What I am doing at this very moment, which is drinking beer. Who could have guessed?

(This post is an exact duplication of a Facebook post I did this afternoon except for the part where it isn’t).

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After finally putting the finishing touches on a story for Ale Street News earlier, I’m watching football games I don’t care about while enjoying the latest Stone Stochasticity Project beer, a Belgian-style ale brewed with hibiscus flower and orange peel called Hibiscusicity (which is quite delicious) together with some wood-fired cheese curds from local September Farm in Honey Brook which I picked up at the Farmer’s Daughter right down the road from me. Nice way to kill a nice afternoon…

And this is the new part for you beer folks

Hibiscusicity is a Wheat Ale and pours a much pink-er color than the photo indicates. It’s a pretty big beer at 7.4% because, you know, Stone, but with hops (Magnum and Sterling) which serve more to balance than to smack you upside the head because, you know, Stone? Really? I suspect it will get even better with cellaring but it’s damned fine now. As always, my thanks to the folks at Stone for sharing. I am not worthy but I am damned grateful.

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The insanity runs deeper than we thought.

So I wanted to schedule an interview with a local ice-cream maker for a story I’m writing and this was his initial emailed response:

My schedule is wicked due to Pumpkin Ice Creams booming seasonal entrance into our lineup two weeks ago. We’re running our tails off.

Will the madness never end?

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I have a “wheat-on” for Victory.

I watched the exciting/scary/somewhat disturbing/eventually satisfactory (with caveats) Philadelphia Eagles win over Jacksonville today while drinking Victory Brewing’s Moon Glow Weizenbock and Mad King’s Weiss. These are quite good accompaniments to virtually any relatively sedentary activity, although I would not suggest then (until finished) for motor car racing, rock climbing or riding in a car driven by Former Beer Writer Lew Bryson (for one thing, your eyes will be closed and you will be screaming).

As it happens, I was talking with  Mr. William Covaleski, who is associated with the brewery in some capacity, and he pointed out that it was made clear that  some of Victory’s beers would have to go on hiatus during the move of most production from Downingtown to Parkesburg. This is what he said about the return of these two delicious brews in bottles (12oz and 22oz respectively):

We promised some of them would return bigger and better than ever when the new brewery was up and running and we’re making good on that.”

During that conversation, I mentioned to him that a gentleman of, if not ill, certainly disputable repute from Kennett Square had recently told me that if the new Victory at Magnolia brewpub there was open before next year, he would buy my first pint. Quoth Mr. Covalelski, promising that such negativity was unwarranted:

We really, really, really want to see you get that first pint free!

It does warm my bitter old heart to see a brewer commit himself to something as noble as that.

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Victory Brewing announces it will open another brewpub in 2016.

Where and when? Check out Beer Yard news for a link to the complete story from the Philadelphia Business Journal.  I guess, with the Kennett Square pub at Magnolia Place due to open in October (that’s a guess but a good one), they got bored. With Chester County covered and then some, time to move out of state.

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Three hair follicle-deprived gentlemen trying to look like tough guys have got a deal for you.

Brewers

NEWS RELEASE
When three of Philadelphia’s most talented brewers are also friends with brewpubs located within four miles of each other, collaboration is inevitable. The three men, Paul Rutherford of Iron Hill Brewery Chestnut Hill, Scott Morrison of Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, and Tom Baker of Earth Bread + Brewery, have dubbed themselves the Germantown Avenue Brewers Cartel and they’re very serious about their beer.

On September 20th, the Cartel is providing beer enthusiasts a shuttle bus to take them to and from each brewpub to enjoy three 12oz, one-of-a-kind brews made especially for the occasion – all for just $20. Patrons can ride the bus loop from 12-5pm.

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Born to Brew.

BORN TO BREW

Bill Moeller’s career spanned the rise and fall of post-war mainstream brewing and had a dramatic effect upon the early days of craft brewing

By Jack Curtin

From the perspective of his 84 years, a milestone he reached last April, William M. Moeller acknowledges the obvious. “I guess you could say that it was ordained that I would become a brewer.”

Bill Moeller calls himself “one of the last of the World War II brewers,” the veterans who came home to enter brewing in one capacity or another. “The so-called Greatest Generation,” he says with a note of derision, not for the appellation itself but for Tom Brokaw, the man who came up with it, because the newscaster is not one who embraces his own deeply held conservative philosophy and because “he left out the services contributed by the US Merchant Marine in World War II” (you’ll see why below). Two beautiful old flintlocks hang on the walls on either side of the living room of his nicely appointed fifth floor apartment in Shannondell at Valley Forge in Audubon, a retirement community to which he moved this summer. “I can use those to pick off invading liberals from the balcony,” he says with a laugh, chiding an interviewer of decidedly different political views.

