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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Heineken USA Chief; new strategy?

I get a lot of press releases and see a lot of stories about new people in positions at a variety of booze businesses, and most of them... eh, so what? This one was an exception, and not because it's a major company unit -- Heineken USA -- but because of the way the people formerly in the position were willing to say why they left, rather than simply "to pursue other opportunities." Check it out, then go back and re-read my post about imported beer. This is from the Wall Street Journal. (I've cut a bit from the piece; this is just the nuggets.)
Dutch beer giant Heineken NV tapped company insider Dolf van den Brink as the third chief executive in about three years to run its struggling U.S. division. Mr. van Den Brink, currently commercial director and deputy general manager for Heineken's operating company in the Democratic Republic of Congo, will become president and CEO of Heineken USA effective Thursday. He succeeds Don Blaustein, who resigned in August, citing differences with the company's management in Amsterdam about how to run the unit.
Mr. van Den Brink will try to revive U.S. sales of the company's flagship beer, Heineken, which have dropped sharply amid the weak economy, ineffective marketing campaigns and tough competition from rival imports and domestic brews. Mr. van Den Brink faces a tall order. In April, Heineken said its beer volume fell 16% in the Americas on an organic basis, which strips out results from recently acquired brands, in the first three months of 2009. Heineken USA accounts for about 4% of the U.S. beer market in terms of volume.
Mr. Blaustein's predecessor, Andy Thomas, also resigned because he disagreed with Heineken's top executives over strategy.
They tap the deputy from the Congo to run the U.S.? Wow.

I would love to know what the different outlooks on strategy are. Here's a suggestion on a US strategy: figure out what you're selling, then get Heineken ads that are as good as the "World's Most Interesting Man" Dos Equis ads are (which are actually working, by the way: Dos Equis is doing well). I like John Turturro, but good God..."No destination is the destination of the undestinated... This is not a beer. This is a compass."

What the hell is that shit? If you don't even know what your beer is -- here's a hint; it ain't a compass, you buy them at REI -- what are we supposed to get out of it? What's the most interesting man in the world say? "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis." Notice: he drinks beer, not a compass, and he admits that there are other drinks, and that he doesn't always drink Dos Equis. I think that's the best part of the commercial.

I'd also point out to craft beer fellow travelers that even after losing that volume, Heineken USA, by itself, does the same volume as all craft beers put together. Food for thought, mobsters.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Man Full of Trouble...and rye whiskey

Where to begin...

Chris Poh, of the American Public House Review, whose radio show I was on a few weeks ago, contacted me recently with a tempting offer: how would I like to join him and Ed Petersen at A Man Full of Trouble, Philadelphia's last standing original colonial tavern? You mean the place UPenn owns, down near the Olympia, that isn't open to the public? Hell yes, I would!

And that's how last night I found myself sitting in the living room of A Man Full of Trouble, being served a beer (a Tröegs Pale Ale) from a lovingly re-created caged bar by the 'publican,' Patrick Spiro, a recently graduated UPenn doctorate student, who lives there with his wife, Laura, and their newborn daughter (see below). And just after that, we went up to the second floor balcony just in time to catch the last light of the day, pictured below.

The view is striking: where you can see the cobblestones coming in from the left, just past the Stop sign, is the course of the long-gone and covered Little Dock Creek. Straight ahead is the Delaware River -- no I-95, this is one of the rare places where it's covered over -- and that's the stern mast of the Olympia in the distance, starting to glow in the sunset light. A rainbow developed over the next few minutes. We were standing on a balcony that had been reconstructed from pictures of the building from the 1830s. The cobbles, the magical glowing light, and the mast of the ship came together for a breath-taking moment.

Patrick took us down to the basement, where the building's original well is still open to water from the Delaware, showed us how the walls lean inward, and generally made us quite welcome. We chatted about blogging and advertising, of all things, then I broke out a particularly appropriate beverage, given the setting: a sample of Finger Lakes Distilling's soon-to-be-released rye whiskey, a young and brilliantly spicy whiskey, full of rye character at a barrel-strong 110 proof. We sipped, and looked around the place. Then Patrick pulled out another surprise: a growler of Cape Cod Summer, a beautifully accurate hefeweizen, a great way to top off the evening.

I may never get the chance again, but it was quite special. I breathed in a bit of Philadelphia history, American history, booze history. I was a man full of satisfaction. And a little bit of rye.

Thanks to Chris Poh for the use of the two photos on the left.

20 years of Harpoon Octoberfest celebration

Ah.... 'PoonFest.

Back in the early days of our marriage, Cathy and I lived in Waterbury, Connecticut. We were young(er) and in love, and we took pleasure in simple things. We had to, they were all we could afford. At the time, one of the cheap simple things was gasoline, and we traveled around New England as much as we could. Which is how we wound up in Boston for what was, apparently, the first Harpoon Octoberfest. Who knew?

We had a great, great time, drinking, whooping it up, and grinning like idiots at having found a beer event that was bigger than three brewers standing at tables talking to 50 people. Needless to say, Harpoon Octoberfest has grown to be quite a bit more than that...they expect 14,000 people this year. Well, you know, Harpoon just keeps growing!

Here's what they've got:
Two massive tents will be erected at Harpoon, transforming the brewery’s parking lot into a Bavarian-style beer garden. A wide selection of Harpoon beers will be poured on draft featuring the brewery’s Marzen-style fall seasonal offering, Harpoon Octoberfest Beer. Live oompah bands will entertain with traditional waltzes and lead the crowd in the beloved chicken dance. Sauerkraut-stuffed bratwurst and knockwurst will be served alongside mustard-covered pretzels.
20 years of Harpoon Octoberfest this weekend, October 2 and 3. Get to the website for details.

