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31 December 2007
Damned liberal media. Oh, wait.
Deponent herewith offers into evidence
this:

Have you noticed that the price of beer is going up?

The simple explanation is that supplies of hops and barley, two key ingredients in brew-making, are shrinking while demand for beer is increasing.

Bad harvests and low prices for these commodities bear some of the blame, but another major factor is the nation's poorly fashioned energy policy.

Thanks to government subsidies to promote ethanol production, more and more farmers are abandoning a variety of crops - including barley and hops - and switching to corn.

Not just the price of beer is at stake here. Surely you've also noticed the higher prices for a box of cereal and a gallon of milk.

Now all of this would not be so bad if corn-derived ethanol held any real promise. But, by some calculations, the cost of the fossil fuels burned to produce a gallon of ethanol are greater than any savings it provides.

Hardest hit by the hop and barley shortages are the craft brewers. Not only do they use more hops per batch than the big commercial brewers to flavor their beers, they do not have the buying power of Anheuser-Busch or Coors.

But even the big beer names are bound to feel the pinch eventually. That's when Joe Sixpacks everywhere will join the throng wondering if subsidizing corn crops as a source for alternative fuels is really worth it.

When a major metropolitan newspaper uses its editorial page to argue the cause of craft brewers even though it means goring one of the political sacred cows to do so, the battle has been won more clearly than even I thought.

And so ends the year...

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[Posted 6:00pm est]

27 December 2007
No lightning, but lots of Thunder.
"This is the original batch, done last spring, the one Tom (Baker) and Lew (Bryson) helped to brew," said Bill Covaleksi early yesterday afternoon, while using a pigtail to pull off three samples of Baltic Thunder, Victory's reinterpretation of the original Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer, from a tank in Victory Brewing's impressive plant. One each for me, himself and Anne Shuniak, a new member of Victory's communications team.

I was there as the result of an invitation sent to me, Bryson and Don Russell shortly before Christmas, offering a preview of the long-awaited and eagerly anticipated beer which will make its official debut on January 5 at Drafting Room Exton. I presumably was the first one to respond and take him up on the offer--either that, or they scheduled us in some inverse order of prominence and impact in the beer world.

A tasting session was an excellent way to get back to reality on the always out-of-kilter day after Christmas, I must say, and it was perfectly timed for my looming print deadlines as well. Best of all, even though I'd had a bootleg sample or two of Thunder early on and a half pint of whatever version was then extant a few months back, this was my first opportunity to sip and compare and blend some of the six batches currently in Victory's tanks and discuss the differences and subtleties of each with one of Victory's co-founders.

That first sample showed the effects of having been lagered to a fare-the-well, in the tank for nearly eight months. The beer was smooth and easy drinking, but all the elements were at this point so thoroughly integrated that it had lost much of its brightness and was "almost boring," Bill said wryly. He unscrewed the pigtail and then reattached it to another tank a few feet away. "This is the most recent batch, a blend of brews on September 10 and September 18," he said, and explained that, for the bottling which is scheduled for Monday, New Year's Eve, "the logical approach would be to take these two, the first and most recent brews, and blend them together."

The September batch sample was brighter, fresher (well, duh!) and certainly more appealing. Many of the subdued notes of the early batch were now evident, in particular coffee and berry flavors which emerged at the finish of each sip. "It's more vivacious," said Bill, chuckling at word choice.

We were about to blend the two batches in our glasses to see what the results might be when Bill asked if we should try another batch first. I suggested we find one which fell right in the middle of the two we'd had in chronological terms. We move down the line to pull off samples from a batch brewed in August...and hit the jackpot. Upon first sip, all three of us look at one another and smiled. More carbonated that either of the first two, it poured with a good (and enduring) tan head reminiscent of the Heavyweight brew on which Baltic Thunder is modeled and, my impression at least, turned out to be very, very close to the original in flavor and complexity as well.

