Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Drinking, again! In 2013, this beer was the best it has ever been.

In 1990, I attended a Christmas beer tasting at the then exotic Sisson's Brewpub in Baltimore, Maryland. Host and brewer/owner Hugh Sisson talked to us about the nearly-forgotten tradition of breweries rewarding employees and, maybe, good customers, Fezziwig-like, with one-off, stronger (or spiced) beers to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Oh yes, of course, there were Christmas beers and winter warmers available in those erstwhile years. (This isn't' one of those hoary 'back in my day' rants.) But the spigot of choice was a rivulet compared to today's gusher. To name a few from then: Anchor Our Special Ale (which resuscitated, in the U.S., a tradition of sweetly-spiced beers for the winter months), Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Swiss Hürlimann's Samichlaus, England's Samuel Smith Winter Welcome, and, in the mid-Atlantic: Wild Goose Snow Goose, draft-only British Brewing/Oxford Brewing Santa Class, and Sisson's own spiced beer, Prancer's Pride. Some of these, Sisson would pour that night, while also demonstrating the older-style brewery lagniappe, by pouring a winter beer from ... Coors.

My, how times have changed!

Twenty-three years later, in her year-end state of craft beer wrap-up of 2013, Julia Herz —of the Brewers Association— notes that there are now 2,700 breweries in the United States. It could be safe to assume that each one brewed its own winter beer. That would be 2,700 different winter beers this year, within the U.S. alone.

What a feat it would be to honestly appraise all of them and declare one supreme. Every year about this time, such Sisyphean attempts do occur. Best-of listicles bloom like weeds, and not just of the best winter beers of the season, but of the best among ALL beers brewed ANYWHERE during the preceding year. That's an endeavor, not only superhuman (Bibendum, the new X-man?), but logistically prejudiced toward production breweries over brewpubs. Pete Brown, author of several books on beer (Shakespeare's Pub: the, err, best beer book of 2013?), refers to this solipcistic exercise as beery navel-gazing.

On this last day of 2013, I'm not staring a-midsection. Not a conversation-starter. Rather, I'm appreciating one particular beer and its delicious progression to now.

By December 1995, Hugh Sisson had sold his stake in his family's brewpub, and opened the Clipper City Brewing Company on the southern outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. That timing would allow his first seasonal beer to be a Christmas gift: Winter Reserve, which he brewed loosely in the Anglo winter warmer tradition but with an American 'craft' beer (a term not as over-used back then) flavor.

The beer's destiny was not to be limited to a brief solitary appearance. The ruddy-hued ale would be brewed every Christmas season thereafter, its recipe albeit evolving, but always recognizable. Sisson has since re-branded his brewery as the Heavy Seas Brewing Company, and the beer as Winter Storm Category 5 Ale. (The beer-style designation might be too cute of a pun, perplexing the Weather Channel-deprived: "What's a 'category five', Hugh?")

Here's the brewery's own description:
Our winter ale draws on hops from the West Coast and the UK for its pronounced bitterness. A mix of pale and darker malts give it its tawny color and its bigger body. True to the style, Winter Storm’s aroma is nutty malts and earthy hops. This is a perfect fall beer, especially because of its warming qualities.

Style: Imperial Extra Special Bitter (ESB)
ABV: 7.5%
IBUs: 50
Availability: October-December
Hops: Warrior, UK Goldings, UK Fuggles, Cascade, Centennial
Malts: 2-row, Crystal, Caramalt, Chocolate Malt

Now, a disclaimer. I work for a beer and wine wholesaler in northern Virginia that distributes Heavy Seas' beers. And, prior to that, I had worked for the brewery itself. So, maybe a reader should take everything from this point on with a barleycorn of salt, or some such skepticism.


In the mid-aughts, one could find reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate criticizing Winter Storm for a lack of hops necessary in a 'double IPA'. Of course, the brewery had never made a claim of the beer being a 'double' or 'Imperial' anything. To counter this, Sisson began to suggest, at public appearances, beer dinners, and the like, that his beer wasn't a double or Imperial IPA at all, but rather ... an Imperial ESB. The experiment worked, only too well. Reviewers would begin to protest that the beer —the exact same beer— was too hoppy to be an Imperial ESB. The fanciful designation had become an accepted style.

"But, how does the beer taste?", a wizened brewmaster might ask, weary of all this preamble. I would quickly reply: the 2013 iteration of Winter Storm might be the best ever for this beer, under whatever name.

The 2013 Winter Storm is unlike some 'double' beers that suffer crises of identity, their big, gloppy, malt sweetness chased by acerbic bitterness, confused by a yin-yangy riot. It manages to be at once flavor-full yet dry in sensibility (that's non-sweet, in non-jargon). "More-ish," the late, great beer-writer Michael Jackson would call this character.

