Monday, April 30, 2007

Of Beer and Bubbles

The formula for a perfect pint

Thursday, Apr 26, 2007 8:14AM CDT
By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A mathematical formula can now predict how the frothy head on a beer changes over time, a finding that may have a wide range of commercial uses beyond pulling the perfect pint, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The formula explains how the tiny bubbles that make up foam grow -- an explanation that could lead to the development of products such as metal shrink wrap.

The possibilities include "the heat treatment of metals or even controlling (the) head on a pint of beer," Robert MacPherson of Princeton University in New Jersey and David Srolovitz of Yeshiva University in New York report in the journal Nature.

Foam is made up of many tiny bubbles that scientists think of as cells with boundaries. The new formula calculates how these microstructures grow. These tiny structures or grains are abundant in nature, making up the foam on a beach or the pebble in your shoe. They also can be found in man-made materials such as ceramics or metals.

"What the theory does is it tells you how the size of every single bubble will evolve in time," Srolovitz said in a telephone interview.

David Kinderlehrer, a mathematician at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said the finding will help materials scientists concoct a number of newfangled materials by rearranging the grains in various materials using computer simulation. "It tells you how an individual grain grows by itself until something happens to it. That is very important for understanding how to process material," Kinderlehrer said in a telephone interview.

In metal, that means striking the right balance. "The strength of a metal depends on grain size. As you make smaller and smaller grains, the metal gets stronger and stronger but it also gets more brittle," Srolovitz said. "For a particular application you want the grain size that represents a compromise between as strong as you can get and as brittle as you can live with," Srolovitz said.

Kinderlehrer said new materials now under study are batteries that do not corrode and shrink-wrap metals that could be used to repair nuclear power plants -- without shutting them down. "A lot of things we can only imagine," said Kinderlehrer, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study.

Earlier (tangnetially) related post: Brewed in space

Sunday, April 29, 2007

WBF fun

It was the World Beer Festival for Clipper City Brewing and me this past weekend: 6000 attendees, over 150 breweries, and beautiful weather, in downtown Moore Square in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It's presented twice a year - in Raleigh in the spring and in Durham in October - by husband and wife Daniel and Julie Bradford and their publication, All About Beer.

When I work a festival, I'm attempting to increase the visibility of my brewery. That means, that except for potty breaks, a quick nosh, and some visits to friends and fellow brewers, I root myself to my booth to better answer the questions of thirsty festival goers.

Saying AAAARGH! Tom and 2 pirates
Quite a few beer-loving (and often happily indulging) folk do eventually visit my table.

At this World Beer Festival, Clipper City Brewing had two specific goals. First was to serve our Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, pulled fresh from a firkin cask.

Second was to have our table placed adjacent to that of Cabot Cheese. Festival co-organizer Julie Bradford was presenting two talks on pairing beer and food. Clipper City offered a complement to that - but in the beer tents.

Anyone who waited to get his 2 ounce pour of Loose Cannon at our table could not fail to see the beer and cheese poster which sat just to the right of the handpull. And anyone at the Cabot Cheese table could easily help themselves to our brochures: Clipper City paired with Cabot Cheese.

There was some delay, but when the cheese finally made it to the next-door table, folk descended upon it like coyotes upon the cattle of my ex-father-in-law's ranch - it's beer and the munchies, after all! (The analogy might not be precise: Walt protects his perimeter with military precision!)

Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale - herbal, fruity, aromatic - was a popular and piquant mate for the sweet basil and tomato basil blended into Cabot's Tomato Basil Cheddar. We made many converts to the tandem splendor of beer and cheese.

Our first goal - serving Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale from a cask - was a draining, so to speak, success! We brought 2 casks - firkins (the traditional name for a cask of 9 UK gallons, that is, 10.8 US gallons) of still fermenting Loose Cannon. The festival is divided into two sessions. I served one firkin for each session. An hour and 15 minutes was the longest either firkin survived!

Clipper City was the only booth serving real ale. With that many people drinking so many other beers, it was remarkable to watch them stand there, sipping their 2 ounces from our cask, listening to my riffs (albeit abbreviated for the controlled pandemonium) on real ale. My voice was raspy by the conclusion of the first session.

As soon as a brewer racks his beer into bottle or keg, the beer is dying. Good brewers can forestall this, but it's our reality. Cask ale, however, is living beer. No pumps, hoses, lines, filters - nothing - comes into contact with the beer. It is racked into the casks - still fermenting. It sits there for a week - and then I hammer in the tap. It's the freshest any ale can be. And the difference in taste is remarkable - such as between a fresh-baked loaf of bread straight out of the oven and that same loaf weeks later!
After one such oration, I heard "Preach on brother!" I looked up and saw brewer Kevin Kozak, laughing.

Kevin had been the final brewer at Thoroughbreds Brewpub in Leesburg, Virginia, before it was closed and sold. It would be months before the new owners reopened the brewpub as Vintage 50. New brewer Bill Madden continued to serve Kevin's beers until Bill's were ready.

So, I laughed in return: all that flew in the face of what I was saying about cask ale. But, well-made beers will show well when brewed and packaged by a talented brewer. Kevin now brews for Front Street Brewery of Wilmington in North Carolina. His talent will make a visit there de riguer upon my return to the state!

