Friday, February 29, 2008

I Heart

I've made my way to New York, for the first time, and like so many before me have found myself impressed at the enormity of it all. Yesterday found me at the iconic Time Square for a couple hours, and that was more than enough if you ask me. Yes, it was shiny and big, bustling with tourists, but with the mass of national brands vying for my attention, it really just seemed like an outdoor version of my local mall. Sad really. I had hoped to find an old shop run by third generation family members, cooking up something entirely different from that which I'm used to. A few blocks away was a bit better, but overall this place just wasn't for me.

My disappointment continued with a later Manhattan stop at Ginger Man, which really just looked like an upscale dive mix, had a few good beers mixed in with more mediocre beers and way too many people for a lazy Thursday night.

Luckily the company I kept seemed equally unimpressed with the scene, thus finding it necessary to take me to a place with a bit more character. Sam Merritt, president of Civilization of Beer, was with us and suggested we stop in at Keens Steakhouse, an old bar dripping with history - a place I fell in love with instantly. Kraig Beaudoin was with us too, he's part of the DRAFT team on the east coast and is a marketing guru with a keen beer sense due to stints with Brooklyn Brewery and other beer marketing opportunities. Among the cool things to see at the bar, a displayed collection of 45,000 clay tobacco pipes, several of which belonging to ex-presidents and American icons, hanging from the ceiling.

I got choked up when I found an original hand-written letter Abe Lincoln had written to a mother who had lost all five of her children in the Civil War. Wow! The letter was personal, hand written and as full of pride as it was with remorse. Reading every word of the letter, I moved on to find a couple more items worth mentioning. Next there was the playbill Lincoln was holding when he was assassinated. Hanging on the wall was also his copy of the declaration of independence, stained with blood, found in the inner pocket of his jacket that night. It seemed perverse, being so fascinated by a piece of our nation's gory history, but there I was, transfixed with it all.

There was a final stop for the day, a quick beer at Stouts NYC, a very nice bar with good taps and food (the artichoke dip being particularly good). This place was only three years old, but clearly popular for the home crowd, which was lively and mostly entertained by the company they were keeping.

I'd be remiss to neglect my lunch stop of the day, at Queen's Sunswick 35/35. On the outside this place didn't look like much, but walking inside you couldn't help but appreciate the taps and ambiance of this seemingly family bar. I had a chicken club sandwich, a pint of Legacy's Hoptimus Prime and enjoyed watching as locals streamed in for their lunch break - one lady had picked up more lunch that she should have been expected to carry, clearly running the lunch-time errands for whatever office she worked for.

So, to recap. I'm quite enjoying my time here, just could do without the mega-touristy stops that today has little more to offer than a history richer than present.

Today's Stops (if all goes well):
  • Barcade
  • Spuyten Duyvil
  • Clem's
  • Spikehill
  • Mug's Ale House
  • Brooklyn Ale House
  • Brooklyn Brewery

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Philly Rocks

I won't go on too much about the great time I'm having here in Philadelphia, but do want to state that this town does indeed rock. Yesterday I started out by checking out the Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other historic icons of the city. Pretty incredible stuff really, worth the trip on its own. Of course, I'm here to discover beer, so after a few hours in history, it was time to move on to a few places.
  • Triumph Brewing: This is a beautiful brewery, and the beer's great too. They'd just tapped their Belgian Quad while I was there, which was a wonderful treat.
  • Khyber: The city seems full of great dive bars and this really felt great to be in. Their beer selection was good, they've got a new food menu and is clearly appreciated by the folks in the community.
  • Fooderie: 830 bottles of different beers in their last inventory! If you're looking to buy great beer, I don't think you can beat this place.
  • Standard Tap: DRAFT featured this place in the Jan/Feb issue for their gastropub piece, and it was easy to see why. I had liver mousse and striped bass, each were made to perfection. They were offering 11 beers on tap and two hand pulls, all beers brewed within an hour of so of the pub. I'll be back here, I'm sure.
  • 700 Club: Another great local funky dive bar with great beer on tap, along with their the economy beers some of the regulars enjoy.
  • The Abbaye: An upscale community bar, again with the good beer! You'd think this would get old eventually. It doesn't.
  • Edgar Allen Poe's house: Nope, it is not a bar, but where one of my favorite writers lived for four years. How cool is that?
  • Jose Pistolas: Back here again to meet a couple folks that I was more than happy to meet; Joe, who is an owner; Suzy, who is too many things to list here - but they're all cool.
  • Monk's Cafe: Now, this was a place I told myself I wasn't going to go to on this trip, but that changed when Joe got a call from Monk's saying they'd just tapped 1998 Bigfoot. Well now, if Joe's going, who am I to stay behind? This is everything you've read it to be, incredible all around.
A bit about Suzy... I left a business card at Khybers when I was there, apparently it wasn't long at all before she walked in and learned I'd been there. She called and left a voice mail, I left a voice mail and then the text messages began. Eventually we met up at Jose P's for a couple drinks where I learned a bit about her. She works for Sly Fox, a great regional brewer out here, as well as tending bar a couple nights week at Jose P's (I've mentioned how cool that place is), and also organizes/leads a lady's beer enthusiast club called IPA, or In Pursuit of Ale. As if this weren't enough, she also hosts the website I don't know about you, but all that adds up to a pretty hard-core beer enthusiast.

Of course, just about everyone I've met along the way has been incredibly nice to me, sharing stories, beers and the occasional meal. I'm off to New York tomorrow, and there's clearly more happening than I'll ever get around to putting on the blog.

Pictures! If you'd like to see a bunch of pictures from Philly, click here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Philly Day One: Summary

Let me just say this right now.

