Monday, October 29, 2007

The Frost is on the Pumpkin...

I woke up to the first frost of the season here in southeastern Pennsylvania, and it was a heavy one. Perfect time to put up this link to my winter beer story for Massachusetts Beverage Business magazine. It's tough sometimes to come up with a new story on something you've been writing about for 10 years; I dug into my archives to pull some quotes from early stories, including one from my very first story for MassBevBiz, back in 1998, from Jeff Close, former sales head for Catamount.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gourding our loins

The new Condé Nast Portfolio column's up, on pumpkin beers. I've got some tasting notes on an attached slideshow, and I've picked up another pumpkin beer I want to do, from Elysian (thanks, guys!), so that will be showing up here shortly. Happy Halloween!

Wolaver's 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Ale

Wolaver's celebrated their 10th anniversary, appropriately, with a Farmhouse Ale. It's a saison, and a fairly robust one. Plenty of spicy yeasty character, and a drying dose of bitterness. Is it 100% organic? It has "plenty" of organic malts and hops, so it's your guess. "Plenty" is good enough for me, given the tough organic hops situation. It also went well with my grilled bluefish and grilled portabella dinner. Cheers, Wolaver's: nice beer!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

STAG Poll #4: Brewpub Management

Still having fun...I'll have a new poll up shortly.

To jump-start your new brewpub, your best bet is to:

Brew an Imperial Hefe-PortIPAmber and call it Best Of The Northwest -- 15 votes (10%)
Add a little caustic to the DIPA, tell people it's a new hop strain: Cleveland -- 13 votes (8%)
Do Dollar Draft Nights with your Nicholas & Alexandra Double Imperial Stout -- 26 votes (17%)
Hire strippers to waitress on Dollar Draft Nights and up your insurance -- 58 votes (38%)
Just hop the bejayzus out of everything -- 58 votes (38%)

Total Votes: 149

Good old cider

Well, I'm home from San Francisco. We did finally manage to find a great breakfast: a mile walk up Market and Geary to Dottie's True Blue Cafe, where Cathy had banana-butterscotch french toast and I got an omelette with lamb-rosemary sausage, goat cheese, spinach, and roasted garlic. Excellent. Bumpy ride home, but all was well, and Little Mister Dog was just ecstatic.

So, about that cider. Cathy visited her mom last week, and while she was there, stopped by an orchard and cider mill. She picked up some apples (Honeycrisps, I love 'em) and a gallon of cider. I didn't notice that it was unpasteurized...until this morning, when I grabbed the jug to have some with my breakfast. Hey... this jug is bulging! Sure enough, the top popped! off, and the aroma was invigorating, and the fizzy stinging stuff inside was alive. Ah, nothing like hard cider in the morning, a link to our colonial past. Cheers, John Adams, and damn all interfering busybodies who insist on pasteurizing cider!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day Three

Busy day. We got up and went out for breakfast: the Elephant and Castle, God help me. It was only a few blocks from the hotel, and had a regular breakfast-type menu, but...I just felt wrong at a chain joint, like I let down the side. We'll do better today, but we were a bit rushed yesterday.

Back from there, and we got to work in the ballroom, starting set-up. We unloaded magazines and set them out, unloaded cases of programs (the WhiskyFest programs are a class act: spiral-bound, heavy paper, four-color print) and nosing glasses, and set up signs. Then we began almost an hour of shifting tables to exactly where we wanted them: spacing, angles, numbers, all that jazz. We do six nosing glasses for each vendor, etched with their logo, so we took those out and set them up on the vendor's tables, about 66 tables in all. While we were doing that, other staffers were setting up row upon row of event nosing glasses at the registration tables. After three hours of that, we went to lunch in the hotel restaurant. (chicken and prosciutto panini, cup of clam chowder, goat cheese and arugula salad, quite nice, and the iced tea was fresh)

Cathy and I walked across to the Ferry Building to grab some souvenirs at the Market. We got some shirts, some chocolate, I got a Cowgirl Creamery triple creme puck (which was quite flippin' nice once we got it back to the room and let it warm up). We also got dessert: bombolone, kind of like really nice filled donuts. Back to the room, shower and dress for the event. We went down to the ballroom at 3:30.

Things went very smoothly. Actually, the whole event went pretty darned smoothly. The exhibitors fell into the routine, putting out bottles, setting up their displays, greeting each other. We had our seminars, which are my responsibility to see that everything is running smoothly, and they did. It was a bit tougher this time, because only one of the seminar rooms was on the same floor as the main event; the others were up a level, and we had to ask attendees to go up a flight of escalators. By the time the night was over, I told Cathy I should have gotten frequent flyer miles for that escalator trip. We did have some great seminars: a scotch and chocolate tasting with Simon Brooking of Laphroaig and John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger Chocolate; a tasting of export-only whiskeys from Heaven Hill, and a rum tasting with Appleton Rum.

The response was tremendous. Guests were coming up to staffers and thanking us for a great event; exhibitors were warmly thanking us for "coming to San Francisco." It was quite gratifying. People were well-behaved, very little drunkenness, and responsible behavior: "I think I've had enough, sir. Where can I get a cab?" We're looking forward to the next year here.

I took some leftover bottles up to a Diageo party on the 9th floor -- friends of ours -- and went back to the room, where I put on some more comfortable clothes and shoes. We went down to John and Amy's room, with everyone else -- most of the women in pajamas, the guys out on the balcony -- and we toasted a successful event. And pretty much crashed; we were exhausted.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day Two

Monday was a day to play. Cathy and I got up jet-lag early, and headed out into the sweet, clear dawn to the Ferry Building, as you can see in this picture from outside the hotel. We hit the market, only to find that most of the shops didn't open for another two or three hours. What?
Doesn't San Francisco believe in breakfast? We got a cup of Peet's coffee and headed down the Embarcadero, munching on a sourdough loaf for sustenance, and looking for something more solid.

