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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Laimingų Naujų Metų

According to a new study by Four Points by Sheraton, 80% of people entertaining this year ranked beer as their number one beverage choice beating out champagne and wine from the traditional top spots.
Four Points by Sheraton has a Chief Beer Officer (!). His name is Scott Kerkmans, and he continues:
During these times and with the holiday season upon us, more and more people are realizing that beer is one of those simple pleasures that they can still enjoy without taking a huge bite out of their budget.
The press release includes tips on beer and food pairing, specifically foods served over the holidays, such as ham, turkey, roast beef, etc.
Consumers Cut Back, Ditch the Bubbly and Pop a Beer This Holiday


Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mid-Atlantic brewers feted

In addition to local brewpubs celebrating their own winter beers at their own establishments, Mid-Atlantic brewers and their winter beers were celebrated at least four events this December in the greater D.C.-Baltimore-Richmond area.

  • The Brickskeller in Washington, D.C.
  • Hard Times Cafe in Fairfax, Virginia
  • Hard Times Cafe in Bethesda, Maryland
  • The Brewers Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
At The Brewer's Art Holiday celebration, Saturday 6 December in Baltimore, Md., I had the opportunity to talk with owner Volker Stewart at his Belgian-bistro themed brewpub and restaurant (and in a follow-up email).

YFGF: I like the format of the event. Closed house, tables set up throughout the upper floor of the restaurant and bar, patrons can meet and greet with the brewers at their tables, and ask them questions as they sample their winter fare. When did you hold your first event?
VS: I want to say 2001, but I am not 100% sure. It used to be almost all owners/brewers, of course this has changed since then (although the owner/brewer turnout for this year was good, and Bill Covaleski said he would have come had he not had a prior commitment). I remember Sam Calagione being there at the first one with his new, then, World Wide Stout.

YFGF: Whom did you invite to this year's party?
VS: Wharf Rat, Clipper City Brewing, Brewer's Alley, Red Brick Station, DuClaw, Dog Brewery, Lancaster Brewing, Victory Brewing, Troegs, Southern Tier, Dogfish Head Brewing Company, Weyerbacher, The Brewer's Art.

YFGF: If a person's friends are a measure of a his worth, Volker Stewart is a wealthy man indeed. Since he opened the pub in 1996, five co-workers have gone on to open their own beer-friendly establishments. I asked him for the list.
VS:
  • Annabel Lee, Kurt Bragunier, past GM (Baltimore Md.'s Canton neighborhood)
  • Chameleon Cafe, Jeff Smith, past line cook (Harford Road, just north of Baltimore, Md.)
  • Clementine, Cristin Dadant, past bartender (Harford Road, just north of Baltimore, Md.)
  • Hamilton Tavern, Tom Creegan, current partner (Harford Road, just north of Baltimore, Md.)
  • Parkside, Chris Cashell, past brewer (Harford Road, just north of Baltimore, Md.)

Brewer's Art's taps
Thanking him (and he was busy), I went on to taste the beers, and the generous food spread.

Steve Jones, brewer for Wharf Rat was there, pouring his Little William's Winter Warmer, 7.5% alcohol by volume (abv), gently spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

I said hello to my former employer, Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing. He had brought his World Beer Cup gold-medal winning Winter Storm Category 5 Ale (an un-spiced, strong amber ale, sometimes referred to as an Imperial ESB).

Mike McDonald of Red Brick Station had his Winter Solstice, which he had brewed with two pounds per barrel of cocoa nibs and some Tahitian bourbon vanilla.

Tom Flores is the executive brewer for Brewer's Alley in Frederick, Md. He and his pub's new brewer, Maggie Lenz brought their 6.2% abv Oatmeal Stout, unctuous and tasty. Holding a degree in Food Science, Maggie told me that she was pleased to be applying her expertise to brewing beer.

Jim Wagner --brewmaster for the DuClaw chain of Maryland brewery and restaurants-- was pouring his Devil's Milk Barleywine. Standing next to him was George Humbert of Dog Brewing, pouring a 5.2% abv Juggernaut Porter, a beer whose recipe had been an award-winning homebrew at the Maryland Microbrew Festival.

Tim Wadkins, Victory Brewing's Quality Assurance Director, was pouring the brewery's Old Horizontal. By this point, I took only a sip of this 11.5% abv barleywine.

I noticed snow flurries outside: it was time to end the afternoon. So I finished with a taste of 2008 Festivus, spiced with fresh ginger and orange peel, and a sip of 2003 Festivus, spiced identically. The aging had softened the spices to almost a orange-ade citrus.

And then it was out into the cold ... but I was feeling warmed.

Flurried at the Brewers Art
  • More photos here.
  • Brewer's Art Resurrection Ale is now in bottles, available in limited amounts in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
  • (Surprising to me, the other home-grown chain in the area, the Capital Ale House, now with four locations in Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va., held no formal celebration of local winter beers, even though the pubs did pour some local seasonal beers.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Baltimore

Miller Lite Cizauskas
Outed! Santa Claus brought me a Miller Lite polo shirt for Christmas. Is that what I've always secretly wanted?

It's been a mini-tradition of sorts for me to hit Baltimore, Md. for a day of beer tasting soon after Christmas Day. It was easier when I lived there. Since 2002, it's required getting off the couch and driving north on I-95.

Last year, it was to the Wharf Rat for a book signing: Beer and Philosophy.

This year, it was with friends to Maxs TapHouse in the Fells Point district, a block from the Inner Harbor.

Among the beers we tried were a cask pull of Weyerbacher Winter; draft JW Lees 1997 (!) Harvest Ale (tasted like a prune juice cocktail... in a good way); bottle Hanssens Oude Kriek; draft Chouffe Houblon; draft Oaked Aged Arrogant Bastard; draft Uerige Doppel Sticke; draft Troegs Mad Elf; bottled Ølfabrikken Jule Ale (Danish strong golden ale hopped with US Centennial); and bottled Ølfabrikken Winter Porter (bottom-fermented porter of about 7.5% abv).

Mark your calendars now for Max's 5th annual 72 Hours of Belgium, a three day celebration of Belgian beer, 13-15 February 2009. In year's past: over 100 Belgian draught beers, and 200 bottled Belgian beers.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bah, humbug: Winter Beer

Just as magazine issues are released weeks before their printed issue date, seasonal craft beers are often brewed well before their 'season'.

Calendar winter begins on 21 December. Winter beers can appear in early October. On the very day after Christmas, they are undesired by beer shop owners.

Don Russell's Christmas Beer
In a December beer column in the Washington Post, Greg Kitsock reviewed a new book about Christmas beers, written by Don Russell, who is the Joe Sixpack of the Philadephia Daily News.

