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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lunch in Dendermonde

Wow. I had a serious lunch with the Bosteels, Ivo and his son Antoine. Steve and I trained to Belgium from Germany this morning (no big deal, thanks to the ICE train, about 2 hours and across the border, ho-hum), then took a local to Dendermonde, where Ivo met us and threw our luggage in the back of his Benz SUV and hurtled down the roads to Buggenhout, where the brewery has been since 1791. Really.

This is the brewery that produces Pauwel Kwak, Tripel Karmeliet, and DeuS. You may never have heard of the brewery; they take pains to make the name of the beers important, not the brewery, or, in fact, themselves. "We are not important. The beer is important." says Ivo. "We are a service, the brewery, we are in service to the beer." Steve and I turned to each other at one point and said, "The man is a quote factory," which he is, because his passion for brewing shines through like hot summer sunshine.

The picture above is Ivo holding up two glasses of beer. Take a look at them. Click on the pic and look at them close up. They are the same beer. Ivo did this to show what a difference the glass makes. That's Karmeliet Tripel in its own glass (on the left) and the Kwak glass on the right. You'd think they were two different beers. This goes to show that the different glasses for different beers are not just marketing. They show -- and smell, and taste -- the beers just how they were meant to be.

Anyway, the lunch. We went to 't Truffeltje in Dendermonde, a place Ivo and Antoine said they only went to two or three times a is a Michelin one-star, and the meal was excellent. First we got an amusee bouche of a scallop in a DeuS sabayon, side-by-side with a forcemeat eel disc on greensauce: to drool for. We spooned up the excess sabayon and ate it. I must admit: I have never been a fan of DeuS. Now I understand. What a delicious beer. We had it with the seafood, and all of a sudden it made perfect sense. I get what everyone else ever said: it is crisp but complex, startling and not really one-dimensional at all. Now... was that me, or was it individual batches? I don't know. I stopped drinking it because it bored me. This was not at all boring.

We had a filet of cod with a Karmeliet sauce (did you know Karmeliet was made with oats, barley, and wheat, all both malted and unmalted?) that was excellent (see left), squab breast with Kwak sauce (with the best damned carrots I've ever had), and about three dessert courses. Woof.

Then it was back to the midst of Dendermonde, the plaza, where we had draft Karmeliet -- rather dead, and uninteresting -- at which point Ivo hustled us next door to St. Joris Cafe where we had the bottled Karmeliet: excellent.

Well...maybe there's something to this "bottled Belgian is better than draft" after all.

We finally bolted, and Ivo wound up driving us to Het Anker when we missed our train...but that's another story, and I'm exhausted right now. Must sleep.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lunch in Köln

I got up this morning about 8:30, got some work done, and then Steve and I took a walk around the shopping district. I grabbed a Berliner -- the jelly donut, not the wheat beer -- which was just wonderful, and munched as we walked. After an inspiring tour around the Dom -- it was a cool, breezy, sunny day, and the view was, well, awesome -- we tripped down to the Gaffel Haus and had a couple stange of that crisp, hoppy kölsch.

Then we made our way through the torturous nest of intersections at the south end of the Heumarkt (if you've been there, you know just what I mean: 5 minutes to get 60 meters!) and had lunch at Malzmühle: as Steve said, the other end of the kölsch spectrum, the malty, even a bit sticky end. The food was as farmer-simple as I recall: a hearty mash of potatoes, green kale, and hammy bits cooked up in broth, with a fat and solid grilled bratwurst sitting on top. I could not finish it, delicious, but just too much. A last kölsch, back to the room (we're stazing at the Maritim, a very nice hotel just about 40 meters from Malzmühle), and then we hopped the train to Düsseldorf...where I'm typing this now before heading over to Uerige.

Tomorrow: Belgium.

Philly Beer Week -- Deliciousness at Chick's Cafe

"That's Not Belgian!"
People continue to refer to beers as having "a Belgian character." Now, given the enormous variety of beers in Belgium -- something I'm very much looking forward to experiencing in a couple days -- that's a questionable concept...but I know what they mean: a wildness, maybe rich, maybe spicy, maybe tart: the unexpected.
Join me at Chick's Cafe for a night of non-Belgian beers that have that same wildness, that unpredictability...but with their own slant. Here's what's on the well-paired menu; we're still making a few changes and additions (and I guarantee, it will only get better if we do!)
Opening beer: Seson from Birrificio Piccolo - made with chinoto, juniper, and coriander and matured in chardonnay barrels.

Appetizer: La Bavaisienne Blonde (a traditional biere de garde) served with a puff pastry tart with smoked mussels, goat cheese, leeks, and crisp green

Entree: Strada san Felice (amber ale brewed with chestnuts) with braised boar served over polenta with wild mushrooms.

Cheese course: El Gaitero Sidra / La Choulette Framboise (yes, that's a Spanish cider) with a northern Spanish cheese selection (Cabrales, Idiazabal, Afuega l' Pitu), possibly a French cheese with the Framboise.

Desert: BB10 from Birreria Barley (a dark rich beer brewed with the juice from the local Cannonau grape) with a chocolate truffle tart.
$55 plus tax and gratuity: tickets available from Chick's (215-625-3700; or you can e-mail directly).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Früh-stuck and a Day in Düsseldorf

Stephen and I eventually got out of the hotel this morning and walked up to Früh am Dom, the brewpub just off the Domplatz. We had one of the offered brewery breakfasts (breakfast is frühstuck in German; Früh plays with this and offers "Früh-stuck"): 3 fried eggs with bacon and bread. Delicious, especially with three glasses of kölsch. Then we hopped on the train up to Düsseldorf. It was a bit of a gray day today, and never did get better, though it did get worse at points.

One of the good points was the D-dorf U-bahn system, which quickly dropped us off on the east edge of the Altstadt. We wandered about in the rain, and stopped in a Jägermeister bar, Zum Hirsch. All Jäger, all the time, but we got two Frankenheimer Altbiers at the happy hour price of E1.10 each: nice, Frankenheimer is probably the sweetest of the altbiers, and that was welcome.

After that, we wandered up to the Rhein and Im Goldenen Ring, where we tried the unfiltered Schlösser Alt; "Jonges" Alt (literally 'young old'). It was yeasty, fruity, and lively. The filtered was less fruity, and walks the line between the caramel sweetness of Frankenheim and the dryness of Uerige and Füchschen. Then we stopped in Zur Uel, a very comfy spot and one of my fave Altstadt kneipe; a short walk from Im Füchschen, which we made afterwards. We enjoyed the view of the köbes working the bar, and enjoyed the altbier. It was really quite dry, and while hoppy, had a pull, a catch, that came primarily, I assume, from the roasted malt and the extended fermentation.

Hmmmm...Then we had fischsuppe at Gosch Sylt, a very nice open-air fish joint at the corner of Bolkerstrasse and Hunrückerstrasse: excellent fish soup, "full of damned fish!" my notes say, and as you can see by how happy Steve is, he fully agreed. Great to be eating hot soup outside under the large umbrellas.

