Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Founders KBS

I got a sample of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout two months ago, and finally got to it last night. It was one of those "on the deck in the dark" nights, and the KBS made it a good one.

Black as the night around me, and densely opaque as a good heavy pumpernickel.

Richly aromatic, even when cold, and almost explosive as it warms up: dark, oily coffee; roughly sensual chocolate/cocoa; oaky-sweet bourbon.

Rolling heavy in the mouth, full but easily teased into separate chocolate/vanilla/coffee notes, the bourbon/wood rolling around everything. Surprisingly light finish, didn't hang unctuously in the mouth.

Drank so easy I was shocked to see I'd finished it.

I Love You Too, Wawa

Check the awesome power of Seen Through A Glass.

Last October I publicly dissed Wawa's disappointing treatment of their coffee. I urged them to dump the Bunn Coffee Burners and put their otherwise decent coffee in thermal carafes. There seemed to be some motion in that direction in January.

Then last night, Yards Brewing's Steven J. Mashington sent me this picture of fellow Yardser Steve Welsh tapping himself a fresh cuppa thermally-coddled Wawa Coffeetopia, at the 21st & Hamilton Wawa (where, by the way, they'll be celebrating the Wawaversary on September 21, which includes...free coffee all day!). That's looking like success, baby.

So, Wawa. A couple things. First, thanks for listening. Second, no charge. Really. Third, Trevose, dammit, Trevose!

Oh. And I'm still waiting for diesel. Cuz I got two of 'em now. Good coffee, and diesel. I know you can do it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vote in PLCB poll, Sunday only!

Just saw a poll in the Lehigh Valley Express-Times:

Should Pennsylvania sell the state liquor control system to balance the budget?

Can I get a big Hell Yeah!

Go register your opinion right now!

Can't find the results today...but late last night "Sell it!" was running over 80%. Like to see a real statewide poll done by an impartial agent.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brauhaus Schmitz soft opening

Cathy and I went down to the soft opening at Brauhaus Schmitz tonight...ah, Germanness. Teutonicity. It's a nice space, and yes, that's wood at the entrance, right on South Street (there's a nice little concrete fresco on the sidewalk as you enter, too).

We were greeted by Doug Hager, clearly overjoyed to finally be open. He welcomed us, told us to sit anywhere, but we took the opportunity to walk around a bit: the bar, the taps, the interesting 2nd floor with its low ceiling (like a rathskellar on the 2nd floor) and balcony overlooking the bar. Then we sat in the front, and Jess and Amy, our dirndl'd waitresses, took care of us.

I had a Schlenkerla Helles (draft, beautiful), Cathy a crisp glass of Jever. (The beers are not cheap, the 0.5 liter helles was $7.50, but look, you're on South Street, and Philly's not cheap any more; besides, at least it's an honest half liter instead of a 13 oz. shaker "pint.") We got obatzda (cheese butter with caraway and rye bread, done quite well and with enough bread for the spread) and potato pancakes (crisp, light, not oily).

There was also a bread plate, and God bless Doug and Kelly for that: I think it is one of the Crimes of Food that German bread is not fawned over like French bread. Germans have almost as many breads as they have sausages, and it's great. Go, get bread (remember: soft pretzels are bread, and every city's pretzels are different).

Entrees: Cathy got the Gemüsespatzele, spatzele with asparagus and cheese (and other stuff, don't press me), simply delicious. I had the Zigeuenerschnitzel, a crisp yet tender schnitzel with a pepper and onion sauce; sides were rotkohl (maybe a bit too flavorful) and potato salad (where was the speck?). Very good, even better with our second round of beers: a bottle of Augustiner Maximator for Cathy and a liter of Brauhaus Hausbrau (Stoudt's Gold) for me. We split an apple strudel, and groaned as we left.

Overall? 8 out of 10. A couple of small things could be improved, and we told Doug about them. But the space? Great. The menu? True German. The beers? Excellent, draft and bottle. The location? A bit weird when we left, like walking out of Munich into South Street.

I'd suggest doing what we did: toddling around the corner and down 7th St. to Chick's. Walked right into the bar, and said to Phoebe: we have time for one cocktail, what should it be? She rose to the occasion, asked a few questions, and made one, right on the spot, with Laird's Apple Brandy, Grand Marnier, Canton ginger liqueur, and her own Phoebe's Heart of Darkness bitters (strawberries, cacao nibs, and orange peel). Very nice, not sweet (which was one of the things we determined in the cocktail interview), and for a bespoke cocktail...very reasonably priced.

But...it was also quite hefty, and it quickly became apparent to me that it would be best if Cathy drove home.

Brauhaus Schmitz (and Chick's) are going to be on My List. Schmitz won't be open tomorrow, but keep an ear out; they'll be open for good soon, Monday or Tuesday. Go. Drink. Eat. Enjoy.

Highball!

