Monday, December 19, 2011

Goldman Sachs misses a beat on Beam acquisition

Saw in my morning news round-up that Goldman Sachs' analysts don't believe Beam's acquisition of Irish whiskey maker Cooley will affect the chances that Beam itself will become an acquisition target. "Tuck-in acquisition in line with management commentary, does not alter our view of BEAM as a likely acquisition candidate - BEAM has been vocal in its willingness to acquire where appropriate and the scale of this purchase is very small. Given these factors we do not believe the acquisition alters the likelihood of BEAM ultimately being an M&A target." I think they're missing something.

Beam has been an acquisition target since before it was spun off as a pure drinks company earlier this year, a move that was tantamount to dousing it in warm cow blood and tossing it in the tiger cage at the zoo. The Jim Beam and Maker's Mark franchises alone -- and the huge wedge into the growing US bourbon market they represent -- made Beam the top item on the M&A menu for hungry drinks companies like Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Campari. There may be problems with getting such a large chunk of the bourbon market -- US antitrust action has woken up from a long sleep, see the nixing of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger -- but that would only affect Campari, with their Wild Turkey ownership.

But what about Irish? There are only three Irish whiskey distillers (and four distilleries, counting Cooley's newly re-opened Kilbeggan distillery; though there is strong speculation that William Grant will build a distillery for their new acquisition, Tullamore Dew), and Pernod and Diageo own the other two; Midleton/Jameson and Bushmills, respectively. Cooley is a tiny bit of that market, but may well have an outsize effect on anti-monopoly considerations.

Competition regulators were likely relieved when Pernod was forced to sell Bushmills in 2005 (as part of brand off-loading it had to do in order to buy up Allied Domecq); I suspect they're not going to be quick to allow even this much more concentration of Irish whiskey, especially when it's growing the way it is. Is it a deal-breaker? No. Is Beam still likely an acquisition target? Given the way things have been going the past 15 years, almost certainly. Does this complicate things? Yes, I do believe it does, especially for Diageo (which owns Bushmills and fast-charging Bulleit and the admittedly tiny George Dickel) and Pernod Ricard (ruling the Irish whiskey world with Jameson).

But does it mean anything to you? Hard to say. Did Campari buying Wild Turkey change anything? Not yet; the new distillery was a Pernod project the Italians simply completed, and they're continuing the brand extensions. Diageo buying Bushmills was probably a good thing, long-term.

But I can't help thinking about British brewing. Twenty years ago, there were about six large British brewers left. Now there are none. You can argue that they made crappy beer, but they're gone, and largely the jobs are gone. Do you really want to see American distilling go the same way? Beam is independent; Brown Forman is independent; Heaven Hill is independent; Buffalo Trace/Sazerac and Van Winkle are independent. Now Beam is in the hunt, and Brown Forman's been mentioned. Heaven Hill's probably safe as a family-owned company, but Sazerac? Hard to say.

And of course, it weakens the argument of keeping American distilling American when the company you're concerned about just bought the last independent Irish distiller. Kismet, anyone?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Race you to Christmas!

I am becoming a slave to my calendar...yesterday was a taping for American Beer Blogger at Porter's Pub in Easton, had a great time with Larry Porter, and found out about Weyerbacher's coming new graphics and logo, and talked to owner Troy Reynard about Two Rivers Brewing, a new brewpub coming to town soon. Good taping, good fun, good beer...and then on the road along the river back home to make dinner before heading to a dress rehearsal.

After the second of those evening rehearsals this week, my church choir's Christmas concert is tonight (and of course, I'd be happy to see any of you at St. Andrew's RCC in Newtown: it's a very good concert, with a small string ensemble). Tomorrow night I'm at Appalachian Brewing in Harrisburg for a book signing and fundraiser for the "American Beer Blogger" Kickstarter campaign (come out and pledge!).

I get to spend the weekend with the family, then Tuesday 12/20 I'll be visiting Valley Malt in western Massachusetts to see their custom micromaltings operation, dropping in to check out Element Brewing, and checking in with Will Meyers at Cambridge Brewing to sample some beers he's made with Valley Malt...and then over to Craft Beer Cellar for a Kickstarter fund-raising event with Suzanne and Kate, and Chris Lohring will be there with plenty of Notch Session beers (including the new Černé Pivo dark lager), and brewer Nate Heck will be joining us from Harpoon with their latest 100 Barrel release; come on out, 4-6, get some Notch and fresh Harpoon, and make a pledge to bring great beer (and some real fun) to TV! (I then pick up my son and drive home...should get in around 1 AM...)

Thursday 12/22 is the Book Singing Party at the Grey Lodge! It's not a typo: have a beer, pick up a signed copy of Pennsylvania Breweries or New Jersey Breweries, and join the surprisingly musical crowd at the G Lodge in singing some Christmas carols. We just had a great time at the family's annual caroling party, and my pitchpipe's all warmed up. It's an old-time Christmas...in a bar! We'll be harmonizing from 7:30 to 9:00, and remember, we all sound better after a couple drinks. 

After that? Well, next Friday, the family's going to do our usual last-minute Christmas shopping and lunch and wandering around Bethlehem, PA (and maybe grabbing a couple quick beers at Bethlehem Brew Works and the Hotel Bethlehem). After that...it's into the Christmas/New Year's week, and a chance to relax before I start on a round of Kickstarter fundraisers...more about that later!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

I've got another 16 oz. can from Half Acre Beer Company (and again, thanks to regular reader (and buddy!) Steve Herberger for the trade): Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. You know...15 years ago, we'd have said this was an IPA (even at 5.2% ABV) and whistled at how bitter and hoppily aromatic it is. Now? Definitely a pale ale in the sliding scale that is today's Hoppy Ale Continuum, and definitely perky and tasty. There's a serious snappy bitterness on the end, too. I recommend this to my buddy who thinks pale ales "have nothing to say anymore." Listen up, fathead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas at Max's in Baltimore

If I posted everytime Max's on Broadway had a great beer event, you'd think this was the Max's blog...but I had to stick this one in. Really makes me wish Baltimore was less than 2.5 hours away; actually, I wish that pretty often. Been too long since I've been there, and this proves it!

MAX' ANNUAL HOLIDAY BEER SOCIAL
 
TOMORROW DEC, 6, 2011 @6PM
 
It is that great time a year again. This Year we think we are putting out one of the best line ups, for the holiday social. So here it is.........
 