Philadelphia is a better beer town than I would have ever guessed - and I still haven't been to Monk's or Standard Tap!

My morning started way too early, as the cabs and city folk began making their noise at 6:30 this morning, waking me from a poor night's sleep at what felt like 3:30! I tried to go back to sleep, I really did, but after 20 minutes of looking out the window I sprang up, showered and hit the town. My first lesson: Philly is colder at 7am than Sacramento.

I walked around and played tourist for a bit, seeing buildings and statues erected for people I'm sure I should have known; sadly, I didn't. After a few quick hours, it was back to the hotel and time to start my day in beer. I'd love to give you a detailed account, but at this point I think I'll just pass on a few notes about the places I went to today.

  1. Nodding Head Brewery: Was there an hour before they opened, spoke with Gordon and Enrique for a bit (head and asst brewers) and sampled their Berliner Weisse and Saison; both of which were excellent. Most notable item? A masher that is unlike any I've seen before! May be more on that in days to come.
  2. Good Dog: A beautiful little place with great service, great beer and great locals. I spoke with a couple patrons there, had a great time as their lunch crowd shuffled in. Notable? My very first Yuengling, which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I didn't really mind it at all, just a tad corny for me.
  3. McGlinchy's Pub: Smoky little dive bar with one good tap, a fun bar keep and free WiFi.
  4. Jose Pistoles: Incredible place! Only open six months, the place is operated by a former Monk's guy, people who know beer and do a wonderful job getting great beer in.
  5. A cool little bottleshop next door - they had He'Brew Jewbelation 8!
  6. McGillans Tavern: Oldest in the city, they do a wonderful job at bringing in good beer and not being ashamed to serve what they want to. Owner Chris was a great man to hang out with a bit.
  7. Tria Cafe: Great appetizers, amazing beers for only six taps, appropriately priced. There's a whole story in here, just not tonight.
  8. Johnny Brenda's: Joe Sixpack took me here, and it rocked! Great dive bar, good clams and wonderful upstairs area!
  9. Grey Lodge: Also with JSP, this was tops in the trip along with Jose Pistoles!
I loved the day, the city is spectacular! Tomorrow I continue with a few more stops before heading west a bit. If you haven't been here yet, and you like beer, then you really have no idea what you're missing! Cask ales galore, an obscene number of Belgian imports, folks who know beer and a lot of great food.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

DRAFT: March/April

Speaking of finishing touches, I just saw this on the DRAFT website, the cover for our next issue that should hit the stands and mailboxes early next week (the first I've seen it!). I won't give too much away, but there are a couple thought provoking reads in here; a great city focus and a '10 places to drink' that will make you scratch your head, and Charlie's piece is always a good time. I'm proud to work for DRAFT, forgive me if do a bit of promotion here.

On The Road Again

As far as travel goes, I've pretty much been a slacker. Sure, I've been pretty much everywhere on the west coast, from Mexico to Canada, and a lot of places around the Rockies, but I've never really traveled along the east coast. Well, it's time to fix that, and tomorrow I'll arrive in Philadelphia for the first time, taking only a few days in the city to see the great beer spots, as well as some of our nation's landmarks. On Weds I'll head to some well known joints, Victory and Troegg's, before making my way to New York on Thursday. I'll return home on Sunday, a week after flying out. Then, through coincidence and chance, I'll be making my second trip ever to Philly three days later.

Thanks to Don and Lew for the tips. With their help, I will try to hit all these places up in Philly over the next few days.

- McGillin’s Old Ale House
- Bottle shop: Foodery @ Northern Liberties
- Dinner at Standard Tap
- Nodding Head Brewery
- Khyber
- Triumph Brewery
- Lunch at Tria Café
- Beneluxx
- Tria

More to come on this, I'm sure, I just don't know when. We're wrapping up our next issue of DRAFT, hopefully explaining my lack of input here. I do want to say thanks for those who've emailed me this week, as well as those I just met over the last two weekends.

Friday, February 22, 2008

George Washington: Supporting Local Brewers

As we've heard on our radios since President's Day, today is George Washington's birthday (thanks NPR). I'm not a great student of my own country's history, and I'm actually a bit ashamed of that fact, but I'm trying. I do love biographies and with the help of the vast array of tubes on our internets, I get to pretend often like I know more than I really do. Take for example my thought for the day.

I have known for some time that Washington was a brewer and general beer enthusiast, at the time is seemed the norm for families to make beer at home for their own consumption. In addition, small breweries were popping up and their beers being served in local taverns. I have an assumption that the beers made locally must have been 'better' in flavor if only because the long journey barrels of beer had to take from Europe to get here. At a time when we, as a country, were setting to make our own identity, one apart from the places we came from, there was more than a fair share of pride taken in consuming products made here.
"We have already been too long subject to British prejudices. I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America; both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality." - George Washington
I love that quote. In fact, my good friend Mark, the Beer Geek, could just have easily said this on his own yesterday, with more than a ring of truth.

So, perhaps today, in honor of the man we love to celebrate, we should take his words to heart and enjoy a great American made artisan cheese and craft beer. Sure, we can appreciate the history of the product, it's roots from across the pond, but it's also a good time to reflect on just how freaking good we have it today - we, being the lovers of great food, wine and beer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Haven't Seen It All

I had a light dinner tonight at a nearby chain place, Claim Jumper, which actually has a decent salad and acceptable potato cheese soup. While sitting at the bar enjoying my meal, I spot a goblet walk by, full of a pale beer. Curious, I ask the barkeep what they're serving in the goblet. "Anything you want" was her reply, apparently the one I spotted was full of Bud Light. Bud Light, in a goblet... At least it looks better.

