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 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.


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.

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.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Beer with Cheese and NPR

The former Carnegie Library, a glorious building in Washington, D.C., now houses the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Carnegie Library

On a recent cold November evening, the Society played host to National Public Radio. Susan Stamberg moderated a discussion with The Kitchen Sisters about their radio program: Hidden Kitchens.

What's the beer connection?

During a reception beforehand, cheese was donated by Cabot Creamery of Vermont and beer by Clipper City Brewing of Baltimore, Maryland. Wine was provided by Chateau Morrisette of Virginia.

Placards on each table displayed the appropriate pairings.

Clipper & Cabot @Carnegie Library

  • McHenry Lager with Cabot Reduced Fat Cheddar. This all-malt lager, reminiscent of what mainstream American lagers once tasted like, has a subdued quantity of malt and hops but enough character to pair with this reduced fat cheddar. [At the 6 o'clock position in the photo.]
  • Clipper City Pale Ale with Cabot 3-year Aged Cheddar. The earthy bite and aromas of bitters and pale ales matches the sharpness of cheddars. [At the 3 o'clock position in the photo.]
  • Small Craft Warning Uber Pils with Cabot Pepper Jack Cheddar. The beer's hellerbock-like sweet malt soothes the spice of the cheese. But its spicy hops [thus the beer is designated an Uber Pils rather than bock] match the intensity of the cheese's peppery spiciness. [At the 12 o'clock position in the photo.]
  • Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale with Cabot Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Cheddar. The ebullient herbal and fruity hop aromas and flavors of the beer are a match for the cheddar's basil and sun-dried tomatoes. [At the 9 o'clock position in the photo.]
NPR's Susan Stamberg wasn't a convert. She stayed with wine: wonderful juice from Virginia winery Chateau Morrisette. But there was a split loyalty. NPR's Ari Shapiro, sartorially elegant, chose beer.

A week earlier, I had tutored a beer-with-cheese tasting, a charity event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The major theme of that evening was that beer is a wonderful mate with cheese. In fact, I claimed, most any beer pairs well with most any cheese. (Exceptions might be some of the more extremely flavored beers.)

The same does not always hold true with wine.
According to common lore, matching wine and cheese is a no-brainer. But when a rich, plush red wine meets a fresh, tangy chèvre, it causes an unpleasant tannin explosion in the mouth.

Wine Spectator
100 Great Cheeses
September 2008

Even so, the Wine Spectator does not praise beer's companionship. But the Baltimore Sun did, in the article Crafty Combo.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silent jazzman: Lawrence Wheatley

Located near Washington Circle in Washington D.C., One Step Down was the city's cool, hip jazz club from the 1980s into the mid 1990s. And, yes there was a step down at the front door.

The coolest, hippest cat who played there was also the most mysterious and the most urbane: Lawrence Wheatley, composer and pianist.

Mr. Wheatley died October 19th.

I worked at the One Step for a few years. But before that, there had been many Sundays when I would stop in for a hair-of-the-dog brunch, reviving from Saturday evenings of too much fun, as Mr. Wheatley would lead the Sunday jam sessions.

From a comment posted at Express Night Out:

Anyone associated with the jazz scene in Washington DC over the past half century or more would likely be familiar with the name Lawrence Wheatley. Certainly among players and serious fans of straight - ahead jazz the name has reach legendary status in the nation’s capital. Although awareness of his work has yet to reach national and international levels it’s just a matter of time especially in today’s internet world. Virtuosic, compelling, and fiercely original might be just a few reasons why this broader recognition is sure to come about at some point in the future. <..>

Not only was Lawrence a great player but he also created a considerable body of original work that demonstrated his stature as a jazz composer of the highest order. Although his music has yet to be recorded and released commercially, Lawrence indeed scored it, and as he would say, ‘by hand, from scratch, with love’. <...>

On top of all of this Lawrence was a gentleman. He carried himself with a certain dignity, grace, and courtesy that is almost unheard of these days. And although at times he spoke very eloquently and even mysteriously he also had a great sense of humor and was not pretentious in the least.

Bard of Bebop: Lawrence P. Wheatley, RIP
Express Night Out
Christopher Porter

Flocculating in public

Flocculation is one of those evolutionary traits of yeast that —Godisgood*— is essential to creating beer.

As any brewer will tell you, the yeast used to make beer tends to bunch up during fermentation. However, despite thousands of years of brewing and decades of genetic research on yeast, no one was able to explain why yeast stuck together.

But now, scientists at Harvard University have at last identified the specific gene that enables yeast to, ahem, flocculate.

That gene allows the normally solitary yeast cells to shield themselves from toxins in their environment by banding together in protective balls. Since one of those toxins is the ethanol that the yeast themselves produce, grouping together allows the yeast to survive in the alcohol-rich environment that results from brewing [emphasis mine].

More from Beer Brings Yeast Together, by Stuart Fox, posted 11.20.2008 at

The gene, called FLO1, produces a Velcro-like protein on the outside of the yeast cells. When a yeast cell bumps into another cell with the same gene, they stick together. <...>

Over time, the yeast cells with FLO1 weed out the freeloaders, pushing them to the outside of the ball. Through this process, the freeloading cells not only don't get the benefit of being in the yeast ball, but they pay a cost by acting as the first line of defense for the yeast flock.