I put in about four and a half hours with the new pressure washer today, and it was surprisingly tiring. I've never really used a powerful one before, and being two stories up a ladder with that bucking thing trying to push you over backwards...damn! But the house looks much better -- the mold/moss build-up on white siding is nasty -- and I trimmed the shrubs away from the house to get at the siding, too. But I'm bushed.

So...I made a highball. Took my Sly Fox Pikeland Pils willibecker glass, filled it with ice, poured in about an inch of Rittenhouse Rye, and topped it up with Stewart's Ginger Beer. Damn me, that was good. The ginger beer is so spicy my lips were tingling a bit (Stewart's isn't Blenheim, but it's good), the rye punched it up good, and it was cold and refreshing. I love a rye and ginger in the summer -- and it's finally summer, sunlight for a change!

Ah...a little bit of cheese and bread, a little writing (blogging for a friend's magazine site on Bill Gates' patent app for an amazing new cooler device; I'll link when it's up), and tonight Cathy and I are going to drop by the eagerly awaited soft opening at Brauhaus Schmitz. Mmmm, German beers. Dirndls. Cathy. And I've gotta cantor at the 7:45 mass tomorrow morning. Yeesh.

Friday, June 26, 2009

KegWorks and Mr. Fizz continue to please me

I told you that I finally gave in and ordered a CO2 tap, the Mr. Fizz from Leland, after years of fiddling with a handpump picnic tap. It was a huge and fantastic difference: almost zero wasted beer, no frustration with juggling pressure -- it's a set-and-forget beauty -- and maybe best of all, we didn't have to drink a whole keg in one day or have the remainder go flat. I love the thing.

But we've got a party coming up: the first of eight nephews/nieces/son & daughter graduated from high school (congratulations, Matt! GREAT job, and accepted an Echols Scholar at UVA!) and I offered to bring the tap. And then realized I had no gas. Yikes! Scramble, and find that KegWorks has the best price/shipping combo...but can't guarantee delivery before we have to leave. Gamble, order six cartridges (about $10 each, and worth it).

Lo and behold, they showed up today, three days before the earliest estimated delivery date. Bravo KegWorks! We'll have perfect beer for the party.

Folks, I get no freebies and no remuneration from either of these two companies; they don't know me from Adam. I just love the products and service, and cheerfully recommend them to you. Now, if you'll excuse me...it's Beer O'Clock.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"FSA 2/09"? Update: mystery solved!

Someone -- I'm not sure who -- gave me two unlabeled bottles of beer a while back. The plain bottlecaps bear the only clue to what's in them: black marker, spelling out "FSA 2/09". I wasn't even sure what "FSA" was, until I opened one last night: Flemish Sour Ale! And a good one, too. Pale gold, lots of white foam, and a clean tart flavor, not touched by heavy acetone or solvent aromas or overdone with body. In short, a very nice beer...if only I could remember who gave it to me. I'm thinking it might have been one of the Iron Hill brewers, but I'm not sure. Anyone know?

(6/26: mystery solved. Greg Ouellette, the brewer at Martha's Exchange, gave them to me back in May when we met for drinks in Philly. Here's what he said on Facebook:
Lew. That's mine. Gave it to you at Triumph when I saw you in early May. Glad to see you enjoyed it. Not homebrew. but brewpub brew. 2 years in the making. Blended with a golden ale cuz the straight sour was waaay too sour. Cheers.)
Very low blogging rate this week, I know. I've been working on a story for Mass Beverage Biz, doing Malt Advocate editing, and setting up Thomas's first college visit trip. Busy week. I'll try to squeeze a few more in before the end of the month.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Saints at the Grey Lodge

I whimpered a bit to Scoats that while he was celebrating saint's days -- St. Patrick's Day (of course), St. George's Day, and St. Andrew's Day -- he was missing -- in this very Welsh region -- St. David's Day. There are Welsh beers available, after all, and the Welsh whisky -- excuse me, wisgi -- Penderyn. (Which is an excuse to run a picture of my good Welsh boy.)

Well, not only did Scoats agree that March 1 of next year would see a St. David's Day celebration at the Grey Lodge, he one-upped me. This Wednesday, June 24th, will be St. Jean-Baptiste Day (hell, I didn't know there was a Grey Lodge blog!) at the Grey Lodge, a celebration of the patron saint of Quebec.

There will be a bunch of Unibroue beers -- always cause for a celebration -- and authentic poutine: 'authentic' meaning the fries are the G-Lodge's fresh-cut double-cooked fries, the cheese curds are real cheese curds, and -- again, that one-upmanship! -- the brown gravy is made with Unibroue Don de Dieu. French-speaking gravy! If you thought the whole "freedom fries" thing was absolutely ridiculous, this is your chance to get some seriously French fries. No Montreal smoked meat, unfortunately -- next year, Scoats says -- but they will have smoked pork with maple onions, and pork and beans: homeboy Quebecois food, I guess.

