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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tasting with the Times: Oktoberfest!

One last post for September: I was lucky enough to get invited to participate in another New York Times beer tasting panel, and the story's out in tomorrow's paper...which you can read today. Until it's tomorrow, at which time you'll be reading it, um, today. Then. Tomorrow. Go read it now.

I don't talk much about these sessions: that's Eric Asimov's job, and he does it well. We tasted 24 beers, blind, and then talked them out. I will say that there were a larger number of "in-style" beers than usual, which I found interesting: have American brewers picked up the torch and decided to keep this "more traditional" than the Germans? Maybe. Meanwhile, get those liter mugs: Pros't, baby!

The Fall of the Corn Curtain: Go Tour the Tom Moore Distillery

A somewhat momentous date tomorrow: as of October 1, the Tom Moore Distillery, formerly known as the Barton distillery, is open for tours.

For the longest time, Barton was the Tibet of distilleries, tucked away down a quiet, thickly tree-lined street in Bardstown. They didn't give any tours, even guys like me didn't get in very often. You had to have a reason. Barton sold Ten High, Very Old Barton (that's six years very old), and some other similar "value" brands -- don't knock it, VOB is some damned good bourbon for the price -- mostly in Kentucky. They had their business, they did it, and outside of kicking up their heels a bit at the barrel relay races at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, they kept a real low profile.

1792 put a crack in the armor. That's their premium bourbon that has done right nicely for them. When it did well, and "Barton" started getting some respect, the folks at Constellation Inc. (the world's largest wine company, the importer of Corona for the U.S.) started to realize that they could be getting in on some of the wild adoration popping up for bourbon distillers. So after a bit of sprucing up -- not too much; you can still see deer in the edges of the woods around the warehouses -- they decided to let you in to see what they do.

"There’s no flash here," master distiller Greg Davis told me (that's him in the picture). "You’ll see a true operation. If you’re a gearhead, you’re gonna go off on this. That’s one of the great things: it is designed to produce bourbon. It's not about touring, not about making things pretty. This is how it’s done, period." That's okay, Greg, there's a place for nuts and bolts, too.

If you're looking to take a tour, they're by reservation only, at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM. Call Pam Gover (502-348-3774) at least a day in advance to make your reservation. And be sure to ask them what's aging in the bottom three floors of the warehouse; kind of a surprise, there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rumors of a Return...

A much-mourned three-time GABF Gold medal winner from Pennsylvania may indeed be making a return. If it comes back this time, you and I are going to do everything we can to make sure it matter how much crap I have to take from certain secret admirers.

Sorry to be so Curtinesque in my rumor-mongering, but when you have an open secret like this, you've just got, wait, that doesn't make sense. Okay, what the hell: I am talking about Liebotschaner Cream Ale from The Lion. Sounds like they're seriously considering bringing it back, and I hope they put some money behind it this time. Cream ale is a traditional favorite in eastern PA, and there's no reason why it won't work again. Er...assuming it's still good. Can't wait to find out.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pinkus Jubilate

Just-arrived from importer Merchant du Vin: the first new Pinkus beer I've seen in a while. Jubilate is a dark lager, also organic, like their other beers. It's not the best dark lager I've ever had, but it's a fine beer: drinkable, full-flavored, no flaws. I had the Jubilate with a delicious dish of pasta Amatriciano, a dish with some heat and big flavors, and the Jubilate grabbed the sweetness, tamed the heat, a great foil for the food. It's a good choice for food, and not bad for just sitting back and drinking, either.

Sierra Nevada Chico Estate Harvest Wet Hop Ale

I don't usually put the whole name of a windily-named beer in the post name: let's just identify the beer and move on, eh? But in this case, every word actually means something.

Sierra Nevada: still the biggest brick-and-mortar microbrewery out there, did it pure: all about the beer, not the advertising. Pioneered American Pale Ale and American-style barleywine, do great lagers as well. Street cred about as solid as you can get in this business.

Chico Estate Harvest: They grew hops right on their brewery grounds. That's their one brewery, which they have so far insisted is the only way to insure consistency, despite how much easier it would be to sell fresh beer in the East with an eastern brewery. They grew them, they harvested them.

Wet Hop: You can't hardly get "wetter" than this, picking them right on the brewery grounds and dumping them directly in the kettle, without even a truck-ride from the fields. Sierra Nevada has been way out in front on fresh hop beers, and now have three of them. Hats off, even though that Southern Hemisphere one is just frippin' nuts. And delicious.

Ale: "Chico." "Ale." This is the yeast that has built the craft brewing industry, a clean workhorse. It is not always my first choice, but when you want a beer that showcases fresh hops like this, it's one of the best. Sierra Nevada has based their reputation on this yeast, and it's proven to be a solid foundation.

Every word is important. That came to me as I drank this big 24 oz. bottle (okay, I split it with Cathy and a friend of ours, Jim Hanyok). The hops leap right out, citrus, pine, and a green freshness. The ale is bigger than SNPA at 6.7%, but it only uses it for firmness, not hugeness. This is a beer that establishes a presence in your mouth, a "whole-palate" beer. It's malty-sweet, it's thumb-solid bitter. Ten years ago, this would have been an IPA. Now it's just "hoppy" and delicious.

I'll definitely be looking for this one next year, and so should you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just Write, She Said

The latest poll -- which actually was just a bagatelle, something I threw up to make sure Blogger was working -- attracted a fair amount of interest. About a quarter of you would like me to write more about whiskey, a third would prefer I keep writing mostly about beer, while another quarter just wants me to write more often. Sounds like I'd be best off just keeping on keeping on, with maybe a bit more Penderyn: 12% of you think I need to write more about him.

You're all nuts, aren't you?

Two German Pilsners

I'm slowly -- sorry -- working my way through a bunch of German samples sent to me by a new import new that I've lost the press release and can't find it anywhere online. I'm pretty sure they're either associated with or piggybacking on Schwelmer Beer Imports in Brooklyn, so if you're interested, I'd start there.

In fact, one of the two beers I sampled tonight was Schwelmer Pils. It comes in a cute little 330 ml swingtop bottle with a decorative label, at 4.7% ABV. I remember having Schwelmer beers at a party a few years ago, and this bottle brought that back: quite solid, good malt underpinnings, hops sufficient unto the day, and quite good with tonight's pizza.

The second beer was Lammsbräu Organic Pilsner, at 4.8% ABV. They've been all-organic since 1986, according to their website, which is fairly early even for Europe. They have evidently been at it long enough to get good at it: this was quite nice. Drinkable, not overly crisp, good hop bitterness, and not cloying. Kind of sorry there was only one in the sample box: this is a three-glasser.

(I also had some Puckerfish at Flying Fish tonight, where Mark and I had our most successful signing for New Jersey Breweries so far. The Puckerfish was solidly sour, with the body to back it up, a beer with some depth. Casey Hughes shocked me by telling me it was around 8.2%; it drank like a much lighter beer. If you see this -- and there's not much of it -- grab some. I think you'll be surprised it's Flying Fish.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

We're Definitely Winning

Check out this list of beers available at a special event coming up for GABF Week:

We are hosting a series of brewery features starting at 2:00 PM, showcasing a different brewery and some specialty products. Here is a brief schedule:
Tuesday 10/7 - Avery Brewing - Ale to the Chief, a cask conditioned version of Old Jubilation, and The Kaiser.
Wednesday - Left Hand Brewing - Terra-rye-zd, a black rye (50%) lager that was done in collaboration with Terrapin Beer Co. in GA, Nitro version of Milk Stout, and Twin Sisters IPA.
Thursday - Victory Brewing (!) - Abbey 6 Dubbel, Golden Monkey, Hop Devil, Prima Pils
Friday - Stone Brewing - 12th Anniversary Bittersweet Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Ruination IPA, Smoked Porter, and Cali Belgique.
Okay, you say, big deal. There are special beer events at beer bars all the time, and this is a great line-up, but it's not a fantastic one.

I think it is, when you consider where it's happening: ESPN Zone Denver. Like I said, we are definitely winning. Golden Monkey at the ESPN Zone: YAAAAAAA!!!!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blue & Gray Oktoberfest

A bit out of my local area, but a fun event at a chronically overlooked brewery:

Blue & Gray Brewing in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is having their 6th annual Oktoberfest this weekend. We've been to this in the past, and it's a great time: oompah, sausage, beer, the whole thing, and believe me, the beer is excellent. Check the schedule at the link above, but it's very reasonable (and yes, they're doing it rain or shine; the rain should have passed through by Saturday afternoon). Stop by and see these phenomenally friendly bunch of folks, and enjoy a little Virginia-style gemütlichkeit!