More photos.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weisse guys

(l to r) Tom, Arnie Meltzer, Steve Frank
click for more photos from tastingPeripatetic!

Thursday I was in Boone, North Carolina, hosting a Cask Ale Dinner.

Friday morning I was in Norfolk, Virginia, conducting a beer training for manager Wayne Cole and his staff at Phillips Restaurant in the airport. (Clipper City Brewing produces draft Phillips Amber Ale exclusively for the restaurant chain.)

Then, Friday evening, it was back to Bethesda, Maryland to taste Berliner Weisse with the Brews Brothers: research for their upcoming Mid-Atlantic Brewing News article.

Brews Brothers Arnie Meltzer and Steve Frank have weekly Friday evening tastings at their respective houses. Sometimes it's informal, just with friends. Sometimes they invite a beer demiurge. So for this tasting, they invited me to join with them and their friends Bob and Elias.

We began with the classic: Berliner Kindl Weisse. It's a style of wheat beer fermented with yeast and lactic-acid bacteria, and brewed very low in alcohol. In fact, Berliner Kindl Weisse is very low in alcohol - only 2.5% alcohol by volume! (As a comparison, Budweiser is approximately 5%.)

The Kindl brewery has been purchased by the Binding conglomerate which recently ceased exportation of the Kindl to the US. As a result, our samples were a bit old.
click for more photos from tasting
I did note a champagne-like toasty nose with hints of honey and green apple. The finish was similar to the malolactic character found in many chardonnays - just not nearly as creamy or full-bodied. In fact the beer is very light-bodied. It's pale-straw in color and very light-bodied. It is sour, but like a soft lemony sourness, and, thus, refreshing. Have this on a hot summer day; have it for brunch!

Unfortunately, our bottles' age did show in a lack of carbonation and a slight cardboardy finish.

The Germans, justly proud of their Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) often will pollute (my opinion!) their beers, after the fact, with soda pop and flavorings. With Berliner Weisse, it's raspberry syrup and woodruff. The latter is bright green; when poured in the beer it turns a drab olive-green. It tastes like a combination of vanilla cream soda and cough syrup. Any melon flavor seems to be more a trick of the eye, considering the Midori look of the syrup. In the beer? Yuck!

But the raspberry syrup, although sweet, made for a much tastier cocktail when blended into the Berliner Weisse. In fact, if you poured only a dash - the Germans would call that a Schuss - it tasted almost like raspberry seltzer. (For our 'research', Arnie was pouring at 1 1/2 ounces syrup per 4 ounces of beer.)

click for more photos from tastingI purchased the syrups at the German Gourmet of northern Virginia. And the 2 bottles were as peripatetic as I, traveling from there to Boone, North Carolina, then on to Norfolk, Virginia, and finally to rest in Bethesda, Maryland for our Berliner Weisse evening!

The Berliner weisse style of beer, once brewed by many breweries in Berlin, is fast disappearing in its native home. The only other producer - Schultheiss - has itself closed. (One of my bartenders at Sisson's Brewpub had the last name of Schultheiss. He was a distant American cousin to the operating family.)

But there is a new Berliner-weisse style beer just now being brought into the US. It's called 1809 - named for the year in which Napoleon Bonaparte entered Berlin and declared the Berliner weisse "champagne du nord" - the champagne of the north.

1809 is not brewed in Berlin but at Weihenstephan in Bavaria. From the bottle:

Created by Dr. Fritz Briem of Doemens Institute, brewed by Weihenstephan & Doemens, “1809” is a very traditional interpretation of the “Berliner Style” Weisse with an intense blend of lactic tartness and complex fruitiness. It is bottle-conditioned, unfiltered and unpasteurized. “1809” is fermented in traditional open fermenters and horizontal lager tanks. The wort is not boiled but only heated up to boiling temperature and then transferred to the open fermenters and pitched with yeast and lactic acid bacteria.

It's more full-bodied, and at 5% abv more alcoholic, than the Kindl Weisse. Somewhat out-of-whack in terms of balance of flavors, it was nonetheless delicious - and with its tartness, refreshing. The nose was of freshly ground nutmeg (really!), grapefruit pith, and an almost lambic-like wet goat fur (again, really!). The flavor followed suit but added a limeade finish. It poured much hazier than did the Kindl, and with a moussy head. We did NOT mix it with the syrups!

The final three beers were not of the Berliner Weisse style, but they brought counterpoint to the evening.

Cantillon's Cuvee des Champions 2003-2004
Named for a winning soccer (er, football) team, it poured with a slight veil. (Although Arnie poured out the dregs into each glass which muddled everything!) I found it thin in flavor at least in comparison to other Cantillon beers... or maybe Ishould say softer. There were the classic lambic/gueuze flavor components: baby powder, bandaid, rhubarb, green apple skins, lactic and acetic sourness, and a hint of Thai lemongrass.

Then for something completely different, we tasted a 750-ml bottle of Raspberry Tart from New Glarus Brewing. The brewery is located not too far from Madison, Wisconsin. (My younger brother is a nationally ranked hanglider pilot and flies often in the Madison area. He was kind enough to surprise me recently with a couple of bottles.)

Only 4% abv, it tastes much, much bigger. It pours with a gorgeous red color and a thick pink head. There are waves of raspberry flavor - not candied or artificial - but true raspberry. There's a lush tartness, a sparkling wine-like character, and, as above, a malolactic creaminess, and lots of it. The brewery says that it employs spontaneous fermentation in large oak tuns. I detected an olive like fruitiness, which may come from that. Serve this with brie cheese!

