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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wynkoop gets fresh

It's probably not easy being farm-friendly in downtown Denver, but Wynkoop Brewing went to some great lengths to pull it off. They trucked in fresh Chinook hop vines from Misty Mountain Hop Farm in Olathe, Colorado, and hung the fat green devils over the railings of the brewpub, right on the sidewalk, and picked hops. People walking by had a look -- "That's what hops look like, huh?" -- and the whole thing sounds pretty festive.

They put the big fresh Chinook cones -- 60 pounds! -- in a hot kettle full of wort for their Belgorado Belgian pale ale just yesterday afternoon; the leaves and vines were put in the brewery's composting setup. Great to see Wynkoop continuing to do more visible, fun stuff; this is a landmark place, and they deserve more props.

Now...wonder if any of this will still be around come GABF?

Book review: America Walks Into A Bar

I'm interested in Prohibition: how it happened, how it was/was not enforced, and particularly how it has shaped America's drinking culture, laws, and preferences, right down to the current day. So I like reading books about the era, and there have, happily, been some good ones out lately after a long period with nothing (and the Ken Burns documentary, too).

Christine Sismondo's America Walks Into A Bar goes a step further; quite a few steps, actually. Sismondo starts in colonial America -- early colonial America -- and reveals something I'm pretty sure I never heard before: it's quite likely that the Salem Witch Trials had, at their base, competition between two families of tavern owners. It started with a "tax" revolt (a refusal to supply firewood to a hired preacher), and the bad feelings grew as the competing taverns tried to get more of the traveler trade. Sismondo uses this to show how the tavern -- the bar, the public house, the inn -- has been at the center of so many American movements.

Another one? The gay rights movement. Bars -- often raided by homophobic police and politicians, and just as often re-opened -- were natural gathering places for homosexuals; rules were already lax in bars, and the door was traditionally subject to control. Sismondo tells tales of bars run by characters like Big Nellie in New Orleans (and her regulars: "Lady Richard, Lady Beulah Toto, Lady Fresh and Chicago Belle"), Fat Tony Lauria, the New York mobster who opened the Stonewall Inn -- where gay rights would become direct action -- Paul Ruquy (who ran The Tool Box in San Francisco), and the legally nimble Sal Stoumen, who ran the Black Cat Cafe in San Francisco -- site of much of the madness in Kerouac's On The Road, and a favorite of Allen Ginsberg, William Saroyan, and John Steinbeck. Jose Sarria, a Black Cat waiter turned drag performer, ran for city supervisor in 1961, 12 years before Harvey Milk ran for office; and he almost won, according to Sismondo.

She covers Prohibition as well, of course, and Shays Rebellion, and the Whiskey Rebellion, those last explosions of revolutionary thinking that would be tamped down by the strengthening federal government. She talks about the labor movement's association with bars, ethnic groups that felt at home in bars, how women came to feel at home in bars (in unregulated speakeasies, and they'd never leave, happily!). That's her theme throughout the book: bars and taverns were places where people met, discussed grievances, and often decided to take action. Or action against the bars: she covers the growing temperance movements of the 1800s, and the political corruption associated with the bar business (and the brewing and distilling industries) that gave temperance the solid footing to succeed politically in a modernizing climate.

Sismondo brings new stories to light -- and believe me, I've heard a lot of them, but I was happy to see new ones in plenty here -- but never falls into dry scholarship. Even given the material, this could easily have been a tediously overwritten book, but -- as is almost promised by the dustcover photo, posed with cocktail glass in hand -- Sismondo is a better host than that. The footnotes -- thank you! -- show the scholarship and research, but the writing is great race-along stuff; interesting, amusing, and beguiling.

I've talked about the loss of the neighborhood bar myself, and perhaps prematurely mourned it. Sismondo's final chapter reassured me; action does still take place in bar, though it may seem to be a bit anticlimactic compared to the titanic struggles over liberty and individual freedom that America's bars have hosted in the past. She discusses how live music became allowed in bars (it wasn't before? Who knew!), how smoking is more often not being allowed, and finally, the kiddie revolt: overbearing parents bringing kids to bars, blocking the floor with huge strollers, and allowing the little ones to run around unchecked...hey, I took my kids to bars, and they behaved, dammit!

Sismondo has a book here about what bars have meant in America. We've loved them, hated them, banned them, embraced them, argued in them, sung and danced in them. You'll feel positively warm about them after reading this fascinating book.

