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The Occasional Pint #17
From Lew Bryson, author of the Breweries travel guides: Pennsylvania Breweries, New York Breweries, and the brand-new Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Breweries.
Thatís right, the BRAND-NEW "Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Breweries" is now available at bookstores, online (click on the book covers on the home page of my site to purchase through Amazon), and at the Events listed on the site: <http://www.lewbryson.com/events.htm>. More on that Ė and the upcoming "Pennsylvania Breweries" 3rd edition events Ė below; thereís a lot to cover.
"Pennsylvania Breweries" 3rd edition comes out on September 23, marking the second major update on this well-reviewed guidebook. I first published "Pennsylvania Breweries" in 1998, what I thought was the best brewery guidebook written to that time, establishing a now-proven format of full brewery information, interesting and detailed narrative, and going beyond the walls of the brewery with listings of local attractions, lodging, and nearby bars I found to be exceptional. PA3 is the best one yet, with more bars, more attractions, and more fun.
Of course, a major addition to the value of the "Breweries" series are the constant updates on my site. Check out the latest changes and updates on the NY and PA Breweries pages, including two major PA updates: brewer changes at Lancaster Brewing and Stoudtís. And Iíve added the VMDDC Breweries update page: <http://www.lewbryson.com/midat_update.htm>, with a couple of closings, some brewer shifts, and itís all ongoing.
Iíve got a new venue, a weekly beer column for a football website, Cold Hard Football Facts. So far Iíve written on the Belgian fest at Cooperstown, beer gardens, beer legalities, and rye whiskey. I donít know diddley about football, but the guys who write the site know a LOT about it, and for them itís all about facts, not opinions. Luckily for me, my opinions about beer ARE facts (heh, heh), so I fit right in. If you want the straight story on football, not a bunch of pundit-driven BS, visit <http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com> and then hit the Brew with Lew button.
The new Buzz is on knowing when to walk away from so-so beer, based on an experience I had when I was in Louisville last week. Know When to Fold is the key; you only get so much liver in this life, and thereís no good reason to waste it on sub-par booze. <http://www.lewbryson.com/buzzin.htm>
ABOUT PUBCRAWLER: a number of you have e-mailed me to ask if I knew why the Pubcrawler website had disappeared from the Internet, I presume because Iím the most prolific reviewer on the site (a guy needs a hobby...). Hereís the story. Pubcrawler got hacked by parties unknown and trashed pretty badly. The owner of the site, Paris Lundis, had to rebuild the site from archives, and while heís at it, heís taking the opportunity to beef up the security and the server capacity. I hope to see the site back up this week or next, but...you never know.
WHAT IíVE BEEN DOING
I had the first signing for "Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Breweries" at the State College Microbrewery Exposition, back in July. It was the first day of my family vacation; we were going out to Madison for a wedding, Cathyís cousin Heather.
Things went well, I did seminars on wheat beers that went well, we had fun with those (and signed up some new subscribers: hi, new guys!). I got up to the lovely Schnitzelís Tavern, and had dinner with my family, "Wandering" Joe Meloney, Patrick Mullin of the Drafting Room and his wife, and Richard Ruch, Victory investor and beer man about town, a great evening by the stream. The fest was very good: Selinís Grove Kriek was knocking Ďem dead; East Endís Blackstrap Stout was bold and sassy; I was next to Andy Musser and got all the fresh wonderful Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale I wanted (and I wanted a lot), when I wasnít drinking up Heavyweightís Mild; and some benevolent person gave me a bottle of the new Okocim PorterÖheaven. We shared it around and it was good; more milk chocolate character than I remember, but then again, it was fresher than the ones Iíd had before.
