Thursday, April 30, 2009
That sounds like a long way off, but here's the thing. I've decided that I want this 4th edition to contain as much new material as possible. That means I'll be re-writing every section, re-writing every brewery entry -- which I'd have to do anyway, things have changed so much -- and once again, visiting every brewery. There are currently 75 breweries in the state that have either opened or will be opening within the next couple of months. There are so many breweries that I've had to add a new section (which is just as well: "Upstate" as everything that didn't fit somewhere else was unwieldy).
And I'll finally be able to do something I've wanted to do since the very first edition, back in 1998: this edition will contain the big, beautiful, capable brewery on I-78in Vogelsville, now the home of Boston Beer in Pennsylvania. Pabst never played ball, and I just couldn't bring myself to include a 'facility' that 'brewed' Smirnoff Ice. Now she'll be in there, and I'm quite excited.
I'd like some suggestions from you, my readers. What would you like to see added to this edition, what do you think is a waste of space? What Pennsylvania brewer or beer figure should I ask to write the foreword? What great bar that you think I may not know about should be in here? And what are your favorite "added attractions" that you like to visit when you're in the neighborhood of your favorite Pennsylvania breweries? Drop a comment here, or e-mail me, and thanks!
All you Pennsylvania brewers: heads up, folks! I'll be asking for your help very soon, sending out the questionnaires. I need that information to start working on your entry. I also need your artwork. If you want a chance at being on the cover of Pennsylvania Breweries 4th edition, get your artwork in early! I'll be sending out descriptions of what we need and release forms, please get them back to me. The art department at Stackpole makes the call on who goes on, but you can't win if you don't play.
A lot of work coming up, and a lot of travel. I hope to see some of you when I'm on the road; say hi, I'll be glad to see you. Here we go again!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
More here. When will it end?
Sly Fox Goat Races, this Sunday.
Okay, the Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and that is a Big Deal. But I would submit that the Sly Fox Goat Races are an Even Bigger Deal in terms of shaping the reputation of beer and beer drinking in America. (Yes, easily so, because the Derby has nothing to do with that, but I will go beyond that!)
Go to the Goat Races because this event is one of the very best for enjoying as a family. I've said for years, in response to the New Dry whiners who say "You can have fun without beer!", that yes, you can have fun without beer, but you can also have fun with the option of beer. The Sly Fox Goat Races show that in spades. You can watch goat races -- pure, country-boy 4H-type fun, and usually generous with gut-rippingly funny moments (this picture really does show a young goat racer slipping on goat crap (on the right there; he's not break-dancing) as his own goat turns tail and runs away from the finish line -- very funny, once we ascertained that the kid was all okay), you can listen and dance to the music, eat good German food, or just have a seat and enjoy the crowd -- great people-watching at this. And if you so choose...you can have a beer.
The Goat Races put beer in its proper place: with people, as part of the fun, not as the lets-get-drunk focus, and not as the lets-get-geeky focus either. Even when I'm totally geeking out, like when I'm judging beers, the best of times is when there's good interaction with the other people. Great American Beer Festival? The best time is going out afterwards with friends.
Get beer together with a bunch of good people -- and some goats -- and it's great to watch people behave well, have fun, and keep things from getting out of hand all by themselves. It's a great kind of thing, and I'm looking forward to more of it on Sunday. See you there, but do check out the Sly Fox calendar for details: they're expecting a LOT of people, and they've got satellite lots set up to handle it.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I got to the fest about noon, grabbed one of the last free staff spots, and got down into the show. I met up with my fellow judges (four very experienced homebrew judges who I thoroughly enjoy tasting beers with; it's a very nice give-and-take, making this one of my favorite beer events of the year), grabbed a quick lunch, and settled in to start tasting.
Wide range of beers this year, and a much higher level of quality. The brewers represented at the fest each sent one beer, their choice, over to our table. There were a couple eye-rollers, but only a couple (we're tasting completely blind (or were after the first two pitchers, which a new steward labeled with the brewery name!) and only found out what the top three actually were, so don't bother asking: we don't know (and didn't wanna know!)), much fewer than in the past four years.
After two hours of serious, note-taking and discussion-style tasting, we narrowed it down to seven beers, and sent the stewards out for more samples to refresh our memories. Two of the beers had already run out (proving the crowd agreed with our palates!), and since none of us had those two beers as our number one picks, we decided to drop them. Once the five beers were in front of us, we came to a consensus rather rapidly: about 90 seconds! The winners, by unanimous consent:
3rd -- Erie Railbender, winning with a beautifully pure malt character, easily the very best batch of Railbender I've ever had (and I've had my share).
2nd -- Victory Baltic Thunder, nipping out General Lafayette's Chocolate Thunder Porter (a close #4) by virtue of smooth complexity and (scary) drinkability.
1st -- Triumph Simcoe IPA, rocked us all with its beautiful balance and integration. Billowing hop aroma, great hop flavor, trenchant but not overwhelming bitterness, and a smooth, solid malt basement made this the beer of the day, and we all went looking for more.
I wandered off with Chris Fiery at this point, and we did a little sampling of his Manayunk beers. He'd sent his Maibock to our table; I think he should've sent the California Dreamin', a powerfully-hopped beauty. And if you haven't had the Schuylkill Punch lately -- I hadn't -- it's all Oregon fruit puree (red and black raspberries), no extracts or essences, it's bumped up in ABV, and it's pretty good stuff.
A nice fest, not as crowded as previous years (last year I could hardly move), one of the best M/F ratio fests going -- always has been, don't know why -- and a GREAT band, Holt 45 (with an appropriate name for a beer festival, eh?). Usually I don't give -- pardon me -- a rat's ass about the band at beer festivals, because they're just getting in the way of my beer enjoyment and talking to people about beer. But these guys were NOT too loud, they were way into the music, and they were real musicians.
