I drink no cider,
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in a letter to his wife Abigail
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28 February 2006
Some of the news, fit to print or not.
I have just posted, right where you'd expect, a couple of stories that many of you will find interesting, about the grainy intentions of the world's best-known beer writer this great place (about which I'll have more later this week).
I'm on deadline this week for the next Celebrator Beer News so I'm not sure there will be much else added here in the near future, aside from the story promised above.
Play nice now...and don't disturb the cattle.
[Posted 3:43 pm edt]
26 February 2006
Mr. & Mrs. O'Reilly and how they got that way.
Brian Michael O'Reilly and Whitney Patience Dabback were wed yesterday, a cold, crisp February Saturday, during a Mass celebrated at St. Basil the Great Roman Catholic Church in Kimberton. A grand and beer-y reception followed at La Massaria, situated on Bella Vista Golf Course in Gilbertsville, followed in turn by further consumption of beer at the nearby All Star Cafe, followed thereafter by a short, safe drive home and blessed sleep.
It was, as such occasions are, a day of sentiment and joy, of music and dancing and laughter. Such events become part of lore and legend for family and friends and everyone who was present will have his or her own distinctive moment filed away in all those memories, perhaps a new acquaintance made, an exchanged smile that promised something more, an unexpected revelation or even something as mundane as a spilled drink. Sometimes those special memories are inexorably linked to the celebration itself, sometimes they are merely unexpected did-I-just-see-that? moments which might have happened anywhere but which are now forever a part of The Day Brian and Whitney Were Married.
For me, yesterday's indelible moment was one of the latter, the incident of William Reed and His Magic Fork. We will, in good time, talk about that. But first...
I travelled to and from the day's activities with Big Dan and Kelly (she drove and thus shall not be referred to in this space as Cruella today), since their humble abode is located but a mile or two from Las Massaria and the journey home from their place at day's end over familiar terrain would be that short, safe drive mentioned above. We began with a pleasant lunch at Kimberton Whole Foods and then met up with many fellow revelers at Sly Fox Phoenixville, mostly Fox regulars and staff. We drank beer (surprise), marveling at how well we all, as they say, "cleaned up" (Karl Shoemaker, resplendent in necktie and suspenders and sans ever-present baseball cap, was a true revelation), then headed up the road to the church. Churches and saloons, man, they're the linchpins of western civilization.
The wedding itself was nicely done, helped in no small measure by the fact that the O'Reilly clan brought in The Rev. Marc Montminy, a long-time family friend, to perform the Mass and ceremony (I've been to too many weddings...funerals...whatever at which, given our now extended lives, the celebrant clearly knew little or nothing about the people whose ceremony it really was) and the musical contributions of Michael Tiernan, Brian's old college pal and former bandmate, who was fresh off gigs in Texas and Colorado. One of the pieces he did, just before the Recessional Hymn, was a hymn Brian had written in his more innocent youth.
Whitney had to be the happiest bride I've ever seen, smiling and laughing throughout, while Brian had that somewhat stunned look common to grooms, happy or not. I don't know if it's a sign of the feminization of our culture, but this was the first time ever I've heard men, me among them, commenting on the beauty of a bride's gown. I guess I'll just follow my heart and, as always, blame it on George W. Bush.
The trip from church was a winding, zig-zagging adventure over road and dale, hither and yon and beyond, as Kelly taught me some backroad shortcuts between my new digs (how long can I keep calling them "new?") and civilization. We led Lew Bryson and Matt Guyer on that trip, the latter wisely placing himself between Lew's car and ours so that we didn't make every attempt we could to lose him (not that Kelly would do that, y'know?)
La Massaria was a great setting for a reception--the Dabbacks did good by their daughter and new son-in-law. We started with an hour, maybe two, I lost track, of drinks and Hors d'Oeuvres at the downstairs bar, gazing out a huge picture window at the rolling countryside, dotted with expensive homes. Royal Weiss, Phoenix Pale, Helles and Saison Vos, were on tap, plus wine and a cash bar. Fortunately, groomsman Larry Horwitz was there to help us out, a duty enhanced by the fact that he looked more like a maitre-de than anyone ever has--ever--in his formal garb.
The same drink options were offered upstairs when we ascended to dinner, which was buffet style with serving stations featuring Antipasto, Pasta, London Broil and Smoked Fish (great lox!) in each corner of the room, which held the lines down and left only three guests trampled to the floor by Big Lew as he rushed to the fish table.
The Big Guy was my dinner partner (wife Cathy having apparently come to her senses and fled to Australia), along with Mike Tiernan and his wife Tracy and Rick and Jeanne Smiledge. That (Lew's presence) made it easy to tell people where to find me as I ran into them between runs to the bar and/or men's room (conveniently located right next to one another but on the far side from where we sat): Follow the noise, I said.
Nice toasts by Pete Dabback as father of the groom, and Brian's brother Shane and Whitney's sister Lynsay as Best Man and Maid of Honor. And I really enjoyed the Chad Kinsey Band (anybody playing Gram Parsons and John Prine songs is jes' fine with me), which was joined at one point by the groom, who never misses a chance to perform his classic Chickens & Beer whenever the opportunity arises...and sometimes even when it doesn't.
It should be noted that a bit of this found its way to our table near the end of the evening, courtesy of brewer Casey Hughes. Since we had a couple of empty chairs, people kept stopping by and often staying a while, making the time fly by until the lights went on and the party was over. That party, I mean, because most of the Usual Suspects, including the bride and groom, repaired down the road to the All Star, pouring inside in our fancy duds while the Saturday night regulars grimaced and shook there heads. They should have probably expected we were coming if they read the Congratulations Brian and Whitney message board out front. More beer was drunk, an ass or two apparently grabbed and then it was all over as Crue...oops!...Kelly said we had to leave.
Now then, about that Magic Fork thing. Thought I forgot, didn't ya?
I ran into William Reed, he of the Standard Tap during one of those cross-room trips that the bar and rest room location made necessary with some regularity. It was late in the evening and as waitresses walked by us carrying trays of sliced wedding cake, I remarked that we should get back to our seats because that was the only way to get a slice. Not necessarily, said William, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out what appeared to be an ordinary dinner fork. Then with (I presume) the press of a button the fork snapped out to a good three feet in length. Without a word, he leaned over the people eating at the table beside us and snared a piece of cake off the tray in the table's center and popped it into his mouth. As I burst out into laughter, he did it again. Quiet, unassuming William Reed, MacGyver-like cake thief. Who'd a-thunk it?
