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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do we want Philly to be Brussels-on-Schuylkill?

Philly is still in the running for New Belgium's east coast brewery, according to this story from Charlotte, N.C.'s WBTV. Crowing a bit over Sierra Nevada's decision to settle near Asheville -- and understandably so! -- WBTV noted:
New Belgium Brewing, known for its tasty Fat Tire beer, is also considering the Asheville area for a possible plant. New Belgium recently toured the Western NC area for possible sites. Both brewers want to expand beer output and to cut shipping costs with East Coast plants.
"Asheville and Philly are leading our short list of sites," New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson told the Denver Post last month.
Leading the short list. How does Sierra Nevada deciding on Asheville affect that? You could say -- as I'm sure many are thinking -- that New Belgium will now look away, since Sierra Nevada's in town. There's not room for two big breweries in town. That doesn't follow for sure; for instance, look at all the pharmaceutical industries around Philadelphia, look at Silicon Valley, or, if you prefer, look at Portland -- either Portland, where several good-sized craft breweries are in business quite close to each other.

This doesn't preclude New Belgium settling in Asheville at all. It's still attractive for the same reasons it always was, and now you've got an added attraction, in that having Sierra in the area will draw support industries, draw skilled workers, create an atmosphere even more supportive of craft beer. As our pharmaceutical businesses have learned, that's a tangible benefit.

However...Philadelphia is also still attractive for the same reasons it always was, and -- no slight to Asheville -- we've got more to offer. Let me enumerate:
  • You want outdoor? Hey, mountain kids: meet The Shore. That's right, we have an ocean right over there. And if you want hiking, the Appalachian Trail -- you've heard of that, right? -- is right over there. An hour to the ocean, two hours max to the AT.
  • You want fun? Philly's got music, restaurants, bike trails, all this historical stuff you may have heard of, and...unlike Asheville OR Denver, we're a quick train ride or drive from three other major fun towns: NYC, Baltimore, and DC (and I can tell you, Boston's not that much farther).
  • You want infrastructure? Multiple major highways, rail nexus, AND a major port. Growing breweries already in place to pull talent and suppliers, and some of them already on-board with the whole green idea. And there's that pharmaceutical industry I mentioned, with lots of crossover (like the dairy business was in the early days). 
  • You want beer culture? Again, no slight to Asheville, but...Philly Beer Week. The most recognized Belgian bistro in America (plus several others), and what is said to be the biggest market for Belgian beer in the country. Craft taps in a substantial percentage of area bars. A beer-savvy local government. And again...Philly Beer Week.
  • You want to sell beer? Guys...look at the map. Are there more craft beer drinkers within 300 miles of Asheville...or Philly. Nuff said
But what about the other side of this equation? Does Philly want New Belgium? I suspect our local brewers -- several of whom make a good living doing just what New Belgium does --  would not necessarily be up for that, but...if I were a local politician, if I were a local business owner, if I were a taxpayer?  

Welcome to Pennsylvania, Kim Jordan!

New Belgium means jobs. Good jobs, vested jobs. New Belgium means green manufacturing. They are a model for low-impact industry. New Belgium means an even larger beer culture. It's true; yes, Philly, we can do better (I wrote that almost 5 years ago, and it's still true). New Belgium means better beer. Everything I wrote earlier this week about Sierra Nevada forcing Asheville's brewers to up their game? Holds true here, too.

Not to mention...our local brewers can definitely hold their own. I have no doubt of it. Our guys -- from Victory, to Flying Fish, to Dogfish Head (yeah, they're local enough), to Yards and Philly Brewing, to Iron Hill and McKenzie, to Nodding Head, and even our man Dick Yuengling -- can handle this. They're good. Real good.

And that's good, because New Belgium brings resources and cooperation, too. They're good citizens in many ways. I also guarantee you that they'd bring new excitement and beer tourism to the area...which is good for everyone in the game. Including we drinkers!

I hope Philly's still in the hunt, and I hope our local governments are smart enough to be helping things along.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sierra Nevada decides on the site for their Eastern brewery: is it time to run for the hills?

Sierra Nevada has chosen Asheville, North Carolina -- okay, Mills River, 12 miles south of Asheville, but from 100 miles or more's Asheville, and you can bet that the beer-happy folks in Asheville will see it that way, too --  as the site for their new east coast expansion brewery. Plans are for a brewery with 300,000 bbls. initial capacity. “We are thrilled to have found an ideal location in western North Carolina for our second brewery,” says Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada. “The beer culture, water quality and quality of life are excellent. We feel lucky to be a part of this community.”
The brewery site. You can almost smell the mash.