Next day we mounted up the Passat and drove to Kalamazoo. We had dinner at Arieís London Grill Ė okay beer, really good Indian/English fusion food. Then I took Cath and the kids back to the motel, and drove back into town to Bellís Eccentric Cafť, where I met brewery production head John Mallet. We sampled (okay, I sampled) and John told me about how things were before he was hired to re-organize production. The beers were uniformly excellent, particularly the porter, and the beer garden was fabulous, with thick, lush grass and beautiful walkways. It got to be about 11:30, and I told John I was grateful for the tour and the beers, but I had to get back to the motel.
"But," he said with a stricken look, "You havenít seen the big facility."
So we hopped in our cars, and I followed him about 8 miles out of town to the BIG Bellís brewery, where we loaded up cups of Batch 6,000, a bourbon barrel-aged beauty, and wandered about. Very impressive, and particularly so in light of the hand-to-mouth kind of stuff John showed me that had been going on back in-town. Bellís is coming on strong, and a lot of the reason is this big new brewery. I finally got back to the motel at 1:30.
The next three days put us in Chicago with old friends from Connecticut, native Chicagoans who were great guides to the interesting stuff in the town. Beerwise, I got to the Village Tap in Roscoe Village (relaxed, Sprecher Black, felafel balls Ė no, really, I was with Cathy), the renowned Hop Leaf Belgian bistro (great beer selection, good menu, excellent serviceÖbut no kids allowed, so we ate next door in a really good Italian restaurant), the vaunted Map Room (very busy, very cool, outstanding beer and whiskey), pizzeria-brewpub Piece (good pizza, good beer, lively neighborhood), and Mickey Finnís out in Libertyville (I really wanted to visit this place, where the Iron Hill guys did their brewing apprenticeship, and it turned out to be a favorite of our friends Ė and rightly so; great atmosphere, excellent hefeweizen). Three great days.
The next day was gorgeous, cool and sunny, and we headed into the rolling underbelly of Wisconsin, sniffing out a destination in Monroe, where the Huber brewery is still cranking it out, a pre-Prohibition hero. We parked in the town square, complete with a courthouse in the middle (that was playing Lawrence Welk music, for some reason), and walked into Baumgartnerís Cheese Store and Tavern.
I fell in love almost immediately: this was my kind of bar. Pretty much butt-ugly "decor" except for the brilliant "The War Between Beer and Wine" mural over the bar, about 15 items on the menu (five of which were different cheese sandwiches), and six taps of the local beer, served up by a snappy waitress. We tucked into a lot of cheese, the waitress showed us how all the dollar bills got up on the high ceiling (it cost us a buck...), and I loved the chewy, chocolatey, cheap Huber Bock. We finally left, made a quick stop at New Glarus to buy Belgian Red, and rolled into Madison. We stayed at the Holiday Inn out by the Coliseum, where they had a happy hour with free cheese and Capital Wisconsin Amber. It was a glut-fest. We had dinner at the Great Dane that night, a kind of impromptu pre-rehearsal dinner with over 20 of us, and the food and beer were great.
The next day was spent getting ready for the wedding. I caught up with e-mail and finished a piece I was working on, then went swimming with the kids. When evening came round, the happy hour had been restricted to two drinks per guest Ė I was proud that our gluttony had led to that new rule. I managed to get two of Cathyís cousins to go with me to Capitalís beer garden Ė you can read all about that here: <http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Article.php?Page=368&Category=15>
The wedding was Saturday evening in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and we drank a whole bunch of New Glarus Spotted Cow at the reception. I also tried a Brandy Old Fashioned, which is kind of the Wisconsin State Drink; Wisconsin has the highest brandy sales of any state. The BOF is a big highball kind of drink, plenty of brandy, plenty of Sprite, some bitters, and a "flag" of fruit. It was good, but a little sweet for me. And that was Heatherís wedding.
The ride home was, as we say in my family, Ďlong, deep and often,í except for the continued great performance of the Passat (and the great behavior of our two kids, somewhat attributable to the abnormally large legroom in the Passatís rear seats). That is, until we got to the PA border on the second day. We dropped off the Interstate to slip down to North Country brewpub in Slippery Rock for lunch. Good eats, good beer, and we got to take a look at the back beergarden. Unfortunately, it looks like the canvas "tent" around the tree idea that I wrote about in PA3 has been abandoned; but itís still pretty cool.