Up on the mountain (such as it was)

We went on vacation last week, stayed in a rental place north of Lock Haven, deep in the fracking territory. Seriously, there were water trucks, dump trucks, cranes, and lots of white pickup trucks on the road all day and all night. Not really that bad, though: they'd obviously been well-indoctrinated into the idea that being rude on the road was not a good idea. They were mostly friendly, and the roads were in pretty good shape (there were some obvious problems -- potholes, grooves -- and they were all marked for repair).

Anyway! We went up Friday the 19th, got in, made dinner, and just listened to the insects and the rain. Next day we got up and headed over to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, parked at the Waterville Access. This required a 4 mile trip down a fairly rough and narrow dirt road, Lower Pine Bottom, an exhilarating ride we'd make several more times in the coming week (it was necessitated by bridge work on Rt. 44). We rode 22 miles on the trail, a beautiful day to ride. I fried up some delish pork chops for dinner, with tomato salad and roasted potatoes. We were drinking Sly Fox Pils and Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Bulleit Bourbon, and some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Another peaceful night.

Sunday we made the 10:30 mass at Annunciation Church in Williamsport -- a rollicking mass, we'd walked into a parish consolidation fight! -- and then met my friend Sam Komlenic and his wife Amy (and two friends Doc and Carlene) at Bullfrog for an excellent brunch. I had a couple beers and a delicious "breakfast bowl," everyone enjoyed the food and beer, a great time at table. Sam and Amy went back to the rental with us and stayed overnight.

As dinner was cooking, Sam got out his box of whiskey, and I got out mine. My box was mostly for him -- stuff I had picked up for him elsewhere -- and a bottle of aged genever (8 year old genever is surprisingly whisky-like!); his box was much cooler: antique Pennsylvania whiskeys. The one on the left, labeled simply "Large," is indeed Large whiskey, from the Large Distillery in Large, Pennsylvania, a true Monongahela Rye, and it had held up beautifully, a very nice whiskey indeed. It was quite an afternoon and evening; educational.

Then Sam and our friend John Lelak and I got into a political discussion -- John's a Fox News Republican, Sam's a libertarian-leaning liberal Democrat (no, really), and I'm ornery -- and yelled and pounded on the table and had another drink and laughed at it all. Why, we thought, couldn't the Congress work like this? At one point, Sam was telling a story about fireworks and brought down the lights -- literally -- but we fixed that. It was a good night.

Monday we all went down to State College -- that's the area where Sam and Amy live -- where we made a stop at Hogs Galore to buy pork products -- delicious sausage, Canadian bacon, and ham -- and then to the Creamery at Penn State, and finally dinner at Otto's. Another good day!

Tuesday, we all drove up to Wellsboro, where John headed for home, Cathy and Nora (and Nora's friend Kate) had lunch and did some shopping...and Thomas and I mounted up and rode south on the Trail. We had a great day for it, and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon was breath-takingly beautiful: blue skies, steep tree-covered hills, and the constant cool companionship of Pine Creek burbling alongside. We rode downstream about 34 miles, then took a break for dinner at the Hotel Manor in Slate Run. It was great: fresh Sam Adam Ofest and SNPA, great crab cakes, and some lightly fried calamari. Back on the bikes and on to the Waterville Access Area, where we loaded the bikes on the Fit (we'd left it there in the morning) and back up Lower Pine Bottom to the cabin: a 50.3 mile ride for the day!

Wednesday was a pretty lazy day; we mostly hung around the cabin, read, did a little walking, cooked up some eggs and bacon for lunch. Cathy and I went into town for groceries and got caught up on email at a great coffee shop, Avenue 209. We also bought beer at the Old Corner, a nice little bar and bottleshop in Lock Haven. I got a 12-pack of Franziskaner and a sixer of Troegenator (my bro-in-law Curt was coming, and he doesn't like hops), and took them to the counter. "I'll have to ring these up separate," the guy says. OMG, I'd forgotten PA's screwy beer takeout law: only 192 oz. maximum at a time! He had to ring them up separately (see the receipts?), and I actually had to take the Franz out to the car and come back in to get the Troegenator in order to be legal. Can you believe it? And this law...accomplishes something? The PA Liquor Code needs an enema.

We headed back up the mountain (it was about 1500 feet higher than in Lock Haven) and made dinner. Then about 7:30 that night, we heard a noise...I fumbled my phone out of my pocket and took the video you see here, of a black bear calmly walking up past our cars; looked to be about a 300 lb. bear. Pretty exciting; I've seen plenty of wildlife in PA, and there were wild turkey and deer all over, but that's the first time I've seen a bear up close.

