Thursday, December 18, 2003

English cask delight in Baltimore

18 December 2003 at Sean Bolan's in Baltimore was this English ale lover's delight.

On draft was George Gale Christmas Ale: brown/ruby red in color with evident crystal malt character accompanied by Christmas fruit-cake flavors of allspice,raspberry, apple, and raisin...a tippling 8+% abv. The bottled iteration was selected by the Baltimore Sun as one of three preferred imported Christmas beers this year.

The hand-pulled cask was Butty Bach, from Wye Valley Brewery, a regional in Herfordshire. It was bright with spot-on conditioning and 4.5% abv. The nose was superb: fragrant and spicy hops intertwined with a sweet malt aroma. Ditto for the flavor. The finish was surprisingly dry for only 28 BUs. I would have had a second but ...

There was another cask, set on the bartop. It was Ploughman's, from Wye Valley as well.

Wow! With a gorgeous red garnet shade, bright and clear, this was a very well conditioned pint. The head and lace were long-lived in the glass - well at least for the few minutes before I drained it. The aroma: coffee ice cream, toffee, dark fruit, and apples. 5.6% abv made this a welcoming winter warmer. The 45 BUs weren't evident as heavy-handed bitterness but as a welcome drying balance at the finish.

The couple sitting next to me at the bar, drinking the cask as well, took the name of the beer to heart, and ordered a Ploughman's Platter.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Prohibition Repealed!

Seventy years ago today, Utah voted to approve the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, thus terminating the ignoble nearly 14 year reign of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition.

Some might find it ironic that Utah, of all states, would vote to allow alcohol. On closer examination, it may have been sagacious of that state, in light of its founders' tribulations, to repudiate an amendment, in fact the ONLY amendment, that eradicated constitutional rights.

A guide for our age?

Have a beer (or, if you must, some wine) tonight and toast the great state of Utah ... and wisdom.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Dominion Winter Brew 2003 - a review

John Pollack, the manager of The Old Vine (a wonderful wine, beer, and artisinal cheese shop in Baltimore) recently turned me onto a marvelous beer.

It's this year's (2003) Dominion Winter Brew.

The back label states: "This year's Winter Brew is a reproduction of the classic Polish porters. We used a traditonal lager yeast to ferment this high gravity beer. Our brewers used a combination of German malts and Polish hops to create this unique beer." The rest of the label continues on in Polish, I would suppose repeating this description.

At 5.8%, it's not the high gravity to which some of us have become accustomed, but the 'bite' of alcohol was obvious in this beer, not unpleasantly. It pours dark red/brown, with good legs, and an honest dark tan head. The aroma combines hints of licorice and woody spice with wafts of sweet chocolate. The flavor continues the chocolate theme but contributes roast coffee and malt sugar. There is alcohol present in flavor, almost like a shot of coffee liqueur. The finish is roasty and bitter, again with a warming alcoholic bite.

I drank this with lentil soup and a slice of dense German pumpernickel. Delicious ... even if that pairing did mash together elements of "old Europe" with "new Europe".

I might compare the beer to Baltika Porter, or to Utenos Porter from Lithuania, or to the late lamented Polish Okocim Porter, or, even closer in style, to the similarly discontinued Swedish Pripps Carnegie Porter, although not as strong as the Okocim's 8% and not as roasty and bitter as the Pripps. (By the way, those last two beers were discontinued by their respective breweries soon after being absorbed by Carlsberg. I sent an email to remonstrate but, of course, there was no response.) ... or to New Jersey's Perkuno Hammer and offerings from other US micros. As with IPA and porter, it's American micros that once more are coming to the rescue of an endangered breed of beer.

With my surname of Cizauskas, I might disagree with the designation "Polish Porter". For even with the use of Polish harvested Lublin hops, I would presume the modifier Baltic to be better and Lithuanian to be best. Labas!

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Halloween Costume Beer Dinner

It's a Halloween Beer Dinner, Wednesday 29 October,at the Sputnik Cafe in Crownsville, Md. Located just outside of Annapolis, the Sputnik Cafe, when not hosting beer or wine dinners, is a funky, Asian-American fusion-esque restaurant, with BOTH a good-wine list and a good-beer list (bottles only).