So then I left, and unlike other years, made no stops on the way home. We went out for a diner dinner (bluefish...I love broiled bluefish), came home, watched some tube...and I crashed out, done in by drugs and allergies. The first week is always like this: dopey, drowsy, and stupid. I'm fighting it off with coffee and air-conditioning this morning. I hate May.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I'll be honest, this one is not going to get more than a few swallows. "The signature ingredient" in the beer is orange blossom honey... and there's no getting around it. This is one sweet beer, too damned sweet for this mother's child. It's kind of weird in that it's not overly heavy, or even cloying, but it's just sweeeeeeeet. Yuck-kinda sweet. There's some body to it, and even a little of that orange blossom, but -- No. Too sweet. I like honey in beer, but for the effects, not the flavor. I like to taste honey on fresh bread, not in my beer. I like the roundness honey can provide, I like the extra ooomph it can give a beer without pumping up the body. But not this.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I got a sample of a beer I hadn't had in quite a while, one I remember quite fondly: Bateman's XXXB. Poured it into my Bateman's pint (frosted glass, got it years ago and keep it deep in the cupboard: not an everyday glass!). Looked good, smelled malty good, with a grassy/earthy push of hops. And as I tasted that first sip, it shocked me with how much it tasted just like I remember it. Bateman's is distinctive. Don't know if it's the Maris Otter malt, or the hops, or (most likely) their yeast, but it's unique. It tastes...hmmm. A bit of that grassy/earthy hit, some meatiness, some grain, some caramel. Mostly, though, it tastes like Bateman's. Get some and find out what I mean.
The cider comes from Sam Smith, an organic cider ("Produced from organically grown apples." Duh...). Not a world-shaker, but again, not overly sweet either. Apple flavor, some light tartness, but it's hardly what you'd call complex. It does note that it contains cane sugar as well as apple juice...which may be why it's so simple. Better than the common run of cider, but not in Farnum Hill territory, not even J.K.'s Scrumpy.
And yes, a flavored vodka: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. Angela Traver at Buffalo Trace talked about it so excitedly that I let her send me a bottle (this is the woman that talked me into buying a bottle of Old Charter 101, so she's no flake!). I put it off. A couple months. But tonight it was warm, and green smells of wet earth and new grass floated in the door from out back, and I thought, what the hell, why not? Old-fashioned glass, handful of ice, two fingers of Firefly, topped it up with Brita-water. It tasted like sweet tea with vodka in it, of which I drank quite a bit when I was a much younger man. No nasty after-tastes, no strange chemical tastes. I'm thinking it's going to be an easy thing to drink on hot summer nights, especially with even more ice and cold water...but that's about it. Which is probably all it wants to be. God help me.
Jeff's concerned about accuracy in beer reviews. He looks at some of the verbiage sprayed about on beer rating sites (and magazine reviews, and blog reviews, and judging slips...) and is -- rightly -- concerned that it's sometimes conflated for pizzazz. Me too. Then he references Bill's genius invention at IPN: a random beer review generator. Hilarious. Go ahead, go play with it. I did, it's funny. (Hint: if you don't think it's at least faintly amusing, if you think it's insulting...start drinking more water. And stop writing reviews for a while.)
But then Jeff drops one of the best things I've seen written about this whole business:
Even very good beers may not offer you a lot to hang your hat on; what distinguishes them is not their distinct elements, but a totally vague quality of harmony produced when all those elements come together. How do you describe that? I miss the mark more often than I hit it, but this post reminds me of a directive I try to use when writing about beer. Don't write to impress, write to communicate. How would I tell a friend about a beer so that she would get what I was trying to say? It's useful to include adjectives, but they should reveal the beer, not conceal the reviewer's inability to describe it.Jeff, first off, what's wrong with saying "This beer has a totally vague quality of harmony produced when all those elements come together." I kinda like that, and I'd write it. I don't trust "hints of wet smoke, teaberry, DAP putty, and demerara sugar mingle with a strong intimation of the late addition of Chinook hops." Even if the reviewer does get that -- much like my deeply-questioned remarking of tasting carrots in PBC's Rowhouse Red -- that's their mouth. It's not mine, or yours, or Sweet Fanny Adam's mouth. So how much is that worth?
But "Don't write to impress, write to communicate" is good stuff. I can't believe that one of his commenters -- "Dr. Wort" -- actually advises him to use the Lovibond scale to make more accurate descriptions of color. Great, let's just all do it by the damned numbers. Useful.
Beer tasting is subjective. There's no way to get around that. Period. Never will. That's why medals are usually awarded by blind judging and concensus, by panels. Best you can do. I don't present my "reviews" as anything but my opinions. I don't say you're right or wrong if you agree or disagree; frankly, I don't care, in the end. If you find them useful, and I hope you do, that's great; if you don't, I can understand that, too. They're descriptive, not prescriptive.
I hope you find the following reviews useful. I'm not going to worry about it, though, and neither should you.
But...I realized that Maud was good for a little longer, and the day was a little beautiful, and I was a little thirsty, and the Passat was a little close to Doylestown. And I'd been meaning to check out Stephanie's Lounge for quite a while now. So I went. (Nothing personal, MA staff! (Besides, I know John understands at least...))
Wow. Why didn't one of you tell me about this place? Not a lot to look at, and not very big inside, but good God, 36 taps and only three of them mainstream (soon to be replaced, too), with three Ommegangs, two Founders, Chimay White, three Fuller's... Damn. And if that's not enough, they have over 500 bottles. Really, supported by a bottleshop operation just around the corner (connected internally, so anything you see in the shop you can get in the bar).
I finally settled on a Founders Cerise, cuz it's just out and I wanted to try one. Good call: solid semi-sour cherry with good beer backing, refreshing, interesting, even intriguing. Reminded me a lot of a lighter-weight New Glarus Belgian Red. (And wouldn't you know it; there was a sample bottle of Cerise (and a Kentucky Breakfast Stout) waiting for me at home. Thanks, Founders!)
