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30 June 04
Busy, busy, busy...
Not much posting this week so far, and that'll probably continue until at least Friday. I spent Monday and Tuesday writing the next Atlantic Ale Trail for Celebrator Beer News; today is end-of-the-month shipping day for Jacey Services, my mail order service, and tomorrow I have to go to The Beer Yard to catch up on all the computer stuff before Guyer gets back from playing Boy Scouts in Arizona.

Meanwhile, you might want to pop over to the Sly Fox site where I've just uploaded the new menu debuting today. For the next couple of days, I've turned the Fox site into a "free-form experience," ignoring any standard structure to take advantage of what I have to work with. I may keep it that way through the summer or go back to a more standard approach. We'll see. Next thing I have to put up, if I can work out the html code to install an onsite viewer which will allow you to see them, are blueprints of the Royersford brewery and pub. Stay tuned.

When I do get back to having some time for some serious posting here, I'll be adding a new section and revamping another one. Tom Dalldorf, one of the most honest and ethical editors I've ever worked with, which means he understands and embraces the concept of "first publication rights," what he buys from me, has given permission for me to post my CBN material here and I'll do just that. I'll hold anything from the current issue for a week or two after they see print, then put 'em up. Plus there's a year-plus worth of backlog to work with at present. Dalldorf also tells me that they're working even now to get the CBN back to current status so that last issue goes up when the new one comes out, so that more good news for your online reading pleasure.

In addition to creating of that new section here, I'll be adding some new (old" stories to the area where the Beer Features link up at the top of this page takes you. I'll also change that link's title, as one visitor has told me it's misleading because it leads him to expect new material. No unfilled expectations allowed around here any more.

Finally, I have notes from this week's Monday Tasting in hand and want to get those up. By Friday for sure, but I may try to squeeze 'em in tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Now, you all be good and play nice until I get back. And don't spill any beer on the floor. Last thing I need is a pair of drunken dogs...

[Posted 10:50 am edt]

27 June 04
(Amended 28 June 04)
The Great Contretemps: Peters, Covaleski weigh in. And, finally, so do I.
While it took longer than I expected to get them posted, for which I have already apologized, I have statements from Tom Peters of Monk's Café and Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing Company about the controversy which developed from the June 11 Joe Sixpack column in the Philadelphia Daily News which reported that Victory had switched its Philadelphia distribution from Edward I. Friedland Co. to Penn Distributing.

The column, written by Don Russell, said that the move

has ruffled feathers in a community that, for the last 10 years, has been remarkably unified in its support for all locally made craft beer.
No names were mentioned among the ruffled, but it became clear who the primary source of complaint was when I wrote here, on June 22, that
menus at Monk's now carry this advisory:
we will no longer serve products from the Victory brewing conglomerate because of their...business practices.

Within hours of that being posted, I received an angry email from a regular reader who was incensed that I would dare report such a thing and suggested that I was following some personal agenda, along with several rather silly additional comments. As I noted in a return email

The most important beer bar in Philadelphia has made a public stand against the most important brewery in Philadelphia. The central issue about which they are at odds involves the most important distributor in the city in terms of the craft brewing aspect of the business.

What exactly would you have me do, pretend that it didn't happen?

That accusatory email cemented my feeling that it was time to let the two major figures in all this have their say. I say "two" because the situation between the Victory people and Eddie Friedland, it seems to me, is strictly a business matter. It is the controversy which has arisen around that business decision--and I use "controversy" with a bit of discomfort, as it still isn't clear just how far this whole thing goes or how many others are as upset at Peters, or upset at all--which I wanted to allow the participants to clarify.

As it turned out, before I could do anything, an email arrived from Bill Covaleski, sent to both me and Lew Bryson, a note which will likely come as a shock to my angry email pal. He noted that

Both of you guys seem to have expressed rather balanced views on the subject matter and I applaud you for that. And I certainly appreciate that.
In Lew's case, I assume he was talking about comments he posted on this thread on BeerAdvocate.com, as I'm not aware he wrote about it anywhere else.

The rest of Bill's email explained the matter from Victory's viewpoint. On Thursday afternoon, I talked with Tom Peters on the telephone and got what are, I believe, his first public comments on the issue. Both men's contributions follow, in reverse order (I believe the accused has a right to the last word). They have been slightly edited for clarity but nothing has been changed or distorted. Neither one saw or was told the other's comments, nor has until now, as best I know, which may explain why they sometimes appear to be talking about different things entirely.

This is gonna be long. Sorry 'bout that.

What Tom Peters says.
My gut feeling is that Monk's Cafe wouldn't exist and Victory Brewing Company wouldn't exist if the Eddie Friedlands of the world hadn't been there to support them. I wouldn't have been able to create this without Eddie already creating receptive and educated beer market here in Philadelphia. I think he deserves a handshake rather than door slammed in his face.

Difficult business decisions sometimes have to be made. I guess a lot of my anger here is the way this one happened. I wasn't there but these are things I was told by people I trust implicitly or else I wouldn't repeat it to you. Victory was telling Eddie what a great job he was doing and that they were happy with the increase [in sales] and all the while they were working behind his back trying to get the brand placed somewhere else. I think that's inappropriate and I think it's immoral. You can't woo one person while you're holding on to another one.

The lust for money can cause people to do bad things and I think that's the case here. Maybe they have a huge debt with the expansion of their brewery and they have make a huge nut. They can do that with expansion into other markets. I really don't think they're going to expand that much in this market anyway and if they do, it will be very short lived. I think it's very short-sighted.

They were a big fish in a small pond and now they're going to be a little fish in a big pond. Look at what happened to Red Hook [after it formed a distribution alliance with Anheuser Busch]. They had a big push originally and now nobody is pushing Red Hook anywhere. Those Bud people really don't care. Look what Miller did after they bought out Pierre Celis. They had no idea what to do with that beer. They totally ran it into the ground.

Look I don't want them to go out of business. They make good beer. I just don't want to support businesses who employ inappropriate and immoral practices just to further the sales of their product."

What Bill Covaleski says.
Last night I finally woke up to discover the firestorm of speculation that has flared over our Philly distribution move. Honestly, I was astonished at the buzz. I had not been paying this any attention.

So, I'll reward you with an observation/clarification from the Dark Overlord of the Evil Victory Empire (insert Darth Vader voice here), that Overlord being me, that might bring fresh light to this murky issue.

Don's article contained a gross misrepresentation of Victory that need be clarified. This misrepresentation was one of literary license. When Don wrote:

The company, which is ramping up production with a new brewhouse, is looking to grow by nearly 50 percent this year.

He dramatically skewed the conversation and information presented to him with his choice of the word "looking," [which] infers a predatory, aggressive stance focused on increased sales at all costs to friends or foes. What I said to Don was that we expect to grow between 35% and 50%. Expect, as in we are on course to. As in, for the past 5 years we have averaged 35% annual increase in wholesale sales.Here is a bit of reality to temper his incendiary word choice, [Sales manager] Steve German and I remain the sales 'force' of this perceived juggernaut out to rule the world. Steve and I call on 28 wholesale partners in 12 states [statistics removed by author request]...

Oh yes, Ron was out in the Philly market last Thursday (first time since our Brewery pub crawl in March, I believe) to meet accounts that all seemed pretty positive on the change. So Ron is third man in our force. Ron also manages daily beer production and the engineering and installation of the new brewhouse when he is not doing the accounting, check writing and ingredient procurement.

Anyway, those figures and realities don't sound to me like the serious, arrayed arsenal of a company 'looking' to grow 50%. It sounds to me like the frugal heads of few households, trying to address swelling demand for their great beers by sinking big money in a new brewhouse to fulfill this latent demand and assuring that this beer is in the hands of the wholesalers most capable to deliver it to a deserving populace. Did I tell you about the NE Philly beer distributor who contacted me in May to see if we had a Philly area wholesaler or could he buy direct? Perhaps that is too pointed. But that call comes to me at least twice each year. Astounding.

Beyond the anticipated 35% growth (our historical average which, by the way, the current brewhouse would not be able to reach) we anticipate perhaps up to an add'l 15% coming from new states that have been begging for our beer. Now THAT should flame some rampant speculation on BA! Oh boy.

These new states deserve our beer, and we deserve the opportunity to pay off our equipment loans so our kids can continue to enjoy simple niceties like meals. So please, keep in mind that we are pulled into this growth by thirsty consumers. We are not pushing for growth. We are not "looking." We are anticipating.

The quote I really wished Don had printed was this one that I remarked in our phone conversation of June 10. It's yours now since it didn't fit his needs: "Great beer requires that sound business decisions be made."

So what do I say?
I have no horse (or agenda) in this race. On the broadest level, I believe both sides have performed within what I understand to be proper business parameters.

Victory, or any company, has the right, indeed the obligation, to make decisions, some of them difficult and even painful, which its management believes are in the best interest of the company and its employees. Similarly, Tom Peters has the right to make choices which, even if based solely on his distaste for something that was done and/or his desire to support someone to whom he feels an obligation and sincere friendship, surely must be considered equally valid.

I might quarrel with Peters' decision to make the issue public with the advisory inserted in menus at Monk's, but I suppose that isn't really over the line in a matter in which the standards he is applying are moral rather than economic or merely practical. I have only Tom's word (which I trust) which is in turn based on someone else's word about the "underhanded" manner in which this might have been done. While I would consider that reprehensible, I really don't enough evidence to form that opinion. On the other hand, it does seem indicated that Friedland had to threaten legal action in order to obtain a buy-out of its contract. Given the long relationship and the distributor's part in the growth of Victory to this point, that should have been offered immediately and up-front and it's disgraceful if it wasn't. AMENDED 28 June 04: I have been informed by Bill Covaleski that he contacted Eddie Frieldland well in advance of the shift-over and that it was understood from the start that Penn would make a financial offer for the Victory brands.