Look at the beer. Auburn-hued, with a beige-tinted white collar head of foam. Now, take a good whiff. There is, indeed, much American citrusy hop aroma to be found, de riguer nowadays ... but, there!, smirking in the background, you'll discover some English hops too —earthy, buttery, and truffle-ly. Take a good sip: you'll taste plenty of high-kilned caramel/crystal malt, but also a hearty slug of, what appears to be (but isn't), dark unsweetened chocolate. The whole thing finishes in full-flavored fettle, but, again I emphasize, well-attenuatedly dry, in a warming 7.5% alcohol-by-volume package. As when old painting masterpieces have been found, under modern x-ray inspection, to have been improved upon several times by the artist, so too past years' Winter Storms appear to have been re-worked to become this year's spot-on confection. No spices, no doo-dads, no frou-frou. Just a good, dark-amber malt-forward, hop-infused winter ale. A Category 5, if you will.

As in these things, the closer to a brewery's fermenter, the fresher, the better. The Winter Storm in bottles was wonderful; indeed, this encomium was written after tasting one. But, in kegs, the beer was more so; think of the difference as an etched brilliance. Casks might have been more brilliant still, but, aargh, none were shipped to northern Virginia.

You won't find this beer on many best-of lists. The brewery isn't a sexy new-thing; the beer isn't hipster-cool. So, what? Consider this best-it's-ever-been Winter Storm Category 5 Ale as a Christmas 2013 gift to us from Mr. Sisson and his Heavy Seas brewing team, and, as well, a 'Do Widzenia' to us from Joseph Marunowski, the brewery's recently departed Director of Operations.

No champagne bubbles, tonight. I'll be toasting the incoming year with my final bottle of the 2013 Winter Storm. It's been 18 years to get to this. It'll be another 10 months before you or I can taste the 2014 edition.

Naujaisias Metais!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 50/51, 2013.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A bi-weekly, non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Weeks 50/51
8 December - 21 December 2013

  • 2013.12.21
    Frank Zappa Day observed, in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • 2013.12.21
    The Washington, D.C.-area celebrated the December Solstice (first calendar day of winter) with a record 72 °F temperature, as much of the rest of the nation suffered through winter storms. Via Capital Weather Gang (Washington Post).

  • 2013.12.20
    German brewers petition UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to recognize the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law, originally promulgated in 1516) as a world heritage tradition. Via The Salt (NPR).

  • 2013.12.20
    What alcoholic beverages look like under a microscope. Via BevShots (at Mashable.com).

  • 2013.12.19
    The CFO for Lost Abbey Brewing Company (San Marcos, California) is arrested for stealing funds from a non-profit arts organization. Promptly fired by brewery. Via ABC 10 News.

  • 2013.12.17
    Singer Ray Price —"who changed country music while staying true to his own sound"— dies at age 87. Via Notions Capital.

  • 2013.12.18
    Data from over 40 million credit and debit cards stolen at Target stores. Via Toronto Sun.

  • 2013.12.16
    A panel of American beer writers select their 10 favorite IPAs of 2013. Via Thrillist.

  • 2013.12.16
    Small and independent American breweries contributed $33.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012. Via Brewers Association.

  • 2013.12.15
    U.S. National Archives to make billions of records publicly searchable on internet. Via Washington Post.

  • 2013.12.15
    "Before the advent of refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation in the mid-nineteenth century, almost all beer was, to varying degrees, sour." Via Christian DeBenedetti (in New Yorker Magazine).

  • 2013.12.15
    Peter O'Toole, star of Lawrence of Arabia, and many more films, dies, aged 81. Via The Guardian.

  • 2013.12.15
    After several years of declining numbers, independent bookstores may be making a comeback. The number of operating bookstores was up 6.4% in 2013. Via Washington Post.

  • 2013.12.13
    British Library uploads one million public domain images to the internet for public reuse. Via Boing Boing.

  • 2013.12.13
    Yahoo Mail suffers nearly week-long outage. Via New York Times.

  • 2013.12.12
    Washington, D.C.-area 'craft' breweries engage in tussle over naming rights. Via Washington City Paper.

  • 2013.12.10
    U.S. beer sales declined by 2.3% (4.8 million barrels) between 2007 and 2012. The sales of the top 9 brands fell by 25%. Via Brookston Beer Bulletin (quoting AOL story).

  • 2013.12.10
    The great jazz guitarist Jim Hall has died, age 83. Obituary via New York Times. Appreciation via Jazz Times.

  • 2013.12.10
    The United States is now home to a Trappist brewery: Saint Joseph's Abbey, in Spencer, Massachusetts, brewing Spencer Trappist Ale, the 10th Trappist brewery in world. Via Belgian Beer Specialist.

  • 2013.12.10
    In its inaugural year, the North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) honors the best beer-writing in North America. Via YFGF.

  • 2013.12.09
    New study finds abstaining from alcohol can lead to a shorter life than drinking moderately. Via Business Insider.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pic(k) of the Week: December ice

As it changed to sleet and freezing rain, the season's first snow lost its allure, but gained a sheen.

Fairfax, Virginia.
9 December 2013.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013's Beer Quotation of the Year

I’m more of a German-school brewer, so I think in terms of original gravity. I don’t even like talking about alcohol. It’s like asking a butcher to measure his steaks or hamburger in terms of percent fat. Alcohol to me isn’t important. When I brew these beers, it’s about flavor.
— Dan Carey, co-owner/brewer of New Glarus Brewing Company (Wisconsin, USA)
as quoted by Jay Brooks (of Brookston Beer Bulletin).



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 24, 1968.

