Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Beers on NPR

What's so great about the holidays? Two things jump to the front of the mind: relaxation and overindulgence. And what better way to engage in both than by piling up the food and popping open a bottle or several of some special brew?

Brewers the world over respond this time of year by releasing their own unique holiday offerings – often rich and hearty with winter's chill in mind, and many spiced in that Christmas-y way. Joe "Sixpack" Russell identified 10 such seasonal releases, and NPR took note.

I myself have a bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve (not a holiday beer but always a special treat) chilling in anticipation of Christmas dinner.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Session #22 – The End of Prohibition

Today's a big anniversary – and no, I'm not talking about Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, Walt Disney's birth or Mozart's death.

It's even more important than all that. On Dec. 5, 1933 – 75 years ago – the 21st Amendment was ratified, thereby repealing Prohibition and making it legal to produce, transport and sell alcohol for the first time since the 18th Amendment took those rights away some dozen-plus years prior.

Most appropriately, this month's Session is being hosted by none other than the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco. The guys at 21st Amendment asked us: "What does the repeal of Prohibition mean to you? How will you celebrate your right to drink beer?" They'll be compiling the results soon on their blog.

The first one is an easy question for me, and anyone else who cares enough about beer (or any of the "intoxicating liquors" that so offended Andrew Volstead and his many collaborators) to share our love of it with anyone with an Internet connection.

What does Repeal mean to me? It means all the growth and innovation we've seen in the beer industry over the past 20, 30 years wouldn't have been possible otherwise. It means I'm thrilled that we have more than 1,400 craft breweries in the U.S. (but I'd like to see even more) that continue to explore new flavors, refine time-honored styles and make today and every day the best time to be a beer drinker in America.

It means we don't have to cross oceans and borders (not that we shouldn't) to explore the amazing and unique beers being made in places like Belgium, England and Germany.

And of course, it means that the most fun and rewarding hobby I've ever had – making beer at home – won't earn me a visit from some latter-day Elliot Ness. And on that note, the irony is not lost on me that in Utah, the state whose ratification of the 21st Amendment made it official, homebrewing remains illegal.

Above: Proud to brew

So how did I celebrate my right to drink beer? First off, by starting this post on Friday only to shelve it so I could judge homebrew at the Palmetto State Brewers' annual competition Friday night and all day Saturday. It's now Sunday, and I feel no remorse in neglecting this post so that I could spend a weekend celebrating beer.

I'd be shocked – shocked – if we ever see a return of the widespread temperance movement that lead to Prohibition the first time around. But anything's possible. We need to stay vigilant for efforts to undermine the right of responsible adults to enjoy beer, wine and liquor safely and sensibly, and push for more sensible alcohol regulation at every opportunity.

Here's hoping that in another 75 years we'll still be celebrating Repeal, common sense and beer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Economics vs. Tradition, As Usual

I have to thank on-top-of-it beer writer Lew Bryson for this scoop: Heineken NV will be closing its Beamish & Crawford brewery early next year.

Those who enjoy a Beamish now and then (and those, like me, who think it and Murphy's occupy the top two slots among the Dry Irish Stout Big Three) will be heartened to know that the Beamish brand won't be dying off – just that production will move to another Irish brewery of Heineken's (in Cork, like Beamish & Crawford) where, by the way, Murphy's is produced. How's that for consolidation?

More on this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Not Actually Coming Soon...

These labels were mocked up for a class project myself and some fellow graduate students did. Anyone with $850,000 to spare who likes the look of these pretty pictures is welcome to contact me.

Click on the labels for a larger view.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Corner Lot, Please

Now here's a neighborhood that has its priorities straight. This beer lover's intersection is located in Colorado Springs, Colo., home of the Air Force Academy, U.S. Olympic Training Center and, barring a coincidence here, one very cool and lupulin-inspired developer.

©; used with permission

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Honey, I'm Off to the Pub. Yell if You Need Me."

What do you get the lush who thinks he has everything? How about his very own bar?

The folks at clothing retailer home-improvement center Neiman Marcus are advertising what is sure to be the hottest holiday gift since Tickle Me Elmo: an Authentic Guinness Home Pub, also sometimes known by its alternate names: the Most-Popular-Guy-in-the-Neighborhood Room; the Where-Did-My-Husband-Go? Black Hole; the Jobkiller; the Brawling Grounds; and of course, the Where's-All-This-Black-Vomit-Coming-From? Chamber.

Imagine – it's a rainy Sunday morning and you're wide awake, stuck with nothing to do during that unfortunate time between sunrise and NFL kickoff. Worse, your favorite watering holes have all yet to open! Well, how about heading downstairs (heck, have it installed in your bedroom) to your own personal Irish pub for some liquid breakfast?

"Pull me some of that black stuff, Seamus," you say. But wait – there is nary a mutton-chopped, rosy-cheeked barman to be found. Oops! Lost in the moment, you forgot that at (Insert Your Name Here)'s Pub, you are the bartender! And the customer, and the owner, and the creepy drunk who mutters to himself at the bar and leers inappropriately at your wife. Anything goes, and "last call" is unheard of.

It gets better. To become properly oriented as an official Guinness bar owner, you and a friend will be shuttled to Dublin for a VIP tour (and, we can presume, overindulgent tasting binge) at the St. James's Gate Brewery, home of Guinness for nearly 250 years. But save some of that thirst, because waiting for you at home will be your own supply of fresh Guinness Stout. One year's worth.

If you think this little slice of personal heaven on earth doesn't come cheaply ... you're right. The price tag? Try a quarter million. Powerball tickets, anyone?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blonde Ale

Simple, gorgeous and satisfying. Who doesn't love a blonde?

Blonde Ale, that is – what did you think I meant??

This easy style makes for a nice, uncomplicated quaffer, which also makes it a good tool for initiating those who consider "Bud Heavy" branching out. At the same time, there's enough going on here to keep beer geeks from turning up their noses. Better still, of course, the homebrewer is free to do as he pleases in concocting the Blonde of his dreams.

In my case, this golden beauty was conceived with a number of purposes in mind. First, of course, was to have something light and drinkable on hand. Second was to get some yeast going from a Wyeast smack pack I had just purchased. Third was to use up some hop leftovers I had on hand. And fourth, an ancillary objective, was to do a little experiment of sorts with some other yeast I had on hand – more on that in a second.

The stats:

OG 1.046 FG 1.011
ABV 4.6% AA 75.4%
IBUs 30 SRM 3

100% Canadian two-row
0.28 lbs light dry malt extract*

11 IBUs Simcoe – 55 mins
9 IBUs Newport – 55 mins
5 IBUs Cascade – 55 mins
0.4 oz Mt. Hood – 20 mins
0.4 oz Mt. Hood – flameout

Wyeast 2450 "Denny's Favorite 50"

* for starter; pitched along with yeast

I fermented this at about 65°. It was around 18 days from brew day to keg, with several days' worth of crash-cooling in there. About two weeks of carbonating/cold conditioning was all I had the patience for before tapping.

This beer is a pale golden color with a nice white head. The clarity has continued to improve with time; it's now just about crystal clear. There's not too much on the nose except a light floral note and some fruitiness that I take to be yeast-derived. (This was my first time working with this yeast, a strain noted in homebrew circles for its association with the even-more-famed Denny Conn, who donated some of his club's stash to Wyeast for this limited release.)

Flavor-wise, this beer is light and uncomplicated, with a touch of fruitiness as previewed by the nose. The mouthfeel is soft and smooth, the finish increasingly bitter from the above-style 30 IBUs.

