I drink no cider,
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31 August 2007
More on Michael.
I've posted an obituary for Michael at The Beer Yard which has some additional details and links to other web comments--including Don Russell's obit in this morning's Philadelphia Daily News--and might be of interest to you. I also recommend the postings of Stan Hieronymus here and here . There is a plethora of material about MJ all over the web and I suspect there will be as much or more to come.

Tom Peters has set the ball rolling for a National Toast to Michael on September 12 at 9pm. I'll have a story up on that at the Beer Yard later today.


[Posted 1:02pm edt]

30 August 2007
Memories of Michael.
I added the brief statement below to the Brewers Associations Memorial Page for Michael Jackson earlier this evening. What I wrote is also, in slightly different form, the final lines of the "Atlantic Ale Trail" column I just sent in for the October/November issue of Celebrator Beer News:

The last time I saw Michael he was in the area visiting Carolyn Smagalski after doing his annual Philadelphia stints at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and Monk's Cafe. Knowing that he and legendary brewer Bill Moeller (who helped start Brooklyn Brewing and the original Dock Street, among others) were old friends who hadn't seen one another in a while, I put together a Sunday brunch for the four of us at the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Phoenixville on March 25. It turned out to be a wonderful three-plus hours spent listening to two legends reminisce about old times and tell stories about the history that they'd helped shape with the enthusiasm and joy of men half their ages. If it all had to end, that bright and perfect Sunday afternoon when we all felt young again is as good a personal memory of the Bard of Beer as any.
That was the last time.

The first time was at what is now Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant (and was then the Samuel Adams Brew House) at the first "Philadelphia's Favorite Beer" event in 1996. I knew the name but not the man and was fascinated by this rumpled figure walking from table to table around the room, sampling each beer and then pausing to write notes in a tiny notebook. I got close enough to see that those notes were going to be a bitch to decipher the next morning but never found an opportunity to introduce myself. I can remember holdiny my breath when he left, not entirely sober for sure, until he had carefully made his way down the pub's long, deep stairwell to the street.

While I surely attended one or two if his famed University of Pennsylvania Museum Tastings over the next couple of years, I have no specific memories of those. My next clear memory, a very clear one in my mind because it was important to my writing career, was covering a Friday night black-tie Michael Jackson Roast at the Museum in 2000 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his first appearance there and the historic All-Lambic beer dinner at Monk's Cafe two nights later. Writing those stories was my first ever assignment from Celebrator Beer News, a magazine I've never left since and for which I became a regular columnist in 2003. It was also the first time I got meet and talk with Michael.

In 2002, I spent the better part of seven days with Michael Jackson, for a commissioned story which neve saw print due the disappearance of my editor and her replacement by a fool who giggled at the whole idea of writing about a guy who wrote about beer. I followed him around from Thursday, when he came down from New York and spent the day in Easton and Bethlehem before heading for the city, through the weekend and the usual round of Friday Dinner and Saturday Tastings at the Museum and Sunday dinner at Monk's, then down to Washington DC to his annual beer presentation at the National Geographic Tuesday night and, finally, his 60th birthday party at The Brickskeller on Wednesday. That run deserves a posting all of its own, which I'll try to make in a day or two. For now, I note that this was when we "bonded." Every day, when we weren't together, Michael would call me to ask questions about one issue or another. The thing I remember most was his calling on Sunday morning to ask if I could possibly come into the city for lunch and having to tell him I just couldn't. As I hung up, all I could think was My God! I just blew off Michael Jackson!

I saw Michael at the GABF every year, of course, the most memorable of those brief exchanges coming the year I ran across him, disheveled and discombobulated, wandering the floor and took the opportunity to introduce him to my son. He chatted amiably with us for a bit then asked if I possibly knew where the Iron Hill booth was as he'd been looking for it and couldn't find it. Making sure not to laugh, I turned him slightly to his right and pointed to where that whole gang was spread out over four or five tables. Two other times we met casually, either at GABF or elsewhere, he stunned me by saying, first thing, "I never answered your email," in both instances referring to something which was months passed and which I'd long since forgotten. He hadn't answered, but damned if he didn't remember not answering.

I had dinner with him a couple of times in London, the most recent a 2005 meal with the Fuller's folks. I was there with several other writers on the last lap of an Ireland/London trip with Distinguished Brands International, Fuller's U.S. importer, and was delighted to find him seated across from me at the big dinner which is the centerpiece of the brewery's impressive celebration of such visits. Within minutes, he'd pulled out a pre-release copy of his newest book, Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide, to offer for my inspection and given me contact information to get a review copy. At some point, one of the DBI people in our traveling party stood up and said some truly stupid things about how all the world really needed was the beers of Europe and American beers were just pretenders. Michael immediately leapt to his feet and, off the cuff, delivered a stern, 15-minute admonition about how America is the greatest brewing nation in the world and our breweries are in the forefront of the brewing world. It was clear, organized, not a digression in sight, and wondrous to see and hear.

The evening ended rather sadly. The car which had brought Michael to the dinner did not show up as scheduled to take him home and he became very angry and disoriented, I assume because of the long time since he had the medication for his Parkinson's, something we were unaware of at the time. While the rest of the group left for more partying in Soho, Sir Anthony Fuller and I stood with Michael out front of the pub, trying to hail him a cab. We finally did and got him on his way, but those moments were not an image of Michael Jackson that I wanted to carry with me. That's why the Sunday brunch mentioned at the beginning of this piece was so wonderful to have experienced.

All of us who write about beer, of course, owe our careers to Michael. He invented this gig and did it better than the rest of us could ever hope to, right to the end. My colleagues Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell and Lew Bryson, in their eulogies for the great man, have made a couple of points about that which I'd like to expand upon.

Don wrote on the Brewers Association Memorial Page that one of the things which endeared Michael to him was that he considered himself a journalist first, one who happened to write about beer. I can appreciate that. I still introduce myself to those I meet for the first time as a "writer" rather than a "beer writer" because my early professional work was in journalism on a daily newspaper and in magazines and, I guess, that's how I see myself. I have written about many subjects over my lifetime, beer is just where I, most fortuitously, ended up. More to the point, I think it was seeing himself in that broader sense that helped make Michael the marvelous writer he was and a factor which plays into what Lew had to say about him.

Lew wrote in his blog tribute that

[I]t was Michael's sense of place that really made his writing so important to me. When MJ wrote about a beer, he wrote about where it was brewed and where people drank it, the look of the walls and the lay of the land, why the town was there and who the brewer's father was.
I submit that it was more than just "place" that informed every word that Michael wrote. It was "culture" and "history" and "politics" and an abiding sense of who he was himself and where he came from. I've had long discussions with Michael on most of those topics and later seen what he said in those private moments reflected in what he wrote. Lew's central point is dead on, of course: Michael Jackson saw beer in a context far beyond that of IBUs, alcohol levels and even fundamental taste. It is what made him great.

We, most of us, contend that beer is the most civilized and convivial of beverages, and how appropriate and right it was that the man who told its story best and most effectively was himself a walking manifestation of those qualities.

Michael is still with us, you know. The ones we love are never truly gone, just beyond the scope of our limited senses.


[Posted 9:10pm edt]

Michael Jackson, R.I.P.
I got the news in a telephone call from Lew about 20 minutes ago. Jay Brooks is the first one to put it on the record.

More, much more, to come.


[Posted 10:20am edt]

28 August 2007
Higher alcohol and beans.
A lot of people, I suspect, are looking forward to Victory Baltic Thunder in anticipation that it will be a dead-on recreation of the original Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer. This paragraph from a news release sent out by the brewery yesterday will disabuse them of that notion:

While Heavyweight Brewing deserves credit for introducing the Baltic porter style to many craft beer fans, this beer from Victory represents an all new recipe fashioned on the experience of Tom's original intense brew. One noteworthy difference is the higher alcohol by volume of Baltic Thunder, 8.5% compared to Heavyweight's, which weighed in at 8%. An additional distinction is Victory's use of black eyed peas in lieu of Roman beans. Despite these changes, this dark lager still features a reminiscent roasted character that embodies the fullness of toffee, along with subtle fruit flavors derived from its higher temperature fermentation. Long, cold aging tempers this complex beer into a well-rounded delight that warms with its significant alcohol strength. The final packaged product will be released in 25.4 fluid ounce bottles.
Only 48 days and counting.


[Posted 4:05pm edt]

Jose Pistolas opens tomorrow.
I already told you about the new bar opening on S. 15th Street where Copa Too used to be; now I've updated that with this Beer Yard story which gives you more details on the ownership and their plans, not to mention the really important news that the doors will open to public tomorrow night at 8pm.

If all goes well, I'll have the complete draught list shortly and will post it here.


[Posted 3:27pm edt]

27 August 2007

Notes from the A-Team.
Hey, that's John Trogner's title, not mine. As I hoped he might, John responded to this post, wherein I laid out my impressions of a side-by-side comparison of Troegs Scratch Beer #2 and Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter and joked that the response I might get would "probably [be] Yashinsky or Brugger."