We continued on the two-lane, soaring over the hills on a beautiful August day, till we got down to the Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford. I had a book signing there that night. To my surprise, the Trogner brothers were sitting in the taproom with their cousin; theyíd been at a tour at the nearby Cannondale factory (theyíre big bike enthusiasts). We joked and talked for a while, and of course had some TrŲegs, then they had to leaveÖand about twenty minutes later the brewer from Marzoniís, Bill Kroft, showed up on the way back from camping in West Virginia: just stopped in for a beer; "Not much beer in West Virginia," Bill said.
We had a great time; the kids and Cathy got dinner and hung out in our room upstairs, while I talked to guests and mug club members downstairs. Owners Shannon and Melissa Jacobs were great, and the mug club guys were very friendly. This really is a great waystop for beer travelers in Pennsylvania; if you havenít been yet, make plans.The signing went well, we stayed in the supposedly haunted B&B part of the Tavern (no sightings), and the next day we drove the rest of the way home. Pretty good beer time for a family vacation.
BEER & WHISKEY NEWS
The big story, I guess, even though it makes me want to puke, is the ongoing rush to the bottom by Anheuser-Busch in a berserk attempt to make beer different and relevant. A-B is evidently panicked by the recent big deal "poll" that puts wine ahead of beer as what Americans say they drink most often (even though sales figures show the poll to be complete BS; beer still heavily outsells wine, so what does the poll actually show? We lie about what we drink because we want the polltaker to think weíre too sophisticated to drink beer? People who drink beer donít cooperate with poll-takers?), and they are desperately trying to put out something thatís "different" and "innovative."
First we got "BE" (thatís pronounced "B to the E" or as I overheard one woman say in a bar, "What is this s**t?"), a 6-ish% ABV "energy" beer, flavored with berries and spiked with caffeine, guarana, taurineÖall that go-juice stimulant stuff. Expensive, sweet, gack. Then it was Bud Select, a supposedly crisper (and what does THAT mean?) light beer. I got one of these in a bar in Louisville last week and EVERYONE at the bar made fun of me, even the bartender. It was VERY light in taste, Mich Ultra territory. Thatís innovative? Now itís "Tilt," another energy beer, but this oneís even fruitier, and has more caffeine in a 16 oz. can than a 12 oz. can of Mountain Dew.
Did you know Anheuser-Busch has a "vice-president of innovation"? This is the best he can give them? A lighter light beer and two buzz-beers that are essentially the same thing, and a nasty thing at that? This is not innovation. This is trying to sideswipe beer into the big energy drink marketÖand the huge bottled water market, I guess.
Guys, guys, guysÖyou could be really innovative by moving strongly into the one segment of the beer market thatís booming, the fastest-growing segment of the drinks market: craft-brewed beer. Lead the charge, be the Gallo of the beer world, make a big, bold Budweiser Pale Ale and put your best marketing efforts behind it!
Iím not holding my breath waiting on that.
Iíve got whiskey news for you, too. Just last week I tasted three new American whiskeys, two of which are of a type that have not been made in over 80 yearsÖand 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 yearís release is a corker. It is the product of a short fermentation (there was a power failure at the distillery, which 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 thatís lighter in body, but more intense in flavor Ė 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; Iíll 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 Ė this IS definitely bourbon Ė 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 Masterís Collection Four Grain Bourbon; expect a retail price around $80 for each stylish pot still-inspired bottle. And yes, "Masterís 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. Thatís 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 itís what it says it is, a wheat whiskey, not a bourbon. Itís made with a mash of 51% wheat, with corn and malt as the small grains. Again, the federal regs cover such a whiskey Ė as wheat whiskey, similar to rye whiskey Ė 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 didnít add fruit flavor or zoom-juice to their whiskey, Heaven Hill didnít 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.
