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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winding up the year, starting the next one

Early Thursday morning
Well...I had a really horrible 9 hour drive through Wednesday's snowstorm (a drive that usually takes about 5 hours) to my in-laws in upstate New York. But at the end of it, we got stuck into some seriously good beers: DC Brau's On The Wings of Armageddon (a jaw-slapping double IPA) and a jug of Selin's Grove's SNAFU IPA from Friday the 21st (when Nora and I dropped in at the brewpub for their 16th anniversary), and then some Smuttynose Big Beers: Zinneke (a Belgian-type stout that was good but wasn't fantastic), Scottish (delicious malt pillow), and Gravitation (a marvelous quad-type that really kept the malt train rolling along, rich and tongue-heavy).

Thursday...we recovered, and then Friday the bros-in-law and I went out to Sticky Lips BBQ in Henrietta, NY. The catfish was good (the fried pickles were just okay), the ribs were good, and the pulled pork was great. I had an Ed Fitz Porter (an always favorite) and a Three Heads The Kind IPA (excellently hoppy and brisk, even more so at $4 a 16 oz. glass). I had some GoldenCold when we got home. Saturday? Another long drive through snow, and some beers at the end...and a few more tonight.

But look, tomorrow is New Year's Day! As we've done for a few years now, we'll be going to Memphis Taproom for a late lunch (they have their full brunch menu from 11 AM to 3 PM NYE and NYD; late lunch, late breakfast, whatever, right?), then picking up some bratwurst at Rieker's for our midnight grillfest. I've got a magnum of Dupont Avec les Bons Vouex for the celebration.

Now, New Year's Day is a conflicting set of traditions for me. I've been watching the Mummer's Parade since I was a little kid -- on television, never been able to get down there... -- but Cathy has never understood, appreciated, or wanted to get anywhere near the Mummers. At all. Which may have something to do with why I've never been able to get to the parade, come to think of it. The other tradition is spending the day with my brother-in-law Carl and his family...but they couldn't make it this year; neither could we, actually. So we're on our own, and it turns out that there are some really good things to do on New Year's Day.

Like we may start at Monk's Cafe,where Tom and Fergie have started their own odd little tradition of serving all stouts (and one excellent sour, TBA) on NYD. Here's the list so far:
1. Allagash Bourbon Black
2. Alvinne Catherine The Great3. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
4. Dogfish Head Bitches Brew
5. Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
6. Dupont Monks Stout
7. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
8. Emelisse Russian Imperial Stout
9. Founder's Breakfast Stout10. Great Divide oak aged Yeti
11. Lost Abbey Deliverance (cellared for a year)
12. Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout
13. Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout
14. New Holland Poet Oatmeal Stout
15. Bells Java Stout
16. Laughing Dog Dogfather Imperial Stout
17. Smuttynose Zinneke Belgian-style Stout

Pretty sure we can find something (fancy a Narwhal?).

Then we've got a private drop-in party to hit, followed by the annual whoopee at Local 44, where they celebrate their opening anniversary on January 1st (I'm hoping to snag some of the Lees Moonraker). Then it's back home, where I guess we'll have to have some amount of pork and sauerkraut, just because I'm a Dutchman.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas gift ideas

Got a couple Christmas gift ideas for you.

First, Massachusetts Breweries, by John Holl and April Darcy. It's one of the series of Stackpole Books brewery guides that my editor and I founded (and perfected, if I do say so myself), and it's a great job. John and April have captured the spirit of my intent with these books -- tell the story of the brewery, and make the place and the people come alive for the reader -- with writing that's accurate as well as lively and entertaining. It reads well, and it reads right. If you're headed to Mass, and you have a thirst, or just an itch to do some beer traveling, you'll want this book. And you still have plenty of time to get a copy from Amazon.

The other idea is the Liberty, Prosperity & Craftbeer Calendar, a New Jersey brewery 2013 calendar produced by Gretchen Schmidhausler, the long-time brewmaster at Basil T's in Red Bank. Now, I know what you're thinking: I don't live in Jersey, what the hell do I want with a NJ beer calendar? (You guys from Jersey, you already ordered one, I hope.) Let me tell you: the pictures of brewing scenes are beautiful. No matter where you live or drink, you'll be thinking of beer when you look up at this great piece of brewery enthusiasm. Get one today, because you get free shipping if you order by December 20; click here to get one. 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Pilsner Urquell story

The first was in September. I was at the brewery in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. We saw the huge, modern brewery with the big copper brewing kettles (heated by direct fire) and the massive stainless fermentation and maturation tanks . . . all aboveground. Then we were led below ground, into nine kilometers of tunnels cut through the native sandstone.

Down here, in the dim, wet halls where all Pilsner Urquell used to be lagered in great wooden barrels, they still make a small amount of it in the old, traditional way: fermented in open vats, aged in the big barrels that are still made by an onsite cooperage, and cooled by the natural temperature of the earth. They do that to make sure the beer made the modern way tastes the same as the old school stuff.
Vaclav handing Thomas his first beer

And there I was, in the very birthplace of pilsner, drinking fresh-as-life beer tapped directly from those barrels, with none other than the Pilsner Urquell brewmaster, a huge blond bear of a man named Vaclav Berka. It was cool, deliciously zingy with Saaz hop aroma and bitterness, and fantastically fresh.

The second moment was in mid-October. It was my son’s 21st birthday, and I managed to get him to hold off having a drink until 4:30 in the afternoon. That was when we went to a Pilsner Urquell event (at City Tap House), and my son’s first legal beer was a Pilsner Urquell, tapped and handed to him by a huge blond bear of a man . . . named Vaclav Berka. I got the next one, and it was cool, deliciously zingy with Saaz hop aroma and bitterness, and fantastically fresh....

And you can read the rest of that story here. It's a trade journal piece, but a good piece. And I have a follow-up, too. Yesterday I picked up a liter of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell in the beautiful bottle you see to the left. I got it from the people at Muller Beverage, who told me it was one of only 60 in the country (edit: It was actually one of 60 that Muller got, which is quite a bit different! I was moving fast, and it was a simple misunderstanding. My apologies to all). They also told me I should drink it right away, because it had been held up in shipping because of Hurricane Sandy (that bastard).

So I did. I picked up some lobsters at a local supermarket (I'd say where and give them a plug, but they sold me a piece of bad bluefish at the same time, so screw 'em), got some barbecue mushrooms at the farmer's market, and went home to Cathy and Thomas. I popped open the liter, poured it into two beautiful Pilsner glasses I got at the Grey Lodge some years back and cherish, and Thomas's mug (which you see in Vaclav's big hand above), and we drank that sweet thing... And we all said, hey, that's pretty good! And it was. I hope the whole Express Shipped Cold thing works out, because then we'll see more of this kind of thing, and it won't just be lucky journalists and bar owners who get this delicious stuff.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving: almost here

I've got a couple notes for Thanksgiving. First, I wrote this back in 2008, and it holds up well as my advice on beers for the holiday. As some of you know, I also do some writing for Origlio Beverage, a large wholesaler here in Philly that was the Craft Beer Wholesaler of the Year in 2009; here's what I did for them last year (PDF link; my story's on page 12).