As I've noted in every posting I've made about this, the one thing that nags at me is just how wide any unhappiness with Victory is. Certainly, consumers, for the most part, don't give a damn. I have had other bar owners and brewers admit they find it all somewhat unseemly on Victory's part, but few who go beyond that. One, when asked if he would still be serving Victory beers did reply

Let's put it this way. I get my beers from Friedland and Friedland does not carry Victory any longer.
but other than that, grimaces or a dismissive wave of the hand were the most prevalent reactions. I've heard of couple of small distributors who handle Victory in other areas locally being concerned that they might be "the next Friedland." But that's it. This may be a tempest in teapot (hey, this is really long and I get to use a cliché now and then, dammit) and if so, the blame (or praise) is pretty much destined for Peters' doorstep.

I think Peters is right on one significant point which many may think offbase and which really has nothing to do with his objections to the shift. The move to Penn is not going to have a significant impact on Victory impact or sales in Philadelphia for anything more than a short time, if at all, for reasons which lead to my own primary concern about that move.

Sort of lost in Russell's original column these two paragraphs:

In some circles, Penn is regarded as the Evil Empire, thanks to its A-B distribution rights. More than a few bar owners have refused to do business with Penn (which helps explain why Yuengling outsells Bud in this town). It's so bad, in fact, that some Penn salesmen have been known to print up special business cards that omit A-B's familiar eagle logo....

John DeRenzi, a Penn sales director, said Penn had been looking for a way to get into the craftbrew market for years. "No doubt, this helps us get into places we couldn't get into before," DeRenzi said. "We always did some business in the better beer bars, but never a lot. This gives us an opportunity to hit more of the higher-end places."

Let's repeat the key sentence: We always did some business in the better beer bars, but never a lot. So, Penn is going to move up toward "a lot" merely by selling Victory to good beer bars which have already been carrying it, based on current sales in Philadelphia which Victory is clearly not happy with? I think not. It's we'll pay for this big promotion and advertise your bar and two free kegs if you give me that tap handle and the like that the big guys use...and if "that tap handle" comes down to Victory or Bud, I think I know where it's going. Call me a cynic.

So there's the crux. Penn sales reps with the power and money of the Biggest of the Big Boys behind them are out there now using Victory as a wedge to move into bars which have previously turned them away at the door. They are pushing to sell Victory's beers as a part of that effort. I wonder if that will be true a year from now?

[Posted 1:10 pm edt 27 June 04,
Amended 9:40 am edt 28 June 04]

26 June 04 Fun in the city.
My travels today took me to Grace, the new neighborhood bar created and owned by Monk's Café'sTom Peters and Fergus Carey and managing partner James Fernandes, and then to Standard Tap. Damn, this job is really tough sometimes.

Grace is located a the convergence of 23rd St., South St. and Grays Ferry Avenue on the southwestern edge of downtown Philadelphia. As you can see, they finally have their sign up so you can find the place. This an old neighborhood bar, opened at the end of Prohibition, and it is, like so many of those old spots, beautiful now that it has been cleaned up and restored. It's small, a capacity of around 50, and is catering the long-time locals and lots of students passing by to use the South Street Bridge on the way to or from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University complex.

This visit was tied-in to the column I'm doing for the next issue of Celebrator (as mentioned in yesterday's post), so that's about all the information you're getting out of me right now. Except, maybe, that you need to find that issue (August/September) when it comes out around August 1, so that you can be astonished to learn which beer Fernandes is taking off draft after only seven weeks of being in business because Grace just can't sell enough of it to keep it fresh. Or, you can, you know, just ask me.

Going to the Tap afterwords was a spur-of-the-minute decision, hoping I might catch co-owner William Reed there, also as part of my research for the column. I also wanted to, and did, finally get to try the reformulated Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale which a lot of folks, especially O'Reilly, have been raving to me about. They were right. It's a very tasty, quaffable beer and I understand it's selling up a storm at the new Phillies ballpark. The Tap is serving it from a keg in the ancient refrigerator behind the bar, which originally housed Lord Chesterfield Ale ("yeah, it's swill, but it's our swill," a nostalgic Reed once explained) until Yuengling stopped kegging it.

I also had a very good McKenzie Brown Ale and then the best pint of the day--the best pint in the city when they've got it right, and they do right now--Yards ESA on the handpump. As I drank my brews, I enjoyed a sausage, pepper and onion sandwich and the usual great Standard Tap chips while learning yet again, too late yet again, that only a madman hopes to eat a humongous Tap sandwich without being willing to look like a fool, and a downright sloppy one at that. From now on, only fork and knife grub for me. Smelts. Chicken pot pie. Steak & eggs. Trust me.

As almost always happens at this particular bar, especially when I visit the place alone, I got to make some new acquaintances within a few minutes of sitting down. Today there was Dan, a Northern Liberties snob who hates the working class and snorted at a woman from the kitchen that she needed to get an office job like his rather than complain about the heat, and Joy, the bartender, who apparently wrote a bestselling sex novel as a teenager and then was struck with a lifelong attack of writer's block and now, at age 75, scrapes along on the meager tips she can garner pouring beers for the likes of us while tryiing to remember where the hell she is.

Okay, those may not be exactly accurate descriptions. They could be, maybe, entirely fictional. But the images do liven things up, do they not? Hey, I'm Irish. When I tell stories, I embellish them. It's a genetic thing. Work with me here.

Fortuitously enough, William did walk in just as I was prepared to leave and I got what I needed from him. In fact, I got better than that, a flash of insight which will tie my whole story together and make him its star. But since it's for the column...well, you know the drill.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where are those comments from Bill Covaleski and Tom Peters you've been promising us?
Coming. Honest. Tomorrow for sure, if not late tonight. This has been a helluva week and I can only do so much at a time. I could stop making promises I can't always keep, of course, but what fun would that be? Just so you know, I passed on a party thrown by Steve (the Other One) this afternoon at the place he lovingly calls Camp Terry just in order to get this post up. Greater love hath no man... especially if he's also motivated by not wanting to be humiliated again at horseshoes.

[Posted 5:20 pm edt]

25 June 04 Ultimate repast.
When O'Reilly lifted his guitar to his mouth around 10pm Wednesday night and started chewing at the strings while my camera wasn't ready, I figured that would be the most depressing missed photographic opportunity of the week, maybe the year, hands down. Who knew that less than 12 hours later there would be a strong competitor for that dubious distinction?

Late yesterday morning I went out to T.G.I. Friday's in Exton to talk with General Manager Joel Feldstein about his blending several local and national microbrews and a few top line imports in with the approved Friday's beer list. He'd suggested I come at 11:30am, just as they were opening (with an ulterior purpose in mind, as it turned out, but a damned nice one). The purpose of my visit was to get information for the Atlantic Ale Trail column I have to have done by Monday for the August/September issue of Celebrator Beer News, so I won't go into any detail on what we talked about here. I will say that Joel was both excited and exciting as he talked about how he is training his staff to match beers with foods and sell pairings they like to adventuresome customers. So when we were wrapping up and he asked "Are you hungry? I'd like to show you some of our pairings," I readily agreed. Hey, it was lunchtime.

Friends, what happened next I still don't quite believe. Ten, count 'em ten, complete, and I do mean complete, entreés were trotted out and placed in front of me. Large plates, filled to capacity and then some with great looking edibles. A fresh pint or bottle of fine beer was lined up with each one. We are talking somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 worth of beer and food at retail spread out purely for my enjoyment. Describing it cannot being to capture the overwhelming nature of it all...which I why I was again regretting the lack of a camera (left home in this instance).

I nibble away happily for the next hour or so, and here's what I had, with the beer paired with each item in parentheses):

Buffalo Wings (Victory HopDevil)
Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad (Victory Golden Monkey)
Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Pasta (Victory Festbier)
Mediterranean Shrimp Salad (Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale)
Tropical Island Salad (Hoegaarden)
Jack Daniel's Ribs (Victory Workhorse Porter)
Southwestern Burger (Bellhaven Scottish Ale)
Jack Daniels Burger (Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout)
Jack Daniels Combo: shrimp, chicken, ribs (Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel)
Chocolate Rush (Lindeman's Framboise)

Wow! The food was really quite good and the beers well matched, given the choices available. I would never have thought of T.G.I. Friday's as a place where I could enjoy a grat meal with a fine beer, but this one, at least, is exactly that. I'll go back for sure.

Fortunately, given how stuffed I was even just having tried a bite or two of each dish and a sip or two of each beer--okay, maybe a touch more here and there--my evening meeting with John Ortino of Ortino's Northside (for the same column) was considerably more laid back.

Ortino was late, which the lady behind the bar informed me is not exactly a sometime thing. No complaints from me, because, while waiting, I had a chance to try the new Clipper City Red Sky at Night Saison (good stuff) and watch the first segment of the NBA Draft on television to see a bunch of kids not old enough to vote become multi-millionaires before my eyes. A sobering experience, which ain't a bad thing when you're sitting at a bar.

We eventually had a long and interesting chat about many aspects of the beer business over a couple of beers, including a wonderful shared bottle of Urthel Hibernus Quentum Tripel . I finished the evening off with a big bowl of Garlic Chicken Soup and drove home around 10pm, ending a day which reminded me of some of the benefits of this low-paying gig and the great people you meet while doing it.

[Posted 6:10 pm edt]

Bound for Branson?
O'Reilly never once grabbed his crotch Wednesday night, even though he promised he would (for a look at when he did do such a thing, scroll way down to the bottom). There was a sequence when he played his guitar with his teeth, apparently an old trick of his. It's something the likes of which the world will never see again, apparently. "I think that skill has atrophied," he told me yesterday morning. "I can't do it anymore."

