Friday, October 31, 2008

Boo!

Once I got home, I immediately carved the jack o'lantern (which I almost always do on Hallowe'en; it's fresher that way). The big one was a different kind of pumpkin, a very tough shell, so I got the damned Sawzall out and man, did the squash ever fly!









I was fairly pleased with the results, and got some compliments from the neighbors:


Great Day for a Parade

We meant to take public transit.

But it was monumentally overwhelmed. I was already at Rhawn and the Boulevard, doing platelet donation, so I just kept going in (parked on 7th, just south of Market); Cathy tried to get the kids to the Woodbourne station, but the parking lot was overflowing. She drove in with no problems -- thank you to all the suckers who stood on the SEPTA platforms watching train after train blow by full...to be fair, it sounds like no one expected the crowds they got for the parade, estimated this afternoon at 2.2 million people along the parade route and in the two arenas. That's some Phillies pride. (We even like our mascot.)





I walked down to The Foodery to score some cans of Sly Fox (open at 9:50, thanks!), some sodas for the kids, and a couple snacks, then couldn't resist stopping by McGillan's for a quick Penn Dark on my way up to City Hall. Met up with the family on the southwest corner, and that's where we stayed for two hours until the parade came. Lots of police, the Clydesdales (with Pat Burrell riding with the driver), the Phanatic, and then the team, with head coach Charlie Manuel -- in a pinstripe suit -- right there. We howled, we cheered, we clapped, and we grinned and told each other how great it was. As the truck made its way around City Hall to Broad Street, Mayor Nutter was holding up the trophy, and it was grand, just great. (Later in the afternoon it came to me that if this had happened last year, and Mayor Street had been holding the trophy, I'd have been incensed. Funny.)

And then we slowly made our way back through City Hall, got in the cars and went to Memphis Taproom for a late lunch. A very, very good day. Congratulations to the team, and thank you for bringing Philadelphia something so special: pride.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

You bet we are

We're going to the victory parade on Friday. If it takes us through McGillin's, Moriarty's, Fergie's, and Memphis on the way home, we're going. (ummmm...by SEPTA. I can walk home from there if I really have to.)

You goin'?

PHILLIES RULE!!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Drought is OVER.

Drive home from choir practice with 1210 AM on (after rabid Phils fan choir director cuts practice short for the first time in memory), hear the Fightin's score a run to go ahead again after having the lead ripped from them by the bullshit "rain un-delay" decision Monday night. Scream with insane delight. Get home, greet family exultantly, head for stockpiled beer on frigid back deck.

Miltenberger Helles Hefe Weizen.

Phils score, Devil Rays score.

Sierra Nevada Porter.

Phils score, Devil Rays suck wind.

Deschutes Jubelale 2008.

Cathy: "Oh God, I can't stand it." Me: "It's Lidge: pop-out, strike-out." Lidge shuts the door: line drive caught by Werth, strikeout, game frickin' over, and the Phillies win!!!

Sly Fox Incubus.

Mind you, I hear some people didn't drink Philly beer to celebrate. Come on, man!

Yards is thinking big

"When the farmers were coming in -- "

The who?

"The farmers, who were putting in the silo, from up in Lancaster," Tom Kehoe explained.

That's when I knew that despite the big new digs at 901 N. Delaware Ave., the big new brewhouse, and the sign out front (Yards! With a sign!), Tom Kehoe and Yards Brewing hadn't really changed all that much.

I went down to visit Tom (and Steve Mashington and Tim Roberts) at Yards for the first time last week (and I'd have posted this sooner, but I misplaced my notes). The first brew was on August 29, two months ago, and beer is getting out into the Five County area already; draft-only, but bottling was supposed to have started this past weekend. They were doing final testing on the bottling line while I was there.

Basics: Year-rounds will be ESA, Philly Pale, IPA, and Brawler. Remember Brawler, the "pugilist-style ale"? It's a 4.0% malt-forward session beer, "A ruby mild, really," Tom said. I'm eager to see if a session beer can hold its own in wider distribution, of course. Seasonals, for now, are Love Stout in the fall and winter, Saison in the spring and summer. (Tom gleefully told me that Love Stout made an unannounced appearance in Kevin Smith's new film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno; can you think of a more appropriate beer?) Will the oysters return to Love Stout? "We're asking the ATTTB about the oysters," said Tom. Oh, and the real reason they're in there? Just because.

There will also be some one-offs coming from the old original Yards brewing system, the little three-barrel baby from the old brewery up on the hill in Manayunk. "We can do all kinds of fun stuff with it, we just need to get it bricked up," said Tom.

But don't think this is a precious "do it for the love" brewery. Kehoe intends to put a serious amount of beer out the door. With the tanks that are coming in the next couple weeks (and the fourth vessel of the brewhouse), the capacity of the brewery will be "more than twice what we had before." He doesn't expect to hit that right away, of course -- and there's evidently some interest in contract-brewing to take up some of that -- but "There's been a buzz about Yards [outside of Philadelphia]. People want our beer. Our spigots are down, sure, but people are willing to jump right back in. They were turned off by the perception of the Lion's quality."

Distribution will be through Clement Muller this time, not self-distribution. "We're not planning to go farther than we were before," Tom said. "Muller's bring us the four counties [Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester], and we're probably looking at New York City. Why not, everyone else is."

Meanwhile, Kehoe and Mashington are doing cask nights at area bars. "It's a totally different market," Kehoe told me. "Bars love to put a cask on the bar." It's not just the usual suspects, either: "Philadelphia Fish Company is doing cask on the bar. If we had the casks, we could be doing five times the events we're doing."

(The picture here is of Kehoe and his production brewer, Tim Roberts, who kept the Independence brewpub in fine beers for years before it finally went down. Frank Winslow is the QA brewer, running the fancy, well-equipped lab at the brewery.)

When the split came between Yards and Philadelphia Brewing -- or, better put, between Kehoe and former partner Bill Barton -- they divvied up the casks between them. Kehoe is getting some new firkins in. Don't expect to see a lot more cask Yards, though. "No one's cellaring," Kehoe complained. "It's too hard for people to deal with. (insert blogger's disgusted pause for the condition of bar owners these days) And when we do events, we get the cask right back at the end of the night, which is so much better."

So, about that split. I didn't really ask much, and I don't intend to ask the Bartons much when I sit down with them -- soon, I hope -- to talk about Philadelphia Brewing. It doesn't have much to do with the beer, way I see it.

About the beer...I sat down with Tom with glasses of one of the first batches of Philly Pale. "Don't judge by this one," he said, "we were still getting the brewhouse dialed in, and the next batch is much better already." It was still nice to be sitting in Philly, drinking Philly-brewed Philly Pale.

About where we were sitting. 901 N. Delaware Ave is right down the block from the proposed site of the controversial Sugarhouse casino; in fact, we stood out back and watched the heavy machines levelling the site. (It's also not far at all from Memphis Taproom...as I found out, thanks to my girlfriend.) So what's planned for the brewery visitor?

Despite rumors and hopes of food by City Tavern's Walter Staib (and that would be grand), Tom said clearly that it's about the beer. "We're going to do a tasting room," he said, "but we want people to be able to buy a full beer, or a case of beer. My idea is an English beer garden, but we're focused on the beer. The beer experience is the tour."

He laughed. "Of course, with all the Sugarhouse stuff, who knows?!"

Then we walked outside, and looked up at that big, beautiful Yards sign. "We never had a location that advertised itself before," Tom said. "The location and the sign are going to let more people know about Yards."

As I drove off into the gorgeous October afternoon, I remember talking with folks ten years ago about why places like Red Bell, Poor Henry's, and Independence always got all the money and all the attention, while all Yards got was critical acclaim -- and critical criticism when it would go through an occasional off-period -- and beer geek love...but not much in the way of sales. Tom Kehoe's ready to roll the dice and grow the brand. After years of suburban domination, we may get a big production brewery in Philly yet.