The PLCB Should Still Be Abolished

After over a month, my other blog has lurched back into relevancy: there's a new Reason Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished. This time it's about how the PLCB and The Almighty Liquor Code don't really care about you; they just want your money. You're shocked, I'm sure. Read, enjoy, get pissed off.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall is here, and lots of events

It's officially fall beer season, now that Fall's officially begun and the Munich Oktoberfest is under way. So here's some of the stuff going on around the greater Philadelphia area.

This weekend, as I mentioned here, is the Philly Oktoberfest. I also have two book signings with Mark Haynie for New Jersey Breweries: the first, the fun, the big one at the Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill, Friday night 5-7. Talked to Casey Hughes last night, and he's talking about breaking out some Puckerfish and maybe some other fun stuff. The other signing is at the Borders in Marlton, NJ, Saturday afternoon, 1-3. Can't promise you beer, but we'll tell you all kinds of stories about what we went through to get the book done. And as Uncle Jack mentions, this weekend is also the Victory Fallfest on Saturday and the venerable Sippin' By The River on Sunday (a worthy benefit for IBD and Crohn's Disease research).

Now, the following weekend is a big one. The Lion hosts their 4th annual Oktoberfest, and the event and the beer just keep getting better (Friday and Saturday, Oct 3-4). The 4th is the justly famed Kennett Square Brewfest, and if I weren't speaking at the World Beer Festival in Durham, I guarantee you I'd be in Kennett. And the Grey Lodge has 10-4 Good Buddy, a celebration of small plates and small beers, which should be fun too.

The next weekend, well, there's some stuff going on, but I'll be in San Francisco for WhiskyFest, and most of the brewers will be in Denver for GABF, so you're on your own. You might want to check out the River Horse Oktoberfest in Lambertville -- they've been doing some excellent beers lately; Double White, anyone? -- which is no admission, pay as you go, with live music, both days 12-5.

But the following weekend is big. There's the Stoudt's Micro Fest on Saturday (two sessions), the Newtown Brewfest on Saturday (long sold out; I couldn't even get a ticket), World Cafe Live will have another one of their neat little indoor beerfests with thirty German brewers (including folks like Weltenburger, Schneider, Flensburger, and and Weihenstephaner, along with the usual suspects), and a little farther off, the 5th Annual Chesapeake Bay Real Ale Festival in Baltimore, at the Wharf Rat (27 firkins!). Then Sunday, October 19, join me at the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Oktoberfest in Newark! From 1-5, you can get all the best from NJ's award-winning brewers and get your copy of New Jersey Breweries signed; what more could you ask?

Well, maybe one more thing. I got a nice little e-mail from Chick's Cafe, where, yes, Katie Loeb is still PhillyMag's most innovative cocktail creator of the year. They have received their license for sidewalk drinking, so enjoy the mellow evenings of autumn. Might have to do a little of that myself.

Exciting Beer News!

At last, the beer -- I think -- we've all been waiting for.

Drinks Americas Holdings, Ltd (OTCBB: DKAM), a leading owner, developer and marketer of premium beverages (like the amazing Trump Vodka and resurrected, er, revivified, er...whatever Rheingold Beer), today announced that the Company has signed an agreement with American icon and rock and roll musician Kid Rock to develop and market a premium domestic beer.

Drinks and Kid Rock will work together to develop and bring to market a product targeted to beer drinkers who appreciate value with an easy to drink (and we do mean really easy to drink), traditional, good tasting American manufactured beer (that comes with a scruffy knit cap on each can).

J. Patrick Kenny CEO Drinks Americas stated, "Kid Rock is a reflection of great American rock and roll music and the American spirit (I thought that was bourbon), and we think we can create a beer in that same image. Having Kid Rock as a Drinks Americas partner is an exciting and big addition to our portfolio of icon brands (which include The Donald, Dr. Dre, and, surprisingly, Paul Newman). There is no question in our mind that people will try a beer that Kid Rock will stand by (like he offered to stand by Pabst for money...only they turned him down) and when they like it (not 'if', dammit, 'when'!), a great and incredibly valuable trademark will be created with his support."

Kenny said, "Drinks will come to market rapidly with Kid Rock's beer. We are in the process of interviewing breweries now (So, Mister...Brewery, where do you see yourself with Kid Rock's Beer in five years?) and working with Kid Rock to make sure that every aspect of the beer and the marketing support is as exciting as everything else Kid Rock does (Everything? Got any video of him sorting his socks?). We think that by very early spring we will have a compelling product and that consumers will love the look, taste, and branding that Kid Rock creates (wait, he's creating the taste, too? How is it with grits sandwiches?). This is a tremendous asset and a valuable addition to Drinks Icon portfolio. The continued expansion of our portfolio is great news for our shareholders (and no one else)."

More details regarding the brand will be released in the coming weeks (if you can hold your water that long).

What, Ludacris and his chicken weren't available?

I've seen this too many times. Why do people keep putting money into schemes like this? If Hard Rock Cafe, which owns a world-wide chain of bars, can't make it work (they launched Hard Rock "Light" and "Heavy" back in the 1990s, and they fell with a barely audible thud), do these folks really think Kid Rock can do it? Whoa, that is so Pamela Anderson.

Paul Newman? Sure, he is an icon, and people know it's largely going to charity. Trump? People know him across a wide range of demographics, and it's a vodka: promotion costs aren't that high. But selling a mass-market style beer? Does anyone involved in this project have a clue about the amount of promotion money needed to do that? Ask InBev how expensive jump-starting Stella in the U.S. has been -- and continues to be. Do they really think having Kid Rock tub-thumping for his own beer is going to be able to bypass that? Oh, yeah, like Billy Beer. Sure...Barnum was right, there is one born every minute.

An Unlikely Folk Hero

I have a stats tracking package running on the blog -- no details, but that's how I finally found my Little Miss Cyberstalker -- and something odd has come up in the past month or so. One of the things it tracks is the terms people put in various search engines that bring up my blog. As you might expect, the most common search term is "Lew Bryson," followed closely by "Seen Through A Glass;" people who've heard of me or the blog and are looking for it.

What's odd is that the next most common search term is some variation on "It drink pretty good, don't it?" Those words, of course, were immortalized in the halls of beer dopiness by Alabama Representative Alvin Holmes of Montgomery, in his speech on the "Free the Hops" bill in the Alabama legislature, an attempt to do away with the state's bizarre 6% ABV cap on beer. I posted on it, and I am amazed by the number of people who come to my site looking for it.

Here it is again, cuz I just can't believe it: "Yeah, what's wrong wit de beer we got? I mean, the beer we got drink pretty good, don't it? Now, I ain't never heard nobody complain about the beer we have. It drink pretty good. Budweiser... What's the name of some of them other beers? Budweiser and what else? Miller? Coors, huh? It drink pretty good, don't it?"

So, who the hell is spreading the word on this guy? It's not me, they're coming here. Is it possible that Holmes has become a new icon of stupididity? (I know, I spelled it wrong on purpose because it sounds dumber that way.) Weird that this is such a topic of curiosity...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Duvel Green: Draft

Philadelphia exerted itself -- that's America's Best Beer-Drinking City -- and, ahead of Manhattan, ahead of Boston, ahead of everyone else, tonight hosted the debut of Duvel Green Draft, the new -- truly new -- beer from Moortgat, at -- where else? -- Monk's Cafe. Everyone took pains to point out that this is not just Duvel on draft. Duvel Green is single-fermented and filtered, where Duvel is fermented twice (second time in the bottle, both using the same yeast, we were told), and it comes in at a reduced 6.8% ABV. It is, however, brewed with that same yeast, same Styrian Golding and Saaz hops, and the same pilsner malt as the original. It is a completely new beer, not the "Duvel Gefilterd Green," not Duvel without the second fermentation. (Update: Michael Moortgat, quoted on BeerAdvocate today, directly contradicts this: "Duvel Green is certainly not a new beer," he said. Looking forward to getting this straightened out...)

Tom Peters and Fergus Carey went to Belgium, put the pressure on -- what, you're going to debut Duvel Green Draft in Manhattan? In Boston? You're not going to debut it in the biggest market for Belgian beer in North America? -- and Duvel Moortgat thought twice. There was some quid pro quo, of course. The beer's not officially in Pennsylvania: Duvel gave the beer to Monk's, and Monk's gave it away at a private, invitation-only event. Manhattan will get the beer officially: "20 accounts, so we know if it's going to be a success, and then Philly gets it next" said Duvel rep Megan McGuire. (I think that's how she spells it; if not, my apologies, and I'll fix it ASAP.) And if anyone gets really official about it, it never happened. But lookie here, Manhattan, sniff this, Boston: Philly got it phirst. Damned right we did; Ommegang's Larry Bennett told me the kegs had just been filled in Belgium on Friday. Anyone else get any yet? No, didn't think so.