Sorry, Brian and Whitney, but I suspect that's the story I will be wheezing out from my rocking chair in my dotage, a tale of a city boy come out to the sticks to bamboozle the locals, having his cake and eating it too.
[Posted 3:00 pm edt]
23 February 2006
You want cans? We got cans.
I've added photos of the actual Pikeland Pils and Phoenix Pale Ale cans over here and can report that both the canning line and the cans arrived at Sly Fox Royersford yesterday as scheduled. Indeed, the brewery is, at present, nearly wall-to-wall cans, as you can see in this photo, taken this morning from the brewhouse platform:
I had a sample of the Phoenix Pale and it's as tasty as the draft, even right from the can. There was a "short fill" issue this morning, so there are lots of not-quite-full cans around (Time to call in Dan and Steve, suggested jack-of-all-trades Karl Shoemaker) and a search was on for a replacement part for something that was either missing or broken--in other words, a frustrating delay similar to that which has occurred with every bottling/canning launch I've ever seen--but the line is there and installed, it works and the adventure is, or soon will be, underway.
Here was the morning braintrust--Brian O'Reilly, Sly Fox managing partner John Giannopoulos, Jamie Gordon of Cask Brewing Systems Inc., the folks who built and installed the line, and Shoemaker--talking over the situation:
I came home with a sixpack of those short-fills, the first one to leave the building, I'd guess, which makes it a bit historic. Cool. And I'll have more on all this next week, including an interview with Brian in which he explains the decision to go with larger bottles and cans rather than the standard 12oz-ers and lots of other good stuff. I'd work on that tonight, but I have an engagement with an all-star lineup of local brewing celebrities and other folk which we will call, just because we can...
The O'Reilly Factor.
This version comes without the bluster and sanctimony of the original, as we gather tonight for Brian's Bachelor Bash, an event which will have its origin at Sly Fox Phoenixville, move on to Standard Tap for dinner and then to...well, we'll see (or not).
'Twill be a glorious show, I expect, starring Brian O'Reilly as himself (the Frightened Groom-To-Be), Tim Ohst as the Loyal But Cynical Co-Worker, Lew Bryson as the Big Loud Guy (belching and farting optional, 'cause he's a method actor and will go with his, um, instincts), Tom Kehoe as the Generic Good Guy, Corey Reid as the Wandering Bartender, Jon Zangwill as the Prodigal Son, William Reed as the Bemused Host, a plethora of other brewing luminaries and friends and family as themselves...and introducing the inimitable Larry Horwitz as The Stripper From Hell.
[Posted 4:00 pm edt]
22 February 2006
Out of the ashes.
It appears that you can't keep a good tavern down:
The owners of the once-proud landmark that was Bush House vowed Tuesday to rebuild on the site, now home only to piles of rubble.You'll recall that the 138-year-old Bush House which was home to the wonderful Schnitzel's Tavern burned to the ground two weeks ago today. Its promised return is a Very Good Thing. I'm really tired of those sobbing late night calls from large, heartbroken people.
"We plan to build back on this site a wonderful hotel to continue the rich history of the location," Susan and Kenny Kempton said in a statement e-mailed Tuesday to the Centre Daily Times.
"We will bring back Schnitzels."
[Posted 12:15 pm edt]
21 February 2006
The Sly Fox scoop (and I mean that literally).
Because I was feeling all warm and cuddly toward beer geeks today (I think I may be coming down with something seriously bad), I posted some pretty big news in
this Beer Advocate thread, writing that
There'll be a news release out on all this soon and a Beer Yard news story later today, but I thought I'd toss in some basic information on this thread now:
Having done that, I realized I needed to get something up at The Beer Yard, so a more formal story about the canning operation is now posted over there. Another variation will go up on the Sly Fox site itself tonight or tomorrow.
If all goes as planned, the cans will arrive at the brewery tomorrow morning and the canning line in the afternoon. If all that happens as it should, canning will start on Thursday.
The first two beers to be canned--the only one for a while (see below)--will be Phoenix Pale Ale and Pikeland Pils. These should ship to Friedland and Stockertown next week, to Westy's in early March and--here's the big news--to New Jersey later in March. Hunterdon Brewing Company in Phillipsburg has been signed as Sly Fox's New Jersey distributor and, in fact, the initial shipment of Saison Vos and Rt. 113 bottles will go out to them tomorrow.
In order to buy cans, a brewery must buy a Whole Lot of Cans, so two beers, in broadly popular styles, are about all that can be managed within the budget for the foreseeable future. If these sell well and expansion seems the way to go, Royal Weisse would be the third beer in the line with Rt. 113 the most likely other one (because of the size of the can purchase, two beers at a time is the way to go).
Confusion will surely reign in the next couple of weeks with O'Reilly getting married this Saturday and going off for a ten day/two week honeymoon, but Tim Ohst is on the case.
Two beers coming in cans by next week...distribution starting in New Jersey Real Soon Now...Ichor in bottles awaiting release...Instigator Doppelbock due out in 22oz bottles by late March...O'Reilly getting married this Saturday...
Think there's much excitement in the air at Royersford these days?
[Posted 5:05 pm edt]
20 February 2006
Monday Morning Brew is a new Beer Yard feature which appears every Monday. You can find today's entry here and also scroll down and see the two previous ones.
Booty (misspelled bootie by the folks I'm writing about, is the lead item this morning. You know about Booty, right (I always feel the necessity to ask this sort of question when writing for beer geeks).
Just kidding, just kidding.
Monday Morning Brew is a weekly roundup of beer news and notes from around the world, done in--hard to believe, I know--a less than reverential style. I'm having fun with it and hope you will too.
The only way to do that, of course, is to check it out every week. Hint, hint.
[Posted 7:20 am edt]
18 February 2006
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.
As I was walking out of the spacious but not overly ostentatious executive offices of Victory Brewing Co. yesterday afternoon, I popped my head into Bill Covaleski's office to tell him how impressed I am with the cases and sixpack carriers he designed for the brewery's new, limited edition Ten Years Alt. The striking colors and the backdrop of black and white photos of Bill and partner Ron Barchet over the years are a perfect blend of new and old and ideal for an anniversary package.