Let me be clear that I was joking and would have been more than happy to hear from either. I was just working at smoking out the big guy, and smoke him out I did.

What he said:

Thanks for the write up! You hit it on the nose with your comparison. Scratch #2 was developed pre-Troegs, so our combined taste buds were different. Chris was just back from University of England when we first brewed #2. His influences from the beers he was drinking there obviously came through with this recipe. It is a much softer, even delicate porter (I know seems odd), but with its fruity yeast was very enjoyable, not to mention different the most porters of the time.

Fast forward 12 years and you get Dead Reck. More hops and more Chocolate/roast malts along with leaving it unfiltered for body and character gives you our current state of mind. Remember everything here is based on our buds not focus groups and market research. That's why we sent out a bold porter at the end of summer, not another fest beer!

Why, I do believe there's a shot or two across various bows right there at the end. Kinda nice, but I remember when them Trogner brothers were sweet, gentle and laid-back lads from the middle of the state who'd never think of such a thing.

Whatever's happened to get 'em all feisty, I blame Yashinsky and Brugger.

And thank them.


[Posted 5:30pm edt]

Evidence of the battle's being won can be found in some unlikely places...
...such as in small pub sitting in the shadow of the ruins of a 13th-century Norman castle in a tiny Welsh village of 500 residents.

Granted, the pub in question, The Bell at Skenfrith, was named Michelin's "2007 Pub of the Year," but that's not the point. The point is what Ron Bernthal, a traveling professor of business and culinary arts, decided to do when he had lunch there. He wrote about it in the "Travel" section of yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

The story caught my eye because I hoped that it might offer another bit of anecdotal evidence of the sort which, to my mind, is as indicative of how good beer is becoming a part of the mainstream as all the compiled data and sales figures the industry celebrates at what seems to be an almost monthly pace of late. Indeed, I find such reports ever more encouraging that hard numbers, since the battle will have to be won in the hearts and minds of consumers for the triumph to truly take hold. My hopes were more that rewarded.

This is the final sentence of the paragraph in which Bernthal introduces us to the pub's owner:

The wine list is a 33-page informational menu written by owner William Hutchings, who describes his obsession for cognac and latest buying trips to Champagne.
The obvious conclusion to draw at that point is that the writer will enjoy a fine meal accompanied by a world-class wine. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But look what actually happens when push gets down to shove:
This public house also knows how to please drinkers. Although I was tempted to try one of the good wines that owner Hutchings keeps in his cellar, I ordered a pale cask-ale called Landlord, a product of the Timothy Taylor brewery. I thought that any brewery that has been making beer since 1863 had to be great, and it did not disappoint. I would have had a second pint if it weren't for the narrow, winding Welsh roads that led back to my hotel.

Other good drinks include Freeminer Bitter, Hook Norton ale, and the popular Stowford Press cider, all of which qualify the Bell as a Welsh country pub with panache.

I find that final paragraph particularly pleasing, showing that he not only enjoyed the beer he had but recognized that the other offerings were attractive as well. For Bernthal, beer was clearly not just a viable option with his meal, but a most appealing one.

This is indicative of a new mindset that a growing number of the folks out there who seek out good food and drink have now adopted (some of them might not even yet be consciously aware of it, but it's there). It may sound silly to say, but I believe that Bernthal wouldn't have thought to take that leap into beer as recently as two or three years ago. Back then he might not have had the nerve to do so, or certainly to talk or write about it, fearing being scorned by the culinary cognoscenti.

I've mentioned here quite often that I used to write in the comic book industry in the '80s and '90s and I've seen this same thing happen there. Back in the day, you sort of hid your comics away behind a magazine or book and feltr kinda sheepish if you got caught. Today, comics are cool and comics geeks even cooler (just ask Kristen Bell).

That said, in order to keep my curmudgeon rep in good stead, I can't resist adding that Bernthal, or anyone else outside of serious beer geekdom, would probably have been significantly less inclined to go for a an Imperial, Double, Over-Hopped, 14.7% Barrel-Aged, Sour Ale rather than a more familiar wine were such selections his sole alternative choice. Keep that in mind the next time you're inclined to complain about how your local brewpub or good beer bar doesn't have a rotating lineup of high-alcohol, out-of-the-ordinary beers on tap constantly and exclusively just so you won't get bored. That too-prevalent attitude is both foolish and counter-productive.

But that's a topic for another day.


What He Said.
I've been blithering around for a couple of weeks now, meaning to get out the camera and set up a photo and then sing the praises of The Glass and never quite getting to it.

Now I don't have to.


[Posted 7:40am edt]

26 August 2007
News from Victory and from Lew.
The scoop on Victory's 2007 Harvest beers and the forthcoming release of Perkuno's Hammer Baltic Thunder, posted over here so I don't have to post it here.

Not that I don't want to post news from either Victory or Lew, or both, right here, of course (one needs must be careful sensitive egos), but it's Sunday morning and this is a good, quick way to get the job done so I can pretend I actually use weekends for myself. Also, that Matt Guyer fella, he done pay me to keep his site updated with the latest and this was the honorable thing to do.

I needs must of course offer up a quick shout-out to Richard Ruch, who interrupted his daily Bad Joke Spam program to send out the word on the hops arrival. Not only was the information timely and useful, but any project which keeps Richard tied up for few minutes rather than being free to search the web for that other stuff is a project for which thousands are deeply grateful.



[Posted 11:40am edt]

Beers you can anticipate, but please try to remain calm.
Many among the more intense of you are all a-twitter about this little note which I posted at the Beer Yard site on Thursday after having been clued in by Mr. Matt. Be advised that it ain't happenin' this weekend (somebody alert Bryan Kolesar, who is camped out at the front door, I do believe) according to that same Mr. Matt in his BA posting last night.

We'll try to keep you informed as to exactly when, but for now...



It's gonna be all right.

To keep you busy, here's another bit of rumor/news you can obsess about. I am told by what appears to be a reliable source, although not an "old reliable." but good enough on this for me to go with it, halfway at least...

(Can I drag this stuff out, or what?)

...one, count it, one, single keg of the Russian River-brewed Toronado 20th Anniversary Ale will be winging its way eastward to Philadelphia where it will be pouring (being cautious here, but if you can't figure it out, you just haven't been paying attention) Just Where You'd Expect.

I'll keep you posted on that one as well.

Now go lie down until your heartrates are back to something approaching normal.


[Posted 8:55am edt]

24 August 2007
Starting from scratch.
The recently released Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter has been my house beer for most of August and last night I did something I'd been meaning to do. I opened a bottle of Scratch Beer #2 from the brewery's unique Scratch Beer Series.

Why? Because it is a porter based on an early "pilot" recipe by the Brothers Trogner back in the day. I drank about half of it and then opened a bottle of Dead Reckoning and tried them side-by-side.

These are the details on Scratch #2 as posted on the Troegs website:

Alcohol by Volume: 5.9%
Hop Bitterness (IBU's) 55
Color (SRM) Bronze/Black
Malts: Pilsner, Crystal, Dark Crystal, Roast
Hops: Chinook, Palisade, Vanguard

And these are their details for Dead Reckoning:

Alcohol by Volume: 5.8%
Hop Bitterness (IBU's) : 53
Color (SRM) : Brown to Black
Malt: Pilsner, Caramel, Roast, Black
Hops: Vanguard, Chinook
Yeast: Unfiltered Ale
The yeast is sort of a wild card in all this and I don't know how that affects any of the following.

The differences between the two, to my palate at least, were not major but definitely clear. The Scratch was a bit smoother and certainly less hoppy, which would appear to be a function of the amount of hops. The Caramel and Black malts added a bit of complexity to the background of the Dead Reckoning and a more chocolatey finish. Most notable, I thought, was that the earlier beer was clearly softer than is the current version, again (I assume) the result of more aggressive hopping this time around.

Dead Reckoning is a more complex brew and one better suited to current tastes. If one were to be working to introduce a newbie to the concept of beers with taste and character, however, and did not want to frighten him or her off, Scratch #2 would be an excellent tool in the porter or dark beer arsenal.

I tend to steer clear of this sort of "beer review" stuff here, but such were my thoughts on a warm, muggy Thursday in August 2007. Your comments are invited (whether in agreement or violently opposed) and I'd surely love to hear from John or Chris Trogner.

Given my karma, though, I'll probably get Yashinsky or Brugger.


Those Finns know their brews.
I've always had a bit of a thing for Finland, who knows why, maybe because I innately always knew that it was one of the happiest, freest and most peaceful nations in the world. I doubt that the fates will ever allow me to visit there but it's encouraging to know that, if I do, the chances of getting a good beer in Helsinki are top-notch.