His grandfather and father were brewmasters at Seitz Brewing in Easton when he was born in 1926. When he was six the family moved to Boyertown where he spent most of his life and his father was the first brewmaster at the Boyertown Brewery, from 1934 to 1937. He grew up listening to his grandfather, father and uncles talk brewing around the kitchen table; all four had been a brewmaster at one time or another. “Through all that time, I began learning about brewing by osmosis,” he says. “Every time my father and my uncles got together, they talked about beer, about its production, about breweries that existed or had ceased to exist. I listened, I learned and I was fascinated.” The stories he was not allowed to hear until later were of his grandfather and father’s stint working for notorious Berks County bootlegger Max Hassel during Prohibition. “They were brewers by profession,” he shrugs. By his calculations, the four generations of Moellers have brewed approximately 100 million barrels of beer over the decades.

After high school, Moeller joined the U.S. Merchant Marine toward the end of WW2 and was on his way to Japan when the war ended. He served for three and a half years and earned a degree in Business Engineering at the University of Cincinnati after being discharged in 1946. “At that point, I went to my father and told him I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he recalls. What he meant was eventually taking over the brewing supply company his father had created following his brewing career, but the old man was a believer in the German tradition that you don’t tell a man how to do a job unless you’ve done it yourself. “You will have to learn this business from the bottom up,” he said and set up a three-year apprenticeship for Bill under his uncle, A. Robert Moeller, at Drewry’s, a Midwest regional chain, from 1950-53. During that last year he attended an invitation-only eight-week seminar at the U.S. Brewers Academy in New York.

“Once I had been introduced to the production side of brewing in some depth, I decided I liked it,” Moeller says. He got a job at the Reading Brewery where he worked as a foreman under brewmaster Elmo Messer (“he was good friend to me who really got me started on my way”) until he was hired as assistant brewmaster (later promoted to quality control manager) at Horlacher Brewery in Allentown on his 30th birthday in 1956 “I really learned to brew at Horlacher. We were turning out 150,000 to 200,000bbls annually. We cut a lot of corners but we never jeopardized the product as far as I know.”

After 12 years at Horlacher, he became assistant brewmaster and later brewmaster at the Ortlieb Brewing Company in Philadelphia, where he would remain for another dozen years. “I’d say the more creative side of brewing for me personally started at Ortlieb’s,” he says. “When you were working for the large breweries in those days, you could not be as creative or take as many chances as most craft brewers can today. When you are making 1,000bbl of beer at one shot rather than 15 or 20, taking a risk could be catastrophic. But we were making some great and very different ales there, specifically Neuweiler Ale and McSorley’s Ale. Probably McSorley’s, which was of course named and brewed for McSorley’s Ale House in New York, is the most well know of those. We got the brand by default from. C. Schmidt and Sons (also of Philadelphia). They picked it up when they bought the Rheingold brands in 1977, but it was selling only 10,000 to 12,000bbl a year. They just did not want to be bothered with something that small and we took it and fell in love with it.”

Ortlieb’s ales were brewed in open wooden fermenters and Moeller believes that helped separate them from the pack. “McSorley’s was one of the few beers being made on the East Coast that was a true ale and had true ale characteristics,” Moeller recalls. “Schmidt’s was well known for its Tiger Head Ale and maybe I’m a bit prejudiced, but it didn’t quite measure up to ours. Fritz Maytag came east and stopped to spend three or four days with us on his way to England to study ale brewing. He wanted to learn everything about our method of making McSorley’s Ale. And I first met Michael Jackson because of that beer, around 1979. He visited Ortlieb’s just to try it and was very impressed. We became great friends and got together quite often when he was in Philadelphia. I loved martinis and after we had finished drinking beer, we would start to talk about the merits of English gin. Michael brought me an autographed copy of “Stirred Not Shaken, The Dry Martini,” by John Doxat, which I still have and showed to him a few months before he died.”

Another product that Moeller is quite proud of from those days was Birrell NA, which Ortlieb’s brewed under contract for Hurlimann’s, the Swiss brewery famous for the original Samiclaus. “They would send us over their proprietary yeast,” he explains, “and we would propagate it and add it to a base of the McSorley’s liquor, taking it down and watering it down to where it came in at about 0.5%. Making a near beer that did not have a washed-out flavor was very challenging, but I think we perfected it. The yeast was the key to it all.” He also notes that he had his shot at doing some high octane brewing at Ortlieb’s, producing 200-300,000bbls of Old English, a malt liquor with an ABV around 8 or 9%, every year.

