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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old Bart returns at Dawson Street Pub

That's Dave Landrecht, the guy who was lucky enough to get the very first commercially-poured glass of Yards Old Bartholomew at the Dawson Street Pub tonight. That's the return of Old Bart after ten years away, a return that brewery folks told me took all of 20 minutes to agree on: 20 minutes discussion, brewkettle the next day, bang! That's the new Yards, folks.

And yeah, I was there and drank myself some of the Old Bart (as did my two bros-in-law, Carl & Chris Childs). That's Emily pouring our glasses from the cask on the bar. How was it? Dangerously firkin drinkable, was the general evaluation. Not wicked hoppy, not wicked sweet, not at all the heavy hit to the chops you'd expect from a 10.3% ABV barleywine. Woof. We also popped a traditional glass of Snow Goose, the big goose-head tap just drew us on with memories of the good old days...and it was not disappointing. Nutty, tasty, malty...Goosey.

A great evening drinking beer, and a few great hours of 2009 yet to come.

Cheers! Happy New Year!

Happy New Beer from Victory

Nice little video about Victory's milestone tank expansion: that's some seriously big steel.

You know what I really like about this video? It's not like the tongue-in-cheek silliness of some brewery vids, or the chest-pounding you might see from others -- no, not naming names -- and it's not overdone. It's a lot like Victory: it's about the basics, and the people, and the beer. It's about delivering more beer, made to the same high standards they've had since the first time I dropped by, in February 1996. Cheers, Bill and Ron, and Scott Dietrich, and the whole crew at Victory Brewing!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas? Hop'solutely!

I meant to post yesterday, but it was just too busy and too fun. So today is Christmas -- Merry Christmas! -- and while the family's here, I'm taking the opportunity to sample the bottle of Brew Works Hop'solutely "Triple IPA" Beau Baden gave me when I visited the Bethlehem and Allentown Brew Works last month. As you can see by the look on Cathy's's bitchin'.

Okay, more than that. Hop'solutely is 11.5% and doesn't really feel like it; more like about 8%, but there you are. It's sweet and bitter, light and solid. The bitterness is intense, but enhanced by equally intense fizz. My only issue here is that it's maybe too too much...but that's the west coast IPA thing. West coasters would not like how sweet it it, but that's how it goes: vive la difference!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kid Rock American Badass Beer may be in trouble

Oh, Kid Rock, Kid Rock...your beer house may be built on shifting sands.
One alcoholic-beverage company has made celebrity-oriented drinks the focus of its business model. Drinks Americas Holdings Ltd., Wilton, Conn., has signed joint ventures or other agreements with such celebrities as musicians Dr. Dre and Kid Rock and real-estate magnate and TV personality Donald Trump. Trump Super Premium Vodka, in which Mr. Trump has a 50% stake, sells for about $35 a bottle.

But Drinks Americas, created in 2002, has struggled. In an SEC filing Monday, it said it faces a shortage of working capital and may be unable to continue operations without additional financing. The company posted a $3.5 million loss for the six months ended Oct. 31.
Wonder if Kid Rock knows the meaning of schadenfreude?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sam Adams Barrel Room Collection Stony Brook Red

I got some more samples: the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection. I'm trying the Stony Brook Red, a barrel-aged 'red,' a Flanders red kind of beer, I guess, only the damned thing's 9%. Burgundian imperial? Anyway, it carries that 9% very well, and doesn't taste particularly boozy.

It's tart, not sour, and the nose is tart cherry, a bit of almond, some fizzy sweetness, and some wood. The taste is all that, dialed back a bit. In fact, it's gulpable. There's the tart, there's a bit of astringency -- not unpleasant -- and a thickness that doesn't get to be too much. This is a Flanders red smoothed and sanded to an easily grasped glass. Well. Relatively easily grasped. It's enjoyable, but for someone who's been drinking this kind of thing, good and bad, for years, it's kind of easily grasped.

I'm trying to think of a metaphor and none's coming. I mean, for the price -- $9 for a 750 ml bottle (and an odd-looking bottle, looks like a butter churn) -- it's pretty decent value. But what the hell is a 9% Flanders Red, and how much are you paying for the 9% part? I'm not clear on this one. I'll have to try the other two.

Uncle Jack's Best Of 2009

I'm almost embarrassed to put up this link to Uncle Jack's 'best of' list for 2009, since I come in for both harrassment and praise (which is pretty much normal for our exchanges, come to think of it), but pride and humor won out. Seriously, Jack has some good calls here, particularly the first one: Weyerbacher Zotten is a really good beer, and if Dan & Co. don't make it a full-time beer, they're nuts.

Should Maryland raise its beer tax?

I think you know how I feel about that question. But the Baltimore Sun wants to know what people think about the idea and has a no-registration-needed poll here. Go vote!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy birthday, Nodding Head

Sigh... I'm missing the Nodding Head 10th anniversary celebration tonight. Wanted to go, just wound up with too much to do here at home. I remember the opening party for Nodding Head, back when we were all 10 years younger. The beers...were not huge, were not "really hoppy," and people were disappointed. No getting around it. And we were vocal about it. Jerks. Because Nodding Head proceeded to make that kind of beer formulation work like a wonder, selling every pint they could squeeze out of their system.

And now they're all grown up. Wish they'd been able to pull off that production facility they were talking about a few years ago, but Nodding Head's done just fine; pretty damned well, after all. Congratulations to current brewer Gordon Grubb, and to the man who drives the bus, Curt Decker. Wish I coulda made it to tell you in person.

Old Bart...back at last

Once upon a time, Yards made a barleywine. It was called Old Bartholomew, or as we called it then, Old Bart. It was delicious. It was wonderful. At one Split Thy Skull at Sugar Mom's, I found that Old Bart was a hops antidote: I had a mouthful of Old Crustacean hopsamatic residue, bitter oils and resins puckering my ale-hole, immune to water, food...and one swallow of Old Bart returned my taste and pleasure. It was great, it was full, it was wonderful. And it went away. For ten years.

It's back! Ten Days of Old Bart starts New Years Eve at the ancestral home of Yards Brewing taps: the Dawson Street Pub. Here's the schedule. Hope to see you at one -- at least! -- of these.

Thursday 12/31/09 - Dawson St Pub 5pm - Firkin

Friday 1/1/10 - Devils Den 1pm - Firkin

Saturday 1/2/10 - Varga Bar 5pm - Frikin (on the handpump!)

Sunday 1/3/10 - Swift Half Pub 1pm - Firkin (plus the Eagles vs the Cowgirls on the bigscreen)

Monday 1/4/10 - Local 44 5pm - Firkin

Tuesday 1/5/10 - Hulmeville Inn 7pm - Firkin

Wednesday 1/6/10 - Standard Tap 6pm - Firkin

Thursday 1/7/10 - Kite and Key 7pm - Firkin

Friday 1/8/10 - Pub & Kitchen 5pm - Pin

Friday 1/8/10 - The London Grill 8pm - Pin

Saturday 1/9/10 - Pub on Passyunk East (POPE) 12pm - Firkin

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saranac Rye IPA

Just a short note about this Saranac Rye IPA I'm enjoying...frankly, it's short because I'm whupped. I've been up since 5:30 AM, shopping, running errands, cooking, shoveling snow (we've got about 10-11" right now, and it's finally starting to slack off)...and I'm about done.

So, the Rye IPA. It's quite brisk, almost light for an IPA, and it definitely has that rye feel to it: spicy/minty, a touch astringent, and yet ... 'oily' in a way on the finish. The hops are there to cut and carry -- Saaz and Hallertau in an IPA; how...Victorious -- and I think this would probably be a great beer with bluefish...I do love bluefish, and it's so hard to find a beer that's good with it.

