Friday, October 30, 2009

Two new visits for me

I'm crushed by the number of new beer-strong bars in Philly that I haven't been to yet: Resurrection, Devil's Alley, Beneluxx -- hell, I haven't even made it to Zōt yet. But Tuesday night Cathy and I crossed two off the list: Lucky 13 and P.O.P.E. (Yeah, really, three years and this is the first time...it's a busy life, what can I tell you?). We wanted to go out for the Bosteels night at P.O.P.E., and since Lucky 13 is so close, well, you know, two birds, one Jetta...

It was a rainy night, but that didn't stop me from jockeying into a very tight parking spot on Mifflin, and we walked around the corner to Lucky 13. I got a bit irked when the bartender decided to finish her texting before greeting us -- there were only three other people in the place, but I got over it quickly; she was real nice, friendly, and happy to give us a sample of the SixPoint Otis (nice body, beautifully black, just sweet enough; Cathy got one, and I got a Southampton IPA). We made some easy conversation with the other folks at the smallish bar in the front of the place, and had to exercise restraint on the menu; it looked really good (Craig LaBan liked it, too). Not a ton of taps, but the craft that was there was nicely chosen and not The Usual Suspects. I suspect if we'd eaten, Lucky 13 might have made it onto the "Why Isn't This Near Us?" list.

I was planning to walk to P.O.P.E., but it was raining harder now, so I took my chances with finding another parking space. Took a bit, but we did, and I finally got to the pub I'd heard so much about. P.O.P.E. (Pub On Passyunk East) has a long bar off its corner entrance, leading back to two dining areas divided by brick archways. It kind of put me in mind of the basement bar at The Brewer's Art in Baltimore, which I love. We sat in the back, and quickly ordered a flight of all three beers -- DeuS, Tripel Karmeliet, and Kwak -- an order of crab fries (wit' real crab; take note, Chickie and Pete's), and gingerbread.

I jumped on the Karmeliet and enjoyed its sweet, spicy goodness. Cathy is a Kwak fan and yummed over how it went with the gingerbread. Me, I was somewhat dismayed to find how well the DeuS -- which I still say is much better than when it first came out, but I realize that's just me -- went with the crab fries; just what I need, a really expensive beer that's frickin' great with bar food...

About that time Cameron Saunders, beer ace from Shangy's, spotted me (lucky, because I was looking for importer Lanny Hoff, who was up in Emmaus for an event that apparently didn't happen...) and brought Bosteels export director Jack Van Antwerpen over to meet us. Jack was quite the affable guy -- no surprise from a Belgian in beer exporting! -- and we were quickly swapping stories about brewery patriarch Ivo Bosteels and my visit to the brewery last year. He bought us another round -- thanks, Jack! -- of Karmeliet and Kwak, and left to continue his low-key promotion of simply talking to people about the beer. Nice guy.

We were just getting ready to leave, finishing up the beers, getting the check, 'when entered in to that hall of sin, into that harlots' hell, A lusty maid who was unafraid--and her name was...' Suzanne Woods. (JK on the reference, Suz, it was just too much fun to pass up!) Well, we couldn't leave then, not when the girl was so jazzed that I'd finally visited her favorite neighborhood bar. So we chatted, got caught up...and then we went home. Nice night out.

Sex for Series tickets...and one jaw-dropping beer reference

Did anyone read Karen Heller's column in this morning's Inquirer? Heller often pisses me off one way or another: mountains out of molehills, odd reasoning, or sometimes just plain whiney. But this morning's column really caught my eye.

She was writing about the ridiculous "Sex and the Series" story, how Bensalem cops decided that public safety was threatened by a craigslist ad that read:
"DESPERATE BLONDE NEEDS WS TIX. Diehard Phillies fan - gorgeous tall buxom blonde - in desperate need of two World Series Tickets. Price negotiable - I'm the creative type! Maybe we can help each other!"
The silly story of how five undercover Bensalem cops set up the sting at Manny Brown's in the Neshaminy Mall -- and actually handcuffed the woman! -- has been told in news outlets around the world, and Heller piles on; which, to be fair, these cops deserve. There was no crime here. But that's not what made me stop mid-breakfast.

It was this:
Residents of Bensalem Township might wonder if their tax dollars are being served. Finkelstein and her attorney, William J. Brennan, said five undercover cops were at Manny Brown's Bar & Grill at the Neshaminy Mall. That's where Finkelstein, a lifelong Philadelphian, met the alleged ticket seller over a beer, Founders Breakfast Stout.
See those last three words? That's mainstream, baby! I thought there was some kind of newspaper rule that the only beer ever mentioned in crime stories had to be "Yuengling." More evidence that there was no crime here, I guess. Who was drinking the Founders, Finkelstein, or the cop? My experience with Bensalem cops -- strictly through attending two lectures, I swear -- leads me to believe it was Finkelstein, but you never know.

And hats off to Manny Brown's!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Pennsylvania production brewery coming

Just found out about a new production brewery that should be opening in January outside of Pittsburgh. The principals include three of my favorite western PA brewers (no, surprisingly, Matt Allyn is not involved in this project), and I'm very glad to hear that they're planning to bottle beers. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to reveal at this point. Enough to say that these guys are very good brewers and have some business experience as well. Auspicious!

Cat's out of the bag: check the comments for details.

The Bartender's Gin Compendium

One of the people in Louisville with John and I this past weekend was Gary Regan. Gary's a good friend, and a wonderful story-teller, a nice guy and a great champion of cocktails and the folks who make them. We had a very good time with him Saturday night at the bar at Proof, as he bantered with the bartenders there (and ogled, openly, one of the very nice ladies behind the bar; it's an odd part of his charm).

Gary gave John and I each a copy of his new book, The bartender's GIN compendium (that's a link to buy the book, only available on-line...I think), which, you'll note in the picture to the left, is attributed to "gaz regan." "Gaz," he explained, is the nickname of practically everyone in the UK named "Gary," and his friends there all call him Gaz. We, he said, could call him that, or continue to call him Gary, whichever we were comfortable with. Gary, then.

