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News of 2005 Archive

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10/10/05: Brü is dead, long live McKenzie II!! Just got confirmation that the 15 bbl. Criveller system from Brü in Rochester (the former Empire brewpub) will soon be headed for Frazer, PA for installation in the second McKenzie Brewhouse, where construction has resumed and trusses are up. That's straight from Scott "Dude" Morrison, who said the roof goes on this week. The planned opening is February 1st, and Scott will be brewing at both pubs, aided by his new assistant, Ryan Michaels, who managed to escape the collapse of Valley Forge. Scott's training him up in the straight and narrow. Got this news from the Dude whilst sharing some of his Vuuve XXxXX "Belgian Imperial IPA" (very nice stuff) and Dark Saison (even nicer) at the Kennett Square Brewfest...but I gotta say: good as they were, beers like these ought to be in bottles. "Oh, I'm over that," the Dude said with his usual big grin, referring to the management decision to stop bottling. "I realized that the bottling was really cool, but it was a lot of work, and this left more time to make beer. So I'm pretty much okay with that!" Keep asking for bottles, folks.

10/3/05: I've been promising you whiskey news: here it is: Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Four Grain Bourbon. Yes, someone's finally released a four-grain bourbon, made with a mashbill of corn, malt, rye, and wheat. In fact, in three days, I tasted three new American whiskeys, two of which are of types that have not been made in over 80 years…and possibly much longer. The first one I tasted was the 2005 release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. Brown-Forman has made these annual releases into a master class on bourbon making, highlighting the effects of various differences in distillation and aging on the final product, and this year’s release is a corker. It is the product of a short fermentation (there was a power failure at the distillery (something that happens a lot in Kentucky, believe me) that shut down the temperature controls on the fermenters; the decision was made to take the beer as is, rather than let it run too hot and get real estery), and a maturation in barrels stored high in the warehouse. The result is a whiskey that’s lighter in body, but more intense in flavor – quite intense.

The next one I had was also from Brown-Forman (which is a good time to note that BROWN-FORMAN paid for my trip to Kentucky to taste these two; I’ll keep the ethics straight, no fear), and it was truly innovative. This was the long-awaited first 100% pot-stilled whiskey from Woodford Reserve, which would have been seriously innovative on its own and worthy of excitement. But on top of that, it is a four-grain bourbon, a bourbon made from a mash of 51+% corn, 10% barley malt, and undisclosed proportions of wheat AND rye. The federal bourbon regulations do cover such a whiskey – this IS definitely bourbon – but no one has made one in living memory, certainly not since Repeal.

How was it? A big front, very smooth middle, and a long, lively finish: an interesting addition to the category. It will be out in October, labeled Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Grain Bourbon; expect a retail price around $80 for each stylish pot still-inspired bottle. And yes, "Master’s Collection" implies what you inferred: there will be a series of innovative whiskeys to come from Woodford Reserve, all of which will be one-time only creations, "and not necessarily all bourbons," said master distiller Chris Morris. That’s going to be fun.

When I got home, the third whiskey was waiting for me at my mail drop: Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, another long-awaited and long-rumored whiskey. Bernheim is from Heaven Hill, and it’s what it says it is, a wheat whiskey, not a bourbon. It’s made with a mash of 51% wheat, with corn and malt as the small grains. Again, the federal regs cover such a whiskey – as wheat whiskey, similar to rye whiskey – and there are old labels for "wheat whiskey," but no one has produced such a spirit since Repeal. It is, as you might expect, much smoother than rye whiskey, and less sweet than bourbon.

This is real innovation in a category. Brown-Forman didn’t add fruit flavor or zoom-juice to their whiskey, Heaven Hill didn’t suck the flavor out of their whiskey in an attempt to cater to the boom in vodkas. These two distillers have created truly interesting whiskeys in a spirit of invention and exploration, bringing new ideas and flavors to the consumer, not gimmicks. Salud!

9/27/05: Brandon has left the building. It was big news when Nodding Head brewer Brandon Greenwood left to take a job as brewmaster at The Lion. Would he adjust to life in the W-B? Would The Lion start making kick-ass beers like Rudy's Kung-fu Grip? The speculation's over; or at least, the first round: I just got an e-mail from brewery operations director Leo Orlandini to tell me that Brandon has resigned his position at The Lion. He will be replaced by former assistant brewer Bob Kleintob. Brandon said to me the last time I talked to him (at The Lion's 100th birthday party) that I should not be surprised to see him return to Philly "in a big way." Let the second round of speculation begin.

