Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Visit to G. G. Brewers

I've been trying to get into G.G. Brewers for about six months, without success. I haven't been going by every day, mind you: it's out of my way, not really on my usual run, but I've been stopping in when I'm nearby. First time, I didn't realize they opened at 4...so I had a nice lunch at Athena and went home. Next time, it was after 4, late in the week...but they were closed. The next time, the lights were on, the TV was on...and the door was locked. That happened again about two weeks later. I kept trying, because I wanted to get them into PA Breweries 4. I wrote a letter -- no response -- I called -- no answer -- I sent an e-mail -- no answer.

But yesterday Cathy and I were over in Jenkintown to drop Nora off at a party, and I figured, what the hell, it's not that far out of the way...and fifteen minutes later, we were sitting at the bar.  Very small bar, too, and not many tables. It's easily the smallest brewpub I've ever been in: maybe 20, 25 seats. Couldn't see a brewery, but there were kegs stacked to one side of the room. The bartender was friendly, welcomed us, told us we were in the world's second-smallest brewpub (I had no real reason to doubt her!), and asked us what we wanted.

The brewer/owner, Gerry Martin was very much in evidence, bustling around the place. Nice guy, talkative, informative, even pumped about the Pennsylvania wines he had from Galen Glen: "They make wines in the German style," he said, which pricked my ears right up, and then he mentioned that even their sweet wines weren't all that gloppy sweet, and poured us a sample of the Winter Mountain Red (he was right, too: best Concord grape wine I remember having).

But we weren't there to drink wine! We actually already had our beers: Cathy got an Irish Stout (good, roasty, and solid, but we both caught a raspberry flavor in it; maybe the line had been used for a razzbeer before?), and I got the Bachelor Party beer. I was going to order a Pale Ale, but Gerry said if I wanted a hoppy beer I should get the Bachelor Party. Okay, I did, and it was good: clean, hop-flavored, real drinkable, and not overly bitter. The kind of beer a geek wouldn't give a second glance, but the kind that most other craft drinkers would happily neck all afternoon. It was called Bachelor Party, he said, because a group of guys had 'commissioned' it for the wind-up to a bachelor party they were having over the weekend...but they got snowbound in the Poconos, and he had to put it on anyway. Their loss; our gain.

We ordered a round of pot-stickers. I was a bit surprised to find them deep-fried instead of pan-fried, but they were good (dipping sauce was a bit thick, but tasty). The menu was very reasonably priced (especially for Glenside), and covered steaks, seafood, pasta, and sandwiches, with most things under $14.

Just one beer and the dumplings; we had to get home for the dogs, they'd been cooped up for 7 hours at that point. Pleasant stop. I had been in once before not long after they'd opened, and the beer was clean, but...muddled. It's clearly found its way. Gerry has a reputation for not allowing note-taking in the pub (apparently some guy taking notes had berated a server for not knowing enough about the beer -- I'm shocked, shocked to hear that about a beer geek!) and he'd since asked folks not to indulge in that. Well, kinda odd, but eccentricity is hardly unique in the brewing and tavern trade. I'd go back again, especially the next time we go to a show at the Keswick.

Open message: I can do a very simple entry at this point, Gerry, but I'd love to do more. Give me a shout sometime soon! (If you know Gerry, or if you're a regular at GG, please let him know about this. Thanks!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Driving to Mexico City

We got up this morning with an extra hour of sleep (thanks to some realistic evaluation of how long it would take to get through the minimal security at the Xalapa airport) to greet a very  foggy morning. We set out for the airport, but didn't get more than 10 minutes on the road when we got the word: fog too heavy, no flights today.

Quick as that, the Pernod Ricard crew decided we'd DRIVE four hours to Mexico City. Is that okay with us? HELL YES! We strapped on the SUVs and headed west. Once we got to Xalapa (past the airport museum, past the SUX buses, past a bunch of people in raincoats, and gardens and a huge cemetery), we followed the signs to DF MEXICO, and climbed out of town for what was easily half an hour, grinding uphill on a two lane road that just kept rising and rising. The towns were something to see: colorful, poor, rich, bustling...and mostly wet, at first. We went through one town where every second store front  advertised QUESO! (cheese); we wanted to stop but didn't.