Has it been a year already? Has it only been a year?

Earth, Bread + Brewery has been open for a year. Can you believe it? After all the crap they had to go through to open...

Hey, that's all behind us (and them)! Next Friday, October 9 is the celebration. It starts at 5 PM and goes till closing; Tom Baker will have eleven house beers on; there will be t-shirts and anniversary pint glasses for sale, and... for the first time ever at EB+B...

They'll be filling growlers.

For real, baby. So hike your butts on over to Mt. Airy and fill up on flatbread and Tom's great beer, fill your growlers with Tom's great beer...but don't overdo it, because I expect to see you at Kennett the next day!

Friends of Philly Beer Week

Are you a friend of Philly Beer Week?

Philly Beer Week had a Facebook problem and lost a lot of their Facebook friends. If you are, or were a friend of the event -- and you oughta be! -- please do them a favor and go 're-friend' them.

There. Now don't you feel all better? Remember, Philly Beer Week 2010 is June 4-13; make your plans now!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Congratulations are in order...

Jack has posted his annual list of Delaware Valley GABF medal winners here (and an impressive list it is); Bil has all the Pennsylvania winners here (we were fifth in number of medals, just behind Washington, about where we usually wind up (actually, according to Uncle Jack, we actually took 14 medals, and so beat Washington and came fourth; check it out, the numbers don't lie); and the whole damned thing is here. Very nice, good beers, and all that.

But while we're puffing up the Delaware Valley, I just got news that the National Beer Wholesalers Association named Origlio Beverage their Craft Beer Distributor of the Year; and Clement Muller received their Craft Beer Distributor Recognition Award. That means we have the #1 and #3 craft beer distributors here in southeast PA. Not in volume or dollar sales, of course; this program recognizes the beer distributor who does the most to market, promote and sell craft beer.

Full disclosure: I do freelance writing for Origlio's newsletters and I've done some consulting and staff training for them. But from the time four years ago when I first met with them -- when their craft portfolio consisted of Samuel Adams...and Yuengling -- to now, the change has been incredible. I like to think the best advice I gave their salespeople was to be sure they actually knew the brands they were selling; because craft beer bar people could tell if they didn't.

But this was all Origlio. They have stepped up, built a huge and high-quality portfolio, trained a specialized sales force, and have encouraged bars that never before sold craft to take it on (and helped them to make it work). The best part of it, though, is why they did it. Origlio was doing fine: they had Coors Light, Corona, Yuengling, Guinness, Heineken, Tecate, and they had Sam Adams. But they saw how things were moving, particularly in Philly, and they wanted part of that future.

Hats off to Muller as well. They saw they needed to step up, and they have. Competition is one hell of a goad. They've expanded their portfolio, reached out to operators, made connections, and got smart.

Best part about this for you? These two wholesalers -- and the other top-notch wholesalers, large and small, in the area who are on their toes in this very competitive, varied, and fast-moving beer market -- get you the stuff, the rarities, the far-aways and small locals, the Belgians and the Danes, the Japanese and the Latvians, Lost Abbey, Founders, Russian River (suck that, rest of the east coast), the best beers around. Next time you trash-talk that Philly Beer Week slogan -- America's Best Beer Drinking City -- remember who brings it in.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bud Light Golden Wheat

That, believe it or not, is a Bud Light. The head didn't last too long (though I won't swear it was the beer's fault; I may have gotten a little grease on the inside of the glass), but it's cloudy, and it definitely smells of orange and a hint of fresh grassiness.

Okay, it's a Bud Light Golden Wheat. I got some samples, and I will give it the same shot I did the Miller Lite Craft beers. Gotta admit, I'm impressed with this more than with those already, just on the look and the aroma.

Well...there's not a lot here. Light body -- though not as thin as a Bud Light -- and they certainly didn't overdo the orange like Miller did; it's there, but it's unobtrusive to the point of understatement. It's not sweet, and that's good. It's not thin, it's not cloying, it's not really flawed.

And if that sounds like I'm damning with faint praise, well, I guess I am. BLGW fails in the classic manner of light beers: there's nothing wrong with it, but there's not a lot right, either. A beer's got to be something good, it's not enough to not be something bad. BLGW succeeds in one thing: it is easy to drink. Plain boiled white rice is easy to eat, but I don't often make a meal of it. I suspect I'll be having Bud Light Golden Wheat even less often.

What about the commerical prospects? I mean, I'm hardly the target market, and most of you aren't either, most likely. I think it's going to fall between the rails. It's too cloudy and heavy (too mouthy?) for light beer drinkers. Bud Light Lime has been a big success, but it's light and clear, where this isn't. What's more, this is another summertime kind of beer. Can't see this one working in the wintertime, which means even if it is successful, it's going to cannibalize BLL. And Blue Moon drinkers will kick it aside quickly as watery next to their tipple...though there may be some siphoning off of drinkers who are looking for a Blue Moon light. If that happens, well, how long do you think it's going to take Coors to do a Blue Moon Light, maybe a Half Moon? (I actually believe Coors is smart enough to let that go, and they should; it would deflate the brand's image.) I don't see this one working.

One other bothers me that the success of Blue Moon has led wannabe competitors to just class these beers as "wheat" beers. Guys, you're working for a brewery, one with world-wide connections and a huge staff of highly-trained brewers, and I've met and talked with some of them: you know damned well that there is more than one type of wheat beer. So why do you let the marketeers be stupid about this? It's not just a wheat beer, it's a --

Oh. My. God. It just hit me. Of course. It's a witbier-inspired beer...a Belgian-inspired beer. Is it that InBud doesn't want people making the Leuven connection, doesn't want to in-their-face American customers with the Belgian-based dark overlords of Budweiser? I don't know, but it is a consideration.

