Monday, November 30, 2009
The day started with horrible traffic under weeping, cloudy skies, as I struggled to get from my hotel by the airport to the Hot Metal Diner in West Mifflin. Well, I got there, and I was running late for my Rock Bottom appointment with brewer Steve Panos, and a good person would have said, you know, I can't really get breakfast here and still make that appointment, so just get a McMuffin and keep moving.
I'm not a good person. And I'm glad: the breakfast burrito at HMD is deliriously, stupidly good and big, and it easily kept me going through what would be a semi-grueling day. Smart decision, in the end, and I wasn't terribly late, either; traffic finally cleared up. The only down side: finally seeing the Walgreen's where Chiodo's used to stand. Damn.
Rock Bottom Homestead is chugging along. Steve was brewing while I was there talking to him, and we talked biz -- good, volume is going to be a bit more than it was last year -- Portland -- Steve is coming in from brewing there, and misses it, a little, kind of -- and what sells: seasonals, and the Velvet Pale (pale ale on nitro with a dose of oats in the mash). Sorry I don't have a picture of Steve; he was moving too fast. Good lineup of beers, and man, they sell them at a reasonable price. Don't overlook this one!
It had cleared up a lot when I walked out, and I was cheerful: cross-country drive to Marzoni's! Yeah, well, forget that. The weather quickly went to hell, and I was boring through mist and drizzle across the roll and dip of the PA Highlands. Some truly stupid drivers out there. Marzoni's was good, and as brewer Bill Kroft told me, other than the Allison Park location closing last year, things were okay. The concept's not dead, he said, though he admitted that it wasn't likely that Hoss's would try another in this dark economy. I did notice that besides the beers still tasting good (Bill had a Belgian IPA on; no, really, and it was good), the place smelled good, that delicious good-pizza-place smell. If I weren't still cruising on my breakfast burrito, I might have had to get me some. But I was, so I took off for Otto's.
More nasty driving later, I pulled into Otto's, just in time for Sam Komlenic (who was there to get some gift whiskeys that had somehow arrived from Kentucky...I heard...) to take Charlie Schnable and I down to what's going to be the new Otto's, the former State College Quaker Steak & Lube. Yeah, the one that crashed and burned. QSL's loss is Otto's gain: this place will be great as Otto's new digs. Plenty of parking, a very big and capable kitchen (once they take some of the seven oversized deep-fryers out), three bars, and lots of bizarre automobilia that they'll be removing (an intact top-fuel dragster, an intact Corvette (and another missing only the engine), a QSL custom chopper, a sprint car, and a ton of other miscellaneous crap that is, as Sam put it, evidence of the incredible hubris of the original owners). Anyway, much needs to be done before Otto's can move in, not least of which is a major redecorating, but the kitchen essentially just needs to be cleaned.
Back up to the current joint, where I ran the taps (real good, especially the Old Fugget barleywine on cask) and had a delish-type meatball sandwich (so not Sysco), and, finally, bid Sam farewell and aimed the Jetta homeward. I got there just in time to unload and go to a capella rehearsal, and then finally went home and relaxed with the family, little dogs and all. A very good four day trip.
Here's the thing. There's a brewing 'supply' called porterine. It's like Weyermann's Sinamar: a dark cereal extract that is used to change the color of beer. I've been told (always mistrust those words; I do) that many Bavarian "dunkel" beers are simply a brewer's helles + Sinamar. Similarly, "I've been told" that Yuengling uses porterine to change the color of Traditional Lager, and that Yuengling Porter is mostly dark thanks to the use of porterine. Both of the sources of the "I've been told" are brewing industry insiders; this doesn't mean I trust them 100%, but it does add some credence.
So...when I went to Pottsville three weeks ago to interview Dick Yuengling and Dave Casinelli, and to finally tour the big 'new' brewery, I had my eyes open for evidence of porterine. I didn't see any, but that's not proof positive it ain't there, even though John Callahan -- lead brewer for the facility -- gave me a thorough tour, let me take pix of anything I wanted, and answered any question I asked (and no, I didn't think to simply ask him about the porterine...color me dopey).
What I did see, and what this whole thing is about, was "supersacks" of the dark, roasted malts that go into Yuengling Porter: caramel and black patent. It's real. Callahan said the porter is still made with the original recipe. Buy that or not, but Callahan's not any kind of marketeer: he's the real deal, pure brewer, and I first met him at a MBAA meeting at The Lion last year. If he says it, he believes it to be true.
Callahan also said, with a lot of feeling, "Thank God for Lager." Traditional Lager is about 90% of the company's output, and if it hadn't been for Lager's success, Callahan (who's been with the company for 28 years) seemed pretty sure the company would have gone under.
Instead, the company is closing in on 2,000,000 barrels in annual sales, a wholly attainable goal for 2009, according to Casinelli, who began to laugh as we both recalled something industry analyst Robert Weinberg said back when Yuengling bought the Tampa brewery in 1999, to the effect that Yuengling was doing well, but the brewery selling 2,000,000 barrels in a year was about as likely as Weinberg getting a date with Sharon Stone. "We should buy them dinner," Casinelli said with a big shark's grin, and I think it would be a fantastic publicity coup.
Anyway, that's the news from Pottsville. Sorry if I oversold it. It was a fantastic interview; you'll get more of it in Pennsylvania Breweries 4.
American Badass has been out since July. It's in Michigan, and will roll out nationally over the next 12 months. Has anyone seen it?
Look, no slant on Michigan Brewing, which is doing the contract brewing for Kid Rock; more power to them, and after all, they get paid on the loading dock, so they're not going to be taking the bath along with him. And read this description:
Crisp, refreshing and smooth as a traditional lager can be. Delivers a nice hit of carbonation at first and finishes with a slight citrus note. This is a highly approachable beer that delivers a bright lager flavor without even a hint of aftertaste. Cascade hops light up the aroma while balancing the brew. Brewed for maximum appeal and slamability. Midwestern malted barley and hard, red winter wheat from Michigan, transform water from the Saginaw Aquifer into a beer that's a true American lager and truly Badass.Doesn't sound like they went totally sell-out, right? Okay, "slamability" is out there, but I think I may have praised slamability once or twice myself.
