Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why We Drink

I just got this comment on a previous post, and it struck me that the timing was appropriate. I was looking for something to write about at end of year, and this challenge begs a response. Read the comment first.

No offense to you, but I just do not understand why so many people have to be drunk in this country. It seems like if you are not a "drinker", then society looks down on you. Why?

I am 35 years old, never drank and have no desire to. I live in Maryland, a state that denies anyone to smoke in public, even considering a ban on smoking in your own home yet you can drink til the cows come home. I was at a restaurant where the manager received a complaint about a smoker standing outside the entry so he called the police and they made the person leave the property. Yet during the same visit to this place [Fuddruckers in Columbia], they sell beer to anyone who has the money. There are open containers of beer on pretty much every table in the place on a weekday afternoon. This drinker [aka: loser], he got up to go to the bathroom, and while gone, two kids maybe 11 or 12 years old walked up and drank from that bottle of booze.

During my visit there, this same person drank 2 beers and looked like he had some before getting to the restaurant too. When I complained to the guy and the manager, everyone acted as if I was from another planet. Like nothing is wrong with everybody getting boozed up and stumbling around and allowing minors to have free access to illegal products.

It seems to me that america is seriously flawed in their values now, we have major issues going on currently including a "depression" hitting the economy, jobs being lost daily, shitty healthcare standards, and so much more. Yet our leaders are focused on blocking marriage to those that want it, are entitled to it, etc. I bet a guy could marry his keg of beer though if he wanted to!!!

In closing, I just don't get it. Want is the fascination with drinking.......is life that sad that everyone would rather be lost in a liquor fog that to face realty and deal with life 1-on-1.
This screed sums up a lot of what passes for anti-alcohol, New Dry "thought:" everyone who drinks is a drunk, the only reason people drink is to get blind drunk, children will all drink alcohol at every opportunity, alcohol is an evil that society must be protected from by the government and societal strictures, and life can be enjoyed without alcohol. As such, it deserves a response. "Anonymous," here's my look at "Why We Drink."


Why do we drink? We drink because our ancestors and forefathers drank, with traditions going back thousands of years. The first drinkers probably drank because of the mind-expanding effects of alcohol. Alcohol is not, as is commonly said, simply a depressant. It is a much more complex drug. When they drink too much, some people weep, some laugh, some fight, some become gregarious, and some fall asleep. But all have impaired judgment, impaired attention, slowed reflexes. Drinking too much can be dangerous; drinking too much, too often, can ruin your life.

Given the potential danger of alcohol, then, why do we drink? The traditions we put around alcohol, much like the rituals we put around sex, or eating, or religion, regulate our enjoyment...if we heed them. We drink with friends, we drink in groups, and we assign a stigma to drinking alone. Cultures with stronger versions of these fences around drinking generally have a healthier attitude towards drinking. Laws have been tried to substitute for these cultural strictures, generally without success, any more than a law against puppies would succeed (yet most Islamic cultures shun dogs as unclean, resulting in dogless cities without anti-dog laws...).

So we drink in moderation. This is the concept that seems to escape the New Drys like "Anonymous." To the Drys -- not non-drinkers, but the anti-drinkers -- any drinking is being drunk. To be honest, I don't understand "why so many people have to be drunk in this country" either. But I truly do not understand why some people equate moderate drinking with drunkenness. It is as if drinking is a binary switch: don't drink, and you're sober and upright; drink one beer and you're "a drunk" and a menace. Do they believe that everyone who drives floors it as soon as they get out of the driveway?

We drink for pleasure. Drinks taste good, once one has developed the taste for them. There is nothing non-alcoholic that tastes like a good beer; if there were, we'd drink it. There is nothing non-alcoholic that tastes like whisky, or gin, or wine of any quality. The non-drinker knows nothing of these tastes, the aromas. Alcohol carries aromas in spirits and wine and beer like the alcohol in perfume; there is nothing like it without the alcohol. The effects of yeasts and distillation and barrel-aging create aromas that are too delicate to survive "de-alcoholization."

We drink to bond. Drinking is best enjoyed as a social activity among friends, family, or lovers. Moderate alcohol use leads to "social lubrication," a disinhibition of shyness, a willingness to speak without the howling mania of drunkenness. A few beers, a couple hours of conversation, and you have a fine afternoon. You can have that without the beers, to be sure, but if it is pleasant with the beers...then why the antipathy? Some cultures even tend to drink weaker beers to prolong the golden period of 'lubrication.'

We drink because we can, not because we have to. I had two beers this afternoon with lunch. I'm going to go out and have another this evening. I won't be drunk, I had no intention to. I went out for a meal, and tonight I'm going out to spend some time with my wife on a holiday. I could do it without alcohol, and oftentimes I do. I don't really know of anyone who drinks with every meal, and I don't know where anti-drinkers got that idea. "You can have fun without drinking," is the constant refrain, and they're right. But you can drink without getting bust-up drunk, too. Drinking is optional, though if I'm at Oktoberfest, I'm having a beer. If I don't want a beer, I'm probably not going to go to the beer hall in the first place.

We drink despite the disapproval of non-drinkers. "Anonymous" feels left out, looked down on, because they don't drink. Yet drinkers are looked down on all the time, oppressed even: that's why there are "sin taxes" on booze, that's why there are laws that disallow drinking to all because of the actions of the few who overdo drinking. I don't know of any laws that punish non-drinkers, I don't look down on them...so long as they don't look down on me. "Anonymous" crosses that line. But you know? Despite that, I'll probably have a drink later. And more tomorrow, when we toast the New Year with family. And no one will be drunk, or "lost in a liquor fog."

We drink because we like it. Those who choose not to drink do so for their own reasons. If a person is over-served, and becomes an annoyance -- to a majority, not one whiny teetotaler -- then sanctions should be imposed: cut off, sent home, shaming. But if a person is simply enjoying a beer...where exactly is the harm? There is none. Indeed, there is a benefit. Booze means jobs: production, transport, retail, advertising, sales, marketing...even writing. Booze means taxes (unfortunately). Booze means places to go for fun, because sales keep restaurants afloat. Towns in the South that have been dry for decades are turning to booze because restaurants don't want to be in dry towns. No one forces anyone to drink, but why do some people get to force others not to?

That is why we drink. I doubt this will clear anything up for "Anonymous." But I will sign my name to it.

-- Lew Bryson 12/31/08

Dogfight

Not about beer, just fun. We were at my mother-in-law's over the weekend, up in Newark, NY. We took Penderyn along, my mother-in-law has a peppy young Springer Spaniel named Cooper, and Cathy's brother Curt, who's currently sharing the large house, has a very well-behaved older dog, Bailey. Penderyn and Cooper have always tussled; Cooper's an instigator, and Penderyn's happy to respond, and they tumble and FRAP and wrassle. Bailey's not so quick to join in, but when she does, she's very vocal, and since she is the biggest of the three, she can seem intimidating, even though she's a sweetheart by nature.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon we were hanging out, watching the kids play Guitar Hero, and the dogs got into a full-scale tumbling, barking, scrambling playfest, Bailey and Cooper snarling and grappling, Penderyn dashing around the edges and nipping in to grab a quick bite and running out, barking and leaping...and Thomas says, "Good God, it's like Christmas at Michael Vick's house." It was just too good a line not to share.

The picture is Penderyn on the way home, when he insisted on climbing up on top of my backpack in the backseat of the Passat, I assume so he could get a better view of the Finger Lakes countryside. Or maybe it's just a Welsh thing to climb, I dunno.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ithaca is Gorges -- Part V

In which we actually go to Ithaca.

We were up in NY over the weekend, visiting the in-laws (mother and 2 brothers), as I mentioned earlier. On the way back, we cruised down along Lake Cayuga, eating up the beautiful lake views, passing up the winery tours, and wondering about real estate prices. We got into Ithaca, and stopped at the Ithaca Ale House, a relatively new place down in the middle of town. Good tap selection, neons, good vibe, looked promising.

And largely, it panned out. The beer selection was strong, and I decided to get a Wachusett Blueberry Ale, since I've had just about every other Wachusett beer but this one, their best-seller. It was quite nice, not overpoweringly fruity, drinkable and pleasant. I also got a taster of Ithaca's Oaked Nut Brown Ale, the one I panned a few days ago, and it was...better. A little sweet, a bit thin, and only the slightest incipienct edge of sourness, maybe resiny wood. It's possible that the problem is that the oak is just a bit too much for the beer to carry: too much wood for the beer.

But we were there for lunch, right? So we ordered: three burgers of varying type and a crabcake salad, and Cathy and Nora split a French onion soup. The soup came, it was good...and then we sat there...and sat there...and sat there. I could have had another beer, we could have skipped reloading the meter...it was annoying, to tell the truth. Don't know if it was the kitchen, either, because the waitress avoided us, and the other tables were dragging. The food, however, when it did finally arrive, was excellent. My burger was delicious, fresh, done just rare, the way I like it, with crisp lettuce and onions. Worth the wait? Tough call; I really would have liked another beer.

