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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dock Street: One Step Closer

I went to a Dock Street event tonight, the re-launch of Illuminator. Wow. How long has it been since we've said that? This time, of course, it's the new Dock Street, Dock Street at the Firehouse (seen above on the right), out at 50th and Baltimore. It's a changing, gentrifying University City/West Philly neighborhood. The last time I was out that way was about 7 years ago, and things have definitely changed.

But I couldn't tell you if Illuminator had changed or not. The beloved Dock Street doublebock died too long ago for me to remember it, sadly. The new one (currently brewed and bottled at Mendocino in Saratoga, NY) was rich, thick, malty, and boozy, with just a hint of licorice on the end: grand stuff on a late winter evening. The Dock Street Amber I had was too cold to really appreciate.

That's Chris Lapierre and Dock Street owner Rosemarie Certo on the left. I managed to catch a moment where Lapierre, who started brewing at the old Dock Street brewpub at 18th & Cherry, came in and gave Rosemarie a bottle of beer he'd brewed at Iron Hill West Chester, where he's the head brewer now. A happy moment that no one else really caught the significance of. I didn't get to talk to Rosemarie for more than a minute, she was very busy.

But the executive director of the University City District did speak, and what he said was heartening. "We're here to celebrate Dock Street, and it's been a long time coming." This was just the first celebration, he said: contruction is about to begin after a long zoning battle (Church leaders: get educated. Alcohol is coming to your neighborhood, but getting it in the form of a brewpub is a much better deal), and "Dock Street will jump-start the revival of the Baltimore Avenue Corridor." No solid word on when it will open ("open later this year," and you know what that's worth), or who the brewer is ("they have one, but they're not saying who it is" said one of the brewers there tonight).

I love to hear community leaders who understand that brewpubs raise neighborhoods up, not knock them down. Brewpubs are the kind of drinking establishment you want in your neighborhood. They celebrate the drink, not its effects; they raise beer and food together. They attract a different breed of cat.

So I went to Dock Street tonight. Still feels weird to say that, but I suspect I'm going to get more practice.

Come Blog With Us

I understand that bloggers all over "do it," so now we beer bloggers (God, I do hate that inelegant word) are going to do it. "It" refers to simultaneous blogging. The first Friday of every month, a bunch of us are going to write a post about a particular beer -- March, the first time for this, is going to feature stout -- and link it to the host's blog: Stan Hieronymus's Appellation Beer, in this case. We have decided to call this event The Session.

I'm figuring on heading over to Sly Fox and getting some O'Reilly's Stout (and while I'm there, I'll wish the man a belated happy anniversary). And O, happy coincidence: it just happens to be Incubus Friday as well. Dear me, guess I'll just have to have one.

If you have a beer blog (or a beer website, for fossils and old farts), why not join us? You can even get this nifty logo to put in your blog.

Beer Breakfast, Anyone?

Just picked the following off the DC-Beerlist, where it was posted by fellow writer Steve Frank. It's for a beer breakfast at the Royal Mile Pub, a great place in Wheaton , Maryland. Steve writes that the idea is for each beer -- and they're great beers -- is to accompany a course prepared by talented chef/owner Ian Morrison; this is not going to be "eggs 'n' kegs."

Why did I post this? Because I'm not going to post every damned event that comes across my desk/monitor. I'd just like to see more beer breakfasts and beer brunches, because I've seen wheatbeer breaks in the morning in Germany, with a nice soft pretzel, and they're great. I'd like to see more of this, so...I thought I'd tell you about this one. It's real, people are doing it. Wish I could go, but I've already got commitments that day.

Join your friends at The Royal Mile Pub For a Pre-St. Patrick's Day Beer Breakfast -- Saturday, March 10 at 10:30 AM

Featured Beers Include: Bitburger Pils, Tucher Hefe Weizen, Tucher Doppelbock, Okocim Porter, O'Hara's Irish Stout, Guinness, Quelque Chose, Duvel, Oxford Hefeweizen.

Breakfast price=$45~ Space Is Limited
Royal Mile Pub, 2407 Price Avenue, Wheaton, MD 301-946-4511

Belgian-style in Zieglerville

The last time I was at Ortino's Northside was exactly a year ago, when I stopped in for one last beer after Sly Fox brewer Brian O'Reilly's wedding (it was a cask Tröegs Nugget Nectar, and it was well worth the stop). I sat at the bar with John Ortino and talked about beer, and keeping great beers on out in Zieglerville, and some events he'd been doing. A pleasant cap for what had been a great day celebrating a friend's marriage.

As I said, exactly one year later -- to the day -- I was at Ortino's again, but this time for their third annual Belgian Beer Dinner. Cathy and I shared a table with some folks we've gotten to know at Sly Fox, Dan "The Big One" Bengel and the Foleys. The conversation was lively from the get-go -- starting with the nasty, sleety weather outside! -- and only got better as the night rolled on. (One upshot of that conversation was the likely probability of me hosting some events at Ortino's in the near future; stay tuned, because I really like the ideas we discussed, something different than the usual beer dinner.)

No blow-by-blow description; suffice it to say that the dinner was excellent. Quick descriptions follow.

Beers: Wittekerke Witte (nice to get something other than the witbier standards for a change), Bier Du Boucanier (every bit as saucy and bright as Piraat and Brigand and the other "corsair-style" strong goldens), La Divine Triple (a pleasant surprise for me to learn that Brasserie de Silly makes a triple; no surprise that it was outstanding and quite different), Petrus Winter (remarked to Dan: "I remember when Petrus was a third-tier Belgian brewer: not any more!"), Gen. Lafayette Inn Abbey Blonde Ale (Russ Czajka brought this up from the General and served as the beer host for the evening; the beer had a beautifully crisp character and an enticingly dry finish, Dan got unusually thoughtful and gave it the laurels for the evening), Gouden Carolus Classic (a full mouthful of beer, rich and spicy-sweet in 'classic' Het Anker style), and St. Louis Framboise (not as funky as I remember St. Louis, but intensely fruit-flavored without being syrupy, a good anchor for the evening). We also had tastes of LaCrosse Lager (the 'just plain beer' coming from the new owners of Latrobe, I wanted to like it, but there's some definite off-flavors there, hope it improves), and a 2004 Perkuno's Hammer that was just fantastic.

Food: Chimay Cheese Soup (smooth and tangy, with bits of red pepper and such), Belgian Endive salad with citrus witte 'vinaigrette' (very nice with the La Divine; I love pairing big rich beers with salad), Mussels in Petrus Winter (very meaty and clean, only one non-opener), Braised pork shank w/whipped sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts (Look...I hate osso bucco, I hate sweet potatoes, and I'm not nuts about sprouts, but these? I cleaned my plate. Fantastic. It didn't hurt that the sweet potatoes were made with Gouden Carolus.), Fresh berries in framboise sauce w/chocolates (quite nice with the St. Louis; the blackberries were exceptional).