We finished the evening with sips of 2004 vintage Worldwide Stout from Dogfish Head Brewing from Delaware. This 24% abv(!) stout had nothing whatsoever in common with what we had tasted earlier. But it served as our nightcap.

The rest of the panel liked it: flavors of cough syrup, prune, plum, and bakers chocolate, with a BIG alcoholic finish. I cared for it less than the others ... but I did appreciate it, nonetheless, as a remarkable creation. De gustibus non disputandum!

By the way, this was a tasting. We tasted, rather than drank! More photos

Boone welcomes cask ale

(l to r): beer buyer form Harris Teeter store; Michael Sheridan of Earth Fare;
and representatives from my North Carolina wholesaler Tryon - Bob, Brook, Scott.

Boone, North Carolina is home to Appalachian State University. On several occasions in town, I was corrected as to the proper pronunciation of the name ... that is until I finally remembered! It's ap (like apple) puh LATCH chin.

Earth Fare is a supermarket which specializes in organic foods, small producer food products, and the like ... all with a hip, college town zeitgeist. It operates several locations.

The beer/wine/cheese manager of the Boone Earth Fare, Michael Sheridan, invited me to host a beer dinner and cask ale tapping in the cafe area of the store. I'd say about 70 people showed up to listen, watch, and taste. In fact, the entire city of Boone had never had cask ale before this evening's event!

It bears repetition. Cask ale is the freshest a beer can be. It is living beer, still alive with fermentation. Whereas many wines improve with extended aging, beer is best consumed fresh, like a loaf of bread piping hot out of the oven. Of course, the cask ale will be refreshingly cool!

Michael provided several tasty small plates to accompany the lecture and beers, including a delicious Stilton pastry. In addition to the cask of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, we poured bottles of Red Sky at Night Saison, Peg Leg Imperial Stout, Small Craft Warning Uber Pils, and Below Decks Barleywine.

The Red Sky at Night Saison had only been bottled the day before. Clipper City's local wholesalers wouldn't be delivering to stores and pubs in the DC/Baltimore/northern Virginia area until Friday. Thus I believed - and the audience applauded the fact - that this Earth Fare beer dinner was the first commercial tasting of this year's Saison. It was a wonderful time and a very attentive audience.

Afterwards, the crew pictured above took me to the local Boone Tavern where we continued the evening with several pints of other good beer.

Photos from Clipper City Brewing's Cask Ale Dinner at the Earth Fare in Boone, North Carolina, Thursday 19 April 2007.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

They called. They wrote. They are conquering.

South Carolina, just Wednesday, almost popped its cap.

At present in South Carolina, only beer of less than 6.25% alcohol by volume can be sold or produced in the state. (Of course, wine and liquor are legal at much higher levels, but such illogic is the purview of human affairs!)

But Wednesday, the legislature increased the limit - the cap - to 14% alcohol by weight. The bill awaits Governor Mark Sanford's signature.

[UPDATE: The governor signed it a few days later and it is now law.]

Read the bill. It doesn't allow beer at that level per se to be sold. Instead, it declares beers of 14% abw or less to be "nonalcoholic and nonintoxicating beverages" and thus legal to be sold!!!! (Talk about illogic and absurdity.) And read here about a similar event - but which occurred nationally in 1933.

By the way, the law stipulates a limit of 14 per cent alcohol by weight. Measuring alcohol by weight (14%) yields a higher number than if measuring by volume (17.5%), although, of course, either measures the identical amount of alcohol. This is a point that often causes confusion.

So, now, alone in the nation, only Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia stand against good - strong - beer.

Here's a short history of Pop the Cap, the group of good beer partisans that successfully fomented change in North Carolina, and recently rendered assistance to the same cause in South Carolina.

In February 2003, a motley group of thirty-five beer lovers gathered at the All About Beer office to discuss one issue: how to lift North Carolina’s 6% alcohol by volume cap on beer. For seventy years, North Carolina had imposed a 6% ABV restriction on beer sold and brewed within the state. Only four other states have such a severe restriction:

* West Virginia
* South Carolina
* Alabama
* Mississippi

The thirty-five of us were fed up. This relic of Prohibition made it illegal to brew or sell one-third of the world’s beer styles, including gourmet Belgian ales, hoppy IPAs, and intensely malty dopplebocks. Beers meant for sipping and savoring…nothing like the American light lagers that dominate North Carolina’s store shelves.

The rest of the story

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Last week, on my way in to celebrate Bob Tupper's 15,000th beer, I encountered Start Loving. He was huddled in front of the Sudanese Embassy and had just begun his hunger strike in protest of the ongoing massacres in Darfur. Read his blog: Stand With Darfur.

I spoke briefly with him: how more courageous a man he was than I.

Did I then continue onto the beer tasting? Yes. Did I contribute to Children's Hospital? Yes. Did I feel better for it? Yes. Was that, in any manner, enough? No.

Likewise, Monday evening I participated in Sweet Charity, a gala to raise funds against illiteracy. Beautiful people, spectacular desserts, Clipper City beers - but again an emotional disconnect, juxtaposed with the grotesque events at Virgina Tech earlier that day.

