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by Jack Curtin

I drink no cider,
but feast on Philadelphia beer.

--John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail


ARCHIVE: JANUARY 2003


How Can You Miss Me If I Won't Go Away? Yep, still here, still struggling to figure out how to make this work and still using good beer to elevate my consciousness to the proper philosophical level to deal with those issues. Whatever gets you through, you know?

Not that there's much to talk about this week. Like most everyone else, I just blundered through and made it to 2003. Since we got here, it's been raining or snowing every day, too much of the former to be tolerable, not quite enough of the latter to be any fun at all. Will this wretched year ever end?

Before it even started, a week ago this very day, I overcame my (admittedly unnatural) aversion to the fine city of Pottstown (wherein I always get hopelessly lost) and wended my way over hill and dale to the abode of the Big Fella, Dan, of Dan & Steve fame (whose sad but comic tale I won't recount here yet again in deference to the children, except to note that Dan is the big one which makes Steve, well, um, the Other One).

The Big Fella has this nice year's end tradition of gathering together his nearest and dearest (fortunately not a large group) to share the bounty, fine bottles of brew, mostly in the 750mm size, which he's accumulated. I went (bringing along big bottle of Victory Golden Monkey) not just for the beer, of course, but also to determine if the Other One would follow through on his pledge to contribute the bottle of Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine he dragooned from my stock the night of Friday the Firkenteenth (see December 2002 archives). He did indeed and further redeemed his tattered reputation by also contributing a pound or so of extraordinary prosciutto which he had purchased in Rome earlier in the month (a question: if these guys are my posse, how come they're living a better life than I am?).

Here's an incomplete list of what was poured during the afternoon. I, sensibly, left midway through, and know for sure there was a Christmas ale from someplace in New England and one or two other bottles I sample including most, but not all of these:

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA & 60 Minute IPA (small bottles for the latter) and the aforementioned Olde School; hand-bottled Sly Fox Saison Vos & Incubus Tripel; Old Bart Winter Warmer & Trubbel de Yards; Brewery Ommegang's Abbey Ale & Hennepin; Sierra Nevada Big Foot Ale (2001 & 2002 vintages, small bottles); Allagash Grand Cru Reserve & Dubbel Reserve, and, oh yeah, two bottles of Chimay Grand Reserve, just shy of three years old.

Hell of a way to end the old year. And I didn't get lost on the way home.

On New Year's Eve, I fulfilled a commitment made to Sam Calagione during a telephone conversation earlier in the day and popped a bottle of WorldWide Stout at 11:55 PM. It beats champagne, let me tell you.

Friday was the first Friday of the new year and thus the first Friday of January which made it Incubus Friday at Sly Fox, (where the new website is finally up, by the way; there's still lots of work to be done, but let me know what you think so far). That's the day each month Brian O'Reilly deigns to let the masses consume his Incubus Tripel (some guys just don't handle power well).

Given the weather, which actually wasn't all that bad but it had been predicted to be awful and this is the Philadelphia area where even the hint of snow can cause mass consternation, if not hysteria, the place wasn't as full as usual on these occasions. Thus we were speculating that for once the keg wouldn't kick when damned if it didn't, albeit about an hour later than usual. Looking around the room and trying to figure it out, I came to the conclusion that the lunch and afternoon crowd is consuming a helluva lot of this beer, which has to make you wonder exactly what goes on at the office once they get back there.

Last night I had a bottle of Ancient Ommegang with dinner. This is the cave-aged version of Brewery Ommegang's namesake Abbey Ale. Cave aging is an old time method for storing new beer and allowing it to mellow, something that died away with the invention of refrigeration. This bottle was kept in a cave at Howe Caverns at a depth of 156 feet and constant temperature of 52 degrees from February 28, 2001 until September 22, 2002. I really couldn't tell much difference from the refrigerated bottles, although this one could have been slightly smoother and did go down real nice.