Food was okay. I had a cuban panini, and it was competent, but not inspiring like the Cuban at Sly Fox -- I think because the pork, the mustard, and the pickle weren't quite up to snuff. The pressed bread was great, though, and if they can get the other components at that level, they'll have it. (Ought to be doing more with roast beef and horseradish, with Kelchner's just up the road; the mind boggles.) The menu's changing soon, going with a lot more appetizers, which should be a fun thing with these beers.
But the beer! Damn. Sorry to keep saying that, but I just can't believe this place was tucked away not half an hour from me and I had no clue! I blame you people for this, I do!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Congratulations, Jay. You are the man for the position.
Cathy and I went down to Memphis for their anniversary celebration tonight. It was jamming, but we managed to wedge our way in and grab a Bear Republic Racer X (rocking hopper, and I expected nothing less) and a Schlenkerla Fastenbier (smoky, light, and...tart? Not sure about the condition of this one...). It was an awesome line-up of drafts. About then, Leigh came busting in, holding high a sampler of meatball sandwich chunks: delish.
We slowly slipped into the dining room (past Nodding Head's Curt Decker, who was "just going to stand here and drink cask Fuller's ESB till my eyes bleed," which didn't seem like a bad idea at all (Curt's wife Paula is Brendan's second partner in Memphis, and the third, Ken Correll, can be seen in the pic just over the tray Brendan's holding)), and found, to our surprise and delight, an empty table for two. We grabbed it, and tasted some other stuff: ham and onions on rye, a buffalo wing, some chicken liver mousse with dried fruit soaked in JW Lee's Harvest (awesome, BTW), and blueberry soup. Cathy got a Sly Fox Instigator (sweet and delicious, dark, rich), I got some of that ESB (smoother than silk, not as intrusive as the bottled ESB) and then I had another.
Then I had an Uerige Doppelstike, and it was one of the very best beers I've had in months. I may go back to Memphis tomorrow just to get more. Wow. Malty-dry (Germans are geniuses with that), hoppy, big, but not boozy, holy crap. Excellent beer. Then I tried Taras Boulba again... I don't get it. It's citrus peel-pith bitter, shallow, with just a bit of fruit character. Didn't do it for me when I had it the first time, after WhiskyFest NY at dba last year. Low alcohol, session beer, yeah, but it didn't make it for me this time either.
And then...we went home. Happy birthday, Memphis!
But I've found a problem: outside major cities, the coverage of beer bars gets pretty thin. I've been adding a few, and I'd like to urge you to do the same. It's quite easy: just search the database by name to see if your fave local (or not so local) beer bar is in there. If it is, add a quick review. If it's not, add it: all you need is the name, address, phone number, URL, and whether it's a brewery/brewpub, beer bar, or beer store. Submit it and unlike some "other sites," the adds go online within a day or so.
Yeah, it's like work. Yeah, you don't get paid. But you know? This is what things were like back in the day. We told each other about bars with good beer because there wasn't another way to do it. Now there are ways...but Beermapping delivers a different -- and for some uses more valuable -- product.
They're working on other applications too. They have a mobile app, and they've integrated Twitter (something I have yet to do...and don't really intend to). There are other mapping tools in development. I figure the least I can do is add some bars to the database. Why not help out?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I declined to get involved. One, I thought the price of $15 for a one-night showing was ridiculous, particularly given that there were relatively few details forthcoming on the movie. Two, I was actually paying attention over the last 15 years. Which led directly to Three, the movie's topic seemed to be about eight years or more behind the times. There was nothing to write that wouldn't be pure speculation, which would only fuel a frenzy that already looked manufactured. So I skipped it. Didn't write, didn't go.
After reading Harry Schuhmacher's post about the movie, I don't feel a need to write anything further. Go read it. As he points out, other beer bloggers -- "(Andy and Jay and Stan and Maureen, for example, who are among the most respected beer bloggers out there)" -- have already talked about it, and their opinions are good ones; I found myself nodding in agreement as I read them. But Harry's... Harry's read like my own thoughts.
Give peace a chance.
Monday, April 20, 2009
But when we got to the Green Parrot, they told us all they could serve was pizza, "because our computer system is down." ??? Thomas and I had just had pizza for lunch, the women had just had it the night before, so, rolling our eyes, we left. ("Computer system"? Did all the paper and pens break?) Now where? Damn, damn, damn. "What about the place by the barber shop, where Sal's was?" Cathy says. I growled, uncomfortably. Sal's had been the third place to fail in that space in 12 years, and the space just felt cheap and cold to me, and I didn't want to go back. Cathy leaned on me. I gave in.
I'm glad I did. Vecchia Osteria was clearly a different proposition. Some love had obviously been spent on decorating the place, we were greeted warmly as soon as we entered, and one of the first things they asked was if we wanted some wine. VO doesn't have a liquor license...they are a BYOB, and they also make use of a loophole in The Almighty Liquor Code: they can't sell wine, but they can give it away. I enjoyed a small glass of Barbera d'Alba, ordered, and decided to run home (15 minute round trip) for a bottle of Cat Amongst the Pigeons Nine Lives Shiraz I'd picked up (not available from the PLCB, by the way). When we got back and our waiter had opened and poured it, we were both wishing I'd picked up a few more bottles: it was a luscious thick purple, full of layered fruit and a wonderful balance of acidity and sweet.
I stuck to water with my carpaccio, though. I'm used to getting shaved ribbons of beef criss-crossed on a plate with some kind of dressing artfully drooled across it. This was much more rustic: cloud-tender ravelings of beef relaxing on a lively-fresh bed of arugula dressed with lemon juice (which was why I held off on the wine) and olive oil. It was the very best carpaccio I've ever had. The kids both tried it, and -- wonder of wonders -- split an order of mussels, and liked them.
Main course? Papardelle with rabbit and marinara sauce. Just wonderful, silky with fresh oil and cheese, the rabbit firm and flavorful, the pasta with the perfect bite. And the wine was wonderful with this. Cathy had the rigatoni with bacon and artichokes, Nora had spaghetti with clams, and Thomas had the sauteed salmon with mussels. He was not wild about his, but I think that was more a Thomas thing; the bite I had was good. Cathy's was excellent, and Nora's was a textbook example of how to meld simple ingredients into something beautiful.
