Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My first event in Lebanon County

Lebanon County is not a place I've been to very often. To be honest, it's mostly a place I've been through on the way to other places (though I did have a friend who went to Lebanon Valley College that I visited once or twice...30 years ago). It's pretty enough -- even more rural than Lancaster or Berks Counties -- but there are no breweries, and beer bars have only cropped up recently. So the only Lebanon County mention in Pennsylvania Breweries is the Quentin Tavern, just north of Swashbuckler.

Happily, this did not deter Mike McDonald at the Blue Bird Inn (not two miles away from the Quentin, in Cornwall) from reaching out to me recently about doing an event at his place (I'm pretty sure someone I met at a book signing said something to him; I vaguely remember someone saying "You should go to the Blue Bird Inn!" at a signing, and me giving them a card). We talked, I shuffled my signing schedule a bit, and we set up an event.

I'll be at the Blue Bird on May 21st, from 7 to 9, signing books and checking out their beer selection. If you're in the area, why not stop by and see what Lebanon's doing about joining the Craft Beer Revolution?!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Washington Crossing Beer Fest!

Washington Crossing National Historic Park -- Washington saved the Revolution in this small Pennsylvania town over 200 years ago; on a freezing, snowing Christmas night, he and his men crossed the Delaware River in Durham boats, slogged down to Trenton, and surprised a force of Hessian mercenaries. He followed up this surprise victory with a quick raid on Princeton, knocking the British troops back to winter quarters in central New Jersey and setting the morale and spirit of the army and the Continental Army ablaze.



We've apparently forgotten how important this was to our history. In the fall of 2009, budget cuts forced the closure of Washington Crossing Historic Park. Interpretive tours of the park’s historic buildings ceased. Bowman’s Tower -- Washington's lookout up the river, with a commanding view of the valley -- was shuttered. And the reenactment of George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River – held without interruption since the 1950s – was cancelled. Local citizens took on the challenge, raised money and volunteered, and not only did the reenactment take place on Christmas Day, but the educational mission of the park has carried on.

In less than three weeks, you can help preserve this historic site, a hallowed part of American history, by signing up for the Washington Crossing Beer Fest!  Check out the breweries that will be represented here. It's May 14th, 12:30 to 4:30, with live music and food (the music's free, food is extra), and beer samples from breweries far and near: $40, and that's going to benefit this historic park, a true landmark of American history. (It's a great place to start a trail ride, too, down the canal path to Bristol, or across the river and down to Trenton, take a look-round for Hessians maybe?) Get your tickets here!

Spitting on the head of Britain's national drink

I'll assume you've heard that beer is not allowed at The Royal Wedding™, yes? It was pissing me off more and more, and I was feeling more and more Paine at the very thought...when I saw this. Pete pretty much nails it, so go read. And no, I won't be watching a single second of The Royal Wedding™ unless some evil jackass puts a gun to my head and puts me through some reverse Ludovico technique...I'll be at a beer festival (TAP New York, to be precise), so watching the little bluebloods formalize their fornicating would be inappropriate.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Drinking Trappist Beer on Good Friday. Again.

Here I am, looking back four years, and it's so similar...didn't eat (I've got even less in my belly this year; a banana and one cup of coffee), did pheresis this morning, came home and cleaned, and I'm leaving to sing Good Friday services in about half an hour (warm-ups; services are at 3:00, of course)...and I'm drinking La Trappe Dubbel (a sample of the new stuff, provided by importer Artisanal Imports, thanks, Lanny!).

Because it's a fast day, and while I'm not drinking only beer through Lent like some folks (though my hat's off to him), I've built a little tradition around Trappist beers on Good Friday, and big beers tomorrow, before singing at Easter Vigil. The first is my own, the second grew out of the timing of Split Thy Skull, the pioneering Philly big beer event held at Sugar Mom's on Easter Saturday (and yeah, it's on for tomorrow)...well, actually, it grew out of one year when my wife's brother Carl showed up for Easter at the Trenton train station with a shoebox full of Dominion Millennium and we killed two of them on the way home...

