Monday, August 31, 2009

Bluegrass Brewing Company Jefferson Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout

August 31, and it's what? 55 freakin' degrees out there? The beer for the last post of this very bloggy day is going to be cold weather beer: Bluegrass Brewing's Jefferson Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is one of a four-pack my bro-in-law Chris and his wife KD got me for my birthday; tip of the hat to you, guys, and thanks again.

The beer pours damned dark, still brown, not black, but dark. The aroma is not overwhelmingly bourbon barrel; about half barrel, half deeply roasted malt. The hops that I just know are in there aren't coming through in the nose much. Wurgh. That is one sharp stout: a fairly thin opening wedge that expands into a roasty bite with a leathery-lean wrap of bourbon barrel to it. It tastes like BBC didn't keep this one in the barrel too long, and for that, I thank them. Jefferson Reserve is older whiskey, too, so this is a barrel that's had a lot of the vanilla taken from it.

The beer is surprisingly drinkable for what's essentially a light-framed imperial stout with a buffing of barrel; it's almost lively. The barrel really comes through in the finish, curling back to catch you.

The question is, what are you looking for in a bourbon barrel stout? I guess I'm looking for something richer than this. It's good...but if I'm going to get hit in the head with an 8.5% beer, I kinda want to feel it more. This beer needs some more heft to it, and more depth. Might have to let it come up to room temp and try it again.

IPA Lunch at Isaac Newton's in Newtown

I've lived about 2 miles from Isaac Newton's in Newtown, an excellent beer bar, for over 15 years. I've been a beer writer full time since 1996, and I've hosted events at places near and far. But I've only ever done one event at Isaac's, which does seem odd.

Odd no more: I'm now doing a "Lunch with Lew" series with them, and the first one is in three weeks, on September 26th, from 12 to 1:30. The idea is to have a lunch centered on a particular 'style' of beer (for now, anyway; we may change that), sample some exceptional examples, and have an informal table-talk discussion of the type of beer, the particular beers we're tasting, and...whatever else lunch might lead us to think about. Beer is digressive in nature, as Michael Jackson often observed.

What's on the agenda for the first one? India Pale Ales, and we've got six good ones lined up: Meantime IPA, Stone IPA, Sly Fox Route 113 IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, Yards Cape of Good Hope IPA, and Green Flash West Coast IPA. Complementing the beers will be a spicy jerk chicken sandwich served with an arugula salad topped with red onions, oven roasted tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese, caramelized walnuts and dried fruits dressed with fresh cracked pepper oil. Plenty of jazz for your jaws, folks, an exciting lunch.

Reservations are required: the lunch, with beers, is $30. Call Isaac's at 215-860-5100 to book yours now. See you there. (Just heard from Brad at Isaac's: tickets are selling well, and this should sell out soon. Thanks, folks!)

Cape Ann Fisherman's Brew

While Thomas and Cathy were touring Vassar College last Monday, Nora and I ran some errands. We went and got some copies made of my mother-in-law's house keys, we picked up some fresh-made Italian sausage for dinner (amazing, what you can find using a Garmin GPS), and we stopped at Half Time Beverage for some beer to take with. (We were staying at the mom-in-law's, and cooking dinner; she don't stock beer.) I got some Smuttynose IPA and a sixer of Cape Ann Fisherman's Brew.

I first had Cape Ann when I ran into Jeremy Goldberg at Barcade, in Brooklyn, not long after he'd opened. He just happened to be there, as did I, and I enjoyed his beer. I was happy to see it again. Fisherman's Brew is a deep amber lager, and could easily sneak into a group of Oktoberfests: plenty of malt, just enough hop (maybe a little more than "just" enough, but what the hell, it's American; and next to the Smutty, it wasn't noticeable!), and a great finish that's sweet without being cloying. A very fresh-tasting beer, and to tell the truth, I was very surprised to find one still in the cooler when we got home, because I was sure I'd polished them off. Real nice beer, and if you're not in a hophead frame of mind -- or have a pot of cabbage soup simmering on the stove -- it's gonna do you right.

House Full O' Corgis

By the way, in case I forgot to mention it in the Massachusetts posts?

We missed the dogs.

Nora and I went and picked them up this morning, and it was a wonderful reunion. "I can just let him go, he'll run to you, won't he?" the woman at the kennel said (Pen's been there more than a few times). Sure, I said, and braced myself. He ran right past me, to the car! Sat at the door, waiting to get in. Smart boy. Oh, it's good to have them back.

Oktoberfest at One Guy gets permission to "oompah"

Just got a note from Guy Hagner at One Guy Brewing in Berwick; the brewpub has been cleared for live music by the borough of Berwick's zoning panel. The vote was unanimous, and as soon as Hagner and partner Tom Clark can get an amusement permit from the PLCB, the music will play. One Guy's Oktoberfest is planned for the weekends of October 8-11 and 15-18 (both of which I will probably miss, dammit).

Another little titbit:

"Also, One Guy Brewing might change its name, Hagner said. When he opened the business 19 months ago, he ran everything by himself. Now, he has a business partner, Tom Clark, and several employees."
Jeebus Christmas, now that would be a dumb move. One Guy is a name that stands out, it's quirky in a real good way, and it captures the smallness that so many people find appealing about craft beer. And there's still only one Guy! Hope they think long and hard about this!

BOHICA: higher booze taxes in Illinois, North Carolina tomorrow

After booze tax increases in New York and Massachusetts, now it's time for moderate-drinking residents of Illinois and North Carolina to celebrate being taxed more than their fellow citizens just because they like having a cocktail before dinner or a beer with the game. Taxes go up tomorrow in both states. I can only assume that New Dry organizations in the states and in the national hives (Marin, PIRE, yeah, I'm talking about you) are dancing with glee as short-sighted state governments pile on the pain by raising taxes during a recession.

I mean...a lot of these states have balanced-budget amendments. But it appears that to almost every legislator and governor, those requirements mean nothing about keeping spending in check; no, they're about a need to raise taxes. Sin taxes. Regressive taxes. I know the cries: "It's only a nickel!" (It never is: either it's a producer tax that ripples and expands, or it's a direct tax that's more by the time it gets to someone drinking good stuff) "Drinking is a luxury!" (So's candy, but there's no special tax on that. (Actually, there is: Illinois taxed that, too; see comments, below) Okay, pets are a luxury, and there's no tax on them!) "Drinking costs billions!" (Really? Check your figures. The whole booze biz also puts billions back into the economy.) "Drinking is a sin!" (Who let him in? I thought we got rid of you back in 1933. Anyway, your mom's a sin, but we don't tax her.)

Here's a cry for you: booze taxes unfairly tax lower-income citizens. Is that the kind of thing you want to do during the worst recession in decades? Way to go, Mr. Progressive.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has apparently dodged the bullet again, if Governor Rendell's latest lame joke is any indicator.
"The media's low-paid and high consumers." - Gov. Rendell, joking in a Harrisburg news conference this week about the state budget and the politics that determined that an increase in beer taxes would not find support.

Join me in Jenkintown for a beer breakfast

The Jenkintown Jazz & Brewfest is another of the delightful gaggle of small beer festivals that have sprung up in the Philly 'burbs: others are in Kennett Square, Newtown, Yardley...it's happening. And thanks to self-aware brewers, most of these events are paying for beer, either through a fee or direct payments.

But Jenkintown's fest is different, for three reasons. First, it's smaller; the beer fest part is only a few hundred attendees (the jazz fest is free, and draws about 3,000). Second, there's jazz, with jazz vocalist Denise King and alto sax jazz icon Richie Cole and his Alto Madness Orchestra. Serious stuff. Finally, Jenkintown's got me for breakfast.

I'm presenting a beer breakfast at the West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown just before the 1:00 festival. It's not formal; we'll be having a vegetable omelette and french toast along with full glasses of beer (I'd tell you which beer, but to be honest, we haven't decided yet: breakfast beers take a little more thought!), and I'll be talking about why beer is a great brunch drink (and breakfast, too: God knows, I've been there), what beers make good choices for brunch and why, and how you can throw your own beer brunch with just a little thought. It's going to be a fun hour in an intimate setting, with plenty of individual tableside discussion, the kind of event I love to do. If you've got copies of my books, bring 'em along, I'll be happy to sign them for you.

