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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Calvados tasting at Chick's Cafe

I don't plug many individual events at bars and restaurants; that's on purpose, because I want my plugs to have some kind of impact when I do make them. This one came in my e-mail today, and it's happening tomorrow, and I'm thinking hard about how to get to it.

I love apples, and apple booze, and have had discussions about apple booze (and the sad state of American ignorance with regards to it) with the bartender at Chick's, Katie Loeb, and this looks... I mean, how often do you get to meet a calvados distiller?

Meet Jerome Dupont, a 4th generation Calvados distiller from Normandy, France.
March 27th (tomorrow) 5-7 PM

Chick's Cafe and Wine Bar (614 S. 7th St.) will be hosting a Calvados (Apple Brandy) happy hour this Friday March 27th from 5-7PM. Come meet Jerome Dupont, 4th generation Calvados producer from Domaine Familial Louis Dupont. Sidecars $9 Flights of aged Calvados $12.

Wow. I gotta figure how to get to this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Red Stag by Jim Beam

Well, this is different. Label's different, liquid looks different, the smell's different, and the taste is damned different. Funny thing is...the bottle's the same.

It's Red Stag by Jim Beam, labeled as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused with Natural Flavors," with a big sub-label "BLACK CHERRY." Which right away makes me wonder if there are other flavors ready if this works. I also wonder at how they put the Jim Beam name and seal and bottle on this new and kind of risky venture. (Budweiser Select, anyone?)

Does it work? Well, the cherry flavor is, as it says, an infusion of natural flavors, and it smells and tastes like it. It tastes like bourbon that's had cherries steeping in it, something we used to do back home in Pennsylvania Dutch country, a thing called cherry baunz (you also added sugar and tried to crush a few stones). The fruit flavor is not nasty or fake -- as I mentioned to a friend on-line, it's impressively authentic -- and it's not completely overwhelming. It does come across as too sweet...but for what? For bourbon? It's not, it's flavored bourbon. That's one of the good things Beam did: everything is spelled out nice and honest on the label.

And the best part of it being flavored bourbon, is that they kept it 80 proof, which keeps it from being wicked gross nasty sweet, like the first batch I tasted of Wild Turkey's American Honey. But like American Honey has become (and I do nip off Cathy's bottle occasionally), this stuff is just sweet...and it fits. Because it's got real bourbon flavor, coming from real bourbon. It's the bourbon that keeps me picking up the glass.

I almost want to mix this with some heavy cream. I think that's where Red Stag's best future lies: recipes and cocktails. I do have a shameful liking for sweet Manhattans; this might be wicked tasty. Sipping? Huh-uh. Over ice, splash of seltzer? Getting warmer. Don't think of it as bourbon whiskey. Think of it as cherry baunz.

And I just got the word: on shelves in June.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

80 Years at Victory

We celebrated my father's 80th birthday at Victory on Sunday. We had reserved the corner table, under the brewkettle (which has a kind of 'Cone of Silence' effect, only it worked: we could hear each other pretty clearly, while most of the outside noise was blocked). Cathy and the kids and I got there a bit early, and I immediately ordered an Uncle Teddy's Bitter, which was nicely conditioned and fresh as an impertinent sophomore. Cathy got a Three Ring Ale, which I've been told is a Ballantine Ale homage. It was light and crisp, with some hoppy zip to it, but both of us preferred the Uncle Teddy's.

After everyone else arrived -- including my dad -- we ordered lunch and got more beers. My mother got a Wies'n, which was 'right on the edge' for her, she likes a maltier beer; my uncle Don got a Donnybrook that seemed to please him, and I got a Dark Lager, which was pouring nicely, a great dunkel. I went old school and got the smokehouse burger, which shaved off my appetite quite nicely.

I had another Uncle Teddy's to fill in the empty spaces, then got a cup of coffee to go with the cake. Victory's catering chef had promised me that her pastry chef could make anything we wanted, and we got a spice cake with caramel icing for my Pennsylvania Dutch dad. It was huge, and very nicely done, a delicious and authentic cake. My dad loved it.

It was a nice afternoon with the extended family, and the beer and food were perfect. Thanks to staying low on the alcohol level, I was in control of all my faculties and aimed the Passat eastward, but with a warm day and the big was a job staying awake on the way home. Now I'm 50 and my dad's 80; Cathy and I will mark our 20th anniversary in December, rounding out this year of family landmarks, all cause for joy and celebration. I wish you all a similarly happy year; the travails of the economy have brought us to cherish family, health, and friendship even more.

