Friday, November 30, 2007

South Salt Lake City Seeks to Remove Beer Bars

I ran across this story to, out of Utah, about the South Salt Lake city counsel's frustration with the plethora of beer bars - all 24 of them. Apparently, the city has a crime problem and we all know that there's a direct correlation between crime and beer bars... or not. Now, in general I don't care too much if any city wants to limit the number of beer bar licenses they allow. However, this is not the case.

In normal, thoughtful cities bar owners are allowed to transfer alcohol licenses when and if they sell their bar - I mean, that is the business. Right? This is the right thing today because anyone who has purchased the bar from a prior owner ponied up the money for the license.
A few years ago, the City Council capped those licenses at 15, hoping to trim the numbers as taverns folded. But the bars - including the mom-and-pop saloons on and near State Street - kept chugging along. Sellers simply transferred their beer licenses to bar buyers. Now the council, possibly as soon as next week, hopes to prohibit such transfers and thus, over time, slash the number of bars.
This, on the cover, is absurdity.
Anderson described South Salt Lake's resurrected push to thin out its bars as the next step of several to upgrade the city, cut crime and lighten the financial burden of excessive police and fire calls.
Then again, what do I know?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A-B Stocks: As Good as Their Beer?

No, this isn't a big surprise. If you're a craft beer enthusiast, you're likely familiar with the declining market share for this juggernaut brewery. However, it was interesting seeing this on MSNBC today.
Anheuser-Busch's recent weak stock performance reflects concerns surrounding the future for both the company and the overall beer market. While I don't see beer disappearing from our culture anytime soon, its sales growth has been anemic, while wine and spirits have become a more lucrative market. Within the domestic beer segment, consumer tastes are shifting away from mass-market brews, toward more flavorful craft beers and imports. The overall effect of these two trends has favored distillers like Diageo (NYSE: DEO) and Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ) and smaller brewers like Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM).
Imagine that. Given the CHOICE, consumers seem to choose beers with flavor. Who would have figured that?

Oh, by the way, I don't want to appear to be mindlessly bashing A-B - I'm not. I think they're probably better for the craft beer industry than they get credit for. However, I don't really like that any company in any industry can have close to, or more than a 50% market share.

Also, if you're a big investor and want a good return on investment, check out what's going on in the craft beer market these days. If I had the means, I'd put my money in a VC to help a startup brewery with a good plan and an established brewer. There ya go, my financial tip of the year.

Where Have the Good Beer Bars Gone?

Yesterday was a bit of a sad day for me. I was to meet a beer rep in my area and it was arranged to meet at Vino's Wine and Cheese at three. I get there only to find they're no longer open before five. No biggy, we'll go to old town and check out the new Owl Club. Closed too. The Dirty Place across the street? Closed. Finally, we found our way into the Onyx club, a run down hell-hole with few beer options - I ordered and enjoyed a Blue Moon. The barkeep was nice, an old grizzled retired bus driver (school bus) who enjoyed the company.

Well, unsettled by the events of the day, I went back to The Dirty Place (properly known as Main Street Brewing) to find the owner just opening up - he'd been out shopping for the bar. I went in and was somewhat happy to see a few good beers on tap: Celebration, Hop Trip (by now, not so fresh) and Alaskan IPA. Steve talked it up a bit and seemed frustrated with the way things were headed, specifically with a few local distributors and their new ways. I won't take sides here by relaying his message, it was his beef and I don't know what end is up in that world.

In talking, however, we got on the Owl Club topic and his face told the story I didn't want to read. If you back up a bit, this story may make more sense I suppose.

The Owl Club used to be THE place for beer in the Sacramento area. In the 90's the manager, Jeff Scammon, brought the place to new heights, with regular pint nights and a rotating selection of beer that was nothing short of fantastic. They did have a few bottles of wine for those who needed, and there was bad-beer tucked in the back of a fridge for regulars who just didn't care for the craft beers on tap, but this place was all about the better beers.

Well, that went away a few years ago when the owners sold it to a real sonofabitch, a man who dismantled all that was good about this place. Bill took over with his son, Nathaniel, and it wasn't long after that the beers became more mainstream and the people were no longer interested. To say business there was slow would be a gross understatement - the place was dead. With Playboys on the bar and a dreary overall impression, all that was good about the Owl Club went away and we were left without a watering hole.

Bill finally sold the place to a woman we all appreciate. Thank God! I hadn't been in yet, so my conversation with Steve was a bit disappointing. It seems that new ownership of the Owl Club would like to convert this historic bar (oh, this place is about 100 years old, by the way - rich in history) into a 'lounge'. Roseville is a rich town, one of the wealthiest in the US to be honest, but there are two sides to the city. The rich side has a few 'lounges' already, places that focus on serving bland sweet drinks in fancy stemware from waitresses that are more than pretty - like the 'girl in the corner' in that Lyle Lovett song. The Owl Club is not in the rich part of town. Located a block from the biggest train yard in the region, among the largest in the country, the area isn't a bad one, but the high end clients found in the 'lounges' of the city wouldn't find their way to this area on purpose.

So, seems as though the Owl Club may be lost forever... but we're hoping.

After leaving old Roseville I headed over to Vino's to meet up with friends. Vino's, like Owl Club, has recently changed hands and we didn't think too much about it at the time because we didn't really think new owners could muck with the premier beer bar in the city. Built a couple years ago as a wine bar, upscale in appearance and attracting an audience who didn't mind buying high-end wines and beers, Vino's shocked the beer community when they rolled out their six-tap beer bar - all with top-notch beers of Northern California.