Je me souviens! I will remember this, Scoats: see you in March, and maybe on Wednesday, too. Sante!

Last Day for Pittsburgh-brewed Iron City

The last Lawrenceville-brewed batch of Iron City beer will be made today. Production will be moved to the City Brewing (no connection) facility 40 miles away in Latrobe, the brewery that once made Rolling Rock...before that iconic Pennsylvania brand was bought by Anheuser-Busch and production was moved to Newark, NJ.

I don't see any way for Iron City to win this. They can't afford to keep brewing in Lawrenceville -- the brewery needs more improvements than sales will allow -- they won't do well as a contracted brew in Latrobe -- the only mainstream beer I know of that ever pulled that off is Pabst, and Pabst was already a national brand, and had to go through the fire before emerging as an unlikely success.

We've lost another pre-Prohibition brewery.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yuengling boycott? What?

My Google Alert on Yuengling has suddenly started spitting out pieces about Yuengling "illegally" busting the Teamsters out of their plant, and a bunch of folks saying "Man, I gotta stop drinking Yuengling!" Huh?

So I read the stuff, mostly coming out of a Mike Elk post on Huffington, and wow, that Dick Yuengling, he's huffing and puffing and blowing the union down! Elk claims Dick "said that if they didn't vote to kick the union out, he would close the plant, and ship the work to a non-union facility in the South." Which sounds like total bullshit to me right there: if he closes the Pottsville plant, they're no longer America's Oldest Brewery, and the facility they have in the "South" is the old Stroh brewery in Tampa, which is where Yuengling got unionized in the first place. There is no "ship it south" option for Yuengling; which is when I got my first inkling that Elk might be rabble-rousing.

I'm getting a lot more skeptical these days, so I looked deeper into this. The first thing I see is that according the AP story on the issue, the National Labor Relations Board "could find no evidence that management pressured employees to leave Philadelphia-based Local 830 of the Teamsters." The NLRB ruled for the brewery. So where's Elk get his "Yuengling had illegally busted their union" line? If the NLRB rules for the brewery, and the last appeal by the union is denied -- which it was -- then it's not illegal. And it's not like the workers are being oppressed. Yuengling pays 100% of their employees' health care, and brewery workers make $20 an hour. Not so bad.

Then I took another look at the story: it's from May of 2007. What da hell? This is a two year old story! Why is it suddenly coming up now?

Keep looking in Elk's piece...and you find that what Elk is really doing is trying to put pressure on Arlen Specter to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. Boycotting Yuengling, the all-too-obvious hope is, will cause Dick Yuengling to cry uncle to Arlen. Wow. To paraphrase Bugs Bunny, if this guy thinks he's going to get Dick Yuengling to cry uncle, he don't know him very well, do he?

Look, I'm not a big fan of the EFCA because of the no-secret-ballot provision. I am not anti-union -- used to be, but no longer -- but I think the EFCA, as written, needs work. What I'm really not a fan of is using, manipulating union workers for political reasons. And suddenly stirring the shit two years after the fact (particularly when the "fact" ain't even in your favor) for political gain all too clearly shows that you never gave a rat's ass about the union workers in the first place.

This is stupidly transparent. Think for yourself -- don't just blindly follow what I'm saying, go look at this stuff yourself -- but my advice? Keep drinking Lager if you feel like it.

No, no comments on this one. Just because.

Beer art in the new age

I'm sure you've seen the great beer posters from yesteryear; the iconic rushing Belgian waiter (with steel soles!), the contemplative Moretti man, the Miller Girl in the Moon.

But you've also seen what the craft beer movement has been doing with art, on their labels, their posters, their taphandles, their websites. This popular art is being celebrated -- again! -- at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, PA in the month of June, an exhibit they call Design, Drink and Be Merry. You should get your butt up there and take a look at it (the schedule is at the show website). There's a fund-raiser beer tasting on June 27, starting at 5:00, and there are more pix (and a list of breweries that contributed artwork) here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Balance the Budget? End the War on Drugs

Talking to a beer industry person yesterday -- I'm going to skip their name for obvious reasons -- who dropped this bomb: instead of raising taxes on booze -- which historically results in lower tax revenues, not higher -- why not balance the budget by legalizing recreational drugs? Here's his thinking:
  • Tax them and sell them in 'drug stores': source of revenue, safer purchase, safer drugs (meaning more money and less costs and no financial reward for drug dealers)
  • Release all non-violent drug offense prisoners immediately; stop arresting new ones (huge savings in prisons, and more attention paid to violent and property crime...which decriminalizing drugs will also lower)
  • Eliminate the DEA and drug enforcement arms of police forces, end Coast Guard search and seizure (huge savings, greater personal liberty, return focus to protecting the nation from terrorism)
  • End the huge flow of money to criminal producers and suppliers (ends huge flow of money to destabilizing groups and terrorists and the Taliban...)

