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31 March 2006
Joe Sixpack, man of the people.
Okay, I really, really have to get down to serious work but I can't not mention today's outstanding Joe Sixpack column in which Don Russell gives the Phillies props for their great beer lineup at Citizen's Bank Park, takes a swipe at the Eagles for their mediocre beer lineup at Lincoln Financial Field and smacks McFadden's upside the head for their dreadful beer lineup (which I had the misfortune to be subject too during the NCAA weekend here).

Wish I'd said that. Glad he did.

[Posted 12:40 pm edt]

Out like a lamb.
Posting has been light over the last several days and I didn't want to just disappear into April without catching up on a couple of things.

I'm currently working on a story for American Brewer about the different patterns in the growth of craft brewing over the past three decades or so on the West and East coasts--and enjoying the hell out of the task. I'm talking to a lot of people I'd heard of but never had reason to contact and finding out about, and talking with, others I was totally unfamiliar with.

The Holy Grail of this story would be an interview with Jack McAuliffe, the guy who founded the nation's first microbrewery, New Albion back in 1975, but he's pretty much disappeared and been reluctant (make that "refusing") to talk about it for years now. I have interviewed a brewer (still active) who was with him from the beginning until the end in 1983, though, so that's a good thing. Even earlier than McAuliffe, of course, was Fritz Maytag, who saved Anchor in 1969 (and maybe American beer itself, as I believe Michael Jackson once said, although I can't find the reference at the moment), and I'm doing a profile of Fritz for Beers of the World next month, so there's nice synergy there.

And, hey, as another assignment for that same summer issue of AmBrew, I get to revisit, briefly, the fiasco that was Red Bell/Independence/Poor Henry's/Dock Street (at the end). Can;t have much more fun than that, can ya?

Other stuff. That breakfast meeting I had with The Big Guy last week, during which he most certainly did NOT make me sick, may lead to something you folks will surely be interested in. I hope to be able to talk about that before April gets too far along. And I just put up this story at The Beer Yard, based on an item in the latest issue of Celebrator Beer News by Chuck Cook, which reveals just who Pierre Celis will be brewing with when he returns to Texas in the very near future.

Speaking of CBN, the new issue is a right nice on, with a Pacific Region focus: editor Tom Dalldorf visits Singha in Thailand, Tim Webb spends time in Vietnam, Bryan Harrell checks in from Tokyo and Lucy Sanders does the beer/food thing in New Zealand. Among other contents, Stephen Beaumont will probably stir up things a bit with his comments about Anheuser-Busch's "craft" beers and Your Truly's "Atlantic Ale Trail" is surely a must-read for followers of LDO. As is my custom, I'll put that latter up here onsite in a week or so, after the issue's fully distributed. I got my advance copy in the mail yesterday and expect copies for local outlets will be here next week/

Speaking of local distribution, it's probably time again to talk about that. As many of you know, the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer is generous enough to pay for shipping in a couple 100 copies of each issue which I then distribute to eight locations (it used to be more but that was just spreading things too thin. As it is, they disappear all too quickly. If I get the time, I may talk to some of those outlets and other places which should have CBN about their taking on the cost and bringing in quantities themselves (as is the case in most of the country, but until then, look for issues at The Beer Yard, Monk's Cafe, Nodding Head, Standard Tap, Drafting Room Exton, Victory Brewing and Sly Fox (split between both pubs) every other month. Best I can do for now.

Finally, after talking with a lot of West Coast people most of this week for the AmBrew story mentioned above, I'm about to begin my East Coast interviews which will run through most of next week (the story's due a week from today, chuckle, chuckle), so LDO posting will remain sparse, I'd think. C'est la vie.

[Posted 12:00 pm edt]

26 March 2006
I'm getting better, but this may cause a relapse...
...due to the shock to my system, because I seem to owe (gasp!) a serious apology to this big, healthy fella, who assures me he was not the cause of my weekend health meltdown. His evidence was compelling, his voice booming and I concede without reservation that I unfairly slandered his name and reputation.

Shouldn't have done that. My bad.

Now excuse me while I go find something to fairly and justly slander him with.

It's an ongoing battle, this struggle for truth, justice and the American way...

[Posted 11:05 am edt]

26 March 2006
Update: Sunday mornin' comin' (unfortunately) up.
Okay, now I'm throwing up (which is probably more information than you wanted, innit?). The forces of evil (read "Bryson") have won. No nice meal in the city tonight for me, I'm afraid. I've called and expressed my regrets to that nice Mr. Peters and instructed him to give the Big Guy my, um, thoughts on the matter, and Stephen my regrets. I am not a happy camper.