There's also this from Local 44, where they note that -- in keeping with their name -- this is that time of year when everyone goes "home", leaving the neighborhood bars to the locals (and their friends and relations who have come "home," which is why Thanksgiving Eve is the busiest bar night of the year). They always make a big deal of Thanksgiving (though they're closed on the actual day, which suits me fine), and here are two things going on there that I thought you would like to know about.
Starting TODAY thru Wednesday, Nov 21 we've got special "Impress Your Friends and In-Laws" prices on all LARGE FORMAT bottles (aka those really big suckers we keep tucked behind the bar). We've been stocking up on some exciting new large format bottles -- don't go to dinner empty handed!

We are also super stocked up for all the Gluten-Free beer lovers at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Stop by to talk to any of our Bottle Shop staffers about some of the special Gluten-Free options we've got in stock. (Don't Forget! Gluten-Free Holiday Beer Baskets go on sale in the Bottle Shop on Monday, November 26. The Gluten-Free Baskets are also available by special order! Email for more information or to pre-order yours!)
I just did a piece on gluten-free beer for Massachusetts Beverage Business, should be out in the next issue: the upshot is that gluten free beers are much better than they used to be, and so is cider, another beer-strength gluten-free option. And you wouldn't want to exclude your celiac friends from the holiday fun, would you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Is That Another Growler I See?

I spotted what I'm pretty sure is an old-style growler back in August here. It's in a John Sloan painting in the Philly Museum of Art.

Regular reader Steven Herberger spotted another, and I got permission to link to the picture: it's at Print Magazine's website. Take a look.
Note: STAG does not encourage Prohibition-era stereotyping
Check the large pail the slack-bellied fellow with the spade is holding. I don't believe he's bailing out a ditch he's dug; I'm pretty sure he's supposed to represent 'immigrant labor.' Let's leave the stereotyping out, though (the point being made is that while the scary Papa Doc-type black man, and the slob of a ditch digger, and the scary Italian extortionist, and even the dopey white guy get to vote, the beautiful, virginal woman does not), and focus on the growler.

Note that it's shiny! It's a steel growler, not a dull tin item. And it's a big one, too. You've got to agree: no one holds their lunchbucket that way; Ditch-digging Danny-boy (or Duncan, or Dietrich, or Dmitri) is definitely getting a noseful of suds, 1913-style. (UPDATED: I had '1919' here, Steve Herberger corrected me. Don't know how I got that wrong; thanks!)

Growlers. The history is out there. Keep your eyes open. (Thanks, Steven, and thanks to Steven Heller of Print for permission to make the link.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Good times at Tröegs

Cathy and I went to the wedding of our old college friend Scott Fasnacht to Aimee Achorn this past weekend. It was a fantastic weekend, got to see a lot of old friends, including Scott's father Claire, who's getting up there but is still sharp, and Scott's brother Jim, an old friend himself from a different angle (things like this happen when you all live in Lancaster County...). Anyway...the wedding was in Elizabethtown (the rehearsal dinner was at the Liederkranz in Lancaster, and man, do they have a great beer selection), followed by a reception at the Hershey Country Club, where we were stuffed with great food (and some really good Bordeaux) and danced happily -- even me -- to the swing tunes of the Rob Stoneback Big Band (Rob's also an F&M alum, class of '73). Fantastic band, best I've heard in years.

So...the party's over around 5:30, and we're at loose ends, so...I suggested that Tröegs was right down the road from the Hotel Hershey, where we were all staying (and they had no Tröegs on tap, though they made me some excellent Old Grand-dad Manhattans), why don't we head down there? No one else had ever been, so we went back and changed, consolidated cars, and while Cathy and another wife went next door to the outlets, I went into the brewery with four of my best friends: Eric Noll and his wife Georgie, Tom Curtin (Thomas's godfather), and Larry Tighe.

We had a great time! Saw Ed Yashinsky and some of the Tröegs crew at the front, said hi, that got tucked into some Perpetual IPA and Scratch Fresh Hop, and we all started telling stories. The place was hopping, loud and happy, and the beer was excellent. I'm almost relieved there's not a place this great near me; I'd be there four times a week!

This was my first time at the brewery when it's been busy, and it is a LOT of fun. If we'd been hungry at all, we'd have tried some of the food -- it looked great -- but we were all still stuffed. Great weekend; great beers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Allagash Cookbook? Yes, please

If there's an American craft brewery that makes me think, 'Yes, a cookbook from them would be a great idea' more than Allagash, well, I can't think of it. I've been drinking Rob Tod's exceptional beers almost from the beginning, and from the first time I visited the brewery -- a long time ago, I love Maine -- we've had a conversation going about great food. I still think one of the very best beer/food pairings I ever had was at a Monk's Cafe "coastal beer and food" dinner where Stephen Beaumont had paired Allagash Interlude with snails in a buttery sauce in a huge hunk of puff pastry. It was a brilliant pairing: the knife-sharp dryness of the Interlude cut right through the richness of the sauce to marry with the snails.

So it was no surprise to get notice of an event at Pub and Kitchen next Tuesday (11/13, 7-9, PAYG): the launch of Allagash: The Cookbook. Chef James Simpkins has worked with the brewery to create a culinary tour of the United States, accompanied by the wide range of beers Allagash continues to produce. The launch will feature Rob Tod and P and K chef Jonathan Adams presenting two beer and food pairings, and four Allagash beers: White, Hugh Malone, Smoke & Beards, and Fluxus '12. 

Always a pleasure to see Rob in Philly; always -- always -- a pleasure to taste fine food pairings with Allagash. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hop Crisis Imperial IPA

You know I love the session beers. And you know I love the 21st Amendment Bitter American in particular, because it's a perfect American session beer: hoppy, drinky-drinky, and it comes in a can. And it's got a picture of a monkey on the can, so that's just a bonus.

But just to show you I also love me some big old beers -- as if you needed more proof -- I cracked out this can of 21st Amendment Hop Crisis I've been saving...Election Day seemed like a good time to do it.

It poured light gold, some white foam up top, and just a bit cloudy with hop stuff. The nose was awesome; pine and citrus zest boiling off of there with proper West Coast vigor. Now...this is aged on "oak spirals," and I wasn't sure how that would go. There was a breadth to it, not quite a creaminess but a rounding of the malt/bitter interface kind of thing that I found interesting. The bitterness was crushingly good, especially with fairly hot batch of chili we had for dinner; Hop Crisis banged right through that, and the spice perked up the bitter (as it will).

I'd do another, if I had one, and I'll happily do a bit of crisis management the next time I see one.

Time to get involved: Public Beer Laws Forum this Thursday at Yards

I'm going to be on the panel at another Philly Beer Scene Beer Laws Forum at Yards Brewing again, this Thursday at 7 PM. Hope you can come out; we had about 100 people last time, and I'd love to see more of you this time. Details on the forum can be found here, but I'd like to use this post to get you prepped up for the debate.