In general, I do not care for much fruitiness in my beers, and this is particularly so in lighter styles, where there is less to hide behind. As such, I'm guessing I'd prefer this beer more with a cleaner yeast, like US-o5. But that's OK – as I said, this beer was as much about growing some yeast for larger subsequent batches as anything else.

This Blonde Ale was actually only half of a double batch. Into the other half I pitched White Labs 400, a Witbier yeast. I had some slurry on hand and I wanted to see how this yeast would perform in a "naked" beer like this. I had already brewed a pretty good Belgian Pale Ale with this strain; at any rate I can only control my fermentation temperature for one batch at a time, so a second batch has to ferment at room temperature. That made WL 400 a good candidate, being that it has a fairly high temperature tolerance. I may devote a post to the outcome of that little experiment, but in the mean time suffice it to say I'm not blown away by the results. Oh well, guess I'm stuck with five more gallons of beer I have to drink...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How About Now

I have a couple bottles of North Coast Old Stock Ale 2004. I've had them for over three years. I've increasingly wrestled over when to crack one open, and increasingly it's seemed only a big moment would warrant consumption.

Damn, it's tasty.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

At Capacity

In case anyone's wondering, this is what 13 gallons of hot-breaking wort looks like in a half-barrel brew kettle:

That's a double batch of Smoked Porter in progress. Semi-coincidentally*, this batch also pretty much maxed out my mash tun with its 24 pounds of grain. I only had room for about 1.5 gallons of mash-out water, meaning I actually had to supplement my two batch runoffs with a one-gallon mini fly sparge during the second batch.

Not complaining, mind you. Two batches of Smoked Porter are now bubbling away happily with the aid of two different yeasts, and one of 'em will probably get dosed with bourbon. Oh, blessed be the fruits of our labor...

* I say "semi-coincidentally" because O.G. has a lot to do with that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Zat's All Folks

And so disappears what could be considered the paradigm of a controversial era in the history of American brewing.

Zima, the much-maligned but for a time much-consumed standard-bearer of the "malternative" craze of the late 90s-early 2000s, is no longer in production and will start disappearing from store shelves as this year turns into next, MillerCoors has announced.

How many high schoolers furtively cut their teeth (especially their sweet teeth) on un-beers like Zima and Mike's Hard Lemonade? (I always had trouble excusing the sickly sweetness of these beverages just for the sake of a buzz. And drinking enough to actually achieve your goal? The nausea rises just thinking about it. Make mine Southpaw, if it comes to that.)

No word from MillerCoors if carb-watching among American teens is to blame for Zima's demise.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Flared Pilsner

As mentioned in this space already, the Pilsner glass is a rather broadly defined category of beer-drinking equipment. (Just click here and you'll see.)

What we have here is a Pilsner glass that, while not especially common, should not strike experienced beer folk with its novelty, either.

Like other Pilsner glasses, this one is tall and slender – a good shape for showing off the golden, sparkling aesthetics of its namesake brew. But from a functional standpoint, this piece of glassware falls short of other options due to its pronounced flare at the top. Good for capturing neither head nor aroma for any length of time, the out-turned lip ill-serves the well-poured Pilsner in that regard, although it does, at least, deliver the gilded brew easily and gently into a waiting, salivating mouth.

No surprises here as to which beers are best offered up to the flared Pilsner glass: German and Czech Pils; plus other light fare like Helles, Dortmunder and Kölsch – though be aware you may be breaking convention here. (And since head retention and aroma are nonexistant anyway, why not an American Lager?)

But let it be said: There are better places to put your Pilsner.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brilliant! Stout

Dry Stout is a misunderstood style, particularly when the general public is involved. (But isn't that always the case?) Sometimes called Dry Irish Stout due to its historical connection with and popularity on the Emerald Isle (Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish, Irish all, are the examples perhaps most likely to come to mind, in that order), here's a beer that tends to be light-bodied and low in alcohol (the three aforementioned brands being no exception) and yet is widely perceived as being the exact opposite – big, heavy, strong, overpowering.

Why? The first reason, of course, would be the color – jet-black and intimidating, not like those friendly, easy-drinking mega-lagers folks are used to. Then there's the flavor – strong (that is to say, existent), roasty, quite bitter. And finally the mouthfeel – a blend of CO2 and nitrogen (something many commercial examples, including the three above, feature) imparts a creamy, velvety texture to Dry Stout that is often taken for thickness, heaviness.

Of course, we homebrewers and beer snobs are wiser than this. Apart from its flavor – yes, Dry Stout is dark, coffee-like, rather bitter – there is in fact little in the way of alcohol content or body to put Dry Stout in the category of real heavyweights like Imperial Stout, Doppelbock and Barleywine.

Call Dry Stout session beer for a chilly day. Or for a hot day. Just don't call it "motor oil," and don't let your scaredy-cat pals call it that, either.

Here's my Dry Stout, very heavily based (hops and yeast being the differences) on a well-regarded recipe by Bob Girolamo.

The details:

OG 1.056 FG 1.013
ABV 5.7% AA 76.5%
IBUs 44 SRM 33

80% Crisp Marris Otter
8% Flaked Barley
8% Roasted Barley
4% Crystal 120

1 oz Magnum 60 mins (44 IBUs)


As you can see, the alcohol content on this one is pretty high by Dry Stout standards. Partly that's because I hadn't gotten my mill yet so I had ordered precrushed grains from an online supplier. As such, I wasn't sure what kind of efficiency to expect, so I wanted to err on the high end with my order. (I ended up with ~74% efficiency. Not bad.)

The name, selected by my girlfriend, is an homage to the recent Guinness advertising campaign, although I will note that this brew was never intended as any kind of Guinness clone, and was served on just CO2.

Not surprisingly, based on accolades directed at Bob G.'s recipe, this one turned out very tasty. A big hit among my girlfriend (who loves Dry Stouts) and everyone else who came over to sample it. I didn't perform any experiments on dyed-in-the-wool light-beer drinkers, but based on my friends' feedback (surely they're not just being polite??) I'd venture to say Dry Stout's potential for wide appeal is not to be underestimated.

On a more somber note, this particular beer didn't make it through a recent party. It had a good life, and put many a smile on many a people's face. Wish I had a glass right now...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crazy Hot Break

Look what was churning around my boil kettle today. This has got to be the craziest hot break I've seen – big clumps of coagulated protein that look like angel hair pasta. (John Palmer has described it as "egg drop soup.")

The grain bill was nothing but Canadian Two-Row – 16 lbs. of it for a 10-gallon batch.

Click on the images for a larger view.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Session #19 – Deutsches Bier

Been meaning to do this Session thing for a while now, but dammit if I don't forget every month. And it almost happened again, but for a chance visit to Lew Bryson's blog today that jogged my memory.

This month's theme is "Deutsches Bier" – German beer – and how the world is a better place for it. (And it is, thank you.) Our September Session is being hosted (and shortly, aggregated and summarized) by lootcorp 3.0.

I'm tempted, really tempted, to use this opportunity to rail against Germany's famed Reinheitsgebot, a.k.a. "German Beer Purity Law" of 1516. I'm tempted to point out that it's an outdated (by, oh, around 500 years) piece of legislation whose original purpose was to protect the production of bread, not beer. Tempted to point out the fundamental flaw in this attempt to fix the acceptable constituencies in beer before we even knew about yeast. Perfectly tempted to go on about stifling creativity, expression and the free market for no good reason. I'm tempted to do all these things, but I won't. I'll leave that to this guy.

If we are to equate wild, rambunctious and unrestrained brewing practices with greatness (can you say "Belgium"?), then maybe we ought also to bemoan the Reinheitsgebot for keeping one of the world's great brewing traditions needlessly handcuffed and kept from achieving its true potential.

