. And many older red wines are wonderfully different. They’re not better, they’re old. And that’s wonderful. But I submit to you that, especially because we have a big shortage of rye whiskey, you are all going to discover the beauty of young rye whiskey.

Yes folks, I think a lot of brewers and drinkers are going to discover the beauty of lower-gravity beers.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What Does John Know? A lot, actually

My friend, my boss, John Hansell, has been doing Malt Advocate for over 15 years. But he's been a Scotch whisky and bourbon lover for a lot longer than that. That combination of amateur and pro experience has netted him an astounding network of connections, and he's wired in to almost every whisk(e)y company on earth.

He's decided to share that knowledge with the world in a brand new feature on our magazine website called What Does John Know? Essentially, when John finds something out -- like the new Balvenie 17 Year Old Oak Cask he wrote about today, or the two new Wild Turkey releases he talked about last week, or the Glenfarclas Family Casks (which I was lucky enough to taste a few with him in July) -- he'll tell you.

If you like whisky a lot more than most folks, you'll want to check this often. Cool new feature, and believe me, John's plenty obsessive enough to keep it current!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Michael Jackson Toast: the Final Push

Folks,

The Michael Jackson Toast planned for September 30 (9:00 PM Eastern) is starting to pick up participants. But at this point, bars/brewpubs/homebrew clubs only have 11 days to publicize their part in it, and get people aware. They need to get on board NOW. You can help them make that decision.

I know beervolk who have printed off a handful of the flyers you can download at the Beer Hunter website and hit the streets, personally going to each beer bar and brewpub in their town (the tireless and peripatetic Sandy Mitchell did it in Baltimore; it took him two days). Get every bar and brewpub you can involved: this is MICHAEL. We owe him a debt of gratitude for all this lovely beer and whisky, and one way to make a down payment is to raise a glass and write a check to the people who are fighting the disease that took him down.
When you successfully persuade them to join (and you will; I gots faith in yez), please ask them to post their info on Upcoming; if they add the "MJBeerHunter" tag to their information, it will go on the feed that's on websites all over: people are looking for where to go, and they want to find that bar!

Let's get busy!

Go ahead, call it Iron City Brewing

It's official: Pittsburgh Brewing is now Iron City Brewing. Read the first news in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Len Boselvic's story:

New owners today took control of the brewery formerly known as Pittsburgh Brewing, ending the company's 21-month stay in bankruptcy and promising to invest $4.1 million in the long-neglected Pittsburgh institution.

A group of investors led by Connecticut businessman John N. Milne will operate the Lawrenceville brewery under the name Iron City Brewing, building on the tradition of the 146-year-old brewery.


And another chapter ends in the strange modern history of this big old brewery. $4.1 million ought to be able to cover the debts and leave something for desperately needed upgrades. Now it's up to Pittsburgh's beer drinkers. I've said over and over that Iron City is a fine mainstream lager -- if you like that kind of thing -- and IC Light is one of the better light beers I've had. So Pittsburghers: are you gonna drink advertising, or are you gonna drink local?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

September 30 to be Doubly Significant in Baltimore

September 30, as you know, is the date for the Michael Jackson toast at 9:00 PM. It is also, sadly, the last day for Capital City Baltimore; the brewpub is calling it quits after ten years. The landlord in Inner Harbor hit them with a substantial rent increase, and they can't make the nut. A shame; that was a beautiful location, even if it was close to Hooters. If you get a chance, get in before then and help them drink up what's left. (Mid-Atlantic Brewing News scoop artiste Sandy Mitchell sez they're retaining their license, and holds out the hope that they may re-locate; be good to see some kind of move out of Cap City.)

Straub Unafraid of the Dark

Straub Brewery's made one of their boldest moves in years (on the public side; they've actually made some very bold moves inside the brewery in the past few years -- new tanks, new kettle, new bottling line -- but who ever notices that stuff except you and me?): Peter Straub Special Dark beer.

Really, a 'dark' beer from Straub. Here's more of the story from the Ridgway Record (thanks to reader Mark Benson for the heads-up):
“Tom Straub, our brewmaster, has been playing around with the recipe for a while,” said Dan Straub, president of Straub Brewery. “We sampled it at the Tasting in the Wilds in Ridgway and got pretty good reviews.”

The beer, which was influenced by the boch [sic] beer previously sold by Straubs, has been altered in flavor and potency. The president said if he were to make a comparison, the new brew would be on par with Yuengling.

