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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vindication through Resurrection

Just got this from Resurrection Alehouse about their first event for Philly Beer Week:

Friday, June 1 :: Starting at 6pm
Join us as we welcome Volker Stewart (old friend and head evil genius behind Brewer's Art in Baltimore Maryland) back to Philadelphia. What else would be be pouring for such a momentous event but (the now triumphantly LEGAL in Pennsylvania) RESURRECTION ALE!

That's right, LEGAL. Because when Resurrection opened, they had a not-so-legal keg of Resurrection (as was pointed out here...) and they got their wrist slapped by the PLCB about it. After which they went squeaky clean on registration-legal beer, which is why it was so silly when they got raided by the BLCE for having unregistered beers a year later! And why the BLCE wound up getting their wrists slapped by the State legislature when they were made to look like the fools they were after that misstep.

So...congratulations to both Resurrection and to Brewer's Art, which is now solidly legal in PA, and is choosing this very appropriate venue as their launch. Cheers!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Encountering Iceland

I accepted a junket to visit Iceland's Ölvisholt brewery from Belgian beer importer Vanberg and DeWulf, partly because I've known them for so long -- Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield have been great influences on my beer thinking, and on life in general -- and partly because I've never been to Iceland, and have always wanted to see it. Saturday afternoon, May 5th, Cathy dropped me off at Hamilton station in New Jersey, and after a pretty painless set of rides on NJ Transit, Long Island RR, and the JFK AirTrain, I was at JFK, waiting my 8:40 flight on IcelandAir among an amusingly high percentage of tall, slender blonde folks of varying ages; homeward bound, I assumed.

That all went off without a hitch, on-time takeoff, and 6 hours later -- no sleep, my curse -- the sun was rising as we approached Iceland. I was looking out the rightside window as the plane was descending, eager for my first look at the island, seeing only waves and a couple of fishing boats. Then I looked to the left, and through the window across the aisle, I saw the snowy cone of Snaefellsjökull; my first sight of Iceland, appropriately, a volcano. Excited, I continued to look at details: the flat seaside plains that now appeared to my right, the sparse buildings, the snowy line of hills and more volcanoes to our left far across Faxa Bay. We landed at 6:05 AM local, blew through customs and baggage claim in ten minutes (really, it was wonderful), and after getting some krona out of the ATM and buying a bottle of water, I was on the FlyBus to the hotel. 

The trip from the airport wasn't as bleak as people had told me. The volcanic rock along the road is actually well-covered with lichens, moss, and some grasses, and a few hardy types have built homes closer to town; isolated, and of the spare style I'm growing to appreciate as I acclimate. They use simple, cheap materials -- corrugated metal, cinderblock and stucco -- but they achieve a balanced simplicity that is appealing in its honesty. They could easily build blockhouses...but they don't. They build solidly constructed, simple homes.

Changed the white balance on my camera accidentally...
Anyway...the bus arrived at the Natura Hotel, and Wendy was right there, coming out the door to go on a morning walk (it was about 7:15 by now). That was lucky, because I needed to get to sleep! She welcomed me, got me checked in, and I was shortly snoozing. About three hours later, I was much refreshed -- I thought, I'd need another nap later before I was set -- and we walked into town, Don, Wendy, and I. 

Don and Wendy are very much about the place of the beer, and not just the terroir, but the cultural origins, the place the beer has made for itself. So this was about meeting Iceland, which means meeting Reykjavik; over half the population of the entire country lives here. We walked up the hill to Hallgrímskirkja (above), the huge church on the hill overlooking the main "downtown" and the harbor. Services were just letting out as we got there -- children running around eating ice cream! -- and we bought tickets for the elevator to the sightseeing platform on the 8th floor of the steeple. You look out past the faces of the clock to views like that below.

Looking down into Reykjavik, concert hall in mid-distance center.

Views taken in, we walked downhill into town, past The Hand-Knitting Association of Iceland (really, and they actually figure in the story later...), and we stopped in a place called Vegamot (which turned out not to be a vegetarian place: vegamot means something like 'crossroads,' or 'where paths cross') for a beer.

