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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dock Street: bare bones place, stylish beer

I finally got to the new Dock Street Brewery, out at 50th and Baltimore in Philly. I apologize to all for taking so long, especially to myself: because it was really good.

I stopped in around lunchtime and started with a glass of Rye IPA. I'm told that this is going out into bar accounts (carried by Origlio, for whom I do some freelance writing, in the interests of disclosure), and you should keep your eye out for it: snappy, clean, hoppy and peppery, a very refreshing and bold beer.

Once I got my beer, I looked around. I hadn't been here since the celebration of their license, when things were pretty bare and sparse. Things are still pretty bare and sparse -- concrete floor, high unadorned ceilings, a bar and a minimal open kitchen -- and I found that I really liked that. I've said before that brewpubs need to be more varied: not just pub-grub places, not just family-friendly places, not just white linen fine dining, even. This one takes me back to the old days, when brewpubs were dodgy enterprises thrown together on a shoestring. I loved that era; I'm a dodgy enterprise myself some days.

There's a big difference, of course: the beer's totally solid. Scott "The Dude" Morrison is back in the brewhouse again, with competent assistance, and the three beers I had were excellent. I also had a Gold Stock Ale, which was one of the best pale ales I've had in quite a while, not overly hopped and with a bedrock maltiness to it; and a Cuckoo's Nest Red Ale, a malty soother that grew on me as I sipped it. I also got a nip of the Barleywine, which was not a typical "American-style" barleywine/double IPA, but a rip-roaring fire-well of malty depth.

The food's not bad either. There's a lengthy menu of pizzas well outside the normal range, including the return of Dock Street's Alsatian beauty, the flammenküche pizza, which is what I got; hell, I had to. It was outstanding: caramelized onions, creme fraiche, and some delicious double-smoked bacon. Big surprise: the cook was none other than Jeff "Dock Street" Ware, brewpub owner Rosemarie Certo's husband. Jeff in da house!

I spotted Rick Nichols in the house as well; the Inquirer's food writer stopped in with a friend for a beer. Smart move, and one I think I'll be making more often, even though this location is way off my usual haunts. It's worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finally... Baltic Thunder

I'm going to take Patrick Mullin and Steve German at their word: Baltic Thunder, the Victory-brewed revival of Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer, will officially launch on January 5th at the Drafting Room in Exton. And not alone, either, it's a veritable Baltic Blizzard of Beer, according to Mullin:
Also pouring on draft that day:
Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer 2006
Heavyweight Lunacy 2006
Heavyweight Baltus OVS 2006
Victory Abbey 6
Victory Hop Wallop (cask-conditioned)
and perhaps other Victory surprises...

Available in bottles (while supplies last):
Victory Baltic Thunder
Heavyweight Biere d' Art
Heavyweight Black Ocean
Heavyweight Doug's Colonial
Heavyweight Jakeldricka
Heavyweight Slice of Bread

No admission, pay as you go. The kegs will be tapped at noon and will continue to flow until they're gone. There should be plenty of Thunder to last through the weekend. Bill Covaleski will be in attendance, and I have contacted Tom & Peggy with the hope that they will be able to join us as well.

Well. I suggest to all of you that you get as much of this as possible, because the lagering on this batch will probably never be repeated!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sam gets some Elk Creek Ale

Just got the following report on Elk Creek Cafe + Ale Works from my correspondent and friend in central PA, Sam Komlenic. Sam graciously allowed me to reproduce it verbatim.

I'm happy to report that the Elk Creek Cafe + Ale Works is officially on line. I stopped in on Saturday to find the doors locked at 3 p.m., but it turns out that they were still running on pre-beer hours. After two beers at the tavern across the street, we stopped by again to find Tim Bowser coming through the back door into the cafe. He unlocked the door and offered us a sampler while he attended to other business.

They currently offer five ales: Winkleblink ale (kolsch-ish), Great Blue Heron pale ale, Elk Creek copper ale, Brookie brown ale, and Poe Paddy porter. All good, some REALLY good (I especially liked the copper and porter). Tim gave us a tour of the place, and I was pleasantly surprised. They have a very attractive 8.5 bbl Cask
system with six fermenters and a nice cold room with bulk tanks from which the beers at the bar are served. Big, beautiful kitchen, and a menu to match using as many local foods as possible, though we were there too early to partake.

Once Guy Hagner opens, I think a trip to upstate is in order: One Guy, Elk Creek, and Bavarian Barbarian...more on that last one soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Guy, One Week

One Guy Brewing is that close to opening. Pretty much just waiting on arrival of papers at this point. The plan is for a soft opening on a couple weekends to shake things down, followed by a mid-January grand opening. What about that Christmas beer, the spiced dunkelweizen? Well, says Guy Hagner, it works as a winter beer, too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Harvard's Wayne closes

Once again, Uncle Jack scoops the area at the Beer Yard site: John Harvard's in Wayne has closed.

This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who's been watching the slow contraction of the once far-flung JHBH empire. I find it hard to cry, to be honest. JHBH, with a few tiny exceptions, is about the lowest a chain brewpub could go and still be "good." This set of brewpubs was once a force to be reckoned with, a brewing gut-muscle. Now they're just waiting around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tom Baker to open brewpub in Philly

Uncle Jack's got the dope at the Beer Yard: former Heavyweight Brewing one-man show (which was always a man-and-woman show with wife Peggy Zwerver) Tom Baker will be opening his long-awaited brewpub not in New York, not in New Jersey, but in Philadelphia, in Mt. Airy, to be exact.

Tom Baker told The Beer Yard this morning that the brewpub he and wife/partner Peggy Zwerver promised to open when they shut down Heavyweight Brewing last year will be located on Germantown Avenue in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia and that he hopes to open the doors by the end of March 2008.
"We have a signed lease and will be moving our equipment into place as soon as possible," Baker said. "We also plan to relocate our residence to the area and hope to become a part of the neighborhood and a destination site for beer lovers."
The new pub, to be named Earth, Bread & Brewery will feature flatbread and Baker's beers, along with guest craft beers. "We have a full liquor license but won't use that right off the bat. We'll take things slow and get them right."
Earth, Bread & Brewery will be located at 7136 Germantown Avenue, a few blocks south of McMenamin's Tavern.

Well, that's a load off my mind. Jack promises more details.

Out of their minds

The New Drys are, to quote Spike Milligan, out of their tiny little minds with bullshit. They extrapolate policy out of the thinnest tissue, they find evil everywhere they look, they are filled with a holy zeal of righteousness that is frightening at close quarters. But they've really gone over the top now. Check this out. This isn't even about booze or drugs: it's mints.

They're giddy with their success at getting A-B to withdraw Spykes, a nauseating but basically harmless "beer additive," essentially 1 oz. of intensely fruity/spicy 12% malt beverage that you could pour into your Bud Light to jazz it up. The New Drys screamed bloody murder on this. It's fruity and sweet! This supposedly appeals only to teens, not adults. It's small enough to smuggle into a dance! Adults like to carry their booze in large, bulky half kegs. It looks like a bottle of nail polish! Booze should all come in bottles that look the same? All this screaming got people so riled up that A-B withdrew them from the market. I gotta tell ya...I suspect they were withdrawn from the market because they weren't selling worth a damn. But between that, and the tax hike on malternatives in California, the New Drys feel a wave of success coming on, the kind of giddyness they haven't felt since they killed Joe Camel. Which has led them to get hysterical about ... mints.

This is why people have no respect for these idiots. They're really backing a good cause at the heart of it: they want to keep people, often kids, from ruining their lives with alcohol. Look: it happens, it's real, and we do ourselves no favors by pretending it doesn't. But they do themselves no favors by worrying and fussing and screaming about...mints.

FRAP trax

We found these odd circular tracks in the new-fallen snow this morning, like someone had been running an RC 4X4 in circles in our yard. It only took a moment to determine that they weren't car tracks, rabbit tracks, or miniature railroad tracks...they were FRAP tracks.

FRAP is a Corgi enthusiast term we found back when we were thinking about a new puppy. It means "Frequent Random Acts of Play...more scientifically known as Frenetic Random Activity Periods." The best explanation I've seen comes from CorgiPants, a blog by a woman named Jenna:
Most dogs, when they are puppies, race around excitedly for seemingly no reason, flailing and turning, racing in circles and figure eights at top speed, only to stop mid circle and crash onto the ground like nothing happened. And most breeds discontinue this activity once they leave their puppy teeth on the carpet. This is called a FRAP. Corgis...FRAP their whole lives.

And believe me...Penderyn does. He was FRAPping like mad in the snow, little legs churning madly and crisp white powder flying out behind him in a twin roostertail. It was something to see.

Okay, back to booze!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Our long national nightmare is over."

Okay, that was actually Gerald Ford talking about Nixon's involvement with Watergate. But it just as easily could have been said about this. Lord almighty, yes, it could.

Happy Day of Repeal, Americans! Let's lift a legal glass and celebrate.