Steve needed to work on a hotel story, so while he checked out a hotel, I ducked into MaiTai, a kitschy cocktail bar with a bamboo bar (that apparently has been around for 20 years). I got an "Exotic Rum Punch" that was pretty damned tasty: fruity, rummy, yummy. Man does not live by beer alone!

Man doesn't live by altbier alone, either: we walked south, and hit the Pilsner Urquell ausschank (brewery outlet) where Steve got a Pilsner and I got the Kozel Dark, which was dryly medicinal (which is much nicer than it sounds!). We ran into an American here, and chatted a bit. We continued the non-altbier trend a bit by stopping at a Woyton coffeeshop (across the alley from a Starbucks; the damned Seattle interlopers are everywhere!). Best German coffee I've had in a while. On with it: we stopped at a Spanish-type bar/tapas place, Cafe Madrid, and tried a glass of sherry. Odd concept, watching Germans drinking Estrella Damm when they had perfectly good altbier right at hand. The sherry wasn't that good either.

At this point, we decided it was time to get serious about what we were doing: we're working, dammit! (Actually, that was work for Steve: he's doing a wine piece.) It was off to Uerige, where we sat in the front room, had a few altbiers, and chatter with a native who worked with oil pipelines. I got some mettwurst, but then we moved on, going back to Schlüssel, where Steve craftily employed my stealth German skills to engage two older women in conversation for a story on nightlife he has to do (I actually know more German than I think I do; I blossom under the pressure of conversation, and the ladies complimented me). More altbier ensued -- we bought them a round -- and we were all quite happy when we left.

Steve wanted some schnapps, said his gut was upset, so we wound up at a place called Till Eulenspiegl, the trickster figure of German folklore. He had an Underberg, I had a shot of Karn -- whooee! -- and some more Frankenheim Alt. One more stop: Zwiebel ("onion") just because I was curious: sad-looking inside, almost deserted, and we had more Frankenheim, played pinball (Steve kicked my ass), and then headed back to Köln. Steve went back to the hotel, I went out to Päffgen, had a few more kölsche, and got my notes in order...which is how I wrote all this. Because at this hour of the starts to blur. Good notes are essential...although I'm starting to think that taking pictures of places like this are important, too.

Hiding Out in Lagerland

Yes, I'm on that trip. I landed in Lagerland yesterday, met Stephen Beaumont at the Frankfurt Airport, took the train to Köln, and checked in at our hotel. My room has a great view of the Dom.

We hit Früh for two quick kölsches, then trained up to Düsseldorf. We picked up a tourguide from the local tourism bureau, who gave us a real whirlwind tour spiked with plenty of history. Then we got a brewery tour at Zum Schlussel (details on all of this later, I'm a bit rushed for time right now) and a delicious schweinehaxe dinner, and plenty of good altbier.

After that, getting a little bit of a second wind, we crossed the street to Im Goldenen Kessel for a couple glasses of Schumacher, then down to Zum Uerige, where we actually found an open barrel-table right next to the one where my blog picture one the left was taken. Like coming home. But I was crashing hard, been up almost 36 hours at that point, so we had two and caught the train back to Köln. And now we're up and ready to go back to Düsseldorf for more. I may or may not be able to post more, it's going to be a bit crazy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Upstate Beer & Game Dinner -- here are your beers!

Scoats is now selling tickets for the Upstate Pennsylvania Breweries Wild Game Beer Dinner, which I'm hosting at the Grey Lodge on March 9 at 5 PM. I'm proud to say that this is a beer dinner that not many people could have put together, but Scoats and I have done it. We have a game menu paired with four beers from tiny upstate breweries, three of which are less than six months old. You won't find these beers anywhere else in Philly, and you won't find beers from all four of these breweries anywhere in the world. Except the Grey Lodge Pub.

First course: Hunter's chili, made with ground venison.
First beer: Elk Creek IPA. Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks is in Millheim, a town so far out in the sticks you can't even see The Sticks from there. But they attracted GABF award-winning brewer Tim Yarrington (and no surprise: it's beautiful country up there), and this is your hop-fix for the night, ready to trim that spicy deer-meat chili.

Second course: Sauteed Partridge Salad (like duck breast salad, only more delicate)
Second beer: Bavarian Barbarian Headbangerz Brown Ale. Mike Hiller founded Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Co. in Williamsport just last year, a production-only brewery, brewing only two beers so far. This one is a sturdy English-type brown, great for the sauteed flavors of partridge.

Third course: Beer-braised rabbit (I do love me some bunny wabbit).
Third beer: Bullfrog Winter Warmer. Terry Hawbaker has been making fantastic beers for years now; first at W.T. Hackett's in Scranton (which closed), then at Black Rock in Wilkes-Barre (which closed), and for four years since then at the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport (proving that all he needed was a stable platform!). Terry and I talked about maybe pairing his Tripel or Unique Singel with our rabbit main course, but then he said, 'You know...the Winter Warmer I have on now has just a hint of rosemary. That might be good with rabbit.' And the deal was sealed. He promises: "just a hint." Gonna be great with the rabbit.

Fourth course: Apple fritters (don't you love fritters? Such an upstate kinda dessert.)
Fourth beer: One Guy Cinnamon Boldy. If you read this blog, you know about One Guy Brewing. And you probably know about Cinnamon Boldy: "He handed me a glass: it was a light gold, and the cinnamon came bursting out of the glass, not like a little cinnamon on an apple dumpling, more like cinnamon in Moroccan stews. Bold, like the man said. The beer in the mouth was big, blazing, almost like a tea made from cinnamon hearts. I am not a fan of spice beers, but I'll be dipped if I didn't enjoy this. I've never had anything like it. "

As I said, a beer dinner you just will not find anywhere else. The ticket price is $80, and as Scoats says, "It's a little pricer than I hoped, but game is expensive. And that price does include taxes and tip", so no surprises or extras. Give Scoats a call (215-825-5357) or drop him an e-mail about tickets. See you there.

Pilsner Gala is now a LAGER Gala

We had some folks who wanted to play with us in the Pilsner Gala we have planned at Triumph for Philly Beer Week who didn't have what were quite exactly pilsners...but Jay decided we should let them in anyway. So here is the final list (er...probably final) of Lagers for the Gala at Triumph on March 13, 6-10 PM.

Triumph - German Pils, Dunkel, Kellerbier, Blonde Doppelbock, and Rauchbock (all from the Philly location)
Iron Hill - Vienna Lager (which, if you ain't had it yet, you should)
Victory - Braumeister Pils (Tettnanger?) and Prima
Sly Fox - Pikeland Pils, and a special amber Rauchbier
Ramstein - Vienna Lager
Appalachian - Zoigl Star Lager (unfiltered kellerbier-type)
Lancaster - Franklinfest (a change from Gold Star Pilsner)
Troegs - unfiltered Sunshine Pils
Stoudt's - Pils (this may be unfiltered; waiting to hear on that)

And if you're hungry, Jay is lining up serious German beerhall eats: smoked sausage, meat patties, pfefferwurst, sliders (okay, German-American), and lots of meat. There will probably be some vegetable stuff too. No, really!