ALL ON DRAFT:
Struise Tsjeeses Reserva
10.0% Belgian triple aged 8 Months on Stone Fruits and 6 Months on Oak.(Belgium)
Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005
10.0% Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Aged 24 Months on Oak barrels. The Last 10 Months are aged on Calvados Oak Barrels.(Belgium)
Hebrew 15:15
13.5% Hybrid Barleywine w. Pomegranates, Dates & Grapes(US)
Firestone Walker XV
12.5% Barrel Aged Blended Beer. 76% Barleywine style Beer, 19.0% Stout 5% Imperial IPA(US)
Evil Twin Soft Xmas
10.9% Imperial Stout w/ Vanilla & Sour Cherries(Denmark)
Evil Twin Christmas Eve At a New York City Hotel Room
10.0% Imperial Stout(Denmark)
Van Steenberge La Biere Du Boucanier Christmas
9.5% Belgian Holiday Ale(Belgium)
Emelisse Winterbier
9.0% Quad Style w/ Pils, Munchener & Abbey Malt w/ Candi Sugar(Netherlands)
Mikkeller Ris A La M'Ale 2011
8.0% Dutch Ale Based on a Traditional Dessert.(Denmark)
 
Plus Maybe one More Surprise Beers....

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on the Kickstarter

I'm taking the TV fundraiser on the road...WAY out on the road. The first event is set: I'll be joining the wonderful Kate & Suzanne at the Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, Massachusetts on December 20, from 4 to 6. Please come on out, see the video, ask me any damned question you want, and pledge some money to the Kickstarter.

Okay, I know, that's not real exciting. So Chris Lohring is going to be there too, with plenty of fresh Notch Session Beer for us to sample (and buy, folks: buy some, because I'm going to be and I hate being alone on things like this!). I'd love to do more events in the area, but I'll be visiting Valley Malt earlier in the day to find out what's going on there, then stopping in at Element Brewing on my way east; you know, it's just work, work, work.

There might be some stuff going on in Portland, Maine the night before, too: I'll keep you apprised.

Paying it forward


An open letter to craft brewers, importers, wholesalers, beer bar owners, beer store owners, and the other great people in the craft beer industry (and yes, you drinkers, too!).


I’ve been excited about beer for over 30 years, since I took my first sip of German pilsner in 1981. It opened my eyes to what beer could be, and eventually opened my life to a new career: writing the romance and beauty of beer to help bring that eye-opening moment to others. I’ve hosted, and taught, and spoken about beer to similarly excited people in bars, to dining rooms and halls full of people, and to radio and television audiences. I do it for a living, but as you probably know — and can empathize — it’s not a great living. It is a wonderful job, though, a calling, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

Over that time, I’ve talked to many of you, from the early days when people like Steve Hindy, F.X. Matt, David Geary, Carol Stoudt, Gary Fish, and Dick Yuengling took the time to answer my questions, through the exciting times when guys like Rob Todd, Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, Sam Calagione, Tomme Arthur, Greg Hall, and Hugh Sisson talked to me what they were building. Then came the books, and I traveled all over Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland — thousands of miles and hundreds of four ounce samples — visiting every brewery in those states.

I took pictures, I blogged, I tweeted, and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I loved what I saw, the people I met, and the beers I drank. I was part of it, helping spread the word, because that was what we did, from the start: when you found a place that had great beer, when you tasted a beer that stopped you in your tracks, when you met someone who turned you on to new beers…you shared it, you paid it forward. Someone told you about something great, so when you found something, you passed it on

For almost 20 years, I have tried to spread the word, to educate, and to even-handedly present the great stories all of you have to tell. Now I have a chance to amplify that word. Green Leaf Productions contacted me about hosting a television show they call “American Beer Blogger.” I agreed to take a swing at it, and we did some taping at Stoudt’s earlier this year that they used to make a short promotional video. You can see it here on the Web.

As you can see, that’s a Kickstarter page. Green Leaf is trying to raise $60,000 to shoot and edit six episodes, and then sell the series to a cable channel. Without that money, the show probably won’t go forward, and that would be a loss, because this show is going to be the real thing. It's going to be me, calling a brewer, or bar owner, or beer store owner/manager, and setting up a visit — just like I’ve done with many of you — going there and looking around and asking questions and tasting some beers and having some fun. The only thing I may do differently is some of the stuff they had me doing in the teaser: actually working, if only for a little bit, because that's fun, and it's something I'd like to do anyway. But we'll talk beer, we'll get our facts straight, and it won't be boring.

If I’ve helped the business, your business, in any way in the past, you know I couldn’t take money for that. I had to stay separate, stay independent, and that’s for the best. But if you’d like to help your business by having this show on the air, talking about beer in a fun, real way, here’s your chance. I still can’t take your money — it goes to Green Leaf, I’m just working for them — but if you sponsor the show, we can all do what we do best: better the image and recognition of good craft beer. A pledge of only $1,000 gets you an Associate Producer credit on the show, and there are other rewards for larger pledges. 

Maybe best of all, you’ll be paying it forward. I wrote about the industry — because I loved it, and found it fascinating, and still do — and this will give me a chance to tell more stories to lots more people. More people who will maybe get excited about beer, and turn into proselytizers of the word of craft beer. Give me this chance to spread the word even further! 

Thanks. It’s been a great ride, and it’s just getting better.

Lew Bryson

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great Pig Dinner next Tuesday: join me!

I'm hosting a special pig dinner at The Farm and Fisherman next Tuesday, December 6, and  talking about beer and food pairing. The Farm and Fisherman is a BYOB, so chef/owner Josh Lawler and I are going to drive up to Lancaster the day before and pick up growlers of Spring House beer...which we will then pour for free out of the goodness of our hearts. Josh is the little brother of an old friend of mine, Tom Lawler, and we've all been doing this kind of road trip for years...we'll be sure to regale you with tales of the trip, because I doubt it's going to be as simple as drive up, get beer, drive back...
Now, when I said "pig dinner," I didn't mean it's a meal with pork. Josh opened this little place in Philly (which has the foodies peeing themselves, BTW) after serving as chef de cuisine at Blue Hill at Stone Barn,which is rewriting the book on locally-raised food for the east coast. I have to be honest with you: Tom's been telling me for years how brilliant Josh is, and I figured he was full of brotherly pride (crap, that is), but it turns out Josh really is freakin' brilliant. So, that "pig dinner?" He's making it out of a whole pig. He's getting the pig from Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook, and then he's going to get busy, working three courses of pig (and locally-raised produce, and let me tell you...if this dude ever wanted to go vegan, he could open one of the best vegan joints in Philly immediately; he's got a way with root veggies) out of that purchase. The dessert is not pig-based, but he will be using beer to make it. 
Me? I'll be talking about how and why the beers pair with the meal, why we paired those particular beers with the courses, telling tales of Spring House and brewer Matt Keasey, telling stories about Tom and Josh, and generally keeping you entertained and enlightened. For those of you lucky enough to have been at my private tastings, you know that I always bring some surprises, too, so...this is going to be a fun night. The Farm and Fisherman may not be on your beery, boozy radar, but it's clearly on some folks'; check out this review at PhillyMag. My God, except for the inevitable cranks, they even love it on Yelp.
The pig dinner is $75, very limited space (about 36), so get on the ball and nail down your spot. This is one of the hot dining spots in Philly right now; join me for some great food and fun (and those surprises, too!). Call 'em and get it done: 267 687 1555

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shiner Oktoberfest...a little late, but still

Got some samples of this one, and, well...you know what my blogging's been like lately. But I had one today, and remembered what the others were like, and I gotta say: if you see any of this award-winning (European awards; up against German ofests...really) festbier, you ought to get some. Solid malt, that elusive Munich dry malt character, full and tasty, great with food...keep an eye out for it next year. (And keep an eye out for the Shiner Export, too: fantastic Dortmunder, and I really hope it's back.)