Well, last night seemed like a pseudo punk fest with people there drinking fake liquor and bad beer - from bottles. The bottles of Corona in the fridge were discouraging, the lack of inventory troubling, and the sheer apathy of the barkeeps sad - at one time I watched as a customer filled his own pint glass. I fear that this new ownership at Vino's may have a devastating impact on us beer lovers, leaving one last spot for a better beer: The Dirty Place.

Now, I really like the help at TDP - they're nice and have always been more than welcoming when there with friends. Their problem? Yeah, they are that dirty. Sticky bar, sticky floor, trash everywhere and bathrooms that seem as though they were just given up on. Thank god they have Racer 5, at least one standard rotating tap, a few other craft beers and the rest pouring the B/M/C stuff you expect at a dive bar.

Thinking about how things are turning in a city that 6 months ago seemed headed in the right direction is a bit sad. I want a watering hole, a place I can count on to have good beer pouring in an atmosphere I can take friends and business folk to - and I want it in my town, I don't want to battle traffic getting into Sacramento. I don't think Roseville is unique in this, however. I've talked with bar owners up and down the west coast and it seems that only those who build the bar from the ground up, those who started their bars, have the passion for beer that may mean slimmer margins in profit. I guess that makes sense though - those who buy bars are more likely to do so for profit concerns more than a passion for better beer. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is the way I see it.

Oh yes, there is good news. With Auburn Alehouse, Beermann's and BJ's all in the area, there will be no shortage of beer. The only problems are that Beermann's is only open on Friday, BJ's is almost always crowded with 20-somethings looking to score and AAH is a ways up the 80. I guess I just need to become wealthy quick so I can open a bar of my own. I've wanted to for a while now, actually. With that in mind, I'd best get to work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tis the Season for Good Beer

There seems to be a new beer finding its way to my local beer shops every day around this time of year, the winter seasonals!  I've sampled quite a number of them already, with 2 Below by New Belgium being the most shocking thus far.  No, it wasn't the best beer, but I really (really) did not enjoy this beer last year - maybe I didn't 'get it' or perhaps my palate was just off.  Either way, I've found 2 Below to be a great hoppy beer this season.

OK, this isn't a beer review!  Among the vast selection of seasonal beers on the shelves now are beers that you should consider putting away for a few years.  I won't go into a list of beers for you to buy, but there are a few guidelines to remember this holiday season when you're buying beer, and these are in no particular order.
  • Smoked beers age better than you might expect.  In fact, I recently discovered that smoking malts serves as a preservative of sorts - similar to hops, but not.
  • Beers high in ABV generally age better, but... remember you have to actually like the beer before you lay it down.  Lots of alcohol doesn't guarantee 3 years will make it an exceptional beer.  If there's a beer out there that's over the top in alcohol, but tastes like hell, you can put it away if your only other choice is to toss it.  Just don't expect miracles.
  • High Hopped beers are good to age, really.  I recently enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Hopsickle that I found to be exceptional.  Yes, much of the signature qualities of the beer had gone away with time, but what was left was absolutely wonderful.  Just remember that if you're a hop fanatic, the kind that needs to feel assaulted by your beer, you may lose some of the endearing qualities of your favorite dumperial IPA when you lay it down for a few years.
  • Light beers don't age well.  I've tried too many Pilsners and Pale Ales, Wits and Hefes that have been forgotten on someone's shelf - they really aren't meant for aging.  Then again, I hear rumors that some of you actually like skunked beer.
  • Corked beer - lay it on its side if you're aging it for a long time.  If you keep it upright, the cork may dry and allow more oxygen into the bottle - which won't be horrible, but not great either.
  • Capped beer can be aged standing up just fine.
  • Sour beers can age forever, I am just convinced of that.  I had a 1994 lambic earlier this year that seemed as hard as the day it was bottled (not that I had it in 1994).  I've heard that well crafted Krieks will age for decades with no ill-effect.
  • Keep beer out of light if you're serious about doing a series of vertical tastings some year in the future.  You have some wiggle room on ambient temps, but generally you don't want them over 65 degrees because it can damage or kill whatever yeast may be in a bottle.  If you get a beer below 50 degrees it won't harm your beer, but you also won't be 'aging' it in a very effective way as the yeast will become dormant, lazy (like me in the winter).
  • Speaking of vertical tastings - age your beer for a good reason.  I don't necessarily think aging hundreds of beer just to say you have hundreds of beers is impressive.  You should try to collect a case of a few different beers every year (for me, I have years of Bigfoot and Anchor Christmas, along with Alaskan Smoked Porter I build upon each year) and then, when you have 5 or 7 years worth - enjoy them!  Bring a handful of friends over and either take notes or just see if you can detect the differences of the beer from year to year.  Vertical tastings are great, mind opening experiences.
  • Be patient.  If you can, don't open your collection for a few years, minimum.  
  • Belgian strong ales age wonderfully.
  • German strong lagers age wonderfully too.
As an aside of sorts, it is a good idea (in my mind) to give nice beers as Christmas gifts - especially when going to informal events for work or friends in the next few weeks.  Good beer is relatively cheap and almost always appreciated by those who receive it.  The last two years I attended "Pink Elephant" parties where gifts were exchanged - and they had to be under 10 dollars.  Well, just so happens I could pick up a 22oz Bourbon Barrel Barleywine from my local brewer for that price - so I picked up a case and put them in those cheap (but nice looking) wine bottle holders you see everywhere.  I kept the case in my trunk actually, as it seemed that you never knew when you'd bump into someone or find yourself in need of an emergency gift.  The beer was a hit, everywhere I went.  In fact, at one party were you're allowed to 'steal' gifts from someone, that bottle of barleywine was the most commonly stolen gift!