1397 Generals Highway
Crownsville, MD

$40 with costume
$50 without!
reservations required

The dinner features 6 beers from wholesaler Legends, Ltd, paired with a 5-course dinner, planned by the three chef/co-owners. I'll be providing the commentary.

Beer 1
Moorhouse's Black Cat

Beer 2
Schneider Wiesen Ede-Weisse
Paired with roasted beets and purple potato salad, tossed with Chinese mustard vinaigrette.

Beer 3
Buergerbrau Wies'n Marzen
Paired with Chicken & apple sausage skewers.

Beer 4
Moorhouse's Pendle Witches Brew
Paired with Monkfish with milk-cooked corn, chilis and coconut.

Beer 5
Unibroue Maudite
Paired with slow-braised lamb, onions, leeks.

Beer 6
Unibroue Anniversary 10
Paired with platter of mead-glazed artisianal cheeses.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Home Brewers Gain Equality

An important milestone was reached this day twenty-five years ago.

From the Association of Brewers:

On October 14, 1978, President Carter signed House Resolution 1337. Senate Amendment 3534 to that resolution called for equal treatment of home beer brewers and home winemakers. This law allowed for brewing up to 100 gallons per adult or up to 200 gallons per household per year. [200 gallons is the approximate equivalent of 88 cases of beer.] The amendment was proposed by Senator Cranston of California, Senator Schmitt of New Mexico, Senator Bumpers of Arkansas and Senator Gravel of Alaska.

From the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933 (and of course earlier during Prohibition) until 14 October 1978, it was illegal to produce beer at home, although legal to do so for wine. A stenographer's unintended omission on the 1933 bill produced this insalubrious result.

For nearly 44 years, no congressman would find it politically expedient to demand the right to homebrew for his or her constituents... until January 1977 when Barber Conable, courageous House Republican from New York, would introduce bill HR 2028. Alan Cranston (as stated above) Democrat of California, introduced the bill in the Senate.

This would eventually become HR 1337/SR 3534 in 1978 and be signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. The law did not actually legalize homebrewing: it revoked the federal tax on homebrewing. Legalization would require state-by-state approval, as provided under the 21st U.S. Amendment. Only Alabama and Georgia explicitly still forbid the practice.

In 1981, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company began its operations - founded by two homebrewers - and the craft beer revival had begun in the United States.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Oktoberfest in Virginia

October 11, 2003
Shirlington, VA.

I may have missed a few but these were the participating breweries at Capitol City Brewing's 5th annual Octoberfest in Shirlington, VA, this past Saturday: Abita, Allagash, Becks, Brewers Alley, Brooklyn Brewery Capitol City Brewing, Chimay, Clipper City, DeGroen's, District Chophouse, Fordham, Founders, Gordon-Biersch, Legends, Old Dominion, Otter Creek, Raven, Richbrau, Rock Bottom, Sam Adams, South Street Brewing, Spaten, St. Georges Brewing, Summit Station, Troegs, and Weeping Radish.

With the wealth of choices to be had, I needed a plan. So initially, I reconnoitered for any cask ale or kellerbier. I failed, knowing that a hop up I-95 to Racer's in Baltimore for its Real Ale Challenge would have solved that problem.

But this was an Octoberfest celebration after all, so my fungible plan became a mission to sample the fest biers, ignoring, unfortunately, many other fine choices. I didn't get to them all but there were a few that really stood out.

Legends (the Richmond brewery, not Legends, Ltd., the Scottish/English beer importer) was pouring a pleasant fest: good color, medium body, and lingering toasty malt sweetness in the finish. There were a lot of hops in the aroma and flavor. That's not a traditional flavor aspect of marzens but definitely a 'New World' interpretation and one that found its way into several of the beers there.

Sam Adams, was one I didn't want to enjoy, but really did. A fairly dark beer for a maerzen, yet pitching a good malty aroma, palate, and finish. A fantastic brew and my favorite of the day. [UPDATE: Great American Beer Festival winner.]

