I certainly take my shots at some of the inanity that goes on over at beeradvocate.com (not nearly as many as I could, mind you), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I check out the site once or twice a day and often learn things over there and/or find leads to possible stories.
And sometimes I even discover a beer spot right here in my own backyard of which I was previously unaware.
Such is Capone's Restaurant on Germantown Pike in East Norriton and, more to the point for the moment, the Beer Store in the rear of the building. If one of those fine BAs hadn't brought the place up in a thread a while back and mentioned their selection and right nice pricing, I might never have known.
I've been meaning to get over there ever since and finally did yesterday afternoon after a few hours toiling at another pretty good beer place. I was properly impressed by what I found and came away with a four-pack of Blue Point Toasted Lager and a fliptop 500ml bottle of Thomas Hooker Liberator Doppelbock, both of which I've been wanting to try and both of which I did last night, to great satisfaction. I also grabbed a 750ml of the just-out, bourbon-barrel aged Stoudt's Fat Dog Oatmeal Stout for which I have New Year's Eve plans (hopefully, in celebration of another Eagles victory).
I'd have gotten more if the place didn't have a cash only policy but I'll be prepared next time. The prices are as good as any I've seen anywhere in the area and the sales tax is built in (i.e., when you see a bottle for #10 on the shelf, that's what you'll pay at a register, not $10.60), meaning they're even better than they seem at first glance. I got a chance to meet and chat with Matt Capone, who's in charge of the store part of the business, and he says they're working on getting a website up. I'll definitely add that to the Links section here when it happens.
I know a few of you are wondering if that Fat Dog bottle will make it until Sunday. Not to worry. Before I left the Beer Yard, that nice Mr. Guyer dispensed his usual holiday gift of fine beer to the staff and I now gots me the likes of Scaldis Noel, Dupont Noel, Aventinus Weizen Eisbock and Uerige DoppelSticke Altbier smiling at me enticingly from across the room even as I type, and even more new goodies already stashed in the beer closet.
Mr. Sixpack, he be in-damned-censed,
Don Russell sent off a reply to that Peter LaFrance interview with Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew, which we wrote here on December 23 and, with his permission, I let you read it too:
I just wanted to respond to a couple points that Maureen makes in your interview.
I dunno. Any "feud" in which everybody, me included, ends up saying "buy the book" just ain't goin' nowhere fun. And fun is what we're all about around here. So enough of this. Now then, where's my file on Bryson gaffes...
1. I write for the Philadelphia Daily News. The Inquirer writes about wine.
2. I wish you would've challenged her on the notion that there was no reason to write about American beer before the 1840s. I direct you to the review I wrote here.
To summarize, the notion that nothing happened before Phillip Best built Pabst is only true if you ignore:
-Virginians were making beer 250 years before Best showed up in Milwaukee.
I have no doubt that rum, as she notes, was important in colonial America. But Maureen wrote a history of beer, and to dismiss all that happened before page 1 of "Ambitious Brew" as "historically insignificant" is intellectually dishonest, and I have a bookshelf to prove it. Historians including Gregg Smith, Rich Wagner, Mark Lender, James Martin and Peter Thompson have written elegantly about pre-industrial beer. I own one book, "American Breweries II" by Dale P. Van Wieren, that lists more than 400 pages of American breweries, and many, many of them pre-date the start of Maureen's book.
-The Pilgrims ended their voyage at Plymouth because they ran out of beer.
-America's first fullscale industry (grain farming, malting, glassmaking, brewing) surrounded the making of beer.
-The first pre-Revolution anti-British protests involved the boycott of English malt, and Washington's "buy American" policy began with his declaration that he would drink only American porter.
-Franklin and his contemporaries focused a great deal of energy on the improvement of beer-making.
-The Declaration was written over pints of beer.
-American beer had already reached the level of renown by the early 1800s; Philadelphia porter, for example, was famous around the world.
-Americans drank beer every day at every meal.
I think Maureen has written an excellent history of industrial-era American beer. And that's exactly why she faces criticism from craft beer lovers. The American microbrewing revolution was a defiant, consumer-oriented reaction against industrial beer's bland flavor and commercialization, a step back to the honest, hand-crafted beer we drank before Busch claimed Budweiser as his own. Yeah, we get a little touchy when she suggests that the origins of the beer we love are insignificant.
P.S. I encourage beer lovers to read "Ambitious Brew." I think it's the most readable history of American beer I've come across, and Maureen's portrait of America's early beer titans is a fascinating and, till now, little-told history. Just one fact she reveals in the book -- that Miller once made a beer called Budweiser -- tells you everything you need to know about the bankrupt values of America's brewing giants.