[Posted 2:20 pm edt]

Sunday mornin' comin' down.
Let's hope this will be coherent. I started it last night and felt myself falling more and more under the spell of some sort of flu or serious cold, so I popped some meds and went to bed. Unfortunately, things are worse this morning. I seem to be coming down with whatever it was that Big Lew had when we met for a Breakfast confab on Wednesday, and a flu or any other bug potent enough to affect that body will make mincemeat of my more petite form if I can't fend it off.

Anyway, back to a week ago today. What Big Al did is, he got Uncle Bob. You will recall that when I found out I couldn't go to the NCAA games with him because of my commitment to the Michael Jackson Dinner at Monk's, I suggested he try and find another pal. Bob is Al's wife's uncle, a spry 82-year old who still works (driving a hearse of all things and, yes, he's heard all the jokes) and is as alert and physically fit as any person of that advanced age you'll ever see. His only fault, best I could determine, is that he no longer drinks, having stopped five years ago. That, of course, might account for that spry and alert stuff in a man with serious years on him, but what a terrible price to pay. Except for the non-drinking and hearse-driving parts, though, he's pretty much what I'd be happy to be when and if I reach that advanced age. That will happen, I suppose it is incumbent upon me to say, not nearly as soon as some people expect.

Even though I wasn't going to the game, I rode down to the sports complex with Al and Bob around 1pm because I'd figured out how to see at least the first half of the Villanova-Arizona game while having a pleasant afternoon in the city. I'd already set up a ride home with Tom Foley and Lori Limper at the U of P event the day before, since I thought I'd be attending the games. I saw no reason to change that because it offered a night drinking at Monk's with no real concerns about having to drive afterwards. Not too many of those happen in my world.

I had a couple of bad beers with my aged companions at McFadden's, then hopped the subway uptown and walked over to settle in at Nodding Head. I figured it was a good place to while away the afternoon with a couple of solid session beers, nibble a bit now and then and read or watch b'ball on the tube until it was time to go to the dinner. Boy, was I dead on right about that, if I do say so myself.

I gotta tell you, if I lived in center city, I'd be all over Nodding Head. Sunday afternoon was perfect. There was a steady, but not overwhelming crowd, giving the place a sense of life and vitality; the Victor North Trio, apparently a regular Sunday afternoon feature, offered up cool and pleasant jazz; the food on the brunch menu was very good (I had a couple of small muffins and, later, baked Brie with a mango chutney), and, not unexpectedly, the beers wonderful (I could become seriously addicted to Gordon Grubb's new Wumpus ESB). Allow me to note, for the sad few who fixate on such things, that nobody in the place knew who I was, aside from assistant brewer Enrique Oliva, who stopped by my table to say hello shortly before I left, and I was treated wonderfully.

I left after watching the first half of Villanova-Arizona (the Big V was ahead by four), which had been the whole point of the way I planned the day, and got to Monk's well before the dinner got underway. The focus this year was Flemish Sour Ales, not easy beers to build a dinner around, but chef Adam Glickman pretty much pulled it off, as is his custom, although there were a couple of off-notes toward the end. The first four courses--a grilled scallop with blood orange sauce, mussels au gratin, spicy monkfish and rabbit rillette--were all interesting and right tasty, but the fifth, smoked sweetbread dumplings, suffered from a doughy crust and the entree, Rodenbach Ossa Bucco, mine at least, was slightly undercooked (then again, I always bitch about Monk's "big honkin' piece of meat," don't I?). Dessert, a warm chocolate cake with cherry gelato (made with Liefman's Glukriek), was to die for.

The beers, which most of you are here to read about, were uniformly good (albeit quite similar) with one notable exception. Duchess de Bourgogne, served with the monkfish, seemed nothing near the impressive brew it was the first few times I tasted it. I've seen it written elsewhere that the draft version is far inferior and I'm wondering if this was the case here, but never got to ask. Keg-conditioned Rodenbach Grand Cru, on the other hand, was as delicious as you might expect and, as is almost traditional at MJ's Monk's dinners, history-making, being the first keg-conditioned version ever served in North America.

The remainder of the beer lineup was on target, including Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale, Itchegem's Oude Bruin, the always wonderful Liefman's Goudenbond, Victenaar (my first ever taste of this one) and Echt Krikenbier. The latter, not a beer I'm particularly fond of, was ideally suited to dessert.