More from Grossman:
Much like Chico, with its close proximity to many creeks, rivers and the Sierras, the location for our new brewery in North Carolina will be situated on property that borders the French Broad River, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. Of course, building a new brewery from the ground up is no small task, and we anticipate the construction to take between 18 and 24 months. Our East Coast brewery will be built with a sustainable and mindful approach and maintain the integrity of the property and beauty of the natural landscape. Construction will take approximately two years, and when completed, we anticipate the new brewery to be close to 200,000 square feet, with an on-site pub & restaurant.
How could you not like this? I've heard some concerns that Sierra Nevada will steamroller smaller craft brewers in the area, even in the wider mid-Atlantic. No, I don't think so, not any more than Sam Adams or Yuengling* have, though there was some of that at the very beginning. Sierra Nevada has clearly learned that if they want to keep growing -- and doing good! -- they're going to have to tune up their game, and they surely have: Torpedo, Ovila, Ruthless Rye, and the impressive run of one-offs they've been doing shows that.

That, in turn, is clearly good for everyone, because it serves notice that Sierra Nevada's impressive plant and talent pool and immense reservoir of goodwill are not going to simply be used to pump out more Pale Ale. No,they're going to be doing what Sierra Nevada has done from the very beginning, and what successful craft brewers have always done: challenging other brewers to bring their best, and thereby delivering the goods to us -- The Thirsty.

Cheers, this is good news.

*No, I'm not saying Yuengling is a craft brewery; don't freak out. But Yuengling did tend to suck up the taps reserved for "different" in bars in the region. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ernest & Scott, and Paris in London

Put some miles on the car last Thursday; drove down to Wilmington for the opening of Ernest & Scott Taproom (902 N. Market St.), the new beer bar in town. It's a whopper, too; restaurateur Scott Morrison laid down some serious bucks to outfit this large, balconied space. There's a solid commitment to cask ale, which explains why I ran into Paul Pendyck there (I had just seen Paul on Tuesday; took my mother to dinner at his Bulls Head Public House in Lititz and enjoyed two fine cask ales).

The beer engines weren't actually operating (someone had screwed up getting the breathers there), but there were seven firkins pouring, and I got stuck right into some Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA, poured by Sam Calagione. Sam's been consulting on the beer program, and since is such a big deal for beer in Delaware, that's no surprise. The beer scene in Wilmington has been an on-again off-again proposition for years (except for Iron Hill on the riverside, and the excellent Washington Street Alehouse), and Delaware and area brewers would love to see this city in Philly's backyard pick up the pace.

It's a handsome place, solidly built (it's a former bank), and the beer engines are ready to go. The food I sampled was quite nice, and the beers... Yards ESA, in about as fine a condition I can recall; an excellent Stewarts IPA (poured by brewer Ric Hoffman himself, and thus much more tasty), and a tasty Evolution altbier that was tucked away in a neat little space upstairs.

Okay, just one other thing. I liked the place, and I wish it well, but trying to get around in downtown Wilmington just about did me in. Some idiot planner thought it would be a good idea to narrow all the streets, and push parking out to the edge of the commercial area, and just generally make it inconvenient to drive. Well, forget your suburban traffic, guys, and there's not enough city there to make this work. Wilmington's got to be more welcoming to visitors, because after this experience...I don't really want to go back, no matter how cool this place is.

Once I got the hell out of Wilmington (which wasn't easy either), I ran up to Philly (which I'd never thought of as particularly car-friendly before...) and stopped off at London Grill, where Terry Berch McNally was throwing a little fling for outgoing Sierra Nevada rep Patrick Mullin (actually, he's pretty much outgone already; he's running sales at Sly Fox now, and congrats to both of them), pouring her last keg of our Exportation porter from Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, the three SN Ovilas (Dubbel, Saison, & Quad), and the new Ruthless Rye.

Briefly: the Exportation is a mildly sour version of a mild Baltic Porter, and was quite tasty and easily enjoyed, not a smack in the chops or a pucker in the cheeks. Ovila Dubbel is a nice example of the style, rich but not sticky; the Saison is spicy and brisk, very enjoyable. And the Ruthless Rye was great, a battling mouthful of beer, shot full of spicy rye character that blended marvelously with the bold hops. A very nice beer indeed.

We spent some pleasant minutes talking, getting caught up (me, Terry, Exton Beverage's Greg Ramirez, Scoats of the Grey Lodge, Patrick, and Brendan from Memphis Taproom), then I asked Terry to take me to Paris. We got there in about 45 seconds; Paris is the new wine bar Terry's opened in the adjoining building. It's small, intimate, and the wine is on draft; a popular form of dispense in Europe and gaining momentum in the U.S., presumably for the same reason: freshness, ease of service, and of course, the excellent environmental advantages. This is, I believe, a first for Pennsylvania; best of luck to her!

