Wednesday, August 27, 2008
There are weeks when we get a lot of kale and chard, and I sigh, and long for spinach and strawberries and radishes. Then there are weeks like this when I can eat tomatoes to my heart's content (I had two huge ones sliced up with a can of tuna for lunch), and bless the good earth. This weather rules: bring on the Fall.
“A bunch of guys talk in the market,” said Don Feinberg, a founder of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., and an importer for Vanberg & DeWulf there. “We’ve all been saying the same thing for about 18 months now, which is, enough of the high octane.”Rock on, Don! If it were just a little easier to find these beers...I wonder if we'd see more sales. Sounds like the USDOT is putting on a DUI push: why not get behind that?
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Wow. Back to work.
Can we make Michael Nutter mayor for life? Can suburbanites vote for him?
A new kind of event, so far as I know, but I would expect nothing less from the man who invented The Royal Stumble (picture at right is the Stumble, the kind of action which will not take place at Memphis!). I'm really bummed that I won't make this -- I'll be in upstate NY with the wife's family (all three brothers and families, and my marvelous CO2 tap, and the bikes). I dunno how this sidesteps the law about clearly marked taphandles, but I don't care, either; truly, I don't care at all. I just wish I could join the fun.
I've been thinking about "beer events" a lot lately, and talking to some other folks about them. This kind of thing, and the Stumble, and the recent Battle of the Brewery Bands at Stoudt's (where I judged, and had the fantastically fun time you see to the right), are great: new ideas, new ways for people to have fun with beer, get together over more kinds of beer, and think about their beer without getting stupidly wrapped up in it. I'd like to see more possibilities for talking over beers without having to yell, though, and the Mystery Beer Weekend looks like just that kind of opportunity. I trust Brendan to keep it light, keep it from getting geeked out -- because the man's got a talent for piercing geekiness.
So... enjoy yourselves, and drink my share. And Sandy Mitchell, if you don't come to Philly for this and put your money where your big "I taste blind at Max's" mouth is, I call you "weenie."
Monday, August 25, 2008
I’m chasing the twilight of summer here, finally getting to tasting the samples of Deschutes’s summer seasonal, Twilight Ale. It’s a golden-hued ale, clean and bright, with a snow-white cap of foam. The nose is fresh like just-baked bread when it reaches a cool temperature throughout, with a dash of grassy, lightly citrus-laced hop. The quaff is good and deep, just a bit maltily sweet before the hop-current cuts in. It’s not overdone – this is, after all, Deschutes, and I don’t recall a rudely hopped beer in the bunch – and leads the palate along to a clean-breaking finish that leaves just a bit of bitter behind it. This is really great outdoors beer, just the thing for enjoying with friends and scenery. I’m sorry the summer’s almost over, and with it, Twilight Ale.
I know nothing at all about Cricket Hill Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale except that it’s from Cricket Hill, it’s orangey in color and a little cloudy, and…it tastes kind of like a witbier, only a little bit heavier and more bitter. Like all the Cricket Hill beers I’ve had, it’s more in the session beer range, quaffable, and definitely not mainstream lager. Don’t know how much longer this will be around, but if you like witbier – Allagash, Celis, Hoegaarden, Blue Moon – you ought to try this to see if it hits you in your favored range on that spectrum. Me, it’s not making it. Kind of okay, but not okay enough.
So, the Dampf Bier. Fresh, drinkable, and nicely fruity. If they're aiming at Anchor with this one -- and they pretty much implied they were in the menu -- they hit inner ring on the first toss. The hops are there, that delightful freshness is there, the color and aroma. This was good stuff, and easy to put away. I downed the 12 oz. glass, and hit the road.
Thomas and I got to the house well before Cathy and Nora, so I went ahead and opened one of the growlers, and the first one I happened to grab was the Braumeister. I’m a big fan of this series, and not just for the educational aspects of getting to know particular hops better. Victory has a deft damned hand at making pilsners, and the Braumeisters are, well, pure and beautiful. I don’t feel silly or romantic saying that, either: these are great beers.
My notes: "The aroma is a bit floral, some light pine, and clean as a breeze, nothing cloying or crass or "beery." The taste, ahhh, it’s clean and light and crisp, with some malt heft behind the initial rush. It drinks phenomenally easy, by the sip or by the glass. Cathy better hurry, or this growler’s gonna be history." Between Uncle Don and me -- mostly me -- it was gone before she got there. She had to settle for the Gold Rush.
