Blast From the Past: June 2007

Prowling through the archives just now looking for a post I vaguely remember which, if it exists, has some information that would brighten up a column I am trying to write, I ran across this instead.

Enjoy. Or ignore. Whatever works works for you.

Locals. Mine, to be specific.
Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the term “local,” a term of endearment for one’s nearest or most favorite (ideally, both) drinking establishment, which we stole from the Brits. As I was going on about a grand night at the Dawson Street Pub in yesterday’s posting, I neglected to point out that the place was just that, my local, in the mid-’90s.

Before that, I don’t believe I ever actually had a “local.” Most of my drinking and entertaining was done at home, my in-laws’ homes or at friends. Oh, I’d drive to nearby Narberth for lunch at place known as The Greek’s a couple of times a month, just because they had a dedicated Stoudt’s tap, and I’d seek out cases of Red Feather when I could find them at retailers. There was a place, now called Crazy Carl’s but which was then the Weldon House, up above the end of the world, otherwise known as Schwenksville, where we’d sometimes go of a weekend night for the music and for the draught beers, the likes of John Courage and other imports you’d rarely see.

But none of those fit the definition of a “local.”

I ended up at Dawson Street in the late spring of 1995 when I was researching and writing Homeboy Brews for Philadelphia Weekly, my first beer story as a freelancer, one which I’d proposed to them and now have no recollection why. That cover-featured story was about the Philadelphia craft brew revolution which was then in its infancy; it began in the original Yards brewery and ended up at Dawson Street, much as my actual researching the story did. And when it appeared in print, it created something close to an assault on the pub, with people coming through the doors waving that copy of PW above their heads for weeks to come. And it wasn’t only happening here: I had one friend who was flying out of the Houston airport and mentioned to someone he met that he was going to Philadelphia report that the guy immediately pulled a copy of that issue of the paper out of his briefcase and told him he had to “go to this bar and try this beer” (Dawson Street and Yards ESA respectively). Another friend flying out of San Francisco had much the same experience, with the stranger not having a copy of the paper but pulling a note out of his wallet on which he’d written the information.

As you might expect, it was a long time before I could buy a beer at Dawson Street. Indeed, after a while, I had to tell owner Dave Wilby that I had no problem with him standing me to a pint or two when he was on the premises, but I drew the line at having the entire staff seeing to it that I never paid for anything. I fell in love with the place, which was about a 15-minute drive from my home in Gladwyne, the richest area code along the fabled Philadelphia Main Line. It was the antithesis of that, a real dive which had a customer base of phonies and prophets, suits and roofers, the lovable and the looney. There was a bartender whose name I forget who was writing a novel (complex, filled with literary references, doomed to failure in my eyes) and another, the lovely Kristen (I think) who would maybe, but not always, deign to pull herself away from the daily soaps on the TV to pour you a beer.

I went there several afternoons a week around 5pm and became a regular. I was there the afternoon that a stranger walked in and asked for a Bud and, upon being told that was not available, then requested a litany of every mass market, bad beer you’ve ever heard of until, upon being told none of those were carried, unleashed a frustrated scream of anger which suggested, in the most colorful terms ever, that every one of us go and try to perform a biological and physical impossibility. And I was there the afternoon a big black limo pulled up out front and Tom Kehoe (Yards co-founder) and Michael Jackson emerged as we watched through the window. Now Michael is an eminently recognizable figure, but we all turned to look at Tommy, the bartender, who hadn’t a clue, and waited to see the disaster unfold. Instead, Tommy hung up the phone on which he’d been talking and greeted The Bard effusively. His call had come from Kehoe’s then partner, Jon Bovit, who’d given him the info he needed.

I was there, what, well over 100 times over the next couple of years, until my life fell apart (read divorce) and I ended up far, far removed from Main Line luxury, up atop the big hill which makes up the great geographical mass of West Conshohocken, a town maybe eight miles and a whole societal millennium away from Gladwyne. I was at the very top of the hill, in one half of a duplex I rented from a lovely young woman who was off to Paris with her boyfriend. Down at the bottom, basically a straight line except you had to follow the streets, was Billy Cunningham’s Court, which General Manager J. P. Boles, having discovered the wonders of great beer during a recent trip to Europe, was in the process of upgrading to a damned good beer bar, treading a fine line so as not to discourage the flood of Yuppies in suits and lady suits who filled the place to excess every weekday night (Boles has gone on to fame and fortune at The Ugly Moose in Manayunk and an adjacent martini bar whose name I cannot recall). He made me his beer advisor and called every time a sales rep arrived with a new beer so that I could walk down and, you know, advise. The walk downhill was fine, going back up home could be a bitch. But Billy C’s was definitely my local for two years.

