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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Session Beer Project Logo Contest

Since I've declared this to be The Year of The Session, and we're getting some traction, we need to start pushing the idea. Every good blog campaign has a graphic, a logo: Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project, our own beer blogfest The Session (guess I can't use that), Rick Lyke's outstandingly appropriate Pints for Prostates... I'm behind the curve here!

So I'm asking for a logo, for the Project and the new SBP blog. I'm good with words, but I suck at creating graphics. I'd like something fairly simple, but not cheesy. The log should include at least one glass of beer -- more or the suggestion of more would be good -- and I'd prefer a photo of a beer rather than a graphic. It should include the words "Session Beer Project", and room for the winner of the tagline poll I'm running on the Session Beer Project page (leave space for about five words, dummy in some lorem ipsum in the chosen font, and we'll fill in the tagline later), and a small "" along one of the margins. I would prefer to avoid light green and orange...just don't like 'em.

I can't afford much, but I will pay $50 for all rights to the winning logo. I don't like to work for free either, but I do work for cheap sometimes. If this doesn't produce one I think is just right, I'll hold off and try again later. My judgment is final, of course: this isn't a contest, it's a project.

If you've got that creative flair, let it fly! Show me what you think crystalizes the idea of the Session Beer Project. You'll get the pleasure of having helped with the Session Beer Project, you'll get that fifty bucks, and you'll get a design credit. Wow, living the dream...have another session beer, bucko.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Iron Hill Triple Bock, and Two Years of STAG at a Post a Day

This post means that once again I've made my average of a post a day. This is 731 published posts (there are about seven more in there that are not seeing the light of day for various reasons; don't bother asking) since I started STAG on January 31 in 2007. That's one a day, including the extra day for leap year. Once again, I did way too much blogging in January. Hope you all appreciate it (more than my editors did, at least).

Still, it was a good year for my blogging. I started two new blogs -- Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished and the brand-new Session Beer Project -- even though I dropped the ball on the PLCB blog for three months. I have high hopes for the Session Beer Project blog; I think we've really got things rolling there, and this might be a little extra push. My whole theory on session vs. extreme beers is that the extreme beers get all the press, mostly from folks like me. The Session Beer Project is my way of trying to change that balance; on my side, and encouraging others to do the same. It's already working: there have been more articles on session beers in the past year than I ever remember seeing before. So we'll see where that goes.

Anyway... I made my average (or will, if I get this done by midnight!), so I'm celebrating with a bottle of Iron Hill Triple Bock, a small, strong, special bottle. It's very dark, it's very fruity, and rich. It's got a lot happening: overripe cherry, prune, some brighter notes of peach and nectarine, and chocolate and just the barest hint of anise. And of course, it's quite sweet, but they manage to keep it fairly clean at the end. Really, it's just a damned luscious dessert beer.

Here's to my third year.

Bravo Beaumont!

I am always happy to claim Stephen Beaumont as a friend. That's him on the left, with another good friend, Mike Gates, hanging out in my backyard back in August of '07, helping me drink up my leftover beer. I've known Steve for, oh, maybe 14 years, been to Germany and Belgium with him, hit some fun spots in his hometown of Toronto with him, and helped him celebrate his wedding last summer.

But today I'm very pleased to claim his as a colleague. Stephen Beaumont has received the "Raising the Bar" award from Cheers magazine, an award for individuals "who have made a noteworthy and sustained contribution to the world of beverage alcohol." Stephen didn't get this just for writing. He's been consulting and advising major restaurant and hotel chains on their beer programs for a number of years. In fact, the craft beer program at the ESPN Zone that I wrote about last year as a great example of how craft beer is getting in everywhere, the program that also won an award for Best Chain Beer Program? Built for them by Stephen Beaumont. This is a well-deserved award indeed.

Like I said, I'm pleased to say Stephen is my colleague. And my friend. Congratulations, my friend!

Breaker Brewing about to open

Another teeny-tiny brewery is about to pop in upstate Pennsylvania. Chris Miller and Mark Lehman are that close to opening their draft-only Breaker Brewing Company in Plains, Pennsylvania, just outside of Wilkes-Barre.

That's the brewery in the two pictures, and yeah, it's really that small. That's not the pilot brewery, it's a 1.5 bbl. production brewery. And yes, it's in what used to be Chris's garage.

It's "an out of control hobby," Chris told me. Obviously, these guys are not your ordinary homebrewers (not that there are many "ordinary homebrewers"...): when they decided to go to all-grain, it involved "a few trips to the scrap yard, hardware store and some fancy or... not so fancy fabrication," which led to a "2 tier 10 gallon brewery." Parts of that system were transplanted into the current production system.

Laugh if you want, but the system's been cleared by both the PLCB and the ATTTB, and local bars have already signed up to buy beer. What I liked about their paperwork was how they got the brewery past zoning. "We went door to door in my neighborhood and asked the neighbors if they minded if there was a small brewery near them. No one objected. [We] took that to the local zoning authority and they gave us the Okay." I love small towns. Especially beer-loving, reasonable small towns.

"Breaker Brewing" is a tribute to the anthracite mining heritage in the area; coal breakers were the big machines that cracked the coal into smaller chunks for burning in the furnaces that drove the Industrial Revolution in America. Coal mining's long gone up here, and left a legacy of pollution and scarred landscapes, but it's a source of local pride that the Wyoming Valley was once the heart of American industry.

The proposed beer names reflect that. The first out will be Anthracite Ale; not a stout as you might guess, but an amber in a roughly English style. Others planned include Olde King Coal Vanilla Stout, Goldies, a blond ale (Chris says the name has meaning, but we'll have to wait till their website is fully up; "shortly," Chris says), and my favorite name, Malty Maguire, a Scotch Ale. There are not any beers ready yet, but they hope to have them by the end of February. Check their website to see where the beers will be released.

Coming, NEPA, coming soon.
(And just in case anyone's keeping track...the magic number is two.)

Cooking with big meat

Everyone's been passing around the Bacon Explosion link (sure, I'll pass it on: what's one more server melted down?), and it got me looking at my fridge. I had a chunk of ham I was waiting to use, some Canadian bacon, half a pound of double-smoked bacon ends (I picked them up at the Amish butcher at the farmer's market, figured I could add some flavor to something -- "everything tastes better with a little speck"), some bockwurst, and four German frankfurters I got at Rieker's. I also had 4 lbs. of kraut I'd bought to do a second New Year's dinner, and never got to. What's got a ton of meat and kraut? Choucroute garni!

Turns out I had everything I needed, even the juniper berries. I fried up the bacon ends with onions and carrots and two Granny Smith apples. I diced the Canadian bacon and ham, sliced the bockwurst, and left the frankfurters. Rinsed the kraut, and made up a cheesecloth bag of juniper berries, peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves. It's all bubbling away in my Dutch oven with a bottle of Riesling/Gewürztraminer blend and some broth; after it's simmered for a couple hours, I'm going to chill it, then re-heat it for dinner tonight with parsleyed potatoes.

Beer? Oh...something dark and lagery, maybe some of that Shiner Commemorator. Hey, Alsatian's practically German, right? Ah... Eat a big dish, have a couple beers, and fast tomorrow...

Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown

My neighbor dropped off some Leinenkugels for me the other day. He knows I'm a writer, has the PA Breweries book, and we exchange stuff over the back fence: beers both ways, vegetables, some really good home-made horseradish from roots he grew in the garden, some sausage I picked up, and one day, when a big chunk of the back fence blew over in a serious windstorm, we inadvertantly exchanged dogs.

Anyway, a friend gave him a Leinie sampler 12-pack, and he wanted to share the wealth. I thanked him, and left the four beers in the garage to chill. Last night I pulled out the Fireside Nut Brown and popped it. Whoa! Now I know what the "Natural flavor added" bit on the label means: they put hazelnut essence in here. That's going to make it hard for me to like this one, I just don't like hazelnuts, except for out of hand eating and in pastries. Not in coffee, not in beer. Not this one, not Rogue, not whatever. I liked the pecans in the Shiner Holiday Cheer, but hazelnut...yeesh.