Talk about your win-win. Before you start to scream...think about how much the War on Drugs looks exactly like Prohibition enforcement, and how futile, expensive, and corrupt that was, and what a great thing it was for organized crime, and how that eventually wound up. And then think about how relatively harmless smoking weed is: the most dangerous part is growing it, selling it, or buying it! And think about the main reason we got Repeal: jobs.

Food for thought. At least for discussion. As Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Let's talk seriously about legalizing drugs. And while we're at it, let's abolish the PLCB.

More exaggerated anti-alcohol numbers? NO WAY!!

http://www.just-drinks.com/ is reporting that a New Zealand government study on the "social costs of illegal drug and alcohol abuse" grossly exaggerated those costs, according to an independent study by two researchers at the University of Canterbury.
Social costs of excess alcohol consumption cost New Zealand's economy NZ$662 million (US$421m) annually, not the $4.8 billion cited in a report commissioned by the Ministry of Health, according to a study published this week by two researchers at the country's University of Canterbury. The Government study, completed by Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL) and published in March 2009, found that social costs of illegal drug and alcohol abuse were a combined $6.8 billion.

"We find substantial flaws in BERL's method that together account for well over 90% of BERL's calculated costs of alcohol use," said researchers Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess, of the University's Department of Economics and Finance."The BERL report is wholly inadequate for use in assisting policy development," they said, adding that New Zealand recoups $516 million annually in alcohol duty taxes.

The researchers claimed that the BERL study contained "serious deficiencies" in methodology, including double-counting the cost of insurance and insured losses and not accounting for differences between alcoholics and the rest of the drinking population. Several differences between the BERL and Canterbury studies rest on what can be counted as a cost directly related to alcohol consumption.

I am shocked -- shocked! -- to find misrepresentation of numbers going on here! Now...would some U.S. researchers please do the same kind of analysis for the bizarrely huge numbers always thrown around by New Dry groups like CASA, PIRE, and NIAAA? And learn how to put out a decent press release when you get the results? Might be interesting to take the "cost of" numbers put out by various groups -- cost of alcohol, drugs, back pain, improper office furniture -- add them all together, and see if it's true that we're not actually producing anything in this country because it's all being eaten up by lost productivity and healthcare expenses.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Think I Once Said Congress Wastes Too Much Time

From Business First of Louisville:
U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth and Brett Guthrie have formed the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, an officially recognized Congressional Member Organization. They will serve as co-chairman of the caucus. Yarmuth, Kentucky's Third District representative, and Guthrie, the state's Second District representative, formed the bipartisan caucus to organize a group of representatives "dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the bourbon industry in the United States and educating other members on the legislative and regulatory issues impacting the industry," the representatives said in a news release.

To date, 17 members of Congress have joined the caucus and more are expected to join in the coming weeks, according to the release. More than 95 percent of the world's bourbon is distilled and aged in Kentucky by distillers that employ more than 43,000 people. More than $3 billion of Kentucky's gross state product is generated by distilled spirits and more than 500,000 people visit the state's distilleries annually, the release said. "This caucus offers a solid base of bipartisan support for one of Kentucky's most important industries and largest employers," Yarmuth said in the release. "Congressman Guthrie and I both agreed that it was important to create a working group that would advocate for this critical part of the Commonwealth's economy."

You know, Congress is doing important work. Maybe Yarmuth and Guthrie could teach the other reps something about making a good cocktail, too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's official: I'm one of those people

Finally broke down and got a Bluetooth headset (and I have to admit that I also broke down and got an iPhone). It's great for doing phone interviews, especially when I'm waiting for a call and I need to start cooking dinner.

But...I can't help feeling that I've let down the side by becoming one of those Bluetoothing idiots, roaring down the road, ranting and raving at folks as I drive, wandering around the house as I talk in front of people I'm not even remotely talking to (while I am talking remotely to other people)...

I'm fighting it.

Eerie Rise in College-age Drinking Deaths

This just out:

"Using figures from government databases and national surveys on alcohol use, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that drinking-related accidental deaths among 18- to 24-year-old students have been creeping upward -- from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005."

Before you shriek in horror, consider this truly frightening fact: 1,825 deaths is exactly five a day. What are the odds? Probably exactly the same that the number given for 1998, 1,440 deaths, is exactly one hundred and twenty a month.

Someone needs to say it, and I will: The NIAAA's Ralph Hingson* is pulling these numbers right out of his ass. College drinking deaths are an excruciatingly painful loss -- as the parent of two teenagers, it's starting to prey on my mind -- but this kind of ridiculous exaggeration is an offensive travesty. Take a look at this fact-based perspective on the issue.