The panel's going to be State Senator Chuck McIlhinney, representing the PA Legislature, Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing, representing the brewers of Pennsylvania, and Mike Gretz Sr. of Gretz Beer Distributors, representing the beer wholesalers, Tom Kehoe of Yards, who is moderating the thing, and me, who's pretty much representing you, the beer drinker...or as I like to call us, the fourth tier.

We wanted to let you know what kind of things are going to come up. These are some questions we've been tossing around.
  • First and most important: what can people do that's effective to stand for what they believe in about changing the state's liquor code? How do we effect change through the Legislature?
  • We'd like to ask you, our beer-centric audience, how much spirits you buy in PA. Do you buy much wine and spirits at all, and when you do, do you buy them here, or do you cross the border. We'll do a show of hands, but if you want to comment here, that's good too. We'd also like to know if privatization of the state liquor stores interests you...and if it does, where do beer sales fit in that?
  • Why is a simple sixpack sale change to the Liquor Code is so hard to make when Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support it?
  • What do you want? Do you want to do away with the case law? Privatize the state stores and make them "all alcohol" stores? Sell beer and wine in every grocery store? Or just increase the number of licenses? 
  • And what seems like a very simple, reasonable request from Tom Peters at Monk's Cafe: Can it be arranged that a restaurant licensee could get a "one-time" permit to receive beer from a currently unregistered brewery, pay the applicable taxes, and not have to go through an Importing Distributor?

That's what we're thinking about. We hope you're thinking about coming out Thursday night. Remember: privatization isn't over, the sixpack law change isn't over, they're just on legislative holiday. Next year it all starts up again, and we want something to happen. This is where that starts. 

And yes, the bar at the brewery will be open for business. Debating is thirsty work.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Red Thunder coming same day as Red Dawn

A little Red Thunder
Last week I was able to try Victory's Red Thunder, their Baltic Thunder Baltic porter aged in once-used red wine barrels from Wente Vineyards, ahead of the release on November 21, which Victory has dubbed Red Wednesday. (As the folks in Downingtown admit, yeah, not tremendously imaginative to re-dub last year's Dark Intrigue release -- Dark Wednesday -- Red Wednesday, but there you are.) Red Wednesday is going to be a first for Victory: instead of the mad free-for-all of Dark Wednesday, this will begin at 8 AM with a sit-down breakfast:
  • Eggs Benedict
  • Spinach, Mushroom and Feta Quiche
  • Scrambled Eggs with Bacon or Sausage and Home Fries
  • Stuffed Cornflake French Toast with Blackberry Compote, Butter and Maple Syrup
  • English Muffin Sticky Buns
Ron's real hair. He wears a baldy cap.
Served with the full complement of Victory drafts, which, I hasten to point out, is awesome on any day, and sure to be excellent on this day. It will also include Red Thunder; you tickers can get tasters, the rest of us can get full 12 oz. pours, and you can even purchase up to six RT bottles to go. Such a deal!

So how was the Red Thunder? Well, bearing in mind that what I had was a five year old bottle sample of a pilot was pretty damned good. The cocoa/chocolate richness of the Baltic Thunder was still there, but the berry/pitfruit flavors of the big dark booger had been attenuated and refined by the red wine oak's fruit and tannins. It's a sophisticated drink, not a whack-in-the-chops stunner, and I quite liked it. Mind you, I quite liked the slow-pour Braumeister the goofy booger with the blonde curls at the left suggested I follow it up with, too.

Remember the timing, too. You can go get a Victory breakfast, with Victory beers, and score your Red Thunder (up to a case, and if you want more -- greedy sod -- there WILL be more available throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio)...and then go catch the opening day of the remake of Red Dawn. Wow. Now that's a day, huh? Wolverines!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let's beat up Dick Yuengling again!

Saw this...blather on PhillyMag's blog today, and just lost it. Gene Marks, a business consultant who writes...a lot, decided that he was going to take Dick Yuengling to task for something The Dickster said in a recent interview. Here's what Dick said about why he may or may not open an expansion brewery in western Pennsylvania:
“Some states are very economically friendly,” Yuengling said. “We don’t necessarily base business decisions on incentives like that. But if they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them.”
“Pennsylvania is a great location. But it’s not very business-friendly. You look for fair tax breaks, fair taxation. And the bottom line is more jobs. That’s what it’s all about.”
And Marks jumped all over him for it, mainly making the point that Yuengling -- because he mentioned that he might locate a new brewery in another state -- is just another entitled grabber, sticking out his hand for something he doesn't deserve.
So can we all admit that we’re the same? The unions. The small-business owners. The down-and-out workers. The big business executives. The 99 percent. In the end, we’re all trying to negotiate the best deal we can, regardless of the effects elsewhere. We’re all going to take it if we can get it. Whether we’re entitled to it or not.
Marks clearly doesn't know Dick. This is the last person to think he's NOT 'all the same.' He drives a well-used Ford. He wears jeans and flannel shirts. He still has his office in the 1831 building that houses the brewery, in Pottsville. He chainsmokes, and uses a coffee cup for an ashtray. He's folks.

I'm so tired of this being beaten to death for political reasons, because this is about the election. Did you miss that "99 percent," didja know Dick's a Republican? Can we put that crap aside just once before November? Dick Yuengling kept jobs in Pennsylvania when other breweries in the state were closing. He added jobs in Pennsylvania when he built his new brewery here. And now he needs to expand, and he says that he may not build another brewery here...and now he's evil.

Give me a break. This man's business decisions saved America's oldest brewery, gave union workers in Florida back their jobs (when Yuengling re-opened the Stroh brewery in Tampa, which went under because of bad business decisions), and made this the biggest American-owned brewery in 2012. I'm sorry; if the man wants to open a brewery somewhere else -- New England, maybe, or the Midwest -- that's his prerogative. It's his business, it's not a corporation. He can do whatever he wants with it.

And you know what? Doing just that -- whatever he wants with it -- has worked out really, REALLY well for his employees, for the thousands of people in PA who sell Yuengling, and for the residents of Pottsville. I'd say let him keep doing what he's doing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sorry, I've been away...

Photo by David Handschuh; more of his awesome photos of the trip here.
Yup. A LONG way away. This is the third of three lengthy trips I did in September, which I'll try to get up here: Pilsen/Prague, Tennessee/Kentucky, and this one, a DISCUS press trip to the distilleries of Ireland and Islay. This is that group at the Forest of Argyll. As you can see, by this last day of the trip we were exhausted, we hated each other, and were having no fun whatsoever.

Heh. More soon, I promise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bourbon Heritage Month's been busy, and I'll tell you about it soon. Did some tasting, went to Prague and Plzn, you know, the usual stuff. Meanwhile, it's Bourbon Heritage Month, and I'm about to leave for Tennessee and Kentucky for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, so this bourbon infographic (from Wild Turkey, in case you didn't guess) seemed appropriate:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beaujolais and Burgers: a rare wine post

There's an event next month that I'm not even going to...but I would if I could, so I thought I'd tell you about it. I know I don't post most of the GREAT beer events that go on around here, but...this is a wine event that intrigued me, so I'm passing it on.

