I drink no cider,
but feast on
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in a letter to his wife Abigail






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31 May 2006
Desperately seeking Fritz.
I've been trying to catch up with Anchor Brewing founder Fritz Maytag for the better part of two weeks now and it's been a somewhat farcical adventure, I must admit. I talked to Anchor's East Coast rep (and former Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster) Andy Musser about it a few months ago and then called him again in mid-month to see if he wanted to make the contact or I should call directly. Andy said he'd already mentioned it to Fritz and, with his permission, gave me his cell phone number.

"Just call and leave a message," he told me. "Fritz is usually up and his vineyards and the phone won't work there, but he'll call you back." So I did just that, or tried to, about two weeks ago. As the phone was ringing, however, it crossed my mind that a) I'd have to explain what this was all about and b) leave a pretty lengthy message to do so. Plus we could end up playing an endless game of phone tag, with him calling me back and missing me and so forth and so on. The result was, when the answering machine picked up, I starting talking super-fast and trying to make sense and...well, by the time I hung up, I figured I'd sounded a bit like a lunatic.

When I got no call back for a week, I felt painfully confirmed in that assumption. So I finally decided to call the brewery directly and maybe find him on the premises. No such luck, and the contact Andy had given me to help work things out during a second call to him wasn't there either, so I was back to leaving another recorded message, more calm and coherent this time, but still...

Again, no answer after several days, but then again, my emails to my editor at Beers of the World, the British magazine for whom I'm doing the Maytag story, have seemingly gone into a black hole as well, so I decided, what the hell, I'll just do a wait-and-see. Worse comes to worse, I can certainly do 800-1000 words on Anchor and Maytag with what I already know.

So tonight the phone rings at 6pm. It is the lovely and talented Matt Guyer, with some info from a phone call he'd just received (which might lead to a story here as well, but that's for another day) and we're discussing it when I get a beep! indicating another call is coming in. I quickly dismiss Guyer and press the "flash" button to switch callers. Instead, it hangs up the incoming call.

Yeah, you got it. When I checked the online call log, the incoming was from Anchor. Disaster breeds disaster, y'know?

Not this time. I called the brewery, got Fritz's secretary and was put through...just as he was hanging up from calling me again and leaving a message. Before I could apologize for my lame previous calls, he moved into apology mode of his own. "You know, I just yelled at a guy for putting off my motorcycle repairs because I told him there was no hurry," he said, "and here I've done the same to you, because you said you needed to talk to me by the end of the month."

No harm, no foul. I've just hung up from a long, informative interview. For a writer, there's nothing better than talking with an articulate subject who gives you more than you need, several laughs along the way and a few chances to b.s. back and forth in-between, and the last hour was all that, and more.

Hey, anybody who brings up a long-ago U.S. Olympic hero in the course of answering a question about something else entirely, and, in quoting her, gives me the perfect set-up, theme and closing line for the story I'll write, is more than worth the agony of several nights convincing myself that I'd screwed things up. I'm feelin' good.

Now all I need is to hear from my editor...

[Posted 7:22 pm edt]

Memorial Day beer tasting...include one vintage treasure.
I haven't written about the Monday Night Tastings of late, first because I've attended very few and second because, quite simply, I got bored. But Memorial Day was special enough to deserve a note.

We got started early for the holiday, around 3:30 in the afternoon, and only Joe Meloney, Tom Foley and I were present when the first of four beers was opened; Ted Johnston came in about an hour later.

Foley took one look at the 1988 J. W. Lee's Vintage Harvest Ale I'd brought and Meloney's bottle of Petrus Aged Pale Ale and decided we should begin with his Belgian Pale, which he wasn't quite convinced was ready yet. He was correct about that, virtually no carbonation. Not that it was enough to deter such as we, though we made him promise to re-present the brew when it's done its thing.

A digression (term/excuse copyright whenever, Michael Jackson): mention of the "Cooler of Doom" in my May 28 posting brought in a few questions about what-in-hell I was talking about. Well, first of all, I was talking, y'know, wrong. The proper term is "Cooler of Death," an approbation Big Dan uses to describe the cooler of Foley's biggest and baddest (in a good way) homebrews which he puts out for gatherings at his humble abode (which Big Dan, a clever wordsmith for a man with a limited vocabulary, calls Parkerford Brewing and Not-So Big Steve calls Where Youse Live) and lugs to beer parties when asked. And sometimes when not. What a guy.