When Ortlieb’s shut down in 1980, Moeller was immediately hired at Schmidt’s as brewmaster in charge of specialty products, which meant all those Ortlieb’s products just mentioned (Old English became Coqui; the others retained their names). “It was another great place to work and continue learning about my craft,” he says. “Schmidt’s was a phenomenal training ground for brewers at any level because of brewmaster Bill Hipp, one of the last of the gentlemen brewers. He was bright, thorough and knew how to handle people. One of the great assets at Schmidt’s was the beautiful old-fashioned ale room with open fermenters inside the main plant, a microbrewery inside the main brewery. That was very unusual for a large brewery which needed to make beer in pretty large batches. We had our own ale yeast room too, and 550, 600 barrel horizontal oak casks for the beers. The whole thing was gorgeous; you’d think when you walked through that you were at Bass Ale.” Also coming from the Schmidt’s kettles in those days was Prior Double Dark, one of the best rated American beer in Michael Jackson’s first pocket guide, just behind Anchor Steam and tied with Ballantine IPA; the Bard called it “…the most distinctive dark beer produced in the US.”

None of that mattered in the changing American beer scene. The 1980s were the dying gasp of mainstream brewing in Philadelphia and Schmidt’s brewed its last in 1987. Moeller was already gone; downsized in late 1985, he retired in early 1986. If he thought his brewing days were over, however, he was way wrong. Within a year or so, his good friend and brewery engineer John Bergmann put him in contact with Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, the founders of Brooklyn Brewery, who hired him as a consultant after the trio met for a chat at the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville. Moeller helped formulate Brooklyn Lager and other early brews, wisely taking his compensation in shares of ownership in the company.

In their 2005 history of Brooklyn Brewing, Hindy and Potter quote a delighted Moeller saying to them early on, “for 35 years I have listened to brewery owners tell me to make a beer cheaper and faster. This is the first time in my career that an owner has ever told me to make the best damn beer I can make.” Hindy and Potter later noted that “Bill had contacts everywhere. We were delighted to take advantage of them.” One of the most important contacts was F. X. Matt, whose brewery became the contract brewer for Brooklyn, with Moeller as the onsite brewmaster, an arrangement that F. X. wasn’t entirely comfortable with but accepted, presumably because of Moeller’s reputation.

Not long afterwards, Moeller helped Jeff Ware develop Dock Street Amber, a contract beer whose success eventually led to the creation of Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant in downtown Philadelphia, an institution which was way ahead of its time in terms of understanding how to operate a brewery and restaurant successfully and in the range of beers offered, small batch styles which were being done nowhere else at the time. “Some people get lost to history,” says Moeller, who helped develop the brewpub as a consultant and helped formulate its famous Illuminator Doppelbock, “and I think Jeff Ware is one of those. He doesn’t nearly enough credit for what he did.” Dock Street was sold and then failed in 2001; Ware’s wife, Rosemarie Certo regained the rights to the brand in court and has created a new Dock Street Brewery in West Philadelphia, a smaller, funkier neighborhood version of the original. Moeller was an honored guest there this past spring when several of the former brewers came home for a special event and brew.

While he was involved to one extent or another in several other craft small start-ups, Moeller claims those two were the highlight of his career. “Working with Brooklyn and Dock Street so early in the game gave me a sense of something big happening, of a new kind of brewing being born,” he says. “The thing that impressed me about them both was that, even when things were tough, they never, ever wanted to stint on quality, God bless them. And God bless F.X. Matt (who was also the contract brewer for Dock Street’s packaged beers), a wonderful man with whom I established a wonderful relationship. We had our disagreements, of course. I dry-hopped Brooklyn lager and we went round and round about that. Why did I do it? Because we had a great nose on that beer, 22-23 IBUs, and after a certain mount of time in bottle, especially for a beer that’s a startup and is going to be on the shelves a while, the nose and hop characteristics can be lost in the bottle. Dry-hopping was pretty much restricted to ales in those days and I was thinking outside the box. F.X. was more traditional and more of a businessman. Our biggest issue was that I always wanted to lager our beers longer than he did.”

Proper lagering of beers is one of the two brewing tenets Bill Moeller cares most strongly about, even today. “I have always, always being fighting this battle. We do not lager our lager beers and some of our pilsners for the extended time they should be lagered in this country. I believe that’s one of the intrinsic reasons why German beers, the best of them, are more mellow and smoother than most American counterparts. Of course a lot of them, at least the last time I was in Germany, still do horizontal lagering and that’s a factor as well. You can make a good lager, even a great lager, in a cylindrical conical tank, but I’m not sure you can make a superb lager in one.”