Anyway, I don't know nearly enough about gin, so I started reading the book when I woke up way too early on Sunday morning, continued to read it in the airport and on the flight home, and just finished it. It took me back 30 years to when I was just starting to drink and wanted to learn everything about booze...which eventually left me with some odd bits of knowledge about pisco and advocaat, a desire for cocktails no one then seemed to know how to make -- I certainly couldn't, and still can't, to my shame -- and the decision that what I really liked to drink was beer, so I'd just learn about that. (And thanks to Michael Jackson and a lot of other good people, I did, and then John Hansell came along and I learned about whiskey, too.)

GIN brought back that fascination, that sense that there was so much out there that was possible to enjoy. I learned a lot about gin, and what a great time to do it. Gin is resurgent, much like my beloved whiskeys. Much was made of the ascendency of "white spirits" like vodka, white rum, and gin over the past 40 years, but gin was the weak sister of the bunch, overshadowed by the others. If my wife hadn't been such a summer devotee of gin and tonics, I'd never have seen gin at all. My mother claims to be allergic to the stuff, getting a pounding headache after only a drink or two of it, so I assumed I'd be the same, and never gave it a chance.

Now gin's exploding -- in a small way -- in a new profusion of brands that tweak the definition. There are distilleries small and large making new gins, older gins -- Plymouth, Old Tom, and genever -- are getting more attention and new iterations, and of course, bartenders -- cocktailians, as Gary says -- are making lots more of both classic gin cocktails and new inventions. The time seemed right for a book.

What about the book? It runs the history of gin, borrowing from other sources -- at times you get the feeling that David Wondrich just didn't have time to write a gin book, so Gary did it for him; though with those two as thick as thieves, it's hard to separate the ideas at times -- then into descriptions of the major botanicals, and then into the meat of the book: descriptions of dry gins, Plymouth gin, Old Toms, and genevers, followed by a thick sheaf of excellent cocktail recipes and mixing suggestions.

The descriptions may be problematic for some. Gary relied on the distillers to write most of this. At first I wasn't that comfortable with this, particularly since the distillers sponsored the book, to the tune of payments for the inclusion of logos and bottle-shots. But...I mean, we know this because Gary tells us so, right up front, including what distillers paid for and supplied, and what they didn't. He did, after all, self-publish the book, and so he's kind of in the position of being the editor and publisher: are magazines that accept advertising independent or not? I decided that being forewarned -- and Gary certainly forewarns you! -- was forearmed, and took all of that with a grain of salt.

That said, I like having the distillers talk about their gins, particularly when Gary invites them to "Tell us why you think your gin stands apart from all the others" and asks if there are "Any other idiosyncrasies that you'd like to tell us about?" Some marketonic stuff, but also some very interesting details and perspectives, too.

About the self-publishing: there were times when my editor's eye twitched: typos, duplicate phrases, grammar (really, not just Englishisms). There were times the layout betrayed the flow. And the black&white snapshots look like black&white snapshots. Grainy ones.

Bitch, bitch, bitch. It was never enough to keep me from enjoying this book a lot, partly thanks to something I haven't even gotten to mentioning yet: Gary's voice. He's young and old, self-deprecating and full of great stories about great times, making clever asides that he doesn't even bother to parenthesize. The 'recipe' for Gin and Tonic, for example: "I seem to have lost the recipe for this one, so I'm hoping you'll be able to figure it out for yourself. If memory serves it works well with a wedge of lime as a garnish." Yes, indeed.

Add a lot of great gin quotes from literature -- which helps to hammer home just what a place gin has in English-speaking literature -- and some razzle-dazzle, and the regulations for what gin is, and an appreciated cocked snook at vodka... you'll understand why I advise you to buy this book and start drinking gin.

Who said you can't have great beer and sports?

I know two places -- so far -- that have BOTH good screens that will be tuned to the World Series and great craft beer:

Local 44 has installed a "100% more gi-normous TV" and a TV in the dining room for the Series, and will have $3 drafts during all games.

Victory Brewing has multiple plasmas tuned to the games, and, well...all that great Victory beer, including Yakima Twilight. Of course, they also have Richard Ruch, but, um...all that great Victory beer!

Anyone else with an exceptional TV system and exceptional craft beer, feel free to pile on in the Comments, and we'll never have to suffer through light beer with the Series again. Repeat!

Fresh Hops? How about Capone's?

A fresh hop beer on draft? Two? Six?

How about ten fresh hop beers on draft? That's what Capone's has on this Thursday:

Manayunk Fresh Hop IPA
General Lafayette Fesh Hop IPA
Victory Harvest Pils
Victory Harvest Ale
Southern Tier Harvest Ale
Sierra Nevada Wet Hop Harvest Ale
Port Brewing High Tide IPA
Ballast Point Fresh Eye IPA
Left Hand Warrior IPA
Founders Fresh Hop Harvest

That's pretty damned impressive...you know, for the East Coast.

Like I've always said: we'll take the best you've got, because what we want in beer...is everything. And that's what makes Philly great!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magic Hat Fall 09 Odd Notion

I got a sample of Magic Hat's Fall Odd Notion back in September, stuck it in the fridge to chill...and hit the road. Kentucky Bourbon Festival, moving my mother-in-law (came back from that with 18 bottles of Guinness that I stuck in the fridge...in front of the Odd Notion (and there's a Deschutes Jubelale in there, too, I see...later)), WhiskyFest San Francisco...I forgot about it.

So today I get an e-mail from Magic Hat's publicity guy, Dave Obenour. Hey, he says, are you ever gonna drink that stuff? Good publicity guy! Sure, why not? I don't have to go pick up Nora today, I'll have a beer.

