Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Still Not Feeling Well...but the beer's good

I'm up in the Poconos with my in-laws, and while I'm still not feeling very well (had a good day yesterday, but I'm sneezing and coughing worse than ever today), Carl and I tapped into a delicious sixtel of Sierra Nevada Celebration late yesterday afternoon, supplementing it with a bottle of Berentzen Apfelkorn schnapps. That was all pretty damned good. I had to do some work this morning -- writing the New Products column for the next issue of Malt Advocate -- but I'm ready to get a little more of that now. Hops are medicinal, aren't they?

Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Not feeling well

Not looking for sympathy, but just to let you know not to expect many postings for a while...I feel like crap. Woke up Sunday with a wicked sore throat, woke up this morning with a galloping head cold. Wheezy, tired, and hot. Hell, I might have the flu. In any case, I'm not drinking beer, and I can barely taste the whisky. I hate illness.

Tomos Watkin's Cwrw Brâf

"Lovely Ale" is the translation of Tomos Watkin's Cwrw Brâf, and that's not a bad name at all. The beer comes from Tomos Watkin, a Welsh craft brewer in Swansea. I saw it last Wednesday on the way back from end-of-season gleaning at our farm co-op in New Jersey (90 minutes of chopping broccoli and pulling beets in 33° breeziness had put a thirst on me!), and grabbed it: it was the daffodil on the label that caught my eye on such a cold November day.

I split it with Cathy that night over dinner, a kind of pasta/sausage primavera...in November. Pasta autunno? Anyway, we had freshly-pulled carrots and fresh-cut broccoli with penne and sausage, dressed lightly with vodka sauce, and the Cwrw Brâf was up to the match.

It poured a nice light brown with a reddish-orange cast to it, not quite as nice a head of foam as the picture, but still good. The aroma was mostly of malt and caramel, although there was some light fruitiness. A mouthful gave good fresh malt 'beer' flavor, that amalgam of English ale yeast character and malt that makes this type of beer so pleasing for long-term drinking. You've got flavor for interest, and drinkability for sessioning. This was classic: quite good enough for pleasant drinking and piqueing the interest, not loud or assertive enough to dominate your attention. Comfortable, in a word; a lovely ale indeed.

Elysian Bifröst Winter Ale

Bifröst -- The Rainbow Bridge of Norse mythology. Bifröst spanned the otherwise untravelable distance between Asgard and Midgard; roughly, heaven and earth. (That's pronounced "BIV-rost," BTW, not "BUY-frost.")

I didn't quite get to heaven with my bottle of Elysian Brewing's Bifröst Winter Ale. But it was a nice trip. Bifröst is pleasantly in the "turn it up" category of winter beers, cranked up a little to 6.25%, and 42 IBU (including a nice aromatic dry-hopping with Amarillo and Styrian Goldings). It's got more body than that strength might lead you to expect, not cloyingly so, but enough to grant it some authority. The hops aren't overdone, while the dry-hopping lets some nice aromas -- spicy, earthy, and fresh -- come through.

The more I think about Bifröst, the more I think that this represents the American ale-equivalent of a bock beer, not the variety of ale-brewed bock imitators (Rogue Dead Guy being the best-known). They're good, and they're close to a bock, but this is, I think, closer to the idea, the raison d'etre (or Daseinszweck) of a bock: a bigger, heftier beer for winter comfort. Bifröst achieves this while staying true to its roots, rather than by craftily imitating something other than what it is.

Come the Fimbulwinter and Ragnarok, I'll probably want something much stronger (the Bruichladdich Trestarig might be appropriate). But until the Fire Giants shatter the Rainbow Bridge, I'll be happy with a bottle of Bifröst.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Your Thanksgiving Table

I could get all wrought up about this...but I'm just gonna sigh. Craig LaBan, who seemed to be on "our side" with beer more lately (witness this brilliant little bit on rye beer from Oct. 31), has a piece in today's Inky about wine for Thanksgiving. And --

Well, wait. Some background. There are a few things I need to tell you about my experience with wine, meals, and wine people. Thanksgiving is a wine disaster almost as big as Thai food, ham*, and chili. You will never get a straight, consistent answer from wine people on what to drink with these foods. Why? Well, with Thanksgiving you've got a variety of traditional foods on the table, usually simple, and generally not sourced from wine-country cuisine.