But...someone's going to lose their shirt. Projects like this have a very, very bad track record. (Speaking of which...Donnie, Donnie, Donnie...) Only one I can think of working is Land Shark Lager, and it's not tied as strongly to Jimmy Buffett as this is to Kid Rock; and, of course, Land Shark is ABIB, who have a pretty damned good idea of how these things work, and the deep pockets to sustain them.
I'll be watching for this stuff at a bar near me.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Anyway, we're home now, so it's blog-biz as usual. Miss me?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Then a month ago I got an e-mail: Affligem Noël was available from a new importer, Total Beverage Solution (Mount Pleasant, SC). Would I like a sample? Hell yes, I would. (Interesting that it's not coming in through Heineken USA, which makes me wonder if it is still a Heineken brand; I'm working on that.)
So here I am, finishing up a beer that has just gotten better and better as it warms up. 9%, and my lips agree: this is a big boy beer. The nose is full of a pleasantly sweet-tart mix of pit fruit -- plum, sour cherry -- and a dark chocolate background. The beer itself matches that, with an intensely fizzy carbonation that is not unpleasant at all. What surprises me is the degree of attenuation; if you don't like Chimay Red/Blue for their sweet thickness, this is your beer. The Noël has a very light and drinkable body for that 9% ABV, and the fruit really cleans up the end.
Welcome back, Affligem. I guess I didn't realize how much I missed you until you came back.
2 cups cooked/mashed sweet potatoes/yams
4 tbsp. butter
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. mace
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon (I used J.T.S. Brown 100 proof, and that may have been too strong; try an 80 proof bottling)
Boil, peel, and mash the sweet potatoes, and then measure two cups of the mash. Place in a bowl, and mix in the other ingredients. Place in an unbaked pie shell (I use the pre-made Pillsbury ones). Place in a 400° oven and immediately turn the oven down to 325°. Bake for 45 minutes (I wound up baking these for more like 85 minutes, and I think it was because of the 100 proof bourbon; the filling stayed goopy-wet for a long time).
This was quite bourbony; you might want to cut that to 1/3 cup bourbon. Or not. I liked it, Cathy thought it a bit overpowering. But this is not pumpkin pie; the spices and flavors are different. Very good, but different. I'm liking it.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone: there's room for every drink at your table -- beer, wine, spirits, cider, even mead -- and room for every friendly heart. Cheers!
The first time I wrote about Narragansett was back in February. They sent me some samples of the Lager for a story I was writing (for American Brewer, about how they were reviving the brand, and doing a nice job of it). I wanted Porter then, because Narragansett Porter was the last 'Gansett beer I'd had, waaaaay back in the dawn of my beer-drinking days, and I wanted the cyclical part of it. They didn't have any. Humph.
Then I got an e-mail about a bit launch of Porter, so I said yes, I'd like some. And a sixer showed up. Well, as I'd posted on Facebook, my tasting table's kinda full, so it took a week or so to get around to chilling one, which I did Monday night.
Wow! This is great stuff! Cottrell Brewing's doing it for them under contract, and they're doing a nice job. It's plenty dark, with a great tan cap of foam, a chocolatey aroma that follows through in the mouth, with just enough roasty cut at the end to clean things up for the next swallow. I had it with our pork and onions favorite (recipe here, simple and delicious), and it was awesome. So I wanted another, and I had one, just now. Still great stuff. Wonder if I can get it here?
(Speaking of great stuff...I picked up Nora early at school today, and took her to lunch at the General Lafayette. I had a cask Pacific Pale Ale that was great, dry and hoppy, with a rare Steak Frites that was probably the very best food I've ever had at the General; great fries (salt and pepper'd fresh-cuts) and a very toothsome piece of beef, done just to my order. Nice work on the kitchen recovery, Chris!)
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Well...ya don't have to. Here's some Black Friday beer events I've heard about.
Up in the Lehigh Valley, the Brew Works brewpubs are celebrating with two great-sounding beer releases:
Allentown Brew Works - This Friday we're putting on the very hoppy West End Red. A West Coast Style Red with loads of Chinook and Cascade hops and a toasty malt backbone to it. At 5.8% ABV this is a great addition to our full lineup.Out in Pittsburgh, my friends at Bocktown Beer & Grill are starting early -- like the shopping does -- with an 8 AM Eggs & Kegs event and going till noon with special prices and menus (and Bocktown items on sale: you can shop!).
Bethlehem Brew Works - Black Friday we release BLACK FRIDAY, a bourbon barrel-aged Wee Heavy which comes in at a big 7.5%! Rich maltiness, and full-bodied. A solid beer that smooths out with the oaky vanilla nose from the barrel aging.
And there's Resurrection Ale House:
As way to say "Thanks" that you'll truly appreciate, on Wednesday November 25, Resurrection Ale House is offering the whole draft list for just $2 from Noon-2pm followed by $4 draft beers from 2pm-2am. (They're closed on Thanksgiving.) We're continuing the warm and fuzzy holiday mood on Friday, November 27, with BRUNCH from Noon-3pm and more $4 draft beers (all day and night). Consider it our version of a Black Friday Sale.I was surprised to see the Grey Lodge does not have an event planned for Black Friday. They do, however, have a bountiful supply of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale for Wednesday and Thursday nights. (The night before Thanksgiving is traditionally -- surprisingly -- the busiest night in the bar business after New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.)
Feel free to add more in the comments.
The hop's definitely, firmly there, especially in the finish, and if I had to fault the beer at all, it's that the bitterness is maybe a bit on the harsh side... But the malt floats it pretty well. Is this an odd choice for a "holiday beer"? Well, have a glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration, and then tell me. A holiday beer doesn't have to be a spiced beer, or a malt-bomb winter warmer. It can be just a special beer. A really likable hoppy red ale, for instance. If you see this one, I'd get some.