Ithaca...was nice, as always. And we'll be back.

More Local 44 stuff...

Got a phone call from Brendan "Mister Memphis" Hartranft yesterday: the Local 44 New Year's Day 5:00 opening is now definite. "We were saying 5:00 on New Year's Day," Brendan said, "but it really depended on getting L&I (Licenses & Inspection) approval. We got that today, so we're on." (That's 44th and Spruce, 5 PM, Jan. 1st, and Uncle Jack has the opening taplist here.)

There are also some pix of final preparation and some hot-looking wings on the City Paper site here. Gotta figure Brendan's happy he gave CP that quote, too: "I want people to drink heavily here." Could this be the turning point in our currently knickers-in-a-twist attitude about drinking? Stay tuned...


By the way, speaking of knickers and twists: if anyone's wondering why I'm talking so much about Local 44's opening and not about other places...it's simple, folks. Brendan sends me information, so I actually know about it. Hint, hint, bar owners...if you've got real news, send it. It actually increases your chances of getting coverage. And don't just send it to me, send it to Jack, Don, Bryan...the whole crew. That's how it works!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jameson Revealed: the David Quinn interview...finally

Did it again...got a great interview with a major figure in Irish whiskey -- David Quinn, head of Quality Control at Midleton Distillery, where they make Jameson, and the previous master distiller at Bushmills back when Pernod Ricard owned both distilleries (Bushmills is now owned by Diageo) -- and didn't get to transcribing it until months later. For which I apologize, to you and to David, who was charming and informative, a dream interview.

But here we are, with the first installment, finally. The interview begins as I get my recorder going in the middle of talking about why we're doing the interview: because Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing segment of the alcohol beverage market in the U.S. (yes, really, faster than craft brewing: the craft brewers treated "whisky" as one category, but the Irish category has been flying at about 20% growth for the past five years).

David Quinn: The renaissance in Irish whiskey in the last ten years has been absolutely incredible.

Lew: What set that off?

I think what's happened, you know, there's been such a huge amount of new Irish whiskeys coming on the market, not just from ourselves but from all the Irish whiskey makers as well. People are becoming more aware of the styles of Irish whiskey, that it's not just sort of a tag-on to Scotch, or anything else, that it's an identifiable category all in itself.

Might they also be realizing for the first time that it's more than just one bottle of Jameson and one bottle of Bushmills?

Exactly. So what we have here today, when we have the premium lineup of Jameson, which is a very exciting lineup of whiskeys, all with their own different characteristics and different tastes, but still staying true to the Irish tradition. What I mean by that is you have traditional Irish pot still whiskey at the heart of those whiskeys, which is quite a unique style of whiskey.

We can talk a little bit about how that whiskey is put together and what makes it different from the other world whiskeys, the unique character that makes it readily identifiable from, say, a single malt scotch, or a bourbon, or whatever. From Canadian, for that matter.

That's high on my list.

That's what more and more people are recognizing. They're seeing the benefits of traditional Irish pot-stilled whiskey, where you have the contribution coming from the unmalted barley, which primarily affects the texture, the mouthfeel, that mouth-coating texture that you get from using barley in the mash. People are starting to become more aware of the benefits of triple distillation and what that third distillation actually does to the whiskey. We can talk a little bit about that later. It's a question that often is raised: what does that third distillation actually do in terms of its contribution to the character and flavor, the taste of the whiskey?

Well, since we've kicked it off, to answer that, what it essentially does is that in the third distillation -- if you go back to the second distillation, we would follow the same routine of taking a heads and tails cut, and only taking the heart, the center cut of the distillation. I guess if we were in Scotland, that would be it. But we take that center cut and distill it for a third time, and go through the same process of taking off a heads and tails cut, and again taking only the center cut. It's essentially a center cut, of a center cut, so you're getting into, really, the heart of the distillation.

What that does is that it removes some, not all, but a little bit more, of fusel oils and the higher alcohols from the body of the whiskey. By removing some of the additional fusel oils and, it's likely, some additional heaviness, you're allowing more of the fragrant, floral, fruity, and spicy characters to come to the fore, that would have been there anyway, but you're just allowing them to express themselves a bit more. That gives quite a different style of whiskey

So if you combine the fact that it's unpeated malted barley -- unpeated malt, I should say -- actually having barley in the mash, unmalted barley in the mash, combined then with triple distillation. If you bring all those factors together, you do end up with quite a unique style of pot stilled whiskey.

And the triple distillation -- it is a triple pot still distillation?

Triple pot stilled, yeah. So you end up with a style that is quite different to the other world styles of whiskey, unique in its own right, and I think that's what a lot of people are recognizing. You also get the added benefit of the third distillation giving you some additional smoothness on the palate. I suppose I haven't met a whiskey distiller yet who won't use 'smooth' as an attribute of their whiskey! But I do genuinely feel that there are degrees of smoothness, and that with Jameson, with that third distillation that you do get an additional degree of smoothness in the whiskey.

You combine all of that together, Lew, and you come up with a whiskey that's very approachable in style, smooth on the palate, easy-drinking, but still with lots of flavor and lots of character. It's a good combination, if you can combine all of those attributes and all of those characteristics together.

That's why we feel that we're seeing the Irish whiskey category as the fastest growing spirits category in the States, and that's being driven principally by Jameson, because it's by far and away, it has the lion's share of that market. So we're seeing Jameson, for example, growing in the States at over 20% per year, and we expect that to continue into the future.

Is that reflected in other world markets?

The global sales of Jameson are growing at about 13 or 14% per year, and have been for the last number of years. But one of the biggest individual growth markets is the United States.

Were we lagging that before?

No, it has always been up there, but for some reason -- maybe some of the reasons we've already talked about -- we've seen an additional increase in sales in the United States. It's a very important market for us. We're seeing Jameson pass half a million cases in the United States, and that's out of total global sales of 2.5 million cases. So you can see it's a sizeable proportion of the total global Jameson sales.

It's exciting times; we're all very excited about it. The distillery, back home, is working flat out, trying to keep up with demand. We're on seven days operation, and looking to expand the distillery in the near future. It's great, it's great to see it. It's great not just for Jameson, which obviously we're very happy about, but great for the category. That's equally important.

Just an aside, before we get into the questions I had planned; when you say you're looking to expand your facility...how do you do that?

Well, you put in extra grain-handling capability, you need to put in extra fermentation tanks, well, extra mashing equipment, first of all, so new mash tuns, new lauter tuns, extra fermentation vats, extra stills -- which is a fairly major step to take, when you start putting in extra stills. Obviously, the key thing when you're putting in extra stills is that they have to match the existing stills, so that you can be confident, and insure that the spirit coming off the new stills will match what came before. We're happy with that.

And then, of course, build new warehouses. That's a program that's been ongoing for the past few years. We've been building an extra two new warehouses per year for the past number of years, and we'll continue on that rate of progress for probably the next five or six years, at two per year. Each of those warehouses will hold about 35,000 barrels.

What style of construction would they be: stone, timber?

They would be block-built, that's the main style of construction. All our warehouses are palletized.

That's just to put things in context. Because as well as the regular Jameson, which is doing wonderfully for us --

How much is it of total sales? 80%?

Oh, yeah. Well, within the Jameson family, it would be more like 90%. But if we include our other brands like Powers, and Paddy, yeah, you'd be, 3/4 of our sales would be Jameson. So it's effectively our international flagship brand.

So, that's to put things in context and set the scene. Because in addition to our standard Jameson, which is doing wonderfully well, and we're all very excited for it, we also have our Reserve range. These whiskeys are there to allow people who would maybe want to trade up, or to try a little something different, maybe try whiskeys who have a bit more to offer in terms of character and flavor.

It's nice to be able to have a full Reserve portfolio to give people that opportunity, to have a whiskey on a special occasion, or something a little different. That's what we're doing today. Not only do we have the latest addition to that family, which is the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, but we're also re-introducing in the United States, Jameson Gold.

Is that actually in now?

Right now, yeah. Jameson Gold was in the States, up to about five, six years ago. It was taken out because a decision was made at the time to just have it as a duty free, Travel Retail exclusive. It was only decided last year that we needed to have the full Reserve Portfolio available in the main markets. So in addition to the introduction of the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, we decided that we'd re-introduce the Gold as well, effectively to complete the Reserve family.

