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26 June 2006
Pleasant. Civilized. Good food. What kind of beer festival was this anyway?
The Big Bottle event at Iron Hill North Wales Saturday afternoon was one of the more pleasant beer events I've attended in a while. Well run (indicating that either Larry Horwitz had help or he has secret skills, you decide), uncrowded (ticket sales were limited to a maximum of 150 and they sold somewhere between 130 and 140 I was told), with excellent hors d'oeuvres (a reminder of why Iron Hill is such a successful brewery/restaurant) and thoroughly professional, the four-hour gathering was well worth submitted my tired old Toyota to the rigors of Rt. 309.

The added value to it all, of course, was that attendees could purchase bottles of the beers being poured to take home. I grabbed three, all from Iron Hill: Russian Imperial Stout (Bob Barrar, Media), Oak Aged Quadrupel (Brian Finn, Wilmington) and Larry Horwitz's Award-winning Abbey Dubbel (he told me that was the new official name). Iron Hill had a dozen or more bottles pouring (the event was something of an unofficial kickoff for their Big Bottle program, pending getting all the labels approved) and I also tried, and enjoyed their Bamberg Style Rauch Bier, Bourbon Vanilla Porter and Old Ale 2002.

I also had my first taste of Heavyweight Ste-ve from the bottles and needs must grab some of that next weekend--Huge Bret nose which will probably be even more evident in the brew itself as it ages in the bottle. Weyerbacher Insanity out of the big bottle has developed just as nicely as the small bottle version I raved about a few weeks back; Flying Fish Big Fish Barleywine appears to be mellowing out nicely and General Lafayette The Phantom, a blend of Chris Leonard's 2004 and 2005 barleywines was enjoyable, but topped by the secret bottle of 2003 Barleywine that came out late in the afternoon.

The beers from Sly Fox, Troegs and Victory were all ones I have with some regularity so I skipped them for the most part, though I did give in and have a taste of Saison Vos, having finished my last bottle during the past week. I also couldn't resist Ommegang Hennepin, another old favorite.

A great afternoon, despite the terrible weather and the long trek from here to there. I hope it becomes a regular event.

Coincidence? Or evil plot?
Earlier this month, I was going on about Hoptimus Prime, the new Triple IPA at Nodding Head. Well, you'd think that a bell would have gone off and I'd have remember this, from last , wouldn't you?

n addition to all that, Union Jack's will soon be serving its own house beers, brewed by Legacy. These will be based upon recipes created by part-time bartender Matt Goodall, a Comcast employee who has been home brewing for years, Tom said. The first two will be Pig Swill Brown Ale and Hoptimus Primus, a double IPA. A wheat beer is planned for the summer and Uncle Jeffie, wandering through our conversation, made mention of Bollocks Bock...
Throw in the not inconsequential fact that, probably because my subconscious was struggling to get my attention, I original misnamed the Nodding Head beer as Hoptimus Maximus and it seems that there is evidence of some great conspiracy being uncovered here.

Developing, as they say...

[Posted 8:55 pm edt]

20 June 2006
More proof you can learn how to do damned near anything on the internet.
Our pal Carl, who, we have noted many times, has a gummint job and therefore plenty of time on his hands, scoured the net and found these useful and illustrated series of instructions on what to do in those terrible situations when you really want a beer and don't have an opener handy.

You know, like when you're brushing your teeth or something.

This is particularly good news for Big Dan, who will no longer have to strap all those auxiliary openers to various parts of his body every morning (don't ask, trust me), just in case he comes across a homeless bottle of brew during his daily travels.

[Posted 3:35 pm edt]

15 June 2006
Best. Monk's. Dinner. Ever.
Seems to me I've sung that song before, but Tuesday night's feast, built around several of the fine beers brought into the US by Global Beer Network, the Santa Barbara-based importers, was one for the ages. Adam Glickman and his merry band outdid themselves.

Granted, the presence of Johnny and Claudine Fincioen, natives of Belgium who relocated to sunny California in the early '90s to set up their business, raised the ambiance of the room considerably, so even a bad meal (bite my tongue) would probably have seemed near magnificent. Johnny is an indefatigable sort, excited as hell about beer and blessed with an arm-waving supplemental communications technique that would do my old Italian grandfather proud. He's used to more, um, attentive rooms than he found at Monk's but was undeterred, jumping up from our table with each course to regale the gathering with tales of 11th century nuns, the place of women in beer history and more than one theory which argues that all that is good in human civilization was somehow first discovered or created in Flanders.