Still irks me.

Is "Craft Beer" a revolution? Is it a success?

Maureen Ogle takes an outsider's view of the beer industry, continuing a process she began in her 2006 book, Ambitious Brew. She looks at it with the dispassionate eye of a historian, and comes up with contrarian viewpoints that make Andy Crouch look like a mainstreaming cheerleader.

Witness her latest blog postings, which are cuts from an essay she wrote on craft beer for All About Beer's 30th anniversary issue (which I'd urge you to buy so you can read what she kept in the piece). There are three of them, and the 2nd and 3rd seem to largely say that contract brewing was controversial but is no big deal -- I got no problems with that thesis at all. I agree, and I regret the amount of money, time, and good feeling that was lost in the industry misunderstandings that revolved around it. I've said for years: it's about the beer, not where or who it's brewed by.

What I do disagree with is her first posting, a more general take, in which she writes:
The problem, [the late Michael Jackson] argued, was that the bottomless “pocketbooks” of the Big Six (at that time A-B, Miller, Stroh, Heileman, Coors, and Pabst) enabled them to “dominate the advertising scene” and thereby obscure consumers’ awareness of brewing’s lager-, porter-, and ale-stuffed nooks and crannies.
This “public ignorance” posed an “acute problem” for craft brewing. “No small brewery is itself an island,” he reminded readers. “None can succeed for long unless the . . . idea of small breweries is understood and appreciated by the consumer.
He was wrong. Thirty years in, most Americans don’t know about or drink craft beer, and yet craft brewing is alive and well. [emphasis added]
I don't buy that. We got into a small, very civil discussion on her Facebook link to this post, in which I argued that craft beer is now widely known, to which she countered:
I base that on my experience doing beer events for various non-beer groups (I do a lot of paid speaking). Very few people at them have ever heard of the beers on offer, all of them, of course, local craft brews. Also, the term "craft beer" has zero meaning to people outside the craft drinking/brewing niche. Again, that's based on my experience w/people who are NOT connected to or interested in beer. response was that people who aren't interested in American football may not realize that the forward pass revolutionized the game, but that doesn't make it any less of a revolution. In short, does the knowledge or opinion of people who don't drink beer, who are not "interested in beer," really have any meaning in this? I don't feel that it does.

Another point: is it the knowledge of the term "craft beer" that we're talking about? Because I don't like the term (even though I use it every day), and I don't think that most people who are aware of these beers use the term. They either know their local craft (like, for example, the thousands in Boston who drink Sam Adams or Harpoon and don't give a damn about anything else), or they call them "microbrews," a term just used today in the Wall Street Journal to refer to beers from small American and Italian breweries.

Microbrews (or 'mircobrews,' as I've seen it misspelled so many times on teh Interwebs that it's hardly funny anymore; likewise, "Rouge" and "nector") is the term a lot of people "still" use. I put "stupid quotes" around the word "still" because I don't really know why the beer police felt they had to change it, except to de-link it from the old definition as a brewery that made less than 15,000 bbls. a year, a size that Sierra and Anchor blew by decades ago. It's a perfectly good word -- by virtue of public acceptance -- if you want to distinguish the (practically) uniform light lager output of the major established breweries from the more varied output of the, 'micro' breweries.

So I'd argue that we should disregard the awareness level of the specific term "craft beer" and instead find out if these non-beer people -- or more importantly, and validly, people who do drink beer -- are aware of any beers other than the majors; Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Fat Tire? How about non-mainstream types of beers from mainstream brewers, like Blue Moon? How about mainstream beers from non-mainstream breweries, like Yuengling?

Because while there are certainly still people out there who know nothing at all about these beers (or at least profess to know nothing about them for political purposes...), it seems less and less likely that their existence remains a mystery to the majority. I recognize the pitfalls of sampling a pre-selected audience -- I lecture the geekerie about it often -- but the buoyant growth of the segment, the assumption of knowledge in a growing number of news stories like the one noted above, and the continued introduction of beers like Bud Light Golden Wheat all are evidence of a wider least, among beer drinkers in general, and people interested in beer.

If people aren't interested in beer...well, really, who cares what they think about beer? I don't say that to be cavalier, I just point out that it's kind of like asking the average American citizen about...Austrian elections. If they don't care about beer -- as long as they're not one of that group who is trying to take beer away from us! -- why should beer care about them?

Discuss. Or discuss. Or discuss.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Got a package...

InBud sent me two packages recently. I got the same one Uncle Jack did (and I ask the same question), and I also got some bottles of the new Bud Light Golden Wheat. I shall approach it with an open mind, as I always try to do. But as I tore my way through armor-plate level bubblewrap and tape, cursing and yanking, I couldn't help thinking...guys, come on. It's Bud Light. If it breaks, you'll just make more, right? When I get a sample of really great whiskey (and I've got a 25 year old Rittenhouse Rye I'm getting to real soon here), okay, seal it in steel lined with gel-packs. There is no more of it. But this is overkill.

God, I'm bitchy today. I need a Guinness.

Happy Birthday, Mister Jack

September, the folks at Jack Daniel's tell me, is the month of Jack Daniel's -- Mister Jack Daniel's birthday, celebrating 159 years since their founder was born. And since he founded the distillery and made the whiskey that would become the very bestselling American whiskey, they're celebrating with a cake...a cake cocktail.