“We were in there over the weekend, painting and cleaning out some tanks,” Pastorius said Monday evening. “And I think we’ll be brewing beer within two weeks, maybe as soon as next week.” (from the Times)Get the draft rolling and the restaurant back in business, and a lot will be forgiven and forgotten. Questions remain -- are the staff still available and willing to jump back in? How soon will bottling begin? What's the wholesaler situation? -- but the big one is answered: will Penn survive? Yeah. Yeah, they will.
"It's going to be a rough few months while we repair the damage done to the brands and replace the bottling equipment that was sold. We ask for the patience and support of our many loyal fans." (from the Post-Gazette)
Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you, Tom Pastorius, for coming back and not letting this die. I doubted that this would happen, said so to people in Pittsburgh just last week. I should have known better. Hats off to one very determined German-American.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Well...turned out he just had 80-year-old man digestive troubles. They treated him, and I got a call from my mother about 15 minutes ago: he's home, and cutting up potatoes for soup.
Thanks for all your support this month, by the way. It really does help.
Bob Batz is reporting on the Post-Gazette website that:
Bob promises more tomorrow. Until then..."finalized a deal" would imply that the brewery being at Troy Hill & Vinial is set (and that's an update in my story to clarify the situation). That would be a major accomplishment, and would put Penn Brewery -- and Pastorius's group of investors -- right where they ought to be: where Tom started the brewery over 20 years ago. Where it belongs. Cross your fingers, folks, and if you believe in breweries, clap your hands.
Tom Pastorius and a group of investors have finalized a deal to buy Penn Brewery on the North Side, which he founded. The group plans to resume brewing beer there and reopen the restaurant, which closed in August.
Since the beginning of this year, Penn beers have been brewed at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre.
On Friday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority approved a $300,000 loan to Mr. Pastorius' group, who'd made buying the business from Birchmere Capital contingent on the property having a new owner, not E&O Partners. (Note: this last line was updated in the online story to clarify the situation, i.e., Pastorius and co. have purchased the business named Penn Brewery; the site is still owned by E&O but it will be sold; the new owner of the building may or may not be Pastorius and his investors. Got all that?)
Guess I'll have to work on that Penn Brewing entry in the new book after all. Hot damn.
There's more here, now. Thanks to another alert reader!
Mackay is one of the brightest people in the business, a business that is filled with very bright people, especially at the top. I found the interview -- including a casually tossed-off T.S. Eliot quote -- fascinating.
Especially this, about the global consolidation of the beer market. I've marked the parts I find particularly interesting.
Two decades later the globalised market now looks like a two-horse race, with Anheuser-Busch Inbev leading SAB Miller, and Heineken and Carlsberg trailing behind. Many have made fortunes - the only real doubt is whether consumers have benefited.That said, Mackay politely refused significant comment on whether SABMiller was interested in buying FEMSA, which is clearly up for acquisition. A guy's got to keep his hand in, after all.
Mackay is adamant they have. "It's resulted in better-quality products and more choice. People talk about the dead hand of globalised brand uniformity, but I don't think that's true in beer. Stonking great global brands haven't worked. Heineken is the most global brand and that's under 25% of its owner's volumes." [Bear in mind: despite having a number of large brands, neither SABMiller nor ABIB have a single dominant brand.]
And now, he predicts, consolidation will slow as the key players circle each other. "What stops the biggest groups consolidating is the desire of their owners. Most are in family hands. We are unusual in having an open share register."
What's it mean? Is Mackay right, is global consolidation about over? Not quite, with substantial pieces like FEMSA and Grupo Modelo still on the board and likely available, but close. As he says, major players like Carlsberg and Heineken are not very likely to be bought because of their ownership. Where to go from here?
Sorry about that huge sentence; I had a lot to say. The release is calling DISCUS out for their claims for the advent of Sunday sales in Colorado liquor stores. DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., is the industry group for American distillers and spirits marketers, and they've been doing a lot of work, successfully, on prying the dead hand of 'blue laws' off American spirits sales. They're claiming that an increase of $2 million in booze tax revenues in Colorado is related to that state allowing Sunday sales at liquor stores.
The TPSA is saying that it's just not so, and gives several responses: it's not really spirits taxes, they can't say that it's due to Sunday sales, taxes are actually down, taxes overall are up, it's up less than DISCUS said it would be...they really loaded up the blunderbuss and let fly with everything they had.
I'm not here to comment on whether DISCUS is right or not.* I'd just like to look at why the TPSA is so dead-set against what would appear to be something they'd want; the ability to open on Sundays, to get out from under a law that requires them to close their stores one day a week. Would Target be in favor of such a law? Would supermarkets or convenience stores? Gas stations, restaurants, shopping malls: would any business be in favor of such a law? Hard to believe, but liquor stores are. At least, some of them, and not just in Texas.
What's up with that? Well, folks, it's because liquor stores get to be closed for a day -- no expenses, no employees to pay, none of those annoying customers to worry about -- without having to worry about their competitors being open and doing the business they could, because all liquor stores are required to be closed. Whew. Lock it up, let's go fishing (but first, let's buy sammiches at the Acme store, gas up at Wawa, and pick up some new lures at Bass Pro; they're all open on Sunday).
They'll wrap it up in "think of the children" bullshit, like they're somehow doing God's work by not making alcohol more available (and then usually turn around and also say that being open an extra day makes no difference in sales; not long on logic, these groups, they depend more on firing out everything they can think of regardless of how internally contradictory it may be). That's when they really make me nuts: if you're doing such a wonderful thing by making alcohol less available, why don't you just close your damned store and do the community a real service?
Sunday sale restrictions, control state rules, the case law, ABV beer caps, even licensing laws are all anti-consumer laws. They are either about money, or paternalistic state control. I'd like to put them all in one big pile and dynamite them to hell.
*DISCUS chief economist David Ozgo challenged their math: "The TPSA should get a new economist. Purposefully or not, TPSA looked at a single month of liquor sales in July 2008 and compared it to a different single month - August 2009 - and subtracted the difference. They conveniently failed to take into account the effect from a full year of sales." From Wine & Spirits Daily
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The festivities will be from 2 o'clock - 5 o'clock on Saturday November 28th. Santa will be here along with Delco Nightingale playing classic Christmas favorites and DJ DNA. We will also be debuting our new Winter Ale! In the spirit of the season we will be asking for donations for Flat Iron Wildcats - $$, cat food, fleece blankets, etc.