Michael was, y'know, Michael. He rambled, he digressed, he spoke at length (three times in all, as I recall, and somebody in the back room timed the latter two at 50-plus minutes and an hour-plus minutes). Anybody surprised to hear that? Read his books and articles and you'll see that his is an interesting mind, filled with all sorts of minutia and memories which are employed as passing references and asides which contribute considerably to the spirit and quality of the work. Freed from the tyranny of the printed page and its governor on running wild and free, however, Michael apparently has never met a passing thought he wasn't willing, indeed eager, to follow where it might lead. It can be frustrating, certainly to those who don't know what to expect, and even sometimes to those who do. But, as a Philadelphia food writer noted in passing this past week, it is also "oddly charming." Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way at this point. I'd feel cheated if Michael were to, um, cease to digress. It is what it is, know what I mean?

I'd planned on trying to get home without hearing the final Villanova score (I was taping the game as we ate) but knew it wasn't likely. Kurt Decker, who was at out table (along with Lew, just in case he hadn't given me enough germs already, and Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell) was checking the score on his cell phone and Matt Guyer, never missing a chance to screw with my plans, eventually wandered up from his booth in the back to update us as well. Villanova won, of course, and I still did watch the second half on tape when I got home. Even f you already know the score, it's enjoyable viewing when your team comes out on top.

My plan for today is roughly the same, getting to Nodding Head in mid-afternoon and watching the end of the first game and first half of Villanova-Florida before going to Monk's for the annual Stephen Beaumont Dinner. I'm looking forward to that but if I don't start feeling more like a functioning human being, I may have to bail on the whole thing and end up wrapped in blankets on the couch watching the games. That would be a very bad portent, I'd think, so I'll keep medicating and see how it goes. Wish me luck, or you'll all have to send flowers and candy. And beer.

[Posted 10:18 am edt]

24 March 2006
Villanova 60, Boston College 59. On a goaltending call.
With two seconds left. In overtime.

This freakin' team is gonna kill me, I swear.

But there's this, looking ahead to Sunday...

Villanova hasn't had a game where everybody was hitting on all cylinders yet in this tournament. So the odds are they will come out Sunday and blow Florida or Georgetown off the court to make the Final Four.

Remember you heard it here first.

This item cross-posted from I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing

[Posted 10:12 pm edt]

Game face but no game.
A quick glance at the newspapers Saturday morning revealed that my plans for Sunday had been blown all to hell. The Villanova game, originally listed for 2:30 had been moved to the second slot, around 5pm, by the TV people, who were discovering this team which starts four guards is something of a viewer magnet. Even under the original schedule, my day would have been pretty tight (the Eighth Annual Michael Jackson Belgian Dinner at Monk's Cafe was scheduled to begin at 6), but now I had a real quandry.

I called Big Al, told him that I'd be able to go to the first game with him if he wanted but that he might be better off finding somebody else since I'd have to leap up and run for the subway when the game ended, then figured I'd wait and see how he worked things out and plan for Sunday accordingly. And with that, I was out the door to the train, bound for the first session of the 17th Annual Michael Jackson Tutored Beer Tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Grainy afternoon.
This is The Book & the Cook weekend when I get my yearly MJ fix at least twice, sometimes more, depending on what I've schedule and where I've been invited. The Tasting was a bit different than any in the past, with a theme of Great Grains, Great Beer and centered around only the second public tasting of Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu, a beer made from a 9,000 year old recipe (oh, those scamps in Rehoboth) which I definitely wanted to sample and hear Jackson talk about.

The event began with a one-off corn-based beer, Sly Fox Chester County Lightning, brewed (by Tim Ohst) especially for the event at Jackson's request. Interesting enough, though not my cuppa, brewed with both flaked maze and corn syrup and surprisingly strong at 6.8% abv. As Jackson said, This is probably what beers tasted like 100 years ago in Philadelphia. The beer is currently on tap at both Sly Fox pubs, by the way, should you want to try it.

The next two beers came from Brasserie de Silenrieux in the Ardennes region of Belgium, Joseph Spelt Ale and Sara Buckwheat Ale. The former had coriander and orange peel flavors of a traditional Belgian Wit, the latter a vegetable quality of sorts and a strikingly bitter aftertaste. The link above will lead you to the brewery's comments on both. They were followed by Triumph Brewing's Jewish Rye, a beer which was amazingly true to the experience of biting into a slice of good rye bread, which means, as Michael noted, it tasted of caraway seeds rather than rye itself.