How was it? Scary drinkable for 6.8%, as you might expect. Light-bodied, with a spicy nose (Duvel is a bit heavier and has a more complex nose; more carbonation, too), very refreshing. One other thing, which was the serendipitous result of Monk's foods put out for the tasting (diver scallops in a Duvel beurre blanc, fine sausage with coarse mustard, and a salmon poached in Duvel and Hallertauer hops): I may have finally found a beer that truly goes well with fish, something I've hunted for without much personal satisfaction. The salmon and Duvel Green really complemented each other: the fish was clean and toothsome, the beer had a slight hollow in the middle filled in by the fish. It was great. (That's Tom Peters handing a glass to Moortgat/Ommegang's Bill Wetmore.)

As for the whole Manhattan-first thing, let me say right up front that I think it's a mistake. Here's why. Foreign brewers always want to be in the New York market first; why? Because they think it's the most important city in the richest beer market in the world (sorry, China, but that's true, too: there's more beer sold in China, but there's more profit made on beer sales in the U.S.). Sure, that's true, but success in the Manhattan beer market comes only with application of much money in promotion, advertising, and buying leather jackets for bartenders. And when you stop spending money, well, guess what? It's "What have you done for me lately?"

New York is a market that lives on the Flavor of The Month, and when your month is over, you're done. As we said to Megan, you know what you need to succeed in the Philly market? Good beer. And as Flying Fish brewer Casey Hughes correctly pointed out, if you try that promotion/advertising/leather jacket stuff in Philly, it's likely to backfire on you anyway.

We'll be happy with having beat the world once again. I only feel sorry that more people couldn't share in our victory. Blame the marketers. Blame them for "Duvel Green," too, by the way: we were told that "Green" was chosen because the beer is younger than Duvel. Green. As in 'not ripe?' I have to believe that no one at Moortgat speaks colloquial English, and they have a tendency to not listen to their American employees who do. Green? Why not just say, "Because it's not Duvel Red. It's different." Hearing this explanation made me uncomfortable.

By the way, that Heavenhill Anniversary Bourbon, the sample I told you to ask me for when you saw me? Well...I took it along, and some people made pigs out of themselves. All that's left is about 2 oz., just enough for me to make my notes. Sorry. I will say this: it is a lot better with a splash of water. Downright wonderful, in fact.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

While I have a moment...

My connecting flight to Chicago from Louisville got cancelled, and the Ryder Cup had all the other outbound flights jammed. Damn all golf, anyway. Everyone in front of me was screaming, and I just asked, "Is there any way to get to Philly today, or should I just rent a car?" And the woman asked me how flexible I was, and I said, try me.

She put me in a cab to Cincinnati, with a flight from there to O'Hare, and then to Philly. Had a real nice ride up with a talkative and fun cabbie, who told me he once took a V8 engine to Phoenix for the airlines, a $2700 fare. And I got in, and got checked in, and here I am with a tall, fresh glass of Sam Adams Oktoberfest. The day's getting better.

Hats off to American Airlines: not only did I catch my 35-minute connection at O'Hare, so did my luggage, and we landed 20 minutes early in Philly...with all the bourbon in my suitcase intact. Thanks, American!

While We're Talking Whiskey...

John Hansell has a good post going over at his blog What Does John Know? about where the good values are in whisk/ey these days. It's engendered a lot of discussion. Answers so far: cask strength and 'mid-range' Scotch whiskies, and bottled-in-bond bourbons (although there's general agreement that bourbon is a deal, compared to Scotch whisky). Drop on over and have a look, contribute.

Kind of neat sidebar: the one guy who made a comment, Ethan Prater? He came up and introduced himself at the Gala tonight. I suppose I could be creeped out by such an intersection of Net and flesh worlds, but he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, so, well, I'm not. Good to meet you, Ethan.

Damn. I gotta get to bed.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: MADD postscript

As I was waiting for the shuttle, being responsible and all, I heard an airplane flying overhead. I looked up and saw it was towing a banner:


Well, that was a good thing. That's actually a great thing, and I wish MADD would stick to that kind of non-insane program. Way too much of what MADD does now is, well, suspect. They plug away at getting ignition interlocks put in DUI arrestee's cars...and accept large donations from the company that makes them. They are actually pushing for every car to have alcohol sensors; won't that be a bonanza for their sponsor! Do I really think MADD's that mercenary? Not really; I think they honestly believe this is a good idea, and the company is donating to them because they're fellow travelers. But that's exactly the kind of accusatory crap they throw at the booze industry all the time. The 21 LDA: what the hell is MADD doing with that? You want to cut back on kids driving drunk? Raise the ridiculously low driving age! Lowering the legal BAC: how about pushing for real punishment for higher BACs, the people who are shown time after time to be the truly dangerous drunk drivers? How about some programs to prevent licensees overserving patrons? How about some rewards for compliance and proactive actions instead of always being focused on punishment for non-compliance?

The thing other folks commented here, all this stuff makes perfect sense if you posit that MADD is not an anti-drunk driving organization, but an anti-drinking organization.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: This is The End...

Not much more to be said. I got my tuxedo on (no, sorry, no pictures, and actually, there's no pictures from the whole night -- I left the memory card in the damned laptop!), basted myself in the air conditioner, and went outside to catch the shuttle -- no way I'm driving to the Gala. It was a gorgeous night, warm but not hot, some huge soaring cumulus clouds piling up in the east, catching the sun, Maxfield Parrish-style. The line, as always, was incredibly long, but moved well, and soon I was strolling the floor of the tasting "tent."

The first person I ran into that I knew was Heaven Hill president Max Shapira, who grabbed my arm and said, grinning, "Let me buy you a drink!" He did get me lined up right quick with a Henry McKenna BiB on the rocks (always grab that when I can), and we chatted a bit, just stuff, and then he passed me on to his marketing maven, Larry Kass. We got caught up, I thanked him for the great lead-in he gave me on my latest Mass Bev Biz story*, and he told me about the effect the Ryder Cup had on KBF this year: events sold out, but at a much slower rate. Why didn't they change the date? Hard to say.

On I wandered, shaking hands with friends in production -- Dave Scheurich at Woodford, Truman Cox at Buffalo Trace -- and press relations -- Susan Wahl at Heaven Hill, Angela Traver at Buffalo Trace -- and yes, a nice glass of Four Roses Single Barrel, damned nice whiskey. It was not long after that when I ran into Whisky Magazine's Gordon Dundas and my evening went down the tubes.

Well, kind of, and it certainly wasn't Gordon's fault. Gordon actually was good enough to let me know that our respective magazines, which were supposed to have been unboxed and displayed at the bag-check tables** on the way into the dinner tent by this time, were still sitting on a pallet in the back corner of the tasting 'tent.' Well, holy crap. He'd talked to Festival people about it, and they said once people had cleared out of the 'tent' into the tent (no, really; just think of them as two large spaces connected by a hall with restrooms), they would get the mags onto the tables. Well, okay, it would be impossible to do it while they were in the 'tent,' and people always take the mags on the way out anyway. We'll take a look mid-meal, Gordon proposed, and see how they've done on that. It sounded good, and we celebrated our collaboration with a Russell's Rye.

Then it was dinner time. The beef was quite good, the beans good, the rest of it...okay. Oh, the cake was quite good. After a bit, I went looking for Gordon, and couldn't find him. Hmmm...I gotta take action. I went out, and no mags were out. I went next door, and there was the co-chair of the gala, looking just wiped out, and I dumped my magazine problem in her lap. Oh, they'd completely forgotten, and they were sorry, and they'd get them out there. Can I help? Sure! So I started lugging boxes of magazines out the bag-check tables, as did the co-chair, the security guard, and a couple other folks. Gordon showed up shortly -- he'd been in line forever for dinner ("The Bourbon Festival seems to be all about queues," he said, with some asperity) -- and pitched in. We both wound up handling each other's mags, very co-operative. We had a lot of mags out in fairly short order, sweat like pigs, and decided it was time for more whiskey.

