Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Big Beer Paradox

McHenry Lager from Clipper City Brewery
My employer, Hugh Sisson, owner of the Clipper City Brewing Company, has recently begun syndicating a blog he calls: Diary of a Brewer.

In one post, he talks about something which I have been saying as well for years: that one test of a good brewery lies in its lightest beer. There, there is nowhere to hide - no big hop or malt or yeasty character to cover up brewing faults. Hugh dubs this the big beer paradox. Of course, after taste-testing such a beer, I'll quickly move on to that brewpub's or brewery's big flavored beer.

Beer writer and editor of Malt Advocate, Lew Bryson has long been a fan of good beer but not necessarily of - ugh, I dislike the term - extreme beer. Read Lew's rant.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

iPod generation tunes out of Japanese jazz culture

Here's an article about the closing of the last of the jazz coffee shops which once were plentiful in Japan. Such a place sounds great to me; just blend in beer!

A line in the piece alarmed me: "These days, kids don't listen to jazz, and they walk down the street with iPods, which makes the whole idea of 'place' irrelevant," says Michael Molasky, author of "The Jazz Culture of Postwar Japan."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Great Smoky Mountains

I've just returned from working the market for Clipper City Brewing in western North Carolina - the Boone and Asheville area. [What's my job?]

It is beautiful country there, quite different from the rest of the state, in the mountains - Great Smoky and Appalachian ranges - ranging from 2200 to 3700 feet. It was cold Thursday with temperatures in the upper teens, but snow and wind gusts made it seem much colder. Adjoining Boone is Blowing Rock which was described to me as a "drinking town with a skiing problem" - a lot of vacation homes there.

Clipper City has just begun to have our beers sold in the region, but even so the response from retailers was quite gratifying.

On the way back, I paid a visit to a local competitor - Highland Brewing Company, itself growing, having only recently moved into new digs west of Asheville. The staff was quite busy that day, so I didn't snap any photos. The Oatmeal Porter is delicious: smoky, bakers' chocolate-character, and a smooth, luscious mouthfeel.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I am a vegetarian

I am a vegetarian. Not quite earth-shattering news ... but at least self-revealing.

And I have been so since Papa Bush launched his Gulf War, on 17 February 1991. I didn't select the specific date as a protest per se - although I could have. But by that time, I had significantly reduced the amount of animal in my diet. It was, however, a momentous date, one which I could easily remember.

That being said, I dislike the word vegan. It sounds so hard and ugly. It seems to reference an alien space traveler from the star Vega. And, it is an unnecessary neologism; there already exists a perfectly good word for the lifestyle - vegetarian.

Vegetarian: One who abstains from the use of flesh, fish, and fowl as food, with or without the use of eggs and dairy products.

Joseph Brotherton, 1847

Modifiers are often appended to the word: pesco, lacto, ovo, etc. But to my mind, these appear akin to a specious pronouncement such as "slightly pregnant". Either you happily restrict your diet to only vegetables, fruits, and grains, or you don't only do that. And, linguistically, what is to prevent the word vegan from being similarly adsorbed?

Many years ago, when a waiter, I was asked by a dining couple as to what were the vegetarian choices on the menu. The restaurant wasn't vegetarian-friendly, but certain items could be modified: that is, there were salads, pasta dishes vegetable side plates, etc. This I explained.

When I returned to take the order, the couple asked for the double-cut, sausage-stuffed pork chop and for the filet mignon, very rare. My eyebrows must have involuntarily arched, Spock-style. "You see," the diners quickly reassured me, "we are, indeed, vegetarians - at home."


Anyway, I have enjoyed my choice, and I do eat well (and have become a better cook and brewer in the process). And I take great amusement in the incessant "But what do you eat?" queries. About vegetarianism, there are many cookbooks and medical studies, and there are, of course, many food options.

Look up Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I dig her recipes and ethos. I'd like to buy Ms. Moskowitz a beer - itself, a wonderful vegetarian foodstuff and cooking ingredient.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Respect for democracry

This happened to me the other day.

The driver in the pickup truck to my left was furiously beeping on his horn. He drew even with my driver's side window and beeped again. I looked over ... and he flipped me the bird.

What the? ... then I understood.

bad bumper!He was demonstrating his respect for my choice for president. He had noticed my Hillary Clinton for President bumper sticker.

And we complain about the uncivil partisan tone of our elected representatives?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

DC Classical radio dies and is re-born

When I surrendered the helm at Sisson's Brewpub, I had (and still have) a visceral sense of loss. I mention that because ....

I can only imagine the hurt felt by all who had been connected with Washington DC's last remaining commercial classical radio station, WGMS, 104.1-FM (formerly 103.5-FM), when it switched - after 60 years - to a quotidian 1970s to now rock/pop format yesterday afternoon.

