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30 August 2005
I visit Triumph and Stewart's.
Okay, I lied. I didn't get back here yesterday to post again. Trust me, if you saw the financial disasters and near-disasters I had to deal with throughout the afternoon, you'd understand that it was best that I go off and drown my sorrows at the Monday Night Tasting (which attracted an unexpected guest; see below) instead of keeping my word.

In any case, I trekked up to Triumph New Hope a week ago today and spent some time with executive brewer Jay Misson to talk about the new Philly location (2nd and Chestnut, next spring) and--here's news--a longer term plan to open a place somewhere at the Jersey shore.

Triumph won Gold (Kellerbier) and Silver (Rauchbier) at last year's Great American Beer Festival and the purpose of my visit was to talk about their plans for this year's judging, for the "Atlantic Ale Trail" column that will appear in the issue of Celebrator Beer News which will be released in Denver during GABF.

"Six beers from each pub," said Misson, "the most we've ever sent." He won't be there to see how it works out, though, since he's getting married that afternoon. "They can call me if we win a medal, otherwise never mind," he laughed.

Among the beers Triumph will submit will be two new ones, a Wit brewed by Tom Stephenson in Princeton and a Scotch Ale brewed by Patrick Jones at New Hope, and the two winners from last year.

Because Jay was busy and I had another meeting to make, I only had a chance to try the very good Bohemian Pilsner on tap, reluctantly passing on the Abbey Tripel, Russian Imperial Stout and, oh my yes, the Scotch Ale on the handpump. Next time...

A trip to Stewart's Brewing in Bear, Delaware two days later was more leisurely and more beers were consumed. Head brew guy Ric Hoffman was there to greet me, of course, as was paying customer Tony Ciconte, who was the brewer when Ric joined the company as an assistant brewer in 1998 (he took over the top spot in 2000).

Stewart's won Gold (Barleywine) and Bronze (Oktoberfest) at GABF 2003, their second and third medals ever (the Porter took a Bronze in 2001).

They'll have seven beers in this year's judging, the most they've ever submitted. I got to taste three of these, the excellent Blue Rocks Pilsner (yet another superb Delaware Valley lager), Old Percolator Coffee Porter (this was a sample out of the tank, not yet fully carbonated but, oh my goodness, what a coffee flavor) and the 2005 Barleywine, scheduled for release in December. "We're still debating what vintage to send," said Hoffman, "probably either this one or the 2003, which won that year." 2005 is most good, friends, and if it turns out they've got even better in their stash, another big win is not out of the question.

Mike Murphy, in the flesh.
Who should be sitting on the deck at Sly Fox Phoenixville when I arrived yesterday but our favorite wandering brewer, Mike Murphy, who is now brewing at Gourmet Bryggeriet in Copenhagen while still keeping his fingers in things back in Italy where he started. Mike was home for a sad occasion, the death of a good friend's mother, but was in good spirits overall and psyched about his Scandinavian adventures.

As is the custom, of course, he brought a beer to the Tasting, one of his own, DB Doppelbock (great label, with "Dopplebock" represented by the word "Bock" with a tiny numeral "2" at the upper right). It was a very good and eminently drinkable beer, earning raves from a small tasting group of me, Meloney (of course), Johnston and the Good Huber. Our little (or not-so) Mikey has gone out into the world and growed hisself into one fine brewer.

He even brightened up my afternoon by recounting again the always-enjoyable story of how he blew off this guy in Rome a year or so back.

[Posted 11:45 am edt]

29 August 2005
Celebrator Archive now up.
Sorry for the paucity of posting but it was a busy week. I'll be back later today with posting of my visits to Triumph New Hope and Stewart's. For now, I've finally (!) set up the Celebrator Beer News Archive that I've been promising. The current column (September/October) and one before that (June/July) are currently posted, with more to come, including feature stories and articles as well as Atlantic Ale Trail.

Meanwhile, the CBN site itself is in the process of being upgraded it appears. The links don't work yet but at least the issue is current.

Back later.

[Posted 9:40 am edt]

21 August 2005
Firey Tale.
I just put up the story of Manayunk's head brewer purchasing the brewhouse of defunct Valley Forge Brewing right here. Go read.

A tip of the LDO hat to BeerAdvocate PopeDX for being the first one to break the news last Wednesday.