It's made with Jack Daniel's, Tuaca, marshmallow syrup, and Sprite. They sent me a kit with small amounts of all those things (really, a half-assed can of Sprite) and a glass, with a marshmallow and a candle for a birthday garnish. That's what theirs looks like, down below; mine, er, doesn't look that good, because I'm a kocktail klutz. But it does kinda smell like a cake...a marshmallow and orange yellow cake. It's sweet, but damn, Sam, if they're garnishing it with a marshmallow, whatta ya expect? Wow, it's sweet. Oh, well. Happy Birthday, Mister Jack!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Killmeyer's: That's a lot of beer

There's a great place on Staten Island that I don't talk about enough, considering how I've probably been there more often than any other bar in NYC, with the possible exception of d.b.a. It's Killmeyer's Old Bavarian Inn, a great German joint that I've been enjoying for years, including one really nasty night of snow on Long Island when I holed up there to get my nerve and spirits back online before heading home. It's a place that resonates with me (mind you, parking can be a bitch), even though I've never been to any of their great-sounding events. Like, for instance, the one they're having this Sunday, which just sounds fantastic:
Our 10th ANNUAL OKTOBERFEST BEER TASTING-PIG ROAST will be held this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 sharp. Latecomers, even with reservations, might not get seats for this event. You can’t walk into the middle of this; it is a full program. Only pre-purchased reservations are guaranteed seats. This year we will taste approximately 30 seasonal brews. $35 includes beer and pig dinner.
$35? Thirty beers and a pig dinner? But wait, that's not all! You also get music!
THE HAPPY TONES, the Original Octogenarians of Oktoberfest, will be here not only every Sunday afternoon but also every Saturday afternoon during Oktoberfest. This Sunday, they are joined by JERRY COYNE and the HEIMATT-GRUPPER DANCERS.
Crap. And I'm already scheduled. One of these days...

Church Brew Works celebrates globalism with B-20 beer

Just got an interesting e-mail from Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. They've brewed a beer for the G-20 conference being held in Pittsburgh, B-20, made with an ingredient from each of the 14 participating countries (guess the other six couldn't get off from work...).
In a global first – The Church Brew Works has brewed an exciting international spiced ale for the G-20, aptly named the “B-20” with ingredients imported from 14 participating countries! Swing by for the inaugural tapping at 5pm to kick off happy hour this Wednesday (9/23). See how these special ingredients create such a unique beer:
Argentina - Cascade Hops
Australia - Crystalized Ginger (candied ginger)
Canada - Pale Malt
China - Cracked Ginger #1
France - Strisselspalt Hops
Germany - Perle Hops and Specialty Malt from Weyerman Malt
India - Charnushka (black seeds used in garam masala and on Jewish rye bread)
Indonesia - Jackfruit
Japan - Ginger Infused Tea Leaves
Mexico - Ceylon Cinnamon Sticks
Russia – Buckwheat
Turkey - Mahalab (pit of the sour cherry)
United Kingdom - East Kent Golding Hops
USA - Chinook Hops & Pumpkin

The B-20 beer was brewed in the style of an English brown ale. The ABV is 7%, and the IBU's are 25. The B-20 ale was fermented at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 days and has aged at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over a month. The hop bill was kept low in order for the spices to come into play and not be overpowered by the hop bitterness.
The B-20 beer will also be on tap and can be celebrated at our friends at Kaya in the Strip and Six Penn Kitchen downtown.
Neat idea, no matter what your politics on globalization; I hope participants and protesters alike can sit down and have a beer!

IPA Lunch at Isaac's this Saturday

Just wanted to remind you that the inaugural Lunch with Lew at Isaac Newton's is this Saturday, the 26th. Details are here; and there are still a few tickets left. It's lunch and a set of beers; for this opener we decided to pander to the crowd and do IPAs: Meantime IPA, Stone IPA, Sly Fox Route 113 IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, Yards Cape of Good Hope IPA, and Green Flash West Coast IPA.

We're going to eat, drink, and I'll tell you stories about IPAs, brewers, hops, and the various theories on IPA...and why most of them are wrong. I can't wait. Come on out to Newtown -- if you can't get to the GABF, you might as well have some fun!

Liquor Taxes & Santa Claus

From today's Chicago Tribune:

The increases on thousands of products, timed to coincide with the Sept. 1 tax hike, sometimes are double or more the increase in the liquor levy alone. It may take a few weeks or months, but the higher prices now faced by liquor retailers should eventually translate into sharply higher costs for everybody from fussy wine snobs to besotted tipplers. Separately, the nation's largest brewers have also signaled plans to raise beer prices this fall.
Voters are primed to blame politicians for almost anything, so piggybacking price hikes on tax increases is a tried-and-true business technique for deflecting consumer ire over rising costs. "That's pretty consistent with what typically happens," said David Vite, head of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. "The last time liquor taxes went up, distributors took the opportunity to increase their prices while all the time wailing about the government."
Even factoring in a discount for volume purchases, one area retail chain was paying $20.17 a bottle for fifths of 80-proof Smirnoff vodka, up from $16.11 in August. By itself, the tax hike would have added only 80 cents to the price.

Here's the thing, folks. We hear this same bullshit every time a booze tax increase is proposed: "It's only 80 cents a bottle! You can afford that!" Then when the tax gets passed, everyone is shocked -- shocked! -- to find that the price increase on the shelf is more than 80 cents.

Could we grow up? Here's how it works, and it's no mystery. When a producer/importer sells a new product to a wholesaler -- at, say, $10 a bottle -- the wholesaler will take that product, increase the price (called the "mark-up") by a certain percentage (which, in some states, is set by law; in some states, Pennsylvania for instance, the state is the wholesaler for spirits and wine, and marks up everything 30%) and charge that to the retailer: $13 a bottle. That's how the wholesaler makes money, and covers their costs (warehousing, trucks and delivery, records-keeping, marketing, advertising, taxes, etc.). Now, the retailer will mark up the bottle again, say 20% (note that a bar will achieve something like 100-150% mark-up; they have higher expenses, and, well, they've found that we'll pay it), so now it's on the shelf for about $15.60.

