Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Barley and hops lose to ethanol?

Rock Bottom's Geoff Lively (2nd from left)
in front of his brewpub, with local beer fans
News of poor European barley and hop harvests (and a smaller hop harvest in the US) is now reaching down to local levels. Here, for an example, is a story from the DC Examiner. The writer, Whitney Blake, talked with local D.C. area brewers:

Local breweries brace for price increases

“It’s more about climate than anything else,” said brewer Geoff Lively of Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Bethesda, whose base malt prices jumped almost 70 percent.

The American barley crop was decent, he said, but the European crop didn’t fare well.

Some farmers are also switching to more profitable government-subsidized corn or soybean crops, said Lively, an observation confirmed by all of the brewers who spoke to The Examiner.

“The principal culprit is the conversion to ethanol,” said Gary F. Heurich, founder of the Olde Heurich Brewing Company, which has moved from D.C. to the Adirondacks.

Something not mentioned was the dollar/euro exchange rate. A few years ago, the rate was advantageous, making it cost effective to import European barley. It's turn-around time now: our barley (and hop) crop is quite attractive, price-wise, to European brewers even with shipping surcharges factored in.

I've seen comments from other brewers and observers on this supposed conversion of barley to corn for ethanol. But I have yet to see figures or statistics to back this claim. Corn is a low-profit item for farmers; vast amounts must be grown for a return; barley, especially brewing barley, and especially now, produces more bang per buck per acre.

Bill Covaleski, president of Victory Brewing Company, has interesting comments in a recent post - with figures to back them up.

Bittersweet Harvest
Hops have been plentiful and cheap for too long now, aiding the beermaker and harming the hop farmer. This inequity has driven farmers in many countries to give up on hops and turn their valuable acres into more fruitful crops. And though total acreage in hops was up an estimated 4,900 acres over 2006 lead by China, America and Germany, the total acreage is 50% percent lower than it was 10 years ago, around the globe. The situation is now ‘better’ from the hop farmer’s perspective with dramatically increased prices.

Some assume that it is craft brewers who buy most hops since hoppiness and bitterness are not hallmarks of mainstream beers. But, that's a (very!) incorrect assumption:
Another factor in the hops market collapse lies in the fact that the alpha acid levels that hops have been producing have been on a general downward trend for 10 years. Realize that even the blandest of beers, brewed in the immense volumes that they are by popular, industrial brewers, eat up a massive amount of alpha acids from hops.

Bill also mentions the corn for ethanol versus barley for beer conflict. Maybe this is a correct supposition. But I still would like to see accompanying acreage reports to support these claims.
Malted barley prices are up between 30 and 40% due to a 2007 crop that is insufficient now that ethanol producers are vying with brewers for a limited supply. Yielding viable crops within a single season of planting, barley is likely to stabilize its supply a lot quicker than hops will.

Notice the last statement. Barley can be planted and produce crop in a year. Hop vines need 2 to 3 years to be viable: From Hugh Sisson's Diary of a Brewer:
I am told it takes at least 3 years before newly planted hop vines can begin producing usable hops. And the amount of acreage devoted to hop production in the US has declined by almost 50% over the last 20 years as farmers look for other ways to increase their income.

Earlier posts on the topic here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

a Trojan horse threatens craft beer

A good friend, fairly cognizant of craft beer news, recently expressed his surprise that a local brewpub was indeed an operating brewpub, producing its beer on-site.

That under-the radar surprise is the curse and beauty of small, local breweries.

I do a lot of tastings, dinners, festivals, and in-store demonstrations. At these I'm often asked, why haven't we seen your beer before?

I explain that I (and a few others) are the brewery's advertising budget! Our brewery (and many others like us) can't afford to pay for flashy 2-story high adverts in the ballparks, or discount our beers for massive displays in stores with accompanying discounts, or run constant radio/print/television ads.

The craft beer industry does indeed produce a lot of beer. But on both a total basis and an individual brewery basis, that output is small compared to that of the mainstream breweries. Even Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium rank small in comparison.

When I began in the business, the local aspect was an attraction as powerful as the beer itself.

But in the late 1990s there was a wholesale failure of many brewpubs. Ill-prepared operators failed to recognize that brewpubs were restaurants first, breweries second. That failure left a bad taste, literally, for erstwhile customers.

Now, with the second great growth curve of craft breweries and small brewery imports, many of our newer customers have little loyalty to the local aspect, or at least, while acknowledging it, place it low in importance.

If the beer tastes good, why should we care if it were brewed by a craft brewery or a large corporation, they ask.

The co-opting of craft beer by the large breweries is capitalism at its rawest. If you can't beat em: buy em, faux-imitate them, undersell them. And then close them!

It has happened before. Of the thousands of breweries open before Prohibition, and the re-opening thereafter, there are now only two or three remaining in the US.

I'm concerned that in ignoring flavor, craftmanship, and locals supporting locals,that in buying for price only, that in forgetting that freshness is the flavor trump of local beer, we good beer drinkers are in peril of repeating history's cycle.

Most craft breweries are local - think of us as the craft 'small-carbon-footprint' breweries. And the industry as a whole is reaching new heights: 11% growth this year.

But the industry and its enjoyers need to be aware of the Trojan horse lying just in front of their brewhouses. The big brewers are creating beers with the appearance of being craft beers, with little of the character, but at lower prices. Many bar owners are stocking these faux-crafts.

To Trump Small Brewers, Beer Makers Get Crafty
By David Kesmodel
October 26, 2007; Page B1
Wall Street Journal

For years, makers of small-batch "craft" beers have been chipping away at the market share of America's three beer giants. Now, the big brewers are craftily playing the same game, and winning back much of the momentum.
<...>

Through the first eight months of this year, retail sales of craft beers made by those companies or their affiliates grew at nearly three times the rate of independent craft brews, according to market-research firm Nielsen Co.
<...>

The major brewers generally avoid using the parent company's name on the labels for their craft beers. Sales of craft beers affiliated with the big three brewers in grocery, drug, convenience and major-market liquor stores surged 45% to $177 million through Aug. 25 against year-earlier levels, excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nielsen found. (Wal-Mart doesn't supply sales data to Nielsen or any other data-tracking firm.) Sales of independent craft brands rose 16% to $531 million.
<..>

The growth rates of the big brewers are helped by the fact that they are starting from a smaller sales base. Still, the jump shows how much influence they have over beer consumption. In the U.S., beer generally must be sold through distributors, and the big brewers have far larger distribution networks than independent brewers do. If a mass-market brewer wants to add a new brew to its lineup, it can more easily attract an audience for it.
<...>
Some independent craft brewers say their growth rates are slowing because of the distribution power of the large brewers.