One picture which is missing from that montage, the one I'd pay hard cash for but have been assured does not exist, is a shot of ten-year old Bill and Ron belting down cans of brew on their schoolbus back in the day. Anything like that ever surfaces, call me first.
Anyway, Bill thanked me, of course, and then, as I was leaving, laughed and said The really important thing is that people like the beer.
Not to worry.
Ten Year Alt, the world's first ever Doppelsticke Alt according to the brewers, is a great beer.
I have tasted it only in the bottle at this point (more about that in a minute), two of them last night, and I suspect that this is a beer which will prove to be best enjoyed in that fashion (and at proper temperature), but I'll hold off judgement until I've tried the draft, which I will, thanks to Richard Ruch (more about that too, coming right up).
At 8.5% abv, two bottles were, shall we say, enough, but I was sorely tempted to go for a third. Lots of malt, as you'd expect, but with a surprisingly vivid hop presence, this beer is delicious from the instant it touches the palate through an incredibly long finish. It's in the finish, as it slowly fades, that you become most aware of the clear alcohol presence, which is at once subtle and assertive (I know that makes no sense at all but can't think of another way to put it).
Craft beer people often talk about brews which can reveal the complexities of beer to the wine and spirits crowd. This is exactly the kind of beer they're talking about.
Get the impression I was blown away?
When the afternoon started out, I wasn't so sure that was going to be the case, but what looked like a bad decision based on misinformation and misjudgement turned into a most fortuitous circumstance indeed (that bottle thing).
I drove into the parking lot shortly before 2 pm, after a late morning phone call to Ruch to make sure that Ten Year would be available prior to the 5 pm start time the website showed. It was on tap Wednesday night and it was on Thursday, he assured me, so of course it was on. Victory's Steve German came walking by as I was pulling growlers out of my trunk and he too said, no sweat.
No Ten Year, neither draft nor bottle, before 5 pm. Them's the rules, said the rueful young lady behind the bar. It seemed to me a counter-intuitive marketing move to have allowed the beer to be poured for two days and then taken down for an arbitrary deadline, but I suppose it made some sense, holding off the expected hoards of Beer Advocates until the evening festivities. To rub it, a warehouse worker came by pushing a handtruck load of brand new Ten Year cases and, grinning, asked Steve And where is this gentleman's car? as if they were for me.
Steve and I chatted for a while about lots of things, distribution in particular, which is his specialty, and agreed to do an interview in a week or two in which he will reveal all, or some, or something. It's gonna be good, interesting and--here's a concept--factual, so keep watching. Covaleski came walking by at one point and told Steve he really shouldn't be consorting with a homeless person. I'm pretty sure he was kidding.
Before heading back to work, Steve promised that he'd see to it I got a couple of bottles if I stopped by his office when I left--yeah, I'm a beer writer, I get stuff now and then, get over it--and I ordered the pint of Victory Lager I'd promised myself and handed over two growlers to be filled with Dark Lager and St. Victorious Doppelbock, which led to, well, an explosion. As the bartender was handing me my growlers, she bumped the side of the bar with one of them and it basically split, the entire back portion dropping off in a single piece to shatter on the floor as Dark Lager splashed everywhere. I've never seen anything quite like it.
At that point, in walked Ruch, Victory's most dedicated advocate, active shill and fervent true believer, and it was nice to see that all his loyalty has earned him proper respect. Without missing a beat, a bartender held up the mop she'd fetched and said loudly
Clean up in aisle one! Richard, clean up in aisle one! It must be great to be a hero in your own land.
After wringing a promise from Ruch to get a growler of Ten Year into my hands ASAP since I'd come out in the afternoon based on his false information, I paid for my two growlers (one of them now brand new, obviously) and take-out bottles of V Saison and V 12, and took my leave (I thought). After dropping my newly acquired stash in the car, I went to Steve's office, where he gave me a sixpack as promised, and I got to tell Bill my opinion of the packaging.
But my day was not yet over.
Standing a short distance from where I was parked in front of the brewery were none other than The Big One and The Other One (Dan and Steve, in that order, for newcomers around here, of which there seem to be quite a few of late, for which we thank the internet gods), They were there, said a chagrined Steve (they'd already gotten the word), to wait two hours before we can drink Ten Year Alt. It was a prospect that didn't seen to faze Big Dan in the least.
I went back in to have a beer with them, graciously allowing them to buy me another pint of the wonderful Helles and deciding, what the hell, to also grab a sixpack of Prima Pils to take home. Which is where I took it shortly thereafter.
[Posted 12:40 pm edt]
17 February 2006
Long ago, when we were young and the world was new...
When I was packing up to move last November, I came across this cache of business-oriented photos which had fallen behind the bookshelves, most of them not particularly interesting nor calling up any memories of the days when we actually ordered prints of pictures. Except for one...
It was of Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, standing by their brand new bottling line at the just-born Victory Brewing Company, taken when I interviewed them back in February or March of 1996. They are holding tall willibeckers of (I think) Brandywine Valley Lager toward the camera, as if toasting me, or themselves, or the dreams that were unfolding.
It's a priceless print, certainly one I intended to post here on this weekend, ten years later, when Victory is celebrating its first decade...and now I can't find the damned thing! I swear I saved it but I don't know where I saved it, so this word picture will have to suffice (the segment title above is the caption I'd have used had I need of a caption).
That interview is one of three indelible memories I have of Victory's early days (I'll dig through the archives and see if I still have it and, if so, get it up online over the weekend), talking to this idealistic young pair who famously met on a schoolbus as youngsters, and listening to them promise that they were making and would always make beers we like to drink.
I think they've held true to that promise, although the range and style of beers has gone in much broader directions than I had the impression were originally imagined as their customers, as customers will, influenced the brewery's production (see today's excellent Joe Sixpack column for more on that).
My second memory is of searching hither and yon for my first taste of Prima Pils a few weeks later (the first batch was not yet available when I did the interview and, no, I have no idea now why I didn't just drive out to the brewery). I finally called and was told it was on at Jake & Oliver's, a short-lived multi-tap down in Philadelphia Olde City section. That night, my then wife and I drove down to catch an early show at the Ritz Three and then walked over to J&O's, where I ordered my Prima. It just kicked, I was told (a refrain I heard all too often at that place).