I know that Miller Light has an ad on TV now suggesting you give that as a gift for the holidays, but why?  If you're going to give the gift of beer to someone you know this year, at least make it a good beer.

With that, I bid you good day and happy shopping (anyone else love shopping online in order to avoid the holy hell that is The Mall?).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christians Relaxed on Beer? Not So Fast

Well, this piece of news is certainly a bit off-beat, but beer-blog appropriate.  According to a Christian Net poll, a whopping 51% of Christians surveyed believe drinking beer is not "wrong".  Now, I'm no mathematician here, but does this mean that 49% of Christians polled believe, as the question is stated, it is "wrong for a Christian to consume beer."  Evidently, according to the Christian News Wire, 38% of those surveyed did, in fact, believe that drinking beer was "wrong". 

Wow!  Now, I know many of you read (and you should) Jay Brooks' Brookston Beer Bulletin, which at times seems fanatical, but is certainly necessary reading for those who appreciate not only a good beer, but the right to enjoy a good beer.  Jay has often bemoaned the Neo-Prohibitionists around the world and, quite often, I catch myself thinking there's no way we, as Americans, have anything to worry about with our beer related rights.  Now, if there are this many "Christians" in our country who think my beer consumption is flat wrong, it would seem appropriate to assume they wouldn't mind seeing form of control on my consumption.

Many of you know that I was a pastor in a very large Christian church some years back, so I think I have a pretty good handle on the people who took this survey - they're the noisy and nosy few who like to muck up things in the name of compassion.  I don't believe that 38% of all Christians share this feeling about beer.  Instead, it is likely only those with strong enough opinions took the survey.  But that too scares me, because it isn't just the church goers in our country who are more than slightly apathetic - its seems to be the American way these days.

Grolsch Goes to SABMiller

I just ran across the news that Grolsch shareholders have accepted SAB Miller's bid to buy a controlling share of the Dutch brewery.  This story, on its own, doesn't mean all that much to most of us, but the impact of global brewing consolidation is getting more and more apparent.

The buying offer made by SAB Miller was 48.25 Euros per share, which seems to be about 8 Billion total.  The International Trader had a few interesting points on the logic behind this move, along with a few of the risks involved.  However, the thing that caught my eye was this is that Grolsch is called a high margin beer.  I take this to mean that Grolsch is relatively cheap to make and sells for a premium, with its iconic flip-top and green bottle.

The South African Times seems to think, and I would have to agree, that this move will spur A-B to pick up another major brand.  This piece also talks about the long-rumored joining of forces between A-B and InBev - only now they paint the picture to suggest that A-B needs InBev more than InBev needs A-B.  There's a few other good nuggets to be found here, suggest you take a look.

Now, according to the Times UK, the biggest loser in all this could well be Heineken - and this makes sense to me as I consider marketing and shelf space.  If, all of a sudden, we start seeing Grolsch pushed as the Heineken alternative, with a green bottle all its own, that could hurt them in the long run.  The Times also suggests that this move may not be the end of SAB Miller's quest to consolidate, with a potential target found in Scottish and Newcastle.

Something else caught my eye in all this, SAB Miller's offer wasn't for current value, but based instead on 'future profitability'.  In this market, that isn't a gamble I'd want to take.

Again, this is probably something that won't impact you in any immediate fashion (unless you happen to have stock in Grolsch), but eventually all this consolidation will bite craft beer enthusiasts everywhere.  Just a couple of weeks ago, on the Brewer's Assn harvest phone call (discussing hop and barley harvests for the year and what that all means) it was mentioned that with consolidation comes less excess in ingredients - fewer brewers with 'left-overs' that have been so common and so vital for smaller breweries.  As consolidation continues and barley availability becomes more scarce, there could be some very real issues in the coming years, with regards to global ingredients.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy Holiday

I'm writing now, sitting on my couch in my living room and tired beyond belief.  I had a great holiday and hope you all did too.  This week I was able to get back in the brewing habit, making two batches of beer - one batch of honey & spice brown ale and a batch of bock, each ten gallons in size.  This was my first opportunity to use my newly acquired B3-1000 brewing sculpture, and what a difference that made in the overall efficiency of the brew day.

Aside from the brewing, this time of year seems to encourage festive drinking. Thursday my wife, Tracy, and I went to Mike and Terri's place, and he seems to always have a healthy stock of beer - his beer fridge includes offerings from Alpine, Sequoia, Green Flash, Beermann's, Auburn Alehouse, EJ Phair, Jack Russell and Russian River... and that is just what he had in growlers.  I believe his fridge also had a few imported hefeweizens, a stock pile of Celebration, Harvest, Lagunitas, Mad River, North Coast, Sacramento Brewing and more (much more).  Add to the beer selection that rivals the best beer shops in our area the great people, massive amounts of food and generally beautiful weather and it isn't hard to figure out that this was a good week - indeed.

In all the excitement surrounding the holiday, I've neglected beer news for the most part.  I do know that Russian River's construction appears to be delayed a bit, with their first brew expected to come out in March, luckily it appears the other beer bloggers have stepped up to keep us all informed.