Tickets are available here; the breakfast is a package with a brewfest ticket. There are two seatings, at 11 and noon; the fest begins at 1 PM. The $25 ticket for the breakfast may seem a bit steep, but when you put it together with a $25 ticket for the fest, it's a steal. Think about it: you'll get there an hour or two early, get good parking, and be nice and relaxed for the fest, with a little something in your stomach before the tasting starts. Hope to see you there!

An Embarrassment of Cabbage

I know I've mentioned before that we have a farm share from a CSA outfit in New Jersey (Honey Brook Organic Farm). Unfortunately we had to miss our boxed share last week (we were in Massachusetts...and we missed the watermelon, dammit!), but some of the stuff from previous weeks is holding up well...including four heads of cabbage. Now, I like cabbage, a lot, although I'm not a big coleslaw fan, but that's a lot of cabbage. So I'm dealing.

Last night we had grilled chicken with a honey/garlic glaze (Safeway's house brand, and it's...well, I'd use a really bad word for emphasis on how ----ing good it is, okay?), and I shredded one head and sauteed it with a red onion (also from the CSA) and mushrooms, sprinkled with black pepper and Penzey's Mural of Flavor, one of my favorite spice blends. It was good, and I finished up the leftovers this morning with a Berks Black Angus hot dog sliced up in it.

Right now I'm prepping a kettle of my dad's Old-Fashioned Cabbage Soup, a Pennsylvania Dutch-style recipe that has sweet and sour in it:

1 lb. beef cubes, cut to 3/4"
1 head of cabbage, shredded
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
3 beef bouillon cubes
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. salt
5 cups of water

Brown the meat in the kettle in a little oil, add other ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer for three hours. (I add a little tarragon to mine, love tarragon with cabbage.)

The third head? Not sure. Anyone got some good ideas?

The Terrible Situation at Monk's Cafe

There was a tragic death and serious injury at the building that houses Monk's Cafe over the weekend, and the landmark bar and restaurant is closed for the present, until the city and the building's landlord hash out what needs to be done. Uncle Jack's all over the story, in his usual thorough way, so I won't add to that. I'll just say that I hope the beer community doesn't forget the people involved in their 'grief' over Monk's Cafe being closed. Spare a prayer or a thought for Steven Lee, who died in the fall, and his unnamed friend, who is in Hahnemann in critical condition.

And while we're at it, it wouldn't hurt to spare a thought for Michael Jackson, our Michael Jackson: yesterday was the second anniversary of his death.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The End of the Trip

Well... As mentioned below, we did go into Boston on Friday. We snaffled some free breakfast at our motel (fruit salad, and biscuits with honey for me), then went in and did the very touristy Faneuil Hall, where the big find for all of us (even Cathy) was Newbury Comics. Otherwise, the place reminded me of the first time I went there, 20 years ago: why the hell was it that I wanted to come here, again?

On the other hand, our lunch at the Black Rose cleared up my memory. We'd been to the Black Rose several times when we were younger (Cathy quite a few more than that), and in my memory it had morphed into a 'plastic paddy' joint. I'm glad we went back, because it was enjoyable and sure as hell looked 'authentic' (whatever that means in an "Irish pub" in Boston) Friday at lunch. Lunch was good, too, and the Guinness was as fresh as ever I remember.

We did a bit more Faneuil Hall (well, they did, anyway: I sat and read the book I'd bought at Newbury, a relaxed moment in the midst of shopping frenzy), then headed over to Boston University for Thomas's 3 PM tour. It was a good tour, with an energetic and engaged young guide (a rising sophomore, studying advertising and psychology, a scary combination of majors), and the weather held, a darkening sky and a rising breeze that stayed rainless. The tour was over, though, and we were done with college tours. Time for a little fun.

We drove over to Cambridge, and parked the car. Nora and I hung out in a Starbuck's, reading, while Cathy and Thomas took the T to Harvard Yard and hung out with the Crimson crowd. Nora and I were biding our time till the Green Street Grill opened at 5:30, when we were going to meet my friend and fellow writer Lauren "DrinkBoston" Clark there. (Do yourself a favor: if you've never read DrinkBoston, go there now and read a bit. Bet you can't read just one page; Lauren's writing is smart and informative, personal, and fun without being smart-assed.)

While we waited for Lauren, I had the chance to have my first Pretty Things beer, Jack D'Or. It's very nice: sweet, but edgy, and quite approachable, a saison that's not trying too hard to be 'Belgian' and 'complex.' I'd have had another, but Lauren walked in, we had introductions (Lauren's that treasured adult who treats your teenagers just like they want to be treated: like people), and we got down to cocktail business. I got a rye Manhattan (Old Overholt, up, with a twist) that made me sigh, thinking about how fumble-fingered I am at making cocktails. Lauren wanted something with the Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, and got a Diamondback. Interesting drink, have to have it again sometime.

We chatted, got caught up, and, perhaps inevitably, I had another drink (inevitable because the Manhattan had been so good!). What do you have with Irish whiskey besides a hot whiskey, I asked the cocktail queen. She apologized for geeking out, and grabbed her iPhone: she has a cocktail app! We decided on a Brainstorm: 2 oz. of Irish whiskey, and 2 dashes each of dry vermouth and Benedictine, which was then stirred (a long time), strained, and garnished with orange peel. The orange peel ruled the opener -- fresh, sweet, tingly -- but the drink itself was not dominated by anything: the whiskey (Powers) was mellow enough to stay in check, while the herbal dry/sweet of the two adds blended nicely (thanks to the prolonged stirring). A very civilized drink.

Time to go! Nora and I got the car, picked up the other two on Mass Ave, and whirled away to Cambridge Brewing Company for dinner. I'd been to CBC years ago, maybe 1993? But Will Meyers' beers kept getting such rave reviews (and our conversations in the course of a few phone interviews over the years have been so interesting) that I wanted to stop in, and it was Cathy's pick for dinner (Nora and I were talking about Redbones for barbecue). I got a Berliner Kendall (fun name, good sour, and a bit of funk; maybe some proper brett? I would have drunk more of it, but for the interest of variety) and Cathy got a pale ale (good, solid, clean).

Dinner: We split a Local Pick Plate: a wooden platter of locally-made/grown foods that was all so good we did everything but lick it clean. I had a grilled Italian sausage pizza that was excellent; the sausage was quite good, very stand-out in flavor, and the crust was crunchy-crisp. (Nora got the Warm Italian Sub, and I could have enjoyed that, too: what a rich, wet mess of a sandwich!) I had a Charles River Porter with the pizza: big, solid, a touch of chocolate.

We were done. We left, back to our motel room, and called it a week. Though we did have an interesting and delicious breakfast at the Boulevard Diner in Worcester Saturday morning (Italian breakfast: a big link of grilled Italian sausage, sitting on top of two fried eggs and crusty brown homefries, all smothered in a rich, long-simmered red sauce with plentiful toasted bread), and some pretty damned good barbecue (brisket and pulled pork, and some "Texas chili") at a new place in Sharon, CT for dinner/lunch. But that was just sustenance on the way home...

Rye Rules at the Khyber

Just got a press release thingy from the Khyber here in Philly that I had to share:
On the ho-RYE-zon...
Another Spectacular All-Out Beer Event!!

RYES ABOVE
5:00-?? Wednesday October 7th

All night discounts on Rye Ales, RyePAs, American Rye Ales, Rye Whiskey, & Rye Vodka!! Look Out for Founders, Sixpoint, He'brew, Terrapin, Boulder, & More!!
All a guy can say is... Rye not?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Boston today

If you've been wondering what's been going on with my New England vacation...well, it's been a vacation. After a great breakfast at the Roadhouse Wednesday morning, we drove over to Worcester, where we toured Clark University and Holy Cross College on a beautifully breezy sunny day. We then headed up the road to our motel in Bedford, surrounded by piney woods and swamps. We off-loaded, rested a bit, and then went up to Woodman's in Essex for fried clams (which Woodman's claims to have invented in 1916, and they were quite good), lobster, and all that jazz. We walked the scenic harborside in Gloucester, drove along the seaside towns, and then, really, stopped to see GI Joe on the way back. Hey, it's summer vacation! No movie reviews on STAG.