Interbrew's Oktoberfest, err, Spaten, was also delicious. Everything seemed spot-on: nice amber-orange color, good aroma, hint of toastiness, and good finishing malt sweetness. Very clean: there were a few beers that day with strange astringent finishes. This, by the way, was not the beer poured at the real Oktoberfest in Munich, which is lighter in color, flavor, and body. This is brewed specifically for the export market.

I went back for seconds of Richbrau's Oktoberfest. It showed wonderful toasted malt in the nose, flavor, and finish. Malt lingered in the finish without being cloying.

And then there was Victory's Fest. This has proven hard to find in our area this year, so it was pleasure to taste it at the Festival. The flavor was luscious and high-kilned malty, almost like toasted marshmallow. Superb.

The festival was well organized, and ran smoothly. A German-music playing band and dancers (well, they were doing Austrian dances, the leader said) and German food (well, so the sign said).

Friday, October 10, 2003

As it was

I trod upon my carpet of gold

While the reds, the browns, the enduring greens

bespeckle the pathway beneath my feet,

Casting autumn's prism in all its glory.

  • Poem by my mother, Genovaite Cizauskas
  • Photo from a happy day. My stepchild and I enjoying an autumn day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Ron Fischer and his apples

October 7, 2003. It was a small yet attentive crowd that gathered at Max's on Broadway in Baltimore, Tuesday evening for the regular weekly "Beer Social".

This evening, it wasn't beer that brought them, but Ron Fischer and his apples.

Affectionately know as "Cellarmaster Ron", Fischer is the cask ale buyer for import house B. United, International. He is recognized nationally as an authority on cask-conditioned ales.

Several times a year, Fischer will travel to the UK to contract with breweries for their cask ales, usually winners at the Great British Beer Festival. He arranges for the complex, time-critical, and temperature sensitive transportation of the casks here to the US.

Once the casks arrive, Fischer brings them into condition: allowing for completion of the secondary fermentation, assuring for proper carbonation levels, and clarifying the ale by adding finings to gently remove yeast from suspension.

Fischer informed the attendees that, this year, in addition to casks of real ale, B. United would be importing casks of English "real cider" into the United States. All would be from Gwatkin Cider, found just south of Hereford, close to the Welsh border. Fischer said that the shipment had been slightly delayed but that he expected it stateside in early November.

Fischer told the attendees that "real cider" is nothing like the sweetened, filtered, pasteurized alco-pop often sold as cider. In fact, it's just the opposite: naturally fermented, unfiltered, relatively low in sulfites, unsweetened, and unpasteurized. In its cask form, it is known as "scrumpy" and its sister, fermented pear, as "perry".

Fermentation is conducted solely by yeasts found naturally on the apple skins, Fischer said, adding that these wild yeasts are very distinctive to each cider-making area, defining the character of the ciders produced there. Terroir is also important for the quality and characteristics of the fruit, he said. Some of the areas known for their high quality cider and perry are Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, and Devon.

Fischer noted that, traditionally, the cider is aged in either rum or whiskey casks, imparting further complexity, Its high final alcohol levels of 7- 8%, its low residual sugar, and its wine-like acidity all act as natural preservatives for long shelf life after tapping.

Fischer then described the three varieties that
B. United will import this year.

1) Yarlington Mill single varietal cider is from the bittersweet apple of the same name: a honeyed palate of dark fruit and spirit with pleasant tannins at the finish. Some phenols add structure to the fruitiness. This received a gold at the 2002 CAMRA National Cider and Perry Championships.

2) A blend of several varietals for a slightly higher residual sugar content, maybe a bit closer to the 'American' palate, yet still complex and dry.

3) Blakeny Red, a single varietal perry from the pear of that name. Fischer notes that this is fragrant and perfumey, medium sweet, with slight acids and tannins on the finish. Blakeney Red received first in the perry class.

Apologizing that there was no scrumpy or perry to taste that evening. Fischer instead poured Normandy cider, or "cidre", from Etienne Dupont, the French house which is known for its apple brandy - Calvados.

The attendees didn't seem to mind, in fact enjoying the complex and delicious 2002 vintage of French hard cider - unfiltered, low in sulfites, unpasteurized - so different from the majority of cider sold in the United States. And, as contrast, Fischer poured small samples of Pommeau, a bottled blend of Dupont's Calvados and mout (unfermented cider).