So, I do hope you all had a great week as well.  I imagine I'll shake this near-comatose state soon enough, then I can come back with more insightful postings.  Thanks to Big Mike and Terri for playing host for Tracy and I this week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Whirlwind Week

Hard to believe that today is Friday.  A week ago I was on my way up to Oregon to see family and visit a brewery or two.  I made it back from Oregon about 14 hours before I would board my plane and fly to Phoenix, where I met co-workers and visited a brewery or two.  I arrived home from there on Weds night, and found myself on I-80 East going to the Noonan's Bar and Grill "Brewmasters Dinner", featuring beer from Moylan's and several courses of masterfully crafted food.  I made it back into my driveway about 1AM this morning.  As I sit here now, I realize that it is only a few hours before I am to again pack into my car and drive HWY 99 North to Chico, where I have a meeting set up with Sierra Nevada.  I'm tired.

A Few Notes from Along the Way:
  • Still impressed with Ashland, Oregon's, very own brew-pub, Standing Stone.  The place has simply grown on me over the years, as I remember once dissing it for its upscale looks and being unimpressed with their beer.  Now, I still remember the harvest ale and chocolate stout I had there nearly a week ago.
  • Papago's in Phoenix was a great little discovery.  I had dinner there on Monday with the Editor and Chief for DRAFT, Erika Rietz.  There you can finds hundreds of bottled beers from around the world, including offerings from Lost Abbey (which is NOT available here in Sacramento) and Cantillon (also not available here).  Enjoying a couple glasses of the Cantillon Kriek reminds you of the finer things in life, just an absolute treat.
  • Brendon Moylan's enthusiasm is catchy.  He had just installed new bright tanks in the Marin Brewing location, there in Larkspur, and was more than eager to walk me over to see them.  Along the way he stopped to say hello to patrons and employees, always genuinely excited to see them, making every hello special.  
  • Along those lines, Brendon has a lot to be excited about.  With his head brewers bringing home SEVEN medals at the GABF and an impressive staff of assistant brewers to lend a helping hand where they can, I suspect we haven't seen the last of the great things to come out of his breweries.  In fact, at the dinner last night we were given a Moylan's first, a lager!  Yes, as part of the feast we were treated to Denise's own Octoberfest/Marzen and, let me tell you, it was good.  
  • Something seems very right about a wet-hopped, barrel-aged Hopsickle, which we were treated to last night.  Actually, the dessert course came with THREE barrel-aged beers -  barley wine, hopsickle and stout.  While the Hopsickle was great on its own (didn't work with the dessert really), the Stout was simply spectacular.  
  • Tom Daldorf, Celebrator's publisher, should have a camera crew following him around for a year, a new reality TV show pitch.  I maintain that where you find Tom, you're bound to find great beer and the great people of the beer industry.  
  • Beer People are good people.  You know this already, I am sure, but it is just wonderful to travel around and visit new bars and new breweries and meet new friends along the way.  I met people at bars in Phoenix that I'd love to have another beer with, a guy on the plane to Sacramento that I had a great conversation with (all starting with beer) and another gentleman I met yesterday at Noonan's bar prior to the main event who was friendly and generous with his conversation.  And these are just strangers.  Brewers, themselves, are about the greatest folks you can meet, with interesting lives and entertaining stories to tell.  Even some of you, people I have yet to meet, have emailed me and it just seems friendly and warm.  As good as a beer may be, it won't ever hold a candle to the folks who make it, distribute it, sell it or enjoy it.
Well, I have a date with FedEx in 15 minutes.  I believe next week should be a bit less chaotic, and hopefully I'll have a bit more time to get something up worth reading.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Phoenix

I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, today to meet the team at DRAFT Magazine.  This post will be short and is mainly a post to tell you all that I won't be doing a whole bunch here on the site this week.  Additionally, I have a new computer that will require a bit of getting used to (its a Mac) and a whole new job to learn, so even when I find the time I figure I'll be a sort of tired that isn't good for beer blogging.

I did stop in at the Yard House for lunch with the Editor and Publisher today, my first ever trip to one of these places.  I must say it was better than the shiny exterior was telling me it might be - great food and a clearly wonderful selection of beers on tap.  I am looking forward to another trip there in the future.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Change in Plans

I wrote yesterday about my intention to hit the newly opened tap room at Southern Oregon Brewing Company... but plans are what happens if nothing else happens I hear. Instead, today saw me taking my folks out to Ashland and enjoying the sites of the trendy town at the base of the Siskiyous.

Ashland, for those who didn't know, is a great city to visit any time of year. However, they're most well known for their summertime Shakespeare Festival, which brings tourists from around the world. Today was a blustery day, a bit wet and windy, but not cold, so it was quite nice walking around the old downtown area and stopping in shops along the way.

Before leaving we stopped at Ashland's Standing Stone Brewery for a beer and snack. I've stopped in here several times before and every time I'm there I seem to walk away with a new appreciation for the beer and service overall. While their I ordered a pint of their Harvest Ale, made with 200 pounds of wet hops from the Willamette Valley (just a few hours north on the I-5), while my step-dad ordered their Octoberfest. Each beer was wonderful, easy to drink and displaying great aromas. The most noteworthy beer, however, was a beer I only sampled while finishing up my Harvest Ale - their Chocolate Stout. Now, you've likely had a chocolate stout or two in your beer travels, but I doubt you've run across one made with superior chocolate like this, featuring Dagoba chocolate. This is the write-up they have for this beer:
Xocolatl Oatmeal Stout: Dagoba Organic Xocolatl Chocolate, with hints of cayenne and cinnamon, was added to the kettle. This stout has a rich smoothness and velvelty texture with a spicy finish.