[Posted 1:30 pm edt]

18 August 2005
The Inky catches up.
This morning's Philadelphia Inquirer caught up with RateBeer's List of the World's Top 100 Breweries from last June in a nice piece which points out the ten area breweries made the cut. They were, in order:

Dogfish Head (9), Victory (14), Stoudt's (24), Troegs (26), McKenzie (35), Triumph (41), Sly Fox (54), Heavyweight (56), High Point Wheat (67) and Iron Hill (82).

My favorite part of the story was this Brian O'Reilly quote:

I think eastern Pennsylvania is the best place in the United States to be a beer drinker right now. There's nowhere in the U.S. that can parallel our variety of styles.
That's a point that needs to be made over and over again until everybody gets the word.

Beers worth seeking out.
Ruch, still with too much time on his hands, beermailed his buddies, and me, that a keg of Hop Wallop has gone on at Drafting Room Exton.

Were I to rush there from the west, I might first stop off in Downingtown at Victory itsownself and grab a pint or growler of Victory Kolsch, which is absolutely marvelous this year.

Were I to rush there from the east, I'd pop into Sly Fox Phoenixville and do the same with the St. Charles Bohemian Pilsner, which just might be the best, dead-on-style beer that O'Reilly has yet produced, and that's saying something.

[Posted 9:50 am edt]

15 August 2005
Scoats turns 40.
It happened Saturday. Well, no, it actually happened last month, but was postponed until the weekend just past so that the party could be held in his soon-to-be new digs and because, yes, the date was the 13th. And here you thought Sam Calagione was the only beer guy hip to subliminal marketing in these parts.

It was kinda weird for me, I have to admit. Here's Scoats, thriving and well-known publican, relishing the affection of friends in his new home, the very picture of Beer Guy Gone Successful. Good on him, y'know? But the Scoats who lives, and always will live, in my memory is somebody quite different.

He's the quiet little guy I first met when he became one of my local writers while I was Philadelphia editor for the long-gone (and not much missed) Beer & Tavern Chronicle back in the day. He was good, funny, on time and would deliver what he promised (not always a writerly attribute*). And, oh yeah, he'd bought this funky little place on Frankford Avenue ("a corner bar in the middle of the block" somebody, I think Lew, termed it) and was turning it into a beer destination. Yeah, right.

The genius of Friday the Firkinteenth sorta changed the picture and wiped away my doubts, of course, and everybody knows what's happened since, but Scoats will remain for me that guy living above the bar nurturing his impossible dream. Call me a sentimental old romantic. Or hard-headed old fool. Whatever.

The new version of Scoats World is a neat, big old house that has been retrofitted for apartments and as a doctor's offices in its day, so there's currently a maze of rooms and corridors inside, including one, count it, one, air-conditioned room with a sign telling you not to enter and when you do anyway because you're the kinda guy who does that, four or five ladies sitting there insist in no uncertain terms that you go away as there's not enough cooling capacity for another hot body. Whether this situation was only a one day thing or a permanent arrangement wasn't entirely clear.

They won't be moving in until October at the earliest, so the party was held mostly in the large backyard and the big, two-and-a-half car garage at its far end. Maintaining the great Grey Lodge tradition, guests in the garage quickly began spilling out the back garage door onto the street behind the property. Then again, maybe it wasn't tradition at all but the attraction of the most cooling breeze I've experienced in these parts in weeks now blowing down its length. Yeah, it could have been that, I suppose.

I have to confess that all the while we were there, I pictured concerned neighbors in the other seven houses on the block peeking cautiously out their windows to get a glimpse of the new guy, seeing the likes of us and turning to spouses to mutter uh-oh.

*The difference between Scoats and your standard issue beer writer.
As I said above, when Scoats was writing for me he had stuff in on time, on topic and at the length we'd agreed upon. How does this differ from what we "professionals" deliver our editors? This (slightly edited) excerpt from Jim Dorsch during a weekend email discussion about a story assignment I've accepted for a forthcoming issue of American Brewer sums it up right succinctly:

Yes, we'll define the topic over the next couple of weeks, then we'll decide what story and sidebar look good and then you will write about something slightly different.
Hey, a couple of times, it;s turned out to be entirely different. I'm creative, what can I say?

This is hilarious (replace "wine" with "beer" to maintain beverage integrity).

[Posted 3:45 pm edt]

14 August 2005
This really isn't about beer, except at the end.
You may recall Worst. Proposition. Ever (scroll down roughly halfway through the archive), a post from last April wherein I reported on how I received what I assumed to be the least appealing sexual offer ever made during my trip to the Czech Republic.