As you can see, they all got a nice new makeover. The Jameson Gold has been re-packaged, though the whiskey is exactly the same, it's been re-packaged in the Jameson premium bottle and label style, so they do look part of a family. Because the previous bottle, you can remember, was a kind of a squat, stubby bottle; it looked quite different to the 12 [year old] and the 18 [year old]. They all got a makeover, and we have a nice Reserve portfolio. It's almost like a combination event: the re-introduction of the Gold, and the launch of the Rarest Vintage Reserve. So we're excited about that.

Maybe we'd have a little taste?

Sure, if we have to!

I know it's a little early in the morning...but it's 5:00 somewhere. We'll start with the 12. (pouring noises)

While you're pouring...what are these made up of? What whiskeys? What kind of whiskeys do you make?

Right. The main part of all these distillates will be traditional Irish pot still whiskey, made from malted barley and unmalted barley.

The ratio, roughly?

Well, again, that depends. We don't make just one kind of pot still whiskey. One of the interesting features of Midleton Distillery is that it has the capability of making quite a range of individual pot still whiskeys, each with their own nuances and flavor characteristics. Depending on which one that we're making, that will determine the mix of malted barley and unmalted barley in the mash, and it also determines the type of triple distillation technique that we will use.

What I mean by that, is the cutting strengths, where you would cut from heads onto spirit, and then the cutting strength going from spirit to tails, for both the second and the third distillation. And it's one of the neat features of triple distillation: because you have heads and tails taken at both the second and the third, it gives you much wider opportunity to play tunes with your stills. You have lots of different intermediary feints, strong feints, weak feints, that can be used as part of the charge for subsequent distillation.

It gives you lots of opportunities to play with the style and the nature of your distillation technique. Every time you do that, you will produce a different style of distillate. We have to be able to do that, and we always have to be able to do that, because we have to rely on ourselves to be able to make a full range of different styles of whiskeys, and then mature those as individual whiskeys in their own right, because we never had the opportunity to trade whiskeys with other distilleries.

Like the scotch distillers do?

Right. We can't do that, so we have to rely on ourselves to be able to make a wide range of individual pot still whiskeys. The same applies to the grain whiskeys, and we can make a wide range of individual grain whiskeys as well. And then if each of those are matured in different types of casks, that increases the variability even further, and the diversity of character and taste even further, and it's that that allows us to produce a portfolio of whiskey brands that have their own individual character and individual tastes.

That's a key difference for us in terms of how we make whiskey, compared with, say, using Scotland as a comparison to how we make our whiskeys. [continued sounds of corks being pulled, whiskey being poured] It's something that John [Hansell] was very interested in when he visited Midleton. I think it was one of the reasons John gave Midleton [Malt Advocate's] Distillery of the Year a couple of years back; the flexibility.

The thing about that flexibility that impresses me is that you use it. There are a lot of places that have it that don't do anything with it.

Well, we have to use it. The other great learning experience of using that capability is that you very quickly get to learn what really influence taste and flavor in whiskey. You can get past some of the old wives' tales where some distillers are afraid to touch absolutely anything because they don't know what impact it's going to have. Whereas, because we're always trying to make new and different styles of whiskeys, you learn very quickly what is important and what does impact on the final taste and flavor...and what doesn't.

From that experience, Lew, we know the impact that the barley has in the mash, we know the impact that the relative split between barley and malted barley has, we know the impact that adjusting your cutting strengths, precisely the impact that will have on the character and flavor of the final spirit. And that's great, because it means that if we want to make a different distillate with a taste profile that's moving in a particular direction, we have a pretty good idea where to start. I'm sure, having read the citation that John gave Midleton Distillery at that time, that was a key decision-maker for him, in the sense that he was intrigued with Midleton's capability in that respect.

It means that we can have lots of fun, too! It's fair to say that while some of them have worked and we've had good fun, others haven't.

That's how you learn.

That's how you learn, yeah. It's very important.


(And that's about one quarter of what I've got for you. I'll be doing more in these quiet days, so hang tight; it was a very good interview.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Whatever happened to...

...the furor about expensive draft beer? In the first half of 2008 we got Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project, Andy Crouch's upset rant (vent? screed? tirade?) about prices, bunches of posts on the beergeek sites, and ink in BeerAdvocate and other beer rags, all about prices being just too damned high!! And now? It's all gone away. Why no more complaints about prices? Is it because gas dropped by more than half from its ridiculous mid-year high and no one cares anymore? Is it because a lack of business has brought prices down? Is it because someone got to the ringleaders, promising them free beers if they'd just shut up? (I have no proof of that, and no reason to even suspect it, but it's never stopped anyone from saying shit like that about me, so what the hell...) Is it maybe for the same reason that I haven't written anything new on my PLCB rant-site since October?

Dunno, but the silence is deafening.

Ithaca is Gorges -- Parts III & IV

Had the last two Ithaca beers in the box last night while playing Trivial Pursuit (80s edition, God help me, but the men kicked the women's butts, so not all bad). The first was Oaked Nut Brown, an oak-aged version of Ithaca's year-round standard Nut Brown. Sorry, guys: this was a mistake. The beer was sour; not wildly, spit it out sour, but tangy, like incipient infection problems. Granted, the beer was bottled in September, and may have been better then, but...four months? Should hold up that long. Thumbs down on this one; we tried a second bottle, got the same results (and swore), and moved on.

We moved on to the Ithaca Pale Ale, which was much more likable. No surprises here: American Pale Ale (Cascade, Willamette, and Centennial, according to the website) that wasn't over the top, but certainly not wimpy either. In fact, it compared rather well to the somewhat underwhelming Southern Tier IPA we had after it (which was disconcerting: STIPA is, in memory, a solid IPA, firmly bitter and buoyantly hop-fragrant; this was none of that). I'd be very happy with a sixtel of this at a Summer party (or a winter party, for that matter).

More tourist stuff? Not right now, but we may be driving thru Ithaca shortly; maybe we can get some pix. Meantime, we're not done: I've got a couple big bottle Excelsior series to do yet. Oh, and by the way: happy anniversary to Ithaca, they just celebrated their 10th anniversary earlier this month!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ithaca is Gorges -- Part II

Digging into the Ithaca box a little deeper, and I came up with a Cascazilla. The brewery sez:
The name CascaZilla is a play on both the name of our local Cascadilla Gorge and the monster amounts of Cascade hops in this beer. This red ale gets its distinctive color from a healthy portion of caramel malt, which also lends some body and sweetness to the beer. The predominant flavor and aroma of this beer, however, is brought to you by the fresh American hops.
Yes, indeed. The beer's surprisingly gulpable for being so hoppy and so big (7%), and even a Lager-drinker at our caroling party loved it. Like the label, too: the monster movie stuff with the idyllic image of the gorge falls in the middle of it. Ithaca's come a long way from four year-round beers (solid, but not what you'd call exciting) and a couple seasonals (I never thought I'd see Flower Power again, and I'm so glad they brought it back). Now they have beers like this, the big bottle wonders (working my way through a few of those, should post on them), and real promotion -- and they're in Philly.

So...you should go see them. Ithaca really is a town worth visiting. Very cool, and an early entry in the East's good beer scene (the Ithaca Chapter House, which was once a brewpub with a bitching-good blonde bock), a nationally-known vegetarian restaurant (Moosewood, and even a carnivore like me likes it), a hopping 24/7/365 deli with excellent sammiches (Shortstop Deli) and surrounded by fantastic Finger Lakes scenery...oh, and did I mention there's a seriously great cidery there, too? We'll probably be passing through the town at some point in the next week, it's always fun.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All's Right With the World: may yours be right as well

We went to evening mass (St. Andrew's doesn't do midnight mass, for unknown reasons), and Nora and I sang with the choir. My parents are staying overnight for tomorrow's celebration. The children are settled in. Gifts have been wrapped and arranged under the tree. Santa's been left a Hop Wallop (the label looks a lot like him) and an opener. I've got a mug of egg nog blended with a mix of one part Bacardi golden rum, one part cognac, and 4 parts Jim Beam 7 Year Old, and it's tasting pretty damned good. Penderyn's curled up on Cathy's lap.

It's been a good year. We've had some fun here, and some great conversations. I've met even more of you, and New Jersey Breweries is off to a sweet start, out-pacing Pennsylvania Breweries. My thanks to all the brewers, distillers, bar and restaurant people, wholesalers, and public relations types who've been so generous with their time so I can write the stories my editors want (or the blog postings...which I assume someone wants). Most of all, thanks to the readers who keep things interesting, who ask the good questions.

Best wishes to all of you at Christmastide, best of luck in the challenging new year ahead. Remember: drink it because you think it's good, drink it because you support the cause -- and you think it's good -- drink it because it's interesting and innovating...and you think it's good. Fight any forces that try to take away your rights, your choices. Be fair, don't be a snob, be open-minded. Try new things. Discuss them. Spread the word.

Cheers!