Elk Creek open for dinner, beer coming soon; others close behind

Heard from a reader (thanks, Sue!) that Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Millheim, Pa. is now open for dinner in a BYO mode, and they expect (scratch that, they hope) to have beer by December 8. It all depends on paperwork at this point.

Heard separately that Conestoga Brewing is very close to opening, and Hanover Brewing is slowly moving along, and One Guy is probably going to open sometime in the next 6 weeks.

Things keep popping in Pennsylvania!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New Jersey Breweries, Tröegs, & Iron Hill Lancaster

You may be wondering why STAG shut down for a week. Well, New Jersey Breweries was all wrapped up, but I had a ton of Malt Advocate work to get caught up on, a lot of house and family things had backed up, and I had two trips to get in. The one, last Friday, was to give a talk on Prohibition to a group up near Harrisburg, a commitment I'd made months ago. The other, last Wednesday, was more beery.

I've made a tradition out of hand-delivering the manuscripts of the Breweries books to my editor, Kyle Weaver, at Stackpole Books in Mechanicsburg, Penn., starting with the first edition of Pennsylvania Breweries. This one, as Kyle pointed out, marked 10 years that we've been working together. So after I dropped off the chunk of paper, and told him a few stories about putting the book together, we went out to lunch at the Pizza Grille in Camp Hill I had a Tröegs Pale Ale -- actually, we both did; Kyle's onto good beer now too, and always seeks out the locals when he travels -- and a really different mushroom pizza, with smoked mozzarella, and a wild mushroom puree instead of the traditional tomato sauce. Delicious, and the beer was great.

It was so good, in fact, that after I said good-bye to Kyle, I steered the Passat over to Tröegs. I wanted to taste the latest Scratch Beer, #6, loosely patterned on a Dortmunder Export. I caught Chris Trogner just leaving, and he turned around and poured me a beer (he was headed for the bank, and was willing to put that off). Well, you know, I like Exports, and I liked this beer, quite a bit, actually, but... No, it's not precisely an Export. It's got the heft, and the color, but it's hopped a bit more like a pilsner.

And that was where we took off when John Trogner joined us. Is that a problem, that it's not a helles, a hellerbock, an Export, or a pilsner? No, we both agreed, it wasn't, what it was was very interesting. We had a beer that didn't fit in the traditional spectrum of lagers that everyone seems to have set in stone. About the only thing anyone's done is to lighten the color of Festbier and make that bastard "imperial pilsner." That hardly seems to be tradition-breaking. But then, lagers are things of subtle differences, at least...traditionally.

Makes me very interested to think about what could be done to a lager. Folks weren't shy about experimenting when the process was quantified in the 1800s: we got schwarzbier, erlanger, budweiser, pilsner, wiener, helles, dunkles, bock, doppelbock, eisbock, rauchbier, braunbier...and then what? A couple damned world wars come along, the communists slap down the production quotas, and brewers stop thinking of anything except how to make more of it cheaper? That's nothing but embarrassing. I left Tröegs with thoughts buzzing in my head.

Down the road to my last stop: the official opening day of Iron Hill Lancaster. I'm a Franklin & Marshall College alumnus (as is Cathy, my wife), and it was weird and wonderful to see Iron Hill right across the street from Williamson Field, where I used to march with the band at football games. It was also weird and wonderful to see Iron Hill folk like Kevin Finn, Mark Edelson, and Lancaster head brewer Paul Rutherford (and publicity gal supreme Jennie Hatton) up in my old stomping grounds. I love the idea of Iron Hill in Lancaster -- not sure how Lancaster Brewing feels about it, but two brewpubs is good for a town in my experience, and often good for each of the brewpubs, too.

The beer? I had a red lager (hmmm, red lager? Map that one) that was smooth and malty, a short sip of a sweet and aromatic Belgian Pale Ale, and a glass of Dubbel that I had to leave part of because of alcohol intake -- it was plenty good enough to drink, believe me. Wish I could have stayed for dinner, but I had to run on down the road and pick up Penderyn at the folks' (I couldn't leave him in his crate that long, and it was too cold to leave him outside), and then get on home.

And that's some of where I've been and what I've been doing.

Monday, December 3, 2007

He's a Hero to Me

I was working downstairs today about an hour after lunch; I had heated up a can of soup. Penderyn comes downstairs, trots over, and nudges me in the thigh; which usually means he's got to go out.

"Do you want to go out?" I asked, expecting him to run for the stairs. He just looks at me, intently, excited and quivering.

"Do you need water?" Quiver.

"Do you want dinner?" (Way too early, but I was baffled at this point.) Quiver!

Okay, I got up, and headed upstairs, Penderyn charging ahead of me. He gets halfway across the kitchen, stops, looks at me, and looks at the stove. I'd left the gas on, and the flame was out. That's when I realized that the whole first floor smelled of gas; it must have been on for almost an hour. I was amazed.

So was Pen when I scooped him up in my arms and hugged him (after opening the front and back doors!). He saved my life today. That's why he's working on a big rawhide bone right now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pennsylvania Remains State with Dumbest Beer Law...Or Maybe Not

Update to the premature blathering below: I just got the following from PA State Senator Sean Logan (45th District, suburban Allegheny County, Democrat):

It is not dead. There were additional issues that needed to be addressed and those issues were going to be inserted into House Bill 1420. However, we have not worked these additional issues out yet and therefore needed to table House Bill 1420. It is not dead and we hope that we will have a vote on it before the end of the year.

Sean Logan

So...we'll keep an eye open...and maybe keep our mouths shut. There's a lesson here for me... Oh, and those "additional issues"? The latest iteration of the bill on the PA Legislative website shows language that would allow single bottle sales of "holiday" special beers, the big bottles of stuff that is just ridiculous to buy a case at a time, like magnums of Chimay or Mad Elf, and...Utopias.

Previously... The latest effort to kill Pennsylvania's ridiculous "Case Law," the law that requires beer bought at the off-premise beer stores Pennsylvanians call "beer distributors," is dead. This one had a lot of promise, seemed to have support and reasonable people thinking it had a good chance of getting through. But oh-so-quietly, it died in committee last week, in a quiet Monday of Thanksgiving week. Why? I don't know at this point, but I'm going to ask everyone I know who has an in. I want to know who did this, and why. If you've got any substantive clues, pass 'em on; don't waste everyone's time with baseless speculation about an unholy alliance of megabrewers and Bible-thumpers.

Thanks to Guy Hagner for the news. Guy's real close to opening One Guy in Berwick, by the way.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lozen Boer

Last night, I opened up another of those DeProef samples I got: Lozen Boer Abt, a 10% Abbey style ale. I'm not sure what "Lozen Boer" means, but there's a graphic of a man walking a cow down a path in the moonlight with the words "Legend of the Cow Smuggler." It scares me.

The beer was not what you'd expect from an abbey style, but maybe exactly what you'd expect from a DeProef abbey. It was dark, with a tight cap of dark cream foam, and it was malty, but the resemblance to the ordinary ended there. Lozen Boer was relatively dry for an Abbey, not richly sweet as they can be, and it had a spicy... no, really more an herbal complexity to it that was quite pronounced. I had planned on having a glass, but it was so drinkable I wound up sitting out on the cool back deck in the moonlight, drinking the whole thing. Very different.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Mating of Giants in the offing?

Rumors continue to circulate about a true merger of giant brewers Anheuser-Busch and InBev. I've heard them for a while, but the pace is accelerating, and today an industry analyst said that the SABMiller purchase of Grolsch would give such a merger more urgency.

Madness. Take a look at Stan's exegesis of Melisa "Girl's Guide to Beer" Cole's post about the "tumbling" pub beer sales in the UK. It's not beer sales that are down, it's lowest common denominator beer sales that are down. Specialty beers are up 7.5%, and it looks like they'll be up in double digits again this year in the U.S., too. The big guys are so busy merging and consolidating and making the market safe for their one kind of beer, that they apparently haven't noticed that the thing people seem to want less and less of is ... one kind of beer.

Anyone know where these guys can buy a clue? A-B is making some good beers, but it sure looks like they're afraid to go all-in on them. Miller sees that variety means good business, but then executes with Chill, essentially High Life with lime flavoring, which completely misses the point. And Coors has Blue Moon zooming, and seems to have no idea how to handle it, they're scared to death that if they come right out and publicly admit it's theirs, people will stop drinking it.

The hell of it is, Coors may well be right. No one really knows for certain why craft beers are doing so well, and the scary thought is that it may have nothing to do with how they taste. I see it a lot. People are buying this stuff, they have no idea what it is, or what it tastes like, but it's different and it looks different, and it costs more, so...they drink it. Kinda mindless. Kinda scary.

New Jersey Breweries done...

At last! I just finished writing and printed the manuscript off, sent the file to the publisher, it's done. Till the edits come back, that is.

Great job by my co-author, Mark Haynie, a New Jersey native and fellow founding member of the New Jersey Association of Beerwriters, and much thanks to the brewers and bar owners of New Jersey!