This is how retail works. This is how it's done, how it's been done for centuries: "Buy cheap, sell dear" is the rock-sold basis of business. And when the price increases at the top of the process -- the producer/importer level -- it increases at every step, just as it did when the original price was set. That's how it works.

Governments almost always add booze taxes at the producer/importer level. It's easier to attach them and collect them there...but it's inherently deceitful. Because you're adding a cost at the top of the process, knowing that it's going to increase as it comes down. Add 80 cents to a $10 bottle, and it's not going to be a $16.40 bottle on the shelf; it's going to be a $16.85 bottle on the shelf. 'But it was only an 80 cent tax increase!" the naifs in the press cry. 'Why is the price up $1.25?!' And the blame magically comes off the government.

Guys... it always happens. Producers will sometimes choose to 'eat' the tax increase -- Corona brewer Grupo Modelo famously swallowed the federal tax increase in 1991, and their sales boomed as a result -- but wholesalers and retailers almost never do, and they never "pass through" the increases without adding their mark-up. Why should they? It's just another price increase, and if they don't make money on those price increases, they're not going to be keeping up with the inevitable increases in their costs...and they'll go out of business.

Do producers piggy-back price increases on tax increases? Of course they do. If there's anything people, customers, hate more than price increases, it's prices that seem to go up every other month. It works much better to chunk the price up more once a year, and if the government's forcing your price up, that's the time to put your price increase in, and try to blame them for all of it (why not, they're trying to shaft you). As for the legitimacy of price increases in a faltering economy, as for the morality of it...well, craft beer's up, single malts are up, vodka's still up, bourbon's up. If we're buying more of it, that takes a lot of the power out of the legitimacy argument.

Look, I don't like price increases any more than you do. Contrary to what some people might think, I really do buy most of what I drink. But when I'm paying $6 pound for American cheese for my kid's lunches, and $7 a pound for farm-raised salmon, I don't know that these price increases are that out of line. Supply and demand, after all: the demand for champagne has slumped, and producers are cutting production and prices, for example. The demand for craft beer and whiskey go up, prices are going to go up. Again, that's how it works.

It simply does not work that companies make money by ignoring increases in their costs, or by increasing prices just enough to cover those costs without making a little more themselves. If you want to argue about how much more those prices should go up, well...take it up with St. Thomas Aquinas.

Bottom line? Tax increases on booze cost you more than your legislators promise you they will, because they knowingly lie (or at best, they misrepresent). But even more so, taxes on booze are inherently unfair, as are all excise taxes, because they tax one part of the population based on what they buy. Not how much, not on what they do with it, but what they buy. As I always say: if your proposed government program is an overall good for all the people -- like roads, police, courts -- then let all the people pay for it. If it's only good for some people, let them pay for it. Don't make me pay for it just because I'm having a beer with dinner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More MADDness: Virgin Mothers?

From Wine & Spirits Daily (yes, the Beer Business Daily folks do other drinks, but this sub is free, for now):

In some rather surprising news, Mothers' Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is entering the drinks business but not in the way you may think. In conjunction with Hill Street Marketing, the anti-alcohol group is launching MADD Virgin Drinks that include three "cocktails" without alcohol (Mojito, Margarita and Pina Colada), along with a virgin Lager & Lime and virgin red and white wine. They said in a statement that "distribution is not yet confirmed," and Hill Street is currently in talks with "traditional retailers" to carry their product. Hmmm. Do you think it will catch on?
Could I just quote you a quote, from a story on the alcohol-energy drink 'controversy' that ran about a year ago in the Attleboro, Mass. Sun Chronicle? These same folks are warning that teens (and retail clerks) might mistake boozed-up energy drinks for plain old energy drinks.

Of particular concern to industry watchdogs are similarities in the appearances of alcoholic and non-alcoholic energy drinks. "They clearly shouldn't be in the same section," said David DeIuliis spokesman for the Massachusetts chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)."Not only product placement, but also packaging is a concern," said Wallace, the SADD executive who noted that product coloring, logos and design appear to be aimed at teens.
Now, take a look at the packages they're putting these so-called 'virgin' drinks in (Thanks for the pix, Jaysus; why the hell is it in Finnish?). They clearly shouldn't be in the same section as real good booze; this deceptive packaging is a concern. Someone could easily pick up this stuff by mistake, thinking it's the real thing, only to find once they've gotten home that there's no booze in the booze. Think of how pissed people will be to find they'd been duped.

What's that? That couldn't happen? No one's that stupid?

Bingo. Now could someone tell MADD that?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Resurrection Ale House opens Wednesday at 5

Just heard from Leigh Maida: Resurrection Ale House is having their opening this Wednesday, starting at 5:00, at 2425 Grays Ferry Ave. Opening taps look good (Leigh says the bottle list is lambic-heavy), especially that very appropriate keg of Brewers Art Resurrection Ale. Wish I could make it, but I'm previously engaged. Hope to get down soon.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

KBF: Day Two, mini-notes

It was a long day. I did work and errands in the morning, then went to the Boubon Hall of Fame to see my friend Chuck Cowdery get inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame. Then I was going to take a nap, but my editor reminded me I had a story due, so I wrote 2,000 pretty damned good words in two hours.

Then I went to Heaven Hill's Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz event, which was very cool, and I talked to a very open Craig Beam. How many days of rye are you mashing now? Craig's answer: about 12. Remember, as little as three years ago, Heaven Hill was mashing a day or two of rye a year. Now it's twelve. How cool is that?

