I drink no cider,
but feast on
Philadelphia beer.

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

Email Jack

_____________________

Immediately below are links to
Jack Curtin's other web pages.
Scroll down beyond those for
the complete LDO archives,
more onsite beer stories and
over 100 links to breweries, brewpubs and various
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MERMAIDS SINGING
Updated 31 Mar 07


OTHER VISIONS
Updated 17 Dec 06


DUBYA CHRONICLES
Updated 01 Apr 07


GREAT DISCONNECT
Updated 31 Mar 07


JACEY SERVICES
Updated 26 Mar 07

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Robert Christgau Beer Guide 1975

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PERSONAL FAVORITES

Kelley Kreations

Kimberton Coffee

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What's New Onsite.
New postings or changes elsewhere on this site are indicated by the date shown beneath the appropriate link in the left-hand column.

28 March 2007
Asimov on Alstroms.
Eric Asimov, in his "The Pour" column in the New York Times, once again turned his attention to beer this morning, as he so often does (which is why it was so amusing when an addled correspondent sent me this silly attack one week ago). It's not beer per se that Asimov celebrates today, but rather those BeerAdvocate guys, Jason and Todd, and what they have wrought. Good stuff. Check it out.

[Posted 4:40pm edt]


26 March 2007
Extreme Brunch, Session Dinner.
Because I've been talking with local brewing legend Bill Moeller, who lives right up the road, in recent months, and because I knew that Michael Jackson was staying in this area right up the road in the other direction for all of March, and because I knew the pair were old friends who hadn't met up in, well, more than a decade at least, I figured it would be a good idea to get them together. And, yeah, I could get a photo op and maybe a story or two out of it. I'm altruistic, but not, you know, totally, as the kids say.

The result was a brunch yesterday morning at Iron Hill Phoenixville, with Michael, Bill, Carolyn Smagalski, Michael's lady friend, and me. We had a great time for roughly three hours, mostly listening to those two wise men talk about beer and the past and recount story after story. It was like an patented MJ "digression," although more organized. At one point Bill apologized for wandering off topic and Carolyn chipped in, "Don't worry, I'm used to it."

It was a great time, Michael was in fine fettle and the beer and food were excellent (hey, it was Iron Hill). Brewer Tim Stumpf showed up midway through to pay his respects and he gifted Michael with a bottle of Cannibal, the GABF Gold Medal (2005) strong Belgian golden ale created by West Chester pub brewer Chris LaPierre, which we proceeded to open and enjoy. Lappy says he started out aiming for a Duvel clone with this one but feels it's closer to a Piraat. This is the second bottling and worth seeking out.

I'll let you know what, if anything, comes out of all of this time spent two of the industry's "extremes."

I had about an hour's respite back home before heading over to the first of the Bryson Sessions at Ortino's Northside, which the "Bigs," Lew and Dan, put together a five-course repast featuring "session" beers, which are loosely defined as beers which are no higher than 5% abv (personally, I'd push that to 5.5%, as does Lew), flavorful and balanced, highly drinkable and designed to allow an imbiber to consume several over an extended time period or, you know, session. It was a good time, all in all, but only reinforced my belief that, by their very definition and purpose, session beers do not lend themselves to what we generally classify as a "beer dinner," which is to say an evolved pairing of flavors and textures, beers matched with food (or vice versa, depending on your perspective) in various ways to make for a dining experience. Beers which are intended to make you want another of the same don't really fit that mold.

The beers last night were Redhook Copperhook, a pleasant pale ale, as the welcoming pour; Anchor Bock paired with homemade chips and dip (my first taste of this one; it's quite good); Troegs Sunshine Pils, a personal favorite, with a cheese plate; Penn Marzen, with grilled sausages and veggies (the latter one of the evening's high spots in the food department); Victory Donnybrook Stout, with an open-face smoked ham sandwich and scalloped potatoes (sadly, there was some sort of pouring or handling issue with the beer, which came out still and icy cold, which is a real shame because it was the first taste of Victory's latest for a lot of the attendees and, at 3.7% abv, it was the truest session beer of the night). and Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock, about which I've raved more than enough around here, with a great, and I mean great, glazed gingerbread cake (made by Linda Ortino) and an excellent chocolate sorbet (made by Big Dan) as dessert. More food than I, at least, needed, truth to tell, but that's a good complaint.

It will be interesting to see where this series goes.