Shake your Tailgate feathers, win some cool shwag

My good friend Kerry Byrne, the Potentate of Pigskin, and the Kingpin of the Coldest, Hardest Football Facts in the business -- seriously, I didn't know diddley about football until Kerry asked me to write about beer for the site for two years*, and now I know way too much -- wants you to fire up your grills, pickup trucks, deep-fryers, and portable refrigerators for the Tailgate Recipe of The Year contest, sponsored by Football Nation, Whole Foods, and our mutually-admired buddies at Harpoon Brewery.

What's that sponsorship mean? It's not just advertising bucks, it's prizes. If your recipe for tailgating greatness wins, you're up for the big prize package, delivered to your home for Super Bowl:
  • Brand New 46-inch Flat Screen Television
  • Tailgate Meal for 10 From Whole Foods Market, Delivered by Football Nation
  • Harpoon Brewery “Everything But the Beer” Tailgate Package (and no, I don't know what that means either, but you can bet it's for legal reasons!)
  • Mr. Bar-B-Q Tailgate Package Including Collegiate Grill Mat and Grill Cover, 30 Piece Barbecue Tool Set and Grill Accessories

Cool, right? So start cooking.

Just keep in mind: bring your A game, because you're going up against stuff -- and I use that term specifically -- like Kerry's own Deep-Fried Stuffing Balls. They're not Schweddy, they're stuffing, and I have it on good authority that they are "the best part of the stuffing." So get to work: you've got till December 12!

*Did some of my best stuff for them, too: check out this piece about getting blitzed, and this piece about malt liquor, and this one about vodka.

The Hulmeville Inn RULES

Thanks to the Hulmeville Inn, Jeff Lavin, and ALL the folks who gave so generously Sunday afternoon: we raised almost $1200 for pancreatic cancer research...WITH BEER!! You folks are beautiful! My thanks also to the folks who came to the Hulmeville for the first time just for this event (okay, and the six Russian River drafts they were pouring), including members of my church choir!
It was a great day. My dad never went to the Hulmeville, but twice the folks there have turned out their pockets in his memory, and to help smack down this swift, vicious killer. If Jeff will keep offering, I'll keep doing this; help me make this a big annual event. And bars/brewers: I'll be happy to come host a pancreatic cancer fundraiser at YOUR place of business. Just drop me a line and we'll talk. Thanks again!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hell's Bells...

I understand that Bell's will be bringing the dark to Devil's Den on December 21st: appropriate, as the winter solstice is a dark day indeed. "Bringing the dark" is, of course, all about stouts, which has been an obsession of Larry Bell's since the earliest days. The goodies at Devil's Den will include the rare and wonderful Black Note, for only the second time in Philly; we're told that the first time it showed, the keg kicked in minutes ten. Be forewarned!

If I can't manage to get to Selin's Grove for the anniversary celebrations...might just have to get down with the blackness at Devil's Den.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Susquehanna Brewing: very serious

Just got a press release from the not-open-yet Susquehanna Brewing Company (a Facebook page...don't nobody do websites no more?): they've hired Jaime Jurado as their master brewer and "operations partner."

Well...I've wondered for quite a while if SBC is serious. They've got a ton of money, and beer sales experience, and links to PA brewing (partner Fred Maier is a descendant of Charles Stegmaier), but they're leaping into this big, with a 50 bbl. BrauKon system at the get-go -- which has, I gotta say, been a harbinger of failure in the past (not BrauKon, of course, but huge start-up equipment) -- and talk of banking on what sound like cross-over, gateway beers. A risky strategy.

Stole this from Jay Brooks, and will give it back if he asks!
But I have to tell you, this is a strong move. I've known Jaime for almost 20 years, and the man's one of the strongest technical brewers I know. He's brewed all over the world -- including a stint at The Lion! -- and has strong family ties to the Wyoming Valley. He's leaving a position he's held since 1997 as director of brewing operations for Gambrinus: that's Shiner, BridgePort, and Trumer, all excellent breweries (and if you're laughing at me for including Shiner in that, first off, get over your geeky self, and second, have a couple of their recent Ofests and get some of their excellent Export before you say another word...geek). The improvements he made at Shiner (funded in large part by Gambrinus's position as importer for Corona in the eastern US and Texas until recently ("Banco de Corona," as Jaime put it when we toured the eye-poppingly modern and well-equipped brewery)) alone are impressive, but the man's a published brewing chemist with references out the ying-yang. I'm very much taking Susquehanna Brewing seriously this morning.

That said, I still have concerns. I saw Independence ("Get it while it lasts!") buy big, get a good brewer, and fail with mainstreamy beers and no clue on how to sell beer. I also worry about a press release that has WTF paragraphs like this in it:
SBC represents a new direction in the exciting trajectory of American craft brewing. Founded by the former beer distributors of United Beverage in Pittston, PA, with a rich history of significant regional breweries in one family, as well as a multi-generation beer distribution enterprise in the other, this is the first successful beer distribution company to take up brewing… but being from brewing across generations, there already exists hand’s-on experience from running a regional brewery in the organization in its President.
I'm sure the beer will be better, I'm dead certain of it. The question is, with The Lion already making some pretty good crossover stuff that no one in the Wyoming Valley seems to want to buy, where's the market, especially when you've got 50 bbls. at a time? I guess we'll see. Best of luck, truly, because I'd like to see this succeed. NEPA deserves it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hey, let's put on a show!


Hello, Faithful Readers! Time to finally let this cat out of the bag. Back in May, I was approached about being involved in a television show on beer. The idea was "American Beer Blogger," and it would be a blogger who went and visited places, talked beer, asked questions, and did things...and I was the blogger. They'd looked at my blog and liked it (as I recall, the guy (John Wright) said he'd looked at the blog and in one screen laughed out loud twice and saw a Star Trek reference, which was good enough for him.)