[But here's a more sanguine opinion.]
Some craft brewers say the giants' move into the category is a good thing because they're bringing new legions of craft drinkers into the fold. Even if the independent brewers' market share falls, they may enjoy higher sales and profits as the category grows. "Go Blue Moon," says Greg Owsley, chief brand officer at Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co., the maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale, a leading craft beer.

72 Hours of Belgium

Max's 72 Hours of Belgium
More than 100 Belgian beers on draft - and more than 100 different Belgian bottles - that's been the liquid theme of the 72 Hours of Belgium Beer Fest at Max's Taphouse in Baltimore, Maryland for the last three years.

For 2008, Cellarmaster Casey Hard has selected the dates of 15-17 February.

MAX'S 4TH ANNUAL BELGIAN BEER FESTIVAL
72 HOURS OF BELGIUM
FEB 15-17, 2007
TIME11AM TO CLOSE EACH DAY
COST:CASH BAR-SAMPLE SIZES AVAILABLE
WE WILL HAVE A FULL BELGIAN STYLE FOOD MENU, AND OVER 120 AUTHENTIC BELGIANS IN BOTTLES.
HERE IS A 30% LIST OF THE BELGIAN DRAFTS FOR THE FEST.
I WILL BE ADDING TO THIS LIST , WHEN I DO I WILL UP DATE IT FOR YOU.
THE DRAFT LIST:
Alvinne Gaspar
Alvinne Podge Imperial Stout
Bink Blonde
Bink Blosem
Bink Bruin
Boon Oude Lambic Marriage Parfait 17B
Boon Oude Lambic Marriage Parfait 52
Cantillon Vigneronne
Cantillon Gueuze
De Dolle Dulle Teve
De Glazen Toren Jan De Lichte
De Glazen Toren Onedinke
De Glazen Toren Saison De Epre
De Regenboog Guido
De Regenboog T' Smisje Dubbel
De Regenboog Vuuve
Delirium Tremens
Fantome Brise BonBons
Fantome Chocolat
Fantome Printemps
Fantome Saison
Kasteel Rouge
La Rulles Meilleurs Voeux
Leffe Bruin
Lucifer
Oud Beersel Lambic
Oud Beersel Framboise
Slaapmustke Triple Night Cap
Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence
Ommegang 3 Philosophers
Ommegang Hennepin
Ommegang Ommegeddon

---> my recap of prior Beer Fests
---> UPDATE 2008.02.13: final (?) draft list
---> UPDATE 2008.02.18: review of festival

Monday, October 29, 2007

real cider, real close

Alexander D. Mitchell, a columnist for the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News provided with more information on the fine hard cider I sampled at the Real Ale Festival in Baltimore on Saturday:
Reid's Hard Cider.

The cider is a project-in-development by a major orchard near Orrtanna, Pa. that now has a winery license. Reid's Orchard is at the Saturday farmer's market at Waverly and the Sunday market under the JFX. Dave Reid looks like your older farmer. He has the pick of apples (grows about 100 heirloom varietals) and has cooperage. He's also doing fruit wines--blueberry, strawberry, etc.--and might even try mead.

Reid's Hard Cider
wasn't at the flavor level of the wonderful phenolic biting-into-an-apple-skin cidres of Normandy or the lush, wildly complex hard ciders of Dorset in the UK, but it was tasty, and it was a surprise to find. Poured from an un-hip plastic bucket, this was definitely not the run-of-the-mill alcoholic soda pop that passes for cider in the US (and some major UK imports as well).

Cask Ale Festival in northern Virginia?

Posted Sunday 28 October on the cask listserve Cask-USA@yahoogroups.com:

Cask Beer Festival Being Planned for Virginia
Posted by: Gregg Wiggins
Mid-Atlantic Brewing News

It is still in the early planning stages (and still may not happen at all) but I interviewed the brewer at the Vintage 50 brewpub in Leesburg, Va. a couple of days ago and he told me he wants to organize a cask-conditioned beer festival for late January or February 2008.

The brewer at Vintage 50 is Bill Madden. More on him ---> here. I can attest to Bill's fine cask ales.

[UPDATE 2008.01.14: Bill has told me that there had not been enough time to get things organized for 2008, but that he is optimistic for February 2009.]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SPBW Real Ale Festival

l-r: Dominic Cantalupo (current president SPBW); Lisa Lawson;
Hugh Sisson, Clipper City Brewing.


The rain stopped at noon, and the sun broke out at 1pm ... just as the SPBW's Real Ale Fest began at the Wharf Rat Brewpub in Baltimore yesterday.

Quite a few real ale fanciers showed up during the next 5 hours. The festival became packed in short order. I was there along with fellow sales representative Jim Still and owner Hugh Sisson.

There were approximately 30 different casks from 25 breweries.

Rather than ticking my favorite pulls or taking pictures, I took the time to enjoy, meeting up with folks in the Baltimore beer world I hadn't seen in quite a while, and trying small tastes of various real ales.

Of the other offerings, I particularly enjoyed host brewer Steve Jones' Hot Monkey Love Barleywine, Jason Oliver's Schwarzbier from Gordon Biersch, and a rustic hard cider from an orchard in Pennsylvania. The last two weren't actually real ales, but who's keeping score?

SPBW stands for Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood. No beers were poured from wooden firkins; the name refers more to an ethos of tradition and freshness than to a literal material.

More photos from the fest.

[UPDATE: 2007.10.30- Baltimore columnist Rob Kasper weighs in on the festival and cask ale in general.]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I was a brewer then

The circle of beer business caught me by surprise yesterday - pleasantly.

Walking through Clipper City Brewing Company (where I work as a Territory Manager), I noticed two Raven Lager kegs. But looking closer, I noticed soldered-on keg nameplates with the words "Wallaby's Brewpub, Westlake, Ohio." (Raven is brewed under contract by Clipper City Brewing.)

I smiled. I had once brewed at Wallaby's .. and filled those kegs!

In November of 1995, after leaving Maryland's Oxford Brewing Company, I worked for awhile at Wallaby's, a brewpub located just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, operated by my friend Joseph Marunowki.

Later, I returned to Cleveland to work again with Marunowski, but this time as the brewmaster for Local Brewing Company, the sister production facility to Wallaby's (which eventually opened 3 pub locations).

That circle of brewing has other local connections:

  • The brewhouse from that now-closed Wallaby's Brewpub now sees service at Franklin's Brewpub in Hyattsville, Maryland.
  • The brewhouse from a second Wallaby's location now resides at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, Virginia where it is used by brewer Bill Madden.
And now I'm going to contradict myself.

If one truly has been a brewer at one time - in craft, business and spirit - then one always remains a brewer ... if, indeed, without portfolio. I brew on.

