Is Founders “craft” identity foundering?

According to an article in this afternoon’s Craft Beer Daily, the new partnership between Founders Brewing Co. and Spain’s Mahou San Miguel could well mean that the popular Michigan brewery will be dropped from the Brewers Association’s list of  craft brewers because “Mahou is not a ‘small’ brewery (the company produced more than 10 million barrels in 2010).” Mahou now has a 30% stake in Founders.

Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki’s reaction to all this, as quoted later in the story:

“We sold 30% of our company to another brewery. Yet, if we had sold 90% or 100% of our brewery to a PE firm, which essentially is a bank, then we’re still a craft brewery…[I would] rather be in bed with a brewery than a bank…”

Share SHARE
Posted in Breweries, Brewers Association, Craft Beer, News | Leave a comment

The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2010 – 2011)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate.

This is the final April Fool’s installment. I hope you got a few good laughs out of it all.

Flying Fish Pulls the Plug on Exit Series

Using a high class line of beers to remind people about the Jersey Turnpike was a “truly bad idea,” owner Gene Muller now says

Flying Fish Brewing Co. is exiting its Exit Series of beer.

The brewing program named big new beers from the Cherry Hill brewery after exits on the New Jersey Turnpike, a concept developed by founder Gene Muller.

“I don’t know what the hell he was thinking,” head brewer Casey Hughes acknowledged. “Why would you do that? Who wants to be reminded? Everybody, I mean everybody, hates the Jersey Turnpike.

The end of Exit does not mean Flying Fish will no longer celebrate its home state, Hughes promised. “We are going to honor our cultural and intellectual achievements instead,” he said. “Look for Snookie Double Bitter and The Situation Imperial Barleywine to be released later this year. We will be packaging them in Forties because that just seems right.”

In related news, Stephen Mashington of Yards Brewery in Philadelphia said that the Flying Fish cancellations have made them rethink a planned series which would have been named in honor of exits from the Schuylkill Expressway. “If everybody hates the Jersey Turnpike, they absolutely loath the Expressway,” he said. “And they can’t spell it either. If we went ahead with that idea, I swear I’d start to feel like a red-headed stepchild.”

####

World’s Oldest Beer Discovered For Umpteenth Time

This time it’s for real, says U of P scientist as he announces his discovery of reside from goblets once used by Adam and Eve

Scientists and historians around the world were stunned last week by a bombshell announcement from Biomolecular Archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania.

McGovern, author of Uncorking the Past and a frequent collaborator with Dogfish Head Brewing Company in recreating ancient beverages, revealed that he had discovered residue of “the world’s first beer” at an undisclosed location which he said had been the site of the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, he argued, one of the basic tenets of the world’s oldest story seems to have been distorted over the years.

“Based on my evidence,” McGovern told his peers at a professional gathering, “the serpent did not tempt Eve with an apple but with a bland and tasteless macro-lager. Adam and Eve had been having a fine old time just lounging around naked and drinking this good craft beer before that; once she had the macro, she became ashamed, started wearing clothes and everything went downhill from there.”

Eve’s donning of clothing was “apparently a sad moment,” McGovern added. “We also managed to piece together fragments of Adam’s diary and he described her as a real fox. The again, he could have just been wearing beer goggles.”

Dogfish Head will attempt to recreate the ancient beverage as they have earlier McGovern discoveries. Owner Sam Calagione admitted that “we will only be able to produce about a single growler because of the rarity of the ingredients, so virtually no one will ever get to taste it. But this is not just a publicity stunt, as I will explain in my book and video about the project.”

Calagione also announced that he hoped to brew the new/old beer in collaboration with the Original Brewer. “We’re in negotiations,” he acknowledged. “The big hang up seems to be whether we’ll do it at our place or His.”

####

PLCB Bans “Beers With Difficult Names” From PA Shelves

Brewers have an obligation not to confuse agency inspectors, agency says

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said this morning that “brewers have been abusing the registration system by coming up with names that are too hard for us to deal with” and that a new directive will be issued to solve the problem.

Arguing that the PLCB was blameless in recent raids on Philadelphia taverns and wholesalers wherein beers which were on the registration list were seized nonetheless “because it was just too confusing,” the spokesperson told a Harrisburg radio station that “brewers have an obligation to give their beers clear, simple names that our inspectors have heard before and can figure out, preferably names of one syllable or less.”

Starting in April, he said, the PLCB will reject registration for any beer that doesn’t meet that standard. “If we can’t spell it, we don’t want in Pennsylvania. Why are brewers making so many beers anyway? What about the children?”