And now...back to blogging.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SAB Miller to buy Grolsch

Saw this news and couldn't help thinking (amid the screaming madness of finishing this damnable book) about how frenzied and almost silly all this looks. A-B just took over the importation of Grolsch last year, and now SABMiller is buying it out from under them, which is going to set off another small wave of wholesaler realignments, and chagrin at A-B over the money they spent on some very slick ads on the brand. Did SABMiller do it just to screw them? Probably not, but it must have made it tastier.

SABMiller has been calling the A-B strategy of getting more upscale brands to their wholesalers through strategic alliances a "funnel" strategy; that's what the whole business is starting to look like at the macro level. All the brands and brewers that make mainstream pilsneroid beer are being pushed and herded and squeezed into the ever-tighter neck of the funnel... No, wait. It's not a funnel, it's a horn. A sausage-stuffing horn. Yeah. It's all getting chopped and blended and made into one thing. I like sausage, but I don't think I like this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

About those hops prices...

...almost forgot to mention: a brewer told me today that he'd been quoted $32 a pound for Cascades. Cascades are the workhorse of craft beer, the bedrock of many a pale ale and IPA. $32 a pound is more than insane, it's just ridiculous. Maybe I've underestimated how bad this is.


I'm still working on New Jersey Breweries; got one of the very last interviews today at River Horse Brewing in Lambertville (where new owners with new money are starting to rev up this brewery; could be some interesting stuff coming in the near future). But last week I ran up the Delaware River to Milford and talked with Tim Hall, brewer at the Ship Inn.

The Ship's always been a favorite for their cask Ringwood ales, and I've got a lot of fun stuff to share on it -- in the book. But at the end of the interview we did a quick run of the beers, including an ESB Tim had in the tanks, which was excellent: lively, fruity, just beer near the peak of condition. He said that if I liked it so much I should take some home. I think he really wanted to show off their new package: beer-in-a-box.

This is much like the wineboxes: a plastic bag full of beer inside a cardboard box. The boxes come in two sizes: 1.25 and 2.5 gallons. In this case, Tim tapped the still-fermenting beer right out of the tank into the bag for me. He filled it, capped it, and tucked in the little spigot to replace the cap when I was ready to drink. "Just keep it cool, and keep an eye on it," he said. "If it gets too full of gas, let a little off."

I had to do that once, but otherwise, just let it sit until today, when I tapped it before dinner. Man, does this ever work great! For a night, I've got about a gallon of great real ale in my house! It's fresh, lively, fruity, and has a deliciously bitter finish. Best of all, it's got that fine, light carbonation I highly prize in cask ale.

I don't know of any other place that's doing this, but if you get to the Ship, do it. Get the cask in the box, take it home and enjoy it. It's not cheap, but remember: it's more than twice your regular growler fill, and most brewpubs won't even fill a growler of cask ale. This rocks.

Which is why I had to blog about it, even when I'm this busy. Back to work!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Slow Week Again

Just a warning: don't expect much from me this week. I'm finishing up New Jersey Breweries, and I've got two other articles to do as well. I'll see you Thanksgiving week, eh? Meanwhile, here's a picture of Cathy and I at WhiskyFest New York with a glass of Anchor Christmas 2007, the stuff that was brewing the day we toured Anchor. Well, not that actual batch, you know...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A little more Lion dope

A reader sent me this link to a further Times Leader story. Not surprisingly, these former soft drink guys are fascinated by the Lion's work with contract soft drinks. The Lion has two assets that most soft drink bottlers don't have: a brew kettle, essential for making malta sodas, and a tunnel pasteurizer, crucial for juice drinks. As Leo Orlandini told me a few years ago, they've gotten very experienced with a number of different juice and soda packages and formulations over the past two decades. The key quote came at the end: "We don’t think we’re going to break stride at all,” Hammond said. That bodes well for all at the Lion, and for those of us who look forward to further growth and innovation from this big old brewery.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lion deal updates

Details are trickling in.

It is two soda guys: Ron Hammond and Cliff Risell, two former Coca-Cola bottling senior executives, backed by Blue Point Capital Partners, an Ohio-based investment company. Hammond and Risell collectively have "over 50 years of experience in the beverage industry."

Chuck Lawson and Pat Belardi -- former owners and CEO and CFO, respectively -- will continue on for the time being.

More, from the Times Leader:

“Certainly we want to grow the business,” Hammond said Tuesday afternoon. He said employees should not be affected by the change in ownership and that former owners Chuck Lawson and Patrick Belardi would continue to be involved.

Lawson led the 1999 purchase of the brewery that opened in 1905, paying $18.5 million. Hammond declined to provide the price he and Risell paid.

Love to know that price. One of my sources is guessing $30 million.

So far, all good. And no, folks, no Pabst, no Southampton, and no Yards.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Major Pennsylvania brewery sold

The Lion Brewery, in Wilkes-Barre, has been sold.

Details when I get them, but it's a solid story. Been a lot of rumor on this one for the past three months, now it looks like it's really happening.

Update: Some details are starting to trickle in from a variety of in- and out-of-house sources. The buyers have backgrounds in soda distribution -- not a bad thing -- and plan to continue the expansion begun by the current owners, perhaps to include a canning line...finally. They want to increase the distribution and sales of the Lion's own brands, too, a welcome sentiment.

Might I suggest to the new owners: get some good salespeople on the streets in the Scranton & Wilkes-Barre area! It's still way too hard to find Lion beers on tap in this home area, something that Yuengling always had, and still does -- Yuengling sales make up something like 45% of beer sold in their home county. You gotta have a base to build from. Hey, I saw some Lion product placements in a recent episode of The Office (Lionshead and Pocono): follow up! And spend some money on promotion. Spending on the plant's great, but like the song goes, "How can you win the world if nobody knows you're there?" ("Hey Look Me Over", from Wildcat) You've got a great product in Steg 150, one that should be on in every bar in Wilkes-Barre, but nobody knows about it.

Oh, and just for me? BRING BACK SUMMER STOCK LAGER! Had to be said. What a great hot afternoon beer. A sixtel of Summer Stock should be the official softball beer of Pennsylvania.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Just opened up a big bottle of Moxie Sour Ale, a limited edition 10th anniversary brew from New Holland Brewing, Holland, Michigan. It seemed like a good time to do it: fall afternoon, cool, sunny, out on the deck, enjoying what's probably one of the last nice days for shirtsleeve weather (okay, long sleeves, and a sweater vest).

Honestly? I was prepared to not like this. I've had mixed experiences with New Holland beers; completely unimpressed with the Mad Hatter, bowled over in love with Black Tulip Tripel, quite taken with The Poet Oatmeal Stout. A sour beer? It's the hot thing, and very faddish, but hard to do well. I was afraid this might be a tongue-ripper, especially with that name (had some Moxie in Maine this summer; wow. Nerve tonic).

I was wrong. This stuff's delish. It's got big sour cherry flavor, but it's not thin and acidic with it. There's some real body to it, something that way too many of the sour ales are lacking. The woodiness is great for balance (I don't know if there's wood-aging involved, but the wood notes are definitely there), and the finish is clean and firm. There may not be a lot of this out there, but if you see it (or some of that Black Tulip), get it.
(I added this for you, Brad: that's freehand, two pumpkins, two candles. Magic, that; best I've ever done.)

Happy in Hoboken

I'm finishing up bar visits for New Jersey Breweries, the next guidebook, which I'm co-authoring with Mark Haynie. It's all for the book, of course, but one place I stopped yesterday was just so good, I had to share.

Helmers' Cafe (1036 Washington St., Hoboken) was second on my list for the day, and to tell the truth, I was running late because of rain and heavy traffic, and seriously thinking about skipping it. But once I saw the outside, I had to stop (even though parking was as bad as any place I've ever seen).

Good call. Helmers' has a great tap selection, split between craft and German imports. I had an Ettaler Kloster Dunkel (smooth, malty, with an edge of roastiness...God, I hope it's not just Sinamar...) that tasted so nice I decided to throw the schedule in the dumper (I skipped an Irish joint in Secaucus I really need to tell people about just another Irish pub?) and have lunch. I got a sauerbraten sandwich, which was tender and tangy, with fresh-cut fries that I had to restrain myself from finishing.

But Helmers' is more than just beer and food. A very nice selection of spirits sat on the classy backbar, and the bartender was smooth and professional. I was very happy to see a hand-operated juice press not just prominently displayed but being used regularly; there's just nothing like fresh juices in cocktails.

I don't know if I'll ever get back to Hoboken. Washington Street was a very neat strip, with gorgeous old architecture and tons of restaurants and shops, but it's just not on my usual routes at all. But if I do, Helmers' is on the shortest of lists for a return visit.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Session: Music and Memory

It's time again for The Session, when beer bloggers around the world are invited to write on a similar topic. This month it's "beer and music," suggested and collected by Tomme Arthur, brewer extraordinaire for Port Brewing/Lost Abbey. The collected entries are compiled here.

To Alte Kameraden...

My very first days of truly discovering beer had a classic soundtrack; appropriate, because I was learning about classic beers. I was introduced to beer out of the mainstream at the Lauzus Hotel, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an old hotel bar with a tile mosaic floor, tin ceiling, and a big-hearted old German owner, Wilhelm Lauzus.