Good times, folks.
I stopped and stared at the big, silent Iron City brewery Wednesday morning when I was visiting Church Brew Works: the huge graphics coming off the walls, the little sign still saying "Beer Gear Shop." The silence. The cold breeze with none of the huge smell of malt.
When I came off I-279 onto E. Ohio Street Tuesday afternoon, I looked over to Penn, saw the tower, and it hurt to know there was no point in driving over there. No more gleaming brewery, no more schnitzel (no more turkey sandwiches, Sir), no more aromatic glassfuls of Dark. No more gemütlichkeit.
I talked it with a knowledgeable insider who requested anonymity. "You tell me," he said. "How do you kill a successful business, a successful brand, that fast?" Indeed, I said; with Iron City it took repeated cycles of criminal management -- literally (pretty good summation of the whole story, only a couple small errors) -- to do it. We laughed softly, ruefully.
Iron City is being brewed at Latrobe, Penn is being brewed at The Lion. I haven't had any of the 'new' Penn, but I did have a bottle of Latrobe-brewed Iron City. I drink Iron every time I visit Pittsburgh, just something I do, and to me, this tasted just like it always has. But in both cases, it doesn't really matter whether the beers are accurate renditions of what the beers used to be. What matters is what their regular drinkers think, and it's already clear that they are not pre-disposed to think they're the same.
Will something be worked out to return Penn to the brewery, or to a new brewery in Pittsburgh? There was an article in the Tribune while I was out, how Tom Pastorius was trying to round up money and investors to put a deal together...but I don't give it much of a chance. Don't get me wrong: I hope for the best, my fingers are crossed, and if it were to be done -- and done right -- it would have to be with Tom. I cannot imagine his despair in watching the crowning accomplishment of his life crumble and fail, just as I cannot imagine anyone else being able to successfully revive Penn. But there are just too many things against it right now.
If the brewing of Penn does not return to Pittsburgh soon -- and I have no idea how that might happen -- the brand will disappear. Iron City? I'm afraid there is nothing that can save the brand at this point. A terrible waste of heritage -- in both cases -- a terrible waste of years of hard work, a terrible waste of potential.
Hard thoughts on a Saturday morning. I grieve, truly.
Maybe I'm burying Penn too soon. Thanks to a reader for this link to a story in today's Trib; the Urban Redevelopment Authority has authorized a $300,000 loan to Pastorius and his partners. Good news, and while the bottling line is gone, the brewhouse is still intact (I'd thought it was gone, and that's a big plus). But...they still have to buy the business back from Birchmere Capital, and then successfully buy or lease the building again, and that's not going to be easy at all. My fingers are still crossed.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday morning I had another great breakfast at Pamela's (what can I say; it was close, it was delicious, it was reasonable, and it was served quickly) and made the short drive to Church Brew Works. Sean Casey was up on the roof -- literally, they're having the roof repaired, and he was up taking pix, some great ones of him sipping tripel with the skyline behind him -- while I was running the taps with brewer Brandt Dubovick. Excellent overall quality.
Then they took me downstairs: Church is seriously gearing up for production: more and bigger tanks (Sean seems to be collecting tanks), new bottling line, new six-pack holders (not sure why they're not buying kegs; "Draft drives bottles" is an industry truism). As Sean said when I left, "Thanks for visiting Pittsburgh's biggest production brewery!" Kind of shocking thought, but as of right now, he's right.
After that, I took it up the hill and down through my old Shadyside neighborhood to East End Brewing, where Scott and Brendan were hustling to get ready for some bottling. Scott showed me the new tasting area -- right inside the door! How's that for convenient? -- and we tasted some beers, and talked about what a hard worker Brendan was. Beer tasted pretty damned good, BTW.
Running about an hour behind, now, as I kept missing the turns my GPS advised (a combination of really loud music -- it was too nice a day not to -- and the GPS being terribly confused by Pittsburgh streets -- nice to know it affects machines, too), but I did finally make it to Rivertowne Pourhouse, where I was soon drinking samples with a very relaxed crew of brewers: Barrett Goddard, Andrew Maxwell, and Sean Hallisey, along with Mark Kegg, their partner (along with North Country brewer Sean McIntyre) in Full Pint Brewing. We worked our way through the lineup -- real good, even the damned fruit beers -- and started playing around, like the world's smallest black'n'tan you see to the right (note the sugar packet for scale). Full Pint is just waiting on a Dec. 1st zoning meeting, and they're so ready to go they might just head over after the meeting -- assuming it goes well, and they think it will -- and start brewing. Four of their own beers, and two each from Rivertowne and North Country, and yes, they're talking about doing a variety case with 8 beers from each of the three different breweries. How's that?
I finally walked out into the drizzle that was now falling lightly, and headed down to Hofbräuhaus. It wasn't an official visit, I just wanted to go again, in the daylight. Got a half-liter of Dunkel -- very nice -- and a bowl of cabbage and hax'n soup -- also nice, thick, if a bit salty -- and the oft-recommended sauerkraut balls, which were actually a big disappointment: mostly just doughy. Great place, great beer, amazing view of the river, but...where does one park, particularly when 'one' is the 600+ people this place can seat? There is no garage, there is no lot. I honestly can't believe this was approved. I'm all for the place, it's done well, but who planned this parking? No transit either, other than buses over on Carson Street and the rare Pittsburgh taxi. I don't get it...
Anyway, then I went to Bocktown Beer & Grill, where I had an event. Bocktown's a great little place; Chris gets some seriously rare and delicious beers in, and her new chef is just rocking it, we had excellent pairings for the barrel-aged beers we tasted. I got to talk a lot about whiskey, which is always a pleasure, and then we talked far into the evening. I finally, reluctantly, dragged my carcass down the hill to the hotel, and pretty much collapsed, exhausted, into bed.