And that's also the case in Espoo, which is convenient since one of the subscribers to my comics subscription service lives in that city. Rather than mailing his quarterly shipment, I could just show up on his doorstep with it one day and surprise him.

I'd think that should be good for a pint at least.


If I had a hammer...
He-Who-Must-Be-Heard (no, really, it's unavoidable) has officially announced the coming of Thunder, marking the end of the silly battle over the rights to distribute The Beer That Won't Go Away.

While the Big Guy is, you'll see, near verklempt at the idea, I am merely moderately happy and refuse to rise above that level until I hold a bottle in my hands. "Trust but verify," as Saint Ronnie of the Trogdolytes said in one of his lucid moments (I think it was during Bedtime for Bonzo).


[Posted 5:32pm edt]

23 August 2007
Another bit of history fades away.
This almost slipped right by me, but it certainly deserves a mention. Copa Too on South 15th Street is gone. A new tequila/beer bar will replace it next week.

The new place, Jose Pistola's, says it will have 100 bottles of beer stocked so it might turn out to be interesting, but it can never replace its predecessor, which has a signal place in the history of craft beer in Philadelphia.

Copa Too was the place where a young bar manager who had recently discovered Belgian beer finally hit his stride, a fella by the name of Tom Peters. It was also where he became friendly with another bartender from next-door McGlinchy's, one of the city's enduring (and endearing) dive bars, an Irish expat named Fergus Carey. That pair, of course, went on to found Monk's Cafe, Grace and the soon-to-open Belgian Cafe and have their hand in Nodding Head and, for that matter, The Anderson in Scotland. And Carey, before any of that happened, created the bar which bears his name, Fergie's, one of the city's great Irish pubs.

Not a bad resume.

Copa Two was also where Peters poured the first Belgian draught beer in the United States, Kwak, back in the summer of 1995, and then did a major Belgian draught event (14 beers) along with emerging beer promoter Jim Anderson (he did the first Real Ale Fest in September or October 1995) in the spring of 1996. One might argue that those two events were the historic starting point for the American fascination with Belgian brews (Eddie Friedland and I were talking about the 1996 event recently as it turns out, both recalling that it was not all that crowded given how many people now claim to have been there).

I do wish I could have gone back to Copa for one last pint, to hoist a toast to the way we were.


[Posted 8:00am edt]

22 August 2007
Well, that didn't take long. Tom Kehoe checks in. Here's the scoop...and then some.
Actually, the headline is a bit misleading, at least according to Tom. I did hope that doing a bit of rumor-mongering would catch his attention, but he said he hadn't yet read what I posted below when he called me just now and that he was just returning my call from last week.

Either way, here's the scoop, straight from the source.

Yards has purchased the 50bbl brewhouse and equipment of a brewery in Florida and is shipping it here.

Yards has a letter of intent to lease a building a "bit further north, on the river." They do not have a lease in hand yet and he's clearly nervous because, "we had our eye on another building I really liked, but somebody bought it out from under us."

Tim Roberts did do some work at Yards last week, but it was filtering beer rather than brewing. He was just helping out and is not an employee there at this point. According to Kehoe, Tim is still waiting to hear to final fate of Independence (which means, I guess, that maybe that dead deal might not be as dead as we all think, although I know that a consultant hired by a prospective new owner for the site is meeting with said owner either tomorrow or Friday and that said owner does not see it as a brewpub).

Tom says he hopes to get a lease for a site no later than October 1, giving him two months to install and fit out the brewhouse and be ready to brew come January.

He says he knows of only one place in the city that has taken off Yards because of the split with the Bartons but that sales are going crazy, with people apparently stocking up on cases because they fear the brand will disappear. "Maybe we ought to do a split every August," he laughed.

And this was perhaps a significant bit of news. Tom says his lease on the current brewery gives him complete access to and use of all the equipment until December 31, meaning that Philadelphia Brewing cannot begin making beer there this year. The PBC news release had suggested they could begin brewing in October and everyone assumed that meant at the current brewery. I'll look into that.

As for whether there would be one, two or zero breweries in Philadelphia in 2008, Tom, who is clearly in good spirits despite all the hassle, laughed again and said..."Three!"

Maybe I need to give The Dude a call...


[Posted 4:57pm edt]

Semi-news, feasible rumors and wild-eyed conjecture.
I've reported at least twice over at the Beer Yard site about a possible deal between Victory Brewing and an Easton developer for the former to brew the beers at a new brewpub owned and operated by the latter. Given that, I'd say the paragraphs below, from yesterday's Morning-Call, while indeed news, are more an amplification of the existing story than anything truly "new," which is why I didn't bother to post yet another story at this time.

Reporter Tracy Jordan, in a report on approvals by the city's Zoning Hearing Board on Monday, wrote that

Arthur Schmidt, an owner in the Farmhouse restaurant in Emmaus, is opening a micro-brewery and restaurant in the first floor of the former Pomeroy's department store building, 322 Northampton St.

The board also granted a special exception to allow beer-making downtown at the Victory Square Brewing Co., an offshoot of the Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown, Chester County.

Since there is the potential for confusion there--are these essentially the same thing or two different things?--I did check in with the fine people in Downingtown to make sure I still had it right and got this reassurance from PR guy Jake Burns:
Both of the statements are correct, but they are not mutually exclusive. We are, in fact, still working with Schmidt on this project. However, I caution that because this exception has gone through does not mean that the project will ever come to fruition. We still have no formal contract finalizing details of this venture.
Okay, things are basically status quo then, in the big picture. If that venture ever does get to the "happenin'" stage, however, that will indeed be a Big Story. Beer geeks around here have been waiting and hoping for a second Victory location for a long time.

Meanwhile, on the rumor side of things, I hear that brewer Tim Roberts, last seen being shut down in mid-brew as the law came and closed Independence Brew Pub last week, has surfaced at Yards and in fact is already brewing there. Makes sense and a good move for owner Tom Kehoe if it's true (Tom hasn't answered my calls or emails of late, which is understandable if frustrating).

I've also been told that Kehoe has "bought a brewery" but it's not clear if this is A) true, B) a brand new brewery as was at implied in Kehoe's recent posting at BeerAdvocate or C) an existing brewhouse, tanks and bottling line (which is what he'll need to function as before). What I haven't heard anybody say as yet (and I've talked to at least two people to whom Tom talks) is that he has a location. And there, as they say, is the rub.

Meanwhile, and this appears to be pretty much a fact, I've gotten reports that Yards tap handles are apparently disappearing from some locales in the city which are presumed to own their allegiance to the (promised to be forthcoming) Philadelphia Brewing Co. Of course, if customers keep coming in and asking for, say, Philadelphia Pale Ale, I'd think that issue would rectify itself somewhat, especially since PBC is still just a concept and not a reality. The battle for taps, though, will be serious and, I fear, bitter.

Conjecture? Well, the question I've been asked a lot lately is this: do I think that the end result of the split between Kehoe and the Bartons will result in, as of 2008, there being two, one or no full-service breweries in Philadelphia? My answer, cautiously, is...two.

But I hedge my bet on that still being the case in 2009.


[Posted 2:43pm edt]

21 August 2007
Dock Street Opening: a gathering of angels some of the usual suspects.

That's Rosemarie Certo and just-arrived head brewer Julius Hummer welcoming you to the new Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant, which officially opened in West Philadelphia at 11am yesterday.

Julius is, well, a big 'un. As you can see below where I photographed the same pair in the brewhouse, Casey Hughes is no longer the tallest brewery in local captivity.

I was there to interview him for my next Celebrator Beer News "Atlantic Ale Trail" column and to welcome the old familiar Dock Street name back onto the local pub scene. And, yeah, have me a beer or two. It's what I do, y'know?

When I shot down to visit (and I mean "shot," about 45 minutes door-to-door at mid-day, with the first 30 of those covering the initial 35 miles, and the last an additional eight or so, mostly on traffic-laden Baltimore Avenue once I departed the Schuylkill Expressway just beyond 30th Street), I didn't know what to expect but was pleased to see about a dozen, maybe more, people at tables and the bar, finishing lunch or just enjoying a pint (it was 1:30pm). No familiar faces anywhere except for that of Rosemarie, who was engaged in a discussion with some of the staff, a situation which was rapidly rectified.

As I waited for her to finish, out of the far corner of the room materialized the one and only Brendan Hartranft, known to the world as "Spanky" and the guy running the front of the house at Nodding Head. He and brewer Gordon Grubb (who was in the brewery chatting with Julius) had come over for lunch and to welcome the new/old kids to town, and co-owner Curt Decker was on the way. Spanky, it turns out, lives in the neighborhood, a few blocks away.