I’m not completely clear on what the Gold Rush is intended to be: a "golden ale" of the brewpub type that’s intended to replace Lite for that kind of drinker who wanders in by accident or comes with a crowd, or if it’s of the more ambitious golden ale variety that seeks to be a crisper, snappier, edgier pale ale. I suspect the latter, but I’m not sure.
Because it is quite a crisp, snappy pale ale, er, golden ale, and it’s damned drinkable. Cathy said "This tastes like frathouse beer!" but as a former frat-boy who drank gallons of slime-beer, I gotta disagree. Maybe it’s the slightly cat-piss character of the hops (and again – I say that in the very nicest of ways), maybe it’s the color, maybe it’s the slippery character of the malt (and I don’t know what Victory does differently, but they have that jump-down-your-throat-and-drink-me! malt characteristic down cold, and I like it). But I think she’s wrong. And she probably does too, since she just had another glass, by request. At the right time of day, this would be a big-glass quaffer.
How about it? It’s bright and clear, it’s a deep ruddy amber, the foam is creamy and light parchment-colored. I smell sweet fresh malt, some caramel, and piney hop. The flavor has all that, in fact, it delivers on the aroma in an almost one-to-one ratio, although the caramel masks the hops to a degree. The ale is not overly full in the mouth, somewhat on the light side, but that’s not really a surprise; A-B was surely intending this as a drinking beer, not a sipper. The biggest surprise for me here is the finish: it’s relatively long, and bitter.
Passing it around here at Tucquan (I wrote this while rusticating on the Susquehanna again, no trip to Conestoga this time) gets some interesting reactions. "Oh, that’s good. I could drink that!" (from Cathy, who’s pretty demanding on beer, but does like a nice pale ale) "That doesn’t taste like beer, that tastes like rye bread!" (my mother, who’s currently drinking a Reading (which, bless her, she insists on calling "Old Reading"), so I’ll take that as a positive), and "It’s not that hoppy" (Uncle Don, who’s drinking Coors Light, but has had many a craft and import with me).
Don’s right, it’s not that hoppy…but for something with "Budweiser" on the label, it’s plenty hoppy. More importantly, for a pale ale, it’s fine, easily as hoppy as SNPA. Actually, turns out it's not...quite. It's about 28 IBU, SNPA is about 32-34. I'd call that ballpark, though.
Interesting to note two things. One, the cap is a pry-off, not a twist-off. A-B has noted that the craft market doesn’t trust twist-off caps. Two, the label is damned near unreadable on that dark red-ochre background. Intentional? Or a rare screw-up?
I had a bottle of Michelob Pale Ale sent to me last week as well, so I decided to do a side-by side. It was revealing.
Not sure, but I think this is another tweak on this beer, which has been around in one form or another, in varying markets, since the mid-1990s. It’s quite a bit lighter that the Bud Ale, more a reddish gold. The nose is restrained (i.e., there ain’t much), mostly a light piney Cascades aroma. It’s fairly creamy with malt, the hop comes through with a brittle edge, and it finishes up quite clean, with a lingering bitterness.
Side-by side? Clearly two different beers. The Bud’s caramel malt gives it a much heavier mouthfeel than the Michelob’s pale malt, while the hoppy edge of the Mich makes it cleaner, crisper. And no, I cannot believe I’m writing those words: "Bud’s caramel malt…much heavier mouthfeel…hoppy edge of the Mich…"
The question for both these beers remains the same as it has for over ten years. Can a beer that is brewed in a "craft" profile, but labeled with a mainstream brand…ever sell? Who’s going to buy it? Bud drinkers? To be blunt: not effin’ likely. Craft drinkers? Maybe, but most of them will not want to buy a beer from A-B (or InBev, for that matter). Sorry, guys, but for the majority of serious craft drinkers, who makes the beer is as important (or more so) as what the beer tastes like. Crossover drinkers? Maybe. If we could ever get a solid number on just how many people who regularly drink Blue Moon know it’s a MolsonCoors product…I could give you a better answer.
Yeah. It really does say "We apologize for any convenience this may cause." A sad tale, and one which could lead to all kinds of bootless speculation. Here's my take. The pub is in an inconvenient spot, it always was; and it does not fall into Coastal's plan or desires. A-B doesn't do pubs; Ram's Head does their own. This thing was a thorn in their sides. It took them a while to realize that...and then they closed it. Too bad for all the regulars, guess they'll just have to go somewhere else. "We apologize for any convenience this may cause."
"The closing of the brewpub will allow Old Dominion Brewing Company to focus on its primary objective - producing authentic, high-quality craft beers and sodas.
This decision will have no impact on other operations of Coastal Brewing Company. Brands under both the Old Dominion and Fordham names will continue to be distributed and marketed along the east coast of the U.S.