Our final venture was to blend together all three batches we'd tasted in equal proportions. What that produced was one helluva Baltic Porter, rich and dark, lots of chocolate and coffee, pleasant alcohol notes in both the nose and the finish. The best characteristics of all three versions were present, and enhanced by the presence of the others. We contemplated taking fuller glasses out to the restaurant with us for lunch, but caution wisely prevailed over desire. It was, after all, only one in the afternoon and we were, all three, working. No, really, we were.

The ultimate beer to be released will turn out to be, I suspect, very close to that last blend we had. It will not be Perkuno's Hammer exactly, nor was intended to be, but will certainly be a worthy successor. I doubt anyone is going to be unhappy.

In case you're wondering, the initial release will be restricted to the markets where Heavyweight was selling Perkuno's before it closed, extending as far north Massachusetts, south into Virginia and to western Pennsylvania. Rollouts to additional markets, North Carolina and Colorado for sure, I'd guess, will occur before the end of 2008. The beer will be in 22oz bottles, a new size for Victory and one which, Bill says, they find quite intriguing. Personally, I think this "dinner bottle" package is an ideal one and would be delighted to see more beers from Victory, or anybody, in the size.

Before and during lunch, I got a really good breakdown of the plans for revamping the brewpub during the first four or five months of 2008 (it all comes together more clearly when you can walk through it physically), but that is a story for another time and, comes to that, another venue, those dead tree publications which brighten my day by actually paying me, however miniscule the amount, for what I do here for free.

One last thing, just to whet your appetites and tease your imaginations: just wait until you see what very special beer, one which I suspect many in attendance will never have seen or tasted, Victory is bringing to the Drafting Room Release Party,

It may very well be the last sixtel in existence of....

See you there, in nine days, which is--and here's your clue, beer geeks--a total which, if shrunk by two, would be a perfect match for the mystery beer.

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[Posted 12:05pm est]

26 December 2007
Patrick Mullin, gone but not forgotten. Not even gone, comes to that.
I was gonna break this story tomorrow, having learned about it today, but since he's just gone and spilled the beans in a personal email within the hour, it needs must be done right now.

From a just-received message to Mr. Bryson and me from Patrick Mullin of (for a little while longer) Drafting Room Exton:

Tom & Peggy have confirmed their attendance at One Final Victory for Heavyweight on Saturday, January 5th.

On a strange and somewhat ironic note, I will not be in attendance on that Saturday. I have accepted a position with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and my final scheduled day at the Drafting Room is Monday, December 31st, 2007. I plan to remain a close friend, constant resource and regular barfly at The Drafting Room for a long time into the future, but unfortunately I will be in Washington D.C. on Saturday the 5th for a Sierra Nevada event. Rest assured that I will have completed all of the necessary preparations for the festivities by that time and it should go off without a hitch.

My last 9 1/2 years at The Drafting Room have been joyous and rewarding, but I feel that it is time for new challenges and a lifestyle change that will allow me to spend more time with my beautiful wife as she completes her doctoral program. You both have been most kind and generous with your comments and recognition through the years, and I felt compelled to inform you of my decision personally. It goes without saying that I will remain entrenched in the craft beer community and look forward to hoisting pints with you in the future.

Patrick has been looking around for a new challenge for a while now and I know of at least one which was justthisclose to happening and another which was longer range and would have been fantastic in terms of local Beer Karma.

I'm delighted he's staying in the area--he talked of maybe moving on in a discussion we had a while back--and will now be working to find him a suitable position hereabouts into which he can be talked.

It is kinda weird that he won't be there when Baltic Thunder finally sees its official release. One last off-note aspect to the strangest and longest-anticipated beer release in recorded history.

A beer which I sampled this very day in many incarnations, by the way, including a blended (by hand) version that may be very close to the final release.

But more about that on the morrow...

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[Posted 8:25pm est]

24 December 2007
Season's Greetings.
I awakened this morning to a message from Manu De Landtsheer at
Brouwerij De Landtsheer which I feel is near perfect at this special time of the year:

WIJ WENSEN U EEN
JAAR VOL MALHEUR
ZONDER ÉÉN VLOKJE
ZWARTE SNEEUW!

which Babelfish.com translates as

WE WISH A YEAR FULL MALHEUR
WITHOUT ONE VLOKJE YOU BLACK SNOW!