Yesterday the family slept late (I went out and got some ice, drinks, and washer fluid for the car, cleaned it up a bit). Around 11 AM we headed south, and spent the rest of the day in Rhode Island. We had lunch at Aunt Carrie's in Point Judith (very good clam cakes, good lobster, and Cathy and I split an Indian pudding and a slice of custard pie...which I'd never had or heard of before. Good, with an odd smoky tang to it. We did a little walking around in Newport (I ducked into Busker's and got a cask pint of Shipyard IPA), then went back to Bedford.

So...no brewpubs, and only one bar. We did have some Smutty IPA out of our cooler with lunch at Aunt Carrie's. But today we go into Boston, and I suspect it might get a bit beery, although we do have one last tour: BU at 3 PM.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Western Massachusetts brewpubs

Hmmm... Here we are, in Massachusetts. We're visiting colleges (Vassar yesterday, Hampshire today, Clark and Holy Cross tomorrow), and, well, I'm slipping a few brewpub visits in. We got to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art this morning, which was quite nice: there was an exhibit of original art from the Winnie the Pooh books.

Then we ran over to Northampton and had lunch at the Northampton Brewery, the oldest brewpub in New England. Cathy and I first visited the brewpub way back in the summer of 1989, on a beautiful sunny day...a lot like today. But today we sat outside in it, enjoying their second-story deck. It took a while; they were busy downstairs, and we just kind of stood at the door waiting for almost five minutes.

But the bartender was real good about it when he could get to us, and we got seated up on the deck. I grabbed a Daniel Shays Best Bitter (nice, smooth, malty, with a hop twist), and we lined up lunch: a Cuban for me, with a very nice pickle relish; chicken caesar salad for Nora and a grilled shrimp caesar for Cathy, and Thomas got the poblano meatloaf sandwich. Good eats all 'round, and I copped a Northampton Pale Ale, too (similar, but crisper, more bitter). We had to run, though; it was time for the tour at Hampshire. So we ran, and made it...just in time to sit for 15 minutes waiting for the late tour to start. Grrr... Beautiful day to walk about mountain-girdled campus.

Yeah, but it was hot, and we bolted after it was over for the motel in Northampton. After we'd calmed down, chilled a bit, I talked the family into driving up to The People's Pint in Greenfield. I've been wanting to get here for quite a while, and it was worth the wait. I got a smoked trout quesadilla (and they served it with fresh cream horseradish!), and Cathy and I each got cask Pied PIPA: good stuff, smooth flavor, not brain-crushing, but hoppy. Then I hopped on an Oatmeal Stout, and it was flavorful and luscious, a bit chocolatey, and just a bit rich, a real drinky pint. I loved the place: good size, good vibe, good beers, and a serious commitment to local food and sustainability. I could spend days here.

Tomorrow? Dunno, but I've got breakfast at the Roadhouse lined up, and that's a start to a good day!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

That Long Day, Part Last

When we got back to Otto's, Thomas -- you remember him, the kid who had a big smoked turkey sangich about two hours ago? -- sez, "I'm hungry." Me, I haven't had lunch yet, and it's 4:30. And I owed Sam lunch. So we sat, and Leah (have you met Leah? Sam says she's a goddess, and I'm going to build a temple to her in the backyard) takes our beer orders: I got a cask Arthur's IPA (have you met Arthur? He's Charlie's other cat) and Sam got the pilsner. At first, I think the pilsner has a sweet, plastic smell to it, but as I clear things out, I realize it's just a lot of noble hop aroma. I might have kept it, but my IPA is wicked good. Then Charlie sends some Tripel D over, and Sam and I are soon acting like cats in the 'nip. If we'd had bigger glasses, I might have moussed some into my beard so I could keep smelling it all the way home, but I didn't want to waste any. We got mussels and frites and I want you to know: not one mussel wasn't open. Not one, dammit! Then Sam got a Mt. Nittany Pale Ale on cask, and it was just about unbearably good, drink-drink good, and if it hadn't been for the Tripel D it would have been the best beer on the table. Leah approached with food: a half-pound rare burger ground out of local spent-grain-fed cow, with frizzled onion straws, barbecue sauce, and lumpy strong gorgonzola. I didn't want to put it down, and I kept stopping to lick the gorgonzola off the plate, and Doc had one too with bleu cheese, and Sam had some crazy good damn thing and it was all nom nom nom and drink drink drink.

And it was all good. When can we go back to Otto's? And Thomas drove home, and did a good job at it, too.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

That Long Day, Part II

When we got to Elk Creek Cafe (see below), it was still raining, so we hustled in and grabbed two spots by the end of the bar. Owner Tim Bowser was behind the bar, and after I got Thomas set up with a root beer, Tim and I and brewer Tim Yarrington got to the interview in the back room over glasses of the new Mid State Trail Nut Brown Ale: this glass seemed to have a mineral tang to it -- "Water," Tim said, and shook his head -- but later it tasted fine: on the dry side, unlike the sweeter Brookie Brown. Might have been something in the glass.

What we talked about in the interview will have to wait for the book; mostly history and philosophy, really. Why Tim wanted to start this place (he'd been thinking about it for almost ten years, and he and I had talked it over at Selin's Grove five years ago); why he did the Equinox Cafe coffeehouse before; how very much-pro brewer Tim Yarrington wound up in Millheim (Tim was one of four GABF gold-winning brewers who put in resumes for the position); and the three legs of the Elk Creek Cafe (house-brewed beer, locally-grown and sourced food, local and regional music). It's an interesting story, and one that I think has deep meaning for the future of craft beer in America.

But I also ran the taps. I was quite a bit happier this time than before. The beers were okay before, even good, and I've always liked the Poe Paddy Porter. But this time they had a new dimension, a new life, and I could tell Tim Y. was happier with them. "I've got it dialed in now," he said. Tim doesn't do big beers very often; he does 3.5-6% beers, and he's all about balance. It's working; I'd have been happy to have a full pint of any of these, including the new Penns Valley Pilsner, a blocky, bitter pils with some real heft to it, well-built without any flab, and a strong dose of Hallertauer in the nose. This was about the time my friend Sam Komlenic showed up, and had a glass of the Pilsner. He'd had it before and was looking for more.

Thomas had a smoked turkey sandwich, and enjoyed it. I finally tried the "shrub," a set of flavored sweet vinegars, locally-made: they are mixed with seltzer and ice. I had the ginger, and it was wicked refreshing. Sam suggested it would be good with barbecue, and I think he's right. He and I walked up to the Penns Valley Meat Market and got some meat, which I always do when I visit Elk Creek. I got their very flavorful jerky, and two links of smoked kielbasa: delish.

We left, Sam following, and drove down to Otto's. We left Sam's van there, and Sam proceeded to take us on a tour of Penn State main campus. Wow. We were duly impressed by the size and beauty of the campus. Kinda made me proud to be Pennsylvanian. Then it was back to Otto's for the lunch I hadn't had time for at Elk Creek. More on that in the last installment.

One Quick Thing: Tripel D

I tweeted this yesterday, so I feel like I should blog, too. So before I get to it in a full-scale post...

I got to try the new Tripel D at Otto's. It's kind of a slightly scaled-up Double D fermented with Chouffe yeast. Wow. It was, as I told Sam Komlenic, like an amusement park ride. What a fun beer! The hops are big, the spicy yeast notes are right up front and explosive, the hops go off in your nose, and it's sweet like good candy. One of the most dangerously drinkable 9+% beers I've ever had. Fantastic stuff, and should be on shortly; Charlie pushed things a bit to get us a sample.

That long day, Part I

As I said, long day. I woke up at 4:40 AM yesterday and woke Thomas. We got out the door about 5:15, no breakfast, no coffee (I did have a big glass of unsweetened iced tea), and hit the Turnpike. Look, I told him; we can hit a Wawa and get...something for breakfast, or we can drive farther and get breakfast. Smart lad; we kept driving. About 6:50, we got to the White Haven Family Diner, a random choice from Minerva. But I saw a Roadfood-approved sticker on the door as we went in, I knew we were OK. Great breakfast -- Thomas's chili omelet had cheese melted right into the chili, my scrapple was great -- and we were ready for the morning.