This was a chance to try the big beer in the country, from the big Egils brewery, Gull, or "Gold" (pronounced something like "gool (th)", with just a bit of 'l' and a quick flutter on the end; interesting language with an obsession with "th" sounds). "Gold" is a good name for it; it's a decent international pils-type; nothing exciting, but not bad either. Happy to finish it. They also have a "craft" line, called Borg, and we sampled the Blonde (No.4) here -- again, good, not crazy -- and had the IPA at another point -- kinda blunted, but to be honest: there was a lot of old bottled beer in Iceland.

We walked on, and wound up at a nice little place for lunch: Lækjarbrekka, where I had what they called a traditional Icelandic fish stew. (I'd been told about all the Icelandic goodies I should try: whale, puffin, and the fermented shark meat...nowhere we went offered any of them.) It was fairly bland, but good, and did the trick. From here we walked to the Harpa, the large, modern concert hall right on the harborside. It was gorgeous, it was impressive, it was was naptime again. After a nice chat in the comfy chairs at Harpa, I was starting to drift off. We went back to the hotel, I had another snooze, we had dinner at the hotel (an interesting buffet with two different kinds of herring, cod, and chicken, and more vegetables than I've ever seen at a German hotel spread, I'll tell you that)...and after I'd marveled at how bright the light still was at 10:30 PM local...I called it a day.

The next day we would visit Ölvisholt and meet brewer/owner Jon Gunnlauggson...and see volcanoes, ponies, glaciers, fish jerky, moss, steam, and angelica. Back soon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Pretty Good Night

This video premiered last night at the Philly Beer Scene Best of Philly awards show at World Cafe Live, and while it wasn't the highlight of the night, it was an amusing moment. Almost as good as the line about a homebrew being so funky that Sam Calagione called for the recipe, or William Reed's Carol Stoudt impersonation.

Joe Gunn: a touch sarcastic
First, about the show: fantastic. Mat "Red Shoes" Falco put together an incredible thing, a fun in-crowd show that had a great back-up band in Swift Technique, an excellent venue (with great beer, as always -- I drank a lot of Nodding Head Grog and Ric Hoffman's IPA from Stewart's, with a tasty glass of Forest and Main IPA thrown in for fun), and an indefatigable machine of an MC, Jose Pistola's own Mighty Joe Gunn, who didn't really keep things moving...but he did keep them pretty damned fun.

No, really, it's not Carol Stoudt!
Awards? They were presented by a full spectrum of the folks from Philadelphia's beer scene (appropriately, right?), from brewers to bar owners to wholesalers to distributors to homebrewers, and even beer writers, and that was a lot of fun too; sometimes intentionally. I haven't found a full list yet,'s what I remember, and it's not necessarily in order, because things didn't completely correspond to the list I was given. I'll flesh this out later. (Actually, Uncle Jack did, with a complete list that includes awards that weren't even mentioned last night...lookie here.)
Carolyn Smagalski & Mat: Red Shoes!
  • Best Brewery Rep: Weyerbacher's Mike Lubieski
  • Best Distributor in the City: Bella Vista
  • Best Local Lager: Victory Prima Pils
  • Best Local Belgian-style Beer: Weyerbacher Merry Monks
  • Best Bottle Shop in the City: Craft Beer Outlet
  • Wholesaler of the Year: Origlio
  • The Philly Tap Finder award for the Most Searched For Beer of the Year: Tröegs Nugget Nectar
  • Best Homebrew Shop: Keystone Homebrew
  • Best European Beer Bar: Monk's Cafe
  • Best Local Stout/Porter: Victory Storm King
  • Best Local Barrel-Aged Beer: Weyerbacher Insanity
  • Best Local Pale Ale/IPA: Yards Philly Pale
  • Best Brewpub: Iron Hill
  • Best New Bar in the City: Barcade
  • Best Bar in the Burbs: Hulmeville Inn
  • Best Brewery: Victory Brewing
The Weyerbacher Love Crew (Colin Presby w/the award for Best Barrel-aged Beer)
Uncle Jack Curtin and I got to present the final award, for Brewmaster of the Year, and I have to admit, by that time, we were all dragging a bit. So it was a good thing that they ran that Tröegs video (which is, of course, about the event Jack and I are doing at Standard Tap on June 3rd), which gave us a chance to sit and relax before taking the stage. We made a few weak jokes, then got right down to it: the winner was Chris Wilson of Weyerbacher, which brought the whole Weyerbacher Love Crew up on stage again, and Chris, resplendent in a white dinner jacket and green Weyerbacher t-shirt, made an acceptance speech that was pure Chris. And that...was that.