Philly Beer Week 2010 wants you!

I ran into Jennie Hatton at Standard Tap last night; I was just there to have some Standard Ale, she was there for a Casey Hughes-hosted Flying Fish beer dinner that sounds like it was a triumph, and I don't mean Patrick Jones-style (though that would be a good idea, too...). Which reminded me that she'd sent a request out to me and the other area beer bloggers, asking us to post the following; a general request to participate in a Philly Beer Week experience survey. It's a good community thing to do, and it helps Jennie make next year better. That's self-interest, boyo, so do it.

We are conducting a short survey to find out more information about your Philly Beer Week 2009 experience, and your time in the Philadelphia area. When you complete this survey you will be put into a drawing to win a Pair of Tickets to Opening Tap 2010 (5 pairs of tickets will be given away). In order to be eligible to win the tickets, please complete the survey by March 30th.
The Survey is here.
Thanks again for a great Philly Beer Week!
We will not share your personal information with anyone.

Get to work!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kegs Go Home

Philly Beer Week's last event for me happened two days ago on Saturday; the Return of the Kegs. I took the kegs from our Upstate Beer Night at the Grey Lodge back to the brewers. It was a long day.

I filled up the Passat, and dropped Thomas off at Holy Ghost for the qualifying rounds for the National Catholic Forensics League championship (he qualified, and will be competing in Albany in May!). That was about 7:50 AM, and I aimed it north from there, up the Turnpike Extension. First stop was One Guy Brewing, and although I mostly just had time to drop off the keg (Atomic Punk IPA, and it went over well) and hit the head, I did get a short progress report. Guy's still having to run hard to meet demand, and an expansion of the taproom (almost doubling in size) is about to start. He's getting Friday nights when people can't get in the door! Bravo, Berwick.

Off again, headed for Williamsport. It was a beautiful day, cold and mostly sunny, and not too much traffic on the road...except for one wing-ding on Rt. 15 North, who just would not let me pass him. I don't get that. If someone wants to pass you, why not just pull over and let them by? Why play games and whip back and forth across two lanes to keep them from passing? Are you bored?

Anyway...slid into one of the courthouse parking spots, grabbed the Bullfrog keg (Beesting Saison, might have been the hit of the night) and handed it to a waitress (the pub wasn't open yet, it was a bit before 11). Ran back to the car and drove three blocks to Bavarian Barbarian. Mike was in, and I gave him his dunkelweizen keg back (not enough dunkelweizens out there, and I hope he keeps making this one). Took a few minutes to sample his spiced winter ale, First Snow (good -- for spiced ale, I'm not a huge fan, but this had all the right pieces in the right places and didn't overwhelm in any direction), then hit the road again.

Now I headed down Rt. 220, then cut back east and south, over two ridges (that's the landscape picture above) to Millheim and Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, to return the last keg (strong Belgian golden, and that was nice in a small glass). I had pushed hard all morning so I could relax now: I'd never had the food at Elk Creek, and I wanted to try it. Worth the wait. I had a glass of Oatmeal Stout -- smooth, bitter, nice -- with a bowl of lamb-lentil stew, and then a Blue Heron Pale Ale -- bright and hoppy, very drinkable -- with a smoked turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich on flatbread, which was delicious; the side of house-made potato chips were outstanding. Gotta go back for more.

Down the valley to pick up Rt. 322 down to the Susquehanna, when I realized I had about 30 minutes to kill before talking to the Harrisburg homebrew club (ReHAB) at Scotzin Brothers homebrew shop in Lemoyne. It was a Saturday afternooon; I stopped by Tröegs. Wow. First time I've been in since the remodeling of the tasting area. What a huge difference. If you haven't been, you should go, it's a great place to try the latest and greatest from the Trogners. Just don't do like I did and park in the wet spot in the parking lot; turned out to be run-off from spent grain, and my car and I both smelled horrible!

Across the river to Lemoyne, where I spent a very pleasant two hours talking beer (and whiskey) with the homebrewers, and sampled some pretty darned good homebrews. They did not make a mead-drinker out of me -- sorry, guys, others have tried, and it just ain't happening (with one exception in Oklahoma and I've never tasted the equal since) -- but there were a couple beers that were excellent.