You'll see more of Johnny Fincioen in these parts a week or two down the road; I've already arranged with him to do a long interview or two in which he can expound in more detail on the fascinating tidbits he tossed around Tuesday evening. How fascinating? Fascinating enough that he managed what few have accomplished, captured the room, which dropped to something near silence whenever he spoke. And fascinating enough that I've added Global Beer Network to our Beer on the Web links listings in the column to the left.

Now, about that meal...

We began the night with glasses of Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale (which Global United made the arrangements for importing), then had Wittekerke (from the can, of course) with an Amuse Bouche of potato leak soup, truffled goose mousse and seabream cerviche, a combination so stunning (the soup and cerviche in particular) that I actually said at that point, presciently as it turned out, "we may be on track for the best Monk's dinner ever."

Draft Poperings Hommel Ale was the second brew (I keep forgetting how superb a beer this is until I taste it next), accompanying Pan-Seared Scallops, a dish which Monk's has mastered and which they can't serve me too often. Then came spicy Chicken Satay with an equally spicy Thai salad, and two beers: Sara Buckwheat Ale and draft Piraat, one of my favorite Belgians ever. As you'd expect, the Piraat stood up better to the spicy dish but the Sara went with it remarkable well too.

A sweet and refreshing Sorbet and with Monk's Flemish Red cleansed our palates for the entreé, Elk Medallions. The usual "bing honkin' slab of meat" jokes were offered as we waited (I suggested they might come with antlers attached) but instead we received three slices of perfectly cooked, medium rare meat, accompanied by fiddlehead ferns and roasted bliss potatoes. Perfect, and made even more so by the draft Scotch Silly and Gulden Draak which were served with it.

Chocolate pound cake with fresh berries and cream and Cherish Framboise finished things off.

Best. Monk's. Dinner. Ever.

Parts of the following may be exaggerated for effect.
Since it appears the press of business and personal matters will drive me into something close to seclusion for much of the rest of this month, I thought I'd make up for my forthcoming absence by answering one of those recurring questions that I've been fending off as I blunder about the landscape.

The question was first asked, I seem to recall, by The Big One and The Other One several years back, as they stood before me, looking down at their feet (easy for Steve, more of a task for Dan) and blushing ever so charmingly. It went, and usually does, something like this: "So tell me, what is like to be a famous and respected beer writer?" The adjectives used, I should acknowledge, are often quite different.

Well, that's not easy to answer simply, hence my avoidance of doing same. But the other day I ran across mystery writer J. A. Konrath's reply to a similar inquiry and it struck me that he captured my life almost perfectly:

I get up in the late afternoon, disentangle myself from whatever celebrity super model I picked up the previous night, do a bunch of drugs, and then go cash whatever big check arrived in the mail that day. Being a [beer writer] is a white hot roller coaster ride of glamorous sin, depraved debauchery and unhealthy self-obsession. Plus, binge drinking.
Now out here in the bucolic western outskirts of downtown Pottstown, Pa., it really isn't always that way. But close enough, close enough.

[Posted 1:35 pm edt]

11 June 2006
Talkin' with Fritz.
I sent off my story on Fritz Maytag and Anchor Brewing to Beers of the World in London on Thursday, 900 words on the nose, at least 100 words more than they asked for. Imagine trying to tell the story of Fritz and the saving of Anchor within those limitations. And now imagine doing if for a mostly European audience who must be presumed to be unfamiliar with the basic facts necessary to see what an important story it was, nothing less that the birth of the American craft brewing movement. But you do what you gotta do to make a buck. Or a pound.

The end result, of course was that I had a whole lot of stuff I couldn't use, more so than I usually do after interviews, certainly interviews with legends. Among the things that fell by the wayside was a story I'd not heard before (then again, I don't get out much), one that definitely seems worth putting on the record. We were talking about Anchor's move to its present brewery back in 1979 when Fritz got to reminiscing:

"When we moved in here, there was a health scare, one of those big deals that turned out not to be such a deal in the end, about nitrosamine, a carcinogen they'd found in bacon and beer and whiskey and I don't know what all. Beers really didn't have very much of it, but the industry kind of went crazy and the newspapers were writing stories.