I hung out some more with the Buffalo Trace folks and some of the press guys I'd met at Beam yesterday, talked to Freddie Noe and Parker Beam a little, set up an interview appointment with Barton's Greg Davis (jeez, he whipped out his iPhone and starts saying, "Well, when's good, Lew?" Hell, I didn't have my damned calendar with me; guess if I'm gonna ask people for interviews, I should carry it!), and then decided I'd had enough. The free shuttle took me back here -- great idea, not sure who sponsored that -- and...that was it. I'm going to finish this, pack, and that'll be it for another year.

*Ask if it was a good year for straight whiskeys, and all you’ll hear about is the small batch bourbons, ultra-aged ryes, single barrel Tennessee whiskeys, and special Canadian bottlings, and that’s where the romance is, and that’s where the growth is, and that’s what’s driving the market! You don’t hear about the cases of flagship brands that continue to move things along every day.

Reality check, in the form of Heaven Hill’s marketing guy, the grinning, gravel-voiced Larry Kass. “Numbers can’t lie,” Kass said, dropping the facts on the table (he was checking the 2OO8 Adams Liquor Handbook). “The market is not driven by the super-premium whiskeys. It can’t be driven by super-premiums. They’re what, 75O,OOO cases out of 14 million? If you want to be generous? If you take just the top five brands [in the category], you’re talking about 72% of sales. There’s not a super-premium to be found among them, and there isn’t until you get down to Gentleman Jack, which is 12th, at 178,OOO cases.

“Look, there’s no doubt about it: the top-end brands are continuing to perform very well,” he said. “The supers continue to get a lot of the attention and that’s great, they have great stories to tell, they’re banner products. But the cases are in the meat and potatoes brands: Evan [Williams], Jack [Daniel’s], and Jim [Beam]. Those brands are continuing to grow very nicely. The distinguishing characteristic of the straight whiskey category is that the mid-tier brands are doing well, and that’s a feather in our caps.”

Pure Larry Kass: he has high-end whiskey, and he loves to talk it, but Evan Williams pays his mortgage. Well, actually, Burnett's Gin and Christian Brothers brandy pays his mortgage, but Evan Williams pays a good chunk too!

**When you get to the Gala, which you've paid $140 for the privilege of attending, you get a black cloth bag. Each distillery pours samples in their own glass, some of which are quite nice. And people (okay, women) collect them and put them in the cloth bags (sacks, they call them), 8 or a dozen. All too often, they'll just dump the whiskey out. And when they go into the dinner tent, they check them. They had to start offering this service because so many people were taking a dozen glasses into the dinner tent...and breaking them. Me, I put two glasses in the bag and handed it to the first determined woman I saw. Everyone's happy.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: The Bourbonians

I left you in the last post at about 4:00. Nothing much happened in the next three hours: picked up a few souvenirs, got some cold drinks, and then I sequestered myself in my room and wrote the sidebar I'd done that interview for earlier in the afternoon. By the time I was done with that, it was about time to head to the Bourbonian Taster of the Year event.

This is an outgrowth of the forums. The folks there are dead-serious about their bourbon...but they don't let that get in the way of having a good time. The BTOTY event (I was told) grew out of some folks talking too big for their britches about how they could pick out different bourbons blind. Bettye Jo Boone, a very enthusiastic SB'er who works at Heaven Hill and is a Beam, connected to that whole family (and a sweet person to boot; I'd been hearing about her for years and it was a pleasure to finally meet her) called them out. Not only could they not pick out different bourbons blind, she challenged them that they could not pick out their favorite bourbons blind (and she was, of course, pretty much right; I love blind tasting). Thus was born the BTOTY.

This was the fourth annual competition. The first three had been held at Bettye Jo's house, but it was finally outgrowing that. The SB's have taken over the General Nelson Best Western here in Bardstown during Bourbon Fest for a few years now, and the management's apparently been pretty good about it, allowing them the use of the gazebo out back for tasting meets Friday and Saturday nights, when you might find anything in the way of American whiskey on the table: pre-Pro, 1950s bottlings, microdistilled stuff, even non-whiskey spirits (and always a few beers). They asked, and the General Nelson graciously allowed them to use their banquet room for the BTOTY challenge.

About two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Gary Gillman, a Torontonian I met in Philly at Book and The Cook a few years ago, and then again at Bourbon Fest two years ago. Gary wanted to know if I'd be interested in attending or competing in the BTOTY. I quickly accepted an invite to watch -- maybe next year on the competing! -- and we were set. I showed, everyone was real nice to me (even though I'm not as dedicated to bourbon as they are, drinking so much beer as I do...), and I settled in to watch.

Here's the set-up. Prospective competitors get a list of twelve bourbons: "the pool." From that pool of twelve, six would be selected in secret, decanted into identical, unlabeled bottles (looked like Evan Williams bottles, probably courtesy of Bettye Jo), and then poured for each of the contestants. They would then rely on their memories, their knowledge, and their palates to identify the six whiskeys. If they thought they knew the whiskey, they could just put down the name for a full ten points if correct; if they were unsure, they could guess the distillery (which was tough on some!), the age, and/or the proof, and if they were right (age and proof had a narrow range of "right" and didn't have to be precisely correct), they got partial points.

There were a passle of door prizes while the contestants sniffed and tasted. Hats, t-shirts, um...more hats and t-shirts, while there was also a "Kentucky draw" for a ton of Kentucky stuff: home-made jam, Gethsemane cheeses and fruitcake, UK gear, a whole country ham: tickets were $5. The spectators paid $6, contestants paid more, all to support the event.

When the twenty minutes was up, everyone handed in their forms, and the scores were tallied. The bourbons were revealed: out of the pool, the judges had selected Old Grand-Dad 114, Old Charter, Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond, Ten High, Elijah Craig 18, and Weller Special Reserve. I believe almost everyone got Ten High right; hell, I guessed it from where I was sitting just looking at the color. When everything was said and done, Randy Blank had pegged four out of the six (and caught the proof on one of the others, I believe) for a total of 42 points, the highest score in all four years. (That's Randy holding the Kentucky-shaped plaque, with second place winner Doug Philips and third place Randy Goode.) Chuck Cowdery, who'd won the first two years, came in fifth, I think. Quite gracious in defeat, too; phlegmatic, even. (And thanks to Chuck for sending the names of the winners!)

We all toasted the winners with sips of that William Heavenhill whiskey: Heaven Hill quite generously donated a bottle to the event. It was clearly an older bourbon, with evident wood to it (it's 18 years and 9 months, as I said earlier), and honestly, oddly, I preferred the much older Parker's Heritage that just came out. I'm looking forward to trying it again at home with a smidge of water.

After it all was over, Chuck and I went and grabbed dinner at a Mexican place on 3rd St., then hit Toddy's for cheap bourbon bargains. I got a Heaven Hill 6 YO BiB, a VOB BiB, and a J.T.S. Brown BiB, which were each under $15; "That's the best bottle of bourbon you'll get for $12," Chuck said about the Brown. Saving them for a piece I've got coming up, so no reports (I picked up another Heaven Hill today, another BiB with no age statement; ditto). Then we went back to the gazebo, where things were in full swing. A great crowd, good people, and very dedicated to bourbon whiskey. Bourbonians, all of them.

Nothing much happened today, I had to write, I napped, I went over to Heaven Hill and picked up some bourbon orange marmalade for my mom, and then walked around Bardstown a little. And now, I gotta get ready for the Gala. Talk to you later.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: Things Go Flat

Friday morning: After a quick shower and breakfast, I headed out Rt. 62 to the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, where I joined their press group for the distillery tour. I've been through Beam a few times, but I always figure there's something new to learn.

Sure enough, I learned something new right away: just because a distillery said you can't take pictures last time doesn't mean they'll say you can't take pictures this time. And didn't I leave my camera back in the room! Oh, well, it didn't matter anyway, turned out: when I took my camera along out to Heaven Hill later that afternoon...the batteries were dead. Que sera sera. (By the way, this shot of the top floor of Warehouse Y at Heaven Hill has nothing to do with today; I took it back in June. Just some scenery for you.)

So, the distillery tour at Jim Beam. You'll have to fill in the generalities -- how distilling is done, how long things age, and what's in bourbon -- on your own, and there are some excellent ways to do that; I've just got a few tit-bits for you.

For instance, this distillery is big. They go through 8 truck-loads -- semi-trucks, not little straight-bed haulers -- of grain every day, five days a week, 10 months a year. The corn's from Kentucky and Indiana, the rye comes mainly from Minnesota, and the barley malt from northern Indiana (which surprises me). The distillery (and the one at Boston) makes only bourbon; they bottle other spirits (they were running Lord Calvert when we were there), but they only make bourbon. There are 70 warehouses (70? 71? Damn, I didn't take my notebook, either!) in four spots within 30 miles; the warehouses include a few single-story 'flathouses', but mostly they're standard 'ironclad' rickhouses, including some new 9-story 50,000 barrel dreadnaughts (see, that's a nautical extension from "ironclad'...).