I'd like to say I went home after this, but...I stopped at the Grey Lodge for just one more (honest, Ernest & Scott were just pouring 3 oz. samples!). It's still pleasant to stop in there, and I do it often on my way home from Philly events to wind down.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Session Beer Project revived

I'm not just blogging more here, I've revived The Session Beer Project blog as well. There are two new posts up over there, one on 21st Amendment's Bitter American going year-round (at 4.4%!) and Victory's new 3.9% take on their Dark Lager. Have a look!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

American Beer Blogger pilot is funded!

Thanks to all who have pledged for American Beer Blogger: we have reached our $6,000 goal on Kickstarter! If you still want to pledge, please do: anything extra means a better show (maybe some travel expenses...).

We are in the TV business. Very excited right now.

Winter Rental: surprisingly welcoming

I got a sample from East Coast Beer Co. back in December, their Winter Rental schwarzbier. I was all "ho-hum, another New Jersey contract brewer," because these outfits haven't had a great track record. (Anyone remember Coffaro Beer? Diving Horse Lager?) It's brewed at Genesee, as you can tell by the "Rochester, NY" on the label, where they've done a great job on the Narragansett seasonals, be honest, I wasn't in a rush to try it.

But then I needed to get some tasting notes together for a column I do in the local weekly paper (nice source of pocket money), so Tuesday afternoon I popped it. Okay, I'd made a mistake waiting this long! The beer smelled rich and malty from almost a foot away, but it was not thick and sweet on the tongue: smoothly refreshing (sounds like a 60s beer ad, I know, but it is), a little hop bite up front that swooshes into lightly chocolatey malt with a slight crunch of roast; saunters off into a clean finish.

I have to apologize to you: shouldn't have waited so long on this one. If you like schwarzbier, get out and give this one a shot. It's 5.6% ABV, and quite tasty.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

American Beer Blogger, next round!

As you probably know, we failed to raise $60,000 on Kickstarter to fund six episodes of "American Beer Blogger," the TV show I'm working on with Green Leaf Productions. It was an ambitious goal, and despite some solid support, we only raised a little over 10% of the goal. But we are not giving up. We're scaling back a bit, and there's a NEW Kickstarter out there: we're trying to raise $6,000 to do one pilot episode. We got that much before, but we had 60 days that time. Kickstarter only gives you two weeks on second chances, so we've got to push hard on this.

Two things are working in our favor, though. We've got people repeating their pledges already -- we're at 31 pledges after only two days, and we're 30% of the way to goal -- and it's a much more reasonable goal. The original premise still holds, too: the money all goes to the screen, getting the show on cable. I'm not getting any of this, it's all going to production, and we're going to make sure you get a great show. Jump in, help us make it happen!

And let me tell you; I suspect we're going to have one hell of a blooper reel...

Monday, January 16, 2012

More good eats

Whipped up dinner out of Ruth van Waerebeek's Everybody Eats Well in Belgium cookbook tonight, which I haven't opened in years. Glad I got it out! I did the Roast Pork with Mustard and Onions, because I happened to see a nice little pork loin roast at Giant, and then a bag of frozen pearl onions (I'd get fresh, but I didn't have time to peel them).

Rubbed the roast with a split garlic clove, then plastered it with 3 tablespoons of mustard, a mix of Dijon and a green peppercorn mustard I had, and drizzled olive oil on it before sticking it in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes; turned it twice. Then I poured in half a cup of water and about 2 dozen pearl onions, sprinkled thyme and pepper and salt over everything and put it in the oven, turned down to 350, for about 50 minutes. I made some Israeli couscous and steamed cauliflower for sides.

When the roast was done, I put it on a carving board to rest, and put the pan on two burners, and added another 1/4 cup of water to deglaze, then made a slurry of a tablespoon each of cornstarch and balsamic vinegar and poured it in, stirring. Things thickened up pretty quickly, and when it started bubbling, I pulled it off the heat. I sliced the pork in thin slices, arranged them in two concentric circles on a warm plate, and poured the sauce and whole onions in the middle. Then I popped the cork on a bottle of Unibroue Blonde de Chambly, and the whole thing was quite delish!

Back to Boston

Yesterday we took my son Thomas back to school; his second sophomore semester begins tomorrow at Boston University. Here's how things were supposed to go: He and Cathy and I were going to get up early, go to 6:45 mass (a quick one, sans music), go back to the house to say good-bye to Nora, hit the road and get diesel and breakfast in NJ (we were low on fuel), and be in Boston by noon (and getting some good chowder for lunch on such a cold day) while Nora took the Saab to 9:00 mass, and spent the day studying for her finals this week.

Not what happened. We were fine, right up to the getting diesel in NJ part, which we did in Ewing, just over the river. As we were finishing up, Nora called -- Thomas forgot his new computer! Okay, we'll go back, it's only 15 minutes, and since she's now fully awake, we'll all have breakfast at the Langhorne Cafe. But she still wants to go to 9:00 mass, so she says, I'll drive the Saab down and meet you at the diner, and we can all leave from there. Okay...but as we're pulling into the parking lot, she calls: Saab won't start! Up the hill to the house, a mile away, and sure enough, battery's dead (it was quite cold, about 15 degrees F). Get the jumpers out of the Jetta, fire it up, race around the neighborhood, turn it off, and...starts right up. Just cold? Dunno, but we decide to go back to the diner with both cars.