[Posted 10:05am edt]


22 March 2007
Whatever happened to that cute Baker/Zwerver couple?
In a telephone conversation last night, Tom Baker (Heavyweight, RIP) told me that he and Miss Peggy and The Dude (Scott Morrison, brewer on the lam), are using a multi-million dollar grant from his pals at Yards Brewing to jointly open the world's largest brewpub in downtown Manhattan where each will make a dozen beers daily at separate ends of a block long bar. "Right now," he said, "I'm also trying to decide whether to buy back the rights to Perkuno's Hammer from Victory or whether to just buy Victory outright and make them part of the deal."

STOP!

Just kidding, folks. Please revive any beer geeks in your immediate vicinity who have gone in ecstatic shock.

Or not. Y'know, whatever works for you.

But there is Real News and you can find it here (where else?).

[Posted 12:18pm edt]


18 March 2007
Tempest in a brew kettle, second time around.
The BeerAdvocates, as only they can, have a bit of a mini-frenzy going (apparently for the second time because, y'know, once is not enough) over an impressively misguided and misinformed beer article that appeared in New York Magazine way back in October. Go read it, I'll wait.

The weird pairings alone are good for a laugh. Hell, you could fill my 'frig with the seven beers (out of 20-plus tasted) they dissed the most--Javer, Hoegaarden, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, J. W. Lee's Harvest Ale, Rogue Chocolate Stout and Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier--and I'd be a right happy man.

Even more amusingly, I received a fulminating email about this early today, from a BA with a right wing bent whom I will not name even though he's been a regular of sorts around here for years, because that would be cruel (hmmm, that's twice in two days that I've chosen to be nice and protect the guilty, could be I'm going soft). Here's what he wrote in part, lashing out at a perceived enemy of all that's good and right in his world:

I don't know if you have seen this article in the magazine section of that great, reliable and accurate hallmark of a news journal of the American media known as the NY Times, but I have attached a link to the results of really bizarre beer tasting and judging comparison. The categories were just as strange as the judging results. Apparently, the judges have not developed a palate for Pils because they gave the thumbs down to Pikeland Pils in a can and a comment which collectively describe the beer as "eh."

[ ... ]

Leave it the NYT to screw up information and not recognizing the difference between ales and lagers. What's the old saying in journalism, "Don't let the facts or information get in the way of a good article."

It's that damned Liberal Media again.

Anyway, it's all silly and Stephen Beaumont said all that needed to be said about it a week after the original piece appeared.

Three bottles of beer on the desk, three bottles of beer...
They've been staring at me for a week or more, empties stacked up against the bookshelf to remind me to comment about them, all picked up during my last visit to Capone's.

Bell's Hell Hath No Fury Ale, which I'd had previously on draught at Drafting Room Exton is a very nice dark strong ale (7.5% abv) which is something a bit out of the ordinary for the Michigan brewery. I like it a lot. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is an old favorite from Ohio and this latest bottle did nothing to change my opinion that it is one of my favorite brews and at least semi-sessional at 4.8%. Blackout Stout, also from Great Lakes, was new to me, however, and is an ass-kicker at 9%. Hey, if your ass is gonna get kicked, this is the way to do it. Very impressive...and I didn't need to see the last half of that basketball game I was watching when I opened the bottle anyway.

[Posted 4:55pm edt]


17 March 2007
One happy Irishman.
I just got back from a visit to Sly Fox Phoenixville, where I enjoyed a couple of beers with that fine broth of a lad, Brian O'Reilly, who was in fine fettle and good humor this St. Patrick's Day. And, indeed, why should he not be?

First there was Joe Sixpack's love poem to O'Reilly's Stout in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News, and today he learned that Food & Wine Magazine says Phoenix Pale Ale is a "MustTry" item for 2007.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Instigator Doppelbock 2007 has just been bottled (I just had my first taste from a bottle I brought home with me and it may be the best version ever), Panacea Barleywine is on draught at Phoenixville and is getting absolute raves, all the Bock Festival/Goat Race beers are on track and Royal Weisse cans are in the house (or close enough), meaning that the first canning will happen on schedule this coming week, with an official release date set for April 1.

Hey. even for the dour Black Irish, some days the sun just shines too bright to be ignored.

That Brooklyn Beer Dinner.
The Monk's Tuesday night dinner was, as I said in an earlier post, as good a showcase for Brooklyn as I've ever seen for any brewery. The combination of the beers poured and a near-perfect meal was just plain outstanding. As also posted earlier, I held off posting about this in any detail in hopes of talking in more detail about some of the newer beers with brewmaster Garrett Oliver. That didn't happen, so I'll just have to struggle along on my own.