Well...it didn't happen. We walked for about three miles, for over an hour, and found nothing but coffee shop after coffee shop -- with only java and muffins -- and a few Chinese places, but Cathy didn't want stir fry bean curd, and I didn't want muffins. We did see a lot of neat scenes, some weird stuff in the Tenderloin, and got some exercise, but wound up settling for a coffee shop near the hotel and an oatmeal for her and a "Southwestern egg & cheese sammich" for me. Feh.

Back to the room, where Cathy took a nap (which she can do in any conditions) and I took care of e-mail and such. At 11:30 we headed out again, and had lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building. Oh, yum. Not the cheapest lunch I've ever bought, but the 2 dozen varied oysters were delish (looks like Cathy liked them too), and my oyster stew was easily the best rendition I've ever had.

We trekked back to the hotel and caught a cab to the Anchor Brewery. I'd never had a chance to tour the brewery, and this was a signal moment for me.

We were right on time for our 1:00 tour, and after two superbly fresh glasses of Steam and a short pleasant visit with Fritz Maytag, walked into the brewhouse, where a batch of 2007 Christmas Ale was in the mash tun (and right up to the brim of the mash tun, too). We checked out the shallow lager/steam tanks (where we were told that only the Steam was brewed with a lager yeast; all the other beers were done with the same ale yeast), the open ale ferment tanks, the big closed tanks used for conditioning, and then to the bottling line, where I found this six-pack of just-packed 2007 Christmas Ale (sorry: didn't get a taste, it was embargoed until Nov. 5).

We also toured the distillery, where we got a sample of the new Genevieve, a genever they're making and will be introducing at WhiskyFest tonight. Quite nice; big and flavorful, plenty of body, and the blend of botanicals shifted away from juniper. Anchor is experimenting with a lot of different barrels and toast/char levels for their whiskey, and have committed to the longer-aged Hotalings rye whiskey.

Just to make things complete, we went across the street to Fritz's winery. They're crushing and ... well, all that stuff wine-makers do. We saw fermenting grapes, tasted some young wine (very peppery, eye-openingly tannic), and talked Brix. And then it was over, and we caught a cab.

My friend Jon Binkley had suggested I stop at Zeitgeist, a biker/bike messenger bar on Valencia. Well, what the hell, I'm an affable guy, we went. It was a good time. Yeah, it's scruffy, but no one was rude, no one was pushy, none of the stuff the reviews at Yelp squealed about happened. Er...it was a Monday afternoon, of course. It was real nice out back in the outside area: old wood tables and benches, wild mural art, and a barbecue smoker going. We had a couple IPAs (Big Daddy and Racer 5), relaxed, and then headed up over the hill towards Suppenküche, the German place where we were supposed to meet Jon.

We were way early, so we stopped along the way for an espresso (watching al Jazeera on the shop's TV), walked down Hayes and looked at the shops, stopped in the Place Pigalle bar for another beer (I had a Deschutes Black Butte, Cathy got a Pilsner Urquell that I helped finish), and then walked back up the street to Suppenküche. On the way, John Hansell called: he was bored, Amy was getting a massage, and where was it we were meeting for a beer? Come on down, I told him, I'll hold a lager for you.

Suppenküche was great. Not just six different Oktoberfest beers on draft, but three Weltenburger Kloster beers on draft! I got the Weltenburger Ofest, which I'd never heard of, let alone tasted. About the time I got the first sip in, Jon walked through the door. I haven't seen him for about five years, and it was good to chat. He ordered up the same thing, and then he and Cathy started talking science (he's doing some kind of protein mapping project at Stanford). John showed up and stood the next round (more Ofest), we all remarked on how good the food smelled, and maybe we should come back next year. Then we did a round of wheat beers -- Schneider, Franziskaner, and Erdinger dunkel -- that left us dissing the dunkel; the Schneider was a clear fave, as it often -- always? -- is, the Franz was good, better than I remember, but the Erdinger seemed to have none of the classic hefe character.

We had to run for dinner. Jon walked down to Van Ness with us, and waited till we managed to catch a cab; great to see you, Jon! Dinner was at The House of Prime Rib, and man, was it ever. Check out that link, and you'll kind of get the idea. All they serve is prime rib (well...okay, if you insist, they also have grilled fish), which Amy happily models for you on the left. You have a choice of four cuts, mashed or baked (my baked spud was incredible), creamed spinach or creamed corn. Dinners come with salad and Yorkshire pudding. That's it. Oh, and bread and cornbread. Cocktails? How about a Sazerac? I can't get that for you, sir, only because we have no Herb-Saint. So I ordered an Old-Fashioned and our waiter asked if I wanted bourbon or rye; rye? Which one, sir? Wow. Good drink, too.

The choice of THOPR was Dave Keene's, who joined us for dinner with his...well, I don't know what Jen's exact relationship is with Dave, other than a close one. She was a pistol, and we got right into it over the whole IPAs rule/lagers suck thing that seems to be the way things go in the West. Well. You know. We were both laughing. We just had a great time, all of us, laughing and eating and drinking. The meat was superb, as was the fiery fresh-grated horseradish. We ate, we talked, we got ready for today. And then we went back to the hotel, and that was the end of Monday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day One

We've arrived in San Francisco for WhiskyFest; got in last night, actually. We got to the Hyatt at 6:10, and by 6:50 we were on our way to the Toronado, which is, well, one of the best damned beer bars in the country. At least, I'd been told that, and had no reason to doubt it, but...I'd never been. So we went.