Although slightly more expensive than the light and premium brews offered at Straubs, folks have been flocking to the brewery and local restaurants to give the dark brew a taste.

“This beer is our answer to the rise in craft brewing market. A lot of people are trying different beers. We’re trying to open up an option for them to try something from our brewery that is a little different,” said Straubs Sales Representative Gene Williams.

I assume the "Yuengling" the new 'dark' beer is on par with is Yuengling Lager; dark mainly by comparison with Coors Light, but still. Love to give this new beer a try, but for now it's only in draft; the brewery hopes to have bottles soon.

Wild Turkey increasing distilling capacity

I've got two deadlines I'm working against, so the Bourbon Fest posts will have to wait a couple days, but I thought you'd like to hear a rumor I heard -- and confirmed -- while I was there: Wild Turkey is increasing their distillation capacity, by about 100%. Things are going well in bourbon, folks.

Yet another voice in the LDA debate

There's a guest commentary in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today: Matt Lee, a senior journalism major at the University of Georgia, writing about the unintended consequences of the 21 LDA. Lee smartly suggests the old "2-tier" system of beer at 18, liquor at 21 (Lee makes no mention of wine...which, of course, never ever gets you drunk, so it's not a problem). It's a good piece, take a look.

This is exactly what I've been wanting to see, and exactly what I've been observing: a debate on this topic. The New Drys screamed and squealed when this started ("Age 21 Law [is] Not Open For Debate" howled the Marin Institute in a beautiful display of anti-American passion for censorship), and now that it's fully underway, they're engaging in fumbling attempts to ridicule the debate itself (see their blockheaded copy of Choose Responsibility's site). Guys: is a debate of the issue so dangerous that it shouldn't even take place? Or is it that you know your "facts" won't stand up to real scrutiny?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another Jackson Eulogy

My latest Condé Nast Portfolio column is up, a look at Michael Jackson's influence on the beer industry. My thanks to Ken Wells, senior editor at Portfolio and fellow beer lover, for green-lighting the idea.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More Bourbon Festival Coming Soon; sorry for the delay

I have to apologize; I did intend to blog every day when I was in Bardstown for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. But when I went to the Java Joint to upload the two entries you've seen here so far, I couldn't get the WiFi to work. I went at it for a couple cups worth, but no luck. So I stuck the text files on a fly-drive, and took it with me. The warehouse guys at Heaven Hill were nice enough to let me use their office PC to upload them and post some comments. But after that I didn't have much motivation to keep at it; I figured I would be spending my time better by enjoying the perfect weather, the festival, and the bourbon.

So. More to come once I get home. Great time, can't wait to tell you about it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kentucky Bourbon Fest: a tasting and a distillery tour

Well...

I had a great time with Chris Morris at Brown-Forman. I got in about half an hour late, but got right in the rental car (who knew Corrollas were such cheap pieces of crap, after all the gushing Consumer Reports has done about them?) and headed over to B-F corporate on Dixie Highway. Chris met me at the door, and took me into the bar (yeah, really: is that bourbon country, er what? A beautiful bar right behind the receptionist's desk), and sat me down to taste six glasses of whiskey. I'd missed the massed tasting might of Chuck "Bourbon County Reader" Cowdery (folks say we were separated at birth; I say not separated nearly enough), Mike "Mr. Bourbon History" Veach, and the notables of the local press (Chris actually said a couple of them...weren't bourbon drinkers. Gawd); they'd been in before lunch. Me, I had no lunch, but I tied right into the bourbon.

We had the standard 86 proof Old Forester: nice, not sappy, straight up stuff. Then the 100 proof Old Forester Signature: notably more mature and sophisticated. Then a solid hit of this year's newly released Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. Very nice stuff, with a big minty/spearminty nose with some light fruit notes, followed by mint that stays up in the mouth, then glides into spice and oak, with cinnamon forward, and then sweetening in the finish -- Chris said blackberry, but I think he was 'dog-whistling' me. It was awful good.