For now, though...I'm drinking this beer with snow. And that's working, too.

Maud On Station: a gratuitous Corgi picture

Maud sure is taken with the snow. She's having a great time tearing around in it, and then took a moment to just look. I'd love to know what's running through her little walnut-sized brain.

If You're Looking for a Christmas Present...

...there's five bottles of George T. Stagg on the shelf at the PLCB State Store in Newtown, PA.

I'm just sayin'...

And as of 12:32 PM on Monday...there are only two (and one bottle of Eagle Rare 17, too, but no other Antique Collection whiskeys). Doubt not the power of the blog, or the depth of desire for Stagg!

Snowy? Scared to Drive? Drink instead!

More snowy day deals:
Snowy Day Specials Today Only at Tria!

Tria Rittenhouse: Give & Sip Gift Card Special -- For each $50 in Gift Cards purchased at Tria Rittenhouse today, you get a $15 Gift Card for you! And you can use your reward right then and there. That's what we call instant gratification - buy a gift, drink some wine (or beer).

Tria Wash West: Special 5 for 5 Happy Hour -- We're offering our new and wildly popular Tria-style happy hour all day and night at Tria Wash West. (This is usually available Monday through Thursday from 5 - 7 pm). 5 great fermented specialties (2 wines, 2 beers and a cheese plate) for $5 each. That leaves more money in your wallet for holiday shopping.
The Craft Ale House out in Limerick left a tempting post on Facebook: "Have you ever dreamed of being snowed in at a bar? Todays your chance, come on in." Indeed!

Bars in the Philly area: got more stuff going on today because of the weather? SEND IT!

PAWS benefit at the Khyber? It's ON, baby!

If you were wondering if the PAWS benefit cask event at the Khyber was still on, given the scary scary snowstorm...

Due to the blizzard of Aught-Nine the Khyber has declared a State Of Emergency...

We will continue in our effort to help PAWS help our furry friends today despite the weather.
YES, we will be open.
YES, the fundraiser will still be held.
And YES, we will be pouring delicious brews & rockin' & rollin' all day!
This is our mission. We will not falter, we will not fail.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bored Tonight? Devil's Den has a 12% Solution

Tis the season, I guess: more special events in Philly. Devil's Den has an interesting twist: 12% Fridays, a series of tappings of 12% beers:
Toast the end of the work week with 12% Fridays in December – a tapping of limited Belgian keg 12% imports, starting at 7P.M. Featured imports include: Eerwaarde Pater Oak Aged Belgian Brown Ale on December 18 and Valier Extra Belgian Pale Ale on December 25. On CHRISTMAS NIGHT (DECEMBER 25th), starting at 7p.m., Devil’s Den will be celebrating by tapping a keg of Mad Elf.

Join Devil’s Den NEW YEAR’S DAY at 1P.M. for their New Year – New Beer event featuring Yard’s Brewing. Tap a firkin of Old Bartholomew Barleywine. There will be a selection of Yard's beers on draft, along with Yard's food specials.
Now that is something else. Yards is making Old Barts again after ten years of hiatus -- hurray! -- and they're celebrating with ten days of tappings, starting at their old 'house tap', the Dawson Street Pub, on New Year's Eve at 5 PM.
And I hope you all know that New Year's Day marks the beginning of McGillin's 150th Anniversary celebrations. The doors open at 9 AM, and you'll have to contend with their usual Mummer's Parade crowd, though it's bound to be worth it. I'm trying really hard to talk Cathy into this...

Cell Phone Deals are pissing me I stupid, or are they? me out here. All these wonderful "deals" on new cell/mobile/smartphones: they're all dependent on you signing up for two years of service, right? So all these deals are doing for me, who signed up to his "new deal" in April, is pissing me off. Will Verizon pay off my indentured servitude to AT&T? Will T-Mobile? Sprint? Of course not. Take your damned advertisements away, all they're doing is making me feel bad. I don't want the new phone badly enough to pay iPod prices for it. I'd be happy if this damned iPhone would just do what they said it would do.

It's an annoying day in Mobile-land.

How Things Have Changed

Saw this piece in Slate's The Big Money (thanks to a tweet-link from Beer Business Daily's Harry Schumacher (who just started following me on Twitter, so I returned the favor...and immediately reaped more benefit than I suspect he ever will)) about Bud Light Golden Wheat buying up all the ad time on an SNL episode back on October.

Old news, right? Wrong. Here's the little bit of relevance that makes this a year-story rather than a week-story. Blogger Dan Mitchell says this about the description of BLGW:
The campaign, like so many campaigns aimed at drinkers of mass-produced American beer, emphasizes the brew's "drinkability," which can be translated as "wateriness."
Now...can you imagine seeing that kind of flippancy in the news ten years ago? I couldn't, so I checked (thanks, Google): Bud Light and watery. The only hits I got were three: a taste test of Bud vs. Budvar in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a piece by my good buddy and fellow beer writer Ron "The King" Givens in the Daily News where he says old-time ballpark suds were "the cheapest, most watery stuff that could be poured into a cup" but doesn't actually tag Bud Light as that, and, well, a piece by St. Michael Jackson about how not all American beers are watery.

Sea change time. The whole paradigm has shifted. Smart, bright journalists now say mainstream beer is "watery." Do we call this the "Arrogant Bastard Effect," or the "Sam Adams Shuffle"? How about The Great Awakening? How about Truth Setting You Free?

American mainstream beer. I still do drink it, if only from regional brewers: I'll definitely still drink a Lager or a Straub, and I've said here I enjoyed slamming a 16 oz. Narragansett. it flavorful? No. Is it something I drink regularly? No. Is it refreshing? Yeah, for the most part, it is. And is it sweet to hear a mainstream journalist casually refer to it in terms of 'wateriness?' Yeah. Definitely. One more indication that we've hit that tipping point.

Charity for the Animals (with beer!)

However you celebrate the season -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, New Year's, or just a secular feel-good-time -- this time of year traditionally brings acts of kindly charity. The economy has many people in terrible condition, and that's in the front of everyone's mind. But animals hurt too, especially in the cold, and our friends at the Khyber are making it easy, even tempting, to do something nice for them.
Firkins for our Furry Friends

Looks like it may be snowing cats & dogs tomorrow, but at the Khyber we've got something special planned. Saturday December 19th -- 1:00pm-8:00pm

A special fundraiser for our friends at P.A.W.S. (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, who care for abandoned and unwanted animals) featuring an array of cask conditioned bartop kegs of quality craft brews. $20 at the door gets you a bottomless cup of these delicious beers: Sly Fox Chester County Bitter, Stoudt's Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Yards General Washington's Tavern Porter, and a vintage PBC Shackamaximum Imperial Stout.

All proceeds go directly to P.A.W.S. to help them in their efforts to save Philadelphia’s homeless, abandoned, and unwanted animals. So come in, get warm, and help us help PAWS!
Brews graciously donated by Yards, Philly Brewing, Sly Fox and Stoudt's.
And might I remind you: the Sly Fox is a great drinkable session beer, the Fat Dog is an eye-opener, Tavern Porter has that lovely licorice bite...but the Shackamaximum on cask is the absolute shit. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bruery 2 Turtle Doves

My first beer from The Bruery, the latest "oh my god oh my god oh my god!!!!!" brewery of the geekerie. Small and specialist out of Placentia, California, I admit to wondering why this tiny place's beers are even in the Philly market -- but of course, that's why: it's Philly. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, this was a brewery sample, so after the requisite stalling and chilling and drinking other stuff, I'm getting to it. There's a ring of brown shtuff, like wet tobacco dust, around the bottle-lip when I lever the cap off. Not promising. 2TD pours thick and dark, almost black, and I'm wondering if this is more of The Cult of the Imperial Stout that seems to have taken over the übergeekerie, even more so than DIPA Frenzy.