Beaujolais and Burgers is on Monday September 17, 6-9, at The Walnut Room. For $15, you get "gourmet burgers" from 500 Degrees (don't know if the truffle-oil fries are included) paired with Georges Dubeouf's Beaujolais by wine author Mark Oldman. There are "party favors" (that's code for schwag) and chances to win prizes.

Beaujolais is easy-drinking wine, something I'm always urged to drink heavily in November...but I always forget. I wanted to try this event, and have some fun, but I'm traveling. If anyone does go...can you drop a note?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Susquehanna Brewing knocks me out

Susquehanna Brewing is open and running, has been for a few months, and I always like to give a brewery a few months before trying the beer...but this was getting ridiculous: two good friends were on the brewing side -- Jaime Jurado and Guy Hagner -- and I hadn't made the time to get up the road two hours to see this operation? That I knew was amazing? Seriously, the technical side of it is off the hook...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We went on vacation in the Poconos in late July, just about a month ago, and I contacted Jaime and Guy to see if there was any place I could try their beers as we were on our way up, then stop by the brewery or a distributor and pick up a sixtel for the cabin. Jaime graciously invited me to come tour the brewery, and said he'd get me some beer. So my mother and I went up that Saturday afternoon, and Guy gave us a tour.

Wow. First eye-opener was the mill, where the barley husks are largely separated from the grist before wetting in the mash tun, what Jaime called endosperm mashing integration. The husk is sent to a 'husk case' above the lauter tun, and dropped in "only immediately prior to...being required for its important role in refining mash." Jaime said SBC is the 7th brewery in the world to do this (they also do it at Trumer in Berkeley, which Jaime oversaw in his role with Gambrinus).

The 50 bbl. BrauKon brewhouse includes a dedicated decoction kettle (used to make the Goldencold). But the big deal is that the main brew kettle uses...well, as Guy said, you've seen a calandria, right? And the external calandria, like Victory has? This is something different. "This" is the PDX system, which circulates the wort outside of the kettle and injects live, high-pressure food-grade steam into the flow. It actually goes supersonic, which is a key part of the whole thing: the turbulence created by that gets the heat into the wort in an amazingly efficient way. The PDX saves a ton of energy (along with the cool, super-efficient smart boiler Jaime spec'd for the brewery (the same kind Flying Fish has in their new brewery, BTW, and don't you ever believe that Casey Hughes isn't a very bright boy)), and, well, it sounds really cool, too; "Like a jet plane taking off," Guy described it. Susquehanna was the first brewery in the world to have it designed into a new brewhouse from day one (Shepherd Neame in the UK were the pioneers on retrofitting it; SABMiller's using one in their big brewhouse in South Africa, Radeburger has one, and Miller is also testing one on their pilot brewery.

Truth is, Jaime put an incredible amount of energy and material-saving tweaks and equipment into this brewery. He told me that he realized that he wouldn't get too many more chances to completely design a brewery with this kind of freedom in his career, so he wanted to make this one right...and the energy savings and carbon footprint were very important to him. That's why the brewery has the short bottles, not longnecks, for instance: they weigh 1.4 oz. less, and have a 20% smaller carbon footprint. The labels are 30% recycled paper (post-consumer), will soon be 50%, and that should increase every year.

It's not all about energy, though. Guy showed us an incredibly complex Moravek BC-30 Carbonator, the thing that puts the CO2 into the beer as it's packaged, and it measures the temperature and gravity of the beer to precisely match the pressure to the job to have it consistent...but I loved what Jaime said about why he got it: "I selected the BC-30 carbonator/nitrogenator because it produces beer with superior bubbles...strange but true." Extremism in the defense of superior beer is no vice, Jaime. He also put in a massive hopjack (BrauKon's second), it looks like something from the powerplant of a nuclear sub.

Okay, so all was the beer? Pretty frickin' awesome. The walkaround bottles of Goldencold that Guy gave us for the tour (yes, my mother, too, and she asked for another!) reminded me of something Travels with Barley author Ken Wells said: “One thing you can say about lagers: the good ones don't make you work very hard to like them." This was one of the best American-brewed hellesbiers I've had, which is amazing considering how new the brewery is...and not amazing, considering how much experience Jaime and Guy have between them. Yes, Guy, because Jaime gives Guy full credit for formulation on this one.
That's Guy Hagner, meself, and Jaime Jurado.
The sample of 6th Generation Stock Ale we got? Not so good, flat, a bit harsh...but that got better. After some more chatting, Guy told me to pull my car (heavy-laden with vacation crap) into the loading bay, and put three cases of Goldencold and a low-fill sixtel of Stock into it. Yeep. "You get samples, right? These are samples!" I'll be honest, I was looking at that sixtel of Stock and thinking...I'd just as soon have more lager and skip the Stock, but, okay, I'll smile. So we thanked him, and drove off to the north.

Once we got to the cabin, I stocked the fridge with a case of lager, and iced down the keg of Stock Ale...and tapped it. Much better. (Jaime told me later that the keg in the brewery was tapped for at least 3 weeks...I suspect a new regimen of beer care has since been instituted.) The stock was sweet, bitter, floral and citrusy, and had a wonderfully fresh/bready character to it. We did serious damage to it and finished it off Thursday night.

So about two weeks later, Jaime emailed me: they're having their first beer dinner at Lucky's Wilkes-Barre...would we like to come? Well, it is almost 2 hours' drive, but Cathy's been wanting to meet Jaime for years, and wanted to see Guy again, so yeah, we went. It wasn't just Susquehanna's first beer dinner, it was Lucky's, too. I wasn't optimistic.

Boy, was I wrong. Lucky's is definitely a sports bar, lots of screens and a high ceiling and open floor plan, but the food was quite a notch above sports bar: all prepared on-site, freshly-made food. But again, I'm ahead of myself: we got glasses of the new SBC Oktoberfest. Very nice, dry malt character (not the caramel sweetness you get in too many American fests), and quite enjoyable indeed. Clearly these guys know their way around a lager.

They know how to have some fun, too. That extremely red beer you see here is a blend of Ofest and Goldencold, dosed with coffee, peaches, raspberries, and orange oil. It was dry, fruity -- the orange oil really made the other fruit aromas burst out of the glass -- with notes of coffee and dry cocoa. Very nice, and startlingly red.

So, about the food. The plate you see above was the main course: two "honking big pieces of meat" (as Uncle Jack always describes the main courses of the dinners at Monk's Cafe) in the form of perfectly done pork schnitzel, with broccolini and a bed of mild sauerkraut (and a dressing of deliciously caramelized onions). The pork was done through, juicy, with a crisp, thin coating that wasn't oily/gross...very nice, especially given the number of plates -- about 50 -- that they were serving. (Two of those 50 were Chip The Beer Guy and his girl (fiance!) Diane, who Cathy also got to meet; good times as always, Chip!) That was actually one of the things we noted, and Chip said it first: the food all came out on time, simultaneously, and it was all hot and ready to go. Nice coordination for their first beer dinner!

We'd started with passed pieces: battered cod bites, some green bean tempura-kind of thing (that was real good!), coconut shrimp, and...I can't remember the fourth thing. I DO remember the breads that came afterwards, because we all devoured them, great fresh-baked stuff, and Cathy took some home. We got a beer cheese soup next, and it had little bits of ham in it, nicely done, and not too gruel-like; I hate that.

