I drink no cider,
but feast on
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in a letter to his wife Abigail





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30 April 2006
Down by the riverside.
I'd decided Friday night, on my way home from the Sly Fox event at the Beer Yard (the world debut of Incubus Tripel in 750ml bottles), that I would skip the Manayunk Brewfest yesterday. It's one of my favorites, especially when the weather's right, but I'm still trying to get control of too many jobs to complete at once and too many more awaiting my attention as soon as possible.

But the weather was really right when Saturday dawned. I had knocked out my "Atlantic Ale Trail" column for Celebrator Beer News on Friday (and by deadline!). Saturday morning I managed to transcribe a goodly portion of an interview with Tim Morse (founding brewer of the John Harvard's chain and a guy who started out way back when in the early days of Anchor Brewing), which I can finish up today and deliver Monday. My American Brewer story, god help us, is so late I don't even want to think about it, so one more day can't hurt. I decided, what the hell, I'd reward myself.

Just so you know, transcribing notes is the bane of non-fiction writing; it takes for-freakin'-ever and time, and when it's for an something in standard interview format, a story which be told almost entirely in the words of the interviewee, you have to get every single word down in black and white. It is a thoroughly time-consuming bitch. So seriously, rewarding myself was more than appropriate. Really.

Manayunk: The Good.
I found a parking spot right across the street from Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant and, since I didn't get there until 2 o'clock, got to walk right in after picking up my ticket. I grabbed an Indian Brown Ale, a personal favorite, from the Dogfish Head table and spent about an hour and half wandering about--pushing and thrusting through a mass of bodies is more like it--as I sipped and chatted.

Chris Brugger was at the Troegs booth but I didn't let that deter me had a couple of samples of his grand DreamWeaver Wheat whenever I was in the area. Jay Misson, the head brewing guy for Triumph, was at their table and I learned something that will delight those eagerly awaiting the new Philadelphia pub (see what that was down below) and tried the very good Dunkel Lager they were offering. Hey, I'm one of those eager awaiters myownself, yes I am.

It was Media's Bob Barrar's turn in the barrel at the Iron Hill table and he had his new Maniac Alt on tap. Spectacular stuff--can this guy brew a bad beer? In fact, along those lines, as we were talking about his early days at the late and unlamented Red Bell, when he was the last man standing--brewing the beer, kegging the beer and delivering the beer, plus all the steps in-between--I told him about how Brandon Greenwood, now at High Falls as Technical Brewery (and happy about it), was singing his praises when we talked on the phone a week or two ago. He's really good and he never stops working, Brandon said. If I ever opened a brewery, I'd hire Bob in a minute. Nice words.

I spent a few minutes talking with Manayunk brewer Chris Firey and with Nodding Head's Gordon Grubb and a few more minutes than that with Iron Hill North Wales' "Lovable Larry" Horwitz, who was basking in compliments for his World Beer Cup honored Dubbel and confessing that the award had spurred sales on the roughly 80-cases worth of bottles of the brew which are on sale at the pub. Be forewarned, Larry suspects he'll be running out of it much sooner than planned and there's no room for another batch on the schedule this summer.

Both Dogfish Head and Iron Hill were right by the entrance/exit area, so I had another Indian Brown and another--okay, two--Maniac Alts on my way out.

Manayunk: The Good (subset A): Things I learned.
In addition to whatever tidbits I've revealed above, I of course picked up more news during the afternoon, 'cause that's what I do.

When Triumph finally opens its Old City Philadelphia brewpub (Jay Misson confirmed Lew Bryson's report that it will be sometime this fall if the current schedule holds, by the way), GABF multiple-medalist Patrick Jones will be the brewer there, moving down from New Hope. Brendan Anderson, who was behind the Triumph table with Jay Saturday, joined the company a few weeks ago and is in training to take over Jones' vacated slot.

With Iron Hill's tenth anniversary on the horizon, founding partners Mark Edelson and the two Kevins, Finn and Davies, are thinking about tossing away their corporate garb and slipping into the boots again to brew a special beer to mark the anniversary. You have to assume that each loyal site head brewer is hoping beyond hope that such an historic brew will take place in his brewhouse, right? The logical place, however, would be at the original Newark, Del., pub and I got the impression that both Barrar and Horwitz could live with that.

Marc Worona, who left his spot as head brewer at Stoudt's last August to talk a sales job on the West Coast with Yakima Chief, has moved on to a sales slot with a new beer industry supplier, also on the West Coast, but is still in these parts at present. Or a lot anyway. I know Marc's family was going to stay here through the school year, so presumably he's just tying up loose ends. If I ever catch up with him, I'll give you the scoop.