I left there about 5:30, stopped in at my parents' on the way home for dinner, then finally -- 450 miles later -- returned home. That's when I found out that my daughter, Nora, had learned that her school robotics team, the Mount St. Joseph Academy Firebirds (Nora's a freshman member), had won the Chairman's Award at the Philadelphia Regional FIRST competition, an awesome and jaw-dropping honor indeed. We were pretty proud parents. Good day!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hofbräuhaus Goodness!

News from Pittsburgh: Bob Batz at the Post-Gazette sends this. Thanks, Bob!

Hop Hound Amber Wheat

Turbid amber color, nice head of creamy foam, bread-fresh aroma with a lightly citrus character to it. Tangy, refreshing, medium body, a real cut to it, spicy/lemony flavor and, long after the beer last moves down the throat, a bitter pull in the back of the throat.

If this were any other kind of beer than an American wheat, I'd cry foul on naming it Hop Hound. Because folks: it ain't that hoppy. But for what is widely, sadly, called "hefeweizen" in the U.S. (particularly in the West, something they just gotta answer for), this is, indeed, on the hoppy end of the scale. Kinda brings back memories of Wild Goose Spring Wheat, although that had a whole different mouthfeel to it, thanks to the English ale brewing.

So... yeah, it's the new Michelob spring seasonal. At 5.3% ABV. And it's really got yeast in there (although the neck label only refers to it as "what's left," and while it's technically not all's pretty much yeast), quite a bit of it. The dog thing seems goofy. But it's not a bad beer at all for the category.
Get your flaying knives out: I liked another ABIB product. Damn me, I hate me when I do that. FWIW, I did see a sixpack of Wild Blue last week (in Philly, during Philly Beer Week!) and I still hate that syrupy shit, so there you go.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PLCB's 'CEO' Conti and Chairman Stapleton on PCN Call-In tonight

I'm double-posting this from my PLCB Abolishment blog, just because it's short notice. Apologies to non-Pennsylvanian readers.

Got questions about the PLCB? Want to know why your favorite wine (or bourbon, Sam) has disappeared? Curious about SLO? Jealous of the towns that have beer sales at their Wegmans or Sheetz? Want to know why the PLCB is training their clerks to be polite? Can't figure out why we have the case law, or why beer is sold in private stores but not wine and liquor? Want to ask Joe 'CEO' Conti just what it is he does? Would you like to hear them defend their very existence?

Itch for knowledge no longer. Both 'CEO' Conti and PLCB Chairman PJ Stapleton will be on PCN-TV tonight on the Call-In show for an hour, at 7 PM. I'd urge you to watch this. If you do call in a question, please be civil. I'd hate to have Chuck Ardo think you were criticizing them for curing cancer.

This should be fun.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Deer, Beer, and Fear

Check out this video of deer invading The Beer Arena in Greensburg, PA. Watch and listen carefully, and see if you can catch all the errors the talking hairdos make. I'll give you the easy one: they refer to this beer distributor as "a liquor store." Oh, if only...

FOX Philly is running Beer Week exclusives: check this out!

Some great video here about Philly Beer Week; thanks to Victory rep Tracy Mulligan for pointing it out!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh: almost there...

Just heard from HB Pittsburgh mahoff Nick Ellison: they've got their occupancy permit paperwork cleared -- finally! -- and started staff training on-site this afternoon. "The soft opening will occur at 3:00 p.m. Monday, March 16, and the grand opening is still scheduled for Wednesday April 29," he told me. Wish I could join you, have fun!

Lipstick on the Pig

Things have blown up on the PLCB's "charm campaign," and I've been blogging a lot on it. If you're from Pennsylvania -- or if you just like watching bureaucratic train wrecks -- take a look. This could become the leverage needed for serious discussion of booze sale privatization in the Commonwealth.

Announcing Session #26: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

We're working on getting The Session back in shape -- we got kinda flabby with non-beer style-related postings (!) last year, which apparently pissed some folks off -- and it's looking buff and stylish: we just had a round of light low-calorie lagerboy workouts, courtesy of The Beer Nut. But before we get carried away with this health craze, I'd like to invite everyone to join me out back of the barn, where we're going light up some smoked beers.

There may be more smoked beers than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio; it's not just rauchbier lagers from Franconia. Within the last year, I've had a strange smoked wheat beer, light and tart, that local brewers insisted was a re-creation of a Polish grodziski beer; a lichtenhainer, another light smoked wheat beer; several smoked porters; the odd Schlenkerla unsmoked helles that tastes pretty damned smokey; and, yeah, several types of smoked lagers. You've got three weeks, is what I'm saying: go find a smoked beer.