And we did get stuck into it. That's Toronado owner Dave Keene, me, and Malt Advocate publisher John Hansell...well, last night John wasn't the publisher. He was a guy who'd been going to Toronado for years, hanging out with his buddy Dave. I was lucky enough to tag along.
I was also lucky enough to be in time for dinner from Rosamunde's Sausage Grill next door. Oh, God, yum. Dave and John each got their beer sausage, Cathy had a duck sausage (with figs), I had a merguez (smoked lamb and beef), and Jim McGinley (husband of our magazine manager, Joan) had a hot Italian. I had a bite of Cathy's, and I can definitely report that our two were superb. Gawd. Two landmarks I definitely wanted to visit, down in two hours. Rock on!

Before anyone thinks this has turned into "Seen Through A Big Piece of Meat," let me say that the El Toro Deuce I started the evening with was great: hoppy and fresh, not overpowering. Then we had glasses of the Toronado 20th Anniversary that Vinnie Cilurzo had brewed at Russian River, and it was arresting: sour, deep, with a deftly woven character of oak and teasing sweetness that grew towards the end of the swallow. I also had a Moonlight Sublimmminal IPA (I think that's how they spelled it) from the cask (four handpumps, BTW: all pouring): an interesting project. Dave said it was all mash-hopping and dry-hopping, no hops in the kettle. Very good, and quite drinkable. A sip of John's Blind Pig IPA (Russian River) brought back memories of this beer from GABF in 1996, wow. It's a shame this beer gets overlooked in the rush to the Pliny's.

Wow. So now Cathy and I are in our room on Monday morning, ready to head out. This is the view, a picture I just took a minute ago. We're going to walk for about an hour, have breakfast, and do some sightseeing: tour of Anchor Brewing at 1:00, meeting a friend for beers at 5, and then going out for a big staff dinner. Should be fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare a Hop?

The hops shortage may be tighter than I thought. I'm a member of the Brewers Association (for now; I think it's about to run out), and that gets me on the e-mail forum where brewers discuss issues and post job openings and ask tech questions of each other. Over the past two years I've seen brewers ask where they can find gaskets for old tanks, parts for pumps, and cleaning chemicals.

But in the past week, hardly a day has gone by that there hasn't been a post asking for help finding hops. I've never seen this many posts asking for hops help in a month before. Hey, I was just kidding about this being the end of DIPA!

Welcome, Mister Sixpack!

Don Russell, AKA "Joe Sixpack," the beer columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News for the past...what, Don, eleven years? -- has upgraded his website to include a blog. And he's got the Yards brewery site news and a short talk with GABF-winning McKenzie Brewhouse brewer Ryan Michaels up already (which answers the question, "did Ryan win them medals with his beer or The Dude's beer?", an answer which has been confirmed by His Dudeness himself...who figures in this post from Uncle Jack, reporting that Dock Street's brewer Julius Hummer has left the building (never even got a chance to meet him!), and The Dude has returned...for now. Pretty damned parenthetical, eh?).

Welcome to blogging, Don!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yards finds a home

Uncle Jack's got the details on the new home for Yards; go take a look.

I'm looking forward to everyone getting down to brewing in January. And then the sales fun will begin.

One World, One Brewer

Stop the Madness!!!

Just got an e-mail news alert from the UK: Carlsberg and Heineken are in talks to form a consortium to buy the UK's largest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle.
The companies said that it was "currently intended that Carlsberg will ultimately acquire Scottish & Newcastle's interest in Baltic Beverage Holdings, France and Greece, and that Heineken will ultimately assume control of Scottish & Newcastle's business in the UK and other European markets".

Which actually isn't all bad, seeing that it would mean S&N beers would be all under the Heineken wing, and their non-Brit acquisitions would go to the Great Dane. Good God, did I actually just say that another round of megabrewer consolidation "isn't all bad"? Ye gods, it's contagious!

Okay, deep breath. It may not even happen, it's just a discussion:

The statement added that "to date no formal approach has been made to Scottish & Newcastle and there can be no certainty that an offer for Scottish & Newcastle will ultimately be forthcoming".
Maybe not. (Ha!) Although the stock price of S&N, which is up 18%, shows which way the market thinks things will fall out.

Seriously, does this really matter to any of us? Yes, it does. These massive consolidations mean even more deracination (look it up) of beer and beer culture. They cost jobs in the beer industry, and the benefit is what -- a slight increase in profits that is lost in the cost of the consolidation and increased costs of advertising. Some smaller brands will inevitably disappear.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that like InBev, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, Constellation, these giant conglomeration companies will find it impossible to stop acquiring. They are scooping up European regional breweries like blue whales seining krill, and they'd suck up Boston Beer and other publicly held crafts without even a post-prandial burp.

And then what? A race to make the cheapest light beer they can sell for the most profit? Maybe. For sure, you'll see a lot less options, and many of the options you will get will be meaningless. God, I'm feeling bleak this morning.

Addition to the story: Bloomberg is now reporting that S&N is an unwilling target, and that InBev and A-B are possible competitive bidders. An article chockful of stuff.

STAG Poll #3: Brown Ale

STAG Poll #3 is in the books. After a weirdly neck and neck polling, a strong finish at the end gave the plurality to...well, take a look.