At my house, it's turkey -- quickly overwhelmed by wine -- mashed potatoes, broccoli, mashed rutabagas (the big yellow turnips coated in wax), sweet potatoes (I skip those, sorry), filling/stuffing/dressing/ramming (whatever you call it), succotash -- can anyone give me a wine that goes with lima beans? -- and my Aunt Carol's favorite, scalloped oysters (this recipe is close, but use Ritz crackers instead of Saltines; we used to use Falcon crackers, but they went away...). Rutabagas and wine? We cook our succotash in thinned milk, and there's milk in the oysters, which is a bit yucky with wine.

So we drink beer, and it works well. Roasted fowl? No problem, we've got caramel touches in the leftover Oktoberfest beers or something like Brooklyn Local One or Rare Vos. Scalloped oysters? Cut against the richness and emphasize the brine of the oyster liquor with a dry stout (which ain't bad with the turkey, either). Succotash, rutabagas, spuds? Pilsner or pale ale. And the sweet potatoes work well with a bit of bourbon; I got no problem with that. Dessert? Don't get me started. The only thing that's a bit tough is my Aunt Alice's zingily tart homemade cranberry sauce, and you know? You don't have to drink with everything.

But wine people can't do that, and, well, I guess I understand. I'd rather drink my favored beer. It's just that they can't make wine work, and the gyrations they go through, every year, are kind of amusing, almost like the vegetarians trying to get around the turkey (some are more graceful about it than others).

I've seen wine people fall back on three approaches to this holiday. There's the Shotgun Solution, which is to throw a variety of wines at the table, while bitching about the boring menu that your mother insists on providing for your annoying, unsophisticated relatives. (Charming. When did Thanksgiving become the official opportunity for writers with dysfunctional families to make the rest of us feel uncomfortable about enjoying ourselves?)

The second approach, which grows directly, forcefully, out of the Shotgun Solution, is the Drastic Course Correction, in which you completely surrender and throw the entire traditional menu overboard -- screw your family -- and serve something else, anything else, so long as it goes with wine. So there.

The third approach, the Wine Above All Cipher, suggests you try "Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or Beaujolais!" It has been my experience that when winefolk suggest these wines -- with Thanksgiving, with barbecue, with Thai food, with Tex-Mex -- what they mean is "Wine doesn't go well with this food, beer would be better." They just can't bring themselves to say it.

And Craig Laban can't, either, though he is more honest than most: "Thanksgiving, the most food-centric holiday of the year, is a wine lover's lament." And then he goes to work. "To begin with, there's the guest list: my relatives." He loves them, he says, and I don't doubt it, but like some of my relatives, they're not as into it as he is, and will drink the box wine with nary a care.

Then he admits that the real problem is the menu. "Thanksgiving is a beast of a feast when it comes to pairing wines...No single wine can handle all these flavors with equal aplomb -- which is liberating in a way. Because there's almost no wrong answer." At which point he hauls out the shotgun and blows eight suggested wines onto the table, keeping them under $18 a bottle...mostly. Keep in mind that a bottle is about four holiday pours, and compare that to the $9 six-packs of craft beer you'll find in most bottleshops, or even the $30 case of 24 bottles. Ouch, in times of reduced budgets (which was the subject of the lead story in today's Food section), wine don't come off so good.

He does stick largely to the traditional menu -- points for that -- but sure enough, there's riesling and beaujolais in there. That shouldn't come as any surprise, because there is no mention anywhere, not in the body, not in a sidebar, nowhere...of beer.

Which is too bad. Beer's come a long way in mainstream press, but when it comes down to the nubbin, to the big food-drink stories of the year, beer's still swept aside, ignored, not taken seriously. Do I really care? Yeah, some, though I realize that what probably happened was that LaBan was asked to write a wine piece for Thanksgiving, and did just that. But I'll have a glass or two of beer at my family Thanksgiving dinner, and we'll talk, and eat, and enjoy ourselves. I'm sure LaBan will too. And his family, whatever they're drinking.