That sad moment quickly turned into a surreal one, as the bartender thereupon handed me a pint of Yards ESA, saying Here, try this, it's just the same, "just the same" apparently meaning, to him, that the beers were brewed somewhere in the vicinity. And that's why Jake & Oliver's isn't there any more (remind me someday to tell the story of the "grand opening" of their even shorter-lived Main Line location).
The third Victory memory is of the debut of Golden Monkey at a dinner at an Italian restaurant somewhere in East Bejeezus on a cold, rainy winter's night. That was January 1998. It took me--it took lots of people--time to find the place but when we did we were greeted with glasses of Prima and then sat down to a dinner where the Monkey was unleashed.
It was a much different beer than you all know today, and a great beer it was, intended to be a one-off, never to be made again. It was unfiltered, a deep and enticing gold, and absolutely delicious. I drank cautiously, knowing of the long and rain-difficult drive home, but eagerly as well.
I needn't have bothered with the "cautious" part. When dinner was over and most of the guests were leaving, Covaleski (who was our host) popped out to the car and came back with armloads of Storm King and Old Horizontal. Soon we were mixing and matching and drinking into the night...
The drive home was the horror show I'd feared, by the way, torrential rain all the way, so torrential that I went right my turnpike get-off point at Valley Forge and had to go on down to the Downingtown exit. And then, at 2:30am, shortly after I turned off of Rt. 100 onto Rt. 113 to go home, I was pulled over by a cop for "driving suspiciously." What I'd done, more in anger than because of alcohol, had made a "too wide turn" onto 113. I think he just needed something to do. I passed a breathalyzer test but was near enough to the line that he forced me to call someone to pick me up. Did I say horror show? Make that an deeply embarrassing horror show.
But I digress (more and more these days, I understand why MJ has memorized that useful phrase)...
So here we are, ten years down the road. Victory has emerged as one of the nation's top craft brewers and those early stories have developed into what passes for a career in beer writing for me. Bill and Ron surely got the best of the deal in terms of fame and fortune and creative energy; I like to think I've had at least as much fun.
I'm off to Downingtown once this is posted, to have a bit of lunch and try the new Ten Year Alt and see what I can see before the thundering hoards start pouring through the doors for the two-day party which begins tonight. And, although Brandywine Valley Lager has gone through a couple of names and iterations since those days and is now a Helles (not that there's anything wrong with that!), I'll have one of those as well, in memory of when we were indeed young(er), (somewhat more) innocent and the world was, if not quite new, probably better.
This posting has been slightly edited with regard to the release of Golden Monkey, based on conversations with Steve German and Bill Covaleski this afternoon and a couple of helpful spelling tips emailed me by that Nice Mr. Bryson. Nothing of real significance has been changed except the release date og Golden Monkey, 1998 instead of 1997.
Can't forget Lew. Who could?
I needs must make note of Big Lew's fine interview with Bill Covaleksi, also published today, and take advantage of that to weigh in on Victory's "most traditional beer." I'd say the Dark Lager (and not just because I've been drinking it all week), putting me right next to Sixpack, who called it the "best crafted beer" in his column and close enough for gummint work to Lew, who selected either the Lager or Sunrise Weisse. Bur Prima always has been and still is my favorite of them all.
I don't know how much posting I'll get done here this weekend, as I'm hard at work on a screenplay that I'm convinced is going to make me a fortune and will be a surefire hit. Plus it has tremendous potential for a slew of sequels.
It's a cheesy horror flick about a bevy of comely teenage cheerleaders and babysitters trapped in a dark and mysterious old house with a fiendish monster. There's lots of gratuitous nudity and sex scenes, of course. I mean, Mama Curtin didn't raise no fools.
But the real key to the concept is the horrible monster himself (think Freddie, only more evil) and the requisite comedy relief character, his hapless, self-important sidekick who believes he's the guy in charge until the title character emerges from the shadows and blows everybody away.
I'm calling it Cheney.
[Posted 1:20 pm edt]
15 February 2006
Good guys win, good guys lose. I think I'm confused.
And lo, the voice of Scoats was heard throughout the land, as he checked in yesterday with a response to the posting on Monday (scroll down to Sometimes, the good guys don't win. But that's okay, which is about the return of Coors Light to the Grey Lodge taps):
Ah Coors Light on draft, what an odd thing. Apparently the bottles are no substitute for draft. Who knew? Thanks, pal. And as long as we're updating this story, kudos to a smarter beer writer than I, who emailed me yesterday to question that 4 barrel figure. Hey, what do I know? I just drink here.
We are bending over backwards to keep two longtime customers happy but it doesn't seem to have worked, so I expect this barrel of Coors Light will be the last. I think they are pissed off about something else and this is a more convenient excuse for them.
It's wonderful to attract folks from around the world but regulars are very important and deserve special treatment so I will play my part in this little drama by bringing back Coors Light at least for one barrel.
By the way, if we sold 4 barrels a week, I'd never take it off tap.
Macro draft sales for us have fallen for a number of reasons, one of the most important is that our bottles are lot colder, since we keep the draft at a temperature that is micro friendly.
I'd like to add that I agree with you that being a beer geek doesn't mean you have to be a beer snob. I have always tried to run the Grey Lodge with an all are welcomed attitude, and we're not changing that now. Drinking beer can be a wonderful uniter of people, snobbery only acts as divider and doesn't make Coors Light drinkers interested in trying real beer, if anything it makes them more committed to Coors Light.
Tell me how you feel.
Note that I've moved the email link from this page from the bottom of the left-hand column to just under the Ben Franklin quote to call attention to it and make it easier for you all to tell me what I'm doing wrong, or even right, and send me corrections, additional information and death threats (oh wait, those go over here.
I'm being encouraged in some quarters to add a forum section to the site where everybody can scream at one another and like that. Part of me says that way lies madness, another part thinks it would be great fun, not to mention filling those last few free hours I have every week keeping it under control.
[Posted 2:20 pm edt]
14 February 2006
All that, and a bag of chips.
Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny did not disappoint. It's quite a place, dark and pubby inside, with an amazing array of beers, plus an outside bar to serve pair of large terraces and a bandstand. I'm already dreaming of warm summer afternoons by the river sippin' fancy beers...and maybe showing an angler or two some beer love.
Head guy Tom Steigelmann told me that, in addition to the canoes and kayaks floating by during the warmer months, there are often guys out fishing the Manatawny on the other shore. "We send beer over to them," he laughed. "There's something hilarious about seeing a guy in waders with a fishing rod standing in the river drinking a bottle of Chimay."