Manayunk: The Bad.
It was horrible crowded, but I expected that. What I didn't expect was, well, these things to happen.

As I was trying to work my way through the crowd on the deck, a guy comes up to me, a guy I think I know and have certainly seen at a lot of these things, a guy with a stark white beard who usually is wearing a cowboy hat, he taps me on the shoulder and asks

Say, do you mind if I ask how old you are?

Not at all, ask away. Why?

I just wanted to see if I'm the oldest person here.

You are, I assured him, and moved on.

Later on, waiting for a beer at the Iron Hill booth, another tap on the shoulder, this one from a quite attractive and somewhere on the far side of sobriety young woman who asks, with some indignation

Aren't you somebody's parent? How can you behave like that?
I have to admit I was stumped. Behave like what? Had she seen me...well, never mind about that. Was she asking if I was some specific person's parent or a parent in general? If the latter, what bearing did that have on anything?

My perennial philosophical inquiry came to mind: am I drinking too much or not enough at the moment? I decided on the latter, assured her that parenting was indeed part of what I've done over the years and turned away (with some reluctance, I admit) to get my beer.

Those two moments were age-related, of course, something I'm used to by now. There appear to be an inordinate number of people who want to know if I'm older than they think, younger than they think or just an ageless, incredibly attractive person. At least, believing that is how I deal with the issue on a day-to-day basis; that, and hanging out with Ruch a lot to diffuse the ageist focus of the masses. And, oh yeah, I never answer the question. A touch of mystery is a quite nice aura to have.

No big deal, those moments. The afternoon's final affront, however...well, that was a whole 'nother smoke, one of those confrontations that I know will bubble up from my subconscious one night as I awaken drenched in cold sweat and screaming...

Manayunk: The Ugly.
So this guy comes up, taps me on the shoulder (as we've already seen, a Very Bad Sign) and asks

Hey, have I seen your picture in Ale Street News ?

Say what?

Are you that guy, the one that writes that column?

I don't....wait! You don't think...

Yeah, you write that column in Ale Street, right?

OMFG!! You think...you think I'm...LEW BRYSON!

Yeah, that's it. Are you Lew Bryson?

Did you ever feel like you just wanted to curl up in a ball and die? Seriously?

Let's just say that I denied the accusation at a volume that even the real Lew Bryson would be hard pressed to match.

Talk about taking the joy right out of a very nice afternoon...

Now, I have to say all this could have been an elaborate joke, because a) Lew's photo never ran with his column and b) I passed by the guy later and he called me by my name.

If it was a joke, however, it was a terribly cruel and vicious one that struck at the very core of my being. And if it was instead the truly a sincere, albeit drunken and misguided, case of mistaken identity it seemed to be...


Either way, I'm embarking on a diet, exercise and personality revitalization program forthwith.

[Posted 11:50 am edt]

29 April 2006
One man's satisfaction, perverse or otherwise, is another man's bad dream.
This has to be one of the great opening paragraphs for a newspaper feature, especially one published in the oh-so-proper-and-staid New York Times:

There is something perversely satisfying about soaking in a tub of beer. First there is the yeasty aroma of malt and hops, followed by a warm and sticky sensation as the brown liquid envelopes your body. You think to yourself: this must be every lad's dream. Whatever comes next will surely have to involve a supermodel, an Aston Martin and a fat cigar.
Sitting in (which is to say, wasting) a vat of good beer, dreaming of some too-skinny chick whose main interest will be watching herself in the mirror and longing for a car too fast and too expensive to be driven on the roads I travel, all the while slowly destroying my tastebuds? Not for me, thanks. But, hey, if it works for you, be my guest (just don't ever tell me about it).

Great title, though: Yeast of Eden

The link came from regular source Carl P., a few hours after he'd sent along this link to a Forbes magazine beer story (note there are only five U.S. beers in this guy's "coolest" list).

Carl also complained, in yet another email, that I seriously mischaracterized his day-to-day life by claiming, in a recent post, that he has too much time on his hands.

Here deponent speaketh no more and rests his case.

[Posted 12:30 pm edt]

26 April 2006
Mr. Curtin is a happy camper.
A good day today, a good day indeed. Not only did I manage to fill up my car with gas for less than $3 a gallon (who'd a-thunk that would ever be a high point of a day?), but the new issue of Beers of the World, the London-based beer magazine, also arrived in the mail and my story on Tom Peters and Monk's Cafe was not only included, it got a cover blurb.