I have to believe that there are a lot of courageous people in the world, that there are occasional moments of goodness. To not believe is to surrender. Easy words, exigent course.

A memorial fund has been created to provide assistance to the victims' families and to create a memorial.

Sweet Charity

Over 600 paying attendees sampled spectacular desserts from nearly Washington area chefs, filling the banquet room at the swank Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington DC on Monday evening.

The gala raised funds for the Heart of America Foundation to buy books and provide suport for at risk children in the US.

Honorary chair was Sheila Johnson, owner of the Washington Mystics women's basketball team.

Nearly 50 chefs created fabulous and often visually stunning confections. The wacky and very creative highlight of the evening was the parade of models actually adorned in candy, which had been applied on them by creative DC area chefs.

See more photos.

This is the third year in which Annette Mayr-Nowe, one of the organizers from Albert Uster Imports, has invited Clipper City Brewing to be the only beer donator. I brought along Small Craft Warning Uber Pils, Clipper City Gold Ale, Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, and Peg Leg Imperial Stout. The last one I selected specifically as a mate for all the chocolate.

I was fortuitously placed adjacent to Carole Palmer, a board member of the American Cheese Society. She supplied the cheese selections for the event, and what an amazing board it was! Several attendees paired our Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale with a particularly aromatic goat cheese and our Peg Leg Imperial Stout with one of her blues. There are plans afoot to have Carole and me co-host a beer and cheese dinner at Tuscarora Mill, in October 2007.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heavenly Beer - part 3 - and Cheese

[continued from Heavenly Beer - part 2 ]
Smithsonian lecture on the monastic tradition in brewing

A delightful addition to the tasting was the pairing of each beer with different cheeses - except for the Holy Sheet which was the open keg at the end of the event. Presenting these was Michael Kiss, the cheese monger at Whole Foods Market in Arlington, VA. He not only described the cheeses but would point out why they were paired with the beers.

Referring to the photo on the right:

  • At 4 o'clock position is Chimay Vieux (orange-hued) paired with Pecos Benedictine Monastery Monks' Ale.
  • At 7 o'clock position is Saint Nectaire (rind-on) paired with Orval.
  • At 1 o'clock position is Parlick (sheep's milk) paired with La Trappe Quadruppel.
  • At 12 o'clock position is Formet d'Ambert (raw cow's milk blue cheese) paired with Ettal Curator Doppelbock.
  • Just off the plate at 1 o'clock is Whole Foods Caramel Milk Chocolate paired with Samichlaus.
Orval was paired with Saint Nectaire; very earthy and almost rye-bready. When its rind overpowered the beer, I took a second nibble without the rind. Now the beer-cheese combination was spot-on!

The English Parlick was tangy, sheepy, intriguing, and delicious! I loved it with the La Trappe Quadruppel, even though I wouldn't have thought of pairing the two - it was an inspired suggestion from Michael. (He had originally wanted Wensleydale, but that was temporarily unavailable. Protz joked that all the Wensleydale had probably been consumed by Wallace and Gromit!)

Note that the powerful 14% abv Samichlaus (named for Saint Nicholas) was paired with chocolate rather than cheese. This is a beer lagered for 9 months. Its monastic connection is that the current brewery- Schloss Eggenburg of Austria - originally began brewing operations in a monastery. Protz described the beer as piney, resiny, biscuity, guava-fruity, and chocolatey.
At such strength, it is amazing that Samichlaus still tastes like a beer. The brewers must beat the yeast with a paddle and shout at it to rouse it to final fermentation!

Clipper City's Holy Sheet Uber Abbey Ale was served last as a rich coda. If it had been cheese-mated, I would have chosen an aged Gouda. There may be a geographically minded kinship between the two, but there also is a nutty sweetness and fruitiness to the cheese which is an appropriate foil to the rummy flavor and alcoholic sharpness of the ale.

When Greg mentioned the wry title of Protz's newest book - 300 Beers to Try Before You Die - there was a hearty guffaw from the appreciative audience.

Protz concluded the lecture to much applause:
And so, the story of heavenly beer goes on. The monastic tradition has withstood wars and devastation. It is a miracle in its own right.
[More photos here, or re-read Heavenly Beer from the beginning.]

Heavenly Beer - part 2

[continued from Heavenly Beer - part 1]
Smithsonian lecture on the monastic tradition in brewing

The featured speaker, Englishman Roger Protz, is a well regarded author of books on beer - if not known as well in this country as is beer scribe Michael Jackson.

Protz presented an interesting lecture on the birth and destruction and then the 20th century rebirth of monastic brewing in Belgium, and on its survival in Catholic Bavaria in Germany. Wide-scale destruction by Henry VIII decimated the monasteries and their breweries in England; it was the Revolution which did the same in France. He noted that the Reformation itself was not set against beer per se. Martin Luther was sent beer from a brewery in Einbeck (now northern Germany) in 1521 when on trial at the Diet of Worms.

Protz is worried for monastic brewing's survival in the 21st century. After all the travails, it might be commercial pressures and contracting religious ranks which could bring an end.

Then Protz presented the beers.

  • Monks' Ale
  • Orval
  • Klosterbrauerei Ettal Curator Doppelbock
  • Samichlaus
  • Holy Sheet Uber Abbey Ale
The first was a delicious surprise. Monks' Ale is a beer brewed under license for the Pecos Benedictine Monastery - in New Mexico, USA! And this was the first time this American Benedictine beer had ever been poured on the East Coast.