We took the tour at Bucknell University, then Thomas went to hang out in the library (really) while I interviewed Harold Kerlin of Copper Kettle Brewery. Harold and his brewery partner Russ Eisenhuth both work at the university, and worked together before that; they know each other well, and as Harold said, they know that they work together well, too. They are brewing CK on a one barrel 'system,' with one barrel food-grade plastic fermenters; all their beer is bottled, hand-bottled, and bottle-conditioned. They figure to make about 40 barrels this year. They started the brewery mainly because they had so many friends asking for homebrew that they couldn't afford to give it away any more! There are plans for an expansion, but not any time soon; not a lot of money in brewing one barrel at a time. You can find the beers at the Scarlet D Tavern in Mifflinburg and the Bull Run Inn in Lewisburg. Harold gave me a six-pack of samples I plan to get into soon.

We walked through rain to the car, and headed down Rt. 45 to Millheim and Elk Creek Cafe. I'll write more on that after I've played with the Corgis for a bit.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A long, long day

Thomas and I got up at 4:45 this morning and left for Bucknell University for a tour. When the tour was over, I took the opportunity to interview Copper Kettle Brewery partner Harold Kerlin (who works at Bucknell; CK is a determinedly part-time operation) for Pennsylvania Breweries 4th Ed. Then we drove down to Millheim and I interviewed Tim Bowser and Tim Yarrington of Elk Creek Cafe. After that, we were guided on a tour of Penn State by STAG reader (and good friend) Sam Komlenic; then met him back at Otto's for lunch. Er, dinner. A meal.

There's a lot more to it than that, some definitely interesting stuff, but... I put on 472 miles today, and I am seriously whupped. Tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Victory + Fish = Nectar

The food "pairing" I always have the hardest time with is fish and seafood. Some of it's easy: stout or porter and oysters is a slam-dunk, a nice whitefish and saison is great, and I like witbier and lobster. Steamed crabs and Genny Cream have always worked for me. No, really: I need something light and cold.

But I like "fishy" fish: salmon, shad, and I love bluefish. Strong flavored fish can be harder to pair, and always give me a tough time. Smoked fish is no sweat, but a simple grilled bluefish?

So I was interested to see Victory doing an all-seafood dinner with Nectar in Berwyn. The dinner's on September 9th, and kicks off an entire month of seafood-beer pairings. This first dinner includes a smoked king salmon and cheddar 'grilled cheese' sandwich (Braumeister Pils); a sea salt crusted lobster sushi roll (Festbier) sea urchin with toasted nori risotto and bonito (Prima Pils); grilled smoked white shrimp sausage (likely Victory Lager); and roasted skate with sea salt baked fingerling potatoes (Moonglow, an interesting choice). Hell, I've got ideas just looking at it, and there's much more to come. Something to think about when you start to get bored of the round of Fall beer festivals!

Pastorius on Penn's chances: "deathwatch" may be premature

Just got this link to yesterday's Allegheny Times: Tom Pastorius is upbeat about the chances of getting Penn Brewery back in business, with a new owner for the building and new owners for the brewery (helped by a loan from the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority). Nothing really new here, just that Pastorius seems quite confident. That may not seem like much, but you don't do well betting against the man. He's put a lot of himself into this business, and seeing this happen to it in such a short time has to be sickening. He'll fight this one.

So...we'll see.

Genesee triumphantly returns to the Rochester skyline



Boston has the giant CITGO sign. Baltimore has the eerily blue Bromo-Seltzer Tower. Philly's PSFS Building's red marquee still glows, even though the company failed in 1992.

Rochester had a landmark sign, the Genesee Beer & Ale sign. But for the past 40 years, you could only see it in the daylight. One of the first things North American Breweries has done as the new owners of the brewery by the Genesee river (you can see the High Falls in the lower corner of the picture below, and the tanks of the brewery at the top center) is to repair that sign. As you can see in the video above, they lit the sucker up in July. It was a pretty popular event for the town, and a proud moment for the brewery.

Now...how about a nice cold can of Genny Cream?


View Larger Map

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Weyerbacher XIII

Woof.

Just had Weyerbacher XIII last night at the Grey Lodge Pub. In a small glass. Thirteen celebrated the brewery's 13th anniversary (last year), so of course the Grey Lodge had it on Saturday for their own 13th anniversary festivities (it was a good time, wish I could have stayed for more). But I didn't get to that, I was there at the wrong hour...So I made up for it at last night's Gary Bredbenner memorial (very nicely done, some tears, good eats, good beers, good friends).

Briefly? Thirteen kicked big beer ass. It's an imperial stout mashbill (five malts and some oats) with made with the Belgian yeast strain Weyerbacher uses for their Quad and Merry Monks. You've got the chocolate from the dark malts -- without the burnt bitterness that often comes with, that I usually like to find in an impy -- but with the curling spice from the yeast, and a dark pitfruit note, probably from the five malt mix. Wish I would have tried this last year, but damn, it's aging quite gracefully.

Penn Brewery closes. Time to start the deathwatch?

Got the news from a Bob Batz story in the Post-Gazette: the Penn Brewery restaurant has closed its doors. The remaining staff were told yesterday (a reader tells me "they showed up to work today only to find the doors locked").

Let's not mince words: this ain't good. The restaurant is closed. The beer's all being made under contract at The Lion (nothing against The Lion, but it's just not the same as when it's made in the Penn Brewery). The principals involved don't have a history of working well together. It's been dragging on for months, almost a year. No clear resolution is in sight.

Don't you just wish you could smack people sometimes?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gary Bredbenner memorial at the Grey Lodge Tuesday night

Tomorrow night, August 18, the Grey Lodge is hosting a memorial service for Gary Bredbenner, who died way too young last month. The memorial service is for those who could not get to the funeral up in Danville.

Everyone who knew Gary is welcome. The memories begin at 6:30 in the upstairs bar. Nothing official, but I'd say dress in Phillies or Eagles gear, or your favorite beer shirt, and come thirsty for the hoppy beers Gary loved. We'll send him off into the Great Brewpub of the Beyond in proper style.

(Anyone know where the Hammer of Glory is? Can we borrow it?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oregon Whinemakers flail ineffectively at beer drinkers

Uncle Jack beat me to it on blogging about Rick Nichols's very nice piece on craft beer on page 1 of today's Inquirer. That's right: Craft Beer On The Front Page of Philly's major daily. Very nice, and as Jack sez, nice piece, too.

So all I could do was blog about the pathetic closer: Oregon's winemakers are "fighting back" against beer's success. I'd already chased this story down earlier in the week and then run out of time to blog about it before leaving for Kentucky (I was writing that pumpkin beer story I mentioned on Facebook), and I'm glad Nichols and Jack both brought it up. It's too good to waste.

Here's the piece. First off, sorry, but...it's not that well-written. It jumps all over the place, and never really develops a groove. And then we get stuff like this:

At the bar, men outnumber women 5-to-1. And men, on average, say they prefer beer to wine, according to a Gallup poll last year. Other statistics show 70-percent of wine buyers are women. So, while the atmosphere at the brewery is pretty relaxed, there’s actually a spirited battle for customers going on here.
Ted Farthing: “We’re all fighting for share of stomach.” Ted Farthing is the executive director of the Oregon Wine Board. He says wine and beer and liquor are all competing against each other, for our limited beverage budgets.
The atmosphere at what brewery is pretty relaxed? And what spirited battle for customers is going on? I'm going to believe Ted Farthing, the wine guy, that beer and wine are "fighting"? The beer drinkers and brewers they quote in the article don't seem to be aware of the "fight" at all. The one brewer they talked to was, to be fair, pretty relaxed (though that was 6 'graphs after the 'atmo at the brewery' line): "It’s cool for guys to sit around and drink a bottle of wine," said the co-owner at Cascade Lakes Brewing. Pretty big of him, almost magnanimous.

From where I'm sitting, there's no fight. In fact, it looks like Oregon winemakers are shooting themselves in the foot with the dumb gun. Check this out:
For instance, Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board [really, they say the whole thing again, just in case you forgot who he was] says Oregon’s wines are on average more expensive and more refined than other states. Ted Farthing [of the Oregon Wine Board Farthings]: “Given the shifting landscape, the Oregon Wine Board has actually narrowed our target to make sure we are still speaking to the people who are purchasing wines over $15 or $20 at least once a month, and this is only about 3 percent of the U.S. population.”
Is Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board aware that the only sector of the booze market that's down MORE than wines over $20 a bottle is champagne? And they want to narrow their target to make sure they're only speaking to the people who are still buying those wines?