Great dinner, and thanks to the greatness of the Passat (best snow car I've ever owned), no troubles getting home through the crappy weather. My thanks to John Ortino, the chef, kitchen and waitstaff of Ortino's Northside, and my table companions for an enjoyable evening of food, beer, and conversation. We'll have to do it again sometime soon!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Apologies, but...

I tried doing open comments, I really did. But people are dumping crap in my blog, kind of like pouring garbage in my window, and I just don't need it. I don't mind disagreement, but I will not have personal attacks. Even on me.

So I had to go to moderated comments. From now on, I'll have to approve every comment that goes up. That's going to slow the pace of discussion, but that's the price for civil conversation, I guess.

I'm sorry, folks.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

That Wasn't Where I Was

I was planning to go to the Best of 2006 draft event at the Drafting Room in Exton today. Planned to meet Jack Curtin there, planned to get me some of the beers that made me select the Drafting Room as the Best Local Beer Scene for 2006.

But as Robby Burns said, the best laid schemes...gang aft agley. Not only did we have a disturbing problem with the Passat (lost the turbo for about half an hour, with a severe concurrent loss in power; it's fine now, after an Italian Tune-Up (Fun!) I think I had some oil sludge in the turbine casing), well, we got a new puppy.

That's him, fast asleep in my arms outside the Wegman's in Downingtown (so near, and yet so far...). He's a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, about 15 weeks old, very friendly, and just as cute as a box full of buttons. His name is Penderyn, yes, named for the Welsh single malt whisky, but it was my son who pushed for that name; he just liked it. I was pushing for Ci (Welsh for "dog", pronounced key), but I rolled over. (The other picture is my wife Cathy running with Penderyn in our backyard.)

Not a bad reason to miss what I'm sure was a great event.

Friday, February 23, 2007


I attended a meeting in Philadelphia yesterday to initiate planning on a beer event that is completely novel, that could only happen in Philadelphia, that will be huge. Nothing like this has ever been done in America before. Announcement comes next month. This is going to be big.

Okay, a little more specificity on the announcement. You'll get dates and scope and a much better explanation on the afternoon of March 10. Can't do it before then, because important details still need to be slotted in.

Update: we got the go-ahead to present the idea to the next meeting of a very important backer, who thought it was a "great idea." Moving forward.

What We "Owe" the Industry

There was a post to the Brewer's Association Forum recently that led me to respond. It was about the recent "Extreme Beer" issue of BeerAdvocate magazine, an issue that I contributed to. Here's what Ashton Lewis, of the Springfield Brewing Co. (Springfield, Mo.) wrote:

We got a shipment of magazines at our brewery recently and I have read the new BeerAdvocate magazine cover to cover. I must say that after I read some of the articles I was forced to remind myself that I actually know the definition of “advocate”. Some of the Google definitions include “someone who speaks on behalf of another”, “to speak or argue in favor of” and “a person who pleads for a cause or propounds an idea”. The term advocate I think can be clearly ranked in the positive description category.

The reason for my temporary confusion over the definition of advocate stems from the number of negative ideas and comments written about our industry in this new industry publication. I suppose one way to advocate one thing is to denigrate another, like our wonderful politicians seem to do so well.

The Beer Advocate starts off with a letter from the editors hyping “extreme beers”. I don’t have a problem with that, but they do this by putting down the majority of craft brewers and our beers to make their point. They claim that if it weren’t for extreme beers that “we’d probably be drinking a lot of Pale Ales, and brewers would be content to copy the great styles of Europe, instead of reinventing their own”. To me extreme beers offer something exciting to beer consumers, but the bread and butter of most craft brewers is not something “extreme”. The very name suggests that a very small group of beers and beer drinkers want to drink this type of beer, otherwise “extreme” would be “ordinary” ... right?

As far as copying the great styles of Europe I don’t personally believe that the bread and butter of most craft brewers are copies of European beers. Some brewers have made the European clone their niche, but why is that such a bad thing? Let’s face it, a lot of imports are oxidized beyond all recognition when consumed. I suppose the bakers on the East Coast baking San Francisco-style sourdough bread should discontinue this style and encourage consumers to buy stale bread imported from the left coast.

Skimming through the book there is a nice interview with Larry Bell, a nice article about “American Wild Ale” (I didn’t realize Brettanomyces is bacteria) and then the beer reviews. This is the section that again made me wonder “Why?” That’s also the comment associated with beers given the score of D-, one step up from F or “avoid”.

Even the Wine Spectator, known for its sometimes cold and damaging reviews of wine, does not go out if its way to be rude. The beers given low scores [Not Worthy (C-) and Disappointing (D+)] were slammed in a not so polite manner. “Take this back to the drawing board” was one of the comments.

I have had my share of bad beers, both imports and domestics and know that there is some bad stuff out there. It doesn’t make me feel a better person to spend my time blasting bad beers to my friends. Maybe I am getting too old (37 is pretty ancient to the up and coming hip generation) and my values must be misaligned with the times. But the way I see it is that a beer magazine boasting to be the “Beer Advocate” should focus on the positive. If I were looking for advice about how to go about spending my beer dollars I may take away some pretty negative views about craft brewing from this magazine.

I've never met Ashton or had his beers. So that has nothing to do with how I felt or how I responded to this. But I have to tell you, this kind of "let's treat craft beer with kid gloves" stuff has been bugging me for years. It's one of the main reasons I started this blog and my website. I don't have a lot of patience with people who blast beers from positions of ignorance -- "This IPA sucks! I hate hoppy beers!" -- but when a beer is not good -- poorly packaged, poorly formulated, or just plain insipid -- I don't want to be told by some brewer that it wouldn't be nice to say so, or that if I felt I had to say so, I should say so nicely.

Hey, we've all heard it from mothers and grandmothers (and editors): if you can't say something nice, don't say anything. Well, how am I going to talk about light beer, then? Seriously, if a critic can't say negative things, he's gagged. And if I can't say those negative things in an entertaining, creative way...what the hell am I getting paid for?

So I wrote this response to the Forum:

As one of the writers in the issue of "BeerAdvocate Magazine" Ashton Lewis refers to, and as a beer writer who's been writing about craft beer full-time for over ten years, I'd like to throw in my perspective. The folks at BeerAdvocate -- the magazine, the website, and the extended Web community that posts on that website [and at ratebeer and Real Beer] -- DO consider themselves "advocates" for beer, and particularly for specialty beers, both American craft-brewed beers and traditional-styled imports. They actively support beers like that, by asking for them at bars, by offering them to their friends to sample, by buying tickets to beer dinners and festivals and tastings, and by buying those beers almost exclusively. That's advocating beer.

But "advocate" does not mean "worship blindly," or "defend without judgment." They stand outside the industry, and they judge it by their own standards. And by those standards, whether you agree with them or not, they believe that they advocate "beer" -- not "the craft beer industry", not "your beer" -- by speaking plainly about beers they think fall short, breweries they think engage in bad practices, retailers and wholesalers who don't measure up to their standards.