Wilhelm's idea of 'how to do it' was a long set of coolers full of beers on the wall opposite the long carved wood bar, a cooler from which you would select a beer, take it up to the bar and hand to him or his barman, a crusty old Dane named Per. Once Wilhelm had the beer -- an Altenmünster, a Maisel, a Sailer, a Duvel -- he would inspect the label, cock an eye at you, open the beer, and hand it to you, always with a comment. Kronenbourg: "Alsatian beer. Really belongs to us." Augustiner Maximator: "Give one of these to your girlfriend, ho ho ho." Pabst: "If you want..." Then would come the beer's price -- and the most expensive beer he carried was $2.50 -- and you would pay -- cash, round by round -- and then have a seat.
I had been drinking for three years when I first walked into Wilhelm's place. Pabst, Genny Cream, Bud, and a lot of Rolling Rock. Oh, and National Bohemian, Rheingold, National Premium, Schmidt's, Duquesne, when we didn't have much money. I drank it because it was cold, it tasted good -- eventually -- and yeah, for the buzz.

Then I wound up at Wilhelm's with an Altenmünster in my hand -- "The fliptop's nice, no?" -- and my world changed, right then.
And the tune playing on the jukebox was "Lili Marlene." Wilhelm had stocked the two right-side rows of the jukebox with beerhall music, swing tunes, and even some short classical pieces. The rest of the juke was the same old crap everyone had, classic rock, pop. But I got used to drinking good beer, great beer, to the oompah sounds of Alte Kameraden ("Old Comrades"), Lili, and the Radetzky March. I would clink glasses with my friends, and grin, and swallow deeply of the great refreshing stuff while the brass blared and the drums thumped. We thought it was great fun in those days, and I still do.

Maybe that's why I still like lagers, because they were my first non-mainstream beers, and maybe that's why I still have a deep love for beerhalls and their traditional tunes. It all comes together sometimes, in a way that makes you hope it will never come apart.

Guy Talk: spinning some numbers

Guy Hagner continues to inch towards opening his One Guy Brewing Company in Berwick, PA; he's sent some pictures of the progress -- it's amazing the difference a drop ceiling makes. Here's his latest installation of Guy Talk, a kind of short lecture series on stuff you may not have ever thought about beer. Ever think about just how much yeast is in beer?


Years ago I read a sci-fi novel in which humans encountered a planet populated by only a few hundred different species of life. The contrast was made with the riotous, virtually limitless diversity and sheer quantity of life found on Earth.

Ever since I’ve been interested in these questions: How many different forms of life exist? What is the total population of living organisms on Earth? The numbers are surely staggering. I can’t give a guess as to the answers, except in the area of brewing.

Brewers’ yeast is a single-cell organism. As microscopic life-forms go it is fairly large (most bacteria are an order of magnitude smaller and viruses are another step or 2 down in size) yet their numbers are huge. A brewer will typically add 10 to 20 million yeast cells per milliliter (ml) of wort to start the fermentation.

Think about that: One ml of wort is about one-thirtieth of a US ounce, and begins fermentation with a quantity of yeast equal to the human population of one of the world’s largest cities. Not only that but the yeast will at least triple in population during the fermentation. For ease of calculation let’s call it 50 million yeast cells per ml during the height of fermentation.

So per ounce of fermenting beer there are 1.5 billion yeast cells. To make one 12-ounce bottle of beer it takes more individual yeast organisms than the number of people that have ever lived.

Annual global production of beer is approx. 1.45 billion barrels (1.7 billion hectoliters). I’m assuming the average fermentation time is a week; so in round numbers the barrelage of beer actively fermenting at any given time is 1.45 billion divided by 52 weeks or 28 million barrels.

Bear with me through this step.
28,000,000 barrels times
31 gallons per barrel times
128 ounces per gallon times
1,500,000,000 yeast cells per ounce equals:

166,656,000,000,000,000,000 individual yeast cells.

So the brewing world’s contribution to the total population of earth is about 166 quintillion.

What’s this all mean? I’m not sure, but if anyone wants to take an educated guess as to the total size of Earth’s population I’d like to hear it.

In the sci-fi story all the planet’s organisms were inter-connected in some creepy way. As the space explorers’ ship returned to Earth there were several stowaways intent on assimilating all of Earth’s life. I don’t think they realized the size of the job ahead of them…

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Maybe not so much...

I don't really have much to post about WhiskyFest New York: we got into town late the night before, did set-up all morning (same as SF, pretty much), Cathy and I both worked in our room after lunch, and then the actual fest was pretty much like SF, except for the awards. John's got his view of the Fest up here; I'll echo his words on the Crown Royal Cask 16. Wow. That's Canadian whisky? A whole new niche opening up, along with Forty Creek. Oh, and the 1979 Glenlivet Lorne Mackillop poured me was just pretty damned special, as was the Caol Ila he had. I sent a few people that way, and no one came back disappointed.

But the one thing I did want to post about was a disappointment. As I said, we did get in late Monday night -- had dinner with the kids and my parents, then caught the NJ Transit train up and walked to the Marriott from Penn Station -- but I was ready to head out, and I did, by myself. I've wanted to check out Stout for quite a while; I really like the two sister restaurants/bars, St. Andrew's and Maggie's Place, and the idea of a bar focusing on stout got me going.

Stout was a disappointment. 22 taps and only three stouts on tap -- the ubiquitous Guinness, Murphy's, and a very nice Keegan's Mother's Milk (which is what I had two imperial pints of for $6 each, not bad for Manhattan) -- just left me shaking my head, especially since the rest of the tap selection was so totally pedestrian. Sure there are a lot of stouts in bottles, but so what? StoutNYC is supposed to be Irish; how many Irishmen you ever seen drinking stout from a bottle? Add into that the way my three bucks in cash disappeared from the bar in front of me (I was glued to the Green Bay/Denver game), something that's never happened in years of bar-hopping, and it was not a great experience. Stout felt like just another crowded NYC bar with the usual loudmouths and shot-knockers. After the brilliant atmosphere and service at St. Andrew's and Maggie's Place, it was quite a let-down.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Frost is on the Pumpkin...

I woke up to the first frost of the season here in southeastern Pennsylvania, and it was a heavy one. Perfect time to put up this link to my winter beer story for Massachusetts Beverage Business magazine. It's tough sometimes to come up with a new story on something you've been writing about for 10 years; I dug into my archives to pull some quotes from early stories, including one from my very first story for MassBevBiz, back in 1998, from Jeff Close, former sales head for Catamount.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gourding our loins

The new Condé Nast Portfolio column's up, on pumpkin beers. I've got some tasting notes on an attached slideshow, and I've picked up another pumpkin beer I want to do, from Elysian (thanks, guys!), so that will be showing up here shortly. Happy Halloween!

Wolaver's 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Ale

Wolaver's celebrated their 10th anniversary, appropriately, with a Farmhouse Ale. It's a saison, and a fairly robust one. Plenty of spicy yeasty character, and a drying dose of bitterness. Is it 100% organic? It has "plenty" of organic malts and hops, so it's your guess. "Plenty" is good enough for me, given the tough organic hops situation. It also went well with my grilled bluefish and grilled portabella dinner. Cheers, Wolaver's: nice beer!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

STAG Poll #4: Brewpub Management

Still having fun...I'll have a new poll up shortly.

To jump-start your new brewpub, your best bet is to:

Brew an Imperial Hefe-PortIPAmber and call it Best Of The Northwest -- 15 votes (10%)
Add a little caustic to the DIPA, tell people it's a new hop strain: Cleveland -- 13 votes (8%)
Do Dollar Draft Nights with your Nicholas & Alexandra Double Imperial Stout -- 26 votes (17%)
Hire strippers to waitress on Dollar Draft Nights and up your insurance -- 58 votes (38%)
Just hop the bejayzus out of everything -- 58 votes (38%)

Total Votes: 149

Good old cider

Well, I'm home from San Francisco. We did finally manage to find a great breakfast: a mile walk up Market and Geary to Dottie's True Blue Cafe, where Cathy had banana-butterscotch french toast and I got an omelette with lamb-rosemary sausage, goat cheese, spinach, and roasted garlic. Excellent. Bumpy ride home, but all was well, and Little Mister Dog was just ecstatic.

So, about that cider. Cathy visited her mom last week, and while she was there, stopped by an orchard and cider mill. She picked up some apples (Honeycrisps, I love 'em) and a gallon of cider. I didn't notice that it was unpasteurized...until this morning, when I grabbed the jug to have some with my breakfast. Hey... this jug is bulging! Sure enough, the top popped! off, and the aroma was invigorating, and the fizzy stinging stuff inside was alive. Ah, nothing like hard cider in the morning, a link to our colonial past. Cheers, John Adams, and damn all interfering busybodies who insist on pasteurizing cider!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day Three

Busy day. We got up and went out for breakfast: the Elephant and Castle, God help me. It was only a few blocks from the hotel, and had a regular breakfast-type menu, but...I just felt wrong at a chain joint, like I let down the side. We'll do better today, but we were a bit rushed yesterday.

