I drink no cider,
but feast on
Philadelphia beer.

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

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30 October 2006
Time on his hands.
There's am excellent column by Lew over at Cold Hard Football Facts (which are what Philadelphia Eagle fans are now facing). Definitely worth a read. I always knew that boy had it in him.

[Posted 7:10 am edt]

26 October 2006
A quickie.
And now we play catch-up, as I let you know what's happening here. And what's not.

First of all, I did catch up with The (elusive) Dude Thursday afternoon and got the interview and lunch, so all is well on that front. Still, I felt obliged to report to him that, following my revelation of his blowing me off, I was swamped with a flood of emails from other brewers ("flood" is a relative term here, I should explain) promising that they would never big-time me in that fashion, followed by an equally large batch from crazed Beer Advocates expressing their surprise about it all because "gee, he always sucks up to us." And you know what? He laughed, as if he thought I was kidding.

What's happening around here are some site changes. A few, which you might have noticed, have already happened; more to come. This will affect the entirety of www.jackcurtin.com and is scheduled to be finished, or at least to "launch" (another relative term, this one meaning, roughly, "I've made enough changes so you'll notice so I have to pretend I'm done now but there still a whole buncha lotta more to be done"), a week from Sunday. It's timed to be just before Election Day and, while LDO will experience the most important change of all in terms of site design, will impact I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing and The Dubya Chronicles most noticeably and significantly. Say what? Stay tuned.

What will not be happening here, despite past promises...and promises...and promises...is any extensive personal report on GABF. The time has past, ship has sailed, future is now and all that good stuff. Besides, Big Dan and Cruella have finally made it home (who knew they were riding the rails like hoboes; we all thought they were inside the train), so I gotta watch my step.

Here's a quick summary, however:

Arrived Wednesday afternoon, caught up with Bryson, O'Reilly, Scoats and others, went to the traditional Brewers Party at Wynkoop, left early with Lew (at which point, my impossible dream of trying to pull off feat of never seeing the aforementioned Big One in Denver came crashing when he as standing at the bottom of the stairs as we came down), had dinner, found had harassed Bill Covaleski who'd done a Victory promo night at bar conveniently named "Victory," decided simultaneously to go back to the hotel and our rooms, where I slept the sleep of the innocent (and he, presumably, snored the sleep of the guilty GABF judge);

Had breakfast at the hotel, picked up my press credentials, went to the traditional Great Divide party, had a couple of beers at Rock Bottom with Dan and Cruella, who were late, thus forcing me to turn down a beer invite from the lovely and talented (one of a set, as you'll see; collect 'em all) Jen Hatton, went to a really nice Anheuser-Busch reception in the hotel where I got to meet some of the people I've been in contact with by email, rushed over to the pre-opening press event at the convention hall to try the GABF celebratory beer and then did the floor for two hours, went outside to wait for the two-decker bus to a party jointly sponsored by importer Distinguished Brands International, Barto Communications and Celebrator Beer News, left there in the company of Bryson, Tom Dalldorf, the lovely and talented Sheryl Barto, along with her assistant and her sister and, my God, will it ever stop, also her gal pal, Karla (who has appeared in these reports once before) and probably somebody else I'm forgetting, to the traditional-but-you-gotta-know-about-it Thursday night Monk's/Nodding Head party, and then staggered home to bed for a few hours sleep because I hadd to be...

Up in time to catch an 8am bus for an A-B run press trip to Fort Collins where we visited Odell, New Belgium and A-B's Fort Collins plant, the latter being the site for a swell buffet luncheon in a parklike area outside the Reception Center where there were lots more of those beers as well as others from the Big Horn, Cooper Smith’s and Fort Collins breweries, got home too late to go to the brewers reception at the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field (damn!), went to GABF for a couple of hours, decided to go back to my room and catch the end of the Phillies game and then head over to the traditional late night GABF gathering spot, Falling Rock Tap House, but instead fell asleep;

Went to the traditional 10am Boston Beer Brunch where the 2006 Samuel Adams American Homebrew Contest winners were announced, attended the Saturday afternoon GABF session with its traditional Awards Ceremony, which included a writing one for our pal Joe Sixpack but not many for local breweries which was disappointing, finally (!) got to Falling Rock where it all blurs together except that I most definitely recall the two-parties-no-waiting atmosphere downstairs where the Iron Hill gang was in one room and the inimitable Dr. Bill was holding his traditional Saturday night beer sampling in the other and I fulfilled my final Denver objective, catching up with and spending some traditional time with the lovely and talented Lucinda Collins (the right hand slice of this long-ago Lucy sandwich and, oh yeah, Steiny.