Christmas Eve 1968 from the Moon

Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

The view from Apollo 8, orbiting the Moon, forty-five years ago, 24 December 1968. It doesn't get much more humbling than that, or much more profound.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Enjoy a MERRY Christmas!

Leave it to Pete Brown. He, author of Hops and Glory, and Shakespeare's Local.

I had only just stopped in to my local for a half-pint of Mad Fox's deliciously warming Wee Heavy —liquid nourishment for the Christmas Eve kitchen escapades yet to begin— when what, to my wondering eyes, should appear but this lovely screed from Mr. Brown, written some 4,000 miles away.

I'll quote it in part here, skipping the exposition, and jumping right to the exhortation. (If you'd like to read the former —and you should, if you're a good drink enjoyer— here's the link.) It's anodyne to neo-prohibition, it's clever and funny, and it's a wee bit, seasonally appropriately, sacrilegious.

Christmas, like birthdays and weddings, is a time of celebration. Intoxication lowers inhibitions, creates a feeling of euphoria, relaxes us and helps us interact with people. We think we, and those around us, are funnier, sexier, more interesting than when we’re sober. And as a society, we are somehow in the process of convincing ourselves that this is a bad thing.

If alcohol were that bad for us, we probably wouldn’t be here now. Because in the past we drank a hell of a lot more alcohol than we do today.

If it were bad for us, the other piece of booze related news last week – the latest in a long line of studies that proves yet again that moderate drinkers live longer than teetotallers as well as alcoholics – would never have appeared.

So this Christmas, don’t drink responsibly - not all the time. Christmas is a holiday from our day-to-day responsibilities, and that’s why it exists, an essential safety valve from our lives.

Don’t drink to black out. Don’t drink till you throw up. Don’t drink to punish yourself or others. That’s the behaviour that suggests you have a problem that isn’t drink itself.

But do drink more than two units per day for men or 1.5 units for women. Drink until you feel like singing. Drink until you feel epic and marvellous. Drink until you feel confident and comfortable enough to ask out that person from work on a date. Drink until you feel a hangover the next day, on a day when having a hangover doesn't matter, and reflect on the yin and yang, on our ability to heighten euphoria to new levels and then take the knocks for it the next day with good grace.

Christ’s first miracle – if you believe that particular superstition – was turning water into wine at the wedding in Canaan. According to the Bible – and I think this is a fairly close translation from the original Hebrew – the saviour of mankind announced his presence on Earth by getting people shitfaced and showing them a good time.

So don’t get drunk every day over Christmas. But do get drunk at least once. And tell our Puritan overlords that it’s what the Baby Jesus would have wanted.

Beer on bench (02)

Linksmu Kaledu!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

VeggieDag Thursday: Sunday before Christmas edition

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on an animal-free diet and its issues.

VeggieDag's Christmas Gift Guide

Four (animal-free!) Cookbooks of 2013.
A Sunday-before-Christmas edition of VeggieDag Thursday.

Isa Does It
The newest cookbook from uber-cool Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen is not only a collection of vegan recipes, but a compendium of vegan-cookery (and baking) techniques, pantry-stocking suggestions, and clear how-tos, limned with wonderful photography. Cheeky, she's entitled one section: Tofu Butchery. My copy of an earlier book of hers, Vegan with a Vengeance, is well-worn. I'm looking forward to cooking my way through Isa's newest.

Moskowitz has a companion video series on YouTube called Make It Vegan. Well-produced, it's definitely worth watching.

Eat Your Vegetables
Joe Yonan is the Food Editor of the Washington Post. Unique among fellow food editors of major metropolitan newspapers, Yonan is a vegetarian; he only recently "came out" came out as such. His second cookbook is Eat Your Vegetables. For a description, I'll crib from Mr. Yonan's Amazon page:
Eat Your Vegetables has been named among the best cookbooks of 2013 by The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and NPR's "Here and Now"! It's a collection of eclectic vegetarian and vegan recipes for singles, vegetarians in meat-eating households, couples who are looking for creative side dishes, and anyone hungry for plant-focused, smaller-portion recipes

Yonan writes in an entertaining, yet to-the-point, style. From a recent column in the Washington Post, here's his recipe for Black Pepper Tofu. "There’s something about the combination of black pepper and tofu that sings. And it’s got a rich, deep bass voice, too."

I own a copy of Deborah Madison's 1990 book, The Savory Way. I can't begin to tell you what an important cookbook that had (has) been for me. A gift well back in the dawn of my vegetarianism, it is well-written, with recipes that, while easy-to-follow and quick to reproduce, aren't simple meals. Ms. Madison was the founding chef of the ground-breaking Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.

She's the author of several cookbooks and has a new one this year: Vegetable Literacy. I haven't read it yet (hint, hint, Santa), but Joe Yonan has. Here's what he had to say:
[Madison] aims to bring us closer to her level of knowledge by helping us think about the subject in a new way. It’s a must-have book for anyone interested in plant-based cooking.

The book’s subtitle is “Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom, With Over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes.” Indeed, her mission is to illuminate the connections among vegetables from the same family, to show how they can be treated in similar ways in the kitchen, used interchangeably and sometimes together. Virtually every page of “Vegetable Literacy” contains a nugget of helpful or just plain interesting information. (I’d call it trivia, except in Madison’s lyrical telling, nothing seems trivial.) Example: One reason to scrub, not peel, carrots is that you’ll rob them of some flavor, not to mention nutrition.