Monks' Ale
("made with care and prayer") was a slightly sweet but lighter alcohol beer at 4.7% abv. Amber in color with a nice honey/yeasty character, and quite drinkable. According to Protz, the grist consists of pale malt, honey malt, and aromatic malt; the hop charge is German Hallertauer, Slovenian Styrian Goldings, and Czech Zatec.

The monks' brewer is Paul Kraus (not a monk), whom I once met at the Siebel Institute Library in Chicago, where he was researching German brewing texts. The brewery has not yet been built; Krauss oversees the current contract at the Sierra Blanca Brewing Company.

(Honey malt is a light colored specialty malt similar to crystal or caramel malt - with a luscious cotton-candy, and yes, honeyed taste - but without the dark color and caramel characters of crystal malt. It's achieved by literally oxygen-starving the steeping malt, causing it to self-stew, if you will, converting a lot of the inherent starch into malt sugar. The Germans call it braumalt.)

Sipping Orval was like reacquainting oneself with an old friend. It's different from other Trappist beers, lacking their rummy and viscous palates. Instead, it's milky-golden, crisp, hoppy, dry, redolent of spice, and oozing with just a hint of the wild funky flavors of lambic - that last derived from a dosing of the traditional wild yeast of the Zenne - brettanomyces, otherwise known as brett. It is the only Trappist beer which is dry-hopped ... and it shows.

My friend Ron Fischer, I greet as Cellarmaster. He works for beer importer B. United and is responsible, among other things, for its cask ale program.

Today however, he spoke on another of the company's imports: Klosterbrauerei Ettal Curator Doppelbock. One of the last extant German monastery breweries, , Klosterbrauerei Ettal today brews its Curator Doppelbock to a lower 7% abv than it has in the past. However, in a wonderful twist of things, the version it exports to the US is the traditional higher alcohol version of 9% abv. We enjoyed it: very toasted bready and powerful.

During my time on stage, I noted that having heard Protz pronounce the word herb with an 'h', I had become worried that certain other British pronunciations might be problematic. So I was relieved that he had left it to me to carefully pronounce: Holy SHEET Uber Abbey Ale.

[more: Heavenly Beer - part 3 - and Cheese ]

Heavenly Beer - part 1

"Where's Tom Cizauskas?," Jim Dorsch was asking on his microphone at Heavenly Beer, a Smithsonian Institution lecture and beer tasting at the Brickskeller, in Washington, DC., Saturday 14 April.

Think back to that incident last year when CNN reporter Kyra Phillips left her microphone on in the bathroom while President Bush was speaking on stage. Well, I may have almost missed my cue in the men's room, but unlike Ms. Phillips, I fortunately didn't have a microphone with me!

I was there at the Brickskeller to stand-in for Hugh Sisson, Ernesto Igot, and the entire brewing crew at Clipper City. Our beer - Holy Sheet Uber Abbey Ale - was one of only two non-European beers presented by British beer writer Roger Protz during his lecture on the monastic tradition in brewing.

Many of us were late; I arrived with minutes to spare. Meetings of the World Bank and IMF - and concomitant protests - had combined with the spring Cherry Blossom Parade to create street closures and long traffic snarls. (All About Beer publisher Daniel Bradford didn't arrive until the end of Protz's presentation, having endured a 10 hour drive from Durham, NC, over a route which should take 6 hours. )

But ... it was a packed house. And being a Smithsonian crowd, it was an unusually reverential crowd for the Brickskeller. Even so, this quiet was soon lost after the audience had imbibed a few of the high alcohol beers!

The event was arranged and co-hosted by Jim Dorsch - editor and publisher of American Brewer - and Greg Kitsock - beer columnist for the Washington Post and editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

[more: Heavenly Beer - part 2 ]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The marriage of beer and food

Food and beer together ... oh my! Notice the Oz-like averting of eyes from the beer bottle that has always been a guest at table - the dismissive "whatever". If it's not a wine bottle, well then ...

I hear this even from advocates for good beer. Fabled Buffalo Bill Owens, an early good beer maven, once growled at me his distaste for this.

Many of us in the craft beer business can point to moments when we felt our nascent movement had come of age. Even so, it today is a delicate movement, with too shaky an underpinning. But things are changing.

Growth has indeed been amazing. 3%, 7%, 9%, 11% successively in the last 4 years. In 2006, craft beer sales totaled 90,420,000 case equivalents. That's $4.2 billion dollars of sales of good beer! (A case equivalent is a commonly accepted manner of looking at all beer sales as if only cases were sold. It's 13.7 cases per 31 gallons - a barrel - of beer.) I've posted earlier about this surge of sustained growth.

And maybe, just maybe, yesterday's Washington Post could be considered another signpost in our march forward.

Greg Kitsock, the paper's bi-monthly beer columnist, had a front page story in his usual Food Section. Entitled Heady Complements, it discussed how more and more local restaurants and chefs are pairing beer and food to a greater extent than ever before. As Kitsock put it,

A new generation of chefs have grown up since the first microbreweries appeared in the late 1970s
There's also a feature piece about a new trend in DC towards more casual fare (read: less expensive). The piece deals specifically with Brasserie Beck, sister restaurant to the more upscale Marcel's. Chef/owner to both is Robert Wiedemeir.