It's almost like game theory for yeast.

And, for Kevin Verstrepen, the lead scientist of the Harvard study, "who got his biology PhD from the Center for Malting and Brewing at the University of Belgium"

this is just one more example of how much the science of beer has to offer the science of biology.

Extrapolating from unicellular biology to group sociology, sometimes it is all about the beer.
  • * Godisgood: a term once used by brewers to describe the beneficent activity of yeast without understanding its nature. Or maybe they did.
  • Alerted to this story by Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It appears as if InBev has completed its purchase of Anheuser-Busch Cos.

InBev SA on Tuesday formed the world's largest brewer when it closed its $52 billion (euro41 billion) takeover of Anheuser-Busch Cos.

The new company, named Anheuser-Busch InBev, will be headed by InBev CEO Carlos Brito and will be headquartered at Leuven, Belgium.

InBev says it has closed Anheuser Busch takeover
AP Business
Tue Nov 18, 9:40 am ET

From the St. Louis Dispatch:
After the vote, August A. Busch IV said the tie-up with InBev would be the best option for shareholders, and would lead to a “promising future” for the brewer. “We are about to sell more beer, to more people, in more countries than any other company in the history of brewing beer," Busch said.

Of course, that's the same August-Busch IV —now a non-executive director of the new conglomerate— who, only a few months ago as CEO of Anheuser-Busch, had pledged, like a latter-day Churchill of beer, to fight the the invaders ... in the brewhouse and in the boardroom, and to never surrender.
Now that the deal is finalized, Anheuser-Busch’s reign as the biggest independent American brewer has come to an end.

The company traces its history as an independent company back five generations, to 1852.

Today, more a quisling.

Now, back to what is now true domestic American beer: the craft brewers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lychees and torpedos

From Sierra Nevada Brewing comes this description of a new hop varietal called Citra.

Sierra Nevada ( and two other breweries) funded the research and development of this variety and we own most of the acreage available in the world, (which is something like 3 acres). This hop has a crazy strange flavor profile, leaning toward pineapple, mango, papaya [emphasis mine] and other tropical fruit flavors and aromas. As always, we use only whole cone hops.

And, from Hop Science Newsletter (October 2008) of the World Brewing Congress:
The variety Citra, with a alpha acid content between 10-12% and an oil content of 2-3 % originated from a cross between the female European noble aroma variety Hallertauer Mittelfrueh and a male that was derived from the variety known as U.S. Tettnanger. Citra is 50% Hallertauer Mittelfrueh, 25% U.S. Tettnanger and the remaining 25% is East Kent Golding, Bavarian, Brewers Gold and other unknown hops.

Citra has a special flavor and aroma that it imparts to beer. Depending on the brewing process and the hopping rate, the flavors and aromas of beers hopped with Citra might range from grapefruit to lime, melon, gooseberry, and lychee fruit.
[emphasis mine]

Citra is the hop of prominence in a formerly draft-only beer that the brewery calls its Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. The torpedo reference is to a device designed by owner Ken Grossman and his brewers to more efficiently dry-hop their beers in large 600-barrel fermenters.
The Hop Torpedo is a cylindrical stainless steel vessel that was developed to harness the essential oils and resins in hops, without extracting bitterness.

The device essentially works like an espresso machine. A stainless filter basket is packed full of whole cone hops loaded into the vessel and sealed against pressure. The device is then placed in the fermentation cellars where beer from the cylindroconical fermenters is pushed down from the tanks, through the pressurized column of hops and back into the fermenting tank.

The flow of beer out of the tanks, into the Torpedo and back into the fermenter can be controlled to extract different levels of flavor, aroma and bitterness. Essentially, it is a new way of dry-hopping that extracts all of the oily resin without the residual bitterness of the traditional method.

The final two sentences seems to imply a pickup of bitterness from dry-hopping. Most breweries extract bitterness by boiling their hops submerged in wort for an hour or so in the kettle, not from dry-hopping.

Think of dry-hopping as a brewer's caprese salad. Rather than adding uncooked basil to a salad, a brewer add hops to finished beer, cold in a storage tank. The process imparts herbal, resiny, and grassy aromatics to a beer.

Press release as posted at Sierra Nevada to bottle first new year-round release in over 28 years

Zymo-Platonism vs. Zymo-Relativism

The New Yorker magazine has published an article about the so-called 'extreme beer' movement of American craft beers.

The author —Burkhard Bilger— cuts and pastes to create the impression of an argument between Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing and Sam Calagione of Dogfish head. I think it's more of a spirited rivalry.

“The whole idea of extreme beer is bad for craft brewing,” [Garrett] Oliver [of Brooklyn Brewing Company] says. “It doesn’t expand the tent—it shrinks it. If I want someone to taste a beer, and I make it sound outlandish and crazy, there is a certain kind of person who will say, ‘Oh, let me try it.’ But that is a small audience. It’s one that you can build a beer on, but not a movement.”

To which, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing Company "smirks":
“Garrett and I are good friends, but we definitely disagree on this,” he said. “It’s a purist versus populist position. If all of our palates are subjective, who am I and who is Garrett to decide whether there’s too much hops in a beer, or whether you should be putting lemongrass or rampe leaves in it? As long as it finds an audience, it’s valid.”