Next up, setting the stage for the Dogfish recreation, was Hitachino Red Rice Ale from Japan's Hitachino Brewery, a Sake-like beer made with Pilsner and Flaked Barley malts, Hallertauer hops and, I believe, proprietary Sake yeast. It packs a bit of a wallop at 7% abv and was, well, quite tea-like and semi-sweet with a sour edge to it in the finish.

Chateau Jiahu was a bit tea-like as well, but closer, much closer, to wine, something along the lines of an inexpensive and not particularly dry Chardonnay with a hint of Riesling sweetness thrown in. Someone at the table were I was sitting suggested "flat champagne." It wasn't half-bad, truth be told, though I'm not clear as to when or why I'd choose to drink it aside from the novelty of it all. Some local beer people in the Rotunda (all Jackson's Tutored events at the Museum are followed by a two-hour general tasting) said it was better than the original Midas Touch, which only suggested to me that they'd never had the original Midas Touch. That first, supposedly never to be made again, batch was a strikingly beautiful, bright golden nectar that brought to mind beautiful people sipping happily at garden parties, unaware of the alcohol they were consuming, on the one and only afternoon I had it. None of the commercial versions that I've had have ever come close to it. In any case, the small sample reminded me that I've had a long-standing appointment with DFH distiller Mike Gerhart to talk about making Jiahu and I think I'll do that this coming week. Stay tuned.

We wrapped up the Tasting with a couple of familiar, and always welcome, brews, Troegs Oatmeal Stout and Aventinus Weizenbock and then it was into the Rotunda for many more beers. I kept gravitating to the Monk's/Nodding Head booth and alternating between Gordon Grubb's wonderful 3C Imperial IPA and Brouwerij de Leyerth Urthel-Hop-It (that Monk's/Nodding Head thing became sort of a theme for the weekend, beginning with the previous night's dinner and continuing into Sunday, as we shall see in tomorrow's report), then wandering over to watch the Big One and The Other One, who were working the Sly Fox booth, confuse and amuse the attendees and break the corks off of bottles of Ichor while trying to open them.

Somewhere in there, Victory's Bill Covaleski asked for my help in stealing away a priceless Museum statuary so he could replace it with a Golden Monkey and I knew it was definitely time to go home.

Which I did.

[Posted 4:20 pm edt]

23 March 2006
Nothing to say and too much to tell.
For deep psychological reasons I can reasonably deduce but have no inclination to reveal, I find myself more than a bit flummoxed when I sit down to write this week. Since the last 24 hours have led to discussions of two major new projects, each of which will require considerable thought. energy and effort, this is decidedly not a good thing.

That's my problem. Yours, assuming you arrived here in hopes of information or entertainment or, saints be praised, both at once, is that the same ennui which is hindering my work on serious matters is also sapping my strength for recording here the things that have occurred since last we met. Ah well, let's just muddle through, get it done and move on to a bright new tomorrow.

Friday: dreary games and clever Grog.
Friday went very well, with one distressing exception. Who knew that the NCAA, in its wisdom, decrees that no beer be sold on the premises during tournament games? Foolish. Silly. Didn't like it a bit. My pal Big Al (sounds like a kiddies' book, don't it?) and I arrived a the Wachovia Center about an hour before tipoff the Villanova-Monmouth game to discover this disconcerting fact. Worse yet, scowling and muttering 9/11, guards at the doors told us we could not leave and re-enter, apparently on the theory that we would not be terrorists first time around but might well have be converted if allowed to go outside. And so we sat through the last half of Arizona routing Wisconsin and the whole of a very dreary Villanova win, the win making it palatable, but the tough, Princeton-style Monmouth defense (which turns all games into something unpretty) and lousy shooting by both sides making it interminable.

There was a two-hour break before Connecticut took the floor against Albany (the former being Big Al's team, meaning that, yes, I consorted with the devil to get into the games), so we considered going over to McFadden's Restaurant & Saloon, which is located at Citizen's Bank Park, home of the Phillies (the Philadelphia sports complex is something to see, with the Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum, two indoor arenas, the Phillies' park and Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles) all within a block or two of each other), even though I knew the beer selection would be, well, pathetic. But there were, I kid you not, a few hundred people there in line, waiting to get in. I mean, it's a bar. People inside aren't passing through, they're settling in. What was the point of waiting?