Jack announcing; I'm having a private moment w/my award.
Except for one other thing: I won Best Beer Writer of the Year, which I have to admit floored me. Because the competition has seriously stepped up around here, truth be told. From Uncle Jack's shoot-from-the-hip opinions, to Bryan Kolesar's in-depth reporting, Lisa Grimm's thoughtful considerations, Suzy Woods's personable and personal enthusiasm, and of course Don Russell's completely connected Craig LaBan's great occasional beer forays in the Inky and all the local blogs, Philly's a great place to read about beer, too. Winning this award was humbling, and I want to thank all the people who voted, as well as all the fantastic people who make this such a great business.

Got some odd looks with the trophy on the way home on the train, but talking to Eddie Friedland on the way was well worth it. A good night, indeed.

All photos courtesy of Stephen "Click-click" Lyford; thanks, fella!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bring it on, Jack me boy!

If you aren't thirsty...don't bother coming.
Uncle Jack and I were contacted by John "Latent Homebrewer" Trogner and Ed "Music Man" Yashinsky at Tröegs. 'Look,' they said, 'you guys are always snarling at each other. Why not settle it with a Scratch Beer showdown? Both of you come up to the brewery, sit down with our brewers, and we'll brew what you come up with for a head-to-head grudge match during Philly Beer Week?' Kind of like the Royal Stumble, only with just the two of us, mano a mano (the tap-working hand, that is).

So we did, and we invite you to come out to Standard Tap for the fun, 1st Sunday of Philly Beer Week, and enjoy the hell out of my Zwickel Licker, an unfiltered Dortmunder Export lager! You can get a sample taste of Jack's biere de vieux petard, too. It's all PAYG, and we'll see you there!

Biking and beer weekend

I've talked about 'em: the bros-in-law, Chris, Carl, and Curt Childs
I left the house early Friday afternoon to go on a biking weekend I'd been planning since Christmas: a ride with my three brothers-in-law, Chris, Curt, and Carl Childs on the Torrey C. Brown and York Heritage rail trails, two trails that link up at the Mason-Dixon Line and form a 41 mile trail that runs from Cockeysville, Maryland to York, Pennsylvania. It was perfect weather, and I rolled down to Baltimore to meet Carl at Mahaffey's Pub, where we ate and drank our way through a 7-year-old $50 gift certificate I'd bought as part of a Katrina Relief beer-related fundraiser that Beer in Baltimore blogger Sandy Mitchell helped organize...and Sandy showed up at Mahaffey's, appropriately.

We tramped around Canton a bit -- finally got pie at Dangerously Delicious, and it was worth the wait -- then made our way up to York, where we met Curt and Chris at the parking lot of our motel, which will remain nameless, because I decline to give it any publicity. Yuck. Cheap, though, and a great location four blocks from the trailhead and within easy walking distance of good eats and drinks. We dropped off a car and drove down to Cockeysville, where we had a couple beers in our motel there, then fell asleep.

Saturday morning meant breakfast at the Ashton Diner (yum, might have to Yelp them), and a 9:20 launch from the trailhead. It was cool and shady, no headwind, and the trail wound along the Big Gunpowder River. Beautiful day. We, um, were doing okay; Chris is always in shape, cycles constantly, the other three of us were on our first big ride of the year, and weren't as machine-like as we could have been. The trails on both sides of the Mason-Dixon rise at a 2-4% grade to the peak at the border, and the last parts are the steepest. We were chuffing hard as we finished the first half, and the flat stretch through New Freedom on the Pennsy side was most welcome.