I don't think I can put it any better than that.

So, to all my friends and readers out there...

What he said.

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[Posted 2:40pm est]

23 December 2007
Friday, good; Saturday, not so much.
Had all gone well, I'd be leading off today's report with tales of the annual Beer-mas gathering at the home of Big Dan and The Hand, where many, many beers are poured and many, many people mill about, with a cautious eye cast out for the latter of the two hosts, She Who Must Be Obeyed (with apologies to Sir John Mortimer and is wonderful Rumpole of the Bailey character), lest her ire be raised.

But all did not go well. I awakened after all too long a sleep yesterday morning feeling truly wretched for not reason that I could discern. Things settled down as the day drew on but the morning was clearly a sign that consumption of alcohol in any serious quantity was not to be the order of the day.

Which means, by the way, that I am left with a 2006 vintage 3-liter of Troegs Mad Elf in search of an occasion or gathering worthy of its presence. I suspect I'll find no dearth of options.

The day previous, Friday, was quite the opposite. I set out early in the afternoon for last minute Christmas shopping (is there any other kind?) and, after seeking out books for one set of grandkids at the very good Trappe Book Center (having much more fun than should be legal wandering about among real books rather than ethereal ones on the internet) and to Target for less creative gifts for another set of grandkids, I wended my way to Iron Hill Phoenixville to get gift cards for my two stepdaughters and their guys. Iron Hill (and, I must note, the Drafting Room, are ideal spots to send "mundanes" (a term stolen from SF fandom, to describe those not fortunate enough not to be among the cognoscenti) in hopes they will discover enlightenment with regard to beer while enjoying truly fine food but being secure in knowing they will find a fine house beer or two which will not affront their sensibilities if they are beyond salvation.

Iron Hill management, clever folk that they are, moved the sales of gift cards to the bar this year rather than the front desk, both making it easier and eliminated the lines at said desk. It also made it almost impossible not to buy a beer while waiting, so my intentions of rewarding myself for such a hard day of shopping were well served. As was I, immediately spying two items at the bottom of the menu that needs must be imbibed, a new Winter Warmer and, oh my, Pig Iron Porter on cask.

The former was warming, but of course, lightly spiced and very drinkable. I've become something of a fan of spiced ale this year, which surprises me a bit. While I usually like to store away bottles of Sly Fox Christmas Ale for drinking in late spring or early summer when it has mellowed into more of a strong ale than a spiced one, I've found the 2007 vintage just fine right now, and a bottle of Appalachian Grinnin' Grizzly I had early in the past week was almost very satisfactory and enjoyable.

Pig Iron on cask? Oh my goodness! This is a brew made for the handpump and should just be left there permanently. Seriously.

It was midway through that second beer that I finally looked at the whole beer menu and saw that the Big Change in the IH house beer lineup had already taken place. For some reason I thought this wasn't to happen until January. New on the list are Vienna Lager and Abbey Dubbel, replacing Lodestone Lager and Anvil Porter. I asked for samples of each and now must get back to an IH location soon and give each some full attention based upon those brief tastes. The Vienna in particular, being one of my favorite styles, will draw me back regularly.

During all this, The O'Reilly called from his car, wherein he was once again wander about in a geographic maze. Intending to go to (reading from east to west on your map, The Beer Yard, TJ's Everyday, Flying Pig Saloon, Exton Beverage and Drafting Room Exton, he inexplicably chose to begin in Paoli, basically right in the middle so that he then had to drive back eastward and then back west. If we can ever give this poor man some sense of place, I suspect, we will have contributed greatly to reducing the nation's reliance on imported oil.

His call did serve a good purpose. He reminded me that Red Fox Ale, an unfiltered and unspiced one-off of the Christmas Ale, was on the handpump at Sly Fox Phoenixville and that I really should give it a try. So I was off, stopping first to chat briefly with IH Phoenixville general manager Toby Jarmon and thank her once again for her and her staff's yeomanlike performance last March when I brought in Michael Jackson, Carolyn Smagalski and Bill Moeller for a lengthy brunch which turned out to be the last time I ever spent with the Bard.