I thought about it for a while -- it's silly to think about at first, and if you don't believe me, just take a look at my picture -- and said sure, might as well take a shot. So not long afterwards I was up at Stoudt's at 7:30 AM, getting ready to do a day of shooting with Ed, Carol, and Eddie, and the incredibly friendly and engaging (and professional) crew from Green Leaf Productions in Easton. The guy who came up with the idea, Laz Melan (who owns the Pickled Egg bar in Easton), was there too.

We'd discussed some general ideas about what we wanted to do, but really? No script, not even a plan beyond we were going to talk at the bottling line -- not my first choice, but what the hell -- talk to Carol, and have something to eat. We made the rest of it up as we went along, and you know, it came out pretty well. I'm at my best in front of a camera when I'm not trying to do something from memory, so it rolled out pretty naturally.

Well, what then? Then we did a little more stuff, some wind-up stuff (which we later augmented at my Philly Beer Week event at Devil's Den, out of which you may yet see Christine Gumpper on the TV), and wrapped it, and the Green Leaf guys went back to Easton to edit, assuring me that we had some good stuff in the can. And then, except for the Devil's Den stuff, and a little more taping at the recent bourbon thing at Allentown Brew Works...nothing happened.

Well, not quite. They did show me the clip you see above -- hope you've watched it! -- and I thought, damn, that's pretty cool, and so did my family, but I didn't really show it to anyone else. Not sure why, but I didn't.

And then yesterday, about two minutes before Green Leaf's Kickstarter went up, I got an email from them asking if it was okay to put all those rewards that banked on my autograph to motivate people (HA!) up on the proposal. Sure, I said, why not? And away we went, and yesterday was a wild, wild ride.

So I'm coming to you to ask for help; specifically, I'm asking for money. Please pledge to the Kickstarter. The money's not going to me -- it's not really my Kickstarter -- it's going to Green Leaf to fund the full editing and marketing the idea to a channel. There are rewards, sure, and although some of them do get kind of interesting up towards the high end -- I'd like to come do a screening in your hometown! -- do it for beer. Seriously. And here's why.

I promise you that this is going to be the real thing, not infomercial, or silly-scripted, or "oh, look who I just happened upon today!" It's going to be me, calling a brewer, or bar owner, or beer store owner/manager, and setting up a visit -- just like I do all the time -- going to their place and looking around and asking questions and tasting some beers and having some fun -- like I always do. The only thing I may do differently is some of the stuff they had me doing in the teaser: actually working, if only for a little bit, because that's fun, and it's something I'd like to do anyway. But we'll talk beer, we'll get our facts straight, and it won't be boring.


So think about it, and if you have any questions, ask. I'll be updating this as we go, and keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, please spread the word!

Wish me luck! And pledge!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Not about drinks...but still local

We joined a new CSA this year, Anchor Run, just outside of Wrightstown, here in Bucks County. It actually grew out of a conversation I struck up with a guy at Watch City Brewing in Waltham, Mass., of all places. I was having dinner there (I was in the area to do an event), and just started talking to the guy next to me about local beer, and local food, and local produce, and how I belonged to a CSA...and not only is Derek McGeehan a farmer running a CSA, he runs the CSA that's nearest to my home in Bucks County...and he loves craft beer!

Well, who am I to kick Fate in the balls? We joined Anchor Run, and we've been enjoying it, all through the heavy rains, and the four hours of weeding green beans. We got a lot of eggplant and hot peppers, which I've loved, and I finally found a way to cook celeriac that I liked. Lots and lots of greens -- mustard, kale, Italian dandelion, bok choy, and some others I never heard of (tat soy?) -- that cook up nice, and plenty of lettuce and tomatoes, and lots of spuds and onions.

We also got some beef through them from another CSA (Tussock Sedge Farm, in northern Bucks), and last night, a day after our final harvest pick-up at Anchor Run, I decided to do an all-CSA dinner. I marinated a nice piece of London broil from Tussock Sedge (used Anchor Run garlic in the marinade), cooked up a mess of varied greens with sesame oil and chili paste and more garlic, grilled the beef with a foil pack of CSA potatoes, and steamed a pot of CSA broccoli. Add in a big CSA lettuce salad...and we had quite a meal. The beef was delicious, spuds were perfect...the broccoli had a worm in it, but hey, it's all organic, so you toss the worm and keep eating. Great meal!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Next Tuesday, 11/15: Let's Toast, Coast-to-Coast!

Vanberg & DeWulf, the pioneering importers (and good friends of mine, the awesomely cultured and intelligent (it's not their fault they're so good-looking, too) Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield), are celebrating their 30th anniversary next Tuesday, November 15th, with a Coast To Coast Toast. In 30 years they've imported or brewed (they were the original folks at Ommegang, y'know) a fantastic number of beers, and influenced any number of others. My first Belgian beer was Duvel, at that time imported by Don and Wendy. Saison Dupont is on the "desert island beers" list of an incredible number of brewers.

Take part in the Toast at one of these places, join us in celebrating a truly influential couple that helped bring the Beer Revolution to you in a very big way, even if you don't realize it. Here's the list of "official" beers, but if you grab a Duvel or an Ommegang, you're in the spirit, too. If you just hoist a glass of Saison Dupont, well, you're good to go, and you'll be better for it. And if you're in Philly, there are celebrations at Monk's, Eulogy, and at Tria Washington Square West, where I'll be. Come on out and join me from 6 to 9: we'll have a VBDW quiz for you to win some pretty cool prizes, and excellent beers on tap (including two new VBDW imports).

Cheers!

Finger Lakes Distilling goes Irish

Very interesting: in what I think is a first (which probably means it isn't, but you try keeping up with every new craft distiller!), Finger Lakes Distilling is releasing a "pure pot still whiskey" on Black Friday. I checked, and yes, they mean a whiskey with a mashbill of malted and unmalted barley, like Midleton uses in Redbreast and blends into Jameson.

This whiskey is made predominately from local unmalted barley and is aged in our used Bourbon and Rye barrels giving it a smooth, sweet flavor profile (much like an Irish Whiskey).  McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey is bottled at 80 proof.   
How about that? American craft distillers continue to try new things, put their twist on them. Gotta like that. Check these guys out, and say hi.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bud Light Platinum -- and I thought Miller Clear was dopey

It's like Bud Light doing a pole dance...
Go read this, and come back. We need to talk.

All up to speed? Okay. The quote that stands out there (other than "higher-alcoholic beer," what the hell, fella, was there something too tame (and accurate) about "higher-alcohol"?) for me is this one: "Bud Light Platinum is a trendy blue-bottle line extension that appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands consumer occasions.”