I was beginning to feel more at home, especially after Rosemarie joined us and brought me a pint of the beer then listed as Rye IPA. I say "then listed" because beer historian and Ale Street News columnist Rich Wagner, who walked in a while later, just ahead of Decker, later suggested that it ought to be called "Rye-PA" and we all, Rosemarie included, then decided that the spelling should henceforth be RYPA (all caps). We'll see how that works out. In any case, this is a nice twist on the IPA style, with the rye (15%) giving it a unique, slightly dry flavor upfront before it smooths its way into a nice hoppy finish (Simcoe & Amarillo). It comes in at 6.2% but doesn't seem that strong while it's going down.

I suppose this is the place to note that all the beers for now were produced by some guy named Morrison. Consider that done.

I did my interview with Julius and Rosemarie in the brewhouse, then spent a good 14-20 minutes in a rather spirited discussion with the latter about the history of local craft brewing (I'll probably post something about that in a day or so) and got some photos. I came back out to the bar and cajoled myself into a glass of the not-yet-released (it should be on today) 8.6% imperial Oatmeal Stout, whereupon Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell of the Philadelphia Daily News walked in, followed not long after by George Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew, who covers the Philly scene for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. We had us a veritable press convention going on. Not quite the best and the brightest, I suppose--call us the beer-soaked and the baffled.

You want to know about the beers, right? Already said the RYPA was fine stuff, maybe my favorite, but the Stout was a mighty close second, roasted and complex and black, just the way it should be. I had a small glass of the Gold Stock Ale, a crisp, nicely balanced golden ale which, at 4.5%, will probably the steady session beer at the pub (they don't plan, at this point, to have any of the current bottled products brewed and on tap there, although Rosemarie is already wavering on Illuminator) and a smaller, sample glass of the 4.8% White Ale, a summer wheat. Both of those were drunk while sharing a pizza with Rich and George. (the pizza is as good as the beers, crisp and well made). Looking ahead, Julius says a couple of the current beers will be kept on the menu and the first ones he's looking at adding are Left Coast Ale and Cherry Porter. The plan is to have six beers on regularly when they get rolling.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was the first day of business, although there was a private party for local residents held on Saturday night (more on that topic at the end of this posting). As for my report, you'll have to wait for more in the Celebrator column (either in print or here on the site (click on the photo for the current column, just uploaded), but I'll add some additional photos here to whet your appetites:

This is shot from the far right corner and shows a good portion of the bar.

The brewery is visible through windows behind the right side of the bar.

The Nodding Head crew at the far left corner of the bar, where you can see two of them standing in the first photo directly above.

Overall, the new Dock Street has a comfortable, casual feel to it which should appeal to the university crowd, both students and faculty, and it is hoped by local residents that it will be a spur to improving the neighborhood and encouraging other new enterprises, much as Standard Tap and South Philadelphia Tap Room did for locales (the role model for that sort of thing is, of course, this place).

Here's a front page story from yesterday's Metro Philadelphia which offers some more information about the area and the almost unprecedented support for the arrival of Dock Street by locals.

Finally, Dock Street may be a bit difficult to find for those not familiar with the area, certainly in the early going. The best and easiest way to get there from center city, I am told (I haven't tried it myself yet), is the #34 Trolley, which can be picked up by The Clothespin at 15th & Market, a block off of City Hall and right upstairs from Suburban Station. The trolley stops at the big intersection right by the Dock Street front door. Can't beat that.


[Posted 12:50pm edt]

19 August 2007
What I did, and didn't, do of a fine Saturday in August.
It was an absolutely splendid day yesterday here in the Best. Beer. Region. In. The. World. and there were two parties/events going on. One was a picnic being held by Dan and Suzanne Weirback and the other the latest Dan Bengel-inspired event at Ortino's Northside, both starting in mid to late afternoon.

Both were relatively close...and appealing. My original, ambitious plan, therefore, was to attend both, hitting Northside early on and then proceeding to the First Annual Weyerbacher Human Foosball Tournament and Pig Roast.

"Life," as John Lennon once famously said, "is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

To be honest, I was leaning toward doing just Big Dan's event even as morning dawned, for two reasons. The first was, hard to believe, practical and wise. The Weirback afternoon did seem to promise a lot of physical activity and, given my still-think-I'm-25 inclination to want to participate in such endeavors without regard to my real, not-25 physical condition and the fact that I am trying to physically strengthen and rehabilitate a bum leg, not attending that one was a Good Choice. My physical therapist Danielle is, so far, relatively gentle and kind, but there is a dark spark in the back of her eyes that I don't want to bring to full flame by walking in there limping and moaning come Monday morning. Besides, her husband is apparently a beer guy and they live in Schwenksville, so I'd already recommended that they go visit Northside Saturday themselves, so I had good karma on my side.

And to be honest again (if this becomes a trend, it will destroy this website), big, hoppy beers are not, I say not, a thing I am seeking out these days.

Not that it mattered. Life is what happens etc. etc.....

As I wrote both on this page and over here, I had dinner with my daughter and her husband last Sunday. Among the things we discussed was my offer to give them my gas-fired grill because it's too large for the tiny alcove/deck area I have here. They offered to pay for the smaller, simpler charcoal grill I said I would replace it with (thanks to the impressive arguments offered by this guy in favor of getting back to basics) and that's where we left it.

At around 11:30am this morning, my son-in-law arrived at my front door with a new grill in a large box and some other stuff, the other stuff being a new set of towels and a back support for me to use on the couch and here at the computer, two things I had mentioned in passing that I planned to go out and buy this week.

Daughters are truly wonderful creatures.

Using our impressive mutual set of mechanical skills, son-in-law Tom and I managed to put together the new grill in slightly less than twice the time than anybody else could have.

After he left, I walked outside onto that space off my rear door. It is roughly 12 feet wide by 8 feet deep, stretching the length of the bedroom double-window from my back door to the storage closet opposite. It's the sort of tiny corner which is almost embarrassing for most of the units here, but given my location--in the rear of a building on the east side of the property, on a hillside, with a small woods below that--it's not a bad place at all.

With the larger grill gone and the new one nestled into the corner, it looked to be, if not spacious, well, spacious enough.

To sit and contemplate how I've come to the this place and time.

Or to read.

Or to read and contemplate.

And maybe have a beer or two.

Especially if contemplation became the order of the day.

I had scored a bottle of the exquisite Southampton Cuvee Des Fluers from my pal Tim Ohst on Friday afternoon.

It was, as I mentioned in the headline, as fine an August day as you could imagine.

I was home, life was good and I had a well-written and agreeable novel I wanted to finish.

I was required to neither shower or dress up more appropriately to fulfill the attractions of that beer and that book and that newly-freed space. Indeed, either activity would be counter-productive.

What would you do?

That's what I did.

Today there is another gathering at Camp Terry, an elite beer location known to very few (although the standards may be dropping; I'm told that the sound of non-silence has threatened to be there). I'm seriously thinking of going.

Before I do, though, especially if the rain holds off, I'll walk out tha back door one more once and think about it. There is, I must admit, another novel ready for starting and a bottle of Heavyweight Biere d'Art in the Stash which has been calling out my name all week...


Before I forget...
...I want to say something about the just-released Sly Fox Oktoberfest, a bottle of which I took home after my Friday evening visit to Phoenixville and which I forgot to mention in yesterday's post.

I love this beer in all its malty goodness and can't wait for it to arrive on the taps. Indeed, I love all well-made lagers, love their subtlety and complexity, relish their rich maltiness, embrace the way they complement so many foods that I enjoy.

I do, I really do, feel sorry for those with uninformed and uneducated palates who can only appreciate the aggressive nature of ales. I can do that too--wallow in the spiciness, sourness, bitterness and sometimes just plain weirdness that makes that style the most adventuresome of the beer breed (and also perfect with a wide variety of foods)--but I would not care to limit myself to only those experiences.

My house has many mansions, as Someone once said.

I live here in the Lager Capitol of America, maybe the world (don't argue and make me come over there). I have the great Pilsners, Bocks and Rauchbiers of Sly Fox, Victory, Stoudt's and Troegs (to name our most notable producers, though there are several others) available to me on a regular basis.

I'd be a damned fool, or at least someone who should not be writing about beer professionally, if I didn't recognize and happily partake of the bounty which I am privileged to enjoy.

Anyway, Sly Fox Oktoberfest. Good. Shoulda said that yesterday.


[Posted 7:42am edt]

18 August 2007
Karl Shoemaker, beer geek.
This past week has seen a flurry of stories about the continued craft beer "surge" in the first half of 2007, all involving a myriad of formal reports and statistics and other "real world" data to back them up. Heck, anybody can do that. In the spirit of our anti-reality White House and non-news news media, I hereby offer another strong indicator, purely anecdotal and perfectly true, which might be as accurate a barometer about the way good beer is taking over as are any of those boring numbers other guys use.