The evening began with the very fine Saison de Brooklyn 2005, a GABF Gold Medal winner from Garrett's own cellar. The Amuse beer was Brooklyn Cuvee D'Achouffe (draught), paired with a wonderful Salmon Mousse in pastry cups so flaky and perfect it was almost sinful. This beer is a collaborative effort; Oliver went over to brew a batch at Les 3 Fourquets in Belgium (the brewpub owned by Brasserie D'Achouffe) and Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts of Achouffe then came over here to brew.

Brooklyn Local 1, which I first sampled at the General Lafayette event a couple of weeks back, is going to be a Big Smash Success for Brooklyn, trust me. This beer, if I read my notes correctly, was first released as Fortitude last year as a draught-only brew. It is a strong golden ale made with German barley and malts, Mauritius sugar and Belgian yeast. This version is refermented entirely in the bottle and is a "wow!" beer of the first order. It was poured with Pan-seared Pennsylvania Rainbow Trout, done to perfection.

The now classic East India Pale Ale was appropriately matched with spicy Thai Glazed Quail with "spring roll" stuffing. That was followed by another Brooklyn standard, Brown Ale, and a very tasty Smoked Pork Loin with Chipotle sauce, with caramel notes in both nicely playing off one another. The final entree´ was mini-filets of Roast Duck in a great Cherry sauce, accompanied by draught Smoked Weissbock, another new Brooklyn offering which I first had at General Lafayette. A wonderful beer, this, 8% abv with a spicy wheat nose and subtle notes of smoke.

Dessert was Chocolate Coffee Cheesecake accompanied by Black Chocolate Stout. What, you were expecting Pennant Ale?

"Maybe I could kill this Lew Bryson guy." Those were her exact words.
By "her," I mean her, but I've decided not to tell the story in any detail to protect both the innocent and the guilty. Let's just say it involved Bryan and Adam of the Brew Lounge; one woman who was Brian's wife and another who was not; a train ride during which I tried to sell the latter on a complicated (but quite believable, I thought) explanation about how Mr. Bryson, whose name had come up, was but a fictional character I'd created under which I publish my lesser writings; some discussion about whether it is okay for Bryan to refer to me in this fashion (if you read the entire paragraph in which this dastardly description appears, you will perhaps understand that I am being a perfect gentleman here, anxiety-wise), and a discussion of where each character in our little drama might best fit in the fictionalized version of our momentous encounter should I decide to write same.

You can figure it out, really you can. If not, I'm am always susceptible to being bribed with a beer or two.

I will say this in closing: that Beer Lounge? It might just might be a cooler place to hang out than you'd think from its bright and airy online image.

It's always the quiet ones, innit?

Now here's a bar bet.
When I was first scheduled to have eye surgery March 14, we had our largest snow storm of the year, cancelling it.

When the surgery actually happened, March 7, we had our second largest snow storm of the year.

When I went in yesterday for my post-op checkup with the surgeon, we were blessed with snow, sleet and freezing rain, despite the fact that the temperature hit the 70s earlier in the week.

I still got one eye to go, so you might want to lay some cash with a gullible rube or two, taking the position that we'll have a surprise mid-spring snowfall on Wednesday, April 11.

Jes' sayin'.

[Posted 6:45pm edt]


15 March 2007
Tuesday at Monk's.
The Brooklyn Brewing beer dinner at Monk's Cafe´ the other night was, if that's possible, even better than the Michael Jackson one on Sunday. What it definitely was, as I told both Tom Peters and Garrett Oliver on my way out the door, was perhaps the finest dinner presentation in terms of exposing attendees to the full range of beers available from a single brewery that I can recall. Five courses and dessert, plus seven beers, and not even the hint of a clinker in any of that.

I'll go into more detail tomorrow or over the weekend; I'm hoping for a call back from Garrett so I can discuss the new Local 1 and Smoked Weissbock with him in more detail. Since Tuesday evening ended with an, um, spirited discussion between the two of us about whether or not everything posted on the internet is pure crap, I want to make sure to quote him exactly right.

Also, I need to figure out how to explain the blonde on the train going home who offered to off Lew Bryson. That'll take some thought.

The I'm getting kinda jealous post.
Speaking of Mr. Lew, given his taking over the world with his Session Beer shtick and pimping out his puppy to boot, he's pretty much using up all the air in the room in terms of this drinks-writing thing these days. I'm gasping here.

Then there's Victory's 2007 European Pils Tour from April 12-22. It's long past time to sign up for that, not that I could afford it anyway, but I can surely spare a few minutes to envy those who will be going.

Wow, as they say. Read the day-by-day descriptions and you'll be even more blown away. About the only saving grace I can dig out is that at least I won't be confronted with the final day decision whether to hit even more new breweries or instead have a second afternoon here. That'd be a toughie.