If brown ale was a guy, he would be:

One 'a them there metrosexuals: 12 (9%)
a jogger: 9 (6%)
Grampa: 45 (34%)
a whiny vegan: 14 (10%)
your wingman: 52 (39%)

Total votes: 132

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bluenoses are everywhere

For all of you who still think that the New Drys are strictly right wing groups, or religious groups, take a gander at this. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman who is neither right-wing nor, as far as I know, particularly religious, is on a moral crusade in Venezuela to create the "New Man, a socialist revolutionary with a monk-like purity of purpose." Students of Soviet history, stop me if you've heard this before... The rest of you, read on.

Chavez is concerned about how much whiskey his countrymen drink (I've covered this in "Whisky News" in Malt Advocate, with much glee), and how many Hummers they buy. But the people with smaller budgets piss him off, too:
Chavez is also concerned that too many Venezuelans swill beer on street corners. Irked by unregulated beer sales in the slums, he has warned that beer trucks selling alcohol directly on the streets would be seized. ... "I've told the National Guard to stop and seize any truck going around selling beer in the street as if it were ice cream," he said. "This cannot be permitted."

The president has a long list of other "New Man" recommendations: don't douse foods with too much hot sauce, exercise regularly, eat low-cholesterol foods, respect speed limits. He also wants parents to stop buying Barbie dolls — and breast jobs — for their daughters.

"Now some say, 'When my daughter turns fifteen years old, we're going to give her phony breasts.' What a horrible thing! It's the latest degeneration," Chavez told one packed auditorium.
Señor Chavez? Nurse Ratchett calling; it's time for your electroshock therapy. You'll have to spit out your gum, sir. Thank you, sir: bite down...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beer History in the (Re-)Making

If you haven't yet followed the links down there on the left side of the page to Ron Pattinson's Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and Martyn Cornell's Zythophile blogs, you really should. These two have been re-writing the history of British beers -- oops, I almost wrote "British beer styles", which might have caused Pattinson's head to explode. I've been reading them recently with slack-jawed admiration.

Cornell, the author of Beer: the Story of a Pint, just posted last week about Burton Ale. If you've heard of Burton Ale, it's probably not what you thought, according to Cornell: Greene King Burton Pale Ale was, for example:
a sweet, dark, fruity warming beer, just like its few surviving brother beers in the Burton Ale style, which include Young’s Winter Warmer, Marston’s Owd Roger and Theakston’s Old Peculier.

Food for thought. Pattinson, meanwhile, has been tearing apart the lazily accepted history of porter, stout, and mild (as does Cornell, BTW), using great drifts of data he's collected from brewer's logs. He's a self-admitted obsessive about this stuff, but the results he's getting make me very glad he's taking the time.

I apologize for all the mythical stuff I've repeated as "beer history." I'm not talking about beer history at all until I've digested this stuff. Do yourself a favor and go get a big helping of it yourself. Two excellent blogs, two writers doing yeoman work, by doing primary research. Cheers, gentlemen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

MillerCoors: Shotgun wedding or knife fight?

If you were wondering why I hadn't posted anything about the MillerCoors joint venture...here's why: I was getting paid to write something about it for Portfolio. Here it is. I'm not real optimistic about it working well.

Really: a small battleship

My new Condé Nast Portfolio column is up, on Oktoberfest beer, here and at the Wies'n. You've probably heard that the stuff they serve there is different from the stuff we get here; you may or may not be surprised to learn that the stuff they serve there...is lighter. Jeff Coleman, former Paulaner North America importer and now head of Distinguished Brands International (who bring in some truly good beers), tells a great little story about what happened when Paulaner decided to send over "real" Oktoberfest beer one year. I also reveal the result of a lot of serious math: the amount of beer served at Oktoberfest would literally float a small battleship, namely, the U.S.S. Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship from the battle of Manila Bay (currently tied up at Penn's Landing in Philly). Check it out.

Dinner with the Beams of Heaven Hill

Well... After a smooth flight from Philly to Louisville, the Heaven Hill folks got me to the Brown Hotel, where I settled into my room and munched on some of the goodies they'd provided (this is by way of letting you know that yes, they paid for this). After a bit of refreshment, checking of e-mail, and amusement at the responses to the #3 STAG Poll (more fun to come, folks), I spiffed up my ensemble and went down to the lobby bar, where I met up with the other folks on the junket -- fellow whiskey writers Chuck Cowdery, Gary Regan, Stuart Ramsay, and drinks writers Terry Sullivan (who does some damned funny stuff for us in Malt Advocate; happily he'd brought along his equally funny wife, Monica), Bill Spain (who covers booze and tobacco for MarketWatch), and Allen Katz -- and Heaven Hill master distiller Craig Beam. We had a round of last year's Evan Williams Single Barrel -- nice way to start an evening -- and headed out to Limestone, bourbon country chef Jim Gerhardt's restaurant.

I'd heard about Limestone, and had the pleasure of Jim Gerhardt's cooking -- he's devoted to the foods of Kentucky, and tries to use them as much as possible -- and I was looking forward to this dinner. We stepped into the lounge, where Craig's father, Parker Beam, was waiting for us. Always a pleasure to speak to Parker, a real gentleman. We sipped more Single Barrel -- then Terry and I shifted to Elijah Craig 12 Year Old -- and munched on some nice finger food: Jim's signature potato crisps, barrel-smoked trout tartlets (not so hot: low on flavor, didn't realize they were smoked until I saw the menu), some sliced house-made sausage with caramelized shallots on toasted bread crisps (delish, and quite nice with the shallots), and EWSB-glazed beef tenderloin on dark rye bread (very nice, about the size of a quarter, and beautifully tender).