Because I'm not going to tell you that you have to like them, how you have to drink them, or whether you can have an expensive one or where it has to be from. But I do insist that if you blog on this Session, that you drink a smoked beer that day.

Which I'm sure means that some of you will fail to do that and proudly blog about it and have what you think is a real good reason. I swear, it's like trying to push string...

Have fun, smoke 'em if you got 'em, and you better get 'em!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Get your Irish on

I've got two new pieces up at Massachusetts Beverage Business's website for March: one's on Irish beer, the other's on Irish whiskey. Two pretty good pieces, if I say so meself. There's also a fun sidebar on Welsh booze in the whiskey piece.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Session Beer Project hits The Tiedhouse

The Tiedhouse, the Philly outpost of the General Lafayette Inn brewpub (20th and Hamilton), has invited me to host a session beer event Monday night, March 9th (tomorrow...). I first mentioned that here, and now I have more details from Chris Leonard.

It all starts at 6 PM. There's a $5 cover, and the session beers will then be available by the flight or full pint. I'll be there with Chris's brewer, Russ Czajka for an exploration of these full-flavored, low alcohol beers. We will discuss history, styles, brewing techniques and nuances that make these beers so appealing.

Beers we have on-line so far include:

  • General Lafayette’s The Economizer (a new, very hoppy 3.5%er from the General)
  • Earth Bread + Brewery Stout (part of 'Philly Weak Beer' at EB+B)
  • Philadelphia Brewing Company Kenzinger (crisp, refreshing)
  • Yards Brawler (the surprise hit from the new Yards)
  • Uerige Alt (that's right, from Düsseldorf, and only 4.5%)
  • Sly Fox Seamus Irish Red (rolling with fruity esters)
  • Conniston Bluebird Bitter (a classic)

With more to be added! Possibly the largest selection of session beers Philly has ever seen, all at The Tiedhouse tomorrow. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

At Least They Spelled My Name Right

I was driving down to Philly this morning, headed for the Grey Lodge to host my wheat beer breakfast event, when I heard a Philly Beer Week report on KYW misquote the Philly Beer Week slogan as "America's Best Drinking City" and refer to Joe Sixpack as "Don Nichols." I did not drive off the road, but I did groan.

So I was able to take this bullshit in stride, an AP story that hit the Houston Chronicle this morning:

Drunk by noon? Perfectly acceptable in Philly

In many places, drinking before noon is something to hide. Not in Philadelphia. The second annual Philly Beer Week has eight scheduled beer-drinking events before noon on Saturday.
For example, an event called "Lew Bryson's Wheat Beer Breakfast of Champions" begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at a tavern in Philadelphia's Tacony neighborhood. Later in the morning, there's an event called "Kegs and Eggs" at an Irish pub in the Old City historic district.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter used a ceremonial mallet dubbed the "Hammer of Glory" to kick off the event Friday night. He used it to open a keg [of] Philadelphia-brewed Yards ESA. Earlier Friday, the mallet was carried Olympic-torch-style through various Philadelphia neighborhoods. Hundreds of other events are planned through March 15.
Just another idiot who can't tell the difference between "drinking" and "drunk," which I'd guess says more about them than about us. least they spelled my name right. As of this evening, it appeared that the Chronic was the only paper that had picked up the story...guess newspaper editors aren't that stupid after all. Smarter than the editors at the AP, anyway.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Session #25 -- Love Lager

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month John Duffy of The Beer Nut asks: "I want to know what's so great about [plain, yellow, fizzy lagers] and what's awful. Are we talking just lawnmowers, barbecues and sun holidays here, or is there a time for some thoughtful considered sipping of a cold fizzy lager?" See it all here, shortly.

There are going to be a lot of folks reminiscing about when they drank fizzy lager this month, I'm guessing. I put plenty of them down my steaming craw back in the day, God knows (and some of them came back up). There's going to be people "giving them a fair chance" and deciding that yeah, they really do suck. There's probably even going to be some "screw you, I'm not drinking those." As I said: I'm guessing.

I'm not going to do that, even though I'd planned to. My first beer, icy Rolling Rocks with the band, all that jazz. But screw it. Philly Beer Week calls, and I've got to get ready and get down to it. So I'm just going to pre-game a little with a tallboy (that's a pint can, for you Euro-styles) of Narragansett.