Brewers get their due #2

Photo courtesy of Gregg Wiggins of the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

The guys and gals who don't get the attention in the craft beer world are the ones who actually make the beer - filling the kegs, milling the malt, cleaning the kettle, running the bottling line - day after day.

Clipper City's owner Hugh Sisson sent two of his brewers to this year's GABF.

John Eugeni (r) and Chris Mallon (l) duly received their moments of recognition and acclaim, when they stepped up - twice - to the podium to accept awards from the Great American Beer Festival's Charlie Papazian for McHenry Lager (bronze medal) and Balto MarzHon (gold medal).

Brewers get their due #1
Clipper and local winners at GABF
More photos of a working day at Clipper City Brewing Company.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Turkey and beer

Our day of eating too much - but being thankful for what we have - is less than a month away.

So, here is a piece in 2003 I wrote on Beer and Turkey. And the Brewers Association has put up a web page at Craft Beer & Food that lists not only beer pairing suggestions for that bird (Oktoberfest), but beer suggestions for other holiday main courses, such as goose (biere de garde) or lamb (pale ale).

Caramelized and toasted grain flavors in many beers complement the flavors of roast turkey while herbal hop additions pair nicely with popular holiday seasonings such as sage. Furthermore, the carbonation, fruitiness and balanced bitterness of many craft beers allow them to stand up to creamy, butter-rich preparations like mashed potatoes, creamed corn and similar fare.

Julia Herz, a spokesperson for the Brewers Association stated, “Our country’s history is rich with stories of beer and food and craft beer picks up where wine leaves off. Many styles of beer both complement and contrast the food they are paired with, whereas wine mostly contrasts. The holiday dinner table is a very appropriate place for beer made from America’s small, independent and traditional brewers.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

cask ale at Brewer's Alley

Brewer's Alley in Frederick Maryland recently won gold medals at the Maryland Governors Cup for its Brewer’s Alley Pilsner and Brewer’s Alley Hefeweizen.

See if you can't get Executive Brewer Tom Flores to give you the tour of his cask cellar. The brewpub has one of the better set-ups for cask ale service in our area. The real ales have been top-notch when I've stopped in, even though I haven't had the good fortune to visit recently.

In the photo to the right, note the cask cooler, kept at near 50*F. Inside it, the firkin on the right has been soft spiled, and sits almost ready for service. The firkin on the left rests on a spring-loaded trestle that slowly tilts the cask as its contents are emptied.

Keep in mind that casks are often served open to air through the shive. The beer is very fresh when first tapped. But 24-48 hours later, it will have lost its carbonation and potentially have begun to spoil or stale. So observe in the photo how Tom has inserted a nipple for CO2 into the top shive; only enough inert gas to rest as a blanket on top of the beer is allowed to flow in, with nil pressure pickup. This allows for a maintained level of freshness over much more than a 24 hour period.

These pictures were taken in 2004. Here's one of me helping to prime some casks that day. Note the cool brewer's uniform I'm wearing!

Going way back, here's a review of a firkin of Brewer's Alley I.P.A., which brewer Jen Tonkin brought to Sisson's Brewpub as a guest cask in June 2001:

Brewers Alley I.P.A.

Tapped Monday, 25 June, 2001.

At the 2001 US Real Ale Festival, Brewer's Alley of Frederick, MD, received a silver medal in the English Bitter category, for its Owen's Ale, and, yet more impressively, the bronze medal for best of show.

An observation which should not be remarkable, but unfortunately is in today's craft beer world, would be that Brewers Alley's brewer is a brewster, that is, a female brewer.

Jen Tonkin (and executive brewer Tom Flores) graciously agreed to produce a cask for our Firkin Monday program. And what a beer Brewers Alley I.P.A. was! One loyal Sisson's customer was overheard whispering, "This may be the best I.P.A. I have ever tasted." - soto voce maybe out of deference to Sisson's own Gunga Din I.P.A., which was on draft that day.

I.P.A. is shorthand for India Pale Ale, a style of ale originally brewed in Britain in the 1800s. Breweries of the time found that to ensure the stability of beers shipped to the troops stationed in the British Raj of India, preservatives had to be employed. The wonderful preservatives of those days were elevated levels of alcohol and prodigious amounts of hops.

Ms. Tonkin brewed her cask with American malt and hopped it creatively to a delicious result, sprinkling it with a melange of Liberty (often a spicy lager hop), Willamette (a more pungent cousin to the classic British ale hop Fuggles) and Fuggles (soft, floral, slightly woody) itself. But after fermentation, Ms. Tonkin didn't stop there. She dry-hopped the cask, adding fresh hop blossoms directly into the finished beer. Dry-hopping imparts the pungent, fresh vegetal character of the hop used. In this case, she used Challenger hops, a descendant of the German intensely-flavored Northern Brewer (which gives US Anchor Steam its distinctive pine-tree aroma) but which is gentler than its ancestor.

Though intensely flavored from all of this hopping, Brewers Alley I.P.A. had sufficient malt presence to bring all flavor components into relative balance. Its lower than expected alcohol level (for an I.P.A.), of 5.5% only added to its quaffability factor.

Budvar correction

In mid-September, I joined the chorus of beer-bloggers breathlessly re-posting the news that Anheuser-Busch was to purchase Budvar.

Let me correct that record: at the very least, any sale has been postponed for about a year, putatively to allow the brewery to go from state control to publicly owned corporation. Czech officials have denied that negotiations with A-B have occurred.

However, there's nothing to infer that such might not occur.

Budvar Not for Sale

[UPDATE: 2008.01.12 — maybe not until 2011.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I, Real Ale: Asimov

Cask ale is the topic of Eric Asimov's recent blog, and of his column to be published tomorrow in the New York Times.

He titles the blog post "Beer, Naturally". That clever limn is one of the better descriptions of what real ale - or cask ale - is: beer with an uber-freshness that needs to be tasted to be understood.

I find that some craft beer fans can be deaf to real ale's charms. "Oh, yes, that's fresh" they'll say, but turn to their latest Belgian find. It's surprisingly often the wine drinkers who will say to me, "I never knew," after draining their second pull fresh from a cask.

Eric, nephew to Isaac, also offers due props to New York City real-ale-man Alex Hall.

[UPDATE: here's the NY Times article, entitled The Power in the Cask. Asimov mentions drinking Sierra Nevada cask-conditioned Bitter! Haven't seen that around here.]

more on hops cost, shortage

There has been a lot of bandwidth expended recently on screeds about hops and their increasing dearness. For instance, Greg Kitsock, the editor of the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and the twice-monthly beer columnist for the Washington Post, two weeks ago wrote this piece on the shortage of hops:

Hops skip into the shortage zone, jump in price

The upshot is this. The confluence of bad weatherDave Pyle of Hop Union in Europe, a hop fire in the US, lower yields worldwide, and decreasing acreage, has created a shortage of hops and a consequent increase in the price of hops.