* Heard of this guy? Here's some info from Behind the Neo-Prohibition Campaign: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by Dan Mindus, an analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom**

Boston University sociologist Ralph Hingson runs the RWJF-funded “Join Together Online” program, which serves as a clearinghouse of information for the anti-alcohol movement. He is also one of the most careless--and frequently cited— researchers around. Hingson produced a study declaring that a national .08 BAC law would save “500 to 600 lives a year.” But to come up with that number, Hingson went cherry-picking, carefully selecting only certain .08 states so that the results would align with his prejudices. Perhaps the most highly respected auditor in the world, the GAO, calls Hingson’s study “unfounded.” Nevertheless, it is still cited by MADD and other neo-prohibitionist groups.
• In 2002, Hingson authored a headline-grabbing study that blamed alcohol for 1,400 fatalities among college students each year. Aside from stretching the definition of “alcohol-related fatality” to ridiculous lengths, Hingson did no research whatsoever with college students. Instead, he simply took statistics about alcohol-related fatalities among 18 to 24 year-olds and multiplied by their percentage of the general population. Unfortunately, this blunder didn’t stop
The New York Times from beginning its coverage by reporting: “On an average day, according to a new study, four college students die in accidents involving alcohol.”


**Who are hardly lily-white themselves...though please note that this source, "Sourcewatch," practically gives the ridiculously anti-alcohol-biased Robert Wood Johnson Foundation a free pass...so I question their impartiality, as should you. Far as that goes, you should question mine. Hell, I do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More Montreal: firsts for me

I tried a lot of things in Montreal that I'd never tried before. It was a good trip.

Wednesday I got up and went to the press breakfast, heard the opening statements, then went out in the bright morning light and drank witbiers with Tony Forder, Carolyn Smagalski, and...other people. We also tried beers from À l’Abri de la Tempête, a brewery out on the Magdalene Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Very nice stuff, including a wee heavy/barleywine called Corne de Brume ("Horn of Fog", Tony kept calling it, until I finally realized it was "Foghorn") and Corp Mort ("Dead Body"), a smoked barleywine, both of which were in my top 10 beers of the trip (yeah, I know: not session beers).

I can't recall what I did for lunch -- might have skipped it -- but I went back and judged in the afternoon -- more on that in a separate post. I went back to the room, worked some more, quite a bit, really, then decided I didn't want to go out again...but I was hungry. So I thought, why not walk to Schwartz's? I'd passed it on the way home the night before, and had I not been tired and already full, I'd have stopped; it's an icon. So I hiked out to Ave. St. Laurent and got in line at the door, waiting for a seat.

I'd been waiting about five minutes when a cab pulled up and Josh Rubin hopped out. What a surprise! I know maybe 8 people in Montreal, and one of them shows up on the street where I am! Well, maybe not such a surprise. It was Schwartz's. Josh led me through the whole thing ("Don't get the lean, get medium fat"), pointed out that Montreal's famed "smoked meat" was not, in fact, smoked at all, but more like pastrami...only not. It was delish, medium fat and mustard, like pastrami only differently spiced, and the counter service was quick and just friendly enough. But...Josh wanted to get a beer, and I wanted more sleep. Back to the hotel.

The next day I met Warren "Beer Sensei" Monteiro, a column colleague from Ale Street News. Warren was a trip, a constant patter of interesting stuff, and I tagged along with him to a dim sum place he knew...because I'd never had dim sum. True. I got a good intro. Shark fin dumplings, pork paste and tofu, scallop dumplings, shrimp dumplings (Warren likes fish), a great variety, and very filling. Nothing was overly spicy, nothing was bland, everything was fresh and quick. Gotta get more of this stuff.

Hmmm...Got things to do. I'll cut this short for now. More beers and food to come.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The new ride

We are now a 2-diesel family. We picked up a Jetta Sportwagen TDI today, the Corgmobile. It's a 6-speed manual, 2 liter diesel engine beauty, and we already got 39 mpg in the first 100 miles (3rd most efficient car on the US market, right behind the Prius and Civic Hybrids...which don't come in wagons). It's a sweet ride, and the wagon body -- to us -- even looks better than the Jetta sedans. Quiet, speedy, and if you haven't noticed...diesel's down to the price of regular gas. Feels good.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Better beer in PHL!

Steve Beaumont makes a very good point in a comment to an earlier post: the Phillies are great, as is the the food and beer in Citizens Bank Park...but our airport still sucks!

Who's going to do something about that? I don't mean the damned terminals or parking or baggage handling (which has gotten a LOT better in the past year, thank you!). I mean, why is it that PHL has nothing to compare to PDX in terms of BEER? What the hell kind of greeting to America's Best Beer-Drinking City™ is that?

Someone in the Philly Beer Bar Mafia (you KNOW who you are) has to step up to the plate and make this happen. We need a real beer spot at the airport, it's got to have a top-notch draft system, and all local beers. I can't do it, because I'm poor and stupid. Feather in the cap, guys, feather in the cap (and a great way to steer incoming biz your way...).