Is that good? Pre-gaming isn't, really, but on the other hand, it's been a long, crazy day, frantic e-mail as I get caught up going into the weekend full-tilt, like street-luging down Negley Ave. in Pittsburgh...and I could use a beer, just to slow down a little. Grainy, a little sticky, fizzy (and that's where most of the bitterness comes from, the fizz), and...not much else, really.

Is that bad? Well...I guess, if I was looking for much more. But you know, I drink soft drinks, too, I like to drink, and if I drank beer everytime I drank, I'd be like people describe Winston Churchill, in a constant state of varyingly mild inebriation. So this fits in that. I'm in the moment. I'm not thinking about it, normally, though I am now, of course. But mostly I'm thinking about the music that's playing (Nick Lowe, I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass), the upcoming evening (train ride, opening tap of Philly Beer Week, seeing friends and brewers, maybe hanging around and hitting one other event), my son coming home, the dogs nosing around (bright-eyed little beauties)

I can do that with a glass of Sierra Nevada Torpedo. But it demands more attention. This...I was going to say is mindless drinking, but that's not really right. It's effortless drinking.

Is that bad? I don't know. But I don't really care, either. This is beer for other times. Beer for old friends. It's social. Should I be upset when my friends offer me fizzy lager? I'm not, except for a fairly short period in the early 1990s. I got over that. I draw the line at light beer, but that's okay with almost any mainstream drinker; that doesn't challenge them. Beer isn't about beating people up, any more than food is. At least, not for me.

Well, I'm done. Been nice sitting with you, but I've got to go. It's been nice. We should do this again sometime.

I'm hosting The Session myself next month: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em. Rauch it up. Be there.

String of Victories

Jack is passing on the Morning Call's reports of solid advancement of Victory's planned brewpub in Easton. When you check the Morning Call link, take a moment to read the comments. Neanderthals are among us. There is a certain, incredibly vocal, part of the population who just know that the only reason people ever have a drink is to just get drunk. Crazy stupid comments, really.

Anyway, I did say a string of Victories. Because rumors are about -- with solid sources -- that the first new Victory brewpub might actually not be in Easton. There's a real chance that Victory may open a brewpub in Munich. Really. Stadt München. In Germany. Details when I can beat them out of someone. Would that not be the balls? Victory....with a beer garden...representing American beer in Munich.

Lew & Scoats' Excellent Beer Run

Scoats and I did the Upstate Beer Run on Wednesday, gathering up the final beers for the Upstate PA Beer tasting we're doing at the Grey Lodge Sunday night. Scoats came out to my place early Wednesday morning, and while I was finishing my Cheerios and strawberries, Cathy made him a quick bowl of oatmeal. Sustaining. We set out, Passat rolling (I'd get 39 MPG on the day, too), and telling each other tales.

First stop was to be the Bullfrog Brewery, but we were ahead of schedule, so we went up over the mountain to see One Guy. Guy pulled in just after we did, and we met the Two Other Guys (he's hired assistants) as we went in. We sampled the hefe -- nice, tart -- the Berwick Lager -- clean, smooth -- and the IPL, a batch of Atomic Punk IPA Guy made with lager yeast. "I could sell this," Scoats said, and he's definitely right: good stuff, clean, hoppy, like Prima Pils with more body. We toured the huge place (huge place, tiny brewery), saw the pizza oven (waiting on time and money), the beer garden (waiting on time and money), and the bottling area (waiting on...).

We got out, and now, of course, we're late (sorry, Terry), and get to Bullfrog about 11:20. No problem, Terry says, and takes us downstairs to see the operation (That first picture is Terry and me down in the midst of things). Wow. Lots of barrels, "kegs gone wild," bottling tanks just for the wild ales... Terry's found a big niche market for soured beers in Williamsport; who knew? He gave us a sample of his latest: a beer brewed with wild yeasts and 100% cacao chocolate. An amazingly layered beer that punches funk and chocolate in ways that are quite appealing. We put away 2/3 of a pint in short order. Once we grabbed a sixtel of Beesting Saison, away we went.

Not far, though. We just went over a few blocks to Kimball's Pub, a place that wasn't much to look at (clean, but real plain), but had a damned nice selection of beer. We were picking up another sixtel: Bavarian Barbarian Square Feet Wheat dunkeweizen. Mike Hiller had dropped it off there for us; he was in DC on Wednesday, showing off his First Snow winter warmer at the Brickskeller. Not bad for your first year!