And of course, it might turn out to be Philadelphia Brewing. I'll be visiting there next.

Iron Hill cask event: I'm getting me some of that!

Got a release on the next Iron Hill Brewers' Reserve event: a 'roll your own' Black and Tan* cask ale event at their Newark brewpub on November 15, starting at noon. Iron Hill brewers will supply "cask conditioned dark and pale ales", as will brewers from Stewart’s, Nodding Head, Yards, General Lafayette Inn, Sly Fox, Triumph, and Earth Bread + Brewery (I assume I don't have to tell you that these are some of our best cask brewers in the area, right?). Customers will, says the release, "be encouraged to create their own “Black and Tan” combinations." Beers will be sold by the pint till it all runs out. I missed the SPBW Real Ale event a few weeks ago, I'll be damned if I'm gonna miss this one! See you there.


*Before the inevitable "Black and Tan is offensive to the Irish!" comments come rolling in (and I won't allow them to post, so don't waste your time and mine)... The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force, the British paramilitary group that quickly gained a reputation for brutality in the early 1920s in Ireland, became known as the "Black & Tans" because of their uniform colors, true enough. But "black and tan" as the name for a mix of a dark and lighter beer actually pre-dates that, going back into the 1800s. So stop being all Irish-American (like me and my wife are) and in my face with it, and relax, and enjoy this delicious mixture for what it is: beer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Return of The Blob('s Park)!

Ah, good news, my gemütlichkeit-loving friends: Blob's Park will be re-opening! Open since the 1930s, and holding an annual Oktoberfest since 1947, Blob's Park, the beloved German beerhall/garden in Jessup, Maryland, closed last New Year's Eve. It was a sad time. But now there's news that Max Blob's great-nephew, Max Eggrel, is renovating (about $250,000 worth), and hopes to be open by this New Year's Eve. That's some kind of oompah, brother.

No World Series tonight, I'm thinking

That's the view out my dining room window just now. Actually, in the five minutes since I took that, the deck is even whiter. It's coming down steadily and the temperature is dropping (it's currently 34F). Wherever you may be reading this, believe me: snow on October 28 is not normal around here.

Might be a good afternoon for whiskey in the coffee.

Big Iron arrives in Danville

I mentioned on my website that a brewpub called Old Forge is planned for Danville, PA (282 Mill Street). I got in touch with founder Damien Malfara a while back, and here's what he had to say.

We are still in the preliminary stages (scraping plaster off of interior brick walls, tearing down ceilings, etc., etc.). We are hoping to be open by Thanksgiving if we are lucky. We are a brewpub with no plans for packaging at this time.

In the meantime, we ordered a 5 bbl direct-fired system from Premier Stainless...it should arrive by early September. We plan to have 8 beers on tap...4 flagship beers and 4 rotating specialties and seasonals (planned beers are on the website).

We will have a fun casual atmosphere, with a focus on healthy pub fare (both meat-lovers and vegetarian friendly!) and fresh brewed beer. Our theme is centered around craftsmanship...hand crafted beer, hand crafted wooden and forged steel bar and booths from a local woodworker/metalworker, hand crafted dishes and mugs from a local potter, hand crafted tap handles from a local wood/metal sculptor, food sourced from local farms wherever possible.

We are looking to hire a chef in October to help build the menu around our ideas and get the kitchen and kitchen staff up and running...I'm currently talking with various culinary schools to list the job posting in their alumni/career services departments.


Anyway, today a reader (thanks, Reverend!) sent me a link to a video clip on the local news about Old Forge finally getting in their tanks. Things are a bit behind schedule -- what a shock in a brewpub opening! -- and they're now aimed at opening by year's end, but things look good.

Danville's up there in the Selinsgrove/Berwick/Williamsport/Millmont quadrangle that's been so damned beer-hot lately. More ferment in what used to be Pennsylvania's Beermuda Triangle!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great Divide Hibernation Ale

Do you remember drinking craft beer in the mid-90s? When Old Horizontal was the absolute shit*, and people still thought Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were pretty good beers†, and you made a Christmas beer by going in the brewery, grabbing the Beer-Making-Volume Control and cranking that bad boy up to 11?‡

I took a step back in time Tuesday afternoon at the Memphis Taproom. I was on my way back from Yards (a visit that's going to get blogged soon) and thought, hell, I've got time for one...and it was such a beautiful October afternoon, and they had the door open, and I saw Great Divide Hibernation on the taplist. It's been years since I had a Hibernation. I went to Great Divide's GABF party back in 1995 and 1996 and had a blast, drinking years of Hibernation with Brian and Tara Dunn. When it made it East, I was happy to sup up more.

But times changed, and beers came and went, and I think the last time I had one was about 2000. This pint of 2008 Hibernation came dark and solid, and totally old-school winter ale. It's big -- just a little bit boozy, which is good, it keeps you honest and aware -- it's unashamedly hoppy, it's malty but doesn't overdo the esters, and it just tasted so good that if I hadn't told myself I'd keep it to one, I'd have put it away all too quickly. This was the way brewers used to make big beers: dynamic balance, tension, nothing overwhelming, like a game of Blockhead 6 feet high and 4 feet wide.

Be damned if it's going to be 8 years before I have another!


*And it still pretty much is.

†And they still are.

‡And you can obviously still make a damned good beer that way.

Uncle Jack Report

Good news from Phoenixville: I just talked to Jack Curtin, and he's feeling good. He had emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix on Saturday. "Ruptured appendix," I said, "that's pretty serious shit." Pause on the line, then Jack responds, with some asperity, "That's exactly what it is." Whoops. Tender subject, I guess.

Anyway, things are much better. He was told he can go home tomorrow, which is great news. Don't expect much blogging out of him, he's got work to catch up on, but it's enough to know our own beer curmudgeon will be back home. Cheers, Jack, here's to a speedy recovery!

Philly Gets It II: Victory Dance at the Four Seasons

Not my usual haunt, but...the Philadelphia Four Seasons Hotel will be featuring Victory drafts and Philadelphia Distilling's new Penn 1681 Vodka (the company's supposed to be launching an absinthe soon, as well) in the Swann Lounge during the World Series. The Fightin's on hi-def, peanuts and crackerjack, a cold Prima Pils, and a stiff snort of rye-distilled local vodka: does it get better?

I thought it did, when your friend and mine, Victory prez Bill Covaleski, happened to mention -- while we were talking about the Phillies whoopee at the Four Seasons -- that Prima Pils was in the minibars in the Four Seasons rooms. That's more evidence that Philly Gets It; a great local beer in a top hotel's minibar, where usually it's nothing but International Icon Lagers (who are paying for exclusivity, at a guess). Prima in the minibars? That's huge!

Another Bump on the Road to InBud

From a Financial Times story on Carlsberg's problems with the weakening Russian rouble (Carlsberg gets about 40% of their profits from their biz in Russia, so it's a big deal for them), comes this further dose of bad news for prospects of the InBud deal:

Currency declines have...hurt the stock of...InBev. The Belgo-Brazilian brewer's stock fell 34 per cent over the past month, closing at €28.68 on Thursday amid fears over its exposure to the sliding Brazilian real (Brazil accounts for about half of InBev's profits.)
The lower InBev's stock falls, the more risky its planned takeover of US brewer Anheuser-Busch becomes. The brewer has already postponed a $9.8bn rights issue to help pay for the takeover, blaming volatile equity markets.
When the deal was announced in July, InBev's shares were trading at €45 and the company would have needed to issue around 196 million new shares to raise the $9.8bn, investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort said. It would now need to issue more than 320 million shares - and find people to buy them.
Anheuser's stock was trading at about $58 on Thursday, some 17 per cent below InBev's offer price of $70 per share.