We tasted a little 68.5% white dog -- corn eau de vie -- and then, in the dump room, some 62.5% Knob Creek, right out of the barrel. It was awesome, sweet and authoritative. We drank that with Booker Noe's toast: "May there be no hell...and if there is, I'll see you there!"

Then it was off to Booker's house in Bardstown for the annual Bourboncue, a lunch that features a short bourbon tasting, lots of stories from Booker's son Fred Noe -- who has become a pretty good story teller, if not the charismatic figure his dad was -- and a bunch of pig meat and fixin's. I like this event, because it's not just bottom-feeding media members like me and a bunch of wholesalers: there's neighbors, some of Fred's buddies from the military high school he attended, and just folks.

And the barbecue's pretty damned good -- Bootleg Bar-B-Q, "so good it ought to be illegal," which is beside the liquor store on Bardstown Road where Chuck Cowdery and I stopped Thursday night. It's pulled pork with the sauce already all over it, which purists despise...I et it right up, and had one rib, which was NOT all sauced-up, and was pretty damned good. The beans in pot liquor were PDG too. (Oh, and again, this woman wasn't being eaten by a coyote at the Bourboncue, but it's kind of a funny picture, no?)

I had to run after bolting lunch; had a 2:00 phone interview back at my room. And...I took a corner too sharply -- not too fast, but too sharp -- caught the curb, and ripped the sidewall of the rear tire on my rental crapmobile. I could hear the air hissing out. Damn. I pulled over, locked it, and hustled to the room, cranked up the AC, and did the interview (you'll see that in Massachusetts Beverage Business in November, a pair of single malt sidebars). Then I changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and went and changed the tire. Damn again.

After I got that done, and told the rental company about it (and can't I just wait to find out how much reaming that's going be...), I went out to Heaven Hill's Bourbon Heritage Center, where the lovely (and truly talented) Lynne Grant greeted me. Lynne was lured to Bardstown to create and run the Bourbon Heritage Center after running visitor centers for The Macallan, Famous Grouse, and Highland Park. Lynne gave birth to her first child, Hamish, a week after Bourbon Festival last year; she and her family are traveling to her home in Scotland to show him off tomorrow.

Lynne had a sample of the new limited edition William Heavenhill 225th anniversary bourbon for me. It's 127.6 proof, 18 years and 9 months old, and there are only 225 bottles, selling only at the Center...and they're $500 each. Jaw-dropping. (It was a sample, BTW, not a full bottle. But it was enough that I'll be bringing it with me to some events in the future to share the bounty, so...if you see me, what the hell, ask! Update...already shared 7/8 of the bottle. Sorry.) I got a chance to taste a little later Friday evening, but...I've got work to get done right now, so I'm going to call this a post, and get that done.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kentucky Bourbon Fest: 105 Minutes of Golf

(My blogging job from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival just got a lot easier: The Parkview Motel now has Wi-Fi!)

I flew out of Philly this morning to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. It's a little odd this year. Usually I fly out, and maybe a quarter to a third are people headed to the Bourbon Festival, and we all land at Louisville and we're happy. This morning? A plane full of freakin' golf fanatics. The woman behind me talked about golf for the entire flight; the guy sitting with her managed to get in a sentence about every three minutes. Good God, I may never say anything about beer geeks again (then again...I probably will).

Landed, got my bag and my rental car (a Mercury Grand Marquis, fergodssake, and after the ride to Philly in Cathy's nimble little Rabbit, it drives like the crapboat it is), and headed for Bardstown. I had a story to finish for...well, it doesn't really matter, does it? I had work to do, and I did it. I should have grabbed a nap, but I didn't.

After I sent in the story, I got ready to head for Louisville for the dinner with Bill Samuels (and a bunch of salesvolk and wholesalers). It was good, although...can't anyone make a cocktail any more? The bartender, a well-meaning and pleasant fellow otherwise, grabbed a cocktail (martini) glass and put it over the metal mixing tumbler to shake the drink. As you might expect, whiskey and bitters (the wrong kind of bitters...) went everywhere. I'm not doing well with cocktails in Louisville.

Dinner was pleasant; no big scoops, most of the talk was about the Ryder Cup (and I discovered that not all Kentuckians are crazy about it: "It's like secret confession time," one woman said. "I don't care either!") and the wicked stiff windstorm on Sunday that still had large parts of Louisville without power (we were supposed to have had the dinner at Bill's home, but he was still out of juice). After dinner was over, Chuck Cowdery drove me back to Bardstown through some of those sections, while we talked about women, whiskey, and advertising -- three separate discussions, if you're interested.

And I had him stop at a liquor store with a parking lot full of bikers (really, about 80 of them) so I could go in and get a pint of Old Fitz and a half of Mellow Corn. After which he dropped me off at the Parkview, and I started typing. And thus, the first day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MADD cranks it up

Saw in a press digest today where MADD CEO Chuck Hurley (what kind of "mother" are you, Chuck?) described the Amethyst Initiative as "a threat to public health and safety." Not the actual lowering of the LDA to 18, mind you: just talking about it.

As I've said before, this strikes me as outright un-American. It's a problem, these folks at Amethyst want to talk about new ideas for solving or ameliorating it...because clearly, what we're doing isn't working as well as it could.

I don't mean to belittle what's been done -- underage drinking is down, overall -- but the way we drink is the main issue here, and that's what MADD is completely missing. We can be better; there are other countries where it's better, just as there are countries where it's as bad or worse. But the 21 LDA is not helping...and that's one of the first things we need to look at.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another BIG New Jersey Breweries signing

I was so busy this morning that I forgot to mention a big New Jersey Breweries signing next week: Mark and I will be at Flying Fish Brewing on Sptember 26 from 5-7 pm. Come by after work, hang out for a while, get a book, talk to me and Mark and the Flying Fish gang. We'll have a good time, and have some fun. Start your Friday off right!

Busy, busy, busy

I've got a lot to do today and tomorrow before leaving for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival on Thursday, so I'm going to shove a lot into this post and get back to work.

Let's see...last Friday I got a call from Dean Browne, the big Canadian fella (who, concidentally, I spent some quality time with sipping whiskey at last year's Kentucky Bourbon Festival) who does brewing and all-round stuff at Philadelphia Brewing Co. (while working as wallah of some kind, I'm not clear on that). His third job is brewing for Porterhouse Pub out in Lahaska, which is why he called. Dean has four lagers on at the Pub now, and he asked me if I wanted to come out and taste them. So I did.

Dean lined up four lagers for me: Phightin' Philsner, Left Field, North, and Peacekeeper. All four were clean, well-brewed, and drinkable; a little detail is in order, because I think they maybe need some small tweaks. The Philsner was good -- hoppy, drinkable -- but needed to be crisper; it had a bit too much body for a pils. Left Field was a Vienna style, and I pretty much liked it the way it was, and it was the beer I went for a pint of; could maybe use a bit deeper color, but that's quibbling. North was a dry-hopped deep amber; good, but if you're going to dry-hop, I'd go a bit bigger on that. Peacekeeper is a Baltic porter (named in honor of the Canadian Armed Forces and their usual mission) that was pretty damned good for a 6% Baltic (before any of you go off, there are Baltics in that range); I'd maybe like to see some more attenuation here...but you want some beef to a Baltic, so maybe I'm just being picky. Wouldn't hurt to go a bit bigger and pick up beef that way. Anyway, four good lagers (plus PBC beers like Walt Wit and Kenzinger) makes a good reason to visit Porterhouse (as if the excellent food and sweet ambiance weren't enough). Nice job, Dean; and I only pick cuz you asked.

Yesterday Cathy and I were invited to Iron Hill North Wales to sample their new Oktoberfest two-course Oktoberfest dinner...and hang out with brewer Larry Horwitz on his birthday, since his new wife, Whitney, had to work late. I had a glass of Dunkel, which was delicious: clean, malty, just a hint of chocolate. Two courses: a sausage 'salad' of grilled bratwurst and knockwurst arranged on a nicely done warm lentil salad, with mustard and some kind of watercress-like greens; and roasted pork loin (Iron Hill chefs are pig-meat geniuses) with gingersnap gravy, chunky mashed potatoes, and baby carrots. A very nice meal, quite German (except for those greens!), and perfect with another glass of Dunkel. I had coffee with a piece of apple-raspberry pie we split three ways; also very good, with a sweet streusel topping. Whew. Gonna have to hit the bike trail mid-day.