Back on track...

We opened the Petrus next and were appropriately wowed. This is about as enjoyable, nicely complex and refreshing a version of the Belgian sour ale style as there is, a perfect beer for that warm afternoon.

I was a little leery of the Lee's (a gift from good guy Tom Stiegelmann at Union Jack's Inn on the Manatawny a couple of months back), given its 18 years shelf life. The mighty faint "pop" when Foley opened the bottle was also not promising.

Not to worry.

'Twas a grand beer, it was, deep and complex with splendid, and surprising to me, notes of coffee and chocolate as well as the malty richness and muted alcohol I'd expected. This beer is released annually on December 1 and back in '88, I'd surmise, it was not aged in Calvados, Sherry, Port or Lagavulin casks as it is today. Internet sources for the history of this classic appear to be very limited, so the link above is worth pursuing to learn at least a little more about it.

Ted showed up just in time to get the last tiny sip of the Harvest, carrying with him our last beer of the day, 2002 Affligem Tripel, purchased in 2004 right here (where all beer should be purchased--would you folks please take the hint already). There are, let me assure you, worse ways to end an afternoon of good beer consumption.

Throughout all this, by the way, I was "refreshing" with pints of Sly Fox British Pale Ale, the Ringwood beer that proves it's the brewer, not the yeast (which, in this case means Brian's recipe and Tim's skillful brewing). I love this beer.

The casks are coming, the casks are coming...
All the Sly Fox Phoenixville beer geeks for whom Royersford is apparently a too-distant land, will be delighted to know that the Third Friday Firkin Fest event is being moved to their local as of this month. Royersford is seen by the locals as more a restaurant with a good beer bar than a beer bar per se, it seems, and those nice firkins atop the bar each month weren't gettin' nearly the attention they deserved. Trust me, if you'd been there 12 days ago to taste the casked 2005 Prometheus Smoked Imperial Porter, that comment would bring a tear to your eye.

Now, this decision isn't actually "official" yet (or it would be up on their website calendar), but when have I ever let that sort of thing stop me? It's gonna happen, even if I have to twist an arm or two.

With Incubus Friday and this--I anticipate--equally successful event getting everybody's attention each month, we should be right on track to get those three long-promised cask ale beer engines online before summer's end (my next crusade).

Hey, we may never get to see a three-brewpub Phoenixville since Destiny went under, but a town with four handpumps (once Iron Hill opens) will be more than adequate compensation, I'd say.

Celebrator's Top 10 Beer Cities in America (and the new "Atlantic Ale Trail" too).
The just-out Celebrator Beer News (June/July 2006) has my latest Atlantic Ale Trail, which is mostly about our pals at Legacy Brewing in Reading and what they'd like to accomplish there over the course of the next year. If they can pull it off, count me as a regular visitor.

This is also the issue which features the staff's selection of the Top 10 Beer Cities in America, which I mentioned here a while back (scroll down to the May 16 entry, Showing a little Lager love, if you want to refresh your memory).

The Top 10, in order: Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Diego, Washington DC/Baltimore, Boston, New York & Chicago (tie).

As I noted on May 16, I never got to vote because of an email address snafu, but I did get to contribute 200 words (not nearly enough) to a story in which a writer from each city got to explain why his territory's selection was warranted. Here's what got into print:

Why Philadelphia? The answer is Lager. But let's get the other stuff out of the way first.

Start with diversity. More beers of more styles are brewed the Philadelphia region than anywhere else in the U.S. Most are excellent. A few are superior. And the lot of them are generally balanced, nuanced brews which represent all the detailed complexity of the brewer's art at its finest.

Consider the milieu. Our best beer venues have been as highly praised for their culinary skills as for their beer selections for years now. We get virtually every popular craft beer from other areas in the country. Philadelphia is where the American craze for Belgian beers began; it remains the largest U.S. market for Belgians.