Long time readers here (and maybe even some to whom it just seems a long time) will recall Karl Shoemaker, who used to be a regular hereabouts back in the day (about all that, see following post). Karl first appeared as a guy who hung at Sly Fox Phoenixville, a guy who'd lost his job when the plant where he worked closed and now was getting by on various pick-up jobs and lots of eBay sales. When The Fox expanded with the Royersford brewery, he came on board there as a the "Mr. Fix-It," the guy who got stuff up and running (most famously, the former Dogfish Head bottling line which previously was most effective at lopping off appendages in Rehobeth). Since then, through a beer connection nicely enough, he's gotten another full-time gig and still does what he does at Royersford as needed.

Back then, Karl liked beer, a lot, but made a point of insisting that he was not, and never would be, a "beer geek," even in the days when he was a regular at the Monday Night Tastings.

Ah, how things do change.

Friday morning, what do I receive, sent at 7:28am, as part of a mass mailing from the same Mr. Shoemaker to everybody he knows, this message:

To all that care..Tim just put on a half of 2004 Renard D'Or at Pville. It is around 8% and is REALLY nice.
Non-beer geeks, I might dare to suggest, are not up at 7:00am and belting down pints of 8% Belgian-style Golden Ales. Am I right, or am I right?

But there was Karl (coming home from his night job, admittedly), discovering bartender-to-the-stars Corey Reid already on the premises dealing with a crashed computer system, and doing just that.

He was correct, by the way (further cementing his born-again geekiness). The Renard is right fine, which I discovered when I stopped in at Phoenixville yesterday evening to have some. I also had a pint of the Grisette, that wonderful and rare Belgian style which is in its second year as a summer delight at Sly Fox and a pint of the just-released Chester County Brown Ale from the handpump.

Not a bad evening's work, that.


The lawyers have spoken and I must comply.
No, this has nothing to do with those rumors I mentioned recently (although I should note that I received a call from out-of-town this morning which indicates that I should perhaps not as been so quick in accepting any denials about a local brewery being for sale), but has to do with papers just served on me by the National Cartoonists Union, a "cease & desist" order with regard to this posting.

They say I am demeaning their trade by suggesting that the likes of The Big One, The Other One, Richard Ruch, Wanderin' Joe et al are figments of my imagination. "No self-respecting writer or artist could possible create that menagerie" were the exact words which appeared just in front of the details of the lawsuit they will file if I don't 'fess up.

So let me state clearly and on the record that each and every one of those guys, and the full cohort which hangs out with them, are living, breathing human beings.

God help us all.


[Posted 2:50pm edt]

17 August 2007
The "Tipping Point" tipping point.
Stah Hieronymus, in this posting, starts off by linking to...um...me as a lead-in to a discussion of this story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times which uses the same "Tipping Point" analogy that I used to explain that, at long last, Los Angeles is embracing craft beer.

Stan finishes up his piece with a link to another story, this one from Florida, that indicates a second beer wasteland is beginning to see the light.

My original story ran in the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News last April and is available here on the site, but I'm not going to link to it in this post. If you want to read it, use the link above and go to Stan's blog so he can reap the site-hit benefits of being wise enough to recognize...um...me.


Jay is mad.
At MADD. And with good reason...and devastating sarcasm.

Go read.


Sixpack on the case.
Don Russell sorts out the tangled ownership and financial mess in the independence Brew Pub story in the Philadelphia Daily News this morning, a task I don't envy him. I admit it made my head hurt whenever I tried. The column's not up online yet, but if you go to the Joe Sixpack homepage, there will eventually be a link to it there.


[Posted 7:23am edt]

16 August 2007
Ho hum. 22 barleywines & Malheur Brut Reserve. Just another Monday Tasting.
The incredible Wardell Massey, now pretty much the official recording secretary of the Monday Night Tasting Group, filed his report this morning on the special Barleywine tasting this week. I can only say, in complete awe, that if I had been there, I'd probably still be there, figuring I shouldn't try to drive until at least Friday.

If we can somehow patch together a relatively complete record of what was poured at these gatherings prior to Dell's taking on the task himself, I suspect it could be argued that there's nothing even close to this sort of thing taking place on a weekly basis anywhere in the world.

There were 20 people present. The list of what they brought and tasted, with comments by Dell:

Heavyweight Brewing Old Salty Barleywine (vintage 2000>

Heavyweight Brewing Old Salty Barleywine (vintage 2001)

Heavyweight Brewing Old Salty Barleywine (vintage 2002)

Heavyweight Brewing Old Salty Barleywine (vintage 2003)

Heavyweight Brewing Old Salty Barleywine (vintage 2005, Barrel-aged)

Brouwerij De Landtsheer Malheur Brut Reserve (not a barleywine but who cares, tiny bubbles)

Stone Brewing Old Guardian (vintage 2006)

Rogue Ales Old Crustacean (vintage 2004, still a hop bomb)

Stoudt Brewing Old Abominable (vintage 2006, my favorite of the night, drinkable, balanced)

Speakeasy Ales & Lagers Old Godfather (vintage 2006)

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (vintage 2001)

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (vintage 2002)

Old Dominion Millennium (vintage 2003)

General Lafayette The Phantom (vintage 2005)

Parkerford Brewing Kitchen Sink (Tom Foley homebrew, one thing I've learned, when Tom names his beer instead of using numbers...look out!)

Ted Johnston English Barleywine (Another homebrew, which won first place in its category at "The War of the Worts " and was my second favorite of the night)

Ted Johnston Bourbon Barrel Barleywine BBB (same recipe as above except aged in the barrel, good, but not as good as above)

Weyerbacher Brewing Blithering Idiot (vintage 2006)

Flying Fish Brewing Big Fish (vintage 2003)

Flying Fish Brewing Big Fish (vintage 2005)

Young's Old Nick (a session barleywine) East End Brewing Gratitude (vintage 2006, pretty packaging)

McKenzie Brew House Saison (vintage 2004)

Adam's Barleywine (vintage 2005, homebrew, well done)

You might think its curious that we didn't have Victory Old Ho. Well, last year we did a ten year vertical of Old Ho--no Hos left.

Words fail me. Truly, they do.


Joe Meloney may not be so placid about this.
I hung the tag "Wanderin' Joe" on Joe Meloney back in the halcyon days when this space used to feature the adventures of a variety of characters who were, for the most part, imaginary--I mean, do you really think there was ever a pair like "The Big One" and "The Other One" wandering around loose or some guy so Ruch-ed up that he spends the better part of every day on a barstool at Victory Brewing and the rest of his time spamming the universe? Seriously.

But Meloney is flesh and blood and he do meander a bit, albeit in a pattern which takes him to the same places over and over again. That pattern includes two trips to New York state each year, one to visit this beer festival and one, in part at least, to visit this brewpub, one that he likes so much that he's taken the name of one of their beers for his "handle" on BeerAdvocate.

Given the fact that he recently admitted in (electronic) print at that same BeerAdvocate that he is a grumpy old man who is dead set in his ways and convinced that all change is bad, this news could be terribly upsetting to him.

I'd say it might drive him to drink, but...well, you know.


I wasn't just teasing, honest.
When I wrote on Tuesday that you should all come back here for breaking news on Wednesday, I really wasn't just trying to pump up traffic here. The new RSS feed has done that very well, thank you, as has the incredible run of beer news in the Delaware Valley of late.

I'd hoped to pin down two rumors that have been floating around and give you the inside scoop yesterday but I didn't have much luck. I got one, but not the other.

With regard to the one I got, rather than possibly add to the false information out there by using the name, I'll just say that if anyone tells you that a major, I mean, major, brewery in this area is for sale, tell them that they're full of it.

On the other rumor, it seems pretty definite that a major beer industry legal struggle in the region has been resolved (not the one that leaps immediately to mind) and that all that stands in the way of making it public is figuring out where the money comes from and goes to. I'll try to get some actual facts today if any of my calls are returned.


[Posted 9:10am edt]

15 August 2007
Dock Street update.
I seem to be in a pattern of getting stuff from other beer writers at the moment. Well, there are worse sources, you know?

Mr. Sixpack says Dock Street will open this coming Monday at 11:00am and he wouldn't lie. At least, I hope not.

First beers on tap (made by Scott "The Dude" Morrison): Rye IPA, Wit, Kolsch and Imperial Stout.


[Posted 1:35pm edt]

Victory locks up its Tettnang.
Greg Kitsock's always excellent excellent bi-weekly beer column in the Washington Post today looks at the volatile hops market here and in Europe and the shortages (and concurrent rising prices) of crucial varieties in the still-lingering after effects of the big Yakima warehouse fire last year.

Thankfully for those of us in the Delaware Valley, Victory Brewing Co. appears to be a step or two ahead of the crowd in confronting the issue:

One long-term solution is for mom-and-pop brewers to make their own deals with mom-and-pop hop growers. Victory dodged a bullet that way, Barchet says. The brewery signed a contract with Georg Bentele, a German farmer, to buy 10,000 kilos of hops a year (one-third of his crop) over the next six years at a locked-in price.