Later this week, as I said, I'm headed for Kentucky. Dinner with Maker's Mark Man Bill Samuels, the Bourbon Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the Bourbonian Taster of the Year competition, and, of course, The Gala: a full schedule, and I will definitely attempt to blog more of it this year. (Honestly, Sam, the real issue is finding wi-fi in Bardstown!) I'll also be hitting the liquor stores to find only-in-Kentucky bottlings...because I don't have enough bourbon...

And then the following weekend, September 27, Mark and I will be signing New Jersey Breweries at the Borders in Marlton, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon (and you might find me picking up a pizza for dinner at Pietro's, after). Come on out and see us!

Of course...if you do, that means that you, like us, will be missing the Philly Oktoberfest '08, a big gala of German and German-type beers put on at the 23rd Street Armory: food, music, and BEER. Tickets are $45, there's also a $75 VIP ticket, and it runs from 1 to 5 PM (VIP session starts at noon). Get all the info here. Believe me, if I weren't at the booksigning, I'd be there.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brewer Matrimony

Saturday, Cathy and I went up to Stoudt's for the wedding celebration of Whitney Thompson and Larry Horwitz, who are, besides being our friends, brewers at Tröegs and Iron Hill North Wales, respectively. We had a great time -- other than the experiences Jack and I had with numb bartenders, first at Union Barrel Works and then at the Holiday Inn -- and Jack has done a surprisingly jovial job of recounting the evening at his blog. Go have a look. It was a fun time, and I did love the drinks card at the party: long and loving descriptions of the Tröegs and Iron Hill beers available, followed by one line at the bottom:

"Wines -- Red, White, and Pink."

How's it feel to be the trivialized ones for a change, grape punks?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shiver Your Own Damned Timbers

This International Talk Like A Pirate Day thing is getting right out of hand. First it was Scoats at the Grey Lodge strapping on the eye-patch and "ARRGH"-ing around, and that was weird enough. But now -- and I suppose we should have expected this -- Clipper City has jumped on the, er, gangplank and is hosting a party, with tickets, and costumes, and live music from the "Salty Dogs Band."

September 19. International Talk Like A Pirate Day. What Hath God Wrought?

Yards (is) Brewing

Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell is reporting today that Yards Brewing has officially resumed brewing. It's a momentous step, a welcome one, and I cannot wait to see what the new/old ESA Don talks about tastes like. I'd love to see Philly awash in cask ESA, myself, and if they can get folks excited about the original Brawler, a low ABV mild, well, I'll just be dizzy. Congratulations, guys!

Redhook Late Harvest Autumn Ale

I picked up a bottle of Redhook Late Harvest Autumn Ale at the Gretz/A-B event I attended Monday night, and decided to have it with lunch today. It poured a deep amber, with some red to it; not much foam, and the glass was beer-clean. On first taste, it was harsh, fizz-bitter, and I wasn't real happy with it. Then I got a phone call, and had to abandon lunch and beer for about ten minutes.

When I came back, the beer had warmed and was much improved. Sweet, a bit estery -- but not overdone -- some caramel, and a nice body. I enjoyed this segment of the beer much more.

Which brings up the whole craft-brewer-ale/lager-festbeer issue, eh? A number of American craft brewers do harvest/autumn/octoberfest ales...because they're ale brewers, it's what they do, but they want to have an oktoberfest seasonal, one of the best-selling types of seasonal beers (which, according to the Brewers Association, are now the biggest-selling segment of craft beer, something that has some folks wringing their hands). Is it fair, is it right? Who cares: what's it taste like? Let this one warm up a bit, and it tastes pretty good.

Interesting shifts among the Big Boys

A-B maybe should have held out.

That's overstating things for effect, but A-B is looking very good right now, in its last days as an independent company before the meeting at the end of the month that will seal its acquisition by InBev. I see in a report from Morgan Stanley this morning that A-B kicked macrobrewer ass over Labor Day, up 1.2% in volume. Coors continued to do well, but big declines on the Miller side of the house put MillerCoors down 3.9% overall. Corona continued its slide: volume is down 7.3% (maybe they shouldn't have been so quick to dump long-time importer Gambrinus Company?). This, in the shadow of an overall beer market decline of 1.6%.

What's behind a lot of this? Surprise: Bud Light Lime. The new lime light is doing well, and throttling last year's macrobeer success story, Miller Chill, while apparently sucking share from Corona as well. Pretty strong moves for a beer that just came out in May. BLL will probably fade when the weather cools, like Chill did, but after blowing up this summer like it did, I'm hesitant to count the stuff out.

Oh, and craft beer? The numbers for the first half of 2008 from the Brewers Association (which, remember, don't count sales of Goose Island, Craft Brewers Alliance, Old Dominion, Blue Moon...) show craft beer up 11%. So, guys: are we at 4% of the market yet?

Pittsburgh Beer Lovers: Volunteer this weekend!

I got the following from Sean Casey, owner of Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. Sean has been a leader in the fight against the inflationary and unfair 10% "poured drink" tax in Allegheny County. You must know my position on booze taxes by now: We pay enough now. If a government service is of benefit to the entire public, then the entire public should pay for it.

This tax has been misrepresented by its proponents from the beginning: they lied about whether or not they would enact it, they lied about who would have to pay it, they lied about how much money it would take from residents pockets, they even lied about what it would be applied to (folks were told that to-go sixpacks would not be taxable; then the County decided that they were, even though the tax was presented as a poured drink tax).

Now that the people of Allegheny County have reared up and signed a petition for a referendum on the tax, about 45,000 of them. The response from those who want to see this unfair tax stay in place? They sued, challenging the legitimacy of the signatures. They're looking to have 29,000 of them thrown out. The infernal gall of them...

You can help by volunteering to inspect signatures this weekend. Here's what Sean had to say:

Frederick Hannah, Shawn Flaherty and Shirley Williamson have filed a suit to challenge the legitimacy of the 40,000 signatures certified by Allegheny County Division of Elections. They are seeking to throw out approximately 29,000 signatures out of the roughly 45,000 signatures filed by our citizenry on a myriad of nuances.

Preliminary instructions from the court today created a guideline of what should be acceptable parameters for voters that signed the “Drink Tax referendum.” This indicates that knit picky challenges will be rejected and voter spirit will be protected.

Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT, a group that is against government applying onerous taxation on small businesses) is looking for volunteers this Saturday -9/13 and Sunday - 9/14. We need volunteers to help in the signature protection/certification process that would be akin to the chad recounts that transpired in Florida. This recount will occur at the Division of Elections downtown.

If you would like to volunteer for a 4 hour or 8 hour shift, please forward an email to myself at and copy and/or call me at
work 412-688-8282.

The spirit of the people should be allowed to prevail. We appreciate the verbal support and emails of encouragement that many of your provide to us on this issue.
Casey calls this effort "Whiskey Rebellion II." A wonderful sentiment. Now get out there and count!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Missed Opportunities: a shout out to Jack, Kerry, Gregg, and King Ron

Okay, this is going to be a little complicated, but I just saw something that made me pissed, intrigued, nostalgic, and happy, all at the same time. It's this entry in Evan Rail's excellent Czech beer blog (which I really need to read more regularly). He's talking about how he wants the already excellent Pardubicky Porter to be better, less of a sweet finish, so he's "beer hacking" by dosing some of it with Orval yeast, in hopes of getting some brett dryness in it.

But that's not what zinged my cortex. It was this:

For example, take Pardubický Porter from Pivovar Pernštejn in Pardubice. The Czech Republic’s premiere Baltic Porter and perhaps the southernmost traditional exemplar of the style, Pardubický Porter is a very filling, strong black lager with lovely treacle and licorice notes.
As anyone knows who knows me, I'm a sucker for Baltic Porter. And this is Moby Dick for me, because of a bastard bus driver named Ivan. The whole story's here, but I'll condense it. I was on a beer junket in the Czech Republic (courtesy of Distinguished Brands Int'l, who no longer own the rights to the beer they had us over there to pimp, Budvar, so no real conflict here, okay?) with the beer writers mentioned in the post title ("Uncle" Jack Curtin, Kerry "ColdHard" Byrne, Gregg "Let Me Get That For You, Miss" Glaser, and "King" Ron Givens).

Jack's buddy, Czech beer demiurge Honza Kočka, had lined up a sample case (that's pronounced "free effin' beer") of Pardubický Porter for us, direct from the brewery. And our bus driver, Ivan, damn his black heart, refused, simply refused to go half a mile out of his way and let us pick it up. That bastard! After three years, I still get pissed off when I think about it.