Speaking of 'seeing it all', I'll be making my first trip to Philadelphia next week, then heading throughout central PA before heading east for New York. I can't tell you how excited I am to get there and see some of the places I've been reading about all this time. Oddly, my second-ever trip to Philadelphia will be four days after returning to California. Yep, I'll be there for Philly Beer Week too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beerapalooza: Winding Down

And they call it winding down
The six to ten crowd, smoky bars
Notes on napkins and business cards
Describe the days events and go on home
And it's likely they won't drown
The price goes up and one more round
They close up all the bars downtown
As the singer plays one last rip roaring song
- Clint Black, "Winding Down"
Words won't do the weekend justice, and I didn't take any pictures, so I don't suppose this will be the most in-depth reporting on the weekend that was.

I was fortunate to judge this year's barleywine festival at Toronado again, so I had to be there pretty 'early' in the day. Wanting to start the day off right, I got in extra early and had a great breakfast around the corner at Squat and Gobble. As is normal, as it got closer to 9:30 there were more and more judges hoping to also get a quick bite before settling in for a party. I sat with a couple guys who'd driven in from Reno, enjoyed my Juevos Rancheros and made my way to the Golden Peacock, where the judging would take place.

I was part of the first round of judging, which is just fine with me, so we gathered around tables, sitting in groups of three, and went through our flight of beers - which meant 8 barleywines to judge for must of us there. Every beer is judged twice in the first round, a double blind technique that gives the beer more of a chance of succeeding should one table not agree to it's worth or quality. Of the 8 beers per panel, we are requested to send only 3 of them on to the next round (our panel only sent on 2). The scores are tallied by the organizer, Russ Wigglesworth (who has been doing a bang-up job running this for years!) and in the second round the beers passed on are again judged twice. Eventually the master judges of the final round will be delivered a managable number of beers, the crowds will gather and winners will be announced... by number only, of course. It's a great system, and this is one of the many competitions in the country every year that really 'means' something. The caliber of judges is good, the caliber of beers exceptional - to be a winner, you've got to be damn good!

Of course the winners were:
  1. Old Gnarleywine 2006, Lagunitas Brewing
  2. Old Guardian 2006, Stone Brewing
  3. Abacus Blend, Firestone Walker Brewing
The results surprised some, but perhaps nobody as much as Dan Hanson of Lagunitas, who told me the following day he had no idea until early that morning! Apparently he doesn't usually send beers in for competition, but with a little friendly prodding by Dave at Toronado, he sent in a keg for good measure. Congratulations, by the way, to all the folks at Lagunitas.

The afterparty would start shortly after the judging was over, with food delivered and served to the judges, along with beers served up front - not all barleywine either. Before long it was time for many to move on to "phase two" of their day, with a trip to Anchor to celebrate the state's best homebrew clubs. The Anchor Party is a great and generous event for the homebrew community, with dinner served at the brewery, enjoyed alongside Anchor's proud beer lineup.

Of course, not everyone homebrews, so several folks (myself included) headed across the street to join the madness that is Toronado. Incredible! Several people likened the experience to a "human carwash", getting bumped and violated (incidental contact, I'm sure) along the way. Through the mess of humanity, the sticky sweet air and all the noise, it was actually quite relaxing to be there, sipping on big beers and knowing that when all is said and done, a friendly cab will take me to the hotel.

Toronado never really quieted down that day. As the first wave of flesh stumbled to their rides home, a new and fresh wave found their way - and their seats - just in time to keep the staff here hustling to keep up.

Reflecting on the day that was, I can't wait for next year. This isn't a sustainable form of drinking or partying, but every once in a while, it's just fun to be part of something like this! The whole time you're there, things move a bit faster - even after a few - as you're seeing people you know, folks you'd like to know, and always chatting it up with the guy/girl next to you just to see what they're enjoying.

Special Thanks

There's a few folks I just gotta say hello to, people I spent time with over the weekend that helped make it what it was. Yes, this looks like ass-kissing, perhaps moving into name-dropping, but it's my blog and I can kiss as much ass as I want to. Right? There's a lot more, but these guys all have blogs about beer!

- Chris, The Beer Retard! Dude... always a good time. Thanks for the beer!
- Chris and Merideth, The Beer Geeks (dot com!). You two are good people and I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.
- Jay Brooks. I still feel honored you know who I am... and you still say hello to me! Seriously, if there's a good guy award in the industry, he'd be a finalist. It's stunning to see how many people, from all over the country, genuinely like this guy.
- Steve Beaumont... You introduced me to some habit forming behaviors, and I think a follow-up trip to Bourbon and Branch is in order. You also proved that judging can take as long as it needs to. :D

Of course there's others, the weekend was full of friendly faces and good times. If you weren't able to make any Beerapalooza events, I'd recommend you plan for 2009. As Big Mike says, "it doesn't suck."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentines Dinner Pictures

I guess you like the pictures. Not wanting to disappoint, here's some snaps from last night.
Valentines Day 2008

SacBrew Sale: In the Books

I wasn't going to post this newsy bit, but I was asked about the progress of the Sacramento Brewing Company sale enough, figured it was worth it. Here's the email I received from Peter Hoey, brewmaster and cool-new daddy.
Just wanted to let you know that sale of Sac Brew is final as of
Midnight last night [2/14]. The licenses transfered and we are currently doing
final inventory and closing all the books, payroll etc. for Sacramento
Brewing Inc to transition into the new ownership.
Without knowing too much beyond the surface, it appears that all parties involved were happy with the way this all went down. We'd like to with Cap'n all the best as he leaves the area, he's been a passionate and friendly face. Also, a big welcome to the new owners and fresh feel. This place is exciting to be around right now, as Peter moves them into a big-beyond-their-capacity barrel aging program. His email last week mentioned going from 0-23 barrels almost overnight! In the collection? Port, Bourbon and Wine barrels! I may need a whole new post for those details though.