Another upside, actually, is that this probably means the better part of two weeks spared from a half dozen or so Richard Ruch "funny" emails a day. Then again, he'll likely unleash spam hell when he gets back.

Lew ascending and journeys not partaken. None of this can be good for my delicate psyche.

[Posted 11:28am edt]


12 March 2007
Last night at Monk's.
Michael Jackson dinners at Monk's Cafe´ are always special. The Man is in the house, there's electricity in the air and everybody rises to the occasion. Michael was in full digression mode which, as I've said many times before, is fine with me. I can figure out the beers for myself and prefer hearing his tales of meat pie lunches and writing for a penny a line in the good old days and of being confronted by a gaggle of soccer hooligans in a Glascow pub and confounding them while they debated which of two competing factions should pound on him based upon his religion by announcing he was Jewish, leading to the inevitable question "are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?" Last night, as he rambled hither and yon, the man quoted Dylan Thomas and Woody Allen ("machines are anti-Semitic") and described one of Lew Bryson's trademarked and ear-piercing guffaws as akin to "spontaneous fermentation." What's not to like?

Anent that Allen quote, we had evidence on scene that technology in general is more likely "anti-beer geek" as the ineffable MJ, the inimitable Fergus Carey and the inevitable George Hummel fumbled and bumbled with attaching Michael to a sound system and getting it work. The invisible Mr. Peters, it seems, was wisely hiding in his office.

In the rising to the occasion category, Adam Glickman and his kitchen staff did just that, per usual. After a welcoming glass of Ommegeddon (nice start), the five-course meal began with Chicons au Jambon, which turned out to be Belgian endive wrapped in Ardennes ham in a cheese sauce. The sauce was perhaps a bit overwhelming but the ham and endive combination was wonderful. This was accompanied by Vapeur Saison de Pripaix, one of my two favorite beers of the night. The Country Pate´ which followed was one of the high spots, a huge and extraordinarily tasty slice, accompanied by a lentil-based puree and a pair of girkins. A striking dish this one, matched quite nicely with Fantome Bris Bon Bon.

Escargot en Croute came next, De Ranke XX Bitter alongside. Personally, I might have preferred the escargot without the pastry wrapping, perhaps with just a bit of oil and garlic, but that's quibbling. The high point of this course, though, was the match between the De Ranke and the bitterly tangy greens accompanying the snails. Wow. Pan Seared Red Snapper with an amazing watercress sauce followed, with a little something called Saison Dupont pouring with it. Going into the evening, I thought it would be cool to do this sort of dinner and not included the best saison in the world, just because they could, but one sip reminded me that cool ain't always best.

That's a pretty nice meal right there, innit? You figure it's time to move onto dessert? Not at Monk's, 'cause the mandatory Big Honkin' Piece o' Meat course needs must happen. This time it wasn't quite honkin', which is defined as hanging off both sides of the plate (although someone suggested they may be employing a bit of subterfuge by using larger plates), but big enough, a perfectly cooked pork chop accompanied by sliced potatoes, Brussels sprouts (bet a lot of those went back to the kitchen; some things are not meant to be consumed, says I) and, reportedly, apples. Very, very good (for all my complaining, I ate it right down to the bone) and accompanied by my second favorite beer of the night, Blaugies La Moneuse, which turned out to be highly carbonated, somewhat tripel-ish and wonderful.

Dessert was Bete Noire (great name!), a flourless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache (a blend of chocolate and cream), which was well served by the draughtMoinette Bruin which was the final beer of the night. You know, one of the great traditions of every Monk's dinner is awaiting the arrival of the Dessert Lady. If she's on time (which means there before dinner is over) as she was last night, she can be seen running up the sidewalk and into the alley and down to the back door into the kitchen. If she's late, she comes bursting through the front door, accompanied by grateful sighs from those who recognize that all is again right with the world.

Tomorrow night we do it all over again, with Brooklyn Brewing's Garrett Oliver in the house. Will this terrible burden ever be lifted from my shoulders?

Lord, I hope not.

First he tried to run me over, then he wanted me to pay his bar bill.
When we arrived at Monk's last night, I stopped just sort of the curb after crossing the street to say something to Patrick Mullin of Drafting Room Exton who was off to repark the car (didn't work, he still got a ticket) when I realized that the car in the drop-off spot in front of the cafe had been thrown into reverse and was coming back at me full speed. I jumped up onto the sidewalk just in time as many of my dearest friends and acquaintances cheered. Oddly, none of them had seen fit to warn me of impending doom.