Weyerbacher Zotten

I'm late with this review (and other things...), but Friday afternoon needs a beer, so I'm taking that opportunity. Weyerbacher Zotten is their new Belgian Pale Ale. Well, not completely new. Zotten was Alpha, the first in their Brewer's Choice beer releases. I didn't get any Alpha (or any of the others, except the rather nice, quiet Echo), so A to Z: I got Zotten.

I was expecting something along the lines of a De Koninck or an Ommegang Rare Vos: lightly malty, some yeast character, easy and laid back. Nope. Zotten's got some kick to it (6% ABV), some serious hop backbone, a crackling shot of spice, and a little fruit. A lot going on in this glass, in fact, it's got more flavor than beers in the 7-8% range (and I'm not talking Olde English 800, either). No disappointments. Maybe a touch too much hop, but I suspect if it was a bit warmer in the house (having a problem with the AC, just keeps going too cold), I would have a different opinion. Nice work, Weyerbacher. I'll have an eye out for this one.

More Fun at Sprague Farm

The latest from Sprague Farm and Brew Works: their brewpub is open! (got this from Sam Komlenic; thanks, Sam!)

Hello Everyone!
We just wanted to inform everybody that the Brew Pub (BIERHALLA) is now officially OPEN!!!! We want to thank everyone for their hard work and support to help us get this up and running.
Our current hours are now: Thursdays 2-8, Friday/Saturday 12-9.
The Grand Opening bash for the new Bierhalla will be on July 25 with more details to come on that as it approaches.
Thanks so much again and we hope to see all of you very soon!
Approach Your Day The Sprague Way, Sprague Farms and Brew Works
Looking forward to my PAB4 visit to Sprague!


Great Team, Great Beer, Great...Veggie Fare?

What a great time to be living in Philly. Not only are the Phillies the world champions, not only do we have the best selection of local beers at any damned ballpark in the major leagues (and not just at one piddley little "craftbrau" kiosk on the fifth level behind 3rd base, either, all over the place and at a -- God help me -- reasonable $6.75), but according to PETA (speaking of God help me), Citizens Bank also has the best vegetarian fare of any major league park.
The Phillies are the first-ever dynasty when it comes to delicious vegetarian fare. Now that they've added Southwestern black bean burgers and faux "crab cake" salads to an already stacked lineup that included veggie "steak" and veggie "chicken" sandwiches, veggie dogs, vegetable wraps, and various salads, we've noticed a connection between CBP's vegetarian rankings and the team's on-field success that tells us the Phils may well be on their way to another World Series crown.
Yeah, whatever. I'll stick to roast pork. But I'm still proud to see that the folks at Citizens don't see us as cattle to be fed whatever they feel like feeding us, and I'm glad they don't have a stupid exclusivity contract on beer or food. We the people, baby!

Thanks to Tom Cizauskas for the tip on this!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Iron City Brewing moving to Latrobe

Just heard that Iron City Brewing is going to be moving brewing operations to City Brewing's plant in Latrobe, the former Rolling Rock brewery. Canning ops had already moved to High Falls -- er, Genesee, in Rochester (it's so tough to keep up with these name changes), and now it appears all other brewing will be done at Latrobe.

What's all that mean? Well, for the beer itself, not much. That's a good brewery, good staff, they'll make IC taste like IC.

Outside the beer in the bottle, it gets a lot more ... complicated. For one thing, job losses: Latrobe is much more efficient and automated (which will, of course, make brewing and producing beer more efficient and cheaper, and probably more consistent, though the Lawrenceville plant does pretty well on that). For another, money: Iron City owes Pittsburgh a lot of it, still, and most of the debt structure depended on Iron City staying in their Lawrenceville plant. Are they going to skip town? (Probably not, because they're keeping their headquarters in Lawrenceville, but that's going to leave them with a ton of debt.)

But the big deal is...what the hell's Iron City when it's not made in Pittsburgh? It's not your hometown beer any more, is it? A reporter just asked me how I thought things would go for Iron City, and I asked him in return, have you seen much Stoney's lately? Deracinated (consider it a free Word-of-the-Day) beers just don't do well; Rolling Rock's another example that's too close to miss.

I'm not optimistic about this. Iron City's current management has not proved up to the admittedly big job of stopping the brand's slide. I don't know how they're going to convince people that they should buy Iron City again because now it's not made in the Iron City. A bigger job. At this point, it looks like they're planning to Kalmanovitz the brand into the graveyard.

The Pabst Miracle may be their only hope: any bicycle messengers need a new cheap beer?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MADD and ignition interlocks: follow the money

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on drunk driving today, part of what appears to be a series on the topic. In it, they question the position of distillers' business group The Century Council on drunk driving; TCC feels that the next step in stopping drunk driving deaths should be stiffer penalties for drivers who are caught at 0.15 BAC and over. The article has some very interesting looks at the numbers behind that, which made me question my position on this, which has been similar to TCC's. Good job, and thoughtful.