Red Fox turned out to be nearly as well suited to the handpump as the Pig Iron had been, smooth and very drinkable, with only a somewhat disconcerting sweetness at the end. Tim Ohst was there and somewhat agreed with my impression, but said he'd want to tweak the beer if were ever to become a bar standard, which I can understand. I envision, some day, some way, all three handpumps up and running at Phoenixville, one pouring the long promised "real" British Pale Ale from O'Reilly, Ohst's marvelous Oatmeal Stout and something like the Red Fox. I guess I should say "dream" rather than "envision," to be more accurate.

My final stop of the day was the annual Christmas party at Virtual Farm Creative, the Phoenixville design house responsible for the Sly Fox "look," which has received great acclaim. There I enjoyed more than my fair share of the spread of sandwiches, cheese, veggies, (a wonderful) mushroom quiche and sweets, along with a glass of Sly Fox Dunkel Lager and then headed home.

You know, this shopping stuff isn't nearly as bad as they make it out to be.

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[Posted 11:55am est]

18 December 2007
If you're going to be out on a limb with somebody , why not with the guy somebody once called the "Tom Peters of the suburbs?"
See listing for January 5. And have faith.

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[Posted 7:20pm est]

15 December 2007
The last gasp of a pre-hops-shortage world?
Yesterday's IPA Project 2007 finale at Sly Fox Phoenixville was a fine time and seemingly enjoyed by all. I stayed at this one longer than I had at any previous, arriving shortly before Noon and not getting back to very hungry dog until about 8:30 last evening. A full day's work, thought I doubt many would consider it that.

I was able to survive so long and well by moderating my consumption. I didn't do any of the three five-beer samplers, instead opting for 12oz glasses of both 2006 Odyssey and 2007 Odyssey on cask (I preferred the lighter, fresher 2007), a 12oz of Rt. 113 on cask (also very much on target) and then stuck to the newly on draught Odyssey 2007 for the rest of the day, along with various tastes of different varietal versions offered up by others.

The Usual Gang of Suspects had seized their Usual Table of Infamy right in the front of the dining room area and greeted me with loud acclaim upon my arrival (it's good to be loved, even if one's acolytes sometimes given one reason to pause). Most of them were there before I arrived and still there when I left, so you can imagine that they became more, um, expressive and noise-producing as the hours moved on. The original group ordered up all three samplers at once rather than behave like nice, normal beer geeks. The evidence, and four of the guilty, were captured by fellow traveler Jeff MacCarty on his iPhone camera, showing the obscene display that was their table.

Eventually joining the group, arriving about a half hour or so after I did, was the lovely and talented Lori Limper who brought along, in addition to hubby Tom Foley, her invention from last year in new and improved form, The maltenator, version 2.0. Ms. Limper, no hops lover she, created the maltenator as a inverse variation of the Dogfish Head Randall the Enamel Animal, "an organoleptic hop transducer module," which is fancy talk for a big cylinder hooked to the beer line leaving a keg so that the beer through passes over fresh hops to increase its hops character. Her more modest version (see photo, also courtesy of Jeff)) does the same with malt on a smaller level. Lori's hope is to someday be in a position to send Coors Light through both a Randall and a maltenator to see if she can turn it into "real beer." Everybody's gotta have a dream.

There's more to be said about all that but I'm saving that for another venue, you know, one of those places that pays me for my efforts (of course, you could too, if moved by the holiday spirit).

I'd made casual agreements to catch up with or meet up with at least three different people during the day but none of that happened, so that was a bit of a disappointment. I did get a break by going with Mr. O'Reilly to pick up super sales rep Suzanne Woods and the brewer now to be forever known as "Lance Romance" at the Devon train station (our esteemed brewmaster has living here for what, nearly ten years now, so you'd think he'd know how to get from Phoenixville to Devon, wouldn't you?) and I saw a lot of folks I hadn't seen in a while, including the choirboy, who was on his best behavior since he had to sing at his church last night. His best behavior isn't much better than his normal behavior as it turns out, so nobody noticed.