So when I asked my old college buddy in a local investment firm back in May, what's all the financial activity around BUD mean, he told me that investors were betting that A-B was going to get bought. If BUD is trading 17% below the price shareholders are supposed to reap when InBev buys them out... One of you financial whizzes wanna explain all this?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wawa: Coffeetopia? Not Bloody Likely

I like Wawa stores, for convenience stores. They make their hoagies fresh if you want them (or you can grab a pre-made and go), they have my bank as their ATM provider (so no $2 service fees), they have a wide selection of stuff.

But as my man David Lo Pan sez, "Now, this really pisses me off to no end!" Wawa is running a promotion on their coffee right now (they promote their coffee a lot), calling themselves Coffeetopia (you can see it in the picture if you click on it to blow it up). And I'd like to know just how a freakin' place can call themselves Coffee-effin-topia when they're busily burning the shit out of their coffee, 24/7!

Coffee abuse pisses me off (to no end, as I mentioned). And this, well, I've seen Wawa employees combining pots of steaming black tar, making sure not a drop of nasty, black-burnt, acidic gleet gets wasted. The smell is an irritant, the taste is hideous. Though, of course, in this light-beer-drinking nation, we continue to buy it, because it does get you buzzed. Yeesh.

So my challenge to Wawa: would it kill you to dump the Bunn warmers and get some thermal carafes? For shit's sake, Sunoco gas stations have thermal carafes, and you're so much better than that. I've had an occasional fresh pot, right off the maker, at Wawa, and the coffee's fine, but once it's had The Treatment, I wouldn't kill slugs with it (because it would be cruel to the slugs, not because it wouldn't do an excellent job).

I know what you're thinking. Wawa probably sells a ton of coffee, and to tell the truth, it's because they get almost everything else right: size of cup, price, ease of self-service and plenty of real dairy options for white stuff, even more than one kind of coffee on at a time (though you can't really tell because it's burnt to hell). It's not La Colombe, but hell, Memphis Taproom ain't La Bec Fin either, and it's still damned good, it's perfect for what it is. So you're thinking, why on earth should we fix something that sure-hell don't seem to be broke?

Well, buhbie, it's because you tagged it as Coffeetopia, and you should have the decency to make it so. Thermal carafes are the way to go, and your sales will reflect it. Find a carafe that dispenses coffee fast (because that's the one thing the Bunn system has going for it; fast pours), buy a bunch of them, and put them in one store to see how it goes (I would humbly submit the 2250 Lincoln Highway location in Trevose...). Bet you get better sales, and a lot of compliments. Because that, Wawa-volk, would be Coffeetopia.

Oh, yeah. One more thing. Would it be too much to ask you to start selling diesel?

King Opens New Brewery, Europe Still Europe

I got a press release from Heineken International today that just made me smile.
His Majesty King Don Juan Carlos I of Spain opens new Heineken brewery in Seville
Heineken International announced today the official opening of its newest brewery in Seville, by His Majesty, King Don Juan Carlos I of Spain. Located seven kilometres from where the old plant of La Cruz del Campo used to be in the centre of Seville, the brewery, nicknamed “Jumbo”, because of its scale and size, is the most modern and technologically advanced in Europe.

A king opening a brewery. Hell, here in the U.S., we're lucky if the mayor is there (which the Lord Mayor of Seville was, of course). But in Spain, they get His Majesty King Don Juan Carlos I. Can you imagine Franco showing up? Okay, sorry, I'm dating myself.

That is Heineken's fifth brewery in Spain, by the way, just in case you thought they only did wine there.

Flying Fish Imperial Espresso Porter

I interviewed Flying Fish owner Gene Muller just about a year ago for the entry in New Jersey Breweries. We had a real good interview, and at the end, Gene says he knows I've had most of their beers, and knows I liked the (discontinued) Porter; how about you try this bottle of the new Imperial Espresso Porter? Cool, I said, thanks...took the bottle home, put it in the fridge for later, and promptly forgot it.

Hey, I forgot a growler for three months one time!

So tonight I happened on it as I was grilling turkey "tenderloins" for dinner. What the hell, let's pop it. Why did I wait so long? This baby was delish: not so much espresso as milk chocolate, sweet and darkly malty like an Okocim Porter without the beefy body. Drinkable, not sickly sweet -- more like cake sweet, cookie sweet -- and with enough complexity to keep it interesting. Cathy and I enjoyed it without any hesitation. I'll be looking for more.

Come home, Uncle Jack!

I just found out why Jack Curtin hasn't been posting on his Liquid Diet blog. His cartoonist partner at the Dubya Chronicles, Rob Davis, posted this at Jack's other blog, I Have Heard The Mermaids Singing, yesterday.
Jack’s in the hospital! He’s doing fine, but apparently his appendix decided to rebel Friday into Saturday morning, perforated and then burst. He and I worked out posting the latest cartoon to “thedubyachronicles.com” (which is now up for your reading pleasure). He stated to me that he should be out in a few days and back to his normal oneriness. He does NOT have e-mail access at this time but those of you with his cel phone number can contact him that way.
Best wishes for a quick recovery, Jack!

Who knew Jack had a Republican appendix?

If I know Uncle Jack, this unprecedented three-fer plug for his beer and politics blogs will make him feel much better. Get better, Jack, we miss ya!

Phillies Win!

Time for a beer.

Well, really, I think that about says it all.

No, wait. Let's say this, too.

Not just America's Best Beer-Drinking City. Philly's got the best beer in the ballpark, too. I mean, we oughta. Looks like we've got the best team in there.

Yeah. That'll do it. Beer time!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Mid-Atlantic Holy Crapping: Wharf Rat Really Sold This Time

Jeez, will things ever calm down in the mid-Atlantic?

After years of rumors -- "Yes, it's always for sale for the right price; no, I'm not selling," Bill Oliver always said -- The Wharf Rat finally has been sold, as reported in Rob Kasper's Baltimore Sun blog. Here's the guts of it:
The Wharf Rat, the restaurant and brewery at 206 W. Pratt St. that has served as a fountainhead of English ales in Baltimore, has new owners. Donald Kelly, who has operated bars in Connecticut and Justin Dvorkin, a brewer at Fordham Brewing, bought the business from Bill Oliver on Tuesday. The price was not disclosed.
In a brief telephone interview Wednesday, Kelly said he and his partner do not anticipate making substantial changes to the restaurant and brewing operation. "We like the concept; we bought it for the brewery," said Kelly.
Steve Jones, the current Wharf Rat brewer, will continue making the establishment's beers, called Oliver Ales, Kelly said. (Whew!)
Oliver will retain ownership of the Fells Point pub also named the Wharf Rat.

Cool. Dodged that bullet. Bill Oliver gets his money out -- I'm sure, the place does well -- and we get to keep drinking Steve Jones's great beers. No problems here, keep drinking.

(Just a note, folks: Rob Kasper does a hell of a job in Charm City. Oughta read that blog.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Holy Crap II: Old Dominion to be shut down

In a move that's probably not so shocking, Coastal Brewing has announced that they will be closing the Old Dominion brewery in Ashburn, VA, not that long after closing the pub there (while assuring us that the Virginia brewery would remain open). From the press release (which Mid-Atlantic Brewing News guy (and friend) Gregg Wiggins was good enough to forward to me):

COASTAL BREWING CO. TO CONSOLIDATE BREWING OPERATIONS

DOVER, Del. (October 21, 2008) – Coastal Brewing Company announced today that it will consolidate its operations by moving all brewing to the company's state-of-the-art facility in Dover, Del. The decision means that the company's brewery in Ashburn, Va., will be closed in 2009.

Employees of the company's Ashburn brewery will be offered continuing employment at Coastal's main brewery in Dover. Those who elect not to transfer will be offered competitive severance packages upon the brewery's closure.

Coastal Brewing Company's full line of beers, including brands under both the Old Dominion and Fordham names, will continue to be brewed with the same care and ingredients, and will continue to be marketed and distributed throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.


And may God have mercy on your soul...