So, again, sale is final and we're anxious to see where Peter and new ownership takes this proud brewery.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Post Script: AAH Valentines Dinner

I mentioned a few days ago we'd be heading up to Auburn Alehouse for their big special meal tonight. To begin, their food is regularly top-notch, with their regular menu offering exceptional dishes. We weren't sure what to expect heading in, the four courses seemingly 'overpriced' and not entirely jumping out at us. Boy, were we wrong.

First dish was a seared tuna salad, served in martini glasses - great presentation. This was a great starting plate, lightly dressed and with a mild zest quality throughout. It was perhaps too delicate for the IPA Brian just put on this week, but did go shockingly well with Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus.

Up next, a bowl of shrimp bisque soup. We were surprised it came as quick as it did, we weren't quite ready for it, but it was good. I feel a bit bad for this dish, squished in between two great dishes and never really capturing our full attention, as we soon found our main course in front of us before the soup was consumed. The IPA did seem more appropriate here.

The entre of the night was fillet wellington, which blew us both away. My goodness, this steak was as tender as any you'd hope to find, seared nicely before being topped with fois gras, wrapped in puff pastry and baked to perfection. The plate also had stuffed prawns, asparagus and mashed potatoes. Knowing this was on the menu, I brought a bottle of Firestone Walker Eleven to enjoy. Oh my! You really can't ask for better experiences. I know the beer's hard to come by, but if you're lucky to see one available, trust me: it's worth the 17 bucks or so to buy. We poured glasses to share with Brian the Brewmaster, as well as Louise the Chef... it was well received.

Dessert, after that amazing plate, was the afterthought you'd hope it would be. Honestly, the truffles were great and paired nicely with the Cantillon. It's just, well, we were full and still recalling the beef. I have a feeling we'll be remembering the wellington for some time, actually.

In addition to the above mentioned beers, we can attest to the high quality of Brian's Red 45, which I'd expect has a bit of Vienna malt judging by the flavor, falling somewhere in between an Octoberfest and ESB... which is to say hoppier and ale-esque. That IPA of his is nothing short of beautiful. My goodness, piney, citrusy, floral - it really runs the gamut of American hop flavor.

One final note about AAH. Their staff just rocks, and it starts with the owners and managers. Brian works his ass off, typically starting before any of us are dreaming of being awake, but still finds it important to get behind the bar and do the things that need to be done. Then, there's Sloan, the attractive, friendly and hard-working manager. This woman is inspiring to watch, as one minute she can be mixing drinks before sweeping the floor on her way to bus a table. Not only that, the staff clearly likes her. Our server of the night was Michelle, kind, prompt and just a pleasure to see. They know their jobs, do them well and all work to make patrons feel right at home. Maybe that's why it's like a second home.

What's the "P" Stand For Again?

File this under Things that Annoy Me
Part II

Have you noticed how IPAs and (especially) Double IPAs are getting darker and darker? This bugs the hell out me. I hate to be "that guy", but is it purely the need to put the word 'double' on something that stops many brewers from calling their uber-hopped caramelized product a stock ale, or barley wine? You see, I like a light colored hop bomb, they generally showcase the hops more appropriately for the consumer than those with a bit more 'balance', even though that also sticks in my craw.

Over the weekend I was fortunate to judge the Bistro's Double IPA Festival and throughout the judging beers would pass my way that were deep golden to brown in color. The aromas in the darker beers had hints of toffee, a mess of alcohol and hops. That's just not what I want in my DIPA. Instead, give me a PALE beer, bready up front and ultimately nothing short of a hops showcase.

Are the darker versions good beers? You bet your ass they are! I seriously love some of these messy monsters, many of them beers I'd seek out on a regular basis if I could. I just can't help but think about the P part of the IPA abbreviation (pale, just in case). Sure, it can be deep golden in color, that's appropriate, but getting toward the brown and mahogany hues generally carries with it more malt character than I want in my DIPA.

Why does this matter? It doesn't. Not one bit. Just thought I'd share my thoughts on the subject.

While I'm at it. Have I mentioned my loathsome attitude toward the idea of having an Imperial IPA as a name for a style? You can throw Double IPA in there too. I still have no idea why our wonderful US brewers aren't pushing to have a style of their own, something that respects their ingenuity and our tastes/ingredients. IPA, of course, carries with it a heritage from the Old World, a heritage that is rich and beautiful. I don't have any troubles with having an American IPA, after all it began as a beer made with the same basic ingredients and ratios of the English versions, only using American hops and ingredients. It's my opinion that the Double/Imperial versions have absolutely nothing to do with this heritage. Of course, choosing a name for the style would be a battle, but I've liked Cascade Strong Pale (more to do with the region than the hop), American Strong Hopped Pale Ale, something that is as American as the beers themselves.

Now, it should be noted I have less issue with the term "double" than I do "imperial". I just can't wrap my head around what this really means to anyone! What Imperial court are we making this beer for? When did the US jump on the 'imperial' bandwagon and... why? I can only assume that people didn't really understand the history behind the naming of "Russian Imperial Stout", assuming it was imperial because it was big? Baffling. Simply baffling. Then of course, the idea that a brewer's double IPA isn't actually twice the ABV, IBU or price as their 'regular' IPA leaves me wondering about 'double'. In fact, it should be required that if a brewer has a double IPA and an IPA, the 'double' should seriously just be twice the grain bill and hopping - exactly twice the amount. Of course, I'd expect to pay double the amount for that too, right?