I knew this was coming, or at least expected it, but employing the "only when I see it" philosophy that is my business model for any celebrating or dancing in the streets, I needed to hold the mag in hand to be convinced.

This is a quite a good magazine, for those of you not yet familiar with it, and this is its fifth issue. There's a link over there to the left if you want to check it out. It's on sale at better newsstands everywhere (I've found it at Borders when I needed a copy) or you can subscribe, which is more efficient and, as I recall, cheaper (though that may have been an introductory rate). This issue has articles by such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Roger Protz, British Beer Writer of the Year Ben McFarland and Garrett Oliver, which is nice company to be in, says I.

My next BOTW piece with be a Fritz Maytag story, due them in June and probably in print by late summer, I'd think, followed by a longer Philadelphia beer story in the fall. Editor Dominic Roskrow, who's already one of my new best friends as you might imagine, further cemented that position in his "Editor's Comments" column in the issue when he sang the praises of Budvar Dark Lager:

I went to the launch of the bottled version without thinking about it too much, and came away amazed. If familiarity has bred contempt a little with this marvelous brewery, the new dark version will reignite any faded passion.
You will recall, I hope, that a motley crew of beer writers, including Whatzizname and me, were so struck with this beer during our trip to the Czech Republic last year (scroll down) that we were just short of begging brewer Josef Tolar to send it to the U.S.

I finished up a long piece on the different ways in which craft brewing developed on the West and East coasts of the U.S. for American Brewer earlier this week and am currently wrestling, for the same publication, with what started out to be an 800-word side bar and has grown to a full-fledged 2000-plus word piece, on the horror/wonder that was the Red Bell/Independence/Poor Henry's/Dock Street implosion of the late '90s in Philadelphia.

I'm also up to deadline on the next "Atlantic Ale Trail" for Celebrator Beer News, plus I need to transcribe and edit into acceptable form/length for the same CBN issue an interview I did yesterday with Tim Morse, founding brewer of the John Harvard's chain, who started his career at Anchor back when you and I were young.

All this stuff is great fun but it also Due Now or even Woefully Overdue, which is why I'll be posting not-so-much for a bit longer. Even happy campers gotta keep pluggin' along...

[Posted 5:00 pm edt]

22 April 2006
"...goofy T-shirts, bizarre ties, wild, unruly facial hair and haircuts that could not possibly have been rendered by a professional."
Eric Asimov on lambics, beer geeks and Garrett Oliver.

[Posted 11:10 am edt]

Unfortunately, my HMO won't cover this.
My pal Carl, who has entirely too much free time on his hands, sends this along.

I guess that explains the concerned look that we usually see on Wanderin' Joe Meloney's face.

[Posted 9:10 am edt]

21 April 2006
Where would you send a visitor from Belgium who wanted to sample a wide selection of American craft beers on draft?
That was the question Mr. Bryson called to ask me yesterday morning because he has a friend fitting that description coming in to town who seeks guidance. After considerable discussion, and agreeing that we need not limit the suggestion to only the city limits, we both arrived at the same conclusion.

I thereupon polled a select group of locals who attend the Monday Tastings or otherwise distinguish themselves as knowledgeable beer folks. And the people have now spoken.

Out of eight answers received so far, six all named our choice first or second, a seventh had it as one of four suggestions and the other guy kinda missed the point (one in every crowd and all that).

Let it be noted for the record that Big Dan took to bed with the vapors induced by the pressure of deciding and did not check in except to offer to accompany said Belgian visitor to wherever he ended up.

But I wander astray...

Where would you send a visitor from Belgium--or anywhere, comes to that--who wanted to sample a wide selection of American craft beers on draught?

Drafting Room Exton..

All the cool kids say so.

Here's why, courtesy of ever-so-delighted DR-Exton beer maestro Patrick Mullin (though he knew it all along): a list of all draft products served so far in 2006, not counting four beers that went on Thursday.

Pretty damned impressive, eh what?