We didn't, taking the subway uptown instead, to have a couple of brews and dinner at Nodding Head. The irrepressible Spanky was behind the bar which sent off good vibes and got us pints quickly. The place was packed, the biggest day in its history I was later told, fueled by what I assumed was the "anti-St. Patrick's Day crowd," people seeking civilized refuge from the amateurs roaming the streets (might I call your attention to this delightful column, in which my pal Fergus Carey, an actual Irishman, goes all postal on the pretenders), but we were lucky enough to get a table near the bar when two young lovelies decided to leave (giving it to us, I presume, they found Big Al kinda scary and also because they found him incredibly old and in need of a seat).

Best part of dinner was, with the help of a waitress, conning my pal Big Al. He is one hard-headed guy and, while he doesn't sink to the BMC level in beer drinking, he's pretty hard to keep happy. A malt guy, not a hop guy. Shouldn't have been a problem. O figured, as ordered him up pint of the Head's award winning Grog. He didn't like it, grousing through the pint. Came time for another round and the waitress and I convinced him to try the "English style Brown Ale," which is to say, the Grog. So he did, and liked it a lot. I never told him; maybe he'll read this and find out.

We got back to the Wachovia Center about 15 minutes into the Connecticut game, which was almost as ragged as was the Villanova game. In both cases, it was never really in doubt that the favorite would win (even when Albany had a 12-point lead over Connecticut with about ten minutes to go), but I came away thinking that a game between Monmouth and Albany would really have been preferable and fun to see.

An amazingly rapid drive back home (less than 40 minutes) got me in the door shortly after 11 and him home to Lancaster before midnight. What happened Saturday and Sunday will have to wait until tomorrow...

[Posted 5:30 pm edt]

16 March 2006
Spinnerstown afternoon.
All the signs were positive as I took my first spin up to the Spinnerstown Hotel a week ago yesterday. I'd gone to MapQuest to get directions and for once they didn't send me on the Great Circle Route which is their signature. Then both the street sign and route signs were missing at the point where I was to make a key turn but, fortuitously enough, I'd gotten lost on that very road back when I was moving (well, I didn't get lost, I was following directions from Big Dan, which is apparently the same thing), so I knew what to do. MapQuest indicated it would be 16 miles to Spinnerstown Road from that point, so it looked a bit dicey when I'd gone 19 miles and still not found it. My usual inclination is to turn around at such times, assuming I'd missed something, but this time I pulled over and called, to learn that I was less than a quarter mile short of the turn. The day was definitely working out.

And it got better, because the Spinnerstown Hotel was everything I'd been promised and then some. Owner John Dale took me in hand as soon as I stepped inside and proudly showed me around the establishment his family has owned since 1959. The place is 250 years old but ceased being a functioning hotel at that time and our first stop was a small (40-seat) banquet room on the second floor which still has the original Chestnut wood. John says it is his favorite room, perhaps because the family originally lived there, "above the store." The rest of the former living area is now an office, storage area and small kitchen.

The main dining area is two large rooms to the right of front entrance, featuring a striking fireplace decorated with colorful Moravian tilework. The area seats 80-90 people and there's a bit of history hung on the wall of the second, newer room, a liquor license application dating from 1822. It's more a plea actually. One of the Spinner family for whom the town and hotel is named was elected Justice of the Peace in 1819 and, as a result, had to give up ownership of his liquor license. The hotel was leased to another operator who never got one, so Spinnerstown residents were tired of having to (the document states) drive nine miles to get a drink. All of them signed the back of the application, which was granted. There are several old pictures there as well, dating back to the 1930s.

Okay, quit squirming around nervously out there. I know you guys are anxious to get to the part about the bar and the beer. Geez, what a high maintenance crowd...

The bar area, which was expanded into a large side room 11 years ago, has 18 stools, 13 taps (four staples: Guinness, Harp, Yuengling & Coors Light, the others rotating between micros and imports) and roughly 200 bottles for your consuming pleasure. Just beyond it is a large deck which was put under roof late last summer, and an interesting roof it is, made from Colorado fir and done in a style similar to that of old churches. It looks like a fine destination spot for a rainy summer afternoon or evening.

Dale and bar manager Hal Bitner decided to concentrate on craft beers three years ago and consider themselves to still be refining their list. They initiated monthly "Meet the Brewer" nights 14 months ago. The first one was with Flying Fish and drew only 20 people; these days 50-80 attendees are the rule. Kutztown's Golden Avalanche is due in next, on Wednesday, April 5.