But here's the thing. The tag on the bottle (which I should acknowledge was a gift from Matt Guyer of The Beer Yard ), says it was "one of only 1,716" cave-aged bottles. And the bottom of the tag indicates that it is "bottle #1834." Lord, I do love the beer world. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
[posted Sunday, January 5, 2003 3:50 pm est]
[end]

My Belgian Week: Kerst Pater, Malheur 10, Het Kapittel Abt. The latest shipment from Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium Club arrived this week, bringing with it a dozen bottles of the Christmas release, Kerst Pater Special Winter Ale, a very fine malty brew from the Van Den Bossche Brewery.

This is one of those beers whose alcohol content is downright sneaky. It came off the UPS truck nicely chilled and it was 4 in the afternoon so I figured what the hell. I always sample each selection as it comes in (unlike one of the partners I share these shipments with, who's apparently saving all his for some undetermined special occasion) and sipping a festive brew while tapering off the labors of a cold rainy afternoon seemed nicely appropriate.

Indeed.

It was only after I realized that I was staring dreamily at my computer screen and not getting much done at all that I thought to check the ABV. 9%. Uh-huh.

As a Christmas beer, this was a little late, of course, but there's a reason for that. Beer by mail affronts the delicate sensibilities of those who administer Pennsylvania's arcane liquor laws--what doesn't?--and so shipments have to go to a willing accomplice in another venue (one of the rare arguments for the existence of New Jersey).

Is club membership worth that extra effort? Some months yes, some no. The appeal is a chance to taste beers not yet readily accessible in the U.S., but that is offset by the fact that the best of the club selections increasingly do tend to become easily available (at least at better beer outlets) within a matter of a few months, if not weeks. For example, both Hapkin and St. Bernardus Abt 12 showed up on these shores just about the same time our shipments of each arrived.

In any case, undoubtedly inspired by Kerst Pater's arrival, I decided last night that I would open bottles of two earlier club selections, one for each half, while I watched the Philadelphia Eagles beat (not as easily as I had imagined) the Atlanta Falcons and move one step closer to the Super Bowl.

The brew for the first half was Malheur 10, a 10& ABV blond ale which was brewed to mark the 2000 Millennium. As I recall, this selection was a late addition to the lineup, a substitution for a beer that became unavailable. Malheur Brut Reserve, a unique, thrice-fermented beer with champagne yeast added the on the third go-round, was a earlier selection. That one came in 750mm bottles and I've still one in hand. Maybe for the Super Bowl itself...

The second half I watched while sipping Het Kapittel Abt, another 10% ABV beer, slightly darker in color and less carbonated than the Malheur. I presume most of you reading here know this, but just in case: "abt" is short for "abbot" and is considered the best beer produced by a Trappist monastery and therefore intended for the head Abbot.

The good guys won, the beer was special. I've spent worse Saturday nights.

One Shoe Drops, One Still in Hand. The badly-kept secret that Sly Fox is planning a new enterprise of some sort is now out there so that even the totally clueless are aware. You can read about it either here or over here.

One shoe to go: where and when will this happen? Keep tuned.

Report From the Front Lines: the Bryson Wars. Some folks are whacking our pal Lew Bryson upside the head in this silly thread over on PubCrawler and he's fighting back with equal vigor. Lew even tossed my name into the mix at one point to try and distract the wolf pack (to no avail, of course, which is one of the benefits of my basic anonymity). Nonetheless, I'll stand the poor embattled soul a beer next time our paths cross. My theory on this sort of imbroglio? Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas...
[posted Sunday, January 12, 2003 1:50 pm est]
[end]

The Wildest Night in a Dead Scottish Poet's Life. Okay, I warned you a couple of weeks back that I'm now doing some web work and promotional support for Sly Fox, so maybe you want to take this with the proverbial grain of salt, but I'm here to tell you this morning that the Robbie Burns Birthday Bash was all that and a lot more.

Hell, you don't have to take my word for it. Here's a link to the story which ran Saturday morning in The Phoenix, a local daily. Front page story at that, with three photos (not shown on this link), including one of our pal Lew Bryson in his "Indiana Jones" does "Percy Dovetail" persona. You can see that front page story and a slew of other photos here.