A Better Brew
The rise of extreme beer.
by Burkhard Bilger
The New Yorker
24 November 2008

Alerted to this piece by Kasper on Tap.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blog Guilt

At his blog, Seen Through a Glass, Lew Bryson had this to say after not filing a post for five days:

Sorry I've been absent, it's been a busy week.

I understand the sentiment.

A well-tended blog can begin to seem visceral. You feel the urgency to satisfy with a post, and when you haven't, you feel a pang of guilt.

If you want to learn about the state of beer in general, American beer more so, and the greater Pennsylvania area specifically, read Lew's blog.

And whisk(e)y, too: Lew is the Managing Editor of the magazine Malt Advocate.

Baltimore Beer Week for October 2009

In the successful wake of this year's inaugural Philly Beer Week —a week in March stretched to 15 days of beer events throughout Philadelphia, Pa.— folk in Baltimore, Md. have proposed the same thing, for their city, but in October 2009.

From the Baltimore Sun's Rob Kasper:

Joe Gold, along with a handful of other beer enthusiasts including me, are exploring the possibility of putting together a week of beery festivities in Baltimore sometime in the fall of 2009.

From Mid-Atlantic Brewing News' Alexander D. Mitchell IV:
We've announced the coming Baltimore Beer Week below--next October. About all we definitely have are the dates. We also know that the Brewers Assn. of Md. will hold its annual Oktoberfest on Saturday the 10th, and that the SPBW is slated to hold its annual Chesapeake Real Ale Festival on Oct. 17th. In theory, we can push the week to include Friday the 9th and Sunday the 18th. <...> The bare minimum would be just what you'd expect: hearty participation by the brewpubs and the prime local beer bars. <...> It's fair to expect a beer dinner or three, maybe many at many venues--maybe even beer dinners at places that don't normally do beer


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tradition and 'traditionalists', and beer engines

The occasion
A meeting of the Chesapeake branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood (SPBW).

The setting
The upstairs bar at the Metropolitan, a combination of coffeehouse, restaurant, music spot, wine bar, and good beer bar in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.

The situation
The bartender asked the customer if she should pull a pint of cask-conditioned stout for him.

"Handpulling from a beer engine isn't traditional," the customer replied, "and I'm a traditionalist. The cask should be sitting on the bar."

Bruce pulls a pint

Just at that moment, Bruce Dorsey, owner of the restaurant, happened to be walking past."No," he growled. "A beer engine is traditional."

Traditional since 1797, when Joseph Bramah —the inventor of the hydraulic press— created, what he called, a beer engine, a hand operated piston pump to pull beer from a cellar up to a bar. To this day, most 'real ale' pubs in the U.K. serve their cask ales via beer engines.

Firkin Thursday

I was reminded of a scene in Woody Allen's film Annie Halll in which an officious man is pontificating about Marshall McLuhan and the global village. The man behind him announces that he is Marshal McLuhan, and that the other man has no idea what he's talking about. Woody Allen breaks character, faces the camera, and asks whether we wouldn't prefer real life to be like this.

"Oh ... but I prefer my cask ale pulled through a beer engine," the customer verbally backpedaled.

The bartender pulled the handle of the beer engine. She filled the pint glass with cask-conditioned Wolaver's Organic Oatmeal Stout. She gave the pint to the customer. He drank; he smiled; we all smiled. Was that a triumphant grin on Mr. Dorsey's face?

  • When this post was written, Metropolitan had only just re-opened after suffering damage from a fire.
  • More about cask-conditioned ale: here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Embargoed 'til December: winter beer tasting

Swirl, examine, sniff, taste, and ... spit. Repeat.

The Wine Source —a Baltimore, Md. wine and beer store in the Hampden neighborhood— has been organizing Christmas/winter beer tastings for several years. Early in December, Baltimore Sun columnist Rob Kasper publishes the results.

On a recent dreary, rainy, November Wednesday afternoon, twelve folk gathered in a cozy back tasting room at The Wine Source and sat down to taste sixty seasonal bottled beers in ninety minutes.

That's right: 60 beers! A flight of 15 Belgian beers, followed by a flight of 35 US beers, and finishing with 10 English beers.

Beer Tasting Panel

The dozen members of the courageous (or foolhardy) troupe were:
  • Rob Kasper, columnist for the Baltimore Sun
  • Robert Blau, past Managing Editor for the Baltimore Sun
  • Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing
  • Volker Stewart of The Brewers' Art
  • Al Spoler of WYPR-FM
  • Kevin and Mary Zajac, local journalists
  • Tim Hillman, Wine Source manager
  • Bryson Dudley of Wine Source
  • Brian Leonard of Wine Source
  • Jed Jenney of Wine Source
  • me
Wine Source manager Tim Hillman uncapped (or uncorked) the bottles and wrapped them all in brown paper, identifying them only with a number.

And then the session became a real 'power' tasting. We swirled, examined, sniffed, tasted, and spit. To expedite expectoration, Tim had placed several dump buckets on the table.

I would have preferred to have had the beers split into several flights divided among the tasters. As it was, there was little time for contemplation or reflection.