But don't worry. They've got a plan.
That’s not to say that Farthing [is that Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board?] isn’t looking at new markets. In addition to men, he says winemakers in the state need to target millennial [sic]. One way to do that is to embrace the digital age – the Oregon Wine Board has already launched several Facebook groups to convince 21-to-30 year-olds that wine can be cool.
Cool? Hey, kids -- boy kids -- wine is cool! A brewer said so...

Guess we know why craft beer is on the front page. I was just telling someone yesterday that there is more coverage of craft beer than wine in the Philly media lately. Between dopey winemakers and the absolutely brain-damaged PLCB, it's not a wonder.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy anniversary!

From a b-day party to an anniversary; drinking Mayfair IPA @ the Grey Lodge Pub 13th Anniv. Spectacular.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Elmer T. Lee 90th Birthday Edition

Just unveiled: Elmer T. Lee 90th Birthday Edition bourbon.

Kind of an emotional time. Sorry about the picture quality, but that's a special Elmer commemorative bottle of Maker's in the middle, and the 90th Birthday edition on the right.

The picture below is master distillers at the party: left to right, front row: Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace; Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey; Elmer T. Lee; Gary Gayheart, Buffalo Trace; and Parker Beam, Heaven Hill. Back row: Craig Beam, Heaven Hill; Greg Davis, Tom Moore; Kevin Smith, Maker's Mark; and Jim Rutledge, Four Roses. Pretty impressive.

Tasting some great new whiskeys

We are tasting the 2009 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, & 2 Experimentals. Bejaybers.

Full Day Ahead at Buffalo Trace

Gotta run. Had breakfast at Marshall's in Frankfort -- perfect spot, little place, counter, sausage gravy and biscuits -- and now it's off for Buffalo Trace, where we're going for a boat ride to see the riverside view (?), taste new experimentals, and then whoop it up for Elmer T.'s 90th. Talk to you tonight...maybe.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Down on the Ground in Bourbon Town

After a delayed flight from Philly (panic coming in to Cinci, I'll have to run to make my connection to Lexington! ...which was about 30 yds. from my arriving gate. Sometimes things just work out), I picked up my rental car, got a quick lunch (felt like Mex, felt like BBQ, went Mex and lucked into a brisket burrito: bonus!), and then hit Liquor Barn. Hansell and I figgered we'd have all kinds of bourbon and rye available, but no one at these things ever has the beers we want, so we made our own plans. I got a styro cooler, ice, and a sixer each of Bell's Two-Hearted and Great Lakes Ed Fitz Porter and Dortmunder, and a bottle of Stone XIII Anniversary just for fun. All set.

Drove up to Frankfort to the motel, I'm set and into the Ed Fitz. John grabbed a Woodford at the Louisville Airport (had to catch up!), and he's on his way here. Dinner with the other writers -- Chuck Cowdery, Paul Pacult, Jim Murray -- is tonight, the birthday party, and some experimental whiskey samplings, is tomorrow. I'll tell you what I remember...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Elmer T. Lee!

I'll be heading out to Kentucky tomorrow to attend Elmer T. Lee's 90th birthday party. Elmer is the master distiller emeritus at Buffalo Trace, and yeah, he's still very lively at 90! He is one of the few living distillers to have a whiskey named for him, and was one of the first; his Elmer T. Lee is a single barrel beauty that is hard to beat for price/value ratio.

I know I've told this story to many of you, but one of my favorite Elmer moments was at WhiskyFest New York, about seven years ago. John Hansell told me to head over to the trace table and ask Elmer for some of the 18 year old rye whiskey they had "under the table." I got right over and did that, and Elmer pulled out an unlabeled bottle, smiled, and poured me some. I went to smell it, and he said, "Now, it is 110 proof..." Oh, I thought, checked, and reached for the water pitcher. But Elmer reached out and grabbed my arm gently, looked at me and smiled beseechingly. "But it is awful smooth!" he said, with a look that told me he took this immensely personal. So I tried it, and by God, he was so right. Next year, that was Sazerac 18.

Elmer's made some of the best whiskeys I've ever had. I'll be happy to toast him with some of them on Friday. Happy birthday, Elmer!

Tom Pastorius "Ponders" a return to Penn Brewing

According to a story in today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, (more here, too) Tom Pastorius would be willing to return to Penn Brewing. Understandably, he has some conditions.
But for the changes to occur, the building that houses the restaurant and now-dormant microbrewery would need to revert to a more "tenant-friendly landlord," Pastorius said.
"This is not a done deal," said Pastorius, who retired in September but owns a minority interest in the company. "Our interest in the business is contingent on new ownership of the building, and that hasn't happened."
The story that followed taxed my ability to follow the tangled finances and ifsy-wifsy 'I might do this if someone else bought that' proposals, but the nut is this: there are ongoing negotiations for purchase of both the building (owned by E&O Partners) and the brewery (which is currently 82% owned by Birchmere Capital, an ownership that has been...interesting), and both purchases are supported by community groups.

If I might be permitted a subjective statement: please, God, make this happen. Nothing would make me happier than Penn Brewing in the building where it belongs under the hand of Tom Pastorius. Well...nothing in this situation would make me happier. I can think of things that involve beer, Cathy, and a whole lot of privacy in, say, a secluded mountain lodge that would make me happier, but in this situation, I'll stick to Tom running Penn Brewery in the E&O building. I'd hate to think about never sitting at those tables and drinking Kaiser again, and I hate thinking how much sales this whole mess has cost Penn. Sanity, return!

Happy Birthday, Jennie Hatton!

Do you know this woman?

It's Jennie Hatton, and today's her birthday. It should be a holiday in Philadelphia beer circles so we could all go out and celebrate with her. We should all bag work, and have a big Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Jennie as the happy ringleader...now that would be a great day.

I met Jennie about 10 years ago, I think it was at Nodding Head. We were traveling in the same beer circles, and then she started working at Profile Public Relations, and she blossomed into a real genius for putting together people, venues, events, and media.

Her greatest triumph, of course, was this year's Philly Beer Week. Jennie worked this for Profile and got phenomenal press for it, put together people and venues (thanks, Jennie), and during the Week itself was, seemingly, everywhere, making sure events were attended, no problems were occurring (or getting fixed if they were), and generally ruling the world. And bless her heart, I gave her a ride home Thursday night of Beer Week, and she entrusted me with the Hammer of Glory. Wow. What a friend.

I'm very happy to call Jennie a friend, and a buddy (cuz they're not the same, and there's a very small group that I call both). She's awesome, she's great for beer and eats in Philly, she sure-hell knows how to have a good time, and it's her birthday. If you see her, buy her a beer!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rare Beer Tasting at GABF to benefit Pints for Prostates

My good friend and fellow drinks writer Rick Lyke survived prostate cancer -- thank the Good God -- and as a way of giving back, founded and grew Pints for Prostates, a group for raising awareness about prostate cancer screening...through beer. Rick's raising money for the cause with the help of American brewers, All About Beer magazine, and BeerAdvocate, through a Rare Beer Tasting to be held at the GABF.

80% of the tickets are already sold! If you're going to be in Denver for GABF, take a look at the drool-worthy list below, and TRY to tell me that ain't worth $55! Details are on the graphic (click on it to see it full-size). Get your money down, people! Tickets are available HERE.


Beers at the Tasting:
Allagash Fluxus ’09: This saison from Maine is brewed with sweet potatoes and black pepper, weighing in at 8.3 percent alcohol by volume. Jason Perkins will represent the brewery.

Alaskan 1999 Vintage Smoked Porter: The last known draught keg of the 1999 vintage of Alaskan’s much decorated Smoked Porter. This beer will be served alongside a sample of 2008 Alaskan Smoked Porter for comparison.

Anheuser-Busch Pilot Batch: This is an experimental beer from Anheuser-Busch so rare that only brewery insiders and a few lucky beer journalists will ever get the chance to taste the brew. Get ready to be surprised. Kristi Saviers will represent the brewery.

Brooklyn Wild 1: This beer started off as a batch of the popular bottle-conditioned Brooklyn Local 1 farmhouse ale, then spent nine months in Bourbon barrels and then it was bottle conditioned with Belgian re-fermentation yeast and a strain of Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Only 80 cases were made for consumption by Brooklyn Brewery staff. Garrett Oliver will represent the brewery.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter XX: Brewed in 2008 to celebrate Deschutes’ 20th anniversary, this 11 percent alcohol by volume beer was pulled from the brewmaster’s private library. This beer starts off as a Double Black Butte Porter, has cocoa nibs and Bellatazza Coffee Roasters’ Sumatran and Ethiopian beans added, then it is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. Brett Porter will represent the brewery.