9/21/05: Weyerbacher scores in the big leagues! Weyerbacher's QUAD was the only American beer to place in the top ten in today's New York Times tasting of Belgian abbey ales (you'll need to register to read the article (or use bugmenot; I'm registered, no big deal)). Other Americans included Victory Golden Monkey, Southampton Abbot, and Ommegang. Strong competition. This is a rare top showing for imports in this "off the shelf" tasting panel; writer Eric Asimov attributes it to their strength and size. Congratulations to Weyerbacher: this calls for a drink.

9/19/05: Something truly new -- Victory Harvest Pils: Victory has brewed what I believe (and they believe, too) is the first fresh hop pils brewed anywhere in the world. Field-fresh Mt. Hood hops were used to hop Victory Harvest Pils, the latest in Victory's wholly admirable Braumeister Pils seriesof single-hop pilsners. How did Victory get fresh hops? Well, they didn't use an airplane; the hops came in Victory's refrigerated truck, yet they made it from the field to the kettle less than 24 hours after picking, back in the first week of September. How did Victory get fresh hops? A surprise source: the Northeast Hop Alliance of New York State, which makes this brew even more interesting. This is the first commercial lager beer hopped entirely with eastern U.S. hops in decades, to my knowledge. Victory Harvest Pils will be available on draft only, and will be out at the Victory pub in mid-October...-ish. Watch for a better call on that date.

8/17/05: NY Capital District news: Big House closes, Troy brewpub for sale. First things first: Big House, no longer a brewpub, will no longer be open. They are closing this weekend...which is too bad, but no great loss as things are now. Meanwhile, Gary Brown has put his brewpub and music hall in Troy up for sale (with an asking price of just under $2 million) to raise money to complete his long-planned brewing facility near Hoosick Falls. Brown plans to can his beer there, a growing trend in craft brewing. With no buyer yet in sight, it's impossible to know if brewing will continue on River Street; I hope so, because I sure would miss this place.

8/15/05: Just a quickie: Victory is shipping Festbier to their wholesalers today: so we should see it on tap by Friday. I already had some over the weekend, and it was pretty damned good. I'm really kind of happy to see the Fest go seasonal; something to look forward to!

8/8/05: Bill Moore moving to Lancaster Brewing, more of the story. Lancaster Brewing jefe John Frantz e-mailed me last Thursday to let me know that Bill Moore was taking over the brewhouse. Joe McMonagle, who's done absolutely sterling work at Lancaster these past few years, has decided to take on the brewing duties at Johansson's in Westminster, Maryland full-time. "Joe gave me a month's notice about a week ago," said John. "Ten minutes after I talked to him, I was on the horn to Bill." Moore starts August 17 as Production Manager, and he'll be brewing and overseeing packaging as well, something he's very familiar with from his days at Independence, where he ran that big micro practically single-handedly. 
What can we expect? "His job is to make more beer," said John. "We were planning on bottling the Oktoberfest, but with the success of Hop Hog, we just don't have the tanks. We're negotiating the purchase of two 30 bbl. fermenters, which will help, but that's not the solution." The solution, according to John, is to move production off-site

8/4/05: PhillyMag continues to refuse to understand how great Philly's beer is. The 2005 "Best of Philly" issue is on the newstands, and it is the biggest slap in the face this determinedly beer-ignorant magazine has ever delivered to Beertown-on-the-Schuylkill. Let's count it up, shall we? Best local beer awards: Zero. Best brewpub awards: Zero. Best beer selection at a bar awards: Zero. Best beer selection at a distributor awards: Zero. Best beer selection at a bottleshop awards: Zero. Best beer-based cuisine awards: Zero. Best Belgian beer selection awards: Zero. Best of any damned thing that even mentions "beer": one half-assed mention of "this is the place for brews" buried in a pathetically homophobic award called "New Hope Bar That Makes You Forget You're in New Hope," which went to Triumph. So, that's awards for best beers in this deliriously beer-soaked city: Zero, ZERO, ZERO!!! I ask you, how lame can you get? Thanks, PhillyMag, for confirming my faith in you. 

7/18/05: Woodford Reserve to finally release 100% pot-stilled whiskey. I just got a call today to invite me to the unveiling of the first all pot-stilled bourbon from Woodford Reserve. "What's it called?" Can't tell. "What's the proof?" Can't tell. "When's it come out?" Can't tell. All will be revealed on August 30 at the distillery (where we'll probably also get a sniff of this year's Old Forester Birthday Bourbon). Details here, when I get them! 