It's a "chocolate Belgian stout," and it pours really, really dark with a tenacious dark tan head. The nose is like baker's chocolate: chocolatey, but dry with it, and a hint of malt and graham. Mmmm... That's the taste, only with some fruit to it -- orange, hints of berry, maybe a bit of grape -- and a solid bitterness on the end. The mouthfeel's better than I've had from most Magic Hat beers lately, too: creamy, not quite rich, smooth but not light. Seems to be asking to be used for cooking, too: this would make an excellent stewing beer. I like beers like this for roasting my pork and sauerkraut.

A lot going on here, but not so much that it isn't quite drinkable. Glad you followed up, Dave. I'll recommend this: it's part of the seasonal Night of the Living Dead 12-pack, with the hoppy Roxy Rolles, #9 (which I saw over the weekend in Louisville), and, well, Circus Boy 'hefeweizen.' I'm sure there are people who like Circus Boy that you could serve this to. I'm not one of them. But this Odd Notion stuff is worth it.

Hurray for the PLCB!

Well, for the State Police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, actually. Check it out: the BLCE nailed Oscar's in Center City Philly for serving cheap whiskey from a Maker's Mark bottle (after a tip-off from a PhillyMag reporter). That's what I want from my state booze bureaucracy: protection from rip-off bad booze!

SBP day

Two new posts up at the Session Beer Project blog today, a relatively busy day over there. One, from Jeffo's Beer Blog, is just for fun -- and green-eyed envy! -- the other is a link to Martyn Cornell's The Zythophile blog on "sessionability." Have a read.

Bosteels at P.O.P.E. tonight

Just remembered: Jack van Atwerpen, head of exports for Bosteels Brewery of Buggenhout, Belgium, is on an east coast swing with his importer, Lanny "The Great" Hoff (Artisanal Imports). They're in Philly at P.O.P.E. tonight, and you really should go, because the beers from Bosteels -- Kwak, DeuS, and Tripel Karmeliet -- are just excellent, and the passion with which they are made (coupled to an excellent business sense) is undeniable. I'd join you, but I've got work...again. Scratch that! Cathy saw this post, and talked sense into me: we're going!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why they call it the Pennsylvania Liquor CONTROL Board

I got a response from the PLCB today to a question I asked two weeks ago: what's the proper protocol for a private citizen to bring a bottle of wine into the Commonwealth from another state?

The answer? "...there is no proper protocol for crossing the border to purchase wine in another state and then bring it back to Pennsylvania."

See it all, and my reaction, here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2000

The picture says it all, or almost all: from right to left, Heaven Hill prez Max Shapira watches as Parker Beam "thiefs" samples of Barrel #1 of this year's Evan Williams Single Barrel, distilled in 2000, into glasses held by Craig Beam. It was the moment of the evening.

And the whiskey? One of the good ones. It came out of the barrel at 142.9 proof, quite high for these selections; Max thought it was the highest. The barrel came from the 7th floor of Warehouse Z (I think Parker said Z). But it was definitely drinkable at that proof: as I Tweeted last night, "Nice. Good oak, spicy, but a nice slippery sweetness, like sugar maple sap. Wicked smooth even at full proof." Then as a pitcher came around, "A touch of water brings out more depth to the oak and vanilla. A nice blend of bourbon's strengths: sweet, spice, & oaky dryness."

I'm looking forward to having more when I get home, even though it's going to be at 43.3%. We did just kind of wonder...wouldn't it be cool if Heaven Hill bottled a limited run of 1,000 bottles of this stuff at barrel proof? Woof.

We went back to the Proof bar afterwards, had DFH 60 Minute (a lot of that), then a Los Angeles cocktail, a whiskey sour variation that was deliciously creamy smooth. Hung out with John, Larry Kass, Josh Hafer (both Heaven Hill folks we've known a long time), Alan Katz, Gary Regan, Mark Gillespie, the two guys from Los Angeles (guys, it was a long night; shoot me your info, be glad to put a link up to your bar (they're trying to bring classic cocktails to LA, folks)), and some others; it was a big, friendly crowd. And now...it's morning, and time to head for the airport. Fun weekend, but I'm ready to go home.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Congratulations, Parker Beam!

I'm currently in Louisville, on a beautiful fall day. I'm out here with John Hansell, Gary Regan, and other whiskey writers to help celebrate Parker Beam's 50 years of working at Heaven Hill.

We went down to Bardstown last night in a limo -- nine of us, passing around a bottle of Parker's Golden Anniversary, and it was fun, and Larry Kass told some great stories, and we all agreed that what gets said in the limo stays in the limo (and believe me, that's for the best!) -- and toasted Parker with a bunch of Heaven Hill folks, other distillers (at one point I was drinking with Jim Rutledge (Four Roses), Greg Davis (Tom Moore), and Craig Beam (Parker's son and co-master distiller), and Bardstown friends. Parker was called "a Rembrandt," "a genius," "brilliant," and I have to say, he was honest enough to simply smile and nod. Lots of laughs, and lots and lots of great bourbon. That's Bourbon Heritage Center director Lynne Grant with the cake, BTW...really, that's the cake. It even has the stencil on the head. Awesome.

Tonight is more Parkermania: the launch of this year's Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. I just had a bottle delivered to my room, and I'm not opening it. I'm waiting till the official launch. That's how it's done.

And because that's how it's done: I am Heaven Hill's guest on this trip. Because you should know that.

Kennett Square BrewFest Conn-O-Session Report

Finally wrote up the after-action report on the all-session beer "Conn-O-Session" connoisseur tasting at the Kennett Square BrewFest over at the Session Beer Project blog. Have a look.

WhiskyFest San Francisco: the wrap-up

As I said, Friday morning Jamie Fox and I walked up to Dottie's True Blue to get breakfast. We stood in line for about 20 minutes (and the line just got longer and longer), talking to some people from Harrisburg, then got two seats at the counter: front-row on the action. I went simple this time and got an omelette with bacon, mushrooms, and spinach. Yum, but the buttermilk dill toast was the absolute kickass part of the meal.

