Monday, November 26, 2007

Pennsylvania Remains State with Dumbest Beer Law...Or Maybe Not

Update to the premature blathering below: I just got the following from PA State Senator Sean Logan (45th District, suburban Allegheny County, Democrat):

It is not dead. There were additional issues that needed to be addressed and those issues were going to be inserted into House Bill 1420. However, we have not worked these additional issues out yet and therefore needed to table House Bill 1420. It is not dead and we hope that we will have a vote on it before the end of the year.

Sean Logan


So...we'll keep an eye open...and maybe keep our mouths shut. There's a lesson here for me... Oh, and those "additional issues"? The latest iteration of the bill on the PA Legislative website shows language that would allow single bottle sales of "holiday" special beers, the big bottles of stuff that is just ridiculous to buy a case at a time, like magnums of Chimay or Mad Elf, and...Utopias.

Previously... The latest effort to kill Pennsylvania's ridiculous "Case Law," the law that requires beer bought at the off-premise beer stores Pennsylvanians call "beer distributors," is dead. This one had a lot of promise, seemed to have support and reasonable people thinking it had a good chance of getting through. But oh-so-quietly, it died in committee last week, in a quiet Monday of Thanksgiving week. Why? I don't know at this point, but I'm going to ask everyone I know who has an in. I want to know who did this, and why. If you've got any substantive clues, pass 'em on; don't waste everyone's time with baseless speculation about an unholy alliance of megabrewers and Bible-thumpers.

Thanks to Guy Hagner for the news. Guy's real close to opening One Guy in Berwick, by the way.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lozen Boer

Last night, I opened up another of those DeProef samples I got: Lozen Boer Abt, a 10% Abbey style ale. I'm not sure what "Lozen Boer" means, but there's a graphic of a man walking a cow down a path in the moonlight with the words "Legend of the Cow Smuggler." It scares me.

The beer was not what you'd expect from an abbey style, but maybe exactly what you'd expect from a DeProef abbey. It was dark, with a tight cap of dark cream foam, and it was malty, but the resemblance to the ordinary ended there. Lozen Boer was relatively dry for an Abbey, not richly sweet as they can be, and it had a spicy... no, really more an herbal complexity to it that was quite pronounced. I had planned on having a glass, but it was so drinkable I wound up sitting out on the cool back deck in the moonlight, drinking the whole thing. Very different.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Mating of Giants in the offing?

Rumors continue to circulate about a true merger of giant brewers Anheuser-Busch and InBev. I've heard them for a while, but the pace is accelerating, and today an industry analyst said that the SABMiller purchase of Grolsch would give such a merger more urgency.

Madness. Take a look at Stan's exegesis of Melisa "Girl's Guide to Beer" Cole's post about the "tumbling" pub beer sales in the UK. It's not beer sales that are down, it's lowest common denominator beer sales that are down. Specialty beers are up 7.5%, and it looks like they'll be up in double digits again this year in the U.S., too. The big guys are so busy merging and consolidating and making the market safe for their one kind of beer, that they apparently haven't noticed that the thing people seem to want less and less of is ... one kind of beer.

Anyone know where these guys can buy a clue? A-B is making some good beers, but it sure looks like they're afraid to go all-in on them. Miller sees that variety means good business, but then executes with Chill, essentially High Life with lime flavoring, which completely misses the point. And Coors has Blue Moon zooming, and seems to have no idea how to handle it, they're scared to death that if they come right out and publicly admit it's theirs, people will stop drinking it.

The hell of it is, Coors may well be right. No one really knows for certain why craft beers are doing so well, and the scary thought is that it may have nothing to do with how they taste. I see it a lot. People are buying this stuff, they have no idea what it is, or what it tastes like, but it's different and it looks different, and it costs more, so...they drink it. Kinda mindless. Kinda scary.

New Jersey Breweries done...

At last! I just finished writing and printed the manuscript off, sent the file to the publisher, it's done. Till the edits come back, that is.