The next three were the candidates for next year's Birthday Bourbon. Chris told me that the others had already voted and decided on one, and he agreed, but he didn't tell me which one it was. All three were heavily overproof, 10 and 12 years old and the angels had been sucking the water out of them; Chris had carefully watered them to 100 proof. The first wasn't much on the nose, something Chris said the others had noted, but there was a big, really interesting undertow of anise in the mouth; never tasted that much in a bourbon. Still...cool but one-trick pony time, and if I want anise, I'll drink anisette. The second was good, with oak and spice notes, classically dry in the Old Forester tradition...but you know, so's Old Forester Signature, and I don't see any reason to pay three times as much for it just cuz it's in a neat bottle. The third one, though, a neat nose with carob and dark nibby chocolate notes, and then an extremely lively feel in the mouth, ringing all the bells, a real wowser. This one, I said to Chris, and sure enough, that was the one folks picked by about 3 to 1. I'm looking forward to next year...not that this year's wasn't excellent.

Then he took me on a tour of the big Old Forester/Early Times distillery down in Shively. We did the whole tour, from grain delivery (there was a truckload of corn being dumped and tested when we started the tour) to milling to mashing to fermentation, into the room with the two big column stills, thumpers down below, into the yeast mashing and propagation rooms, and into the cistern room, where everything goes after dumping to get set down to proper proof and tanked to the bottling house up the road. We ran into Brett Pontoni, the whiskey man at Binny's of Chicago and good friend (who's going to be getting in here to the Parkview shortly, and then we'll be drinking...just relaxing with a Poon IPA right now -- thanks, Whole Foods of Louisville!), who had a group of employees and customers going through on a tour.

Then we went over to one of the big brick "cycling" warehouses. Brown-Forman doesn't age their bourbon like most everyone else, at least, not Old Forester, Early Times (and yeah, there is Early Times Bourbon, it turns out, for the export market), and Woodford Reserve. Instead of just letting the bourbon sit in the cold over the winter, resting, they cycle the warehouse temperatures. Chris explained. There are temperature probes in some of the barrels, scattered through the warehouse. Say the temp outside goes down to 20. When the temp in the barrels hits, maybe, 60 (Chris was careful to couch all of this in general hypothetical terms), the heat goes on, and it stays on, until the whiskey gets up to, say, 80, maybe a week, and then the heat goes off until the whiskey gets down to 60 again. Once winter's over, they stop cycling and let nature do its thing. Which, Chris explained, is why with Old Forester and Woodford, they don't talk about the whiskey's age, but about its maturity.

Good stuff! I thanked him, and said good-bye, and headed across the Ohio to the New Albanian Brewing Company, the desmesnes of Rodger Baylor, another old friend. Unfortunately, he wasn't in, at a long meeting elsewhere, and I just et one of his real good pizzas and had a Community Dark (a dark mild, and kind of overdone on the dark malts, IMO), and a Happy Helmut (a nice lightly smoked rye beer that went well with the pizza). Some great beers on tap: three Schlenkerlas, Mahr's Hell (what is it, Franconia Month?), and others I can't remember in my increasing glow.

But then I had a real bad experience. Kind of reminded me of all the bad things that I was trying to forget while being in Kentucky. I went to Proof on Main, a beautiful place where I'd stayed back in June when Brown-Forman flew me out to taste the new Master's Collection Woodfore Reserve. I'd had a Sazerac cocktail that was absolutely one of the best drinks I've ever had, I'd been daydreaming about it ever since, and I wanted another. So I got off I-65 in the middle of Louisville and made my way over, parked and went in, and said, "A Sazerac, please." And the sweet, very pretty bartender told me she didn't think they had any Sazerac right now. Oh, dear. Sure enough, when I told her it was a cocktail, she got out the cocktail book and looked it up. I asked to see it: all wrong, beginning with calling for bourbon, not rye.

Oh, no, this isn't right, I said, and tried to explain. Well, wait, she said, the other bartender will be back in a few minutes, he can make you one. Great, I said, thinking and hoping it would be Chris Lamb, the fellow who'd made the one in June. Well, no. It was some guy with a 1/8" buzzcut and a fakey cowboy shirt, who breezed in and said, no problem, I'll make one. I watched him, and moaned. He took Michter's Rye -- a good start -- and dumped it in a shaker of ice, poured in sour mix (probably house-made, to be fair) and what looked like simple syrup, and shook it. He put a lemon peel garnish on a frosted martini glass, and strained the drink into it: essentially, a rye sour. No Pernod anywhere. Even the recipe in the book was better, if you put rye in instead of the bourbon they ignorantly called for. I'll quote the next bit, because it just...no, it didn't enrage me, it left me limp and disappointed and despairing: "I learned to make them at Harry's Bar in Paris. That's where they were invented." Oh, son of a bitch. A frosted martini glass. No Pernod. And then, just to add insult to injury, it was a dollar more than I'd been charged in June.