Still, it's lager beers which set Philadelphia apart. There's Yuengling Lager, the beer that stopped Budweiser in its tracks in this market. Or Victory Brewing's flagship Prima Pils, named Top Pilsner in the World by the New York Times a few months back. On a grander scale, the annual Sly Fox Bock Festival poured four Bocks (plus two Eisbock versions), Helles Lager, Dark Lager, Pilsner and Rauchbier this May. Got anything like that where you live?

Gave 'em a little Philly attytood there at the end, I did.

It's a pretty good list and hard to argue with for the most part. For the record, my vote wouldn't have changed anything, no matter which order I selected the cities in, because the point difference was reasonably wide in every instance. I'm really not sure I would have put Philadelphia any higher, though I might have moved Denver to #5 and jumped us up one.

Nice showing, though. the way I see it, we now have the West Coasters and the Flyovers agreeing we're the best for beer in the East, and it's about time.

Attytood, once more, with feeling.

[Posted 1:40 pm edt]

29 May 2006
Green Eggs & Richard.
Lord knows, I don't make a habit of inflicting the readership here with material from The Ruch-ster's never-ending stream of "funny" emails (you can thank me later*), but this one gave me a bit of a chuckle and seemed silly enough to be in keeping with a holiday weekend...not to mention that I admire how Richard deftly uses the second entry of the two to send us all a message about his declining physical state:

*That "thank me later" thing? In my experience, beer says it best.

[Posted 1:25 pm edt]

28 May 2006
And she's holdin' a Corona, and it's cold against her hand.
That's a line from Lucinda Williams' "The Night's Too Long," from her self-named CD, which is one of several CDS and other matters which I discuss at considerable length in a posting over at I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing. Check it out if you want to see how I spent Saturday.

I like that line because it's, first of all, masterful writing, using a pop icon (Corona) in a fashion to paint a picture far greater than those few words would convey had she merely said "beer" (you get a clearer idea of who she is and what she looks like and what kind of bar she's in, or at least, I do), and, secondly, because it's an example of the weakness of that very imagery. "Bud" or "Miller's" would have worked, if not quite as well, because the message all those big bland brands convey is not about the quality of the product but only an implied expectation of fun...cold...beautiful people...and, just below the surface, shhh, don't tell anybody...hooking up.

Which is all I have to say about beer today. Perhaps I'll be back on the case tomorrow, following this afternoon's visit to Camp Terry, Steve (The Other One)'s special enclave where he throws parties for his bestest buddies or, for that matter, anybody he happens to meet. It's not like he owns the place or anything. The probability of my posting on the morrow is probably inversely related to the presence of the "cooler of doom" at today's festivities and the extend to which I delve into same.

Otherwise, all I have on the horizon for now is some soon-to-be-revealed Sly Fox news (which will be just what you were expecting, only not), a longer-than-usual piece on the problem of disappearing kegs which will run in at least two, maybe three, postings at the Beer Yard site this week or next and the posting of my current "Atlantic Ale Trail" column from the just-out June-July Celebrator Beer News.

[Posted 10:00 am edt]

23 May 2006
The weight is lifted.
Tom Baker and Peggy Zwerver have had a lot of fun over the last couple of years either creating or augmenting existing rumors about the closing of their cult-favorite Heavyweight Brewing Co., all the while making clear to friends and dedicated customers that it would happen one day.

That day is upon us, or will be in six to eight weeks. I posted the story at the Beer Yard Saturday and followed up with a more extensive story yesterday.

Tom, whom I've pretty much forgiven, kinda, for making me have to chase him down and get this story despite his many promises to make me "the first one to know" in our past discussions, has always wanted to do the brewpub-cum-beer-bar thing he discusses in those stories and, if we're lucky, he and Peggy will manage to pull if off, maybe even on this side of the Delaware.

If they do, of course, you'll be informed right away because I'll be the first to know.

I'll see your Joe Sixpack's Happy Hour and raise you one.
I commented here on Friday about how Don (Joe Sixpack) Russell, not satisfied with just having a weekly radio show, is gettin' all high tech and adding video to accompany his weekly column at his impressive new website. I was moaning that he was raising the bar for the rest of us. Now I find out that New Jersey beer writer Gary Monterosso, (Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and other publications), has tied up with Beer Radio, a weekly show aired on the Sirius Satellite Radio network.