Pause here to picture Big Dan rushing out buy waders and a fishing pole.
Tom owns the Manatawny location with his father, Jeff "Uncle Jeffie" Stiegelmann, who's been in the publican game for a long time and told me he and Tom's grandfather were running a beer bar back before there were beer bars (and there's a story in that which will appear elsewhere, someplace where I get, you know, paid).
This is the third Union Jack's, following the original in Glenside and one in Manayunk. Those two are each officially named Union Jack's Old Glory Pub, while this one bears the Inn designation I use above. "I did that to tie together both traditions of the family," explained Jeff. "Union Jack because Tom and his brothers' mother is from Liverpool and Old Glory for our American side."
Father and son both started working behind the bar at age 16 (shh, don't tell anybody) and clearly learned something about beer. All the word-of-mouth praise (and word-or-mouth is all they got, by the way, as they've done no advertising since opening three years ago) which has made the Manatawny location a serious destination bar for beer geeks is more than warranted.
During my visit Saturday, the 17 taps were pouring the likes of Russian River Benediction and Pliny the Elder (my choice for an early afternoon beer), Gulden Draak, McChouffe, Warsteiner Pils and local favorite such as Victory Old Horizontal, Troegs Mad Elf and Legacy Nor'Eastern Oatmeal Stout. Plus there's an impressive bottle list featuring recent additions from DeProef, Urthel, Fantome, Middle Ages, Sly Fox, Dogfish Head and Southampton Publick House. "We've got 287 bottles and I really want to get to 300," said Tom, "but I don't have the room to add anything at the moment."
In addition to all that, Union Jack's will soon be serving its own house beers, brewed by Legacy. These will be based upon recipes created by part-time bartender Matt Goodall, a Comcast employee who has been home brewing for years, Tom said. The first two will be Pig Swill Brown Ale and Hoptimus Primus, a double IPA. A wheat beer is planned for the summer and Uncle Jeffie, wandering through our conversation, made mention of Bollocks Bock.
Longer range plans call for the development of a business village on the site, which was once home to a fairgrounds/amusement park called Pheasantland Park (where, Tom said, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and other country stars often performed) and later the Pheasantland Rollerdome, now located across the street. And there's a second floor which now houses some conference rooms and an apartment (I offered to move in) into which the bar and restaurant may someday expand.
I used MapQuest to get to Union Jack's, thus taking that program's trademark "Great Circle Route," leaving me to believe it's out in the middle of nowhere. Not quite true, I determined, as I worked my way back home with the help of better directions from Amber, the bartender. Still, the apparently smashing success of a bar which concentrates on good beers out here in the sticks is worthy of note. "It was so crowded in here last weekend," said Tom, "that there was an hour's wait for a table. And while we sell our share of Coors Light and Yuengling Lager, a lot of the people are here for the better beers. As soon as word got out that we had Pliny on tap, a bunch of Beer Advocates drove up from Maryland just to try it. I love the people on that website; they're really good for us."
The success has come as something of a shock to local competitors, Jeff says. "When we were setting up, a lot of local bar owners laughed at me and asked 'what kind of people are you going to get in here to drink these beers?' I laughed right back at them and said 'the kind of people you'll never see.' Now I see they're all trying to upgrade their own beer lists, even if it's only adding Guinness Stout".
On the deck.
I'll be the old guy smiling happily. You can buy me a beer. And maybe we can send one across the river to Big Dan.
Hey, it kinda makes you wish you owned stock in the giant international candy/flowers/jewelry/greeting card cartel, don't it?
[Posted 1:50 pm edt]
13 February 2006
Sometimes, the good guys don't win. But that's okay.
I received this somewhat surprising email earlier this afternoon from a Grey Lodge insider:
Jack, after one week Coors Light is back on draft at the G-Lodge. The regulars had a revolt swore they'd stop coming in and its now back again on draft. I was surprised Michael 86'd it in the first place. I estimate the G-Lodge goes through four kegs a week. But I was more surprised how much grief the regulars gave him over pulling it.A couple of the daily day trippers told Michael to bring back Coors Light draft or they'd go somewhere else on Frankford Ave.They refused to drink it in bottles.For what it's worth, I don't think this is the sort of battle worth fighting anyway. If what it takes to keep your pub/restaurant/retail store profitable and in business so I can enjoy the benefits thereof, is catering (within reasonable limits) to a segment of the customer base which I'm not part of, please do so. Everybody. Really.
I'm much more interested in the thoughts and conversation of the guy or gal next to me at the bar than in the beer being consumed at that seat. I do reserve the right to make fun of your "not-beer" if I know you, of course. Otherwise, drink and let drink.
Or put it another way: the customer may not always be right but he's always the customer.
[Posted 4:15 pm edt]
Add two more to the A-B wish list.
Andy Crouch has found two more micros who admit to being approached by Anheuser-Busch about working an equity deal to make them part of the A-B distribution network.
You know, if it weren't for the "equity" part of the equation, and assuming that A-B wholesalers would actually pay attention to the brands (given today's climate, with Bud sales flat, I'd have to think they would), getting into that big distribution capability wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
The trick, I guess, would be to do it without any formal relationship with A-B at all. I kinda suspect at least one brewery is already, to a degree, pulling that off. As I get a chance, I'll see if I can pin anything down so I can say it all out loud.
[Posted 10:53 am edt]
11 February 2006
Best laid plans and all that.
So what's the status of that posting about Anheuser-Busch advertising that I've been promising and promising?
How do they put it? Oh yeah...
Some people do put it somewhat more, um, strongly, but this is a family-friendly site. A beer-drinking family, of course--Finish your lager, Junior, or no barleywine for you at bedtime.
Ah, the memories, the memories...
Okay, vamping over, straight talk now in effect.
The Big Thing that happened was yesterday morning when my computer didn't quite crash but had a serious lock-up as Windows went into one of its periodic I can't take this any longer, I am SO confused modes.
I was left with nothing to do but push the reboot button. Solve the lock-up problem it did; send into oblivion the two-week old, unsaved, unnamed text file in which I had been gathering links, quotes and thoughts about A-B's decision to lead (with few eager followers so far) a Big Bland campaign to upgrade the image of beer, that it also did.