We adjourned to the next room for dinner. But first, we had an assortment of whiskey treats. There were three of the beautifully designed bottles of Parker's Heritage Collection on the table: solid, big-shouldered no-neck bottles, looking like three offensive linemen. They were bottlings from the three different dumpings ("Sounds so much better than "three dumps," doesn't it?" said Chuck) of the whiskey: one at about 122 proof, one at 127, and one at 129. We got sip samples of each, and sniffed and sipped; added water and repeated. I found my thrill in the 127, which seemed richer than the other two. Chuck said the whiskeys were clearly Parker's: "You like the barrels from up in the hotter floor of the warehouse," and Parker quickly agreed.

This is an 11 year old whiskey that came from barrels with tapered staves. We tried to get an explanation of just what that meant -- and why it was important -- but either we weren't being clear or the bourbon was too loud, because I just couldn't get clear on what it was. Parker did say that they had some of these tapered stave barrels done with a deeper, #4 char, and that because of the tapered staves, there was more loss from a barrel. Hmmm... More experiments are going on, he and Craig said, and it sounded like a lot of them had to do with cooperage. Some of the experimental bits sounded almost trivial -- heads held together with tongue-and-groove joints instead of the usual dowel pegs, for instance -- and Chuck suspected it might be experimentation for the sake of experimentation.

The whiskey we tasted next was anything but that. Craig pulled out a pint bottle of malt whisky, Kentucky-style: 51% malt, 49% corn, but otherwise done by bourbon-style procedures -- new charred oak barrels, same proof points as their bourbon, and so on. It was mighty young, only about 6 months in the barrel, and it smelled it. The flavor was, well, "interesting," as Gary put it with a self-realizational grin. There was clearly corn, but some of the silkier sweetness of malt. I'd like to see what this was like with about 70% malt, and about 5 more years on it. Interesting, yes. Potential? Harder to say. Sure is good to see Heaven Hill continuing to push things.

Dinner commenced. We got three spears of white asparagus with thin slices of Newsom's Country Ham (crisp light sparrowgrass and salty, rich ham), topped with a luscious Sauce Bearnaise that hit a great balance between creamy and tart. Then it was EWSB-Scented Apple Celery Soup -- good, but I'm just not big on celery. The next course was a cioppino with clams, crawfish tails, and lemonfish (I think he said lemonfish), finished with EWSB. I was not that nuts on this one, either. The fish was delicious, a delicate texture, but the sauce was overpowered by the bourbon. Jim said after the meal that he doesn't like doing reductions of bourbon, but prefers to add it right at the end of cooking.

The next, main course, hit me right between the eyes, the high point of the dinner: veal scaloppini with an EWSB truffle sauce, braised red cabbage, and spatzel. I got one whiff of it -- rich nutty meat, delicately measured bourbon and hint of earthy truffle -- and asked the waitress if I could please skip the wine -- a cabernet I just wasn't warming to -- for this course and get a pint of the Bluegrass Brewing Nut Brown Ale I'd seen on tap in the lounge. She brought it, and it was a magnificent match for the hot veal and sauce. I was in heaven. Dessert brought apple strudel and whiskey sauce, which was even better with a little more of that 127 proof Parker's.

After sitting around making fun of each other for a while, we went back to the hotel, where we settled down in the hospitality suite, and, believe it or not, sang. Gary Regan had us laughing ourselves sick with a full-motion version of "O'Reilly's Daughter," I sang the old Phil Harris chestnut "The Preacher and the Bear," and Sullivan was quite moving with a quiet, heartfelt rendition of John Prine's "Sam Stone," looking just like an old Irish pub singer...or, well, how I imagine that would look. I also made everyone try some Hpnotiq, the blue tropical fruit juice and cognac ... stuff Heaven Hill imports. I'd never tried it, and I was damned if I was going to be all alone. Well, it tasted mostly like fruit juice, tropical fruit juice, but perked up right nice when I tipped some bourbon in it. Finally around 1:30 we called it a night. I'm sorry there are no pictures, but it's probably for the best.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Evan Williams Single Barrel: the Saga Continues

I'm headed out to Louisville this weekend for a preview launch of this year's Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbon. Heaven Hill has done a great job with this whiskey, and Parker Beam has picked some fine barrels over the years. It is, I think, still one of the great bargains in bourbon, and one I usually buy a few bottles of over the course of the year. Should be fun...and maybe I'll find the inspiration to give you a few more of those Kentucky Bourbon Festival posts I promised. I'm taking the notes along, so we'll see. Cheers!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

STAG Poll #2: More Hops!

Which Beer Really Needs More Hops?

89 votes cast:
Victory HopDevil 13 (14%)
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid 4 (4%)
Stone Ruination IPA 11 (12%)
Bud Effin' Light 56 (62%)
Salvator 5 (5%)

I'm pleased to see that this was taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

You knuckleheads.

SBP: Clipper City considering a session beer

Take a gander at this entry in Hugh Sisson's Diary of a Brewer. The Clipper City Brewing founder wrote the piece, "In Praise of Session Beer," both to do just that, and to let us know that Clipper City is considering a session beer. Here's what he said.

Perhaps if more breweries made an effort to market more “session” like beers that would help, but not if the consumer base doesn’t support the concept. Perhaps a “competition” to create the best session beer would help. I don’t think trying to get more pubs to do cask ale would be successful – too many pubs do not really know how to handle cask beer and the American consumer doesn’t really understand it anyway. And many brewers (myself included) have to really think about how marketable the “session” concept really is.

Having said that, however, I still think it a very worthwhile concept to try and develop. I am planning on discussing this with my brewing team over the next few weeks to see if we can come up with a product with good flavor, high drinkability, and an ABV around 3.5%. Don’t know if we will be able to sell it, but if it works, it will become my way of paying homage to the great English tradition that started me on my career in beer.