As I indicated in my brief post yesterday, Brian's set with old pal Michael Tiernan Wednesday night was great, certainly a bravura performance by a brewer who hasn't practiced or performed in years. Showing their respect, the crowd paid rapt attention. Well, some of them did.

Among who those who did, there some who were definitely rapt, as you can see here. From the looks of this bunch, they may even have moved somewhere close to rapture. Check out the guy at far left.

This was the sort of event which separates the contenders from the pretenders and the Sly Fox regulars, with a few notable exceptions, came up big, turning out and turning on. My greatest regret is that I had a plan early on to have a few selected lovelies rush the "stage" after Brian's first song and toss their underwear at him, but that fell through when, well, I didn't do anything about it. Opportunities that will never come again...

At one point, I was standing with Peripatetic Joe Meloney (who arranged a chiropractic appointment for early evening just to make sure he would be around for the performance rather than wandering hither and yon to bars and pubs on the lonely way back home as is his usual custom) and asked him about the nostalgia factor. Joe was once the lead singer and guitarist with a band a la O'Reilly and I wondered if he too would relish a chance to do it all again one more once. "Sure would," he said, "but half the guys who were in my band are dead." Ah, the Sixties...

I have to believe that our pal Rick Smiledge expressed the concern of many--not to mention revealing his essential and often overlooked hipness--when he suggested that "we could lose Brian to the music industry and the lure of the road. He could go have his own theater in Branson Missouri." Hmmm, that would probably explain his suppressing his crotch-grabbing inclinations. That don't play in Branson, I expect. I'll have to check with Rick.

I'm not sure I've mentioned that Brian was not only the lead vocalist but also the primary songwriter for ScrapApple back in the day. So, while I had hoped to bring you the words to First Friday, the original and Sly Fox-oriented song with which he closed his set, it turns he pretty made it up as he went along, so that won't be happening.

To make up for it, here are the complete O'Reilly lyrics for Bus of Love, the lead song on ScrapApple's one and only CD:

She says she'll ride with me if I take the bus
She says she'll ride with me if I don't make a fuss.
She says to leave my car on the side of the road
She says to leave my car and we won't go far.

She wants to ride the bus of love.
She wants to ride the bus of love.

She says she'll ride with me if I shave my head.
She says she'll ride with me if I take her to bed.
She says she'll ride with me if I leave my school.
She says she'll ride with me if I act real cool.

She wants to ride the bus of love.
She wants to ride the bus of love.

And that's all she wrote.

[Posted 1:10 pm edt]

24 June 04 The Slow Pour.
A couple of quick updates between meetings and meals on what is a very busy but oh so pleasant day....Victory's Bill Covaleski has sent along, together with a very nice note, a few things about the Great Beer Distribution Brouhaha he'd liked folks to know and I'm scheduled to talk with Monk's Tom Peters in an hour or so for his first (to my knowledge) public statement on the matter. I'll post those tomorrow, along with my own comments, and then hope this whole thing will just go away....Those who are anxiously awaiting it may wish to know that 2004 Stone Imperial Russian Stout arrived at The Beer Yard within the hour....

If you're bound for the 8th Old Dominion Beer Festival in Virginia this weekend, you'll have a chance to be among the first buy a t-shirt with the new Sly Fox logo. At the Sly Fox location, of course, and while you're there remind them they're not nearly as much fun as the guy who handled their booth last year. Modesty forbids me from identifying myself....Speaking of the Fox, the first photographs of work on the new brewery are up on the website now and there will be all sorts of new things showing up there in coming weeks as they get ready for the big leap to a multi-site operation....

A more complete report on O'Reilly's back to the future concert last night will go up over the weekend, as promised this morning....And if you're really good and don't break the furniture while I'm out, I will likely also report on an amazing feast (with beer) I enjoyed at lunch today at T.G.I. Friday's in Exton and on the dinner (with beer) I will be enjoying tonight with John Ortino at Ortino's Northside. Both are "work." Honest.

[Posted 3:45 pm edt]

24 June 04 A triumph.
A couple of years ago, there was a lot of talk going around about putting together a "Battle of the Brewey Bands" event locally. O'Reilly was all over that and last night we found out why.

As promised, when Michael Tiernan did his gig at Sly Fox last night, O'Reilly sat in for a set with his former bandmate (ScrapApple).

It was a great evening and even included an original song, First Friday ("we wrote it about five minutes ago," O'Reilly announced) which incorporated several references to Sly Fox and some of its habitues.

I've got a busy day, but either this evening or, more likely, tomorrow, I'll post as much more as I can remember, along with some additional photos.

Meanwhile, here are the lyrics from the O'Reilly written Chickens and Beer for your edification:

Chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens, chickens,
Chickens and Beer.
Clap your hands and stomp your feet.
Listen to the music and worship me.
Take your girlfriend and throw her in the pool.
Then just stand back and try to look cool, with

Chickens.....and beer.

Hey, if you're looking for a good time
just come to the house, don't bring no wine.
We've got just we need
Gonna sit out in the sun and breathe, with

Chickens...and beer.

All the girls they come right over
When I roast up my chicken rover.
Tap the keg and pluck the bird
Nothin' we're gonna do is gonna be absurd, with

Chickens......and beer.

You ain't heard nothin' yet, folks. Bus of Love is coming.

Bourbon beer and bigger bottles.
I suspect many of you will be interest in this story, which I posted at the Beer Yard site yesterday. Interesting things are happening up in Easton.

[Posted 10:30 am est]

23 June 04 Ask and ye shall receive.
Okay, Bill Huber's brother Bob has checked in with a full report on the Special Monday Tasting at Drafting Room Exton and he's done such a thorough job, right down to using other people tasting notes (a specialty of LDO), that I might just have to bar him from ever doing so again. I got my pride and I need this gig.

Here's his report, slightly edited. Tom Foley also sent over some comments and, where appropriate, I've inserted those with a nice big "TF" to make clear who's speaking. Call me a full-service editor. I been called worse.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Or more precisely, Sly Fox in Phoenixville. The Monday Tasting group took to the road this week, to the Drafting Room in Exton to hold our usual tasting and for an additional special tasting, he release of the Drafting Room’s 10th Anniversary Ale brewed by Troegs. More on that later.

The big question of the night came as we started the tasting...where is Jack? Now, as much as Jack will say we complain and harass him, truth be told, without Jack it just ain’t the same. So, with pen and paper in hand, Rich Ruch motioned to start the tasting. However, he conveniently left his notes behind at the end of the evening. They were picked up by a passerby who interpreted his hieroglyphics and forwarded to Mr. Curtin for final edit. These are Rich’s notes combined with everyone else’s thoughts:

Present and accounted for.
The roster of attendees: Richard Ruch, Joe Meloney, Tom Foley, Lori Limper, Rick & Jeanne Smiledge, Bob Huber and his brother Bill, Bill Huber and his brother Bob, Wardell (Del) Massey & Rick Mayberry.

The beers.
First up was Rick Mayberry’s home-brewed Summer Ale with lemon zest added at the end of the boil. Very noticeable lemon nose with a lemon zesty finish. This beer hollers Summertime!
(TF: Very nice, very drinkable, and nice balance to the lemon addition.)

Next was Joe Meloney with McNeill’s Ruby Ale, a nice hoppy bottled-conditioned amber with a big red wraparound label. Following was Ruch with Grant’s IPA, 4.2% and golden straw in color - classic Burt Grant style.

We moved up a notch with Bill Huber’s Midas Touch from Dogfish Head, a year old and 9% abv - almost too drinkable!
(TF: hadn't had this one in a while, have to check our stash, great stuff.)

From there followed Del’s Golden Monkey from Victory, unfortunately it had seen better days, due to a slight sourness in the finish which Del had forewarned about. But close your eyes and you’d think you’re drinking a Flemish Sour ale.

Bob Huber then opened a 2003 bottle of Avery Brewing’s The Reverend, at 10% it was one more step up. That was followed by La Gauloise Brune, another surprise brought back from Belgium by Lori Limper. This dark reddish brown ale at 8.1% isn’t available in the U.S. Rick and Jeanne showing up together, but sitting apart, brought a bottle of Buckeye Aquarium Ale. A Lambic style beer that’s made at a brew-your-own after hours by the owner, an excellent example of the style and what’s being made here in the States.

The second to the last beer was for most the head-turner of the night. Tom Foley opened another gem carried back from Belgium, Cantillon Apricot Lambic, 5% and with all the barnyard, acidic sourness you’d expect from a world classic. This was passed around to anyone at the bar who wanted to try it.
(TF: The smell of this alone was enough to frighten grown men, I'm surprised Customs let me in the country with this stuff, the look on Mayberry's face was priceless, he opened and gunned a third of a bottle of World Wide Stout (provided by TDR's Patrick Mullen) to try and get the taste out of his mouth. I don't think we've had something quite this, um, unique, yeah that's the word. Wardell was in heaven. "Holy God" was uttered many times.)

Our final beer of the tasting was another Dogfish Head, World Wide Stout, and was given to us by the Drafting Room to sample. From there we slowly mingled with the bar crowd and tried the Drafting Room 10th Anniversary Ale, both on keg and cask-conditioned. What a fine beer the boys at Troegs have made for them.

We can’t thank the owners and staff of the Drafting Room enough for their great hospitality and service.

Um, about that it just ain't the same thing. I hied myself off to the Drafting Room yesterday to try the anniversary beer and was greeted by the aforementioned Patrick Mullen: Things went great last night but you were sorely missed. Then he laughed like hell and continued. Do you believe a word of that? Actually, no.