The dark shadow hanging over the whole event was the hops shortage and what it will mean for the IPA Project in 2008 and beyond. Back in cheerier days, Sly Fox intended to double the brew size of the varietals for next year, mostly to meet a demand from New York, where establishments are lining up to participate and there's a waiting list of something like 25 bars already beyond all those who are on board. Now it looks like that is almost impossible to even think about. At present, I'm told, they have hops in house or guaranteed under contract which will enable them to do six varietals in the same quantities as this year and all their scrambling, pleading, begging and the like has been to no avail in getting more.

Will there by an IPA Project 2008? It could work with just six varietals, I suppose, with a smaller IPA Project Day event: those six, casked versions of 2007, 2008 and Rt. 113 and draught Odyssey, a total of ten beers, making for a nice sampler and enough variety to make it worth while.

More about that as well, when I can pin down O'Reilly.

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[Posted 6:25pm est]

Give me a sixpack or give me.... well, just give me a sixpack.
In the ongoing saga of whether Pennsylvania beer laws will change or not (they will, trust me), craft brewers have a very reasonable concern about what
the smallest amount of beer allowed to be sold will be and a solid argument against that minimum amount being anything larger that sixpack. However, some of the big guys, notably Coors and Miller, are lobbying strongly in Harrisburg for a larger minimum package in order to gain a competitive edge.

On a practical level, the sixpack is the most convenient and familiar package, the one which is the minimum in all the other 49 states. On a business fairness level, it is the size which will least inconvenience and create new expenses for craft brewers. Virtually none of them in Pennsylvania currently do 12, 15 or 18 bottle/can packs and would have to spend the money and take the time to gear up to do so in order to compete of one of those was made the minimum size. All of those packages, of course, can still be sold if the sixpack is the baseline, so a sixpack minimum wouldn't inconvenience anyone and craft brewers could move up to larger packages if and when that seemed a logical move.

I know we Pennsylvanians sometimes get all twisted into knots of worry and dread over the impending arrival of things like beer sales in supermarkets and the like, things what go on all throughout the rest of the nation without the world as we know it coming to an end, but this crisis is a bit more real than that. With local breweries having been required to deal only in case or sixpack lots, a changed law which would suddenly require them to create new packaging would be extremely damaging and entirely unfair.

Our state gummint critters are easily swayed by lobbyists throwing money around. I know, you are shocked, shocked to learn that, but there it is. The only offset to the power of interests groups is the voice of the voters. Let yours be heard. There's a link in the Beer Yard story referenced above which makes it easy to do.

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[Posted 6:25pm est]

Ho! Ho! Ho! And a couch to sleep on.
Let's start off with a bit of Wretched Excess. It's probably not what would be advised by the sane people out there, but I prepped for Monk's annual Holiday Dinner last Tuesday by popping into Teresa's Next Door while waiting for my train to arrive at the Wayne station. I was a relatively good boy, having a pint of Dock Street Rye IPA and a 12-ouncer of Brewers Art Resurrection(a Dubbel), rather than any of the double-digit delights on tap.

I wasn't overly concerned about drinking before, you know, drinking, because this year I took advantage of an offer made in a weak moment earlier in the year by Home Sweet Homebrew's Nancy and George and arranged to spend the night on their couch, thus, in the true holiday spirit, silencing that nagging little voice in the back of my head at most Monk's events--Be careful! Be careful!--since there was no train to catch, no half hour or longer drive awaiting me at evening's end. I was free to get as blasted as I might want.

The end result, of course, is that I didn't.