When my putative landlady came home in the summer of 1998 and showed no inclination to share her house with me, I moved to Oaks, the only town of any substance in the United States without a gas station to call its own, for what would be nearly eight years. I didn’t have a real local for the first couple of years there, but I was but 20 minutes from Drafting Room Exton and another ten minutes down the road beyond that from Victory Brewing, so I was hardly destitute, beer-wise. Still, I didn’t frequent each often enough to qualify (though I came damned close with The Drafting Room).

Then in the fall of 1999, enter Brian O’Reilly, brewer extraordinaire, who came in from Cleveland (John Harvard’s) to be the founding brewer at the star-crossed (read horribly mis-managed) New Road Brewhouse in nearby Collegeville. I walked in on him when he was setting up the brewery and introduced myself as a beer writer (at the time, I guess it was for the late, lamented Barleycorn). He promised to call me when his first beers were ready and, rare for brewers in those days, damned if he didn’t do it. I remember sitting there at the yet unopened bar, tasting samples of five beers and thinking to myself, what in hell is this guy doing out here in the sticks?. Those were different times. New Road lasted about two years and while it was never comfortable or welcoming enough to be a local (for me or for anyone), it is where I met many of the characters who frequent these ramblings (what, you thought I made them up?), so it counts for something.

O’Reilly was fired in May or June of 2001 and I happened to be at a party at his house on the Sunday night it happened. As soon as he hung up the phone and informed us, I said two things: “Let’s go get all the kegs out of the brewhouse and fill up as many more as we can” and “Sly Fox.” We never did the first (William Reed of Standard Tap did, sorta, showing up at the pub two days later and buying whatever kegs they’d give him; the rest of the beer went bad in the tanks and kegs before the whole operation died its sad but deserved death). The Sly Fox suggestion was purely selfish; it was the nearest brewpub to where I lived and it needed a brewer to get its act together. He did approach them but was sent away, and then got involved with brewpub investors (read “brewpub” as guys without money) to try and put together something in West Chester, taking a line job, cleaning kegs and the like, at Victory to get him through until Sly Fox came back to him and the rest is, as they say, history.

Sly Fox Phoenixville became, and remains, my local, even though I moved another ten miles or so north a couple of years back. I can get there in almost exactly the same amount of time, 15 minutes, as it took me to get to Dawson Street those ten years ago, except now I do it on winding country roads, over streams and through old covered bridges rather than down the Schuylkill Expressway and along narrow dirty streets beneath elevated tracks. It’s all definitely good and I think it’s fair to say that, all in all, I done right well when it comes to locals.

Posted in Beer Writing, Blowing My Own Horn, Good Old Days, Nostalgia, Personal | 3 Comments

Worthwhile questions or grumpy old bastard? I Facebook, you decide.

So this is something I did today because I felt like doing something today in lieu of straightening up the mess that is my desk. I mean, who knows what horrors might lie at the bottom of pile #2?

This comment from Greg Koch in that very worthwhile reading interview caught my eye…

> With every thrust that craft beer has made, there’s been a parry by big beer. We talked about choice. It used to be that back in the day, there was no choice. I was in the Burbank airport recently and it had seven IPAs on tap – all from breweries owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. That’s the parry. We haven’t won the battle of choice yet, but to the average consumer it looks like we have. People are like, “What battle? I have more choices than ever!” But from the insider view, that’s the illusion of choice, not the reality of choice. We, of course, are still fighting for it. <

First of all, he implies that all 7 of those IPAs are exactly same (as I interpret it), which I assume is not the case. Secondly, I think the more important issue here is that a pub or restaurant would have  7 IPAs on tap at once. Would it be okay if all 7 came from 7 different breweries with independent ownerships? Would that be enhancing or limiting “choice?” Or am I just a grouchy old bastard nitpicking his way through a Saturday afternoon?

There’s a story that Greg Koch, Sam Calagione and Bill Covaleski like to tell.
Posted in Beer Is Good, Beer Styles, Brewers, Deep Thoughts, Entirely Too Much Time on my Hands | 2 Comments

That time I went to Germany with a bunch of beer people and had dinner 300 meters underground.

Here’s a another blast from the past out of the Liquid Diet archives. This is what happened one day in 2003 while I was traveling with a group of beer wholesalers and other media on a tour provided by importer Jeff Coleman and his company, Distinguished Brands International. the lovely and talented PR maven Sheryl Barto was the one who selected the writers to participate in these adventures (I think I was on four trips, maybe five). This particular segment still contains photos as many of my “out of the past” posts do not since they are no longer online wherever the hell it was that I used to put them online, so that’s nice.