Anyway! Here I am, on Good Friday, after the jumpstart I got from Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday masses (and Night Prayer last night...chant, it was marvelous, soothing, and left me floating on a cloud of faith and awe of my God and Savior), ready to go sing till I cry -- Good Friday is tough. And I'm banging through a 750 of La Trappe?

You bet. For one thing...it's really good. Fruit, chocolate, malt, spice, even a little hintsy bit of coffee in there, this is a stuffed suitcase of delicious -- and it's not fat or flabby.

For another? It's tradition. This is how you get through fasts. You don't eat, but you gotta keep going. If I tried getting through a music-heavy service like this -- we're doing selections from Stainer's The Crucifixion in addition to the regular stuff -- without food or big beer, well, you know. Probably nothing would happen. Ha! But I want this beer, this monk-inspired beer, and it's going to work for me. It always has.

Tomorrow? Any big beer will do, and I've got some cued up. Good Friday? Gimme monk beer. I need the spiritual inspiration, the beauty in my mouth and my mind. Off I go. God bless you all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cafe Negro Porter

Finally getting to a sample of Cafe Negro Porter I got from BridgePort...and you know, I wish I'd gotten to it earlier. This is black coffee, not a sweetened-up lattemochafrappawappa; it's a nice dry porter, with some bite to it, and a big rush of fresh-roasted coffee coming in about 2/3 of the way through. At 5.5%, it's not quite a session beer, but I could see drinking a few of these on a rainy afternoon at the pub. Nicely done!

Another Reason I Love Indie Business

My mother-in-law used to live in Dover Plains, NY, a small town east of Poughkeepsie. For years, she's been giving me a gift card to an independent bookstore in the area (Oblong Books, in Millerton and Rhinebeck, NY) as a birthday present. We love Oblong, I've been going there pretty much since we got married (it's half a block from where Cathy and I spent our wedding night), so it was a real nice gift, and gave us another reason to visit -- crafty mother-in-law!

But then she moved away from the area! I had this $100 gift card I didn't know what to do with. I finally figured out that it was good at affiliated indies, so I planned to get to the one in Doylestown...and just never got there, even though it's across the street from Stephanie's; go figure! I finally got there about two weeks ago, and learned that the program no longer existed: my card was now only good at Oblong...three hours away.

Crap. So I called the store, and they said, you know, we have a website. How do I use that? Not sure, we'll have someone call you. How about email? That works, so I emailed co-owner Suzanna Hermans about the issue. I had a personal response in under 24 hours: "Thanks so much for your email - we can absolutely take care of this for you!" She walked me through how to apply the card, and said if I wanted to, she'd take the order by phone. Sweet, I was in business.

That would have been great, but...when I finally got around to making the order late last night, I got everything selected, entered the information, and hit the Checkout button -- I got an internal server error. And when I re-loaded, the order was still in the cart, but my card showed a balance of $2 and change. Did the order go through, or not? I emailed Suzanna again.

I got her response an hour ago: send her the card number. I did, and in under 5 minutes, I had her personal response again: "Got it! Your books should be shipping today or tomorrow via USPS Media Mail. Thanks for your patience!"

Suzanna Hermans? Awesome. Oblong Books? Still a favorite, even if they are three hours away. Independent bookstores? Essential, wonderful, a treasure! Please support yours!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Closing -- no, staying open!

It's been a whirlwind 12 hours for fans of Tap and Table, The Bookstore, and Fork and Barrel. First came this post on FooBooz saying all three were closing (but the new Farmer's Cabinet) would stay open; then Lehigh Valley fun/food site The ElVee said yes, but The Bookstore would stay open, and then we got a statement from partner Matt Swartz that confirmed that, and added some stuff...

But you know what? Uncle Jack posted the statement, and added some good backstory, so why don't you go read it there? All I have to add is thank God the Bookstore stayed open...and I have to wonder if everyone who works at the places that remain open are now putting their resumes in order...