The driver, it turns out, was Stewart Brewing's Ric Hoffman, who's becoming as much a regular character in this ongoing tale of the absurd as The Big One and The Other one, only more dangerous. Hey, sometimes the story takes control of the writer. You just go with the flow.

I was seated far enough away from Hoffman once inside that I felt secure enough not to have to use a food taster or keep my glass covered, but he wasn't done with me by far. After things had wrapped up, here came Tom Peters with one of those bill holder things, an item sure to strike fear into the heart of any beer writer. "The Stewart's table said you were paying their bill," he laughed, handing it to me. You have probably noticed that hell did not freeze over last night, so rest assured that did not happen.

There are those who accuse me of making Hoffman up. They contend that he's just a fun character I use to poke fun at myself so as to appear vaguely human. Not so, not so at all...and thanks to Bryan Kolesar, one of the proprietors at the very fine Brew Lounge website, I have photographic evidence:

That's me, of course, rather ineptly banging the gong in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology Saturday afternoon to let the crowd at the first session know that the good times were about to end, with Museum Catering's Bruce Nichols and Anna Bauer looking on. And that's Hoffman in the background. It's not quite clear exactly what he's doing to that poor woman, but I'm pretty sure it's illegal in several states, certainly Delaware.

I do not make this stuff up. I couldn't.

[Posted 9:55am edt]


11 March 2007
Philly Beer Week 2008.
If you're any kind of beer person at all, you've undoubtedly heard the news about this event by now. If not, shame on you, but you can catch up by reading the original online announcement posted by Lew Bryson here and/or this boiled-down into news format story (with a bit of added background) posted by me at the Beer Yard.

This is exciting stuff, of course, although it's still early and it's hard to judge the overall feel of the thing. A somewhat similar event, although not on as large a scale as this one apparently hopes to achieve, has grown up in San Francisco in recent years. It's called Beerapalooza and is anchored by the Toronado Barleywine Festival on one end and the annual Celebrator Beer News anniversary bash on the other. It seems to have worked out very well and grown each year.

The esteemed group which has engineered all this has put out a Mission Statement, as you can see from Lew's report. That worries me, I have to admit. For one thing, secret cabals just don't issue mission statements, that's really bad form. For another, I hate mission statements 'cause they reek of corporateness (if that's not a word, it should be) and business school jargon.

Also got me a few questions to which I'll seek out the answers, perhaps as early as tonight at the Monk's dinner. Just for the fun of it, let me phrase them in familiar cliche´ format:

WHO'S YOUR DADDY? In other words, who came up with the original idea? Here's what Lew said:

This is not just me (and a good thing, too). This is conceived and backed by a combination of people who've been making beer happen in this area for years. Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe. Bruce Nichols of UPenn Museum Catering. Curt Decker of Nodding Head. George Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew. Mark Edelson of Iron Hill. Chris Depepe of the Philly Craft Beer Festival. Tom Kehoe of Yards. Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell. Matt Guyer of the Beer Yard. Gene Muller of Flying Fish. Bill Covaleski of Victory. Carol & Ed Stoudt. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head.
Pretty much a checklist of the Usual Suspects (with one exception), and I'd be willing to wager that all those folks were never in the same room at the same time discussing this thing or at the beginning when it was merely an idea needing to be fleshed out. So who was?

WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN ANYWAY? About that exception noted above--exactly when did Chris Depepe join the ranks of "people who've been making beer happen in this area for years?" I ask not to be snarky--okay, not only to be snarky--but because I still would like to know more about the proceeds of the recent Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival before I embrace it fully. Most reviews I've read (I was unable to go) have been favorable, but there are some niggling issues about more tickets being sold than promised, parking fees and other financial matters.

FOLLOW THE MONEY. The Committee to Benefit the Children of St. Christopher's Hospital was the official charity of the Philly Fest but so far there's been no indication I've seen of what that means. What portion of the proceeds went there and how much was profit for the organizers? At an event where the brewers were asked to donate their beers and their time, that's a pretty big question, Yeah, I'm channeling Jim Anderson here, but in a good way.

Perhaps the most intriguing and exciting part of the whole concept is the extension of the celebration across such a broad geographical area and the development (or return) of what strike me as some very appealing events during the week. I appluad re-establishing a Real Ale Festival in town and bringing back the Golden Age of Beer in Philadelphia tour. The two trolley nights, one to Belgian bars and the other to outstanding craft beer bars, could be very popular.

And that thing about "Pawlak and the vans and [Lew heading] west for the Great Western Suburbs Beer Hunt, a swing through Chester and Montgomery County brewpubs and bars"? Man, what a great idea. Why don't I ever come up with clever concepts like that?