"Whatever the issue was, it was just an accident, a matter of technology. It had to do with how the malt was dried, whether it was with air that had through a flame or with air that had indirectly been heated by flame. If it was the latter, none of this stuff in the malt.

"We'd stopped brewing during the move, so when we started up again we figured out how to get malt that had none of this carcinogen in it. There were only two malt houses that had it, one a little place in North Dakota and the other one was Coors. We got Coors to agree to sell us malt. We gave some of it to New Albion and, I think, Sierra Nevada. This was the fall of 1979 and they were starting to brew.

"So the only microbreweries in America were the only ones that had zero nitrosamine in their beers. I always wondered what they thought about that at A-B, where they were doing all this testing, when they tested a bottle of our all malt stuff from out in California and it tested zero.

"We had twice the amount of malt and none of the bad stuff."

As an added note, I read just this weekend, in a story by Alan Moen included the proofs I was emailed for the forthcoming summer issue of American Brewer (which will include my "Different Strokes for Different Coasts," about the early days of craft brewing in the '70s and '80s, and "Stockbrokers Gone Wild," a look at how Red Bell and Independence with no small help from Ortlieb's, damn near wrecked Philadelphia emerging craft brewing scene in the '90s), that at about the same time Coors was also being very helpful to new and struggling Boulder Beer by giving them malt and bottles and even distributing their beer.

Talkin' with Gordo.
Last Monday, I promised to tell you more about Hoptimus Prime, the new Triple IPA pouring at Nodding Head. Well, the first thing is, you may have noticed, I had the name wrong first time around, posting as Hoptimus Maximus. When this was pointed out to me, by the brewer hisveryownself, I figured I must have written it down wrong but, checking my notes, there it is, plain as day: Hoptimus PRIME. It would be cruel to term myself too stupid to live, I suppose, but there are times when it seems more than appropriate.

A note to call Gordo (brewer Gordon Grubb) to keep that promise was on one those yellow stick-it things that I kept moving from day to day along the calendar early last week, caught up in the hassle of the Maytag story and some other paying work. Not worry, he called me Wednesday or Thursday. Just being polite 'cause he knew I was looking for information, he say, but we all know it was really to make sure I got the name right. Can't hardly fault him for that.

So here's the scoop: the beer is 12% abv, and over 50 lbs of hops (Fuggles, Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Glacier) were used in making it. "It took me two mashes to get something that big," Gordo said. He explained that he was inspired to create Hoptimus Prime by the 2005 "Lupulin Slam" at Washington DC's Brickskeller, where he first tasted Russian River Pliny the Younger, Vinnie Cilurzo's hop monster which has been called both a Tripel IPA and an Imperial Double IPA (which, by the laws of math and beer naming conventions would actually make it a Quadrupel IPA).

"The idea of that beer started sort of bouncing around in my head and I was wondering 'how could I do that?' because our mash tun just isn't big enough to do it in one shot," Gordo said. "When I finally came up with what seemed like a pretty good plan, I figured, okay, now I just gotta do it. It took two mashes, like I said, and two months for that to be ready because the fermentation just kept going...and going. But, at the end, I think it was all worth it."

Customer reaction has been good. "It's not a 'everybody' beer," laughed Gordo, "but those who like it, really like it. Customers who hear what it is and say 'I'll try that' are really digging it."

[Posted 3:15 pm edt]

6 June 2006
For once, I am entirely innocent.
There's an old joke about a guy being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Asked if he had anything to say to the crowd, he replied "you know, if it weren't for the honor and distinction of it all, I'd just as soon have passed on the opportunity."

That story came to mind yesterday afternoon when I received this email from beer writer Chuck Cook, who spends more time in Belgium than one would think seemly:

I thought I'd ask you about a rumor the monks of Westvleteren heard about Merchant du Vin importing Westvleteren beer. Of course there is no agreement between MDV and Westvleteren, and the monks have no intention of sending their beer here.