Whew. That was a lot. I'll wrap up Thursday -- Rock Bottom Homestead, Marzoni's, and Otto's -- in a final post.
Monday -- Visited Roy-Pitz Brewing in Chambersburg. Ryan and Jesse's brewery looks like something from the early 1990s -- in a basement, lots of used equipment, hand-written signs -- but the beer's better than that. Everything but the Gobbler Lager was pretty good stuff (the Lager had suffered from a production problem and was borderline). Not crazed hopheads, and having more success in Chambersburg -- a craft black hole almost as bad as south Jersey -- than the last hometown brewer, the late lamented Arrowhead (please, don't anyone tell the state how far out of date their tourism website is; Arrowhead closed in 1997!).
Up over the mountains on Rt. 30 (whee!), then on into Greensburg to visit Red Star, now the Red Star Agave Grill (which was a bear to get to, thanks to downtown construction). Whatever. It looked pretty much the same as ever, and the menu, while sporting a few Mexicanish items, seemed pretty eclectic overall. The beer showed no agave influence, thank God, and I'm here to tell you that the Canvasback nitro pale ale still rocks, and Jeff Guidos definitely knows how to make a barleywine.
Stopped at a Primanti Bros. for a sweet sausage sammich to get something in my belly: believe me, that's a great way to do it. On to Latrobe to City Brewing, the old Latrobe Brewing. A few changes here -- the offices and Rolling Rock Museum are closed, it's not quite as busy, some of the cheesier automation has been removed -- but it looked largely the same as before. Except, of course, no more fleets of green silk-screened bottles. They're making Iron City here now (and Southampton's 12 oz. beers, and they taste fine).
Down into Pittsburgh for a presentation on the North Side at the Teutonia Männerchor hall for Vecenie Distributing. I talked to a bunch of bar and distributor owners about craft beers -- told them how craft is missing a great opportunity by not making more helles/kölsch-type beers for the mainstreamers who want to buy local -- and answered questions, then went to my hotel for the night.
Up early the next morning for breakfast at Pamela's P&G in the Strip, then I headed north at high speed. Stopped at Voodoo Brewing (not open; Matt Allyn had told me the night before he wouldn't be able to meet me, but I wanted to see the place; looked much the same) then buzzed over the hills to Blue Canoe, the old Four Sons, where Justin Dudek was brewing and took me through the taps. Pretty much uniformly good, and I was pleased and surprised to see "Dead Tony's Trippel" still on the menu, an old Four Sons' standard. Menu looked fantastic, by the way. I'll be back to this at some point.
Another "I'll be back" is Sprague Farm & Brew Works, where I went next. Brian and Minnie's beers were at least good -- the Hellbender Porter is still very good -- and the "pub" they've made out of the property's barn is just fantastic. Brian told me this is where the cool folks in the county hang out, and I have no reason to think he's kidding; I'd hang out there if I could. Awesome, all the way from the high bowed roof and the "beer hall" (which is just that; a hall where you can drink beer) to the milk bottle beer glasses. I'm thinking about celebrating here when I finish the manuscript.
Back in the Jetta and down to Pittsburgh, where I was "teaching" Craft Beer School with Tony Knipling of Vecenie Distributing and Scott Smith of East End Brewing: the topic was Session Beers. I realized I had just time enough to pick off one bar on my list to visit, and I picked brillobox; glad I did, too. Pretty little place, and I had a nice glass of Bell's Two Hearted, always a good choice.
Craft Beer School went great; something around 190 people, all very interested and having a lot of fun, and asking some good questions. Tony and Scott and I went to Six Penn for a beer after; nice place, an upscale eatery from the Eat'n'Park people. Then I caught a gypsy cab over to Hofbräuhaus to hook up with Brian O'Reilly, as semi-detailed here. Kind of. I was really tired and a bit over-served when I wrote that, and I fell asleep during the last paragraph. Glad you can edit in Blogger.
Gotta get back to work; I'll get you the rest of the trip shortly, and I still want to post about my recent trip to Yuengling.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I got in late, and slept till this morning, when I had an excellent breakfast at Pamela's diner (Tex-Mex omelette) and headed up I-79 to Voodoo Brewery, Blue Canoe brewpub, and Sprague Farm & Brew Works. Then I came back down I-79 to an event at the Cultural Trust (taking a quick detour to BrilloBox first, very nice), a session beer session at Beer School. Following that I had a beer at Six Penn Kitchen with Tony Knipling, beer-guy supreme from Vecenie Distributing, and Scott Smith, everything-guy at East End Brewing. We toasted a good situation, and wrapped 'em.
Then I cabbed over to Hofbrauhaus to drink with Sly Fox brewer Brian O'Reilly, his boss John Giannopoulos, and some local beer people they were with. The Dunkel I had was good, but we couldn't stay; the staff told us that the power was being cut off for maintenance (!). We drifted down to the Double-Wide Grille, and to Fat Head's, where I argued that a woman with plenty of beer to choose from will try the varieties. I'm not sure why, by that point. We called it a night, and I came back here. Tomorrow I'll be visiting breweries here in Pittsburgh: Church, East End, Rivertowne Pourhouse, and back to Hofbrau.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Whiny bitch. I'm still in Manhattan for WhiskyFest, after all. And I think I may go out for a pint after lunch. The options are staggering...but I only have 90 minutes. Decisions!
Monday, November 9, 2009
Jack and I have tried to remember when we first met, and failed: it was almost certainly at Copa, Too!, but nothing's certain. That hasn't stopped us from slinging crap at each other (it's there, page down) for years with vigor and joy. It's almost all in fun, and I've dubbed him Uncle Jack and he's dubbed me "America’s Most Beloved Beer Writer (© Jack Curtin’s Liquid Diet 2009)". And when we do stuff like this on our blogs, everyone wonders why we waste our readers' time. Well...there aren't a lot of beer writers, and we're largely solitary types, so maybe we get a little odd. Live with it, and if you see Uncle Jack today, tell him how good it is to see him. He likes that.
