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27 November 2004
Spinning an Irish tale. And winning to boot.
This will possibly come across as bragging. Hey, I guess it is. And I can live with that. It's not like I have an abundance of opportunities.

My story, The Leprechaun, won Third Place in the Fall 2004 Writer's Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest. The email arrived late Wednesday evening, starting the holiday weekend off just right.

This is the best I've ever done in this event. My first every entry, Clark, In the Sky, finished somewhere in the top ten several years back, when there were fewer entries and minimal prizes. Now there are 500 stories entered in each quarterly competition and decent monetary awards for the top finishers. Most of mine have finished in the top 30 or so, earning me various software prizes, but this one means actually cash money in my pocket, which is nice, and gave me an opportunity to try my hand at Irish tone and rhythm in both the telling and the dialogue, which was even nicer.

The story had to touch, in some fashion, upon this paragraph, emailed to us 24 hours before deadline:

The red, orange and yellow leaves traveling the river contrasted sharply against the black water. Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. She shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled diatribe coming from the burlap sack in her arms.
For whatever reason, my basic story leapt to mind almost immediately, although the majority of the writing was done in the three hours prior to submission, much of it based upon scenes and dialogue that had swirled through my mind during the night in lieu of sleep.

If so inclined, you can read The Leprechaun here and find links to the top two stories here.


The Monday Tasting: dueling Elves.
As promised, we had an "Elf-Off" this week, 2003 Mad Elf Holiday Ale vs. the just-released 2004 version. We'll save that momentous confrontation until the end, however. A dozen beers made an appearance this Monday past, providing us with signficant fodder with which to build up the suspense.

Irregular (and I mean that in the nicest sense) Steve Rubeo showed up, inspired by the promise of a pair of elves, and brought along Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir, knowing I've wanted another taste of this elusive brew ever since it won GABF Gold this year. This was a 2003 bottling, the latest batch having just been released. Lots of grape and honey and saffron notes, but, for me, disappointing overall. Chalk it up to the beer's age, or mine, or maybe to the fact that I tasted the first ever batch of Midas, the one which was supposed to be a special one-off, golden in color, tasty on the palate and something I could easily envision being served at a lawn party by the rich and famous. Nothing since has ever matched that glorious brew.

Joe Meloney poured The Kaiser, a 9.3% abv Imperial Oktoberfest from Avery Brewing. Quite nice but, as they say, wretched excess. Hasn't this "Imperial" thing gone far enough? Jeanne and Rick Smiledge, obviously not agreeing with my position, then brought out Alesmith Horny Devil,a Belgian Strong Ale, 10% abv. Yikes! Nothing like starting things off with a bang.

Following the Mad Elf comparison, which came next while we still had taste buds we could count upon, Ted Johnston brought us back down to earth with Broughton Ales Scottish Oatmeal Stout, pleasant if a bit thin at 4.2%. For some reason, my notes have this identified as Kimport Willie, but there's no indication of that nomenclature at the Broughton website. I knew those first couple of beers were too strong...

Lee Marrin, another sometimes visitor, was welcomed because he had in hand a bottle of Harpoon Union Street Revival Ale from the brewery's admirable limited release 100 Barrel Series of one-offs, each created and bottled signed by an individual brewer. This was a nicely drinkable, unfiltered 6.6% abv amber ale. Then Tom Foley stepped up and poured his very own Imperial Oktoberfest. I rest my case that things have gone entirely too far (I hold my ground somewhat reluctantly, since the beer was damned good). Not as good as the next one, however, wife Lori Limper's Draculina, an extraordinary Doppelbock and one of the best beers of the evening.

Bob Huber, disowned brother of Bill Huber, tried to win his way back into our affections with a bottle of Avery Eleven, their 11% Imperial IPAS. You know, that just might do it. Another top entry for the night. We finished up, if we weren't already quite finished, with Foley's Belgian Brown. Who can remember at this point what we thought of that?

Now back to the future...the past? Whenever. Here's the scoop of Mad Elf vs. Mad Elf, with a guest appearance by their wicked stepsister.