Yeah, it's a slow day and these are the things that pop into my cramped brain. Thanks for playing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hops and Hearts

Valentines Day is upon us again. Yes, it's a Hallmark holiday and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean you won't be looking for something to do. For us, seemed like a good time for us to drink beer and have good food, so we'll be at Auburn Alehouse for their Valentines Dinner. There's still seats available here, and I know many other brewers are doing similar events.

Here's what's going down at AAH:

Chef Luis’ Four Course Menu

Choice of
Seared Ahi Tuna Martini
Grilled Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto

Choice of
Walnut Gorgonzola Salad
Shrimp Bisque Soup

Choice of
Filet Wellington with Fresh Water Prawns Stuffed w/ Crab
Vegetable Napoleon

Assorted Chocolate Truffles

Glass of Champagne

Filet Entrée $55 per person
Vegetable Napoleon Entrée $45 per person

If you're stuck on what to do, you may contact your local brewer to see if they can help you out.

Deviation: To Bottleworks, From Russian River

That this beer was made by Russian River for Bottleworks is not really news to most. However, a sneak peak at the label is certainly fun (found on TTB). Combining a few Russian River barrel-aged beers, PH1, Orphan Ale, Sonambic and conditioned in the bottle with Brett (these have been bottled for some time), you can rest assured this beers going to be sour - in that 'oh, so good' way.

Look for this to be available in April. And no, don't expect it to last very long on the shelf.

Music Inspired Beer Blogging | Guy Clark

They sat in the back and drank for free and rhymed orange and Rosalie... now there's a pride of lions to draw to.
- Guy Clark, Cold Dog Soup
Music is a big part of my life. I can't play any instruments, but I listen to good music all day long, nearly every day. My tastes in music are as varied as my taste in beer, and often a song's lyrics will lead me to a mental image of good times where beer was served. For a while now I've wanted to do a blog entry that was inspired by the above lyric, so here we go.

First Up, Guy Clark

The imagery of the perfect bar is one I dream of quite often. While I love the boisterous bars with their loud music and pretty people, I'm drawn to the back rooms where often drunken conversations lean toward things of little importance. I was part of an evening like this at last year's Barleywine Festival at Toronado, walking up the hill to Magnolia where things were calmer, chatting with the day's judges about the misuse of the term "Imperial" in American brewing, before my regular loathing of our brewer's still using the term IPA when we've clearly moved away from the English concoction that originally served to inspired beers like Liberty and Bridgeport's IPA. Sure, we weren't rhyming Orange or Rosalie, but the meaningless conversation seemed to mean something then. I guess it still does. These talks have played out in many bars, garages, back yards and homes. Often they get intense, as the bantering exposes assumptions and conclusions not shared by everyone at the table.

Of course, the Cold Dog Soup's reference includes the likes of Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac who sat in the back and drank for free. This conjures up, for me anyway, time spent with people admired today in the beer community - drinks with Don Younger, Fred Eckhardt and countless brewers around the country. It's something special, a special place and often something you can't really plan for, the chance meetings and spontaneous conversations over cold beer. It isn't just an image of the famous people, either, as I have just as much fondness of the back room gatherings with judges and friends.
Ain't no money in poetry
That's what sets the poet free
I've had all the freedom I can stand
The song also makes me wonder who the modern "Beat Generation" for beer is, those friends in the trenches whose work it is to write not just about beer and the industry, but to challenge us, inspire us and make the beer world a better one. A few names come to mind in writing, but nothing so solid as the "brett pack" of brewers whose competitive friendships have pushed them to brew better beer in the spirit of friendly competition. I'm still new to the beer writing world, I know that, so I clearly don't know all the players personally. However, it's assuring to me when I read of writers traveling together, meeting in far away cities and genuinely looking forward to the next such meeting. It's also good to see bloggers communicating with others in their posts, even if their names are never mentioned. There's a few folks I see several times a year, at various beer fests, and maybe someday this year we'll all gather together and pose meaningless questions that lead to meaningful conversations. Last year such a time was had at the home of the Beer Goddess, Lisa Morrison during the OBF. On the back porch, enjoying beer and talking about whatever came to mind. Just this past weekend I was honored to sit in the Celebrator office with Jay Brooks, Tom Daldorf and Phil Lowry - escaping the mad-house that was The Bistro for a quick breather and taking a few minutes to just BS (and use the clean restroom). Perhaps I should ask you who the modern "beer beat generation" is, do you know?
Townes Van Zandt standin' at the bar
Skinnin' a Hollywood movie star
Can't remember where he parked his car
Or to whom he lost the keys
Full of angst and hillbilly haiku
What's a poor Ft. Worth boy to do
Go on rhyme somethin' for em' man
Show him how you really feel
We all have different heroes and dreams, but I figure most of you have an idea in mind for a time gathered with friends or respected people over a good beer. I also figure you're looking forward to the next such happening. I know I am. Maybe next time we'll get around to rhyming orange and Rosalie.

Monday, February 11, 2008

One Chuck-E-Cheese is Still Kid Friendly

I ran across this story this morning, figured it would need at least a little face time here. No doubt it is already online elsewhere.

The story is about Chuck-E-Cheese withdrawing their application to serve alcohol in their Killeen Mall location, in Texas. If that were the only part of the story, I don't know if I'd worry all that much; however, there are several quotes in here that just stick out, rubbing me the wrong way.