This is all pay-as-you-go, most (but not all) breweries are sending people, and you will have an almost unprecedented opportunity to compare these local lagers side-by-side. I'm really looking forward to this, hope you can make it!

Addition: Lord, I was just looking at this line-up'd be hard-pressed to find this many different non-mainstream lagers on in one bar/brewpub anywhere. It's gonna be better than Germany. Heresy.

Cease & Desist, that jug is DANGEROUS!

I saw this on BeerAdvocate about half an hour ago: fella posting said that State Line Liquors (one of my favorite booze stores, and that's no kidding: we stop in here almost every time we get below Wilmington for beer, wine, and spirits) got a letter from the Maryland Attorney General's office telling them that they have to stop filling growlers for sale from their in-house taps. Here we go, I thought, either it's another New Dry with their panties in a twist about "jugs" of beer, or just some over-active bureaucrat enforcing what they think is the law, or maybe somebody looking to get State Line in hot water. Because it can't be a real problem, right?

I picked up the phone and called Robert Murray at State Line, we chatted about the weather (they've got less than an inch), and then I asked him, what's up with the growler thing? He laughed. "It's comical," he said. "They sent us a letter and said that since we didn't have a microbrewery license we couldn't put beer in a jug. But they won't give us the paperwork to tell us what law we violated." He explained that the letter had actually come from the county liquor board, but they were essentially just passing on a letter direct from the AG's office.

"We have both an on-premise license and off-premise license," he said. "No one called to ask what we were doing, and no one [from the AG's office] has actually witnessed what we're doing. Where did it come from? We don't know."

Could someone please tell me why growler sales are such an issue? Here you've got a place that can sell bottles, cans, and kegs of beer; they can sell pre-filled growlers. They also have an on-premise license: they can sell a glass of draft beer to a customer, who can then stand there and drink it. But filling a jug from the tap, right in front of the person, is somehow illegal? Tell me why. Is it labeling requirements? Growlers often don't say what is in them, but you're filling it right in front of the person. Is there no room in the law for common sense? Is it health issues? Why is a growler less healthy than serving it in an open glass? Is it a safety issue, are they worried someone might drive down the road and open the jug? Can't be: you can open bottles, cans, and pre-filled growlers just as easily.

I want to hear the reasoning on this one. And I'd really like to challenge all state alcohol agencies to open up their laws on this. Growlers are perfectly safe, they are just a glass of draft with a lid on them. They support local business. They do not encourage unsafe consumption in any way. Why not make a few reasonable requirements -- labeling for volume, that obnoxious federal "warning" wording, and a required visual inspection and rinse -- and then step back and let adults buy legal beverages in the format that they wish. I it legal to buy beer in Maryland, or isn't it?

It's been doing really well, we've been having a lot of fun. The county inspector did call us today. He has a meeting with the liquor board atty, we're trying to set up a meeting. It's comical. How about I just sell the bottle, like on eBay? No, I haven't gone that far yet.

Snow Day

We've got three inches so far, and it's still coming down; supposed to change over to freezing rain, but there are some indications that the predictions may be off on when and where that will I still have hope for more snow. Meanwhile, there's strong coffee in the pot, school's been called off, I've got a couple interviews scheduled for this morning and then just some short pieces to write this afternoon...looks like a nice day to spend some time with the dog.

And tomorrow...who knows? Might have to go relax somewhere. It's been a rough week, for personal reasons, and I think we need some down time. Meanwhile, it's always fun to watch a Corgi in the snow.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Back to Uerige

See that picture of me I've had pinned to the top left corner of the blog since I started it, a little over a year ago? That was taken -- a little over a year ago -- at Zum Uerige, in Düsseldorf. I hope to have another one soon: I'm headed back. Stephen Beaumont recently contacted me, saying, I'm going to Düsseldorf and Belgium, wanna come along? Hell yes, I did: I, um... have never been to Belgium. True. So I'm going to fix that. After all, Steve's never been to Düsseldorf.

The fun thing is, what originally seemed like a problem -- a trade fair in Düsseldorf made it impossible to find a hotel room (is there always a damned trade fair in that town?) -- turned into a plus: we decided to stay in Köln and take the train back and forth, getting us what Steve is joyfully calling 'a twofer.' So I'm essentially going to be commuting to work, something I haven't done in over ten years, unless you count walking down to my basement office (as I'm sure Ms. Anonymous will tell me doesn't count because it's not a job...thanks, toots). And when I "get home from work," I can toddle by the spectacular Dom for a couple glasses at Früh.

Ahhh, wonderful...and that's not even touching on the beauty that will be visiting Belgium: Brussels, Ghent, a couple small family breweries in the country. I'll be trying to blog some of this for you, but I may get busy. You understand, of course.

It's all part of my continuing education (without brewery sponsorship, by the way) to get to know these places, these breweries, these beers better, so I can write better. Okay, it's fun, too, but shouldn't every job be this satisfying?

(Addition: I promised Adam I'd post the two sites I used to plan that first trip to Düsseldorf and Köln: Ron Pattinson's excellent and superbly chatty European Beer Guide, and Fred Waltman's much more focused Sticke Warriors site. BTW, Adam: I fully endorse Fred's recommendation of Hotel Haus Rheinblick (the link's in German, but if you can figure out that "Reservierungsanfrage" means "reservation requests," you can probably take it from there), a very nice family-run hotel in the north half of the Altstadt, a short easy walk to the Rhine, Im Goldenen Ring is three minutes walk, Uerige is about seven minutes, Im Füchschen is about 12 minutes...and you get breakfast, too, for well under E100 a night. I can't recommend the penzione where I stayed in Köln; clean, but not particularly comfortable, in the Turkish quarter, which was fascinating (and delicious) during the day, but scary at night; we heard frightened screaming people running through the streets two nights in a row. Trying a new place this time; pricier, but close to the train station, because of the commute. Actually...I just looked at the map, and it's not closer to the station. But it is right beside Malzmühle, and it's not uphill, so I'd say it's a win.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

David Quinn: a great interview

Well, what a great time with David Quinn of the Midleton Distillery this morning. We sampled the four whiskeys in the Jameson Reserve 'family,' including the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (which I made damned sure I finished my sample of, let me tell you). We were supposed to talk mostly about the Reserve family, but by the time we were done, we'd ranged far and wide.

I got in most of your questions, but not all. Here are answers to the shortest, most urgent ones: The Jameson 12 Year Old is not going away, Jameson Gold is going to be a regular issue, and it is unfortunately not very likely that they will be bringing any more "Irish only" whiskeys -- Paddy's, for instance -- to the U.S. market (mainly because they're doing so well with Jameson's that they don't want to dilute the market, sounds like).