Dogfish Head 2006 Raison D’Extra: This is a super charged 18 percent alcohol by volume version of the popular Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre. The brewery has not made this brew for the past two years.

Foothills Barrel Aged Total Eclipse Stout: One of only 10 kegs of this beer in the world. This North Carolina brewery took its award winning stout and aged it for three to four months in ex-whiskey barrels that previously held 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon. Jamie Bartholomaus will represent the brewery.

Harpoon 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest ’09 Wet Hop Ale: The 28th edition of Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series, this deep copper colored beer is made using fresh Glacier hops. Todd Charbonneau will represent the brewery.

Highland Big Butte Smoked Porter: Winner of the Highland Cup homebrewing completion and based on a recipe created by Alex Buerckholtz, this beer is only available for a very limited time in North Carolina. Features smoked German malt and Fuggle hops. John Lyda will represent the brewery.

New Glarus Golden Ale: This Belgian-style ale is the first of the Wisconsin brewery’s R&D Series and previously was only available at the brewery. The 7 percent alcohol by volume beer is bottle fermented with Brettanomyces yeast. Dan Carey will represent the brewery.

Reunion – A Beer of Hope: This Double White Ale was collaboratively designed and brewed by four brewers across the U.S.: Bison Brewing and Pizza Port Brewing in California, Elysian Brewing in Washington and Terrapin Brewing in Georgia. This Belgian-style witbier uses sweet orange peel, coriander, lemongrass and rhubarb root. Sales of the beer support The Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research. Daniel Del Grande and George Allen from Bison Brewery represent the brewers.

Rogue John-John Hazelnut Dead Guy: Named for Rogue Brewmaster John Maier and Rogue Master Distiller John Couchot, this brew starts off with Rogue’s famous Dead Guy Ale that is aged in Rogue Hazelnut Rum barrels. Brett Joyce will represent the brewery.

Saranac Imperial IPA: Part of the New York brewery’s limited release High Peaks Series this ale features 10 different hop varieties and 10 different malts.

Stone 2008 Old Guardian Barley Wine Aged in Red Wine Barrels: This 95 IBU barley wine has a massive malt character that is made even more complex thanks to the barrel aging. Greg Koch and Mitch Steele will represent the brewery.

Stoudt 2007 Barrel-Aged Reserve Old Abominable Barleywine: This vintage barleywine from Pennsylvania was aged for 10 months in oak whiskey barrels before being keg conditioned. Carol Stoudt will represent the brewery.

Wynkoop 2008 Barrel Aged Berserker Mead: This 11 percent alcohol by volume mead was made using Colorado wildflower honey and has spent about 20 months in barrels that were formally the home of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. C. Andrew Brown will represent the brewery.

Bud Light Morphs Again: takes on Blue Moon

Fresh off last year's apparently successful challenge to Corona with Bud Light Lime, another Bud Light line extension is in the works: Bud Light Golden Wheat. I missed the announcement on this back in mid-June, but the launch is coming up on October 5, so I'm still ahead a little...

Anyway, as you can clearly see by the graphic, this is a definite line extension keying off the BLL success...and it appears to have the same kind of targeting. Though the name might lead you to believe this is primarily a wheat beer, and the cloudiness might lead you to believe it's an "American hefeweizen," it's not. Check this out, from the St. Louis Business Journal:
The beer will use unfiltered wheat so it will look cloudier than its Bud Light counterpart and will have orange and coriander, also known as cilantro [no, actually, it's not], as ingredients to give it a bigger, sweeter taste, according to [vp of marketing Keith] Levy.
Uh-huh. I'm hoping Levy didn't say "The beer will use unfiltered wheat," because I hate when all that field dirt and bugs and such get into the mash... Kidding aside, clearly what we have here is yet another shot at Blue Moon that isn't Shocktop Light. Good idea to set it in the Bud Light family: what's Shocktop to most people?

Still, I'm guessing that this is going to cannibalize more Bud Light Lime than it eats Blue Moon. What these guys need to find is a winter Bud Light to balance the summer strength of Bud Light Lime, not another summer seller. Bud Light Posh Spice? Hey, I dunno, I'm just thinking out loud here...

Hey, Mister Kiely: which of your kids do you like best? Huh? Which one?

Interesting piece in Crain's Chicago Business this week on the struggle MillerCoors boss Leo Kiely is facing. There are a number of components, but the key factor, the big Wahooni, is this: how do you grow both Miller Lite and Coors Light, two beers that are obviously in direct competition with each other...and with the best-selling beer in America, Bud Light. How do you put together a business plan that keeps Coors Light chugging along (the brand grew 6% in the last 12 months, very impressive indeed) and also lights a fire of focus under the flailing Miller Lite (down 4% over the same period)?

This is exactly what I was talking about almost two years ago when I called an impending MillerCoors merger a shotgun wedding. This was a merger that simply had to take place; when you're at this level in a highly consolidated business -- as mainstream brewing certainly is -- the only way to survive is to be the biggest sumbitch in the jungle. SABMiller and Molson Coors weren't big enough alone -- amazing, but true -- to take on A-B, let alone the ABIB juggernaut that was starting to look ever more real at that point. They had to merge to have a hope of winning.

And that's the sad thing about what this business has become. It's not enough to do well any more. It's about the guys at the top winning. It's about the shareholders getting a big pay-out (and taking the money and buying more stocks in hope of hitting the jackpot again when some company gets gutted). The best thing I see about the current deep recession is that these damnable masters of the universe are no longer celebrities. I hope it lasts, and we make much of people who create something other than marketing campaigns and buy-out deals.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Newcastle Keglet

Guilty pleasures time: I have on occasion enjoyed draft Heineken. I know, beer geeks aren't supposed to like it, but I would submit that some of that is "green-glass effect," the all-too-common skunking that afflicts bottled Heineken. Draft Heineken is all-malt, and makes a decent glass of cold lager. And...I've enjoyed the 5-liter mini-kegs they have, the slickest mini-keg around: pressurized, positive on-off tap action, fun for a small party.

So what? So nothing about Heineken, but they've just released Newcastle Brown Ale in the same package. I liked Newkie back in the 1980s, then got beer-snobby about it ("Weak, watery stuff"), and then ran into it in a blind tasting of 20-odd brown ales and ranked it near the top. I've got a new respect for it: smooth, flavorful, not overly aggressive. And now it's in that nifty 5-liter keglet. Good to go, Newkie.

New poll at the PLCB blog: how about that new name?

The PLCB is reportedly going to change the names of the "Wine & Spirits Shoppes" to something more...well, what? More descriptive? Gonna be tough, although we could certainly lose the "Shoppe" part; something wrong with "Store"? The proposed name was "Table Leaf." No, really, although no one seems to know why (David Snyder at PhilaFoodie opined that the "more logical "China Cabinet" and "Napkin Ring" were already taken." Indeed.

His Governorship Rendell thinks that's a pretty dumb name (Duh!) and has voiced his opposition, but we know what that's worth. I have some anonymous sources in (and recently out) of the PLCB who tell me "Table Leaf" still has the inside track. So I ginned up a poll at the PLCB blog to see what folks think of the idea. Have a look, voice your opinions.

And Now...whiskies that are over-priced

John Hansell's What Does John Know? blog has a good -- if somewhat inevitable -- companion post to last week's "What Are The Good Whisky Values?" post. This one asks which whiskies are over-valued. It's just been posted, but there are already some trends appearing in the comments. Early front-runner: Johnny Walker Blue.

Victory Yakima Twilight returns as a scheduled seasonal

Just saw on Beer News.org that Victory Yakima Twilight has become a regular seasonal, slotted into Hop Wallop's place as the big bearded one moves to year-round status. This is great news; I loved the YT when it came out last year, and though I do regret never following up on that promise to write more about it, it looks like I'll have another chance.

Dark IPAs were big in Montreal when I was there in June, and they're blooming along the West Coast. I remember getting my first a looong time ago, at the long-defunct Blue & Gold brewpub in Arlington, VA (anyone remember them? Some very good beers), where I sampled the Kali Ganga Dark IPA in the mid-1990s. Don't know why it didn't catch on sooner.

Only downside I see to this...given my preferences, I'd rather see YT in the year-round slot! Damn, I like that beer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Elysian Loser Pale Ale

Loser.