I keep tabs on the beer and whiskey business through various means, but I also stay abreast of the legal and taxation fronts through Google Alerts (a free e-mail news alert service I definitely recommend to you). One thing Iíve seen in the past six months is a definite trend towards the old blue laws and dry laws breaking down. Texas in particular has seen a number of towns moving to put aside dry laws as they realize that these laws are costing them money. Restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster are locating in towns down the highway that will allow them to have a booze license, and younger folks in the dry towns are coming to realize that theyíre losing tax base and jobs (and those wonderful chain restaurant menus) because of the old folksí 50-year-old convictions.
More wet towns probably wonít mean a lot more booze consumption; the folks in those towns who drink are getting what they want down the road in the next town. What it will mean is less drinking and driving, less monopoly, and better consumer prices. Despite the desperate conjectures of ministers and rabid drys, towns that have gone wet have not seen upsurges in violence, drunken driving, venereal disease, high treason, or blood sacrifice. Itís just business as usual. Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania went wet four years ago, and theyíve gained a sharp-looking bar and a gorgeous brewpub, and they have yet to see any beer-fueled riots at the university in town.
The more I learn about laws to restrict alcohol consumption, the more I become convinced that these laws do more harm than good. These laws shove alcohol into a corner where producers are driven to questionable promotions, retailers are driven to encourage mass consumption, consumers are surrounded by enticements to overconsume, and underage drinkers are introduced to an underground culture of abuse. We need a liberalization of alcohol laws, not a new round of restrictions.
Iím continuing to work on ideas for a bourbon book, something thatís looking more and more likely. But the major project is "New Jersey Breweries," finally coming off the back burner. Iím working with the New Jersey Association of Beerwriters on this project, doing some writing, but mostly editing. No idea on when that will be out (or even begun, to be honest), but weíre working on it.
The final touches have been put on the maps in PA3, and itís at the printer. Two and a half weeks from now, Iíll have the first copies in my hands.
Get the calendar out: itís about to get real busy with VMDDC signings, followed by the release of Pennsylvania Breweries 3rd edition on September 23.
Iíve got two book signings in Wilmington, Delaware this Saturday, September 10: 1-3 at the Wilmington Barnes & Noble at the Concord Mall, and from 4:00 to 7:00 at Total Wine on Naamans Rd., a signing that will feature at least five local breweries (including Dogfish Head, Victory, and Fordham) pouring samples.
Not a signing, but Iíll be joining the folks at The Lion up in Wilkes-Barre on September 15 for their 100th Anniversary gala: not every day you see that!
Itís Richmond on September 18th for the Shockoe Craft Beer Festival from noon to 7:00: see the Richbrau website for details <http://www.richbrau.com>
September 24th is the official launch date of PA3, and Iíll be at another Barnes & Noble signing: join me at the Willow Grove bookstore from noon to 1:30.
September 30th is a big night at the Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philly (<http://www.greylodge.com>) when Iím joined from 6 to 10 by at least one other author, City Paper editor Duane Swierczynski, whoís bringing his "Big Book oí Beer" and his new novel, "The Wheelman"; and perhaps Lou Iotrola and his new history of Northeast Philly: "Lower Northeast Philadelphia (Images Of America)".
Iím headed home to Lancaster on October 1st and 2nd, signing at the Jazz, Brews and Blues Festival at both sessions on Saturday and the Sunday afternoon session; see the <http://www.lancasterbrewing.com> website for details.
October 8th is gonna be another long one: Iím signing at both the connoisseur session and the regular session at the Kennett Square Beer Festival, so get details at <http://www.kennettbrewfest.com>.
Shout out to my local folks and friends: come on over to the Newtown Bookstore for a 7:00 to 9:00 signing on Friday the 14th, with samples of local beers to keep things interesting.