We broke out onto a plateau, where it cleared up and was COLD. I was in short sleeves and my breath was fogging. Just a short stop for los baños, though, and we bundled back into the cars. We saw forests of spiky, stumpy trees, cactus, and then hills covered in trees much like home. There were huge snowy peaks in the distance, including two that were volcanoes, rearing up out of this largely flat landscape; like Nebraska, with the occasional mountain. Just incredible. Passed through some tollbooths while on a divided highway; every one was guarded by at least one guy in a bulletproof vest armed with a big nickel-plated pumpgun -- with five extra rounds in loops on his belt! What the hell kind of problems do they have with toll evasion! Had a good time with the folks in the car, too. Very glad we drove.

Then we got to Mexico City -- huge, sprawling, and traffic worse than ever I've seen. We had a tremendous lunch -- seafood, beers -- went to a historic bar -- more beer, saw the hole in the ceiling supposedly from Pancho Villa -- and walked to our hotel...awesome. More stuff happened, but...I'm whipped. We go to the Kahlua facility tomorrow...and no, we don't get to see the distillery. It's down in Veracruz. We'll see the coffee roasting, grinding and extraction, and we will get to sample the rum that goes into the drink. And maybe...I'll get to come home. Snow's not looking good for that, though!

No pictures for now, unfortunately; I managed to jam the dummy SD card in the slot in my laptop...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"He's bringing some hooch out of the back room!"


We went to la Estrella de Oro tonight, what we were told is the oldest cantina in Coatepec, about 120 years old. It was originally a train stop; the tracks ran right down the center of the street. Anyway...it was rustic, the people were rough-cut but friendly (especially when a bunch of gringos descended on their bar), and they had cold beer. They also had a folding table that had a top surface made of inch-thick stone, such a bizarre thing that I actually got out my notebook and wrote it down. I got an Indio, a FEMSA dark beer; it was fine, it was cold. I had some mezcal; I don't like tequila, but this I liked, smoky, not as vegetal.

And then I saw the bartender go into the backroom and come back with a big glass tumbler about 1/3 full of some not-quite-clear liquid, pour it in two guys' glasses, and top it with a bit of Fresca. What da hell? I leaned over to Sarah, one of the Pernod Ricard folks, and said, hey, the bartender's bringing some kind of hooch out of the backroom! Can we find out what that is? So she got our local guy, Pablo Zacarias (interesting dude who's planning on moving to Montreal and opening a Mexican/Veracruz coffee shop there; I need to get him in touch with the Mondial folks), to ask. Sure, he'll do that; do you want some? Well, hell yeah!

He's up there a long time, talking and grinning, and he finally comes back with about 1.5" of the stuff in a tall glass. What is it? "It's donkey herb," he says, with a big grin. "Yerba del burro. It's an infusion, in rum, sugar cane rum." Sarah asks him what it is, he says it's donkey herb -- good answer! -- and I'm thinking, I don't know what it is, but I'm sure as hell gonna Google it when I get back (and I did); meantime, let's get blind on this stuff! It had a kind of sweet tarragon aroma, and was quite sweet. Not surprising to find some kind of backroom rum thing in an area with all this sugar cane growing. It wasn't bad; we split on it, some liking it, a couple hating it as too sweet. I wonder what it was like with the Fresca.

Great little scruffy joint. I'd go back.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quite a trip

I got up way, way too early Monday morning and left for the Newark airport at 4:30 AM. I was headed to Mexico City for a press junket* to learn about Kahlua. We had an uneventful flight, landed in Mexico, and had an amusing experience at Customs; after you go through passport control and then make your declarations at Customs, you have to walk past a booth with two bored young women...who pointed to a red button mounted on the counter and told you "Push the button." I did, it flashed red, the two people with me did the same, and they waved us on. "Push the button"? WTF? We found out later that it was a random search generator; every now and then it flashes green...and you get searched!