I don't necessarily agree with everything said on the website or in the magazine. I don't agree with all the quotes in my own story in the issue in question. As the classic journalist's rejoinder goes, I don't make this stuff up, I just report it. Maybe the negative was expressed in unduly harsh terms.

But to tell an independent magazine that it should focus on the positive, with the strong implication that it should give a pass to anything negative, is to show a basic misunderstanding of the relationship between a magazine and its readers. If readers decide that they're not getting honest opinions from a magazine that purports to have expert knowledge, or if they decide the magazine is only delivering good news -- essentially filtering out anything that would upset advertisers -- that magazine's reputation, readership, and ad rates will suffer. And like we keep hearing about
craft brewing: publishing is a business.

Think of what is said about craft brewers: independent, uncompromising, innovative, honest, passionate. As a beer writer, I've tried to be true to the same principles. Would a craft brewer have me do any less?

The responses I've had from brewers have been, so far, positive. I can see where Ashton was coming from, truly. To get such negative statements from a group -- beer geeks -- that has been outspokenly pro-craft for so long must have seemed a bit of a betrayal. But the industry is over 25 years old. It's old enough, and big enough, and successful enough to stand up and take criticism. I think we owe the industry that.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

That's Where I'll Be

This Saturday, February 24th, I'm going out to Exton to the Drafting Room for their Best of 2006 on tap event. After all, it's the least I can do when Patrick Mullen uses my words to hype (and rightly so!) the event. Besides...Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale? Pliny the Younger? Bell's Hopslam? Weyerbacher 11? Hell, how could you stay away?

Craft Beer Continues to Rocket in Growth

The Brewers Association released preliminary annual figures today, showing growth of 11.7% by volume for the craft beer category in 2006. That's a real growth of 1.5 millon 31-gallon barrels in the three years since 2003. The total sales of craft beer in 2006 was $4.2 billion.

What's that mean? Well, I'd really like to take a look at the full set of figures that will come out in April (and that I'm supposed to get in about a week so I can write an article about all this for New Brewer magazine), but I suspect that what I'm going to see is growth across the category, with the only declines coming in damaged companies. We are well into the Second Breath of Craft Brewing, and so long as the economy holds up, I can't see things falling apart. Brewers are doing the right things: innovating, creating new beers, opening new markets, reaching new customers, and perhaps most importantly, growing with an eye on financial realism.

This may well be the Golden Age of American brewing. Are you concerned about the big brewers trying to take it over or throttle it? Don't be. As Stan puts it so plainly: we own the niche. "It belongs to us, not the brewers. Not even the ones we really like." Right you are, sir.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More chicken beer: bock, bock, bock

I'm at my bro-in-law Chris's place in Newark, New York (about halfway between Rochester and Syracuse), drinking up that sixtel of Steg Bock I was talking about down below. And let me tell's even better than the bottled stuff. It's chocolatey, rich, and the foam is just excellent. It's not just the bock, either. My other bro-in-law, Curt, who also lives in town, made pastrami. He's a chef. And the pastrami rocks, with mustard or Russian dressing. Yum. We're also dipping into cases of Sly Fox Pils and Dunkel, and that's good too. An all-lager weekend!

Later, it's going to be a session at Parker's, the beer bar in town. And that's really pretty impressive, for a beer bar to be in a town this small. They vary a bit -- good beer selection one month, so-so another -- but they sure as hell have a better selection than most small-town bars. It's spreading, folks, and there's nothing that's going to stop it.

BTW...those of you who are thinking: Session Beer? Bock is session beer? Get stuffed. Session beer is not everything. I've never said anything like that. It's cold, there's two feet of snow on the ground, and I got nowhere to go tonight. Most important, the bock is rockin'. So yeah, I'm drinking a big strong (6.5%, approx.) beer. By the pint. Oh, yeah. I got that answer for you if you're confused. Until further notice, I'm off the air and enjoying my bad old self. Cheers.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Beer Chips and Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock

I got an e-mail from Brett Stern about a week ago. Brett's the guy who is selling Beer Chips, "Potato chips made with beer." Would I like some samples? Well, sure! Send 'em, baby, I love free stuff. So Tuesday I got a box full of two big gold-tone foil bags of Beer Chips, and a press release: "We harvest only the freshest cans of beer from local beer trees. We then squeeze all of the beer juice out to create our proprietary flavor recipe." Really, it says that. Let's get 'em open.

Beer Chips are salted and sugared, a combo that I find unfortunate, but the salt's heavy enough that they do taste like chips, and not some kind of potato dessert. But mostly, they tasted like chips. Just chips. Pretty much completely like chips. Much ado about nothing. But we don't keep potato chips in the house any more (because if we do, I just eat them, which plays hob with my weight-loss program), so my son kept opening the bag and nibbling on them, because he doesn't get anywhere near the amount of chips a teenager should get.

Which led to my having a small handful with lunch today (really, a small one)...and discovering that as they got a bit of oxygen on them, the beer flavor has really developed! It stepped right out on me, definitely there, because I was not expecting it or looking for it. And it's tasty. If you'd like to try something different in a beer snack, Beer Chips are a fun diversion -- and yeah, I know, geek-boy: potato chips are greasy and interfere with your beer-tasting enjoyment and kill the head on your beer. Get a life, willya?

So I needed something to drink with the beer chips, and I had these samples of this year's Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock sitting on the table...Pffft! Done. And yes, it's good like last year's. Chestnut brown, good tight cap of creamy foam, malty aroma rising off the top, with just a hint of toffee/caramel sweetness, and a follow-through of everything in that first swig. How good is it? So good that as soon as I post this, I'm walking out the door to go get a sixtel of it for the weekend, that's how good!

The Hammer Strikes Again!

Perkuno's Hammer returns triumphantly.

Man, I've wanted to talk about this for months!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lowering the Drinking Age: a real voice in the debate

You may or may not know that I'm in favor of lowering the legal drinking age (LDA)in the U.S., for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that I believe the 21 LDA is poorly-conceived policy that has actually increased dangerous drinking by driving drinking underground. Young adults are denied access to the places where normal, structured drinking takes place -- the tavern, the restaurant, the brewpub -- and instead learn the bad habits of the house party, the frat party, drinking and driving on the run while avoiding notice.

I've wanted to look at some information that might help solve the question of whether the 21 LDA has saved lives or cost them, but that kind of data-digging is not a full-time job for me. I haven't been able to come up with anything I'd rely on. What I have found is a number of mistakes, exaggerations, and outright lies in the numbers put out by the anti-alcohol establishment. That made me think that the booze industry should really have a clearinghouse for straight, unspun alcohol research, and figure out a way to sponsor unbiased alcohol research.

John McCardell beat me to it. McCardell is the emeritus president of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, and has been one of the few college administrators willing to speak up on this issue. He did so most publicly in a New York Times editorial in 2004 in which he called the 21 LDA "bad social policy and terrible law." Here are the relevant bits:

To lawmakers: the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking. Campuses have become, depending on the enthusiasm of local law enforcement, either arms of the law or havens from the law.