Tip of the hat to Jay Brooks for finding that fine illustration!


*On the ham thing...we do a caroling party at our house most years, and I insist on serving a big roast ham. Beer's great with it, of course, but I'd like to have some kind of wine to go with it for the wine drinkers, so I asked wine people. Suggestions ranged from "Er...ham's tough to pair" to (inevitably) "Try a Beaujolais or a Riesling!" (To be fair, I do like a cold bottle of Riesling with a really hot pork and hominy chili I make...but beer's good, too.) The first year, I tried the Beaujolais and it was a disaster: clashed with the salt and the roasted crackly surface of the ham. However, I did get one suggestion that has worked out well...for me, at least: Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, a rather tasty sparkling wine made with pinot noir grapes, that goes quite nicely with the ham. The only problem is that no one but me ever wants to drink it; damned sunny-day wine folk. Still, lemons, lemonade...after everyone leaves, and the family goes to bed, I make myself a big ham sandwich, grab what's left of the blanc de noirs, and watch Blade Runner. It's become a weird Christmas tradition for me, and I've invited Thomas to join me this year. For the ham and the replicants, of course.

Brooks takes on the Marin Institute

Jay Brooks has written a great diatribe -- not over the top enough for a rant, but it'll do -- about the booze-hatin' Marin Institute's support for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed nickel-drink tax. He exposes all the crap about this proposal: the basic unfairness of it, the bogus justifications for it, the nebulous "statistics" used to support it, the imposition of morality it represents, all that, and does it well. Anti-alcohol groups like the Marin Institute, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, like the Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, like the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth -- no wait, they folded their tents and slipped away into the night (or another Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded anti-booze group, same difference) -- consistently misrepresent the facts, rig the statistics, and spin the studies. This one is a classic.

But I have to disagree with Jay on one thing, this:
"I can’t help but be surprised to see neo-prohibitionists — an overwhelmingly conservative bunch — co-opt liberal socialist (and President-elect) Barack Obama’s tagline and appropriate it for their own use."
Neo-prohibitionists are not overwhelmingly conservative! That's what makes them dangerous. They are, as they were 90 years ago, before the neo- part came along, a movement that spans the political spectrum and uses whatever tools are to hand. They are against alcohol for moral reasons, for "health" reasons, and often, sadly, because their family was blighted by an alcoholic. We cannot assume that they only come from one side of the aisle...if we do, we'll be blindsided.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Anheuser-Busch has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev..."

The deal's done. InBev now owns Anheuser-Busch, and the new company is called Anheuser-Busch InBev. Not a lot to say that hasn't already been said... So long Sesame Place, no more laughs about Big Bird and Bud Light. Wonder if Busch Gardens in Williamsburg will go as well? (Sorry, got some questions about this: Sesame Place won't be closing, but ABIB will almost certainly be selling it off for cash; they'll probably sell off every non-brewing asset they can.)
More to the point...whither Michelob, Budweiser American Ale, and all the craft brewer investments -- Craft Brewers Alliance, Coastal, etc.? This company bit off a lot for this merger: they're gonna have to come up with cash -- from selling assets -- and savings -- from cutting costs. This meeting of corporate cultures is going to be the Clash of the Titans. Buckle up, kids.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NYWF: Run up to WhiskyFest NYC

As I said, Cathy and I went up to NYC for WhiskyFest a week ago. We caught an afternoon train and got to the Marriott Marquis just in time to check in and run for a cab to get down to Union Square Cafe for dinner with the rest of the staff. Good thing we ran: we clocked up $6 just getting around the block! (The effect of the economy on the theater district seemed to be minimal...though I'm sure someone could argue that (probably won't, though, now that the election's over...) On down to Union Square!