We split a small piece of ricotta cheesecake and two small cannoli. Our waiter offered me sambucca (!), but I reluctantly declined. I'd had enough, and the wine was warming me enough.
A great meal in totally unlooked-for surroundings. We'll definitely be back.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Well! I pulled up the BeerMapping go-to list on Minerva and determined that the closest bar I had never been to was Sidecar. Of course, once I got there, I learned that they weren't open till 5. Crap. And of course, once you're in that Sidecar/Grace Tavern/10 Stone area, you're stuck there, because with the South Street Bridge out for construction, there just ain't no easy way to 95.
Screw it, I figured, I'll go to Memphis. Easier said than done: traffic-lighting over to Broad and up simply sucked, and when I got to the Vine, it was clogged end to end. Crap. I took Vine Street itself, shuffled up through 3rd St. and Girard, and finally got to Memphis with a lousy 35 minutes to play with. I ordered a quick cask London Pride -- joy -- and asked what the specials were. Roasted mushroom soup with thin-sliced fried mushrooms and creme fraiche. Done!
It came, and I'm sorry I didn't have the camera. I got a fresh pint of Brawler (two session beers, folks, being responsible) and got stuck into the soup. I don't like to write about food, because I'm not a food writer (a philosphy I'd like to recommend to any number of perfectly good wine writers who insist on writing about beer), but this stuff was so good... Cathy and I honeymooned in Ireland back in 1989, and we still talk about a bowl of mushroom soup we had in a pub in Connemara...this stuff was so close to that bowl of soup that I called Cathy at the airport. "Thanks," she said, "thanks a lot."
Hmm, maybe I ought to have kept this to myself. Here's the thing: imagine, instead of the usual mushroom-flavored broth with cream and Wondra and some chunks of mushroom, that you get a thick, rich mushroom porridge, mashed mushroom, bulging with earthy flavor...and then a cluster of delicately thin-sliced crisply-sauteed mushrooms on top, floating on a pool of creme fraiche. Not over-seasoned, not covered in rusks, not buried in cheese: mushroom soup, focused and wonderful. I asked my man behind the bar: would threats or flattery work better at getting this on the menu regularly. His considered opinion: "Threats." Fair warning, Brendan, Leigh: put it on, or else.
I bolted for the car. There were times when I screamed and beat the wheel, but I was only four minutes late to pick up Thomas. We slid up side streets to the Newportville Inn. As we walked through the bar to the dining room we passed a big bottle beer cooler, and I saw bottles of O'Hara's Celebration Stout. I'd heard about this stuff, but this was the first time I'd seen it. I ordered a bottle.
O'Hara's Stout is good stuff: dry, but full, and a very nice pint indeed at 4.3%. This came in at 6% ("double-malted," according to Seamus O'Hara), and was even more full. Best of all, it had the burnt bitterness I usually associate with a good imperial stout. It was $10 for the 750 ml bottle, and I thought it worth every penny. There's not much of this left in the market (there were four more bottles at Newportville, and there may be one less tomorrow...), but if you see some, grab it.
And...I did make the mistake of ordering more mushroom soup at Newportville. It was vile: starch-thickened broth, chunks of bland fungus. Disappointing. The Alpine burger, on the other hand, was excellent, a real juicy chunk of delicious beef. We'll call that a win overall.
The picture comes with permission from Chris Nelson, who runs an interesting blog/video/website called TheBeerGeek, and who was just in Ireland for a beer festival on Easter. Thanks, Chris!
Friday, April 17, 2009
But I did. And let me tell you, after a couple drops of water to take the 51.2% ABV edge off the booger, a few snorts made me feel like I was worthy. So much so that I had some more.
So. Cask strength, aged in both sherry and bourbon barrels, and full of that tangible Laphroaig peatiness, the kind of flavor that scares most people off Scotch whisky and ensnares others into a lifelong love. After those careful drops of water, there's honey, and flowers, and fresh-snapped spring twigs. Roll it into the mouth, full, oily, with a big floor of gentle sweetness, but roofed with a brittle, sharp slating of peat that lets you know this is Laphroaig. 25 years mellowed, perhaps, but like a 50 year old ex-Marine: it's still going to demand your respect as it kicks your ass.
To my delight, I'm finally getting some marine character from a scotch. I've heard about this, but never noted it. As the peat and malt fades, there's a briney character that slides through, like fresh tidal pool. I don't think it comes from seaside aging, rather from some interaction of whisky and wood and palate, but there it is.
A rewarding half hour. Thanks to Laphroaig for this sample. I may pull out a couple of the leftover bottles I brought home from WhiskyFest Chicago (announcement at the end of every WhiskyFest: "Exhibitors, please do not give any empty or opened bottles to attendees. This is against hotel rules (it is, really) and all bottles will be confiscated as attendees leave (and they are). Please leave any opened bottles at the Malt Advocate table." Hey, RHIP, baby. Besides, when we get a lot, we go find after-parties and pass a few out). I got a Glenfarclas 105 that is just wonderful, and a 12 year old Auchentoshan that's just begging to be compared to Jameson. Might have to do that later tonight. I've got some Harpoon to taste, too. Oh, yeah.
Since it's such a nice day, I thought I'd follow up last night's visit to the new bar in Newtown with a jaunt over to the new Iron Abbey in Horsham. I put the dogs out in the backyard and drove off. But the doors at Iron Abbey were locked, no one answered the phone, and there was no life at the steakhouse, either. Anyone know what's going on here? Are they not open for lunch, despite what their website says? Kinda pissed about having traveled over there for nothing...
Screw it. I'm going to open that new bottle of Laphroaig.
1st update: It does sound like they're not open till 4 PM. Guys...how hard is it to fix a website? You know, I just fixed this one in 40 seconds.
2nd update: I just got an e-mail from owner Rui Lucas. He apologized for the inconvenience, rather graciously. They are on reduced hours till May 1: 5 PM to 2 AM. On May 1, they will go to the full hours, opening at 11 AM thru the week.