[Posted 2:05 pm edt]
24 December 2006
Maybe I'm missing something...
...but this makes no sense to me:
Craft and import consumers won't drive category growth at retail
First of all, the "buy rate" may be different but I doubt that difference is anywhere near the degree claimed, given what I see at The Beer Yard each week (granted, that's anecdotal evidence and the Beer Yard is a special place). More to the point, that measure seems to be somewhat secondary in the big picture, at least to my untrained eye: it is the amount spent and resultant profit margins which will surely have the most effect on the "category" in the long run.
Buyers have lower buy rates and purchase frequencies, according to ACNielsen
Craft and imported beers are racking up eye-popping sales gains -- but they can't grow fast enough to drive category growth at retail.
That's because on three key measures -- buy rates, purchase frequency and purchase size -- core craft and import consumers lag loyal mainstream and economy beer buyers, according to panel data from ACNielsen.
Tellingly, the buying rate (volume per buyer) of consumers dropped by more than one-third as they switched to crafts and imports, according to the ACNielsen data. That group of buyers represents fully 8.6 percent of lost category volume.
It's unclear exactly what drives the decline in purchase activity. Price likely is one factor. The heavier nature of crafts and imports likely is another. Pack size also could play a role.
But the ACNielsen data makes clear the shift has major implications for the category.
For instance, the buying rate (volume per buyer) for core craft buyers is one-third that of mainstream buyers and one-sixth that of core economy buyers, according to ACNielsen. Core economy buyers' purchase sizes are twice that of core craft buyers; mainstream buyers' purchase sizes slightly lag economy.
Meanwhile, the buying rate of core import buyers is less than half that of core mainstream buyers and about a quarter that of core economy buyers, according to ACNielsen. Core mainstream buyers' purchase sizes are 50 precent larger than those of core import buyers; core economy buyers' purchase sizes are even larger.
Finally, how can those "eye-popping sales gains" not affect the market to some significant degree? Don't they indicate that some of those mainstream buyers are, at the very least, beginning to experiment with craft products? Doesn't the fact that Anheuser-Busch is scrambling to get craft beers into its distribution network, and that Miller Brewing is suddenly pumping advertising and distribution money into its Leinenkugel brand come as a direct result of those sales gains?
Every investigative reporter knows, and statistical analysts for economic markets certainly should too, that there is one inviolate rule: follow the money.
A consumer is hard-pressed these days to walk into any decent bar or restaurant in the Philadelphia region and not find at least one or two good craft or import beers available either on draught or in the bottle. Because the craze for high-end Belgian beers was born here and still flourishes here to a greater extent than anywhere else (including, sadly, Belgium itself), virtually every fine restaurant now features, if northing else, a selection of such beers. Yeah, all that is anecdotal as well, but toss together a whole bunch of anecdotes and, what do you know, you might just have yourself a trend.
As you will see if you followed the link, the above posting came from the beer blog sponsored by Miller. It's a useful and often insightful resource (now added to our Links section), but methinks this time they may be doing a "George Bush" (seeing what they want to see, despite all the evidence). They're envisioning the reality they want, not the reality they have.
Hey, it happens. Ask all the stockbrokers and money guys who jumped into the craft beer business back in the mid-'90s because they thought it was going to be an easy and immediate cash cow.
A Personal Note to Friends of the Beer Hunter.
I don't know how many of you received, or were told about, this recent email from Rob Imeson, president of the Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club, but it's certainly of interest to all of us so I'll post it here:
I have been asked to write to you by Michael Jackson - who is currently traveling and researching on behalf of the Rare Beer Club.
Indeed we will.
Michael is notorious among his friends for his passionate commitment to his work, and for the fearsome schedule he sets himself. What he has kept from us is the fact that he has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for at least a decade and perhaps twice as long.
During that time he has written several thousand tasting notes and several hundred articles and has also presented scores of tutored tastings, speeches and book-signings around the world. Further, Michael has produced new books such as Ultimate Beer, The Great Beer Guide, Scotland and its Whiskies, and Whisky - The Definitive World Guide which, incidentally, was named best drinks book of 2006 in the James Beard Award and also the recipient of three other international honors. He has this fall compiled an anthology of his writing for Slow Food and completed a further revision of the fifth edition of The Great Beers of Belgium; his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch is also in its fifth edition.
Michael has great praise for the work of the medical profession in the development of treatments to combat Parkinson's. He has recently been prescribed some new medication, and the calibration of doses has caused some problems, which are gradually being ironed out.