Always a fun time going out with the Malt Advocate staff. The beer list, as mentioned earlier, was not deep, though I was able to alternate between the wholly acceptable Anchor Steam and Allagash White, depending on what I was eating. The wine types had an Italian white that they were apparently quite happy with. Cathy got a gnocchi appetizer that was quite good, a new standard for gnocchi for me (I love gnocchi, and now I love it even more). I got a plate of five cheeses (about an ounce of each), three of which were quite nice. My entree was a tough choice, but I finally got the branzino. It was quite yum.

Dinner broke up and it was a question: go to the hotel, go out for drinks around the hotel, catch the L train to Brooklyn and go to Spuyten Duyvil and Barcade, or go to dba. I'll go to dba, I told John, if Ray Deter's there. So John gets out the cell, calls Ray, and bingo, we were in a cab for dba: me, John, Cathy, and Jim McGinley (you may remember Jim from our Fado exploits). We grabbed a table by the front and got beers.

I got Ridgeway Bitter, which was just grand. Then Ray showed up and started pulling out beers. The first thing he did was throw on a small keg of Taras Boulba (from the De La Senne brewery), a beer the BAs have been frothing about and I'd been interested in trying. I got my wish, and was soon wishing I could have stuck with the Ridgeway. I thought the TB was thin, flatly bitter, and astringent; I'm hoping it's better in the bottle. The next one he brought out, Stouterik (also from De La Senne (did Dan Shelton just come to town?), finally did send me back to the Ridgeway for one last one: the Stouterik was, again, astringent, and uninteresting. We did have a great time talking and getting caught up -- long time since I'd hung out with Ray -- and finally got back to the hotel about 1:30.

Tuesday morning we met Thomas's godfather and namesake Tom Curtin for breakfast and a ton of conversation and catch-up (I'm godfather to Tom's son Michael Augustine), and then we got this shot.









We walked a couple more blocks with TC, then he peeled off for work, and Cathy and I went to M&M World. I love me some M&Ms, and it was a fun few minutes, especially when Cathy got into the M&M Analyzer and it told her that her color was "Silver" and that her outer shell was soft and needed re-structuring. (My color was "Green," by the way, and my energy is contagious. So watch out for my energy, baby.)

Hmmm...running out of battery. Guess it's not contagious for laptops. More later.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Busy week

Sorry I've been absent, it's been a busy week.

Monday afternoon Cathy and I trained up to NYC for WhiskyFest prep; we had dinner with the Malt Advocate staff at Union Square Cafe (great food; pretty lame beer list, guys) and then went down to dba for beers.

Tuesday we had breakfast with Thomas's godfather (he works in Manhattan) and got some stuff at M&M World on Times Square; helped set up WhiskyFest, and then from 3 to 10:30, it was presenting the world's best whiskeys at the Marriott Marquis (I made sure to sample some more this time, and I'll tell you about them when I get a moment, including the new Swedish Mackmyra), followed by Unibroue and whiskies in the magazine suite.

Wednesday we came home, reassured Penderyn that we really did still love him, and after some quick phone interviews, I went down to the Philadelphia Whiskey Festival. My first time, beautiful venue...but it ain't WhiskyFest, brother.

Thursday I worked pretty much non-stop on my Ale Street column and my next Massachusetts Beverage Biz story (had a singing rehearsal in the evening).

Friday I finished the MBB story at 12:45 and left at 1:40 for The Lion, where I got a tour, and attended the regional MBAA meeting (they've invited me a number of times, this was the first one I could make; hell, I might join); heard Dave Edgar from HopUnion talk on the hop outlook (good, mostly; more later) and a presentation on filtration pads, all in The Lion's newly refurbished taproom -- looking good! Then I slipped west for a couple short ones at One Guy -- damn, Berwick really likes the place!

Today...I've got my errands done, and I'm headed for Iron Hill Newark for the Black & Tan Cask event, then going out for dinner with friends tonight.

Whew... I hope to post something more substantial on all this soon. I thought November was going to be a bit slower!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rainy Day in Jersey

I had some time to myself on Saturday -- Thomas was at a forensics tournament (3rd place), Nora was visiting Lancaster with friends, and Cathy was visiting her mom -- so I hopped in the car and headed to New Jersey. It's not a secret that I have not visited all the breweries in New Jersey Breweries: Mark and I split the visits. Before Saturday, I had nine to go. I decided Saturday morning that I might as well grab a few on a free day, and set an ambitious schedule of four; between the weather and personal matters, I got to two.