WTF?
  • Blue bottles are trendy?
  • Blue bottles are a type of beer?
  • Blue bottles appeal to a key group of beer drinkers? WHO?
You guys should know by now that I don't slap AB around just for fun, but this idea's got "cognitive disaster" stamped all over it. A 137 calorie "light beer" with 6% ABV? Right, pound these like 4.2% 105 calorie Bud Light (because it does say BUD LIGHT right on it), and you'll be knee-walking -- knee-walking and fat -- in no time.

I'm seeing a lot of people -- beer geeks -- saying this is a shot at the craft market. I'm sorry: you're stoned. You guys think everything is about craft beer: it's not. Craft beer is still under 6% of the market. It's growing, it's profitable, and you've got Dark Lord in your cellar, but 7 out of 8 beer drinkers are still pounding mainstream suds, okay?

What we have here is yet another attempt to get people to pay more for light beer. I'm not sure how making "Bud Light" stronger than Bud (at 5.0%) and only 8 calories "lighter" per 12 oz. can is gonna do that, but that's what they're doing. It's crazy, and it's going to fail. Everyone in the media knows it's going to fail, you know it's going to fail. This is going to be another Bud Select, a big fat expensive FAIL. Why are they doing this? Did all the smart people quit or get laid off?

Ah, well. Sit back and watch the follies.

An addition that was too good to pass up. Convenience Store News notes in their story on Bud Light Platinum that it "...has the chance to be a trailblazer in the light beer market. Most beers in that category deliver fewer calories and carbohydrates than standard beers, while providing a lower alcohol content." Oh, CSN, if I didn't know better, I'd think you having some fun with these guys! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tip to you, mixologists: the backlash has arrived

Saw two things today that lead me to believe that the inevitable brute-stupid journalistic backlash against the cocktail revival has begun. First, this sidebar of duh-obvious "you cocktail drinkers think you're so smart" horseshit in PhillyMag's best bars cover story.
...in this Lillet-and-Aperol-soaked age, it seems we’ve forgotten the delight of drinking simple cocktails. Of drinking the way our grandparents drank. Grandpa wouldn’t just have looked down on the lavender-hued Aviation, with its whiff of Granny’s soap. He would have done so only after smashing it on the ground in a profanity-laden tirade. Too fussy. Too frilly. Now bring me a CC and soda, kid, and don’t skimp on the pour.

Nice. Grandpa the barbarian.Whatsamatter, buddy, bartender cut you off after one too many Ketel and tonics?

Second, I saw the Michael Imperioli 1800 tequila ad in Wine Spectator. You know the ads: douchey-looking guy in an expensive plain black suit, white shirt, skinny black tie, with a glass of 1800, and the caption "DO I LOOK LIKE I WANT TO SEE THE COCKTAIL MENU?" No, you look like I'm going to be calling you a cab in about five more shots, actually.

Sigh. Why do we have to kill everything when we're done with it? Why do we have to race off to the next thing, or cling to the old thing? Cocktails are good. Sure, we got carried away, but there's some good in the carried-away part, too. If you can't appreciate a properly made Manhattan, or a French 75, or a Sazerac, and would rather have a shot of tequila, or a CC and soda...what da hell, buster? Go drink that, but don't convince yourself that you're "right" by crap-bombing something good.

No, we get all caught up in the nastiness of it all, and we can't just enjoy something else. So we tell each other that's so over, and done, and how could anyone be dumb enough to like that. You know what? That's what people told me about non-mainstream beer back in the 1990s. That's what they told me about Scotch in the 1980s. That's what they told me about steak, for Christ's sake, in the 1990s! Idiots. You don't want what I'm drinking, fine. Drink something else. But it's like gay marriage: how's it hurting you?

Lose the attitude. Grow beyond having to piss on someone else's parade to make yours convincing. Walk away from people like that. And let's all have a drink...whatever you want.

Fifteen Years of Iron Hill

Iron Hill, our local/regional kick-ass chain of brewpubs, is celebrating 15 years this month with two events at their original location in Newark, Delaware. (Unfortunately, sounds like their first Philadelphia location in Chestnut Hill won't be open in time for the anniversary...but that just means another fun party.) Take it away, Iron Hill!
First, Monday, November 14, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.Fe15 Release Party at Iron Hill Newark, an exciting first taste of Iron Hill’s exclusive anniversary beer, named for the periodic table symbol for Iron (Fe) and 15, the number of years they’ve been brewing in Delaware and beyond.  The beer is very strong and hoppy, brewed with only American hops and pilsner malt with an ABV of 15%.  Guests can purchase 8 oz. draughts of Fe15, and enjoy complimentary Iron Hill Birthday Cake, baked exclusively for the event by Sweet Somethings Desserts.  Fe15 is the latest in Iron Hill’s Bottled Reserve Series, so 750 mL bottles of the beer will be available for $24.50 each.  A raffle will be held, as well, with the winner receiving one bottle of Fe15 and a commemorative t-shirt.
Bobby Douglas (Newark ass't brewer), Mark Edelson (partner, director of brewing), Kevin Davies (partner, director of culinary), Justin Sproul, (Newark head brewer), Kevin Finn (partner and president)

Next, Saturday, November 19, from 12 noon until 5 p.m.Fifteen Firkins for Fifteen Years at Iron Hill Newark, a party celebrating Iron Hill’s official 15th anniversary.  This fun and festive event will feature firkins from all eight Iron Hill locations and other local brewers, including Dogfish Head, Evolution, Flying Fish, Stewart’s and Yards, as well as retro menu items from the original Iron Hill menu such as Black & Tan Hummus and Chocolate Porter Cake.  Guests will enjoy special pricing on a variety of unusual beers, including Hoppopotamus, Cerebus IPA and Vanilla-Coffee Oatmeal Stout, available in three sizes: 4 oz. for $2, 10 oz. for $4.25 and 20 oz. for $6.25.  Two $16 Beer Samplers will also be offered, spanning all 15 beers.
These folks do know how to throw a party. I made it to the Fe10 release five years ago, and it was a damned good time! Hope I can make one of these. 

(I apologize for the font sizes...if I had more time, I'd wrassle 'em.)

Movember and Angel's Envy

The closest I've come to clean-shaven in 22 years.
I am hirsute. I have facial fungus. I am lazy in the morning. I grew up next to an Amishman. I have a full beard...for a variety of reasons, but mostly, the last time I shaved was the morning I got married to Catherine Childs, December 9, 1989. My kids have never seen me without a beard.

So when this whole "Movember" thing came along, well, I was nonplussed. Good cause -- research into male cancers -- but I'm already there: what am I going to do, shave it off and grow it back? Not happening, pilgrim!