Back from there, and we got to work in the ballroom, starting set-up. We unloaded magazines and set them out, unloaded cases of programs (the WhiskyFest programs are a class act: spiral-bound, heavy paper, four-color print) and nosing glasses, and set up signs. Then we began almost an hour of shifting tables to exactly where we wanted them: spacing, angles, numbers, all that jazz. We do six nosing glasses for each vendor, etched with their logo, so we took those out and set them up on the vendor's tables, about 66 tables in all. While we were doing that, other staffers were setting up row upon row of event nosing glasses at the registration tables. After three hours of that, we went to lunch in the hotel restaurant. (chicken and prosciutto panini, cup of clam chowder, goat cheese and arugula salad, quite nice, and the iced tea was fresh)

Cathy and I walked across to the Ferry Building to grab some souvenirs at the Market. We got some shirts, some chocolate, I got a Cowgirl Creamery triple creme puck (which was quite flippin' nice once we got it back to the room and let it warm up). We also got dessert: bombolone, kind of like really nice filled donuts. Back to the room, shower and dress for the event. We went down to the ballroom at 3:30.

Things went very smoothly. Actually, the whole event went pretty darned smoothly. The exhibitors fell into the routine, putting out bottles, setting up their displays, greeting each other. We had our seminars, which are my responsibility to see that everything is running smoothly, and they did. It was a bit tougher this time, because only one of the seminar rooms was on the same floor as the main event; the others were up a level, and we had to ask attendees to go up a flight of escalators. By the time the night was over, I told Cathy I should have gotten frequent flyer miles for that escalator trip. We did have some great seminars: a scotch and chocolate tasting with Simon Brooking of Laphroaig and John Scharffenberger of Scharffen Berger Chocolate; a tasting of export-only whiskeys from Heaven Hill, and a rum tasting with Appleton Rum.

The response was tremendous. Guests were coming up to staffers and thanking us for a great event; exhibitors were warmly thanking us for "coming to San Francisco." It was quite gratifying. People were well-behaved, very little drunkenness, and responsible behavior: "I think I've had enough, sir. Where can I get a cab?" We're looking forward to the next year here.

I took some leftover bottles up to a Diageo party on the 9th floor -- friends of ours -- and went back to the room, where I put on some more comfortable clothes and shoes. We went down to John and Amy's room, with everyone else -- most of the women in pajamas, the guys out on the balcony -- and we toasted a successful event. And pretty much crashed; we were exhausted.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day Two

Monday was a day to play. Cathy and I got up jet-lag early, and headed out into the sweet, clear dawn to the Ferry Building, as you can see in this picture from outside the hotel. We hit the market, only to find that most of the shops didn't open for another two or three hours. What?
Doesn't San Francisco believe in breakfast? We got a cup of Peet's coffee and headed down the Embarcadero, munching on a sourdough loaf for sustenance, and looking for something more solid. didn't happen. We walked for about three miles, for over an hour, and found nothing but coffee shop after coffee shop -- with only java and muffins -- and a few Chinese places, but Cathy didn't want stir fry bean curd, and I didn't want muffins. We did see a lot of neat scenes, some weird stuff in the Tenderloin, and got some exercise, but wound up settling for a coffee shop near the hotel and an oatmeal for her and a "Southwestern egg & cheese sammich" for me. Feh.

Back to the room, where Cathy took a nap (which she can do in any conditions) and I took care of e-mail and such. At 11:30 we headed out again, and had lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building. Oh, yum. Not the cheapest lunch I've ever bought, but the 2 dozen varied oysters were delish (looks like Cathy liked them too), and my oyster stew was easily the best rendition I've ever had.

We trekked back to the hotel and caught a cab to the Anchor Brewery. I'd never had a chance to tour the brewery, and this was a signal moment for me.

We were right on time for our 1:00 tour, and after two superbly fresh glasses of Steam and a short pleasant visit with Fritz Maytag, walked into the brewhouse, where a batch of 2007 Christmas Ale was in the mash tun (and right up to the brim of the mash tun, too). We checked out the shallow lager/steam tanks (where we were told that only the Steam was brewed with a lager yeast; all the other beers were done with the same ale yeast), the open ale ferment tanks, the big closed tanks used for conditioning, and then to the bottling line, where I found this six-pack of just-packed 2007 Christmas Ale (sorry: didn't get a taste, it was embargoed until Nov. 5).

We also toured the distillery, where we got a sample of the new Genevieve, a genever they're making and will be introducing at WhiskyFest tonight. Quite nice; big and flavorful, plenty of body, and the blend of botanicals shifted away from juniper. Anchor is experimenting with a lot of different barrels and toast/char levels for their whiskey, and have committed to the longer-aged Hotalings rye whiskey.

Just to make things complete, we went across the street to Fritz's winery. They're crushing and ... well, all that stuff wine-makers do. We saw fermenting grapes, tasted some young wine (very peppery, eye-openingly tannic), and talked Brix. And then it was over, and we caught a cab.

My friend Jon Binkley had suggested I stop at Zeitgeist, a biker/bike messenger bar on Valencia. Well, what the hell, I'm an affable guy, we went. It was a good time. Yeah, it's scruffy, but no one was rude, no one was pushy, none of the stuff the reviews at Yelp squealed about happened. was a Monday afternoon, of course. It was real nice out back in the outside area: old wood tables and benches, wild mural art, and a barbecue smoker going. We had a couple IPAs (Big Daddy and Racer 5), relaxed, and then headed up over the hill towards Suppenküche, the German place where we were supposed to meet Jon.

We were way early, so we stopped along the way for an espresso (watching al Jazeera on the shop's TV), walked down Hayes and looked at the shops, stopped in the Place Pigalle bar for another beer (I had a Deschutes Black Butte, Cathy got a Pilsner Urquell that I helped finish), and then walked back up the street to Suppenküche. On the way, John Hansell called: he was bored, Amy was getting a massage, and where was it we were meeting for a beer? Come on down, I told him, I'll hold a lager for you.

Suppenküche was great. Not just six different Oktoberfest beers on draft, but three Weltenburger Kloster beers on draft! I got the Weltenburger Ofest, which I'd never heard of, let alone tasted. About the time I got the first sip in, Jon walked through the door. I haven't seen him for about five years, and it was good to chat. He ordered up the same thing, and then he and Cathy started talking science (he's doing some kind of protein mapping project at Stanford). John showed up and stood the next round (more Ofest), we all remarked on how good the food smelled, and maybe we should come back next year. Then we did a round of wheat beers -- Schneider, Franziskaner, and Erdinger dunkel -- that left us dissing the dunkel; the Schneider was a clear fave, as it often -- always? -- is, the Franz was good, better than I remember, but the Erdinger seemed to have none of the classic hefe character.

We had to run for dinner. Jon walked down to Van Ness with us, and waited till we managed to catch a cab; great to see you, Jon! Dinner was at The House of Prime Rib, and man, was it ever. Check out that link, and you'll kind of get the idea. All they serve is prime rib (well...okay, if you insist, they also have grilled fish), which Amy happily models for you on the left. You have a choice of four cuts, mashed or baked (my baked spud was incredible), creamed spinach or creamed corn. Dinners come with salad and Yorkshire pudding. That's it. Oh, and bread and cornbread. Cocktails? How about a Sazerac? I can't get that for you, sir, only because we have no Herb-Saint. So I ordered an Old-Fashioned and our waiter asked if I wanted bourbon or rye; rye? Which one, sir? Wow. Good drink, too.

The choice of THOPR was Dave Keene's, who joined us for dinner with his...well, I don't know what Jen's exact relationship is with Dave, other than a close one. She was a pistol, and we got right into it over the whole IPAs rule/lagers suck thing that seems to be the way things go in the West. Well. You know. We were both laughing. We just had a great time, all of us, laughing and eating and drinking. The meat was superb, as was the fiery fresh-grated horseradish. We ate, we talked, we got ready for today. And then we went back to the hotel, and that was the end of Monday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Day One

We've arrived in San Francisco for WhiskyFest; got in last night, actually. We got to the Hyatt at 6:10, and by 6:50 we were on our way to the Toronado, which is, well, one of the best damned beer bars in the country. At least, I'd been told that, and had no reason to doubt it, but...I'd never been. So we went.

And we did get stuck into it. That's Toronado owner Dave Keene, me, and Malt Advocate publisher John Hansell...well, last night John wasn't the publisher. He was a guy who'd been going to Toronado for years, hanging out with his buddy Dave. I was lucky enough to tag along.
I was also lucky enough to be in time for dinner from Rosamunde's Sausage Grill next door. Oh, God, yum. Dave and John each got their beer sausage, Cathy had a duck sausage (with figs), I had a merguez (smoked lamb and beef), and Jim McGinley (husband of our magazine manager, Joan) had a hot Italian. I had a bite of Cathy's, and I can definitely report that our two were superb. Gawd. Two landmarks I definitely wanted to visit, down in two hours. Rock on!