We hooked up with the rest of the group in the lounge (quick Tecate and an avocado salad, quick e-mail check), and onto a turboprop to Jalapa in Veracruz. The flight was great: this hotrod pilot gunned the plane into a tight turn onto the runway and firewalled it BANG! into the sky. We were talking later, and one of the other writers said "it seemed a bit casual to me." Indeed! 
We flew over Mexico City a long time: that place sprawls something fierce, like a tide of houses. Then it was over the mountains, and they were wild, green and brown, with scattered houses and little towns, scratched-out roads on the tops of ridges. (I've been to Mexico once before, and both times it's reminded me of a bigger, rougher-edged version of California; the block of raw terrain that California was carved out of.) Then things got much, much greener, and the plane went into a sudden hard bank to the left and started dropping, not diving, but dropping fast, we were passing cows at a low altitude...and we landed. Kudos, amigo, that was a great flight!

We were in Jalapa. We boarded two SUVs and headed down the road. Things got more and more rural, battered signs, cantinas and roadside taquerias, over a waterfall, through green green trees, and the mountains everywhere. We got to Coatepec, one of the big coffee towns in Veracruz where they grow shade-grown Arabica coffee. Our hotel, the Meson de Alferez, is just outside the middle of town, and I'm loving it: simple, built around a courtyard with hibiscus plants and a fountain. We walked into town, had a lechero (served here, it was a glass of steamed milk, served with a cup of espresso; you dump the espresso in the milk...yum), walked around the square -- mayonnaise corn, balloon venders, shoeshine carts -- and back for dinner. We had a tasting menu at 45, the restaurant next door. Very good mole, the cheese and corn pie was good, the pumpkin flower taco was delish.

And we had plenty of Kahlua. I'm not going to write too much about Kahlua here in the blog: Mass Bev Biz gets first dibs on that (see below). But I will say that we got Kahlua sours, kind of as a joke...and they were excellent. Kahlua, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, garnished with fresh lime. So simple, so good, so surprising.

Today we visited El Cafe Tal, a coffee museum and coffee 'sanctuary.' Again, I'll save this, but the picture above is our host, Cuauhtemoc Apan Rohas, driving us to the sanctuary in a 1962 Dodge Power Wagon, which was excellent. Great views of the mountains, banana trees, sugar cane fields, and coffee bushes popping up everywhere. We got out and hiked around the sanctuary; like the drive, only steeper and narrower. Just great.

Tonight we go out to a cantina, drink mezcal, and have dinner...and I suspect we'll be drinking more beers out in that courtyard. I...am so ready for that.

Back to work on PA Breweries 4!!
Because you asked: the Power Wagon!

*(the trip was offered to Mass Beverage Business, they offered it to me, I'm writing a piece on Kahlua for the magazine: full disclosure).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Richbrau Closes

Just saw that Richbrau has closed its doors yesterday in the Shockoe Slip area of Richmond. Richbrau had issues, but the Porter was always good, the seasonals were great, and it was good to have a brewpub in this cool section of town. Sad to see you go, Richbrau.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dock Street Brewers Return to Capistrano -- er, to U-City

Just got this from Rosemarie at Dock Street, a cool happening. The event itself is a press thing, followed by a party for employees of the original Dock Street brewpub. But you'll get to drink the beer in March...
DOCK STREET’S PAST COMES TOGETHER WITH DOCK STREET’S PRESENT


Dock Street Celebrates Brewer’s Homecoming February 27, 2010

Philadelphia- Victor Novak [nice to see Victor still giving props to his Dock Street heritage], a favorite son of the original Dock Street Brewery and present head brewer for Taps Brewery in California, is coming home to Dock Street to brew his Cream Ale. This special brew day will take place on Saturday, February 27th.

Victor was born into the world of brewing at Dock Street’s original 18th Street location in the early 90’s. He started as a waiter and within two years worked his way to full-time brewer. Here he learned the art of craft brewing under the guidance of Head Brewer Nick Funnell. He also worked and learned with Eric Savage. The two taught him to brew a vast array of styles. It was at Dock Street that Victor first brewed the Cream Ale in open-style fermenters. Through their direction, he cultivated the passion that would allow him to soar in his career. Victor’s beers are highly decorated, including a gold and bronze award at the Great American Beer Festival for the aforementioned Cream Ale.