But the fact is, I don't, and I keep wishing for some good local competition to keep Isaac's on their toes. I thought The Grotto might do it, but the bar is a constant disappointment. Friends is a wretched Applebee's knockoff with 16 wasted taps (and don't get me started on the Newtown Applebee's), the Temperance House is bland and sanitized, the Brick Hotel has a couple great bartenders but a tiny beer selection, and The Saloon is perhaps the most misnamed place I've ever seen.
So when construction started on a place called The Green Parrot Irish Pub and Patio, where the late lamented Goodnoe's Dairy Bar used to be, I was hopeful. It opened on Tax Day, and last night I stopped by around 9:00 to see how things were.
The first thing I noticed, in the parking lot, was the pleasant smell of smoke. The GP uses a wood-fired kitchen to cook 90% of the menu. They also claim: "In the restaurant industry, pre-made foods are often used to cut labor and food costs. The Green Parrot will use only the freshest ingredients and will prepare its menu from scratch each day, eliminating preservatives, chemicals, MSG, and trans fats." Maybe, though I will say that the chef has solid bona fides and the smell of food was wonderful.
But I was there for the bar. It's big, a large rectangular space, and last night it was rocking. I lucked into some bar space when a couple at the bar joined a couple at a nearby table just as I slowly orbited the bar, looking for a lean-in space to order a beer. I got excited for nothing, though: I stood there for just under three minutes as the five bartenders walked by, walked by, walked by, before one finally asked me if I needed something. Someone really should have at least given me a "Hey, I see you, I'm in the weeds here, be with you soon" look before that.
It seemed like of the five bartenders, two knew what was going on. I didn't get one of them. I did get a smile, points for that, but then it was clueless. Not all their fault: the taplist wasn't exactly inspiring. Highlights: Flying Fish rotator, River Horse rotator, a house "Dirty Parrot Ale" which I didn't get or ask about, HopDevil, Yards Philly Pale...and 18 others, including Guinness, Beamish, and Boddington's...yawn. And my bartender not only didn't know what the FF and RH options were, she didn't seem to realize that I was asking which Flying Fish it was, not what Flying Fish was. It was Farmhouse, and it certainly was fresh!
Look. I don't want to crap on the GP. I've got my fingers crossed that they'll still get it. But for a bartender in this area to not realize that a brand like Flying Fish has more than one beer is simply inexcusable, personally and for the bar. And when you've got a well-supported bar like Isaac's selling Harpoon Leviathan in town, and Centre Beer selling some great cases, someone at the GP isn't doing their homework (and they're leaving money on the table). Not to mention their bottle selection is -- with the bizarre exception of Chimay -- incredibly small and mundane. Didn't look like their spirits were much to write home about either. Beautiful wine list, of course, and I saw two people drinking wine. (Okay, I know, that's for the dining room. God forbid I should have a better selection of beer for the dining room.)
Of course, I didn't mention the biggest thing about the bar: 17 flat-panel TVs, just in the bar. Last night they were all showing baseball, which next to no one was watching. At least there wasn't a viciously loud sound system.
I'll go back. I'd like to see what it's like in the afternoon, and I definitely want to try the food. I also have hopes that things will improve. Okay, you're an 'Irish pub.' You do not need Guinness and Beamish and Harp and Smithwick's...and you certainly don't need Bud, Miller, and Coors Light on draft and in bottle. Not to mention Amstel and Heineken Light, and MGD 64 and Ultra. That's 10 out of 36 beer choices taken up by light beer choices: use three. You've got a cider, Twisted Tea, and Smirnoff Ice: pick one. If you're only going to have 36 slots, you've got to use them more wisely.
Sigh. I started bitching again there, didn't I? Well, look, Green Parrot people. When craft beer is showing more growth than any other segment of the market, and you're in an area where craft beer is doing really well, and beer does better than wine and spirits in a tight economy, and the margin is better on craft than it is on light beer, why ignore that? Step up. Be smart.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
And here it is.
The mad scientists at Buffalo Trace Distillery are at it again! This round of unique experimentation involves the type of oak barrel used in the aging process. Any guesses? If you said Mongolian Oak, you are correct!
Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatley, has reached deep into his bag of tricks and is ready to see what interesting things will happen by aging his precious spirit in Mongolian Oak barrels.
Why Mongolian Oak you ask? “It’s a really unique proposition and something that hasn’t been tried before,” commented Wheatley. “We love to try new and innovative things and this one was on our list. We can’t wait to see how it turns out eight or ten years down the road.”
Not only are these barrels new and innovative, they are also expensive. Ten barrels have been put away for aging at a cost of $530 each—about four times the cost of an American White Oak barrel. It also took more than a year to coordinate production of these barrels.
The Mongolian Oak barrels are an industry standard 53 gallons. A cooperage in Spain supplied the Mongolian Oak to the Independent Stave Company and they crafted the barrels. The barrels received a #4 char—about 55 seconds—and will be filled with Buffalo Trace mash bill #1. This is the same recipe which is used for Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Look for more of these types of experiments to be conducted. Also on the list for trial are Japanese and Canadian Oak.
You'll notice that the outcoming spirit has not been called "bourbon." But as I read it, the regs only say that the barrels must be new, charred, oak barrels. Nothing about what kind of oak, or where it was grown. We'll see. $10 a gallon just for wood!
But I also stopped at East End Brewing, and had a very nice visit with Scott (got to taste Snow Melt, which was delish, and most of the Session series he had available, also nice), and he gave me a bottle of The Ugly American. I cracked it open as a pre-Easter dinner libation - a liter's worth of pre-libation - and I can finally agree with Uncle Jack (it's there, about 2/3 down the page, and aren't you glad Jack started blogging?) that this is "one heck of a job" of brewing, a tripel with a huge addition of hops. It's likely not as sweet as it was, being bottle-conditioned and all, but it's still big and spicy, then crushingly bitter in the finish. Nice.
Wonder what excuse Scott will use to brew it now?