Wicked stepsister? The second beer of the night that we actually tasted was a growler of Van de Hoorn, which is Troegenator brewed with the Mad Elf Belgian yeast. This is, literally, The Beer That Dare Not Speak Its Name because it doesn't, well, exist. It is rumored to have appeared at the Kennett Square and Ommegang fests and possibly at the Beer Yard a week ago Friday, but discount all that. In fact, forget I mentioned it.

We poured Richard Ruch's bottles of 2003 Mad Elf and everyone oohhed and aahhed over the smooth, mellow cherry flavors, the wonderful drinkability, the joy of it all. I sort of joined them, this being the first time I'd had last year's elf, but maintained my composure. I knew what was coming next.

Bill Huber's bottles of Mad Elf 2004 blew everybody away. There may have been a dissenter or two, but the overwhelming consensus was that this reformulated Elf is a quantum leap forward for what was a helluva beer to begin with. Rather than repeat myself, I'll just suggest you scroll down to the entry for November 20 and see what I had to say there.

Here endeth the tale. Until this coming Monday...


You can knock me down, but you can't beat me.
Don't you love it when one of the little guys is beaten about the head and shoulders by a bigger, richer corporate bully and comes back bloody but unbeaten and as feisty as ever?

I give you the Fegley family, founders of Bethlehem Brew Works, who have employed a bit of not-so-subtle humor to make their point.

Many of you will recall that, last year, BBW was forced to drop its Rudolph's Reserve Christmas seasonal due to a copyright conflict with a Connecticut company which claims the right to sell beer bearing the red-nosed reindeer's image.

Anybody ever seen or heard of this beer?

No matter. Big money wins every time.

Or does it?

A Bethlehem brewery forced to drop its Rudolph's Reserve ale in a copyright battle last year has brought the brew back with a new name and label that poke fun at the dispute.

Rude Elf's Reserve features a red-nosed elf holding an open bottle on the label, with a reindeer visible in the background.

The send-up of the original name and design is meant as a cheeky response to the copyright fight over the image of Rudolph the reindeer, Bethlehem Brew Works owner Jeff Fegley said.

[ ... ]

Fegley said he could not afford to fight the bigger competitor. But he vowed to bring back the beer, and says now that the new name and label are his "in-your-face" response.

You can read the complete Associated Press story here.

[Posted 1:00 pm edt]

20 November 2004
Coming to the party just a wee bit late.
Ed Yashinsky has made an appearance in this ongoing saga three times previously, if memory serves. Admittedly, it does so less and less frequently these days.

His first moment on stage was during a late-night, coming-down-from-Penn Fest session two years ago, in a motel room Lew Bryson and I were sharing. John Trogner and Dan Weirback were also there, providing most of the entertainment as they told brewer horror stories.

He then turned up, in drag (and he was a truly frightening woman, he was, as my photograph revealed) this past July in my report on Nodding Head's annual Royal Stumble. Later that same month, he slipped in here surreptitiously, as the man behind his own camera, who provided me with a photograph which revealed for all to see the dark side of the selfsame Bryson at that very Stumble.

So he's two for three so far, and I certainly don't plan to catch him in drag again. Oh, I could if I'm not careful, but let's all hope not.

Yashinsky, who is the marketing/sales guy for Troegs Brewery, makes his reappearance today so that I can give him his due props and my deep thanks for sending me a bottle of Mad Elf Holiday Ale this week as part of what I presume was a general mailing to the press. As we all know, the Elf ain't all that easy to find.

If you've been fortunate enough to lay hands on some, this will come as no surprise: I was blown away. Mad Elf is one fantastic beer. We have come a long way from the early years when John and brother Chris concentrated solely on producing perfectly made traditional styles. That earned them my accolade, as I've said many times though perhaps not "in print" until now, as the best spot-on brewery in this region of very good breweries.

Every beer Troegs makes, at least in my experience, is crisp, clean and exactly what it is supposed to be. Now they've employing that expertise to making brews like Mad Elf and Troegenator, which was the experimental brew that opened the gates.

2004 Mad Elf has been somewhat reformulated from the 2003 version (which also drove beer geeks into a frenzy of desperate searching). The yeast profile has been strengthened and the cherries were both tarter than last year's and added near the end of, rather than in the primary, fermentation.