The weather? Sucked. Gray and rainy, not cold, but not warm either. I headed up Rt. 1, cruising through fairly heavy traffic, headed for New Brunswick. I'm embarrassed to admit that Harvest Moon was on my "Still to Visit" list; New Brunswick's so easy to get to. I was there in under an hour. Parking was a little tough; there was a Rutgers game that day. But someone pulled out of a free streetside space right smack-dab in front of me, so I grabbed it, and walked a block and a half to the place.

Harvest Moon's in a nicely worn older building, with a gleaming copper bar ("gleaming" because they were actually finishing up buffing it as I sat down, and it looked great (and didn't reek of polish, a big plus!)) and the brewery arrayed along the entry; the small silo was right over the entrance.

The man behind the bar set me right up with an Elmes' Mild Manor, a 5+% "mild." Too strong, obviously, but quite tasty, and very drinkable. He also poured me a taste of their new Belgian Wheat Wine. There were some solventy higher alcohol smells at first, but they blew off quickly with swirling, and the beer itself was definitely like nothing else I'd ever had: spicy, good body, not over-hopped (dry-hopped with Fuggles, I think he said), and not too sweet. Nice beer.

Onward! I walked back to the car in the rain, and told Minerva to take me to Pizzeria Uno. God, what crap weather, and construction, and jughandles...but I finally got there, the one Pizzeria Uno that's also a brewpub (remembered as I walked in that there had been rumors that the Poughkeepsie Uno had been slated for the conversion...which then fell through). Walked in, sat down, and got recognized by a reader. So we talked beer for a pleasant 45 minutes, while I got a Gust & Gale Porter (quite nice, chocolatey, no flaws, drink-el-ocity), a spinach/gorgonzola flatbread (also QN, with fresh tomatoes, reminded me of the pizza I had in Rome), and an Ike's IPA (quite clean, not overdone, but these days -- category creep, as I commented to the reader -- more a pale ale than an IPA).

The brick look of the place really took away the "chain place beside Rt. 1" image. I liked that part a lot...even though I was told I wasn't allowed to take this picture. Huh? "Policy", I was told. Well, okay, but...it's a public place! Look, if it's really an issue, Uno, just contact me, let me know, and I'll take it down. But I liked the place, and the beer, and the pizza. Don't ruin it by whining about the photo!

Anyway, I got back in the car and drove home (two brewpubs in 107 miles round trip, not bad), stopping to pick up a piece of liver for Penderyn: Saturday was his birthday. He loved it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saint Joan

I'm back on the air again. My laptop, a Dell Latitude, has been great, I'm very happy with it, but when I came home from Denver last month...I couldn't connect to my home network. The damned thing saw my network, gave me reports on how strong the signal was, but refused to even try to connect to it. It was driving me nuts, and meant that I was banished to The Hole, my office in the basement with my main desktop (which holds my backup drives, all my writing from...ever, my pictures, all that jazz). Not all that bad, but I like to see the sun sometimes, or even the rain. I couldn't get anywhere fiddling with it, checking the 'Net for answers, all that jazz.

So I finally called my sister-in-law, Joan Childs. Well...actually, Joan is my brother-in-law Carl's wife; is she still my sister-in-law? No matter, she's a freelance computer consultant and probably the brightest bulb in the whole family. She's a sweetheart, too, and just dove right into the problem. And after three downloads, and a lot of "No, I tried that" and "Holy crap, I can connect to the neighbor's Linksys network but not my own!", she got me hooked up. Turned out there had been a Dell upgrade in the driver for my WLAN card to handle a Windows upgrade that dealt with the security layer on top of TCP/IP. She sent me a link, I downloaded it, and I was writing this post within five minutes. Thanks, Joan!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Starbucks is out of coffee

Look, you know I'm not liking Wawa Coffee, right? Okay, so Wednesday I'm picking up Nora after school, and it's kinda windy and cloudy and raining, and I'm zoning a bit after a rough night of insomnia. So I look for a Dunkin to get a shot of caffeine; none around. Okay, I'm going to settle for Starbucks -- not a huge Starbucks fan, I'm one of those who think they over-roast, but I need the buzz.