Wednesday night, late, Curt, his son Patrick, my niece Evelyn, and my mother-in-law showed up. We talked, had some beers, and hit the sack late. Thursday I took my bike into Lock Haven to The Bike Gallery to get a busted spoke fixed, dropped off laundry to be done, and went back up the mountain. Then we all went to Woolrich and did some shopping at the outlet store (I got the shirt I'm wearing right now), I picked up the bike, and went back to the cabin. Dinner and more reading ensued, and some card-playing.

Friday we went bike riding again -- seven of us! -- and I went to pick up the laundry in the afternoon. I refueled the Fit, and by golly if I didn't need to hit a men's room just as I was heading by the Old Corner...had a couple pints of Otto's Red Mo with the owner of the Bike Gallery -- a pleasant coincidence, and he told me about the six rattlesnakes his friend had seen along the trail that week! -- then went up the mountain again. We decided to go out for dinner, and went back up the creek to Hotel Manor -- that's the view from the deck. Dinner was quite nice again -- I had a New Orleans pasta in cream sauce with andouille, shrimp, and chicken -- but the drive back...there was an accident on the road to the cabin, and we sat on the road for an hour and a half. Luckily we were able to keep ourselves amused!

The next morning...we'd watched the news, and heard about Irene, and thought about the Corgis -- who were kenneled on the Delaware River -- and decided to cut things short a day and head home. We packed up, said good-bye, and headed southwest. It was uneventful, the dogs were very happy to see us...and Irene left us largely untouched. A good week.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Invasive Species and Beer: a fighting match from Flying Dog

I was raised in Pennsylvania, outside the Blood Line, and while I never hunted (I have no problem with it, it's just not for me), I have fished...and of course, you know I've got a fondness for drinking beer.

So when Flying Dog sent me a press release about a fishing tournament that's all about fishing the invasive Snakeheads out of the Potomac...and then eating the toothy bastards...I was intrigued. So I'm choosing to pass this one on out of the hundreds of press releases I get in a month. Seriously, I mean, can you beat that as an environmental action against an invasive species with no natural predators: becoming its predator, catching it, cooking it, and eating it up with a big mug of Snakedog IPA? Damn, guys, that's ballsy!
In an effort to support the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ fight against invasive species in the Potomac River watershed, Flying Dog Brewery has signed on to support the 2011 Potomac Snakehead Tournament September 2-3. “We like the idea of hunting and eating fish in the spirit of conservation through eradication. It’s not often you have a species that is so invasive, disruptive, and so widely disliked, and we are excited to be part of this effort to protect the local ecosystems of Maryland and Virginia,” Ben Savage (you just can't make this shit up...), Flying Dog’s VP of Marketing, said.
“Snakeheads are definitely an underrated fish in the kitchen. It’s a flavorful fish that can be served in a number of different ways whether fried, seared, broiled, or baked,” Chad Wells, Executive Chef at Alewife Restaurant in Baltimore, said.Wells will prepare and present a Snakehead tasting along with beer from Flying Dog at the conclusion of the hunt on September 3 from 12:30 to 2:30 pm.
The 2011 Potomac Snakehead Tournament is open to anyone with a valid Maryland or Virginia fishing license. Participants can win cash and prizes for the heaviest fish and overall total weight. Participants can fish hook and line or bow, beginning September 2, 2011 at 6 pm until September 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm anywhere on the tidal Potomac in Maryland or Virginia. Cost to enter is $40 online registration by September 1 or $50 day of the tournament. Official tournament events will take place at Smallwood State Park in Marbury, Maryland. All participants are encouraged to attend the pre-tournament conference at the park September 2 at 5 pm. For full details on the tournament and to register, please visit the WhackfactorOutdoors website
Those snakeheads better watch their ass. Once we get a taste for something, we tend to eat it to death. Just ask the passenger pigeons.

Sam Calagione's dominant media presence...

Hey, I'm back from vacation (a little bit more on that soon...but not a lot) and one of the first things I came across* was that Sam Calagione did a Skype interview on MSNBC during Irene's run at the east coast; apparently they sent the employees home, but millions of yeasts' lives 'hung in the balance...' Classic Sam. If I had a link, I'd post it.

Then I got to a state full of corporate headquarters, financial companies, and huge chemical and pharmaceutical corporations, MSNBC interviewed Sam Calagione, head of a still relatively small brewery. Why? I'd like to float a proposition: I believe Sam Calagione is the dominant media personality from the state of Delaware -- excepting Joe Biden, who's kind of transcended the state since attaining the vice-presidency -- as evidenced by his status as one of the top unofficial spokespeople for the craft beer industry, a great media interview, and his grinning good looks. Any serious argument on that? And does anyone think that's not good for craft beer in general? I sure as hell think it's a great thing!