Ashland also is home to a wonderful place to buy bottled beer, Market of Choice, where I was happy to stop in for a quick look. I bought a few beers you won't find most places and was generally impressed with their selection - as I had been many times before. However, the find of the stop was cheese made by the monks of Chimay. I've had their cheese twice before, the last time at the Toronado 20th, and have not been disappointed in any way with their product. If you've never tried their cheese, know that you can buy it online for a pretty reasonable price.

A good day, overall. I guess I'm not entirely sure why I don't make it up here more often, except that life just seems to get in the way.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Southern Oregon Notes

So, I drove up to Southern Oregon to pick up deer meat from a buck I shot a few weeks ago (it was a big one too!) - yes, it was packaged and cared for all this time. Upon arrival I was given a bottle of Widmer's Broken Halo IPA. I'd had this before, but it was more than a year ago now, so I wasn't too surprised when I really enjoyed it. Not the biggest IPA on any shelf in Oregon, I'd assume, but a very good beer overall.

On top of that, I learned that Medford has a new brewery! Tomorrow I'll be heading over to the newly opened Southern Oregon Brewing Company to see how the beers and atmosphere are - and I promise to report back on this too. I've been hearing about this place for a few months now, opened by a couple of Southern Oregon doctors, bringing in a brewer from Deschutes and spending a whole lot of money on brand new equipment for the brewhouse. Looking forward to the visit there, as well as trying some good venison steak.

This was in yesterday's Medford Mail Tribune, the regional paper for Southern Oregon.

Southern Oregon Brewing Co. has released its first beers and has opened a tap room for public tasting and sales at its brew house. A golden ale and a porter are on tap.

Tap room hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The tap room is at 1922 United Way in Medford, behind Lava Lanes. Tasters at the 24-foot bar and tables can view brewery activity through two large plate-glass windows.

Owner Tom Hammond and brewer Anders Johansen, whose resume includes stints with Pyramid and Deschutes breweries, are brewing once a week. Southern Oregon Brewing's 20-barrel brew house is capable of producing 620 gallons per batch.

Southern Oregon Brewing's phone number is 776-9898.

A few months back they had another story, with more info on the owners, where this quote was found.
Testing the theory that it's not what you know but who you know, Hammond, 43, set out to find the right person to handle his brew. That happened to be Anders Johansen, 48, whose resume includes both stints with Pyramid and Deschutes breweries as well as a couple of start-ups.
I will be there tomorrow, and if all goes well you can read about my visit here shortly thereafter.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Politics and Beer - Sorta

I'm sorry, I just found this too funny to not share. Jim Derych asks (and answers) the question, "If I Had a Beer With..."
Dennis Kucinich: After a few drinks and some awkward policy talk I'd work up the nerve to ask the most important question - what's the deal with him and that obscenely hot wife of his? "Seriously,'d you hook that up? I don't care how funny you think you are. All the comedy in the world doesn't explain how a guy like you winds up with a hottie like that."
No, it isn't all that serious a piece, just a fun diversion for your Friday reading.

What to do?

Just read this short, and seemingly incomplete, piece urging the alcohol industry to dig in and prepare for a long, sustained battle for their livelihood. It certainly seems like a doom and gloom piece, but I wonder just how accurate the vision is.

Apparently there are a couple groups who would like to see the alcohol consumption of the world lowered for the good of humanity - the World Health Organization and a new(er) group, the Alcohol Health Alliance.

Here's the nugget of the story:

Speaking at the Publican Conference in central London today, Mark Hastings, director of communications at the British Beer & Pub Association, said the industry faced one of the most “concerted and sustained threats to its commercial viability ever” over lobbying on alcohol.

“That’s coming from the level of the World Health Organisation, from the European Union and our own government,” he added.

“Alcohol is the big issue at the moment and it’s absolutely essential that our industry gears up for what is going to be a considerable battle over the next few months and years.”

If that isn't enough, I looked into this new Alcohol Health Alliance and found this story, which isn't a good thing for those who enjoy their drink.

“Research from across the world shows a direct link between affordability of alcohol and level of consumption.

"Raising the tax on alcohol would help reduce our consumption, and reduce the future burden of ill-health from alcohol misuse, while generating more funding for treatment services. This is a win-win for the nation’s health.”

Now, this is happening across the pond in Europe and that usually means we American's could care less. However, if this picks up steam there you can rest assured the consequences will bleed over into the Americas. This is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tree Hugger Porter: A Taste of the Northwest

While traveling for work recently, my wife, Tracy, found herself in Portland in a beer bottle shop. She'd called me on the her cell phone and asked those magic words that never grow tired, "would you like me to bring you home a beer?" I love my wife.

I'd asked, as is our routine, to look for labels she'd never seen and read their names to me, with the understanding I'd stop her when I heard something I had to have. I knew she didn't have a lot of room in her baggage, so my selection would be small, so when she said "Tree Hugger Porter" I stopped her instantly. You see, I love Laurelwood Brewing in Portland and have fond memories of the Tree Hugger Porter (it is one of the many beer shirts I own as well). Tonight, after completing a handful of chores while Tracy is out, I finally found the time and will to consume the contents of this 12 ounce bottle.

I won't review the beer here, just remind you all of what you already know: beer is so much more than the liquid in the glass. Drinking this tonight I remember my time at Laurelwood with a dear friend, Mike. I remember the beer fest, the blue line trip home and an overall level of intoxication achieved on this day more than two years ago.

In case you needed to know - yes, the beer is beautiful! If you're ever in the Portland area, you should do what you can to enjoy this on tap if possible, or at least buy a bottle to bring home.