Kind of frittered away much of the rest of the day. Walked around the area a bit, did a little shopping (needed a new charger for my mp3 player, trinkets for the family, suchlike), then went back and watched the Phillies till it was time to get showered and dressed for the fest. We went California casual this year: sportscoat, no tie, and it felt good.

The fest went very well. We increased the number of tickets by almost 50% (1800) and sold out! We'd also increased the size of the ballroom, and the crowd density was just about perfect this time. Wish we could hit that balance with WhiskyFest NY. The seminars, my responsibility, were all well-attended and smooth. We only had one 'over-refreshed' patron; he was taken care of courteously by the hotel staff.

Whisky? I never have time. Had a very nice Caol Isla that Lorne Mackillop suggested -- thanks for that! -- and a Dalmore 15 with Willie Tait. Hmmm... couple Glendronachs, and a High West Rendezvous Rye. Enough! The Fest was over, and after John and I made a beer run (Sierra Nevada Anniversary, pinot grigio, snacks and nuts), we had a short after-party in John & Amy's room, then called it a successful night. Had to get up early for the flight home; uneventful, and made it in time to sing in a 7:00 concert, which was successful too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Going on the Drinko: Day Two in San Francisco

I never did get back to you on the rest of the trip to San Francisco. After puttering about, showering and getting dressed, some e-mail, some reading I had to do, and such, I called Jamie Fox -- husband of long-time Malt Advocate staffer Kathy Fox, and a good friend -- and asked him if he had anything planned for lunch. How about we go across the Bay and hit two brewpubs in Berkeley, I temptingly offered. He quickly accepted, and we grabbed a BART train at about 11:15 for the trip to Berkeley Downtown.

Jupiter is right across the street from the station, intriguingly close and signed with a script neon that had called to me last year...but I had no time then. This year I did, and Jamie and I crossed the street and went in. They'd just opened, and the bar still smelled a bit of sour beer from the night before, so we wandered out back into a lovely little beer oasis, with a fountain pool that had a gas flame firepit in the middle; quite Elemental. We sat under the arbor, relaxed, and it was good.

Even better, so was the beer. I had a very nice glass of helles, which pleased me immensely: a brewpub lager, in California, and it was delish! I hadn't had anything to eat yet, and quickly ordered the Asian chicken skewers (good, and the peanut sauce was good, but not tremendous). Mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed the moment, the beautiful weather, the peaceful spot, and the friendly attentions of our waitress, Elizabeth. When the time was right, I ordered my lunch, a Galileo pizza: artichoke hearts, mushrooms, cheeses, garlic, spinach, and diced fresh tomato. And a porter, which was also quite nice; just a touch chocolatey, very drinkable.

Eventually, we left, though not before discovering that I'd apparently lost four credit cards! Luckily I had plenty of cash, and paid up with that. (I would eventually learn that the cards had dropped out of my wallet in a cab the night before; no harm, no foul, just a bit of angst.)

Up Shattuck we walked to Triple Rock. So comfortable, so welcoming, so friendly. I stuck to porter, and enjoyed it, and enjoyed the interplay of bar patrons. Nice people at Triple Rock, an older crowd -- at least, during the day when I've been there the last two years -- and Jamie was happy with it. After our first round, we noticed that our time was running down -- had to get back to the hotel to do some WhiskyFest work -- so we got right to the business we'd come for: a liter bottle of Monkey Head Arboreal Ale, a specialty beer brewed for Triple Rock at Drake's and only available on Thursdays; I don't know why, but I missed it last year and I wanted it.

Well...it was okay. It was good, it was solid, but it wasn't compelling. I was saddened, but not enough to put a dent on this great afternoon. The credit card situation was maybe preying on my mind a bit, to be honest. We pulled stakes and got back on the BART to the hotel.

A little work, and then we went out to see Parker Beam and the Heaven Hill folks at Rickhouse, a new bourbon bar: John and Amy Hansell, the hard-working Joan McGinley, and myself (we supposed Jamie was under the drink flag, but it was actually Kathy who was napping!). Good time, but hot up in the upper balcony/mezzanine. Delish drinks: a punch made, I believe, with Bernheim wheat whiskey, or maybe that was in the second drink, a smash with a blazingly fresh and aromatic mint leaf on top. I got into a conversation with a rep from Bols, who was shocked to learn that not only did I know what genever was, I was a fan, and had five different bottles at home, none of which were her product. What can I say, I like the stuff.

After that, we headed for Magnolia Pub & Brewery, where we were to be met again by Dave Keene. It was hopping, and we put our names in for a table and headed for the bar. At least, John and I did; we thought Amy and Joan were with us, but we lost them. We had headed in different directions (why would you head in any direction other than the bar?). We hadn't gotten the bartender's attention yet when a waitress said she had a booth open that she could put a chair to; would that do? Sure! We sat, and quickly ordered pints of cask Marin IPA. By God, they were just about perfect.

Unfortunately, we would have problems getting more of them, as our waitress at that point seemed to get very confused, and would bring us Marin Mt. Tam Pale Ale every time thereafter, despite John's telling her, This is not the beer I ordered. She brought him another Mt. Tam, and we gave up. It was good, but it wasn't the IPA. I short-circuited the problem by ordering cask Cole Porter, a house beer, and it was good.

The two women had rejoined us at this point, and Dave had arrived, so we fell to our dinners, which were excellent (rare burger, heavenly). When dins was over, we walked out into the warm early evening (it was actually quite warm, and a bit muggy, and no one has AC in SF...), looked up and down Haight, and thought about options. Amy and Joan grabbed a cab and headed for Bourbon & Branch; Dave and John and I decided to walk up Haight to Alembic. We were all thinking cocktail, something light, cool, sippy, and sophisticated.