But the pell-mell pace did have two benefits. It forced each of us to be precise and concise. And it was enjoyable ... in a masochistic way.

Brown Paper Bag

Here is the list of beers we sampled:

Geants, St. Feuillien, Thiriez Biere de Noel, Blaugies La Moneuse, Dupont Les Bon Voeux, Klein Dumpje Kerstbier, De Ranke Pere Noel, Goudon Carolus, Delirium Noel, De Le Senne Zinnebir, DeProeuf Kerstmutske, St. Bernardus, Kerkom Winterkoninske, Scaldis Noel, Corsendonk Noel.

Brooklyn Winter, Smuttynose Winter, River Horse Belgian Freeze, Redhook Winterhook, Sam Adams Winter Lager, Abita X-mas Ale, Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser, Geary's Winter, Leinenkugel Fireside Brown, Blue Moon Full Moon, Saranac Seasons Best, Weyerbacher Winter, Wild Goose Snow Goose, Clay Pipe Winter Warmer, Lancaster Winter Warmer, Budweiser Winter Bourbon Cask, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, Allagash Grand Cru, Anchor Our Special Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Harpoon Winter Warmer, Fordham Scotch Ale, Rogue Santa's Private Reserve, Avery Jubilation, Southern Tier Old Man Winter, Great Divide Hibernation, Otter Creek Raspberry Porter, Troegs Mad Elf, Magic Hat Roxy Rolles, Clipper City Winter Storm, Mendocino Imperial IPA, Victory Hop Wallop, He'Brew Jewbilation, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

Ridgeway Bad Elf, Ridgeway Very Bad Elf, Ridgeway Seriously Bad Elf, Ridgeway Criminally Bad Elf, Ridgeway Santa's Butt, Samuel Smith Winter Welcome, St. Peter's Winter Ale, RCH Ale Mary, Ridgeway Lump of Coal.

Among the Belgians, I liked the barnyardy funk of what turned out be the 9.5 % alcohol Avecs Les Bon Voeux from Dupont, and the hops and restrained lemony sourness of the Thiriez Biere de Noel. (And two more that were also selected by my fellow tasters.)

In the American flight, I liked the good use of bittering hops and caramel malt in what turned out to be Wild Goose Snow Goose; the honeyed herbal hops of the Geary's Winter Ale; the acidity and spiciness of the Allagash Grand Cru; and the hearty interplay between dark malt and ginger in the Anchor Our Special Ale.

Of the English winter ales (of which 7 of the 10 were from the same brewery), I liked the notes of raisins, coffee, and baker's chocolate in what turned out to be Ridgeway's Santa Butt; I liked the cardamom and nutmeg spices in Ale Mary from RCH.

But among my selections, only two were also favored by my fellow judge-mates. De gustibus non est disputandum.

So, what were the choices of the majority (including the two Belgian beers we agreed upon)?

Sorry, but that's embargoed until Rob Kasper writes his Winter Beers article in early December. I'll link to it here. [UPDATE 2008.11.26: Rob has published his article -- Holiday Beers: Something to celebrate]

Caveat: I work for a distributor that sells Allagash beers.


From the New York Times Business Briefing, 14 November 2008:

Belgium’s InBev cleared the last hurdle to buying Anheuser-Busch, creating the world’s largest brewer, when it gained United States antitrust approval [Department of Justice] for the $52 billion deal after agreeing to sell its Labatt USA subsidiary. <...>which includes Rolling Rock beer

And this from Bloomberg, in which the reasoning by the Department of Justice is parochially fascinating:
InBev agreed to sell Labatt USA after the government concluded that the combination would eliminate competition in western New York between InBev's Labatt Blue and Labatt Light and Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser and Bud Light brands.

Labatt's overall share of the U.S. beer market is about 2 percent. <...> [But] together, the Labatt and Budweiser brands would account for 45 percent of the Buffalo and Rochester markets and 41 percent of beer sales in Syracuse. Antitrust enforcers said that would lead to higher prices

Even though regulators in China and the United Kingdom have yet to okay the purchase, an unidentified source close to the situation says that InBev's purchase of Anheuser-Busch will be consummated next week.

Rodenbach single barrel beers

Beer writer Chuck Cook, ever the Belgian peripatetic, is heading back to the land of Lambic for his 18th trip.

At his blog post listing his itinerary, he writes about the possibility of single barrel bottlings from the Rodenbach brewery to be exported to the US.

I had lunch with Rodenbach owner Jan Toye in NYC in September, and he told me that ... the brewery is considering direct bottling from some foeders [oak barrels] with no blending.

This is important, as each indivual foeder has its own microflora and distinctive flavor. <...> Rodenbach has never bottled a batch right from a single foeder, as far as I know.

I assent when Chuck states:
Given there are 294 of these oak barrels at Rodenbach <...> I hope this idea becomes a reality.

Read more at his blog: Belgian beer and travel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Take a firkin break from cooking the turkey

Evening Star's Evan Labb
I'll be tapping a firkin cask of Clipper City Brewing's Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale at the Evening Star Cafe in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. ... on the night before Thanksgiving.

That's a photo of bar manager Evan Labb, who got into the spirit of things last year. And, so, a tradition began.