Larger breweries tend to lock up hop contracts several years out. Smaller breweries and brewpubs don't, and are experiencing difficulty in getting hop varietals they want, and the quantities of hops they need.

Sometimes overlooked in this calculus is the exchange rate. The decreasing value of the US dollar has made US hops and barley malt financially appealing to overseas breweries. When they buy more, smaller breweries here in the US find less for themselves.

I am sanguine about the end to this problem in the next few years, but the uncertainty of current weather patterns might continue to cause low hop harvests. We'll see.

Hops haven't disappeared. They are, however, more expensive, and less plentiful. Brewers may need to put a bit more business acumen into the creation of their recipes.

More here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Winter beer: bah humbug

It happened again today.

"What makes Winter Storm a winter beer?", I was asked. After all, it's not spiced. As if spices were only consumed at Christmas. My, there go my cookbooks. Toss them out the window. Bland food for 11 months per year.

Winter Storm - Clipper City's Imperial ESB brewed as its winter warmer- could be brewed at any time of year, I was told.

True! And following that line of reasoning, why then are any beer styles appropriate for any season? What makes an amber lager appropriate for October? What makes a bock beer appropriate for March?

The concept of winter warmer - the idea of a stronger beer as special brew, as a reward to customer and employee - is apparently considered by some to be an antiquated concept, and via revisionist history, an incorrect style. Style formalism has run amok in the US craft beer world. Bah, humbug.

Decatur recap

A festival-goer at the Decatur Beer Fest complained to me that his 1/4 pint of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, pulled from a firkin was too cold. I told him: "Wait!"

Under the bright sun at the Great Decatur Beer Tasting in Decatur Georgia on Saturday, that little glass would be plenty warm in a few minutes. At this and many outdoor festivals, I part with tradition and ice down my cask. Cellar temperature of 54°F (12°C) is one thing, but pavement temperature of 84°F (29°C) would be quite another!

My volunteers were pouring from bottles of Small Craft Warning Uber Pils, Winter Storm Imperial ESB, and Peg Leg Imperial Stout. They caught onto my training points quickly, and acquitted themselves well with the handpump. Even though it wasn't the most exact description, they would tell the uninitiated to sample the cask ale because it was so fresh it was still fermenting!

Over 5,000 festival go-ers, prepaid, flowed well through the square of the town of Decatur, just outside of Atlanta.

I did overhear a few complaints later in the afternoon (and read similar complaints about the Maryland Brewers Oktoberfest held the same day) about slightly intoxicated revelers. Well, it is a beer festival after all! The time for ticking, reviewing, and intellectual chit-chatting with brewers is early in any festival. But 4 hours later? Come on now!

It was a beautiful, warm autumn day, and a fun festival. A hearty thank you to the Brick Store Pub and the other organizers of the festival. Clipper City will be back again next year!

More photos here.

Bizarre NFL on CBS

Was it just me, or was it a bizarre afternoon session on Sunday's CBS' The NFL Today?

I had just finished my drive back from Georgia, and flipped on the television. With little time left, the Houston Texans were about to attempt an on-sides kick against the Tennessee Titans. Then, NFL Today host James Brown cut way from the game.

And that is when things became strange.

Commentators Bill Cowher, Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason would stop talking and turn their heads to watch the minute of remaining game-time on their in-studio monitors.

We were not shown the game, but instead saw these strange silent moments of watching the commentators watching the game.

Then the panelists would turn back to face the camera and tell us what they had just seen happen on the field. Replays of a few of the plays were shown to us after they occurred.

CBS was not airing another game. So why couldn't the network have finished showing us the game? - maybe a minute and a half at most.

Tennessee won, by the way, kicking and recovering their own on-sides kick. Rob Bironas kicked the winning field goal as time expired, his 8th field goal of the game, an NFL record.

But we didn't see it. Weird.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Loose Cannon, again, at Maryland Governor's Cup

Mike McDonald of Red Brick accepts Governor's Cup
from last year's (and 2005) winner,
Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing Company.

Mike McDonald of Red Brick accepts Governor's Cup from last year's (and 2005) winner, Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing Company.Posted today on the blog of Baltimore Sun's columnist Rob Kasper were the results of the Maryland Governor's Cup, announced yesterday at the Maryland Brewer's (sic) Oktoberfest:
In addition to best of show, Red Brick’s Something Red also won the competition’s Amber/ Red Ale category. Other gold medal winners are Brewer’s Alley Pilsner, Brewer’s Alley Hefeweizen, DuClaw Mayhem Wheat, Brewer’s Alley Nut Brown Ale, Clipper City Loose Cannon IPA, DuClaw Blackjack Stout, Clipper City Oxford Raspberry Wheat, Oliver’s Iron Man Pale Ale, DuClaw Venom Pale Ale and DuClaw Devil’s Milk

Clipper City won nine medals overall. Here's the list. Congratulations to all! More pix from the fest ---> here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Have cask, will travel (to Decatur, GA)

I'm off this morning to the Atlanta area for the Decatur Beer Fest. If you're there on Saturday, please stop by and say hello. We'll be pouring our Heavy Seas line ... and Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale from a cask.

It'll be fresh.

Steve Marsh, Clipper City's cellarman, racked the beer into the firkin 9 days ago, priming it with a measure of high krausen Loose Cannon. That slurry contained enough yeast - and unfermented malt sugars to feed the yeast - to properly carbonate the firkin.






[UPDATE: photo from fest, Saturday 20 October.
Clipper City volunteer pulling 1/4 pint of cask
Loose Cannon
for Athens beer entrepreneur Sachin Patel.
Festival recap here.]


During the warmer weather, I do not use our usual freight truckers to send cask ale to our wholesalers. It's not because of the truckers themselves, who do a great job with our packaged beer. It's simply because of the fragile nature of cask ale. At best (?), the flavor would suffer. And at worst, the firkins might pop their bungs, spewing their lovely beer.

So, today, the firkin will be sitting safely behind me in my car's passenger seat.

A festival closer to my home base is the Maryland Brewers Association Oktoberfest in Timonium. The proceeds, after expenses, go to the breweries of Maryland themselves. No third party organizers get your money. Most (but not I!) of Clipper City's brewing staff will be there.

And there's the NoVa Brew Fest - new this year - in Bull Run Regional Park.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kasper and Brewer's Art

Rob Kasper - a fun to read columnist for the Baltimore Sun, a long-time advocate for good beer, a fierce partisan for local beer, and a good guy - has blogged into the 21st century. His journal is called Kasper on Tap and began on 10 October:

Greetings, fellow beer lovers. This is my mission: to drink good beer, to spread the word, and to spark interesting and entertaining discussion about the beer-drinking life.