Let's begin with the MADD folk, who seemed to celebrate the fact that there would be no alcohol here. We've walked this road before, with MADD, but I'm still amazed at how much they've lost their way. Were they there advocating for responsible consumption, or pushing for steps that assure there'd be fewer drunks on the road? No. It appears in this case they were simply interested in keeping a alcohol away from adults.

Then, of course, we've got the 'for the kids' mentality.
"I was surprised – upset and surprised," Smith said about when she heard the restaurant planned to sell beer. She said alcohol makes it no longer a kid-friendly environment. "It's for kids, it's not for adults who want to drink," Smith said. Her reaction was different when she heard Chuck E. Cheese withdrew its application for a permit to sell alcohol. "Oh my goodness, I am so happy," Smith said. "I'm ecstatic." Smith said she planned to stop taking her 6-year-old twins to Chuck E. Cheese's – something they do about once a month – if it sold beer. "I'll take them back," Smith said. "They'll be happy, too."
Evidently I'm not kid friendly. Nor are my folks, siblings and millions of others that wittingly expose kids to the devil's drink. It's clear, in this case, that the people protesting have no idea who to worry about, or what to focus their worry on. How many drunkards do you suppose are willing to shell out a premium for swill, when they could just as easy go to a bar for drinks a lot cheaper? On top of that, how many drunkards do you suppose WANT to be around kids, loud noises and six-foot furry mice? Not many! None that I can personally think of either.

So what if parents choose to buy a round of beer for a pizza party where the kids most likely won't be at the table, except to inhale their pizza? I've been to Chuck-E-Cheese before, and I'm pretty sure the last thing kids are concerned about is what their parents are drinking. Absurd. Seriously. If people are really this concerned about kids being around alcohol, you'd think they'd want to make laws that keep kids at home (or someone else's home) away from the adult exposure to alcohol. I don't know, it doesn't make sense to me.

I'll work on being more kid friendly. Tomorrow.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bistro Pics

Here's the pictures we took at the Double IPA Fest at Bistro, in case you're interested.

Lew Brison Piece Picked Up by MSNBC

Found this online today, it's already linked to on a lot of forums, but wanted to point out it was penned by our good blogging friend, Lew Bryson. This is a piece written for Portfolio, where Lew is a regular contributor.

Bistro's Double IPA Fest: Wow!

I was able to participate in this year's judging for the Bistro's 8th annual Double IPA Festival, thanks to a well connected friend. I've judged a lot of competitions, but nothing quite like this. To begin, the judging was done downstairs by only eight qualified judges. The Bistro is not in what anyone would consider a new building, so the downstairs area was more reminiscent of a cellar more than a finished basement. In fact, the old stairs were worn down and rounded, as you can see in the picture below.
The judging quarters had something to it that is hard to come by these days, comfortable in that there were few comforts. There were the judges, surrounded by beer gear from days past, papers, pens and plenty of samples of beer.
The job we had was pretty simple, identify the top three beers in order. But choosing which would ultimately be crowned champion (this was Double Dog, by Flying Dog, by the way) involved some lively conversation and a look at individual interpretations of the style - how much and what kind of malt profile should a beer have, and just how out of balance can it be while still keeping its overall drinkability? The conversations that happen around tables like these are my favorite aspect of judging, and not typically those found where the celebration is. It shouldn't be, either, if you want my take on it - after all, remembering what Don Younger says is a good starting point: "It's not about the beer, it's about the beer".
Speaking of life upstairs, we must remember that the Bistro's events simply kick ass. The crowd here isn't a raucous one, the revelers instead seeming content to engage in conversations with friends and strangers, all while sampling and enjoying the goodness in the glass. This was a great time spent with my wife and friends, it was also a good opportunity to see people I genuinely enjoy being around - brewers, writers and the super-enthusiasts who seem to be at every beer event.

If you're in Northern California, remember this event was the kick-off party to Beerapalooza, and event that will be capped Feb 16 and 17 with the Toronado Barley Wine Festival and Celebrator's 20th Anniversary Party. In days that separate these monumental occasions, check out Big Beer Month at 21st Amendment or Magnolia Brewing - in San Francisco. Speaking with Shawn from 21A it sounds as if there's more than a couple treats for those in the area. In fact, I just heard from Craig, an industry guy in the city, who said that their Watermelon Wheat Wine was worth finding if you can. Of course, his Hop Crisis was a pretty big hit at the Bistro yesterday, in case you're in need of something a bit more hopped.
Speaking of hits at the event. I did want to list a few 'surprises' for me, beers I found to be exceptional.
  • 21 Amendment Hop Crisis: Already mentioned, but what a great beer.
  • Schooner's: I don't remember the name of this beer, but it was absolutely exceptional. I've enjoyed Schooner's in the past, but this still managed to impress me.
  • Valley Brewing Uberhoppy: Very enjoyable, like many it was a beer you wish you'd had a pint of.
Yeah, there was more to write about and a lot more I remember, but perhaps another day. I just returned from an Indian baby shower, with more food than necessary. I'd like to post on the fabulous time at this event too - the bright colors, wonderful people and new-to-me cultural events that take place at a baby shower. Another day perhaps.

Friday, February 8, 2008

That Time of Year Again

Tomorrow is the famed Double IPA Festival at The Bistro! If you're there, enjoy. This year's festivities should be a bit more comfy, as they'll have the street open for overflow. This event is, of course, the kick-off for Beerapalooza, two+ weeks of indulgence for beer enthusiasts.