Anyway, then I came back to the motel and hung out with the Buffalo Trace production folks, drinking, telling stories, and laughing really hard.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kentucky Bourbon Festival Day 1

I left Philly yesterday under gray, cloudy skies, headed for Kentucky. As usual, air travel's magic soon dispelled the grayness of the day, and I got to work, proofing and tweaking the stories for the next issue of Malt Advocate. It was a very easy flight, and I wrote a note to myself:

How perfect a moment of modern travel: high above Ohio, bright noonday sun pouring through the window, and the triumphant opening chords of "Pinball Wizard" soaring through my ears. If I had just a small glass of whiskey yet. It's hard to edit Malt Advocate stories with nothing to drink!

It only got better when I landed. I picked up my rental (a Chevy HHR, which turns out to be not bad at all) and made my usual first stop: New Albanian Brewing, across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. Roger Baylor and I go way back, and though I didn't get to see him this time, I did get to enjoy New Albanian's fresh hopped ale, Wet Knobs. It was very good, bustingly fresh and packed with piney, grassy hop flavor. They brewed it with pellets, the fresh hops -- limited supply of locally-grown Cascades and Chinook -- were used as finishing hops. They hope to have enough hops next year to do all the hopping with fresh hops. I also grabbed a small Roundhouse pizza that was delish, reminding me that this place started as a pizza joint with good beer. It's evolved nicely, and if you've never made it over here, you should.

I headed back across the river and dropped in at Bourbons Bistro. I'll reluctantly admit that this was my first visit, and it won't be my last. An excellent selection of over 130 bourbons (plus additional ryes, corn whiskeys, and Tennessee whiskeys), an intriguing Kentucky-influenced menu, and locally-owned? Yes, please. Best of all, they offer flights of whiskeys in a variety of classes. I got three bottled-in-bond whiskeys: Old Fitz, J.W.Dant, and Ancient Age (I was told at Liquor World later that Ancient Age BiB is being discontinued: a shame, because it was really good). $10, and the bartender had to work at it, literally climbing up on the backbar to get them. Nice spot to sit for a bit and sip.

Then I had to check out the beer bar I'd been hearing about, Nachbar. The bar's in Louisville's Germantown section, and the name means "neighbor," or "next-door." Given that it's smack-dab in the middle of a residential section -- as I wish more bars were -- the name's perfect. Very impressive selection of beers, both in draft and bottle: locals, craft -- I had a Bell's Two Hearted -- and imports all well-represented. Laid-back to the point of being horizontal. Friendly, but not eager. And a nice patio area outside. Good place to hang out.

And then I drove down to Bardstown. I cruised around town, re-acquainting myself with the place. I stopped at Liquor World and got some here-only bottlings to take home (got an article on that coming in Malt Advocate soon), and a small bottle of Old Fitz for the room, and checked in at the Hampton Inn. Did some work, slept, and I'm doing a bit of work again this morning till the rain stops...I hope it stops. I've got places to go and people to see!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Honeycrisps are back!

Completely not about beer or whiskey: Honeycrisp apples are back at my local grocery. I was so happy to find them there yesterday when I went in for milk and pork chops that I bought about 5 lbs. of them. Good deal, too: the store (PA-based Giant Food Stores) has them for $1.49 a lb.; they ran $1.99 most of last year, when they weren't more. The kids and I have burned through half of them already (Cathy was on a Fargo).

Why am I so excited? Honeycrisps are crisp, first of all: I hate a mealy apple. They are sweet and flavorful, but have a tart edge to them. The skin is firm, but not leathery. They are my favorite out-of-hand eating apple, and they add a nice flavor to a pie, too.

Gotta go get more.

Let the Second-Guessing Begin: FooBooz lists Philly's 50 Best Bars

Fearless FooBooz has posted a list of Philly's Top 50 Bars. Whining and moaning has commenced already in the comments. Full disclosure: I was a contributor, sent in my top ten list.

Bars that I'm surprised are missing: Eulogy, Triumph, Bridgewaters, Cuba Libre, Belgian Cafe, and Earth, Bread + Brewery. No Irish places, not even The Bards? Where's the love for 150-year-old-but-damned-lively McGillin's? Brauhaus Schmitz, Swift Half: just too new. I will also admit to being pleasantly surprised to see Chick's Cafe and Atlantis on the list; cheers to that. And I can't help thinking that if Teresa's weren't out in those nasty, nasty suburbs, it would have been much higher on the list (a case could be made that it doesn't belong on a list of Philly's top bars at all, of course, but come on).

But really...Eulogy? And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony of me saying that, but it's true. Interesting dynamics here.

Good list, though, and a great map to go with it. Let the games begin; comments are open.

Session Beer Blowout at Tria Today

Just heard from the folks at Tria; they're taking Avril -- one of my fave session beers, and one of theirs -- off-tap for the cooler months of the year. It will be back next summer, but they are discounting it today to blow the kegs. Details here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flying Fish Exit 1: Foreign Export Oyster Stout

Just got this from Casey Hughes at Flying Fish:

"I just brewed Exit 1, Foreign Export Oyster Stout, this is my lunch today, stout boiled oysters on pizza!"

I'm looking forward to this one (very appropriate placement, too). Takes me back to the days when Yards would have a party when they brewed the first batch of Love Stout, and we'd all eat stout-boiled oysters. I think Casey should make this again; I'll bring the pie!