Off we went, down Rt. 220, then over the ridges to Millheim, where we spent some very pleasant time with Tim Bowser and the crew at Elk Creek Cafe (my man Sam Komlenic was there, too; always a pleasure, Sam: that's Tim and Sam with Elk Creek's brewhouse to the right), sampling and shooting the breeze. Elk Creek's a beautiful place and no doubt; if you haven't been, go. A sixtel of Belgian strong, and we were on our way (after a quick stop at Penns Valley Meat Market for some house-made ring bologna and jerky).

One more stop: Old Forge Brewing, in Danville. Wanted to get here for months now, and I have: worth the trip. Great, simple place, well-populated even at 4 on a Wednesday afternoon. I got the alt, and it was good: proper hop bite, not over-alcohol'd, not too much hop aroma; maybe a bit dark, maybe a bit sweet, but Damien said he was aware of that and on top of it, this was the first batch. I did get a glass of Sensessionale, and it was excellent session stuff, a definite all-day sucker.

What really put us both away, though, was the food. I'd been told the menu was simple but well-executed, and man, was that true. Best $6 quesadilla I've ever had, perfectly done, cheesey, chicken, thin-sliced apple, just great. And the soft pretzels are very German, big, soft, chewy-tasty (and made the WaWa 'soft pretzel' I had on the way to Philly Beer Geek last night taste like a hard sponge); made at a Mifflinburg bakery. Great eats.

And then we drove home. Good day, good beer.

A big thanks to Scoats for the pix: I forgot my camera!

Philly Beer Geeks

I helped judge the semi-final round of Philly Beer Geek last night at Manayunk Brewing, along with Manayunk head brewer Chris Firey, Grey Lodge owner/genius Scoats, Iron Hill North Wales brewer Larry Horwitz, New Holland brewery rep (and Philly beer guy) Dr. Joel Armato, and the incredibly busy Suzanne Woods. We 'judged' the efforts of twelve prospective Philly Beer Geeks: quick-answer beer trivia (that ranged from ridiculously easy to shockingly tough), beer-brewery match-ups, essay questions ("Describe your favorite beer style as a bird, a meal, and a disease" was my contribution), two-up tasting, beer-related joke/tall tale/poem/song/interpretative dance, and the "Last Chance" round.

Well, it dragged at times. Some of the contestants were very young (how can you be a "Philly Beer Geek" and not know what Red Bell is?), some were shy, some brought props (Steve Hawk's poster-sized photo of himself reclining vampishly on a bar, shown above, brought the house down), and a couple clearly didn't really know that much about beer, but got through on sheer stones and quick wits. High points of the night: Hawk's clear -- weird -- passion in answering a one-word beer geek question; Doug Hager (soon ("May. Probably.") to open Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street) mentioning in the answer to a different question that he used to sing a "beer version" of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," and singing it when we asked; and one real honest contestant -- sorry, can't remember who -- saying that we didn't want to pick him "as the face of Philly Beer Geek, you want her," pointing at fellow contestant Gina Talley.

In the end, we picked five, and forced Doug Hager and Mike Hore into a sudden-death playoff for the final spot. Which was fun. So was the Krook's Mill Pale Ale they supplied to the judges: nice, nice stuff, Chris! Great time talking beer with folks, good hanging out with my fellow judges, and thanks to Jason Harris and Carolyn Smagalski for putting the whole thing together. The Finals are next Thursday at Manayunk: I guarantee some fun.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You know it's a good day when...

...your son's coach plugs your Philly Beer Week event in the team parental update e-letter (the typos are kind of a team communication tradition):

Still not smiling? Lew Bryson -- beer afficienado and father of Tom Bryson, one of our very successful original orators -- will be hosting "Lew Bryson's Wheat Beer Breakfast of Champions" at the Grey Lodge on Frankford Avenue at 9:00 am this Saturday morning as one of the official events of Philadelphia Beer Week. Lew is a great guy who will be speaking at a couple of pubs on Saturday and Sunday at other Beer Week events. Trust me, if the beautiful weather and a pint or two do not perk you up, a conversation with Lew will!
I knew we sent him to the right school. (He is successful, too: he just placed first in the qualifying round for the state championships in his event, which he won last year.)