Last was the bananas foster you see above: great whipped cream with that, too. The whole dinner was excellent, easily the best food I've ever had at a sports bar. I'm hoping that Susquehanna comes to Philly soon (I know Memphis Taproom got some samples), because we're just about out of Goldencold...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dogs and Tröegs at the Beer Yard (and TND, too)

Uncle Jack sent this earlier today (and supplied the first photo), and I'll happily pass it along. Big Matt Guyer is a dog person, as are the Trogner Bros, Uncle Jack, and I, and we hope you'll consider this charity beer event. 
Beer Yard, Tröegs Brewing and Teresa's Next Door Team Up To Support SPCA
Last year: Matt G, back left; Big Dan Bengel center; and Jack's Buddy, lying down
Once again, The Beer Yard, Tröegs Brewing and Teresa's Next Door are offering their customers and fans a chance to enjoy great beer and food at a Saturday afternoon celebration benefiting the local SPCA, held in the Beer Yard parking lot. The event runs from 1-4PM on Saturday, Sept 1.Attendees will enjoy a wide variety of Tröegs beers and tasty treats from the grill set up by Teresa's Next Door. A free logo pint glass (while they last) will accompany every case of Tröegs sold and $5 from every case sold throughout the entire weekend will go to the Delco SPCA. That same deal applies to every check at TND for the weekend on which a customer writes "SPCA," so it's a party that just keeps on keepin' on right through Labor Day.
You'll be proud to tell your canine companions you fact, they're invited as well, just so long as they are on leashes). It's going to be a barkin' good time.
I'd be there with the Corgis, but we're spending the weekend with family. Get on out there and drink for the dogs!
Please fill this cooler with beer for us dogs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is That A Growler I See?

Cathy, Nora, and I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday, and I was enthralled by the Impressionists, the Bucks County painters, and by the Ashcan School painters. While looking at those (and the Thomas Eakins collection), I saw this painting by John Sloan: "Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, New York City."

Taken with my phone; I apologize for the quality.

The gallery note describes the scene: "This painting, which depicts an intoxicated woman crossing a street in a state of confusion and disarray, illustrates John Sloan's compassionate, nonjudgmental approach to the squalor and misery he encountered in the Terderloin district of Manhattan." There's more, but that's the part I wanted: she's supposed to be drunk, and she's carrying a covered that a growler? The painting is from 1907, certainly a time when one would find growlers on the streets of Manhattan.

Take a closer look.
Let me drink my Knickerbocker in peace!

I don't think a woman, a drunk woman, would be carrying home a pot of stew. I believe...that's a growler. Just happened to notice it, and found it interesting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

American Beer Blogger: Emmy Nominee!

My reaction at the news of the Emmy nomination.
Got a call last night from Rudy Vegliante, the producer of American Beer Blogger -- do you remember that? The TV show I did, the Kickstarter funding campaign, the editing, voiceovers, last-minute re-shoots at Stoudt's? And then one little night of airtime on WLVT, which despite lots of calls and support seemed to think we didn't reach their "core audience"...

Well, clearly someone besides Rudy and John and the crew and me liked the show. It's been nominated for a regional Emmy (Mid-Atlantic region) in the Entertainment/Program-Special category, one of three nominees this year. Here's the full list; we're on page 8, category #20.

A nomination may push things along a bit, and maybe, maybe get us another shot at some airtime. If we actually win -- awards are September 22 -- that could get leverage for some more shows. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Congratulations to Rudy, John, and the whole crew, and much thanks to the people at Stoudt's for all their assistance!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beer, Politics, and Paul Ryan

brandchannel proves that despite President Obama's beer summit (and today's Buds he bought at the Iowa State Fair), despite Hilary Clinton knocking back a Blue Moon (and a shot of Crown Royal!), and President Bush being a teetotaler, beer isn't non-partisan, that -- like the Irish-Americans who insist that you have choose Jameson or Bushmills depending on who you are, rather than how it tastes -- if you mention the wrong beer, you screwed up politically.

See, when Paul Ryan accepted Romney's announcement of him as his running mate, he said, "My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leinie's, and some Miller." (You can hear it on the video at 1:58.) Mmmm, a Wisconsin native (5th generation, he said) who likes beer: not surprising! But everything means something, at least when it's presidential politics. Leinie's, of course, is Leinenkugel, the Wisconsin family brewery that was bought by...Miller back in the 1990s. So brandchannel lets us know that the Leinenkugel family is Republicans.

They also tell us that " an aging Wisconsin drinker, Ryan can be forgiven for including Miller." Because Miller is now SABMiller, part of the London-based world brewer...but then, they're also part of the MillerCoors joint venture (based in Chicago). So maybe what's more important is that Miller is still made in the big Milwaukee brewery. At least, that's probably what's important to the people who work there. (I hear the election is about jobs.)

But the big ho-ho is that Spotted Cow is made by New Glarus, and the Careys, who own New Glarus and are making a huge Wisconsin success out of it, are very much Obama Democrats, and opponents of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who the Democrats tried to recall earlier this year. So it appears that Ryan is clueless, right?

Well...I'd say brandchannel is clueless, because beer doesn't really give a damn, and a good beer drinker shouldn't either. When it comes down to drinking it, and the beer's good, beer isn't partisan. If you can tell if a beer's liberal or conservative just by tasting it, you're -- well, I was about to say you're better than I am, but to be honest? You're crazy.

Let's keep politics out of beer, because as I've learned in 30 years of drinking non-mainstream beer, you can't tell anything about a brewer's politics from their hopping rates. Let's leave that to the pundity types, and keep politics out of beer. Just a suggestion.

Beer Fest in Manheim (Pennsylvania) this weekend

I don't generally post up events like this, but I'm making an exception for the Lancaster Liederkranz, the German-American society I'd join in a heartbeat (if they'd have me) if I was living back home in Lancaster. They're having a festival this Saturday, the 18th, with a noon to 4 session and another from 5:30 to 9:30. $35 gets you live blues, smoked brisket and pork (and sides), and beer from local and not-so-local brewers like Stoudt's, Evil Genius, St. Boniface, and Spaten: 20 in all. It's out at the Liederkranz pavilion, past Manheim on Rt. 283...well, look. Why not just go to the website and get all the details? Because here's the generalities:

  • Beer. 
  • Smoked Meat
  • Blues
  • $35 is a good price for a beerfest (with food) these days
  • Good times in Lancaster County
Get it? I'd be there if my wife didn't have different ideas, believe me!

Monday, August 13, 2012


The kids were away -- ha! KIDS, Thomas is 20 and Nora's 18, they went to see The Bourne Legacy (after we had a marathon of DVDs last night: Iron Man I and II, and 9) so I met Cathy for dinner at Char Koon, a little overlooked gem of a Chinese/Thai/sushi place right here in Langhorne, and I can't recommend it enough. We split an order of shrimp dumplings (tasted like the great ones I had at Ruby Rouge in Montreal (dump the "I eat dim sum in NYC..." douche-reviews and you'll see what it's like)), then Cathy had the house noodles and I had the Singapore noodles (smoky curry, delicious!).