It was a great night, with more folks clad in kilts and willing to climb atop the bar to do a reading than you might imagine. I topped things off by sitting down to dinner (a fine, perfectly prepared steak from chef Paul Santos' kitchen) with Lew, his wife Kathy and PR-guy-extraordinaire Rich Pawlak.

Brian O'Reilly's Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale, which debuted on cask and then draft as part of the evening's celebration, was damned fine.

But you already knew that.

Gather Round and I'll Tell Inspiring Stories of a Regular Gig at Celebrator. As some of you know, my primary outlet for beer writing the last couple of years, following my resignation from the "Eastern/Central Pennsylvania" column for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News (an assignment now done better than ever by Dale Van Wieren) and my kiss-of-death stints with the now deceased Barleycorn and Beer & Tavern Chronicle as Philadelphia area editor and writer, has been Celebrator Beer News.

Not exactly slumming, you know? Celebrator is the best brewspaper extant and appearing in their pages looks real nice on the resume. The only weakness in that whole deal (aside from the obvious one that not many folks hereabouts get to read my deathless prose in a West Coast publication) has been that coming up with a major feature story worthy of a sale was not always easy and I got to write maybe four stories a year. That's about to change.

Starting with the April/May issue, I'll be doing a regular Philadelphia and environs column for Celebrator, assuming lovable publisher Tom Dalldorf comes back alive from the Alaska Barleywine Festival where he's drinking fine, high-octane brews this weekend. We're still working out length, format and exactly what "environs" constitutes, so I can't tell you much more at this point. I'll post links to columns as they appear online, of course, and eventually post them here as well. And maybe we'll take a shot at getting better circulation of the magazine in this area, which would be a Good Thing even aside from my own desperate need for attention....

Sam Calagione Channels Woody. Dogfish Head's founder and guiding light, who's already gained international fame as a brewer, bon vivant, slacks model, TV personality and babe magnet, has of late embarked on yet another venture, monologuist and alternate-universe Woody Guthrie channeller. No, I am not making this up.

Inspired by a passing comment Guthrie once made in an obscure interview about his abortive experimenting with home-brewing (Sam is nothing if not eclectic in his reading), Calagione has created a one-man show that debuted at one of his favorite venues, The Brickskeller in Washington, DC last December and has since been offered at Dogfish Head's Rehoboth Brewpub as well. Here's one reviewer's description:

In his one-man stage show, Calagione explores what might have happened if Guthrie had elected to become a brewer instead of a songwriter. In Calagionešs version of history, Guthrie joins the Merchant Marines and at each port in Europe trades one of his songs for a different yeast strain. Guthrie hatches a plan with his hobo brethren to set up breweries and brewpubs throughout the United States, to provide an alternative to thin corporate beers. Eventually, he forms a union called the Brotherhood of the Dogfish. "To brew the beer of the people is to mobilize!" he asserts.

Sam's bringing his act to Philadelphia on February 5, at Novelty Restaurant. You can get the details, and read the Guthrie comment that inspire all this, in the Events listing at The Beer Yard.

You Think He'd Alert His Pals, Wouldn't You? While you and I weren't looking, damned if Big Lew didn't sneak online and create Lew Bryson's Site of Malt Beverage Delight. I'm inclined to point out that this is a great site, filled with the joy found in good beer and the enthusiasm that makes Lew's writing so much fun to read, but I'm a mean-spirited sort who hates it when somebody tops me at my own game, not to mention deeply offended by his secretive ways, so I won't. Hah! That'll show him.
[posted Sunday, January 19, 2003 11:15 am est]
[end]

San Francisco Bound? A slow week, this one, with most of my attention focused on what seems likely to be happening in mid-February. It's about 75 percent definite at this point that I'll be flying out to San Francisco on Valentine's weekend to attended the 15th Anniversary Party for Celebrator Beer News. Once I found out that part of the evening will be parading us writers up on stage for adulation and admiration, I was pretty much committed. A man do need his affirmation now and then and the posse has been downright weak in that area of late.