I'm not sure that a 3.5% non-cask conditioned beer will be a success -- much of the flavor and beauty of classic session beers comes from that liveliness. Maybe there would be enough market for a two-track approach, with cask for some markets. But I do know that I'm very pleased to see someone give it a fair shot. If I see it, I'm buying it. I urge you to do likewise, and if you like it, buy more...feel free to buy a lot more.

Far-off Thunder

Baltic Thunder has been delayed. The release date of October 15 (and the big unofficial launch party at The Drafting Room in Exton) has been pushed back indefinitely: glass problems. According to an e-mail I got from Patrick at the Drafting Room, he was told by Steve German (the big mahoff of sales at Victory) that the 750 ml bottles had come in far enough out of spec that their bottling line couldn't handle them. They're going to 22 oz. glass instead, which will require changes to labeling and packaging (stop me if you've heard this before), all of which means that we won't get any Baltic Thunder for a while yet.

No one has explained yet why this means a draft release has to be delayed. Maybe because no one asked the guys at Victory. Bill, Ron, Steve: consider it asked. I understand that it's a good thing to have a single release, to come out with draft and bottle all at once. But we've been waiting patiently, and this is a big in-group thing to begin with. Couldn't we get a draft release for a couple months while this bottle mess gets straightened out? Please?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dog Days at Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Distillery is once again celebrating the start of the fall distilling season with Dog Days. This Thursday, October 11, visitors to the distillery will get a rare chance to sample fresh, unaged whiskey -- "white dog" -- right off the big still at 140 proof. You'll get some Buffalo Trace bourbon, too, but you don't get white dog every day! Get the details here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Even Penderyn Loves 'Que

When I was paying for the great barbeque eating at Allen & Son, I saw a hand-lettered sign at the register: "Hickory-Smoked Bones: $1." Hey, I thought, Little Mister Dog might like that. So I got one. LMD was very excited to see me when I got home (Cathy said he'd been lying by the front door, waiting for me to come home), but when I got the bone out he got very serious.

He sniffed it all over, took it in his mouth (with substantial overlap; it was about 7" long), and trotted out into the backyard without a backwards glance. I heard gnawing noises the rest of the night till bedtime, when I had to go out and bring the little guy in...with about two inches of leftover bone. He was at it again this morning (the pic above which shows the remaining stub in his mouth), a very happy dog. 'Que, gotta love it.

Why Not Mention This?

There's a truly disturbing story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today about underage drinking in Haddonfield, New Jersey. They've had two teenage deaths directly related to alcohol in the past seven months, teens taken to the hospital for heavy drinking in the past two weeks, and a serious problem with underaged house parties when parents go away, including one disgusting incident in which...well, a lot of really nasty stuff happened. I'm not going to sensationalize this post with it, just say that this "party" did $18,000 of damage to the house. That one's been an ongoing story as a small number of kids wiggled off the hook with the help of their parents and lawyers, disgusting the readers of Monica Yant Kinney's column in the Inky. It's turning into a nasty class thing, with everyone talking about "those rich white kids in Haddonfield."

Two things to note. First, I'm appalled. Not only is this out of hand, but this is almost all about kids who are well under 18. The girl who invited students to the piss-piano-poo party was 14. I'm appalled by the age, I'm appalled by the lack of effective punishment. This is one of the main reasons I'm pushing an 18 LDA: so we can focus enforcement efforts on students under 18. The New Drys say an 18 LDA will put more booze in the hands of under 18 students. Reading this story, I don't hardly see how. I say, an 18 LDA will let us stop wasting time and money trying to get college students to stop drinking, and let us help parents keep an eye on their at-home kids.

But the real thing that got me writing this in the first place...is that no one has mentioned that Haddonfield is a dry town. Since 1873. Dry town. Another great policy that is just working so swell. Do you need one more piece of evidence that prohibition doesn't work?

New Jersey towns...they've got a 'grass-roots' movement going now to spread the keg registration stupidity one town at a time. I've seen this in other states, most recently in Iowa. They get town after to town to swallow this policy placebo, and then start telling them that the reason it's not working -- which it won't -- is because "the kids" are just buying kegs in the town next door (plenty of those in NJ, too), so what we really need is a state-wide law.

Right. And that worked so well with the dry movement that spawned Haddonfield's Noble Experiment.

One More Box of Meat

I headed for home Sunday afternoon, after dropping off Carl at his place south of Richmond. We have a choice when we come back from Carl's: we can take our chances with the heavy traffic on I-95, chancing that we won't get hung up going around DC and Baltimore (and pay $11 worth of tolls), or we can peel off onto US Rt. 301, through the woods of Fort A.P. Hill and across the Potomac on the big bridge at Dahlgren, chancing that there's no accidents and the traffic lights don't hit us wrong.

I decided to take the road less-traveled. It was a nice day, traffic wasn't too heavy, and, um...there's Johnny Boy's Ribs on 301 in La Plata, Maryland. I figured by the time I got to Johnny Boy's, I'd be ready for lunch. After a real easy run over the river and through the woods, I pulled off the road and smelled that aroma of hickory smoke. Mmm, boy. I've only eaten here once before, years ago, and I remember mostly that it was cold and windy as I determinedly ate my minced pork at the outside picnic table (no indoor seating at Johnny Boy's). I didn't really know what I was eating, didn't have any kind of appreciation for it. Today, I was ready.