We apologize for any convenience this may cause."
(Update: it's been changed, and now says "inconvenience." Typo? Or snarky in-joke?)
Friday, August 22, 2008
(Oh, and...apparently President Fry's on vacation; I got an auto-response to my e-mail that he was out of the office for a few weeks and would respond as soon as he could. I look forward to it.)
Dear President Fry,
As a Franklin & Marshall alumnus, Class of 1981, I would like to encourage you to consider signing the Amethyst Initiative (http://www.amethystinitiative.org/). I'm sure you're familiar with it after the nationwide coverage the initiative received this week: the Initiative seeks to encourage an honest, open, unemotional debate on the legal drinking age, currently a de facto national level at the age of 21.
Signing the Initiative does not commit you to any policy -- a lower drinking age, changes in drinking age enforcement, alcohol education programs, etc. It merely says that you encourage an open discussion of a policy and a federal mandate that is, right or wrong, all too tragically not working. MADD and other groups have characterized Initiative signatories as having "waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies," and are attempting to intimidate signatories into removing their names. I'm proud to note that this campaign has been completely ineffective; instead, as of this morning, 23 more college presidents have added their names to the Initiative.
Why not join them? If a policy has failed this badly, open debate -- on why it has failed and whether it can be made effective or should be changed -- is a positive and healthy approach. The Amethyst Initiative seeks to encourage that debate in an atmosphere clear of emotion, fear, and personal attacks. What could be more fitting in academia? Please consider lending your support to this call for debate.
Lew Bryson '81
Saturday, August 16, 2008
So, anyway, as I said, yesterday we slowly woke up (after a couple amusing/disturbing dreams I had about beer writers) and I took Cathy out on a walk down along Front Street. We passed the Hockey Hall of Fame and then got to our first destination, the wonderful St. Lawrence Market. As before, the market was almost overwhelmingly appealing, and terribly disappointing...in that we couldn't do anything with this bounty of fresh fish, beautifully fresh sausages, and the stunning array of vegetables, because we didn't have a kitchen!
I thoroughly envy the people in the area for this rich source of healthy eats-preparation...but we made do by getting a peameal sammich from the Carousel Bakery, and lord above, was it hot, juicy, and porkificently great. ("Peameal" is "Canadian bacon"... which is like explaining that DeuS is "beer.") I also got plenty of Kozlik's mustards (three jars of the Russians) and a pricey but excellent pack of "Indian candy": maple-cured salmon.
After we stopped drooling, we set out down to the Distillery district, grabbing a cup of joe at Second Cup on the way...and promptly hit Balzac's in the Distillery for more. Then it was down to Mill Street Brewery for some beer -- finally! I got an IPA that was ... hmmm, a moment and I'll come back to it; Cathy got a small Wit ("A halfwit," I chuckled/she groaned). Enjoyable atmosphere though the service was a bit slow, and the space is great: high ceilings, glass, nice fittings. The beer, though, was dull-edged, more bitter than hoppy, and just...lacking in the verve that I expect from an IPA. More about this shortly.
But for now, we had to run: Amy and John Hansell were coming in at the airport, and I'd volunteered to run out and pick them up. That was a hellride: it started pissing down rain about the time we called down to whistle up the Passat, and didn't let up. The Gardiner Expressway was slow and nasty from the heavy rain, and then it started frickin' hailing, stuff the size of small marbles! Sheesh. Things cleared up nicely, though, and soon we had them on-board, and headed back to Mill Street.
Sorry to say it was disappointing. The beer didn't get a lot better, though my Cobblestone Stout was pretty damned good, and the Coffee Porter was well done. But the Stock Ale -- sweet, and that's about it -- IPA -- "like homebrew," John said -- and ESB -- not very much differentiated from the IPA -- were ho-hummers. Kind of made me think of what I speculated about Canadian brewing after Mondiale: behind the curve. Food was only so-so too, though the service was quite a bit better this time.
We toddled about the Distillery a bit more, then I drove us back to the hotel, and we went up to the room, read a bit, got dressed up, and went out to Steve and Maggie Beaumont's wedding party. Which is why we were in Toronto. We had a good time, everyone did. And now we're getting ready to go out again, on Saturday morning. Not sure where we'll wind up, but there's a big get-together dinner planned for this evening at beerbistro...which is nice.