I am one of those people who get paid to eat and drink. I have been doing it for a while. When I asked Paul McCardell, one of The Sun’s Cracker Jack librarians, to find my earliest writing about beer, he pulled a clip from 1984. Back then I had lots of hair and one small child. [I have a picture of Rob and me at Sisson's in 1994. I'll post it when I find it. More hair for both of us!] Now I have as little hair as Cal Ripken, and my kids, two guys in their 20s, are grown and mostly gone. But as offspring do, they return home occasionally to drink their dad’s beer.

<...>

Like most residents of this town, I am fiercely local. Yet I do recognize that there is good beer beyond Baltimore. When I venture out of town to attend food conferences, family gatherings, or a college-scouting trip (thank the Lord those days are over), I make it a point to sample the local suds.

Recently I discovered there is good beer in the Kansas City airport; a bar in the Southwest and Delta terminal sells Boulevard, a local favorite. The bar, however, closes at 6 p.m. I know because I got turned away, thirsty, at 6:02. I suppose my writing on this blog will be quick and dirty as opposed to complex and geeky. Just for the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a beer geek.

His most recent blog was about another good guy, well, actually several good guys: the folks who own and operate Baltimore's (and some say the East Coast's) jewel of a brewpub restaurant, Brewer's Art.

As of Halloween, its Green Peppercorn Tripel will be available in 750-milliliter bottles. Packaging will be at the Sly Fox Brewery in Pennsylvania. Plans are in the works for three more beers next year. Resurrection arises in bottle, maybe?

That thing about Rob not being a beer geek? I'll just say, "ah, aha." Good blogging Rob!

And, good fortune to my friends at The Brewer's Art.

[UPDATE: 2007.11.24.

Albuquerque crepuscule

It's an amazing sight: over a thousand hot-air balloons rising in the morning crepuscule above Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lasting nine days this time each year, its the largest balloon event in the world. German brewer Warsteiner is the main sponsor as well as the only beer sponsor.

Pictured is Chris Hallahan, mid-Atlantic rep for Warsteiner. For a couple of years, he had been the Baltimore-area rep for Clipper City Brewing

I witnessed this uplifting convocation nearly 20 years ago.

I've lost my tut punch

I've lost my tut punch.

First some background and vocabulary:

A shive is the plastic or wooden bung that fits in the bung hole on the top of a cask. A tut is the little scored piece in the center of the shive that gets punched in. By the way, the shive is not the keystone. A keystone is the wooden or plastic bung through which you tap the cask. It is cut into one of the two heads of a cask.

A cask needs to be vented before it is tapped. This process releases excess carbonation and allows the beer to be poured. Think of it as the finger on the drinking straw: finger on the straw and the juice stays in the straw; release, and the liquid flows.

The easiest manner (and coolest) is to bang in the tut on the shive with a metal punch, a 16 inch metal rod, with a narrow end. Quick and easy.

But more often than not, a cask is vented by hammering in the tut with a small tapered piece of hardwood called a spile. The disadvantage to this method is that you'll be close to the tut, and thus close to the fountain of beer that sometimes spurts out when pressure is released. "Really officer, I'm wearing the beer!" Hardwood spiles are actually designed to retain carbonation within a cask after it has been vented and when it's not being served from.

A bar owner even described to me a strange method involving needle-nose pliers and quick hands.

Well, anyway, a few weeks ago, I was at the Atlanta airport to meet with the managers of a restaurant there for which my brewery supplies the beer. I went through my bag and removed several items: box cutters (I use these to cut cases to better display the 6-packs inside), a beer/wine bottle opener (a small blade for removing foil), keys, pens, loose change, PDA, phone, etc.

The assistant met me by a massive dinosaur skeleton in the eatery atrium (a convenient landmark) and walked me through the enormous airport. We got to security, took off our shoes, walked through the x-rays, etc.

All was fine, until, "Excuse me sir? Is this your bag?" "Yes it is,'" I said. "Why do you have a metal rod in your bag?"

I had hosted a beer dinner the night before, and had vented a firkin with my cask punch. On my way out, collecting my various cask paraphernalia, I had put the punch in the bottom of my bag and I had left it there.

I produced my brewery identification and apologized for my stupidity. The TSA supervisor was summoned. I was saved from extensive questioning - at best - when the restaurant manager made clear why I was there. The tut punch was confiscated.

What we'll do for cask ale!

Festival!

The local branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood hosts its 3rd annual Real Ale Festival in Baltimore on Saturday, 27 October. Its website suggests purchasing tickets early, as the festival may sell-out.

Baltimore's branch of the SPBW, the first in North America, was begun by long-time Baltimore beer maven Joe Gold. Joe had worked for a short period at Young's now-closed London brewery. A later president of the group, Ron Kodlick, was a pugnacious advocate for real ale. Read here.

Casks being temperature sensitive, the three principal US importers of English cask ales tend to bring in casks from only November through April.

So I'm happy to see that some English cask ales will be featured this year in addition to the US casks: Gales and Black Cat from Moorehouse's. The latter was once the winner at the Great British Beer Festival, and although recently re-branded by the brewery, it is indeed a mild ale, and a wonderfully tasty one.

Clipper City is pouring casks of its Clipper City Gold Ale and Winter Storm Imperial ESB.

Bud shrinkage

The machinations of local beer distributors - especially those which warehouse mainstream lagers - may not seem to be of importance to good beer appreciators. But that would be a parochial view to hold.

What 'happens there' doesn't often 'stay there'. These shakeups and realignments have penumbras - often unpredictable - of consequences that tend to spread beyond, into our craft beer world.

Local Anheuser-Busch house (that's jargon for distributor, by the way) King has been sold; the spoils will be divided between three other northern Virginia Bud houses: Frick, Giufrre, and J.W. Sieg.

With their soon-to-be increased sizes and their stake in the InBev stable - Stella Artois, Hoegarden, etc. - these three distributors may now feel more confident in their turf battles with another local and predatious wholesaler - one that has national tendrils.

It's all interesting and portentous, especially when considered in combination with:

good Yards' news

Yards Signs Lease For Delaware Avenue Property, Will Move Brewery There In January

story by Jack Curtin

Good news indeed that Tom Kehoe has saved Yards Brewing Company, after his recent split with past partners, Bill and Nancy Barton.

[UPDATE 2008.09.12: Joe Russell reports that Yards, at long last, has begun brewing anew.]
And today, Yards will fire up the kettles for its first official batch in its new brewery on Delaware Avenue. The facility, a former iron shop in the shadow of what may become the SugarHouse Casino, will eventually include a small pub.