Bentele grows Tettnang hops, one of the so-called noble varieties (so designated because of their subtle, delicate, spicy aromas). Tettnang is less well-known than the Czech variety Saaz (which gives Pilsner Urquell its peppery dryness) or the flowery German Hallertau, a hallmark of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. But it's a favorite of Barchet, who praises it for its dry, spicy aroma and flavor with just a hint of pine.

Tettnang is one of four hop varieties that flavor Victory's Prima Pils, the brewery's second-best-selling brand after HopDevil India pale ale. Occasionally, Victory will brew a batch of its draft-only Braumeister Pils using Tettnang exclusively.

Ron also confirmed that Victory will once again be using hops from the Pederson farm in New York to make its eagerly anticipated Harvest Pils and Harvest Ale in October.

Thanks for the tip to (Who else? It's a Victory story) Richard Ruch, the man on the stool at the end of the bar.


[Posted 12:35pm edt]

14 August 2007
A horse is just a horse, of course, but a River Horse is...sold.
Give Lew credit 'cause that's where I found out and give Joe-Don credit 'cause that's where the story broke (Joe-Don? Is that like Billy-Bob?).

And just as I was about to ask "I wonder what a guy's got to do to get on the press release lists?" who should call but that nice Mr. Guyer to tell me that the Beer Yard had received a copy. I've now posted the story.

Meanwhile, since we're in a story-breaking mode around these parts of late, be sure to plan and come back tomorrow.


[Posted 6:05pm edt]

Seriously, how much would you pay for a beer?
So this guy has this bottle of beer, see, and he figures maybe somebody else might want it, so he puts it up on eBay for $1.00 and ten days and 157 bids later, this happens.

Damn, I wish I had thought of that.


[Posted 4:25pm edt]

Confirming what we already knew.
In this morning's Philadelphia Daily News, columnist Dan Gross confirms that the closing of Independence Brew Pub is permanent and also confirms my posting yesterday that the pub owners had been delinquent in their rent for month (years, actually, which is what I'd been told but felt cautious about reporting) and that someone else is already interested in the property.

Dan's report seems to suggest that the interest is new and, implicitly, the result of the shuttering; I can tell you that it's been a long term thing, based on conversations with someone peripherally involved.

He also promises that our pal Mr. Sixpack will have more about all this in his column on Friday.


[Posted 8:15am edt]

13 August 2007
How could they miss Lew?
Given that our friend Mr. Bryson, when he is vocal, is vocal indeed, and given further that he has been extremely vocal about this nation's rather silly drinking age laws, I full expected to see him quoted extensively in a surprising story this weekend in, of all places, the Parade Sunday supplement.

I have to admit that I was really taken aback to see what I consider a print relic of the '50s--a publication aimed at the older, conservative Middle America segment of the population--even touch on the issue of lowering the drinking age, much less treat the question in a relatively even-handed "he said, she said" fashion.

If a woman is old enough to sign a contract, buy a house and get married, isn't she also old enough to sip champagne at her wedding? If a man is mature enough to serve on a jury or risk his life in a war halfway around the world, isn't he also mature enough to drink a beer?

And didn't we have this debate almost 40 years ago?

Yes, we did. Back in the 1970s, when young men were conscripted to fight in Vietnam, 29 states lowered their drinking ages to 18, 19 or 20. But in the following decade-when neither war nor the draft were issues but young drunk drivers were-the debate was revived. Faced with a loss of federal highway funds, every state by 1988 had raised its drinking age to 21 (with exceptions in certain situations).

Now, some researchers, educators and lawmakers say it's time to have that debate all over again. Partly, there is a historical echo, as soldiers considered old enough to kill and be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan can't have a farewell toast legally at their hometown watering hole. More broadly, however, many question whether a drinking age of 21 is a good idea at all-whether, in simple terms, it creates more problems than it purports to solve.

"It's bad social policy and bad law," says John McCardell, the former president of Vermont's Middlebury College, who in January launched an organization called Choose Responsibility to urge lower drinking ages in conjunction with education and heavy regulation of 18- to 20-year-olds. "Prohibition does not work. Those [under 21] who are choosing to drink are drinking much more recklessly, and it's gone behind closed doors and underground and off-campus."

[ ... ]

Critics of the 21-year-old drinking age contend that it is almost universally ignored and breeds a cynical disrespect for the law. About 80% of people have tried alcohol by age 20. Fairness aside, though, perhaps there is another pressing concern. "How can we reduce the harm?" asks David J. Hanson, an alcohol researcher and professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam. "I think we should teach young people how to drink as well as how not to drink."

That's the idea behind Choose Responsibility: The group promotes intensive education and drinking licenses for 18-year-olds, akin to learner's permits for young drivers. Get caught drinking before 18 or break any of the strict rules after that, and the license is gone.

"We're never going to get rid of underage drinking," says John McCardell. "But if a kid knows he has to stay clean in order to get a license at 18, that's a pretty powerful incentive."

It's not a radical notion. The rest of the world would likely find it rather cautious: Only three other countries-Mongolia, Palau and Indonesia-restrict purchasing drinks to those 21 or older. (Of course, some countries restrict alcohol for all citizens.) But the idea is far from mainstream in America. A 2005 ABC News poll, taken on the 21st anniversary of the 1984 federal law that forced states to raise their drinking ages, found that 78% of the public opposed a lower age; at the same time, 75% also said underage drinking was a "serious problem." In the last three years, legislators in Vermont, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have introduced bills to lower the age (though only for military personnel in Wisconsin and New Hampshire), all of which have quietly withered.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving was the main force behind that 1984 law. It now dismisses McCardell as a dangerous gadfly. "Holy cow, this literally involves life and death," says Charles A. Hurley, MADD's chief executive officer. "Life-and-death issues of kids are really too important for off-the-cuff musings."

MADD and other supporters of the 21 law-who far outnumber the critics-point to, among other things, a ream of studies showing a strong correlation between a higher drinking age and a reduction in drunk-driving wrecks involving teenagers. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 25,000 fewer Americans have died on the road because of the higher age. "We already did the experiment of lowering the drinking age [in the 1970s], and traffic crashes went up," says Ralph Hingson of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a former MADD vice president. "I don't think it's a good idea to go back and repeat a policy that made things worse"...

And I honestly did expect to see the Big Guy making an appearance in the story when I saw it promo-ed on the supplement's cover. First of all, he deserves it for the attention he's brought to the issue; secondly, he's been on such a roll lately, I figured it was inevitable.

Instead, author Sean Flynn settled for a bunch of academics to make the case.

He'll never know what he missed.


[Posted 4:40pm edt]

Thank you.
I would like to thank everyone so very much for all your expressions of support and condolence over this past weekend following my posting about Fergie's death. Kind words from friends and family do indeed help sooth and heal.

Your messages came in both the "comments" sections at LDO and Mermaids and, to an even greater degree, direct emails to me. I've decided not to post them en masse, both because those that came through email might not have been meant for public consumption and because there are so many. Know that I did receive every one and am very appreciative.

That said, I will break my rule to post portions of two of those messages. I liked this one from "Bill" a great deal because it point up the extensive reach of this medium (which I sometimes forget about) and underlines one of the reasons why I write:

From a friend who've you not met; a friend who reads your thoughts and comments often, my condolences on the loss of an other friend and companion.
It was signed "A Friend" and that he surely is and will remain so even if our paths in the physical world never cross.

And I hope my ex-wife won't mind my quoting her (I won't tell her if you don't) as she express the way dogs insert themselves in our lives and never let go:

I'm sitting here and tears are running down my face. Fergie and Di haven't been a part of my life for a long time but they ARE a part of my life.
Things are getting better, as things must. My recovery is, of course, greatly helped by the fact that another dog still lives here. Di has shown little angst or outward manifestation that she recognizes that Fergie is gone, but there are signs. For one thing, and touchingly, she seems to have taken on the "duties" of her departed sibling. Saturday night she chose to lie at my feet by the couch rather than repair to the bedroom or the cool tiles by the front door as is her wont; Sunday morning she came over and nudged the bed to tell me it was time to get up, which was Fergie's morning habit, and yesterday she spent most of the afternoon lying here beside the computer area, not quite in Fergie's preferred spot, but close enough.

Yesterday evening, not wanting her to feel an separation anxiety, I took Di along to my daughter's place for an early dinner. She's stayed there several times so it wasn't a real shock but, for the first time, she seemed very intent on knowing where I was and staying close. When we first went outside to the pool, I'd decided just to block off the stairs down to the lower level so she wouldn't try to use them but then stood there in the stairwell trying not to laugh as she suddenly awakened from her nap, looked around, or more accurately, sniffed around since she is nearly blind, and found...nothing. She struggled to her feet and walked through the kitchen, to the dining area and around the table and them back to the family room, thorough confused. I went over and picked her up and took her outside, laughing all the while.

Good thing.