Next day I came home and now, finally, with this posting, I am all caught up. If you want more serious details on most of the above, by the way, it's all recorded in various stories posted on this invaluable page.

Damn, that was impressively long and satisfying for a quickie, weren't it?

[Posted 10:45 am edt]

25 October 2006
If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.
That was surely what Scott Smith of Pittsburgh's East End Brewing was thinking when he sent along this note last night:

Though I don't know you very well, something in what I've read of yours tells me you might just appreciate this - a new hand-bottled release from me, debuting November 4th at my Charity Open House. Maybe I'm wrong though.

Wrong? Not hardly. The boy has got me pegged. Just click on the label, by the way, and you'll jump to it on the brewery site, where it's easier to read.

What I need now is for some enterprising Pittsburgher to go to that Open House, give some big bucks to charity and then bring a bottle or two of Ugly American to these parts for me to try. That would be a Really Good Thing. Really.

Anyway, Scott's missive was the nice thing a brewer did for me yesterday. Another one-a them types, though, he done did me wrong. Ironically, his name is also Scott...

This would never happen to Lew Bryson or Joe Sixpack, I'll bet.
Blown off by The Dude. That's the only way to describe the terrible heart-breaking experience I suffered earlier yesterday.

Well, I suppose there are other ways to describe it, but they wouldn't be as much fun, y'know? Gotta have me my pound of flesh.

So there I was, determined to immortalize Scott Morrison of McKenzie Brew House as part of my upcoming "Atlantic Ale Trail" coverage of GABF for the December/January issue of Celebrator Beer News. After four hours of mind and body-numbing work at the Beer Yard, rather than driving home for a hot bath and toddy or two, I instead hustled out Lancaster Avenue (what a pain in the ass that road has become) to the new McKenzie site in Malvern where The Dude and I had agreed to meet.

No Dude.

Loyal assistant brewer Ryan tried every which way he could to cover for his boss before finally having to 'fess up. Mr. Morrison had driven his ass down to the original McKenzie's in Glen Mills to pick up some yeast, forgetting all about our appointment.

You know what we call that, don't you? Yeast defection.

I sat at the bar for a long, lonely hour while this was playing out, sipping at a pint of Black Lab Stout (which Ryan bought me, being the nice sort of brewer), and sampling the Pumpkin Ale and Empress of the C Imperial Stout from the Seasonal List that bartender Bobbie offered me. At her urging ("somebody has to take up the slack for Scott," she said sadly), I also bought a 12oz-er of the 7.1% Doppelbock before taking my leave, spirit broken and hopes crushed.

Not that she was also trying to cover up for The Dude, understand. "Give him a hard time," she urged more than once when she'd heard my pitiful tale. Isuspect she'd seen this sort of abominable behavior before. That touch of understanding and the fact that beers were quite good made my long drive home, with my spirit broken and hopes crushed, a bit more tolerable.

The Dude blackberried an abject apology a little while after I got home and when I offered in response to do the interview over the phone, he insisted that we meet in person and added "I'll call at 10 tomorrow morning."

Yeah, right.

All's well that ends, of course, and we finally talked within the past hour and will do the thing tomorrow over lunch. He most definitely buys if he actually shows up.

And I used to think The Big One and The Other One were high maintenance...

[Posted 1:00 pm edt]

15 October 2006
Beer? In a stemmed glass? With dinner? Good Lord (choke)!
This link to a syndicated story in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer Travel section was sent to me by loyal reader Scoats (to be fair, Richard Ruch had already told me about it yesterday while we were drinking the fine Victory Braumeister Harvest Pils at the brewpub). Scoats' gets the nod, though, since his single comment summed it up perfectly, even if he he can't spell real good:

Too much ludacracy [sic] to know where to even begin.
The story opens like this:
Brent Wertz doesn't flinch as he twists open a bottle of ultra light, low-carb beer and pours it straight down the middle of a Chardonnay glass. He tilts his head only slightly as he watches it splash big at the bottom. Wertz says the big splash is necessary to break the carbonation and to open the nose of the beer.

Stemmed glass? Nose? Beer?

That's a big "yes" from Wertz, chief executive chef at Kingsmill Resort. He plans menus around beer, marinates and cooks with it, and passionately recommends beer whether you're dining plain or fancy.

From there, writer Mary Lu Lafferty of Rand McNally Travel News Service tells about her visit to Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia and (apparently) her first ever beer dining experience, under the tutelage of executive chef Wertz.