And as I read Yashinsky's accompanying notes on the brewing process, it struck me that I either never had the 2003 Elf or have completely forgotten the experience. I already told ya that memory thing is becoming a something thing, didn't I?

Whatever the case, I appear to have gotten to this party just a little bit late.

Shed no tears. I've got it covered.

Fortuitously enough, we decided at last Monday's Tasting that the centerpiece of this week's session would be a comparison of the 2003 and 2004 versions.

How's that for synchronicity? Clean living is obviously rewarded by the beer gods (it might be more fun if the rewards came from a beer goddess, but you take what you can get).

I'll let you know how it turns out a couple of days from now.

[Posted 2:00 pm edt]

17 November 2004
A quiet little tasting among friends.
With Rick and Jeanne Smildege out of town, ditto Mayberry, and Foley down with the vapors while wife Lori was at work supporting his evil brewing habits, plus Bob Huber off doing whatever it is that he does when he does whatever it is, ours was a small, but quite striking, group when we gathered for the regular Monday Tasting thing roughly 47 hours ago. Indeed, we even need a rare Mystery Guest to fill a single table.

In attendance were Richard Ruch (fresh from his first visit to Royersford), Joe Meloney, Bill (the Other) Huber, rare but not unusual Del Massey and, of course, Me. Five people, six beers. Simple and easy the way I like it.

Bill brought two California beers and we opened the proceedings with one of them, Ballast Point Brewing's Big Eye IPA, a nice drinkable version redolent of hops and pine notes. and our third beer was the other, Mendocino Brewing's Black Eye Ale, an ersatz Black & Tan, mixing their Black Hawk Stout and Eye of the Hawk Ale.

Between those two, we had the wonderful Sinebrychoff Baltic Porter from Finland's brewery of the same name, courtesy of Richard. This was one of the finest examples of this very appealing style most of us had ever tasted and it prompted Mr. Ruch to reveal that Victory's Ron Barchet brewed his first-ever Baltic Porter as the final brew on the old system before it was hauled away by the folks from Weyerbacher. Said brew should be on the taps before Christmas, Richard opines, and will surely merit a trip, or more than one, out to Downingtown.

Next up was a world-class entry, the great 11% abv Aventinus Eisbock from Germany's G. Schneider & Sohn, brought along by Del, thus earning him firm instructions to show up more frequently. Or at least send beer as truly delicious as this one.

Wandering Joe brought Lagunitas Maximus IPA, which I felt was quite fortuitous in that this big tasty Double IPA was the only one of the brewery's beers not being served at Monk's last week during the small party celebrating their move eastward.

Although an argument could surely be made for both the Sinebrychoff and the Aventinus, we saved the very best for last, if I do say so myself. And I do.

I contributed, through the generosity of The Beer Yard's Matt Guyer, a bottle of Allagash Brewing Company's newest beer, Curieux, a Jim Beam barrel-aged version of their already fabulous Tripel. Wow! Great coconut and vanilla notes and just a hint of Bourbon flavor. And all too drinkable at 9.5% abv.

I had Curieux on draft out at GABF during a Beer & Chocolate tasting and enjoyed it considerably, but in the bottle it was, quite simply, as good a barrel-aged beer as I've ever had. I report with great delight and anticipation that Allagash is planning to release a second barrel-aged brew, a dark wheat, later this year.

[Posted 4:05 pm edt]

14 November 2004
This story takes place in an Alt universe.
That's a standard science fiction cop-out, especially in comic books, when the writer wants to tell a story that doesn't quite fit with reality as we know it. No need for me to do that, really. As I've said many times before, I couldn't make this stuff up.

So I'm just playing word games for my own amusement as, in answer to many questions, I now inform everbody who's been asking me almost daily that Grand Opening Alt, the first beer made in the new brewery, is now on tap at Sly Fox Royersford.

I hied meself over there yesterday afternoon to purchase a growler of Keller Pils to enjoy today while watching football games involving teams I don't care about. When I saw the new tap, of course, nothing would do but to have me a coupla pints.

How good was it? Put it this way: it wasn't the Pils that I came home with.