This link will take you to the original post from when you should be able to go back or forward and read more about the entire trip.  Here is how the report for that night underground begins…

It’s dark as a dungeon, way down in the mines…”
Given that I make part of my living writing about beer, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I wasn’t at all familiar with C. & A. Veltins before the invitation for this trip arrived and I started doing some research. Given that this 178-year old brewery is the fourth or fifth largest brewer of premium pilsener in that pilsner-drinking nation, that was a serious oversight I’m happy to have corrected. And even happier, comes to that, to have had a chance to see their stunning facility built into the side of a mountain in the village of Grevenstein and to have been duly impressed with their beer, their operation and their clever approach to advertising and promotion.

All that said, our two days at Veltins will probably be best remembered for a most unusual dinner which we were served nearly 1,000 feet under the surface of the earth.


Posted in Good Old Days, History, Importers, Nostalgia, These Things Happened, Way Back When | Leave a comment

Whatever happened to that beer I liked last time I was here?

Harry Schuhmacher got me thinking with these remarks in this morning’s edition of Beer Business Daily:

After attending the Craft Brewers Conference and talking with many big and small and tiny brewers this week in Philly, a few things occurred to me:

-This industry is not just being driven by Millennials ….. It’s now OWNED by Millennials.  In other words, they’ve gone from being the main consumers to now dominating the ownership of breweries. I was gratified to see so many folks in their 20s and 30s owning and/or running viable brewing companies (most with taprooms, and most with lots of creative flavors and beers constantly coming out).

-Secondly, the many Millennials (and younger) that I know don’t see the value of permanence the way older generations do.  They don’t build monuments to themselves — it’s all about the immediate cool experience and the story of the night. While older folks flock to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to record their experiences with a degree of permanence, the younger generations prefer Snapchat, (which automatically erases all pics and videos within 24 hours).  What started years ago as an app to exchange promiscuous pics has now morphed into a very popular way to share the story of your day and night.  With Snap, there’s no history, there’s no future, there’s only the present.

THE HERE AND NOW. This is the mindset of these guys, and it’s reflective in the way they make and sell beer.  They’re like, “Hey, let’s make something cool, and never make it again.  Next week, we’ll make something else cool but totes different.”  It’s all about the today, the moment, the right now. As such, rotation nation is probably here to stay for a while, despite the inefficiency it creates and lack of brand equity building.

As one of those older folks flockers, I admit to being a less than enthusiast dweller in “rotation nation” (love that, I do, and if you don’t get it, that’s a way of describing the always-gotta-have-something-new attitude of way too many beer consumers, an attitude that leads/forces many publicans to abandon the idea of committed taps to certain local or favorite breweries). You can walk into the same bar at the beginning of the and end of the week and see NOT one beer still on that was there during the first visit. More depressing? In both visits, as many as a third or half the taps are pouring IPAs.

No history? No future? Only the present? sounds a lot like the underlying premise of this  godawful Presidential campaign.



Posted in Beer Styles, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs, Cafes, Restaurants, Taverns, Commentary, Good Old Days, Observations | 3 Comments

Irony is us. A look back at CBC & the World Beer Cup.

Pennsylvania breweries did themselves proud in the World Beer Cup judging at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia last week, especially those in the immediate region. As is almost always the case in these instances, it was Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant which set the pace, taking medals in five categories, four of them earned by breweries in the city’s suburbs and one by the location in  Wilmington, Del. Pennsylvania won 11 awards in all, the other seven coming from Conshohocken, Lancaster, Roundabout, Spring House, Straub, Stoudts, and Susquehanna.

The four winners who sell their beers in the local market did not include any of the usual suspects or the BeerAdvocate and/or Rate Beer  darlings. Indeed, wins by Lancaster and Stoudts were a reminder of local craft’s earliest days and wins by Conshohocken and Susquehanna represented the impact of the newer kids on the block. It might be stretching a bit to call those results ironic, but let’s do it anyway.

What was ironic without question was that the Iron Hill performance, by far the most impressive by any brewpub in the competition, did not win the company a Champion Brewpub award, presumably (I still have not had official confirmation that this is the case from the Brewers Association) because all five entries were done by the location at which they were brewed and not as a single company entry.

The irony? If Iron Hill had chosen to do its entries as a single company, it would probably have used company headquarters in Delaware as the submitting address and all five medal would have been credited there. And there’s more. For years, I used this site to complain about Iron Hill doing just that in its annual GABF submissions, crediting everything to Delaware, because I wanted to report the specific brewer and location of each winning beer (yes, and be able to include the local one in the Pennsylvania total) here and in coverage I do for various brewspapers locally and nationally.