Hey, it's not really that big a loss. Much of what I was going to say is being said by others. Bryson, for example, has a nice take on the topic over at Kerry Byrne's fine Cold, Hard Football Facts.com
(and also a nicely sentimental bit the sad demise of Schnitzel's Tavern elsewhere on that same site)--which makes most of my points, albeit without my elegant turns of phrases and insights.
The dichotomy between trying to reposition beer as a sophisticated, classy beverage in one set of TV spots while continuing to undercut that image with the same old, same old sophomoric (albeit often highly amusing) Bud Light fare in another series of TV spots really struck me as a sign of either an institutional blindspot or institutional posturing, take your pick.
One bit of my research that did not disappear into the void and which I haven't seen much talk about was
this story from last Saturday's Boston Herald which notes that
The beer industry is lightening up when it comes to romance and flirting. Both may now be included in advertising and marketing under a new code adopted by the Beer Institute, a trade group that recommends brewer guidelines. It strikes me that relaxed standards might lend themselves quite nicely to more sophisticated "beer belongs" adverts...and just as readily to typically misogynistic and infantile beer adverts as we know them today.
The previous code advised beer companies not to portray “sexual passion, promiscuity or any other amorous activity as a result of consuming beer” in commercials and other advertising. The new guidelines, meantime, advise against “sexually explicit” activity, and add graphic nudity to the list of prohibitions.
The Beer Institute also added a qualifier when it comes to lewd or indecent language and images. No-nos under the old code, the new guidelines stipulate those standards should be weighed based on “the context presented and the medium in which the material appears.”
Therein will lie the truth about what's really going on. Let's watch and see.
Off to the Manatawny.
In couple hours, with great anticipation, I'm off for my first visit to Union Jack's on the Manatawny, which is about half an hour up the road from here in Boyerstown. I have to tell you, I'm hard pressed to think of any beer venue about which all reports have been so overwhelmingly favorable--indeed, ecstatically enthusiastic would not be overstating it. Big Lew was so taken with the place after his first visit recently that he reminded me of nothing so much as a teenage girl screeching Oh my God! Oh my God! after walking into a brand new shopping mall when he told me about it. I kid you not, although that image may be understandably unsettling.
I've heard a lot about you, I said to head guy Tom Steigelmann when I called him earlier this week to set up a meet this afternoon. That's okay, I've heard a lot about you too, was his laughing response.
Sounds like fun, don't it?
[Posted 10:15 am edt]
10 February 2006
Because even I can dither and procrastinate only so long, the Anheuser-Busch distribution story is now posted.
Rumors began developing late last year that A-B was wooing a half dozen or so successful microbreweries to its distribution system, and they turned out to be the smoke that indicates fire. Most industry observers feel that the driving force behind the move is not to become a player in the craft beer segment per se, but to find new income sources for its distribution network in what are, for mainstream brewers at least, bad times...We have an exclusive interview with Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione as part of the piece, as well as an official denial from Victory that they've ever been contacted, much less talked about a deal with A-B.
Go read. Make Matt happy.
[Posted 8:58 am edt]
9 February 2006
Mystery Pils mystery no more.
As I said the other day, I enjoyed a pint of Troegs Mystery Pils #2 during a stop at Drafting Room Exton on Saturday and wanted to know more about it.
Ask and I shall receive, as they say. Here's brewmaster John Trogner:
What it comes down to is we wanted a pils to drink in the abnormally warm winter we were having. So I ordered up a new yeast and German Northern Brewer hops along with Czech Saaz and brewed one up. 5.9%abv and 47IBU American Pils malts are the meat of it. I also wanted to try a different mash and hopping schedule and this was the perfect type of beer for it. Which, I guess, makes DF Exton a "place in the know." Don't anybody tell Patrick. I'm not sure he could stand the pressure...
The mp2 is really freaking good! Bittering hops hang forever on the side of your tongue! We hope to do little single batches every couple of months for fun. It's really just for us but there will be a few places in the know that will be able to get some.
Web stuff (including a new "evil empire" link)
I've added a link to Here's To Beer, the new Beer Institute website which features the Anheuser-Busch paid-for "beer image" TV spot which ran during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to the LDO Link List on the left side of this page. I'll be very curious to see what develops there.
Meanwhile, unless things fall apart, I will have the Beer Yard story on A-B's Wonderful Distribution Adventures up later today and that will free me up to do the report on A-B's Even More Wonderful Advertising Adventures here tomorrow or Saturday.
And I'll be meeting with the web designers to facilitate some changes to the Sly Fox site early next week, to make it simpler and easier to use, because there will be lots of news developing there in the next couple of months (maybe even a "palace coup" by Tim Ohst when O'Reilly heads off on his honeymoon at the end of February). Not that I'm sitting around waiting for all that to happen. Yesterday I put up the first report about IPA Project 2006 on the Sly Fox News Page. A story on the new canning line will go up there as early as next week (when it's scheduled to arrive). That'll also show up at the Beer Yard 'cause it's, y'know, news.
The coolest changes of all, from my perspective at least, will be expansion of coverage both here at LDO and at the Beer Yard site. At the latter, you'll just see more, and more frequent, stories and events listings and, I hope, even better new beer listings and descriptions. Around here, you'll see some revamping to make the site even easier to use, although it will be perhaps not a month or two before that happens.
[Posted 11:14 am edt]
8 February 2006
A great, and depressing, loss.
From Richard Ruch, the sad news that the historic Bush House in Bellefonte, and with it, Schnitzel's Tavern, burnt to the ground this morning. The story is here.
Schnitzel's was a popular gathering place for a lot of people I know following the afternoon session of the State College MicroBrewers & Importers Exposition each July. I was only there once and it was a wonderful place indeed. As Richard wrote in his email earlier today:
What a jewel, a hidden treasure of great, authentic German cuisine and beers. The summer afternoons we have spent sitting in the small outdoor patio area along the Spring Creek were a sheer delight. Well, we are all lucky in that we have experienced the joy and pleasure of Schnitzel's. It will be sorely mourned and missed.indeed. I'm glad I had at least one opportunity to have whiled away a few enjoyable hours there.
[Posted 1:10 pm edt]
6 February 2006
My work here is done.
Well, insofar as posting my column and book review from Celebrator Beer News anyway. The rest of the stuff I promised, need to finish, on the horizon...? Time will tell. My daughter just called with a family problem and I have to spend a couple of hours over at her place babysitting. Not sure how much I can achieve on her computer.