Neither state is desirable. State legislators, many of whom will admit the law is bad, are held hostage by the denial of federal highway funds if they reduce the drinking age. Our latter-day prohibitionists have driven drinking behind closed doors and underground. This is the hard lesson of prohibition that each generation must relearn. No college president will say that drinking has become less of a problem in the years since the age was raised. Would we expect a student who has been denied access to oil paint to graduate with an ability to paint a portrait in oil? Colleges should be given the chance to educate students, who in all other respects are adults, in the appropriate use of alcohol, within campus boundaries and out in the open.

And please - hold your fire about drunken driving. I am a charter member of Presidents Against Drunk Driving. This has nothing to do with drunken driving. If it did, we'd raise the driving age to 21. That would surely solve the problem.

Strong words. Now McCardell has taken strong action to match them. He announced yesterday that he was leaving his teaching position at Middlebury College to start a new research group called Choose Responsibility. McCardell has been researching the ramifications of changing the 21 LDA, supported by a grant from the Robertson Foundation. The time has come for action.

What's he basing the action on, what did the research turn up? Pretty interesting stuff. First, as I suspected, the 20,000 lives supposedly saved by the implementation of the 21 LDA are not so concrete. Here's the low-down on that from an article that appeared in the Middlebury Campus yesterday:

Citing a National Highway Transit Safety Authority (NHTSA) study, [student researcher Amanda] Goodwin said, "[We found] that there was no demonstrable cause and effect relationship between the 21 year-old drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, but rather, that the decrease in drunken driving fatalities could be attributed to a composite of other factors. More important contributing factors include safer motor vehicles, more vigorous law enforcement, shifts in societal trends and fluctuations in the population of relevant age cohorts."

The decline in traffic fatalities following the lowering of the drinking age is one of the main reasons opponents give for maintaining the current drinking age. However, Goodwin said that according to NHTSA data, "More lives have been saved in the last two years from seat belts and airbags than in the entire history of the 21-year-old drinking age."

Amazing? Not really. The anti-alcohol people are just not that good at connecting cause and effect.

And the main thrust of Choose Responsibility? Continued research, creating a network of researchers, and fund-raising to support a grass-roots campaign to explore the real possibility of alternatives to the current laws. For instance...

Rather than simply lowering the national legal drinking age from 21 to 18, Choose Responsibility advocates that states launch alcohol education programs to teach young adults about responsible purchase, possession and consumption. Upon successful completion of a course, a participant could receive a license to consume and purchase alcohol at the age of 18.

The license would be legal in the state in which the 18-year-old is a resident, and in the state in which he or she attends college, if they attend out of state. Individuals who drank illegally before turning 21 or before receiving the 18 year-old license, would delay their eligibility for the license.
A drinking license. What a beautiful, simple idea. Of course, you can tell that it came from a far-off state: only legal in the state of residence? What fun is that to the hordes of New Jersey folks who can't wait to go drink in Philly and New York? Ah, I jest. But truly, a brilliant idea.

A web site is planned for mid-March. I'll have it here, count on it (It's up:, along with a blog). I really believe that this is the right way to treat our serious national problem of dangerous drinking. Well, one right way. Getting everyone to think more deeply about what they're drinking, why they're drinking it, and what they could be drinking that's better tasting is always good too.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beer tax follies continue...Rant #1

It's rant time. Buckle up.

Here's another "grab the beer drinkers' bucks" scheme by local government...

Beer tax pondered for college towns

A Kent, Oh., City Councilman has decided that all of Kent's beer drinkers, a majority of which are legal, moderate drinkers, should pay for the illegal acts of an ill-defined group of people who are assumed to be beer drinkers. From the article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"[Kuhar proposes] a 4-cent-a-bottle beer tax to help pay for police and fire services. "Being a college town, we have tremendous financial outlays on alcohol-related events, such as house parties that are out of control, littering, Dumpsters and couches set on fire," Kent City Councilman John Kuhar said."

Nowhere in the piece does anyone make a connection between these "alcohol-related events " and beer consumption. 'College students drink beer' seems to be the common knowledge. Based on the flimsy assumption that all these "alcohol-related events" are in fact "beer-related events," Kuhar wants to get some booty in the kitty by hosing you and me and all the other responsible beer drinkers.

(Posted later: Kuhar explains why he's just taxing beer: "He wouldn’t want to create a bookkeeping nightmare for bar owners and retailers, he said." Like those damned wine taxes do, eh, John?)

Will this even work? Fergodssake, don't ask Kuhar! He doesn't even know!

"Kuhar, who came up with the beer tax, said there has been no study on how much it would raise. He proposes taxing beer sold at bars and stores, with the money going to safety forces. "

Amazing. This is how your legislators look at you, Joe & Jane Beerdrinker: a source of money they don't even know whether they'll get, and aren't real clear on how they'll spend. But don't worry. Kuhar knows it's okay with you: "The feedback I got is that nobody would mind 4 cents a beer," he said.

Which, to tell the truth, really pisses me off more than anything else in the piece. Okay, granted, given that this yahoo has obviously sucked his bright shiny tax-beer idea right out of his thumb (or out of the ever-ready shaky-policy-filled thumbs of some outfit like this, this, or this), and he's too stupid to govern. Granted that his "feedback" probably came from asking his brother and the guy across the table at city hall (and what's he gonna say? "Duhhhh, I dunno, John, if it means more money for us to blow out our butts, I won't mind everyone else paying 4 cents more a beer.")

(Posted later: In another article in the Columbus Dispatch, Kuhar is quoted as having talked to "several hundred people" for this 'feedback.' Several hundred people? Even though he admits to not knowing how much money he would raise? Kinda makes you curious about where he came up with 4 cents, doesn't it?)

But you know that the prospect of some beer drinker saying, "Okay, sure, what the hell, 4 cents a beer ain't that much," is a very real one. We hear it in the news all the time. You can always find someone who's honest enough to admit that 4 cents a beer really isn't that much...but why is it that the beer drinker has to pony up? I don't know about you, but I didn't set any couches on fire lately. Why should I pay for someone who's dumb enough to do that?

Here's a novel idea: let the people who are doing this stupid stuff pay. Soak them, if they're college kids soak their parents, soak their landlord, soak their insurance company. I know some folks are gonna say "But that's not fair! They just made some bad decisions! Making the insurance company pay will just raise your rates!"

Bullshit. The kid made a bad decision, obviously. The parents made a bad decision in not raising the kid better, the landlord made a bad decision renting to these kids, and the insurance company obviously made a bad decision insuring them. But the only bad decision Kent beer drinkers made was voting for John Kuhar, and they're supposed to pay to clean up the mess? I say again: bullshit.

I'm sick and tired of being a tax piñata for some brainless do-gooder to come along and whack everytime he feels like cleaning up a perceived mess without pissing off any voters. And I'm completely sick of beer drinkers being the patsies for it.