Great job by my co-author, Mark Haynie, a New Jersey native and fellow founding member of the New Jersey Association of Beerwriters, and much thanks to the brewers and bar owners of New Jersey!

And now...back to blogging.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SAB Miller to buy Grolsch

Saw this news and couldn't help thinking (amid the screaming madness of finishing this damnable book) about how frenzied and almost silly all this looks. A-B just took over the importation of Grolsch last year, and now SABMiller is buying it out from under them, which is going to set off another small wave of wholesaler realignments, and chagrin at A-B over the money they spent on some very slick ads on the brand. Did SABMiller do it just to screw them? Probably not, but it must have made it tastier.

SABMiller has been calling the A-B strategy of getting more upscale brands to their wholesalers through strategic alliances a "funnel" strategy; that's what the whole business is starting to look like at the macro level. All the brands and brewers that make mainstream pilsneroid beer are being pushed and herded and squeezed into the ever-tighter neck of the funnel... No, wait. It's not a funnel, it's a horn. A sausage-stuffing horn. Yeah. It's all getting chopped and blended and made into one thing. I like sausage, but I don't think I like this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

About those hops prices...

...almost forgot to mention: a brewer told me today that he'd been quoted $32 a pound for Cascades. Cascades are the workhorse of craft beer, the bedrock of many a pale ale and IPA. $32 a pound is more than insane, it's just ridiculous. Maybe I've underestimated how bad this is.

Beer-In-A-Box

I'm still working on New Jersey Breweries; got one of the very last interviews today at River Horse Brewing in Lambertville (where new owners with new money are starting to rev up this brewery; could be some interesting stuff coming in the near future). But last week I ran up the Delaware River to Milford and talked with Tim Hall, brewer at the Ship Inn.

The Ship's always been a favorite for their cask Ringwood ales, and I've got a lot of fun stuff to share on it -- in the book. But at the end of the interview we did a quick run of the beers, including an ESB Tim had in the tanks, which was excellent: lively, fruity, just beer near the peak of condition. He said that if I liked it so much I should take some home. I think he really wanted to show off their new package: beer-in-a-box.

This is much like the wineboxes: a plastic bag full of beer inside a cardboard box. The boxes come in two sizes: 1.25 and 2.5 gallons. In this case, Tim tapped the still-fermenting beer right out of the tank into the bag for me. He filled it, capped it, and tucked in the little spigot to replace the cap when I was ready to drink. "Just keep it cool, and keep an eye on it," he said. "If it gets too full of gas, let a little off."

I had to do that once, but otherwise, just let it sit until today, when I tapped it before dinner. Man, does this ever work great! For a night, I've got about a gallon of great real ale in my house! It's fresh, lively, fruity, and has a deliciously bitter finish. Best of all, it's got that fine, light carbonation I highly prize in cask ale.

I don't know of any other place that's doing this, but if you get to the Ship, do it. Get the cask in the box, take it home and enjoy it. It's not cheap, but remember: it's more than twice your regular growler fill, and most brewpubs won't even fill a growler of cask ale. This rocks.

Which is why I had to blog about it, even when I'm this busy. Back to work!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Slow Week Again

Just a warning: don't expect much from me this week. I'm finishing up New Jersey Breweries, and I've got two other articles to do as well. I'll see you Thanksgiving week, eh? Meanwhile, here's a picture of Cathy and I at WhiskyFest New York with a glass of Anchor Christmas 2007, the stuff that was brewing the day we toured Anchor. Well, not that actual batch, you know...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A little more Lion dope

A reader sent me this link to a further Times Leader story. Not surprisingly, these former soft drink guys are fascinated by the Lion's work with contract soft drinks. The Lion has two assets that most soft drink bottlers don't have: a brew kettle, essential for making malta sodas, and a tunnel pasteurizer, crucial for juice drinks. As Leo Orlandini told me a few years ago, they've gotten very experienced with a number of different juice and soda packages and formulations over the past two decades. The key quote came at the end: "We don’t think we’re going to break stride at all,” Hammond said. That bodes well for all at the Lion, and for those of us who look forward to further growth and innovation from this big old brewery.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lion deal updates

Details are trickling in.