Anyway, I've posted the new Atlantic Ale Trail (which features young, virginal hops, all wet and willing; the strange and terrifying story of the mysterious Frankenfiller )with pictures), and promises of miracles in aluminum coming soon from the saintly figure some men call "Jesus of Royersford") and my review of Beer School for your reading pleasure...or to keep your minds off what I haven't posted.
I'll also put up the first installment of a new weekly Beer Yard feature in a little while. It's called Monday Morning Brew and it will show up right here every week.
At least, that's the plan. You know how my plans sometimes go...
Also, Lew Bryson's monthly email newsletter, The Occasional Pint, has lots of good stuff this time, including a list of the folks who went on that Bavarian junket which reveals that Mid-Atlantic Brewing News editor Greg Kitsock was among them. Having mentioned Celebrator's Tom Dalldorf and Ale Street News' Tony Forder, I don't want to overlook Greg. I mean, sucking up to editors is part of the game.
You can sample and then subscribe to The Occasional Pint here. How can yoy resist?
[Posted 8:45 am edt]
5 February 2006
Ain't gonna happen.
I promised to post comments on Anheuser-Busch's new advertising campaigns here today. Not gonna happen, not now. I'll have something up this week, but several stories have broken over the last 72 hours or so which change the big picture and I want to be sure to have a handle on things before I spout off.
But don't wait for me. Keep an eye out in the fourth quarter of tonight's Super Bowl (if you're still watching by then) for an A-V commercial promoting "beer" rather than A-B beers. It's the first shot in a new effort to reposition beer against wine and spirits that the St. Louis folks are trying to get all the Big Blands to buy into.
Oh, about the Super Bowl? My heart says Pittsburgh, but if I were a betting man, I'd go with Seattle and the points.
Return of the beer rags.
Another reason I didn't get to the A-B stuff this week (the promised Beer Yard story on their efforts to add some craft breweries to their distribution arms isn't up yet either) is that I spent some time, starting Friday afternoon, getting the new Celebrator Beer News out to
Sly Fox Royersford (giving me a chance to sample Ichor right out of the tank, yowzah!, before it gets bottled in a couple of weeks);
Sly Fox Phoenixville (where I grabbed a mid-afternoon Incubus 2002, and I hope you got there early Friday night if that was your intention as well because bar guy Corey Reid told me he'd already gone through at least 40 servings as of 2pm: At one point I looked down the bar, he said, and everybody there had an Incubus in front of them);
Victory Brewing (where, with exquisite timing, I ran into the lovely and talented Steve German, who was kind enough to stand me to a pint of the just-released and superb Braumeister Pils - Saaz, which I ended up bringing home in a growler for consumption during tonight's game, along with--but not for tonight unless things go really awry--a six-pack of Dark Lager and a bottle of V Saison), and
Drafting Room Exton (where I got a shot at Troegs Mystery Pils #2 (which, I have been assured by the invaluable Ed Yashinsky I will get the straight skinny on come tomorrow, right from the (John) Trogner's mouth).
And shortly after getting this all posted and expertly seasoning a nice small whole chicken and putting it into the slow cooker to go with tonight's Pils--and, okay, perhaps a nip of fine wine as well--I'm off to the city, to drop off Celebrators at the doorsteps of Monk's Cafe and Nodding Head and then swing down to Standard Tap with the last batch, just in time to enjoy Sunday brunch. Sunday mornings at the Tap bar are as good a time and place to drink in Philadelphia as there is, trust me.
The new CBN has my regular "Atlantic Ale Trail" column, of course, and also this time my review of Beer School by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. I'll get both of those up on site real soon now, maybe even late this afternoon.
The current issues of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and Ale Street News are also out--you'd think one of these publications would switch its schedule and appear in a month when it could have all the attention for itself, wouldn't you?.
There's lots of coverage of Bavarian beers and breweries this time around because of that press junket late last year (which I couldn't have gone on even if I'd been invited, what with the moving and all, but which I sure wish I had--gone, or been invited, either or both), because both CBN's Tom Dalldorf and ASN's Tony Forder were on the trip (so was You Know Who, and he'll get right on his Bavarian coverage as soon as he finishes writing about our trip to Czech Republic last March--and, okay, that was a cheap shot...for which I'm sure I'll pay). Also many words in MABN and ASN by Stan Hieronymus, offering some excellent and very readable coverage of the Belgian beer scene.
All that, plus you'll learn the identities of the three, count 'em, three, guys it takes to replace Big Lew's Pennsylvania/Mid-Atlantic/Delaware/
Maryland/DC/Washington/Virginia coverage. It's amazing how the guy was able to do all that (I'm working here to make sure that anticipated return cheap shot isn't too destructive). Splitting the thing into three columns certainly makes it easier on the reader, I have to admit.
Time to go and have that brunch...
[Posted 10:05 am edt]
Ain't gonna happen...more reasons why.
Hard to believe, but I got a late start for the city after posting the above. That meant that Nodding Head, my first stop, was already open, which was a bit or a surprise. More surprising was find the inimitable Spanky, if not the city's best bar manager, certainly a guy who's close enough for gummint work, already on duty of an early morning. Most surprising was finding Gordon "Gordo" Grubb, not at all an Angry Brewer, also on premises.
Spanky asked his usual gonna have a beer?, a suggestion I usually have to refuse when making these drops, because I double park on narrow Sansom Street right outside the door, but today I was lucky enough to find space by a fire hydrant and trusted to my luck that the meter maids weren't on the prowl early Sunday, and acquiesced. Besides, there was a beer I needed to try, the Gold Medal winning George's Choice, which went on late last month.
Loyal LDO reader Bryan Kolesar, who now and again posts his thoughts on beer here, alerted me about a week ago that he didn't think the version on tap was the same as the one which won at GABF. I checked that with Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel and learned that indeed it wasn't, that a bag of cara-pils malt was added by mistake, rather than basic pils malt as called for in the recipe. I told Grubb, who acknowledged the error gracefully, offering as defense only that the bags look exactly the same except for the names on them and I just picked up the wrong one, that they should rename the beer Gordo's Fault.
Actually, the difference is primarily in the color (darker) and some additional sweetness and GF (whichever first name is used) was just fine, albeit not the beer I'd usually chose for the first of the day, especially in mid-morning.