Drafting Room 10th Anniversary Ale is a very good beer, a big hoppy IPA that's going to sell fast. Patrick said he was already on his third keg and the beer had been available for less than a day at that point. I had both the draft and cask versions and could be happy with either. I also had a chance to try the new Troegs Dreamweaver Wheat and thought it just a bit over the top for my tastes.

[Posted 11:15 am est]

22 June 04 Shoe. Dropping.
Eminently reliable sources, and lord knows I ain't got enough of those, tell me that menus at Monk's now carry this advisory:

we will no longer serve products from the Victory brewing conglomerate because of their [possible inflammatory adjective here, or maybe not; source could not recall] business practices.

This, of course, relates back to the Joe Sixpack column on June 11 about the decision of Victory Brewing to switch its Philadelphia distributing from Edward Friedland to Penn Distributors, as discussed here on that same date (scroll down).

I'm still not sure now far-reaching any overt negative reaction to the move is, or even if there really is a "victim" here, but it does appear the story isn't just going to go away. Victory would appear to be taking it as a real concern: from what I'm told, co-founder Ron Barchet accompanied the Penn sales rep to visit a lot of the brewery's old "beer bar" accounts last week. I've also heard that some suburban distributors who currently have the Victory account have said in passing conversations things along the lines of I don't want to be the next Friedland (i.e, get dumped).

As I suggested a week ago, I can't judge the morality of the Victory decision. Barchet and partner Bill Covaleski are moving into uncharted waters with their major expansion and it will require several unpopular, but necessary, choices, I'd expect. And all those choices, like this one, have their pitfalls.

In the June 11 posting here, I also mentioned this thread on BeerAdvocate.com , where two remarkable factors should probably be noted in light of the ongoing interest in this issue. The first is the amusing fact that an inordinate number of these guys somehow made the quantum leap that a new distributor in Philadelphia somehow translated into Victory beers suddenly becoming available in their areas in North Carolina or wherever overnight. The other is that most of the people in the thread jumped all over the poor guy who posted this (eminently accurate) evaluation (edited for punctuation, 'cause I care):

Sorry if it is snobbish but I've worked on both ends of the distribution business and I speak from experience only in NY. Big distribs. may do a fine job elsewhere. Here, I could rarely get seasonal packages from Sierra or Anchor (limited X-Mas) because they were handled by Bud or Coors houses and they just couldn't be bothered no matter how many phone calls I made. The fact is, they simply don't care about the beer other than increasing the number of cases sold. Thats great for the breweries and people in markets like yours that need more/ better beers. I'm glad I can find SN pale on tap alot nowadays, and I applaud so many bar owners for asking for it, but if a smaller company distributed it, I might find a SN Brown Ale or Harvest Ale or Porter or IPA on tap.

If you would be happy to have just Hop Devil and Prima Pils available, and don't care if you see Storm King, Old Horizontal, Dark Lager, V 12, Golden Monkey, St Victorious, Whirlwind Whit, Fest Beer etc. then the big distributors will fill that need.

Anybody who thinks he's off-base in describing the way mass distributors in any field sell products just isn't getting out of the house enough. As the manager of one of the better beer bars in the area said to me recently,
My Penn sales rep is cute as a button, but I ever started talking to her about craft beers and microbrewing, her eyes would roll up into her head and she'd faint dead away.
Hey, if she's that cute....

Shouldn't go there, should I? Apologies.

We shall all see what happens as this story unfolds. Over the next week or two, I'll try to actually talk to the principals involved and get their reactions and reasoning, rather than just guessing.

Sly Fox not only gets a new brewery, but also a new look.
I meant to mention this last week. If you'd like a sneak peak at the new logo that will soon be gracing Sly Box beers, t-shirts, mugs and the like, go look here. This is pretty much the finished product, although the word "Beer" will usually appear at the bottom. The new logo and all the Sly Fox branding about to be unfolded was done by Virtual Farm, a Phoenixville advertising agency. They will also be involved in the expansion of the Sly Fox site into a bigger, better and more graphically exciting information resource covering both locations.

Starting Thursday, I'll be putting up photos of the work being done at Royersford to get the new brewery up and running, (hopefully) floor plans of the new site, followed eventally by interviews with the O'Reilly himself and new Executive Chef Matt Wieber (including a look at his new menu), plus lots more at the Sly Fox site.

Meanwhile, don't forget tomorrow night, when it's back to the future with the rockin' & rollin' brewer. While it might not be the return of The Beatles, it's surely something. See you there?

[Posted 5:30 pm edt]

21 June 04 If it weren't for the shame of it all, I might at least have enjoyed a guilty thrill from doing something so debasing and inhuman right there in public.
I purchased a 30-pack of Coors Light today. Looked the guys at the Beer Yard right in the eyes and said "I'm takin' me one'a those."

And that disturbing purchase brings us back around to the unexpected and unplanned aspect of why I didn't get to Saturday night's Harrisburg Brewers Fest, which I promised I'd explain here tonight. I wanted to wait until I'd bought my Coors, so I could use that to open the story. It's a writer thing.

When I went out to my car late Friday afternoon to take a quick run up to the Post Office, I found it dead as the proverbial. Not even the faintest indication it would ever start again. Battery, I figured, and went back inside to wait for my landlord to get home and give me a jump.

Fast Forward here: landlord's ex-brother-in-law shows up instead and jumps me with his big, powerful battery; he leaves and I go to drive the car and it stalls dead again; landlord's ex-wife shows up with her tiny car and it can't do the job; landlord shows up with his Rover and it too fails; brother-in-law shows again, starts me again, car fails again. Twice. Definitely gonna need a new battery. Brother-in-law is now jumping up and down and insisting it's my alternator that's gone bad. I grimace and come back in the house and drink heavily.

Saturday I'm at the mercy of said landlord, who's nice enough to say he'll drive me off to Sears when he gets a chance so I can get a new battery and prepared enough to have a wide range of socket wrenches which make it possible to loosen all those weird sized nuts and bolts in my Japanese car so we can remove the old battery. He's also experienced enough to make sure I realize that there is a minimal space allotted to the battery, so I have to buy one which will fit. The man is a major resource.

The story ends well (aside from the lingering worry that the issue really is the alternator and I'll find that out one day down the road when this battery dies), but it isn't until early afternoon that he's free to be my chauffeur and mechanic and I get the car back on the road. At that point, my already almost-definite decision not to go to Harrisburg becomes definitely definite.

The Coors, of course, is a gift for the landlord. Despite his many favorable qualities, it's what he drinks. Nobody's perfect.

3000 freakin' people!!
That's the word I'm getting on the Harrisburg fest--2200 tickets pre-sold and the gates closed when the total hit 3000. This comes from Tim Ohst (Sly Fox assistant brewer), who was there pouring and says the event was really crowded, but tolerable. Then again, he had the enviable advantage of being able to slip around the back of the brewery serving tables and get what he wanted.

I've received no reports from any of our regular contributors here, nor talked to them, as I've had to pass on tonight's special Tasting Session at Drafting Room Exton for personal reasons. Reactions from attendees posting their impressions over at BeerAdvocate.com run the gamut, but everybody acknowledges it was jammed.

It would appear that the Troegs guys have a cross between a smash success and a real nightmare on their hands. I'll see what else I can find out.

[Posted 6:30 pm edt]

20 June 04 Missing Harrisburg.
I didn't get to the inaugural Harrisburg Brewers Fest last night, partly by design and partly due to circumstances, but if the weather 90 miles west of here was as nice as it was in my backyard, I have to believe that the crowd must have been amazing. On Friday, there were reports of 1600 tickets pre-sold and talk of as many as 2000 attendees. Hopefully one or more of our regulars who did make the trip will check in with some information which I will then pass on.

I decided, leaving myself the option to change my mind, not to drive out to Harrisburg, much as I wanted to see the event and support the guys at Troegs, mostly because of the timing. I'm relatively sure of myself at an afternoon event in terms of driving afterwards, especially given the chance to eat and drink plenty of water afterwards if that seems necessary. An event ending at 9 pm is, as they say, a whole 'nother smoke.

Still, given the option I'd left myself and the great weather, I might well have changed my mind yesterday had things turned out differently. Recounting the circumstances that insured I'd be staying home will have to wait until tomorrow evening, however, for story-telling purposes. You'll understand when I post it.

As Bill Clinton once famously said...
You'll recall I posted this on Friday:

"Our wine and spirits sales are up over 71/2 percent," [LCB Chairman Jonathan] Newman boasts. "And beer sales are down over 71/2 percent. I think we're converting beer drinkers into wine and spirits drinkers. If you go to some beer distributors, they look like state liquor stores did 30 years ago. They're grim places."
It came from Deborah Scolblionkov On Wine in Thursday's Inquirer.

Newman's comment is just plain dumb.

The Scoblionkov column was about the success of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's new "premium" Wine & Spirits Outlet Stores. There are six of these, offering appealing discounts on a lot of very popular items. Shrink-wrapped packages of two bottles of various strong selling wines which sell together for significantly less than a pair of individual bottles have been particularly successful. The Outlet stores are located near state borders and discounted prices match or sometimes surpass those available in neighboring states where many Pennsylvanians have traditionally gone to purchase wines and spirits.

These stores have been "phenomenally successful," Scolblionkov reports. Sales have increased an average of 75 percent at the six locations. But is this due to "converting beer drinkers?" Of course not.

It's the economy, stupid.

It has become economical to shop the Outlets; their prices are competitive. Simple as that. And the chairman surely knows that. Better stores, a wider variety, a staff that is familiar with and knowledgable about its wares...these improvements have not all been made across the board at every store, but that is increasingly the standard at specialty stores in urban areas.