Noonan’s Brewmaster Dinner Series

Just received this information on the Noonan's Brewmaster Dinner Series, featuring Denise Jones of Moylan's. I know there are a lot of good beer and food dinners around the country now, hope you all can enjoy at least one in your area. If you're in NorCal, you may want to do what you can to get to this, it should be a spectacular night of good food, great beer and wonderful conversations.

When: Thursday, November 15 at 7 p.m.
Where: Noonan’s Bar and Grill, 2233 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur CA
What: Join Moylan’s Brewing Company in celebrating Brewmaster Denise Jones.
Having just won two gold medals and a silver medal at the Great American Brew Festival, the beer has never tasted better, so come and see what all the noise is about. From a beginning cheese course to a sumptuous dessert paired with a flight of barrel aged reserve ales, this is one food and beer pairing worth attending! Listen to Denise share her thoughts in regards to her award winning ales and her ideas for the future.

Menu is included below. Seats are $79.00 each; reserve a spot by calling 415.464.8711. For more information on Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant, visit For more information on Noonan’s Bar and Grill visit

Noonan’s Brewmaster Dinner Series
Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant

Reception Lineup:
Northern California Artisan Cheese Plate, Vella Farms Daisy Cheddar, Laura Chenel Chevre
Point Reyes Blue, Joe Matos St. George
  • Moylan’s Brewery Celts Golden Ale
  • Moylan’s Brewery Dragoons Irish Stout

Seared Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna
frisee, red onion, soy ginger viniagrette
Moylan’s Brewery White Christmas Witbier

Autumn Vegetable Soup, huajillo chile broth
Moylan’s Brewery Moylander Double IPA
Pomegranate Wheat Ale Granita

Roasted Niman Ranch Pork Roulade pignoli & wild mushroom stuffing, red cabbage, potato pancake, sweet onion white wine reduction
Moylan’s Brewery “Moylanfest” Oktoberfest Marzen

Granny Smith Apple & Triple Cream Brie Turnover, port candied cranberries & fig chutney garnish

A trio of Moylan’s Brewery barrel aged beers:
  • Old Blarney Barleywine
  • Ryan Sullivan’s Imperial Stout
  • Hopsickle Imperial Ale

$79.00 inclusive

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Commentary: Sour Ales and Modern Brewing

This isn't a conversation I was specifically invited to partake in, but when it features something I have a few thoughts on I can't help but interject. It appears that Lew Brison has struck up a talk/debate on Sour Beer with Alan at The Good Beer Blog. Alan's post asks a few questions, but in all just sent my mind racing. I began formulating a reply, but once I realized the reply was getting longer than the post, I remember I have my own damned blog!

General Intro to Sour Beers and Rick Sellers

As a big fan of well made sour beers, I think the beer loving world should take a few moments to examine the use of the word "lambic" or "spontaneous" or "wild yeast" in modern American brewing. Lambic, in my mind, should be treated like Champaign, specific to the region the style originated, the Senne Valley (Belgium). I really don't have a leg to stand on in this regard, but I fear that in my lifetime I'll witness the last of the true Lambic beers, due to urban sprawl, pollution and general progress of the world. This saddens me and I want to see Lambics fetch the price they deserve, fear that the mis-use of the name will cheapen the perceptions of this beer-wealthy region.

I'm getting slightly annoyed these days with liberal use of spontaneous and wild yeast too. Spontaneous because more and more brewers are allowing barrels used in beer making for years to 'spontaneously' ferment their product... with all the safeguards that seem to strike me funny for the intent. Wild Yeast hurts to read because most strains of 'wild' yeast come in a bottle. Now, folks like Bristol Brewing who cultivate their own wild strains, they have my respect... Should I even get started on "brett" of all sorts beers being called Lambics?

Yes, I sadly think the current fascination with "sour" beer is a fad of sorts, picking up where barrel aging left off. Now, this isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong. I guess I wouldn't even say 'fad', I don't see these beers disappearing like my parachute pants after all. I've just seen too many people who clearly don't like sour beer lining up and paying good money for one because, well, they feel like they're missing something if they didn't. I welcome sour beers, they can be the greatest and most refreshing beers around on a hot day.

Is there a correlation between aggressive souring and aggressive hopping? I have a strong "maybe" for you on this. Describing the sourness is certainly as complicated as describing a hop's character in a beer, with lactic, acidic, pungent just atop the list. However, I think the hopping possibilities in modern brewing have greater range in character and quality, and add to that some of the highest IBU beers out there are also sweet as hell, the equation is just odd. Sourness is a tough thing to manage. Right now we're seeing a lot of sweet sour beers, primarily I believe because it is quicker (cheaper) and easier to make these beers - that and I really don't think American palates are ready for a hard lambic. To create a true lambic-like beer requires a willingness to let the beer's pH fall dramatically. Then, over a period of years, the acidity of the beer is softened through blending or additions of fruit. There are a few brewers in the US today who are willing to do this on a limited basis, but certainly not in enough volume to enable a sustainable trend toward more aggressive sourness.

Now, I've had a lot of really well made sour beers from around the world. The brewers in the US have the ability, but I think we'll find the best and most aggressive sour beers coming from the homebrewers of the country, those who brew for the love of it and do not answer to investors.

BJ's: Continuing to Impress

Yesterday was my last day in the office at HP, after nearly five years there. It was strange to leave, even if for a great job at DRAFT, I suppose it is supposed to be that way. Once my box and me were out of the office, it was quickly apparent a beer was in order (that and I was getting hungry), so I headed towards our local BJ's here in Roseville, California. I know I've written about these guys before, but it seems I am consistently surprised by the quality of their seasonal and guest beers (yes, I enjoy their standard lineup as well, but with so many beers in the world I simply enjoy discovering new beers more right now).