(Oh! I forgot to mention that we actually drove up to the Rochester area on Wednesday to drop off the kids with my wife's family, and to hand over our couch to my bro-in-law -- we just got a new one. On the way up, the serpentine belt broke on the minivan, and we limped into Binghamton. We stuffed everything into the Passat and kept rolling; the van's fixed and we're picking it up tomorrow. As you can see, the damage to the van probably resulted from letting Penderyn drive. Corgis are notoriously hard on cars.)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Anyway, my real issue here is the use of the term "alcoholic beverages" in the story. I don't like it. I know, in the dictionary "alcoholic" has a definition of "containing alcohol." But ask most people what "alcoholic" means, and they'll start telling you about their uncle who drinks too much...and that kinda means that an "alcoholic beverage" is something an alcoholic drinks. I don't like it.
How about "alcohol beverage"? We call other soft drinks "fruit drinks" and "juice drinks," not "fruited drinks" or "juiced drinks." I write for a couple industry mags that insist on the term "alcohol beverage" instead of "alcoholic beverage."
Of course, I'd just as soon use the catch-all term "booze," even though some people think it's silly. Booze is so much easier than writing "beer, wine, and spirits" or "alcohol beverages" or "fermented and distilled beverages." It's a perfectly good word, and like Randall in "Clerks II," I'm taking it back. I'm gonna be using "booze" for that reference from now on. I refuse to let the New Drys define the discussion.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
We settled on the H&I because we wanted something hoppy and a bit out of our ordinary. Good call, especially since I finally sprang for a CO2 tap ("Mr. Fizz" from the Leland Company; great tap, worked well, got it through KegWorks) and we didn't have to drink it all in one night.
The lodge was well back in the woods, and had ample space for nine of us. We invited family up to join us, and had a great time. We rode on the D&H Rail Trail several days. Brother-in-law Chris and I had a rough time of it. The first day, we unknowingly rode 10 miles of unimproved trail -- very rough -- then discovered our mistake when we rode a bit south after returning to the car. So the next day we rode south, and it was great, until we turned around on the gentle uphill return leg and got caught in a thunderstorm. We were soaked and shivering by the time we got back, and truly ready for a beer. Cathy and I rode from Herrick Center down to Carbondale, and it was great...except for the unmarked intersection south of Forest City where we had to guess which way the trail went (and guessed wrong, and had to back-track). Still, good riding, and very nice scenery.
Saturday, I went into town to check a few bars. First stop was the Anthracite Cafe, in what I was told was a converted VFW hall. It did have that very comfortable, "you're one of us" feel in a small taproom with a big bottle selection and some good taps (including the Boulder H&I). I ordered a DFH 60 Minute, and while the bartender was pouring it, I got recognized by a STAG reader, who then very graciously bought my beer. Thanks! Nice to know my readers are such good folks.
I had to run to stay on schedule, though I would have been happy to stay there all night. I headed up to Scranton to The Banshee, and it looked great, but there was a band and a $5 cover. I wanted one beer, not a $5 concert. Bad time to visit. So I left, grumbling. And...after a quick stop at Maxie's in Old Forge for a Lager and two cuts of their Old Forge pizza, I headed home. Slow night.
Anyway...I'm back. Thanks for keeping the place dusted while I was gone.
Monday, August 4, 2008
All I got to say...for free.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
1. Portland, Maine. The first time I drove into Portland, it was 72°, blue sky with a few clouds, and I bought a paper and looked at the want ads. Just a marvelous city, surrounded by water, fed by the water (and B&M Beans), and blessed with some solid beer joints. A little gem.
2. Chicago. Cathy and I have been enjoying the blazes out of Chicago for quite a few years now, thanks to WhiskyFest Chicago and our good friends, George and Sue Sarmiento, both Chicago natives who have shown us some of the fun to be had there (and Frank E., and Terry and Monica Sullivan...yeah, all you guys). Great museums, the Lake, the German joints (and Polish joints, and Ukrainian joints, and Swedish joints, and Irish joints...), and some truly excellent beer spots. A great city to walk around in, to dine in, to have a hell of a time in.
3. San Francisco. Simply gorgeous, in a way most cities only hope for. The Bay's a wonderful window on the world (and Oakland), the bridges are inspiring, and there are bars here that have been serving for well over a century. The people are very interesting and friendly (friendlier than I remember from the 1980s, actually), the food is outstanding, and the romance is palpable.
4. Portland, Oregon. Only been once, can't wait to return. Portland has a smaller beauty, and an intense desire to better itself that is much more appealing than it sounds. One of the best beer scenes in the world, of course (although believe me, guys...we know you know...), and a happy worn-in attitude about it.
5. Bamberg. How can you not like a town with so many good breweries, so much history and preserved architecture, walkable and beautiful? I'd go back every year if I could.