Monday, April 18, 2011

30 years of crazy beers...how the time flies

I've told the story many times, how in my senior year of college my medieval history professor took two of us upperclassmen out for beers on Holy Thursday night in 1981, and how that was the night I had my first non-mainstream beer: Altenmünster. And I'd like to say that I loved it from the first sip, that I knew immediately that this was beer like it should be...and you know, I will, because I knew right away that this was the stuff I wanted to be drinking. I still have the bottle somewhere; it's packed away while we re-do the basement, but it's there.

And here I am, 30 years later, changed completely by that beer. I have a career, I have a reputation, and I have friends around the world, all because someone cared enough about good beer to get a kid to try something new. I've been trying to pay him back ever since. Try something new tonight, people!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Top 50 breweries: some interest, some fun

The new list of the top 50 breweries in the U.S. by volume sales is out. Let's have an annotated look, shall we?
  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev; St Louis MO (Shocking...)
  2. MillerCoors; Chicago IL (teamed up, and still 2nd)
  3. Pabst Brewing; Woodridge IL (Hey, dude: get a real brewery!)
  4. D. G. Yuengling and Son; Pottsville PA (Pennsylvania Proud!)
  5. Boston Beer Co.; Boston MA (Pennsylvania Proud, Part II: rocking Breinigsville!)
  6. Sierra Nevada Brewing; Chico CA (Tradition and style)
  7. New Belgium Brewing; Fort Collins CO
  8. North American Breweries; Rochester, NY (Yo, lookie here: buying in)
  9. Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc.; Portland, OR (funny: they say they are, BA says they aren't)
  10. Spoetzl Brewery (Gambrinus); Spoetzl TX (Shine on)
  11. Deschutes Brewery; Bend OR
  12. Independent Brewers United (IBU); Burlington, VT (nice acronym)
  13. F.X. Matt Brewing; Utica NY (Congrats to the survivor)
  14. Minhas Craft Brewery; Monroe WI (Worst. Commemorative. Book. Ever.)
  15. Bell’s Brewery; Galesburg MI
  16. Harpoon Brewery; Boston, MA (my son's new hometown brewery)
  17. Boulevard Brewing; Kansas City MO (gotta get some samples!)
  18. Goose Island Beer; Chicago IL (beer still the same?)
  19. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Lewes DE
  20. Alaskan Brewing; Juneau AK
  21. Long Trail Brewing; Burlington VT
  22. August Schell Brewing; New Ulm MN (Another pre-Pro beauty)
  23. Stone Brewing; Escondido CA (What? I thought they were the biggest!)
  24. Abita Brewing; New Orleans LA (40% of sales during Mardi Gras?)
  25. Brooklyn Brewery; Brooklyn NY
  26. Lagunitas Brewing; Petaluma CA
  27. Full Sail Brewing; Hood River OR
  28. Shipyard Brewing; Portland ME (Amazing: I thought no one liked Ringwood...)
  29. Summit Brewing; Saint Paul MN
  30. New Glarus Brewing; New Glarus WI (World-famous in Wisconsin)
  31. Great Lakes Brewing; Cleveland OH
  32. Anchor Brewing; San Francisco CA (Is that up or down from last year?)
  33. Iron City Brewing; Pittsburgh PA (bets on their position next year?)
  34. Kona Brewing; Kailua-Kona HI
  35. Rogue Ales/Oregon Brewing; Newport OR
  36. Firestone Walker Brewing; Paso Robles CA
  37. Winery Exchange Inc. / World Brew; Novato CA (I'm willing to admit my ignorance...)
  38. SweetWater Brewing; Atlanta GA (Wow! Go South!)
  39. Mendocino Brewing; Ukiah CA
  40. Flying Dog Brewery; Frederick MD
  41. Victory Brewing; Downington PA (why can't anyone spell "Downingtown"?)
  42. Gordon Biersch Brewing; San Jose CA
  43. BJs Restaurant & Brewery; Huntington Beach CA
  44. Stevens Point Brewery; Stevens Point WI (Guess no one's out of Point)
  45. Odell Brewing; Fort Collins CO
  46. Bridgeport Brewing (Gambrinus); Portland OR
  47. Cold Spring Brewing; Cold Spring MN
  48. Rock Bottom Brewery Restaurants; Louisville CO
  49. Oskar Blues Brewery; Longmont CO (Can you believe it?)
  50. Straub Brewery; Saint Mary’s PA (Pennsylvania Proud, Part III!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Just Had a Great Idea!