Great name for a beer. Loser is a special release from Elysian, brewed and bottled under their agreement with New Belgium (genius, that: works for both places, and gets Elysian enough volume that they can send beer to Philly). It celebrates 20 years of Sub Pop Records, the beating heart...er...the soul of -- no, the extended middle finger of the Seattle sound. The label picture kinda says it all.

Now, about the beer. Elysian was good enough to send me two bottles, and damn, I'm enjoying it. It's got some real body to it, chewy but not thick, and a nice burnt-sugar edge of caramel. It's kept in line by a little thrill of alcohol (Loser's 6.5%, so respect is advised (yes, I know the label above says 7%, but mine says 6.5%; whatthehellsupwiddat?) and a firm line of hop flavor and bitterness. Loser's sweet but bitter, doesn't leave any sticky crap on your palate, and doesn't have a lot of pretentious über-beer horseshit to it. I kinda hope it sticks around: I'd hate for this to be a limited edition pressing that collectors talk about and nobody else gets to listen to.

Loser is a beer for drinking, not really for talking about, or getting all berserk about. I can't see the geekerie squealing about it, and passing each other notes in class to say where they can go get some Loser!!!1@! That's the kind of stuff I'm seeing from Elysian...enough so that I might just have to give Avatar another shot.

Yuengling Celebrates 180th Anniversary with a party and 13% growth

Dick Yuengling Jr. and his daughter Wendy celebrated the family-owned (Dick-owned, to be precise) brewery's 180th anniversary at Michael B's in Deer Lake, PA. They were joined by a bunch of fans, and country singer-songwriter Earl Bud Lee.

Okay, yada-yada-yada, this is just another celebration of the brewery's anniversary, except for this quote from the Pottsville Republican: "I'm excited about the fact that we're still continuing to grow at such a rapid rate," Yuengling said. "This year's a big year. We're up about 13 percent. And in general, the beer business is down like 1.2 to 1.5 percent," Richard Yuengling said before the show.

Yow! That's pretty damned good, that's kicking beer sales ass. This reinforces something I've been floating with craft brewers: Americans want to buy beer made by American companies. Be a good time to jump on that.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jimmy Bedford Dies at 69

I just saw on Chuck Cowdery's blog that Jimmy Bedford has died at the age of 69, of an apparent heart attack. Go read Chuck's obituary of Jimmy, and think about the man who was one of only seven master distillers in the history of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey.

Root -- The Launch

Back in May, almost three months ago, I went to the launch of Root, a project of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a Philadelphia museum/shop/movement/institution that defies easy description. Here, go read about it.

Okay? Well, now get your head around the idea that these people not only make and sell shirts, soap, and useful accessories, they make spirits, specifically Root, an herbal liqueur that hearkens back to the origins of root beer, a tincture of bark, roots, herbs. Root itself is certified organic, and is not, as they say at the site, a flavored vodka or sweet liqueur. I'd heard about Root through brewery historian Rich Wagner, who'd worked with AITA on a display of brewery machinery and labels, and I was very curious to try it.

When I arrived at the launch, I was greeted with a glass of Root Birch, a highball of Root and birch beer (not root beer; birch beer). My notes: "The Root blends almost completely into the birch beer, intensifying the stuff that makes birch beer different (and prickly)." This was my favorite of the Root cocktails; I apologize that it was the simplest, but it was just so companionable -- and very Pennsylvania.

Nic Jarrett, a mixologist from APO Bar + Lounge (formerly Apothecary), was working a small but high-quality bar at the back, making three cocktails: Forbidden Root, Scots Connexion, and Root Miner. I tried the Forbidden Root*: "It's sweet, tangy, twisted, and most definitely herbal. The white grapefruit juice comes through, but doesn't overwhelm." Next I tried the Scots Connexion**: "Grapefruit peel/oils give a fresh peppery top to the cocktail, and the drink peels away from that, tires squealing; a very authoritative drink. Not soothing like a dessert, but affirming like a bracing wind."

By now the whiskey man in me was coming to the fore: I skipped Root Miner (a Martinez variation) and went for straight Root in a snifter. "The roots of the drink are clear in the smell -- root beer, birch/wintergreen, tea, anise, and a surge of bitterness. I've smelled pieces of this in bourbon. It's a sin to put this in a cocktail [I'm willing to make an exception for that birch beer highball, though!]. It's alive, it's vital and virile, but high-and-lightly sweet, like a fresh leaf of mint, with a lovely lingering finish on the back palate. I'd love to pour a shot of this over shaved ice."

I liked the stuff. I've been seeing it on some backbars in Philly, and it's in the State Store System. Try some first -- try the better cocktail bars in Philly -- and see if it's not a lot better than slamming shots of Jägermeister. And...I apologize for taking this long to post.


*Forbidden Root
3/4 oz. ROOT
3/4 oz. TRU vodka (Root was contracted at this distillery)
1 oz. fresh squeezed white grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
dash of Angostura
Shaken and strained into a cocktail glass.


**Scots Connexion
1 1/2 oz. Famous Grouse blended scotch whisky
1 oz. ROOT
dash Peychaud’s bitters
Stirred over cracked ice and strained into a chilled, Vieux Carre absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Garnished with a flamed grapefruit twist.

Many more recipes here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Session #30: Beer Desserts

Wow, did I really miss three months of The Session? Guess I did.

Back on the horse! Our assignment this month, from David Jensen at Beer 47, is Beer Desserts.

Pretty easy. I like beer as dessert. I remember sharing a big bottle of Chimay blue with my wife after a dinner I cooked in our newlywed apartment, and it made a great dessert (because I don't bake). A simple drizzle of Triple Bock on chocolate ice cream worked in the mid-90s (because what the hell else was I going to do with half a case of the stuff?).

That was also about the time I learned about beer floats. I loved root beer floats as a kid (and Sprite floats with vanilla work pretty well too, BTW), so when someone handed me a glass of porter with a scoop of vanilla, I was ready for it. A couple years later, I was helping to plan beer dinners, and we had porter, with vanilla, with whipped cream and shaved bittersweet chocolate on top. I think the best I've ever had is Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer Baltic porter with black raspberry ice cream in it. Oh, God, I can remember it now, how the ice cream mixed with the darkly fruity maltiness of the beer.

Guinness cake, chocolate chip cookies with Yuengling Porter, chocolate mousse made with Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, all that dark beer and chocolate stuff's almost too easy. But I love hefeweizen, pears, and a triple creme cheese, or a Liefmans Frambozenbier with cheesecake.

Lately I've been enjoying blended beers for dessert. I whipped up a fruit lambic mix for Fine Dining magazine recently, a blend of Lindemans Peche and Framboise I called a Peach Melba, light and effervescent. A blend that didn't make the cut for that article -- to my chagrin -- was the Doppel Espresso: two parts doppelbock, one part coffee beer. Like coffee with dessert, all in one glass.

Beer desserts? Why not? I have had beer with breakfast, beer with sammiches, beer with barbecue, beer with feesh, beer with stew, beer with salad. Pretty great stuff, beer; it even goes with dessert.

Unique Whiskies at San Francisco WhiskyFest

While I'm pimping John's blog, you should really check this out. Last year we initiated a charity tasting at WhiskyFest San Francisco. For $20/$40 a quarter ounce, with all proceeds donated to a local food bank, guests could try some rare or -- in the case of four specially-created bottles of The Macallan -- unique whiskies. We upped the bar this year: there are six unique whiskies/whiskeys at WhiskyFest San Francisco: truly unique, only available here, single-bottle, absolute "one offs."

Intrigued? Read all about it.

One Guy's Beer Garden and Pizzeria: now open!

I asked when the PLCB would relent and let Guy Hagner bring his mad pizza skills to the world at One Guy Brewing -- Guy's a great brewer, but he's an inspired and fanatic pizza maker -- after we saw what he'd done with the back lot the day of Gary Bredbenner's funeral.

I'm happy to say that the answer is "Now." Guy called me this morning to confirm that they received their notice from the PLCB on Tuesday that the new area is approved, and the pizza kitchen is good to go. Guy and new partner Tom Clark immediately fired up the oven for an impromptu party and surprise opening, and Guy said it's been slamming ever since. With a view like this, can you blame the good citizens of Berwick? The garden is now open, Thursday through Sunday.