[Posted 11:35 am edt]

I smite thee with Lactobacillus, mindless hophead.
Nodding Head brewer Gordon Grubb throws down the gauntlet (figuratively speaking) in today's Joe Sixpack column , using his keeps-winning-awards Ich Bein Ein Berliner Weisse to do the requisite smack across the cheek
(yeah, you can't both throw down the glove and smack somebody with it too, but I liked the image--work with me, for god's sake, this stuff is free):

"What I've learned here is that if you do anything outside the norm, here in Philadelphia people are willing to try different kinds of things. Whether it's beer or different restaurants, people want to experience different things with an open mind. [Philadelphia] brews a really great range of beers. It's not like, say, California, which puts out some very hoppy beers and maybe a few Belgian styles. We run the whole gamut here."
Whoa! You can bet there'll be a west coast posse searchin' for his ass at GABF this year...but I figure Gordon'll just pour 'em a few pints of 3-C Extreme and all will be forgiven.

Anyway, I keep telling you people that more great beers in a wider variety of styles are brewed in this region than anyplace else in the, well, pretty much whole damned world except maybe your average small town in Belgium (and they're just starting to grasp that "hops thing," come to think of it). Get with the program and start showing the love.

[Posted 10:40 am edt]

20 April 2006
Here's an idea: let's talk about beer.
I mean, it's gotta be better than me pissing and moaning about how busy I am, right? And it's surely more pleasing to the huddled masses than my writing about places where you can drink good beer. Why do I say that? Well, I received this plaintive email received Monday, asking me to stop singing the praises of South Philadelphia Taproom:

Longtime reader, and fan of your work, but... you have to stop writing about the South Philly Taproom! The place is cool and the beer and food are both great, but I really enjoy having at least one place in this city where I can go any time I want and not have to stand or wait for a seat. Can't you keep it that way?
Well, no.

Aside from the fact that they deserve it, I have a responsibility to keep touting this place until Bryson finally shows up. Why should they be spared that pleasure? Actually, one of the bartenders there is a Grey Lodge refugee, so the Big Guy won't even be able to sneak in unnoticed and unheard...which is not a likely scenario anywhere, anytime, I have to admit.

But beer. Let's talk beer.

Glenn, the BeerAdvocate who goes by the moniker of afatty (but that's his problem), laid a couple of beers from his home state on me during the Ruch Ramble two weeks ago and I brought them to the Monday Tasting at Sly Fox Phoenixville this week. Both were, well, pretty damned fine. North Carolina. Who knew?

Duck-Rabbit Porter is, not surprisingly, a produce of the relatively new (2004) Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC, and, as a porter fan, I can tell you these guys, who say they "specialize in dark beers," know what they're about. Roasty, chocolatey and very nice drinking. Highland Oatmeal Porter, made by the (notice a pattern here?) Highland Brewing Company in Ashville, NC, which actually contract brewed at Frederick in Maryland. Highland was essentially put together in 1994 out of old dairy equipment and has only a 6,500 capacity; this beer and their Gaelic Ale (which we'd had at an earlier tasting) are in greater demand than they can meet. I can see why. Unique and very nice it was, with a pleasant hoppiness.

Glenn is my new best friend in North Carolina.

Closer to home, I have fallen head over heels for Weyerbacher Insanity (Blithering Idiot Barleywine aged in oak bourbon barrels) and, for that matter, have reaffirmed my general fondness for virtually all the brews from the fine folks in Easton.

As I mentioned a while back after I'd gone up there so Li'l Danny Weirback could try and convince me to be the first in my neighborhood to sing the praises of the reformulated Hops Infusion (which he, or rather, the beer did), he noted that my journeys northward were downright rare and sent me away with samples of anything and everything he could find in an effort to insure that I'd return. I've been slowly moving through the stash ever since (two Hops Infusions were perfect with a nice spicy stir fry I made the other night--I really do urge you to give this beer another try if you haven't had one lately) and been duly impressed all over again.

A bottle of Insanity last weekend near blew my mind. Lots of vanilla and coconut (flavors I adore, although the latter may be peculiar to my palate since I haven't seen or heard it mentioned by others), with the hops riding a great malt backbone. The key may be that the big alcohol presence has smoothed out nicely so that it's there but not aggressively so. How much did I enjoy this? I immediately called Guyer the next day (something I try to avoid) to make sure we had some in stock at the Beer Yard (why would I ever doubt?). I might just have to acquire a case.

Which reminds me. You might want to note that Messrs. O'Reilly & Guyer have conspired to achieve mutual fame and fortune and that it all happens a week from tomorrow night. I gotta believe it will be the biggest Beer Yard blow-out since the night the popular Mr. Calagione sprayed a gathering of beer geeks and Sam Groupies with an out-of-control Randall. I'll be there just to watch the fun. And, I guess, just to be polite, have some of the beer.