Asked how beers from other countries would be treated under the new standards, he added that “actually, we’re also going to be banning foreign beers pretty much across the board. If beer was meant to come from places like Belgium, Germany and England, that would have been written into the original law.”

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

The Nostalgia Series: (Liquid Diet “Best of…” 2009)

(Over the years, I have written my account of the beginning of the good beer revolution in this part of the world in many articles and venues. Here’s what I was thinking six years ago. One of a set, collect them all.)

2009: It was fun while it lasted.

It’s time for Uncle Jack’s Annual Local Beer Awards Show once again! Actually, it’s about a week ahead of time, but when you have a major snow storm that kills the whole weekend and gives the staff a lot of free time to write, this is what happens.

We’ve done this like they do the Academy Awards this time around, only without all the self-centered hosts and crap in between the awards. Basically, that means we start off with a biggie or two to reel you in, then slow the pace a bit and steadily build up to the grand finale while you keep looking a your watches. No fair scrolling ahead.

One way we definitely part company with those fancier awards ceremonies: streaking is permitted, even encouraged.

NEW BEER OF THE YEAR – Weyerbacher Zotten. I love this beer. All hail to head brewer Chris Wilson, brewer Dan Hitchcock and production manager Chris Lampe. The brain trust in Easton usually has the wisdom to add the best of its one-off or seasonal brews to the year-round list. If that doesn’t happen with Zotten, Mr. Weirback has got him some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

SORTA NEW BEER OF THE YEAR – Victory WildDevil. There are a lot of people who really don’t get WildDevil; I often get those looks when I say it’s one of my current favorites. Let’s put it this way: they are wrong . Victory scores not just because I find the beer very enjoyable, but also for the sheer genius of taking an old familiar standard and turning it into something quite different. They get points too for reinterpreting their Saisonas Helios.

DRAUGHT ONLY BEER OF THE YEAR – Sly Fox Chester County Bitter. It’s not really draught in the broadest sense, but Cask Ale of the Year was too limited a category and that heading reads better than You Can Only Get It At a  Bar Beer of the Year, dunnit? This long-promised release is  a true cask ale and it’s dead-on perfect. Plus it is in the distribution system, available not just at the two Sly Fox locations but also at those taverns and pubs willing to do the extra work to give their customers a special treat. Also not to be discounted is that this presents ample opportunity for us peons to regularly pester Brian O’Reilly for more real cask releases. What’s not to like?

HIGH-POWERED MONOLITHIC CORPORATION TAKING OVER (ALMOST) THE ENTIRE DELAWARE VALLEY AWARD – Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant. Now that they’ve finally conquered New Jersey (a strange dream, that, but they made it come true as they do most of the things they set their sights on), it’s almost impossible to not get an Iron Hill brew in these parts—unless you’re in the City of Philadelphia itself, of course. We can only hope that one day the economics will work out and that deplorable situation can be rectified. Meanwhile, go West, young man. Or North. Or South. Or East.

BEST PALATE EVER AWARD – Suzy Woods. Going where no male beer writer dared, Suzie Woods entered and finished second in the first Memphis Taproom Mystery Beer Weekend event in 2008 by a point or two, then won it going away in 2009. Impressive. Pity the poor brewer who might have to try and keep up with the lady. Note: I almost called this the That Girl’s Got a Mouth on Her Award, but decorum prevailed.

BEST ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT- Earth Bread + Brewery.
I was very taken with some of the artwork coming out of Philadelphia Brewing Company in 2009 , but EB+B’s new mural across the outside wall (part of the city’s impressive Mural Arts Program and done by local resident Brian Ames) blew me away. It is not only a striking work, the whole project further cements Tom & Peggy’s rep for “getting it.” They’ve made EB+B part of much that is good and special about a city which is lucky to have them. Good neighbors make good beer, or whatever the poet said.

CREATIVE THINKING AWARD – Teresa’s Next Door. When the Main Line’s best beer location brought in Sam Calagione for a Philly Beer Week luncheon last March 10, there was clearly something different about the food as it arrived at the table: every course was off-centered on the plate, a homage to Dogfish Head’s famous slogan. Brilliant and subtle.

PERSONALITY WE WILL NEVER REPLACE. – Gary Bredbenner. His was one of the most familiar faces in the crowd on the local beer scene, most famously at the Grey Lodge Pub, where he almost seemed to be part of the ambiance. To many, he was just that funny, happy little guy who always had a pint, maybe two, in his hand. If you read all the online remembrances after his sudden, tragic death in October, you now know that a very special part of our communal heart is gone forever.