The new brewery is twice the size of Yards' former plant. By 2009, Kehoe hopes to be producing the equivalent of 275,000 cases a year, 2 1/2 times greater than Yards' biggest previous output.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Corporate obfuscation: more DC-area GABFers

There were two other brewers from the D.C. area who garnered medals for their beers at the 2007 GABF. Due to corporate obfuscation, they were not listed under D.C.

Jason Oliver at the downtown DC Gordon-Biersch received a Gold medal for his Schwartz Bier and a Bronze for Sommerfest in the Kolsch category. Jim Sobczak from the Rockville location won a Gold for his Czech Lager (Bohemian Pils category).

(I recently enjoyed a version of Jason Oliver's Schwarzbier that he had brought with him to the All About Beer kickoff party at the Brickskeller. He had aged the beer with wood chips - with just a hint of that.)

Here's the rest of the roster of local winners.

The Oxford Companion to Beer with Garret Oliver

From RealBeer.com:

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery, has signed on as the Editor-In-Chief and leading author of the The Oxford Companion to Beer, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

The book will offer thousands of entries on beer-related topics, from history to styles, detailed methods of production, ingredients and their varieties, politics of beer, topics of debate, yeasts, climate change, wild fermentations, innovations and more.

A press release from Oxford press states, “It will be unlike any beer book ever published.” It points to Jancis Robinson’s seminal book The Oxford Companion to Wine to give readers and idea what to expect. That book weighs almost seven pounds.

Pink Boots Society

After 19 years as a professional brewer and 17 years as Brewmaster at Steelhead Brewing Company, Teri Fahrendorf quit her job and set out on a 5-month epic quest of beer adventure,

which she is blogging about as the Road Brewer.


Photo from her October 14, 2007 posting: (l-r) Carol Stoudt (Stoudt's), Jenny Talley (Squatter's), Natalie Cilurzo (Russian River) and Teri show off their pink hair streaks and clothes in honor of October's Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Good luck Teri!

An observation which should not be remarkable, but unfortunately is, in today's craft beer world, would be that brewsters, that is, female brewers, are not a common thing. Or should I have said brewers are male brewsters?

[The UK blogger Zythophile notes records that indicate that the two words were historically gender-interchangeable in parts of the UK.]

In our area, there's Jen Tonkin of Brewers Alley, and there's Carol Stoudt of Stoudts in Adamstown Pennsylvania whose brewery began operations in 1987. Her Helles was an inspiration and model for Jerry Bailey's Dominion Lager.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Clipper City: #1 Vienna Lager in USA

Congratulations to Hugh Sisson, Ernesto Igot, and all the brewers at Clipper City Brewing Company ...

For the second year in a row at the Great American Beer Festival, their Balto MärzHon was judged the BEST VIENNA LAGER made by any brewery anywhere in the United States.

Well, okay, that's a touch of hyberbole, but a proud employee might be forgiven for puffing up from time to time!

Last year, the Great American Beer Festival awarded Balto MärzHon the silver, with no gold bestowed on anyone. Thus it was the de facto best. This year, Balto MarzHon was indeed awarded the Gold.

Category: Vienna Style Lager

  • Gold: Balto MärzHon, Clipper City Brewing Co., Baltimore, MD
  • Silver: Dos Rios, Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co., Glenwood Springs, CO
  • Bronze: Stoudts Ofest, Stoudts Brewing Co., Adamstown, PA
Consider a Vienna Lager, for abbreviated style purposes, as a drier Oktoberfest.

Clipper City was also awarded a bronze medal, in the American-Style Lager Category, for its McHenry Lager.
  • Gold: Hamm’s, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
  • Silver: Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
  • Bronze: McHenry Lager, Clipper City Brewing Co., Baltimore, MD
It may be damning with faint praise, but Clipper City beat out Coors and Budweiser in this, their very own category! Those brands are diluted with corn and rice syrups; McHenry Lager, all malt, is not.

More Mid-Atlantic

A mid-Atlantic brewer who doesn't often get his due propers from the locals is Geoff Lively of Rock Bottom Brewpub in Bethesda, Maryland. (I'm reminded of that line from the Amy Heckerling/Michael Keaton flick, Johnny Dangerously: "Do you know your name is an adverb?" Of course, as a newspaper editor pointed out to me, 'lively' is an adjective!)

Here's Geoff's treasure trove from this year's GABF:
  • Gold: Brown Bear Brown - Scottish Style Ale
  • Silver: Firechief Ale - German Style Brown Ale/Düsseldorf Style Altbier
  • Bronze: Right On Rye - Rye Beer
And rounding out the list of this area's medals were these two from northern Virginia:
  • Gold: Crazy Jackass Ale, Great American Restaurants VA - Rye Beer
  • Bronze: Arlington Milkman Stout, Capitol City Brewing Co. VA - Sweet Stout
The head brewer at Capitol City Brewing Company is Mike McCarthy, a repeat medal winner.

Great American Restaurants is the 'outside its doors' name of the Sweetwater Tavern group of 3 northern Virginia brewpubs. A couple of years ago, the Sweetwater Brewing Company of Atlanta took them to court, winning the exclusive rights to the name. Nick Funnell, Great American's executive brewer, is another repeat winner.

Two Daves

And speaking of Atlanta, my friends, the two Daves of the Atlanta Brewing Company garnered a gold medal for their Red Brick Blonde, in the Golden Ale category.

In conclusion ...

Finishing up with the mid-Atlantic area: in Delaware, Dogfish Head was awarded a silver medal in the 'Specialty Honey Lager or Ale' category for its Midas Touch, and Stewart's Brewing Co. received a silver as well for its Stewart's Oktoberfest in the 'German Style Märzen' category.

[UPDATE: more local winners, obscured by corporate listing.]

Congratulations to all! (Full list of winners here.)

Maggie does Denver

Maggie Dutton writes a wine blog for the Seattle Weekly called ... and I love the name ... the Wine Offensive. She also likes beer, and she's at the Great American Beer Festival, blogging.

Here:

I'm just wondering if I'll be the only one spitting. How else can a 130 pound girl make it through the alphabet? I have devised a caste system for the breweries. I won't go into it too much, but it's based partly on my rules for picking restaurants blind. I'll say that I do ostracize for the word "eatery" and any brewpub with a wrap on the menu.

and here:
(THURSDAY, Denver.) Breweries visited: 83, Beers tasted: 224 Mood: Sick of IPA already.

and here:
Oh! I also spotted a new fashion trend last night: the hipster frau, skinny jeans meets lederhosen and ballet flats. Fey Vohl.