So here I sit, wheezing and coughing from the dust all these guys are making as they speed into the 21st century (I won't even go into stuff like this and the zillion other things Bryson's got going).

But, never fear, I got me a plan.

Buck the trend, wait for the backlash, think out of the box. Old school, baby, old school, that's the ticket.

look for future postings here to be chiseled out on cave walls and slabs of rock.

A way with words.
I loved this comment by Niagara Falls Reporter columnist Mike Hudson, bemoaning the acquisition of the Rolling Rock brand by Anheuser-Busch: Niagara Falls Reporter Opinion

No longer will this mildly alcoholic confection come "from the mountain springs to you." No, it will come instead from a state where residents shun their own tap water.
Man, slamming A-B and New Jersey in the same sentence. Now that's writing.

Speaking of slamming New Jersey, residents apparently do it themselves and may not even recognize it. At the Iron Hill fest on Sunday, I picked up the inaugural issue of Garden Plate, a new magazine published over there which celebrates NJ food and drink. The name is quite clever, I thought, playing off the official motto, The Garden State. Then I noticed the subhead or motto or whatever you want to call it, a six-word slogan right under the cover logo:

Food And Drink At Every Exit
Seriously. I mean, the rest of us do think of New Jersey as nothing more than a great maze of limited access roads that separates Pennsylvania and New York and provides access to the shore resorts, but a state magazine defining itself in terms of turnpike toll booths?

The mind boggles. And giggles.

[Posted 10:35 am edt]

19 May 2006
More distribution stuff. Boring.
Lew has the latest distribution shift--Troegs to Penn Distribution---up on his site and he also makes passing reference to my reporting at the Beer Yard site on the never-ending Kunda/Friedland/Yards saga (thanks, Less Big Guy).

Just to clarify the latter:

What was included in the deal between Kunda and Friedland were the "rights" to distribute Yards beers which Friedland claims to own. Whether or not Yards is going along with this is not yet clear.

I'm pretty burned out on the whole distribution thing at this point, but I have been promised by three different people involved in the negotiations that I'll be the first to know whatever there is to know whenever there's actually something to know. I'll either report same at that point or curl up in a ball and wait for it all to go away.

While we wait, not exactly biting our nails in anticipation, here's today's Joe Sixpack column which is peripherally related to the issue. Nice piece. Watch the video too.

Now that Sixpack's upped the ante, I suppose I'll have to start posting videos of The Big One and the Other One. Should be a piece of cake: not much action, just glass to mouth, glass to mouth, glass to mouth...

[Posted 10:45 am edt]

15 May 2006
Showin' a little Lager love.
Since that short piece I did for Celebrator Beer News last week (scroll down to previous item) about Philadelphia's status as a great beer city used our Lager beers as a key argument (with an emphasis on Pilsners in the original which was sadly cut way back in editing to fit the length requirements), I was delighted to see this in this morning copy of the Tria Ferment'Zine:

Fortunately in the Philadelphia area, which was heavily settled by Germans, there are a number of breweries that produce world-class Pilsner! You can buy fresh, local Pilsner just as if you lived in a German village. Our top picks listed alphabetically are Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (Royersford), Stoudt’s Pils (Adamstown), Tröegs Sunshine Pils (Harrisburg), Victory Prima Pils and Victory Braumeister Pils (Downingtown). If you’ve never had real Pilsner, the hop aroma and bitterness may come as a surprise. But try one on a hot Philly summer afternoon, and you just might fall in love.
I did specifically mention Prima in the piece that will see print, but had to cut out the Braumeister as well as mentions, without specific brand names, of the Pils from the other three breweries named above. C'est la vie, as we say here in Pottstown...not that anybody has a clue what we're talking about when we do.

If you'd like, you can sign up to get Ferment'Zine at the bottom of this page.

[Posted 9:45 am edt]

15 May 2006
Check out this restaurant review from yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer by Craig LaBan, a food writer who has become a real advocate for beer as a component of fine dining.