Dock Street is eager to embrace Victor as he comes home to his roots. The excitement of his visit calls forth a celebration of Dock Street’s own past and the very special place we hold in the heart of Philadelphia and the craft brewing industry. To properly salute the occasion, Victor and Dock Street’s 50th Street Head Brewer, Ben Potts, will brew the nostalgic Cream Ale. In Victor’s own words it is one of the greatest light-bodied beers on the planet and a constant reminder of his love of Philly and his brewing roots here. It has tremendous character for a light-bodied beer: crisp and smooth, but nice and fruity and extremely drinkable.

To honor the moment, Dock Street 18th Street consulting brewer Bill Moeller will join the party. Bill, who is nearing his 84th birthday, is a true patriarch in Philadelphia brewing history and a seasoned professional brewer with over 60 years of experience. Most of his career was spent with Schmidt and he was also was a consulting brewer for Brooklyn Brewery. Other Dock Street celebrities in attendance: Eric Savage, Iron Hill Head Brewer Chris Lapierre, and Yards Brewer Tim Roberts.

As old meets new and past meets present, we at Dock Street are pleased to celebrate the interconnectedness and heritage that we hold as one of the first microbreweries in the country and the first in Philadelphia. It is a time to pay tribute to our past and share our dreams for the future. In the spirit of commitment and passion for brewing sublime beers we invite you to join us.
Hell, this would be worth it just to see Bill Moeller!

Weyerbacher Zotten terminated on trademark issues

Just in:
Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Inc., a small artisanal brewery from Easton, Pennsylvania, has ceased production of its beer “Zotten” due to prior rights and US trademark of “Brugse Zot”, a beer produced and commercialized by De Halve Maan, a brewery located in Bruges, Belgium.

We take this opportunity also to announce a recall of any and all Weyerbacher “Zotten” beer to the brewery within the next 30 days, for full refund from Weyerbacher.

Weyerbacher was unaware of the US trademark of De Halve Maan and had no intention to infringe on the rights of De Halve Maan. We are particularly respectful of the part of small Belgian breweries in the world beer scene and hereby officially apologize to the family owners of De Halve Maan.

Daniel A. Weirback, Presdient

Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Inc.
Tough blow to Weyerbacher, but the right call, and well-said. Hope it comes back under a new name; it's one of their best beers and one I've been hoping to see more of. It will be back in May: see the comments.

(Thanks to reader Bill King for the picture!)

Penn's Back -- really really!

I see on Penn Brewery's Facebook page that beer is flowing! Kegs have been filled, and Penn Pilsner and the all new Allegheny Pale Ale are out in the Pittsburgh market. No word yet on where you can find it, but that will come. Great news! Now we need bottles...and the restaurant. Confidence builds as beer flows.

Rock on!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Voodoo Love Child

The hits just keep coming... Voodoo Love Child was my selection to break my fast tonight. Woof, baby! Look, I really like Voodoo's Gran Met. It's a deftly handled tripel. VLC takes Gran Met and ages it on cherries, raspberries, and passionfruit. It's all there in the nose, a refreshing, spritzy fruit presence. Drinks scarily light for 10%, too. The fruit doesn't overwhelm the tripel, but it's clearly there. First fruited tripel I've had, I think. Like putting tripel in a bourbon barrel, not something I'd think of doing, but I'm kind of glad Matt Allyn did. I'll probably drink more Gran Met than VLC, but as Cathy said, this would be nice on a summer night as the fireflies come out.

My thanks to Dan & Jon at TheFullPint.com for permission to use their scan of the label.

The Bruery Mischief

Up for a breath of air from writing PAB4...and what do I do? Write some more! Brilliant.

But I had to, because the sample of The Bruery Mischief I had last night was compellingly good. Look, I'll be honest: I was predisposed to not like Patrick Rue's beers. Most beer geeks, they hear a beer is from A-B, or Redhook, or even Goose Island, and they'll never give it a fair chance. I'm kind of the other way around: if a beer's from a new place, if it's a small brewery that's fawned over thousands of miles from its home, if it's the darling of the geekerie...I've got a chip on my shoulder. Just how I am.