If these problems are real, then they're something that should be paid for by the folks who create them, or society as a whole. Not a sub-group whose only participation is in consuming the same legal beverage as the folks who are doing the crimes. Otherwise, why isn't every licensed driver paying for everyone's speeding tickets? Why doesn't every voter pay for the trial of corrupt officials (oh, wait, we do)? Why doesn't every beer/wine/spirits drinker pay for every DUI, every underage drinking fine, every "social host" infraction? Either we believe in individual responsibility, or we don't.

I don't mind paying taxes -- much -- but I damned sure want their application to be equitable. This proposed tax is plainly not.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Can you believe this crap?

Got this off my Google Alert on "beer taxes" and now I've got to get it off my chest:

Trouble brewing for Dice: Pitchman’s beer ad catches flak

The sum of it is this: Daisuke "Dice" Matsuzaka will be pitching for the Red Sox this coming season (er...I assume. It's baseball, folks: I'm just barely up to speed on football, and that's only lately). But he's got an existing endorsement contract with Asahi beer in Japan. Okay, he can't do beer endorsements here -- because that gets the MLB-volks' panties in a serious twist -- but this is in Japan, for Japanese TV, where athletes endorsing booze is no big deal, happens all the time. So he makes an ad that features him tossing a few in his new uniform, and then tossing back a big frosty glass of Asahi Super Dry -- in his street clothes.

And people are freaking out. Here's from the Boston Herald story:
"...John Blake, director of media relations, said ... the Red Sox have expressed their concern about the commercial...
“I called them, talked to their marketing people and explained the situation, and I believe they understand the situation and will probably be more careful in the future,” Blake said, adding that the Sox were not aware of the ad before word of it reached computer screens stateside.
The idea of fans, especially young ones, seeing a Red Sox player drinking alcohol is not one the team is particularly keen on.
“It is a perception,” Blake said, “and we certainly want our players to be perceived in the right light.

"The right light." Why, after decades of baseball fueled by the money from beer ads, after openly admitting Babe Ruth -- one of the game's true icons -- fueled his playing on hot dogs and beer, and after numerous examples of baseball players who did illegal drugs, why does anyone care? Could we please grow up? Kids are exposed to all kinds of inconvenient truths about their supposed "role models" -- Britney, Lindsey, and a parade of steroid-shooting pill-popping athletes -- and they're worried about this guy drinking one beer in an ad in a foreign country?

Come on. And now the ATTTB sez that "Matsuzaka's ad may merit punitive action. ["Punitive action." Can you believe this phrasing?!] “Our jurisdiction runs to false and misleading ads,” said [ATTTB spokesman John] Resnick, who pointed to a 1995 ruling that says the bureau would consider unacceptable any ad “which depicts any individual (famous athlete or otherwise) consuming or about to consume an alcoholic beverage prior to or during an athletic activity or event,” or an ad that states that drinking alcohol “will enhance athletic prowess, performance at athletic activities or events, health or conditioning.”

Look, go watch the ad. I don't speak Japanese either, but I don't see any indication that drinking the beer is supposed to enhance his athletic performance. It's enhancing his relaxation after the athletic performance, maybe.

But that's not even the point! The point is that the man's an adult, in a foreign country, and he's doing something that's completely legal. Why on earth is drinking a beer illegal in American TV ads in the first place? Are we such weenies?

Like I always say about booze laws: I just want to be treated like an adult. You want to "Save the children!!!"? Donate money to an orphanage, become a Big Brother/Sister, or take a little better care of your own darned kids. But if you really think that seeing a baseball player drink a beer on YouTube is going to have any effect whatsoever on a kid's decisions about whether to drink, play baseball, embark on a life of crime, join the priesthood, or take a gun to school and shoot jock need to get professional help.

This is a non-issue. Adults drink. Showing that to kids is better than pretending it doesn't happen.

Post-Tut: Thos. Hooker Imperial Porter and Tough Steak

The family took in the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute today. Well, wow. Even though I was somewhat disappointed -- the showpiece for the exhibit advertising, the famous gold and lapis sarcophagus, is not part of the exhibition -- the exhibit was still phenomenal and very educational. My daughter has always had an interest in the whole Egyptian history/mythology thing, and she loved it. Me, I was blown away by the idea of seeing real 3,200 year old stuff that looks like it could be on the shelves of a vintage jewelry store today. It's just tremendous how the things have held up, amazing. And the political history of the time, how Tut was restoring the traditional religion of Egypt after it had been torn out by its roots by his predecessor, Akhenaten, very interesting.

But, you know, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, Egyptian civilization was advanced for its day, but we're civilized enough that the enduring question becomes Where are we going for dinner. There were several possibilities out there by the Institute, but we needed easy parking: we were there with friends in two cars. We put them in the big lot at 23rd & Fairmount, by the London Grill, and happily strolled inside, looking forward to their justly famed burgers...but there was no room at the inn. No problem! We split up: the rest of the group walked up to Rembrandt's while I walked down to Bridgid's. I struck first: walked in the door to an almost empty dining room (and a happy Tom Kehoe (is there any other kind?) at the bar), hit redial, and homed 'em in on a table for seven at Philly's original Belgian cafe.

I shot the breeze with Kehoe till they got there (no inside dope, sorry, just two friends talking), and we got situated. I ordered a pint of Thomas Hooker Imperial Porter, my first, wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I won't keep you in suspense: woof! THIP is a great big glass full of beer, a very worthy claimant to the "imperial" porter style indeed. My only complaint was that it tended a bit towards the imperial stout style, but you know? That's nit-picking. Damned nice glass of beer, and at its size, it kept me through the whole meal.

Which was delicious. I got the smoked fish appetizer, cuz I'm a sucker for smoked feesh, and it was delish, with a ton of nice greens underneath, plentiful capers and grated horseradish, and three good chunks of smoked trout (might have been four, I think my son moved fast on me) and plenty of delectably-thin-sliced smoked salmon piled appetizingly on top. Follow that with Bridgid's signature "tough steak", a purely delicious piece of beef just bursting with flavor (my son ate it up, and he's not really a steak kind of guy) flanked with some great garlicky sauteed vegetables, a solid little mixed greens salad with plum tomato, and some unfortunately thawed steak fries (frites? Anyone here ever heard of frites?), and I was a reasonably happy guy. That tough steak's still a steal at $10, by the way.

A good evening, and a museum experience I can heartily recommend...especially with a good dinner afterwards (don't forget: Jack's Firehouse and Aspen are also in the neighborhood).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

SBP #5?: Michelob Light

I can't really believe I'm doing this...

The guys at A-B sent me samples of the new all-malt Michelobs: Mich, Mich Light, and Amber Bock. I already tried the Mich (and liked it; see below in "Throw Out the Lifeline"), but...Mich Light? Hey, what the hell. It's not likely to be actually offensive, right? Let's have a pour.

It's well-behaved, and looks good in a glass; and like the Michelob, the foam looks a lot better than the other light/mainstream beers I've seen lately. B'God, I can actually sense hop off the foam, too. Heh. Not bad, actually, and not too far off the Michelob flavor: light, clean and malty -- no, really, and an actual snap of bitterness on the finish. And it's so much better than Ultra, believe me on that, too. Best of all, at 4.3% ABV, it's definitely session strength, eh?