You surely will not be surprised to hear that the Holiday Dinner was a grand affair. Guests were greeted at the door by Mr. Peters hisownself, thrusting a glass of 1997 Anchor Christmas Ale into each eager hand. Ten, count 'em ten, other beers were then poured over the course of the night during a meal which, if you count the Amuse Bouche up front and the Buche de Noel at the end, and I do, added up to seven courses. They were:

de Regengoog t'Smisje Krerst (a holiday beer from Johan Brandt's essentially one-man brewery outside Brugge, a very rare beer in this or any other country), La Moneuse Special Winter Ale (an 8% saison), LaBinchoise Speciale Noel 1994 (Monk's last 12 bottles, from out of Peter's legendary basement), Gouden Carolus Noel (draught), Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bon Veoux (which I definitely would have had to have at Teresa's were I not so sure it would turn up at dinner), Val Dieu Grand Cru (draught), St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, Gale Christmas Ale 2001, Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper and, to close things out, Samichlaus 1995 (from the original brewery, Hürlimann in Zurich, two years before it closed) and Samiclaus 2006 (from Eggenberger in Austria, their first brew of this classic, done brewed on Dec. 6, 2005).

The meal included Pickled Mackerel, Pheasant "Fruit Cake," Grilled Smelt, Duck Ragout and a really nice Cheese Selection. It should tell you everything you need to know about the skills of chef Adam Glickman and his moveable feast of a kitchen staff that I not only ate without hesitation but thoroughly enjoyed Pickled Mackerel.

Afterwards, I strolled up a couple of blocks with Nancy and George, popped onto the bus, got off for another short stroll down a residential street to their humble abode. The couch was long enough, wide enough and comfortable enough that I slept the night away (after George and I enjoyed a bit of additional late evening refreshment, a pint of his Smoked Porter for me, something else for him. Next day, after some morning-after chitchat and a bacon and egg breakfast, I walked out the front door with George, caught the 48 bus right across the street and soon was on the train and headed home.

Gotta tell you, it all stirred up my latent desire to live in the city more than a little bit. One of these days...

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[Posted 6:25pm est]

13 December 2007
You just knew this was coming, didn't you?
If you been slowly accepting the delusion that the Biggies had gotten the point,
Miller comes through with the evidence to the contrary.

"Craft-style" beer. I love it.

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[Posted 6:40pm est]

Sly Fox goes smoke-free in January.
The O'Reilly called me with the news this afternoon after he saw it on a sign in the restroom at Sly Fox Royersford. They don't tell us nothin', you know, like mushrooms. Now that they have, I'll get an official news story up the Fox website soon.

Meanwhile, I went prowling the ether and found that the news was all over BA already, a member there having learned about the change in Phoenixville. The response online is amazingly and overwhelmingly positive, even from the cigar-smoker who broke the story. I say "amazingly and overwhelmingly" because such news often draws the ire of a neo-libertarian or two and a handful of to-the-death smokers, but so far none of that.

Indeed, the thread also includes a lament by Jeff at T J's Everyday in Paoli (one of the Main Line's outstanding beer bars, visit 'em all) that he can't pull off the same deal himself, getting out-voted by his managerial team every time. He's the "J" in TJ and "T"? Turns out she's a smoker. Patrons there who appreciate fresh air with their craft beers might gently tug at her sleeve a bit.

This comes just in time, I must note, for Big Dan to avoid compromising his principles. Gotta hand it Mr. Bengel. He said, following last year's IPA Project Day that henceforth he would do his drinking at smoke-free establishments only and, as far as I know, he's held to that. He's shown up at Sly Fox Phoenixville now and again in the summer months, to sit outside, but not set foot inside. What a guy.

I emailed him the news and he assures me he will be there for tomorrow's hop-tastic celebration, braving the smoke to show his solidarity with and appreciation of the coming change. I suggest everybody buy him a beer to celebrate his sacrifice.

And nobody dare ask if he was going to come anyway.

On another note, I keep meaning to post (I guess I could stop right there and still be accurate given how absent I've been this week) that there is keg of five year old Ichor on tap at Royersford and it is truly amazing stuff, rich and Port-like and mellow. Worth the trip, it is.

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[Posted 5:10pm est]

10 December 2007
Not verified but probably true...and not surprising.
One of the best, possibly the best, opening I ever attended was for the John Harvard's Brew House location in Wayne (Strafford in actual fact, I'd argue, but they used a Wayne mailing address). It was damned near perfect, despite a huge crowd and you could see these folks knew what they were doing. That was in February 1997.