If you like hazelnut? Well, I'm still kind of iffy on this one. It's kind of thin and sweet, and the hazelnut's pretty up-front, on the verge of being over-powering. You'll probably want to try it for yourself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I used yeast yesterday

We were all home with the wimpy-assed snow that the President made fun of yesterday, so I made a pot of hot seafood chowder. Then I got carried away and made a loaf of whole wheat "Italian" bread in the breadmaker I got Cathy about ten years ago. ("Italian" because I put olive oil, basil, oregano, and garlic powder in it.)

As you can see, it came out a bit mutant-looking, but the smell was saliva-inducing, and the hot, savory-spiced bread was just the thing on a cold windy day. Fresh bread good! I may have to do this again...and maybe try it without the bread machine. Eventually. Because as my family will tell you, I'm a pretty good cook, but baking is a disaster for me. I like the bread machine.

New Home for the Session Beer Project

After two years of posting about the Session Beer Project here on STAG, I've decided it's time for it to move out. I've started a new blog that's just for the SBP, and wittily named it The Session Beer Project.

I think we're at a turning point on session beer in America. I know there's a lot more interest around Philadelphia, there's The Diamond in New York City, there's Grand River Brewing in Cambridge, Ontario, and more coming all the time. If you know more places doing session beers regularly, tell me about them; if you know good session beers with good distribution, send that, too.

But you'll see them pop up over at the new blog. I'm not really sure what we're going to do with it. The main aim is simply to raise awareness, and let people know that there are choices...even in an industry that's all about choice.

I'll see you there.

Pennsylvania's newest brewpub onboard with SBP

Just got a copy of the e-letter from Old Forge Brewing, the new brewpub in Danville, PA (thanks to Sam Komlenic for forwarding it to me). Sounds like things are going well: sales are strong enough that they're having to brew often to keep the taps full, they've started live music, and the chef is now doing weekly specials. But the lead item, the one that caught my eye, was this:
For the past few weeks we had a "name that beer" competition. The ale is an easy drinking british mild, light bodied but dark and malty, a low alcohol session ale. The name that was chosen is Sensessionale! We did have some suggestions that we would like to share with you, hoping that it brings a smile to your face as they did for us: "Thomas had a big brown beaver ale", "I'm not larry ale", "what the ale", and "braveheart ale – long live William Wallace" and some others that aren't fit to print! A big 'Thank you' goes out to everyone who tried to "name that beer".

That's what I like to hear! Old Forge is on the breaking front of the newest wave in American brewing: session beer. Okay, maybe I'm overstating it to make my point, but maybe not. I'm seeing a lot more interest in session beers, and I'm going to predict right here that the Session Beer category at the 2009 GABF will see a large increase over the number of entries in 2008 (33), and there may be more in the two Mild Ale categories as well.

Cheers to Sensessionale and the folks at Old Forge! Can't wait to get up there and try some.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama to Congress: Drinks, my place, tonight; we'll talk

President Obama continues to bring an adult attitude about drinking to the public eye. According to the New York Post, he invited 24 Senators and Representatives -- from both parties -- to the White House for cocktails tonight. They're going to have a few drinks and talk about the stimulus package.

That's great, I love a chief executive who isn't afraid to openly say "come over for a few drinks," but the very best part is that all the pictures accompanying the story at the Post and in the blog post about it at The Huffington Post show Obama drinking... BEER! Ha ha! Suck it, wine people.

Oh, my. Fun to relax at the end of the day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Maxim on Beer: shocking

Big story of the day: Maxim published something dumb about beer, and the guys on BeerAdvocate are pissed.

Guys...this is like El Niño. Every year the major men's magazines write something about craft beer. It is almost always stupid, and some are dumber than others. This is a dumb one. This ain't news, and it's not worth getting waxed up about. Craft continues to do well. We're winning. We can relax.

The PLCB blog lives!

It's true: I finally posted another Reason Why the PLCB Should Be Abolished. Reason #13 points out that we don't really need the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for the state to make a dizzying amount of money off booze. If we privatized, it's quite likely that we'd actually make more.

All that, and a new poll, too. What more can you ask for?

Don't ask!

WhiskyFest Holds the Line

John Hansell just confirmed on his blog (check the comments in the linked post) something we'd talked about at the last Malt Advocate staff meeting: there will be no increase in prices for WhiskyFest 2009 tickets in any of the three cities. We recognize the problems of the economy and you, the people in that economy, and that there are many competing attractions for your whisky dollar. We're doing what we can to bring you the very best whisky festivals in the world at a price you can still afford. Cheers, hope to see you there.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pints, prices, and punters

I wanted to get back to the "cost of beer" talk we've been skirting. By 'cost of beer,' I mean retail cost of a glass of draft beer, not cost of ingredients, or cost of bottled beer in stores. Those are sufficiently different topics that tackling all of them would take more time and room than I care to take here...maybe some other time.

I've been thinking about what it is we get in the U.S. when we order a "glass" of draft beer, because while a lot of this discussion (and that's a polite word for it) has centered on the price of the standard "shaker pint" pour, some of it focuses on just what is being poured: is it a pint? 14 ounces? Less? Seems like something that's on peoples' minds, so let's have a whack at it.

First, let me short-circuit any mistaken ideas: I do get a fair number of beer samples, but it's bottles, sent to my home. I pay for over 95% of my beers in bars and brewpubs, so I do have a good idea of what things are running out there, like the $6.50 I paid for a shaker pint of Molson Export at the Hard Rock Cafe in Montreal last summer (I only mention that because it was so lame, and so expensive, and so annoying).

That out of the way, here's my main thought. As I've mentioned all too often, I have a diesel Volkswagen. I love it. But when I go to fill up, the price of diesel is all over the map. Gasoline prices rarely vary by much; the competition is too intense. If the price is high, there's a reason: better service, the station doesn't sell that much and makes most of their money off their garage, local suckers, whatever. Auto diesel, on the other hand, is not something you find at every station, or even half of them; competition is lower. I've seen prices vary by 30 cents a gallon or more at stations within half a mile of each other.

Beer prices follow a similar profile. When it's the price of Bud Light, or Heineken, beers that are commonly available, you'll find a pretty close level price. It's not price-fixing; people are just aware of what the 'other guy' is charging. But when it's the price of a rare Belgian import, or a craft that's new to the market area, bars charge what they believe the market will bear. Their ideas of what that is may vary as much as $3 a glass.

Up until recently, they could do so with little push-back from drinkers; folks just ponied up the bucks. Now, however, the economy's in the dumper, money's tight, and more and more customers are starting to balk, and ask why, particularly why is one bar charging $4 and another charging $7 for the same beer.

What exacerbates this is that there is no tradition in the U.S. of stating what amount you're getting in a "glass of beer." We've only started saying "pint" fairly recently, and I'd guess it's because we're aping the Brits in an attempt to appear more worldly than we are, kind of like that annoying affectation of referring to the Atlantic Ocean as "the Pond." We ask for a "pint" of this and a "pint" of that, only we're really asking for a glass of inderminate measure.

What we seem to mean is the "regular" 14 oz. "shaker pint," right? How do you want a bar to advertise those glasses of beer? "14 oz. glass"? "Shaker 'pint'"? "Glass o' beer"? "Medium beer"? All are wrong or suspect. You don't get 14 oz. of beer in those glasses unless you've got no head, the reason for fill-lines on Euro glasses. There are several different volumes these glasses come in, and none of them are exact. Besides, a shaker glass is not a pint, so even if you put quotes around it, calling it a 'pint' is incorrect and misleading. A "glass" or a "medium" beer can be any amount the bar wants to pour.

What is it we want? "Fair" measures and prices, standard glassware? Is the standard going to be some kind of calibrated shaker pint? Because I know some beer geeks who will hate that, hell, I don't mind the shaker pint and I don't like the idea: let a million glasses bloom! We just don't know how much draft beer we're getting unless we go to a standard, and I don't see that happening.