The common denominator of Christmas beers is that they have no common denominator. <...> Generosity is a hallmark of the season, and many breweries add a little bit more of what they use during the rest of the beer.

Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews
(Universe Publishing, 2008)


But in reading through the consumer reviews of winter beers (or Christmas beers or 'holiday' beers) on sites such as Beer Advocate, one can find comments such as this one:
Unlike most winter seasonals, this beer is very hoppy with no spiciness. While I'm a hop head by nature, the lack of spice and malt flavor and the overwhelming hoppiness leave me underwhelmed.

To these style Scrooges, I say: Bah, humbug!

Winter beers are celebrations of the season. They can be big, they can be malty, or they can be hoppy, or they can be spiced. Or maybe not. They are not an ordained style.

Scorecard

Early in December, Washington DC's Brickskeller hosted its annual Winter Holidaze Extravaganzee, a two-evening tasting of local winter beers.

Emcee Bob Tupper noted a change in style among local winter beers.

Five years ago, most would be spiced, à la Anchor's Our Special Ale. Now, he observed, even if spiced, they are much more likely to be Belgian in character: strong, dark, and yeasty-fruity.

Four of the attending brewers had brewed their beers all with the same yeast, reputedly the same strain as used by the Trappist monks at Westmalle in Belgium. It was fascinating to taste the differences and similarities. The four were:
  • Dubbel from Capital City Brewing, Shirlington (Brewer Mike McCarthy)
  • Tripel from Capital City Brewing, Capitol Hill (Brewer Ryan Curley)
  • Dubbel from District Chop House (Brewer Barrett Lauer)
  • Anniversary Ale (Trouble) from Rock Bottom Brewery, Bethesda (Brewer Grant Carson)
All four were brewed with remarkable restraint, the exuberance of strong Abbey-style ales balanced with repeat-drinkability.

A special treat was the 5 Apostles Saison brewed by Jason Oliver.

McCarthy and Oliver

Mike McCarthy of Capitol City Brewing (l); Jason Oliver of Devil's Backbone (r)
Greg Kitsock of Washington Post (back to camera)

For several years, Jason Oliver has been the executive brewer for the DC area Gordon-Biersch brewpubs. But he has since moved 3 hours south to the Wintergreen resort area of Virginia and opened the Devil's Backbone Brewpub.

The name of his saison derives from nearby moutain peaks of the Blue Ridge. Jason pointed out that the Appalachian Trail is on the ridge just above the brewery.

Other local beers poured that evening were:
  • Gordon-Biersch Winterbock (Brewers Ben Matz and Mike Grossman)
  • Old Dominion Baltic Porter (Brewers Favio Garcia and Jesse Brenneman)
  • Clipper City's Winter Storm Hop3 Ale, served from a cask (Owner Hugh Sisson)
Brickskeller owners Dave and Dianne Alexander then treated us to three additional beers.
  • Wyerbacher Wit
  • Southern Tier Old Man Winter
  • Sam Adams Chocolate Bock
By this point, Jason Oliver, feeling the winter cheer, happily announced:
It wouldn't feel like Christmas without tasting beers here with Bob and Ellie Tupper at the Brickskeller [a 25 year tradition].

Winter continues until the vernal equinox on 20 March 2009. You'll have the time to enjoy these beers of winter.
  • More photos here.
  • Read a review of the Wednesday tasting, featuring beers from other local breweries, written at blog DC Beer.
  • A different tasting of many other Christmas/winter beers described here.

No misfortune #2

As has been reported here before, a contest of photos of beer was recently held, conducted concurrently by blogger Stonch of the UK and blogger Alan of Canada.

Click here on Stonch or Alan for the lists of grand and lesser winners.

A photograph I submitted was one of the latter, but yet still a winner.

Consequently, I'm to be a recipient of schwag: an Obaminator tee-shirt, graciously donated by the Wynkoop Brewery of Denver, Colorado, which had brewed a bock beer of that name at the time of the Democratic Party Convention held in that city.

Here is my winning entry.

It's a photo of a firkin of Clipper City Brewing's Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale, taken on 24 September 2007.

The firkin's shive bung tut has been broached, and the soft bamboo spile is fobbing as the firkin comes into condition. The firkin sits covered by an insulated blanket, keeping it cool, in the upper dining room of the Taco Mac Restaurant in the Lindbergh Center of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The glow of a television monitor, displaying a poster advertising the beer, illuminates the blanket. Later that evening, the cask was tapped, and served to accompany a beer dinner, organized by General Manager Fred Crudder and prepared by Executive Chef Matthew Deckard.

cask-fobbing

And now, my acceptance speech.

Thank you to Jeff (Stonch) and Alan for organizing the contest. Thank you to Wynkoop Brewery for donating the prize. Thank you to Taco Mac for the beer dinner.

And thank you to Cellarman Stephen Marsh of Clipper City Brewing for preparing a wonderful cask of ale.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Better beer graphics

Mike Licht is an observer of Washington, D.C. and world politics. His wry (and sometimes sardonic) wit can be observed at his blog Notions Capital.

Mike creates clever graphics to accompany his posts. And, now, he has graciously created a graphic for a post at my blog. See: Pirates Beered into Submission, from Saturday 20 December.

Better beer through the interwebs. Or more precisely, better beer graphics. Thank you, Mike!

No misfortune #1

The YFGF Christmas meal was served with Malheur 12° from Brewery DeLandtsheer of Belgium and a 2007 Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Shiraz.

The first had a marvelous brown-sugary aroma and flavor. Toss in flavors of prunes, toffee, maybe Bailey's Irish Cream. In this case, the 12° is 12% alcohol by volume.

The Shiraz was plummy and oaked, with notes of vanilla and spice.

Christmas table

The menu wasFor dessert, it was Maple-Baked Spiced Nuts (and a final glass of the Malheur 12).

And for all, it was a good night.

["Misfortune" is the translation of "malheur".]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Linksmų Kaledų

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1

winter sunrise rainbow


Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Last minute Xmas gifts:2 ebooks

For procrastinators (and non), Yours For Good Fermentables.com recommends two ebooks as gifts this year. You can get both in just minutes via download.

The first, I've mentioned before.

Amber, Gold & Black
, by Martyn Cornell of Zythophile blog fame, is an ebook on British beer styles.

Rather than relying on commonly accepted conjecture, Mr. Cornell has researched actual historical records and reports. And in the process, he may have disabused us of some of our preciously held beer myths (hint: porter, IPA). (See my recent rant on Baltic Porter.) Good stuff, entertainingly written, and stuffed with great pics and old beer labels.

Amber, Gold & Black

The other is The Vegan Dad Cookbook, just released by Nathan Kozuskanich, who writes a blog as The Vegan Dad.

Culling from recipes he's published at his blog, Mr. Kozuskanich addresses how to cook vegan meals for children —when time is of the essence. (Helpful even for non-children.)