What's it mean? At this point, outside of the loyal folks who still went to the improptu events still being held at the brewery, not much. Old Dominion's on the shelf, so's Fordham, and they will sink or swim on their merits and marketing support...because it won't be on their heart or soul. I liked these brands, these beers, five years ago. But Jerry Bailey's gone, the brewery in Annapolis is gone... It's Baltimore Brewing all over again. Who's going to give enough of a damn to hit the street and really sell these beers when the people who make them apparently aren't all that fired up themselves? The only hint of life I see from these guys is the Ram's Head outlets, while on the beer side, they've tried to make hay on a campaign about making real beers (the implication being that "other breweries," like Dogfish Head, made weird beers); great success with that one.

It really does look like Baltimore Brewing. OD had a heyday, when you could find it everywhere in the area. That slipped, and now, as it slips completely out of state to Delaware, it seems likely that Old Dominion will become a memory. The worst may be yet to come: speculation is that InBev will rapidly divest itself of the partial investments A-B made in companies like Coastal. And that may take the wind right out of these sails.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cheers, Newtown

Once again, it's a beautiful October day for the Newtown Brewfest, as it's been every time so far for this successful, well-run event (and this year they are paying for beer: hurrah!). The sky is clear and autumnally blue, the temperature is brisk but not freezing (cuts down on ice runs), and the fest sold out three months ago. If you've got a ticket, enjoy.

I won't be there, myself. Nothing against Newtown, I mean, I live here, but after the World Beer Festival, WhiskyFest, and GABF all in a row (and a book signing at the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Oktoberfest tomorrow)...I'm taking a Saturday off.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lots to post...but first things first: Liebotschaner Fever!

While I was away in San Francisco (and there's more WhiskyFest posting to come) and Denver (and thanks to all who've left such nice comments on the blog, and yes, more GABF posting to come), important things were happening in Pennsylvania. So important that they have to come first today:

Direct from last week's production meeting at The Lion, from master brewer Leo Orlandini: "We plan on bringing Lieb back in draft and in the bottle."

Credit where due: this is coming out of MyBeerBuzz.com, the NEPA "where's the beer" site where Liebotschaner Fever has picked up steam. People responded favorably to a "Do you want Liebotschaner back?" post, and Leo posted the above in response. Do brewers listen to you? You damn betcha.

A little fill-in I've picked up on this and other Lion projects: Lieb is not going to be back slap-dash: "We want to do it the right way," said my source at the brewery. Lionshead is getting the treatment, he gave as an example: new labels, new taphandles, and -- gasp! -- promotional trinkets. In fact, The Lion has actually hired a marketing firm. Don't panic: this is one of the few times you'll hear me say that this is a good thing (assuming the firm's any good, of course). The Lion's been making good beers -- Summer Stock, Holiday Warmer, Oktoberfest -- but they've fallen on barren ground because there wasn't any marketing/promotion/advertising to fertilize them. Now they might be able to thrive.

News on other brands: Steg 150 is not dead, despite rumors to the contrary, but there's "definitely going to be a name change." Just as well; "Steg 150" is a little too "Inside Baseball" for most folks. Big Hell yeah! to this one: "Our new owners aren't afraid to bring anything back, as long as it is done correctly...you'll probably see this one in the next 12 months." That's right, folks, he's talking about Summer Stock Lager. Yum.

A little fun stuff, this direct from Leo Orlandini: "Wait until you taste this year's Holiday Warmer. We may even rack some off into some oak barrels and let them age for a while." That's right: a possibility of oak-aged beer from The Lion. And with this year's Holiday Warmer coming in around 8%, that's something to look forward to.

Kinda cool to see this kind of excitement for old beers from an old regional brewery. Now...if Yuengling would just get on the stick and give us some of those "old recipes" they've been teasing us with for years, we could have some real fun!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In Which I Keep All About Beer's Streak Alive

As this posts, I'm accepting the trade and specialized beer and brewing media award of the Michael Jackson Beer Journalism Awards at the GABF; my piece in All About Beer on "The Real History of Craft Beer" won. My apologies to all the folks I told I was not going to be at GABF: the BA asked me not to tell anyone about winning the award, so I didn't. At all.

And so this morning I left my hotel in San Francisco at 4:20, flew out of SFO at 6:20, and got into Denver about 10 AM to make it to the GABF on time to get the award. At least, I assume I did; I'm writing this in my room at the San Francisco Marriott Downtown on Friday afternoon before WhiskyFest.

My thanks to Rogue Ales, Boston Beer, and Brooklyn Brewery for the sponsorship of the award, to Daniel Bradford for the original idea of the story, and to Julie Bradford for suggesting that I submit the piece for the program. "We've got a streak going," she said, "and I just have a feeling about that piece." Other folks liked it too -- it's one of the few pieces I've done that I've gotten fan mail on -- so I sent it in.

So right now I'm collecting the award (that's a picture Tom Dalldorf took, and thanks to him and Celebrator for it), and tonight I'm going to spend some time at Falling Rock or Wynkoop with brewers and fellow writers. Good times, folks, good times. Thanks to everyone who's dug my writing; I do it for the most sincere beer geeky reasons: to share the love.

An update: I ran into Don Russell at the Fest afterwards, and we got to talking. Writers from Philadelphia have won one of these awards every year they've been awarded: Don, Carolyn Smagalski, Marnie Old, and now me. Sounds like we've got America's Best Beer-Writing City, too!

Big Daddy and more oysters

Friday morning we got up early and walked out in the brisk, breezy morning, up the hill to Dottie's True Blue Cafe. Great timing: we walked right in the door and sat down at a table, and didn't miss the usual wait in line at all (by the time we left, the line was out the door). Lots of good coffee floated us through breakfast; I had a lamb-fennel sausage and goat cheese scramble with their buttermilk dill bread, Cathy had a whiskey fennel sausage omelette with grilled cornbread. Plenty of good chow, and neither of us felt a need for more till about 6:00 that night.

We walked back to the hotel and got to work on set-up for WhiskyFest: setting up the tables for registration and sales, putting up our signage (we've gone pro with retractable stand-up banners, but one of them needed some banging and convincing to work properly), and sorting the hundreds of ID bands for VIP and regular guests. By about 11 AM we were done. We went up to the room, cleaned up a little, and walked down to 4th Street Bar & Deli.

I know I've said places are JAFSB (Just Another Freakin' Sports Bar), and 4th Street largely was...but we weren't there for sports TV or wings, we were there for beer. I started with a Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA, the beer that John had told me they had here. Great stuff: not just hoppy, it's built on a base of solid, sweet maltiness, a nice solid West Coast IPA. Then I got to looking at the full beer menu -- got a taste of Speakeasy's White Lightning, a surprisingly pleasant filtered West Coast hefe (real style-snake biting its own tail, there) -- and lo and behold, there was Russian River Damnation. JAFSB? Well, not quite! After I finished that little beauty, and Cathy finished her iced tea, she went off to shop for make-up at Sephora (what a look she had on her face), and I went back to the room.

I hadn't more than sat down when an idea hit me: call Jim McGinley, husband of our events manager, Joan. Jim's a fun guy I don't get to hang out with enough, and he's usually up for a beer. I got hold of him, and we were soon hiking up to Johnny Foley's. It was time for Guinness! We grabbed two pints and lubed our conversation. Damned good jars, poured properly, and didn't it drive me to get a half-dozen oysters on the half-shell? Yes indeed, and they were delish. (Weird moment: recognized the song on the sound system as the Boomtown Rats "Someone's Looking At You," a song I haven't heard anywhere except on my own stereo for years.) Another pint, some great stories, and then we headed back to the hotel to get spruced up for WhiskyFest.
Things were a bit rough this year at first -- our first time at this hotel, which always takes some adjusting -- but soon ran very smoothly. We had some amazing whiskies that distillers had donated to raise money for charity (San Francisco's FoodRunners): five years of the Glenfarclas Family Casks, five bottles of Glenlivet Cellar Collection, and four one-time, one-bottle special bottlings of The Macallan, selected by four current and past distillery managers. That was just kind of cool to see the labels sporting "Bottle 1 of 1." Cathy wound up pouring the Glenfarclas, and had a fun time with it.