Howevah...after my experience with 2TD and this beer, I have to admit that The Bruery is definitely not all puffery. Mischief pours clear (at least, the first pour does: the second pour kicks up quite a bit of sediment, including one large dollop that plop!s into my glass) and straw-yellow, a strong Belgian-type golden with hops, and yes, they're in there. I had to fight Cathy off -- she'd poured herself a glass of XYZin, and she was digging the Mischief more. "That's really good!" Yeah, but it's mine. Drink your wine.

Because the Mischief was good, easily better than half the hoppy Belgians that have been popping up lately, including the ones from Belgium (the De Ranke and Poperinge are in the top half, maybe Houblon Chouffe; others....well, not so much). It's dry, and too many "Belgian IPA" beers I've had are sloppy and sweet. Doesn't work. This is crisp and brisk, but still with that spicy/sweet touch that says "Belgian yeast." (Yeah, I know, there's no "Belgian style" flavor, there's many. Fine, you get your geek points for the day. But I bet if I put this one in front of you completely blind, one of the first 20 words out of your mouth would be "Belgian.")

Nice job, and the second pour, the one with the sediment, is, if anything, more tasty than the first.

Chip's off my shoulder now.

Senator Rafferty Comes Out Swinging

I have no time to blog about this -- working feverishly on PA Breweries 4 -- but big news yesterday in Harrisburg: State Senator John C. Rafferty (Montgomery-R) held a "rally" for reforming PA's beer laws, the main aim being to allow six-pack sales in grocery stores, convenience stores, and distributors. Read about it here, here (one of Karen Heller's best columns), and most of all here, in Rafferty's own talking points memo (this is a PDF, just to warn you). I'll be back to talk about this when I'm done with the book.

Two things, though. First, thanks to Stan Sheetz, CEO of the PA-based convenience store chain, for really pushing this issue. Second, to the distributors and six-pack store owners and employees who stand to face competition and possibly job losses from this issue: this day was bound to come. Instead of burning your time, money, and customer goodwill by fighting it in courts or the press, step up and compete. Cooperate to get the best possible bill for yourselves. Here's a plan: go for the package store system they have in Massachusetts. Instead of just "fixing" beer sales, do away with the State Store System and make beer distributors eligible to be "all-alcohol" stores, and that's where people buy their booze, from private stores, supplied by privately-owned wholesalers or directly from the suppliers. How's that sound? Radical, hey?

Double-posted to Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Got it!

Thanks for everyone who offered help: I got the answer. It was a 7 bbl. Newlands system. Thanks, folks!

Does anyone know what system Red Bell used in their ill-fated Manayunk brewpub that was open for one stinking week back in 2004? I need to know ASAP. I think it was a Newlands system, but I don't know what size. I'm guessing a 7 bbl., but I don't know. HELP!

Thanks!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Van Twee Belgian Ale

After a long afternoon of writing, it's time for a beer. Alan Shapiro at SBS-Imports sent me some samples a while ago, and I'm getting to them slowly; had a lot going on (just checked; it's been over a month since I posted a tasting note!). This is going to be my last beer at age 50; I turn 51 in about an hour and a half.

Van Twee Belgian Ale pours dark, with a deep tan head that doesn't quit; not foamy-billowy, just tenacious. (It's a collaboration between John Mallett of Bell's and Dirk Naudts of De Proef, a combo of porter and dubbel, with Michigan sour cherry juice and good old Belgian brettanomyces. It's all here.) There's a nose of chocolate, clear cherry, and just a tinge of brett woodiness. The brett makes its presence known in the mouth, thought, as it pulls the fat sweetness you'd expect here right out of the picture. A sophisticated beer, with malt, chocolate, cherry, and brett coming together -- not fighting -- and no one factor overpowers the other. The only flaw is a mineral note I'm getting after the beer clears my mouth in the swallow; I believe it's brett-derived, and it's not wholly unpleasant.