It is two soda guys: Ron Hammond and Cliff Risell, two former Coca-Cola bottling senior executives, backed by Blue Point Capital Partners, an Ohio-based investment company. Hammond and Risell collectively have "over 50 years of experience in the beverage industry."

Chuck Lawson and Pat Belardi -- former owners and CEO and CFO, respectively -- will continue on for the time being.

More, from the Times Leader:

“Certainly we want to grow the business,” Hammond said Tuesday afternoon. He said employees should not be affected by the change in ownership and that former owners Chuck Lawson and Patrick Belardi would continue to be involved.

Lawson led the 1999 purchase of the brewery that opened in 1905, paying $18.5 million. Hammond declined to provide the price he and Risell paid.


Love to know that price. One of my sources is guessing $30 million.

So far, all good. And no, folks, no Pabst, no Southampton, and no Yards.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Major Pennsylvania brewery sold

The Lion Brewery, in Wilkes-Barre, has been sold.

Details when I get them, but it's a solid story. Been a lot of rumor on this one for the past three months, now it looks like it's really happening.

Update: Some details are starting to trickle in from a variety of in- and out-of-house sources. The buyers have backgrounds in soda distribution -- not a bad thing -- and plan to continue the expansion begun by the current owners, perhaps to include a canning line...finally. They want to increase the distribution and sales of the Lion's own brands, too, a welcome sentiment.

Might I suggest to the new owners: get some good salespeople on the streets in the Scranton & Wilkes-Barre area! It's still way too hard to find Lion beers on tap in this home area, something that Yuengling always had, and still does -- Yuengling sales make up something like 45% of beer sold in their home county. You gotta have a base to build from. Hey, I saw some Lion product placements in a recent episode of The Office (Lionshead and Pocono): follow up! And spend some money on promotion. Spending on the plant's great, but like the song goes, "How can you win the world if nobody knows you're there?" ("Hey Look Me Over", from Wildcat) You've got a great product in Steg 150, one that should be on in every bar in Wilkes-Barre, but nobody knows about it.

Oh, and just for me? BRING BACK SUMMER STOCK LAGER! Had to be said. What a great hot afternoon beer. A sixtel of Summer Stock should be the official softball beer of Pennsylvania.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Moxie

Just opened up a big bottle of Moxie Sour Ale, a limited edition 10th anniversary brew from New Holland Brewing, Holland, Michigan. It seemed like a good time to do it: fall afternoon, cool, sunny, out on the deck, enjoying what's probably one of the last nice days for shirtsleeve weather (okay, long sleeves, and a sweater vest).

Honestly? I was prepared to not like this. I've had mixed experiences with New Holland beers; completely unimpressed with the Mad Hatter, bowled over in love with Black Tulip Tripel, quite taken with The Poet Oatmeal Stout. A sour beer? It's the hot thing, and very faddish, but hard to do well. I was afraid this might be a tongue-ripper, especially with that name (had some Moxie in Maine this summer; wow. Nerve tonic).

I was wrong. This stuff's delish. It's got big sour cherry flavor, but it's not thin and acidic with it. There's some real body to it, something that way too many of the sour ales are lacking. The woodiness is great for balance (I don't know if there's wood-aging involved, but the wood notes are definitely there), and the finish is clean and firm. There may not be a lot of this out there, but if you see it (or some of that Black Tulip), get it.
(I added this for you, Brad: that's freehand, two pumpkins, two candles. Magic, that; best I've ever done.)

Happy in Hoboken

I'm finishing up bar visits for New Jersey Breweries, the next guidebook, which I'm co-authoring with Mark Haynie. It's all for the book, of course, but one place I stopped yesterday was just so good, I had to share.