Then I got an email from the folks at Angel's Envy, the new bourbon sourced and blended by legendary bourbon man Lincoln Henderson, a man who I deeply respect (and always enjoy the company of), pointing out that Lincoln has a very snazzy 'stache and that they're into Movember, so how about it? Well, you know? I liked that reasoning. They told me far as they were concerned, I could just keep bearding along. Besides, Lincoln is kicking cancer's ass (not surprising to anyone who knows him), and that's an even better reason.

So folks of the man-type persuasion, the time's come. Check the links above, determine yourself to get hairy, and put down that razor. I dare ya. You can do the fancy dan stuff, get the wax and all that, or you can just go full mountain man like me -- it's all good. And if someone asks you why, tell 'em: charity, bro, want to make a donation to a great cause?

Besides, you might just find that you like it. And your SO might like it too. Mine did.

Great beer, great cause, you, me, Hulmeville Inn, 11/20...what's not to like?

Jeff Lavin, the big-hearted beer-loving owner of the Hulmeville Inn (and congrats to him for pegging #36 on the FooBooz 50 Best Bars list!) is gonna help me memorialize my father again on November 20, and you're gonna want to be there: it's a Russian River-Sierra Nevada-Lew Bryson Collaboration, as I give up one of my two kegs of Sierra Nevada Exportation, the beer I helped design and make with the Philly Pholks at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp last year...that we double-batched, half of it being sent to Russian River to age in wine barrels there for a year. I tasted some during Philly Beer Week, and it's a wonderful, lightly sour, very drinkable Baltic porter (you'll see by the huge variances in the BA tasting notes that it's a beer that takes some thought).

The last time we did this...that's Mike, The Hawk, and Jeff!
It is, of course, extremely rare at this point, as are Russian River beers outside of California, and you've got a chance to have all that as Jeff puts on the Exportation and at least two other RR drafts. Proceeds from the sales of Exportation will go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for research into this terribly swift killer. We'll be accepting direct donations as well (I'll be throwing in a hunk of cash, I urge, beg, cajole you to do the same), and will send it all in; please be generous. This is the disease that took Steve Jobs, and -- last June -- my father. It means a lot to me. Thanks, Jeff.

Hope to see you out there at the Hulmeville on November 20, starting at noon! 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Half Acre Gossamer

Just finished lunch: a bowl of soup I made using CSA late fall harvest (kohlrabi, cabbage, celeriac, hot pepper, turnips, can of diced tomatoes, plenty of spices), crusty dense wheat bread, smoked cheese, and a 16 oz. can of 4.2% Gossamer, from Half Acre Beer Company. (Thanks to regular reader (and buddy!) Steve Herberger for the trade; I sent him 'Gansett Fest and Sixpoints.)

First time I've had Half Acre in a while, and this was clean, crisply bitter, and refreshing. Great with the soup; flavorful enough to stand up to the celeriac earthiness, not so bitter as to twist the flavors. I could go another couple rounds with this one happily...but I gotta start warming up to sing tonight. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Victory Dark Intrigue: you can have mine this year

I got a sample bottle of Victory Dark Intrigue last year. Circumstances compelled me to drink it almost immediately so I could review it for Malt Advocate, much as I wanted to let it age a few months. I liked it, it was good. But...you can have my bottle this year.

See, Victory's releasing Dark Intrigue (Storm King aged in bourbon barrels) at 11:30 AM on November 23 (get all the gory details here), in a big geek-frenzy release. Much as this is kinda fun, and I really did like the beer...well, two things. First, I'm leery of the whole circus atmosphere. I've been staying away from beer festivals, too. Maybe I'm just getting old, maybe I need a kick in the slats. Dunno. But the main reason is the second one: my son comes home from college the night before, and since he's only 20, I'd just as soon spend the day with him; maybe next year we'll both be there!

Anyway...seriously, go, get some, this is our answer to all the other madness releases that beer does. You think Black Friday's gonna be crazy? Check out Dark Wednesday. (By the way...there will be a small amount of draft DI in the taproom. Might be a little less crazy than the line for the retail store!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

International Stout/Porter Day? Sure, I'm in

Got a press release from Chris D'Puia, the beer maven at O'Reilly's, in Harrisburg (apparently they're not going by T. Brendan O'Reilly's anymore?), about their participation in the 1st Annual International Stout/Porter Day, on November 3rd. I didn't know about this, but it has a website, and it's not Guinness's "Arthur's Day." Whatever, it's an excuse to drink dark ales, and I am down with that!

Here's what's going on at O'Reilly's. I won't be there -- too far with what else I have to do that day -- but I WILL be drinking dark beer somewhere, at home, if needs be.
Starting at 6:00, there will be a growler and bottle share in the banquet room, next to the Pub (parallel to the bathrooms). Please bring a growler or a bottle of your choice to share with all of the attendees. Please note that it does not have to be a Stout or Porter, but they are recommended due to the reason of celebration.
At 8:00, we move the festivities into O’Reillys itself, where there will be at least 6 Stouts or Porters on tap and one firkin on the bar. Ffej and ADG of “Think Tank” will be in the house that evening playing live music.
As for food, it will be available to purchase in the pub, and it can be brought in to the banquet room. Outside food will not be permitted in the banquet room. However, it is most important to note that this room is being provided to us free of charge to rent as long as we do not leave a mess behind, so please clean up after yourselves. 
So get dark, folks. Sounds like fun to me!

Friday, October 14, 2011

More on craft beer and super-premium spirits sales

I've been talking about how craft beer and high-end spirits sales continue to buck the economy...and I've been getting a string of comments from my favorite grammar-ignorant punctuation-avoidant anonymous poster crying me false, saying that sales aren't that good, and will soon (when? After ten years?!) crash back to normal. Well...sorry, "Punkin Head," but there's more good news, this time from an interview with Midwest supermarket chain Hy-Vee's vp of wine and spirits, Jay Wilson in Shanken News Daily. Check it out...