In a sidebar, Beck's "beer specialist" Bill Catron is profiled.
He will be responsible for selecting labels and educating the staff and customers about the beverage that, in his opinion, suits Belgian flavors better than wine does. "The beer program at Beck's will be like the wine program at Marcel's," a formal restaurant in the West End, says Wiedemeir: serious, in other words.
When I worked for the beer importer and wholesaler, Legends, Ltd., I challenged several wine-savy restaurants to create beer lists better than quotidian fare. The reason (other than my increased sales!) was to have good beer available with good food in places where this often wasn't done. Why shouldn't my pasta dish be served with a good beer rather than Stella or Bud or wine? Sputnik Cafe, honorably mentioned in the Wine Spectator for its wine list, was one such place. (And still today it has a good beer - and wine - list).

So, that was an amazing thing yesterday in the Washington Post: to see all that mention of beer and food. And maybe, just maybe, it was a harbinger of better beer lists to come in many more restaurants in our area - not solely those which are beer friendly. Well-done Greg Kitsock (and Tom Sietsma and Walter Nicholls).

We could add many more restaurants to the list of beer and food pairing restaurants mentioned in the articles - Rustico, Birreria Paradiso, Brasserie Beck, Chadwick's. Doing so would, as a matter of course, omit worthy entrants. But be that as it may, here a few more:
  • RFD (cuisine a la biere described on its home page)
  • Brickskeller
  • Maxs
  • Tuscarora Mill
  • Magnolia Mill
  • Cafe Saint Ex
  • Sputnik Cafe
  • Evening Star
  • Old Stein Inn
  • and several area brewpubs (Brewers Art, Brewers Alley, Vintage 50, Rock Bottom, Gordon-Biersch)
Some recent beer dinners in which I've participated:It's pointless and silly to engage in sophomoric polemics about beer being better with food than wine or vice versa. Why limit yourself to just one beverage? But ... to paraphrase an advertising campaign for the state of New Jersey from a few years back:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Greetings 2007

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never happy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and Whither O mocking life?

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive earth?
Yet soul be sure the first intent remains, and shall be carried out,
Perhaps even now the time has arrived.

After the seas are all cross'd, (as they seem already cross'd)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish'd their work,
Finally shall come the poet worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.

Walt Whitman

A merry melody, indeed!

In the current issue of All About Beer Magazine, beer bard Michael Jackson has written this description of Clipper City Brewing Company's Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale:

A beautifully composed IPA. The style is evident throughout - quietly confident, one might say - but there is no bluster or boasting. It looks good, with its bright white head and teasing bronze color. Its aroma suggests tropical fruit: lychees, perhaps. A lightly creamy texture gently supports the hop flavors, which are appetizingly bitter, but also expansive. I had developed a warm relationship with the hops before they came at me for a last, hard-hitting volley. I slowed them into a clinch. I wanted to savor this brew.
Thank you Mr. Jackson! Co-panelist Charles Finkel was equally complimentary while Stan Hieronymous took off on a whimsical riff:
lightly toasted bread slathered in mildly alcoholic orange marmalade.

and speaking of Merrie Melodies ...

A recent TV commercial for a credit card, which was set in a mall-eatery, featured music that some may remember as the crazy-machine and busy-downtown themes from Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny cartoons.

I looked it up. It's called Powerhouse, and was written and originally performed by Raymond Scott and his Quintette (sp). Later, Carl Stallings would use it and other period music in those wonderfully wacky Warner Brothers cartoons.

Warning and session

Since 1981- the birth of our movement - craft brewers have proclaimed the freshness and flavor of their beers. But these days, more and more breweries appear to be trumpeting the higher alcohol levels of their beers.

Reflecting upon the repeal of Prohibition (see yesterday's post), I find this to be a potentially troubling thing.

American brewers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were certain that prohibition could never happen. If brewers of the 21st century are not wary, their alcoholic bleats may soon be attracting - if they haven't already - the attention of today's neo-prohibitionists.

Beer writer and Malt Advocate editor Lew Bryson has embarked upon a mission he calls the Session Beer Project. It's about the sensory beauty, balance, and alcoholic moderation of good beers of less than 5.5% alcohol by volume. It's session because one can make a session of these - have several - and yet remain compos mentis.

I'm also an advocate for balance in beers and the beauty often overlooked in smaller beers (and have been for awhile). Or as the NY Times Eric Asimov (nephew of the other Asimov), put it, supporting the supposition in the negative:

For the most part, extreme beers are the boring ones. Simply offering more – whether alcohol, hops, horsepower or volume – does not make something better.

I said this - in a whimsical manner - about the naming of these strong beers:

In 1776, nascent Americans rejected Empire and its Imperial trappings. So why are American brewers so enthusiastically re-embracing that concept when naming their quintessentially American beers (excluding the historically correct acknowledgment of Catherine the Great's penchant for extracurricular activities and London stout)?

- Imperial this, imperial that!!??

In my position as a brewer and, now, beer salesman, I have often been asked as to what is or was my favorite beer.

I have many!

But one which stands out, was a 3.4% English bitter, pulled from a cask at the 1999 US Real Ale Festival.