On the day before On Wine appeared in print, I visited one of those and, in the process of stocking up on some wonderful Australian and California Shiraz, it crossed my mind that I'd like to try again an obscure, cheap and very good table wine (recommended to me by Debby Scoblionkov at a long-ago Fourth of July party thrown by beer-guy-in-exile Jim Anderson, for those of you who need a beer connection to keep you reading) whose name I could not remember. With just the few hints I could dredge up out of memory, the clerk on duty was able to lead me right to it. That made me a happy customer and one likely to return.

LCB stores are getting better and more customer friendly. And they're succeeding. Big surprise.

As for those declining beer sales and the nature of beer distributorships, we'll get around to that topic in a day or two.

[Posted 10:50 am est]

18 June 04 Joe must go.
That was the battlecry of Philadelphia Eagles football fans back in 1968, expressing their disdain for head coach Joe Kuharich, who had just been given an inexplicable and indefensible 15-year contract by management. Their premise was that Kuharich was the worst football coach in human history (we were still almost three decades away from discovering Rich Kotite) and the antipathy was so great that a group even scrounged up enough money to pay for a small plane to fly back and forth over Franklin Field, the Birds' home in those days, carrying a banner bearing those very words.

Teams did their own game programs back in those days and, as a very young freelancer, I snared the gig for the Eagles, mostly because it was pretty apparent that owner Jerry Wolman was going to lose the team, sooner rather than later, and a lot of people were afraid to touch the job. It was Kuharich's last team and it went 2-12, which made my task, shall we say, interesting, trying to turn out seven programs, only one of which appeared after one of the two wins, with anything approaching a positive attitude. Still, while the team had a disastrous year (one in a series, collect them all), things worked out pretty well for me. We won "Best Program in the NFL."

What does all this have to do with beer? Not a whole helluva lot, but I wanted to use "Joe must go" as my headline and my mind started to wander. I digressed, as the patron saint of beer writers is wont to explain now and then. Hey, it comes with the territory.

"Joe" in this instance is our wandering beer guy, Joe Meloney, and "must go" is used in a more favorable sense, as in "if beer is there, then Joe must go." Since that is not merely a slogan but a real close summation of reality, it turns out that my missing the first installment of this year's Great American Microbrew Festival at Stoudt's last weekend doesn't mean I can't report on it. I have come into possession (never mind how) of Meloney's scoresheet from the afternoon session and am prepared, against all legal advice, to reveal his innermost thoughts. Well, as best I can divine them from the stars he awarded various brews, which means only his innermost "good" thoughts. It's probably just as well.

The finest beer of the day, sayeth Joe, was Tippecanoe Common Ale from Lafayette Brewing Company in Lafayette, Indiana. Three-and-a-half stars. He was quite taken with their Big Boris Barleywine as well, giving it two-and-a half-stars. Triumph Brewing Company also won our man's heart, with one of his three star awards going to Triumph Bavarian Dunkel and two-and-a-half stars given to Triumph Imperial Stout. Both were from Triumph's New Hope location.

Stoudt Maibock won another three star rating, as did DuClaw Brewing's Devil's Milk (a barleywine). Nine other beers earned two-and-a-half stars: Allagash Brewing Company Triple Reserve and Double Reserve; Capitol City Brewing Wee Heavy Ale; Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel; High Point Wheat Beer Company Ramstein Amber Lager; Lancaster Brewing Company Hefeweizen; Manayunk Brewing Company Pilsner, and Weyerbacher Brewing Company Old Heathen and Merry Monk's Ale.

There is much to be deduced from this information, but I leave that to your individual needs and inclinations.

Quoted without comment (at least, not yet).
From the always interesting Deborah Scoblionkov On Wine column (in the Thursday Philadelphia Inquirer):

"Our wine and spirits sales are up over 71/2 percent," [LCB Chairman Jonathan] Newman boasts. "And beer sales are down over 71/2 percent. I think we're converting beer drinkers into wine and spirits drinkers. If you go to some beer distributors, they look like state liquor stores did 30 years ago. They're grim places."

[Posted 12:40 pm edt]

17 June 04 "Beer & food: even the New York Times has discovered it."
That was the subject line on a email I got from Don Russell last night. Mild-mannered reporter Russell is, of course, also Joe Sixpack, the costumed crusader who fights for truth, justice and the America way on our local taps.

What? That's not a costume? he always dresses like that? Well I'll be dipped...

Sixpack's email contained a link to this article in yesterday's NYT, which ran under the headline When the Right Wine Is a Beer. Writer Mark Bittman, a Times columnist (The Minimalist, in the "Dining & Wine" section), who is billed as an "opinionated super chef." This particular piece details a day spent with Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver, who prepared a whole slew of great dishes for him and matched them with equally great beers. As Bittman explains:

We chose preparations that would be challenging pairings for wine — like pasta with lobster and chorizo, and very spicy crab cakes — and some that even an amateur would be able to team readily with wine, like goat cheese and apple omelet, and roast quail.
Bittman came in a skeptic and left a convert, he says. The fact of the matter is that he caved so fast that, if this was a Florida election, they'd be investigating it right now.The guy didn't even put up a fight.

Of course, there are two sides to the argument that moving beer up to the "status" of wine is a good idea (actually, there really aren't, but this is Philadelphia). Here's Sixpack's take on that, in a note accompanying the link:

We are headed down a slippery slope here, pal. Some day, we won't be able to get fucked up without the bartender matching our Yuengling with the proper pâté.
That's from a guy who just spent a couple of weeks in Paris. Go figure.

[Posted 7:00 am est]

16 June 04 Daintily sipping, that's us.
The fascinating thing about our Monday Beer Tasting at Sly Fox is that each one is the same and yet always different. It's never quite clear who's going to show up (and of late there has always been a new face or two each week) and certainly no way of guessing which, and how many, beers will be presented. This week, for example, we sampled 13 different beers, a new high I'm almost sure, and had, for the first time ever, the same beer presented two weeks in a row. And it wasn't even a beer that much impressed us.

Before I get to the roll call and the beers, two notes. I had my first taste of Sly Fox's Target Anniversary IPA on Monday and was quite pleased. I'd rank it among my favorites of the six varietal IPAs Brian O'Reilly and loyal assistant Tim Ohst have turned out so far. Only Simcoe and Fuggles to go to complete the eight basic varietal brews in the 2004 IPA Project and then we'll have to make do with Rt. 113 IPA until December 10 when all eight, plus a brand new Imperial IPA will be pouring.

Also, since the question keeps getting asked, no, we don't drink ourselves into a stupor at these events. We sample each beer, usually an ounce or two per person. Add in a couple of beers bought at the bar along the way and you get the equivalent of maybe three, three-and-a-half pints consumed over a two hour-plus period.

Whoops. One more note, or more accurately, an explanation. This week's recounting of the Tasting will be more "list-like" than usual, with few comments beyond brief descriptions because, well, because I am up to my clavicle in things that needs must be done and I am also sore tired, as they used to say back when they talked funny. Then again, I do link, whenever possible, to a site with more information about each brew (and often, brewery) so losing my top-of-the-head commentary shouldn't be a major blow to anyone.

Present and accounted for.
Apologies to anybody I miss. Regulars: Richard Ruch, Joe Meloney, Tom Foley, Lori Limper, Rick Smiledge (sans Jeanne), Brian O'Reilly, Bob Huber and his brother Bill, Bill Huber and his brother Bob, Karl Shoemaker (who disappeared early as he is wont to do), Jimmy Wasko (who's earned his way into the starting lineup), Ted Johnston (two weeks in a row gives him at least tentative status) and the ever-lovable Yours Truly.

Others: Tim Ohst behind the bar. Irregular Lee Marren (and I mean that in the nicest way). New faces: Lee's gal pal, Anne, whose last name I never got. Our old buddy Wardell Massey, who showed up at the Fox in a suit and tie last week to grab a growler, saw the fun going on, promised to return. He did so this week, more comfortably attired and bearing beer. Finally, speaking of names I never quite got, Bob Huber's pal, the guy who married my former dental hygienist, Joanne, who is the common link among us.

Home brew, Vienna Lager and Wasko strikes again.
Ruch was on hand when I arrived and we each had a chance to try server John Etherington's homebrewed ESB, which was still very young, but showed promise. This was only the third beer he's made, I believe. Hard to believe that O'Reilly has become an inspiration to this young generation. The first "official" beer of the evening was a growler of Victory Vienna Lager which Ruch had squirreled away in the brewery cold room a couple of weeks back. Still good, but not nearly as good as it is fresh from the tap.

Jimmy "I'm gettin' the hang of this" Wasko brought a 750ml Stoudt's Maibock, one of the best beers to come out of Adamstown. That was followed by my contribution of Brok Martin, a strong Polish lager (7.8% abv), which was right tasty as well.

Two more homebrews closed out what, for editorial purposes, will be called the First Round, Ted's My Dunkel and Wardell's Mild. Maybe this is just me, but I find it more difficult to get a handle on homebrews than probrews (a word I just made up, I think) when I'm tasting but a small sample. Each seemed a decent representation of its style as best I could determine.

Three Belgians, a taste of Scotch...and Old Egyptian?
The big boys started to move in with Bob Huber's Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Brune and Meloney's Brouwerij Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet. Both were among the favorites of the gathering. I was particularly looking forward to Wardell's second contribution, a large bottle of Nora, a 7% abv brew from Le Baladin brewery in Italy. If you use the link and check their web site, you'll see that they list the style for this one as "Old Egyptian beer." I think they also call it "eccentric and interesting," and I concur.

Ted opened a bottle McKewan's Scotch Ale which I missed due to moving off to pry some information out of one of my trusted informants, but which I know to be a very fine beer. Round Two (see, that editorial thing is catching on already) then ended with Wardell's third beer (we need to keep him coming), Brasserie La Binchoise Brune, an 8.2% abv Belgian strong dark ale.