But it's not that, it's... If a Baltic Porter is a doppelbock gone porter, this is an imperial Belgian stout...if you will, thus successfully combining two frenzy-inducing genres. I don't like it at first -- on the incipient edge of sourness, and the beer's almost too rich, and it doesn't taste like the description -- like "turtles," the choco-caramel-nut candy. Too much fruit for that. Too much, in general, even in a 12% beer.

As it warms, however, some cherry asserts itself, and the beer cleans up. Still big (and I don't get the people who said it hides the alcohol; no 'bad' alcohols, maybe, but clearly a big beer), and still rich, but settling down, getting comfortable with itself. Taken as not just a holiday warmer but as a statement on the lines of Stone's Vertical Epic -- and isn't that a gutsy thing for such a small, young brewery? isnt' it? Or is it? -- it's big enough.

I have another bottle. Gonna make sure more people are around when I open that one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Monk's Christmas Dinner: 16 Years and Kicking!

Tom Peters, you mad son of fun.

You know there are a lot of perks to this crazy life I lead, but one of the very best is the Christmas dinner at Monk's Cafe. I've been going since before it was at Monk's: Tom Peters started doing these crazy dinners when he was managing Copa, Too!. There's always great beer, and there's always...the Buche de Noel.

Tonight's was no exception. I was at the bar, hobnobbing with UPenn Museum's Bruce Nichols, Uncle Jack, Carolyn Smagalski, and Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, as well as Home Sweet Homebrew's George and Nancy, and Philly beer historian Rich Wagner. I could wax enthusiastic, but to be truthful, my waxing is waning right now: I'm exhausted. I'll just list the menu.

Sly Fox Christmas Ale 2007 with mussels and chorizo steamed in more Sly Fox Christmas.

Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza with spinach salad with hearts of palm, strawberries, and toasted pine nuts (this one worked well for me, cutting the sour of the beer).

La Rulles Cuvee Meilleurs Voeux, & St. Germain Page 24 Biere de Noel with a beautiful pan seared scallop, topped with grated beet, sitting atop sauteed beet greens and a beet risotto (it could not be beat).

Abbaye de St. Martin Cuvee de Noel & de Struise Tjeeses with elk loin, brussel sprouts, and a sweet potato stoempf. Tjeeses was good, very good, but the St. Martin really grew on me.

Scaldis Prestige 2007 with three marvelous cheeses: Molierno (sheep milk from Sardinia), Balyey Hazen Bleu (crumbly blue from VT), and Quadrello di Bufala (a hard buffalo milk cheese, packed with flavor).

Troegs Mad Elf Jeroboam & Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper with the Buche de Noel. Yum. The Mad Elf was great, the SLH was big and warmingly medicinal. Nice job on both. (That 'mushroom' was delish, BTW)

Particularly poignant, because this was chef Adam Glickman's last night, after steering the kitchen for 9 years. He got a bit choked up, and it's understandable. Great run, Adam. Fantastic food, that did honor to the beer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

East End Brewing Fights Back!

Small brewers of Pennsylvania: are you scared of grocery store beer sales? I like the attitude of your comrade, Scott Smith at East End Brewing, who won't let the prospect get him down: he's taking it to the grocers and selling coffee and cake mix! The latest from his always-amusing e-letter:

Last month, beer was sold at a grocery store in Western PA, and something remarkable happened... small brewers still survived, local beer distributors that offer better beers haven't closed, and in general civilization hasn't crumbled. Just amazing. But while the long term effects of better access to better beer still remain to be seen, we're going to see if we can shake things up even more and give the folks at Giant Eagle and Wegman's a run for their money... and take the game to their field.

We've already sold through our batch of Rachel Carson Blend Coffee from LaPrima at the brewery, as well as (the beer that we can't call) Eye Opener Coffee Porter. And now our further encroachment into the "Fine Groceries" category continues with our Holiday Season release of our much anticipated Black Strap Stout Cake Mixes. Finally, the return of the best solution for that leftover cup of Black Strap Stout at the bottom of your Growler - make a cake with it! Or maybe that's not a problem for you, and you just need to pick up a second jug?

So, there. Take THAT grocery stores! Now we'll really see if civilization can crumble. I know the cake is nice and moist.
I do like a brewer with a sense of humor, and Scott's all that and a bag of crisps. Pretty damned good beer, too.

Knob Creek's Flowing Again

Back in June, I got an empty bottle of Knob Creek in the mail with a message from Beam: Thanks For Nothing. Sorry, they said: we didn't make enough Knob Creek 9 years ago, and, well, we're out. Won't be bottling till November, because we won't compromise on every drop of Knob Creek being 9 years old. And "Thanks For Nothing," meaning Thanks For drinking so much Knob that we have Nothing left. Knob Creek, it seemed, had run dry.

I was nonplussed. They sent me an empty bottle? It seemed silly just to make their marketing point. Wouldn't an e-mail with a picture of a man crying beside an empty bottle have been enough? And just who the hell were they kidding, anyway? They must have seen this coming a year or two ago, although nine years ago they clearly didn't foresee the startling rise in bourbon sales that would take place (and Knob is one of the hot brands): they didn't make enough whiskey. They could have just put Knob on allocation. That's about the only option they had, though, because Knob is the oldest bourbon Beam bottles -- so far -- so they couldn't divert older bourbon to fill out the 9 year old stocks (which would be legal: "9 years old" on the label just means that the youngest whiskey in there is 9 years old). empty bottle? I was, as I said, nonplussed. So I said nothing. And I waited. And I didn't really see any empty shelves, although I did see a lot of mainstream press coverage (complete with analysts actually saying that this could be bad for the brand...who pays these people?!), and the price of Knob on the shelf went up. Hmmm...

Then a week or so ago, I got a full bottle, a special labeling without the usual paper label, just screened, and with a necker that read: "From spirits distilled in the year 2000 and aged a full 9 years." That's better. A full bottle. That I understand.

So what's this mean? That I only respond to full bottles of whiskey? Well, considering that Knob's one of the whiskeys I actually buy occasionally, no, not really. I've got plenty, and I didn't need more. I'll probably give this one away (maybe for a charity thing, been doing more of that lately). Maybe it's just that empty bottles confuse me?

What it really means is a few things. First, it appears that Beam has such a big pipeline that it takes a while to empty it; there was enough Knob in the system to sustain sales for five months. Second, hats off to Beam for sticking to their age statement, something that's been dropping off a lot of whiskey (and whisky) bottles in the past two or three years as sales out-strip supplies. Beam made more of a noise about running out than anyone else did, because they did make that decision to stick to the age statement. Finally, it looks like all this shortage really did was get Knob Creek plenty of publicity, of the good kind: they spelled the name right, and they got credit for sticking to 9 years. Which they should. about you make more than enough, and give us a 15 year old at some point?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Last Sly Fox Hops Project

We've been enjoying the fruits of O'Reilly's (the one in the middle) obsession with single-hopped beers at Sly Fox for years now (six years, according to Ohst (the one on the left)). This is the last year. We're promised something new next year, but there you are. What do you think of a replacement: the Yeast Project, with 12 beers all done with the same malt and hops recipe...with different yeast? Or (duh...) the Malt Project where a different malt is featured prominently. Or hell, maybe a different adjunct every time. I see a lot of promise. It will be wasted, because Brian's got his own vision, of course, but I throw it out there for anyone to use.