He tells us: “When everything is in place, I can run almost as well as I did when I played Rugby League. The problems arise when I become absorbed in writing, or in a conversation, and forget my medication. Even the slightest delay can make me very unsteady on my feet - unable to walk at times - and slurred in my speech. Understandably, people think I am drunk, especially given my profession. I am not. My wild days were long ago. My writing has always fostered the notion of tasting more and drinking less, and I am true to that philosophy. The Gods have a sense of irony in making me look drunk when at my intake of alcohol is at its most modest.”
As you can tell, Michael is in excellent spirits and very much looks forward to the next chapter of his life which he obviously expects to be productive. In addition to being a great example by the way he has lived with this disease, Michael is already talking about projects that will benefit others with Parkinson’s disease and you can be assured that we will be hearing a lot more from him in that regard in the future.
I know that you will all join us in wishing Michael the best during this holiday season and into 2007 and beyond as he continues to lead the discovery of exciting new beers!
As mentioned in yesterday's posting, Michael is apparently in the Philadelphia area. At least, I was told that he was at Sly Fox Royersford late Friday evening.
One to look for.
There are a lot of great Imperial IPAs out there right now. Locally, the new Weyerbacher Double Simcoe and this year's Victory Hop Wallop sent the beer crowd into a frenzy, and deservedly so, and I told The O'Reilly the other day (and not just as a verbal Christmas present) that I've fallen in lust with this year's Sly Fox Odyssey, especially on draught (being the grinch he is, he responded by announcing that the draught supply is almost all gone), BUT...
Bell's Hopslam is truly sublime. I thought it might be just me, but when I had my first taste at Drafting Room Exton on Friday and called it "beautiful," both managerial guy Patrick Mullin and the bartender began rhapsodizing eloquently. When I left, they were comparing notes about how much of it each had consumed the previous evening.
It ain't just me, in other words. Seek it out. You won't be sorry.
[Posted 10:40 am edt]
23 December 2006
Lady historian calls out Joe Sixpack.
That Don Russell do keep getting in trouble, don't he? First he takes a backhanded slap at all our fine suburban pubs and beer spots (see posting below), and now he's accused of viciously attacking a poor defenseless historian.
Maureen Ogle, the lady who wrote Ambitious Brew, gets a bit high 'n' mighty in an interview with
Peter LaFrance at beerbasics.com. She's a might put-off by some of the criticism her tome has received, specifically from you-know-who.
We pick things up where she gets to talking about the relationship between history and myth (some of this appears to be a garbled transcription, 'cause I seriously doubt she said triumph over the "David" that is going to slay the "Goliath," which makes no sense at all):
I think that in a society like the United States, that in a very fragmented society, there is a lot of social isolation and that is why people naturally glom onto something whether it is right wing politics, or moveon.org or craft beer. What holds people to craft brewing is that they have to believe that there is a bad guy out there and that craft-beer is going to save us and triumph over the "David" that is going to slay the "Goliath." I think it is a way that they can anchor themselves in a world that doesn't often make a lot of sense. And I'm … I have my own set of myths that I believe in and I think that became obvious in the book and I wasn't really aware of it until I finished the book. Clearly, part of my mythology is that I truly believe in the optimism of America. I believe in the American Dream. I don't think I thought that way a year ago because I was not as aware of it as I am now… I think myth is something that everybody needs and it just so happens that I completely inadvertently challenged a foundational myth for a group of people who are really into beer.
Yes, I did take Mr. Sixpack to task the other day, but I can do that 'cause he's one of our own. We been dining companions many a time and even bocce partners once (although we each did seem to be playing a quite different game). Heck, I even know which newsaper he writes for. So here's the thing: since he's one of us, I always got his back. Which means I don't want no academician, past or present, layin' a cutesy "I got news for him" line on the guy.
...the bigger issue is, and this is something I have been confronting professionally, is that the vast majority of Americans have no idea what history is, how people do it, what it can mean to us. And I blame people like myself and others in the academic historians. I no longer have a university position. I left academia in 1999 and the reason I did was because I was so frustrated by the snobbery. Academic historians are their own breed of snobs. They don't want to deal with the public; they don't want to write for the general public. So my covert goal, which I rarely mention is that I want to bring good solid history to a general public that never, gets exposed to it. Most people go to school and memorize a set of dates and think that is what history is. They think it is boring and they don't want to know any more about it. For example, there was a guy on a (on line) forum that said "She doesn't know anything about history. In her book she admits that she doesn't know anything about beer so how can she know anything about the history of beer." I can't criticize him saying that. He doesn't understand the study of history. He doesn't understand that someone might want to write a book on the history of something to learn about that history. It took me five years to write this book. But in his mind there is "The" history of beer and he knows exactly what it is and if something doesn't conform to that myth he just doesn't want to hear it.