Speaking of Sam, I took advantage of the annual tradition of The Big One and The Other One to visit Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach every Easter weekend, along with their sweeties, apparently to see if Sam can walk on water, roll back the stone from the grave or whatever, and asked them to buy me a couple of sixpacks of the just-released Immort Ale, one of my favorite DFH beers and one I haven't managed to score the last couple of years.

Mission Accomplished, Steve (The Other One) reported in an email yesterday (echoing the words, bur hopefully not the lack of veracity of our none-too-esteemed Prez-nint), so life is good. I'll be rescuing those from the pair of them tomorrow night afore Big Dan gives in to temptation. We'll be meeting here to try some Warrior IPA on cask. Say hello if you're in the house.

[Posted 8:53 am edt]

16 April 2006
A pint half full is better than no pint at all.
We remain stuck on a weekly schedule here, it seems, as I keep running faster and keep losing ground. I hope to get my life back under control this week but there's no evidence that's even possible, much less likely. What I have done, for your reading pleasure and to take your minds off my delinquency in this venue, is put up my current Celebrator Beer News column, which makes an argument for feasting and celebration and uses Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny and South Philadelphia Taproom as examples of why the Good Times are upon us.

And speaking of South Philadelphia Taproom...

...let me tell you about Sunday a week ago.
When I arrived at the Standard Tap that morning to drop off as stack of the latest issue of Celebrator Beer News as planned, I found the North Carolina BeerAdvocate known as afatty, whom I'd met at Sly Fox earlier in the weekend (and who had gifted me with a couple of brews made in his home state which I've yet to try and may bring the Monday Tasting tomorrow assuming I can find the time to attend), lurking behind a telephone pole. He immediately positioned himself at my side, as BeerAdvocats are wont to do, and joined me for brunch.

As we ate and drank, I mentioned that I'd probably swing by South Philly Tap to leave them a couple of copies of CBN as well, since they were featured in my column and he allowed as how he'd be up for that. This was the third or fourth visit to Philadelphia by afatty (who's real name is Glenn) and he's pretty conversant with the local beer scene, so SPTR would provide him with a new experience. Who was I to deny him that?

When we arrived at the still relatively undiscovered treasure early on a beautiful afternoon, there was an array of colorful Vespa scooters parked on the sidewalk out front and the bar was packed, a diverse and happy crowd enjoying brunch and the sunlight streaming in through the large windows lining the opposite wall, with a pleasant summer breeze floating through the open doors. It was an amazing ambiance in a section of the city which lags behind the refurbishing going on elsewhere. Among other things, SPTR owner John Longacre pays to have his block, and adjacent blocks as well, swept and cleaned regularly to enhance the neighborhood he is trying to revitalize.

Here's the thing. When I call this place an "undiscovered treasure," I'm stretching the truth a bit, because more and more people are finding it every day it seems. What I mean is that it appears, so far, to be off the beer geek radar. Then I learned the very next day that this condition appears to be about to change dramatically.

At a massive Monday Tasting at Sly Fox Phoenixville that evening (more than 20 in attendance as opposed to the more standard eight to ten), I learned that Rick and Jeanne Smiledge and several others had in fact made their first visit to SPTR that week, either on their way to or coming back from Phillies games. In fact, Patrick Mullin, beer guy at Drafting Room Exton, who was there twice in two days, went so far as to deem it "my new favorite place in Philly." They are all spreading the word.

Glenn and I stayed longer than planned, drank more beer than I at least expected to and hated to leave. South Philadelphia Taproom is that kind of place.

We don't need no steenkin' fame.
This one's for all you sorry souls who are always whining and moaning about how beer writers get all sorts of perks and free beers and stuff because everybody knows who they are and makes nice with 'em.

T'ain't so. Honest. And I have the anecdotes to prove it.

As we were leaving the Standard Tap last Sunday, the bartender, with whom I'd been chatting extensively and asking a lot of questions in the process, finally asked me what he'd been wondering: What's your name again?. I get that a lot, actually, and it's no big deal. In fact, it's a good thing all in all.

Then, when we got to South Philly Tap, I mentioned to John Longacre that I was working on something with Lew Bryson and he interrupted me. Who? he asked. When I stopped giggling in delight, I mentioned that the Big Guy was the author of Pennsylvania Breweries (which everybody should already have or immediately acquire a copy of, not to mention doing the same with New York breweries and Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Breweries, 'cause he doesn't just churn these babies out for his health, you know) and recognition dawned.

Sorry to break it to you guys (yet again), but on the road to glory, lowly beer scribes are but anonymous hitchhikers constantly jumping out of the way of the traffic.