We get to the diner -- it's full. Okay, we go to another diner, the Blue Fountain down on the Lincoln Highway. I took the Saab, revving it high and stoking more amps into the battery. We get into the diner, sit right down, and that's when Cathy and Thomas tell me that he had not just forgotten his computer...he'd forgotten his dorm room keys as well. But he has them now -- thanks to Nora! -- and all's well, and we have a big laugh, and a great last breakfast together before taking Thomas back to school. The Saab starts, we drive back to the house, leave Nora with lots of hugs (and pets to the Corgis, who are now thoroughly confused), and get back on the way to Boston...over two hours later than planned.

It is, however, a beautiful day, and traffic's quite light, and we make it there in only 4.5 hours, traveling largely at or near the speed limit. I actually got some editing done while Cathy drove in Connecticut. By the time we got there, though, we were getting a bit peckish. We first thought about going to Legal Sea Food for chowder -- I've never been, and it's a place you should probably go at some time -- but decided it was out of the way, and Thomas recalled The Daily Catch, a little Sicilian seafood place in Brookline that he and I had chanced upon last year (we were on our way to Soul Fire for a barbeque dinner when we realized it was Friday in Lent...and there was The Daily Catch right across the street from our epiphany, so we went in and greatly enjoyed it), so we went there.

Had the place to ourselves, and you're probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with beer or whiskey or anything else you might be interested in -- to which I think I can properly reply that it's my blog, and I can write about whatever, no? -- but here's your payoff: Cathy and I ordered beers from their local-heavy selection. She got a Cape Anne IPA, which had a solid malt character I found appealing, and I got a Berkshire Steel Rail Extra Pale, a beer I've always enjoyed since my first tasting, years ago. And I was reading the label, curious if they had an ABV listed (5.3%, it turns out), when I came across the text shown in the picture: "In the words of renowned beer writer Lew Bryson, Steel Rail EPA is 'what the water in heaven oughta taste like.'"

Ha! I was surprised to find this, the first time I had any inkling that Berkshire had quoted my Ale Street News column from 2009 on the lack of respect pale ale gets from the geekerie. It's fun to see your name on a label; hell of a lot more fun than on a wanted poster, I assume!

Anyway, the meal was excellent: we had the house specialty fried calamari to start (made fresh there, not frozen), and I had calamari with a seafood-based red sauce over linguini, Cathy and Thomas each had scallops and linguini with white clam sauce. Quite tasty, and quite good with the beer. We took him to the dorm, unloaded, sat with him a bit, and got him settled in, saw his roommate again (real nice guy, spent Christmas with us), and...headed home. Even less traffic, another quick run...and the Saab won't start. Time for a new battery. Cheers!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Yuengling: Dick's on top, baby!

It's strange to think that when I had my first Yuengling 30 years ago, and took my first tour of the brewery 25 years ago, the Pottsville family business was just barely hanging on. I believe they told us that they sold about 165,000 barrels that year, which sounds like a lot in craft brewer terms, but not out of a plant that size, with a staff that size.

Things changed, as we all know, and while Yuengling is still only in fourteen states, they announced today that thanks largely to the huge surge in sales from their Ohio launch last year, they are now the largest American-owned brewery. Think on that, ye mighty, and despair.

For while I love Yuengling -- the history, the stubbornness, the Pennsylvaniality of it all -- it is sobering to think that America's four largest brewing companies, the brands that are household words -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Pabst -- are all either foreign-owned or, in the case of Pabst, gypsy brewers without a home. It is a shock that the largest American-owned brewer sold only 2.5 million bbls. in 2011; that the largest American brewer is a regional anomaly.

So what do we do? Celebrate it! I'm not talking about celebrating that Yuengling blew past Boston Beer, I'm talking about celebrating that a family-owned brewer has beaten the mass-marketing of the nationals on their own turf -- mainstream lager -- and done it with a "full calorie" beer, the stuff they apparently have forgotten how to sell. That's freakin' awesome.

Look, I know. If you're reading this blog, chances are you're a craft beer enthusiast (or a whiskey drinker, and I promise: more of that this year, too!). But ain't it great that people are ready to shrug off mass-media domination and buy regional? Buy something different? I think it is. Yuengling, like Sam Adams, is often the first step for someone to try something other than the usual. This is why "the usual" is sliding hard, and why the big guys are trying to find out how to make something other than the usual (Blue Moon and Shock Top are just the beginning, believe me).