This year, it will be the 2nd annual 'take a firkin break from cooking the turkey'.

The tapping is set for 6pm, Wednesday, 26 November. The cask was drained quickly last year, so come early. It holds only 84 US pints.

[UPDATE: Photos from the evening are posted at Flickr.]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bye-bye (almost) to A-B

[UPDATE 2008.11.18: SOLD]

It's a story that began in 1860 with the insurrection of German (and Irish) workers in St. Louis breweries against the forces of the pro-slavery Missouri governor.

It's a story of a beverage brand that —as well as Coca-Cola— has become a liquid surrogate around the world for the brand of American itself.

And, it's a story that will end later this year, when Anheuser-Busch, the last surviving independent large American brewery, will be sold to InBev, a Brazilian/Belgian conglomerate.

Yes, there are other American breweries that, like A-B, began their operations in the 19th century and that survive today. And we salute them.

But none remotely approaches the scale of operations of Anheuser-Busch, which produces 48.5% of all beer sold in the US, as well as its overseas large operations.

From the Anheuser-Busch Companies,Inc. press webpage:

ST. LOUIS (Nov. 12, 2008) – Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. (NYSE: BUD) today announced that a majority of its shares have been voted to approve the proposed combination between InBev N.V./S.A. and Anheuser-Busch during a special shareholder meeting held today [at the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands hotel in Secaucus, N.J.].

At the closing of the transaction, Anheuser-Busch shareholders will be entitled to receive $70 in cash for each share of outstanding Anheuser-Busch stock, and Anheuser-Busch will become a wholly owned subsidiary of InBev. Closing of the transaction remains subject to necessary regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. A closing date has not been announced, but the parties continue to expect the deal to close before the end of the year. InBev shareholders approved the combination on Sept. 29.

The good:
... over the past 150 or years, it's been a great employer and provided millions of people and their families with good jobs. It's also been a good citizen in the St. Louis area, donating what is now probably hundreds of millions of dollars to various charitable groups, a tradition that began with Adolphus Busch back in the 1870s. It practiced affirmative action before it had to and hired women before it was required to do so.

The Reality Of Mergers And Acquisitions
Maureen Ogle
November 10, 2008

The bad:
My one quibble with A-B’s statement today — there’s always something, right — is Busch’s comment that “[t]he merger also provides a promising future for our beer brands and for all stakeholders — employees, wholesalers, retailers and our consumers.” Maybe, but it certainly does not do so equally or evenly. Many of the employees who will be laid off might not feel that their futures have been made better by the merger. Likewise, distributor shakeups will inevitably take place, which I’m skeptical will be for the better. As for how it affects consumers, only time will tell.

InBev Merger Approved By A-B Shareholders
Brookston Beer Bulletin
November 12, 2008

And, the (not so) skinny:

InBev will be paying $52 billion at $70 a share. A-B's stock was trading at $66.54 per share yesterday.

Once the deal closes, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABIB) will be the world's largest brewer, as determined by both volume and dollar sales of about $36 billion. Or will that now be listed in euros or reals?

As has been reported here, there remains an outside possibility that InBev may not be able to secure the financing to complete the deal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mild Jones

Mild brown ales, the knock-back drink of thirsty coal miners and dock workers, are not so appealing to post-industrial office workers, who are less thirsty and more aspirational.

Eric Asimov
New York Times
as quoted in an article at

Steve Jones agrees about Mild Ale's pedigree, but he emphatically disagrees with any potential lack of appeal.

For the past eight years, Steve has been the brewer for the Wharf Rat Brewpub in Baltimore, Md. He will remain the brewer under its new ownership and new name. His Mad Monk a mild ale— is a Wharf RatPratt Street Ale House mainstay.

I met up with Steve at the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival in October, and we talked, again, over the phone. He told me, "I'm an advocate for Mild Ale."

Steve comes from the English Midlands. Even there, he lamented, Mild Ale has become "a niche beer," only occasionally brewed. At least his local pub in Coventry would often offer a Mild Ale on cask.

Steve earned his brewing bona fides as a brewer and manager for the Firkin Brewery chain in the U.K. Now defunct, it comprised some 200 pubs, of which 25% had brewing facilities.

Steve 'Mad Mild' Jones

But what exactly is a Mild Ale? The definition may depend not on what but on when.

UK beer historian Martyn Cornell says that pre-20th century (although, for a smaller set of breweries, into the mid-20th century) mild was fresh beer, often strong, and not necessarily dark.
"Mild ale", a book called The Brewer's Art, published by the London brewer Whitbread, said in 1948, "is a draught beer brewed for quick consumption." [p.20]

" the 19th century it was common for milds to be much stronger than they were in the later parts of the 20th century. Professor Charles Graham, speaking to the Society of Chemical Industry in 1881 about beer strengths, listed five types of mild which ranged in original gravity from "Scotch mild" at 1053 up to Burton mild at 1080..." [p.21]

Amber, Gold & Black
Martyn Cornell, 2008.

Confusing the issue, a mild of high alcoholic strength could be known as a "stock ale" since "because of its strength, [it] needed to be laid down for some months." In his ebook, Cornell finds even earlier historical references to Mild Ale.