Collaboration continues. Is it something wonderful? It can be. Is it something unique? Almost certainly. Is it collectible? Bet your monkey, and it's definitely tickable. So who are these beers made for? The brewers, the fans, and the wired-in Dark-Lord Kate-the-Great types for sure. The retailers whose rep is made by having those beers that are hot. Not for the general market.

Which is okay. I mean, that's who fugu sashimi is for, that's who Ferraris are for, that's who Thomas Pynchon novels are for, that's who 12-tone music is for. Van Twee, unlike all those others, is affordable, and actually tastes pretty damned good. Who the hell would want to eat Gravity's Rainbow?


Err...it's been pointed out to me that Gravity's Rainbow is actually quite affordable in paperback. As are recordings of Schoenberg's 12-tone music. Sorry. I was on a roll. I'm going to leave it, as it apparently amuses some of you. Thanks for the catch. However, I still maintain that Gravity's Rainbow would not be pleasant to eat, even with gravy. 

New Brewery in Erie...kind of

In another example of "nano-contract-brewing" (like Prism Brewing -- brewing at the General Lafayette (and a very cool website) -- and Royersford Brewing -- brewing at Sly Fox), Lavery Brewing just got final approval in Erie. They're brewing on weekends at BrewErie. More details here, here, and here.

There's also another new brewpub coming in central PA. Details shortly...but I'll tell you now, it's got great potential. [cat's out of the bag; check the comments for details!]

My dad: another update

For those of you who have asked: my dad's still doing well. He's responding very well to his regimen of chemotherapy, and his pancreatic cancer is currently in check. His doctor continues to remind him that the therapy is not curative, and the most we can hope for is some time, with a good quality of life. At this point, 16 months post-diagnosis, I'd say he's done pretty well on that point. He's eating well, maintaining his weight (it's up from November), and feels pretty good. He was out shoveling snow this week (as we all were around here).

I continue to pray for him. I had a time recently when I thought about having the courage to pray for a miracle, a cure. I realized, finally, that in the light of what I told you above...we already have one. The medicine's working very, very well. I'm thankful for that.

Experimenting with Book Updates

Blogger has added the option to create pages...which will enable me to get most of the useful day-to-day stuff off my largely moribund website and put it up here. I'm fiddling with it (because I want to make sure I can point to it in the new edition of Pennsylvania Breweries), and it's working. So...if you see some kind of thing pop up on the blog and then disappear...that's what's going on. Thought you'd like to know. Back to work.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tomme Arthur at Memphis

Just got an e-mail from Memphis Taproom: they're hosting Port Brewing's Tomme Arthur on February 22nd from 6-8: beers will include "Mongo Double IPA, Older Viscosity, Hop 15, Wipeout IPA, Gift of the Magi ('08) and Carnivale in addition to some super limited edition surprises. Everything will be priced to move, and bald folks with glasses get an additional $1 off Port Brewing and Lost Abbey drafts." Gotta like that discount, looking at Brendan and Tomme...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yes, it snowed here


Looks like we wound up with about 18" of new stuff Tuesday night and Wednesday, on top of about 10" left from the weekend (we got about 15" in that storm and it melted and settled down about 5" since Saturday).
First snowfall was wet and heavy, about 6"; we shoveled that Wednesday morning, and then there was just some spitty sleet till about noon. I drove into Newtown, roads weren't too bad; looked around a bit, had a Pretty Things Baby Tree at Isaac Newton's, then went home and "avoided travel" as the State Police started to advise.

That's when the snow started again, and by about 3 we were getting almost 2" an hour. First branches broke off the pine trees around 4; I'd been shaking them, but couldn't keep up (I was getting out there using the paths Penderyn had made through the snow!). We lost power for about a minute around 6:00 and got nervous, but that was all that happened. (Over 100,000 are out of power in the area.) Cathy thinks it's because we live across the street from the hospital. The snow pretty much petered out around 9:00. About 10:00 there was a sound like a gunshot out back; I think that's when the big branch broke off the pine; there was a 6" one down this morning without much snow drifted over it.