(You just have to wonder about this guy, though; especially since his middle name appears to be Lew.)
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I was thinking of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" today. The change of seasons has set in hard, finally. We had a stiff frost this morning, and a temperature of 26°F. It is definitely November in Pennsylvania.
After some other work, I got Thomas to work on mowing the lawn. Only...about ten minutes after he started, he comes in and tells me the mower quit and it's smoking. Damn. Burning oil? I go out...and the damned thing's still smoking, curling right up out of the spinner. WTF! I tried starting it, and it fired right up. Okay...and then smoke poured out. Dammit. I'm picturing buying a new mower, and this one only three years old, I was not a happy camper.
Then I stopped, and smelled the smoke. Smelled like autumn, like...burning leaves. "Thomas," I said, "we've got a mouse nest." Sure enough, once we got the plastic hood and the metal shroud off the engine, the space inside, up against the cylinder head, was stuffed with dry leaves, shreds of cardboard, and pine needles. The heat made it smolder. Half an hour later, he was mowing happily away -- well, I was happy -- and when he finished up, we went to Austrian Village for lunch (and a nice glass of DAB). A good fall day.
Friday, November 6, 2009
I've had this bottle, an unmarked 22 oz. brown bottle with a plain gold cap, sitting in my Dedicated Beer Fridge for...years. I don't remember where I got it, whether it's homebrew, or brewpub sample, or a commercial beer the label fell off; I have no idea. So...nothing is giving me any expectations on this beer. There is no 'framing.' I don't even know if it's light or dark. This is the beer I'm going to open, drink, and write about...blind.
As you can see, it's a nice amber/copper color. The aroma almost confirms it's an ale: fruity beyond hops, although there's clearly some hop character there, which is pretty impressive, since I know this has been in the fridge for at least three years. It actually smells like it might be a barleywine or a DIPA. There's some sherry character too, oxidation, which makes it more likely that it's homebrew or brewpub hand-bottling...but not definite. The aroma's strong enough that I can smell it clearly from a foot away.
Wow. It's big in the mouth, too. Hoppy, but not overly so; I'd peg this as a barleywine rather than a DIPA, because it's for sure got the power. There's bitterness spined down through it, but the malt's playing the winning hand. Actually, the oxidation's winning...and for me, that's not all bad: I like the sherry character, because this one's big enough that it doesn't go over the top. But I can't help thinking it would have been a real cracker when it was fresh. Gotta start drinking 'em when I get 'em!
What's this tell me about framing? Dunno. What's it tell me about blind tasting? It sharpens the senses and the brain. Not only do you not have the shortcuts that labels and styles deliver, you don't have the work of trying to objectify those inputs, leaving you free to focus on the beer, and nothing else. It kind of puts "style" in the backseat -- or the trunk -- which is where it belongs when you're drinking beer. All in all, a good exercise. Thanks!
What I'm looking for some help on are the breweries that opened after the 3rd edition came out, but didn't stay open long enough to make it in, like Destiny, Hereford & Hops...and who else? There HAD to be others. Didn't there?
Anybody think of other Pennsylvania breweries that opened after September 2005 and closed before, well, today?
First, the Commonwealth Foundation study about how Pennsylvania's liquor "control" system does nothing to make the state safer from alcohol abuse, drunk driving, or underage drinking (like I didn't know that already?!) has been all over the state newspapers. I got my comments here, on the PLCB blog, go read. Meanwhile, Virginia's governor-elect, Bob McDonnell, made privatizing Virginia's ABC stores (the state sells liquor; wine and beer are in private stores) part of his campaign platform, stressing the windfall. Maybe he should have talked more about how stupid and backwards it makes the state look, and what a pain in the butt it is? And North Carolina's legislature is considering an internal report that found the state's ABC store system is outdated and needs to change. I tell you: it's time to push, and push hard.
Second, the real problem with the PLCB is The Almighty Liquor Code, which needs a total re-write. That's exactly what Frank Cagle is calling for in Tennessee in his latest "Frank Talk" column in the Knoxville weekly Metro Pulse. Tennessee's liquor code, says Cagle, is too broke to fix. "Sometimes a thing has been patched so many times it’s better to throw it out and start over." One look at The Almighty Liquor Code will convince you that it's time to throw it out. The twisted, tangled lawyerese that it is written in damns it to constant tinkering. The PA Liquor Code should be scrapped, and rewritten, in simple language, with consumer oversight, as a model of simple common sense in alcohol policy. First thing to go? All such Repeal-era language as this, the opening justification for the Code:
for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon, and all of the provisions of this act shall be liberally construed for the accomplishment of this purpose.Are you kidding me? In the trash with it, and we need never soil our minds with it again. An alcohol code should establish taxes -- of a reasonable level, based on pure alcohol content, not whether its wine, beer, or spirits -- a licensing facility for producers, importers, wholesalers, and retailers that benefits the state, not lawyers or speculators; provide rules for operation that are not based on moral or religious grounds, punishments for breaking those rules, and an enforcement procedure for dealing with this in a prompt manner; and puts the Commonwealth out of the booze business completely. Sheesh. How hard can it be?
In the New Dry section, there's this revamped informational site. It shows just the kind of inertial, pie-in-the-sky policy-driven stuff drinkers are up against; specifically, the continuing march of keg registration laws, after even the New Drys have admitted that they don't actually work. I'll say it again, for Google: Keg registration laws don't work, and PIRE confirms it. Why do 31 states have them? The same reason we got national Prohibition: someone thought it was a good idea, and would work, if only we had the whole county/state/country under control. Sorry. Turns out this one's wrong, too.
Finally, when 0.08 BAC laws were slammed through during the Clinton Administration, we were told that MADD -- the major supporter of the laws -- didn't want to go further than that, that they were not a prohibitionist group. True colors, folks: MADD Canada is recommending 0.05 BAC in Quebec. When do they stop?
So. Good, bad, interesting. That's the booze policy news this week.