[Posted 2:20 pm edt]

12 November 2004
My afternoon with Brandon.
I used to call him The Angry Brewer, but no more. The new, laid-back, takin'-it-as-it-comes Brandon Greenwood is, in his own words, "fat and happy" these days. So it was without trepidation that I stopped in to visit with him at Nodding Head for an hour or so yesterday afternoon before moving on the "Lagunitas Debut Party" thrown by Friedland Distributors at Monk's last evening.

As is my practice and a most sacred tenet of the beer writers' code, I allowed him to ply me with beer as we chatted. Heck, I even let him pick the beers. First up was a cask-version of 3-C Extreme, his well-balanced double IPA, a brew I would have readily stayed with for the afternoon. Brandon had other ideas, however.

While I sipped a pint of 700 Level Ale (which, truth to tell, ended up rather unfairly being something of a tasty palate cleanser as things progressed), he was off to brewery to bring out a "surprise." Not so surprisingly, since he'd actually told me about this before, it was a sample of his new Belgian beer, which shall go unrevealed here (there's gonna be a lot of that today, brace yourselves).

"This is the first Belgain I've ever gotten right and been pleased with," quoth Brandon, who not so long ago told me he would never brew a Belgian style again but was won over by "a wonderful new strain of yeast we managed to to get." This too was a very good beer, although still developing the proper level of carbonation and very young. And it was followed by....ah, but let's wait a bit before discussing that one.

Our talk covered a wide range of things, including Nodding Head's search for a brewery site (still looking but not all that hard was the impression I got), a somewhat unusual but sure to be attractive Tasting he's proposed to Matt Guyer of The Beer Yard (about which you'll learn If and When) and the state of craft brewing in general (wherein I pontificated, he demurred by saying he had no real opinions and then offered his opinions).

I also wanted to ask him about local planning for next April's Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, run by the Association of Brewers (or whatever entity they might have morphed into by that time). I have lots of thoughts about this gathering which I'll be getting to in the new year and I knew he was on the local Steering Committee. Here, for your edification, is the full membership of that committee:

Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head
Gene Muller, Flying Fish
Tim Roberts, Independence
Mark Edelson, Iron Hill
Brandon Greenwood, Nodding Head
Carol Stoudt, Stoudt's
Bill Covaleski, Victory
Tom Kehoe, Yards.

It was during this part of our discussion that Brandon produced the fourth beer of the afternoon, and this one is, I believe, worthy of a....


Beer Geek Alert!
The AOB's Craft Brewers Conference is held in a different city each year and it is a tradition that brewers in the host city get together and come up with a "Symposium Beer" to mark the occasion. They are often very good beers; last year's 2004 Symposium Ale was a Belgian-style strong golden ale out of San Diego, created by Peter Zien (AleSmith) Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port) and Lee Chase (Stone, and was particularly nice.

If the truest definition of a "collectible" beer is one so rare and difficult to obtain that only a very few people ever get to own or taste it, then these one-time limited edition brews certainly qualify. And I suggest to all you sweaty-handed, anal-retentive Gotta Have It! types (you know who you are and where you gather) that you are REALLY going to want to be the first, maybe only, kid on your block to lay hands on a bottle of what will be presented in Philadelphia five months from now.

No, I can't tell you what it is, not even the style, but I had enough of it yesterday to tell you that it is really good. More to the point that, I believe that it is actually unique, unlike anything done previously for AOB or, indeed, at any time for any purpose.

You have been warned. Get out there and start befriending a brewer right now. A generous one.

[Posted 3:15 pm edt]

9 November 2004
Pride. Fall. In that order.
You'd think I'd learn to keep my mouth shut. Here I go bragging about have fixed the radiator on my car cheaply and...well, you know. Things fall apart. The center--or, in this case, J-B Weld--cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon my life. (For those of you of a literary bent, I offer apologies to William Butler Yeats.)

So I take one more shot at it this morning, again smearing this J-B Weld stuff on the hairline crack at the top of the radiator. This means committing myself to another 24 hours without transport while allowing it to harden and dry. No big deal, right?