What I can see happening is bars being held up to the same scrutiny that Don Russell forced on the concessions at the Vet back in 1998: tell the customer what you're going to pour -- 7 ounces, 12, 16, 18, 22, whatever -- and then pour that much. And if an inspector comes in and orders a beer, and it comes up significantly short (I'd say an ounce is significant), that gets reported somewhere that people will actually see it, and the bar is fined.

Tell me what you're selling me, then deliver that. I don't think that's such a big deal. Then when I have to decide whether I like your place enough to pay $7 for 12 oz. of least I'll know it's 12 ounces I'm talking about. It's a place to start. Because until you know what it is you're comparing, you're just making meaningless noise.

A Graceful Concession

I see that I've lost the New York Senate race -- er, game; no, I mean, Blagojevichery -- wait, that is, I'm not going to be selected as the new Senator from New York to replace Hillary Clinton. Governor Paterson selected Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Representative from New York's 20th District, an oddly gerrymandered piece of political real estate that manages to include parts of the Adirondacks and the Catskills -- and a good stretch of the Hudson Valley -- while avoiding Albany.

I regret disappointing those who supported me -- thanks, Mom, Cathy, Bill...yeah, that's about it -- and I regret that I will not be able to serve my adopted state in the Senate; come to think of it, I'll probably just stick those adoption papers in a drawer. But I applaud Governor Paterson's selection as a fine piece of environmentalism (not to say conservation, which might be taken wrong). Gillibrand is a fiscally conservative Democrat, and not a supporter of gun control: a Blue Dog Democrat, as it were. He's obviously doing his bit to keep such phenomena from extinction.

Interesting times. I'll have to look for another opportunity to become The Senator From Beer. I'm sure something will come along.

Philly Beer Week '09: some great pointers

FooBooz has done what they do best again: collected some of the best info on Philly edible/drinkables and put it all in one place. In this case, it's new dope on Philly Beer Week 2009 from Joe Sixpack and the BrewLounge. The best news is this: SEPTA Philly Beer Week one-day passes that get you on the whole SEPTA system for 9 bucks a day, including regional rail. Bonus, folks, serious bonus. This puts a whole new spin on my PBW travel; a safer one. Thanks to all involved at SEPTA and Philly Beer Week!

At Home-Two-Dogs

I've got a new work adventure starting today...Cathy started her new job (in Pennsylvania, first time she's ever worked in PA, and it's a much shorter commute), and I've got the dogs full-time. Hoo, boy.

We started the day with a FRAP, of which I managed to get the picture at the left (it doesn't really do things justice, until you take a closer look and realize that Pen's moving so fast that he's leaning left into the turn). They tore around the dining room table, probably about 12 times before they took off into the living room and up the stairs, which led to me having to retrieve Maud; she's all confident on going up stairs, but she doesn't do down yet. Then they went outside, and I checked e-mail and blog comments. Then as I was finally about to get down to writing, they wanted back in.

Which is when we had this cute little Rodney King moment you see in the second picture, two dogs chewing pretty peacefully on the same bone. "Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out." It's just a bone, you know?

And now, ten minutes later, they've both collapsed into naps. Whew. Time to get to work!

New Jersey To Do List

Yesterday's post on Gaslight (and would someone please settle whether it's Gas Light or Gaslight? Their own stuff uses both!) made me think: what New Jersey breweries are still on my "need to visit" list? I took a quick look, and here they are:
  • Basil T's in Toms River
  • Climax Brewing in Roselle Park
  • High Point in Butler
  • Krogh's in Sparta
  • Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights

Only five left, and the last four are not that far apart. Looks like a trip just waiting to be taken, and I'll just have to get to Basil T's when I can. Ah, Tommy Dewar was right: there is no joy like work.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gaslight Brewery

I went to a beer can collectors meet in New Jersey today to sign books (and signed quite a few -- good bunch of folks, and thanks to John Ahrens for the invite!), and got out about 1:30. Lunchtime, and I asked where was good in the area. They directed me to a nearby branch of The Office, and I was going to go there -- happily: they're a local chain that does a nice job on their beer -- but I got to thinking: I still haven't visited all the breweries in New Jersey.

So I opened a copy of New Jersey Breweries and took a look at the map. Trap Rock was closest, and I'm intrigued by the place -- lots of beer geeks say 'too fancy,' and I was dressed for the place, having gone to the meet directly from cantoring at 10:30 mass -- but they don't open till 4 on Sundays. Next closest on the "to do" list: Gaslight, in South Orange. Open? Check. Worthy menu? They smoke their own meats; check! I hit the road, and about 20 minutes later, I was parked and walking down a cold, windy street to Gaslight.

I walked into the bar, saw the open dining area to the right, the cozier dining room in the back...and well, you know, I sat down at the bar. Got a Black Gold Oatmeal Stout (4.7%, all the parts in the right place, good pint), and ordered the fresh mozzarella platter (fresh mozz, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and grilled garlic foccacia: excellent) and the pastrami reuben, an open-faced beauty made with the house-smoked pastrami. It smelled fantastic, tasted great (lean, smoky, peppery...luscious), and was so honking big I took half home for tomorrow [and it was almost as good re-heated!]. I had a glass of Big Dog Porter with the reuben, and that was good -- and clearly different from the stout, a very good sign.

The place was warm and comfortable, service was quick and personable. I've seen a number of very negative reviews of the Gaslight online, all centering on atmosphere and service, and I'm not sure why. I didn't see any of it, although it does sound that it centers mainly on the owner, which means one of two things: the owner is an issue, or someone's disgruntled. Until further personal experience -- which I intend to get, if only to try more of them smoked meats (and I got one of the house-made landjäger to go) -- I'll withhold an opinion on that (and I'm not going to have the comments section turn into another slagging spot, so don't bother).

I can only talk about what happened to me, which was great. Delicious food, competent and enjoyable beer, a good selection of guest craft beers, a very impressive selection of whiskies, and smart, efficient service. Good day at the Gaslight. Wish I had some pictures, but I left the camera at home today.

Beer Dinners: stepping it up

I hosted a beer dinner last night, and I wanted to tell you about the menu and beer choices.
  • First course: Brooklyn Winter Ale with shortbread.
  • Second course: three spiced ales -- Anchor Our Special Ale 2008 (a very drinkable vintage), Sly Fox Christmas 2008, and Nogne Ø Peculiar Yule -- with an assortment of small portions of ginger shrimp, duck paté on miniature toasts, air-dried beef in puff pastry, and a blue cheese crostini with house-made onion fig jam.
  • Third course: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale with pasta with spicy pork sausage, fresh organic spinach, and three Italian cheeses.
  • Palate refreshment: a Burns Day toast with Aberfeldy 12 Year Old.
  • Fourth course: Corsendonk Christmas and Delirium Noel with lamb stew with dropped dumplings.
  • Dessert: Samichlaus 2006 with house-made cinnamon ice cream with an amaretto raisin reduction, followed by coffee and assorted chocolates (including bacon chocolate...).

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Here's the surprise: this was a private, in-home tasting I did for 18 people. The woman who hosted the party contacted me with a suggested beer list; the beers you see above. I ordered them -- I liked the idea of beginning with shortbread, and of putting out all three spiced beers together so people could compare and contrast -- and made general food pairing suggestions: the shortbread; matching the spiced beers with something cheesy, something spicy, something salty, and a paté; cheese or spicy with the SNCA; a stew with the Belgians; and something with raisins for the Samichlaus. And I brought the Aberfeldy; I always like to add a little bit of lagniappe to the small in-home tastings I host. She made all the actual decisions on what particular foods to pair, and then she made all the food herself (except the shortbread and the paté). And it was very good, particularly the cinnamon ice cream and the reduction.