And once again, I ran into Ethan Prater. It's all webs, folks. Hmmm...they're calling my flight. Gotta go. More in a while, including why I'm catching a flight.

Friday, October 10, 2008

You could just call it "Repeal"

After we got back from Triple Rock, Cathy and I joined the Malt Advocate staff at 21st Amendment for dinner. The place is nothing grand, just a big, friendly space with a friendly staff. Shaun and Lloyd (brewer and GM) came out and said hi, but Shaun had to fly a new shipment of their canned IPA and Watermelon beer to GABF, and Lloyd had to get him to the airport. We got down to it, and grabbed a sampler and some apps (popcorn shrimp, calamari, some whoop-ass wings), and started tasting beers.

The vaunted Come Hell or High Watermelon Wheat was served with a wedge of watermelon, and it was quite aromatic of the melon indeed, tart in taste, but not overdone. I really liked the Bitter American, a 3.2%, 40 IBU beer that was all the best of American and English ale, and wound up grabbing two more pints of that. The IPA and double IPA were very well-done, but the hopping seemed very similar, the only difference being the maltier base of the double. The Oktoberfest was surprisingly on-target, malty and drinkable and great, really. The porter was pretty damned good, the Blonde...eh. There was also a pomegranate cider that was pretty tasty; not sure where that was from. I grabbed a Cuban sandwich, which was excellent, though the pickle should have been sweet and spicy, rather than half sour, as it seemed.

Where do you go from 21st Amendment? We went to the landmark Buena Vista Cafe for Irish coffee. Hey, we were tourists, why not do the touristy thing? And you know, the thing about Irish coffee, well, it's pretty damned good regardless. We all got down on our IC (except Heather, who doesn't really like coffee, so she had tea and brandy), and, well, I had two, they were so good. Yum.

When you're at Buena Vista, and you're staying on Market Street, the only thing to do is take the cable car back to the hotel. Man, did we ever. Take a look at Cathy's face and see how much we enjoyed it. Amy and I hung out on the step the whole way, saw it all. Touristy? Yeah. Fun? Betcherass!

Beer Before Liquor: never slicker

Cathy and I caught a morning flight to San Francisco yesterday, but not before being accosted by two hooligans in the terminal: Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell and Origlio craft/import genius Jim Meiers. They were on their way to Denver for GABF. After a few laughs over Sara Palin's "Joe Sixpack" remarks and how every damned news outlet in the country's been calling Don for an official statement, we headed to our respective flights (funny: Don's actually going to SF from Denver for Sunday's Eagles game...by which time we'll be back in Philly).

After a long flight, we touched down about fifteen minutes late (thanks to some schmuck who insisted on getting up out of his seat while we were taxiing on takeoff), took forever to get our luggage, and then took BART into town, which delivered us half a block from our room at the Marriott Downtown. By the time we were checked in, and had refreshed, it was 3 o'clock, and we had reservations for our traditional "night before the Fest" staff dinner at 21st Amendment. Clearly, we'd have to hustle to squeeze in some other beertime.

Hustle we did: we got back on BART, just timing the train, and went across the Bay to the Downtown Berkeley stop, which is just about two blocks from the beautiful sight you see here: Triple Rock Brewery. I really wanted to get here last year, but it just didn't work out. This year it was by God gonna work out, and it was worth it.

The last time I'd been to Triple Rock was in January, 1988, when I was living in Salinas. I loved the place, the vibe, the juke, the beer! And here I was, back again, with the girl I started dating only six months after that first visit; we even sat in the same seats that my friend Bobby Gryce and I had sat in back in '88. That may sound like a set-up for dashed expectations, but I'm happy to report that Triple Rock lived up to every one of them. The service was quick, smart, and sassy (thanks, Jesse...er, at least, that's what you said your name was to those two road-tripping girls), the grilled veg quesadilla was hot and gooey-delish, and the beer rocked.

On Jesse's recommendation, we had the Harvest Ale (a fresh hop wonder that just reeked of resin, huge hop nose) and a great big stout their last brewer had hammered together as his last brew (very rich, restrained bitterness, chocolate notes, and way too drinkable for the advertised 11% ABV). We got stuck into those pretty quick -- first beer of the day! -- and got another round: Titanium Pale Ale (wickedly drinkable at 7.4, living up to its brilliant "Light but strong!" motto, and really refreshing, too, not whackedly hopped up) and Dragon's Milk (a dry-hopped brown ale that was almost like a dark IPA, quite an assertive beer). I kind of tore into the jalapenos on the quesadilla and needed one more: I wanted to get the Black Rock Porter I'd had 20 years ago, but it was out, so I got another Harvest Ale.

What we didn't get -- and I'm regretting it already -- was a bottle of Monkey Head Arboreal Ale, one of which you see in the pic. They only serve it on Thursdays, and you have to drink it there. I wanted to, but it's 9%, and by the time we got the idea, we only had about 20 minutes left before we had to leave. Maybe next time, because the idea of a beer that's only served on Thursdays intrigued me. Meantime, we got into a very nice conversation with a woman who came in and grabbed the stool next to Cathy, who turned out to be a cancer researcher, and they were talking shop a mile a minute. Me, I just relaxed and drank in the vibe. Triple Rock was just how I remembered it, and that's a wonderful thing.

We hustled down to the BART station and once again timed the train on the button -- dumb luck, or as Cathy called it, "the Brother System," explaining that her brothers never planned anything and things just always fell into place. Hell of a system! We got back in time to meet everyone at the hotel, and Amy whistled up a limo (I swear, the woman's addicted to limos) to take us to 21st Amendment...which is going to have to wait for another post, because it's time to walk and grab breakfast before doing set-up for the festival.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

WhiskyFest, here we come

Cathy and I are leaving for WhiskyFest San Francisco this morning. We'll do the usual: hit a few bars, drink a few drinks, see the sights, and help put on the best whisky event in the world. More to come...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chill freezes

Bud Light Lime is apparently eating Miller Chill's lunch. Chill, which was an initial big success for Miller, has dropped in sales by 47%. Bud Light Lime, meanwhile, is being given credit for driving a 3.6% increase in sales volume for A-B in the quarter just ending.

Miller's scrambling to put a good face on things, but it looks like A-B's policy of fine-tuning their competitors' successes has served them once again.

A-B sets merger approval vote

Anheuser-Busch shareholders will vote on November 12 whether to accept the buy-out offer from InBev. InBev's shareholders have already approved the purchase. And BUD stock is still, inexplicably, trading significantly below the already set buy-out price. Do investors know something? Probably not; it's likely just understandable jitters, given the market's melt-down.

"I'm no mathematician..."

A huge thank you to Harry Schumacher at Beer Business Daily for pointing out what anyone who ever made it through an intro business admin course in high school (I did, and thank you too, Mr. Bassett) should be able to figure out: higher excise taxes mean lower sales...which means lower tax income.

Unfortunately, the nimrods at the California Board of Equalization just don't get it. They're the people who collect sales and excise taxes (and isn't that a great name for such an agency?), and back in June they put forth a ruling that all beer ("but not politically connected wine," as Schumacher points out) would be considered a spirit until proven otherwise. This was because New Dry crazies at PIRE and the Marin Institute convinced them that malternatives (Smirnoff Ice and its ilk) were still being made with distilled alcohol...which meant they could be taxed at the spirits rate of $3.30 a gallon, instead of the beer rate of $0.20 per gallon. If malternatives were taxed at liquor rates, the New Drys whispered in the BOE's ear, think of all the tax revenue you'd rake in!