Bethlehem Day

The kids and I always take a day before Christmas and go up to Bethlehem for a day of Christmas shopping along Broad and Main, and lunch at Bethlehem Brew Works. Cathy went along last year, and had so much fun -- shopping at the Moravian Book Shop is a joy -- she joined us yesterday, too. She's between jobs right now -- last day at old one was Friday, starting her new one in January, great timing! -- so no problem. We found some fun stuff for gifts (the indoor mall of shops in the same building with BBW has some great stores, including a long-time favorite, the Foo Foo Shoppe), ran into the Malt Advocate office staff at their Christmas lunch at the Apollo Grille (not really "ran into," we knew they were going to be there, and dropped in to say hi), had some coffee...and got stuck into lunch and a couple beers.

BBW had that kitchen fire recently, and is on a limited menu, but we still enjoyed our sandwiches. The lobster and crab dip could have been better, especially for the price, but everything else was real good. I had an oatmeal stout (nice, a touch on the sweet side, that cookie character) and the new Neuweiler Cream Ale (hoppy, and with a sharp cut at the finish that brisks things up for the next sip; it emptied pretty quickly). A very good day, despite the cold and slicing wind.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Steve Nordahl... Anyone recognize that name?

I opened the Brewers Association Forum e-mail this afternoon, and a name caught my eye: Steve Nordahl. Not a common name, Nordahl, and I knew I'd seen it before. He was writing from a new brewery, Lone Peak, in Big Sky, Montana, asking for advice on pulling the trigger on a small canning machine. Hmmm.... Steve Nordahl....

Then it hit me, and Google confirmed it. Steve Nordahl was the head brewer -- and original brewer -- at Frederick Brewing (and that's a wildly incomplete entry, even for Wikipedia), the Maryland brewery that did a really spectacular expansion (one of the first beer stories I ever wrote about) and similarly spectacular IPO, built a huge, beautiful brewery outside of Frederick, Maryland...and then crashed, hard, when they apparently staked their future on the success of Hempen Ale, a beer made with sterilized marijuana seeds (which was good enough, but not amazing).

I talked about Steve and Hempen in a story I did later.
"It was an odd moment. I was in the Frederick Brewing tasting room, idly sifting through a bowl of marijuana – er, hemp seeds and talking to brewer Steve Nordahl about Hempen Ale. I had just realized that Nordahl and his partners were staking the future of the brewery on the success of Hempen Ale, brewed with those seeds. "You’re betting the brewery on a gimmick?" I asked. "No!" said Nordahl, eyes gleaming. "It’s not a gimmick, it’s a novelty!"
It turned out, as I said in the story, to be a distinction without a difference. Hempen generated a lot of first time sales on the dope imagery, but not many repeat sales. It may have been ahead of its time, a beer with "too much flavor" for the people who were interested by its promise. Nowadays, it might have a better chance.

The last I heard, and it was strictly a rumor, Steve Nordahl was day-trading stocks out of an RV. That was about ten years ago, and it was a sad loss, because Steve made some damned good beers. (Funny thing: the brewery managed to stay open, one way or another, through some incredibly hard times, and has now been bought by Flying Dog...who actually closed their brewery in Colorado and landed completely in Maryland.)

Anyway, it was a weird moment. I e-mailed him, and hope to hear what he's been doing, and what the Lone Peak story is. No one ever truly leaves brewing, eh?

Why's a bourbon barrel 53 gallons?

That's what Tom "Yours For Good Fermentables" Cizauskas asked me last week. Is there a legal standard for the size of a bourbon barrel, or are they all right around 53 gallons (little more, little less because each barrel is hand-assembled from staves of varying size) because of some ancient measurement?

I didn't know, so I told him I'd try to find out. I asked Larry Kass, the director of communications at Heaven Hill. Larry asked the folks at Independent Stave, and also asked the guy I should have gone directly to: Mike Veach, the closest thing bourbon has to an over-arching 'corporate memory.' Mike's an avid researcher, and a tireless advocate of funding for a bourbon archive and historical center. Here's his answer, sent through Larry:
As far as the barrels are concerned, this is what I have always heard: The barrels used to be a standard 48 gallons and that is the size the warehouse ricks was designed for storing. During the Second World War wood became scarce for cooperage and the decision was to increase the gallon size of the barrels to save wood and space in the warehouses - and to save cost as well but that was not the main point at the time.
The size of 53 gallons was the largest that they could make to fit in the standard ricks without making the structure of the barrel weak causing leaks. Now this information came from an article that was based upon second hand sources, but it does seem the most logical explanation. I was told by some warehouse workers that they thought if they made it larger, it would also be too hard to handle while rolling. They said the old 48 gallon barrels were much easier to handle, so the increased size made the barrels more difficult to roll. That could also have played a part in the size of 53 gallons.

So there you go. Makes sense. Thanks to Mike, to Larry, and to Tom for asking an interesting question.

Official: Local 44 to open on New Year's Day

Just got an e-mail from the folks at Local 44 (who are, of course, also the folks at Memphis Taproom):

"Thursday night...January 1st...at 5pm... Local 44 will open its doors for business."

Twenty taps, a bunch of whisky, sneak menu previews (the kitchen opens for real on Friday the 2nd), and the atmo of being hard-core: "As Art Etchells recently pointed out to us: When you drink on New Years Day, you drink with the pros.We couldn't have said it better ourselves."

They'll be open daily from 11:30am to 2am (kitchen until Midnight), seven days a week.

Local 44 is located at: 4333 Spruce Street (Corner of 44th & Spruce),Philadelphia.

I may have to cut the pork and sauerkraut a bit short and head on down, because...I am a pro.

MillerCoors caves in to New Dry pressure

MillerCoors has announced that they will "voluntarily" reformulate Sparks, their citrusy 'energy' beer...and take out the caffeine, ginseng, taurine, and guarana. A guy's gotta ask: if you do, what's the point? The stuff's packaged in a big orange can that looks like a battery, you called it Sparks. If it's not an energy/stimulo beer...it's just a fruit beer, and a lousy one at that. Crap.

I don't care for Sparks, never have, but I despise the thought of MillerCoors knuckling under to these slanderous hand-wringers. All that stuff is legal, this is just Red Bull/Rock Star/Monster with a little alcohol, which is also legal. There is nothing less legal about putting them together: bars do it all the time (I talked to a whiskey brand guy, who said part of his job was going out to bars to make sure that Red Bull and vodka isn't really the only cocktail nightclubs make any more...I think he was kidding).

But the New Drys leaned on a collection of state attorney generals (sic, as in yeah, I meant to pluralize it that way) to get them all fired up about how caffeinated booze was dangerous to children!!! And the AGs, rolled by planted newspaper stories (does anyone in the newspaper biz take the time to think about press releases anymore?), started pounding on the podium to get these dangerous drinks taken off the shelf.
"Attorneys general [sic...] from around the country are gravely concerned about pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks because these products are dangerous and look and taste like popular non-alcoholic energy drinks," Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe said in a prepared statement. "They're popular with young people who wrongly believe that the caffeine will counteract the intoxicating effects of the alcohol."
"Gravely concerned." Why don't they get "gravely concerned" about schmucks like Bernard Madoff, or sleazy jackoffs like Rod Blagojevich? Instead, the AGs are wasting their time issuing threats about fruity beer-based energy drinks, because of fears based on loose research and casual speculation from fanatical anti-alcohol groups. Why, they're gravely concerned about it!

But MillerCoors... Their statement rightly pointed out that there was no evidence or even indication that Sparks had been marketed to underage drinkers, and called the AGs allegations of such marketing "inaccurate." And then they turn around and pull the "energy" component out of their "energy beer", and agree to pay the AGs $550,000 in legal costs! WTF!

I don't drink energy drinks. I'm a man, I drink coffee. And when I want to catch a buzz with my buzz, I put liquor in my coffee. I don't think it's going to keep me from getting drunk, I think it's warm, I think it smells great. It also does balance out the sleepy-time effect of the alcohol to an extent: no kidding, AGs, New Drys, that's why we drink coffee. It tastes good, but it's also deadline in a mug, hot black zing.

If all the little posers who hang out at Starbucks pounding triple espressos and buzzing all night long suddenly started dosing it with flasks of Irish whiskey, would we hear a cry to outlaw that? MillerCoors has let us all down here. I was proud of them when they initially told the New Drys to take a hike on this issue; I'm correspondingly let down that they caved.