On the other hand, how about arguing that by forcing German brewmasters to limit the scope of their focus, perhaps, and by instilling a strict adherence to the doctrine of "beer purity," maybe that silly old law is to be thanked for the roster of outstanding, technically masterful beer styles Germany has to offer today.

Ooof. Such philosophical and academic exercises are downright meaningless when you're in the streets outside Zum Uerige, sipping fresh Altbier poured from a firkin. Or downing beautiful golden Helles from a giant mug in the Augustiner Biergarten. Or enjoying barbecue with a smokey, velvety, seductive Rauchbier. Or fighting back the pucker instinct gifted by a gloriously sour Berliner Weisse. (Take that, Belgium.)

Germany, I say give me your Doppelbocks, your Dortmunders, your Schwartzbiers. Your Weizenbocks, your Kölsches, your Märzens.

Let's be honest – how often do we demand that our beers have adjuncts and extraneous flavorings in them? What's in an IPA that would offend the German Beer Police? (You thought I was going to say "Beer Nazis," didn't you?)

The Olympics ended last month, so I hope you'll follow me on this: Without taking a moral stand on the Reinheitsgebot issue, we can step back and regard Germans beers like we do the Chinese athletes churned out from that country's gymnast-and-diver mills. Sure, there may be some government meddling involved here. OK, things might have turned out differently. But damn – they're still something to marvel at.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Old Guinness

A friend of mine recently gave me some old beer he had going to waste in the back of his fridge. In the course of a conversation, it was revealed that some folks had brought beers to his place for a party, and that the brews had been sitting there, all alone and quenching no one's thirst, for a while. The time had come, he declared, to toss them out.

I might as well have been a dog rescuer who'd just heard an adorable Shih Tzu was about to be put down. Immediately I volunteered to take the unwanted beers off his hands. My friend's bemused reaction bordered on disapproval, as if I had just betrayed a most pathetic length to which I'd go in the name of alcohol. These beers, he informed me, were most certainly ancient and well past drinkable.

I had to calmly explain that, first, beer does not spoil – many beers can become fairly unpleasant after enough time, but not harmful to drink. Secondly, I was interested in sampling these relics not in the name of catching a cheap and dusty buzz but as an educational experience. The beer geek in me (he has a say in a lot of things) wanted to know what effects age had wrought on these beers.

Receiving my friend's castoffs, I noted that they did indeed have a couple years on them. A bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager bears a "best by" date of September 2006. Assuming all of the beers took up residence in my friend's fridge at the same time (and I'm lead to believe they did), and assuming the Sam Adams was not on in years to begin with, that would put these brews at over two years old.

The haul included that Sam, a Carmel Wheat Beer (both of which I've not yet drank), a woefully insipid Bert Grant's Mandarin Hefeweizen, a Heineken with solid floaties and an unpleasant aftertaste (and of course I'm not blaming the beers here – these flaws came as no surprise), and two Guinness Draughts.

As I said, I assumed the age on these beers was two-plus years. Only the Sam has a date. One Guinness (pictured) has a code that appears to read "02L3." Not sure what, if anything, that means.

Now, considering the apparent age of this Guinness and its low alcohol (around 4.2% ABV), I'm a little surprised and pleased to report that it's not too bad. OK, so the bottle and bottle cap wore a little fridge grime. And the malt does seem to thin out some into an oxidized finish (something I'm not terribly sensitive to anyway), but then Guinness is also light-bodied already, creamy nitro-widget notwithstanding. The roast is there but not terribly strong, but the beer still retains a fair amount of bitterness (this being something else that typically wanes noticeably in older beers).

Would I have guessed this Guinness was so old? No, probably not. No doubt the fact that it and its brethren have been languishing in a refrigerator, and not on a store shelf or in a closet, has helped. On the other hand, let's not forget that the Mandarin Hefeweizen and Heinie presumably shared quarters with their Irish friend here.

I'm not about to recommend Guinness Draught as a cellarable beer. Yet, nor will I advocate that an aged sample should live out its final moments getting to know your kitchen sink. Remember, alcohol abuse is a crime in 17 states.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beer Sales Down in British Pubs

Not good news.

What, oh what, is the world coming to??

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Finally, Science Gets Something Right

The year is 1955. Gasoline (leaded, thank you) costs 23 cents a gallon. America finally breaks its unholy alliance Satan by adding "In God We Trust" to all U.S. paper currency. Rosa Parks becomes the unwitting inspiration for an Outkast song. James Dean's tragic death draws him comparisons among the highly prescient to the unborn Heath Ledger.

And science is on a roll – Atomic power. Velcro. Legos.

But how about this doozy, from Yale professor Dr. Leon A. Greenberg: Beer cannot get you drunk.

Ah yes, 1955. The good old days of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Dean (until Sept. 30, of course), and good, sound science. Let's go back to those simpler times, please.

Monday, July 14, 2008

This Bud's Pour Vous

It's a done deal. American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch will be sold to Belgian brewing giant InBev for $52 billion. Ka-ching.

Details here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Pokal Pilsner Glass

Toss the word "pokal" into any Internet search engine and see what comes back. If Google et al. are to be believed, the pokal is little more narrowly defined as a beer glass than is, say, the pint glass. (In the case of the latter, do you mean a tumbler? A nonic? A tulip?)

Beeradvocate offers this: A pokal is typically "tall, slender and tapered" ... "a European Pilsner glass with a stem."

That's descriptive and potentially helpful, but how "slender" is this offering from Kulmbacher? This and other examples (how about this beauty from Sierra Nevada?) suggest that the pokal as a category is a flexible one – accommodating relative diversity in terms of height, roundness, stemmed-ness, and so on.

Let's go ahead and (OK, arbitrarily) take the glass at the right as our standard pokal. You'll note its tall, narrow body, footed design (in this case, no real stem per se, though it does offer a thick, narrowing base), and tapered mouth. On this last count the pokal differs from other Pilsner glasses you may have seen that feature a distinct flare at the top. (We'll discuss those at a future date.)

Certainly, Pilsner and other lighter beers are most logical choices for the pokal. Anything that is not too heavy on flavors or aromas, or color if you're interested in aesthetics, will find the pokal a comfortable fit. The more delicate the better. (But please – to a point. Let us say unequivocally that it's better to drink a Pils from this glass than an O'Doul's.)

The pokal's design is meant to show off a Pilsner's bright color and clarity. (That may sound like an obvious thing to say about a vessel made of glass, but in this case the pokal's elegant look serves to compliment the Pilsner's brilliance, delicate color, fluffy white head, crisp flavor, and so on. In this way, the refined-looking pokal is a proper match for Pils, which had historically been regarded as a beer of tantalizing luxury.) Also, the glass' tapered top should help gather up head and aromas.

Whatever its precise form, the pokal is likely to make just about any beer look good. And who can deny the allure of a well poured Pilsner (tall, blonde, and available), beckoning the prospective drinker from its elegant vessel?

MillerCoors is Up and Running

MillerCoors, the combined U.S. effort of Molson Coors and SABMiller, has begun operations as of this month.

Here's a press release.

The merger effectively leaves the U.S. with two major brewing behemoths. (The other, of course, being you-know-who.) It's funny – at a time when The Big Boys are seeing their sales drop while imports and craft beers continue to grow, the answer is to consolidate, consolidate, consolidate. (Actually, under that framework, InBev's proposed buyout of A-B is, somehow, both typical and ironic at the same time.)