Tom Peters calls within the hour. He's been trying to get me for a week or two, he says. Peter persists in trying to contact me with a nearly ten-year old phone number which is now used by somebody's fax machine. After enough busy signals and recording voices telling he he's gotten fax machine, memory kicks back in. For a while. Then he regresses. It would be sorta charming if it weren't, as it was today, sometimes disastrous.

He was calling with a last-minute invite to a dinner at Monk's tonight, an event which sounds like the beer dinner of the year. It's being done with Le Bec-Fin chef Daniel Stern and as Tom happily read off the menu and all the extraordinary beers that will be poured in roughly two hours from now, I could have cried.

But stuck here I am and here I am stuck. That which does not kill me forces me to make my own dinner, as somebody surely once said.

Damn.


Before the fall.
Last night, before I realized everything had gone all to hell again, automobile-wise, I hustled on over to Sly Fox Royersford for opening night. The place looks great, there was a big crowd spread throughout the bar area and both the main and secondary dining rooms and those gas fireplaces are looking more and more like where I'll be writing the Great American Novel. Or just, you know, hangin' and drinkin'.

It was so successful that even O'Reilly was smiling again for the first time in a long while. He let me have a taste of the Grand Opening Alt, which is very good and should be on tap by Thanksgiving, probably earlier, and of a just brewed batch of Royal Weisse which he termed the "best ever." If an incredible nose is any precursor, he could be right.

Local reporter Dennis Wright was there to cover the night for The Phoenix and you can read his story right here. Note the Letter to the Editor which follows it.

[Posted 5:05 pm edt]

6 November 2004
Back among the living.
I'm finally getting over Deadline Shock and Election Dismay, both of which made this a somewhat lousy week. The fact that I seem to have repaired the car's radiator for $5.69 and a bit of effort in lieu of preparing to spend $300 plus for a new one did ease the pain a bit today. Still, it's always darkest before it turns totally black, or something like that, so I remain cautious.


A furtive Monday Tasting.
Even with the founding members absent for the most part (Ruch, Meloney, O'Reilly and Yer Humble Correspondent), a few desperate souls got together at Sly Fox Monday night and did their thing while the rest of us were either working (O'Reilly) or guzzling Hop Wallop during its Release Party at Victory. How'd they know went to start if they weren't waiting for me to show up? asked Wandering Joe, logically, and I could not provide an answer. In any case, here, provided by Tom Foley, who you just know was behind the whole thing, is a brief summary, somewhat edited so you can actually understand it:

Attendees: Rick & Jeannie Smiledge, myself, Lori, Ted Johnston, Bill Huber (rumored to be his 50th that night) and Lee Marrin.

Beers: Three Floyd's Gumball Head (Lee)
Bourgogne des Flanders (me)
St Peter's Porter (Ted)
Old Jock Scottish Ale (Ted)
Brugs Blonde (Lori)
Wittekerk Special (Lori)
Hoegaarden Grand Cru (Me)
Ted's Tripel (Ted)
Hop Wallop-one year old, the non-dry-hopped version ,I think (Rick & Jeannie)
The Reverend 2 or 3 yrs old (Rick and Jeannie)
Old Rasputin '96 (Bill)

I may have missed some and may have who brought what a little screwy, but it's the best I could do and Lori remembered 9 of the 10 beers I listed. Ted's Tripel was excellent, as was the Old Jock. The Rasputin had mellowed to the point where it was dangerously drinkable. The stuff Lori and I brought were single bottles from the Belgium stash and all were quite nice, particularly the Bourgogne.


Seasonal Sixpack.
Don Russell's Joe Sixpack column deals with seasonal brews this week. I bring it to your attention not because he mentions me and this site in the column, but because he also mentions Matt Guyer and The Beer Yard in the column and Guyer would never forgive me if I let it slip by. Trust me.


Troegs stuff.
Herman Metz and David Cunningham of Middletown, PA were named the grand-prize winners in The Art of Drinking Tröegs bottle cap art contest a week ago today for creating "a metal sculpture of a person with some strategically placed bottle caps serving as clothing," reports the November issue of Troegs Tales. You can see their work and other prize-winning entries here. That same issue of Troegs Tales (which is the brewery's email newsletter, provided a bit of brewing information about the just-released Mad Elf:

The Mad Elf recipe is the same as last year, but the fermentation process is different. Last year, we pitched the cherries during primary fermentation, and while this brought out a nice cherry flavor it masked some of the yeast taste. This year, with the assistance of our on-staff microbiologist, we closely monitored the yeast to let that taste really come through in the beer. We let the beer reach near-complete fermentation before adding the cherries. This allowed the yeast flavors to reach full potential and the cherries to provide a complimentary flavor.