Anyway, here I am, enjoying the pale ale-version of the last Hops Project, with Steve Jacoby (the one on the right). I tried a lot of 'em, and wound up with the Argentinian Cascade: bitter, spritely, piney, and earthy. Interesting stuff. 

Whew. Liveblogging is interfering with my enjoyment here. Have fun, folks!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stan's back

Stan Hieronymus took his family on an amazing trek over 18 months. I love Stan and Daria, and I love how they travel, but...I missed Stan's blogging.

He's back. I can see work is going to be more difficult for me as I will be spending more time reading his blog again. You should too, Stan's one of the best.

Ah, the Vitality of Youth

I've got a guest post up at What Does John Know, Malt Advocate publisher John Hansell's blog, about young spirits; specifically, rye whiskey. Young rye whiskeys seem to come across better than young bourbons to me, and I was just openly speculating on why. Have a look, and take a good look around while you're there; there's an incredible amount of news, notes, and informed discussion about whisky.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ask Not For Whom Red Bell Tolls

I'm compiling the archived files of 15 years of Malt Advocate stories, including back when we still covered beer, and I wrote a column called Short Sips that gave me a chance to poke fun at what was going on in the beer world...and sometimes things right in my own beer backyard. Such as this, which I I just copied out of a file from mid-2001. I know Jack remembers, and I know some of the rest of you do as well, the days when Red Bell provided the kind of comedy that H.L. Mencken used to have to rely on the Congressional Record to provide:
The following is a condensed composite of actual news articles from the Bloomberg news service, BusinessWire, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

March 24: Shares of Red Bell Brewing of Philadelphia will begin trading on March 27th. Red Bell had about $11.5 million in sales last year and the company will generate $12.5 million to $14 million in revenue this year, said Chief Executive Jim Bell. Red Bell owns breweries at several area stadiums and arenas, including Veterans Stadium, and plans to open a brewpub at Penn State University in July.

April 9: Red Bell announced today that certain inaccuracies were contained in a March 24th article. Red Bell had gross revenues of $514,720 in 2000, not $11.5 million. The article also incorrectly stated that Red Bell would generate $12.5 million to $14 million in revenues this year. Subject to completing, opening and operating its proposed [Short Sips TruthItalics added] Penn State brewpub as well as acquiring and operating at least 2 existing brew pubs, Red Bell could generate $11.5 to $12.5 million in revenues per year. Also, at the present time, Red Bell does not own or operate any brewpub locations [in stadiums or anywhere]. Finally, while Red Bell has applied for the listing of its common stock, Red Bell is still waiting for final approval of the application.

Well, well, well. Some days the news is so damned bizarre we don’t even have to say a word.
I never could figure out why the Inquirer always swallowed Jim Bell's press releases whole, no matter how many times they were burned.

Yuengling Porter Follow-up

I did put the question to John Callahan, lead brewer at Yuengling's "new" Pottsville facility: is 'porterine used in brewing the Yuengling Porter? No porterine, he said, "our Porters are brewed with Briess specialty malts$$$, and it is the oldest, along with Chesterfield Ale, of our recipes."

Doubters? Believers? John's a pretty stand-up guy, based on the impressions he's made on me on this day and at the MBAA meeting we attended last year. I buy it.

Christmas Parties You're Invited To

Just got a note from Leigh at Resurrection Ale House about their Christmas celebration:
This Christmas season, Resurrection Ale House will be celebrating what's great about seasonal beer AND spreading the holiday spirit among those in need. Make no plans for Saturday, December 19, except of course to spend the day drinking excellent Christmas and Winter beers. The lineup includes Scaldis Noel, DuPont Avec Les Bons Voeux, SlyFox Christmas Beer, Ridgeway Reindeer Droppings, Troegs Mad Elf, and many more. All day, $1 from every draft beer you drink goes to Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to making sure that no kid in America grows up hungry.
Good times, good cause. great beers. I know there are more out there: send 'em in!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Copper Kettle

Finally getting to tasting the Copper Kettle beers I picked up in August (I tasted the Potbelly Porter early in November). The Celebration Boring wheat, with just a touch of off-flavor. The Porter is damned good, an honest, straight-up porter with the solid dark malt flavors -- coffee, chocolate -- you want. Good beer. There's a bottle just marked with a "K" on the cap: an 'experimental' kriek, Harold told me, usin some of Russ's homegrown sour cherries. It's kind of like a strong Belgian dark with spice, some candy-sweet, and a firm undercurrent of tartness from the cherries. It's working for me, balancing the sweet without using hops. What else we got here? Lucky 393 Grand Cru is the last one. Very foamy, heads up like a Duvel. It's got coriander and sweet orange peel, lactose and candi sugar in it; let's see how that all got together. Mmmm, well-melded. Not sweet, the coriander does not dominate but does add a nice drying touch; the orange peel is a nice "top dressing"; and the lactose puts a good medium body to it. Out of the ordinary, and nicely-done. Still think I'd drink the Porter most of the time.

Today is St. Nikolaus Day

Jon Abernathy has a beer advent calendar going (again) at his blog, The Brew Site. He asked me if I would guest-write one entry for him, and I in turn asked if he could reserve today for me. He agreed, and I think you'll agree that it turned out nicely. Cool idea, a beer advent calendar, and a look at some of the smart and pretty labels brewers use.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Happily, I'm not talking about Ginsberg's HOWL*, but about Magic Hat's. Howl is their winter seasonal, a schwarzbier, and I'm liking it just fine. There's a good head on it -- tan and fluffy -- and a black body underneath that promises chocolatey goodness and delivers. There's roastiness, too; not stout-level, but enough to put a dark edge on the chocolate and crimp the finish. This is not as glass-smooth as Kostritzer, but its got pleasingly more guts: horses for courses.

I wish there were more schwarzbiers. You may remember how much I loved Moonlight's Death & Taxes (drinking it repeatedly when the west coast's bounty lay open and willing before me). This stuff's 4.6% and I could drink it all night. Get on the lager beam, my friends, enjoy your beer!

*Call me a philistine, but that poem's crap; I'd parody it for the review --
Beer! Beer! Nightmare of Beer! Beer the wineless! Mental Beer! Beer the heavy judger of men!
-- but who needs it?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Does this look right?

Just a housekeeping post... Does the blog look right? It looks to me like Google/Blogger changed the line spacing and maybe tweaked things up on the fonts, too.

Or maybe I'm just losing it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sierra Nevada continues to beat expectations

Last year's burst of new beers from Sierra Nevada was, apparently, only the beginning. Just got a release today about their newest: Glissade Golden Bock. It's going to be the replacement for ESB as the spring seasonal, and let me tell you, it's great to see a brewery putting a blonde bock in rotation for that slot.

The numbers: 6.4% ABV, lager yeast, 15.5°P, hopped with Magnum & Perle for bittering, Spalter, Slovenian Aurora and Styrian (other hops are all German) finishing, 42 BU.

The tease: no beer yet, just announcement. But here's a tease of my own: there are some amazing projects coming down the pike from SN, and they'll be talking about them real soon. They've got quite the beer-release party planned for next year's 30th anniversary.

Area breweries are growing

Not really news, because it happened back in late September, but better late than never, I suppose: Philadelphia Brewing and Victory both made some major additions to their tankage. That's Philly Brewing's four new 60-bbl. tanks arriving at the brewery (and yeah, the leaves kinda give me away on the tardiness factor...); gotta assume they're gonna be seeing some Kenzinger usage.