The big brewers' insistence on More of the Same in the face of shifting consumer preferences is the industry's way of battening the hatches, digging in the heels. Too often the "solutions" these guys come up with – merge distribution channels to increase efficiency and create greater economies of scale; ramp up marketing efforts on behalf of core brands – betray either a tremendous ignorance of the real reasons behind BMC-types' struggles, or an astonishingly dismissive posture toward that reality, or both. Here's what it boils down to: If consumers are increasingly reaching for higher-end, more flavorful, and – saints alive! – pricier brews, the big guys' answer is always (a) find ways to streamline distribution (to what end – improve upon nearly 100 percent market saturation?) and (b) find a way to "reinvigorate" the marketing apparatuses behind brands that already are what they are thanks to years of very effective navigation of the highly competitive world of beer marketing.

And all this will ultimately serve the consumer how? Or respond to changes in the industry (really, changes in consumer tastes) how? Or, in MillerCoors' own words, "build the best portfolio of beer brands in the business" how?

In this last case, I hate to rain on Pete Coors' corporate flimflammery parade with a rational line of thought, but I fail to see how one gigantic macro-lager brewer whose portfolio consists largely of giant macro-lagers merging with another gigantic macro-lager brewer whose portfolio also consists of giant macro-lagers will represent a progression toward "the best portfolio of beer brands in the business." The most homogeneous, perhaps.

Oh, well. Let MillerCoors do what they want. I suspect they'll find this marriage, though unlikely to end in disaster, will not bear the fruit promised by their fanciful mission statement. But it's also unlikely that beer industry executives will stop viewing this kind of move as anything but another in the long line of highly successful maneuvers that have seen 80 percent of U.S. beer market share now consolidated in the hands of two players. It is, on some level – a very significant one, in fact – hard to argue with that kind of success.

It may be tempting to compare this mergers-and-acquisitions game to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but to do so would be exaggerating these companies' challenges, and clichéd, besides. A percentage slip here and there might be millions of dollars off the balance sheet, but there's plenty of space between today's stock price and rock bottom. The icebergs are small and negotiable yet.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Belgian Pale Ale

Ah, Belgium. Or, as it ought to be officially known, beer-geek heaven.

Home to the funky and the sour, the super-strong and slightly less than super-strong, the rare and the revered, the groundbreakers and the often imitated.

So, one can understand how a beer that does not, truth be told, fall in any of the above categories might slip through the cracks and largely miss out on the devotion and the accolades heaped on its brethren.

That is Belgian Pale Ale.

And yet, consider that this is a style that is among the most popular in its homeland – and in Belgium's case, as opposed to the U.S. and most of the rest of the world, a beer's popularity is not, in fact, inversely proportional to whether it's worth a damn.

Still, among American beer connoisseurs, Belgian Pale Ale (henceforth BPA) is an often overlooked style, disregarded in favor of bolder choices like Belgian Strong Dark and Gueuze.

But what makes BPA neglected also makes it great: namely, balance and harmony among ingredients and flavors. It's an average-strength beer, moderately malty, neither over- nor under-hopped, with a touch of restrained esters from Belgian yeast. In places like Antwerpen, especially, BPA serves as the equivalent of the English Bitter – easy-drinking and session-worthy. Antwerpen's De Koninck is the standard bearer for BPA.

So all that was roughly the idea when I set out to craft my own.

Here's what I came up with:

OG 1.049 FG 1.013
AA 73.7% ABV 4.8%
IBU 40 SRM 7

67% German Pilsner
17% German Munich
8% German Vienna
4% Aromatic
2% Biscuit
2% Crystal 20

0.77 oz Perle FWH (14 IBUs)
0.4 oz Yakima Magnum 60 mins (19 IBUs)
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings 20 mins
0.5 oz Saaz flameout
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings flameout

White Labs 400 "Belgian Wit Ale"

This yeast was chosen because I had it in my rotation for Witbiers and White Labs indicated this particular strain is appropriate for the style, besides. This was fermented in the high 60s to low 70s.

It has medium esters early on before sliding into a moderately dry and bitter finish. There's a little spice on the finish, as well, no doubt from the Witbier yeast. The nose is subtle on all fronts – some hops maybe and a little fruitiness, but not too much of anything sticks out.

I intentionally overshot the style guidelines on IBUs because, well, I was looking more for a reasonably hoppy Belgian beer and less so for a spot-on BJCP-approved specimen. Still, it's reasonably restrained for hophead standards.

This beer drinks easily and is a nice change of pace from the more steroidal Belgians we might normally reach for on the one hand, and the citrusy hop showcases we often find in Pale Ale-type beers (if you're drinking American and not English, of course) on the other.

Restraint and balance have their place, and they demonstrate their virtue in a lovely style like Belgian Pale Ale.

But one can't help but be enticed – how about a nice, outrageous Belgian IPA? ...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Beer in Spain, Part Dos

Where the pickings are slim for on-premise beer oases, one can suspect the same, or worse, will be true on the retail end. That is the case in Barcelona, where “beer bars” (in this case, Belgian beer bars) can be counted on one hand, and quality beer shops, perhaps, on one finger.

La Cerveteca occupies an inconspicuous corner property on an inconspicuous side street not far from Barcelona’s harbor and La Rambla, the city’s main pedestrian drag and, as it happens, floral bazaar.

The shop itself also doubles as a bar and is laid out accordingly. Barrels in the front accommodate standing drinkers, while in the back there’s a cozy den complete with a bookshelf full of beery reads. Also intriguing is the glimpse into an unfinished cellar, the mouth of which sits beneath a case housing an impressive collection of glassware.

Of course, La Cerveteca (reviews here and here) features Spanish beers, but these are – thank heavens! – not named Damm or Mahou; still, the owner says most of them are equally worthless. One brand, however, makes the grade: Companiya Cervesera del Montseny, from a town called Sant Miquel de Baleynà. They brew a hoppy pale ale called +Lupulus that's pretty decent – it may or may not, subjectively speaking, be of especially high quality, but for the hop-starved European traveler, it’s like heaven. The dark ale +Negra also scores points on flavor and general European unconventionality.

Germany is represented at La Cerveteca as well. Best of the bunch would probably be Schlenkerla, the famous smoked-beer brewers from Bamburg.

Belgium claims most of the store’s shelf space. Secular brews like Kwak and Duvel are on hand, plus a good showing of trappists (but of course, no Westvleteren). But the real treat would have to be Cantillon, represented here by a number of the brewery’s offerings. Given this beer’s limited production and availability, it’s not entirely unsurprising to find the stuff at this little shop in Barcelona. Though, whatever troubles were undertaken in bringing Cantillon to this spot are reflected in the prices.

But if one isn’t expecting to find Cantillon in this little Barcelona shop, the selection of American beers might be more surprising. Anchor and Flying Dog have surfaced elsewhere in Europe before (see Amsterdam’s De Bierkoning), but coming across Left Hand and Great Divide was a first for this traveler.

Among the U.S. brews for sale: Anchor’s Old Foghorn; Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA and Gonzo Imperial Porter; Left Hand Guju Ginger and Milk Stout; and Great Divide Titan IPA and Yeti Imperial Stout. In a state of delirious hop deprivation, it’s tempting to reach for an expensive bottle of American IPA to ward off those serious withdrawal symptoms. But that temptation should be avoided, if possible.

You know, when in Rome and all that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Beer in Spain

The interesting thing about Europe is, when it comes to beer, it can be pretty much hit or miss. The continent is, after all, where most of the world's great beer styles were conceived, and accordingly, Europe is home to some of the oldest, most well developed, and most appreciative beer cultures there are. Consider the contributions made by places like Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, and England to the global beer scene, and to the diverse array of finely crafted brews to which that culture is dedicated. Oh, and the likes of Ireland, Scotland, and Austria are no slouches either in the beer department.