U.S. drinkers continue to walk away from import beers

Reported in Beer Business Daily on Friday:
Things just don't seem to be getting any better for our imported beer shipments. Beer Institute released figures yesterday indicating that imported beer shipments were down another 8.1% in July, bringing year-to-date import shipments down 9.3%, or a loss of about 160,000 case equivs a day. There was some hope among import suppliers that sales would start to rebound toward the end of summer, but that just hasn't happened. In fact, anecdotally, distributors are telling us that the big imports are continuing to show steep declines in many big markets.
Losses are across the board: Mexican imports were down 4.7% in July, and YTD down nearly 3%. Netherlands down 14% year-to-date, while Canadian shipments off 22%, German shipments down 10%, Italy down 3%, and Belgian shipments off 11%. [Not Stella, BTW: Stella claims its U.S. sales are up 14%. -- Lew]
What's this mean? Well, imports -- which are almost all light lagers -- are pricier than comparable domestic beers because of shipping and the weak dollar. Craft beer's increases are thought to be coming largely out of imports' lost sales.

And, as former Capital Brewing prez Tom Fuchs told me in an interview back some years ago, "One of these days, the American import drinker is going to realize he's been sold a mule in racing silks." The big-selling imported lagers aren't bad beers, not compared to similar American light lagers. But they aren't better, either; in fact, they're not even significantly different (with the exception of Heineken, which is, these days, all-malt. Actually, so is Michelob, so never mind).

When money's tight -- mentally, even if there's no difference in your particular wallet, everyone is thinking tight -- you look at the relative value and think, why am I paying more for this? And, increasingly, people aren't, apparently. If this keeps up, it will represent a major shift in American beer-buying, one which will not be easily reversed. It also represents a major opportunity for craft beer, which is, of course, significantly different from mainstream light lagers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Day of Remembrance

I don't have a lot to say about 9/11 today. I guess I'm relieved it's gray and rainy here, because to have a bright sunny day again would make it worse.

I said quite a bit here in 2006, when I could finally write about it. I called my father at 9:42 AM this morning.

And I appreciate this; the conspiracy circus seems to have largely left town, loose change jingling in their pockets.

Mostly, I pray for the victims, and the heroes of the NYFD and NYPD. Tonight, I'll toast their sacrifice.

Be well, everyone.

Tripel D on at Otto's

Just a note: that Tripel D I talked about (raved about) last month is now on tap at Otto's. You should get some.

The Stupid Drink: smart new college anti-drunkenness campaign

Don Russell's Joe Sixpack column in the Daily News today is about a new idea at Syracuse University to stop underage drunkenness: The Stupid Drink. It introduces students to the concept that they should stop drinking once they reach The Stupid Drink: the one that's too many, the one that makes you...stupid.

It's brilliant in that it admits that college students drink, often when under the legal drinking age; and it doesn't preach abstinence; and it avoids the stupid "binge drinking" phrase, which as currently 'defined' by the New Drys makes pretty much every college student who drinks a binge drinker. (Of course it does...that makes the problem look worse and keeps the grant money flowing (hey, if the New Drys can attribute everything the booze industry does to money-based hypocrisy, turnabout's fair play.))

Good idea; good piece. Go read it, there'll be a quiz tomorrow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Long Trail Coffee Stout at Jenkintown

By the way, about the beer at the brunch I'm doing before the Jenkintown Brewfest... I assume you all know what the Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen is like by now -- if you don't... -- but the Long Trail Brewmaster Series Coffee Stout is relatively new and rare, so here's the deal. It's an imperial stout (on the lighter side, 8.0%) with coffee added, a special roast by a roastery local to Long Trail.

If you've had Long Trail beers before...well, it depends on the Long Trail beer you've had. Some of them can be kind of bland. Some of them can be flippin' awesome, and I put Double Bag solidly in that category. You'll have to categorize the Coffee stout yourself, but I don't think you'll be putting it in the bland bag.

Massachusetts: coming and going

I talked about the recent increase in booze taxation in Massachusetts recently (in the context of how a Massachusetts legislator voted for the tax hike and then got caught buying less-taxed, cheaper booze in New Hampshire). But this caught my eye this morning... Massachusetts put this tax in place to raise revenues during the recession, right? I mean, aside from the whole moral issue of raising taxes during a recession, that was the idea.

So how come they now want to ban alcohol advertising on public transit...which is a moneymaker for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority? The ban "could benefit about 25,000 children" who ride public transit. By what, not letting them look at booze ads unless they look out a window at all the beer billboards? Hypocrisy. Ludicrous. How about the definite benefit to those kids of subsidizing public transit by selling ads?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

09.09.09 Stone Vertical Epic

Stone Brewing's doing this -- oh hell, you all know what the Stone Vertical Epic is. I'm not telling you something you don't know, except I will reinforce that it's a thing of real scope and genius. Anyway, Stone sent me a sample bottle of 09.09.09, and I got it today, and for once, I'm not forgetting or hoarding, I'm drinking. Here's what I "tweeted" (and I put it in "quotes" because I think the word's "stupid", not because I didn't know what it meant, or because I thought you might not) about it:

Stone Vertical Epic 09.09.09 is black, smells of roast malt and sweet orange, roasted bitterness, not heavy, and just slightly medicinal... it's like an herbal tonic. Stone says: "Belgian porter." Reminds me strongly of the Ellezelloise Hercule Stout.

That's actually pretty high praise -- I really like the Hercule Stout -- but it makes me wonder: has Stone, in brewing this beer, created a style? Will there be more? Will the GABF include a "Cali-Belgian-style Porter or Other Dark Ale" category in their continuing efforts to suck up to the brewers of California?

Yeah, I'm a bit burnt about the whole "style" thing lately. This isn't a "style," and if there isn't a "style" that contains a beer like this so that contests can "judge" it and award it a "medal"... Well, that's a flaw in the whole idea of contests. And it can't be fixed by adding more semi-styles.