We can be scared by that...or we can embrace it. I'm happy every time a light beer drinker has something other than their usual tipple. I think when a light beer drinker enjoys a wheat beer, an angel gets its wings. And I think Dick Yuengling -- and Jim Koch! -- have had a lot to do with that. Cheers, Dick: congratulations! Keep doing what you're doing!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Gasoline and alcohol: do they mix, or not?

In light of the continual faux controversy over whether gas stations/convenience stores should be "allowed" to sell booze, I offer this story I came across. There are Sunoco stations in the Syracuse area that have started offering growler fills from taps at the station. Remember: beer sales are legal at gas stations in New York (I offer this for my Pennsylvania readers whose heads might explode at the thought of beer at gas stations...even though it IS happening in PA).

So the local ABC affiliate does a story on it, and the very first person they talk an anti-alcohol type who puts his mouth in gear without engaging his brain. "It's almost laughable from our perspective. It's like how easy are we going to make alcohol for people, it's like saying our convenience stores are going to be turned into little mini-bars,” said Phil Rose, with the Prevention Network.

Well, Phil, let me explain something to you -- no, wait. I'll let Joseph Featherall explain it. He's just some dude on the street in a peacoat, but he gets this better than a trained abuse professional. "You can buy a 6-pack at a gas station, so why not be able to fill up a recyclable container? You know, that's environmentally friendly and craft beer is awesome.” Nicely said, Joseph, and your very first phrase puts the 'duh' in Phil Rose's face.

If it is illegal to drink while driving, then it is no more or less illegal to drink from a can you bought at a gas station than it is a growler you bought there. In fact, and here's the kicker: it's no more illegal than drinking from a can or growler you bought at a grocery store, or a bar, or a beer store. Is there something about gasoline fumes that makes people want to hop behind the wheel and start chugging? Not to mention...most of the bars I know have parking lots. You know?

Anti-alcohol people are often working from personal pain, and they are doing a good thing, trying to prevent that pain from affecting more people. But so many of them are completely clueless when it comes to risk assessment and picking your battles. Phil should have said something like "It's the person that makes a dangerous drinker, not the container." Is that asking too much?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This Friday is Double Trouble

This Friday is the first of three Friday the 13ths in 2012 -- the next one comes thirteen weeks later in April...followed by one thirteen weeks later in July. And I think we all know who's responsible for that: Mister Friday the Firkinteenth himself, Scoats "Mike Scotese" Grey Lodge. You know the guy, comes out from behind the bar on February 2nd, hugs old bearded rummies in parrot shirts, has a mad passion for numbers and wordplay, serves 20+ beers on cask every Friday the 13th? Yeah, that's him. The fun starts at noon, and there will be seven casks pouring till they're all gone, and it will be a madhouse, and I will be there. I've only missed a couple, and I'm not missing this one. Here, see what Scoats has to say:
This will be our 24th Friday the Firkinteenth; we've been doing it since 1998. We've gotten a little bit of press about it over the years and a couple of people have attended (Note to the inexperienced: he is understating to the point of sarcasm). For our 24th Firkinteenth, we will have our first cask cider, a bunch of English casks, the Philly debut of Fifty Fifty Rockslide IPA, what might be the debut of Flying Fish's newest beer - Scarlet Fever, plus a lot of usual suspect beers that could well be the sleeper standouts. Tapping begins at noon again this time around. At 11am our full menu will be available. For the Firkinteenth, all food service will be 2nd floor only.
Is that enough fun for one non-Philly Beer Week (which starts in only 143 days!) day for you? No? Okay, this Friday is also 113 Day, as in 1/13 (that's 13 January to all my Euro-friends), as in Sly Fox Rt. 113 IPA, and Sly Fox's Corey Reid is trying to turn it into a national holiday...but he'll settle for Phoenixville. For now. Sly Fox's Phoenixville brewpub, anyone in the pub at 1:13 PM (Eastern...) can get one pint of Rt. 113 for $1.13 (bring change, help 'em out), and when the firkin of Rt. 113 is tapped at 5:00, you can get a 10 oz. pour for $1.13. Hey, now there's an economic stimulus for you. Come on out and get some number-based hoppiness!

King of Beers now the duke?

Budweiser passed another milestone this week; on the way down. The iconic beer brand's 20+ year slide continued, and Coors Light passed it, headed up, moving into the #2 spot in American beer sales according to a story in Advertising Age. Budweiser hit its peak in 1988, selling 50 million barrels (50 million barrels! Of just Budweiser! All U.S. craft brewers' 2011 sales put together should be about 11 million barrels) and then sliding ever since, including a 4.6% slide in 2011...which actually represented a slowing in the rate of plummet. Total 2011 U.S. sales for Budweiser were 17.7 million barrels, an amazing decline since 1988. Of course, Bud Light's rise has pretty much made up for it, and 17.7 million barrels is still more than most of the world's breweries sell altogether...but wow.