It sounds like complete BS to me, but they asked me to check on it anyway. Somehow your name is attached to this rumor, as a writer for beeradvocate.com. However I'm not sure I have ever seen an on-line article by you on BA, so that makes this even more far-fetched....Apparently some Belgian brewers as well as US importers have complained to St-Sixtus/Westvleteren about this rumor.

I replied, truthfully, that I didn't know a thing about it, nor had I ever written anything for beeradvocate.com. And I made a note to call Merchant du Vin today to see if they could tell me anything. No need. MDV's Craig Hartinger called me from Seattle this morning instead, to see if I knew what it was all about. Together, as they say, we had nuttin'.

Anyway, the idea that cloistered Belgian monks at one of the world's great breweries are tossing my name about while angry importers and other brewers storm the doors does lend a certain cachet to my writerly persona, I suppose, albeit in a somewhat disconcerting fashion. I mean, I was raised a good Catholic boy and folks in black robes, even ones committed to fine beer, make me nervous. Indeed, given my grammar school indoctrination, if it were a passel of nuns on my ass, I'd be basket case right now.

In the grand scheme of things, this minor imbroglio surely ranks well below Michael Jackson's infuriating the entire continent of Australia a couple of years back, but it's definitely a notch or two above the times when Bryson was summarily tossed off of beeradvocate back in the days when he was always inciting the natives with facts and stuff, so I guess that's something.

Here's the scoop: the monks don't want their beers exported and Merchant du Vin has no plans whatsoever for importing them. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sixpack stuff.
After all my off-the-mark commentary the other day about his website not working right, Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell threw an arm around my shoulder (electronically speaking) and offered some words of wisdom:

A word of advice: Never complain about someone else's web site malfunctioning until you've consumed at least one beer. Either the problem goes away or you just don't give a....
Well, figure out the rest. You know the kind of language those ex-newspaper guys use.

Just to rub it in, he also allowed as how he hosted a beer your for 15 visiting newspaper & magazine travel writers in town on a junket organized by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. last Friday now. "The agency is now promoting local beer venues as tourist destinations," Russell told me, "focusing on the Philadelphia's growing reputation (as you've noted recently) as the best beer drinking city in America."

The group visited Standard Tap, Monk's, McGillin's and Independence, he said, calling it "an array of joints I chose as a decent cross-section of what the city has to offer out-of-towners. And Yards kicked in some goodies as well. It was an excellent chance to spread the good word about local beer and I got to ride on one of them Fairmount trolleys."

I sure hope they let him clang the bell, y' know?

This is great for the city beer scene, of course, and it turned out that the Joe Sixpack Beer Tour. a la the Michael Jackson Tastings at every annual The Book & The Cook, was the single most popular event on the travel writer junket, with several writers having to be turned away.

I'll tell you what all that makes me wonder. How come it is that philly.com, the region's biggest web portal, doesn't do a better job of promoting Russell's weekly column? Where's the love, guys?

Another beer I drank...and yet others I definitely plan to drink as the opportunities present themselves.
Yesterday, when I was going on about beers I've recently consumed, mostly of my own free will and not under duress, I meant to mention that Joe Meloney, a fine human being, had gifted me with a bottle of Cru Dor, a very tasty organic Dubbel made for Whole Foods by North Coast Brewing. Some might find this a bit on the sweet side, but I really enjoyed it.

And I've just now posted this story at The Beer Yard about an event where I will definitely be on hand. Whether I can sample all 15 beers or not, though, is questionable. If I have a driver, I just might give it a shot.

Okay, as long as we're on the topic of beers I intend to be seeking out, pop back over and check out the Beer Yard June calendar, specifically the Iron Hill North Wales event on Saturday June 24. Think I might have to drag myself over to that one too. If you knew how much I hate even thinking about driving on Rt. 309, you'd fully appreciate how appealing I find that lineup of local goodies.

[Posted 5:30 pm edt]

5 June 2006
Some beers I drank.
Okay, now that I have your attention...

As mentioned a couple of days ago, this was Celebrator Beer News delivery weekend, forcing me, I say forcing me to visit (in order) Sly Fox, Victory, Drafting Room Exton, Monk's, Nodding Head and Standard Tap. Man, I hate it when that happens.