...The other great deal of criticism I have been getting is that the book begins with the German immigration in the 1840's. I had a very good reason for doing that, which I explain in the book, but I guess I didn't do a good job of explaining it. That is because before that, what happened didn't have that much historical significance.
If you want to write about beverage alcohol in colonial America it isn't beer that is important. It is rum. But Don Russell at the Philadelphia Inquirer, who writes under the name of Joe Six-pack, is a very nice guy, a good journalist, I am quite fond of him… he tore me to pieces in print because I didn't write a book about beer in colonial Philadelphia because he thinks that's where everything happened. I got news for him … there isn't much to say about it. People don't understand how historians do history because historians don't communicate with the general public. They can't be expected to understand why I started when I started. I started with what was historically significant and ignored anything that wasn't historically significant. That is not what a lot of people want to hear.
Not now, not never.
I find it amusing that Ogle says that this Sixpack column "tore [her] to pieces." Really? Read it and see what you think. I suppose if you think pointing out "a telling misstep" in her underlying thesis is vicious, you could make the case.
Digression Time (which is particularly appropriate 'cause I hear that this guy is in the neighborhood (more about that next week): this reminds of when I wrote a review of a book by a well known and very successful mystery writer for The New York Times Book Review in which I called her a reliable writer whose books I'd mostly enjoyed but said I felt that the current one, while still quite good, fell a little short. Lo and behold, two months' later in an issue of a magazine devoted to the mystery genre in which they asked various writers was the worst thing that ever happened to them, she cited my review as the most horrible moment she'd ever experienced. To which I replied, in the next issue, that she must have had a damned good life, all in all.
On the broader question, I'm with Sixpack all the way. I may not be an historian, but if I were, I suspect I'd find it "historically significant" to mention, correctly, of course (note that the Sixpack column says she gets this rather important fact wrong) the time and the place where lager was first brewed on these shores and to take note of the role which beer, as well as rum, played in Colonial America, especially given the love for the beverage expressed by many a founding father and the indisputable record which shows that the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock rather than in Virginia at least in part because they'd run out of beer. All of this seems valuable information which ought to be in a book which is subtitled The History of American Beer.
But enough about me...
All that said, Ambitious Brew is, in sum, an important book with lots of useful background information. I've added its website to the History Links here this very day. I've not had a chance yet to read except in a cursory manner (mostly due to having found no outlet for such a review), but I'll put that on the agenda and post a review here one day down the road.
Finally, I do have to acknowledge publicly that I of course have a vested interest in this matter. If I don't speak up when they come for Sixpack, chances are they'll come for Tiny Tim next. And, working their way down the chain, they'll eventually get to me.
Who then will speak up for me?
Well, maybe this guy:
Or maybe not. I hear he's one-a them snooty academicians himself. Which is truly scary, now that I think about it.
[Posted 3:00 pm edt]
17 December 2006
Say it ain't so, Joe.
I'm sure that many of you enjoyed, as I did,
Joe Sixpack's list of beer places he's just recently visited which ran in the Philadelphia Daily News on Friday.
Yeah, we've all already been to a lot of them (several have long been linked from this page), but it's nice to see him getting out and about, y'know? And there were definitely some locations on his list that I've haven't yet gotten to and am happy to be told about, so it's all, basically, good.
Basically? Well, there is this, part of his comments on Malvern's Flying Pig Saloon (bold emphasis added):
The Flying Pig is so good, it would fit right into any neighborhood in the city...Excuse me?
Good enough to be in the city? What the hell does that mean?
As Mr. Sixpack knows--as we all know--the reputation of Philadelphia as one of the nation's outstanding beer locations is a regional one. If it weren't for the breweries, brewpubs (most especially brewpubs, given the paucity of same within city limits) and good beer bars and restaurants all over this region, that reputation would not exist. And properly so.
Look, I brook no argument for the 'burbs in general. I consider myself, and introduce myself, as being "from Philadelphia" and, given my druthers, the city is where I'd live. But, in beer terms, saying a bar is "good enough" to be a city bar is, if not quite damning with faint praise, certainly close enough. It's just plain wrong, city-ist language, pure and simple, and cityism has no place in the 21st Century.
I am appalled at Mr. Sixpack's lack of sensitivity...and, okay, maybe just a bit bored waiting for the 4:15 Eagles-Giants game to start.
New stuff onsite.
Non-beer related (there are such things), I have a new short-short story (actually three short-short stories within an editorially-specified 500-word limit) up over here, for your reading pleasure.