I was going to get minced pork, just to make things fair, when I saw the sign. The name of the place is Johnny Boy's Ribs, I thought, and remembered what Carl had said earlier that morning: sometimes, ribs are just what you want. Screw it: "Half a slab, please, with a side of beans."

The ribs came in a neatly folded cardboard box, lined with foil; the beans in a styro container. The beans were okay, tasted like doctored canned beans: good, but not a lot better than I can do at home. The ribs, though, were excellent. Cut into individual pigsicles, they were meaty and ripe with smoke, with the pinkness that shows the smoke has penetrated the meat.

Johnny Boy's is well-known for their Mama Sophie's sauce, and I should have, I guess, but I wanted to taste the meat. If that was a mistake, it's one I can happily live with. I sucked every bit of meat from the bones, delighting in the meatier ones, gnawing on the leaner ones, and licking the scrumptious grease from my fingers. I took my time, as good ribs will force you to do, and enjoyed every minute.

When I was done, I cleaned up, tossed my trash, got back in the car, and headed north, sticking to Rt. 301 and trying a new route, across the Bay Bridge and up the DelMarVa to Dover. It worked well, and the flat Eastern Shore landscape looked gorgeous in the late afternoon light. I got home about 7:00, and gave Penderyn a big old hickory-smoked bone from Allen & Son. He took it out in the backyard and gnawed on it for an hour in the dark. I knew how he felt.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Best Damned Barbecue

You might be wondering whether I went to Durham for the World Beer Festival, or if I really went for the barbecue and dropped by the fest on a whim. You'd be close. I won't deny that the barbecue was a strong lure when Julie Bradford asked me to speak at the fest. But the bonus turned out to be when I put the word out at the Friday night brewers' reception that I was looking for the best 'cue in town, please, and not the place you send tourists to. Your place. The Real Deal. Smoke Heaven.

Daniel Bradford, All About Beer publisher, came through, in spades: "You want Allen & Son. It's in Chapel Hill, about a 20 minute drive. We'll figure out how to get you there between sessions." Perfect. It got even perfecter (ha!) when I hit the Web and learned that they opened at 10 AM on Saturdays. Carl and I were parked out front at 10:07. A quick peek around back confirmed that not only was Allen & Son the 'real deal' and used real wood-fired pits, they were hard-core Old School: there wasn't just wood back there, there were big freakin' logs that they were cutting and splitting themselves, presumably to either save some money or get just the billets they wanted. Or both.

We went in, and "Hunting Camp" went through my mind: dead heads on the wall, old furniture and linoleum, and woodsmoke. We dropped anchor beside the two figures you see to the left -- the pig showing a slightly uncomfortable amount of emotion in his little ceramic eyes -- and were greeted by our waitress Jennaraye. I told her we were there the first time, and asked her what we should have. Pulled pork was her suggestion, which got right to the issue: how's your pig? I'm much more a pulled pork/minced pork kinda guy than a rib-lover. Carl got it with fries, I got the tatie salad.

She brought us a basket of hush puppies to start, rough, non-uniform, and dark, both inside and out. They were still hot, and I grabbed one by the sharp, crusty corner, and bit in. Glory. These were the best hush puppies I've ever had. They were moist, heavy, a bit coarse, and sweet with corn; no spices, no onion that I could detect, just delicious cornmeal. I asked her what cornmeal they used -- after I had moaned and shuddered my way through about four of them -- and all I could get from what she was saying was that it was a local brand, House of Ayard? Or something. I'm checking a grocery store on the way out of town this morning; if you know what she's talking about, pass it on.

Then the pig came. Hey, you read the title of the post, right? I can't keep you in suspense, right? It was The Best Damned Barbecue I remember having. It was boldly smoky, smoke-infused, with a hot-pepper vinegar dressing (I know I'm a bad man, but I can't bring myself to call the east Carolina vinegar and pepper thing, delicious though it is, "sauce") and plenty of browned chunks of outside meat and a couple chunks of skin. We just fell on it. My tater salad was good, but not exceptional, the slaw was peppery and okay. Carl's french fries were outstanding, meaty strips of spud, fried down just right.

I could not resist dessert when Jennaraye asked. I got peach cobbler, which was real downhome and good, but I should have resisted her suggestion that I get the homemade vanilla ice cream: it was at least a day old and grainy. Cobbler was quite good though.

If I get near the Triangle again, bet your soul: I'll be at Allen & Son.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Session #8: Beer & Food, Part 3

It was a long night till I was hungry again after the gut-stuffing at Parker's: minced pork, Brunswick stew, string beans in pot liquor, hush puppies, fried chicken....Damn. And those boys at Parker's stand ready to get you more, more, more. God bless 'em, even if they don't have beer.

But Tyler's Taproom put out a spread for the World Beer Festival's brewer's reception: salmon spread, shrimp, artichoke dip... what the hell? No 'que? I dipped a bit, but mostly drank: Bell's Two-Hearted, Sierra Nevada Harvest, Big Boss Surrender Monkey (and the oak-aged Surrender Monkey, which was a totally different, totally excellent beer), and BridgePort IPA, an unexpected pleasure. Tyler's did have taps o'plenty, and good stuff, but short on dark beers, which hurt.

Then about 9 PM they suddenly brought out a tray of sharply vinegary 'que, and I grabbed my glass of New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout, shouted HOORAY!, and grabbed pork. Mmmmm, baby. Beer met pig and rejoiced. Vinegar melted into rich pigmeat and thoroughly mellow malty/bitter stout, and all was good. A soothing wrap for an acidic/meaty mix.