Did I say anything? No. Because I just didn't feel like making a scene. Because I was beat down. Because now I knew that if I wanted a Sazerac, almost anywhere, I'd always either be in a game of cocktail roulette, or going to the same tiny number of places where they know shit from Shinola.

Thank God for the absolutely beautiful, wonderful, and restorative drive down Bardstown Road, or I'd still be pissed off.

Kentucky Bourbon Fest: I'm on my way

Anticipation.

I'm at Philadelphia International, waiting for my flight to Louisville, now 45 minutes late and counting. I'm headed for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for, I think, my fifth time. I'm on my own, representing Malt Advocate, and since my schedule was my own, I made the most of it.

I'm touring Brown-Foreman's Louisville distillery this afternoon (assuming my flight gets in on time!), making an enjoyably obligatory stop at Rich O's and the New Albanian Brewing Company, and stocking up on beer (beer's essential when you're drinking bourbon...) at the Louisville Liquor Barn before heading south to Bardstown. Tomorrow I'll be at Four Roses, the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, this year's Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Maker's Mark, and then dinner at Heaven Hill's Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz event. Saturday I'll be at the bourbon breakfast, the barrel races, blogging my brains out all afternoon, and then going to the Gala, where I got a seat at the Buffalo Trace table this year -- out of the press ghetto at last!

And of course, I'll be hanging out every night with fellow bourbon lovers, drinking and talking and laughing well into the night. By now, I go into this knowing that when I leave Sunday morning, I'll be wrung out, exhausted, maybe a bit achey even...and I'll be grinning. Because one of the things I look forward to most when I go to Kentucky is shedding the subtle, clenching tension I feel, almost unconciously, every drinking moment of my life, because I am a bourbon drinker.

Even now, in an era when bourbon is reclaiming American hearts and minds, just saying the word "bourbon" can still make people giggle. It's not taken serious, it's something yahoos knock back in untemperate amounts, something Grampa spills down his beard and shirt as he rocks on the porch, something you have to mix with Coke to make palatable. It's something that way too many bartenders still do not understand, probably because way too many bars still do not stock proper selections -- I can't tell you how much it galls me when I see a backbar selection of 20 vodkas and 4 bourbons. Bartenders don't know how to make any proper bourbon cocktails -- and for God's sake, don't even think about rye. (Yeah, I know, there are exceptions, and it's getting better, much better, but just like better beer, you still have to know where to go.)

Except when I land in Kentucky. The unfelt weight slips away, and I realize I've been carrying it, and feel free. I breathe easy. I walk with a relaxed but jaunty step. I'm home, I'm with my people, and bourbon is no longer a funny word, it's a no-shit staple of life. I still remember my last pre-9/11 flight out of Louisville, when I opened up my carry-on for inspection and the old fellow doing the job widened his eyes at the five bottles I had stuffed in there and asked me, "Can't you get this back home?" We laughed, and I explained that I couldn't, but luckily I was able to do something about that!

So I'm looking forward to relaxing...and having some bourbon. Sorry I haven't been able to write as much about bourbon as I'd planned to this month, this National Bourbon Heritage Month; I had some big pieces to work on, and I was kind of thrown of track by the kids going back to school and the shock of Michael Jackson's sudden death. Hang on: you'll get plenty in the next five days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's Jack Daniel's World...

...we're just living in it. That's the opener to my Straight Whiskey cover story for BeverAge this month. I liked the way this one came out -- particularly the two sidebars on rye, and Canadian and blended whiskeys (great Larry Kass quote at the end of that second sidebar). It seems particularly appropriate to post this on the day before I leave for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (and as I scramble to finish my next story for BeverAge before I leave!).

DuClaw Bel Air about to re-open

The fire-damaged original DuClaw brewpub in Bel Air Maryland is about to re-open, after a year of repair and re-modeling. There will be 'mock service' trials this weekend, and after adjustments, look for a re-opening. I remain in awe of the customer loyalty this place has (not that surprising, given Jim Wagner's beers); they have one of the most amazing response rates on loyalty club e-mailings I've ever heard of. Good to see Bel Air back, we pass by there often, and it will be nice to be able to stop in for a pint of Venom. Brewing, of course, has been moved to a central location, so I assume the big brewhouse will be gone: more room to drink!