Note this, early on in the review:

[Ansill] even has a fabulous wine list and craft beer bar to loosen you up for the journey. So grab a glass of roasty German black lager, a goblet of Languedoc viognier, or a swirl of Spanish rioja, and buckle up for a flavor adventure.
And this, as he begins to evaluate menu choices:
By now, you've moved on to an aromatic Belgian saison ale from Dupont or an earthy, Burgundian pinot noir, so it's time for a nibble of charcuterie.
Not available online is an extensive overview of the restaurant, which LaBan rated as "Excellent" overall. In his short description which opened that section he noted that Ansill has one of the city's smartest wine-and-beer lists and then adds this under the "Wine List" portion of the overview:
There is also a great Belgian-centric beer list, with some unusual finds,such as the German black lager from Kostritzer.
I think this is exactly the sort of coverage the craft beer industry should be excited about. LaBan does not make any fuss about suggesting beers with the food, doesn't set such remarks apart from the main thrust of the piece in any way. He assumes that his readers are smart enough, and sophisticated enough, to accept this perfectly logical position without his having to offer caveats.

The headline on my "Atlantic Ale Trail" column in the issue of Celebrator Beer News reads "Shouldn't We Be Celebrating or Something?" and the column tries to make the point that we've already won the war (gaining beer recognition as something considerably more than a frat boy's cheap yellow fizz) and should be concentrating now on holding the territory we own and expanding the borders. That's perhaps overly optimistic, but I think it's a lot closer to the truth than the "woe is us, nobody understands" stuff that too many of our brothers-in-arms still feel compelled to whine.

This week, I received an urgent request from Celebrator for a couple of hundred words on why Philadelphia deserves its place on the list of Top Beer Cities which the entire staff--theoretically--voted on recently (due to an email mixup, I never got the message or a vote). Two hundred words ain't much, folks, and my brilliant, incisive, irrefutable 380-word submission had to be edited down to under the limit (at least they let me do it), which meant that a variation of this line, one I really wanted in there, had to go:

We're not, or shouldn't be, about establishing a "beer culture" any longer; we're about inculcating the concept of good beer into the whole culture.
That's the good word. Spread it.

[Posted 8:05 am edt]

14 May 2006
I met up with Lew "Tiny" Bryson at Drafting Room Exton early yesterday afternoon and we drove down together for a private grand opening party at Twin Lakes Brewing Co. in Greenville, Delaware.

I just put up a news story about that, including some hints as to what to expect next from these folks, in the usual place. Go. Read. I'll wait.

The gathering, on a bright sunny afternoon, was mostly friends, family and business associates, folks who, for the most part, appeared to be from a somewhat different social strata that the Shrinking Big Fella and I. Not to worry; we took refuge in the company of the only other beer press wretch in attendance, Mid-Atlantic Brewing News columnist and raconteur George Hummel. I made the crucial error of metaphorically putting a quarter in the slot with an offhand comment and George began reeling off his vast store of off-color funnies. Hey, it's the price we pay for his company and wisdom.

Twin Lakes has one of the coolest tasting rooms you'll ever see on the floor above the brewhouse, a bright, clean, airy room with one wall mostly glass through which a visitor can look out over the farmland receding westward from the main complex (the home of co-owner Sam Dobbs is to the left of the long driveway into the property, the brewery to the right). There are a couple of comfortable couches in the center of the room, a small table which held some impressive cheeses and crackers and interesting art on the walls (or, in one case, hanging from ceiling to floor). A great location for sampling beers. Tell the truth, I wouldn't mind having it as my office.

The beers? Greenville Pale Ale is the pick of the litter, a somewhat different and intriguing version of the style made with Cascades and a British ale yeast. Mixed with Twin Lakes' stout entry (see below) it also made for a very pleasant and eminently drinkable Half and Half.

Rt. 52 Pilsner is a good, serviceable pils. That's a style you gotta really hit in this market to catch the attention of the beer geeks, who are panting in anticipation over at BeerAdvocate.com, albeit it somewhat nonplussed by certain Twin Lakes policies (about which more presently), so I can't predict their reaction. It should be an attractive product for the Delaware restaurants and pubs which are the target market, I'd think, and I'd guess it will show up on a lot of kegerators in those parts as well.