It's BYOB at Char Koon, and I was packing a cooler. We opened with the Stone 16th Anniversary IPA, which was perfect with the dumplings. The 16IPA is spiked with lemon oil and lemon verbena, an herb I'm very familiar with (have a bottle of the dried stuff in my spice cabinet, too). It was plain in the nose, a lemony, herbal wash that really perked up the olfactory pleasure centers. There was a hint of the rye crack in there, too, a minty splash around the edges. In the mouth? A blast, but not a slam: this was a nicely balanced beer indeed. I'll be looking for more of it, and so should you!

(Followed it up with a bottle of Upright Brewing's 5, an IPA malt/hops recipe with saison yeast, and it was quite refreshing, tasty...but a bit overwhelmed by the curry. My fault, not the beer's, and I'll be looking for another bottle for sure.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Do you need an IPA? Or do you just want one?

Following up on the comments on my recent post about Neshaminy Brewing -- generated by the statement "...the IPA that every noob craft drinker insists that a brewer make..." -- I posted the following on Facebook:
Brewers, beer sellers (wholesale and retail), beer drinkers: a question for you. Does a craft brewer NEED to have an IPA in their lineup? Given that there are literally thousands of IPAs already on the market, can you make it without one? As a drinker, do you want every local brewery to do an IPA?
The conversation, to say the least, has been brisk. There's clearly a lot of pressure on brewers to make an IPA -- it's a constant request for those who start out without one -- and Greg Ouelette, the brewer at Martha's Exchange in Nashua, NH, noted that while he always has one on offer, when he replaced it with "a nice pale ale," it sold slower than the IPA on before it and the IPA he put on after it.

Some mention that what they'd really like to see is a good crisp lager (which brought up the inevitable "pilsner is harder to make than throwing a ton of hops in another IPA" argument), while others have noted that maybe saison/farmhouse is the next 'must have' style, moving up already. Might be something to that, God knows it's been true in Philly for a few years already.

So...what do you think? Does a brewer need to offer an IPA year-round? What does it mean if they don't? Does your opinion change if the IPA is a 'me-too,' or if it's something quite different? What if it's a Belgian, white, red, black, green, or blue IPA? (What if it's one of those but the brewer wises up and calls it something else?)

Let's open up the whole damn can of worms here. I love drinking IPA -- and was terribly disappointed when an IPA growler sample I recently got from a new brewpub smelled like burnt rubber and cowshit -- but I like drinking a lot of different beers. I applaud a brewer who wants to make something other than what everyone else is making; really, really, really love to see that, and making just another IPA is just...boring. But I can't wait to try Pretty Things' new Meadowlark IPA, which sounds quite tasty. But I was also excited by Susquehanna Brewing's Goldencold Lager, one of the best American-brewed hellesbiers I've had.

  • Does a brewer run the risk of losing attention by not doing an IPA? (Or does it matter more what the beers they DO make are?) 
  • Is the lust for IPA simple-minded and similar to the lust for hot sauce? (Or is it more an effect of the newer strains of hops that add great citrus/pine/floral/tropical fruit flavors and aromas to beers, or maybe of new technologies that allow fresher hop flavors at the tap?)
  • Will IPAs peak and fall -- as raspberry beers did in the 90s -- or are they going to take over the category? (And if they're good IPAs...what does that mean to you? What's it mean to the brewers?)
  • Is style consolidation inevitable? (Or are we seeing style diversification with all the Belgian, white, red, black, etc. "IPA" styles expanding in the market?)
Discussion is encouraged. For myself, I think IPAs are frickin' great. I think the [insert descriptor here] IPAs are to be judged on individual merit, but the nomenclature is silly. And I love a wide, wide variety of beers, and would be unhappy if that were crimped by the popularity of IPA. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

RIP, Bob Ryan

I just found out that Bob Ryan, the former owner of Ryan's Beverage (now North Wales Beer) in North Wales, died about a month ago. His passing was probably not noted by many, but Bob had a very significant impact on my life: he bought my first piece of beer writing.

I was working at a small pharma company in Fort Washington at the time, late in 1993. My friend Tom Lawler walked into my office and tossed a piece of paper on my desk; it was a one-page, one-side newsletter from Ryan's Beverage (Tom lived about four blocks from there at the time). "You can do better than this," he said. I looked at it, and he was right, I could. So I did. I ran up a two-sided newsletter on a cheap desktop publishing suite I had (DOS-based, can you believe it?), a story on Saranac and Matt Brewing, put a snazzy masthead on it, and gave it to Tom. I had a cover letter that said, essentially, I'd like to do this for you. If you like this one, it's free; if you'd like more, I'll do them for $25.

Bob liked it. I wrote newsletters for Ryan's for seven years, and their craft and import business grew. I'll take a little credit for that, but mostly it was Bob's hustle (and the energy of his wife, Connie). Bob was always smiling, always thinking, and made the most of his little sidestreet space. I got up there fairly often; did tastings, did book signings once Pennsylvania Breweries came out, helped out with beer selection occasionally.

Finally, the newsletter got to be more work than it was worth for me as I got busier with better-paying gigs, and I had to tell Bob I couldn't do it anymore. That was after the shakeout in 1996, and the business was tougher. Eventually, Bob came to me and asked advice on what to do. I gave him the best thoughts I could, but he wound up selling (to a guy from my local beer store!). I heard from him occasionally after that, but with him out of the business...

Then this morning I got an email from Connie; she'd seen my name on LinkedIn, and wanted to let me know that Bob passed away last month, from Parkinson's. It's a sad moment. Bob, more than any other one person, is responsible for what I do now, for how I got here, for all the great experiences I've had, and for all the help I've been able to give to craft beer and rye whiskey.

Cheers, Bob! I hope you're getting a chance to rest.

Yes, there is a Philly Rum Week!

I like beer, you know that. I like whiskey, you know that, too. But I also like rum, more than any other spirit after whiskey, and a few friends in Da Biz know it...which is how I found out about National Rum Day -- August 16, next Thursday -- Philly Rum Week -- all next week -- and Duke's Surf Bar.

First, some caveats. Philly Rum Week is in no way like Philly Beer Week. It ain't as big. It ain't as compellingly natural. And no rum distillers or limited release rums will be coming to town -- it is a spirit, after all, so that would require cooperation from the brain-shot PLCB...which ain't happening.

Second, National Rum Day is just barely organized. There is no umbrella website, for instance, and most of the stuff Da Google comes up with is from last year's National Rum Day. It's just some rum bars and rum makers sending out press releases (like the people at Cruzan, who sent me the picture above, and are sending me a sample of the aged white, because I asked, because it's, like, one of my favorite rum brands (along with Rhum Clement, who haven't sent me samples...) and I haven't had that one), and having events.

Finally, I hate "pop-up" bars and restaurants and such. So precious, so "I knew about this," so exclusive -- in the 'non-inclusive' sense of the word. That's why I never write about them, or food trucks. I know, that makes me a curmudgeon, but that's how it is. Yeesh.

