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.