As a child and teenager, I grew up listening to WGMS announcers such as Dennis Owens and Renee Cheney (I had a teenage crush on that marvelous voice) and the classical music they presented.

In welcome related news, one of the area's public stations - WETA (90.9FM) - simultaneously switched back to all-classical music after a 1 1/2 year hiatus for all-news/talk. DC's airwaves are saturated with news and talk, so this was a smart business move, as well as a gift (re-gift?) for us good music listeners. (The call letters for WGMS had long been promoted as an acronym for Washington's Good Music Station.)

Interesting trivia: WGMS broadcast the area's first helicopter traffic reports in the late 1950s.

Listen live to WETA (you didn't think I would actually offer a link to a 70s album rock station, did you?) and/or read more about it all.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Distributors good ... sometimes not

Distributors ... As a representative for a brewery, I find most distributors to be integral to our company's success. The brewery I work for - Clipper City - could not successfully sell its beers along the eastern seaboard without a network of creative distributors. Each wholesaler performs as an extended sales force for the brands of our brewery. However, just as in anything, there is good and there is bad. Jump to a story about the dark side and about brewery bravery in the face of it. Larry Bell pulled his Bells beers out of Illinois, one of the largest markets in the US, because of differences of opinion with the distributor (Reyes) that had purchased his original wholesaler. UPDATE from Wall Street Journal, 10 December 2007:

Last fall, Larry Bell yanked the beers made by his small Michigan brewer out of Chicago, where they enjoyed a loyal following, rather than see the rights to market them there sold to another distributor. He was worried that his specialty beers would get lost among the distributor's mass-market brands....Last week, Mr. Bell quietly re-entered the Illinois market with a new brand [Kalamazoo Royal Amber Ale], even though he fully expects to be sued by his former distributor.
Post-Prohibition, state regulations generally established a three-tier system that separated alcohol manufacturers (e.g., breweries) from wholesalers and from retailers (e.g., stores, pubs). But many states, such as Illinois (where Bell had his issues) and Maryland and Virginia in Clipper City's home territory, have also enacted 'franchise' laws, which hold the parties in perpetuity to their contracts. As a disclaimer, I must say that my opinions are not necessarily those of my employer, Clipper City Brewing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's snowing!

It's snowing today! The forecast is not for the horrible storms through which Colorado and the midwest have recently suffered (read about my sister's Christmas Eve adventure), but the inch of snow falling now here in northern Virginia makes the season FINALLY feel as if it were winter. Just last week the temperature was in the 70s F.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Big Cheese in Bawlmer

beer and cheese poster

Over 500 folk filled a banquet room at the Marriott Inner Harbor in Baltimore to overflowing last evening to taste Cabot Cheeses paired with Clipper City beers ... no wine!

National reps from Cabot as well as farmers from the Cabot Cooperative attended to make presentations and meet and greet. Clipper City Brewing's Hugh Sisson and I were there to represent the beer. Cabot created a glossy pamphlet describing the pairings and offering beer and cheese recipes.

Hugh SissonLast night was a rare occasion on which I could actually introduce Hugh Sisson as the Big Cheese. I offer my apologies to Beverly Baker, Sandy Levesque, and all the other Cabot Cheese reps, whom I'm certain have heard that stale comment (not the cheese) more times than they care to remember!

More photos.

More on Beer and Cheese pairing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Small Virginia wineries may be at risk

An alert from the Virginia Wineries Association [I've redacted the original email.] ...

In 1979, there were only 6 farm wineries in Virginia. In 1980, the Virginia General Assembly, under the Farm Winery Act, exempted farm wineries from the three-tier system of alcohol distribution. [This meant the wineries no longer were limited only] to sell through a wholesaler; they could self-distribute their products [as well].

Today, there are nearly 120 wineries across the Commonwealth. About one-third use wholesalers. But, without some form of self-distribution, many, if not most, of the smaller wineries will not be able to grow enough to attract a wholesaler to represent them.

[But] in 2006, the General Assembly took away wineries’ ability to self-distribute [- to sell directly to retailers and restaurants].

Wineries and wholesalers are both in the business of selling wine, but many wineries are at a disadvantage simply because of their size. They are small, family farms. The median sized winery in Virginia produces about 2,500 cases of wine per year. It is estimated that the impact on these family enterprises through the loss of self-distribution is as much as 30 to 40 percent lost sales annually. Thus under the current scenario, both [wholesalers and small Virginia wineries] stand to lose.

[But] if the cap for self-distribution were set at, say, 3000 cases, then it would be a win-win [scenario]. The wineries would be able to get their product to market --- and be able to sell it --- at a reasonable price with a reasonable profit. They could then grow to a size where they would be profitable for a distributor. The distributors wouldn’t be burdened with trying to market small customers instead of the more profitable large scale producers.