Okay? Got all that? Well, forget it, because Philly Rum Week is silly and fun and I'm into it; why would you expect National Rum Day to be organized; and Duke's Surf Bar is totally a tiki bar pop-up at Rum Bar, and I'm all over that. It's rum, even I'm going to lighten up and have some fun with it.

So next Thursday, I'll be at Rum Bar -- er, Duke's Surf Bar for some tiki drinks served up by my mixologist buddy Katie Loeb of Han Dynasty (she's going full-bore tiki for the night), then I'll be sliding my way over to Cuba Libre (where they apparently don't even know it is National Rum Day, but who cares?) for some more rummy fun, after which I'll probably wind up the night at the Khyber or Triumph or Eulogy...cuz, you know...I like beer.

And I am definitely taking the train this time!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cider Explodes in U.S. Market

Updated: I forgot to add in the analysis...sorry!
I've been noting an explosion in small -- and not-so-small -- cidermakers, and it's reflecting a huge category growth. According to a story in today's Shanken News Daily, cider sales in the U.S. rose by 23% last year (that's 5.7 million cases sold in 2011...and for those of you who, like me, are used to thinking in barrels, it's about 414,000 bbls.). Pretty amazing, and probably explains why A-B and Boston Beer both rolled out ciders this year (Michelob Ultra Light Cider and Angry Orchard, respectively). It's amazing what cider can do when it gets proper distribution, too: they report that Crispin cider, after being bought by MillerCoors' Tenth & Blake craft/import unit in February, has been growing at about 300% per month since the purchase. That's frickin' amazing.

Anyway you slice it, the 800 pound gorilla is Vermont Hard Cider, which makes Woodchuck and Wyders, and imports Strongbow and Woodpecker. From the SND story:
“We didn’t have much competition in the cider category for almost 20 years,” says Bret Williams, president and CEO of Vermont Hard Cider Co., the U.S. market’s leading cider player. “It’s a very unique time ['very unique', it makes the editor in me shudder...], with more brands coming into the mix. But competition is good for the category. It’s building awareness and bringing in new consumers.”
Vermont Hard Cider’s top brand is the Woodchuck label ($8.99-$9.99 a six-pack), which last year grew 32.8% to surpass the 2-million-case mark [with Strongbow, that's half the market]. The brand—which includes a range of seasonals and private reserve offerings—is trending at more than 28% growth for the first half of 2012, according to Williams, and is expected to hit 3 million cases by year-end. Vermont Hard Cider is breaking ground next month on an expansion project at its Middlebury, Vermont production facility that will grow capacity from 4 million cases to 10 million cases annually. Vermont Hard Cider is also investing heavily in innovation, recently launching Woodchuck in a 12-ounce can format. In addition, the company has started production on an aged cider matured in Bourbon barrels, set to roll out later this year.
Kinda sounds like craft beer, don't it? You'd almost expect them to be announcing plans to open a second facility in North Carolina or something... Anyway, there's also flavors coming -- Crispin's Fox Barrel pear cider is kinda tasty -- and you'll likely see more draft options, breaking out of the single handle most places offer. 
Vermont Hard Cider’s Williams says the on-premise will be a key battleground as cider continues to expand. “On-premise accounts won’t have several ciders on tap—they’ll only have one,” he says, adding that he sees cider ultimately gaining upwards of a 10% share of the U.S. beer market. “In the past 20-plus years, I’ve never been more bullish on the category.”
What's driving it? Couple things. First, it's simply taste. Cidermakers are making better-tasting cider, just like the craft brewers made better-tasting beer. They're making more interesting ciders, robust, dry, flavored with other fruits and spices, big ciders and session ciders, and like craft beer, variety sells. Woodchuck's making seasonals, and they sell. Secondly, you've got sales to people who just flat-out don't like beer, and never will -- they're out there, just like the folks that don't like wine or whiskey -- or can't drink it: cider is increasingly picked as a natural choice for the growing number of diagnosed celiacs, who cannot digest the gluten in beer, and are actually harmed by it. Cider tastes good, it's fizzy and you drink it cold, and it has about the same ABV as beer; a very acceptable substitute for some.

Is this growth bad news for craft beer? No! Getting people to choose different things is good for craft. Which brings up a much bigger question: is the rise of really large craft brewers -- Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Boulevard -- bad news for craft beer? That's a topic for another day. For now, let's have a glass of cider.

The Grey Lodge: Sweet & Sour 16th

One of my earliest Grey Lodge pix, circa 1996.
A significant note from Scoats just showed up in my email. Now...I was at Victory before it opened. I was at Stoudt's way back in the late 1980s. I was at Memphis Taproom the day it opened. and Scoats and the Grey Lodge, we have a special relationship. Although I live in another county, 16 miles away...I usually tell people that my local pub is The Grey Lodge.

Maybe it's because it's out in the Northeast, maybe it's because of the beer selection, maybe it's the constant change. But a lot of it is that when Scoats took over the place, he never dumped the regulars, never made anyone feel unwelcome. Which is why you'll still see guys sitting at the bar on Friday the Firkinteenth...drinking a bottle of Miller Lite. And that makes some people's heads explode -- it caught me off guard at first -- but I've realized that I love it. These are people, this is a bar that gets the idea that it's about the bar and the people first and always, and a great selection of beer (and whiskey!) can only help that, not be more important.

Groundhog Day, note the t-shirt date...
So I'm happy to put up this note about the Grey Lodge's 16th Anniversary Sweet and Sour 16 Party, this Saturday. I may or may not make it -- I have to sing early Sunday morning up in Lancaster -- but I will be there on Saturday at some time. It's family. Happy Anniversary, Scoats!

Ah, the good old days...
Hello Lew,

The Grey Lodge will celebrate its 16th Anniversary this Saturday, the 11th, from 5pm to 10pm. We don't celebrate our anniversary too often, but when we do, we try to do it epicly. This time around, it's just one day but the beer list is truly epic. Since we don't seem to anything normal-like, our Sweet 16 will be a Sweet and Sour 16, with all sour beers on tap. We'll have a greatest hits of canned beer too.
- 10 sour beers on tap, ranging from very accessible to truly extreme. Several of these beers we have been holding onto for years.
- big prize for the oldest Grey Lodge T-shirt
- prizes for any vintage Grey Lodge shirt
- free cake!

Full details at


P.S. Thanks for your support and encouragement over the years. It has meant a lot.

To me, too, Scoats. Me too!
Groundhog Day 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Booze along the Delaware

Not the Eye of Sauron; that's Monongahela Rye red!
I got out into the crushing heat back in mid-July (the Jetta's thermometer was reading 106F at one point) to visit Mountain Laurel Spirits down in Bristol. That sounds a bit more fancy than it is; what I mean is that I drove back in the Grundy Commons industrial park (a very cool re-use of a 100+year old industrial space by the canal in this riverside town) and hung out with founders (and entire workforce) Herman Mihalich and John Cooper for a hot 90 minutes...the distillery isn't air-conditioned!