Before anyone thinks this has turned into "Seen Through A Big Piece of Meat," let me say that the El Toro Deuce I started the evening with was great: hoppy and fresh, not overpowering. Then we had glasses of the Toronado 20th Anniversary that Vinnie Cilurzo had brewed at Russian River, and it was arresting: sour, deep, with a deftly woven character of oak and teasing sweetness that grew towards the end of the swallow. I also had a Moonlight Sublimmminal IPA (I think that's how they spelled it) from the cask (four handpumps, BTW: all pouring): an interesting project. Dave said it was all mash-hopping and dry-hopping, no hops in the kettle. Very good, and quite drinkable. A sip of John's Blind Pig IPA (Russian River) brought back memories of this beer from GABF in 1996, wow. It's a shame this beer gets overlooked in the rush to the Pliny's.

Wow. So now Cathy and I are in our room on Monday morning, ready to head out. This is the view, a picture I just took a minute ago. We're going to walk for about an hour, have breakfast, and do some sightseeing: tour of Anchor Brewing at 1:00, meeting a friend for beers at 5, and then going out for a big staff dinner. Should be fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare a Hop?

The hops shortage may be tighter than I thought. I'm a member of the Brewers Association (for now; I think it's about to run out), and that gets me on the e-mail forum where brewers discuss issues and post job openings and ask tech questions of each other. Over the past two years I've seen brewers ask where they can find gaskets for old tanks, parts for pumps, and cleaning chemicals.

But in the past week, hardly a day has gone by that there hasn't been a post asking for help finding hops. I've never seen this many posts asking for hops help in a month before. Hey, I was just kidding about this being the end of DIPA!

Welcome, Mister Sixpack!

Don Russell, AKA "Joe Sixpack," the beer columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News for the past...what, Don, eleven years? -- has upgraded his website to include a blog. And he's got the Yards brewery site news and a short talk with GABF-winning McKenzie Brewhouse brewer Ryan Michaels up already (which answers the question, "did Ryan win them medals with his beer or The Dude's beer?", an answer which has been confirmed by His Dudeness himself...who figures in this post from Uncle Jack, reporting that Dock Street's brewer Julius Hummer has left the building (never even got a chance to meet him!), and The Dude has returned...for now. Pretty damned parenthetical, eh?).

Welcome to blogging, Don!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yards finds a home

Uncle Jack's got the details on the new home for Yards; go take a look.

I'm looking forward to everyone getting down to brewing in January. And then the sales fun will begin.

One World, One Brewer

Stop the Madness!!!

Just got an e-mail news alert from the UK: Carlsberg and Heineken are in talks to form a consortium to buy the UK's largest brewer, Scottish & Newcastle.
The companies said that it was "currently intended that Carlsberg will ultimately acquire Scottish & Newcastle's interest in Baltic Beverage Holdings, France and Greece, and that Heineken will ultimately assume control of Scottish & Newcastle's business in the UK and other European markets".

Which actually isn't all bad, seeing that it would mean S&N beers would be all under the Heineken wing, and their non-Brit acquisitions would go to the Great Dane. Good God, did I actually just say that another round of megabrewer consolidation "isn't all bad"? Ye gods, it's contagious!

Okay, deep breath. It may not even happen, it's just a discussion:

The statement added that "to date no formal approach has been made to Scottish & Newcastle and there can be no certainty that an offer for Scottish & Newcastle will ultimately be forthcoming".
Maybe not. (Ha!) Although the stock price of S&N, which is up 18%, shows which way the market thinks things will fall out.

Seriously, does this really matter to any of us? Yes, it does. These massive consolidations mean even more deracination (look it up) of beer and beer culture. They cost jobs in the beer industry, and the benefit is what -- a slight increase in profits that is lost in the cost of the consolidation and increased costs of advertising. Some smaller brands will inevitably disappear.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that like InBev, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi, Constellation, these giant conglomeration companies will find it impossible to stop acquiring. They are scooping up European regional breweries like blue whales seining krill, and they'd suck up Boston Beer and other publicly held crafts without even a post-prandial burp.

And then what? A race to make the cheapest light beer they can sell for the most profit? Maybe. For sure, you'll see a lot less options, and many of the options you will get will be meaningless. God, I'm feeling bleak this morning.

Addition to the story: Bloomberg is now reporting that S&N is an unwilling target, and that InBev and A-B are possible competitive bidders. An article chockful of stuff.

STAG Poll #3: Brown Ale

STAG Poll #3 is in the books. After a weirdly neck and neck polling, a strong finish at the end gave the plurality to...well, take a look.

If brown ale was a guy, he would be:

One 'a them there metrosexuals: 12 (9%)
a jogger: 9 (6%)
Grampa: 45 (34%)
a whiny vegan: 14 (10%)
your wingman: 52 (39%)

Total votes: 132

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bluenoses are everywhere

For all of you who still think that the New Drys are strictly right wing groups, or religious groups, take a gander at this. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman who is neither right-wing nor, as far as I know, particularly religious, is on a moral crusade in Venezuela to create the "New Man, a socialist revolutionary with a monk-like purity of purpose." Students of Soviet history, stop me if you've heard this before... The rest of you, read on.

Chavez is concerned about how much whiskey his countrymen drink (I've covered this in "Whisky News" in Malt Advocate, with much glee), and how many Hummers they buy. But the people with smaller budgets piss him off, too:
Chavez is also concerned that too many Venezuelans swill beer on street corners. Irked by unregulated beer sales in the slums, he has warned that beer trucks selling alcohol directly on the streets would be seized. ... "I've told the National Guard to stop and seize any truck going around selling beer in the street as if it were ice cream," he said. "This cannot be permitted."

The president has a long list of other "New Man" recommendations: don't douse foods with too much hot sauce, exercise regularly, eat low-cholesterol foods, respect speed limits. He also wants parents to stop buying Barbie dolls — and breast jobs — for their daughters.

"Now some say, 'When my daughter turns fifteen years old, we're going to give her phony breasts.' What a horrible thing! It's the latest degeneration," Chavez told one packed auditorium.
Señor Chavez? Nurse Ratchett calling; it's time for your electroshock therapy. You'll have to spit out your gum, sir. Thank you, sir: bite down...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beer History in the (Re-)Making

If you haven't yet followed the links down there on the left side of the page to Ron Pattinson's Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and Martyn Cornell's Zythophile blogs, you really should. These two have been re-writing the history of British beers -- oops, I almost wrote "British beer styles", which might have caused Pattinson's head to explode. I've been reading them recently with slack-jawed admiration.

Cornell, the author of Beer: the Story of a Pint, just posted last week about Burton Ale. If you've heard of Burton Ale, it's probably not what you thought, according to Cornell: Greene King Burton Pale Ale was, for example:
a sweet, dark, fruity warming beer, just like its few surviving brother beers in the Burton Ale style, which include Young’s Winter Warmer, Marston’s Owd Roger and Theakston’s Old Peculier.

Food for thought. Pattinson, meanwhile, has been tearing apart the lazily accepted history of porter, stout, and mild (as does Cornell, BTW), using great drifts of data he's collected from brewer's logs. He's a self-admitted obsessive about this stuff, but the results he's getting make me very glad he's taking the time.

I apologize for all the mythical stuff I've repeated as "beer history." I'm not talking about beer history at all until I've digested this stuff. Do yourself a favor and go get a big helping of it yourself. Two excellent blogs, two writers doing yeoman work, by doing primary research. Cheers, gentlemen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

MillerCoors: Shotgun wedding or knife fight?

If you were wondering why I hadn't posted anything about the MillerCoors joint's why: I was getting paid to write something about it for Portfolio. Here it is. I'm not real optimistic about it working well.

Really: a small battleship

My new Condé Nast Portfolio column is up, on Oktoberfest beer, here and at the Wies'n. You've probably heard that the stuff they serve there is different from the stuff we get here; you may or may not be surprised to learn that the stuff they serve lighter. Jeff Coleman, former Paulaner North America importer and now head of Distinguished Brands International (who bring in some truly good beers), tells a great little story about what happened when Paulaner decided to send over "real" Oktoberfest beer one year. I also reveal the result of a lot of serious math: the amount of beer served at Oktoberfest would literally float a small battleship, namely, the U.S.S. Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship from the battle of Manila Bay (currently tied up at Penn's Landing in Philly). Check it out.

Dinner with the Beams of Heaven Hill

Well... After a smooth flight from Philly to Louisville, the Heaven Hill folks got me to the Brown Hotel, where I settled into my room and munched on some of the goodies they'd provided (this is by way of letting you know that yes, they paid for this). After a bit of refreshment, checking of e-mail, and amusement at the responses to the #3 STAG Poll (more fun to come, folks), I spiffed up my ensemble and went down to the lobby bar, where I met up with the other folks on the junket -- fellow whiskey writers Chuck Cowdery, Gary Regan, Stuart Ramsay, and drinks writers Terry Sullivan (who does some damned funny stuff for us in Malt Advocate; happily he'd brought along his equally funny wife, Monica), Bill Spain (who covers booze and tobacco for MarketWatch), and Allen Katz -- and Heaven Hill master distiller Craig Beam. We had a round of last year's Evan Williams Single Barrel -- nice way to start an evening -- and headed out to Limestone, bourbon country chef Jim Gerhardt's restaurant.