Easy for me to say, sure, but if the big guys continue to cave in, we will have no allies to fight the New Drys. Beer tax increases are being discussed in many states, despite the proven track record they have of being bad for both employment and revenue generation. We just celebrated 75 years of Repeal, but I can't help noticing that we got Prohibition by not taking the Drys seriously. Their descendants are well-funded, and they're not going away.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ithaca is Gorges -- Part I

I got an odd box from the city of Ithaca not long ago. Actually, it came from the city's visitors bureau, Ithaca Beer, and the I-town record label, an interesting trio of actors all urging me to consider Ithaca as a destination for beer, music, and other attractions (like Taughannock Falls, at right, one of several nearby waterfalls). They craftily caught my attention by wrapping the whole presentation around a CD of I-town artists, a small fly-drive of artwork and press releases, and a 12-pack of Ithaca beers -- those sly dogs. So after chilling, I popped the sampler CD in my PC (you can listen along here, I liked the Billy Cote cut) and popped open a bottle of Gorges Smoked Porter.

The CD? Good tunes, if a bit heavy on reggae for my tastes (do small labels get reggae artists for the same reason small breweries do ales: it's easier and cheaper?). The Smoked Porter, on the other hand, was very much to my tastes. Porter, no matter what else it is, should be drinkable, downright quaffable. If it isn't, I think it misses the whole point of being porter. Gorges doesn't let the smoke get in your eyes and overwhelm the porter, it's not gaggingly bitter, and it's not woozily strong. Mostly it tasted "moreish," as the sainted MJ used to say.

More to come shortly, on the beers, the music, and the travel to Ithaca concept.

Friday, December 19, 2008

To: You -- From: Shiner

I got a sample sixer of this year's Shiner Holiday Cheer and didn't get a chance to try it right away. Gotta admit: I figgered, ho-hum, another damned spice beer, what's the rush. The retro labeling (the cap, in script: "To: You -- From: Shiner." Very nice) Shiner has been using lately, along with the red and green and cream color scheme, was luring me on, though, and I finally succumbed last night.

I poured it without reading a thing about it, brought it up to my nose, and whoa! There was a strong aroma of ripe peaches, and something else underneath, a kind of cookie-nuttiness and spice. What the hell was this stuff? I took a sip, and the mouth was full of peach -- my second favorite fruit, after pears -- and that cookie thing humming in the background.

What the hell is this beast? I finally got the label and the letter and looked. It's a German-style dunkelweizen, flavored with Texas peaches and roasted pecans. Well, I'll be dipped. As my mom said, it's not something I'd drink all night, but it does make a delicious change of pace. Bet it would be great with duck or goose, too. Cheers, Shiner!

By the way...in case anyone was wondering, I messed with the photo to try to get it to look like the early 1960s snapshots I remember from my parents' photo albums of when my sister and I were growing up. Upped the flash, did a B&W wash on the background, and fuzzed it just a bit. What do you think?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Food, Beer, and Neckties

Just a tag to let you know I added a friend's blog to my Other Glasses list: Rich Pawlak's The Omnivore. I've known Rich for about 12 years now, starting back when he was a new convert to great beer, and he's always been an entertaining and enthusiastic writer. He's written restaurant reviews in a variety of local magazines (he got me the gigs at...um, two mags that will remain nameless because of how those gigs worked out, but they were lucrative while they lasted).

He's at home now, raising excessively cute twins (Sophie and Ben), so he's mostly writing about home-cooking (good recipes!) and take-out beer. I'm bugging him to write about his obsession with neckties; maybe later. Go take a look!

And Even More Bears...

As fate would have it, I just got an e-letter from one of my favorite bars anywhere, The Great Lost Bear in Portland, Maine. They're running a ton of Christmas/holiday beers right now on their big, beautiful tap system, and they're selling them for $2.50 a "pint" glass between 5 and 9 tonight. Oh, to be in Portland.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You want Bears? I've got Bear Beers for you!

After the talk of bears earlier this week, it seems like a particularly good time to announce my upcoming class at Tria's Fermentation School:

Strong & Soulful
Friday, January 23 • 6:30-8:00 pm -- The holidays are over, and hibernation during the dark winter nights is upon us. Doppelbocks, Eisbocks, Barleywines, Imperial Stouts and big Belgians are in order. Nationally acclaimed Philly-based beer writer Lew Bryson (hey, mom, that's me!) will share his favorite beers for a bear winter. Taste iconic strong Belgian, German and British brews plus new interpretations of these soul-warming styles by contemporary American craft breweries sure to keep you roasty and toasty even on the coldest winter night.

We're trying to pull together some 'bearish' snacks: honey, nuts, berries, and smoked salmon. Should be a fun evening, and some excellent beers. Not sessiony at all, believe me!

Wow. Some folks really like big bear beers: just got a note from Tria that this sold out in a day. Thanks!

Don Russell's Christmas Beer book

I meant to get to this a LOT earlier...but things got busy. In a nutshell: if you need to get a GREAT Christmas present for a beerdrinker on your list -- beer drinker, beer fan, beer lover, beer geek, whatever -- buy them Don Russell's Wishing You a Merry Christmas Beer.

I read Don's book over Thanksgiving, when I was so sick I could barely breathe, thought I had pneumonia. Don almost killed me with some of the funny shit in this book; I got to laughing so hard I almost horcked up a lobe at one point. It's got fun writing (of course), it's got solid content (not just beer reviews, real holiday beer research), and the book is a gorgeous piece of production: beautiful semi-gloss cover, solid hard-bound book, sumptious color beer pix inside.

In short, this is a book I truly wish I'd written. If I were someone else I won't name -- older, maybe, and kind of...curmudgeonly -- I'd say that's why it took me so long to get to reviewing it. Truth is, I've been busy and very much involved in some other issues, and I regret the lateness of the hour. But look, there are signings tonight and tomorrow (Wednesday, Dec. 17 - 5 PM at Home Sweet Homebrew (2008 Sansom St., Center City); and 7 PM at Devil’s Den (1148 S 11th St., South Philly, and if you haven't been here yet, you oughta). Thursday, Dec. 18 - The Irish Pol (45 S. 3rd St., Old City). 7 p.m.), you can still buy the book through Amazon in time for Christmas, or buy it directly from Don (which I'm sure makes him more money!)

If the book's not enough... Don's put together a Christmas beer festival on Saturday, Dec. 27 at the Penn Museum (33rd & Spruce streets, University City) from 1-3 PM. Now THAT'S a great idea! You can, of course, get the book (and get it signed) there, too!

Longshot Double IPA

After the long wait from last year, we finally got Mike McDole's Double IPA in the Samuel Adams Longshot series, the beers Boston Beer brews and distributes nationally as the result of a country-wide homebrew competition. McDole's beer actually won last year, but because of the hops shortage, the decision was made to hold off production till this year.

I got two samples, and cracked one last night. Yow. This is one wicked bitter beer, slicingly hoppy, chockful of pine and citrus...but without much body under it, or at least, not enough, it seemed to me. I do love me a hoppy beer, but this one's missing the malt it needs to keep it upright. JMO, but after all, it's JMB, you know? Some of you will love this, as it feeds your needs. Me, I'm looking forward to trying the Traditional Bock that came with it in the Longshot sixpack.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A little more on gay craft beer consumption

Strictly anecdotal... I talked to a gay friend of mine about this posting. Pretty close, he said: "Gay men, not so much craft beer; lesbians, yes. I know quite a few lesbian couples that drink craft beer pretty regularly. Gay men, no. It's light beer: Coors, Miller, Bud, Heineken, maybe Amstel."

Coors Light? Really? "Oh, yeah, you'll go into a gay bar and there'll be a Coors Light tap with a rainbow on it."

So how come? The light beer calorie thing? "Yeah. It's about staying in shape, body image, that whole thing. Of course, you've got a variety of people there; the bears not so much with the light beer, they might drink craft."

Always something to learn. Now...how to reach more lesbians.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wild Turkey an endangered species?

Chuck Cowdery is reporting on his blog that there are "published sources" reporting that Wild Turkey is available for sale. Pernod Ricard, which has owned the distillery for over 20 years, bought Absolut producer Vin & Spirit, and is looking for cash to pay off the debt.

Interesting, but...as Chuck points out: "The other problem is, the distilled spirits industry is so consolidated now, who could buy it?" Uh-huh.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good Beer Day

I had no business whatsoever going to the IPA Project at Sly Fox today. Work, a concert to sing tonight, family issues that I don't want to go into...I should have stayed home. But I didn't, and it's all worked out. I should worry less.

I did go, and immediately ran into Matt "Beer Yard" Guyer, who confirmed my thought about the best way to go at the IPA Project: eschew the flights and just pick something to get a real size of. I grabbed a flight attendant (the ever-popular and brilliant Corey Reid (portrait of whom you see to the left...) and ordered up a 12 oz. Aurora.