I post this for two reasons. First, for business: I do private tastings, in homes or for business events, and I wanted to make you aware of that. But second, for general discussion: I was very impressed by the level of sophistication and enthusiasm shown by the hostess and her guests. It was quite a menu, and a very nice beer list; one I'd have not been disappointed in at any restaurant. The bar keeps going up, and that's great!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tria and Jose's: a great Friday night

I had an event at Tria last night, and Cathy got to go along. It was a very good evening, lots of fun. We started at Tria Washington West, at 12th and Spruce, where we tasted small samples of five of the featured beers from the class that was to follow: Pennichuck Pozharnik imperial stout, Victory Old Horizontal, De Dolle Stille Nacht, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru, and Aventinus Eisbock. (The class also got Brooklyn Black Ops, Fuller's Vintage Ale 2008, and Samichlaus -- as you can see, it was NOT a SBP-approved evening!) This was a kind of consolation happy hour for the class selling out so quickly. The class went very well -- we were loose, we had fun, and the Tria staff was having fun right with us.

When the class was over at 8:00, we hung around talking for a bit, and then took a great tip from Art "FooBooz" Etchells (who took his own advice and attended the class; great to finally meet you, Art!) and went to Jose Pistolas for dinner. I was real happy to look at the beer list and see Philly Brewing's Joe coffee porter: I've been hoping to get a chance to try that, and it was excellent, one of the better coffee beers I've had. I hope to see that in their regular line-up (and I'd love to see an occasional appearance by the base porter, too).

But what a good chow-down: I decided to have the Sunrise Burrito since I was having a cup of coffee, and it was the best breakfast-type burrito I've ever had, without question, fat, cheesy, solid and grippable. And Cathy's Chili Relleno special was outstanding, the biggest stuffed chili I remember seeing, and chunky with chorizo. Mighty nice!

We headed home, happy to get a night out before Cathy goes back to work on Monday. Thanks to the folks at Tria for extending the opportunity to present a class at the Fermentation School space: always a pleasure!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two Whiskies: Wiser's Very Old; The Antiquary 21 Year Old

I've got two somewhat unusual bottles of whisky on my kitchen table right now (that's actually my dining room table in the picture, but...): Wiser's Very Old Canadian 18 Year Old and The Antiquary 21 Years Old Superior Deluxe Scotch Whisky. The Wiser's I got at Duty Free in Niagara Falls on the way back from Steve Beaumont's wedding celebration back in August; the Antiquary was a Christmas gift (a very nice one) from John and Amy Hansell at Malt Advocate. The Antiquary was our Blended Scotch of the Year award winner for last year, and I'd been quite taken with it when we were doing tastings for the John found a bottle for me. Like I said: very nice.

Anyway, these aren't whiskies you see every day. The availability of Wiser's in the States is quite erratic, but I get an e-mail every month or so asking me if I know where to buy it in the U.S. (hint: I got my bottle at Ontario Duty Free...), more than any other whisky or beer. That's why I wanted to get a bottle, because I only ever tasted the Wiser's Very Old once, a small sample amidst 8 other Canadians, and I wanted to get a clear judgment and memory of it. The Antiquary just isn't that common, and the idea of a 21 Year Old blended Scotch whisky that costs around $100 a bottle is an anomaly to most people, even scotch drinkers. So I thought I'd tee them up and take a swing.

The Canadian first, to be fair (Canadian's generally a smoother, lighter whisky, and I know The Antiquary has some peat to it). As you can see, it's fairly dark...but with Canadians, that's not necessarily significant. Canadian whisky is blended, and can be blended with a variety of liquids, including fortified wines, like port, so...color is not necessarily indicative of age. The nose is Canadian: sweet, oatmeal grainy, a hint of cookie, and just a slight whiff of sesame oil. It's oaky in the mouth, and not nearly as sweet as promised by the nose; there's spice, a dry cocoa sweetness, some light vanilla rounding a nip of char, and... Could that actually be rye? I think so, and that's a great thing to taste in a Canadian. There is some heat high in the back of my mouth, but it's not completely unwelcome. There is also a slightly medicinal taste, but again...not completely a bad thing. Very sippable as a neat dram, which is great for a Canadian. I suspect this would be a good mixer in a highball or "long drink." Not sure if it's really worth the C$44 price for me -- I'd likely buy another bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel instead -- but it's head and shoulders above most Canadian whisky.

Now, The Antiquary. As John said in his review, expect to find a fair amount of Tomatin in this blend: they own it. Also dark, and in a 21 year old Scotch whisky, that actually means something (that it's aged...or they used some spirit caramel!). It smells summery, even at this age, like sun-warmed fields, with a whiff of peat floating in from down the valley. There's clean malt coming in as well. A soothing, promising smell. And the follow-through in the mouth is just terrific. Imagine a nice Speyside, with a gentle but firm malt base, marrying something like a Talisker to get just a certain amount of peat. It just rolls around, full on the palate but drying on the finish, not too big in any direction, reminiscent of Highland Park in its ability to ring all the bells. A wonderful dram at any time. Merry Christmas, Mister Bryson. Thanks, John and Amy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Latest Obama Effect: makes wine people pee themselves

Expectations for the new President were so high during the election that he made fun of them himself: "Contrary to the rumours you have heard, I was not born in a manger," Obama said at a NY fund-raiser. "I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth." Dunno about you, but I laughed my head off at that.

I'd like to laugh at things like this, but I can only shake my head. It's a Bill Daley story in the Chicago Tribune, "Wine suggestions for President Obama." It's full of wine folks uttering spine-tingly stuff like this:

"Mr. Obama will be a champion of wine and bring new insight to the White House," predicted Mark L. Esterman, wine buyer for Meijer, the supermarket/department store chain. He thinks Obama will present a "wine-centric image" that will go over well with foreign guests coming from areas where wine is a major part of their culture and industry.
and this:
"They're going to be a much more wine-friendly first couple than, obviously, the Bushes," said Todd Hess of H2Vino, a Chicago distributor. Just the fact the Obamas drink wine with meals gives wine a positive boost, he said.
and, God help me, this:
"For the red, I hope Mr. Obama serves a zinfandel from either Lodi or Paso Robles. Nothing in the world screams 100 percent American-made like a heady-alcohol zinfandel, complete with spice, fruit and bold flavors which are indicative of the American spirit. In regard to wine, the message should be: 'We have arrived.' "
People, people, people. Have we all forgotten this?

(Philadelphia Inquirer, taken by Sarah J. Glover)

That's the New President, campaigning at Bethlehem Brew Works, a brewpub, and drinking a Fegley's ESB. And do you want to know what's really sad about this delusion? If you do a Google Images search on "Obama Wine", this is the first picture of the man that comes up! There are no pictures of Obama drinking wine that I've seen, and the man tried to get beer to the Inauguration and was denied by security. Like to see that happen to wine. (Is it our fault that draft beer comes in things that look like really big pipe bombs?)

Look, I know Daley had a column to write, I do too sometimes. But this kind of willing suspension of disbelief stuff really makes me wonder about the people in the wine biz. Do I think Obama is going to be "a champion of" beer, or present a beer"-centric image that will go over well with foreign guests coming from areas where" beer "is a major part of their culture and industry"? Hell, no. I don't think he's going to be drinking a lot of bourbon or rye, either. I don't think the man's going to have any impact at all on the booze biz.

To expect him to suddenly embrace wine, though, when he's given no real evidence of it at all before... that's kinda psychotic. ( I notice that Tom Wark didn't partake of the Obama WineGod Kool-Aid.) Thank God for the Binny's guy at the end of the piece who mused that Obama might start state dinners with Old Style. Nice.

Pennsylvania news: Keewaydin Cider Mill and a production brewery for Otto's

Remember that Pennsylvania news I promised you? Here it is.

Although that's a picture of Otto's in State College, the story's really about Otto's founding partner Charlie Schnable's new projects: the Keewaydin Cider Mill, a production facility for Otto's beers and some small contract runs (including canning for beer and the Keewaydin cider), and -- much further down the line -- maybe a distillery. I'll let Charlie tell you about it.

"The Keewaydin Cider Mill should have cider by late March. I've been focusing on this project for a while and trying to educate myself on cider and its production. It's on a small farm north of Karthaus in the village of Keewaydin (this is just the general area; I don't have an exact location -- Lew). Pretty remote. The state record elk was shot yards from the orchard (a seven by seven, if that means anything to you).