So I fight the traffic and make a left turn into the not-too-conveniently placed Starbucks, park, and wait...and wait, while the two baaarrrriiissstttaaassss stumble through making iced tea and wrapping scones. But I'm thinking, I just want a large coffee, can't be too hard.

"Could I get the Ethiopian, please, large?"

"Oh, no, we're out of that. I should have erased it."

"Okay, just a large Pike Place."

And she goes to pour it and...Starbucks is out of coffee. No one in the place, and she only comes up with half a large. Starbucks is out of coffee. And then she offers to "make it an Americano for you?" You mean, top up a half cup of coffee with hot water, and then charge me more for it? She gets the stare. She tries again.

"I could make a fresh pot, just a few minutes. Four minutes."

Screw it. I went to Wawa...but I looked at the ranks of half-empty, reeking pots...and I got a Diet Pepsi.

What the hell does it take to get a cup of coffee that doesn't taste like tar, or stale grain, or brown water in the damned 'burbs? Is anyone listening?

Iron Hill Black & Tan cask lineup for Nov. 15

Here's the run-down on what's going to be at that Iron Hill cask Black & Tan event I told you about last week. It all goes down at noon at Iron Hill Newark. Mix it up!

IRON HILL CASKS
Iron Hill West Chester – Baltic Porter (7% ABV)
Iron Hill Wilmington – Bourbon Double Brown Ale (8.5%)
Iron Hill Lancaster – Belgian Pale Ale (5.0%)
Iron Hill North Wales – ESB (4.5%)
Iron Hill Phoenixville – Sticke Altbier (7.2%)

Guest Casks
Flying Fish – Extra Pale Ale (4.8% ABV)
Sly Fox – Oatmeal Stout (5.2%)
Stewart’s – Coffee Stout (5.9%)
General Lafayette Inn – Red Velvet, a blend of Chocolate Thunder Porter (6.7%) and Sunset Red Ale (5.9%)
Victory – Storm King Stout (9.1%)
Nodding Head – BPA Bill Payer Ale (6.5%)
Earth Bread + Brewery – The Bradley Effect (dark gruit ale; 4.2% ABV)
Yards – IPA (7.0%)
Triumph Philadelphia – Bengal Gold IPA (6.5%)

The Session #21 -- My Favorite Beer

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "What is your favorite beer and why." See all the links soon here at A World of Brews.

You've got to be kidding me. I don't have a "favorite" anything. Despite Matt C. saying "BS everyone has a favorite", well, I don't. I don't have a favorite beer, a favorite whiskey, a favorite restaurant or brewpub, a favorite cheese, a favorite movie -- actually, there's a good example of why I don't do favorites. Let's go with it.

Say I had a favorite movie [beer]. I'd own [stock] that movie [beer] on DVD [in a kegerator], and I'd watch [drink] it, what? Three times a week [day]? Good God, how soon would I be bored senseless [bored senseless] by it. No, instead, we joined Netflix [go to the local beer bar] and we watch [drink] different movies [beers] all the time. And sometimes we watch [drink] an old favorite again -- like The Quiet Man [Augustiner Maximator] or Big Trouble in Little China [Tröegs Nugget Nectar] -- but not that often.

Get it? The thing I love about the beer scene in Pennsylvania, America, the world is that I can get a lot of different beers, almost whenever I want them. If not one particular beer, well, something like it -- or something completely different that I may find I like as much or more. A lot like Netflix, which is the multitap beer bar equivalent to Blockbuster's JAFSB. My favorite beer is a different beer. Doesn't mean I don't like repeating -- I remember the first night I got a glass of Philly Pale Ale I liked it so much I had three more -- but I don't get stuck in a rut either. Even when I go to Düsseldorf and get stuck into an all-day session at Uerige or Schlüssel -- oh, happy days -- you know...I come home, and have a HopDevil, or an Old Heathen, or a Stoudt's Pils, or a Walt Wit.