THE LEW BRYSON DELAYED GRATIFICATION AWARD – Dan Bengel. Mr. Bryson, who currently holds the title of America’s Most Beloved Beer Writer (© Jack Curtin’s Liquid Diet 2009)—a honorific he has asked be retired, which is under consideration at the very highest levels of management here at Liquid Diet (the voting is going to be close and your input is invited)—has still not finished his online account of a six-day trip to the Czech Republic after nearly five years. I figured he was setting a record I’d never see topped. Big Dan Bengel, however, is, as best I can tell, currently somewhere early in the early morning of Day Three in his report of a ten-day (Two week? Who can remember?) trip the Usual Suspects made to Belgium in the Spring of 2008. At this rate, he will eventually blow away Bryson’s questionable accomplishment with ease.

CLEVEREST MARKET EXPANSION AWARD – Philadelphia Brewing Company. How do you open, say, the Pittsburgh market if you’re a Philadelphia craft brewery? Well, you can go out and visit with various wholesalers there, seeing what’s the best deal you can get, then work out shipping. Or you can clap your former operations manager, who’s relocating to the Steel City, on the back, buy him a truck and rent him space in a Pittsburgh warehouse, taking advantage of the Pennsylvania law which allows a brewery to open two additional facilities anywhere in the state. It’s even easier if you rent that warehouse from a shipping company which has a location right outside Philadelphia so they can move fresh beer westward for you weekly. Somebody really ought to game the system like this….oh, wait.

WEBSITE OF THE YEAR – Suzy Woods. She does a super job covering the Philly bar scene and often makes me laugh out loud at some of her antics, but this award is mostly because, as the days dwindled down to a precious few, Ms. Woods gave in, foreswore her strange love of the Brown and redesigned her site into a bright, clean readable venue which is a joy to the eyes, abandoning I’ll Have Another Stout as its name in favor of the simpler, says-it-all Beerlass.  Gotta admit, that old site, it done give me headaches.

WRITER OF THE YEAR – Lew Bryson. This one is long overdue. Big and bold, foil and friend, Lew is one of the most influential voices in the drinks press (even if one benighted soul sometimes pokes fun at him—I’ll never understand that). The Big Guy is ever-present on the web, breaking news, promoting beer and booze and tilting at his favorite windmill. He’s all over the printed page in a variety of publications as a columnist and feature writer. And and he’s got those great regional beer guides, including a new one on New Jersey (with Mark Haynie) this year and a revised Pennsylvania edition coming next year. Also, you can always hear him coming. There’s a lot to be said for that.

PUBLICANS OF THE YEAR – Brendan Hartranft & Leigh Maida. Maintain the high standards at the great pub they created in 2008? Check. Open a second successful pub in another under-served part of the city? Check. Oh, what the hell, rinse and repeat, and go for a third pub? Check. Do all this while having a baby? Not a problem. This pair was second to multi-location Iron Hill in the “Taking Over the World” category, which pretty much says it all.  We’d urge everybody else in the business to embrace their work ethic and creativity, but then we’d have a great beer bar on every block in the city and…hey, come to think of it, that would not be such a bad thing. Get crackin’, you other publicans.

BEER EVENT OF THE YEAR – Phoenixville PBW Pub Crawl. Yes, obviously Philly Beer Week itself was the big major beer celebration of the year past, as it will likely be every year, but we can’t just retire the award by giving it to the winner every year, can we? Besides, this one-day celebration of good brew was an astonishing success, filling every participating venue to capacity and creating an overflow crowd all along Bridge St., a crowd which was happy, fully under control and a prime example that beer people is good people. Let’s have a hand for organizers Mark Edelson (Iron Hill) and Brian O’Reilly (Sly Fox).

WHOA! We have us a tie on one of our major categories and ain’t it nice that it’s between the two longest surviving breweries in Philadelphia (we have designated Cherry Hill as East Philly for dramatic purposes here; live with it).

BREWERY OF THE YEAR – Flying Fish Brewing Co. – Brewmaster Casey Hughes and his team (lead brewer Drew Perry, brewery/cellarman Lawrence George, packaging supervisor Jim Brennan, package & bottling guys Mike Zarsecke and Dave Kovalchick) followed up 2008’s first-ever GABF medal in 2008 with two more this year, including a Gold for the much-praised Exit 4. The Fish has rolled along, mostly below the radar, from back in the mid-’90s when founder Gene Muller anticipated a world most of us never saw coming and created his brewery as a virtual entity online; these days everybody knows they’re a player in the nation’s best beer region.