I'll try to get some of the actual interview up, but there's a lot more of it than the Colum Egan one: we talked longer, and it was just the two of us in the bar, really, so we had a lot fewer interruptions (of course, the recording is a lot easier to understand, too!). Some good stuff, including a lot about barrels and casks, and a lot about all the different whiskeys they make at Midleton's and how they do it. Good stuff.

Oh, and by the way: we did the interview at For Pete's Sake in Queen's Village -- a favorite spot of mine, and it turns out, David's, too: his brother Peter owns it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jameson's Turn

Hey, if any Irish whiskey lovers are reading today... I've got an interview with Dave Quinn, the "Master of Whiskey Science" at the Midleton Distillery (where they make Jameson) tomorrow morning. Once again: anyone got any questions for him? You send 'em, I'll ask 'em...and I swear I'll get them up on the blog faster than I did with Colum Egan!

Taking a Walk

Three bottles of Yellow Tail Shiraz.

Lots and lots of Yuengling Lager.

Just newspapers. Dull.


Deer Park, and a Sutter Home White Zin.

Lite 40s. 40s? Damn.


Three different Saranacs!

Kendall-Jackson chardonnay.


Sly Fox Pale Ale, Otter Creek Winter, Shiner Black, a Michelob Celebrate -- oh, wait. We're home, Penderyn.

I took the dog for a walk this morning. Just for fun, I checked out what was in the recycling bins along the street -- we've got curb-side pickup of recycling in Middletown Township. No big surprises, except for that Saranac and the 40s of Lite. Well, I guess the scarcity of light beer might be a surprise. The prevalence of Yuengling sure wasn't a surprise. I might have to do this more often.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Rising Tide

Small brewers of all stripe continue to do well. I got some news back in January that I just remembered that I wanted to pass along (thanks again to Sam Komlenic): Straub Brewery in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, a great old pre-Prohibition regional brewery that just keeps chugging along, sold a hair over 40,000 bbls. in 2007, the most they've ever sold in one year in the history of the brewery. This is the kind of thing that apparently gave them the courage to launch Straub Dark, their first new beer in years (and I hear it's doing well; it should, it's a nice dunkel-ish kind of beer, very pleasant drink).

What's it mean? Well, it's not that huge; Straub's been selling in the mid-30K range for quite a few years now. But it is up, and I think it points to a continued trend. People don't want to keep drinking the same old, same old. That's why Yuengling continues to do well, that's why the craft brewers continue to do well. It's not all about variety of beer, it's partly about identity. Yeah, that's marketing, but it's time to face facts: marketing works. And if people want local products, or small business products...that's the kind of trend that's going to help small brewers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hey, Craft Brewers: Who's Your Daddy?

Just picked this up off (thanks to Guy Hagner for the tip). Hats off to Jim Koch, and I hope we won't see any more mean-spirited slagging of Koch among the beer brewing and drinking community after this.

For a couple of months now, we've all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it's affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers--openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn't make beer.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We're offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them. Specifically, we are able to spare 10,000 pounds of East Kent Goldings from Tony Redsell, a top English grower featured by Michael Jackson in Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (page 75 has a picture) and 10,000 pounds of the German Noble hop Tettnang Tettnanger from small farms in the Tettnang region in Germany. These are both type 90 pellets from the 2007 crop and are the exact same hops we brew our own beers with. We're not looking to make money on this so we're selling them at our cost of $5.72 a pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling for the Goldings and $5.42 per pound plus $.75 a pound to cover shipping and handling for the Tetts. They're packed in 22# foil bags, boxed four bags to a box in 88 lb. boxes and will be shipped from cold storage.

The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don't really need them, please don't order them. And don't order them just because we're making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We're not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.

A few mechanics--until we know how much need there is, we've put a maximum out there of 6 boxes per brewer, which is 528 pounds. You can order less in 88 pound increments. You pay shipping. If we get more orders than the 20,000 pounds, we'll have a lottery. We will be putting the basic information to order, some faqs and the actual offer on our website in the next day or so, probably no later than Tuesday. Look for "Hop-Sharing Program" on the front page of the site.

We hope this will make brewing a little easier for those hardest hit by the hop shortage.

Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company

Michelob Celebrate Chocolate Lager

I liked this when I tried it two years ago. It's a big (8.5%) lager aged on a bed of roasted cacao beans: kind of slick, eh? And two years ago, it was richly chocolatey. Now...not so much. It tasted thin, like skim chocolate milk; the richness I remembered was not there. The package is cool, like a little artillery shell (until you get the plastic nosecone off and see screw-top underneath, which looks kinda cheesey), but the beer just doesn't come up to standards. I'd like to know if things changed, or if I'm just remembering it differently in the glow of pleasure surrounding it when I had it in 2006: eating a fine meal with friends, enjoying good conversation.

Might crack open the cherry Celebrate this weekend.

Back to Normal

No more slander, no more crap. Just blogging.

Oh, well, it will still come in, but I'll be the only one to see it. And I can take it. The cyberstalker ain't so smart: just says the same crap, over and over.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Last Duchesse

Hey, thanks to Jay Brooks, I now know that I share today as a birthday with Mary of Burgundy, the woman honored on the Duchesse de Bourgogne beer label. Cheers, baby!

Miller Lite Brewers Collection tasting

Time to taste the Miller Lite Brewers Collection. All three are poured in fairly similar, beer-clean glasses.

Miller Lite Amber: Aroma is somewhat sharp, grainy. Head forms well, and lasts. Don't know if I'd go "amber," more like a dark gold, but a nice color. More flavor than Lite, for certain, but hardly overwhelming. A light, malty/grainy flavor, ashy notes, a slightly sour aftertaste, doesn't break particularly clean. Fizzy. Overall impression: too much flavor for a Lite drinker, nowhere near enough flavor -- or distinction -- for a craft drinker. Third out of three, nothing to like here.

Miller Lite Wheat: Cloudy medium yellow; cloudiness is very uniform, most likely protein haze rather than yeast. Nice tightly bubbled head, and good retention. Beer looks quite nice. Whoa! Startling sweet orange nose, like an orange hard candy or gumdrop. (Obviously not a coincidence that the beer they chose to compare it with in the release was Blue Moon.) Dammit. The wheat beer here is, I suspect, not that bad. The body's right -- light-medium, creamy -- and there's a decent tart flip in the release. But that overlaid fakey-tasting orange ruins it. I'm obviously not sure where that's coming from -- could be sweet orange peel, could be essence -- but it's too much, and it's wrong. Tone it down, or make it less sweet, and you could have a winner here. With it, well, it tastes like your dopeass marketing team is running things, and they still don't really understand "craft beer." This makes me remember that before they came up with Miller Chill, the same group was considering a shandy. Sticking fruit in a beer don't make it "craft." Second of three, and that mostly on potential.