"We have an orchard that has been around for about 70 years and can produce about 7,500 bushels. Right now I have 800 gallons fermenting and 1,500 more to ferment. Equipment consists of one ancient cider press and two new 500 gallon fermenters and two 1,000 gallon storage tanks. Most of the apples aren't the best for cider production as this was a farm cider producer, and dessert and cooking apple trees dominate. So don't expect French quality cider yet. I already have new trees (hopefully Kingston Black - the king of the cider apples) on order for next spring but probably 3 to 5 years until they produce. I think the blend of apples we have will make a fine cider, though.

"It is a refreshingly simple facility compared to brewing, low impact, low energy, and little waste. I've really gotten fond of this idea of producing a product where I can stand in the field and see my fermentables and know where everything came from, plus no cell phone reception. We are getting more and more local based here at Otto's as well and Keewaydin is probably an extension of my feelings towards local emphasis.

"The apple brandy is a bit down the road.

"The production brewery is also down the road, but hopefully construction starts this spring. It's going to be a relatively small facility which will essentially take over Otto's wholesale and contracted beers. Packaging will be in 22oz bombers and 12oz cans. I've talked a bit with Brian O'Reilly and widget cans are out of our reach right now; the producer in Europe has a minimum run of an entire day's production (a whole lot). Maybe once we get up and running the two of us will go together for an order. (I hope so, because I can't wait to get O'Reilly's Stout for home consumption -- Lew again)

"Otto's is coming off of a great year and things still look strong. We are bottling 4 products right now and are contracting labels for Zeno's, Zola, Kclingers and a few more waiting for labels. Doing local products as much as possible, especially in the summer-fall. Did an interesting collaboration with apples and a tripel and it really worked well, makes me wonder about Belgian yeast and cider possibilities.

"My partner says he will start to worry when he sees me pouring apples into the mash tun. Right now it's lots of Tums and honing my time management."

Pretty awesome. I've been waiting for more Pennsylvania ciders. The state ranks fourth in apple production, nationally, and there are some old trees tucked away in farms that produce some old, heritage strain apples; I know, I've eaten some of them.

But the only other cider mill making "hard" cider in Pennsylvania that I know of is Stoney Acres Winery, near Nescopeck (Whoops, they're closed; see comments). So it's good to see someone who already has experience with sanitation, local goods, and sales and marketing of booze getting into this. Needless to say, I can't wait to visit and taste. I have high hopes for this project, and I am, of course, a Pennsylvania chauvinist. Just ask my wife.

Apple (Pennsylvania apples!) photo is by Sue Roberts, at pBase. Thanks to Sam Komlenic for the tip and the connection!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Scientific Method: how not to do it right

My thanks to Stan H. for pointing me to this post on Tom Wark's Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog. Tom does a brilliant job pointing out the way anti-alcohol types do science: conclusions first, research second...and a poor second at that. But there are always researchers lined up, willing to take the bucks of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

I don't see anything I could add. Go read the post, and think -- think!! -- the next time you read about New Dry statistics and studies in the newspaper. They're coming out of "science" like this.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cold Enough for you, Philly?

Meet me at Tria (1137 Spruce, the "Tria Wash West" location) this Friday for a beer event to warm up your winter. I'm hosting an open tasting of "bear beers," the big thumping brews that we love to sip in the winter during hibernation. The Tria Fermentation School event I'm doing later in the evening sold out so quickly, the folks at Tria decided that more folks should get a chance at some of these beers in specially priced tasting portions. The event runs from 4-7, I'll be there from 5 to you know when to catch or avoid me, as the mood suits! I've been letting my beard grow in the spirit of the thing, it's pretty shaggy, too.

The beers at the open tasting: Aventinus Eisbock, Victory Old Horizontal, Pennichuck Pozharnik Imperial Stout, De Dolle Stille Nacht, and Gouden Carolus Grand Cru. At the event, we'll also have Samichlaus, Fuller's Vintage, and Brooklyn Black Ops. I'd love to have some Great Divide Hibernation Ale; does anyone know where there's a case or a couple sixpacks left in the area? If you do, e-mail me please!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shiner 100: Commemorator

The Spoetzl Brewery is 100 years old this year, and that means their series of anniversary beers that started at Shiner 96 -- a Märzen -- has come to a culmination in Shiner 100 Commemorator, a lean, drily malty doublebock...kind of. At 6.8%, this is a big bock, a kind of low-side doublebock.

It's brown, but not dark brown; sweet, but not cloying (I mean, at all); big, but not huge. I know a guy at Shiner, and I can tell by the way this beer tastes that he had a hand in the formulation: it's not too big, it's wicked drinkable for the size, and it's not cloying. It's got the little bit of raunch I have come to like in dark, malty beers, that edge that comes from using dark-roasted malts instead of malt-based coloring agents: the taste of authenticity.

I'm actually on my second one already, and it's tasting like there might be another one in my glass before this Pittsburgh/Baltimore game is over. Hope the Steelers put the Ravens away and put one Pennsylvania team in the Super Bowl...

Samuel Adams Imperial Stout

I got an advance sample of the two new beers in the new Samuel Adams Imperial Series, an Imperial Stout and Imperial White. And in the midst of the Eagles' awesome comeback in today's NFC championship game (nervous, nervous), I'm trying the Imperial Stout.

It pours black, black as a strong cup of French roast. The beer's too cold at first, and I'm not getting much, so I let it warm up. Now I'm getting some coffee and graham off the top, some sweet, and a little bit of earthiness. The flavor's sweet with a stiff backing of bitterness, both hop and burnt grain. All the components are there, and this is good.

Is it awesome? Close. It's pretty good, but it's not making me see God. Those four incomplete passes that sealed the Eagles' fate, that is making me wish I could see God and ask him WHY?!, but the beer's not beefy enough. What body is there, is mostly just sweet; I'm looking for some more complexity, but I'm just getting volume. I want to like this beer, but that's about all I can say for it: I like it. Too sweet. Falling short. Like the Eagles today.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Crispin Brut Cider

I got a press release from Crispin Ciders a few weeks ago. I'm not a fan of most of what gets sold as "hard cider" in the U.S.; it's...well, I already said all of that here, no need to repeat (thanks, Tim Berners-Lee). So when they said things like "dry vs. sweet, and crisp not 'sticky' on the palate," they had my attention. I e-mailed back and asked how they made their cider. They sent me a sampler of five bottles (two Brut, two Original, and one Light) and some details.

Crispin's made from apple juice (not from concentrate), fermented with red wine yeast (not sure why that's a good thing, but...), and without added sugar, color, preservatives, or any alcohol not from apple juice. Well, we're off to a good start, then, although it did weird me out a bit that they insisted that it be enjoyed over ice; it's even the name of their website:

I sat the bottles out on the deck, as you see, figuring I might as well get some benefit out of our cold wave (it was 2.5 F last night, which is cold enough for this area). I filled the Crispin glass they'd sent (one of those 'mini-hefe' glasses, nice enough) with ice cubes, and poured in a bottle of the Brut, which was the one I was interested in. It was obviously cold enough out on the deck: the cider slushed up as it hit the ice. It was quite bright (once it warmed up a bit), a fairly pale golden color, and smelled like fresh, tart apples. The taste was not sloppy sweet at all, but tart, full of apple flavor, and -- indeed -- crisp, with a good release, even a bit of tannin.

It was not particularly complex, though, like an Aspall or Dupont, and that's where I found it somewhat lacking. It's a much better drink than the typical cloyingly sweet ciders you get in bars the U.S. (and yes, I'm talking about the usual Woodchuck, and Ace, and Strongbow), but it still seems focused on the refreshment angle, rather than the flavor angle. At least, that's how it seems to me; maybe I'm looking for too much. So, an option, perhaps, but not a go-to beverage. I'll be giving the Original a shot soon, and see how that goes.