Most of the beers at the US-RAF that year were exemplars of the then new extreme beer movement: more hops, more alcohol. But Coniston Bluebird Bitter —which had won Supreme Champion Beer of Britain just the year before— was not.

Missing the alcohol and the very bitter/residual sweetness yin/yang of 'big beers', it seemed to burst with citric flavor and brewing alchemy. For me, it was, hands-down, the best beer that day. Its simultaneous simplicity and complexity were - and are - the quintessence of session beer: balance, beauty, and drinkability. If alcohol were synonymous with flavor, we would all be drinking Everclear.


  • The US Real Ale Festival is no more, although organizer Ray Daniels now leads the Brewers Publications arm of the Brewers Association.
  • The festival's cellarmaster - Steve Hamburg - coauthored a definitive article on brewing English bitters: Confessions of Two Bitter Men (Zymurgy, 1995).
  • That year Bluebird was imported by B. United. At the festival I met Ron Fischer of B. United for the first time. He is someone who has done a lot for the availability and promotion of real ale/cask ale/good beer here in the US.
  • Coniston Bluebird Bitter is a fine beer today but not the beer I tasted that day in 1999.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Legal Beer

In the 11th century, King Canute ordered the tide to retreat. It did not.

In 1893, the Supreme Court ruled that a fruit was a vegetable.

And, on 7 April 1933 - 74 years ago today - Congress decreed beer to be non-intoxicating.

The 18th Amendment, which had been ratified on 16 January 1919, prohibited the manufacture and sale of "intoxicating liquors...for beverage purposes". The wording left it up to Congress to define "intoxicating". Congress did so later that year as any beverage containing greater than 0.5% alcohol by weight.

A long, dry fourteen years later on 7 April 1933, a Congressional bill, signed by newly-elected Democratic president FDR, went into effect: 3.2% alcoholic beverages were to now be considered as non-intoxicating!

In celebration, 1.6 million barrels of beer were consumed in a 24 hour period. If that had been just bottled beer - which it wasn't - the happy ruck would have consumed more than 529,000,000 bottles of beer in one day. Now, that's a party!

In 2007, the Brewers Association is celebrating Brew Year's Eve with numerous events across the nation.

However, it wasn't until December 5, 1933, that the 21st Amendment was ratified, completely repealing that ignoble experiment, the 18th Amendment. Beers stronger than 3.2% (and wines and spirits) were now allowed to be produced and sold. Reserved to the states was their right to do so or not.

One consequence of the wording of the 21st Amendment was the growth of the 'three-tier' system of alcohol distribution - the manufacturer of alcohol must be an entity distinct from the distributor which must be as well be distinct from the retailer. And the reservation to the states has given rise to a myriad of alcohol rregulations - some whimsical, some aggravating, some contradictory - differing state from state, locality from locality.

Related posts:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tuppers' 15K

"Beer is a journey, not a destination."

Schoolteacher, raconteur, and local beer advocate Bob Tupper was wearing his running shoes yesterday evening, but in the filled-to-capacity back snuggery of the Brickskeller, he had no room in which to run a 15K.

Instead, he and wife Ellie celebrated the tasting of their fifteen thousandth beer! [UPDATE: As of 2010, the count is over 19,000 beers tasted.]

Joining them last evening were more than 80 participants, raising almost $4,000 for Children's Hospital.

Many may know of his Bob Tupper's beers - Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale & Pils, but may not realize that few have done as much as Bob and Ellie Tupper to nourish the good beer culture of the mid-Atlantic and beyond. An uber-beer geek in the best sense of that neoligism, he truly is the godfather of good beer in our area.

Wednesday evening at the Brickskeller was the culmination of a journey that Bob and Ellie had begun in 1979. Bob told us that beer #1 had been from Henri Funk Brewery in Luxembourg, now defunct. Their notes read: "Mmmm. Pretty good. Tastes like beer." Abashed but laughing, Bob assured us that their note-taking has become somewhat more detailed since then.

Bob recounted several more of his and Ellie's beer tasting adventures, some quite funny in the retelling.

The actual 15K beer was Stinky, an IPA from central Virginia's Starr Hill Brewery. Representing the brewery was production manager John Bryce.

Beer # 15,001 was Clipper City's new spring seasonal - Holy Sheet Uber Abbey Ale. I embraced Bob and Ellie. It was a privilege to be there and honor all that they have done for good beer and for local breweries and their brewers. And I was proud that Clipper City's beer could be the first of their next 15,000!

Here are the beers presented, their brewers/presenters, and the order in which they were presented. None Bob had Bob and Ellie tasted before.

With virtually no space available, I was placed immediately to Bob's right. Being that close to the brewers' faces while they were presenting their beers, I avoided using flash when shooting photos. So some are blurred. It wasn't my beery condition! Really.

Early on, we heard a rapping and hammering, as if Dave Alexander were building an extension to hold the overthrow crowd. But it was Bob Tupper tapping his cask of Tuppers Hop Pocket Double Dry Hopped Hop Pocket. It's best to wallop home the tap with a single blow; less trub and yeast is disturbed back into the beer. So, it astonished some of us when Bob admitted that this was his first cask tapping!

The evening concluded with 1989 vintage Thomas Hardy Ale. By then my notes were, "Mmm. Very good!"

Many thanks to proprietor Dave Alexander who put up with the mayhem and contributed beer as well.