What to do while the next LDO posting slouches toward Wednesday or so to be born, maybe even later.
How about being the first in your neighborhood to take a exclusive online peek at a Pottstown Mercury story about Sly Fox's new canning operation? Writer Michelle Karas's piece isn't up on the newspapers own site and I haven't yet figured out how to deal with it at the Sly Fox site, so this is a once in a lifetime chance to be ahead of the teeming masses for those brave enough to accept the challenge. It's a PDF file so you'll need Adobe Reader to open it, but who doesn't have that these days? Even if you have to go get it first, it's worth the trouble, if only to see more pictures of a soulful O'Reilly holding up a beer than you're ever likely to see again in one place.

Doesn't work for you? Go check out Joe Sixpack this week, who has some interesting thoughts about the deplorable state of one of the city's oldest taverns and who should get up off their asses and do something about it.

Or, if you're a dedicated World Beer Cup fan (there must be some of you out there), be advised that I posted this report on how local breweries fared in Seattle last week at the Beer Yard yesterday. I think we may be moving toward a LaPierre/Barrar Medal-off one of these days.

Finally, we just did a complete revamp of the Sly Fox Home Page, so that (as I posted at BeerAdvocate on Friday) it is "purtier, easier and gots more information." There are three versions of the page so click "refresh" a couple of times and enjoy the full experience. I personally think it's super-swell and the new dynamic links on the home page mean I can update regularly and keep you better informed (you know, even though I bitch about how busy I am, I delight in getting even more so. I think it's some sort of sickness).

More than that, I ain't got. See you when I see you.

unless you see me first, of course.

[Posted 10:35 am edt]

11 April 2006
As I just noted
over here, since I have little time to cut away from the actual work I'm paid to do this week, I'm counting on the "a picture is worth..." thing to allow me to maintain the pretense that this is an active site. Thanks to the invaluable Carl P. for this one:

Chuckle and chortle, my friends. Enjoy yourselves. Don't worry about me.

An, oh yeah, the cartoon above is the work of Matt Bors. Go visit.

[Posted 2:35 pm edt]

9 April 2006
The latest excuse for minimal posting (part of a set, collect them all).
This has been a busy week, limiting my time to post here, and that condition will persist for the foreseeable future. I'll do the best I can, and when you're doing that, you're doing, well, the best you can.

I stopped by Sly Fox Royersford yesterday to catch a bit of the "Ruch Ramble," Richard's annual tour for his Beer Advocate buddies, which was making its first stop there before moving on to Iron Hill West Chester and Victory Richard's Back Yard. Then it was off to Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny to drop off a few copies of the new Celebrator Beer News (in which UJ is featuring in my "Atlantic Ale Trail" column) and a bite of lunch. This morning, I'll drop off the regular allotments of CBN at Monk's Cafe, Nodding Head and Standard Tap (where I'll pause for brunch at the bar), then, if time permits, head down to South Philadelphia Taproom to leave a couple of copies because it too is featured in this month's column.

I said I was busy; I didn't say I wasn't having fun.

The view from 1978.
Kindly Old Mr. Ruch, having been informed by me during the Victory Over Prohibition party at his favorite brewery last Wednesday that I'm working on a story about the early days of craft brewing, presented me with his treasured copy of an article from the September 4, 1978 issue of Newsweek entitled "The Battle of the Beers " (hey, you got your treasures, he got his), on Friday night at Sly Fox Phoenixville.

The focus of the piece is the Anheuser-Busch/Miller struggle to control the industry and, interestingly, there is a hint of incipient beer geekery throughout. There is a sidebar on Fritz Maytag's rescue of Anchor Brewing and reference to Jack McAuliffe and New Albion in the text. There's another sidebar on the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI (but not fellow historic regional, Yuengling, which was only then starting to rise to national prominence because of clever--and brewery-saving-- marketing built around the 1976 BiCentennial) and a third one on 70-year old brewer Joe Pickett at the now closed Dubuque Star Brewing/Joseph S. Pickett & Sons in Dubuque, Iowa (Pickitt was holding on, fighting the good fight for locally brewed, independent beers).

What really caught my eye were several comments in a third, full-page sidebar, Hail to the Foam: A Guzzler's Guide, which included such categories as "Best of the Biggies" (Bud), "Most Overrated" (Coors), "Blandest" (Miller High Life) and "Worst" (Billy Beer, though they did comment that "at least someone in the Carter family has a sense of humor"). The "Guzzler's Choice?" Pabst Blue Ribbon (talk about "back to the future").