Philly Breweries in the New York Times

Check this out. I know the buzz is that the New York Times is going down -- and I'll believe it when I see it -- but it's still the paper of record, and when they notice Philly breweries, that's a good thing. Some real nice words about some of our local brewers. Not sure if that prediction of 40,000 bbls. next year from Yards was a misquote... [it was; see the comment from Steve "Red-headed Stepchild of Yards" Mashington] but hey, it's an optimistic piece. Congratulations!

Consider it a public service

I really don't have much else to add to this. Except to mention the name: Cave Creek Chili Beer. In case you were Googling it to see what people think of it. I think you have your answer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interested and Available, Governor Paterson!

An open letter to New York Governor David Paterson --

Dear Governor Paterson,

I understand you have a job opening for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. In light of some of the relatively unqualified people who have publicly expressed interest in the job, I'd like you to know that I am interested and I am available. I'm doing this booze-writing thing, but with the number of days off Senators get, and the number of aides you get to do the heavy lifting, I don't think it should interfere. It would certainly make it easier to write a new edition of New York Breweries, and require every library in the state to buy a copy.

I'm not just looking at petty perks, either, although unlimited access to that Senate Navy Bean Soup is a draw. I'd like to serve New York and the nation as The Senator From Beer. There are some excellent breweries in New York, and although you've given them the back of your hand lately with talk of putting the beer tax back up (after your sainted predecessor Gov. Pataki lowered it; you should inquire why), I'm sure once you appreciate the employment benefits from increased brewery business you'll be whistling another tune.

I realize it's not a new idea, what with Scoop Jackson having been the "Senator From Boeing," and I think Dick Gephardt was essentially the Representative from Anheuser-Busch, but I'd be more even-handed, and represent the interests of the entire industry. Even that Belgian outfit, you know, the big place up in Baldwinsville. Oh, and those Belgian guys in Cooperstown, too.

Before you dismiss my idea as not having enough to do with representing the people of New York, I'd remind you that Senator Clinton seemed pretty focused on the presidency from the start of her first campaign; the national media certainly seemed to think so, and she didn't disappoint them. She didn't even live in New York until she decided to run for the Senate. My wife's family goes way back in New York, and if Hillary claimed Pennsylvania solidarity based on a vacation cabin in Lake Wallenpaupack, I figure Uncle Johnny's place on Amity Lake, outside of Wellsville should count.

I have no interest in the presidency, either. I'd go so far as to say that if drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve. Sorry, but that's how it goes. I have my scruples. I refuse to run for office, because all that fund-raising you have to do compromises your ethics. I'll only accept an appointment.

But part of my appeal is that I'm not part of the paste-up new aristocracy that seems to think it has some kind of right to office. I'm not a Clinton, I'm not a Kennedy, and I'm not Ham Fish XVIII. I'm a Bryson, dammit, and we've never held any office, or expected anything handed to us because of something our father or mother or uncle did. Really, I think I have every bit as much right to serious consideration as the other "candidates."

And, lookie here, I have a blog. Which I understand you were asking about when you talked to Andy-boy Cuomo this weekend. I've been blogging for two years, and a lot of it's about taxes and policy. There's some serious thought for you.

Think about it, Governor. I could be your man in Washington. I mean, what the hell? Why not?


Lew Bryson
Future Senator from New York

Do you remember Blacksburg Brewing Co.?

Way back, about five years ago, when I was writing Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Breweries, my dad and I made a long trip down along the spine of the Appalachians: Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia. After a very satisfactory breakfast at The Roanoker (country ham and red-eye gravy, with some excellent biscuits; no, I don't know why I remember this stuff either), we headed over the mountains in foggy drizzle to wind our way down to Blacksburg. We visited a couple very good bars, the great beer selection at Vintage Cellar, and Blacksburg Brewing, where John Bryce was brewing some very good beers on a system I swear sounded like a huge hair dryer, the only forced-air heated brewkettle I've ever seen. I did the interview, wrote the entry for the book, and just before sending off the manuscript, heard that John had to close down the brewery. Bummer!

I followed John's career after that, attempts to raise cash for a brewpub in B-burg, working his skinny ass off at Cap City making kölsch, and going to brewer school in Germany. Then today I got this (and the picture you see above):
The release of Blacksburger Pils is ~3 weeks away. Beer will be available draft-only in Blacksburg area bars and restaurants. The retailers page will be updated to reflect availability once beer is released. The BBC website is still under construction - this news feed and the merchandise page are not yet complete. Look for beer and more updates in late January.
Best news I've heard so far this year. be honest, second-best. I'm still working on the other story, and will share that soon. And you Pennsylvania people are gonna love it.

Wawa responding?

Could we have had an effect on Coffeetopia?

Just got an e-mail from a reader (and friend) that his local super Wawa was now dispensing coffee from thermal pump carafes, or as they're known in the trade, airpots. That would be effin' GREAT!

If you happen to stop in a Wawa this week, check the coffee pots. Are they still making tar, or have they decided for well-kept java? Take a picture, send it to me.

Bravo, Wawa!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama denied beer by Secret Service

Our president-elect, well-documented here as a beer drinker, has been denied his beer of choice, apparently for security reasons! Check this out from Chicago Business News:
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria's celebration plans are bittersweet. Mr. Obama
asked the Bucktown restaurant to send its InaugurAle brew to the inauguration.
But owner Bill Jacobs was told the beer had to be sent in bottles, not kegs.
There went the deal — and Mr. Jacobs' trip to D.C. "We couldn't do it, so we're
celebrating at home," he says. The restaurant's "Hail to the Chief" party starts
at 9 p.m., hours after Mr. Obama becomes president. The actual swearing-in is at
lunch — prime time for pizza deliveries.
Too bad, because Piece makes some good beer, but guys...haven't you ever heard of growlers? (That linked definition isn't completely correct, but it's the closest I could find on the Web.) Bill Clinton had Lake Placid Brewing's Ubu Ale at the White House that way: they FedEx'd six growlers to him. Fill 'em up, get a truck!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tom Moore/Barton bought by Sazerac: distillery & brands

Big news on John Hansell's blog: Sazerac (better known to most by their Buffalo Trace moniker) has bought the Tom Moore Distillery and the Barton brands of bourbon. Actually, they bought a bunch of brands:
99 schapps (family); Barton (family); Calypso (family); Canadian Host Whisky; Canadian LTD Whisky; Canadian Supreme Whisky; Capitan Tequila; Caravella (family); Chi Chi's (family); Colonel Lee; Crystal Palace (family); Czarina (family); Diamore (family); Effen Vodka (family); El Toro Tequila (family); Fleischmann's (family); Fourth Colony (family); Glenmore (family); Hartley's Brandy, Highland Mist Scotch; House of Stuart Scotch; Imperial Blend Whiskey; Inverhouse Scotch; Jacques Bonet Brandy; Kentucky Gentleman (family); Kentucky Tavern Bourbon; Lauders Scotch; Meukow Cognac; Montaillac Cognac; Monte Alban; Montezuma Tequila (family); Mr. Boston (family); Naked Jay Vodka; Northern Light Canadian Whisky; Old Thompson Blend Whiskey; Olo Rum; Pikeman Gin; Ridgemont Reserve 1792; Royal Award (family); Royal Club Blend Whiskey; Royal Embassy (family); Sabroso (family); Skol (family); Ten High (family); Tom Moore Bourbon; Very Old Barton Bourbon; and Wide Eye Schnapps (family).
There are some names there -- Tom Moore, Kentucky Tavern, VOB, and of course, Ridgemont Reserve -- that I can definitely see a smart bunch of folks like Sazerac doing something great with. Hell, just getting VOB's name out there more would be a good thing. And, as John says about the rest of these brands:
A lot of it is low-end whisky (and whiskey) brands and non-whiskey spirits. But the most significant thing, from a whiskey perspective, is that the Tom Moore Distillery, and the whiskeys made there (Barton, Ridgemont Reserve) are part of the deal.
Whoosh. Seismic, I tell ya.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Say hello to Maud

We took a drive with Nora today, the last act of The Maud Hunt. Ever since about three months after we got Penderyn, Cathy's been agitating for a second Corgi, a female, that she could name Maud. I'm not sure why, to tell the truth, but she is my wife, and I love her, so we hunted, on and off, for a female Corgi. We finally honed it down to wanting a tri-color, a Corgi with black, brown, and white hair (which means her shedding will now show up on everything we own, but hey, whatever). And after the holidays were over, and Cathy's job situation was secure, we started looking.