Time passes. Things change. John Harvard's has seen its better days, both locally and around the East, where it had 14 or more locations at one time and was a big player in several markets.

And this weekend, apparently, the hammer fell on Lancaster Avenue.

I gotta believe that somebody with some smarts could make a good beer bar work there, or another brewpub. Could be, though, that the rent is a killer.

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[Posted 6:05pm est]

6 December 2007
Then there's your basic early morning news flash...
Posted this morning:
Tom & Peggy have landed in Mt. Airy.

I was already at the Beer Yard when Tom Baker called me so I wasn't able to alert you until now. This is one I knew about for a while but without any particulars and, since every time I broke a story about Tom & Peggy it seemed to fall through for them, I decided to end the jinx and wait for them to call me. Anyway, it's great news and will help expand the good beer profile of that section of the city, especially with mcMenamin's, of the still too-secret beer destinations for the cognoscenti, right down the street.

There's also an update on last night's Yards story posted at the Beer Yard site, wherein Eddie Friedland says all is copacetic. I'm glad to see this turn out all right for everybody.

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[Posted 3:35pm est]

5 December 2007
Your basic late night news flash.
Just posted:
Yards to Muller.

I know all these things seem like Inside Baseball to many readers, but the distribution shake-out locally will possibly impact the success or failure of some brands and surely complicate things for new folks wanting to enter the local market.

Sometimes, it's not solely all about the beer.

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[Posted 11:30pm est]

3 December 2007
A beer guy's knight of the moon.
Duane Swierczynski is the editor of
Philadelphia'sCity Paper, an alternative weekly; a beer guy , and a successful writer of hard-boiled crime fiction.

Hey, it's almost like he's living the life I dreamed of my self when I was young and still believed in dreams. These days, I struggle with even placing any faith in possibilities.

But that's off the point, which is that last marked the debut of Swierczynski's first comic book work, and it is very, very good. The Moon Knight character is Marvel Comics' Batman in the sense that he is a mysterious do-gooder working the nighttime streets and a rough customer to deal with if you're a bad guy. Swierczynski clearly understands the way comics work and the relationships between words and art. His pacing, tone and sparse script are dead on and make for a very good piece or work.

Granted, he uses some writerly tricks here and benefits from this issue being an Annual, a done-in-one (issue) story which doesn't really require the author to pay much attention to the baggage that an ongoing monthly storyline and cast demand. Indeed, Moon Knight himself barely appears in the issue and is something of a deus ex machina who exists to make it all work. He could, in fact, have been any character, indeed anybody at all. All of which means that what Swierczynski has done is writer a solid, hard-boiled story rather than a Moon Knight adventure per se.

Moon Night Annual #1 is clever and takes real advantage of the comics format, as I said, making for a damned impressive debut for the writer. Word is that he will be taking over one of the Marvel books on a regular basis in 2008, one of the mutant titles if I remember correctly. That's when the real test will come, with extended storylines, a cast of supporting characters and reappearing villains to deal with and the periodic pressure from editorial to tie in with complicated company-wide cross-over stories.

It was Ed Brubaker who got Swierczynski the new gig and he's a guy whose current situation is one that the Philadelphian might wisely aspire to match. His own series of mini-series (five or six part stories told in monthly format and then collected into trade paperback editions) have given him a personal little crime-noir corner of the Marvel Universe and he has given the most notable of the other titles he writes, Captain America, the same sort of noir-ish feel within a superhero context, managing in the process to make 2007's major comic book "event," the death of the title character, work into a storyline in which the deceased hero continues to dominate but never appears.

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[Posted 10:25am est]

The above item has been cross-posted here.

Primo Beer is back.
I've been looking for
a reason to return to Kauai and the return of the legendary Primo Beer just might be it.

Primo beer was Hawaii's beer for about 100 years, first brewed in 1898 and eventually disappearing in 1998. Now it's being brought back by a division of Pabst, the beer marketing company. It will be brewed by Keoki Brewing, located on Kauai.

And, yes, I suspect Primo became a pretty bland American lager-style by the end there, so, no, the return of Primo per se is not the reason I could use to justify a return trip, my fourth, but first in nearly two decades.