Changes in taste preference —and the shortage of malt and the higher taxes on malt during World Wars I and II— brought about a reduction in the strength of Mild Ales. The darkening of color seemed to have occurred (although not universally) around the turn of the 20th century.

As to what many consider a Mild Ale today, here's I wrote in an earlier post:
The critical point is that a mild today is a relatively dark session ale, that is, not a highly alcoholic hop bomb, but a beer suitable for several pints without bringing on inebriation or tannic saturation. Modern US interpretations tend toward a subtle complexity of roast and dark malt. As film director Billy Wilder said, "Make the subtleties obvious."

No-Va homebrewer goes Mild (ly) Pro-Am

So why isn't Mild Ale popular here or in the UK?

At a low end of 3% alcohol by volume (abv) to a high end of 4.5% abv, Mild Ale might be considered, shall we say, too mild for some good beer fans.
It is important to realize that alcohol is a great carrier of flavor, and also adds body and richness to the overall flavor profile of a beer.

Mitch Steele
head brewer
Stone Brewing Company

Mild Ale's emphasis of dark (not roasted) malt character rather than pungent hop character and bitterness may also work against its acceptance.

Crabby McDougall, the Beer Party (unsuccessful) presidential candidate, found the prejudices of many good beer fans to be at fault.
Recently I analyzed the list of the top 50 beers in the world, according to the learned raters on that site. <...>

Amazingly, 18 of the top 50 beers—over one-third—were imperial stouts and related styles. There were also six imperial IPAs, four quads, an eisbock—I think you can sense where this is going. The average alcohol of those 50 beers exceeded nine percent. A mere half-dozen contained less than six percent. <...>

In mid-July, when I looked at the lists, the top scoring English bitter contained 4.5% alcohol and scored 4.1. The top dark mild had 3.4% alcohol and scored 3.93 [emphasis mine]. The top dubbel had 8% alcohol and scored 4.5. <...>

Does the typical member of appreciate subtlety, balance and elegance? If this were the case, they might find a way to squeeze a classic British bitter onto their top 50, or maybe a helles, a dunkel or a mild
[emphasis mine].

Mid-Atlantic Brewing News
Rating the Raters
October/November 2008 (Vol. 10 No.5)
[It is rumored that Crabby MacDougall was never a presidential candidate, but rather a northern Virginia beer writer using that nom de biere.]

Steve's Mad Monk is 4% alcohol by volume. Even so, I'll attest that it does have a lot of malt character. As the late beer writer Michael Jackson would say, "it's more-ish."

Steve brews the beer with Crisp pale malt and chocolate malt, both imported from the UK. (The "chocolate" is not a confection, but a barley malt kilned to that color.) The hops, although present, are there for "balance", to dry out the malt sweetness for a refreshing character.

Steve maintains that the lower alcohol level is a positive for Mild Ale. "Mild Ale had long been brewed to be a refreshing and flavorful tonic for miners and steelworker in some regions of the UK," Steve said.

And these days, there is a revivalist movement in the UK to promote Mild Ale for the month of May.

A darker beer for a warmer month? Weather conditions in the UK may not be identical to those in the US, where a cooler April might be the latter's preferred month for Mild (even though the campaign's alliteration would be lost).

But, Steve continued, it's an incorrect assumption of many that a dark beer will always be 'heavy'.

Steve finds Mild Ale to be refreshing even during hot humid Maryland summers. It can be flavorful without being 'heavy'. "Just taste it," he suggests.

"For me," he adds, "Mild Ale is the beer for all seasons. Sometimes the simplest things are the best."

Related YFGF posts:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ills for ILLs

There's been a lot of talk about how, in an economic downturn, beer remains an affordable luxury.

The febrile repetitions of that phrase can seem like attempts at self reassurance. And the statement itself ignores the harsher conditions, and declining sales, in "emerging economy" nations.

Because beer is something of a luxury product in the emerging world, sales are more likely to fall in an economic slowdown, analysts said. Drinkers in poor countries can turn to less-expensive alternatives, including vodka in Russia, aguardiente in Latin America, and sorghum wine in China.

Sales of Beer Go Flat in Emerging Countries
Wall Street Journal
November 7, 2008

So what's a conglomerate producer of I.I.L.s (international light lagers) to do?

Go shopping!
Declining growth in emerging markets raises the capital-intensive industry's need for purchasing power, which often comes through consolidation, said Petercam's Mr. Kippers [a securities firm in Belgium]. This year, InBev agreed to buy U.S. giant Anheuser-Busch Cos.

Analysts said they expect further consolidation, though the credit crunch could get in the way. SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Co., which formed a U.S. joint venture this year called MillerCoors, are among the most likely candidates to buy other brewers, analysts said. Among their possible targets: Foster's Group Ltd., of Australia. SABMiller is interested in buying Foster's beer operations

SABMiller/MolsonCoors/Fosters vs. ABIB (Anheuser-Busch InBev)?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Salty beer tale

Overheard and (over)seen recently at a beer bar.

Two patrons sat at the bar. Both ordered N.A.I.L.s (North American Industrial Lagers).

Both asked for salt.

Thinking that they would sprinkle a little on their beverage napkins, we watched. It's an old bar trick that prevents a napkin or coaster from sticking to a wet beer glass.