After looking at two great-looking litters right on the Lancaster-Chester county line (both raised in homes by families, no puppy mills), we made a very tough decision (which, um, included serious consideration of some great little non-tri-color pups...) and chose the little beauty you see here. We stopped by my folks to show them the new addition, then brought her home to meet Penderyn. He was a bit anxious at first, and curious, but they've settled down already after less than an hour.

Sigh. We must be nuts, but puppy time is here. Better get me a beer.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Otter Creek World Tour: don't get me wrong...

Just got the latest press release from Otter Creek, and ran down through it, checking the headers (their press person, the very helpful Kate Corrigan, always pulls out the important stuff, a good practice)...Ski deal (yeah, it's Vermont, like that does anything for me, no news), Wolaver's newest organic, Pat Leavy's All-American (huh, kind of interesting, they got an Oregon farmer to grow organic hops. Cool), new Otter Creek Imperial Series (oh, yeah, like Mister Session Beer's gonna talk about that!), Mud Bock brewing again (cool, an old OC fave returns), and the Spring seasonal Kölsch...

Hey. Wait a minute... No new World Tour beer? Say it ain't so! I know I didn't like the last one that much, but the Otter Creek World Tour was a brilliant idea and there were a lot of well-executed beers there! I hit Reply and asked Kate what the hell was up with this!

Heh. Should have actually read the damned press release. The Mud Bock marks the homecoming tour of the Otter: America's part of the world, after all. This year will be all American styles, and that could be fun, too. You can go to their website and "Vote for the Next Beer." I voted for Cream Ale, just to piss off all you hopheads.

I Don't Need To Drink To Have Fun...

Another thought about "Why We Drink."

Lore Sjöberg's "Lore Brand" comics are frickin' hilarious.
Go read some more.

Used with permission from Lore Sjöberg.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Now that's an Inauguration Day Special Event

I'm hearing a lot about Inauguration Day beer events: Ommegang has a special Obamagang beer out (which the TTTB, those killjoys, did not allow as a name: "officially" it's Inauguration Ale, but now you know the secret name), bars in DC will be open till 5 AM, everyone's celebrating.

The Grey Lodge is celebrating too, as only they do: based on Scoats's weird obsession with the calendar. On Inauguration Day, January 20th (also known as 1/20), they'll be tapping a deadly weapon: a sixtel of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.

This is the kind of beer that makes you start quoting Dirty Harry: "I know what you're thinking, punk. Did you drink six shots of 120 Minute, or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being as this is 120 Minute, the most powerful IIPA in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?"

Kind of makes me want to go out and vote for the man all over again. After a couple 120s, who knows, I might try to.

And if my editors are reading this...I really am getting work done this morning. Honest.

Triumph's Jewish Rye gets attention

There's a nice little bit on Meal Ticket, Philly CityPaper's food blog, about Triumph Old City's latest batch of Jewish Rye ale. I've been enjoying this beer for years, and a tip of the hat to brewer Patrick Jones for giving credit for the beer's development to Tom Stevenson, the innovative brewer at Triumph's original Princeton location (and to Felicia D'Ambrosio for including that; hell, for a very nicely-written short piece on the beer).

If you've never had the beer, go down and try it. D'Ambrosio and Jones do a nice job of both explaining (it's caraway that makes the beer taste like the rye bread you're thinking of) and describing the beer (touching on the pleasant tart/sour tang you get from rye -- think about it, it's there in the bread, too, must be more of a citric break than wheat). Nice work. Competition among people writing about beer is fierce in this town...

Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh delayed -- once more?

The Pittsburgh Hofbräuhaus opening has been delayed again -- when were they supposed to open? Early 2007? -- I hope for the last time. There's a story in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that reports the opening date has been pushed back to February 24th.
Nick Ellison, managing member of Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh, said the opening had to be postponed because of delays in getting utilities hooked up. "We've got to have utilities to brew beer, and we can't open until we get beer," he said. beer brewed yet? Six weeks to opening? Hmmmm... Anyway, seating has been finalized at 450 indoors and 600 outdoors, very ambitious for Pittsburgh in a recession, but if they bring in a decent price, it might work.

Let's see, the menu's up...from what I see, the appetizers look a bit pricey, as do some of the sandwiches (an $11 reuben?), but the entrees are quite reasonable. I'd like to see some lower-priced snacky bits, schmankerl, or maybe, as is done in Germany, there will be side kiosks or circulating waiters with trays of snacks, low-priced and paid for in cash? Oh, wait, maybe the Side Dishes menu will work. Maybe.

Don't know how much the beer is, either, although there is a beer list on the last page of the menu: Hofbräu Premium Lager (5.2%), Munich Weizen (5.4%), Light (3.8%; "Similar to American Light Lagers, but much fresher and more flavorful"), and Hofbräu Dunkel (5.5%). They also promise a new seasonal every month (a lot, for German brewers) and a keg tapping celebration of the new seasonal on the first Wednesday of every month. Good times!

The February 24th date is a soft opening, with the grand opening scheduled for April 1...which is WhiskyFest Chicago, dammit! Ah, me.

Thanks to a number of readers in the Pittsburgh area who passed that story on immediately: they know you're interested. And indeed you are: Queries about the Pittsburgh Hofbräuhaus opening have been the biggest hits on the blog for the past two weeks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Craft Ale House: I been there

If you're going to put that on your roadside sign, you better have a damned clue about beer. Gary and Melissa Fry have that at the Craft Ale House (708 W. Ridge Ave, Limerick (but every mapping software calls it Royersford, tip to you)), and more. I'm at the bar right now (thanks for that free WiFi, Gary!), and I'll tell you...they've got a clue. I'm looking at a taplist of O'Reilly's Stout, Climax Hoffman Helles, Sly Fox Odyssey, Ommegang Witte, Founder's Breakfast Stout, Pikeland Pils, 90 Minute, Arrogant Bastard, Legacy Fat Boy, Fantome de Noel, Old Horizontal and St. Victorious, Kenzinger, ESA, and Russian River Pliny the Elder and Damnation...they've got a clue. My only argument, of course, is that there are four craft lagers on the damned list! A minor issue, and if pressing it would mean no lagers, well, shut my mouth.

I'm drinking Pliny -- okay, I drank Pliny and now I'm in a pint of O'Reilly's, and both of them were beautiful. I had a quick lunch of grilled shrimp and pineapple with rice in coconut milk that was delicious with the Pliny; funky hop goodies with that grilled pineapple was excellent. Prices seem reasonable, service was good (though, to be fair, on this nasty damned weather day, the place was pretty quiet except for Mr. Dan "Heckler of the Year" Bengel next to me). As Dougie MacArthur said, I shall return.

Another great Philly area opening. We are truly frickin' blessed. Come on , Philly Beer Week!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why We Drink: Not just me

I just saw that Maureen "Ambitious Brew" Ogle linked to my "Why We Drink" post with a thoughtful post of her own. She's good at that: the thoughtful part, that is, though she's very good about linking and giving credit, too.

What's even better is that she got it:

I don't think Lew was advocating drinking to excess, or even making drink the center of one's life. Rather, I think he was expressing frustration at the notion that having a drink is the same thing as being a drunk.
Bingo. And as she says later,

The idiots among us ("Oh, I don't drink. I [don't] need alcohol to have fun.") don't (or won't) understand that good alcohol tastes good, and things that taste good produce pleasure.
That feels good. I mean, having written something that someone else gets so well. It was nice to get linked to on such a deeply thoughtful blog. Which leads up to...I can't believe I didn't link to it before now. I'll fix that.