I chatted a bit with John and his wife Susan, met Bitner and chef Karl Kerwood, saw an impressive Irish Whiskey program they'd conducted to win a major award from Jameson's (I swear I took some notes on this but damned if I can find them), then ordered up a pint of Legacy NorEaster and settled down to watch the Connecticut-Syracuse Big East Tournament game and sample a couple of beers offered up by my new best buddy for the day, Matt Sheller.

I'd been drawn to making the trip after I'd posted the menu and beer pairings for their Michael Jackson dinner next Wednesday at The Beer Yard site and gotten into an email conversation with Scheller, part-time bartender, full-time Lehigh student and resident Spinnerstown beer geek (he's created a quite good, informative Beer Guide for the bar, which is worth looking through if you stop in). When he found out I was coming, he said he'd drop by on his day off to meet me and bring along a couple of special beers he'd scored from a pal who works in a liquor warehouse in New Jersey and was true to his word.

The first of the two we sampled was a beer I was unfamiliar with from a brewery I was equally unfamiliar with, the simply named Chocolate Beer from Meantime Brewing in Greenwich, England. Their website, I've since discovered, lists this as a stout and suggests that it has flavors of bitter dark chocolate. We both agreed, however, that this beer differed from other chocolate brews because it had more of a sweet milk chocolate flavor. I didn't think it had real stout characteristics either, as I recall. It is 6.5% abv, strong for a Brit brew. A good dessert beer, this, though more than a small pour would probably be more than enough.

The second beer was Brouwerij De Ranke XX Bitter, a 6.2% abv Belgian beauty. You know, this might have been an historic moment, tasting beers from Britain and Belgium and the one from the former nation was the stronger of the two. I hadn't tasted this one before and really liked it a lot. It had a character that I described in my notes as "creamy alcohol," if that makes any sense at all. However it's described, this is one to try if you get a chance.

Syracuse won (beginning one of the more amazing four-day runs any college team has ever managed), we finished our beers and I was outta there, with a promise to be back soon. On the way back, I decided to invent my own shortcut home, leading to a disastrous trek on unnamed and unknown roads, with only the towering stacks of the Limerick nuclear plant as a touchstone to keep me going in the right direction. Positive signs are only good for a limited term, it seems.

Yeah, Right Dept.
From the British Columbia Golden Star, a word of advice sure to be ignored:

As you pound back the pints this St. Paddy’s Day, take a moment to remember the real Saint Patrick for which the day is named....
Usually, I try to stay out of sight and below window level on days when all the amateurs come out, but this year...(see below).

Why I won't be posting much the rest of the week.
Because I must have done something right recently and the universe is rewarding me, that's why.

I'm a Villanova graduate (Temple too, for grad school) and so I'm right excited about their Number One seed in the NCAA tournament and their track toward the Final Four, which begins with first round games right here in Philadelphia this weekend. As you can imagine, tickets to those games are the toughest tickets in town. A set for all three sessions this weekend is going for close to $500 and that price will go up and up. Assuming there are any left to be sold...

Enter my old pal, Big Al.

Out of the blue, Al called me from Florida Monday to announce that his nephew was the new head of CBS Radio Sports and he thought he could get tickets. And get them he did, for Friday's two sessions and the first round finals on Sunday.

We are so going, my friends.

But that's merely the topper to a weekend that was already going to be more than swell. This Friday is the annual weekend when British writer Michael Jackson, the man who invented what I do for a living, is in town to conduct a tutored beer tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum on Saturday and a special, often historic Belgian beer dinner at Monk's Cafe, this country's best Belgian-themed eating and drinking establishments, on Sunday night. And I have invites to both.

Comes to that, next week will likely be sparse as well, as having lost most of Monday to recovering from anesthesia and Friday through Sunday to the fun stuff listed above, I'll be in serious catch-up mode on the things that pay the bills when Monday dawns.

See you when I see you, as they say.
This item crossposted from
I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing

[Posted 11:55 am edt]

11 March 2006
Danny and the barrels (no, it's not a rock group).
So I'm walking through the Weyerbacher Brewing plant last Tuesday with Dan Weirback, who is happily rattling off info about this or that new piece of equipment or pointing at the stacks of 150 bourbon barrels which will be used to make the brewery's eagerly anticipated barrel-aged seasonals and we end up on the brewing platform, to shake hands and chat with brewer Chris Wilson. Impressed with all the news about reformulated beers and forthcoming beers and steady growth that Dan has been chattering about, I innocently ask Chris how large the Weyerbacher brewstaff is. He smiles, throws his arms wide and glances down at himself, then says

Just about 5'9" with my brewing boots on.
Yes, the guys in Easton may be ready to crack, maybe even shatter, the $1 Million sales mark in 2006, but they're still a little micro at heart, a happy place where everybody pitches in and one guy is responsible for producing one of the region's most eclectic lines of beer, all of them available in bottles as well as on draft. Their big project at present is the relaunching of a reinvention of Hops Infusion, an IPA launched way back in 1998 which has fallen on hard times in recent years for a variety of reasons (I wrote all about that in the usual place on Thursday) and preparing to introduce a couple of new beers this spring.