Well, I've re-thought my position. It appears that at least one guy has been offered, and accepted, a sex deal which is definitely worse.

Much worse.

Consider this lady's attitude:

Jennifer Connelly likes reading books while having sex.

The screen beauty also enjoys chatting on the phone and internet shopping during love-making sessions with actor husband Paul Bettany.

She revealed: "I do like to read a book while having sex. And talk on the phone. You can get so much done. If the room's dark enough, I like to do some online shopping."

I need a beer.

This really isn't about beer either; I sense a trend here.
In my review of Sam Calagione's Brewing Up a Business in the current issue of Celebrator Beer News, I note that I'm not really a fan of "business books." In today's New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich provides lots of support for my position.

Here's the killer paragraph:

There you have it, the five highly condensed secrets of business success. If you find them immoral, delusional or insulting to the human spirit, you should humbly consider the fact that, to judge from the blurbs on the backs of these books, they have won the endorsement of numerous actual C.E.O.'s of prominent companies. Maybe the books tell us what these fellows want their underlings to believe. Be more like mice, for example. Or -- and this is the truly scary possibility -- maybe the principles embody what the C.E.O.'s themselves believe, and it is in fact the delusional, the immoral and the verbally challenged who are running the show.
Sam, by the way, doesn't do any of the things Ehrenreich rips these books a new one for doing; Sam just does, y'know, Sam. And it works.

Why I love the internet: lots of information and some of might even be accurate. Or not.
LDO reader Matt Dunn checks in from this quite nice Indiana beer site with some information regarding the surprising sales of Anderson Valley Belk's ESB in North Carolina, although, as you will see, he gets a little less sure of things as he goes along:

I used to live in NC and I drank a lot of Belk's when I was there. I'll tell you why I did: because it was one of two beers over 6%abv that somehow were distributed in NC. As you are probably aware, until very recently beers over 6% abv were unavailable in NC. EXCEPT, for some strange fucking reason, Belk's and North Coast Pranqster. I don't know why, I don't know how, but during my two years in NC those were the only two beers I ever saw on the shelves or at bars that were over 6%. Of course it could of been the Hop Ottin IPA, I can't really remember, but either way this slipping through the cracks of the 6% law might have something to do with it.

Thusly my prediction would be that Pranqster sells really well in NC too.

Okay, that's a theory. I kinda like it, comes to that, so let's embrace it.

Matt is also the first one to chime in with a serious challenger to the suggestion here a while back that the forthcoming Sly Fox Prometheus, an Imperial Smoked Porter, might be the first of its kind, offering Arcadia Brewing's (Smoked) London Porter as a contender for that honor.

[Here's] the rub. Is 7.2% abv imperial? I think it's close. But I also don't really think it matters. I mean, it's a big smoked porter. Also, there isn't exactly traditionally an "imperial porter" style anyway. A smoked Baltic Porter? I definitely think Arcadia's porter is in the English tradition. They use the ringwood strain, they use it well, but it definitely comes through in the beer if I remember correctly.

Here's Arcadia's description:

"Our Smoked Porter is a robust London style porter with a deep chocolate/ruby color and the subtle accent of hardwood smoked malt. This distinctive beer is brewed using no less than seven different varieties of premium European malted barley, resulting in a complex and full bodied beer characterized by hints of chocolate, coffee, caramel and beechwood smoke. The big malty finish to this beer is balanced by a solid hop bitterness and the refined English aroma and flavor of premium Goldings finishing hops."

By golly, I think he's made his case.

[Posted 9:55 am edt]

13 August 2005
Sharing the blame.
Monday Night Tasting regular, homebrewer and soccer dad Ted Johnston has just returned from a two-week sojourn in Belgium and he's feeling guilty. Ted brought bottles of Westvleteren 8 & Westvleteren 10 for us to enjoy this past week but this morning brings an email:

This was only partially my fault and you guys helped.

While the story you'll find at Ted's link is surely sad news, I have no guilt at all. I will say, however, that if Ted wants to drop a couple more bottles on me, I might work up some just to make him feel better. The ball, as they say, is in his court.

And regrettable though it is, I must admit that I do admire the monks' principled stand in the face of this tragedy:

[T]he abbey has no intention of boosting its capacity to satisfy market demand.

"We are not brewers, we are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks," the father abbot said on the abbey's Web site.

Monk Mark Bode told De Morgen daily: "Outsiders don't understand why we are not raising production. But for us life in the abbey comes first, not the brewery."