Miller Lite Blonde: Slightly ruddy gold color -- actually darker than I would have expected from a "blonde." Head is the worst of the three: big bubbles, not much retention, and hard to resurrect with swirling. Aroma's kind of interesting: some fruity/estery notes, a little malt, maybe some floral hop. Well...not too bad. There's some bitterness in the drink and the finish that spreads through the whole mouth, there's definite structure to this one, and it has -- shock! -- a good aftertaste. I'll probably finish this one with lunch, though I doubt I'd get one when I was out, unless I was faced with nothing but The Usual Suspects, or I wanted to go light on alcohol. If that was the case, I'd be happy to find this available, because it handily tops every big-selling light lager I can think of. First of three, by a large margin...a plausible session drinker.

That's just my opinion, of course, and I -- we -- are hardly the target market. It is worth keeping in mind that Miller is not aiming these at the die-hard craft drinker. The three beers they are compared to in the press release are Blue Moon, Fat Tire, and Bass Ale. Not the first choices of your basic BeerAdvocate, but strong sellers, and if Miller can grab some of that, they'd probably be happy.

Can they? I doubt it. "Miller Lite" and "craft" have a much stronger cognitive disconnect than "Sam Adams" and "Light." The packaging is very generic (though that could change), there's very little story here (the description on the neck ring of "Miller Lite Brewers Collection Amber" reads "AMBER: refreshing amber lager brewed with a distinctive rich finish"), there's none of the cues that casual craft drinkers key on.

If you're going to aim at that group, you've got to think about what they're buying: with Bass, they're buying import prestige; with Fat Tire, they're buying a different look and a quirky name/badge; with Blue Moon, they're buying a very different -- cloudy -- look and taste, and a pretty badge. They're buying flavor, too, don't get me wrong: all three of those beers are very different from mainstream lager (they are, really, if we're being honest). But the other factors are stronger.

The Miller Lite Brewers Collection has none of that, except the slightly different look, the Wheat most of all. It's Miller Lite, it says so right on the label. That's not different. There's no prestige, there's not a big difference in look, and there's no story. I know I sound like a different guy from the one who wrote about authenticity, but I'm talking about a different set of beer drinkers here.

I don't like conspiracy theories. I think most of the wacky shit beer geeks come up with about the evil marketers at the macrobrewers is just that: wacky shit. But I can't help thinking that this represents one of the recurring theories about why macrobrewers try craft-type beers: they do them in a half-assed way, designed to fail, so that they can point to them and say, "See? People don't really like this stuff. They're just buying it because it's small/local/trendy."

The one other time I really got that feeling was when I went to a Miller Reserve tasting back in the mid-1990s. The Miller rep set up her display, carefully arranged the cases of Miller Reserve Amber and Velvet Stout (which were actually pretty decent beers -- better than these), and then just went through the motions, monotone "Like to try Miller Reserve? No? Okay," inflection, and packed up on the stroke so she could get down to the serious business of selling Miller Lite. I never forgot that.

So I can't help feeling that someone or some group at Miller wants to sell craft beer, to make bigger, more characterful beers, and a bigger group sees that as diverting focus from Lite. So they set this whole thing up to prove that craft won't work for Miller.

As far as this goes, they're probably right.

It's my birthday and I'll bark if I want to

In keeping with my New Year's resolutions...a gratuitous picture of my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Penderyn. The juxtaposition of pink ears and Nora's pink socks was too cute for me to pass up.

We celebrated my birthday this morning by splitting a bit of nice pork sausage from the Langhorne Cafe (I just wish they wouldn't deep-fry them...that's what the grill's for, guys!).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Miller Lite Brewers Collection

Miller Lite Brewers Collection.

"Craft Beer. Done Lite."

I got 'em. They're going in the fridge. Miller Lite Amber, Wheat, and Blonde Ale. They're in test markets in Baltimore, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and San Diego now. All 4.2% ABV, all 110 calories per 12 oz. bottle, all 6.2 grams of carbohydrates...for those of you who are counting.

"Real craft beer taste and true light beer refreshment." Well... we'll see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Better Job Than Me

Carolyn, the librarian who writes the Pub Crawlin' blog (and does a great job of it), has been hitting upstate PA breweries: One Guy, Selin's Grove, Elk Creek, and Bavarian Barbarian, and southwest PA too: a Pittsburgh run and Red Star. Excellent write-ups, go have a look.

And people say I've got it good... Carolyn, you are livin' the life!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Grass-fed Cheesesteaks at Otto's

Some of you may recognize the name of the man I call my Central PA correspondent, Sam Komlenic. Sam's our proofreader at Malt Advocate, he's a real rye whiskey geek, he's a beer guy with solid old school credentials, and we think alike on enough things that I don't fear sending him out to check things for me. Like last week when I got an e-mail menu from Otto's, the State College brewpub, presenting their weekend specials, which included "grass-fed cheesesteaks." !!! I've been getting more and more into sustainable and grass-fed meat since reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma (thanks again, Stan), and when I saw that, and realized I was going to be in upstate NY all weekend, I forwarded the menu to Sam immediately and asked him if he could make the sacrifice and get his hungry self over there to check them out. As it happened, Sam already had a Friday lunch appointment with Otto's partner Roger Garthwaite, and within 5 minutes he had received the e-mail and accepted the challenge. Here's what he sent me:

Well, after dining on two local beef-infused dishes over lunch, I'm ready to report.

Up front; you asked for the first food review I've ever attempted. I'm an Otto's Pub Club member and feel that they do a great job of being creative with their menu and ingredients, let alone the consistently great beer quality and selection. It's ten minutes from my house. I like the place. They also get negative feedback from me when it's warranted. Equal opportunity.

That said, I had lunch today with brewery partner Roger Garthwaite. (I paid, by the way, so whatever integrity I had going in I tried to maintain.) Also on the special board was a beef-barley soup made with "Our Own" cow. This was a cow raised on Otto's spent grain as well as pasture, and it gave its life decently to be a part of "our" diet. I had a gorgonzola burger made from "our own cow" a week or so ago, and I kid you not, it was the best burger I've ever eaten. Rare, by the way, a luxury that shouldn't be attempted with industrial ground meat.

The soup arrived after being recommended with conviction by our server, J.K. Very thick and dark (the soup, not our server), and really delicious with a nice pepper kick at the end. Lots of our own cow in that one.

The sandwich was prepared from beef raised by Northern Tier Sustainable Meats in Troy, PA, a cooperative of family farms paying attention to environmental responsibility. It arrived hot on an oven-crisped, good quality roll. (Though Otto's works with a local artisanal bakery for most of their breads, this was not one of Gemelli's.)
A good base of really tender meat was accompanied by sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms. The onions seemed to have more of a presence than the other two. I had asked for provolone cheese, and the steak was served without sauce (sorry Philly fans), which is how I prefer mine. Topped with lots of shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes, I'd call it a California or garden style (I'd call it an abomination; that kinda stuff don't belong on a cheesesteak!).