To make it feasible, of course, I had to find some honest work to do out there and so far I've arranged to report on the Barley Wine Festival at the Toronado (one of the city's, and the nation's, best beer bars) and the new venture of Pete Slosberg, who has morphed from "Wicked Pete" into "Cocoa Pete".

There are other proposals in the hopper, at least some of which will hopefully come to fruition, and a possible day trip to Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which my likely traveling companion (who is almost certain to get me into more trouble than I could manage on my own) is hot for.

Is This Still Just a Wild Rumor, or a Story Confirmed? Damned If I Know. Here's an email I received this week from one of our many faithful readers. The content is edited slightly to protect the guilty:

I was out in Pittsburgh yesterday (don't ask) and ran into [someone involved in craft brewing]. First thing he said to me was, "How about that Jim Anderson?" ...I wittily said, "Huh? What about him?" Well...it appears the Scotland pub rumor you heard early last year was true. He's sold his house...and will be moving to Scotland soon to take over an inn, restaurant, public house combo.

Now here's my conundrum. Several months back, that swell human being and paycheck signer, Matt Guyer, picked up the story from one of his customers at The Beer Yard a story that Anderson, the long-time Philadelphia beer journalist and promoter (Beer Philadelphia ), was pulling up stakes and moving to Scotland to run his own pub.

I immediately emailed Jim to ask if it was true. No response. So I called or emailed several other knowledgeable folks in the beer community to see what they knew. Nobody knew nuttin' and those who emailed Jim in turn with the question reported that their inquiries went unanswered as well.

Given that this wasn't exactly the King of England giving up his throne or, say, George W. Bush admitting he actually bought his "beloved" Crawford ranch in Texas the year before the 2000 Election in order to enhance his cowboy image, I let it go at that point.

I've only seen Jim twice since then, and when I had a chance to bring this up at the second instance, during a beer dinner at Monk's, I did so obliquely, gentle soul that I am. I answered his non-committal response to a question about what he was doing of late, with "I've tried to tell people what you're up to, but nobody will listen." He just smiled.

So is it true or a rumor run amuck? Only Jim Anderson knows. Maybe he'll tell us.

Or maybe not.

Speaking of Monk's......as I just was, I missed out on the Anchor Beer Dinner this past Wednesday. I've been invited to a lot of Monk's events, and not others, and sometimes even (breaking the beer writer code) paid my own way, but this was the first time I can remember that I had to tell Tom Peters I was unable to attend. I'm pretty sure that's accurate, because he seemed as stunned as I was. These are the moments that try men's souls...

On the other hand, I did manage to discover (through a source who chooses not to be revealed), the story which you'll find here about a Monk's "event" coming soon to your neighborhood. If you live in a neighborhood which is served by a good beer distributor, that is.

Another Monk's note: they will not be actively participating in The Book & The Cook this year. Anyone who has heard Tom's rant on the subject probably knows why. Not to fear, though: Monk's will still hold its Michael Jackson and Stephen Beaumont dinners as it has for the past five years and be a part of the post-Jackson tasting sessions open tastings in the University of Pennsylvania Museum. It just won't be "official."

The way I see it, if you manage to score ticket and attend one of those dinners, that makes you an outlaw. Cool.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide. Here's the link to Friday's Joe Sixpack column. Those who read it in the print version will note that it is missing the interesting news that Sly Fox is actually opening their new brewpub in Columbus, Ohio, an erroneous (to say the least) report which was based upon a, shall we say, careless reading of this news release. This is called "scrubbing," which translates as changing an internet document so that your mistakes disappear. Hey, I've done myself, on occasion. It happens, ya know?

I do wonder, though, as long as he was fixing things, why Joe left up that sentence about Lancaster Brewing closing in 2001.

Geez, that figures to be two beer writers I've annoyed this morning and neither of them were Bryson. That's just not right.
[posted Sunday, January 26, 2003 11:45 am est]
[end]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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