Several often cutting remarks were strung throughout the listings. A few of my favorites:

Miller High Life is the blue-polyester suit of beers. It's safe, but ginger ale has more bite.

Bud tastes the same in Los Angeles as it does in St. Louis. Not all brewers can make that claim.

Miller's domestically brewed Lowenbrau is an insult to its German genes. Most of the taste is on the label.

On light beers:Kool-Aid is tastier...

Pilsner Urguell comes on strong for most U.S. taste buds. But served at a tepid 60 degrees, it's a rare treat.

Schoen's Old Lager has the clout of a glass of Perrier. Best to paralyze the taste buds by serving it very cold.

"In the beer world, when the Belgians start imitating you, you're doing something right."
That's the word from a story in the Toronto Star, which bemoans the state of brewing in Ontario and raves on and on about what happening down in the lower colonies. It's a nice perspective from up north.

[Posted 10:00 am edt]

2 April 2006
Now I'm in love with Douglasville.
With this posting I officially retract and acknowledge being embarrassed by my "I gotta go work" comments of two days ago. Let's face it, I'm addicted to cyberspace.

Yesterday was, as I said it would be, mostly spent at the Douglasville Hotel with affable Bill Moore, talking about the early days of Stoudt's and his run at Independence and how it all ended. Lots of good insights and information, including a couple of not-before-revealed tidbits that will add some extra dimensions to my American Brewer stories (which I'll see about getting permission to post here, since most of you will never get to read them otherwise).

That was the work part. The other part, the best part, was this: I am in love with the place.

I love that it's, if not exactly hard to find if you know where you're headed, at least awkward to find, located as it is on the curve of a two-lane, one-way road on which everybody else is speeding by on the way to someplace else. I love that even when you're there (for the first time) and parked, it's still a bit of a question of how to get into the place. And I love how, when you walk it, you think (not in a bad way, understand) "dive bar," and quickly realize that impression is a false one.

And I, most of all, love the beer and, oh yes, the food.

Douglasville has eight taps, three or four of which will delight craft beer fans and a couple of others that will certainly not have those fans turning up their noses. The bottle list is extensive and even more impressive, including a couple of recent releases that some folks are having a difficult time finding, it seems: Victory Ten Year Alt and Troegs Nugget Nectar, the latter of which I had while waiting for Bill to arrive from his racquetball game (pause here to allow the audience to picture Bill Moore on a racquetball court and then regain their relationship with reality). It was my first Nugget in the bottle and it was Wow! good. Were I a local brewer, those guys in Harrisburg would tick me off, they're so dead on perfect with everything. Since I'm not, just a guy who appreciates good beer, I'm not even closed to ticked off.

When Mr. Moore arrived, I switched over to Lancaster Hop Hog IPA along with him (which is how I found out there were four taps hidden away on the other side of the bar) and was that a good idea. I remembered this as a very good beer I hadn't had in quite a while, but the two or three pints I had at Douglasville were, well, spectacular, fresh and hoppy and delicious. When I later added a hamburger to my consumption regime for the afternoon (and "hamburger" is not doing the thing justice, a huge--I guess a half pound--handmade pattie on a fresh roll, perfectly cooked medium rare as requested; I made up my own variation--raw onion and sauteed mushrooms--rather than plow my way through the 40 (!) possibilities listed on the menu), I was in, dare I say it, Hog Heaven.

The interview went well, I met a couple of people at the bar, including one lady who might be able to get me in touch with a brewing legend I'm having a difficult time pinning down, and it was all good. Then things went--well, "all to hell" would be stretching it, so let's just say south. Dan and Steve, the Big One and the Other One, burst through the door, reminding me of two lessons I should have learned by now: 1) never report in the internet where you're going to be at any specific time, 'cause there are stalkers out there; 2) the gods will look down and see you're having too good a time and smite you every now and then to get your attention.

Ah, it wasn't so bad. Turns out Big Dan learned to drink at Douglasville back in his callow youth (followed, against the normal grain, by a callow adulthood) and is something of a regular there. He ordered up a sandwich of his own, a concoction of lettuce, tomato, blue cheese, bacon and godknowswhat, which came on thick slices of sourdough bread and, cut in half, looked like two entire sandwiches side by side. The portions at Douglasville are not only tasty, they are enormous. A beer dinner is scheduled there on Tuesday, October 3, $58 for what, I'm told, is usually three or four courses and up to a dozen beers. You can bet I'll look into that.