Now, the tanks Victory put in are somewhat bigger: four 400-bbl. tanks. I remember my shock when I first saw 200 bbl. tanks at a microbrewery (Blue Ridge, in Frederick), and thought, Wow, I guess you've made it when you need 200 bbl. tanks. Victory's put four of 'em in, in a structure that's built to take twelve. Craft beer just keeps growing...and I don't see that stopping any time soon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Whirlwind Tour: Last Day (two weeks post facto)

Remember that trip to Pittsburgh, and I told you I'd get back to you with the last day? I'm here!

The day started with horrible traffic under weeping, cloudy skies, as I struggled to get from my hotel by the airport to the Hot Metal Diner in West Mifflin. Well, I got there, and I was running late for my Rock Bottom appointment with brewer Steve Panos, and a good person would have said, you know, I can't really get breakfast here and still make that appointment, so just get a McMuffin and keep moving.

I'm not a good person. And I'm glad: the breakfast burrito at HMD is deliriously, stupidly good and big, and it easily kept me going through what would be a semi-grueling day. Smart decision, in the end, and I wasn't terribly late, either; traffic finally cleared up. The only down side: finally seeing the Walgreen's where Chiodo's used to stand. Damn.

Rock Bottom Homestead is chugging along. Steve was brewing while I was there talking to him, and we talked biz -- good, volume is going to be a bit more than it was last year -- Portland -- Steve is coming in from brewing there, and misses it, a little, kind of -- and what sells: seasonals, and the Velvet Pale (pale ale on nitro with a dose of oats in the mash). Sorry I don't have a picture of Steve; he was moving too fast. Good lineup of beers, and man, they sell them at a reasonable price. Don't overlook this one!

It had cleared up a lot when I walked out, and I was cheerful: cross-country drive to Marzoni's! Yeah, well, forget that. The weather quickly went to hell, and I was boring through mist and drizzle across the roll and dip of the PA Highlands. Some truly stupid drivers out there. Marzoni's was good, and as brewer Bill Kroft told me, other than the Allison Park location closing last year, things were okay. The concept's not dead, he said, though he admitted that it wasn't likely that Hoss's would try another in this dark economy. I did notice that besides the beers still tasting good (Bill had a Belgian IPA on; no, really, and it was good), the place smelled good, that delicious good-pizza-place smell. If I weren't still cruising on my breakfast burrito, I might have had to get me some. But I was, so I took off for Otto's.

More nasty driving later, I pulled into Otto's, just in time for Sam Komlenic (who was there to get some gift whiskeys that had somehow arrived from Kentucky...I heard...) to take Charlie Schnable and I down to what's going to be the new Otto's, the former State College Quaker Steak & Lube. Yeah, the one that crashed and burned. QSL's loss is Otto's gain: this place will be great as Otto's new digs. Plenty of parking, a very big and capable kitchen (once they take some of the seven oversized deep-fryers out), three bars, and lots of bizarre automobilia that they'll be removing (an intact top-fuel dragster, an intact Corvette (and another missing only the engine), a QSL custom chopper, a sprint car, and a ton of other miscellaneous crap that is, as Sam put it, evidence of the incredible hubris of the original owners). Anyway, much needs to be done before Otto's can move in, not least of which is a major redecorating, but the kitchen essentially just needs to be cleaned.

Back up to the current joint, where I ran the taps (real good, especially the Old Fugget barleywine on cask) and had a delish-type meatball sandwich (so not Sysco), and, finally, bid Sam farewell and aimed the Jetta homeward. I got there just in time to unload and go to a capella rehearsal, and then finally went home and relaxed with the family, little dogs and all. A very good four day trip.

That Yuengling Porter News

I briefly mentioned some news about Yuengling Porter last week. (That's a glass of the stuff on the bar at the pretty damned nice Maroons, a classy sports bar in Pottsville that's going to be a regular post-tour stop for me.) It's not much, and it's not about cans (sorry, jaysus), and it's not a change, but it was significant news for me.

Here's the thing. There's a brewing 'supply' called porterine. It's like Weyermann's Sinamar: a dark cereal extract that is used to change the color of beer. I've been told (always mistrust those words; I do) that many Bavarian "dunkel" beers are simply a brewer's helles + Sinamar. Similarly, "I've been told" that Yuengling uses porterine to change the color of Traditional Lager, and that Yuengling Porter is mostly dark thanks to the use of porterine. Both of the sources of the "I've been told" are brewing industry insiders; this doesn't mean I trust them 100%, but it does add some credence.

So...when I went to Pottsville three weeks ago to interview Dick Yuengling and Dave Casinelli, and to finally tour the big 'new' brewery, I had my eyes open for evidence of porterine. I didn't see any, but that's not proof positive it ain't there, even though John Callahan -- lead brewer for the facility -- gave me a thorough tour, let me take pix of anything I wanted, and answered any question I asked (and no, I didn't think to simply ask him about the porterine...color me dopey).

What I did see, and what this whole thing is about, was "supersacks" of the dark, roasted malts that go into Yuengling Porter: caramel and black patent. It's real. Callahan said the porter is still made with the original recipe. Buy that or not, but Callahan's not any kind of marketeer: he's the real deal, pure brewer, and I first met him at a MBAA meeting at The Lion last year. If he says it, he believes it to be true.

Callahan also said, with a lot of feeling, "Thank God for Lager." Traditional Lager is about 90% of the company's output, and if it hadn't been for Lager's success, Callahan (who's been with the company for 28 years) seemed pretty sure the company would have gone under.

Instead, the company is closing in on 2,000,000 barrels in annual sales, a wholly attainable goal for 2009, according to Casinelli, who began to laugh as we both recalled something industry analyst Robert Weinberg said back when Yuengling bought the Tampa brewery in 1999, to the effect that Yuengling was doing well, but the brewery selling 2,000,000 barrels in a year was about as likely as Weinberg getting a date with Sharon Stone. "We should buy them dinner," Casinelli said with a big shark's grin, and I think it would be a fantastic publicity coup.

Anyway, that's the news from Pottsville. Sorry if I oversold it. It was a fantastic interview; you'll get more of it in Pennsylvania Breweries 4.

Kid Rock's American Badass Beer!

Hey, Kid Rock's beer not only has a name now -- American Badass Beer -- it's even got a "website preloader" page. Wow! A preloader! (?)

American Badass has been out since July. It's in Michigan, and will roll out nationally over the next 12 months. Has anyone seen it?




Look, no slant on Michigan Brewing, which is doing the contract brewing for Kid Rock; more power to them, and after all, they get paid on the loading dock, so they're not going to be taking the bath along with him. And read this description:
Crisp, refreshing and smooth as a traditional lager can be. Delivers a nice hit of carbonation at first and finishes with a slight citrus note. This is a highly approachable beer that delivers a bright lager flavor without even a hint of aftertaste. Cascade hops light up the aroma while balancing the brew. Brewed for maximum appeal and slamability. Midwestern malted barley and hard, red winter wheat from Michigan, transform water from the Saginaw Aquifer into a beer that's a true American lager and truly Badass.
Doesn't sound like they went totally sell-out, right? Okay, "slamability" is out there, but I think I may have praised slamability once or twice myself.

But...someone's going to lose their shirt. Projects like this have a very, very bad track record. (Speaking of which...Donnie, Donnie, Donnie...) Only one I can think of working is Land Shark Lager, and it's not tied as strongly to Jimmy Buffett as this is to Kid Rock; and, of course, Land Shark is ABIB, who have a pretty damned good idea of how these things work, and the deep pockets to sustain them.