I have a soft spot for statements of principle, 'cause that's the kinda guy I am. And, of course, Monk's is only a short train ride away. There is that.

Anomalies are us.
In the beer trade, like anywhere else, you periodically run into odd little situations which don't seem to fit into a logical worldview.

For example, back when Fal Allen (whose Singapore blog I've just added to the links under "Beer Websites" in the ever-growing listings at left) was still general manager at Anderson Valley, we got to talking about this beer and he told me it didn't really sell very well...except in North Carolina, where sales nearly topped the rest of the country all by themselves. Why? Nobody knew, although the two of us conjectured that the wholesaler there really liked it and pushed it.

Similarly, this week the Inevitable Ruch passed along some info he'd garnered from Ron Barchet of Victory--gee, I wonder where they ran into each other?--which is surprising, to say the least. Quoth Ron, according to Ruch, if you eliminate the quantity sold at the brewery's Downingtown pub, more Prima Pils is consumed in Oregon than any of the other 16 states in which Victory currently has distribution agreements, including Pennsylvania!

Okay, send a great beer (and Prima is arguably the American standard for the style) into a great beer-drinking state, it's gonna sell. Which accounts for the Oregon part of the equation...but sell more than in home state Pennsylvania? More conjecture: there's the wider range of Victory beers readily available in these parts, and this is Lager Country, with several very good pilsners competing for the customer dollar. Those factors surely come into play.

Still, I find it a little embarrassing as a Pennsylvanian. I want everybody out there to go buy a case or two (preferably here), of Prima this week. We'll show those Oregon poseurs (that's a fancy French term for "show-off" for you hosers out there).

[Posted 11:00 am edt]

9 August 2005
Another major brewery personnel change.
I just put the story up here. Gotta admit I never saw this one coming.

Think of this guy as Alfred the butler to her Batman.
We all remember Bird Girl, right?

I thought so.

Okay, now that I have your attention, I offer for your consideration a plaintive email from Chris LaPierre, head brewer at Iron Hill West Chester and beneficiary of the tireless efforts of BG and her gal pals dispensing his suds at last month's Royal Stumble at Nodding Head. He appears to think that my revealing that some BeerAdvocates in attendance that afternoon actually suggested that Iron Hill must have had only a half-filled keg to have emptied theirs so rapidly was somehow a validation of that silly supposition:

Come on Jack, a partial keg? Ask Spanky (as others did). Heís the one who had to cart it out of the cold box and put it in the ice bucket. No sloshing involved. Iím cheesy Jack, not dishonest.

Also, for the record, I didnít invent the practice of employing pourers, Weyerbacher did that years ago. I just perfected it. Itís no embarrassment that I have a staff thatís so ingrained in beer culture that theyíre willing to spend their own time launching Iron Hill to a second Victory.

Next year Iíll show you how full my keg is. Iíll let you carry it up the stairs to Nodding Head personally!

Okay, in order here:

I thought the conspiracy advocates were jackasses. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Ask Spanky? They actually asked Spanky? Make that double jackasses.

Point well taken. It was Weyerbacher who introduced the practice of filling the hall with ringers to push their beer. Dan, see what you started?

Actually, Chris is just funnin' me I thnk, certainly with that last paragraph. I mean, some days I have a difficult time dragging my tired old ass up the stairs to Nodding Head, much less a keg, full, empty or in-between. If he really needs a hand, I'd suggest Horwitz.

The Best of Silly.
Philadelphia Magazine's annual "Best of Philly" issue is just out and, per usual, gets some beer folks all a-twitter. Big Lew goes all postal at his site and, in this thread, the ever-reliables chime in.

Acknowledging that the magazine's citation of Triumph is done in a shamefully homophobic manner which is well worth pointing out and calling them on, I'm going to be so bold as to offer some actual facts about its treatment of craft beer overall:

Over the past four years, including this one, PhillyMag has given "Best Of" citations to Monk's, Standard Tap, Tria, Nodding Head, Royal Tavern, Stoudt's, Victory, Sly Fox Phoenixville, Yards, Flying Fish, The Foodery, The Six-Pack Store and--not sure about this one--Iron Hill. Eight "Best Of" beer awards were awarded in 2001 alone, all but one for a specific style produced locally.

Also, the magazine usually publishes a short, sometimes mid-sized, piece about a specific beer or beer location in its monthly Dining Section four to five times a year. Sometimes these are painfully minsinformed, but they are there.