BTW, if anyone wants to join me after the Real Ale Invitational next Sunday for the Forensics Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser at Holy Ghost Prep, hit me for tickets. Good time, and some big good eats: sit at our table and enjoy the entertainment of Holy Ghost's powerhouse forensics team: the humorous interpretation guys are killers this year.

Good Day in the Inquirer

Philly Beer Week got a beautiful piece in the Inquirer today, along with a great picture of Scoats tapping a firkin of Iron Hill (West Chester) Ironbound Ale (yeah, unlike the guy who wrote the caption and said it was Bourbon Porter, I can read the tag in the picture). Craig LaBan did a pretty good job encompassing this juggernaut, including taking a swipe at the "other" so-called "beer weeks" that have sprung up.

But the Inky also had a front page story about cigarette taxes -- how New Jersey raised them and got less money -- it's the "paradox" that an increase in the tax on cigarettes often (make that "almost always") results in a decrease in revenue from the tax. Amazing, ain't it? These anti-smoking groups have been saying for years that if you raise taxes on cigs, people won't smoke as much; have those chickens come home to roost (and crapped all over New Jersey's budget crisis), ruining the happy, cautious dance of hypocritical 'sin tax' balanced against cynical greed?

Truth is, this is how it usually happens, and it happens for more reasons than people quitting. A quote from the story:
"When you're in a high-tax state, smokers, like anybody else, are price-sensitive, so they're going to go looking for cigarettes where they're cheaper," said Gregg Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey. "There is a small number of folks who just wouldn't absorb the price increase and just decided to quit, but most of those folks just go to other places."
Which neatly sums up why excessively high taxes like these are, essentially, a government stimulus plan for smugglers. When anti-whatever groups publish their neat little "taxes up, sale of [insert targetted "Bad Thing" here] down, yay!" policy studies and reports, they never mention that the most likely outcome is that the people are just buying the "bad thing" somewhere else. People cross the border to buy their cigarettes, or organized crime outfits bring truckloads of them from low-tax states like South Carolina. Are the benefits worth the crime, or the normalization of crime?
Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently studied the impact of cigarette taxes in Michigan, California and New Jersey... LaFaive's study estimated that 40 percent of cigarettes smoked in New Jersey come from out-of-state or illegal lines of distribution. The figure was based on smoking rates, the number of adults in the state, and the number of legal sales per adult.
Bump the tax up enough, and you'll get hijacking and theft, too. We had a case near here a couple years ago where someone smashed a pickup truck through the glass front of a store at night, grabbed armloads of cigarette cartons, tossed them in the back of the truck, and drove off with thousands of dollars worth of cigarettes (and taxes). Great idea, those higher taxes.

Okay, pay-off time. You probably know -- and if you don't, you do now -- that I don't smoke. So cigarette tax increases are not a personal issue. But folks: replace "cigarette" with "beer" or "booze" and "smoke" with "drink," and you've got the same issue, same problem. Beer tax increases usually don't raise revenue. Revenue stays the same, or drops, and less beer is sold, which means less money is made by brewers, importers, wholesalers, and retailers, which means less revenue from that part of the chain, and jobs are usually lost, which means less tax revenue and more benefit payments. It's a brilliant cycle.

What's the solution? End excise taxes. Stop taxing targetted industries. If you don't think people should smoke, make it illegal (and good luck to you if it's just one state at a time). Don't try to balance the do-gooder "raise taxes so people stop smoking" with the darkly cynical "raise taxes and hope they don't stop smoking so much that we lose revenue." Do away with all these ridiculous taxes and fees and charges and nickel-dime bullshit. Tax income and property, things everyone has to pay (you can be progressive about it, I'm not touting a flat tax) and no one can avoid by smuggling their home into another state.

You'll have a more honest government, a government that isn't meddling in people's lives with tax policy voodoo. You won't be subsidizing crime: hijacking, theft, smuggling. And you won't look stupid when the inevitable happens.