Madison paves the path to literacy with delicious recipes, illustrated by “Canal House” queens Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton and their trademark style of luscious-meets-rustic photography.

Happy Herbivore
Where Isa Moskowitz is uber-cool, Lindsay Nixon, who goes by the avatar Happy Herbivore, is uber-chirpy. "I could chop mushrooms all day. It's soooo relaxing." She's like a goofy (in a good way) home-cook Rachel Ray inviting you into her kitchen. Very easy to follow along, using easy-to-procure ingredients (ketchup!), Nixon generally eschews the expectation-laden terms vegetarian and vegan, choosing instead "plant-based."

Her latest book, of three, is The Happy Herbivore: Light & Lean. Beginner 'plant-based' home-cooks, experienced dabblers, and weight-loss seekers should investigate. Like Moskowitz, Ms. Nixon also has a YouTube companion series. It's charmingly home-grown. See it here.

  • Vegan winter 'holiday' recipes, and tips on navigating the season as a vegan. Via Oh She Glows.
  • Ten vegan main dishes for Christmas. Via One Green Planet.
  • Two Cizauskas family Christmas traditions:
    • Kugelis: Lithuanian Potato Casserole. Via my Nana, with some vegetarian adaptations.
    • Ausukai: Lithuanian fried cookies. Via my Nana, with suggestions from my sister (but not vegan).


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pic(k) of the week: Cold front, at night, over Merrifield

Cold front at night over Merrifield

In early evening, a panoramic view of the night sky, over the new Mosaic shopping district, in ...

Fairfax (Merrifield), Virginia.
12 November 2013.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 48/49, 2013.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A bi-weekly, non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Weeks 48/49
24 November- 7 December 2013

  • 2013.12.07
    "... December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy ...". Via History Matters.

  • 2013.12.06
    December 6 is the feast day of the Christian Saint Nicholas of Myra: the inspiration for the modern-day Santa Claus, and the patron saint of brewers. Via YFGF.

  • 2013.12.05
    Nelson Mandela dies at age 95. Via LA Times.

  • 2013.12.05
    "Eighty years of drink." Prohibition was repealed on 5 December 1933. Via YFGF.

  • 2013.12.03
    'Craft" brewer Dogfish Head trademarks an Indian word for "hello." Upsets a fellow 'craft' brewer. Good business or “cultural imperialism”? Via Street Food Locator.

  • Brewed in Virginia
  • 2013.12.02
    The Richmond Squirrels —Richmond, Virginia, AA professional baseball team— contract with local 'craft' brewery to produce a beer for the team.

  • 2013.11.30
    Richmond, Virginia, artists create artwork on brewery casks. Via Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  • 2013.11.28
    "To give thanks is a matter of joy; should that be confined by excessive sobriety?" Beer writer Michael Jackson writing for the Washington Post in 1983, on pairing beer with the Thanksgiving meal. Via Beer Hunter.

  • 2013.11.27
    The story of the 19th century woman who created Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Via Smithsonian Magazine.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pic(k) of the Week: No. 1 Tuba Man?

No. 1 Tuba Man?

More than 200 tuba and euphonium players participated in the 30th annual Merry Tuba Christmas at the Harborplace Amphitheater, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Here, a tuba-ist is leaving the concert, as seen in a parking garage in Federal Hill.

7 December 2013.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Trappist American beer!

The only Trappist brewery in the U.S. is closing (and IPAs are to blame)
America: The Jesuit Review
23 May 2022

Holy beer, America! There's breaking Trappist beer news. There are now TEN officially-recognized Trappist monastery-breweries in the world, and ...

... according to Belgian Beer Specialist, the United States, on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, became home to one of them —in fact, the first and only in the U.S. —St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Spencer, Massachusetts, fifty-eight miles west of Boston, where the monks have begun brewing Spencer Trappist Ale.

Monasteries of the Roman Catholic Trappist order self-support by producing goods such as cheese, breads, preserves, and, in a centuries-old tradition, beer. For much of the latter 20th-century, the last was rare: there were only six such Trappist brewing monasteries, world-wide: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and La Trappe. And, not really world-wide, but Beneluxian: the first five in Belgium, the last in the Netherlands.

Vingt-cinq ans of Chimay Cinq Cents

The Trappist brothers at the Belgian Abbey of Saint Benedict took up the mashing fork, in 1998, with their beer Achel, while the brothers at Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven were intermittently immersed in hot Holy Water over whether they actually controlled the brewing operations of La Trappe. All was forgiven in 2005. (UPDATE: Achel was declassified as Trappist beer in 2023, after the abbey was closed.)

Westvleteren has been considered the rarest of the Trappist brews. And, for several years, a 'quadrupel' from Rochefort has been crowd-anointed on BeerAdvocate.com as the best beer in the world. Or was it Westvleteren? It depends on whom you ask. The monks themselves remain silent.

Authentic Trappist Product

What exactly is a Trappist beer?