Back to the beer. Cathy went to bed, so I'm stealing hers. I'm picking up some unsweetened chocolate as it warms up, and a bit more malt sweetness under the overlying draw. The finish hangs in the mouth -- black coffee, maybe grounds -- but is refreshed with each sip as that sweet orange hits and fades, leaving the dry roasty bitterness. Good stuff, and hats off to the brewers.

This isn't an easy beer. It's not expected (well, unless someone said, "Hey, try this, it's a lot like Hercule Stout!"), it's not bitter or funky or super-strong. It's probably not something you'd move to just after mastering Samuel Adams. But it's very well-made (as should be expected from Stone these days), it's intriguing, and it's unlike 99+% of other beers. For a once-a-year one-off release? That's perfect.

Brunch and a Beerfest, this Sunday

Wanted to remind you about the beer brunch I'm hosting this Sunday in conjunction with the Jenkintown Jazz & Brewfest. It's a nice time at the West Avenue Grill, right on the square where the fest is going to be (so you'll already be parked, primed, and ready to go when the fest opens).

Join me for french toast and vegetable omelettes, and glasses of Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen and Long Trail Coffee Stout. We'll talk beer and breakfast, drinking culture, the latest stuff I'm turning up on the research for the new edition of Pennsylvania Breweries, and some tips on throwing a beer brunch.

It's $25 as part of a Brewfest ticket, which is an additional $25: it's like 5 hours of beer festival and two great jazz acts for $50, a steal. Tickets are available here. Come on out, it's supposed to be a gorgeous fall day in Jenkintown!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breaking story...Pernod Ricard sells off glögg brands...

In a shocking move, Pernod Ricard announced that they would sell off almost all the Vin & Spirit brands they purchased just last year. The French family firm, the world's second-largest drinks company, paid kr55 billion (about $8.9 billion) for the Swedish state-owned firm. They will be keeping only one brand and selling off everything else, including Blossa Glögg and 40 brands of wine, like the popular Chill Out brand.

Okay, it's not actually shocking: the one brand they're keeping is Absolut, which was the only reason they bought V&S in the first place. I just saw the story, and I wanted to put the word glögg in a headline. Sorry. Back to work.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cinderella story... Outta nowhere... It's in da hole!

Just learned (from her own blog) that Suzanne Woods is the winner of this year's Mystery Beer Weekend at the Memphis Taproom, correctly identifying 27 out of 33 unlabeled beers tapped at the taproom over the weekend. Awesome. Even more so when you recall that she came in second last year. Our Girl Suzanne knows her shit!

What is perhaps even more awesome is that Brendan lined up 33 beers that had never been poured at the Taproom before. Pretty damned cool, and so totally non-lazy. (Or maybe not -- see below. Maybe I'm the one who's lazy.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Monk's Cafe has re-opened...mostly

Uncle Jack's reporting that Monk's Cafe has re-opened; the two front rooms, that is. The back bar won't re-open till next week. Hats off to Tom and Fergie...and, of course, to all those who accused them of being overly optimistic about re-opening by today. You just don't know these guys. Things happen.

Double-Barrel Release at Allentown Brew Works

Update! This is at the Allentown Brew Works location, not the Bethlehem Brew Works location as previously posted. Sorry, the e-mail wasn't specific, and I made an incorrect assumption.

Just got an e-mail from Allentown Brew Works: brewmaster Beau Baden has released two new barrel-aged beers today. He's got an imperial stout (10.5%) and a barleywine (9.0%), both aged in bourbon barrels for nearly a year; both are on and pouring now. There's a solidly beery way to start your lost -- er, long weekend!

Lew, Live, On Da Radio!

I'll be a guest on a local radio show this afternoon: WDVR FM 89.7, out of tiny Sergeantsville, New Jersey. I was asked to stop by and talk beer, and bars, and drinking on "Bleecker Street Cafe," with Chris Poh and Ed Petersen. I'll be on from about 1:45 to 3:00 EST; drop by the website and give a listen if you can't pick it up on the radio. Chris is also the editor of American Public House Review, a magazine/webzine about great bars, and I'll be doing an interview with him after the show for a future article. Should be a fun afternoon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Official: Lappy has arrived in Maple Shade

Of course, you all know that Chris Lapierre is brewing at the new Iron Hill Maple Shade. But now the local paper knows it. Nice piece on one of the nicest guys in the biz, right here.

How'd I get anything done?

Just realized that last month was the busiest month ever for blog posting for me. I posted a rather ridiculous 60 times in August, beating January's 58, when I was pushing hard on purpose to make my post a day average goal. No idea why I posted so much last month.

Well, gotta get back to work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beer and Bacon Fest selling out fast -- what a shocker!

Just this afternoon it hit me that I was about the only person left on the Internet who hadn't posted the Bacon Bra picture, so when I got the e-mail from Clipper City about only 40 tickets being left to their Heavy Seas Beer & Bacon Fest -- ARRRGGGHH!!! -- the synchronicity was too much to ignore.

It's for real -- the fest, not the boobs, though I guess they're real, too -- and it's September 19, noon to 4. 300 people only, $40 tickets (available here), and over fifteen kinds of bacon from around the world, used in bacon donuts, bacon salt, bacon explosions, bacon candy, bacon mac & cheese...and maybe bacon bras, who knows? Bacon rules, these days. Oh, and there will be beer, too, plenty of that big, robust Heavy Seas stuff, maybe even from the Mutiny Fleet line. Hugh Sisson is embracing his inner pyrate these days...

Pirates, Pig, and Pints. What more could you ask for?