They'd invited me down because they were dumping some barrels, and wanted to let me get a taste and see what I thought. I was curious to see what they'd done -- with help from Michigan State University's Artisan Distilling program -- on coaxing good wood character out of small (15 gallon) oak barrels in 6 months. It's been a subject of some controversy in craft distilling, but I've been impressed with what these guys have been doing so far -- their white whiskey is one of the better ones on the market, IMO -- so I was optimistic.

We tasted from six different barrels, four of them that were going into the vat you see Herman dipping from above. Those four were significantly different; one of them extra-spicy, one quite sweet, and one distinctly floral. The two others were tasting particularly delicious, and they're considering a small release -- distillery sales only -- of single barrel stuff. I encouraged them to do so; that's how you make a name.

Did I mention it was bleeding hot? That's when we decided it was time for a cooler drink (although as Davey Crockett said, rye whiskey will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter), and Coop made up a couple whiskey sours. Wow. They were delicious and tart and WHAM. Just the thing. You need to own this drink, I told them: too many people think of whiskey sours as 'granny drinks,' and they're anything but. We drank some more. Then I left. It was really hot.

NCBC's brewhouse (heat is not visible in this picture)
In very little time, I was at Neshaminy Creek Brewing, the new brewery in Croydon that I'd been hearing about, but hadn't yet had a chance to try. It was hot there, too. The crew all strung in as I was wandering about the brewhouse (which was hot), and after we'd talked about their lagering tanks and how they were planning to keep brewing lagers along with the IPA that every noob craft drinker insists that a brewer make...we decided it was really hot, so we went in the somewhat air-conditioned tasting room to get a couple beers.

First up was the Trauger Pilsner. At 4.4%, it makes a nice session drinker, and is just about good to go: not overly hoppy, a nice malt character, but a slight greenness, an off-flavor. An early batch, so I suspect that will clean up soon. The County Line IPA -- yes, of course they have one! -- was good, hoppy but not overdone, which probably means they'll be bumping up Da Hops on this soon as the geekerie squeals in dismay (so get some now before it's scorchingly bitter). And then there was the Tribute Tripel, which I thought was the best beer I tasted: not heavy, a good orange creamsicle kind of character from the yeast, and didn't taste like 9.3% at all. One to look for.

Whew. It was hot. So I said good-bye, and headed home.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heaven Hill's Larceny

Time for honesty: usually when I get samples, even whiskey samples, they generally sit on my kitchen table for at least a couple days. The boxes are annoyingly wrapped, I've a tendency to procrastinate (I hear a whisper of chuckles from my editors), and, well, they'll still be there tomorrow.

But today, when I got this box from Heaven Hill...I was pretty sure what it was, so I opened it as soon as I got home. Sure enough, it's the new Larceny. Here's the description: "Larceny is a true small batch Bourbon produced from dumps of 100 or fewer barrels that have been selected from the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of Heaven Hill’s open rick warehouses in Nelson County, Kentucky. Larceny is drawn from barrels that have aged from 6 to 12 years at this high storage, and is bottled at a full-bodied 92 proof, or 46% alcohol by volume."

But the key -- heh, heh -- point is that Larceny comes from the wheated bourbon that Craig and Parker have been making since Heaven Hill bought the Old Fitzgerald brand back in 1999, and Larceny references the story of John Fitzgerald. Or at least, one of the stories. It's the story that Fitzgerald was a treasury agent who had the keys to distilleries' bonded warehouses...and used them to pilfer whiskey -- the best whiskey, as he apparently had plenty of time to taste them. 

Enough talk. Let's drink! Well, it smells like Heaven Hill: hot sweet corn, light cinnamon notes, an edgy oak note. Mmmm, tasty. This is what I love about Parker's booze: it's always stuffed full of flavor, from the cheapest bottle of Heaven Hill white label all the way up through Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, all the way on up to the Parker's Heritage bottlings. This is no exception, and it's sharp and lively with it. Imagine a hot sheet of whiskey glass snapping in your mouth and flashing to liquid; it's that quick and light. It's not sweet, it's spicy, oaky, shot with cornbread and a drying heat. The finish is encouraging, a warm tingle through the whole mouth.

I could see drinking this all night -- with a small application of water and a certain amount of pretzels or nuts -- with a group of friends, talking till it's gone. And at $25 suggested price, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a spare.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Small Batch Budweiser

That's right, I said "Small Batch Budweiser." I just got a press release from Anheuser-Busch about "Project 12," a "friendly competition" in which brewmasters at A-B's twelve American facilities (rumors continue to float that one will actually be closing sometime in the near future, possibly the Newark, NJ brewery) brewed beers "using the proprietary yeast directly descended from the original Budweiser yeast culture used by Adolphus Busch in 1876 and still used by Budweiser today."
“The key to this project was the common yeast – which is a very important and often under-appreciated contributor to the flavor and aroma of beer,” said Jane Killebrew-Galeski, director of brewing, quality and innovation for Anheuser-Busch. “We are proud of all these beers – the variety and the quality – but we want consumer feedback. So, we’re looking forward to what we hear when we sample this summer. Our objective is to allow our brewmasters to show some creativity, but the beers must fit the hallmarks the Budweiser brand is respected for, such as quality and consistency, and have a very crisp and clean taste.”
Okay, it's Bud that isn't Bud. But they stayed fairly close to the farm. Each beer is a lager "using all-natural ingredients." Six were selected to be part of a national sampling program to pare it down to three that will be released in a sampler pack this fall.

The beers are named for the ZIP code of the breweries. Here's what they made, briefly.
  • Budweiser Small Batch 91406 (Los Angeles):  A deep-amber lager with 6 percent ABV that uses four different types of hops.
  • 63118 (St. Louis):  A deep-gold 5 percent ABV American lager that uses the same types of hops (Hallertau and Tettnang) commonly used at the St. Louis brewery during  the 19th century. 
  • 43229 (Ohio): A light-amber lager using eight different types of hops with 6 percent ABV. 
  • 23185 (Virginia): A light-amber all-malt bourbon cask lager aged on bourbon staves and vanilla beans and with an ABV of 5.5 percent.
  • 13027 (New York): A bright-golden lager brewed with six imported and domestic hops and with an ABV of 7 percent.
  • 80524 (Colorado): A deep-gold, filtered wheat beer with 5.2 percent ABV using lemon peel, orange peel and coriander.
Why do we care? "The six sampler beers also will be sampled during “Budweiser Made in America” over Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia. The two-day music festival benefits United Way." I never knew we were a big Budweiser town. Wait, we're not. So is it about our music scene? Probably not. Is it about our being the birthplace of America? Maybe... Is it about getting a lot of attention for Budweiser in a town where Yuengling Lager is kicking their ass? Maybe... To be clear, I'm not really sure what that's about.

But I don't see this being anymore of a wavemaking, attention-getting breakthrough for Budweiser than any of the other projects A-B has tried. People just don't seem to want craft beer called Budweiser (which Shocktop is not), no matter what is wrapped around it, and I don't expect this to be any different. I'd be happy to try some of these, and I suspect they'll probably be good (except maybe that bourbon cask thing...I'm suspicious, but maybe they learned something from Goose Island). But I don't see this being anything significant.