Wheat Beer Breakfast II

After last year's Wheat Beer Breakfast at the Grey Lodge, Scoats asked me to come back and do it again. I agreed, and it's looking better than ever this year (and just got a nice mention in today's Inquirer, thank you). Here are the beers, with suggested food pairings from the pay-as-you-go menu:

Ayinger Brau Weisse - Banana Walnut Pancakes
Flying Fish Imperial Espresso Porter (not a wheat beer, admittedly, but breakfast needs coffee) - Cream Chipped Beef over Home Fries
Franziskaner Dunkelweisse - Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Harpoon Catamount Maple Wheat - Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Syrup
Penn Weizenbock - Spicy Egg wrap with cheddar and fresh salsa.
Philadelphia Walt Wit - Banana Walnut Pancakes
Ramstein Winter Wheat - Spicy Egg wrap with cheddar and fresh salsa.
River Horse Double White - Banana Walnut Pancakes
Sly Fox Royal Weisse - Banana Walnut Pancakes
Victory Sunrise Weissbier - Banana Walnut Pancakes

I'll be there to talk to you about the beers, mingle and blather, not tweet, and try to re-create the wheat beer breakfast mini-lecture that everyone thought was so great last year (that I spun completely off-the-cuff and can't remember a word of). Should be fun -- again! -- and then, if you'd like, you can keep the party going by joining me at another delish beer/food event in Northeast Philly, the German beer/meat sampling at the Blue Ox Bistro and Rieker's Meats.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Philly Beer Week: Hammered

San Francisco. New York. Syracuse. Seattle. Baltimore. Charlotte. St. Louis.

All trying to emulate our idea. All jumping on the Philly Beer Week bandwagon. All crying, "Wah! We're the best beer city!"

Look, it doesn't matter that we've got the best beer-drinking city, or that we've got more experience than you with this, or that we've got six times the number of events, or that all your brewer are belong to us. All that is just reasons. Here's the solid proof that Philly Beer Week rules.

We've got a big freakin' hammer that says so.

And if you get a hammer next year -- it only takes money, once it's been done -- you'll be sick when you see what we have then.

PBW. Remember the name.

Thanks to the fertile minds of William Reed and...well, a lot of fertile minds, but William sent Don the picture.

Doing Anything This Saturday Afternoon?

As you may know, I'm real big on Rieker's Prime Meats, the German deli and butcher in Fox Chase, Northeast Philly. They make and smoke their own sausages, and they make fantastic hams and bacons, and their supply of authentic German candies, pickles, sauces, and so on is second to none. (I like to stop in there after donating platelets at the Red Cross's Northeast Donor Center, you know, to replenish my hemoglobin and such.)

So when the folks across the street at the Blue Ox Bistro contacted me and suggested that we do a Philly Beer Week event with Rieker's...I about wet myself. Sorry for that image, but...

So here's the deal. The event is this Saturday at 2:00 PM (an hour after my wheat beer breakfast at the Grey Lodge, feel free to join me), for a cover of $25: a steal for the event. We're going to match up the great German and German-type beers the Blue Ox is serving (really; if you haven't been back since the re-opening, you'll be pleased) with some of the delicious German-type meats you can find at Rieker's. We'll eat, we'll drool a bit, we'll talk beer and smoked meat.

Then we'll all walk across the street to Rieker's where you'll be able to shop for the stuff you just tasted, a food-beer home-restaurant cross-over you won't find too many places! I'll be right there with you, helping with suggestions, pointing out the sweets and delicacies (they do have smoked eel, just ask (and if you know what I'm talking about, you know me too well)), and translating to the best of my abilities. Then we'll head back across the street to the Blue Ox, and wind up at 5:00.

Here's the menu (we're still making beer pairings, but you'll get Spaten Maibock, Sly Fox Rauchbier, Tucher Hefeweizen, a Victory Braumeister Pils, and the "1809" Berliner Weisse)
  • Assorted cheeses, Rieker's own landjaeger sausage, Rieker's rauchpeitschen "Smoked Whip" sausage (better than any damned Slim Jim!)
  • Rieker’s Triple-Smoked Bacon, lettuce & tomato sandwich, potato salad with more triple-smoked bacon
  • Rieker’s smoked Hungarian bratwurst, Rieker’s smoked pfefferwurst (my favorite post-platelet treat, a peppery, soft, smoked sausage), Rieker’s bockwurst
  • Mussels in Tucher Hefeweizen sauce (not from Rieker's, but hey: hefeweizen mussels!)
  • Egg Skillet with Reiker’s smoked Kielbasa & Radeberger Pilsner cheese sauce, Burger with Radeberger cheese sauce

If you like German beer, if you like German food, if you like shopping in a deli where the people behind the counter actually made most of the meats on display...join us on Saturday. We'll have a good time!

Me, blathering about Philadelphia/Main Line beer

Forgot all about this interview I did with Main Line Today, but it's up on the Web. Pretty much sums up my thoughts on beer around here; pay particular attention to the closer. Interesting times coming.