I just had the best idea for a beer festival! You know how it usually goes, right, the brewers get (okay, buy) tables, and set up their kegs and pint glasses and such, and then we buy tickets and wander around from table to table, drinking beers, which is pretty sweet, really, except there's always some dipshit who didn't read the damned memo and when they get their beer they just keep standing there in front of the table gassing with their buddies about what boring crap they've been doing in their boring stupid lives when they should be getting the hell out of the way so we can get beers, and there's a line for the bathroom, and the brewer runs out of the super-great beer just before you get there, and the hot chicks behind the table don't like you (don't like you, I mean, I don't ever have that problem because I'm old and harmless), and the band's too loud, but otherwise...it's pretty sweet, right?

But wait, but wait, but wait -- here's my great idea! Instead of tickets, WE buy a table! And we get comfy there, and we could decorate it, and bring our own chairs, and a sound system so we don't have to listen to the damned stupid band, and food we want to eat instead of more hot dogs, and have a quick getaway to the bathroom out the back, and lots of fun party stuff -- and here's the cool part -- and the brewers (or hot chicks they hire (okay, or hot-bod guys, too, for you cool womens who like good beer)) wander around and bring us beers!

They could have their kegs on like a hot-dog cart, only it would be a cold-beer cart, and they'd say, hey, man, want some of my excellent beers, and we'd say, dude, whatta you have there? and they'd say, Double IPA and Imperial Barleywine, bitch! and we'd say, yeah, fill 'er up! And then they'd fill us up and get away from the front of our damn table because brewers always read the damned memo and we'd flip our Brazilian steakhouse disk-thing to 'Full right now, come back a little later, brewer' and drink our beers and chill and love it, and eat steaks and crabcakes and salads (yeah, yeah, and some kinda soy thing too, you're such a pain in the ass), and then we'd get thirsty and realize we were out of beer, see, here's the genius -- we'd flip the disk to the side that says 'READY TO FILL, BRO!' and brewers would wheel up their slick little beer carts and service us.

I'm a genius. Someone get to work on this, it's gonna be huge.

I wrote that in three minutes. Why does it sound so much like this?

Running Down the Booze News

There are some stories floating around that I feel like I should comment on...but none of them that deserve a full post; at least, not in my universe. So here we go...
  • Toddler served margarita instead of apple juice at Applebee's. Well...hell of a case for not pre-mixing cocktails (or at least not going to a place where they do). Thomas got served a brown ale instead of a root beer at a brewpub once; said it smelled funny before he drank it. Called the waiter over, we all laughed, he brought Thomas a root beer, I drank the ale...and we didn't make CNN or sue the brewpub. Boy, are we stupid...
  • Greg Hall embarrasses himself in bar incident. Yeah. Unfortunate, but this really sounds like 'no harm, no foul' to me. No one was hurt, Greg didn't drive drunk. He screwed up, sure, but he manned up and apologized. “I did what I did and I take responsibility for it.” Move on, nothing to see here.
  • Firestone Walker arrives in Philly. I'll just say "Cheers!" to that, and we'll see you at the bar.
  • Pierre Celis dies. Pierre does deserve more, but I didn't know him well enough to write it. I will copy what I put up on Facebook: "I remember a noontime coffee with him at Monk's Cafe one year; it was before they opened for the day, just me and Pierre for about half an hour. Not an interview, just a coffee. Such a nice man." A milkman who brewed a beer no one wanted. A quiet, small man. A hero.
  • The guy who's drinking beer for Lent. All the news outlets are playing this up as some crazy bastard who's just drinking for an excuse to drink. But J. Wilson appears to be a pretty spiritual man (and a regular beer blogger, and a real journo) who's approaching this in a respectful manner. Take a look at some of his more serious previous posts about beer and Christianity. And he did note this in the Chicago Tribune: "After consuming only beer and water for 23 days, J. Wilson says there are two things he's sick of ---- morning radio shows, and the Illuminator Doppelbock he's vowed to subsist on through Lent." Sounds normal.
  • Finally, the Elf Wars: Mad vs. Rude, Tröegs vs. Fegley. Uncle Jack pegged this one: "I know this sort of thing is happening more and more often as craft brewing gets more complicated, and I’ll accept that, so long as there are lawyers, it is likely necessary, but I really–really– hate to see it happening here." I got nothing more to add.