So what do we learn? Couple things. First, NC is a great place for barbecue. Hell yeah. Second, NC is not a great place for beer and food (but you can sneak around it sometimes). That sucks, truly, and the whole "family atmosphere" thing is crap that needs to be addressed by beer drinkers: it needs to be proven that "beer with dinner" clearly does not mean "drunks with dinner." Sanctimonious weeners.

The prime lesson, of course, is that it's a good thing to put the right beer with your chow. It can really make things better, more clear, maybe even synergistically delish. It can help the beer or the food or both.

Mmmmm...barbecue works well with malty beers. Yeah.

The Session #8: Beer & Food, Part 2

Tough to get to a WiFi. Sorry not to have put these up in real time, as planned. We're in our room in Durham now, and I'm writing.

Carl and I decided to go for BBQ greatness by going down I-95 to Wilson, and then west across Rt. 264 to Durham. We started lunch, pre-lunch, with some minced pork and slaw at Ralph's in Roanoke Rapids. We checked Ralph's buffet, found it impressive, but offering too much variety for our plans for the day: "This is a marathon," Carl observed. "We need a longer-term strategy." So we got takeout, and enjoyed it in the parking lot with another Saranac Ofest.



Damn me if it wasn't good: the mellow pork, the sharp vinegar/pepper dressing/sauce, and the roundly sweet Ofest. We were disappointed by a lack of smoke in the pork, but weren't about to let that stop our enjoyment. Rain poured down as we passed the slaw and pork and beer back and forth; roaring on the roof at times, gently dripping at others. The mustardy slaw, the pig-sweet meat, and good beer...NC BBQ joints don't really go for beer, you gotta grab it, and it's worth it, and, well, maybe it's sweeter for being slightly illicit. (I had the keys on the dashboard the whole time, BTW; might as well be obviously not drinking and driving.)

We went on down to Wilson, and stopped at Parker's, and ate a big feast...with no beer. Food...with no beer. This was really good, but a big mug of beer would have been better. It yanks me when I can't have a beer, when I'm not allowed to have a beer with my dinner. It rankles me when the New Drys say "You don't have to have beer to have fun" but they won't go with the converse, which is "You don't have to be abstemious to be virtuous." Jerks. Pass me another bowl of minced pork, willya?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Session #8: Beer & Food, Part I

I'm back in The Session, after two unfortunately badly-timed months where I missed it. This time it's on the theme of Beer and Food, the baby of Captain Hops at Beer Haiku Daily. And...I thought I'd do something by way of a salute to Stephen Beaumont's latest "Taste" column in Malt Advocate, in which he praises the early drink, admonishing us not to giggle at the idea of beer with breakfast.

Indeed. So I'm going to have beer with each meal today, and post three times. Right now I'm at my brother-in-law Carl's place in Chester, VA. I drove down yesterday afternoon (stopping for lunch at La Tolteca, in Waldorf, MD, which we stumbled on in August during a traffic jam and has become a regular stop: chalupa, enchilada, and a cold Negra Modelo) and spent the night, preparatory to driving to the World Beer Festival in Durham. This morning it's scrambled eggs, with tomatoes, munster, and leftover carnitas from last night's dinner. Oh, and a Saranac Octoberfest. It's 9 AM, and I am not giggling, Stephen.

Why this beer? Well, I like the Saranac beers, been drinking them for 20 years. I also figured the maltiness of the Ofest would set off the spicy pork nicely. Let's put that to the test: it's official, I'm a genius! No, really, this is good. The eggs are good stuff on their own, but with the beer in the mouth, things really light up. The beer gives the flavors in the melange the Playtex Bra Effect; it lifts and separates them. (Anyone else remember those ads? I've been wanting to use that phrase for years.) The pork steps out, I can taste the cheese clearly, even the tomatoes taste fresher. The beer's fresh as rain too, easy to swallow and grab for more. Great job on that, cheers to the folks in Utica.

Next stop: barbeque. Wonder if there's places where they'll let me have a beer. Yeek.

Much More Chill*

I've got a new Massachusetts Beverage Business piece up, a longer, more detailed look at the Chill/Chelada story, which quotes a very good story from 2001 on the origins of the whole thing. So...if the first piece didn't piss off enough of you craft beer lovers, this one may do the job!

*If you recognize the name of this singing group, God bless you. If you sang in it, you were great!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Southbound

I'm off today for the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. The folks at All About Beer magazine invited me down to the festival, to check things out and to give a seminar on Dark Beers. I've been checking out the beer list and getting interested; this is going to be a great chance to try some new breweries.

It's also a chance to try some new 'que. I'm going with my brother-in-law Carl Childs, who is about as much a barbeque hound as I am a beer hound. Carl's got the best smoke pits en route and in Durham mapped and plotted, and we is gonna be eatin' some pig. Should enable me to get back in the swing of The Session, our monthly beer blog-a-rama (I've missed the last two months, regrettably), which is Beer and Food this month, put on by Beer Haiku Daily. Beautiful.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Sixer for your Thoughts

I've got a new Buzz up on my website: A Six-pack of Thoughts. There are some continuing problems with drinking, and I just had to take a swing at a few of them: alcohol-fueled bad behavior, booze used as a scapegoat, rising beer prices without rising brewer's profits, the crappy situation with drinking in Pennsylvania, squealing anti-alcohol New Dry weenies, and the disaster we call bar licenses. Feast your eyes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cheap keg deposits are a steal

My latest Condé Nast Portfolio column is on the high price of kegs. Keg prices have about doubled in ten years, and it's causing major problems for small brewers -- who sell a much higher percentage of their beer in draft than the majors -- and some deposit sticker shock for drinkers. Ninety dollars for a keg deposit? It's only fair.