The meat didn't appear to have been heavily macerated by spatulas on the grill, a process I generally prefer. Turns out it didn't need it. I find beef raised on grass (pasture and hay) to be more tender than all grain-fed, and this may have been the first cheesesteak I ever had with not one little piece of gristle in that clean, succulent meat. Tasted great, though I'm not sure if it necessarily tasted better or if the tenderness does that much for it.

Cows, as ruminants (critters with more than one stomach), were meant to digest grasses, not grain. Grain consumption elevates the need for antibiotics in the animal, and is part of the chain of "confinement agriculture," where the animal, darn near any animal, is kept in a stall/pen/cage for its entire (or nearly so) life. Grass is the way to go. Live an honorable life, die an honorable death.

The only thing that could have been better would have been more of that great meat, but grass-fed quality comes at a premium. Still, it's definitely worth the price of admission. Otto's participates in the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" campaign anchored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), and encourages residents and businesses to use local, PA produced ingredients (I do too!). They are also looking into the PA Preferred program administered by the PA Department of Agriculture.

Don't just drink local; take it to a higher plane. Ask your favorite brewpub, pub or restaurant to cook local, too!

Thanks, Sam!

Friday, February 8, 2008

New Jersey Breweries one step closer...

Ah, a lovely thing to behold...

We've got the cover art to look at, and we like it.

Even better, Mark and I met yesterday to go over the proofs of the manuscript, and it went very smoothly. We went through the whole thing in under half an hour. I take it up to Stackpole Tuesday, and away it goes.

We're still looking at August for publication.

Cricket Hill Rant: OMG, LOL

Without comment (other than to wonder if Rick Reed's gonna pop a vein some Friday...), I present this hilarious rant from the Friday night tasting at Cricket Hill Brewing, Fairfield, NJ:

Capone's bulletin...

I don't normally run alerts for bars with beers on tap, but Capone's has something special on: two years of Tröegs Mad Elf -- 2006 and 2007 -- and the non-cherry Naked Elf as well. That's a great 3-beer tasting education on what fruit, yeast, and age do to a beer.

The East End Black Strap Stout and Grisette Matt has on make a nice reason to go, too.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A pleasant lunch surprise

A while back, a local reader tipped me that the Pizzeria Uno at the Oxford Valley Mall had developed a decent beer selection. I had to run over there today to pick up a book for my son's Latin class at Barnes & Noble, so I figured I'd stop in and check.

Well, lookie here! Uno had some decent drafts -- HopDevil, Stoudt's Scarlet Lady ESB (which used to be everywhere in this area), Troegs Hopback Amber, and Rogue Dead Guy -- but the real treasure was the bottle selection: Duvel, Smuttynose IPA (I assume the Finestkind, didn't see it), 3 Philosophers, Arrogant Bastard, Lefthand Sawtooth, Bell's K-zoo Stout...and about 10 others of similar interest, including North Coast Old Rasputin imperial stout, which is what I had. It was in fine shape: burnt-bitter but with delicious alefruit notes, authoritative body, and great with my pesto-underlaid pizza.

Kinda made me laugh about how chain operators were telling me that having craft beers at chain restaurants was completely unrealistic, "a fairy tale," beer snob pipe dreams. I remain convinced that -- at least until the huge materials cost increases came along in late 2007 -- the biggest thing holding back strong growth for craft beer is availability, either because of lack of distribution, lack of capacity, or lack of retailer commitment. Uno's holding up their end.

Philadelphia Beer Weekocyclopedia

Bryan Kolesar is doing a very nice job of reminding us just why Philly Beer Week is a great idea and a great place to realize it. Kolesar's blog, the Brew Lounge, has featured some excellent and detailed profiles of area breweries, something he's calling The Path to Philly Beer Week, and you should go refresh your memories.

Authentic Thoughts

What do you think of when you hear the word authentic? I think real, I think original, I think genuine, I think good, and I think proper.

So what do you think of when you hear authentic beer? How about authentic Belgian beer? Or authentic lambic? Or authentic double IPA? Or authentic farmhouse brewery? How about authentic Belgian-style beer?

There's a discussion over at Stan Hieronymus's Appellation Beer blog (which I still check every day because I'm an RSS moron), something that started in the comments section when we started talking about what kind of things young drinkers were looking for. I poked around a bit, and found this additional discussion at Jeff Alworth's Beervana blog.

'Authentic' is obviously an issue, at least for some of us (I remarked in that comment thread that this stuff was obviously important to us, but that we may over-estimate the impact on the general beer-drinking public outside the geekerie; and that GB-DP is buying these beers, believe it).

I hate doing the "dictionary definition" thing, but authentic is obviously a slippery concept, and I think we need to nail the little bastard into a corner so we can get a better look at it. Here's the definition from Merriam-Webster's website (I use that because it's easier than typing it out of the M-W Collegiate Dictionary I have here at home), with emphasis added by me and exegesis supplied by me:
1. obsolete : authoritative (obsolete? Throw this one out!)
2 a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact (more about ideas than tangible things)
b: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features ((an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse) (like an 'authentic Belgian-style tripel,' maybe?)
c: made or done the same way as an original (which doesn't jibe with what Jeff or Dale Jacquette talks about)
3: not false or imitation : real, actual (authentic cockney accent) (looks like the meaning Belgian brewers, importers, and alpha geeks are looking for -- and I'm not judging that...yet)
4 is music theory, about church music chords, skip it.
5: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character (so...integrity, delivering what is expected?)

That gives us a springboard. I'll jump right off, head-first: 'authentic' means different things to people in different parts of the beer community, I'll even say the specialty beer community. Europeans see 'authentic' and, I suspect, immediately short-circuit to AOC/PDO thinking: legal protection of regional products by name and process. That's a whole other argument, and I'm going to dismiss it right now with this: "authentic" is not needed if there is a legitimate PDO designation. (If you want to discuss this wholly legitimate topic of what obligations American brewers have to PDO designations, please e-mail me and I'll start a new post, and we can go wild, but let's not clutter this one with it for now.)

From there, I think it quickly breaks down into two divisions. Either authentic means "the original", or it means "produced in a way that closely emulates the original." Where do you sit on this? Cui bono: who benefits? The first definition favors the first producers, the second definition favors those who taste the original and want to emulate it...or, to be fair, hope to sell something like it. If this reminds anyone of the foofaraw over the definition of craft beer, well, yeah. After all, the post and discussion on Stan's blog was about business. (One of the major reasons I check Stan's blog so often: he acknowledges that all this beer wonderfulness is a business.)

I got an e-mail about my comments on Stan's post, encouraging us (writers and geeks, I'm assuming) to save the word 'authentic' from big beer marketers. I responded that I think authentic is already being used for marketing, just by small brewers and their importers.