However, they talk about MADD's support for ignition interlocks (MADD wants interlocks in the cars of everyone arrested for DUI), evaluate it, and give it tacit approval...without pointing out MADD's financial links to the company that makes ignition interlocks; a major MADD donor. Actually, the WSJ is not particularly lax: no one ever mentions it. Check it out, folks: follow the money.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mondial: quick impressions

Squeezing a little in here between phone interviews...

I was at Mondial last year, and I said I was disappointed by the quality of the beer. That was different this year. I thought things had come up significantly this year. There were still a fair number of somewhat bland offerings, and beers-with-stuff, but you see that at American festivals too. There were no nastily infected beers this year -- well, one, but that was at a brewpub (a very sour brown at Le Saint Bock) -- and the beers seemed more solid, with more quality. I was pleased. The beer dinner Friday night was very nice; excellent food, good beer pairings, a pleasant time indeed, even though we were only in a screened-off area of the festival hall. A much better experience this year, and an interesting paradigm for a festival. More on that later.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Montreal may have to wait a bit

I planned on getting more Mondial stuff up...But I'm swamped with paying work that I couldn't get to in Montreal. So I'll squeeze it in where I can. Just wanted you to know. Meantime, write your Senator about stopping a proposed increase in federal beer taxes. I'm not anti-tax, just anti-regressive/unfair/excise tax. Get over to www.Congress.org and send your e-mail! (I did, and I might send another.)

Get out a little, Phillyvolk

Don Russell, the fella who is the face on Philly Beer Week and is Joe Sixpack, the beer columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, is leading a 3.5 hour walking pubcrawl in Northern Liberties this Saturday. It's $75, and well worth it: you'll get "behind-the-scenes experience" (the kind you always see me and Don and Uncle Jack getting, and you wonder what's going on when we leave the room? This is it), food and drink (hint: probably beer) at The Swift Half, 700, Standard Tap, and Ortlieb's, the best of the Northern Liberties (except for Druid's Keep, Abbaye, and North 3rd...but there's only so much time in an afternoon). Seriously, a great time, and if you've got friends who haven't seen The Philly Beer Scene, this is an excellent intro. Check here for more details.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hello Kitty and Santa's Butt

Remember this little bit I put up about wine labels? Remember the annual controversies over the variety of cartoony labels on Wychwood's "Bad Elf" series of Christmas beers, about how they'd confuse children because of their cartoon images on a bottle of beer?

Decanter is reporting that the first Hello Kitty wine is on the market, and that it is available in the U.S. WTF? The bottle not only has the nightmarish image of Hello Kitty on the label, it has a little charm of the fiendish feline hung from the neck! (Not a bad thing, you must admit.)

I think the export manager may be full of shit, because they seem to think that the FDA regulates wine labels, and I don't see anything about this wine being actually for sale in the U.S., but just suppose they're right. What the hell does that say about turning down cartoon beer labels? More to the point, who will save me from all the Hello Kitty winos?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Out on the town in Montreal

As is always the case when I get rolling in a fest mode, some blog backtracking is in order. So...here's what happened when I hit Montreal Tuesday afternoon. After pushing through some rush hour traffic, I dropped the Passat off with the doorman at the Queen Elizabeth and got ready for the pub crawl planned for early arrivers by Mirella Amato. Josh Rubin, the beer columnist for the Toronto Star, had very nicely asked me to join the group, and I did, as did Glenn Payne (another seminar presenter, and a very fun guy to go crawling with). I walked up to Sherbrooke and hiked across the hill to Benelux.

I spotted a likely group and asked them if they were with the Mondial. Yes! I quickly met Mirella, Jorgen Hasselqvist (owner of Oliver Twist, the celebrated Stockholm beer bar), Ken Woods (president of Black Oak Brewing ("They don't let me brew," he lamented. "I'm just an accountant.")), and Martin Jordan (head of sales for J. Cipelli Wine & Spirits in Toronto) (Arnis, I know you were there too, but I didn't get your card!). It was a lively group.


I got a Magnum, a pilsner hopped with (you got it) Magnum hops, and it was real drinkable. Could have been a bit crisper, but brewer Ben Mercier didn't stint on the hops. (He joined us as we traipsed about, and seemed to enjoy getting away from work for a change. That's him in the picture, at our table at Benelux.) Next up was a Cuda, a west coast IPA that was stinky and sticky with Simcoe and Amarillo hops; wicked bitter but still dry enough to drink easy. Nicely done beer.