*Thanks to regular reader (and designer of the Session Beer Project logo) Steven Herberger!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oktoberfest in Bucks County? I'm there!

Don Russell -- "Joe Sixpack" to his friends -- is hosting a "Fall Beer Expo" at the United German Hungarian Club in Trevose on September 25th -- hell, it's right over the hill from my house! There are 1 and 4 PM sessions that Sunday afternoon, tickets are on sale now (right here) for $35 ($5 savings over buying them at the door). Beer, food (add'l cost for that, but it's delicious and available), German music and dancing... Come on! Oompah!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Branding is such a dirty word

I get Daryl Rosen's e-letter on beer sales. Not about what beers are selling; it's about selling beer. Rosen comes from the Sam's beverage retail chain in Chicago -- it was his family's business -- and when the family sold 80% of the business in 2007 (the chain would later be bought by Binny's, their Chicago rival (and an excellent booze supplier, love to see something like that in PA post-privatization!)), Rosen set up shop as a lecturer and sales consultant. And he's good. Not only does Rosen give me an insight on how beer sales works, his advice -- listen, focus on finding needs and filling them, help the customer even when it doesn't directly benefit you or your product -- works for me, and potentially for anyone. I've never met Rosen, but I owe him.

Anyway, I wanted to share something I read today at his Beverage Professionals site: "Split Personality." It's about how the beer industry looks at branding. A lot of craft beer drinkers -- the hardcore -- look on branding, marketing, promotion, and advertising as pretty much tools of the Devil...because that's what the big brewers use. When craft brewers use them, it confuses these people; witness the way some of them trash Samuel Adams, a beer brand that has done amazing things to establish craft's credibility across the country, and one that produces excellent beers, exceptional and experimental beers.

However, as Rosen's colleague Michael Browne points out, it's not so much the branding the bigs use that should be disturbing; it's how they do it. Here's how he starts the piece:
'So a bunch of states that have this 3.2 ABW law. You have to sell a watered down (‘non-intoxicating') beer to distribute in many channels.'
‘Okay, I get it,’ says the newcomer to the beer industry.
So we take our biggest brands -- the ones we spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing - and water down the product by 25% so we can sell it in these channels.’
‘Use the same brand name for this watery version of your product?’
And you know it's true. Just that example alone is completely true; you'll see 3.2 versions of well-known brands -- like Budweiser -- in states like Oklahoma, and it won't say "Bud 3.2", it just says "Budweiser." (I'm not picking on Budweiser in particular, it's just an example.) 

What do you care? Well, Browne does, and for reasons that might intrigue you.
...the beer industry has convinced itself that playing fast and loose is okay, as long as there is a lot of volume at stake. And consumers are keenly aware of this. They know that craft brewers and specialty imports do not have compromised versions in these markets. They are able to draw a bright line between the mass producers and the small brewers that don't compromise… more evidence of the split personality in the beer industry. There are a bunch of large brewers who will put one brand on 2 very different beers; and there are craft Brewers that won’t.
Just one more chapter in a larger narrative that crafts are all about the beer; mass brewers are all about money.
Branding doesn't have to be a dirty word if you play it straight. After all, when I see "Deschutes," or "Victory," or "Bell's," or "Sierra Nevada" on a label, I know I'm getting a good beer. It may not be exactly to my taste, but the solid experience and integrity going into it makes it an easy decision to give it a try. Brand integrity is important, and it's been one of craft brewing's best practices (even through re-branding and the occasional slip -- Rogue's multi-labeling experiments come to mind). 

When craft is seen to have clear lessons for big brewers on basics like this, it's another sign that the whole industry might be changing. It's slow, but if the sales pros are chiding big brewers about this kind of, well, this kind of deception, that's a good sign.

Monday, August 15, 2011

National Rum Day tomorrow

I'm sure you know by now that I don't just like beer, I'm a happy whiskey drinker as well. What many of you probably don't know is that I'm also fond of aged rum (and have been known to knock back a nicely made rum punch as well). So I was happy to see a release from Cuba Libre here in Philly noting that tomorrow, August 16, is National Rum Day! Check it out:
Did you know tomorrow, Tuesday, August 16 is National Rum Day? Well, now you do. And where better to celebrate than the place boasting region’s best selection of rum and rum cocktails? We’re talking about Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar (10 South 2nd Street, 215-627-0666), of course.