In the History links on this page, I've just added a link to page about the old Kaier's Brewery in Mahanoy City. It was created, and brought to my attention by, a man named (ready for this?) John Curtin Lieberman, who was a brewer there and is now retired in Ohio. I'll tell you more about him one day soon. Note that if you click on the "links" button on the site, you'll be able to maneuver to a second and third Kaier's webpage.
Finally, the current Atlantic Ale Trail is now posted. It's my GABF report from the December/January issue of Celebrator Beer News, and also contains a brief Scott Morrison interview (from happier days) and a look at the coming Iron Hill expansion.
The great photo of Don Younger, owner and founder of the famous Horse Brass Pub, which is on that issue (you can see it here) has become a collector's item in Portland, I'm told, with people buying copies of CBN after it disappeared from the stands and bringing them in for Don to autograph.
The first time I ever met this craft beer legend we were riding along in a packed car going from the Toronado Barleywine Festival to, well, some other place, don't remember where. Ever-present cigarette in hand, he turned around from his shotgun seat up front and addressed the three of us in back: "Well, we've fooled 'em for another week," and laughed like a crazy man.
I've pretty much embraced that as a personal credo and ambition ever since.
[Posted 3:35 pm edt]
14 December 2006
The Maltenator. How it happened. Why it happened. And what's next.
The first thing I did on my second stop-in at Sly Fox Phoenixville for last Friday's IPA Project extravaganza (my first stop was early in the morning to pick up a bottle of Odyssey Imperial IPA to bring down to the guys at The Beer Yard, being the fine human being that I am) was head over to the table surrounded by the Usual Suspects since they, desperate for attention as is their operative state, were waving their hands around wildly and calling out my name.
Rather than the standard personal attacks with which they normally greet me in order to mask their shame at being so needy, they instead all pointed to strange object in the center of the table, a long thin clear rod with a funneled top and a small brown puddle slowly dripping from its tip in to glass.
This was The Maltenator, the invention of our very own Lori Limper, who married badly but otherwise had until that moment seemed a relatively normal beer geek within the parameters of that sub-species. Who knew, y'know?
Lori has consented to explain what it's all about below. In order to put this into proper perspective, however, I should explain that she and spouse Tom Foley (who wanders through these ramblings and the world in general dispensing the wonderful and varied beers he concocts in his basement, an inclination for which we are all deeply grateful) don't like hops. Not a bit, he perhaps a bit less than she.
Nonetheless, they apparently chose to turn IPA Project Day into their personal IPA Project Week, taking off rather than going to their respective jobs and cluttering up their minds with insignificant matters unrelated to beer. Out of such free time to allow the creative juices to flow comes great inventions such as the device being discussed.
There's an object lesson here, one which might suggest that the late, departed Big Dan, given the free time he has worked into his schedule, should have solved the riddles of the universe by now. Since he hasn't, however (although, as you shall see, he did play a crucial role in the birth of the Maltenator), perhaps there's no lesson at all, except to reaffirm the efficacy of excessive vacation time.
Ah, but I do babble on, an unfortunate but oddly charming trait. Let me stop that and turn things over to Ms. Limper:
Like many stories, it all began with a comment from Big Dan.
Somewhere, a cold shiver of pure delight just ran up Sam Calgione's back and he has no idea why. Yet.
At our Halloween party, Dan described our Draculator Double Bock as having been "run through a Maltenator."
The night before the Sly Fox IPA festival, some of us held "Planning meeting" at Ortino's Northside. Tom and I lamented the fact that there would be very few offerings that we might find palatable the next day. Big Dan once again planted the seed of inspiration by suggesting that we bring along "a Maltenator."
On Friday morning, the time had come to turn the dream into reality. I wanted to see if there was any way to give even the bitterest IPA enough malt body to balance (or actually mask) the hops. I used a graduated pipetting cylinder, stuffing pieces of coffee filter in the bottom and attaching a funnel to the top with duct tape. I filled it with partially crushed grain (Crystal Malt).
Most people laughed when they saw it. But then most people wanted to try it. And the general reaction after trying it was "Oh my god, it actually works!"
Version 2 will come about in the near future. Too much coffee filter was used in the original, which caused the maltenating process to take far too long. The next version will use less filter, so the process can happen more quickly.
Ideally, we need a more complicated model, with some way to open and close the outlet at the bottom to control the length of time the beer takes to filter through the grains. There are chemistry titration filters with a stopcock at the bottom that can be used to slow or speed the flow of liquid. But these are usually much too thin (width of a straw) to allow crushed grain being added, so they may not be the answer. We can also experiment with different grains.
I envision going to a club or a bar that doesn't serve any drinkable beer. We can pour their pale tasteless beer through the Maltenator and at least get some of the taste and some of the body of a real beer! And we would also like to try the Maltenator in combination with the Randall. If we run Coor's Lite through both devices, can we turn it into beer??