For those occasions when there might be ample time in the kitchen, some of the recipes are more complex —maybe even gourmet-ish.

And, yes, some of the recipes have been prepared in the YFGF kitchen.
The Vegan Dad Cookbook

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dominion's Baltic Porter: a review

Here they go again. The beer stylistas.

Dominion Baltic PorterThis time their target is the Baltic Porter from Old Dominion Brewing of Ashburn, Va. It seems that this —the brewery's 2008 winter seasonal— is not big enough and not fruity enough to be a Baltic Porter.

First of all, what is a Baltic Porter, and, secondly, who has the right to say what one is?

American beer judges?

Or should the model be actual modern Easter European interpretations?

Such as Utenos Porter from Lithuania?

Dominion's Baltic Porter contains 7% alcohol; its grist is that of a porter ale (with some rye thrown in), but the beer is fermented with lager yeast (as is the Utenos).

Brown-black darker than the Utenos, Dominion's Baltic Porter has more alcohol, more dark fruit character, more luscious malt character, and more roast than its Lithuanian counterpart (which is itself a fine beer).

But it is a lager, so it's smooth around the edges, with less fruitiness than an ale —a porter— would have.

I remember a winter beer tasting in 2004 held at the Clipper City Brewing Company of Baltimore, Md.

Scott Dietrich, then Clipper City's head brewer (now production manager for Victory Brewing), walked through, and stopped to look at a few of the bottles. He picked up the Dominion winter beer —a Baltic porter, Dominion's first attempt at it— and declared, "What is this, a joke?"

Then he tasted it, and said, "That's good."

Yes ... and this year's is even better.

This grandson of of the Baltic (whose grandparents emigrated from Lithuania in the early 20th century) finds Dominion's 2008 winter Baltic Porter to be mighty tasty ... regardless of what those American beer stylistas Scrooges all— may deem it to be.

Head brewer Favio Garcia and the brewers of Dominion keep on keeping on, despite the announced closure of their brewery. None of them are moving to Dover, Delaware when the Ashburn facility is shut in early 2009. But all are going out in glorious fashion.

Old Dominion takes the stand
l-r at the Brickskeller Winter Beer Tasting:
Emcee Bob Tupper; brewer Jesse Breneman; head brewer Favio Garcia.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dahl, beer, & chocolate

In the mid 1990s, I was the original brewer for the Manayunk Brewery, a brewpub in Philadelphia.

Rich Pawlak —a freelance writer and, at the time, a newly converted good beer fan— stopped in to talk one afternoon.

Rich had been intrigued that the brewpub was listing beer pairings for the food items on the menu. That might be common now, but it was not then.

KingfisherOver pints, afternoon became evening. We went on to discuss other beer with food pairings. One was Indian cuisine.

We both agreed that the international style lagers normally served at Indian restaurants might be a good wash with the food's aromatics and spice, but that a hefe-weizen (a German-style wheat beer), with its sweet food-spices notes (cloves, allspice, banana, etc.), would be a complimentary flavor mate.

German and Indian: call it international food diplomacy.

Our discussion was wide-ranging: The brewpub neither served Indian cuisine, nor was I brewing a wheat beer.

I lost touch with Rich in the intervening years, so I was happy to hear of him thriving, and that he had begun a blog he calls The Omnivore.

In a recent post, Rich lists some beer and food pairings, but omits the dahl-with-weizen we had discussed. I'll remind him.

Brewer Garrett Oliver, in his book The Brewmaster's Table, has written similarly of this flavor 'hook':

Many of the spices of Indian cooking are mirrored in the spiciness of weissbier.

Yet to this day, it remains out of the ordinary to find a hefe-weizen at an Indian restaurant.

Cheers for Beers!A few evenings ago, I led a beer-tasting discussion at Red, White, & Bleu, a Falls Church, Va. wine and gourmet shop (and beer).

The 5th and final beer of the presentation was Hang Ten, a "Weizen Dopplebock," brewed once a year by the Clipper City Brewing Company of Baltimore, Md.

Most German-style wheat beers have an alcohol level of about 5% by volume, give or take. A weizen doppelbock, such as Aventinus from Schneider of Germany amplifies that to about 8%; the Hang Ten to 10%.

With this increase in alcohol comes a bigger shake of clove and allspice characters, an infusion of dark plums, some vanilla and white chocolate, and healthy dollops of banana and cherry fruit essence. None of these items are tossed into the beer; it's the fermenting yeast that provides the flavors.
Garam Marsala Chocolate
For the evening presentation, I had paired the weizen dopplebock with chocolate.

But remembering that long-ago conversation, I paired the beer not just with any chocolate, but with one from local chocolatier, Kingsbury: a Garam Marsala-infused dark chocolate.

The combination was flavor affinity cubed, and it was delicious.

Pirates beered into submission

artwork provided by Notions Capital.comSomali pirates boarded a Chinese tanker in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday wielding machine guns and rocket launchers.

These days, such news is unfortunate, but not unexpected. On this occasion, however, what happened next was unexpected.

The tanker's crew successfully repelled the boarding pirates. Their weapons? Beer bottles.

In its on-line edition today, The London Times quotes the captain of the tanker:

“Our crew, who had been well trained and prepared, used water cannon, self-made incendiary bombs, beer bottles, and anything else that could be used to battle with them. Thirty minutes later, the pirates gestured to us for a ceasefire,” he added. “Then the helicopter from the joint fleet came to help us.” [emphasis mine]

No wonder InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch. It wanted a piece of the 'explosively' growing Chinese beer market.
  • Artwork provided by Mike Licht, author of Notions Capital blog.
  • I was alerted to this story by a post at Lithuanian beer blog Tikras Alus.

New Year's Eve Firkin Fest

For New Year's Eve, Rustico Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia is offering a double dose of good-beer festivities.

On the restaurant side, there's a fixed-price four-course menu: each course paired with beer. Reservations required.

