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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.