We'll be talking about all this and building up to it for months to come. Get excited, people.

Yesterday at Penn.
It was a great time, as you might imagine, but since I'll be writing about the Jackson Tasting, and the Jackson dinner the night before, and the Jackson dinner tonight, for the next Celebrator Beer News, I'll have to keep the best stuff for there. It's all about the check, folks.

The Tasting itself, of "Extreme" beers, just raised the same issues I took note of in Don Russell's Friday column in the posting below from yesterday. Put it this way: things started with Allagash White! A great beer but one which is beyond the norm and stretches the limits? Seriously. No matter which convoluted definition of "extreme" is offered up, ain't noway they're gonna fit that one in.

For what it's worth, and this may just be about my tastes, the Iron Hill Cassis which I mentioned yesterday was the finest beer of the sampling. Shouldn't we be building a statue of Bob Barrar or something? Maybe to be unveiled during Philly Beer Week next year.

Also for what it's worth, I found the Port Brewing Hop 15 Double IPA jarringly bitter and unbalanced in the Tasting lineup which also included Nodding Head George's Fault, Peche Mortel, Old Horizontal, Dogfish Head Red and White (my first taste of this one and I think I need more, yes I do) and Avery/Russian River Collaboration, Not Litigation.

DFH's Sam Calagione acted as an interlocutor for Michael and did a great job of moving things along. Even the sound system worked better than usual and the crowed remained less noisy, so the tutoring could, for the most part, really be heard. My favorite moment, and for this you'll have to wait for CBN at the end of the month, came when Sam asked MJ--making the classic lawyer's mistake--a question that he didn't know the answer to. That was fun.

On the Rotunda floor afterwards I got to try five beers for the first time. That started with the new Weyerbacher Blasphemy, which is the Quad aged in bourbon barrels and is very, very good. Monk's Cantillon Gueuze (yeah, yeah, I know, what took me so long?), pretty much proved yet again that Tom Peters, while not "Belgian" (did everyone see one of his competitor's full page advert in the City Paper Craft Beer Fest pullout section last week make an complete ass of himself about this and other things?), sure do have nose for great beer.

Then there was Ommegang Ommegeddon, about which I can only say Yikes!; I sought out Brugse Zot because I wanted to before I get down there to visit Philadelphia's newest Belgian spot (this was at the Kunda Beverage booth, which reminds me that Kunda and Shanghy's did an impressive "mine is bigger than yours" thing in the Tasting program). Dogfish Head Feste Peche was thrust into my hand as I approached the booth by Sam as he ran off to do the second tutor session with Michael, a presentation reminiscent of his thrusting a sample of Raison d"Etre at me the night we first met nearly a decade ago, even before we'd exchanged names. You gotta love those sorts of tendencies in a guy.

Peche Lente and the Iron Hill Cassis were probably my favorite beers of the entire day, followed closely by Stewart's Barrel-aged Barleywine (more about that and brewer Ric Hoffman in a minute) and the Weyerbacher Blasphemy. Considering that the top three on that list are all produced in Delaware, I may have to revise my opinion of that god-forsaken state. Or not.

I finally got to meet Carolyn Smagalsi, The Beer Fox, on the convention floor, after talking with her on the phone Friday about some matters involved with the CBN story. And I got to chat with Joe Sixpack about my comments on his column (below), leading professional event organizer, bon vivant and smoke-free beer cadger Dan Bengel to walk over and ask if we had arrived at a "truce." Quoth Sixpack, "As long as he spells my name right and gets the link right, he can say anything he wants." Good answer.

Finally, I spent some quality time with the aforementioned Ric Hoffman, who always seems to be there when I turn around at a beer event of late, smiling his evil smile and waiting to pounce and tell me where I've gone wrong. Believe me, this is no complaint because his is a valuable service, poking and prodding and reminding me about what I and others have said and written and whether or not we've lived up to those words. Ric said that Stewart's is not getting the love it deserves, which is probably true; I replied that it's in Bear, Delaware, for god's sake, and Stewart's beers are rarely seen elsewhere except at beer events, which is definitely true. We went round and round on that, and Extreme beers (about which our positions are pretty close) and the industry in general. It was great, epsecially since I was sipping the Barleywine all through it.

In the end, as he had with his "self-pity" remark at General Lafayette a few week's back (no matter how he later tried to explain it away), Ric got me in his crosshairs and scored a bullseye, introducing me to a young lady helping him at the booth as a "crusty old bastard."

Hard to argue with that.