[As it stands now,] there will continue to be fewer choices of Virginia wines on the shelves and what you do find will carry a higher price. If self-distribution were restored, [there could be] a greater variety of wines at a lower cost.

The key bills to restore the right of wineries to self-distribute up to 3,000 cases of their product annually are HB2450 patroned by Delegate Chris Saxman from Staunton and SB1062 patroned by Senator John Watkins from Midlothian.

The other crucial area is restrictive land use issues. There are counties in Virginia that restrict the number of customers that a winery may invite to their tasting room. In some localities it is impossible to have a tasting room at all. Government needs to [partner] with wineries to establish commonsense regulations that will allow the wineries to be good business neighbors, while at the same time be able to draw enough visitors through special events to be profitable, and thus, be successful contributors to the Commonwealth’s bottom line.

The bills which can ensure that local governments work with wineries to establish commonsense land use regulations are HB2493 patroned by Delegate Dave Albo from Springfield and SB1205 patroned by Senator Emmett Hanger from Mt. Solon.
The bills are up for consideration on Thursday, January 18th. To find out who your legislator is and how to contact him/her, and to register your comments, visit the General Assembly website, or call (800)889-0229.

For more information:
Virginia Wineries Association
9661 Spotswood Trail
Stanardsville, Virginia 22973


Saturday, January 13, 2007

no overriding legal authority

There is no overriding legal authority to define what a microbrewery is or isn't.

However, if a brewery produces in excess of 2 million barrels(!), the first 60,000 barrels are taxed by the Feds at a lower rate (thus covering most regional/local/craft/microbreweries). As of 2006, the small brewers federal tax exemption was $7 per barrel, while the standard excise tax rate was $18 per barrel.

A beer barrel is 31 gallons, the equivalent of 13.78 cases of 24 12-ounce bottles each. As such, beer is not sold in barrels. The term is simply a unit of measure used for production and tax determination purposes. Thus, a barrel is not a keg.

Kegs themselves come in various sizes. The standard US-size keg is 15.5 gallons which is one half-barrel. The European standard is 50-liters which is 13.195 US gallons. A smaller keg becoming popular in the US is the approximately 1/6 barrel keg which is exactly 20-liters or approximately 5.278 US gallons.

The Brewers Association, a lobbying and trade organization for small US breweries, somewhat arbitrarily defines a microbrewery as producing less that 15,000 barrels annually. But the Brewers Association's definition of a regional brewery - as producing between 15,000 and 2 million barrels annually - does have more of a basis, since the US tax code, as stated above, creates an exemption for breweries producing under 2 million barrels.

Here's how the Brewers Association defines a craft brewery:

An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Craft beer comes only from a craft brewer.

Small = annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent = Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional = A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the
greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
I note with interest the delineation of traditional, which appears to have been changed within the last year. Previously, craft was stated to exclude any breweries using adjuncts for any purpose. Under that definition, however, wheat and invert sugar were not considered proscribed adjuncts.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Say NO to microbrewery

Craft beer growth was up 7% in 2004, 9% in 2005. If my employer's experience can be extrapolated, 2006 should be another year of growth AND of an increase in the percentage of growth. Figures have not been released yet ... even though mid-year figures did appear to support this supposition.

Much as I avoid drinking yellow-beer-in-a-can, I avoid using the term microbrewery. It sounds as if it were a descriptor of a high-school science lab experiment gone awry. I remember seeing a cartoon (I believe in the New Yorker) in which a plane traveler was handed a beer bottle the size of a liquor miniature after having requested a microbrew.

Local brewery seems so much more an evocative term: a symbol of a return to the days when there were many local breweries in many communities throughout the US. The difference now would be the diversity of styles produced by today's craft - er - local breweries. 50 years ago, styles were in a narrower range, usually in the American lager category, with a few bocks and ales thrown in.

Beer writer Michael Jackson once proposed to label our efforts - boutique beers. Normally very astute, Jackson, fortunately, miscarried here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

new vintage at Vintage 50

Stopped at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, VA on Tuesday in the late afternoon to see my friend Bill Madden. He was brewing his American Pale Ale, and the air was redolent of cooking malt. (That's a good thing - think oatmeal on a cold morning.)

His beers are slowly making it onto the bar, replacing, by attrition, those of the previous brewer, produced when the place was called Thoroughbreds. On tap were his Kolsch and his Bohemian Pils.

The Bohemian Pils , at 13.4°P, was firm in body - an almost shortbread cookie maltiness - with a floral/peppery bouquet and a dry finish, both from the use of German hops. (I didn't ask Bill about this but would be surprised if he had used US hops for the aroma.)

In tank, in various stages of fermentation and maturation, are his ESB (British-style pale ale) and Oatmeal Stout. The handpull was empty of cask beer that afternoon ... but being a partisan for cask ale, I'll return if for that alone!