Itís a charity signing on Wednesday the 19th at the Haverford Library in Havertown, 7-9.
I really enjoyed this new festival last year, and Iím back with books this year: join Cathy and I on Saturday, October 22 for both sessions of the Lehigh Valley Beer Fest (benefitting Equi-Librium) <http://www.lvbrewfest.org>. Great time, and some of that beautiful October weather in Pennsylvania. Iíll be sticking around for a Barnes & Noble signing the next day at 3:00 in the Whitehall Mall.
Do you work weekends? Iíll be doing a Tuesday signing at the Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr, from 7:30 to 9:00.
The end of October means delivery on a promise long-delayed: The Lew Bryson Western Pennsylvania Tour. It starts on Friday, October 28, at the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, from 5:00 to 7:00. Then at 8:00 Iíll be hanging with Mark Davis at the Pittsburgh Bottleshop in Bridgeville until they kick us out.
October 29 is the busy day. I start at North Country brewpub in Slippery Rock from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. Then itís back to Pittsburgh to meet my good friends at Penn Brewing, where Iíll be signing from 3:00 to 5:00. From there Iíll shuttle over to Regent Square for an event at Dís Sixpax & Dogz (supported by Vecenie Distributing). (On both Saturday and Sunday mornings Iíll be having breakfast at BOBS on Noblestown Rd. in Greentree (<http://www.eatatbobs.com>) around 8:30, please feel free to come by and join me: bring your books!)
On October 30 Iíll head for home, but first Iíve got a signing at Marzoniís just south of Altoona from 1-3, and a wrap-up event at Selinís Grove from 5 to 8 Ė and yes, Iím going to bring enough books this time!
The last event I have scheduled at this time is a pair on November 5th. From 4:00 to 5:30 Iíll be at the Montgomeryville Barnes & Noble; then Iíll be tooling down the road to Iron Hill North Wales for a signing event with brewer Larry Horwitz at 6:00: details forthcoming on that one, watch the site!
IF YOUíRE A BREWPUB OR BAR OWNER, and would like to host me for an area launch of either of these two books, get in touch with me immediately. If you are a bar owner, festival promoter, or brewer and youíd like to set up any kind of signing, seminar, staff training session, dinner, or tasting: get in touch with me and weíll talk.
PLUG Oí THE MONTH
There canít be any plug this month except for disaster relief for New Orleans and Mississippi. I usually give to Catholic Charities in circumstances like these, but this time we decided to go with the Red Cross. Take your pick of any of the excellent national relief organizations listed at <http://www.networkforgood.org>, but please, I urge you, donate what you can. If you already have donated, good for you! ...and would you consider giving again? This is the worst natural disaster to ever hit America; a major city is under water and we have refugee camps in the richest nation on earth. Forget the bickering over why government aid is taking so long (and over whether it IS taking "so long"): letís put our shoulders to the wheel and do better than the government. And I know I do this every December, but Iíd like to put in a plug again for donating blood; itís not just money thatís needed. Iím giving blood this Friday; why not join me? <http://www.givelife.org>
Thatís all for now. Iíll write more when I have it.
This newsletter is for the use of people on my mailing list only. Unless you want to forward it to 500 or so of your friends, which is, of course, perfectly fine by me. If you donít want to get these in the future (and I promise, there will NEVER be more than 12 a year), just reply to this and say "Stop already, I donít want your brilliant and entertaining e-mail any more!" or something like that, and Iíll take you off the list.
"I am so sick of this fraud Lew writing reviews. You have the worse [sic] taste in beer, and I bet you are a closet busch light drinker. Wake up, smell the Irish moss and try some real beer."
"Tubby Raymond," 10/02, www.pubcrawler.com
All contents copyright 2005 by Lew Bryson. Except for this part: I really loved the sixtel of Stoudtís Oktoberfest I drank with my brothers-in-law this weekend. It was delicious, and I might just get another one.
Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. |
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: February 06, 2006