When we settled at the table on the far side of the pool, she walked around a bit and then settled beside us and went to sleep. As dinner neared, I got up quietly and walked around to go into the house for another beer. As I neared the door I looked back and Di's head shot up, she looked around and stood up. She walked over to the edge of the pool looking across to where I stood...and calmly walked right over the edge. My son-in-law stripped off his shirt and dived in to retrieve her as her head broke the surface and my daughter rushed over to help him lift her out. Given her bad leg, it's not clear whether or not she could swim (she's never been in deep water before), but I'd bet, given her determination, she'd have made it.

I dried her off and joked with her and it was all good. Di is doing her job.

[NOTE: This message has been cross posted
at Mermaids Singing.]


When Joe Sixpack broke the story that the Independence Brewpub is shut down over the weekend, I knew that some rumors I'd been checking out last week probably had real meat on them. I've been pledged to secrecy so can't say much, but there is at least one party seriously looking at that site I'm told, although--sadly--likely not to run as a brewpub. And I've also heard that thhe Independence ownership had not been paying their rent for a considerable length of time, so the shutdown would seem to be the precursor to some sort of deal.

More than that I cannot say, but I'll keep pressing my sources for permission.


Big Daddy.
David Keene and the Toronado got all sorts of props in this San Francisco Chronicle profile last Friday. Good reading, including the names of some of "Big Daddy's" favorite local bars that I'll be checking out come next February.


[Posted 9:44am edt]

11 August 2007
A bad day.
Just to alert you, there won't be much posted here this weekend, which is a very bad weekend for me indeed. My dog died this morning. She was a helluva companion for nearly 15 years and her sister and I will miss her terribly.


[Posted 1:15pm edt]

9 August 2007
Where I'd like to be.
The big Toronado 20th Anniversary Celebration kicked off in San Francisco with a dinner at Anchor Brewing last night and will keep rolling through the weekend.

Jay's there, lord love him, and has posted some photos to prove it. I'd expect his site will be the best and brightest source for keeping me jealous about not being there for the next few days.

I'm missing this one but, unless all goes awry, I will be in the City by the Bay in six months for another 20th anniversary shindig, that of Celebrator Beer News. And it happens on the same weekend as the famed Toronado Barleywine Festival, so many of the same movers and shakers will be on hand.

I was there for Celebrator's 15th, which you can read about here (or you can check out the entire California sojourn back in 2003).

Whatever happened to that Matt Guyer guy?


[Posted 6:32am edt]

8 August 2007
The story that keeps on giving.
There is more major news tonight about (who else?) Yards Brewing. I was exclusively emailed the PA Superior Court's decision on Kunda's appeal of the denial of its injunction to stop Yards from self-distributing earlier this evening and have posted the story right where it belongs.

As you can see, it appears, at least on the surface, to be yet another issue on Tom Kehoe's plate and that the Bartons got out just in time. Still, you never know when dealing with the law. And the fact that the decision was by a 2-1 split vote would seem to indicate that the final judgement might still be very much up in the air.

I may just change the title on my business cards from "Beer Writer" to "Yards Legal Stuff Writer" if this keeps up.


[Posted 10:59pm edt]

Dock Street finds its man.
The new brewmaster for Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant will arrive today. I've posted the story over here, the place to go every day for all the latest news about the Delaware Valley brewing scene.

You might want to plan to stop in here too, of course, where I generally add a bit more background and spice to the basic news reports. Just sayin'.

A big "Shout Out" to Rosemarie Certo, who promised me months ago that I'd be the first person who learned the identity of the new brewer and was true to her word.


[Posted 10:22am edt]

7 August 2007
Yards, one more once.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has finally gotten onto the story and has managed to get recent comments from both sides.

Taps for brewery breakup is the headline for the lead story on the Business page this morning. With two large photos, the story fills about two-thirds of the news space on the page and the top quarter of the jump page.

Reporter Jane M. Von Bergen adds a few new aspects to the story, including the significant fact that all this started when the heretofore silent Jim McBride filed suit against Tom Kehoe and the brewery in June.

She also has Bill Barton's contention that Kehoe had a poor "work ethic" and Kehoe's riposte that the Bartons were more committed to their building than to the beer ("We're maxxed out here") and Barton's saying that the current brew crew still works for Yard's but that some might switch over to his new Philadelphia Brewing Co. when it's ready to brew.

Barton, who said that he's aiming at an October start for Philadelphia Brewing, also posed the question that is the first one everybody asks me when we talk about the story: can Kehoe get a functioning productive brewery up and running by the time his lease runs out at the end of 2007?

While not offering any details, Kehoe said in his posting at BeerAdvocate over the weekend that Yards would actually end its lease early (i.e., before the end of the year) and has seemed supremely confident whenever I've spoken to him. He maintains that attitude in the Inky story. If you're following this fascinating drama, it's worth a read.

Now, I guess we all wait and see.


[Posted 7:15am edt]

6 August 2007
The Barton perspective.
There's breaking news on the Yards split. Within the half hour, I received an email from Nancy Barton to the local beer press with this news release (reprinted here in its entirety) attached:


PHILA., Pa., August 6, 2007- Entrepreneurs Nancy and Bill Barton officially severed their partnership in Yards Brewing Co. The Bartons, along with long-time partner Jim McBride, announce the formation of Philadelphia Brewing Co., which will begin brewing operations in Kensington this fall. The Bartons resigned from Yards in mid-July 2007 and since then have not been involved in the brewing or business operations. Yards Brewing Co. will rent the Kensington brewery from the Bartons and McBride until it relocates. Once Philadelphia Brewing Co. is licensed, full brewing, bottling, and distribution operations will commence under the new name.

"We sold the name, 'Yards,' not the heart and soul of the operation," said Bill Barton. "We'll continue to do what we did with Yards, with new brand names. We remain devoted to serving our food and beverage industry customers and beer lovers everywhere." "We remain committed to quality beer, our employees, and to making Philadelphia a great city through community involvement," continued Nancy Barton.

When the Bartons joined Tom Kehoe as partners in Yards in 1999, the company was struggling financially. The Bartons stabilized the business, quadrupled production, and anchored the community revival in Kensington with their restoration of the Weisbrod and Hess brewery complex.

"When we joined Yards, the company lacked direction and infrastructure," said Bill Barton. "We're extremely proud of the company's nine-year record of progress and growth. We could not have done it without our brewers, bottlers, drivers, and administrators. Over the years this team, along with valued friends of our operation, made engaging beer lovers in new ways and serving our bar and restaurant clientele a great pleasure for us."

"Soon, Philadelphia Brewing Company will continue this tradition," said Nancy Barton. "Stay tuned for more announcements." For information about Philadelphia Brewing Co., call 215/427-BREW. The new company is located at the corner of Hagert and Martha Sts. in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, right off of Frankford Avenue and York Street. The facility was originally built to house the bottling operations of the Weisbrod and Hess Oriental Brewing Company, which ceased brewing in 1939.

All of this seems in general agreement with a message that Tom Kehoe posted at BeerAdvocate.com over the weekend:
Hello Beer Advocate,

This is my first post on the forum, and I am Tom Kehoe. It seems that with all of the activity of this page I wanted to just let you all know that I am reading the posts and I hope to communicate with the beer community through my actions as the President and founder of Yards Brewing Company.

The official separation happened on August 2nd and all "three" parties got what they wanted. The details are details. The big picture is Yards will be leaving It's lease early and moving to a new location (which I can't disclose now). And a new brewery will be formed at the former location. Philadelphia gets TWO breweries and we need more. Philly needs to take back the reputation it once had as the brewing center of the country.

Yards will be making it's fourth move in the city since it was a small 3 barrel brewery in Manayunk. We increased the size of the brewhouse to 30 barrels when we moved to Roxborough and kept it the same when we moved to Kensington but expanded the amount of fermentation to increase capacity. Each one of these brewhouses was designed by me to brew Yards. Now I am working on a new larger Brewhouse -- one that will be designed by brewery engineers to my specifications to produce Yards Beers. Yards brews (and the Yards drinking public) will benefit from the move by having Yards produce a better product and an increase in availability.

It's all about the beer -- Cheers, Tom.

I've just put up a news story here.

And now I'm going to bed.


[Posted 10:54pm edt]

Links update.
If anybody checks out the "Beer Places" links in Monk fashion (hey, there gotta be some anal retentive, obsession sorts reading this, refugees from BeerAdvocate and like that), this morning you'll quickly see that Ron's Schoolhouse is no longer listed, replaced by Ron's Original Bar & Grill.

Not to worry. It's the same place, with new branding and a new identity.

Seriously? Ron's Schoolhouse as the name for a beer bar?

Only Sam "our beer is selling like crack in a schoolyard" Calagione could get away with that.

Change is good.

I've also added Brother Paul's in Eaglesville, which does pretty good job with beer (though you'd never know it from the website).