Or maybe not.

I started at Sly Fox Royersford late Friday afternoon, just to drop off a few copies and, as it turned out, to have a pint of Dunkel Lager (formerly Kulmbacher Dark Lager but recently renamed for reasons that will become apparent one day soon) and score a partial-fill of Southampton Grand Cru which I'll take to this afternoon's Monday Tasting. Then off to Sly Fox Phoenixville to drop off the regular allotment and snare, thanks to Bob Riker, the final pour of Incubus from the cask and a couple of pints of my new favorite session brew, British Pale Ale.

Saturday, after a an hour or so watching a lacrosse game in which my grandson, the second son of my stepdaughter was playing, I drove out to Downingtown and, finding the Richard Ruch Memorial Stool empty (Scandalous!), plopped myself down at the other end of the bar, near the entrance, and ordered a pint of the just-tapped newest entry in the Braumeister Varietal Pils series, German Spalt Pils, which could definitely be a contender on that session beer list. I was joined by the mysterious and evasive Rick Mayberry, who's gone undercover in recent months and we discussed, y'know, stuff, including his recent trip to New Orleans (not, apparently, a secret mission). I order a pint of Uncle Teddy's Bitter from the handpump and as I raised the glass to my mouth for the first sip, felt someone slip into the seat to our right.

Richard Ruch, his own self, looking weirdly out of place. Not just to me, understand. The bartender did a absolute double-take and squealed "Richard! I didn't recognize you there!" Another bartender: "Richard! I thought you didn't even know this end of the bar existed!" It's nice to see him treated with the respect he's earned, I do have to say that. We all chatted a bit, then Mayberry went off to do whatever it is that he does and I got up to leave. Muttering "thank God," Richard quickly picked up his glass and made tracks for his comfort zone.

The Drafting Room provided a chance to a pair of Sierra Nevada brews, the new Torpedo (sort of a smoothed out Celebration, still with lots of hops but more malt balance) and Ruthless Weiss, pouring in Pa. for the first time; I found it a pleasant, if unexceptional example of the style. Spent some time talking with the bartender, Heather, about the range of beers Patrick Mullin provides customers every week and the different between beer nights featuring brewers and those featuring brewery sales reps; she argues the latter work better because sales reps are conditioned to go and mingle with the crowd whereas brewers more naturally settle in one place and the crowd comes to them.

Up early Sunday for the journey into Philadelphia, which I can usually do in about 45 minutes on off-hours but which construction delays and my selection of a less anger-inducing but longer alternate route extended over an hour. Dropped off copies at Monk's but had to double park, so there was no time to stay for a beer. I did find a parking space right in front of Nodding Head, so I stopped to try a sampled of the brand-new Hoptimus Prime, a triple (!) IPA that was hopped to the high heavens but still amazingly drinkable. I'll give Gordon Grubb a call later this week to get some details. The beer is a play on the name of the lead character in the Transformers, the toy/cartoon/movie/DVD/comic book series.

The usual final stop at the Standard Tap meant breakfast at the bar, starting with a pint of Troegs Dreamweaver. While I was studying the menu board and eavsedropping on the usual fascinating conversations that Sunday morning bartender JOy carries on with the array of customers, owner William Reed wandered over from his table where the family was having brunch to say hello and talk to his sister, who was sitting to my right. William's one of the good guys and I usually miss him when I visit the Tap or Johnny Brenda's, so that was another nice touch to a fine day.

I ordered the "Salmon Bagel" which, was, Standard Tap style, a huge plate with a gigantic bagel piled high with lettuce, onions, scallions, tomato and more lox than any human being should be expected to eat at one sitting (I managed), accompanied by a small tub of extraordinary creamed cheese. I studied the board (which was something of a Troegs-fest, with Nut Brown Ale and Sunshine Pils also on tap. I considered Dogfish Head 60-Minute from the handpump as accompaniment with the repast but settled for just a taste and had an O'Reilly's Stout instead, which worked real fine.

I finished with a cup of coffee and a departure pint of Yards Saison, along with more eavesdropping and few conversational contributions of my own. I got the idea for a new short story out of the morning and, on the way home, completely redefined a character in that unfinished novel of mine (which I seem to be talking about a lot of late; I wonder if I'll start working on the damned thing again?) in terms of gender, background and attitude. That alone makes it perfectly legal, says I, to write off the whole morning as a business expense (as if I wouldn't anyway).