We stopped there for lunch at The Hodle, a smoky, busy bar that offered pretty good sandwiches and Tröegs Nugget Nectar and Lancaster Rumspringa. We partook. Service was ungodly slow -- they'd been swamped by a big bunch of Harley riders -- but the beer and fresh air outside were great, and by the time we left around 2:20 (we'd arrived at 12:10), we were refreshed, and hit the gentle downslope in a rush. The last few miles into York were a bit tiring, but after a shower, we were ready for some fun. We ate out on the sidewalk at Maewyn's, drinking down big table-tap dispensers of Long Trail Double Bag and Tröegs Sunshine Pils. We had a couple shots of whiskey, some more beers, and wound up on the balcony of our unnamed motel, watching the action as a local prom let out. To bed.

Sunday was a replay, except Curt decided to drop out, and drove the car back to Cockeysville. We had another great day, had a better lunch -- but no beer -- at Paesano's in New Freedom, and boomed down the shady downgrade. We finished about 2:50, said good-bye, packed up, and headed home. Two great days, 82 miles of riding, and man, is my butt sore...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Urgent notice from everyone's favorite Victory regular, Richard Ruch -- this is TODAY!
Storm King Monday
American Craft Beer Week at Victory Brewing Company
Monday, May 14 – All Day

We're celebrating the first day of American Craft Beer Week with a 2003 vintage keg of Storm King Stout!
Explore the flavor transformation that Storm King has when paired with three distinct tapas.

Enjoy three taster glasses of the 2003 Storm King Stout. One for each dish. $20
1. buttery housemade angel hair pasta with carrot, zucchini and yellow squash threads
2. smoky bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with garlic celeriac puree and parsley potato tuile
3. flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache and toasted almond tuile

*.3L servings of the 2003 Storm King will also be available for $8.

Forest and Main quickie

I have an extensive post on my recent trip to Iceland coming up, but meanwhile...Thursday, the day after I got back from the Land of Fire and Ice, I tucked in a quick first visit to Forest and Main, the new brewpub in Ambler. I was headed to a private bourbon dinner I was hired for, and realized I had time to stop in on the way. Stop in I did, and found a very pleasant suburban Philly version of North Country Brewing's setup: a little house, set back from the street just enough to have a small lawn. A brewpub with a lawn: how nice!

I walked in the front door, and ran into partner/brewer Gerard Olson right there. He welcomed me, and took me into the small bar, where partner/brewer Daniel Endicott was behind the bar. Gerald brews the Belgian beers; Daniel brews the more British ones, and since I was going to be driving and drinking bourbon later...wait, I didn't have to make a choice: there were session-strength beers on both side! Of the eight beers on tap, fully half were Session Beer Project-approved session beers. Hot damn! 

I ordered a Spring Bitter at 3.5%, and it was cool and smooth. Chockfull of flavor? No...which is kind of the point. The Spring Bitter tasted great, but didn't attempt to fill every nook and cranny of my mouth with anything screaming or pounding. It was simply...good. So good, I had another. It was pleasant sitting at the small bar, talking to the people on either side of me (without having to talk over loud music, the one fly in an otherwise wonderful ointment at my Saturday visit to Deep Ellum, where I enjoyed Pretty Things 1945X and Notch Saison...), a beautiful location. As I left, at about 5:40, neighbors were filling up the outdoor tables, and the fish and chips smelled delish. Definitely going to be back to this one.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Beer in the cemetery...again