I'll be watching for this stuff at a bar near me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm Back

Hope everyone (in America) had a good Thanksgiving holiday; hope the rest of you had a good weekend. The family and the dogs and I went to my parents' for Thanksgiving (the pies were great, and I made a batch of scalloped oysters, too). Cathy and I took off Friday morning for a rental along the Potomac River outside of Sharpsburg, MD; we were celebrating our 20th anniversary. Didn't do much except read, do crosswords, and drink East End Brewing Toaster Imperial Stout in the hot tub. We hiked around the Antietam battlefield a bit, and did some shopping in Shepherdstown, WV, then went out for dinner at Brewer's Alley in Frederick last night. Good pilsner, very good English-type IPA (a 2009 GABF Bronze), and a delicious dessert of Blackfrost barleywine. Then the cottage ran out of water...but that's another story.

Anyway, we're home now, so it's blog-biz as usual. Miss me?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Affligem Noël

I'm drinking with an old friend tonight: Affligem Noël. I remember drinking Affligem a lot back in the early 1990s; it was a solid abbey-style beer, and the Noël was a seasonal I looked forward to each year. Then Heineken bought the brand, and distribution/import got iffsy-chancey. Affligem came and went, and it dropped off my radar.

Then a month ago I got an e-mail: Affligem Noël was available from a new importer, Total Beverage Solution (Mount Pleasant, SC). Would I like a sample? Hell yes, I would. (Interesting that it's not coming in through Heineken USA, which makes me wonder if it is still a Heineken brand; I'm working on that.)

So here I am, finishing up a beer that has just gotten better and better as it warms up. 9%, and my lips agree: this is a big boy beer. The nose is full of a pleasantly sweet-tart mix of pit fruit -- plum, sour cherry -- and a dark chocolate background. The beer itself matches that, with an intensely fizzy carbonation that is not unpleasant at all. What surprises me is the degree of attenuation; if you don't like Chimay Red/Blue for their sweet thickness, this is your beer. The Noël has a very light and drinkable body for that 9% ABV, and the fruit really cleans up the end.

Welcome back, Affligem. I guess I didn't realize how much I missed you until you came back.

Sweet Potato Pies -- 100 proof!

I baked two sweet potato pies last night for Thanksgiving dinner, using a Frugal Gourmet recipe that I tweaked a bit. They came out pretty nice, so I thought I'd share.

2 cups cooked/mashed sweet potatoes/yams
4 tbsp. butter
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. mace
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon (I used J.T.S. Brown 100 proof, and that may have been too strong; try an 80 proof bottling)

Boil, peel, and mash the sweet potatoes, and then measure two cups of the mash. Place in a bowl, and mix in the other ingredients. Place in an unbaked pie shell (I use the pre-made Pillsbury ones). Place in a 400° oven and immediately turn the oven down to 325°. Bake for 45 minutes (I wound up baking these for more like 85 minutes, and I think it was because of the 100 proof bourbon; the filling stayed goopy-wet for a long time).

This was quite bourbony; you might want to cut that to 1/3 cup bourbon. Or not. I liked it, Cathy thought it a bit overpowering. But this is not pumpkin pie; the spices and flavors are different. Very good, but different. I'm liking it.

Thanksgiving, Wine, Beer, the Menu, the Family...the Redux

This piece I did last year pretty much covers everything I have to say about drinking on Thanksgiving. I don't see much point in re-writing it just to have something new.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone: there's room for every drink at your table -- beer, wine, spirits, cider, even mead -- and room for every friendly heart. Cheers!

Narragansett Porter -- Wow!

This is easily the most pleasant beer surprise I've had in a while. tasting surprise; the Penn revival noted below was pretty damned pleasant (as was the Yuengling Porter discovery that I still have to write about). But this is about the flavor.

The first time I wrote about Narragansett was back in February. They sent me some samples of the Lager for a story I was writing (for American Brewer, about how they were reviving the brand, and doing a nice job of it). I wanted Porter then, because Narragansett Porter was the last 'Gansett beer I'd had, waaaaay back in the dawn of my beer-drinking days, and I wanted the cyclical part of it. They didn't have any. Humph.

Then I got an e-mail about a bit launch of Porter, so I said yes, I'd like some. And a sixer showed up. Well, as I'd posted on Facebook, my tasting table's kinda full, so it took a week or so to get around to chilling one, which I did Monday night.

Wow! This is great stuff! Cottrell Brewing's doing it for them under contract, and they're doing a nice job. It's plenty dark, with a great tan cap of foam, a chocolatey aroma that follows through in the mouth, with just enough roasty cut at the end to clean things up for the next swallow. I had it with our pork and onions favorite (recipe here, simple and delicious), and it was awesome. So I wanted another, and I had one, just now. Still great stuff. Wonder if I can get it here?

(Speaking of great stuff...I picked up Nora early at school today, and took her to lunch at the General Lafayette. I had a cask Pacific Pale Ale that was great, dry and hoppy, with a rare Steak Frites that was probably the very best food I've ever had at the General; great fries (salt and pepper'd fresh-cuts) and a very toothsome piece of beef, done just to my order. Nice work on the kitchen recovery, Chris!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Long Trail Brewing to purchase Otter Creek

Andy Crouch is reporting that Long Trail Brewing is in the process of buying Otter Creek/Wolaver's. More micro consolidation. He's got some good speculation on the bigger picture, too, and it ties in directly to the situation at Penn. Interesting times.

Black Friday beer dates

I'll be off with my sweetie on Black Friday -- she's never really been the shop-till-you-drop type, just another reason men hate me -- but many guys (and some of you gals) suffer through it.

Well...ya don't have to. Here's some Black Friday beer events I've heard about.

Up in the Lehigh Valley, the Brew Works brewpubs are celebrating with two great-sounding beer releases:
Allentown Brew Works - This Friday we're putting on the very hoppy West End Red. A West Coast Style Red with loads of Chinook and Cascade hops and a toasty malt backbone to it. At 5.8% ABV this is a great addition to our full lineup.
Bethlehem Brew Works - Black Friday we release BLACK FRIDAY, a bourbon barrel-aged Wee Heavy which comes in at a big 7.5%! Rich maltiness, and full-bodied. A solid beer that smooths out with the oaky vanilla nose from the barrel aging.
Out in Pittsburgh, my friends at Bocktown Beer & Grill are starting early -- like the shopping does -- with an 8 AM Eggs & Kegs event and going till noon with special prices and menus (and Bocktown items on sale: you can shop!).

And there's Resurrection Ale House:
As way to say "Thanks" that you'll truly appreciate, on Wednesday November 25, Resurrection Ale House is offering the whole draft list for just $2 from Noon-2pm followed by $4 draft beers from 2pm-2am. (They're closed on Thanksgiving.) We're continuing the warm and fuzzy holiday mood on Friday, November 27, with BRUNCH from Noon-3pm and more $4 draft beers (all day and night). Consider it our version of a Black Friday Sale.
I was surprised to see the Grey Lodge does not have an event planned for Black Friday. They do, however, have a bountiful supply of Dogfish Head Punkin Ale for Wednesday and Thursday nights. (The night before Thanksgiving is traditionally -- surprisingly -- the busiest night in the bar business after New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.)

Feel free to add more in the comments.