Here, from the International Trappist Association:
Even before Word War II, Trappists were trying to protect the name of "Trappist beer". The monks of Orval were quite conscientious in taking the interests of the Trappists to heart by hiring a lawyer and instituting legal proceedings. Since the name “Trappist” referred to the origin of the product, any businesses which subsequently and unjustly made use of the name “Trappist” or “Trappist Beer” could be sued for dishonest business practices. On September 6, 1985, the Commercial Court in Brussels made it even more explicit: “It is now common knowledge that customers attribute special standards of quality to products made by monastic communities, and this is especially true of Trappist monasteries."

[In 1997,] the International Trappist Association (ITA) was established and the “Authentic Trappist Product” label was created to ensure the consumer of the origin and authenticity of these products, especially in the beer market where a considerable number of brands portray themselves using a “religious” image even though the products don’t come from a monastery.

Our label guarantees the monastic origin of the products as well as the fact that they measure up to the quality and traditional standards rooted in the monastic life of a real Trappist community. Even though this label can be used on other products, at present it is only used on beer, liqueur, cheese, bread, biscuits and chocolates.

The Taste of a Trappist

I suppose a Trappist monastery-brewery could brew an international-style light lager, and, if the brewery were indeed Trappist-approved, that beer would be a Trappist beer. But, thank God, none do that.

Generally speaking, the Trappist monks brew their beers with a distinctive yeast character (spicy, fruity, phenolic), with extra ingredients, such as candi sugar (disdained by the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law), high in alcohol (even though that's not always the case), and in appellations often referred to as Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel. These designations are ordinal numbers, indicating a ranking in order of alcohol content, from less than 6% to more than 10% (by-volume). They are not cardinal numbers: they do not imply double, triple, or quadruple anything. (And, then, there's Orval, sui generis even for Trappist beers: hop-dry and brettanomyces-tangy.)

The newest members of that ten brewing-monastery club

Number eight was Stift Engelszell, an abbey in Austria, which, last year, became the first Trappist monastery outside of both Belgium or the Netherlands to receive imprimatur for its beer.

And, this past Tuesday, 10 December 2013, numbers nine and ten were admitted. The Trappist Abbey Maria Toevlucht, in the Netherlands, producing Zundert and ...

.... St. Joseph’s Abbey, the first, and only (it bears repeating) Trappist monastery brewery in the United States. The monks in Spencer, Massachusetts, have been well-known for their preserves. Now, they are preserving barley malt in liquid form: Spencer Trappist Ale.

These changes are so new that the International Trappist Association has yet to list them on its website. But, then again, maybe the ITA doesn't update religiously. It was Baltimore, Maryland-based, blogger Chuck Cook who reported the news: at Belgian Beer Specialist about St. Joseph's and on Twitter (@BelgianBeer1) about Zundert.
The label [of Spencer Trappist Ale] proudly states “American Trappist” and “Pair with Family and Friends.” The beer is blond with 6.5% abv. Also of note is that the label states the beer contains 11.2 fluid U.S. ounces, or 33 cl of beer, which is the same size used by most of the Trappist breweries in Europe, rather than the 12 fluid ounce/355 ml size that is most common here in the U.S.

For Americans, it might just be a quicker jaunt to Massachusetts than to Belgium. Hello, Trappist! Hello, Spencer!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bonus Pic(k) of the Week: Beery photos submitted

A Good Beer Blog
Alan McLeod, of A Good Beer Blog, runs an annual beer-photo contest around this time of year. This was the 8th running of the Yuletide Hanukkah Christmas Kwanza New Years Eve and Hogmanay Beery Photo Contest. If you haven't submitted any photos yet, don't now. The deadline was yesterday.

Be that as it may, why not explore Mr. McLeod's humbly, yet aptly, entitled website? Witty and erudite, it's the thinking man's person's beer blog.

Here are the photos (or should that be 'digital images'?) I submitted. My criteria of choice were either misbegotten acclaim (numerous 'hits' at my Flickr site), or prior plaudit by me, here at Yours For Good Fermentables, as a Pic(k) of the Week.

Did I just attempt to sway the judge? The suspense builds.

Weizen sippers
Weizen sippers
Hands of a brewer
Hands of a brewer
Life is good
Life is good
Bourbon wash in open fermenter
Bourbon Wash
Uber Pils, illuminated
Uber Pils, illuminated
Mad Zymurgist?
Mad Zymurgist?

UPDATE 1 January 2014: I didn't win, place, or show. Here are the terrific submissions which did.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The best beer-writing in North America, for 2012 / 2013.

The newly re-born North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) announced the winners of its inaugural Beer Writing Contest ... in October! Tardy and abashed, I'm posting the results only today. From more than 100 entries, awards in six categories were given to works that had been published between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. Click on the links, and read!

Russell & Brooks
NAGBW co-chairs: Don Russell (l), Jay Brooks (r).


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Pic(k) of the Week: Huge Head

"Is the beer pouring foamy," I asked the bartender. "No,' she replied. "That's the way we pour our beer here."