[Posted 11:28 am edt]
13 December 2006
The Dude struck down.
When I walked into Monk's just shy of 7pm last night, the first thing I did was seek out Tom Peters and ask to use his office for a few minutes so I could make a phone call in private. For the previous several hours, this email from Scott Morrison, the popular, award-winning brewer at McKenzie Brew House (both locations) had been rattling around in my brain:
This is what he had to tell me.
The news, which I posted when I got home last night around Midnight, has caused a furor among the Beer Advocates (what doesn't, now that I think of it?) and I've had several emails today which, along with a further conversation with Scott, will form the basis of a follow-up story real soon. Scott promised to call this afternoon and we did have a brief email exchange, but, as of this writing, that call hasn't happened.
Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
The Dude's sad situation aside, yesterday was good beer day, approaching great, for Your Humble Correspondent. After doing a lot of annoying but necessary paperwork, emails and telephone calls that have been set aside too long during the Great Computer Blackout, I drove down to The Beer Yard around 3pm to meet up with the lovely Matt Guyer and the long-suffering Mark Sauerbrey to drive down to Philadelphia with them to the aforementioned Monk's dinner, featuring the ineffable Sam Calagione and the beers of Dogfish Head. Neatly, I arrive just in time to join in a sampling of Stoudt's Old Abominable, a new bourbon barrel aged barleywine (9% abv)which the Beer Yard will be almost alone in carrying just in time for the holidays. Good stuff, and I have a bottle it waiting for me (unless the trolls found it) at Sly Fox Phoenixville, courtesy of Wanderin' Joe Meloney.
Once in the city, we stopped for a beer at one of the city's great old dive taverns, McGlinchy's on 15th Street. Then it was off to Tria for beers and cheeses and, fortuitously enough, a meet-up with former Yards brewer and incipient publican Joe Beddia, who's working there to learn the restaurant game in preparation for opening his Brasserie de Mars sometime late next year, as first reported (albeit misspelled) last month here, by Joe Sixpack. I've since had a good long talk with Joe today about his plans and will get a story posted at the Beer Yard site before the weekend.
Dinner was the big event of the night, of course, and, here's a shocker, it was a grand time. The idea was to promote Sam's new book, Extreme Brewing, which I have still to write my review of, come to think of it. That couldn't have been done any better, says I, because the six DFH beers poured were the best overall Dogfish selection I can remember enjoying in a long time, maybe ever. Two were outstanding, each of them new to me: Chateau Jiahu and Baltic de Belgium 1999. That's really saying something, on a night when Worldwide Stout 2005 was part of the lineup, along with Golden Showers Imperial Pilsner, Raison d'Etre 2006 and Raison d'Extra 2005 and, also new for me, Big Brown Woddy from Mike Gerhart at the Rehoboth Beach pub.
The food was up to chef Adam Glickman's usual standards, which is to say, outstanding. The Amuse Boche Trio (escargot, squash & mussel soup, foie gras torchon) which started things off and the Duck Ragout & Pasta which was accompanied by the two raisons were my favorites, closely followed by everything else (which included, for you completists, Day Boat Scallops, Vegetable Beggars Purse, Coffee & Cocoa Rubbed Lamb Loin and a truly sinful Buche de Noel for dessert).
An eighth beer was also poured, paired with Golden Shower to accompany the scallops course: Herold Golden Revolution Imperial Pilsner from the Czech Republic. Why? Because it turns out Sam popped over there to brew it at Pivovar Herold Preznice a while back. I'm still shaking my head at the fact that the craft brewing industry's acknowledged PR maestro somehow never told us about that at the time. That's just-mind-boggling.
Ichor (?) Friday.
"Incubus Friday" at Sly Fox Phoenixville has become something of an institution in these parts, the one night of each month, the first Friday, when Incubus Tripel is poured. Come January 5, however, the streak is about to be broken. Read about it here.
[Posted 6:05 pm edt]
10 December 2006
This calls for a beer...
...and, as it turns out, I've had my share since last we talked. The most recently were celebratory in nature, because I am back working on an upgraded, really fast computer, courtesy of Computer Dan. Details on the work he did are reported over here for those of a technical bent.
And now, on to beer stuff...
The big beer happening locally over the last week was, of course, IPA Project 2006 Day at Sly Fox Phoenixville, which was a smash success. Last year's sales totals were topped by 6pm and the final number was about 50% higher than in 2006. Just shy of 200 sampler trays were sold (194, to be exact) and more than 50 cases of the first bottling ever of the very good Odyssey Imperial IPA went out the doors. Plus the first beer ever drawn through one of the three handpumps which are being installed at the bar was casked Odyssey 2006. The 2005 version (my favorite of the day) was tapped on the bar.