During "Caippy Hour" from 5-7 p.m., they will offer their extensive collection of over 70 rums and 35 rum cocktails at half price. Cuba Libre has had quite the love affair with rum over the years - even labeling seven rums as their own - and they’re excited to pass it on. So be sure to enlist the expert staff to help you find the one, or two, that’s just right for you. Whether it’s a mojito or mai tai, or a glass of Cuba Libre 21 Year or Cruzan Cream, there truly is a rum for everyone.

They're right, you know: if you haven't had a rum you like, man, you just ain't tryin'! So get your butts down to Cuba Libre (psst...or the Rum Bar, if you're closer to Rittenhouse Square (but I'll be at Cuba Libre!)) or -- surprisingly -- to Rumrunners in Williamsport, and try some rum!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer!

An announcement like this from America's Oldest Brewery deserves to be published in full at a Pennsylvania-based beer blog! Yuengling continues to deliver -- slowly -- on long-made promises of more beers.

Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer, and Festival, Coming This Fall
Live polka and dance music, delicious German cuisine, plenty of family fun, and a new Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer highlight the first-ever Oktoberfest Presented by Yuengling September 29 - October 2 and October 6 - 9 at the new SteelStacks arts and cultural campus in Bethlehem, PA.

The Yuengling Brewery has partnered with ArtsQuest, a non-profit organization dedicated to music, the arts, and cultural experiences, to produce an authentic festival to pay tribute to Yuengling’s German heritage. Highlighting the event is the 130-foot by 260-foot Yuengling Festhalle tent, featuring waitresses dressed in dirndl outfits, Bavarian-style food, over 40 live performances, and plenty of Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer.

“Anticipation has been high for our new Oktoberfest Beer, and we’re particularly excited about creating an authentic Oktoberfest atmosphere at the festival for all to enjoy,” commented Lou Romano, Marketing Manager.

Copper in color, Yuengling Oktoberfest is a medium bodied beer with a perfect blend of roasted malts to capture a true representation of the style. Yuengling fans that can not make it to the Oktoberfest event can enjoy the product at their local taverns, as Yuengling Oktoberfest Beer will be available seasonally, in ¼ and ½ Barrels in all markets where Yuengling is sold, beginning in late August.

"With the successful creation of Musikfest and the SteelStacks campus in the Lehigh Valley, we at the Yuengling Brewery felt it appropriate to show our support for Jeff Parks and all of the people at ArtsQuest who contribute to making arts and culture flourish in our community," said Dick Yuengling. "At Oktoberfest, there will be plenty of opportunities to hear live music, have some family fun and share some company under the big tent. Plus great beer and food too."

Oktoberfest presented by Yuengling tickets are now on sale at and 610-332-3378. Festival hours are 6 p.m.-midnight on Thursdays, noon-midnight on Fridays-Saturdays, and noon-9 p.m. Sundays. Single-day admission tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the gate. Single-day admission tickets for children ages 6-12 are $3 in advance and $5 at the gate, while ages under 6 are admitted free. A Weekend Pass, good for one entire weekend, is $20 in advance and $25 at the gate.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Craft beer growth accelerates!

Hey, it's a good day when I see news like this. Not only is craft beer continuing to grow, it's accelerating. Check it out, and check out the graphic: 725 breweries currently in planning stages! Major part of this is accessibility; people can find and buy craft beer because bars and restaurants (and wholesalers) are finally offering it, and newspapers and magazines are treating it like food or wine, instead of some goofy clown story (Hyuk, hyuk, lookit these beers with the funny names, you drink 'em with your pinky out!). That's your efforts, people: you made them get your favorite beer, you bought enough to make them pay attention. Congratulations!

Brewers Association Reports 2011 Mid-Year Growth for U.S. Craft Brewers; dollar growth up 15% in first six months of 2011; U.S. sees rapid growth in breweries in planning
Boulder, CO • August 8, 2011 - The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, has released strong mid-year numbers for America's small and independent craft brewers. Dollar sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011, excluding brewers who left the craft segment in 2010*. Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 14 percent for the first six months in 2011, compared to 9 percent growth in the first half of 2010.

Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first half of the year are an estimated 5.1 million barrels. Despite many challenges, the mid-year numbers show signs of continued growth for craft breweries. The industry currently provides an estimated 100,000 jobs, contributing significantly to the U.S. economy.

*Goose Island, for one, which is ridiculous in my opinion: the beer tastes the same, regardless of who's making it. Is craft beer a drink, or merely a business? If I were a brewer, I might have a different opinion, but I'm a drinker.