Summation: is this going to be my first choice? No. I like more flavor, even in light lagers, and this may be clean, but it's not brimming with character. But if this is served to me, will I turn it down? No way. Michelob Light's got enough stuff to keep the conversation going. I'd be curious to try it against other light beers, including Sam Adams Light.

And I'd point out that a 25% difference in calories between this and Michelob doesn't really seem like that big a deal...but that's the scam with every light beer. 123 calories? All things being equal -- and they are -- I'd rather have a dry stout. (And on March 2nd...I will.)

Friday, February 9, 2007

More website relevance

Another link to my site, to look at all the good food and beer I had at the recent Lost Abbey beer dinner with Tomme Arthur & Vince Marsaglia at Monk's Cafe (the same one where Gordon Grubb was so nice).

Pictures this time, and some really good beer. I don't think it was sessiony stuff, though...

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Pennsylvania News: Union Barrel Works nears opening

Union Barrel Works. Tom Rupp. Reamstown. The Straight Stuff.

See, my website is still relevant.

News: Old Dominion Sale

The following was just posted to the DC-Beer email list by Mid-Atlantic Brewing News reporter Gregg Wiggins:

Yesterday a Virginia ABC notice was posted at Old Dominion announcing that "Coastal Brewing Company LLC trading as Old Dominion Brewing Company" has applied for a brewery license. The notice also names the partners in Coastal Brewing as Southern Beverages (that's Fordham's brewing division) and Anheuser-Busch.

As Gregg said, that's all he has on this right now.

SBP #4: "Throw Out The Lifeline"

"... the Franziskaner Mai-Bock at Lüchow's ... the very dark Kulmbacher at the Pabst place in 125th St. in the last days of civilization ... Michelob on warm summer evenings with the crowd singing 'Throw Out the Lifeline' ... Obst's herrings, with Löwenbräu to slack them... Drinking Faust all night in St. Louis in 1904 ... The draft Helles at Krüger's in Philadelphia ... Twenty or thirty Bass ' ale nights ... Five or six hundred Pilsner nights ..."
From H.L. Mencken's "Bilder Aus Schöner Zeit"

After some rumblings (Brandweek reported the story last month), I can confirm that Michelob has returned to its roots. All-malt Michelob is shipping now. The idea at Anheuser-Busch was evidently to return the bottle to the classic "tear-drop" shape that was unique to Michelob. But the bottle was not the only tradition around this beer: Michelob had originally been a draft-only beer, and A-B's finest beer, jealously and fanatically guarded.

Enter the new emphasis on classic brewing techniques at A-B. A-B brewers have always been highly trained, very skilled professionals. But with the success of the craft segment, they are getting more freedom to flex their abilities; Marketing, in the form of A-B's directorate of new ideas, has realized that there's money to be made in flavor. And while this has led to such bizarre experiments as the new fruity Mich Ultra and Spykes, it has also led to the wholly acceptable Michelob Porter and Hefeweizen.

So when the marketing boys said let's go back to the traditional Michelob bottle, the brewing boys said, let's go back to the traditional Michelob: all-malt. "This is a step upwards in malt character," said A-B brewer Nathaniel Davis, when I talked to him Tuesday morning. "There’s also a slight beef-up in hops. If someone loved Michelob last month, they’ll love it now. It’s not a change you’d call dramatic. It’s a fairly subtle shift."

How's it taste? The thing that caught my attention first was how it looked. The foam looked much better than any other mainstream American lager I'd seen in quite a while: thicker, more mousse-like, and long-lasting. (Nathaniel confirmed that they'd noted the same thing.) There's a mild but brisk hops aroma, a surprisingly citrusy scent for a Euro-hop: that's the Alsatian Strisselspalt that A-B buys up, almost the entire crop. And the beer itself is deliciously clean and yeah, malty, more in a Bohemian pils style than a German.

I could easily see sessioning with this at 5.0%. Is it the equal of, say, Pilsner Urquell or Augustiner helles? No, it's probably not even the equal of 1890s Michelob, to be honest. But few things are. What it is, is a nice lager beer that beautifully fits my profile of a session beer.

Ready for a shock? They took Michelob Light all-malt too, and Michelob Amber Bock. That makes Mich Light the biggest-selling all-malt light beer around, and makes Amber Bock something I am probably going to try with lunch to satisfy my curiosity. A-B is bringing the whole Michelob line -- with the obvious, mutant exception of Ultra and its spawn -- solidly into the arena pioneered by the Michelob specialties we've been seeing the past few years.

What does all this portend? Well, I'm sure there's going to be plenty of hand-wringing and portents of doom from the craft beer protectionists. A-B is merely looking to gut the craft beer industry and leave it a smoking wreck, after all... As if they could. They took a serious shot at that back in the 1990s, rolled out the big ad guns and the power of their massive monolithic distribution system. didn't work. That's because the most solid demand for craft beers comes from the bottom up, from people who are, generally, more interested in what the beer tastes like than in what being seen drinking it projects to other people. They aren't swayed by spin. Well, not as much.

I see this as the latest sign that craft beer's tide is rising faster and stronger than anything can slack it, and A-B is taking the shift in consumer mood seriously enough that they are re-tooling one of their major marques to meet it. Because despite what Nathaniel said about this being subtle, going all-malt is a not-so-subtle sign of admission of the superior quality of all-malt beers...which says what about corn/rice beers? I think we're seeing what may be the first major move towards the Gallo-ization of Anheuser-Busch.

In the meantime? I can't wait for this stuff to come out in sixtels. I'm going to have a deck party as soon as the weather warms up and see if I can fool some geeks into loving an A-B beer. Consider yourself warned...and somebody bring me my willibecker, I gotta oil up my tonsils...

Throw out the lifeline across the dark wave;
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! Oh, who then will dare
To throw out the lifeline, his peril to share?

(Refrain:)Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is sinking today.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Beer Taxes: Good Sense from Oregon

The editorial page of the Albany, Ore. Democrat-Herald had a good statement about the proposed beer tax increase in that state today. Here's the whole thing:

Here's the heart of it:

The two Democrats want the beer tax raised to 10 cents a drink, and they
call this a “malt beverage cost recovery fee.” The proceeds, $60 million a year,
would pay for treatment and prevention of alcoholism and drug addiction and
dealing with many related problems.
During the average week most of us swill gallons of soft drinks. After all
those colas, a beer at the end of the day comes as a welcome relief. And what
does that have to do with addiction or any of the other pathologies the beer tax
sponsors want the state to pay for? We are not causing those costs, so any fee
to pay for them and imposed on us is not a “cost recovery” but a cost

Bingo. Why don't more people get this? Raising taxes on beer or wine or spirits to either pay for alcoholism problems or cut into underage drinking punishes people who haven't done anything wrong. It's like charging you a fine whenever you drive your car because you might speed.