A lawnmower beer in every sense of the word.
Those who have been paying attention and taking notes will recall that Foley came back from Belgium last week with a bottle of Fantome Pissenlit, a dandelion-based brew which we all thought was interesting but not, y'know, something we'd seek out. So what does Lee Marren show up with this week, proving that's he's clearly not paying attention and taking notes? You got it.

We laughed, we cried, we moved on to the next beer. That was the Bill Huber-provided Kulmbacher Reichelbräu Eisbock. This one was bottled July 1, 1996, bottle #14150, and purchased the same year. One of the world's great beers, and a great closer at 9.2% abv.

Except it wasn't. The closer, that is. Foley had a beer with which I wasn't familiar in hand and we'd wisely decided that enough was more than enough and it could wait until next week. Weaker minds then prevailed and Cuvee de Cincy, from Alken-Maes brewing in Waarloos, Belgium, was opened and poured. This is a strong dark ale, 9.0% abv, and very nice.

[Posted 5:00 pm edt]

15 June 04 The morning after.
The report on yesterday's Monday Beer Tasting at Sly Fox will be a little late, and will be posted tomorrow afternoon or early evening. Thirteen beers to sample, lots of people, new and old, and a long and sometimes heated discussion at the end about the good and bad results of major beer distributors taking on craft brewery accounts (inspired, of course, by the controversy swirling around the move of Victory to Penn Distributors in Philadelphia) beat me up right good last night.

Meanwhile, next week's tasting will be a shorter version than usual and held off-site. Blame, or credit, Ruch. Richard begged and pleaded with the nice folks at the Drafting Room Exton until, probably just to get rid of him, they agreed to give us a table for an abbreviated tasting while we wait for the introduction of Drafting Room Tenth Anniversary Ale at 6:30.

Don't know what that's all about? I just updated this story on the Beer Yard news pages which will provide all the particulars. Mayhap we'll see you there.

Top ten beer festivals?
While you're waiting, here, courtesy of Rick Smiledge telling me about it, is USA Today's list of 10 great beer festivals which ran last Thursday. Argue among yourselves as to which should or shouldn't be there.

[Posted 2:00 pm edt]

Using sex to sell beer. Those whacky Russians.
Here is a fun story I just put up on the Beer Yard news pages.

[Posted 12:15 pm edt]

A report from the vegan front.
Lee Marren, who's the beer guy at Flanigan's Boathouse Conshohocken, took gal pal Anne to the Vegan Beer Dinner at Monk's last week (which I missed), and both say the affair was a smashing success. And, yes, the main course did feature a honkin' big entrée as expected, but not the giant stalk of broccoli predicted here by Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel (scroll down to June 7 entry). It was, in Anne's words, "a huge mushroom strudel." Hanging over the edge of the plate huge, you may not be surprised to hear.

If Lee has the story right, and who are we to doubt him, the only thing committed vegans Tom and Peggy of Heavyweight, whose beers were featured at the dinner, originally asked of Monk's chef Adam Glickman was that at least one course be vegetarian so that they could chow down with the guests. "No sweat," or words to that effect, replied Adam, "we'll make the whole meal vegetarian." Then, once he got into it, he decided to go the full vegan route, probably just to show off. But,hey, it ain't showin' off if you can do it.

[Posted 11:15 am est]

14 June 04 Conquering the world, one beer at a time.
In a coincidence that surely delighted all the craft beer advocates who argue that good beer must find its place at the table along with wine in the minds of the foodies in order to take the next step forward, both Philadelphia newspapers reviewed restaurants which have bought into that premise this past weekend.

"The fermentation trio of wine, cheese and beer" is the motto of Tria Cafe in Philadelphia, which was reviewed in Friday's Philadelphia Daily News. Restaurant critic Sono Motoyama's review noted the new emphasis on food/beer matchups . She also took our old pal Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell along with her (casually referring to him as her "venerable colleague" in the midst of her her food ruminations) and he dutifully contributed this sidebar beer-centric review.

On Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Food columnist Rick Nichols wrote about Vetri, a downtown Italian spot which might reasonably employ the same motto as Tria. The owners of Vetri became enamored of beer as a result of regularly going down the street to Monk's Cafe to unwind with a late night brew after closing. Once they recognized the wonders they had found, they threw themselves on the mercy of the inimitable Tom Peters, who then set them on the path to righteousness.

In the end, though, the most enjoyable beer commentary of the weekend came in the "Intuition" column by Karen Heller. Ms. Heller has made her fondness for good beer evident in previous columns, but this one. which was a jab at the silly "ad wars" currently being waged by Anheuser-Busch and Miller, was a lot more, um, pointed. To wit:

The world of beer, as presented in advertising, is all about being too cool or buzzed to care, a magical Never, Never Land before breast reductions, Gloria Steinem, and the advent of the metrosexual. So it's particularly amusing that Miller Brewing has hauled Anheuser-Busch's shaggy Clydesdales into court...

You see, Bud had the temerity to call Miller foreign-owned. Call me silly, but up until the recent boom in American microbreweries, all those IPAs and EPAs, being foreign was an advantage in beer when it came to something as rudimentary as taste. It's not as if Anheuser-Busch went out and called Miller Lite "liquid cardboard" or "strangely flavored seltzer." If it had, I doubt there's a judge in the land who would entertain hearing the case...

The saddest thing of all in this brew-ha-ha is not that the judge and attorneys went to law school in order to handle such claims with straight and sober faces. No, it's that despite all this good beer readily available, including a lot of American beer, Anheuser-Busch remains the world's largest brewer, accounting for half of the U.S. beer sales, while SABMiller is second, with 18 percent. We may have evolved, but not our taste buds.

When's the last time you saw stuff like that in the mainstream press? I'd guess never.

[Posted 7:15 am est]

13 June 04 Not what I expected.
On Friday, I did something I never expected to do in my entire life. I blew off my college reunion.

It was a surprise, really. I didn't even consider backing out until Friday afternoon when, on the phone to the university and with credit card in hand, I suddenly said to myself "I don't want to do this," and hung up.

It had nothing to do with beer per se, so there's no reason to deal with it here. Except, well, maybe it did. Involve beer, I mean.

Whatever. I wrote about it over here if you want to know more.

[Posted 10:20 am est]

11 June 04 Bad feelings?
Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, in today's column in the Philadelphia Daily News, breaks a story I've been sitting on for a week, trying to decide whether to write it and how to write it.

The basic story, Victory Brewing Co.'s shifting its Philadelphia distributor from the small and craft brew-friendly Edward I. Friedland Co. to giant Penn Distributors Inc., the local "Bud house," has been out there for some time now. What Sixpack brings to public light is a simmering anger at the move on the part of some publicans and beer insiders which may be bubbling just below the surface.

Both sides make reasonable arguments in the column. Bill Covaleski, speaking for Victory, said that the move "is about protecting jobs we've created. [Friedland] isn't necessarily the best partner for growth." Eddie Friedland, the grandson of his company's founder who now runs the business, pointed out that "we weathered all the bad batches, all the out-of-stocks, and now they're leaving us."

Victory is on the edge of a major growth spurt and will be, like it or not, a very different company once its new brewhouse is in place and production is ramped up. They're talking 50% growth. That sort of quantum leap has done in more than one business, so this is a crucial time for Covaleski and partner Ron Barchet. Choices and relationships which worked when they were just two struggling young guys with a dream may no longer be appropriate. From the perspective of the consumer, it's not possible to reasonably argue for the growth and success of craft brewing and at the same time object to business decisions that are required in order to achieve that success.

Yeah, yeah, I know. What's logic got to do with it?

On the other hand, it is always a sad thing to see someone who contributed to a partner's success get left behind just when their journey together begins to reach its destination. Beyond that, Eddie Friedland is, to my mind at least, one of the seminal figures in the success of the current craft beer culture in Philadelphia, making it one of the best beer cities in the world. When Yards ESA exploded onto the market in the spring of 1995 and Tom Kehoe and his then-partner Jon Bovit insisted that the beer should be served on handpumps, Eddie was the guy with the foresight to go out and get a contract to sell and install handpumps for his clients. Yeah, he also wanted the Yards distribution contract and he got that too. Friedland's aggressiveness helped keep the small batch cult brew available and made it the face of local craft brewing. If things had been left in the hands of the stockbrokers (Jim Bell at Red Bell and Bob Conner at Independence, the other two new local microbreweries), I'm not so sure there would have been as receptive and eager and audience for the Victorys, Weyerbachers, Dogfish Heads and others who stormed the market in the months that followed.

A moment's pause here to toss a bouquet to Dave Wilby at Dawson Street Pub, who was the first bar owner to grasp what was going on and do on the retail level what Friedland did at wholesale. He immediately went out and got a handpump and began serving ESA the way it should be served. For a long while there, that alone made Wilby's pub a mecca for craft beer aficionados. Dawson Street has three handpumps these days and remains, as somebody once wrote, "the world's greatest bar" (oh wait, that was me.)

The Sixpack column is interesting stuff and worth checking out. As I said at the beginning, I'd been wondering whether that story should be written and how to do it if it was written. The reasoning behind my wondering if the story merited reporting is exemplified here. This is the beer geek reaction and, as you can see, Eddie Friedland and/or the--call it "moral," for want of a better word--aspect of the issue is barely mentioned. This was very much an "inside" story until now and that's because, in the long run, consumers don't care about the ins and outs of how the beer gets to them.

The reason I worried about how to do the story was because I felt it would be necessary to name at least some of those who are upset at Victory's action. Sixpack's only sources given are "a couple of bar owners who are longtime friends with Friedland" and admissions from Covaleski that "he's gotten grief from some of his accounts." That doesn't seem enough to me. I happen to know who it was that, Covaleski says, "attacked me on my integrity and said it was all about the money." I know that someone called me about this yesterday and asked if I knew about "all the people who are upset about this" and then could only back that up with remarks from the same person. What I don't know, at this point, is how many others there are who feel that strongly.