BREWERY OF THE YEAR – Yards Brewing Co. Oh, ye of little faith… There were a few doubters as Yards spent the better part of 2008 struggling to get its new brewery up and running but the ever-smiling Tom Kehoe and new sidekick Steve Mashington assured us all would be well, making a down payment on that promise with the release of Yards Brawler last fall, my 2008 Beer of the Year. 2009 has been full steam ahead for what was once The Little Brewery That Could when the city’s craft beer scene crashed into turmoil at the end of the last century. The money guys died and they survived. All the beers are spot on and the big question is whether Philly Pale Ale or ESA is the one Yards beer you really must have to get a proper Philadelphia vibe. Lets hear a shout out for the brewing team (Tim Roberts, Frank Winslow, Mitch Albach and Andrew Rutherford) and the guys who work the lines, stack the cases and do the heavy lifting.

STORY OF THE YEAR – Craft Beer Keeps On Keepin’ On. It’s not just a local story, obviously, but it has been strongly evident in these parts in the across-the-board growth of all our major breweries, the slew of new good beer locations which opened over the past 12 months and the ever-improving taps at so many, many locations that wouldn’t even consider craft beers not long ago. That all this has been duplicated across the nation in the current economic climate is probably as strong an indicator as there is of the strength and potential of crafts. If you must have a local angle, GABF recognition of two of our wholesalers, Origlio Beverage and Muller Inc., was right in tune with the larger story.

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2007)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate. And so here we go, back to April 1, 2007 and the stories that appeared that morning.

Bryson Finds The Apple Of His Eye

After celebrating the session-ness of session beers, famous writer moves on to ciders

Lew Bryson, the acclaimed drinks writer who has taken the nation by storm with his “Reamed with a Glass” website celebrating the session-ness of session beers, told Beer Yard correspondent Dan Bengel this week that he has found a new calling. “I think the world is ready to hear me expound on session cider,” Bryson announced. “I really believe I can become the Johnny Appleseed of my generation.”

Bengel has become close to the writer in recent weeks by functioning as his “event guru,” making the brief, exclusive interview possible. It took place at an undisclosed location where Bryson is in hiding, hoping to stay out of the reach of a professional hit team reportedly hired by Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo to “express our extreme displeasure with his wanton and un-American attacks on extreme beers.” Port Brewing’s Tomme Arthur, in a email message to the Beer Yard within the hour, confirmed that the hit has been contracted, adding that “hey, I wanted to be in on that action too, but it seemed best to leave it to the Italian guys.”

####

Local Man Cited By Comedy Central For Performance “Above And Beyond All Reason”

Guy on a barstool clogs up the internet, doesn’t care

Comedy Central’s Jokes.com website has declared today “Richard Ruch Day,” according to a news release sent to the Beer Yard. “The man is responsible for over 10,000 hits on our site every day, most of them from him,” said a spokesman. “This is the least we could do.”

Ruch, a resident of Downingtown whose official address is “that stool at the corner of the bar, Victory Brewing Company,” is well known for seeking out the world’s worst jokes and firing them off to thousands of people around the world several times a day. The task keeps him too busy to sit for an interview, he told Bengel, but he also assured him that anyone who emails him at www.victoryshill.com will immediately be added to his email list and begin receiving jokes within the hour.

Taking a position that most spammers at least pretend to reject, Ruch says proudly that “once I have your name, you are fair game.” No one, no matter how long and hard he or she has tried, has ever been able to get off his mailing list. “Tnis and beer are all I got,” he says in defense, “and I’m not giving up either one. They will have to pry my keyboard from my cold dead fingers.”

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

Hidden River.

Hidden River Brewing Co. is a new brewpub about 12 minutes up the road from Liquid Diet World Headquarters. This is what I wrote about it as the lead item in my “Eastern Penna.” column in the current issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News:

Hidden River Comes Into View

Hidden River Brewing Co. (Historic Brinton Lodge, Rt. 724, Douglassville, 484-273-22662), located just outside of Pottstown, should be open at this point. Co-founders and brothers-in-law Doug Resser and Kevin Margitich are awaiting final paperwork from the state as this is being written. They are located in the Historic Brinton Lodge which dates back to the 1700s and have leased its kitchen, laundry room (now the brewery), back deck, covered large outdoor bar and other space. It is a very impressive setup with immense potential, including preserving the historical building itself.