But while significant pockets of Beervana do indeed beckon the Europe-bound beer traveler, there is, unfortunately, as much — OK, more — European geography where beer remains mired in mediocrity, woefully unglorified, and eons, it would seem, from attaining the status it enjoys elsewhere on the continent.

In these places, major brewing consortia along with perhaps one or two large regional or national breweries dominate the scene. The offerings are typically as limited as they are homogeneous: standard macro-lagers, as few as one to a bar, with names like Heineken or Amstel. Or, if we're being "local," it might be Kronenbourg or Damm or whatever the national beer of country X happens to be.

There is some good news. Many mass-produced European lagers are in fact more flavorful and enjoyable than their American counterparts. Doubtless this is accomplished by not overwhelming the beer with adjuncts (corn or rice, often) as Budweiser and Miller do. I am no student of the history of European consumerism, but I would suspect it's true that while the U.S. was being hit with the wave of Wonder-Bread-and-instant-coffee homogeneity that started sweeping through just after the second half of the 20th century, and also coincided with the rise of the macro-lagers that still dominate America today, Europeans' tastes for local, artisanal, and quality products had largely remained intact.

But still, absent a great tradition of flavorful beers in the first place, what we find available today still largely caters to the tastes of the masses, which in places like Spain invariably means light, easy on the palate, and drinkable.

And so it was that we, shortly after our rickety old train had crossed the frontier between France and Spain, found some suds in the dining car to which the above description neatly applies. Mahou Cinco Estrellas was its name, a standard lager brewed in Madrid by Grupo Mahou-San Miguel, which is not to be confused with the San Miguel brewed in the Philippines by an entirely different company. Maybe the long train ride was getting to me, but this Mahou stuff was not terrible. Not great, but not terrible. I'd certainly take it over a Bud Light.

Oh but wait — let's not get too carried away lionizing European megabrews. The aforementioned S.A. Damm brewery of Barcelona, Spain, makes a product called Estrella Damm. It is exceedingly common in Barcelona and the capital, Madrid (Mahou Cinco Estrellas isn't too unheard of, either). But in this case, Estrella Damm might as well be Miller Lite. Flavorless by light lager standards, it is even more so by European standards. All the more pity that any given Spanish bar is ulikely offer much else to fall back on.

That is why the serious beer traveler will not risk visiting just any Spanish bar. As with other European towns (Paris, Amsterdam) that lack their own serious beer culture, the bigger Spanish burgs like Barcelona, Madrid, and Zaragoza will have a few hidden jewels for the devotee willing to do a little advance research. Also, as with other European cities in this category, the beer oases in question will just about always take the form of an Irish pub or a Belgian beer joint. This stands to reason — the pub is a universally known paradigm of beer-drinkery, and Belgian beers are known through the world (at least among those who care) as being among the finest.

Irish pubs will tend to abound more so than Belgian bars, as you might expect. And, also predictably, you're apt to find Guinness in just about any such pub or perhaps Murphy's Red as your local-swill alternative. Hey, something is better than nothing.

Seek, therefore, the Belgians. Barcelona has a couple — Belchica has a handful of taps plus a wide array of bottles, including even a case of Westvleteren that, though full, is sadly for display purposes only — as does Madrid. In Zaragoza, one of the town's most impressive (perhaps the most impressive; I did not have time to scout the competition) Belgian beer bars is to be found, albeit temporarily, at the World Expo 2008. You see, countries from around the world create their own exhibits for the expo, and Belgium's features an impressive bar that offers some of that country's finer brews (including a few Trappists and the wonderful yet all-too-elusive Poperings Hommel Bier) among an impressive draft and bottle list. The expo ends in mid-September, but luckily Belgium won't be taking all the Belgian beers out of Zaragoza with them — this as evidenced by the handy Belgian beer pubcrawl guide the Belgians created for the expo. According to the pamphlet (again, time did not permit personal inspections), there are roughly 20 spots in town that serve at least one Belgian beer. As a further reassurance, two of said bars are named "Beerland" and "The Temple of Beer." Not too shabby, Zaragoza.

More musings on Spanish beer to come...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brand X Gets an A

It makes sense for things like aspirin, toilet paper, and shampoo.

But buying generic, store-brand beer?

Don't laugh – here in the Luberon Valley in Provence, France, that's not such a bad idea. At least not in the opinion of this thirsty traveler.

Super U is the big local grocery store serving small area towns like Cadenet, Lourmarin, Puyvert. As with U.S. markets, the U sells its own in-house line of products ranging from pistachios to nail polish remover. Yet unlike any American grocery store I've been to with the (best I can recall) lone exception of Whole Foods, Super U also carries a house-brand beer. And unlike Whole Foods' Lamar St. line of brews, the Super U stuff actually has the store's logo on it.

Light, crisp, and refreshing, Blonde Beer (that's its name, you see) is a perfectly quaffable light lager in the continental tradition (that is, no adjuncts – unlike just about any American lawnmower swill – if I'm not misinferring from the label). Hovering in the middle of 4 percent ABV, and with a pleasing flavor to boot, this beer is almost too easy to drink. I say "almost" because drinkability is nothing to complain about.

Oh, and at around five euro for a 24 pack of 25-cl bottles, it's a bargain. For those scoring at home, that's the equivalent of almost 17 12-ounce servings for somewhere in the $7-8 range. And consider that flavor is usually the very first to be sacrificed when dealing with such price points stateside.

Beer: truly the ultimate affordable-luxury item.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

View from a Hilltop

Life sure can be tough sometimes.

Take right now, for instance. Here I am perched on a mountain in Cadenet, France (in Provence), having to put up with an absurdly lovely view of the Luberon valley below and Cézanne's Mont St. Victoire in the distance.

Oh, the humanity.

To deal with this agony, I've resorted to sipping on nice, refreshing Witbiers on the back patio of our private villa. In such trying times, one does what one can.

Here's a watercolor to memorialize the experience. Below is the real version.

See what I have to put up with?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

High Time They Leave the Little Guy Alone

A brewer in tiny Weed, Calif., is facing trouble from Federal regulators who object to the pot-inspired pun on his bottle caps.

"Try Legal Weed," encourage the brews from Mt. Shasta Brewing Co.

But the g-men have told Mt. Shasta owner Vaune Dillmann the drug reference and "false and misleading" nature of the message have to go, lest he face steep consequences.


OK, I know all about alcohol and special regulations and police powers and all that, but has anyone bothered to find out what the Federal Trade Commission has to say? They're the ones who have set well-defined standards for what constitutes misleading product promotion.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau claims consumers will be duped into thinking the beer actually has real ganja in it. First off, fat chance. I'd venture so far as to say 99.99 percent of Americans know pot is illegal. Thus, "legal weed" means nothing. And surely, as would suppose any right-thinking person (that is, not someone employed by the ATTTB), a sixer sitting right out in the open on a store shelf couldn't possibly have real, honest-to-god dope in it.

But fine, let's suppose someone actually sees this beer and thinks an illicit trip down mary jane lane is only a few sips away. Why should the ATTTB or anyone else care if folks are mislead into buying what they had every reason to believe to be an illegal substance, bottle caps notwithstanding? If I peddled oregano on promise of it being whacky tobbaccy, would I have consumer advocates and the FTC to answer to?

Many of the townsfolk and local politicians have voiced their support of Dillmann. Here's hoping those overzealous bureaucrats come the f around.