And that's all I got.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bringing the Heat...

I feel the warm winds of Spring blowing this morning. It was still in the low 50s when I took Cathy to the airport early today, but it was 65 by the time I got home, and warmer breezes were blowing as I trundled the repaired lawn mower out to the shed. 'I'll be firing you up soon, old son,' I thought to myself as the dogs joyfully escorted me across the shaggy, still-dull backyard.

When I took the garbage out to the curb for morning pickup, another thought hit me: it's the end of the walk-in beer storage season. Since October, the garage has been my beer fridge, keeping cases at a time cool-cold-toodamnedcold-cool and at hand. I'm okay today, the concrete slab will hold enough cold to keep the temperature down despite the highs in the 80s we're supposed to get, but I'm going to have to do the annual beer pilgrimage this week, lugging all the beer down to the basement's steady 65°.

The change of seasons is part of the beer year. More than just the vaunted "seasonals" that people are suddenly mad for, more than the coming maibock and hefeweizens, the beer year turns on how we keep our beer, how we serve it, where we drink it. I know I'll be joining Brian O'Reilly for a tall glass of Royal Weiss on the patio some day soon; we'll be packing ice and beers in the coolers for picnic drinking; and eventually it's going to be Yuengling and 'Gansett season again by the grill.

I feel the warm winds of Spring blowing this morning, and I hear the slow, well-lubricated gearings of the Beer Clock turning on.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Many Beers Ago...

I was pulling out some old papers and notes today, and came across these pictures from the 1995 Christmas beer dinner at Copa, Too!, which was, I think, my first Tom Peters Christmas dinner. We were so much younger then...


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brewery news: East End expands, farm brewery opens in New Jersey

Still want to tell you about my trip to Boston last week, but in the meantime, a quick post about  (relatively) local breweries. Pittsburgh's East End Brewing is expanding as soon as they ink a deal with the city's redevelopment authority, according to what Scott Smith told a Tribune-Review reporter here. Scott implied (or the reporter inferred, see the comments) that the increased sales from their growler outlet at the Pittsburgh Public Market pushed the expansion.
The building will have quadruple the space for brewing, increasing its capacity and leaving room for eventual canning or bottling lines. The tap area will be larger and heated, with access to a restroom that doesn't require customers to wind their way through an active brewery.
So that's great news. Meanwhile, from New Jersey, Jeff Linkous reports (at his Beer-Stained Letter blog) that a new brewery will be opening: Suydam Farms, in Somerset County, has debuted their Great Blue Brewing operation, and as you might guess from the parent name, they're going to be focusing on the local-sustainable angle, and growing at least some of their own hops. Great Blue (named for the herons that light in the area) is a nanobrewery, a cobbled-together collection of equipment (by their own admission!), and they're tweaking the mechanics after brewing their first 2-barrel batch, a "scarlet ale."
Initial plans call for distributing to a trio of select restaurants – Steakhouse 85 and Stage Left in New Brunswick and Sophie's Bistro in the Somerset section of Franklin. The three restaurants already buy produce and other commodities from Suydam Farms.
Great news: craft beer is still rocking on.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What a Week! Jousting with the PLCB and a Bourbon Dinner

Posts have been thin again, but it's been a wild week. As I posted on the PLCB blog (and here, briefly), I was on WHYY's Radio Times call-in show with PLCB Chairman PJ Stapleton this past Monday. That went well -- and substantially increased my Twitter following, and got me some interest from pro-privatization groups; maybe more on that -- and got my week off to a good start.