7/7/05: Pennsylvania deigns to allow case beer be sold on Sunday!!! Well, big deal. Gov. Rendell signed legislation today that allows PA beer distributors to apply for a special Sunday sales license that will allow them to sell case beer from noon to 5 PM on Sundays for only $100 a year. That new income is much more than offset by the blatant bribe that the legislature felt obligated to give the Pennsylvania Tavern Association: an additional 3% discount on liquor and wine bought from the State Store system (the discount was bumped up to 10% from 7% -- I do find the whole concept of forcing the taverns/restaurants to buy liquor and wine from the state to be completely reprehensible, but this is a bribe, plain and simple...unless one acknowledges that prior to 1980, the discount was 16%!).

Yawn. This is good news, in a very small way, but it just makes me even more enraged that Pennsylvania has so many restrictive alcohol laws that don't make any difference and just never, ever go away. For instance, PA has a lot of laws restricting sales of alcohol: we have the State Store system, we have restrictions on how many outlets there are for selling alcohol, we have ridiculous laws about how beer can be sold (the famous "buy two six-packs, step outside the door, then go back in and buy two more" law), and yet...per capita consumption for PA is not really higher or lower than the states around us: Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey are higher, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia are lower. Actually, given that these numbers are based on sales, it's interesting to note that the highest numbers are from the states Pennsylvanians traditionally visit to take advantage of better prices and selection on spirits, wine, and beer: we're not drinking less, we're just spending our money elsewhere! 

Let's bring PA into the 20th Century. Yes, I said 20th. We'll work on the 21st later.

First, repeal the case law. I'm tired of explaining it to laughing out-of-staters, I'm tired of wishing variety cases had the beers I want in them, I'm tired of beer stores that look like garages because you have to run pallet-jacks around to move cases, I'm tired of busting my hump shifting cases around to get the one case of something different that's always on the bottom, and I'm tired of anti-alcohol numbskulls somehow thinking the case law was their idea and that it somehow keeps people from getting drunk. It doesn't, stupid, not anymore than buying pitchers does, which some of you think is tantamount to giving the Devil a parade permit. Tell your PA legislator to stop sucking up to the PA Tavern Association and consider your vote for a change. Tell them you want the case law gone, and not for 12 pack sales: you want beer distributors to be able to sell any amount of beer they want in a single sale. 

Second, take the State Store System out back of the Capitol and beat it to death with an axe. Don't give it a human face, don't give us your crappy wine sales while charging $8 a bottle more than Maryland stores for generic half-gallons of gin, don't tell me about all the poor State Store employees who will lose their jobs. Get Pennsylvania out of the booze business, and let private enterprise sell what ever they want, and whatever the people in the area want, and stop making people drive 50 miles to get to a decent store. If the State Store employees are good employees, they'll be able to get jobs right away in all the new stores that will open. Then we'll stop losing taxes to Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware; we'll have better selections in more places, and we'll make a ton of money selling off the real estate currently occupied by the State Stores and the booze currently in inventory. It will be a huge windfall, probably more than $5 billion. 

Third, throw open direct shipment. While the idiots in Michigan and Virginia and New York think about outlawing direct shipment of alcohol beverages to circumvent the recent Supreme Court ruling, Pennsylvania, with a thriving brewing and winery business, should realize the benefits of free trade by allowing direct shipment and self-distribution to producers both in and out of state. Direct shipment is not a crime. It doesn't put booze in the hands of teenagers (except in state-run stings) any more than any other avenue; actually, because of the price and the wait-time and the signature requirements, it's much less likely to do it. Worried about collecting taxes on those sales? The in-state producers will pay them on in-state sales, and they'll be the lion's share of the sales anyway. As for the out-of-state shipments...are you getting anywhere charging sales tax on mail-order retail? When you solve that problem, let me know, and we'll apply it to direct shipment. I don't see any laws proposed to disallow Amazon shipments to PA.

Fourth, stop the trade in liquor licenses. The way the system works now heavily favors chain eateries at the expense of neighborhood bars. Bring back small business in PA!

I know that this won't make me many friends with tavern owners, or State Store employees, or wholesalers. Sorry. I am speaking for consumers. The playing field is not level, and it hasn't been for many years. If things break when the board's brought back to level...that's the price of doing business. I would urge everyone involved to adapt. Making these changes will open as many opportunities as it closes. Seize them, and excel.

Meanwhile, consumers in PA will finally realize the benefits of Repeal. What the hell, it's only been 70 years.

6/30/05: The Lion strike is over. Let the Stegmaier flow. Details are here.