Bigfoots

I missed the milestone, but last Sunday, 7 October, the Brickskeller marked its 50th anniversary. To celebrate, proprietor Dave Alexander has been making rare items available on draft, cask, and in bottle.

Last evening, I visited to make amends.

On tap was Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine ... 2001 vintage. When I left, walking carefully, I was basking in the grammatically correct glow of 2 Bigfoots.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Beer and peace

It stretches thin the definition of peace, but the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President Al Gore may help to bring more immediate attention to climate change.

The City of Atlanta is predicting that under current prediction models, it will have no water next year. That's correct. The water reservoirs of a major American city stand a strong possibility of being completely drained late next year.

In the Washington, D.C. area, the much smaller town of Purcellville, Virginia (home to the beer-friendly restaurant Magnolias at the Mill) is within 60 days of running dry.

Before I get harangued by the 'global warming is all a left-wing, one world government, hate America conspiracy' crowd, I will stipulate that my two examples are indeed only two localized examples, and taken by themselves woefully insufficient evidence from which to extrapolate a global tendency.

But the evidence of change on a worldwide scale does exist and is being reported, on an accelerating pace, daily.

Let's put aside debates about its causes, and begin now to work - with serious intent - on climate change's consequences.

Beer is 95% water; water is its principal raw ingredient. At what point does beer's production become proscribed as a non-essential activity?

Brewers get their due at GABF

The beer celebrities - the Garrett Olivers, the Sam Calagiones - get most of the attention and adulation in the beer world.

But at the Great American Beer Festival - the premier Brewer John Eugeni at the Clipper City Brewing Companyfestival and competition for all American beer, held annually in early autumn in Denver, Colorado - good beer fans often have the opportunity to meet the less famous folk, those who do most of the heavy lifting behind the scenes - the brewers who brew the beers, day after day.

And, likewise at the GABF, those brewers and brewery workers get a well-deserved opportunity to be acknowledged.

Clipper City has sent brewers John Eugeni and Chris Mallon to this year's GABF in Denver. Please stop by our booth and say hello to these hard-working, unsung (until now!) members of our team.

Here's an amusing anecdote from the 2006 Great American Beer Festival.

The first session had just commenced. An attendee hurried up to me and said: "You look like you know something about beer." Well, yes, I was wearing a Clipper City ID badge around my neck.

He continued, "Here's my problem. I don't like beer. What should I try?"

I couldn't help but laugh. "Sorry bud. You must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. This is the Great American Beer Festival."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Musings on Miller/Coors

Some random thoughts on the merger announced this week between Miller and Coors of their US operations:

  • Savings of 500 million dollars? How many jobs will be lost in the interest of 'enhanced synergies' or some such babble?
  • Existing distributor networks? Although Coors and Miller already share many distributor networks, there still will be many changes. Who will get what, who loses what, what craft brewers get caught in the crossfire?
  • What will a combined salesman sell: Miller Lite or Coors Light? Might the two brands be an inventory redundancy?
  • For ten years, there can be no unsolicited offer by one brewery for the shares of the other. But what's to stop a stockholder-approved mutual agreement to merge all operations before that ten year stricture?
  • Will ingredients become scarcer for craft brewers? Will the mega-mega brewers squeeze the suppliers?
  • Recall how InterBrew, now InBev, purchased the DeWolf-Cosyns maltings a few years back, only to close it shortly thereafter in 2002, thus denying a source of high-quality specialty malts to small Belgian breweries, and American craft breweries? Ask old-timer craft brewers about DWC's indeed special 'Special B'. It is no longer available even though another maltster produces something similar under the same name.
Did Miller and Coors just throw in the towel? Or have they thrown down the gauntlet for a newer, nastier, internecine international battle?

Stay tuned.

Young's, well, a year after

In light of the buyout of local brewer Dominion by Anheuser-Busch and Fordham, and of the recent merger of SAB/Miller with Molson/Coors, let's not forget the folding of UK brewery Young's into brewery Wells.

It's been a bit over a year since the closure of that historic Wandsworth brewery in London. How's the beer? UK blogger Stonch takes a look. Synopsis: some blips, some positives.

The photo was taken at the Old Dominion Beer Festival of June 2004.

Young's then brewmaster Ken Don was a special guest at that festival. A cask of his Special London Ale was almost not.

The shipping company erroneously sent the cask to Texas, where suspicious TSA officials refused to release it. Frantic phone calls and faxes eventually convinced the authorities to free the firkin. It arrived at the Virginia festival, shaken, but safe, mere minutes before the 12 noon opening time.

I'm on the right in the photo, sporting a full beard, and showing homage in a Young's tee. At the fest, I took the opportunity to ask Ken Don about the whispered rumors that Young's was for sale. He replied, "Young's is now in the business of real estate." The land on which the brewery stood was worth more than the brewery itself.

The Dominion fest, as well, is no more.

In the same post, but in the comments section, Stonch writes on the issue of beer freshness and quality versus sheer quantity:

My philosophy is that quality is more important than choice. Some of my favourite pubs that serve top notch real ale have no decent bottled beers and very little selection on draught. Often the quality of the real ale is because of that, not in spite of it.

Too many places try and offer too much choice and end up turning everything over slowly, resulting in stale beer and out of date bottles.

Fresh beer is the better beer!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

and then there were two

In a tacit admission that they lack the wherewithal to reclaim market share from hegemon Anheuser-Busch, SABMilller and Molson/Coors have announced that they are merging their US operations. From Rick Lyke's blog:


Miller Brewing Co. and Coors Brewing Co. will have annual combined beer sales of 69 million barrels and net revenue of $6.6 billion. The joint venture, to be called MillerCoors, will allow the brewers to cut costs by $500 million and compete more strongly in the U.S. market.

It's important to note that this merger occurs only in the US, and that an opt out is prohibited for five years, and that a complete merger is prohibited for ten years. From the SABMiller press release:

The joint venture will be effected through the contribution by both parties of their U.S. and Puerto Rico operations into a limited liability company to be formed under Delaware law. Each of the parties has agreed that all its U.S. business will be conducted exclusively through the joint venture.

The international operations of Miller and Coors will not be contributed to the joint venture and will be managed separately by the respective companies. The parties will agree to appropriate brand management arrangements to protect the cross border integrity of brands in different territories. The parties will enter into appropriate contract brewing and service arrangements with the joint venture for the production of these brands for export to markets outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

SABMiller and Molson Coors will enter into a mutual standstill agreement which will prevent SABMiller and Molson Coors from making an unsolicited offer for the shares of the other party for a period of 10 years following completion of the transaction.

The parties have agreed to appropriate rights of first offer and last refusal in the event of either party wanting to sell its interest in the joint venture after an initial no sale period of 5 years.