His other obsession is quality control. “I really worried about that in the early days of craft brewing because, well, I didn’t see much of it. Long before I started working with Jeff Ware, I met him on a talk show in Philadelphia, I was representing the Schmidt’s and Jeff was the guy with the dream. When he recounted all the benefits of a craft brewery, I bought up our ale house and said ‘we can do all that too, and with quality control.’ Many years later, he told I’d really gotten him with that one. Things are a lot better today, but not perfect. The larger crafts, once they hit 25,000bbl or so, have the capacity to add a quality control department and the good ones are doing it. On a personal level, I’ve been very impressed with Victory Brewing (located in nearby Downingtown) in that regard, so much so that I’ve already donated a portion of my brewing library and notes to them. They are very serious about and committed to QC.”

Looking back at the path he has walked, Bill Moeller thinks that brewing was his destiny from the day he way born. Anybody want to disagree with that?

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Remembering Michael.

Michael Jackson left us seven years ago today, leaving a gaping hole in craft beer culture that is yet to be filled. I have marked this sad anniversary a couple of times in the past by posting my story of the last time I saw MJ, a brunch at Iron Hill Phoenixville with local brewing legend  Bill Moeller and Carolyn Smagalski, with whom Michael was staying. Today I’ll do the same and I’ve dug into the archives and found a couple of previously unpublished photos I took that day. I’ll lead off with those…

MoellerAndMJBooBill brought with him a book that Michael had given him as gift back in the ’80s when he visited him at work (Schmidt’s) and had him sign it.

MoellerAndJacksonTalkListening to the two of them talk about the old days was great fun. I tried to capture it all on tape but much of it came through distorted.

And this is the story I wrote about that day when I learned that Michael had died…

THE LAST TIME

An afternoon with Michael Jackson.

By Jack Curtin

If I had known it was to be our final time together, that bright and sunny March Sunday, would I have wanted it to be any different? I’ve thought a lot about that. The answer is “probably not,” except perhaps for a longer, warmer handshake at the end, and maybe a gentle squeeze of his shoulder, although that might have been an unwanted affront to his always obvious sense of personal space.

In retrospect, my last day in the company of Michael Jackson was nearly perfect just the way it was.

Michael was in the Philadelphia area for most of last March, ostensibly for his 18th straight year appearing at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Architecture and Anthropology. That happened on the weekend of March 9-11—a fancy dinner Friday night and three sold-out tasting sessions Saturday—and was followed by yet another sold-out dinner Sunday night at Monk’s Café, a smaller, less stressful event which he’d been doing for the past decade or so. Before and after meeting those obligations, he was visiting with Carolyn Smagalski, BellaOnline’s “Beer Fox,” out in the western suburbs. I suspect that those private days were of much more importance to him than maintaining his impressive streak in a city he clearly appreciated and whose beer culture he praised in venues around the world. In light of his recent open acknowledgement of a 20-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, Michael was, from all evidence, focusing a bit more on the personal side of his life, on seizing the day. Carolyn was most definitely a large part of that.

I also live west of the city, not far from Carolyn. And just up the road from me resides Bill Moeller, the legendary master brewer who was, among other things, instrumental in the start-up of Brooklyn Brewing Co. and Dock Street Brewing Co. I knew that Michael and Bill were long-time friends, stretching back to the latter’s stints in the ‘70s and ‘80s at the last of Philadelphia’s mainstream breweries, Ortlieb’s and Schmidt’s. Having learned from Bill in a recent interview that they had not seen one another for several years, I decided to arrange for the four of us to share brunch at the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Phoenixville on March 25, a week before Michael would return to London.

We arrived, exchanged greetings and settled in to order beer and food. Michael asked for a sampler and was presented with a huge tray of every beer in the house. He of course made notes of each as he sipped it—that is what he did, after all. Within minutes, the broader conversation became a matter of Carolyn and I listening in fascination as two still mentally vital giants filled in the blanks that one or the other had about this or that recollection and recalled earlier meetings and earlier beers. Michael and Bill had last seen one another roughly five years earlier in a brief and accidental encounter at a coffee shop across the street from The Algonquin, a favorite New York hotel of each, so this was their first chance to sit down and seriously chat in nearly a decade.