But they didn't do that. No, they shook the salt INTO their beers.

Why, we asked. "It makes the beer taste better," they answered.

None of us suggested that maybe, just maybe, the next time they might order a beer that tasted better, to begin with.

You learn something new every day.

But hold the salt.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tupper's not new News yet

The 2007 sale of Dominion Brewing to a consortium of Anheuser-Busch and Fordham Brewing had at least one insalubrious effect. The new brewery declined to continue to brew long-time local favorite Tuppers Hop Pocket Ale and Hop Pocket Pils.

Bob and Ellie Tupper have been looking ever since for a new home.

Now, there's some potentially good news:

I wish I had some real news to post, but our efforts to get back in the market the right way are just taking time.

Contrary to some rumors, we don't have a deal with anyone yet, and there is certainly no fixed price at which we will return, although it's certain to be about 50 cents higher than "ouch" and it may even be 50 cents higher than "yowie!" I promise you that's as specific as we've gotten on pricing.

But we are making progress. We are in late-stage negotiations with two brewing companies, who together can meet any probable demand. (Though at 50 cents higher than "yowie" we may not need as much capacity as we used to.)

The core of any agreement we reach will include the following:
  • Beers will be made to our specifications—no short-cuts to reach a price point. The ale and pils recipes will not change except to adjust to changing flavors and intensities of hops and malts—adjustments we had to make several times when we were with Old Dominion. Any agricultural product has to run hard to stay in the same place.
  • The breweries will work with us to develop other beers including some seasonal and one-off products.
Working with two breweries presents some legal complications that we did not have when we were permanently moored to the Old Dominion dock. Right now we're working through the details—trying to get a label that will work both in the short run and in the long run, change the way our corporation operates, contract for some quasi-secretarial assistance, and re-establish a distribution network. We hope to have beer in the tank soon and return to the shelves sometime early in 2009.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

O'zapft is! ... in Fredericksburg

Lyle Brown
O'zapft is!
Originally uploaded by cizauskas
Homebrewer Lyle Brown celebrated, Friday evening, as a keg of his award-winning beer was tapped at the new Fredericksburg, Va. Capital Ale House.

Fredericksburg-area beer blogger David Turley (Musings Over A Pint) and I, and several local homebrewers were all on hand to help him celebrate.

A collaboration between Lyle and Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Va., Smoke Out, his Rauch Hellerbock, won the silver medal in the Pro-Am competition of the 2008 Great American Beer Festival. It's a full-bodied deep-golden bock, with a gorgeous malty middle, and a smokey, almost bacony flavor and aroma. A deceptive 8+% alcohol.

Lyle walked about the restaurant, proudly offering samples of his Rauchbier. A few of the customers were indeed taken aback by the smokey flavor. But more than a few ordered full pours. And, Smoke Out, indeed: Capital Ale House does not allow smoking, until after 9PM.

Smoke Out is also on tap at the three other Capital Ale House locations in the Richmond area. Lyle told me that Starr Hill is considering brewing it again.

Friday evening was another kind of celebration as well.

Capital Ale House had just opened this Fredericksburg location four days earlier on Monday. So, this was their first Friday evening.

The beer bar and restaurant, housed in a restored building in the historic downtown area of Fredericksburg, was packed with customers. And, at least from the vantage of my seat at the bar, things seemed to move smoothly (other than a line to get in at about 8pm).

The restoration of the old building had included exposing wooden ceiling joists, repointing brickwork, and refinishing original wood plank flooring.

Of course, the central draw is the beer. The Ale House has 60 draft lines and stocks 300 different bottled beers. Two cask ale handpumps are promised but none were yet available Friday night. A ribbon of ice runs the length of the bartop on which customers can keep their beers cold.

With so many beers to choose from, I tried two (in addition to Smoke Out).

Victory Brewing's fresh-hopped Harvest Pils had a fresh-garden aroma and a bracing finishing bitterness.

Beans, Blue, and Lights OutLights Out Holiday Ale, from Blue Mountain Brewery in Virginia was thick, earthy, raisiny, and dark reddish brown ale. At 7% alcohol by volume, it finished with a healthy smack of English hops. I drank that with my meal: the house-made black bean burger topped with crumbles of Maytag Blue cheese.

Very busy with the capacity crowd, Matt Simmons —General Manager for the entire Capital Ale House chain— still took the time to talk with us and to congratulate Lyle. In turn, we offered Matt congratulations on the new location.

  • See more photos from the tapping: here.
  • Read about another local homebrewer who also brewed for the Pro-Am competition, but who didn't win.

  • Friday, November 07, 2008

    The Session #21: Your Favorite Beer

    Today, being the first Friday of the month, is the day for The Session.

    The Session #21: Favorite Beer

    The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was begun by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.

    November's theme —as selected by Matt C. at A World of Brews— is "What is your favorite Beer and Why?"
    Before you say I don't have a favorite beer or how do I pick just one. I say BS everyone has a favorite. There will always be a beer that you would grab above all others, your go to beer per say [sic]. The one beer you will almost always choose over the others. When I get asked that question I almost always say I don't have one but then when I came up with this topic I realized I did and I know you do too.

    pouring from the firkinI thought about that very question earlier in October when I attended the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival in Baltimore, Md.