Even with the merger, Anheuser-Busch remains as the larger entity. August Busch IV's reaction was posted on SABMiller's blog. Now, how did Miller get its hands on that, I wonder.

August Busch IV, the president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch, on Tuesday said in a memo that the MillerCoors joint venture “represents an attempt by these companies to better compete against us.”

The memo, sent to all A-B wholesalers and employees, said: “This new entity does not match our size or portfolio of beers, yet there are undoubtedly synergies that this new company will eventually realize.”

Busch claimed the deal also represents an opportunity for the A-B system. “There will be significant transition confusion from this change, and it’s up to us to capitalize on this disruption now.”


And then there were two. With the remaining brewing giants, there is no innovation, but only repackaging, re-positioning, and rapacity. The sad long death march of American breweries that began with Prohibition is nearing its inevitable conclusion.

[UPDATE: more thoughts on this merger.]

Happy Birthday Thelonious

He would have been 90 years young today. The great composer and pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk was born on this day in 1917.

As a pianist, Monk seemed to elicit sounds from between the keys (or, as one of his compositions is entitled, Ugly Beauty) .

New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett (who died earlier this year) described jazz as "the sound of surprise". Listen to Monk's Pannonica, and you'll hear what he meant.

As a prolific composer, Monk gave us pieces of ravishing beauty. So, around midnight, turn off the lights, sip a wee dram- and if you're fortunate enough, hold hands with someone you love - and listen to Monk's solo recordings of his own Crepuscule with Nellie, to Ruby, My Dear, to 'Round Midnight.

Thank you, Thelonious.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

No mo' Dremo

The era of Bardo Rodeo/Dr. Dremo's funky draft house is coming to an end.

From Dr. Dremo's website today:

Dr Dremo's will close the doors at the current location on Sunday, Jan 27th, 2 AM. We are actively scouting for a new location. The Dr Dremo and Taco Bell property has been sold to Elm St Development. Plans call for 141 residential units and 34,685 sf of ground floor retail.

"Thanks to all who have helped make Dr Dremo's a success. From the patrons to the staff. Hope to see you soon."
-the Doctor

Dr. Dremos to close January 2008.In the early 1990s, Bill Stewart opened Bardo Rodeo in a closed car dealership, with a car imbedded into the front window as if crashing through (with the jukebox in the front seat), a brewpub, inside sandboxes, a 'Free Tibet' ethos (hence the names), and a lot of good beer. James Brown Ale, a strong dark ale, was a crowd favorite.

From a reader:

My recollection is that Bill Stewart and his then-wife, Alice Despard, who together previously operated the BBQ Iguana club in DC, first opened Roratonga Rodeo on Wilson Blvd in the location that is now Galaxy Hut. It had many of the unique features seen later at Bardo: great draft selection (esp for that time), a car for a bar, long voodoo canes for tap handles, and wild art. They split, and Bill Stewart opened Amdo Rodeo, with similar decor and beer almost directly across the street, in what is now Iota. (For a while, you could get draft Anchor barleywine on both sides of Wilson). Some time later, Amdo closed and Bardo opened down the street in the former car dealership. Amdo became Strangeways and then Iota. Roratonga became Galaxy Hut at some point.

Bardo's brewing equipment was eventually removed under a legal cloud, and the establishment renamed Dr. Dremo's. Bill's father and his brother, Andrew, have operated the bar for several years now. They do state that they are actively searching for a new location.

So long Bardo Rodeo/ Dr. Dremo's ... and thank you for all the funky fun; thank you for all the good beer.

**************
  • Alice Despard sold Galaxy Hut in 2005 to long-time employee, Lary Hoffman. It remains open.
  • UPDATE 2009.11.08: Word of possible re-opening, in 2010.
  • More photos here.

Tupper promise

Fans of Tuppers Hop Pocket Ale and Tuppers Hop Pocket Pils take heart ... or at least have hope.

I talked with Bob and Ellie Tupper at the World Beer Festival in Durham over the weekend. They reported progress on finding a new home for their beers, homeless since their departure earlier this year from Coastalweiser, er, Dominion.

Of course, deals are not deals, until done. Stay tuned. (More from their website here.)

Prior posts on the Tuppers.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Carolina Rainmaker

Two years ago, I participated in the October World Beer Festival in Durham, North Carolina, in order to find a North Carolina distributor for Clipper City Brewing Company. We were soaked by the the slow-moving remnants of a hurricane that day. Mud, mud, mud, everywhere.

Last year, Clipper City again participated because we had only just signed on with a NC distributor: Tryon. Downpours accompanied a quick shift from temperatures in the 80s to the 40s. (Wasn't dressed for that!)

And this year, driving down yesterday, I again encountered intermittent periods of heavy rain. Today the prediction is for a few isolated thunderstorms. High 84F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%, and currently 96% humidity.

Rainmaker may be my WBF sideline ... and that's a good tool for the drought-ridden East.

Now, back to beer news! [UPDATE 2007.10.07: photos were taken during the fest and posted today. More photos here.]

Late Friday afternoon, I delivered my casks of Winter Storm to the festival, on the grounds of the historic old Bull Durham ballpark. I wanted the firkins a day to recover from the road shock. Then Steve Frank and I drove over to the brewers' reception at Tyler's Taproom, a multi-tap restaurant/cue club across from the new Bull Durham ballpark, just off of Jackie Robinson Drive. (Steve Frank was my table volunteer for the festival. He's one-half of the beer writing team, the Brews Brothers.)

There we caught up with a lot of beer acquaintances, and made new ones.

Beer writer Lew Bryson had driven from Pennsylavania to Durham. One of his missions was to discover good barbeque. He announced that he had already been successful, enjoying good barbeque earlier that day, served family style. "I'm still recovering," he said, patting his stomach.

I chatted with Dustin from Terrapin Brewing in Athens, Georgia (where I had just been a week earlier): the brewery is in the inspections approval stage. He looks for an opening date a couple of months hence.

I sampled an interesting dark Belgian-esque beer from Big Boss Brewery of Raleigh called Surrender Monkey. Love those names! I searched out the big boss of Big Boss Brewing Company, Geoff Lamb. He and I discussed the relative merits of brewers' guilds. Maryland has an active such organization (Brewers Association of Maryland); North Carolina has none.

Harry Wannemacher of Sierra Nevada stopped by and talked at length about the industry with Steve Frank and me.

It's Saturday morning now. Coffee, bagel, and then off to the old Bull Durham B allpark to set things up. The festival begins at noon and runs in two sessions until 10PM.
Photo above is from 9:45 pm, when the last cask from the Pop the Cap tent was paraded about, and final pours offered to festival goers.

********************
More photos: here.