What happened? Smarter people than I have guessed at that one. "Light beer!" is the usual answer offered, explaining it as Americans' desire to get into better shape. Well, maybe...only what's up with the boom in steakhouses, and sugary liquors, and...craft beer? As far as that goes, how the hell does "Light beer!" explain the huge growth of Yuengling Lager? Yuengling Lager, a "full-calorie premium" beer, will likely blow through 2 million barrels on its own this year, and is, if anything, accelerating. (Add'n: when I first wrote this, I forgot the other obvious example here: it's not Pabst Light the hipsters and bike messengers are drinking, it's Pabst.) "Light beer"? Bullshit.

Light beer has seen huge growth, but there are other factors here. I think some of the problem is fratricide. There has been cannibalistic action between brands in the A-B house, and Bud and Bud Light are not the only ones. When you have a number of large brands -- Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Bud Select (several cases a year are still sold), Michelob Ultra, Busch, Busch Light, Natural Light, and so on -- that are this close together in taste and character (okay, granted: Bud Light Lime does taste a bit more different than the others), and require a huge expenditure on marketing merely to create an illusion of difference...success in one camp is more likely to mean failure in another. This is, I believe, a major weakness for the big brewers, and it's just now starting to crack wide open.

Does that explain how Coors Light is growing? Well, no! I'll have to cogitate on that...especially since it's one of the very few mainstream beers that is growing. Is it the blue mountains? Hey, maybe.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Wife Beater" On Wikipedia?

You may or may not know that the ABIB/InBud-brewed Stella Artois is colloquially known as "Wife Beater" in the UK. Or at least, it was for a while...and now will be again, thanks to the publicity for that embarrassing monicker generated by a hired PR company's clumsy attempts to expunge it. Sure, it's true: read about the original story here in The Independent, and then read the story here on how InBud defends their actions in hiring Portland Communications to scrub the term "Wife Beater" from the Stella Artois entry on Wikipedia.

(Why "Wife Beater?" Depends on who you ask. There's the "Stella!" line from A Streetcar Named Desire, bellowed by the abusive Stanley Kowalski, but others will tell you that it's because the beer appeals to the kind of yob that would beat his wife, or that the beer's drinkers would be the kind to walk about in the strapped undershirts colloquially called "wife beaters." (Note that Brando's wearing a regular t-shirt in the clip.) I favor the first; fits too well, and the others just sound like snobbery to me.)

I don't care that some intellectually-aware beer drinkers tagged Stella with the name "Wife Beater." Well, I do, a bit; it does wink and giggle at domestic abuse to some extent, and that's bullshit. But as a writer, and a reader, and an independent thinker, I care a lot about this kind of paid clean-up activity on the Internet. It's the greatest strength and weakness of Wikipedia; anyone can edit it, and that leaves it open to abuse...except it's not happening here. The editors caught the changes, and reinstated the references.

Why did Portland think they could do this, and why did InBud believe them? Well, sit down, because someone's got to tell you: it's because they still think you're a bunch of chumps. It's because some marketers still look at us as cattle, as blind sheep, and they don't try to influence you, they set out to manipulate you. There is a difference, and there are ethical, good-minded marketers who look to influence your decisions without insulting you. Portland Communications are not such marketers, and apparently, InBud doesn't hire that kind, either.

Friends from Europe have been telling me for years -- years! -- that InterBrew, then InBev, and now ABIB is a company that's bad for the industry, that they indulged in bad business practices, that they killed breweries, that everything they touched turned to crap. I resisted. Stella, for what it's worth, still tastes decent when it's a fresh draft, and that's my touchstone: what's in the glass? I just repeated that to folks at Bocktown Monaca who had come out to see me last Tuesday: I don't care who's making it -- as long as they're not using child or convict labor -- I care about how it tastes.

But this...leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Iron Hill Chestnut Hill open

Iron Hill finally made it to Philly Wednesday night. I headed out to the 4:00 opening tap about 3, and as I rolled through Langhorne, realized that the new place was not far from my daughter's school, and she just got out...I called her: want to go to a brewpub opening? Sure! I picked her up, she got her stuff in the car, got in, and started giggling as she worked her iPhone. What's so funny? "We had a drug and alcohol assembly in school today, and now I'm going to a brewpub opening, gotta update my Facebook status!" I am such a responsible parent...

Davies, Finn, Green, Edelson & Bass raise a toast
Anyway, the newest Iron Hill opened at 8400 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, and it was a full-scale Iron Hill production. There were nine beers on draft (with more coming) from former Iron Hill Lancaster brewer Paul Rutherford, a ready-to-roll staff, and the tasty Iron Hill menu. The show included (of course) Iron Hill founding partners Kevin Finn, Kevin Davies, and Mark Edelson (all looking quite relaxed; as Mark said, "This is a great day; the money starts coming in today, it's just been going out for six months!"); and two Philadelphia City Council members, veteran Bill Green and the newly-elected Cindy Bass, who was very excited to be opening Iron Hill as her first official public duty. She even had a sip of her beer (Green and the partners had more than a sip).