Brewing will be done on a cobbled together three-barrel system and relying on recipes they developed over the years. “We won’t have any flagship styles but will constantly rotate as many as 12 beers,” says Resser. “There will probably be an IPA and a Pale Ale on tap most of the time in our tasting room, brewed with different recipes and hops each time, but we will also experiment a lot. We have a whole line of herbal beers we created as homebrewers that we plan to keep growing.” The kitchen will offer a small menu that includes sandwiches, salads and small plates, using locally sourced ingredients from four or five farms within 10 to 15 miles of the brewery. As for packaging and distribution, they don’t plan to do any at this point. The aim is to become destination point for beer lovers; the fact that the building is reputedly haunted will, they hope, add to the appeal of a visit.

This photograph I took of co-founder Doug Resser accompanied that note; the brewery is in the building in the background:
easeternpennaaugsep2015hiddenriver2

Hidden River opened a few weeks ago and, on Friday night last, I finally got to sample the beer in the company of The Big One and The Other One and, eventually, the lovely and gracious Cruella (Dan Bengel, Steve Rubeo and Kelly Tokarski for you newcomers). I was impressed, especially by Community with Propinquity, a 4.2% Mild which is, in Bengel’s words, “right up there with Yards Brawler.” All of It, a 5% Cream Ale “conditioned on local sweet and sour cherries and Belizean Vanilla,” was another easy drinking treat. I also enjoyed Black Water, a 3.9% Summer Session Stout; The Dark Shadow, an 8% Oatmeal Stout “conditioned on smoked jalapeños  and local Apple Wood,” and Fixation , a 5.5% Rustic Saison.

The pub is only open Thursday thru Saturday, 4-9pm at this point, and the menu is limited to paninis and a few other treats. The barroom is relatively small but there’s lots of room to expand (as the story above notes) and a great Pavilion out back with its own bar that should be a warm weather destination when they can make enough beer and hire enough staff. They livened things up with a Burlesque Show a week or so ago and that will apparently be a regular thing.

Definitely worth a visit. The beer and food are good, the people friendly and the setting unique.

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer | 4 Comments

The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2007)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate. And so here we go, back to April 1, 2007 and the stories that appeared that morning. Two of the imaginary characters I created for this blog to provide for my own and the readers’ enjoyment were the focus. After all, I had intellectual property rights to both.

Bryson Finds The Apple Of His Eye

After celebrating the session-ness of session beers, famous writer moves on to ciders

Lew Bryson, the acclaimed drinks writer who has taken the nation by storm with his “Reamed with a Glass” website celebrating the session-ness of session beers, told Beer Yard correspondent Dan Bengel this week that he has found a new calling. “I think the world is ready to hear me expound on session cider,” Bryson announced. “I really believe I can become the Johnny Appleseed of my generation.”

Bengel had has become close to the writer in recent weeks by functioning as his “event guru,” making the brief, exclusive interview possible. It took place at an undisclosed location where Bryson is in hiding, hoping to stay out of the reach of a professional hit team reportedly hired by Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo to “express our extreme displeasure with his wanton and un-American attacks on extreme beers.” Port Brewing’s Tomme Arthur, in a email message to the Beer Yard within the hour, confirmed that the hit has been contracted, adding that “hey, I wanted to be in on that action too, but it seemed best to leave it to the Italian guys.”

The Beer Yard’s team of news analysts has concluded that, given the threats to his well-being, Bryson’s highly publicized weight loss campaign of recent months was probably not a health measure at all, but rather an attempt to change his appearance “and be able to run faster” before he embarked on his quixotic crusade.

####

Local Man Cited By Comedy Central For Performance “Above And Beyond All Reason”

Guy on a barstool clogs up the internet, doesn’t care

Comedy Central’s Jokes.com website has declared today “Richard Ruch Day,” according to a news release sent to the Beer Yard. “The man is responsible for over 10,000 hits on our site every day, most of them from him,” said a spokesman. “This is the least we could do.”

Ruch, a resident of Downingtown whose official address is “that stool at the corner of the bar, Victory Brewing Company,” is well known for seeking out the world’s worst jokes and firing them off to thousands of people around the world several times a day. The task keeps him too busy to sit for an interview, he told Bengel, but he also assured him that anyone who emails him at www.victoryshill.com will immediately be added to his email list and begin receiving jokes within the hour.

Taking a position that most spammers at least pretend to reject, Ruch says proudly that “once I have your name, you are fair game.” No one, no matter how long and hard he or she has tried, has ever been able to get off his mailing list. “This and beer are all I got,” he says in defense, “and I’m not giving up either one. They will have to pry my keyboard from my cold dead fingers.”

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

Fred Eckhardt, RIP.