One of those newbies will replace Weyerbacher's ESB, which is being retired to the dustheap for now. That's a real shame because it's a very nice, drinkable version of the style (Dan and I each had a couple of pints of it over lunch at Porter's Pub later in the day), but the sad fact is that ESB's just don't sell, especially in bottles. Part of that problem has always been due to the name, some experts claim, "bitter" not being a taste the average drinker wants to seek out; part of it is a result of the near-manic focus of core craft beer drinkers, the sorts who wouldn't be frightened off by the name, with Big, Bigger and Really Big Beer these days. In any case, Weyerbacher had stopped casing the brand two years ago and it has only been available in variety cases since. The new beer, due in early April, will be somewhat similar in style and alcohol content. I can't reveal any more for fear of being kneecapped, since Dan labors under the illusion that each thing should be made public in its time and nary a second before.

That quaint attitude is also why I can't tell you anything about the new beer that will follow in mid-May, except that it's very trendy and will surely get the attention of the aforementioned Big-Bigger-Biggest types. What I can say is that there will be an 11th Anniversary Ale later this year; Weyerbacher has decided to make an annual anniversary brew, each one a different style. What's the style this year? There's a better reason that can't be reported: nobody yet knows.

Back to those bourbon barrels if I might, before moving on. There were about 150 of them and Dan said that, unlike some other breweries, Weyerbacher uses each one only once. "That's for consistency," he said. "You get most of the flavor out the first time, and if you use a barrel twice, you have to leave the beer in it a lot longer and also make a really subjective judgement in the end: does it have the same amount of flavor as it should, or not?"

The brewery's barrels come from a "cooperage guy" in Kentucky, who gets them straight from distilleries and sells between 50,000 and 100,000 barrels a year, here and overseas. All of them arrive with a couple of ounces of bourbon still inside, Weirback said, so it's evident they haven't been used for any other purpose since the whiskey was finished aging.

After using the barrels, Weyerbacher sells them for $25 at its open houses and brewery tours or gives them away free to retailers who want to use them for displays because, with Weyerbacher's name painted on them, they serve as point-of-sale pieces. Clever devils, those Eastonians.

A correction. (Damn it!)
I really shouldn't be surprised. I mean, everyday I read things and exchange email with people from all over the world. But it was still something of a shock to discover that somebody at Budweiser Budvar is reading what I write.

And calling me on it.

This email from Budvar PR manager Petr Samec was passed on to me by that delightful Matt Guyer a couple of days back:

You have published on your News section (March 6th) the short message about Czechvar Dark Lager in bottles: "And the British magazine, Beers of the World, says in it just-out April issue that Budweiser Budvar will also be sending us a highly sought-after beer, Czechvar Dark Lager, in bottles this spring."

This message is not exact: Dark Lager in bottles will be released only on British market.

So scratch that one, folks, and shed a tear or two. I've since talked with Petr (yes, that's the correct spelling) and he assures me he'll let me know if and when Dark Lager is bound for these shores, but the fact that we'll have to wait longer than expected is sad news, trust me. This stuff is good.

Mr. Russell gets feisty.
Here's our pal Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell yesterday, on the topic of controversial governmental efforts to restrict sales of alcoholic beverages. See if you can figure out which side he's on:

The problem is a basic clash of moral values.

One side regards beer as one of the pleasures of life. The other - mainly religious zealots and anti-alcohol morons - blames booze instead of the lawbreaking idiots who cause all the problems....

Unfortunately, elected officials have a sad propensity to pander instead of lead. Instead of intelligently examining the issue of, say, allowing 18-year-olds the right to drink, lawmakers unfailingly bow to every teary PTA mom who frets that her dear Jimmy's going to sneak a sip someday.

As a result, the nation's law books are filled with stupid beer laws.