The worst beer they have ever tasted? Hands down, it was He Man Malt Liquor, Bob said. That is, until they sampled Bicycle Brand Fruit Flavor Beer!

[Here's the pre-event press release.]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Apple, Inc and EMI announced on Monday that the entire EMI music catalog will soon be available for download without DRM restrictions.

It will be sold in Apple's AAC format as opposed to the more ubiquitous (if proprietary) mp3 format, and will cost 30¢ more per song. But that's okay!

DRM stands for digital rights management. It prevents in some fashion the copying of downloaded music. It often creates compatibility issues between various playback devices or mp3 players. Here's more about that and why I believe DRM has been counter-productive for the music industry ... and music listeners such as me.

EMI's action may be in response to the soft sales of CDs, but whatever the reason, it's a step in the right direction. There will still be lots of money to be made for Apple, Inc. and EMI. Other music labels may observe this and follow suit in some form or another.

And here's Washington Post columnist Rob Pegararo's take (as well as a large slew of readers' comments).

And, from a New York Times article:

Published: April 3, 2007

EMI Group, the British music giant, broke ranks with the music industry’s biggest corporations yesterday by announcing a deal to sell songs online through Apple’s music service without copy protection.

The move by EMI, which ranks last among the four music companies in sales of new music in the United States, represents a significant change of course at a time when the music industry is straining to bolster digital sales as the business of selling the two-decade-old compact disc format continues to erode.

Like the industry’s other major companies, EMI, home to groups like the Rolling Stones and Korn, had long insisted on the sale of its music online with electronic locks to reduce piracy.

The shift means that consumers who buy music by EMI acts may have an easier time navigating the current jumble of incompatible software in the digital music world. Consumers who buy the unprotected music from the iTunes store will be able to play the music on a variety of devices — not just iPods — and be able to burn unlimited play lists of songs.

The unprotected music will come at a higher price, $1.29 a song, though Apple said the songs would have better sound quality. Standard-quality versions of the same songs, with copy protection, will still be available for 99 cents. But to entice more consumers to buy full albums, Apple will sell albums from EMI artists — without the antipiracy software and in the higher quality — for the regular price, which is generally $9.99.

Many analysts viewed the deal, announced in London by EMI’s chief, Eric L. Nicoli, and Apple’s chief, Steven P. Jobs, as a first step in a broader shift toward all music being sold without antipiracy software. Some expressed hope it could also jumpstart digital sales for the music industry. Since the start of the year, the slide in plastic CD sales has accelerated, down more than 20 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.

The rest of the piece ...

I'm not a beer drinker

I, Thomas, am of course a beer drinker!

But, at the beer tastings I conduct in beer/wine stores - many, many Saturday afternoons and Friday nights - I encounter numerous personal reactions to beer. A common one is the comment, "I'm not a beer drinker," which usually is said to spare me from what is really meant, "I don't like beer." Another is to ask me, surrounded by cases of my beer, "Where can I buy this?" (Here's yet another.)

My employer Hugh Sisson has a blog he calls Diary of a Brewer. He recently wrote of his clever manner of addressing this not-a-beer-drinker reticence.

A wine industry friend of mine recently invited me to do a beer tasting for a group of his friends in his “wine group.” I jumped at the chance – this would be a captive audience on which to try my theory of “education can overcome most sales obstacles.”

Before we began the tasting, I surveyed the room, and found (not to my surprise) that almost everyone was less than enthusiastic about beer – “I don’t really like beer” was a common sentiment. Beer was something you kept around ice-cold in cans for tossing back on a hot day, and not much else.

I then asked them what kind of wine they liked and did not like. When I found someone who liked Cabernet but hated Riesling, I then asked “does your distaste for Riesling mean you don’t like wine, or you just don’t like Riesling?”

I then proceeded thru a guided tasting of Bavarian style hefeweizen, marzen lager, pale ale, IPA, and imperial stout. Suddenly I found people, in some cases much to their own surprise, enjoying at least one style of beer, and quite often several! After the tasting, I re-surveyed the room and got people to understand that the same principle they applied quite comfortably to wine, should also apply to beer. That is, if you like pale ale, but hate hefeweizen, then you do indeed like beer, and now have a better idea of what to look for the next time you visit the store.

I think I'll borrow that!

Spring thunder

Susurrus, it rains.

What! a retort -

Surprised, a spring's gloaming.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Classic City Brewfest 2007


Heavy Seas looking good at Classic City Brewfest in Athens , Georgia, Sunday 1 April.

More photos.

Beer school

The several Whole Foods Markets in the greater DC area - and the managers and staff thereof - have been very supportive of me and Clipper City beers. They have often invited me to conduct seminars - including a couple of cooking demonstrations!

Here, I'm lecturing on how to taste beer. And, what a look that was!

My Father

Memory does strange things.

Sometimes, remembering my father, who died today 5 years ago, of complications from Parkinson's and epilepsy, is as if through gauze. And sometimes it's somatic, an actual pang. Many I things I remember -- and too many things I am forgetting.

But the distillate of those memories - his love of family, love of God, intellect, and amazing grace under a death sentence - remains as a beacon. Towards it, I stumble- and often. But that essence of his life is my guide, his gift to me - undeserved - and it has no end.

Albert Charles Cizauskas