Stoudt's Winter Ale 2009

Stoudt's Winter Ale is different every year; I remember a rye beer, a cocoa-tinged beer. This year's edition is a "hoppy red ale," a 6.2% little beauty, actually. I made friends with this one quickly. It's got a juicy character to it, a solid blend of amber malt and hop flavor, with some good fruity esters rolling around in there too. I got three (samples, yes, samples), and the other two, well, I kinda drank them already, just for fun, before getting around to working on this one.

The hop's definitely, firmly there, especially in the finish, and if I had to fault the beer at all, it's that the bitterness is maybe a bit on the harsh side... But the malt floats it pretty well. Is this an odd choice for a "holiday beer"? Well, have a glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration, and then tell me. A holiday beer doesn't have to be a spiced beer, or a malt-bomb winter warmer. It can be just a special beer. A really likable hoppy red ale, for instance. If you see this one, I'd get some.

More on Penn Brewery: all good

Penn Brewery could be open again in January; at least that's what I'm taking from this piece in today's Post-Gazette and this one in the Beaver County Times. There's a real five-year lease in place this time, not a proposed one, and negotiations for sale of the building are apparently proceeding in good faith. Good news? You betcha! Check out these two Tom Pastorius quotes:

“We were in there over the weekend, painting and cleaning out some tanks,” Pastorius said Monday evening. “And I think we’ll be brewing beer within two weeks, maybe as soon as next week.” (from the Times)

"It's going to be a rough few months while we repair the damage done to the brands and replace the bottling equipment that was sold. We ask for the patience and support of our many loyal fans." (from the Post-Gazette)
Get the draft rolling and the restaurant back in business, and a lot will be forgiven and forgotten. Questions remain -- are the staff still available and willing to jump back in? How soon will bottling begin? What's the wholesaler situation? -- but the big one is answered: will Penn survive? Yeah. Yeah, they will.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you, Tom Pastorius, for coming back and not letting this die. I doubted that this would happen, said so to people in Pittsburgh just last week. I should have known better. Hats off to one very determined German-American.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Update: my dad

I'm not going to do a lot of these, but... My dad went into the ER at Hershey Medical Center -- where he's been getting his cancer chemotherapy -- on Saturday morning, with a sharp pain in his gut. We were terrified, and he was very depressed, thinking this might finally be the beginning of the probably swift end.

Well...turned out he just had 80-year-old man digestive troubles. They treated him, and I got a call from my mother about 15 minutes ago: he's home, and cutting up potatoes for soup.

Thanks for all your support this month, by the way. It really does help.

Nothing I love more than being wrong

I love being wrong about something like this, that is.

Bob Batz is reporting on the Post-Gazette website that:

Tom Pastorius and a group of investors have finalized a deal to buy Penn Brewery on the North Side, which he founded. The group plans to resume brewing beer there and reopen the restaurant, which closed in August.
Since the beginning of this year, Penn beers have been brewed at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre.
On Friday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority approved a $300,000 loan to Mr. Pastorius' group, who'd made buying the business from Birchmere Capital contingent on the property having a new owner, not E&O Partners. (Note: this last line was updated in the online story to clarify the situation, i.e., Pastorius and co. have purchased the business named Penn Brewery; the site is still owned by E&O but it will be sold; the new owner of the building may or may not be Pastorius and his investors. Got all that?)

Bob promises more tomorrow. Until then..."finalized a deal" would imply that the brewery being at Troy Hill & Vinial is set (and that's an update in my story to clarify the situation). That would be a major accomplishment, and would put Penn Brewery -- and Pastorius's group of investors -- right where they ought to be: where Tom started the brewery over 20 years ago. Where it belongs. Cross your fingers, folks, and if you believe in breweries, clap your hands.

Guess I'll have to work on that Penn Brewing entry in the new book after all. Hot damn.

There's more here, now. Thanks to another alert reader!

Graham Mackay on the global beer industry

SABMiller head Graham Mackay had a major interview in The Times yesterday. This is the man who told us the craft beer surge would fade: "It's inevitable." And after almost every beer blogger and beer website forum denizen had at him, he passed from their consciousness. He's big beer, after all.

Mackay is one of the brightest people in the business, a business that is filled with very bright people, especially at the top. I found the interview -- including a casually tossed-off T.S. Eliot quote -- fascinating.

Especially this, about the global consolidation of the beer market. I've marked the parts I find particularly interesting.
Two decades later the globalised market now looks like a two-horse race, with Anheuser-Busch Inbev leading SAB Miller, and Heineken and Carlsberg trailing behind. Many have made fortunes - the only real doubt is whether consumers have benefited.
Mackay is adamant they have. "It's resulted in better-quality products and more choice. People talk about the dead hand of globalised brand uniformity, but I don't think that's true in beer. Stonking great global brands haven't worked. Heineken is the most global brand and that's under 25% of its owner's volumes." [Bear in mind: despite having a number of large brands, neither SABMiller nor ABIB have a single dominant brand.]
And now, he predicts, consolidation will slow as the key players circle each other. "What stops the biggest groups consolidating is the desire of their owners. Most are in family hands. We are unusual in having an open share register."
That said, Mackay politely refused significant comment on whether SABMiller was interested in buying FEMSA, which is clearly up for acquisition. A guy's got to keep his hand in, after all.

What's it mean? Is Mackay right, is global consolidation about over? Not quite, with substantial pieces like FEMSA and Grupo Modelo still on the board and likely available, but close. As he says, major players like Carlsberg and Heineken are not very likely to be bought because of their ownership. Where to go from here?

Sunday Sales Laws and why they are still around

I see a press release from the TPSA (and that's not the Technology Service Professionals Association, or The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance, or Telekomunikacja Polska SA; in this case it's the Texas Package Store Association, the lobbying arm of Texas liquor store owners) today in a clipping service I subscribe to (it's funny; go to TPSA's website, (this link has been taken off the TPSA website, and they don't appear to have a copy of their own press release on their site...) and you'll see the press release quoted as "the full article featured in Mark Brown's Industry News Update"; guys, you sent in the press release, and it's a clipping service, so that's not a featured article).

Sorry about that huge sentence; I had a lot to say. The release is calling DISCUS out for their claims for the advent of Sunday sales in Colorado liquor stores. DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., is the industry group for American distillers and spirits marketers, and they've been doing a lot of work, successfully, on prying the dead hand of 'blue laws' off American spirits sales. They're claiming that an increase of $2 million in booze tax revenues in Colorado is related to that state allowing Sunday sales at liquor stores.

The TPSA is saying that it's just not so, and gives several responses: it's not really spirits taxes, they can't say that it's due to Sunday sales, taxes are actually down, taxes overall are up, it's up less than DISCUS said it would be...they really loaded up the blunderbuss and let fly with everything they had.

I'm not here to comment on whether DISCUS is right or not.* I'd just like to look at why the TPSA is so dead-set against what would appear to be something they'd want; the ability to open on Sundays, to get out from under a law that requires them to close their stores one day a week. Would Target be in favor of such a law? Would supermarkets or convenience stores? Gas stations, restaurants, shopping malls: would any business be in favor of such a law? Hard to believe, but liquor stores are. At least, some of them, and not just in Texas.

What's up with that? Well, folks, it's because liquor stores get to be closed for a day -- no expenses, no employees to pay, none of those annoying customers to worry about -- without having to worry about their competitors being open and doing the business they could, because all liquor stores are required to be closed. Whew. Lock it up, let's go fishing (but first, let's buy sammiches at the Acme store, gas up at Wawa, and pick up some new lures at Bass Pro; they're all open on Sunday).

