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7 SEPTEMBER 03

Do not attempt to adjust your browser.
Jack’s away in Europe, and there’s no chance in hell that he could ever figure out how to get fresh material onto the site from an Internet café in Munich – whether he took the laptop he's been crying about or not. So I’ve taken over the site for a week, out of the goodness of my big fat heart. And it seemed like a good opportunity to rattle Jack’s cage.

Who am I? It’s Lew Bryson. You’ve probably seen my name here in the midst of a cloud of foul-smelling innuendo. Well, as Jack said in his final e-mail to me before heading off to hoist ‘em with the Eurotrash, "Payback’s a bitch." I figured that was his good-humored signal to feel free to pay him back. Good old Jack.

Jack on a Stick.
Ol’ Jack left Thursday, so I hopped right in the car Friday afternoon to head up to Sly Fox for Incubus Friday, the words of Jack’s e-mail ringing happily in my head. The plan was that I’d stand in for him at this monthly suck-down of draft Incubus, Brian O’Reilly’s delicious tripel. 

It was a fantastic early Fall day, about 78° and sunny, and my drive through Valley Forge park was pure pleasure, all green vistas, historic buildings, and scantily-clad joggers. I got to Sly Fox about 4:30, just in time to see the Giannopoulis brothers leaving for their youngest brother’s rehearsal dinner. Talk about ‘just in time;’ John bought me an Incubus on his way out the door. I felt like Jack already!

I grabbed my Incubus – rich, golden syrup of malt giddiness that it is – and headed back to see O’Reilly in the brewhouse. I showed him my invention for the evening’s festivities, he was rendered helpless with laughter, and we discussed beer like the two professionals we are; I said which beers I’d had lately that I liked, and he said they all sucked. Except the new Victory Helles, which was the other way around (I got my comeuppance on that one later: see below).

I wandered outside just as the posse started to gather at the stammtisch. Ah yes, "the posse." Jack’s devoted fans, his most loyal followers. That would explain their beer-sputtering laughter when I donned my fiendishly clever invention: Jack On A Stick. "Hey, get me another free beer!" I said in a jovially Jack-like voice, and the fun began.

As the Sly Fox pils and helles flowed like the delicately delicious beers they are, Jack appeared on posse faces, in the bushes, and...well, other places. Use your TV-spavined imagination for once.

"Why aren’t you people talking about me?" and "You really thought I went to Europe?" were good lines, as well as the cruelly anti-beer writer "Wow, I’m so full I couldn’t drink one more free beer – okay, just one." Ouch, I felt that one.

But the sharpest venom of all was delivered by Carl, who donned the Jack and said "I love George Bush! Vote Republican this fall!" Poor Jack’s ears musta been burning. The posse was having a blast. Let’s see, just to be sure everyone’s properly incriminated, that was Dan (The Big One), Kelly, Carl, Laurie, Tom, Libby, Jeanie, Rick, Bob, and Barbie. Steve (The Other One) wasn’t around, missing Jack, I guess.

(Hey, kids, want to make your own Jack On A Stick? It’s easy! All you need is a color printer, some thin cardboard, tape (packing tape or duct tape works best), and a paint-stirring stick. jackface.jpg(69587 bytes) Click right here to open a new window with Jack's face in it. Don’t be frightened! It’s only a picture and cannot harm you. Print this picture out on your color printer, then paste the picture to a thin sheet of cardboard (a FedEx envelope works great). Cut the picture out, and tape it to the paint-stirring stick (or a toilet brush handle, that would work well) so that 8" or so of the stick protrudes under Jack’s chin. Grab the stick, place the Jack in front of your face, and have some fun with lines like "Vote Republican!" and "How about another round of beers – on you!")

Brian had joined us by then, and brought out some glasses of his rather ballsy Royal Weiss, a full-throttle, dark copper weissbier with plenty of plummy notes and a turbulently cloudy texture, great stuff for a warm September afternoon. We also got a spicy, very quaffable dose of Abbey Xtra, Brian’s single. Shortly after that, we were joined by my old Internet buddy, world beer-traveler, and general slave to Belgian beer, Chuck Cook, who writes for All About Beer. Chuck was in town for the Kennett Square Beer Fest (unlike Jack, who had inexplicably blown off this hometown fest just to go on an expenses-paid junket to Europe), and had just been down at McKenzie Brewhouse and Victory, sampling...as is his wont. We hoisted and clinked, and I grabbed one of Sly Fox’s fine, fine pork sandwiches.