Next weekend continues with the Toronado's famous Barleywine Festival and the Celebrator's anniversary party! Assuming my liver continues functioning, I'll be at each of these events. Hope to see you along the way.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

One of Those Days (The Good Kind)

Sacramento, Ca
In the midst of running around like a crazy man concerned only with deadlines and assignments, I was able to enjoy myself for a few hours today - and that was a very good thing. To begin, the beer gods have been good to us here in my neck of the woods and today was especially nice. I had to pick up a few beers so I stopped in at BevMo. Actually, my stop here was primarily for shipping containers, but while there I figured it'd be good to peruse the aisles and see what's new.

First Find: Deschutes Abyss
This is their famed oak aged Imperial Stout, part of their reserve series. I found last year's to be quite enjoyable, even if it was quite hot and needed some time to chill out. I haven't tried this years, figure that'll happen soon enough.

Second Find: Firestone Walker Eleven
WOW! I had seriously given up on this beer ever finding its way to Sacramento, so imagine my surprise when I saw this on the shelf. I have tried this one... was happy to pick up a couple bottles for the collection. I figure this won't last long, sorry.

Third Find: Lunch at Lattitudes in Auburn, Ca
This is a really nice restaurant, a place I'd only been to once before. My wife had the odd free afternoon and so we had a very rare lunch date. Incredible lunch! I had their Bistro Steak, Tracy had their Fish-n-Chips and we both were stunned at the quality. My steak was topped with blue cheese and mushrooms, and her fish was battered in a delicate batter with wonderful spices - including clove! Their lemon drop was made from Meyer lemons grown down the street, literally, and their beer list was impressive. I settled on the Uinta Barleywine, having experienced its goodness a few times prior. It's still odd to me that they carried this beer, as I have not seen it in my region before - except from friends who've been to Salt Lake and carried it back by hand. Seriously incredible beer.

Fourth Find: Beer Tasting @ Nugget (Roseville)
Every other Thursday night Nugget Market in Roseville puts on a beer tasting. Three dollars gets you in and the pourings are generous to say the least - tonight's tasting included NINE beers from the Bay Area and other parts of Northern California: Anchor, Bison, Blue Frog, Firestone Walker and others. Great lineup, unbeatable price. Average attendance is more than 40 people, and if there's a beer folks like in the lineup - it doesn't last long on the shelf.

Fifth Find: Sam Adams Pint Night @ Owl Club
I'd been asked to stop in by Biancha, the owner and server, for the event. The Owl Club used to be known as 'the' beer bar in our region, but in the past five years it's tanked. Biancha's not been there too long, but she's doing the work to get this place back to what it was - and hopefully better. The event seemed well attended, the bar was full and minglers were doing their mingling. The draw for this night was their package deal: 10 bucks gets you a t-shirt (Sam Adams "Take Pride in Your Beer" - nice), the cool/newish Sam Adams Pint Glass and, of course, your first pint of beer. I went for the glass, I have to be honest. When the country was receiving theirs (those who were members of the Homebrewers Assn) we in California seemed to be overlooked. I like the glass. I shared a pint of the Winter Lager with Tracy, we were both impressed with the glass's ability to capture the aroma. Quite nice.

Sixth Find: Cantillon
After our pint we had one last stop to make on the way home, Total Wine. I was going to buy Bigfoot, which is being sold here for $7.49 a six-pack (1.50 cheaper than BevMo - Thanks Hop Hunter!), but also discovered a first in my area - bottles of Cantillon! I picked up a couple bottles of Gueze, Iris and Rose in a mood that could be best described as "giddy".

So, not a bad day, eh?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beer News Around the Country

I've been sorta laying low this week, working with deadlines for reviews and what-not, but I still try to keep tabs on beer stories. Today was an odd day, to me at least, as there are three papers around the country (small papers) running stories on craft beer. Of course, this is addition to the WSJ piece mentioned below.

First Story | Charlotte Observer | Brewers Try Aging Beer in Whiskey Barrels

It seems one of the industry's spokesmen, Garrett Oliver, made an impression on the writer with his "Black Ops" beer. In addition to Oliver's creation, Townsend writes about some more local folks taking up the trendy notion of aging beer in barrels. Overall, a good introductory piece, appropriate for a newspaper. Good stuff.

Second Story | Daily Nebraskan | Microbrews Help Shed Low Class Image

This story has a bit more meat to it, as Alex Haueter and Michael Mason-D'Croz write about the challenges - or is it the challenging nature - craft brewers have today. Again, this is local piece and many of the brewers mentioned are brewers I'm not personally familiar with - I love it! Overall, I found this to be a great piece for a local paper.

Third Story | Contra Costa Times | Craft Beer Prices Jump on Hops, Barley Price Increases

OK, this one was printed today and is not currently available online. However, from the synopsis provided, it appears to be discussing the jump in beer prices many of us are already familiar with. I have to admit, I loved their opening line:
If you're a drinker of craft beer - that's the good stuff, the beer with the full flavor and unusual twists and turns, it's going to cost a bit more if not today, soon.
What's great about this? I love that each story has its own sort of 'homey' feel to them (OK, first two). I personally get tired of seeing reprints in papers, beer stories that seem to be printed from coast to coast. This is actually great stuff, big steps in "support your local brewers" and I hope people who are in the area send in a quick email or post comments to the stories letting the editors know you appreciated the coverage. What's funny about that, you may think nobody cares if you like a story so why bother sending in a comment or email. Well, your comments and emails most certainly are read, and for editors looking to make decisions on upcoming stories - they'll remember.

A-B Losing Grip on US Distribution?