'Authentic' is not a useful term on a beer label, because it is imprecise, and means different things to a lot of people. If a product is an original, "Original" has always meant a lot to me. If a product is from a particular area associated with a type of beer, "Genuine (insert place-name here) beer" works, and the PDO, if there is one. If a product is a brewer's honest and effortful homage to a specific beer or type of beer, then the tired "(insert beer type here)-style" is hard to argue with, although if it's not a PDO beer, hell, why not just call it "(beer type here)"?

There is an argument on-going on the Burgundian Babble Belt about the use of the term "Belgian-style," and I agree: given the number of different types of beer made in Belgium, "Belgian-style" is meaningless noise. I blame the GABF categories, which label everything this way: "German Style Kölsch/Köln Style Kölsch." As I've said before, this is to distinguish it from all that French-style Kölsch that's been flooding the market?

But I don't think that has anything to do with the authentic argument. I think the authentic argument is about selling beer. And what this still comes down to, what it all comes down to, is the damned beer. Put it in a glass. Hand it to me. Stand back and shut up while I drink it. Let me react, let me enjoy or despise. But let me do it without telling me about the beer's pedigree, it's maker's history. I'll want to taste other beers that claim to be similar. But if the beer's good, and not too simple, or too complex, or not integrated enough, or overdone, or just plain bad...that's usually a lot more important to me than whether or not it's authentic.

Flame on.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Philly Beer Week: details on the Fork brunch and Real Ale Festival

Well... I thought we were doing the PA Preferred and PA beer brunch at Fork. Then Ellen Yin came back to me with a suggestion for a dim sum and beer buffet kind of thing, and I liked it. We can do the PA Preferred brunch next year (which gives me time to make better contacts at PA Preferred, too). So here's what we have this time:

Start Your Day Right: with Fork and Pennsylvania Breweries!
Join Fork in welcoming nationally-noted beer writer Lew Bryson for a special brunch featuring a breakfast variety of local beers from his book Pennsylvania Breweries. You'll enjoy pairing those beers with Fork's interpretation of dim sum, the Asian small plates traditionally served with tea. The menu will include items like potstickers, braised ribs, clams in black bean sauce, etc. Consider it a delicious preparation for the Real Ale Festival at Triumph, just two blocks away. Sunday, March 16, noon to 2:00 PM, $35 excluding tax and gratuity; beers extra.

Now, about that Real Ale Festival: Jay Misson called me about that. Tom Kehoe at Yards has been behind the idea from the start, but there were obviously some problems with the split of the business and ongoing issues with their new brewery building (the screw piles are all in, by the way, according to Kehoe's report at Groundhog Day). But with that old "work together" attitude that has characterized small brewing in this country for years, Yards and Triumph got together and the event will be on at Triumph. Jay said they may be alternating the site in years to come (note: "years to come." An event with a future).

Details: The festival will run from 1-4 on Sunday afternoon, and you'll have the choice of "in the neighborhood of 20 different firkins, and we hope more, from 20 different breweries," according to Jay. It's a one-price ticket: $50 a head, limited to about 300 people. There will be special food for the event, but that menu isn't set yet. "The spirit," said Jay, a radically traditional brewer, "is to try to maintain traditional cask styles rather than to have an extreme beer fest. Maybe there won't be enough hops for people, I don't know."

So join me at Fork for beer and dim sum, get a base laid in for the Real Ale Festival. Sounds like a great way to end Philly Beer Week to me.

The One Guy Visit

I did, as I said, visit Guy Hagner at One Guy Brewing in Berwick (still no website, or I'd link). I called when I was about half an hour out and told him to order us a pizza at King's (which, you'll notice, does have a website). Guy got pizza there when I was up to help with demolition, and it was delicious; the one I picked up now was equally good (half meatball/onion, half sausage/green pepper, and a bargain). I brought it in, said "Lunch is served!" and Guy poured us a couple of glasses of his Peach Wheat, which he said had been very popular. Easy to see why: tart peach flavor on a clean light-medium body, not too simple, not too big, and brewed with local peaches. It is unfiltered, like all Guy's beers, but dropped out quite bright.

We continued to eat and drink, while talking about how successful the opening had been. Very gratifying for Guy, after all the time and effort of getting the place going. We got Berwick Lager next: clean, refreshing, mainstreamish, and just a bit amber, kinda like Yueng -- well, you know. Then we had the surprise best-seller, the Dark Lager. I can see why, it's smooth and a little sweet, a very pleasant beer. On the other hand, Guy's not completely happy with this, and I can see why: it needs to clean up just a bit, and has some huskiness to it. Tweaked, this will be magic.

The Pils was probably the weakest of a good lot. The hop buzz was good, but the malt on the palate was a bit slippery, not clean and firm as it should be. Guy said he'd tried something with the Pils, and wouldn't be doing it again; he poured me some from another keg he hadn't "tried something" with (5-gallon soda canisters, by the way), and it was noticeably better.

We grabbed a Rauch Bock and walked back into the brewery. As you might be able to tell from the picture, this is one of the biggest small breweries I've ever seen. The brewhouse is tiny, but there's a ton of space. Space is cheap in Berwick; that's a lot of the reason Guy's here.

You can just see the chiller on the left edge of the picture: it's a steel tank full of water, with a restaurant ice-maker sitting on top of a hole cut in the top. Ice gets made, drops into the tank, and the cold water circulates into coils in the fermenters. A lot of Guy's equipment came from eBay and restaurant auctions (he ran an eBay business for a while and knows what he's doing,) the bigger stuff came from the work he's been doing in brewery salvage. The brewery was cheap -- "under $100,000" is about all you can get out of him -- but there's a lot of sweat equity in the place and the equipment. That coldbox in the back, for instance: $1,500, and installed by a friend in exchange for beer.

The Rauch Bock, right. Not as huge as you'd expect from the name, but Guy's not really about big. It's a good clean lager, solidly smokey, and the last half of it went very nicely with the last piece of meatball pie when we walked back to the taproom.

Things are going well for One Guy, but it's very early. (People are already asking when he's going to expand, hell, I did too. Relax, says Guy, I just opened. I want to sell beer, brew beer, and just do that for a while.) A lot of his success is going to count on locals: One Guy is not exactly easy access off the interstate, and Berwick's not surrounded by cities, it's surrounded by woods and hills. Bloomsburg and Hazleton are the closest towns of any size, and I doubt many folks from there are going to travel to Berwick for beer; maybe from the college at Bloomsburg (don't underestimate the thirst of professors).

But it's going to be Berwick that makes this work. I'm hoping that the local business owners -- like the folks at King's -- will realize that One Guy is drawing people into town to spend money, and work at sprucing up to get some of that themselves. This is how brewpubs improve towns. Oh, um, of course, One Guy is not a brewpub, Guy said so. And he's right, hot dogs don't make a brewpub. But he's happy to let people bring food in from wherever, and that's where Berwick makes money. I see opportunity for a lot of businesses here: Berwick Chamber of Commerce, time for a tourist map of town! The big deal, of course, is the nuke plant: if Guy can get the attention of the engineers there, that will help a lot. They drink, they've got money, and they'll spread the word.