We shoveled for about an hour this morning to get the driveway clear (our neighbor did the sidewalks with his snowblower; gotta get him a sixpack!), and I made the mistake of taking the Jetta out to get the snow off it out in the road...didn't I get it stuck just as the ambulance that had been sitting down the street for half an hour wanted to leave? Yes, I did.

Panic ensues, shovels fly, Cathy remembered a bag of sand in the garage, and I managed to get it up the street into a clear driveway I'd seen when I was out taking pictures at sunrise. I left it there, the ambulance left, we shoveled the driveway wider, and I got the Jetta back in without further problems. And Cathy never even said "I told you so," which she had.
Never did get the high winds, they stayed south. It's just sunny and pretty now, and the snow's falling off the trees. No school, of course, they're still plowing, and Cathy's working from home. I'm still writing the book, just taking a break.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bits & Pieces

Still really busy writing PA Breweries 4th, but I wanted to tell you a few things I came across.
  • Nodding Head has a 10th anniversary version of 3C out called 4C, because it adds Columbus hops to the Cascades, Chinook, and Centennial hops that are in 3C...and turns it up to 11...percent, that is, not as brewed by Nigel Tufnel. It tastes so damned fresh-hoppy that it's like licking the inside of a hops bale wrapper. "We're generally less bitter," says Gordon Grubb, "but we use more hops."
  • Bube's Brewery has a pretty damned nice 6% Nut Brown Ale on right now, and one of their two brewers' names really is Bryan Teets, which I can only guess has earned him a couple rations of crap. 
  •  Crabby Larry owner Larry Jones got bit by the brewing bug; found it so interesting that he's doing most of the brewing now, and has exchanged his oversized tanks for smaller ones: the beers are the better for it, fresher, less oxidized. His Irish stout's pretty nice right now, and the fish -- as always -- is worth the trip.
  • Doug Marchakatus is tweaking and adding beers at Manayunk: "It's a constantly evolving brewery," he said. Manyunk's beer is like an archeological dig: you can still see evidence of each of the prior brewers, all the way back to Tom Cizauskas. Doug's St. Alpha Belgo-IPA has a beguiling aroma of apricots.
  • I finally got to Shank's Tavern in Marietta, after trying to hit it when it's open for years (really. Years.), and it was worth the wait: neat old bar, good fresh beers (decent assortment of local crafts on tap and bottle) and an excellent bowl of chili that really hit the spot on a cold afternoon before the snow started falling. Walked down to McCleary's Pub, too, ridiculously close in this tiny town, and had one of the shortest, tastiest pub crawls I remember.
  • Talked to Bill Moore at Lancaster Brewing and got the important nub of the recent management shift (Christian Heim and John Frantz were fired on Dec. 30): plans for a production facility are on hold, but "I wouldn't say it's completely off the table." With all their bottles currently being done at The Lion, and Bill working his long-time wholesaler connections to build sales, a production facility could fit in Lanc's future nicely...just sayin'.
  • Paul Rutherford is doing some beastly good lagers at Iron Hill Lancaster; had his brand-new helles yesterday, and it was bread-fresh, spot-on accurate.
  • Spring House's Planet Bean Coffee Stout has a huge amount of coffee flavor without the bottom-of-the-pot bean bitterness you get in some coffee beers. Nicely done.
  • Swashbuckler brewer Mark Braunwirth has a hellish good kölsch on, and their pub (right beside the...pirate ship) is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through April. Good chance to try Mark's truly good beers without the whole RenFaire thing...
  • Tom Baker at Earth, Bread + Brewery ("Please don't call it "Earth Bread"", said Peggy. "It sounds like bread made of dirt.") told me he'd made his 48th beer since opening, "and none of them were the same." So that's one plan that's working...
  • Carol Stoudt told me the Stoudt's Gold has been picking up strongly in sales lately; anecdotal evidence of something I expect to see: people who don't normally drink "craft beer" discovering that "craft beer" doesn't necessarily mean "hoppy, strong, and dark."
  • Kutztown Tavern is running 11 beers these days. "We've found our niche," said brewer Bob Sica (a NJ guy who thought he was going to be a musician and started brewing on the side...and now does an acoustic set at the brewery every Saturday night...he found his niche, too). "We hustled for outside accounts for a while, but I couldn't do 11 taps here if I still was." They've got a bottle shop out front with a good craft selection...and the biggest selection of cheap-ass beers and malt liquors I've ever seen. Hey, college town, right?
  • The General Lafayette is still open, and Chris Leonard is getting by on what sounds like about 8 hours of sleep a week. He's finally given in, and is brewing a new line of beers: Copper Crow, starting with an IPA.
  • Holy crap: the big Sam Adams brewery (I call it that because there's a big Sam Adams sign over the entrance) up outside of Allentown (you know; the former Schaeffer/Stroh/Pabst brewery/Diageo malt drink mixer-uppery) is rocking: 30,000 pounds of malt per batch, crazy amount of tank space, and all Boston Beer production now in-house. No longer a contract brewer. Wow. A seismic shift.
  • Tried four beers at Dock Street, and they were uniformly excellent; Rosemarie poured me a glass of the Boho Pils that was simply beer porn, looked good enough to lick; I took a picture and posted it on Facebook.  
And a bunch of other stuff...but I gotta get back to writing. Cheers!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is This Unique?