[Posted 6:58am edt]

5 August 2007
Kehoe speaks.
Bryan got it up first (he was hanging out over at BeerAdvocate.com this morning, proving once again that he has no life) so let's let The Brew Lounge to get the online hits it's earned.

You'll find the complete text of a message posted by Yards' Tom Kehoe at that link as well as a second link to the ongoing BA thread.

I think Tom strikes just the right notes in his message without providing much new information. He neatly sums up his major involvement with the first three iterations of the company he founded and give a hint of what's coming. That was obviously a good move, given some of the misinformation out there.

The devil, of course, is in the details. I'll try to get some of those for this week.


[Posted 11:18am edt]

Two beers I drank this week...and one I didn't.
You've not seen the logo the right before in this space, but I figure you've seen it around. A passel of beer bloggers got together a while back and began selecting a beer or beer theme each month on the first Friday of the month, with an agreement that each would drink an appropriate beer and write about it.

I didn't sign up because that sort of group thing isn't really my bag. Love the logo, though, and always wanted to use it. Then, last night, sitting at Sly Fox Phoenixville with a select group of the regulars who'd all arrived for Incubus Friday, I was hit with an inspiration.

This Friday's was a "Fruit Beer" mandate. "If I buy a bottle of Black Raspberry Reserve," I asked the table, "would everyone be willing to take a sample and then give me your comments on it?" As you might expect, the reaction was a unanimous "Yes!"

My offer was based upon having seen, I swear, something somewhere that made me think that the 2006 Reserve was still available (the 2007 version will be introduced later this month). When we asked barman-to-the-stars Corey Reid for a bottle, however, he just laughed and made that twirling sign with his forefinger upside his head.

Ah, well, at least I get to use the logo to explain the story, right?

Now on to two new beers I did get a chance to sample over the last few days.

Leo Orlandini, the head brew guy at The Lion, send down a sixpack of Knight's Head Pale Ale, a contract brew for a new company (which appears to be purely a beer marketing company; I'll talk to them and get the skinny this week) called Round Table Brewing. The beer is based on The Lion's Stegmaier 100th Anniversary IPA and is a 100% malt brew which smooths out much of the prominent spiciness of the original. It's a well-made beer which goes down easily, belying the 7.5% abv Leo said it hits. This is one of what I call the "chewy beers," the ones that leave a pleasant aftertaste and make you want another sip, but not quite yet.

The other bottle at left once contained the new Weyerbacher Twelve Anniversary Ale, a Rye Barleywine that comes in a 10.2%. I was anxious to try this one and when I told Dan Weirback I hadn't yet been anywhere where I could buy a bottle and that Matt Guyer wasn't about to let me cannibalize a case at The Beer Yard, he sent a few bottles down last Tuesday while I was there doing my weekly four-hour penance. The guy carrying the load was the estimable Dick Lampe, a name and face familiar to anyone who knows anything about Weyerbacher.

The beer? It has a nice, citrusy nose with clear alcohol notes, and the Rye backbone is evident at first sip. It has a quite sweet flavor which likely masks some complexities which will become evident with aging. Indeed, my first thought as I was mid-way through the bottle: "this is gonna be a helluva a beer a few months down the road." This beer should age very well and become more the barleywine it seeks to be. Saying that my reaction was about what the beer could be rather than it is now is not a criticism, understand. My reaction to many big, complex beers is often a "wait and see" thing, enjoying what I have while finding in it clues to what I might yet come to enjoy.

Given the unusual style, I'd think this is one that the beer geeks need must seek out forthwith. And definitely put a few bottles down until, oh, this Christmas. You won't be sorry.


[Posted 10:40am edt]

2 August 2007
Another precinct heard from.
Last night, several hours after I got to reminiscing here, Mr. Joe Sixpack chipped in with an email which bore the subject line

It must be Nostalgia Week
and included a link to some memories of his own which he posted in the form of ....well, go see.

If Sixpack and I are starting to think on the same wave length, one of us is in Big Trouble.


There is no such place as Monk's on Green.
Don't panic. There is...or soon will be...a place; it's just that the name is different.

It will apparently be called The Belgian Cafe. That's what George Hummel, who should know 'cause he's always around, says in the latest Mid-Atlantic Beer News and reading it kicked in a recollection of something Tom Peters said when I talked to him last week that didn't really register at the time.

By the by, I do now have a couple of photos from Tom iPhone (sadly, not as clear and sharp as they appeared on the phone's screen and pdf files of the Russian River beers we discussed from Vinnie Cilurzo. I'll see about posting those, or at least some further information on them, this week. Say a prayer or two that Tom remembers to send me what he says are better photos taken with an actual camera.


Resolution day? We'll see.
Today is the day that the final agreement between Tom Kehoe and Bill & Nancy Barton is signed and the on the Yards/Philadelphia Brewing situation should be formally resolved. There should be further news beyond the battle of the news releases soon. I will be on the case.

Meanwhile, the wildest comment yet on the topic was posted in an ongoing thread at BeerAdvocate.com earlier this week:

I highly doubt it will happen, but I have heard that Yard's has met with the Bayonne, NJ city council about a possible move there. You never know, stranger things have happened.
I'm pretty sure the guy was serious. Some others in the thread (a Mr. Thomas Baker (ilikebeer) who apparently has some free time, being the most prominent) are just having fun with it.

As such threads often do with a controversy is involved, this one has suddenly drawn some brand new posters, some of who are easily identifable, one of whom chooses to remain anonymous clearly have an agenda. My semi-employer Matt Guyer(beermaninpa) called that one out the other night. The newbie used the name sapy134 and a New Brunswick, NJ, address and his/her sole post (to date) showed, in another responder's words, "a level of detail and accusation" that indicated one should be careful about accepting anything therin at face value.

Finally, a personal aside for the regular reader who felt moved to email me when this story first broke specifically to allow as how I was, in his eyes, way out of line terming this a "Blockbuster"--mostly on the grounds that it wasn't about the future plans of either the aforementioned Mr. Baker or of Scott 'The Dude' Morrison.

The two BA threads about this story on that site since it first was reported have nearly double the readership of any other threads currently running.

just sayin'.


[Posted 9:20am edt]

1 August 2007
In the beginning.
Mr. Kolesar, beginning his now solo, terribly lonely journey over at The Brew Lounge, starts out with an easy one this morning, a posting about anniversaries which occur this month.

Who am I not to tread that same simple path?

Liquid Diet Online went, well, online on September 8, 2002. But the first-ever post went up two days earlier and began with these immortal words

If you've wandered in here before Sunday, September 8, 2002, it turns out you're a bit early for the party. Sorry about that.

Liquid Diet Online will launch that date and offer ongoing regular coverage of the Philadelphia area beer scene and beyond (well beyond, if things go as planned). Call it a weblog, or "blog," although one without the anal retentiveness of daily posting.

We see how that "anal retentiveness" thing worked out, don't we?

The original "Liquid Diet" was a column I wrote for various dead-tree outlets in the late '90s, the longest run being in the Suburban chain of weeklies in the western Philadelphia suburbs. Since going online, it has gone through various manifestations, eventually moving into the Home Page slot here at www.jackcurtin.com and, as of last month, reformatting itself into the classic "blog" structure. It has created its own recurring cast of characters, some controversies here and there and often given its proprietor, more than a few brewers and publicans and the occasional reader just a touch of agita.

Well over a year before that September '07 debut, however, I already had a place on the web where I could report, pontificate now and then and otherwise comfort or afflict, depending.

That was, of course at The Beer Yard, where Fine Human Being Matt Guyer has, from the start, allowed me incredible freedom and leeway in giving that website its ambiance and personality. Between us, and in the spirit of "it ain't braggin' if you can back it up," I think it fair to say that we've made the site the foremost, fastest and favorite online source of local beer news and events listings for beer aficionados in the Delaware Valley region.

The first ever news post on that site was on July 12, 2001 and read, in its entirety:

July 12, 2001 - Red Bell Announces Brewpub
Red Bell Brewing Company announced on July 12 that a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company has completed an agreement to acquire the assets of 4421 MAIN ST., Inc. and that Red Bell will develop and operate a 3,650 sq. ft. Red Bell Brewery & Pub at 4421 Main Street in Manayunk.

Red Bell President Jim Bell said that renovations would begin immediately and be completed "for a late September Grand Opening."

Then again, Red Bell announced a new brewpub for State College, PA well over four years ago. We all know how that worked out.

As you can see, I wasn't yet vain enough (or, more kindly, "professionally wise enough") to add my byline to the end of every posting but already cynical enough (or, more kindly, "professionally keen enough") to express my doubts about anything forthcoming from Jim Bell.

So, thanks to Matt for the start and to all of you who slip in the doors here every day and keep me on my toes. I'd finish by calling it all a "long, strange trip" but that's just too much of a cliche for the sophisticated likes of us.

True though it might be.


[Posted 10:00am edt]

The complete July 2007 postings have been archived here.

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

--A. E. Houseman

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