SBP: Validation

I was at Monk's Cafe last night for their dinner with Tomme Arthur (the guy with the napkin on his head; that's brewery owner Vince Marsaglia to his right; Monk's partners Fergus Carey (with the napkin) and Tom Peters are behind them) and his Lost Abbey beers (which just became available in PA). The dinner was excellent -- as always -- and I'll be reporting on it shortly, either here or there, but that's not why I'm talking now.

While I was standing at the front bar, sipping a glass of La Chouffe, Nodding Head brewer Gordon Grubb grabbed my arm and said, "Saw your new blog. Good, way to go. Thanks. Session beers are the only way we'll ever get more than a tiny fraction of the market." Now, Gordon (pictured at the right, with his cheerful boss, Curt Decker) may be said to be somewhat less than objective, being a brewer of session beers himself. But we all enjoyed the decidedly non-session beers Tomme brought along, and we all know that there is definitely a place for big beers. We just don't want to see session beers left behind, or left out of the love.

SBP: Spreading Like a Virus

Stan Hieronymus has taken up the cause and reviewed a session beer, Provo Girl Pilsner, on his Appellation Beer blog (a very good blog, check the link to the left):

Keep the ball rolling: if you got a blog, please review/talk up some session beers!

SBP: Action Steps, Courtesy of Stan

Stan Hieronymus, who's been commenting on this page from day one (thanks to a little back and forth we've been on about session vs. extreme beers for months now), left this comment about how do we get brewers interested in making session beers.

As consumers, we can order the beers. Talk nice about them at the bar. Urge our friends to drink them. Leave a nice tip. Compliment the brewers. Suggest you'd like to see more beers like that. Ask how they are made (attention homebrewers: DON'T tell the professional brewer how to lower the gravity and make a better beer). Find out how the brewer might get more flavor even while tossing in less grain.

As reporters, we must write more about these beers. Back in 2000 you waxed delightfully romantic on Pa. beers (when I didn't even ask for session choices):

I also think we need to write about more than the beer itself. Discuss the craft of brewing, and brewing low alcohol beers. Talk about how well they work with food (the buzz topic of the 21st century anyway). Mention the great conversations they allow us. Lionize pub/session culture.

Yes. Work to be done, so let's get at it. I'll try to sell some session beer pieces, you guys get to work asking for more session beers. And let's all try to get across the idea of what a session beer is. Remember: session beers mean more time drinking beer, more beer to drink, and more fun beer-driven conversation.
It's all good.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

SBP: Heroes #1

From time to time, as it occurs to me, I'm going to put in breweries who do a great job on session beers. The first, an obvious one for me, is The Wharf Rat, in Baltimore. They regularly have 15+ of their own beers on, and many are under 5%, including their signature Best Bitter and SW1 ales. Very English, but not afraid to branch out, these are beers for sitting out on the sidewalk all afternoon with, as I have on a couple very happy occasions. The British ale yeast used makes for great flavor in a lower alcohol beer, and the cask ale is dead-on delish. Plan a trip, have a session. These guys get it.

SBP: Chicken, egg...or feathers?

I've been having a discussion about session beers with a couple BeerAdvocates, including Todd Alström, one of the founders. Why don't session beers sell, is the topic, and after some discussion, I pared it down to these three questions:

Do they not sell because people want more alcohol? (Brewers have told me that when people find out that a beer's low-alcohol, they shy away from it.)

Do they not sell because they're unfamiliar styles and flavors? (American craft brew drinkers have been exposed to a lot of piney/citrus American hops and clean-fermenting American ale yeasts; they often find beers brewed with the more characterful Brit ale yeasts to be funky, or just plain wrong.)

Do they not sell because the ones that are being brewed are just not that good? (A real issue: it is not easy to brew a good session-strength beer...or so I've been told.)

Interestingly, Todd raised a fourth issue: in Boston, he says, people do want session beers, thirst for them, and drink them up every time they come along...but the brewers just won't make them. All too busy following the latest hops/alcohol trend, he says.

Which brings up the old story: selling craft beer is all about education. Usually that means the brewers teaching customers about how to enjoy different -- session! -- beers, but if needs be, maybe the brewers need to be educated by customer demand.

What's the story where you are? Do you get a fair number of session beer choices? Do people drink them when they're available, or are they a brewer's conceit? Do your local brewers make enough session beers? Do your local session beers suck -- sour, insipid, over-hopped, under-attenuated? Tell us the story...and maybe some brewers will give a listen.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


I haven't homebrewed since 1994, when my daughter was born, but I did start making my own mustard about three years ago, and I started making sausage last year. Part of it was an ornery response to Weight Watchers: "I'll make my OWN sausage, dammit!" But it turned out to be pretty damned good. I just went into my first sausage-making frenzy of the winter season (you generally want to make sausage in the cold weather; the colder the working surface, the better, sanitation-wise).

Friday I made a sausage from chicken (breasts and thighs, the thighs add flavor and a bit of fat), feta, and spinach, very nice. Saturday I went nuts, up at 6:20 to start grinding pork for my own-design "Double Pig Specials" (a standard breakfast link with the addition of a pound of Hatfield double-smoked bacon for that authentic smokey flavor), Hot and Sweet Northern Italian-style (very garlicky, and the hot was interesting once I put in crushed red peppers and ground ancho peppers, but ultimately a failure: here in the Philly area, I can easily buy better Italian sausage, which I will from now on), and two other sausages inspired by a Friday morning visit to the 9th Street "Italian" Market in Philly.

Let me tell you how that happened. After the morning session of Groundhog Day at the Grey Lodge, I went down to the market. Had a fresh slice of tomato pie at Sarcone's (and got a loaf of nice crusty bread), then got a scale for sausage-making at Fante's, then got inspired. I'm in DiBruno Brothers, just schmoozing, when I see Stilton cheese. Hmmmm...I got a I got half a pound of Stilton, and added it to my Beefy Pub Bangers recipe, along with two big tablespoons of Kelchner's horseradish. The Pub Bangers recipe is beef (odd already), with bread crumbs, and with the Stilton and horseradish, this became the lambic of sausages: stanky, distinctive, and oddly attractive: a real lonely outlier of a sausage that some people just loved.

The other sausage came around completely by accident. I was walking by a store in the market when I saw lamb patties in the window. That would be good for dinner, I thought, and got four. Well, they were fat and full, about two pounds total, and...they're already ground. Sausage short-cut!!! So I toasted some pine nuts, chopped up a lot of fresh rosemary, and made some absolutely dynamite lamb sausage.

How good were they? Damned good, but don't take my word for it: I took them to a Super Bowl party today, and two people asked me where I bought the sausage. Made it, I said. Wow, they said, it's great! Score!

And just to make it beer-friendly...let me say that the Chicken & Feta & Spinach was excellent with a dab of mustard and a glass of Lenny's R.I.P.A., which was part of a courteous gift to my host from Matt at the Beer Yard in compensation for a misunderstanding about a keg (once again proving that Matt Guyer rules the retail beer world).