Friday, May 30, 2008

And I Bet He Was Given a Lecture on the Dangers of Handling Alcohol

Eighth-grader goes to archeology site in San Antonio, sees old recently discovered bottle, posits it to contain 100-year-old beer. Scientists say they plan to analyze the contents soon to test the kid's theory.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Best Beer Names

Tampa Bay Times columnist Joey Redner has come up with his list of the top ten beer names ever. Redner's selections typify what he calls, with admiration, "the working-class ethic of the craft beer community."

Here's what Redner came up with:
10. Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
9. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil
8. Sweetwater Happy Ending
7. Ridgeway Santa's Butt
6. Buffalo Bill's Alimony Ale
5. Dogfish Head Golden Shower
4. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Pooh Coffee
3. McQuire's I'll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having Barley Wine
2. Avery Collaboration Not Litigation
1. Wasatch Polygamy Porter

Good selections, all. Here are some more finely named brews that didn't make the list:

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale (gotta love a beer whose label outright insults consumers)
Stone Ruination IPA (it seeks to ruin your palate with its incredible bitterness)
Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine (à la #3, above)
Port Old Viscosity (see #9)
Mort Subite lambics (translation: Sudden Death)
Delirium Tremens (from the Truth in Advertising department)
Hoptown DUIPA (see above)
Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot Barleywine (see above, again)
Coniston Old Man Ale
Spaten Optimator (not funny, just a cool name)
Theakston Old Peculier
Thirsty Dog Old Leghumper
Terrapin Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Terrapin Substance Abuse (see a pattern here?)
Sweetwater 420, Donkey Punch, Dubbel D's, Hummer (irreverence runs high with these folks, it would seem)
Magic Hat Thumbsucker
Rogue Yellow Snow Ale (see #5; what's with brewers and piss?)
Nodding Head Monkey Knife Fight
Crannog Back Hand of God Stout
Orkney SkullSplitter (would that refer to the buzz or the hangover, or both?)
Broughton Old Jock (here meaning a Scotsman, not a used athletic supporter)
Duvel (inspiration for a whole host of imitators: Satan, Lucifer, Bezelbuth)
Scotch Silly (from Belgium; probably only funny to us)
Moretti Sans Souci (French for "Without a Care")
Giraf Classic, Strong, and Gold (created to honor the passing of a local zoo specimen)
Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.
Climax Brewing Co. (interestingly, not brewed in Intercourse, Penn.)
Termalni Desert (screw cake and pie)
And you gotta love Schmaltz Brewing Co., makers of the He'Brew line of Semitic ales: Messiah Bold, Genesis Ale, Jewbelation, Rejewvenator, Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. (named for the late Lenny Bruce)

This list is far from comprehensive. Some of the above entries were noted by

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Massive Deal Brewing?

Two of the world's biggest beer companies could be joining forces.

Belgium's InBev is considering making an offer to acquire U.S.-based Anheuser-Busch, The Wall Street Journal says. The price tag could be in the neighborhood of $46 billion.

It's certainly no done deal, not least of all because the Busch family are considered reluctant to sell.

While ordinarily consolidation, which has continued to sweep through the brewing industry of late, can often mean wider availability of certain brands and better prices for consumers, in this case it's hard to figure the ultimate impact of an InBev-Anheuser-Busch deal as far as Budweiser fans are concerned. A-B products are already the most widely distributed in the nation and, thanks to the company's numerous regional breweries and enormous economies of scale, Budweiser et al. are among a frugal drinker's best friends.

Yet on the other side of the equation, an alliance could strengthen the availability of imported InBev brands like Hoegaarden and Leffe.

It is often, after all, the tenacity of distributors that has as much to do with the breadth of a given market's offerings as does consumer demand. By plugging all of its products into the vast -- and aggressive -- Anheuser-Busch distribution network, some of InBev's higher-quality offerings could find new audiences. And that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Music to Anyone's Ears

An Australian orchestra plays the Victoria Bitter "theme song" using nothing but beer bottles.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Craft Beer on NPR

Beer, brewing, and homebrew were the topics of yesterday's Science Friday on NPR.

Check it out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Beer Snobs Get Mainstream Treatment

Apparently, the way many beer connoisseurs feel about cheap macro-lagers is now well documented enough to merit use as an analogy in political reporting. And in the lead paragraph, no less.

Yesterday, Time magazine's Peter Beinart had this to say in his piece "What Obama Owes the Clintons":

"Obama's backers generally feel about the Clintons the way ... beer aficionados feel about Bud Light: that by compromising core principles, they watered down the brand."

How about that?

Of course, whether Beinart's mention of beer enthusiasts was meant to highlight our discernment or our reflexive and holier-than-thou posture toward "the other side" -- or neither -- is anyone's guess.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can You Dig It?

The humble beer can continues to receive a classy makeover. Specifically in the form of labels for high-end beers.

New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colo., has become the latest -- and largest -- entry on a growing roster of craft brewers who have turned to the until-recently pedestrian aluminum can as a packaging option.

While traditionally, cans have not exactly been associated with high-brow, full-flavored beer, things began to trend in the other direction when Colorado's Oskar Blues in 2002 eschewed the bottle as its container of choice. Several other U.S. and Canadian microbreweries have since followed suit.

Proponents say cans are lighter, easier to transport, easier to recycle, and can go places bottles can't -- beaches, rivers, parks, for example.

As more and more beer drinkers warm to the idea of craft brew in a can, it may well be that side-by-side price comparisons of bottled vs. canned versions of the same beer (in this case, New Belgium's Fat Tire, for example) could make any buying decision less about bias and/or practicality and more about economics.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The (Other) Bass Glass

I'm not certain that this glass constitutes a particular style of glassware, but it is unique. As one might expect, Bass has slapped its logo on no small number of drinking vessels over the years. (See, for example, the tulip pint.) So it is hard – impossible, perhaps, to say what constitutes the "official" Bass glass.

Still, this glass is the only one I've seen that incorporates Bass' famous triangle logo -- the oldest registered trademark in Britain – in the construction of the glass itself. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the only glass I've seen to incorporate any beer's trademark in the physical design. It may be a little hard to tell from the picture, but the base of this glass is a thick, elegantly contoured triangle.

The rest of the glass is, admittedly, a little on the boring side. It is tall and slender, pleasant to look at and adorned prominently with the Bass name and logo, but structurally the glass doesn't offer much to the drinking experience. The walls are straight and flare outward at the top. Not the best arrangement for head and aromas.

Ah well. Any Bass drinker probably wouldn't mind giving this glass a go at least once. It's not every day you can drink out of one of the world's oldest trademarks.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Sam Adams Glass

This thingy was released with great fanfare and marketing hoopla (true to form for Jim Koch's Boston Beer Company) early in 2007. It is, the company seemed to want to say, the world's most perfect beer glass.

Well, perhaps I'm paraphrasing a bit. The Massachusetts- based brew company heralded the Sam Adams glass as the perfect container to drink Samuel Adams Boston Lager out of. I'll leave it to the reader to determine whether Jim Koch's Boston Lager advocacy means the glass for the world's most perfect beer is by extension the world's most perfect glass.

At any rate, this funky vessel -- it kind of looks like a lamp or exotic vase, doesn't it? -- is said to be more about function than fashion. Those recoiling from the sight of the glass might find that heartening. Beer-friendly features include a wide bowl for capturing aromas, an outturned lip for proper beer delivery, and etching on the bottom for a steady stream of carbonation. I won't get too deep into the details -- you can get all the skinny here.

While I admit I've yet to drink a Boston Lager from this glass, I will say this here cup provides a nice drinking experience. The features do in fact work more or less as advertised, and in keeping with its odd appearance, the glass feels pretty unique in the hand.