Here's where it gets really good:

When Wertz talks about beer and food, he doesn't mean pizza, brats or burgers, although he says they are good foils for good beer. And, there will always be a place for wine, he says with a smile - but he isn't shy about recommending beer for a special dinner. Our four-course meal was a testament to his conviction.

As we finished our appetizers, Wertz gave this hint on when to serve beer with a meal: When it is an ingredient, used as a marinade, or has ingredients that match others in the dish, beer is a delicious choice.

He explained, for example, that Belgian beer has a distinctive coriander flavor. Because coriander already exists in the beer, he recommends a Belgian with a dish that includes that spice. He illustrated his point by adding a dash of coriander to the jalapeño, pineapple and cilantro ice he prepared for the raw tuna on our appetizer plate. Wertz added shrimp cocktail to this course; the shrimp was poached in water, then cooled with a healthy pull of cold beer.

[ .. ]

And so began our 90-minute sojourn into silver-placed settings on table linen, with stemmed glasses, haute cuisine - and beer.

We sipped a spiced spring ale in grappa glasses for the salad course; Wertz flavored the mixed greens with a dressing made with a shot of ale.

While he sliced a beechwood-smoked strip steak at my right, I caught myself swirling the contents of a Burgundy glass. As the full-bodied Bud coated the sides of the glass [EMPHASIS ADDED], I felt like a big-time wine connoisseur, imagining myself talking about how the big flavor of this big beer exhaled deeper with each twirl. Once the plate of sliced steak and Risotto (finished with beer instead of wine and cheese) was set before me, I snapped back to reality and picked up the dinner fork.

Wertz grills steaks over beechwood chips that have been soaked in beer; in case you missed the Anheuser-Busch commercial, their beer is beechwood aged. Once the steak is seared, it is brushed with beer, which gives it a bit of a crust. It was as good a steak as I've ever tasted.

As the dessert cart rolled in, Wertz smiled and said, "You need a lager big enough to stand up against chocolate. Put your nose in this."

He handed me a glass designed for cognac but containing an AmberBock.

You'll never guess which Amber Bock that probably was or who owns Kingsmill Resort.

Okay, maybe you will. If you want your suspicions confirmed, the evidence is on the Kingsmill website, right beneath the corporate logo at top left.

The truth shall set ye free.

[Posted 10:45 am edt]

14 October 2006
Reign of the pumpkin.
Pumpkin beers are selling like crazy. Last year at the Beer Yard, the style sold so well that we gave it it's own category on the website, Fruit Beer - Pumpkin rather than the more generic Fruit Beer. This year they're selling even faster, going out the door as fast as they come in. It's likely a trendy kind of thing and will pass in another year or so, but right now, turning out a pumpkin beer is a bit like printing money.

For my money, the best of the lot is Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, although I consumed so much of it at DFH's first Bocce Tournament last year that you'd think I'd never want to taste it again. It's also the one that disappeared most rapidly; heck, in a conversation a week or so back, Kunda's Skip Kunda told me, rather wistfully I thought, that he wouldn't mind if they made it a year-round product it was moving so well. He'd gotten more than double the quantity Eddie Friedland had in 2005 and was looking for more.

This year I finally got to try the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, a beer I missed entirely the first time around. The bottle I got from our samples at the BY was right tasty and I felt it would probably have improved with age were I inclined to have waited. Nice pumpkin flavor with a subdued alcohol presence for an 8% beer. I gave it a second try, draught this time, at Drafting Room Exton last Sunday and found the alcohol to be a bit overwhelming, so my first, subject to change and re-change opinion is that this is a beer, like many, which is better when packaged. I'm hoping somebody in our tasting circle bought some and laid it down because I'd like to see how six month's or so aging changes it.

Maybe the wildest pumpkin beer experience of the season is still to come, though, courtesy of that GABF medal-winnin' fool down at Stewart's Brewing, the irrepressible Ric Hoffman. Here's the final paragraph of an email from Ric which arrived this morning:

When you walk into our brewpub, you might notice a large pumpkin looking object behind the bar (besides Steve in his orange shirt). We found a very large pumpkin from lower Delaware (where all good things come from, like goats) and carved that beast out. Upon carving it out, we filled it with not quite fully fermented beer. We added some extra yeast and sugar and we are now in the process of Pumpkin Conditioning the Mischief Night Pumpkin Ale. When it's ready, we will smash a gravity tap into that pumpkin and serve the beer directly from the pumpkin. We don't know when we are going to put it on tap, but hopefully it will be before the pumpkin blows up!
Damn, that sounds like fun.

Iron Hill gettin' ready to bust out.
Big story in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer about the Iron Hill gang, who apparently strode into Citibank this very day and walked out with a cool $7 Million to fund a three-year expansion plan which will see five new pubs opening.