  • Baked Camembert with Housemade Orval Sourdough
    Paired with Kloster Wintertraum: Klostbrauerei Weltenburg, Germany
    .
  • Maine Sea Scallops with Spooky Pumpkin Grits & Ginger-Andouille Gremolata
    Paired with Avec Les Bons Voeux: Brasserie Dupont, Belgium
    .
  • Pineland Farms New York Striploin with Whole Grain Mustard “Knish”& Old Stock Macerated Medjool Dates
    Paired with N’ Ice Chouffe: Brasserie D’ Achouffe, Belgium
    .
  • Tiffin Tin of Holiday Cookies
    Paired with Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout: Brooklyn Brewery, New York, NY.
cask pull at Rustico
But on the bar side, Beer Manager Greg Engert and his crew will be tapping 6 cask firkins (with others in reserve), beginning at 6pm and continuing until the Big Beer Toast at midnight ... and beyond. And, no reservations are required.
  • WinterHook Winter Ale: Red Hook Ale Brewery, New Hampshire.
    A Winter Warmer from a brewery whose offerings are rarely seen on cask.
  • Pomegranate Wheat Ale: Peak Organic Brewing Company, Maine.
    This beer has never been in the Mid-Atlantic before, let alone on cask.
  • Fraoch Heather Ale: Williams Brothers Brewing Company, Scotland.
    Our choice for actual British ale served stateside.
  • Snake Dog IPA: Flying Dog Brewery, Maryland.
    Very local and very fresh.
  • Really Old Brown Dog: Smuttynose Brewing Company, New Hampshire.
    An amped-up version of their traditional Brown Ale, aged in the cask.
  • Allagash Black: Allagash Brewing Company, Maine.
    Somewhere between a Stout and Belgian Strong Ale.
The other bubbled fermented beverage will be available ... if you must.
  • What's cask ale? Go here.
  • Caveat lector: I am employed by a northern Virginia wholesaler that sells Allagash, Brooklyn, and Flying Dog beers.
  • Want to polka in the New Year? Maryland's fabled Blob's Park will re-open New Year's Eve. Go to www.blobspark.net for more information.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Clean your pipes

The old brewmaster said:

  • Know your water.
  • Keep good notes.
  • Clean your pipes.
Brewing is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. Clean, clean, clean! And then clean again.

Then, when the beer has departed the brewery, and is gone from the brewer's control ...

A good draught beer is only as good as a clean draught line. A chef changes the fryer oil; a car owner changes the engine oil; a bartender must clean the draught pipes (lines), and often.

Two months is too long to wait: a dirty line can easily develop an anaerobic infection. It's harmless, medically, but foul, organoleptically. Translation: it tastes terrible.

Gunk, like yeast and beer stone (calcium deposits), accumulates. Clean the pipes at least once every two weeks, if not every time you change a keg.

Cleaning the tap

********************
A series of photos demonstrating line-cleaning technique: here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Didn't make the cut

The final 40 entries in Alan and Jeff's excellent Christmas Beer Photo adventure have been announced.

And Yours For Good Fermentables.com must accept that it has utterly failed succeeded in making the cut.

Here are the 4 images YFGF submitted all rejected:

Firkin Thursdaydrip tray gleesoft spile fobbingcask relief

Maybe it's time to bring out the Tom Jones Reloaded ... and a Dominion Baltic Porter 2008.

More about the contest here.

[UPDATE 2008.12.22: YFGF humbly accepts its prize for the third photo from the left, the fobbing cask.]

Beer, as WE age

There's yet another report that alcohol may be good in small or moderate amounts, but bad in greater amounts.

Jane Brody in the New York Times summarized this new report at her Personal Health column. What differentiates it from other similar reports is that it is specifically directed at Baby Boomers, as they pass 65. Much of her article draws on a study published in the October issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The bad:

Doctors may also fail to recognize the symptoms of alcohol abuse, a problem that is expected to become increasingly common as baby boomers, who have been found to drink more than previous generations [emphasis mine], reach age 65 and beyond.

Personal Health
Query for Aging Patients: How Much Do You Drink?
By JANE BRODY
December 15, 2008

The good:
At the same time, older people who are in good health should know that moderate drinking under the right conditions may improve their health in several important ways.

The study's authors note that "moderate" alcohol consumption may ward off:
  • Heart disease and mortality
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Osteoporosis
and that it may have salubrious psychosocial and nutritional effects.

The risks of excessive alcohol consumption that Ms. Brody mentions are common sense:
Immoderate consumption of alcohol — more than three drinks a day — can be hazardous for people of all ages, but it is especially so for the elderly, who reach higher levels of blood alcohol faster and maintain them longer than younger people.

Potential hazards include an increased risk of falls and vehicular accidents, a decline in short-term memory, a worsening of existing health problems, and interactions with medications that may diminish the effectiveness of some drugs and increase the toxic effects of others.

I have a (very) short list of links to articles on beer and health at my website: Good Beer & Good Health?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eventide Restaurant: Arlington, Va.

In the gloaming ... no.

Crepuscule ... no.

Eventide ... yes.

It's a new wine bar and restaurant that's slated to open in early January, 2009, in Clarendon, Va.

Eventide, under construction


I stopped in today, and bar manager Steve Warner took a few minutes time off from painting the walls to talk. "Eventide will be a fabulous wine bar," he told me.

Then he admitted, sotto voce, "I am a bit of a beer aficionado."

Steve says he will stock an interesting bottled beer selection to complement the American (that's all the Americas, North and South) wine list being assembled by wine manager Glenn Fisher.

********************

UPDATE: 2009.02.12. Now open.

Eventide bar


More photos here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cheers for Beers: a tasting

My friends at Red, White, & Bleu in Falls Church, Virginia have invited me to give a presentation on winter beers this Thursday, 18 December at their wine, beer, & artisanal cheese shop ('Bleu'... get it?). And to talk about beer and food pairing.

There is a set agenda, but the 2 hours is more of an informal thing. Come any time between 6 and 8pm, and the $10 cost will get you samples of 5 beers and cheeses.

Click on the poster for more information, or call (703) 533-WINE (9463).

Cheers for Beers
UPDATES

Beer photo contest

Celebrator correspondent Chuck Cook returned from his most recent trip to Belgium (18th and counting) with over 1,500 digital photos.

Learning that, I checked my statistics at the photo sharing/web 2.0 site Flickr. I have 7,185 photos stored there, but that's an accumulation from over several years. Of those, 3,280 have been publicly viewed. There are 1,936 that I have yet to tag with at least the word "beer". My most-viewed photo is of a model dressed totally in pastry and candy as Ariel the Mermaid. My most-viewed beer photo is of the now-demolished facade of Dr. Dremo's beer bar in Arlington, Va.

When bloggers Stonch in the UK and A Good Beer Blog in Canada announced the 3rd annual Christmas Beer Photo Contest, I knew it might be difficult to winnow down my collection to a select few. (The contest occurs during the Christmas season, and some nice goodies are awarded for the winner. But the photos need not be of Christmas beers, just great shots in which beer is involved.)

Many of the images are simple photo-documents of beer events and persons. But I did manage to select four interesting (at least I believed so!) images which I emailed in ... at the very last minute.

Without any doubt, I may have missed some interesting photos. Here, for example are four I did not submit:


have cask will travelClipper & Cabot @CarnegieGood to the last dropDave Alexander pours Below Decks

The submission deadline was yesterday. 524 images were entered. And the winner was ....? Well, as Stonch wrote:
It's going to take us a while to sort through all those photos and choose the winners. Feel free to pitch in with your suggestions, but don't expect us to be influenced by the voice of the mob. We're both lawyers, you see, and as such we're all about due process (that, and thinking we know best).