Mirella chivvied us out the door and walked on down Sherbrooke (I would end up walking about 5 and a quarter miles that night), then right on rue St. Denis to L'amere a Boire. Mirella tried bravely to explain the French pun represented by the name, but I never did get it. I'm dense, just ask Tony "Moose" Forder. Anyway, L'AaB was essentially the first lager craft brewer in Montreal, and proved it by their very nicely crafted Cerna Hora, a true-to-style Czech pils.
What sold me, though, was Projet Elephant, a series of lower alcohol beers they've been doing. The current one is a 10P version of Cerna Hora, weighing in at only 3.6%, and very tasty indeed. The Projet Elephant beers pour through a brass elephant with a tap fitted into its trunk: quite fun.

L'AaB was a nice place, conducive to hanging out -- lower light, lots of smooth wood, a nice terrace out back, cool staff -- so of course Mirella would have none of it and chased us out the door to Cheval Blanc. Cheval Blanc was cool, in a chic kind of way -- low chairs, metal trim, hip staff -- but it was too nightclubby for my tastes. I didn't really love the beer, either. The stout was watery and astringent, the "India Noire," a dark IPA, was flatly bitter, and had a vegetal character to it that was not pleasant. The Maibock was fruity -- I questioned its lagerhood -- though it did dry out nicely at the end. The Bitter was the best of the bunch, drinkable and hoppy. Not a place I'd rush back to, I'm afraid.

It was the place where I ran out of money, though. I traipsed down the street to a gas station, but found the same thing I always do in Canada: I gotta use a real bank ATM. They always work (they did later that night), the little plastic numbers in gas stations and restaurants never do. Dammit. So I may still owe Mirella $10; I'm going to settle that tomorrow. Anyway...we walked again, a lot, which was keeping me more sober than I would have been, to Reservoir.

Reservoir was tiny, with a tiny cobbled-together brewing system (Mirella explained that there was a man who put these cheap but effective systems together; his trademark was a heat exchanger made from copper tubing and a hose, and sure enough, Reservoir had one), tucked away on a side street in a quiet neighborhood (at least, it was quiet on a Tuesday evening). We settled in, sitting in old armchairs around a substantial low table. I had a big oatmeal stout that was plenty drinkable (Ken said the dunkel weizen was 'brilliant'), but it was the food that was awesome. I had a pork BBQ that was full of peppers, excellent fries; Ken raved about his grilled cheese (it did look good; raclette in crunchy-grilled bread with lots of butter); Mirella let me try her grilled octopus and it was almost perfect...very nice.

The group was pushing on to Dieu du Ciel, but I'd had enough; four hours of sleep and 8 hours of driving was finally catching up with me. I walked back, a little over a mile and a half, but mostly downhill. I slept well.



*I have total sympathy for her actions, by the way: I know exactly how she was feeling. You have the desire for everyone to have a good time, but you still know that they would really like the next place, and they should see it because it's important and wonderful and offers things other places don't...so you try to see everything. Believe me, I know about it. Nice job, Mirella. A little more walking than we suspected, maybe, but a great time.

Double Michigans in Plattsburgh

I wanted to get some michigans on the way up to Montreal. Michigans are the Plattsburgh version of chili dogs, red hots, or Texas hots, also known as coney islands. The michigan has a drier, meatier sauce, and is dropped into a somewhat heavier split-top bun. Or, at least, it used to be.

After rolling north for hours (and getting 44 mpg, thank you very much) through the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks, I was ready for lunch at 2:00. And since McSweeney's Red Hots was a stone's throw from Claire and Carl's, the two hearts of michiganness, I had both.


The upshot? Not a lot of difference in dogs. Carl's delivered more onions, and a softer, lighter roll, but the sauces? Both had finely minced meat, not overly spicy but tasty sauce with very little juice. But... not so different. Both very good, but very similar.

The difference lies in the places. McSweeney's was plain jane; an independent, small-town lunch counter, yes, but without verve or individuality. C&C is an old clapboard building that's literally sinking into the ground, does real car-hop service, and is friendly as a puppy. It's fabulous, and I loved it. Definitely worth getting off I-87, too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day in Montreal

And I'm here, but I've got to run. Got a pub crawl to catch up with! Blessings on the Mondial staff: my room's stocked with Dieu du Ciel! Aphrodisiaque, St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Boreale Rousse, and mustard. And some kind of emu pate...God bless Quebec.

Talk to you in a bit, and tell you about my michigan madness in Plattsburgh; a real Geno's/Pat's moment.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mondial

I leave for Montreal tomorrow morning, judging and presenting a seminar (on what else?) at the Mondial de la Biere. Looking forward to a pub crawl tomorrow and Thursday (the latter of which includes Steve Beaumont's threat to make sure I'm not at my best for my 9:15 AM presentation on Friday), the judging (always like that), wonderful weather, new beers, great food, and -- speaking of that -- stopping in Plattsburgh for michigans on the way up and back. I'll do what I can about blogging. When I'm not drinking, walking, or sleeping. Au revoir!