The story, which says they're looking at Center City, South Jersey and Lancaster, can be read online right here. I've whittled it down to the essentials and added a bit of insight of my own (mostly about those potential locations) in I story posted a hour or two ago at the usual place.

I got a chance to stop on at the new Phoenixville IH a week ago Thursday, by the way, hoping to catch up with brewer Tim Stumpf, but nobody could find him (how they pray for that sort of thing to happen up in North Wales). No problem. I settled, quite happily, for a goblet of his very nice Saison and picked up on the ambiance a bit. There were maybe a dozen customers in the bar, not bad for a weekday afternoon and the bartender told me that she'd been there every day except the opening one and that it was generally crowded at night. It's smaller than the other locations and that gives the bar a cozier feel which I liked a lot.

No word on any official Grand Opening but I assume one will be coming...along with five more over the next 36 months.

Legacy takes on a Reading legacy.
Joe Sixpack's award-winning column this week reveals that Legacy Brewing is forming a separate company which is reviving Reading Beer this month. Here's the money quote, from brewer Scott Baver, explaining that this all makes perfect sense for a small craft brewery:

"Look, we're brewers. For me, I just love making beer and being part of the beer industry. But we're business people, so why not make a product that covers every end of the spectrum? If my customer wants it, what am I, an idiot for not doing it?"
I definitely like the way these guys think. However, I do have to wonder how come PR/sales/annoying guy Lee Marren could miss alerting his Monday Tasting buddy about all this so that said buddy wasn't scooped by the Reading Eagle and then Mr. Sixpack. Payback is a bitch, son.

[Posted 4:15 pm edt]

12 October 2006
Time to stop whining.
All of my silly bitching about how busy I am was suddenly put into perspective this morning and I am feeling more than a tad chagrined.

For a story I'm working on for American Brewer, I ended up talking on the phone a couple of hours ago with Leslie Henderson, brewmaster and owner (with her husband) of the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi. These folks were open less than a year when Hurricane Katrina hit (Kiln is about 50 miles above New Orleans) and shut them down. Not for long, as it turned out; they were down for roughly six weeks and now are dong better than ever. I tell you, I sure would like to try me some of that Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale (a Bronze Medal winner in the 2006 World Beer Cup "Specialty Beer" category) one of these days.

Anyway, it was kind of a feel-good, beating the odds interview, all in all, until Leslie hit me with this at the end:

The sadder part of the story is that every single employee at the brewery, including my husband and myself, is still homeless. None of us have a place to live even now. Thankfully we do at least have a place to work.
Every single one of their homes were destroyed, as were 80 percent of the brewery's accounts, which were located right on the beach. And there are thousands of other Americans in the same predicament, struggling on as they fade farther and farther back in the public consciousness.

So, no more moaning and complaining here for a bit, promise. And I think I'll find a few extra bucks to contribute here, here or to one of the many organizations listed here. Join me, why don't you?

On the web.
Joe Sixpack is reporting that the Springfield John Harvard's has closed. I got me some bad vibes about that chain, yes I do.

While I haven't yet had my say about GABF here, I have said plenty over at the Beer Yard site, including the just now posted Weekly Brew (The GABF Edition), a round-up which is repleat with romance and enough party mentions to make you insanely jealous. Go thou and experience the goodness and sparkling prose.

Finally, we've added Lyke 2 Drink to our links list. It's a good, informative and well-written drinks blog. Can't ask for much more than that.

From the (virtual) email bag.
I have a couple of things which were emailed me here that have been sitting way too long awaiting me to get back in the posting groove. I make no claims for either but thought somebody might be interested.

For those among you who are homebrewers, even Tom and Ted, the folks over at Brewing KB, which aspires to be "the Internet's most comprehensive resource on home brewing," are running the easiest contest you'll ever enter and prizes, ten of them, that you'll perhaps find appealing. Check it out.

I met Matt Scheller on my (so far only) visit to the Spinnerstown Hotel, where he was bartending and helping with the beer list. He brought a couple of beers for me to taste during the afternoon, which is a good way to endear yourself, trust me. Matt, who is a student at Lehigh as well as a beer guy, is now planning his Great Belgian Beer Tour 2007, taking a group over for a 10-day journey to "through every province of Belgium, staying in a different hotel nightly," including stops in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge and promised visits to more than 20 breweries. There's no website yet, but anybody interested can contact Matt at 484.553.1072 or by email.

[Posted 2:40 pm edt]

10 October 2006
The long road home.
Well, we may not yet see the light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel that has held LDO captive lo this many weeks, but we do at least feel a faint whiff of fresh air now and then, so hopes are high among the staff as we press through the darkness.