And when I saw Evan's post today, well, it all came back. Finding out how highly Ron Pattinson regards the beer didn't help. Ah, me. Some day.

Sly Fox Oktoberfest

I stopped by Sly Fox Royersford and picked up a quarter of Oktoberfest for Labor Day weekend with Cathy's family in upstate NY. We like Oktoberfest beers. So I get there with the kids, we have a good lunch (with, unfortunately, some sub-par service...which, unfortunately, has generally been our lot at Royersford, which is why we usually go to the original Sly Fox in Phoenixville), and get hold of brewer Brian O'Reilly to hook up with the keg.

After I wrote him a check for the beer and deposit ($30 deposit, not bad, these days), he starts hauling out bottles of beer he wants me to have. (Larry Horwitz, brewer at Iron Hill North Wales, tells me O'Reilly's always like this: "He gives me beer," Larry wails, "like I need more beer!"). Two of the bottles were 22 oz. Oktoberfest. But Brian, I said, I'm buying a whole 1/4 keg of Ofest! "Take 'em," he says, "you can drink them at home."

So today I am, at least one of them. And it's bringing back the pleasure of Labor Day weekend. This is a solid festbier, with that beautiful copper color, big malty aroma, solid hefty body, a great finish. Extremely drinkable, too, as I found out on the holiday (note: when you have a keg back at the house, do not ride your bike over to the local beer bar, meet with your bros-in-law, knock back three pints of Brooklyn East India Pale Ale...and then go back and tap the keg).

Anyway, the only small complaints I'd have is that it maybe drinks a bit boozy (it's only 5.8%, according the SF website) for its weight -- there are bigger beers that don't taste this strong -- and might be a bit over-carbonated: there's some perceived bitterness that seems a bit much for festbier. I suspect it is carbonation, because it's mellowed as it sits in my mug.

Minor issues. Good with a lunch of spaghetti bolognese (left over from two nights ago; I bought round steak and ground it at home, deliciously fresh), good after lunch is over, and just great over Labor Day. I love this time of year. Bring on the Autumn!


Seven years ago, Stan Hieronymus wrote a piece for All About Beer called "Finding Sanctuary on Nine-Eleven." On today, what I call Remembrance Day for my own reasons, the piece reads well. Of course it does: it's Stan.

Right now, this minute as I write this, seven years ago, I was editing photos from some trips. Nora sat upstairs, home sick from school. Then I got an e-mail from my dad. "Turn on your television. We appear to be under attack." I wrote about the day, and the week that followed, five years later here, and I re-read it occasionally to remind me.

Today is a beautiful, cloudless September day, just like it was seven years ago...which brings that same sense of the surreal. I'm doing an Irish whiskey dinner tonight, which I kind of feel weird about. (Nora asked, "Dad, you'd do a dinner on December 7, wouldn't you? What's the difference?" She's right...and wrong: it's the rawness of it.)

Raise a glass to the victims, and another to the heroes: the firefighters and police, the brave passengers on Flight 93, the servicefolk who responded that day, the construction workers who tirelessly dug through smoking wreckage looking for survivors. And remember. And look ahead.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy anniversary, Jimmy Russell

Today, September 10, marks 54 years that Jimmy Russell started work at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. I talked to Jimmy a couple months ago for the story in the latest issue (due out October 1) of Malt Advocate, he told me how he started out in Quality Control:
"This is really the only full-time job I’ve ever had," he said. "It wasn’t hardly the same as it is now. They called it "Quality Control." Now you do Quality Control and people bring you samples and you sit there and run them. Back then, you went and got your own samples, and then you might be unloading a truck of grain after you run them. Unloading it with a shovel!"
Now Jimmy's been there so long, and been the master distiller so long, it's hard for anyone else to remember when Jimmy wasn't making the bourbon. He learned how to do it from a pre-Prohibition master distiller, William Hughes:
It wasn’t always "the Russell way." When Jimmy learned distilling, it was "Mister Bill’s way." Master distiller William "Mister Bill" Hughes was a "seven-day man," as Jimmy put it. "He lived up on top of the hill, and he was here seven days a week. He’d worked before Prohibition, here at this distillery." Mister Bill took young Jimmy under his wing, and taught him distilling.
And we've all benefited. Hats off, and shake hands with one of the finest folks in bourbon -- a business that is chock-full of some truly warm, decent folks -- happy anniversary, Jimmy Russell. Thanks for all the great whiskey.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Maia: maybe

I was at a wholesaler event last night in Bryn Mawr. Gretz Beer, one of the area A-B wholesalers, was launching the new Budweiser American Ale and 're-introducing' some of the other beers in their portfolio. I saw Michelob Pale Ale and Dunkel Weiss, Unita Punkin, Czechvar, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Victory Festbier, Löwenbräu, and some others. It was an event for retailers, mostly off-premise folks, and they were reacting well to the Bud Ale, including Matt Capone, the Energizer Bunny of beer launches at Capone's in Norristown. He said to me, "Pretty good!" Keep in mind, of course, that he was surrounded by A-Bvolk at the time.

Had several good chats with the folks there, including Brian Quinn, an A-B draft guy I'd met last year at Markt for an A-B/InBev lovefest (that turned out to be a prelude to this year's goings-on). Some of it was heartening, proving that A-B and their wholesalers really do get what's going on in craft beer -- and some agreement that the brewmasters have a lot more input at the company than they did, say, five years ago. But I still heard things like "not bitter, like other bocks." You can't just give salespeople words when you expect them to make sales to people who actually know what the hell beers are, you have to make them understand what those words mean, and in what context they are meaningful. Otherwise, they clang like a broken bell.

Anyway, after I left the event, I headed back Lancaster Ave. towards the Blue Route, where I saw Maia. Now, Uncle Jack had gushed about it, and then the esteemed Craig LaBan gushed about it, so I think to myself, hey, maybe oughta stop in. So I did, and it impressed me with its design right away, as in, it was so designed that I couldn't tell if the damned place was open or not until someone walked out the door. Okay, that's me.

So I walked in, and the open plan (with map, as LaBan points out) drew me further in. Kind of reminded me of a place Steve and I went in Ghent, Brasserie Pakhuis (and that Frommer review I linked to really nails the similarity: "Although maybe too conscious of its own sense of style, all stocked up in matters of taste."), which is in a former warehouse, whereas Maia is in a former supermarket; similar spaces. Nice-looking beers on tap -- Maredsous, Victory Donnybrook, Goliath -- and a very good selection of spirits (top-heavy on vodkas, but that's a fact of life). Downcheck on the barstools: too high (and if they're too high for a guy who's 6'1"...) and looking like porch furniture.

Service was very quick, damned near immediate. I saw a Gaffel Kölsch tap in front of me, and thought, yeah, light, crisp, just the thing for one more before heading home. "A kölsch," I said, by way of a test, and he passed brilliantly. The pour? A small tulip glass -- downcheck on glass, amused upcheck on size of portion -- and set down with pride in front of me. I asked to run a tab; I saw someone enjoying some soup, which sounded right. Then I looked at the temporary check he set down. My Gaffel, which looked to be 10 oz. or less, was $7. Wow. Hey, I know bringing in low-volume imports ain't cheap. But that's the kind of price I'm used to paying for something like Chimay White, and while Gaffel Kölsch is good, it ain't Chimay White.

Whew. I decided I had to get another beer to see what was going on here. I ordered soup (a choice between gazpacho and French onion; I got the hot one, and it was very, very good) and got a Victory Donnybrook. It came in a 20 oz. dimple mug, and was $6.50. Well, that's better, for a 20 oz. pour. Again, the service was almost telepathic, but it was a good thing I'd checked the taps as I walked by. The chalkboard beerlist only gave the brewery names, in big letters. Victory makes a bunch of beers, guys; telling me you have "VICTORY" doesn't help a lot.

All that said, Maia has a good vibe. I've seen people complain that it's "confusing," that it takes too much work to figure out what you want and where to get it. I only concur so far as the beerlist. In short, grow up. This is a different idea, a different layout, and you need to have fun with that, not whine about it. Besides, with bar service like that, I'm willing to put up with some thinking (though not $7 mini-beers). If the rest of the food is up to the soup -- and LaBan emphatically says it is -- I'll probably bring Cathy by, and we'll have another look.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Session #19 -- Deutsches Beer

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "German beer." See all the links soon here at lootcorp 3.0.

German beer. Deutsches Bier.