Of course, she was excited. Iron Hill brings 110 jobs to her district, solid jobs that will give the employees solid experience, jobs that won't go away: Iron Hill has not closed any of their operations since the first one opened in Newark, Delaware 15 years ago. That's a great track record for brewpubs, and an even better one for restaurants, and speaks volumes about the savvy Iron Hill's partners brought to this enterprise from day one.

This new operation is a beauty, with many of the signature Iron Hill decorating touches: the retro ad mural from North Wales, the ceiling and lights from Media, the decorative ironwork from Newark. Iron Hill manages to look experienced and broken-in from opening day at their new operations, and have a fantastic employee training program that makes their service levels a high standard for competitors to meet. With room for over 250 guests (and an off-street lot), they're ready for business.

Beer's great, of course. I had a glass of Paul's English brown ale, and it was quite tasty: chocolate, smooth, mellow, and all-too-easy to drink. Looking forward to more of this (and with Nora's graduation coming up in June, I think I know where we're headed after the ceremony!). 

Monday, January 2, 2012

American Beer Blogger events

Yes, smarty-pants, we're still taking a shot at getting the $60,000 we need to film six episodes of American Beer Blogger, and I'm on the road to support it.

Tomorrow, I'll be at Bocktown Beer & Grill Monaca for a special event I wish we could get more of: An Evening of EduTastion (or something like that) with Lew Bryson. I'll be at Bocktown from 6:00 to 8:00, talking about beer, the show, Pennsylvania brewing, PLCB privatization, bourbon and rye whiskey, and -- probably -- beer, especially the ass-kicking assortment of beers Chris Dilla will have on tap (and my buddy Tera "Libeerian" Bevilacqua may pull out in bottles...). If you're in the area, and you're considering pledging, come out and do it live at this event, because Chris is going to match every pledge made at Bocktown Monaca during this event! How about that? So come on out and spend her money; she's promised to pledge till it hurts.

Thursday the 5th, I'll be at Pearly Baker's on the Square in Easton, 5:00 to 7:00 for a meet and greet. We'll be talking beer and showing the ABB videos, and if you haven't been to Pearly's for a while, you should come back. The beer program's rolling again -- this was one of the original good beer bars in the Lehigh Valley -- and I'm psyched to have them invite me to show up for this. After 7:00, I'll be heading over to the Pickled Egg, where we'll be doing the same thing...with a firkin of Sly Fox Odyssey. So you might want to get in on that, too.

Monday the 9th I'll be headed down to Devil's Den to encourage Philly to come out and pledge some bucks to get American Beer Blogger on the screen, and Erin's come up with some awesome taps to help prime your pumps. Check this list out: a firkin of Stoudt's Sugar Plum Lager, Philly Brewing Shackamaximum, Voodoo Gran Met (two of my favorite PA beers, right there), Weyerbacher Tango, Bavarian Barbarian First Snow, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Sly Fox Odyssey, Brew Works Second Coming (had an excellent bitter at BBW just before Christmas), and some nice fresh Philly Pale.

Now, the idea is that you'll come out to one of these events, have some beers, we'll chat, and you'll see that pledging some bucks on Kickstarter to get this show on TV is a great idea and the right thing to do. We'll be set up to take your pledges right there, so bring your credit card and let's pull the trigger. We only have twelve days, but this can still happen -- we've got some major donors we're still working on -- and remember: if we don't make the goal, no money changes hands, and you're off the hook.

Wish me luck: I hit the road tomorrow morning!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year's Resolutions!

I will blog more often this year...I promise.

Yesterday was a really good day. Didn't start out so auspiciously, though. Bro-in-law Carl Childs and I got up at 7:30 AM -- painful, but coffee helped -- strapped my new bike rack (thanks, Cathy!) to the Jetta and loaded our bikes, shoved our middle-aged bodies into spandex pants, and headed for Pennypack Trail to ride across Philly. I screwed up and we hit the trailhead at Lorimer Park...which meant we wound up wiggling our way down to Shady Lane and over roads to the trailhead in Fairmout Park I meant to start from! That wasn't so bad, though, and we rolled onto the paved trail, enjoying the warming day -- when we hit the first hill and Carl's chain popped. Not off the gears, he lost a pin! That's the end of that ride, so I turned around and rode back to the car, loaded up, came back and picked him up, and decided to go to Rieker's Meats (Hop Angel wasn't open yet). Carl went and got coffee, while I got some spätzel and Nürnberger bratwurst, some Ansbach Uralt brandy candy, and a link of pfefferwurst for the ride home.