Friday, February 2, 2007

SBP #3: Middle Ages Apricot Ale

I went to the Groundhog Day festivities at the Grey Lodge today, one of my favorite beer events. And I was going to write some notes on a session beer. And I had six beers in the course of the day (two two-hour visits, 9 hours apart). I thought at least two of them would be session beers: Victory Sunrise Weiss, a Bavarian hefe, and Appalachian's Zoigl Star Lager, a Czech lager. Nope. Sunrise is 5.7, Zoigl is 5.9. Damn. Sure seems a bit high, those beers. So...why have more than one? On to something different.

Like Middle Ages Apricot Ale. Yeah, a fruit beer. But I really really like the guys at Middle Ages -- and not just because they brew curst good beer, but because they are solid dudes, real mensches. So I tried one. Good call, Lew. It's 4.4%, and the apricot tastes like ripe apricot, not the half-green, "Pat-the-Bunny"-whiskery-Dad-sandpaper-face-fuzzy apricot nastiness you find in some other apricot beers. The first sip was weird after the Nodding Head Sled Wrecker I'd had earlier -- a big spicy ale -- but the second cleared it, and was simply pleasant. I wandered about the bar, sipping at my fruit-shrub, and just relaxing with it. Not a lot of beer, not heavy, not hopped all to bejayzus, not BIG!!!!!, just pleasant and well-made. Thanks, Marc and Tim: nice job.

SBP: More Sightings

They're talking about the Session Beer Project over on Real Beer:

Nice community over there, too. You should check it out.

Just So No One Misunderstands...

I guess I'd better clear this up now. Just because I'm starting this blog partly as a platform for this loosely defined Session Beer Project, it does not mean that I do not like big beers, do not like experimental beers, do not like (deep breath here) extreme beers. I do like them -- to a point.

Hell, just look at the blog: the second set of tasting notes are on the Geary 20th Anniversary Ale, not a session beer by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, even you serious extreme geeks' imaginations (and you know who you are, you guys saying "Barleywine? That's my lawnmower beer, baby." Nice).

The main point of the Session Beer Project is to give session beers a little tiny bit of equality of attention, attention that's mainly going to the so-called extreme beers right now. Because, really: most of the world, every day, drinks beers that are under 5% ABV. Really.

But the Session Beer Project is not Seen Through A Glass. It's just part of it, albeit a large part of it. STAG is also my blog, where I'm going to write about whatever suits my freakin' fancy. So don't anyone be putting their preconceived notions all over my blog, or calling me on what they think is a contradiction in my terms. Cuz I got an answer to that.

Right. Onwards!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

SBP #2: BridgePort Beertown Brown

I'll say this for BridgePort: they know how to send samples of a session beer. Two weeks ago a 12-pack of their new Beertown Brown showed up at my mailbox, just before we had my daughter's 13th birthday party. It was the hit of the party, enjoyed by all (the adults, yes, of course, the adults). And why not? It's a light-brown beauty, with a nice ruddy touch to it, a tenacious cap of foam, and a wonderfully malty nose with a nutty earthiness: very British, and so it's supposed to be. The nose follows through perfectly on the palate: this is a very honest, up-front beer that tastes just like it smells, and it tastes wonderfully fresh. It's hovering on the edge of SBP parameters at 5.2%, but it was with beauties like this in mind that I made it 5.5% in the first place...

I was not a brown ale fan at all for years. Things slowly chipped away at that, and when I did the brown ale tasting panel with Eric Asimov at the New York Times last year, the old prejudices were overthrown. I liked these beers, they were tasty, not overbearing, and quite good with a wide variety of foods. To use a horrible word...they were friendly. And they are archetypical session beers. Find one -- if you're going to find a Beertown Brown, better hurry; it's a seasonal -- and make friends.

SBP: We're On the Radar

Seen Through a Glass has its first comments, and now it has its first blog post: Stan Hieronymus talks about it on his blog, Appellation Beer: Beer From a Good Home. He's talking about the Session Beer Project rather than STAG itself, and says

"In working on another project, I’ve been reviewing way too much 1980s
literature about American beer. In one story a German brewer says he’d never
export his beer to the United States because Americans can’t appreciate its
flavors. He might still feel the same way, but the fact is ex****e beers helped
change what was a pathetic image (both of brewers and consumers)." [Stan is
avoiding the word "extreme" in conjunction with beer...for reasons of his own. Maybe he just doesn't want to get Googled by guys like me.]

I'll agree about the change of image, but not to anywhere near the degree Stan sees. Extreme beer may have gotten us into the Wall Street Journal, but I strongly feel that it was steady slogging of beers like New Belgium Fat Tire Amber, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Abita Amber, and Harpoon IPA that did more to change that image than anything. Everyday people drink beers like these every day. Beers like these are showing up in restaurants every day. Check out Don Russell's recent column on how widespread crafts are getting to be in Philly.

Extreme beers are getting the press; Stan's right about that, and I agree. That's why this blog is here, after all. But session beers are getting the taphandles, and the sales, and the friends. Here's a quote from the recent piece I did on extreme beers for BeerAdvocate Magazine:
"From an evolutionary perspective, people are predisposed to not like bitter
flavors because it means poison, sick, bad," New Belgium brewer Matt Gilliland
muses. "What percentage of people in the U.S. do you think have overcome that
genetic hard-wiring and really like 100 IBU beer? There you go, that’s your

The market for session beer is much larger, and sales prove it.

Naturally, I don't believe anyone is saying that extreme beers sell more. But when something starts to become ubiquitous, it has a lot of effect on the image. The image of the category as a whole becomes less crucial, and the image of the individual beer becomes more it should be, I'd argue.

Tim Roberts, the tragically underrated brewer at Philly's Independence Brewpub, told me this, a quote that I thought was too controversial for the piece.

"I think this trend [extreme beer] is also bad for the industry, in that it
perpetuates a couple of myths about craft brewing—first that "micro-brews" are
thick, syrupy, too strong, too bitter, etc., and also that these are beers only
for a certain few people who are "into them," i.e. fat guys in black, Magic Hat
t-shirts [Luckily, I don't resemble that remark anymore...]. For these
reasons, it seems to me, more drinkable, session style beers are a must if the
industry is ever going to seriously challenge the big brewers for real market
share. "

Some folks will say that the craft brewing industry doesn't need to challenge the big brewers for market share; they can continue as the top of the market. I think that's naive. The industry will have to grow to survive. Not all breweries will have to grow. But overall, if they're not growing, they're dying. I think the craft brewing industry has great potential, and despite the booming market for light beer, I think craft can be a success on a major level. But it is going to be session beers that put it there.

Your turn, Stan.

First of a flood: my Irish Whiskey piece in the Philly City Paper

I was going to go to Ireland in December to visit the three distilleries...but that fell through. It's a painful story, don't ask. I did get more than enough material (and samples) to write a number of stories, though, and the first of them just came out today in the City Paper. More an overview than anything, but one interesting tidbit: Philadelphia is the number one American market for Tullamore Dew. No real idea why, to be honest. But I'll tell you: that 12 Year Old Tullamore's some nice whiskey.