Now that it's all out in the open, maybe we'll find out.

[Posted 12:30 pm edt]

10 June 04 Hubris.
I must admit I was a little full of myself on Monday as I drove over to Sly Fox for our weekly Tasting Session. Looking around for something to bring, I'd come across two bottles of Reinheart Flemish Wild Ale, a beer I'd received via the Michael Jackson Great Beers of Belgium Club a year or so ago. "Aha!" I said to myself, and believe me, I'm not in the habit of saying "Aha!" to anybody.

Reinheart Flemish Wild Ale is brewed by the Proef Brewery in the little village of Hijfte. Proef means taste or test in Flemish and the name suits its purpose ideally. Founded in 1996, Proef is a testing ground for the development of new beers and a pilot plant for smaller independent breweries. It also produces beers of its own, under the Reinheart label.

This is something that no one will have had or maybe even heard of, I told myself. I shall be the hero of the day. I should have known better, or at least recalled the old proverb: Pride goeth before a Foley.

Or something like that.

Present and accounted for.
Our party numbered 12, including the incredibly attentive and helpful Jimmy Wasko and bartender Tim Ohst, who shared in the booty. Among the regulars were Richard Ruch, Rich Mayberry, Joe Meloney, Tom Foley, Lori Limper, Brian O'Reilly, Karl Shoemaker and Your Humble Scribe.

Irregular (i.e., been there once before) Ted Johnson was in attendance. Bob Chase, who'd spent the day watching Ruch try to play golf joined us under our any friend of Richard's is, you know, a friend of Richard's rule.

An impressive ten beers were tasted. Ruch made some comparison to a Victory beer in every instance. It's what he does. Meanwhile, the lovely Moira wandered in and out, looking for a attractive young man "with a tight butt" willing to attend a wedding with her. Talk about searching in all the wrong places...

Two doppelbocks and a hefe.
We started things off with Augustiner Maximator, contributed by Mayberry. It is, of course, one of the very good Doppelbocks, big (7% abv) and malty. An American interpretation of that same style, even bigger at 8% abv, followed, Thomas Hooker Liberator Doppelback from Troutbrook Brewing in Hartford, CT, offered up by Ruch. It was tasty as well, although overmatched against the Augustiner brew.

There followed one of the favorites of the day, Stoudt Hefeweizen in the soon-to-be-condemned-to-history 750ml bottle. Wasko, who seems intent on making us forget all about Corey Whatzizname, contributed this one. It was fresh and fruity and delightful, a great palate cleanser between the two big bocks and what was to follow.

Across the great divide.
Peripatetic Joe Meloney, whose arrival each Monday at 5:15 pm is the signal for the fun to begin, brought us a bottle of Hercules Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing in Denver. Things were getting bigger, as this one listed at 9.1% abv. To be honest, it didn't taste that strong, but it tasted right good.

If strong was what we wanted, Ted Johnston was our man, bringing a bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale 2000 to the table. Long time readers will recall I was part of a vertical tasting of this beer at the brewery in London last September and I, along with just about everyone else involved, was particularly impressed by the 1999 sample. I gotta tell you, this one appears to be mellowing out nicely enough to surpass its elder brother.

Ted also contributed some of his own homebrewed Best Bitter, which, as had been the Hefeweizen, served as a tasty bridge to our next beers.

"When you need a roadie, make it Rodenbach."
Tom and Lori, as we'd expected, showed up with passel of beers from their Belgian trip (see The Adventures of Lori and Li'l Tommy below). Tom started off their presentation with a bright red can of, can you believe it, Rodenbach Red! We actually bought it at a road stop," he said. "As soon as we saw it, I knew we had to have some. It was just a couple of dollars for a four-pack. You could get cans of Duvel and other beers too." It's kinda hard to picture driving down the road quaffing Rodenbach, but I guess I could learn to handle it. I stole the photo here from web since my computer woes leave me unable to photograph and scan the can I brought home from the Tasting.

Dandelion wine...er, beer.
Next came Fantome Pissenlit, a beer made from dandelions which registers 84 abv. Pissenlit is the French word for dandelion. Literally, it means pee in bed. Bushels of dandelions that grow in the fields around Fantome's picturesque farmhouse brewery are picked and dried in the sun (after the yellow flowers are removed), then soaked in water for a few days to make a thick, dark dandelion “tea” from which the saison-like beer is made. This was a fun beer to try, but I wasn't impressed enough that I'd want to seek it out again.

Foley's final beer of the night was coming up and, say, have you noticed I've never again mentioned Reinheart Flemish Wild Ale?

Coincidence? Or sinister plot?
Personally, I'm leaning toward the second option, though I can't figure out how he pulled it off. As you may have guessed, what he next pulled out of his bag were two bottles nearly identical to the two I had brought from home, bearing the now familiar Reinheart label. Happily, it was a different beer, however: Reinheart Grand Cru.

A point of clarification, if I might: all this part really happened when Foley first arrived but I've saved it for now for dramatic impact, such as it is. These stories are all true but often embellished for your reading pleasure. Be grateful. Once we'd all chuckled and chortled over it all and I'd finished silently gnashed my teeth over my lost opportunity at stardom, we'd decided to save the Reinhearts for last. Now the moment was upon us.

We began with the Flemish Wild Ale (9% abv), a "primitive" beer which is, according to Michael Jackson's tasting notes, "intended to replicate the character of the brews of 500 years ago." It poured with a decent head, was golden in color and, I thought, extremely dry. A good beer. Reinheart Grand Cru was even bigger, 9.5% abv, and raised an interesting question: how can a "test" brewery have a beer designated "Grand Cru?" Whatever, it was also a very good beer, slightly sweeter and smoother than the "wild" one.

Thus endeth our tale.

[Posted 1:30 pm edt]

9 June 04 So I lied.
Well, not lied, exactly. Made a promise I can't keep is more like it. Been known to do that.

What it comes down to is that I may have made a serious miscalculation putting my main computer back in the hands of the folks at MicroCenter. No need to go into why that's the case right now. The point is that it still isn't back in my hands and I think I'll be lucky if it is by week's end.

Meanwhile, as I contemplated how to make this slow old machine do the job, I was reminded how limited it is. So I'm backing off the plan to move the scanner over here. I sense one of those I can't make this SOB work horror shows I'm in no mood to deal with.

That means no scans to accompany the Monday Tasting Report. Yeah, that's the promise I can't keep, that thing about not letting it slide beyond today (see yesterday's posting).

Getting out all my comics subscription packages for the week today using FedEx Online took about twice as long as normal, effectively wiping out the morning. Then the ink cartridge in the printer ran out (never rains, always pours) so I had to go get one of those. Another hour and a half gone.

Now I have some actual work that needs doing today plus a family commitment tonight still in front of me.

This day is pretty well shot, friends. Sorry 'bout that. The Tasting story will be up tomorrow, sans photos.

Really. It will.

I hope.

[Posted 2:55 pm edt]

8 June 04 Trapped in '98 redux.
Your Loyal Beer Scribe is back on his secondary computer for the second day and, man, is this slow going, even with a cable hookup. Not enough memory, Windows God-forsaken '98 and all too many useful software tools not installed.

I expect the main system back online soon and am trying to avoid the hassle of moving hardware such as my scanner over to this machine (lord knows how much that would further slow things down}. Because of that, I'm holding off on posting a report on yesterday's Monday Tasting because I want to include a few instructive photographs.

I will tell you now that it was a good one (aren't they all?) and involved an almost eerie coincidence. A story worth waiting for, I hope. I won't let it slide beyond tomorrow, promise.

Meanwhile, to tide you over, a story of derring and, y'know, do...

The adventures of Lori and li'l Tommy in Belgium.
Tom Foley and Lori Limper were back from Belgium yesterday to pour fine beers and regale us with tales of their adventures there one fine day. As the story unfolded, I began to think of them as Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, maybe, or Tarzan and Jane. Except in reverse. You'll see.

It was a Sunday. After lunch at the cafe at Westvleteren, where they started the day with Westvleteren 12--which is a damned good start, I'd say--they rushed off to De Dolle, which they understood to close at 2 pm. When they arrived, nobody was there. Tom meekly turned to leave but Lori stepped forward and tried the door. Open. And inside was a sign: "Tour at your own risk."

Tour they did, Lori leading the way and Tom looking around nervously. She went up a set of stairs and found a hallway or tunnel there, behind a fermenter. Urging her husband to follow, she proceeded into small private room. "We found their stash," Tom told us yesterday. "It looked like our basement at home after we turned out a batch of homebrew. Bottles all over the place, some of them with dust inches thick."

They claim to have taken nary a bottle, which means one of two things. Either they took nary a bottle or, heaven forfend, they have no intentions of sharing their loot with their fellow tasters. Honesty we can respect; hoarding is beyond the pale.

The day wasn't finished yet. Off they went to Rodenbach, only to find it closed as well. Planning is clearly not their forte. But again, an open gate beckoned and inside they found a gentlemen in suit and tie standing by a chalkboard on which was written "50th Anniversary."

He spoke English and explained that it was his parents' 50th wedding anniversary and he had rented the entire brewery for the day for a party. Tom again turned away in defeat, but Lori was not to be denied. How coincidental, she said, since her parents had just recently celebrated their own 50th and, oh by the way, this trip to Belgium was Tom's 40th birthday present to her. Charmed, the man insisted that they join the party and so they did, two Americans in jeans mixing with the celebrants in their long gowns and suits, at the end of a very good day.

One can only imagine how things might have gone had Foley been left to his own devices. Fortunately, he married well.