As we all chuckled and chortled with beer-fueled glee, who should come striding across the parking lot but Scott "The Dude" Morrison himself! Dude had brought along a fine little assortment of McKenzie Brewhouse beers (a frisky, hoppy Saison that really put me in mind of Phil Markowski’s at Southampton Publick House (the great Long Island brewpub that’s thoroughly covered in my book, New York Breweries), the malty sweet/tart Abbey 8, and a Tripel that was full of soft orange punch and spicy verve, some of Scott’s best beers that I’ve had a chance to taste) along with his beaming good humor.

We were truly rocking now, the brewers, the regulars, Chuck, me, and Jack On a Stick. What a great time! (Scott, by the way, brought news that a Philadelphia-area brewery (or planned brewery) had bought a used 15-barrel system in Ohio; we guessed in vain, he should know who it is by Wednesday. You’ll have to check my site for further news, I’m only doing this one update for Jack, though I'm sure he'll have the news up on the Beer Yard site shortly.)

But as the sun set, I found myself driven to solve the issue of the day: did the new Victory Helles suck, as I feared from my one sample earlier in August, or was it excellent, as O’Reilly, Chuck, and even Jack (not the one On The Stick, the one in Europe) were trying to tell me? Only one thing would do: I had to go sample it. So I said my farewells (leaving Jack On a Stick behind; Carl and Dan had plans for him) and took a path that has become all too familiar, down Rt. 113 to Downingtown and right up to the very door of Victory.


Helles? Hell yes!
First thing I did was order a small Kölsch; I’d heard a lot of good things about this one. No disappointment, this was good, clean, tasty, and poundable. But about that time I saw Ron Barchet, and nothing would do but that I talk to him about that Helles. Er, after we talked some general "how are ya!" kind of stuff, you know. Ron pulled me a willibecker of Helles, and after one swallow I knew I had been wrong: this was Augustiner-grade helles. I laughed out loud (which Jack would probably say was damaging to most people around me) for pleasure, what a great drink, a spring of refreshment with the elusive and wonderful "dry malt" character! Ron was gracious and said that it was entirely possible that the earlier batch I’d had in August had indeed been over-carbonated.

Then it was a short sample of the new Moonglow, and I agreed with the bartender: it was perhaps the best batch of Moonglow yet. Quite rich, but still edgy – and might I note how pleasant it was to encounter a Victory bartender who was actually pumped about the beer he was serving? They might have a handle on this service thing yet.
Oh, that reminds me! I met the new handle: Victory’s new general manager for their pub, Matt Krueger (or as he preferred, Krüger). Seems like a nice enough guy, and I wish him the best. He did this little self-portrait in my notebook...jeez, Matt, why not just draw some bolts in your neck?

I drove off into the night, toting a bottle of Grand Cru I’d begged from Ron (and a sixer of Moonglow, too – hey, it really was that good!), and got home about 1:00...when I went online to my regular Friday night beer chat on the Starchat network. Things got silly as I drank more Moonglow, and I finally got to bed around 3. Man. It’s tougher than I thought being Jack.

Oh, and the Kennett Square Beer Festival, on Saturday?
I didn’t go. Neither did Jack. He was in Europe, of course, and I had a wedding to attend, and got to wander around Doylestown on a lazy afternoon with my wife between the ceremony and the reception. We stopped in a place called Roosevelt’s Blue Star, and were pleasantly surprised to find HopDevil on draft. Had that and some delicious bruschetta (the tomatoes were dead ripe and and tasty as all get out), then had Yuengling at the reception. I got a bourbon and water without asking what the bar brand was...Ten High, how nice! I asked for Jim Beam by name after that. And I polka'd, too.

I did see on the BeerAdvocate forum that the fest was excellent (except for Climax, wow, they really didn't like them), and Jack's carefully orchestrated Connoisseur Tasting went over very well: kudos, Jack. No report on the mushroom beer, though.

Well. This has been fun. I’ll have to come back and do it again some time. But don’t hold your breath on Jack doing my site; I hear payback’s a bitch.

[Posted 12:50 a.m. edt]



14 SEPTEMBER 03
"Home is the wanderer, safe if not necessarily sound.
I have returned, as they say, and may even one day recover. My deepest apologies for last week's intrusion here by the forces of darkness. My bad. I was just trying to help the guy jump-start his career by exposing him to a more literate and upscale readership, you know, and things got out of hand. I can't possibly answer each and every one of your distraught emails, but rest assured I've put new locks on the doors.