A Toast to Michael Jackson

On Sunday, September 30th, at 9:00 PM Eastern, we're raising a glass to Michael Jackson, and raising money in his name for the National Parkinson's Foundation.

We now have a list up of bars and brewpubs that are participating; see the window-widget over on the left side of the page.

If you are a bar or brewpub owner, and would like to join in, go here for the information, and a template we've made for a flyer/poster, then please add your info by the Upcoming link at that page, or here on mine.

Be generous, folks: this is for Michael, the guy without whom a lot of this would not have happened. As Tom Peters, of Monk's Cafe, said to me, "I'd really like to be able for us to hand a check for $100,000 to the Foundation in Michael's name." (Tom's donating the evening's profits at Monk's, and will be passing the hat for direct donations as well.)

There will be other, ongoing opportunities to honor Jackson's name and legacy, but this one, as Sam Calagione said, is from the heart. Here's to Michael. See you on the 30th.

Jackson Toast Gets Rolling

The Michael Jackson Toast for Parkinson's Disease is starting to roll. Check Upcoming for venues; the list is just starting to grow.

Rob Tod, Allagash, and Monk's Cafe

Just a quick note about last night's Allagash dinner at Monk's Cafe. Tom invited me to come down, which I wanted to do: Rob's a great guy, and a good friend, and Heaven knows his beers are excellent, but I was meeting with another friend last night to help pick out music for her wedding. So Cathy and I left late, and got to Monk's at about 8 (after an amazingly fast run down to Philly; where was the traffic?).

Matt "Beer Yard" Guyer graciously made a place for us at the infamous "press ghetto" table in the front window, and I plonked down beside Don Russell just in time to catch a glass of Allagash Triple, which was tasting fine, better than I remember: clean, crisp, and drinkable. (Yes, I know, those are the classic adjectives for describing Budweiser; this stuff isn't Budweiser.) We also got a retrograde glass of White, which I enjoyed and should have kept to have refreshed through the night as a calibration tool.

We'd already eaten, not knowing how long the music selection would take, so we passed on Tom's gracious offer to feed us. Although...when he urged me to try a bite of the salmon with a Curieux mole, I did, and I was glad; the Curieux was tasting just a bit top-heavy on its own, and the fish and heat-kissed sauce knocked that top-hamper right off, making it a delightful mouthful.

I talked a little New Jersey Breweries business with co-author Mark Haynie, who was in for the dinner. He's making brewery visits next week, I'm going to start hitting bars -- tough work, but some poor sucker's gotta do it (You got any good NJ bar suggestions, particularly in the vicinity of a New Jersey brewery, send 'em in!).

We got Musette (Rob's take on the Belgian take on Scotch ale) and barrel-aged Four with dinner (dinner was a 'barbequed' brisket (the 'quotes' are there for the barbeque fanatic who wrote a comment recently on my post about Clem's in Port Matilda; fanatic, I didn't put the post up because it was too long and a bit too vicious, not because I want to censor anyone who disagrees with me), mashed yams, and collard greens). The Musette was nice, malty with an edge, and the Four was just huge, bourbony, and deep, lots going on once you dove deep under the bourbon layer.

We did eat dessert, a chocolate fig cake with Allagash Double. It had been quite a while since I'd had Double, and it was great, flavorful, but not huge, and good at picking up the fig notes in the cake. Pretty much general lusciousness.

After that, we hung around a while, helping Bryan Kolesar and his wife celebrate their 9th anniversary (Congratulations!), talking about the Michael Jackson toast plans with Tom, and introducing Cathy to Rob. Rob Tod's talk, by the way, was one of the most fact-filled yet engaging talks I've ever heard at Monk's: focused, but fun, in his self-deprecating way. His passion for his beers, and for the thrill of trying new techniques, has always been exciting, and it came across clearly last night.

Thanks to Tom for the invite: another great time at Monk's Cafe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tröegs Action

I dropped by Tröegs last weekend, September 1st, to try some Scratch Beer. The Trogners are celebrating their brewery's 10th anniversary by brewing a series of draft-only beers from recipes they thought up back in the pre-business days...mostly, and serving them only on draft at the brewery on Saturdays...mostly. The one I got on Saturday was Scratch #3, which is -- appropriately -- a Triple. It was big and flavorful at 9.5%, certainly no session beer. It was, however, quite drinkable thanks to good attenuation. The boys used a different Belgian yeast strain than the one used in Mad Elf, and it worked quite well.