They'll wrap it up in "think of the children" bullshit, like they're somehow doing God's work by not making alcohol more available (and then usually turn around and also say that being open an extra day makes no difference in sales; not long on logic, these groups, they depend more on firing out everything they can think of regardless of how internally contradictory it may be). That's when they really make me nuts: if you're doing such a wonderful thing by making alcohol less available, why don't you just close your damned store and do the community a real service?

Sunday sale restrictions, control state rules, the case law, ABV beer caps, even licensing laws are all anti-consumer laws. They are either about money, or paternalistic state control. I'd like to put them all in one big pile and dynamite them to hell.

*DISCUS chief economist David Ozgo challenged their math: "The TPSA should get a new economist. Purposefully or not, TPSA looked at a single month of liquor sales in July 2008 and compared it to a different single month - August 2009 - and subtracted the difference. They conveniently failed to take into account the effect from a full year of sales." From Wine & Spirits Daily

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Philadelphia Brewing Holiday Party

There's been a holiday party at the big old brewery in Kensington every year Yards moved in, and now that it's Philadelphia Brewing, the tradition has not changed. Here's the deal:

The festivities will be from 2 o'clock - 5 o'clock on Saturday November 28th. Santa will be here along with Delco Nightingale playing classic Christmas favorites and DJ DNA. We will also be debuting our new Winter Ale! In the spirit of the season we will be asking for donations for Flat Iron Wildcats - $$, cat food, fleece blankets, etc.

Good times, folks.

Pittsburgh Postscript

The Pittsburgh trip I'm telling you about -- Red Star, Church, East End, Full Pint, an' 'at -- is, of course, not complete. It's because there are two huge holes in it: Iron City and Penn.

I stopped and stared at the big, silent Iron City brewery Wednesday morning when I was visiting Church Brew Works: the huge graphics coming off the walls, the little sign still saying "Beer Gear Shop." The silence. The cold breeze with none of the huge smell of malt.

When I came off I-279 onto E. Ohio Street Tuesday afternoon, I looked over to Penn, saw the tower, and it hurt to know there was no point in driving over there. No more gleaming brewery, no more schnitzel (no more turkey sandwiches, Sir), no more aromatic glassfuls of Dark. No more gemütlichkeit.

I talked it with a knowledgeable insider who requested anonymity. "You tell me," he said. "How do you kill a successful business, a successful brand, that fast?" Indeed, I said; with Iron City it took repeated cycles of criminal management -- literally (pretty good summation of the whole story, only a couple small errors) -- to do it. We laughed softly, ruefully.

Iron City is being brewed at Latrobe, Penn is being brewed at The Lion. I haven't had any of the 'new' Penn, but I did have a bottle of Latrobe-brewed Iron City. I drink Iron every time I visit Pittsburgh, just something I do, and to me, this tasted just like it always has. But in both cases, it doesn't really matter whether the beers are accurate renditions of what the beers used to be. What matters is what their regular drinkers think, and it's already clear that they are not pre-disposed to think they're the same.

Will something be worked out to return Penn to the brewery, or to a new brewery in Pittsburgh? There was an article in the Tribune while I was out, how Tom Pastorius was trying to round up money and investors to put a deal together...but I don't give it much of a chance. Don't get me wrong: I hope for the best, my fingers are crossed, and if it were to be done -- and done right -- it would have to be with Tom. I cannot imagine his despair in watching the crowning accomplishment of his life crumble and fail, just as I cannot imagine anyone else being able to successfully revive Penn. But there are just too many things against it right now.

If the brewing of Penn does not return to Pittsburgh soon -- and I have no idea how that might happen -- the brand will disappear. Iron City? I'm afraid there is nothing that can save the brand at this point. A terrible waste of heritage -- in both cases -- a terrible waste of years of hard work, a terrible waste of potential.

Hard thoughts on a Saturday morning. I grieve, truly.

Maybe I'm burying Penn too soon. Thanks to a reader for this link to a story in today's Trib; the Urban Redevelopment Authority has authorized a $300,000 loan to Pastorius and his partners. Good news, and while the bottling line is gone, the brewhouse is still intact (I'd thought it was gone, and that's a big plus). But...they still have to buy the business back from Birchmere Capital, and then successfully buy or lease the building again, and that's not going to be easy at all. My fingers are still crossed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whirlwind Tour Part 2 of 3 -- Wednesday

Picking up where I left off...

Wednesday morning I had another great breakfast at Pamela's (what can I say; it was close, it was delicious, it was reasonable, and it was served quickly) and made the short drive to Church Brew Works. Sean Casey was up on the roof -- literally, they're having the roof repaired, and he was up taking pix, some great ones of him sipping tripel with the skyline behind him -- while I was running the taps with brewer Brandt Dubovick. Excellent overall quality.

Then they took me downstairs: Church is seriously gearing up for production: more and bigger tanks (Sean seems to be collecting tanks), new bottling line, new six-pack holders (not sure why they're not buying kegs; "Draft drives bottles" is an industry truism). As Sean said when I left, "Thanks for visiting Pittsburgh's biggest production brewery!" Kind of shocking thought, but as of right now, he's right.

After that, I took it up the hill and down through my old Shadyside neighborhood to East End Brewing, where Scott and Brendan were hustling to get ready for some bottling. Scott showed me the new tasting area -- right inside the door! How's that for convenient? -- and we tasted some beers, and talked about what a hard worker Brendan was. Beer tasted pretty damned good, BTW.

Running about an hour behind, now, as I kept missing the turns my GPS advised (a combination of really loud music -- it was too nice a day not to -- and the GPS being terribly confused by Pittsburgh streets -- nice to know it affects machines, too), but I did finally make it to Rivertowne Pourhouse, where I was soon drinking samples with a very relaxed crew of brewers: Barrett Goddard, Andrew Maxwell, and Sean Hallisey, along with Mark Kegg, their partner (along with North Country brewer Sean McIntyre) in Full Pint Brewing. We worked our way through the lineup -- real good, even the damned fruit beers -- and started playing around, like the world's smallest black'n'tan you see to the right (note the sugar packet for scale). Full Pint is just waiting on a Dec. 1st zoning meeting, and they're so ready to go they might just head over after the meeting -- assuming it goes well, and they think it will -- and start brewing. Four of their own beers, and two each from Rivertowne and North Country, and yes, they're talking about doing a variety case with 8 beers from each of the three different breweries. How's that?

I finally walked out into the drizzle that was now falling lightly, and headed down to Hofbräuhaus. It wasn't an official visit, I just wanted to go again, in the daylight. Got a half-liter of Dunkel -- very nice -- and a bowl of cabbage and hax'n soup -- also nice, thick, if a bit salty -- and the oft-recommended sauerkraut balls, which were actually a big disappointment: mostly just doughy. Great place, great beer, amazing view of the river, but...where does one park, particularly when 'one' is the 600+ people this place can seat? There is no garage, there is no lot. I honestly can't believe this was approved. I'm all for the place, it's done well, but who planned this parking? No transit either, other than buses over on Carson Street and the rare Pittsburgh taxi. I don't get it...

Anyway, then I went to Bocktown Beer & Grill, where I had an event. Bocktown's a great little place; Chris gets some seriously rare and delicious beers in, and her new chef is just rocking it, we had excellent pairings for the barrel-aged beers we tasted. I got to talk a lot about whiskey, which is always a pleasure, and then we talked far into the evening. I finally, reluctantly, dragged my carcass down the hill to the hotel, and pretty much collapsed, exhausted, into bed.

Whew. That was a lot. I'll wrap up Thursday -- Rock Bottom Homestead, Marzoni's, and Otto's -- in a final post.