I started with a pint of Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale, their wet-hopped gem of a beer. We've been enjoying this beer at various better beer joints around town, and this pint was no different - a great beer to enjoy.

Next up was a few samplings:
  • Pumpkin Ales are not my cup of tea, but I do feel compelled each year to try them. The BJ's version was very well done, not overly spiced and something I could see having a pint of, if I were enjoying a savory meal.
  • The Fullers Porter was a welcomed guest tap. If you're not aware, BJ's has a brewer exchange program with Fullers. In this program BJ's sends over one of their brewers while Fullers sends one of their brewers, all in an effort to share ideas and learn a bit more about how things are done across the pond.
  • The IPA on tap was not Owen's IPA, which many are used to by now. Instead, they were pouring the Irvington IPA and, holy cow, I can't properly tell you how easy this massively hopped beer was to enjoy. This, my beer loving friends, was a monster hopped beer, bigger than any IPA I've enjoyed at BJ's before. Light in color and with a medium body, they did a great job typifying the West Coast IPA. This was the only beer I would end up having two pints of, and I am working on getting back there soon for another.
I have yet to meet the newest of the new brewers at BJ's in Roseville. Their last guy, Will, didn't last long before he realized he had to move with family priorities. David Mathis has evidently been carrying a big load since just before GABF, a typically hard working brewer he is. I hear he was due for a few days off, I hope the guy found a way to take advantage of those.

  • Rubicon Brewing, in Sacramento, has put on their gold-medal winning Mountain Cherry and I was there to welcome it into my glass. Simply fantastic, no surprise how the GABF judges found it in their hearts to award this beer with a gold. Rumors have it they may be sending a five gallon keg to Toronado... which is a badge of honor of sorts I believe.
  • Sacramento Brewing is also continuing their impressive streak, now with their Imperial Red on tap. This is a massively hopped beer, and that may be putting it lightly, but in true 'red' fashion there is enough caramelized sweetness there to make this incredibly easy to drink. This Friday they will be tapping SN Harvest, and once that beer is gone he's got a few kegs lined up from a recent trip he took to San Diego. I won't spoil the surprise altogether, but I can tell you that you won't want to miss out when they go on, one at a time.
  • The Auburn Alehouse, with headbrewer Brian Ford, is set to tap their Isotope Imperial IPA (its weapon's grade!). We've been awaiting this beer's arrival for some time now, and if you're in the region you'll want to make sure you keep an eye out yourself.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Beer Lovers' Shopping List

Not a whole lotta news here, but in talking with some local reps and distributors this weekend I can tell you now that I'm looking forward to my better beer store later this week. Here's a few items you'll find on your shelf soon, if not already.
  • Anchor Christmas 2007 - this beer is supposed to hit stores today
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration - on shelves now, always a favorite this time of year
  • Sudwerk Doppelbock - an annual favorite for those who like beers of the style
  • Mendocino Imperial IPA - I've had this already, an impressive offering (on shelves through February, when they'll introduce their Bock!)
  • Deschutes Jubale - in stores now for a couple weeks, I've enjoyed a couple of these
  • Krumbacher Eisbock - a German imported Eisbock is rarely a bad thing to find, and BevMo has a large shipment of this arriving now!
  • St Fuellin Noel - just arrived to the US last week, you'll want to find this beer soon
  • Unibroue 16 - in stores now, you'll want to pick up a few of these, I promise - with its big caramelized pear notes all around, yum!
  • Scaldis Noel - due in any day now, I've called this a Belgian Bigfoot in the past and can't wait to see how this year fairs

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Session: 1 Beer 3 Songs 3 Stories

Timmee Edwards, the NASCAR Legend, has brought to our attention today two of my greatest joys in life, music and beer. Wait, sorry, this is Tomme Arthur's idea and it turns out he is actually a brewer for some place in Southern California... Lost Abbey and Port Brewing. Yes, you're right, he is still a legend, just in a different sport. For those who don't know (and how could you not), Tomme writes over at the Lost Abbey blog and puts together the most amazing stories - he's a brewer who is great with words and is worth checking out on a regular basis. Anyway, onto The Session.

With so many thoughts and musings about their pairing, I honestly couldn't figure it out. I'd wanted to compare music and beer tastes, with an elementary assumption that those who like standard radio-play music (those who think Dave Matthews is the greatest singer and song-writer of all time) also like standard, Big Brother Beers, and those who sift through the dusty albums in funked out shops run by perpetually confused adults are more likely to also sift through beers in similar beer shops run by people of similar mental bent. I'd thought about it, but couldn't bring myself to really dig too deep into the subject.

Finally, I rested on a topic: One Beer, Three Songs, Three Experiences.

I begin with an answer to a question I've pondered on my own many times... what is it I really want in life?

"Since you enquired,
Let me take stock of what we roots rock -- ahem! -- 'weirdoes' desire....

Fishnets for every woman, and lipstick as red as flame
For every man a tatoo, a Chevy, and a dumb nickname
Cigarettes in every shirtsleeve, black leather on every back,
Fanzines in every bookstore, LPs in each record rack.

Three chords in every pop song! Four white guys in each band!
A ruthless media empire to saturate this land
Then, with our comrades, and our brothers in neo-swing,
We'll reclaim music from the kids for our fat dead cracker King!"