I didn't make the cut. Update here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

C.R.A.B.B. gets crabbier: 12/08 update

C.R.A.B.B. —the Chesapeake Region Alliance of Beer Bloggers— now stands at eleven members, with two new scribblers:

Welcome!

More about C.R.A.B.B. here.

Green eggs and beer? Emeril in DC

It was lights, cameras, action, at Clipper City Brewing Company.

Crew from Discovery Channel's Emeril Green visited the Baltimore, Md. brewery to take video for an upcoming feature on organic and local beer, and cooking with it.

The series ...

is set in Whole Foods Market, where Chef [Emeril] Lagasse and the store’s team help average people shop for the freshest ingredients while explaining the benefits of organic, locally grown and seasonal produce. After shopping for ingredients, Chef Lagasse prepares a meal with each individual that demonstrates the ease of using organic and locally grown foods in everyday meals.

[UPDATE] The actual cooking segment with Chef Lagasse was shot in Fairfax, Virginia at the Whole Foods Market in Fair Lakes, on Wednesday, 7 January 2009.

Jason, Chef Emeril, Chef Sal


Among the segments was DC homebrewer and homecook Jason Nuzzo cooking with Chef Lagasse using organic beer, including Oxford Raspberry Wheat Ale from local brewery Clipper City of Baltimore, Maryland. Other organic beers were Wolavers, Peak, and Lakefront. Also listed as a show favorite was Orlio from Magic Hat Brewing of Vermont, a beer that has since been discontinued, even though the brewery continues to thrive. (Two amusing typos at the site: Otter Creek as "Otto Creek" and Clipper City as "Cider City".)

Clipper City's website announced the air date as April 2009.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fresh vs. vatted

The fellow on the next bar stool asked about the beer business, and the conversation moved to fresh beer and about a recent cask ale event.

I don't think beer is about freshness, the fellow said. I have some Dogfish Pangea that I have been aging for three years. It's awesome.

Do you drink it everyday, I asked.

Well, no.

Why not?

It's too strong.

What do you drink otherwise?

Well, I don't like lagers. So, when I want more than one beer, I drink Amstel Light.

Hmmm.  Do you know that Amstel
is a lager?

Despite recent sales growth, cask ale remains a niche product in the US. Possibly this is due to the set-up of bars and pubs in the US. Cask ale competes with the convenience of draft systems and with the sheer numbers of drafts offered.

Possibly this is due to the current surge of interest in aged and vatted beers. Vatted and aged beers, often of elevated alcohol levels, were common in the 18th and 19th century. [See Amber, Gold, & Black by Martyn Cornell.] As long as the impression is given that cask-conditioning is reserved for strong beers, the beauty of fresh beer may remain a niche secret. If beer can be aged, some might think, why bother with fresh cask beer?

That would be a shame.

I'm using the term 'vatted' to refer to beers aged in barrels (often bourbon barrels), sometimes inoculated with wild yeasts or other micro-flora. 'Aged' refers to the universe of beers of keeping: both vatted and bottled.

This is not a knock against aged and vatted beers, but more of a plea to breweries and pubs to continue to produce and serve cask ale, especially 3.5-5.5% alcohol beers, that is session-strength (that is, not knock-you-under-the-table alcoholic strength). Okay, maybe up to 6%.

I do appreciate the efforts, and the financial risks of cellaring beer. These methods can produce stunning results. I waxed rhapsodic a few years back upon encountering a wooden cask of J.W. Lees, an English barleywine. As with the Pangea/Amstel drinker above, I'll choose them not as a steady diet, but as a spice, a change, an accent.

Below is a photo of former bourbon barrels now holding aging porter and oatmeal stout at Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington, Va.



Woodford Reserve barrels

I stopped in at the brewpub recently and had a good talk with Brewer Chris Rafferty. In addition to his darker beers which can be complimented by the barrel's infusion of bourbon flavors, Chris will be aging his golden Tripel in a three-times used cask, releasing the beer in late spring 2009. He hopes to get less 'dark bourbon' character and more spice into this beer.

Chris manages to do both casks and barrels. He offers cask-conditioned ale everyday except Wednesdays, and the barrel-aged beers when ready.

Rock Bottom is presenting a beer and cheese (and chocolate) fondue dinner this coming Monday, 15 December. None of Chris' barrel-aging beers will be served that evening, but the final beer of the evening —Cask Conditioned Tripel Kriek— will be served naturally conditioned, from a cask.





Holiday Brew Dinner
Rock Bottom Arlington, Va.
Monday, December 15th at 6:30pm
$45 per person or $80 per couple (including tax and gratuity)

Featuring a four-course, gourmet fondue dinner.
Three courses are paired with house brews.
and one with a guest beer.


For more information/reservations,
go to www.rockbottomarlington.com
or call (703) 516-7688.


First Course:
Cheddar Fondue • Swiss Fondue
Pretzel Bites • French Bread • Granny Smith Apples • Bartlett Pears
Paired with Fallen Angel Tripel - Belgian Style Golden Ale

Salad Course:
Fresh field greens and arugula mixed with Gorgonzola cheese,
sun dried cranberries, candied walnuts, red grapes, and celery.
Tossed with champagne vinaigrette.

Paired with Lemongrass White Ale

Entree:
Spicy Monterrey Jack Fondue • Gorgonzola Fondue
Herb Crusted Pork Medallions • Tenderloin Tips
• Chicken Bites
Broccoli and Cauliflower crudites
Paired with Guest Beer:
Flying Fish Abby Dubbel
- Belgian Style Brown Ale


Dessert Course:
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Fondue with Grand Marnier
Strawberries • Bananas with Peanut Butter • Pound Cake
Paired with Cask Conditioned Tripel Kriek

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nix on faux Fuller's casks

As if a US Governor selling a senatorship weren't bad enough, now a famous brewery is peddling its kegged beer as cask ale.

Alex Hall at Ale Street News on-line edition reports that the London, England brewery Fuller's may be promoting ersatz real ale as the real thing here in the US.

Real ale —or cask-conditioned ale— is brewery fresh ale: the beer is racked into a cask while fermentation is ongoing, and then shipped out. Most casks have a volume of 10.8 gallons and are called 'firkins'. So, in a manner, the brewery has shipped a pub a small fermenting vat. And that is, indeed, brewery fresh.

At the pub, the cask is traditionally served via a handpump —also known as a beer engine. As a server pulls back on the pump's handle, a piston mechanism 'pulls' the beer from the cask in a cellar or refrigerator up to the tap. No extraneous carbon dioxide pressure is needed or used.

cask cooler
A real beer engine at Rustico Restaurant and Bar in Alexandria, Va.