What the Ruch is this?
I don't quite know what to say about this photograph of Richard Ruch, but then who would? It was taken at Victory Monday night while he was acting as MC for part of the Hop Wallop festivities. As you might imagine, I even had some serious reservations about inflicting it on an unsuspecting world at all. But if Richard's pal, the ever-vigilant Mayberry, went to the trouble of capturing the moment for posterity, who am I to stand in the way? I particularly like the golden burst of light on his right shoulder as if the universe itself was acknowledging how Richard had bravely dyed his beard black for the occasion. Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his dignity for his brewery...

[Posted 2:20 pm edt]

3 November 2004
Walloping hops.
Ol' Hop Wallop rode back into town Monday night for an invitation-only party at Victory Brewing Company and good times were had.

As they did last year, Bill Covaleski, Ron Barchet and sales guy Steve German gave things a western flair and used the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer as willing tool to incite the crowd.

As I did last year, I captured some of the fun and all of the Guyer stuff (it is his camera, after all) on disk. You'll find a couple of those at the end of this report.

I guess you're all eager to hear about this year's Hop Wallop, right? It's much bigger than last year's inaugural brew, 8.5% abv officially with "rumors" that the actual results have extended somewhat north of that, and more of a traditional Double IPA. I know, I know, this is the Brew That Dare Not Speak Its Style, but we all know what's what, and this year's version is big and hoppy and a match for any of those West Coast pretenders.

Personally, I miss the pine and citrus notes of the 2003 version, which was more complex and easier to imagine downing several pints of over the course of an evening. I have little doubt, however, that the masses who have eagerly been awaiting this release will be more than delighted with it. As I was reminded by another gent of a certain age who was in attendance and shared my opinion to some degree, "you and I, Jack, we don't speak for a lot of people." More's the pity, say I.

There was also a charitable aspect to the event, which was nice. We were asked to make a donation to a Kids With Special Needs program when we checked in at the door and a firkin of Hop Wallop was gravity tapped later in the evening (this was Guyer's role, using a neat hand-carved mallet made by German's father) and pints were sold for $5 each. Not surprisingly, it went pretty fast. I managed to purchase a pint and found it delicious. That I could drink all night for sure.

Other stuff of note included some fool who looked a lot like me trying to balance his beer while cutting a piece of contrary pizza loose from its moorings and half leaning on the table, managing instead to sent two pizza trays and an immediately shattered glass to the floor. I'd tell you his name, but he slipped away, I swear. Really.

And then there was Bill Heaton, while conducting a brief tour of the amazing and ultra-modern new brewery, choosing to go all rhapsodic about a mill hidden way back in a corner of the brewhouse and insisting that the crowd press into the darkness to see it (I'm not sure that all of them ever emerged). "It's my favorite part of the brewery," he said later. "I don't know why they don't have a spotlight shining on it all the time and big arrows pointing to it." Brewers are a strange breed of cat, y'know?

THE PHOTOS:


STEVE GERMAN & THE VICTORY BREW CREW. I'd tell you all their names but then I'd have to kill you...or maybe I don't know all their names. It's a conundrum.


IS THAT A MALLET IN YOUR HAND OR ARE YOU JUST GLAD TO SEE ME? Matt Guyer and Steve German look on while Ron Barchet checks out the firkin and Bill Covaleski waxes somewhere this side of eloquent.


RIDERS ON THE RANGE. The Beer Yard Cowboy Trio--Mark Sauerbrey, me, Matt Guyer--just like in the old western flicks. We ride into town, round up the rustlers and ride out again. Guyer gets the horse, Sauerbrey the girl and I'm the old guy they keep around for comedy relief.


Archived.
The complete October postings have been archived here.

[Posted 3:25 pm edt]


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

--A. E. Houseman

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