Fourteen different IPA variations were a bit much for my palate, but the hopheads were in their glory, dozens of them sitting in front of their samplers with smiles getting wider by the minute. One table was home base to, for somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hours, the Usual Suspects, (including Big Dan in his final appearance at Sly Fox because of his personal smoking ban) and featured the Lori Limper-created Maltenator, about which more in a day or two.
I wasn't up to a sampler so I can't speak to it directly, but every indication I got was that all the varietals held up very well this time around. In 2005, a few of those made early in the year lost a bit of their luster. Amusingly, the only negative comment I heard was somebody saying that the Nugget version wasn't up to snuff, followed by, as I walked by the next table, hearing someone say that his favorite beer of the day was the Nugget.
Kudos should go to Corey Reid and the entire bar staff, who had things set up perfectly and who did a masterful job during the day. Again, all I heard were favorable comments.
The story behind the story.
Few people reveling in their purchase of cases, or single bottles, of Odyssey on Friday knew how close they came to not having that opportunity. As of late Thursday afternoon, none of the beer had been bottled and it looked like none would be until this week.
A glum Brian O'Reilly told me on the telephone Thursday morning that the pump on the bottle line had gone bad and they couldn't bottle. When I stopped by the Royersford brewery in mid-afternoon to make use of the computer there, he was even glummer. The pump had been pulled and was now being worked on at the repair shop, but it was unlikely it would get back in time.
Disaster was imminent and the spectre of rioting Beer Advocates flitted across both our minds. I mean, folks were coming from as far away as North Carolina and like that, and you knew they all planned to take beer home with them. To buck up his spirits and, yes, because I actually believed it, I assured him that things would work out. "I need to buy four bottles of Odyssey first thing tomorrow morning at Phoenixville," I told him, "and I'm confident that it will happen."
And happen it did. It turned out that it wasn't the pump itself but some other part of the bottling line that was the problem; once pinpointed, it was solved. Brian, Steve and some recruited help (among them, my man Jimmy Wasko from the restaurant side of things) worked from dinner time until past midnight to produce 500-cases and meet the schedule. All will, of course, go down into Sly Fox legend; poor Tim, who was bartending in Phoenixville, lost out on his chance for glory.
With only that number of cases, by the way, this one is going to disappear fast. About half the total is already packaged and awaiting pickups by Kunda and Westy's and half of the New York order is in fact already up there (the carload of publicans and wholesalers from the Big Apple arrived as promised in an earlier posting here). Both pubs will blow through a lot of it as well. The good news is that Matt is on the case. Literally.
Weyerbacher Winter and Bud Cask.
Okay, that's a headline you never expected to read, right? But life is funny and those five words sum up much of my personal beer story over the past week.
I've chosen Weyerbacher Winter Ale as my "house beer" for December, and a good choice it was. This one is strong enough to fend off the chill when the winds blow cold (and up here were I live, blow then definitely do), smooth enough to be an excellent no-need-to-drive-anywhere session beer and, well, just plain good stuff.
This past Tuesday night, though, I decided it was time to try the 2006 Budweiser Brew Masters Private Reserve that, as I mentioned here before, the folks at Anheuser-Busch were kind enough to send me. I'd meant to save this for one of the Monday Tasting Sessions but with my vision problems pretty much precluding my making one of those in the near future (more on that a bit further down), I figured it was time to go for it. As was the case with the bottle they sent me last year, I found this beer, even at 8.5% abv, somewhat disappointing, although certainly drinkable and a nice step forward for the Bud brewers. More hops next year, guys, and we may have a winner.
Coincidentally enough, A-B sent me another package the following morning, a 12oz-er of their Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale. They sent it to the Beer Yard rather to my place, so I popped out of IPA Project Day around noon for a trip to Wayne where I shared it, along with another bottle someone had sent directly to Matt, with him, Mark, Ryan #2 and some other folks. This could be a pretty nice winter beer but they got to, got to I say, cut down on the vanilla. Way too sweet for more than sip or two, unfortunately. Still, it's great seeing A-B do this sort of thing--I mean, a limited release, seasonal, bourbon-barrel aged beer, who'd a-thunk we'd have seen something like that from the "evil empire" in our lifetimes?
That vision thing.
Probably to the great dismay of my "friends" who appear to find great amusement in the problems I have driving after dark during a time when there are lots of cars coming my way with bright lights blinding me, I have finally gotten cataract surgery on the table, medically speaking, and will being the process of determining if I am a suitable candidate and if I want to do it come January.