My Beer Yard post, earlier tonight:

Legendary Beer Writer Fred Eckhardt has Died

Portland, OR “Beer Goddess” Lisa Morrison emailed tonight that “Just wanted to let you know that Fred Eckhardt died this morning. He had a few caregivers and they were by his side. He died peacefully in his sleep. Raise a toast to craft beer’s muse tonight.”

Along with the equally legendary British writer Michael Jackson, Eckhardt was a pioneer in beer writing. “Essentials” was one of the first, most useful books for anyone who really wanted to learn about beer and he was a major influence on every serious beer writer of the past quarter century.

We shall not see his like again.

 

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer Writing, Beer Yard, News | Leave a comment

Over at that other site…

I have initiated a “nostalgia” series in the pattern of the one here over at the nearly moribund I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing website. I’d appreciate it if you would check it out and, if you like it enough, tell the world.  Thanks.

Share SHARE
Posted in Mermaids Singing | Leave a comment

The Nostalgia Series: (Celebrator Beer News, 2010)

(Over the years, I have written my account of the beginning of the good beer revolution in this part of the world in many articles and venues; this particular version has a lot more detail and perspective than any one of the others and has run here at Liquid Diet once before. One of a set, collect them all.)

THE TASTE OF PHILADELPHIA

By Jack Curtin

I’m writing this over the first days of the New Year, amidst the coldest spell to hit the Philadelphia area in some time. Weather and calendar have thus conspired to create an ambiance conducive to huddling in front of the fire and contemplating days long past. Fortunately, huddling and ruminating are signature skills among men of a certain age….

A little more than 15 years ago, tiny Yards Brewing Company introduced its first brew to local beer drinkers who were immediately enraptured to discover just how much they had been longing for its arrival. That initial pouring of Yards Extra Special Ale (ESA) at the first Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival on April 30, 1995, was Ground Zero for the future of the city’s emerging beer culture.

Yards wasn’t born into a vacuum that spring. Harbingers of the future were already in place, notably the beers of Stoudt’s Brewing Company of Adamstown, the Commonwealth’s first modern day brewpub (1987), and those of two popular brewpubs, Samuel Adams Brew House (1989), a surprisingly good extract pub, andDock Street Brewery & Restaurant (1990), an entity far ahead of its time which brewed an astonishing array of styles for those days. In terms of packaged beers, Dock Street, which began as a contract brewer in 1986, had four beers in the market along with the Stoudt’s offerings (also contracted), as did Pittsburgh’s Penn Brewing(Pennsylvania’s first microbrewery which opened in 1987, seemed all but dead last year, but is now back in business under the original ownership), New York’s New Amsterdam, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. And there was Yuengling, of course; there’s always been Yuengling (which came close to, or topped, two million barrels in 2009).

Two larger and doomed new breweries, Red Bell Brewing Company (contract, 1994) and Independence Brewing Company (production, 1995), had opened not long before the day of the ESA launch. Both were founded by stockbrokers and both were more about potential profits than beer. For serious beer aficionados, Yards was the real deal at last. Founders Tom Kehoe and Jon Bovit were true beer geeks who cared about the product they were offering their customers more than they did the bottom line. The draught-only, cask-conditioned Bitter which they turned out from their tiny brewery the Manayunk neighborhood which runs along the Schuylkill River near the city’s western edge became an immediate cult hit.

“Our brewhouse was a three-barrel Frankenstein which we designed ourselves,” Kehoe recalls. “We had two 3bbl and two 7bbl open fermenters that were single walled and kept in a refrigerated room (refrigerated by an air-conditioner). We could brew 36 kegs a week, everything was cask conditioned and [local wholesaler] Ed Friedland bought every drop we made.” I had my first glass of ESA a few weeks after its debut one May morning in that 600 sq. ft. “plant,” which was situated in a courtyard nestled behind an archway on a side street. I laughed aloud when legendary beer writer and proselytizer Jim Anderson, who was also there, characterized it as “not much larger than a mobile home” and have been quoting him ever since.

Everything Yards did was hands-on in the beginning. The duo hand-delivered and helped tap every keg, all the while urging publicans to either revive or install a hand pump to serve it properly. The first to embrace that suggestion, the Dawson Street Pub on the other side of Manayunk, became the de facto brewery pub and my regular watering hole for several years. After Friedland finally convinced the Yards guys that he would treat the beer gently if they’d let him have the brand, he went out and got the rights to sell a British hand pump in the region and helped revive that tradition in local bars and taverns. It was a classic ripple effect: carrying Yards established the small company as the go-to distributorship for local crafts and each new account spawned additional ones.