I'll tell you... Full hours on Saturday and Sunday, and both days are supposed to be gorgeous: mid-80s, plenty of sun, low humidity. The pizza's just freakin' excellent, the beer's cold, and the price is right. I won't be there tomorrow, but I'm going to be working hard at getting there Sunday. (Not happening; forgot we're taking my parents out for dinner, their 57th anniversary!)

A strange pastiche: snapshots of the beer garden, while sitting at the bar in the tasting room.

Cocktails and Colbert: David Wondrich serves 'em up

Quite surprised -- and pleased! -- to see my friend David Wondrich mixing drinks for Stephen Colbert!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Bump Cocktail - David Wondrich
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMeryl Streep

Good Whisky Values

My friend and colleague John Hansell has an excellent whisky blog, What Does John Know? The answer, of course, is quite a bit, given his 20+ years of passionate whisky tasting and collecting, and 18 years of publishing Malt Advocate magazine. John's completely wired into the whisky business here and in Scotland and Ireland, and Canada, and Japan... You guys think I get samples? John gets samples.

The blog post I particularly want to bring to your attention is one he called "What are the good whisky values?" He asked his readers, and there are some excellent suggestions for finding good whisky bargains in a market that's split between continuing increases in price and a buying public that's hurting for bucks. If you'd like to spend a little less while continuing to drink well, check it out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Parker's Heritage Collection Golden Anniversary

After teasing you a bit last month, I finally got to cracking open my bottle of Parker's Heritage Collection Golden Anniversary. You don't want to rush these things.

Parker does like the higher, drier whiskeys, but this one's got some sweet to it. There's cotton candy, maple, vanilla, and corn in the nose, and some heat, too, of course; it's set at 100 proof, you're going to get some vapors. The first sip's a shock: you get the set of the older whiskeys right up front, spreading quickly and squeezing up your tongue -- but just as quickly behind it comes a rush of sweet corn heat, oak spice. The second sip expands a bit, without that first shock, and that lean, muscular, macho feel that typifies some of the best of the Evan Williams Single Barrels makes itself evident.

By the third sip I'm getting deeper into this one, shaking hands, making friends. My tongue's warm now, not feeling beaten, and the roof of my mouth seems to be stretching to contain all this whiskey. There's some anise showing up now, and a bit of soft mint, like a butter mint. There's more wood coming through, but it's still not harsh. It's big, really big, but smooth, and it pulls at me to have more. I'm picking up some pepper now; the younger whiskeys come through and keep this a lot fresher than it could be if Parker had leaned too heavily on the older whiskeys. This makes me remember why I prefer the Elijah Craig 12 over the 18.

Oh, my. I'm not big on using great bourbons like this in cocktails, and I doubt I ever will do that. I don't think it would create any useful synergies. But I could see one cube of ice, a cool shot of water, a fresh taste of branch might be nice with this. Nothing more. Oh...a nice touch of mint on the end. Thanks, Parker.

Brilliant idea from CAMRA (no, really!)

The Campaign for Real Ale has a fantastic idea: zero tax on beers that are 2.8% ABV or lower. I blogged about it over at The Session Beer Project; take a look.

Beer-Wine Parallels -- is "easy to drink" an insult?

I came across an article by W. Blake Gray in the LA Times yesterday: "'Easy to drink' isn't an insult when it comes to wines." He was bemoaning the trend to rate "difficult" wines highly, while "easy to drink" had been kicked aside as a descriptor. "Easy to drink" used to mean a critic thought a wine was superbly rounded and balanced.
"These wines don't scream for attention, or tire out the palate, because they're balanced. You shouldn't notice the alcohol, acidity or sweetness because none is overpowering. If it's a red wine, it's essential that its tannins are smooth.
Yum. But now it implies that the wine is unsophisticated, not challenging enough. Essentially, if you like "easy to drink" wines, you're not up to drinking the really good wines.
"There is an American attitude that drinking wine is sort of like a wrestling match and it is not macho to get into the ring with a wimpy 'easy to drink' wine," wine importer Kermit Lynch says. "Better it is big, brawny, tough, and swallowing it should be an endeavor rather than an easy pleasure."
(The more I read Kermit Lynch, the more I like him.) Gray then observes what this means when critics get together to taste bottles at a restaurant.
Critics taste wine in groups of 50 or more, taking one or two sips of each. Bold wines get the highest scores in this format; wines that are easy to drink don't grab attention that quickly. If only ratings services used the "empty bottle test." At the end of a multi-wine meal, just see which bottles are completely drained. I have the pleasure of attending many such mini-bacchanalias, and it's amazing how often the kitchen staff gets to finish the highest-rated bottles. But nobody goes back and adjusts the ratings.
So. Do I have to belabor the obvious? I'll just tell you about the Malt Advocate staff party we had last month...well, a little about it, because too many details would be embarrassing. We still drink a lot of beer at Malt Advocate, because you can't drink whiskey all night. John's coolers and fridge were stocked with awesome beers -- tripels, DIPAs, imperial stouts -- and he had Lost Abbey Serpent's Stout and a tripel on draft. Now...the Serpent's Stout was excellent, the tripel was very good. But by the end of the night, every bottle of Deschutes Twilight Ale and Full Sail Black Session he had was empty. They were "easy to drink."

I know, I know... You always finish your bottle of Big Ass Triple Imperial Whatzit. Good for you, and you should; there are children in Somalia who are going to bed sober (thanks to Terry Sullivan for that one). But remember this the next time you "rate" a beer, either on one of the ratings sites or in your blog or for your own enjoyment: was it "easy to drink?" Was it balanced, did it lead you to another drink effortlessly, was it pleasurable and fun? Or did you have to work at it? Was it a one-trick pony -- tremendously hoppy, sour, roasted -- or did it wrap several components up in a beautiful whole?

Maybe that's why PhillyMag picked HopDevil as their Best of Philly beer this year (or maybe it's just because it's a really good beer that a lot of different kinds of beer drinkers enjoy: there's a good conversation about that building over at Suzanne Woods's I'll Have Another Stout blog; why not go join in?). It's easy to drink. Ron and Bill have been surprised from the beginning about how easy to drink people have found HopDevil. It's an IPA! It's 6.7%! But it is beautifully balanced.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

South Carolina magistrate finds constitutional right for 18 year old drinking age

Every citizen who is eighteen years of age or older, not laboring under disabilities prescribed in this Constitution or otherwise established by law, shall be deemed sui juris [of age, literally "of one's own laws"] and endowed with full legal rights and responsibilities, provided, that the General Assembly may restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to persons until age twenty-one.” (emphasis added)

That's Article 17, Section 14, of the South Carolina constitution. Recently, citing this section, South Carolina magistrates in Richard and Aiken counties have ruled that state laws prohibiting people from 18 to 20 from drinking alcohol beverages (I hate the term "alcoholic beverages") are unconstitutional. The magistrates pointed out that the section in question specifically says that the legislature may restrict the sale of such beverages to persons between 18 and 20 years of age....it says nothing about the legislature restricting possession or consumption.

Well, well, well. This is an interesting dingus in constitutional law. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. constitution says that the states have the right to regulate alcohol; but federal law (Title 23, section 158) also punishes states that do not have a 21 LDA by taking away 10% of their federal highway money. But the South Carolina constitution section in question pre-dates that federal law. If the state abides by the letter of its constitution, do they lose federal money? Or do we finally have the case to walk up the line to revisit South Dakota vs. Dole?

These cases come at a crucial time. The Amethyst Initiative has opened the debate on the 21 LDA, 18 year old Americans are at war, defending their country, and the debate, after an initial roar of protest from the New Drys, has started to develop voices in favor of lowering the LDA. One very interesting voice is Dr. Morris Chafetz, who was on the presidential commission in the 1980s that recommended raising the drinking age to 21. Chafetz recently referred to his actions on that committee as "the single most regrettable decision" of his career.*

The debate is necessary, useful, and should not be decided by any single study, or piece of research, or group. Full debate and a real airing of the facts is needed. I don't trust most of the 'research' coming from the New Drys any more, because they've been caught lying -- and continue to lie -- too many times. I'd like to see some impartial research done.

In the meantime, it's going to be interesting to see what happens in SC. My bets are on a very fast constitutional amendment...but we'll see.



*"Legal Age 21 has not worked," Chafetz said in the piece. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States." How come no one else is admitting this?