The hypocrisy boggles the mind: these are the same people who preach that higher taxes on beer will drive consumption down, and here they are telling the saps at the BOE that higher taxes will bring in more money. Because that is, after all, what this is really all about. The money.

What puts the icing on this three-layer dumbass cake is that the BOE...well, let's let Harry tell it.

The BOE, chaired by Dr. Judy Chu, is apparently unaware of the realities of what they have done, and they have asked the state (which is on the brink of bankrupcty) for $1.16 million to add nearly 6 full time employees to administer and enforce the new tax. The BOE has predicted that they will generate an extra $38 million in new taxes due to the reclassification of PABs. Apparently, as unbelievable as this sounds, nobody has seen fit to apprise Dr. Chu that increasing a tax on a price-sensitive beverage by 1,660% will diminish demand for that product -- to the tune of killing it entirely -- unless the producers of those PABs reformulate them to fit the definition of beer [which, almost uniformly, they have: they must have taken that high school course. Which begs the question...in what area does Dr. Chu have her doctorate?]. I'm no mathematician, but $3.30 times 0 gallons equals zero dollars in new tax revenues -- which is a far cry from $38 million.

Not just high-handed, not just gullible...they're stupid, too. Unlike the brewers, who have already jumped through this dope-hoop: Schumacher notes that the state already has over 100 pages of a single-spaced list of brewers who've "proven" that their product...is beer.

And I thought Pennsylvania was ass-backwards on booze.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Iron Hill does some pretty damned good German

Hey, I forgot about this, but it's been a damned busy month. Iron Hill has a great prix fixe German dinner on this month for Oktoberfest, two courses of wicked tasty meat. First course is a sausage salad: grilled bratwurst and knockwurst on braised lentils, with a big healthy helping of watercress, drizzled all over with thinned stone ground mustard. Not enough meat fer ya? The second course is roasted pork tenderloin with beer-braised red cabbage, house made apple sauce (which was wicked delish), and mashed potatoes with gingersnap gravy.

Let me tell you...Good eating. Cathy and I had this a few weeks ago at North Wales, and while I was tempted by Vienna, pilsner, and Ofest, I tried the dark lager first...and just stuck to that. Damned good beer. (If they've got the apple pie when you're there, well, it goes with that, too!)

Alison two opening: Philly's Getting It, at every level

I got a press release about chef Alison Barshak's new restaurant in Fort Washington, Alison two. (No real website yet, but an excellent "here's how we're building it" blog here.) Hey, looks great, high-end, really interesting -- maybe too interesting -- Bar Menu (Tuna Sliders, House Made Takewan Salad, Ginger Aioli; Charmoula Rubbed Lamb Loin Chop, Cucumber Mint Relish, Chick Pea Puree; and Corn Bisque, Huitlacohe, Black Truffle Essence, Masa Cake, Oyster Mushroom), all in a 150 year old stone building with fireplace. Honestly? No surprise, it's what you'd expect.

But get this booze action (at the bar, which is open now):
Alison two has a full bar with its own menu and a full list of classic cocktails with a twist, such as the French 75 with homemade brandied cherries and the Dark & Stormy with ginger beer house-made by Beverage Director Tom Pittakas. Signature drinks include Autumn Cider with apple brandy (wonder if they're using Laird's excellent stuff?), lemon juice and apricot brandy as well as the Jamaica Daiquiri with light rum infused with hibiscus in-house. The restaurant has a full wine cellar... The beer list features a wide selection of regional beers from small-batch breweries.
Alison Barshak (or at least Tom Pittakas) recognizes that to have a truly top-flight restaurant in this area, you must have a truly top-flight drinks selection that includes a real beer list. Once again, folks: we're winning.

(Alison two is at 424 S. Bethlehem Pike, in Ft. Washington; they'll be open for dinner on October 16. Call 215/591-0200 for hours.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

More on Earth Bread + Brewery

Since I'm not going to be here on Thursday for the opening at Earth Bread + Brewery, I bugged Tom to see if I could come over today (I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway to pick up my daughter).

"Sure, sure!" he said. "As long as you don't need too much of my time; there's a lot going on." No more than I expected; I mostly just wanted to see the place.

To the left is what it looks like from the outside today; windows still covered, but awnings in place. The inside is still a bit dusty and scattered, but it's obvious that they're close to done. As it turned out, Tom wasn't even in when I got there, and didn't show up before I had to leave.

At the right is the pizza oven -- oops, the flatbread oven. It's right out in plain view, and wholly wood-fired. That's according to Peggy, who was there. She told me that they were running it at about 750°, but had taken it down to about 650°. It still does a flatbread in about three minutes. I did ask about whether it was wholly wood-fired, and she confirmed that: no gas lines.

Here's another tip: EB+B is neither vegan nor vegetarian. I heard Peggy ordering sausage for the flatbreads. Woo hoo! (They also will have two salads, a cheese plate, a plate of mixed olives and garlic that gets heated in the oven (that sounds good), edamame (sorry, I hate those things...), and house-baked desserts.)

But you really want to know about the beer, right? Well, I tasted it. The Love Your Mother Mild (which is on the "Mother" tap, a dedicated low-alcohol beer tap!) was delicious, one of the best American-brewed session-strength beers (3.2%!) I've ever had: malt, yeast character, smooth, incredibly drinkable, and a great balance of flavor. Excellent.

The Biere d'Earth is, as you might guess, a relative of Biere d'Art, the late lamented Heavyweight beer (that Tom will have a 4 year old cask of for the opening): mellow, maltalicious, with a spicy flow of yeast character. (Yeah, the three taps are three sticks of firewood.)

Sedgwick Pale Ale was brewed with locally grown (like 4 blocks away) hops a homebrewer gave Tom, and lemon verbena. The beer was arresting, with a rich aroma of spicy candy, almost toffee-like. Delicious and completely unexpected, like the best of the stuff Tom brewed at Heavyweight. The last of the four, Terra Fumé, was a smoked wheat, and the smoke was rich and solid in the nose, but not overdone in the mouth. Great with a deep tomato sauce, sausage, or cheese, and light enough to easily drink on its own.

This is going to be a great addition to Philly's beer scene, I'm thinking. God knows we could use more brewpubs.

Tiedhouse: Not one, but two openings in Philly this week

I've been terribly remiss in reporting on another project that's coming to fruition this week: besides Earth Bread + Brewery opening this week, Chris Leonard and the folks at the General Lafayette Inn are opening The Tiedhouse at 2001 Hamilton St. in Philly, also on Thursday (full grand opening is October 20). Oh, the chagrin, given that I'll be in San Francisco for WhiskyFest (and much of the Philly beer community will be in Denver for a little annual soiree they do out there). Do note that this is not a brewpub, it is a bar well-supplied with GLI beers, and others.

If you haven't been following the news about Tiedhouse at Uncle Jack's blog, here's two links to get up to speed: the basic news, and the fantastic opening tap list (cheers to Jack for the coverage). I like this idea a lot, and I hope the General is not the last area brewery to see that a foothold in Philadelphia is a very good idea.

The BBQ Beat Goes On...

As promised, Jay Brooks and I headed out early to Allen & Son outside of Chapel Hill on Saturday morning, and also as promised, we got us some serious pig. Allen & Son was every bit as good as it was last year, although Jay and I disagreed on the fries: he likes them crispy, me, I really like a good meaty fresh-cut fry where you can taste the flavor and texture of the potato. Jay called this "soggy." To each his own, I guess (even though I know damn well I'm right). Minerva took us by kind of an ass-backwards route, but eventually we got there, about 10:10 AM.

I got Brunswick stew and pulled pork, Jay just pork. The stew was okay, sweeter than I like, but with a nice smokiness from the meat. The meat...I have been told that NC BBQ is more about the meat, the pork than anything else: sauce, sides, or smoke. To quote a wiser...no, better...no, taller man than I, that's crazy talk. Smoke in the meat. That's what makes this great BBQ. Many NC barbeque places have gone to electric or gas "pits" and the lack of smoke in their meat has been rationalized: it's about tender pork and the vinegar sauce, we're told. Well, as I found at the Barbecue Lodge, that can be good, but it's not fantastic, like this stuff was.