I'd heard about Limestone, and had the pleasure of Jim Gerhardt's cooking -- he's devoted to the foods of Kentucky, and tries to use them as much as possible -- and I was looking forward to this dinner. We stepped into the lounge, where Craig's father, Parker Beam, was waiting for us. Always a pleasure to speak to Parker, a real gentleman. We sipped more Single Barrel -- then Terry and I shifted to Elijah Craig 12 Year Old -- and munched on some nice finger food: Jim's signature potato crisps, barrel-smoked trout tartlets (not so hot: low on flavor, didn't realize they were smoked until I saw the menu), some sliced house-made sausage with caramelized shallots on toasted bread crisps (delish, and quite nice with the shallots), and EWSB-glazed beef tenderloin on dark rye bread (very nice, about the size of a quarter, and beautifully tender).

We adjourned to the next room for dinner. But first, we had an assortment of whiskey treats. There were three of the beautifully designed bottles of Parker's Heritage Collection on the table: solid, big-shouldered no-neck bottles, looking like three offensive linemen. They were bottlings from the three different dumpings ("Sounds so much better than "three dumps," doesn't it?" said Chuck) of the whiskey: one at about 122 proof, one at 127, and one at 129. We got sip samples of each, and sniffed and sipped; added water and repeated. I found my thrill in the 127, which seemed richer than the other two. Chuck said the whiskeys were clearly Parker's: "You like the barrels from up in the hotter floor of the warehouse," and Parker quickly agreed.

This is an 11 year old whiskey that came from barrels with tapered staves. We tried to get an explanation of just what that meant -- and why it was important -- but either we weren't being clear or the bourbon was too loud, because I just couldn't get clear on what it was. Parker did say that they had some of these tapered stave barrels done with a deeper, #4 char, and that because of the tapered staves, there was more loss from a barrel. Hmmm... More experiments are going on, he and Craig said, and it sounded like a lot of them had to do with cooperage. Some of the experimental bits sounded almost trivial -- heads held together with tongue-and-groove joints instead of the usual dowel pegs, for instance -- and Chuck suspected it might be experimentation for the sake of experimentation.

The whiskey we tasted next was anything but that. Craig pulled out a pint bottle of malt whisky, Kentucky-style: 51% malt, 49% corn, but otherwise done by bourbon-style procedures -- new charred oak barrels, same proof points as their bourbon, and so on. It was mighty young, only about 6 months in the barrel, and it smelled it. The flavor was, well, "interesting," as Gary put it with a self-realizational grin. There was clearly corn, but some of the silkier sweetness of malt. I'd like to see what this was like with about 70% malt, and about 5 more years on it. Interesting, yes. Potential? Harder to say. Sure is good to see Heaven Hill continuing to push things.

Dinner commenced. We got three spears of white asparagus with thin slices of Newsom's Country Ham (crisp light sparrowgrass and salty, rich ham), topped with a luscious Sauce Bearnaise that hit a great balance between creamy and tart. Then it was EWSB-Scented Apple Celery Soup -- good, but I'm just not big on celery. The next course was a cioppino with clams, crawfish tails, and lemonfish (I think he said lemonfish), finished with EWSB. I was not that nuts on this one, either. The fish was delicious, a delicate texture, but the sauce was overpowered by the bourbon. Jim said after the meal that he doesn't like doing reductions of bourbon, but prefers to add it right at the end of cooking.

The next, main course, hit me right between the eyes, the high point of the dinner: veal scaloppini with an EWSB truffle sauce, braised red cabbage, and spatzel. I got one whiff of it -- rich nutty meat, delicately measured bourbon and hint of earthy truffle -- and asked the waitress if I could please skip the wine -- a cabernet I just wasn't warming to -- for this course and get a pint of the Bluegrass Brewing Nut Brown Ale I'd seen on tap in the lounge. She brought it, and it was a magnificent match for the hot veal and sauce. I was in heaven. Dessert brought apple strudel and whiskey sauce, which was even better with a little more of that 127 proof Parker's.

After sitting around making fun of each other for a while, we went back to the hotel, where we settled down in the hospitality suite, and, believe it or not, sang. Gary Regan had us laughing ourselves sick with a full-motion version of "O'Reilly's Daughter," I sang the old Phil Harris chestnut "The Preacher and the Bear," and Sullivan was quite moving with a quiet, heartfelt rendition of John Prine's "Sam Stone," looking just like an old Irish pub singer...or, well, how I imagine that would look. I also made everyone try some Hpnotiq, the blue tropical fruit juice and cognac ... stuff Heaven Hill imports. I'd never tried it, and I was damned if I was going to be all alone. Well, it tasted mostly like fruit juice, tropical fruit juice, but perked up right nice when I tipped some bourbon in it. Finally around 1:30 we called it a night. I'm sorry there are no pictures, but it's probably for the best.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Evan Williams Single Barrel: the Saga Continues

I'm headed out to Louisville this weekend for a preview launch of this year's Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbon. Heaven Hill has done a great job with this whiskey, and Parker Beam has picked some fine barrels over the years. It is, I think, still one of the great bargains in bourbon, and one I usually buy a few bottles of over the course of the year. Should be fun...and maybe I'll find the inspiration to give you a few more of those Kentucky Bourbon Festival posts I promised. I'm taking the notes along, so we'll see. Cheers!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

STAG Poll #2: More Hops!

Which Beer Really Needs More Hops?

89 votes cast:
Victory HopDevil 13 (14%)
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid 4 (4%)
Stone Ruination IPA 11 (12%)
Bud Effin' Light 56 (62%)
Salvator 5 (5%)

I'm pleased to see that this was taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

You knuckleheads.

SBP: Clipper City considering a session beer

Take a gander at this entry in Hugh Sisson's Diary of a Brewer. The Clipper City Brewing founder wrote the piece, "In Praise of Session Beer," both to do just that, and to let us know that Clipper City is considering a session beer. Here's what he said.

Perhaps if more breweries made an effort to market more “session” like beers that would help, but not if the consumer base doesn’t support the concept. Perhaps a “competition” to create the best session beer would help. I don’t think trying to get more pubs to do cask ale would be successful – too many pubs do not really know how to handle cask beer and the American consumer doesn’t really understand it anyway. And many brewers (myself included) have to really think about how marketable the “session” concept really is.

Having said that, however, I still think it a very worthwhile concept to try and develop. I am planning on discussing this with my brewing team over the next few weeks to see if we can come up with a product with good flavor, high drinkability, and an ABV around 3.5%. Don’t know if we will be able to sell it, but if it works, it will become my way of paying homage to the great English tradition that started me on my career in beer.

I'm not sure that a 3.5% non-cask conditioned beer will be a success -- much of the flavor and beauty of classic session beers comes from that liveliness. Maybe there would be enough market for a two-track approach, with cask for some markets. But I do know that I'm very pleased to see someone give it a fair shot. If I see it, I'm buying it. I urge you to do likewise, and if you like it, buy more...feel free to buy a lot more.

Far-off Thunder

Baltic Thunder has been delayed. The release date of October 15 (and the big unofficial launch party at The Drafting Room in Exton) has been pushed back indefinitely: glass problems. According to an e-mail I got from Patrick at the Drafting Room, he was told by Steve German (the big mahoff of sales at Victory) that the 750 ml bottles had come in far enough out of spec that their bottling line couldn't handle them. They're going to 22 oz. glass instead, which will require changes to labeling and packaging (stop me if you've heard this before), all of which means that we won't get any Baltic Thunder for a while yet.

No one has explained yet why this means a draft release has to be delayed. Maybe because no one asked the guys at Victory. Bill, Ron, Steve: consider it asked. I understand that it's a good thing to have a single release, to come out with draft and bottle all at once. But we've been waiting patiently, and this is a big in-group thing to begin with. Couldn't we get a draft release for a couple months while this bottle mess gets straightened out? Please?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dog Days at Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace Distillery is once again celebrating the start of the fall distilling season with Dog Days. This Thursday, October 11, visitors to the distillery will get a rare chance to sample fresh, unaged whiskey -- "white dog" -- right off the big still at 140 proof. You'll get some Buffalo Trace bourbon, too, but you don't get white dog every day! Get the details here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Even Penderyn Loves 'Que

When I was paying for the great barbeque eating at Allen & Son, I saw a hand-lettered sign at the register: "Hickory-Smoked Bones: $1." Hey, I thought, Little Mister Dog might like that. So I got one. LMD was very excited to see me when I got home (Cathy said he'd been lying by the front door, waiting for me to come home), but when I got the bone out he got very serious.

He sniffed it all over, took it in his mouth (with substantial overlap; it was about 7" long), and trotted out into the backyard without a backwards glance. I heard gnawing noises the rest of the night till bedtime, when I had to go out and bring the little guy in...with about two inches of leftover bone. He was at it again this morning (the pic above which shows the remaining stub in his mouth), a very happy dog. 'Que, gotta love it.