So, yes, the magazine doesn't seem to know a whole lot about craft beer, is incredibly snooty for the most part and appears to sometimes be (gasp!) influenced by their advertisers, but it isn't like it pretends good beer doesn't exist.

And even if it did ignore the topic completely, is there truly a need for validation from a source whose perceived faults (beer ignorance, snooty attitude, behaving like virtually every other mainstream newsstand publication) are accepted unquestioned by all those who complain? Come on.

This sort of faux outrage reminds me (wandering off into another area where I'll piss people off) of the constant whining of right wing politicians and spokespersons claiming that the mainstream media, which they've controlled for most of the last decade, is somehow still a tool of the--say it with me now--liberal media elite. It's silly.

But at least those politicians have the defense that theirs is a workable political tactic which is good for fund-raising and inspiring the faithful. Among beer folks, who would surely notice that coverage of craft beers and good beer purveyors is growing by quantum numbers throuoghout all forms of media if they'd just look around, such complaints over the meaningless comes across as, y'know, petulant.

That explains a lot.
I had reason last week to ask Bill Covaleski to send some high-resolution jpgs of a couple of Victory beer labels to me for forwarding to American Brewer and he replied thusly:

Would you mind connecting me to the graphics contact there? Only because I have seen good Mac art files intended for another Mac-based layout artist get completely garbled when they get spit out of the well-intentioned writer's Bill Gates-possessed computer. Trust me, I'll be saving both you and I time and headaches to send the files directly.
As a firm believer in non-headaches and using my time for productive pursuits, I readily agreed, asking if whatever he was worried about was the reason I often found it difficult, if not impossible, to download complete Victory labels from their website to use in adding beers to the "Just Arrived" listings on the Beer Yard site. His answer:
Yes. Bill Gates has cloned himself nearly 2 million times so he can 'personally' monitor and disrupt the functionality of Mac usage as files move though Windows computers that he is constantly scanning. I read this in National Enquirer so it must be true.
I think he's kidding. I think.

A harbinger?
Any student of the media will tell you that when a fad or trend hits the cover of Time or Newsweek or any big national publication, chances are it's time has come and the wave has crested. If so, the appearance of this may be the first indicator that things might be changing in the little corner of the universe inhabited by readers of this even littler corner of the internet.

Or maybe not.

Late August. Be there. Or somewhere.
The first one of these last February was a really nice event which a lot of beer geeks overlooked. Unless you're bound for this, which is a perfectly acceptable excuse, you might wanna not make the same mistake this time. Jes' sayin'.

[Posted 12:25 pm edt]

4 August 2005
What goes around...
Two months or so ago, when the Spring American Brewer came out, I wrote to publisher/editor Jim Dorsch and noted that he'd left Lew Bryson's name off the Contributors list on the masthead even though Lew had a story in the issue. That this was a good thing, I said, since I could playfully irritate Lew with reminders of how insignificant he was to have been overlooked. Dorsch replied along the lines of we only publish so we can annoy Lew, which was almost enough to cause me to send back the check for my story in gratitude. Almost, I said.

That was followed by the June/July Ale Street News, which had the same situation in reverse, again to my benefit. I was listed on the list of Contributors, but I had nothing in the issue (entreaties to editor Tony Forder that I should get a check anyhow went ignored if not outright sneered at).

How things change. The latest issues of both magazines arrived this week. AmBrew has my name on the list, but my story wisdom or lack thereof of brewery's giving away their beers to get tap handles is missing from the Table of Contents; Ale Street has my long-delayed story about a brewery in Calabria in the Table of Contents, but my name missing from the Contributors.

Remember the old saw? Pride...Fall...n that order? Ah, 'tis true, 'tis true. And, dammit, I never did get around to ribbing Big Lew.

Also now available at selected outlets is the new Celebrator Beer News, in which I have the regular "Atlantic Ale Trail" column, a story on my visit to Budvar and a review of Sam Calagione's Brewing Up a Business.The story on the visit to Carlow Brewery and a review of Michael Jackson's Whiskey: The Definitive Guide were held over for the next issue (if all goes well, that is, since I'm already scheduled for a major piece on cask ales for that issue and editor Tom Dalldorf has so far been averse to the "All-Jack Issue" I think would be ideal).

And, yes, I will finally start putting CBN columns up on site, starting with the current one, this month. Really. Honest.

Chalk one up for our side.
One of the really good guys in this business just got a new gig which is, I believe, a perfect fit on both sides. Read about it here.

Archived.
The complete July 2005 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 4:00 pm edt]




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

--A. E. Houseman

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