Gordo said as I was leaving, when I brew it next time, maybe I'll go for a version midway between the two.
I think he was kidding. What he wasn't kidding about was the Chocolate Stout, which he insisted I also sample. Yummy, as they say, and made with real chocolate, what a concept.
Around the corner at Monk's Cafe, I was forced to double part and so it was a quick in and out as originally planned. Can you believe it, even though not a person or the premises knew or cared who I was, I was greeted by happy smiles and friendly servers. At Monk's! Why, I'll be a simian servant (I done a lot of inside jokes in my years here, folks, but that may be the insider-est).
Finally, Standard Tap, pausing on the block-long walk from my parking space (I remember the days when you could count on one right in front of the door almost) to peer into the site that any-day-now-promise will be the new Foodery, where a guy was staining some woodwork. Still a ways to go but cold cases are lining the rear wall and the basic structure for a central work area is in place. Can't wait.
At the Tap, I ordered a pint of Yards ESA from the handpump and settled my this-or-that debate about what to eat with input from the staff and ordered the ham and potato hash. It came topped with a goodly portion of fresh spinach and was grand. A post-meal pint of Yards Love Stout was a fine conclusion to the mid-day's work, as was an easy and uneventful 35-minute drive home on near empty roads. I didn't think it was possible to travel that fast from the far side of the city to way out here in the 'burbs (I'm actually closer to Reading than King of Prussia), but I guess this was an example of how all these expressways and limited access roads would actually work if they weren't designed for last decade's traffic volumes and outdated before they ever opened.
The chicken's almost done, the beer is cold and I am so outta here, cyberspacedly speaking...
[Posted 5:19 pm edt]
3 February 2006
Kunda/Friedland: another view.
When I posted my Beer Yard story on the acquisition of Edward I. Friedland by Kunda Beverage last weekend, I noted that it was, to my knowledge, the first print coverage of the event. When I was talking with Skip Kunda, however, he did mention that he'd been contacted by a writer from the City Paper.
The result of that was published Wednesday (read here), in a story by CP staff writer Dorron Taussig. Well, not exactly the result of that call, since Kunda told me "I answered his first question, then thought better of it and told him I didn't want to be interviewed." I presume that one answer is the one quoted in Taussig's story, attributed to his brother, Tim.
Indeed, Taussig approaches the story from the other side, talking to folks like Scoats, Tom Peters and Yards' Bill Barton, all of whom expressed muted reservations about the changeover, and Sam Calagione, who calls it "a step in the right direction." Truth to tell, I started out my own coverage in the same fashion, but switched to a more direct approach when I found that both Kunda and Ed Friedland were willing to talk to me. It seemed better to get the story direct from the principals and talk with other parties later. I've already interviewed a couple of the people mentioned above, as well as others and will use that material as the story develops.
In any case, the CP story brings another perspective and additional information to the table and I figured you'd want to know about it.
[Posted 11:30 am edt]
2 February 2006
All the news that's fit to print (electronically speaking).
Well, not quite all the news, but I did put up a trio of stories today at The Beer Yard site, 'cause that's what I do. You can, and ought to, go read them.
The stories are about the impending opening of a long-awaited brewpub in Malvern, a neat and revealing statistical accomplishment by the guys out in Downingtown and the latest from that guy down in "slower Delaware" we hear about now and then.
And, oh yeah, over here is where I tell you all about how I didn't get to this morning's beer event at the Grey Lodge. Bummer.
Tomorrow is another day Dept.
How long can this manic posting pace go on? Let's see when I crash and burn. On the morrow, or certainly over the weekend, I'll be writing in some depth (not easy, given how few people are talking) about whatever it is that's behind the Anheuser-Busch efforts to get some prominent craft breweries into its distribution system. That'll be at The Beer Yard site.
And I'll also, in less depth but with more fun conjecture, take a look at some decidedly mixed signals from those same folks with regard to their advertising, at the Super Bowl and beyond. That'll be right here.
It'll be a Two-fer (personally, I'd prefer a Noon-er, but you gotta go with what ya got).
Ripping off Joe SixPack.
This posting was conceived with a bottle of Legacy Hedonism and written with a bottle of Troegs Nugget Nectar. Both are great beers and I commend them to you without qualification. Man, is it a Really Good Thing to live in these parts, or what?
[Posted 5:05 pm edt]
1 February 2006
Old friends. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
How is it, I am asked all too often by people with an astonishing amount of free time on their hands (might I suggest here, by the way, that you all should be effusively thankful that I'm tying that free time up), that Lew Bryson and I are such good buddies, given that we are competitors?
Only sort of competitors, they then immediately point out, because, well, Lew has all that good stuff going for him like his books and his whiskey writing and his recognizability, while I am, you know, just sort of scrabbling along, week to week, apparently a few hours away from being reduced to eating canned dog food and...
You get the picture.
The answer is complicated, involving the following factors to one degree or another:
A) Lew dotes on my every word and is like a Boswell to my Sam Johnson, to the point where he is actually stalking me (for the culturally deprived, that Boswell/Sam Johnson thing means...oh, forget it, just roll with it)
Okay, example A) is something of an exaggeration. Lew would never stalk me. He'd be too easy to spot.
B) Hey, the guy encouraged, promoted and seemed to enthusiastically encourage my wrestling with his wife, what's not to like?
C) The pay is low and we crave the understanding of literary compatriots.
With that out of the way, I will now offer another "good buddy" post.
Because I want to.
Because I can.
So, my deep gratitude and (manly) affection to Mr. Bryson for pointing out that this comment--
Last week was sort of an end of an era here at the Grey Lodge Pub, when Coors Light kicked, it was replaced by Anchor Liberty Ale. After 11.5 years as the Grey Lodge, and 55 years here, we have no macros on tap--offered by the inimitable Scoats (for whom both Lew and I also have a great affection, but not that way, at least on my part), is clearly a result of my having scribbled NOT BEER! on a little table-tent plastic thingee in front of the Coors tap one night a couple of years ago.
As Lew just emailed me
Your voodoo finally worked!At least, I think that's what he was talking about.
I certainly hope so.
All the possible alternatives are really scary.
[Posted 12:08 am edt]
The complete January 2006 postings have been archived here.
[Posted 8:12 pm edt, 1 February 2006]
Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
--A. E. Houseman
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