Huge head

The refreshing 'bite' a drinker gets from a beer is caused not only by the tactile sensation of the bubbles, but by an acidic reaction (in fact, the primary sensation).
When pressure is reduced by opening a bottle of beer or releasing it from the tap, some of the carbon dioxide is released from the solution in the form of bubbles. After a sip, enzymes in the mouth convert the remaining free carbon dioxide into carbonic acid. The acid then activates sensory nerve endings, which signal the mild irritation that we refer to as ‘bite.’
Monell Chemical Senses Center (Philadelphia, PA)

There are beers (such as German-style wheat beers, or hefeweizens) which are meant to be served with spumous heads. This beer was not. With her incorrect technique, the bartender had altered the taste of the beer from what its brewer had intended. In other words: although pretty, flat. It would take several minutes for the head to subside enough for the beer to be drunk. Still, not all bad, that!

As seen, heard, and drunk at a pub (to remain unnamed), in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
3 December 2013.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Nelson Mandela died today at age 95. A South African, he was a man for all humanity.

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, he requires no hagiography.

Mandela accomplished more for his fellow men and women, while imprisoned for 27 years, than will most of us, while 'free', in our lifetimes. Tonight, the flags of all nations of the world should be at half-mast. We should be so fortunate to see his kind again.

The People United Will Never be Defeated


Eighty years of drink!

Yesterday, eighty years ago, in 1933, the state of South Carolina voted against enacting the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Fortunately, South Carolina would be the only state to vote no, and to futile effect.

The very next day, 5 December 1933, at 5:32 PM ET, the state of Utah voted for ratification, becoming the 36th State to do so, and thus achieving the 3/4 majority of states' votes needed to enact the amendment.

With that vote, the nearly 14 year ignoble reign of that 18th Amendment, otherwise known as Prohibition, was ended. The 21st Amendment, in effect, repealed the 18th Amendment. As of today, eighty years ago, it had become legal, once again, to manufacture, distribute, and sell alcoholic beverages.

21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

New York Times front page: 5 December 1933

Not so fast for the capital of the nation. In his book, "Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't", historian Garrett Peck notes that Congress didn't rescind Prohibition in Washington, D.C. until 1 March 1934.

The 21st Amendment left to the states the right to control the importation, sale, and regulation of alcohol within each state's own borders. Washington D.C.'s repeal legislation, although tardy, would become a model for other jurisdictions in the U.S. on how to regulate, license, and control alcohol sales, as opposed to dispensing it directly. Despite that, to this day, there remains a seemingly inchoate patchwork of alcohol laws throughout the nation.

There's another unique facet of the 21st Amendment, noted by beer historian Bob Skilnik
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].

Take a moment today to honor the sagacity of those Americans of eighty years ago. Hoist a beer, sip a whisky, drink a glass of wine. Legally.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"Beer": a poem by George Arnold.

"Beer", a poem for today, by George Arnold (1834–1865), with verse a good measure more florid than its unadorned title.

Mad Ordinary
With my beer 
I sit, 
While golden moments flit: 
They pass 
Unheeded by: 
And, as they fly, 
Being dry, 
Sit, idly sipping here 
My beer.

O, finer far 
Than fame, or riches, are 
The graceful smoke-wreathes of this cigar! 
Should I 
Weep, wail, or sigh? 
What if luck has passed me by? 
What if my hopes are dead,— 
My pleasures fled? 
Have I not still 
My fill 
Of right good cheer,— 
Cigars and beer

Go, whining youth, 
Go, weep and wail, 
Sigh and grow pale, 
  Weave melancholy rhymes 
  On the old times, 
Whose joys like shadowy ghosts appear, 
But leave me to my beer! 
  Gold is dross,— 
  Love is loss,— 
So, if I gulp my sorrows down, 
Or see them drown 
In foamy draughts of old nut-brown, 
Then do wear the crown, 
  Without the cross!

Life is good

From Poetry Foundation.org:
Born in 1834 in New York City, George Arnold once had aspirations of becoming an artist before deciding to devote his time to literature. A popular author, journalist, and poet of the mid-19th century, he wrote for various publications and periodicals, including the Saturday Press, Vanity Fair, and Weekly Review under the name “McArone,” which brought him recognition as a humorist.

In addition to humorous pieces, Arnold also wrote poetry and published books on children’s games. He was best known for his poem “The Jolly Old Pedagogue” as well as the McArone Papers, which he wrote under his pseudonym.

Arnold was also a patron of Pfaff’s Beer Cellar, a popular watering hole for a group of New York bohemian writers and artists, including Walt Whitman.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 45/46/47, 2013.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A bi-weekly, non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Weeks 45/46/47
3 November- 23 November 2013

  • 2013.11.23
    In May 2013, Yahoo/Flickr's re-design was bad for photographers; in November 2013, even more so. "If you don't like it," Yahoo's silence appeared to tell the community, "then get lost." Via Michel Stutz (at Huffington Post).

  • 2013.11.22
    A solemn date, today: the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Via Washington Post.

  • 2013.11.22
    While still small, the number of 'craft' breweries is on the rise in Beijing, and all of China. Via The Drinks Business.

  • 2013.11.20
    Doris Lessing —Nobel Prize-winning novelist on gender politics, race, ideology— dies at age 94. Via Los Angeles Times.

  • 2013.11.19
    Mavis Batey —one of the Enigma code-breakers of World War II— dies a British hero at age 92. Via Washington Post.