However...Alembic was jammed (and hot), so we reluctantly went back out to the street, and caught our own cab to Bourbon & Branch. What's the password, the doorkeeper asked. WhiskyFest, we answered, and he said, that'll do. We went to Joan and Amy's table, tucked into the back room, and ordered drinks...which arrived just after we left on a tour of the whole place, including the Library and the new cigar bar. Great tour, fascinating bar with a lot of history, and a lot has been put into making it just so. Unfortunately, when we got back, our drinks had been sitting for almost half an hour, and they were limp and exhausted. The waitress got us fresh ones, but we weren't knocked out by them.

Hmmm...lemme see the menu. I was hot, which was part of the problem, so I looked for a tall drink, something more refreshing. How about this: a Democrat, bourbon, peach liqueur, honey, and fresh lemon juice in a collins glass full of ice. Sounds great! Best of all, I quipped, it's a Democrat: someone else will pay for it! (just a joke, folks...) It was delicious, cold and refreshing.

It was also the end. I walked back to the hotel -- everyone else took a cab, and only beat me by about minute -- and hit the hay. Jamie and I had planned to hit Dottie's True Blue for breakfast Friday morning, and I had to get rested!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rittenhouse Rye Single Barrels

Yes, I've been absent. Some of it was work -- quite a bit, actually -- some of it was WhiskyFest San Francisco, and some of it was baseball. In any case...I'm back. And I'm leaving again; tomorrow I'm flying to Kentucky to help celebrate Parker Beam's 50 years with Heaven Hill, and to get the first taste of this year's Evan Williams Single Barrel.

It's appropriate, therefore, to get back in the blogging swing with three years of Rittenhouse Rye Single Barrel, the 21, 23, and 25 year old releases, all bottled at 100 proof. Heaven Hill says the 25 year old is the last of these, so I'm queueing all three up tonight, and having a taste.

The smell is filling the room, I'll tell you that: wood, spice, and a surprising fruitiness. I'm going to start with the 21 year old, which looks darker than the 23 year old, about the same as the 25. It's Bottle 67, from Barrel 1. The smell is heavy with sweet oaky spice and a trenchant note of mint. It's a bit hot, but as I chew it, the mint comes out, some cinnamon flicker, and broad wood. I'll come back to this one.

Next up is the 23 year old, Bottle 72 from Barrel 8. The smell's much less heavy, sweet and even a bit crisp. Much more lively whiskey, not nearly as thickly oaky, not nearly as hot, either. There's still quite a dance in this one: teaberry, mint, that flick of cinnamon, and some real sweetness. It goes round and round in the mouth, more coming out with every sip and breath. Don't get me wrong: this is still rye, and would never be mistaken for a friendly sip of Maker's Mark or Basil Hayden. But it's approachable, and graciously yields its treasure.

Finally, the 25 year old, an unnumbered sample bottle from Barrel 1. Almost a blend of the first two: oaky, but sweet in the nose (and I really need to trim my moustache...) with a curl of vanilla to it. Easily the most drinkable of the three, surprisingly, but I still like the 23 better; this one is less layered, more shouty. I'm adding a little water, and the sweetness comes out, and that vanilla. There's not just oak spice in this one, there's oak vanilla and a touch of caramel. Still leaning towards the 23 year old; pretty heavily, actually. Yeah, going back to the 21 finds it still hot, my least favorite of the three.

These are quite intense ryes, well-aged, and full of wood...but not ruined by it. They represent what aging American whiskey -- in the hot summers and new barrels that entails -- can bring about.

Well, that will do me for tonight. I'm off to bed, and tomorrow, I'm off to Kentucky. Cheers!

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Don't Make This Up, I Just Report It

You know I like to throw in some light stuff occasionally... Here's a news item, in its entirety:

Cops: 300-lb man in dress tries to steal rum, cola

Source: AP Oct 15th SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -

Police said a person believed to be a man disguised as a woman in a black dress tried to steal a bottle of rum and cola drinks from a local drug store. The store's loss prevention officer unsuccessfully tried to stop the person, who is described as about 20 years old, 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighing 300 pounds. Police said the person handed the rum back to the store employee, threw the drinks on the ground and fled after trying to bite the employee when the worker tried to restrain him.

I can't think of anything to add.

Drinking San Francisco

I've been doing the drinko in San Francisco since we arrived in town for WhiskyFest on Wednesday afternoon. (The six-hour flight was just barely tolerable...thanks to my new 3 oz. flask! Nothing like some bourbon on ice to ease the tedium and put a new perspective on how much six hours in a toothpaste tube sucks.) We landed about 1:30, and shortly after that John Hansell got on the phone to call David Keene, the owner of Toronado, about meeting us for a beer at the bar. Hey, David says, I'm just 15 minutes away, I'll come pick you up. And he did, in a monster Ford F-150 Platinum.

There was an odd moment; we had to get gas, and pulled into a station...and there were motorcycle cops all over, and two huge, plainly bullet-proof limos, a couple Suburbans with weird antennae on the roofs, and what sure as hell looked like a bomb disposal truck...all with Maryland or DC plates. Strange vibes, and we got the gas and got out. I didn't take any pictures. (Sure enough, we found out the next day, Obama was to be in town, and we'd filled up with his convoy.)

So Toronado was having a little fresh hop beer fest, and David started pouring beers. First one was Speakeasy's Big Daddy, and the fresh hops put the aroma over the top. Next was Port Brewing High Tide, which did not blow me away; not a lot of aroma on this one. We took a break and ran next door to Rosamunde's for sausage; I got the Merguez with onions and mustard, very good, solidly meaty. Then I took a break from IPA and got the glass of English Ales Black Prince Porter (cask) you see above. Very nice, chocolatey, good condition, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.