And it was. I'd describe it, but I've already wet myself once. Jay ordered some peanut butter pie -- he has addiction issues in that corner, though he did say this one could have been more intensely peanutted -- and I went to the counter to get Penderyn another BBQ bone. I need a bone for my dog, I said. Oh, says Karsten, our waitress, what kind of dog do you-all have? A Corgi, I said, in fact, I sent you a letter about him saving my life and you were kind enough to send him some -- "I remember him! I sent you those bones! How is he?" she squealed. We talked dogs a bit, and I left, grinning.

Well, we felt so good, I easily talked Jay into whipping over to Raleigh for more barbecue at Ole Time Barbecue outside of Raleigh. (That's not a picture of how I rammed the Passat into a schoolbus, by the way: that's what their joint looks like!) A great idea, for many reasons. First, it was a gorgeous early October day and a fun ride. Second, the pork was a very close second to Allen & Son, smoky and delicious, even without their quite nice sauce. (The fries...not so good. Wedges. Yuk. But I had boiled cabbage, which was perfect.) Third, the sweet tea rocked, made fresh, and re-filled fast and often (and when we were ready to go, our waitress topped us up and capped-and-strawed it for us). Finally, two barbecue lunches/breakfasts (first eats of the day!) gave us a solid drinking base when we headed back to the festival.

In short, Saturday's barbecue experiences were every bit as exceptional as Friday's had been unexceptional. Saved the trip for me, by golly.

More to come on the festival, my talk, and session beer in Virginia.

Earth Bread + Brewery to finally open: gee, thanks, PLCB!

After months of bureaucratic delays, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Tom and Peggy Baker's Earth Bread + Brewery (7136 Germantown Ave., Philly) is opening this Thursday (as reported by Michael Klein here). I'm pleased to see that the opening house drafts include Love Your Mother Mild Ale at 3.2% abv and Terra Fume Smoked Wheat Ale 4% abv (is this Tom's version of the lichtenhainer that Scott at East End Brewing made with Marzoni's Bill Kroft?): session beers live!

I hope to have more to tell you from personal experience soon, and maybe a case study for the other blog. In the meantime, Thursday at 4:30, you can get fresh Tom Baker beer for the first time in over two years, and what I've been told is some GREAT pizza. Philly's new wave of new brewpubs continues.

Another opening date for the Pittsburgh Hofbräuhaus...

Saw this today at the WPXI website:

Long-Delayed German Beer Garden Coming To Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh will be home to a German beer hall in January, about two-and-a-half years later than investors had planned. The Hofbrauhaus is scheduled to open Jan. 20 in the city's SouthSide Works shopping and entertainment district.

The beer garden is modeled after Munich's Hofbrauhaus which opened in the 1500s. Two other Hofbrauhaus locations have already opened in Las Vegas and in Newport, Ky., a Cincinnati suburb. The $4 million beer garden will feature bench seating for about 450 and another 600 people outside. Nearly all the beer served at the Hofbrauhaus will be brewed on the premises.

The county's new 10-percent drink tax, construction, and regulatory concerns have delayed the project.


And all a friend can say is that it's about time! If you're wondering, like me, if this date is any more firm than the others, I did see actual work taking place at the site back in June. So...maybe.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Durham: the World Meat Fest -- er, Beer Festival

Once again, I'm speaking at the World Beer Festival in Durham this weekend, and using the opportunity to scarf up some of the local bounty: North Carolina barbeque. I left my bro-in-law Carl's house yesterday morning about 9, and leisurely drove down I-85 and Rt. 1 to Raleigh, where I stopped on the outskirts of town at a plaza-based joint called the Barbecue Lodge. I was flying blind here, just going on the vaguest of recommendations, and it didn't look good: too damned bland, too damned clean. They were cleaning the glass on the pig showcases when I came in, even.

But the menu proudly declared that their minced pork barbecue sandwich was the best barbecue sandwich in the Carolinas, so I figured I'd give that a run -- besides, I had to save room for more, I was planning on hitting two more places. Oh, wait, banana pudding? I'll have that, too. Well, I got hush puppies (and the horrible "corn logs") right away; the sandwich and pudding came in about two minutes, along with a glass of sweet tea and a back-up pitcher on the side. Sweet!

The hush puppies were too delicate for my tastes -- I declined to even touch the corn logs. The sandwich, at $3.50, was stuffed with minced pork, moistly held together the classic vinegar/spice "sauce" they use round here, and the slaw was also finely minced, more like what we call "pepper cabbage" back home in Pennsylvania. I don't know about "best barbecue sandwich in the Carolinas," but it was damned fine. Still, it's just not a real smoky meat, which disappointed me. The banana pudding was rich and sweet, kept from tooth-hurtingly sweet by thick slices of mellow banana and big veins of cookie crumbs. I didn't finish it, but not because it wasn't toothsome.

I paid up and headed into town towards Clyde Cooper's BBQ. Like the one reviewer on Yelp, I really wanted to like this place, and to be honest, I liked everything about it -- the old-timey space with the quick lunch counter service (on the right), the sweet tea, the hush puppies, the cracklin's (fried pork skins, like rich, crunchy fat), and some of the very best slaw I've ever had -- except the meat. I mean, damn. I got the coarse cut pork, and it just reminded me of the wet chunks of steam-roasted pork I used to get at the school cafeteria, dressed up with Carolina vinegar sauce. No smoke, and not much texture to speak of. I did eat things up, because the slaw was so damned good, and the tea was delish. But...it's a barbecue place. Sigh.

I walked over to the Flying Saucer because while I'd heard a lot about this beer-centric southern chain, I'd never been to one. Wow, beery as advertised. Tons of good beer in a wide-open, almost echoing space, a very long bar, and staff that really had a clue about the beer they were serving. The menu was accurate and up-to-date, I was offered a taster without asking for it, and the guy talked beer quite intelligently with two other customers. I got a Cottonwood Endo IPA that was real fresh, a blunt, hoppy smack in the chops. My God, North Carolina beer is so much better than it was 15 years ago. Which is true of damned near anywhere in the U.S., of course.

I meant to hit one more place, Ole Time Barbecue...but truth be told, I was gut-stuffed and groaning. I reluctantly headed to Durham, where I met up with All About Beer publisher Daniel Bradford, and went for a couple beers at one of his regular hangouts, Bull McCabe's. It's one of them "Irish" bars stuffed full of stuff from Ireland...but as DB said, just because it is doesn't mean it's not a fun place. And the Fuller's London Porter sure did rock.

It's Saturday morning now, though, and I'm getting ready to head out to Allen & Son for more great pork meat with Jay Brooks, who is also here to speak. We sat up drinking last night, and now it's barbecue time!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Session #20 -- Beer Memories

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "Beer memories." See all the links soon here at Bathtub Brewery.

"Beer memories" could, I suppose, be memories of beers. Most of the really good beers I've had, though, have been with people around; beer's like that, it's social. So there are beers for many of the important people in my life. I'd like to introduce you to some of them.

Genesee Beer: My wife, Cathy. I fell hard for Cathy the second time around...it's a long story. But I laid my heart open for her one weekend in the Catskills with our gang of college friends, about 20 of us tubing on the Esopus Creek. She needed time to think about it; I was anxious but trying to seem nonchalant. So while everyone else went off to a swimming hole, she and I and our friend Bobby retired to the bar. The only beer they had was Genesee, and Cathy ordered three, clinked the cold bottles with us, and drank with gusto. I was in love, and my girl liked beer. I'll never, ever forget that beer, that moment, in the bar at the Antrim Lodge in Roscoe, New York. We've had a lot of really great beers together since then, and a few before that, but that's the beer I think of with her, cold and fresh in the first bloom of love.