This is why:

In addition to new ownership, Primo has been tweaked for a rich taste using Hawaiian cane sugar. The brew recipe was created by brewmasters Phil Markowski and Bob Newman, who was recently named brewmaster of the year for the second consecutive year by the Great American Beer Festival.
Damn, ol' Phil is becoming a real Pabst guy, he is.

Primo will be all draught at first, with a bottled version, produced in Irwindale, Calif., arriving next April.

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[Posted 10:25am est]

Wherein I say something nice about homebrewers.
Maltose Falcons Homebrewing Society, a Burbank, Cal. group which is 30 years old, is the oldest homebrew group in the nation (at least, that's what they claim). They were recently selected Anchor Brewing's "Homebrew Club of the Year" for 2007 and are rightly psyched by it all. I received the publication linked to here in my email over the weekend, 22 pages and as good a homebrew publication as I've seen. If you're producing one as good or better, feel free to send the next issue along and try and change my mind.

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[Posted 10:25am est]

2 December 2007
Wherein I let you do all the work.
Follow the dancing links to see what I'm onto this morning. I'm going out and play in the snow.

Here we go again. I swear, I'm beginning to suspect that Dan Shelton pays selected people to act like idiots every Christmas.

This is really good, well written and informative and making the case for high end craft beers compellingly. As an expression of support, I'm gonna have to seek this guy out and imbibe an expensive beer or two with him in public. Especially if he's buying.

Is the latest release the best version yet of one of my local favorites? Too soon to tell for sure, but the promise is there, IMO.

Meanwhile, there are apparently some vintage bottles of this one floating around, which makes my heart go all a-flutter. Also, the just released 2007 is pretty fine right now.

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[Posted 11:50am est]

1 December 2007
A Lager by any other name.
Anheuser-Busch is
gearing up a massive campaign for 2008 to grow its business, with emphasis on the core brands like Bud and Bud Light. The Michelob label is being positioned as "craft beer" in a campaign which begins today, stressing the quality ingredients used to make that family of brews (the Porter, I can tell you, is certainly good enough to match up with some of the craft efforts I've tasted), while Bud is being positioned as The Great American Lager.

Millions of dollars are going to be spent telling the world that Bud is a Lager?

Man, that's going to shake the foundations of folks who think that "Lager" is a style of beer/brand invented by Yuengling, innit?

Seriously, the way in which, for, what, twenty or more years now, maybe longer, the grand old brewery in Pottsville (and points south, these days) has managed to make a style its name in every market it enters is one of the great marketing stories in the industry. It might have more than a little to do with youngsters not knowing how to pronounce "Yuengling," but still...

I think I've told the story before of the night Jake & Oliver's House of Brews, a really bad multi-tap in Philadelphia in the mid-'90s--I went in early on and asked for a Prima Pils, told it had just kicked and was handed instead a pint of Yards ESA with the explanatgion that "this is the same thing," on the assumption, I guess, that both being brewed locally made them identical--opened a second location on the Main Line on Montgomery Avenue, but it fits here again.

I went to the opening party and learned some things I already suspected I find (not one of the bartenders had a clue about the beers and most of them were stale, slow moving kegs brought in from the Olde City location) and one that surprised me: people all over the room were drinking Ortlieb's Lager (maybe under the Poor Henry's name, I can no longer remember). I found out why by asking two pretty girls why they were doing so (hey, it's my job) and then going over to the bar to watch as customers came up and said the usual "I'll have a Lager" and were handed the Ortlieb's beer, which they took without complaint. Indeed, when I asked around again, virtually every one them said it was very good.

Henry Ortlieb had apparently cut a deal/paid to have his beer there that night in lieu of the usual Yuengling, seeking a foot in the door. Great idea, but, unfortunately, that door and just about everything else was doomed for bankruptcy court. And J&O's, both Main Line and downtown, didn't last much longer either.

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[Posted 2:35pm est]

Archived.
The complete November 2007 postings have been archived here.

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

--A. E. Houseman