Then we adjourned to the back room, where we got another round of fresh hop -- Dempsey's 707, which was quite lively, dry, had a bit of a dandelion wine character -- and David started getting out the crazy stuff. We were soon drinking three vintages of Port Brewing Cable Car, the Toronado beer that makes beer geeks pee themselves. Distinctly different; the 2007 vintage was now quite soft, the 2008 had some creaminess and sharper funk going on, and the 2009 was strikingly more carbonated, with strong citrus notes. John couldn't help himself; he started blending, and soon came up with a blend that was more than the sum of its parts. We got some Sierra Nevada Estate at this point: delish, better than the bottle I'd had earlier in the week. Draft was more aromatic.

More craziness: a bottle of Russian River's Toronado XX anniversary beer. This damned beer had it all going on: chocolate, tartness, cherry, a twist of smoke, a beer that really rewarded contemplation. The room got a bit quieter as we drank it. Then someone said they wanted something dark and not sour, more sweet. David got up and left the table, and we just kept drinking...next thing we know he's back with a bottle of Malheur Dark Brut. Delicious stuff, first time I'd had the dark. "Wow," I posted to Facebook, "Good and fizzy and sweet and complexity. Cheers!" Indeed.

Yes, "complexity." We were getting a bit buzzed by this time, and decided to take a break. We dropped in on two "Whisky Week" events at Alembic (where we ran into the very cheerful and pleasant David Perkins of High West, and I had some rye whiskey drink with a cucumber garnish) and Elixir, showing the Malt Advocate flag, as it were. And then we went and had dinner at a new place David Keene is partner in, the π Bar.

Okay, it's actually the Pi Bar, but I wanted to show off. Pi Bar is simple: pizzas, salads, a little pasta (I got the pasta bolognese, and liked it), and good beer and wine. And it was all good. the anchovies were a high point: locally cured, fleshy, mild, delicious. I got a glass of Deschutes Black Butte (cuz I could, which I can't at home) and then Moonlight Death & Taxes, a black lager with some roasty dark malt authority. I took to the Death and Taxes rather strongly.

When we broke up to head back to the hotel, I texted my friend Steve Jackson, who lives in SF, and asked him if he wanted to meet me at Zeitgeist. Sure, so I walked down Velencia 1.5 miles and walked into the place...and got carded! Yeah! Really! It was great. No Steve yet, so I grabbed another Death & Taxes and waited for him. We got caught up (had a Drake's Porter, too) and had some laughs, but it was getting late. I said good-bye, and walked another 1.5 miles down Mission to the hotel.

A good day. Thursday would be a good day too. More soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finally, some action at my PLCB blog, too

Yes, I have a new poll up at Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished, the blog that tries, single-handedly --wait, actually, I used both hands to type it -- to drag Pennsylvania's alcohol policy into the 20th Century (and no, that's not a typo). I took what I thought were the PLCB's five worst gaffes of the past two years -- the "courtesy training," the awarding of the contract for the courtesy training (which triggered an audit by the State AG), the "wine kiosks" (which should have triggered an audit by the State AG), the "re-branding" of the State Store System (supposedly the new name is "Table Leaf"), and the appointment of Joe "CEO" Conti to fill a brand-new $150,000 position that no one in the 75 year history of the PLCB ever saw a need for (okay, that's a little more than two years, but what the hell) -- and asked you which one pissed you off the most.

Which one of these ridiculous gaffes pissed you off the most? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being that this is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the second-largest buyer of booze in the world, and would tax your head clean off, you've to ask yourself one question: do I feel screwed? Well, do ya, citizen?

Don't worry. To paraphrase yet another movie quote, when you put your hand in the pile of goo that used to be your state's dignity and honor...you'll know what to do. Vote!

Honors to Greg Noonan

Commercial and homebrewing pioneer Greg Noonan died late Saturday. Noonan wrote the very influential homebrewing guide Brewing Lager Beer (1986, updated in 2003) and opened Vermont's first brewpub in 1988. More importantly, he guided and inspired many brewers.

I never met Greg Noonan, and I consider that my loss, my great loss. He was one of the first in the field in America. Stan Hieronymus has written a tribute here.

"The Report of my Death was an Exaggeration"*

Back in July, a bunch of us in the "Philly Beer Community" got an e-mail from Chris Leonard, owner-brewer of the General Lafayette Inn: things were not good, really not good, and he was putting together a last-ditch plan to rescue the place. Uncle Jack, bless his heart, posted it on his blog. I...did not. I meant to, but apparently I was paving the road to Hell that week, got busy (July was a thin month 'round here), and by the time I had time to do it, well, the moment had passed. I felt bad, and finally got my guts up last week and said something to Chris about it by way of an apology.

'No worries,' he said (I'm paraphrasing), 'things are better, and I'll send you an update.' He has, and here it is, in Chris's truly inimitable style.


"Better Days Ahead

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Just ask my mother-in-law. Much to her chagrin, The General Lafayette Inn soldiers on with renewed vigor, promise, and excitement for the season that lies ahead. Despite rumors that the General is up for sheriff sale (NOT true) and that we are “out of business” (hardly), we are very much in the early stages of a mini-renaissance, if you will, at the old Inn and Brewery.

Are things easy? Of course not. But nothing worth earning ever is. I was fortunate enough to welcome some new blood on the ownership side of things here. It has helped energize us. That, along with an entire new menu concept (mussels, flatbreads, pretzels, incredible burgers, all house made – simple, fresh, and delicious), has opened up some new opportunities here. Heck, we even have digital HD television now.

Look for us to expand our bar area into our (mostly) empty dining room, creating a warm, comforting, atmosphere with booths, tvs, and, hopefully, a second bar. Hard wood floors are the next addition and we hope to see more folks returning for casual meals, great beer, and good times. Damn, this sounds like a commercial. [Yes...] So, I’ll wrap it up.

I just wanted everyone to know that I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. After many phone calls, I finally got a return call from a woman who had paid a deposit to host her rehearsal dinner here tomorrow night. We had not heard from her and needed her menu. She told me, “We were under the impression that you were going out of business, so we found another place.”