Then I got some Dead Reckoning Porter, and it's quite a bit hoppier than I remember from the first time around. It's verging on dark IPA territory, but with a solid bedrock of dark malt character; at 5.8% and 53 IBUs, it's sniffing around the lower end of Baltic territory. (Geeks: I'm kidding. This is not a Baltic porter. Just messing around.) I liked it so much I had to have another.

Finally, John went back and tickled the zwickel for a preview of Scratch Beer #4: The Flying Mouflan...at least, I think that's what John was saying. It's a wild-assed American-style barleywine. John described it this way: "We took Nugget Nectar and pushed it off a cliff." I smelled hops from three feet away, and said to him, "There's so much hops oil in this, it's greasy." It's a whopping big mutha, too, over 10%. But the beauty of this beer is that the hops don't grab your tongue like a sandpaper mitten: they've got the 'honeyed hops' effect going, like eating hop candy. It's a big sweet malty barleywine, juiced up with silly amounts of hop flavor and aroma, and a bitterness that mostly comes in the finish. If you want a pint of this stuff, get a driver.

Good time at the brewery, my first time on a Saturday tour day. If you haven't made this stop, you should put it on your schedule.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Otter Creek Cuckoo Bock

The Otter's back in Germany, and this stop's tasting okay. It's Cuckoo Bock, a "German-style Mai Bock." Very malty, kinda dry, and it's got the hops thing that makes American brewers just loooooove maibock. Maybe a little overly hoppy for the style, and that's putting a bit of a hitch in my enjoyment of this one.

Then again... the more I drink, the smoother it gets. But I still think I'd like it better with less hop.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Parker's Heritage Collection, First Edition

Heaven Hill has some great old whiskeys tucked away deep in the recesses of their 49 rickhouses; they are, as they'll take care to remind you, "the world's second-largest holder of aging American Whiskey with over 700,000 barrels." They've been releasing little dribs and dabs of that huge storehouse, but they've let me get an advance taste of the first of a series of bottlings of rare, aged whiskeys (and remember: Heaven Hill has rye and wheated bourbons, rye whiskey, aged corn whiskey, and of course, the Bernheim wheat whiskey in those rickhouses) that they're going to be issuing, a series they're calling Parker's Heritage Collection, a tribute to their master distiller, Parker Beam.


I have a deep respect for Parker's abilities as a master distiller, surpassed only by my respect for his abilities at selecting special barrels for bottlings like this. He's proved that ability year after year with the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bottlings, masterful whiskeys that line one shelf here at home (and for those of you who bitterly resent "all that free whiskey you get," I buy at least two bottles a year of this stuff, for myself and for friends).

This new bottling lives up to that reputation...and then some, a clear contender for my Whiskey of the Year. I'll quote: "This first edition...will be a cask-strength [guys...it's bourbon. Anything wrong with "barrel-proof"?] 1996 bourbon that has mellowed over 48 Kentucky seasons on the fifth floor of Rickhouse Y in Bardstown. The bottling was drawn from a lot of 68 carefully selected barrels, which were dumped in three "very small batches" of 22, 22, and 24 barrels each. The bourbon is then dumped at barrel-proof [there we go!] marking the first time that Heaven Hill has released a barrel-proof bourbon in the U.S. This cask-strength whiskey will only fill about 6,400 750 ml bottles, and the proofs of the three batches range from 122.6 to 130.9... Parker Beam...personally selected these barrels for their superb nose, robust flavor and long smooth finish."

That's great, but how is it? Fantastic. I'm nosing some right now, and while the heat's definitely there (I got some of the 122.6 batch), it's not burning my nose. Plenty of vanilla, sweet burnt sugar, a drying hint of oak. The flavors puddle and linger on the tongue and soar and loft in the palate: sweet corn, hot vanilla, a touch of cinnamon and a crisp fleeting peppery note, and a long, lingering finish that twists through sweet notes of maple and corn, spicy oak dryness, and the solid authority of overproof whiskey. Mighty fine stuff indeed. Hats off to Parker Beam.

You want a Corona? Sure...

Strictly a visual coincidence, I'm sure.