It was a great day at a great place. The only real downer (I shrug off Dan & Steve arrivals like a spring rain) was when I suffered something I knew was going to occur sooner or later: a PayPal Moment.

I dumped all my credit cards a while back and only use PayPal, which functions like a credit card but is actually a debit card: you can only spend what's there. It's convenient and avoid any possibility of interest fees, which is good, but because it's my only card and only good up to the amount in the account at any given time, and I use it as my basic "pocket money," I tend to pay both too much and not enough attention to it.

The thing is, since its regular "reload" is on weekends after I bill out invoices for my comics subscription service on Fridays, I've gotten into the habit of processing those deposits into my memory. Of late, though, I've moved on from X amount will be in hand by Sunday night, Monday morning to the lazier, and not-always-accurate X amount is mine to spend. I left the house Saturday morning with that latter number in my head and confidently tossed the card out to pay the $50-plus bill for my and Bill's lunch and beers, plus a couple for our newfound best friends. And back came our bartender, with that sheepish God, I hate to tell him this look on her face.

Card rejected.

It's a damned good thing I'm well beyond the stage of being easily crushed and embarrassed, y'know? Between cash in my pocket and putting a lesser amount on the card, all was well (though I did allow the others to leave the tip, which was damned generous). I came home to log on and find I was 57 freakin' cents under the original bill in my available balance. To rub it in, someone posted another $40 payment to the account as I sat there fuming.

That too was surely a little nudge from the giggling gods: we got you where we want you, pal.

Beer good; dealing with money, not so much.

Where I live. It's good.
With the addition of Douglasville to my local drinking possibilities, I more than ever cannot get over how wise I was to relocate out here in an area I used to make fun of.

The hotel is about ten minutes away from my door, just slightly farther, time-wise, than Sly Fox Royersford. And Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny is 15 minutes away at most, probably less once I do the trip a couple of times and figure it out. Sly Fox Phoenixville is roughly the same time, maybe a couple minutes longer. Spinnerstown Hotel is about half an hour northeast, while Drafting Room Exton is 35 minutes and Victory 45 minutes south (that trip, however, is annoying as hell, about the only downside to the move). While I haven't checked them out as yet, Ortino's Northside also appears to be less than half an hour away and various locations in Reading the same.

Heck, comes to that, at the right times, downtown Philadelphia and all places in-between fall in the 40-45 minute range and, aside from the worst periods, are no more than an hour away.

Said it before, say it again, I got great karma (sneering at those gods mentioned above, 'cause somebody's gotta).

Notes 'n' stuff.
There's a nice, long Sly Fox story by Michelle Karas in today's Pottstown Mercury (not available online, at least not yet), about the cans and the upcoming Bock Festival & Goat Race....The Kunda/Friedland deal did not happen Friday (keeping alive a perfect record), but I was told by one person close to the negotiations that things are "promising." It's still hung up on what Yards does or doesn't do and, in the latter case, what Kunda does in return, far as I know. I'm getting bored with it all. Let's move on, guys, one way or the other...

On the other hand, there appears to be one other brewery, thought to have bought into the merger, which may be electing to go another direction, and I'm not sure all the principals even know that as yet, so there is a bit of intrigue still going on....Speaking of intrigue, one of those stories which had a lot of it was the on again/off again deal that Sly Fox had/didn't have with the Foundry in Phoenixville. That on again/off again thing appears to be catching when it comes to that site and all its great potential. I wrote about that this morning at The Beer Yard.

Why am I posted there on a Sunday? Because I actually do find time for some of that stuff I get paid for every day and, as any freelancer will tell you, "every day" means "7/24." Don't tell Dan & Steve, though. I'd hate to see them give up their day jobs (presumably, somebody besides Cruella would eventually notice) and begin stalking me around the clock.

[Posted 4:00 pm edt]

1 April 2006
How you gonna miss me if I won't stay away?
I know, I know. I try to leave and go do what I'm paid to do, but something keeps dragging me back in. This morning, it was a tearful email (literally, the words were smeared on my computer screen) from Richard Ruch begging that I do something I usually do around this time every year.

So, instead of working yet again, I sat right down and....well, go see for yourselves.

I think he owes me a beer, don't you?

And the good news today is that "working" will primarily consist of talking and drinking beer with Bill Moore at the Douglasville Hotel. It's sort of a right of passage in these parts.

[Posted 9:40 pm edt]

The complete March 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 1:05 pm, edt]

Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

--A. E. Houseman


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