Be careful what you wish for? You got that right.

Posted in Beer Events, Beer History, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs, Craft Brewers Conference, World Cup | 2 Comments

Victory Anniversary 20 Experimental IPA

victory20experimental The celebratory anniversary beers from Victory just keep coming, and who would argue with that? This 5.5% IPA probably has a tad too much strength for the purists but I would not quarrel with anyone who call it a session brew (Victory cleverly skirts the issue in the press release that accompanied the sample by referring to the ABV as “reasonable”). Great nose to begin with, although it may promise more than the beer itself delivers in terms of flavor. The “experimental” aspect derives from the use of a rare hop variety called Idaho 7 from Idaho and is reportedly making its east coast debut with this release. A nice, drinkable beer but not one that is going to excite the masses, I’m afraid. For that, we will have to wait for this to show up in a week or so.

Posted in Anniversary Brews, Beer Styles, Breweries | 1 Comment

Widmer Bros. Hopside Down IPL

IMG_2446Beers do keep showing up hereabouts and that is most assuredly a desirable state of affairs. Sometimes I know they are coming; other times they arrive as a pleasant surprise. The latter was the case this week with the delivery of the beer named in header. Hopside Down IPL (Imperial Pale Lager) was the best-selling beer in the brewery’s Rotator IPA Series (which has been discontinued)  and will now be the spring seasonal. It offers lots of hops and the basic characteristics of a standard IPA in terms of aroma and flavor. More significantly, it is tasty enough for me to, certainly not abandon, but grudgingly admit that my “Don’t screw around with lagers; they are perfect as they are.” standard might be just a tad too conservative.  Two bottles were in the package; the photo is of the second which now sits empty on my desk right next to a  glass into which I poured its former contents. The latter is rapidly approaching the state of emptiness as well, which is perfectly timed because the end of the work day is nigh and so I can start drinking.

Posted in Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

My favorite beer book of 2015.


The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Beer Revolution
Jonathan Hennessy & Mike Smith, authors; Aaron McConnell, art
Ten Speed Press, Trade Paperback, $18.99, 2015

Comics began to emerge as something more than “just for kids” right about the same time that exciting new brews and breweries were challenging our understanding of what beer was all about. Each became a significant factor in the cultural revolution that changed America’s perceptions of quality and value over the past quarter century, and this volume brilliantly combines them. Written by authors who previously produced similar books about the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address and illustrated by a brewing industry veteran who is currently head brewer at Connecticut’s Back East Brewing Co., The Comic Book Story of Beer tells a well-researched tale, using striking artwork to bring history to life. It is an educational, engrossing account of man’s favorite beverage from the earliest experiments with fermentation to the current day. Honestly, caricatures of Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhardt in the latter pages are almost worth the price by themselves.

NOTE: I had an end-0f-year book review posting in mind but that never happened. Had I done it, the book above would have received significantly longer and more detailed attention (and still might, because it combines the two topics I have written most about for more than a quarter century, beer and comics); this brief review was written to a specific length for, but not used by, one of the brewspapers to which I contribute. So it goes.*

  *I would also have recommended  Beer Lover’s Mid-Atlantic (Bryan Kolesar, Globe Pequot, Trade Paperback, $21.95) as a thorough and reliable reference tome.

Posted in Beer Books | 1 Comment

From the Archives: The In-Between Year – 2007

Doing some research today on a preview story for The New Brewer to appear prior to the Craft Brewers Conference here next May (deadline not as long as it seems; story will appear in March/April issue and is due next week…as are two columns and another story for other publications, which explains why I’m working today but not why I am taking time off to write this other than because I can) and an internet search turned up a source I can get behind…me.

This is from Celebrator Beer News in 2007, the in-between year when The Book and The Cook bit the dust and Philly Beer Week was just a gleam in a few eyes.


MIchael Jackson in Philadelphia

17 years on, Michael Jackson’s annual March visit marked both an ending and a new beginning for the Philadelphia craft brewing community

by Jack Curtin
June/July 2007

Call it the beginning of the beginning.

Michael Jackson was back in Philadelphia for his annual visit March 9-11 to host his 15th straight beer dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that Friday night, his 17th straight tutored beer tasting at the same venue on Saturday and his ninth straight Belgian beer dinner at Monk’s Café Sunday night. For the first time, however, Jackson’s appearances were not under the aegis of the long-running The Book & The Cook, a ten-day celebration of food and drink which has been a local staple since 1985. The loss of the venue for the culinary fair which helped pay most of the bills led B&C to postpone its events until this fall, and maybe longer.