Much of their talk was of old friends, old times. Bill brought with him a thick folder of various memorabilia, including ancient brewing records from Schmidt’s which inspired some exchanges of a technical nature. He also brought along a treasured book about one of their shared passions, John Doxat’s “Stirred Not Shaken: The Dry Martini.” It was an autographed copy which Michael had presented to him more than a quarter of a century earlier. That too “stirred” up some memories. I recall that McSorley’s Ale, which Moeller brewed at Schmidt’s and which Michael came to Philadelphia (possibly for the first time ever) to learn more about, definitely was discussed.

I wish I could tell you all the specifics of their conversation. Perhaps someday I will. I do have an audio tape, but the quality is poor and my attempts to decipher it so far have been nothing but serious exercises in frustration. Rather than a standard tape recorder, I used a small Sony unit designed for dictation, one I normally employ for furtive notes in situations where it isn’t convenient or feasible to pull out a notepad and pen. I figured that it would be unobtrusive and not hinder their chatter in any way. Unobtrusive it was; up to the task of clearly and cleanly recording their words, it was not. We are rarely as clever as we think we are.

Along with the inveterate note-taking, there were two other quintessential Michael Jackson moments. When our meals were finished and the talk winding down, Iron Hill brewer Tim Stumpf approached the table with a bottle of Cannibal, the Gold Medal winning Belgian-style Golden Ale brewed by his colleague Chris LaPierre at Iron Hill’s West Chester pub, offering it as a take-away gift for Michael. But he wouldn’t hear of it. Nothing would do but that we slightly chill and open it right there and then, sample it, talk about it. Beer was not to be sanctified or hoarded, it was for sharing with friends. Similarly, as we were leaving, Michael began to pepper our gracious hostess, general manager Toby Jarmon, with his trademark questions about the town of Phoenixville, its history, the people who lived there. For him, place—in the broad sense of culture and history as well as geography—was always a major part of the tales of beers and brewers which he wrote so well.

At approximately 2:15 that afternoon, I shook Michael Jackson’s hand, said “see you soon” and walked out into the bright sunshine of a perfect early spring day which seemed filled, as perfect days should, with hope and promise. The temptation now, of course, is to convince myself, and you, that I knew in my heart even then that I had just experienced what I would look back upon as a near-mythic moment in my life.

In fact, it didn’t cross my mind for even an instant that my promised “soon” would never come. It wasn’t like that at all.

It never is.

 

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This guy is not happy at all about the session IPA cash gouge. Or you Untappd robots, who are worser than worse.

I can’t resist a momentary return to the topic of my last column, session IPAs. I decried their lack of balance and malt flavor, though I admit there is a bit of personal preference involved. However, what is inexcusable is that they are more expensive than the corresponding brewery’s real IPA. It takes less of every ingredient other than water to make them. Why, then, are they not cheaper? I really hope that this is not the beginning of Big Beer marketing nonsense invading craft beer.

That’s from a very good column by San Antonio Express-News beer columnist Markus Haas, and he’s not the first to have noted this “phenomenon.”

The whole column is well worth a read as Haas takes on “the folly and foibles around America’s favorite adult beverage.” This is my favorite of the other topics:

Onward to something that makes me shake my head whenever I’m sampling beers in a bigger group. Each time a new bottle gets opened, someone is sure to excitedly pull out his phone and take a picture of the label instead of pouring beer into his glass. It’s the curse of the Untappd user…

If you have no idea what Untappd is (and, yes, that spelling is correct), do not even think about clicking on that link, congratulate yourself on having  a sense of decorum and desirable social skills and imagine large middle-aged men acting like teen-age girls who’ve come across a rock star.

You can thank me later.

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Posted in Opinion, Other Voices | 3 Comments

Hey, brewers, you want to know what I don’t like?

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These sixpack holders are annoying and frustrating because they are difficult to detach to the point where the can gets shaken enough to foam over on opening in some instances. I wanted to drink my beer, not wrestle with it. This is a bad idea. Please stop. Thank you.

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Posted in Beer Cans, Deep Thoughts, Dumbass Stuff by Dumbass People, Entirely Too Much Time on my Hands | 5 Comments

As we have been surmising…

..it’s either Ohio or Virginia for the new Stone Brewing East Coast plant. At least, that’s the word from today’s Craft Business Daily:

On Friday, Stone winnowed the scope of speculation surrounding its imminent second location. “We have narrowed the focus of our search for an Eastern U.S. brewery to Columbus, Ohio, Norfolk, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia,” it said via Facebook. But they’re still “at least several weeks away” from announcing their decision.

Later in the CBD story, South Carolina Brewers Association counsel Brook Bristow speculates that lower excise taxes in the two chosen states were what ruined SC’s chances.

The final decision is still “at least several weeks away.

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