That's some of the lyrics to Robby Fulks' song, "Roots, Rock, Weirdos". This song was playing the background while friends were gathered around enjoying a double IPA. The mood was joyous, the conversations loud, and the beer seemed 'bright' in a way, the malt sweetness not heavy in any way and the hops seemingly taking part in the party.

If you're like me the best and most memorable times in life have four common ingredients: Friends; Food; Beer; Music. Now, it is no surprise to me that for each event the combination of the four changes. Often, however, the biggest change seems to be the music - it sets the mood after all.

Playing cards with friends recently, it seemed fitting that Mary Gauthier was singing, almost mournfully:

He'd get home at 5:30, fix his drink
And sit down in his chair
Pick a fight with mama
Complain about us kids getting in his hair
At night he'd sit alone and smoke
I'd see his frown behind his lighter's flame
Now that same frown's in my mirror
I got my daddy's blood inside my veins

Fish swim
Birds fly
Daddies yell
Mamas cry
Old men
Sit and think
I drink

With her, the same dumperial IPA I enjoyed with friends while listening to Robbie Fulks had a different impact. Yes, with Mary in the background the sweets are a bit deeper, the bitter barely an after-thought.

Now, I am not going to suggest, in the excitement of writing about beer and music, that music makes beer better worse or different. No, but I would suggest that the music playing in the background (maybe even in your head) has a lot to do with the mood you are in when you're enjoying your favorite beer.

Let's take a look at the last example of this.
uncle slaton's got his texan pride
back in the thickets with his asian bride
hes got an airstream trailer and a
holstein cow
still makes whiskey cuz he still knows how
plays that chocktaw bingo every friday night
you know he had to leave texas but he won't say why
he owns a quarter section up by lake ufalla
caught a great big ol bluecat on a driftin jugline
sells his hardwood timber to the chippin mill
cooks that crystal meth cuz his shine don't sell
he cooks that crystal meth cuz his shine don't sell
you know he likes that money, he don't mind the smell
At a concert in Reno last year, we had gone there to see James McMurtry playing with Dave Alvin (King of California) and were enjoying Pliny the Elder by the growler (yeah, we travel in style). The mood here was very different from our party in the garage or the party indoors, with the setting of the show in the mountains outside Reno and one of the greatest musicians of today setting up to entertain us for a few hours. We were drinking, we weren't tasting or sampling or critiquing. There we were, gathered around a cooler and pounding Pliny, enjoying the beer because we knew we enjoyed the beer.

In my iPod I have many playlists, but two of them are for drinking. My Low Volume Drinking list features Tom Waits, Mary Gauthier and a few quiet greats by McMurtry and Alvin and a bunch of other great artists. This playlist is for playing for friends and can stimulate conversation or just be there when the silence would otherwise take over. The second playlist is name (shockingly) High Volume Drinking and features Fulks, McMurtry, Hank Williams III and a few other high octane songs ideal for more active gatherings (and occasionally housework).

So, it ain't much. One great beer in three different settings with three great songs, resulting in three very different memories about the beer. It is just a story, my story, but I suspect this is an experience we can all associate with.

You can check out my Drunken Mess station on Pandora, free and online, to hear a few of my favorite artists and songs.

Also check out the other Session contributions:
Brookston Beer Bulletin (Jay Brooks)
Appelation Beer (Stan Hieronymus)
Lost Abbey (Tomme Arthur)
Best of American Beer & Food (Lucy Saunders)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Special Thanks

As you've heard previously on this site, I've accepted the Beer Director role with DRAFT Magazine. I cannot tell you how exciting this is for me, working with the greatest people in the beer industry and conveying their stories, promoting their products is a dream. I've been working for DRAFT for nearly six months already, as a freelance writer and editor, and have been impressed by many things they do 'behind the scene'. I look forward to continuing their quality work, and hope my presence and work will also improve the product overall.

In all of this excitement, there is one man I'd like to pass on a word of gratitude to - Mark Zahn. Fondly known in our area as 'the beer geek', I first met Mark in 1999 and when I shared my first beer with the bearded guy, it was an experience like I'd never had before. His intensity, passion and joy for the drink were incredible - contagious really. Watching as he lifted his glass to check the clarity, smelling the beer, swirling it, swishing it, and the whole time excitedly conveying what it was he was finding - it was incredible. I think I'd blown through a pint of whatever before he'd touched his lips to the glass! Through Mark, I met those who would take me under wing and give me a beer education you simply couldn't pay for. Yes, it was through Mark that I met those who would pick up where he left off - Beth Zanghari, David Teckam, Martin Lodahl, Mike Sober and many more. These are the people who have contributed most to my beer schooling, and it was Mark who made that happen.

I have been the face of Pacific Brew News since its inception, mainly because I am the one with the technical skills needed for site development and such, but it was Mark who was the inspiration. I can't really think of a good way to say 'thanks', but hopefully I can pass on my deep sense of gratitude for the man we know as The Beer Geek.

There has been concern by many as to the future of PBN (the podcast), it has been touching to say the least. Rest assured, PBN will continue. Right now I'm working two jobs, transitioning from HP to DRAFT, but soon that will change and I'll have just one full time job. When the transition is complete, I'm certain we'll come back renewed and eager to do that thing we do. As for the blog, I'll update this regularly. I am also pretty sure Mike will pass on his wonderful contributions, and I'm hopeful that Mark will as well.

So, once again, thank you Mark - and thanks to all you who have emailed or called this week. Life is good for me now, and even better when I realize I am surrounded by people who support me like you all do.