Monday, April 13, 2009
But -- no surprise -- Brendan and Leigh are making it special. Starting at 5 PM on the 22nd, there will be some "very special beers" on draft...I'll let Leigh tell you: "Taras Boulba, Schlenkerla Fastenbier, and Cantillon Vignerrone...just to name a few. The whole list is being devised, but we promise, it will be special! Please note our kitchen and dining room will NOT be open for regular dining on this night." (They'll be passing around plates of snack-stuff, just like they did on opening day.)
And if you want to jump the gun... The Memphis/Local 44 tradition continues: when special kegs come along, you have to make room for them. So Tuesday the 21st will feature deep draft discounts after 7 PM. Might see you there, too...
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Today was no different. I have a long tradition of drinking heavy stuff on the afternoon of Easter Sunday (and then singing Easter Vigil), so after a big stashed bottle of Lagunitas Eye of the Hairball wheatwine, I pulled out the Gale's, a 1998. Pulled the cork, poured the beer -- pleh! Sour. Real sour. Undrinkable sour. Dammit. I find myself hoping that Fuller's will do it better.
The 2003 Heavyweight Old Salty I opened instead...now that was a treat. Warming, too. Thanks, Tom, Bill. Good job.
But now it's time to make dinner: Rieker's Specials (four different burgers on a skewer, with German barbecue sauce), spätzle, and some salad. Then it's time to sing and welcome the Resurrection.
There are two odd pieces of writing out in the beer press right now. Sam Calagione wrote a response to my last "Steaming Pile" column in Ale Street News, the column in which I opined that 'imperial' beers, while riding high, may be coming to the end of their cycle on top of the beer hype wheel. In Beeradvocate magazine, the Alström brothers' "Beer Smack" column was titled "Session vs. Extreme Beers."
In both pieces, the desire and nascent movement to popularize session beers was portrayed as being planned at the expense of extreme/imperial beers, implying a wish and a hope for failure of big beers. To make things short and clear, that's ridiculous. There is no versus in the equation. I don't speak for everyone, obviously, but speaking for myself and nearly everyone I've talked to about session beers, we'd love to see all types of craft beers thrive. I can't imagine why anyone would feel differently. This is not about taking away anything. This is about the classic image of the craft beer market: not a bigger slice of the pie, but a bigger pie.
The last thing we need is a trumped-up "fight" between segments of the beer biz. We had enough of that with the Sam Adams wars in the 1990s. There's nothing to fight about here. I'd like to see session beers get more attention from the beer press, and from beer drinkers, and from brewers. I'm doing what I can to help that along because I'd like more choice when I go out to drink. I'm not doing it to bash extreme beers, to benefit one brewer over another, or to make money for myself; believe me, The Session Beer Project ain't a moneymaker. Like Rodney says, can we all get along? There's no reason to make it look any other way.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I got a chance to try it last night, and it was good. Nice balance of hops and malt, and I don't mean in a "the malt hangs onto the edge of the balance table by its fingertips while the hops stomp around beating their chest and roaring" sense, either. I mean the hop flavor was there, but the malt flavor was too. Well-made beer.
I wouldn't mind getting a few more of these west coast ambers.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Mr. Pinty and friends (he's the sad one) protest the huge UK beer tax increases (with further yearly increases written into law already) that are at least partly responsible for so many British pub closings.
No, really, that's what this is. I just love it every time someone says "Mister Pinty" with a straight face. Could they please say "Mister Pinty the Walking Glass o' Beer" next time?
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
(Chris has taken some beating up for his blogpost, here and on BeerAdvocate, and -- in a move that I'm sure surprises no one who knows Chris -- has added two posts to his blog: one in which he takes full responsibility for the demise of the Tiedhouse, and another in which he retracts his hasty criticism of his employees and praises them. Call that spin control, but the easiest thing for Chris to have done is to have taken down or whitewashed his first post; and he hasn't. Honest, and respectable. Cheers, Chris.)
Still, the General seems to be doing well, the beer's still outstanding, and the Brewer in Residence program is off to a good start with Philadelphia Brewing in the house. Stop in, have a beer, and try to cheer Chris up.
Sorry this is kind of disorganized, but it's wild to see that right there in the middle of the press release, James Fell of PIRE (Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, noted New Dry screamers) says “We didn’t find that laws mandating that beer kegs be registered to the purchaser made any difference in reducing underage drinking and driving fatal crashes. In fact with this particular law, we saw 12 percent more drinking-related traffic fatalities amongst those under 21.” Keg registration doesn't work, dopes, I've been saying that for years!
It's almost as interesting to note the main point of the piece. According to their research, the most effective laws in preventing underage drinking-and-driving fatalities are: the 0.08 BAC DUI law, automatic license suspension for driving with 0.08 BAC, primary offense seatbelt laws (allowing officers to pull drivers over for failure to wear seatbelts, not just citing them for it if they find it after pullovers for other reasons), and the 21 LDA. I'm not getting into the LDA law, but I will note that the other three laws affect all ages of drinking-and-driving. I'd also like to know the difference they found between fatalities under 0.1 BAC laws and 0.08 laws, whether individual state drinking culture/attitudes or enforcement budgets and priorities were taken into account, but if I ever see the article, there will be time for that.
For now, could we get the main message out? Stop wasting time and money and effort on keg registration laws, because they don't work. Period. Tell your legislators. I already have, and as I said in that e-mail, "I'm against keg registration laws because they are unfair to beer drinkers, they are a bureaucratic annoyance, and they are invasive of privacy. But primarily, I am against them because they don't work, and I would much rather see the Commonwealth spend what money and effort we have on programs that DO work."
*I'm not the only one who can't find the article: SAPRP was so excited to get this press release out the door that it includes neither the title of the article or the authors, exactly the kind of sloppy research we're all familiar with from the New Drys, and thanks for keeping the faith, guys. It's also interesting to see that the only person quoted in the press release is a researcher from PIRE. Is Fell one of the authors? [yes, see below] Maybe, but the inkslingers at SAPRP fail to make that clear. Good job, folks.