I wanted to help out my friend, the Reverend Kirk Berlenbach (at St. Timothy's Episcopal in Roxborough), because the guy runs one of the most lively, active, and dedicated beer clubs in Philadelphia, and I've had some real fun afternoons hanging out talking beer with them in the church basement. Really! They help run a homebrew competition and reception that doubles as a tour of the brewer mausoleums of the Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries, led by Rich Wagner, the newly-published author of Philadelphia Beer: a heady history of brewing in the cradle of liberty (with a foreword by yours truly). Perhaps not a unique afternoon, but you gotta figure the combo's kinda rare. Check into it; you don't have to be in the competition to take the tour, have some fun, talk beer, and get some good home-made beer and food. 
Step in to spring with some suds at West Laurel Hill’s Third Annual Homebrew Competition, Tour, Tasting and Reception.
Are you a homebrewer?  See how your brew measures up at this AHA-BJCP sanctioned event.  Both bottled entries and sixtel entries are welcome.  Brewers submitting a sixtel receive free entry for themselves and two guests.  Bottled entries are $7 per entry and must be received by Friday, May 11th.    Certified BJCP judges are also welcome to apply.  
Not a homebrewer? Don’t miss one of West Laurel Hill’s most popular events!  Attend as a guest and you’ll have an opportunity to learn about Philadelphia’s rich brewing history.  Tickets are $25 per person including a tour of Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries led by Pennsylvania brewery historian Rich Wagner, craft beer samplings and gourmet food.  Reservations are required and space is limited. For more information, to enter a homebrew or to purchase tickets call 610-668-4258 or e-mail Sarah at A portion of the proceeds from the event benefit the mission work of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Roxborough.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Have New York craft brewers (and drinkers) been 'shelted'?

"Shelted" is a word Canadian blogger Alan "A Good Beer Blog" McLeod made up three years ago, and from the context, I'm guessing it means "being asked to pay a premium price for a beer imported by Shelton Brothers." (Alan's a bit obsessive on price/value in beer, and the Shelton line is not noted for being underpriced. Update: turns out it's quite a bit more than that, if you'd like to have a look, and thanks to Alan for explaining. ) Or maybe something similar, but vaguely more crude; you can do the interpretation. Anyway, Alan tweeted this today:
"Once or twice I have used the word "shelted." All of New York may now know the feeling." 

The link goes to a New York Post story about a new interpretation on New York taxes and fees that were no longer being applied to small in-state brewers, thanks to the outcome of a lawsuit brought by Shelton Brothers, whose beers were liable for the taxes and fees. Quoting from Russia Today (sorry,, here's the story in more detail than the Post explained:
Until recently, the first 200,000 barrels of beer produced by a company within New York were exempt from taxes that were imposed on other ale importers. Starting immediately, however, those small-time brewers who only produce a limited number of delicious nectar each year will be taxed on each and every barrel — to the tune of $4.34 apiece.Additionally, brewers in New York that produce fewer than 1,500 barrels will now be forced to pay a $150 label registration fee. 
First, label registration fees are bullshit, and shouldn't even exist; if they do, there should be some kind of blanket fee for multiple labels. The state should be ashamed for charging these; they're like points on a mortgage; just a fee the state charges because it can.

But the taxes? $4.34 a barrel is 14 cents a gallon, hardly one of the big state excise taxes, but it amounts to a lot of money for a small brewer. A brewer making 5,000 barrels a year will pay an additional $21,700 to New York; a hefty, unplanned chunk. Apparently New York City imposes an additional 12 cents a gallon (shocker, right?), so you're getting into real money here.

But let's take it in a different direction. The Post asked around -- maybe, they're not clear about who they actually asked -- and got this: "It wasn’t clear how much more consumers will pay, but industry workers predicted that the cost of a local beer will rise at least $1 for every pint."

Really? If that's true, then the addition of  26 cents a gallon in tax, which means the brewer is paying an additional 3.25 cents a pint, is going to cost consumers eight friggin' dollars. Which, my friends, is yet another reason why excise taxes are stupid and regressive. You're getting hosed, the state's not even making that much money, and the three-tier system's raking it off. Hell, they're mad at Shelton Brothers? They ought to build them a statue.

But the main point here is this: should New York beer drinkers be pissed at Shelton Brothers for increasing the price of their beer? Or were the brothers Shelton simply getting justice after getting burned by paying taxes New York brewers didn't have to pay? I would say that this is a 21st Amendment issue. If New York wants to charge different taxes on alcohol producers in-state, well, the 21st Amendment gives them the right to do that. And if not, and that means New Yorkers have to pay too much for a glass of beer, they need to tell their legislature that the beer excise tax is too damned high.

But it's the court's fault, and ultimately the law's fault, not Shelton Brothers'. This is not a level playing field, and the laws make it that way. We win by fighting the laws, not each other. Until then, I can't fault a brewer or importer for trying to level things out through the courts.