You know, though...if Gambrinus wants to get back in the game after losing importing rights to C*O*R*O*N*A* back in December, maybe they could take over the Asian restaurant bar trade with this baby.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Can You Hear the Thunder?

As reported, Victory won't be releasing Baltic Thunder until October 15. "No packaging," admitted brewery president and co-founder Bill Covaleski when I asked him why the long wait. But a guy who had some tiny part in this beer's creation can wheedle his way to zwickel-side and get a sample.

Actually, I met Victory publicity-wrangler Jake Burns in the parking lot and asked him if I could get a taste of Thunder, and he said sure, why not, I'd like a taste too. Ron Barchet laughed when I told him why I'd stopped by, and said "I think that when we go to package that tank there's not going to be any left!" And he paused and got that reverent, serious look he gets when he talks about beer, and said, "It's really good."

I'm happy to report that he's right. Jake screwed the pigtail onto Tank V10 (erk. Kind of ominous, that) and poured me off almost a full pint of the 8.5% stuff. It was dark and rich-smelling, prunes and plum pudding, moist chocolate cake and a subtle vinous aroma, and I couldn't help thinking of the mythical Herzwesten Dark from Tim Powers's The Drawing of the Dark (fergodssake, if you've never read this, get it): "Then he sat down, and even without bringing the cup to his nose he smelled the heady, heavily aromatic bouquet. God bless us, he thought rapturously, this is the nectar of which even the finest, rarest bock in the world is only the vaguest hint. In one long, slow, savoring swallow he emptied the cup."

I didn't empty the cup, but the temptation was there. What I did taste reminded me of my oft-quoted characterization of a Baltic porter as a trainwreck between a doublebock and an imperial stout: only the imperial stout train was 120 boxcars long and high-balling it. The beer was as smooth as only a long-aged lager can be, but it had a burnt bitter edge to it that recalled some of my favorite impies, like Smuttynose and Courage. It brought to mind the original limited edition Perkuno's Hammer, the 300-bottle brew that was supposed to be a one-off and proved to have a life of its own. Best -- or worst -- of all, Jake and I agreed that it maybe tasted like a 6.5% beer at most. "This sucker's dangerous," I said, "It's a 'Where did my knees go?' beer."

Consider yourself warned.

NPR remembers Michael Jackson

NPR has this audio tribute to Michael Jackson up on their site. They knew him: I love the reference to him as "this...rumpled man."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Flat Tire -- what's up with geeks?

This month's Buzz is about the way some purported craft beer lovers talk trash about craft beers they think aren't good enough. I think they need smacked.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Žatec

I had a nice bottle of Žatec "Bright Lager Beer" tonight with our Labor Day dinner. I've been meaning to get to this sample (thanks to importer Merchant du Vin for that) for a while, but I really like the Czech lagers with rare beef, and we don't eat much of that at home any more, post-Weight Watchers. Today I grabbed some NY strips at Genuardi's (along with some cheese-garlic sausage and pork tenderloin for a mixed grill -- lots of leftovers), and the Žatec was on notice.

Worth the wait. Žatec is a light, bright beer, the kind the Czechs do so well. "Žatec" is the Czech hop-growing town that is more familiar to American beer geeks by its German name, Saaz. This beer comes from a brewery that was first established there in 1798 (there was a hiatus during the German occupation in World War II; the kettles were buried in a field outside of town). Despite a restoration in 2001 that brought a modern wort chiller, the Žatecký Pivovar, according to Merchant du Vin, still uses "a double-decoction mash, open primary fermentation, and 45 days of lagering before packaging." Old school, in other words. Oddly enough, they don't use 100% Saaz hops, using a blend of locally-grown hops: Saaz, Sladek, and Premiant.

Whatever they use, it's a light, refreshing beer that reminded me of Budvar: malty but not heavy, hoppy but not astringent, fragrant but not overwhelming, and dashedly easy to drink. Great for warm weather, and excellent with the steak and grilled fingerling spuds. Nicely done.

Chilladavation

The latest Condé Nast Portfolio column: Miller Chill, A-B Chelada, and what it all means. Well, what I think it means. A story about innovation in the big beer market.

A Last Look at Michael Jackson

Dan Shelton has posted a preview of a video interview with Michael Jackson on YouTube. It was recorded on August 7th, and is probably his last interview. Watching it was great, painful, encouraging, and, as always, enlightening. Have a look.