So I walk in the door and there's big Tom sitting at the bar right across the room: Hey! I joined him, and the rest of the friendly pack of beer lovers at the Inn, and got a pint of Exit 1 off the gravity-pour firkin (you can see Tom tapping -- er, mostly -- the previous firkin, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, below; in Tom's defense, I'd use a bigger mallet). First off, the stuff's very dark, close to black. It was not what I'd call 'rich,' though there was a nice hint of bitter chocolate to it; this was dry stout, with a good nip of bitterness on the end, a kind of bite that did not get in the way of having another at all. Nice beer...exceptional beer? Maybe not, but a real good pint. Good enough that I had another (and paid for this one, thanks for the first one, Jeff!).
Then Jeff (Lavin, the owner) brought out some small glasses and a 12 oz. sample of harvest from the Hood, Philadelphia Brewing's new fresh hop beer, using hops grown at the brewery and Greensgrow Farms, Philly's urban CSA (just down the street from Memphis Taproom). The hop aroma was huge -- it oughta be, the label cheekily notes that it's "Sextuple Hops Brewed" -- but not what you'd call 'delicate' or 'refined,' more like "big." This one's about as subtle as the label: Hey, sailor! It's quite hoppy, and a bit rough around the edges, which I think fits the beer's Kensington roots perfectly. This beer's got terroir, dammit! Looking forward to trying it on tap (don't look for bottles, there were only about two cases made for bar samples).
At that point, I decided to go home and get some of that casserole. I sweet-talked Jeff into filling a 12 oz. "growler" for Cathy (a brown-glass flip-top I use for sampling; quite handy) -- thanks again, Jeff -- and headed up the hill to home.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Anyway, to match this woman of beer from the west coast, Fork has invited some of the cool Philly-area women of beer: Suzy Woods, Philly Beer Week maven Jennie Hatton, Megan Maguire from Ommegang, Tracy Mulligan from Victory, Seb Buhler from Rogue, and possibly Jodi Stoudt, Whitney Thompson from Victory and Wendy Dormant from Dogfish Head. Quite a line-up, and a lot of experience. But check this menu!
We will be featuring 8 wet-hopped beers on tap, including, for the first time at Johnny Brenda's, craft beers that have not been brewed locally [JB's is all about the local]. The line-up includes:
plus a firkin of wet hopped ale from Iron Hill
Heavy drinkers seek out bargains
This study found that people who drink heavily bought cheap booze: vodka, mostly but "White cider is the beverage to which our patients appear to have particularly cheap access, along with whisky." (Really? Whisky? Why the hell is whisky cheap? It's because distillers dump it to 'own brand' schemes in stores for quick cash; incredibly short-sighted, because it keeps the price of better whisky down as well).
Did anyone really think most drunks -- all the people surveyed were being treated for alcohol problems -- bought high-end booze-o? Heck no! These are the folks who skew the numbers, the 20% that consumer 80%, and they buy the cheapest buzz they can get, something the UK government has made even easier by mandating "units" of alcohol per bottle/serving being shown. Makes it easier for the drunk to spot the bargain, y'know?
So the study is supporting the government's latest plan, which goes beyond raising the UK's already stiff drink taxes: minimum booze pricing. Raise the price per unit to a higher minimum price. Wonder who pockets the difference? Bet it's not the booze producers...
On Tuesday, November 17, at 6:15 PM, I'll be hosting an edition of Craft Beer School at the Theater Square Cabaret; it's all about my favorite topic, Session Beers. Details are here and here (sorry, they each have details the other doesn't!). Craft Beer School is the brainchild of Vecenie Distributing's Tony "The Beer Man" Knipling, one of the most dogged, determined champions of craft beer I've ever met, and -- believe it or not -- the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. It's a short, fun session, about an hour, and we'll talk about the beauties of low-alcohol beer.
The next night, Wednesday the 18th, I'll be doing a barrel-aged beer tasting at Bocktown Beer & Grill, and they have corraled some excellent beers: New Holland Oaked Mad Hatter IPA, Stoudt's Scarlet Lady ESB through their "Brewser the Infuser" filled with bourbon-soaked oak, Great Lakes Oaked Black Out Stout, Erie Oaked Railbender, Arcadia Oak-Aged Cereal Killer, and Arcadia Big Dick's Old Ale aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels. And we may have a few more amazings up our sleeves; still working on that. Expect a lot about the bourbon aging process and the secrets in the wood; I am a beer and whiskey guy, after all. I'll have details on this one soon; watch this space!
And if you're in the biz in the area -- bar or distributor -- Vecenie is throwing a craft beer pep rally Monday night (the 16th) at the Teutonia Männerchor, where I'll be talking about the whole craft beer revolution, where it came from, how it's doing, and where it's headed. Get in touch with them and come on out! (This is for retailers only; sorry, general public.)
But we had a good run this year, a great run, and it's a young team. 2010's going to be another great year.
Great job, Phillies!
You umpires, though...wow, did you suck this post-season...
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
On Wednesday, November 11th Royal Tavern’s week-long 7th anniversary celebration kicks off with a night for vegans and vegetarians. For one night only the blackboard specials will consist entirely of vegetarian and vegan items. There will be a specialty cocktail menu crafted from cruelty-free ingredients. Festivities start at 5pm and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to PAWS.
So I guess a bullshot is out of the question... Seriously, is Philly Veg-Central? I'm not at all vegetarian, but I love choice. Cheers, Royal Tavern!
Yesterday, all of a sudden, I got twelve, and it's continuing today. So I'm considering adding CAPTCHA tech to the comment field; that thing where you have to type in the 'word' you see in a window before your comment will post. I don't want to do this -- it's a pain in your neck -- but neither do I want to have my time sucked up by rejecting a bunch of "Miley Cyrus NUD!" spam, you know?
So...will having to do that one extra step be a real pain in all your butts? Or is it no big deal? Let me know, and I'll factor that in before I decide. And who knows, this may just be temporary.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
First, this is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in America, and has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. This year, an estimated 42,470 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 76% of them will die within one year of the diagnosis. Yet pancreatic cancer research receives less than 2% of the National Cancer Institute's budget. It's not a hidden disease. Patrick Swayze, Justice Ruth Ginsburg, Steve Jobs, Randy "The Last Lecture" Pausch all had/have pancreatic cancer; chances are sadly quite good that you know someone who did.