  • 2013.11.18
    The Wine Spectator Magazine releases its Top 100 Wines List for 2013.

  • 2013.11.18
    The U.S. is in the middle of the curve for global alcohol consumption. Via Geo Currents.

  • 2013.11.16
    A tour of Washington D.C.'s newest brewpub-to-be, Right Proper, scheduled to open in December 2013. Via Washington City Paper.

  • 2013.11.16
    Leesburg, Virginia, is becoming a 'craft' beer and brewery hub for northern Virginia. Via Fritz Hahn (at Washington Post).

    Virginia Cider Week 2012
  • 2013.11.15
    Virginia Cider Week: 15-24 November 2013.

  • 2013.11.05
    Guy Fawkes Day! Or should that be Guido Fawkes Day? Via Wikipedia.

  • 2013.11.05
    "Hatching Twitter", a history of the dysfunctional birth of the social media site Twitter, written by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton. Review by Mashable.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pic(k) of the Week: High Krausen at Bluejacket

Bluejacket krausen

A brewer's-eye view of beer, in an open fermenter, at high kräusen: that is, yeast in fine fettle!
Top fermentation, generally associated with ales, is a mode of fermentation in which the flocculating yeast rises to the surface of the fermenting wort, rendering it possible to 'skim' the crop of yeast from the top of the vessel, ready for transfer to the next batch of wort. <...> High kräusen is a German term, also widely used in English, which refers to the large, billowing, unkempt head of foam that forms on the surface of beer at the peak of fermentation. <...> In a traditional fermentation cellar, beer ferments in open vessels that allow the brewer to visually control different stages of fermentation.
The Oxford Companion to Beer

This is a fermentation panorama that most American 'craft' brewers don't often see, because most do not ferment their beers in open fermenters. Nor do they experience the full redolence of yeasty aromas which waft from open fermenters.

But the brewers at Bluejacket —a brewery and restaurant, newly opened in Washington, D.C.— do.

The photo is courtesy of Bobby Bump, lead brewer at Bluejacket, who posted it to Twitter, 23 November 2013. The beer will become a Belgian-style blond ale, yet unnamed.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Talking Turkey (and Beer)

Big Beer

De gustibus non est disputandum.

There is no disputing taste. Is what you taste, what I taste? Does the blue of the sky you see match the azure I note? A deductive discussion for scientists and philosophers, perhaps.

But as to gustatory preferences, I stipulate that one can rely on informed, experiential, and enthusiastic suggestions from those whose choices have jibed with your likes and dislikes in the past. Cogent expression counts too.

I wrote the following beer-with-turkey exhortation in 2003. Redacted slightly, it remains valid (for me) today, less for specific beer choices (doomed to be démodé) than the reasons for them. As to cogency, I leave that up to the reader.

For Thanksgiving this year ... try beer!

Turkey can be such a bland dish.

Yes, the bird can be served smoked or deep-fried, but even now, as a vegetarian of a couple decades, I remember that the Thanksgiving turkey often needed a 'leg-up'. For that support, I suggest ... beer!

When barley is malted and mashed, and when wort is boiled, browning reactions occur between proteins and sugars, just as they do when food is cooked. That creates —as brewer/writer Garrett Oliver has termed it— a flavor hook: "the element of the beer's flavor that mirrors a similar flavor in the food." The toasted, biscuity, caramelly, roasted, and browned flavors inherent to many cooked foods are also inherent to beer. That 'other' beverage choice - wine - fails in bringing those elements to the table.

For this reason (and others), beer is a more forgiving (or enlivening beverage) with food than is wine. Indeed, there are few poor beer-with-food choices; rather, there are pairings that are tastier than others. Beer is a vegetarian beverage; it seems natural that vegetables and grains would have an affinity for it.

Stillwater Stateside Saison

Back to turkey and beer. At the Thanksgiving table, some gourmands have suggested an Abbey-style ale, or a hop-happy IPA, or a German-style weizen as the beer of choice. Although these are fine beverages, I recommend a Saison —Belgian farmhouse-style ale— as the sine qua non. The beer's 'ur-wheatiness,' gentle fermentation character, hints of citrus fruits, and subtle yeast-derived spicing bring interest to the bird without stealing from the meal. To the traditional side dishes of cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and, in my household, kugelis (Lithuanian potato casserole), Saisons proffer textural contrast. A classic choice would be Saison Dupont.

Or, as an alternative, try Flemish Red Ale. This beer's acidity enlivens the bird -so to speak- while its cherry-like fruitiness mates well with the Thanksgiving meal's sweet accouterments. A few classics: Rodenbach, Duchesse de Bourgogne, or even Liefman's Goudenband (although this would be more accurately described as a Belgian Sour Brown). A pale bock could be another delightful pairing. The sweet malt of this German-style strong lager complements the turkey meat.

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive 2013

If I were forced to slum it (okay, only kidding), and drink wine with the feast, I'd open a sparkling wine, or a good Gruner Veltliner. This Austrian white wine marries slightly pungent aromatics, hints of tropical fruit, peppery minerality, and quenching acidity.