The World's Largest Brewers: ups and downs

Just saw some interesting numbers: change in stock prices over the last year on the world's largest brewers from a regular e-letter from Rolling down from the year's best performer to the year's biggest loser:

MolsonCoors -- +4.4%
SABMiller -- -15.7%
Heineken -- -48.2%
Carlsberg -- -60.9%
Anheuser-Busch InBev -- -70.7%

MolsonCoors has been tearing up the pea patch lately, running on big margins from Blue Moon and increased volume on Coors Light, enough to offset losses from the Canadian brands side of the business. Coors has put in place a number of things that are appealing directly to their customers: the 'blue mountain' temperature sensing label, the 'air vent' pouring aid on their cans, and they've done away with the goofy "Twins" advertising and have focused on the beer and the fun.

That all seems silly to most craft drinkers, but you know what? We don't drink Coors Light anyway, so they're not aiming at us. They are aiming at us -- or people who are thinking like us -- with the very understated and smart support they're giving Blue Moon. You gotta be some kind of smart to beat the crap out of the average performance of American/European stocks last year: -42%. Hats off to MolsonCoors.

Best of the Best of the Beer Year: Our Suz

Belatedly -- because it left me slack-jawed with admiration and rolling around laughing -- I'd point you to Suzanne Woods' Best of 2008 post on her excellent "I'll Have Another Stout" blog. She's a fabulous voice for beer in the area, and no one I've talked to or heard from minds that she works for Sly Fox and is in a serious relationship with Iron Hill brewer Chris Lapierre, because Suzanne just loves Philly beer, and gives everyone their due. This list is an example: it's exhaustive, it's funny, it's engaging, it's human -- very much so -- and it's dead-on. Go now. Read.

Bad news at Selin's Grove

Selin's Grove's website has announced an end to growler fills for the foreseeable future. "Due to a serious production equipment failure, we must preserve our beer supply for restaurant use only."

What's up? One usually reliable source of mine tells me that Selin's Grove has experienced "the structural collapse of their direct-fired kettle" on January 1st. It "shattered like glass" while water was being heated in it. Terrible thing to happen on the first day of the new year.

If anyone knows of a brewer with a replacement kettle -- I think 7 barrel -- please ask them to contact Selin's Grove ASAP. Fabricating a new one will take weeks...time Selin's Grove does not have. They have about two weeks of beer left, and I'm pretty sure that they don't have a liquor license; all they'll be able to serve, oddly, is PA wine and cider.

Support for Heather and Steve from the beer making and drinking community of PA would be great at this time!

Update already: I hear (same grapevine) that a new kettle has been found, a bigger one. Don't know if it will fit in the garage; remodeling in the works? And in the meantime, alternate brewing solutions may be in the works. Cross your fingers, folks; clap your hands.

More on bourbon barrel size...

In reference to the earlier post, Larry Kass (of Heaven Hill) forwarded this from a contact at Independent Stave Company, the big barrel-making outfit in Lebanon, KY:
I found in a circular, distributed by the Treasury Dept., dated 1968, the information concerning the 53 gallon barrel. It was proposed to the Treasury Dept. that the 53 gallons should be the maximum capacity of a whiskey barrel. This petition was rejected, but their conclusion was that they would not set the maximum size for whiskey barrels. The selection of the size of the container suitable for maturing a product may continue to be left to the distiller.

So 53 gallons appears to be a quasi-standard. My only question: who proposed that to Treasury? Distillers? I do think Treasury was smart to turn down the job of setting a max size of barrels. Thanks, and thanks to the folks at ISC.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Problem Drinkers: can you spot them in kindergarten?

Have you ever heard or read a statement something like this?
“Children who begin drinking before age 21 are more than twice as likely to develop alcohol-related problems. Those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times likelier to become alcoholics than those who do not drink before age 21.”*

Or how about this:
Research tells us if we can keep the kids off cigarettes and alcohol, by the time they graduate (presumably...from high school) there’s almost zero percent chance they will abuse any other type of drug.”**
Makes it sound like there's a definite link there, doesn't it, between early-onset drinking and alcoholism? That's called causality, as in one thing -- drinking before you're 15, or before you graduate from high school -- causes another -- alcoholism. After all, those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics. Sounds pretty damning.

Ever considered how ice cream causes drowning? "Research shows" that when ice cream consumption goes up, drowning deaths also increase. It's true, but it's also unrelated, and it's a well-known example of what happens when researchers confuse correlation with causality. See, ice cream consumption goes up in the summer...which is also when more people go swimming. The more people go swimming, unfortunately, the more drowning incidents there are. Nothing to do with ice cream consumption.

I know some of you are thinking, hold on, Lew: there's a lot more connection between teen drinking and adult drinking than there is between ice cream and swimming. How do I know there isn't a real relationship? Good question, fair question (the kind of question I wish more New Dry researchers would ask).

Here's the answer.
“AFD (age at first drink) is not specifically associated with alcoholism but rather is correlated with a broad range of indicators of disinhibited behavior and psychopathology. Moreover, individuals who first drink at a relatively early age manifest elevated rates of disinhibitory behavior and psychopathology before they first try alcohol. Taken together, these findings suggest that the association of AFD with alcoholism reflects, at least in part, a common underlying vulnerability to disinhibitory behavior. Whether an early AFD directly influences risk of adult alcoholism remains unclear.” (McGue, M., et al. Origins and Consequences of Age at First Drink. I. Associations with Substance-Use Disorders, Disinhibitory Behavior and Psychopathology, and P3 Amplitude. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. 25(8): 1156-1165, August 2001.)

And further, the same authors also report:
“Problems seen in adulthood among early drinkers existed prior to their taking that first drink, which suggests that developmental processes were already disrupted prior to that first drink. Thus, an early AFD is more likely a 'symptom' of an underlying vulnerability of disinhibitory processes rather than a 'cause' of increased rates of alcoholism."

A 'symptom' ... rather than a 'cause.' It's correlation, not causation. Both behaviors -- early drinking and alcoholism -- are outcomes of disrupted personal development. When I think about the kids in my high school who drank or used drugs, with only a couple exceptions, they were kids who'd been in trouble since grade 3 or 4 (I went to a rural public school where we didn't have a lot of families moving in and out; I was with most of these kids from kindergarten to 12th grade). They started drinking because they already had problems, the kinds of problems that can lead to alcoholism.

Here's what the people who write press releases for groups like CASA and PIRE and the Marin Group probably saw in a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Unfortunately, they probably only read the part in boldface:
People who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some time in their lives compared with those who have their first drink at age 20 or older. It is not clear whether starting to drink at an early age actually causes alcoholism or whether it simply indicates an existing vulnerability to alcohol use disorders. For example, both early drinking and alcoholism have been linked to personality characteristics such as strong tendencies to act impulsively and to seek out new experiences and sensations. Some evidence indicates that genetic factors may contribute to the relationship between early drinking and subsequent alcoholism.
But it's the first part that gets quoted in newspaper stories, and in the years since that report came out, the quotes have gotten further and further from the NIAAA's cautions in the rest of the paragraph. And no one ever calls them on this.

I don't want anyone to think that I don't consider underage drinking to be a serious problem. Given the way people under the legal age drink in this country, it's a very serious problem. But here's the thing. I got these quotes from Alcohol Problems & Solutions, an excellent website I've been reading for years, done by David Hanson, a professor emeritus at SUNY Potsdam who's been researching alcohol issues all his life. And Hanson finished up the piece in question with this very neat summation of why we should resist all the ridiculous measures like keg registration and laws that seize houses for underage drinking: "If alcohol policies are based on false assumptions, they are likely to be ineffective and a waste of effort and resources."

I am thinking of the children. I'm thinking of the adults too. I just wish the people who are responsible for creating and implementing alcohol policies...would think more clearly.

*That's former Secretary of Health (and well-known anti-everything loonbag) Joseph Califano, in "Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Epidemic," from the ever-popular Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in a 2002 press release.

**And that's a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) official in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, on May 18, 2004.