Tweeds Tavern Stout, released this very weekend and bound for the market starting tomorrow, was nice as well, sweeter in the British style as opposed to the dry Irish version, with a nice malt backbone. It poured with very brown head, which Hummel, who knows this stuff, suggested was indicative of perhaps a tad too much dark malt. It definitely went down easy, but I'd like to see it tweaked a bit with more hops. Like the other two, this was obviously a beer produced by a talented brewer (Mark Fesche, if you were too lazy to go read the news story).

As Lew and I were about to leave, Sam Hobbs grabbed us, loaded us into his truck and took us on a tour of the property, down narrow paved roads and over hill and dale, stopping once so we could scramble down by a covered spring by the roadside and sample the clear fresh water used in making the beer. It was a good way to top off a very good afternoon.

That thing about a policy which has the Beer Advocates befused and conmuddled? Like most breweries, Twin Lakes will offer guided tours...but for a fee. This news story (which will also tell you a lot more about the place) says they'll be available on Wednesdays and Saturdays:

$22.50, which includes the guided tour, Twin Lakes logo glass and light hors d'oeuvres. Visitors also may purchase half-gallon growlers...The cost for the glassware is $8; the first fill-up is $7 and $8 after that.
Indeed, Twin Lakes is even charging a fee to attend its official Grand Opening on June 3 (see here). My guess is that, with the brewery located on a private property--as noted, one owner's home is right across the driveway--they're not that eager for visitors. We'll see how that goes.

By the way, that section of Delaware, just across the Pennsylvania line, is familiar territory for me. I grew up in Kennett Square, a few miles to the north and traveled down 52 to Wilmington more times than I can begin to count. Buckley's Tavern, a few miles up the road from the brewery in Centerville, was one of those place where I could drink before I could drink and holds many memories.

Once, in my early college years, a couple of pals and I started off a very unpromising New Year's Eve there, one which turned into a night for the record books...and for stories not to be told. Many years later, I sat there in a booth opposite the bar, tangled in one of those I'm embarrassed-that-it-happened-but-happen-it-did complicated romances, with a woman who was about to leave me, drinking Jack Daniels as fast as the waitress could pour it, smoking the last cigarettes of my life, a whole pack of them, one after the other, trying to make sense of it, put it all back together, never recognizing that leaving was the best gift she could possibly give me.

Ah, but I wander afield. Carry on.

Indeed. The estimable Mr. Bryson has dropped about 50 lbs from his frame in recent months--at no cost to his booming laugh, you'll be happy to know; at Twin Lakes yesterday I saw several patrician heads swing around in horror when he unleashed the traditional guffaw. It's pretty damned impressive.

This weight loss thing appears to be going around. The equally estimable Carl P, LDO's West Coast representative and gummint agent provocateur (he's the guy who flew in to help me move last November, earning my undying gratitude and an occasional beer shipment), informs he's shed 40 lbs. since last we met. Shucks, I've taken off eight myself over the last week and a half, with another 15 or so my goal.

It struck me yesterday, adding all those lbs. of ugly fat together, that, in my halcyon days, I dated whole women who weighed less than the total lbs. the three of us have lost.

And when I say "whole women," I don't mean to suggest that I've also dated "partial women." Ew.

[Posted 12:15 pm edt]

13 May 2006
Great great great great great (etc.) grandpa.
This research, I'd say, is pretty much irrefutable evidence about who our ancestors were. Can there be any doubt any longer?

[Posted 10:55 am edt]

12 May 2006
The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.
So, would you believe I've been on a two week drinking binge and completely forgot how to access the site?

Or I was kidnapped by agents of the gummint and forced to help them sift through millions of your phone records in order to...well, they never did explain...and they fed me world-class beer around the clock for days so I didn't complain or try to escape?

How about my mind was so boggled by the sight of a Vastly Shrunken Bryson that I've been unable to put two words together in order for days?

In fact, none of those things are true (though one is close). I've been gone because I've been gone. I gots my reasons and they is all mine.

But now I'm back. Open the taps and grab a pint. I'm pretty sure I'll have something to say real soon now.

Or not. Whatever.

The complete April 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 2:00 pm edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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