6/29/05: New Deal in Wilkes-Barre, Union Recommends Acceptance. The strike at The Lion may be over: The strike at The Lion may be over: management has dropped the $1,000 medical deductible and sweetened up pay increases a little, and the union has advised the rank and file to accept it. They could be back to work by Friday. See the details here.

6/29/05: It's not always good news. Pittsburgh Brewing, the Iron City people, is the subject of a pretty grim report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today. Pittsburgh Brewing (PBC) has been dogged by cash shortfalls for years, ever since they were taken for thousands by a corrupt chief executive who went to jail on a check-kiting scam. The current owners started out in debt, and just haven't been able to fire up the city to support the hometown beer, despite what looked like pretty good ideas to me. Part of the problem has been continued labor problems and management missteps in response to them, death in a town that is still strongly pro-union. The latest problem is right in the middle of that, and may be the last straw: PBC is petitioning to be allowed to drop its pension plan, leaving 530 current and former employees hanging. That comes on top of a $300,000 pollution fine for emissions from a 65 year old boiler the brewery can't afford to replace, $2 million in back sewage bills, and hundreds of thousands in unpaid unemployment compensation taxes. It's a bleak picture. PBC's management have been tap-dancing on these problems for over five years...the music may be about to stop.

6/23/05: VAN DYCK BREWS AGAIN. Sorry for all the caps, but this is not something that happens every day. The Van Dyck jazz club in Schenectady has re-commissioned their brewery after a more than three-year hiatus, a thing I must admit I never believed would happen. Jason Furman, one of the original brewers, has returned (from Las Vegas!), to produce an amber ale, an IPA, a hefe, and a raspberry wheat, to be followed by (quoting from the Albany Business Review) "the Van Dyck's "Coal Porter," a classic pilsner, the "Edison Electric Light" and a traditional English Bitter." Hmmm... may run into trademark trouble with the Coal Porter and the Edison Light. Furman plans to brew in the evening, allowing customers a view of the process out in the "backyard" brewery. Owner Peter Olsen has pumped a bunch of money into the club and the brewery, and sees the brewery as critical to success. Hope he stays the course. Welcome back! (Correction: 8/17/05: I've been told the brewer is actually Mike Bouchey (not sure about the spelling, sorry), and that if you do stop in...make sure your beers are poured off the left-hand set of taps. Don't ask, don't tell.)

6/14/05: Great idea catches on: Boathouse brews 15/10th Anniversary Wheat at Sly Fox. : the Boathouse Anniversary Wheat he's brewing at Sly Fox for Flanagan's Boathouse will be released on July 6 at both Boathouses. That's quite appropriate, because the beer is a celebration of the Conshohocken Boathouse's 15th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the Malvern Boathouse. O'Reilly worked with Boathouse beer guy Lee Marren (who's also begun a double life as the Legacy rep for the Philly area: go, Lee!) to create a hefeweizen. "If you're familiar with our Royal Weisse," Brian said, "this will be not quite as dark, and not quite as strong; a little lighter, a little drier. It should be a great beer for summer." Refreshing to see a special release beer that's not hop-smashed, barrel-aged, spice-soaked, or sizzling with alcohol. 

6/10/05: Drafting Room brews 11th Anniversary Ale at Tröegs. Following the success of last year's hops-a-go-go 10th Anniversary Ale, the excellent pair of beer bars known as The Drafting Room (Exton and Spring House, PA) has brewed up an 11th Anniversary Ale at Tröegs. You can get the details here, but I can tell you: it's going to be hoppy. The beer was brewed and dry-hopped with large amounts of a new "mid-alpha" hop, Palisade, described as "similar to Willamette." Additional hops include Tomahawk, Warrior and Cascade. The beer will be tapped at 6:30 PM on June 21st at both Drafting Rooms; click here for directions. 

6/7/05: Diageo buys Bushmills from Pernod Ricard. Drinks giant Diageo announced that it would buy the Bushmills Irish whiskey brands from Pernod Ricard for $364 million. This means a couple things. First, it pretty much seals the deal for Pernod Ricard to buy Allied Domecq in partnership with Fortune Brands (Jim Beam). Diageo is buying Bushmills and stepping aside to let that deal go through. Second, it means that the major Irish whiskey groups, Bushmills and Jameson, are no longer under one guidance, which could make for some interesting competition. Wait for the dust to settle on this one.

6/2/05: Lion Brewery workers on strike. As of yesterday, June 1, the brewery workers at The Lion Brewery (Wilkes-Barre, PA) are on strike. They feel management offered them a contract that asks too much: $30 a week for medical (plus all future increases to be paid for by the workers). Still, over $17 an hour in Wilkes-Barre sounds pretty good. Wish I knew more about this one. 