Why Not Mention This?

There's a truly disturbing story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today about underage drinking in Haddonfield, New Jersey. They've had two teenage deaths directly related to alcohol in the past seven months, teens taken to the hospital for heavy drinking in the past two weeks, and a serious problem with underaged house parties when parents go away, including one disgusting incident in which...well, a lot of really nasty stuff happened. I'm not going to sensationalize this post with it, just say that this "party" did $18,000 of damage to the house. That one's been an ongoing story as a small number of kids wiggled off the hook with the help of their parents and lawyers, disgusting the readers of Monica Yant Kinney's column in the Inky. It's turning into a nasty class thing, with everyone talking about "those rich white kids in Haddonfield."

Two things to note. First, I'm appalled. Not only is this out of hand, but this is almost all about kids who are well under 18. The girl who invited students to the piss-piano-poo party was 14. I'm appalled by the age, I'm appalled by the lack of effective punishment. This is one of the main reasons I'm pushing an 18 LDA: so we can focus enforcement efforts on students under 18. The New Drys say an 18 LDA will put more booze in the hands of under 18 students. Reading this story, I don't hardly see how. I say, an 18 LDA will let us stop wasting time and money trying to get college students to stop drinking, and let us help parents keep an eye on their at-home kids.

But the real thing that got me writing this in the first that no one has mentioned that Haddonfield is a dry town. Since 1873. Dry town. Another great policy that is just working so swell. Do you need one more piece of evidence that prohibition doesn't work?

New Jersey towns...they've got a 'grass-roots' movement going now to spread the keg registration stupidity one town at a time. I've seen this in other states, most recently in Iowa. They get town after to town to swallow this policy placebo, and then start telling them that the reason it's not working -- which it won't -- is because "the kids" are just buying kegs in the town next door (plenty of those in NJ, too), so what we really need is a state-wide law.

Right. And that worked so well with the dry movement that spawned Haddonfield's Noble Experiment.

One More Box of Meat

I headed for home Sunday afternoon, after dropping off Carl at his place south of Richmond. We have a choice when we come back from Carl's: we can take our chances with the heavy traffic on I-95, chancing that we won't get hung up going around DC and Baltimore (and pay $11 worth of tolls), or we can peel off onto US Rt. 301, through the woods of Fort A.P. Hill and across the Potomac on the big bridge at Dahlgren, chancing that there's no accidents and the traffic lights don't hit us wrong.

I decided to take the road less-traveled. It was a nice day, traffic wasn't too heavy, and, um...there's Johnny Boy's Ribs on 301 in La Plata, Maryland. I figured by the time I got to Johnny Boy's, I'd be ready for lunch. After a real easy run over the river and through the woods, I pulled off the road and smelled that aroma of hickory smoke. Mmm, boy. I've only eaten here once before, years ago, and I remember mostly that it was cold and windy as I determinedly ate my minced pork at the outside picnic table (no indoor seating at Johnny Boy's). I didn't really know what I was eating, didn't have any kind of appreciation for it. Today, I was ready.

I was going to get minced pork, just to make things fair, when I saw the sign. The name of the place is Johnny Boy's Ribs, I thought, and remembered what Carl had said earlier that morning: sometimes, ribs are just what you want. Screw it: "Half a slab, please, with a side of beans."

The ribs came in a neatly folded cardboard box, lined with foil; the beans in a styro container. The beans were okay, tasted like doctored canned beans: good, but not a lot better than I can do at home. The ribs, though, were excellent. Cut into individual pigsicles, they were meaty and ripe with smoke, with the pinkness that shows the smoke has penetrated the meat.

Johnny Boy's is well-known for their Mama Sophie's sauce, and I should have, I guess, but I wanted to taste the meat. If that was a mistake, it's one I can happily live with. I sucked every bit of meat from the bones, delighting in the meatier ones, gnawing on the leaner ones, and licking the scrumptious grease from my fingers. I took my time, as good ribs will force you to do, and enjoyed every minute.

When I was done, I cleaned up, tossed my trash, got back in the car, and headed north, sticking to Rt. 301 and trying a new route, across the Bay Bridge and up the DelMarVa to Dover. It worked well, and the flat Eastern Shore landscape looked gorgeous in the late afternoon light. I got home about 7:00, and gave Penderyn a big old hickory-smoked bone from Allen & Son. He took it out in the backyard and gnawed on it for an hour in the dark. I knew how he felt.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Best Damned Barbecue

You might be wondering whether I went to Durham for the World Beer Festival, or if I really went for the barbecue and dropped by the fest on a whim. You'd be close. I won't deny that the barbecue was a strong lure when Julie Bradford asked me to speak at the fest. But the bonus turned out to be when I put the word out at the Friday night brewers' reception that I was looking for the best 'cue in town, please, and not the place you send tourists to. Your place. The Real Deal. Smoke Heaven.

Daniel Bradford, All About Beer publisher, came through, in spades: "You want Allen & Son. It's in Chapel Hill, about a 20 minute drive. We'll figure out how to get you there between sessions." Perfect. It got even perfecter (ha!) when I hit the Web and learned that they opened at 10 AM on Saturdays. Carl and I were parked out front at 10:07. A quick peek around back confirmed that not only was Allen & Son the 'real deal' and used real wood-fired pits, they were hard-core Old School: there wasn't just wood back there, there were big freakin' logs that they were cutting and splitting themselves, presumably to either save some money or get just the billets they wanted. Or both.

We went in, and "Hunting Camp" went through my mind: dead heads on the wall, old furniture and linoleum, and woodsmoke. We dropped anchor beside the two figures you see to the left -- the pig showing a slightly uncomfortable amount of emotion in his little ceramic eyes -- and were greeted by our waitress Jennaraye. I told her we were there the first time, and asked her what we should have. Pulled pork was her suggestion, which got right to the issue: how's your pig? I'm much more a pulled pork/minced pork kinda guy than a rib-lover. Carl got it with fries, I got the tatie salad.

She brought us a basket of hush puppies to start, rough, non-uniform, and dark, both inside and out. They were still hot, and I grabbed one by the sharp, crusty corner, and bit in. Glory. These were the best hush puppies I've ever had. They were moist, heavy, a bit coarse, and sweet with corn; no spices, no onion that I could detect, just delicious cornmeal. I asked her what cornmeal they used -- after I had moaned and shuddered my way through about four of them -- and all I could get from what she was saying was that it was a local brand, House of Ayard? Or something. I'm checking a grocery store on the way out of town this morning; if you know what she's talking about, pass it on.

Then the pig came. Hey, you read the title of the post, right? I can't keep you in suspense, right? It was The Best Damned Barbecue I remember having. It was boldly smoky, smoke-infused, with a hot-pepper vinegar dressing (I know I'm a bad man, but I can't bring myself to call the east Carolina vinegar and pepper thing, delicious though it is, "sauce") and plenty of browned chunks of outside meat and a couple chunks of skin. We just fell on it. My tater salad was good, but not exceptional, the slaw was peppery and okay. Carl's french fries were outstanding, meaty strips of spud, fried down just right.

I could not resist dessert when Jennaraye asked. I got peach cobbler, which was real downhome and good, but I should have resisted her suggestion that I get the homemade vanilla ice cream: it was at least a day old and grainy. Cobbler was quite good though.

If I get near the Triangle again, bet your soul: I'll be at Allen & Son.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Session #8: Beer & Food, Part 3

It was a long night till I was hungry again after the gut-stuffing at Parker's: minced pork, Brunswick stew, string beans in pot liquor, hush puppies, fried chicken....Damn. And those boys at Parker's stand ready to get you more, more, more. God bless 'em, even if they don't have beer.

But Tyler's Taproom put out a spread for the World Beer Festival's brewer's reception: salmon spread, shrimp, artichoke dip... what the hell? No 'que? I dipped a bit, but mostly drank: Bell's Two-Hearted, Sierra Nevada Harvest, Big Boss Surrender Monkey (and the oak-aged Surrender Monkey, which was a totally different, totally excellent beer), and BridgePort IPA, an unexpected pleasure. Tyler's did have taps o'plenty, and good stuff, but short on dark beers, which hurt.

Then about 9 PM they suddenly brought out a tray of sharply vinegary 'que, and I grabbed my glass of New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout, shouted HOORAY!, and grabbed pork. Mmmmm, baby. Beer met pig and rejoiced. Vinegar melted into rich pigmeat and thoroughly mellow malty/bitter stout, and all was good. A soothing wrap for an acidic/meaty mix.

So what do we learn? Couple things. First, NC is a great place for barbecue. Hell yeah. Second, NC is not a great place for beer and food (but you can sneak around it sometimes). That sucks, truly, and the whole "family atmosphere" thing is crap that needs to be addressed by beer drinkers: it needs to be proven that "beer with dinner" clearly does not mean "drunks with dinner." Sanctimonious weeners.

The prime lesson, of course, is that it's a good thing to put the right beer with your chow. It can really make things better, more clear, maybe even synergistically delish. It can help the beer or the food or both.

Mmmmm...barbecue works well with malty beers. Yeah.