6. Toronto. Good beer in excellent places, great transit, old buildings, the St. Lawrence Market, and vibe just shimmering off it. And of course, The Lake, right there, which Toronto makes the most of. Love visiting this town, any month of the year.
7. Düsseldorf/Köln. I picked both to avoid the arguments, yes. Hate to disappoint the folks who told me to skip Köln (and kölsch) and just stay in D-dorf and drink altbier: I love both, and I particularly love the places they're served. Actually, if I were going to go on where they're served, Köln might have a slight edge, if only because of numbers. But truly, both wonderful places, -- not just for beer, for people and architecture and setting and history -- and I'm hoping to make them a yearly visit.
8. Ghent. I really am picking Ghent over Brussels, after only one visit to each. It may be because I was a bit overwhelmed by Brussels (may be that I was a bit over-served there...), but mostly it's the canals and the look of Ghent. I'm a sucker for water, and Ghent has so much of it. It's also of a more manageable size than Brussels for a first-time visit. My opinion may well change (especially after I get to Brugge), but for now: top ten.
9. Madison. Spectacular lake setting, and when it's really on, it's beautiful here. The people are wonderful, the beer culture is the closest thing to Germany I've encounted in the U.S., and the brewpubs rock. Another town I'd re-locate to in a heartbeat.
10. Washington/Baltimore. I hate the heat, I despise humidity. These towns can be miserable with it. But I love them; DC for the bustle, the international character and attractions of such a relatively small city, the Smithsonian, the embassies, and all the goings-on. Baltimore is special for its real personality, a town that has as much individual character as Boston or New York, some great beer bars and brewpubs, a gorgeous ballpark, and the whole harborside thing, and the exceptional seafood. Always happy to visit these towns; need to do that again soon.
Friday, August 1, 2008
I lived in California too early, and left much too early. I was working as a librarian for the Army at Ft. Ord (outside Monterey; it's a community college now, I think) in the late 1980s, and enjoying the hell out of the growing beer scene. We had the Penny Farthing Tavern (which is apparently still around), which was good for some Young's taps (used to love Ramrod in those days; there was Cooper's Ale and Stout and fresh-bottled Anchor at my local supermarket, and I made pretty regular trips to Front Street Pub in Santa Cruz (which is not still around, dammit), where I first wrote down my thoughts about beer. My buddy Bobby Gryce came out to visit, and we made it to Sierra Nevada (back in their first location), to SF Brewing, Walnut Creek/Devil Mountain, Triple Rock, Acme/Xcelsior (anyone remember that?), to Mendocino's brewpub, and the thoroughly horrible Monterey Brewing Co., which maintained a reputation as possibly the worst brewpub ever in the U.S. (at least, until Gettysbrew came along). Overall, a wonderful time for a guy really waking up to beer.
But I got itchy; the West Coast was just not for me, and I applied for jobs back East. Nothing happened, so I started planning another trip with my buddy Ray Lutz, up the coast to Seattle, following the footsteps of William Least Heat Moon from an article he wrote for The Atlantic in November of 1987 called "A Glass of Handmade." (If you've never read this piece, read it now (and thanks to Wes Jones for making it available); I'll wait...) I had it all planned out, as only I plan out things; I get a bit obsessive when I plot a beer trip. We were going to Redhook, we were going to Yakima, we were going to get some beer!
What I got...was the job I'd applied for; a computer librarian slot at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in DC. It was a plum position, a two-level raise, working in a favorite town of mine, getting back East on the Army's dime. And even though the job turned out to be a nightmare -- long story -- it still got me back East. I wonder to this day how my life changed then, and I regret it still that I never got to take that trip in May of 1988.
But you know, I still would have missed Deschutes, which didn't open till July 27 of 1988. It's that long ago that all this happened. Which is why today, for The Session, I'm drinking their 20th Anniversary Wit and thinking about that long, winding road that's led me here. Once a librarian, "backed up against the ocean, backed up against the wall, out there on the edge of America, desperate, and heading for some kind of fall...", then finding myself unemployed just as I'd sold my first piece of beer writing, keeping it together as I honed my craft, and now an apparently respected part of the industry. It's been hard work, and a lot of fun, and precarious at times...which I think Gary Fish would say mirrors his twenty years at Deschutes.
The beer? An excellent companion for reflection. Flavorful, yet not distractingly so; crisp, but not bland; spicy (with grains of paradise as well as the traditional coriander and orange) but not sickly; just the ticket for reminiscing on a warm afternoon. Cheers, everyone; happy Session.