    In my posted recap of the event —The Existential Cask— I wrote this:
    If I ever do find the perfect beer —my 'favorite' beer— it will be in good fellowship, amid good conversation ... and odds are that it will be fresh cask ale.

    And, it will be existentially good.

    Related post: What's my favorite beer?

    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Wine biz hint for beer?

    "Is beer the new wine?"

    The answer is a resounding no. Beer stands (or falls) on it own merits; there's no need to display creeping wine envy.

    The entire thing is wrong. A wine is a wine, an orange is an orange, a beer is a beer. "A rose by any other name", went the line.

    On the other hand, if the answer is a comparison of business trends, well then, maybe.
    Both product categories were dominated by a few large players (and really still are) focused on making rather generic products sold mostly on price point rather than quality. <...> In many respects America’s small brewers embarked on a similar approach beginning in the late 80’s. People who once thought all beer was pale yellow and very light now understand the difference between Pale Ale, Stout, and Weizen.

    Hugh Sisson

    Chateau Montelena was one of the first American white wines to be acclaimed by international judges as the equal or superior of white Bordeaux. The California winery was purchased, earlier this year, by Cos d’Estournel, a top-flight Bordeaux wine producer.

    Except ... it wasn't!
    Montelena announced today that the sales agreement with Michel Reybier, the owner of Cos d’Estournel, a leading Bordeaux producer in St.-Estèphe, has been canceled. The Barrett family, which has owned Montelena since 1972, will continue to own and operate the winery, and Montelena is no longer for sale.
    “Reybier Investments has been unable to meet its obligations under its contract with the Barrett family,’’ the statement said.

    The Pour
    Eric Asimov
    New York Times
    November 5, 2008

    Does this reversal of fortunes for an international wine buyout have a portend for the beer industry?

    If the reason —unspecified— has to do with an inability to secure financing, then the answer might be —again— maybe.

    InBev —who earlier this year tendered an offer to purchase Anheuser-Busch lock, stock, and beer barrel— is much larger, by far, than Cos d’Estournel.

    But InBev has recently been experiencing difficulty in securing the $52 billion dollars it needs to complete the purchase.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    Is beer recession proof? Argument #2

    And now back to beer business.

    While I happen to think that good beer is a very affordable luxury, I am concerned that for some folks any luxury at all might well be too much for a while.
    So says Hugh Sisson of Clipper City Brewing at his blog.

    Now, contrast his statement with this one from Dow Jones Newswires:
    Beer sales tend to resist economic downturns, and in some cases actually increase as consumers switch to cheaper alcoholic drinks.

    But, when describing what he calls the concept of relative value, Sisson finishes with a more sanguine viewpoint:
    Even if a sixer of great beer is $12, a comparable bottle of wine is probably $25 to $30. And have you seen the price of malt Scotch lately!

    Is beer recession proof? Argument #1

    November 5, 2008

    Take the time to contemplate the historic event that occurred last evening. President-elect Barack Obama.

    And then, the real work begins.

    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    November 4, 2008

    Two persons walked into a bar. One had voted; the other hadn't. That could be the start of a joke, only it wouldn't be funny.

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Are you one of the "People of the United States"?



    Monday, November 03, 2008

    Keep your casks STILL!

    I call them trestles. Some call them stillage. Other simply call them call them cask stands.

    Jeff, in the U.K. at Stonch's Beer Blog, calls them stills —short for stillage. As in, keeping your casks still.

    cask stillage

    But the crucial aspect of his most recent post is the need to keep casks still, allowing the contents the time to settle, to allow the beer to become clear and free of yeast bite and proteinaceous sludge. Like a keg, the cask needs time after the jostling of delivery for the carbonation to settle down, and return to equilibrium. Translation: you don't want a beer shower when spiling or tapping the cask.

    Unlike a keg, a cask contains yeast and protein. Moving a cask re-suspends that sludge into the beer. Plan on a minimum of 24 hours to allow all that to settle beneath the keystone of the cask.

    Prepare casks ahead of time.
    A pub that sells lots of real ale needs adequate stillage to keep up with demand. Because casks need to be prepped in situ two or three days before dispense, you need at least twice as many stills as you have beer lines.

    After delivery of a cask, allow it to sit, cool, undisturbed, on its side, for several days. Do NOT spile it that day. Do NOT tap it that day.

    Remember to allow the cask to rise to cellar temperature when it is to be spiled and tapped and served. What's cellar temperature? Think 50 °F or so. If that's not do-able, 'keg' cold is okay, but only if the brewery has already concluded the necessary 'warm' conditioning, before shipping the cask. Ask the brewery.

    After spiling the cask, wait for the cask to reach CO2 equilibrium. A rule-of-thumb is fobbing about the soft spile once every 30 seconds or more. Now it can be tapped.

    And now wait again. The act of spiling and the act of tapping re-disturb that yeast/protein sediment. Wait a minimum of 24 hours.

    To summarize: after putting a firkin on stillage, allow its contents to settle, and then, only after it's been spiled, only after it's come into condition ... then, and only then, serve it, with a smile.

    Keep your casks still!