We got home, got changed, and started chivvying everyone about for a run into Philly. Carl and bro-in-law Curt wanted to go to the Italian/9th Street Market, so we put our three families into two cars and did that trip. It was busy, but not crazy; hit Claudio's and DiBruno Brothers for cheese and stuff, Carl got some hot pepper shooters, and we chatted with vendors. I talked to DiBruno's manager Hunter Fike about getting something stinky and soft to add to a cheese array that included Prima Donna, Bruder Basil, Brie, chevre, a buttermilk blue (Roth Käse, and it's a very good blue for the price), and Delice de Bourgogne. He showed me two, and one of them popped for me: St. James, a washed rind sheep's milk cheese from England that had some unctuous and earthy notes of cauliflower; not your typical stinky cheese, but bold enough to stand up to whisky. I'm not sure, I said; I don't know if anyone else is going to like it. "They'll be eating the Prima Donna," he said, with a look of "Am I right, or am I right?" on his face. Done!

We realized we had to get Thomas home fairly soon -- he had to work scooping ice cream at Goodnoe's in Newtown last night -- so it was time for our late lunch at Memphis Taproom. It took almost 20 minutes to fight our way across town, but it was worth it: the draft list included two cask ales I'd been hunting for -- Marston's Pedigree and Ruddles County Ale. Excellent! They set up a table for ten in the back room, and I soon had my first Marston's: the freshness was clear as soon as I got a whiff of the legendary "Burton Snatch," a sulfury note in the aroma, followed by a clean, delicious malty beer. Awesome. My nephew Matt got a Ruddles on my advice (liked it so much he had another), and it was a sharper snap of a beer; still softly cask-conditioned (and both beers were brilliant, nicely cellared), but with a crisper flip of fruit and hops. Carl got a Firestone Union Jack (not done in their Burton Union system, which would have been a sweet synchronicity) that was eye-popping in hoppiness compared to the English cask beers; and his wife Joan got a Sam Smith cider, a delish example.

Food? Yum. I got the brisket sandwich, loving the cooked carrots that came with it. The rest of the table: pulled pork, fish & chips, Port Richmond Platter (kielbasa and pierogies and kraut), cheeseburgers, kielbasa grinder, and the smoked coconut club was enjoyed by our newly vegetarian niece, Abbey. She let me have a bite -- I'd always been intrigued by this sandwich, but not enough to order it -- and it was stunningly smokey, a wonderful impact of flavor and texture. More of the excellent veg cooking at Memphis. I grabbed another pint at the bar while the bill was being taken care of by Carl -- thanks, Carl, you didn't really have to! -- and downed it in a quick yet respectful manner.

We thanked the bartender and left, back home to Langhorne, where we sat down to watch Season One of Justified, the excellent FX series about US Marshall Raylan Givens -- we're hooked, and got the rest of the family going on it. We had a couple beers: Yards ESA (still a fave), Bend Brewery Hop Head (big, good, hoppy as promised), New Holland Dragon's Milk (woof: big old bourbony stout), New Belgium Snow Day (big and hoppy: new trend for New Belgium?), and Wolaver's Alta Gracia coffee stout (nicely understated vanilla bean effect; too many vanilla stouts overdo it). The cheeses were put out with sliced "baguette" (sorry, but anything that comes frozen and gets "baked" in a supermarket's bakery oven...gets "quotes") and crackers; we had a couple pounds of chilled shrimp, chips and dips, cookies, candy, pickled eggs and the pepper shooters, olives, pickled mushrooms, and peanuts -- this was a good six hours after the Memphis lunch by now!

Nora's friend Kate came over for the party and got wrapped up in Justified, Thomas came home from work with three friends from high school (all 20 now, and still drinking soda and "sparkling cider", our last non-worried NYE?), and they were watching it. The over-40 crowd were out back on the deck, around the blaze of wood in the firepit, drinking Apfelkorn schnapps and beers (and a little Jameson 18 for some of us), and wondering when they would let Dick Clark retire. When the ball dropped, we toasted with prosecco, hugged and kissed and wished each other a happy new year, then joined the neighborhood in making a lot of noise! Geese were circling overhead, woken and spooked into flight by the local fireworks; Maud and Penderyn were excited by the geese and the noise and the fire and the food; and the kids went back to Justified.

Around 1 AM, we were wondering what to do next when I remembered those bratwurst...and soon we had a big bowl of grilled bratwurst on the table, sliced into chunks and stirred up with spätzel and buttery caramelized onions. That disappeared in short order among agreement that we'd found a new tradition. Carl and I split one last beer: a Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, and it was tremendous. Chocolatey, orange notes, depth, and a compelling complexity that kept me mumbling under my breath; great end-of-the-night beer. Around 3 AM, we finally sent the boys home and everyone else to bed, shut down the TV, and called it a night. I was up at 8:45 this morning to start the pork and sauerkraut roasting and sing at 10:30 mass...and the year began again. Happy New Year!