Hall reports that, here in the US, the historic English brewery Fuller's has been apparently installing what he calls 'simulators': bar towers that resemble beer engines, but are actually well-disguised standard taps, merely activated by a pumping action. These are used to dispense filtered, pasteurized, and artificially carbonated kegged beer ... as are most undisguised taps in the US.

What Fuller's allegedly has done —and fellow English brewery Marstons' before it— is a travesty. If Fullers' kegged beer is of good quality —which it is— the brewery should be proud to present it as it is. But Fuller's —or any other brewery— should not pass off its kegged beer as 'living' cask beer.

I don't have metrics to prove so, but relying upon anecdotal evidence, I can attest that more and more breweries in the US are producing cask ale. [While I was employed at Baltimore, Md.'s Clipper City Brewing Company from 2004 through 2008, its annual production of cask ale increased 20 fold.]

Even so, cask ale sales remain at only a tiny fraction of beer sales nationwide. This is a nascent thing; it should be encouraged and developed, not mocked with insincerity. So, shame on you, Fuller's.
  • Alex Hall promotes cask ale in the greater New York City area. At his informative site on cask ale, he has posted a photo of a simulator in a scatological pose: gotham-imbiber.com/simulator.html.
  • At beer festivals and special occasions, casks are sometimes served without a beer engine but directly from the cask through a simple 'gravity' tap.
  • Working for a wine and beer distributor in northern Virginia, I sell cask ale from breweries other than Fuller's, and thus might have a conflict-of-interest.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Too busy for words: photos of 3 events

Real life occasionally intervenes in the routine of a blogger. As it has now.

So, without the time to describe three recent events with words, I'll do so pictorially.


Final First Wednesday at Old Dominion?
Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wooden barrels


A Brewer's Art Christmas
Saturday, 6 December 2008

Brewer's Art's taps


Brickskeller's Winter Holidaze
Monday, 8 December 2008

Rachel pours the beers

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A cool cask for a cold night

I have a friend who claims culinary greatness for a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup served on a chilly day.

She might be right. Except that I would add to that a pint of cask bitter.

And those were on my menu last evening at Arlington, Va. restaurant Tap & Vine. Except that I had substituted truffle-oil fries for the sandwich.

Outside, it was a cold December night. But inside, the rustic house-made tomato soup was warming, the aromatic fries belied carbohydrate guilt, and the firkin cask of Winter Storm Imperial ESB (Clipper City Brewing) was spot-on delicious.

What's the difference between beer on draft and beer from a cask, I was asked.

The first is beer on TV, I replied. The latter is HDTV.

Phone and Firkin

Multi-tasking Joy Reinhardt, co-owner of Tap & Vine,
holds the first pint from the firkin ...

... and conducts phone business.

Friday, December 05, 2008

75 years of "Iki Dugno" ... legally

An important anniversary slipped by relatively silently this year on the 14th of October.

On that day, 30 years ago in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law House Resolution 1337 and Senate Amendment 3534. The brewing of beer had become legal at home.

But there is an even more historic anniversary this year.

In 1933, seventy-five years ago today on the 5th of December, the state of Utah voted to approve the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

That vote terminated the nearly 14 year ignoble reign of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition. It had now become legal to manufacture, distribute, and sell alcoholic beverages, and by extension, to drink them. For the 14 years prior, the invitation, "Let's go have a beer!" had been an invitation to felony had not been possible.
25th Anniversary of Prohibition's repeal!Utah was the 36th out of 48 states to vote in favor, achieving the constitutionally required majority of 3/4 of the states. 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 Prohibition.

The 18th amendment is the ONLY amendment to have eradicated constitutional rights rather than granting them. By the adoption of the 21st Amendment, the 18th amendment is also the only amendment to have been wholly overturned by another.

It also might be possible that Utah's vote for the 21st Amendment may have been an attempt to right a wrong. Utah's yea vote, 14 years earlier on 16 January 1919, achieved the 3/4 majority to effectively ratify the 18th amendment, Prohibition.

By the way, on 4 December 1933, South Carolina voted against the 21st Amendment. It was the only state do have done so.

Chicagoland beer historian Bob Skilnik notes that

American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry [and the only time].
More of Skilnik's history of the repeal, with an Illinois emphasis,
here.

Although the 21st Amendment lifted Prohibition nationally, it left open the possibility of local prohibition. It gave to the states the right to control the importation of alcohol within each state's own borders.

This is sometimes read as a partial trumping of the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) of the 'un-amended' Constitution, which had given to Congress the ultimate right to regulate commerce. Recent rulings of the Supreme Court have challenged this interpretation, especially in regard to three-tier distribution issues.

Take a moment today to remember American folly and to thank American sagacity by hoisting a beer, sipping a whisky, or drinking a glass of wine. Say "Iki Dugno" [ICK ih DOOG (like took) nuh] ... legally toasting "down the hatch," in Lithuanian.

My last name is Cizauskas, after all.
  • Didn't the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison bill on 7 April 1933 legalize beer? Well, yes and no. Go here.
  • At the blog for the aptly named 21st Amendment Brewery, there's a concise analysis of how Prohibition could even have occured in the first place. Go here.
  • Advocating vigilance, David Turley at Musings Over A Pint has a summary of the efforts of latter day Prohibitionists. Go here.
  • The poster above (edited by me) is courtesy of the Brewers Association, an advocacy group for the small breweries of America. It has a posted a page on the Repeal of Prohibition. Go to www.75Yearsofbeer.org.
  • Posted as part of The Session: beer bloggers posting on identical topics on the first Friday of the month.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cider in Savannah

From John Pinkerton, I received a lengthy response to my blog post on real cider for Thanksgiving.

John is not only a real cider aficionado; he is a professional ciderist.

Bush, Bartholomaus, & Pinkerton
John Pinkerton of Moon River Brewing (r) with
2008 Hickory Hops Festival organizer Bobby Bush (l)
and Jamie Bartholomaus of Foot Hills Brewing (c).

John is the brewmaster and co-owner of Moon River Brewing Company in Savannah, Georgia. He produces real cider there for sale at his brewpub.

Here are his comments (gently redacted):
In Georgia, Hard Cider is treated like beer up to 6% alcohol. I would assume that if a given cider had the requisite amount of malt sugar and hops (negligible) it could be brewed up to 14% as a "malt beverage".

For Moon River's Road Trip Hard Cider, we aim to keep it at or below 6% abv for the sake of keeping it in the 'session' range, although that can be a challenge depending on the variety of apples used.

At Moon River we've always leaned heavily towards the late season, tart varieties, because I believe the acidity makes for a more dynamic flavor profile.