Throughout the rest of ’95 and into 1996, craft beer developed a solid foothold in the Delaware Valley. Weyerbacher Brewing in Easton, north of the city, Flying Fish Brewing across the river in New Jersey, Dogfish Head Brew House & Eats down south in Delaware and Victory Brewing in the far western suburbs marked the boundaries of a region which was suddenly creating striking new beers. All those entities survive and thrive today; Dogfish and Victory have become industry icons, appearing on nearly everybody’s Best U.S. Breweries lists for years now. Other activity west of the city in 1995 saw openings for the Valley Forge Brewing Company in Devon, Lancaster Brewing Company in its namesake town and Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville open as brewpubs; Valley Forge closed its two locations in 2005; Lancaster, having survived bankruptcy, is working toward a production plant and contract brewing its packaged beers, and Sly Fox now has a second location and a production brewery in nearby Royersford. In Bear, DE, just over the state line, Stewart’s Brewing Company opened a brewpub that same year.Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, a chain which now has eight brewpubs in three states (PA 5, DE 2, NJ 1), opened its first location in Newark, DE in November 1996.

Both Independence and Red Bell crashed and burned by the beginning of the new century. Henry Ortlieb, scion of the famous brewing family, opened Poor Henry’s, a brewpub and brewery, in 1997 and joined those two in spectacular failure. Adding the massacre, he managed take Dock Street, which had been sold to owners who had no idea what to do with it, down with him (the company, under original ownership, returned as a funky neighborhood brewpub, in 2007). Another local, Tun Tavern, which began life as a contract brewery in 1995, escaped by relocating to Atlantic City, NJ, in 1998 and reinventing itself as a successful brewpub of the same name, and is still operating in the shadow of the casinos and boardwalk.

Through it all, Yards proved to be the little brewery that could. The one company that seemed mostly likely to not survive all the turmoil just kept on keepin’ on. A 1996 move to a larger facility added a 25-barrel brewhouse and bottling line to the operation. Entire Porter, IPA, and Saison joined the portfolio, along with seasonals such as Love Stout (brewed with whole oysters), Trubbel de Yards (a Dubbel) andOld Bartholomew Barleywine. The partners split in 1998, with Bovit leaving the company. Bill and Nancy Barton signed on in his place the following year and added an infusion of much needed capital. The 2001 purchase of the historic Weisbrod and Hess Brewery in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood for which they were the driving force gave Yards a home of its own. After tensions developing in the partnership, the Bartons resigned from the company in July 2007 under an arrangement wherein Kehoe continued to operate as Yards in the Kensington building until the end of the year and then departed, taking the brand with him. The Bartons retained ownership of the building and brewhouse and created Philadelphia Brewing Company there in January 2008, shipping their first beers in March.

Yards announced the leasing of a building on Delaware Avenue along the city’s waterfront in October 2007 and said it open a new brewery there in early 2008. That turned out to be wildly optimistic as a series of construction problems plagued the new site. Yards had to contract brew their beers for most of the year and, once again, the whispers began the brand might not survive. Kehoe, who may be the most cheerful, happy man in all the craft brewing world, calmly promised that all would be well and was a man of his word. Production at the new plant finally started in the fall.

Yards Brewing 2010 has a 50bbl brewhouse and giant 100 and 200bbl fermenters, and produced just about 10,000bbls in 2009. Its beers are distributed in the five-county Philadelphia market, the Lehigh Valley north of the city, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. The brewery’s year-round portfolio includes ESA, Philadelphia Pale Ale, IPA and Brawler (a British-style session ale introduced during the first flurry of brewing in 2008), together with the Ales of Revolution, three interpretations of classic Colonial brews done in collaboration with Philadelphia’s historic City Tavern. Some of seasonals are back (Saison, Love Stout, Old Bart), with the rest on the radar.
I welcomed in the New Year with a sample bottle of the just-released Old Bart Barleywine, followed by one of ESA, which was my inspiration for this column. The first of those beers was a promise for tomorrow’s aspirations, the second a reminder of yesterday’s dreams which came to fruition all those yeas ago in a hidden away Manayunk courtyard.

An old sentimentalist huddled by the fire might call them the taste of Philly.

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer | Leave a comment

The Nostalgia Series: (Ale Street News 2003)

A Visit to Anderson Valley

By Jack Curtin

Crazy Bob was behind the counter at Horn of Zeese (cup of coffee), a small dining establishment in Boonville, Cal., where we were having breakfast after a long night’s drinking with Fal Allen, general manager of Anderson Valley Brewing Company. That session had taken place at the nearby Buckhorn Saloon, site of the original brewery, and we definitely needed a cuppa or two. I eventually asked what seemed an innocuous question: where might I find a phone booth bearing the old Boontling identification, “Bucky Walter?”