I suspect many were counting on, and I certainly intended, a complete posting on the European adventure to be up today, but the task is more daunting than expected, I'm afraid, and will have to wait a week. If that seems a long time, I am told that there are some backwater websites where visitors might wait weeks or months to have stories completed, so please bear with me.

I am faced with taped notes, scribbled notes, notes to be dredged up from an alcohol-damaged brain, a bazillion photos and nearly as many business cards which I can't always match up with names and faces. My hands still periodically begin trembling with that "oh my god, what did I do last night?" shake. Let me tell you, should you ever find yourself in a smoky hotel bar on the wrong side of 2 a.m. holding in one hand a beer you don't need and in the other a pear liqueur (complete with pear) that you don't want, all the while smoking a cigar (and you don't smoke), you will see, if not the light, and perhaps not even the tunnel, surely premonitions of the end.

There is a brief overview and photo down at the end of today's entry to whet your appetites and the full report of a fabulous eight days, done in my own inimitable style, will be here next week. Promise.

Meanwhile, if you'd like a more formal look at where I've been and what I've learned, I've just now put up two stories at the ever-lovin' Beer Yard, one under "News" and a second under "Store Notes." If you'd like to go directly to these, you can do that here and then here.

Right now, though, I have to get this place cleaned up. At the very least, I need to wipe out all the Microsoft Front Page garbage that is clogging the drains and sooth the dogs, who saw things here last Sunday morning which bordered on cruelty to animals.


Who the hell's been eating my porridge?
So you give a guy a key to the place just in case he needs a place to sober up, and what happens? Things fall apart, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world... If you didn't stop in last week, first feel good about yourselves and then note the graffitti to the right which was what greeted those who did. It was then followed by this (scroll back down here when you've recovered your equilibrium).

All right, to be honest, in my heart of hearts I wasn't just doing a good deed, but pulling a high tech version of the old Tom Sawyer fence-painting scheme. Make it look like so much fun that the dim-witted want to play too. I knew there would be consequences, beer bottles all around, neighbors complaining about the booming laughter drowning out their TV shows, that sort of thing. I never expected this!

Look over in this corner, for example. An old bent and battered epee stuck into the wall. I guess giving up his fencing lessons to go harass my pals at Sly Fox was too much for Lew, so he just moved them over here. Thank god I turned off the security cameras. Lew in leotards, thrusting and parrying. Imagine having to watch that!

Look, you don't need hear about all this. Lew's not malicious, just a little...um, different. I can live with it. But I do think that rearranging of all my beer according to the Dewey Decimal System was a bit over the top.


Jack on a stick?
Now this we can work with. Great marketing idea. Take some popular, attractive figure and allow people to share, however vicariously, his wonderful life. Not to mention the royalties. This thing will undoubtedly earn millions and Lew is gonna owe me a bundle for using my image without permission. I figure to own him lock, stock and brewery guides not too far down the line. My own personal Lew...okay, that's a bit discomforting. But then again, the idea of dispatching him to research and write "Utah Breweries" does tickle me.

I'm not quite sure how extensively this was employed at the Kennett Brew Fest since my loyal reporter Dan (The Big One) has not reported in. Delinquent perhaps, but loyal he appears to have been. Even though he was part and parcel of the entirely misbegotten behavior at Sly Fox last Friday evening, the photo to the left (provided by fledgling posse member Rick Mayberry) shows he was at least thinking correctly all the while. Steve (The Other One) did not show up for the foolishness on the obviously false excuse that he had to go to the shore with his cousins (yeah, right) and he gets plaudits for that as well. As you know, these two are in a bitter struggle for Prime Posse Person. Both gain points on their behavior in my absence. Meanwhile, I'm keeping a list and checking it twice on the other nine "friends" who fell under Bryson's sway.


Do I have grounds for legal action here?
This BeerAdvocate has embraced the Jack on a stick thing a bit more extensively than one might expect. Back when Lyndon Johnson eliminated his entire cabinet from the possibility of been vice-presidential candidates in order to preclude the convention from nominating attorney general Bobby Kennedy, Kennedy told the press he was reminded of the old story about the guy who was the first person ever to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. "If if weren't for the honor of it all," said the fella, "I'd just as soon have not participated." I'm beginning to understand how he felt.