Full Pint Brewing is getting closer to opening -- being allowed to open -- by going over the local zoning board's heads to get the zoning interpretation changed, rather than getting an individual variance. So I'm going to go ahead and put them in PA Breweries 4...the only non-open brewery that's going in. Not an easy decision, but these guys have the money, the brewery, the building, and most importantly, four experienced brewers who have also run successful businesses (and they were still smart enough to bring in an experienced business partner, Mark Kegg -- and if you can't see the Sign From God in that name, give it up).

Full Pint is, I believe, unique. You have four brewers who are currently brewing beers at two different brewpubs (40 miles apart) that are also two completely separate businesses, joining together to form a production brewery -- a third independent business -- that will keg and bottle 8 beers: four new ones and two from each of the the two brewpubs (with the full cooperation of the owners of the two brewpubs, of course). The brewers who made -- and still make! -- the beers at the brewpubs will be brewing them at Full Pint.

So...here's my question. Is that unique? I mean, this takes collaboration to a new level. This isn't contract brewing, per se. Do you know of any breweries where the partners are brewers at other breweries, and the beers they're making are beers from those other breweries? I can barely parse it! The closest thing I can think of is Port/Lost Abbey, but that's one brewery and one (brand of) brewpub. Anyone know of anything like this?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More on wine: some surprises

Don't have time to respond to the comments in the previous post right now -- sorry! -- other than to point out that it is about California wine, and not wine in general; hope to get more involved in that sometime.

In the meantime, here's some more stuff on wine that's interesting, from today's Wine & Spirits Daily:

Is the wine glass half empty or half full? Danny Brager, vp group client director, beverage alcohol at Nielsen, encouraged listeners to be optimistic and focus on the wine industry's growth opportunities rather than its roadblocks during his presentation at the Wine Market Council's 5th Annual US Wine Consumer Trends conference in Dallas.
WINE OUT-GROWS BEER AND SPIRITS. Although the wine industry has had it tough this past year, they posted more growth than beer or spirits. In the 52 weeks to December 12, dollar sales of wine grew 2.6%, beer grew 2% and spirits grew 1.4%. In terms of volume, beer declined -0.6%, while wine and spirits gained 1.2%. The rate of growth slowed for all three categories. Danny noted that consumers trading down and taking advantage of promotions has resulted in the rate of dollar and volume growth being closer together. Unlike beer, wine and spirits pricing is moving down.
The wine industry should be wary of craft beers, which have grown dollar sales 13% in the past 6 months. There is an opportunity for wine and craft beers to battle for certain occasions, particularly among millennilas who don't reserve wine for just "special" occasions. "Crafts are good marketers....we need to make sure we're as intense about telling our story to compete effectively," said Danny. Crafts are also popular among millennial consumers and have a lot of opportunity to grow among that generation.
The beat goes on...