From Mercier Orchards in north Georgia, we use a blend of Granny Smith, Pink Lady, and Gold Rush. In previous years we've supplemented the mix with sweeter varieties to bump up the sugar, but with the addition of Gold Rush, this is unnecessary. Gold Rush had the acidity of a Granny, the tannin of some of the old heirloom varietals and the sweetness of a Splendor. We've seen the Brix of Gold Rush as high as 19... By itself could get you to almost 10% with no additional sugar!

We drive up to North Georgia each year sometime in late October to early November in a Ryder truck loaded up with ten, 55 gallon food-grade plastic drums.

We usually stay in Atlanta on a Saturday night to dine and drink in some of the finer Beer/ Culinary haunts of the Southeast. This year Beeramerica.tv was on board to film a nice segment at the Sandy Springs location of Five Seasons Restaurant and Brewery. The food, beer and company were spectacular to say the least. We'll post the segment sometime around New Year, and we'll also be posting a separate segment which chronicles the whole Road Trip Hard Cider

The next morning, we drag ourselves the rest of the way up to Blue Ridge, Georgia, where the Merciers are cheerfully waiting to press our 550 gallons of fresh, juicy goodness, while we wait.

After the pressing, which is a Willy Wonka spectacle to behold, we load up for the long trip back to Savannah. The weather in North Georgia is usually quite chilly that time of year; our juice stays quite cold.

In fact, even after we pump the cider from the drums into the fermenter, it often takes several days for the temperature to come up enough to get our house strain of English-style ale yeast up and running. We use the same strain of yeast that ferments our IPA, Porter and many others, though we always manage the schedule so the yeast pitched into the cider can be dumped after fermentation.

There is, of course, plenty of wild yeast and bacteria that come from the orchards, playing a role in the over all character of the finished cider. Despite this, we have very little concern for the long term stability of the cider, for a number of reasons. Our hard cider is only served in house, so it remains cold through out its life span and I believe the alcohol combined with the fairly high acidity help it keep for a long time.

Just the same, I've actually tasted cider that had been sitting in kegs in an out door boneyard in Savannah, Georgia for several years that tasted remarkably unspoiled, albeit a bit oxidized.

As for cross- contamination w/in the brewery, we treat our tanks and lines to the same aggressive cleaning regime that we use for any of our Barrel-aged, brettanomyces, and bacteria beers. We have a whole set of clamp gaskets that we only use for these type of fermentations and since we only do "wild stuff" once or twice a year, we also take the opportunity to outfit the tank with all new gaskets, just to be safe.

We have not had any issues with line taint. We have a pretty solid program for cleaning our lines. Also, the main run of our draft lines is barrier tubing with some polyvinyl on the ends for restriction, which get changed out every few years. As for flavor taint... the only thing that's ever given me a real problem was [a commercial] cheap apple based cider with a really tenacious and, IMO, seriously overdosed pear extract. That stuff is like rootbeer!

We filter loosely through a pad filter, though truth be told, it is usually a huge pain in the arse. I assume pectins are the culprit. We have for the last few years utilized a general pectinase to help, although the normal dose last year didn't do a whole lot for us.

We force carbonate.

While I haven't done a yeast-on-skins fermentation with our cider, I'd like to play with that some day, even if just a portion of the whole batch. We currently have plans to barrel age a portion of the batch that is working now. We have a Mondavi Red Wine Bbl full of our Dixie Cristal - Belgian-style Trippel, that is about ready to be racked... my plan is to refill it with our Cider and see what happens. The Trippelbrett-y witch hazel and juicy fruit characters evolving, so I have high hopes for the cider.

I'm not aware of any other brewpubs doing cider, but I'm sure some one out there is probably doing something similar.

We only do this once a year [in apple season], so I don't consider myself an expert, but my experience leads me to believe that cider is pretty darn simple... as it should be.

With beer, there is so much nuance with the process itself to create good beer. With the cider, I don't feel like I can take much credit... it's pretty much nature's goodness.

When I was last in Savannah on business, I had stopped in at Moon River. But I didn't try the cider. So, a road trip might be called for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Sun's Xmas Choices

Rob Kasper, columnist for the Baltimore Sun, has published his annual article revealing the paper's choices for winter/Christmas beers.

He splits the list of candidates into three regions.

The Belgians work wonders with sugar and yeasts in their beers. The Americans, an ever inventive lot, delight us with their bigger but balanced brews. And the English deliver toasted and roasted delights.

He describes what makes a winter beer a winter beer.
Whether these beers are called "winter warmers," holiday beers or Christmas beers, traditionally they have something extra - an additional ingredient or an extra helping of malt - that the brewers put in the mix.

He lists 14 favorites out of the 60 tasted. They include, in no particular order:
  • Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, one of eight among thirty-five American beers tasted.
  • Klein Duimpje Kerstbier, one of three among fifteen Benelux beers tasted.
  • Ridgeway Lump of Coal, one of three among ten English beers.
Rob's article, and the full list of winning beers, is on-line at Holiday beers: something to celebrate.

I participated in the power tasting that determined the choices. Several of my preferences were not those of the majority of the panelists. Read more about that experience and the beers we tasted here.

Caveat: I work for a wholesaler in northern Virginia —Select Wines which sells Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

Happy Apple Thanksgiving

Turkey, who needs a turkey?

For me, the Thanksgiving meal is the culminating celebration of a mid-Atlantic bounty of vegetables and fruit. Beginning with the shoots of spring, this feast continues through summer (real tomatoes!), and finishes now with all those wonderful apples, and gourds and root vegetables.

Of course, most Americans will be enjoying turkey tomorrow. But it's those side dishes that seem to foment bibulous consternation: What wine to serve that can stand up to those flavorful foods yet not overpower the bird.

And, as if to add to the annual angst, a legion of epicures has appeared in the last decade or so, advocating not wine but beer at the table. Count me as one of that horde.

Even though wines such as cru Beaujolais (not insipid Beaujolais Nouveau) or Gruner Veltliner or Champagne (or slightly fruitier Prosecco) can be fine wine accompaniments, it is beers —with their flavors derived from roasting, toasting, sprouting, and cooking— that are natural complements to the meal.

As beer writer Lew Bryson put it:

with Thanksgiving you've got a variety of traditional foods on the table, usually simple, and generally not sourced from wine-country cuisine.

In a 2003 piece I wrote, entitled —surprise— Turkey and Beer, my recommendations were saison and Flemish sour reds. I'll stand with those tomorrow.

But beer writer Stephen Beaumont suggests:
Ordinarily, I enjoy Champagne with turkey. On the beer front, I'd probably side with that wine's close cousin and select a firm, dry gueuze.

I'm a dedicated fan of gueuze and unsweetend lambics. But the intense sourness of gueuze, and its lactic and gamey aromas (though appropriate to the meal), may be too much for some diners.

So I'll offer one more recommendation.