Quick explanation: the IPA Project is a series of single-hop IPAs. In December, at the Sly Fox's anniversary, they pull out kegs of all the IPAs and offer them all at once. Brilliant. Except this year...Well, the Aurora was okay. The Fuggles was okay. The 2008 Odyssey (DIPA, multi-hopped, cask) was okay. The Mt. Rainier? A bit better, but in a crisp refreshing way, not a knock-out way. By this time, I'm starting to think, what the hell, the hops shortage has made all hoppy beer boring? Hate to dis Sly Fox IPAs this way, but damn, my socks were not being knocked off! (Kinda cool when former Sly Fox (and Independence and Stoudt's and Sunnybrook) brewer Bill Moore showed up, though; and yeah, Uncle Jack was there, looking pretty good after his brush with severe abdominal discomfort last month: that's Guyer, Jack, and Bill in the pic.)

Then Uncle Jack kind of talked me into getting one more 12 oz. glass, and I got the Galena. Now, Galena is generally considered to be an industrial-grade hop, a bitterness source, and that's about it. But...I remember back in the 1990s, Great Lakes (before Andy Tveekrem left there to become the wizard behind the curtain at Dogfish Head) had a barleywine they called Steamroller that was never offered for sale (as far as I know), just an "under the table" beer at festivals: huge, hi-alcohol, bitter, and dry-hopped on a bed of Galenas. And it was brilliant, as I recall. And so was this. The Galena was easily the best IPA of the day. Well, at Sly Fox, anyway.

Because when I left Sly Fox, I realized, I've got just time enough to stop at Victory and get maybe a growler or two of the great beers I've been hearing they had on tap right now. So I did. And it was good. Although it did take too long to get a beer, because two bartenders had a long talk about boyfriends, and Oh MY God!, and school, and NO WAY! right in front of me, and then walked off in opposite directions...till the guy sitting next to me at the bar called out to the one and said, "Hey, this guy's thirsty, you know?" Bless him. Bartenders at Victory; what's it take?

Anyway, I got me a pint of Uncle Teddy's Bitter (great, as always), and two growlers: St. Vic (which I'm polishing off right now, although I planned on saving it till Sunday, but I caught the bail on the flip-top when I was setting it down, and I had to drink it...really) and Yakima Twilight, a dark DIPA that tasted just fantastic when a guy at the bar offered me a sip. The St. Vic is great, smooth, malty, just a tad raunchy/smoky/chewy, and I love that. More about the YT when we drink up that one.

All in all: hell of a good beer day. And the concert went well, BTW, thanks for asking.

Bethlehem Brew Works re-opens

Case you hadn't heard, Bethlehem Brew Works had a small kitchen fire earlier in the week. The good news is, they re-opened today at 4 PM.

Whew. Now I can take the kids to Bethlehem for our annual Christmas lunch at BBW and shopping expedition in the shops and the Moravian Book Shop, a wonderful bookstore that claims to be the world's oldest continually operating bookstore (since 1745).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Farewell to "corked" wine?

Okay, kind of an odd post for me to return with after a week away from the blog (sorry about that, it's been a busy week, and I'm still a bit under the weather): there's news that a technology developed by NASA to remove contaminants from fruits and vegetables headed to the space station may also effectively remove TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) from wine corks. Best of all, the process doesn't just filter the TCA, which would leave the possibility of it slipping through, it chemically destroys it.

If you're not familiar with TCA or corked wine, it's a big deal that most folks in the wine industry don't like to talk about. TCA occurs in natural cork; it's a contaminant (I think it's mold-generated) that doesn't show up until the cork is put in a bottle; when the bottle is opened and the wine is poured, it's pretty much nasty and undrinkable. If you ask folks in the wine or cork biz, it affects 1-3% of bottles (which is actually a huge number: imagine if 1-3 out of every 100 bottles of beer you got were just shite? Oh, wait, that's how craft beer was back in the 1990s...); if you talk to wine critics and industry analysts, it's more like 5-10%. A big problem when you're talking about flushing a $20 purchase down the crapper, and it's been a major component behind the move to screwtops, synthetic corks, and box wines.

But all those other closures have issues, to varying extent, and the wine industry would mostly rather use cork. Now, maybe they can:

Airocide was originally developed in the 1990s to keep fruit and vegetables fresh on a space station. It has been proved in concept trials to remove 90-95% of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which causes cork taint in wine, from a sealed room within 24 hours. The process works by sucking air through a box containing a 'bed' of titanium dioxide catalyst. This is irradiated by UV bulbs, oxidising any organic contaminants.

Independent UK wine laboratory Corkwise performed the trials on behalf of Airocide. Airocide is already used in hospitals, research facilities and for food storage - but is relatively new to the wine industry. Potential uses exist throughout the supply chain, from wineries to warehouses. The cost ranges from £1,500 for small units, to upwards of £7,000 for large ones.


Will it work? Is it economical? Can't say. But getting rid of TCA would sure take some of the pucker out of buying big-ticket wine, at least for me. Because once you've been burned by corked wine, you don't open a bottle quite the same way. At least for me. Pretty interesting.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Session #22 -- Prohibition and Repeal

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it falls, with serendipitous beauty, on the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 21st Amendment: Repeal. If only this were Session #21! We've been asked to reflect on "What does the repeal of Prohibition mean to you? How will you celebrate your right to drink beer?" See all the links soon here at the 21st Amendment brewpub's blog.

21 Thoughts About Prohibition and Repeal.

1. Prohibition was about as likely to ultimately succeed as a law repealing gravity. People drink, and we've been enjoying alcohol for about seven thousand years or more. Note that longevity does not equal an invulnerable cultural position, but the stuff tastes good, too, and it makes you feel wonderful.

2. This did not stop people from attempting to make Prohibition work. Donkeys.

3. But note also: we had it coming to us. Prohibition happened because booze and the people who sold it were out of hand. Saloons were often dens of iniquity, drunken men did squander their paychecks and beat their wives and children, brewers and distillers were corrupt and fed graft money into a corrupt political system. We look back on saloon society and plentiful local breweries and a wide diversity of distillers (oh...for the days of rye distillers in Maryland and Pennsylvania), and we see things through amber-colored glasses, a beautiful Golden Age of Drinking. Well...there were some pretty cool things. But there were some pretty ugly things, too: see Gangs of New York.

4. There was something to that Golden Age, though. The heart sags to think of the local breweries and distilling traditions lost because the industry couldn't police itself. We had monastic breweries here in America, we had pot-stilled whiskey, we had flourishing wineries, and we had saloons that were opulent palaces of booze. All crushed, forcing us to start over from practically nil. Woe.

5. Enforcing Prohibition was a disaster. For every Eliot Ness, for every Mo Smith and Izzy Einstein (pictured here, sharing a legal drink after Repeal), there were a hundred corrupt enforcement agents who signed up for a chance to make bribe money, get away with shooting rivals, or to get inside information on raids for their gangster bosses. Enforcement was underfunded -- often on purpose -- and at times vicious: there was support among some Drys for not labeling wood alcohol as poison, or for simply poisoning all alcohol. And it never stopped more than a minuscule amount of the huge illegal trade in alcohol.

6. If all that sounds like The War On Drugs, the DEA, and Paraquat...well, draw your own conclusions.

7. But while you're drawing those conclusions, keep in mind the obvious. What the War On Drugs is today, Prohibition was yesterday; a doomed attempt to control an easily produced substance that a significant part of the population wanted to buy and consume, an attempt that built and hugely enriched a criminal organization, while making many otherwise law-abiding citizens criminals and scofflaws. Great...

8. Oh, and it also lost the government a huge source of taxes (not that I approve of those excise taxes, but I've found my opposition to them to be quixotic at best) and turned the quality of that product to crap. Thanks.

9. Prohibition was actually immensely popular...at first. It must have been, the 18th Amendment was ratified very quickly. Almost as quickly as the 21st Amendment was, 13 years later.

10. Prohibition was not, however, foisted upon us by Bible-thumpers, "conservatives," puritans, rural nutjobs, or Republicans. They had their place in it, but the progressives, liberals, city-dwellers, public healthmongers, and Democrats were right there beside them. Not a judgment either way, just truth. The Anti-Saloon League was the NRA of its day, the first real power politics practitioner in the modern era, and they didn't care what party you belonged to, as long as you promised to vote Dry.

11. Prohibition was foisted on us by a progressive lie, much like keg registration is being shoved down our throats now. It started in one town/township/county. But the drinking wouldn't stop, and booze would come in from every border. "Give us statewide prohibition," would be the cry, "and we'll show you how it can work! The outsiders are ruining our good work!" And they'd get statewide Prohibition, and the drinking wouldn't stop, and booze would come in from every border. "Give us national prohibition," was the cry, "and we'll show you how it can work! The outsiders are ruining our good work!" And they got national Prohibition...and we got Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, and Joe Kennedy. "Give us more money for enforcement, give us the military to stop smugglers, give us easier search warrants!" And they got it...and nothing happened. Prohibition, as Will Rogers said, made you want to cry in your beer, and then denied you the beer to cry in. Finally, people got fed up, and started talking Repeal.