BS? I don't think so. Just too ornery to go along with The Session this month? Well... maybe.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yards bottles on the street

Uncle Jack got some of the first bottles out of the new Yards brewery, and I am jealous...because he's positively wetting himself over the goodness of the re-tooled Brawler.
This British-style session ale, 4.3%, was just what this Malt Maven has been craving. Neatly balance, smooth on the palate and finishing with malt richness, it jumps right up there on my best new beer of the year list.

I want some!

Boston Beer Takes a Hit

From an AP story posted last night:


Shares of Boston Beer Co. fell Wednesday, a day after the brewer slashed its full-year outlook and posted worse-than-expected third-quarter results. The stock fell $2.87, or 7.9 percent, to $33.69. The stock has ranged from $31 to $54.15 over the past year.
Goldman Sachs analyst Lindsay Mann told investors in a research note that the maker of Samuel Adams beer faces a "much tougher" cost outlook in 2009. Late Tuesday, the company said the cost of a product recall and expenses relating to the opening of a new brewery would drag down full-year profit. The company now expects to earn between 60 cents and 80 cents per share for the year, down sharply from the $1.70 to $2 per share it previously predicted.
Mann cut his full-year estimates on Boston Beer for 2008, 2009 and 2010.
BBC's been all over the chart, but given the product recall (which, while most everyone agreed was well-handled, still cost them a lot (and no word on whether any costs would be recovered from glass supplier Owens-Illinois)) and the costs of renovating the Lehigh Valley brewery, there was bound to be some backlash. Coming when it did, in the middle of an incredibly volatile market, probably amplified the downward pressure.

Not sure where Mann's "much tougher cost outlook" is coming from, though: energy's down (which means glass should at least stay steady) and the German hops crop is apparently coming through really big (just talked to a brewer friend yesterday who was in Bavaria for the hop harvest). Guess we'll see.

I still think BBC and Sam Adams are sitting pretty. Sammy A is the fall-back, the go-to base beer for many craft drinkers, and as prices go up -- and Sammy A stays relatively steady -- I still see more folks going to them. I know, many beer geeks see it as one tiny step up from Budweiser...lieber Gott...but "many beer geeks" are less than a bump in the road.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trading Down: for real

AdAge reports that sales of "bottom-shelf" beer brands are climbing: Miller High Life is up 6.5% over the past four weeks, Keystone is up 11.2% in the same period, and both Busch and Natural Light are up as well. (Sad to see the writer of the story say that High Life was "ironically dubbed the 'Champagne of Beers'"; it sure as hell wasn't ironic when that slogan was coined.)
"I'm selling way more economy brands than I'm comfortable with," said one MillerCoors wholesaler, who said he'd seen big gains not only for High Life and Keystone but even for also-ran brands such as Milwaukee's Best and Hamm's.
"Consumers are trading down."

Yes...but they're still buying a lot of crafts. Craft sales continue to grow. How come? I think it's because more and more people are buying crafts, not the same people buying more units of craft. I said years ago that the biggest hurdle to growth that craft beer faced was one of availability: the consumer can't try it, buy it, if it isn't there on the shelf or the menu. Once it was available, I said, you'd see people grabbing it.

Well, it's happening. I just got a release from the ESPN Zone about their new craft beer program (built for them by Steve Beaumont, so yeah, it's for real), and that's just the latest. Good beer's cropping up all over, and people are buying it.

So...if you want a quick buzz, you can go cheap. If you want something really interesting and flavorful and fun and good with that dinner you've got cooking...craft is now available in all aisles.

Scotch whisky market tightens in weird ways

Just got news that Diageo is pulling Johnnie Walker, Bell's Extra Special and J&B Rare, along with eight single malts (Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Talisker, Cragganmore, Oban, Lagavulin, Brora, and Clynelish) off the shelves in New Brunswick.