As I'm writing this, I'm trying a German beer that's new to me, courtesy of Horst Dornbusch's new importing effort: Meckatzer Gold, from the Meckatzer Löwenbräu brewery in Heimenkirch. Appropriate (and tasty, too: good malty body, dry bitterness), because there are more damned beers and breweries in Germany than you can shake a stick at.

I've learned that, in the course of five visits to Germany -- more than I've made to any other country than Canada -- and I've also learned that I love the German beer culture, German drinking culture more than any other I've experienced. Mind you, that's limited experience, and Belgium's close, but it beats the U.S. hands down, and even edges out the Czech Republic.

Why? Well, in the U.S., we often get too hung up on the drunk part of things. That's sad, and disturbing. Worse, too often the bars are dark, dingy, and infested with loud music that makes conversation impossible. In the Czech Republic, it's almost like they don't even notice the beer, it's more like breathing: natural, and easy, but...not much joy. Portugal, which may well surprise you with how much beer culture it manages to have, actually came closest to the German ideal (because of German tourists?), but the beer just wasn't good enough. In Scotland, it was quite reserved -- or madly Dionysian, which says a lot about you Scots, I'm thinking. Belgian beer culture is fun, and respectful of the beer, but...almost a little too respectful, over-the-top, too focused.

I think the Germans get beer culture right; at least, for me. Germans like people around when they drink. They like beers they can drink for long sessions, but not so low-alcohol that you don't get that "social lubrication" factor going. They like solid food with their beer; nothing fancy, nothing cheap, belly-mortar to assist in that all-important buzz maintenance. The Germans have a huge state fair-like festival that centers, unashamedly, on beer, a festival that has been going on for almost 200 years and is emulated -- but never matched -- around the world. They sit, and they dance, and they talk, and they sing...and they drink beer. They all drink beer, the family, the grandparents, and they go out in the beerhalls till late in the evening, and they drink, and talk, and play cards...and I miss it when I think about it.

Like my friend and colleague Steve Beaumont said earlier today in his contribution to The Session, I almost believe that this culture, the where and the what and the how and the who of German beer drinking, is more a part of it than the actual beer, or at least as great. I remember a discussion -- not to say 'argument' -- that went on some years ago in several beer-lover arenas about whether it was possible to know a beer without having enjoyed it where it was born, in situ.

At the time, I thought the very idea was bullshit. And I said so: this is just one more way for the beer elite, the malterati, to separate themselves from the common herd. Now that we had discovered the same beers they had, now that importers were bringing us rare beers, now that craft brewers were making beers we could taste and not them (because no one can be everywhere)...they had to come up with some new divider, some new badge of belonging. Bullshit, I said, and drank stale bottles of German lagers in loud, dark, tiny bars.

Then I went to Germany, to Bavaria and Franconia, and my eyes were opened. It was not the "Red Stripe" effect, in which everything is wonderful because you're not at home; to be honest, not everything was wonderful...except when I walked into a beerhall. When you sat down across a trestle table -- solid, wooden, old, clean enough to eat from -- from a German, he or she would lift their glass and drink with you, and once they realized that you were not German, all they wanted to do was help you enjoy your stay. I met very few exceptions to this; three in five visits, one of whom disapproved of me because she was a tee-totaler -- unglaublich!

Is it the beer? Or the Germans? To tell the truth, I don't know, because I've had very little discourse with Germans outside of brewery and beerhall; it's where I go, it's why I'm there. What I do know is that whatever it is, I like it.

I'd like to visit the Scandinavian countries and see what beer culture is like there. I urgently want to visit more eastern European countries and drink there: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Baltics. I need to visit England. But I know that I'll be back in Germany before long, because, well, because I need to breathe that air, enjoy the people, and drink the beer.

Please don't split that bottle, Mommy!

A UK government health study (done by the governments "Know Your Limits" alcohol campaign) found that -- get this! -- stress leads people to drink. Amazing.

But look, that's the usual waste of government money to learn something every frickin' idiot on the planet already knows; nothing to see here. It's the follow-up statement that just killed me.

Experts said if a couple shared a bottle of wine they would both be put over the recommended daily limit. Siobhan Freegard, of Netmums, said, "The extent to which this research showed modern moms are drinking really surprised us. It shows many moms and dads are developing a 'bottle a night' habit without really thinking about the health consequences. Getting used to juggling work and home life again after the summer break can be stressful for parents, but it's important not to allow yourself to slip back into the routine of relying on alcohol to help you unwind."

Dr. Sarah Jarvis, with the Home Office and Department of Health "Know Your Limits" campaign noted, "If you're returning to work, turning to the bottle can actually increase your stress levels. Try exercise or a nice warm bath to unwind instead."

Does this woman have any idea how risky the bathtub is? No, seriously, what really sent me round the bend was referring to splitting a bottle of wine with your spouse as "turning to the bottle." Get serious. It's bluenoses like this who make me wonder how we'll ever get anywhere on the truly serious problems of alcohol abuse. This is like calling for a crackdown on speeders who are two MPH over the limit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Finally: Iron Hill in New Jersey

Uncle Jack is reporting at the Beer Yard site that Iron Hill will be opening their 8th brewpub sometime in spring of '09 (roughly...) in -- finally! -- New Jersey: 124 Kings Highway, Maple Shade, NJ, to be precise. Close enough to Flying Fish that if I was standing in the parking lot and Casey Hughes told me he was buying a car, they could hear me laugh, with a following wind.

As Jack mentioned in his blog post, procuring a liquor license was the tough part of this. Liquor licenses in this part of NJ are ridiculously pricey, and, I maintain, part of the problem of nuisance drinking. High liquor license prices put comfy, relaxed corner bars out of business. They also make it tough for brewpubs to open; competition in this densely-populated market is so tough that opening as a beer-only operation is daunting.

The most exciting part of this news -- and I mean that, I am excited -- is that Iron Hill planting the craft beer flag in this part of New Jersey is bound to have a rising tide effect on South Jersey. Flying Fish has done very well in Philly, but continues to hit resistance here because of a lack of an on-premise outlet; Cork has an excellent small beer selection, but is primarily a restaurant with limited bar space, Rat's the same; and sorry, but P.J. Whelihan's just doesn't cut it as much more than a flash bar with a few big crafts, a kind of NJ-equivalent of a J.D. Wetherspoon's pub. Overall, this area is shockingly free of specialty beer taps and bottle selections, particularly given its proximity to the wonderful diversity and thick net of choices that is southeastern Pennsylvania.

Iron Hill should change that. It's the Fort Apache theory: plant an outpost of craft beer in an area, and if it doesn't go under -- and you know Iron Hill won't -- more places will serve craft beer, more places will shift to a craft menu. That's probably going to mean that we'll see NJ fewer faces in the Philly beer scene. But that's a change I'm willing to go through if it means they're happier at home. Even if it does mean that New Jersey Breweries will be out of date this time next year!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

English hop harvest not good?

A very wet August in the English hop-growing areas (which are pretty damned small these days) is apparently leading to a small harvest, according to Gerard Lemmens, renowned (and retired) hops expert. Not the kind of news small brewers -- particularly Brit hops-loving east coast small brewers -- were hoping to hear.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

John Harvard's Monroeville/Pittsburgh closes

Saw in the Pittsburgh Business Times that the John Harvard's brewpub in Monroeville/Wilkins Twp. has closed. Unfortunately, this can't come as a surprise to anyone; the JHBH pubs have been closing for the past few years. Too bad that this comes as the third western PA brewpub to close in a year: Hereford & Hops and Johnstown also closed. High materials prices? Sure. Tough economy? Uh-huh. But you gotta figure a corporate trend in there too.

One Guy in the news

Guy Hagner sent this link to a story on his One Guy Brewing operation in Berwick. He mentions extended hours during football season; I kinda have the hankering to go up to see a Bulldogs game and get some beers myself!

Update: For all of you who insist that Guy get a website...he has: will now direct you to his page on So no excuses!

Like I keep saying: Two Words

And those two words are Blind. Tasting.

Nothing shuts up beer geek (or whiskey geek) bullshit faster than blind tasting. It's hard work, it's educational, and yes, it can be fun. My thanks to long-time STAG reader (I can say that now, it's well over a year old) Steve Herberger for providing this link to an eye-opener of a blind tasting of four draft Irish dry stouts in Ireland. Ten fairly experienced tasters failed to do better than 1.333 beers ID'd correctly out of 4 (although the winner pegged all four stouts (I'd have to guess they were lucky, given those numbers)).

What am I saying? Stop thinking you can judge beers or whiskeys with complete impartiality. You can't. Like people bring all their old lovers to the marriage altar, you bring all your past drinking experience with you to a tasting. Make it more fair, and bring the blindfold.