If the Boston Beer Company is to be believed, the Sam Adams glass is best suited for Boston Lager. But plenty of other styles will do. Just about any of your average-gravity beers, from amber lagers to American ales, on up to IPAs, Porters, and Stouts should drink fine from this glass. Just don't tell Jim Koch.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eternally a Fan

Oh, the temptation to overdo it with death puns is almost too much to resist. You might say it's killing me.

A Chicago man has special ordered a coffin decorated to look like a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, his favorite beer.

It's nice to see someone bring a little levity to what is normally a grave subject.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Beer and Wood

Here's a brief writeup on wood-aged beers in The Washington Post. The massive Dogfish Head aging tank has me intrigued...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Brothers, Take Arms

How do you feel about sticking it to The Man? About artful wordsmiths who wield the brute force of rationality and wit to pull back the curtain on nanny-state heavy handedness?

Like those things?

Then head on over to "Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished," the fine new blog from Pennsylvania drinks writer Lew Bryson. The target of Bryson's scorn is the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the state-run wine and liquor monopoly that Bryson, in no uncertain terms, wishes to see go the way of the dodo.

You don't have to be a Keystone Stater to appreciate Bryson's compelling arguments and irreverence. The blog, though it only recently launched, is imbued with a sense of urgent frustration at a system that Bryson has for decades failed to see purpose in.

I've often considered myself something of an armchair champion of sensible alcohol policy. The State newspaper even saw fit to indulge my ramblings on the subject not long ago. Perhaps I'm spoiled, having lived in New Orleans for several years -- I've yet to encounter a more liberal (or liberated) approach to booze regulations. And, in fairness to the Crescent City and this here cause, I believe NOLA's reputation as a pitiable town of lushes has its roots elsewhere.

Here's hoping Pennsylvanians take to Bryson's call to arms against their antiquated system and father-knows-best posture on booze. I may not have a dog in this fight, but I wish them all the best still.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The New Belgium Glass

If I had to name, right now, the most versatile beer glass I've encountered, it would have to be this reliable friend of mine from New Belgium Brewing Company.

Designed by Germany's Rastal (check out this page for more of their designs), this 0.4-liter bundle of joy enjoys a regular place in this blogger's rotation, because it's just so dang flexible.

Its height and width are in perfect proportions -- not as squat as a snifter, not as lean as the tulip pint, or the Dogfish Head glass, say. The bottom of the bowl continues almost seamlessly into a lovely stem atop a wide, flat base.

By virtue of its design, this glass gathers aromas and head efficiently inside the mouth, and its volume is ample enough to allow a strong swirl, not to mention a generous serving.

As you can see, the New Belgium Glass bears the bicycle logo of Fat Tire, New Belgium's flagship beer and biggest seller. That particular beer, an amber ale with a toasty, biscuity nose, wouldn't be a bad choice for this glass, of course, but she can handle beers that pack a little more wallop in the aroma (and flavor) department.

Certainly, plenty of beer styles have their own unique glasses, many of which look little like the New Belgium glass. Still, few beers would be ill-served by this vessel's design. As an everyday, go-to glass, I like it for Pale Ales, IPAs, Porters... really, the list can be quite comprehensive. This glass can even stand up to some higher-gravity styles. How about Bock or Saison? Double IPA? The stronger you get, of course, the more you may want to reach for something along the lines of a snifter, but lacking that ... well, you almost can't go wrong with this here beauty.

Update: Perhaps taking a cue from the Boston Beer Co., who not long ago began touting the drinking benefits of their new Sam Adams glass, New Belgium is now making a case for their own fine glass as the beer-lover's best friend. You'll note the similarities between BBC's and NB's respective arguments for their glasses. On top of the attributes I've already gushed about above, New Belgium's case appears bolstered by improvements they've made to the glass: a beaded rim, interior etching for carbonation release, and sturdier construction (this is good news – I've broken one of the old ones, myself). I have to give props to Colorado beer blogger Chipper Dave at Fermentedly Challenged, where I caught a whiff of this item.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Finally, Some Good News

Growers in the Pacific Northwest have responded to The Great Hop Shortage by pulling out non-hop acreage to expand hop production.

The result could be as many as 8,000 new acres in the Northwest, a 25 percent increase over last year.

Hop plants typically take 2-3 years to reach meaningful levels of productivity, so it's likely brewers will continue to grapple with high prices and low supplies for a couple more years.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On the Rights of Boozers, V. 2.0

Last week, I discussed the need to continue the progress begun by Columbians in voting to allow Sunday beer and wine sales.

Here's a slightly -- slightly -- tweaked version of that dictum, which ran as an editorial in today's The State newspaper:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Allow Me to Vent

You may have seen the new Coors Light TV commercial featuring two guys who get together and “vent” (translation: “drink beer”) all day. The release of this ad has coincided with the arrival of Coors’ latest gimmick ... er, innovation.

Coors Light cans now come with a wider mouth and an indentation (“vent”) near the opening. The result, claims Coors, is a “smooth, refreshing pour.” That, and a secret, guys-only codeword that lets you and your pals booze the day away while your gullible girlfriends are none the wiser.

The Vent is only the latest in a long series of Coors Light marketing absurdities. This is the company that brought us such non sequiturs as “frost-brewed” (there is no such thing; all beer is brewed by boiling) and “the coldest-tasting beer on the planet” (what does “cold” taste like? Coors may be surprised to learn this is not in fact a flavor – infuse your beer with spearmint and get back to us). This time around, The Vent leaves us to wonder, what exactly is a “refreshing pour”? Perhaps a non-refreshing pour would be one that, say, deposits beer at your feet rather than down your throat.

In recent years, it hasn’t been hard to figure out what Coors Light’s marketing strategy is (“Our Beer is Cold”); it’s just been a little difficult to figure out why the Coors marketing gurus have pegged their company’s fortunes on convincing us Coors Light somehow benefits more than any other brew from that marvel known as refrigeration. And given what we know about the relationship between low temperatures and flavor suppression, what should it tell us that the folks at Coors urge us to drink their beer as close to freezing as possible? Actually, make that below freezing – a special system called “Coors Light Super Cold Draft” serves up pints with a layer of ice crystals on top. They were going to call it the “Coors Light Snow Cone Machine,” but parents groups complained.

But now, The Vent represents a wrinkle in Coors Light’s marketing scheme, for it does not, alas, have any effect upon the beer’s temperature. So what gives? It seems Coors has identified a second component to refresh-ability: sending beer down your gullet with maximum expediency.

This move could backfire. Consumers may begin to wonder whether Coors is starting to waver from their previously hard-line commitment to all things cold. They risk muddying those pristine, so-deliciously-icy Rocky Mountain waters.

Yet as laughable as it is, the most amazing thing about The Vent is that it’s probably the most meaningful of Coors’ recent marketing contrivances. There is validity to the notion of generating a smoother pour by letting air in to displace those draining suds. Ever heard of shotgunning? Still, whether or not the overeager beer drinker can seal off and thus neutralize The Vent by applying just a little too much pressure with those thirsty lips remains to be seen.

But here’s a less novel suggestion for anyone who wants to let air in while drinking Coors Light, and one that wouldn’t require untold dollars in R&D and marketing: Try a damn glass.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Victory for Beer -- But What's the Rest of the Story?

On Tuesday, residents of Columbia, S.C., voted to allow Sunday beer and wine retail sales -- a small but significant step away from the antiquated and unabashedly religiously inspired "blue laws" that still hold sway over many aspects of life in South Carolina and elsewhere.

Columbians (or, I should say, the small percentage who showed up to the polls) approved the ballot initiative by a roughly 7-3 margin -- surprisingly comfortable for a state whose legislators have expressed recent interest in outlawing lap dances and creating an extra tax on nudie magazines, the latter ostensibly to help offset the cost of supervising the sex offenders those publications supposedly create.