[Posted 2:25 pm edt]

7 June 04 I think he nailed it.
George Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew is the perennial toastmaster at Monk's beer dinners and when I was talking to him at his place yesterday (see below), I asked him how he thought Monk's first vegetarian dinner would go tomorrow night, featuring the beers of Heavyweight, he spoke with the background of a man more than familiar with Tom Peters' "big honkin' piece of meat" theory of entrees.

"I see a huge piece of broccolli sprawled across the plate, hanging off both sides," quoth George, "and next to it, a piece of tofu as big as your head."

I tell you, I laughed so hard I damned near dropped my beer.

But nothing is that funny.

[Posted 9:30 am est]

6 June 04 Lemon Hill afternoon.
Roughly half a million spectators turn out every year about this time for the Your-Corporate-Bank-Merger Name-Here (Wachovia this time around) USPro Cycling Championship in Philadelphia, a 14.4 mile circuit whose most famous point is the "Manayunk Wall," a 17% incline that the cyclists have to climb nine times.

All the Cool People go there, to the Wall, to watch. They eventually spill over to fill Manayunk's Main Street and turn the whole town into a party. Everybody's pretty drunk, you may not be surprised to learn. That clever Matt Guyer went one year with a sixtel strapped to his back and made many friends as he passed out beers while moving through the crowd.

The Really Cool People, on the other hand, find other perspectives, which is what I did this afternoon to catch a bit of the 20th running of this world class event, which is the biggest single day of cycling in the United States. I went down to George Hummel and Nancy Rigberg's townhouse in Philadelphia's old "Brewerytown" area, on the edge of Fairmount Park. Their home is on the former grounds of one of those defunct breweries.

George and Nancy, who are Home Sweet Homebrew , the city's pre-eminent homebrew shop, throw a bike race open house every year. You can walk out their front door, across the street, up the stairs and over the railroad tracks and down again into the woods and follow a short path out to the River Drive, then cross over to stand at the bottom of Lemon Hill, another well know spot in the race. If I hadn't forgotten the camera, I'd be showing you some great shots here of the cyclists as they come down the hill and make sharp, leaned-over-to-almost-touch-the-macadam turns onto the Drive.

Lemon Hill, George told me, used to be the beer garden area for the dozens of breweries which populated the Brewerytown section in the early part of last century. Last year, he said, several local brewers (who were probably in Pittsburgh this year, for the 10th Annual Penn Brewery Microbrewers Fest) showed up and tapped kegs up on the top of the hill. Damn, I'm often late for the party, but a year late? That's just sad, man.

George brewed an IPA and a Cream Ale for the event. I had two pints of the former and was most pleased. Equally satisfying was the pulled pork which he had smoked himself and the array of desserts. You gotta love a buffet table where the desserts take up half the space.

That Monk's guy, Tom Peters was on hand, daughter in tow. He told me that he's pleased as punch with how things are going at the just-opened Grace Tavern at Grays Avenue and South Street. "It's a nice little neighborhood place," he said. "We have three or four of the big national name brands on tap and they're really not selling at all. People are more interested in the better beers." His two best selling brews, he said, are "whatever we put on from Nodding Head and Monk's Cafe Sour Red Flemish Ale." But then, he would say that, wouldn't he?

It was a good afternoon's outing, especially since I managed to avoid any traffic messes on the way back out by employing all those back roads and alternate routes you learn over the years. I took a bottle of this year's Heavyweight Biere d'Art down with me as a gift for George and Nancy and popped another into the 'frig to chill a bit for my own pleasure just before I sat down to write this. Life is good.

For now. Tomorrow I tackle my recent recurring computer issues one more once. Where that leads is anybody's guess.

[Posted 5:40 pm edt]

4 June 04 Victory Vienna Lager. Yeah!
So there we were last night, sitting around at Sly Fox enjoying Incubus Friday and the by now not at all unexpected absence of the brewer, who'd rushed home to New England to explain his crotch-grabbing salute (see photo below) to his distraught mother. It was a quiet night, the only excitement coming when Mayberry vehemently disagreed with my contention that the absent Ruch, who'd called to say he was tied up with business matters, was likely happily ensconced on his traditional barstool at Victory and had just, y'know, blown us off.

After I'd settled my bill and was preparing to leave, I mentioned in passing that I was thinking of driving out to Victory today to try the new Vienna Lager, at which point Steve (the Other One) piped up, "Let's go now. I'll drive" (I'm telling you, the self-confidence the boy has developed since becoming temporary horseshoes champion a week ago today is something to see). It was the classic offer too good to refuse, so off we went, with, of course, Dan (the Big One) in tow.

What did we find? Let me put it simply: Victory Vienna Lager is flat-out delicious. It's based on a recipe Bill Covaleski scored during his brew-trip to Vienna, where he introduced the wonders of HopDevil IPA to delighted Austrians and is incredibly easy drinking. The Victory version is bigger and less malty than is traditional, coming in at about 6.6% abv. They were aiming at around 5.8%, we were told by head brewer Bill Heaton (fondly known as "Bill Jr." to distinguish him from You-Know-Who, for which he must surely be grateful), "but the yeast attenuated more than we expected." Whatever the case, this is one fine beer. We purchased two growlers as we left and somehow I let Steve and Dan each take one of them. Sometimes I'm entirely too nice.

Not completely nice, of course. Just before leaving Victory, I asked around a bit. Would you believe that kindly old Mr. Ruch had arrived there around 5 pm and just walked out minutes before we arrived? Of course you would. Don't anybody tell Mayberry, though. It'll just upset him.

[Posted 2:25 pm edt]

3 June 04 I got your Incubus right here.
Who in the world is this man? And whatever in the world is he doing? Does his mother know?

Perhaps there's a clue in the title. Perhaps not.

If the latter, take a look here. Read or scroll down to select a link at the bottom of the page (you'll know which one) to begin to a journey into the secret life of man we now call The Nasty Brewer.

More to come. Oh, you bet there is.

Meanwhile, bookmark June 23 on your calendar. You wouldn't want to miss...ah, but that would be telling.

[Posted 7:00 am est]

2 June 04 Some days you eat the bear...
...somedays the bear eats you and some days, well, both you and the bear are kinda ambivalent about it all. Yesterday was one of those ambivalent days.

Cartons of the June/July issue of Celebrator Beer News arrived at The Beer Yard at mid-day. Through the generosity of that nice Mr. Guyer, free copies are then distributed to selected bars and pubs around the area. Details on where you can find a copy are on the Beer Yard site under "Store Notes."

I was looking forward to this issue not only for my regular "Atlantic Ale Trail" column but also for a long feature story about the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant chain which I spent most of April working on.

Aaarrggh! No story.

I assume it was bumped back an issue (haven't been able to catch up with editor Tom Dalldorf yet) because, it is a feature story which doesn't have a timely news hook and therefore was the choice to free up space for lots of photos of people in skimpy bathing suits.

I guess everyone will enjoy those. Me, I'm a bit grumpy.

Ah, but when I checked my post office box on the way back home I found (finally!) the new American Brewer which contains the story on Distinguished Brands International which I wrote way back in December and early January. I don't know how well, or even how, AmBrew is distributed or how many of you will get a chance to see the issue, but it's out there.

Win one, lose one, I guess. And, presumably, two checks will be winging their way toward me real soon now.

All in all, I guess I'd score the day Jack 1, Bear 0. I can live with that.

[Posted 7:30 am est]

1 June 04 Rainy days & Mondays really get me down...
...but not yesterday. As mentioned a couple of postings back, we did not plan to hold our regular Monday Tasting at Sly Fox on Memorial Day, but rather to allow Brian O'Reilly to worm his way back into our affection by offering up several beers from his private stock.

And that, by gosh, by golly, was exactly what happened. With considerable input from Bob Huber, I offer the following account of what he poured.

We started off with a year and a half old bottle of the only brewing to date of Sly Fox Saison Vos. It was nicely spicy with hints of citrus fruits and apricots. This needs to be brewed again. Soon.

Next was a bottle of Saison Dude (Huber's inspired name) from McKenzie Brew House, a maltier, perhaps more traditional version of the style. This is the beer that won a Bronze Medal at the 2003 Great American Beer Festival. I found O'Reilly's version slightly more appealing; several others, including Brian himself, favored the Dude's.

Three more Sly Fox bottles followed. Royal Weisse was first, 10-months old and bottle-conditioned. I thought this had lost a bit of its character from the draft version but it was still good drinking. Some might even prefer its somewhat softer nature.

The beer of the afternoon, as far as I was concerned was a bottle of Incubus from the first batch brewed. A splendid beer and yet another harbinger of the wonders which will be available to us once the new Royersford brewery gets to bottling (probably not until 2005, I'd guess).

Almost as good was the Black Raspberry Wheat, a year old and even more enticing and drinkable than I remember, with a great fruity nose. I just happen to have a bottle of this in my private stash, the only Sly Fox bottle I own, and think I'll have to trot it out some Monday this summer to share with the troops.

For O'Reilly to do a beer presentation and not include something from his mentor, Phil Markowski of Southampton Publick House, would be almost unthinkable, and so we next tried Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter. This was listed at 7.2% abv and was slightly off, a bit acidic and slightly sour. It was still good enough to drink and leave me wondering what it might have been like in its prime.

The final bottle was Magic Hat Chaotic Chemistry, an "aged barleywine" (the website says 36 months in bourbon casks) which was bottled on 1/1/04. It was listed at 10.8% but its buttery character thoroughly masked that strength. Comes to that, it masked the nature of the brew itself, which I think few would identify as a barleywine in a blind tasting.

Throughout and after all this, of course, we consumed copious quantities of the 12 brews currently on tap at the Fox. It was a fine day, all in all.

Hey, we could have been sitting through a cumulative four-hour rain delay at the Phillies game...

[Posted 10:15 am est]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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