Interestingly, it is the beer community, which was for all too long the ugly stepchild of the event in the eyes of its organizers (despite Jackson’s tutored tastings being the largest draw year in and year out), which shrugged off the loss and kept right on keepin’ on. Not only did Museum Catering Company and Monk’s do the same events they’d always done, Bruce Nichols of the former and Tom Peters of the latter are part of a group of beer industry movers and shakers who’ve announced that March 2008 will see the advent of Philly Beer Week, a ten-day extravaganza based in the city and spread across the entire region from Rehoboth, Delaware to Princeton, New Jersey and into central and northeastern Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, Adamstown, Easton and beyond. When Jackson returns next year, his events will be part of the kick-off weekend for this major sanctification of beer’s place at the table and in the culture.

The Friday night dinner at the Museum may have been the last since it might not be carried over into Philly Beer Week, Nichols said. If this was the swan song, it was a good one. A three-course meal of mixed green salad, beef filet with a shallot demi glace and saffron risotto and Expresso semifredo was accompanied by a dozen beers, four of them at the opening reception and the others served with dinner. The eclectic nature of the brews poured was represented by the presence of Hoptimus Prime, a double IPA brewed for the local Union Jack’s chain of pubs by Reading’s Legacy Brewing, to the hard-to-find Brasserie Artisanale Dieu du Ciel from Montreal to O’Callaghan’s Irish Breakfast Stout, a creation of local homebrewing guru George Hummel. These were accompanied by familiar labels from locals Dogfish Head, Nodding Head, Stoudt and Victory and from Arcadia, Avery/Russian River, Blue Point (NY) and Port Brewing.

A new wrinkle at the Saturday Tasting (once again, a 1500 seat sell-out for the three sessions) was Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione acting as an interlocutor of sorts for Jackson’s presentation and helping to keep things moving along. The theme for the day was Extreme Beers; the first of eight beers poured was Allagash White, which, while a grand brew, don’t quite fit that category. No matter how the definition of what is and what is not extreme is bended and twisted these days to try and match various agendas, there’s just no way to come up with one that includes Allagash White. End of sermon. You can decide about the “extremeness” of the other beers on the docket yourselves: George’s Fault (Nodding Head), Peche Mortel (Brasserie Artesinale Dieu de Ciel), Cassis (Iron Hill), Hop 15 Double IPA (Port Brewing), Old Horizontal (Victory), Red & White (Dogfish Head) and Collaboration, Not Litigation (Avery/Russian River).

A fun moment came when Sam asked Michael for his opinion of the trend toward excessively hopped IPAs and received an answer he probably didn’t want. “I never thought they could make a beer which was too hoppy for me,” quoth the Bard, “but they’re getting close.” Another came at the end of the two-hour beerfest which follows each session in the Museum’s Chinese Rotunda. I got to clang the gong ending the first of these, an honor which felt both wrong and right, hating to end everybody’s fun but enjoying the hell out of the great booming clang I’d created. Does enjoying these sorts of things make me evil?

Sunday night at Monk’s was special. You got The Man, you got The Venue, you got The Beer. It was all good. The theme this year was saisons and farmhouse ales and the beers poured were Ommegang Ommegeddon, Vapeur Saison de Pipaix, Fantome Bis Bon Bon, De Ranke XX Bitter, Saison Dupont (shocker!), Blaugies La Moneusse and Moinette Bruin. Chef Adam Glickman and his staff were up to the task as usual, whipped up an appropriate feast which was highlighted by Belgian endive wrapped in Ardennes Ham, an extraordinary Country Paté and an incredible pan-seared Red Snapper with watercress sauce. Michael was in full-digression mode, telling stories of his early days as a teen-age reporter, recounting trying to answer the unique question once posed by a gaggle of Glascow soccer hooligans (“Are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”) and quoting Dylan Thomas and Woody Allen along the way.

Hey, I love that stuff. I can figure out the beers on my own, but the stories…? Priceless.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin


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My new best friends at Ninkasi made sure I will be a welcome guest this day of thanks. And therefore thanks to them.


These arrived on my doorstep in a big, big box yesterday afternoon (accompanied by, I should note, a smaller box carrying two 12oz bottles of Widmer Brothers Brrr, a seasonal red ale, which I enjoyed with dinner last night).

The little guy in the bottom right of the photo is The Family Goat, a bottle opener that is older than pretty much everybody (including me, which makes it really old); it was used extensively by my father, but his record has long since been eclipsed by yours truly.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted in Beer, Breweries, Personal | 1 Comment