12. Prohibition got a big boost from business -- John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and other industrialists thought it would mean a clean and sober workforce that they could get to work more like the automatons they wanted -- and government -- because the feds now had the income tax and were rolling in revenue, and thought they didn't need booze tax any more. So did Repeal. When Rockefeller saw that his workers were still drunk, and now were sick from bootleg crap booze, and saw the taxes going to pay for an increasingly corrupt enforcement bureaucracy, he did an about-face. When the Depression hit in 1929, income tax revenues dropped, and the feds needed money to pay for jobs programs -- hey, start up the booze biz again, it's a two-fer!

13. Women were a major force for Prohibition -- they were feeling empowered by the suffragist movement and the Progressive movement -- and, again, for Repeal. Upper-class women were revolted by the corruption, by the blatant hypocrisy of Dry politicians who drank like fish, and by the lack of human sympathy displayed by the more cruel Drys (those guys who wanted to poison the drunks). Urban Catholics and immigrants were against Prohibition because it simply seemed unnatural to them; well, it was.

14. Repeal became unstoppable as the Depression deepened because of the two-fer effect mentioned above. But the damage to America's palate had already taken place. We got used to lighter (cheaper) beer, white (unaged) spirits, Canadian and Scotch (smuggled) whisky, and sweet fortified (cheaper) wine. It took us decades to re-discover what we'd lost.

15. Some of it never was recovered. Thousands -- thousands -- of breweries closed, never to re-open, and the idea of the local brewery was irreparably crippled. Hundreds of distilleries closed, and bourbon and rye distillers were left with a huge, irreplaceable hole in their warehouse inventories. Young bourbons tasted vile, and sold for such low prices that the bourbon business referred to sales as "swapping dollars": the cashflow from the income just barely balanced the outflow of production costs. Rye whiskey, America's heart-warming frontier spirit and the pride of the Monongahela, practically disappeared. We had a hole shot through our memories and our national palate that would take years to begin to replace.

16. Repeal was a gloriously happy occasion. The beer trucks rolled, wine flowed, hipflasks were openly waved. Happy days were here again! I would truly love to go back in time for those two days -- Happy New Beer in April of 1933 and Repeal Day eight months later -- to watch America celebrate the return of John Barleycorn and Demon Rum. And to eat the livers of the Drys...how did Conan put it? "Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women." Oh, yeah. That would have been sweet, watching the Anti-Saloon League hating all those fun-loving boozers.

17. The Drys often got the last laugh, or at least a long one. States remained dry, then counties, towns, as local option laws held on. Screwed-up liquor laws kept things weird: in some states, the word "saloon" was illegal. Morality and government greed got mixed in an unholy combination of taxes and control schemes: state stores, rapacious prices, and customers treated like unclean supplicants. An alliance of Baptists (who wanted no drinking) and bootleggers (who wanted no legal booze sales) kept many counties in Kentucky dry to this day. The Drys were salted through the state legislatures, and everyone seemed to think that the return of Prohibition was lurking right around the corner -- after all, it had happened once -- and they had to step cautiously lest it return.

18. But the Drys had been beaten. Prohibition continued to recede, the WCTU became a joke, the ASL withered and died (corrupt itself, at the end), and "temperance" was forgotten. The New Drys, the neo-prohibitionists, didn't really start to re-group until the 1960s, when they found a new home among the Science Geniuses and the Safety Nazis, the good people who were going to save us from ourselves with Science. They realized that Prohibition had been tried, and failed. They openly announced that they would bring their new order to the nation by limiting access to booze (liquor license procedures), by tightening who could drink (the 21 LDA), by re-defining "drunk" (the 0.08 BAC DUI limit), and by raising excise taxes. And that's what they've been hammering away on ever since, with some success.

19. How do we fight it? Two things. First, to quote Mad-Eye Moody (the fake one) in the Harry Potter books: CONSTANT VIGILANCE! The New Drys are constantly flooding the media with anti-alcohol bullshit. Whenever they do, someone should counter them. The brewers, distillers, and vintners didn't in 1919, and look what it got them. Don't ignore them; they are at work every day, earning their grant money and taking aim at your fun. Now, the second thing...we have to admit that they're not all wrong. I've heard ridiculous bullshit from our side too: "You can't get drunk on beer." "You're not an alcoholic if you drink the good stuff." And worst of all, this:

..

..

That's right, silence, as in not admitting the problems of alcohol exist. We have to be honest, or we can't hold them to the same standard. Remember: the reason we got Prohibition was because there really was a problem. A big one. We have to step up and be honest about fighting it.

20. In the meantime, the full fruits of Repeal are sweeping the nation at an increasing rate. Long-dry towns in the South (and North) are going wet, ridiculous laws are being repealed (limits on beer strength; draft beer is allowed in Montgomery, Alabama; South Carolina finally gets rid of airline bottles at bars; and the PA case law...how long, O Lord, how long?!), and attitudes are changing (lowering the 21 LDA is being openly discussed for the first time in 20 years). The New Drys are fighting fiercely, and ground is exchanged back and forth, but we're definitely in the fight.

21. As for me...I intend to celebrate this momentous 75th Anniversary of Repeal in the same way everyone else did in 1933. I'm going to get me to a brewery, and get a few big seidels of good lager beer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Things That Make Me Say Bad Words, Part I

"Heineken N.V. today announced that it is to close its Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork in March 2009."

Dammit. Beamish & Crawford was the first foreign brewery I got excited about, way back in the 1980s, and we dropped by on our honeymoon in 1989. The brewery had a history, and a place, and a well. And Heineken got hold of it, and closed it, and 120 Irish jobs are lost. There are other breweries closing, of course, and pubs continue to close in the UK at a stunning rate (with surprisingly little blogger reaction that I've seen, which is puzzling...maybe), but this one hit home.

I say many bad words.

Photo of the Beamish & Crawford Brewery by kman999 on flickr.

Review of New Jersey Breweries

Someone finally noticed that Mark and I put out a book... There's a nice review of New Jersey Breweries up at myCentralJersey.com. Sweet, and just in time for the holidays.

As for her calling me on a "misstep" on putting attractions/lodging in Clinton down for Cricket Hill, well... she's right. Looks like that stuff for Cricket Hill should have been in the Long Valley entry. Not sure what happened there; editorial brainfart on my part, definitely, because I wrote that section. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Genever returns to the bar

Ever had genever? You've probably had gin, but it's likely you haven't had genever. The Dutch/Belgian version of gin, the earliest form of commercial gin, has not been popular in America for centuries -- a damned shame, cuz genever is good stuff. It's grainy, it's got more body than gin, it's not as piney as gin, and mostly, you drink it straight up, and you know...I like that.

That's me on the left, liking it, having a Belgian genever at 't Dreupelkot in Ghent last spring. They serve it so full, right up to the very brim, that you kind of have to take that first sip right off the bar, and then pick up the glass. That's their genever menu on the bar beside the glass; you can see how many genevers they have...and that's just one side of the menu.

I don't remember if they had Bols Genever or not. 't Dreupelkot is the kind of place that might not have Bols because it's too ubiquitous (and too Dutch...). Bols claims to be the oldest spirit brand in the world, though they've kind of hidden their genever light under a basket in the U.S.; I knew Bols as a bottler of blue curaçao, the bright blue, orange-flavored liqueur that was an ingredient in a drink we called "Tidi-Bols," along with a depth charge-sized slug of vodka and 7-Up to top up. Anything to get drunk, back in those hazy post-college days.

But Bols has been making genever since 1820, and they've brought it back to the U.S. recently, with a big launch in New York and San Francisco. They're pushing it as a cocktail ingredient, and I'm sure it's a good one. But I hear people put bourbon in cocktails, too, and that's never impressed me much either. Okay, maybe a little. But I'd rather just drink the stuff.

I remember talking with Steve Beaumont at Dreupelkot, as we sipped genevers and watched people "eat" advocaat, a kind of booze pudding made from brandy, eggs, sugar, and flavorings. The bar had a crazy rainbow of flavored advocaats, and you get a little cup and eat it with a utensil that looks something like the plastic coffee stirrers you get at McDonald's. We were both thinking that a genever and advocaat bar would be a can't-miss proposition in Manhattan...which probably proves how many genevers we'd had. Still...genever and booze pudding? I think we might have been right. With this Bols launch, maybe we'll find out.

A New Look

I wanted to let the local folks know that I have a new look. I got new glasses on Saturday, with my first non-wireframes in about 15 years. Aside from the new frames, the new lenses are wonderful. I no longer have to take my glasses off to read or do fine work, and looking at things in the middle-distance doesn't give me a headache. I like it.