[Posted 3:50 pm, edt]

8 March 2006
Wherever you go, that's where you are.
As planned, I went up to Easton yesterday to have a tour of the Weyerbacher Brewery plant, which I hadn't seen since the old Victory brewhouse was installed in December 2004. Dan Weirback clued me in on several things that will be happening there in the months ahead, including the reformulation of one beer, the death knell of another and some things he's not ready to have revealed as yet. I'll have a story up on all that at the Beer Yard site tomorrow and some further commentary here, Friday or Saturday.

We had lunch at Porter's Pub, accompanied by a couple of pints of Weyerbacher's delicious ESB (sob!--and that's a clue) and I came home with armloads of samples because, while some brewers want you to taste and comment on their latest brews, Dan, if he had his way, would have you taste every beer he ever made (and, as I wrote a long time ago, he never met a beer he didn't want to make).

As good as all that was, for me the most striking note of the day was that I made the trip from here to there in just under an hour, and that was without really trying. If I'd been in a hurry, I suspect I could have done it in 50 minutes.

Here's the thing. In my heart,I'm a Philadelphian. I've spent most of my adult life living either in the city or its near suburbs and I stillautomatically think in those terms. When I first planned the Easton trip, I just naturally fell into the old pattern:pick up the Pennsylvania Turnpike, then the Northeast Extension, then I-78 into Easton. That would have been an hour and a half trip at least, perhaps longer. Hey, I'm somewhere between 20 minutes and half an hour from turnpike entrances at either Downingtown (which would mean going the wrong direction for that time span) or King of Prussia (18 miles away), depending on traffic.

But Rt. 100 is only two miles away and from here to I-78 just 17 miles thisside of Easton. That journey involves, I kid you not, nary a real turn to be made the entire way, just a couple of "bear rights" the whole 40-plus miles. Amazing.

I hate it that it takes me almost an hour to drive into Philadelphia now, but I gotta tell you, I'm liking it out here more and more every day. Think how happy I'll be when I finally figure out where I am.

[Posted 11:20 pm, edt]

5 March 2006
I've finished my "Atlantic Ale Trail" column for the next Celebrator Beer News, but deadlines still stare at me balefully, so I've only a couple of minutes to post a couple of things that caught my interest over the past day or two.

This Michael Jackson Beer Dinner (one of a set, collect them all) strikes me as perhaps the most intriguing of his local meals scheduled later this month (MJ will also be here, here and here, during a frenzied six-day period, which will also involve this). Spinnerstown, which I've heard many good things about, is only about half an hour from here and I'm going to try to get over there for lunch this week and check it out. The food pairings and the beers on that menu of theirs are pretty damned impressive.

If you read my report on last year's trip to the Czech Republic, which you of course should have, you'll recall that there was a certain beer not available in this country which all the beer writers were very exited about. Well, according to the British beer magazine Beers of the World (in which, though I only believe it when I see it, I should have my first article next issue), Budweiser Budvar will be sending us Dark Lager in bottles this spring. The magazine's April 2006 issue even has a photo of the bottle so I'd assume this is more than the "rumor" it is termed in the piece. Yes!

I'm off to Easton Tuesday to have a chat with li'l Danny Weirback about what we can look forward to from Weyerbacher in the months ahead. Look for something about that up both here and here late that night or first thing Wednesday.

[Posted 10:00 am, edt]

2 March 2006
On the road again.
Rich Pawlak, sentimental guy that he is, waxes nostalgic about something dear to his heart (even if it does include Bryson):

Bill Clinton was in his second term as President. Muhammad Ali lit the stadium torch to begin The 100th Olympic Games in Atlanta. Unabomber suspect Ted Kaczynski was found and arrested. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl. And unleaded regular gas was $1.27 a gallon. The year was 1996 and 20 internet beer geeks ventured out on a bitterly cold Saturday to inaugurate the very first GOLDEN AGE OF BEER IN PHILADELPHIA TOUR.
In a personal note I'm sure he want me to share, Rich also says
Yards has promised to make a commemorative ber, a Simcoe-hopped version of their Philly Pale Ale, as the Golden Age of Beer Tour 10th Anniversary Ale.

Even without that special beer, this is a great event, especially for out-of-towners and even if it does include Bryson. You can get more information and details on The Beer Yard Calendar for March.

It does sell out, that's no hype, so act now.

[Posted 6:01 pm, edt]

1 March 2006
A man can honeymoon, but he can't hide.
Before O'Reilly went off to the islands to do who knows what (okay, we know what, but don't want to think about it), I sat him down and asked him some stuff about his new canning line and the overall packaging plans at Sly Fox. This is what he said.

The complete February 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 1:05 pm, edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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