For a red wine, the wine world's answer to a Belgian red ale would be a Beaujolais. This Gamay grape French red combines sweet cherry fruit with high acidity: appropriate for a bland turkey. Avoid the relatively insipid, gimmicky, Beaujolais Nouveau. Go with a cru Beaujolais instead. Look for a Moulin à Vent, Morgon, or Brouilly, for example. A more expensive choice, but a more elegant one, would be Beaujolais' northern cousin, red Burgundy, produced from Pinot Noir grapes. Or a Pinot Noir from Oregon, California, or Austria.

&#x27;Serious&#x27; meal?

There is another wine, one fermented from apples, that would also go well at the Thanksgiving table. An on-going renaissance of artisinal cider in the U.S. has made finding good cider easier than it had been. Pick one!

Baltimore Sun columnist Rob Kasper once proclaimed: "Relatives may look askance at me, fellow diners may tisk their disapproval, but I am going to do it. This Thanksgiving, I am going to drink beer with the bird." I myself have resolutely followed this advice for many of my Thanksgiving dinners. Not all my fellow diners have agreed with me. The beer prophet may preach alone, but he is never thirsty!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

VeggieDag Thursday: Recipes for a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag is an occasional Thursday post on an animal-free diet and its issues.

A Tuesday-before-Thanksgiving edition of VeggieDag Thursday.

RECIPES -----more-----

Monday, November 25, 2013

Evening Star's 7th Annual Thanksgiving Eve Cask Tapping of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon

Turkey & Firkin

The holiday tradition at the Evening Star continues! We'll be pouring from a wooden cask of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA, which has been additionally spiked with soft maple wood chips and Northern Brewer hops.

For a beautiful comparison, we will also pour regular Loose Cannon on draft, and some deliciously fresh kegs of Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB!

The firkin taps at 6pm. Live music from the Joe Chiocca Band starts at 8pm. Come celebrate and give thanks a little early with Evening Star!

Seven years ago, on Thanksgiving Eve 2007, a cask of Loose Cannon would be the first cask-conditioned beer ever served at the Evening Star, a cozy pub and restaurant in the quaint Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia. There have been many cask ales served since, but every Thanksgiving Eve, it's still a cask of Loose Cannon.

Heavy Seas Brewery (then known as Clipper City Brewing) is located just 45 miles north, on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland.

This is one of those beer events, not big and splashy, that I look forward to every year. Close to home, it has fresh beer, good food, fun music, bonhomie ... and hand-turkeys!

Hand turkey artist


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pic(k) of the week: Casey at the Tap

Casey at the tap
Casey Hard (r) —long-time General Manager and cellarman at Max's Taphouse— mans his 5 cask-ale 'beer engines'.

The pub —located in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, at the Inner Harbor— offers beer 140 draft beers, a "world-spanning" collection of approximately 1,200 bottled beers, and, of course, those cask-conditioned ales, pulled from a temperature-controlled room. It's a testament to the skill of Mr. Hard that he maintains his numerous draft and cask lines clean and pristine, and that the beers he pours from them taste in good condition.

9 November 2013.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 43/44, 2013.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A bi-weekly, non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Weeks 43/44
20 October - 2 November 2013

  • 2013.11.01
    Feliz Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Via Wikipedia.

  • 2013.10.30
    National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly tapping all Google and Yahoo data transmissions, by Americans and non-Americans alike, worldwide. Via Yahoo.

    Mad pumpkins
  • 2013.10.29
    A brief history of American pumpkin beer. Via Smithsonian Magazine.

  • 2013.10.28
    A fire at the Yuengling brewery in Florida causes $1M in damage. Story via Christian Science Monitor. The damage was less than it could have been, says brewery manager. Story via UPI.

  • 2013.10.27
    Lou Reed, a seminal figure in, and pioneer of, American rock music, has died at age 71. Via Rolling Stone.

    American Brewery (02)
  • 2013.10.26
    Touring the renovated American Brewery, in Baltimore, Maryland. Via YFGF.

  • 2013.10.25
    Beer writer Stephen Beaumont doesn't care much for the world's newest strongest beer: Snake Venom, at 67.5% alcohol-by-volume.

  • 2013.10.25
    The (only?) 3 watershed discoveries of brewers, anywhere, ever. Via Beervana.

  • 2013.10.24
    Conan O'Brien's Triumph the Insult Dog visits the Great American Beer Festival.

  • 2013.10.23
    Jazz singer, Gloria Lynne, dies at age 83. Via Wikipedia. Most successful recording: I Wish You Love.

  • 2013.10.22
    Gallup poll finds 58% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Via Forbes.

  • 2013.10.22
    Scaffolding to cover U.S. Capitol dome for 2 years during repairs. (Congress hiding from view?) Via WJLA-TV.

  • 2013.10.22
    The Virginia Wine Wholesalers Association and others work to overturn the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's ban on wholesaler participation at alcohol-related events at restaurants. Via Washington Business Journal.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pic(k) of the Week: Hiding Out?

Engert & Cizauskas @Novemberfest 2013
Hiding out?

During a busy Novemberfest beer festival, Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Beer Director, Greg Engert (r), and YFGF's Thomas Cizauskas (l) find a quiet spot to talk beer business.

Rustico Restaurant
Alexandria, Virginia.
2 November 2013.

Photo courtesy Rustico Restaurant.