Spaten Optimator: Cathy's oldest brother, Chris. I grew up with one sister, just the two of us. When I started dating Cathy seriously, I got to know her three younger brothers. One weekend, Cathy and I were up at her home, east of Poughkeepsie. We didn't have anything to do, so we went and toured some Hudson Valley vineyards, and Chris, similarly at loose ends, came along. We had some really gross sweet wine -- Niagara semi-sweet red, almond-flavored champagne -- saw some great scenery, and wound up in Beacon. We stopped in a little store, and found a sixpack of Optimator. We went down to the sandy beach at Little Stony Point, across the broad Hudson from Storm King Mountain, and in a windy skirl of light snow, drank the Optimator. We didn't say much, but I felt, that day, that I'd been accepted...and for the first time in my life, I had a brother. It was a good day, and a damned good beer.

Samichlaus: Cathy's middle brother, Curt. Cathy's family lived in Dover Plains, New York, and the beer choices in the early 1990s were pretty damned limited. There was a store about half an hour away, though, that had a decent selection, so about 1 on Saturday afternoons, Curt or Chris and I would head down there and stock up. One cold day all three of us went, and we got four bottles of Samichlaus along with a couple sixers of Saranac. Chris was driving, but Curt and I decided to open a Sami. We passed it back and forth, kind of like taking turns stepping behind a mule to get kicked, and got jovial real quick. Curt had always been -- and still is -- taciturn, but under the Swiss hammer, he got red-faced (we were onto a second bottle by now), laughing, and almost chatty. That was the day I finally got to know Curt. Thanks, Sami.

Okocim Porter: Cathy's youngest brother, Carl. This was a more somber occasion. Carl was living in Virginia by now. It was a rough time; Cathy's father was dying of cancer. Cathy was already up at the home; he'd been moved home by the hospice (who were great, and we still send them money every year) and the end was coming close. Carl drove up to our house from Virginia late on Friday night, in February, I think. My parents came down to watch Thomas and Nora (very young at the time), and Carl and I left early Saturday morning. When we got near Harriman, we decided to get off for coffee, and happened on a farm market. Impulse buy: we got a bar of horseradish cheddar, coffee, and some donuts, then got off the Thruway and headed east on Rt. 6 into the state park. It was snowing by now, so we decided to pull off rather than eat cheese while driving. One thing led to another, and I pulled out a big brown bottle of Okocim Porter. We stood back in the woods, silent, and passed the heavy, sweet, roasty beer back and forth as the snow drifted down through the trees. He and I remember that well, a day when we felt the years coming down on our backs, when we were becoming older men as the torch passed. Okocim is a beer I don't approach lightly; it is wrapped in memories, and opening one stirs them up.

Victory Root Beer: my son, Thomas. I got laid off when the company I was working for crashed and burned in early 1994. I was on unemployment for four months before finding work. One morning, Thomas, who was three at the time, said to me, "Daddy, why don't you go to work any more?" I felt about that tall. Fast-forward to 1996, when the writing was really starting to pick up, and he and I are sitting at the long bar at Victory, him with a Victory root beer, me with a HopDevil. And suddenly I smiled, and said to him, "Do you remember when you asked me why I don't go to work any more?" Yes, he said, puzzled. "Well," I said, and spread my arms wide, "here we are at work!" That was the day I knew I'd found what I was going to do, and realized that I really could do it.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: my best friend and Thomas's godfather, Tom Curtin. I moved to California in August of 1987, driving from Kentucky in a Volvo diesel station wagon. TC, a solid college friend who I'd spent many a crazed moment with, flew out to Denver to join me for the trip. We drove across Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, crazy driving of miles and miles and miles, and when we got to Lake Tahoe, we were ready for a break. We rented a boat, and went out on the lake; it was a great day. It was also the day I had my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and that was great, too. All cemented in my mind and memory, inseparable.

My last homebrew: my daughter, Nora. When Cathy was pregnant with Nora, I brewed up a batch of peach ale with the last ripest peaches of the summer. It fermented, I racked it, and it sat in secondary for two months. I bottled it -- "My Little Peach" -- about three weeks before she was born in January. A month later my company fell apart, two weeks after that my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. I remember sitting at home, not spending money, watching the snow fall as I held my beautiful sleeping baby girl in my arms. And I never homebrewed again. I had become Mister Mom, and I just didn't have the time or inclination.

Beer takes me back to memories sometimes. Just seeing a label, just taking a sip, just thinking. Sometimes, most times, actually...it's just a beer. But you never know when you might be making a memory. Cheers, to my friends and family, and to all those with memories of beer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pennsylvania beer, Pennsylvania cheese

Another event to put on that ridiculously full October calendar -- Appalachian Brewing in Harrisburg is hosting a beer, chocolate, and cheese event to benefit the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture on October 12. The speaker is Mary Izett (she's on the blogroll over there: My Life on Craft), who's been doing these tastings in New York over the past year. Learn about Pennsylvania artisan cheese; we'll assume you already know about our artisan beers.

There are two sessions: 1-3 and 4-6. Admission is $40, for which you get five pairings of beer, cheese, and chocolate, and a full glass of ABC beer, and you keep the glass...and you also sustain Sustainable Agriculture. This is a good opportunity to find out just how good local cheese is getting, have some fun, and help support non-factory farming.

Minerva! Take me drinking!

I got a GPS last December (December 31st: needed some deductions!), a Garmin Nüvi 200, and I've been teaching her (I call her Minerva, drives the kids nuts) how to find beer. Slowly, one brewpub at a time.

Then I was over at BeerAdvocate and got to thinking...if I could somehow -- no, wait, let's start over: if someone who knew what they were doing could somehow put together -- okay, "mash-up" Google maps and the list of beer spots on BeerAdvocate to create a Trip-Tik® of beer that I could then load into the GPS and know where good beer was wherever I went. More than I do now, that is. So I put that up on one of the forums over there as a "hey, anyone know how to do this?" I got a couple of "Hey, good idea" responses, but nothing useful.

Then I get an e-mail from Jonathan Surratt, the guy who's shoving together the brilliant BeerMapping.com site. Hey, he says, that thing you want? We've got it. So I cunningly ask him, can you give me a taste? And he sent me the file for Philadelphia. It took me all of eight minutes to get everything on the Nüvi, including downloading the POI Downloader software from Garmin, and I was loaded for beer. Then it was a couple weeks till I got a chance to use it!

But use it I did, and it rocked. I punch up the Custom POI (that's Point Of Interest, Garmin-speak for "Where I Wanna Go") for "Philadelphia Beer" and Minerva shows me a list of the closest places. If I want, I can just grab one, or I can spell one out if I want someplace in particular. And since I bought a nifty little Minerva mount for my bike, I can even get directions while pedaling from bar to bar. Yes, indeedy, it's gonna revolutionize my life.

My only complaint was that it didn't include phone numbers; Jonathan explained it was a compromise. Okay. So I stepped up and paid for a full subscription to the service, which will let me download anything from the BeerMapping site for Minerva. Full subscription. Unlimited downloads. Lifetime. $15. Believe me, it's a steal.

(Okay, to actually do this takes a little work. First, create a free account on BeerMapping.com. Easy-peasy. Then go here and pay your $15 (PayPal...I hate PayPal). Then when you do a search on BeerMapping, you'll see a button that says "Download POI file for this search." Do that, and then it's kind of up to you to get that file into your GPS. YMMV: putting it into my Garmin was incredibly easy.)

I'm headed for the World Beer Festival in Durham this weekend, and I've got DC, Richmond, and the Triangle loaded in. Jonathan told me he just went ahead and downloaded every place in the country by type: one big file each for brewpubs, bars, breweries, homebrew shops, and beer stores. Might do that, but for now, baby steps.

Minerva! Beer! Let's go!