Get thee behind me, Satan (or "my goodness, what's in that big box on the porch?")
On my way home on the plane, I made a vow to cut way back on my beer consumption until September 24 when I head out to the Great American Beer Festival. Seemed only reasonable. The best laid plans and all that stuff, though, 'cause when I drove up the drive at home there was this large carton sitting on the porch. Lo and behold, our old pal Dr. Bill, who Matt Guyer and I met during our California trip last February, had sent his second beer exchange package in my absence, and what a package it turned out to be.!

A dozen bottles, two each of six beers (which I have to share with Guyer, damn his eyes). The box held Port Brewing Hop-15 from Tomme Arthur at Pizza Port and five, count 'em, five, brews from AleSmith Brewing Company: 2000 Grand Cru, J.P. Gray's Wee Heavy, Stumblin' Monk Tripel, Speedway Stout and Old Numbskull 2000 Barley Wine.

Look for reports on these as they are tasted. I suspect I'll hold a couple at least for winter when the cold winds blow and then share them with the loyal guys.


In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo..."
Why you ask, why oh why, do I open this overview of my beer trip to Germany and England with a classic line of poetry? Well, as it turns out, the only fleeting moment of distress over the entire eight days came when a very funny, French hating tour guide whose name I have already managed to lose on our bus made note of a place where T.S. Eliot had once lived and remarked that, when it came down to it, the thing Eliot will be remembered for is "Cats." He's likely correct and that's sad. Not "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Not "The Hollow Men." Not "The Waste Land." "Cats." Freakin' "Cats."

The trip I was on was hosted by Distinguished Brands International, a new importing company which will be bringing in beers from the three breweries we visited: Fuller, Smith & Turner, Erdinger and Veltins. The first two, I presume, are familiar names to most of you, while Veltins has had a relatively minimal exposure to the U.S. market to date. I thought it hadn't been available at all, but I just learned that it has been poured in Atlanta and environs for about five years now (live and learn).

Six members of the beer press were invited to go along by my new favorite Public Relations practitioner,Sheryl Barto, I among them. Okay, she actually invited my esteemed editor at Celebrator Beer News, Tom Dalldorf, and he in his wisdom turned to me when nobody else could go. But now that she's been exposed to my wit and charm, you gotta figure I'll be invited on lots and lots of trips.

Or maybe not.

In the course of our adventures, we, among other things, attended the Erdinger Herbsfest for two evenings (a few foolhardy souls did it for three), used a free day to visit the Andechs Monastery and drink the famed Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel (the best doppelbock in the world; Brian O'Reilly, who is probably pouting because his name has not appeared here yet, was right), met a German beer baron with a decidedly Texas accent, ate dinner out of K-ration canteens 900-plus feet underground in an abandoned mine shaft, became the first people ever to taste the first cask version ever of the famed Fuller's Vintage Ale (followed by a vertical tasting of four years), saw London from high atop the fabulous London Eye (see photo at right), and had drinks on a private members-only terrace with a member of British Parliament and further drinks in a members-and-staff-only pub beneath the Parliament building. The drinks were beer, of course.

In Erding, owner Werner Brombach was our host each evening in the 3000-person Erdinger tent. In Grevenstein, Veltins CEO Michael Huber (he of the Texas accent, more about that next week) flew in at the last moment to host us for dinner. In London, CEO Michael Turner was my seatmate for dinner at the Olde Bank of England. We met with each brewmaster (John Keeling of Fuller's really ought to be a stand-up comic) and mingled with people at every level of every brewery's operations. I was very impressed by the important roles played by women in both the German breweries and we were told that Fuller's now has a woman brewer, although she was on vacation when we visited.

I'll go into more detail next week but let me state now that this was one of those experiences which confirmed in my mind the Great Truth about beer. Our favorite beverage is the beverage of conviviality and friendship. Good beer encourages and draws to it those who treasure and enjoy life and that is no small thing. All the differences of culture and nationality and sex and race are dismissed in the sharing of the pleasures of a good pint. The beer culture is a precious thing and we are lucky to be a part of it.

To close, here's a photo of our traveling group, plus a few Erdinger folks (Peter Liebert is the second guy in from the left, Export Director Waltraud Kaiser is in front of me to my right, and Werner Brombach is the man in the center--DBI CEO Jeff Coleman is the smiling guy to Brombach's left). Sorry the contrast is a bit stark on this, but it was taken from a scan of a photo taken via a TV setup at Erdinger.