New Brunswick, Canada, that is, not New Brunswick, New Jersey. I know most of my readers are Americans, but there's a significant Canadian contingent out there too. If you're wondering who's next, well, you're right: these brands will most likely be disappearing from shelves across the Dominion soon, probably in January. (Update, 11/6: "Johnnie Walker Green Label, Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky and Bell's Scotch Whisky will no longer be available in LCBO outlets once current supplies are gone, probably by year end, a spokesman confirmed yesterday.") They'll be replaced by Ballantines, Teachers, Famous Grouse (and the Black and 30 Year Old), Dewar's, Chivas, and Grant's. Some of those are nothing to sneeze at -- I don't mind a dram of Teachers -- but...why?

BRIC, in a word. In four words: Brazil, Russian, India, China. Hot markets all, and clamoring for Scotch whisky in rapidly-increasing amounts. More so than Canada can consume, so your supplies are getting shipped elsewhere. Welcome to globalization.

We've got a piece on this shuffling in the last issue of Malt Advocate -- about how new expressions are being created to fill the gaps -- and another coming up in the next issue, about where the whisky's going now (and where the smart aficionado can find it). The world whisky market may be looking over its shoulder, but it continues to grow, and major distillers -- Diageo, Wm. Grant & Son, Beam -- are putting a lot of money into distillery expansion.

Which president would you rather drink a beer with?

Forget presidential candidates, that's so over. Now we've got a president and a president-elect to compare. Bush, the former alcoholic (hey, he said it, not me) and current tight-assed teetotaler? Or Obama, a guy we've seen drink beer recently (and apparently enjoy), who practically got into a chugging contest with Hillary Clinton?

Even though Obama does have a non-drinking VP (although Biden happily is not a priss about it; he just doesn't drink), it's pretty obvious. I'd rather have a beer with him (um, and Michelle, if she, you know, just happened to be around...), hell, I'd rather have a root beer with Biden than Bucklers with Bush. Which, I guess, is as good a time as any to say that yes, I voted Democrat in a presidential election for the first time in my life yesterday. (I'd been voting Libertarian for the past 20 years, but couldn't bring myself to vote for Bob Barr.) Should make himself happy (or smug).

Although... Here, read this from The Shark Guys, some Canadian bloggers who have fun with booze, politics (American politics? Come on guys, some self-respect), and Sarah Palin. It's a Presidential Drinker Profile of Obama, and points out that he does so like beer.

The only thing that concerns me, and it concerned me when he said it, is this:
In March, he made the more impressive showing at a bar of the two Democrat candidates – Hillary did her best, as we blogged here, but really it was one for the road for her. Obama ordered a Yuengling beer – a politician’s choice since it is a popular and locally made Pennsylvania beer.

What was more telling were his comments after placing the order, “Is it expensive though?… Wanna make sure it’s not some designer beer or something.” Here Obama made the questionable move of showing contempt for designer/microbrewed beer. He risked painting himself as one of those guys who will mock you for purchasing a nice microbrew “because it tastes the same as any other beer they got [link added by me]. Why waste your money?”
Well, yeah. After sipping up ESB at the Bethlehem Brew Works, what kinda shit is that? I'll grant, it's just the kind of thing he might be concerned that the McCain populists might have pounced on, but dude, you've already been in a brewpub, what's there to lose? I'm just surprised that with all the class warfare going on at the time (in a Democrat primary?!), no one in Obama's campaign picked up on Hillary drinking a Canadian-made beer and a Canadian whisky. Apparently, neither did The Shark Guys.

Eh. It's just beer. We're both above and beneath all of this, which isn't a bad place to be. Cheers, folks. The campaign is over, let the recovery begin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Early Election Results Going Well...

I mean about the Maine beer tax repeal proposal, of course. I told you about this back in June; the Maine legislature stuffed a big tax on beer and soda into a late-night session, to pay for a healthcare plan. I got nothing against healthcare plans per se, but as I always say: if it's good for the whole state, let the whole state pay for it, not just beer drinkers.

Well, the early projections are that the repeal of the tax is winning in solid numbers: 62% in favor of dumping it. The doctor groups in favor of the tax is taking it well: they're going to continue to support the program, but look for other sources of funding. Might I suggest a more broad-based tax that clearly states what it's for?