Vintage 50 is open, at least during the week, beginning at 4pm. I didn't enquire about weekends.

Wee Heavy
About Bill Madden

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A-B now to distribute Budvar

Anheuser-Busch seems to be on an if you can't beat'em, join'em campaign. Following yesterday's news of a stake in local brewer Old Dominion, comes news today that A-B has acquired the distribution rights to Budvar Budweis. Know in the US as Czechvar - because of international legal disputes with A-B over the right to use the name Bud - this is a true pilsner beer from the Czech Republic.

A-B refers to the beer as a super-premium. This isn't necessarily a reference to quality - even though in this case it is - but a beer industry word used to designate a beer sold at higher price - at a super premium. By that definition, most American craft beers are super-premiums!

From 2001 through 2004, I was a salesman for Legends, Ltd., distributor of Czechvar in Maryland. I'm hoping, although not sanguine, that this independent company will retain its franchise to distribute Czechvar in Maryland. News when I hear it.

Anheuser-Busch, Czech Brewer Strike Deal

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 2:11 AM

ST. LOUIS -- Beer causes fights. Beer kindles friendships. In the case of Anheuser-Busch and its longtime Czech rival, beer is making both things happen at once.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. announced a deal Monday to distribute a beer brewed by Budejovicky Budvar. Both companies stand to benefit from the deal. But they also say it won't end their century-old legal fight over the Budweiser trademark.

The companies both claim exclusive rights to use the Budweiser name, and their trademark dispute has tied up courts throughout Europe.

But even as the lawyers battle it out, the two brewers will share common ground in pushing Budvar's Czechvar Premium Czech Lager to nationwide distribution in the United States.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Say it ain't So, Jerry!

We've heard this song before, but now it's hit the Washington Post, over the fold on Page 1 of the Business Section, in a piece written by reporter Thomas Heath. (You may need a account - free - to access that page.)

What I had heard months earlier from 'inside' sources was that Anheuser-Busch is set any day now to purchase 49% of Old Dominion Brewery and to finance various principals in Fordham Brewery/Ram's Head Tavern for the remainder 51%. That, to my mind, means 100% heart-and-soul would be A-B. Ugh. (An earlier bid, fronted by two employees, seemed to be succeeding, only to fail without public expalnation.)

The article lists the "Baltimore-based" Ram's Head in Annapolis; that's in error. The Ram's Head is in Annapolis, Maryland. And, I believe that the deal actually will be with Southern Beverages of Delaware, the production brewery (that is, no brewpub) that Bill and Kyle Muehlhauser - principals of the Fordham Brewery/Ram's Head - had set up in Delaware a few years ago to produce the bottled Fordham brand.

Confusion may arise because businesses often have dual names: trade or company names and names under which they do business. (Thus in Annapolis, the pub is the Ram's Head and the on-site brewery is Fordham.)

The "Jerry" of "Say it ain't so" is Dominion's owner, Jerry Bailey, who obviously wishes to retire!

From the Washington Post article:

Old Dominion Brewing, whose pub is a favorite of the high-tech crowd near Dulles International Airport and whose microbrews are sold throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, is close to being sold -- and the buyers may be connected to the most macro brewery of all.

Old Dominion President Jerry Bailey said the sale could happen any day. He declined to identify the buyers, but people close to the microbrewery said the sale would involve Ram's Head Tavern, a Baltimore-based brewery chain, and beer giant Anheuser-Busch.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Brickskeller golden

The venerable Brickskeller will be 50 years old this year. It first opened its doors on 7 October 1957.

For several years now, it's been run by Dave Alexander and his wife Diane (granddaughter of the original owners). The bar is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the most extensive bottled beer list of any bar in the world: more than 1000 beers.

Today Dave and Diane begin the new 2007 year in fine fashion, tapping a firkin of Harviestoun Brewery’s Ptarmigan Ale.

Harviestoun is a wonderful brewery out of Scotland, whose Bitter and Twisted was the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain a few years back (and in bottled form, when relatively fresh, a favorite of mine - dancingly crisp - if there be such a taste - with a kiss of citrus)

Dave Alexander's description: This is a 4.5% abv delicious, robust, flavorsome beer brewed from a blend of pale, crystal and wheat malts. It has a strong fruity palate which is nicely balanced by the blend of Hersbrucker and Challenger hops and finished with a late hopping of Pioneer. (to non-geeks, that means this stuff is YUMMY!)
That's an auspicious manner in which to begin its 50th Anniversary celebrations ... which Dave Alexander (known as DA) says will continue throughout the year.

[UPDATE 2007.07.26]
One such event occurred today, when All About Beer Magazine celebrated the relaunch of its magazine at a party at the Brickskeller. The cover article features Dave Alexander and the Bricks. The picture above was taken today - obviously not in January!