[Posted 6:20 p.m. edt]


21 SEPTEMBER 03
No Liquid Diet this week.
Due to a death in my family, there will be no column posted this week. I expect to post at least a brief report on the Great American Beer Festival here next Sunday, probably late in the evening, and then get back on schedule on October 5 with what may be the "ultimate" LDO, including full coverage of GABF, the long-delayed story of my adventures abroad (likely posted as a separate document linked from here, in the same fashion as I did the California trip last February) and whatever else develops in the interim.

Meanwhile, please offer your thoughts and, if you are so inclined, your prayers for my brother Ken, a good man who left us all too soon, and for his family in their time of grief.

[Posted 12:01 a.m. edt]


28 SEPTEMBER 03
Thank you for your concern.
Before getting back to the fun and games to which this site is dedicated, I just want to briefly and sincerely thank the many, many of you who called or talked to me personally, sent notes of condolence or emailed me with your support and sympathy over the death of my brother, Ken. It was truly appreciated and no matter how much I protested that I was doing just fine, all your words and concern definitely helped me through a bad time.

I'll be putting up a brief remembrance of my brother on the Great Disconnect section of this site this week and I urge you all to read it, not just because I want everyone to know about the good that Ken did in his lifetime, but also because there was a moment during the Memorial Service that was so perfect, so dramatic, that it created a shining, albeit bittersweet, tribute to his life. It couldn't have been more perfect and moving if it had been scripted.

I'll add a link to whatever I post here next week.

And now we'll move on.

Coming October 5: GABF report, Europe report & the sad fate of Jack on a stick.
GABF, as you'd expect, was a real blast. As noted last week, my report on same will have to wait until October 5, so that I can do everything justice. In the meantime, I've put up a story on The Beer Yard News Page which lists all the local medal winners (special kudos to Bill Moore; it's been a long time between drinks) and some other GABF news in The Beer Yard Store Notes Section that you can check out. And I've also posted a more specific piece on the Sly Fox medal here.

Next week's LDO will surely turn out to be the longest entry ever posted here, but I'll do what I can to make it manageable. The bulk of the main entry will be the GABF material and also an update on the travels of Jack on a stick and what happened when...well, that's for next week. There will be no Tasting Session at Sly Fox tomorrow night because the pub is closed until 9 p.m. due to the annual golf tournament (which is a mixed blessing: I need the rest but I've been away from the posse all too long and they're getting rambunctious) but there is Incubus Friday on October 3, so there'll probably be things to say about that as well. By the way, O'Reilly starts brewing 2003 Incubus this week; check out the Sly Fox main page for a link to how he plans to introduce that in November and mark the date on your calendars. Trust me.

The European Adventure will also be covered next week but, as I intimated last Sunday, I'll be doing that in the same fashion as I did the California trip. There will be a brief introduction as part of LDO and then four or five links to other pages which will be--he said ever so confidently--organized in some logical fashion so that they can be read consecutively or whenever the spirit moves. I also hope to do a couple of strictly photo pages if I can make sense out of the 300 or so images currently in hand (with more on the way, I'm told).

All that done, come October 12 everything will be back to normal around here again. Yeah, right.

Jack on a stick? How about Jack on paper?
The latest issue of Celebrator Beer News is out. It's the "Beer & Food Issue" and, in addition to my regular "Atlantic Ale Trail" column which is devoted to that theme, the story about Mike Murphy and his Rome brewpub and brewery which was postponed from last issue also appears. A review of Lew Bryson's "New York Breweries" which was originally scheduled for this issue was pulled for lack of space and should appear in the December/January issue along with "Atlantic Ale Trail" and my story on the European trip...or at least part of it. Kindly editor Tom Dalldorf said I could write as much as I needed to tell the story and he would split it over two issues if it was too long. I'm going to try and keep it within the realm of a single issue if I can (even though that goes against my financial interests), but we shall see.

Copies of Celebrator have arrived at The Beer Yard I am told and I'll see about getting those out to the usual places as soon as I can this coming week.

Right now, I'm going to go pour myself a beer, put a bit of supper on the stove and sit back to contemplate one of the more interesting months I've spent in quite a while, one with great highs and one terrible low. It all has left me, at last, exhausted and a bit of a stranger in my own land. Hell, even the dogs seemed to be seriously considering biting my ankles when I got back this afternoon.

[Posted 7:15 p.m. edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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