Sales of beverage alcohol at the 245-unit Hy-Vee Inc. supermarket chain throughout the Midwest approached $500 million at the end of its fiscal year on September 30, according to Jay Wilson, vice president of wine & spirits. Total sales at the employee-owned chain were at $7 billion for the period. Hy-Vee is opening 3 new stores this year, and will have 248 units in the following eight states by year-end: Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. Its beverage alcohol departments range from 6,000 square feet down to a single 40-foot aisle. Wine and spirits each account for 30% of sales, with beer at 40%. The chain has made a commitment to educating its sales staff and has become a destination for wine, spirits and beer drinkers seeking selection and good value. So far, over 350 employees have received certification recognized by The Society of Wine Educators. 
[Edited here...]
SND: How has the slow economy of the past few years affected your business?
Wilson: While the on-premise accounts have been hurt, people are still buying alcoholic beverages to take home. So they’re coming to us instead of going out.
SND: When Market Watch interviewed you in 2008, beverage alcohol sales at Hy-Vee were $350 million. How have you done in the years since?
Wilson: We just finished our fiscal year on September 30, and we’re very close to half a billion dollars in beverage alcohol sales.
SND: How do you account for that growth? What’s driving it?
Wilson: Craft beer is up 35% and we have really embraced this market. We’re putting 44 feet of nothing but craft in an open-air cold case. We’ve also got some big growth categories in spirits. Vodka is the leading category for us, while Irish whiskey is showing about a 45% trend up over the last three years for us. Additionally, rum is a very big and growing category for us.
SND: Are you seeing any return to super-premium spirits?
Wilson: We’re seeing people going back to them. And there are some people who never left them. But we’re definitely seeing solid growth there.

Note: despite craft enthusiasts' fears that supermarkets will ignore crafts for the "big bucks" of mainstream beer, Hy-Vee clearly sees the benefit of craft's bigger margins.

Ball's in your court, "Punkin." 

Monday, September 26, 2011

BridgePort Hop Harvest 2011

Got this sample last week, and when today's work was done -- singing, plumbing, trip planning, and I had to mow the lawn in the sopping humidity; not hot, just disgusting -- Cathy and I split the bottle. It's a hazy light apricot in color -- or heading the other way, maybe a ruddy straw -- with lemony and sweet dough aromas. The taste? Not overwhelming; understated. I'm not surprised to get more hop flavor than bitterness from a BridgePort beer; these guys aren't about beating you over the head. There's not too much bitter, not too much sweet. I liked it, and I'd be happy to take a few more glasses in the course of an evening.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guinness Black Lager

What do you expect when Guinness, the world's biggest brewer of stout, the classic 'black beer,' a dark, dark ale...comes out with a beer called "Guinness Black Lager"? Well, I didn't know what to expect, so I was quite curious when I popped the top on this sample.

First, like the "black beer" itself, it isn't really black. It's a very, very, very dark brown, and when you hold it to the light, you can see that around the edges. A quibble.

Second, I was, I guess, expecting something more in the way of aroma, but all I really got was a bit of wet bread and an earthy note.

But get stuck into it, and -- well, not a lot, actually. The mouthfeel's maybe the best part of it, and it does roll around nicely; there's a decent uptick of bitterness at the end, though not anything you'd pucker over. Otherwise? A bland sweetness tempered with a wisp of coffee, a breath of burnt-grain bitterness...and it's gone, leaving only a faintly pleasant sweetness behind.

I can't help thinking that this is a signifying beer, something for the guys who can't handle Guinness (!) but want something black in their jar. I don't see a lot of future here. Sorry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Big Moves in the U.S. Scotch Market

Really interesting numbers on U.S. Scotch whisky sales from Shanken News Daily today. For the first time ever, a single malt -- The Glenlivet -- is one of the top five Scotch sellers. The Glenlivet passed J&B to cross over the 300,000 case threshold. If you needed further proof of premiumization in this market, Johnnie Walker Black is selling significantly more than JW Red:
The brand, including Black, Red, Blue, Green, Gold and Swing, had total volume of 1.61 million cases in the U.S. market last year. Black continues to comprise a greater portion of the total Johnnie Walker brand, reaching an estimated 810,000 cases last year compared to Red’s 720,000 cases. Back in 2000, Black was the smaller player with 550,000 cases, compared to Red’s 675,000 cases.
Fascinating.The top five sellers' total volume was down 4.3% (The Glenlivet was up 8%, but #2 Dewar's was down over 14%), but the overall market was up 8%, while dollar sales grew 14%. Sound familiar to folks who follow the craft beer market?

For those of you who asked for more numbers...

USA - Top Five Scotch Whisky Brands
(thousands of nine-liter case depletions)
RankBrandImporter200520092010AACGR2
2005-2010
Percent
Change
2009-2010
1Johnnie Walker1Diageo North America1,4151,5791,6102.6%2.0%
2Dewar’sBacardi USA1,3751,4001,200-2.7%-14.3%
3Clan MacGregorWilliam Grant & Sons USA650637594-1.8%-6.8%
4Chivas RegalPernod Ricard USA484397402-3.6%1.3%
5The GlenlivetPernod Ricard USA2322863095.9%8.0%

Total Top Five4,1564,2994,115-0.2%-4.3%

1 includes Black, Red, Blue, Green, Gold and Swing
2 average annual compound growth rate

Source: IMPACT DATABANK

Too much work, not enough blog

I've been missing, largely due to family stuff, but now I'm going to be missing largely due to work. We just had a huge project blow up at Malt Advocate that I'm ramrodding (more on that later, probably), and I've got another possible big project I'm discussing with an editor today, and there's all the usual small stuff, so...I'll be checking in here when I can. I'm going to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival this weekend, and I've got three events the following week, and the week after that I'm judging at GABF, and the week after that is San Francisco WhiskyFest...so while I should have some cool stuff to write about, jeez, where to find the time?

Just wanted to warn you. In the meantime, check out these numbers and tell me if it doesn't look like the craft beer revolution is going right over the top. The guys in St. Louis (and Brussels) and London must be crapping their pantaloons. (Though they keep raising their prices, so profits stay up...but that inevitably erodes the price divide between the categories, making crafts even more attractive...)

See you, gotta go write a piece on why the shaker pint is not a sign of the End Times.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where there's smoke...there's Yards

On September 23rd, I have a private tasting in Lancaster. It's a two hour drive. But I'm not going to miss The Third Annual Smoke ‘Em if Yous Got ‘Em that afternoon at Yards. Shmokey beers? Shmokey foods? Shmokin' hot music? Shmokin' ceegars? Iron Hill brewer Larry Horwitz in a bacon suit, chased by a pack of wild dogs? 

You damn betcha I'm gonna be there, cuz there was some awesome good beers there last year (and check out those breweries!). Come on down and join me!

Yards Brewing Company is hosting Smoke ‘Em if Yous Got ‘Em on Friday, September 23, 2011 from 2 to 6:30 pm. And this year’s event is going to be smokier than ever.

With Smoked Beers From

  • Allentown/Bethlehem Brew Works
  • Ballast Point
  • BrewDog
  • Brooklyn Brewery
  • Caldera Brewing
  • Dark Horse
  • De Dochtor Van Korenaar
  • Emeliesse
  • Evil Twin
  • Iron Hill
  • Ithaca Beer Co.
  • Sixpoint
  • Sly Fox
  • Stoudts
  • Victory Brewing Co.
  • Yards Brewing Co.