Helmers' Cafe (1036 Washington St., Hoboken) was second on my list for the day, and to tell the truth, I was running late because of rain and heavy traffic, and seriously thinking about skipping it. But once I saw the outside, I had to stop (even though parking was as bad as any place I've ever seen).

Good call. Helmers' has a great tap selection, split between craft and German imports. I had an Ettaler Kloster Dunkel (smooth, malty, with an edge of roastiness...God, I hope it's not just Sinamar...) that tasted so nice I decided to throw the schedule in the dumper (I skipped an Irish joint in Secaucus instead...do I really need to tell people about just another Irish pub?) and have lunch. I got a sauerbraten sandwich, which was tender and tangy, with fresh-cut fries that I had to restrain myself from finishing.

But Helmers' is more than just beer and food. A very nice selection of spirits sat on the classy backbar, and the bartender was smooth and professional. I was very happy to see a hand-operated juice press not just prominently displayed but being used regularly; there's just nothing like fresh juices in cocktails.

I don't know if I'll ever get back to Hoboken. Washington Street was a very neat strip, with gorgeous old architecture and tons of restaurants and shops, but it's just not on my usual routes at all. But if I do, Helmers' is on the shortest of lists for a return visit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Session: Music and Memory

It's time again for The Session, when beer bloggers around the world are invited to write on a similar topic. This month it's "beer and music," suggested and collected by Tomme Arthur, brewer extraordinaire for Port Brewing/Lost Abbey. The collected entries are compiled here.

To Alte Kameraden...


My very first days of truly discovering beer had a classic soundtrack; appropriate, because I was learning about classic beers. I was introduced to beer out of the mainstream at the Lauzus Hotel, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an old hotel bar with a tile mosaic floor, tin ceiling, and a big-hearted old German owner, Wilhelm Lauzus.

Wilhelm's idea of 'how to do it' was a long set of coolers full of beers on the wall opposite the long carved wood bar, a cooler from which you would select a beer, take it up to the bar and hand to him or his barman, a crusty old Dane named Per. Once Wilhelm had the beer -- an Altenmünster, a Maisel, a Sailer, a Duvel -- he would inspect the label, cock an eye at you, open the beer, and hand it to you, always with a comment. Kronenbourg: "Alsatian beer. Really belongs to us." Augustiner Maximator: "Give one of these to your girlfriend, ho ho ho." Pabst: "If you want..." Then would come the beer's price -- and the most expensive beer he carried was $2.50 -- and you would pay -- cash, round by round -- and then have a seat.
I had been drinking for three years when I first walked into Wilhelm's place. Pabst, Genny Cream, Bud, and a lot of Rolling Rock. Oh, and National Bohemian, Rheingold, National Premium, Schmidt's, Duquesne, when we didn't have much money. I drank it because it was cold, it tasted good -- eventually -- and yeah, for the buzz.

Then I wound up at Wilhelm's with an Altenmünster in my hand -- "The fliptop's nice, no?" -- and my world changed, right then.
And the tune playing on the jukebox was "Lili Marlene." Wilhelm had stocked the two right-side rows of the jukebox with beerhall music, swing tunes, and even some short classical pieces. The rest of the juke was the same old crap everyone had, classic rock, pop. But I got used to drinking good beer, great beer, to the oompah sounds of Alte Kameraden ("Old Comrades"), Lili, and the Radetzky March. I would clink glasses with my friends, and grin, and swallow deeply of the great refreshing stuff while the brass blared and the drums thumped. We thought it was great fun in those days, and I still do.

Maybe that's why I still like lagers, because they were my first non-mainstream beers, and maybe that's why I still have a deep love for beerhalls and their traditional tunes. It all comes together sometimes, in a way that makes you hope it will never come apart.

Guy Talk: spinning some numbers

Guy Hagner continues to inch towards opening his One Guy Brewing Company in Berwick, PA; he's sent some pictures of the progress -- it's amazing the difference a drop ceiling makes. Here's his latest installation of Guy Talk, a kind of short lecture series on stuff you may not have ever thought about beer. Ever think about just how much yeast is in beer?