Host Casey Hard of Max's was also pouring draft St. Georgenbrau, a Bamberg, Germany keller bier, awarded 4 stars by Michael Jackson and imported into the US by B. United.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Les Halles Beer Dinner (Washington, DC)

Brasserie Les Halles in Washington DC is presenting a five course Belgian Beer Tasting and Dinner, Thursday 22 May at 7PM. Each meal course will be paired with a Belgian beer and one Quebecois.

The restaurant has graciously invited me (as a representative for beer importer/distributor Legends, Ltd.) to be the guest speaker for the evening.

The price, including tax and gratuity, is $75.00 per person.

Rillettes de Saumon & Toast de Saucisse de Canard aux Cornichons
(Salmon Rillettes & Duck Sausage with cornichons)
Paired with Caracole Troublette White Ale.

Filet de Sole, sauce a la Bisque de Crevette
(Braised Filet of Sole served with Savoy cabbage and shrimp sauce)
Paired with La Chouffe Golden Ale.

Onglet Grille, sauce au Roquefort
(Grilled Hanger Steak with Roquefort sauce and frites)
Paired with Val Dieu Abbey Brown Ale.

Assiette de Brie, Camembert, et Fromage de Chevre frais
(Cheese Platter: Brie, Camembert, and Goat Cheese)
Paired with Unibroue Anniversary 10.

[Malt Advocate selected Unibroue 10 as the Import Beer of the Year for 2002/3. The Unibroue Brewery, of just outside Montreal, produced only a limited amount of this last year: cellar-worthy, bottle-conditioned, 11% tripel. Unibroue has released a small run of a new Anniversary Ale, "11" for this year.]

Mousse de Fruits Rouges
(Mixed Berry Mousse)
Paired with Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flemish-styled red)

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Beer for breakfast

Sean Bolan's Pub of Federal Hill, Baltimore, Maryland, put on a Beer Breakfast yesterday morning - indeed its first ever. Owner Ken Krucenski hosted; 'Brews Brother' writer Steve Frank and I were guest hosts.


  • Half-pint of draft Schneider Weisse
  • Warmed Guinness bread served with Schneider Weisse honey butter
  • Hot coffee with Chouffe Coffee Liqueur

  • Draught Guinness
  • Egg and vegetable Frittata with Irish Cheddar, garnished with hop shoots.
  • Weisswurst drizzled with Lindeman's Framboise reduction.
  • Irish banger finished with a Guinness and onion sauce.
  • Hash browns cooked with Harp Lager, topped with ketchup made with 1999 Vintage Aventinus.
  • Beer Mimosa (orange juice and Unibroue's sour cherry ale Quelque Chose, served on the rocks).
  • Brewer's Art Sour Cherry beer

  • Lancaster Brewing Company Strawberry Wheat Ale
  • Chilled Honeydew Melon Soup finished with Lindeman's Peche Cream

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Upon Tasting J. W. Lees Vintage Ale

Ah! Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you...

J. W. Lees Harvest Ale: vintage 2001, rich, full-bodied, potent, racked into a wooden pin whose prior resident had been Lagavulin's peaty, salty whisky, and allowed to slumber since then.

All the longing, striving, seeking, waiting, yearning...

The folks at Sean Bolan's Pub in Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD purchased a wooden pin (5.4 gallon cask) of this elixir in 2002. They aged it undisturbed in their cellar for one year. They tapped it for us unworthy ruck last evening, Thursday, 6 March 2003.

The burning hopes, the joys and idle tears that fall!...

Here was a worthy successor to the late lamented Eldridge Pope Brewery's Thomas Hardy barley wine: a lusty 11.5% alcohol level yet still a beer, nearly still but with a whisper of spritzig, revealing itself with peel after peel of complexity. The carbonation was mere points over nil, but that seemed appropriate for quiet sipping and contemplation. No sparkler was used so the beer tumbled nearly headless from the wood.