Well, you can imagine how deflating that can be. True, I brought these rumors on myself by making a public request for help. Well, we did get some. Now, I must quash the backlash of that unconventional approach and get this thing back on track.

If the Phillies hold up their end [and they have, and they are!], we’ll have Philadelphia Philsner [which Chris described as "the first red pilsner." What's a red pilsner, I asked. I don't know either, he replied, but we're making one!] on tap in time for the NLCS. Fugazi Lager is pouring now, with Octoberfest on-deck. The Phils are battling and so are we. Please don’t think we’ve given up and are anything but going strong!

Cheers!"

And that's the news from Lafayette Hill. Good news, because I'd truly hate to lose the General: the historic spot (the building dates from 1741), the closeness to my daughter's school (awfully convenient), and Chris and Russ Czajka's excellent, award-winning beers. So...come on out and support your local brewpubs -- yes, all of them -- but if you usually overlook the General, or you're pissed about something that happened to you there five years ago, make a special effort. It's really too great a potential treasure to lose.

*Before any of you jump on it, this is the original Twain quote, not "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." You can see an image of the hand-written original here. For every Wikipedia screw-up, the Internet brings us a correction to years of misinformation. Well...maybe for every 50 Wiki-screw-ups...and yes, obviously, reports of the death of Seen Through A Glass were an exaggeration as well. I've been gone for a week, a very busy week, but I'm back, and I may even post to the PLCB and Session Beer Project blogs. And San Francisco WhiskyFest is this Friday, so...fun, fun, fun!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kennett Square Fermentation Festival

Long story, but...I meant to post this in early October, and there was a Blogger screw-up, and it didn't happen. Sorry. This sounded like fun.

The Kennett Square Fermentation Festival is not what you think. The Brewfest is this Saturday, and it's long sold-out, and that's what most of you know about. The Fermentation Festival is this Friday, and it's not just beer (although beer will be there, thanks to Victory and Twin Lakes, and Home Sweet Homebrew), it's yogurt, and kimchi, and cider, and salsa (live, 'probiotic' salsa), and Root. No tickets, pay-as-you-go (bring cash and checkbook, most vendors won't take credit cards), and plenty of music, too. Looks like a lot of fun, and if I wasn't already booked up for tomorrow -- pheresis in the morning, singing in the evening (and maybe over to Earth, Bread + Brewery afterwards for that anniversary evening) -- I'd be seriously thinking about visiting.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You weren't doing anything today, were you?

Because Local 44 just flashed me: Dollar Drafts today...on Southampton Tripel. A better deal than the usual buck-a-beer gig on something like Miller Lite, right? It's on till 5 PM this evening, so better scamper.

They'll never miss you at work this afternoon. (Just kidding; you're a valuable and integral part of your boss's master plan.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Session #32: Eastern Beers

It's an interestingly vague assignment for The Session this time, from Girl Likes Beer:

I would like you to pick your favorite beer made east form your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?

December, 2000: my first and so far only trip to Portugal, though I'd happily return. Cathy had a business trip to Lisbon, and talked me into going along because it fell on our wedding anniversary. We walked all over Lisbon with her boss and his wife, in beautiful weather, then took the train out to Sintra on our last full day. We had a great time, though one of the best moments was solitary; I sat in the little square in Sintra, smoking an excellent little Cuban cheroot and drinking a glass of 40 year old tawny port.

But you know... There's the stereotype about Portugal: it's a wine country. It's Portugal, right? Well, aside from the fact that the table wines we were served were pure-D shit, and wine geeks to the contrary, vinho verde does nothing for me, I do love, flat-out adore port, and you can find it most places. But, and here's a big but, Lisbon is a beer town.

I mean, beer is everywhere. People were drinking it at sidewalk cafes, they drank it in the restaurants where we stopped for great fresh fish (mmmm....grouper) and "small dry cheeses from the hills" (a translation on the menu, and they were good, too), we had it in the 'beerhall' we visited, Real Fabrica (which was very cool, and had big-assed tanks of fresh beer that were filled from tanktrucks through ports in the sidewalk, I think), and there was even beer available at the bar inside the national Monument of the Discoveries, down on the Tagus. I didn't see anyone drinking wine except us, and I didn't do it anymore than I had to -- except for port.

But...for the most part, the beer's cold, and fresh, but pretty much uninspiring. There was UNICER SuperBock -- which most definitely was not either -- and Sagres, equally...um...wet. Then, our last night, after we got back from Sintra, we were looking to spend the last of our escudos, and stopped in another cervejaria, Ribadoura (honest to God, this is all from memory). It was a seafood beerhall, it was brightly lit, all the seafood was on offer in chilled display cases (barnacles...yuck. They looked like necrosed fingers), and they were drinking beer! I got a big-assed shrimp omelette that was very good.

But I wanted the dark beer I saw people drinking! Well, you know how you'll say a person in a foreign country "didn't speak a word of English"? That was our waiter. We tried English, German, and Spanish: nothing. Finally, I smiled, stood up, walked to a nearby table, said "Pardon me" (same in Portugeuse and English; different pronunciation -- a phrase I try to learn in the language of any country I visit) to the beer drinker there, and pointed to his dark beer, then nodded, smiling. Ah! Sim!

What I got was Sagres Cerveja Preta, a tasty dark lager that put me in mind of the better Munich dunkels. We were on foot, so I had a few more. It was good with the shrimp omelette, it was good with everyone else's dessert (I had decided to drink mine...), it was good. It was easily the best beer I had in Portugal (although the ridiculously tall pilsner glasses of cold Sagres at the (I'm not kidding) Hockey Caffee in Sintra had a strong situational appeal on a hot day).

And since Portugal is just about exactly due east of here...that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Saude!

More congrats...

To follow-up: the NBWA has recognized Gretz and Shore Point as Craft Beer Distributor of the Year Award finalists. Once again...we're very lucky to have some of the best wholesalers in the country around here. Congratulations to all!