Writing in the winter issue of BEER, the house magazine of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Dylan Jones —editor of GQ Magazine (!)— said this:
just a few months ago, I had one of my very rare epiphanies, sitting in the River Café in Glasbury-on-Wye. Studying the drinks menu and looking for something that would successfully accompany a gargantuan portion of the (very good) food they serve there, I spied something called Westons Vintage Special, an 8.2 per cent proof cider. <...> My experience with with Westons has made me completely change my attitude towards the drink. Not only have I recently sought out two local ciders in France (one in Brittany and one near Banyuls), but I have started paying more attention to real British organic ciders. <...> Simply put, I've been converted.

Being from the British Isles, Mr. Jones did not link real cider to Thanksgiving. I will.

Real cider is not sweet flavored alcoholic apple juice. Very different in production and flavor, it bursts with phenolic complexity, tannic structure, sharp effervescence, and refreshing acidity.

And although real cider lacks the cooking-flavor hooks of beer, its inherent character and seasonality makes it an appropriate mate for the entire Thanksgiving meal.

Aspall Dry Cider


The Washington Post recently ran a piece on cider in the Spirits column: It's Time Cider Got Some Good Press.
In the early years of America, most apples ended up in the cider barrel. Cider was the beverage of choice in those days, mainly because apples were cheaper and easier to come by than the grains and grapes with which Europeans made their liquor [and beer and wine]. By the 17th century, cider often was being substituted for water, which was considered to be unsafe.

Cider ruled until the end of the 19th century, when temperance-movement zealots began chopping down entire apple orchards, "unable to conceive of any other use for the fruit except spirits," according to "Laird's Applejack Cookbook." That resulted in one of the saddest and least-acknowledged culinary legacies of the temperance movement and Prohibition: the loss of acres and acres of American cider apple varieties.

As to real cider suggestions, stay away from what you see on supermarket shelves and on tap at many bars. Those ciders are merely sweet, flavored, artificially carbonated apple juice with alcohol added. Rather, the Post's Jason Wilson recommends
the clean, refreshing notes of the British cider Aspall; the dry, champagne-like elegance of french products such as Eric Bordelet Sydre Argelette; the crisp, sappy Farnum Hill's Extra dry, which hits some of the same notes as, say, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. <...> A cider such as Etienne Dupont, my other favorite, has tiny, sparkling bubbles, a yeasty and ripe fruit aroma, an intense yet round apple flavor, and a lightness that makes it very drinkable.

Real ciders —or 'cidre' as the Brittany French refer to them— are often packaged in 500-ml or 750-ml bottles. They can run, price-wise, the same as cheap wine, but as Wilson notes, at 6% to 9% alcohol, they make for tasty replacements over mediocre white wine.

In the U.K., real cider is usually served fresh from casks like real ale. More here.

Whatever your food choice, and whatever your libation choice, enjoy a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Caveat: I work for a beer and wine wholesaler in northern Virginia —Select Wines— which sells Aspall Cider.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Craft beer vs. the brewery monster

The St. Louis Dispatch has created a comprehensive report on the creation of Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABIB), collating many of its stories and analyses onto one webpage:

Out with the old, in with the new.
Beer deal: the end of the king's reign
.

I asked a colleague in the beer business what he thought of the sale of Anheuser-Busch to InBev.

You've mistaken me for someone who cares, was the reply. A bravura shrug should not be the response. Wariness should be.

Why?

The craft beer industry, due to its precarious and small nature, is at great risk to be affected by circumstances from this sale, predictable and unforeseen, that are out of its control.

Neo-prohibition is on the rise. The economy is in historically bad shape (and excise taxes may be increased on alcohol to help deal with that). In ABIB, the craft beer industry is facing the largest brewery the world has ever seen.

Possible scenarios? There may be realignment of distributorships, scarcity of ingredients (real and nefarious), scarcity of packaging materials (the same). And what of Trojan Horse products: lower-priced beers masquerading as craft beers?

The US House of Representatives has a Small Brewers Caucus. But don't put too much stake in that. Its home web page still lists an event held in May of 2007 as an upcoming event. And, of the 35 members in the Caucus, there are none from Maryland and only one from Virginia: Representative Virgil Goode, Republican from Virginia's 5th District.

[As an update: member craft breweries of the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) will be hosting a tasting for Congressional staffers at the Rayburn House Office Building on 3 December. ]

It helps to have friends in high places. But that's not enough. The craft beer industry and its friends need to redouble their efforts to create small brewers guilds, cooperate in purchasing and marketing campaigns, and actively engage in political outreach.

ABIB has $52 billion dollars (some reports say $55 billion) of debt to repay. It won't be looking to be small breweries' friend.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hidden Appetites

Hidden AppetitesIt was foodie serendipity.

A few days after I had attended the Hidden Kitchens discussion at the D.C. Historical Society, a friend showed me a copy of the book Hometown Appetites, subtitled:

The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate

Clementine Paddleford —with a name like a pseudonym for a writer of early 20th century romance novels— died in 1968. For the 4 decades prior, she had indeed been a writer, but not of novels.

B
efore celebrity chefs, before Zagat, before Julia Child, Paddleford had traveled the US, limning what America ate and cooked: its common food culture 'hidden' in plain sight.

Hidden Appetites
chronicles Paddleford's career, and includes many recipes she wrote about. Authors Keely Alexander and Cynthia Harris provide explanations and substitutions for 21st century kitchens and pantries.

The Hidden Kitchens series, broadcast and webcast by National Public Radio (NPR), also searches for that sub rosa cornucopia, but as it can be found in today's America. Producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva —a.k.a. the Kitchen Sisters
explore the world of unexpected, below the radar cooking, legendary meals and eating traditions — how communities come together through food. Hidden Kitchens travels the country chronicling American kitchen cultures, past and present.

Kitchen Sisters: Hidden KitchensNelson and Silva's D.C. Historical Society presentation was moderated by NPR's Susan Stamberg. They read passages from their book (along with various NPR announcers as well) and played snippets of 'food' audio from their programs.

For instance, how Fritos, invented in Texas, were originally developed as a 'health' food!

How a man held in solitary confinement in Louisiana prison for three decades still managed to create and cook praline candy confections— an impossibility, at least as claimed by the Louisiana State Penitentiary authorities.

But there his pralines were, at the end of the evening, for all of us to try.

Now released from prison, Robert King Wilkerson had sent us a large fresh batch of his 'freelines'. (He has renamed them in honor of his status.) And they were, indeed, 'impossibly' delicious.

  • Thank you to Cabot Cheese, who arranged for me to attend the Hidden Kitchens program. More here about that presentation.
  • Photos.
  • Apropos of the topic, I would also recommend Bob Skilnik's Beer and Food: An American History. It's one part history, one part beer myth exposé, and one part beer-as-ingredient cookbook.