[Posted 2:00pm edt]


9 March 2007
I think I'm confused.
Joe Sixpack's column this morning is about Michael Jackson's "Extreme Beer" weekend at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which kicks off with a fancy dinner tonight. Joe (Don Russell) says this early on in explaining the "extreme" concept:

If there is an avant-garde movement among these brewers, then it is extreme beer.

For the sake of clarity, I'll adopt the definition of Sam Calagione, the president of Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware, who has written a book ("Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast's Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home," Quarry Books, $24.99) on the topic and whose company has bottled more extreme beers than anyone.

Calagione says [an extreme beer is] any beer brewed with at least one non-traditional ingredient - say fruit, or wild yeast - or with an excessive amount of at least one traditional ingredient, like hops or malt.

Okay so far, but then he continues:
Extreme beer is, just as it sounds, beer that is pushed to the edge. It may be exceptionally hoppy, like a double India pale ale. Or spicy, like pumpkin ale. It may be very rich and malty, like an imperial stout; high in alcohol, like a barleywine; or tart and funky, like a wild ale.

As with the avant-garde, extreme beer is experimental, possibly even radical. It has thrown off the shackles of convention. It is willing to take chances; it is willing even to fail.

wait a minute. Imperial stouts and barleywines are "experimental" and part of the avant-garde, which is to say "radically new or original...ahead of their time?"

Really? Is Victory Old Horizontal, one of the beers being poured by Michael on Saturday, extreme? It is definitely a very good barleywine, one of my all-time favorites, but the barleywine style dates back to the 19th century and many argue it is derived from other styles brewed as early as the 18th century. Avant-garde? I don't think so.

Another beer on the list is Iron Hill Cassis, "a lambic flavored with currants." Lambics as a style are over 500 years old and they are spontaneously fermented with, of all things, wild yeast. Is the Iron Hill beer, good as it is, "radically new" in terms of concept or style?

I'm not trying to pick a fight here, just askin' whether or not, in throwing off "the shackles of convention," some in the industry might be going a little "George Bush" on us, making the facts fit the argument rather than the other way around.

If I were picking a fight, though, it would be with the below, wherein Sixpack states his position regarding the beloved session beers of our pal Lew Bryson, who's in a bit of a mini-feud with Mr. Calagione about whether extreme beers are mind-blowing or, well, boring:

I like session beers, too.

They're dependable, go-to favorites that satisfy the lowest common denominator, namely, thirst. They make you happy.

But these beers - no matter how competently they're brewed - will never generate excitement, spawn creativity or lead us to new ground.

Session beers, I'm afraid, are Norman Rockwells.

Man, talk about missing the point, not to mention, apparently, the rewarding complexity of the best examples of many great traditional-style beers. Ask any brewer what's more difficult to brew, a good low alcohol beer filled with flavor or a massive monster which hides its flaws beneath "an excessive amount of at least one traditional ingredient, like hops or malt."

Lowest common denominator thirst-quenchers? No excitement? No creativity?

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Bits 'n' Pieces.
I found a pleasant surprise outside my front door this morning, a sampler box of four different ciders from Farnum Hills Ciders in Lebanon, New Hampshire. I mean, I knew they were coming (or at least that I'd been told they were coming), but I didn't know when. More about all this when I've had a chance to do some sampling. It's all part of a Grand Plan for early this summer.

For those following the story, Andy Crouch has the most extensive inside information about the Old Dominion sale that I've seen anywhere on the web. Scroll up from the section I've linked to in order read the whole thing.

[Posted 1:50pm edt]


8 March 2007
Best. Doctor. Ever.
I had cataract surgery on my right eye yesterday and all has (apparently) gone well. At a test in my doctor's offices this morning, I got to the 20-20 line on the vision chart which is, I was told, about as good as it gets the day after surgery.

I'm allowed to drive again by this Saturday, meaning that I will get to the annual Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum on Saturday and the equally annul Michael Jackson Beer Dinner at Monk's Cafe´ on Sunday (but likely not the Jackson Dinner at the Museum tomorrow night, though I'm leaving that option open for now, depending on my vision in the morning and my inclination to push the envelope). Good thing about all this, 'cause I committed to covering the weekend for Celebrator Beer News when esteemed editor Tom Dalldorf asked last week.

Dutiful and lovable patient that I am (I was easily the most popular guy at the Surgical Facility yesterday aside from the 70-year old woman who'd just gotten her first tattoo, which is sort of a Sure Thing to awe and win folks over), I did ask my doctor about this, cautiously. Could I drink beer? She laughed and leaned in confidentially (and if you ever saw my doctor, you'd know that this was a Really Good Thing and an argument for 20-20 vision which outshines all others) and said, "Don't tell anybody I told you, but I think drinking beer is really good for your eye."