But while the vote means city residents will no longer have to plan ahead to avoid NFL-gameday or backyard-barbecue droughts, it also needs to place a focus on the larger issue of how South Carolina has chosen to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol within its borders.

First, we should note that in the wake of Tuesday's vote, seven-day-a-week liquor sales remain strictly off limits. This shouldn't necessarily surprise us. South Carolina has a history of treating hard alcohol differently -- booze retailers have to erect physical walls between their liquor and beer/wine departments, and it was only in 2005 that voters kicked aside the state's odd law requiring all on-premise liquor to be poured from airplane-style mini bottles. Yet you don't have to be a chemist (or maybe you do...) to realize that ethanol is ethanol, and the notion that a person can somehow get more sodden off two shots of liquor than he can from a case of Bud Light is, well, all wet.

Given that the heavy hand of South Carolina government enjoys keeping booze firmly in its grasp, how did Columbians even get the opportunity to have their say in the first place? What we find is, at the end of the day, morality only holds partial sway in the Palmetto State. It's that other "M" word that really reigns supreme: money.

It so happens tourism is among South Carolina's major industries. The state is mighty proud of its popular beach destinations, which attract countless visitors and dollars from all along the eastern seaboard. And it also happens that, over the years, those out-of-towners have had some beefs with coastal bar, restaurant and hotel owners who found themselves having to break the news of South Carolina's unfortunate alcohol laws.

The state was in an uncomfortable position: how to honor our Puritanical moral piety while also indulging those thirsty beachgoers? The solution (if you want to call it that) was to allow -- nay, require -- local jurisdictions to hold elections in order to overturn Sunday sales restrictions. Not surprisingly, such votes were held years ago up and down the South Carolina coast well before Columbia got the idea.

Coastal counties also dominate the list of those that have voted to allow Sunday sales of alcohol in bars and restaurants. Lexington and Richland (home of Columbia) are the only two landlocked counties that have done the same. In total, only six of South Carolina's 46 counties have greenlighted on-premise drinking seven days a week. Meanwhile, 15 municipalities are on board, even if their county is not (as is the case with Greenville).

Questions fly into mind rapidly and without obvious, consoling answers: What is the grave public risk stemming from Sunday retail sales that exists in Florence County but not in Charleston County? Why have fewer towns (11) allowed off-premise sales than on-premise sales? Has that anything to do with the larger fees for on-premise Sunday permits versus retail permits? How is it a better idea to let Lexington County residents drive to a bar on Sunday and get loaded than it is for them to drive to the store and get sauced in the privacy -- and safety -- of their own home?

For the state lawmakers who engineered such let-the-locals-decide "compromises," it amounts to simple political cowardice in letting one backward-thinking county or town restrict the activities of its inhabitants when citizens elsewhere have rejected such dogmatic governance as being morally flimsy and fiscally unwise. If anything, should not citizens of each and every jurisdiction be required to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops in order to impose arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions on behaviors and liberties, not in order to remove them?

The march of progress can sometimes feel like more of a crawl, especially where traditions of moral high-handedness have deep roots in culture and government. Let's hope Columbians and all South Carolinians continue to demand, with increasing fervor, that their leaders bring the state's alcohol policies into the 21st century. A win in this fight would be nothing less than a victory for common sense itself.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How to Increase Voter Turnout

Columbia, S.C., will hold a ballot referendum Tuesday to let voters decide whether to allow beer and wine sales on Sundays. (Liquor will remain off-limits on the Sabbath.) Details here.

Observers are wondering what, if any, impact this will have on the "normal" votes being held that day -- a couple city council seats are up for grabs, for example.

In the midst of a presidential election season that has dragged on and on, it's refreshing to have a more ... ah ... "refreshing" candidate to vote for this time around.

Vote beer!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Foam Rangers Glass

Now here's a rather odd-shaped glass. Then again, maybe that's fitting, considering the organization whose name this vessel bears.

The Foam Rangers are the oldest homebrew club in the Houston area. They host the annual Dixie Cup, one of the country's largest homebrew competitions. Their ranks include some of the best and most decorated brewers in the U.S. Many of them are certifiably bonkers.

I say that with all the love in the world.

The irony behind this official Foam Rangers tasting glass is that rarely do the Foamies limit themselves to such modest portions. All it means is the glass has to get refilled that much more often.

Foam Ranger meetings are organized around a specific beer style or styles. Massive numbers of commercial and homebrewed examples are gathered, and these beers are then "sampled" into the wee hours. The FR tasting glass gets a good workout these nights.

I'm sort of at a loss to explain the glass' shape from a functional standpoint. The thick base gives it some measure of ruggedness, but given that the slight taper at the very top hardly makes up for the appreciable flaring of the glass up until that point, I'm not sure what -- if any -- enhancement to the drinking experience is being accomplished here.

No matter. This is a funky little glass for a funky club. If you ever find yourself in Houston, give the Rangers and their "sampling" glass a try.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

For You Texans

Details here on the acquisition of craft- and import-beer distributor CR Goodman by Dallas-based (and previously Anheuser-Busch exclusive partner) Ben E. Keith Co.

New beers to be added to the portfolio: Minnesota's Summit, Oregon's Deschutes, and New York's Brooklyn and Saranac.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Andygator Glass

We're now in the realm of what I consider to be -- if they're not in actuality -- tasting glasses. Of course, their unifying trait is small size. It can be frustrating, after all, when you're trying to sample an ounce or two out of a giant mug, and most of the beer is lost coating the inside of the glass before it ever reaches your lips.

Some tasting glasses weren't necessarily intended to serve this purpose, but nevertheless do so because of their diminutive status -- the Singha glass fits this profile. So too does the Andygator glass. Clearly, this vessel was built to house the Abita Brewing Company's high-octane Andygator. Yet, inasmuch as beers of such fortitude (this one's purported to run in the 10-10.5 percent range) are often taken in small servings, so too are their dedicated glasses correspondingly miniaturized. In the case of this fella, about 9.5 ounces will come right up to the rim.

The Andygator glass gets points first off for being stemware. This allows the drinker to hold the glass by its base or stem and not the bowl -- thus keeping warmth from the hand from prematurely heating up the precious liquid within. In addition, the glass' tapered curvature contains head and aromas for an enhanced drinking experience.

Plus, that mean ol' gator just looks cool.

As with all tasting glasses, the Andygator glass' best friend tends to be the beer tap. Unlike bottles, which essentially require a glass of corresponding capacity for optimal use and presentation, kegged beer knows no limitations on serving size. Alternately, tasting glasses are quite at home at parties or gatherings where a bottle is being shared among friends. A squirt of beer here, a smidgen there -- this is the time for the tasting glass to emerge.

Here's some interesting background on Abita's Andygator:

Years ago, Abita held a competition for homebrewers in which the winner would have his or her beer brewed by the pros. A member of the homebrew club in New Orleans (it may have
been known as the Crescent City Homebrewers at the time -- I'm hazy on the details) won the competition and handed his recipe over to Abita.

Something went wrong and the lager yeast attenuated well beyond what it was supposed to. The result was a very dry, very strong pale lager that came out somewhere between Maibock, Malt Liquor and rocket fuel. It's sometimes (erroneously) referred to as a Barleywine, though Andygator shares little beyond sheer strength with brews in that category.

So why the name "Andygator"? Simple: the winning brewer goes by the similar, though slightly less fierce, moniker "Andy Thomas." He's currently a member of Houston's Foam Rangers homebrew club, and he's always happy to tell the story of the birth of Andygator -- and in far better fashion than I just did.

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