Smoked Foods from Amateurs and Professionals Alike

Including Brauhaus Schmitz, Percy St. BBQ and The Smoke Truck

Music By

Brad Hinton Band and Keystone Mountain Boys
And other surprises.
Tickets are $50 in advance and include food, beer samples and commemorative glassware. Procrastinators will pay $60 for the same privileges, and well, Designated Drivers will pay $25 for food, music, water and hopefully future favors from your friends.
Purchase Tickets

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nick Johnson, Matt Guyer, beer, dogs...you can't help but wanna go, right?

Uncle Jack drew my attention to this event: we're both dog owners, he knows I'm a sucker for stuff like this (I'm a sucker for the beers at the Beer Yard and Teresa's Next Door, too, and God knows I'm liking the Tröegs). It's tomorrow afternoon, so check it out if you got nothing going on. I'll be in Boston, taking the boy back to school, but hey, that's the sacrifices you have to make. Cheers!


Session Beer Event at Farmer's Cabinet

That's right: there's a session beer event at Farmer's Cabinet in Philly on September 9 and 10: over 25 session-strength beers, and I'll be talking about them on the 10th at 1:30. Know where you can find the details? Of course you do.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saranac Octoberfest

I've been a fan of Saranac for years; I mean, years. Drinking Saranac, a good Saranac, makes me realize how long I've been at this. I was enjoying Saranac back in...1985? Wow. And I watched Saranac grow and develop: Saranac Amber, Saranac Golden (a delicious crisp pilsner), Black Forest, Black & Tan, Stout, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and for God's sake, Russian Imperial Stout that kicked ass.

I got a 12-pack of samples just before I left on vacation, didn't get a chance to even open it, but yesterday I tore them open: Saranac Octoberfest and Pumpkin Ale. I stuck three Ofests in the freezer as I was quickly putting the last touches on dinner, and when the spuds and pork and onions were ready, I poured two of them into a half-liter willbecker and hit the trough.

This is one damned fine beer. I'm kind of picky about Ofests -- hope I don't have to judge them at GABF -- because the malt character's so crucial, but they've done a great job here. It's solidly medium-bodied -- not too light, not too heavy -- dryly malty, and not glopped up with caramel. It was so good I had the third one, and it didn't mess me all up: 5.4%, a good strength for a beer you want to dive into a bit. I've got three freebies left, but I believe I'm going to have to get more of this.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wynkoop gets fresh


It's probably not easy being farm-friendly in downtown Denver, but Wynkoop Brewing went to some great lengths to pull it off. They trucked in fresh Chinook hop vines from Misty Mountain Hop Farm in Olathe, Colorado, and hung the fat green devils over the railings of the brewpub, right on the sidewalk, and picked hops. People walking by had a look -- "That's what hops look like, huh?" -- and the whole thing sounds pretty festive.

They put the big fresh Chinook cones -- 60 pounds! -- in a hot kettle full of wort for their Belgorado Belgian pale ale just yesterday afternoon; the leaves and vines were put in the brewery's composting setup. Great to see Wynkoop continuing to do more visible, fun stuff; this is a landmark place, and they deserve more props.

Now...wonder if any of this will still be around come GABF?

Book review: America Walks Into A Bar

I'm interested in Prohibition: how it happened, how it was/was not enforced, and particularly how it has shaped America's drinking culture, laws, and preferences, right down to the current day. So I like reading books about the era, and there have, happily, been some good ones out lately after a long period with nothing (and the Ken Burns documentary, too).

Christine Sismondo's America Walks Into A Bar goes a step further; quite a few steps, actually. Sismondo starts in colonial America -- early colonial America -- and reveals something I'm pretty sure I never heard before: it's quite likely that the Salem Witch Trials had, at their base, competition between two families of tavern owners. It started with a "tax" revolt (a refusal to supply firewood to a hired preacher), and the bad feelings grew as the competing taverns tried to get more of the traveler trade. Sismondo uses this to show how the tavern -- the bar, the public house, the inn -- has been at the center of so many American movements.

Another one? The gay rights movement. Bars -- often raided by homophobic police and politicians, and just as often re-opened -- were natural gathering places for homosexuals; rules were already lax in bars, and the door was traditionally subject to control. Sismondo tells tales of bars run by characters like Big Nellie in New Orleans (and her regulars: "Lady Richard, Lady Beulah Toto, Lady Fresh and Chicago Belle"), Fat Tony Lauria, the New York mobster who opened the Stonewall Inn -- where gay rights would become direct action -- Paul Ruquy (who ran The Tool Box in San Francisco), and the legally nimble Sal Stoumen, who ran the Black Cat Cafe in San Francisco -- site of much of the madness in Kerouac's On The Road, and a favorite of Allen Ginsberg, William Saroyan, and John Steinbeck. Jose Sarria, a Black Cat waiter turned drag performer, ran for city supervisor in 1961, 12 years before Harvey Milk ran for office; and he almost won, according to Sismondo.

She covers Prohibition as well, of course, and Shays Rebellion, and the Whiskey Rebellion, those last explosions of revolutionary thinking that would be tamped down by the strengthening federal government. She talks about the labor movement's association with bars, ethnic groups that felt at home in bars, how women came to feel at home in bars (in unregulated speakeasies, and they'd never leave, happily!). That's her theme throughout the book: bars and taverns were places where people met, discussed grievances, and often decided to take action. Or action against the bars: she covers the growing temperance movements of the 1800s, and the political corruption associated with the bar business (and the brewing and distilling industries) that gave temperance the solid footing to succeed politically in a modernizing climate.

Sismondo brings new stories to light -- and believe me, I've heard a lot of them, but I was happy to see new ones in plenty here -- but never falls into dry scholarship. Even given the material, this could easily have been a tediously overwritten book, but -- as is almost promised by the dustcover photo, posed with cocktail glass in hand -- Sismondo is a better host than that. The footnotes -- thank you! -- show the scholarship and research, but the writing is great race-along stuff; interesting, amusing, and beguiling.

I've talked about the loss of the neighborhood bar myself, and perhaps prematurely mourned it. Sismondo's final chapter reassured me; action does still take place in bar, though it may seem to be a bit anticlimactic compared to the titanic struggles over liberty and individual freedom that America's bars have hosted in the past. She discusses how live music became allowed in bars (it wasn't before? Who knew!), how smoking is more often not being allowed, and finally, the kiddie revolt: overbearing parents bringing kids to bars, blocking the floor with huge strollers, and allowing the little ones to run around unchecked...hey, I took my kids to bars, and they behaved, dammit!

Sismondo has a book here about what bars have meant in America. We've loved them, hated them, banned them, embraced them, argued in them, sung and danced in them. You'll feel positively warm about them after reading this fascinating book.