In an article found in today's Wall Street Journal, found via Miller's Brew Blog, it would seem that Anheuser-Busch is losing its hold on American distribution. Now, don't misread that to mean they're anything less than massive in American beer distribution, but this is a pretty interesting development. Sure, folks who have their ear to the ground have known A-B is seeing more competition in distribution and, naturally, shelf space - experiencing a much decreased growth rate over the past few years.

What's happening? It seems that folks no longer want to have exclusive arrangements with A-B, instead opting to provide other imports and crafts to their customers. Seems like a natural occurrence given the growth rates in these segments. According to the piece:
“The shift might help competing alcohol brands gain market share, as distributors divert some of their attention from Anheuser, which accounts for about 48% of U.S. beer sales. For consumers, it means greater choice at their local bars and liquor stores. Wall Street analysts say the movement signals a weakening of the St. Louis brewer's clout in the marketplace, as small-batch "craft" beers and imports, as well as wine and spirits, wrest market share from mass-market brews like Budweiser.”
I suspect A-B won't just let this continue without a fight, so I wouldn't be surprised if they went on a shopping spree in 2008 (I believe this has been predicted by the likes of Jay Brooks?) to acquire more distribution clout. Regardless, this should be an interesting story to follow. Oh, I also don't believe A-B is the worst thing for craft brewers - they're really just a business, run like a good business should run (especially if you're a share holder). If another company steps up and begins to control the market in any capacity, I'd expect they'd either be just the same, maybe even a bit worse for those who like variety. So, don't cheer or celebrate with news like this, keep an eye on who the other guys are and what their goals are. At least A-B has been in the beer business forever and can't shake that image from their business.

Happy Birthday Brian Ford

If you've read this for long enough, or listened to our show, you'll know that one of our heroes in beer (is that a beeroe?) is Auburn Alehouse's owner/brewer Brian Ford. Well, today is his birthday and I can't think of a better thing to do than head up for a pint of his Red 45!

If you haven't had the chance to hit up Auburn Aleshouse yet, you're missing out. If you live outside the region, know that this place simply kicks ass - top notch beer, great food and a staff that is about as friendly and helpful as you could hope for.

Happy Birthday Mr. Brian Ford, Brewdude.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Have a Beer with Hillary

Earlier this week NPR ran a story on the likeability, or lack thereof, of a certain female presidential candidate. In the soundbites we heard her bemoaning the fact that so many people voted for our current president because he was someone we felt we could sit and share a beer with. Now, the story was definitely not about beer, but toward the end they asked her about this, the perception she's not the person American's seem to want to sit and enjoy a beer with. Her response was appropriate, reminding us that we're not voting for Student Body President here; however, she also admitted she'd had more than a few beers with folks on the campaign trail - beers of the "local" and "microbrew" variety.

Now, don't get me wrong, I know she's as well scripted as any right about now, but the sentiment was comforting, the picture painted good. She could have left it at having 'beer' on the trail, but she actually clarified the local and microbrewed beer consumption. Does this mean anything? No, of course not. I just thought I'd share because I'm a sucker for anything craft beer related. Right?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

In the News: Lucky Lab Brewing

I found this in my Google Alerts today, a story on TV station KATU in Portland about Lucky Lab's green side. The story relays that Lucky Lab has installed solar panels used to help heat their water - even in Portland. It's not a long story and doesn't say a whole bunch, but it's always good to see the brewers on TV.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Session: Barleywine Makes Life More Interesting

This month's Session is presented by The Brew Site, discussing Barleywine.

I got nothing. Really. What more can be said? Bigfoot aged four years is one of the world's greatest delights. Thomas Hardy aged for 10 years... you won't forget. Avery Hog Heaven, fresh, will alter your mood and make the world a better place. Midnight Sun makes a barley wine that you'll be sure to look out for, wondering if perhaps a trip to Alaska is warranted. English versions (the malt-centric type) go so well with blue cheese and pear tarts. The American versions (sure, they're malty, but holy hop-monster!) seem to beg for anything grilled. Barley wines are nothing short of an experience.

You want to have a day you'll not soon forget? Set up a barley wine tasting with friends, like we've done the last few years and are getting set to do again this month. Last year we gathered as friends (the SOBER group) and tried more than 20 barley wines blind (Anchor's Old Foghorn won out in the end). If you'd like, take a listen to the 2007 Barley Wine event.

Still want more? Be at the Toronado on Feb 16th for their Barley Wine Festival - there simply aren't enough words to describe the mess of humanity and all the goodness found on tap.

Many brewers (too many if you ask me) have taken to aging barley wine in barrels that once held spirits - most commonly bourbon, although I suspect many will try to emulate what Tomme Arthur's done with his brandy barrels. I'm not the biggest fan of barrels these days, it seems too many folks are intent to let the flavors of the barrel overwhelm the beer... but the guys that do it well, do it really well!

I used to be pissy about double IPAs bleeding into the barley wine categories. In fact, some days I still feel that way. Why? I don't know, it just happens.

You know what I'm hoping for? The world's first Imperial Barley wine. Mr. Avery, you reading this?

Why don't we call the massively malted and alcoholic Belgian strong ales Belgian Barleywine... and on that thread, can we all make up our mind what a real "Quad" is going to be? Please? At least the color, let's start there.

Cooking with Barley wine... James Spencer did a video on making a barley wine fruit cake, and damn that looked good. the video | the recipe

Speaking of food... the Homebrew Chef has a recipe for barley wine prime rib that will make you drool just to read. Wow! Then of course, you can check out his recipe so you can make your own damned barleywine (this too is an impressive recipe).

So, in closing, may I say it is clear that Barley Wine makes life a bit more interesting.

"If you don't like Bigfoot, you've just got small feet." - Mike Sober