Just more proof that there is a vast, New Dry conspiracy, connected by funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and they maintain separate agencies and foundations in part to look more numerous and important (and believable) than they are, and quote and comment on each other to look smarter. Even if the newspapers aren't on to this scam, I am.
I also have the full cite for the article: The Impact of Underage Drinking Laws on Alcohol-Related Fatal Crashes of Young Drivers, in the online version of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (though it doesn't appear to actually be up yet), authored by James C. Fell, M.S., Deborah A. Fisher, Ph.D., Robert B. Voas, Ph.D., Kenneth Blackman, M.S., A. Scott Tippetts, B.A. The authors, BTW, are all members of PIRE; I've seen Voas's work before.
This is Campari's biggest acquisition so far; they also recently bought SKYY vodka (2002), Cabo Wabo Tequila (the Sammy Hagar booze), and X-Rated vodka (both 2007), and picked up Glen Grant (a single malt that's big in the Italian market) as a side deal in the Allied Domecq dismemberment. Wild Turkey's definitely a jewel among those brands: it's growing, it has a strong foothold and excellent reputation in the U.S., Australia, and Japan, and, of course, it comes with Jimmy Russell.
This could be a smart move for Campari. Wild Turkey is a premium brand, in the honest sense of the word (maybe they'll enhance that premium aspect by dropping Wild Turkey 80 proof?). It has great name recognition; so does Campari, but people actually drink Wild Turkey.
What's this mean for Wild Turkey drinkers? Probably nothing at all, thankfully. It's all going to be back-office stuff: new wholesaler, new sales rep at most, and maybe not even that. Did anyone in the eastern U.S. even notice when Corona changed importers a few years ago? Nope. Wild Turkey has a strong enough pull from consumers that orders should keep up even if Campari bobbles things a bit (which they probably won't; they must have some kind of sales force, because there's a bottle of Campari on every damned back bar and I never see anyone actually drinking it).
I'll admit, this makes me a little sad. Wild Turkey was one of Pernod Ricard's earliest acquisitions, and they've been with the company for almost thirty years. Jimmy Russell will tell you that Wild Turkey is just a little family-owned company...only the family lives in Paris. I don't know if the Campari family still controls most of Gruppo Campari, but Milan (not Torino, as I originally misstated) just doesn't have the same pizzazz as Paris.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Too damned funny.
Too damned true.
Women deserve much better. Beer bars and craft brewers take note. And while you're at it, have a look at this (can't believe I'm actually linking to a PhillyMag booze article without wincing).
Monday, April 6, 2009
I know some of you know this InterWeb stuff; can you give me a hand? Thanks!
Okay! Thanks, I've got what I need. Time to take care of business.
Legal torpedo deployed. We'll see what happens.
Got a response from the web host telling me to change the format of my complaint. Okay, doing that. (When I find out what works, I'm telling everyone.)
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Bruce Wright, the fellow from Scrumpy who sent me the sample, asked me to "Please remember we decided not to emulate English, Norman, or Spanish cider, rather a American cider with our apples." I find that interesting and notable, especially as a bourbon drinker.
And it was quite different from those. It was sweet, but not the soda-sweet that disagrees with me in too many commercial ciders; this was a round, full sweetness that tasted like real apple juice, the kind of rich fruit flavor I love in vineyard grape juice. It was sweetness with depth and flavor. Not all that is sweet is insipid or stupid; just have a good doublebock and you'll know that. This is quite tasty, and it was delicious with a slice of a beautiful big miche I bought on Friday, and enticingly friendly with some French double creme cheese I got at the same time. There was one moment of mouthful when everything came together so well -- apple sweetness bringing out cheese richness, wild-yeast bread bringing out hint of cider tart/tannin, smooth paste of cheese crashing into solid bread structure -- that I moaned. And was immediately glad that no one was around to hear me.
I may have to have the other bottle with dinner: a leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary. Sounds pretty damned good to me. Although maybe that's the 22 oz. of 6% cider talking.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I was very pleased that a fair number of people either tried a smoked beer for the first time or enjoyed one for the first time -- one of the things I was hoping for when I suggested this topic -- so I'm going to list them first. And yeah...a lot of us wound up with Schlenkerla; hell, so did I!
Hey, Not Bad!
Dean at Eat, Drink, Run, Live hadn't even heard of the stuff before: "RAUCHBIER? What the fuck is that?" But he got his Schlenkerla -- uh-huh -- and he liked it.
Al at Hop Talk admitted smoked beer wasn't his favorite, but found one that wasn't bad: Weyerbacher Fireside. And Ron, the other Hop Talker, doesn't like porter or smoked beer, but liked Stone Smoked Porter. Good day, guys!
Put Nemsis in the "Convinced" category; the first rauchbier was so good, a second one had to follow. That's success!
Edmond at MMMM...Beer isn't quite in the smoked beer virgins category: he'd finally found one he liked, and decided to get a full bottle for The Session.
Not everyone liked it...they never do, that's okay. It's rauchbier, right?
Not So Much...
Beer Sagas' experience was just not so great; well, that happens. He decided to file it as a learning experience, though!
The Reluctant Scooper isn't convinced, even though he gives convincing you otherwise a game try.
Matt C. liked his Alaskan Smoked Porter, but doesn't get the whole idea of smoked beers...and doesn't like most of them (that's right; at A World of Brews you get two posts for The Session!).
But most of you? You love this stuff.
Bring It On!
Andrew Cooper, The Beer Adventurer, got me drooling with his food-pairing enthusiasm.
Rob Cannon jumps on the new Smoked Bock at Goose Island Clybourn and finds it wonderful with the pulled pork sandwich (I'd expect nothing less from a blog called Sophisticated Brews and Sustenance in the Windy City).
Mario at Brewed For Thought was ready, willing, and able, and got lucky with a cask of Sierra Nevada Imperial Smoked Porter (got some of that myself in Chicago on Tuesday; damned nice!).