4/28/05: Okocim Porter Returns next month, in bottle AND DRAFT!  -- my beer life -- back in 1994. The beer was a revelation: huge, rich, deep, fruity, massive maltiness that was held in check by a touch of burnt bitterness. It was my intro to the Baltic porter phenomenon, and I became a Baltic evangelist, spreading the word. Okocim Porter was the inspiration for Tom Baker and me that brought about Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer.  It was also my intro to Stawski Distributing, a Chicago-based importer with a bunch of other interesting Eastern European beers. But I was heart-broken a couple years ago when the brewery (bought by Carlsberg) decided to cease production.
The heartbreak is over. Stawski has some ads out trumpeting the imminent return of Okocim Porter, and not just bottles: on draft! I called Lee Dancer at Stawski and asked for the whole story. "They did stop making it," Lee confirmed. "And we bought up every case we could get when they did. But every time we did a beer show, we had a petition pad for people to sign; bring back the porter! The guys from the brewery come over about four times a year (Stawski sells a lot of their Pils, a very good beer in its own right, by the way), and we told them: we don't care if it doesn't sell in Poland, we'll sell it here." It finally worked. "We're hoping to get it at the end of May," Lee said, "but we don't know how fast the boat goes. I just want to warn people. They're used to older bottles, and it does age wonderfully, like Thomas Hardy's. But this is fresh, and it will be different. Not disappointingly different, it's wonderful, but it is different." Lee, as long as it's made to the same formula, bring it on! Hats off to Stawski for this successful rescue of a world-classic beer!

2/22/05: Craft Brew segment grew 7%, faster than any other alcohol beverage segment in 2004! The sales volume of craft-brewed beer -- that's everything from Sam Adams down to your local brewpub -- grew faster than any other category of booze in the U.S. last year:  faster than imports, faster than mainstream beers, even faster than wine or spirits. That's the second year in a row that craft-brewed beer grew faster than imports, and this year, they beat the imports in real numbers. Import beer boosters hurried to point out that craft brews were working from a much smaller base last year, and it's still true this year: craft beer grew from 6.5 million bbls. in 2003 to 7 million in 2004, compared to imported beer's growth from 23.5 million bbls. to 23.8 million. But craft beer's percentage increase and actual volume increase both outpaced the imports'! The imports grew by 331,108 bbls., while craft brew volume grew by 460,190 bbls.! That's a real win. I've been seeing this coming, and watching the smaller craft segment get blown off-track by factors too small to sway the import juggernaut -- bad weather, fuel costs, glass costs -- but last year was clear sailing for crafts and a weak dollar for imports, and craft beer got its due. Better beer, better consistency, and much better variety is winning the day. Freshness helps, too: I was at a tasting of 24 pilsners last week, and the freshness factor pushed three American-brewed pilsners easily to the top of the list. 

2/5/05: Beer is being brewed at North Country. Really. Sean McIntyre has brewed eight beers as of today, four more to be brewed. Staff is being trained. And an opening date has been set: February 23. I am very excited about this, because this place looks so damned cool you won't believe it. Lot of love here, and it's going to be even better in warm weather. Make plans. Man, they better not be jerking my chain again!

1/31/05: Otto's is NOT for sale. Maybe. For now. I just talked to Charlie Schnable, the brewer and one of two partners at Otto's. Yes, the BizQuest ad is about Otto's, but no, the place is not closing or being sold. They are going through some struggles as partners' lives change. In a nutshell, running a brewpub is one hell of a lot of work. What's going on with the partners is not precisely clear, but Charlie's not planning on selling, closing, or moving. Central PA beer-lovers have dodged the bullet on that one, for now. 

1/31/05: Michigan brewpub chain comes to PA. I heard from Hereford & Hops brewer Kevin Eichelberger recently. Kevin e-mailed me to let me know that H&H, a brewpub outfit from Michigan and Wisconsin, is beginning construction on a brewpub in Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburgh. It's at 1740 Rte. 228  Cranberry TWP, PA 16066, north of the Interstate 79 exit off the PA Turnpike. They're hoping for a Fall 2005 opening.  More as it develops, like...why the hell is H&H coming to PA? Can't wait to hear the answer on that one.

1/28/05: Two PA brewpubs for sale? Check out the following listings in this one, and this one. These two sure look like Valley Forge and Otto's to me. Valley Forge is no surprise, but Otto's was a shocker. I'll be checking into details ASAP; more as I get it. Tip of the hat to an anonymous reader in New York for this lead.


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