Wow.

Just to be sure, I pressed on. So it's okay if I drive to the train station Saturday, go into Philadelphia and spend four or six hours sipping all sorts of great beers and hanging with the geeks? Another laugh, more enthusiastic than the first. "That sounds absolutely wonderful!"

What did Nathan Hale say? I regret that I have but two eyes to give to beer and beautiful women. Something like that.

[Posted 11:30am edt]


6 March 2007
Beer is good.
My travels of late, for a story that is scheduled to appear in the next Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, have taken me to visit two excellent beer venues that I hadn't been to previously, TJ's Everyday in Paoli and Union Jack's Olde Congo Hotel in Barto. Well, it's actually in Congo, as I've been told in no uncertain terms by Corey Reid, Sly Fox Phoenixville bar manager extraordinaire, who used to live right across the street, but Barto is the official zip code and who am I to quarrel with the gummint?

Don't answer that.

As noted, both places were impressive. TJ's Everyday is right behind the Paoli Post Office, a building I visited daily for well over a decade because I received my mail in a PO box there. It's a site where a lot of restaurants and bars have failed but owners Jeff Miller and Terri Villanti (TJ, get it?) have discovered craft beers and business is booming. They have 23 taps and a handpump, do a brewer's night on the first Friday of the month and have just revamped the menu to feature beer, 80 percent of the entrees are made with beer and an appropriate brew is suggested with each one. Definitely worth a visit.

Most readers here are familiar with one or more of the Union Jack locations, I'd assume, and the new one is appropriately located in an unlikely location in keeping with what seems to be the UJ pattern. It's right on Hoffmansville Road, about ten yards off the intersection with Congo Road. Hoffmansville is a feeder road to and from Rt. 100, so the traffic's good. It's very typical of an old hotel, with lots of small, cozy dining rooms off the main bar and will be, dare I say, "charming" once everything's finished (which will include, by summer, a large deck to the rear, overlooking the valley behind the location). An issue, especially in the bar, are the very low ceilings which means, if anybody asked me, they need to go smokeless real soon. The beer selection and presentation is, as you'd expect, impressive and Brian Rudesyle, who's moved over from the Manayunk UJ to run this one, has things well in hand.

Yesterday, for the same story, I ended up in a more familiar locale, Capone's in Norristown, where I took some photos and had a quite nice Nodding Head Chocolate Stout at the bar while chatting with Matt Capone (how neat is it, by the way, that we're starting to see more and more Nodding Head beers on draught off-premises?). Matt also gave me a sample of the hard-to-find Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, a truly superb Lambic made with wine grapes and aged for two years. This beer had a somewhat spotty reputation in the past but has apparently become spot on in recent years. It was certainly one of the best examples of the Lambic style that I've enjoyed in a long time.

Ain't beer grand?

New kid on the block.
I don't think I know or have met Tom Bastian, or maybe I know him but don't know him, if you know what I mean, but his new website is clean, attractive and will fulfill a very useful purpose if he can pull it off. I've added it to our links.

[Posted 8:50am edt]


1 March 2007
Public Service Announcements, Beer Division.
For all you fine folks in New York City, I call attention to this evening's Pennsylvania Beer Night at Barcade. An impressive lineup of PA goodies there for your drinking and noshing pleasure. I am delighted to see Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock on the list and recommend giving it a try.

I've also learned that, as has not been case for...well...forever, tickets to both the Michael Jackson Beer Dinner and the first and last sessions of the Michael Jackson Tutored Beer Tasting, held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology this weekend, are still available. These annual events (the Tastings in their 17th year, the dinner slightly less than that) are usually gobbled up quickly but perhaps the absence of The Book & The Cook this year has cut into the demand.

Speaking of B&C, how could something that big and good for the city just disappear, at leas at temporarily, and nobody notice or scream? (I only learned about it when Bryson told me, which is an embarrassment in itself.)

The focus is on Extreme Beers this year at both and the Tastings in particular are well worth your time and money: an hour of MJ talking beer (sessions at 1, 3:30 and 6pm, the middle one sold out) and a huge two-hour beer fest in the incredible Chinese Rotunda afterwards. If you've never done either of these, this is your chance. Reservations are required (call 215.898.4890).

Michael stays in town Sunday for his equally annual dinner at Monk's on Sunday, but that one is long sold out.

[Posted 10:40am edt]


Archived.
The complete February 2007 postings have been archived here.


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

--A. E. Houseman

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