Geez, I do make it seem awful that I'm actually working for a living, don't I? That's sad. But you know what's really sad? When even The Random Poster is able to chide me for my minimal contributions here for all of those who so desperately await. I mean, how low can I sink?

Let's see what we can do. GABF stories will have to wait a bit longer (though you can always check in here for some of them--I expect to add this week's installment of Weekly Brew with some sidelight stories and anecdotes from Denver either today or tomorrow). Meanwhile, I have posted two of my just-published print efforts to the site for your reading pleasure.

"Atlantic Ale Trail in the October/November Celebrator Beer News has my list of the Top Ten Beer & Food Locales in the Philadelphia region, a look at the Dock Street revival plans and a round-up of how the craft brewing boom is manifesting itself in additions and improvements at local breweries (there's a note about the column in the next posting down which I urge you to read to avoid any misconceptions).

My story in this month's American Brewer is called Where Do You Get All Energy? and is a quick overview of the energy-aware activities of recognized environmentally-friendly breweries such as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Anderson Valley and Brooklyn, plus a couple you might not be all that familiar with, Mammoth and Uinta. Props also to East End Brewing, "Pittsburgh's MICRO-est microbrewery," and owner Scott Smith, who gave me the story's very fitting coda.

Go. Read. But first....

Jes' sayin', no playah hatin'.
I ended this month's "Atlantic Ale Trail" (last chance: Go read now!) with what was, I thought, an amusing little shot at the vast hoard of beer geeks who have turned the likes of Sam Calagione and other well-known brewers (Vinnie Cilurzo & Tomme Arthur, please phone home) into virtual demigods far above the ranks of mortal men. And, yeah, it tweaked Sam just a touch as well, 'cause that's what I do.

And yet, and yet...

On the GABF floor at Denver and in a couple of recent emails, some folks--not many, but enough--seem to have missed the point. Why are you attacking Dogfish Head? Or, better yet: Why do you hate Sam?

Would I make this stuff up? Okay, maybe a little, but there have been complaints, honest.

So, just to be clear: it was a joke, son, honest. Jes' funning around. Sam and I are cool. And I'm keeping it that way.

Some folks reading this may suspect that the issue is that I fear the wrath of Sam's biggest fan, Cruella, who is out there riding the rails with Big Dan, nearly at the end of the Great Adventure (they are trapped at this moment, best as I can figure, somewhere in the middle of Indiana on their slow and lonely way back from Denver). Not so. Cruella is scary, but not that scary. Really.

On the other hand, Big Sam Calagione be thinkin' I be dissing' him, he likely-- bein' a rap guy and all--to send his sidekick, DH Li'l Guy, up this way to take care of bi'ness.

Don't want me none of that.

Going down in a drive-by would be a totally uncool way for my bitchin' career to end, y'know?

[Posted 10:12 am edt]

4 October 2006
I Shall Return.
Hey, it was good enough for Douglas MacArthur, it's good enough for me.

However...that return thing? Not quite yet.

I'm still swamped, gang, with a column and two stories due by Monday and several interviews not yet conducted to make all that possible. Not to mention that, in a tit-for-tat thing (or, more accurately, dog-for-dogs thing), I have to pick up and spend Friday though Monday at my daughter's house watching their dog the way they took care of my two while I was in Denver. That is going to screw me up big time, count on it.

But LDO will see a revival sometime in the next week, promise. Enough people yelled--yes, yelled--at me in Denver for slacking off during September that I got the message. One of them, loyal reader Stan Hieronymus, was even adamantly pushing for an RSS feed of LDO between complaints that there wasn't a helluva lot to read here in recent weeks, apparently not grasping the concept of wanting visitors to come to the site. While waiting for me to get it together, the rest of you might find some solace (and good reading) by visiting Stan's two excellent beer sites, here and here. Stan himself will just have to bear up under the absence of me...or, at least, the LDO me.

I have been posting online, of course, as loyal readers of the Beer Yard site surely know. Use the link to see what I mean: five news stories up today...and counting. I mean, that Guyer guy pays me, you know?

GABF was wonderful, by the way. I'll tell you all about it when there's time, even tales of Big Dan and Cruella on the road and how they made me pass up a beer with a lovely lady because they were late for a quick beer date we'd made between all the many press activities in Denver which kept me out of their clutches (Cruella made up for it by buying my two beers), not to mention Fun With Lew, Jesus of Royersford and other local icons who journeyed west, for better or worse.

The complete September 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 4:55 pm edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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