Why do you care? Well, between having lost a week of working time due to the computer thing and the sorts of distractions which come with the holidays and a trip to visit my son in Idaho planned for January as well as the surgery evaluation, I may find it hard to keep much of a posting schedule hereabouts for the next month or two. Be advised.
[Posted 12:55 pm edt]
2 December 2006
Delivering the goods.
The final 2006 issues of all three locally distributed bimonthly brewspapers are out (see "Reading Room" below) and that meant I was on the road yesterday getting copies of Celebrator Beer News to Victory, Iron Hill West Chester, McKenzie Brew House and Sly Fox Phoenixville. Sunday morning I'll do the same downtown at Monk's, Nodding Head, South Philadelphia Taproom and Standard Tap, liking finishing off the task with brunch at the latter and maybe picking up a bottle or two of something new and different at the Foodery Northern Liberties.
This is a schedule I've been maintaining for the better part of the last two years. Respected employer Matt Guyer agreed a couple of years back to bring in 250 copies of each CBN issue for local distribution and, soon enough, that task fell entirely to me. Hey, I'd like at least some folks around here to see what I write in my regular "Atlantic Ale Trail" column, so I'm happy to do it. Not so happy that I haven't been working (and, it appears, with some success) to get several venues locally (including all of the above) to begin getting their own supplies of CBN starting in 2007. I mean, I'd prefer to be lolling around eating bon-bons and drinking rare Belgian brews on Sunday mornings like Bryson, Russell and those big name guys get to do...
As long as I'm here...
One of the benefits of doing the bimonthly magazine route is that it takes me to some of the more tempting beer venues in the area and I subscribe to the Andy Capp philosophy: "Never avoid temptation, you might not get another chance."
Temptation wasn't an issue at Victory since they weren't open yet when I arrive in late morning yesterday, but it had its arms wide open when I reach the Drafting Room. Kindly old Richard Ruch, wearing his "Victory shill" cap, had called me Thursday to alert me that Hop Wallop was on the handpump there and a recently discovered keg of Ten Year Alt on draught. I opted for a small, delicious glass of the former but had to pass on the latter, with a long journey and more beers still down the road. I did try a small sample of the new Belgian from the recently renamed Bell's Brewing, the strikingly named Hell Hath No Fury... ale, and was duly impressed. I'll go back for a pint of that one if I get a chance.
I met my old pal Ross in West Chester for a birthday lunch at Iron Hill, where I accompanied the (what else?) delicious repast with a pint of Chris LaPierre's Wee Heavy and just-tapped Imperial IPA, while Ross had the Bourbon Porter on nitro. Lappy hisownself was on hand so we also had tank samples of his Quadruple and Winter Warmer, which is a spiced version and a taste of the Pumpkin Ale on tap, which kicked in the process. Now, that, my friends, is a lunch.
I then swung by McKenzie's in Malvern to drop off a few copies of the magazine for Scott "The Dude" Morrison since he's featured in the current "Atlantic Ale Trail," assiduously avoiding learning what might be on tap because it was Incubus Friday at Sly Fox and I figured a goblet of that fine Tripel was in my future as I finished up the day's run on the way home. I was right.
This is one of those good months when I have stories in all three local beer pubs, meaning the checks can roll in right in time for Christmas. How sweet.
CBN has only the regularly column this issue, but it's a nice long one, with a focus on GABF results, the latest in the saga of The Dude and a report on Iron Hill's expansion plans. The latter is illustrated with a (small) photo of Mark Edelson in all his sartorial splendor along with the added bonus of a seemingly bemused Larry Horwitz in the background. Sadly, this wasn't high rez enough to run larger and in color.
My story in Ale Street News is called "Mainstream to Micro -- The Brain Drain Is On" and was postponed from last issue for lots of strange reasons, a postponement which worked in our favor because one of the three principals in the story changed jobs in the interim and I was able to rewrite and take that into account before deadline. I chalk it up to good clean living and the calm understanding of unflappable editor Tony Forder.
Finally, I have a profile of legendary brewer Bill Moeller in the latest Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, side-by-side with Rich Wagner's account of a tour of Schmidt's Brewery which Bill gave him way back in 1985. I am told by reliable sources that I'll be starting a new column in MABN in 2007. Then again, you know how these rumors get started.
Lots of other good stuff in all three publications as usual, of course. You can find a copy of (probably all three) at the locations above as of mid-day tomorrow and at The Beer Yard come Monday. All of my pieces will eventually find their ways onto this site as is my practice, but first we give the print editions their runs 'cause that's the right thing to do.
The complete November 2006 postings have been archived here.
[Posted 12:55 pm edt]
Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
--A. E. Houseman
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