And that's my second reason. Next Thursday, November 12, will mark one year since my dad told me he had pancreatic cancer. As he said at the time, when he handed me the green folder with his diagnostic report in it, "There's no easy way to say this."
As I learned more about pancreatic cancer and its bleak prognosis over the next few weeks, "no easy way" loomed large in my mind. Our calendar seemed suddenly, cruelly short. We gained hope when we learned his tumor was small, more when chemotherapy and radiation -- including a clinical trial of a new regimen that my father undertook, painful and wearying though it was -- shrank it to the point of being operable. Our hopes were dashed when the surgeons found that the cancer had already metastasized, as pancreatic cancer often does. It is an evil, spiteful bastard of a cancer, and if I could reach into my father's body and tear it out by the roots and stomp on it, I would.
But...subsequent chemotherapy has been moderately successful; it has significantly slowed the advance of the disease (the main tumor is actually smaller). My father is in good health, considering that he's 80 years old and undergoing chemotherapy, and he's still doing yardwork and baking biscuits for the dogs. He wants to see Thomas graduate from high school this spring, and I believe he'll make it.
That's why I'm taking this opportunity to talk to you. I know it's not fun to read. But if any of you see this, and want to help, click on the banner up above. One of the most important things you can do is to write your Congressional Representative about HR 745, the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, which will direct and enable the Department of Health and Human Services to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research. And if you have your own causes -- something I thoroughly understand, and endorse! -- and decide to take a pass, no problem. I just wanted to do something for my dad.
Thanks for listening. You really are a great bunch of readers, and I appreciate it.
Now all they need is one more not-so-amazing thing. They have to win three straight, two of them on the road after one at home. Why's that not-so-amazing? Might I remind you: that's exactly what the Yankees just did.
High hopes, brothers and sisters. High hopes. The Fightin's live.
Oh. Beer? I plan to have a BrewDog Punk IPA during the 7th inning stretch tomorrow. I'll let you know how that goes.
That's Pedro Martinez, ready and waiting for Game 6. Daddy's home, New York. photo by Ron Cortes, of the Inquirer.
Here's part of it, a part I fully endorse (except the "beer-slugging" part...but I'd be a liar if I said I didn't knock back beers pretty heavily in college myself):
I'm not entirely against paying taxes to fund government programs. I like driving around on the wide-open highways that my tax contributions helped build.
I'm grateful for the government-backed loans that got me through my beer-slugging days at Penn State (to paraphrase comedian Frank Nicotero, I graduated with a 1.2 ... blood-alcohol level).
I'm happy for the government agencies that protect our borders, track down criminals across state lines and make sure our food and water are safe.
But higher taxes on beer? Why not increase taxes on hot dogs and apple pie while we're at it?
That's right, Tom. Take a look. It's a fairness issue.
The good news: These new whiskies will be at WhiskyFest New York: Ardbeg's Corryvreckan (we tasted a bit of this at the Malt Advocate staff party in August; it's excellent), Hibiki (sampled this blended whisky from Suntory at WFSF, quite nice stuff), Pappy Van Winkle 23 yr., Parker's Heritage Collection 27 yr., Glenmorangie Signet, Glenrothes 1975, The Dalmore 1974, Glen Grant 10 yr., Glen Grant 16 yr.; and these exhibitors will be at WFNY for the first time: GlenDronach (again, some nice tastings at WFSF), The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers & Heroes, Amrut Indian Single Malt (tasted these at Binny's in Chicago: very good for their age), Finger Lakes Distilling (source of that rye we had at Man Full of Trouble), N. PALAZZI Spirits, Pierre Ferrand Cognac.
The bad news? WhiskyFest New York is sold out, so if you don't have a ticket, it's too late. Which is, after all, good news for Malt Advocate, and good news for the whisky biz.
Monday, November 2, 2009
ShawneeCraft is an outgrowth of the Shawnee Inn in the Poconos, right along the Delaware river. Leo Bongiorno is the brewer (formerly of Butternuts, and, well, a lot of other places; he's been in the biz about 16 years), and yes, the stories you've heard of an ambitious barrel-aging program are all true (that's the racks in the taproom at right...but those are all empty, for now). Leo's doing some barrel-aging now -- bourbon barrel stuff -- but even that's just step 1: he's really doing that to get the barrels clear for bug innoculation (and to make some money, to be truthful). But that's going to take over a year till he's got some sour/brett beers ready; in the meantime he's brewing stuff like the pumpkin saison I tasted. It had an amazing volatile spiciness that floated high in the mouth, as energetic as ginger but different. Fresh-ground mace, he told me, and it was brilliant. They've got the brewery set up in an old ice hockey rink, and the taproom is the Gem & Keystone Inn, a nice snug two-story bar and restaurant up by the road. That's open now: stop by.
Barley Creek was next, and as always, it looked different from the last time I was there. The deck was fully enclosed for more seating and another bar (nice: underlit, creamy butter color, streaked like marble). I joined Trip Ruvane and brewer-for-life Tim Phillips at the bar and ran the taps -- Rescue IPA opened my eyes: forget what you thought you knew about IPA at Barley Creek. Woof. The chef made a little tasting menu, starting with the always fun Crane's Crazy Chip Dip, some sandwiches (a great veggie/pesto one, and roast beef with horseradish cream), and delicious garlic shrimp. Beers were clean (especially the light; impressive) and tasty, though my favorite Renovator Stout was not on (supposed to be on this week).
Brew Works... GABF medals, multiple batches of house-made 'lambic' (quite nice), bourbon barrel aging, 25.4 oz. cork-n-cage bottles (Hop'solutely and Rude Elf's Reserve), Boom-Boom Shrimp (don't ask, just eat, but have a beer ready), and the three-level+beer garden business of Allentown. Lots of change, and a lot going on here, and Beau's making some very nice beers.
More breweries to come...and more pix, when I get a moment.