John Duffy at The Beer Nut loves smoked beer, but found Mikkellr's Barrel Aged Smoke A Ciggy to be over the top, and was going home to soothe his palate with a Schlenkerla.
Except for mistaking Hamburg for Bamberg (sounds a lot alike!), Ted's got a real nice entry on his Barley Vine blog, although he'd rather have a Schlenkerla than the Stone Smoked Porter he got.
Steve Herberger started a smoky thread at RealBeer, and it may just go on and on...
Velky Al meant well, and was ready for smokin', but he Fuggled up and left his post at home...where he has no Internet. Luckily, he had pictures and memories.
Ray Daniels blogs behind a wall -- don't ask -- so you can read his account of an experimental smoked bock here.
My man The American Don did a post on his Beer Brotha blog back in November all about smoked beer and smoke-filled rooms, and decided it was too good to waste.
Barry Masterson -- Adeptus at The Bitten Bullet -- loves the stuff, but found introducing it to friends was not such an easy proposition.
Stephen Beaumont at World of Beer recalled a shared smoky experience we had in Germany a few years back that involved a smoky beer that had no smoked malt; a real beauty, and the beer I'd have done for The Session if only I could have found one. Prost, baby!
Brian Yaeger at Red, White, and Brew dove in headfirst with four smoked beers: Einenbahn Defumada, Alaskan Smoked Porter, Stone Smoked Porter, and Schlenkerla Urbock. And then his buddy Chris homebrewed a smoked beer as well.
Mark Andersen (In Search of Beer Paradise) is a seasoned smoked beer veteran, and has some great pix of Bamberg to boot.
Paul found some cool wordplay (what would you expect from a guy who calls his blog A Flowery Song?) and some second-hand smoke in his entry.
The entry at Hump's Brewing is about Joshua Humphrie's comparison of Weyerbacher Fireside and his own Maple Smoked Stout.
Jon (The Brew Site) chose a classic beer -- Alaskan Smoked Porter -- and a classic format: the structured tasting note.
Jimmy comes up with some interesting ideas at HopWild for adding smoke to beers -- not saying they're good ideas! -- and drinks two smokers: Stone Smoked Porter and Schlenkerla Weizen ("I like it - but it just seems wrong.").
Tom Cizauskas not only drank some Schlenkerla Fastenbier -- the lucky dog -- but he posted photographic evidence on Yours For Good Fermentables that he had it on Friday.
Our man at A Good Beer Blog, Alan Macleod, didn't just have a Spezial, he had ribs soaked in barrel-aged beer for double woody goodness.
Tim joined us for the first time, and -- understandably -- got confused a little by a post called The Session on my blog: his thinkingbrew post is about a session-strength rauchbier. Extra credit, Tim!
And Some Are Different...
Mark Dredge did a nice Bert & Ernie story you'll never see on Sesame Street, pointing up how smoke beers are simply a love-hate proposition. No arguments here.
Peter wrote a very complete entry at BetterBeerBlog, adding in his thoughts, an explanation of smoked beer, tasting notes on the Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter he had, and notes on the bar where he got it. (What, nothing on the traffic?)
The folks at Beer-O-Vision tasted Stone and Schlenkerla on-camera: have a look.
And finally, the brother-from-a-different-mother who talked me into this, Jay Brooks, takes the wheel of his Brookston Beer Bulletin and drives us on an exploration of whether smoked beers are legitimately more about place of origin and consumption than most other beers. For me? I'd say yes...as long as the 'place of consumption'...is me.
Thanks, everyone. It was a hoot, and I'm glad you all played along.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Here's where you want to leave a comment with your URL, or you can e-mail me the link (your comment may not show up immediately, so don't double-post; I moderate comments to keep out spam and jackasses). Drop it off here, and I'll do a round-up later this weekend. Cheers!
It's Friday, and it's Lent, and I am at least a practicing Catholic, if not a perfect one, so I'm not having the smoked meat that I'd like. And my cheesemonger didn't get in any Bruderbasil and I just don't care for smoked Gouda, so I'm doing smoked fish. Because I love smoked stuff, smoked cheese, smoked fish, smoked meat, smoked sausage, smoked nuts -- anyone ever had smoked fruit? -- and smoked beer. But I most of all love smoked beer with smoked food.
So, first course: Spezial Rauchbier with cold smoked salmon made at my local fishmonger's. Nothing 'spezial' here, no smoking juniper twigs or Nova Scotian peat, nothing e*treme, just plain old German rauchbier, made with smoked malt. The only thing special about Spezial is that it's so damned good, and it's one of the Bamberg breweries I've been lucky enough to visit, a wonderful session that I still look back on fondly. The smoked salmon is still moist, delicious, and the Spezial doesn't overwhelm it. As rauchbier goes, Spezial is fairly mild, yet very tasty.
Second course: Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen and whitefish. And now the pair's stood on its head: the beer is bold and rocking, and the fish sure doesn't overwhelm it (the fish is nice, too, moist and yummy). I love this beer, huge, smacky, rambunctious, and ready for food, and I've liked it in multiple servings from the first time I tried it.
Smoked beers represent a great example, maybe the best, of beer's directness. When a winemaker wants a smoky character in wine, they use grapes and yeast and oak that have produced wine with hints of smoke before...and they suggest that smoke to the consumer. When a brewer wants smoke in beer, on the other hand, they do just that: they put smoke in the beer. Period. They smoke the malt, just like you smoke fish or cheese or meat, and then brew the beer.
Smoke has been tagged as a carcinogen. Well...this is just one of those times where I'm going to remind myself that I could get killed crossing the street. God help me, I do love it so.
Thanks to everyone for participating in The Session!
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
So... we've got The Session coming up on Friday, when I'll be hosting Smoke 'Em If You've Got 'Em, a blog carnival on smoked beers that should see plenty of links to other beer blogs writing on the same thing. And I bought Cathy another case of hoppy beer -- Green Flash West Coast IPA -- and I plan to get some tasting notes up on that.
In the meantime, check out Uncle Jack's annual fun and games here.
Talk to you more tomorrow.