NUMBERS

Years ago I read a sci-fi novel in which humans encountered a planet populated by only a few hundred different species of life. The contrast was made with the riotous, virtually limitless diversity and sheer quantity of life found on Earth.

Ever since I’ve been interested in these questions: How many different forms of life exist? What is the total population of living organisms on Earth? The numbers are surely staggering. I can’t give a guess as to the answers, except in the area of brewing.

Brewers’ yeast is a single-cell organism. As microscopic life-forms go it is fairly large (most bacteria are an order of magnitude smaller and viruses are another step or 2 down in size) yet their numbers are huge. A brewer will typically add 10 to 20 million yeast cells per milliliter (ml) of wort to start the fermentation.

Think about that: One ml of wort is about one-thirtieth of a US ounce, and begins fermentation with a quantity of yeast equal to the human population of one of the world’s largest cities. Not only that but the yeast will at least triple in population during the fermentation. For ease of calculation let’s call it 50 million yeast cells per ml during the height of fermentation.

So per ounce of fermenting beer there are 1.5 billion yeast cells. To make one 12-ounce bottle of beer it takes more individual yeast organisms than the number of people that have ever lived.

Annual global production of beer is approx. 1.45 billion barrels (1.7 billion hectoliters). I’m assuming the average fermentation time is a week; so in round numbers the barrelage of beer actively fermenting at any given time is 1.45 billion divided by 52 weeks or 28 million barrels.

Bear with me through this step.
28,000,000 barrels times
31 gallons per barrel times
128 ounces per gallon times
1,500,000,000 yeast cells per ounce equals:


166,656,000,000,000,000,000 individual yeast cells.

So the brewing world’s contribution to the total population of earth is about 166 quintillion.

What’s this all mean? I’m not sure, but if anyone wants to take an educated guess as to the total size of Earth’s population I’d like to hear it.

In the sci-fi story all the planet’s organisms were inter-connected in some creepy way. As the space explorers’ ship returned to Earth there were several stowaways intent on assimilating all of Earth’s life. I don’t think they realized the size of the job ahead of them…

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Maybe not so much...

I don't really have much to post about WhiskyFest New York: we got into town late the night before, did set-up all morning (same as SF, pretty much), Cathy and I both worked in our room after lunch, and then the actual fest was pretty much like SF, except for the awards. John's got his view of the Fest up here; I'll echo his words on the Crown Royal Cask 16. Wow. That's Canadian whisky? A whole new niche opening up, along with Forty Creek. Oh, and the 1979 Glenlivet Lorne Mackillop poured me was just pretty damned special, as was the Caol Ila he had. I sent a few people that way, and no one came back disappointed.

But the one thing I did want to post about was a disappointment. As I said, we did get in late Monday night -- had dinner with the kids and my parents, then caught the NJ Transit train up and walked to the Marriott from Penn Station -- but I was ready to head out, and I did, by myself. I've wanted to check out Stout for quite a while; I really like the two sister restaurants/bars, St. Andrew's and Maggie's Place, and the idea of a bar focusing on stout got me going.

Stout was a disappointment. 22 taps and only three stouts on tap -- the ubiquitous Guinness, Murphy's, and a very nice Keegan's Mother's Milk (which is what I had two imperial pints of for $6 each, not bad for Manhattan) -- just left me shaking my head, especially since the rest of the tap selection was so totally pedestrian. Sure there are a lot of stouts in bottles, but so what? StoutNYC is supposed to be Irish; how many Irishmen you ever seen drinking stout from a bottle? Add into that the way my three bucks in cash disappeared from the bar in front of me (I was glued to the Green Bay/Denver game), something that's never happened in years of bar-hopping, and it was not a great experience. Stout felt like just another crowded NYC bar with the usual loudmouths and shot-knockers. After the brilliant atmosphere and service at St. Andrew's and Maggie's Place, it was quite a let-down.