Stephanie's Lounge taps the Hand of Doom

Just a quick note: I just got an e-mail from Lee Kubis at Stephanie's Lounge in Doylestown, PA. They are tapping one sixtel of Founders Hand Of Doom at 6 PM tonight. That's Founders Double Trouble Double IPA aged in bourbon barrels.

I can't make it, but...you all can have my share.

FEMSA Follow-up

Hey, remember we were talking about how well Dos Equis is doing for Heineken USA? Keep in mind that Heineken USA is just the importer; the beer is brewed and owned by Mexican brewer/drinks conglomerate FEMSA (Fomento Económico Mexicano, S.A. de C.V.). But I see in the Financial Times today that they are "in talks" to sell off their beer business, to either SABMiller or Heineken, in order to focus on their profitable Coca-Cola business. Here's why I posted, in light of the previous post:

Heineken USA has distributed Femsa's beer in the US since 2005, after Femsa's decision to extract itself from a distribution deal in 2004 with former partner Interbrew. Femsa and Heineken USA, a unit of the Dutch beermaker, signed a deal in April 2007 to extend their relationship for another 10 years.
But the US partnership with Heineken has underperformed, industry insiders say, as Femsa's beers have struggled to compete against fellow Mexican brewer Modelo and its ubiquitous top beer, Corona.
[...]
But the need for consolidation in the Latin American brewing arena has taken on a new level of urgency in the wake of InBev's $52bn deal to buy Anheuser-Busch. As part of that transaction, InBev, the world's largest brewer, gained a 50 per cent stake in family-run Modelo.
In other words...the strong growth FEMSA's Dos Equis and Tecate have shown in the U.S. isn't enough, because they aren't Corona. They have "underperformed." Sounds to me more like FEMSA doesn't have the stomach for the fight.

What it really sounds to me is that the "need for consolidation" is lemming-like, brewers rushing to buy other brewers so they get big enough to fight for market share, when all they're actually doing is fattening themselves for the kill.

And who gets rich? Bankers. Who gets screwed? Brewers, and you, my friends, because huge brewers can and will throw their weight around and have an effect on the entire beer market, including crafts, just like Wal-Mart does in retail.

And what will happen when there are but three or four mega-monster brewers left? I hope someone's standing by Carlos Brito, ready with a videocamera:

When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Deschutes Hop Trip


I've been loving the expanded number of fresh hop beers this year, something I remember seeing start very small back in the 1990s and grow like mad in the past couple years; the recent hop shortage has only seemed to accelerate the trend, possibly because of the number of people who decided to grow their own.

Deschutes Hop Trip is on the docket tonight, claiming four hours from vine to kettle. It's a beautiful beer, glowing reddish-copper in the light with a solid cream of foam on top. But...the stuff under the foam falls short once I stop looking and get down to business. The beer's a bit heavy in the body for its flavor and bitterness, and there's not much aroma past a small, fresh grassiness. There's not a lot of hop flavor, either, and a restrained bitterness.

Hop Trip is okay, competent, but it falls far short of two beers from Deschutes I enjoyed tremendously in recent months: Twilight and Red Chair. Fresh, clean, competent, but ultimately disappointing. I really expected more from this one.

Reason speaks truth to power about beer and STDs

"Beer Raped Your Daughter and Gave Her Gonorrhea. Again" is the provocative title of Reason's latest post about the junk science that goes on in the fight against booze. Briefly? The booze-haters are trying to tell us that a 3 cent tax increase per bottle of beer would cause 'youth gonorrhea' to drop by 9%, something that a Washington Post story picked up from a 2000 study done by the CDC that's been widely criticized -- actually 'laughed at' would be better than 'criticized.' Reason points out that this is ridiculous, quoting the Post from a story they ran back in 2000 making fun of this very study!
The Post had the good sense to ask David Murray of the Statistical Assessment Service, a non-profit think tank in D.C., about the study. STATS does yeoman's work pointing out the junk reasoning at the root of so much junk science. This one was a high, hanging curve for Murray, who said the CDC's thinking was on the level of "the sun goes down because we turn on the street lights."
I love that phrase. As someone pointed out in the comments, how is it that a tax can be both inconsequential -- "We're only going to increase the price by three cents! You can afford that!" -- and amazingly effective against 'youth gonorrhea' at the same time? How? I think we already know that.

It's not just October, it's Porktoberfest...

Our Girl Suzanne has posted the first helping in her third annual paean to pigmeat: Porktoberfest. Bravo, babe! Big yum. It's more than "the other white meat," folks: it's sausage, ham, chops, bacon...

Sincere apologies to the vegans among my readers, but...it's not like this should surprise you here...

A few random thoughts

I woke up this morning with my brain buzzing, and coffee hasn't stopped it. Some random thoughts.
  • October is my favorite month, has been for most of my life. It probably has a lot to do with living in Pennsylvania; the leaves change, fall crispness is in the air, the light changes. It's also a great month for beer festivals...like the upcoming Kennett Square Brewfest with the Conn-o-Session session beer event!
  • Glad to see more fresh hop beers every year.
  • Why is it that every time a western journalist interviews Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they feel that they have to ask him about the Holocaust? Stop asking him, and he won't be able to keep talking about his ridiculous views.
  • The Phils are in the playoffs, albeit wounded, after a pretty damned dominant season.
  • I've got some great beers and whiskeys lined up to sample.
  • Donating blood and platelets is a lot more satisfying than writing a check; even Bill Gates can only give one pint at a time.
  • WhiskyFest San Francisco is only two weeks away!
  • Pennsylvania Breweries 4 is moving into high gear; time to hit the road in earnest.
  • In a year of personal milestones -- my 50th, my dad's 80th so far -- the most happy one is coming up: Cathy and I celebrate 20 years of marriage in December. I am a lucky man.
  • The first "Lunch with Lew" at Isaac Newton's went well, and we're setting up the next: a beer and cheese tasting. Look for more info soon.

Okay. More coffee!