Places like this, and the two new breweries in Williamsport, Abbey Wright and Bavarian Barbarian, and Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks in Millheim, Voodoo in Meadville, and more coming along, these places are filling in the beer map in Pennsylvania, just like the beer map's getting filled in elsewhere. The Brewers Association noted not too long ago that the average American now lives within 10 miles of a brewery; Pennsylvania's trying to beat that average. There is a wave of small breweries opening. It's exciting. Spread your attention around, try new things.

Speaking of which...there was one more beer to try: Cinnamon Boldy. What the hell? "We kind of named it for our dogs," said Guy. "My wife calls them "boldy dogs" because they just charge into everything." He handed me a glass: it was a light gold, and the cinnamon came bursting out of the glass, not like a little cinnamon on an apple dumpling, more like cinnamon in Moroccan stews. Bold, like the man said. The beer in the mouth was big, blazing, almost like a tea made from cinnamon hearts, but not clinging or gagging. I am not a fan of spice beers, but I'll be dipped if I didn't enjoy this. I've never had anything like it, and if this is the kind of thing the hop shortage brings about, well, it's not all bad.
Get thee to Berwick.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Benefits of Beer Proselytization

Seventeen years ago, I worked at a small start-up pharmaceutical company in Ft. Washington, PA. One of the friends I made there was a young chemist, Tom Lawler. Tom was a good guy, and we got along well, but Coors Light was where his beer world began and ended. I decided to open his eyes to the variety that was available -- which wasn't really all that much, in 1991, in the Philadelphia area.

The first cracks in the wall were Yuengling Lager and Killian's Irish Red (which was a significantly beefier beer in those days). Tom took to them, and we ran around in Berks County, drinking Yuengling and eating the local Pennsylvania Dutch chow. We grabbed a new toxicologist at the firm, Les Gibbs, a Bud man, and broke him in on beer variety, too.

We toured the Yuengling and Lion breweries (talk about back in the day...our first Lion tour featured scrounging up some hardhats, and duckwalking under tanks in the crowded old fermentation hall). We took a day off work to go down to the old Dock Street brewpub at 18th & Cherry for May Day, when they released their bock and had a farmer bring three goats into the city.

The high point while we were at Greenwich was probably in 1993. (Warning: long and rambling reminiscence ahead.) Eight of us did "The Long Ranger Trip," a three-day journey into New England, where we visited New England Brewing (where I first met Phil Markowski), New Haven Brewing (where we had a very funny and profane tour and walked away with an unexpected free case of each of their beers...those were the days) the Hartford Brewery (where the beer tasted like there'd been a cleaning solution incident, except the alt, which was good), Northampton Brewery (where one of our gang got a quick French lesson), Commonwealth (a sadly missed brewpub that was all about cask ale), Harpoon (we sucked down a lot of Oatmeal Stout on the tour, during which it started snowing heavily), Cambridge Brewing (where we had one of the coolest yards of beer I've ever seen; a dark beer floated on top of a lighter one, and the dark spiraled down into the light), and then a harsh run up a very snowy I-95 that ended just short of the Maine border where we finally gave up and ditched it for the night in a hotel. We'd planned to visit the Portsmouth Brewery and Gritty McDuff's and Geary, but the three hours it took us to go fifty miles up I-95 convinced us otherwise.

The next day we made the 11 AM tour at Catamount, did some drinking at the Inn at Long Trail (still a favorite stop; we dropped off about half the guys here, they were going to stay and ski at Killington), took in the self-guided tour at the old Long Trail brewery (and bought lots of stuff from the powerfully cute woman in the hospitality room), and then finished up in Brattleboro at The Latchis (back when they were still brewing; we were terribly gruffty and rough for the white linen dining room, but the waiter was extremely gracious about it) and the last stop, appropriately, was McNeill's (as rough and gruffty as we were, but friendly, and the beer was excellent).

As you can see, the beer education process had gone well. The point of this whole long post was last night, when I was over at Tom's house for the Super Bowl. The three of us -- me, Les, and Tom -- stood in his barroom, where beer posters lined the overhead, and his "shrine" of Yuengling collectibles and antiques sat proudly below the plasma screen. Each of us was holding a glass of draft Tröegs Nugget Nectar from the sixtel he'd reserved for this occasion, served on his two-tap home draft system (Miller Lite on the other tap, he's a reasonable man). That's when Tom gestured at the shrine, and held up the beer, and said to me, "You know, this is all your fault." We clinked glasses and grinned.

The pleasure of having turned someone on to the fuller joys of the broad spectrum of beer was gratifying. Getting invited to a party where there was draft Nugget Nectar was a nice side benefit as well!

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Session: Head to Head

The Session this month is barleywine. My, um, beer influences were formed at a time when what you did -- to be hip, you understand -- was age your barleywine. Um, I also aged the beer because I bought more than I could drink. I still do, kind of.

Regardless, that's the kind of thinking that brought me to this evening: a 1999 Full Sail Old Boardhead on my left, and a 2003 BridgePort Old Knucklehead on my right. There's also a nice gooey puck of La Tur in the middle, an Italian mixed-milk cheese -- cow, sheep, and goat, Cathy called it "the turducken of cheese." You need some serious beer to take on a cheese like this: it's rich and creamy, it's also kinda stanky, thoroughly my kind of cheese. But me and the Heads, we're up to it.

The Boardhead shows its age in oxidation -- sherry, old paper, and a stickiness around the edges that ain't all malt. But you know, one of the things I learned back when I was being influenced was that I likethat oxidation effect in a big malty alefruited beer. What the hell, I like a little diacetyl in my English ales, too. Never said I was like everyone else. The cheese pulls some nuttiness out of it, and heightens the sherry notes, brings it to life somewhat.

The Knucklehead is notably younger, or fresher, or lighter to begin with -- probably the latter as I recall from drinking both these beers fresh, years ago. There's fruit, and a dry note of anise, some berries, and a touch of that sherry. It's lighter, but it's still barleywine for sure. The cheese lights it up like a damned carnival ride, too, blowing the fruit right up my stack. It's just amazing to me how that happens. Because when I take a good pull on the beer, and clear the backs down to normal, the previous baseline.

What's interesting with both of these beers is that sweet, and old, and oxidized as they are, and with no up-front hop character to speak of, they both eventually leave a bitter finish. Ah, the power of hops.

This is a bit premature for me. My big barleywine day is always the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. I blame Jim Anderson because Split Thy Skull, the annual barleywine event that Jim instituted, always fell on Easter Saturday. And I'd go drink barleywine, and then have to sing at Easter Vigil services that night. I sang well, too. Barleywine has always been a big part of Easter for me.

But hell. I'll drink it now, and love it.

SBP: the Project gets another bump

Forgot to post this: Imbibe magazine did a piece on Session beer in their January/February issue, a nice one, and interviewed me for it. I was pretty happy with how it came out.