Boontling is an folk language invented in the late 1800s and spoken only in Boonville. There are two theories as to how it came about. One side argues that the men of the community developed a code for campfire conversation to allow them to exchange tales about which wives they’d been fooling around with. The other says local women created the language so they could gossip about other women and their husbands without concern.

Like virtually every language born in an isolate community, Boontling derives from a combination of utilizing the names of local residents to signify some special event or characteristic, borrowed words from homeland languages spoken by early residents and the incorporation of commonly used local slang (“bright lighter” equals someone from the city). While it is fading away now, spoken only by real old-timers, a few locals do maintain a serious interest in Boontling’s preservation (Peter Suddleth, graphics director at AVB is one) and almost everyone can give visitors a example or two. The one most commonly offered is “Bucky Walter,” which means a Payphone (Walter was the first man in town to own a telephone and he’d charge a nickel, or bucky, for others to use it).

Given that, inquiring about a Bucky Walter hardly seemed provoking, but Crazy Bob went off almost before the words were out of my mouth. “Pacific Bell is taking them all down, painting them over,” he sputtered. “Everything has the corporate name on it now. Nobody asked us if that’s what we wanted, they just went ahead and did it.” Whoa. You obviously don’t mess around with a man and his Boontling in these parts.

If Boontling is a symbol of Boonville’s isolated past, the town itself has moved quite nicely into the present. It’s still well off the beaten path, hidden away in the heart of Anderson Valley, about two hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. Once know for its apple growing and vineyards, the valley today draws a steady stream of tourists interested in cycling and hiking in the old-growth redwood forests that fill its coastal hills (the Mendocino coast is about 40 minutes west). The area is still replete with vineyards.

People visit Boonville for a lot of reasons. We came for the beer.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was created in 1987 by chiropractor Dr. Kenneth Allen and his wife Kimberly in an old commercial building in the center of town (it should be noted here that the center of town is only a few hundred yards from either end of town). The original 10-barrel brewery was housed in the lower level beneath the Buckhorn Saloon, which was then a brewpub. It became a 30-barrel system, with bottling line, when moved to its present location on the edge of town in 1996. That 30-acre site has its own water supply and waste treatment facility as well.

Even as that was happening, Ken Allen was preparing for a quantum leap. He had already acquired a 100-barrel brewhouse from a defunct German brewery in 1995 and construction of a new Bavarian-style AVBC brewhouse began in 1998. An additional 85-barrel kettle from a second German brewery was added to the mix when the new plant opened in April 2001. “Just in time,” says GM Fal Allen (no relation), who came to the brewery in 2000 after a nine years as head brewer at Pike Brewery and an earlier stint at Redhook Ale Brewery. “We were already at capacity with the 30-barrel system.”

The brewery currently produces eight bottled beers which are available throughout California and in 20-plus other states: Boont Amber Ale, Hop Ottin’ IPA, Poleko Gold Pale Ale, Belk’s ESB, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, High Rollers Wheat, Deep Enders Dark Porter and the most recent addition, Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, released in November of last year. Fal Allen says that an AVBC Triple is planned for release later this year. Beer names, you might note, all have either a local town or region or a bit of Boontling in their names (hop ottin,’ for example, means “hard working hops”). And in one of those little oddities I love, it turns out that the ESB, which is the weakest seller in the line, is absolutely killer in North Carolina, where the major portion of its national sales are recorded.

Anderson Valley is also host for the “legendary” Annual Boonville Beer Festival, which was held for the seventh time on April 19. This year’s celebration brought roughly 3000 visitors for the day, about half of them brewers and brewery workers. “We have a big party and dinner for all the brewery people on Friday night,” says Fal Allen, “and many of them camp on the grounds.” At least one of the major San Francisco breweries has to close down the weekend of the festival because so many of its workers head north to attend. “We had more than 250 beers for people to try,” reports Allen, “from 66 breweries which came for as far away as Quebec. We had 18 food vendors, two bands and beautiful California sunshine.”

How to sum it all up? Well, as they might say in Boontling: Anderson Valley beers are surely worth boarching (partaking of repeatedly). These brews are not just shy sluggin’d gorms neemer (a breakfast drink) and a man could easily become stook on (in love with) them. Bahl hornin’ (good drinking) for sure.

Oh, and one more thing: all the Bucky Walter signs are not gone and we have the photo to prove it.

Share SHARE
Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | 1 Comment