Yes, that's Casey Hughes...
Tuesday was my bourbon dinner at Percy Street Barbecue. All you barbecue freak haters who can't wait to jump on the comments to bitch about their barbecue -- because no matter what a place is like, I know you're out there -- don't bother: we didn't have any barbecue. What we did have was a full menu informed and inspired by chef Erin O'Shea's barbecue experience and Southern roots. The place was sold out: 100 people (including some brewer friends, some writer friends, and my own wonderful wife) all ready for bourbon and food. We clustered around the bar for beers near the beginning (I had a 21st Amendment Bitter American (Percy St. only has draft beer and what might be the best craft can selection in the city)), then got down to business -- or bidness, I suppose.

First course: three different country hams, cut thin (proper), with rolls. Rolls maybe could have been softer to be traditional, but they were good. The hams were well-differentiated: rich, smokey, and delicate. The bourbon I paired (1792) as a "Kentucky tea," about 2 parts bourbon and three parts spring water over ice in a tall glass. It's an old distiller's favorite: you still taste the bourbon (which is why I chose the flavorful 1792), but with enough volume from the water and ice that you can easily drink it with your meal...and it's perfect for the salty ham.

Next two courses -- a delicious sweet potato soup (and I hate sweet potatoes!) with some deliciously fatty pork good on crisps; and smoked trout on a salad of apples, onions, and fingerling spuds -- were terribly good, the smoked trout especially. They got whiskeyed by Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey (a malt whiskey aged like bourbon; chose it to stand right up to the rich sweet potato soup) and Four Roses Yellow Label  on the rocks (chose it for the opposite reason; a great-tasting table bourbon that didn't overwhelm the trout). The whole time, of course, I was telling them about bourbon, and rye, and distillation, and some stories about distillers...you know, working the dinner and the room.

Fourth course was the big one: smoked whole quail, stuffed with cornbread and house-smoked sausage, on a bed of brussels sprouts with a side of beets. This was extremely popular at our table full of brewers, for a good reason: it was fabulous. It was semi-boned, with only the wings and legs left intact; you know, the parts you want to gnaw off the bone! I decided to let the bar show off their stuff this round, and we did a Rittenhouse Rye Manhattan, perfect in the city of Rittenhouse. (We will have rye whiskey made in PA again; soon. Trust me.)

Things wound up with something Erin called "Cracker Jack," which was grits (cooked in milk, I think), with caramel, nuts, and a raisin puree made with whiskey. It was way more yummy than something made with grits and raisins ever deserved to be. I paired it with Rowan's Creek, which may have been my one duff move of the evening; Rowan's is pretty sweet stuff (at least, this batch was), and the dessert really over-accentuated that. We live, we learn.

A great time, and a very impressive first special dinner for Percy Street. Things came out hot (when appropriate!), service was steady and friendly, and the drinks were dead on the money. Be happy to work with these folks again.

Still, like I said...this was the start of my week. Another post to come on the rest of it: a trip to NERAX, another lunch with Thomas at Deep Ellum, Will Meyers's barrel room marvels, arguing session beer with BeerAdvocate's Alström Brothers (now posted at the SBP blog), a great dinner at Hungry Mother, and I touch down at Zeppelin Hall. Stay tuned...

I just want to hear Don Russell say it...

Newly added to Logan Circle...
The 2011 Philadelphia Flower Show -- "Springtime in Paris."

The 2011 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts -- "Paris 1910 - 1920."

The Holy Ghost Prep 2011 Auction -- "Soiree in Paris." 

So at this point, I'd just like to hear Philadelphia Beer Week executive director Don Russell come right out and tell us whether the theme of the 2011 Philadelphia Beer Week really is "Sippin' by the Seine."

I'm gonna hit something with Le Marteau de la Gloire if it is...


61 days to Philly Beer Week opening tap! See you there!