Penderyn, well, he's not so sure. Maybe he thinks I'm hypnotizing him into never jumping up on the new couch again. I would, if I thought it would work.

Repeal Day coming up soon

I really wanted to do some stories on the 75th anniversary of Repeal, which is coming up this Friday, December 5th, but it just didn't come together for me. I'll just have to settle for stopping by Memphis Taproom Friday afternoon for dollar drafts (really, 3-4 PM), lifting a glass to the memory of the folks who got us out of Prohibition, and visiting this cool website put up by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS). Prohibition and Repeal were immensely influential events in U.S. history, and hardly anyone knows the truth about them these days, or even thinks about them.

So go, learn, get smart. And come Friday, have a drink. Have a couple. Hell, party all night long, because you legally can!

Iron Hill Lambic-style beers go full-time

Iron Hill, the regional brewpub group in these parts (seven brewpubs -- all brewing -- and counting; Maple Shade, NJ slated for the spring, now how about Bucks County?), never seems to get enough respect from some of the geekerie. Oh, the beer's good, but nothing's really special, they say (which I assume means over 12% ABV, hopped like a crank-shooting bunny, and/or sour-assed puckery). This, despite many GABF awards for their big beers, their sour beers, and their "ordinary" beers, seems a bit out of touch to me, to put it politely.

You may hear a mass sucking sound this weekend as heads are finally pulled out of ... orifices by the launch of Iron Hill's bottled lambic-style beers. Four of these beers, Kreik de Hill (isn't that supposed to be "kriek"?), Lambic de Hill, Framboise de Hill, and Cassis de Hill, are now available in take-home bottles, not just on draft for special occasions. Iron Hill's lambic-type beers have won awards, critical acclaim, and built a fan base locally. They're damned good, and they should be, with the amount of work, love, and expense the brewery has put into them. They've won five GABF medals between them, including three golds.

To celebrate, there will be launch parties this weekend. Saturday, Dec. 6, from 2-5 at Iron Hill Wilmington, and Sunday, from 2-5 at Iron Hill Media. All four beers will be available at Wilmington, the Cassis will not be at Media. These two locations will be the only ones selling these bottles.

American craft brewers. If they can imagine it, they can make it. Iron Hill invites comparison to the Belgian classics.

Single Malts in the NYT

Eric Asimov has another article in the New York Times in his occasional series on spirits, tasting panel adventures I've had the pleasure of being invited to attend and contribute to; today's is on single malt Scotch whisky.

Specifically, they decided to tackle the huge breadth of Scotch whisky with tight focus. They selected twenty-one 12 year old Speysides. Not surprisingly, they found that most of them made "the cut," the first round of blind tasting in which the four participants give a thumbs-up or down on whether the drink deserves further consideration.

A good piece, if only because Eric realizes that single malts simply can't be fully addressed in this relatively short format, and instead writes with obvious love on how Scotch whisky inspires the muse like no other spirit. Indeed.

Google to Bleach Their Blue Noses

Wow, I guess all us beer/booze Bloggers can stop looking over our shoulders -- not that many of you probably were, but I'm paranoid -- because of Google's policy of keeping alcohol at arm's length. Buried in the small print on the "Yeah, I'm going to play nice in the Blogger sandbox" statement you agree to when you use Blogger is some language that seems to say you shouldn't talk about booze...but it's vague.

We can probably forget all that now, because Google has announced that they will "lift restrictions in the New Year, letting spirit brands run branded search campaigns tied in with overall marketing activity." This is in response to slowing "click rates" on AdWord, Google's money-maker. So they're throwing open the doors to spirits ads. About time. Liquor is legal, albeit with restrictions: much like automobiles, pool halls, firearms, marriage, and practicing law. Thanks for admitting it, Google.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Zlate burieZ Zima

My thanks to fellow Malt Advocate writer Terry Sullivan for sending this Slate article on the End of Zima. Funny stuff (and I loved the slap at Miller Clear). I never could figure out why Coors kept Zima on life-support...but Koerner falls down on the job a bit when he doesn't mention that this "it's not dead yet!" strategy paid off in spades for Coors with Blue Moon, which came out just a couple years after Zima. So it's not all stupid.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why Don't You Drink Craft Beer?

I drink American "craft" beer most of the time when I drink beer. I'd say "almost every time," but I drink quite a bit of non-American craft beer, and I do occasionally wind up with something like a Michelob or a Guinness. But probably 70-80% of the beer I drink is brewed in America, and is not a mainstream-type lager.

I'm also a straight, white male; and I'm like a 0 on the Kinsey Scale straight, 100% German-Scots white. I am neither proud nor defensive about any of that, just laying it out because it's relevant in this context.

"This context" is the aggregate of craft beer drinkers, and if you haven't ever noticed before -- which would be tough, unless you're solidly non-self-aware -- the aggregate of craft beer drinkers is a white swordfight. It's guys, we're white, and we're straight: Straight White Males. The floor of a big fest, like the GABF, is thronged with them (this pic from the 2008 GABF shows about 12 women that I can see, I don't see any black folk, and, well, an Internet picture doesn't do gaydar). There are exceptions: plenty of women like craft beer, I know some black, Latino, and Asian folks that do, and I know a couple gay and lesbian craft drinkers (and yeah, there are probably more than I know). But work the numbers, and you're looking at a group that's almost 9 out of 10 white straight guys. (Craft brewers aren't too much different, looking at who was up on stage to accept GABF awards this year (and last year (and the year before...)))

How come? I know why I like the stuff -- no, wait...maybe I don't, but I for damn sure know I do like it, liked it from the first full beer I had, and liked craft beer almost as quickly. But I don't know why it's so exclusive to SWMs.

Thing is, with everything I drink -- wine, beer, liquor -- there are SWMs drinking "the good stuff," whether it's single malts, old growth zinfandels, craft beer, what have you. Without going into stereotyping, a lot more women drink good wine than drink good beer, gays and lesbians have similarly been known to enjoy good wine, and black folk have gone into cognac in a big way. My point: it's not a fear of flavor.

Is it us? Does the behavior, character, stereotypes of straight white men add up to something everyone else just doesn't want to be around? I do remember hanging with a black couple, friends of ours, at an Irish bar Cathy and I liked, and the guy asking, "What the hell is it with white folk, anyway? You get a couple Guinnesses in you, and you all start singing!" Is it that? (I'm pretty sure he was kidding...I am, mostly.) These days we all get along in the workplace -- pretty much -- so I'm guessing this isn't it, although interpersonal strain is a weird area.

Maybe it's something much simpler: nobody ever asked. A lot of conversation in craft beer aficionado circles (sounds so much better than "talk among the geeks") is about how to get other people to drink and like craft beer. They talk about it all the time over on BeerAdvocate. But it's always about "my brother" or "this guy at work." White guys talking to white guys.

I know I try to get women to drink craft beer, and I've had some success. But as for gays and African-Americans, these days, after doing this beer/booze gig full-time for 13 years...most of the gays and non-white-Americans I know, like most of everyone I know, already drink craft beer, and that's how I met them.

We need some diversity, for diverse reasons. First, it is always nice to get some variance of opinion and thought. As brilliantly illustrated here and here, and here, getting a view from somewhere other than SWM-ville is a good thing. The SWMs are cool, I love us, but we tend to group-think (as any other group does, and the more homogeneous the group, so goes the thinking). Break it up.

Second, different people bring different tastes, different desires. I've always said we need more kinds of brewpubs; we need more kinds of everything to do with beer. Bringing in new groups to drive that difference is good. Do I think that because someone is gay/female/black they would like something other than me? Not necessarily, but chances are better than zero that they might.

They're also more market. It is in every craft beer drinker's interest to get more people turned on to craft beer. (Well, except the snooty little snots who get off on liking something no one else 'gets' because it brings meaning to their life, and they can always worship some tiny output brewery, much like the cork dorks and their subscription-only grape juice.) The more folks who drink it, the more places they'll sell it, the fresher it will be, the better off and more stable the breweries will be -- kind of like we've been seeing in the past three years, only more so. Getting more people, more diverse people, turned on to great beer variety will help that process along immensely.

So...open challenge to craft brewers, to craft drinkers, to other beer bloggers. Think about how you can be more inclusive. Tweak your advertising? Recruit diversity? Get your SWM blinders off and realize that other people might like beer too? Get out into some places you haven't been before, and talk beer. You've got the SWMs, the people that put you in your comfort zone. Now stretch. Talk to people. It may not be easy, but it may not be as hard as you think. We've got an African-American president who likes beer, and drank craft beer, in a brewpub. Big wedge.

I'd love to see this happen. Because I really do believe beer will save the world -- not quite sure how, but it's got a lot of potential -- and the more people working with us, the better.