Home in less than an hour, despite taking an even longer route, moving the day up from "fine" to "spectacular." Yeah.

[Posted 9:20 am edt Corrected 8 June]

2 June 2006
Silent Sixpack. Is it an issue or do I just live right?
When I received my weekly Joe Sixpack link in the email this morning, I of course dutifully rushed right over to catch his words of wisdom. And I just as dutifully follow an instruction in that same email to "make sure you check out my latest Beer Minute video primer on preventing dreaded foam-over." Hey, I am nothing if not eager to learn.


Well, here's what I emailed Mr. Sixpack a few minutes ago:

Is it just me, a starving beer writer with ancient computing equipment, or is only the voice-over and none of Mr. Sixpack's (I am sure, excellent) commentary being made available to the human ear in this week's Beer Minute.

I'd lip-read, but staring strongly at Mr. Sixpack for that length of time this early in the morning is not conducive to kicking off a really good day.

He responded almost immediately (neither of us apparently having anything better to do) and, without even calling me a "smart ass," suggested was my computer and gave me this alternative link, which does in fact give me all the vocal content.

So here's the thing. Aside from some setting in my version of Firefox that I can't see existing and which has never affected any other site, and given that I can hear everything at that utube link, I can't see how this is an issue at my end. Does Joe have a problem (no, no, besides the obvious ones)? We both are eager to know. Please go listen and report back (or you can just email me directly, I'm easy).

See how clever this is? By sending you to his site, I drive up his hit totals and by asking you to come on back and report, I drive up my own.

Not that such thoughts would ever cross my mind.

UPDATE: I guess it's me after all. All the reports so far indicate no trouble at all. Bad, bad me.

[Posted 9:59 am edt; UPDATED 1:35 pm edt]

1 June 2006
God bless Peggy Zwerver.
I really do have to stop posting here and get to work today--new month, clean slate, and all that--but this is too good not to pass on.

I just called Tom Baker over at Heavyweight to give him the phone number of a guy who wants to talk to him about a brewpub, and caught him...brewing!

"I thought you gave all that up," sayeth I. "Well, yeah," quoth he, "but Peggy's forcing me to make one more batch of Biere d'Art because it's her favorite beer of all the ones I make."

Hey, mine too!

I knew there was something I liked about Peggy.

You go, girl.

[Posted 9:55 am edt]

One-upped by Wanderin' Joe.
This is the text of an email which I, consumed with guilt (well, a bit), sent to Wanderin' Joe Meloney last night:

I want to apologize for sending you off with the crazy lady on Monday, but it was funny and you were leaving and....

Well, I'm sorry. Owe you one.

But it was funny.

Here's the scenario, on the Sly Fox Phoenixville shortly after we'd finished the Memorial Day Tasting. Joe was standing by the table, ready to leave, when this woman came up, possibly but not necessarily, a bit worse for the wear in terms of alcohol consumption.

"Can one of you help me?" she asked. "I think someone's stolen the mirror off my car. It's gone but I can't tell. Can somebody come and look?"

At the table, Tom Foley, Ted Johnston and I exchanged looks. Meloney took a step back, as if he could fade behind our visitor and disappear. I pointed at him. "You're in luck," I said, "this gentleman is just leaving and he's an automotive expert besides. He'll be happy to come and take a look."

And so he did, as we broke into laughter as soon as they were out of hearing. "That was cruel," said Foley, "but it definitely was funny."

Now here's the kicker, in the form of Meloney's emailed response to my apology, which I just received:

Thats OK Jack...................the fifty dollar tip came in handy!
What a great riposte! I mean, I don't believe for a minute he got a $50 tip. Although...

If he did, I take it all back. He now owes me one.

Good times keep on keepin' on.
Another email just received, from London, confirming the Maytag story for Beers of the World and also a longer story built around how an avid beer lover coming to Philadelphia for a one-day visit might best spend his time.

Life is good and gettin' gooder.

The complete May 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 8:58 am edt UPDATED 9:10 am edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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