In appearance, J. W. was burnished brown and copper, the age in wood having contributed several degrees of shade to that of the bottled version. The aroma, in order of appearance: a quick whiff of pencil graphite, then waves of dark rum, raisins, dried plums, peat, sea air, Scotch whisky, vanilla, shortbread biscuits, malted milk candy, and the pungent aroma of a roaring fireplace. The body was all soft shoulders and dangerous curves, the aromas reappearing as flavors in teasing combinations, different with each sip.

Smokiness of the Lagavulin-soaked wood lounged blissfully in the finish, a counterweight to J.W.'s voluptuous maltiness and potency.

Sean Bolan's served the ale befittingly at a temperature of 55 or so degrees. One's afterglow was several degrees more ardent.

'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all...

Early in the evening, a gentlemen walked into Sean Bolan's looking for a mainstream 'lite' beer. Failing that, he settled for a Sam Adams Light.

Looking around, he noticed several of us sniffing our goblets. "Why do you keep smelling your beer," he asked? "Try one," we suggested. He did. And Mikey, he liked it! "Never had anything like this before!", he grinned broadly as he drank the glass empty.

Cask beer usually shines best as a vessel for fresh, session-styled, and complex bitter or mild. J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale is an exception to that rule.

With apologies to Victor Herbert, I sell this beer for Legends, Ltd.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Cask ale is NOT cloudy.

Here is how a local brewpub recently announced its cask ale:

There are 3 main differences between real ale and conventionally dispensed ale. First, real ale is served unfiltered (cloudy) where as the yeast in conventionally served ale has been filtered out to give it a "clear" appearance. Second, real ale is served at "cellar" temperature (50-55°F)
unlike conventional ale which is served much cooler. Finally, firkin real ale is lightly carbonated so it almost appears "flat" compared to your conventional ale.
NO, NO, NO ... NO!

That's a description of something I wouldn't want to drink.

What real ale is ...
It is a method of producing and serving ale in its freshest and most flavorful state.

What real ale isn't ...
It is not cloudy; it is not warm; it is not flat.

Let's say instead:

1) True cask beer is served cold. Anyone who thinks that 50*F is warm should try setting the thermostat to 50*F in their house during the winter. Temperatures below 42*F begin to numb the tongue, masking malt flavors. Adjunct-rich mainstream beers proudly disdain the use of flavorful compounds. Thus, it's SAB-Mill-Bud-Coors which are served with ice shavings floating in them.

2) A true cask ale is wonderfully carbonated, at 1.8 volumes or a bit more, which is just enough to deliver the aromas of the hops, malt, and esters, and sufficient to develop and hold a nice head.

In fact, a properly poured or pulled cask pint will naturally produce a pint-sized (sorry!) version of the Guinness-cascading-head without the artificial injection of extraneous nitrogen.

More than that - excessive gassiness - masks malt flavor. And cask ale doesn't bloat the drinker.

3) Cask ale IS NOT CLOUDY. Poorly made cask ale might be cloudy. But I repeat, cask ale IS NOT CLOUDY!

True it isn't filtered. But that's a good thing.

By not being filtering it, a cask ale retains many flavorful compounds that would otherwise be stripped out. Yeast remains in the cask to naturally carbonate the beer (and to provide the drinker with a complete Vitamin B complex). A careful pour by a publican will leave most of that yeast behind

A cask-conditioned beer tasted next to its filtered, gassy, nearly frozen, and flavor-deprived cousin will always delight.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Ebulum Ale - a review

cask of Heather Brewery Ebulum Ale (Scotland)

Dark, dark, dark. The head had lighter mocha tints. Strong roast and baker's chocolate aroma and flavor with a hint of winy fruit. The grist contains roasted barley, hence the stout-like character. The brew is infused with elderberries, which appeared as this hint of fruit, as opposed to the sickly-sweet character often encountered in US microbrew fruit beers. The 6.5% alcohol wasn't apparent..until a couple of pints had been consumed!

This is the best product (cask or bottle) I have tasted from this brewery, excluding a few marvelously fresh bottles of Fraoch I sampled last year from a just delivered shipment. Paradoxically, those bottles tasted fresher and more complex than casks of Fraoch delivered at the same time.

Tasted 4 February 2003 at Max's on Broadway in Baltimore, MD. The firkin had been broached for 24 hours and then served on the bar, at 50*F, open to atmosphere, and gravity-drawn.